Story of Hope: Jennifer

by Kaylan Preuss

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

—Isaiah 43:18-19

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Jennifer grew up in nearby Sturgis—in a middle class, safe, whole family unit, complete with a dad, mom, and younger sister. So how was it that in 2012, as a young 30-something, she was facing her third divorce? She couldn’t believe or understand it.

Family life wasn’t exactly ideal during childhood. Jennifer’s mom took her and her sister on-and-off to a nearby Catholic church—mainly for the important things like confirmation and her first communion. But at home, her dad was a functioning alcoholic.

“He wasn’t abusive at all and he was present, but I don’t have many sober memories of my dad,” she said. “He did his thing and we did ours. He was there, but he wasn’t really there.”

As for her Catholic church, she didn’t like it or understand it. So she started attending a local community church with some friends and got involved. Because it was a small group, she never found the leadership or guidance she now says she probably needed during that time.

“I remember going to church camp at 13 or 14 and being ‘saved’ there, but I didn’t even really know what that meant. I didn’t do it for the right reasons. It’s what everybody was doing and it felt right,” she said. “Looking back now, I realized I wanted God’s blessings, but I didn’t want that way of life, so my salvation didn’t stick.”

Jennifer spent a lot of her teenage and young adult years making what she calls “less than desirable decisions.” She hung out with all the wrong people and battled her own addictions—drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity.

In 1996, she found a way out. She met a guy in the Air Force, originally from New Jersey, who was stationed in Columbus. At that point, all she wanted was to get out of Mississippi and he wanted a wife before he got out of the military, so it seemed they both had a solution in marrying each other.

“We got married and I got pregnant. When we had our son, I decided I wanted to live in Mississippi to be close to my family and he wanted to go back to New Jersey. He’s a great guy and we still co-parent today, but the bottom line is this: we should’ve never gotten married. I know now it didn’t work because God wasn’t involved in that relationship,” she said.

After their divorce and a short time had passed, Jennifer met someone else. She was a single mom raising her son and he was raising his twin girls on his own. This seemed to be the perfect Brady-Brunch-blended scenario.

They married in August 1998 when Jennifer was 23 years old. By November, the whole family was active in a local church where she was baptized and started to turn things around, focusing on “living right” and reading the Bible.

Jennifer said, “Life was good for us. We were very involved in church and tried to do the right things. We even attended Mt. Vernon for a while. He was growing as a believer and so was I, so it was a shock when I found out he’d had an affair.”

In 2008, after 11 years together, the couple split and Jennifer tried to move on again with her 12-year-old son. But just one year later, carrying her own bag of self-loathing and emotional pain, another man entered Jennifer’s life, trying to buy her affections and mend the broken pieces.

“He said and did all the right things. He seemed to be the answer to everything. He’d been a Marine. He was financially stable. He had a college degree,” she said. “There was a lot of pressure from him to marry again, so I did—for a third time. I didn’t believe in anything anymore, so I fell for everything.”

Two things happened after they wed—Jennifer soon got pregnant with her second son and red flags started popping up all over the place.

She began to find out the ugly truth behind his lies: he couldn’t produce a driver’s license; he didn’t actually have a degree; he was $12,000 in child support debt; he’d begun dating someone else a month after they were married. And the biggest lie of all? Jennifer wasn’t wife #2 like he said—she was #5.

“I felt stuck. The lies were overwhelming. I had no clue whom I’d married. He turned out to be a con artist and I’d fallen for it,” she said. “For three years, I tried to make it work. But at the end of it all, he left me with $21,000 worth of debt.”

The biggest blessing out of it came in the form of her second son, Reed—plus a life change she couldn’t have predicted. In 2011, she and her boys began attending Mt. Vernon again. And this time, things were different.

“I remember sending a message to a staff member saying, ‘I’m scared to death of being judged at church.’ Church is a hard place to be when you’re divorced. I felt like I was walking in with a neon sign over my head that said, ‘Single Mom, Divorced x 3.’ I felt like it defined who I was. But when I walked through those doors, I never once felt judged or condemned. It felt like family.”

About the same time, Jennifer began working full-time from home, giving her time to reflect on her past. What she realized was her issues began as a child, more than 20 years ago, when she began searching for love and a man to fill the gap her dad never could. She didn’t realize the impact her father’s alcoholism had on her life (who is now battling the end stages of his addiction).

She’d wanted the fairytale, but it had failed every time she tried to create it on her own.

“You don’t think you’ll ever get through the pain,” she said. “I prayed so much for the ability to forgive myself and let go of the shame that was binding me. It was when I opened the Bible and met the person of Jesus that I found my fairytale and the Father I needed all along. I’d tried to fill the gap in my heart with worldly relationships, but only Jesus could do that all along. He’s the only Love I need.”

Just when she realized how much Jesus loves her, everything else also melted away—the resentment, anger, brokenness, and shame. Though she still battles the enemy for freedom, she says she now understands that Christ’s power is made perfect in her weakness.

Today, Jennifer regularly attends a life group—a place where she feels safe to share, encourage, and be encouraged. She also serves each week on the host team and with the Children’s Ministry. And to top it all off, her sons are both actively involved at Mt. Vernon.

She said, “Now, I get it—this relationship with Jesus. There’s trust there. Grace is real. Yes, my story is messy and ugly. I created that. But Jesus stepped in and made me new, healing the wounds and filling in the holes. Sometimes the best fairytales come from the rubble.”

A Cynical View of Why the World Wants You To Get Divorced

Your wedding day is a beautiful, emotional, magnificent promise of what you want your marriage to be. We love weddings. We celebrate weddings. In 2012, the median cost of a wedding was $18,000. That’s a nice wedding! Little girls dream about this day for years! To help you plan this incredible day, there’s an entire wedding industry designed to help you have an incredible experience (and make some serious cash on the side). Walk into a bookstore and there are entire sections of wedding magazines.

Our society loves weddings. Our culture celebrates weddings. Our society wants you to have a successful first day of marriage. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a day that culminates with a beautiful promise. What society is horrible at is helping you at is the next 18,250 days of marriage (if you’re going to be married 50 years). Think about it: there are tons and tons of wedding magazines out there, helping you plan an amazing wedding. But how many marriage magazines are there, helping you be successful at marriage long-term? None!

Look at this: I searched Google for the “top wedding magazines.” Here were my results:

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Next, out of curiosity, I googled “top marriage magazines.” Here were my results:

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Isn’t that amazing? Google, which can find anything, couldn’t find any magazines on marriage, so it just pulled up all the results I’d just searched for with weddings. I would make the argument that from society’s standpoint, the wedding day is the most important day of the marriage. That’s where all the emphasis is.

Here’s my cynical take on why all the emphasis is on the wedding and not the marriage: society today doesn’t care about making your marriage work, they care about you have an amazing wedding day. In fact, the wedding industry wins when you get divorced, because then you can start planning your next wedding and fork over another $18,000.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts? Am I off base here or am I on to something?

“He’s So Lucky He Has a Stepdad!”

It’s eye opening to experience first hand the innocence of youth. Recently a new family moved into our neighborhood. They have boys. That’s a good thing. There are currently 10 boys (now 12) in our neighborhood that play together, roaming around like Hell’s Angels on their Huffys and Schwinns. My oldest, Zeke (7), befriended one of the new boys and came home one day and told me, “[My friend] is so lucky, he has a stepdad!” Record scratch, head jerked sideways, “What you talkin’ about Willis?”

8.27.14I asked him what he meant. Apparently when Zeke was asking his new friend about his parents, he was told he lived with his mom and stepdad. Zeke had never heard of a stepdad before. What was that? It was like another dad that he lived with. So Zeke told me, “He’s lucky he has a stepdad because when one dad goes to work, the other one gets to stay home and play with him.” Wouldn’t it be great if it worked out like that?

I had what we call in the business “a teachable moment” and got to introduce my 7-year-old my the finer intricacies of divorce. Afterwards, Zeke didn’t think his new friend was so lucky. The whole episode reminded me of the simplicity of what marriage is supposed to be. One man, one woman, together for life. That’s what our kids are born expecting. We’re the ones who mess things up.

12 years strong married to Zeke’s mom (and my wife). With every power of my being, I never want Zeke to ever have to walk through a divorce first-hand. I never want him to have a stepdad.

The Phone Call I Hope I Never Have to Make About Your Marriage

Recently I had to make a phone call that broke my heart. It’s a phone call that I hope I never have to make again. A few years ago a couple came to me for marriage counseling. They had been struggling with issues for years but hadn’t talked to anyone about them. We met several times and made a little bit of progress but no breakthroughs. They couldn’t meet in the middle. Counseling kind of petered out and they eventually moved to a different state.

telephoneAs life goes we lost track of each other until I received a letter from a lady I’ve never met. She told me she was the guardian ad litem for this couple. They’re getting a divorce. It’s getting messy. Accusations are flying back and forth. And worst of all, there are kids involved. The relationship had deteriorated to such a point that the government had to step in to help decide where the kids went.

That’s where my phone call came in. The guardian ad litem received permission from both parties to talk to me and get my take on the situation. It was a depressing phone call to say the least. I believed and still believe that it was a marriage that could have been saved. The greatest casualties are the children, pawns with no say in the matter.

I hope I never have to make a phone call like that again. If your marriage needs help, get help. Don’t stick your kids in the middle. Don’t make the government decide where they go. Talk to someone this week.

Why Pastors Like to Stay Indoors

6.25.14Yesterday was ministry in a nutshell, a microcosm of what many pastors face week in and week out. The first half of the day was idyllic. I cocooned myself inside my office, spread out my Bible, commentaries, online tools and a pen and paper, and went to town. I brainstormed, researched, read, prayed, and planned. I created sermon series ideas for the next school year, dug into some of my favorite biblical texts, and imagined how successful all these upcoming sermons were sure to be. It was a carefree, clean, tidy, optimistic morning.

But then I did something I knew better than to do: I stepped out of my office. Inside my office, there are no problems. Outside my office, outside the church walls, there’s the mess. I ran into two recovering addicts who’ve come on and off to my church. They’ve been more ‘off’ than ‘on’ when it comes to church attendance. They’re clean and sober, but they’ve still got an uphill climb in life from years of mistakes. Victory in their life will never be quick or easy.

Then I found out about two marriages on the verge of divorce. One divorce will be final in the next few months. One is on its last legs. Both are couples recently in our church. One actually sat in my office for counseling (that’s the one that’s already calling it quits). Kids are involved in both marriage. No one is winning there.

Now you know why some pastors like to stay indoors. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. It’s clean and tidy. We can sit at our desks and wax eloquent about deep biblical truths that only other seminary students care about. But that’s not where we’re needed. Pastors are needed outdoors, offering hope to addicts and hopeless marriages.

Every time I get out of my comfort zone, every time I step outside, I’m reminded why I’m a pastor.

Five for Friday (5.23.14)

five red buttonWho’s ready for Memorial Day Weekend? Here’s some interesting articles to keep you reading through the holiday. Enjoy!

Kirsten Powers: Liberal’s Dark Ages – Must Read! Great article that captures the hypocrisy of the ‘tolerance’ movement.

Author Debunks Myths About Divorce Rates, Including of Churchgoers –  Great news for married people!

What is the Link Between Pornography and Sex Trafficking? – Insightful article from my buddy Tony Merida.

Do We Do Discipleship Wrong? – Derwin Gray asks a critical question for churches today.

Southern Baptists Struggling to Attract Younger Generation, Says New Report – Research to back up what we’ve known for years.

Debunking the Myth of the ‘Soulmate’

11.6.13I heard about it a lot growing up. There was a ‘soulmate’ out there for me, someone uniquely created for me that was going to fulfill my every longing and desire. While in high school, that prospect excited me and comforted me.

Once I was in my 20s and started actively searching, the idea of a ‘soulmate’ terrified me. What if I couldn’t find her? What if I made a mistake? What if I chose the wrong one? Or worse, what if I let my soulmate go by because I wasn’t convinced, and I would be forced to live the rest of my life on the outside of God’s will for my life? The thought was paralyzing at times.

Our society has created the myth of the ‘soulmate’ because it sells well. It makes for a great movie, a great ideal, a great dream. In reality, this myth has devastating consequences for young adults. We’re never given any criteria for how to find our soulmate, so we just ‘feel it.’ You know when you find your soulmate when they send tingles up and down your spine, when your heart goes a flutter just by being in their presence. Obviously, they’re the one. They’re the soulmate.

But then what happens when the magic wears off and you get into the grind of making a marriage work? Some people make the tragic mistake of thinking that they made the wrong choice. In their mind, a soulmate would never grumble or be selfish or be anything less than perfect. Some believe they made the wrong choice about marriage simply because they have to work at it.

Think about it from God’s perspective. Does it sound very loving for God to give you only one compatible spouse out of the six billion people walking on the planet? Does it sound loving that God would base your entire life’s happiness on your ability in your early twenties to find the one person out of the entire planet that’s right for you? That doesn’t sound very loving to me.

If you’re looking for a spouse, take some of the pressure off of yourself. Marriage is a choice. Love is a choice. Choose well, work hard, and don’t give up. You’ll have a beautiful marriage that will stand the test of time.

11 Reasons Why Marriage is Worth It

6.7.13A few days ago my local newspaper listed the names of those getting married and those getting divorced. Want to guess the score? 18 marriages, 38 divorces. Too many marriages are ending in divorce. The past two posts I talked about why marriages fail and how to improve your marriage. Today I’m giving you eleven reasons why marriage is worth fighting for.

1. A deeper love than you’ll experience anywhere else. There is an intimacy and transparency that I’ve only been able to find in a marriage. It’s one of the truly deep experiences that all humans should have.

2. You’re truly ‘known’ by someone committed to you. Marriage involves a vulnerability, as you open up your deepest self to someone else. But in this act of knowing and being known, there’s an innate longing fulfilled.

3. Lifelong companionship. If you do marriage right, your spouse will become your best friend. You can’t spend that much quality time together and not become best friends. God created us to live in community. Our spouse is ground zero for that.

4. You have a ‘help’ mate. It’s amazing how opposites seem to attract. My wife and I are perfect examples of that. She helps me where I’m weak, and I help her where she’s weak. She helps me achieve so much more than I could have on my own, and I help her do the same.

5. Spontaneous moments of pure joy. There are moments when I’m overwhelmed with love and joy. Most of the time, it’s in connection with reflecting on the blessings of God through my family. None of that would be possible without my spouse. She’s brought me more joy than anyone else on the planet.

6. Transforms your character. I tell people that my wife has been married three different times to three different people. They’ve just all happened to be me. Marriage is such a catalytic event that it will naturally change you. If done right, marriage will change you for the better.

7. Spiritual growth. Marriage has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a deeper dependence on God. It’s only with his help that I can be the husband and father that I need to be. The daily challenges of marriage have been one of the primary opportunities for me to grow spiritually.

8. Legitimate sexual fulfillment. Think of the gratification of sex without the guilt, without the shame, without the unintended consequences. When expressed in marriage, sexual fulfillment can reach its fullest potential.

9. Gives you a better picture of Christ. In Ephesians 5, Paul inextricably links the union of marriage with the union of Christ and the church. To know one is to know the other. As you progress in marriage, you get a better understanding of the sacrificial love that Christ has for the church.

10. Best evangelism tool. Connected to the previous reason, since marriage and Christ are so connected, when you have a strong marriage, it’s an incredibly vivid picture of Christ to the world. A vibrant marriage will always be one of your best evangelism tools to the world.

11. Leaving a healthy legacy for your kids. Studies have consistently shown that kids do better in life when they grow up in an environment with a strong marriage. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is a healthy marriage. Give them a better chance at success in life.

QUESTION: What other reasons would you add? What’s the best part about your marriage?

image courtesy of my wife’s Facebook account

11 Reasons Why Marriages Fail

6.3.13It’s marriage week here at MTVPastor. A few days ago my gorgeous wife Robin and I celebrated our 11 year anniversary. In honor of that, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on marriage in three different posts. Today I’ll share 11 reasons why marriages fail. Wednesday I’ll write on 11 ways to strengthen your marriage. Friday I’ll finish up with 11 reasons why marriage is worth it.

We see marriages around us fail for a multitude of reasons. Underlying the causes of divorce are some common themes. Here are eleven of them:

1. Lack of communication. Constant and meaningful conversation is the lifeblood of a marriage. You would think that all marriages have meaningful conversation, but they don’t. Couples don’t carve out time. They’re too tired. The husbands don’t want to talk. Television replaces conversation, and separation begins.

2. Busyness. We can be too busy for our own good. A career is good, but not if it comes at the expense of your marriage. Hobbies are good, but not if it comes at the expense of your marriage. Friends are good, but not if they come at the expense of your marriage. Even kids can drain away precious energy from your marriage. The couples that can’t cut back see their marriages float away in a sea of busyness.

3. Selfishness. At the core, marriage is about serving your spouse, about submitting yourself and your needs to the needs of your spouse. If the couples can’t grasp this, submit their ego and embrace the concept of mutual submission, then fault line cracks will appear at the base of your marriage.

4. Can’t overcome your family of origin. Many spouses were raised in broken, abusive, or dysfunctional homes. They walk into marriage knowing only destructive marriage habits from the example of their parents. If they can’t overcome and move past their family of origin, their parents’ destructive marriage will become their own destructive marriage.

5. Unwilling to grow in your marriage. Marriage is all about change. You change. Your spouse changes. If you’re unwilling to grow and change with your spouse, you don’t have much of a shot. The trick of marriage isn’t finding a perfect spouse who will never change, but to find a way to continuously fall in love with your ever-changing spouse.

6. Lack of investment in your marriage. Husbands, your marriage isn’t complete when you say “I do.” Without constant and intentional investment, your marriage will struggle. Just like a farmer’s work isn’t done when he plants the seed, neither is your work done when you walk the aisle. Marriage takes hard work, lots of it.

7. Addictions overwhelm a spouse. Sometimes a latent addiction can rear up and consume a spouse. An eating disorder, a pornography addiction, alcoholism, if left unchecked, will wreck a marriage. It takes two people to make a marriage work, but only one person to wreck it.

8. Bitterness and unforgiveness overwhelm you. Your spouse will hurt you more than any other person on the planet. They will continually remind you that they are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. Because you’re the person closest to them, you will deal with the brunt of their imperfections. If you choose to hold on to past hurts and slights, bitterness will poison your soul and consume you.

9. You give up too easily. Make no illusions: marriage is tough. It’s not for the faint of heart. Every couple will come to points where divorce seems like the easy option. The marriage that works is the marriage that chooses to fight when things get tough, not quit.

10. Sin entices and destroys the marriage. Sin is always looking for a way to destroy the beauty of your marriage. It may use the approach of greed, selfishness, an affair, or any other number of enticements. If you’re not constantly on your guard, sin will destroy your marriage.

11. The love grows cold. Love is like a campfire that must be constantly tended to and stoked. If left alone, the fire will eventually burn itself out and grow cold. When the love grows cold, there doesn’t seem to be much left to save. Don’t let your fire grow cold.

QUESTION: What other reasons cause marriage to fail?

image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

The Biggest Lie Women Tell Themselves

3.27.13Earlier this week I ran into this lie again, one that too many women have fallen for. I had a conversation with a young lady who had gone through a difficult marriage and a terrible divorce. As she was recounting her actions and discussing where she went wrong, I heard the lie come out.

Here’s the biggest lie that women tell themselves when it comes to relationships: “I’ll fix him.” She said she knew that he wasn’t that good of a guy when she married him, but she figured she could fix him once they got married. My response (in a gentle yet mocking manner) was, “So, how’d that work out for you?” She laughed as she saw the fallacy of the lie that propelled her into a doomed marriage.

Marriage does change you, and spouses can and should have a strong influence on their mates, but this idea that a mature woman can quickly and single handedly ‘fix’ a immature man is ludicrous. Like it or not, men are who they are. Some are so stubborn, so set in their ways, that only God can change their hearts.

Ladies, a word of warning: If you’re dating someone that you’re thinking about marrying, and if he’s got more flaws than not, don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’ll be able to ‘fix him’ once he walks down the aisle. You’re stuck with what you’ve got. Better to know that on the front end.

Be careful who you marry. If they still act like they’re in high school, throw them back and let them grow up a little bit. God-fearing, wife-honoring men are hard to come by, but they’re worth the wait.

QUESTION: Is there a bigger lie that women tell themselves when it comes to relationships?

image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net