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Disgraced evangelist’s wife on why she stayed

In “Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour,” Gayle Haggard explains why she chose to stay with her husband, former pastor Ted Haggard, after the eruption of a 2006 scandal linking him with drug use and a male prostitute. An excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

In “Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour,” Gayle Haggard explains why she chose to stay with her husband, former pastor Ted Haggard, after the eruption of a 2006 scandal linking him with drug use and a male prostitute. An excerpt:

Scandal erupts
On Thursday morning, we turned on the radio and listened to the show on which the accuser, a masseur in Denver, stated that he and Ted had been involved in a three-year homo­sexual affair and that Ted had obtained drugs from him. Even though I had braced for a blow, I was still shocked to hear the man say my husband’s name. I was so convinced of Ted’s innocence that I actually laughed as I listened to the allegations of drug use.

“There you have it,” I said, relaxing when the show was over. “Anyone who knows you has to realize the absurdity of this man’s accusations.” Anyone who knew Ted knew he didn’t drink alcohol or smoke anything.

I knew the man had to be lying. A three-year affair with a homosexual escort? Out of the question.

I believed Ted had been honest with me, and our physical relationship certainly didn’t indicate that homosexuality was even a possibility. Our sexual relationship had always been strong and satisfying, and I didn’t believe for one instant that Ted had been regularly visiting a gay escort.

As far as the charge of illegal drug use was concerned, I knew Ted had never had anything to do with marijuana or any other kind of illegal drug, even in high school or college. In my mind, that charge was even more ludicrous than the idea that Ted had visited a gay escort.

The phone rang. My good friend Julia was on the line, and she was laughing. “Can you believe it? I can’t believe he expects anyone to take him seriously.”

“I know,” I answered. “I laughed too when I heard it.”

“I can’t believe anybody would go so far as to accuse Ted of those kinds of offenses. Ted, of all people!”

From laughter to tearsWhen I hung up, Ted suggested that I get ready to go with him to see our church’s attorney a second time. Though the charges were clearly false, I assumed we needed to further discuss how to protect ourselves and the church from the fallout of the accusations. While I got dressed, Ted went outside to call the attorney.

We drove to the lawyer’s office mostly in silence, realizing the gravity of the situation. My earlier laughter had turned to anger toward the man who was taking advantage of Ted’s position to try to damage my husband, my family, our church, and Christians everywhere. How dare he! Though angry, I expected the trouble to fade quickly because the man had to be lying. Everyone who knew Ted would come rushing to his defense.

When we arrived at the law firm, I stopped in the restroom while Ted proceeded to the lawyer’s private office. When I returned, the lawyer met me in the hallway. He looked at me gravely and said, “Go on into my office; Ted has something he wants to tell you.”

My heart skipped a beat when I heard the serious tone in his voice. When the door closed behind me, I felt the life begin to drain from my body.

I sat down across from Ted at the attorney’s conference table, and as I looked at him, I saw that his expression had changed. This was not the confident man who had entered the building with me only a few moments before. This man’s face had contorted with anguish.

I sat stunned in my chair as Ted looked at me with the saddest eyes I have ever seen on his face.

“It’s true, Gayle — not all of it, but part of it, enough of it. The man exaggerated things, but some of it is true.”

Tears rolled down his cheeks while life continued to seep out of my body. I felt myself trembling, tears flooded my eyes, and my throat tightened until I could barely get words out.

“Who are you?” I sobbed from the depths of my soul. “Didn’t I tell you not to let me be surprised? You lied to me! How could you?”

Ted sat silently.

“What about our children? What about the church? Who are you, and how could you have done this?”

Ted looked at me through red, swollen eyes. “I am sorry. I am so sorry, Gayle. I never wanted to hurt you. I love you. I thought I could fix this before you ever found out. I never wanted you to know. I was afraid you wouldn’t love me if you knew. I didn’t want to break your heart. I didn’t want to lose you.”

The shock hits
Tears poured down my face, and I tried vainly to stifle my sobs. My mind spun in bewilderment. I knew the implications. I understood the potential loss. My heart was breaking beneath the weight of my husband’s confession. I could hardly breathe.

A knock interrupted the heavy silence. The lawyer opened the door and tilted his head toward the hallway. “The other men are waiting.”

I swallowed hard as we stood, and Ted clasped my hand. I didn’t resist. I didn’t feel much of anything as we left the office and stumbled toward a conference room down the hall. I might have been walking with a stranger ... but I wasn’t. The hand in mine felt familiar; I knew it as well as I knew my own.

I knew who we’d find waiting for us in the conference room: four of our closest friends at the church, senior associates with whom we’d shared years of joy and service. Ordinarily, I’d have been smiling when I greeted them, but in that hour I needed their strength, their comfort and support.

We stepped into a room so filled with tension that moving through it took real effort. The men glanced at Ted; then they looked at me, and I knew the tears on my face told them all they needed to know. After Ted and I were seated at the table across from them, Ted looked at his dear friends and associates and confessed, confirming what he’d told me in the other room.

Their responses varied as the shock hit them. One man wept while another, fighting back tears, tried to comfort him. One apolo­gized to Ted for not having been a good enough friend. Another’s face clouded in anger.

I watched without speaking, mentally recording each man’s reaction even as my own emotions roiled in shock.

I didn’t realize it at the moment, but in that conference room I witnessed a microcosm of the various reactions we would face as news of Ted’s guilt broke. Our friends would be devastated. Church members would be hurt and confused. Some would blame themselves for not having been the friends they should have been. Others would become angry. Many would be ashamed.

Ted and I wept as the flood of our impending loss threatened to drown us.

Then Ted asked one of the men in the room to call a group of local media and city officials to ask them to cancel a public meeting they had arranged for that afternoon. They had planned to gather on the courthouse steps and proclaim their support for Ted.

Finally, he asked about the group of overseers he had named for the purpose of disciplining or firing him if his actions ever warranted it. They had been called the night before, but Ted wanted to be sure they were on their way to Colorado Springs. Three lived within driving distance, but one had to catch a flight. We learned they were all scheduled to arrive at the attorney’s office later that afternoon.

Facing it as a family
Ted and I both knew that our next step had to be telling our children.

Somehow, I got up from the chair and managed to tell our friends good-bye. Somehow, we walked out of the building and into the covered parking garage where our car waited. Somehow, we called our children and arranged to meet them at the house.

Christy, Marcus, and Alex got off work or left school and met us at home. Elliott was already there because he was homeschooling at the time. Sarah, Marcus’s wife, couldn’t get there until later. Jonathan was at school in Kentucky — which was a relief, because the emotions of that day would have only confused and upset him.

Our children were used to hearing their father’s name in the news, but for this rumor to be true — I knew they’d be shocked to the core. We drove home, and Ted and I were both red-eyed and crying when we walked into the kitchen. Our kids looked at us, wide-eyed, and Marcus asked, “So ... what’s going on here?”

We gathered in the living room. Ted sat in his recliner by the fireplace. Too emotional to sit, I stood nearby as Ted apologized to our children. He confessed to using drugs, and he confessed to having had contact with the escort in Denver. He apologized for his sin, and he apologized for the shame his sin was going to heap on them.

I looked around the circle as my heart went out to my children. Next to Ted, they were the most precious people in the world to me. I didn’t want them to have to go through this. I didn’t want them to endure the embarrassment and the shame. I didn’t want them to suffer ridicule from their peers. They didn’t deserve it. For years they had done nothing but love us and put up with having to share their dad with so many others.

Marcus and Christy wore expressions of shock. Alex, our internal processor, looked pained and thoughtful. Thirteen-year-old Elliott’s face had darkened in anger and disbelief. I could tell he was quickly assessing the damage.

After a few moments of stunned silence, their response was ... remarkable.

Christy and Marcus, our two older children, admitted that in one way the news made them feel better about themselves. “We’ve always seen you and Mom as being perfect,” Christy explained, looking from Ted to me. “I thought something was wrong with me because I’m not. To know that you have struggles too — that’s a relief.”

The Haggards have always been good at comic relief, and though her point was well-taken, Christy must have sensed that this would be a good time to make us all laugh.

After absorbing the news, the kids looked to me for direction.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” I told them, my voice trembling. “I know we’ll have to work some things out, and it won’t be easy. But Dad and I love each other, and we love you all. We will get through this.”

In those critical moments, I felt my family pull together in a solid show of support. I felt agreement from each of our kids, and it cheered my heart. We were in this as a team; we would face this crisis as a family.

Excerpted from “Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour” by Gayle Haggard. Copyright © 2009 by Tyndale House Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved.