The way of love

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So here I was, the morning after Famous Tuesday, wondering how I got here and how I’d be able to go through the day’s work.

I didn’t know if I should confront Ana or wait and see what happens. I was still confused – was she flirting with my husband or was she just too friendly for my liking? In the end I focused on my work, determined to do my best and tried to pretend I was ok.

When I came home I searched for articles on the impact of pornography on our lives, mind, relationships and spiritual growth and also on the emotional affairs. I showed them to Charlie in the evening. He agreed on the points made about pornography but still couldn’t see anything wrong with his close friendship with Ana. It seemed he was in total denial. I couldn’t understand it: on one hand he was saying he would never like me to have a close male friend like that but for the whole year he couldn’t see anything wrong with his friendship with Ana!

Suddenly I saw a two-faced man with double standards who was betraying me physically with pornography and emotionally with another woman. It shocked me! I always thought so well of him, he was my perfect husband.

I held up until bed time, then I felt so hurt and betrayed by him I lied down on our bed, covered my head with a blanket and cried out loud. Charlie sat down on the bed beside me.

“What is it? Is it that friendship?”
“It’s everything, I feel as if you stole my dreams and memories of our first summer by bringing her to ‘our’ places last year. I wanted to believe then that it was ok but it wasn’t. I was right when I warned you it would go too far.”
“I’m so sorry, I can see now how it must be hurting you.”

Very slowly he started to admit to himself that what he was doing wasn’t right. On Thursday, the next day, he sent me a text: “I’m in the car crying, it has dawned on me what I have done.”

That day he decided Ana would not work for him anymore. Coincidentally, she had tickets booked to go home for a while in 3 weeks in order to move her project on. The plan now was that she would work only until then. For a moment I hesitated that maybe I overreacted and things were going out of control but when I mentioned it to Charlie he said it’s best for everyone if she goes home.

We spent every evening over the next two weeks talking and just being together, no TV, no internet (apart from a few articles aimed to help), not even news. One night I got an idea to read 1 Corinthians 13 about love. I almost didn’t do it as it is so well known and I thought it might sound clichéd but it was on my heart so I read it out loud to him:

“Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail. Love is eternal (…).” 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (GNT)

When I finished reading, it was as if a light bulb went on in his head! He said: “It’s incredible, she is not even one of those things…”

We also talked about his pornography habit. He confessed it was more of an addiction than he wanted to admit before, even to himself. One night he said “I’m such a failure.” I saw a broken man in need of love and help.

“Will you forgive me?” he asked another time.

“Honey, I already have.”

I felt God’s presence with us and his guidance every day in various ways. We visited a different church the following Sunday and the sermon was just right for us. That day I started singing a new song in my head. The words were simple, just a proclamation of faith, but singing it to myself was giving me strength that I needed, I was also sowing the seeds for the future.

By Friday I had it perfected and written down. He went away to a meeting that day and took Ana with him. We agreed to it beforehand, it was to give him a chance to talk to her on the way and explain why she had to go home. I didn’t know why I was singing my new song all the time. Everyone in the office was out somewhere and I could sing it out loud. I was so thankful to God. I believed we managed to avoid a catastrophe in our marriage.

On Saturday I bought a massage oil, we put children to bed early and had a romantic evening. I wanted to do everything to rebuild and build up further the love and intimacy that we had once shared. We talked about this whole situation again, he apologised for risking our marriage and I remember saying: “Even if you told me that you DID betray me with her, I would fight for us.” I can still see the look in his eyes when I said it.

On Sunday, the next day, we decided to fast and pray for a total deliverance from all kinds of bondage to sin. I knew from the past that that kind of prayer is strong.

“Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?”

Isaiah 58:5

We managed all day, just drinking and praying. It was exactly two weeks from the day I killed the cat on the road and so much had happened in that time.

On Monday I rang my mum. I hadn’t spoken to her in a long time. She had no idea what was going on in our life in recent weeks. After talking about work and children she said:
” I had a strange dream about two weeks ago. You were a small girl and you were playing outside. There was also a man who was torturing a cat, I could hear it meowing terribly. I went outside and asked what was going on, you pointed to the man and told me he was hurting the cat. I got angry and gave out to him, then I went home. When I looked outside the next time, you were gone. I knew it was the man who took you away and was going to hurt you. I was so afraid and worried about you I thought I would lose my mind. I knew he was going to destroy your innocence.”

I said: “You won’t believe what happened two weeks ago…”

I told her about the cat on the road, the message I found on Charlie’s phone, the talks we had, his pornography problem, the whole lot. She listened in silence and then she said:
“He is lying. Don’t believe him. He has betrayed you for sure and now he’s hiding it.”
“No mum, I believe him, we talked honestly and openly so many times since, he would have told me. I asked him many times and he always denied it.”
“Because he’s afraid to lose you and the children, that’s why he didn’t answer you immediately when you confronted him.”

On Tuesday I called my sister and told her too. She said exactly the same thing as my mum but I still didn’t believe.

I knew my husband better than them.

The year of the creeper

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Recently, our children started playing Minecraft. They all love this game but absolutely hate it when creepers destroy their houses. One time when one of them was giving out about it I said: “It’s good for you to learn that unfortunately it is the same in real life. You could spend many years lovingly building your home and then a creeper comes to destroy it in a few seconds.”

Ana stayed and worked in the office until Christmas, then until Easter, then until the summer… and then until the end of the summer. I expected her to go anytime as she was due to finish her final year project back home.

I worked part time until Easter but somehow Charlie had less and less work for me. I was studying for an exam in June so it didn’t bother me too much but I was asking myself sometimes : when will I be able to settle into the office and work in partnership with Charlie like we have always wanted?

Everything between us seemed good enough for me to accept the fact that I was just irrationally jealous that summer, possibly tired of seeing myself predominantly as a mother and a housewife and wanting to be as free as Ana to work and manage my free time as I pleased. I even joked about it to some of my friends.

There was a time in November when I felt Charlie’s mind and heart was not in our marriage. He noticed I was upset one evening and asked me what was wrong. I was trying to figure it out myself and after a short pause I said: “I just don’t feel loved.” He was very sweet, gave me a big hug and promised he would make sure to make more time and effort for us.

Business in the office was going well, we seemed to be picking up after the recession, which was very welcome but it meant more after hours and weekends at work for him. I was concerned about him feeling so under pressure all the time that I didn’t hold him accountable to his promise.

I saw Ana almost every day while at work. She never warmed towards me and cut the conversation short whenever I started. I tried to make an effort to make friends. One time she had to vacate her apartment suddenly and I invited her to stay with us for as long as she needed. She stayed one night as she didn’t have a choice and then she left. Even then she barely spoke to me and avoided my look. I put it down to cultural differences and her natural grumpiness. In the office I haven’t noticed anything too suspicious apart from the fact that when I wasn’t there they would eat lunch together.

Charlie was turning 40 that year. We debated how to celebrate it and decided a proper family holiday was one of the things we’ve wanted to do for a while. We booked it through a travel agent, thinking wrongly it would guarantee quality, but what was our disappointment when we arrived into a dark, damp apartment which smelled of cigarettes and had mould on the shelves and floor. I cleaned as much as I could before unpacking but it left me with an unpleasant feeling that everything around me was dirty. To make matters worse our daughter got a food poisoning the first day and spent the whole night throwing up. I stayed up with her and was horrified to notice cockroaches running on the floor. The next day I went to complain to the travel agent but there wasn’t much they could do for us. So we stayed in that place to the end and got determined to make the best of it, which we did but we both knew it wasn’t worth what we paid for it and not what we had anticipated.

I wondered then why we lacked blessing in it and decided it was just a bad luck but looking back, it was a perfect reflection of the spiritual reality in which we were living at the time.

Another area that suffered during that year was church. Our attendance slipped, often we preferred to just stay home or go for a walk, we prayed less together and Charlie started mentioning that maybe we should look for a different church or take a brake altogether. I gave it some thought but couldn’t see any better option for us, also, I loved and needed our friends in the church. I could see changes in my own relationship with the Lord. It lacked passion and joy I once had. The reality of His presence was less and less true in my everyday life. I was just getting by.

Thankfully at around that time I discovered Spirit Radio. I had it always on in my car but couldn’t tune the home radio to catch it. So I listened while driving and often prayed out loud. I loved the songs, bible verses and radio chats.

I came to a conclusion that if I wanted to keep growing spiritually I had to do it in unity with my husband. We were connected, and couldn’t walk in two different directions. He was a believer but for some strange reason, that I could never understand, he didn’t get the Gospel. It just didn’t make sense to him. I spent hours discussing it with him and reading the relevant verses but it could not penetrate into his heart. He would usually come to the same place: ‘but I’m not so bad to be sent to hell, there are people much worse then I am’. We could hardly be spiritual if he couldn’t go past this stumbling block.

Not long before Famous Tuesday I was lying in bed wondering: do I have a right to pray for him to understand that he needs Jesus just like the rest of us? He had his own free will and I couldn’t influence it. But just then I saw that we were one body. Praying for him I was praying for a part of me. Not only had I a right to pray for him but a duty too and if I didn’t do it, who would?

I noticed in my diary, that just before Ana arrived I prayed for good changes in our family. Maybe this unfortunate friendship had some good sides to it too? We both opened up for a serious evaluation of our lives and priorities.

Diary pages – Part 2

That summer I arrived at my parents’ with mixed feelings, happy to be in a familiar environment but also wanting to go back to be with Charlie again.

In the evening, after the children went to sleep, I sat down on my mother’s bed and we talked. I told her all my worries, I had to get it out and see if anyone else sees it the same way. The flood gates opened and I cried like she’d never seen me cry before. She was very concerned, for me, for him, for us. No one could understand me better in that moment then she did. She’d gone through her share of heart break over many years and had just arrived on the other side, with God’s help, bruised but not broken. We did the only thing that we knew could help – we prayed, for God’s help, protection, for Him to find a way to turn this situation into something good.

The first week was pure agony, I wanted to pack and go back. I hung onto every text message, every ‘I love you’, every ‘I miss you’, I carried my phone with me so as not to miss any call from him… and I thought I was going mad. Eventually I came to realise I can’t go on like that for any length of time. No matter what I said or did, whether I pleaded with him or said nothing, he was a free person and would do what he chose. I decided that if he wanted to have an affair it would be his loss. I knew my worth, I knew my God and I knew that He would be with me no matter what. I looked around my parents’ house and saw I had a place to go back to, even with kids. For the first time in my married life I felt I needed a plan B.

Charlie rang regularly and I believed he was trying to be honest telling me about plans he had with Ana. The week after I left was his birthday. He got tickets for the theatre and invited her. I was upset but rather then blame him I blamed myself for going away. I sent him a birthday card in which I included our favourite bible verse, the same one we got engraved on our wedding rings, and our son’s picture, which he drew for him. I did everything I could think of that wasn’t too desperate or controlling.

Things were not going well for me that summer. I got sick, our son had an accident and had to get stitches on his head, my mother had a gallbladder attack and had to be hospitalised and I just felt something hanging over us. I couldn’t wait for the holidays to be over.

We had arranged to meet in Vienna to visit a friend and spend some time together in a new place. I was so nervous before I saw him the first time after all those long weeks. I looked for any sign of a change in him. We went sightseeing together the first day and my stomach started hurting so badly I thought I had appendicitis: turned out it was only stress. We sat down to eat at a restaurant and I told him how desperately I felt over the past few weeks. He said how sorry he was for making me feel that way, confessed a few more trips out of town with Ana but assured me again and again there was nothing between them. It took me a few days to feel close and to trust him again but when I finally did a wonderful feeling of relief came over me. Nothing was lost, he was still mine.

At the end of holidays he asked if I would mind if Ana stayed longer.
“She is a great help around the office and as she’s a student I don’t have to pay her much. You still can’t commit full time and it will give you an opportunity to focus on the children and the house.”

I had to think for a moment.

“Do you promise all is well between us and I don’t need to worry?”

“I promise.”
I wasn’t too keen on the idea but he was right: I couldn’t help him much, so what right did I have to say no? I agreed reluctantly mainly to show I trusted him.

Diary pages – Part 1

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I made some lemon balm tea for calming the nerves and opened my diary. I was going to write about what happened that day but before I started I noticed an entry from the previous summer. I haven’t written too often recently, I was too busy with kids and the monotony of everyday life just didn’t inspire me. There was only one entry since last year. I read it all, it was as fresh in my memory as if it had just happened last week.

” I’m back at home, at my parent’s house, sun is shining, children run around the garden and it’s lovely. Although this year, sun had surprised us even in Ireland, we made it to the beach before I left.

This year’s goodbye was very emotional for me. Some months ago, a student from Spain had contacted Charlie about a work practice during the summer. As we knew I’d have to be with the kids when school finishes and most likely go to my parents with them, he agreed. Ana arrived 2 weeks before I left. She’s bright and settled quickly in the office. Charlie seems to like her, they keep joking and teasing each other, she buys him books, he brings her with him to sites and gives her lifts in the morning, how often, I don’t know. It is in his nature to make people to like him but this time I’d prefer if he didn’t do it. I realised I’m leaving him with her for 4 weeks and it just made feel uncomfortable and sad. All last day I wondered if I should say anything. I had never been jealous of him before, never had a reason to be and I was afraid it would somehow affect us negatively. Eventually in bed I blurted out: “I wish you spent as much time with me as you spend with Ana”. He got a bit defensive but couldn’t deny he had been spending more time with her then he should. He said it’s because her time here is so short, he wanted to be nice and show her around. What could I say to that? This is what we do when people come to visit.

I didn’t mention those times when he was showing off in front of her, or walking with that funny bounce in his step, like when we first met, or the time on the beach when we took her with us and he spent most of that time entertaining her. At one point he lied down on the blanket between us and said “two beautiful women” and I wasn’t sure if he meant to say it out loud or if his thoughts slipped from his tongue.

I didn’t say any of those things, instead I started crying. And when I started I couldn’t stop. There was so much tension built up inside, it all started to come out. I was waiting for him to tell me there was no reason to worry, that he loved me just as much as ever, loved our kids and would never do anything to hurt us. Normally he would have said it immediately, wiped my tears away and said I was silly to even consider it, but not this time. The longer I waited, the more I cried. He tried to sleep but turned around a few times with a worried look on his face. “Try to get some sleep, you’ll be really tired tomorrow on the plane”, that was all he could come up with. I fell asleep eventually, for about 4 hours, then woke up and started crying again. It was not like me at all. He got up briefly when he heard me walking around but then went back to sleep.
I spent the morning packing the last bits and pieces, trying not to think, all the time having a ‘lump’ in my throat.”

As I was reading my diary I remembered thinking: maybe I should cancel the whole trip? My mum and kids would kill me. I was really torn inside, on the one hand I had that horrible feeling he wasn’t telling me something and couldn’t wait to see me gone, on the other I knew that even if I stayed I couldn’t stop him. What good would it do to control and spy on him? That’s not how we worked.

We had a good, solid relationship, based on love, trust and faith in God. We had been together for 14 years, married for 12, had 3 fantastic kids and everything going for us. We never argued, never nagged, never had a crisis. We went out regularly, took time to talk and went away for romantic weekends away, just the two of us. We also prayed together often, from the heart, and read the Word. Life was good and to ask for more would be greedy.

So was I totally mad to be so jealous of this young girl, who was closer in age to our eldest daughter then to him? What did she have to offer that I didn’t have?
Charlie had lots of girl friends and none of them made me jealous, none of them were a threat. I didn’t know what had gotten into me to accuse him of plotting an affair. And yet I couldn’t stop feeling desperate.

Cancelling holidays at home was not an option for many reasons so I kept packing. Just before we left we had a brief talk and he asked:
“Are you ok now?”
“Not really, I’m kind of jealous.”
“I’m sorry you feel like that. I suppose I would feel the same if I was in your shoes.”
“Thanks, this is exactly what I didn’t want to hear.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I really am NOT planning on having an affair.”
“That’s not something you plan, Charlie.”

He looked uncomfortable.
“I know you’d prefer if I didn’t spend any time with Ana but I can’t promise you I won’t see her after work. You know, like for a drink or a walk. I’m just trying to be honest, I don’t want to hide anything from you.”
I wanted to shout – “You must be kidding me!” but instead I said:
“Do what you want, just tell me that you love me.”
“Of course I love you, don’t ever doubt that.”

He gave me a big hug and a kiss on the forehead.

Famous Tuesday – Part 3

We managed somehow to get through the evening duties of tidying and putting kids to bed without raising suspicions on their side that something wasn’t right. After that we made our favourite Pukka tea and sat down on the couch, like we had often done, but the TV stayed off. I still doubted his honesty because of his initial reaction so I asked again:

“Are you sure there is nothing between you and Ana? I know you like her, I knew it from the beginning.”

“No, I assure you there isn’t but …there is something I have to confess, I want to be honest with you.”

I couldn’t think of what he might say.

“I look at pornography sometimes, I know you don’t approve that’s why I didn’t want to say it before.”

I looked at him somewhat surprised. It’s no news to me that a man might watch porn but we had often talked about this subject when discussing our friend’s and family member’s problems associated with it and he would always disapprove of it. Not once had I caught him watching anything even remotely resembling porn. There was no trace of it in our computer either. I convinced myself that it must be something new.

“How often?”

“Not too much, maybe once every two weeks but it’s been there for years, since before we met.”

“How is it possible I never noticed it?”

“I hid it, it’s not something I’m proud of and I didn’t want you to know, but I don’t see it as a problem or addiction.”

“You do realise it is a problem though? It affects our relationship. Maybe I haven’t said it before but I did notice a change in you. You started to sleep away from me and often don’t react when I initiate.”

We talked about it for a while, it seemed to me quite openly and honestly. We continued talking in bed and I felt we started to open up to each other in a way we haven’t done for a long time. He fell asleep quickly and I was just lying there next to him, listening to his breathing , with my eyes wide open and no sign of sleep coming soon.

I wasn’t shocked about the news but saddened. We have been Christians for years, we were part of a good, Spirit filled church, and staying pure in heart was always a priority. I personally believed that compromising sexual purity affected all parts of your being – body, soul and spirit, and had enough examples of it among friends and family to know it was true. I expected he should have known it too. It was one of the factors that contributed to my own parent’s divorce and that’s why I couldn’t treat it lightly.

There was something else though that occupied my thoughts that night. The words “Thinking of you” were in front of my eyes, whether I had them open or closed, making me feel nauseous with fear. How dare she? How dare she send that to my husband, my Charlie?

All the memories of the previous year’s summer came back. I had hoped they were a thing of our past, an unfounded obsession on my part, mad jealousy. Now it was back, with more strength and a reason to believe that it wasn’t just in my head. This simple text message changed everything for me.

I felt guilty.

I realised I had let someone else take my place. My place at work in the office, doing projects that were supposed to be mine, getting valuable experience and growing roots on my ground. Worse still, I let her take a place at my husband’s side, enjoy his time and attention, while I stayed behind and watched. This was my 9/11, a moment when you cross from one era to another. Time to grow up and take responsibility for your actions, or a lack of them in my case.

I had let myself believe I was no good. My skills and ideas were not good enough, as a foreigner I was at a loss because of cultural differences, as a woman I wasn’t treated seriously anyway. So I did what I thought I did best – stayed at home and looked after our children, at least I didn’t have to pay anyone else to do it. But there she was, a foreigner and a woman too, confident that she could do that job. No wonder Charlie was impressed. I had to grow up quickly if I didn’t want to lose what was most important to me.

I slept for 2 hours that night after which I woke up with a pounding heart remembering the message and our conversation. I got up, took my diary, went downstairs and made myself a cup of tea.