After leaving the Good Friday service, it took about 12 hours for me to accept the Lord’s answer to my fleece. But, there was one glaring problem: If He was calling me to share my story with others, I’d probably need to share it with my husband first.
About 30 years ago, I made a conscious decision to give myself a fresh start in life. A reset, of sorts. And I didn’t meet my husband until almost 10 years AFTER that reset… far removed from the shackles of a past I was determined to leave behind. But, now I sat on my bed trying to figure out how in the world I was going to share this story with my husband. What was I going to say? How would he react? We hardly ever fought. I mean, after 17 years of marriage I can probably count on one hand the times we’ve fought. I didn’t even know how to prepare myself for any type of confrontation.
The only thing I knew to do was pray and then to ask someone else to pray, which is exactly what I did. I called my friend, Anna, confessing my need to tell her something… but, needing to tell my husband first. I asked her to go somewhere alone to pray for me, to pray for my husband. I asked for her to pray until I texted her that my conversation with my husband was over. She told me she would and I knew she’d hold true to her word. Anna, despite not knowing the circumstances, understood both the sincerity and severity of my request.
I remember telling my husband that I needed to talk to him; it was urgent and cleaning would have to wait. I remember telling the kids they could watch a movie and that cleaning would have to wait. I remember the kids being thrilled with the indefinite postponement of chores. I remember feeling like I was going to throw up. I remember crawling into bed and wrapping myself in the blankets. I remember telling my husband the entire story.
I grew up in an abusive home, something my husband knew. My dad was a controlling, sadistic alcoholic who physically beat me and my mom, usually when he was drunk. But sometimes, especially when he was angry, alcohol wasn’t required. In middle school, social services got involved. Briefly. But, also the consummate sweet-talker, my dad convinced the social worker that my cry for help was nothing more than a kid looking to be “spared from the rod.” A funny comment from a man who refused to go to church because he didn’t want to associate with hypocrites. But, the irony was lost on the social worker because she didn’t bother asking if my dad even went to church… or asking for my side of the story, or asking to see the bruises on my body.
One night, while calling home to see if I could stay a little longer at a friend’s house, I could hear things breaking in the background. I could hear my dad in a fit of rage. The last thing I wanted to do was go home, but the last thing I could do was leave my mom there to fend for herself. By the time I got there, the house was destroyed. Picture frames torn from the walls, glass broken everywhere. My dad was still reeling and my mom was still making excuses for him. It was the same song and dance we’d been doing for years. But, I was tired of this dance. I was tired of living in fear. Honestly, I was tired of living. Period.
So, I left.
At seventeen, I left home. For a couple of weeks, there were friends whose parents took me in because they were sympathetic to the situation. But, I never wanted to overstay my welcome. I spent weeks sleeping wherever a bed, or couch, was offered. I stayed in my car. I asked my friends for whatever food they could spare during lunch. If there was enough, I’d save some for dinner. As the weeks turned into months, my friend circle began to change; all my “church” friends stopped talking to me. I started hanging out with an older crowd, which led me down a destructive path.
At the age of 17, I found myself pregnant and homeless. And in a horrific twist of fate, my parents offered me a chance to come home, under the best possible circumstances. My dad was being transferred to an office in Texas for the remainder of the school year. My parents told me I could return home, without having to deal with the presence of my dad…. but, only if I wasn’t pregnant.
Being pregnant wasn’t an option. I mean, what would the people at church think, right? This was a genuine response. (And after hearing the stories of so many others, it’s a common theme from within the church.)
I remember sitting in my car outside of the abortion clinic, watching women walk in. Watching them walk out. Curious if their countenance would change. I noticed a woman sitting in a beach chair outside the clinic, a Cool-Mate cooler to the right of the chair. She was reading a book, but every time a woman passed on the walkway to the clinic, she would look up and say something. Sometimes the interaction was longer than others. Eventually, I got up the nerve to go in. I convinced myself this was a necessary decision for survival. I needed to graduate high school and get out from under the control of my parents. But, I had to pass by this woman and her cooler first.
To this day, I remember so much about my conversation with her. She got up from her chair and said that she had been watching me for as long as I had been watching her. She then asked something I would have NEVER expected.
She asked if she could pray for me.
When I said yes, she grabbed my hands and moved in close. Too close. Her forehead pressed against mine. I braced myself for what was about to come. I was raised in a church where Sunday morning announcements included the phone numbers of elected state and federal officials you needed to call to make sure your voice was heard. I was prepared for the back-handed prayer of condemnation to hell because I was about to commit the unforgivable sin. I was ready.
But, it never came.
Instead, this woman prayed a prayer that would one day save my life. She prayed that I would experience the Father’s love in a real way. No matter what I decided, she wanted me to know that God would love me as much walking out of that clinic as He did when I walked in. No matter what I decided.
That was it. She didn’t try to change my mind. She didn’t throw scriptures at me or call me a murderer. She didn’t show me horrible pictures. She just showed me compassion. She showed me love.
She showed me Jesus.
Years later, I would find myself spiraling down a path of crippling depression, wanting to end my life. (And before anyone starts “explaining” my situation as some form of PTSD. It wasn’t. I spent a lot of time in counseling as a part of my healing process… healing from ALL the trauma of my childhood. Let me save you from your arrogance and/or ignorance. This moment, unfortunately, stemmed from other circumstances far beyond my control and had absolutely nothing to do with this situation.) In my darkest moment, I remembered the woman sitting outside the clinic. I remembered her talking about a God I never knew, despite being raised in the Church. A God that loved you… no matter what. In that moment, I called out to that God. I told Him that if He really existed, I needed Him to take this consuming darkness away. He had to end it, because if He didn’t, I was going to.
And as soon as those words escaped my mouth… it was all gone. The darkness and despair, the depression. All of it. Inexplicably gone.
I wish I could sit here and say that in that moment I dedicated my life to the Lord who saved me from myself. But, truth is… in that moment, I thought about ALL the times I was taught about God’s love for children. I thought about the horrors of my childhood and wondered where God was all those years. Instead of being overwhelmed by His love for me, I became overcome by my anger towards Him.
So… I ran from God. Hard and fast for almost 10 years. Around the world, literally… and then to Maine.
I sat on my bed, finally through the whole story. Tears rolling down my face because I just shared years worth of trauma to a man who never signed up for it. I had no idea how he would take it. My husband is an internal processor, a pretty extensive dialogue takes place in his head before any words cross his lips. I, on the other hand, am an external processor. I need words to be expressed vocally, especially in these situations.
But all I got from him was this quizzical look, as if every word coming from my mouth had been in some indistinguishable language. The expression remained on his face for an uncomfortable amount of time and I used every second of the silence to brace myself for every possible response… except the one he gave me.
“Deirdre, I’ve known… I’ve known for years.”
I’m sorry, WHAT?!?! How in the world could he know? And, more importantly, how was it even possible for me to have absolutely no clue?
My husband then went on to explain how years ago, while packing up for our move, he came across a box filled with letters and pictures. He didn’t recognize the contents and began searching for a clue. From the few things he read, my husband was able to piece together my story. But, instead of bringing the contents of the box to my attention, he quietly placed them back onto the shelf.
Immediately, I placed myself in his shoes. I can, quite confidently, admit that if the roles had been reversed, my actions would not have been the same. NOT. EVEN. CLOSE. I would have brought the whole thing to his immediate attention asking how he could have possibly kept something so monumental from me. I, most likely, would have felt entitled to know every detail and demanded as much. At the end of the day, I would have expected a complete confession and then (possibly) extended grace…. maybe. I wish I could say that my response would have been different, but I know myself pretty well.
Thankfully, that was NOT how my husband responded. And when I asked why he never said anything to me, his answer was simple… but profound.
“That was from a time in your life before you knew me. That’s not who you are now.”
And, just like that, for the first time in my entire life, I understood how Jesus REALLY sees me. I came to a place of TRULY understanding what he accomplished on the cross.
For years, men in the church… leaders in the church… shamed my husband because of his “lack of leadership” on the home front. They blamed me for not being submissive. They questioned his lack of interest in leadership opportunities at the church, opting instead to watch the babies of the young women I would teach. They never once saw how much of Jesus my husband REALLY was. (Confession: Neither did I… because I believed the lies so many propagated in the Church, whether through their words or actions.) My husband was the first to serve in the most “undesirable” positions. He saw my giftings and did everything possible to make sure I used them for the edification of the body… even if that meant being covered in the spit up of a child that wasn’t ours.
In that moment, through those simple words, my husband showed me an inexplicable love. He showed me the love of Jesus. And in that moment, EVERYTHING changed.