Michael Hi, My name is Michael Parisi and this is my bride Melinda. We met and dated in college beginning in 1995 and (wedding photo) we were married in 2002. It is by God’s grace that we humbly stand before you today, having celebrated our 20th anniversary in August. God moved us from Colorado to Dallas two years ago after quite a journey with Him there! As we share with you tonight, we pray that God’s amazing grace and faithfulness take the spotlight and that we all walk out of here more in awe of His power to rescue, redeem, and beautify our marriages because of His great love for us.
In 2012, events unfolded that would change our family’s direction for all eternity. Our daughters (photo of young girls) were ages 3 and 6, we had just celebrated our tenth anniversary, and to everyone around us we appeared to have the perfect marriage. Looks can be deceiving though. Years and years of unspoken expectations, frustrations, disappointments, resentment, contempt, hurt, and anger erupted like a volcano sending us into a turbulent storm.
At that time, Melinda was completely invested in motherhood, while I was completely invested in being the financial provider for our family. I did not take this role lightly because I had made a promise to myself after hearing my parents fight a lot about finances late in high school. “My plan” was to make enough money to give my wife all that she could ever want so that we would NEVER have arguments about money. That said, my focus during the first 10 years of marriage with Melinda was about getting where I wanted us to be financially. It wasn’t about trying to create an intimate connection with Melinda, or leading Melinda spiritually, or loving Melinda in the selfless ways God wants us to love our spouse.
To paraphrase, Matthew 6:19-24 says “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...You cannot serve both God and money.” These verses remind me of just how far away from God my heart was prior to 2013. Admittedly, I was serving money, and wasn’t even close to serving God.
You could say that Melinda and I were great partners, however, we lacked real intimacy in our relationship because neither of us was bold enough to initiate conversation about the thoughts and needs of our hearts. We just kept chugging along, each coping the only ways we knew how (alcohol, busyness, immersing ourselves in our kids, chasing the dollar), all the while, thinking the other was satisfied and content. I was living life under the impression that we had a great marriage, but I was clueless to the fact that our inability to share struggles with one another was leading us down a dangerous path.
Melinda I felt overwhelmed as a stay at home mom, with little control over our daughters’ behaviors. I had grown up as a perfectionistic, competitive athlete with a track record of success in sports and academics. I thrived off recognition and affirmation from others. In my role at home, I was not affirmed or praised for my long hours or dedication to this demanding job. I felt inferior to other moms which caused me to isolate myself. I felt alone and dissatisfied with my circumstances, but I couldn’t bring myself to openly share my struggles with anyone else. In my mind, struggles were weaknesses and my pride refused to advertise such imperfection. At that time, I was unaware of the Scriptural perspective of weaknesses. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 the Lord tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul responds to this truth by saying, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” As I had learned to do early in life, I stuffed my feelings and I numbed the unhappiness and dissatisfaction by striving for the perfect body and chasing success through triathlons, a marathon, and half marathons...all things that I believed would validate my worth in others’ eyes. I reached a point where I saw Michael as an obstacle to my happiness. In my self-absorbed state and with a hardened heart, a seemingly innocent intrigue of a fellow gym-goer turned into infatuation, and ultimately into a full-blown affair. I contemplated how to inform Michael that I was in love with another man, and that I wanted out of our marriage. I felt fulfilled and satisfied, like I had found my soulmate and the intimacy I thought was only possible in movies. I was ready to sacrifice everything that I once cherished just to be with this other person.
Michael In December of 2012, I received an unexpected phone call that informed me of Melinda’s infidelity. At that moment, I had no idea what the future held for us, but I vividly remember just a few hours later, hugging Melinda, telling her that I was choosing to forgive her, and explaining that I would never leave her – regardless of the choices she had made.
Fast forward six grueling months of trying to reconcile our marriage in worldly ways – with no success at all – to where Melinda pushed for separation in June of 2013. Around that same time, in response to her choice to separate, I filed for divorce because I knew that, with the separation, Melinda was returning to the affair.
In stepped God. A couple weeks later, one of my best friends from high school (a Watermark member) reached out to ask why I missed our 20th high school reunion. I explained our situation to him and his response was loving and non-judgmental. That night, he entered into my pain. He came alongside me and began leading me to God’s Word and to a personal relationship with Jesus.
I will never forget, the morning after I shared my story with him, he shared Jeremiah 29:11-13 with me – these verses have become what I consider my life verses:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
That scripture gave me a restored hope. Days later, I terminated the divorce proceedings, and decided to never stop fighting for my marriage. From that point on, I began seeking God with all of my heart, and I surrendered my life to the Lord. God was changing me from the inside out. He opened my eyes to my own form of infidelity in our marriage through my prioritized focus on money and career instead of building a Christ-centered marriage with Melinda. Recognizing and confessing my own contributions to the downfall of our marriage, I would start each day by asking God to help me forgive Melinda for the choices she was making. This daily practice allowed God to fill me with His strength to endure and His strength to continue loving Melinda during the separation.
Desperate to find encouragement through stories of restored marriages, I stumbled across a re|engage story online. I listened to the story of a marriage that overcame similar issues to what we had been dealing with, and this generated additional hope within me. If God could restore that marriage, why couldn’t He restore ours?
Then, in October of 2013, since Melinda was still “not ready” to divorce, but had no interest in coming home, I asked her to attend an Affair Recovery weekend. Surprisingly, she agreed to attend.
Melinda Even though I entered the Recovery weekend convinced that nothing could change my mind about the relationship with my affair partner, my eyes were opened to a brokenness within me that needed healing. I agreed to join a 17 week course that was comprised of 6 other unfaithful women and a mentor. I did not have a relationship with Jesus going into this group. To my surprise the course curriculum had its foundation in the fact that Jesus is sufficient; He validates, He loves unconditionally. This group was a safe place to share my struggles without fear of judgment. I asked questions and I explored God’s truth beyond the assignments. I began listening to Watermark’s online sermons because of the influence of Michael’s friend who was shepherding him. We even made it to a Watermark service in February 2014 when we came into town to meet our newborn nephew…mind you, we were still separated and in the middle of our mess. During that visit, Michael was gripped by a conviction that we needed to move to Texas to be a part of Watermark, but I gently reminded him that was not going to happen given our circumstances. Sensitive to Michael’s desire to be involved in the church, I suggested we visit the “really big church” in our community in hopes that it might have some similarities to Watermark. We attended Cherry Hills Community Church the following Sunday and returned weekly, even plugging in to family-focused community. God’s Words penetrated my hard heart every week; God’s people came alongside us through Community; and God’s Spirit awakened within me through Worship and Christian music. I was growing closer to God, but I was still entrenched in the affair.
Michael In April of 2014, I was baptized. I was a new man with new priorities. I was committed to live my life for God, to abide in Him, and, therefore, to continue loving my wife the way Christ loves his church even though Melinda was actively involved in an affair.
In August of 2014, our marriage again seemed to have reached an end when Melinda decided it was time for her to finally file for divorce. This resulted in us spending the better part of that month going through several mediation sessions. I wanted no part of this divorce, but found myself in the process of splitting up assets, putting together holiday schedules to share the kids, etc. Our final mediation session ended on September 4, 2014, and our divorce was slated to be official about 60 days later.
Melinda In the latter part of our separation, I occasionally day-dreamed about what a God-honoring marriage with Michael might be like, but fear and lies crushed those dreams. My new found desire to seek Jesus brought on overwhelming regret for where I found myself with each passing mediation session. I heard from God after our final mediation session. He said to me, “Is THIS the purpose for which I created you, Melinda? To abandon your children and your marriage? To seek your selfish, fleshly desires? I have greater plans for you.” I knew that I no longer wanted to feed my flesh, but I feared my inability to end the affair. In a moment, I decided to trust God for the strength I would need to surrender this fleshly desire once and for all. I held on to the hope in Matthew 19:26: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Michael When I made it into work that next morning, I had an email waiting from Melinda telling me that she was ready to put an end to all the madness. Some of her exact words from that email were: “I know it will take everything in us, with all of God’s grace and help, but I want to do it. I want to piece our family back together.” The very next day, after a 15-month separation, Melinda moved back home, and these past 8 years have been nothing short of miraculous...ALL GLORY TO GOD!
Melinda When I called out to God, “Lord I Need You!”, He responded powerfully. I look back on my transition back home and see so clearly that God split the seas so I could walk right through them. Michael’s sacrificial and unconditional love for me during our separation was not only a tangible portrait of Jesus’ love for me here on earth, but it has also allowed our daughters to witness true forgiveness and reconciliation.
I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior just one month after moving home, EXACTLY 8 YRS AGO TODAY - and was also baptized. All the striving for perfection through my life had finally been achieved through an act of faith – accepting God’s free gift of grace through Christ Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
1 Peter 2:24 states, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
My weaknesses are PRIDE, PERFECTIONISM, CONTROL, and THE DESIRE TO BE VALIDATED BY OTHERS. I am not good enough, but Jesus is! I can walk in the light without shame or guilt from my past because I’ve been washed clean by the blood of Christ. My identity is in Jesus. It is in Him that I find freedom from my brokenness. I know that I can cope with anything that comes my way because I have Jesus!
Without intentionality I am prone to sin, so I cling to God’s Word daily, seeking wisdom in His Word. I carefully choose the things I allow to have an influence over me. As Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Michael We remember how alone we felt during our most challenging times. It felt like we were on an island where no one could relate to our struggles, and that was a really tough time. I would have given anything for a place to work through struggles within a safe community, but, unfortunately, re|engage was not an available resource in Colorado then. God did a mighty work in our hearts and planted a passion for helping others who might be afflicted with infidelity in their marriages. Would you believe that God called the two of us to launch re|engage at our church in Denver?
Melinda and I each had to surrender our lives to Christ to experience freedom from the chains that bound us individually, before our marriage could have a chance to thrive as God designed. We selfishly used to put money, alcohol, parenting, and hobbies in place of God and our marriage.
re|engage has helped each of us to live with God as the first and most important priority. Investing in, being intentional, and pursuing oneness within our marriage is the second priority. Parenting our two beautiful daughters that God has entrusted to us in this life falls next in line. The Lord has changed (Family Photo) our family’s eternity through our storm, and we praise Him for His redemptive work in our lives.
Melinda We served the Lord faithfully through re|engage for 5 years in Colorado, even helping other churches in the area launch re|engage because word had spread in the community about the power of transformation within the ministry. At the beginning of 2020, however, Michael and I both heard a new call on our lives…a call to abandon Michael’s lucrative career in oil and gas to follow God where He would lead us. In God’s goodness, He led us straight to Watermark through an invitation that Michael received to participate as a Fellow in the Institute program that August. We left Colorado in June of 2020, preparing our hearts to patiently trust God for His revelation of the next chapter in our journey. Though we left Colorado thinking full-time marriage ministry was the sure bet, we were surprised when puzzle pieces fit together such that Michael was offered the Director of Finance & HR position here at Watermark. Michael humbly accepted and joined staff in January 2021. We NEVER could’ve scripted this part of the journey…or any of it for that matter! Do you remember that conviction Michael felt back in February 2014? Isaiah 55:8-9 rings true yet again:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The Lord continues to reveal new mercies and blessings each and every day as we walk in obedience with Him at the center of our marriage. He has surpassed any dream, hope, or expectation that we ever could have had for our marriage and our lives.
Michael AND THE AMAZING THING IS I am absolutely confident that He can do the same thing in your marriage too. We do not have a perfect marriage. Just because we have completed the 16 lesson re|engage curriculum, just because we serve in the ministry, just because we’ve been made new– doesn’t mean we’re immune to difficulties, struggles, and disappointments. Rather, it’s become a matter of choosing to “struggle in the right direction.” Intentionality is critical for us; otherwise, we easily begin to drift apart. That’s especially true when we forget to put God at the center of our marriage, or when we put our kids, work, ministry, or community at a higher level of priority than one another.
We pray that in sharing our story with you tonight, you will be filled with awe and hope because God is bigger than any mess we can make in our marriages. We know the intensity of pain from disappointments in your relationship can feel unbearable. Refuse to buy into the lie that you can escape your pain through divorce. Healing the marriage will take less time than dealing with the lifelong fall out from divorce. Keep coming back each Wednesday night to be reminded that marriage is worth fighting for, and that you’re not alone in the battle. God is with you, He is for each of you, and He longs for you to choose Him and His ways. Rise up and run to Him. A thriving marriage is possible when you surrender it all into His mighty hands.