Thursday, November 7, 2013

Undercurrents.

     In any relationship, I've come to realize that there is a deeper, more primal dialogue happening beneath each interaction. There are undercurrents that swell and toss about, and they define our perceptions about others. This has been a profound realization during Hannah and I's healing process, but sadly, I have so often failed to see the gravity of it.

    In Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, the author says that there's a conversation beneath every conversation, and I believe that's true.  Whether we are discussing the weather, entertainment choices or food options, we are also perceiving how a person feels about us. Do they like me? Do they care? Do they understand? These are the seemingly child-like concepts that arise from our interactions with others, regardless of the topic at hand.

   In these unspoken, often-unappreciated discourses, we send and receive signals about a person's worth and their value in our lives. It's the music of the conversation that matters.  In light of my horrendous actions, the stakes are raised higher and the implications become even more severe.

    There are countless consequences that come along with infidelity. Like a thousand tiny fractures, they cause friction and damage in every possible area, from the spiritual, to the romantic, and even in matters of finance. Everything is impacted. Although the cost of unfaithfulness is great and it's effects are complex, there is one simple question that we struggle with more than anything.

"Does my husband like me?"

    Hannah's mind taunts her with this question. It concludes, in the dark and freezing shadow of my actions, that I despise her and that she's unworthy of affection or adoration. This question can very quickly leave her feeling unwanted and unappreciated.

    This question is a vicious battlefield, because in the madness of daily life, paying bills, and cooking meals, the undercurrents can quickly turn against us.  If I lose my temper, speak crossly, act in harshness, or remain distant, my actions speak a larger and simpler truth about how I feel about Hannah. I've learned this through a shameful amount of trial and error. I must do more than shower her with words of affection and monologues of penitence. I must prove to her, in the unseen places of our hearts, that I like her, want her, and treasure her.

   As I continue to hear stories of marital strife and difficulty, I must conclude that these heart postures play a pivotal role in whether a couple struggles or thrives.  Today, if you are facing challenges with your spouse, examine the simple questions that you both answer and ask beneath the surface. Do they like me? Are we friends, or enemies? Do I value or despise them? These foundational matters define us, and they can ruin us as well.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Reclaiming Lost Ground

                 I am a coward by nature. I acknowledge this.

     For so long, I wanted to flee from the sight of any reminder that would hearken back to my failures.  It seemed only natural to avoid those painful parts of town, to move on (whatever that means) and to just not bring it up. Under this policy, the healing process stagnated. Needless to say, this strategy of avoidance and aversion was utterly useless.  We have lost ground to this terrible incident, and I have come to realize that we must aggressively attempt to take it back.

    Music and ministry is one area where strife has arisen after my affair.  After all, my actions caused Hannah to rightfully question my character and my ability to stand upright in the face of temptation. It would be natural to consider leaving it all behind in the light of our experiences.  It has been painful, but Hannah has been enormously gracious with me and she accepts my desires and callings despite what I've done.  In this part of our lives,we have decided to stand our ground, and this point of contention has now become a major mechanism for our healing.

     Similarly, Valentine's Day is a particularly difficult time of the year for us.  This is the season when my affair took place, and any mention of that holiday comes with a certain darkness.  Heading into the first Valentine's Day after my unfaithfulness, I can honestly say I was terrified. Should we just write off this occasion and try to bury it in our memory?  Somehow, I knew that this would not suffice.

     Instead, we celebrated our love in a special way last February. We escaped this town, where all of my indiscretions took place, and we reclaimed that holiday as a time for us.  At certain moments, the sting of the past was tangible, but we stood strong against the quiet voice of accusation all around us. 

    I could unravel so many specifics about our journey, but this is the point:

   I refuse to forfeit entire segments of my marriage up to my own mistakes. I will not offer up anything I love as a sacrifice. When you surrender in this way, you build a memorial to the trauma of the past. My former self does not have ownership of anything.

    When offense comes into a marriage, there may be a time when you need to insulate your spouse from painful reminders and emotionally compromising situations.  But there is also a time to stand, forging ahead in hopes of a better future.  If your marriage is facing any kind of turmoil, whether it's infidelity or anything else, I implore you to aggressively defend your territory.  Do not forsake parts of your life, large or small, for the sake of a coward's sense of "peace".  Be specific, make a plan, and see it through. There must be more to life than being a victim.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

(Hearts aren't really our guides.)

   
 Sometimes I survey my surroundings and the damage that I've done, standing baffled and wordless like a man observing the tremendous carnage left in a hurricane's wake.  I  reflect on what my eyes have seen -- all of the sleepless, tear-soaked nights and the dreadful recollections of my actions. In this moment, I pause to wonder how I could ever do such wicked deeds. How did I descend to that point?

    Maybe the answer is simple:  I followed my heart.

    You see, our culture chants a mantra every now and then, in the lyrics of pop songs and the forlorn gazes of romantic comedies. "Listen to your heart", they say, as if it were something worth obeying.  In the light of my experiences, I know one thing without a doubt.

       My heart is like a broken compass, ignorantly spinning without regard for truth or virtue.

     The bible tells us that a man's heart is not to be held in any esteem.  Jeremiah 17:9 says  that  “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. "  I can attest with bitter certainty that this is true. 

       Furthermore, what a man understands as his conscience can even become blunted under the long-term influence of sin.  As a person continually ignores the voice of righteousness within them, it withers into a shell of it's former state. Even worse, it may become warped and perverted into something truly morbid.   Soon, it parrots back to us the very words we want to hear, imprisoning us in a cycle of destructive behavior.


      God's word shows us that our notions of "doing the right thing" can often be terribly askew. For the past year, this has been one of my favorite verses, imprinted on my memory as if it were branded to my spirit with a hot iron:

     There is a way that seems right to a man,
        but its end is the way to death.[a]  - Proverbs 14:12



    This is where I was trapped, and this is where Christ rescued me.  I was lost in the haze of my own failures, unable to guide myself to safety.  As you read this, I urge you to search yourself and your allegiances.  Align yourself with something greater than the broken compass buried in your chest. It will always fail you.

   You are reading a post on The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about the Hartsfields and their journey to recovery from unfaithfulness. Click here for a brief introduction and make sure to subscribe by email(on the right side) for regular updates.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

There are no new beginnings.

    Recently a reader requested that I share some of the practical ways that Hannah and I have dealt with my affair.  In this post, I will share some applicable methods and thoughts on how to make progress and grow in the light of infidelity. Please understand that every couple is different and the needs for each situation may vary. Examine your marriage and act accordingly.  I hope this helps, and I'd love to hear what others have done to overcome this heavy burden.

    This week, I began employment at a new workplace.  It's been nearly three years since I changed jobs, and this whole "new guy" thing is very uncomfortable for me.  I can say, however, that it has been a milestone for my marriage considering all that my past workplace represented and all of the wickedness that took place there.

    I basically ruined my workplace experience for Hannah.  Because of my unfaithfulness with a coworker, I made the entire concept of being away from home a toxic and anxiety-ridden idea for her, and it still weighs heavy on her at times.  In the beginning, after I first confessed to my sins, we wrestled with one enormous question:

   How could she ever be comfortable with me going to work again?

     The necessity of earning a paycheck certainly kept me going, but that doesn't mean it was easy.  There was a lot of checking in, a lot of questions, and a lot of suspicion on her part, to be very honest.  I was expecting this, and I often told her "until you can trust me again... we will accommodate."
 
     Sometimes I would send her photos of me at work to prove I was there.  Often, we would talk non-stop via text for hours, and I would call during breaks.  I also established a secret blog (good luck finding it!) for her eyes only, where I could correspond at length even when work kept us apart.  Instead of despising the vacuum of trust, we embraced it as a challenge. It was an obstacle between us and a joyful, enriched marriage. Of course, the specter of my workplace indiscretion hasn't simply disappeared since I've changed offices.

   There's no doubt that many men struggle with communicating in their marriage, and this can be aggravated even further during serious turbulence in the home.  I've learned the hard way that I should basically over-communicate with Hannah in my eyes in order to bring healing to these wounds. I must also learn and adapt to her style of communicating, denying my own preferences. If she wanted details, I gave them.  If she wanted to re-hash the events and timeframes to make sense of my actions,  we talked late into the night, sometimes into the early morning.  In the wake of a disaster is not the time to shut down emotionally or verbally.

    So often, my spirit would cry out for a do-over.... If only we could just start fresh, everything would be wonderful from here, I promise. I suppose that's easy for me to say, since I was not the one shouldering the greatest load of baggage.  Waking up as a new couple was never an option... We are learning to recognize our scars and to press forward, keeping them always in our periphery as a sobering reminder.

     There's really no such thing as a clean break. There are no new beginnings, there is only the methodical daily journey that places distance between us and our torment more over time. We accept the road before us, hazards and all.  Each day, when we look behind us, the sorrows of yesterday are farther on the horizon, and I thank God for that sight.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Eroding Monuments.

                  This city is a vast landscape of dreadful reminders.


Affairs do not occur in a vacuum.  They are a cruel organism all their own, roaming familiar streets and leaving painful memories in their wake. Infidelity erects its own landmarks, like monuments to the wicked deeds done behind a veil of dishonesty.


As Hannah and I have journeyed on this path to recovery, we have confronted the harsh sting of these reminders.  There are roads, buildings and entire sections of our hometown that taunt my wife as we are forced to pass near them.  Perhaps the easiest way out would be avoidance, but we cannot forfeit more territory to the darkness of my past actions.


           This week, I received a call that cemented a tremendous step in this voyage -- I was offered a new job.  I will finally be departing from the ground zero of my life’s worst mistakes, never to return.  This is cause for celebration in so many ways. No longer will my wife have to be haunted by the reminder of my betrayal each day as I leave for work; no longer will the financial sustenance of our home be entangled with our marriage’s greatest struggle.


I cannot describe the strength my spouse conceals within, radiating from deep down in her soul.  Many women would crumble at the advances of these evil specters, unable to overcome the mental imagery of all that I’ve done wrong.  Fleeing is not an option in her heart; she refuses to allow this city to be surrendered to my affair.


Instead of bowing to the defeats of the past, we have established new memories throughout this process.  We have undoubtedly been on more dates in the past year than in the prior four years of our marriage combined, for better or worse.  This proactive approach to developing our relationship has been so valuable as we wrestle with the wounds that still remain.


We are reclaiming lost ground, both emotionally and physically.  It’s been a difficult path, but over time God has strengthened us to face down the demons that lurk around these bleak places.  The past cannot declare ownership over our community. This city’s horizon is filled with monuments, but they are eroding over time as we remain unified in our desire to preserve this marriage.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cursed.

   This is a lamentation for the fallen state of man.


    As I survey my surroundings, I cannot help but sometimes feel that men, in particular, are cursed.  It seems that so many marriages suffer at the hands of men. Men are the faltering spouses, the cheaters, the abusers.  We have grown so weak.


    I turn my gaze to the world instead, and I discover much of the same.  Men perpetrate most crimes, initiate and wage all the wars.  The bloodletting that this world has witnessed throughout history has mostly been the product of the male population’s conquests. Around 99% of sex crimes are committed by males.  With all of this in mind, I cannot help but conclude that we are fundamentally more flawed than our female counterparts.


   There was a time when men held the world in their hands.  Now, women are rapidly rising to the occasion and matching us in so many ways – professionally, spiritually, and politically.  This progress is worth celebrating for the females of our society, but it also highlights the clear stagnation of men.  We have grown apathetic, fattened and handicapped by our familiar sense of power and authority.


   This observation seems dismal, I know.  I ponder these ideas in hopes of finding some greater understanding of this pervasive pattern.  There’s an illness spreading through the men of our society and it’s reaching epidemic proportions.  We have fallen so far from our callings. 


    I suppose you could blame this devolution of man on many factors, both personal and cultural.  Men have been weakened by their own indulgences and by the two-edged sword of society’s expectations.  The media embraces a depiction of the married man as aloof, useless and clueless, and then scratch their hands in confusion when men become this very stereotype.  This world rallies against men and cries out in surprise when they finally fall.  


    The notion of true masculinity has been warped to a nearly unrecognizable state.  Where you find a deep flaw in the fabric of modern manhood, you also find a profound perversion of true manliness. Men are called to be defenders of justice and innocence, and instead we celebrate wanton and meaningless violence.  Men are meant to be fierce and devoted lovers, and we have been transformed into sex-crazed beasts, both heartless and mindless in our pursuits.  Fathers are supposed to be both loving and firm, and yet so many have grown silent in the face of family strife. This shade of true masculinity has overtaken our knowledge of the real thing.


This is not, however, an attempt to divert blame from the individual. No matter the cause, now is the time for every man to wake up from our collective daze, review ourselves thoroughly, and press forward to a higher goal than the vapid shell of masculinity that this dark world has placed before us.  There is a greater role for men to play in our culture, and it’s time we embrace it, daunting as it may be. I simply pray that I could have the boldness to do this myself.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

This is war.

In my last post, I discussed the very real nature of every Christian’s spiritual opposition.  This portrait of the unseen struggle between good and evil illuminates my perspective on nearly everything, from marriage, to parenting, to the simple occurrences of everyday life.


Now, let me clarify my stance before we proceed with this exploration.  I do not believe that people are totally controlled by the spiritual realm; we are not merely puppets lacking our own will or motives.  We have the capacity for independent thought and action, and sometimes our actions bring forth consequences that are totally unrelated to some kind of demonic activity.  


A few months ago, I read the book Wild at Heart by John Eldridge, and in this he diagnoses a common and crippling problem for many men.  He says that many husbands wake up decades into their adult lives, drained and totally bored.  Why is this? Eldridge suggests that men have lost their sense of adventure, denying the voice within them that calls out for deeper fulfillment until it fades from their heart’s perception.

  

I agree with this assessment… but what’s the solution?   In the book, he advises people to embrace whatever brings them alive – hobbies, pastimes, and so forth. I believe that the real prescription for this issue is something much greater.  I am convinced that marriage is every man’s greatest and wildest frontier, untamed and rife with danger. If the spiritual realm is filled with struggle, then every home is a battleground beneath the surface.


We find ourselves fading when we lose sight of the very real warfront that takes place within each household.  As a husband, you are leading a charge against the spiritual forces that want to tarnish and destroy every family in your community.   In light of this, each man should be equipped with knowledge, internal fortitude and constant prayer to thwart the enemy’s advances.


This is war. It’s time for men to take up their arms and realize that their home is their ultimate theater of war; it is the most turbulent battlefield imaginable.  If you are married and reading this, I urge you to ask yourself in silent honesty:   


    “What am I doing to defend my marriage against the snares of infidelity?”

Do not be misguided by foolish notions that wish to distract us from the battle at hand.  Common thoughts like “my spouse could never do that” or “he loves me too much” only serve to weaken our defenses. Let us not be guided by naivety, but instead let us be vigilant for the sake of our partner.


I implore you, as a man fractured by his own failures, to consider this seriously.  Fortify your home with prayer, cling to Christ as your lifeline, and remain steadfast in love and devotion to y our spouse, especially during difficulty.  This is every man’s foremost challenge and most perilous voyage.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Contingencies

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
                                                                                          
10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life."  (John 10:10)

                                                                   
                There’s no doubt about it – every man faces an unseen oppressor.  There are forces in motion that desire the failure of our marriages and the forfeiture of our deepest held convictions. Despite our best attempts, pretending this adversary doesn’t exist has no bearing on his power in your life.
                So much of my pondering lately focuses on the never-ending battle that wages beneath the veneer of the physical. In fact, I could write volumes about how this spiritual battle relates to my marriage’s journey, but I proceed cautiously, understanding that many people are uncomfortable with so-called “super-spiritual” talk.
 It seems that our society wants to divorce Christianity from its inherently spiritual foundation.  One cannot claim to believe the Christian Bible without embracing the fact that an entire spiritual realm exists, influencing and swaying our world in countless ways. It is the undercurrent that swirls beneath the events we observe in the physical world every day, and yet so many believers want to neuter the faith of its spiritual nature, turning it into a vacuous and outdated self-help program.   You cannot deny the spiritual realm without invalidating the Bible on a large scale.
                With that being said, I believe it’s vital for us to consider supernatural influence when discussing issues of infidelity in marriage. Ephesians 6:10-12 shows us the true gravity of this battle; we do not simply fight against worldly forces, but we also engage a hidden opponent that has been dissolving marriages since the beginning of time itself. To put it explicitly… behind every mistress, wayward glance or flirtatious advance, demonic forces are pulling the strings like ancient puppeteers.
                Think about that. The same aggressor, Satan, that has been fracturing relationships since the Garden of Eden, is doing the best he can to drive a wedge between you and your spouse.  This is a high-stakes scenario, and it deserves more attention than we ever dare to afford it.
                I remember, in my prior life of na├»ve ignorance, thinking of evil and temptation as an abstract annoyance that wants to do nothing greater than simply irritate us.  It wants us to miss Sunday school, forget our bedtime prayer, and smoke cigarettes, I thought. Now, I soberly acknowledge something very different.  As the verse above states, the enemy’s primary goal is death and destruction  
                Without a doubt, I know that our foe’s desire was for my marriage to be dissolved, and for our individual lives to be hopelessly unraveled.  If his assaults did not accomplish this, perhaps the devil would settle for wounding us beyond healing.  If we overcame this advance, he would at least like to keep us silent about our victory.
                We won’t even give him that much. I won’t shut up; I won’t be quiet about the victory that Hannah and I have embraced through Christ over the disaster of my affair.  The enemy can list off all of his contingencies, and I will give him the alternative that he wants the least.  I will illuminate our story as a means to advance the gospel, and he will regret the day he ever tried to split us apart. At the end of my life, Satan will look upon this attack as a mistake, knowing that I surrendered it to God for His good purposes. I believe that.
                The thief has a will, and his primary goal is everlasting misery; anything else is a mere concession.  Today, as you read this, reflect upon the many times where you barely made it out alive from the razor-sharp claws of temptation, and ask yourself what you can do to wave a banner of victory over your circumstances.  The devil wants to shut you up, if nothing else… give him what he least desires.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Journey Past the Isle of the Sirens

Temptation.
                It is a mesmerizing melody, leading us blindly to our own demise. It is the ancient seductress of all righteous people.  It is the siren’s song.
                Every man on Earth feels the constant pull of a force that seeks to derail them for their life’s true mission.  What is temptation? It comes in many forms, but at the very root it desires to lead us into forsaking our deepest moral obligations and convictions.  Virtue and temptation are eternally at odds.
                A few months after I came clean to Hannah about my affair, I got a tattoo about this very idea.  The battle between virtue and temptation is ancient and epic, and each of us must decide where we stand in this struggle daily. 
    

                This image is a scene from The Odyssey by Homer.  In this passage, the hero (Odysseus) must pass by the isle of the sirens, which draw men to their deaths with their seducing melodies.  Odysseus is aware of this, and he orders the men on his ship to bind him to the mast and cover his ears.  He then commands them that they must stay the course on their journey, no matter what his temptation-maddened mind suggests instead.  This is the essence of true faithfulness, defiant in the face of blatant temptation.
                As I mentioned in a previous post, some people view marital obligation as a hindrance.  As a person who nearly lost it all, I have a renewed appreciation for it.  Faithfulness to a belief is like a taproot that strikes down to the deepest part of a man’s moral bedrock.  When we bind ourselves to a principle, like Odysseus to the mast, we declare a greater truth than our preferences or momentary whims ever could. We are pledging ourselves to a higher purpose now and forever.
                That’s why I love this illustration.  Faithfulness requires deliberate action and daily commitment.  It is not for the faint-hearted, and it is not a given.  We cannot simply stumble into being people of integrity – it demands sacrifice, effort and intention. 
                As I write these words, the phantom of my own failures torments me silently.  There are voices within that lob accusations of hypocrisy and shame at my spirit.  I know that I’m not qualified to write these words, and that every sentence could be met with contempt and condemnation. Nevertheless, I press on for the benefit of others. 
                I encourage you to take a moment and evaluate your marriage covenant, and perhaps other important moral causes in your heart.  Today, resolve once again to bind yourself to them as a promise of future faithfulness no matter what the sirens sing.  In doing this, we will strike a mighty blow to the unseen forces of temptation that march towards us constantly.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Reflections on Psalm 51

     Without a doubt, scripture has played a crucial role in my marriage’s healing during this season.  I find myself continually returning to Psalm 51, a beautiful passage where King David cries out to God during a time of great turbulence.  In this entry, I will unravel my own thoughts on this remarkable portion of text; you can read the entire Psalm here.
    David was an adulterer, and a murderous one at that. He was also an esteemed man, powerful and known for his fervor for God.  In a moment of weakness, he succumbed to the desires of his flesh and set in motion a series of events that would ruin lives and bring shame on his royal name.
    I find it so encouraging that the Bible, God’s precious word, would chronicle the experiences of such a man.  Thank heavens that the pages of the Old Testament are not filled with flawless, two-dimensional men that needed no mercy.  Reading about David’s broken nature invigorates me with hope, knowing that there is renewal in the shadow of grievous transgression.
    Psalm 51 is a candid and personal song of repentance and redemption.  It illustrates King David’s constantly present guilt (v. 3-6), juxtaposing the darkness of shame against the jubilance of God’s love.  The humbled king calls out that his Creator would grant him a new heart and a steadfast spirit as he pleads to once again taste the joy of his salvation (v. 10-13).
    Then, we come upon one of my favorite portions of this text.  David proclaims that his response to being restored will be one of deliberate action – he will teach transgressors God’s ways, turning them back from their wicked paths (v. 13).  This is the only natural response to a life transformed by grace.
    Finally we find my favorite verses in this psalm, and perhaps in all of scripture. I have quietly recited this to myself so many times when my spirit felt flooded with oppression from within:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;

    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.
    This may seem elementary but I believe that if we examine this further, we find a unique insight into God’s heart and David’s intimate connection to his Heavenly Father.  David’s writing proclaims that a sacrifice would not be sufficient to cleanse his guilt… Think about this. Sacrifices were the path to atonement that believers understood at the time. 

    Somehow, David concludes that the true sacrifice is not a ram or bull, but one’s own pride.  We are the sacrifice.  For repentance to occur, we must place ourselves on the altar and relinquish our very hearts as an offering.  God will not despise a sacrifice that we bear from within ourselves; anything else is a hollow religious gesture.
    This concept is fundamental to our understanding of penitence.  Seeking forgiveness is not a matter of rituals or religious observances; it is one of spirit-rending introspection and surrender. Through all of my soul searching and prayer, I cannot escape the gravitational pull of this simple notion.  This is the meaning of repentance. 
(I wrote a song about this…. take a listen here.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Contemplating Legacies

     As Father's Day draws nearer with every passing minute, my mind is cluttered. A traffic jam of barely-related musings blare loudly, competing for my attention. Try to keep up.

     It seems to me that people often adopt a unique sense of entitlement around holidays. This phenomenon perplexes me most when I observe it in christians, who are supposed to walk in an attitude of humility and thankfulness. Most Sundays, believers show up to church professing that they deserve nothing but damnation, and yet on holidays we find ourselves stamping our feet in anticipation of what we are owed.  These two attitudes cannot be reconciled. We cannot embrace the world's notion of what we "deserve" without cheapening the depth of grace.

     As I come to terms with my monumental mistakes, I have tried my best to continually embrace a mindset of gratitude for my life.  On Father's Day, I look back and realize that I am truly blessed beyond words to even be a part of my family's life anymore.  Every day that I arise to the sound of my children's voices, I have been given a gift that is absolutely priceless.  I want to retain this perspective forever.

     My wife and I have resolved to not conceal this part of our marriage's history from our kids.  Though it would be simple to bury this from their view considering how young they are, this is not our desire.  My sincere hope is that they would be able to understand and even benefit from the trials and tests we've overcome.

     This is a lofty goal, I know. I spend many mornings contemplating one simple thought:  "How can I stop my children from hating me when they grow up?"  In all honesty, I fear that my errors will one day cause a rift in my relationship with my daughters. I recently finished reading Wild At Heart by John Eldridge, and he spends much of his book describing how parents often leave their children with a hidden wound that warps their outlook on the world.

    I believe that not all parents screw up their kids, but it certainly seems that healthy parental relationships are tragically rare.  Wounded people pass down legacies of hurt to their children, who often turn around and continue the pattern in the future.  I want so desperately to break the cycle, to cast off the surname of disappointment that has cursed humanity since our common father Adam fell into sin.  This is why we are going to be honest with our daughters.

    We're leaving a trail.  One day, my children will hear my songs, read this blog and know the depth of my fall and the mercy that rescued me.  Until then, I pray for the strength and clarity of purpose to raise them in a way that proclaims virtue over my past.

Monday, June 3, 2013

a man and his word.

    On Friday, June 7th, I will renew my vows to my wife of five years.  In the shadow of my affair, I can hardly believe that I’m getting to once again extend my word as a symbol of my deeper commitment to our union.  As this occasion nears, I am left to ponder on the purposes of vows and their place in modern life.
     Our culture recoils in horror at the thought of lifelong obligation; society insists that contractual marriage is not required to demonstrate love. This may be true to some extent, but I would propose that marital faithfulness is more indicative of one’s inward character than their outward affections.  We do not stand at an altar to merely profess fleeting desire towards another person, no matter how strongly it stirs within us.  It must be something deeper.
    After all, each person on this earth is a constantly-changing creature, and when we make vows of faithfulness and devotion, we are pledging ourselves to a future shrouded in uncertainty.  We have no absolute knowledge of what our partner will become.  I find it both amusing and somewhat tragic when spouses split under the pretenses that “they’ve changed”.  There’s no doubt about that – change is a given. It is the only guaranteed occurrence in a host of variables.
    When two bright-eyed lovers walk down an aisle, there is something so much more profound than romance taking place.  Shortly after my failures came to light, I went to a men’s gathering at church, and the focal point of the message was one simple phrase:     A man is only as good as his word.”
    Hearing this was like ingesting broken glass to my spirit.  After all, my word had been eviscerated.  In the fallout of my affair, I watched my words and actions become devalued to almost nothingness as they fell victim to my own dishonesty. It was like watching the economy of my self-worth plummet into calamity. I was powerless and worthless, and yet I believed this simple phrase as it was preached to me.
    A man’s word runs deep within him, like a vein pulsing strong with the lifeblood of his innermost character.  If his word is severed from his honor, he is weakened. If his honor is wounded, his word loses gravity.  With this in mind, it seems our vows say more about ourselves than they do about our spouses, and when we betray those vows, something withers inside of us like a tree limb removed from its trunk.  Our word is a direct representation of our integrity itself.
    This makes cheating all the more excruciating for the one who’s been wronged.  Not only must they sort through the manifold implications of sex, intimacy, romance and memory, but the betrayed spouse must come to terms with the greater underlying message about their partner’s very nature.  I have witnessed this, and I can say that there is no more chilling moment than when you realize your spouse’s belief in your character has been profoundly shaken.
    I realize that this is all very grave. However, let this be an encouragement, or even a warning to you.  Do not manipulate your word for selfish gains, or pollute the power of your words with dishonesty.  Hold firm to the promises you make, as they reverberate into the world with the deafening loudness of who we truly are.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Visions of a graceless planet.

Imagine for a moment, if you could, a world where every person pays the full penalty for their errors.  Criminals serve the maximum prison term and cheaters abide in the solitude of vacated homes.  Men are publically disgraced for their fleshly failures, and liars find ruin wherever they turn.  Justice is served.
Some days I reflect on a graceless existence, where the ripple of my stupidity comes to full fruition. It reminds me of a concept in quantum physics. Because of quantum behavior, some people suggest that multiple worlds (or parallel dimensions) exist, and that every time our life comes to a crossroads, another dimension plays out the other alternative.   This sounds like science fiction; nevertheless it causes me to shudder at the imagined timeline where I don’t experience the sweet redemption of mercy. Thank God for my pardon.
In this season of recovery, I am often taken aback by the mercy that’s been bestowed upon me. I deserve solitude, abandonment and public shame.  This could have ended so many ways, and many of my potential destinations would have meant lasting misery and punishment.  We take for granted the many times that we are spared from the practical consequences of our sins.
Several months ago, Hannah and I reached out to a counselor to help us with our healing, and we were baffled by the attitude of the person who was supposedly there to assist us.  They abrasively pushed forth the notion that all sins are equal, and that I was no different than the neighborhood gossip or the busybody down the road.  In this moment, the misguided counselor was ignoring the real weight of my actions.
Our mistakes carry both eternal and temporal relevance, and they bring forth consequences in both realms.  Christ has died to relieve us of the crushing burden of the eternal costs, to be sure, but He does not always spare us of our earthly debts.  Just because a criminal accepts Christ does not pardon him from his prison sentencing.  Although sins may be equal in their capacity to separate us from our heavenly Father, their real-world implications vary greatly.
Acknowledging this truth brings me to my knees once again, humbled by the understanding that I have been spared from a variety of terrible outcomes. Thank God for my pardon.

The Revelation of Solomon

     As the healing process proceeds, Hannah and I continue to peel away at this situation and learn from it.  One thing I have discerned is this:
      Pleasure is the idol of many. 
    Unfaithfulness is a product of the underlying lie that we all buy into, which says that pleasure brings joy. This is not the case.  In the bible, we find that the richest and most pleasured man, King Solomon, is burdened tragically by his pursuit for fulfillment.  In fact, 1st kings 11:3-4 shows us that Solomon’s accrual of lovers destroys him.  Solomon’s book of wisdom, Ecclesiastes, is basically a collection of Solomon’s musings over the vanity of pleasure and wealth.
     It seems so incredibly easy to outsource what the bible says about the rich, because every time we read it, we assume that the writer is referring to the guy who is slightly richer than us…  But pleasure is another story.  Pleasure is the common idol of all mankind.  (1 john 2:16-17)
     Look at downtown on a weekend night. Men and women alike congregate for the sole purpose of flaunting their best facade for the purposes of finding a mate, or a worshipper. It’s like a zoo. It is a sophisticated portrait of the animal kingdom—men overstate their masculinity, and women manufacture superficial sexuality in appearance and action. 
        Pleasure. It's the pursuit of pleasure.
    Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines-- in other words; he could have sex with a different woman every day for 2.7 years without repeating one.  This is the hyperbole of our world's manic pursuit for sexual fulfillment, and we see above that the outcome is grim. Let this be a deafening warning to our society which pines for fulfillment through physical touch.
     Solomon knew opulence that we can only dream of, and he stood in esteem above more women than we can imagine. And yet, he was miserable. This is the misery of kings. We are hypnotized by the delusion that pleasure brings fulfillment. Sometimes it almost seems that prosperity has a toxic effect on a man’s heart.  Perhaps it’s no coincidence that America has one of the highest standards of living and the highest rate of depression. 
      We are being destroyed by our drive for fulfillment, like a glutton eating himself into an early grave. Sexual promiscuity is incinerating the leaders of tomorrow alive. Pornography is fracturing the church. Illicit relationships are mocking the covenant of marriage relentlessly.   
      We are being engulfed in the fire of self fulfillment. 
      Take a step back and evaluate where pleasure falls in the priority list of your life.  True joy is found in God, and not in the fleeting luxuries of this world.

Of Guilt and Grace

I recently heard a comedian remark that people enjoy feeling guilty as they indulge in things they shouldn’t.  After the past year, I can say with confidence that anyone who says they enjoy the aura of guilt resting on them has no idea what it truly means to feel that weight on their shoulders.
                Guilt is not a relative emotion that dissolves when the person you’ve harmed has left the room. It is not a social construct or an invention of religion.  It is a burden that is almost beyond articulating, and it crushes many who cannot withstand it’s weight.
I have stared up at the blackness of a sunless morning, feeling truly condemned before the cosmos itself.  All alone, with only the quiet Earth, I have experienced the clutching coldness of guilt choking the life out of my lungs.   At times, I have been so encumbered by the gravity of my sins that I felt I could just lay on the cold earth until I became one with the soil.
This is the unshakable nature of judgment and condemnation.  In the past year, I have written so many songs about my experiences, and I must conclude that the central themes in these songs are guilt and graceI can no longer write ideological worship anthems that ignore the sting of my errors. Instead, I use my faults to frame my need for Christ’s redemption.
One of the first songs I wrote had a chorus which stated this:   “No man can grasp salvation / until he is horrified / by the work of his hands.”  A friend of mine shared this on facebook and received some negative feedback from someone else. The critic was quick to point out that “this is not at all what the cross was all about”.   I just shrugged it off. Perhaps he doesn’t understand the underlying emotion which drives this chorus. One day, he will
Every man faces a day when guilt transforms from an abstract concept to a soul-crippling infection.   I have met so many christians who say “I thought I was a christian before, and then I (fill in the blank with traumatic experience or big mistake) and now I look back and wonder if I was even a believer back then.”   Why does this happen so much?  Because we are blind to the depth of our need for grace in the beginning.  If anything, our belief is an intellectual exercise based on secondhand information.
As I raise my children, I wonder how I can help them grasp the universal, outrageous need for grace without subjecting them to their own potentially life-ruining mistakes in order to discover it.  But alas, that’s for another entry.
I suppose that through all this musing, the bottom line is this:   understanding our need for grace is a vital part of accepting it fully.  It’s easy to toss the word “sin” around like it means practically nothing at all, but when we actually face the toxic nature of it, we cling to the cross with great fervor.  I pray that this newfound need would also drive me to share Christ’s redemption with others. 
After all, the biggest difference in the “old christian vs. new Christian” issue I mentioned above is a problem of perspective.  We need healing regardless, but only when we come to our knees in repentance do we become familiar with that need.

Pulling back the curtain.

     If you are reading this, you are probably enlightened to the nature of my grievous actions.  Nonetheless, let me take a moment and frame this blog in context, as best I can. 
    I married my wife, Hannah, on June 7th of 2008.  I can say with painful honesty that I never truly rose to the occasion of being a Godly husband. I neglected by duties, shirked my responsibilities, and avoided confrontation.  I was a coward, and it poisoned me inside.
    In the winter of 2012, I had an affair with one of my coworkers.  It was a haze of wicked mindlessness that sent my family’s life into a tailspin.  Words cannot articulate the damage that I’ve seen… the sleepless nights, shameful recollections and desperate prayers.  My wife and I have journeyed through the storms and uncertainties day by day, and I can say with confidence that we have victory over this tragic occurrence.  There are times of turbulence that arise frequently.  This is our battle, and I know that God is on our side as we triumph and reclaim lost territory.
    So here I am, a man fractured by his own mistakes.  I suppose that some of the friends we’ve disclosed this to secretly harbor judgment towards me… or perhaps they are at least curious on where I stand, and what I’ve seen.  This blog is an attempt to pull back the curtain and provide a rare glimpse into the revelations that I’ve seen bloom from the fallout of my errors. I have witnessed a dispensation of grace that few will ever grasp.  

    The contents of this blog may, at times, be very heavy. They may be hard to digest, confusing, and even offensive.  This is where faith, folly, grace and guilt intersect. I believe that this is the beginning of a greater dialogue in my married life.  I pray that this cultivates conversation, prayer and self-reflection.  If you have a question about what you read, ask me.  If this blog challenges you, examine yourself.  It’s time to use our stories for the greater benefit of all.  
You are reading a post on The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about the Hartsfields and their journey to recovery from unfaithfulness. We encourage you to contact us if you have questions or comments. Make sure to subscribe by email (on the right side) for regular updates and check out our other blog here