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My head was whirling and drawing in oxygen was growing more difficult with each breath. Did what I just witness actually happen or am I trapped in someone else’s nightmare? How did I end up here sitting on this bus stop bench in Tucson, Arizona next to a complete stranger who is also somehow my husband?
A few minutes ago, a taxi cab pulled up in front of us and a beautiful brunette stepped out wearing a form-fitting business blazer, pencil skirt, and black high heels. I will never forget how she briskly came clickety-clacking up to us in a tizzy. “Excuse me,” she gushed. “I just moved here from Connecticut three days ago and I’m in dire need of some crack rock. Do you know where I might be able to find a dealer?”
I was torn between being excited that I have just met a fellow who is also from Connecticut and feeling pity for this woman who is so addicted to illegal drugs that she risked admitting her sin to the lot of us bus-riding folk, any one of whom could have been an undercover police officer ready to arrest her for the confession. But of course we are simply good citizens who just want to get to work and certainly don’t know anything about…
“Just a moment,” the man who looked exactly like my husband replied. He whipped out a pocket-sized notebook and pen and began jotting down a name and number from memory. He swiftly ripped the piece of paper from the pad and handed it to the well-dressed woman who clutched it to her breast like she had just won the lottery. With tears welling in her eyes, she profusely thanked the man who I thought was my husband only a moment ago. “No problem!” He called out as if he were a knight in shining armor who just saved the day. She stepped back into the taxi and drove off.
Everything was spinning. My own husband, who used to teach Wednesday night Bible study at my church back in Connecticut only two years ago, knows a crack rock dealer’s phone number by heart. Is this real life? Certainly I have wandered onto the set of the wrong movie because I didn’t know my lines or even my part. Wait a minute, who am I?
Now let me see, I know my name is Dannielle and I come from a small conservative farming town in Connecticut where the neighbors are your friends and you can leave your bicycle out in your yard without worrying that someone might steal it. I was raised since infancy in an evangelical Christian church where we were so close I called people Mimi and Uncle who were not my Mimi and Uncle. I was the girl who was saving my first kiss for marriage. I was the girl who, at six years old, knew who would be my bridesmaids and what color they were going to wear as I waltzed down the aisle holding a bouquet of fragrant stargazer lilies which represent purity. I know who I am, but who is my groom? This man, who now appears much thinner to me, is not the man I married.
The man I married wouldn’t have stopped going to church right after the honeymoon. The man I married wouldn’t have hit me six months after the wedding in the truck on the way to Ohio. The man I married wouldn’t have continued hitting me or sat me down and told me he no longer believed in the Bible or Jesus. The man I married wouldn’t have stayed out late at night lying about where he was and who he was with and what he was doing. Things started making sense in my mind as I pieced together the puzzle. The man I married wouldn’t have told me he’s moving to Arizona with or without me… but yet he did. I only followed him here because I was desperately trying to save my marriage. I was in denial about who I married and I was just now seeing clearly.
You see, I come from a community where divorce is not a word in our vocabulary. Divorce was what other people did, not us. When things are broken, you fix them. You don’t throw them away. I had been trying to “fix” my husband for four years and I was just now realizing that it’s impossible to fix people. My loving pastor, in his limited human wisdom, gave me the best biblical advice he knew how at the time: He gave me 1 Peter 3:1 which tells the wife of a husband who is disobedient to God’s Word to win him over without a word by her chaste behavior. I clung to that verse like a life preserver in the middle of a stormy ocean. It was that verse that kept me going when my husband choked me, threw me down the stairs, and even when one night he put a knife to my throat. I knew I could endure the suffering because one day it would all be worth it when I won my husband back to Christ and we both lived happily ever after and rode off into the sunset on white stallions. It was also the verse that allowed me to forgive my husband when he told me he no longer believed I was his soul mate and I found out he had been at another woman’s apartment at 2 am.
I don’t tell you these things to hurt my ex-husband in any way. I wish no ill upon him. I still deeply love him as a human being and I still pray for him. I tell you these things because it’s my story, too, and I have a right to tell it. Yes, he is my ex-husband now because shortly after that day when I discovered he was doing drugs he packed up his belongings and he drove away from me. I had begged him to stay. I had pleaded with him that we could work things out. He could go to drug rehab. We could get marriage counseling. But he didn’t want to fix anything, he just wanted to continue doing drugs without my nagging for him to stop.
That was seven years ago. It feels simultaneously like a lifetime ago, but also like it was just yesterday. I was willing to reconcile with him and I wish a reconciliation were the end of my story, but it’s not. For reconciliation to happen, both people have to be willing to make sacrifices. My husband called about three months after he left and said he’d be willing to reconcile if I would give up the Bible. I really wish I were making this up, but sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. “You’re brainwashed by the church,” he told me. “If you burn your Bible, then I will know you really love me.” It sounds so ridiculous, like a line from a cheesy Christian movie they threw out because no one would believe anyone would actually say it. I told him that while I loved him and wanted to reconcile, I loved God more and I would not be burning my Bible. If he wanted to reconcile with me, he would have to repent of his sins and walk with Jesus Christ again as I believe he once had. Again, I really wish I were making this up, but one time when my dad was organizing some boxes my ex-husband left in my parents’ basement, he found a dark book among his belongings about mind control and manipulation techniques. It could very well be that he was just a wolf in sheep’s clothing the whole time.
For many years, my identity was wrapped around being a wife. So much of my purpose in life was centered on supporting my husband, helping him get better, and “winning him over without a word.” When he left me, I didn’t know what to do with myself or even who I was anymore. I blamed myself for not loving him good enough to win him over to Christ. But you know what? I am not defined by what happened to me and his choices were not my fault. I am a beloved daughter of the one true God, created for good works that He prepared beforehand. Even if my husband changed into a man I didn’t recognize, I still serve a God who never changes and who is always faithful to provide a way of escape. Not a sparrow falls from the sky without His knowing it.
The only time the heroine wins the monster over is in fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast. I learned that I can’t change someone else’s behavior, but I can change how I respond. The blood of Jesus Christ alone has the transforming power to replace hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.