If you’ve made it through Russ’ Story first, congratulations! Mine is not nearly so lengthy or interesting. I plan to follow the same outline that my husband did, for a little comparison.
I was born in 1969, firstborn with a brother almost 2 years younger. My dad is a dairy farmer and my mother an RN. I was born in Kewanee and lived in Toulon for most of my early life. Kewanee was the “city” in our area with 12,000 people compared to Toulon’s 1,200.
You could say my childhood years were idyllic; running around on a farm, playing with cats, dogs and cows. Mom stayed home with us, only working the evening shifts at the hospital. She continued her evening shifts until we both hit high school and I could drive my brother and I around. Dad was very busy farming corn and beans and milking cows. My brother and I were involved with 4-H and later sports. Our school was small, about 200 students in the whole high school. We knew everyone and everyone knew us.
When I was younger, my parents made a point of bringing us to the local church: United Methodist. When I hit high school and college, I was the only one of the family attending with any regularity.
My family was moral. There were rules. The rules were partially based in the bible and partially based on what my parents wanted. Parenting was based around the golden rule: do to others as you would have them do to you. Sometimes, you could be just good enough to receive a warning instead of punishment.
Spiritual lessons were not a conscious effort. My parents expected I learned things at Sunday school. When I would go visit my grandmother, whose house didn’t have a lot of toys, I would sit and read those bible story volumes. Do you remember those? They were in every doctor and dentist office? I read all 10 volumes every time I visited. I knew the stories. I knew who Jesus was, who God was, I knew the ten commandments and I knew that good people, the right people, did those things. And if they did them often enough, then hopefully they’d get into heaven.
I’m not sure where I got the idea that the rules were supposed to be followed. I think I realized things were much better for me if I obeyed. I knew the rules, but not the whys and wherefores. We didn’t discuss things as a family. I didn’t know why we did the things we did. I learned quickly to follow the parameters set before me with no questions. That didn’t mean I didn’t bend or break the rules when it suited me. But I only did that if I knew with some certainty that I wouldn’t get caught or punished.
At the age of ten or so, a visiting relative decided to “experiment” with me. I can’t really say he molested me, because I’ve heard so many other stories that were so much worse than mine.
He made me uncomfortable and I was never able to tell him no. He took advantage of my curiosity. It ended when mom caught him following me into the bathroom. I remember thinking that I was in trouble for allowing it because by the look on my mom’s face, something was wrong with it. But I never heard any more about it. He was never allowed to be alone with me again and my parents never talked to me about it. I never knew anything except this feeling that I had done something wrong, but not sure exactly what.
Looking back, his treatment of me wasn’t that harmful. But my parents didn’t take the time to talk to me about it, explain or forgive. My mother thought I had forgotten it. She didn’t know that my other girl cousins had similar experiences. That older male relative got married, had children, and unfortunately continued his inappropriate curiosity. Since then, I have had many episodes of guilt. “Should I have said something?” Maybe, but I was young and trusted all the adults involved.
If my parents had any weakness, it was shoving the hard, emotional things under the rug. Ignore it and it will go away. But those things didn’t go away.
So I was very good at following rules, and I excelled in sports, academics, and music at my small school. When I went off to college, it was with the knowledge that I would do well. I did OK. I got to play college volleyball, was involved with the collegiate choir and got passing grades without too much work.
Then one spring break I took a train down to St. Charles, MO to visit my second cousin and her family. I had a good time with them and at the end of the week, my second cousin’s mother drove me home for Easter. Her parent’s lived across the street from my parents, so it wasn’t a big deal.
I was practicing a song for church on Easter Sunday. Or rather I was practicing two songs. I remember them both. One was “Was it a Morning Like This” and the other was suggested by my dad’s cousin. The Via Dolorosa.
I was practicing the song in the car on our 3 plus hour trip from St. Charles to Toulon. At one point we started talking and my aunt pulled out a little card and asked me if I’d seen this and understood it. Written on the front was the title “The Sinner’s Prayer”. I read it over and handed it back to her. I understood what it was saying. I was familiar with all the bible stories. I had gone to church. None of this was new information. But seconds after I handed it to her, she handed it right back and said. “Read it again.” That took me aback. “Read it again? Didn’t she know I knew what it said? What was she trying to do?
So I took that piece of paper. I looked over the words. As I read them slowly in my head, I realized that all the knowledge in the world wasn’t what this Jesus wanted. He wanted me. Specifically me. It became personal, it wasn’t just knowledge any more. That day, March 24th, 1989, I gave my heart to Jesus. I met him personally. And that Sunday I sang for the first time as a saved believer.
I renewed my “rule following” with new vigor. As I told you before, I had the knowledge, but not the relationship. I started attending church regularly again and started attending at school as well as at home. Because that's what Christians are supposed to do.
I did a lot of seeking to better understand the Christian life and find out all the rules I needed to follow. But I did not find a church that studied the bible. I didn’t know the difference. All churches are the same right?
And then I met my first husband.
He had a lot of good things going for him. He was decisive and seemed to know what he wanted. His home life was very sketchy. I found out his dad was an alcoholic and his mother ruled with an iron fist. With three boys and one girl, they didn’t have a lot of money or possessions. I was sympathetic to his struggles. One thing that was new for me was his belief and knowledge of God. He was a believer and we talked about a lot of things, including his desire to become a missionary.
So I fell for him. He wasn’t perfect, but neither was I. I saw so much potential in him to be a great godly man. I felt that God was leading me to marry him.
My parents were not so excited about him. He was a little younger than me, didn’t have a steady job, and still lived at home. They felt my church and religious life was pretty radical. But they gave their permission for our Union.
Life was good for a while. We had the usual struggles of learning each other and working together. I got pregnant and had my daughter, Victoria Christine (but we just call her Tory). I tried hard to be a submissive wife and godly woman, not only because I believe that’s what a Christian does, but because it was a priority for my husband. Our church at the time, while teaching a lot of biblical truths, was overly concerned with appearances. Did you act like a good Christian? Did you do this? Did you not do that? If you weren’t what they thought you should be, they made you feel inadequate. Not a Christian. It didn’t matter about your heart, just the outward appearances.
My husband was very interested in looking good and making people admire his wit and skills. We never got to the mission field. He said it was because he had a wife and child and needed to provide for them by working, and for all his flaws, he always worked hard to provide, even working several jobs at times
As we struggled through life, I stepped in like the dutiful wife and covered those areas that he was weak in. My focus was on trying to satisfy him, to make him happy. It wasn’t on doing those things that God wanted me to do. I actually thought they were one and the same. It’s taken a long time and a lot of thought to delineate what was going on in our marriage. Wasn’t it my job as a wife to help my husband? Wasn’t I supposed to make him look good? Not embarrass him? To uphold him to everyone? To not argue or nag in public? I was to dress and act in a manner that didn’t embarrass him. I wasn’t to admire others more than him. My focus on what I thought that God wanted was tangled up in my husband’s insecurities. I had completely abandoned myself and became an accessory. Our struggles continued. It was not a healthy relationship. It lasted about 18 years before the cracks began to not only be visible, but caused major issues. I was removed from the house in a trial separation. We tried counseling. Nothing changed.
As the cracks in our marriage got bigger, so did the rift in my relationship with my daughter. It got to the point that my daughter wanted nothing to do with me, and wouldn’t listen to anything I said. She didn’t obey and was outright defiant. Every time I went to my husband for help, he would just say, “you need to change” and not offer any suggestions. I was losing my daughter before my eyes. I couldn’t ask the church to help, what would everyone think? Even my parents had no idea how bad it had gotten until I had to move out. My daughter actively hated me to my face. Part of it was just something we had to go through. And part of it was the dynamics of her dad and I.
I still tried to make it work, but eventually he was the one who decided it was over.
Twenty years of marriage ended and I was now on my own.
When you’ve been working as a team for a long time it’s hard to change to single mode. There are different rules when you’re singing in a choir as opposed to singing a solo. Team sports have a completely different mindset than individual event sports. When the divorce was final, I was alone. There was no one else to consider in any decision, and it was hard to just think about me. What did I want for dinner? Should I buy another pillow? There was no one else to consider. Learning about myself, what I wanted, and who I was, became the hardest part of my growth.
My first priority was to work on my relationship with my daughter. She hated me, but I didn’t let that stop me. I just let her know at every opportunity that I loved her. I had some wonderful support, both from family and friends. I approached a school counselor for help while she was still in high school that was just sent from God. I also moved back to my hometown, renting a room from my aunt. God was so instrumental during this time. I was surrounded by so much support through family and friends. Every encounter was a blessing and an encouragement. God showed me patience and grace and gave me wisdom. God stepped in and blessed all my efforts. It has been a long process, but we’ve worked it out, apologized and forgiven each other and are now closer than we have ever been.
I met Russ about a year after being officially single. We met online. Christian Mingle. After a flurry of emails including a complete auto-biography from Russ, we met in person. I guess it was all history from there.
From the start, this relationship has been the polar opposite of the first one. However, we are both mature people and both have followed Christ for a couple decades.. I am still amazed at the little things that pop up that we agree on, or have similar attitudes towards. Our daughters are just a month apart in age. Our backgrounds are very different in experience, geography and social economic statuses. Russ’ testimony is very different than mine, but we are one in Christ. We are spiritually brother and sister, but also bound in a marriage covenant. I can tell you that this marriage feels and acts light years away from my first. Would I like to change the past? Yes, if I’m honest. But I wouldn’t give up my daughter for anything, or my relationship with Russ. I didn’t know this was my future, but I’m glad it is. Russ says that our experiences are our growth. They make us who we are, and we shouldn’t regret our past. I couldn’t have created or imagined a man more uniquely suited to me. It’s all a God thing and that is so exciting.
So now we are headed into a new phase of life. An adventure phase, but still focused on ministry. We are going to need each other in different ways. It will be a challenge. Am I anxious? Yes. But do we ever really know our future? Only God knows and I will be casting my anxieties, fears, and victories on Him.
In Romans 8 beginning in verse 28 it says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and who he called, them he also justified and who he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”