No one ever plans on getting divorced when they say I do. We all use the words forever and always on our wedding days just as we should. We imagine growing old together. I imagined a lot of things on my wedding day 8 years ago. I imagined an adventurous life, possibly doing missions work overseas. I imagined our love growing more and more full as we added children and watched each other turn into parents. I imagined celebrating decades of anniversaries. I did imagine hard times were ahead for us, but I always believed we would have a love strong enough to fight through any scenario and a God big enough to protect our marriage from brokenness. As the song “Your Love is Extravagant” played through that country church, I walked down that aisle on a warm June day towards the man I love with the possibility that a divorce would be in our future being the furthest thing from my mind. However, it wasn’t but a short 6 years later when divorce wasn’t just a possibility, but it became my reality.
There are still days when I look down at my left hand and feel the slight panic of sudden loss. I sometimes even turn from side to side in search mode before it hits me that I don’t wear a ring on that finger anymore. My wedding ring is sitting safely and all alone in my antique jewelry box on the top of my bedroom dresser with no real purpose anymore. I wore that ring on my left hand for a total of 2399 days and then one evening before bed in an anticlimactic moment, I quietly took it off and laid it to rest in a drawer. I had been dreading that day, but felt like the time had come to do so. I often find myself rubbing the spot my ring used to be over and over. It’s always a reminder of the loss I have experienced. Divorce has been the most painful thing I have ever walked through, yet like all “good suffering”it has become my teacher and God has shown me some very valuable lessons along the way.
Lesson #1- My identity is not in my marriage status, but in my Savior. This may seem obvious to a lot of you, but it didn’t take long for me to realize how much identity I had wrapped up in my own marriage. I loved being married. My husband and I had spent the majority of our marriage working along side each other as a team through missions and ministry. We were often taken as package deal even when we did work separate jobs. At the institute I taught at all my students loved meeting “Husband Dan” after classes. When Dan worked in a leasing office, I would visit and bring his coworkers cookies and treats. I am pretty sure they liked me more than him! When we went to weddings and talked to newlyweds we were the ones talking highly about how amazing marriage was. Being a wife was a great privilege to me. I was comfortable and felt secure in my marriage. Then one night as I was reading my two year old son a bedtime story , my husband walked in the door from an emergency staff meeting at the church. His eyes told me that something serious had happened and I needed to brace myself. I closed the book, we kissed our son goodnight and we walked to our bedroom my stomach in knots but with a heart full of faith. I truly believed whatever he was going to tell me would be alright because we would be in it together. We had faced some pretty rough stuff in our marriage already, so surely we could conquer whatever was to come together. My first thought was that he had lost his job or there was a death in our church, but nothing would have prepared me for the words that came out of his mouth next. ” I had an affair” he said as he looked me straight in my eyes with anguish and regret in his. It was like the words came out, hit my ears and bounced right back. I stared blankly, blinking hard, but no words came out on my side. He repeated himself. Once I regained the use of my tongue, I declared “well that’s just not true” so matter of factly. I must have misheard. As he shook his head and confirmed it was true, I continued saying “No that’s not true, you would never do that” over and over and I heard my voice getting stronger and stronger. I tried to convince him he was giving me a false confession but to no avail. The horror started to wash over me quickly and the floodwaters poured in as he confessed this affair was actually with a student. This was no affair at all, this was a crime. Maybe we weren’t in this together after all. My solid and secure marriage was slipping through my fingers like sand as I sat there shaking in disbelief.
We are all guilty at times of trusting a bit too much in the identities we have built for ourselves. Whether it be at work or home, we find our worth in what we do and the roles we play. We are wives, mothers, teachers, pastors, you fill in the blank for you. Often times we are not even aware we are doing it, until the moment comes when we lose it. The sudden death of a loved one, a job loss, or an unfaithful spouse may uproot your life completely. What we need is a sure foundation, in something, or someone who we can never lose. Jesus offers us identity in himself and his unchanging, unfailing, and unbelievable love. Everything else in this life will pass away. What earthly things do we find ourselves putting our hope and identity in today? Whatever it may be, it could be gone tomorrow. I have found that if I exchange my mistaken identity for gratitude, I will have a better foundation to build upon and a looser grip on this world. We can be grateful for a strong marriage, a great job, and healthy kids, but not place our worth in them. Our worth belongs in the hands of our Savior and Creator, the one who loves us most of all.
Lesson #2- My story does not disqualify me from the Kingdom of God, but is the very thing that God uses for his glory. Since graduating college, I had spent my life doing some sort of Christian ministry. I had been a missions student, a missionary in Mexico, a refugee advocate in Houston, a pastor’s wife and youth leader. I had a heart to see people’s lives changed by the love of Jesus . Serving the church was part of my daily rhythm in 2016. I spent up to 80% of my week in our church building coordinating our church ESL program, leading in women’s ministry and MOPs, discipling high school girls, making pancakes and coffee, teaching a Sunday school class, painting nursery walls, and fully supporting my husband as he pastored and led a youth group. I knew God was using me and I felt honored to be a part of building his Kingdom.
The story of my husband’s arrest hit the 5:00 Houston news and within minutes I had a multitude of texts pouring in. I had gone from loving pastor’s wife to the wife of a criminal in just a matter of hours. One of the first texts I received was from my friend Tracey. She wanted me to know that this was not my fault and thought I needed to hear those words immediately. She was right. In fact every single text that came in over the next days and weeks were messages of love, kindness and concern. However, in spite of all these messages of grace I was receiving, the shame still flooded into my soul. No I hadn’t committed any crime, yet it was still a big part of my story that I wanted to erase. For the next year I struggled with feeling like I had the word ” disqualified” stamped in the middle of my forehead. What would people think of me if they only knew my story? Who would respect me now I had a marriage that lasted less than a decade? How would I ever lead, teach, or disciple again? Won’t people who don’t know Jesus be turned away from Him by hearing of my husband’s failures thereby affirming their beliefs that Christianity is full of hypocrisy? Satan had put a big bullseye on my back and had hit me dead center. He was laughing loudly and it was hard to hear any other voices other than his some days.
Honestly it has taken a whole lot of counseling and prayer for me to drown out the voice of the enemy and walk in the truth of who God says I am. I know now that it’s usually the most broken pieces of our story that God will use for his greatest glory. It has been when I have stepped out and shared this hard tragic story he entrusted me with, that I have felt the most qualified. The Bible says we overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11). No matter the specifics of your story, however shameful or broken you might feel, God wants you to know that you are more than qualified to to make an impact in his name. Just look in the gospels and see who Jesus uses to spread His good news message. He uses the Samaritan woman at the well who had five husbands. He uses a former demon possessed lunatic. He uses former prostitutes, hated tax collectors, and lowly fishermen. He uses the dead, the blind, the deaf and the lame. Isn’t it just ludicrous of us to think he couldn’t use our story today? The amazing Bob Goff says ” I used to think being a believer was enough, but now I know that Jesus wants us to participate, no matter what condition we are in.” So whatever condition you are in: anxious or depressed, single or married, hurting or healthy, let’s get in the game, look around and love someone. Let’s show up and share our stories of Jesus putting us back together and move forward in faith. I’m not disqualified and neither are you.