I want to tell you my testimony. The words make my heart jump. You make me want to be a better person. How is it that this man thinks I make him a better person? He shares his heart, his dreams, his hopes between the lines that flow the length of a yellow notepad. The one that he keeps on his desk. He talks about a girl and how much they loved each other and I think she must have been the luckiest girl in the world. And then he shares the pain and loss and despair. And how at the bottom he found the Lord. And now we are in the same church together and he’s thankful to have me to talk to and pray with and help him become perfect. I am moved to tears. He trusts ME with this testimony? Is it possible that I can trust him with mine?
I wasn’t allowed to talk to him on the phone, so I wrote. We developed a system. When I arrived at church one of my “little sisters” would meet me in the bathroom. I’d give her the note and she’d carry to him. He would put it in his Bible to read when he was alone in his room. The next service he’d find one of my “little sisters” and give her the note. She would meet me in the bathroom. I would put it in my pocket or Bible and would wait until I was alone in my room. It was one of the best times of my life.
We dated with chaperones. Chaperones were to protect us from the improper image of an unmarried woman and unmarried man being alone together and avoid the temptation to be sexually involved with one another (including hugging, kissing and holding hands). But they also had an unintended consequence—we quit talking. When I had time to process what was being said or asked of me I held my own. As soon as I was put into situations where I had to think and respond with no time to process, I fell apart. I still wrote him but now my letters were filled with doubt, anger, confusion about who I was and jealousy. The girl he fell in love with was disappearing and it made him withdraw from me—which increased my anxiety. Communicating through notes allowed our friendship to develop deeper because there was no one else involved…just him and I and the trust between one another. When we added the third party it ruined everything.
Because of my anxiety our relationship became complicated. The boyfriend was getting tired of the chaperones and so was I. At least twice a week he would show up on campus with sandwiches. We’d sit outside and talk about school and his job and the services. He’d tell me how happy I made him and that would make me happy. Eventually we began to leave campus and go to a local park. That’s when we learned why we had chaperones in the first place. Once you start that fire, there’s no putting it out. We lived two lives—dating with chaperones on the weekends and skipping school to be alone during the week. Despite the dysfunctional structure of our relationship we did love one another; no one made me as happy as he did.
Through all this I kept silent about the sexual abuse when I was a little girl. If I shared anything about growing up I was vague. I knew he loved me, but it was the me he knew. I promised myself that he’d never know the me I was. I trusted him, but not with my deepest pain and certainly not my shame.
Marriage magnified our differences and my broken psyche. The man that I knew before was not the man I married. The words of affirmation that boosted my confidence were replaced with criticism about my ability to keep the condo clean, make dinner, pay bills and keep laundry clean. The only thing I managed to do right left me feeling more used than loved. He had the ability to make or break me and he was doing the latter too much.
We continue talking about the beginning of our relationship and it has brought some of the pain and emotions back into our lives. But this time there is no hiding from it or stuffing it down. This time we talk, recognize what happened, take note of what we need to change still and allow ourselves to sit with the feelings. And in doing so we are healing the past of our relationship. No longer are we seeing our marriage as broken, but lost. By Abba’s mercy we are finding it again and it makes the marriage we have today that much sweeter.
I’ve known him almost 25 years. I now know I can trust him with my pain and my tears and he can trust me with his. I know I can’t erase those hard years and honestly, I don’t want to. The struggle is what made us and I wouldn’t trade what we have for a fairytale beginning if it meant we did not have the love we have today.