We can only respond compassionately to someone telling her story if we have embraced our own story - shame and all.
~Dr. Brené Brown
Why is it when I am on a deadline to read a chapter of a book by 4 pm today I get an overwhelming nudge to write? The statement above struck a nerve therefor, my friend, we need to have a chat.
I can most definitely confirm that we live in a society, a culture, where sin is weighted. Even in our churches we struggle to see sin the same as God with the slate that was washed clean by Jesus’ resurrection. We ultimately place some sins so much higher on our scale of not so bad to horribly bad. I am not condoning our behavior - I am acknowledging that it’s there while also telling you that it is for that reason that I have not share this part of my story. I hesitate out of fear. I hesitate out shame. And it is also because of those reasons that I share today. I am on a journey to pull the lingering weeds of shame out of my story, to acknowledge I have them, to express the reason why and to connect to the fact that I am not the person I was before. There are parts of this story I am ashamed of and there are parts of this story where I fear judgement. There are also parts where you could call me a hypocrite and you would be somewhat correct.
In the early fall of 2010, as I walked through Macy’s with my fiancé selecting the perfect shade of fiesta pottery to place on our wedding registry, when my phone rang. Fear ran through my body as I saw a name I had not seen in close to a year appear on the screen of my phone. I quickly sent the caller to voicemail.
In typical fashion, I then received a text. I cannot remember what his original text said, but I do remember how our conversation continued.
“I am seriously in the middle of registering for my wedding.”
“I’ve lost you then,” he responded.
“It’s over. Goodbye,” I sent back.
And that was the end of a 14 year relationship. I was shocked at how easy it was - how perfectly content I was with the finality of our tumultuous times as the closest friends and the absolute worst people for each other. I was empowered by the ability to end the destructive pattern he and I lived in for years.
I remember reading Paula Dean’s autobiography, ten years ago and thinking, “that’s a brave women who can admit being in a relationship with a married man.” I cannot imagine the judgement she must have received or felt she might, but wrote those words anyway. I don’t think you set out saying, “I am going to break up a family today” or “today, I am going to hurt people”, but sin in our lives lead us to places we never would imagine we would go.
After 14 years and countless relationships ended as we tried over and over to be together…
After 14 years and two failed marriages (for me) - one broken marriage for him…
After 14 years and one beautiful daughter we made together…
I said my final good-byes to Danny.
Now in a matter of all honesty that was not the last time I spoke with Danny. About five years ago, when I found out that one of our close friends (his best friend) from high school was tragically killed we spoke briefly on Facebook. I will tell you that I did decline his friend request after that conversation because we were both good - we were both healthy again - we had both healed from the mess we had made and there was no reason to test the boundaries in the attempts to be friends - even in cyberworld.
Our friendship wasn’t always fuel for a great episode of Jerry Springer, when we met at the age of eighteen and nineteen we were the greatest of friends with an underlying attraction for each other. If you know my story, you know that I spent the first half of my life (or longer) on a quest to feel loved - to feel accepted. Danny provided that safeness to be myself, but in that safeness there was disfunction. I am not sure I can say honestly that we tried to remain plutonic friends and fight the attraction to each other. Quickly our relationship wrecked havoc on his life with his girlfriend. That is when the destruction ball started rolling.
Danny and I would spend the next five years showing up when life was too hard to handle apart. I wouldn’t be happy with a guy I was dating so I would find him. When he wasn’t happy or when he felt alone he would find me. While our relationship caused drama to storm around us we continued our pattern of life. Never once was there an exclusive, committed relationship between us - there were no strings - we were safe for each other while so harmful to any other relationship we attempted to have.
The coziness of our safe, but dysfunctional, life ended in January of 2001 when we learned that our disfunction also leads to pregnancy. I remember knowing that Danny and I would never get married. We would never be a perfect little family, but I had at that time imagined that Danny would be a part of Shelby’s life.
This is where things get complicated - this where things get ugly - this where there were words said by people around us that I will not repeat, though they sometimes still haunt me. In what I would later find was his attempt to shield my heart, Danny held onto a secret that would change the course of our relationship. Towards the end of my first trimester of pregnancy I received a phone call from a woman I knew had been in a relationship with Danny previously. She stated pretty mater of factly that she knew I was pregnant, but she wanted me to know that she was also pregnant (three months further along than I was). Then she said, “I have known about you this entire time.” Now, I mean, I should be more shocked about the first statement, but really I knew what I was dealing with and that no strings that attached him to me. Her second statement left me shocked. I always felt that we (Danny and I) had a relationship where we were very open with our feelings and our thoughts. Even though we held secrets from others we didn’t really have anything that we kept from one another.
Oh, I don’t know if this makes sense to you, but if you struggle with trust, as I do, then you will understand the blow that statement caused. Should I have felt privileged that he attempted to not lose our relationship by leaving out some pretty vital facts? Most definitely not, but my very young mind did not think I as I do today. This is where I wish I could go back and speak to the 23 year old me. I wish I had an opportunity to pass along a few words of wisdom - to spoil the ending for this roller coster ride, but I can’t.
To put it politely, Danny was “away” when both of his children (her’s and mine) were born. He actually was “away” when the phone call above was made and he stayed “away” until after Shelby was born. All of this time “away” led to many letters and many unsolicited phone calls from the other woman in his life. It almost became a competition as to who knew him better, who was closer to him and who did he speak to the most. While “away”, Danny kept up is normal method of operation and left me in the dark about many things including a marriage by proxy ceremony that took place a few months into this situation.
The movie that played out in my head of me having a baby and Danny being a part of her life, but not there full-time (but it was still all rainbows and butterflies), came to crashing halt in that moment. No where in my daydreaming was there another woman, turned wife (which made me the “other woman”) and another child. This was not what I had planned, at all. Me, always the writer, quickly composed what was probably three pages of anger sealed with with a “see-ya” and threw it in the mail the next day. The only other correspondence I had with him was a picture of our daughter that I sent to him after her birth.
Oh how I wish the story of us ended here.
Danny contacted me, again, when Shelby was about 9-months old. It started as, “I want to see my daughter,” which I agreed to and he saw Shelby on a regular basis. I held strongly to the fact that he was now married and I in no way was going to play “the other woman”. This was a battle because our chemistry and our indescribable connection (mentally) was still there. When I found out that his wife was expecting her second child, a secret he tried to keep for three months, I felt it was best for him to focus on what was going on his life and I pulled away with Shelby.
At that time Shelby had just turned one and I had began dating the man who would eventually become my ex-husband. As you may remember from the story of my ex-husband, I was I run away bride.
Two weeks before we were scheduled to fly to vegas things started closing in on me. During idle time at work I looked up an old flame and started an email conversation. You know what they say idle hands are the devil’s playground. With my self esteem in the gutter I let this person refill my love tank with complements and reminders that I was a pretty awesome person. In something I hate to type, I let the relationship move from emails to meeting, to cheating a week before marriage. I was filling a void and I was out to hurt my ex-husband even though he knew nothing about any of it.
I am sure you can put two and two together and realize that “old flame” was most positively Danny. And that, my friend, is when I earned my scarlet letter and cause a major crack in someone else’s family. A fact that causes me a heavy weight of shame.
As you remember it end quickly because I was on an airplane later that week headed to Vegas and got married. In my mind I thought Danny and I would run into each other again on a softball field while our children played. I can’t tell you how his marriage was during the time I was married, I can only assume that my actions caused some major distrust and turmoil. I know that Danny was a source of major discourse in my marriage.
My divorce, three years later, left an open door that Danny walked in and out of again though we managed to stay apart for longer stretches of time there was still destruction in our actions. I am hesitant to say that Matt took all of my need for what I thought was safety in Danny away, but it is almost certainly true that God did a big number to my heart in giving me what was really love with Matt. Knowing that love and feeling that love completely overshadowed anything I had felt previously.
As I re-read the words I have written, today, I hear the shame in my voice and I feel the struggle to justify my actions, but really I have no case - I have no excuse - I have no real explanation for why I continued this pattern with him. Shame has stopped me from writing this for years, though, those close to me know this story. It’s difficult to look back at the time when I was the “other woman”, “the mistress”, “the adulterer”, “the home wrecker” and not have a reason for my actions a compelling plea for you to not judge me. Life is messy - sin makes it messier.
As I conclude this mess I realize you may have some questions:
What will writing this do to Shelby?
Not much. We had this full conversation a few years ago and I did get her blessing to publicly post this story. This is where I protect her privacy, though, and ask that you understand this is as much her private life as it is mine.
What will this do to his family?
I can’t say. Nothing that I have written should be a shock to anyone, they lived through it as well. At the same time, though, I wish no ill will towards him and his family (I am almost positive that he still married and I give him major props for that). It makes me very happy to know that he is good, that he is very involved in his church and that is he gainfully employed.
Our story is a mess and I am just happy that we’ve both have embraced grace enough to move beyond the destruction.
And, of course, getting through this calls for a Crowder tune.
I've done things I wish I hadn't done
I've seen things I wish I hadn't seen
Just the thought of Your amazing grace
And I cry ”Jesus, forgive me!”
If you have not read all of My Story, click here.