There are worse things than death.
Jana McGuire had heard this phrase so often in her life. Her mother had chanted it like a mantra whenever something unpleasant happened to upset Jana. And now it was all Jana could think of. That voice. That tone, which wavered somewhere between accusation and disgust. Her mother had never shown any sympathy for Jana's fears or hurts. For as long as she could remember, her mother had offered commands and regulations, but never love.
She again scanned the short letter her husband had left her. Rob had offered no love either, at least not in this letter. In fact, he had taken what precious little love Jana thought to possess.
There was nothing else. No explanation of why he'd forsaken his marriage vows to run away with his secretary. No explanation of how long he'd been miserable enough with their marriage to look elsewhere. She had a million unanswered questions, and just as soon as Jana felt she could explain even one of those, another dozen followed on its heels.
I know you'll find this letter difficult to understand, but I made some decisions while you were in Africa. Hard decisions. I've fallen in love with Kerry and very much want a life with her. When you find this letter, we'll already be gone. In time, I hope you'll understand. I've taken care of everything, including the divorce proceedings. You should be getting some papers soon. I know I haven't left you with much, but feel free to sell the remaining household stuff. I don't want any of it and won't ask for it in the divorce.
She placed the letter on the table and stared at it, as if willing an explanation to appear. Rob had said that in time he hoped she'd understand. But Jana had been looking at the same letter for nearly two hours, and so far it was all still a blur.
She'd thought they were happy. She'd thought they had the ideal life. There'd been no warning to suggest that her husband, pastor of Hope Bible Church in Spokane, Washington, was anything but faithful to his marriage vows.
Jana shook her head. I've watched talk shows and read hundreds of articles about marriage. All so I could counsel women in the church when they were having problems. The signs weren't there. They simply weren't there.
Rob had been loving and attentive right up until the moment Jana left, with two other church workers, for a mission trip to Africa. She had been gone three weeks, during which time she'd gotten the surprise of her life. A surprise she had very much anticipated sharing with Rob upon her return home.
But last night when Jana arrived at the airport, she was stunned to find that no one was there to welcome her home. No one. Not church members, not Rob. It was all very strange. She had thought at the time that some emergency must have come up to keep Rob away. But when she'd finally arrived home, Jana knew the truth. Rob's letter was waiting for her--but not Rob. He'd left her.
Visions of his secretary, Kerry Broadbent, forced their way into Jana's thoughts. The woman was pretty, there was no doubt about that. Her Italian and Native American ancestry played itself out in an exotic manner. She was smart too. Jana had felt rather intimidated by the woman, who held a master's degree in Native American studies. Jana could only boast a bachelor's degree in art. Not really something she could hold up against an education that enabled Kerry to speak four different Native American dialects. Of course, this was added to her already fluent ability in Italian.
"But she's so much older," Jana whispered. Kerry was at least thirty-five. Maybe thirty-six. "Just like Rob," she murmured.
Maybe the attraction went beyond appearance. Maybe Rob was tired of being married to a woman who was so much younger; a woman who couldn't remember half of the things Rob remembered.
Jana got up from the table and stepped back, still looking at the letter. It was almost as if the extra distance could somehow bring clarity to the simple script. Shaking her head, she went to the cupboard and took down a coffee mug. She turned the cup in her hand for a moment. It was Rob's favorite mug. He was a Seattle Seahawks fan, and their logo was emblazoned on the piece.
She put it aside almost reverently. Then she hurriedly picked up another mug, one with the Olympic rings and dates to show it had come from the Salt Lake City games. Pouring her coffee, Jana felt her hand shake violently. Her stomach lurched as it had every morning for the past two weeks. She quickly put the coffee aside and ran for the bathroom.
Jana was pregnant. She carried a much-wanted child that she and Rob had talked of having--had actually planned for. Of course, she'd gotten pregnant much sooner than either one of them had expected. If she'd known prior to leaving for Africa that she was expecting, she'd never have gone, never have risked the possibility of losing the baby. It wasn't until she was nearly ready to return that it dawned on her the nausea she was facing each day wasn't some dreaded African disease but rather pregnancy.
When her stomach settled, Jana rinsed her mouth and caught sight of her face in the mirror. She looked like one of those victims from a war-torn country. The stunned empty expression matched the feeling in her soul.
She then began to wash her face, feeling the cold water numb her hands. Rivulets ran up her arm, dampening her blouse at the elbow. She'd always hated that feeling, but she couldn't muster the energy to even be irritated now. Jana looked at the water faucet for several moments. It was as if she couldn't quite figure out what to do next. She touched the cold metallic curve of the handle.
"He can't be gone."
Shutting off the water without another thought, Jana turned and dried her face. It had to be some kind of mistake. Some kind of sick joke or misunderstanding. Kerry Broadbent was married. She'd been married for eighteen years--only eight years less than Jana had been alive. Kerry surely wouldn't throw out a commitment of nearly twenty years to run away with the man she'd worked with for less than two.
Jana's thoughts, stifled since finding the letter on the breakfast bar, began to flood her mind at a frightening speed. She should call the church. No! She would just get dressed and go next door and see for herself what this was all about. Rob wouldn't dream of deserting the church, even if in some warped justification he could leave Jana.
She went to the bedroom closet and threw open the doors, reality smacking her in the face. Rob's side of the closet had been cleaned out. There was nothing left behind. Not even the old neckties he no longer liked--and he had plenty of those, as she recalled. Jana stared at the empty space, her momentum halted by the obvious truth.
She went quickly to the dresser where he kept his things. Drawer by drawer revealed the same thing: emptiness. Jana turned and went to the hall closet and nearly wrenched the door off its hinges as she pulled it open. All of their suitcases were missing.
Sinking to the hardwood floor, Jana felt her chest tighten. She could scarcely draw a breath. From somewhere deep inside, she felt a primal scream rise to her lips, but she covered her mouth, forced it back down. How would it look if the Senior Women's candy-making day was interrupted by the pastor's wife screaming her head off in the parsonage next door? She could just imagine Roberta Winsome and Margie Neighbors, self-appointed matriarchs of the church, leaving their special dark chocolate fudge to investigate.
Curling up on the hall floor, Jana tried to reason what should be done. What would happen now? Where would she go? Would Rob change his mind if he knew about the baby? Should she even tell him?
And God ... how could God have allowed this to happen? Wasn't He supposed to take care of His children? Watch over them? Hadn't she heard Roberta Winsome say, "God never gives a person more than she can handle," during one of their women's luncheons?
Well, this is certainly more than I can handle. This is more than I can even think about--much less actually handle and deal with.
Jana lost track of the time as she lay in the hall. She heard the air-conditioner click on and off several times. It had been an unseasonably warm spring, and Rob had insisted on running the air-conditioner. Jana hated the extra expense. She supposed she wouldn't have to worry about it anymore.
The sound of the trash truck coming through the neighborhood--and the frenzy of barking dogs that always accompanied this event--permeated her thoughts. Had Rob thought to put the trash out before deserting her for another woman? At one point she fell asleep, waking with a start when she heard tires squealing on the street outside her house.
Somewhere in the furthest recesses of her mind, a thought came to Jana that caused her to sit straight up. The bank. She had to get to the bank and find out if Rob had taken their savings. At least with their savings she could afford to live comfortably until she found a job. Surely Rob wouldn't leave her without anything--without any hope of getting by. But in her heart, she already knew with a sinking dread the news that the teller confirmed for her an hour later.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. McGuire, but that account has been closed," the woman told her as she asked about the joint savings account.
"What about the checking account?" Jana asked, shoving her checkbook across the counter.
The teller looked at the numbers, then typed on the computer keyboard and studied her screen. "That account is still open, but there's less than ten dollars in it." She looked at Jana and smiled. "Did you want to make a deposit?"
"No. Is there a manager or someone I can talk to?"
The woman frowned as though Jana were somehow dissatisfied with her work. "Mr. VanCamp is in his office. I'll see if he can meet with you."
Jana picked up her checkbook. "Thank you."
The woman came around from her secured booth and opened a door. Pulling it closed behind her, she walked in determined fashion across the bank lobby. Jana didn't know whether to follow her or not, so she took a few steps in the direction the woman had taken, then paused.
"Mr. VanCamp will see you. His office is down the hall and to the right," the teller announced as she reappeared.
Jana took a deep breath, hoping the bank manager would have some good news for her.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. McGuire," the man said as he studied her account information. "It seems your husband came in two weeks ago and withdrew the entire amount of your savings. Because it's a joint account, there's nothing I can do. He was completely entitled to take his own money."
"It was our money," she said. "Mostly mine, in fact." It was money she had brought into the marriage. Money she had earned and saved prior to her marriage to Rob. Money that had come from her great-aunt Taffy for birthdays and Christmas.
"Be that as it may," the balding VanCamp said as he looked at her over his reading glasses, "the account was in both names, and he was entitled to remove it."
Jana swallowed hard and tried to gather her thoughts. It wasn't really a surprise, so she didn't know why she was taking it so hard; she'd already figured this was the news she'd receive. Somehow, though, it signaled the finality of her circumstance.
She drove home in silence, not even turning on the radio to hear the news. For three weeks in the African bush she'd wondered what was going on in America. She had told herself that when she got home she was going to be more astute in keeping up on current affairs. She had learned, while in some of the poorest regions of the world, that she had it better than she could have ever imagined--that she lived a life of privilege. And while she'd already known that to a certain extent, Africa had proven it in ways she'd never imagined.
"At least I used to have a privileged life. How could Rob have done this to me? To us?" Memories of better days were such a fierce contradiction to the circumstances she now had to face.
"Where did we go wrong? What did I do wrong?"
The questions pushed their way through her mind like soldiers taking enemy ground. So, too, did the accusations.
If I'd been a better hostess, things might have been different. If I'd stayed home from Africa, then maybe he wouldn't have had a chance to leave. If I'd called from the airport in London to tell Rob I was pregnant, then maybe he would have called off this nightmare. But Rob was probably already gone by the time she was headed home from Africa.
Her car practically drove itself. Jana didn't even remember the trip, and it wasn't until she sat in her driveway, car still running, that she realized she needed to shut off the engine.
"What am I supposed to do now?" It wasn't exactly a prayer, but it was God to whom she spoke. She looked at the little white ranch-style parsonage. "How long will I even have a home?"
She didn't have long to wonder at this. That evening her doorbell rang, and Jana was suddenly confronted with a team of men who wanted to talk: the elders of the church, men who were often in her home for meetings and other gatherings. She looked at Gary Rhoades and forced what she hoped was a smile.
"Come in, Gary."
She could tell by the looks they were giving her that they already knew what was going on. She pointed to the table and the letter that still lay there from the morning. "You can read that if you want."
The men filed over as a group and passed the note down a line, each giving it a solemn glance before handing it to the next man. It was Gary who finally spoke. "How long has this been in the works?" Gary's tone was almost accusing and instantly set Jana's defenses in motion.
"I didn't know until last night." The men exchanged a puzzled look as Jana continued. "Rob said nothing before I went to Africa. You can read that for yourself in the letter. I thought everything was fine." Her voice held an edge that bordered on hysteria, but she was determined to remain in control.
"Why don't we sit down? We need to talk about this," Gary suggested.
Jana motioned to the living room and put on her hostess face again. "We'll be most comfortable in here." She walked across the room and took a seat on the brick ledge that edged the fireplace. Her calm was an unnatural emotion in the face of such monstrous adversity.
The men took their places and waited for their leader to begin the discussion. Jana could see that some of the men couldn't even look her in the eye.
"As you probably know," Gary began, "Rob gave his notice three weeks ago."
"No, I didn't know," Jana replied as evenly as she could. The last thing she wanted to do was break down in front of these men.
Gary frowned. "Rob told us that he'd talked to you."
"Rob said nothing. I didn't even have an inkling there was a problem until last night, when I landed at the airport and no one was there to greet me."
"Well ... I ... that is," Gary stammered, as if looking for an explanation. "He told us that you two were getting a divorce. That it was a mutual decision. That you'd gone to Africa so that he could break it to the congregation and resign his job without a big scene."
"All lies. Read his letter--it's right there. He decided to do this while I was gone. At least that's what he says, but obviously this has been in the works for some time." Jana could barely hold her anger in check. "So while he was telling you how this was my plan, did he also tell you that he was carrying on an affair with his secretary? That he planned to clean out our bank account and leave me penniless before running off with her?" Jana asked bitterly.
"No," Gary admitted. "We didn't know about the situation with Kerry until last Sunday. Rob and Kerry left us a letter in the office. Jason Broadbent called us first thing to ask if we knew what was going on. Apparently his wife left no more details in her letter than Rob left in his."
Jana hadn't even considered Jason ... how this might affect him. The man was fifty-something and had been talking of an early retirement so he and Kerry could do more traveling. She shuddered. So many would bear the consequences of two people and their sin.
"Of course, when Rob gave his resignation, we tried to talk him out of it," Gary continued, looking most uncomfortable in the silence. "But he told us that ... well, he said you were determined to end the marriage and that he didn't feel it Scriptural to head up a church while going through a divorce."
"I didn't even know we were having problems," Jana said in a clipped tone. "I thought we were very happy. In fact ..." She let the words fade. She had been about to tell the men of her pregnancy, then thought better of it. She didn't want them to be the first people with whom she shared her news.
"I'm truly sorry, Jana," Gary said.
"Me too. I'm sorry for a lot of reasons, but I'm really sorry that Rob's actions had to be such a public affair."
"I ... well ... I don't know how to tell you this, but--"
She couldn't stand the game any longer. "Just say it."
Her interruption seemed to bolster Gary's strength. "When Rob resigned, we immediately went to work finding another pastor. We have an interim who agreed to move here immediately and take on the church. We signed him on for a six-month trial."
"I don't understand what that has to do with me."
"Well, he's slated to begin next week. That was part of the agreement. Rob said he needed the house until you were back because he couldn't just throw your stuff out on the lawn, and he didn't want to put it in storage. Besides, until last week, Rob was still preaching, so it was only right that we let him stay."
Jana hadn't thought the day could get any worse, but this news made it clear she'd underestimated the situation. "I have to move out by next week?"
"Actually ... by Saturday."
"I have four days, then?"
Gary and the others nodded in unison. "We will help in any way we can."
"You don't understand," she said, getting to her feet in protest. "I have no money. I have nothing. Rob took it all. How do you expect me to hire movers to load up my possessions--what few Rob actually left me with--and vacate this house by Saturday?"
Gary's apologetic tone only served to further her irritation. "Like I said, we'll help in whatever way we can. We can get the church as a body to come and help pack you up. Most of the men in this room have pickups, so we can probably move you as well."
"Sure we can, Jana," Bill Usher said with a smile. "We'll see you through this."
"I have no place to go," she declared. "You don't understand. Rob has cleaned out our bank account. I had nearly six thousand dollars in savings. It was my money, and he took it. There's no money for deposits on rentals or utilities or anything else. I couldn't even go out and buy groceries today because there's no more than ten dollars in my checking account."
The men seemed genuinely stunned as Jana continued ranting. She stalked across the room and picked up her purse. "I have only the money left from the trip. I think maybe there's a total of thirty dollars in here." She tossed her purse onto the coffee table. "That's it. Rob has taken the computer and printer, the tools, the TV and DVD player. He's even taken my jewelry." This last discovery had been one of the hardest of all. Her only pieces of real value had come from either Rob or her great-aunt Taffy. Her afternoon taking inventory had left Jana depleted of hope and energy.
"He took everything?" Gary questioned.
It seemed as though the elders, men who had long worked with her husband, were trying to take in this information and decide if it were true. She hated the looks on their faces--almost as if they were accusing her of lying.
"Go look for yourselves," she said, her voice rising an octave. She felt her throat tighten and tears well in her eyes. Running from the room, she locked herself in the bathroom and remained there until she regained control of her emotions. She despised Rob for what he'd done. But she also questioned God for allowing such a nightmare to be her life, especially when she'd given up so much to be a pastor's wife and missions liaison.
"Couldn't you at least have left me what was mine?" she muttered, not knowing whether she said the words with God or Rob in mind.
Finally she emerged and rejoined the elders. On the coffee table beside her purse Jana noted a check. She looked to Gary for an explanation.
"We had no idea, Jana. Rob made it sound like all of this was your idea. Then when we found out about him and Kerry ... well, we were still confused as to how it had all come to be. Now it's kind of easy to see that you knew nothing about this--that you're the wronged party here."
Jana eased into the closest chair. "I'm sorry for getting so upset. I simply don't know how to deal with any of this. I thought God was supposed to look after His own. I thought He was supposed to keep evil from overtaking His children." She looked to each man as though to force him to contradict or support this, but no one said a thing.
"I don't think I understand God at all." She crossed her arms and leaned back in the chair. "Maybe I never have."
"God didn't do this, Jana," Bill said. "God doesn't want this for you, any more than we do."
"Bill's right," another man chimed in. "God is just as saddened by this as we are--as you are. It wasn't His desire that something like this happen."
"Guess He wasn't on top of it then, is that it?" Her voice dripped sarcasm. "What sweet Christian platitude will you throw at me to make this one all right? My mother used to say, ‘Jana, there are worse things than death.' Guess I know now exactly what she meant."