I got married at 23, with my husband being 13 years my senior. Our marriage lasted for nine years. In those nine years, I became the sole breadwinner for the family as my husband refused to find a job. I was subjected to domestic violence – physical, emotional and verbal abuse.
On top of household expenses that I had to shoulder, he demanded that I give him a monthly allowance. My husband also stole jewelry and money from me. In fact, two weeks before the birth of our second child, I found out that the money I had saved for hospital bills was all gone—he had stolen it, gambled at the casino, and lost it all.
I remembered keeping tabs on a calendar to mark how often I got beaten up in a month. Mondays through Saturdays would be crossed out, but Sundays were unmarked—it was my rest day from being physically battered. On Sundays, I found peace because I could go to church with my children and be with Jesus.
One summer, I finally had to admit to my sisters that the heirloom jewelry from our mother had all been stolen by him after the birth of our first child several years ago. He was furious that I had informed my sisters about it because it ruined his name. I was asked to move out of the house – then I found a room for rent.
Being financially unprepared, I had to move out alone and I told him that I would come back for the children in a couple of weeks. In between jobs at first, I had to live on ₱500 for two weeks until I got my first paycheck. Unfortunately, I found that I had also lost my children after those two weeks went by.
I tried to get them back, but was barred from entering and physically battered – I was not able to get my children. I wasn’t aware of my rights as a mother back then. I was informed that I could not possibly send them to good schools so I was prevented from getting them.
My parents-in-law and my husband’s siblings helped fund my children’s schooling. I developed a phobia and found peace of mind only by going to sleep with a double-edged knife under my pillow.
I became angry with God for taking everything away from me – He had taken my family away, I thought. For many years, I stopped going to church.
On the other hand, my career in the corporate world was flourishing. I was doing well financially and I could already afford a certain lifestyle that I thought was out of reach, when I first got married. I had connections that mattered.
Now, I could buy my own security and for the first time in my life, I instilled fear in my husband who thought that harm would come upon him if he dared to come anywhere near me. I was able to find ways to reestablish communication with my children through the Internet.
Since I thought that God had forsaken me, and for lack of spiritual guidance, I turned and embraced the world – I even entered a long-term relationship with another man. He was kind and had a good heart, and I couldn’t be happier. And for twelve years, that was what my life was like.
As my husband was also in a relationship himself, I thought it best that we completely set each other free. I filed for annulment. Halfway through the process, however, I felt a faint whisper in my heart telling me that it wasn’t the right way to go.
I realized that an annulment in court would only free me civilly from the marriage, but in the eyes of the Church, I would still be considered very much married to my husband. So I dropped the case. Then suddenly, my husband got sick and needed an open-heart surgery.
No, he did not die.
But his companion left him when he got sick. I, on the other hand, was still in a happy relationship. Served him right, I thought at that time. But I guess I still had some heart left in me to say that I must forgive him. And then I realized… perhaps I needed forgiveness, too.
I realized that despite my complaints and accusations against him, I too had my own failings… I had my failings towards my family, especially towards my children. I gave up on them too easily. At the peak of my career, I decided to leave that world that had fed all my whims and caprices for more than a decade.
I found myself in church one day and there I came to know about a support group for single parents and separated individuals. After attending several meetings, I came to realize that, contrary to popular belief, the Church does not turn its back on those whose families or relationships are in crisis.
I found, or rather REDISCOVERED a loving Church. I knew I was at a crossroads and had to make a choice. Finally, I chose God, and gave up the long-term relationship I was in. I left my high-paying job and started exploring other options that would let me stay as far away as possible from that harsh, materialistic world.
The best part is… I started going to Sunday Mass again. I also went to confession, my first time in about 15 years.
Around that time, I met the Focolare Movement in our parish. I first attended Word of Life meetings. Although with much difficulty, I learned to see my husband with new eyes, recognizing his psychological challenges and his volatile temperament as the cross that he had to bear daily.
After more than a decade, I was able to overcome my phobia and found the courage to speak with him at length at his father’s wake and forgave him. We have decided to remain friends, but not to enter any more into relationships with others. I no longer sleep with a double-edged knife under my pillow.
Love begets love
I eventually found myself getting more and more involved in our parochial church services. The parish priest appointed me as Worship Ministry Head. I was also tasked to organize a cluster of basic ecclesial communities in the parish. One of the communities was located in a rarely visited and depressed area. It was long believed that no one else would come to church from that place.
I felt somehow that that community had been given to me to love. There I discovered many families living in small houses, but a greater number living in shanties and shacks made of light materials.
I revisited the area again with the head of one of the parish ministries to establish a rapport with the residents. We discovered that poverty was keeping them away from church, because even Sunday was a working day for them.
I continued building relationships with the community. Truly, love begets love. Some of them can now be seen at church during Sunday Masses and parish activities. Some others eventually became church workers. At least one adult member was baptized during that period, and she now serves the church as a greeter. A few couples in live-in relationship got married in church.
There was one member of this community who gave up the romantic relationship she was in for, a couple of years, after I shared with her my life story. I kept in close contact with her and accompanied her and her family.
Not too long after that, her children achieved financial stability. Happily, she and her husband have reconciled after about 10 years.
Another widow had been entertaining the thought of starting a relationship with a married man. She found the courage to confide in me, and after months, I was elated to be able to confirm that she had dropped the guy.
I realized later that these people whom I have accompanied in their life struggles, had made their decisions despite worldly temptations, because of their choice to follow God’s will and to show their love for Him.