That allegiance to a distorted view of God’s expectation was my first mistake.
My marriage was clouded in a secret. Marrying my childhood crush - who had become a pastor – my dream of being a pastor’s wife wouldn’t quite turn out the way I had hoped.
I married the man I had been infatuated with since I was 15. We met in church and dated off and on since I was a teenager but later went our separate ways. I prayed over my choice of a mate and looked for a believer - one who shared the same heart and passion for God. I looked for someone who was familiar to me, someone who was trustworthy and good. I looked for one in service to the Lord and there was an innocent faith that I had heard God’s voice.
He was serving as the pastor of a small Baptist church and my heart was to be the wife of one who was called to full time church service so that my world would be immersed in ministry for God.
During our short engagement we worked in the church he pastored. We visited the sick and homebound elders, planned holiday events for the small children’s ministry and organized the place that would serve as our first home. Our wedding was based on our Christian faith, complete with Godly vows, communion and music that told of our prayer for a lifelong partnership sold out in service to the Lord. Premarital pastoral counseling was completed and we talked about how we would grow old together, raising our children to love the Lord. In hindsight the clues to deception were in plain view: the empty bottles and a bullet hole in the ceiling were just a few. Because of my innocent faith in the Christian man he professed to be, the mental illness and substance abuse wasn’t apparent to me even though the signs were there. Looking back I can see them clearly now but at the time I was blind as if a veil was clouding my view.
After I pledged my love and commitment to a marriage before God it was only a few weeks before I realized that my home was not to be the Christian home I prayed for. My husband left the small church he was pastoring soon after we married. There had been an issue that everyone knew about but me. It was as if a one-act drama had been held and everyone played their part to keep the secret - they played it well and I never knew. I walked into the marriage like a lamb to the slaughter. Before the wedding his behavior was Godly, gentle, loving and attentive - planning a life in service to God and one openly abhorring the use of alcohol, drugs and anything that lifestyle represented. After the wedding his behavior was anything but gentle, loving, and Godly. It was as if I had been caught and caged and he didn't need to continue the charade.
Once I said “I do” before God, I was bound in my heart to stay. That was God’s expectation for me. I was trapped inside my own promise to God, one to love, honor and obey until death do we part. The promise to remain faithful through sickness and in health. I was taught early in life that God did not condone divorce so I was bound by my promise through thick and thin. I did not want God to be disappointed with me. That allegiance to a distorted view of God’s expectation was my first mistake.
And so the secrets began.
I could not allow my parents, my family and my Christian friends to know the reality of my Christian home because I had failed. I failed in hearing God. I failed in the discernment of right and wrong. Because of pride I began covering to protect him and myself. I became like a sponge soaking up what he gave out as fast as I could so that the secrets wouldn’t leak out, so that others wouldn’t know, to keep the peace in my home, and to keep up the public facade. But a sponge fills quickly.
We moved to a neighboring state during the second year of our marriage after my husband took a secular job as a computer programer. I was teaching and began graduate school. It was there that I learned of his addiction. One evening after coming home early from class, I walked in and found him in a drunken stupor barely recognizing who I was. Shocked and devastated I didn’t know what to do or even what to think. Putting my clothes in a suitcase and into my car, my intention was to make the hour long drive back home, but all I did was drive around town until he passed out. I then snuck back in the house and spent the first of hundreds of nights over the next 29 years on the couch. It was the first of many nights having to listen to the hungover apologies in the middle of the night when he woke up thinking I had left.
And the first of many nights wondering where God had gone.
Isolated in a small town, I was alone in my battle. The off and on drunkenness was becoming more frequent and was always kept hidden from me and accompanied by lies telling me that it was all in my head. It plays with your mind. My family was an hour away, we had no friends and all of that was used as part of the manipulation and control - to isolate. It was during this isolation that he began to strongly encourage me to drink with him but I vowed early on during my childhood years that I would never immerse myself in that world and I never wavered and continue to hold fast to that conviction to this day. But he used this time of isolation to attempt to break me down and ridicule me for not participating in his addictive behavior. He degraded, emotionally drained, and gave Biblical reasons for his lifestyle - that it was condoned by God and that I held too tightly to my conservative childhood convictions.
I clung to God for my own sanity and began to pray and believe for God to heal him, his addictions and our marriage. But I continued in secret, managing to do what I could to make our lives appear normal. Looking back I realize that these secrets moved me into the role of an enabler, one who believed in God's grace, mercy and healing power but one who did so in secret allowing myself to live a life that I didn't have to live. A life that God never expected me to live.
After a few years, we moved to a large city so that he could get a better job - farther away from home and easier to become even more isolated from my family. It was during this time I found that I was not able to have children and this in itself was a grief hard to bear but one that I now recognize as a blessing in disguise. As his addiction and mental illness continued it moved to an even darker reality for me. The emotional and spiritual abuse that had been there since the beginning had now moved to a realm that was harder to hide. Behind closed doors of my Christian home, I found myself in a secret world of physical abuse. I had to find ways of covering the bruises, fingernail scratches and cuts that were inflicted hoping no one noticed. The hair pulling, ripped clothing, marks around my neck from being choked, broken items thrown around the house and doorjams shoved in after I locked myself in a room to get away from a alcoholic rage, happened more and more frequently. There were the sleepless nights making promises just to keep him calm and get through the night until I could get safely to work. There was the times of fighting to get away from being pushed down stairs after coming home from major surgery, the fight to get outside and sit by the mailbox so that I could be safely seen by neighbors, the hidden emergency kits that I kept just in case, and the gun hidden where only I could find it because the bullet hole in the ceiling seen early on was evidence of his using a gun as intimidation when in a drunken rage.
But I stayed. And I prayed.
Looking back I see my mistakes. I lived and was immersed in an isolated, secret world. My view was clouded by the dark oppression that resided in my home. Even though my walk with God was close and I actively sought His direction and clung to my faith in His ability to heal my marriage, I also listened to the reasons my husband gave for why I could not divorce him. I was torn. There was the guilt that I felt because I believed that God would not condone my decision to leave. He was sick and before God I vowed to stay in sickeness and in health. He was weak in his struggle against the pull of addiction and I wanted to please God and show mercy. Because of this I persevered, but my distorted view of God's expectation was almost too much to bear.
As a school psychologist by trade I knew the red flags that were appearing in my own life and recognized the danger of the thoughts that ran through my mind. Finding myself in the middle of my bathroom floor late one night with a bottle of pills in my lap and him in a drunken sleep -the thoughts of suicide that I had were concerning. I recognized that my faith was wavering. I felt trapped. I cried out to God but continued to try and figure things out myself. I began to read books, I researched, I unsuccessfully attempted to arrange counseling session for both of us, I encouraged, I made plans of protection for myself but still I was immersed in a confusing world of determining how to help him yet protect myself while trying to follow God's Biblical mandates for marriage.
Then there was a breakthrough.
He began going to AA and miraculously he put down the bottle for a few sober years. These years lured me into thinking that things would be okay. Even though we were in church, the control, dominance, and isolation were always there. As the haze of the alcohol lifted, the symptoms of his mental illness were apparent. We began our move from church to church because of the issues he caused, blamed on his bipolar disorder, which was diagnosed earlier. I became desperate again and reached out, in confidence, to a leader of the church but was disappointed that the pastor himself didn't have the time to take to listen. My attempt at letting go of my secret failed and I began to doubt that God cared.
After being laid off from his job, he went back to school and to his old habits. He began abusing other types of medication and mixing pills with alcohol. The paranoia, obsessions and odd behavior increased, characterized by sleeping outside, disappearing for hours at a time, and returning like a crazed animal under the influence of a variety of substances. The use of pornography, which begin early on, became a routine and I drifted further and further away from him. This drift was part of God's preparation.
His paranoid obsessions combined with drunken rages created many nights filled with fear. Only one time did I reach out in desperation calling law enforcement for assistance but paid for it later. Finally, with my threat of leaving he agreed to outpatient treatment and counseling and was placed under the care of a psychiatrist specializing in mental illness and addition. This helped for awhile and I regained my faith that God was working. But it didn't last long.
After treatment the time of sobriety was fleeting. The use of substances and all that came with that returned with a vengeance. I felt that I couldn't go on and sought counseling for myself in order to get support to do what I needed to do. My family now knew and they encouraged me to leave. A line in the sand was drawn and now I had the courage and support to hold fast.
One Friday afternoon I knew it was time. Coming home to him in another drunken stupor - God whispered "Enough. Leave him to me your time is done get out of the way - I will be with you every step." God did as He promised and showed Himself faithful going before me laying the path that I was to take. He gave me the peace, clarity, provision, and protection that I needed. It wasn't easy, in fact even after we divorced he continued with the harassment. But looking back God consistently showed off in my behalf. It was a miraculous time that I would never had been able to withstand if it hadn't been for Him.
I now know that in spite of my isolation, God saw me. And in spite of my doubt, God protected me. And despite my distorted thinking, God led my steps.
My husband died three years after we divorced. I was at his bedside for the week before he passed away. He lost consiousness but before he did I was able to pray with him and tell him that I loved him and forgave him completely. His death was a horrific struggle from cirrhosis of the liver and complications from the abuse he had inflicted on himself. But God had mercy on him and took him home. It was then that my restoration story began.
Forgiveness is a powerful thing and sometimes only possible by God's power. It frees you - it releases the bondage you are under and it allows you to move on into the life that God has prepared for you.
My story is a testament to God's restorative power.
My story is a testament to the power of forgiveness.
And my story is a testament to the faithfulness of an ever watchful, protective, loving God.
No more secrets.