See how quickly you clicked on the link to read this story? Konkonsa. Gossips! You just want to see how/if my ‘perfect husband’ may have engaged in some sort of impropriety. Not to worry. This is not a tale about how his sexual misconduct with a cougar led to the birth of some now-revealed love-cub. It’s a tale about how trust and naiveté put a crack in the foundation of our tender marriage.
Initially, I’d planned to dedicate a full week to exposing how a woman named Dianne Jennings how wreaked havoc on our lives for a short while, and how we eventually overcame the damage she had done. Eventually, I decided not to expend that much energy on the project for the sake of my peace and instead asked my husband if it was okay to tell an abridged version of the story. He agreed, albeit with some hesitation. He admitted that the venture was foolhardy in hindsight, but also agreed that telling it, at least in part, may help a young(er) couple avoid some of the mishaps we endured or at least get them in the mindset of being on guard for predators preying on the vulnerabilities of the young, eager and/or desperate.
A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to lunch so that we could spend time together before my relocation. We went to eat at Grace 17-20, a “Christian restaurant”. The atmosphere was elegant, the staff friendly and the food excellent.
“I wish we had more Christian businesses like this,” she said wistfully. “I would just love the patronize them.”
She said something about integrity and the kingdom and some other stuff that had little to do with church attendance defining a person’s character, so far as I was concerned. I scoffed.
“I couldn’t care one iota if a company was run by a Christian or not. One of the worst periods in my life found its genesis with a Christian businesswoman. She was an ordained minister, too.”
My friend, who sees the world with the simplicity and innocence of a child – despite being my senior by a decade – drew a sharp breath. That was my cue to explain how I could come to a conclusion that was in such opposition to New Age Christian thinking. Who could be more trustworthy than a member of Christ’s body? I can think of several sinners and crackheads I’d sooner trust with my money than I would certain Christians, and Dianne Jennings is one of them. I explained how this woman, an ordained minister with a radio show and a shiny new whip had presented herself as a “mother” to my husband, drawn him in for the long con and nearly decimated his life – our lives – just so she could make a buck.
In 2005-2006, the real estate market was the new Gold Rush. Everyone was flipping houses or knew someone who was flipping houses for profit. It was the quick and easy way to make money. People flocked to seminars all over the country to learn how to make their first million in the housing market. The Dot Com bubble had just burst a few years before, millions of people were out of work, and everyone was trying to make their way. My husband – who was between jobs at the time – was among this number. I was never lured by the sheen of the real estate industry, but he saw what he thought was an opportunity to set his family up for long term wealth and took it. At least, that’s what Ms. Jennings told him.
She convinced him to use his credit to purchase several properties all over Georgia: empty lots, commercial and residential property. She acted as both the broker and the real estate agent (which we later find out is illegal), took her commission from the loans that were in my husband’s name and repeated the process with several other people.
Nothing about that arrangement seemed right to me: for folks like my husband to assume complete liability, but in an attempt to assuage my fears, he parroted to me what Dianne had told him. Her sell was simple: She was a woman of God with a vision to enrich God’s people through “honest” enterprise; this was a chance to make some real money and create generational wealth and it required little work.
“You’ll make money while you’re sleeping.”
This was attractive to the single mothers and elderly couples and the young families just starting out that she swindled. Ultimately, she enriched herself while leaving these duped people holding the bag. Without going into detail, there were calls (and threats) from the IRS, the GBI and many sleepless nights after her con had been exposed. It took my husband years to rebuild his credit. I tried to keep a positive attitude about it and refrain from shouting “I KNEW this was stupid!”, instead offering words of support and assuring him that I believed that everything would be alright eventually. In time, I forgot all about Dianne Jennings and her treachery and we moved on, mindful to be more cautious of whom we do business with.
And for ten years, everything has been fine. We got out of debt, I’m writing books and my husband is writing code. We don’t take the kind of crazy risks that youthful exuberance and ignorance compel one to. I haven’t had a reason to think about Dianne Jennings since 2006, until a few days ago when I came across a pair of baby shoes that Aya used to wear when we met her – shoes that Dianne didn’t think were “acceptable”.
“We’ll get your baby some new shoes, I promise,” she said during one of her visits to our home.
I should have known that finding the shoes was a sign of something sinister to come.
Friday, March 25th , 2016. It was 11 pm. Someone was pounding at the door.
The insistence of the knock jolted me from sleep and I ran down the stairs in my robe, expecting to find a neighbor in need. Instead, a sheriff stood at the door, shrouded in darkness. I peered at him suspiciously.
He asks if my husband is home. I inform him he is not. We exchange queries until I discover his purpose: he’s there to serve papers for a default on a loan.
Loan? What loan? I thought we were debt free! I took the paperwork from the officer and locked the door. Images of a secret life my husband HAD to have been living darted through my mind. Had he been dishonest with me all these years? It took the spirit of God and at least 6 ancestors to talk me down.
“Dummy!” they shouted. “You’ve known the man since you were both 18 and have been up under his nose almost every day for just as long. When would he ever have the opportunity to live a ‘secret life’?”
You’re right ancestors, you’re right!
I flipped through the paperwork and tried to understand what my eyes were seeing. Where was this property that we were supposed to have purchased? Where was this city? When did my husband ever — 2006?
F***. Dianne Jennings. Her nefariousness was haunting us, still.
My husband’s financial folly is not unusual, just peculiar to us. Over the years, I’ve talked with wives who’ve confessed that their husband’s have quit their jobs because they were “bored or fed up” without making sure they had another one lined up. I know couples that have given their rent for the month in offering buckets with the expectation that “God would honor their seed by restoring it 100 fold”. Entire congregations have been duped into participating in Ponzi schemes. So as the former by standing wife in this scenario, I want to talk to women who may find themselves in a similar predicament. And yes, I know that this could never happen to you, because there’s no one smarter or more beguiling than you, but hear me out just in case.
- Our culture encourages us not to ‘nag’ our men. But if something doesn’t make sense to you, whether it’s the color on the walls or a business deal your man is about to enter, speak up. Ask questions. MAKE him explain it thoroughly and then give your consent – or not. That way, if ish ever does hit the fan, you’ll have the confidence that you went into the venture together, with full agreement, and give no room for blame to enter in.
- Make sure you maintain a separate bank account of your own with money that only you have access to. Having your own account doesn’t mean you don’t trust your husband. It just means you understand that he’s fallible and should he make an error that’s going to leave you and/or your children hungry and homeless, you’ll be covered at least for a short while.
- Maintain connections with knowledgeable people who you can go to with questions if you think your husband may be entering into something that causes you uncertainty or you believe is too risky. Someone besides your pastor. I mean like a lawyer or a financial advisor. That way, when you voice your objections you can back them up with facts, or at the least an educated opinion.
- There is always some new “industry trend” that shysters will use to draw people in with the goal of taking advantage. It’s okay to come in late to the game sometimes. Make sure the industry is stable before you dive in, and remember trends are cyclical. (Construction just made a come back, for example.)
- Finally, if your spouse does find himself the victim of a financial ploy, forgive him. It’s only money and you can always earn more. Even the best of us fall prey to folks who have more experience and fewer scruples. Definitely be wary of anyone who uses your faith as a carrot or an inducement to join an organization. Those types of people are only a step below ISIS on the oily scale.
And what happened to Dianne, you ask? Well, rumor has it that she started a church this Easter weekend.
God help her congregants.