That year was the dividing point for Leah’s life. Time would be measured before or after that year.
Sadly, it was a common story: husband leaves wife. Unless you’re a celebrity, people seldom give much thought to such happenings anymore. To Leah, it was not just a statistic because it happened to her. It went deeper than the visible, surface story that everyone saw.
“You are so stupid!” She knew she wasn’t stupid, but after hearing it for so many years, it became a dark, heavy mantle she wore. It sucked the life from her.
“Leave me, and I’ll kill you,” as he kicked her, yanked her hair or threw something at her. By the time she realized that he would never kill her, so many years had passed.
Life was a constant walking on eggshells, trying to gauge his moods and placate him.
Many loved and prayed for her and tried to help; others criticized, viewing her failure to leave as cowardly or foolish. How could anyone know what they would do in such circumstances? Where could she go? Who would be willing to take her and her children in? Did they actually think she wanted any of this?
Endless days of silent screams to be rescued, the smile she put on her face so no one would guess; her fear and hatred of him. Her tenuous hold on sanity was her deep faith in God, the continual awareness of His love for her and her children.
That year she fasted and prayed as never before, driven by feelings of suffocating in a black quagmire of despair, certain she could not survive much longer.
Just before Christmas of that year, he chose to leave. There had always been women, so Leah wondered why now.
He was crying, beseeching her with his eyes to say something. She only felt deadness towards him…or pity, but she knew her pity would anger him. She kept silent, sorting through her own barrage of emotions.
Time passed after that year. She struggled to forgive Joe, praying that she could. She felt the ugliness of it eating at her. In her prayer time, Leah would lay it all before God, but when she felt His Holy Spirit chipping away at her pain, she would brokenly sob, “How can I forgive? It’s not okay what he did to me and my children,” as if the forgiveness absolved Joe of all responsibility of wrongdoing.
More than her desire to nurture her animosity and bitterness was the desire to please God and be free of this vicious, putrid wound that infected her entire being.
It happened when God knew she was ready. He understood that what had grown over many years could not be undone in Leah overnight.
She frequently went to the church in the evenings to pray, either alone or with a friend. Alone that night, Leah paced as she prayed aloud. It was her way of staying focused during prayer. If she sat still and prayed silently, her mind would wander and compile a grocery list, or devise a way to reorganize her closet, or some other mundane thing usurping her prayer focus.
It was hauntingly eerie – the dim light casting elongated shadows on the walls of a slowly moving figure, the indiscernible mumbling interspersed with weeping, the faint sound of footsteps echoing in the large, empty church.
Then He spoke; that inner voice that she had come to know after so many years. His voice was tender yet compelling, compassionate but firm.
He simply said “Forgive.” Leah’s weeping began, the gut-wrenching kind that made her chest and head hurt, her body trembling so hard her bones ached.
“You see Joe as the man who hurt you and your children. I want you to see Joe as I see him.”
Leah’s mind slowly replayed Joe’s childhood: the abusive, alcoholic father, the mother that was repeatedly sent to mental institutions.
“It’s not okay what Joe did to you and your children, but I love him as much as I love you. I longed to draw him to my bosom and heal the pain of his childhood, but he would not let me. I could have helped him be the husband and father he longed to be.”
God’s presence bathed her heart with a love and peace that defied description. The more it flooded her, the more it pushed out the ugliness.
It was three years after that year that forgiveness came and she was finally free.
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