It was raining outside, a downpour. Jenny and I needed to make it from the car into the courthouse. She was glad she was wearing a habit this time. The rain slid down the fabric as it does on siding, nuns sure know how to design their clothes I thought, and Jenny certainly didn’t need makeup, so no mascara smudge. I, however, would look nothing like when I got in the car this morning. The parking lot was full, the only place to park was a mile away from the courthouse. I was hoping court would go better than the weather. We hurried through the parking lot and into the large glass doors where several police officers were there with wands and sniffing dogs. Security changed over the last several months. It seems Barney Fife is no longer in charge.
Jenny’s attorney met us outside the courtroom, with a large leather briefcase worn out from the years of working these hallways. I liked Silvia; she was a good attorney for Jenny, Silvia came from a long line of nuns and understood Jenny’s plight. Silvia’s mother married under age in Mexico and had a house full of kids by the time she was twenty-four. After years of abuse and pregnant with Silvia she crossed the Mexican/US border illegally and landed at The Little Sisters of the Lost in Southern California. She had left everything to free herself from an abusive husband; she trusted that the Grandparents who were still quite young could help raise her children left. Emilia, Silvia’s mom, wanted a day without crying, a day without pain. Even if it was one day and border patrol sent her back, she believed it was worth it. Emilia saw her older boys were picking up their father’s abusive way’s, they too started abusing her. As soon as Emilia’s husband left the house, her older boys picked up where he left off. So she realized she had to go.
Silvia grew up in the convent. Eventually, she went to law school. She was the only one of Emilia’s children that went to college. Years after Emilia left her husband, and were still not divorced; her husband got into a fight in a bar and was stabbed. He did not survive the stabbing and Emilia’s younger children rejoined her at the convent.
Jenny and I went to parochial school together from kindergarten through high school. Jenny was special; she saw the good in people, their potential. It was a blessing and a curse. We were always close and stayed in touch weekly through the years. Jenny was a very religious person and gave me great hope. I knew her prayers were powerful with God. Jenny had many priest friends; she would always find herself in jobs at the church or with the church or a ministry. Her family was not the best support for this, they were riddled with divorce and didn’t really tend to their Christian identity. I figured this was why Jenny became so attached to living out her Christian belief. Jenny’s sisters mocked her and dismissed her. Since they were step sisters, I thought of her life during our youth as Cinderella-like. But Jenny wouldn’t meet her prince until after she kissed some frogs.
I married my prince, and we had the house with the white picket fence. It was an ordinary life, and I attribute this to the amazing gift of good parents. My parents raised me without duplicity. They said what they meant and meant what they said. I knew where I stood, and they gave me grounding.
When Jenny and I graduated from high school, she was getting married to Tom, and I was headed off to college in a big city. Tom was not my favorite; he came from divorce, and he thought the world revolved around his needs. I spent hours trying to talk her out of marrying him. She for a split second agreed with me and was going to take a job out-of-state. Unfortunately, her critical family talked her out of it undermining her courage and leading her to believe Tom was the only way.
I was her maid of honor, and before she started down the aisle, I told her she could back out and that she didn’t need to do this. But, there were hundreds of guests and the show must go on. She stood frozen; the priest had to come out and have a talk with her. I prayed she would just walk away. But, Jenny felt because she had consummated this relationship, God would be pleased if she went ahead with it. So she did. And it would be a very rough life from that day forward.
Jenny was a picture perfect bride. The most beautiful wedding dress I would ever see. After the ceremony was finished and they headed for the limo. Someone popped champagne, and it got all over her dress turning it instantly yellow. I held her hand tight keeping her from crying as we sat in the limo on the way to the reception. She put on the best face she could, but she felt she had made a terrible mistake, and this had been a sign.
That night Tom was so drunk she could barely get him into their honeymoon suite. Jenny told me later she sat in the tub in her wedding dress and cried that night praying for some mercy while Tom slept off his hangover. She knew how bad it would be to remember her honeymoon night being a total disaster for the rest of their lives. The pictures of her wedding would haunt her with this memory.
It took Tom and Jenny many years to have a child, once they did it was Jenny’s happiest moment. She felt that motherhood was the most important mission of her life, and she lived it to the fullest. Her baby boy was her world. Tom kept quitting jobs and losing paychecks, and she was stuck getting part-time jobs. Jenny started sleeping in the babies room and eventually she and Tom stopped talking. Jenny went to Church alone. She was living a lie; her marriage was not a marriage. Jenny confessed to me once that she went into their study and looked out the window, it was about 3am and the sky was lit up with stars and the moon was so bright. She said to herself; he is looking at those same stars, the man I am supposed to be with is looking at those same stars. This is not going to be my life she thought. The next day she packed up all her things and headed to my house. That day, Jenny walked away from everything but her son, Liam. Jenny met with the priest, and very quickly her annulment was granted, after all, Tom refused to go to Church on Sunday’s and was not going to live by the Christian faith they both professed.
Jenny was blessed for many years she worked for the Church in various capacities. She raised Liam in the Church and he was growing into a beautiful boy. Then there was another fate filled day, Jenny met Simon at a work function. It was a beautiful night on a rooftop banquet hall, the stars were out the moon was bright and Jenny was introduced to Simon. Simon was not practicing any religion, he had lost both parents at a very young age, but Jenny felt strongly about Simon. He was smart, well-mannered and best of all kept a job for longer than five years. Jenny was concerned about Liam not having a father figure. So she dove in pretty quickly with Simon. But Simon was older by a bit and never had any serious relationships. Simon’s work was his life, he traveled around the world and had exquisite taste in home decor. Jenny looked at everything through the lens of what was best for Liam, not Jenny. Jenny’s family was not present in her life. Simon’s family was not present in his life. So in a weekend they eloped.
I was stunned, I would have been there for her and Jenny didn’t even give me a hint. It hurt me and I was concerned for Jenny and Liam. I didn’t know Simon, he was a stranger to me and I’m Jenny’s best friend. Simon was everything Tom wasn’t and Jenny liked that. But, what Jenny would learn is that a middle-aged man with no prior serious relationships means trouble. Simon seemed nice enough in a platitudes kind of way.
Liam was flourishing and that was most important to Jenny so even if Simon didn’t treat her right, Liam was on the right track. And Liam needed a father mature enough to provide for his needs.
Liz, guess what? Jenny asked. When we call each other we typically just launch into the conversation. “I have no idea?” I responded. I’m pregnant, do you believe it all these years, I never thought I could get pregnant! Jenny announced while chuckling. “Oh Jenny, how exciting!” I said. Liam was about eleven years old so it would be a big change for him. “How is Liam taking it,” I asked. “Liam isn’t sure what he thinks,” Jenny Said. “Simon is no young chicken, how is he dealing with it?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she said. “You don’t know,” I responded. “No, he smiled.” Jenny said. Well, there it was that strange old ominous Simon. Well, at least Jenny got a congratulatory response from me because Liam and Simon seemed to throw cold water on the news.
When Levi was born, it was a rough time for Jenny she was eleven years older than when she last gave birth so her health was not the best. Levi was a gorgeous baby. Simon was attentive but didn’t have the instincts Jenny had. Thinking Levi couldn’t crawl he left Levi alone to go to the bathroom and Levi fell down the stairs. Levi was fine but it was a huge adjustment for Simon, he lived his whole life alone and now a wife and two children.
Jenny stayed very faithful to the Church in the midst of all her struggles she stayed faithful. This is the second time she married a man who had no interest in faith, no interest in making decisions based on faith so she was exhausted emotionally just trying to live as a Christian. Simon, didn’t prevent her from living as a Christian he just had no interest in sharing it at the level she felt called to live it. Simon’s passive response lasted until Levi graduated from High School. Liam had years before, left the Church and broke Jenny’s heart. Liam had met up with Tom after Toms third divorce and they started travelling the country. Liam walked away from Jenny, the Church and years of Jenny’s work developing his spiritual formation.
Jenny was a funny carefree gal, but once Tom road in on a horse and lured Liam away, she changed. Simon was hurt as well and did not want Levi to fall into the same lifestyle as Liam, so Simon held his true feelings until Levi got older.
Jenny confided in me when she realized Liam probably left because, though she tried to arrange things differently, Simon was a cold man, he showed no warmth, very little compassion and would sit for hours at a computer never looking up to greet people coming in and out of the house. Liam felt lonely as did Jenny. Simon could not give them love; he could only give financial stability and after a while, the heart needs more, we are made for more she would say. Levi benefited from his older brother Liam. Liam was the loving “second dad” for Levi. Liam realized he didn’t have a loving father figure like Levi. After Toms third divorce, he reached out to Liam in a way Liam was starving for, and Jenny could no longer hold on to Liam. Liam was a man after all and if he walked away from the Church, as painful as it was for Jenny she had to let him go.
Levi was showing signs of emotional detachment in his teens. Jenny told me many times; Levi was cold towards friends. He went from a very affectionate boy to a cold young man. Levi was highly intelligent and did well in his studies, but she could see Simon was a much bigger influence on Levi than she was.
Simon and Jenny began living separate lives. Jenny received an offer to work for a Christian organization producing CD’s and the business was growing. She became a Regional Manage when Levi was off at College, and Simon retired. Simon became more and more unreasonable as the days went by. Simon had not one friend in all the years of working. He gained notoriety at his job and was very well-respected but once he retired after forty-five years with the same company he never saw any of those people again. Jenny became the target of his bitterness; he wanted her to suffer. He blamed her religion for Liam leaving. He blamed her religion for Levi never coming home. Simon was so unable to see himself and take responsibility for his hard heart that Jenny would feel the brunt of it every time she walked through the door after a long day working.
Years ago, Silvia contacted Jenny one day out of the blue. “Hi Jenny, my name is Silvia, and I have a story I would like you to put on CD, I think it fits your genre,” Silvia said. Silvia met Jenny at her office and listened to Emilia’s story. Emilia was now in her eighties and still dedicated to The Little Sisters of the Lost in Southern California.
Jenny sobbed, she could hardly contain herself. Emilia’s story struck a cord. It was so powerful and so deeply personal for Jenny. Over the next few weeks Jenny flew out from Milwaukee to meet Emilia with her producers. As soon as she pulled up to this amazing Mediterranean cottage community with a beautiful ornate Church towering in the center of the village among rolling hills and a mountain landscape as the backdrop, she felt she was home. Finally at sixty years old; Jenny was home. She felt what Emilia felt when she crossed the border illegally – just to experience freedom from pain.
When Jenny and Emilia met, they embraced like a daughter meeting her mother for the first time. It had been many years since Jenny had a day without abuse, without the responsibility of men whose parents failed them. That night Silvia took Jenny out into the convent garden, they laid down in the grass, looked up at the sky and saw stars the most stars Jenny had ever seen and the moon was so bright. Jenny knew, this was the man she was to be with, God.
Emilia’s story took off. It was a blockbuster CD all the Churches were carrying it; ministries were using it all across the world in several different languages. Jenny’s company could barely keep up the pace. Emilia passed away shortly after the success. Her funeral was attended by dignitaries and Hollywood types that sought spiritual counsel from her. We transformed her story from CD to books and finally Silvia was approached to have her mom’s story made into a movie.
Simon did as he always did, he barely left the house. He saw Levi about once a month. Liam would call him once in a while because he felt great pity for a father that could never love. Once Levi and Liam started reconnecting with each other, Levi began to play a pivotal role in bringing Liam back to the Church. Jenny was so grateful for this. Liam did not speak to Jenny; she was the face of the Church he came to dread. He felt guilt every time he saw her; it was unfair to Jenny, but she realized her martyrdom would someday be meaningful.
Jenny needed to let go of Simon; it wasn’t a marriage. She didn’t know what it was; it wasn’t a friendship even. God said, “Husbands love your wives.” In Simon’s case he couldn’t, he did not know how he was never taught. He was raised by a company, not a family. He could feel resentment and bitterness, but love was foreign and uncomfortable. Emilia’s story helped Jenny to let go, and she did.
The Little Sisters of the Lost accepted Jenny’s novitiate, all the money earned through Emilia’s story would go directly to their cause and at this point it was millions. Jenny packed a small box after twenty-eight years of marriage to Simon. She took with her all of her spiritual belongings; she said goodbye to the dogs as she realized Simon would need them more than she did. In a way she bought the dogs for him, it was the only way he could experience warmth she thought.
After a year of the novitiate, she received a notice to complete her divorce with Simon. She asked Silvia to be her attorney and represent her. Jenny called me and asked if I could pick her up from the airport and take her to the courthouse. It was time for Jenny to accept her final vows back at the convent, so time was of the essence.
Jenny and I were shaking off the rainwater outside the courtroom with Silvia. Simons attorney introduced himself and told us Simon would not be attending. He told Jenny the dogs had passed away. Jenny’s eyes swelled up; even the dogs died from lack of love she thought. The proceeding went relatively quick since Jenny wanted nothing. She gave him the house, cars all of it. She just wanted the freedom to be with God fully. Silvia, Jenny and I went to lunch after all the legal documents were finalized and she was the happiest I had ever seen her since we were kids on the playground. This is where she belonged, this was her true marriage.
The following year, I flew out to visit Jenny at the Little Sisters of the Lost Convent, she had a big surprise for me. Liam had shown up to the convent to visit her earlier that month and announced he was a priest and assigned to the diocese in the area. He did not want her to know until all was finalized. Levi had gotten married and became a deacon, and he and his family were moving out to be near Jenny, now known as Sister Margaret. Tom had passed away from cancer and Liam realized what his true calling was, he had fought it all those years. Seeing his mom Jenny back then was like seeing Jesus disappointed, so through the tragedy of Tom, Liam embraced his call.
Levi realized once he got married that loving his wife was a fundamental truism, and he pulled from everything Jenny had taught him. When Levi visited Simon, and his father chose not to hug his own grandchildren, Levi snapped out of his selfishness and realized the suffering of his mom and the power of her prayers.
As we all approach our seventies, and our children are now in midlife. I find it miraculous that once Jenny aka Sister Margaret chose God as her spouse, her children were saved. Liam and Levi were loved. God did not forget her or her prayers.