Forty years of journals sit on my bookshelves. Only one year is missing—1985. There was too much pain, too much guilt. I burned them. Now, many years later, I wish I had them. The hard lessons learned forever chiseled and molded my life.
In the years since God’s hand of mercy erased words spoken and deeds done. Still, I know He wants this chapter told. So—big breath, here goes.
The room was airy and filled with light. Mike and I sat anchored at either end of a beautiful beige couch with a soft floral pattern of pink peonies. Nothing about either of us was light or soft that day. It was our first trip to the marriage counselor.
How did we get here? Hadn’t we done everything possible to keep our marriage on the right track? In hind’s sight, no, I knew I did not have a clean record of stellar performance. But performance was one of the main issues that put us on this couch.
We were in counseling after twenty years of marriage. On the outside all was roses and sunshine. But on the inside, a relentless war for my true identity raged.
Remember the whole story about “The Chart”? I thought I was through with logging my behavior and duties when I said, “I do.” For some reason, I felt the need to create a new chart, a new list. Was it the ingrained habit or my mother’s voice saying, “If you get your chores done, you can play?” I don’t know.
The new one wasn’t taped to the cupboard door. Instead, it was a virtual chart imprinted in my head. Mike didn’t create it, nor did God. I was the author from beginning to end. What’s more, no one was holding me to it, but myself.
The list of dos and don’ts grew to the point of impossible. On the outside, everything was in order.
Dinner was on the table when Mike got home from work. Beds were made and bathrooms clean. Homemade bread was a staple on our table along with made-from-scratch meals. I was available in the bedroom when Mike wanted intimacy. He thought I was the best wife a man could have and often told me so. His appreciation only served to confirm my need for the list.
Soon, the growing list became an idol of perfection that did not resemble the real me at all. What’s sad is that I am the one who created the idol, but was angry with my husband for worshiping it.
Now we were in counseling. The marriage counselor asked, “Why do you think you need counseling? What do you think needs to change to make your marriage healthy?” Silence.
I could see Mike out of the corner of my eye. He was sitting with his head down, eyes staring at the carpet. He didn’t want to be here. “It won’t do any good,” he’d said to me a week before when I suggested the counselor. “We can work this out. We don’t need let a perfect stranger tell us what to do.”
Our counselor sat in a chair facing us. She waited another moment and asked again. “Can either of you tell me what you think needs to change in your marriage? You’ve come here for help. Unless you tell me something, I can’t help you.”
Taking a breath, I said, “Okay, I’ll go first. We don’t know how to communicate with each other. There is no communication.”
I went on to tell her about how difficult it was when Mike worked as a deputy sheriff. I couldn’t handle hearing about his cases, so there was little communication about his job. We hoped things would improve with his new job in security. The need for silence would end. Not true.
What’s more, Mike had been waiting for six months for his thorough FBI security clearance to go through. Until it did he could not start the job.
The company hired him, in a manner of speaking, but he could not work. Instead, he went to the plant every morning and sat in a ‘Ready Room’ for eight hours doing nothing. He was ready to work, but on hold. He spent each day staring at a wall. What we didn’t know that day at the counselors was it would take another five months before he was cleared.
My husband was used to interacting with guys at the sheriff’s department. He’d spent his days driving through the county and working cases. Now he was in isolation. He came home with a blank stare in his eyes, comatose. He often ate supper and then went to his shop or out on the tractor to mow. He wasn’t open for conversation or complaints.
During those first six months, Sharon (not her real name) came into my life. She needed a friend. She was a wife, a mother, and worked full-time outside her home. Sharon had a great sense of humor, and everyone loved her.
One Monday morning she showed up at my back door in tears. We’d been to a seminar that weekend. I couldn’t imagine what could have happened.
I gave her a big hug and invited her inside. I brought her a cup of hot tea and a box of tissues. Together we sat down at our kitchen table.
The story unfolded.
“Mary Ellen? I am sure you have no idea why I am here.” She said, cradling her cup of tea with both hands and looking at the pattern in the tablecloth.
“No, I don’t. You were fine when I left you yesterday. What happened?”
“Well,” she said pulling a tissue out of the Kleenex box. Tears started running again. I reached out for her other hand to comfort her.
“Go ahead. I’m listening.”
“Mary Ellen, I came to the seminar with a gun in my briefcase. My intent was suicide, there, away from home.” She dropped her head and began to sob. “I told God that morning, ‘I can’t forgive myself. I don’t believe You forgive me either.” She squeezed my hand as tears pooled at the end of her nose and chin.
I got up from the table, took a seat beside her and put my arm around her. “Go on Sharon. Is there more?”
“Yes,” she said, took a big breath and continued. “I told Him, ‘If You love me, then show me through someone this weekend.’”
“Do you remember when I walked in on Friday night? Do you remember what you did?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I gave you a big hug and told you I was glad you came. I remember seeing tears in your eyes, but I didn’t ask why.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what happened. You see, God used you to tell me that He loved me. You have no idea how much I needed to hear that. I came here to thank you.”
“Why do you feel He couldn’t love you, Sharon?” I asked handing her another tissue.
“Do you promise not to tell anyone?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Mary Ellen, my husband doesn’t know about this, no one does. I was raped when I was eighteen years old. My car broke down on a country road and the guy who stopped to help, raped me. Intimacy has been an ongoing issue in our marriage. Tom doesn’t know why I often refuse his advances.”
“Oh Sharon, how awful. I cannot begin to imagine the terror of that incident or the damage it caused.”
“That’s not the worst of it,” she said. “When I was working at my night job, I was raped again. It happened after swing shift as I was walking to my car in the parking lot. A guy jumped me and raped me. Tom was asleep when I got home. I went into the bathroom and stood in the shower for an hour and never told him.”
My heart broke for Sharon. I’d never been this up close and personal to a rape victim.
“You need to get some counseling,” I told her. “I will help you find someone.”
And so began a deeper friendship between the two of us. I would listen to her heart cries as she rehearsed the details of her attacks. She listened to my struggles with raising teenagers and a five-year-old. She empathized about Mike’s silence. Months passed. She saw a counselor and was improving. At the same time, she considered divorce.
What began as a charitable act, reaching out to one who was hurting, became something else. I started thinking it would be easier to live with Sharon than to continue in the never ending silence. Intimacy with Mike was more difficult as scenes from Sharon’s account played in my mind.
Mike saw the change in my behavior. I was going through the motions of the idol I’d created, but I wasn’t the real me was anymore. After the episode with Ron and now this heart tie to Sharon, I decided Mike deserved a better wife. I failed to meet the criteria of the list anymore. He needed a wife who could.
The need to measure up to perfection was ever before me. My list was full of failing black marks. Few red marks of jobs accomplished remained.
I told Mike that divorce might be our only option. That word ‘divorce’ was one we both vowed we would never utter in our marriage and here I was the one to use it. “God, help me. What have I done?”
As we sat on that couch in the counselor’s home, I went on to pour out my fears, my sins, my complaints. Mike never moved, never said a word. We left in silence.
There were more visits with similar results. On our last meeting, the counselor turned to me and said, “Mary Ellen, I want you to do something. Take all the things you feel you’ve done wrong, put them in your hands. Now close your eyes and see Jesus standing before you. Give Him every bit of it and see what He does.”
When I closed my eyes, I saw myself walking up a steep grade. I was pushing a boulder before me that grew like the snowballs I used to make in Seattle as a child. Bigger and bigger the boulder grew until I could not see over it. At the top of the grade was Jesus. When I got to Him, in a flash the boulder disintegrated, and Jesus handed me a huge red quilted heart. It looked like the fancy chocolate boxes sold on Valentine’s Day. He didn’t speak, He just smiled. He took all my sin and gave me love in return. I gasped as tears ran unabated.
Mike sat there unmoved and the counselor waited for me to regain composure. Then she said, “We’ve met, and I’ve asked questions. But Mary Ellen has done most of the sharing,” she paused looking at both of us. “I’ve prayed about this, and I believe that divorce would be your best option. You can’t fix a marriage when only one is willing to talk. You can go on as you are in hopes of Mike talking sometime in the future and when he does, you must be willing to listen. But, that could take quite a while. What do you think?”
Before I could think, my mouth opened, and words poured out, “No, there will be no divorce. To choose divorce would be saying that healing is impossible. But with God, nothing is impossible, and He is the third partner in this marriage. God can and will heal our marriage.”
She sent us home with her blessings. We were both numb with pain, empty of all emotion. It would take years for the healing to be complete, but He would prove Himself faithful.
~~ How About You? ~~
Are you faced with an impossible situation? It could be your marriage, your children, your job, another relationship—there is hope. Regardless of your need, the Creator of all Who knows us better than we know ourselves is forever with us. He loves doing the impossible. It is His specialty.
Have your eyes been opened to your sin? Do you feel hopeless in ever turning it around? Are you unsure if God or anyone else could ever love you again? Well, it’s time to turn around and see that your Father is running toward you with open arms. He is not coming to condemn you or shame you. He is coming to embrace you with His love and assure you that by His grace there are better days ahead.
Consider these scriptures:
Jeremiah 32:27 “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?
Luke 1:37 “For with God nothing will be impossible.”
Psalm 103: 8-14 “The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
9 He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
II Corinthians 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
I challenge you today to sit down with the Love of your life and give Him all the sin and hurt. Sit with Him and let Him pour out His love in ways that will surprise you. Let Him take your mess and exchange it with His abundant love.
It is the greatest exchange you can ever receive. I dare you.
Did this post touch your heart? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment. Thanks.