Category Archives: Forgiveness

Raindrops in a Sea of Grace

I woke up late this morning to raindrops on the fire escape. The tiny beads of water line themselves up in rows of eight to twelve along each metal railing and stair. They linger until the moment you look out the window and catch a glimpse of all the fire escapes on the surrounding buildings. The chorus of raindrops glitters and gleams as high as your eye can see. Slowly, one by one, they flutter to the pavement.

I decided I needed to write today.

Besides finding stage work, one of my goals in New York is to finish my book. I think I’ve been talking about completing it for almost ten months now, but haven’t written one word past Chapter 72. I know I have to end the story of the divorce, for the sake of the book.

At the same time, and not to make any more excuses, I feel as if I’ve been living the ending. Two years after pleading with God to help me end my divorce and move to New York, I am finally here.

The details matter, of course. I just don’t want to re-live them.

A few days ago, I started to write the “real” Chapter 73. I opened up my old journal and emails, and began plugging away. The more I read through three-year old communication with X, however, the angrier I got.

Why did I stay married to that guy for so long?! I screamed at myself. Every word of his on that computer screen reeked of bullshit; mine of desperation. It’s amazing how love can blind us. Yet, when two people choose to love each other, it can paint an incredible, rich canvas of life. Everything is redeemable. Anything is possible.

* * * * *

After an audition yesterday, I met up with a lovely, talented actress/director friend who just so happens to be divorced, as well. She is happily re-married to a faithful, loving man.

“Can I ask you something personal?” she asked, her piercing teal-blue eyes staring straight into mine.

“Absolutely,” I responded, my mouth full of hot bread and warm olives. Traffic outside our corner window table started picking up. Gentle flakes of snow fell to the ground, and the busy street transformed into a palette of color: grey sky, yellow cabs, black umbrellas and bright, multi-colored scarves.

“Have you been able to fully forgive X?” Her question was direct.

I paused, about to pop another green olive into my mouth.

“I don’t know,” I sighed.  I carefully placed the olive back on my plate.

I began to explain how I think I have forgiven X as much as I am humanly capable. The rest is up to God. If I stop and think about how X betrayed himself, first, then me, our marriage and everything for which we stood, I get angry. It looks like he got away with all of his shenanigans, and moved forward, almost seamlessly, into a whole new life, without consequence.

He’s actually been blessed.

The honest, human part of me wants him to suffer, perhaps just so I can feel like the fourteen years I spent in relationship with him were not a total waste.

Yet.

God’s incredible love, combined with the mystery of grace, is so powerful. I cannot think about what my ex husband has and I don’t. It’s a waste of time, emotion and energy. My new life has already been set in motion, and I get to live, free. I am free to pursue my dreams. I am free to love again, and I truly believe that love will be deeper, stronger and more incredible than anything I have ever experienced.

I also realize, in telling my story — even in re-living those painful, sometimes embarrassing details, God is able to continue to heal parts of me that are broken.

I am swimming in a sea of grace.

* * * * *

As the rain continues to fall this briskly balmy Saturday afternoon in New York, I think of each individual drop as contributing to that sea of grace, of forgiveness.

One by one, each raindrop falls. Some, harder than others. Others linger on the fire escape, until just the right moment, when you’re ready to recognize the life and beauty in a single drop.  Eventually, you’re soaked from head to toe.

And the most painfully beautiful part of it all is realizing everyone gets as much grace as you do.

By the Grace of God

Yet, I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t pull the trigger.

I still loved him.

Dammit.

So, I went back to marriage counseling and self-help books.

We went to church together and tried to pretend like everything was normal.  The first Sunday back, our charismatic pastor delivered an outstanding sermon on Ephesians 5:21-33.  I could have sworn he was looking right at us the entire time, else we were the only people sitting in the pew.  Things got intense when the pastor paced, sweated and screamed, “HUSBANDS! LOOOOVVVVEEE YOUR WIVES!”

Members of the congregation communicated right back:  “A-men!  Preach!”

The man directly in front of me put his arm around his wife.  She responded by reaching over to scratch his back with her left hand.  Her diamond sparkled in the chapel’s bright light.  For a moment, it hurt my eyes.

Myhusband and I sat dutifully on our wooden bench, not touching.  We had always made fun of the “back scratchers” in church.  I glanced down at the tiny diamond adorning my tired left hand.  It was dull, dirty.  I rotated my wrist around in the light, trying to manipulate the stone to reflect some brilliance.  I briefly caught a faint glimmer, and made a mental note to get my ring cleaned.

I later re-capped the play-by-play of the sermon in my journal.
Most poignant was the definition of sin, that it is self-centeredness. We end up with the inability to look beyond our own needs and consider anyone else’s…I spent the majority of the service crying, which is always awesome.  I keep having angry outbursts at [him] which is even more awesome…God, his heart is still so very far away.  Help me to forgive him, Lord.  I need and want to forgive him and heal from this.  I need patience for his re-attachment to form, if it ever will.  I pray that it does.

Every day over the next few weeks was a complete struggle.  I had no self-esteem whatsoever.  The only time I felt “normal” or alive was when I was doing tasks that didn’t involve my husband.  I still felt like I was in a one-sided marriage, and thus a failure at everything I was trying to do.  I beat myself up for overreacting, for not being thankful or forgiving enough, for constantly “taking the temperature” of our relationship, and, most of all, for not trusting God.  I was desperate to trust Him in that He would change my husband.  I wanted to see immediate results of repentance and spiritual growth.

Isn’t it funny?  Little did I know – especially then – that God was changing me.

Marriage counseling was beginning to help.  In one session, our counselor had us face one another and apologize.  I said I was sorry for having an “affair” with my career, with New York.  My husband apologized for having an affair with a 24-year old married girl from the Ukraine.

We then looked into each other’s eyes and said we forgave one another.

Our counselor defined New Testament love as action, not feeling, and explained that, after ten years of marriage, we may not necessarily “feel” love, but we act it, and the feelings will follow.

Hmmm.  Too bad I still actually felt love for the guy.  I wanted to raise my hand and demand a gold star in the love and feelings department, but I kept my hands to myself.

Our next task was to re-write our wedding vows.  Our counselor — one of two pastors that had married us ten years earlier — rummaged through several metal cabinets until he finally found our file.  It was complete with notes he had taken during our pre-marital counseling sessions, as well as our original vows that we had recited on our wedding day.  As he opened the coffee-stained folder, a 4×6 wedding picture fell out.  My husband picked it up and studied it for a moment, before handing it back.

I studied him and wondered what he was thinking.

Our counselor had us read our old vows.  They were pretty traditional, but cut straight to the point.   My heart briefly sank when my eyes scanned the “forsaking all others and remaining true as long as we both shall live” section.  It seemed null and void at that point.  I again wondered what my husband was thinking.  I decided to just be glad that he was there, participating.

Our counselor then gave us a few suggestions on re-writing our new vows.  This time, we’d write them ourselves, but could use phrases such as, “With Jesus as my guide,” and “By the grace of God.”

“Why not throw in a few ‘Hail Marys’ and ‘Hare Krishnas’, as well?” I joked.

We all laughed, and left our counseling session that day, feeling somewhat peaceful.

I quickly wrote out my new vows.  Part of them felt generic, but I wanted to get the point across that I supported my man, and wanted to trust him.  And, above all else, I loved him.

By the grace of God I take you as my husband.

I offer myself only as I am.

With Jesus as my guide, I promise to be “your best”, your wife.  I promise to be faithful and true to you in the good times, and especially in the most trying times.  Wherever God may lead us, I know that with His help and our commitment to one another, we can be “bigger than life.”

I promise to care for you and provide an encouraging, supportive, forgiving and loving home as we continue to rebuild our marriage and become one.

By God’s grace and mercy, I promise to trust you as my faithful and only husband, to lift you up, pray for you, encourage you and passionately love you forever.

I promise to stand firm in my faith, knowing that our marriage is and will continue to be God’s amazing plan for our lives.  Without Him, we are nothing.

I love you so much.

A few days later, my husband flew to Portugal – again.  I was about to commence a six-week tour, myself.  We made plans to meet up in Baltimore for Thanksgiving, and I obtained permission for my husband to spend a week on the road with me.  Our goal was to re-build our marriage, and, at the same time, our careers.

My husband’s plane took off on a Wednesday morning, early.  When I finally awoke, I found his vows sitting on the kitchen table.

He called me his wife.  His only.He told me he loved me more than words could ever express.  He loved me with everything in him. He acknowledged that he failed daily, but even his worst failings didn’t change the fact that and that his heart was now — and always would be — mine.

He wanted to be “big” for me; to make a place where my talent could shine.  He said he had never known someone with a greater talent, or bigger heart than mine.  And he wanted to mirror back all the love that I had shown him.

What struck me most in his letter was that he referred to me as an inspiration. He promised to become an inspiration to me.

All by the grace of God.

Forgive and Forget

September 9, 2009 was the night my husband confessed to his affair.  After he announced the truth to me (sans details), he wanted to tell his parents.  I drove him to their house.  How I managed to stay sane and operate a motor vehicle is beyond me.  I was in shock; shaking.  I could only hear the sound of my own breathing as we sat in silence for the ten-minute drive.  We walked into the house and sat down on the couch. I breathed violently through my nostrils.  My father-in-law had to be roused from his sleep.  Upon hearing the news, both in-laws let out small sighs.  My husband’s mother was the first to speak up.  She asked him what he was “planning to do about it.”

“Well, I am going to give Leslie the house,” my husband stated, almost too calmly.

I sprang to my feet.

“WHAT?!  YOU ARE GOING TO LEAVE ME FOR HER?” I screamed.  For some reason I thought he was just confessing everything – coming clean, and that he wanted to start anew.  He might even actually apologize.

I took the glass of water I had been attempting to sip and threw it against the fireplace.  It shattered into tiny pieces, sprinkling shards of glass all over the painted hardwood floor.   My husband’s parents remained motionless in their respective seats.

I took my fists, curled them into tight, little balls of fury and started pounding on him.  Everything I could muster up in strength I unleashed onto his head, his shoulders, and his back.  I punched the shit out of him for a few seconds and then stormed through the open screen door.  I paced the front porch, my shallow breathing even more audible.   My heart – it was there! – pumped furiously inside of my chest.  I wanted to go back in and kill the fucking bastard but I think I knew I had to calm down.

“I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” I muttered to myself, as I paced the porch, grabbing my short hair at the roots.  I went back inside and announced,  “I’m leaving. I can’t do this.”

So I left.  No one stopped me.

I drove back to our house, which we had owned for seven years.  We had recently lost two of our three dogs, so the house felt even more empty than usual.  I don’t exactly know what I was thinking.  Why on earth would I go back there?  I suppose since I had been away from it for the past seven months it was all I knew to do.

I couldn’t face our bedroom, so I went into the guest room and lay down on my childhood bed.  I prayed, cried, writhed, sobbed, screamed and cussed like a sailor.

A short time later I heard a knock on the back door.  It was my mother-in-law.  She told me that she was going to stay in the house until my husband came back home.  After I had gone, she had given him an ultimatum.  If he left me, he would be dead to the family.  Disowned.  He thought about it, and then told her that he  “needed to return the hotel key”.  Apparently he had rented a room in Beverly Hills for the evening — probably all part of his escape.   Or something.

Later I realized how weird it was for my mother-in-law to want such an active part in repairing (or ending?) my marriage.

Somehow, between chokes and quiet sobs, I fell asleep.  I woke up to soft, controlled voices in the living room.  He had obeyed his mother and returned home.  I heard my mother-in-law’s tone, full of anger.  I heard my husband deliver short sentences.  I didn’t know what they were saying, only because I was shocked that I had actually fallen asleep.

I heard the back door slam, and she was gone.

The door to the guest room creaked open.  My husband’s tall frame stood in the doorway.  He did not turn on the light and I did not get out of bed.

“Who is going to love me now?” I asked him. My life was over.  I had to start all over again at 32 years old.

“Someone will,” was his response.  He stood still.

“I can’t believe you had sex with her!” I shrieked, as horrible visions of their bodies entangled in lustful passion entered my mind.  A wave of nausea pulsated through my body and the back of my mouth got watery.  Many more F bombs exploded from my lips as I tried to verbally process the reality that was only just beginning to sink in.  I marveled at how quickly a bond between two people could be obliterated, no matter how many years they had been together, or what they had shared.

“It…only happened once.” His voice stayed quiet but slightly high-pitched.

“WHEN?”  My voice was loud and cold as ice.

“In…June.”   I had actually been home twice that month: once for a gig, and another to sing at a dear friend’s wedding.

“LIAR.”  I turned and faced the wall.

But I wanted to believe it.  I wanted so very badly to believe that my husband had “accidentally” slipped his penis into his 24-year old student’s vagina just once.  What is more, I wanted to believe that it didn’t mean anything to him.

I was conveniently forgetting the fact that he had confessed he loved her; that he had thought about leaving the country to go be with her.  My god, the girl barely spoke English.  Obviously she was out for a Green Card.  This was such a joke.  Wasn’t he smarter than this?

My cries of anguish continued until my husband finally slumped down on the floor next to my twin bed.  He started sobbing.  I was relieved that he showed any emotion whatsoever. It gave me hope.  I softened.

He did speak some words of remorse.  Then he crawled into bed with me.  I held him. We cried together.

“I forgive you,” I said, stroking his face.  “I forgive you because I want to, and because that’s what I’m called to do. “

I really, truly, deeply meant it.

Forgiveness is not something that comes easily, or instantaneously.  I am not going to pretend that I conducted myself in a “godly” manner, or that I said and did all the right things.  I was a crazy, maniacal, jealous wife who still loved her husband.  I couldn’t see that he was gone.  He had left the marriage a long time ago.  I wanted to hold onto what good things we had…I wanted to hold on to the memories and the laughter and the history and the connection and the – dare I say it – holiness of our marriage.  Yet, what becomes of “holiness” when someone else has entered the marriage bed?  Worse yet, I was still blaming myself for the entire thing because I had gone off to pursue my dreams.  Repairing a marriage after an affair is no easy task, even when both partners are willing to do whatever it takes.

Regardless, I knew in all my Christian upbringing, theology classes in college and years of church attendance and Bible study that we are to forgive as the Lord forgave us (Colossians 3:13). Somehow, God gave me the strength to express my desire to forgive my adulterous husband that evening.  I truly believe we could have had a shot at making it through the storm had he wanted the marriage.  What I didn’t know is that my husband had not hit rock bottom.  Furthermore, he was incapable of accepting my forgiveness because he had not forgiven himself.

In his book, Forgive and Forget, Lewis Smedes says, “If you forget, you will not forgive at all…you need to forgive precisely because you have not forgotten what someone did; your memory keeps the pain alive long after the actual hurt has stopped.  Remembering is your storage of pain. It is why you need to be healed in the first place.”

All I wanted that night, in that tiny bedroom in that tiny bed, was to start over.  I wanted to forgive my husband and start the path towards healing; towards forgetting any of it ever happened.  I wanted to forget it all, through blind, yet genuine and earnest forgiveness.  I wanted to skip over the pain. I wanted my husband to hold me, to repent of his dirty deeds, to love me.  I wanted him to want to run away with me.

I desperately clung to my husband and prayed for him to love me again. He did not leave me that night.  I started to hope.  After all, I had done the right thing.

Hadn’t I?