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As our younger son’s 2011 high school graduation approached Monica wanted out. She felt our 23-year marriage was lopsided and said she had nothing left to give. Her love language is words of encouragement. Mine is time spent together (preferably fishing). Instead she was hearing words of discouragement and we seemed to spend as little time together as possible. We sold our home and told neighbors we were downsizing. It was easier than saying the words separation or divorce.
She moved to a small house in a nearby town. I added an apartment at my business. Our sons lived with Monica, as her house was near their college. They were saddened about being uprooted from their childhood home and about our separation.
We reassured family and friends our separation was ‘amicable,’ which may have caused some to wonder why two amicable people couldn’t get along. Monica and I talked by phone and met for dinner to consider various options, including a long-term separation or a mediated or contested divorce. Some friends advised me to hire my own lawyer to be sure I got my share. Monica worried it would get ugly. She was also concerned about the loss of medical insurance if we divorced. Two years later we remained at a stand-off - it felt like it was time to fish or cut bait. We met with a lawyer to initiate a mediated divorce.
Over the years, Monica generally preferred not to share our struggles with friends. I was more open with friends, which I think was good. One couple in particular, Lynn and Rich, reached out to us during our marriage, well before all this, aware of our long-term difficulties and very different personalities. Lynn is like a sister to me. We grew up next door to each other. She and Rich, whom I’ve known since high school, set the bar for marriage higher than anyone I’ve ever known. Especially during this time, Rich regularly called me to check in and offer support. Linda kept up with Monica. It seemed she understood Monica’s perspective better than anyone. Much to my dismay, she reassured Monica that she deserved better treatment. Lynn wasn’t afraid to call it like it was. But I wasn’t buying it.
Nearly 2 years into our separation Lynn hadn’t given up. She wrote me a pretty powerful letter. “Dear Jim, God calls a man to love his wife as Christ loved the church, laying down his life for her. As a Christ follower, you are called to a higher standard than to wait for your needs to be met, Jim. We are called to love God, obey him, serve those around us, even to the point of sacrifice, and to point those in our lives to Christ by our example, beginning with our family. Can you honestly say that Monica has ever felt that you have put her before yourself, seeking to love her how she needs to be loved by you? We continue to go to counseling, seminars and marriage events just to keep our marriage all that it should be. It is necessary for a good marriage, not a sign of weakness. You are a strong man in so many ways, with a good heart. That greatness needs to come to your marriage. If there are issues you cannot tackle, you don’t bail - you get help. That’s what you need to show your sons so they imitate that courage from watching you. Leave a legacy that shows your sons what a Christ-follower looks like and what a difference His Holy Spirit makes in your life. That is the most significant legacy you can ever leave. Love, Lynn.”
I ignored her letter, as hard as that might have been. Monica and I remained at a standstill. While we awaited finalization of the divorce, Monica started dating. To say I was distraught when she told me this would be an understatement. She was surprised at my emotional reaction, as she had assumed we’d each eventually find someone better-suited. My head was spinning at this line she had crossed. Once I could see straight I abruptly switched gears. I now wanted to do whatever it took to reconcile – immediately. Monica said it was too late. As it turned out, I was about to leave on a long-anticipated 2-week CSF Alaskan mission trip. Monica liked the timing, hoping the 2-week gap would help us to make a clean break. I, on the other hand, could only hope and pray that it wasn’t too late.
In Alaska I shared my story with other CSF men. They listened to all that was on my heart and offered understanding, encouragement and prayer. I called Monica daily from Alaska, asking her what I needed to do. I told her how I blamed myself for all our difficulties. She replied that it is never only one person’s fault and said she shared some of the blame. Nonetheless, she wasn’t going to turn back the clock. Meanwhile, the CSF men on the Alaskan trip continued praying with me, along with the entire congregation at the church where our group was working.
Upon my return to Michigan I took up my crusade in full. I drove from the airport to her office, stopping to buy a dozen red roses, a large poster board and a set of markers. I considered climbing on a nearby office roof to display my I Love You poster where she might see it from her window, but thought better of it. Instead I called her office from the lobby. The secretary said she was in a meeting. I waited. Eventually, Monica arrived in the lobby. Oh thanks, she said. That’s sweet. But no, she wasn’t budging.
My CSF brothers continued to pray behind the scenes. One night a week after my return I was talking to her by phone from my business apartment. I don’t remember what I was saying but she grew suddenly quiet. As she later described it, it was as if the Holy Spirit tapped her on the shoulder. She remembers this sudden thought: “Stop talking and LISTEN. Jim keeps asking what he can do for me. He is taking responsibility for past hurt feelings. So why not consider what he is saying instead of shutting the door?” After that moment our path seemed clearer and we began reconciling. She is by nature cautious and had a few stipulations; none seemed difficult. A few days later we called the lawyer’s office to cancel our appointment and asked that they please shred our paperwork.
That fall we attended a Retrovaille ( http://www.retrouvaille.org/ ) weekend (one of the stipulations). Our minds were finally receptive and what we heard that weekend stuck. We have since continued in this valuable ministry that seeks to strengthen struggling marriages. On a snowy December night in 2013 we celebrated our 25th anniversary, renewing our vows in front of friends and family. This was an idea of mine, as I had fond memories of my parents’ 25th anniversary celebration a generation before. Some of those same CSF brothers were able to be there, reminding me of the power of their collective prayers. Our friends (and heroes) Lynn and Rich were there, as were another couple who led us through our church’s Growing Kids God’s Way program years before. Both couples serve as amazing examples of devoted marriages for those of us lucky enough to know them.
Since that wonderful night marriage and wedding ceremonies have taken on a deeper meaning. The idea of lifelong commitment resonates with us more strongly now. Two years after that night, this past fall, our older son married the woman of his dreams. As their wedding ceremony was about to begin, Jamie stood next to Monica in the back of the church, awaiting his cue to walk Monica down the aisle - to the front row where I was already seated. As they stood there Jamie whispered to her in his understated way, “Mom, I’m glad you and Papa are together.”
We tell friends who may ask that we have a completely changed mindset now, one of an unwavering commitment to our marriage and to each other. We embrace our differences and no longer overreact to life’s speed bumps. We also caution them, “We wouldn’t recommend doing things quite the way we did.”
However, our story is told, now or a generation from now, we’ll remain thankful to God, family and friends for not giving up on us. It took 2 years, but eventually we each had wake-up calls. We’re two ordinary people blessed to be reminded every day that the person God chose for us to marry long ago is still the one. With our sons now grown, it’s a season of life we wouldn’t want to spend with anyone else.
Jim Goble serves as a true leader in bringing men’s groups to participate in CSF’s Alaska Wilderness Missions and is a FOUNDER member in supporting the goals and ideals of this effective outreach to men and their families. He is also a vital part of TEAM CSF in hosting the annual Las Vegas Sportsmen’s Prayer Breakfast. An avid sportsman, Jim and Monica have two boys, Jamie and Graham, and is in the business of retail Amish sales in the St. Johns area of Michigan. Ed and Sarah Ekrich have been mentors to Jim and Monica. He is also an adventurer in flying a power parachute similar to ultra craft aircraft.
Check out Alaska Wilderness Missions