The story behind the story: we all have one, but you know that. You know that the families you see in picture-perfect Christmas cards aren’t actually perfect. You know that everyone, everywhere, has struggled somehow in their lives, even if they haven’t shared with you how. That beautiful woman you may envy, there is a piece of her that she wishes she could share. The funny guy you work with, who seems genuinely happy ALL the time? He does, too. We all do. And that’s why I’ve decided that after five years, I am finally ready to share with you one of MY behind the scene stories.
Why? You may ask. Why now? Because, sweet friend, it suddenly dawned on me that there is a phrase you need to hear—and if it’s not you who needs to hear this, I am betting you have a friend who does.
SIN DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE, BUT NEITHER DOES GRACE.
My story starts with a four-word sentence: “You look cute today.”
I was lining my students up for lunch and had grabbed my phone to put in my pocket to take with me. I stared down at that text and my heart immediately began to pound outside of my chest. It was so loud I was sure someone would be able to hear it. I’m sure I turned red. I was flustered, taken aback, but more than those things, the truth is is that I was flattered.
But guess what, y’all? That text didn’t come from my husband, who it would have made sense coming from. And even more truth, I wouldn’t have felt as schoolgirlish as I did, had it been from him.
Let’s take a step back for a moment, can we? I didn’t wake up one morning, dress myself in any particular way for work, with the mindset that a man who wasn’t my husband would compliment my appearance. That day was just like any other normal day. Except the Ashley who received that four-word text wasn’t the same Ashley as before.
I got married when I was 20 (no, I wouldn’t recommend it, however, YES I am thankful that I did). In 2011 I got pregnant, in 2012 had my first baby, and then I was nursing. I started to lose drastic amounts of weight (got down to 97 pounds!), my hair started falling out in clumps, my heart rate was through the roof ALWAYS, and I was diagnosed with postpartum thyroiditis (aka hyperthyroidism and my hormones were crazy bonkers). Well, in 2012 after having my first baby, I got pregnant with our SECOND baby! Enter the pregnancy hormones again, add on having that baby in 2013, and then going through hyperthyroidism AGAIN. Throughout that time span, I was also overstaffed to a brand new school, where I didn’t know a soul and relationships were pretty difficult to build because of my circumstances and tired mom stage.
Who was I?? I was a woman with very unbalanced hormones, a very unstable mental status, and someone who was no longer secure in the woman she was.
And just like that, my blinders came off.
Growing up I knew marriage was hard. My parents fought like most other parents, and there were plenty of times that I wondered if mine would stay married. They always worked through their issues though and it was very evident to me from a young age that love was a choice and mine were constantly choosing it. When I was a junior in college, I discovered some pretty life-shattering information about some choices my dad had been making and that those decisions had been pretty ongoing throughout much of their marriage.
All of a sudden some light bulbs fired in my brain: one, that a bunch of stuff made sense about their fights when I was younger; and two, why my mom may have been so emotionally tired. And from that day, I embedded it into my heart and brain that when or if I ever got married, it would be the man who messed up.
I thought there was NO way I would do any wrong; that if my marriage was ever challenged or when things got hard, it was going to be my husband’s fault. He would be the one who would have a wandering heart or lustful thoughts . . . women didn’t do those things.
And then. “You look cute today” turned into hiding text messages, changing my stories, and becoming completely distant to everything and everyone around me. He had been a really good friend, and then somehow, he became more. He turned in to the person I was venting to, the one I was looking for compliments FROM, who I wanted to “look cute” for.
And then—it all really hit the fan when I started dragging my husband right through the mud I was stirring. I felt as though I didn’t have anyone to talk to, so every single night for a few weeks, I talked with him. Out loud I actually pondered what it would look like if I left. What would life be like if I left HIM for another man? I could visibly see his hurt, and knew what I couldn’t see was even worse. But every SINGLE night, my husband said, “Ashley, I choose YOU. I will be here when you wake in the morning.”
I wasn’t myself though. Each night I went to bed pretty angry. I was confused, torn, and though I couldn’t see it yet, I was playing with fire and allowing such darkness to consume my thoughts.
Life began to go thousands of miles per hour. I was blinking and sinking faster, and faster, and faster. Recently my pastor at church said, “What are you going to do when the Sea comes and the tide doesn’t stop? You can either drown . . . or you can learn how to breathe.” Oh, how I remember feeling as though I was drowning.
My emotional affair lasted “only” a few weeks. He and I had two episodes where we were hanging out outside of work with some other co-workers, and I knew it was over when he picked me up inside of the club and asked me to make out with him. “Put me down,” I said. I then told the girls I needed to go HOME. I knew that the “harmless” flirtatious text messages were no longer really enough; that was boring. He wanted more. I soon gave him a handwritten letter explaining that I had to stop. I couldn’t do this anymore, My husband didn’t deserve it, my babies at home didn’t deserve it. We had to stop texting, we had to just be co-workers—normal co-workers. And guess what happened? He stopped. Just like that.
Oh, Ashley. If you had JUST put a stop to it as SOON as it began . . . it would have NEVER turned into anything, except maybe a moment of being flattered and blushing as you walked your students to lunch.
The flirting stopped, but the emotional distress didn’t.
I started running. I would run through sketchy parts of downtown Louisville thinking that I was invincible, but at the same time wondering if anything would happen to me. Or maybe I was hoping it would. I began struggling with feelings of guilt, shame, and even more, wanting to run completely away. I called my mom quite a bit, which was normal. I told her that I wanted to be done—that sometimes I envisioned myself just driving away and never coming back. I even wondered what would happen if I got into a car accident. I felt like I needed to be punished. I wasn’t suicidal, but at the same time, I wanted everything to just be over. I couldn’t see past the tide; the waves were so deep and so strong. You probably know what those waves actually were:
How could my husband love me through this?
The turning point for me was a Sunday at church. I heard the pastor quote the Scripture, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide . . .” The words Asa had been saying every single night were now the words I heard literally from the pulpit, and it felt as though God himself was saying, “Ashley, you did not choose me, BUT I CHOOSE YOU.”
You can probably imagine the tears that flooded from that point. It was the pivotal moment, my breakthrough, the reprieve I needed to feel whole again.
Once at home, Asa and I got the kids [then babies!] down for their long nap. We sat on the couch together, me in his lap curled into the smallest ball, and we wept. Long and hard, we sobbed together. ALL of it came out. The 100% truth, no cover-ups, no sugar-coating . . . I felt so bare and incredibly raw. Never in my life have I felt so much remorse, and never before had Asa’s arms felt so healing.
Friends, if there is something I hope and pray you take away from this story—this heartbreaking, difficult, vulnerable story—it’s that while sin does not discriminate, neither does grace.
That Ashley back in 2014 had to go through something I really don’t wish upon anyone, but she was restored. Through the hardships that Asa and I endured, we went through a refinement process, and through it was grace, redemption, and complete restoration. Twenty-year-old Ashley believed she could do no wrong in her marriage; that it would never be ME who caused heartache for my husband. And she was so very wrong. But 31-year-old Ashley now knows; knows that it is SO important to cling to my Maker. If the blinders start to come off for anything, it doesn’t have to be lust or a wandering heart, it can be ANYthing, I beg you to cling to Him, too.
RELATED: Marriage is Worth the Hard Parts
Asa and I had the privilege of sharing our story at church and if you’d like to listen to the live version we told together, here is the link. I do not believe that I in my heart wanted to be with someone else relationally. I believe that suddenly I felt trapped within the label of wife + mom. I didn’t feel attractive, I didn’t feel happy, and I didn’t feel like ME. Years of unbalanced hormones and even the physical toll that my body went through, my heart began to wander. I thank God SO immensely, for helping my husband stay with me. For being patient, loving, and so forgiving. I also thank Him for my mom, who had ultimately been in Asa’s position for a very long time, and that she also showed me what grace and mercy look like in HER marriage. She and my dad are very different people today, in amazing and humbling ways. And it’s all because when the tide came and refused to back down, they learned to breathe with it. (That’s their own story though, so I really only want to stress how proud I am of THEM, and how much I deeply love their marriage.)
To those of you reading this, if you have been there, you CAN rise again. If you are currently battling the feelings of shame and wondering how you can ever find normalcy again, pray. Talk to God, tell Him every single thing that you are feeling, and then find help. You can always email me, always! You do not have to be alone. And if you’re on the OTHER side? Where your husband or spouse has walked through unfaithfulness, you can still email me and if you would like to talk with my husband, I can put you in touch with him.
I love you all. Thank you for reading, for YOUR grace, and your friendship here.
This post originally appeared on the author’s blog
Marriage takes work. Thankfully, there’s an app that can help! Lasting — the nation’s #1 relationship counseling app — provides accessible sessions designed to help you build a healthy marriage. Download and take Lasting’s free Relationship Health Assessment.