In Part 1 of this blog series we looked at Exodus 8 and how Pharaoh waited a day to have Moses ask God to get rid of the frogs. Carrying unforgiveness around in your heart is like carrying a bunch of frogs around with you. Forgiveness allows us to get rid of these frogs. If you did not read Part 1 of this blog series, you can read it here.
I would like to share with you a little bit of my story and the frogs that I carried around in my own life. I not only let them hang out, I let them influence my life and how I lived it.
As I tell this story, I want you to keep 2 themes in mind:
- I can accomplish anything with hard work.
- My dependence on the approval of others.
These two things brought me some level of success and even fame early on in my life, but at the same time, they acted as anchors that held me back from living the full life that God had intended for me.
My story begins on a sunny morning on April 16, 1977. The number one hit on the radio that week was How Deep Is Your Love by the Bee Gees. On that morning, shortly after 7 am, I came into this world in a hospital in Waterloo, IA. I was the first and only child born to my parents John and Jill. At least, I was the only child of this 3 member family. My dad would later have a daughter, Sara born to him and my stepmom Sandy, but that would not be for nine more years.
I would love to tell you how our family was close and great just like any All-American family, but I can’t. I have no recollection of the three of us together. My earliest remembrances were of my parents already split up. They were separated before I ever remember us all together. I do remember hearing that mom and dad had to go to court, but I did not understand why. In those early years, I never knew what a normal family was. I knew that there were certain days that I lived with my mom and then on other days, I went to spend an entirely different life with my dad. That was normal for me. That was all I knew. When I was with my dad, we lived on his farm and I lived the life of a young farm boy. When I was with mom, we spent most of our time on my Grandma Rose’s farm. The common denominator was farm life and I loved it. I loved playing with the animals and being around the tractors. I loved exploring down the lane and playing with my cousins when I could. Farm life was for me.
As I grew older, I was never much of a sports fan. I didn’t watch sports on TV and I didn’t play catch with my dad. We did farm stuff and that was OK because I loved doing that. Sports were never a huge priority to my dad so I did not grow up in a sports environment when I was around my dad. My mom was big on sports though and she would take me to the YMCA with her when she would go work out. I loved going swimming with my mom in the pool when I was just a little boy. I would lay on her back when she swam laps with her back up and I would lay on her stomach when she did laps doing the backstroke. It was important to my mom that I be exposed to different sporting opportunities so she would sign me up for all kinds of sports through the YMCA. This included wrestling, tee ball, flag football, and some basketball. I was not very good at any of the sports and to be honest, I didn’t really enjoy them much. I remember playing tee ball one summer and they put me in the outfield because they probably thought I could do the least amount of harm to the team out there. I am told that at one point, I was standing out there, with my glove off and on the ground, looking at the birds because I was more interested in them than the game going on around me. My mom had natural athletic ability and my dad did not so much. I inherited his sporting ability so sports were never anything that came very naturally to me.
After elementary school, I transferred to the Hudson School district. My mom wanted me to have a better opportunity to be involved in things and felt that I could do that better at a smaller school like Hudson. This was a hard transition for me because I had to leave all the friends I had made at Orange Elementary School and start all over. I was a kid who was very large for my age. I was bigger than almost all the other kids. I was also very uncoordinated. Being this size made me stand out in the crowd and my uncoordination soon became a good source of comedy to the other kids at school. Playing games at recess were always a huge part of what we did and I wanted to fit in so I tried to play along with them, but my uncoordination soon showed. Kids can be very mean sometimes and in those first couple of years at Hudson, I was made fun of a lot. They used to call me all kinds of names, but my least favorite of all was the term “freak.” I really hated that name, but I guess it did kind of fit because I really was a freak of sorts. People in a small community tend to get very excited when a young boy, who is taller and bigger than the rest, moves into the school district because they see the potential of having a big sports star that will lead them to multiple state championships. I’m sure there were some who might have had those thoughts about me, but if they saw me playing games at recess, they would have been terribly disappointed.
By the time 7th grade rolled around, I decided that I was going to go out for both football and basketball. This was my first experience wearing pads in football. I was not really prepared for the hitting at that point in my life. I was a pretty easy-going person and I struggled trying to get my “game face” on for the games. In reality, I didn’t really have a “game face.” It was not natural for me to hit violently. I just wanted to get along with everybody. I struggled through the football season and played some as a reserve, but at no point did I approach anything that ever resembled a football player.
Basketball went even worse for me. I had never played much basketball before and I was just not good. I remember my coach putting me right under the basket and having me try to find the spot on the backboard so that when I shot the ball, I could bank it in. I think I shot about 20 shots before one went in. I want to remind you that I was shooting from right under the basket. I did get to play some, mostly because of my height, but I played as a reserve. I never started a game and I certainly didn’t deserve to start a game. I remember one road trip when our bus broke down. The coach and the starting five got a ride to the game with a couple of parents and all of us reserves were left on the broken down bus. We did eventually make it to the game, but it was an afterthought. I remember thinking to myself that it was ridiculous for me to keep playing sports if I was not going to be good at them. I had a strong desire to be accepted by my classmates and I knew that if I could find a way to excel at sports, people would like me and stop making fun of me and life would be good. The major hurdle facing me though was that getting good at sports was not going to be easy because I didn’t have a lot of natural ability. I knew that I would have to work at least twice as hard as everyone else if I was ever going to be good at sports.
We cleared the floor on one-third of haymow in the barn at my grandma’s farm. We set up a basketball hoop and even painted lines for the lane and the 3 point line. I got a basketball and I went to work. I would spend up to 3-4 hours a day shooting and doing different basketball drills. In the winter, I would shoot when it was so cold I could see my breath. When my hands would start to freeze, I would take a 5 minute break and warm them in the mittens I had brought with me. Then it was back to work. I was determined to get good in basketball, but through the drills I did over and over again, it made me a better athlete in general so I got better in football as well. I started going to basketball and football camps, most of the ones put on by UNI. I took every opportunity I could to work on getting better at sports and it began to pay off. By 8th grade, I was a starter in both football and basketball. As a freshman in football, I was a starter by the second game of the season. In basketball, I was a starter by my sophomore season. That season, we won a state title in basketball, the first in the history of our school. I will always remember our big upset of Winfield Mt. Union in the semifinal. They had Jess Settles and Klay Edwards on their team and we were able to beat them 44-40. I scored the last four points of that game. They said it was one of the biggest upset in the history of the Iowa Boy’s State Tournament. They were such a dominate team that when we were watching them play the game before we played them as a team, our coach had us leave at halftime because they were dominating them so bad, he was afraid it would psych us out. It was a moment that I will never forget.
I would show up 2 hours before home basketball games and shoot baskets for about an hour to an hour and a half before the girl’s game. If I felt I had not played up to my potential, which was most games, I would stay and shoot in the gym by myself for a couple of hours and not leave to go home until 11 pm or midnight. For a while the janitor would try to find things to do, but eventually, he just gave me a key so I could lock everything up when I left. My hard work did pay off and I got good, really good at both sports. I became more or more coordinated and at the same time, I became more and more popular. I have always had a pretty good personality and have been pretty easy to get along with so I know that people did get to know me and like me for who I am, but getting good at sports was the means to get the process going. Sports were my golden ticket to being accepted. It worked. I got better and better at sports and I continued to work harder and harder to get better. At the same time, I continued to get more and more popular. Going into my senior year of high school, I had become one of the premier football players in our conference. Soon I was being recruited to play football from schools all over the country. I was getting some letters for basketball as well, but most were for football. We had an undefeated season in football my senior year and won a state title. We had done it. We had brought multiple state titles to our little school. We had effectively put Hudson on the map and I had been transformed into a high school hero in the process. I don’t say this to brag, but to show what can be done when you have determination and a strong work ethic. My dreams had come true. I was accepted and loved by almost everyone in Hudson and admired by most of the others schools that we would ever play. I had done it.
Now it was time to take what I had done to a bigger stage. That stage would be located in Ames, IA. My college decision as to where I would go play football came down to two schools, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. I loved Hayden Fry and he treated me so great. I had decided that I was going to be a Hawkeye. This would send ripples through the family because everyone in my family was an Iowa State fan. Then something amazing happened. Iowa State fired their coach, Jim Walden, and then hired Dan McCarney, who was a defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, to be their new head football coach. He had played at the University of Iowa and coached under Hayden Fry. I met Coach Mac and was blown away by his intensity and determination. He planted a seed in my head and in my soul of turning around the football program at Iowa State, which had been so bad for so many years. It was going to be a long hard climb, but I had been on one of those before so I bought into the vision and made the decision that I was going to be a Cyclone.
While I was being recruited, it was a really BIG deal in our small town of Hudson. Hudson had only a handful of athletes in it’s entire history that had ever gone on to play any sport at a major Div 1 school. Hudson was made up of mostly Iowa fans at the time and I remember the day that Hayden Fry came to visit us. It was Hayden and about 4 of the assistant coaches. They came to the farm and pulled up in 3 black cars. It was like the President coming. He talked to me and the family and then we gave him a tour of the farm. I even showed him my pigs. That still makes me laugh because he was hearing his really expensive ostrich skin cowboy boots, that he had received after the last Rose Bowl they were in, and here he was in the pen with my pigs. Soon the caravan headed to town. They came by the school and everyone was in amazement. I had to go to basketball practice, but the caravan went on through the town of Hudson. A stop was made at the Hudson House, a restaurant in town. Don and Marilyn Shipanek were the owners of this restaurant. The irony is that Don was a player on the Iowa football team when they won the 1958 Rose Bowl. He was a huge Iowa fan and the entire restaurant was decorated with Iowa stuff on the walls. Don even had a cardboard standup of Hayden Fry near the entrance. Even more ironic was that Marilyn’s maiden name was Marsau so they were family. Hayden and the caravan went to the restaurant that day and Don had his picture taken with the real Hayden Fry and the cardboard one at the same time. People were following the caravan around because you did not get an iconic coach in Hudson very often, but on that day he was there. Eventually, I had to break the new to Hayden that I was not going to be a Hawkeye and it was one of the hardest things I ever did.
Soon the day came and I left my home and traveled for my new adventure in Ames. I had come to depend on the approval I had gained in Hudson and I was not too eager to leave it. I had accomplished great things during my 7 years in Hudson, but now I was starting over in a much bigger area than I had ever known before. There is a big jump from the high school level to major college football. I felt the effects of this right away. I was no longer the star, but just another freshman. I still had my determination and my work ethic on my side though so I went to work. I outworked almost everyone on the team. I worked on drills before and after practice and I improved, but it was slow. I can remember at one point during my first season at Iowa State, I wanted to quit, but my mom talked me out of it. I am so glad she did. As I worked to gain acceptance at a university the size of Iowa State, I used the only avenue I knew of, excellence in sports, to try to gain it.
Saturday nights were our night to party. If we won, we partied hard to celebrate. If we lost (which was more the norm.) we partied to drown our sorrows. Every other day though was 100% focus on improving as a team and for me to improve as an individual. Many of my friends would go out and have fun multiple nights a week, but I chose not to. Becoming a better football player was what I wanted more than anything and I wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way. By my redshirt freshman year, I had earned a starting spot on the defensive line. It might have been a little early, but I was the second best defensive tackle on the team so I got thrown out there. It was a hard year because I got beat up a lot and we did not win many games. I continued to work hard to improve my speed a quickness and football skills and was gaining needed weight at the same time. Football at this level is a year round deal. There is no off-season. This was not a new concept for me however because I had been training that way for so many years now.
By my redshirt sophomore year, I was moved to the offensive line and despite my best efforts, I got beat out at my right guard spot and so for the first time since my 7th grade year of football, I found myself on the bench. This was a very hard time for me personally. I had learned that if I worked hard enough, I could accomplish anything, but in this case, I had worked my butt off and it still was not enough. I had not succeeded. The other problem was that I associated acceptance from those around me with my ability to excel in sports. Now that I was no longer a starter, I felt like I had let everyone down. This included my family, my girlfriend, everyone back in Hudson, my head coach, my position coach, my teammates, and all my other friends. It was a very low time for me in my life. I had trouble dealing with the disappointment. All I knew how to do was to work harder so that is exactly what I did. I set my goal on earning a starting spot on the offensive line and I went to work harder than I had ever done before.
My work did pay off because by my redshirt junior year, I earned a starting spot at left tackle. I never lost that spot as I continued to be the starting left tackle for the rest of my playing time at Iowa State. As I continued to improve individually as a football player, our team continued to improve with each passing season. By 1998, we were playing the University of Iowa in Kinnick stadium. Iowa State had not beaten Iowa in football in 15 straight seasons. No one associated with the program had beaten Iowa and it was a little ridiculous. If you want to learn more about this game and my take on what happened that day, please read the blog I wrote on that last year here. To make a long story short, we won that day in a huge upset of epic proportions. We not only won, but we dominated them. That day was a turning point for our program. That was the day that our team started gaining some respect. We were no longer seen as a joke by others. From then on it was different when we went out on Saturday nights. We no longer had to wait in line with everyone else to get into the bars. The bar owners would let us in the back door. It was a mutually good deal because we wanted to be in the bar and the owners wanted us in their bars because people wanted to be around us. In addition to that, people were always buying us drinks so we rarely had to pay for anything. We were seen as heros everywhere we went. It was crazy. It was also completely ridiculous as I look back on it now. I wasn’t any more special than anyone else, but because I was a football star, I was viewed as a hero. To be honest, I loved the fame. Let me rephrase that, I loved the acceptance. I loved the fact that people loved and cared about me. It made me feel special and protected. What is sad is that I felt I needed that to exist at the time.
I grew up in a Christian home and attended church growing up. I continued to go to church in college on Sundays because that was what I did growing up and that is all I knew. While I was a regular church attendee, I was just that, only an attendee. I did not have a personal relationship with God. I had not stepped over the faith line. I believed in God, but I did not think I needed Him in my life then because I had life under control. At least I did in my own eyes. I was able to attain success by the world’s standards very early in life through my hard work and determination. Through that success, I had the acceptance of so many people who were willing to help me, that I felt like I had everything covered on my own. I had my life under control so in my eyes, God was better off spending His time helping people who really needed Him because I didn’t need Him or so I thought at the time.
My redshirt senior year was my best one yet at Iowa State. I continued to improve as a player and our team posted the best record yet over my 5 year career. By the end of the season, I had made the All-Big 12 team as a left tackle. To my surprise, there was interest from the NFL to have me continue my football career. I was not expecting that, but I thought, why not? I continued to train at Iowa State and I was in the best shape of my life. The NFL Draft came around and I was never drafted. A couple of days after the draft however, my agent called me and told me that the St. Louis Rams were interested in me signing a free agent contract with them. The year was 2000 and the St. Louis Rams had just won the Super Bowl just two months earlier. Not only was this an NFL team, they were the best football team in the world and they were interested in me being a part of their team. I was blown away. I decided that I would give it my best shot and see what happened. The team sent me their training program and I began training using their program as I finished up my degree at Iowa State.
I took off for a long weekend before I graduated and traveled to St. Louis to participate in their rookie OTA camp. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. I was heading into the great unknown. It was another huge step up in my playing career. The camp went well and I was then back in Ames to finish the last couple of weeks of classes. Immediately after graduation from Iowa State, I moved to St. Louis and my new life found me living in a hotel room with a wide receiver rookie from the University of Wyoming named Wendell Montgomery. We got along very well. Our days were filled with half a day of intense training and nothing to do during the afternoons and at night. Our days started at 6 am sharp and were over by 1 pm each day. Training was intense and we spent a great deal of our off time resting our bodies for the next day. There was an Olive Garden across the street from the hotel and we ate there almost every night. The manager would give us meals on the house as long as we would sign some stuff for him every now and then. All it takes to be famous in the NFL world is to be on the team. It did not matter that we were not on the Super Bowl team. Just knowing that St. Louis was the champions of the world made everyone very generous. Everywhere we went we had the royal treatment. Everyone wanted to be our friends, but I don’t really think anyone really cared about us as people. They were more worried about what we could do for them.
Life in the NFL is very different from the life in college football. In college, there are always coaches or other people pushing you to get better and better. They make sure you go to class. They make sure you are not late for workouts. It is different in the NFL. They don’t care if you show up for workouts or not. If you don’t want to get better, they always have someone available to replace you. I still worked hard anyway and found that I was in much better shape than most of the other rookies. I think this is due to the hard work I had put into preparing. The higher you go in football, the less of a game it is. In the NFL it is a job. It is no longer “rah rah” for your team. It is about making a living for yourself. The team takes care of everything for you. They bring in the bank to set up your bank account for you. They bring in insurance people for you. They give you money for food in addition to the kitchen they have at the facility. They even buy toiletries for you that are available for you to take from the facility. They do not want you to have your focus on anything but football. It is a very strange existence.
Life with the Rams went on for the next couple of months and then I got cut by the team. I now found myself at a fork in the road. I could choose to try to go to another team and try to make that team and continue my NFL career. My agent wanted me to go to Seattle because the Seahawks were interested in me trying to make their team. My other choice was to return to Ames and enter vet school at Iowa State. I had wanted to be a veterinarian for almost my whole life and this was my chance to make that dream a reality. To be honest, I had about enough of trying to live the NFL dream. I was not a huge fan of the NFL. Everything I loved about football was not there anymore. I was glad I had experienced it though because I was not ready to be done after my last college game and this gave me an opportunity to go out on my terms. I made the decision to end my career in the NFL. I left with memories of an amazing experience. I lived a life, even if it was only a few short months, that few people on this earth ever get to experience. I also met some really cool people along the way. I was very blessed to have that experience.
I moved back to Ames and a week later, I was a first year vet student. I was starting a whole new life. That is when reality set in a bit. Football, the thing that made me famous was no longer a part of my life. I was just a person like everyone else and I was not used to that. The people of Ames still remembered me, but my identity had been ripped from me. I was no longer Bill, the football player. I was just Bill, the student. It was different and hard, but I enjoyed not having to live up to the expectations of others like I had as a football player. The schoolwork was very hard, but I did enjoy just being a student.
During vet school, I reconnected with an old friend of mine named Stacy. We had met in high school, but at the time, I was dating someone else. Plus we went to different schools so we didn’t really talk much. Through a friend, we reconnected and started dating. We quickly fell madly in love with each other and within a few months, I proposed and she said yes. Up to this point in my life, I had not been ready to commit to marriage, but now I felt ready. I loved Stacy with everything I had, like I never had anyone before and in return, she gave me her love too. The best part was that I received total acceptance and this filled a huge void in my life that football had left. I no longer had football to get the acceptance of others, but now I had Stacy’s acceptance and that was all I needed at that point. I felt whole and complete again and that felt great.
I graduated vet school in May of 2004 and Stacy and I were married a month later in June. Right after the honeymoon, we moved to Oklahoma so I could serve as an intern at an equine referral hospital. Married life was great, especially for me. I gave my love freely and received it back in return. We fought at times, but we quickly made up. Stacy was very involved in the church in the little town we lived in and I would always go to church with her. I still did not have a real relationship with God, but I did enjoy going with her. I still did not have a real need for God in my life. Stacy gave me all the love and acceptance that I could ever need and I felt that we would always be together so my needs were being met and life was good.
At the end of one year, my internship was over so we moved back to Iowa. We rented a farm just north of Ames so we could have a place to put our horses. I was having trouble finding a job at that time and it created a bit of a rift between us. I did get a job after a couple of months though. I worked in Iowa Falls and she drove to Waukee each day for hers so there was a lot of driving involved. Stacy liked to drink and loved having fun with her friends so it became very common for her to go to the bar in Waukee once her teaching day was over and not get home until later at night. I probably should have said something, but I didn’t want to start any turmoil so I just kept my mouth shut. At the same time it felt like we were drifting apart.
It was December of 2005 and I remember it well because Stacy and I had made plans to travel to the Houston Bowl to watch ISU take on TCU. Just before our trip, Stacy told me that she didn’t love me anymore and wanted to get a divorce. I couldn’t believe it. We had only been married a year and a half. I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t know what to do so I just went back to what I knew. I decided that I would work to be the best husband ever and I would make it so she wanted to stay married to me. I convinced her to still go on the trip with me and I made it a point to be as kind, giving, and loving as any husband could ever be. She said she saw a big difference, but wanted to know why I was doing that because it wasn’t going to change things. She said that she still wanted out. I just kept things up determined to try to change her mind. We spent a few weekends together at her family’s farm and I just continued to express my love to her the best I could. A turning point finally came. She told me that she wanted to go home one weekend, but that she did not want me to come with her. I thought that was the end. I cried most of the weekend. To my surprise, she came home and told me that she had been a fool. She said that she did love me and that our marriage was too important to her to ever get divorced. She said that we had made a covenant with God and we needed to keep it. She said she wanted a new start and that it would be different and she promised that she would never say the word divorce again. I was overjoyed. She told me exactly what I had hoped that she would. It worked yet again. You can do anything with hard work and determination, plus a little coaxing from her parents.
As a part of our new start, Stacy said that she wanted to find a place of our own and start buying it. We looked all over and found a place just south of Stanhope on 20 acres. It had a big remodeled house and a barn for the horses. It was perfect. It was our dream house. It was a little pricy, but Stacy’s parents helped us with the down payment and with the money that each of us made, we determined that we could afford it. I was all in. I believed Stacy when she told me that she was committed and I trusted her with my life. We moved in and began building our new life together.
In the beginning it was really good. We were both very loving towards each other and things seemed to be going great. As summer rolled around though, Stacy joined a mixed softball team in Story City. Looking back, I should have joined it with her, but I was having a very busy season at work so I chose not to. I would come home from Iowa Falls each night and 2 nights a week she would go play softball in Story City. The season started by Stacy coming home right after games, but as the season started progressing, she started joining the team at the local bar and she started coming home later and later. By the end of the season, there were some nights that she would not get home until 3 am. I asked her about this, but she just said it was them having fun and now it was over. It was not over though. She would continue to make trips to Story City and join “friends” at the bar. It seems so obvious to me now as I write this and I can’t believe I didn’t see what was going on, but at the time, when I was in the middle of it, I didn’t want to believe it so I was blinded by my love for Stacy.
I clearly remember Valentine’s Day of 2006. I woke up to go to work and on the kitchen table was a Valentine card from Stacy. In the card she told me how much she loved me and how proud she was to be my wife. She reaffirmed to me that we were going to be together forever. My heart was so overwhelmed with joy because she was telling me what she was not showing me and I thought I was wrong.
That came crashing down 2 days later when I was talking to the husband of one of Stacy’s best friends. We were having a friendly conversation and at one point he told me what I was doing to Stacy was really shitty. I asked him what he was talking about and he told me that Stacy had told them I was cheating on her. I couldn’t believe it. What was he talking about? I told him I had to go and I got off the phone. I got Stacy and I confronted her about it. Her first instinct was to deny over and over again. I kept asking her why she would tell anyone I was cheating on her when I clearly was not. Finally, she broke down and started to cry and told me that she was the one who had been cheating. She had met a guy named Jamie at the bar in Story City last summer and that she was having an affair with him. She would go to the bar, meet up with him. He would then take her back to his place, have sex with her. When they were done, she would come home and crawl into bed with me, her husband, and spend the rest of the night with me. Some of those nights I know we had sex so that meant that she had sex with more than one man on the same night. That thought really made my stomach churn. I was physically sickened beyond words.
I walked away in stunned silence. I didn’t even know how to respond. I couldn’t be around her in those moments. I ended up going away for a couple of days to think. I thought really hard. I prayed to God, which I rarely did, and asked for guidance and help. I didn’t really get a clear answer. After my two days, I came back to her and told her that I was willing to forgive her, but the affair needed to stop right away and we needed to get counseling to help us. She told me that she did not want to stop the affair because she was madly in love with Jamie and that she did not love me anymore. She told me that I was a joke of a man and that she regretted ever marrying me and that she wanted to get divorced. Let’s just say that was a hard day for me.
The idea of getting divorced was repulsive to me. I had made a lifelong commitment to her and she did not. I came form a divorced home and I promised myself that I would never get divorced. I was never going to follow that path. Now here I was being forced into that against my will. I had invested everything I had into this marriage and now that it was over, I lost my identity. I did not now how I was going to go on with my life. I did not know how I was going to survive. I was not even sure that I wanted to survive. I just wanted the immense hurt and pain to go away.
We continued to live in the same house, but since it was so big, I moved down to a bedroom in the basement. She would go her way and I would go mine. It was such a strange existence. Despite all the hurt, I still told myself that if I tried harder to be the husband she wanted me to be that I could save the marriage. I still loved her. She was the love of my life and I could not imagine living life without her. Besides, it had worked before so I kept trying to do nice things for her whenever I could. I remember one night that I made her and I supper and she came home, laughed at me, told me that she had dinner plans with Jamie, changed her clothes, and left me there at our home alone. She would walk around the house, talking to Jamie on the phone and talk to him about their future together and plans they were making to start a life together. It ripped my heart out every time. Even though divorce papers had been served by this point, we were still married and still living in the same house.
The worst day occurred on a Friday night. I was sitting in the living room watching TV and Stacy, Jamie and their friend came home from the bar. Stacy walked in and told me that I should go downstairs. I told her that I was not going to do that. I sat there as she brought Jamie into the house. They walked around the house and Stacy was showing Jamie pictures of her family, our family. Stacy and Jamie went upstairs, which I assumed was part of the tour of the rest of the house, while their friend stayed in the living room. I felt so uncomfortable. About 20 minutes went by and they never came downstairs and I was just beside myself. I couldn’t take it any longer, so I decided to creep upstairs to see what was going on. The sight that awaited me was an image that will be burned into my mind for all my days. My wife was having sex with Jamie on our bed. My wife was having sex with another man, in our house, while I was there.
I didn’t even know how to react. Part of me wanted to run into the room screaming and start hitting Jamie, but I never did. I just went completely numb. I turned and walked away. I don’t think they even saw me. I went downstairs and saw here phone on the kitchen table. I took it and went down to my bedroom in the basement. I stayed up all night just sitting there numb. I looked through her phone and saw that she had been talking to many men over the past several months and the conversations led me to believe that she had been having multiple affairs during our marriage. I could not believe it. It was at that point that I too, gave up on the marriage. I finally realized that it really was over.
I walked up the next morning to the kitchen and Jamie was sitting in my chair in the living room, reading the paper. Stacy was cooking him breakfast and doing his laundry. Really? What kind of warped universe was this? I started yelling at Jamie and told him to get the hell out of my house that very instant and that if he ever stepped into my home again I would call the cops. The one funny part was that I think I scared him pretty good because he ran out the door and left in his boxer shorts because his pants were in the dryer. Stacy just started yelling at me and we got in a huge verbal fight, but I didn’t care by that point. I was still too numb to feel anything.
Stacy was a special education teacher at Waukee and some of her students would get out of hand sometimes and it was not unusual for her to come home with bruises on her arms from her students. I learned during this time we were still living together, she was showing these bruises to her friends and family telling them that I was being physically abusive to her. I couldn’t believe it. First she told people I was cheating on her and now she was telling people I was hitting her. I heard these things after the fact and would try to explain that I had not done those things. Some of our friends didn’t believe me and I lost their friendship. Those friends who really knew me and that I would never do that believed me and stayed my friends. I tried to explain to her dad that it was not true, but he told me that he had to side with his daughter and asked me not to call him again. That cut me really deep because he was a man I respected so much and it just killed me that he probably still thinks to this day that I would do those things just because his daughter lied to him about it. I guess there are people who come and go in and out of your life for a reason and for a reason I could not understand at the time, those people were not meant to be in my life any longer.
During this time, I tried to stay focused on my job, but it was so hard to do. I would often drive around and cry a lot. I was a totally different person. Within a couple of months, I got let go from my job. I drove a company vehicle for work and personal use as directed by my boss, so I had no personal car of my own. I only had my company cell phone and no phone of my own. My boss told me that I was being let go and I had one hour to gather my things and then my boss drove me home. I had no vehicle and no car. I walked a mile to my nearest neighbor and used their phone to call a friend in Ames to come get me and take me to a cell phone store so I could get a cell phone. I had no money and was soon on unemployment with just enough to get by. Stacy soon moved out of the house to go live with her new boyfriend and I was left all alone in a 5,000 sq ft. tomb. The only things in this tomb were me and the ashes of a marriage, a life, which was no longer. I could not pay my half of the mortgage on our home and Stacy refused to pay her half since she was no longer living there. We tried to sell the house, but there were no buyers. Soon, the house went into foreclosure and I could never pay off the money I owed so I had to file for bankruptcy. I was financially, emotionally, and spiritually broke. To top all things off, the divorce became final and now I was officially all alone.
This is when the really bad times started. I stopped caring about anything. I stopped going to church because I could no longer step foot in the sanctuary because that is where I had gotten married. I started to actually hate God for letting all this awful stuff happen to me. I stopped caring about my own existence at all. I had completely lost my will to live. I was living for Stacy and now she was gone. I longed desperately for the love and acceptance from anyone. I began drinking a lot and going out to the bars so that I would not have to stay at home alone. When I was really drunk, the pain stopped, even if it was for only a few hours. I had a series of one night stands. I used to play this guessing game when I would wake up in the mornings. First I had to guess what the name of the woman who was lying in the bed beside me. Then I had to guess where I was because I was too hung over to remember. Finally, I had to try to remember where my car was so I could get the hell out of there.
When I got tired of one night stands, I tried starting relationships with girls, but my heart was never in it. I had lost my ability to really love anyone. I would say all the right things that would cause a girl to fall in love with me. This gave me the love that I so desperately needed, from anyone, in my life. When things started getting too serious, I would just end the relationship and move on to the next girl. I was an emotional predator, just sucking the life out of these women. I was doing this, but I did not realize I was doing this. In my mind then, I thought I did love them, but I didn’t, I couldn’t. I could never let my guard down enough to let anyone else in because I was too afraid of getting hurt again. I didn’t think I could ever go through that amount of pain and hurt again. I am so ashamed now of what I did, but I never meant to hurt those girls, but I sure did.
It came to a head on 12/24/08 at the Christmas Eve service. I was surrounded by family and friends and still felt totally alone. I broke down and cried when we sang “Silent Night.” I had reached my bottom. I knew I could no longer do life on my own. I got on my knees, gave my life to God, and asked for His help. In that moment I surrendered my heart to God and made the decision to follow Him and develop an intimate relationship with Him.
For the first time in my life I had a true sense of what the Gospel (Good News) was really about. Christ did for me what I couldn’t do for myself. Jesus allowed himself to be tortured and brutally murdered to pay the penalty for my sins so that I wouldn’t have to. In doing so, all my sins are forgiven if I ask God to forgive me. This gave me a new life and allowed me to have an intimate relationship with God for the first time in my life.
It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me. It felt like I was getting a giant hug and felt for the first time in a very long time that everything was going to be alright. I knew that if I leaned into God, I could love Him and He would love me back and He would never leave me. I could just be me and He would love me for just who I was. After all, He created me. It was that day that I had a new dad.
When I returned to Ames after Christmas, I asked Pastor Staff, the pastor who married Stacy and I, to meet with me. I started to talk to him about some of the things I had experienced and that I had given my life to God. I told him I was so sorry for leaving the church and asked him if it would be OK if I started going to church again. There were tears and he welcomed me back with open arms. I was finally back on the right path.
Within a couple of months, I learned of a class called Ultimate Journey, put on by Harvest Vineyard Church in Ames. I was not sure about it, but I could feel God telling me that I should do it, so I did. We formed very small groups. There were two other participants and a leader in my group. We started going through our lives from the time we were a baby to our lives now. The idea was that we would write letters to ourselves. It would start by us writing a letter written by us as a small child to our adult self. Our adult self would then write a letter back to us as a small child telling them that they are loved and that they are forgiven. The letters went on through all the stages of our lives. It was a little awkward at first, but soon I was fully immersed in the process. We met each week and soon I was writing 30 page letters to myself each week. It would take us 3-4 hours each week just for everyone to read their letters. There were a lot of tears shed by everyone. We were all broken in our own ways. We all had so many frogs that we had been carrying around with us. Hurts and pains from unforgiveness had made us all broken people and now we were exposing them and dealing with them for the first time in our lives. Through the process, I forgave my parents for getting divorced, my young friends for bullying me emotionally and all those who have hurt me. I forgave myself for all the terrible things I had done. I took responsibility for all the things I had done wrong in my marriage. I was not a man of God then and I was not the husband that I should have been. I asked God to forgive me for all those terrible things I had done and I accepted his forgiveness. Hardest of all, I forgave Stacy for all the terrible things she had done and for her unfaithfulness. This class was the hardest and best thing I ever did in my life and it left me forever changed. I finally knew what real forgiveness was.
My life has changed greatly since that night I decided to step over the faith line. That hole in my soul has been filled in a way I couldn’t do on my own. I have this sense of inner peace I have never felt before. I have a greater sense of confidence and I am better able to handle tough things that come into my life. I spend less time trying to run my own life and letting God control more of my life. I now have a strong hunger to learn more about the Bible. I have a much stronger desire to help others by serving them. I find that with each passing day, I am transitioning into being a more humble person. I am gaining a better sense of the purpose God has for my life. I have a new church family that shows me love and keeps me accountable to God. My relationships with people are much better now with a much stronger foundation than ever before. I know I am a different person now and growing better each day. Each day I work to become more like the person Jesus was when He lived among us in this world. My life mission now is to love others, serve others and spread the Good News to others.
My life now is a God-centered life. I am involved with a couple of churches in Ames. I am a coach for Upward flag football and basketball. I am in a small couples group and 3 different men’s groups. I am even a dancer and an actor in the FX program, which is a kids church service, at my church. I am now married to a wonderful woman named Stephanie and she is my soul mate. We have such a strong love for each other, but while she is the most important person in my life, God is now #1 in my life and will stay that way. Our marriage is not based off making each other happy, but on serving our Lord and serving others. Through Stephanie, God has given me the ability to love, really love, someone again. With Stephanie, I am able to let my guard down and be vulnerable. My life has a meaning like it never has before.
Most of my life, I thought that through hard work and determination, anything could happen. That brought me much success early in my life, but I learned that is not always true. Sometimes we need help and the help we need is from God and if you let Him into your life, He will be with you to help and guide you through everything you do through the Holy Spirit that now dwells inside of me. I used to rely on the approval of others, but I no longer do. The only approval that matters is that of God. It’s OK to want to please others, but I no longer live my life solely to make people happy or do what they want me to do. This has been so freeing in my life.
I know now that God had to break me from my dependence on myself. Because I was so determined to live life on my own, it took the extreme life circumstances I experienced to get me to the point that I would have to ask Him for help. Once I did, He took me into His arms and opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. He showed me what was possible through Him. In the process, He gave me my story to share with the rest of the world so that they could find Him as well.