Todays story comes from a woman who understands the depths of grace and learned through experience what it means to let Jesus carry you. The Bible promises God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Learning to lean, or perhaps more accurately, learning to fall, is never easy, but when we let everything go, close our eyes and jump, we find God’s protective hands to be strong, steady, and unmoving. And when everything else is stripped away, one thing remains–God’s love. And in that moment, we find it to be more than enough. We find it to be all we need. (The author of the following story wishes to remain anonymous.)
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“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’” John 5:8
My story starts 20 years ago when I fell in love with and married my husband. Well, it really starts before that, with my upbringing, because that of course shaped the way I behaved with him. I had a stable, safe and comfortable life, but my family wasn’t very affectionate and close-knit. We laughed and enjoyed family times like camping trips, but we weren’t touchy-feely. We didn’t talk much about important things. We had no faith to hold us together. As a result, I never felt deeply loved. So when I met Evan*, I found someone who became my lover and best friend. I knew he really loved me. We had a good marriage. He made me laugh. We could talk deep into the night. He told me often that he loved me and that I was the most beautiful woman in the world. I responded that if he kept saying that I might just start believing it.
There was just one problem. I found out very early on that he had an addiction. He used crack. His usage was almost always brought on by drinking too much. He didn’t do it if he was sober. Mostly, he drank too much on the weekends, but also during the week. He would drink and then take off to get some crack, then come back and stay up all night and sleep half the day. At first, I was fearful and worried, but I thought it wasn’t that serious and that he would get over it. We were still young. He couldn’t possibly want to continue his habit once we started a family, right? I didn’t leave or tell anyone or tell him to get help, because my fear of losing him and his love was much greater. The time we spent together when he wasn’t drinking or using were almost always enjoyable, so I put the pain and fear away in a box and closed the lid tightly.
We lived two lives. One where everything was fine and happy. Another where he was using and everything looked dark. I can’t tell you how many times I cried in anguish for hours from the moment I heard the garage door go up just minutes after I took the boys upstairs to bed. I knew the weekend was done for. I felt abandoned on those days. I wondered how he could say he loved me one night and leave me the next. In those early years I begged and cried. I called in sick for him. But the good times gave me hope, kept me going, made me happy for a while. Eventually, I resigned to it.
I was paralyzed. And I stayed paralyzed for 18 years.
Like the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda, I had no one to help me into the healing waters. I had no one because I didn’t ask and didn’t tell. My paralysis wasn’t obvious, however, like the paralyzed man’s. No one knew. Evan* was a master at keeping his secret life secret. And I helped him. His parents didn’t know. He always kept a job and paid the bills. He was liked and respected. Even our boys didn’t know!
So what changed? How did I get from paralysis to walking freely again?
The problem with living two lives is that eventually the dark side starts to seep into the good side and infects it. In the last few years we were together, he began to get more withdrawn and depressed. His bursts of anger were more frequent and scary. His drinking got heavier. We didn’t have those late night talks anymore. He stopped telling me about work because he didn’t think I was interested (which wasn’t true). The boys and I had to tiptoe around him, keeping quiet while he slept, leaving him alone as he read or watched TV.
I began to confide in a few friends. I secretly went to Al-Anon meetings. My friends wrapped me in the love and grace of Christ and walked with me through months so painful I could not have imagined. In May of 2009, I had been feeling very anxious because I felt Evan*was lashing out at me frequently about little things. I got so upset one day that I spent the night at a friend’s. We “patched” things up in the next couple days and decided to go up to the mountains for a long weekend we had already planned. The boys were on a trip with their grandparents. My anxiety didn’t go away, however. I had resolved to make a very clear statement to him about his drinking and drug use. It took me until Sunday to get it out. I told him I loved him and accepted him for who he was, but couldn’t accept what he does. I was going to get help, counseling, talk to my pastor, talk to friends. I said I wanted him to get help, too, but if he wasn’t willing I would go on my own. Well, I guess all he heard was “I hate you. You’re a jerk.” He shut down immediately. For the next couple weeks his silence was so hostile it got unbearable. I had to move into another room to sleep. Then I moved back. Over the next couple of months, we gingerly tried to make up, talk a little, understand each other – with some good days and some bad.
Then in late July, I told him a couple of things that I had withheld from him… that I had bought a cell phone when I was feeling especially fearful of how things were going, and that I had confided in a friend of ours. I’ve always hated keeping things from him. All hell broke loose, literally. From that point on until late October when I finally told the boys the truth and we moved out, he barely spoke to me, except to hiss nasty things under his breath. He glared at me and avoided me almost completely. We even went on a trip to the Rocky Mountains, during which I was a complete non-entity.
What I hoped would happen as a result of moving out was that he would wake up and want to get some help to get his family back. My in-laws were devastated. They had no clue all those years. It was awful telling everyone. I gathered some family and friends and we attempted an intervention. He took off and wouldn’t face anyone. The boys and I along with my mother-in-law and her husband went to the Betty Ford Center’s family program together. Evan* and I communicated by email for a while – with great frustration on both sides, but he called no one. He completely refuses to talk to or see anyone even now. The boys haven’t seen him or talked to him in over a year. I filed for legal separation, still hoping that he would do an about-face. He didn’t show up for the custody hearing or court. Now he has initiated changing it to a divorce.
So this all paints a pretty sad picture, eh? But, my friend, this is only part of the story. To see what God has done throughout this experience has overshadowed the pain and loss. He has set me free from bondage! Not bondage to marriage – I grieve the loss of it – but bondage to sin. I have come to know the reality of His great love and grace. I have never felt so sure of God’s will and assured of His love for me. He has poured out his love for me through the support and prayers of friends and family. He pulled me up out of a pit that I had been stuck in for many years and got me moving forward.
“There is a difference in the woman who is saved and getting by as best she can and the woman who is saved and living every day of her life filled by the power of the Holy Spirit. The first woman is a carnal Christian. And the second one is a spiritual woman. If we stay with our illustration, we’d say that the second woman is dancing. The first one continues to walk according to her old desires, and the other is being led by the Spirit of God. There is only one degree of choosing that separates these women. But as it turns out, one degree makes all the difference.” -Angela Thomas, When Wallflowers Dance
I realized that, although I thought of myself as spiritual, and had a great desire to live a Spirit-filled life, I was just getting by as a carnal Christian. The one degree that made the difference for me was an act of obedience, that is, I finally voiced my opposition—with truth and love—to something I had kept silent about for years. And then, once I left, I felt I was being carried along with the Lord going before me, that it was all out of my hands and truly safe in His perfect will. The image I shared with a friend at the time was of a leaf being carried along the top of a rushing stream. I was the leaf and the stream was Living Water.
Here are a couple things I wrote last year:
April 2010: “Being saved and seeing Jesus are not the same thing.” -Oswald Chambers
Have you ever felt so completely helpless about your future, not knowing when-how-if it will all work out? Have you ever felt compelled to take actions that seem to be the opposite of God’s will (like leaving your husband) and seem to take you further from resolution and away from your ultimate desire? That’s where I am and it is such a strange place to be! I’ve never dove deep like this and completely placed everything in God’s hands, trusting Him to work out what is impossible for me on my own. I feel like I am just standing before Him with my hands limp at my sides, and at the same time moving forward. I’ve been saved for many years now, but am really seeing Him for the first time. I only caught glimpses of Him before. I feel safe and confident as I look to Him and not at my circumstances (although He doesn’t shield me from the pain, but walks me through it).
May 2010: Sun at my back, legs heavy, breath labored, I put one foot in front of the other to climb another hill. It’s early in the morning and there is still a chill in the air. I listen through all the chirping to pick out a red-winged blackbird. The thistle and wild mustard stand as tall as my shoulders and the wild grasses tickle my shins. The hill before me is steep enough that I have to lean forward as I climb. My legs burn and the arteries thump in my thighs. At the top, I feel invigorated. Recently, I have been feeling very depressed. Our house is sold and in escrow and it feels like the last nail in the coffin of my marriage. I knew I couldn’t continue feeling this way and even contemplated going to the doctor for medication. I also knew that a better option would be exercise. So the first day I ventured out to the rolling hills nearby (one of the best perks of living in XXX*), I started climbing and hiking and going and going and going. I finally returned an hour and a half later. A friend of mine said that as I do this I will squeeze out every ounce of sadness with each step. I don’t know about that, but hiking does lift my spirits and gives me energy for the day. It gives me time to thank the Lord for all the good things he provides – from the care and love of friends and my boys whom I adore, to the ladybug on the thistle and the cottontail that appears to fly over the grass as it dashes away from me. As I keep leaning into Jesus and pressing on with perseverance, I grow stronger. I know there is a hilltop ahead where I will feel invigorated and renewed, and I pray, if it is His will, see restoration.
The Lord has shown His love and care for me and my boys in amazing ways over the past year. He gave us friends who let us live with them for eight months, caring for us and walking with us. Staying with them allowed me time to get my bearings and to grieve my marriage. Giving yourself room to breathe and grieve is so healthy! And so painful. But I resolved to allow myself whatever feeling came along, without embarrassment or trying to bury it. Then God sent me work that I could do at home when I was looking elsewhere and provided an apartment surrounded by friends and church family. He has given my boys friends and support from church that enrich their lives and are helping them grow into godly, caring young men. A long-awaited visit from my sister and her husband was a source of great comfort and joy.
I have come to truly know deep within my soul how much God loves and cares for me.It took a work of the Holy Spirit to get that from my head into my heart. He has enlivened my spirit. For so long, I saw in others joy and peace and longed for them for myself, but didn’t know how to get there. But now God, in His mercy, has given me a white stone with a new name (Rev. 2:17) – Joy. I still look at the future as uncertain, but now there is no fear. My future, and my husband’s future, are in God’s hands.
*Name and location have been changed/deleted for privacy purposes.
(If you have a story to share of Jesus took you from bondage to freedom, send me an email, jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot) com. Your story may point the way to the ladder of grace for someone else still trapped in the pit.)