Ahhhh, Winter

If you don’t know me or can’t tell from the name of my blog or the title of my post, I love winter. I mean, I seriously love winter. I always have, and I’m pretty sure I always will. As a youngster, I didn’t notice that the majority of people around me were winter haters. I was naive enough to think that everyone else thought like me. I had no reason to believe otherwise. My neighborhood friends and I would make the most of the large amount of snow that fell in Western New York every winter. In those days, kids played outside regardless of weather. On a side note, it seems in these days and times, kids don’t even play outside in the summer.

But that’s another subject.

As I was saying, I am a winter lover. The lower the mercury drops in the thermometer, the happier I am. For example, this morning, where I live, the temperature when I woke up at 8:00 was -15 degrees. The windchill was -31 degrees. I put shoes on and grabbed the food for the birds and squirrels that were waiting for their morning meal. Stepping outside, I was greeted by the arctic cold as it hit my face. I breathed in deeply and smiled…nothing is invigorating as a sub-zero day. Perusing Facebook as I sat down with my own morning meal, I was greeted by post after post of complaints about the weather…

“So tired of this snow and cold.”

“Is it almost summer? Are we even going to have a summer?”

“Looking forward to summer!”

You get the idea.

I get it…I understand now that the majority of people in this world prefer summer over winter. “Why would anyone love winter?” they ask. “The summer means we can be outside enjoying sunshine and family and picnics and beaches and…” They go on and on singing the praises of summer. For this winter lover, it can get almost nauseating. Here is why…

The winter has a beauty all its own. The sun shines brighter in the winter, especially as it glistens off a newly fallen snow. A new snow is pure white–no blemishes. The Psalmist asked God to wash him so he would be whiter than snow—he knew there are few things that can describe purity and cleanliness as well as a fresh blanket of pure white snow. Even the nighttime is brighter when a new fallen snow lays on the ground. Nothing beats the feeling of walking into a warm home from the cold outside. It feels so…cozy. It just isn’t the same walking into a cool house from a warm outside.

Winter is a time of rest. I previously wrote about the importance of the land resting underneath the cover of snow in winter. I won’t repeat the points from that entry, but I encourage you to scroll down a few entries and read it. Beyond the importance of rest for the land, though, is also the rest for the human soul that winter can provide. A farmer works long hours in his field during spring, summer and fall. There is plowing, planting, watering, monitoring and harvesting to be done in those months. There is also concern as storm clouds build on the horizon and the farmer worries if a hailstorm might come and attack his crop. In the winter, though, the farmer is able to rest and plan for the busy time that will come when the spring awakens the ground. It isn’t just the farmer, though, that benefits from the rest that winter brings. Winter allows any of us, if we are willing, to recharge our souls. The cold and wind chill that comes with winter and forces us to stay indoors more often also gives us time to spend on hobbies—reading books that feed the soul, knitting afghans that may be given away to elderly nursing home residents, playing on the floor with children or grandchildren, enjoying hot chocolate by the fireplace (or just on the couch with your spouse if you aren’t fortunate enough to have a fireplace), journaling, drawing, painting, baking…the list could go on. The cold winter months allow for comfort foods from the kitchen as family gathers around the dinner table, no one rushing to leave for soccer or some other outdoor activity. Weekend afternoons can be spent napping, snuggled under a warm blanket as the winds howl outside. Of course, I can’t forget to mention that it is in the colder months that families come together to celebrate the two top holidays in our country—Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Winter, like spring, summer, and fall, was created by God and is, therefore, beautiful. I cannot say that I love summer, but I can say that there are aspects of summer that are beautiful to me. I love the apple blossoms on the trees as they hold promise for delicious fruit. I love the sound of katydids in the trees on a summer afternoon. I love a good thunderstorm and the smell of rain. A field of fresh strawberries brings excitement to my soul.

Each season has elements of beauty in it. Too many people, though, do not take the time to stop and see the beauty in the snow covered terrain of winter. I challenge you today, if you are reading this and the view outside your window is white instead of green, to stop and thank God for the rest that winter time can bring. Thank Him for the refreshment found in the cold air as it hits your face and wakes you up. Thank Him for the time to spend indoors with those you love, whether that be human or animal. Thank Him for fireplaces and hot chocolate and movie nights and fleece blankets. But most of all, thank Him that he did not make our world all one color or all one temperature, but instead, chose to bless us with changing seasons.

I know I will always be in the minority as a lover of cold and snow and ice.

I’m okay with that.

You can call me crazy or insane. I will probably feel the same way about you come July when the heat index is over one hundred degrees and I am feeling like satan has taken over my part of the world. It is then that I will light my pine tree scented candle and allow my mind to drift to the winter months that will surely come around once again.

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Some Days

Have you ever wished you had been created without emotion? For me, the answer to that question is a resounding, “YES!” Couple a chronic illness that results in extreme fatigue with an ongoing battle against depression, and you have the recipe for misery. It seems the better part of the last few years have been spent suspended in this cloud of fogginess formed by depression, stress, disease, change, and fear. That’s a pretty heavy cloud. There is a commercial on television, advertising an anti-depressant, that focuses on the daily activities of a cartoonized woman. She struggles to get out of bed, get dressed, walk her dog, make breakfast–all the things that many people get up and do every day without a second thought. Her actions are being narrated by a voice that suggests that depression is keeping her from enjoying the life she is meant to have, and even portrays her depression as a small, dark cloud that is always hanging above her head. When she moves, the cloud moves as well. There have been many days that I have felt like there was a cloud hovering over me. It blocked any light, and therefore any hope, and fed my mind with thoughts like, “Why am I even alive?” and “No one would care if I were gone.” If you have ever found those questions ruminating through your mind then you understand exactly what I am talking about. If you haven’t had those thoughts take up residence and become your “best friend”…well, I can only say I envy you.

What if we had been created as beings incapable of feeling emotion? What would that look like in every day life? When I honestly answer that question, I have to admit that I don’t think I would enjoy life like that. Don’t misunderstand–I hate depression. It has stolen countless hours from me. It has caused me to doubt and mistrust not only those closest to me, but also God. I have wished more often than I can measure that I didn’t have to deal with depression. And, as if depression isn’t enough, throw in a chronic illness that easily lends itself to depression, and I often feel like I am being hit from all sides with the hopelessness and despair that comes with the dark clouded best friend. Yet, how boring would life be if we had no emotion? The excitement of children on Christmas Eve would be gone–replaced by stone faced humans just muddling through daily tasks. The joys of a new baby, the thrill of the first snowfall of the season, the satisfaction of a job well done–none of these would be experienced if we had no emotions. Of course, that would also imply that the loss of a loved one or a beloved pet would not result in sadness. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? No, I don’t think it would be. If a heart never knows sadness, how can joy be measured? The inverse of that is true as well–without joy, a heart wouldn’t know what true loss really is–and there are many times it is very appropriate to really feel a sense of loss. Knowing all this, though, doesn’t make living in a state of depression any easier.

The reality is we were created with emotions. The falsehood is that we have to be controlled by those emotions. This is a lesson not easily mastered. It’s much easier to be the marionette on the end of the strings of emotions. If our emotions are up, so are we; if our emotions are down, we are down as well. If, like me, you’ve become accustomed to living like that, you know how exhausting every day can be. On any given day, my emotional meter can swing from high to low and every point in between. On most days, it hits every point more than once. I liken it to many amusement park rides. The thrill of a ride is often found in its speed and unpredictability. A roller coaster, for example, makes a slow climb up a hill and then quickly drops, sending its riders into various twists, turns, loops, dips, and tunnels. Riders find that as soon as breath is caught from the initial drop, there is something else that takes the breath away. Life is like that, too. Joy can turn to heartbreak with a phone call or a pink slip. I remember several years ago when my husband was working for a large accounting firm. Those above him said they saw great potential for him in the company. They were grooming him for promotion–they had stopped just short of guaranteeing it. Imagine his shock when he went to work one day and was told he was being laid off. A promising career suddenly halted. Unpredictability is about the only predictable thing in our day to day lives on this earth.

Up and down.

Up and down.

Like a second hand on a clock that is always moving either up or down, so too will we if our emotions are allowed to be the boss of our attitude.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

While God created us with the capacity to feel, to hurt, to laugh, and to cry (among other things), he never intended that these feelings be our master. In his book titled Emotions, Dr. Charles Stanley said, “Our emotions often stand in direct opposition to our faith in the Lord and what He is achieving for us.” In other words, our hearts only have room for one head honcho. Just as a car has one steering wheel because it would be impossible for two people to be steering a vehicle at the same time, so too our hearts have room for only one to be in charge. The throne of our hearts cannot be occupied by fear and peace at the same time. They will constantly be battling for supreme reign. The ride will be a bumpy one if we let our emotions rule our days. I speak from years of experience. The six million dollar question, though, is how do we stop our emotions from mastering us and move toward us mastering our emotions?

It is at this part of the writing that I so desire to type something profoundly wise. I desire to lay out a formula or a special trick to mastering the emotions of humanity. Alas, though, I have no such trick nor do I know of any such formula. What I do know is that much of our battle with emotions begins in the mind. Aimlessly allowing thoughts to wander, at least for me, is often the catalyst to downward spiraling emotions. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote that we are to put off the old self and be renewed in the spirit of our minds. The same concept is found in Romans 12–be transformed by the renewing of your mind. This is a process, not an overnight transformation. The process is written in verb form. Verbs, by definition, show action or a state of being. The process of renewing the mind–mastering our emotions–is an active process. We have to be mindfully aware that we need to be acting on something, not just once or twice, but over and over again. Since God is our Creator, only He is capable of renewing our mind. Our part in the process is allowing Him to do so by being in His Word every day.Every. Day. Sometimes, maybe, several times throughout a day. It is only by submitting to the will of the Creator that we will eventually gain victory over our emotions.

Feelings–emotions–are a gift from God, given to allow us to experience all that is around us on earth. They are a blessing but they should not have ultimate power over us. Depression is a formidable foe, at least in my life. I know God is bigger than depression, and I know He is more powerful than it as well.

Some days, though, that is hard to see through the cloud that surrounds me.

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Underneath it All

This morning I was scheduled to be in the city near where our church meets. For me, that is about a thirty minute drive. As I opened the curtains upon getting out of bed, I saw a few snow flurries fluttering here and there outside our window. As I started into my morning routine, the dog let me know that she needed to go outside. I hooked the leash, which was inside the hallway under the door that leads to the garage, to her collar and opened the door. I reached around to press the button that would raise the garage door. She stumbled down the stairs (she has been having increasing difficulties with her back legs) and went out to the patio. I decided it would be a good time to feed the outdoor critters as well. I slipped on some shoes that were in the hallway, grabbed the container of bird food, squirrel food, and an ear of corn for the squirrel feeder and headed outside. The snow had started to fall more heavily as I walked from station to station to feed the various outdoor creatures that I have grown to love taking care of. I have always been an animal lover and have always been sensitive to their care. The Bible says that God sees and takes care of the every sparrow; I like to think I am being one of God’s helpers as I provide food for them, especially in the cold months when the ground is frozen and food is hard to find. I checked the road conditions online to make sure my drive would be manageable–ever since my car accident, I have had difficulties driving when there is snow on the roads. Conditions were still good so I prepared to leave.

There are several ways that I can get to where I was scheduled to be. As I turned out of the alley and onto the road, I decided to take the back roads. The roads around our house were fine, so I figured the back roads would be as well. Besides, the back roads would be much less congested with other drivers, and since I have a tendency to get frustrated easily with those driving too slowly, I felt it would be much more relaxing. I made the turn that would take me back to the county road that would wind its way through farm country before emerging into the city of Maple Grove. As suspected, there wasn’t another vehicle anywhere around me throughout the country part of the drive. I was listening to worship music and enjoying the scenery as I drove. I passed farms fields where cows stood at a hay feeder, munching on the nourishment the farmer had provided for them. In other fields I saw horses, standing in the falling snow, not seeming to mind one bit the precipitation falling on them. At one point, a pheasant ran across the road in front of me. I slowed down to assure its safe arrival on the other side. I drove past miles of farmland. If the fields did not hold animals, they sat barren of any life. Most were covered with some snow, although one could often see the remnants of what was previously harvested–pieces of corn stalks frozen into what appeared to be dead ground.  Occasionally there would be a tree in the midst of a field. It too, would appear to be stripped of any life. Just six months previously, those trees, most likely, were adorned with leaves of green–leaves that would indicate life and growth. The beauty of the white snow that barely covered the miles of land could not completely conceal that what was meant to grow there, could not grow at this time. For some, there is no beauty to be found in winter. They look at the bare fields and bare trees and see only death–nothing that would indicate life or nourishment. The below zero temperatures just add to the body the chill that their hearts feel as the world lies silent and the fields lie empty.

I knew better, though. My dad grew up on a farm. He spent many hours in the backyard of our house in the suburbs tending to his gardens. Flower beds and vegetable plants bloomed year after year, providing our yard with beauty and our table with fresh produce. But, that wasn’t accomplished without effort. It took labor and time. My dad would spend hours in the spring, digging holes to carefully place the seeds or plants. In the summer, he would be found kneeling on the ground, patiently pulling weeds that threatened to choke his beloved plants. In the fall, he would harvest fruits and vegetables, and, after the first frost, he would pull the dead plants from the ground so they wouldn’t contaminate the soil. The snows of winter covered the dirt that once held the plants, but he used to tell me that the snow was very important to a farmer. The snow served two purposes. First, the snow served as added moisture to the soil, for in the spring, as the snow melted, the resulting water would soak the soil, allowing the extra moisture to be pulled deep into the dirt. For some plants, trees included, the snow that covered the soil in the winter allowed the plant to grow again in the spring. The roots of the trees would draw the water down to them so that, even though it may appear dead, the tree was actually being strengthened as the roots forged deeper into the earth. Second, the winter, and the resulting cold and snow, allowed the land to rest. If the sun always beat down on it and the rains battered it again and again, the farmland would be at risk of total erosion. New dirt would constantly need to be added in order to have enough depth for a plant, such as a corn stalk, to grow. Instead, winter provides a season of rest for the land. When the snow melts in the spring, and the sun shines to warm up the land, it will once again be ready for the farmer to cultivate it.

As I passed what appeared to be dead land on my ride this morning, I thought about what was happening underneath the snow-covered soil. What the human eye is unable to see is the rest that is taking place and the nourishment that will be garnered from the snow once it melts. I then thought how winter is like that in my own life as well. Living in the north means winters that are cold and outdoor activities are limited. Now, if you know me, you know that I am a lover of all things winter. For me, the colder the better. Beyond personal preference, though, it is the cold of the winter that allows for time spent indoors. It allows for time to feed my mind with good books that can deepen my faith and make me think. It allows for time spent with family, in front of a warm fire or cuddled up with a blanket and hot chocolate. It allows for more elaborate home cooked meals and the lingering around the table to just talk that the busyness of summer doesn’t seem to give. It allows for a season of rest from outdoor yard work–no grass to cut, no weeds to pull, no dirt to move. It allows for time to spend with God to strengthen my walk and draw me closer to Him. Underneath the exterior that may sometimes appear to be dead, God is working. He is working in my life and in my heart, giving me rest and showing me things that I may not see if I didn’t have this season to spend indoors away from barbecue’s and bonfires and the noises that accompany warmer weather. He continues to show me His care as the squirrels still scamper up and down the tree outside my kitchen window even when I forget to feed them or run out of food. The squirrels and birds are His creatures, and He sees and cares for every one.

The tree outside my window, the trees in the fields, and the fields themselves may appear to be dead, but I know better. Underneath it all, God is working, preparing for the day when the snow melts and the sun shines warm, and the life that is hidden underground now will once again appear.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

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Summer blues

One of the most difficult things for me since being diagnosed with MS has been the loss of complete and unencumbered mobility. There was a time, as recently as several months ago, that I got out of bed every morning, put on my workout clothes and headed to the gym. I loved my time on the cross training elliptical machine–music pumping into my ears as I got lost in the workout. After thirty minutes there I made my rounds to a few favorite weight machines. I would finish my morning routine with a mile or so walk around the indoor track. I found that when I started my day at the gym, I was more mindful throughout the day of went into my mouth. I found myself eating more fruit than brownies and drinking more water than diet Pepsi. I also found that I had more energy and that the jeans that sat in my dresser drawer were fitting a bit looser–loose enough that I was able to buy one size down. I was thrilled! Now, most mornings I have to force myself to get out of bed; in fact, I usually lie there for a bit trying to talk my body into connecting with my brain in order to start the “getting out of bed” process. The cane in my right hand is a constant reminder that I can no longer power walk an indoor walking track. The dizziness that is a constant companion makes thirty minutes on an elliptical machine virtually impossible if not dangerous. And, while I haven’t had to go back to the higher size of jeans, I do notice that my lower size ones seem to be fitting a bit tighter. It is frustrating to want to be able to do something but not be able to follow through with it.

This time of year seems to be the most difficult so far. The day after Christmas, as all the holiday and winter stuff is being marked down, the summer clothing is taking over that space. It has always been disheartening for me to see swimsuits and tank tops–I’m not a fan of summer nor do I like the skimpiness of summer clothing. This year, that disheartening has turned to an almost deep depression as I think ahead to a summer of not being able to be in the shape I want to be and to not be able to look like I wish I could. It also seems that the new year brings a host of people changing how they eat and exercise. A quick sign on to Twitter and Facebook leaves me bombarded with updates about weight loss and better health. I know how exciting it is to finally feel like one is making progress in the area of weight loss and better health. I now also know the other side–the side where one desperately wants to exercise but physical issues stand in the way of doing so, or at the least, doing so effectively enough to lose weight. It causes a snowball effect of thoughts and feelings, especially as summer clothing overtakes the bulk of sweatshirts that can hide some of what embarrasses me.

The thing is, I know there is more to a person than how much she weighs or what size jeans she wears. I know my husband loves me and would never say anything about the fact that I have gained a few pounds. But, there is such a loud voice in my head that screams that he really does mind and I am convinced that the revealing clothes worn by others is so much more satisfying to his eyes than an old lady who can’t exercise to lose the weight. These thoughts are just reinforced by television ads for summer clothing and beach vacations (not to mention the ads for Weight Watchers and the like), the barrage of tank tops and bikinis that sit at the front of Target stores, and the Facebook and Twitter selfies that are posted showing lean and trim bodies that have been freed from extra weight. I dream of the days when I was younger and could eat whatever I wanted with no thought of extra pounds. I think about just a year ago and how exercising made such a difference in my life. And again it is just a hard hitting reality that there is so much that MS has taken from me. I want to hike again with my husband. I want to snowshoe, take a morning walk, ride my bike, play basketball, rollerblade…all the things I used to do without a second thought. I find myself growing resentful and angry that I am unable to do what I used to do. That has bothered me because I know that God doesn’t want me to be bitter, jealous, or angry. What do I do? How do I just accept that this is how it is? Just a tough day I guess. If history holds true, I may feel differently tomorrow…

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A Marriage Story: Epilogue

Last night my husband and I enjoyed something we rarely get: steak. We went to the grocery store and saw that our local Cub Foods was running a sale on good New York Strip steaks. Normally over $11.00 a pound, yesterday the price was $6.99 a pound. A bargain for good steaks! I found a pack of four and even though I had another dinner planned, we decided those steaks looked too good to wait on. Dave grilled two of them outside while I prepared long grain and wild rice, french bread, and home canned peaches to go with the steaks. The other two steaks were sealed and frozen for a future meal. As we lingered over our meal, we talked about our marriage–where we were, where we are, and some of the things that took place in between. Both of us are fully aware that this marriage story could have ended very differently than it did. We reminisced about the difficulties of those dark days and remembered some of the things that took place that could only have been from God. For example, before I actually called off the divorce, Friend 1 and I met for lunch. We went to Buffalo Wild Wings. When it came time to pay the bill, she handed me a card she had kept in her purse. I looked confused. She told me that Dave had given it to her to give to me that day. I opened it. The card inside brought tears to my eyes. What was inside the card brought even more. Inside, Dave had written a note telling me that he loved me very much. He included $40 and told me that lunch with Friend 1 was on him. I remember being so angry at first–how could I hate him when he did something nice like that? I remember fighting back tears since I didn’t want the whole restaurant to see me cry. I remember asking Friend 1, “Do you think he really has changed?” I can’t describe her reply–you’d have to know her to picture it, but she smiled slightly and said, “It sure seems that way–and I sure hope so.” God was already at work in Dave. I just needed to be patient.

Marriage is hard work. Having come through the fire of a tumultuous marriage, years of fighting, a separation, a near divorce, and a host of other problems, one thing we have learned is that marriage takes work–ongoing and intentional work. I don’t want anyone reading these entries to think for a second that we now have a perfect marriage or that we have discovered a formula to keep marital problems at bay. In fact, in the nearly three years that has followed the marriage story chronicled here, we have, on more than one occasion, gotten angry with each other. We have, on more than one occasion, said things that have hurt the other. We have, on more than one occasion, fought over money…you get the idea. The difference now, though, is we are able to see the downward spiral starting and are able to catch it before it spirals out of control. Because people like Finance Guy invested in us, we are able to see when we need to take a step back and re-evaluate our finances. Because an older and wiser man like Mentor invested in Dave, he is able to see himself getting angry and has the tools to not let it get the best of him (for too long at least). Because Pastor 2 believed the Bible to be true and was not ashamed of that, he told me on more than one occasion that divorce should not be my first option. Because Friend 1 took the time to listen to me and to really hear my heart’s cry, she prayed for me–for our marriage. We have learned skills necessary to a good marriage, but we know that those skills, like a favorite knife, often need sharpening. We make it a point to spend time together. We spend the money to attend a marriage conference put on by our church because we know that we can never assume we are done learning.

Speaking of church, there are a few more dots I need to connect for you in that area…

In June of 2012, near the date of our 25th anniversary, Dave and I renewed our vows. Gathered around us to witness this amazing event were some of the people mentioned in the story. Also in attendance were all four of our kids as well as our future son-in-law (he is now our official son-in-law!) I remember feeling so much in love with Dave on that day–even more so in love than I was on our wedding day. Dave’s change was genuine. He was truly a new creation, one that only God could take credit for. There came a point, though, that it became difficult for us to attend church. The reasons for that are not something I intend to write about, but I will say that it was crystal clear to us as well as to our kids, especially DJ, that this may not be a good place for us to stay. In July of that year, DJ asked us if we knew about the Harvest Bible Chapel in Maple Grove. We did not know about it. He told us he was planning to visit there the next Sunday. He told us he would love for us to go with him, but if we did not want to, he would go by himself. Knowing DJ was only home for the summer, we wanted to support him so we agreed to go with him. On the third Sunday in July, 2012, Dave, DJ, Anna and I walked into Maple Grove Junior High School. We knew no one. We didn’t even know where to go once we got inside. The wonderful lady who greeted us at the door immediately recognized that we were new. She walked us down the hall and into the waiting area outside the auditorium. She found the pastor and introduced him to us. We found a seat and waited for worship to start. By the end of that service, Dave and I knew there was something different about this place. The result of our attendance that day is another whole story to tell, but I will say that I know without a doubt that God led us to Harvest West Minneapolis. In a way that only God could do, a simple visit to a church in Chicago during a family weekend came full circle as we found a Harvest church plant 30 miles from where we lived.

I have learned that God can make beauty from ashes. I have learned that God sees everything and has a purpose for everything. I have learned that love looks differently once it has been put through the fire. I have learned that God can really change a person’s actions as well as a person’s mind as long as one is willing to allow Him to do so. I have learned that there is no such thing as finding your soul mate. Soul mates are created as two people invest in and sacrifice for each other. I have learned that often it is the little things done and said over time that can make or break a marriage. I have learned that forgiveness is a must.

I end with a story that Dave read in the book that accompanied Pastor James’ sermon series. The story is titled “The Hole in the Road”. Dave read this at the renewing of our vows ceremony. He believes it portrays his anger problem perfectly…he didn’t know he had a problem, and once he was made aware of it, it took a few tries to avoid the hole in his road…

I walk down the road. There is a hole in the road. I do not see the hole. I fall in the hole. It is very deep, and at the bottom where I lay broken, it is dark and cold. I can’t get out.

 I walk down the road. There is a hole in the road. I see the hole as I am walking down the road. I fall down the hole. Its familiar and quite cosy. I can’t get out.

 I walk down the road. There is a hole in the road. I see the hole as I am walking down the road. I fall down the hole. I want to get out.

 I walk down the road. There is a hole in the road. I see the hole as I am walking down the road. I dread falling down the hole. I fall down the hole. And I look up and decide to get out.

 I walk down the road. There is a hole in the road. I see the hole as I walk down the road.  I think, “oh, ha ha, no, no, I’m not falling for that again!”. I fall down the hole.  I start climbing out.

 I walk down the road. There is a hole in the road. I see the hole as I walk down the road. I try not to, but I fall in the hole again. I get back out straight away.

 I walk down the road. There is a hole in the road. I see the hole as I walk down the road. My foot slides and I fall in the hole again, but  I do not hit the bottom. I cling on to the side and get out of the hole.

 I walk down the road. There is a hole in the road. I step over the hole. I do not fall into the hole.

 I walk down a different road.

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A Marriage Story (Part 8)

I have spent the last few days ruminating about how to proceed. Events at this stage happened quickly. I do not want to do them an injustice by simply stating what happened and moving into an epilogue; however, I do not want to drag this out either. It is in this entry, I hope, that you will see God take over and do an amazing work. It is impossible for me to connect all the dots, for we are still seeing connections as we look back to where we were and all that happened. I will, though, write out the obvious connections. Tying the loose ends together isn’t always easy to do in paragraph form. One of my favorite illustrations is that depicting the underside of a tapestry. That is what we often see of our lives since we do not see the finished work. My writing this story has, to me, seemed messy at times, just like that tapestry. I wonder if anyone reading is getting all that I am trying to  convey, for even as I go back and re-read some of what I wrote, I remember small details that may have helped to clarify what was written. Again, though, if I included every detail, not only would this become laborious to read, it would also have the potential to betray things that do not need to be made public. That said, regardless of whether you have followed the story from Part 1 or if this is the only entry you have read, buckle up and get ready to wade through a complicated series of events that, I hope, will not only show the power of God, but also give hope for any who may doubt that God can still work when man says it is far too gone…

I sat at my desk the evening of April 9, 2012. Staring at me from the top of the desk was the piece of paper with the name of the attorney I had talked to and his phone number. I stared at it, almost in disbelief that this could actually be happening. It seemed so much like a nightmare. No one starts their marriage planning for it to end, especially after 24 years of surviving it. Yet, it seemed that was inevitable. My heart had been broken so many times by this man I called my husband, I could not take one more blow. I thought about Anna and how this would affect her. Like me, either way it seemed she would suffer. I thought back to March, 1999, when Dave and I had separated. That year I spent as a single mom was difficult beyond words. I remembered the day I decided to ask Dave to move back home. I figured I could put up with this marriage just long enough for the kids to reach adulthood and then I would leave for good. Anna was two years shy of that mark still, and here I was, resolving that I was done. Was I making the right decision for her? For me? For all of us? Dave had made it clear that he wanted to stay married. His actions, though, had made it clear to me that he wasn’t willing to work at the issues either. The two could just not coexist. I folded the piece of paper and tucked it inside a book where I knew Dave wouldn’t find it. I moved to the bed, put my head on my pillow, and let the tears fall. I stifled sobs as I mentally focused on the picture of us on our wedding day. My mind ran wild with thoughts. How could twenty-four years just be thrown away? Why did God hate me so much? Why couldn’t things have been different? What will happen to Anna and me? Where would we go? The noise of the back door closing snapped me out of my own head and I quickly wiped the tears from my face, though the fact that I had been crying so hard for so long could not be hidden. Dave walked back to the bedroom. I turned to look away so the evidence of my tears could not be seen. He told me he needed to go to bed. I picked up my phone off the bed and headed into the living room. Soon the bedroom light was off and the snoring coming from the room signaled that Dave had fallen asleep. Once again, alone, I tried to distract myself from all that was happening. I played a computer game for a while but soon my eyes, tired from crying, were hurting too much to focus. I laid down on the couch and soon I was crying so hard I felt sick. My whole body was shaking, yet I couldn’t stop the deluge of emotion. I must have fallen asleep, although I do not remember lying down.

I was awakened somewhere between 2:00 and 2:30 AM. I bolted upright, still on the couch. I heard something–a voice. My heart was pounding like it would if I had just been awakened by a nightmare. I thought maybe it was my oldest son, Zach. I cautiously get up and walk over to the top of the stairs. All the lights downstairs are off. That meant Zach was already in bed. I returned to the couch and peered out of the curtains that were closed across the front window. We lived on a busy street so while it was unlikely that someone was out at that hour of the morning, it was a possibility. I looked but saw no one. There weren’t even any cars on the road. This all happened within a minute or so. The voice had been in my head, yet it also filled the room it seemed. The four words I heard were unmistakable: Be patient. I’m working. Again, I thought it was Zach–maybe he had been doing something in the kitchen. I checked but saw no sign that anyone had been in there. Still shaking, I figured I’d better get to bed.

Dave was gone by the time I woke up the next morning. I couldn’t stop thinking about the events of the previous night. My decision to divorce loomed large, but it was the voice I heard that really bothered me. I tried to think through a timeline of how things might play out. April 14th was coming quickly. That is my birthday, normally not a huge deal, but this year, our daughter had scheduled her saxophone junior recital for this day. We would be leaving early on the 14th to make the three hour drive to her college. What she didn’t know was that DJ was planning to surprise her. He had never been to her college and wanted to be there for this special occasion. He would be arriving at home via the Megabus on the 13th and would head to Moorhead with us the next morning. We planned to stay in Morrhead Saturday night and then head back home. After a quick stop there to pick up Anna, we would drive to Chicago. Not only were we taking DJ back to school, but Anna was scheduled to do a college visit in Chicago (at the same school DJ attended) that Monday. DJ had arranged for her to spend the night on campus Monday night. We would head back home on Tuesday then. There was no way I was going to ruin any of this by announcing my decision to divorce. I was just biding my time until the following week. Thinking again about the voice and the words I was sure I heard, I headed to the church to talk to Pastor 2. I had to know what his thoughts were about this voice I heard.

I arrived at the church and waited for Pastor 2 to finish up with someone in his office. While I was waiting, Dave texted me to say he was calling the dealer to cancel the new van. My heart was broken. He also said he was canceling the meeting we had scheduled with Finance Guy the next night. By the time Pastor 2 could see me, I was frustrated with Dave. I told Pastor 2 all that had happened the previous night. He told me that he was very encouraged by this and felt the voice was certainly God. I wasn’t sure I bought that, but didn’t have any other explanation. We talked about the four words I heard and Pastor 2 encouraged me to listen to what was directed–be patient. I had thought about telling Pastor 2 of my decision to divorce but decided against it. I left his office and went home and tried to prepare for the upcoming weekend.We also were scheduled to meet with Pastor 1 that evening. I wasn’t sure, after texting with Dave that morning, if I really wanted to but felt I had to keep the appointment.

We arrived at the church for our meeting at 6:30. Pastor 1 was waiting for us. He seemed agitated. We all sat down and Pastor 1 asked how the week had been. Neither of us said anything right away. Before we could, Pastor 1 suddenly says, “I am done working with the two of you.” I looked at him in disbelief. He went on to say that the church didn’t want him to get involved in long term counseling situations and that he could only work twenty hours a week. (I know the first one was a lie; I suspect the second one was as well) I looked at him and said, “So you’re just abandoning us?” He asked Dave to leave so he could talk to me a minute. Surprisingly, Dave did. As soon as Dave was gone, Pastor 1 said, “You need to divorce him. If you divorce him, I will walk through this with you. If you don’t, I am done with you.” I was extremely upset. He got up, put on his coat, and walked out. I didn’t know what to do. I stood up, followed him, and accused him of not caring. He shot back that all he had done was care and I was the problem. As he got in his truck I yelled to him that I was just going to leave–maybe even die. He responded with, “That’s your choice.” And he left. Dave called for me to get in the car, but I would not do that. I began walking home. I felt like a knife had been driven in my back. As I walked the side of the busy highway, I tried to call DJ. He did not answer, but I left him a voice mail. I tried to call Friend 1. She didn’t answer either. I felt this was a sign from God that everyone had abandoned me. I thought about stepping into the path of an oncoming car. What I didn’t know at the time was that Dave was following me. He was moving the car along the frontage road, staying out of my sight. He had called Mentor as soon as he got in the car. He told Mentor that our marriage was over. Mentor replied with, “Not unless God says it is.”

I made it home and grabbed the keys to my van. Dave asked where I was going. I told him I didn’t know, and I didn’t know if I was coming back. I drove to the lake and sat and cried. I called Pastor 2 and told him what had happened. He told me I needed to go home. I refused. He told me my children were there. I told him I didn’t care. He encouraged me again to go home. I knew I couldn’t do that. I knew Dave would be SO angry at me. I was afraid knowing Anna was home with him, yet I was more afraid that he would take his anger out on me. I called Friend 2 who then called Friend 1. She talked me into going to Friend 1’s house. I pulled in the driveway and knocked on the door. Her husband answered and told me to come in. Soon, Friend 1 came. She sat with me as I cried. We talked a bit off and on. At 10:30 PM, she asked if he could at least call Dave and tell him where I was–he had called her a few times and was worried. I agreed to allow her to call. When she hung up she told me Dave wanted me to come home. I was scared. She said she would go with me and if he got angry, I would leave with her. I agreed. When we pulled into our driveway, all the lights were still on. I walked into the house and Dave was standing just inside the door. I cringed not knowing what was coming. He put his arms around me, drew me into his chest, and began to cry. Stunned, yet relieved, I also began to cry. Friend 1 was behind me. She motioned Dave and I to the living room. We sat on the couch and she sat in the chair. Dave told me that when he had asked me if he could take the series Pastor James had sent, he listened to those CD’s on his way to work. In fact, he would listen to a disc on the drive in and then listen to the same disk on his drive home. The next day he did the same with the following disc in the series. He had gone through the entire series several times. He apologized for all he had put us through–he didn’t think he could do anything about his anger since that’s how he had always been. He told me he learned that God could change him and that he had been allowing God to do just that. We talked until 12:30 AM. Friend 1 said a few words and then said she felt it was okay for her to leave. We agreed. She left, and Dave and I sat and talked for a while longer. I wasn’t sure who this man was that was now sitting next to me on the couch, but for the first time in a very long time, I saw a bright light at the end of this dark tunnel. God was indeed working; I needed to be patient.

Looking back, how is it that a sermon series on CD ended up at our house four months after I had sent Pastor James a letter about it? How is it that Pastor 2, Friend 1, and DJ all were able to keep helping me hang on even when I “knew” there was no hope? How is it that Finance Guy appeared in our lives at just the right time? How is it that Mentor knew exactly what to say to Dave to calm him yet encourage him at the same time? How is it… I could go on, but I know the answer to the question. It was–and is–God. God had a plan for our marriage all along. He worked through other people–some who didn’t even know they were being used by God at a crucial time. He worked directly in me by “speaking” to me–getting my attention to not give up just yet. There are so many dots that were connected at just the right time that helped the picture make sense. The tapestry looked terrible in my eyes, but in God’s eyes it was a beautiful work of art in the making. I am so thankful for those people who allowed themselves to be used by God. I am amazed that I am still alive. My broken heart is no longer broken. The scars are there, but the pain is gone. Forgiveness and reconciliation have allowed our marriage to grow and flourish for the first time. I am SO thankful to God for all He has done and continues to do…more on that tomorrow…

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A Marriage Story (Part 7)

This is the first time I have sat down at my computer to type this story and found myself not wanting to do so. I’ve actually been sitting here for thirty minutes browsing Pinterest, checking Facebook and Twitter, reading news headlines…anything but type in my WordPress address and click on the little pencil in the top right corner to start a new post. If you have ever been awakened by a bad dream and then been afraid to close your eyes again for fear it will return, you can understand some of the emotions that have come with the writing of this story. I wrote in the very first entry of this story that God did an amazing work. Many reading it already know the ending since they are people who know me beyond the screen of the computer. If I already gave away the ending, why am I having such difficulty writing what will most likely be the last few chapters? I am not sure of the answer to that question. I can only surmise that it may be a spiritual force. Even if only one person reads this story and finds a new hope in God because of it, that would be enough for me to be thankful I wrote it and enough for Satan to want to keep me from doing so. There may also be some fear, knowing that I shared details previously unknown except by those who were personally and intimately involved in the story. It is also very possible that it could simply be a matter of emotions–stirring up events from the past often leaves one emotionally spent and fearful that somehow, by bringing it up, it could happen all over again. Regardless of the reason, this has been a difficult entry to start, but my purpose in writing this in the first place was to give God glory for what took place. I press on now, hoping that is the end result.

The story is in its final ten days. Much happened in this period of time and it seemed that they happened quickly. Just trying to write it, I feel like a juggler, struggling to keep all the balls in the air…

The first week of April brought Easter. I was working on a scoring project ( a part time job I do from home several months throughout the year) so I was thankful that I had chosen this week to give Anna her spring break. We had met several times by now with Finance Guy. The first couple meetings were rough as Dave resisted being completely open, but he started to relax in that area as he saw that Finance Guy was trustworthy. Originally, Pastor 1 had told Finance Guy that he (Pastor 1) must be kept completely informed of all that took place. Finance Guy obliged for the first few meetings and then told Pastor 1 simply that things were coming along okay. That helped in Dave’s willingness to be completely honest with Finance Guy. In the few weeks we had met, we were already seeing some positive results. We were much more aware of our spending. We were being diligent in keeping track when we did use the debit card for anything. Before, Dave would use the card for some things and I would use the card for some things, but we never told the other that we had used it. Neither of us kept track of what was in the bank. That had all changed. We had a check register that we kept updated. We cut spending in areas that we could–canceled extended cable for a while, stopped eating out as much, and other simple steps that we knew needed to be taken but weren’t. One thing we both appreciated about Finance Guy was his genuine care for us. He was doing this for us, without charge, and taking up his time because he cared. He also believed that, even when money is tight, there needed to be some fun. He helped us make a list of ideas that still provided fun but didn’t cost any or much money. He then taught us how to work that into our budget. For me, Finance Guy helped me to learn that just because I wanted it didn’t mean I needed it or should go buy it. I admit to having much difficulty with this concept at first. I had pretty much been given all I wanted materially as I was growing up, and I entered marriage thinking my husband would do the same for me. He also agreed that we needed to replace the van I had been driving. When a final budget was done and we stopped living beyond what we could afford, Finance Guy believed we could afford to buy a newer vehicle. This news was music to my ears! Perhaps, finally, I wouldn’t feel trapped here.

Sitting in our driveway was a black Kia Spectra. We had bought it new in August of 2000. DJ had driven it the last year or so before he left for college. It was Dave’s car originally, but it ended up becoming DJ’s car while Dave rented a car for over a year. I’m not sure how that actually happened, but it did. When DJ left for college, Dave went to drive the car somewhere and it wouldn’t go into gear. We knew there were transmission issues with the car, and it appeared that the transmission may have finally given up. It sat there for months. It was not driveable, yet we continued to pay insurance on it. Each time I would stand at the sink and do dishes, I would see that car and miss DJ so much. I hated that car sitting there, and I hated even more the fact that we were paying insurance on a car that didn’t run. Finally, Dave called a friend to come and look at it to see if it really was the transmission. A mutual friend of ours, a guy from our church who lived a block or so away and someone we had both known for several years, said he would stop over some time to check it out. The first Saturday in April, Mechanic (as I will call him) came over. Dave had gone out somewhere that morning, Anna and Zach were both sleeping, and I was trying to work. I had so much on my mind and was struggling to concentrate. I hadn’t even seen Mechanic come to the house. I heard a knock at the door and realized it was Mechanic. He asked me if I could come out and help him with something on the car–he needed me to turn the key while he watched something under the hood. When his test on the car was done he came to the driver’s side door to let me know he was done. There were tears on my face at this point–I just had too much on my mind. I got out of the car, he sat down on the front bumper and asked me if I wanted to talk about anything. The tears were falling freely now–I was so embarrassed–and I spit out the words that I hadn’t yet said to anyone: “Dave and I are most likely going to divorce.” He was quiet for a minute. Then he said, “Well, that’s not good. Talk to me.” I started to tell him about the fights, the fear, and how miserable we all were. He told me that I could always call him if things got out of hand–even in the middle of the night. Tears just kept falling as I tied to talk about how hard this was on Anna and how she just wanted us to leave. And then I saw Dave turn into the alley. I immediately panicked, knowing if he saw me talking to Mechanic AND crying that he would know I had said something. Mechanic diverted Dave’s attention as soon as he got out of the car which allowed me to get inside before Dave could see the tears. I was very thankful. I went back in the bedroom, powered up my computer, and began working again. By the time Dave and Mechanic stopped talking, I had been able to stop the tears and pretend like everything was fine.

Sunday evening, before going to bed, Dave motioned to the CD set from Pastor James that I had set on the little heater by the couch. He asked me if he could take it the next morning. I looked at him and said, “Why?” The words came out sounding as bitter as they felt while still on my tongue. He got slightly agitated at my tone, raised his voice a little, and said, “Can I take it or not?” I replied with an audible “Yes” and under my breath, just low enough that he couldn’t understand what I said but knowing I said something, added, “You aren’t going to listen to it anyway.” That week also brought a much over due settlement for the accident that had totaled my previous van. It wasn’t much, but Dave said it would be enough to put down some money on a new van and have enough left over to buy a good used car. I was excited but I was also very nervous about adding a new van payment to a tight budget, even though Finance Guy had said we could do it with a decent down payment. I called Finance Guy to tell him that Dave had already talked to a guy about a new van and we could pick it up that day–but I did not have a peace with it. Finance Guy said if I didn’t have peace about it, to wait a few days. I relayed that information to Dave who instantly got angry at me. Pastor 1 called me and I told him about the plan to buy a new van. He became angry at me and told me that there is no way we should buy a new van and that I would just lose it in the divorce settlement anyway. He went on to tell me that he is frustrated with Dave–with the whole situation. Dave came home from work, so I quickly ended the call and tried to pretend like I hadn’t been crying. Dave told me that he would be meeting with Mentor that night. Those were the only words he said to me. We ate dinner and he left for Mentor’s house. I should have been working, but I was a mess. I had reached the end of my rope. I sat down, took out the piece of paper that had the name and number of the attorney, and I programmed the number into my phone. I had made the decision that I couldn’t do this anymore. Tomorrow, I told myself, I would call and start the divorce proceedings. I thought about calling Friend 1 but decided against it. I had to keep this to myself until the weekend was over. We had special plans that coming weekend that involved three of our four kids and there was no way I wanted to jeopardize them. The kids had been through enough.

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A Marriage Story (Part 6)

If you’ve been following along through each chapter of this story, you probably have realized that this was a complicated event that, even though the crux of it did not take place over years but rather over months, there still seems to be a lot of information that has been packed into these chapters. I have done that intentionally. When I first wrote down the timeline of events, I was shocked at just how often the scene changed. I was also intrigued to see how the involvement of the players developed over time. What was supposed to start as a simple conversation about finances, morphed into a story that encompassed twenty-four years of marriage. I said before that the full back story would be much too long to write here. I still believe that to be true, yet I see that, in reality, the twenty-four years leading up to the few months chronicled here set the stage for all that would take place. I’ll dive into that more as I draw this to a close. But now, I hope, you have been anticipating my revelation of what was in the square, brown package that “mysteriously” arrived at our door in March of 2012…

As I picked up the package, I inspected it to see if it had any clues as to its sender. The only thing visible on the package besides my name was the postmark of Chicago, IL. DJ was a student there, but he was currently home on break. Perhaps the school sent something? But why would they send it to me? I moved to the table and grabbed some scissors to cut the tape that sealed the package. As I pulled back the bubble wrap that surrounded the contents, I saw a blue envelope. Underneath that envelope was a case that held CD’s. I opened the envelope and began to read the hand written card inside. It read:

Dear Becky,

Thank you for writing me to tell me of the impact our service had on you. I apologize this response has taken me so long to get to you, but I wanted to make sure that you had a copy of the entire series. May God bless you as you continue to follow Him.

In Christ,
James MacDonald.

Pastor James MacDonald had sent me the complete series that we had heard part of while visiting Chicago the prior October. Ten CD’s comprised the series which, if you remember, was titled I Really Want to Change, So Help me God. I couldn’t believe that he even read the letter I had sent him let alone that he personally sent me the series and a hand written note. Dave and DJ both asked what was in the package. I showed it to them and read the note that went along with it. DJ joked that he would be taking that back to school with him. (He and I had and continue to have a slight obsession with books and all things spiritual like that) I was quick to shake my head “No” toward him. He smiled and went downstairs to his room.

March 24th was DJ’s last night at home. Since spring break varied among his friends from high school, he was the only one left in town and was more than ready to get back to Chicago. The previous night, after Dave had gone to bed, DJ sat on the living room with me. He was concerned about returning to school and leaving Anna and me here. I made it clear to him that school was all he needed to worry about–that I had people here who would help if needed. He asked me if I had thought any more about leaving. Of course I had–that thought was never far from my mind. I think he knew that. He asked me if I would consider coming to Chicago to live so he could be close to me. I honestly answered him that there was no way I could ever afford to live in Chicago. I knew if we divorced, I wouldn’t even be able to afford to stay in the house we were living in at the time. Again, I told him that school was his priority and I would be sure to let him know as things changed. The night of the 24th, after DJ had gone downstairs to his room, Dave and I got into an argument. The argument was one of the nastiest we had ever had. Dave finally went into the bedroom, grabbed his travel bag, and began grabbing clothes from the closet. Fear gripped my heart as I watched him prepare to leave. I was terrified to be without him. How would I do anything? What would I tell Anna? Where would we live? How would we eat? I begged Dave to not leave for DJ’s sake–it was his last night home. The argument intensified and I knew I needed to leave the room. As I was leaving, Dave said, “I hope you have a Plan B.” I grabbed my cell phone and went downstairs to call Friend 1. Anna, who had come upstairs at some point, came downstairs and told me to stay down there. After what seemed like an hour, Anna quietly crept up the stairs. She came down and told me the bedroom light was off and the car Dave was driving was still in the driveway. She told me it was safe to come upstairs–Dave had gone to bed. I sat in the living room and just cried. I wasn’t sure I could do this much longer. I was so scared of him, yet I was even more scared to be without him.

The next day was Sunday. We went to separate services as usual. After the service, Pastor 1 came up to me to check on how things are going. I told him what happened the previous night as well as Dave’s words about having a Plan B. DJ came over to where we are talking. Pastor 1 looked at him and asked him if he knows what is really going to happen. DJ responds with a yes and Pastor 1 told me to meet him at the church the next day at 10:00 to discuss a Plan B. When we got home from church, DJ grabbed his stuff and we drove him to the bus stop to catch the Megabus back to Chicago. On the way home, Dave told me that he would agree to weekly counseling with Pastor 1. I was extremely confused. Could I trust him? Was he just buying time?

The next morning, I gave Anna her assignments and I went to the church. Pastor 1 wasn’t there yet, so I poked my head into Pastor 2’s office to see if he had a few minutes. He motioned to me to sit down. I sat down, again fighting back tears, and told him all that had happened in the previous few days. Pastor 2 took a deep breath and told me that maybe it was time for me to leave. Pastor 1 knocked on the door then and came in and sat down. The three of us began to discuss what this might look like. I again brought up my fears of not being able to provide for Anna or keep DJ in school. Pastor 1 pulled a piece of paper from the folder he had in his hands and told me that I needed to talk to an attorney to find out exactly what responsibilities Dave would have toward the kids. He then held up the piece of paper and said, “If he refuses to take care of the things you want him to take care of, we’ll just slide this in front of his face.” I knew that in his hands he held something that could be used to blackmail my husband. I also knew that it could have dire consequences that, in the long run, would hurt more than help any of us. As I left the church that morning, all that echoed in my head was the words of Pastor 2: “Becky, maybe it’s time to leave. God would not want you to live like this.” That was the first time in all that had happened that Pastor 2 had indicated that perhaps hope was really gone–perhaps this marriage was really over. As I walked to the van, suicidal thoughts were hitting hard. I made it home and perused the phone book for an attorney. I found one and called. Long story short, the attorney told me that Dave would be required by law to support Anna since she was still under the age of eighteen. He would not be required, though, to take any measures to keep DJ in school. DJ was over the age of eighteen and considered an adult. My heart was shattered as I weighed the words of the attorney which I had written on a piece of paper. I was in a no win situation. If I stayed, I would be staying in a very unhealthy relationship as well as keeping my daughter in a life of hell. If I left, my son would be forced to leave college and give up on what he felt God had called him to do. If you’ve ever been caught between a rock and a hard place, then you probably understand what I was feeling. This rock was heavy and it was crushing me against a very hard place. Pastor 1 called me later that day to ask me what the attorney had said. I relayed the information to him. He told me to keep that paper hidden from Dave. He then asked me to ask Dave if he was still willing to be in counseling sessions. He told me to call him later that night after Dave was in bed to let him know what Dave had said. I asked Dave that evening and he nodded his head while saying, “I’m NOT happy about it, but if that’s what it’s going to take to make this marriage work, then I’ll do it.” I called Pastor 1 later that night and we set up a time for the counseling to begin the following week.

Our first counseling session did not go very well. Pastor 1 had some stipulations that we had to meet in order for him to agree to counseling. Some of these kind of took me by surprise since he hadn’t said anything to me about them. One of the stipulations was that I continue with my own private counseling and stay on the medication prescribed. That wasn’t a problem. I found my Tuesday sessions, while not extremely helpful, a place to let off steam and talk to someone who did not know my husband or my family. Another stipulation was that Dave keep meeting with Mentor. Again, this wasn’t an issue. Dave and Mentor got along well, and while they had only met a couple times, we both were comfortable with Mentor being involved. Then, Pastor 1 said something that ticked Dave off. He told him that he had spoken to Mentor and, while he believed Mentor to be a wonderful person, he did not think he was the right person to be helping in the financial area. He said he had already spoken to someone else who said he would be willing to help us with our finances. Dave immediately went on the defense. First, he was upset that Pastor 1 had once again breached his trust. Second, he didn’t really want someone to have access to all our financial records–and Pastor 1 was very clear that all had to be made available. “Everything on the table” were the words he used. I knew we were already at risk of the counseling ending before it even began. Dave was upset and stubborn; Pastor 1 was just as stubborn. Dave finally, and surprisingly, agreed to allowing this person to help us in this area. Pastor 1 arranged a time for the three of us to meet the following week. What I didn’t know then was Pastor 1 had not only talked to this person, (who I will call Finance Guy from here on) but had told him everything that had taken place over the last few months. He also told him that he suspected Dave was hiding something–whether it be a gambling problem or some other issue–that was causing us to never have enough money.

Finance Guy would prove to be not only a valuable asset in helping us with our financial issues, but also a very good friend to both Dave and me in the coming weeks.

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A Marriage Story (Part 5)

As I read through the journal pages that chronicle this story, I am surprised by the emotions elicited from the words on the pages. Three years have passed since those pages were filled with words and stained with the tears that fell as those words were written. At the time, I doubted survival. Now, I marvel not only that I did indeed survive, but also at the wonder that our marriage survived as well. It would take time, but eventually I would come to see that God did have a purpose for the difficulties we walked through. Not only did He have a purpose, He has followed through on His promise that all things will work together for good and for His glory. The story begins to turn at this point, even though the days will continue to be excruciatingly difficult. It is at this point, though, that God begins to bring together the small army He has been preparing over the last few months. That army, up until now, was missing one key individual who would play a much greater role than even he knew at the time, not only in the story of our marriage but also in the story of how God brought me to Himself.

March 2012 brought the return of our son, DJ, from Chicago. Spring Break for him was two weeks. Most colleges only get a week for this break as it signals the beginning of the end of the school year. His college, though, always allowed for two weeks because the choirs and band always traveled during this time to minister to churches around the country. It was also a time that the school encouraged students to take some of what they had been learning and use it on a mission field. This year being his first in college, I was thankful that he would be coming home. While he knew that our home life wasn’t great, even he was not aware of the conditions he would be walking into. There was no use in even trying to hide it anymore. Our marriage was too far gone for faking happiness. We couldn’t even pull off faking toleration of each other at this point. The tension in the house was thick and it seemed like one was walking into a dark cave as soon as they entered the house.

Sunday mornings meant church. This had been the case on and off for us from the beginning of our marriage. Over the years we would bounce in and out of various churches. I never felt like I belonged in any of them, but a few of them did do a wonderful job in making the kids feel welcome. The church we were attending at this point in our marriage was very close to our house. Our younger son had found his niche there and it was on a summer camping trip to Wyoming that he felt God calling him to be a pastor. The church was fairly large, having three services every Sunday morning. Dave would attend one service with one of the remaining two kids at home, and I would attend a different one with the other. It usually worked out that Dave took our youngest, Anna, because she was helping with Sunday School. I would then come with our oldest, Zach, and Anna would join us for the service. Dave would head home. No one, with the exceptions of Pastors 1 and 2, noticed that we were not attending church together. I preferred it that way. It meant less lying about what was really going on at home. The first Sunday DJ was back from college, Pastor 2 stopped us in the foyer after the service. He had a special place in his heart for this boy anyway, simply because he had a special place in his heart for the school our son attended. Pastor 2 had been an adjunct professor there at one time. He asked DJ if he had some time to meet for breakfast. He had mentioned this to me previously and had told me he would love to just talk with him and see how school is going. They set up a time to meet that week.

DJ and Pastor 2 met for breakfast at Perkins. What I thought was going to be a meeting to talk about school and DJ’s chosen career path turned into something different. While those things were discussed, and DJ gleaned some helpful insight from Pastor 2, he also learned just how bad life at home had become. Pastor 2 asked him the following question: “What was the spiritual atmosphere in your house?” DJ responded honestly, telling him that he was actually the one responsible for being the spiritual leader and he had been in that position since the age of fifteen. Pastor 2 said that’s a pretty difficult task to put on the shoulders of a fifteen year old. DJ agreed but said that’s how it had to be. Pastor 2 eventually told DJ everything, including the details of the day I had called him while he was at a lunch meeting. I probably should have been angry at Pastor 2 for this, but instead I was relieved. DJ had always been my rock and now that the pretending was over, I could be honest with him about things.

Pastor 1 called me at some point soon after DJ’s breakfast meeting with Pastor 2. He wanted to have a meeting with me, Anna, DJ, Friend 1, and Pastor 2. We all met at the church and gathered in the office of Pastor 2. Pastor 1 began by telling the group that this has gone on long enough and they would all need to be supportive of my filing for divorce. Pastor 2 disagreed and said he still believed there was hope. Pastor 1, slightly agitated, disagreed and said there is no reason for me to stay; the time for Dave to be a positive influence on his kids was gone. Pastor 2 again disagreed and replied, “A father can influence his children as long as he is alive.” Pastor 1 simply said, “Well, I guess we disagree.” I felt like a beach ball being tossed around during a game of keep away. Sitting in that circle were all people I loved and respected, yet it seemed no one could agree on anything. Confusion filled my heart and my thoughts. Friend 1 sat silent, tears rolling down her face as she watched me fight to hold back the sobs that so wanted to be released. Pastor 1 asked both kids if they would support me in a divorce. Both agreed they would, although DJ says that isn’t the outcome he wanted to see happen. DJ, as upset with Pastor 1 as Pastor 2 seems to be, suggested another meeting. He proposed this one include the man Dave had chosen as a mentor. Pastor 2 agreed, knowing that this man is wise and soft spoken–he would be careful to be supportive of Dave while still being truthful. DJ also suggested that neither pastor be present. Very honestly, DJ looked at Pastor 1 and said, “No offense, but my dad doesn’t like you very much.” Pastor 1 quickly agreed with that statement and affirmed that he knew that but he still felt that he needed to be at the meeting. Pastor 2 looks at me and asked, “Becky, who do you want to be there?” I think about it and tell him I agree with DJ–Pastor 1 should not be there. It is decided that the meeting participants will be me, Dave, Mentor and Friend 1. We set the meeting up for a late afternoon time. The task of telling Dave about it fell to me. He was NOT happy about it when I told him and initially he refused to go.

The day of the meeting came. Dave was working from home that day and was beyond miserable. Anna begged me to just cancel the meeting and leave. I went to the grocery store just to get out. I called Pastor 1. He encouraged me to go forward with the meeting. He said it will be my gauge to see if Dave is serious about saving this marriage. He told me he was going to be at the meeting–he was not confident that Mentor would be able to run this without Pastor 1 being there. I had no words to say. I know this will set Dave off big time, but felt as though I couldn’t tell Pastor 1 not to be there. By this point I had made sure all the kids were behind me. In fact, I had borrowed Friend 1’s van for a day the week before and had driven three hours west to my older daughter’s house. She knew our marriage wasn’t great, but living so far away, she did not realize how bad it had gotten. I asked her if I divorced her dad, would she stand behind my decision. She was visibly upset at my question. She cried as she told me that was not what she wanted. I tried to calm her down, fighting back my own tears. I told her that wasn’t what I wanted either, but it may be reality. Deep down, though, a little voice told me that divorce was what I wanted. Maybe Pastor 1 had been right all along. Maybe this marriage was too far gone. Why would I want to spend the rest of my life miserable. He said I deserved to be happy–not abused. I was beginning to agree with him. I left Sara and headed home, assuring her that I would do everything I could to avoid divorce. On the way home, Pastor 2 called me. He prayed with me about the upcoming meeting and assured me he would be praying as we met. The meeting time came and sure enough, Pastor 1 is there. Dave was very upset but headed into the church and sat down. We gathered once again in Pastor 2’s office. Friend 1 and Mentor were there as well. The meeting went fairly well, all things considered. Pastor 1 looked at Dave at one point and said that for me to stay in this marriage, Dave must agree, as I already had, to be in weekly marriage counseling with Pastor 1. Dave absolutely refused at first. Mentor said some things to Dave–he had such a calming effect on everyone. Dave finally agreed to think about it. He walked out with Mentor. Pastor 1 held me back a minute and said me, “You should now see for yourself that this marriage is over. He won’t agree to the one stipulation given. He obviously isn’t serious about saving his marriage. I think you should call an attorney.”

The next few days were very quiet around our house. My mind was full of thoughts and fears. I spent much time alone, crying, or talking with DJ or Friend 1. One afternoon I took DJ to lunch. I had not had much of a chance to talk to him alone since he had come home and his break was quickly coming to an end. We went for pizza and spent the time talking about his life at school. The marriage difficulties loomed large, like an elephant in the room, but neither of us addressed them. This time was meant to be just a mom and a son catching up and spending time together. Upon arriving home, Dave motioned to the shelf by the door. “You got a package.” His words were short and sounded angry. I told him I didn’t order anything. I don’t think he believed me, but it was the truth. The square, brown box was not large and was addressed to “Becky”. Had I ordered something it would have certainly been addressed to “Rebecca”.  I picked it up and began to open it. The contents of this package would literally turn out to be a gift from God, a miracle sent from the hand of Providence–one sent by someone who had NO idea what was going on in my life at the time and one that would prove to be the catalyst that helped our marriage begin to emerge from the deep, dark, valley where it had been for so long.

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A Marriage Story (Part 4)

The date is March 8, 2012. The first sentence in my journal entry for this date reads, “On this day I should have died.”

Recalling the events of the day stir a tsunami of emotions. It is only in looking back that I can see the hand of God in this marriage; on this day, I see the hand of God protecting my life, being merciful enough to keep me alive and using these very difficult events to eventually bring me to Himself.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

The morning of March 8, 2012, started similar to most mornings for me. While I don’t recall exactly its beginnings, I am sure that the morning was no different for us. I most likely had quietly made my way back to bed with my husband in those pre-dawn hours. Most likely my daughter was already awake and upstairs in the rocking chair, headphones feeding music into her ears. Most likely I showered, ate breakfast, made the bed and listed her schoolwork for the day on the white board that hung on the wall of the dining room where we convened for school each day. Most likely, I had shed numerous tears before any of these things had taken place.

We usually left for the high school a little early. Often, my daughter would like to get there with enough time to go to a practice room to sing. Singing was a way she relaxed, but singing at home is not as private as the soundproof practice rooms found in the music area of the high school. On this particular morning, Anna told me that we were out of dog food. I was instantly frustrated with her. Every morning she fed the dog before coming upstairs. Would it have been so difficult for her to say something before we were completely out? I let her know how frustrated I was with her and told her to get in the car–we would leave now and get dog food. I had no idea if we even had money in the bank to buy it, but crossed my fingers that the debit card would go through. The dog needed food. While in the Country Store, I received a text message from a friend asking me if I wanted to get together with her and Friend 1 this morning while Anna was at choir. I replied that I would since I was probably heading to Friend 1’s house anyway. I breathed a sigh of relief as the card went through and we set out for the high school. As we crossed the railroad tracks, my conscience was prodding me to apologize to my daughter for yelling at her. I looked at her and told her I was sorry. I then, for some reason, asked her if she was bothered by all that was going on at home. She didn’t look at me but replied with one word–“Duh.” I blinked back tears and stepped further into the waters. I asked her if I left her dad, what would she do. Her response is burned onto my heart. “I’m going with you,” she said. “I’m certainly not going to stay with him. Can we just leave? I can’t take this anymore. If we do, can Yogi (our dog) come too? I can’t leave her with him.” The way she emphasized the word him revealed her disdain for her dad. My already broken heart broke further with her words. I fought back the tears until I dropped her off and watched her go into the school. I took out my phone and dialed Pastor 1. I relayed my conversation with Anna to him. He told me the time had come to leave. I reached the house of Friend 1 and, after wiping away the tears and reapplying some makeup that I hoped would cover the evidence of them, I went inside. The three of us sat in the living room, Friend 1 and Friend 2 chatting back and forth. I was replaying the conversation with Pastor 1 in my mind. We had not had a chance to finish the conversation. My phone rang and I asked my friend if I could take the call down in her basement. It was a difficult conversation and I felt like I was on the very edge of a major breakdown. I noticed the time and had to leave to get Anna. I was NOT in good shape. As I was putting on my shoes to leave, Friend 1 came over and asked if I was okay. I shook my head and said, “I just need to leave. I need to get Anna.” She called me soon after we arrived home. I went in the back to hide the tears from my daughter. I told Friend 1 that I just wanted to die. I didn’t care about anything or anyone at that point…I just wanted to die. She began crying as well. She told me she wanted to come over but her little guy was napping. She begged me to call Pastor 1 back, but I refused. From our morning conversation, I felt I could not trust him; he had broken a confidence and his actions could have horrible repercussions for my husband, especially if he carried out what, in essence, was his plan to blackmail Dave. She then begged me to call Pastor 2. She gave me his cell phone number. I reluctantly agreed. I pushed the buttons on my cell phone. He answered on the second ring and he instantly knew I was in a very bad place. He told me he was in a lunch meeting in Plymouth but wanted me to meet him at the church at 2:30. His words before he hung up were, “Becky–hang on.” I didn’t think I could last the hour until our meeting time. Just as I was leaving, Friend 1 called me. She asked me to please NOT hang up…to talk to her until I walked into Pastor 2’s office. I obliged her but vowed that if a semi truck was coming towards me on that drive, I would veer into its path. On a major state highway usually busy with truck traffic, there wasn’t a truck anywhere to be found. In fact, I don’t recall any vehicle of any type in the opposite lane of that two lane highway.  Pastor 2 was waiting for me and, after assuring Friend 1 that I was in his office, he sat down, wheeled his office chair over to me, took my hands, and prayed. We then talked for over an hour, him stopping to pray often in that time. I told him of my conversation with Pastor 1 and his plan to blackmail Dave. He agreed that Pastor 1 had done the wrong thing and promised me that he would speak to him; in fact, he would call him as soon as I left and set up a meeting that night. He wouldn’t let me leave until I promised him I would not do anything to end my life. It took some time for me to agree to that, but I finally relented. I knew I needed to be home before Dave and I was already pushing it. I had instructed Anna to lie to her dad if he happened to come home before I got there. It was the safest and best thing to do for both of us. Looking back, I know God placed Pastor 2 and Friend 1 in my path that day to preserve my life. I respected both of them enough to keep a promise I made.

Over the next few weeks, our marriage deteriorated to almost nothing. Pastor 1 counseled divorce several times. I wanted a divorce. Anna wanted a divorce. She was tired of living in fear and misery. Every time I told myself that Pastor 1 was right, I would hear the counsel of Pastor 2 echo in my head: “Becky, divorce is so final. Make sure that you know that you know that you know it is what you SHOULD do. It is not the unpardonable sin, but it should not be the first resort or entered into lightly either.” I also knew there was no way I could support Anna, nor could I ever pay the tuition to keep our son in school. His college didn’t participate in the federal student loan program. Some parents did private loans to pay for the fees there, but our credit was so bad there was no way we would ever be approved for that. We had tried. My son’s goal was to be a pastor. I desperately wanted him to reach that goal and felt for sure if I divorced his dad, the man who paid those fees, our son would certainly hate me. I knew if I was going to divorce, I needed the 100% backing of all the kids. I wasn’t sure I had that. Those fears–lack of support for the kids and losing my kids–kept me from following through on Pastor 1’s advice.

In middle to late March, our son came home from college for spring break. It was his freshman year and while he knew life wasn’t great before he left for school, he had no idea just how far downhill they had gone since his departure. That was about to change though. Until now, I had repeatedly cried to God, asking Him where He was, didn’t He care, and how could He put my daughter and me through such hell. God did not come miraculously, riding on a white horse, making everything right in our little world. What He did was much slower, much more intentional, and He did it in a way that would take us all through valleys so dark and so scary that it seemed light would never be seen again. God’s first step was one I couldn’t see coming and, in all honesty, one I wish had never had to take place.

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