December 26, 2011

Sunset in the rearview mirror

By Sheryl A. Simons

It was almost dusk as I drove home from work one night, the setting sun on my left. With a slight headache, my thoughts drifted through my day at work at the domestic violence shelter, where we never know from one moment to the next what to expect.

As I drove I thought of my life and all the changes that had come about. I, too, had once been the victim of domestic violence. I was never beaten. I was threatened, yelled at, and had things thrown at me, but I never identified this as abuse. I’d always thought abuse was hitting and physical pain.

The sky was slowly darkening, and the feathery wisps of clouds turned to pretty pastels as I drove along. I continued to keep one eye on the clouds as I watched the road and let my mind wander. I had often tried to reason with my husband. I would say he didn’t need to yell – I could hear what he was trying to say. I just didn’t always agree with him. Did we have to think the same way about everything? Was that what it meant to be submissive? I usually acquiesced. My husband was the head of the household; I was the wife. That was my role. Often I felt put down and betrayed – the butt of my husband’s jokes. But my own husband wouldn’t want to do that, would he? He loved me! I must be the cause of our problems. Soon, it became easier to just agree with my husband, rather than fight. I wanted peace at any cost. I didn’t know the cost was giving up myself. And no one else seemed to notice – no one but me.

My life had begun with so much promise. I’d been a good student. I hadn’t made many of the mistakes my classmates did. I thought I was steady, reliable and a commonsense thinker. So why couldn’t I do anything right in my marriage?

Thankfully, our three children were not the victims of my husband’s violent temper – I was. And as long as that temper was directed at me, it didn’t hurt my children, did it?

My car left the freeway, and I headed in the opposite direction of the beautiful sunset. I hated to leave the florescent sky behind, but my trip must continue. I was headed home.

Home, now, was not with that man. After sixteen years, I left him. Despite much counseling, I could find no way to reconcile our miserable marriage. When we sought the help of pastors and counselors, my husband always made it clear that I was the “bad guy.” But by this time I was convinced that he didn’t love me, and I realized how evil he had been.

My family was devastated by the divorce. No one in our family had ever divorced. It just wasn’t done. My family’s shame was almost worse than the bad marriage. There were secrets about my marriage that even they didn’t know. I tried to explain, but I couldn’t bring myself to relive the details. They didn’t trust me, so I was on my own. I learned to live with that pain as well, but I had never felt so lonely.

Seven years after the divorce, home was now an eighty-year-old farmhouse on a beautiful country road. I was remarried to a peaceful soul like myself, whom I learned I could trust. We worked together on our home – remodeling, landscaping, building. We were constructing more than a house – we were building a new life. My family was more understanding now, and my kids had weathered the rough years after the divorce, much as our farmhouse had weathered the winds of time. They were doing very well. “Staying together for the sake of the children,” simply doesn’t work – it’s a lie. My children now know that everyone deserves respect, even mom.

I’d learned what marriage was really all about. As head of the household, a man was meant to lead, but not bully, push, manipulate, threaten and criticize. My current husband was a gentle shepherd, not a drill sergeant. He was someone who could be respected and honored – a man of character and commitment. Power and control meant nothing to this man. He was committed to “love as Christ loved the Church.”

Not far from home, I climbed a hill and suddenly was stirred out of my reverie. A brilliant sunset, more brilliant than any I’d ever seen, radiated in the rearview mirror. The vibrant oranges and vivid pinks held me spellbound. I rounded a turn at the top of the hill and pulled to the side of the road. With tears streaming down my face, I witnessed God’s awesome creativity at work. I also knew exactly what he was trying to tell me at that very moment. While I was going through those hard times, God knew what I didn’t. He knew that one day I would look back and see his brilliant master plan. God didn’t put me through the abuse, but he used it to create a masterpiece – one I couldn’t see at the time, but only when I looked back on it. I’d weathered the storm, and God was right there with me all the time. I was never alone.

I sat for several moments, drinking in the beauty of the incredible sunset. I eased back on the road and rounded another bend. That sunset was with me all the way home in the rearview mirror – just as God had been.

Source: Chicken Soup for the Soul

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