Category Archives: Love

16th UNiversary

Moments before I walked down the aisle, sixteen years ago.

Sixteen years ago today, I got married.

My dad walked his 22-year-old daughter down the aisle to a majestic organ in a beautiful sanctuary on a hot afternoon. I carefully recited my vows and promised my fresh-faced groom I would love and honor him until death did us part.

I meant it.

The reception was small: held in a petite garden area next to the church parking lot. We served sparkling apple cider and charcuterie from Costco. A jazz band comprised of fellow college students played quietly and a budding filmmaker captured moments on Hi8 tape. Due to the unseasonable warmth of the day, the homemade wedding cake melted before my new husband and I could ceremoniously cut it. He proceeded to smash a piece all over my face, anyway.

There was some confusion over the remaining few hundred dollars of the wedding bill, which caused the last of my makeup to be cried off. We left for our honeymoon in my 1997 Toyota pickup truck; the remnants of the fallen cake streaked all over the vehicle. The back window jokingly read, “Mr. and Mrs. Spencer”.

It wasn’t the wedding I wanted, but it was the best I could do.

We were so young.

Today, the sanctuary has been torn down and made new. The garden has been replaced with church offices, where I spent almost five solid months in marriage counseling after discovering my husband’s infidelity.

The organist recently received a heart transplant, the musicians all have steady, successful careers and the videographer became a widely recognized director and won a million dollar Superbowl commercial contest.

And I am happily divorced.

*****

“It’s not the wedding, but the marriage that counts,” they say. If my wedding was any indication of the sort of marriage that followed, I should have bolted the opposite direction down the aisle at the very first note of the processional.

But I believe in marriage. I think it’s amazing, difficult and utterly courageous to make that kind of commitment to another person. Certainly, I was young. Perhaps too young. But I wasn’t afraid. And when my marriage went to complete shit, I held on and fought for the concept – and the person – as long as I could.

I admire that girl. I’m proud of her.

The person and the girl are now gone. But I do not regret the commitment, if only for the role it played in giving birth to the woman I have become.

So today, on my 16th Universary, I do not mourn the loss of a marriage, but cheer for forgiveness and the freedom that accompanies it. I honor growth, wisdom, vulnerability and true, selfless, mature love.

I celebrate the gift of a second chance.

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I Took a Huge Risk

I’m enduring yet another breakup.

Out of respect and love, I will not share details about the relationship, except to say it was the best one, so far. And he wasn’t even my boyfriend.

Ultimately, the timing was bad. I made the choice to not continue any further, mainly out of self-protection. Post-divorce Leslie (also known as a recovering co-dependent) made a mature, painful decision. That is to be celebrated.

BUT THE GRIEF. Fie on you, grief. FIE.

It comes in waves. One minute you’re quite all right. You can laugh and engage with your roommates while making them dinner, or coo and giggle at silly babies and tiny hamster videos on Facebook. You tell yourself you’ve been through this before and you can do it again. You don’t need sympathy.

The next minute begins with a thick and sticky heaviness in your gut. You sit, stunned, wondering when you’re going to vomit, and how many victims will suffer within its trajectory. You can’t breathe. It travels up your esophagus, causing you to heave and sputter. Out of no where, your eyes are blind with tears; your ears deaf from the sound of your own ugly crying and your mouth hangs agape as you gasp for air in between saliva, sobs, sighs, grunts, groans and the overall horribleness of loss.

And that’s just the first cry of the day.

Son of a motherfuckery fuck. Help.

I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t know how to keep doing this. At the same time, I keep doing it. I keep finding myself on the extreme roller coaster of love and loss. Am I completely insane? Why do I keep subjecting myself to dashed hopes and wretched pain?

I’m like a giddy puppy, so caught up in chasing her own tail she fails to see the ball has been thrown in a different direction. Once I tire of the game, I just stand there, panting and wagging my tail. Inevitably, I begin again. And again. And again.

Yet there’s something so freeing about dating in your late 30s. You know who you are, what you want, and haven’t much time or patience to be jerked around by a string of meaningless makeouts or half-hearted relationships. Fuck the Christianese version, you date with intention simply because you value yourself more than you might have in your early 20s. You want to make careful, informed decisions because you know marriage is not a light at end of the tunnel. You don’t apologize for wanting to be treated well. If a guy is threatened or intimidated by you in any manner, it’s simply not your problem.

Next!

This posture, when matched with another mature human being’s, can produce immediate attachment. Add chemistry and compatibility, and presto! Relationship-o.

So you breathe a huge sigh of relief, knowing deep down there are no guarantees. You’re excited to take the risk and see what happens, even just for a month or two or twelve. You embrace living open-handedly; wholeheartedly. You now have the opportunity to put into practice all those things you learned in years of therapy. You practice relationship. And it’s good.

But why does it keep coming to an end? Is it me? Am I impatient? Dramatic? Too difficult? Too insecure? Am I finally standing up for what I really want? Or does what I want not exist?

I don’t know.

*****

Six years ago, I was in the thick of my marriage ending. My husband – husband! – said he didn’t love me anymore. Then he told me he was in love with another woman. Today’s Leslie would not stand for that shit. I would rise, turn on my heels, walk out the door and never look back.

Yet I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t hung on for a while. There would be no Christian Girl’s Guide to Divorce. Eventually, I clawed my way through – and out of – my marriage. I am proud of myself. And every relationship post-divorce has been that much better.

I’m not sure it gets much better than this most recent one, but that isn’t for me to decipher right now. I celebrate and mourn. I grieve and still hope.

I took a huge risk in loving again. And I won.

Worth the Risk

I went to a wedding recently.

The last wedding I attended was two years ago, in June. I flew to North Carolina for the big day, but wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to affect me. I wasn’t divorced yet. In fact, I had only just filed the first round of paperwork, two months prior. The fact that it was the second wedding for the groom, however, made it a bit more tolerable.

Happy, hopeful, Christianese-naïve and virginal couples made me sick.

The wedding was small and lovely, and I was excited to be there. I thought a happy wedding would take my mind off my failed marriage. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for myself. I quietly sobbed as the couple recited their vows to one another. It was hard to hear them promise that they would “forsake all others”, and remain true as long as they both lived.

X and I recited those same, exact words to each other on our wedding day. I remember how good it felt to hear his vows. I was safe. My husband would love me and stay by my side, until death parted us.

Not even ten years later, he chose to break his promise. That choice sent a pulsating wave of destruction that pervaded our souls.

I brushed away my tears (and sweat, for it was a bloody hot and humid Southern day), and perked up a bit.  I knew how much pain the groom had endured when his first wife selfishly left him, and it was truly a blessing to see him marry the amazing woman God brought into his life a few short years later.  Their love story was evidence of God’s grace, and true redemption.  The couple’s relationship and subsequent union was nothing but encouraging to me, and I was filled with hope, once again.

Yet, as I sat down in my designated seat at the reception, I violently tore my place card in half.  How dare they display my married name?

“I AM LESLIE SPENCER!” —  I remember screaming, then marched up to the band and demanded to sing a song.

I sang several, then sneaked off with the only single groomsman and downed a couple shots of Sweet Tea Vodka.  But Sweet Tea Vodka was gross, and it didn’t fill the vacuous hole that I felt in my tattered heart.

I missed my husband.  I wished that he hadn’t turned out to be such a fucking disaster.  I hated him and I loved him, all at the same time. In a way, I was furious that he wasn’t at the wedding.  After all, if it weren’t for his friendship with the groom, I would have never met him.

I took a walk, alone, around the lake on that warm, sticky Southern evening. Bullfrogs and cicadas sang lovely duets that echoed across the water.  Mosquitoes fed upon happy, unsuspecting party guests. Fireflies danced and flickered their brilliance in the moonlight. Joy, laughter, love and hope truly filled the beautiful backyard wedding and reception, and I was grateful that I could experience it all as a fresh divorceé, even if I were caught up in my own misery and pain.

Enter last weekend’s wedding.

It was the largest I’ve ever attended — 550 guests! — and the first with Korean translation.  It also might have been the fastest engagement, ever. Everyone was thrilled for the couple, whose love story is a heartwarming, romantic fairytale. Two friends, who had been single and known each other for a long time, finally decided to go on a date, and that was that.  Less than six months later, they were married.

I happily sat in the large, Methodist church on Wilshire Boulevard and scanned the crowd for attractive men.  Much to my chagrin, those whom I had singled out were attached to equally attractive women.

I decided to give it a rest. After all, I wasn’t attending the wedding to meet someone. I was there to support my friends; to uphold them in their commitment to one another. And, for a moment, I marveled at how content I was — and have been — being single.

Eventually, the lovely bride floated down the aisle to be united with her groom.  I smiled, took pictures and cheered for them in my heart.  I cheered for myself a little bit, too, because (a) I wasn’t crying stupid tears over X, and (b) it felt so good to not feel sorry for myself anymore. Ugh. Self-pity is tiresome, and certainly not attractive, especially at weddings.

I felt like I had passed Level 1-2 of the Super Mario Brothers Game of Life.  (Hello, Level 1-3.  I am very much looking forward to your secret underwater adventure.)

Weddings  — for me — are happy again.  They are…easy.  Wow.

My friend and pastor, Joseph, officiated the beautiful ceremony. From my perspective, the fifteen (or eighteen?) flower children behaved themselves perfectly.  The bridesmaids looked happy and comfortable in their own dresses (seriously, people, this is a huge plus!). People laughed; nodded in agreement; dabbed away tears when the groom got choked up, and breathed in the beauty of the couple standing before them.

Two people were pledging their lives to one another. That’s a huge commitment.

As the ceremony progressed, I took a deep breath in, and let it out.  I knew that I’d have to prepare myself for any sort of emotional reaction that might sneak up on me.  Frankly, I dreaded hearing the couple recite their vows.

Suddenly, to my surprise, Joseph predicated the next part of the ceremony with what seemed to be a disclaimer.

He spoke to the groom first.

“I want you to say your vows, and then close your ears,” he said.

What? 

I leaned forward, on the edge of the hard, wooden pew.  My ears were definitely open.

“You see,” Joseph continued, “You are making a promise, but it is not based upon what the other person promises you. “

I gasped.

That is the most amazing thing I have ever heard.

Maybe it is a simple concept – but I finally got it.

Love — and commitment/marriage —  is a choice.  Love isn’t based upon what the other person does, or doesn’t do.  We choose to love; we choose to keep our promises, even when the other person fails us.   And people will always fail us.

X failed me — as he said — “spectacularly”.  But I failed him, too.  Maybe my failures weren’t as tangible, but we both broke promises along the way.  Why?  Because we’re human.

And the amazing epiphany I had in that pew, at 11:36-ish a.m. on a hot, July morning, is that nothing is guaranteed. Life is messy. It is not a linear product of good, or even bad, choices. Relationships are hard. Choosing to love opens ourselves up to a whirlwind adventure of life lived to its fullest.

Choosing to love is worth the risk, even when the outcome isn’t guaranteed.

I am grateful for my marriage to X, because it was a learning experience. I loved him, almost desperately. I still love him, in some sort of way. And, deep down, I know he loves me. At the same time, I am beyond grateful that I am not married to him. X goes down in history as a faint glimmer of my past.

It was — and is — all worth it.

Henri Nouwen said it best:

Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
 Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving.

And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair.

We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.

Amen.

May we choose to keep our promises.

May we choose to forgive.

May we choose to love.

Because the risk of loving is always worth taking.

Less Like Scars

It’s been a year.

Today is important for me.  It’s a milestone. It’s a big deal.  I am proud of myself.  I have quite often wondered where I would be a year after my divorce was final.  I wonder where I will be after two.  Five.  Ten.  Twenty.

My divorce (and subsequent criminal record) does not define who I am.  It is a part of my life – a part of my past.  My choice to open up and share my story in such a public manner might be a totally stupid one, but I have seen how God has used it/me to help others.  It’s so exciting! Somehow, my bold vulnerability has spoken; resonated.  I’m beyond grateful for that.

Today, my fingers are poised above the keyboard, wondering whether or not I should bring the present into the picture.  I told myself that I wouldn’t write about future relationships.  Any man endeavouring to date me might be completely turned off by the fact that I have this blog in the first place.  It’s intimidating.  It’s dangerous territory.

Chalk me up there with Adele and Taylor Swift in the “don’t fuck me over or I’ll write about you” department.  Ha.

But it’s me.  It’s my life.  It’s my heart.  I can’t hide it – I don’t want to.  I want to grow, I want to learn, I want to continue to change, and become the person that God dreams me to be.

He dreams much bigger things for me than I do for myself.

So, here I am: one year after my divorce was made final, two years after I left my husband, and three years after the shit went down in the first place.

And I think not of my ex-husband at all.

My heart has been distracted by a very recent, painful break-up.  It was a short relationship – just three months.  And, for the most part, it was wonderful.  I was so happy I didn’t even know what to do with myself.  I was also scared out of my mind, but, with the encouragement and support of my therapist and my friends, I settled into it.  I didn’t run away.  He pursued, and I responded, eagerly.

I finally learned what it felt like to be treated right.

He liked me for me.  He didn’t care that I was divorced.  He laughed at my sense of humor.  He appreciated my talent.  We shared similar interests and beliefs. We clicked.  We had chemistry and compatibility.  He opened the car door for me.  He bought me flowers.  He introduced me to his friends and some of his family members.  We spent as much time together as we could, in those first two months.  He took me on a couple of trips to some fantastic places.  He respected me.

I felt safe.

Finally.

It was easy to fall in love with him.  I never told him, though. I didn’t think it was appropriate.  I wanted to do this new relationship the right way.  I wanted to settle in for the long haul, and take things slow.

But then, things started to crumble a bit.  I made some stupid comments in front of important people in his life.  I felt terrible.  He forgave me, but I started to worry that my bad behavior would become a weekly issue.  I saw less and less of him.  He wasn’t able to communicate with me as often.  He was busy with his job, business trips, and other responsibilities and interests.  I felt him pulling away.

I didn’t feel like a priority anymore.  It hurt so badly I couldn’t breathe.

So I broke up with him.

He was hurt, confused and angry.  I tried to make things “right” by over explaining myself, my reasons and my emotions, but ended up making things even worse.

I de-friended him on Facebook, and then re-friended him. (Yes, I am twelve.)  He never accepted.

He told me that I gave up too easily.  I told him he didn’t fight for the things that he really wanted.

We haven’t spoken since, and I’ll never see or hear from him again.

It hurts.  Breaking up is hard to do.

But I have learned.

On this day – this one-year divorce-versary, I realized something.  A few things, actually.

The “issues” that I had in my first (albeit very brief) post-divorce relationship were not things that couldn’t have been worked out under “normal” circumstances.  Yet, I am not normal.  I am a divorcee.  Little things that might have not been a big deal to another person were stupendously huge hot buttons for me.

These things may take time, and extra patience.  Sometimes I feel like I, myself, have neither.  I don’t know what man in his right mind on this earth would want to take me on.  I don’t say that to be cute, or garner sympathy.  I have been hurt, yes.  I am afraid of being more hurt, sure.

But I am willing to get hurt.  It’s worth it.  I’d rather die with my heart broken twenty times over than live with it seized, overprotected or ice cold.

Love is always worth it.

Nothing will hurt as deeply as my divorce.  Yet, it is behind me, and it will become more and more of a distant memory.  My scars are, indeed, fading into beautiful character.

It’s been a hard year
But I’m climbing out of the rubble
These lessons are hard
Healing changes are subtle
But every day it’s 

Less like tearing, more like building 
Less like captive, more like willing 
Less like breakdown, more like surrender 
Less like haunting, more like remember 

And I feel You here 
And You’re picking up the pieces 
Forever faithful 
It seemed out of my hands, a bad situation 
But You are able 
And in Your hands the pain and hurt 
Look less like scars and more like 
Character

I’m still cleaning up my freshly broken, hurting heart.  It, too, will take time to heal.  Whether or not this man was the right one for me, or I for him, I’m so grateful to have opened up, to have trusted, to have laughed and learned; to have loved again.

Broken/Free

After I was booked out, I walked down the long, empty corridor towards the jail lobby.  I felt dirty, exhausted, ashamed, embarrassed and relieved, all at once.

I pushed open the large, heavy double doors and saw my father sitting on the bench.  He was waiting for me.  I quickened my pace towards him as he stood up.  He had a seemingly large sticker affixed to his chest.

I burst into tears.

My father is waiting for me.

He gave me a huge hug, and patted me on the back as I sobbed into his shoulder.

“It’s OK, Leslie.  I’ve been to jail, too!”  he joked.

My dad had gotten a call from my mom around 6:00 a.m., notifying him exactly where I was.  Thankfully I had provided the address to the jail.  He immediately left his house to come pick me up, and had been waiting for me in the lobby since 7:00 in the morning.

It was well past 11:00 a.m. when I was released.

My father waited for me for hours — waited for his train wreck, eldest, adult daughter to be released from JAIL.   

“Wanna go get breakfast?”  My dad asked, as if nothing had happened.

I nodded.  Fresh tears sprang into my eyes.

I was so busy judging myself that I forgot about grace.

Grace.

As we stepped out into the warm, harsh light of day, I immediately noticed I was not downtown.

“Where the heck is this place, anyway?”  I asked, shielding my eyes from the bright sunlight.

My dad laughed.  “Girl, you be in SOUTH CENTRAL!”

I was horrified.  At the same time, I knew there was a reason I kept feeling like a badass.

“Oh, shit.  Well, if you’re going to go to jail, you might as well do it right.”

We laughed as my dad opened the car door for me.  He is such a good man.

I thought back to my friends in the cells and marveled at the fact that I was not harmed in any way.  South Central Los Angeles was no place for a “perfect” little white, Christian girl like me.

Yet, at the same time, it was.

I suddenly realized I needed to call work and explain why I was late.  I also needed to call Joseph and tell him that I shouldn’t be allowed to babysit his children.  I most certainly wasn’t worthy of leading worship at church that Sunday.

Nobody wants a criminal.

To my surprise, my employers were sympathetic and understanding.  They gave me the day off and told me they’d be happy to welcome me back on Monday.

Joseph also treated me with grace and kindness.

“There is no judgment, Leslie,” he spoke, lovingly, as I blubbered and bawled.   “We all make mistakes.”

It just so happened that his plans had changed, and didn’t need me to babysit, after all.  But of course I was welcome to take care of his kids – to be a part of his and Katie’s life – anytime.  Not leading worship was out of the question, and, in fact, the songs that I had chosen the week earlier were so fitting.

Capture me with grace.

And so, that bright, merciful March morning, after bailing my car out of the tow yard, my dad took me to breakfast.  I told him the whole story – of the arrest, the booking and the hours of holding.  I re-enacted the scenes starring Pot and Tamale Lady, Pock Face and Pretty Gum Chewer.

We ate pancakes, drank coffee and laughed.  I felt embarrassed about my now-unkempt, unshowered, I-spent-the-night-in-South-Central-jail appearance, but my dad told me I looked just fine.  In fact, I looked beautiful.

Grace.  Unconditional love.

I started to slowly realize that things would – eventually — be OK.  I wasn’t fully aware of the consequences of my crime, but I would get through it.  There was a good possibility of avoiding a DUI conviction altogether.  I had judged myself so severely already, yet I had the overwhelming love and support of my family and friends.

Oh, Father, I cannot comprehend the punishment, I shakily wrote in my journal.  Jail was enough.  I am thankful that I have not been judged by my family, or friends.  I am not OK.  I need You.  I am broken and ashamed; humiliated, yet also hopeful.  I am thankful to not be in jail —  I will be proactive to lessen my sentence.  I beg for mercy, Lord, but I accept the consequences of my STUPID choices. 

God, I’m afraid.  I’m afraid to drink anymore.  I am thankful to have not lost my employment, yet future employment could be at risk. (These are) ALL consequences of my actions.

Why is it so hard to love myself?  Why?  I’m going to beat myself up continually.  I want this behind me – I can’t hide from it, I can only learn and grow from it.

I AM NOT PERFECT!  I must cease trying to be.  Striving and striving to be perfect.  I got ARRESTED, went to JAIL and will face SENTENCING for DRUNK DRIVING.

Leslie.

“Spencer!”

But You still love me.  And my dad loves me.  And my friends love me.  And You will carry me through this.  I need you, Jesus.  I need help.  I can’t do this.  You will pick me up.  You will make it OK.  Whatever it becomes, we will face it together.

SO BROKEN.

That Sunday, I played the piano and sang with more conviction, humility and gratitude than ever before.  It was so amazing; so comforting to see myself as my earthly and heavenly Father see me: a beautiful, precious child who isn’t defined by her infractions.

My eyes were finally being adjusted to the brilliance of overwhelming grace.

When I got home that beautiful Sunday evening, I opened up my computer, and clicked on the LA Superior Court’s website.  I dutifully typed in my court case number, to check the status of my divorce.

The screen popped up.  I yawned, and prepared myself for “Status: PENDING”.

“CASE SUMMARY”, it read.

Filing Date: 04/02/2010
Case Type: Dissolution of Marriage (General Jurisdiction)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah.  Get to the point.

My eyes scanned the page for the status.  Status, status, status.

Status: STIPULATED JUDGMENT  03/03/2011

I was overcome with shock, grief, joy, relief, sadness and elation.

I am divorced.

I blinked through tears of mixed emotions and re-read the date that the divorce had been finalized.

03/03/2011

I burst out laughing.  I had spent my first night as a free woman — in jail.

 

The Right Thing to Do

He wasn’t home when I finally returned.  I carefully arranged, and re-arranged the card and candy bar on the kitchen table, then sat in the dark.  I stared out the window at the lone street lamp, struggling to shine its brilliance through the thick, bare tree branches.  My house was cold and quiet.  Empty. The walls ached, and the deafening silence somehow echoed my pain.

I wrote.  It was the only thing I could do.

Ironically, the following email was never sent.  I figured my husband was tired of hearing my heart.

You are at a movie right now.  I am anticipating you coming home and explaining to me how you want a separation and how I misbehaved and how my attitude is rotten and the straw man and umbrella and all that conversation…and the thought of it all makes me tired…

And then I think of how I love you.  Oh, my husband, how I love you.  How I’ve always loved you. How I truly would not be happy if you weren’t in my life, even after all the pain and hurt you have caused me.  I have tried my best to hurt you back, I have, and obviously that isn’t working.  I am flailing and reacting and hurting so, so much, and disappointed and angry…

And then I think of how I love you.  I want to be with you, and I want us to stop fighting and start rebuilding in a positive way.  I know I am not always positive.  I want to try. And try harder. 

And I think of how God loves me, and how He loves you, and how He looks upon us, and our marriage, and I just want it to be pleasing to Him.  I don’t want to act like an idiot anymore.  I don’t want you to act like one, either.  

I know we can do this with God’s help.  There’s always going to be a reason to separate, get mad, split up, leave, want a divorce, want to make the other person feel the pain and hurt that we are feeling.  Sometimes I wish that you knew how badly I am hurt; how broken I am because of you and your sin, but the nicer part of me wants to protect you from that pain.

On the other hand…

I don’t know.  If you want to separate, do it like a man.  Don’t run off to another country just yet. Help me figure out what to do with the house so we can at least be financially responsible for our own individual future.  I don’t want to be screwed over anymore than I already have been, and I don’t have any intention to screw you over.  Please, if we are to separate, PLEASE be mature and responsible and think of your future — think of your future wife, your future kids – don’t just run off and throw your credit in the toilet anymore than it already is.  I guess all I ask in a separation is that you be responsible enough to see through what is best for this house situation so that we protect our investment and ourselves in the best way possible.  It’s the right thing to do.

Valentine’s Day

I fled the house.

I spent the night downtown with my friend (“Wife”), Andrea.  I needed shelter, and to be away from my husband.  I might have driven him to anger, but there was no way I would tolerate physical abuse.  Andrea and I hiked and talked for four hours the next morning, and then I headed to south Orange County to spend a few days with my best friend, Joy, and her new husband, Micah.

Joy met me at the door with a glass of red wine.  She had drawn me an Epsom salt bath (my legs were sore from hiking), lit candles and placed little chocolates along the tub.  She wrote me a beautiful card.  She wanted me to have a “happy” Valentine’s Day.  I burst into tears.   I have the most amazing, steadfast, giving and loyal friends in my life.  It felt incredible to be cared for; to be loved.

My husband had no idea where I was, and I didn’t have the energy or desire to tell him.  I assumed that he could have easily figured it out, but only if he truly cared.  I did not contact him.  Perhaps I wanted to punish him, but I mostly just wanted peace.  I was resolute.

I am done. I cannot move forward with him.  He is incapable of being a man.  He is not husband material.   He wants to be 22, single and “untethered”.  Lord, I pray for him and pray You SPANK HIS IMMATURE, IDIOT ARSE.

Yet, I still cried —
God, save us.  God, RESTORE my marriage with miracles and redemption.  Help me to not react, help me find peace.

My husband emailed me every day.  His emails were constant, yet brief.  He didn’t know where I was, or what I was feeling. He was sick to his stomach.  He was sure there were “one million things” that he could have done better, but he didn’t want to live under the umbrella of what he had done, “every minute of every day.” He didn’t know why there was such silence.  Was this what I wanted?  Did I even care?  He didn’t know “what happened on Friday night that pushed us” to that point.  He didn’t know why I wouldn’t communicate with him.

And then, I received a lengthy email.

He wished me a Happy Valentine’s Day, and said it was hard for him to not know where I was.  He didn’t know why I had left, and wondered, almost aloud, if I had gotten fed up with him, or just needed time alone.

Our abrupt break had left him reeling, a little.

My husband went on to detail what he wanted: for us to be partners.  He wanted us to take joy in each other’s lives and show the world how two people could live to their fullest potential.  He recognized that the words “career” and “support” had become so loaded between us.

He wanted happiness.  He wanted stage (for me); writing (for him).  He wanted simple things, too, like eating spaghetti and taking our dog on walks.  He wanted understanding.

He figured we’d work through the hard stuff, including his affair.  We’d move forward, towards a new partnership, together.  He explained that he would never stop believing in the way that our relationship could look.

Except: I left without a word.  That killed him. Yet, maybe I was right.  Maybe we’d have to separate in order for our relationship to work.  Maybe we both needed time to experience what our lives would be like without the other.

He felt, very strongly, that I had made him out to be some sort of “evil straw man” over the past two months.  He refused to live with the image that I had of him; of who I thought he was.  He concluded that if separation was the only way to destroy this image I had of him, then perhaps we should stay apart.

At the same time, he loved me.  And that was that.

I finally wrote him back, later that night, and told him I’d meet him at marriage counseling the next day.

I felt anxious and suffocated.  And he was only reeling, a little?  I didn’t want to go back into the war zone.  I started to realize that I didn’t want the same things that my husband had just described.  He still didn’t get it.  I wanted a husband who would love me and not abandon me.  I wanted a partner who sought after God first.  I wanted to be treated right.  I wanted children.  I slowly realized that my dreams and desires had changed.

For nine years I lay in bed at night, next to my husband, and dreamed of a career on Broadway.  When I finally made it off-Broadway, I lay alone, and dreamed of a husband and children.

Isaiah 41:13 – For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.”

Oh, Lord, what a beautiful promise, and what better place to be than in Your Presence; in Your hands!  Lord, the anxiety, fear and worry take me down…I am trying to control my own life, I’m trying to control/change my husband, and it just doesn’t work.  None of it.  Lord, I truly want Your will and I feel like I’m too stupid, clueless or afraid to just let go.  I want to abandon my hopes and dreams for myself into YOUR hopes and dreams for me.

Feeling refreshed and encouraged after the weekend with my friends, I decided to go back into battle.  My first stop was marriage counseling.  When I arrived, my counselor informed me that he had just gotten off the phone with my husband.  He would not be attending the session.  He was confused and hurt.  I indignantly started to defend myself, but my counselor gently encouraged me to try to see things from my husband’s (broken) perspective.  He was trying.  He wanted the marriage.  Perhaps he wasn’t doing the best job, but he was still there, and his intentions were to re-build our life together.

I felt convicted, set up another appointment and headed home.

On the way, I stopped at the grocery store to buy a “belated” Valentine’s Day gift for my husband.  It felt cheesy, but my heart had been softened by his daily pursuit.  I spent more than twenty minutes in the Card and Party aisle.  Every single Valentine’s Day card I browsed pierced my heart with a jagged, rusty, barbed-wire arrow.  I couldn’t find the right one.  They were all full of love and happiness.  I didn’t feel love, or loved.  I wasn’t happy.  I couldn’t lie, but I wanted to make peace.

Finally, I found one that was appropriate.

TO MY HUSBAND,

You and I have been through
a lot together,and through everything,
both the good times and the bad,
there was always our love
holding the two of us together
and keeping our family close.
Even after all these years,
there’s still no better way to say it…
“I love you.”
Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day

 

No Past, No Mistakes. Just Love.

We spent a week on the road together, making the most of Baltimore, Atlantic City, Philadelphia, New Brunswick and New York.

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? 

It wasn’t.

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.

No past, no mistakes. Just love.

Die For Love

For weeks, I had asked my husband to join me in Baltimore for Thanksgiving.  He was back in Portugal, covering some sort of car race for his magazine.  The race ended a few days before the holiday.

It wasn’t long before I started to get the sense that my husband had, indeed, gotten back on the “trouble train”.   He hadn’t ever actually given me a straight answer about joining me in Baltimore, much less spending a week on the road with me.  When the time finally came around, he didn’t have the money for a plane ticket.  He had only asked the magazine for a one-way ticket to Lisbon.  He had “gambled” with making something out of the car race story, but it wasn’t looking too good.

He asked me to cover his ticket to Baltimore.  I couldn’t afford it.  I had been paying all of the bills, and our property taxes were due in a couple of weeks.  We would not have survived financially had it not been for my tour.  Money from my husband’s stories had started trickling in, but it certainly wasn’t consistent, or substantial.

To be fair, I did understand that my husband was trying to make something of himself and his career.  He certainly couldn’t return to teaching, especially since he had crossed professional lines and slept with one of his students.  Furthermore, he had dreams of becoming a writer.  Every chance he got to cover a story, he took.  I was supportive, and wanted to be moreso, but the damage had already been done.  I was wary of the content of his articles.  I didn’t trust him.  I didn’t know whose company he was keeping.  I felt like he was giving his career way more effort than his marriage. And if all of this meant that he was going to be traveling extensively over the next year or so, I didn’t want to have any part of it.

I was sitting on the leather couch in my swanky tour bus, unpeeling a banana for breakfast as my husband and I emailed back and forth.

I’m not staying in a long-distance marriage, my thumbs pounded, furiously.  Nope. Won’t do it. Not when there are prettier women, more exciting people and parties, more alluring countries, sights, smells, sounds, food…I won’t compete because I just shouldn’t have to.

I shouldn’t have to feel bad for wanting you around. I shouldn’t have to feel bad for being mad that you can’t get your ass to Thanksgiving on time. You should have booked your return ticket from Lisbon to Baltimore when you bought the ticket in the first place. But, no, you had to keep your options open just in case a better opportunity came up. For what? Money? Really? 

Your actions have spoken deafeningly louder than any of your words.

He didn’t want a long-distance marriage, either, but he was writing to me from almost four thousand miles away.  He just wanted me to understand, and not place myself in competition with his career.

My blood started to boil.  I stood up, and threw my banana as hard as I could.  It narrowly missed hitting a trombone player square in the face. He ducked as the banana splattered on the window and sank to the floor.  Everyone in the front lounge stared at me.  Still, no one knew of my relationship troubles, so I tried to pass my behavior off as PMS.  One of the guys jokingly offered me a beer.  I cleaned up the mess, crawled back into my bunk, and quietly cried myself to sleep.

A few hours later, we arrived in the next city.  I wrote a more lengthy reply from the privacy of my hotel room.

Greetings from Wausau, Wisconsin.  I am staying in a hotel that is nothing short of the midwestern version of “The Shining”.  The crisp, white bedding and the worn carpeted halls scream death!  It’s fun to be in the midwest.  I realize how great my life actually is. I have profusely thanked the Lord that I do not have to work at the Walmart nail salon in Waukegan, Illinois.  I think I have issues with the entire state of Illinois.  Sufjan Stevens would be sad.

Regarding our earlier exchange of emails (the new way to conduct a marriage!):
I’m sorry for sounding unsupportive.  More than anything I want to support you in your career.  And I really DO. I DO, and I know I don’t show it well.

I think that anytime I lose my focus on the Lord, I start going insane.  I’m not used to this type of insecurity.  I know you think I’m crazy, but sometimes I feel like you will just dump me because you get tired of my reactions; you’ll dump me because I’m not excited enough or supportive enough of your new venture.  The fact that you had an affair opens every single door that is available.  If you were able to fall in love with and have sex with another girl so easily and quickly, why not dump me over the tiniest matter?  Especially when the door is open for a new, more exciting life?

I keep asking God, “Is this why he had an affair?  So that he could have a successful career?”  It’s not that far-fetched.  You started intensely focusing on your career mid-affair.  It has paid off.  

It feels like our marriage got in the way of your career in the first place, and when it was at its worst: shattered, destroyed and hopeless, you were at your best, getting your career off the ground.  

I know I am just speaking from my dumb, idiot, messed up, emotional heart…I’m trying my best to think before I speak.  But this is me, and I am a passionate person. 

 I want to know that you aren’t going to leave me because I piss you off, or because I mention UKR’s name for the millionth time.  I don’t want to mention her stupid, lying, manipulative, evil, destructive, blood-sucking, husband-stealing name ever again, actually.  I have to forgive that bitch.  I have to forgive you.  I want her dead.  I sometimes want to become Dexter and wrap you both up in your favorite brand of condoms, real nice and tight, and then stab you both in the heart.  Multiple times.  Murder you both dead, and make you watch each other scream, bleed and die.  Die for LOVE, you infidel mother fuckers.

Yeah, that’s the hate in my heart that I carry for you both. Not pretty.  I have to control it.

I have to forgive her.  I have to forgive you.  I have to forgive as the Lord forgave me.  An excerpt from today’s devotional:  “If your mind needs a focal point, gaze at My Love poured out for you on the cross.  Remember that nothing in heaven or on earth can separate you from that Love.  This remembrance builds a foundation of gratitude in you, a foundation that circumstances cannot shake.”

I have to remember that, even if you do dump me, I will be OK.  God will carry me.  But that’s insecurity talking.  Beyond that, I have committed to being your wife.  It’s extremely difficult.  It never was that difficult before.  I know that I am not easy to be married to, either. I truly do not want to have this affair define our marriage forever.  I need your help.  I need your patience.  And if you can’t do it, then let me go.  I know I keep saying that, but I truly cannot live like this, in hopeful expectation only to be devastated again.

I am committed to being your wife.  I DO support you in whatever you do.  I am sorry I can’t be more excited about things right now.  I know that with God’s help, I can get there.  I am truly committed to trying.  I am sorry if I go bezerk and/or project worry into the future.  That’s my sinful nature.  I lose focus on the Lord.  We are in the midst of doing this, and it’s hard, but we’re doing it.  I just miss you and I want you to miss me and want to be with me more than you want to be in Portugal, or Lebanon, or Yemen, or Hawaii.  But I can’t make you do that, and I have to be OK with it if you don’t feel that. 

GOD is in control, let us not lose our focus on Him.  Forgive me, forgive my rants and raves. I am human and I am hurting.  I know you are, too.  God is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.  Let’s ask him to help us.  We can do this.  We can, but only with God’s help, guidance and direction.

My husband showed up in Baltimore, the day after Thanksgiving.

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.