Easter Sunday is about a lot of things to different people. I’m not sure why, but I couldn’t get it in my head that Easter was in March this year instead of April, so the day definitely snuck up on us. We didn’t buy any Easter dresses for the girls, didn’t shop for Easter baskets, didn’t plan a big meal with family or friends. We ended up getting hit at our house with a terrible flu, so I didn’t feel so guilty for not making more of a holiday we would have had to cancel on anyway. Then I got to really thinking. Is Easter really better with all of that fun cute stuff?
The Easter holiday is actually a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Resurrection, as in, coming back from the dead. It’s a crazy story, but if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, it is essential that this story is true. It means that after darkness, there is light. It means that after tragedy, there is still hope. It means that death does not have the final word, there is more to this life than we see. It means that even when we have faced utter devastation, there is the potential for all things to be made new again. Easter made me think of my friend Christina.
Chuck and Christina
Chuck and Christina, who goes by “Chris,” met at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in 1986. They were both majoring in Psychology and moved in the same social circles, so naturally they became good friends. As they spent more time together and got to know each other really well, they fell in love and decided they wanted to be together forever. They were married soon after and spent the next 17 years raising their three sons.
As with any real life marriage, the story doesn’t go naturally from “They were married that day” to “And they lived happily ever after.” Chuck and Chris have been through some of the hardest things any couple could face. They did not, in fact, stay married. I wanted you to hear for yourself about this incredible couple, about the hard times and decisions they faced, and about how, even when it seemed dead and hopeless, the life of this marriage was truly resurrected. Here is Chris in her own words…
A Dying Marriage
Our marriage started out happily, but as our boys grew older, I began to realize that Chuck and I were growing apart. After several years of marriage, it seemed that the only time we could go out and be together was at the bar on the weekends. Things were not good at home. With each passing year, he seemed more and more withdrawn from me and the boys. I would try desperately to pull him out of this, but the more I yelled and carried on about it, the more he withdrew. It felt like we argued about everything– from how to discipline the boys and handle our finances to simple everyday things like what to make for dinner or who should walk the dog.
Things went from bad to worse when Chuck lost his job as a probation agent. He was accused of partying with clients at the bar and bringing them back to our house afterward. This was when it really hit me how much he was struggling with addiction. By this time, it was common knowledge that he had a problem with alcohol, because while he didn’t drink daily, when he did start, he could not stop. During the week when Chuck was home, he put on his headphones to listen to his music and tune out. Knowing this man for so long, I had become a first class detective, and I realized that in addition to his large alcohol consumption, he was also abusing his prescription pills for anxiety and he was doubling and even tripling the dosages. He would reach for some Excedrin PM when he couldn’t get a hold of anything else. I felt helpless and, at times, hopeless. I confided in my closest friends and they would pray with me. In private moments, I cried and wondered if and how our marriage would end, but at the same time, I could still feel God giving me the strength to go on. I started to think that maybe a change of scenery would help. Maybe if we left Wisconsin, we could get a fresh start in a new place.
Shortly after Chuck lost his job, an opportunity arose for me to start my own business training teams of people in homes and schools to work effectively with children affected by Autism, and we moved our family from Wisconsin to Ohio. We joined a church there and things were better for a while. My business was thriving, but that also meant more time away from home. The boys had grown into their teen years and were challenging the boundaries of authority both at home and in the community. With all of my time spent away from home, working and traveling, the increased pressure of parenting our teenagers took its toll on Chuck, and he spiraled deeper into addiction.
Often on the weekends when I was home, Chuck went out with co-workers always with the intention of “having a couple of brews”. This never ended well; I remember waking very early before dawn one Saturday morning to loud banging in the garage. I realized Chuck wasn’t home yet and was afraid of what I may find but went quickly downstairs. I found him in the garage keeled over with vomit all over him and the garage. At that very moment, I felt torn in many directions. I wanted to just leave him there to deal with the consequences of his choices, yet I wanted to protect my boys from waking up to see their dad in that condition. I wanted to leave him, yet my heart ached for him and how lost he must feel. I wanted to shake him and scream until I was hoarse, yet I wanted to clean him up and hold him and tell him that our love would carry us through and everything would be alright…
I did what I had done so many times before: I covered it up. I stripped him down in the garage, put his clothing in the laundry, ran him through the shower and helped him into bed. After all of that, I went downstairs and cleaned up the garage all the while thinking that I must be insane.
This incident triggered something inside of me. My feelings towards him had gone beyond the unresolved hurt and rejection to total disgust and anger. I knew I loved him, I knew I couldn’t fix him, and I saw the effect this was having on our marriage. I couldn’t continue living this way. I began to beg Chuck to get help.
I did not believe that we should separate, and I made it my mission to try to fix our marriage. I hit brick walls at every turn, though. I arranged for us to see a counselor, but Chuck didn’t like the counselor. It seemed the more I worked to save our marriage, the more Chuck wanted out of it. In a last ditch effort, I persuaded Chuck into joining a marriage group through our church. We met some amazing people that supported us through the dark times ahead. He began divorce proceedings in 2005, and we sold our house and separated after 17 years of marriage.
Chuck moved into a tiny apartment and for a short time, I lived in a small house nearby. Several months after the divorce, I was offered a position in an Autism specific therapeutic day school in Chicago and after much prayer and consideration, made the decision to accept it.
Once I had moved to Chicago, I completely fell apart. I was brokenhearted and abandoned. I prayed many prayers and cried a river of tears. Through all of this, I prayed that God would help me continue to love Chuck and see him through His eyes. I always held onto the hope that we would one day be reunited.
Shortly after the move to Chicago, another opportunity came for me to return to Wisconsin and advance my career even further. I threw myself into my work and started attending a new church (Great Lakes Church). It seemed that while my marriage had failed, my career and calling in life were looking brighter than ever.
Chuck and I remained friends, and he was always welcome at family gatherings. When he came to Wisconsin to visit, he even attended my church and he appreciated that he felt welcome and not judged.
While I was in the process of beginning some more exciting things at work, Chuck’s brother called to tell me that Chuck had again lost his job as a result of his addiction. We had been divorced for over 7 years at this point. When he hit rock bottom this time, though, he turned to God and to me for help. He said he wanted to find the right treatment center, and he wanted his family back. He admitted he was out of control and needed my help. He asked if he could stay with me until a spot opened up in the treatment facility we chose together. I agreed to help him, but I set firm boundaries. I felt very strongly that I needed to guard my heart which had been torn in two. I made it very clear upfront that there would be no physical contact whatsoever between us. I also stated that my home was my safe haven and that he would no longer be welcome if he used drugs or alcohol of any kind. He agreed and entered a treatment program July 24th to begin the process of recovery and making amends.
It was during this time that Chuck realized that we really do belong together. Chuck wrote me a letter while he was in treatment that had a profound effect on me. In this letter he stated that he was disgusted with himself for the way he treated me. He said I deserved better. He told me that I was a faithful, compassionate, and beautiful woman and that none of what he was learning would be possible without me. He went on to say that if I would take him back, he would never let me get away again and that he wanted me back in his arms where I belonged. He said that he needed to take care of me the way God intended. For the first time in many years, his head was clear and all he could see was me, and he loved me more than ever. I read these lines over and over and I believed the sincerity of these words more than I had ever believed anything in my life. When I went to visitation, I saw with my own eyes that this man was transforming into someone I had never really known. God was changing him from the inside out, and I realized that what I had hoped for all these years was actually being fulfilled!
Things were not all rainbows and butterflies, though. We were spending time renewing our love. While I was busy with work, Chuck was working his program hard, attending daily meetings and groups. At my request, we refrained from physical contact, which was frustrating and difficult at times, but Chuck understood my reasons. It was truly a period of growth for both of us.
Resurrected to New Life
We knew we wanted to be together forever this time and we wanted to get it right. I knew it was hard for him to wait, so we shocked everyone and set the date for October 27, 2012. Chuck was baptized and we renewed our vows in front of our entire church during a “Worship Night” event on October 21, 2012 and we were officially remarried later that week on October 27, 2012.
We both truly believe that God resurrected our marriage. Things are so much better this time around…. We serve alongside each other each week, co-leading the Usher Team at a new campus that we helped our church launch. We go on dates, participate with growth groups, and hang out with our boys (who actually enjoy hanging around with us now) and with our friends. An interesting phenomenon occurred when we all started working on changing ourselves! The taste of redemption is so sweet and I am extremely grateful to tell this story.
With Chuck and Chris in mind, I waited for my own family to be resurrected back to normal health, so to speak. I loved having their story to meditate on, to smile over, and be reminded that divorce is not definite. Death does not have the final say. Even a marriage that seems to have been buried can be resurrected in hope and love.
We hope you all had a wonderfully sunny, healthy, and happy Easter. My little family and I will celebrate Easter on another day, knowing that with hope in our hearts we will #staymarried
P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read about Walt & Nancy. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
Chuck and Chris reunion photos courtesy of Corey Beth Photography