On June 6, 2015, I stood across from my best friend and pledged my vows to her before my family, and more importantly, before God. As believers, we must be aware that the enemy has placed a target on every single Godly marriage and he plans to destroy as many as he can. For us, the enemy placed his sights on us long before we were married and it was a miracle when we stood across from each other at the marriage altar.
Jessa and I began dating in February of 2014 and connected on a deep level very quickly. We had much in common and were able to share deeply about personal things. Despite this, I will never forget receiving a phone call from Jessa after we had been dating for about three months. Jessa requested in a very matter of fact tone of voice, “John, can you drive over? We to need to talk.” It was one of the longest drives I have ever taken. “What in the world could she possibly need to talk about so urgently?” I wondered as I rolled through my mind every single possible thing she might have to say. Nothing could have prepared me for the conversation that ensued. This woman, whom I had grown so close too and cared for deeply, proceeded to tell me that she was a survivor of human trafficking and that she had been sold countless times by her own family for sex. She told me that this had started when she was very young and perpetuated into her adult years before she was finally able to escape.
My heart was completely broken as I struggled to imagine an evil so great that someone so beautiful would be used and abused as Jessa had been. I remember the heaviness of her breathing as she anticipated my response. Authentically and gently I affirmed the incredible woman that she had become in the strength and redemption of Christ and I expressed my ability to see the very hand of God in every aspect of her life. The realities of what had taken place in no way had a negative impact on the way I felt for this woman standing before me.
Before I go further I want to emphasize that what took place in Jessa’s past is a stark and bitter reminder that THIS IS THE NATURE OF THE ENEMY WE FACE. Satan embodies the most grotesque and vile evil and certainly had purposed all of this pain and suffering for the destruction of Jessa’s life along with so many others. Yet we serve a God who brings beauty from ashes and Jessa was the beauty that had caught my eye and my heart.
This moment marked the beginning of the journey for Jessa and me of navigating the trauma she experienced and how it would impact our relationship. As Jessa shared more and more of her story over the coming months I found myself grieving for this woman whom I had grown now to love deeply.
My desire in writing this is to offer encouragement to spouses of those who have experienced severe trauma by sharing some of the things I have learned from our marriage.
1. Called to Love
Jessa and I were at a “Weekend to Remember” Family Life marriage conference when one of the speakers said, “Your spouse is God’s perfect provision for you.” This comment is profound on many levels but one truth this spoke to me is that God has called me to love my spouse. While this is something I had felt for a long time, I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate the idea that in God’s infinite knowledge and with her past suffering in mind, He determined to include me as part of His plan for Jessa. This means there’s a lot more to us being in each other’s lives than mere coincidence. When Jessa communicated to me the realities of her past, in that very moment I knew that Christ was moving in and through me confirming to my spirit that He had uniquely created me for a moment such as this. It truly was and continues to be a call to love this woman I am honored and privileged to call my wife. While our precious Abba has knit this romance, He has also ordained our marriage for something special for each of us. Jesus has ministered healing and redemption in my life through Jessa’s deep love for me, and He has also ministered healing and redemption in Jessa’s life through my love for her.
2. Christ Must Be the Center
That brings me to my next emphasis - Christ must be the very epicenter of the relationship. If you are trying to navigate the realities and effects that past trauma brings on a relationship without having Christ as the very foundation and center of your relationship, you are playing a very dangerous game. As challenges arise, the tendency is to turn against each other creating a chasm that ultimately allows the enemy the means by which to drive a hurtful wedge between you and your spouse. Ultimately, reactions by both parties to this wedge can be harmful creating an environment that removes the elements of safety and grace. Jessa and I have committed to expressing immediately when we feel that there is a chasm between us and our general response is to make time to connect with each other and God immediately.
You may be asking, “How is that possible with all that life throws at us?” The reality is that every situation will look a little different and require a sincere desire to connect with each other and with God as well as keen discernment into what activities allow you and your spouse to connect. Additionally, it may be required on occasion to think outside the box and make uncommon sacrifices.
3. Purpose in the Pain
We serve a God that is truly sovereign over all. While the enemy is working hard to destroy lives, God is redeeming lives every single day as He brings beauty from ashes. I envision a battlefield where two forces are at war over some land. In the same way, the enemy desires to use Jessa’s pain to destroy her life, but God desires to use her pain to redeem her life and impact others.
Unfortunately, all too often the enemy wins at destroying lives that have suffered in the same circumstances as Jessa. Incredibly, God continues to strengthen us and as we as a couple continue to seek intimacy with Christ together His healing and redemption are made real and permanent. Her life and our marriage redeemed for his glory are a beacon of hope in a world where very little hope exists. We declare that God has won the victory in our lives and in our marriage.
4. Take it Seriously
Recently, while Jessa and I were in the kitchen together I could sense that something was seriously upsetting her. It was nothing more than an easily overlooked subtlety in her body language or voice tonality indicating that ours was not the only dialogue going on in the room. The dialogue going on inside my wife behind the scenes greatly impacts the verbal dialogue she has with me and it requires a gentle and safe environment to be able to include it in our conversation. I express this because, in a recent conversation with a close friend whose wife had experienced trauma that was beginning to present some negative challenges in their marriage, he indicated that it took him years to really take seriously the trauma that she had endured and the realities of the impact it was having in their marriage. This acknowledgment greatly impacted the ways that he interacted with her from there on out.
My friend encouraged me through becoming a student of my wife, to acknowledge the pain that could be present at any given moment. Additionally, he said that no matter what my feelings are, the pain she continues to experience is real and present. What often happens is we tend to see things from our own perspective failing to see the realities of the pain they endure day-in and day-out.
As the spouse of the person who has endured trauma, we need to work really hard at acknowledging the depth of the struggle. By acknowledging the struggle and appreciating that the pain is real and present, our approach should be gentle and safe. My friend, you will notice big dividends in the area of communication with your spouse when you listen first to the background conversation and then proceed with a soft tongue.
I could go on and on about all of the amazing yet unique and challenging aspects of our relationship. However, the last thing that I want to leave you with is this…take one day at a time. Jessa and I enjoy climbing many of the 14’ers that Colorado has to offer. The reality that you continue to tell yourself when you are at 13,000 feet and your body is literally giving up is, “Just put one foot in front of the other.” Thinking about being married for 40 years seems an impossible feat. But getting connected today and committing to loving today is something we can all commit to no matter our circumstance.
John Crisp is the founding member of BridgeHope, an organization specializing in utilizing technology to connect survivors with resources in their area. BridgeHope is currently in the development stages but hopes to launch later in 2017. Additionally, John is currently a grad student and local minister with a desire to teach/preach about the intricacies of transcending cultural and social barriers with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.