Project 52, Week 42, Part One — Good-by to Germany

It’s time for Project 52, Week 42!

42 weeks ago, on my 52nd birthday, I began Project 52. Since there are 52 weeks in a year, each week I’m taking one year of my life and blogging about it. This week, I’m covering the year I was 42 — June 14, 2006, to June 14, 2007.

During these hard years, I’m trying to frame my reflections by asking the question, What was the Lord doing?

And this was the summer we left Germany, on August 18, 2006, 9 years and 9 months after we arrived.

But a whole lot happened in those last two months.

I mentioned last time that Steve got himself sent to Japan unaccompanied so that I could not follow him, even though I had planned to move wherever he was stationed next so he could be near Timothy. But once he did get the assignment to Japan — I had to decide where to go.

I didn’t want to go back to Los Angeles, where my family was and where I’d grown up. I had decided when I was 5 years old that I didn’t want to live in Los Angeles! And I had never changed my mind. (It’s a nice place to visit, though.)

But — two of my best friends since 3rd grade, Darlene LeVault and Kathe Barsotti, had both ended up in northern Virginia, near Washington, DC. I had visited their church a few times when I visited and thought how much I wished I had a church like that. Besides that, the church met in a brand-new beautiful middle school (Rachel Carson) which served the district where Darlene lived, and Tim was starting 7th grade. And I had a soft spot for Washington, DC, since that’s where I was born.

Mind you, if then my four youngest siblings had already moved to Portland, Oregon, I would have seriously considered that. As it was, the only Oregon connections were many of my Mom’s relatives, whom I didn’t know too well. But in Virginia, I had two people who had been good friends basically all my life. I needed friends!

In fact, I’d always thought I’d be heartbroken to leave Germany. I was indeed heartbroken, but it wasn’t about leaving Germany. I was ready to be closer to my friends.

Now, I wasn’t planning to stay there forever. I figured I’d lick my wounds a couple years while Tim was in middle school. I was very much hoping Steve and I would be back together by the time Tim started high school. Or maybe I could get a librarian job at an Air Force library in Europe and go on my own power!

I was very worried about money. Back in 2005, when Steve was first talking about leaving me after I’d found out he was seeing the other woman, I asked him if I needed to find a full-time job. He told me that even if he left me, he’d still support me. (I guess he was feeling generous, but that’s a line from The Script.) By the time he actually did tell me he was going to file for divorce, it was too late to get a full-time job while we were still in Germany. And of course I’d lose my job when we moved away.

But when I talked with Finance, it turned out that if we got on Steve’s orders where I was going with the kids, then Steve would get a housing allowance for himself in Japan at the single rate and a housing allowance for the kids and me in DC at the with dependents rate. So — basically the Air Force would give him $2100 per month for my housing.

Another factor in my life then was that sometime in 2006 or late 2005, I’d started following RejoiceMinistries.org and getting their daily emails, “Charlyne Cares.” Those emails encouraged and sustained me, reminding me that the Lord was with me.

But they also gradually moved me away from the idea that if someone in a marriage commits adultery, you should get divorced. Now, I still believed Steve wasn’t having an affair, even though I knew for certain he had been spending time with another woman behind my back. So I didn’t think all the reasons he gave — about how awful I had been — were sufficient reasons to break our vows and throw away 19 years of marriage.

Charlyne and Bob Steinkamp told the story of how Bob had left Charlyne and divorced her. After some crazy times and anger, she’d been convicted to “stand for her marriage.” She told Bob that she’d still be waiting for him when she was eighty in a rocking chair! And after two years, when God was working in Bob’s heart all along, God answered Charlyne’s earnest prayers, and “her prodigal” asked her to marry him again.

Charlyne’s story spoke to me. I could do that! I would pray Steve back!

It maybe sounds a little nobler than it was. I was not interested in anyone else, after all. In fact, after reading The Script and hearing stories from friends and library customers that were similar to my own, I was rather mad at men. I’d joke that the men I was attracted to were the men at church who were devoted to their wives — and if they were ever attracted to me back, they would quickly become repulsive to me!

And honestly? Some time to myself was looking very nice by now.

I’d decided the day after Steve told me he was getting a divorce that I would become a librarian. I’d applied to study online with Drexel University to get my Master’s in Library and Information Science. I had to do some hard thinking about whether I should start full-time or not. If I went full-time, I wouldn’t be able to work full-time when I moved, but the more quickly I’d get my degree. On top of that, if I went full-time I’d be eligible for scholarships.

So I applied to go full-time, and was accepted on June 28, 2006. I got a Bettina H. Shears scholarship which helped offset the costs. In June I was still getting the financial aid applications in. I took out some student loans (which I will finish paying off in 11 more months!) That would start in September. Part of the reason I’d applied to an online program was that I applied before I knew where I’d end up. But also, after my years teaching math, I couldn’t quite handle the thought of being on the other side of the podium and being in a college classroom as a student. It turned out that online classes suited me perfectly. (And I’d taken an online writing class a couple years before and loved it, so I wasn’t surprised.)

Reading my quiet time journals from that time, I wasn’t as obsessed and devastated by all that Steve was doing any more. And my health was settling down somewhat. I was thinking about what I was about, and that was refreshing. I read a book called There Must Be More Than This, which talked about uncovering the hungers behind your soft addictions (like Killer Sudoku). It made me think about what I really want from life.

I still think I nailed my hungers:
A hunger for beauty (to create it and appreciate it),
A hunger to connect,
A hunger to understand,
A hunger to matter.

Okay, a lot of Bible verses are coming up. But these were important over the next years.

First, some time in early July, I was driving home from Ramstein and asking God for a sign that Steve would come back to God and come back to me. And I was thinking about that rainbow I saw on the way to Paris. And how the trip had indeed been wonderful. And as I was praying, I saw another rainbow!

On July 5, I wrote:

I believe that You gave me a sign when I asked for a sign that Steve would come back to You and come back to me.

So — I want to live as though that will happen, focusing on growing and preparing to be a better wife.

I was going to make the most of the time living single.

The next day, I did it — I did the most baby Christian thing to do: I asked God for a verse for Steve and opened my Bible and pointed. Now, the truth is that my finger landed on verses about repenting. But I lifted my eyes just a couple verses and got the verse I claimed for Steve. Here’s what I wrote about it on the 7th.

O Father,

In spired by Charlyne’s testimony, I asked you to give me a verse for Steve. You gave me Isaiah 55:4:

“See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of the peoples.”

Before that, it says:
“I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.”

Father, make Steve a witness, a leader and commander of the peoples.

[I so wanted to believe the best of my husband, to see him become someone I was proud of. I knew he could be, because he had started out our marriage that way.]

You continue,
“Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts. [This is where my finger actually fell.]
Let him turn to the Lord,
and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth.
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’
You will go out with joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”

Amen, Father. I believe that You will do a great work in Steve’s life. He will be a witness, and a leader and commander of men — and it will be to the Lord’s renown.

Dear Reader, it simply wasn’t a stretch for me to believe Steve would change so drastically — because he already had! When Steve married me, he honestly did love me. So if that love could turn to hate, why should it not change back? God could certainly do that.

Buoyed up by the words of Charlyne Cares, that’s what I was going to earnestly pray for. Though I was becoming more and more thankful for some time apart, on opposite sides of the world.

The next day, July 8, I wrote this:

Beautiful!

Right across from the passage I quoted yesterday are these words:

“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.

The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and depressed in spirit —
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,’ says your God.
‘For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’
says the Lord your Redeemer.”
— Isaiah 54:5-8

Steve and I were still sharing a mailbox on base. We’d both bring the mail home, whoever happened to check it. The next day, July 9, 2006, I took out the mail and saw a letter addressed to Steve with the return address of a lawyer in Illinois.

I opened the letter.

It was informing Steve that a petition for divorce was filed against me. And I saw the terms. Steve was planning to divorce me on the grounds of “mental cruelty.” And he was asking for full custody of our kids! (Though he would have filed this before he got the assignment to Japan.)

I put the letter back in the envelope and closed it. It was sticky enough, you couldn’t tell it had been opened. I wondered if Steve would tell me what he was doing. (He didn’t.)

However, I was looking at that same page in Isaiah again — and God gave me this passage:

“No weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.

Oh, Father,
Steve may decide to pursue a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty. If he does, he can’t possibly win — It will only serve to bring about my public vindication.

Thank You, Father, for this verse, and thank You for the respite coming.

Dear Reader, I didn’t know it then, but for the next five years or so, every time Steve mentioned a lawyer or taking me to court — this verse would somehow pop up in my life. It was uncanny, and it was beautiful. I very much believe that this verse held God’s promise to me.

I later went to Ramstein’s Legal Services — and the same sweet older lady lawyer was again there on her reserve duty from North Carolina!

She told me that to serve me with papers in Germany, the papers would have to be translated and given to the German police to serve to me. She also told me that if this didn’t happen before I moved away, Steve would have to start over.

It did not happen. (Steve later told me he was going to “fire” that lawyer. The first of three lawyers he used and wasn’t happy with.)

And I got an interlude later that month. My friend Jeanine got married! She was the band wife who’d shared a job at the library with me a few years before. Now she had been divorced from the band member, and she was marrying a German national at one of my favorite castles, Burg Rheinfels on the Rhein River. (Steve and I never did spend a night in a castle while we were in Germany. I envy Jeanine having her honeymoon night in one!)

I went to the wedding by myself, but the next day Jeanine and Sven hosted a castle tour and Rhine cruise. I brought the kids to that — sort of our family good-by to the Rhein River.

And sometime around that time, Steve started being a whole lot nicer to me.

I was still working at the library, still meeting monthly (one last time) with the Sembach Writers’ Group.

And Timothy turned 12 years old! So he lived in Germany from when he was 2 years old to when he was 12 years old.

Sometime in this last month was when our pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Ramstein preached a sermon on the passage in Mark 7 where Jesus heals a deaf and mute man. It’s a weird passage. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears and then spits and touches the man’s tongue – and the pastor pointed out that Jesus was speaking to the deaf man in sign language, telling him what he was going to do. And he said that God speaks your language. And I realized that my language is books. And Scripture.

I started crying. By then for months God had been bringing to me at the library exactly the book I needed and exactly the verse I needed. God was walking with me.

And Steve started being nicer. On August 6, I wrote this:

Father,
Thank You for the good things that happened this weekend. — That I let Steve have his say and didn’t get defensive, and said, “I respectfully disagree.” instead of telling him how wrong he is.

Then yesterday, he invited me to join him at Silke’s for dinner [He’d run into our landlady from our first apartment in Germany and she’d invited him to dinner.] — the first time he’s eaten with me since November.

Thank you that You will supply our needs in Virginia — a good place to stay, a good job. Thank You that You will supply the money.

You will uphold me — not Steve, not the Air Force.

And August 12, 2006, was my going-away party from Sembach Library. And it was wonderful! I know that pictures exist, but apparently they weren’t on my camera, so I can’t find them right now, alas. But many of my favorite library patrons were there as well.

They showered me with gifts — a commemorative plate among other things. But they had a butterfly theme about new life and a songbird theme because I do love to sing.

And my dear Elfriede — who I’d worked with for 8 years — gave a speech about me — and I just found the speech! And at the risk of sounding vain, I’m going to copy out that speech. Since that was coming off the low point of my life — a speech full of praise from someone who I love dearly was incredibly encouraging! So I’m going to copy out the whole speech and think about my dear Elfriede and our years working together. Elfriede had long said she’d write an anthem for me. This speech was just fine!

It is about 10 years ago, but in my memory, it seems to be like yesterday, that Sondra and her toddler Timmy on hand, entered the Sembach Library. Nothing at that moment revealed that she would join the caravan of Band member wives, who made it a tradition to become a library staff panelist. But her love of literature soon became evident and made her a perfect applicant.

The more I came to know her, the more I recognized her strong personality. Her mathematically educated mind enabled her quickly to design waterproofed statistics about library manpower versus working time and productivity, which she forwarded to the higher echelons. The recipients seemed to be impressed and her figures became a matter of consideration during critical times for the future existence of the library. A similar strong fight, based on crystal-clear formulas, she won over our MCN-book allowance, which number she was able to keep constant.

Once, I was amazed and confused alike, as Sondra was able to tell me within a minute or so, on what weekday I was born some 50 plus years ago — which made me wonder, who needs Nostradamus, if knowing Sondra.

Apropos Sondra : she is very particular with her name. She made it clear from the start, that she would not accept any variations of it besides Sondy. On her book reviews page at the internet, she refers to Sonder as a German term for the word special. And that is what Sondra is: a very special person and colleague. Can you imagine how excited she must have been to end up unexpectedly in a village with the same name during one of her trips across Germany??

Sondra visited about 170 castles during her tour in Europe. She could be a castellan of them all. I bet she knows all the secret chambers, walls, double doors, dungeons and hideouts in them all. She knows the characters, who housed there, and all their secret stories. And if there is something like a reincarnation, or life after death, Sondra will be reborn as Lady Godiva with a laptop.

A trademark became her fabulous book reviews, which are available at her website sonderbooks.com. They are legendary and a calling card, not only for the Sembach Library, since she states the books which are available here, but also for the brilliance and creativity of the entire military library staff around the globe. Although her favourite genre are Fantasy books for Young Adults, each book which makes her stop and smile, she considers a special one.

An excerpt of her book list covers all subjects from A-Z. Some noteworthy titles are listed as follows:
A – Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons; B – The Beggar King & the Secret of Happiness; C – Countdown and Crown Duel; D – Duty & Desire; E – Emily of New Moon; F – Feed; G – The God I Love; H – How to Remodel a Man; I – Inside the Kingdom; J – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell; K – To Kill a Mockingbird; L – Letters to a Young Therapist; M – The Myth of Laziness; N – Northanger Abbey; O – Of Paradise & Power, and The Oracle Betrayed; P – Pooh & the Philosophers; Q – The Queen of Attolia; R – Render Unto Caesar, and Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter; S – The Soul of Capitalism; T – The Tears of the Salamander; U – The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool; V – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; W – The Wolves in the Walls, and The Wizard at Work; X like Unexpected Magic; Y – The Year of Secret Assignments; Z – is for ZOOM and MANY MORE TO COME!!!

Before mentioned A-Z additions reflect only the smallest selection of all the hundreds of books Sondra has read and reviewed. But writing an in-depth and intelligent review of each of them requires a broad horizon of knowledge. This resulted in some sophisticated discussions between us about Zeus and the world, as I used to say, which means subjects like politics, philosophy, and religions. One of her reviews moved up my innermost deeply, and made me feel softer and be more understanding toward certain religious beliefs and their interpretations, which no priest was able before! I honestly believe that Sondra would be a perfect critic of the NYT book review edition. Sondra, whenever you need a fiery recommendation – you know where to find me!

Yes, I confess that I am a fan of Sondra, and whenever we both became entangled in a discussion with a customer, I introduced us as follows: This is Sondra, my Mercedes-brain, and I am her VW!

Sondra’s goal is to become a published author; therefore, she attended a couple of writers’ conventions in Paris and Bologna, where she was able to net first contacts with the professional writers’ world. And I know, there will be a day, where I will receive her book with a dedication just for me.

A buffet of fate required Sondra to pass through a deep valley of sadness & tears, but now she has reached a point, where she sees a light and hope shine for her. And I say: Go for it – all options are yours! I hope you will be courageous enough to take all your chances and walk with your head held high through all the doors hold open to you. I hope, Sondra, that you pretty soon will say with conviction: “Mine is the world!”

Sondra, I always told you, that I would write and sing an anthem about you. Please take my speech as an alternation for now. I will work on it and will sing it over the phone for you one day, I promise!

Thank you for being such a great co-worker!!!

Elfriede Moehlenbrock
12 Aug 06

Whew! That speech still lifts my heart and brings back so many good memories with Elfriede!

That’s a good stopping place. Working at Sembach Library was one of the truly great things that happened from my time in Germany (and from my marriage!). The next week the movers came, and Steve confessed what had really been happening the previous year and a half and we flew to opposite sides of the world…. But this is a good place to stop tonight.

One Response to “Project 52, Week 42, Part One — Good-by to Germany”

  1. Kristin says:

    You made a great decision to go after your MLS!

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