You see, I was in my fourth marital separation from my beloved husband and through the previous year I had found only two “friends” I thought might possibly relate to me. One was Fantine, the other Eponine. It has now been four years since that day and I remain undecided as to which one fits me better.
As a single mother of three young children I struggle to provide working two jobs and I intimately know what it means to give my all, my last gasp daily, to whatever my family needs. My eyes sting each time my iPod wearily reminds me how “life has killed the dream.” I too put all my proverbial eggs into the basket of happy family living, “I dreamed that love would never die…that God would be forgiving…” I too submitted my life to a faithful God. Yet, I also mistakenly submitted to a domineering and abusive man who denied his mental illness while blaming me for his insecurities. That year, my church and community were busily pouring out support for victims of cancer, infidelity, or alcoholism. Yet, bipolar spouse survival was not on the service menu. In fact my minister insisted mental illness was not to be spoken of (until a year later when his wife suffered severe depression). If I had raced to the divorce table and demonized my husband by sharing accounts of his terrifying rages, perhaps a river of support would have flown. Yet, I knew my husband was ill so I simply sought help and accountability. My desire to be separated for my family’s safety yet not divorced labeled me “un-Christian”, “not committed”, and even “spoiled.” Fantine reminded me “they turn your dream to shame.” With each higher note she sings I am pointed to God who is good even when the situation is indeed bad.
Yet, maybe I am Eponine? I “love him on my own.” Just the hope of my husband someday facing his reality has fueled my loyalty and been totally fueled by faith in God. My favorite comforts are my husband’s imaginary arms around me or my too distant memory of his loving, caring voice. “I love him, I love him, I love him. But, only on my own.”
Both Fantine and Eponine die tragic deaths and basically alone. It is no great gig being either, so why did I care so much to determine which I was? My heart and mind bounced back and forth across the stage as if I were watching center court at the Wimbledon final.
Then it hit me. Not the ball, silly, the question. The question was not, “Am I Fantine or Eponine?” It is, “Is my husband Jean Valjean or Javert?” Jim, like Jean Valjean has plenty of reason to be angry. Decades of blame for his mother’s alcoholism and his parents’ hateful marriage because at age six he had a temper tantrum…How does that compare with 19 years in chains for stealing a loaf of bread? Jim has been blessed by dozens of “second chances” and God’s grace. Will he choose to take responsibility for himself and his life, face his reality, let go of bitterness, and prosper? Or is he compelled to chase the enemy, unable to accept the gift of life, and thus doomed to take his own life in the end? Right there on the stage before me Javert acted out my greatest fear. The bridge and Javert were more than I could take.
It is four years since that day. I still pine for my husband’s affection and love him dearly. We remain separated and I still ponder the same questions. Now there is a major motion picture released of the same story. It was God’s Christmas gift to me. A gift I have yet had the nerve to open. Will you see it with me? Will you hold my hand and pray alongside me as the screen begins to blur behind my tears? I promise to give you my share of the popcorn as my tummy will be in knots. One specific thing I ask of you is that when you “hear the people sing” please hear my cry to stop judging mental illness. Please consider being “strong and stand with me” for marriage and biblical separation where needed. I need you. “There is a life about to start” and tomorrow will come!
Note: It is worth restating that having a mental illness can be NO problem, denying it can be devastating.
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