Sunday, October 5, 2003 started out as a fairly normal Sunday. Isaac and I went to church. Afterwards, we met up with my parents and brother at Applebee’s (where else?). I had a Higher Things conference call scheduled in the early afternoon and the ordination of a friend from high school to attend in the evening. During lunch, my husband called inviting me on a drive with him that afternoon – we had been going through a rough time, more arguing than usual. We had even started seeing a marriage therapist just that past week. When I reminded him about my plans for the day, he got all terse and huffy. In an effort to make my marriage a priority over my personal interests, I gave in and said I’d skip it all, inhaled the rest of my lunch, and headed home.
But by the time I got there, he had changed his mind about the drive and was already in the middle of some intense videogame-playing in the man-cave. Annoyed that I had rushed home for no reason, I put Isaac down for a nap and took care of the conference call. A little while later, my mom picked up me and Isaac to go to the ordination service. The service went on for nearly two hours, and since Isaac was getting fussy we decided to leave. Once home, I put Isaac down, and then went to see if anything had happened while I was gone.
Apparently, nothing had actually happened, except my husband stewing about all our ongoing arguments and disagreements all day long. We had the strangest arguments of any married couple I ever knew. The main one was he found my faith disgusting and repulsive and was offended that anything or anyone, including the Lord God Himself, would come before him and my son. I had actually tried to avoid arguments about it but often couldn’t, or I just didn’t realize they’d be a big deal to someone who supposedly was
Lutheran too. He couldn’t stand that I don’t believe Jews or Muslims are going to heaven
while they deny Christ; I was a wet blanket on every conversation because I couldn’t stop talking about Jesus; I don’t believe women should be ordained; I don’t believe anyone should take communion at my church just because they felt like it…I was judgmental, intolerant, etc.
So when I went downstairs, he made some comment about the ordination service and my beliefs. I refused to take the bait. That just made him more angry. He glared at me and said between clenched teeth, “You must think I am a test of your faith or something.”
Well, let’s think this through…my husband tells me nearly every day how wrong, stupid and unenlightened I am to believe as I do, tells me that he will do everything in his power to make sure Isaac doesn’t grow up to believe like I do, that I and my beliefs are “disgusting and repulsive”, etc. He refuses to set foot in a church, even on Christmas or Easter. Yeah…I think this situation would pretty much define a test of my faith. I responded, “Yes…”, careful not to say that I thought he was a test of my faith, but the situation itself was.
But it didn’t matter what I said or how carefully I said it, he only heard what he wanted to hear. His eyes flashed, “So you think I’m a test of your faith?? Like I’m some spawn of Satan come here to test your faith?”
I turned to walk away. Before I could even say, “No,” as I left, he was out of his chair, tearing across the room after me. I didn’t know a 6’5″, 320 lb. man could move that fast. He grabbed me and spun me around, put his hands around my neck, and lifted me over his head, at least two feet off the ground. I don’t remember if I screamed. I could see his mouth moving as he raged at me dangling in the air, but couldn’t hear anything above the blood pressure throbbing in my ears. Just as I began to pass out, he dropped me and retreated back into his man-cave.
Fortunately, I’m one of those people who are really good in a crisis. Always have been. As soon as my feet were on the ground again, I went upstairs and began packing a suitcases for me and my then 15-month old son. As I packed, my husband came upstairs and leaned on the bedroom door, smirking. “I guess this means you won’t be at the marriage therapist’s tomorrow afternoon?” I pushed past him, loaded the car, grabbed Isaac and the laptop and left. I dropped off my son at my parents’ house with my brother and drove across town to find a hotel room.
Somehow I hadn’t realized until that night that I had been living in crisis-mode for the last eight years. The abuse stages of tension-building, blow-up, and honeymoon were, after that many years, cycling so fast that there wasn’t even a cycle anymore. The tension was so high all the time, I was on constant alert, monitoring and controlling every minute detail I possibly could to avoid a blow-up.
Denial is an amazing thing. And when I couldn’t deny anymore that I was a victim of abuse, all my very meticulously crafted walls of self-deception came crashing down around my feet. The realization of the truth about everything I had spent so much energy justifying, excusing, denying, covering up, and cleaning up was almost too much to bear at once.
My life changed that night, significantly. Everything that I had known to be true, my life, my marriage, my family was not what I had though them to be. Everything except the one objective fact I could trust to be true, that I was compelled to cling to for dear life: I am baptized.
I almost became superstitious about the crucifix necklace I wore. It was a tangible reminder for me that God hadn’t abandoned me, He hadn’t forgotten about me, that I am not being punished, that even this terrifying experience was somehow for my good – not just one day, but right at that very moment – because my Baptism promised that good was all the Lord has for me.
Today was the five-year anniversary of my new life. It’s even a Sunday again. But I’m not really looking back in celebration. Despite months of trying to repair the damage, it just wasn’t possible and my marriage ended in divorce. That’s nothing to celebrate. Honor, remember, learn from…but not celebrate. It seems strange, even to me, to look back and remember what life was like before, like watching a movie…only I know the details of each and every scene too well. It makes me sad to remember these things. It is not something I want to dwell on, but it is not something that I ever want to forget either. Nor can I even if I wanted to.
I was surprised by an anxiety attack just a couple of weeks ago. The instructor at Isaac’s Tae Kwon Do class was working with an advanced student on choke holds and breaks, so she put her hands around the student’s neck in a strangle hold. Just seeing that gesture, even to someone else in a controlled setting was more than I could handle. My mind was back in the basement that night. My heart began to race, my hands got sweaty. I thought I might pass out or throw up, or both. I had to go outside to regain my composure.
As different and wonderful as my life is now, better than I could’ve imagined when I was struggling to buy diapers for my son and waiting tables to pay the bills, this experience has changed me in many ways I don’t like, such as having these attacks from time to time, and giving me all sorts of baggage for any future relationships I may have. And it’s really hard being a single mother. It breaks my heart that I broke my promise Isaac’s birthmother that he would have a wonderful life in a family that she could not provide as a single mother herself. He doesn’t get to grow up with a father in his life and probably won’t ever have siblings beyond the imaginary ones he invents for himself.
But what I do celebrate today is the gift that the experience has been for me, and for others. Despite everything (more likely because of it), I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams. I have grown into someone I couldn’t even have imagined being before. I have been given personal insight into a situation that is far too common to women, sympathizing and bringing the comfort of the Gospel to bear in a way that others cannot as easily. Even today, the Lord is using my experience and my suffering to bring Christ to others. This blog is one of those ways, more are in the works.
Statistically, there are people reading these words who have experienced abuse at the hands of the ones who were supposed to protect and tend to them. You are not alone. Your Savior was beaten, He was despised, He was rejected, He was punished for things He didn’t deserve. He has not forgotten about you and His promises to you are trustworthy. He is the Bridegroom who carefully washes you, purifies you, forgives you, and calls you the most wonderful and beautiful woman in all creation. He loves you with all His being and has given Himself to save you from eternal suffering.
And he has made you, you sitting there on the other side of the screen
reading this right now, His own through Baptism. Cling to that.
They say that when you’re going through a crisis you have to take things one day at a time. That’s so not true. It’s one breath at a time, one minute at a time, one hour at a time, one day at a time, one month at a time, one year at a time. Until, before you know it, it’s been five years.
Every time you doubt, every time you fear what may happen next, or wonder how you’re going to make it one more minute, remember that you are still baptized.