Ivan Good evening, my name is Ivan Illarramendi and this is my wife Martha. It is a pleasure to be with you this evening and share our story. We hope it encourages you.
I was born in El Paso, TX, I am the oldest of three boys and two girls. I grew up in a Christian home and trusted in Christ during my teenage years. I recall the enjoyment of being involved in church ministries and events growing up. I figured this would balance out all the wrong I was doing with some good works. My early life was heavily influenced by my parents, I saw the importance of working hard and being dedicated to Christ. My father taught me to put God first in everything I do, while my mom would always emphasize the importance of having faith in God. Even so, I was distant from God. My self-worth was determined by my relationships with girls and this led to inappropriate relationships as I entered adulthood. I struggled with anger, selfishness, and lust through my teenage years. When I found the courage to confess these sins to a youth leader, I was criticized and made an example of, which left me feeling alone and angry towards those around me. People that cared for me shared that Christ died for my sins and that all was forgiven. Although I would nod my head and agree with what they were saying, I felt that I needed to DO something to work my way to forgiveness and grace. I am reminded of Truth in Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Martha I was also born in El Paso and I am the oldest of three girls. I remember trusting in Christ at an early age but wasn't fully aware of what that meant. Growing up I was in a loving, playful home. I did, however, learn about the harsh realities of this world at an early age. I was molested by two family members on two separate occasions which left me sad and lonely. Because of fear I never told anyone. I never thought this would affect me, but boy was I wrong. The side effects of what had happened to me didn't really become clear until I was in Jr high and high school. I started to look for affirmation and worth in other people and in inappropriate relationships with boys in high school. Suicidal thoughts ran heavily through my mind and it was only by God’s grace and my parents staying strong in prayer for me that I never had the courage to act on it. I acquired an ability to pretend like nothing was wrong and smile as I masked the pain. While this part of my life was kept secret, I served in church and lived a double life for several years.
Ivan We met when we were teenagers. She won my heart when she knocked herself out doing a cartwheel to impress me. I felt I had it altogether, I had graduated with high accolades and was now in college. I was on my way to getting married and I had a great job. I didn't realize that during this time I was a slave to my own doctrine, and my sin. I stepped into marriage carrying a lot of baggage. It was a full-time job making people believe that I was not a broken person. My wife had no idea who I really was, and I figured she’d be better off not really knowing. I had issues with pornography, lust, and selfishness, but I refused to let my wife in on that part of my life. I used my job as a way to satisfy my ego and focused my efforts into being successful, rather than pursuing Christ and my wife. I had several friends and my wife around me, yet I sought isolation and was not actively seeking any relationship with Christ. This left me without accountability and feeling unfulfilled in everything I did. Adding kids to the mix gave me an opportunity to hide behind a new responsibility. I figured having kids, much like getting married, would change me into a better person. Looking back, I realize that my circumstances did not need to change, I needed to change. I went through the motions of being a dad, a husband, and a church goer often convincing myself that I wasn’t that bad of a person.
Proverbs 18:1 reminds us “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.”
Martha It was love at first sight! He was good looking, smart, and was involved in church. I thought, what else could a girl ask for? We got to know each other more as he tried to set me up with one of his friends. We soon began dating and our relationship escalated quickly and became physical. Without realizing, my world began to revolve around just one boy, and he became my salvation instead of God. As time passed things just kept getting more and more out of hand. I decided to leave home as soon as I finished high school to be with Ivan and thought I could handle anything that came my way. After spending almost, a whole year away from home, Ivan and I decided that we should try to go back to doing things right. I moved back home, and we were married Sept 23, 2007. (we celebrate 11 years this Sept!)
I started our marriage fully committed and in love with what I thought was a heaven-sent situation! The man I had fallen in love with since I was 15 was actually my husband and as far as I could see he was the perfect image of a man! I walked in believing that this new chapter of my life was going to be the salvation and the answer I was looking for. I told myself I was a great person. I loved my husband. I loved to go to church and that I was completely normal but who was I kidding? Inside I was dying little by little walking away from the Lord one day at a time. While Ivan kept to himself, my wanting his full attention, my self-esteem, my jealousy, my depression and discipline issues followed me and became my identity. Exodus 20:3 says “You shall have no other gods before Me” and that is the opposite of what I had done, I had made Ivan, my issues and soon my kids my gods and idols. I would run to them when I felt lost instead of running to the one, I know now to be my true Savior. With time I got to see what an incorrect view I had about my husband and myself. I started to notice that Ivan looked for other women's attention so much so that it would happen in front of me, but to avoid a fight I would look the other way or just tell myself it was my jealousy taking over. This behavior gave fuel to the flame of my jealousy. It was like feeding the green monster until it became Hulk. Our marriage became more and more tense and our fights about women and my passivity became like a mini civil war.
Ivan My job relocated our family to Dallas. My relationship with Martha only got worse as we grew further apart. Her focus became our kids and my focus remained on me. I was a man after my own heart, seeking opportunities to feed my own inclinations. My wife and I had ongoing discussions about my desire to gain attention from other women, and even though she was right, I always denied these accusations and fought to maintain a clean reputation with her. Things continued to get worse as I continued emotional affairs at work. My actions would drown the voice of conviction in my life and I would end up going to bed feeling ashamed and defeated. As a husband, I wasn’t connected to my wife and felt that at some point the truth would come to light and our marriage would not survive it. Martha insisted that we find a church that we could attend regularly. We found Watermark and began coming to church every Sunday. As I listened to the messages each week, an internal struggle began. I needed to get help but how or from whom? Proverbs 27:17 reminds us “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
Martha We kept attending church for appearances, but there was no true relationship with the Lord. We were living a life pretending everything was fine when in reality we were both falling apart. The two-faced life was exhausting for me. All I could think of was how can I get out of this? Divorce, suicide, and even just picking up and disappearing passed through my mind but the Lord was gracious in showing us a glimpse of hope. The Lord blessed us with two little ones and one on the way as we were being relocated to Dallas. Our marriage was still falling apart, and my lack of motivation and low self-esteem had become more and more apparent to everyone. I started believing my own lies, that everything was ok, that all we needed was help with our communication. We found Watermark through a friend and within 9 months of attending I heard about re|engage. We decided to start a new journey and I was excited to move towards God once again. I walked through the doors on Wednesday night looking forward to what God had in store for us.
Ivan As I continued to let my guard down, I began an inappropriate relationship with a woman at work. The relationship quickly escalated which led to an affair with this person. I couldn’t believe who I had become, how far I had drifted from Christ, and how I no longer had an ounce of conviction to do what was right. I asked God for forgiveness and to give me an opportunity to redeem myself and experience His grace. I prayed that He would protect my wife’s heart during these times because the worst was about to come. My prayers were answered rather quickly, as Martha pointed out the re|engage program at Watermark. Jeremiah 29:12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. I thanked God for providing the perfect platform to be open and honest with her. During the first few weeks in our re|engage closed group, I told her everything about me, including the affair. I confessed who I really was and my aspiration to be forgiven. I remember thinking during these times, “It’s going to be world war III. re|engage is about to turn into Re|Enrage!”. However, this didn’t happen. I always knew the truth would come out, but I never imagined it would be met with grace.
Martha We started closed group and everything was looking bright until week 4. As you can imagine my feeling of a new start was short lived when Ivan confessed everything, about the affair with this woman from work, about the addiction he had had to pornography, him actually admitting to me about the multiple emotional affairs he had had throughout our marriage and much more. It came as a shock to me. I knew he flirted with women and he liked being the center of attention, but I didn't expect this. All I knew in that moment is all my insecurities were magnified and the pedestal I had him on was falling hard. I felt alone, very unsure of the future and honestly stupid for not knowing what was going on but God’s grace was with me. I felt an uncontrollable peace come over me that I had not felt before. I knew God was in the midst of this, even if it was painful and chaotic. His love for me and my marriage was being shaped in a way that only He could do. As we came through re|engage I was reminded of who my true Savior is. I learned that for there to be a true change I needed to draw a circle around myself and change the person inside the circle. Having a wonderful group of women around to remind me of biblical truth was more than I could have ever asked for. They told me the Lord would get me through this, and that His love for me was so great that no matter what had happened He was going to see us through it. Lamentations 3: 22-23 says: “Because of the Lords great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Waking up every day remembering that it’s because of His faithfulness that we have a fresh new start is what got me through.
Isaiah 40:31 says “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.” The woman I had once been that had to pretend like everything was ok and that was tired of living two different lives was gone. I am now relying on the Lord to be my strength, that no matter what comes my way I am not alone, He is with me. I learned what it is to have a true relationship with the Lord.
Ivan Martha was beyond understanding and although she was extremely hurt, she forgave me and allowed me an opportunity to love her the way God intended. 1 Timothy 2:7 “For God did not give us the spirit of fear, but that of power and love”. I no longer cowered behind my sin but now had the strength to confess, repent and accept His grace. Our community played a big role in helping us get through this, and for the first time we saw hope in moving forward. Our marriage continues to have its struggles. Martha and I have normal fights and fail to communicate from time to time. But we are more self-aware of this and make efforts to do better. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders as I have a group of men that keep me accountable. I don’t fear telling my wife about the struggles I’m experiencing and her the same. 1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God has taken my story and has flipped the script from shame to redemption, my hopes are that we continue to seek God and allow him to use us as instruments as we live in grace.
Martha I never expected to be up here sharing my deepest secrets with everyone and being fully known, as a broken person, but if given the opportunity I will continue to do it because of what 2 Corinthians 12: 9 says “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” God will be glorified through my mistakes. My husband has changed radically as an honest and fully open person towards me, lovable and fully attentive. My love for my husband is like no other, I thought I loved him before but now I am utterly in love and God has given me a new way to look at him.
If we can leave you with something tonight, it is don't worry how bad your past looks, know that there is a God that loves you and when we leave everything up to Him there is nothing He can’t change. With the Lords help through re|engage, our marriage was saved. The lessons that we find within this book work but only if you are honest with yourself, with your spouse and when you let the Lord work in you. It is thanks to the Lord that this picture of all of us together is possible and we will forever be grateful.
Thank you for letting us share.