Location: New England, United States

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Marriage

More time passed and my relationship with God grew in fits and spurts surrounded by long periods of repose. Our little family never returned to church, but I would pray when I remembered, and read my Bible occasionally. To me, God was like a light bulb - there when you needed some light. What I didn't know then was that he was patiently waiting. He was waiting for my committment to him.

My family, however, was not doing so well. My husband changed jobs with the changing seasons, and frequently he would spend long periods with no employment. I suspected he had been fired more than once. During these times of unemployment, he would drop our daughter off at his mother's house and disappear for the day on the pretense of looking for a job.

Bill collectors would call or the water would be turned off for past due balances. Once a sheriff, accompanied by one of our creditors, came to repossess my daughter's bedroom furniture. Each time, my husband was absent as though he knew when the creditors would call or come to the house.

We moved annually and there was a restlessness surrounding our life. He drank - mostly beer, but it was included in his daily menu. I learned not to argue with him for I perceived, correctly, that he was a firecracker just waiting for a match.

In contrast, he could also be charming; almost child-like in his abandon, and I swear he never met a stranger. He had an easy going charisma with neighbors and friends, and it was he that people sought out. Still, his dark side was impenetrable and frightening.

The Ohio Valley can become oppressively hot and humid in the summer. It is as though the westward winds just skim the top of the valley leaving the heat and moisture below undisturbed. Such was that Saturday.

I had spent the day cleaning and working in the garden. We had no air conditioning and after I had gotten my daughter down for the night, I took another cooling shower. Finishing, I could hear my husband on the phone in the other room. He quickly came down the hallway dressed in slacks and a dress shirt open at the neck.

"Are you going somewhere?" I questioned with confusion.

"I can't stand it in here. It is so hot. I am going for a drive to cool off."

He left and I had my doubts to keep me company. He did not return until the next morning. This behavior continued the next weekend and the next until I confronted him with evidence. His mistress' name was Linda.

Expecting my confrontation to end the relationship, I was summarily disappointed when he announced that he was glad I knew. Now he would not need to sneak around. We lived in the country with only one car, so he left me Linda's phone number in case there was an emergency during the night. The affair continued; now in the open. Each morning he brought the car home so I could go to work. Then when I returned home in the evening, he showered and dressed to meet Linda.

I was in shock that whole summer. I could not eat or sleep. There was no one to share my misery as my family lived miles away, and all my friends were shared with my husband. Also, I feared the result of a strong confrontation with him, so I walked through the next few weeks with indecision and heavy grief.

One night, I could not sleep. I walked the quiet house with nothing to occupy my mind. Even television could not capture my imagination, and my desire to run away was thwarted by a lack of transportation and a responsibility to my daughter sleeping in her room. I went outside on sat on the porch. It was late and even the traffic noises were silent. A light breeze blew the scent of honeysuckle to me and the stars above seemed to swim through my tears. I cried in earnest, and my release esculated. I wailed out loud for there was no one to hear me.

Emotionally exhausted, I blubbered to those stars. "Nobody loves me. I have never been loved; not really loved. I am loved only when it suits the other person. I am loved only if I am good. That is not the kind of love I want, I want to be loved 'no matter what'! I want a love that will last anything, and I want it to engulf me so I have no doubts. That would be a perfect love."

As I sat there on the porch, I realized the foolishness of that request. For someone to love me perfectly - they would need to be perfect, for only a perfect person could love perfectly. That one thought jolted the pain from me and replaced it with curiousity. Could it be that a perfect love was available?

I ran into the house for my Bible. "OK God, I challenge you. You said that you love me - prove it! I know that you are perfect, so you can love perfectly. Do you love me 'no matter what'? Would you love me if I killed someone? Would you love me no matter what I do and say? Will you love me perfectly?" I let the Bible fall open. It opened to Isaiah 62, and he spoke to me.

" For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth. The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: "I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored; but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary."
Go through, go through the gates, prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an ensign over the peoples. Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, "Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him." And they shall be called The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD; and you shall be called Sought out, a city not forsaken." RSV

I read the passage over and over realizing that this was a love song from God. Just as a woman takes a new name when she marries, God had given me a new name. I now belonged to him. My new name - "My delight is in her"- Hepzibah.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sisters and Forgiveness

Time passed as it sometimes does - quickly and quietly. My father's employer transferred him to Connecticut leaving me in Kentucky with my husband and daughter. My sister, Barbara, had married and moved to Chicago with her husband. A year later she gave birth to a little girl, Beth.

On one visit to Chicago, with encouragement from my husband, Barbara and her husband Walter decided to move to Kentucky. They asked if they could stay with us until Walter found a job and they could buy a home. We agreed.

What sounded like a good idea in Chicago, became a stressful situation in Kentucky. Walter and Barbara stayed with us for many months, far longer than we had anticipated. Four adults and two children living in our tiny house created stressful situations for us all, and I was building a growing ire against my sister.

Barbara did not work, so she stayed home with the two children. At the onset of our arrangement, I had visions of coming home from work to find the house cleaned, the laundry done and dinner cooking on the stove. My visions were seldom realized, and requests went unheeded. As the weeks dragged by, the anger hidden deep within me became heavier and heavier.

One night, unable to sleep, I quietly rose from my bed. The anger I harbored played in my mind like a drama with no resolution, and I needed an answer. I grabbed my Bible and there at my kitchen table, I began to pray. "Please God, please make my sister and her family leave my house. I can't take anymore."

At the time, I was reading the Bible from cover to cover, so I opened to my marker and continued reading. Suddenly, I heard someone coming down the hallway; it was Barbara. "I can't sleep." She said. "What are you reading?"

The peace I had obtained from my little prayer and reading washed away with resentment. I had sought some solitude as an ointment to my suffering, and even that was now stolen from me! "Do you want me to leave?", she asked while she sat down at the table.

"Help me!", I screamed inside my head terrified that if I opened my mouth a dark bile of words would pour forth.

Then, "Tell her how you have been feeling and apologize.", popped into my head amidst the turmoil.

"I can't tell her. What I am feeling is so ugly."

"I want you to tell her, calmly, and then apologize for feeling this way. This is not about you, it is about her."

I knew what God meant. Barbara knew that I had become a Christian and had been baptized, but we had never really discussed why I had done this. All she knew was that I had turned my back on my Catholic heritage. Whether she understood my transformation or felt that I had lost my mind; I had no idea. It was time to tell her.

So, I proceeded to tell her how I was feeling. I told her that when they first came to live with us, I was so excited to have family near me again, but the happiness quickly turned to anger and resentment. I resented not only that she could be a stay at home Mom, but that I was still expected to cook dinner and clean when I got home from work. I can still remember how humiliating and painful it was to express all my black feelings. Pain and anger flickered across her face like a strobe light. Then I asked her to forgive me.

This was not what she had expected. She was probably preparing herself for at least an argument, or perhaps she expected and request for her to leave. Instead I asked her for forgiveness. She started to cry.

We both cried. Then I shared with her what God had told me to do. The next couple of hours were spent talking about God, Jesus and the plan of salvation.

Barbara did not accept Jesus as her Savior that night, but years later in Tennessee, Barbara and her husband were baptized in a small country church. The seed that had been planted that night at my kitchen table - by God - germinated and took root.

"Another parable he put before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field;" Matthew 13:24 RSV

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Ballot Box

I finally did walk down that aisle with tears streaming down my face just as others had done before me. I was not embarrassed to proclaim that "Jesus is Lord", and I was baptised a few weeks later. My husband also joined the little church by moving his membership from his parents' Baptist church.

Afterwards, we became very active in church activities. We attended Sunday night Bible Study, Wednesday night Prayer Service, I taught Sunday School to the preschoolers and Mission Friends. We socialized with our Pastor and his family, and for two years the congregation grew until there was standing room only at Sunday services.

For those who do not know, a Southern Baptist church is a democratic church. All decisions, including the appointment of deacons and board members, are voted on by the members rather than decided by the Pastor. We replaced our Board of Directors with new members, including a new Finance Director who happened to be a CFO with a prominent corporation. Trouble brewed when the new Finance Director reviewed the church budget.

Our pastor, Brother Bob, was young and still working on his Masters in Divinity degree at a local university. Although he had three children and a stay-at-home wife, the little church had enticed him with the meager salary of $5,500 a year. They also provided a parsonage, utilities and traveling expenses, but even for the early seventies in a 'border state' this salary was hardly adequate. The church supplemented his income with charity. As many of the members were farmers, they would bring the young pastor bushels of food or second hand clothing.

But, the church had changed in two years. The membership had more than doubled and the coffers were full, so the new Director of Finance doubled Brother Bob's salary for the upcoming budget year. This budget was distributed to the membership and a vote would take place in a few weeks to adopt or reject.

There was outrage. With the new budget, Brother Bob's salary would exceed most of the congregations' annual salary. Never mind that he had just completed his Master's degree in Divinity and most of the congregation had little more than a high school education; the disparity was not to be tolerated, and my husband lead the opposition.

As soon as we arrived home that Sunday, my husband was on the phone to rally others to his point of view. There were meetings at our home discussing strategies and phone calls persuading other members to join their forces. By the next Sunday, the preacher had gotten wind of the revolt and asked the Director of Finance to revise the budgeted salary to a more acceptable range. The Director of Finance refused reminding the preacher that he had little say over the budget. The church was at a stand-off.

Even I was confused. Although I agreed that Brother Bob deserved a substantial raise, the proposed amount was a princely sum compared to the median income for our surrounding area. I kept my fence-sitting quiet from my husband while I served coffee and fresh baked goodies to his constituents during their meetings in our home.

Brother Bob was worried that the discord would pull the church apart, so the from the pulpit he called on the congregation to pray for God's guidance in next week's vote. The week before the voting, I acted on Brother Bob's call to prayer. "Please God, show me how to vote."

Suddenly, I remembered Brother Bob's sermons of the last two years. He continuously warned us that our miraculous growth was a thorn in the side of Satan. We should expect a spiritual attack against the church, and he prophesied that one day our church may be torn in half if we were not spiritually vigilant. These sermons were preached long before the new Board of Directors and their new budget. How did he know?

This time I asked God with all my heart, "Show me how to vote."

As in the past, I received a one word answer - "Yes", and my heart fell.

How could I possibly vote - yes - when my husband was leading the opposition? I cajoled God, "But God, you told me to subject myself to my husband! Shouldn't I vote as he would vote?"
Every time I prayed, I received the same one word answer - "Yes". By Saturday night, I knew I would vote as God had instructed. "Anyway," I reasoned, "It is only one vote."

My husband spent that Saturday tallying up the 'No' votes by phone. According to his census the 'No's' would win by a slim margin. We both went to bed that night believing that we were doing God's will.

The voting was to take place in the sanctuary following the Sunday service. Only members of the church are allowed to vote, so when the visitors had left, the sanctuary doors were closed and we were all given pieces of paper with two boxes - simply - Yes or No. I checked Yes confident that I could follow God's lead in secret and without any discord between my husband and myself. I was wrong; the new budget passed by one vote!

I felt light-headed and a wave of nausea coursed through me. I rode home with my husband's ranting banging in my ears while my heart banged furiously in my chest. Unfortunately, I was playing hostess that afternoon as my husband had invited some of the opposing team over for what was to be a celebratory dinner.

After dinner I refused the offer of assistance to clean-up so I could have some time to myself. "Why God? Why did it have to be one vote?" No answer, but the mindless chore of washing and drying dishes helped to calm me so that by the time I was readying for dessert, I had filed the whole incident away with reasoning. "After all, who knew that I had voted yes?"

"Tell them."


"Tell them."

"No way!"

"Tell them so they know that it was my will."

So, I told them. I explained how I prayed as Brother Bob had asked and that every time I prayed, God answered that I should vote yes. I will never forget the silence that followed. It was leaden and gray. I don't know if they stayed for dessert because I hid in the bedroom with tears in my eyes. I feared going back out there, and it was a long time before my husband came to check on me.

In the end, I left the final solution up to my husband - we would not be returning to the church. I had injured his pride.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Engagement

Four years passed. I had married and my daughter was born a short time later. To make ends meet, I worked part-time as a cashier for a regional grocery chain. It was there that I met Lana.
Lana was my antithesis. As I was serious, she was carefree; I quiet and reflective, Lana talked incessantly. Because I liked to listen and she liked to talk, we quickly became friends. I invited her to dinner on the Saturday before Easter so our children and husbands could meet.

Her husband, Sam, introduced the subject of their new church; a small, Southern Baptist church outside of Louisville with a growing congregation. Both Sam and Lana described the new pastor with excitement and affection. An invitation for Easter services followed.

I had planned to attend the Catholic church, not because I was worried about my yearly obligation - Easter services are required to maintain your Catholicism - but because I had bought my daughter and I matching Easter outfits with picture frame hats and crocheted capes. Mass would provide the perfect setting to show off our new clothes. But, I agreed to forego the Catholic services for the Baptist services, "As long as I still get to wear my new outfit".

I will never forget the experience. The first part of the service did not differ much from the Catholic Mass. There was more singing, and the songs were livelier. The collection plate was passed around and the reading from the Bible was the same - the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was when we all settled down for the sermon that it happened.

I can't say today that I remember the content of the sermon, but I will never forget the feelings that jumped into my head while I sat there. I felt as though the Preacher could see right into my soul, and that he was speaking just to me. I wanted to run away. I didn't know it then, but now I know that I was under Conviction.

Yes, God definitely had a hold of me. Unwittingly, I had invited him into my life that day in the Catholic church when I had prayed for help, and although four years had passed, he did not forget that I had opened that door. Patiently he waited for just the right time to bring me up the next rung of the ladder - to salvation.

Forty-five minutes that sermon lasted - it seemed so much longer. I wanted to flee. Then, an altar call with the final hymn, "Just As I Am". It was as though the fiery furnace had been turned up as I watched people walk to the front of the church with tears streaming down their faces - how embarrassing! The service finally over, I walked out into the sunshine and took a deep gulp of fresh air. I was never going back to that church. I had felt things there that I had never felt before and I didn't like it.

My resolve did not last; I did go back. For months I would come away from the service vowing I would never return. Then all week, I could not wait to go back. I started talking to God again. I asked him what was going on? Why was I feeling this way? No answer. Just the weekly hymn, "Just As I Am" and the altar call. My life became sandwiched between the Sunday services, and the only time I felt alive was when I was squirming in the pew. My life between the services was deadness.

One day, I spoke to God. "I know what you want me to do. You do know that my parents will have a fit about this, but I will walk down the aisle on Sunday if you will just take away these awful feelings. Now, I am in your hands. Don't let me down."

I had just said 'Yes' to God. It was going to be a long ride.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Our First Meeting

I am eighteen and pregnant. I had never felt so alone and scared. I know now that many young women faced this crossroads from childhood to womanhood, but I remember feeling that I was the only one standing in this dilemma.

What was I going to do? How would I tell my parents? They will be so angry and disappointed in me, and with seven brothers and sisters, it was doubtful that they would help me financially. I was sick with worry and condemnation - my old friends.

Yes, worry and condemnation were my constant companions. The oldest child of eight and raised a Catholic, I was no stranger to worry, condemnation and penance. So, I did the only thing I knew to do at the time, I went to confession.

"Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was five months ago. I disobeyed my parents three times, I lied four times, I fought with my sister six times and I committed adultery once." Then I waited for the shadowed head behind the screen.

"How old are you?"


"Are you married?"


"Then you could not have committed adultery. You must be married to commit adultery." I am shamed further by my stupidity and horrified that now I must explain my condition.

"I am not married and I had sex with my boy friend." I could not bring myself to admit to my pregnancy. Anyway, I reasoned, being pregnant was not a sin - the sex before marriage was the sin.

"Then you did not commit adultery; you committed fornication." I groaned inside. Fornication sounded so much worse than adultery. We never discussed fornication in my catechism classes.

"Say an entire rosary and sin no more. Now say the Act of Contrition."

As I recited the Catholic Act of Contrition, I felt no relief from my guilt. I made the sign of the cross and left the confessional. Terrified, I scanned the faces standing in line for their turn at redemption to see if they had heard my shame through the wood carved doors of the confessional. Then I slinked into a far off pew to say my penance.

I did not think to bring a rosary to confession with me. I had never committed a sin so grave as to require a whole rosary as penance. In my distraught state of mind, I could not concentrate on the prayers of the rosary. Instead I looked around the great expanse of the sanctuary.

Life-sized statues of Mary, Joseph and others stood in gilded finery. The vaulted ceilings loomed high held by huge beams intricately carved. Stained glass windows depicted the historical saints of the church and at the front of the church a massive cross held our Savior over a marble dais and altar.

All of this splendor did nothing to quell my distress or guilt. I started to speak in a small whisper. "God, I know I did wrong. Please forgive me."

Then God showed up! "I will never leave you nor forsake you." I exhaled all my worry, fear and guilt.

Years of catechism and hundreds of Sunday Masses, yet, this is the first time I had ever met God. Recited prayer, rosaries, confessions; none of these things had ever touched what I was experiencing at that moment. All I did was talk to him, and he answered!

I left the church feeling renewed and hopeful. This was just our first meeting.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

God's Favorite Color is Blue

Each morning, I spend eighteen precious minutes driving to work on a tree lined parkway. This drive has become my pause between the flurry of getting my son and I ready for the day and the demanding pace of my workday. It is during this drive that I stop to catch my breath.

I remember driving one, clean September day and God's small voice welled up inside of me, "Look at this day. Isn't it fine?"

So I looked. The sky was cobalt blue without a cloud marring its expanse. In the foreground, huge trees bursting with the green of a full season lay across the sky. I responded, "Who would think to create green trees against that color blue?", I asked incredulously.

A single syllable was all I received. "I"

I smiled. Then, I reflected. I reflected on scientists studying God's laws of nature, and although they revered those same irrefutable laws he set at the dawn of time, they could not see him. I reflected on the water cycle; just one of these laws. I pictured dinosaurs drinking deeply from antediluvian lakes and later relieving themselves with a long, satisfying gush. The warm air and sun distills the gush, and the water evaporates into the air leaving the impurities on the soil to feed his tiniest creatures. The evaporated water travels far and returns to the earth as the rain outside my office window. And so we drink and complete the cycle. I marveled at how self-contained and arrogant the earth must appear in the cosmos; one blue planet, starkly marking its place among a myriad of red and gray planets.

Then suddenly, I knew that God's favorite color is blue.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. " John 3:16 RSV

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