Project 52, Week 41, Part One — Into the Wilderness

It’s time for Project 52, Week 41!

2005_07_25 5 PF Sweater

41 weeks ago, on my 52nd birthday, I began Project 52. Since there are 52 weeks in a year, each week Iā€™m taking one year of my life and blogging about it. This week, I’m covering the year I was 41 ā€” June 14, 2005, to June 14, 2006.

Okay, I’m starting Week 41 a little early. I have plans for next Tuesday night, and I’m not sure how long it’s going to take to cover Year 41, so I thought I’d start this weekend.

In Year 40, I covered the fateful day when I learned my husband was spending time with another woman behind my back. I believed him when he looked me in the eye and told me he wasn’t having an affair. I found out later — much later — that was a lie. But he apologized, and I thought that was that, and we could work hard to fix things. Though I sank into a deep depression when my efforts didn’t seem to go anywhere and nothing I could do seemed to help.

Year 41 was, without question, the hardest year of my life so far. It’s hard to know how to approach it.

But a good friend asked a question which I’m going to use as my frame for telling about this year: Where was the Lord in this?

And that question reminded me of Hosea 2:14 —
“But now I am going to allure her.
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.”

Because, looking back, the Lord was with me every step of the way. He brought me into the wilderness — but His love drew me closer to Him even as I was facing rejection from the person I loved most.

So — what was God doing during Year 41? Let’s talk about that, instead of focusing on the various ways I got hurt.

The first thing I saw God do very soon after my birthday didn’t happen in Germany. In Virginia, my dear friend Darlene, who I’d known since 3rd grade and who shows up over and over again in the story of my life — stopped breathing in the night. Her husband Matt did CPR and the paramedics came and took her to the hospital, but she was in a coma.

Kathe was there on the spot and forwarded me the church emails. The church rallied round and was praying for Darlene. But on Saturday, June 25, I read an email from Pastor Ed Allen that they didn’t think Darlene was here any more. The doctors thought the brain activity that was left was just random. So on Monday, Matt was going to have to make the hard decision whether to turn off life support. But Pastor Ed urged everyone to keep praying.

I remember that our family went to see Star Wars Episode 3 that night — and I started weeping at Padme’s death. She even looked somewhat like Darlene! And Darlene had a one-year-old baby, Michelle. (I did not believe that Padme would have given up and died of a broken heart once she saw her babies!)

But when I got home and checked my email — Darlene had woken up! I also remember weeping for joy the next morning in church during the singing.

So that was a big thing the Lord did that year — brought Darlene back to life. How I hoped He would also bring my marriage back to life!

I can see something else God was doing just from glancing at my quiet time notebook. Now I was spending time with God every single day. No more missing days here and there. I was turning to God in desperation — and in that time, He showed me His love.

The entries during the summer go up and down. Here’s from June 16:

Father,
Why do you pour out Your blessings at some times but not at others?
Lord, yesterday Steve was kind and loving, despite my headache. Tonight he’s hard and cold and drinking a whole bottle of wine….

A lot is about me — that I would not be critical. That I would be able to show Steve love. That our counseling sessions would go well. (We’d usually fight on the way home.) Steve didn’t seem happy. At all. I developed a theory that he was deeply depressed and I went on websites for people whose spouse is depressed. I so wanted to be there for him. Here’s the entry from June 22:

O Father,
Please help me.
I’m so afraid. Steve spent last night in a hotel. He’s said he’s probably not going to go to church with us any more.
O Father, please work in Steve’s heart.
Please bring him back to you and to me.
O Lord, let Your Spirit fill me. Help me to know how to be there for Steve. Help me to know what to do and to say….
Please hold me firmly in your love.

Oh wow! I took Josh to the airport on July 2, so that means he went to Ireland again that summer. (I hadn’t remembered he got to go one more time.) It looks like I picked him up again on July 31 — when a lot had changed.

In late May, Steve had started walking Amy’s dogs when she was out of town. I didn’t like it, but I asked to go with him to do it. By the end of June, Steve refused to bring me along.

We did a last family vacation to Apeldoorn in Holland on July 3 and 4. Steve had brass quintet jobs, but we were able to drive up as a family. It didn’t go well. In the night I reached out to Steve, and when he turned away, I gave a little sigh — which infuriated him.

We went to the Dolfinarium there. And a wave hit my camera — and it never worked well again. I bought a new one not long after.

2005_07_03 Dolfinarium

On the way back — after years of me navigating for Steve, including times when he had told me how much he appreciates my navigating — we had a big fight about navigating. I’d accidentally put the map in the trunk, and the computer directions I’d printed out got us lost. And he wouldn’t stop to get the map out of the trunk.

And that was our last vacation together ever.

And I’ve got to figure out how to gloss over that awful summer.

My friends started seeing him on base out with Amy. Steve would say he suggested to several band folks to come to lunch. That was the same day he “forgot” to wear his wedding ring.

When I was upset about it, he said that I was argumentative and didn’t want him to have friends.

Where was the Lord? I see that July 8, I’d already found the verse in Isaiah 54 — “For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth….Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

Steve stopped telling me if he’d be coming home for dinner. But he didn’t want me to call work and “check up on him.” He didn’t want me to email him any more at all.

And shortly after he asked me to stop sending him any emails, I went into the band building when Steve had forgotten his ID — and saw a funny joke email from Steve posted on Amy’s desk.

I told Steve I’d like to be treated at least as well as his friends — and he said that he treated all his friends better than he treated me.

Oh — another thing God did that summer was help me find my network of girlfriends. I didn’t have many local friends at that time — but at the end of March I’d emailed my two closest sisters Becky and Wendy, and then my three best friends — Kathe, Darlene, and Ruth. But I’d also added onto the list people who didn’t know Steve — who wouldn’t think any less of him for it. I included my writing buddies, and some new friends from the Sembach Writers’ Group. I included a friend I’d made who used to volunteer at the library and whose travel blog I followed. It turned out about ten years before, her husband had an emotional affair. But they were back together. She had a lot of wise advice. We still email regularly.

Writing to these friends so often helped me keep from over-reacting.

I was trying to reach out to Amy — and that seemed to make Steve furious.

Remember: I still believed Steve that she was the friend he needed. I figured if she was Steve’s good friend, she’d want to be friends with his wife. She could help me try to get Steve out of that depression.

Steve told me he didn’t want home stress to confront him at work. He didn’t want me to go to any band events or be around any band people.

There was a going-away party for one of Steve’s friends at Amy’s house. I thought it would be very rude for me to stay away. He was adamant that I should not go. I almost went anyway, but we ended up neither of us going. Who knows what I would have found if I had gone?

Steve did keep on getting found out — my friends kept seeing him out with Amy, or at the laundromat washing dog hair off his clothes. I thought that was God, and I still think so. Though I was also spared from finding out it was an affair.

And who knows what I would have done? She was a Senior Airman and he was a Master Sergeant. He could have indeed gotten kicked out of the Air Force if it had been found out.

I don’t know what God was doing at the time — but I do know that, years later, I’m glad how it all worked out.

I was able to resist the temptation to track him down. I don’t know how many times I was tempted to drive to Amy’s house and see if he was there. I never did. And that’s a good thing.

And God started bringing good books into my life, exactly the books I needed. I worked in a library. And one of the first tremendously helpful books I found was The Divorce Remedy, by Michele Weiner Davis. I wrote the review in December, after Steve had moved out. But I read the book in July. I’ve got an entry in my quiet time notebook where I resolved to follow the Last Resort Technique:

1) Stop pursuing. (I’d been pursuing so very, very hard!)
2) Get a life! (My plan was to focus on my writing and my work and be good to myself.)
3) Wait and watch.

This technique — and all the advice and comfort in the book really helped my sanity that summer. Not that I really managed to stop pursuing — but I do think I managed to tone it down!

(And remember: Steve was having an affair. He was telling me that he was working on the marriage — but he had already checked out. I didn’t know it was an affair, so I thought there was still hope.)

I also had to learn to find my value and worth in myself, with only negative reinforcement from Steve.

One thing that helped with that was I FINISHED MY PRIME FACTORIZATION SWEATER on July 25!

I’d been working on it for years. But finishing it made me smile, even in a really hard summer!

I explained the sweater later on my blog, so here I’ll just show the pictures I took.

2005_07_25 1 PF Sweater

2005_07_25 2 PF Sweater

2005_07_25 3 PF Sleeve

2005_07_25 4 PF Sweater

Then came Timothy’s 11th Birthday!

2005_07_29 1 Birthday

2005_07_29 2 Birthday

And that, I’m afraid, was the day that Steve moved out of my bedroom for good. He didn’t consult me about it, just didn’t come to bed. And I was so afraid to be seen as being critical, I didn’t dare say anything. (No wait a minute — the second night, I went downstairs and saw him on the couch and made a sound of sadness — and got yelled at for doing that.)

Here’s what I wrote about that:

Wow, it hurts when Steve sleeps downstairs.

Talk about rejection.

He looks so sad now. Almost constantly frowning, and his face is sagging. His eyes are red and there are bags under his eyes.

He says he’s not depressed; he’s resentful.

Perhaps it will help if I think of him as wrestling with forgiveness. I hope he is. There are even indications that he is.

But he doesn’t want to sleep in the same room with me. And I’m afraid to breathe and wake him up.

It was so twisted. Every time I’d find out Steve had been with Amy — even when I believed they weren’t having an affair — because that meant he was preferring her to me — I felt like I was stabbed through the heart — but I didn’t dare make even a whimper of complaint. I was somehow believing that this was critical and wasn’t respectful. That I hadn’t forgiven him. That I was too prone to anger.

Here’s what I wrote on August 6:

O God, help me!
I found Dalmatian hair again — on our bed, on Steve’s bag, on Steve’s clothes, on the rug in the hall, and on the guestroom bed.
O God, today’s counseling. I don’t know what to say.
O God, I don’t want Steve to leave me.
Is the verse I need: “If the unbeliever wants to leave, let him do so. We are called to live in peace.”
O God, I was going to try to talk about forgiveness, to try to make restitution. What now?
O God, I want our marriage to be saved….

Well, by the next day, Steve had convinced me the Dalmatian hair was nothing — still in the back seat of his car and getting all over everything from a time he had walked dogs when Amy was out of town. He’d driven them to a path in the woods in his car and the hair was still there.

And I felt wrong for getting upset about it!

But the big enormous conflict happened at the end of the summer, August 25. I was planning to take the kids shopping for school clothes at the BX at Vogelweh. But Steve asked to use my slightly larger car. He eventually said that someone new in the band wanted help moving some stuff.

The next day, Steve got up early and went in to work. I was ready to take the kids shopping, and thought I’d suggest that we could have lunch together after shopping. (He must have said something about the person was moving near Vogelweh?) But the person I talked to didn’t know where Steve was — he wasn’t at the band building.

So — I took the kids clothes shopping. Afterward, we were going to have lunch and then do the grocery shopping. And look! There was my car in the parking lot next to Subway! We could have lunch with Steve!

Well, I wasn’t too surprised when I walked in that, sure enough, Steve was having lunch with Amy. (She was attending Airman Leadership School at the time, which was located near Vogelweh.) But the surprise was that — her parents were there.

Because Amy was attending Airman Leadership School, Steve had offered to pick up her parents from the airport when they came to visit.

Well, I was livid! But I’d made myself a resolution to wait 24 hours before I confronted Steve. So after introducing myself “I’m his wife” and having Steve buy the three of us lunch, I sat with them and chatted icily sweetly. Steve and Amy were pretty quiet, so I chatted with her parents.

That night I wrote, “Father, You are clearly working. I could not possibly have caught out Steve so neatly in his lies.
Father, please continue working. Soften Steve’s heart. Help him to feel Your love and my love.”

I have to interject here: I do think that these many times that Steve got found out — that God was giving him chance after chance to change his mind.

I’ll say no more about that, because this is my story not Steve’s. But I do believe God was working in Steve’s life as well as in mine.

I do think I was growing! My desperation was much less. Here’s from the next day:

Dear Father,
Well, Steve admits to no wrongdoing when he lied to me and met with Amy and picked up her parents.

He is going to continue meeting with Amy and maybe even continue lying. He doesn’t think I should make a fuss about him having lunch with a co-worker.

And he’s very angry with me.

So what do I do?

Lord, I still want our marriage to continue. At worst, I would stay married to him and co-parent our kids.

I don’t think he’ll divorce me while we’re in Germany. That would mean breaking up our home during Josh’s Senior year….

If we do get divorced, we’ll need to put aside anger and resentment. So I might as well practice that now.

I need to do as the book The Divorce Remedy recommends and completely ignore his relationship with Amy — to put all the energy I might spend thinking about them into other things….

And the kids started school! Timmy started 6th grade, Middle School, and Josh started 12th grade, a Senior!

On the second day of school, I wrote:

Today Timothy said he likes Algebra! He liked being the fastest, even though he was the youngest and smallest! I’m glad. He felt awkward being there yesterday.

Josh is still walking tall as a Senior. He said someone told him he looked like he’d grown — I think he’s simply holding himself tall. It’s nice to see him so happy with life.

One thing I really don’t like in my next set of entries is I keep on talking about my mistakes — mostly where I gave Steve an inkling of how hurt I was feeling. And he found out how many people I was writing to and got upset about that. And I’m reading in what I was writing that I was taking on a lot of the guilt about how I was responding.

In September, we took a trip to Europa Park in honor of Timothy’s birthday. Steve almost refused to go, but I convinced him to for Timothy’s sake. Here’s what I wrote about it.

Labor Day was rough. We went to Europa Park in honor of Timothy’s birthday. We did have a good time.

However, after awhile it got to me that Steve was avoiding sitting by me or touching me. I felt like I was poison.

We talked about it in counseling. He still thinks that he should not be too nice to me, or I will get my hopes too high. But it gets to me after awhile.

However, I think we both enjoyed being with the kids. Josh danced in the yodeling log ride line — and then boasted about how he got everyone in line to stare at him!

Timothy didn’t want to go on too many rides — too bad, since he liked the ones he did go on. And he did prefer to ride with Dad, so it was good that Steve came along.

After the counseling appointment, I wrote:

It was rough, because we ended with Steve mad at me. So I was discouraged most of today. I wish Steve wanted to be with me.

However, something significant was said. Steve thinks it’s not a matter of forgiveness — It’s that we’re just not right for each other. For example, I need to talk and he hates conflict.

That always makes me wonder where in the world he thinks he’ll find a woman who doesn’t need to talk. So I asked him.

He said, “I’m not thinking about another woman. I want to be ALONE!” That actually relieves me. If he doesn’t marry someone else, there’s always hope. I can wait him out.

He says he’s tired of emotional turmoil. I wish he’d see that it could be reduced with kindness.

[Dear Reader, I did eventually get over that desire to wait him out! And notice how he so neatly reassured me by saying he wanted to be alone. It does make you wonder if he was getting some pressure from the other woman, too.]

Though the next few days, he was much kinder to me. For awhile.

And that Fall, I started going to Yoga class one night a week, and still had Choir practice one night a week. Yay! I was getting a life! I was friends with the yoga instructor and my friend Suzanne, the wife of the first sergeant of the band, was also attending. It happened in Winnweiler, which was where Amy lived.

The first night I got there, and Suzanne told me someone else from the band was attending. Did I know Amy?

So — each week at yoga, I got to practice being gracious. In my most spiteful moments, I’d think to myself how sad Amy must be that she was so fat. (I had lost more than 20% of my weight in the first few months of our marital crisis. I simply wasn’t hungry. I got down to my high school weight of 105 pounds. Don’t worry — I’ve gained it all back since then! But it was fun while it lasted.) But all in all, yoga was great for me. A good practice thinking peaceful thoughts and the exercise was good for me.

And in September, my journal entries are excited and happy about my writing and about getting ready for PARIS in November! (More on that!) I finally got myself a laptop so I wouldn’t have to wait my turn on the family computer. (And it was time to stop writing to my friends on the family email account. After Steve started reading what I was writing, I opened the sonderbooks account.)

And then things really went downhill. On September 29, Steve wasn’t home yet when I left for yoga, even though the plan was for him to feed the kids dinner. But I went ahead to Winnweiler. I had trouble finding parking, and as I was driving around the village — I saw Steve’s car coming toward me leaving the village. I rolled down my window and greeted him. He said he “went for a walk.” I asked, “With Amy?” And he said Yes.

Of course, he’d gone for a walk after work several times in the past three weeks — so I was pretty sure it was with Amy each time. This meant he was walking dogs with her again behind my back. It broke my heart the first time. Why did he think it wouldn’t break my heart this time?

Amy wasn’t at yoga that night. The instructor kept saying to notice what you were feeling. Well, what I was feeling was heartbreak. But I managed to keep it together the entire class. Only I was shaking in some of the positions. My friend Suzanne, the first sergeant’s wife, tried to give me tips afterward to help me not shake — and I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I started sobbing.

This really worried Suzanne. She urged me and urged me to tell her what was wrong. I said I couldn’t. But she said, “You can tell me.” And that she wouldn’t tell her husband. So finally I poured it out.

I did confront Steve when I got home.

Here’s what I wrote to my email support group. I was getting some perspective.

I assumed that this meant that every time in the last
few weeks when he came home late, that he was with
Amy. It turns out that it was only tonight, now that
she’s back from ALS.

He was really mad when I said he was lying to me
(after yoga). Because he told me what he was doing as
soon as I asked. Whatever! But it was a bit of a
relief to know that this wasn’t what he was doing the
past several weeks. He said he hadn’t seen her during
her six weeks at ALS.

Anyway, he told me that the reason he doesn’t tell me
ahead of time is that I will want to talk about it
“like this.” I tried to explain that I was upset
about the deception, not about the walking with Amy–I
did say that he is welcome to break her heart.

I was completely calm and did not raise my voice while
talking with him, but he’s furious with me and said he
doesn’t want to talk about things and he doesn’t like
spending time with me. (I DID cry hard at the end of
yoga–but yoga helped me feel calmer about things.)

I’m still not leaving. Yes, he’s treating me like
dirt. Yes, I deserve much, much better than this
treatment. So I am going to continue to focus on my
activities and not let him ruin my happiness. I do
believe that God will take my revenge for me, if Steve
is indeed wronging me. He promises especially to take
up the case of “the wife of your youth” if a man
betrays her. So I am going to try to forgive and
repay the evil with good and leave room for God’s
wrath.

I’m giving myself a pep talk here. I’m not nearly as
strong as I’m trying to sound. Believe me, I did some
hard crying tonight, and a lot of the yoga moves got
me shaking when they might not have otherwise.

I do believe that if Steve is the sort of person who
would leave his wife, then I am much better off
without him. But I don’t think he’s that kind of
person, and I so, so hope that he will choose to love
me again and treat me as a wife should be treated. I
think we’ll both (and definitely our kids) be better
off. But I know that if He rejects me, God will bring
good out of it, and make me a much more beautiful
person than before.

Tonight I’m not reproaching myself about anything I
said. I think the bottomline reason Steve got mad is
because he knows he treated me badly. But he
certainly doesn’t think so.

I don’t think he’s going to fall for Amy (If he does,
they deserve each other!)–so this kind of behavior is
bound to hurt her–and that’s fine with me! It does
hurt me, but I am going to try to forgive to keep it
from being lasting hurt.

OKAY–ENOUGH already! šŸ™‚

Sigh. Things were deteriorating.

But to add to the fun — when Suzanne got home, her husband asked why she was so late. She said that Sondy was really upset. He asked right away, “Was Amy there?” Suzanne had no clue about Steve and Amy before that night — but Joe knew exactly why I was upset before she told him.

And then — Steve got a letter of counseling for the “Perception of an Inappropriate Relationship.”

I had sent Joe an email saying that Steve and Amy had not done anything inappropriate. Please do not do anything, because Steve would blame me. Joe said that it didn’t matter what was happening at home. People at work were complaining. He sent the letter of counseling completely based on what was going on at work.

[I hadn’t realized at all how strict the rules against fraternization are in the military. I thought since Steve wasn’t having an affair (or so I thought), he couldn’t get in trouble. But apparently, a Master Sergeant isn’t even supposed to be special friends with a senior airman.]

And yes, Steve was completely convinced it was my fault.

Oh look! In the middle of these comments about the letter of counseling, I see that my dear co-worker Elfriede took me to a long lunch and bought me apple strudel and told me she loves me.

Here’s Elfriede! Elfriede always told me she was my fan. It’s good to have a fan! Especially when you feel like you’re doing things wrong.

2005_07 Elfriede

And then, on October 25, 2005, I wrote this:

O Father,
Steve told me last night that he has finally decided to divorce me.

O God, I so hoped he wouldn’t do this. Now it sounds like he’s even willing to divorce me before we move, forcing me to go back to the States.

Lord, give me wisdom. I don’t want my signature on any divorce documents. But I do want custody of Timothy and for Steve to keep his promise to support me. Give me wisdom, Lord.

Thank You, Father, that You will watch over me no matter what. Help me to be loving, not vindictive. Help me to be a better person through this. Thank You for Your great love.

The “promise” I was referring to was that back in the Spring, when Steve was already talking about leaving me, I’d asked him if I needed to find a full-time job. He’d said that even if he left, he’d still support me. (My friends said I should have gotten that in writing, and they were right!) But by this time — It was too late for me to find a full-time job. We were due to leave Germany the following August and I actually wasn’t allowed to apply for anything with so little time left. Plus, I was going to lose the job I did have in August.

The next morning when I woke up, I made a decision: I would become a Librarian!

I had been thinking for at least a year that when we moved back to the States, I’d focus on my writing full-time. But now that I knew I’d be needing a full-time job, I didn’t trust that I could find anything with my Math Master’s, so why not get a Master’s in Library Science and become a full-time librarian? The more I thought about it, the happier I was with the decision.

So that’s another thing God was doing — this career I love was a direct result of getting divorced.

The next day I went to the Ramstein legal office and talked to a wonderful lawyer who was an older lady. She was tremendously encouraging. And she explained that Steve couldn’t possibly divorce me before we left Germany. We’d be under Illinois law — and under Illinois law you have to be separated for a full year before you can file for divorce. We didn’t have a year left in Germany. So that really eased my fears of getting sent back early.

And — I’m going to have to stop there tonight. But the next thing that happened in the worst year of my life was the best trip of my life — the SCBWI Writers’ Retreat in Paris! I’ll talk about that in the next installment.

I’m not sure I’ve communicated in this post how much God was with me, walking me through. But He was, He was, He was.

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