The Imperfect Marriage
1 Lost at First Sight
I (Tracy) remember the first time I laid eyes on Darryl Strawberry.
When we met, we were deeply wounded souls leading destructive lives. Our first introduction was at a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) convention in 2003. NA is a program and support group for people who want to break free from the lifestyle of drug addiction and alcoholism. The problem was that we had not broken free. We were still fighting the demons of addiction and the accompanying consequences.
I wasn’t (and still am not) a sports fan. I didn’t know much about Darryl’s baseball career. Frankly, I didn’t care. What I saw was a gentle, broken man desperately searching for a spark of hope to keep on living. I recognized that look because I had lived in that place of pain and desperation.
At the time, I had been clean and sober for a year but still had a lot of healing to do. I was determined to get well, but struggled to define what that meant and how to get there.
Darryl was sitting in a high-backed chair in a corner, desperately trying to blend into the crowd. His thin, frail frame sank into that chair as if he were part of the upholstery. People swarmed all over him, captivated by his celebrity status, yet unable to see his hurting soul. I was struck by how graciously he greeted everyone and signed autographs with what little energy he had.
My heart was torn. I didn’t know Darryl Strawberry, the celebrity athlete. I knew what I saw, a man with a tormented soul who had lost his identity. Oblivious to his hurt and need for space, the crowd just kept pulling and demanding more from him. It was a difficult scene to watch.
It wasn’t long before our eyes met. A mutual friend introduced us. Our first conversation ran deep. Darryl and I were brutally honest with each other from the start. We were addicts who had blazed a trail of destruction through our lives.
Our dialogue flowed naturally and passionately. I could feel the chemistry. Darryl was easy to like and talk to. I felt comfortable sharing with him and wanted to know him better. But I wasn’t interested in Darryl Strawberry, the ballplayer. Darryl Strawberry, the man, caught my heart.
By the time I (Darryl) met Tracy, I had partied hard for years, using cocaine, women, and alcohol to mask or numb my pain. In the process, I had destroyed almost everything in my path. My second marriage had just ended. My baseball career was over. I was drowning in legal problems. My money was almost gone. I was a train wreck. It seemed I had lived up to my father’s words: “You’re no good. You’ll never amount to nothin’.”
Life had left me bitter. Angry. Trying to find relief wherever I could. I’ve experienced the highs of championship victories and
the lows of addiction. I had the power to get what I wanted, whenever I wanted. Women, drugs, you name it. But intertwined in the glamor of stardom was heartache. Emptiness. Pain. No amount of sex, money, or clothes; no number of houses, cars, or cocaine lines could ease it. So I fell. Hard.
My drinking and cocaine addictions led me to failed relationships, arrests, lawsuits, infidelities, league suspensions, and money problems. By the time I ended up at the NA convention, I had lost it all.
When I met Tracy, she stood out. It wasn’t just because she was attractive. I had been surrounded by beautiful women for most of my life. They were a dime a dozen. Tracy was different. Kind. Compassionate. She paid no mind to Darryl the great baseball player. It almost seemed as though she didn’t know who I was.
We talked for a while, sharing our stories, and listening intently. We poured our hearts out to each other. There were no secrets. Nothing to hide. Unlike me, Tracy was actually recovering. She was focused on staying clean and made that clear up front. I told her the truth—I was trying, but I was a long way from arriving. I even said, “Girl, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”
We kindled a friendship that night and eventually started dating. I admired Tracy. She was a single working mom of three kids. The most beautiful part about her was that she was pursuing Jesus. She had just turned her life over to Christ. Even though she was battling with God and struggling to believe, she had a genuine commitment to growing spiritually. She was angry with God and had a difficult time believing that He could heal her heart and deliver her from deep-rooted addiction. Yet she
chose to press through those feelings and embrace her faith. Tracy made the commitment to find out about Jesus for herself. She chose to follow Him and believe that He would reveal Himself to her along the way. She studied the Bible to get her own answers. She pursued Him with passion. I liked that. And, deep down inside, I wanted that.
Though I loved and looked up to Tracy, I didn’t make life easy for her. I wanted to break free from the lifestyle of addiction. I wanted to get clean and be well. Sadly, the desire wasn’t strong enough to make me do the work of change. I was still hanging out with the wrong people in the wrong places. I didn’t know how to change, even though I knew that I needed to. Most of our dating consisted of her looking for and pulling me out of crack houses. We were supposedly in love, but incapable of truly loving one another.
Many people have their stories of love at first sight. For us, it was lost at first sight. By the time we met, we had lost relationships, our children, our marriages, our money, our will to live, and our connection with God. We were spiritually, physically, emotionally, and financially bankrupt.
Our hearts were all we had to offer each other, which would have been fine except that those hearts were a mess. They needed a lot of healing. An unhealed heart is a dangerous thing. It houses hurts, unforgiveness, bitterness, pain, and every other thing that strips its ability to function properly.
An unhealed heart cannot produce the proper character required to love someone the way that God intended. As much as we tried to love each other, we couldn’t. Our addictions and the accumulation of unhealed wounds overrode our greatest intentions and efforts. We desperately needed a do-over before we even said “I do.”
TIME FOR A DO-OVER
Think about the first time you met your spouse.
Where were you? What did you say? Were you nervous? Excited? Hopeful? Was it a chance meeting? A blind date? What drew you to your husband or wife? Indescribable chemistry? Physical attraction? What made you want to see him or her again? His eyes? Her smile? His muscles? Her outfit?
Think about your dating relationship. Was it fun and natural? Drama filled? Loving and engaging? Maybe you and your spouse were two stable and emotionally whole people pursuing a healthy and growing relationship.
Perhaps your courtship was far from that.
We had a relationship that was far from healthy. Our life together was combustive from the words “hello” to the words “I do,” which would lead into words like “I don’t” and “I’m done.”
How does an “I do” turn into an “I’m done”? And how do you turn “I’m done” into a reformed “I do”?
Many times the “I dos” need a do-over. Not with another person, but with your current spouse.
One of the most amazing things about God is that He gives us a do-over the very minute we ask for one. Whatever the state of your marriage, you can begin again.
When I (Tracy) met Darryl, I was searching for more. I was drowning in the aftermath of addiction to drugs and alcohol. The
most heartbreaking consequence of my lifestyle had led to my ultimate nightmare: surrendering custody of my three beautiful children.
I had cleaned up my act on the outside but was empty inside. I couldn’t find what I was looking for in meetings, programs, or the NA convention. I was strong. I was determined. I was focused. Sobriety alone wasn’t the answer I sought. Something was still missing.
Have you ever been there? Wanting so much more but unsure of what exactly that is? Wanting to get to a better place but not knowing how to get there? You follow what seems to be the perfect GPS, the desires of your heart, only to find yourself right back where you started. The same old routine. The same old results.
Darryl and I desperately desired more. We wanted a new routine, a new way of living, a new outcome. We especially wanted a do-over in life and in relationships.
We fell in love. Fast and hard. Oh, that emotional GPS. When the alarms of physical attraction go off, it’s easy to lose your breath and your footing. Desire bypasses reason, logic, or calculated intention. It’s what many call love at first sight.
You are bewitched by beauty, captivated by strength. You are so enamored of a person that you can’t see straight. You can barely eat. Your mind is consumed by thoughts of him or her. The butterflies in your stomach distract you from everyday life. Maybe that’s how you felt when you met your spouse.
The kind of love that sees only what it wants to see is blind, a mere shadow of love that is fully informed.
Blind love falls in love with the potential of a person, not the nitty-gritty truth of who they really are.
Blind love tolerates deceptions that can very easily become your adopted truth, leading you right back into another unhealthy relationship.
Blind love tells you, “It will be different this time.”
That’s what I (Tracy) thought. I kept the blinders on and allowed myself to be drawn into another toxic relationship.
THE MISSING LINK—GODLY LOVE
God wired us to love and be loved. No one can escape the need for it. Love is as essential to living as oxygen.
The problem is that love the way God created it to be has been distorted by sin. Most times this four-letter word is defined by human desire instead of God’s design. We chase after it according to the world’s standards—love is connected to feeling good, looking good, getting something out of it, and other superficial ideals.
True love finds its purpose and fulfills itself within relationships that operate according to God’s ways, and His ways only. First John 4:8 tells us, “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (NLT). We can’t love apart from God because God is love. He is the missing link in broken lives and broken marriages.
No one can claim to love God without knowing and loving Jesus. And to love Jesus is to obey Him. He said it Himself, “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them” (John 14:21 NLT).
Love is grounded in God and evidenced through following Jesus. It requires a commitment to following God’s ways. When we started dating, we didn’t know what all that meant. We didn’t approach life with anyone in mind but ourselves.
I (Darryl) was saved, but I wasn’t living out godly principles. I had fallen away from God. Sure, I knew about Him. I had even given my life to Him at one point and went to church and read my Bible. But I was caught up in my old ways of thinking, being, and acting. I was spiritually and emotionally stumbling in the dark. Losing everything made me feel ashamed. Lost. Hopeless. And guilty.
By the time I (Tracy) hit rock bottom, I didn’t want to hear about God, let alone walk in His ways. I had lived so carelessly, made so many mistakes, and hurt so many people that I couldn’t even face God.
How do you repair, restore, and live right after so many years of destructive living? How could Darryl and I ever have a successful life full of promise, peace, and purpose?
These questions haunted me and kept me away from God for a long time. I didn’t feel worthy of His time or His love. I didn’t think God would even want to hear from a woman like me. I didn’t believe God wanted to love, forgive, heal, and transform me. I didn’t even believe He could.
Maybe you feel the same way. Do you question God’s love, power, and grace because you messed up?
Maybe you cheated on your spouse.
Maybe you are holding on to past failures.
Maybe you’ve been married multiple times and your current marriage is on the verge of ending.
Let’s get one thing straight—there is nothing, and we
mean nothing, that can separate you from the love of God. Not your past. Not your failures. Not your hang-ups. Not your slipups.
Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38–39 (NIV)
God loves you. And He is not only capable of redeeming and restoring you and your marriage, He longs to! He wants you to experience His love, true love, in your heart and with your spouse.
FINDING THE WAY BACK TO LOVE
Love in today’s world needs to be redefined. The desire to love and be loved hasn’t changed, but the way people do it must be transformed.
Restoration within a marriage is a process. It takes time. It takes more than just inspiration, it requires direction and application. You may wonder: What does a successful marriage look like? How is it accomplished? How can I achieve restoration? What do healing and growth look and feel like?
We can assure you it takes more than just a few prayers and shouts of praise. You have to go through to get to. Invest your time in self-evaluation and reflection through the eyes of
Christ, filtered through His grace. This will require revisiting your past, contemplating your actions, and challenging your perspectives.
It’s important to note that the purpose of reflecting on your history is not to make you feel bad. You don’t do this to wallow in your pain or embrace your shame. We urge you to look back so you can shed light on the dark parts, uncover truths, and use that knowledge to build your future.
Look back to move forward!
Make no mistake. The journey of restoration is hard. It hurts, and it takes work. You’ll need to put in the effort, take purposeful action, and have patience. But trust us on this one: The journey is well worth it.
We started in a place of brokenness, but through the grace and guidance of God have made our way out. You can too.
Put on the proper mind-set and suit up for battle. Not with your spouse, but with the enemy who stands in your way. You and your spouse are going to win this fight. God is able. He will enable you. God is all powerful. He will give you the power you need for restoration.
We’ve heard it said that people will change when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change (making different choices). Within the process of change there is hope. You can rest assured that every difficult step of change produces a positive result that will lead you and your spouse into freedom.
GOD IS ON YOUR SIDE
It is not God’s desire for you to live within a broken marriage. It is His deepest desire to heal you, teach you, change you, and transform your marriage. He can and will empower you and your spouse to turn things around, but only if you let Him and only if you do your part.
God is a gentleman. He will not barge into your life or work against your free will. He is a loving God who desires us to come to Him willingly. Think about that. Isn’t that the way you want your spouse to come to you? Willingly?
Will you give your heavenly Father permission to guide your journey? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to invade every area of your life? Your marriage will not be restored in your own strength, will, or power. The power must come from God through the Holy Spirit in you.
What is your spiritual condition right now? Have you turned your life over to God? Are you right with Him? Does the Holy Spirit live in you? Maybe you have fallen away or have taken your eyes off God because of the weight and pressure of your struggling marriage.
We want to encourage you to take your burden, your sin, and your shame to Jesus and allow Him to bury it, forgive it, and cleanse every part of you from the inside out. Let God raise you up through the power of His resurrection. The very same power that raised Christ from the dead will become alive in you. It will revive, strengthen, and empower you.
You can die to your old self, your old life, and all that is hindering God’s best in your life and the life and love of your
marriage. Forgiveness, cleansing, healing, and newness of life begin at the foot of the cross.
God has already established the greatness of your life and your marriage, and He will bring it about. Sure, you will have to do the work, but the work is not yours to accomplish. You will do it only through the power of the Holy Spirit and your faith in Jesus Christ.
If you feel God speaking to your heart right now, spend a few minutes in prayer. Get your heart right with Him. Ask Him to forgive you. Ask Him to help you. Ask the Holy Spirit to enter your heart and open your spiritual eyes. Ask God to prepare you for this amazing journey, which you have already started. Ask Him to speak to you as you read this book and work through our questions.
Commit this process of restoration to your heavenly Father. And thank Him in advance for changing your heart and bringing your marriage to the place of greatness to which He has called you.
God’s greatest desire is to restore us and our marriages back to Him. However, the journey begins with us as individuals. Before He can transform your relationship with your husband or wife, you have to allow Him to deal with you on the inside.
It’s time to change your mind-set. It’s time to define marriage through God’s eyes. It’s time to get rid of unrealistic expectations and set your eyes and hearts on what God says. Only when you change the way you think about marriage will your marriage begin to change.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
At the beginning of this chapter, you took some time to reflect on first meeting your spouse. Now, we want you to focus on the state of your heart at that time.
What was your spiritual life like?
Where were you emotionally?
What defined you?
How did you define love?