Chapter 13- Spring 1850

Spring of 1850

Catherine had begun meeting with Harriet almost daily for afternoon tea. They often prayed together, talked together, read together, and always Catherine left feeling as though God had given her soul a gift in this old woman.

It was no extraordinary day when Catherine grabbed her cloak to leave for afternoon tea with Harriet.

“Where are you going?” Dane asked.

“To have tea with a friend.”
“Did you not do that yesterday?”

“Yes, I did, but we were not quite able to finish our conversation.” He said no more, and she kissed him on the cheek and bounded out the door. The kiss was a habit she had purposely formed, and though it was difficult at first, not knowing how he would respond, she had kept it up and imagined that he was growing warm to it. It was what little physical contact she and her husband shared, and she hoped to gain back his trust, his soul, his mind, and body. She knew it would take time, but that she had plenty of.

 

Shortly after arriving at Harriet’s small, humble home, the thunder came rolling in and the rain began to make soothing pitter patter sounds on the roof above their heads. Harriet poured the hot tea and sat down across from Catherine. With the hot cup in her cold hands and the thunder and rain outside, Catherine thought there had never been such a perfect moment in time.

 

They heard a knock at the door.

“What an odd time for a caller,” Harriet said, “in the pouring rain.” She moved to hoist herself up.

“Oh, stay, I’ll answer.” Catherine moved toward the door, opened it, and stood in shock. Before her stood her own husband, sopping wet and with a flustered look on his face.

“Dane! Come in” He glanced at Harriet, then around the room. “Is everything alright? Has something happened that you’ve ridden here in the rain?”

“Happened?” He asked. He sounded confused. “No. Nothing has happened. You forgot your, umbrella.”

“Oh, how thoughtful of you. Did you bring it, then?”

“I dropped it on the way.”

“Oh.”

“And I have a meeting this way, I thought I might meet the friend who have spent so many afternoons with.”

“I am sorry to have never offered to introduce you to Harriet. Harriet, this is my husband, Dane.” He held his hand out to her.

“My pleasure.” She took his hand in both of hers.

“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you,” Dane said, looking flushed and out of sorts.

“Are you quite alright, dear?”

“Yes. I have a meeting in town I’d better be getting to. I must pull my shares out of the cotton industry you know. India provides cheaper cotton to Britain now than we can.”
“I didn’t know,” said Harriet.

“Yes, well, I’ll be off.” He turned and disappeared into the rain.

 

“What a strange husband I have married! He seems to grow stranger by the day. Not a lick of interest in me for some years now, and then suddenly he rides through the rain to bring me an umbrella.”
“Odd indeed.” Harriet agreed.

 

On a cold September day,  Catherine reached Harriet’s home at her usual time,  but no one came to answer. Quickly assuming the worst,  she rattled the door handle and, finding it to have been left unlocked, burst through the door.  Harriet was not there. At least, she thought not until she heard a faint whimpering. She moved toward the sound,  opened Harriet’s bedroom door, and found her kneeling, praying, crying.

“Why Harriet,  whatever is the matter?” She knelt down beside her and thought she’d never looked so small and frail before,  she looked almost the size of a child. Catherine put an arm under Harriet’s elbow and gently lifted her to her feet.  “What’s happened?” When she’d gained enough composure, she said, “It’s time I let you in on a little secret about your old friend,  Harriet.” She patted her eyes dry, motioned for Catherine to follow her, and moved down the hall into the bedroom across from hers. She rustled through a chest and came up with an old picture.  A picture of a woman and two children. The woman and the toddler in the photograph were of a light complexion much like Harriet’s. The older child, whom Catherine supposed to be eight to ten years old,  was of a dark complexion.

“Who are these?”

“My mother and my sister.  And myself.” Catherine stared,  trying to figure it all out. “Sit down, dear.” Together they sat at the edge of the spare bed.  “When I was a baby, so young I cannot remember any of the actual event, my mother crossed over.” Then,  reading Catherine’s quizzical look, added. “She passed. As white, that is. Her father had been a slave master,  and likely her mother’s father. It’s hard to say exactly except that she was quite fair skinned. She married a black man who was of the same household.  But when I was born white, the master’s wife insisted I be sold. Instead, my father, or my mother’s husband, insisted that she cross over. Pass as white. And escape with me as her daughter and my sister as a house slave.  He knew, she had only to cross the magical line into freedom. So, together they bleached her hair, stole clothes from her mistress, and vanished into the night. Escape was easier for my mother than for many others, but she still needed to get fat enough away that no one knew her.  She never saw her husband again. But my sister’s dark skin and my light skin made life very painful for her, even in the north here.” Catherine thought of how Harriet often switched back and forth from accent to sounding quite like Catherine. It made sense to her now.

“But what has brought you to your knees in tears now, today?”

“Oh I’ve picked up a newspaper.  I usually know better than to do that very often.  But a law has been passed. The Fugitive Slave Act,  they call it. Senseless, it is. Slaves are now to be returned even in the free states. The underground railroad will have to extend into Canada now.  

“Try to understand. I am not ashamed of where I come from. But to claim that I understand….that I remember life before I was white….that I even remember my sister before she was sent up to Canada with my mother’s sister. I can’t remember hardly any of it. My mother gave me this picture when she thought I was old enough to keep the secret. She told me why we had our own special way of talking to each other that was slightly different from how we talked in public. Often in tears, she talked of my sister, promising me and herself that she had never planned to send her away….that she had no way of knowing how hard life would be even in the north….that she did what she thought was best for her. My poor mother. Her broken soul. I think of her often, her hands clinging to her Bible. Her tears shed every night.  I couldn’t understand it all. I was white. I had been born white. I had no memories of anything to the contrary. And yet, their story is a part of me. I have their blood. And this law. This evil, treacherous law…oh, I can hardly stand it. Here I am living a lie. Living in freedom and relative comfort, while my brothers and sisters suffer. Oh, Catherine, if only I had done more for them. If only.”

 

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Chapter 12- Summer 1849

Summer 1849

 

There was no way out. One of them had to go. It had been nearly four years of constant struggle, and she could take it no more. Her thoughts were dark, as dark as ever they had been. She had only to decide if it would be her own life she would end, or his. Whether or not anyone would believe it had been self-defense, she did not know. It didn’t matter. But could she live with herself if she went through with it and was allowed to live? She did not know. She only knew that something had to change. That she was stuck in a marriage that was killing her soul slowly. That she hardly recognized herself in either action, word, or looks. Where was that girl? The girl she was five or even ten years ago. Had it really been that long since she ran the countryside on Chestnut, free in spirit and mind? Could it have been so long ago since she was the talk of the town…the girl who could have swept any man off his feet. And yet she had pledged her life to one who would ruin her. She had lost two unborn children since then, and she tried to comfort herself with thoughts of meeting them again on the other side.

I wonder if they are waiting for me, up there. I wonder if they were boys or girls or one of each. But then, the disturbing realization hit her like an avalanche. If she tried to go to them, it was more likely than not she would instead separate herself from them forever and end up in eternal torment. Could someone who took themselves out of misery ever be admitted into paradise? She suddenly wished she had been to church more. Perhaps she would know the answer. Church. God. If anyone cares, surely He would. If He were really there, surely He could help her.

She felt she had come to the very end of herself. She had exhausted all options, so that even ending her life was no longer feasible.

 

But God, she whispered desperately, would you really do that to me? Would you really make me face life with this man…this shell of a man? You’ve taken my children from me….my only chance at happiness and comfort in this life. You have left me alone with a man who cannot love me. I am alone, God. Utterly alone. Do you care? Oh, God, if you are there, Do you care for me? Why would you create me, allow me to be born and to live to adulthood only to leave me alone with a man who cannot love, cannot even feel? A man who does not know what it does to me to be so very alone in life. And if I end it, God, will you not receive me? Will you not give me some comfort? Will you not allow me to hold my children?  And for a moment, she wondered if they were yet the unborn ages they were when their souls left their tiny helpless bodies inside of her. Or if they had grown since then and were in fact ages three and two. She wondered what they looked like, what they acted like, and who they had become attached to on the other side. Perhaps one of her grandparents she’d never met. Perhaps Jesus himself. She didn’t know, but she couldn’t help but wonder and long to be there with them. But she saw no way out. No option of getting there. If she left this world at her own hand, now, she was unsure if she would be reunited with them in the next.

 

God….God what should I do? Her whispers had turned to desperate cries and she clutched the rifle in her fist.

 

She felt a sudden surge of energy unlike anything she had ever felt before. She grabbed her cloak, turned for a moment to look at Dane’s large figure on the bed, and pushed through the door. She mounted Chestnut. She was old, but sure and she knew the way to town by heart, even in a night as black as this. Catherine need hardly guide her. She knew not where, exactly, she was going. She knew not what drove her there, but as Chestnut picked up pace, she buried her head in the coarse mane and continued in desperate whispers to ask God what He could possibly want with her.

Chestnut stopped of her own accord.

St. Lukes.

A lamp was burning in the front window. Catherine dismounted, and pushed through the front door. She saw no priest.

“Hello,” she called, “Is anyone here?”  She looked around, but saw no one. Odd she thought, I wonder why the lamp is burning. Then she heard a faint sound in the distance, and she moved toward it. It took her out into the hall where the sound became more distinct. It was singing, someone was singing. Catherine moved toward the voice until she could hear the words,

 

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Look Full in His Wonderful Face

And the Things of Earth

Will Grow Strangely Dim

In the light of His Glory and Grace

 

Oh, Soul are you Weary and troubled?

No light in the darkness to see?

There’s hope for a look at the savior

And life more abundant and free

 

It was as if the words were written for her soul. Yes, she thought, I am weary. I am troubled. There is no hope. No light.

 

“Hello,” she called again. The voice continued in song. “Hello!” she called in a loud voice that reverberated against the walls.

 

“Oh, well hello dear!” A small, frail woman turned the corner.

“I’m looking for someone who can help me.”

“No one here tonight but me, dear. I believe I have quite lost track of time.”

“Oh. Well. Perhaps you can help me, then.”

“Perhaps I can.”
“I came here because…because I don’t want to be me anymore.” She could not quite find the words to describe how she felt or why she was there or what it was that she had just been about to do. She thought she sounded foolish, her words jumbled together and barely making sense even to herself. But the old woman smiled knowingly and gestured for her to sit down with her on a pew near the front of the church. She sat.

 

“It’s an odd thing it is, to change one’s insides. To switch out your soul. No matter how you try to be better person, it can’t be done. You’ll try til you’re blue in the face, but you still got the same insides. And all that tryin won’t make a lick of difference.”

 

“Change your insides. Switch out your soul. Do you really think….can it really be done?”

 

“Daughter, I’ve done it myself”

 

“How, please, how?” Her voice came out trembly and desperate. She all but fell to her knees at the old woman’s feet.

 

“To give your soul to the who gave your breath,” said the woman. Catherine thought it something mysterious, to see eyes ablaze with young life embedded in the leathery, wrinkled, old face.

 

“Please,” said Catherine, “I’ve nothing left to do but that. If you only knew what I’ve done. Or what I was about to do. I’ve as good as done it. If I go home now, one day I will. There’s no doubt about that. I will do it. I should be hanged. I don’t want to be me any longer. There is something dark and sinister and alive within me….something I don’t want but cannot be rid of. It harbors my anger and lashes out before I can stop it.”

 

“You are possessed, child?”

“No. No, not possessed. T’would be better if I could believe I was. This is much worse. The anger isn’t something residing in me. It is me. A part of me. I am….I am….something…someone I never wanted to be. Someone I never thought I could be.”

 

“Ah, child, but you are right where you should be now.”

“What do you mean? How could I be? Where I should be is hanged from the gallows.”

“Ah, but you’re not. And someone brought you here to me tonight. Someone drove you here. Else you wouldn’t be here.” At this, Catherine’s tears began to fall free and fast and warm upon her cheeks.

“What should I do? How can I…..how did you say it? Change my insides? Switch out my soul?”

“You’d like to be new, child? New you shall be. You can say it, if you like. You can say it, what’s in your heart. Say it to Him.” And she pointed a knobby wrinkled finger to the ceiling. Catherine brushed her tears quickly from her face and turned to face the alter at the front of the building. She fell to her knees, and in a voice she barely recognizable as her own, called out to the only One who could help her now.

“God, if you’re there as I’ve always been taught You were. Well, then you know what I’ve been about to do. You know what was in my heart. The thoughts that were in my mind. You know I ought to be hanged. But you carried me here. What is it you want with me, a murderer at heart? A wicked, selfish, cruel person. What could you want with me? I’ll tell you what I want with You. I want for you to switch out my soul. I want for you to change my insides. I want for you to…to forgive me for what I’ve thought and what I’ve done. And what I would have done if you hadn’t stopped me. I want for you to change me.” The tears were falling, and her heart was beating fast and steady. She felt a small cold hand on her shoulders.

“You are forgiven, child. It’s what the cross does mean. You ought to have been hanged, you said. But He was hanged for you, and you are new. Forgiven like you asked. His arms open wide. But you hurt, my child. I can see it in your eyes.  A new soul you got, but the hurt….the pain….it lingers. It hides in the crevices of your heart. But you have a Healer now. And when hurt comes, and come it will, you will ask Him to heal.

“I will ask him to heal.” Catherine turned and looked up at the frail old woman, and the woman lifted her chin, took her face in her hands, and kissed her on the forehead. A cold, rough, dry kiss but it was the greatest act of warmth and kindness done to her, and Catherine wept.

Before dusk, she rode home, quietly opened the door, and walked across the room. Dane still slept soundly. He never heard her leave. He never heard her return. She slipped into bed next to him, and watched his mighty chest heave with each breath.

 

It took Catherine three days to track down the woman at the church. She’d been foolish enough to forget to ask her name. Then again, she was beside herself with grief and guilt, and then moments later alive with forgiveness and new life. She was hardly composed enough to think about asking her name. She had asked around, however, for the woman who cleans St. Luke’s church on Sunday Evenings. Finally, someone had known. Her name was Harriet Brown. Somehow, Catherine thought the name suited her quite well.

She looked surprised to see her when she showed up at her door in the rain.

“Harriet…I’ve been looking for you.”
“Come in, child, come in! I’ll put some tea on. Have a sit by the fire, dear. Warm yourself.”

“Harriet, I….I don’t know what to do next.” A smile crept across Harriet’s face.

“I have something for you.” When she returned, she had an old leather bound book in her hands.

“T’was mine.” Catherine leafed through the pages. It was as if she were holding the most precious item in the world, a treasure to be discovered and held dearly. She looked up at Harriet, mouth slightly open, eyes full of gratitude.

“Are you…are you quite certain? The pages….they have markings and writings. This looks very precious to you.”

“Catherine, The good Lord sent you to me for this very reason. Do you know how old I am, Catherine?” She shook her head.

“I am ninety. This book has been precious dear to me for many, many years. But it is yours now, and may it be precious dear to you.”

“Thank you. Thank you.” Catherine held the book close to her heart for a few moments before leafing through the old pages. She felt the pages might crumble at her touch. They were very old and very fragile. They resemble Harriet very much. Old. Fragile. Precious.

Catherine had felt a desperate need to locate the old woman from the morning after her encounter with her. She had gone to the church feeling dead, and road away feeling more full of life than she had ever been. She felt free and alive, but the pain had come again, just as the old woman had promised her that it would. And Catherine felt a desperate need to talk to her about the pain, and how ever time Dane looked at her, she felt it. How she was forced to live out the rest of her years with a man who could not love her. The happiness she felt did not entirely drown out the pain that came when she looked into her husband’s eyes. “Harriet. I came here to talk to you about….about my husband. I don’t know what to do next. For so many years, I have hated him but I have hated myself more. I have felt trapped and alone and I wanted to get away from him. But I also wanted to get away from me. But I have been changed. There is no denying that. But I don’t quite know what to do now, either.

“Moment by moment, dear, He will show you, but you must ask him into the situation.”

“Ask Him in?”

“Yes, when you feel angry….when the pain is more than you can bear….when you are mistreated….you must first stop and ask Him to come into the pain. To come in and say what He will say about the anger. He will hear you…and Catherine, you must understand that you are loved by the Creator of the universe. You are not worthless.You are of great value to the One who saw fit to breathe life into you. The more you learn about the love He has for you, the more you can value yourself. The more you value yourself, the more you will love others and refuse to be dismayed by their lack of affection for you.”

“Thank you, Harriet. Thank you.”

 

Catherine when home and began to write. She wrote furiously, her tears dropping on the paper and smearing the ink as she went.

 

The Human heart- the world’s greatest mystery. The mind, the soul, the spirit of man. In its deepest crevices lurk memories, thoughts, and feelings which its occupant cannot herself understand, nor sometimes dare to face. It is, it would seem, equal parts wicked and good. There seems to be the invisible imprint of God, of all things good. So much so, that a man or woman who has defied goodness cannot face the reality of it so as to admit that he is not as he should have been. Yet, intertwined with this knowledge of goodness, there is hidden the darkest of evils. The human heart can be understood by none but its Creator, the only One who can redeem it and make it whole.

 

She looked up from her paper, so drenched and bleeding she could hardly make out some of the words, but it seemed fitting. She folded it up and tucked it away inside her her Bible and whispered, “God, look into my heart. See what is there, and show me. I won’t hide from it any longer. I cannot hide from it anymore. As bad as it is, I will go there, Jesus.

She didn’t particularly expect an answer, but the words filled her mind, and she was certain they had not come from her. And when you do go there, Catherine, you’ll find I was already there, waiting.

 

After this night, Catherine assumed things might be easier, but she was wrong. Dane came home still cold, silent, stoic. But Catherine began to change slowly and steadily. Where once she would have slipped into self hatred or burst out into anger toward him, instead she reminded herself that Jesus had spoken to her. She had heard his voice, undoubtedly. That meant He cared for her enough to speak to her personally. That meant that she was, as Harriet so elegantly put it, a child of the King. And so, she began to smile, not just on the outside. Her whole inside radiated, even when she felt pain. It was a strange sensation to Catherine to feel palpable sadness and yet…of all things…and overwhelming sense of peace. Her anger had dissipated, and though it lurked around every corner threatening to creep back into her life at any moment, she would close her eyes and ask herself why she felt such anger. She would ask herself what would happen if she were not angry, and by doing so would come to realize her real reason for her anger, which would fade as quickly as it came as she realized that Jesus had not and would not abandon her, even if Dane did.


It was a warm summer day when this realization came upon her. She was hanging up laundry on the line, and the sun was bright but the wind cool. It smelled of the Mississippi and wildflowers. It came to her out of nowhere, and she was surprised by it.

If Dane left me, God would not abandon me. She was so surprised by it that she laughed, and said it out loud to herself once, then louder. “If Dane left me, God would not abandon me!” She twirled like a schoolgirl, laughed, and ran out into the field laughing and laughing until she fell upon to cool green ground and looked up into the clear blue sky. She felt new. She felt she was finally free. She found it increasingly intriguing that she did not feel a desperate need to get away from Dane any longer. A year ago, she had felt desperate to get away from him, but she feared her life as a divorced woman of thirty. She feared poverty. She feared being alone. But now, she did not fear it. Now, she knew that she would never really be alone. She could face poverty. She could face hunger. She could face anything because she knew who she was and who her father in Heaven was. But, strangely enough, this newfound sense of freedom did not tempt her to leave Dane. At one point, only fear kept her with him. But now, it was a force more powerful and more real. One that filled her with peace and strength. She was with him, because God was there with her, giving her new strength and life. Dane no longer had the power to drain the life out of her, because Dane was no longer the source of her happiness. Her joy did not depend on whether or not Dane treated her with respect. It did not come from whether or not he came home on any given night. It did not come from whether he spoke to her or remained silent behind his book.

Her happiness came from something untouchable. From a supernatural force that Dane could not touch no matter how he might try. She knew, that in God, she was free to leave if ever she was in danger. But, more importantly, in God she knew she was free to stay and he would have no power to kill her soul.

She laughed now to think about how very angry she had been with Dane. She had been angry that he did not make her feel loved and cherished and wanted. She had been angry that he had not given her the type of marriage that was certain to be her happily ever after. She was angry that after all of her waiting and careful choosing, she still felt empty in her marriage, and alone when she was with him. She was angry that he did not fill her with life and purpose. It all seemed so silly to her now. Dane could never have done any of those things had he tried with all his might. To be angry at him was about as rational as being angry with a potato. She laughed to herself, but was quickly sobered by the thought of how helpless he must have felt, trying to provide for her the happiness he never could.

Slowly, Catherine began to remember the good memories. Even after Dane had become mostly withdrawn and stoic, he had done some kind things for her. She could see now, how he had tried, in his own way, to be the kind of husband he knew he should be.

When she had gotten crawlers from the Martin children, he had ridden all night to the traveling apothecary to procure a bottle of tea tree oil.

“I knew a family in London,” he had said, “Who swore by the stuff, and they were the only family for miles around without any. They claimed they hadn’t seen one in years. Every day before they went out, they put a drop of it at the backs of their necks, and they claimed if you had them, you need only soak your hair in it and pick out the nits. The Britain’s import it from Australia, and not so long ago I asked the traveling apothecary to procure some on his next visit to Britain.”

He had returned with the apothecary’s entire stock of it, and he had soaked her hair in it and spent the entire morning combing carefully through it. She had not seen it as an act of love at the time. She figured he feared catched the crawlers himself. And he probably did, but even so he had taken the time to care for her, and she had hardly been aware of it. In fact, she had been so wrapped up in her own self destruction, she was hardly aware of his attempts at all, much less his own needs. She began to realize that she had neglected her husband as much as he had neglected her. She vowed to make slow and steady changes that would prove to Dane over time that she loved him. She was surprised at the thought. I do love him, though. She said to herself. Not so long ago, she thought she hated him more than she could ever hate anyone. Now, she saw him for what he was. Broken and flawed. Unable to give her what she really needed. Yet, she loved him, and she knew she would continue to love him.

She talked to Jesus often. He was the one who loved her with a perfect and unrelenting love. She thought it preposterous that she ever believed that Dane could love her with that kind of all powerful love. He was only human after all. It was the voice of Jesus who told her these things. Sometimes in the busyness of the day. Sometimes in the quiet of a sleepless night, sometimes through the ancient lips of Harriet. Sometimes through the words on the pages of her worn Bible.

Catherine pondered the voice of Jesus as she heard it in her soul. It was quiet, and gentle and personal. She doubted that the same voice which spoke to her also shouted “Manifest Destiny” into the ears of what was apparently thousands of others. She did not fancy herself a politician, nor a theologian, but she did know that whenever the voice of Jesus came to her, it was gentle and deeply personal. It told her that she was free, loved, cherished, and protected.  She could hardly imagine that same Jesus as the God of Western Imperialism, nor the God who kept Africans in slavery. She slowly became aware that there were those who heard the true voice of Jesus, and those who claimed to hear His voice and used it to their own advantage. When she asked Harriet about this, she told her it was called blaspheming the Holy Spirit.  

 

 

Money Matters: Our Story

My husband and I have been on the Dave Ramsey plan since we married almost eight years ago. We took the Financial Peace University course through our church. We were engaged at the time. We were excited to get married. We were not too concerned about finances. Love is all that matters, right? But we took the course at the urging of our pastors (one of whom is my dad). Looking back, I cannot imagine where we would be right now had we not been actively working through the steps.

I graduated from a private college, so my debt was considerable. Our first year of marriage, we lived in a small apartment and we both worked. I was working as a teacher and he was making caskets. We didn’t make much, but we managed to live off of his paycheck alone. Every penny I made that year went toward my student loans. We had them more than half paid off by the time we found out we were expecting.

I knew that I wanted to be a stay at home mom. That was the whole reason we were intent upon living off of my husband’s paycheck.

At this time, the housing market was about as low as it was going to get. It was a buyer’s market to be sure. We bought a spacious home for under 100k. It needed a little work, but was definitely livable. It was not the best area of town, but it wasn’t the worst, either.

We moved in and had three children, one right after another. We had to slow down on the amount of money that was going toward my student loan debt each month. But we were still working the Ramsey Steps. We were still paying higher than minimum. We were still living off as little as we could.

My husband was given an opportunity to move from woodworking to car sales. We followed God’s lead, and we were blessed to find ourselves with a little more income. I continued to substitute teach one day per week and continued to put all of that money toward my student loans.

We still shopped Aldi and second hand. We rarely ate out, except for the occasional date night. We were happy. We knew we were working toward financial freedom, and we did not feel that we were missing out.

Around this time, we managed to get my student loans completely paid off. At this point, we had only the house and one of our cars to pay off. We do not recommend getting into a car payment by any means. Ramsey would not be happy with us for doing so. But in our case, it had to do with my husband’s job and the fact that we were given an opportunity for him to drive what he sells for far below fair market value. But that is besides the point. We were ready to pay it off. We had a substantial emergency fund. We had very little debt.

We shopped at Aldi for our groceries and second-hand stores for our clothes. We were well on our way to the mutual fund step of the program, and we couldn’t wait.

Then, came the bad news. We found out that our children’s lead levels were higher than what they would have liked to see. It was not an immediate emergency, but it was not good.

We applied for the city lead program. After months and months of waiting, they finally came to do the inspection. A few weeks later, we found out that they rejected our home. It was more expensive than what they were allowed to spend per unit. So we were on our own.

Because of the Ramsey plan, this was a major setback, but not devastating. We have to get all new windows. Because of the age of our home and the size of the windows, it is particularly expensive. It will use up our entire emergency fund. But you know what? That’s what it is there for. It’s an emergency fund for times like these. And if it hadn’t been for doing the Ramsey plan, we probably wouldn’t have had an emergency fund. This would have been more than a setback. It would have been devastating. We would have had to refinance, take out a huge personal loan, or sell the house at a huge loss.

This is all to say, because God provided us with the knowledge we needed to make good financial decisions, we are going to be okay.

I hear a lot of people in my generation complaining about not being able to make a living wage. And while I sympathize and understand the frustration that finances bring, I also cannot help but notice that the same people who say they cannot make a living wage are also driving new cars, have the latest smartphone, by new clothes, and go to the coffee house daily. The people claiming they cannot make a living wage are often the same people paying $17 for a kale and egg sandwich and a mocha nearly every morning of the week. Financial stability has a lot more to do with your money choices than your income. You could make six figures and still barely be making ends meet if you insist on having the newest and the best of everything, taking on the highest payments you are approved for, and living in a home you can barely make the mortgage on. There is a better way to live.

Financial stability comes with education and self control, not a bigger paycheck.

I hope our story will encourage you that making smart money choices will be life-changing for you. Even if you run into a major setback like we have, setting yourself up for financial freedom will allow you to live free, not enslaved by your things and your debt. It will allow you to give to the cause of furthering the gospel. It will allow you to bless future generations.

It only takes a few months to form a habit. Once you get used to cooking at home instead of eating out, finding great second-hand deals on clothes, and paying off debts aggressively, you will find that you don’t so much miss your old lifestyle. You will find that those things were never making you happy in the first place. The freedom that comes from working the Ramsey steps is totally worth the self denial it will take to do it.

So let this encourage you that your financial success is, at least somewhat, in your control. You can make smart choices now. You can set yourself up to be financially free.

Why wait? You can’t control what comes at you in life, but you can apply godly principles to your money management.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-  Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.

Romans 13:8-  Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

 

 

Chapter 11- Spring 1849

Spring 1849

“Catherine.” It was Isla. It took a powerful willfulness not to roll her eyes and sigh in annoyance.

“Isla, how are you?”

“Fine. I suppose.” Catherine eyed her warily. She looked about ready to pounce. “Except that I would prefer if you would stop making eyes at my husband.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”

“Oh, please, Catherine! You don’t have to play the fool with me. I have seen the way you look at him. Ever since he chose me over you, you haven’t been able to give him up, have you? Oh, you married that old man of yours, but we all know the truth. You still have eyes for Fritz, and I would appreciate if you would leave him alone.”

“You are quite wrong.”

“I’m sure I’m not.”

“I’m sure you are. You couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“So we are in agreement then, you will stop trying to seduce my husband?”
“Oh, for the love of all things good, Isla, I never tried to seduce your husband!”

“Right, and you married Dane for love, too, I suppose.” The sarcasm in her voice was heavy, and Catherine thought she would punch this flighty woman in the face if she didn’t leave this minute. What would her mother think if she knew that Catherine had even harbored such an uncouth thought? No matter. She wouldn’t think about that now.

“I did marry Dane because I loved him, not that my love life is any of your business.”

“Oh, do stop with the pretended ignorance! Everyone around here knows that you married him out of misery when Fritz chose me.”
“I see you leave me no choice.”

“No choice?”

“Leave, now, Isla, and never again tell me or anyone else that I have been trying to seduce your puffed up husband. Leave now, or I fear I shall say something we will both regret.”

“I will leave when you admit you have been trying to seduce my husband and make an oath to never do it again.”

“I cannot possibly do that.”

“So that’s it then. I will be forced to have Fritz tell your husband what you have been doing. He ought to be keeping you in line anyway.” Catherine felt her stomach lurch. Things had been bad enough between her and Dane. She feared he would believe this story. She feared she would be blamed for something she she never did, never even thought of. She feared she would be a divorced woman, accused of adultery and left alone for the rest of her life. She wanted to say, Isla, your arrogant husband asked for my hand in marriage first, and I would have nothing to do with him. She wanted to say, It isn’t my fault your husband is bored of your dull wit. She wanted to say anything except for what she actually did say.

“Isla, I have never attempted to seduce Fritz, but if you feel that my actions have in any way communicated that intention, I do apologize and promise to be more careful and aware in the future.” She seemed mildly satisfied.
“Thank you,” she said, turning on her heel.

Catherine sat down on the pile of newly washed clothes she had been hanging out to dry. She was unsure whether she felt more angry with Isla or herself. The object of her anger hardly mattered. It boiled up within her until she could no longer sit. She stood, paced, sat back down again.

It was true, she had found herself eyeing Fritz when she chanced to run into him down by the mines or in town on a busy Sunday. Certainly she had never intended to seduce him. She had only been wondering whether Isla and Fritz were happy together, or whether they were more or less miserable than she and Dane. Fritz was full of life, vibrant and engaging. Full of himself, yes, but at least they would converse, she imagined. She had once loved Dane’s quiet strength. She had thought of him as silent and powerful. She had loved her ability to draw him out of himself. She had hated Fritz’ endless chatter about himself. But now…now she wondered. She wondered what it would be like to be married to someone who would talk freely with her, engage in social life, be interested in her. It was true, Fritz was more interested in himself than anyone else, but he was young and vibrant. His light hair and dazzling blue eyes fit his personality exactly. Catherine still found herself annoyed with his persistence in talking of his own achievements, but she could not help but wonder how much different her life would be had she accepted Fritz.

And so when she saw Fritz or Fritz and Isla together, she simply wondered. She dreamed of what it might be like to live with someone less quiet and sullen. Of course it was ludicrous to suppose that she intended seduction. Yet, Isla was not entirely insane, Catherine admitted. For it was true, Catherine had likely been staring- not with lust but with listless thoughts of what might have been.

Chapter 10- Fall, 1848

Fall 1848

“I’ll not tolerate a disobedient wife.” It was yet another, impossible, fierce battle of words and wits. Both knew no one would win. Both thrust ahead despite it, tearing at each other in whatever hateful words they might muster up.

“And I’ll not tolerate a hateful husband!”

“Hateful! Is that what you think I am? I who brought you up out of poverty and gave you a home to live in and food to eat? Hateful! Is that all the thanks I get? I travel by horseback day in and day out across the country, managing stocks, trading with the Indians, sailing across oceans to sell and provide for you. And you think I am hateful?”

“It was hardly poverty I was in before. How you do exaggerate. I had food in my belly every night. And besides that, I’d rather starve than live every day facing a man who married me but now hates me. It is better when you are away overseas. I can hardly stand when you are home. You played an awful trick on me, and it has ruined my life and every chance at happiness I could have had. I’d rather be married to a farm hand and go without a meal here and there than have my fill and have to look into the eyes of a man who hates me.”

“If you would only listen to me, you would understand that I don’t hate you. I never said anything of the like.”

“Nor did you need to”

“What the devil do you mean?”

“You never talk to me. You never ask me how I am feeling. You never brush the hair back from my face and tell me I’m beautiful. You never tell me anything about yourself. You go on your business ventures, come home and sit in front of the fire to read if you don’t go out to the tavern first, and fall asleep next me. I barely know you. And then you have the audacity to tell me you will not tolerate a disobedient wife, when I’ve done nothing but serve you and put up with your impudence these seven years.”

“Impudence. If that is what you call it. You’d do well to consider yourself blessed you have a husband who provides. I don’t visit the brothels. You know how many husbands around here do? Ginny, down the way, you know her, fourth child on the way…husband can be seen leaving the brothel every Friday night…”

“I don’t need nor want to know what Ginny’s husband does. If you mean to say that you think you are a jolly good husband simply because you have never visited a brothel, then go! Visit one! It won’t matter to me. T’isnt as if you are my husband in anything more than written records. Your vows clearly mean nothing to you. Did you not promise to love, honor, and cherish? I don’t recall your standing up there before God and everyone else to declare your promise to put food in my belly and avoid the brothel.”
“That’s enough. I’ll have no more of it. I’m a bloody good husband and you know it. I done more for you than my father ever done for me.”

“Your father was a drunken brute.” He blinked in astonishment and seemed almost hurt. For a moment, Catherine thought she would see a softer side to him. But he did not break down. Any emotion that she had seen in his eyes was gone a second later.

 

He got up and moved toward her. She felt a sinking feeling in her belly. For all his threats and cold looks, he’d never laid a hand on her, nor did she ever expect him to. She backed herself up against the fireplace, preparing to fight. She thought at least if this happened, it might give her an out, an excuse to leave this pitiful marriage and perhaps find happiness someday. She still had a glimmer of beauty left, she thought. Perhaps enough to draw the attention of a kind-hearted man.  Just as she thought he would descend upon her, he fell backward into the chair, called her an ungrateful wench, and opened his book to resume his reading.

To her surprise, she felt disappointed. She thought finally it would all come to an end, even if it be a violent one.Her thoughts went dark again. If he would not give her an excuse to leave, she would have to find her own escape.

She began to wonder what her life would have been like had she married Fritz.

Chapter 9- Summer 1847

Summer 1847

“Can’t you ever just be happy?” He screamed so near her face and so loudly that she felt the heat of his breath. She ducked and moved quickly to the other side of the room before retorting,

“How could I be?”

“Leave, then!” he shouted in return.

“I can’t. You don’t think I would if I could? What kind of life is there out there for me? I’ve given up everything for you, because I thought you would make me happy.”

 

“And so you should be. I’ve given you everything you could have hardly hoped for apart from me. Did you want the life of a miner’s wife? Look around you, Catherine! Who do you know who has all of this? And all of it by the sweat of my brow…the work of my hands. What more do you want from me? However I try, Catherine. I’ll never be enough for you. So what’s the point anymore?”

 

“I don’t know. What is the point? If this life you’ve given me is trying your best, then no hope remains for us to ever be happy. If this is all the love you can muster for me…a word here and there…a cold look….if that’s all you have for me, certainly there is no hope for happiness.”

 

“So be it. At least we’ve accepted it now and we can stop breaking our backs over something that will never happen for us.”

“Am I really that hard to love? Is it really so impossible to look at me like I matter to you?”

“Yes, it is now. I can’t look at you as if you are anyone but the woman who looks with disdain on all I have sacrificed for you.”

 

“Sacrificed? Sacrificed? It is I who have sacrificed! You think I care about the wealth you have brought me? You think I wouldn’t throw my furs in the fire for a moment of feeling loved? Do you think I wouldn’t be willing to miss a meal here and there if in exchange I could have a husband who felt something move within his soul when he looked at me? In a moment, I’d trade this all for only the chance of being loved.”

 

“You are impossible! That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Catherine. This notion that you are not loved is preposterous. You have only to look around you to see what I have done to provide for you.”

 

“Do you hear nothing I have said? I care nothing for your riches. It’s your love I want.”

“And it’s my love you had.”

“Had?”

“Had. Until you trampled it day in and day out with your incessant nagging and complaining!”

“So you don’t love me anymore?”

“You’ve said about as much to me.”

“Only because I don’t know how to feel anything for someone who looks at me with that kind of disdain.”

“And I don’t know how to look at you with anything but disdain.”

“I wish I had never married you.”

“I wish I’d never laid eyes on you.”

And at that, Catherine turned and went into the bedroom. She locked the door behind her, fell to her knees, and cried until she had only enough strength to crawl upon her bed and fall into a restless sleep.

Chapter 8- Fall 1845

Fall 1845

Catherine wondered how everything had changed in just a few short months. It seemed to her, that everything she once loved about Dane grated on her every nerve. At first, she could not admit it to herself. No, we are in love. She told herself again and again as her happiness drained from her heart and facial features.

 

The sun was bright and warm, but the fierce winds off the Mississippi chilled one to the bone.  It was cold, but not entirely too cold to ride home for a few days, and there was naught to do but bake bread and enjoy the warmth of the oven.  Catherine braved the cold winds and rode Charlie out of town and south, down the gorgeous trails along the Mississippi back to her childhood home. It was to be her first long visit since her marriage. And she hated to admit it to herself, but she felt a sense of freedom at leaving Dane behind and going back to the place she grew up to stay a week or so with her mother and father. She wanted a few days away from sour looks, disappointing glances, and his tired eyes.

 

She went so deeply into her thoughts she barely felt the cold, her cheeks going numb, the chapped lips. She thought of all that had changed over the past few months. She tried to remember what she had so loved about Dane. Had she loved him? Did she even know what real love is?

 

He had been so hard to reach, and the more she tried to pull him out of himself, the more irritated and distant he became. It became easier when he would leave on long trips, and she could pretend that they were happy. She could remember the Dane she met just a couple of years ago, the Dane who talked to her of all of his experiences. The Dane who doted on her. Who brushed her wispy curls from her face and kissed her forehead. She preferred to remember that Dane rather than face this Dane. What had happened? She had tried asking him, but he simply refused to acknowledge that anything was different at all. He buried himself in managing his stocks and trades. He buried himself in literature, in The Liberator, in everything except for his new wife.

What is wrong with me? What have I said? What have I done? Am I simply less interesting than he thought I would be? Has he grown tired of me? I suppose I am a very inexperienced person. I have not been to all the exciting places he has been. He has met English and Indian princesses. Yet, he came back for me. Why me? Suppose I am not all he thought I would be. Suppose intimacy with me is not all he had imagined it would be. She knew that she was not his first, as she was his. It had not bothered her when he first told her. He had chosen her. He had travelled the world and come back to Iowa for her. At the time, it was all that mattered. But now, thoughts of his previous experiences plagued her mind. I am not enough for him she thought. And the tears that streamed nearly froze on her face.

 

“Are you quite well, dear?” Her mother asked when she arrived.

“Oh, yes. Quite well. Only very tired and very cold.”
“I was very surprised to have received post that you would come today. I wondered if you had changed your mind. It must have been a terribly cold journey. Come here, dear, by the fire and I’ll bring you some tea.” Catherine smiled. She was home.

 

The following day, as Catherine and Elizabeth enjoyed a nostalgic day of baking bread together, Elizabeth asked, “Catherine, dear, you look rather downcast this past day. Are you certain nothing is the matter? If you are greatly missing Dane, I shan’t take it to heart if you end the visit early. I know how often he travels. I must say I was surprised to hear you were to come stay when we was at home.” The tears came then. She had so worked to keep them at bay. But, oh, what was the use. If she could not confide her true heart in her mother, then she could in no one.

“No, mother, I do not miss Dane. I suppose I am rather escaping him.”

“Escaping him? Has he harmed you?” Catherine found it amusing how her mother could ask a question of such weight with so little exclamation in her voice. Her calm demeanor showed no signs of disruption.

“No. He has not harmed me. That is to say, not physically.”

“What is it he has done?”
“It’s what he hasn’t done.”
“And what hasn’t he done?”

“Oh, I don’t even know how to answer. Loved me, perhaps. He hasn’t truly loved me. Not in the way I thought that I would be loved. I feel as though he has conquered me and gone about his life, and I am left wondering.” Elizabeth nodded knowingly, as if it sounded all too familiar. This irritated Catherine a little. Was not love meant to be forever? What not marriage the bed of comfort which she had made for herself by holding out for the right man? Or rather, one whom she believed to be the right man. She was not so sure any longer. She continued, “I don’t know anymore whether I have married the right man. But I suppose it is much too late to begin questioning that.”

“Why is it you believe you may have married the wrong man?” Catherine pondered the question for a moment.

“I suppose it is because I am not happy.”

“Catherine. Do you remember when you missed Dane dearly, and you did not know whether or not you would ever see him again?”

“Yes, of course, but I was so young and inexperienced and…”

“Do you remember what I told you about happiness then?” She remembered. She remembered well.

“That I would be happy whether I married Dane, or whether I married another, or whether I did not marry at all.”

“And do you know why I said such a thing?”

“To be completely honest, no. I believed it that year, and I came to be quite happy without Dane, though I missed him when I thought of him. But now, I don’t know. I don’t know what it means.”

“Long ago, I accepted the fact that your father was not to be the source of my happiness. My life has been happier for it.”

“So, you believe I can simply be happy, even if Dane does not look at me or speak to me or offer any kind of assurance of his love whatsoever. I simply cannot believe that.”

“No one person can make you happy, Catherine. Dane cannot make you happy. No man could. It is not your husband’s job to make you happy.”

“Well whose job is it then?” And she knew the answer even as she spoke. “Mine, I suppose.”

“Exactly.”

“It is all easy to say, but it is certainly not how I feel.”

“In time, you will. It takes practice and time.”

“I think I may quite disagree with you mother. I don’t often, but this time, I think I do.”

“Go on,”

“If our husbands are not to make us feel loved and happy, then who is? Oh, I know you said you are to make yourself happy, but it doesn’t make much sense. Why would we all feel this deep inner longing to be loved by another, if all along we were only meant to love ourselves? Why would we be on this quest for love from someone else, if we were never meant to have it? Why would we feel a need to be appreciated and valued and looked at as though we are the most precious thing in the world? It’s all very well to deny that that we need another person’s love and continue on as if loving ourselves were enough. But that does not change the inner need that is there. That deep desire to be someone’s everything. Do you not still have that, mother? That desire?” Catherine noticed that now, her mother’s eyes glistened. She had so rarely seen tears in her mother’s eyes that she was quite taken aback. “I’m so sorry, mother. What did I say?”

“It’s quite alright, dear,” she said, taking the very corner of her apron to dab her eyes. “It is only that I believe you are right. When you speak of it in such a way, I begin to realize that desire really is still there. Don’t imagine that I think I have married the wrong man. Your father was just the right man for me. He gave me you, my beautiful daughter. He gave me this life, which I love. And I love him. I do. I simply know that I could never gain a sense of happiness from him alone. And I hope you can see that does not mean that I do not love your father. I love him very much.”

“I know, mother. I know.”