By Pringle Franklin
Think of February and most of us will immediately be reminded of Valentine’s Day long before we think of President’s Day or probably any other day. Valentine’s Day is another one of those holidays that tends to evoke feelings of the best of times or the worst of times, depending on the state of our closest relationships. In the creation story, the first thing that God ever said that was not good, was that man should not be alone (Genesis 2:18). We human beings are created for connection- with God and one another. Indeed, the entire story of Scripture is related to a Loving Father God who is working to restore broken relationship with us and provide a Bride for His Son, who, in turn, gives His Father children through His work on the cross. We, created by love, are both! We are caught up in the most painfully wonderful love story ever created. And we live in these same relationships here on earth. All of us have relationship stories that have brought us amazing joy and great pain. Fortunately, we have a loving God who has much to offer us as we navigate these relationships.
Local author, Pringle Franklin, interviewed 8 couples whose marriages were on the brink of ruin yet were restored through hard work and God’s guidance and grace. Enjoy this excerpt from her book, Hope & Healing in Marriage: True Stories of Renewed Love:
The birth of their first child should have drawn Melinda and Rick closer together; instead, tensions inflamed over the question of who would care for their newborn son. Melinda wanted to quit her nursing job and become a stay-at-home mom. Rick, a male nurse, insisted that they needed both of their incomes to support their family and the household of his ex-wife and 5-year-old son. Melinda put Baby Billy in daycare and dutifully returned to her hospital job in Charleston, S.C., but she was seething inside.
“After that, it was like, this is war,” she said. Melinda went out of her way to make Rick miserable.
As the months rolled along, their life morphed into a daily war; Sunday mornings were especially tense. Melinda had grown up a Southern Baptist and wanted to raise Billy in the church. Rick was agnostic, yet to prevent more arguing, he agreed to tag along to worship services. But he made it clear: attending did not equal believing.
“If the pew catches on fire while you’re sitting there, I’m moving,” Melinda said.
Fatigue contributed to her frustration. They both worked long hospital shifts all week. There was hardly time to rest on weekends as they took care of Baby Billy as well as Rick’s preschooler. The two young boys kept them busy, and by Sunday morning, the parents were stressed. It was hard getting everyone dressed, pressed, and polished for church. One Sunday Melinda lost her cool and started shouting insults at Rick in the front yard. Another time, Melinda raked her nails across Rick’s face. When friends asked about the red marks, Rick pretended he had scratched himself on a bush while doing yard work.
“She was just so angry, she hated my guts,” Rick recalled.
Rick wondered what had he done to deserve this. Perhaps Melinda was his punishment for divorcing Kim, his first wife. If there was a God, he seemed intent on making Rick’s second marriage a living hell. Rick still felt guilty about initiating the divorce with Kim; he did not want to be the one to bail out on another marriage. He promised himself he would not walk out on his second wife.
His escape would have to come another way.
Many nights Rick lay in bed, praying that God -- or fate -- would let him die. Suicidal fantasies thrashed against the shore of his imagination like wild, dark waves. He’d make it look an accident. He’d get outrageously drunk and smash his motorcycle headlong into a tree.
No! What was he thinking? His sons needed him to be their dad. Melinda must be mentally ill like her father, who had a been mean and abusive throughout her childhood. If Rick could just hold on, Melinda was likely to implode. “I thought eventually Melinda would kill herself,” he says. “She seemed so unhappy. She hated me so much. I thought that was what would get me out of this.”
Most days, Rick tiptoed around Melinda, hoping not to provoke her. When she did explode, he remained calm. That upset her too.
“Why do you want to stay married? Or even want me here?” she’d yell.
“I don’t know, Melinda,” Rick would answer quietly. “I just kind of think that, maybe, tomorrow will be different.”
Melinda would glare. “Tomorrow will never, never be different,” she’d shout.
She wouldn’t admit it, but Melinda was exhausted from the fighting. She had decided that Rick was her problem. One night when Billy was asleep, Melinda was sitting on her bed just looking at her husband. “I told him I wanted to get out of the marriage,” she said. “I can’t live this way anymore.”
Rick studied her. She expected to hear that same old speech about tomorrow being better. Rick surprised her. “If you really feel that way, Melinda,” he said, pausing, “then maybe… you should go.”
There. It was decided. This roller-coaster marriage was finally over. What a relief! Melinda took a few days to figure out a strategy for the separation. She decided Rick should move out and let her stay in the house with Billy.
“I will never leave you, Melinda,” Rick stated.
Very well then! Melinda could not live with that man any longer. She announced that she would pack her bags and take Billy with her. Impulsively, Rick uttered the only words that could have stopped Melinda from parachuting out of their crashing relationship. Even Rick was surprised to hear himself.
“You know, Melinda,” he said, “if this marriage could be saved, I could almost believe that there was a God.”
Was he serious? Melinda reeled in shock. How could Melinda walk away from a challenge like that? At church and Sunday school, she had been trained to share the good news about the love of Jesus Christ with each and every soul who would listen. She would feel like the ultimate failure as a Christian if she abandoned her own husband at the first signs of a potential faith. But how could she stay married to Rick? Even the sound of his breathing annoyed her. He represented every irksome thing about her life.
Besides, she would be suffering for nothing. Did God really think a skeptic like Rick would ever come to faith? Melinda prayed silently in protest. “I said, ‘God, you’re playing dirty,” she said. “I can’t do this.”
She felt like the Lord said, “Melinda, this is about so much more than a marriage.”
Melinda yearned to walk out on Rick; instead God wanted her to live out her faith in front of him. “I was trapped,” she said.
She decided to stay, not knowing what to expect.
Life is all about relationship. Our lives and relationships, trusted in the hands of our loving God can be restored and redeemed. He offers hope and comfort in the midst of our deepest struggles and losses. Find out the rest of the story by ordering Hope & Healing in Marriage: True Stories of Renewed Love on amazon.com.
Pringle Franklin is the author of Hope & Healing in Marriage: True Stories of Renewed Love. She is a teacher/speaker in church settings on topics such as marriage, relationships, and forgiveness; she also leads classes on Meditative Prayer at St. Philip's Church downtown and The 7 Nightingales Center in Mt. Pleasant. Ms. Franklin, a mother of three, is a former news reporter for The Kansas City Star.
Ms. Franklin is currently looking for stories of how God brought healing to couples or individuals after a divorce. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a story to share.
Article previous published in the February 2017 edition of The Carolina Compass.