“Sounds to me like you’re living Saved Without Victory.”
I stared at my pastor and blinked.
I wasn’t raised in a Christian family, so I didn’t come into the church with a solid understanding of salvation, let alone “victory.” My first exposure was when my friend Christil invited me to church with her in 7th grade. I went a few times, and I remember enjoying the music, but when the pastor’s wife stormed in mid-sermon and accused him of an affair in front of the entire congregation… I decided that was enough of that for me.
That experience provided context to Christianity for me throughout middle school and high school. Every time I encountered a Christian, I hunted for their angle. Sure they preached good news and love, but they didn’t live it. I was always able to find a flaw, a sin, a hypocrisy… because let’s face it, we’re all sinners.
Then I went off to college and met Elizabeth. She never preached at me, lectured me, or even tried to talk to me about Jesus. But somehow, I knew that she was a Christian. She was a good person. She worked hard. She tried to be kind to everyone, even people she couldn’t stand. And sometimes, she fell short, but she owned it and tried again.
It was a different way of living than most people I’d known, especially most Christians. So sometimes, I’d ask her about her beliefs. Maybe I was searching for contradictions, looking to punch holes in her life philosophy and the way she lived. But before I knew it, I began to wonder if her way of life wasn’t, maybe, better than my way of life.
So I decided to try it. My junior year of college, I asked Jesus if he was really out there, and if he would come into my life. I wanted to live differently. And for four years, that’s what Christianity and Jesus were to me: A different way to live. A kinder, more caring, healthier way to live.
Then, in June of 2012, on the hottest day of the month, I married an alcoholic. I make no pretense about it: I knew he was an alcoholic when I married him; I just didn’t know what an alcoholic was. I believed if I lived well and loved him well, he would stop drinking and things would be fine.
Things weren’t fine. Less than a month later, we were at his parents’ vacation home for Independence Day. It was 10 am, and he had drank through the night. Things exploded. He called me a stupid c*nt in front of everyone, and no one said anything to rebuke him. That stung more than his words, which, by now, I was mostly numb to.
Everyone reinforced what I believed. Be the good girl you always have to be, and things will get better (ok, so Frozen didn’t exist then, but Elsa’s words are more spot on than you’d believe). But they didn’t, they got worse.
In August, the weekend before my 26th birthday, I discovered my husband was having an online affair, and planning to meet the woman (a mutual acquaintance of ours) to hook up. He had written awful things… he never wanted to marry me… it was just to placate me… It hurt more than the affair. And here I thought that I was numb to anything he could say about me.
I left, but I made the mistake of going to his parents. I was too humiliated to go to my own family, and I trusted them. How misplaced. Sick breeds sick, though I didn’t know that at the time, and anyway, they were his parents. I should’ve never asked them to be on my side, should’ve known they never could be.
But to their credit, they tried. They let me stay with them, they took me out for my birthday, and they prayed with me for my husband and my marriage. They were so instrumental in my survival in those weeks that followed, that when they left for vacation in October, I knew I couldn’t go it alone and needed to seek help… but I get ahead of myself.
That September, I went to a church women’s retreat that changed my life. The speaker, Debbie Alsdorf, shared on two verses that changed her life, and over the course of the next two years, would work a drastic change in my life.
She shared from Matthew 11:28 –
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
– and she asked, “Do you know that Jesus is talking to you?” And I broke into sobs, because I didn’t know! Could he really carry this deep, painful burden for me? It didn’t seem possible, but I wanted it to end. The hurt. The fear. The emptiness. The isolation. The burden I had carried in silence for so long, thinking it was mine alone to bear.
I had been living saved without victory.
“Saved without victory,” my pastor continued, “Means you believe in the promise of salvation… eventually. But that promise is for today, not some vague point in the future. That promise says that if you truly believe, if you accept Jesus Christ into your heart, and you allow him to work in your life, that salvation comes here and now. You can have an amazing, wildly beautiful life, even in the midst of your current circumstances, because Jesus will raise you above your circumstances.”
(Ok, I paraphrase, but it sounds pretty good, huh?)
I had accepted Jesus into my heart four years earlier, but I had never allowed him to work in it – I thought I had to do all the work!
And that brings me to the second verse that Debbie shared at retreat: Ezekiel 36:26 –
And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony stubborn heart and give you a tender responsive heart.
All that time I had spent believing that my husband needed to change so I could feel better and be happier… but it was me that needed to change.
Over the next year, I prayed that verse every day, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes multiple times an hour. I went to Al Anon that October, got myself a Sponsor, joined a Bible study group, went to counseling… and the closer I got to Jesus, the more peace I found in my life.
That’s not to say that things got better. In Al Anon there’s a saying – “It gets worse before it gets better” – and domestic abuse advocates know that as abusers lose control of their victim, the abuse escalates because they panic.
Fastforward to the weekend after by 27th birthday. (No, I don’t think it’s a coincidence both incidents happened around my birthday; like most abusers, my husband was very narcissistic and probably disliked my being the center of attention.) I was sleeping on the futon in the living room. We had a prior understanding that I did not enjoy and wpuld not participate in sexual activities when he was drunk, but he was drunk and didn’t care. After he bullied and pushed me around and I still stood my ground, he banished me to the futon for the night. And it angered him that I didn’t fight him on it (though, it likely would’ve angered him if I had fought him on it, too). So he came out and flipped the futon (metal frame and all) over on top off me.
It was terrifying. It was the kind of thing that very easily could’ve seriously hurt me… but it only seriously frightened me. I left. And this time, I went to my grandmother, and I confessed everything that had been going on.
It began a chain of events that led to me realizing that I did not want or have to live like this anymore, and my husband had no desire to live differently. So in October, when fall break came around again, I filed for divorce.
Fastforward a year and a half. I left my job (my formed mother-in-law was my boss), without knowing where I’d end up. Turns out I’d end up in New York, happily remarried to a man I’ve known for years and never thought twice about in a romantic capacity. He is respectful and loving, and adores and dotes on me. I spend my time spoiling our adorable little puppy, volunteering as a domestic violence advocate, and I’m about to start teaching Sunday school next month.
Jesus raised me above my circumstances. He gave me peace in the storm, and led me out of it. Of course, I’m not naive enough to believe it’s the only storm I’ll ever encounter, but I am smart enough to know that whatever may come my way, he’ll continue to see me through it.
I’m finally victorious.