That's the message of a Hagaman retiree's new book, "Ever Faithful to His Lead," which describes the 25 years the author spent ensnared in two emotionally-abusive marriages she did not take the time to properly consider.
Kathleen Pooler - a retired nurse who is a lector, eucharistic minister, accounting assistant and member of the funeral ministry at St. Stephen's parish in Hagaman -wants readers to learn from her mistakes.
"God wants you to be the person that He made you to be," Mrs. Pooler told The Evangelist, hitting on one of many lessons she articulates in the book. "He wants you to love yourself in order to love others. When you do meet someone worthy of you, you will realize that person enhances your life. He wants us to be happy."
Mrs. Pooler grew up in Corning, N.Y., and attended nursing school in Elmira before heading to Syracuse to begin her career and earn bachelor's and master's degrees at Syracuse University. She married her first husband six months after meeting him - a result, she explains in her book, of over-eagerness to experience the healthy love her parents demonstrated.
"I did not pray for discernment," she said, adding that the man refused to go for pre-Cana marriage preparation. Her priest at the time didn't push the issue. "I felt I had no choice. I did not listen to my values and my inner power. I blindly and naively assumed that everything would turn out like my parents' marriage."
Her spouse's alcoholism took Mrs. Pooler by surprise. They divorced after six years and got an annulment, which she described as cathartic and healing.
She left Syracuse for Evansburg, Pa., where she was director of nursing in small hospitals and met the man who would become her second husband within a few weeks.
She married him - outside the Church, this time. He had undiagnosed bipolar disorder and was verbally abusive. She remembers feeling the need to escape, and consulting his children to find out if he'd ever physically abused their mother. They reported that he once choked her.
In both relationships, said Mrs. Pooler, "the red flags were waving frantically in front of me, but I didn't listen to them. It's important to tap into your own inner strength and be able to set your boundaries and take heed of your red flags. Throughout it all, I [hung] onto my faith and it eventually led me back home."
After her second divorce, Mrs. Pooler learned to "find her freedom without a man." Her third marriage, in 2001, has been a success.
"He's my gift from God," she said of her husband, Wayne. "He's gentle and kind and he's my best friend and we have fun together. He lets me be who I am and we have a beautiful life. I think that's how I decided to write this book."
Mr. Pooler's annulment process from his own first marriage was a positive experience for the couple: "I learned things about him that made me cherish him even more," Mrs. Pooler said.
Mrs. Pooler hopes her book can inspire people to overcome powerlessness. She's been giving talks at women's shelters, libraries, bookstores, colleges and more.
"It's possible to climb out of the abyss of your own self-defeating choices," she said. "It was a very difficult memoir to write. I'm not the same person I was then."
Mrs. Pooler is working on a second memoir about the intersection of her son's struggle with alcoholism and her own 18-year battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which sent her through chemotherapy, radiation treatments and a stem cell transplant.
She now has heart and kidney failure and other health issues, but was finally declared cured last fall.
"I'm still here," she said. "There's a mission or something."
Mrs. Pooler has two children and, between her and Mr. Pooler, 10 grandsons, with a granddaughter on the way.