Living Happily Ever After


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At The Church Building

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.

Questions I Pondered as I Drove

Question: Have you ever been foolish enough to wonder if it’s possible to have your heart ripped out of your chest and survive?  Have your spouse of almost 20 years tell you what mine told me, on March 18, 2009, and you’ll know.

The short answer?  Yes.

The long answer?  Keep reading this blog.

Another question: How had everything I’d lived through from March 2009-July 2009 not (physically) killed me?  How had I not at least had a heart attack?

Followed immediately by another query:  How can it be possible to have the rug ripped out from under you, lose your entire life, get thrown off a cliff, survive the fall but land in the biggest giant mess of carnage and sewage imagineable, be hated by many who knew you and many who didn’t for simply surviving the fall and continuing to exist and still survive? (To maintain the integrity of this blog and my life, I should clarify much of the above is simply descriptive language.  I didn’t actually get thrown off a cliff, but it sure felt like it!  However, losing the “rug” underneath the existence of my life and the “filth” of crime, media coverage and publicity, hatred and vilification, being unrighteously judged by others, and everything else…I completely stand by!:)

Question:  Andrea, how do you get up every morning?  How do you get out of bed every day?  I know you don’t sleep anymore, I know you haven’t slept since March 17, 2009…but how do you get out of bed and face what is now your life? (This question I didn’t just come up with on my own.  Many people, good friends, had been asking me that one for a few months.)

There are two answers to all of the above questions, really.  Two reasons why I didn’t lay down and die or wander off into the sunset somewhere like, I admit, I was tempted, on occasion, to do.  Two reasons I didn’t quit or give up.  Two reasons why I got out of bed each morning to face another day in the life I certainly never chose and would never have forced on anyone else (even someone who hated me.) Two reasons I chose to live my unexpected life.  (Because I firmly believe “to live” is a choice.  I’m talking about truly living, not just existing, but carrying on and “blooming” wherever you’re planted.)

One answer is my children.  I survive for them.  Everything I do, I do for them.  To teach them how to live a good life, the right kind of life we all should be living–no matter what happens to us.  To give them a shot at having a future.  To help them achieve their potential and continue to achieve their dreams.  I mean, after all, your dreams shouldn’t change or die just because your life does.

The second answer is because of how I was raised and what I had been taught, especially by the example of the strong women in my family who had gone before me.  Truly, it was they who taught me to carry on NO MATTER WHAT by not just what they said, but by what they did.

I couldn’t believe it.  Another bolt of lightening.  (And thankfully, again, no unfortunate Harry Potter-esque facial scar!:)

I realized, as I drove my Subaru from Colorado to Utah, that I had the misfortune to be  the THIRD generation of Colorado women in my family who had disaster strike, got handed an unexpected life they wouldn’t wish on ANYONE, and left Colorado for Utah to begin again!

How had I never realized that before?

What kind of heritage had I been handed?

And I realized, also in that moment (but not for the first time):  a DARN good one!

I actually WAS prepared as much as anyone could have been.  I had been taught, by those who had gone before me, what to do and how to do it with grace and dignity.  I had been raised by incredible women who practiced what they preached, who carried on in the face of adversity.  I was going to do what they had done.  Because they had done it, too.

THAT is why I knew it was possible to have your heart ripped out of your chest and survive.  THAT is how I knew you could crawl out of the deepest hole of the best sewage life has to offer.  And THAT is why it never occurred to me to do anything but get out of bed each and every morning and carry on.

That is why I kept driving to Utah.