The resurrection earthquake

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Once again God announces a message of hope we need to hear

By Paul W. Klassen

When it happened the first time, only Matthew records it: “There was a violent earthquake” (Matt. 28:2). Have you ever seen someone pick up a present and shake it? On this day it was as though God took the earth and shook it good. And then he opened his gift to the world. It was an amazing gift. The Savior lives! The power of death was swallowed up in the victory of life. Dark despair was trumped by the light of hope. God’s power was truly made perfect in situations of human impossibility. This was Easter!

The power of the resurrection has been evident throughout history, and we continue to experience it today. It was 2014. There was the stench of death. The hopes and dreams of a loved-filled marriage were dead and were being buried through a process called divorce. It was over.

And again it happened. The house where we gathered Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014, was shaken. Again, the earthquake signaled a resurrection. Once again God announced that he has a message of hope we need to hear. God continues to turn the frustrated cries of the wounded into songs of joy, to restore shattered hopes and to bring new life and love out of that which was dead. This is one family’s resurrection story.

Kyle and Kate met during their college years at a Kansas university. Their attraction became a friendship, friendship a romance and romance a marriage. They exchanged their vows March 14, 1998, and began life together. The flame of hope burned bright, and their future appeared promising. The handsome prince had met and married the beautiful princess. They liked and loved each other. Both were well educated. Kate worked as an elementary school teacher. Kyle initially worked in the computer industry and then embarked on what would become a prestigious law enforcement career. Two sons were born into this family.

 

Behind the facade

From all outward appearances this appeared to be Exhibit 1 of a dream marriage—love between two beautiful, healthy and talented people who were highly intelligent, professionally successful and financially prosperous. Their sons were wanted and well cared for. What more could one want?

 Much! Behind the all-American marriage façade, all was not well. From the beginning Kyle and Kate were on a collision course of expectations. Both entered marriage with the assumption that the other was responsible for their happiness. Based on his father’s example, Kyle saw himself as controller and provider while Kate longed for a companion who, like her father, would do anything for her. Kyle expected Kate to be a housekeeper while Kate thrived on interaction with people. Their memories of unmet expectations grew. Both felt justified as their frustration and resentment mounted.

Neither Kyle nor Kate had family histories that prepared them to address conflict in a positive way. For Kyle, the decisive and practical organizer, the approach to conflict was simple and direct. You seize control. You logically analyze and address the problem. You make up and say, “I’m sorry.” You move on, problem over.

Kate, the supportive and outgoing caregiver, longed for significance. She wanted to be respected as an equal rather than manipulated and controlled by an “it’s my way or nothing” kind of husband. Conflicts grew in frequency and in intensity. Kyle’s repeated apologies actually fueled Kate’s growing resentment. His words were not accompanied by appropriate action. The casualty was Kate’s respect and trust for Kyle.

The toll of unresolved conflict came to a head when their oldest son was diagnosed with a serious health issue in 2011. Just as building pressure below the ground proceeds earthquakes, the repeated hospitalizations and uncertainty of their son’s health put enormous pressure on an already fragile relationship. In March 2012 the built-up pressure erupted in the emergency room of the hospital where their son had just been admitted. On the marriage Richter scale, the quake was devastating. Kate remembers waking up the next morning thinking, “I don’t love him anymore.” 

In one last-ditch effort to rescue their critically ill marriage, Kyle and Kate reached out to a counselor. As life support systems in a hospital ER can prolong life in a dying person, the counseling managed to postpone the final death. Within a few months Kate informed Kyle that she didn’t want to live with him anymore. She didn’t want to try anymore. She wanted out. Could things get any worse?

 

An unexpected journey

Yes! Kyle’s old pattern of problem solving kicked into high gear. He tried all the harder to seize control without realizing how this demanding behavior deepened the alienation. In his frustration, Kyle didn’t care how Kate felt; he wanted her to submit to his plans. She didn’t. Their home became a tomb. The stench of death deepened.

It is said that God presents us with opportunities that are brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems. God presented such an opportunity in January 2013 when Kyle suffered a serious injury. It was in the hospital that I first met Kate and Kyle. The physical needs were apparent; the relational needs were carefully concealed.

Several months later over coffee, Kyle shared the desperate needs of their marriage. More significantly, he also admitted his need to address issues in his life, especially in relationship to God. I read to Kyle the account from Ezekiel 37 of God breathing new life into a valley filled with dried bones. “Does God have the power to bring new life into what is dead?” I asked Kyle.

In March 2013 Kyle began a journey filled with unexpected discoveries. Instead of focusing on Kate’s faults, he increasingly and painfully saw how his attitudes and actions contributed to the erosion of Kate’s love and trust. On June 23 he wrote in his journal, “This has been our history: When I don’t think things are going the right way, I try to change it, not giving respect to her feelings. This is why Kate feels like she is being manipulated and controlled.” He wrote of his love for Kate but acknowledged, “My selfishness or stress or impatience have ruled my actions and behavior and shown Kate just the opposite.”

For Kate the options seemed clear. She could stay bound in a miserable marriage, or she could strike out on her own and build a new life for herself. Feeling no hope for their future and having no will to work for a different future, Kate moved out of their home and filed for divorce that summer.

Kyle’s journey of discovery continued. He realized he could not control Kate’s feelings for him, but he could assume responsibility for the direction of his life. He adopted Paul’s challenge to Timothy as his own: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteous, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1Tim. 6:11). He discovered and experienced more and more of God’s cleansing grace and life-transforming power. In October Kyle wrote, “In an odd way, I am thankful for this situation and trial. These circumstances have brought me to a whole new level of love, faith and understanding of myself.”

 

Painful progress

Due largely to their children, Kyle and Kate had ongoing contact. Kate knew that Kyle continued to meet regularly with a counselor. She was also aware of the spiritual steps he was making through our weekly meetings and of his renewed commitment to a local church. She, however, remained skeptical. There were just too many broken promises.

Authentic transformation is neither quick nor easy. Progress involves pain. A painful and powerful moment for Kyle came in January 2014 when his counselor confronted Kyle’s failure to love Kate in the unconditional way God loves us. That night Kyle made this entry in his journal: “God is impressive and incredible in the way he works…. I left the counselor understanding how I have been failing myself, Kate and God. I am so thankful for his work in my life….Thank you, Lord. I love you.”

Several months later Kyle received an unexpected text from Kate. “Hi, my name is Kate…. I am recently separated from a creepy man. I am wondering if you might want to go out on a date sometime.” Guess what? He did. It must have gone well because they decided one date wasn’t enough. Many more followed.

Shortly before Easter, Kate and Kyle re-chose each other as husband and wife. So we joined their family and friends on Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as the ongoing resurrection power of God in the marriage of Kyle and Kate. As we celebrated, the earth again was shaken.

This has not been a fairy tale where the still handsome prince and beautiful princess ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Rebuilding trust involves setbacks and successes, failures and forgiveness. Kyle, once the controlling husband, is learning to surrender control to the Lord. Kate, his hurt and distrusting wife, is learning to forgive and trust. Easy? No! Possible? Yes! With God all things are possible.

Paul W. Klassen is a USMB pastor who retired from pastoral ministry after serving in two churches for 38 years. Paul lives with his wife, Gladys, in Edmond, Okla., where Paul is a chaplain and does wood inlay art as The Carpenter’s Apprentice.

 

 

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