For Days of Auld Lang Syne: On Loving Russell

CC is the author of the excellent blog called The Counterfeit Christian. She’s also our most prolific commenter. CC and I have been keeping a secret to add another layer of anonymity between us and our blogging world, but now the secret is out. The husband CC has been talking about in many of her posts on thecounterfeitchristian.wordpress.com and comments on russellandpascal.com, is yours truly. That’s right, CC is my wife! 🙂

I’m reblogging her “coming out” post so our readers will have more context into her comments on russellandpascal.com. I’m glad it’s finally out that we’re married. Look at the hoops we were jumping through. Here’s an example from her comment on Pascal’s post called Reason To Believe:

You, my husband, Russell, 20-ish The Counterfeit Christian blog readers, your own blog readers, and one friend see the real me.

Given the comma, Russell could have been her husband, or not. She’s clever, right?

CC commented on one of my many long posts and challenged me to keep them < 1200 words. I responded:

Haha. My wife agrees with you. She said I should title it “The Cure for Insomnia.”

In Love, Gray holes, Supernatural Ladybugs, and Scripture I finally told her what I thought of her blog.

“I’ve read your blog, linked to it, and recommended it to people. Why? Honestly, it’s because I find you to be an extremely intelligent, amazing storyteller with a very human voice. That is something that doesn’t come as naturally for me. I respect your words and identify with your struggle, and I think many theists do too. You provide for them a window into the real life of a real person who is trying to find out how and where to stand in the aftermath of a faith that fell into and drowned beneath the ocean – an ocean whose waves are still rocking your soul. It’s a process, not an on and off switch, and you capture that well. Your words draw the reader in and compel them to read more, to identify, and to care. This leads to understanding, compassion, and the breaking of misconceptions in the minds of theists. Keep up the great work that I could never do because I lack your skill.”

That was an honest assessment. If you haven’t seen her blog yet, please check it out. I’m not just saying this because of my bias. She honestly is phenomenal. I write about boring metaphysics. CC writes about life. Much of her blog is about the struggles of leaving faith and the desire to return. She’s genuine, honest, and raw. She’s also the most intelligent woman I know. I’ve truly loved hearing about her thoughts in well-crafted words that we get to discuss after each post. She is both brilliant and stunningly beautiful, and she deserves an audience.

I first met CC in the Summer of 2006. Around that time you could find me studying the Bible at Starbucks, building and learning from Bible verse memorization applications, teaching Sunday School, playing volleyball, cello, and guitar, singing, leading music, working full-time in software development, lifting weights, going back to college, doing yoga, hosting Sunday School events, and yes, finishing up a massage therapy license. You can read more about my past and the importance I placed on the Bible and on living for Christ in my post called Not an Outsider. CC’s post, For Days of Auld Lang Syne: On Love Russell, that I’m re-blogging here picks up from when we met.

Now that our marriage is in the open, there’s a strong theme and challenge we’ve been facing that has been almost entirely avoided by me at russellandpascal.com. I broke my promise. I failed her in a very serious way. I made a vow to her that I would be her spiritual leader for life – but I have led her astray. I’ve said very little about this so far on the blog, but I want to make it clear now. When I mentioned CC’s experience in How to Love an Atheist, How to Love a Christian I was talking about my own wife. I hope her blog makes more sense in that context.

I knew the moment my doubts about the Bible resurfaced in strength that they wouldn’t just have consequences for my life and potential eternity, but for my wife’s and future children’s as well. They would mean an erosion and potential breaking of the covenant I made with her, and that was the most serious thing in our lives. It was our foundation and our bond, more sacred and important than our love for each other. I did not enter into my doubts lightly or willingly. When you hear CC’s honest words, words of resentment for my failure to meet my commitment, for spiritually abandoning her, for unwillingly pulling her with me, her battle with regret for marrying me, decisions not to have further children, etc., I hope it stirs something in you. I hope it illuminates the deep pain fueling the hateful remarks of some anti-theists. I am not an anti-theist because I understand. It’s clear why religions exist to lead us to such vows, why we believed, why we doubted, why we struggle now, why we long for restoration, why it is unlikely that I will find it, why she is angry, why I am sorrowful. I’m not mad at my former faith, my culture, the religious institution, or a God I doubt exists. She and I often process things in different ways. Neither of us are complacent.

Much of her writing reveals what it does to a woman when her husband fails in that sacred duty. The consequences to our relationship have at times been deep and devastating – sometimes a daily struggle. It has occasionally put tremendous stress on our marriage and I’m glad that we can now be open here about the issues if we choose. Your advice and prayers will be a great support system when we face tough times.

Pascal has already been there for us. Not only did he do a masterful job keeping the secret of our marriage throughout his various dialogues with CC, he also really stepped in to help support us at crucial times when we needed it. Now that you have some context of who CC was talking about when Pascal wrote The Wedding Rings of Drought, please re-read it. Here’s an excerpt.

Her post affected me Russell. If faith and skepticism are polarizing the world, how much more in the microcosm of marriage?

He gets it. And, addressing CC in that same post he said:

Stay. Whether your husband ever believes or not. You were called to him for a purpose, perhaps for such a time as this. Our hearts as believers are to be attracted to the doubting, not repulsed. That is what a friendship with Russell is teaching me and that is my prayer for your marriage.

What a genuine friend.

The fact of my broken vow, the toll that my apostasy has taken on our marriage, it’s a topic that goes far beyond the discourse of philosophy and reaches down into real life in a very tangible way. It’s an opportunity for a blogging community to come together and share, not just to discuss abstract ideas, but to offer prayer and real-world advice. I don’t have the answers.

I want you, our reader, to understand that I’m real. CC is real. Our precious 1 and 4 year-old girls are real. We need support at times – support that we can’t often get in a local church while remaining anonymous.

I don’t know where she or I will end up on the belief spectrum, but I do know that we’re in a difficult place. Please support her by reading her blog, sharing it with people you think it may help, and commenting when you can. Her latest post, The Call, shows a little more of the struggle and her present desire to try believing again, but it’s lonely and difficult when your spouse doesn’t. CC, I genuinely hope you’ll try, as many times as it takes. I know you sometimes regret that you said yes to being my wife, but I would ask you 1000 times over.

Readers, have you been through this situation yourself, or do you know a couple who has? We welcome your advice.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

The Counterfeit Christian

Gold-Wedding-Rings-1920x1200

I walked into a room in the church basement where my parents had first met more than two decades before. I was trying a new Sunday school class designed for single adults between the ages of 18 and 22. I was 19. The first person to greet me was an abnormally tall man we’ll call R. R offered me a firm handshake and then introduced me to some of the other women in the class. I was polite in conversation and appreciated their warm welcome, but I couldn’t stop thinking about R. My hand tingled and burned from its earlier contact with his, and that’s not a physical response I was accustomed to having after a handshake. I had met more handsome men. I had met men who were charming and complimentary and even flirtatious—R had quickly passed me off to the females. I wasn’t looking for love—especially not here…

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22 comments

  1. Reading her original post bought tears to my eyes, yours bought on the flood.
    What came to my mind, in reading this, and it isn’t the first time it has come to my mind over the last few years of my journey, is this:
    I’m under no illusion that the struggle is real. When a married couple start moving in different directions it comes down to vows and choice. Not the feeling of love…. the choice of love. I get that. And I want that. – I want someone to love me enough, to have chosen to love me enough that I am safe… even when moving in different directions.
    CC was the first person/blog I’d ever read, ever followed. She writes, as I’ve commented on her blog, as if straight from my mind. I don’t have the ability to put my words that are totally scrambled, together the way she does. Sometimes I wonder if that is partly because I don’t have a person to bounce my ideas off, to help process my thoughts. I read her posts and just go ‘YES!’ (obviously not in regards to the marriage posts)
    This blog was the second one I followed, they seemed to flow.
    I went back and forth after her original post – For Days of Auld Lang Syne: On Loving Russell – reading comments and posts – I must admit I was kinda blown away by the revelation. 🙂
    Both this and her blog have helped me feel not so insane. Both of you, and Pascal, are special, to me, purely for what you offer here. I can’t offer to pray, I stopped that many months ago. But I can keep you in my thoughts. And I will.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. JJ – – your humanity and friendship matters very much to us. We accept your thoughts and return them with empathy. This blog has become a key in awaking me from apathy about others, reducing pride, and in a way – – finding Jesus again myself.

      Blessings from an older brother – –
      Pascal

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Russell and CC – – I must say that CC’s post surprised me. I’ve heard your love story before and it is truly beautiful. In my twenty years of professional life I’ve asked over 500 couples who have been married >40 years one question: “are you best friends?” The answer has been almost uniformly yes. That is my heart for you. The scripture is very clear about what a believing spouse is to do when his or her partner strays. The believer is to stay if the unbeliever is willing.

    Russell will never leave CC. CC will never leave Russell. If they both still believed they would remember the image of Christ and the church, the faithful and the unfaithful – – never knowing who was who.

    I love you both and Mrs. Pascal and I will invest in the success of your marriage.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Russell, I have three things to say:

    1. You are still the most influential spiritual leader in my life—you just led me in a different way than I expected. If I never return to faith, I’ll believe that you led me away from something false. If I do return to faith, it will be an examined, thoughtful faith that I would not have had without your leadership.

    2. I’ll stay. Forever. Any indications otherwise are just an emotional breakdown that can probably be resolved by a hug. And ice cream.

    3. I want to have another baby—in a few years. Yes, with you (see #2).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. CC . . . I have you to thank for touching my heart and causing tears to flow. As time passes we (I) tend to lose touch with those places, those gentle and torn to shreds places. It never hurts to be reminded from time to time. Thanks for being you.

      Hi Russell,

      I often see this phrase you used: “The fact of my broken vow […]”

      Can we break a vow though when we don’t know the promise we are keeping?

      I imagine you carry a heavy burden but should you and should others expect that of you? (I’m not just referring to you but to any of us.) Yes, we made vows but we also made them believing we possessed the truth. What if the truth wasn’t the truth?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thank you, Zoe. And welcome.

        That is an excellent question, and one I have considered a few times in the depths of despair – seeking justification or solace. Forgiveness of myself, though, only comes when I take responsibility. Yes, I didn’t know that vow was in some ways out of my control. But intentions aren’t the only factor in any ethical judgement. The fact is the consequence. I made a promise to keep God in the center of our marriage and I broke it. My justification wants to take CC’s words in her previous comment and say, “but I am keeping the pursuit of God in the center, as best I can,” but in truth, it’s not what I promised her. It’s not what she expected. It’s caused a chasm to open between us (resentment on her side and acceptance of a broken vow on mine) and we have to struggle, primarily without the framework of a cross, to bridge it on our own (with the help of humans who care). I do appreciate your words and I’m glad to hear there are others who understand, as CC does, the potential damage that comes from doubt and losing faith.

        Gentleness and respect,
        –Russell

        Liked by 1 person

  4. So…

    For what it’s worth, my experience is remarkably similar to what is described here. My wife is a faithful church-goer (although far less docilely “orthodox” than she once was); I am an atheist humanist non-church-goer (who used to be a fairly conservative Baptist minister). “Ups and downs” is putting it lightly. So I empathize with your situation, and I admire the fact that you have battled through and are carrying on.

    I was terrified when I told my wife about my change of heart (or identity, whichever), and not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for the graciousness with which she received the news, and the encouragement she’s given me in my personal search for truth. And I do my best to support hers. As you say, anti-theism (and anti-theist-ism) is not my intent; I grew up surrounded by too many loving, upstanding people to be willing to discount them as a group.

    I will offer one thought: The idea that any person, husband or wife, should be saddled with responsibility for anyone else’s “spiritual life” is, I think, asking far too much. We are taught to feel guilt if we drop that ball, but I don’t think we should. It’s hard enough to manage our own. Besides, having read only a few of CC’s posts, she seems to be pretty well able to handle herself on that front. :o) In my own experience, Tammy (my wife) has quite a brain and quite a heart, and the idea of my being her “guide” on the path to truth seems incredibly redundant. Often, she is mine.

    Like Zoe, I see no broken vows here (or in my marriage, either). I vowed to be faithful to my wife, and she to me, and we have been, and you two seem to have been as well. If responding poorly to unexpected situations were unfaithfulness, ain’t none of us keeping any vows. It’s what we do once the daze has cleared that speaks to which vows are broken and which kept.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Welcome Toad,

      Wise words. I may reach out to you in private some time.

      I agree that we should not be responsible for another person’s faith, but according to the faith and the heavy expectations it puts on a young woman searching her whole little girl years, teen years, and young adult years for a man to be her spiritual leader – it is what it is. There is a vow, beyond physical, financial, and emotional faithfulness, to lead her in her connection to God.

      We also have children and, this may not be evident, but I have an extremely high aversion to deception, the avoidance of truth, and really no capacity for lying. It’s a challenge raising children in the church and faith, but for family expectations, our own uncertainties, and my need to keep things as smooth as possible on this front with CC, we’ve chosen to do it. I do not want to lie to them about my views, so it’s always a game of carefully chosen words that are tantamount to deception – which kills me. Throughout history, the greatest empirical success or any faith system has been the success of self-perpetuation from parent to child. Religious beliefs, by necessity, put that burden upon parents. It’s just another area of stress on a marriage. The parts of CC (or anyone who desires to follow Christ) that believes screams at her from within that my role in our children’s faith may cost them their eternal souls. Despite my reluctant willingness to encouraging our children in these beliefs, they will eventually grow to sense the deception. My future honesty, if things remain as they are, will rock their world.

      Her quote in The Call was right. Any children we raise together (including any new ones we bear or adopt) will be born onto a battleground spiritually speaking. Despite my acceptance of my failed vow, the stress that she feels when trying to return to faith alone, the rebuilding of the foundation between us that must take place, etc., the real calculus in the back of a mother’s mind is this. A husband’s unbelief may cause our children to burn in hell forever. It’s a rational fear and it’s is powerful. It’s also terrible. It’s likely a large reason why faith survives in such strength from generation to generation – preying on the maternal instinct of any mother. I can hide behind odds, and reason, and God’s providence in the calling and spiritual outcome of any believer (including our children), and the very true idea that we shouldn’t be responsible for another’s spiritual walk, but to the person with the spiritual life, those are often meaningless excuses compared to the levity of a child’s soul. The fact is that my beliefs (or lack thereof), while outside of my ability to choose or control, do make a difference on her, our children and our future children.

      All I can say is thank God for the verses about divorce, and especially 1 Corinthians 7:13-14 (though Paul claims it’s from him and not the Lord). “And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” Were it not for this command, it would be very hard to see how most women would not leave at the first sign of serious doubts from their husbands. A child’s potential eternal fate, no matter how small the odds, is much more valuable on average than their vow to stay with a man who broke his vow.

      As I said, I don’t have the answers. We will continue to find ways to work through it. All I can do is continue to encourage her in whatever way she needs for her faith, and keep seeking truth myself. It’s pretty rare that issues from this topic show themselves, but we both know they are there under the surface so we have to be proactive. We’ll seek out resources if they’re needed.

      I’m sorry this got so long. I feel like this is one of those topics that doesn’t get covered much. The struggles and stress in a marriage that come from unequal unbelief. CC has been open about it on her anonymous blog from the beginning. I’m accepting the idea of writing about it now, and willing for other’s to consider it as they get to know the dynamics of our relationship. That should help make more sense of our online interactions. 🙂

      Do you and your wife have children?

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One thing to clarify for my beloved Russell and our readers…

        I’m not extremely worried today about what will happen to our children eternally…if I reach a point of confident belief in God, it won’t be in the God I grew up believing in. It would be in a good God who wouldn’t condemn our children to hell for growing up in a home with confused parents. It would be in a God whose expectations of our understanding are in balance with what he has revealed and what is still veiled.

        Am I picking and choosing what I want to believe? Yes. Is that better than nothing? It’s a start.

        Good grief, Russell. I make two posts with the slightest hint of hope and you think I’m going all Southern Baptist on you again 😉

        I love you, dear.

        Liked by 3 people

            1. I was there when you rocked the boat – slight smile, resting pose, as if nothing was wrong – but cowering in fear inside, as I recall. I was glad for my many years as a lifeguard so I could swim out to save you if your next words found them pitching you out of the boat like Jonah to calm the seas. They didn’t cast you out, though. They’ll get used to stormy waters. Their boats will grow weak if they don’t dance with a few waves. I’m done with all my boat analogies now. Go. 🙂

              Oh, and I found this!

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  5. “A husband’s unbelief may cause our children to burn in hell forever. It’s a rational fear and it’s is powerful. It’s also terrible. It’s likely a large reason why faith survives in such strength from generation to generation – preying on the maternal instinct of any mother.

    I may come back to this with a bit of time. I’m actually trembling. This here. This is why we ended up spending almost 20 years in a system of spiritual abuse. My fear. My agonizing fear of an unsaved husband and children in hell. 😦

    Like

  6. Russell,

    So many good comments, and I’ll just piggy back off many of them.

    First, and most important was Pascal’s reference to being best friends. My wife and I have been best friends since the day we met in February of 1998, and I feel it is the glue that keeps us together. (Luckily our personalities fit together like two puzzle pieces made exactly for one another so that helps some as well.)

    I agree with Zoe and Toad about it asking too much of one person to be the spiritual support for someone else, but I understood your responses to them Russell and I can see how that could be a struggle for you. In CC’s latest post on her blog however it looks like she seems to think you have not broken any vow which was nice to read.

    And hugs and ice cream can do wonders so listen to CC on that one. 🙂 And it’s lots of these kind of little things that can surprisingly keep the bonds strong. You 2 know the fun things you both like doing together – make time for doing those things even more often.

    And by the way, I know of several marriages that have worked even where one completely remains a strong believer and the other an atheist. One case is friends of ours who live a few houses down – in that case the wife expresses no doubts at all in her faith.

    You are both definitely in my thoughts. You have my e-mail address. Use it anytime if you feel it could help, and let me know if there is any way I can help.

    Oh and your back and forth banter in comments is cracking me up. And that insomnia curing long post was for sure insanely long. Sorry, but I won’t be reading that one. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Howie, this one was probably close to as long as the insomnia-curing one!—but I guess love stories do a better job of holding our attention.

      Thank you so much for your encouragement and availability. Russell and I are doing well—I’ve hit the snooze button on my alarm twice this morning (about to be three times), even though I woke up alert and rested, simply because I love being next to him. I fall asleep in under ten seconds every night, so I never have a chance to enjoy his companionship until morning.

      Yesterday we had our first real conversation about baby #3. If anything could prove my commitment to him, it would be that.

      Like

      1. That’s a very nice comment to read! I’m very glad my reading between the lines in seeing positivity on your latest blog post was correct.

        Oh, and I forgot to mention in my last comment how much a good sense of humor helps, and you both seem to have a good amount of that. While my jokes are usually corny I’m lucky enough to be married to a bit of a comedian. 🙂

        Like

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