Smoke monsters

A few weeks ago we had a pretty big argument. I wish I could tell you what even set it off. What we were even mad at each other about or fighting over, but for the life of me, y’all, I can’t even remember. The fact that I don’t even remember what it was that caused this particular flare up in and of itself is an important detail in this lesson.

We are over 3 and a half years in to our story. And y’all know, since I’ve shared nearly every moment of it with you, how incredibly hard that has sometimes been. Y’all also know how amazing and beautiful it’s been. And now that we are over 3 years in, we tend to have a whole lot more amazing and beautiful and easy days than hard ones.

But every once in a while, one of those old ugly triggers will pop up, or maybe it might not even a be trigger, but maybe just a normal, run of the mill, married couple disagreement. Which, by the way, are never just a normal, run of the mill, married couple disagreement after an affair. Every disagreement, whether related to the affair, or a trigger, or a memory, or not, holds a little more weight. The undertones, the fears, the insecurities, always seem to somehow integrate themselves into these disagreements, no matter how mundane or unrelated those disagreements are. It’s one of those built in consequences of an affair.

So whatever that argument we were having was about on the surface, it quickly became a doubt filled extravaganza focusing on the fact that the affair still has effects on us and whether or not it ever really goes away, (side note: it doesn’t.), and words being tossed out there such as how it’s easy to see why people give up and walk away because it’s frustrating and it’s exhausting….and wait, wait,wait, let’s back up a minute here, did you just insinuate that you are considering walking away…., or that it’s even an option at this point??? Like for real? Is that where we are at right now? And if so, how exactly?? Because I’m pretty sure this is not even close to what we were originally discussing when this argument started, and things haven’t actually been bad between us.

There are alarms going off. Alerting us that something, something isn’t right here. And we both know it. We know we shouldn’t be hurling out these words we’re saying. Deep down we know we don’t mean it. Yet it’s hard to grasp on to that truth because these big, big feelings of frustration feel so big and so real. These things we are saying to each other, they feel real in the moment and larger than life, yet we know, even as we are still saying them, that they don’t quite ring true. And just for a second, we recognize those alarms going off in the back of our minds, and we push through the haze and start to question the direction this argument has taken.

How did we go from a seemingly normal day to we suddenly aren’t sure we can do this anymore? I mean, just yesterday we were great. Weren’t we?? Actually we’ve been great for WAYYY more days than we weren’t. And wait, WHAT were we even arguing about and how did this suddenly turn into every thing is terrible and nothing is really better and we will never get past this? And that’s when the smoke cleared, and we realized that everything is not terrible. Things really are better. And ok, so maybe we aren’t past it, but maybe we shouldn’t really ever fully expect to be. Regardless of the answer to that, one thing is for sure, this argument is not going to be the end of us.

Y’all know how that happens. That downward spiral that starts small and ends up feeling like the bad stuff is all encompassing and all the good stuff fades into the wall of smoke swirling around you, and you suddenly forget that everything IS so much better and you have actually made a TON of progress and you’re so disoriented in the moment that you can’t see that this is all just a giant smoke monster, a dirty little trick that fear is playing on you to ruin all the good God is doing in your life and keep you from the fullness of seeing that through.

But that is the truth of these downward spirals, sucking you further and further in to the dark smoky air, trying to suffocate you and snuff out all the light you’ve worked so hard to find.

A couple of nights ago, the house across the street from us caught on fire. We watched for hours as the firemen fought it. It would be completely out, and then suddenly, a small flame would pop up in a far corner, just the tiniest faint flicker, and within seconds the fire would be raging again. As I watched, it occurred to me how much it reminded me of how an affair ravages a relationship. How in the beginning, after the initial discovery, after the decision to try to find a way to reconcile, the fire just keeps popping back up. Aggressively and persistently. You put one out just for another to pop up. One step forward, three steps back. Every reminder, every argument, every trigger, bursting into a flame that threatens to destroy everything that’s left of you. The fight with those persistent flares seems to last forever. A never ending, exhausting cycle.

The burns you sustain in the fight, the damage to the nerves, causing a nagging, constant pain that never seems to fully dissipate. But you push through, things get better. The pain fades a bit. Sometimes, you almost even forget to notice it at all. It becomes mostly just a small twinge, or maybe a dull ache, that can sometimes get worse and slightly more noticeable when a storm is near. You adjust to it. It becomes a small part of you, and though it’s not something you ever wanted, you learn to see that there can be purpose in it, and that it’s maybe even somehow made you a better version of yourself in some ways. Because it’s made you stronger, wiser, more empathetic. You see that you can rebuild something new in the ashes of what was left from the fire. You see the hope, and the beauty of the possibilities.

The fire is out. but the faint smell of smoke always lingers, the memories clinging to every surface they can find like a dark coat of soot and ash. And somewhere, in the dark corners of the attic, the fear that any tiny sense of a flicker of things not being right between you, tends to stir that fear that you could go up in flames at any moment. Or maybe, the fear that yes, you survived the flames, you survived the fire, you think you’re in the clear, all the smoke has settled, but suddenly and out of nowhere, you’re coughing and struggling to breathe. You survived the flames, but the smoke, the smoke that filled the air for so long after, the after effects of the fire that destroyed everything you knew, that is what can sneak up and kill you if you’re not careful. If you forget that the fresh air that you need to fill your lungs with is right there, just on the other side of that deceptive wall of smoke.

We fought for nearly two days, over that apparently so insignificant a thing that I can’t even recall it now. Because we all know our arguments are never about whatever it is we are arguing about anyway. We all know the argument is actually seated in our fears, our anxieties, our deep seated insecurities. The arguments are not truly about whatever thing you did or didn’t do. They aren’t about the mean words you said when you were angry. The argument is really about these questions: “Do you really love me?, Do I matter to you?, Am I safe?, Do you value me?, Are you going to break my heart?, Will we ever truly get past this?, Did we go through all this, push through all this, just to end up a failure, just to end up with nothing?”….. etc.

It is when you are able to see that these flare ups, these bad days, that, depending on where you are at in your healing might be happening frequently, or only a time or three per year, they aren’t really at all about whatever the fight began with. It’s when you are able to take some time to calm down, and come together and acknowledge that at the core of these flare ups, are all those questions and fears that I just listed, that you’ll be better able to pull yourself back from that destructive spiral, and move past them. All the other stuff, the petty arguments, are just ornamental fluff to the real issues underneath the surface.

So you sit down and have a discussion. And you focus on the truths, the real answer to those questions, instead of the lies fear is feeding you.

1. Do you really love me?: “More than you could ever possibly comprehend.”

2. Do I matter to you?: “Absolutely. You mean the world to me.”

3. Am I safe?: “I hate what I did and will never do that to you, to us, to our family again.”

4. Do you value me?: Yes, and I will never, ever take for granted the gift that you are.”

5. Are you going to ultimately break my heart again?: “I never, ever want to see the pain in your face again that I saw after what I did. Ever.”

6. Will we ever get past this?: Y’ALL PAY ATTENTION TO THIS ONE. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. IT’S ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL YOU HEAR ME ON THIS. An affair is not something you “get past”. It is also not something you will EVER get over. NOT EVER. You will not get over it. Do not expect your spouse to ever “get over it”.

The only way for it to ever disappear from existence would be for someone to be able to go back in time and change the fact that it happened. And that is not possible. It happened, and there are consequences and long lasting effects that there is no way to avoid or make magically disappear. You can make things better. You can even make things great. But you can never, ever take away the fact that it happened, or erase the pain and the scars it caused.

An affair is not something you can ever “get over”. It is something you “get through”.

You do not get over it, any more than you get over any traumatic experience or any great loss. BUT YOU CAN GET THROUGH IT. And you can have a better life, a better marriage, and a million blessings you never, ever imagined not only despite having gone through it, but because of having gone through it.

Even if your marriage didn’t survive, even if reconciliation was not an option for you, you can still get through it, and you’ll find God’s blessings waiting for you along the way.

7. Did we go through all this, push through all this, just to end up a failure, just to end up with nothing?: The answer to this one, well, it’s completely up to you. As far as your marriage goes, it’s up to both of you. Only you can answer how much your marriage is worth to you. Only you know how much of the “hard” you are willing to push through. And you really have no control over your spouse’s choice on this matter. I can’t tell you with certainty that your marriage will survive. But I can tell you that if you are both willing to push through, and to fight your way out of the belly of those smoke monsters that come for you every so often, your chances of having an amazing marriage that you never would have believed to be possible, even on your best days before the affair, are extremely high. It’s not easy, not even a little bit, but the result is worth it.

In the words of our wise counselor and life coach, Joey Grubbs, when I asked him what if we failed, if we spent all this time and energy trying to save our marriage, what if in the end, it just didn’t work, he said : “You will never regret putting in the work to try and save your marriage. Even if it doesn’t work out in the end, it’s never a mistake to do everything you can to work towards reconciliation and redemption.” And he was right. Even if we had failed, even if we do fail at some point in the future, I could never regret knowing that we gave it our all. And the work that we’ve done not just in our marriage, but ultimately on ourselves, will serve us well for the rest of our lives. It is never a mistake to work towards being the best version of yourselves, and the best version of your marriage. It is never a mistake to work towards becoming the person that God intended you to be. In the end, no matter what, God is for you. And He has good plans for you, no matter the outcome.

So, today I encourage you to stay the course. When the smoke gets stirred or the sparks start to fly, or you maybe even find yourselves hurling some of that soot at each other, try not to get caught up in it. It’s so easy in that moment of chaos to forget how much progress you have made. How much goodness you actually do have. How far you’ve come and how much you’ve pushed through and the possibilities and opportunities that still lie ahead for you if you will just stay focused, and not lose your way in the smoke.

Fear is a liar. A giant, ugly, smoke monster. He will sneak up and consume you, blind you, and choke the very breath from your lungs if you let him. Don’t let one, or two, or even seven straight bad days trick you into forgetting all of the good ones. When you find yourselves having one of those days where things suddenly seem dark again, look that smoke monster in the eyes and remind him who you are.  Remind yourself who you are. Remember how far you’ve come and all the goodness that you have. Remind yourselves that those big feelings, and those words you’re exchanging in the heat of the moment are not the truth of who you are and where you’re at in this process. Remind yourselves of what you’ve overcome.

Push past that veil of smoke and take a deep, deep breath of the truth.

You’re doing great.

There was a fire, and it was devastating and life altering and you will never, ever forget it. But you survived. All you have to do, is stay the course, get back on track, call those smoke monsters out for the fear mongers and liars that they truly are, focus on the good, and just. keep. breathing.

❤️

Amy Thurston Gordy

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The kindest man I’ve never met.

It’s been a minute since I’ve done any writing, so this week, I wanted to give y’all a little update to my last post.

That was a pretty tough post for me all around. Took me a really long time to get there and even when I knew I was there, there was still some part of me, that stubborn prideful part, that didn’t want to release it into the world, a part of me that still didn’t want to give her the benefit of my forgiveness, forgiveness she’s never given me the benefit of asking for. I can’t tell you how many days I sat on that post, not quite being able to bring myself to press that publish button. I needed to be sure. Sure that I was ready. Sure that I was being truthful. Still somewhat conflicted because although I felt like I could honestly say that I didn’t hate her anymore, I still definitely hated what she did, and I still definitely didn’t like her, at least not the person I knew her to be. It’s a fine line. But not holding on to hatred for a person doesn’t mean you have to like them. And you can dislike a person for who you’ve known them to be, and you can try to understand what kind of brokenness made them become that person, and you can forgive them for it, and you can hope that they are truly the different person they claim to others to be now, and you can wish them well, all at the same time. But it definitely takes some real effort to figure all that out and keep all that straightened out in your head, ha, because honestly, IT’S A LOT.

Even though I meant all of it, every word, no part of that came easily to me. But, when it came down to it, I knew it was more for my benefit than hers.

Real forgiveness is never easy.

But it was necessary, and it was sincere, and I felt better for having done it.

Now for the interesting part of the follow up… y’all remember how torn I was about how we’d both been attending the same church? Not because seeing her bothered me, but because I worried about how her husband felt about seeing us?

Well, that very next Sunday after I wrote that blog, we were walking down the long sidewalk to go in to church. As we approached the building, we crossed over the driveway and walked beside the building. Just as we were about to make the turn to go up the stairs to the entrance, out of the corner of my eye I see her husband, alone, on the other sidewalk, about to cross the driveway towards the stairs.

Oh my goodness.

I mean.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS, Y’ALL???

I mean, we had all seen each other, on several occasions there over the last few months. But there was always space in between us. It was in a passing car, or across the foyer, or a sanctuary section or two over. Close enough to make eye contact, but not side by side, not close enough to speak or for any type of real physical contact.

How was this going to go? It all happened in a matter of seconds.

Before I even really had time to fully process the situation, there we were, side by side. Him, myself, and Jeff, all approaching the stairs…literally, together.

I slowed and let him walk ahead. I see his eyes dart towards us quickly as he passes. I was so torn. Do I acknowledge him? No. I can’t do that to him. Not with Jeff right here.

What happens when we get to the door? Does Jeff hold the door for him? Will he hold the door for us? Oh, this is just awkward.

And then, OH THANK GOD for door holders. I forgot there’s always a door holder! God bless you Mr. Door holder. Today you are truly doing the work of the Lord! 😂

In my head I’m thinking, there’s probably a thousand people here today, and what are the odds the 3 of us end up in the EXACT same spot at the EXACT same time? Normally, there are groups of people walking in at the same time as we are. But not this day. We are literally the ONLY people in this particular space, walking in. It makes ZERO sense that this is happening.

I tried to read his face, but couldn’t decide what he was thinking, or how uncomfortable he was, if at all. I’ve felt torn for months between feeling like I should approach him and also feeling like maybe it was more appropriate not to. Not really knowing which was the right thing. It’s an odd thing, him and me. We are two people that have never actually met in person, that don’t really know each other at all, yet in some ways, know each other better than anyone else could because we went through a traumatic, life changing experience together. He’s someone that on one hand, for both our sakes, I wish I’d never known, yet on the other hand, am so thankful to know. So here we are, two people with no real connection to each other outside of the fact that our spouses had an affair together, forever connected in a way that’s hard to explain other than to say that we are similar types of people, that we both have the same beliefs, and share many of the same values. We had a good bit of contact with each other those first few months after finding out about the affair. At the time I was still struggling with whether or not I even wanted to reconcile with Jeff, and was leaning more towards not. He on the other hand was very much set on trying to reconcile his relationship with his wife. And since we both still had so much anger for the other’s spouse, it was difficult for us to support each other in reconciling our marriages. Although our conversations were also supportive and encouraging of each other and what we were going through on a personal level, they also always ended up including discussions of the things they did and the lies they told, and that was not conducive to healing. So we knew it was best that we disconnect so as not to bring that negativity to each other and interfere with that process. So we wished each other well, and had not talked since that last conversation.

And although we don’t really know each other, I think we both immediately felt a kindredness in our spirits, from our very first conversation, and have both wanted the best for each other since day one. So I say all that to say that when that happened that morning, walking in side by side with us, the thought that our being there, in that close of proximity, may have caused him distress…all day it just weighed so heavily on me. Because he’s a good man. His happiness and well being matters to me. I guess the best way to explain it is that when I think of him, it’s like he’s another version of me, if that makes any sense at all. Like a mirror image, with the same hopes and the same scars. I want him to have the desires of his heart, for his family to be whole, for him to have all the goodness and happiness as surely as I want all of those things for myself. And doing anything to cause him any pain is just not an option. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So a couple of days later I decided I needed to reach out to him. To apologize for that awkward walk into church with us. For not talking to him sooner about it. To clear the air and find out for sure how he felt about everything.

And his response…was completely unexpected.

“There is absolutely no apology needed for anything at all. This may sound crazy, but Amy, you could walk into church next Sunday, sit down in the seat right beside me, and I would not have a clue who you were. I have no idea what either of you look like. I never looked y’all up. It was just easier for me, not having a face to go with the man in the visions in my head of my wife with someone else.”

Wait, what??? Wait, wait wait. Did you just say you have no idea what we look like? Like, for real, you have no idea?

Y’ALL , I have no words.

I’m just kidding. I obviously have lots of words. So let me start with saying this:

That, I did not expect.

Wow. Just wow. I did not see that coming.

It never, EVER occurred to me that he didn’t know what we looked like. I mean, I knew basically everything, every detail about her, him, their families, their friends, their work… everything, within a couple of days of finding out about the affair. I’m an information girl. I have a need to know, even when it’s sometimes maybe not in my best interest. In some ways I think that is just an innate part of me and my personality, of who I am. But I think it also comes from my deep seated fears of having no control. The more informed you are, the more in control you feel. Although that isn’t necessarily true, it creates a sense of control whether it be real or imagined. So between my natural born personality traits combined with my fears, I’m basically an information, fact finding junkie. Sometimes it serves me well and is an asset to myself and even others, and other times, it’s probably slightly unhealthy. But the thought of having the self control to not look them up. Like at all. In over 3 years. That was mind blowing to me. He knew what was best for him. And he stuck to it and never gave in to any temptation to veer from that. That takes serious resolve and strength and I’m a bit in awe of his ability to do that. I would never have been capable of it. It would have made me even more crazy , the not knowing. But for him, not having the image of Jeff’s face in his head helped keep him sane.

I told Jeff what he said. Jeff’s first response was “No way. There’s no way. I mean, I don’t need to know things at the level that you need to know things but no way would I, in his position, be able to keep myself from looking him up. I would be too curious not to want to know what the guy that my wife cheated on me with looked like.”

But I explained to him that it would make no sense and serve no purpose for him to say that if it were not true. I mean, this was his opportunity to either reply that yes, he had seen at church and he’s fine with it, or yes he’d seen us at church and he hated it and to please never ever come back. There was absolutely no reason at all to say that he didn’t know who we were if he did.

And now, it made sense, the reason why I felt like I could never quite read his reaction to us, is because he CLEARLY WAS NOT HAVING ONE, because he didn’t know who we were!

Y’all. Never would I have come up with that, in any scenario I had imagined in how this might play out.

So, anyway… long story short. He’s doing great. He says it had been hard, as I would well know, but that things were good and that she truly is a changed person and that they are happy. I didn’t ask him if she was sorry for the pain she caused me or why she never apologized to me. A small part of me kind of wanted to. But that’s not a question he should have to answer. That’s between me and her, and like I said, if I never get an answer on that, that’s ok, because my forgiveness no longer hinges on her asking for it, and so ultimately, it’s really between her and God.

We had a great conversation. We discussed the miracle of redemption, the miracle of both of us making it through all of this with our families intact. And how grateful we were to be able to have this conversation after all this time and to know that the other was doing well. He said hearing from me meant the world to him, because he had thought about me and the girls and wondered if we were ok and that he had prayed for us all this time, that God would make sure that we would somehow come out ok through all this mess. It meant a lot to him to know that we were doing well.

He’s ok with us being there, and since he has no clue what we even look like, he would never know us if he saw us anyway. (Guess it’s a good thing I never approached him after all, ha. And especially a good thing I resisted the urge to go hug his neck. That would have been really, really awkward.😂 Also it occurs to me that the several times we did lock eyes and I thought he knew who I was, he must have been thinking “what is this woman looking at me for?”) 🤦🏻‍♀️

He also told me that he felt strongly that my faith could be a real encouragement to others that are going through this. Side note: before he said this, he had no idea that this blog existed or that I had ever shared our story. He was happy when I told him about it, and said he really believed God could use it for the good of others. It encouraged him that God was using our pain for something bigger than all of us.

Anyway, it was a good talk, something I think we both needed to move forward. It did our hearts good to know the other was doing well, and I would say that he is most definitely the kindest man I’ve never met. Ha.

So although the odds of us walking in side by side that week were pretty slim, 3 out of a thousand or more, it was no accident. It was God prompting me to reach out to him, so we could have a conversation that God knew we both needed to have, to have the assurance that the other is doing well, and to move forward in this situation and to give us both some peace.

God is in the details y’all.

So, now that y’all are all caught up, stay tuned for my next post. This stormy, lazy day inspired me to write, so today I’ve written two! Making up for lost time, I suppose. It’s somewhat difficult to work a full time job, manage a family, keep up with all the household stuff and somehow find or carve out time to be a writer too. I know I need to devote more time to it, so I’m gonna work on that. Thank you, my sweet friend Susan, for the unexpected encouraging message you sent me last week. I think God knew I needed a little nudge to get back to it. And thank you to the kind stranger in another state that sent me a Facebook message this week. I kind of forget how far these posts go sometimes, and your message of what my posts and our story meant to you brought me to tears and reminded me of the importance of continuing to share our story so openly. To know that our story and my words here on these pages gave you the hope to press forward and made a difference for you, means more to me than you’ll ever know. Occasionally, I check the stats on the blog, the number of views, the countries it reaches all over the world, and those numbers go up and go down, and so I don’t think much of it. Now that the more dramatic part of our story has passed, it doesn’t get viewed quite as much as it did when the stories were slightly more shocking. Over the years I’ve gotten lots of messages on and off, similar to this one. And there have been local people that have reached out, that we have personally invested in that I know we’ve been an encouragement to. So I know God has used our story for good things. But it’s been a while, since things have died down a bit, since I’d gotten a message from anyone far away, and this message came shortly after Susan’s message in which she said she felt strongly the need to encourage me to keep writing and that it had more of an effect than I would ever know. So when I received this message from a stranger a few days later, I sat at my desk in tears at the thought that my seemingly, in my eyes anyway, small platform, somehow, divinely, no doubt, found its way to this couple, and God used it to give them exactly the hope they needed. That verse about how God leaves the 99 for the 1. This is the meaning of it. God cared enough for that one person, to put my little blog in front of him when he needed it most. And if that was as far as it ever went, then it still served an amazing purpose. It’s the 1 that he cares about. And every single one of us are His 1, and He will always, always show up for us, bringing us what we need to find our way.

I may or may not ever grow to have the following that some others have. I may or may not ever have a book published around the world. I may or may not ever speak from stages to crowds of people. And truly, it doesn’t matter. To know that it made a difference, even if it were just for this one, makes it all worth it. I’m humbled and blessed that God would use me to make a difference in anyone’s life, and to be the messenger of His goodness.

And to think that this guy actually apologized for bothering me on my personal page with his message. Those kinds of messages are never, ever a bother or an intrusion, and they bless me more than I can ever put into words.

So thank you, and know that all of you out there, you all give me back every bit and more of the hope and encouragement that you say I’ve brought to you, and for that, I am so thankful.

The subject of the next post is triggers, smoke monsters, what arguments are really about, downward spirals, breathing in the truth and staying on course. I’ve got a little more editing and fine tuning to get that one ready, so come back tomorrow for that one.

Love y’all.

❤️

Amy Thurston Gordy