Shuffling through the mail, Brad Kremmer pulled out several envelopes from credit card companies and ripped them open. His muscles tightened as he skimmed over the new balances. “She’s lied again,” Brad realized. His wife, Jennifer, had promised to stop gambling at the casino and going on out-of-control buying sprees. Instead, she had gone through at least another two thousand dollars.
“Jennifer, you’ve got to stop. Can’t you see we’ll end up going bankrupt?”
“I’m stuck home all day with nothing to do but take care of Kristin and housework,” she yelled. “All you do is complain and treat me like a child. I’m sick of it and I’m sick of you…I’m leaving!
Brad looked out the window as his wife sped off in the direction of the casino, where so much of his hard-earned money had gone the last couple months.
“Dear God,” he prayed. “Watch over her. I’ll do whatever it takes to help her, but I don’t know what to do anymore. Please help us so Kristin and I can have her back the way she was.”
“Daddy,” his two-year-old daughter’s voice broke his reverie. “Where’s mommy?”
“She’s taking a little break, Kristin,” Brad answered gently picking her up. “Let’s get something to eat and then we can go for a walk, okay?”
Brad smiled at his little girl and choked back his tears. There was a time when he and Jennifer delighted together in their daughter. Ironically, Jennifer’s addiction emerged shortly after he began getting serious about his faith.
Falling in Love
Brad and Jennifer were only twenty and nineteen, when they married on June 27, 1992. A physical attraction sparked immediately when they met and the emotional attraction followed easily. Brad was from a Catholic family with four children. Jennifer was Catholic too, but she had been raised as an only child of a single mom.
Brad started his own graphic arts business and Jennifer had her own shoe shine company. Life was good. Two years into the marriage, Jennifer discovered she was pregnant In spite of a twinge of fear, excitement over having a baby filled her. Brad was one-hundred-percent thrilled.
Within a few weeks, after Kristin’ entered the world, Jennifer began to embrace her new role as a mother. Jennifer and Brad agreed that she would stay home to care for the baby. Jennifer often delighted in buying pretty baby girl things and dressing Kristin up like a little princess. But as Kristin went from baby to toddler, life became routine. During February of 1996, Brad and Jennifer planned a trip to Disney World to escape the winter doldrums. At nineteen months, Kristin, was an easy-going toddler who would enjoy the vacation too. The trip turned out to be the trip of a lifetime, but when they returned home, Jennifer felt suffocated by the monotony of housework, a lingering winter and the demands of childcare.
A restlessness nagged at her. Anything associated with religion also became a bore for her at this time. “I feel like Catholicism was shoved down my throat as a child, ” she complained to Brad. “I don’t know if it’s right for me. Let’s take a look at some other churches.”
Brad had no interest in looking around at different faiths and she resented that he did not support her interest. “Do what you have to do,” he told her, “but I’m not going anywhere.” While many of his old friends had started turning to cocaine and dealing drugs, Brad began embracing his faith with a passion; even to the point of attending regular spiritual retreats put on by Opus Dei.
He could not share his enthusiasm with Jennifer, however. Even going to Mass was more than she cared to do. Occasional shopping trips brought Jennifer some relief from her boredom. Buying clothes was fun and it also made her feel good to dress up Kristin or herself in something new. Getting a sitter and going out with Brad was something else that Jennifer enjoyed. One of her favorite things to do was to go to the casino with Brad and her mother. They would take forty dollars and make an evening out of it.
As Jennifer’s restlessness grew, her nights out with girlfriends increased, usually at the casino. Before long, Jennifer started going to the casino alone when she could not find someone to go with her. Often she drove home feeling euphoric, with a few hundred dollars more than she walked in with. But more often, she had to keep feeding money into the insatiable machines that sucked up her coins.
The excitement and intensity of gambling made Jennifer feel alive while the dull hues of the rest of life was something just to get through. The only other enjoyment she had at this time was shopping. As the bills mounted, Brad took notice. “Jennifer, how many clothes do you need?” And your gambling is getting out of hand,” he’d say. “You need to stop.”
Jennifer would promise to stop but then the deep down craving to release her tension and pull herself out of the doldrums by gambling grew until she could not stand it.
Brad’s stomach began to tighten when Jennifer mentioned going out. “Is she really going out with friends or to gamble?” Brad wondered. When the credit card bills kept increasing, it was obvious Jennifer had started lying to him.
“Jennifer, this has to stop,” Brad demanded one day after opening the bills. “Our minimum payment is up to $1000 a month. Your gambling is ruining us.”
His patience had worn thin and he began raising his voice when confronting Jennifer. Getting yelled at, even a little was something that Jennifer could not stand. Her reaction was explosive and resulted in another trip to the casino. Sometimes, Jennifer would disappear for days at time.
Maybe being married was not a good idea, Jennifer began thinking. She loved Brad and Kristin, but began to think that she just was not ready to be tied down to such a seemingly dull life. In contrast, Brad became more committed to his marriage, attended daily Mass, and prayed the rosary to fight the evil that was tearing apart his family. Yet, the bills and the lies kept mounting.
The Last Straw
During the last week in December, Brad’s parents had arranged for a family ski vacation. “I’m not feeling well,” Jennifer begged off. Brad was not comfortable leaving her, but he could not physically drag her there.
“Okay,” Brad said skeptically, “I’ll see you in a few days.” But he was livid when he returned home to an empty house. He took Kristin to his parents’ house and he drove to the casino.
As his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, he frantically scanned the crowd for Jennifer’s face. What he saw terrified him. It was Jennifer and yet it was not Jennifer. Her zombie-like face was fixated on a gambling machine until she noticed Brad. Then she instantly seethed with anger and hatred at the sight of him.
Something snapped in Brad. “I cannot take it anymore,” he told Jennifer. “You need to leave our home.”
“Fine,” Jennifer responded defiantly, “Then I’ll leave.”
In spite of kicking Jennifer out of the house, Brad still loved her intensely but he would not continue to enable her destructive behavior. And Jennifer knew she still loved Brad. It was the responsibility that went along with being a wife and mother that no longer interested her.
Jennifer was too proud to tell family or friends that Brad had kicked her out. She slept in her car for the next two nights and continued to gamble. On the third day, Jennifer won an $8,000 jackpot. She got an apartment and happily shopped for all the furnishings.
Staying the Course
Jennifer and Brad maintained regular contact with each other and he kept faithfully praying for her. But by the middle of February, Brad called a trusted priest who served as his spiritual advisor. “Father, I’m ready to throw in the towel,” Brad stated. “How long am I suppose to take this?”
He expected the priest to agree that maybe it was time to move on. Instead, Father’s response both surprised and comforted him. “You take it forever,” he said. “You are married to Jennifer forever. “A peace and strength filled Brad as he listened.
“But what if she ends up divorcing me?” Brad asked.
“Then you go on and raise your daughter without her but you will still be married to her. You are being crucified like Jesus and your suffering is being offered up for Jennifer with our Lord. It does not matter how long it goes on, you are saving her soul with our Lord.”
Brad suddenly found the strength and determination to stay the course. Father’s straight talk solidified his determination. There would be no quitting. His work and suffering would be offered up for her soul and he would pray for Jennifer now and forever, regardless of what her response to him was. Brad now fully understood the complete lifetime commitment he had made to Jennifer before God, and he was determined to keep it.
The Weight of the Cross
Shortly afterwards, Jennifer discovered she was pregnant. Like their love for one another, the physical passion had never left their relationship. Neither of them was surprised to learn of the pregnancy. But when Jennifer was just a couple months along, a phone call from a male friend of Jennifer’s led Brad to believe that the child was not his. Shaking, he drove Kristin over to his parent’s house and then stormed over to Jennifer’s apartment.
“How dare you!” he screamed so loud that it cut into his throat. Seeing Brad’s fury and hearing him scream terrified her. Through everything, Brad had never done more than raise his voice. “That baby is not mine, you whore! How could you go to bed with another man?”
Jennifer was shocked and indignant. She had never been with anyone else. “You’re crazy!” she yelled back.
“You’re nothing but a damn liar!” Brad hollered at the top of his lungs.
Jennifer grabbed the phone to call 911. She was terrified that Brad had lost control. Brad grabbed the phone out of her hand and yanked it out of the wall. The screaming continued for several minutes until two police officers showed up. A neighbor had called.
Jennifer’s hand had been cut when the phone cord scraped past it. Since the police saw blood, they handcuffed Brad. “No, don’t arrest him!” Jennifer pleaded. “It was an accident.” Anyone trained in domestic violence knows that typically the abused wife defends her abuser when the police show up. So, Jennifer’s defense of Brad fell on deaf ears. Brad was charged with domestic violence and taken to jail.
Sitting in a cell among hardened criminals, Brad was too exhausted and emotionally numb to care about the sneers and curious looks from the other inmates. He pulled out his rosary. “This is the cross,” he thought, “and I will carry it for Jennifer. In the name of the Father and of the Son…” The next day, his dad bailed him out.
An Old Boyfriend
After Brad left in handcuffs, Jennifer went to visit a friend in another town for a couple days. During this time, she started thinking about a recently divorced old boyfriend, Steve, who she had once thought she was in love with. She drove for two days to New Mexico to meet at a bar.
“Hi,” Jennifer smiled, walking up to Steve’s table. The two talked for a couple hours as if they were picking up from where they left off a few years earlier. Steve listened patiently as Jennifer confessed her troubles to him. His response did not fit the script she had written in her head. “You need to get your butt back home and save your marriage,” Steve said. “You’d be insane to leave your husband. Why would you want to leave a man who has stuck by you through all this? You don’t know how good you have it.” Hearing these words spoken by an old boyfriend was more than a rejection; it was an injection of reality.
Sitting across from Steve, everything began to sink in: her selfish lifestyle and the guilt for abandoning her daughter and husband. It was time to stop running. The attraction of the single life, spending sprees, and gambling became intensely hollow. Brad and Kristin were the real treasures.
It was a very different Jennifer who drove back home. Her heart throbbed with love for Brad and Kristin. She cried for the mistreatment she had inflicted on them. And she did something she had never really done before. She prayed. There was no example of prayer in her home while growing up, with the exception of a few rare blessings before special dinners. But now, Jennifer poured her heart out to God. “God, I’ll do anything if you give me my family back. Please let Brad still love me. Please help us recover from all the damage I’ve done.”
Jennifer expected that she would have to work hard to get Brad to accept her back. She trusted that he would still love her and knew he would want them to raise their children together, but she did not imagine that he could easily forget the hell she put him through. When she was halfway home, she called him at work. “Brad,” she said nervously. “I’m coming home. I’m so sorry for everything that has happened. I want us to be together again.”
Brad was quiet a moment. “Well,” he said flatly, “We will see.” He wanted to believe in Jennifer, but she had disappointed him so many times before. He put down the phone and said a prayer.
Jennifer got back into the car and began pleading with God again. “Please let me have my life back again. I want to be a good Christian wife and mother. Help me to be the person you want me to be, Lord.”
Brad looked up from his desk when Jennifer nervously opened the door and walked in. She looked like a scared kitten. He walked over to her and they embraced. “Can you take me back?” she cried. “I do want to be with you for the rest of my life. I’m so sorry for all the things I’ve done to hurt you.”
“Yes, I’ll take you back,” Brad said through tears of joy. “I love you.”
Jennifer moved back that day. Kristin squealed with delight when she saw her. “Mommy’s back,” she announced.
“I love you so much,” Jennifer said, hugging her little girl. “I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long. But I’m back now forever.”
Brad expected that there would be an adjustment for Jennifer, but amazingly, they were able to pick up where they left off–only better. Waking up in her own home with her family made Jennifer feel like the luckiest person in the world. She had expected that she would need to work hard to prove herself, but Brad made it clear that he had forgiven everything and would love her for the rest of her life.
The week after Jennifer returned was Easter. Sitting at Mass, surrounded by family, tears of gratefulness filled her eyes. Jennifer truly rejoiced that Jesus Christ had risen that day. The following weekend, Jennifer attended a women’s retreat. She felt deeply embraced by God’s love and forgiveness as she spent the time praying, listening to speakers, and going to confession. Brad’s unconditional love brought her part of the way, and then God took over. Listening to speakers talk about God sanctifying us through our daily life brought the deeper meaning she had been searching for. Realizing that God was giving her another baby also filled her with gratitude and a desire to live in union with Him.
Six months after Jennifer’s return, she gave birth to another beautiful baby girl. That same month, the couple realized they could no longer keep up with their minimum $1,200 a month credit card payments. They declared bankruptcy. It was an unfortunate consequence of Jennifer’s past. But instead of lamenting it, it was a reminder to them that they had so much to rejoice in now.
Brad admits that there were many times when the past threatened to haunt them. “If these thoughts popped into my head,” he says, “I would give it to our Lord and ask Him to take it away. We need to ask for the superhuman ability to forgive, even ourselves, because it’s too big for mere humans.”
It’s been eight years since Jennifer returned home. They have five children ranging in age from eleven to one. As Brad and Jennifer look back over the difficult times and the healing, both say that the love they share now for one another, is deeper than anything they ever imagined on their wedding day. “It feels as if there was an overall purification for both of us,” says Brad. “It did not come easy, but God was with us and gave us the grace we needed to persevere.”
* This post was adapted from Amazing Grace for Married Couples with the permission of the author, Patti Maguire Armstrong.
Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. Her newest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, a collection of stories to inspire family love, and Dear God, I Don’t Get It and the sequel, Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious, children’s fiction that feeds the soul through a fun and exciting story.
Patti Maguire Armstrong, is an award winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Asencsion Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace Series. Patti has a B.A. in social work and M.A. in public administration and worked in both fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband, Mark, live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children. Her newest book is Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven Others include Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and of course the Amazing Grace Series. Follow her at @PattiArmstrong and read her blog at PattiMaguireArmstrong.com.