You're late. Again," I said as I glared at my husband, Art.
"I'm sorry. Traffic was a nightmare."
Not the traffic excuse again, I fumed as I filled Art's plate and slapped it onto the table. We'd been married only two months, but the honeymoon phase was definitely over—in fact, it had never existed.
I forced myself to eat despite the tension crackling between us. As Art took a bite, I was sure I saw an odd expression cross his face.
"What's wrong?" I demanded.
He frowned. "Nothing!"
"You made a funny face. You don't like it, do you? You hate my cooking!" And you hate me, I mentally added.
Art slammed down his fork. "What is wrong with you? You're behaving like a nutcase! You overreact to everything, and it's driving me crazy!"
His words cut me to the bone. "If you were a better husband and loved me more, I wouldn't be so emotional!" I lashed out in retaliation.
We both stormed from the table, leaving the food to grow as cold as the feelings between us.
I don't love him anymore, I thought later as I lay stiffly beside him in bed. I don't even like him. What's happened to us?
But I knew.
A terrible choice
Growing up in a broken home, I'd been rejected by my biological father, who constantly told me he'd never wanted children. I just longed to be loved and accepted.
So when I met Art at a Bible study, I was drawn to his good looks, quiet confidence, and commitment to God. I felt as if he could provide what my father hadn't. As we began to date, I was starved for the love I felt Art offered, and dove completely into the relationship. But still, we had the best intentions for our relationship, vowing we wouldn't kiss, or even hold hands.
Then one night, after we'd been dating about four months, we slept together. It happened only once, but that was enough. I became pregnant.
When I found out, I was terrified. What would my family and church friends think? What would Art think? I was so afraid everyone would reject me, as I'd been rejected in the past.
I knew I couldn't keep from telling Art—eventually he'd figure it out. So one night soon after my discovery, I broke the news to him.
"I'm pregnant," I blurted, in tears.
Though shaken, Art took me in his arms and comforted me. "I love you; we'll get through this together." When I'd calmed, he asked, "What do you want to do?"
"I don't know," I confessed.
"Whatever you decide is fine with me," Art replied. "If you want to keep the baby, that's okay. We'll get married."
"I want to explore all the options," I said cautiously, "including abortion."
Art agreed. "We'll go together."
Several days later we visited an abortion clinic. I sat in the waiting area, terrified someone would recognize me. But I just wanted to make the pregnancy go away. After I was given a pregnancy test, Art and I were taken to a private room for a counseling session. There a woman told me what I wanted desperately to hear.
"Although the test is positive, you shouldn't consider yourself pregnant," she explained. "It's really just cells dividing at this point. We can take care of the problem quickly and easily, and you'll never have to think about it again."
Relieved, Art and I agreed to the abortion. We signed the papers without discussion, and I was whisked away for the procedure. The physician administered the anesthesia, and I drifted to sleep, glad the horrible ordeal would soon be over.
But when I awakened in recovery, instead of feeling free, I was besieged by a growing sense of horror. It felt as if the doctor had aborted part of my heart along with the baby. I began to cry hysterically. Art heard me and charged into the recovery room, picking me off the table and carrying me to the car. I sobbed all the way home, and didn't stop crying for days.
I stayed in my apartment, feeling as if I were covered in a shroud of death. Art didn't understand, and tried everything to pull me from my depression—everything except actually talking about what we'd done.
"Let's get engaged," he said several weeks later as I sat listlessly on his couch. "I know you've wanted us to get married, and I want it too." Then he asked the question I'd waited all my life to hear. "Lysa, will you be my wife?"
My heart melted. For the first time in weeks I felt a spark of joy.
Marrying Art will make everything better, I thought.
But it didn't. We fought constantly throughout our engagement, nearly calling off the wedding more than once. I was quick to anger—even over the littlest things. And Art was bewildered by my behavior. Despite our doubts, we went through with the wedding.
Now, at a time when I should have been feeling the joy of a newlywed, I was miserable. Although Art and I put on happy faces for our church friends and family, inside we were dying. We still never mentioned the abortion—it was the elephant in the room that we ignored. Yet I thought about it all the time, and I knew it was poisoning our marriage.
"There's no hope"
Everything came to a head the morning after our dinner fiasco, when I confronted Art.
"I can't go on like this. You're completely insensitive; you don't care that I'm hurting. And you certainly don't treat me as if you love me. Either we see a counselor, or don't bother coming home tonight."
"Fine," he snapped. "Maybe a counselor can stop you from acting so crazy!"
I wouldn't act this way if you understood, I thought. How can you pretend everything's okay? How can you just forget about our baby?
We made an appointment with a Christian counselor and poured out our story.
"I specialize in marriage problems," he told us. "You two have emotional issues. I can refer you to someone who specializes in that."
But the "specialist" referred us to another specialist. And things just got worse. We couldn't even have a discussion without getting into an argument.
As I lay in bed one night after seeing our third counselor, I was overwhelmed by hopelessness. No one seemed able to help us—not even God. My prayers for marital restoration just seemed to go unanswered, and I was weary in my faith.
I didn't want divorce to be an option. But that left only one other choice. I wish he'd die, I thought. At least that would end this pain.
And then, six months into our marriage, I discovered I was pregnant. Now my emotions were even more in turmoil.
I was overjoyed because I thought God would never allow me to have more children. But devastated at the thought of bringing a baby into the turbulent mess our home had become.
"I don't want our child listening to us scream at each other," I told Art. "We have to fix things between us. I just don't know how."
"I heard about a pastor on the other side of town who does marital counseling," Art said.
"Get us an appointment right away," I urged.
We walked into that pastor's office feeling this was our last chance to heal our marriage. He listened to our story—my painful past, the abortion, our bitter, anger-filled relationship. When we finished, he leaned forward and said, "There's no hope for this marriage."
Art and I glanced at each other in shock. But the pastor raised his hand and continued.
"Until you individually repair your relationships with God and allow him to heal you, you can't begin to work on your marriage. It's impossible to love another person when you desperately hate yourself."
At his words, something in my brain clicked. He's right, I thought. I do hate myself for what happened. I've been expecting Art to make things better, when what I really need is for God to make me better.
"I guess maybe it's time I stopped blaming Lysa for our problems and started taking some responsibility," Art echoed my thoughts.
We left the office armed with a renewed determination to make our marriage work. Still, we had deep wounds to heal, and we knew it wouldn't happen overnight. In the weeks ahead, we coexisted in the same house, as we individually tried to open ourselves to God. Even armed with Scripture verses and a lot of prayer, digging up the pain from the past was intense. While we tried hard to be nice to each other, there were still tense moments in which we fell back into the old pattern of fights. Yet every now and then we'd pray together, and that connection between us began to melt my heart toward Art, giving me hope that I could forgive him and myself.
At the pastor's suggestion, I visited a crisis pregnancy center for counseling and completed their post-abortion Bible study.
It took more than a year of dealing with my pain and regret. But finally I was able to ask God's forgiveness for what we'd done, and I was able to discuss the abortion with Art.
I approached him after one of the Bible study meetings. "I can't stop thinking about the baby we aborted," I told him tearfully. "It's a constant ache."
"It hurts me, too," Art said. "I know I haven't always been as supportive as I should be, but sometimes I feel as if I can't do anything right. You're always angry with me."
"I expected you to fix things, to make everything okay," I admitted. "I know it's unfair, but when you didn't, I'd become angry."
"I wish I could turn back the clock so we could make a different choice, but we both know that's impossible," Art said. "I've prayed to God for forgiveness, and I know you have, too. Can we forgive each other?"
The road to healing
The birth of our first daughter, Hope, was a milestone for us—seeing a beautiful child created from such a devastating relationship. But our bond with God and with each other solidified when we nearly lost our second daughter, Ashley, at birth due to a rare protein allergy. When the doctors gave us five minutes to tell our daughter goodbye before they took her to surgery, Art and I clung to each other and prayed. And miraculously, during Ashley's surgery and throughout the following year of her recovery, our hearts finally meshed together, and the seeds of love began to grow.
Another crucial component of healing came when I felt God lead me to create a ministry to share our story with other hurting people. Talking about my abortion experience taught me not to bottle up my hurt inside, and helped me to be more open with Art. Though we still struggled with anger, we found that expressing our feelings honestly kept them from blossoming out of control. When we argued, we learned to stick to the issue at hand and then move on, without dredging up past hurts. We became more deliberate about choosing to forgive each other. And listening to other women share their troubles helped me see that nobody has a perfect marriage.
Today, Art and I have been married 12 years and are the proud biological parents of three beautiful girls and adoptive parents to two teenage boys from Liberia. I still ache when I think of our lost child, and for the devastation our choice caused our marriage. But I've learned to accept God's loving forgiveness and not blame myself or my husband.
Art and I are a team. We've made the decision that we're going to have a good marriage, and we're both committed to that decision—whatever it takes. We're still human, and we still get irritated with each other. But we no longer explode in anger. We try to laugh a lot. We give grace a lot. We know a successful marriage isn't a matter of chance, but of choice. And it's a choice we make every day.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine.
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