Most church leaders know me as the woman who writes and speaks about worship. What only a few know is that I have spent the last decade experiencing the effects of my spouse's sexual addiction, an addiction that began in late childhood and was never treated.
As untreated addictions go, my husband's escalated. In the 1990s, his secret life overtook his life as pastor and resulted in a felony sex offense: molestation of a child by a person in a position of trust. The girl was my daughter's best friend who lived next door; a special needs teen who was eight years older than my daughter, but her exact mental age: eight.
What an unspeakable tragedy. This young woman is still living with her parents, afraid of men, incapable of living a normal life. And the damage didn't stop there. My daughter's childhood was shattered. She entered her teens without a father, the memory of what father she'd had tarnished beyond recognition. At thirteen, my son assigned himself the role of man-of-the-family, and has carried way too many burdens into his adult life.
I never imagined such a nightmare.
Since the offense had actually been a series of about fifty molestations over a two-year period, and since the victim was an underage, special needs child, my spouse's bail topped that set for some murder suspects. He was convicted, incarcerated, and subsequently sentenced to eight years in a halfway house for sex offenders. To date, he has served five of those years.
I became a separated (and subsequently divorced) parent; a single woman with baggage the size of a small continent, and sole provider for my children. What had looked to outsiders like television's 7th Heaven somehow morphed into film noir: American Beauty.
Addiction of any kind leaves its marks. Yet the mark we carry that is more embossed than any other is that of God's faithfulness.
Over the past eight years, my children and I have been healing. Much of that healing has come through loving family and friends. More has come through a marvelous local congregation, giving me a new reason to hope about the church in a broken world. Most significantly, however, our progress into wholeness has been the result of an intentional re-shaping of who my children and I are as a family: consciously deconstructing unhealthy family patterns (we are a no-secrets, truth-telling family), as well as adopting a practice of radical presence: being there for each other at unprecedented depth and levels of sacrifice.
Another component of my own healing has come from studying the addictive process (its precursors and effects). Reflecting upon our family's bizarre journey in light of recent research on sex addiction, I began realizing that others may benefit from what we have experienced. Redemption and transformation are at the heart of the gospel. God is in the process of redeeming our family's journey, our descent into addiction's vortex.
And God never wastes a journey.
My first "out-of-the-closet" step came a year and a half ago at a national pastor's conference. When the conference organizers heard my story, they were immensely encouraging. They agreed: my experience as a church leader, wife, and mother in the grip of a spouse's sex addiction needed to be told, and it was time for the telling.
Even though there were a dozen other classes they could have attended, they came to this one. Whether it was the subject of sex, a woman teaching about sex, or a woman who usually teaches about worship teaching about sex, something got them in the doors; 150 attendees tried to fit into a room meant for 60. It was a standing-in-the-side-aisles, spilling-into-the-hall scenario.