Lessons from Divorce- Part 1

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.

June 18, 2011

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.

Father’s Day

Father’s Day is just around the corner and it causes me to stop and think about my dad. I have the kind of dad that never missed a basketball game in my 8 year playing career. When my mom worked weekends at the hospital, my dad made us fried potatoes and scrambled eggs for dinner, got us dressed and ready for church and put us to bed. My dad has shown himself a dedicated and loving father over the years. Even if he may not always be an expert in talking through feelings with his three daughters, he certainly knows how to show love and support by being there anyway. Being there, that’s what he’s pretty good at. In 2012, when I suffered a violent attack, my mom and dad immediately got in their car and drove the 1000 miles from central Illinois to Houston, Texas. My dad may not have known the right words to say, but he was there showing me his love and concern in simple ways such as driving me to the police station and making late night Whataburger runs. Just two years later, a trial date had been set and I had a 6 month old baby boy. How was I supposed to manage the stress of a trial and feel at peace with who was watching my baby all day? Well my dad hopped on a plane and flew down to help care for baby Judah for the week. The day he arrived, my trial was postponed and we ended up strolling through the Houston zoo taking in the gorillas and giraffes together instead. Did he complain? Not that I know of. He hadn’t wasted his money on that ticket because despite the lack of a trial I was once again assured that my dad would go to great lengths to be there for me. It was just two more short years after that when I found myself a single mom all of a sudden with no income and no options. Who was it that jumped on airplane immediately? My dad. My dad came to Texas in the morning, helped pack me and my boys up in the afternoon, and brought us back to Illinois that same night. We sat on that flight in silence. There were no words to be said, but he had made himself present. My dad’s not perfect, but he knows when to show up and that matters.

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My loving relationship with my dad is probably why I never really struggled much with viewing God as my heavenly Father. It came naturally to me to view my creator as also a dad who gives good gifts to his children. I have had that modeled to me my entire life. That also means I took that blessing for granted and didn’t give it much of second thought. It wasn’t until my own young sons became fatherless that my eyes were opened to the beauty and glorious redemption one can find in knowing that God is our good good father. I never would have imagined watching my boys grow up without a dad in their life, but that is what I have found myself doing over the last couple years and boy it’s hard to watch. My boys were just babies when their dad was arrested. They have no memories of a life with their dad in it. I can remember vividly being in a Walmart last year and Lucas, who was just 2, pointing out different men and asking ” Is that my daddy?” for each of them. Oh how my heart broke at his lack of understanding in who his father was. Judah, who is now 5 years old, desperately tries to hold onto the memories he and his daddy had together. He repeats the memories I have shared with him with such pride. “Daddy and I played hide-and-seek together” or ” Daddy used to take me to work with him in Texas“. He loves his daddy despite all the wrongs done and the distance between them. As I write this blog post, both boys are drawing pictures for their dad and competing for whose picture Daddy will love the most. They teach me grace and forgiveness daily.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Of course I have been plenty angry too. It’s not fair that my boys don’t have a dad to play with them and throw them high into the air. It’s not fair that they won’t get the chance to feel the embrace of a father for most of their childhood. This brings tears and an ache to my heart that I never imagined possible. However, this is when I must look up to our Father in heaven and praise him for what my kids do have. There has been a glimpse of redemption in seeing the relationship that has formed between my dad and my boys since moving in with my parents. Grandpa has become one of their bestest buddies. My dad has once again showed up not just for me, but for them. He has changed diapers , fed them breakfast, tucked them into bed, said bedtime prayers, read books, taken them swimming and trick or treating and bought them plenty of happy meals and ice cream. Nowadays, he drives them around our small town in his golf cart and makes them feel like the most important kids in town. I am so grateful that my dad has stepped up to be a father figure in my kids lives, but I know he cannot entirely fulfill their need of a father. The truth is that only our great God can do that. God is the only perfect Father. He knows what’s best for my kids and I must daily trust him with their hearts. When I first became a single mom and the grief was immense, I wasn’t always sure how to pray so I would just recite the Lord’s Prayer multiple times a day. As we all probably know it begins with “Our Father in heaven“. This is the primary way that Jesus teaches us to address the holy and sovereign God of the universe. Oh how these words washed over me and a new gratitude lept in my heart for this truth. What comfort it is for this single mama that God is our Father, a true father to the fatherless. He will always be there when everyone else fails them. He is there lavishing his great love on them. 1 John 3:1 says ” See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And this is what we are!” This love goes way beyond anything an earthly father could offer. I recently heard Louie Giglio describe God not as a reflection of our earthly father, but a perfection of him. My prayer is that my sons will truly know God and that their faith will surpass my own because they will understand how valuable it is that God is our Father and calls us his children. They won’t take this for granted like I have done in the past. I pray they will find great joy and belonging in knowing they are a part of the family of God and find their identity and rest in Him. If your kids are going through life without their dad, I hope you will find comfort in these truths today as well. You are not alone.

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My dad took my boys trick or treating last year.

I am also keenly aware that for many people reading this, you too may have a hole where a father should be. I may not know your story, but I know that Father’s Day can be an challenging day for you too. Maybe you haven’t felt the embrace of a loving father in far too long. Maybe you have never known the love of a father on this side of heaven. Or maybe worst of all you have suffered pain and abuse at the hands of your own father. I am sorry and my heart breaks for you. My prayer for you is that you will read the words of 1 John 3:1 and take in the word lavish. God doesn’t just love us, but he lavishes his love on us with extravagant, luxurious, and grand actions. His most obvious display of this kind of love was sending Jesus to dwell among us to display his compassion and mercy and to rescue us from a broken life without hope. He offers us an eternal joy that outlasts it all. Jesus tells us in John 14:6-7 ” I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will also know my Father.” It doesn’t take long for us to read through the gospels and see the way that Jesus loved lavishly, especially to those who were broken, grieving and lost. He reaches out to those vulnerable to the hurts of this world. So I invite you on Father’s day this year, when the pain is deep and the loss is obvious, to look up and find the love that your heavenly Father is lavishing on you today. Look into the Word and find his promises are true and know that he will never leave you or abandon you. Look around and see how he is always providing and giving good gifts to his children. Sometimes you just have to look a bit harder through all those tears, but I assure you he’s there. He shows up and that matters.

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I am a Writer

I have been many things in my life. I have been a student, a carnival worker (oh yes!) , a retail associate, a missionary, an ESL Instructor, a pastor’s wife, a mom, a single mom, a daughter, a friend, a hot mess, and the list could go on! However, I have never embraced any identity of being a writer. Well, that is changing today. Today I declare that I am a writer. Throughout my life I have found joy in writing. I was the strange kid who got excited when it was time to write papers for English class, well as long as it was something I was passionate about anyway! I made my way through college writing monotonously about communication and having no direction whatsoever. After I became a missionary, I saw beauty in people’s stories and also in how God was weaving my own. I experienced God like never before amid the breathtaking views of the Oaxacan mountains and surrounded by the extravagant hospitality of the Oaxacan people. I found myself daily in a hammock with an open journal on my lap furiously writing in an attempt to capture all I was experiencing. Writing easily became my greatest hobby while in Mexico, alongside eating street tacos and tamales of course!

Moving to Houston, Texas made writing a bit easier for me as well. I was on a brand new adventure experiencing cultures I had never known. It was exciting and I never could have dreamed of how much God would grow me as a follower of him. He put opportunity after opportunity in front of me to experience. I met people from countries all over the world, even ones I had never even heard of. ( I apologize to my Eritrean and Bhutanese friends for my lack of geography knowledge). I drank an unruly amount of tea in homes all over Houston. We spent many days eating and celebrating holidays with African Muslim friends. In a wild set of events I was able to fly across the Atlantic ocean to have dinner with their family back in Senegal and realized just how small the world really is. I spent week after week visiting a Turkish mosque, HIndu temple, Buddhist temple and eating the best food in Chinatown. I lived among refugees who had survived such unbelievably difficult circumstances. And as much as I tried to serve them, they almost always served me more. I became a student of culture and faith, and I poured out my lessons into multiple journals to be read by me when I doubted God’s faithfulness and love.

Breaking fast for Ramadan with Senegalese Friends

In the fall of 2012, I opened my journal on the floor of the living room of my townhouse and wrote to God about my concern of not having an authentic faith. I scribbled down my desire to be found faithful even if suffering were to come my way. Just a few short weeks later while serving in my ESL classroom and community outreach room, I was violently attacked, raped and I nearly lost my life. This changed my world forever. Word of my attack quickly grew from my Houston community, to back home in Illinois, and then to friends and family around the nation. I received a great outpouring of love and support from so many including complete strangers. In my personal life, I was experiencing my first real taste of true heartache and pain but developing an incredible dependence on Jesus like I never knew possible. It was overwhelming and raw and I kept feeling the nudge the share what I was learning. This was much different than the writing I had done before, but I still found a voice and started to post my journey of healing on a blog. It was vulnerable and a bit weak, but people seemed to be listening. Maybe there was something to this writing thing.

Over the years, I have written about finding joy and hope in some impossible situations. I have tried my best at being authentic and brave, but unsure of how it was coming through. My life took another turn at the end of 2016 when my beloved husband, a youth pastor, was arrested and I became a single mom overnight . I lost my best friend, my co-parent, my husband, and my life and community as I had known it in Houston. My family became the top story of the 5:00 news. This was not what I pictured my life to be. People were above and beyond generous and kind, but I felt eyes on me. How would I respond to this? I heard Satan laughing loudly like he had hit the bullseye and had won the grand prize. There was no good in this story that I could see. My voice was extinguished in a single day and I felt disqualified to write even a sentence. I went through a pretty dark and silent period, but it was writing each and every day in a journal that brought life and healing to my heart. I had a secret place to put my feelings and gut wrenching prayers to the Lord. Writing about this part of my journey has been the most difficult of all, probably because the pain has been the deepest. I have taken baby steps in sharing a bit of the process that is leading to my healing through writing publicly but let’s be honest it’s ridiculously scary to do so!

As an enneagram 9, I have always struggled with finding my voice or wondering if it even matters at all. “Who cares what I think” is the refrain that has been sung in my head since childhood and is singing loud and merrily as I type this blog post. I am choosing to silence that voice in my head and turn up the voice in my heart that tells me that I do have something to share. That the story God has entrusted me with is worthwhile and meaningful not just to my own spiritual journey but to those who are struggling in theirs as well. Emily P. Freeman in her book “The Next Right Thing” discusses how we all love new beginnings, but we don’t love being a beginner. However it is okay to ‘be a beginner” sometimes. It’s so easy for me to deny the identity of a writer, even though it’s always been in me because I think of myself as a beginner and I don’t love that feeling. So today I am starting something new and calling myself a writer. I don’t know what successes or failures are up ahead for me, but I am committing to being brave and vulnerable. As Brene Brown says “daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. It means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you’re feeling and to have the hard conversations.” So that’s what I hope this blog will be about. What is it that’s inside of you, nudging you to step out and be courageous? Is there something in you that you have been too fearful to explore and risk failure? Maybe it’s writing just like me and you have a story to share or maybe it’s completely different. Whatever it is, I invite you to join me on a journey of becoming a beginner and stepping out in something new. We will see together where God takes us.