Pain in Paradise
While traveling aboard our sailboat in the South Pacific, we explored an island near Lufuka, Tonga. It was there that I happened upon a woman who wore a heavy countenance.
Her posture slumped, her clothes hanging on her thin frame, she busied herself preparing a meal for me. The cafe I stopped at was hers. It rested a block from the beach; a small establishment with a straw roof, a tall counter and a few tables scattered around. Her “lazy” dog (his name was Lazy) stretched out on the stone floor, his paws pointing towards heaven. I sat at the bar that overlooked her kitchen and we chatted as she prepared my meal.
Soon, our conversation turned serious as she began to outline the tattered path that led her to this remote island thousands of miles from her Polish home.
Her story began when she was a child. Raised in a violent home, her parents drank much and fought often. She had two brothers and a sister. When she was six, her sister suddenly became ill and died. Her parents grew further apart until one day, her father left on a fishing trip and never came home. They found his body a few weeks later, washed up on a sandy shore. The woman he had been with had reported him missing. The boat was found on a sandbar.
Her mother began working and seldom came home. She was only 13, but grew up very fast. She craved love, security and a family. When she was seventeen, she fell in love with the first boy who noticed her and blindly followed him overseas. They had one child. He too drank and physically abused her; but because she was familiar with the outcome of abuse, she left. She told me that he fooled her. He isolated her in another country and slowly removed her identity. She left him the day he almost killed her. The day he hurt her newborn son by giving him alcohol to quiet him.
She managed to go back to Poland..to forgive her mother..to raise her son. She vowed never to trust a man again until she could trust herself to walk alone.
Soon, she was on her feet again. And soon, another man entered her life. He was appalled at her upbringing and understood as he too had suffered a difficult childhood. He was shocked that a man would abuse her. She trusted him and soon he convinced her to move away from her friends and family as well.
This time, she enrolled in school and secured a profession. She saw signs of a controlling nature but comforted herself that this time she had a way to escape if abuse reared it’s ugly head.
She was married to this man a long time and became accustomed to his short temper but told herself he was harmless and truly loved her. She planned plenty of romantic dinners and getaways to prove this to herself and busied herself in outside activities to keep her countenance happy.They went to church. She accepted Christ. Her son grew into a wonderful man and moved away.
But as the years passed, her husband began to drink more and soon his controlling mannerisms turned to insults and put downs. The mild temper she observed in the early years grew and warped until she became the object of most of his outbursts. She thought about leaving, but because she had become a Christian, she stayed. She told herself the verbal assaults were not as bad as the physical ones she had endured before. She sought counseling and although he wouldn’t go, it helped her cope. She blamed the alcohol and begged him to quit but he did not. As time passed, so did his boldness.
He threw out her things. He corrected and scolded her in public. He blamed her for his misgivings. Everything that went wrong became “her fault”. The more he attacked, the more she avoided him. But this angered him too. If she would just stay home, stop enjoying the hobbies she loved, stop spending her money on things he did not want. He was miserable. He blamed her, his job, his career.
If only he could quit his job and travel the world, he said. It was his miserable life that made him unhappy. If only he had a boat, they could sail away! Desperately wanting to make her marriage work, she agreed to go with him. Her little voice cautioned her not to make this jump...but she was sure he loved her and sure if he only could achieve his lifelong dream, he would be happy and become a good, kind husband to her.
So, she gave up her home, career, friends, and followed him. He bought a sailboat. They left together...hopeful for a future free of stress, heartache, disappointment and betrayal.
At first, it was good. He was happy, even content. But soon life’s reality caught up with him and so did his callous moods. Things on the boat broke. This angered him. Physically, his body began to give him pain.This too angered him. He got seasick, and grew tired of the long passages.
He resented her happy disposition..she loved sailing and her constant questions about how the boat worked annoyed him. Whenever in a port, she would escape and pursue her passions (dance, art, culture) because these things calmed her.. but this too angered him. He mocked her and barely tolerated her freedom.
After a year and a half, they sailed south. His moods escalated and daily he complained. She began to grow weary. Almost everything she said or did was criticized. He had sudden outbursts of rage. He threatened to run the boat up on a reef and sink it. She had never seen him so miserable and so angry. He lashed out at her daily, sometimes hourly and one time, he pushed her. Although he would sometimes ask forgiveness, he never changed the behavior. When she suggested they pray and trust God to direct them, he compared praying to gambling, “Put it all on red and see what happens” he said.
When she asked him if he loved her, he told her he did, but his actions shouted otherwise..she felt despised. She knew that the bible said that “love was an action word” and that the actions one needed to grow love were patience, kindness, humbleness, gentleness, protectiveness, and patience. It said that irritability, belittling, and demanding ones own way were the opposite of God’s design to love one another and reaped hate, not love. She shared this with her husband, and even wrote it down, but he threw God’s words away. She looked to God for answers and sometimes found joy and peace in her surroundings in spite of her husband’s tyrannical behavior.
She eventually quit trying to appease him. She knew it was useless. She also knew she was finished being a victim. This was abuse. Not physical as she had suffered before, but just as damaging. He had slowly “bled her” and now she was empty. She was not willing to be his ‘release’ any longer. She had mentally prepared to give up her security. She knew this meant she might live in poverty, but she no longer cared.
So one day, when he stopped at an island, she got off. She hid from him until he left. She managed to work odd jobs and save enough to start a business. But her hope for a loving soulmate was forever gone. She had lost hope in relationships and resolved never to trust again.
She is safe now. She dates a man from the village and mothered a child from him but she says she trusts no one. She believes in God, but not in religion. Churches have people, and people have let her down. She will never allow closeness again. She will survive on her own, controlling her own future while raising her son. She said she never saw the man again.
She served me lunch and smiled..a forced, sad smile and I could see in her eyes the grief she still carried. When I finished my meal, I told Madna that I would pray for her. She responded by saying, “ If something bad happens to me it is my own fault. I hope my family will forgive me for making the poor choices I have made. I am to blame for my demise. .for not seeing clearly the danger that awaited me. I was foolish to think I could be loved by anyone”.
My heart sank.
A lump in my throat, I hugged her and said the only thing I could say: “God’s grace and mercy is sufficient for thee...and He sees you worthy to be loved”. And then speechless, I walked away.
Footnote: It has been six months since I saw Madga. Our sailboat is on the island of Vanau Levu in Fiji, waiting out the hurricane season. As I ponder Madga’s life I wonder, “Is she still suffering”? I read (in the bible) this morning that “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all”. If this is true, then affliction is a test, and Madga must ‘hold on’ to her faith! She now knows that that you can not escape pain but does she know that there is one who can free our mind? Like a ship trusts it’s rudder to stabilize her, Madga needs to trust God to stabilize her troubles. Without trust, she will continue to wander aimlessly and carry pain from her past.
Madga sought paradise and did not find it. She sought freedom, but is bound in guilt. She sought a new life, but her mind remains in the past. She is near the One who can free her. The one who can change night into day, and dark into light. He can heal. He can make her smile again. Madga’s story reminds me that every circumstance God allows into our life has a purpose and that purpose is to grow you, refine you, strengthen you. As a believer, God will not remove the circumstance until His purpose is accomplished. Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”. So, when hard times hit...turn to the One who can set your mind free and give you peace!