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.
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.