Unconditional Love

unconditionallove2

I love the sound of the wind as it blows through the leaves of a tree, sounding like a tired yet invigorated sigh at the end of a long but hopeful day. I love watching the branches and limbs as they sway back-and-forth, to-and-fro, moving so gracefully and elegantly, yet always returning to their original place when the breeze calms. The sight and sound of a tree in the wind is so chaotically peaceful, controlled turbulence, not knowing where or how it will be pushed or blown, but knowing that when the wind calms, no matter what, everything will be okay.

I used to wonder if the human mind genuinely possessed the capacity for unconditional love. It is something often learned from church sermons or family values, but whether or not it genuinely existed was a question I often contemplated. For love to be unconditional, there is one vital ingredient which must be plentifully stirred-in: Forgiveness. Unconditional love, by definition, is love without conditions – without “ifs.” Thus, the only way to genuinely test “unconditional love” is to thrust the most difficult of challenges upon it, testing it to see if it can stand under the weight of the worst of conditions: unfaithfulness – betrayal.

In 2006, I was a high school English teacher, married to a beautiful woman who blessed me with a beautiful daughter, and who loved me regardless of the fact that she was entirely too beautiful to be married to an average guy like me. I was the most popular teacher at the largest high school in Kansas, respected socially and professionally by my colleagues and students alike. On the outside, I had a nearly perfect life. But beneath the surface, behind closed doors and around dark corners, I lived an entirely different life – the life of a sex addict.

The teachers at the school where I taught loved two things: sex and booze. So being the metaphorical displaced frat boy I was, I seemed to slither perfectly into the in-the-shadows lifestyle of “working late” with my fellow teachers. Booze-fueled teacher parties led to seemingly guilt-free sex with women who taught at my school, and several who taught elsewhere; and this seamlessly transitioned into sex during the school day with teachers during our planning hours; mid-day rendezvous in locked classrooms. And for several years, this was my life. During the day, I would be a respected teacher in the light and a philandering man-whore in the shadows; at the end of the day (whenever I deemed that to be), I simply turned off the philanderer button, turned on the husband/father button, walking in my front door and hugging my wife and child like Ward Cleaver. They had no idea.

In 2010, after several years of living the life of an out-of-control sex addict, I crossed the worst possible line; I kissed a 15-year-old former student. It was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life, and it broke me. I had reached a level of addictive depravity that even I couldn’t believe. And after it happened, I did the only thing I could possibly fathom – I decided to go home and tell my wife everything.

When I got home that night and saw my wife for the first time that day, she was so incredibly gorgeous. It felt as though I was seeing the most beautiful, familiar, and comforting sight I’d ever seen, but, for the first time. We’d been a bit distant from one another during that time, and whenever I walked in the door and we actually interacted, she always had this subtle glow of hope in her eyes, as if to say, Is this the day that everything is going to be okay? But I was so wrapped up in myself and my addiction and my conquests that I didn’t even realize that my marriage was going badly. Until that day, I was only concerned with myself and my own drive to chase the dragon.

After our daughter was asleep, we sat down together in my home-office and I began the painful task of telling my wife that I had betrayed her.

“First, I want you to know that I love you, I’m in love with you, and you are the best thing that has ever happened to me,” I said, never breaking eye contact, clutching both of her hands as we sat knee-to-knee.

“I know, and I love you too. Nothing you could say would ever change that,” she replied. I wasn’t sure if she would be able to hold to that after I told her what I had to say.

“Remember my former student, Taissa?

She nodded.

“Well,” I went on, “Taissa has been coming to see me in my classroom quite a bit; almost every day.”

I paused, trying to read her body language and facial expression, but she just kept looking at me; no looks of disappointment or anger, even though I was sure that she knew what I was going to say next.

“Since I’ve been seeing Taissa,” I took a deep breath, “things have happened.”

She nodded again, not as if to say, How could you do this to me? but rather, it was as though she was saying, Are you okay?

I expected her to say, “Things?” or “Like what?”  But she remained silent.

I continued. “I didn’t sleep with her, okay? We did not have sex. I promise.” And with that, she lightly exhibited her first sign of emotion: Relief.

“It’s over though, and I can’t go any further without confessing to you what I’ve done, and ask your forgiveness. You’re my wife, and I betrayed your love and your trust.” I paused, hoping for an answer.

The silence lasted a lifetime.

Finally, she spoke.

“You’re my husband, and I love you – for better or for worse,” she said. “We will get through this.” The word “we” in her voice carried the weight of a battleship. And then she said something I will never forget. “I didn’t marry you to divorce you.” She said it with subtle authority – confidence.

At that moment – that minute, that second – my entire life changed, forever. I knew she loved me, but as she looked into my eyes, I genuinely knew how and how much. Before that conversation, I was ready to do whatever I needed to do to comfort her once I’d confessed my endless betrayals; but instead, she wanted to comfort me. She saw the pain I was in, and wanted to make me feel better.

I could see the love of God in my wife that night – in how she handled the news, and how she was immediately willing to forgive me. I just hoped her forgiveness would continue.

“There’s more,” I said, my voice stammering and quivering.

So when I was done talking about Taissa, I told her about the History teacher, and then the Psychology teacher, and then the English teacher, and then the Elementary School teacher, and on and on and on, remembering back as far (and as many) as I could, finishing with the very first time I cheated, four months after we got married, with a woman from a bar, while my wife was at home asleep, pregnant with our daughter.

I’d never felt so low in my entire life.

She cried a little. I cried a lot. We cried together. And when I was finally done, I asked her, very delicately, for her thoughts.

“I need to know what you’re thinking,” I said. “If you want me out of here tonight, I’ll go stay with one of my buddies.”

“Well,” she said, drying her eyes, “no, you’re staying here tonight.” She looked up and made eye contact with me in a way that she never had before, and in a way that I will never – ever – forget. “I didn’t marry you to divorce you,” she said again in a stern voice. “For better or for worse.”

As a result of this long and emotional talk, we made several resolutions and dedications to one another. One of them was to reignite our faith and begin attending church faithfully – not simply “regularly,” but faithfully. This was something I’d tried on my own following every philandering encounter, but it never did stick, so I’d more-or-less given up on faith as a way to change or improve my life.

Another stipulation she requested was that we move out of town, an option I was quite willing to consider. And in addition to this, I was only two semesters from finishing Graduate School and as soon as I had my Master’s Degree completed, we would be gone. So, a few months before I graduated, I began to apply for jobs outside of Wichita. We were ready to move out and move on. We were ready to start over again, and that’s exactly what happened. I got a new teaching job in a small town far away from the life I wished to leave behind.

But it didn’t stay there.

Two years later, in March of 2012, my former student pressed charges and I was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison for a little more than two years – 763 days, to be exact. And my wife faithfully remained my wife for every single one of those days. Her enduring love – her unconditional love – not only survived a cheating husband, but a husband whose mugshot was on the Internet, whose court proceedings were in the newspaper, and whose sentencing hearing was on the evening news. She sat in the courtroom and watched as I was handcuffed and led from freedom.

Today, she is still my wife – proof that the human mind is capable of unconditional love. She is my proof that God exists.

Our breeze has calmed and our branches sway just a little less now, but the soothing sound of our unconditional marriage never changes. We have seen marriages around us fail under the pressures of much less than what we have endured together.

For better or for worse, no matter how hard the wind blows, her love – our love – is unconditional.

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