An Open Letter to All Mike and I Ministered To and With

by - August 07, 2020


Dear Loved Ones,

I wrote an essay exactly five years ago today entitled The Blog Post I Won't Write, about how much strain my marriage was under from ministry. Ministry costs resources that are like commodities in that they're in limited supply. Ministry costs time, commitment, and emotional and spiritual effort. There are also liabilities that come with ministry that drain life, one of which was the constant scrutiny of others. Five years ago, I was afraid it might all lead to burnout and breakdown.

Mike shared that essay with many who were with him the day I published it. I think he resonated with my sentiments and saw burnout and breakdown coming, too, maybe even better than I did. 

When I reread that essay today, I realize I had no idea back then how bad things actually were or how bad they would become -- which turned out to be so bad that our marriage wouldn't survive.

Could I have done anything differently to change the outcome? I don't think so. I was living the best way I knew how at that time, doing my best to be honest and faithful before the Lord and serve the people before us. I still live that way today, although it looks very differently now than it did back then. 

I have changed.

That's because I evaluated my faith when I was approaching fifty. I did so because I was outgrowing my faith. I became unwilling to adhere to a Christian walk and a ministry lifestyle that no longer fit. This meant having the courage to admit that my understanding of those things was incomplete and immature at best, or wrong, at worst.

My faith used to escalate everything to the urgency of black or white. There was no room for gray, or color, or nuance, or depth, or intelligence, or even relationship. I held no room for God to say to Moses the first time to strike the rock, and the second time to speak to the rock. I left no room for God to say to Peter, all those foods you were prohibited from eating? Well, nothing I made is unclean. Though God doesn't change, our understanding of him does, and some of the rigid rules that were in place to train us no longer serve us, and God wants us to grow.

I changed because I spent my fiftieth birthday sitting without Mike around a back yard fire pit gifted to me by our devastated children. They longed to somehow salvage my milestone birthday. I will always be grateful for that, but despite their beautiful efforts, it felt more like Job's ash heap than a celebration. We sat together heartsick and dumbstruck, while my marriage, family-as-I-knew-it, and ministry were cremated inside that gift.

I was devastated by the catastrophe of it. I could hardly sleep or eat or work or even stand up some moments. And yet sitting brave-faced with my children that chilly October night is forever burned into me like a branding that won't be undone or ignored. That experience and countless others in the last twenty-two months forged something permanent and irrevocable in me.

They changed me.

Some changes come from our own choices and some from the choices of others. And if, back then, I wrote the blog post I wouldn't write, today I write the one I never thought I'd need to.

My intention is not to expose anyone's sins, but to integrate the truth into my whole life and live without secrets or untold truths. I hope and pray my life is never a lie again, and that I never perpetrate a lie that might cause someone else to see their life as a lie. If I didn't know that God hates lies before, I certainly do now. I have come to abhor them in a way I never could have without this experience.

Many of the changes in my life are outward and speak of brokenness and failure, and are not in need of explanation. But these experiences have also changed my faith and much of that is positive and, indeed, good, so I'd like to unpack that a bit.

While these changes, both good and bad, came with great pain, the trial and tragedy are so connected with the woman I became from them, that I can't separate the good from the bad that have come as a result. And I believe that is just how "God means for good what others meant for evil," (Joseph, in Genesis).

Here are some of the changes that turned out to be "for good."

I know God better than I ever have before, and live before Him with more awe and authenticity.

I'm acquainted with lament. A life of faith on this sinful planet can't be achieved without it. 


I love myself better, which is to say I actually love myself (though not above others).

I have learned that "grieving, though not as those who have no hope" means there is actual grieving.

I found my own voice, maybe for the first time in my life, and I am not afraid to use it.

I learned to think for myself, proudly own my understanding of the world and live my life of faith accordingly, and humbly but also without apology when it doesn't meet with someone else's expectation.

I am no longer a scared little girl.

I won't hide in the shadow of another anymore.

I am not as afraid as I used to be. Fear, which kept me from fully embracing and experiencing my own life, is -- mercifully -- mostly gone now.

Mercy is another thing I know now, because it arrived as a passenger in the vehicle of the implosion of our marriage and ministry. Mercy arrives with the trial.

My children know God better because their hope has been tested and it did not break.

My relationship with my children and theirs with each other are more authentic and more tightly bound together than ever before. We give each other the grace to be a work in progress and see the beauty and fellowship there in the fluid middle.

These good things came at great price: the end of a marriage and an intact family unit that was supposed to last a lifetime.

Earthly circumstances do not thwart God's goodness. The good gifts of a father who loves his children are not compromised by sin, neither ours nor others.

Nor is any member of our family precluded from God's best for our lives. The future in store for us is not second best or a diminished Plan B. Our future in Christ is as bright as it ever was or ever will be. That's because the light of Christ is the light of Christ, and no earthly or human element or circumstance can either dim it or brighten it. 

God has kept me through this trial. He has used his Word, prayer, the passage of time, and the Body of Christ to keep me. I know this because I have not perished in my affliction (Ps. 119:92). 

Looking back, I see so many mistakes we made in ministry. We did our level best. I saw Mike try his hardest, so I don't mind speaking for him in saying this. But complex breakdown did happen in his life and that story is his to tell or keep private as he sees fit. I do, however, want to apologize for how I, as part of Mike's ministry, failed you, the people we ministered to and with. My intentions were always and only to serve God and you. I'm sorry my best was not good enough or maybe even right, but it was my best at the time.

The best we can do with the things we don't get quite right is to stop doing things the wrong way. We should grow. Change. Apologize. Give grace. Walk humbly with only forbearance and forgiveness between us. I am both asking for this and giving it. I believe that this is the love by which they will know we are His disciples (John 13:35).

I inscribed in Mike's wedding band and etched into our thirty-year marriage 1 Peter 4:8, which says, "Above all, love one another fervently. For love covers a multitude of sins."

When I first offered that verse to Mike, I believe it meant love blinds us to a multitude of sins.

When I learned my marriage was broken, I understood it to mean that love sees sin, but sidesteps it with a speedy offer of reconciliation.

For many excruciating months, I fought and prayed furiously for reconciliation, until I couldn't anymore. I gave up my blind hope and my painful efforts for a good outcome. I distanced my battered heart and I waited.

When I learned that divorce was imminent and realized that our marriage would finally fail, I was still convinced that love never fails. I had put forth valiant effort and sacrificed much and still got what I didn't want in the end. Only then did I realize that the love that covers a multitude of sin expresses itself as the kind that forgives.

If I had this understanding of 1 Peter 4:8 as a starry-eyed, naive girl of twenty, I would have chosen another verse to build my marriage on. Forgiveness is much harder than blindness. But God knew then I would need this wisdom now, so he faithfully walked me to this weighty knowledge in due time. He gives us the grace we need when we need it and not a moment before.

I want my last deed in both my marriage to Mike and the ministry I dearly loved, to be that of forgiveness. May it always cover a multitude of sin, and in its small way, both fulfill my covenant vow to Mike and relieve me of it.

May God richly bless you always. I love each of you and will cherish the many years of ministry and memories.

Always,

Dawn Crowninshield


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3 comments

  1. This breaks my heart and yet simultaneously promotes a celebration. I tell yeah, you’ve given us all a strong glimpse into your hearts healing, growing and change. Well written Ma’am, well written indeed

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  2. My friend, I wept through this entire post. I have been where you are, and in the pain discovered the authenticity of our God, who rather than bring immediate healing, Sits with us in our pain as we learn from it. You clearly have learned a lot. I’m so sorry for all you have endured. No spouse should ever have to live through what you and I, and many others, have. You will always have a friend in Todd Vick, I promise you that.

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  3. Brave. Transparent. Hope-filled even in the darkness of despair. We do, truly, not sorrow as those who have no hope. He is faithful, even when we are faithless. He cannot deny Himself. Praying for you, dear friend!

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