Three Hours and Counting

by Sherry Erickson

I only have 3 hours to make a life-changing decision. My husband, of four years, will be home from work by 5:30 p.m. He is never late and is never happy anymore. He will be tired and expect dinner on the table and our two small children happy and quiet. Otherwise, I will be in trouble, BIG trouble!

It has happened before, too many times. At first, it was verbal abuse, but now it is both verbal and physical. I never know what triggers his extreme anger, until it is too late. I have tried to please him and do everything possible to make him happy, but it is never enough. He has chased my family and friends away with his evil tongue and unbelievable, uncontrollable anger. I have silently cried myself to sleep many nights because I am trapped and don't know how to get out...alive! I cannot go on with this charade any longer. I fear for my life, but now I fear for the lives of my dear children. I know he will kill me if I leave, but I cannot live like this anymore.

Everyday I make sure the house is spotless, the wash is done, the refrigerator is stocked with food, and dinner is cooking on the stove. The first thing he looks for when he steps through the door is his beloved beer, chilled and ready to drink. He never greets us with a "Hi honey, I'm home", we are just his family that he takes for granted and controls our lives with his anger and hatred for life. This is not the life I have dreamed about, nor the life I want for my children. I really cannot take this anymore, but what can I do?

The one thing that I can count on in my life is God. I cannot attend church because my husband does not believe in anyone or anything more powerful than himself. He does not approve of my faith and will not allow me to show my faith in any way. But, everyday, just before he comes home, I have my time with God. I remove my Bible from the hiding spot in the back of the closet and continue reading the Psalms, where I left off yesterday. As I desperately ask God for His guidance in my life, there is a knock at the door. I can't imagine who it is because I have no friends or family that will even stop by to make sure I am still alive! They are afraid of my husband, too.

As I look out the front window, I see it is my neighbor. I answer the door and she asks to come in. I look at the clock and there is only 1 hour left before my husband comes home. I still have to get dinner started. But as I look in the eyes of my neighbor, she is worried about something. She is worried about me! How can that be? We wave in the "neighborly" way, but we don't talk very often. I know that she hears our nightly family "arguments", so I can't blame her for not coming over to visit and have coffee!

She gets right to the point. She is worried about me because she hasn't seen us for quite a while. She sees my husband go to work in the morning and come home in the evening, but she has not seen me at all. That's because I have not looked my best lately. I don't go out of the house when I am healing from a black eye, busted lip, bruises on my arms and legs or worse! My husband used to beat me where it can't be seen, but he isn't that careful anymore.

I can't and will not make any more excuses for my "accidents." As I lower my head, I know what I have to do. I am going to tell her everything. I am not sure where to begin, but I just start talking. I can't believe the words are flowing freely, and so are the tears. She is crying, too. What am I doing? I have unloaded my "dirty laundry" on the sweetest (and only) neighbor I have.

Now my head is swimming with questions. What is she going to do? Will she call the police, will she believe me or does she think I am crazy? Oh no, how much time do I have until my husband comes home? The clock (or the bomb) is ticking. Dear God, show me what to do, please save me now!

I look at my neighbor and she takes my hand that is shaking with fear. Even though she has tears in her eyes, she is surprisingly calm and strong. She leads me to the kitchen table and we sit down. She tells me that she has been praying for my family for a long time and has felt a nudge from above to "love thy neighbor." She is ready for action.

She instructs me to get a few necessities together for me and the children. I don't understand why. Then she tells me that we are leaving! What? Did I hear her right? I can't do that, where will we go? I have no place to go, especially a place that is safe from the rage of my husband. She asks me if I trust God? Of course I do. Then she said, "trust me, too."

What am I about to do? Can I really go through with this? I am scared, deathly afraid for my life, for the lives of my children, and now the life of my neighbor! I have just asked God to save me, maybe this is His plan.

So I take a deep breath, my neighbor helps me throw a few things in a bag, and we gather the children. Then I look at the clock! It is 5:15 p.m. and my husband will be home in 15 minutes. Trying not to alarm the children, we quickly go to the neighbor's house and she makes a short phone call. If we want to live, we have to get out of here...immediately! My heart is racing, but I have to stay calm and try to figure out what to do. As soon as my neighbor gets off the phone, I know she has a plan.

We jump in the car and speed out of her driveway and head towards the highway. It is now 5:25 p.m. and my husband is about to arrive home to no dinner and no family! God help us all! As we turn to get on the highway, the kids spot "Daddy" at the red light. I frantically duck down and tell the kids I dropped my ring. They both immediately look on the floor, and when the light turns green, I "miraculously" find my ring. Wow, that was too close!

I notice that we are now on the highway, going 70 MPH. My neighbor tells me that we are going to stop by her church for a minute. At this point, that is almost a comfort. There is one car in the church parking lot. We pull up to a shiny silver Cadillac and my neighbor rolls her window down and introduces us to her dear friend. My neighbor tells us to go with her friend and that we will be in good hands. She will talk to us later, but she must get back to her home as soon as possible and see the reaction of my husband. She may need to call the police.

We jump into her friend's Cadillac and my neighbor spins her tires and takes off. I don't know what to say to this "new friend," my head is spinning, and my children are so confused. So it is quiet, almost too quiet. Finally, she breaks the ice and tells us a little about herself. She is a lifelong friend of my neighbor and loves her like a sister. Two years ago, after a surprise 50th wedding anniversary party, her husband was killed instantly in a horrific car accident. He left her with a big beautiful home with a bank account to match, but a broken heart and a lonely life. She is actually going to stick her neck into this mess? Wow, she must be a dear friend!

As we go through the gates to her home, I look in the backseat and the children have just fallen asleep. What a day they've had! We carefully carry them into the house and right upstairs to a beautiful bedroom with twin beds. They wake up just long enough to give me a kiss good night.

I can't believe what is happening! My neighbor called while I was putting my children to bed and the police had to arrest my husband for disorderly conduct, holding a gun to a police officer, among other things. But my neighbor is safe, and so am I, for now. As I talk to my "new friend", I feel comfort in her voice and her home. She tells me that she has been so lonely in this big old house and just can't keep up with the housework and gardening and the cooking like she used to when she was younger. She has been sincerely trying to figure out God's plan for her life. All at once, we both start laughing because we have been asking God the same question and miraculously our paths have crossed. She tells me that between her and my neighbor, I have a safe place here, to stay until I can get on my own feet. The pastors of their church have put my family on their prayer chains and lists.

The more we talk, the better things are beginning to sound. As I tell my "new friend" that I have always had a spotless home, did all the chores, inside and outside, the gardening, the laundry, the shopping, and all of the cooking, she begins to smile from ear to ear! I asked her why and she truly believes that God has led me to this place to become her housekeeper that is desperately needed. My "new friend" sees this as a blessing dropped from heaven. It is exactly what she has been praying for, but never got an answer"until today! I accepted her offer to become my "new friend's" housekeeper and do all those things that need to be taken care of, and I will take care of my "new friend", too! She loves my children, as if they were her own, and they learn and do so much together. I feel as though I have a safe, new beginning with a new family that loves me unconditionally.

This is all happening so fast, but who am I to question God's plan? I will be forever thankful to God and His people who are making me and my children a part of their lives. I feel safe and in good hands, like my neighbor told me. I have a new beginning and I never thought this would be possible. I am now free to go to church, no more hiding my Bible, and I can worship the God who saved me. I will pray and trust Him, and trust and love my "new friends". How can we ever doubt the goodness of God, if we live by faith and trust Him?

Praise God! Amen.

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