After two failed marriages, Marie Therese Kceif found love again with her husband Samuel and faith again through the Catholic Church. An Army pilot who served combat time in Somalia, Marie nonetheless suffered through physical and emotional abuse, bankruptcy, and heart-wrenching divorces. She tells her poignant story in Eve’s Apple, which I recently reviewed on the Can We Cana? blog. Marie has now been happily married to her husband Samuel for 11 years, and they live in Michigan where Marie leads Bible studies, lectors, and teaches RCIA.
1. How many years were you married and how many kids do you have?
I have been married 11 years to Samuel, my current husband. I have 2 boys from a previous marriage: Mitchell Dean who is 19 years old and attending college at (NMU) Northern Michigan University, and Michael John who is 17 years old and a junior in high school.
2. What three things contributed most to the break-up of your two previous marriages?
1) Living together before marriage: “A couple who does not live together prior to getting married has a 20 percent chance of being divorced within five years. If the couple has lived together beforehand, that number jumps to 49 percent.” (US Attorney Legal Services)
In both my first two marriages, I lived with my boyfriends before marrying them. This led to us having a mine vs. yours and not an ours-type attitude. Things like having separate bank accounts, bills, etc, sets in motion what the marriage commitment in the physical, mental and emotional realm will look like. It cements as a habit in the mind and heart the idea that the commitment does not have to be permanent nor self-sacrificial and can always be on a trial basis. It does not allow for a full surrender to self-sacrifice in love, but one that says, “If I don’t feel in love any more, if it is too hard for me or not fun enough, I can leave. You are expendable to me.” The commitment of a marriage says, “in good times or in bad, ’til death do we part.” But if you start out with a trial marriage, you keep thinking on some level that the partners always can leave if it gets too hard.
2) Having premarital sex: With both of my first two marriages, I also had premarital sex. This clouded my discerning process into whether the other was the right fit for me. My husband Samuel and I call it the “pink sunglass syndrome.” By saying yes with my body, but saying maybe and even perhaps no with my heart and mind, I was sending mixed signals not only to myself but to my partner.
Chastity is an “apprenticeship of self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear:either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (CCC 2339). Chastity creates a unity of our mind and body while dating. It allows us to be free from the physical passions and enslavement to them and therefore leaves us free to decide with a clear mind. (CCC 1603, 2338, 2340)
I did not make clear decisions in my previous relationships. Rather, after making love, I felt I had given myself bodily to these men and now needed to fully commit to them regardless if it was a good idea.
3) Not being in my Catholic faith: In both my first two marriages, we did not go to church at all in most cases. Without being close to my faith, my conscience became dulled to right vs. wrong. Gray areas became wider, and this allowed me to be self-seeking and self-justifying instead of self-giving in love and truth. Being far from my faith distorted what love truly is and should be and what truth is.
Jesus is Truth and Love — in fact, He taught us that someone who truly loves would even die a horrible death from torture and would sacrifice His whole life even to death on a cross, even for those who did not return that love. I was very far from understanding that kind of love or practicing it for others because I was not around people who believed that way. “We become who we hang around with,” I always tell my boys, because I learned this by experience the hard way.
Perhaps I even avoided the Church so that my conscience wouldn’t urge me away from the gray areas. The self without guidance from God seeks what it wants for itself. I needed to die to self and live for God. The only way I could do this was by being in and around His Holy Church, the Way that He left for us to become holy.
Marriage is supposed to be the reflection of Jesus’ marriage to His Church. He gave His life for her to make her holy, and for that she respects Him. So it is in and through the Church that our marriages have the best chance to be taught and nurtured and encouraged to reflect that holy union between Jesus and his Bride.
3. What role did your faith play in your healing after divorce?
After divorce, I hit a bottom which God allowed me to find. It was good for me to have all my worldly crutches to be taken from my grasp. Then, I only had recourse to prayer. In calling out to Jesus, I found a friend who had not abandoned me in my worst time. He was faithful though I was not. He loved me though I hadn’t loved him.
When I reached out to Jesus, He started to set my feet on solid ground. I started to learn His Word through bible studies in which I made great friends who supported me and pointed me to retreats where I found answers. Jesus answered my prayers not only for my spiritual needs, but also my physical needs. I started to learn I needed to wait on God for what He knew was best for me, not forcing what I thought I wanted. Through learning I could trust in God through faith, I started to see He was a great friend who brought me to a peace I had never known. He brought me to a surrendered holiness in the midst of uncertainty, a peace that no man could take from me, a solidity that I could count on. Faith brought me back to His holy sacraments of reconciliation where He restored, affirmed, forgave and loved me.
Faith allowed me to go back and correct many of the mistakes I had made. It led me to physical healing, when I underwent a tubal ligation reversal. Ultimately, faith has brought me to life…life that comes only through Christ.
Without faith, I went through 2 divorces, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. I lost my career, my status, my self-respect and my respect from others. I was mired in the confusion and insecurity of the world. With faith, I went through the healing of the annulment process, remarriage, reversal of tubal ligation, reconciliation with God and His Church through the sacraments. I was restored to belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, financial stability, ownership of my home, respected status in my community, and many, many miracles in my life made possible only through faith in Jesus.
4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?
Do not live together or have premarital sex, but rather pray for discernment for what God wants for your life. If you have already had premarital sex, go to confession and abstain, giving God your trust so that you can have clear hearts and minds to hear what God is trying to say. He will show you the right direction for your life.
Actively seek out advice and listen to holy people and to His Holy Church. Stay close to God by going to Church and mass weekly, frequent confession, be holy for your future spouse, giving them the best partner they deserve as a help for them to become holy.
Make it a habit to pray together. As Mother Teresa said, “The family that prays together stays together, and if they stay together they will love one another as God has loved each one of them. And works of love are always works of peace” – and – “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself.”
5. What advice would you give newlyweds?
Some is similar to the advice for dating couples, actually. Make a habit to pray together. It may be awkward at first, but as time goes on it will be the mainstay of your marriage. Go to Mass or church weekly. Have good holy friends, but be comfortable spending time with just your spouse. Too much time with friends can be dangerous; a couple needs to learn how to enjoy quality time just being together. Never spend time alone with a friend who is the opposite sex. It may start out innocently, but it sparks jealousy and is not healthy for a marriage.
Try to find a volunteer or charitable activity to do together, and learn how to be joyful while doing it. For example, serving at a soup kitchen can be very rewarding. Make a date night for just the two of you at least once every other week if not weekly – it doesn’t even have to entail spending money – maybe a long bicycle ride or a walk in the neighborhood park or a museum. Actively work on pursuing your spouse so love stays fresh.
Unplug the TV. In fact, my best advice is to not have one at all. Samuel and I did not have one in our marriage and it was a great impetus simply to do things together. It also sets the tone for children when they come. On that note, set a limit to computer, Internet and game-playing time as well, as that can really have a negative effect on a marriage.
Every day, even if it’s a hard day, find something you are thankful for that he or she does for your marriage and tell them you appreciate them for it. Gratitude does wonders for a marriage and for you. Never go to sleep angry, try to at least come to some kind of civil agreement before going to sleep. Listen before speaking, and do not cut off each other in arguments. Do a daily examination of conscience; this will make you face the truth about yourself so that you can be a better spouse.
6. What’s your top parenting tip for mothers and fathers going through a divorce?
Do not use children as pawns for your anger. They are the innocent ones, ones you are responsible for before God. Do not speak badly about the other parent, but rather pray for them even if it is hard. Pray for them even with the children in a positive way. The only things you say about the other parent should be positive or constructive.
Ask God to help you forgive, forget and heal for the sake of the family. Make sure you keep taking your children to church, continue to show them they are loved. Children in many divorce cases think it’s their fault; they need to be reassured that they are secure in the love of both parents. Never argue in front of them if possible. Continue to set boundaries and discipline for the children. They don’t need gifts motivated by guilt, they need real love and a safe environment which includes old fashioned parenting. There can be a tendency to be too lenient, to become their friend during and after divorce. Children in the middle of a divorce do not need you to be a friend, they need you to be a parent.
Do have friends or family members that have gone through a divorce, or have you gone through one yourself? What impact can divorce have on a person’s faith?
Copyright 2015 Karee Santos
Photo courtesy of Marie Therese Kceif. All rights reserved.