I started to lie to him, but God wouldn’t let me. Douglas and I had been dating for months, but we never talked about marriage. We knew that each of us had been divorced, that we both had went online to the Christian dating site to find life partners who loved God, and that we hoped for marriage, not a casual relationship. Indeed, we agreed to celibacy until marriage, and we were so relieved that the other felt the same way. We so enjoyed so many of the same things and interests. And, although I never forgot that one day I would have to tell him my greatest shame, I kept putting it off, because I did not want to lose him.
I loved being in his presence. A white guy, no less! Who but God knew that he was just what I needed in my life? I wanted a few more months of enjoying his humor, his great cooking, and his amazing knowledge of the Bible. We’d had some of the best conversations about faith, and I wanted that to continue, and I did not think they would once I told him my history. We too often put off telling people the parts of us that we believe they will find disgusting and which will cause them to possibly leave us. But, for relationships to truly work, there has to be a sense that the people we love and want to spend our lives with will tell me the truth when asked even the hardest of questions.
I think of the woman at the well in John 4 when Jesus told her to go get her husband. What a moment for her! I wonder if she thought as I would have,”What will he think of me if he knew that I had been married five times and now live with a man who is not my husband? Will he recoil in horror like other people do? Will he call me the names that others do, the really bad names that prove that words can be as hurtful as sticks and stones? Will he say that he understands now why I have to come to the well alone in the heat of the afternoon rather than with the “good” women in the cool of the morning? Will he take back his offer of the water that allows me to never thirst again?”
Even though she may have feared the answer, she told Jesus the truth, “I have no husband.” And Jesus responded, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” Jesus honored her telling the truth, identifying himself to her as the Messiah, and telling her spiritual truths about God and the need to worship God in spirit and in truth.
Her fears of being ostracized due to her past were unfounded, and through her testimony others came to believe in Jesus. John 4:39 states, “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” What was most important for her was not that Jesus knew her past, but that in knowing her past, he still found her worthy to serve him.
The day came when I was asked the question I did not want to answer, and I decided that only the truth would do. As much as I wanted to lie, I knew that some day he might learn the truth, and that when he knew that I had intentionally lied to him, that day would be the end of his trust and faith in me, meaning the end of our marriage. So, as we sat on my couch discussing a future together, he told me that he had been married the one time and he was ready to try again. He had waited ten years to start dating again, and he believed with all of his whole heart that I was God’s answer to his prayers.
Then he asked, “Have you been married more than once?” I started sweating and tears came into my eyes because just his asking meant that the question was paramount in his mind. But, I looked at him, and I said, “My greatest failures in life have been marriage. I have been married four times and divorced four times.” He looked stricken, and I told him that I understood if he wanted to end the relationship, because that was too much for any man to learn. But he asked me to explain the marriages and what happened.
I told him that I thought that I was the ugliest woman in the world and that no good man would ever want me, so I tended to marry men who wanted me to take care of them. It did not matter to me; I just knew that a woman without a man was seen as having no value, so any man was better than no man, in my way of thinking.
I told him that I had never lived in a home where there was a father-figure, as he had, and that, consequently, I had no idea what I was supposed to be looking for in a husband, but that I had learned through my failed marriages that there is truly a difference between a “man” and someone who wears pants. Then, I told him the stories of each marriage. I will give the Cliff Notes version here so you can understand, too, in hopes to save someone the suffering I endured because I did not know better.
My first marriage ended when he beat me one night and told me that he was going to beat me every day until I learned to respect him. Because as a teenager I had already been beaten for months by someone I never learned to respect, when he went to sleep, I took his last $20, called a cab, went to the Greyhound station, and caught the first bus to Atlanta. I remarried within six months of the divorce, and the second marriage ended when he told me one day as he drove me to work (I had panic attacks on the bus) that he was going to live with his girlfriend, and considering that he did not help pay any bills, I filed for a divorce at lunch time, and hyperventilated all the way home on the bus.
My third marriage happened because one of my best friends thought that her cousin in Jamaica and I would make a good Christian couple, and he seemed very caring and holy. I will admit that God seemed to be screaming, “Noooooo!” in my ears during the ceremony, but I was so lonely that I just did not pay Him any attention. I thought, “Lord, it is okay. He loves you.” But after spending money to bring his four children from Jamaica, I found out from his ex-wife’s sister that the and his ex-wife had hatched a plan to get their children to America for a better life. When confronted, he said,”From evil came good.” And I said, “You can’t get good from evil.” It turned out that we were never really legally married.
I did not marry again for ten years, but I lived with someone for seven years. When he would not marry me, I decided to end the relationship. He threatened to kill himself if I did not marry him, and I did not know that was a form of domestic violence. After the marriage, every time I did something he did not like or spoke to him about something I did not like that he did, he threatened to leave me, and my greatest fear was being alone. When he threatened to burn the house down with me in it if I tried to leave him, I knew it was time to go.
I know that many people will wonder why I would post something that makes me look so stupid and could cause my church to not let me preach ever again, but the purpose of this blog is to help others avoid the same pain and suffering, by helping them see that the psalmist was right when he wrote in Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Unless we give every part of our lives over to God’s bidding, including dating and marriage, we will not find real peace or joy in this life. So, it is a risk I have to take.
I had to learn two very important lessons, if I were going to find true happiness and peace. First, I had to learn to love myself. Because I had not felt loved as a child, I did not see myself as valuable and worthy of true love. One day I read Matthew 22:39, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and I realized that I did not know how to love me. I started reading the Bible, and came to understand that we must see ourselves as God sees us, and that Jesus died and was resurrected for me, too. So, I needed to give myself the same compassion, caring, and validation of worth that I excelled at giving to other people. In doing so, I learned to live alone, to find joy in my own company, a lesson I had to learn to keep from making the same mistakes over and over again. We must be honest about what motivates us to choose the people in our lives, and then if those things lead to continuous suffering, we must ask God for the ability and courage to change our ways.
Second, as a Christian woman, I had to learn that when God says NO, don’t do it!!! God goes ahead of us, and He knows the days of our lives before we ever live one day. But, even though I ignored his advice multiple times, He still loved me and was always a very present help as I endured the pain, grief, and shame that He tried to help me avoid. He brought me through each time, but I could see Him saying when I failed to hear Him, “Oh no, here we go again. What am I going to do with that woman? I just have to keep loving her until she sees the truth!”
I had to realize that He had a plan for my life, not for disasters, but to give me a hope and a future, and that I needed to be still and let Him be God. One night, as I fought the loneliness that so easily led to craziness in my life, I stretched out full length on the floor with my hand heavenward, and I prayed that God would send someone that I could have a 25-year marriage with, so that I did not end up going to Hell. I learned that you have to sometimes be specific about the kind of person you want in your life, not just send me a man, but specify what you would like in a spouse, and, of course, say to God, but thine will be done, not mine.
When Douglas sent me an email via the Christian dating site, I thought at first that God must have a sense of humor, having a white guy send me a note asking to get to know me. I had originally marked the box for only black men, until the night that God woke me in the middle of the night and had me change it to men of all races could contact me. I thought that no white guy is going to pick a black woman, so no harm done. But, here he was, and his profile was just what I had prayed for that night. I spent the best $24.95 of my life to answer his request, and for nearly a year, we had such fun talking and then meeting and sharing holidays with his kids and my children and grandchildren.
Now, back to the dreaded conversation. After he listened to my stories, I told him that I would understand that, as a Christian man, he did not want a wife with such a past. I had given my pilot sermon before meeting him, and I told him that through the grace and mercy of God, I was a changed person, but that I would not hold it against him if he walked away. But, he said that, although it was alarming, he still believed that we were brought together by our Savior and Creator to do a great work for God as a couple. A few weeks later, knowing how much I love puzzles, he and his young teenage daughter showed up to my house with balloons, and he had painstakingly written one letter on each balloon. When I finally untangled them, they read, “Will you marry me?” Now, that’s a man with style and class! I, of course, said yes.
We have been married for 13 and a half years, and are on our way to 25 years and more, if it is God’s will that we live that long or Jesus returns for us. The picture above is us in Kauai, Hawaii, on one of the trips we have taken over the years, and because one of my prayer requests for a husband was someone who loved to travel, I was smiling BIG. I thank God every day in my prayers for the wonder of this man’s love. God having forgiven me my mistakes and placed Douglas in my life demonstrates the breadth, depth, width, and length of God’s love for His children and, yes, I am His daughter, one of the sheep of His pasture.
Like the woman at the well, I had been rejected and abandoned, hurt and ignored, my soul tattered and torn, and it took a personal encounter with God through His words to change me so that He could use me. Despite my past, God has allowed me to serve Him, alongside Douglas, including our writing this blog (although lately only I have been posting). When I preach or teach, I include my stories, when the Holy Spirit deems it appropriate, to underscore the loving gifts of grace and mercy that God offers to everyone who will accept them through repentance and confession. I am His child, just like the woman at the well was, and I, too, am humbled by His presence in my life and His offer of eternal life. It is knowledge too wonderful for me.