I am absolutely transfixed by the snow falling out my window at present.
Huge flakes gently drop to the earth. Some dance in circular motion before standing completely still, then change direction. Each is individual and dances with purpose. Some attach themselves to the bare trees, decorating them with leaves of crisp, frozen white. The rest fall to the ground. Eventually, the accumulation will be shoveled aside or melt. The unluckiest flakes become curbside slush, dirty ice or – gasp – yellow.
Yet, in flight, snowfall is the most peaceful, magical sight.
Growing up in California, snow was a rare phenomenon. As kids, we’d be corralled into the car and drive for hours just to touch a few inches of the white stuff. We made crude snowmen with whatever we could find and tossed around a few small balls of ice, but that was about it. Back into the car we went, fighting over our favorite seats. (More often than not, I shrewdly won, threatening carsickness.) We were anxious to get back to the sun, warmth and familiarity of home.
When I moved to New York, it was my first experience living in snow. Everything about it was exciting, even the wind chill factor. As the months dragged on, however, the thrill quickly wore off.
It was cruelly cold and biting, and I suffered the worst: improper shoes. I became frustrated and anxious. I didn’t want to go anywhere. Yet, unlike Los Angeles, New Yorkers don’t cancel anything due to inclement weather. I found myself becoming withdrawn, maybe even a little depressed. I missed the sun. I missed the warmth and familiarity of home.
Just when I was ready to give up, spring burst forth, like your favorite boisterous, bosomy, bellowing aunt. She’s the life of every party and always has good gum in her purse. The ice and snow melted away; bare trees slowly budded again and new life emerged.
This happens every single year.
As the flakes outside have turned into a slanted, steady pelting, I realize I have finally learned to live in – and enjoy – the winter. I even have proper shoes. (Two pairs!) I never truly appreciated spring until I fully endured winter. Perhaps it’s because I had it so easy in California. More often than not, you can drive up PCH with the convertible top down; work on your tan and even swim in the ocean in January.
It’s no wonder why people move west. Winter tests our strength and endurance. It isn’t easy to live in such fluctuating weather. No one hands out awards for getting through the difficult season. You survive it because you know spring is coming.
The metaphor here may be obvious to the point of cliché, but I am in the thick of grieving right now. It is dark. I am no stranger to this season. I have survived before. The odds are in my favor: I will survive again.
But I am exhausted. My heart is worn out. And as the obnoxiously loud sanitation truck plows the snow off 5th Avenue below, I declare my resignation. Love is for the most reckless of fools. I give up.
I don’t want sympathy, encouragement or advice. Fuck the poetry of it all. I’ll be fine. Keep that well-meaning horse shit to yourself. (I just made myself laugh. See?) In fact, I’ll encourage myself. If I write the words, they will eventually mean something.
I trust I can get through this. I can trudge through the dirtiest slush and endure the pain of the most freezing rain, sleet or snow. My skin can take the most whipping wind and biting cold. I hope to find the beauty in this season. This is my home now. I trust the sun will re-appear. I trust warmth is waiting. I trust healing will happen. I trust I can love again.
I trust spring is coming. And she damn well better have strawberry bubble gum in her purse.
I know better. I really do. Yet it still doesn’t stop me from (a) being angry, (b) feeling sorry for myself, (c) crying pathetic tears into my pillow at night, (d) trying to take things into my own hands (ONLINE DATING IS HEINOUS!) and (e) wanting to give up, altogether.
I’m embarrassed at my fickle heart. I go from being extremely happy with my life “as is”, to completely devastated that I’m not where I want to be.
Yesterday morning I dressed myself for church, feeling obligatory, pudgy and tired, with touch of low-grade frustration. I arrived a few minutes late and picked a new place to sit, alone. I’ve been attending church alone for over three years now. I’m quite used to it. I’m okay sitting by myself. In fact, I’m getting sogood at doing things alone, I sometimes forget what it is like to have a companion.
My problem is that I’m okay with all of this. I have told myself I have to be. For the most part, I’m just fine being single. I’m fine with not getting asked out on dates. It’s totally understandable, because it’s not the right time, or the “right” guys aren’t asking, or whatever other stupid-ass reason. It’sokay that I have to suppress my raging sex drive (I write about this a lot, don’t I?!), because I know better. I want to have sex when it’s right, with the right person: one who will not just use me, empty me of my full, capable heart, and then leave.
Side note: When you’ve gone from having a very regular, healthy (except in the end) sex life to NOTHING — ?!?!?!
Of course, it’s not just about sex. I long for relationship.
So, I’m waiting. Hoping. At the same time, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be held, desired, caressed; loved – specifically, by a man. And in those recurring moments of despair I know the answer is to turn to God for help. Except that I feel stupid, selfish and silly, because I should be stronger than this.
The truth is, I’m not strong at all.
I’m sick of this “single” bullshit, and pretending that it’s okay. It’s not. It sucks.
And so, a few minutes after I slipped into my seat and greeted the friendly, churchy-hipster faces around me, Joseph began his sermon.
It was about “the meantime.” Waiting.
Oh, come on, God. I don’t feel like listening to this today. I know I have a bad attitude, and I’ll try to fix it. I don’t want anything to apply to me, personally. I want to be left alone. Can’t Joseph give some illustration about somebody else? An update on the Kenyan mission team, or maybe a typical four-pointer on how to love my neighbor, all beginning with the letter “L”? I just feel like checking out today.
Alas. His intro was really good, so I decided to cast aside a little bit of my negativity. I pulled out my journal and pen, and began taking notes.
The “meantime” is the time between wanting something and having it, I wrote, almost as quickly as it left Joseph’s lips. We equate waiting with wasted time. If we have any hope, the meantime can bring up negative feelings. We begin to distrust, disobey and despair.
Sigh. It’s so true. I am chief of the triple D’s.
We need to wait…for the RIGHT thing.
How many times have I heard this?? Yet, I can’t poo poo it, because I know it’s truth.
I then started to think about all of the warm bodies in the room, and for what each person might be waiting; hoping; longing.
I know a few couples who are waiting to get pregnant. They’re trying everything they possibly can, all while praying, hoping and believing that God will answer those prayers. It just hasn’t happened yet. Time is running out.
I know families who are waiting to hear news – good or bad – about their loved one’s illness. What an agonizing place to be: wondering if your child/husband/brother/mother is going to suffer and die, and soon.
I know a woman who is waiting for her husband to “come around” – to see her for who she truly is, and to love her deeply; intimately. He’s just not capable of it right now. She still believes in the potential of the man he can become, and is waiting. It’s caused a lot of pain and confusion in her life.
I thought about my own journey, and how I’m waiting for God to answer all of my prayers. I’ve been praying about moving back to New York since July 2009, even when I was still married. I’ve been praying for my dad, step-mom and sisters to plunge into a deep relationship with God. I want to spend eternity in heaven with them. I’ve wondered and prayed about a second husband. I actually started writing to him — whoever he is — two years ago. It feels so cheesy.
And dare I even pray and ask for a career and children? I do.
There’s nothing that I can do to make the waiting easier, not even with a good attitude. I just have to sit, and wait, in the meantime. I know I do a horrible job at it, but I also know that God is in control. I get frustrated with myself at how small and petty my complaints seem to be, but they’re real, and I know they don’t go unnoticed. I know God cares, and I know He’s not going to forsake me. He hasn’t done so thus far.
My mind drifted back to the sermon, and I continued taking notes. I started to tear up a bit when Joseph pointed out, “As long as we are breathing, God is not done with us.”
Okay, God. I surrender. You got me. And I KNOW You’re not done with me yet.
As if that weren’t enough, Joseph “landed the plane” (hilarious pastoral terminology for wrapping up a sermon) with a 5-minute film. The lights dimmed, and a beautiful, blind teenager named Alyssa was projected onto the screen. She’s been blind since birth.
Great. I feel even more like an ass. My life is good, and this poor girl is blind. She wins. I suck at being a Christian.
“If I could see,” Alyssa said, “I don’t think my faith would be as strong.”
The camera then cut to her walking onstage and sitting down at the piano, and Alyssa played and sang – like an angel — an inspiring, beautiful song that she had written.
I started to cry harder at this point, and heard a few other people sniffling around me. The woman sitting one seat away from me dug in her purse for several tissues.
“I have so much joy and so much anticipation,” Alyssa’s voiceover soothed the congregation, “because I know the first face I’m ever going to see is Jesus, and that means the world to me.”
I realized something at that point: Alyssa will never see. Not in this earthly life, at least. She is waiting for something that you and I take for granted, daily. Her whole life is a “meantime”.
Yet she still has hope. She still has joy. She still has an impact on — and purpose in — this life. She literally walks by faith, not by sight.
I have struggled with this post simply because it doesn’t feel poignant or special. I have no “plane to land”; no physical evidence of my hope and faith, or even my prayers being answered.
Yet I still hope. I wait. I trust. I believe.
Over two years ago, a friend of mine made me a CD to help encourage me as I endured the real-time pain of my divorce. I never used to listen to Christian music (I was way too cool for it). Now that the scars have begun to fade, certain songs pop into my head. Today, “While I’m Waiting” is on replay in my mind.
I’m waiting I’m waiting on You, Lord, and I am hopeful I’m waiting on You, Lord Though it is painful But patiently, I will wait
I will move ahead, bold and confident Taking every step in obedience
While I’m waiting I will serve You
While I’m waiting I will worship
While I’m waiting I will not faint
I’ll be running the race Even while I wait.
It’s hard to wait. The meantime can really suck. But may we keep moving forward, with boldness and confidence; may we keep running with endurance the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1), and hold unswervingly to the hope that we profess, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).
Almost immediately after my husband’s departure, I became disillusioned with our marriage.
I wanted him to “check in” with me, whatever chance he got. I asked him who he was with; where he was staying; what he was doing. I asked him if we could set up a time to Skype, daily. He never gave me a straight answer. He told me he would “write more later”. Furthermore, we were totally broke. I couldn’t keep up with the bills on my own, even with all the odd jobs I was working. My husband kept promising that a check for $4,000.00 was coming in the mail.
It never did.
I started to panic. I called my marriage counselor and asked him what to do. He reminded me of my end of the “bargain”. March 16th. March 16th.
It was barely the first week of March.
I didn’t want to fail. I wanted to be a good, supportive wife. I wanted God to bless my marriage, and my attempts at saving it. I wanted to give it my all, or die trying.
So, I went back to the drawing board. I emailed my husband.
I want to support you in every way you need me to. I am sorry if I have been demanding of your time. I am here for you – there is no pressure to Skype or have a quota of email to fulfill. I want you to do the best job you can and you shouldn’t have the extra pressure of trying to succumb to my demands. I’m sorry. Email me when you can; I really will do my very best to give you space and the freedom to do your job.
I’m sorry, I really am.
I love you,
My email had meant the world to him. He said he loved me so much, and wanted to be there for me, but thanked me for understanding. It brought tears to his eyes.
And then, the long-awaited check arrived. It wasn’t anywhere near $4,000.00, but it was enough for the time being. I thanked my husband for helping contribute. He was relieved, and stayed very busy. Oftentimes days would pass before I would hear from him. We had a couple of Skype conversations, but he was too distracted. Our communication started to wane, as I backed off my pursuit of him. I continued to type and send the daily devotionals, but I did not offer, nor press him for further information.
He wanted to know what was going on.
I know that you are really busy and I am just trying to give you the space you need to do your job, without the pressure of a relationship on top of it, I wrote.
I realized that there truly was nothing that we could do for our marriage while he was away. I also realized that my end of the bargain was a real shitty one, but felt guilty for not wanting to follow through with it.
I wrote in my fresh, thick, black journal.
I am doing all the hard work, I am in therapy and marriage counseling. He shows up but is JUST GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS. He knows exactly what to say — gives me just enough to hang on, but I am starting to crack and crumble. If you don’t water a plant it will die. “Thank you for your support” basically means “thanks for getting off my back and not pressuring me to be in a relationship with you.” I KNOW this guy.
I feel like I’m sticking with it to please my marriage counselor and my therapist. I am so tired.
I don’t want to be tied down to him anymore.
This guy has a LOT to do. It may be years before he fully matures. I am not that patient.
I don’t even know if I love him anymore.
I went to therapy twice that week. I walked in, sat down, and told my therapist I’d had enough. I wanted my life back.
Without missing a beat, she said, “All right! We need to change our goals, then.”
I was shocked. I was sure that she wanted me to stay in my marriage. Wasn’t that the right thing to do? The Christian thing to do? Yet, at the same time, it felt so freeing. She told me I needed to figure out what I wanted. Make a list, write it down, do some soul-searching.
Who is Leslie without her husband?
I would eventually figure out the answer to that question, but to get there, I had to write.
I feel like the winds of change are upon me…instead of doing whatever it takes or being desperate for the marriage, I’m willing, ready and wanting to do what is best overall. This is my life, and I don’t want my entire life to be like the past six months.
I want OUT of my marriage. I want MY life. I want to find someone who will love me for who I am, not what I do, or how I do it. I want someone who won’t keep leaving me.
I do feel like there has been a death. I am becoming unattached to him, and my therapist thinks so, too. I’m just so tired of this. It’s been six months of hanging on, hoping, praying, wishing, crying, screaming, panicking, fighting, sobbing, drinking, throwing things, reading self-help books, packing, unpacking, long phone calls to friends, crying, crying, pounding tables with fists, searching, asking WHY, trying.
Life goes on. I don’t want to fix it anymore; I have no interest. This guy I married ten years ago is non-existent. He is caught up in his career – great, that’s wonderful. Am I being unfair? Maybe, sure. I am tired of playing fair and being patient. Being faithful to him got me NO WHERE in the first place. No promises. He makes no effort to be in the relationship, even when not pressured. Patience doesn’t work; NOTHING works. I gave it all I had and I want it to be over NOW.
God, he’s yours. Not mine anymore.
I am DONE DONE DONE –
Soon after I finished penning my thoughts, I received an email from my husband. He was staying in Australia, and didn’t know when he would return.
Never in my life had I been more grateful for jury duty.
The very next morning, after the “altercation” with my mother-in-law, I was placed on a panel for a drug possession trial. I half hoped I’d be selected, just to get away from my husband, and keep my insanity at bay. When the time came for me to answer questions, I told the D.A. my mother had dated a guy who turned out to be a crack addict, (truth!) so I’d probably not be the best candidate for impartiality. However, I said I felt sorry for the guy, and eagerly offered that he looked like a cross between Terry Bradshaw and Owen Wilson. Indignant, the defendant raised an eyebrow.
Needless to say, I was not selected as one of the twelve.
That night, I fought even more with my husband, and then told him, “I think I want a divorce.”
What am I saying? Do I really want a divorce? I asked myself. Who stays married anymore? And, if that, who is truly happy?
I turned to my Bible for answers. I kept writing down verses, holding onto them; clinging to God’s word.
2 Corinthians 10:5 – “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” God, take my thoughts, fear, anxiety, confusion, anger and hurt – I know these are all things You can heal.
Matthew 6:34- “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Every day has enough trouble of its own.” You can say that again.
2 Corinthians 4:18 – “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen…” You are the God who sees me.
Isaiah 30:18 – “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.”
Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose.” Even this shipwreck of a marriage — this horrible struggle — can be worked for GOOD.
Psalm 42:11 – “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Help me, God. I am a broken person.
Isaiah 12:2 – “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” I will TRUST.
We went back to marriage counseling, and it was good. We both agreed that our counselor was extremely diplomatic. We were able to express ourselves in a safe environment. I actually appreciated that our counselor called me out on my behavior. I was always looking for ways to better myself in the relationship as it stood, but I also wanted to be heard. I wanted my feelings to be valid. It felt like we were making progress; gaining ground.
After our shorter, 90-minute session, we went out to dinner, and then perused Borders. My husband loitered in the magazine section, while I marched straight upstairs to “Religion”. I wanted to purchase and devour the two books our counselor had just recommended.
One other person wandered aimlessly in the religion section. He was a 22-year old kid who, a month earlier, had discovered that his wife was cheating on him. He was still in shock, and practically vomited the whole story. I listened, gave him a few details of my own journey thus far, and then heard myself encouraging him to stick with it, to not give up. I even recommended a few books for him to read. He thanked me profusely, and bought the daily devotional book of which I had highly spoken.
It felt good to encourage him, but I also felt like a phony.
Whattaheck? I wrote. Why can I come across as a grounded person and help someone through the same trial I am enduring, yet be so crazy, myself?
A few days later, my husband made a familiar announcement. He was thinking of going to France and Australia. He would be gone for two weeks.
We met with some friends for dinner; friends who knew the depth of our struggle. They were extremely loving and encouraging. They really wanted us to stay together. Everyone did. My husband said he didn’t want to lose me, yet honestly expressed his desire to “have his cake, and eat it, too.”
We drove home, reflecting upon our dinner conversation, and the love and support of our good friends. We did not fight that evening. Yet I still felt uneasy.
I rose early the next morning. Lord, I come to You this morning, extremely weary. Confused. Angry with the betrayal of my own thoughts and feelings. Frustrated at the mountainous task ahead of trying to stay married. I CANNOT DO IT, LORD. I AM TOO WEAK…help me to somehow be WISELY supportive. I need help trusting You, which is a silly, silly paradox. I need help, God, help…my heart is so heavy.
Later in the day — I told him that I did not want him to go to France or Australia. He said that he would die (basically) if he couldn’t go. He does not see his life as categories: God, marriage, career, etc., but all in one. I don’t know how to respond. I said that I would support him by praying for him. I don’t know what else to do.
I just want Tuesday to come so that he will leave and I won’t be burdened with sadness anymore. He chooses self. He chooses escape. OK. How much longer do I stay with this person? God? Please? Really?
We spent a week on the road together, making the most of Baltimore, Atlantic City, Philadelphia, New Brunswick and New York.
In retrospect, it was probably the best week that we had spent together in almost a year. We always had a great time traveling together, and the luxury tour bus, accommodations and friendly environment took the stress off our relationship. My husband was able to see, first-hand, my life on the road, and I was happy to share it with him. It started to feel like the old, happy couple was being resurrected.
And then I’d remember.
There are times when I feel like everything is normal, and then I see some sickness or I remember what he did. It is so hard to forget. I want to forget so, so badly, I cried out in my journal.
We continued to struggle, but I blamed it on myself. At the same time, I wanted to fix everything, and feel a sense of security in my marriage. I wanted to know my husband’s plan for the future. As he continued to give me the same, seemingly run-around answer, I began to question whether we would actually make it. I didn’t want to quit, but I was so tired of being unhappy. Nothing was changing. At least not in my perception, or immediate time frame.
We parted ways at the train station in New Brunswick, New Jersey, after a long, fun night of debauchery in New York City. My husband would fly back to Los Angeles for a night, and then onto Hawaii, where a new writing assignment awaited him.
I headed to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Tennessee, self-reflecting all along the way. I prayed for my husband. After performing at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, I started to feel a stronger sense of who I was, what I wanted in my life, and, perhaps being on my own wasn’t so bad.
I wrote constantly. I want to stay on the road; I don’t want to go back to LA at all…sometimes I feel like I don’t want to put the effort into my marriage anymore. But what would I get out of a relationship with someone else? There’s no guarantee that someone wouldn’t cheat on me, as well. UGH. I am so tired of thinking about it, talking about it, feeling it. I am lonely but I don’t miss [him]. I hate what we have become.
I need help, help, help, help.
Then, my husband emailed me from the North Shore. It softened my heart. He wasn’t able to sleep; he felt sick.
Why? Because I’ve been so rude? I joked.
What he had done was hitting him in waves (no pun intended!) I interpreted that it was starting to dawn on him: his infidelity — his mistake — would never go away. He couldn’t sweep it under the rug, no matter how hard he tried.
I rambled back at him, per usual.
If you want to call it quits I am game. I have half a mind to move to Nashville and start my life over, marry some country western band leader who plays in one of the bars on the main drag and have a bunch of kids…all the while maintaining my own music career. I feel like I have so much life to live, and I don’t want to be in a diseased relationship.
I love you, I always will. I honestly think your career will explode if you are single…you don’t need anyone like me bogging you down.
I go back and forth between wanting to run as far away from you as possible, to really wanting to make this work, for spiritual growth and all. But I feel like I am so far ahead of you in the process…
I want you to hurt as much as I do but that’s just mean.
Or maybe I’m trying to get you to dump me once and for all? I don’t know. The harder road is the best, I know that.
He said he felt sick; he wanted to throw up.
Are you sick like “you want to be done with me” sick? Like before?
He couldn’t breathe without me. He wanted to die. He felt awful, and my emails made him horribly sad.
Of course you can [breathe without me]. You will be fine. Is this the end?
Don’t die. I’m sorry. I should shut my mouth. I don’t understand any of this…I think it’s only fair that I imagine my life sans you: you did it to me. Can we talk on the phone?
And, almost like that, it seemed like he had switched off again. He claimed he didn’t have reception.
I sighed, and told him to call whenever he could. It was dinnertime for me.
He said he loved me.
I love you so much, too, I replied. I think it’s all we need for now.
Yet, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t pull the trigger.
I still loved him.
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.
My attempt to woo my husband through my love letter(s) was met with tepid response. He wrote back, first reiterating that the Investment Banker and French Cigarette Girl (WHO WAS SHE!?!?!?!?) were just “elements of the story” that he was weaving through Europe. He wanted to make his journey sound “Aristocratic” and “Bohemian”. He admitted to being consumed with his writing, and hoped that it would become lucrative so that there wouldn’t be such a financial mess back home.
His next few paragraphs softened.
He said that my email about our past, and what we had together, bent his heart. He wanted for us to be OK, but he didn’t know how to make that happen. He felt so far away. He felt horrible. He felt pressure. He felt fear. He felt alone, and very much on his own.
And then he said he loved me. I should know that.
I did know that he loved me. And I suppose it was enough to keep me going. Yet what was this talk of his “bent” heart? My heart was broken, daily.
At the same time, I somehow understood the difficult personal journey that he was on – how could I beat him while he was down? I had, after all, offered him forgiveness. I wanted to extend grace. He was expressing love for me, and even appeared to begin dealing with himself. He confirmed over and over that his affair was done, and even offered his email password as proof.
I never used it.
The positive emails continued to flow. It seemed as if my husband was slowly turning back into the sweet, humble, loving man I had married. At the same time, however, he was spinning a different tale to his readership. I read every one of his daily stories, and the Investment Banker with the BMW was becoming more of a central figure. Still, I chose to believe that my husband was writing fiction; portraying himself as a harmless character.
He wrote again to tell me that one of the magazines had asked him to stay on and cover the next leg of the tournament, which would be held in Portugal. We were out of touch for 40 hours.
And then, a picture of him and his Investment Banker surfaced.
It was a candid shot. The two of them sat in a golf cart, comfortably close together. The woman appeared to be in her early 20s. She relaxed into him, her left arm draped lovingly over his right shoulder. She was dressed casually, in jeans and an off-the shoulder T-shirt that displayed a busy, silkscreened image of James Dean. I immediately noticed her thin frame, and how tragically small her breasts appeared to be. Her long, dark hair was pulled loosely back in a ponytail. A few stray pieces covered her small, heavily lined eyes. Her fiery red fingernails gripped at the Blackberry in her free hand. She concentrated on the screen, frosted lips slightly parted.
My husband leaned forward, his arms resting over the steering wheel. His head was turned in her direction and his lips mirrored hers. He had gotten a haircut and new sunglasses. The colorful, grassy green background contrasted the heavy, dark ink on his biceps.
I wanted to get out as fast as I could. I continued to clean and pack the house, but I couldn’t do it alone. My mother drove 280 miles south to help me organize and sort through what remained of my (our?) life. In one weekend, we scrubbed the entire kitchen and took a large load of unwanted dishes, glasses, pots and pans to the Goodwill. I touched up paint in all the rooms as my mom washed floors and windows. I took down every single picture in the house and packed them away in bubble-wrapped boxes. I duct-taped those boxes shut. Together, we tightened fixtures and fixed loose doorknobs. The house started looking and feeling less like a “divorce house”, and more like a happy home.
I didn’t want to move out anymore.
One of the tasks I ordered myself was to start going through the mountain of boxes in the garage. I was focused, and determined to get it done. As I opened each individually labeled box — “JUNK”, “LES”, “KEEPSAKES”, “PICS” — the anger within my icy cold heart started to melt. Before me lay tangible evidence of a joyful, fun, committed fourteen-year relationship. Our love had been real. I didn’t care if we were fetuses when we got married. What we had was special. All the old memories started flooding back, washing over the pain of the present situation.
I poured out my heart in a long email.
I’m going to bed in a few minutes but I just wanted to write…
I went through boxes and boxes of keepsakes today. It was unbelievably beautiful and painful at the same time. To see our correspondence through the years, and to see old pictures and silly remnants of times past.
I read through some journals you wrote to me before we got engaged, and I read a letter I wrote to you the night before you left for Germany; I read a ridiculously large card that I wrote to you on your 23rd birthday — just two months before we got married.
Our letters have always been filled with such love and hope; such encouragement and support of each other. And such a desire to live together, always, in the Lord. I must have done something that made you sad right before your 23rd birthday and I wrote about it…apologized for being selfish, and it made me cry. Here I am, ten years later, apologizing for being selfish.
It didn’t take long before I couldn’t go through any more boxes. I am not sharing this to make you feel bad (I’m not even sure what you actually feel), but I haven’t wept like this, ever. I guess the point in sharing all of this with you is that I realized just how beautiful our marriage is. We have withstood a lot together. We have weathered separation, deserts, bombs, kidnappings, overwhelming financial messes, sickness, selfishness on both our parts, roommates, “nihhsty” hot chocolate, parental over-involvement, the divorces of our friends, Showtunes, the list goes on and on. I wept at the thought of it all being over.
“And like that,” Verbal Kent says, “Poof! (It’s) gone.”
I went to church this evening with my sister. It was, first, such an answer to many years of prayer for her, and it also was really good to go to church. Afterward, we trekked across the street to the coffee house. You can imagine how old and retarded I felt — here I am, baggy-eyed 32-year old Les hanging out with three 20-year olds in a Christian coffee house. I looked at Carolyn, and then I looked at her friend, and I realized that they are the exact age that I was when you and I got engaged. I started observing their innocence and the hope in their eyes…then I noticed the excitement around me…just a bunch of nerdy Christians getting coffee, but there was something so wonderfully familiar about it all. It felt like I was back at Biola, in Common Grounds…something you would have loathed, but it brought back good, wonderful memories. Coupled with the letters and pictures, birthday cards and old plane tickets I sorted through today, it brought back a flood of memories and emotions about you and me. We have such a long-standing history, but what is more, we have such a beautiful foundation upon which our marriage stands. And maybe it looks dorky from a 32-year old perspective, but it snapped me back into a place from which we haven’t been that far. It certainly made me miss you and grieve your loss all the more, especially if I had to pick from the intolerable “prospects” in the room.
There simply is no other for me but you.
I’m not writing any of this to invoke a response, please don’t feel like you have to say more than you want to or are even capable of at this point. I’d probably start censoring myself and hope that I didn’t say anything to turn you off or annoy you. I’m simply going back to the best way I think I communicate, which is through words on paper/computer screen.
You may argue with me on this next part, but I have to say that I know you…I know you better than anyone knows you (except God). I would even say I know things about you that you don’t know. And I care. I care so, so much. I may do a horrible job at showing it, but I do.
I am your wife, and I love being your wife.
Every word that I wrote to you ten years ago is still true. I love everything about you: your mind, your wit, your humor, your touch, your taste, your smell, your skin…I still love that inside part of your arm. I love you deeply and I love you for who you are, even if you are able to go back and pick apart all the ways I failed at showing that to you. You cannot take away from me the love I have for you, no matter how hard you try. Yes, you successfully damaged all trust in our relationship, and when you continue to pursue a relationship with UKR you are incapable of seeing the beauty that is still our marriage, but even that won’t stop me from loving you.
I love you, I love you dearly and I don’t know what else to say. It’s so late for me, I don’t know why I can’t go to bed, but I just have to express to you how I feel. I want you to know my heart, and how much I want to be with you.
Someday I hope you can read what I am writing to you and it will strike a chord…it will make some sense…maybe it will remind you of the foundation upon which our love is (and has been) built. I have said to you before, nothing is irreparable. You are worth it to me. You are my beautiful, wonderful, amazing husband, whom I love, support, admire and desire. If ever you read anything more from me, know that; know how much you mean to me…our past, our present, our future together.
I don’t mind being the “old familiar” because “new exotic” will eventually become “old familiar”, anyway.
I want to help you write the next chapter of your life, and the next, and the next, and the next.
It was carnal, short, traumatic, unsatisfying (for me) and completely emotional. I quietly sobbed the entire time. All I could imagine was her, despite his calm reassurance that he was thinking of me. I really felt the loss of connection between us. That is something that you can never, ever, EVER undo. The trust and – dare I say – innocence of our sexual connection had been obliterated. It HURT, deeper than any other pain I had experienced in my life. I was needy, though, so I threw myself at him. I was grateful that he finally took the bait. It was an oddly comforting place to be, considering the fact that my previous attempts to seduce him were met with disgust, or comments such as, “It wouldn’t be fair to you.”
I figured I could keep him interested in me if I offered my body to him. And he finally responded. He wanted me. PTL (Praise the Lord)!
Yet, for the first time, I experienced “meaningless sex”. I felt used. I was so insecure about the way I performed, or what he (now) liked. He had new “tricks”, and he seemed more interested in doing kinkier things with me. For the most part, we had always had good, inventive, crazy, fun (and sometimes dirty) sex. Sex was safe. I never had to worry about STD’s or emotional baggage in my marriage. It was fun to explore. Ironically, I never worried about another woman in my bed: emotionally, physically or even mentally.
This “new” sex disgusted and saddened me, and made me feel like absolute, complete, utter shit. It wasn’t love. It wasn’t safe. It was “just sex”.
As if that weren’t enough, after our physical reconciliation that October afternoon, my husband announced that he was going to Spain.
Pardon the expression, but WHAT THE FUCK??!?!?!?
Throughout the duration of our marriage, my husband traveled extensively — to Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Somalia, Australia, Japan, France and Hawaii, to name a few. He pursued danger, and wrote about it. He was also pursuing a career in writing, and had increasing opportunity to publish articles about his adventures.
I edited most of those articles.
It was a slow fade, but his stories started getting darker. Rather than being centered on the particular subject, person or tournament he was covering, his writing became more about himself, fashion and image. Then it shifted to parties, women in his industry, and sex. (I would later find pages upon pages of explicitly written encounters entitled, Leave Them Wanting Less. I burned them.)
It was almost as if my attractive, fun, sweet and loving husband had morphed into your typical 20-something, amoral, douchebag bachelor. At least that’s how he portrayed himself in his writing, and his readers lapped it up. He was able to charmingly convince those of us who were concerned that the questionable content was just “an element of the story”. After all, he was a married man who loved Jesus and his wife. He could just “flirt” with danger but not ultimately be affected by it.
Back to Spain: this particular job opportunity required him to travel on his own dime to cover a sporting event. He would then sell his stories to a couple of different magazines. Unbeknownst to me (except in that post-coital moment), his parents had purchased his plane ticket and encouraged him to go. They hoped that his new efforts in his writing career would bring stability and finances to our broken home.
He was leaving in two days, and would be gone for two weeks.
What choice did I have? We had no money. I was working every possible odd job I could find. I attempted to sell our clothing, furniture and vehicles on Craigslist to get some extra cash. I canceled cable. We even met with two different realtors to discuss the potential of leasing out our house. So, how could I say “no” to a promising job opportunity? I was constantly reminded of how I had just spent six months in New York, pursuing my dream. I had to let him pursue his.
I asked him what he would be doing, where he would be staying, who he would be seeing. He mentioned that he was going to be picked up from the airport by a young woman that drove a BMW. Apparently she was a promoter of the event, and a fan of his writing.
“NOPE,” I felt my fists tighten, and a surge of endorphins pulsed through my veins.
He calmly explained to me that he had a wife and the woman had a boyfriend. He didn’t know how else he’d get from the airport to the hotel, but I really didn’t have anything to worry about. He promised he’d check in with me every day, and blah, blah, blah. He wasn’t going to cheat again.
I held my ground.
“NO. Don’t even go there. Don’t even tempt yourself. There are a million different options for transportation and lodging. I’m sure you can figure something else out.” I couldn’t even believe we were having this conversation.
He finally agreed to avoid the BMW woman, saying he understood how it “might look bad”.
I felt uneasy.
He is packing, I wrote to myself, the night before his plane took off. Freshly shaven. Leaving. I feel sick…who knows if he’ll come back. I hope he gets in touch with his “wrecked” heart while he is in the beauty of Spain. Ugh.
He says he’s sad, doesn’t want to leave, but cannot tear himself away from the computer. I just don’t believe him. I don’t trust him. He is incapable of feeling anything. He leaves tomorrow and will go with his parents’ money and the potential of $1,000.00, but that is to cover his expenses there. The “potential” of making more money, but not immediately.
Running. Running from me, his responsibility, his lover. Or to his lover, who knows. He leaves me no assurance, nothing.
That’s fine. Go. Go, run, hide, find something (or someone) better. I’ll stupidly hold down the fort, and you can come back at me with something to the effect of having had to do it for the last six months. You had to work and pay the bills and support me. But I was gone so you found someone to meet your needs. And you “fell in love”. And don’t love me anymore. You feel “bad” for me. That’s not love. I don’t want pity. I want a husband. What’s more, I want a MAN in my life, not a child.
Early the next morning, he was gone. I found a note on the kitchen table.
It was from my husband. He told me he was sick at leaving, would be praying every day, and thanked me for my love and understanding.
He also said that he didn’t deserve anything.
But the part of the note that gave me hope — that helped me to hang on — was that he said he was sorry for everything that had happened.
He said he loved me. Deeply. And when he returned, he hoped he could love me how I needed to be loved, every minute of the day.
My husband returned home two days later, late in the evening. I was sitting on the couch, reading my Bible and praying my guts out, desperate for answers. If ever I were a lazy Christian or missed some Bible time over the duration of my life, I was certainly making up for it now, in a few days’ time. God was all I had. I felt I couldn’t count on anyone else, and I needed direction and answers, fast.
I scrawled out verses in my now-worn prayer journal:
What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient? ~Job 6:11
My tears have been my food day and night…why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God. ~Psalm 42:3
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. ~Psalm 51:12
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me into the way everlasting. ~Psalm 139:23
In addition, I screamed, “SPARE ME, LORD! RELEASE ME! HELP! HELP! HELP!” In due time those prayers would be answered. But all I believed at that time was that God wanted me to stay in my marriage. Marriage was good. Marriage was holy. God could, and would, redeem my marriage. God would change my husband. He’d see the light, the “scales” would fall off his eyes and he’d realize how great I was, repent of his stupidity and love me again.
As I sat on our custom-made blonde leather couch, finally feeling somewhat peaceful in my prayer time, I heard a noise at the back door. My heart started pounding as I entertained thoughts of someone breaking into my house and violently assaulting, then murdering me. Excited and terrified, I jumped up and ran straight to the back door to face the situation (and culprit) head-on. If I were going to die this way, I’d do it with dignity. I did not want my body to be found in the back bedroom, the most obvious hiding place. Cowards ran and hid. I was a badass. I also didn’t really care if I lived or died at that point. Maybe, just maybe, if something bad happened to me, my husband would finally notice me.
With purpose and determination, I opened the door. To my surprise/shock/disappointment/horror, my husband stood there, fumbling with the keys in his hand.
“I couldn’t see without the light on,” he murmured. “Can I come in?”
I glared at him, turned on my heels and marched back to the living room. He followed me. I re-assumed my position on the couch, crossed my legs up underneath one another, Indian-style, and folded my arms.
He carefully sat down on the black leather loveseat across from me. Our 14-year old cat eagerly greeted him. He dutifully patted her and then pushed her away. This moment felt all too familiar. Just weeks prior we were seated in this exact same position, as I listened to his guilt-free admission of a physical relationship with his 24-year old student. I swallowed hard and tried to ignore that fresh, painful memory. The sickening feeling of rejection welled up inside of me. It tasted like bile.
We stared at each other for a few moments until he finally asked, “Do you want me back?”
I couldn’t find the words. I honestly didn’t know. I gawked at the blue leather cover on my Bible. Engraved on the bottom right corner was my maiden name, Leslie Spencer. I shifted my cold feet further underneath my body as I searched my heart for an answer. I was hoping God would open up the heavens and angels would sing.
But the only thing that felt eternal was the silence. I finally looked up and said, “Yes.”
Without blinking, my husband immediately started to make demands on how the relationship was going to be, moving forward. I was not allowed to bring up the affair. He promised he would end it the very next day, and that would be that. It would remain as if it had never happened. I told him that someday we would have to address it, but I would let it alone for the time being.
I then asked him if he’d continue to accompany me to marriage counseling. I had nagged and dragged him to one session thus far. Our marriage counselor was, in fact, one of the two ministers who had married us, just one month short of ten years earlier. The session had lasted two hours, wherein my husband declared that the 24-year old “held the manual to his happiness”, and he didn’t believe that his affair was a fantasy, as our counselor had gently described. Exhausted, we all agreed to give him a week to figure out what he wanted — marriage or affair?
He chose both.
Yet, there he was, sitting before me, saying all the right things. He truly wanted to end the affair and be my husband. I started to hope again. Part Two.
I took a deep breath.
“Do you want to have children?”
He was no stranger to this question. In the wake of the crushing news, I had repeatedly asked him this one in particular. I had explained that I was 32 years old, looking to start my life over again, and I definitely wanted to have kids. His answers had run the gamut of, “Not with you!” to, “Yes, of course,” to, “Maybe just one…”
That night he stated, “I don’t know. You poisoned that ‘well’ a long time ago.”
How on earth was I supposed to respond to that? Furthermore, what was happening here? Nothing felt much different than before. Wasn’t the infidel supposed to express some sort of dramatic gesture of remorse? I actually did expect my husband to grovel at my feet, to have experienced a “come to Jesus moment” and see how amazing I was. I wanted him to realize that he couldn’t – and didn’t want to – live without me. I wanted him to choose a life with me, no matter what it looked like.
He was choosing me in that moment, and that was enough.
We continued to talk until we both grew tired. Almost on a handshake, we agreed to move forward in our lives together. After all, we loved each other, and we had a long history together. We both made mistakes. It wasn’t worth throwing everything away. I was willing to give my husband some more space to end his adulterous relationship once and for all, and he was willing to heal our heartbreak through counseling. It felt like a good place to start.
Yet, that night, I couldn’t sleep. I lay next to him, on the farthest edge of our California King bed. My husband slept noisily as I stared at the shadows on the ceiling, wondering what was going to become of my future. How long would it take to heal? When would I “feel” loved again? How would I forget this ever happened? I picked up my pillow and quietly slipped out of the bedroom, down the hall, and crawled into the tiny twin bed in the guest room. I curled up into a tight, little ball underneath the covers. My tears flowed freely.
I am so broken but I know You are here, Lord, I prayed. You are with me, every step of the way. I have to give it over to You. I trust You.