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Prison Of My Own
Forgiving is essential to healing our inner wounds. It nearly cost me my life to learn that lesson. John and I were soul mates in every sense of the word. We had been married for 13 wonderful years, had two beautiful daughters and lived in an upscale neighborhood in Twinsburg, Ohio. We had the kind of marriage most people dream about. We celebrated our anniversary every weekend instead of every year, toasting with champagne and giving each other loving cards. We left love notes for each other just to brighten our day. There was nothing John and I couldn’t talk about and share with each other….at least, that’s what I thought until August 13th of 1996 when one phone call destroyed so many lives.
“I’m having an affair with your husband,” the female voice stated. “He even took me on his business trip to Pittsburgh.”
My mind whirled. John had just gotten back from a weeklong manager’s meeting in Pennsylvania with the retail store he worked for. Before I had the chance to challenge her claim, she began describing everything he packed right down to his running shoes. There was no room for doubting her. In that instant, my perfect world fell apart. I immediately hung up and called my husband at work, screaming and crying that I knew his filthy secret. What I didn’t realize was our nightmare was just beginning.
John never returned home that night. Instead, he found his secret lover and gunned her down in a fit of anger. She had exposed the side of him he loathed more than anything. With his dark side revealed, he knew he lost everything. He was arrested for aggravated murder and the shooting of his secret lover was splashed in our local media. Not only did I come face to face with the lie I had been living, but now the entire community knew about it as well.
I struggled to overcome what John had done to our world by divorcing him before his trial, moving myself and our children to Florida from Ohio to be near to my family and even eventually marrying a “safe” man who had become my dear friend……but, healing never took place. As the years passed, my anger, depression and pain only grew larger than I was until suicide seemed like my only answer. A bottle of prescription sleeping pills followed by a glass of champagne should bring me the peace I so longed for. In a way, I envied the girl John killed. At least she felt nothing.
On the morning of my planned death, I awoke to a calming white light filling my bedroom. It seemed sounds were clearer. I could hear birds singing in the trees. A lawn mower next door. Children laughing down the street. My soul felt light instead of weighed down by sorrow. I sat up, disoriented and confused. Then a distinct voice spoke to me, as clearly as if someone were sitting right next to me. It said, “Suicide isn’t the way to stop your hurting. Forgive and your pain will be set free.” I had no choice but to believe this mysterious voice. It was as if I were being shown a preview of what it would feel like to forgive and I had to admit, it felt wonderful.
I immediately woke my children and told them it was going to be a special day. We were going to the store and buying their daddy a card to tell him that we forgive him. It had been over a year since we had any contact. I knew John would be stunned, but I felt so joyful. So elated. It didn’t matter how crazy this seemed. All I knew was that it was the only way to heal from the past and find happiness in our lives again. As soon as we sent it, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, our nightmare had an end in sight.
In a cellblock hundreds of miles away, John received mail call. When he opened the card and read that we forgave him, he fell to his knees and wept. Since finding Christ behind bars and relying on his newfound faith to see him through, he had prayed for this miracle. That his family would one day forgive the monster he was and get to know the new man God created. We began corresponding, sharing our feelings and our thoughts. John helped the children and I to understand how important having a faith in God is. That giving his life to Jesus Christ is the only thing that ever filled that empty void inside himself that caused all this. Through sessions with the prison chaplain, John came to see that since his mother left him when he was only 7 years old, he never felt adequate. He carried an emptiness inside that nothing seemed to fill. Even having a wife and children he adored didn’t seem enough. The affairs were temporary fixes to help him feel worthy of a love his mother stole away from him. But, now he knew perfect love. He had a loving God who forgave him and gifted him with a new chance at life. He wanted us to come to know God’s love. He wanted us to find the hope and strength that he had found. He begged me to take the children to church and let God help us to heal.
The closer we got to God, the further my new husband and I drifted. Bobby didn’t believe and only needed his beer to help him feel better. Our marriage was based on friendship only and was a faulty attempt to replace all that was lost in our lives, but as time went by, it became apparent that our union was a mistake. Bobby moved out and the girls and I were finally free to explore the new relationships that were making us so much happier. A relationship with God and with the new man behind prison walls. John still was a part of our hearts.
We went to visit John and had five wonderful days together, holding hands, laughing, crying, sharing, and praying. To our amazement, our family bond was still in tact. We were maimed, bleeding, damaged from the past, but somehow we were pulling together. It didn’t make sense. John had a 15-to-life sentence and our future seemed hopeless, yet God was so at work in our shattered family. I knew without question that He wanted us to trust in His plan no matter how many obstacles we faced.
“What’s in the box?” Mariah asked, peering over her sister’s shoulder.
I smiled at my daughters and gazed at the package the mailman just delivered in my name. I was just as puzzled as they were. Quickly, I peeled away the brown paper and opened the long slender box filled with green tissue paper. Inside was a bouquet of red silk roses with a card tucked between the stems.
“What does it say?” Vanessa asked, as wide-eyed with curiosity as her little sister.
Tears streamed down my face as I read the words that John had written on the card. Words he said to me another lifetime ago, yet now had a new and deeper meaning. “Will you marry me again?” I read out loud. The three of us looked at each other and burst into a round of smiles. We knew it was the right thing for all of us.
God smiled down at us on our wedding day. Although it was in the confines of a prison, I wore a magical Cinderella wedding dress with a long three-tiered veil and my daughters wore ivory bridesmaid dresses. The Mayor of Mansfield conducted the ceremony under the watchful eyes of several prison guards. Yet, when John and I joined hands and exchanged our vows, there was no one else in the room. We weren’t a couple separated by electrical fences and coiled barbed wire, we were two people who had been through the worst storm imaginable before God healed us and brought us back together. We were a husband and wife who were closer in our hearts and in our spirits than most people on the outside would ever be. We were a family who had survived the unthinkable, yet stood proudly on this day to celebrate our rebirth. With God as our foundation, we knew we could face whatever the future had in store. We would survive anything from that day forward…..together.
It has been nearly four years since John and I remarried. It’s not an easy life. It is very lonely, I struggle as a single parent with finances, and the empty chair at the dinner table where my husband used to sit never gets easier to look at. But, at the same time, I praise God for what He has done in our darkest hour. We are all such different people with our hearts grounded in faith. We are stronger, closer; we never take anything for granted anymore. We now dedicate ourselves to working with other prison families in our community and sharing our story worldwide. To my amazement, people have responded by saying that our testimony has helped them to strengthen their own faith and to forgive someone in their life. I even got a letter from a young man in a prison cell who read “Prison Of My Own” and said it showed him the pain he has caused his family and now he wants to change. God has taken our tragedy and touched other people’s hearts in such a positive way. That was why He wanted our family to survive when I thought there was no way. He had His plan for us to stand strong no matter how hopeless things seemed so that we could inspire other hurting people and show them the power of forgiving.
We take things one day at a time and keep trusting God to bring my husband home. In His time, when He feels we are ready, I know we will be a family outside of those prison walls and continue to share our story together. In the meantime, we give thanks for the miracles we’ve been given. We could have lost each other forever, but instead we are a loving family. A family that God wrapped his arms around and wouldn’t let go of. He taught us all how to forgive and love again so that despite the prison walls between us, we are all finally free.
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