Melissa’s Story:

An open tab on the laptop exposed his secret: visual images of topless women, each in stark contrast to my body style. The floor beneath me quaked. The gentle, kind, giving husband who normally guarded my heart …crushed it. I did not question his love for me. I did, however, question whether my love for him could survive under the weight of comparison and the devastation of abandonment by his unfaithful eyes.

I knew he feared I would load up the children and drive away. Through my faith in Christ and deep desire to honor my marriage vow, I remained planted beside my husband, but tangled in a root of bitterness. Cracks deepened between us. Too paralyzed to reconnect our crevices, his insecurities inhibited pursuit of me. He paced for twelve years, holding our loose pieces in his hands and praying he wouldn’t drop one. Me? I kept my distance.

Immediately he had abandoned the damaging habit and remained a dedicated provider, active father, and wonderful companion. In between my occasional drifts into weary waters, he made me laugh. He stayed and privately prayed. Meanwhile, I waited for him to help mend our brokenness. He neither wept for nor wooed me. Occasionally we lamented our lonely dissatisfaction, individually seeking God for restoration. My husband tried not to make matters worse, and I accepted they might never get better. Our marriage held together loosely, until one of our pieces fell.

It was an ordinary outing: items in a grocery cart, fuel nozzle fumes, and the hum of car speakers. Then an iced-tea and to-go salad led to forbidden fruit. A boy crush from my past–now a man at the beverage counter–livened me with hugs and words that ignited trouble. A few moments of catching up rendered me caught up in dangerous what-ifs. In an instant I felt surrounded by serpents on a dirt road, the view ahead both alluring and deadly.

By God’s grace, this man returned to his family in another state, but secret texts whispered lies from the enemy and led me by the hand into the darkness. The funny, gentle companion in my home began to appear muddy through my jaded lens. Rage crept up and out of my innards like lava. If only he had tended my wounds! The only human on earth with the privilege and duty to help hold me together in one mended piece had settled for holding my shards and sharp edges. From the inside out, I wailed.

Among the complications, the deadline for my enrollment into seminary approached, with fourteen days to decide if I would have an affair and forego seminary or go to seminary and forego an affair. I had enough sense to know I could not do both. My mind traced every possible trail through this fantasy–all disastrous. Two friends guarded my confession and prayed for redirection. Gently and without shaming me, they lived out the Apostle Paul’s words to the Galatians: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently… Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1–2). Then in the pit of my anguish, I confessed the temptation to my husband. Without anger, he vowed to pray for a miracle. I lacked any desire to pray. Days passed with our hearts on life-support. One evening he told me he prayed for us to thrive, not merely survive. Twelve long and lonely years, with an imminent threat lurking in the darkness–it felt too late. He tried to hug me. I turned away.

I wrestled with leaving, knowing nothing good could come of it. For two days I begged God to restore me to my pre-salad-to-go contentment. I turned to King David’s prayer after he sinned with Bathsheba: “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). My husband returned from work. With swollen, burning eyes, I told him “I’m trying.” For the first time in our twenty years, his eyes puddled, and one tear traveled down his face into his thick, gray beard. “I’ve been fasting,” he said. “I don’t want to lose you.” He kissed my forehead. That one little tear pooled up in the crevices of every broken piece of my heart, and something inside me changed.

Seminary tuition was due. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t destroy my family. Alone in my home that day, I cancelled my dirt-road journey and completed the online registration. Balled up in a chair beside my garden window, I reflected on the emotional nightmare, amazed that God faithfully provided me strength and courage to stay. My husband arrived home from work, his face exhausted from a million weary miles. He moved toward me, weak from fasting, and leaned forward to kiss my forehead. I tilted my head back and gave him my lips.

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