Birds chirped outside the window in the branches of the flowering locust tree. Spring hung in the air but not in my heart. I sat in the second row of the classroom watching my oldest daughter, 5-year-old Ashley, file into the room with the other students dressed for their preschool graduation.
The ceremony began. I scarcely heard a word, however, as I watched my child and wondered how the events of the previous 18 months would affect her. Her dad had left our home when Ashley was 3, her sister, Courtney, was 1 and I was pregnant with her brother, Clint. My mind retraced the events. Afraid to face what lay ahead on my own, I had surrendered my life to Christ. I prayed, "I give You not just this situation, but I give You my whole life."
Then I had read everything I could get my hands on and pulled godly people around me for counsel. In Love Life for Every Married Couple, author Ed Wheat talked about three options every couple face during crises in marriage: get divorced, remain in a bad situation or stay together and make things better. I had chosen to stay, but eventually my husband served me divorce papers.
The teacher in front of me finished her words, then had the children stand to receive their diplomas: "Now students, take your diplomas to your parents."
Ashley stood, head held high. She reached with enthusiasm to accept her certificate, then she walked toward me, smiling. She stopped and turned toward the rear of the room where her dad sat. She headed toward him. She stopped again and turned back toward me. Her eyes met mine, and in that moment I saw every question and hurt and uncertainty she felt over her home breaking apart. What do I do? Whom do I run to? Where do I belong? I smiled and nodded for her to take the diploma to her dad, her quandary fixed for the moment.
Ashley has just turned 18. Long ago she outgrew her yellow bows, and her little curls have turned to long brown tresses. She will soon graduate again, this time from high school. How have I managed to raise her and her siblings by myself for more than 14 years?
- I found help. I couldn't do it alone, so I found other people to fill in the blanks. Neighbors picked up kids from school, church youth groups provided Christian influence and coaches taught athletic skills with that manly touch. Along the way, I discovered that I had to make my needs known and ask for assistance.
- I sought mentors. Not only did my children need mentors, I needed them, too. I watched for older women who could listen, pass on godly wisdom and hold me accountable. I also kept my eye open for adults and older children to connect with each of my kids. Before I knew it, I had become a mentor to other single moms and dads new to the journey.
- I shook off the guilt. I did all I could do to keep my marriage from breaking apart. Sure, I'd made mistakes, but I could, without remorse, move forward after I'd taken sufficient time to heal. I also worked hard to remember I could only do so much and then let the rest go. I also had to remember that I could never become a dad to my kids, only the best mom I could ever be.
- I forgave. Yes, I'd had awful things done to me, and at one point I could without hesitation relate chapter and verse of all the bad things. But no more. As long as I held onto all that stuff, I kept myself imprisoned by them. One day I sat at a table and named every rotten thing that my husband had ever done to me, and I laid down a slip of paper to represent each infraction. Then I picked each reminder up one by one and prayed to forgive. When I finished the last one, I threw the papers away. That freed me to move on. Throughout the process, I worked also to forgive myself for mistakes I had made.
- I spent time with my kids. My children weren't impressed with my college degrees or my publishing or my name in the community. Instead, their mom was great because she was there for them. She listened and loved and understood. I've tried to always keep that in perspective and remember that my children are my most important job on earth.
- I accepted the fact that I wouldn't do everything right.I have lost my patience, acted unwisely, made poor choices and given wrong guidance. All I could expect from myself was the best I could do. This became an enormous pressure relief.
- I nurtured my faith. Knowing that God would be with me all the time brought me comfort when I felt most alone. I have made sure to nurture that relationship in the years since, both through church and through new relationships I have found.
God has truly remained faithful to me and my family over these years, and He will continue to guide us to the end of the journey. Yet there's still a degree of sadness in my heart. I've given my children the best of everything I could at home, school and church. But I can never give them solid tools for loving and for resolving conflict that come from two parents committed to keeping their home together. To try to mend the torn places in a child from a divorced home is similar to patching a torn piece of fabric: It can be repaired, but it will never be like new.
Ashley recently ran in her cross-country regionals and won first place. My heart swelled with the same pride I have known since my first hour of becoming a mom. But as I watched her cross the finish line, I felt another all-too-familiar emotion, which caused me to pause. Ashley stumbled toward her dad and leaned on his shoulder as he helped her walk out the strenuous race she had just run. She looked over at me, despite her pain, and I saw that same look of uncertainty I had seen in her face at age 5. What do I do? Whom do I run to? Where do I belong?
If I could accomplish one thing with my life, it would be to stamp out divorce. I have seen the devastation it causes. I know why God says in Malachi 2:16, "I hate divorce." He knows and I know that divorce is not the way it was meant to be — not for the mother or the father or the children.