A Way in the Wilderness
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. - Isaiah 43:19 KJV
I didn’t know he was abusive when we married. Henry was more than perfect when we dated. We prayed and went to church together, he was on the church baseball team, he did volunteer work, bought me flowers and groceries, washed my car, was patient, kind, and good-looking, too.
Then we got married, and the abuse started with verbal threats, cruel jokes, telling my friends not to call or come by. The attacks seemed to come out of nowhere, no argument or even mild disagreement. It wasn’t long before the verbal harassment turned into physical abuse. I didn’t acknowledge that it was an abusive relationship until he threw me across the room and into a wall. When he threatened to pour boiling water on me, I had to call the military police. We went to counseling; there were promises of reform, and then six months of respect and kindness. He became the man I fell in love with again.
Were there warnings? Yes, God always provides warnings, but I was too busy trying to heal the wounds of rejection from my first marriage. I wanted a quick bandage to let me know that I was lovable. The only warnings I even allowed myself to get close to heeding were from a couple of friends hinting that this might not be the best move. They sensed I wasn’t ready to hear anything else. As His word says in Jeremiah 17: 9, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I was on the throne of my own heart and took healing into my own hands; I only invited God in to finish the work after the commitments of ’til death do you part were made.
I knew Henry could be abusive, but I made a commitment and decided to leave my hometown in California to travel across country to Georgia, a place I had never even visited before. We packed two big moving trucks. He would drive with our youngest son, Kyle, who was one year old at the time. I drove the other truck accompanied by my six-year-old, Sam, my son from a previous marriage. I followed Henry as best I could from state to state and then, once we left Texas, somehow we got separated. I had a map and the name of the military base he was going to check into, so Sam and I stayed the course.
We arrived at our destination almost a day ahead of my husband. One of the men at the base, Sergeant Vincente, was kind enough to offer his place for Sam and I to rest in and wait for my husband’s arrival. I followed Vincente to his place, which was about an hour away from the base, through long twisty roads and broad four-laned highways. When we arrived, the sergeant looked at me and said, “If you and your husband got separated, it was on purpose. You followed me perfectly.” For some reason, Vincente had chosen to share his observation with me. This was the first of many warnings God orchestrated.
The next day Henry and Kyle arrived and we were able to start our search for an apartment. We quickly found a beautiful place and unpacked. But because I didn’t have friends, family, a car, or a job, Henry had complete control. In a low-growl, menacing tone he said he needed to know where I would be at all times; then Henry put his hands tightly around my throat to let me know he was serious. The children were playing in another room and didn’t notice. I quietly agreed in terrified submission.
Although quickly leaving would have made the most logical sense, there were deep-seated learned behaviors from my childhood that made me feel this was somehow what I deserved. There is a scripture that is often used to speak to parents about raising children who will grow up to love and serve God. Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. - Proverbs 22:6 KJV. However, I think this scripture can also apply to negative training. So a child raised in an abusive household oftentimes learns to accept and expect abusive behavior even when they become an adult. I stayed.
As soon as Henry left for work, I called our old pastor in California to find out what to do. I thought the pastor would tell me that everyone would be praying for our marriage and he was going to provide scripture that would strengthen me to endure. Instead he told me that I was lucky to be alive and the best thing I could do is to find a way to leave. This was my second warning. But that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Since this was my second marriage, the last thing I wanted was to be divorced twice. I thought there must be a way to save our marriage.
Immediately after talking with the pastor, there was a knock on the front door. It was Penny, the rental agent from the office. She said, “You seem like a nice, intelligent lady and I see how attentive you are with your sons. I am wondering if you would be willing to watch children during the day when your husband isn’t here. It’s always nice to keep a little money stashed away for yourself.” I am sure I wasn’t the only tenant who had a good relationship with her children. I thought about what the pastor said. Penny’s suggestion was another warning orchestrated by God. I began babysitting.
By the second week, the neighbor from downstairs started to visit with me during the day. She said, “I noticed that you don’t have a car to get around. If you ever want to go anywhere just let me know and I will take you.” It wasn’t long before I found a writing class that I wanted to attend. I asked for permission to go and, much to my surprise, Henry said it would be okay.
By the end of the first month in Georgia, Henry came home and said, “I think you and the boys need to go back to California.” From everything that God had spoken into my life so far, I should have quickly packed and left. But I felt as though I didn’t have anywhere to go. I was raised in an abusive household, and I didn’t want to impose on my friends. I decided I would live with Henry until I could find a job and a place to stay in Georgia.
In writing class, there was a fellow student, Francine, who was impeccably dressed and carried herself in such a professional manner, I was sure she knew where someone might be hiring. I asked her about possible job prospects and her response was, “ I don’t know about job openings, but I have a house with a spare bedroom and a swing set in the backyard; you and your sons are welcome to move in. I know you don’t have a job, but you can move in now and I am sure you will have one soon.” How did she know? The only information I shared in class so far was my name, and that I had two sons and was married. I hadn’t told her about the abuse and my need for a place to stay, but there she was - a way in the wilderness - with an open door.
That night, after class, we talked for quite a while and Francine told me she was from Philadelphia where she used to work in a battered women’s shelter. During prayer, the Lord told her He wanted to do a new thing in her life which brought her to Georgia. As I shared the journey that brought me to Georgia she repeated the same warning I received from my pastor in California.
The next day, when Henry left for work, Francine came by and picked me up so I could see her house. We prayed together and in this fellowship of prayer I felt at peace and knew that this too was a part of God’s plan. Francine explained the importance of having an exit plan because abusers can be most dangerous once they have been left and realize they no longer have control.
I didn’t move in immediately, but Francine was patient and kind. She visited me and she continued to pray with me. It took a month for me to save up enough money from babysitting to pay my portion of the rent to move in with Francine, as well as have money enough for public transportation to look for a job, and childcare for the children.
I packed up and moved when Henry was not home and, beside a brief phone conversation, he seemed to know that it was coming and didn’t seem too upset. As soon as I moved in with Francine, I began looking for a job and my first interview was for a position as an administrative assistant at a Christian retirement complex - and I was hired that same day.
The location was close enough to Francine’s job so we could commute together. Each morning we would start with prayer and devotions, and my walk with the Lord grew deeper. After a few months, I had saved up enough money for a downpayment for a car. Even though we had separate cars we continued to commute together, trading off cars every other day. Everything seemed to be falling into place, but this transition period was the quiet before the storm.
Although I didn’t know it, Henry had been stalking me. One of Francine’s neighbors told her about a man who was sneaking around the house and trying to look in the windows while we were at work. Then came the midnight intrusions of him banging on the door demanding to see his son. One day my boss came to my office telling me that she received a phone call from my husband making up wild accusations, trying to get me fired. She asked me what I wanted to do.
I felt overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do, but God knew. And with His help, and the guidance He provided through Francine, I was eventually able to get legal protection, move away from the area, and. get established with my children in a new life. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. - Isaiah 43:19 KJV
Some people might call this serendipity or a string of coincidences. I call it God’s love. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. - Romans 8:38 NKJV
This testimony is true but the names of the people have been changed. It is my hope that in sharing this story it will encourage someone who may be going through a similar situation to seek help. God has already made provision and healing. While it may not be easy, please remember Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.