The Choice

Written by Richard Drebert

©Good Catch Publishing

The afternoon that officers rifled through kitchen cabinets and every bedroom drawer is seared into my memory.

Clinical. Precise. Unemotional.

Twelve inspectors invaded my home to gather physical evidence that would damn my children and me to five years of unimaginable heartache.

I shudder, now, that I thought it was all an elaborate, convincing prank.

I was smiling when I opened the door to two men in dark suits, flashing dime store badges and droning on about their positions as “criminal investigators for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.” The very long name seemed funny to me, and so did the half dozen cars parked helter-skelter along the street. Overkill. The Haleys were being Punk’d. Our party friends were in on it. I couldn’t spy the video camera, but there had to be one, somewhere.

“Ma’am, you must secure your dogs immediately. Ma’am. NOW.”

Amazing how serious these actors seemed to be. I grabbed Rusty, one of our German Shepherd huskies, by the collar, hauling him back from the door. Rusty was taut and angry for some reason. My 3-year-old and 6-year-old children leaned on my legs, and I reassured them. Jesse, our other dog, stood her ground, and I dragged her into the backyard, too, closing the sliding glass door on her frantic warnings.

Good dogs! Protecting the kids, I thought. But there’s no need for all that …

“Is Jason Haley at home?”

“He’s still at work …”

Then I noticed Doug, standing a few paces behind the two actors at the door. He had been a resource officer at the middle school where I worked, but joined the Internet crime division unit for the feds. Doug worked on a task force that tracked down child predators

My entertaining cast of characters vanished, along with my smile. Suddenly, standing on my front lawn were true-blue U.S. marshals, local sheriff’s deputies and federal agents.

A marshal handed me a paper that had the words AFFIDAVIT FOR SEARCH WARRANT branded at the top. Doug deferred to senior colleagues when I asked him what was happening.

Four years later, I wonder that I was so naïve at 35 years old. My father was a Texas homicide detective. I had been married twice to detention officers and worked among sleazy inmates booked into the Texas prison system. I kick myself sometimes, that I didn’t sense that evil percolating in my home.

In suburbia, I had felt insulated against the vileness of the skid row sex trade, leering men in basement chat rooms and enslaved girls performing on computer screens.

But I live in a world where no family is safe anymore. I live in a world where innocence is spoiled by one click of a mouse.

My life had changed the moment I signed for a particular parcel delivered by a courier. It still feels like five minutes ago, and it’s taken me a lifetime to discover the only power on earth that can protect the ones I love — and myself — from the toxic caress that ruins souls.

***

Extra baggage.

I felt that way growing up, with two much-older siblings and my parents. All I recall now are blurry images floating in my childhood; bike riding, parks, older sisters, church. It was a plain vanilla life in Westminster, California. Nothing bad happened, and nothing good. As I reached adolescence, I do remember a lot of family bickering and praying for my parents to get divorced.

But Dad and Mom hadn’t always been unhappy. I grew up with parents who went to church religiously. Dad had married Mom while he was a Navy man, and they started out clinging to one another for dear life. Dad had been married once, and his wife deserted him while deployed. Mom had been married before, too, at just 16. They were two young people, twice abandoned, before they even met. Dad aspired to be a pastor, but got sideswiped later by family entanglements.

When I was 13, I joined a church’s youth group, where mostly young adults attended our activities. My parents would have been incensed, had they known that my lessons included how to party. I had great “teachers.” At school I was laughed at for being a tomboy, so these older kids drew me into their circle of social enjoyments — after church. I thrived on their approval.

Youth group is where I met Kevin. I fell for this guy, and he gladly reaped every bit of my first innocent “love.” There were two reasons I went to church: Mom and Dad made me go, and my 18-year-old Kevin was waiting to plan secret dates. About this same time, Dad seemed to stumble over his commitment to God and set his heart toward a career as a police officer. Mom and he couldn’t see eye-to-eye about their youngest daughter or anything else. Our days in sunny California were coming to an end.

My education amounted to a patchwork of schools in Orange County, several out of my home district. Some were Christian schools. Whenever relationships soured, I convinced my busy parents that I needed a new learning environment, and they gave in. My school wandering reinforced a misperception that I was a friendless, straight-A oddball — an outsider.

But Kevin made me feel wanted. I spent as much time with him as possible until Dad found out.

My father was a hefty man, a former sailor, an officer of the law, tattooed and formidable. Yet, Daddy was no match for his eighth-grade baby girl. From the day he separated Kevin and me, his boldest effort was doomed to failure.

I was 16 when Kevin and I “found” each other again. Kevin was 21, and we both decided he should approach Dad, man-to-man, and start my courtship the “right” way. Kevin’s parents attended church with mine, and his family seemed like good Christian folks.

I had decided that our marriage was going to happen. Kevin and I were engaged for about two years. While other girls fanned through college brochures, Mom helped me fit for a wedding gown.

Dad prayed that I might recover from inevitable wounds he knew I would suffer by marrying so young. After my high school graduation, he walked me down the aisle, and I loved him for it. As Kevin and I sailed off, he wept over the hidden reefs he knew I couldn’t see.

Funny, I never remember my family praying together, or talking about God, or faith. But somewhere under Mom and Dad’s care, I voiced a vague little-girl commitment to Jesus. I even got baptized.

But by 18, all meaningful pieces of my life had been vacuumed away, like dust before Mom’s old Hoover. Only one tiny seed of faith survived. A faint sound, like a distant surf, never left my consciousness: I knew that God was in my soul, somewhere.

My father was on his own course toward shipwreck. He tacked resolutely toward a career as a detective, and a police department in Plano, Texas, offered him the quickest route. Mom and he needed the change, and he accepted the new job.

Kevin and I stayed in California for a time, but the Longhorn State seemed to be calling us. We moved to a small town near Dallas, jobless, and already struggling in our first months of marriage.

***

“Mrs. Haley, did you access the DVD you received from the courier via the Postal Service?” the agent with a vinyl-looking face asked.

“No. I … I tried, but it hasn’t come up. It’s in the DVD player.”

“Well, let me tell you what’s on it. The DVD contains explicit material of underage girls.”

He was studying me, every quiver, every twitch of my eyebrow.

My children were close to me, clingy. I heard Jason’s catch-all bowl atop his chest of drawers upstairs clink, and I knew that a stranger handled his socks and underwear. I heard my own dresser drawers flump open and closed.

Soon an agent emerged from our bedroom with several videos of our children’s birthday parties, family vacations and backyard fun. The man boxed them up and carried them outside to a van.

“Do you have any other computers in the house? Camcorders or other electronic devices, Mrs. Haley?”

I pointed them out, then hid my hands between my knees again. The kitchen seemed cold. I was shaking uncontrollably.

“Do you own these e-mail addresses?” I nodded, but I really didn’t see them.

“Are there others?” I didn’t know of any.

“Mrs. Haley, the owner of a Web site chat room that Mr. Haley frequents is under investigation for unlawful distribution of pornographic material. Your husband ordered the DVD that you signed for and accepted into your possession.”

What did I do? My god! What has Jason been up to? 

“Sir. Look, I know my husband. He … he’s not that kind. I mean, someone probably stole his identity. It’s not him!”

I immediately felt stupid. By his half-smile I realized how I must sound to hardened criminal officers. I had joined a growing society of wives who vehemently championed men they really didn’t know at all.

Then a new fear bled through all the others: If this was all true, child porn perverts who sent the DVD had our home address. Our own children were at risk!

JASON!

“Are you arresting my husband?”

“He is being questioned at this time.”

I pictured Jason, blindsided at his spare little office at work. His boss would know why federal agents were on site. A fresh reality swept through my mind. Jason would lose his job. We lived paycheck to paycheck, barely comfortable most months. How would we survive?

“Let me be up front with you, ma’am.”

The agent’s glasses were tinting green in the kitchen glare. He seemed to be making a stab at being kind.

“These are federal charges. We have very convincing evidence against your husband. You have to accept that Mr. Haley is going away for the mandatory prison term for receiving pornographic material of underage children via the U.S. Postal Service.”

I wanted to wash his mouth out with soap. I wanted to scrub my mind.

“He will serve five consecutive years. Agents are probably arresting him now.” He glanced at his watch. An officer standing at the kitchen door nodded solemnly.

How will we ever survive this? I wasn’t praying. It never occurred to me. After two full hours of grilling, the agents left my disheveled home, and I locked the door.

On cue, in my macabre horror show, a cell phone jangled.

“Are … are you and the kids still at the house?”

“I’m here. Yes. Are you … arrested?”

“No, Elaine. Are you planning to leave me?”

I glanced at my two innocent darlings, playing in the living room, and took a deep breath. “Jason. I just need you to come home.”

My Dream Come True

I was married to Kevin, my teen-dream, for almost three (mostly happy) years before I divorced him.

We had both landed good jobs at the county jail at McKinney, Texas, and worked the same 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift every day. Mom and Dad lived nearby, and I often poured out my heart to them about my troubles. Mom and Dad were slugging it out over the same kinds of communication issues that Kevin and I were. Dad excelled in his police work at the McKinney Police Department. Mom worked at the city library. I watched a distance gap wider and wider between the two, year after year. Our moves to the Lone Star State hadn’t been healing elixirs for any of us.

The 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. work schedule suited Kevin and me to a tee: Boot-stompin’ bars in Texas opened wide their doors to us and our officer friends. We danced and drank into the wee hours, then slept a little. Then burned the candle at both ends all over again. From the day Kevin and I took jobs with the sheriff’s office, we were earmarked for breakup.

Married officers regularly cheated on each other; it seemed to be “initiation” into their club, a mark of sexual prowess. After a few months of working separate shifts, Kevin told me he wanted his freedom. He moved out, and when I begged him to reconcile, we did — for one night. The next morning, as we awakened together, he told me that we were through.

Take me back just to throw me out?

A deep sense of rejection and abandonment settled in my heart. But Dad had tried to warn me. Did a solid man of integrity, like my father, even exist anymore?Hemmed in by leering jail inmates and two-timing officers of the law, I stayed focused on my job as a booking clerk, planning my exit to start a new career: becoming a school teacher. I studied at college part-time.

“You need a guy, Elaine. And I’ve got just the man for you,” my friend Shirley, the jail nurse, told me one day. I was eating my lunch alone again.

“Don’t even …”

“I mean it. He’s handsome, intelligent, funny, quiet and unattached!”

“Something must be wrong, if he’s unattached.”

You’re unattached!”

I brushed her off, popping a grape between my teeth. “It’s only been a few months — it’s way too soon after Kevin. Besides, I’m focusing on getting credentialed for teaching.”

“A good man can always fit into your plans, Elaine.”

***

From where I sat, the new guy looked very good as he moved in his pressed, well-fitted officer’s uniform. He barely acknowledged me as he processed an accused rapist into holding. I turned to Shirley and whispered, “Who is that?”

She pointed an accusing finger between my eyes and rasped, “Idiot! That’s the guy!”

At that moment I sensed a familiar yearning revive, in waves. I needed to know this man better.

***

Jason Haley had spent his childhood resenting a father who cheated on his mother, until his father deserted them. His mother drank to cope and neglected her now 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. Jason stepped up to fill his absent father’s shoes, caring for his sister and alcoholic mother the best he knew how.

No one knew, but “Daddy” left him just a few years after Jason suffered sustained sexual abuse by older boys in his neighborhood. He was 9 when they terrorized him relentlessly, whenever they found him alone. From the moment of his first act of abuse, Jason retreated into a cell of wasting shame. To survive, he walled up his emotions, repressing his secret guilt and fear inside, as a child, a teenager and later as an adult.

Thereafter, every hateful event in his life fortified a subconscious resolve to protect himself from further emotional trauma. He was incapable of showing gentleness or ordinary affection. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, he just didn’t feel at all.

It seems clichéd to say it, but Grandpa Luke was a “godsend.” Like God used my father to support me, God used Grandpa to support Jason. Around 10 years old, he began spending summers with his grandpa in Texas, until finally at 12 years old, the broken little boy moved from California to Texas to live closer to his grandfather.

Jason had miraculously detoured around a road to utter ruin. His grandparents’ unconditional love cracked open a seam in his wall, never to be mortared shut again.

Jason, the daydreamer, hated school and joined the Navy. He married at 20, and while deployed on a ship, his wife cheated on him with his best friend. By 23, he was single again. After his discharge, he ended up in Texas and worked his way into a position at the county jail in McKinney.

I had been alone after my divorce for about six months, with most evenings spent with girlfriends or my parents at their house where I now lived.

The first week that Jason and I worked together processing prisoners, I floated home on a cloud and announced, “I’ve found the man of my dreams! He’s the one I’m going to marry.”

But only womanly scheming and stubbornness got Jason and I dating. I stayed deliberately blind to Jason’s shortcomings, believing that I could mend his brokenness. I loved the man from the beginning. I thought his inability to express feeling stemmed from a bitter former marriage. He had been crushed by a heartless, unfaithful wife — and that I could understand. I truly believed that my tenderness would heal his mistrust of women.

But at the time, Jason knew better.

“Elaine, honey. I can’t handle any relationship right now.”

He was trying to shut me out. I snuggled close, my hands moving on his chest with purpose in mind. I had to win him.

“Is it me? Aren’t you attracted to me?”

“It’s not that.” He smirked a little. “You need to understand: I’m just not capable of loving the right way. I don’t want to hurt you, but you care for me way too much.”

“I love you, Jason.”

“I know. And I can’t handle it.”

“I’m not asking you to marry me …”

“Elaine, I’m just not ready for this.”

A sailor had just been given the green light to happily step over a moral threshold. He was 24. Red blooded. Healthy. In my present state of mind, I was his dream come true!

We stayed friends after that half-baked evening, but we were done. I was crushed all over again.

We had one final meeting before he moved to Virginia, where his father lived. Texas was a closed book in his life, and so was I. I tried to kiss him goodbye, to remind him of what he would be missing, but he turned his head.

I didn’t understand this man at all.

And strangely, Jason’s rejection of my advances only made me love him more. Years after he left, I mulled over our unsatisfying affair. My conclusion was that Jason cared for me so much that he refused to hurt me. He wasn’t ready to commit to me, and I respected him for being truthful.

One night, having a few drinks with the girls, we talked over soul mates, and I told them that Jason was the “one that got away.”

“Why him, Elaine?”

“God knows,” I said, swirling my liquor, wondering where he was. “Only God knows.”

***

I was feeling pretty upbeat about my life almost four years after Jason Haley moved away. For two of those years, I worked at an afterschool program, learning to structure and coordinate children’s social experiences. After work, I hit the books at the University of Texas at Dallas.

My parents were supportive all the way, allowing me to live at home. I was just a few months away from graduating and planned to student teach somewhere in the area. One day at dinner, Mom mentioned that something peculiar came up while checking in books at the library.

“I overheard a young lady asking the whereabouts of someone named Jason Haley. Didn’t you work with him at the sheriff’s office?” My eyebrows rose and froze on the name.

“Aaand?”

“And, of course, we couldn’t give any information out about Jason, though his library card is still on file. The girl was quite pretty.”

“Hmmm.”

It suddenly seemed like yesterday that Jason abandoned Texas — and me.

Perhaps I should call his dad and let him know someone is looking for him.

I had his father’s number and dialed. Two weeks later, Jason dialed me.

My dream was coming true! Jason wanted me to visit him in Virginia. He bought me a plane ticket, and I spent a mini summer vacation getting reacquainted with my “soul mate.” Since our relationship in Texas, Jason couldn’t seem to connect with anyone who loved him like me. He wanted me, for real this time.

And nothing else in my life mattered anymore. It had taken Jason nearly six years to sort out his emotions about his first wife. I was 26 and within months of a teaching career.

We charted a course that included gaining my teaching credentials in Virginia. Mom was devastated when I told her that I was moving to Jason’s city, lock, stock and barrel. Dad was supportive, but when I left my parents’ lives, Mom and he immediately divorced.

I moved in with Jason, and within a year, we visited the courthouse to marry. I landed a job teaching at a Lynchburg school, and we settled into a nice home in the country. He had a great job in management at a local distributing company, and in time, we discussed having children.

“Can you love our kids, Jason?”

It was a question that haunted me sometimes, due to his strange hands-off behavior toward me. If we sat on the sofa, we never cuddled. It never entered his head that I needed a hug after a hard day with students. I initiated any affection between us. And it went further.

After a couple years together, I realized that he really couldn’t love me. He didn’t know how. As much as I could, I turned off my need for physical touch, because I loved him. I tried to convince myself that I could nurture him into loving me and children, too. Meanwhile, I demanded from myself that I be happy. I could leave Jason or learn to compromise and be content.

While I worried about the emptiness in my marriage, Jason wrestled, too — with memories. They were morphing into passions he had no power to neglect. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Christa, then three and a half years later to our son, Adam. We were happy and appeared normal to a growing circle of friends.

At the time we were clueless that our “normal” suburban lifestyle lay in the path of a perverse hurricane.

Suicide Watch

It was my turn to grill Jason after the federal agents got done with him at his office. As he walked through the front door, I hugged him and sat him down for answers.

How did we get here?

Jason’s self-assurance was gone. His eyes were vacant, and he met most of my questions with, “I just don’t know …”

What he did recall, he told me in fits and starts over time: From his computer, in a comforting chat room, my husband had finally opened up about his childhood sexual trauma with a group that shared similar “experiences.” To Jason, the discussions felt like therapy, but a trap had been sprung.

Certain enablers in the chat room showed him novel ways to deaden his pain, and with his weakness for pornography, they sucked him deeper into hopeless addiction.

Unknown to Jason, some in this group specifically targeted souls suffering unrelenting psychological anguish.

For monetary profit, his new “friends” exploited men, women and children, selling perversion of varying degrees. They had profited from the misery of my husband — while federal agents monitored their every conversation.

A DVD containing illegal material had been ordered by Jason. He had never seen it. He had never had it in his personal possession. But the contraband was tracked through the Postal Service to our home. Now his reputation, his job and perhaps his family, too, were forfeit.

I could see unbearable shame in his eyes. And remorse for causing me to suffer — and his babies. I rambled on about prison and the bills and lawyers, and he stopped me.

“When I called your cell — if you and the kids were gone … I know where the .38 is. I was going to use it.”

That’s when I comprehended that I knew little or nothing about the man sitting across the kitchen table. I realized that I was his last hope, but how could I bear this humiliation? Where would I get my endurance?

After a sleepless night, I spent the following day acquiring prescriptions for Jason’s overwhelming panic attacks. I talked with doctors to educate myself on what to expect next, in his state of fear. Hour by hour, Jason’s grip on reality frayed, like strands in a slow burning rope.

The next morning, Jason got up early, as was his habit — he was dressing for a day at the office. I lay in bed, wide awake, watching him. He seemed more resolute, perhaps more himself. I never usually got up at this ungodly hour to intrude on his morning rituals, but today I stopped him as he went downstairs.

I wrapped my arms tight around him. My inner resolve surrounded us, binding us together. It was a comfort. I held him at arm’s length for a moment, looking at his downcast eyes.

“Jason. We will get through this.”

His eyelids fluttered, but no one stared back at me.

“Honey, I need to know where you are. The doctors said that if I have an inkling that you might harm yourself, I need to take you to the hospital.”

Jason’s knees buckled. I tried to hold him up as he sank to the stairs. He snapped back to reality for a few seconds and said, “I think you better take me …”

How I kept it all together that morning, feeding the kids, helping Jason call in sick, delivering my children to school and daycare, I’ll never know. I believe that some force beyond my abilities kept me sane.

“I wasn’t going to work today, Elaine.”

“Where, then?” I asked. We were parking at the emergency wing of the hospital. I turned the engine off, and we sat quietly together.

“I was on the way to the Blue Ridge Mountains — to drive off one of those beautiful viewpoint cliffs.”

I shook my head. “Let’s go.”

He handed me a box cutter as we entered Virginia Baptist Hospital at the crisis prevention wing. It wasn’t unusual that he carried one. He often sliced open freight — but a chill ran through me as I pocketed the cool aluminum handle.

“Mr. Haley, look at me! Jason!” The nurse had my husband by the shoulders at the admittance counter. She was asking him questions, and he was unresponsive.

“This is all going to be okay. You are going to be okay! Understand?” She nodded at a technician who led us to his room. Jason stayed in the crisis wing, hospitalized for more than a week.

***

“The courts will want to know just what kind of monster you are, Mr. Haley.”

Attorney Slack was a former prosecutor. In my confused state, I had accepted the referral from task force agents — the men who had turned my home into a crime scene. At the time, I detected no conflict of interest in taking their advice. I would have shepherded the defense of my dear husband differently, in hindsight. Instead, we mortgaged the house to pay for exorbitant fees, billed by Mr. Slack.

“Are you willing to submit to lie detector screening?”

Jason nodded. Mr. Slack handed him a sheet of paper with PhDs and addresses. Jason handed them to me. “I’ll set you up with one of these psychologists to judge your state of mind. Their forensic psychological tests assess your level of addiction and to what.

Jason was happy to do anything that cleared up my distrust of him and to prove he wasn’t the monster these types of charges typically depicted. The lie detector test cleared him of any unreported history of offenses. A battery of psychological evaluations bolstered his assertion that he had no predisposition toward sexual abuse of children. I cannot describe the relief that I felt, knowing those tests confirmed what I already knew deep in my heart.

“But when will Jason be arrested?” I asked. Attorney Slack seemed to have wonderful connections with the federal task force.

“It might be a week, or it could take months. They’re nailing down the case against Jason. The feds are pretty backlogged on crimes like these.”

One day agents met with us again and returned all our electronic equipment, boxes of family pictures and videos. Still, no one read Jason his rights, but the feds advised us that he faced charges soon.

While we waited on pins and needles for a court date, Jason and I began survival counseling. Months passed, and so certain were we that the government’s case against Jason was “air tight,” my husband signed a plea agreement. Mr. Slack advised us that there was no way out of serving his prison time.

Jason pled guilty to a felony charge of receiving illegal material using the U.S. Postal Service. One count. Five years mandatory sentence.

Well ahead of Jason’s August court date, Mr. Slack had prepped us on what to expect. He assured us that we would have a couple months to get our house in order after sentencing, before Jason was taken away.

Instead, seconds after the judge’s gavel battered our hearts, my husband was led away in handcuffs. Mr. Slack shrugged. It was the last time I saw Jason for weeks. No one had even read Jason his rights. He had never been “arrested” for any crime.

Desperate Solace

What had happened to Jason Haley?

In our eighth season of marriage, the year before his accusation, I became Jason’s true love for the first time. Our 6 year old, Christa, loved softball, and we were socializing with other parents that we met at games and practices.

Jason seemed to have climbed over his wall, drinking hard liquor and laughing with new friends at parties. I felt like I was falling in love with him all over again. Nothing could have thrilled me more than hearing him tell me that he really wanted me.

For most of our marriage, we had deliberately sectioned every day like grapefruit, into an unvarying pattern. Weekends consisted of video games, meals and sharing Stephen King novels. Mom said that Christa and Adam needed to learn “Christian” values like I had, and she took them to church with her almost every Sunday. I harangued Jason about church sometimes, but we seldom went.

On weekdays we had practiced our almighty work ethic to pay for our house, cars and chip away at credit cards. Our arguments were always one-sided affairs, with me throwing fits while Jason stoically refused to “discuss it.”

Suddenly even our arguments had dwindled, leaving an empty battlefield of re-plastered walls. Around springtime, my husband boldly led us out of our comfort zone, and suddenly, we enjoyed gathering with friends. We joined a group who, like us, were breaking out of suburban doldrums.

Was this what it was like to feel “fulfilled”?

I had no idea that suffocating events were oozing closer. Behind my back, Jason was furnishing a “new residence” in an alternate reality. When I was away, cyberspace became his home and the real world just a parking lot. In cyberspace he faced no consequences. In cyberspace no one could hurt him. Addiction soon owned his soul.

Near the end of June, “God” showed up at our door, signaling an end to my husband’s perversion — and setting in motion events to rescue me from mine.

It was the only way to heal both of us and prepare our family for a healthy, productive future.

***

Jason’s first letter arrived several days after he was processed into the Lynchburg lock up:

Elaine,  I had an experience in (the) Lynchburg jail that scared me half to death, until I realized what it was. The third night that I was locked up in the individual cell, I was about to go out of my mind. I had been locked up in an 8 by 12-foot cell with no windows, nothing to read, nothing to watch. I got in the corner of the cell on the floor, letting my mind run away with me.

Every bad thought that could possibly come up, came out. I would have anxiety attacks and just about go completely crazy. Then I started seeing things, mainly faces. Faces of people that I didn’t even know started passing in my mind. It did not matter if my eyes were open or closed, they kept coming.

My throat tightened. Then all at once a light came, and angels were flying around me. Again I closed my eyes and opened them, but I still saw them. When the light went away, I felt calm. I no longer had anxiety. I felt at peace.

Elaine, this was not a dream, this happened. God came to me that night, he picked me up and he showed me that he was truly there. I stayed in that cell for the rest of the night and half of the next day. I was fine because of the faith I had received that night. My soul is now alive … I want to share my soul with your soul for the rest of our lives.

I no longer take any of my medications. I guess you could say I am on God’s drugs now. This is God’s answer to stone-cold hearts:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you” (Ezekiel 36:26).

I reread Jason’s letter, dumbfounded. I had been raised in church, but he had dabbled in a variety of philosophies. He leaned toward some perpetual Oriental force that sent people back to relive lives again and again, until they got “it” right.

He had never quoted anything out of the Bible; he had never acknowledged that he needed rescuing — until now. His new faith in Jesus dislodged an avalanche of emotions in my heart.

But while some hope for our marriage remained, a distant relative of Jason’s perversion had captured my heart — it was every bit as addictive and devastating to our family as his.

I had taken a new teaching position at a Christian school when a sensitive friend began offering his shoulder to lean on. By day, I taught subjects enhanced by Biblical principles; by night, I succumbed to the need for solace from a family friend who “understood” me.

I chose, overtly, to enjoy fulfillment in a man, rather than stay true to my husband. My good friend, Ben, I could touch. He enabled me, commiserated with me. Smothered me with affection. I was finally receiving all the things I longed for that Jason had been unable to provide.

My future life with Jason seemed to be just a figment of a little girl’s dream.

In time, I told Jason about Ben. A letter came soon after that he was on suicide watch.

What did he expect?   

And what was this unrelenting invitation I felt deep in my psyche, a compassionate call to GIVE UP my search for fulfillment — in Jason, in a career, in my children and especially in another man’s arms? Was this Jesus? The unseen, ever-present being I had given my heart to in Sunday school?

Never in my whole life had my soul been so thoroughly touched by God. Jason’s letter made him real. “There’s a reason for all of this, baby girl. Trust Jesus. He’ll get you through.” Both Mom and Dad had shared that sentiment with me religiously.

And what had happened to my “old detective”? Always so grounded, but now — Dad spoke to me on the phone, like he was un-tethered from earthly worries. As far as I could see, he still had his share of concerns.

Dad’s fifth motorcycle accident had forced him into retirement. He had been revived after he was pronounced dead. Suddenly my father was serious about his relationship with Jesus, whom he met very intimately. He left behind his career as a Texas homicide detective and moved into his sister’s home in Seagoville, Texas.

Jason’s mind and heart were reborn in a Virginia jail cell; my father’s soul had been restored in a Texas emergency room. Why did my heart live in a perpetual state of confusion?

I had lost the house to foreclosure. Then the cars. Our family income had plummeted overnight, from $90,000 per year to $29,000.

My newfound love, so caring and affectionate, couldn’t understand me, either. Why didn’t I just divorce Jason? Ben had given up so much for me already and would do anything to become a permanent part of my life. Why couldn’t I do the same in return? But I knew that my family’s eternal wellbeing hung upon my decisions. I came a hair’s breadth from pulling the trigger on my marriage once and for all, but at the last minute, I couldn’t do it.

Which was the last straw for Ben.

He enlisted in the Army to gain “perspective,” while I still vacillated between following him to his assignment in Louisiana and staying close to Jason’s prison, for the kids’ sakes. I was addicted to the happiness that I experienced in Ben’s enabling, warm embrace. But I sensed God’s peace whenever I contemplated keeping my family together and serving Jesus wholeheartedly.

Which should I choose?

The day I heard that Jason was being transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, Texas, I felt as if Jesus had directed a tsunami into my brain. My father lived in Seagoville, and he had never once vilified or condemned Jason. Dad had studied the crime scenes left by the most corrupt killers in Texas. He knew the depths to which a man can sink, but spoke buoyantly of God’s forgiveness and unconditional love for anyone — whether a former porn addict, an adulterous school teacher or a jaded homicide detective.

And Dad affirmed the utter transformation in Jason Haley.

Jason knew how involved I was in Ben’s life, but in his letters, he no longer begged for me to hold on. I had visited him with the kids sporadically and quit because his eyes conveyed so much pain that I couldn’t take it anymore.

But my dad hadn’t quit. He loved his “baby girl” enough to reach out to his battered son-in-law with compassion. It was Dad’s hope that God would heal our family.

My father had been meeting with Jason weekly at Seagoville, nurturing him in how to live a Christian life. A poem Jason wrote said more about his progress than any letter he could have written me:

God’s Hands

Well, isn’t it weird, I thought to myself,

As I sit here in jail, all I own on one shelf.

I’m forced by the silence to relive what I’ve done,

And to count down my sentence each day, one by one.

I say to myself, “It’s all right, I’m okay.”

Each time I feel lonely, on my knees I do pray.

I ask God’s patience, forgiveness and love,

And in that split second, come those hands from above.

They’re always so kind, so gentle, so true.

I don’t think twice, God, I know it is you.

I may be locked up, and I may be locked down.

But I’ll always be free where God’s hands are around.

I moved, kids and all, near Seagoville, Texas, still uncertain about my feelings for Jason. One of my first visits to see him opened my eyes about his view of our relationship. He held my hand and said, “Elaine, for three and a half years I have prayed for us. I believe that God wants us back together. But I love you enough that if you choose a different path, I’ll set you free.”

I flinched at the pain I saw in his eyes, but there was something else, too. A peaceful resolve. “I want you and the kids to be happy. I can’t control your decisions, and I won’t try anymore. I’ve given my decisions to God. You have to do what you think is right.”

Be happy, and do what was right?

Suddenly I realized that the man I had married — broken — was now on the mend. It was up to me to find the strength and make the right choice.

Praying became like breathing to me. I needed to speak to God for my sanity and survival. I yearned to be in the place where God healed my addiction of adultery. Whenever the overwhelming physical need to be held danced across the screen of my brain, I prayed for courage.

“Oh, God. Change my heart. Help me do the right thing! Show me your will! Help me release Ben, once and for all!”

Alone, I felt weak and vulnerable. I stood in strong crosswinds of emotions. But Jesus answered my prayer by leading me to a safe place, where I could be rooted and grounded in faith. I thank God that Mom diligently searched for a home church, long before I had, because he used her to get me where I needed to be.

It was Mother’s Day when I finally decided to visit Oasis Church with my mom. God spoke very distinctly to my soul, to worship with these believers three Sundays before deciding to make it my home church. My family had a lot riding on my choice. It would be our place to heal.

Dad came with me on my second visit to Oasis, and an evangelist preached a sermon that hit home, stirring me to love God — and Jason — more than ever before. The Spirit of God poured courage into my soul, and I tearfully accepted my calling as wife, mother and servant of God.

In the pew beside me, Dad looked at me with satisfaction. “Welcome home, baby girl. Do you remember? We used to worship like this!”

I knew I was home. Jesus refreshed me at this Oasis.

***

Afghanistan is a place where it’s hard for men and women to avoid God, and I pray that Ben finds him there.

Jason walks out of federal prison in December 2012 and into my arms. My children are waiting, and I have made clear choices that will impact our family long after Jason and I have passed. Our story will endure because of a merciful God.

We have forgiven one another and are learning from scratch to trust like never before. Every week we sit next to each other at a federal prison, counting down the days — like a betrothed couple anticipating our wedding day. We are not throwing away our sacred history.

But I know my dreams of fulfillment will never be met in Jason. I can never put that impossible burden on him again. And he knows that I am not the bride that will satisfy his heart.

Our fulfillment is in Jesus alone.

My role is to be a helpmate — to watch his back, and Jason will watch over me. From what we have suffered, we know that we must be open about our weaknesses and confess them to one another, so that we are truly healed.

In the next few months after prison visits, I’ll drive home to my apartment and tuck my two angels into bed. We’ll pray for Daddy in his cell, and I’ll imagine loving Jason without any wall of guilt between us. In the watches of the night, I’ll marvel at our miracle: After so much strife, Jason and I are again deeply in love.

And God’s gentle voice will whisper to my heart one more time, “Trust me, Elaine. Your soul mate will be home soon.”

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