When Rich left his AC/DC T-shirt with me in Nashville, he did it with purpose.
A month before we committed to date exclusively, God made it clear that Rich had moved to Nashville to escape his past. It was time to stop running and step forward in his faith to face the pains of his past and become the man God called him to be. This would mean moving back to Dallas and acknowledging addictions to smoking, caffeine, and sex. Entering our relationship, we knew that it would need a great commitment to each other and to God as we faced his addictions and the 700-mile distance between us. We did so knowing and trusting that it was God’s plan. In December, a month after his move, he came to Nashville for a visit. Our time together was wonderful, and he left one of his favorites—that AC/DC shirt—as a reminder of him, our good times, and our commitment to each other. Because it meant so much to me, I wore it every night.
One week later, however, Rich had a very harsh lapse into his sex addiction involving pornography and masturbation. Thankfully, with God’s help, he found the strength to stop his actions and tell me what he had done even though he knew it would hurt me. The next few days were very hard, yet transforming, for both of us.
For Rich, he kept questioning (more to himself than to me) if I would stay in the relationship. He also was learning with his heart, not just his mind, how devastating and damaging his addictions were. He began to understand how much he had hurt and sometimes destroyed relationships. For the first time, Rich was beginning to see clearly how this addiction alone affected him mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. He also learned more about God: His love, His salvation, His healing, and the redemption and restoration He wants for Rich.
For me, I had to learn that Rich himself was not betraying me. This addiction and his resulting actions had nothing to do with me. When he told me what he had done, I immediately felt as if I wasn’t good enough. I had to fight against my own insecurities and doubt that were boosted by lies that it was my fault, that I didn’t do something right for Rich, that I wasn’t enough for him. I had to learn and accept that this addiction was in Rich’s life before I was ever a part of his. Like Rich, I also questioned whether I would stay in this relationship. I had to learn to not doubt my abilities, my worth, my strength, and God’s love for me. Because of His love, He provides us with everything we need. Strength. Power. Grace. Love. Forgiveness. Trust. I began to dig deep and seek God. I learned to listen to His still, small voice and to discern His guidance and direction.
I did not forgive Rich immediately nor easily. I was hurt. I was angry. But I also loved him with a love I could not express nor understand. Under stress, I tend to go on cleaning sprees. This time not only would my mirrors look brand new again so would my love for Rich.
As I sprayed cleaner on one mirror, I felt a tug at my heart. As I listened, I could hear God whispering, “That spray represents my love and forgiveness. The glass is you. Before the spray hits the glass, it is covered with dirt and spots from the events of the past. Just as the spray hits the glass so does my love and forgiveness shower over you, covering you. As you wipe the mirror clean, removing the spots and dirt, think of how my love and forgiveness does the exact same thing—wipe you clean. To forgive as I do, you must wipe all past dirt and spots from each person and event. You must wipe them clean, giving them a clean new mirror.”
While cleaning a second mirror, I could actually see the spray as my love and forgiveness. I could see the dirt and spots as the events of all of Rich’s past, not just the events we were currently facing. I saw the “back door” plans, the “hiding” of thoughts and ideas and the lies, tricks, and deceptions. Everything. As I wiped the mirror, I watched myself wipe my love and forgiveness over Rich, cleaning his slate for our relationship. I witnessed myself forgiving him just as God has forgiven, and will continue to forgive, me.
My question was no longer, “Am I going to stay in this relationship with Rich?” It became, “Am I going to follow God in everything He lays before me?”
Those days were very hard, extremely exhausting and painfully draining. Yet, they drove home for me the value and significance of my relationship with Rich. By trusting, believing, and loving God and His Word, I began to trust, believe, and love Rich in a brand new way. Those days built a foundation of strength, stability, trust, faith, belief, and love for us as a couple and for our life together.
Though our relationship was gaining new strength every day, the T-shirt no longer held its meaning for me. I washed it and put it away. I refused to take the shirt out, look at it, or to even consider wearing it. A couple months later, I decided to return it to Rich when I visited him in Texas. Neither Rich nor I thought anything of it when, a couple months later, Rich followed our friend Ericka’s suggestion to wear the shirt while taking pictures at Monte Sano State Park. He didn’t know how much meaning that small decision would have for us. You see that trip to Monte Sano State Park in Alabama immediately followed our marriage ceremony with the Justice of the Peace in Huntsville.
So, on the day of our marital covenant, our unity, Rich wore the AC/DC shirt at the park. Not only will that shirt forever be a part of our memories of that day and our commitment, it will also forever remind us that no matter how hard, painful, and confusing something has become, God can—and will—completely redeem it into beauty, strength, respect, and value.
After we returned to Nashville, we got to spend a few days together as husband and wife before having to live separately for an additional two and a half months. When Rich went to back to Dallas, he purposely left behind the AC/DC t-shirt for me to have. While we lived apart, I wore the t-shirt with love and honor. And today, years later, I still do.