Most people have a five year plan. In 2009, I got a five year pumpkin.
I warn you upfront, this post isn’t the result of a three year dating violence study from a well-respected journal or an article written by a professional in the field of crisis counseling.
It’s a piece of my story.
I’ve been uncommonly retrospective lately. I think about what my life is now, and what I thought it would be had you asked me five years ago, and I have to stand amazed at how richly God has blessed my life because of and despite of an abusive relationship. He rescued me from what would have been a terrible marriage. He kept my could-have-been children from a very difficult home life.
In October 2009, I was experiencing a depression which I thought would never lift. I had been suicidally depressed since the beginning of that year, only a couple months after I had started dating, and I was exhausted in every sense of the word. My mind, my body, my soul. I had been ready to give up so many times but somehow I was still dragging myself through my last year of college. I would pray and beg God to let me die. In hindsight, I am so thankful that God gives me what I need, not necessarily what I want.
All that to say, I was sitting on the front porch of my best friend’s house one week night in mid-October. That night, Jen told me about her first dating relationship. Her story had many similarities to mine.
Looking back, I think I knew then that my relationship was going to end soon. Despite the wedding date and the marriage plans, I knew deep down that it was not going to end happily. I felt trapped. I still wanted it to work. I made myself believe that it had to get better. I believed one of the biggest lies ever: “Things will be better once we’re married.”
Jen, her husband, and their kids are honorary family. During that time of life I was at their house on a weekly (sometimes almost daily) basis. In fact, after the break up, Jen was the person who fed me cookie dough and chai tea. And listened to me talk for 10 hours. She cried with me. She shared what she had learned form her own difficulties. She spoke truth to me. I was barely up the stairs when she was hugging me and saying, every now and then, “It sucks. It just does. It sucks. It will suck for a long time.”
Sometimes, it’s nice to have someone say what you’re thinking when you wish it weren’t true.
In October 2009, four years after marrying a man who truly loves and cherishes her, Jen was able to say that all the pain of her first relationship was nothing compared to what God had in store for her ultimately.
We were sitting in rocking chairs on the porch and the kids’ pumpkins were on the stoop. I remember Jen saying something like, “If you had told me five years ago that I would sitting here, at my house, with an amazing husband and two little kids inside, I would not have believed you.”
She didn’t make promises like, “Everything will be fine!”
“I don’t know where you’ll be in five years,” she told me. “Maybe it will be on your own porch with your own husband and kids and pumpkins. Maybe not. But wherever you are in five years, it will be because God brought you there.”
I needed to hear that.
Not long after that night, I received two gifts. One was a stuffed bear, wearing a pumpkin sweater. The other was an actual pumpkin.
This coming October, it will have been five years since we sat on the porch and talked about pumpkins. This coming November, it will be five years since God rescued me from an abusive relationship.
In the strength God gave me, I have taken one day at a time. If you had told me that night on the porch what my life would be now, I would never have believed you.
I’m still waiting for that house and that husband and those sweet babies of my own. But God has been faithful in all things. I was ready to give up so many things that were important to me, things that made me unique, for some guy. I have accomplished things, met people, and grown in ways I never would have had I married him.
People can create check lists like “Three Easy Steps to Finding Success After Abuse” and it looks really neat and pretty and sounds great. But I don’t believe life is that simplistic. To-Do lists are for household chores, not healing. Three easy steps are just hokey if you’re trying to remedy a painful life situation.
Life during and after an abusive relationship is hard! Understatement. It’s overwhelming and discouraging. For all the good that has come into my life over the past five years, I’m still working through past hurts. I still have those weeks where I feel lonely or frustrated or overwhelmed by the uncertainty of my future plans. I still have dreams about him. I still have those nights where I just want to curl up with my good friends Ben and Jerry and pour my emotional woes into that pint of cold, creamy goodness.
All this to say, I looked at my bear from Jen this morning and was really encouraged. There is a verse in the Bible where Jesus Christ promised His followers that He would never leave them or abandon them. If I had accomplished nothing since that night on Jen’s front porch, if I were still deeply depressed, if I were still facing the pain of that relationship, God’s promise to never abandon me would still be true. I know this because during that year of abuse and depression, He didn’t abandon me.
With Jesus Christ in my life, my circumstances have no ultimate control over my future hope.