Chapter 7

 

Groundwork

 Monday, August 1

“Something changed last night, Chuck, even before you spoke. What happened?” Phil Shannon sipped from a cup of tea.

“I had a little reality check.” Chuck shifted in his seat. He couldn’t recall ever being in Phil’s office before this moment. “I never intended to confess, exactly. I planned to say what you told me Bobbi needed to hear.”
“But you meant it. You weren’t negotiating your way out of a divorce, after all. You sacrificed your reputation and credibility to win back the woman you love.”
“That pure in heart stuff you said … that got me.”
“For the record, God said it, not me.”
“Thing is, once I got started, it didn’t matter as much that Bobbi wasn’t there. I wish she had stayed, but I wasn’t trying to impress her anymore.”
“You have hit the core issue for everything we are going to do.” Phil set his cup down and leaned forward in his chair. “This is about you and your relationship with Jesus Christ.”
“I thought this was about my marriage.”
“The trouble in your marriage is a symptom. I asked Bobbi to give me some time to work with you alone so we can establish a foundation for everything else.”
“I messed up, but adultery doesn’t take away my salvation.”
“I’m not questioning that, but if you’d been where you should have been spiritually, this would have never happened.” Chuck shifted and frowned. He preferred interrogations to lectures. “I’m not going to pull any punches with you, and I expect you to be completely honest with me.”
“I know,” Chuck mumbled. Nobody’s pulling any punches on me.
“Tell me about this other woman.” Phil picked up his cup and took a long drink from his tea. “When did the attraction start?”
“I can’t nail it down to a specific event or anything. I just gravitated towards her.” Chuck looked down at his shoes, avoiding Phil’s eyes. “Pathetic as it sounds now, she reminded me of Bobbi.”
“No, that’s helpful. In what way?”
“She’s very bright and articulate. Focused on her job. Very professional.”
“And Bobbi is all those things, too?”
“Yeah, in her own way. Bobbi doesn’t have the presence Tracy does.”
“Presence?”
“You can’t ignore Tracy if she’s in the room. There’s … something about her that draws your attention.” Phil scowled. “Did I say something wrong?” If Phil frowns every time I mention Tracy—.
“Making mental notes. Nothing to worry about.”
“I love my wife, Phil,” Chuck said.
“Who are you trying to reassure?”
“I don’t want you to think that I have any lingering feelings for Tracy. Because I don’t.” I never had any feelings … I didn’t. “I only got involved with her after I stopped by her house to fix a light.”
“Involved physically, you mean?”
Chuck nodded, again averting his eyes.
“Chuck, what were you thinking?”
“I don’t know. She flirted with me all evening, but the instant she kissed me, it didn’t matter that I had a wife and kids. Nothing else mattered. When I got home, I swore I’d never be around her again.” He dropped his voice and looked away. “I couldn’t stop thinking about her, though.”
“Then you saw her again that same week?”
“Yeah, I, uh, left my toolbox at her house, and I thought it would start gossip if she brought it to me at work, so I arranged to stop by her place and pick it up.” Phil shook his head, and Chuck felt perspiration bead in the small of his back. This sounded so bad. “She, uh … she met me at the door looking like a … a lingerie model.” The heat of guilt swept over him. “Bobbi and the boys got home from Detroit that night.”
“What did you say to your wife?”
“Nothing. She was so tired from her trip. I was always working late, crazy hours. She never questioned it.” Chuck swallowed hard. “Walter put Tracy on a new case with me. I asked her to work late the Thursday before my last trip to Kansas City and waited for the building to clear out.”
“What about Bobbi that night?” Phil asked. Grief replaced any trace of accusation in his voice.
“She, uh, asked me if I got everything finished. I said ‘yes’ and kissed her goodnight.” Chuck wiped his eyes. “Then I laid there beside my wife and wondered how I could see Tracy one more time before I left town.”
Admitting this, saying it out loud, made Chuck’s stomach roll. He couldn’t blame Bobbi if she filed for divorce. “How did I get to that point? I was a good husband, Phil. How could I slide so fast?”
Phil said nothing for several long moments, then he leaned forward and dropped his head, almost apologizing. “There are a number of factors involved, and we’ll get into them in much more depth as we counsel. The one thing that strikes me, though, is how God protected you through this.”
“Protected me?”
“Don’t you see? It was God’s grace that this blew up in your face before it destroyed your marriage, and maybe even you. Bad as this is, your wife is willing to forgive you, and to restore the marriage. That may not have been the case after a year, or two, or five. Things could have been much, much worse.”
“I don’t think I could have stopped the affair.”
“Very few people ever do until they’re found out,” Phil said. “Even if you ended things with this woman, you would’ve been tangled up with somebody else very soon.”
Chuck shifted in his chair. If Phil was right, then his affair wasn’t just a case of giving in to a temptation. It was an indication of who he was as a man, a deeply flawed, failed man.
“Are you still with me?” Phil asked.
“I was thinking about what you said.”
“Believe me, there is a ready supply of women who wouldn’t think twice about getting involved with a married man, especially one with your income and position.”
“Yeah, Tracy wasn’t all that upset that I was married, just that I didn’t tell her up front.”
“When did she say that?”
“Yesterday morning—”
“Have you lost your mind? You cannot have any contact with that woman!”
“She called me to have her last word, that’s all.”
“It had better be.” Phil took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. “I lost my train of thought … What about pornography?”
How much do I have to admit today? “Not long after I met Tracy, I started surfing the Internet. Except for that, I hadn’t bought any magazines or anything since college.”
“Late night television?”
“Sometimes.”
“Have you ever been unfaithful to your wife before this?”
“Of course not!” Finally, something he had the right answer for.
“You travel a good deal. You ever watch any of those pay per view movies at a hotel?”
“Yes.”
“Ever have dinner with another woman?”
“A few times. So?”
“Just stick with me,” Phil answered. “Here’s the tough one. Have you thought about being with someone else, or even wondered what it would be like to be with another woman? Maybe not any particular woman?”
“Yes.” He was ruined. Phil had to think the absolute worst about him now.
“Thank you for being honest,” Phil said. “I know it’s hard, but we have to face all this head-on.”
We? I’m the one doing all the ‘facing.’
“Let’s switch gears now. What was your marriage like a year or so ago, before any of this was even on the horizon?” He leaned back and picked up his tea again.
“Good.”
“Not great?”
“It’s been almost twenty years. We’re settled into our routines. With our schedules, and now the boys’ schedules, we’re lucky to have a cup of coffee together.”
“So, ‘comfortable,’ ‘safe,’ and ‘routine?’”
“You make it sound bad.”
“I’m not trying to make it sound like anything. I just want to make sure I’m hearing what you’re saying. Did you date much in high school and college?”
“Not so much in high school, but I bounced around from girlfriend to girlfriend in college.”
“Did you ever get physical with any of them?”
“I had sex before I was married if that’s what you’re asking.” Chuck said. After everything else, what’s a little premarital sex? “But not after I got serious about Jesus. Bobbi knows all that.”
“Give me a rough timeline between meeting Bobbi and marrying her.”
“I made a commitment to Christ between my junior and senior year in college, and I met Bobbi the summer after I graduated. I was working for a contractor then, and her dad was a master plumber. She came to pick him up one afternoon at a house we were working on. I’ll never forget it.”
He smiled, visualizing it once again. “I thought she was five years older than me. Just the way she walked up the sidewalk … I had to meet her. She was going to start college in the fall when I went to law school. We got engaged before the summer ended. She worked extra hard to get her bachelor’s degree in the three years I was at Northwestern. You baptized me that spring, and we got married that summer after we finished school.”
“How were those years being apart?”
“Tough, but I think it helped us both focus on our studies. Plus, Bobbi got to make her own friends and be on her own for a while before getting married.” Chuck shifted in his chair again. “Did you talk to her last night?”
“Donna did. She’s grappling with quite a bit emotionally. Bobbi’s also especially concerned about Brad. He’s taking this very hard.”
“Joel says Brad doesn’t want to speak to me. So what do I need to do to fix things?”
“You can’t.”
“Then why am I here if it’s hopeless?”
“I didn’t say it was hopeless. I said you can’t fix things. You let God make the changes in you that need to be made, and things with Bobbi and Brad will heal. You need to think in terms of months, not weeks.”
Chuck dropped his eyes. “That’s not what I wanted to hear.”
“With your confession, you’ve laid this huge burden down, and things feel better to you already, but Bobbi’s not going to heal until she can’t hurt anymore.”
Was that possible? “Can I call her?”
“Just take it slow, be patient, and don’t push her.”
“I see a theme developing.”
“You have been listening. Let me give you an overview of what to expect from me, and then we’ll be finished for today.” Phil leaned up to his desk. “I have found that sin, especially big sin, happens when we get lax in our spiritual lives. Our relationship with God becomes mechanical, cold, indifferent, and this leaves us susceptible to attacks or temptations that wouldn’t merit a second glance otherwise.
“So, first off, I want you to rediscover your relationship with Jesus Christ, that foundation we talked about. Then we’ll look at what’s in your makeup that made you vulnerable to an affair, and build a hedge against it ever happening again. From what you’ve told me, purity issues have been a consistent problem for you, and it’s going to take a conscious, active commitment to change that.”
“You make it sound like I was an affair waiting to happen.” He couldn’t mask the frustration. He didn’t have time for Phil to drag him through some Bible study designed to point out how rotten he was while Bobbi drifted further and further away.
“Everyone has an area of weakness—”
“You have a problem with women? I find that hard to believe.”
“No, mine is anger. I have an explosive, bitter temper.”
“That’s even less believable.”
“Thirty-four years ago, Donna left me. She wouldn’t come home, wouldn’t talk to me until I got myself under control.” He leaned across the desk. “I know where you’re at, Chuck. I know how it feels to lose control and have everything you care about in a heap at your feet.”
“I’m sorry. I never dreamed—”
“Well, that just shows you the kind of changes God can accomplish when we get desperate enough to let Him.” Phil took a long drink from his tea. “Trust me, you can recover from this, and my, it will be worth it.” He leaned back in his chair. “Now, Mr. Hot Shot Lawyer, tell me what a contingency fee is.”
Chuck smiled. “It’s a fee built in to cover unforeseen circumstances or events.”
“An extramarital affair was a contingency you never considered, so there was no protection in your marriage against it. I want us to fix that.” Chuck nodded. “Okay, your homework, then, is to read the gospels. I want you to note every person Jesus comes in contact with, what their issues were, and how He dealt with them.”
“Homework, huh?”
“Yes, I’m very serious about this. I want you to write out a list.”
“It’s a good thing I’m off work.” Chuck said with a slight grin.
“I took that into account. Now, do you have any questions, need anything else from me?”
“Not right now.”
“Why don’t you pray for us, then?”
“Father God, thank You for Phil and for his time and counsel. Thank You for Your mercy, and for grace and forgiveness. Dear God, help me follow where You lead, and be patient and teachable. In Jesus’ name, amen.” Chuck stood and shook hands with Phil. “Thanks again.”
“Not at all. Let’s meet again Wednesday morning.”
*******
Ann Molinsky waited as long as she could stand it before calling her son. “How did it go last night?” she asked as soon as Chuck picked up the phone.
“I lived.”
“But?”
“Bobbi walked out before I even started.”
“Now, it may not be as bad as you think. Did you talk to her Saturday?”
“I don’t know what good it did. She was cold and distant. I didn’t get to say much.”
“She’s hurting. She’s maintaining that distance because it makes her feel a little safer, don’t you think?”
“I’d feel a lot more confident about us if she’d talk to me. Maybe you could talk to her—”
“No. As much as I hurt for you both, as much as I would like this to be over, I don’t think it’s wise for me to get in the middle. You need to talk directly to each other, not through a third party.” Chuck gave her the same silent response he’d used since grade school. “Did you start counseling?”
“This morning. Phil … Phil’s going to be a big help. More than I realized. I took a five-week leave of absence, too.”
“Really?” Maybe Chuck did realize what was at stake.
“I think Walter would have fired me if I hadn’t.”
“Walter Davis would not have fired you.”
“You didn’t see his face. He was close.”
“Well, he would have made a terrible mistake if he had,” Ann said. “I’m proud of you, and the steps you’re taking. God’s going to honor this.”
“That’s exactly what Gavin said.”
“It’s a consensus then.” Silence. “You don’t agree?”
“Mom, am I a bad person?”
“I think you’ve done a bad thing, but that doesn’t make you a bad person.”
“I think I might be.” He sighed deeply. “I’ve got some phone calls to make. I’ll talk to you soon.”
*******
Later that evening, Chuck unpacked a box of fried chicken and coleslaw, and set it on the coffee table along with his Bible and a legal pad. “Okay, Matthew, what have we got?” he asked, flipping in his Bible to the first gospel. “Chapter one, Jesus isn’t born yet. Chapter two, He’s a baby. So chapter three, John the Baptist.” He scribbled on his legal pad. “John didn’t have any issues,” he said, writing his observations down. “Treated John with respect, validated John’s ministry.” He flipped the page in his Bible. “Chapter four. Oh wait. I should pray first.”
Father, it hasn’t even been a week yet. I don’t have the patience for this. I want Bobbi to forgive me and have it over with, but I know she needs time. I can’t thank You enough that she’s willing to try to work through this.
Be with her and help her see how sorry I am, and that I want to make up for what I’ve done. Forgive me for being such a jerk with Phil.

 

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