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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Our Story - part 5

Seven years ago, I exited our computer room one evening to be confronted by pornography on my television. I'll spare you the details, but it became quickly apparent that this was not a one time sin, but a horrible addiction that my husband had surrendered to. I was done. It was over. I was through. I had seen pornography destroy marriages before, and knew too well the progression from addiction, to unrealistic expectations, to abuse. I was not going to be destroyed by my husband, and I was not going to let my husband destroy my children.

I grabbed my car keys, and walked to the door. I had no intentions of ever looking back. In that moment the tiny amount of love that might have been left in my heart was gone. It was when I placed my hand on that door knob that God spoke. Just that Sunday morning during the invitation time, God had asked me to swear not to leave my husband. It was not common in those days for God to speak to me, so I swore. It seemed a silly thing to me. I wasn't happy, but I wasn't leaving. With my hand on the door knob, I heard God's voice again. "You promised." I had a very real sense of standing at a crossroads. I chose obedience, though I did not understand why God would ask it of me. I turned loose, and walked back into my living room. I told Shawn he had 48 hours to have an appointment with a marriage counselor. I made it abundantly clear that if I was staying, I would have a good marriage. The addiction had to die. Right then. It must not be allowed to destroy us.

The next morning, early, we met with a marriage counselor who was on our church staff. He was an incredible man of God. I trusted him absolutely because of our long, close friendship. He swore to me that my marriage could be saved, but more than that, it could become beautiful. I wasn't sure that I believed him, but I desperately wanted to have that faith. But I trusted him enough to do everything he said, and I worked with him to redeem my husband from darkness.

There were lots of issues to work through. We had to learn to communicate, we had to learn to fight fairly, we had to learn to live unselfishly in our marriage. Then we also had to learn the specifics of battling a sex addiction, and I had to overcome the side effects and insecurities that it made me feel. After all, I am most certainly not computer generated or even air brushed. I've had lots of kids, and I've got the body to prove it.

During this time, I also met with some of my closest girlfriends. They listened to me rant, and rave, and cuss...then told me that they believed in me, they believed in my marriage, and they believed my God would set my husband free and he would become a great man. At no time did they ever waver in that conviction, or speak negative words to me about my husband. That really helped me to have faith that we had hope for our future.

My husband has a steak dinner waiting for me on the table, and dance music playing in the background, so for tonight I will simply say that God redeemed our marriage. He redeemed it all. It was a long process. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but my God is still in the business of bringing life back to the dead. God brought absolute beauty from the ashes of my marriage. I can't imagine my life now without my lover, and my best friend, my husband. We enjoy a marriage that is far better than the fairy tale I had hoped for. It's way better than Happily Ever After.

Our Story - part 4 (guest blog by Shawn)

If this doesn't sound like LaRissa, it's because it isn't. LaRissa invited me (Shawn) to be a guest blogger today to pick up with Our Story and share with you about the intense battle that was going on inside my own life and in our marriage.

LaRissa and I have an incredible marriage. Our marriage is full of intense love and excitement and passion and joy and laughter. We are best friends, and absolutely adore each other. I really do think we will go down as one of the all-time great love stories.

But in every great love story, there comes a moment of conflict. In all the fairy tales and classic love stories, two lovers fall madly in love with each other, but something happens that puts their love at risk, that threatens to destroy their love and even their lives. Often, there is an evil king or prince, a wicked stepmother or stepfather, a wicked witch or wizard who is hellbent on destroying the two lovers.

In many of the stories, the enemy captures the prince, places him in prison, and has a horrible monster that keeps the prince from getting to the princess. Meanwhile, the enemy places the princess under a spell that causes her to fall into a deep darkness near death. The prince has to escape from the enemy, overcome him, and defeat the monster to rescue his one true love.

Well, our story has all of those elements: an enemy, an imprisoned prince, a monster, and princess in a deep darkness. However, there was a twist in our story. In our story, the enemy was unseen, the monster was inside of me, and I had become a prisoner in a cell of my own making.

I was first exposed to pornography when I was nine or ten years old by a family member who was a sexual predator. Far too young for a child to lose his innocence. Over the next several years, I was exposed to it many times in varying degrees. Satan, the evil prince had begun his work. As I became a teenager, I had more exposure and access to pornography like many teenage boys do. Satan used sexual desire to further the chains that were developing around my heart.

After LaRissa and I married and moved to seminary, the pressures of driving not just to succeed but to excel in grad school, working a full-time job, suddenly being the father of a large family, trying to provide for my family on a very limited income, and the intense strain that all this placed on our young marriage created the prime opportunity for the evil prince to attack. I developed an addiction to pornography. Satan built the prison in my heart, and the monster was born.

LaRissa mentioned the results in her last post: anger, irritability, an increasing distance between her and myself in our hearts and in our sex life, unrealistic expectations. The monster's talons were digging deeper, and it was consuming me, destroying our marriage, and plunging the princess into darkness. The enemy, the prison, and the monster almost won. Seven years ago, on a horribly painful night (In the fairy tale, there would be storms brewing, thunder and lightning flashing, and a horribly wicked laugh piercing the night) the monster came out. LaRissa discovered my addiction ... and on that night, the enemy almost won. The princess was plunged further into darkness, the prince almost gave up all hope, and the monster almost destroyed the magical land.

So, I'll let LaRissa pick back up from there, but I've still got more of the fairy tale I want to tell. Remember, this is one of the great loves of all time. This is the darkest moment in the story, but it is not the end. So I hope she lets me rob her blog again sometime!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Our story - part 3

Shawn decided to pursue his master's degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I guess I pictured this experience as church camp. It turned out to be a very dry desert for our marriage.

Shawn was working full time and attending school as well. I was staying home with our children. We had three in as many years. I was thankful that God had healed our infertility, but raising babies alone in a town far from family was not an easy task. We were poor beyond words. I was standing in line every week to get free food for my babies.

Shawn was rarely home, and when he was he was more and more withdrawn. When he came home, he wanted to sit in his chair and be left alone. His expectations became more unreasonable. I could not keep house clean enough, or make the children be good enough, or be beautiful enough to earn his love.

He became angry easily, and I couldn't predict what would make him upset. Therefore I lived in fear that the next thing I did would be the thing that would make him angry.

Our life in the bedroom that had always been the best part of our marriage even began to suffer. He was not with me - even when he was with me. He was demanding, withdrawn emotionally, and I felt used and discarded.

I decided that if even a man in the ministry couldn't love me, that I must be very unworthy indeed. I spiraled into seasons of horribly dark depression, often with thoughts of suicide.

I hoped that a change of scenery might help. We moved to Pottsboro, Texas in 2001. A new home did not fix our broken marriage. I was frustrated, but did not feel justified in leaving. I was stubborn enough to stay. I could not figure out what was wrong. I did not understand that my husband was wrestling with a monster that was destroying us all.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Our Story - part 2

So the shy guy finally asked me out. I was giddy with excitement as I anticipated our first date. Shawn rang my doorbell on a Friday night and handed me some flowers. The thing is, I thought our date was on Saturday. I looked like crap, I was stunned to see him, and being a chick with an eating disorder, I threw up because I was uncomfortable. Oh, and when I am uncomfortable I babble mindlessly. There was a lot of babbling.

I refused to go out to eat. I lied and told him I had already eaten, again due to eating issues. Our first date was nosediving in a huge hurry. We went to a concert, and Shawn confesses that he was looking at his watch to see how much longer he had before he could ditch me and go home. I guess God decided we needed some help moving our relationship along. A tornado came through nearby, the electricity all went off, and no one was allowed to leave due to the severity of the storm. I looked at Shawn and said in a now trembling voice, "I'm afraid of storms." Being a man, he comforted the damsel in distress.

By the end of the date, Shawn had decided I was hot enough (read "good enough kisser") to get one more chance before he totally gave up. The second date was worse than the first. A few minutes before Shawn was due to arrive, we received a phone call that my brother (my very best friend on the whole planet) had drowned overseas. I couldn't get in touch with Shawn, so he pulled up to the house, walked up and said, "I've had a really rough day. I was in a wreck at lunch." So I say, with no tact, "Me too. My brother's dead." We sat on the front porch as I told him the story, him again holding me as I cried. He offered to go home, but my dad encouraged us to go ahead with our date just so that maybe I could be spared a few hours of some of the intense and horrible drama at home. (The divers were still searching for my brother, and the waiting was intense.)

Believe it or not, the guy asked me out a third time. It had to be a mercy date. But one date led to another and by about our fifth date we were talking about a future together. Shawn jokes that it did not take us long to fall in lust. We were engaged labor day weekend, nearly 3 months after we first met. We waited until May to marry, after I turned 18.

When we married, we both had some really unrealistic expectations. I imagined a prince charming that would lavish me with affection. I pictured dancing in the kitchen, snuggling watching movies, lots of long walks with deep conversations. I imagined us side by side in every activity, never apart unless we had to be. I seriously believed that my husband would seek every opportunity to pamper me and adore me and lavish gifts on me and would always just know what I was thinking. I thought he would communicate all of his feeling and deepest longings. Think giggling slumber party meets Cinderella.

On Shawn's side of things, he pictured marriage as a cross between "Leave it to Beaver" and "Debbie does Dallas." He thought I would keep our house shiningly perfect, cook gourmet dinners, and rip his clothes off when he walked in the door.

Reality was that Shawn was not naturally romantic, and he couldn't read my mind, and he wasn't a giggly girl. On the other hand, I have always sucked at cleaning, I couldn't boil water, and sex was something I vaguely remembered studying in biology.

Our first several years were pretty good, in spite of some obstacles. We were in a great church, with lots of friends. We enjoyed our ministry, and worked through some of our earliest expectations and disagreements. We discussed the great questions of life like whether the toilet paper went over or under the roll. During this time period, we also dealt with some big stresses such as infertility, financial difficulties, and full time college. We had no clue how to argue fairly, and our arguments typically ended with Shawn storming out and driving off. But I would say that for the most part, we were happy together. We got along well more often than not, we agreed on the big issues in life, and we were thrilled when after several years, God blessed us with our first child. If you had asked me how I liked marriage, I would have answered you honestly that I was happy. I knew that I felt somewhat unfulfilled at times, but mostly it was fine. But that all soon changed.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Our Story - Part 1

It was summer. 1992. My dad was preaching a revIval (make sure you emphasize the I), in Center Point, a small town in Southern Arkansas. When my dad came home he found me and said, "I've met the man you're going to marry." I thought he was joking, and laughed pretty hard. Fresh out of a long term relationship, I wasn't really seeking a new one. I was graduating a year early from high school and had tough decisions to quickly make about college. Marriage was nowhere on my radar.

I met Shawn the following night at the revIval. He was leading music. He didn't talk much. Actually, he was painfully shy with girls and didn't talk at all to me for the next 2 nights. He was stealing glances at me during the services, but I wasn't paying too much attention. What I did not know until later was that his mom was also trying to set us up. Along about Thursday night, our parents decided we were not ever going to get together on our own and helped us along a little. My dad asked Shawn to sing an old hymn, "Love of God." When Shawn replied that he did not know that song, Dad said that his daughter would be more than happy to teach it to him.

Well, that got Shawn on my piano bench. Most of my friends know that if you want to really connect with me and get to know my heart, that's where it happens. We sang for a long time that night. He finally started making small talk with me. The night ended, without either of us even exchanging numbers. Just idle chit-chat. On the final night of the revIval, I truly expected him to ask me out. I mean, seriously, by Thursday night the boy was showing up nearly an hour before services so he could pick out songs. That translates to page turning while he was stealing glances at me.

Services came and went. We ate supper together at the potluck after church. We were still just making small talk. I was finally walking to my car when Shawn got enough courage to ask me on a date. We set up the date and exchanged numbers. I was excited. I liked him, and it had been a long time since I had been out with a guy. I never dreamed where it would take me.

A Late Bloomer

Today in my classroom, my children needed a reminder that we all bloom at different paces. I reminded them of where they started, barely reading, and how they have been blooming into chapter book readers slowly and at different paces. Some children were still discouraged by their progress, so I decided that it was time for a personal story.

"Boys and girls, recently I decided to try to learn to dance. I've been attending dance classes at a gym." (zumba, but go with me here) "I have learned that I am a late bloomer. My friends are able to keep up and go the right direction. They look elegant and get the steps all right. But me, not so much. But do I give up?"

In unison, "No, Mrs. Kemp you don't give up."

"I keep trying, thinking that I will bloom soon. Every time I get a little better, but I still have not bloomed." (My demonstrations of my dancing mistakes made them giggle) "Some of you are like me. You are not reading as well as your friends, and that makes you feel embarrassed and frustrated. But you have to keep trying."

We'll see if it hits home with my little friends. Discouragement can be the greatest weight that prevents learning from happening with small children. It struck me today that this is true with adults as well. Sometimes our discouragement and fear of failure can keep us from doing the hard and the great things in life.

I set out to teach my students, but I think that today they taught me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Monday Morning Update 2/22/10

I've checked my facebook, twitter, and played several rounds of words with friends on my phone while I've been staring at the cursor trying to decide what to write tonight. Sometimes words cannot adequately express life experiences.

Today, Shawn and I shared the story on stage of how God redeemed our marriage. It was rough. It was painful, but also beautiful to be able to finally share about God's grace, mercy, love, power, and healing. We felt as though it was time to share bluntly and honestly about how God can redeem marriages. I debated all day about whether to share our story here as well. I may soon, but to be honest, tonight I am too wiped out emotionally to walk through it all over again. I have cried almost nonstop for the past 48 hours as Shawn and I pieced together today's message. I cried primarily not about the pain, but about how great God has been. Until we took the time to really look back at our past, I had forgotten just how great the healing has been.

I have never seen a response from a crowd like we did today. Pretty much everybody cried. I'm pretty sure I used a whole box of kleenexes all by myself. But what amazed me was the outpouring of love, and the outpouring of relief, and the outpouring of thankfulness that people expressed that we were honest from the stage. I guess I was the most shocked by how grateful people were that we have hurt in our life as well, and that no sin is secret or too big or too bad or too ugly to confess. Our phones have rang all day as people have called to ask us to pray with them about similar issues in their marriages and families. I am excited to see how God will use this in the future of The Crossroads.

I am privileged to be in a church like The Crossroads where we can be real, without condemnation. I am thankful every day of my life that God is letting me be a part of this great adventure. What an incredibly beautiful day!