On Valentine’s Day in 1984 after eight years of marriage, my husband gave me a card in which he had written, “In the mind of the Most High, even before we were born, He made you my wife.” It was a beautiful perspective and I immediately treasured that card as my favorite of all time.
“ In the mind of the Most High, even before we were born, He made you my wife. ”
On Valentine’s Day in 1998, I received no card from my husband. We were estranged. I use that word because of the ominous picture that floods my mind when it is pronounced. “No longer close or affectionate” is the dictionary’s definition. We weren’t. We had separated three months prior because I had discovered he was having an affair. I felt “estranged.” It was all I could think about. Something profoundly important was gone from me. In the grocery store, I would see couples and feel extreme loss that the other half of “my couple” no longer cared about me. Love songs playing on the radio or in public places reminded me that romance is not everlasting. It is fickle. It dies. I had become unloved. It was years before I could even handle going to a wedding. I could only think of my own failed marriage.
“ Grief is just as present at the end of a marriage as it is at the death of a spouse. ”
Grief is just as present at the end of a marriage as it is at the death of a spouse—except when you are the one being abandoned, that grief also includes an intense rejection of all that you have been: a soulmate, a wife, a confidante, a friend, a lover. I was a failed attempt at keeping it together. It became an impossibility to me that two people could ever fully know one another. It seemed there always existed even the slightest chance of betrayal.
“ However, I couldn’t shut down. ”
Moving through the sudden deluge of emotions that follow any personal catastrophe is overwhelming, to the point of normal life shutdown. However, I couldn’t shut down. The financial state of our family was already weak. My husband had his own business and he was spending little to no time at it. I was doing childcare in my home. Children arrived at 6 AM and the last ones left around 7 PM. I had six of my own children living at home. My oldest was away at college. My second oldest had graduated from high school and was working. The others were all in school. I didn’t want the parents of the children I cared for to think that my life was so unstable that I wasn’t able to care properly for their children—so I forged forward, struggling through my daily responsibilities and not sleeping much at night.
“ There was nothing to do but cry out to God. ”
My children were struggling too. Overnight their father was gone. He didn’t even see them for over a month and he didn’t offer any explanation as to what was happening. All of that fell to me. Everything fell to me. But amidst all of the turmoil, one thing motivated me more than anything else: the determination that my children would not be left emotionally or spiritually damaged by the events transpiring in our home. We had been through enough already, so I knew that maintaining some sort of normalcy was of utmost importance, as well as always being available to nurture them in all aspects of their lives. I didn’t know where the strength to accomplish this would come from. I certainly didn’t have it.
“ Be strong and courageous... He will not leave you or forsake you. ”
A monumental task stood before this forsaken and fearful wife and mother. There was nothing to do but cry out to God. I had been to a conference a few months prior where Sharon Betters (author, pastor’s wife, and founder of MARKING Ministries) was the speaker. Sharon and her husband had lost their 16-year-old son in a car accident and she spoke of her personal aftermath—of wailing to God in the shower about the unfairness of it all. So I decided to do the same. I cried, I shouted. I was hysterical. Not only in the shower, but while driving in the car alone, and many times during the day behind the closed door of my room. I took to writing out my thoughts and prayers. My Bible was a constant companion and I listened to Moody Christian radio into the night.
“ Ye fearful saints fresh courage take; The clouds you so much dread are big with mercy. And shall break with blessing on your head. –William Cowper ”
Then came the surprising evidence that God was there. He heard. He was for me. Strength other than my own and a small semblance of peace for each day fell on me like fresh dew. Like a gentle breeze on a summer evening, some soft but clear words came through to my jumbled, wounded spirit. The Book of Deuteronomy which had always seemed remote and difficult suddenly became alive with encouraging promises. “Be strong and courageous….For it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” This was affirmed twice more after my personal reading by note cards from friends who quoted the verse to me again. God was speaking to me!
I was brought to tears over the words of hymns that I had sung dozens of times previously, but never really listened to the words.
“Ye fearful saints fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
are big with mercy.
And shall break with blessing
on your head.”
“ I became more and more aware that God was making Himself known to me through this trial I was enduring. ”
So many things struck meaning to my heart that I began writing them down and hanging them on the wall above my bed. Change didn’t happen overnight; I still shed many tears throughout a day. I still had little appetite and still lost sleep. My emotions still ran ambivalent throughout the day. But I became more and more aware that God was making Himself known to me through this trial I was enduring. That He cared for me and I could trust His care. That I could have assurance that everything would get sorted out and settled in His time. He would direct me into new paths in life that would lay themselves out before me.
Dec. 8, 1997 (about a month after separation), I wrote these words to God:
- I cannot see or understand why this is happening to me, but I do believe that God has brought it about so that many would see His glory and so that He would work it for my good.
- I do give up my marriage and my husband, realizing fully that my only alternative is complete abandonment to God and a complete trust that His will be done.
- I will trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. I will acknowledge Him with all my heart and He alone will direct my paths.
- Only my God has been faithful to me through all my years. I often have tried to arrange the details to my own life, rather than trusting Him. This was sin, I confess. Create in me a clean heart.
- Help me to be bold, to put on the armor daily that I need to wear in this huge spiritual warfare.
- Present all this to my children so that they would see Your mighty and powerful hand at work.
- The vengeance is also Yours but it is sweet to know You are there to obtain it for me. I will praise and magnify Your name!
“ God was taking care of our family far better than my husband ever had. ”
This truly was God changing my motivation. I toyed with thoughts of vengeance at first. I wrestled with God over these selfish desires, but He ultimately won. The words in Deuteronomy that repeated again in Hebrews rang clear—“Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” God was taking care of our family far better than my husband ever had. I knew His faithfulness would continue. The battle was not mine, but God’s.
“ Dwell in the Lord and feed on his faithfulness. ”
Dec. 18, 1997 (about six weeks after separation):
“I treasure my time alone with the Lord each night and morning. It’s better than sleeping next to a husband because it’s so strengthening and here is so much renewal. …I want to be a powerful example to my children by how I handle this. I want them to learn dependence on God from me.”
I camped out in the Psalms, marveling how David and all the other writers must have purposely written them for me. Psalm 37: “Do not fret because of evildoers.” (That was my husband.) “Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the Lord and feed on his faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God.” Psalm 91: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, My God, in Him I will trust.’…Under His wings you shall take refuge. His truth shall be your shield and buckler.”
“ I realized that not only was God with me, but He was changing me. ”
Gradually, I realized that not only was God with me, but He was changing me. He was giving me a new heart, a new understanding, and new knowledge of Himself. A friend pointed me to a quote by Henry Drummond that summed it all: “Christ, the Spirit of Christ, interpenetrating ours, sweetens, purifies, transforms all….Will power does not change men. Time does not change men. Christ does.” Yes. I was changing by a Love that transformed, that cared, that understood, and that provided all that I needed—whether it was peace of mind, the rent, or even the ability to love the man I had promised to love till death parted us.
How was I to love him now? There was a dramatic aftermath of conversations and confrontations between my ex and me for years following the separation. It broke my heart that the man I loved—the father of our children—had somehow vanished inside an unrecognizable, manipulative monster. I thanked God that he was out of the house and at the same time missed what once was and what might have been. Like words on a movie screen, even with the voice of a narrator, I heard: “Pray for those who persecute you. Do good and not harm. Be kind in your words and actions to him. Love him still; but not with the intent of regaining his love, but for his sake. Pray for his soul, pray for God to have mercy on him.” I would grow to love him differently, but love him nonetheless, until he left this earth in 2012.
“ I would do my part and he should do his, and this would be our life together. ”
It occurred to me that throughout our marriage, I had put my relationship with God on a back burner. I had prayed for a husband and thanked God when I got one. Sort of like when I got a good gift, I was grateful for it. But now it was mine. I would do with it what pleased me, and expect from it what I thought it should give me. That was how I viewed my marriage. I would do my part and he should do his, and this would be our life together. We would go to church and bring up our children in the church. My love for what I wanted my marriage and our family to look like grew, while my love for God stagnated. I worked and expected that all should turn out as I dreamed, but my heart was too proud to think that I needed to change or hand the reins over to God. In many ways, I was betraying my relationship with Jesus by not seeking Him with my whole heart.
How quickly I found forgiveness upon confession! How ready He was to lead me into His paths of righteousness—and not the ones I worked to manipulate. I now saw that God was working in me and that He loved me in ways that no husband ever could. As I experienced that love more and more fully throughout the divorce, I became more and more grateful that my life was in God’s hands.
“ We are only complete in Jesus, not in marriage, and not in one another. ”
Romantic love is simplified in our culture as two people finding one another and living happily ever after, at least for a spell. The popular love songs that used to depress me make romantic love the thing to live for, to strive for, the key to our happiness. But I have learned that this isn’t so. We are only complete in Jesus, not in marriage, and not in one another.
I cannot adequately describe my relationship with Jesus. I only know His love is not superficial; it is wholly satisfying and it is everlasting. It will not fail and it is enough. “And from his fullness [I] have received grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Only because of His love, am I able to truly love anyone else. The love song out-playing any other in my heart must be to Jesus. Now I realize that romantic love will never reach its full potential unless the first love of both parties is Jesus.