• Dana L. Butler

In which I can’t embrace Jesus without exposing my heart

Hey, my dear friends,

By way of an opening statement, I just wanna let you know that Stan has read and approved all I’ve written here. And that I kind of think that for now, that’s how it’s gonna be with everything I write. Our stories intersect too deeply to navigate this season in any other way.


It’s Sunday night, our kids are finally all snuggled up and asleep, and I’ve begun the not-so-small task of cleaning up the kitchen after our family’s evening dinner/painting/play-doh-ing chaos. It’s a good chaos. The kind that comes from living life wide open and together.

Stan comes downstairs clad in plaid pajama pants and t-shirt, and — bless him — starts unloading the dishwasher.

And I’m not positive exactly how this happened, but in my next memory I’m sweeping the floor and fighting back tears, telling Stan how I need to feel more connected to him but I don’t know how. We discuss (and he agrees with) the fact that his current spiritual state makes connectedness difficult to achieve on lots of levels, and I tell him I don’t even know if it’s fair for me to ask for more connection given the way he shoulders so much of the burden of our family’s life together.

Special needs, small-but-incredibly-intense personalities, Stan’s own (undiagnosed but very clear to us, based on lots of research) high-functioning autism/OCD, my migraines…. The weight we carry (the weight he carries) is great. Can I really ask him for still more growth in this arena of pursuing his wife’s heart? I don’t want to ask him to be someone he’s not.

Stan’s response is genuine and non-defensive: “But you can ask me for growth in this arena. It’s okay for you to have real needs.”

And somewhere during the conversation, the Spirit’s whisper: Don’t allow fear to cause you to withhold your heart from him.

Withholding it from him is withholding it from Me. 

Let yourself cry.

So I quit fighting, stop faking strength, and let the tears come, opening to Stan another level of my grief over all these places our hearts used to be woven together but don’t seem to be now.

I finish wiping down the kitchen counters, keep finding things to spray and wipe, spray and wipe, spray and wipe. The repetitive motion combined with the scent of my essential oil kitchen cleaner is therapeutic somehow.

That, and cleaning provides at least a small distraction, something on which to focus a bit of my attention so not every ounce of my being is given over to these gulping sobs that threaten to take control.

Oh God, hold my heart.


When I got my first tattoo, I had this tiny, terrifying inkling — (oh my word – is that not the best accidental pun? Annnd I crack myself up. Okay. Moving on.) — an inkling that I’d need it for more reasons than I understood at the time — this reminder of how desperately I need to stay in step with Jesus. To move through every moment, every season, every hard thing, arm-in-arm with Him.

The idea for my second tattoo came in late 2015. Kiss the wave — from Spurgeon’s quote “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

And I once again had this quiet-but-strong sense of, “Dang — how tiny is my insight into the ways this idea will make itself real to me, will inscribe itself inside me.”

I had no clue.

Spring of 2016 came, then summer, and by this point Stan was sharing more and more with me, layer upon layer, of his evolving spiritual reality.

I listened, waited, felt like I was watching our identity as a couple melt into a murky puddle at my feet.

I struggled so much to come to grips with the thought that my husband no longer considered himself a follower of Jesus.

I found myself one day last summer, after one such conversation with Stan, standing dazed in the tiny kitchen of our old apartment. It hit my heart that afternoon like a wrecking ball: this unravelling right here? This is that wave. 

The wave I’d felt coming but couldn’t make out.

It terrified me.

The places most core to my identity, where I’d felt the most deeply knit with Stan — they were coming undone. Our mutual desire for relationship with Christ, this shared heart bent toward the Kingdom.

This disorienting sense of aloneness would press me toward my need for Him like I never dreamed possible.


I went and got the tattoo. Sat through it by myself this time, no close friend available to hold my hand.

Breathing through the pain of all this desperate, newly-deepened dependence being permanently inscribed on my skin… even as the grief of this loss carved it anew into my soul.

I contemplate so much lately how in Christ, agony forges trust, engraves beauty where bitterness might otherwise take root. And what a costly privilege it is to be marked by Him, to be expanded inside as I breathe through fear, uncertainty, loss. As I lean into Him. As He bears me up, gives me more of Himself.


Wrapping my arms around Stan’s neck for a hug at some point while my new ink was still healing, my forearm caught my eye: kiss the wave. Right there, all up in my face as I held onto my man.

I can’t wholly give myself to what God is doing inside me in this season without giving myself to Stan as well, the best I know how. Can’t embrace Jesus, his heart for me in all this, without embracing my husband.

Without exposing my heart.


I can’t find anything else to wipe down.

We hit the kitchen lights and make our way upstairs, me still intermittently in and out of tears. I go through the motions: remove makeup, brush teeth, take meds, climb into bed.

Finally, with nothing else to do but sit still with Stan, I full-on weep. Stan’s hand on my shoulder lets me know he’s not scared of my pain. Grieved by it, yes, but not shaken. I’m thankful.

He hands me a box of Kleenex, and between my bouts of crying, our conversation moves to our road forward from here. What it’ll look like. How to steward our connection. How to care for one another’s hearts despite feeling utterly disoriented.

Stan expresses concern that his internal journey will cause me perpetual pain. I tell him I can’t promise it won’t, but that I love him. That I trust God with my heart in the midst of the pain. That I’m committed to our journey together, uncertainty and all.

I’m here. Sometimes I don’t know how to be here, but I’m not going anywhere, and neither is he. Navigating this uncharted terrain isn’t optional for either of us.

I eventually realize my desperation for sleep, so Stan kisses my forehead, plugs my phone in for me, and makes his way downstairs for some time alone by the fireplace.

I lie in the dark, still teary. Raw, heart bleeding. All this opening of myself — to Stan, to God — is excruciating. Excruciating, but completely necessary… and good.

And in all of it, He’s trustworthy. So I re, re, re-remind my soul of that truth, roll over, and allow my eyes to close.


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