I had a plan for how life was supposed to work. As a girl who had grown up on the mission field, graduated from Bible college, and married a man in pastoral ministry, my life was mapped out. I would raise godly kids, serve in whatever church where Greg was on staff, and make an impact for Christ. Smooth sailing. After all, if you do all the right things, life works out, right?
Little did I know, life doesn’t follow formulas like that. My plan didn’t work. And because it didn’t, God led me to a completely different life and ministry than I ever could have predicted.
On January 6, 2009, my whole world fell apart.
My husband Greg had been caught up in sexual sin and addiction for years, and I’d had no idea. Now he was exposed, fired from his position as a Worship Pastor, and broken. I was shocked, devastated, numb, and had no idea what to do next. This wasn’t how my life was supposed to go. I thought I’d done everything right!
It didn’t take long to realize I’d been placing my trust in idols instead of in God – idols like marriage, ministry, and reputation. But now I’d found my marriage wasn’t what I’d thought it was, and our ministry and reputation were ruined – at least I thought so.
Right away, we were connected with a great counselor who helped Greg begin recovery from sexual addiction and who helped me work through the incredible trauma of his betrayal. She helped both of us understand that though Greg’s sexual addiction was the catalyst to where we were, we both had brokenness we’d held onto and not let anyone know about. All my life I’d trusted in “my plan.” But my plan had failed me. Now I could see that when I’d said I trusted God with my life, I didn’t know what that truly meant. I trusted Him as long as things worked out the way I wanted them to.
During my counseling and trauma work, I began to see life and relationships differently. I had thought I had many close relationships, but when things fell apart, I experienced a deafening silence from a lot of the people who had been in my life. They didn’t know what to say, and so many of them said nothing. The isolation was crippling.
But God began to bring people into our lives who had been through the same type of experiences as us. These people were different. They talked about their brokenness and pain, but with a peace, openness, and authenticity I hadn’t seen before. They didn’t hide their scars – they let God use them to help other people. Because of the safety and care from people who came alongside me during the worst days of my life, I began to have hope. I started to see God had a better plan for my life than the one I’d been holding on to.
Then a funny thing happened. People started to call me.
On the other end of the call would be a woman who didn’t know how to start the conversation. I would recognize the awkwardness and hesitation in her voice.
“Someone told me I should call you because you might understand what I’m going through. They said you wouldn’t freak out.”
And then she would tell me a story so much like mine, and one she had believed no one would understand. I didn’t have any answers that could fix her situation, and there weren’t any words to make what she was going through okay. I would just listen, tell her how sorry I was for what she was going through, tell her my story, and offer to walk with her on her journey to heal.
There is amazing value in just listening. In just being there. In not trying to find simple answers to fix someone else’s situation. In helping them see that the gospel still offers them hope, even when they feel like life is over.
As we continued to heal, it became clear to Greg and me that God wanted us to use our story and experiences to help others in whatever way we could. So many people had shown grace, love, and hope to us, and God had used that as a huge part of His restoring work in our lives. Now it was our turn to share these things with others.
So now there’s a different plan. But it’s not Plan B. God’s plan for walking through brokenness has been in His word all along.
2 Corinthians 1:4 says that the Lord “…comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
I believe God has called all of us to comfort and support wounded brothers and sisters, without judgment or easy answers. It’s a joy to see how God has redeemed the most painful experience of my life in ways I never could have imagined.
Stacey and Greg Oliver are the founders of Awaken (www.awakenrecovery.com), a Christ-centered recovery ministry for people affected by sexual addiction. They offer support groups for men and women (that meet at Brook Hills), therapeutic intensive retreats, and coaching for individuals and ministry leaders. They have three children and have been members of Brook Hills since 2009.