Forgiveness : It's what's for dinner

   My husband and I answered the big question in our lives when we chose each other, got married, and started a family.  The big picture was extraordinary and brimming over with blessings.  But the small picture, full of obligations, financial decisions, and the day-to-day drudging, was a little hazy until a marriage help group at our church transformed our way of thinking.  I wrote about our experiences on this blog and most fortunately, one of the posts has been viewed over 17,000 times (and counting) in two weeks.  For the first time in my life I am standing witness to God working in our lives, in others' marriages, and even on Pinterest.  Unfortunately for me the next lesson in Re|Engage, granting forgiveness to my husband, turned out to be a tough pill to swallow.  I wasn't expecting that.  Although, I wasn't expecting any of this when we got married.  I thought we would just figure it out and do better than we did in our previous failed marriages, which is what brought us to church seeking answers and faced with...forgiveness. It's what's for dinner.

   Thus far, we learned that our worldly definition of love is not enough.  Society taught us to view marriage as a contract.  I used to believe that if I put "x" and "y" into the marriage, that I deserved and expected "z" to be returned to me as payment.  I was living by what I had been taught and what I had witnessed by watching those around me.  Next, I was faced with the harsh realization that I am my biggest marital problem.  It hit my soul like that first splash of water in the morning, numbing my face from the bitter cold swirling outside. 

   Re|Engage dared me to draw a circle around myself and to begin fixing the only thing I have the ability to fix- what is inside the circle.  Oi.  Forced to take the longest look in the most accurate of mirrors, I confessed that I am broken.  I stared at all the scattered pieces and knew I needed help putting them all back together.  I faced my faults and with God's help began putting myself back together again.  My heart and eyes had only just begun to peek open, waking from hibernation, and accept God's grace.  Then that truth-telling mirror, which I thought I had just conquered, came back to haunt me again.  Only this time, it would break me- just not in the way you would expect.

   Ever since the first time someone hurt my feelings, even as far back as on the playground as a child, I have been fervently placing stone upon stone building a wall of protection around myself.  Every once and a while I would let someone into my fortress.  If they hurt me, I'd usually ignore it for a while until they pushed the envelope so far and committed an unforgivable act.  Then, I'd give them the boot.  I don't mean a slight nudge with the pillowy cushion of an Ugg or a stab with the spurs nailed onto the heel of my boots.  No.  My "giving of the boot" would consist of a never-ending story of all the things they had done to hurt me that I overlooked for so long, followed by a slow-motion commentary and replay of him/her hammering the last nail into the coffin that would lay to rot our past relationship, and end with a stern and absolute drive of the rigid sole of my shoe into his/her chest therefore removing them from my circle forever.  (Everyone who really knows me is nodding his/her head, "Yeah.  That's about right!")  I put stock in that old saying, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."

    I remembered back to week one of our group when I was anxiously awaiting the opportunity to recite my mental catalogue of past hurts in our relationship.  Luckily, I was able to retain a smidge of dignity when I wasn't given the chance for a few weeks.  "Oh, you're right!  I'm horrible when I procrastinate!  I shouldn't just be on time, I should be early!  It's all my fault."  Although I was turning over a new leaf and stepping out of my selfish box for the first time, it wasn't going to sit well with me if I couldn't address past issues.  Just because we've been a happier couple for two weeks doesn't eradicate the scars from eight years of unhealthy interactions. 

   Without regard to any personal growth I had experienced and like a girl in her early twenties drunk-dialing her ex-boyfriend for the first time, I came undone.  A list of insults and play-by-plays of previous arguments "debates" came pouring out of me.  One instance was very early in our relationship and really changed things for me.  As to avoid airing all of our dirty laundry, I'm going to use this one example for our lesson on forgiveness.

   The sun was still slumbering beneath the horizon.  I was shuttling from house to house in my Jeep with the radio up and a cigarette hanging out the open window picking up several girls for a short trip down to Austin.  We had to be on location by sunrise for a runway show.  The five of us talked, sang, and danced the whole way until we arrived at the physical address we were given.  The average show would normally take place within the glittering circles at exclusive events in department stores, hotel convention centers, or multi-million dollar estates in Highland Park.  Only, this wasn't Neiman's or the Dallas Petroleum Club, this was a military base.  A little stunned, we found a place to park within Camp Mabry and giggled while we took pictures with the tanks that welcomed guests. 

   Once inside, we discovered the gym had been transformed into a runway.  Crisp white chairs lined the red carpet runway and the last few spotlights were being affixed to the rafters above.  We caught up with all the other girls backstage and began to try on our outfits to make sure everything fit for the show.  Lunchtime came and since we were asked by the client not to leave the premises, lunch was provided.  For all twenty girls, the staff placed four large cartons of strawberries and twenty bags of tuna on the table.  Yes, bags of "To-Go Tuna".  Yum.  We had already cut the client a break by not charging for travel time and opting for gas money instead.  We weren't about to spend all morning driving and then maniacally trying on clothes and rehearsing in a dirty back room of a military base's gymnasium only to subsist on strawberries and tuna until the show ended at 9pm, at the earliest.  (Yes, some models really do eat.  No, it really is not glamorous backstage.)
   Following a small negotiation, a field trip to the closest Tex-Mex restaurant, and one hundred evening gowns kissing the runway with their feathers, taffeta, and silk chiffon, the show was over and we were free to unwind with a cocktail on Sixth Street.  With the exception of one of the models falling ill before the show, it was a successful day.  The next morning we all headed home.  Shading our bleary eyes with our bulky shades and nursing throbbing headaches with silence and gulps of water I dropped each girl off at their respective homes.  When I finally made it home I collapsed on the couch and took a long nap.  I was completely exhausted.  That evening at dinner I still wasn't feeling well.  In fact, I started to feel worse.  Within minutes of finishing a rich, cheesy lasagna dinner topped off with garlic rolls dripping in butter from our favorite local Italian spot I was running to and from the bathroom.  Great.

   It was the most violent, painful, and gut-wrenching "stomach bug" or case of food poisoning I'd ever experienced.  Though I had been on my own for several years at this point, I hadn't been this sick since I lived with my parents.  At twenty three years old I actually found myself wondering where my Dad was to wipe my forehead with a wet washcloth and force me to drink Pepto Bismol.  Instead, I called out for the only person who could hear me- my boyfriend with whom I had just shacked up with a few months prior.  I started politely pleading, "Baby?  Babe?  Can you help me?  I don't feel good."  Within the next hour it grew louder and might have included some loud moaning and a few outcries.  I couldn't have cared less about embarrassing myself with vomit in my hair.  I just wanted someone to rub my back or bring me some crushed ice- something!  He never came.

   I fell asleep on the bathroom floor for a little while and when I woke, I was furious.  "Wait a damn minute!!  Isn't this the same guy who has been courting me, taking me out to dinner, dancing with me until 2am, repeatedly asking me to move in and even going as far as to pay for movers?!  And now he's just going to ignore me?!?!"  I stood up and stormed downstairs to find him sound asleep in bed. 

I shook his shoulder.  "Hey.  Hey!  HEY." 
He barely opened his eyes, "What?!"
"Can't you hear me calling for you?!  I'm really sick."
"Are you bleeding?"
"What?  No.  I'm-"
"Then you'll be alright."  He shut his eyes.
   Did you hear that?  No, not him pulling up the covers and turning over.  No, not me running back up to the bathroom to cry and vomit some more.  Did you hear that crushing sound?  That was my heart breaking.  I never really recovered from that day.  I never stopped loving him and never stopped believing in this life we were building together.  But did I ever expect compassion from him again?  Nope.
   I ended up driving myself to the ER.  As the nurse started an IV he said I needed to call someone to for a ride home because the pain medication was going to make me too drowsy to drive.  I called my then boyfriend, now husband and told him that even though he had to leave for work in thirty minutes he would have to call in sick and come pick me up.  (I could've called my parents who lived nearby but he needed to make the choice to be my partner, or not.)  I hung up and fell asleep five seconds later.  I woke up suddenly to an even sharper pain in my stomach, jumped out of bed and flew by a figure sitting in a chair with crossed arms into what I could only hope was a bathroom.  When I returned, the nurse said I must have been allergic and we were going to try a different medication this time.  I fell back asleep. 
   The car ride home from the hospital was beyond awkward.  (As it turned out, six other models on that job came down with the same illness.  One of them thought she was pregnant until she found out how many ended up sick.)  I wouldn't turn my head to look at him because I could hear him seething and knew that a seed of contempt had just been planted.  I didn't understand it, had no idea how to address it, and even less of a clue what to do about it.  Nevertheless, the divide was discernible. 

  What I should've learned that day was he has a difficult time taking minor things seriously because of all the inexplicable things he sees at work. He cleans up other people's poop off their bedsores, shovels brains off the highway, and washes other people's blood off his clothes and out of his senses for a living.  All his patience and empathy is spent at work.  This was a thirty-two-year-old bachelor who had completely lost what little ability men have to be sensitive- thanks to his career as an everyday hero and one too many unbridled years as a bachelor in the supposed prime of his life.  Sadly, I never fully saw his point of view.  My vision was always clouded with my selfish, sorrowful "oh woe is me" sob story (hence, above).  All I allowed myself to see was he enjoyed being around me when it was fun, and we really did "click", but as far as possessing a deep, consuming love for me?  He did not.  And strangely, I was fine with it on some level.  I had wholeheartedly trusted others in my life and been devastated when the relationship ended.  This time, I made the choice not to fully trust, not to fully invest myself.  *Clunk.*  *Clunk.*  And up went two more bricks on the walls that surrounded me.

   Long story not short, he has always been prickly.  And I have always come undone.  I felt like everything was happening to meEverything was a personal attack.  And though he always verbally apologized when I brought to his attention all the ways he hurt me, I never really forgave him.  I knew he would hurt my heart again and again.  Everything he said that was hurtful I would play over and over again in my head like a broken record, or tape, or iTunes playlist.  I remember having a serious conversation with him after a disagreement once and I warned him, "Look.  I'm willing to look past the things you say and the things you don't.  I want to stay together.  But each and every time I sweep it under the rug or look the other way, it breaks my heart a little bit more.  I'm just worried what that will do to me, and to us, over time."

   Always on the hunt for a solution, I sometimes prodded him further and it usually went like this, "Just because you don't think I should be sad about my best friend and I breaking up...or...depressed because I just found another stretchmark...or...upset because so-and-so told so-and-so something horribly untrue about me...doesn't mean I'm wrong. Just because you don't think I should 'allow' myself to get upset doesn't mean that I'm not actually upset. Just because you don't agree with me doesn't make me stop feeling this way."  Though it never mattered what I said. In fact, the more I said the more he was convinced I was crazy and ridiculous. And years of misunderstanding, name-calling, and confusion left a scar on my heart. Now I'm expected to forgive him? But how?

   Obviously, my husband is a wonderful man.  I can always depend on him to handle any financial worry, any billing issue, ornery customer service person, anyone who attempts to take advantage of me, any major hurdle in our lives, and all home projects (although those take a bit longer- heehee).   He is the most involved, protecting, nurturing, loving father to our two daughters.  And I know he would lay down his life before anyone tried to hurt mine or my daughters' little finger.  But there was always something holding him back from connecting to me when I needed him most.  Like I said in "Re|Engage. The Inner Circle.", I tried everything.  Nothing I knew how to do ever worked.

   Whether your spouse has cheated on you once with a colleague of his, or cheated repeatedly with several of your own friends, hid money from you and used it to fly to Vegas with the boys, betrayed you by siding with his parents over you, took all the money you earned and blew it on alcohol or drugs, ignored your children, or disrespected you in front of all his work buddies or your friends- it all crushes our spirit.  As women, our spirit is such a sacred, beautiful thing when left to flourish.  And as women we either stand up and fight, lie down and take it, give up and walk away, or get even.  However, when I think about that list of ingredients we all say every relationship needs- trust, communication, laughter, support, understanding, etc.- I don't think I've ever heard anyone say "forgiveness". 

   So on this night at Re|Engage, we had just listened to a testimony from another couple.  We spoke of forgiveness in class and really explored what that meant from a biblical standpoint.  As the curriculum states, "God has forgiven you of countless offenses against Him; therefore, you are to forgive your spouse for their offenses against you.  When you don't, you are being hypocritical.  You are experiencing the forgiveness, but are not willing to extend it to others- including your spouse."  I expect my husband to forgive me, but I can't forgive him?  I know God has forgiven me and I'm supposed to live in His image, yet I still can't forgive my husband?

   I retorted, "Ok, so I'm supposed to 'forgive and forget', right?  But then he isn't being held accountable anymore and he'll probably just do it again.  Basically you're asking me to overlook his mistakes and then everything will just get better?  No.  I don't feel like forgiving him."  ...Wrong.  I soon discovered all of the above is dead wrong

At its most basic level, forgiveness is the decision to pardon an offense and give up the right to be repaid.     -Re|Engage curriculum

   Oh.  Wow.  There's an idea.  I've never thought of it that way before.  What if I actually did forgive him?  What is holding me back?  Then it hit me.  If I forgive him, then I will expect the behavior to stop.  If I forgive him, then he no longer owes me anything for the anguish he caused me.  If I forgive him, then I have to "remember (my) commitment to forgive.  It is often a commitment (I) will continue to make when- not if- the feelings of hurt and disappointment return."  Only, there should be no conditions placed upon forgiveness- no "what ifs".  There should only be "when" and then "done".

   There I sat, staring down a hypothetical heaping plate of forgiveness for dinner.  I took a fork of faith, swallowed my pride, decided to relinquish the tape I always played in my head, even set aside my fears that he would hurt me again, and dug in.

   Luckily, we both decided we would really commit ourselves to the homework that week and truly focus on forgiveness.  We had planned on spending the day cleaning out the garage while Little Girl was at school and Baby Girl was at my parents' house.  Instead, we grabbed our Re|Engage books and went out on the back porch.  The time had come to share our list of things we were asking one another to forgive about ourselves.  It was beyond uncomfortable for me to start.  We had never spoken of any of these issues outside of an argument.  And I had never admitted to any of them before when we did argue.  Well, here goes nothing.  I read him my list and asked him to forgive me for being selfish, bitter, disappointed, self-destructive, and disrespectful all these years.  (Of course my plea was more extensive than that but this post is already at novel length.) 

   Then he followed with his list.  It was, by far, the most electrifying and exhilarating conversation we've ever had.  Then, everything really began to change.  We felt God working in our marriage and watched Him moved mountains.  His will smashed through my self-inflicted torture chamber/wall of "protection" and left behind a pile of stones.  Now, what to do with this mess?

   I don't recall exactly who said it, but I will never forget the visual I was gifted with one night at Re|Engage about this symbolic home we all build to house and protect our marriage.  Picture a spot of land where you plan to spend your life.  You will shelter your spouse, your children, your career, your activities, your memories, your heart; all the facets of your life will orbit like small, glowing planets around the staggering and blazing sun that is your marriage.  Staring at this little patch of dirt, you are guaranteed that storms will come.  You must build a strong enough home to protect your marriage from the inevitable storms. 

   I would like to think of our first huge leap of faith, in genuinely forgiving one another altogether as God has done and always will do for us, as the first time I took a stone from the pile of carnage and placed it on that little spot of land.  This lesson on forgiveness broke me.   It would mark the first stone I used to build a home to house and shelter our marriage. 

   Now each time I hear these ridiculous phrases, "Love means never having to say you're sorry," "People never change", or, "Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you...or makes you happy," I will travel light with His key and look toward our future.




This is part three of a multi-part marriage series.

Click on the links below for more.

Preface [Re|Engage.]



To hear the couple that drew us in, click here.
To hear our mentor couple's testimony (and others), click here.


For more information about Re|Engage,

such as a church near you that offers it

or an avenue to bring it to your own church,

please visit:




  1. It can get really tough sometimes. The people we love will hurt us. I like this travel light phrase. Know that you will always have Him t hold on to.

    1. Thank you for reading! It's good to know He will always be here for me...more than good...it's all I need to know.

    2. Just sayin' - Dinner is easier served with a little compassion thrown in.

  2. You have put into words all the feelings and emotion I fail to get out at every arguement.. Although I always line them up ready to let it out, I always forget the words and only have the emotions. I need this!

    1. I'm so glad you're able to connect with my experience. I have a habit of getting caught up in the argument too. Now I'm trying to stop our crazy cycle and remember that I've already forgiven him. Thank you so much for reading and leaving feedback!

  3. I'm not married yet, but currently am working on a relationship that may get there someday. I can't tell you how much this has been needed. I've really come to see the sinfulness I have in my heart and how I pour it out into my relationship. But reading this has helped me to identify those things and turn me back to God's grace and forgiveness. He's the one who will change my heart. Thanks so much for letting God use you in this blog! It's such a huge help.

    1. Thank you, Samantha, for not only reading but also taking the time to comment! He is the one!! Listening to Him has been the only advice that has worked for me. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to take this class and this journey. But now, having people as wonderful as you able to relate to our experience is beyond words! We have to stick together in this crazy world and lift each other up with what works- God's word. Thank you again! I hope you had a happy Easter!!

  4. This was a great mini-series and I look forward to reading more of what your write. The Lord has been really gracious to me and showed me a lot of what you had learned, but you gave me a glimpse of something I had not seen yet and for that I am truly grateful. I believed in my heart that I had forgiven all offense and that I refused to allow any new ones to take root, but what I hadn't realized was that I had some bricks in my wall where I stopped expecting certain things and had just accepted them with some resentment. I now see that's also poison that needs to be brought to the surface with all the rest of the dross, and purified out. May the Lord continue to bless you both with wisdom, joy, revelation, and intimacy in your marriage and with Him.

    1. Thank you so much for reading! I am grateful to know something we experienced touched a chord with you and helped in some way. I haven't written in this series in a while (for various reasons) but will be continuing with it soon. Resentment is one of the less obvious, yet most powerful, marital issues that we need to do without! I'll pray your purification is quick and painless. ;]

  5. I just found your blog and it has opened my eyes to my part in my relationship. I know that it has been a long time since you have written these stories, but they are still helping! My boyfriend is also a firefighter, but I can see so much of myself in you, especially in Part 3 of your marriage series.
    I really wish that there was an Re/Engage close to us, it is 1.5 hours away. Do you know if they have any plans to sell the workbooks separately? I would love to buy them and work on them myself.

    1. I'm so glad to hear this found you and helped in some way! I wish it were closer to you too because it has done so much for us. They don't sell them separately because there is much more to the experience than just the written work. I don't know if this helps, but I'm finally finding the courage to share more about what we went through and what we learned. I "came out" recently as my real name, Amanda (not Isla- my pen name), on social media and am launching a new blog in a few weeks that is marriage-centric. Look for me on facebook (or twitter or instagram @amandafromtx) at Amanda from Texas so we can stay in touch! XOXO