This is Chapter 8 in a series entitled Telling My Story.
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians about the maturity of the believer in terms of "speaking the truth in love." (Eph. 4:15) He calls that "growing up into Him" (Christ).
This may be the most difficult portion of my story to write because it involves those whose story it also is, and who have not consented to have their portion told. Thus I need to be both circumspect and gentle, while remaining truthful. Bear with me. It will take more than one chapter.
I first met K., my future husband, at church and we dated all through high school. We had become engaged in November of my senior year in high school, while K. my fiance, was now in his second year of college. In some ways, we were typical high school sweethearts, who married young and intended to stay that way for the rest of our lives. To my deepest regret, it did not turn out that way.
People sometimes said to us, and/or about us, that we were "so cute, the perfect couple" and from outward appearances it must have seemed that way. Privately, however, we argued a lot, broke up and reunited over and over again, and I could see that the relationship had serious problems. Some were mine, some were his; but combined they were a toxic brew.
I was the oldest child, raised to be super-responsible if you will, because Mom had no choice but to use me as a surrogate parent for my younger sisters. We lived twenty-five hundred miles away from any family, and there was no one else she could count on. So at twelve I was cooking meals, cleaning house, and watching my two sisters while Mom was at work all day.
She once said to me, when I was about fifteen, "Marsha, you were never a child. You were born a little old lady." I thought to myself, "No, Mom, you and Dad made me a little old lady, without ever having a chance to be a child." But of course, I said nothing, even though she had hurt my feelings more than she could possibly know.
K., by contrast, was an only child, but tragically so. His mother had had an older son, who drowned in a river while on a church picnic. She had also had a little girl, three years younger than K., who died of cancer when K. was six years old and her daughter was three. Thus, he was her only surviving child.
K. once told me that after his little sister's death his mother fell into a deep depression that lasted over five years. During that time he was benignly neglected; fed, clothed and loved, but often ignored and left to himself. When she at last achieved some level of recovery, although he said she was never the same, she simply gave him anything he wanted as soon as it could be obtained. She waited on him hand and foot, and nothing was too much to do for him.
His father was a kind and gentle soul, who did not seem to have the ability to stand up to either K. or his mother, and thus by the time I met K. when he was sixteen, he was the prince of their household, and no one questioned him about his actions, desires, or misdeeds.
I used to say that I had inherited the results of their poor parenting, and paid for it for the next twenty five years. Of course, that was self-pity talking; but there was more than a grain of truth to it as well.
Our birthdays were one week apart in the month of September, and in October the year we turned twenty-one and eighteen respectively, we were married in a simple church ceremony with about seventy-five guests attending.
As best I can figure out, he married me because he wanted a loving caregiver to continue meeting all his needs much as his mother had done. I married him, because I had determined very early on to marry someone whom I thought would be the complete opposite of my father in every way. My Dad was loud, K. was quiet, my Dad was rough-spoken, K. was soft-spoken. Even in appearance they were opposites, as my Dad was a short man, and K. was tall.
Of course, we also thought we were in love, but looking back I doubt that either of us knew much about what genuine love might be. My guess is that he sometimes found me boring and I have no doubt that I was. I was an introverted bookworm. I found him to be reckless, whether it was driving the car at close to one hundred miles per hour, with me in the passenger seat petrified; or running up credit card debt that we could ill afford.
Nevertheless, for nearly twenty three years we did the best we could, or so I thought; and for twenty of those years, he was in the ministry and we pastored four small churches in succession. We were poor as the proverbial church mice, but I hardly knew any thing else so it did not much trouble me, unless the bills were not getting paid. I recall having some women over to visit one day, and offering them tea.
I went to the kitchen to put on the kettle, only to discover the water had been shut off some time that morning. I can still feel the humiliation of having to try to explain to them that some "over sight" had resulted in my having no water with which to make tea.
K. was not home, he rarely was, and could not be reached by phone. Thus it was that evening before he came home and discovered no dinner cooked (no water) and me in tears. He shrugged it off as "no big deal" and the next day got the water service restored. It was a small incident but it was a harbinger of worse things to come.
He liked living on the edge, trying new and exciting things whether we could afford them or not, and he enjoyed traveling away from home a great deal - while the kids and I stayed behind. Like most pastors who lead small local congregations, he had to work outside jobs to help support our family. I certainly understood that. But what I could not quite understand was why he invariably chose jobs that required him to travel a lot. We also moved frequently.
So here I was, once again, packing and unpacking every few months or years, never knowing where we would be next. I was stuck in a repeat of my rambling childhood, one which I had hoped to escape. During the first ten years of our marriage, we moved eleven times living in six different towns. Yes, in some towns we lived in two or three different houses. I longed for some stability. Life on the edge did not appeal to me.
Next: Behind the Wall