It was 10:30 p.m. when the phone rang. I'd fallen asleep waiting for my husband, Michael, to return home from a long day at work. I answered the phone and heard Michael say, "I'm in jail. I need you to come get me out."
"You're in jail?" I asked, now wide awake.
"Yes," he responded.
I waited for him to tell me more, but he was silent. My mind raced through a million scenarios, when finally Michael said, "I've been arrested for soliciting a prostitute." That was a scenario I would have never considered.
My heart felt crushed and a lump formed in my throat as I sat in silence hoping I'd misunderstood what he said. "I need you to bail me out as soon as you can," he continued, assuming it was my responsibility to free him from his consequence. Michael's bail was more than $300, and the police had impounded his new truck as well.
Since we'd moved only recently to Virginia from North Carolina and hadn't had the opportunity to meet a lot of neighbors, I had to call people I barely knew to come watch my children and to drive me to the police station. I was humiliated and overcome with shock, disbelief, and confusion. I'd loved and been married to this man for four years. Michael would never do anything like this, I reasoned. We just had a baby three months ago! We had a perfect life. He was devoted to his family and me. He worked hard and was a great provider. He went to work and came home. He spent his evenings working in our yard or playing with our three children. We were involved in our church. We loved each other passionately and had great sex. We shared our dreams and talked about growing old together. Everything we'd created together seemed so real and amazing.
Yet now I was on my way to a police station to get Michael out of jail.
I talked to the police when I arrived at the station and they explained that Michael was involved in a sting operation: He'd approached an undercover policewoman. They had him on videotape—and there was no doubt it was him.
I paid the bail and processed the paperwork for his release; then I returned home without him. I sat in the living room with the lights off and contemplated what was happening to us.
I grew up in church and I'd always believed God would provide for me. I felt that no matter what happened, it wasn't my place to question God. Yet I couldn't help but wonder, Why had this happened to me? Who was this man I married? This was the man I trusted, the man who was supposed to love and protect me. Instead, he'd hurt and betrayed me.
Finally Michael arrived home. He came into the living room and wept as he expressed his remorse. All I wanted to know was, "Why?" But he had no answers that satisfied me. He made up a story of how this girl approached him and how she just needed money. He said he didn't know what he was thinking. Then he said he'd pulled into a bank to withdraw money, and when he drove out of the parking lot, a girl was standing at the exit.
I knew he was lying. I told him he was caught on a surveillance tape, and there was no bank. "I was never going to do anything," he said. "I was getting ready to pull away when I was surrounded by the police." When I confronted his lies again, he fell silent and refused to discuss it anymore. Michael did tell me that if I walked away from our marriage, he wouldn't have the opportunity to show me the beautiful life we could still have together. Then he asked for my forgiveness. I felt empty and lost. I just wanted the marriage to be over.
We barely spoke the next couple of days except to argue more about what he'd done. I spent hours reading my Bible and self-help books trying to find a word, a sentence, something that could put all of this in perspective. But nothing seemed to help. I was blind-sided by Michael's action and became paranoid and suspicious. I questioned every minute of my husband's whereabouts.
Finally I called my sister, Heather, who lived miles away, and told her what had happened. After listening to my story, she prayed for me over the phone. As she prayed I felt God draw near to me; I cried as I felt him touch my heart and ease my pain. God used Heather's prayer and my tears to begin a healing process, and I knew I'd have to hold close to God if I was going to make it through.
One Scripture verse stuck in my mind: "When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. When you pass through fire, you will not be burned; the hard trials that come will not hurt you" (Isaiah 43:2, TEV). I was going to have to believe in that to pull my marriage back together. While I knew it wouldn't be easy, I knew it was possible. I still wasn't sure I wanted my marriage back together—even though later that week during another argument, Michael finally did admit to soliciting a prostitute. He asked again for forgiveness and seem to be sincere about his remorse. So after a lot more prayer and tears, I chose to stay and forgive him.
As the weeks turned into months, I still struggled continually and could barely handle everyday routines as I slipped into a deep depression. Just getting out of bed or brushing my teeth was a task. I cried at a moment's notice for no reason and emotionally began to lose it. Michael grew tired of my insecurity and constant rehashing of what he'd done and was irritated that I couldn't put this situation behind me. That was part of my problem: While I said I accepted and forgave my husband's offense, I couldn't get past it. I brought it up in numerous conversations until it was becoming an exhausted subject. I tried to reach out and talk to other people, but no one had ever been through this type of betrayal and was uncomfortable discussing it.
One day about four months later, when I brought up the subject again, Michael finally reached his breaking point. He said he loved me and he was truly sorry for what he'd done, but he couldn't live married to me any longer if I couldn't forgive and let go of what happened. I realized I was now the one destroying our marriage.
He suggested we meet with our pastor, which we did. After listening to our situation, he referred us to a Christian counselor. At first, Michael went with me, but as time passed, he stopped going, which made me upset. I didn't do anything wrong, yet I was the one who had the "problem." I was the one who needed professional help. The counselor I met with told me either to really forgive my husband or end our life together. That wasn't what I wanted to hear. I knew I'd made a commitment to my marriage, but I also knew Michael's action was a permanent part of our life. Forgiveness might have been a possibility, but would I ever forget? I didn't think so. I was faced with a choice: I could decide to make things better, or I could keep trying to redo the past, to somehow make Michael's action disappear from our history—something I knew I couldn't do.
Although Michael admitted going to counseling was embarrassing for him, he insisted we attend church more regularly than we had been. Since prostitution and unfaithfulness aren't popular sermon subjects, I think couples have a more difficult time overcoming them in church. While the congregation wasn't aware of our battle, just being there among them was a powerful support. Michael would hold my hand tightly as we listened to our pastor's sermons. Michael even suggested we pray together, which we did. He reassured me repeatedly that he wanted his marriage and family back.
As we prayed together more consistently, I began to see God work in our marriage. Michael became more patient and tried to understand what I must be feeling. And I discovered I was truly able to forgive him—even though the forgetting has been harder.
It's been three years since that terrible night. Even the date of that fateful night has become symbolic of this turning point in my life. I still carry the memory of our nightmare. It took a long time to get over seeing a prostitute on the corner without having knots build instantly in my stomach. But God's helped me deal with my anger, and time has eased my ill feelings.
Michael and I are still in the process of rebuilding trust in our marriage. He's made a great effort to help do that. He continues to go to church with me. He supports my continued therapy. He gave me total control of our finances, so I can keep track of every penny spent. He calls me more frequently from work, just to reassure me he's still there. And he offers hugs when he senses I need them most. He still keeps at the climb to restore our marriage and our faith we have in each other.
Through all of this, I've become stronger. My marriage did survive and my family became closer as we sought God for strength and wisdom to deal with life daily. The struggle to overcome my hardship didn't succeed in breaking my spirit. Instead of allowing this challenge to destroy who I am, or to destroy my marriage, good things actually emerged from my determination to forgive the unforgivable.
Amber Arlene is a pseudonym.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.