It was three-o’clock in the morning when short, sharp raps on my bedroom window startled me into consciousness. Eventually I became coherent enough to recognize the face of my fiancé, Craig, through the glass, urging me to let him in. I stumbled to the front door, fumbled with the lock, and invited him inside, whereupon he shoved his opened journal toward me and said, “Here. I need you to read this.” Confused, I took the book from his hands. A wave of nausea surged up my throat as I read the previous night’s entry detailing how much power and strength Craig would feel to just ball up his fist and punch me, with all his might, in the face. Trying to maintain my composure, I handed the journal back to him and asked, “What is this? Are you saying you will hit me once we are married?” He responded vaguely that he didn’t plan to, but he needed me to know that he had these kinds of feelings.
I had waited 25 years to find the man I wanted to marry. Or more accurately, I had waited 25 years to find a man who was willing to put up with me. At that point in my life, my self-esteem had hit rock bottom. Various events throughout my lifetime had convinced me that I was not pretty enough, talented enough, smart enough, worthy enough to find a husband who genuinely loved and cared for me, but then everything had changed when I met Craig. At least, that is how it seemed at first. Over the course of our engagement I learned things about Craig that would have sent any sane, healthy person running in the opposite direction. But I was neither healthy nor sane, by any psychological definition. I was certain that this was my only chance for marriage, and if it meant taking a few punches, well…I probably deserved it anyway.
We got married and things were as bad as I should have imagined. From the first day of our honeymoon and throughout the five months the marriage remained intact, Craig yelled, criticized, belittled, shook me in anger, punched walls, accused me of infidelity whenever I was 10 minutes late coming home from work. He forbade me from talking to friends or family on the phone, because this meant (in his mind) that I cared more about them than I cared about him. He showed up at my workplace with a list of women’s shelters and asked me to sleep in one because he couldn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t hurt me. His opinion of a wife’s responsibility to “please” her husband whenever and however he wanted was a daily terror, often resulting in my standing in the hottest shower I could withstand, vomiting, after I had “done my duty.”
As the days went on, I descended deeper and deeper into depression, until I finally decided that the only way out of the mess I had created for myself (I assigned no part of the blame to Craig) was suicide. I began to plan and prepare for the day when I would take every bottle of medication we had in the house and swallow its contents. Only then would I finally be safe and free.
I discussed my feelings one day with the therapist with whom I was working, and over the course of that conversation he asked me, “Have you shared these feelings with Craig?” I told him that I had not, and we moved on to other things. But as I walked home from that session, I determined that a “good wife” shares her feelings with her husband. So, I waited a day or two until Craig seemed to be in a relatively good mood, and then I told him how I had been feeling. The explosion that ensued was nothing I ever could have anticipated. He stomped through the house, gathering every prescription pill, aspirin, and cold tablet he could find, then thundered into the kitchen where he dumped them all into the blender with a little water, whirring them up into a deadly slurry. Pouring the concoction into a cup, he stormed toward me, forced it to my lips and yelled, “If you love death more than you love me, then go ahead and do it!”
I actually considered drinking it for minute. And then I realized that Craig was stripping away the very last thing that was mine to control—my own death. I pushed him away, and shouted at him to leave, and never to come back. Thankfully, gratefully, he did just that, and after a few days in heartbroken consultation with my ecclesiastical leader and then an attorney, divorce papers were filed (and eventually my temple sealing—the way that LDS couples are joined together--was cancelled).
Sometimes it is still hard to see the blessings of that situation, and to look back without a great deal of self-deprecation and self-loathing. But in moments of honest and courageous reflection, I find tender mercies springing up from those dark days like dandelions pushing their bright, yellow heads into the sunlight through cracks in hard, hot sidewalk. These tender mercies include friends and family who offered love and support through hopeless days and nights. They involve a deeper sense of empathy for and understanding of those who are now themselves in harmful relationships. Those tender mercies reflect a choice to live, and a new-found ability to stand up for myself. And they illuminate just how very blessed I am to have found a man to marry who truly, honestly loves me—the good and the bad of me—and who has helped as a faithful friend and companion to raise a beautiful family of our own. I don’t know that I would recognize and value the beauty of what I have today if I had not experienced the ugliness of yesteryear’s challenges.
No life is free from pain, suffering, and sorrow. Divinely appointed tender mercies are always available, but not always obvious. I think of the day my five-year-old son had rolled down the car window on a bitterly cold Illinois morning, blasting us all with a nearly arctic chill. As we hollered at him to close the window, explicating vigorously that the wind was far too cold for us, my four-year-old daughter in the back seat declared, “Yeah—but it sure is nice on a hot day, huh dad!” She sought out and found the tender mercy of a cold wind. She found hope in a difficult situation. In like manner, we all can find hope in the tender mercies that rise in every situation. Like the phoenix from the ashes, out of sorrow and pain, there still emerges hope, and in hope we have joy.