Prior to March 18, 2009, it had been my privilege to love and serve 225 women as president of the women’s organization of my church congregation. A few days after He revealed His crimes to me, I received word that our pastor wanted to meet with me.
The pastor had been a good friend AND a business partner of my spouse in a construction project. He, more than anyone else in the world, knew exactly how innocent I was of any crime or wrongdoing because he had been deceived as completely as I had. We both knew the extent of the other’s innocence and betrayal. I will never forget that moment of seeing him for the first time after everything was out in the open.
He stood, at the far end of his office, with tears streaming down his face. I stood there crying, too. He said he was sorry; I said, “Me too.” And we talked about our shock, grief, the betrayal, my children, his problems, and a host of other things. Then he mentioned my service to the women, told me he felt I should be released, he apologized that it would make me look guilty to some but that releasing me sooner, rather than later, would be best for the women of the congregation. However, he told me if I wanted him to wait a week or two, they would consider it.
For the first time in my life, I felt I was in no position to serve anyone else. And the damage to my reputation was done–guilt by association in the eyes of some, but those who knew me, who really mattered, knew the truth about me. I, frankly, couldn’t afford the mental energy to worry or care for too long what anyone else thought of me. I had enough problems of my own to solve. I told our pastor I had no objection to taking care of my release as quickly as possible. And that was that.
I drove away from the church building, shaking my head, and thought, “That certainly wasn’t how I envisioned my service ending! Cut short due to the criminal activity of another, the timing making me appear guilty of something, and not a thanks for your service, good job, or even a thank you for trying!”
I laughed outloud as I drove down the road toward what had once felt like home.
Life is full of unexpected experiences.
I had never lived my life, or served in my church, to be praised by others OR to be thanked. It didn’t matter. And my poor pastor had other huge personal concerns. I am sure what he thought he said sounded better than what actually came out of his mouth. No worries.
But Sunday, that first week after my spouse revealed His crimes, was a worry.
I knew I belonged in church. I knew I needed to be in church, for me and for my children. But I can’t tell you how I dreaded it that first Sunday. My former spouse had served as a pastor of our congregation for five years and the news about him was out. I had served and been active in our congregation, as well, and didn’t look forward to facing everything and everyone in church as my own ponzi-victim version of a “fallen woman” or an “outcast.”
But as I’ve said before, you can’t go over it or around it, you have to go through it.
One of my kids asked, ‘We don’t have to go to church this week, do we?” I answered, “Of course we do! That is what we do on Sunday. We don’t stop doing what we should do just because life gets hard. We need to be there! We believe in choosing the right! ”
So we went to church.
We pulled into the parking lot and I forced myself to get out of the car. As I headed toward the building, I saw HER across the parking lot. A member of the congregation and a victim of my spouse. She saw me, changed course, and headed right for me. Her steps were quick and determined. All in my direction.
My heart sank. I fought panic and fear. My kids were with me, I was feeling pretty fragile, I had already been verbally assaulted by a few victims and I wasn’t sure I was up for another confrontation. My mind raced as I thought, “What am I going to say? What am I going to do? How am I going to do this?”
I should have given HER more credit.
She came toward me…and embraced me. I was so overwhelmed by fear, by her charity, by my sorrow for her loss, by my sorrow for my loss, by her love and compassion for me in spite of what my spouse had done to her all I could do was sob as we stood in the parking lot. I will never forget her character in that moment (and in the many moments since that day.)
“I’m so sorry!” I cried.
She stood back, grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye and asked, “What are YOU sorry about? YOU did nothing! YOU don’t have to apologize to anyone for anything.” And she hugged me again. I don’t know everything about her life, but I know, like all of us, she has had challenges and hardships she has worked diligently to overcome. But that moment has to be one of the finest of her entire life–past, present, or future. I will never forget it.
It gave me added strength to continue toward the building and enter the chapel. I was there to be released from my service to the women of the congregation and to be an example to my children of carrying on in the face of adversity. I sat on the bench, tried not to cry, and was completely unsuccessful. I felt like all eyes were on me. In many ways, I think they were. But every time I dared look up, or mustered the courage to look someone in the eye, they looked back at me with tears in their own eyes and smiled encouragement. Some passed me quickly jotted notes on scraps of paper, writing words of support and love and gratitude for something I had taught them.
But my children were another story.
My daughter sat through church perfect, silent, closed, and angry. She didn’t shed a tear.
My oldest son sat through church with tears streaming down his cheeks the entire meeting.
My youngest, too little to understand but able to sense trauma, clung to me and cried.
And although the reactions of my grief-stricken children trying to get through their first Sunday after life as we knew it had ended broke my heart, my middle son shattered it. He sat next to me and wrote his thoughts on a piece of paper, “My dad is going to prison. I can’t believe our dad tore our family apart for money.” And, the one I haven’t been able to forget, “There is a hole in my chest where my heart used to be.”
Nine years old. With a huge, gaping hole where his heart used to be.