Half of the people who know Dwight & I can’t imagine us partying, drunk or high. The other half can’t imagine us involved in church, reading the Bible or praying. There are lots of stories like ours — of lives and marriages transformed by God’s grace — and they should all be told. I’m not proud of a dark past, but it’s against that backdrop that our Savior Jesus, shines.
It was early November of 1998 and I was 24. The autumn colors around the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains were quickly fading, falling and rustling under foot. I’d moved here earlier that year to the small town of Madison Heights, Virginia to “start over”. I’d been through a divorce and had my 5 & 6 year old children in tow. It was a beautiful place for us to get away to, but as my own worst enemy, my problems were still with us.
I often wrestled with loneliness and bouts of homesickness in this new town — especially on weekends. “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name…” I had wanted to take the 3 & 1/2 hour trip east to my hometown of Chesapeake on Friday, where I could kick up my heels with old friends for awhile, but a string of speeding tickets said — it ain’t happenin’. My Saturday would be spent in a mandatory driving class at a local community college — that is, if I wanted to keep my license.
With my kids away for the weekend, I still managed to head out for drinks and dancing somewhere locally with a friend. We ended up at a bar in downtown Lynchburg called The Kleaners or maybe it was just Kleaners …whatever. It was much like any nightclub you’d find in bigger cities — loud and crowded. Little did I know that someone from my hometown would happen to show up there, too.
Dwight was working for a traveling construction company whose current job was located in Roanoke, Virginia, which is about an hour away from Lynchburg. He’d usually travel home to Chesapeake on the weekends, but lately he’d been meeting up with a friend who lived in the Lynchburg area. On this particular Friday night, he’d be meeting that friend at the bar where I was.
I don’t remember how long I’d been there or how much I’d already drank when I saw Dwight — but his familiar handsome face, bright blue eyes, and all the alcohol did — me — in. I’m so embarrassed by this part of our story, because sober me would never have thrown myself on him like I did, but drunk me? YES. If I were telling this in person to many of my Christian friends, I’d be trying to crawl under the nearest rock. Even so, it’s the one drunken move I can’t regret. I don’t recommend it, though. Thankfully, Dwight happily caught me and didn’t let go.
He asked me to marry him at Christmas and I was overjoyed, but there was a dark cloud hanging over us from Hello. Both of us brought addiction and baggage to this relationship. I’m pretty sure my personal baggage was a few hundred pounds heavier than his. Either way, it was now ours. Great.
We didn’t deal with life and issues. We drank and smoked them away. Sure, it was fun while it lasted, but when your money, your dreams, your hopes — and ultimately your relationship goes up in smoke — ain’t nobody laughin’. The more we escaped reality, the more we needed to.
Wanna know if you’re an addict? Ask yourself if you can you get along without it?
We were very newly married when God really began working on me — slowly opening my eyes to my self-enslavement. My obvious insecurities and fears, the addiction, the likelihood of another failed marriage, the wreckage from my past — all brought me to a very low place.
Someone musta been praying y’all.
As I sat in our bedroom surveying the mess that was my life, I had a come to my senses in the pig-sty moment. There was no denying that I was sin-sick and that’s when the message of salvation became clear in my soul. It wasn’t threats of hell-fire, but the gentlest voice of compassion. It was as if the Lord stepped in beside me to consider the mess with me and then said —
“Remember everything you learned in Sunday school about me dying on the cross for sins and how you need a Savior? Well, this is why and I’m Him.”
Talk about unexpected people showing up… I threw myself on Jesus that day.
His love and faithfulness against the backdrop of MY MESS??? You just don’t even know the half of it, but He showed me that HE did, that He still loved me, forgave me, and wanted to give me a new life. That’s the gospel (which I prefer to call good news) that grabbed hold of me — that I never wanted to let me go. It was a perfect security like I’d never known, and one that I knew could not be had anywhere else.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all easy, neat & clean, but I began letting go of a life and world that up to that point had left me empty and addicted. In a sense, I even let go of Dwight — no longer looking to him for a security he could not give. I wanted so badly for our marriage to work, but if he decided to leave because I was changing, I was prepared to let him go. The beautiful thing is how much I received when I let go.
Dwight hung in there right beside me. His gentle love and commitment has been one of God’s greatest gifts to me. It’s crazy how you only TALK about all the things you’d like to do when you’re an addict, but never DO them. These days, we enjoy so many healthy, God-given things together — our children, the outdoors, working with our hands, and especially one another — better than we ever could before. And it just keeps gettin’ sweeter.
Although our stories are connected, Dwight’s journey with the Lord is his own. It’s so fulfilling how God weaves us together in such a way that honors our individuality and at the same time, unifies us. We’ve been through an incredible amount of change, joys and sorrows together, and we’ve watched God bring good from it all. Speeding tickets, loneliness, a bar, a drunken move, addiction, failures, insecurities, baggage…. that’s what God had to work with, and He did.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to them that love Him and are called according to His purposes for them.” -Romans 8:28
I’m still throwin’ myself on that good-lookin’ man of mine, and even more-so on our Savior. They’re both still catching me — still working on that baggage with me, and it keeps getting lighter. On August 28th, we’ll celebrate 17 years of marriage, friendship & new life. Cheers!
Your friend in life, faith & art ~ Jamie