Not us. Not me.
Divorce can’t be the way the story ends. Not here. Not now…
As I wrestled to find God's goodness in what felt like the cruelest reality of my life, I was met with “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) in the face of divorce. I didn't want to experience His power here because it wasn’t supposed to be this way. So writing about this consisted of revisiting, hurting, crying, getting hopeful, deleting and repeat. Finally, after many drafts, this is what I have.
This is probably not the typical New Year reflection, but certainly a motion toward a purpose-filled unfolding of this new season. As I decided to dig a little deeper about grace within the context of divorce, my hope is for a positive impact within our communities of faith. To hold life-changing conversations without the need to humiliate, degrade or go into insensitive and incomplete details of ‘what happened' for the sake of having something to talk about over tea. Because I am always running to reflect the "light" and the "grace" of a thing, I am choosing to address the significance of the spaces that feel more like the grave than grace.
The above scripture tells me that His power is made perfect in weakness. Without confronting and dealing with the weakness, power over it isn’t evident.
Below, I share part of my journey in one of the most vulnerable chapters of my life.
To be quite honest, while I’ve had much time to heal and work through a lot, last month was one of the hardest months to get through in a very long time. Yes I believe in God. Yes I believe in grace. Yes I believe in love and being made whole. I believe, but I need to bare the unbelief and grief that sometimes grips me. That is the opportunity from which grace stems. And it is there that I looked up and had to admit that I was one of the people struggling through the Holidays.
I was one of the ones in need of prayer.
I wanted to remain strong because I remembered all that I have been through and survived. But I found myself with just enough grace to show up to the gatherings and be present. I remembered the resilient Ana that cried through the night but joy always met her in the morning. But I found myself with just enough grace to get up from bed. I remember the Ana that quoted every scripture prescription with an expected end because she’s witnessed how God miraculously healed her in the past. But I found myself with just enough grace to respond to a text message for that week. I held on for as long as I could, but I broke. I broke when I remembered the hopeful Ana within the marriage that still died. And accepting that everything I personally held onto wasn’t sufficient to keep us together was a rough reminder last month, on what would’ve been our 10th anniversary.
Now, by His grace, most days are filled with great joy and gratitude. God truly has been a Keeper in ways I didn’t even know I needed to be kept mentally, emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. He truly has been my strength. But there are days, weeks, and particularly last month, where I just haven’t felt like, life-ing. That is the best way I could describe it.
December 26, 2018 hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember how I dreamed about that day once we got through “if you make it past 5 years, you will grow old together.” I wanted to grow old with him as his wife and held on to that for dear life. That was my identity for a long time since I said ‘I do.’ That was my joy. I wanted the renewal of vows to my best friend and college sweetheart. I was secretly beginning to plan for it. I imagined a re-do of all the things that went wrong before, during and after our wedding day. It was the day I looked forward to, so we could hit a refresh button together. Except that the refresh button looked completely different. And it stung.
I lost track of this anticipated date probably about 5 years ago, once I had to face the reality that our marriage was actually on its deathbed. I let the hope of the today I imagined in my head begin to unravel then. While part of me initially felt like maybe I didn’t pray hard enough, or believe long enough or fought consistently enough, I had to place the tombstone over the forever that I thought would be. As a result, I didn’t quite anticipate the plunge leading to last month. I thought that because I have been doing the work of dealing with ME without caving to the fear of being alone; I would be good. I thought that because we have a beautiful daughter and our families are intricately connected and genuinely love each other; I was “good.” I thought that our 15 year friendship was sufficient to make me immune to the pain of that day.
But I Wasn’t OK.
I admit that I was hit with a whirlwind of memories, pictures, reminders, triggers and endless moments of feeling like some things just aren’t fair. Nothing about this seemed fair. That was rough. I felt myself spiraling and needing help. I felt my perspective being shaken by blinding grief. I strategically surrounded myself with wise counsel. Otherwise, I could easily substitute the truth of God for my personal version of reality. And that's recipe for a disaster. While the positive aspects don't cancel out the negatives. The negative aspects certainly don't cancel out the positives that we were blessed with, including our daughter, Zinai. I needed to remember that.
I’ve learned that grief, whether because of the loss of a loved one or loss of a relationship, it comes in like waves. Some waves you anticipate and prepare yourself for. Others come unexpectedly and knock you right off your feet, leaving you with scraped knees, completely disoriented and out of breath because of the near-death fight to stay above water. I can’t always anticipate a trigger. It can be as a random as a familiar scent or as direct as a forgotten Facebook memory (thanks Mark Zuckerburg - rolling my eyes). But there is always a way out for everything (1 Corinthians 10:13) if we stay close to where our feet can be grounded. And hope and faith in God have kept me grounded these last few years (Romans 15:13) .
With this new season, comes the responsibility of facing and sharing, not just the joy of the Lord being my strength, but the painful realities of this journey. Grieving the loss of marriage wasn’t something I ran to share about. I wanted to be wise. Many have made assumptions or tried to put two and two together, but ultimately, we both needed time to process without the well-intended but often misguided commentary of the public. And it’s still a process. I intentionally didn’t want to bleed on the ones that prayed for our marriage, prophesied over our marriage, hoped in our marriage or believed because of our marriage. Ultimately, because I still believe in marriage being honorable and beautiful, independent of this reality. That’s why I can smile and genuinely celebrate those getting engaged, married and having more children. Family is beautiful. There is still hope.
Before I started to see my therapist regularly, I coped through prayer, writing in my journal and working out. Some days, all I had was a blank page with a blank stare. Other days, it was tear-filled pages that ended up smearing the ink that attempted to capture my pain.
God didn’t fix it. That messed with me for a while. He didn’t fix it the way I hoped and believed He would. My thoughts and questions were endless. This kind of grieving was unfamiliar to me. I thought grieving was only ascribed to those mourning the physical death of a loved one. I knew that kind of pain. I had been there before. But I didn't know how to manage this kind of mourning. I thought God would surely step in and rescue us from the depth of this kind of pain. But He didn’t.
My belief had to be realigned from believing God for a promise to believing God as my promise. And I found myself somewhere in between. I know the rest will be added according to His will (Matthew 6:33), but I couldn’t claim I’ve somehow arrived to some faith-infused-fix-it-all formula. That would be nice yet unrealistic. Instead, I have committed to this journey of being made whole through faith, family and friendships, fostering change in my community, fitness and stewarding my finances. I am committed to focus on what I’m responsible for and stop over processing what I can’t change. What I have left to offer is the sufficiency of His grace.
Yet it felt so insufficient at times.
But God let me sit in it.
Then I learned to sit up in it.
Then I learned to stand up in it.
And now, I’m learning how to walk in it. Even if I'm limping.
And the truth is, before I could get to His grace in this, I needed to get to the grave of this. I had to walk through the undoing of what I believed marriage was. And I’ve been tumbling through what being divorced means, not just for me. I had to recognize that Shaun too is in pain and just as much in need of God as me. God’s love wasn’t designed just to heal me through this, but him too. The saving I prayed for, I prayed for him too. I stopped holding myself hostage to who I was expected to be and stopped holding him hostage to who I expected him to be. We both needed to let go of the ‘what ifs’ in order to give room to forgiveness, healing, wholeness and growth. I had to relinquish my right to be right, so that God could continue to love through my heart, intentionally. And that was hard at first because all I could see was the pain I carried, so it challenged my ability to see or hear his. Without having immediate, healthy examples of what the other side of divorce can look like, it’s taking us working through what that looks like for us with each new season and chapter. Not just for the sake of the Gospel, but for the sake of our daughter. And that certainly requires lots of communication, humility, patience and intentionality.
Independent of God’s truth that sets me free (John 8:32) and the work it takes to be intentional about wholeness in this, here’s my reality — there was nothing liberating, beautiful nor empowering about divorce. We agreed to go through with it, but I can't even claim “super woman” status as a result. I wept every step of the way, believing to the very last moment, that some way, some how, God would change this narrative, the way He changed my narrative about Leukemia. While I fully understand and agree with the effort to redeem divorce narratives and redefine the stigma, I can’t ignore its consequences. I can’t ignore the worry I had concerning how this would impact our daughter. I would be lying to you if I said that I felt a supernatural peace and freedom when it happened. No. I was crushed. I couldn't breathe. I felt my world crashing. I didn't have answers. I was overwhelmed. I was angry.
Let this be clear: I don’t preach nor believe that divorce is the immediate solution to a troubled marriage. Marriage is hard work. Period. And it’s meant to be the beautiful journey of two becoming one. I don’t think God has suddenly changed His mind about how He feels about divorce. Scripture reflects God’s hatred of it (Malachi 2:16). And there is a reason why. Divorce is a dismantling of the design for marriage, family and the community at large. It impacts everyone and everything. But it happens. And it happened to us. So how do we still glorify God when it happens? While I believe that in marriage, all things can be forgiven, that statement comes with an understanding that I also don’t believe in staying in a marriage solely for the sake of upholding an image out of fear of what people will think. That premise proves to be wrong and dangerous. It’s neither sustainable, nor healthy. The way I see it, divorce is another result of broken humanity in need of God. It is a reminder of the sin and weight that can easily beset any of us (Hebrews 12:1) and the need for healing and wholeness in us as individuals, families and communities. Divorce isn’t an occasion to start looking for who to vilify. Divorce is an occasion to desperately seek God and speak truth, life, love, power and hold ourselves and those we love, accountable. And that is where the glory is found.
I’m learning some very hard lessons and own my mistakes and misconceptions that marriage only magnified. But I can say that the me I am still learning about, is being molded by every chapter in my life. Including this one. I am learning so much about God, myself, motherhood, co-parenting, vulnerability, life, partnership, forgiveness, courage, transparency, friendship, wholeness and love. So much love. As a result, no matter how I feel, wisdom challenges me to continually hold myself accountable for the words that I speak, the decisions that I make and the lives that I impact, beginning with our daughter. So that if there is any “good” seen in this journey, I have nothing to boast about but His grace alone.
REDEMPTION at WORK
I consider how Jesus would have preferred the redemption of humanity to have been possible without the cross (Luke 22:42). I’m with Jesus on that. But redemption required the cross that would publicly expose His wounds, as He bore the guilt and shame of the sins He didn’t commit. All to lead to the resurrection that would bring us life. This granted us access to His grace and permission to bare our own scars and confidently declare that there is life on the other side of this if we trust in Him.
Here, the redemptive work of God didn’t happen within the confines of marriage as I hoped. I didn’t want to imagine denying myself and taking up my cross to follow Jesus looking like divorce (Luke 9:23). But I believe redemption has been working through the sum of these broken pieces. While my message of being made whole feels like the total opposite of my life, it is in these painful realities where wholeness begins.
In this redemptive surrender, I learned to value the great memories created, friendship, unique family dynamics and the joys that we’ve lived through. The beauty in this is what Hebrews 4:15 states, ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin.’
I'm not alone. You're not alone. We aren't alone.
He knows, understands and walks us through it ALL. He doesn’t judge us for being broken or feeling. We’re human. But it requires repentance, confronting and surrendering that reality, so that true healing can begin. Without the transparency and accountability of every step of our journey, our perspective can’t be molded in truth and love. He wants to make us WHOLE. He wants to make whole even those we feel have hurt us deeply, considering that we too have hurt and sinned against another. Even if not intentionally. So if I've learned anything in this journey, it's to be a reflection of the grace I receive, and never forget to ‘trust the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways acknowledge Him and He will direct my path’ (Proverbs 3:5-6). I trust Him through my mistakes and through the waves of grief that inevitably come. I trust Him through every victory and every failure. I trust Him as the Author and Finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:2).
I thank God for His Presence, journaling, my therapist, open communication, family and some pretty amazing, committed friends that have been here to respect my boundaries, sit in silence, cry, pray, work-out or laugh with me. I have my moments but I keep moving forward. Keep trusting. And most importantly, keep loving on purpose. One thing I know: social platforms, positions, promises, people and our own perspectives fail; but Love? Love never does. (1 Corinthians 13:8). So if I am called to anything, I am committed to the call to love God and love my neighbor as myself, as if I’ve never hurt before.
And that is where His grace found me in my grief.