After Agnes Rippen found the parking ticket, she knew it was true: Her husband, Dennis, was hooked on tranquillizers.
The ticket was for parking in a fire lane in front of the drug store, and the pharmacist confirmed he had been taking Valium. Lots of it, it turned out.
What started out at 5 to 15 milligrams a day to handle a stressful job had ballooned to 100 milligrams daily.
Dennis did his best to hide it. But he couldn't hide how he had changed from a cheerful, loving husband into a sullen, withdrawn and foggy-minded man, falling asleep at odd moments, even at the wheel.
For several days, Agnes quietly built her case, including exhibit A, the ticket. Then, one Sunday night in the kitchen came the grand confrontation. Agnes methodically presented the state's evidence, item by item, to Dennis.
How do you explain this? This? This?
He 's lying to me! she thought as he denied it all with faltering logic--the first time she had ever known him to be untruthful with her. Something's taking my husband away from me, and I'm going to fight it!
Agnes herself had broken the chains of alcoholism and drug addiction eight years earlier. She knew there was only one way out: "You have to admit the problem and get help--or leave," she told him.
The denials--the thrust and parry--continued. The words of Jesus came to Agnes' mind: "I am the way, the truth and the life." She kept repeating it to herself mentally to stay calm--her life and the life of her loved one were at stake.
Neither harsh accusations nor pleading would turn him. Stay firm. Don't get scared. And don't dissolve into a teary emotional mush.
Gradually, Agnes became aware of a great "spiritual pressure" in the kitchen--like the weight of one's conscience bearing down--but literally making the air feel heavy and dense. Supporting her--and urging Dennis.
Agnes set midnight as the deadline. It came without resolution, and she went to bed, her life in ruins. Dennis would be gone tomorrow, and she would have to put on her customary happy face for dozens of people at the office.
Agnes sat bolt upright. "No! That's not true! Jesus is the way, the truth and the life!" Silence.
Seconds later, the bedroom door opened. Dennis walked to the foot of the bed. "It's all true. I really do need help."
Agnes and Dennis were a knot of arms in the bed, hugging and crying. "I know the worst of the battle is over now, and tomorrow we'll get some help," Agnes said through the tears.
Dennis, freighted with Valium, fell quickly asleep. But Agnes' mind was racing. Jubilant, bursting with gratitude, she walked back to the kitchen and dropped to her knees, thanking God out loud and repeatedly.
Suddenly, a swirl of unearthly beautiful music surrounded her. It was a gigantic chorus of awe-inspiring voices and musical instruments from trumpets to strings.Tinkly, pinging and full-bodied sounds grew into melodies that had hundreds of harmonies.
Agnes opened her eyes. The kitchen's stucco ceiling had disappeared, opening out into a limitless cosmic expanse. Singing, white-robed angels floated around in a misty, three-dimensional Sistine Chapel religious scene.
She was transfixed for a few long minutes, then the image faded and mundane reality crowded back in. So this was the "spiritual pressure" she had sensed earlier in this kitchen. Was this how the shepherds of the Gospel of Luke felt when a chorus of angels suddenly appeared to them outside Bethlehem?
"Afterwards, I realized that there truly had been a spiritual battle going on in the next dimension, right there in that room. I believe that both sides of that battle presented themselves to me during that experience," Agnes recalled.
The next day, when Dennis got home from work, Agnes and some of their friends, who were familiar with drug treatment, had Dennis' bags packed and waiting for him--not for a legal separation but a trip to the detox center.
Since 1987, Dennis has been drug-free and still follows the 12-Step program.