I grew up with only one dream... to be a wife and a mommy. I imagined Prince Charming sweeping me off my feet, a "castle" filled with happy children, lots of laughter and a life that ended with "happily ever after".
Growing up, I don't recall being told I could be anything I wanted to be. No one said "Dream Big" or "Reach for the Stars". The women in my world, it seemed, were stay home mommies or school teachers. They sang in the church choir, baked cookies, taught Sunday School, supported their husbands dreams/goals, and helped with PTO.
The role of "wife and mom" was admirable, purpose-filled and that's who I would be.
I grew up with only one dream... and when I graduated high school, I was on the fast track to just that. By 20, I married my high school sweetheart and for my 21st birthday, I received a rocking chair because I was 8 months pregnant with our first child. Even though that was unplanned, I was happy and felt blessed by it all.
I had barely tossed the bouquet and before I knew it I had THREE babies under the age of 3! Life was crazy, busy, full and exciting. I loved being a mama and a wife... and although I would go back and do a few things differently, I was pretty good at both those roles. Life (and marriage) weren't always easy, but I actually felt like I was living out my own little fairy tale.
But then "real life" came in like a wrecking ball, crushing my family as I knew it. And destroying my belief in "happily ever after".
Being raised with such conservative Christian values, divorce never seemed like something I would face. No one in my family got divorced. That didn't mean things were perfect, but it seemed that everyone made it work. You forgive, you love and you move forward. Besides, we said "till death do us part" and neither of us were dead yet, so What The Heck?!
It was a total gut punch to me. I barely felt like I could breathe and I cried more than I knew possible. For several years, I actually believed God would repair my marriage and all the brokenness. I knew He was bigger than the mess we had. I knew He was bigger than my husband's stubbornness and pride. And I was certain our family could be whole again. I truly believed this and wanted it badly... despite the heartbreak and betrayals. Even the finalization of our divorce didn't keep me from holding onto hope of reconciliation. People would ask "Would you take him back?" And my answer was always "I'll never say never". I clung to the knowledge that some people get divorced and then remarried to each other. Surely that would be us.
But reconciliation was not to be part of our story. No matter how much my kids and I prayed for it, it didn't happen. My fairy tale had crumbled and there was not going to be any happily ever after.
I wish I could tell you I was strong. I wish I could tell you I remained loving and full of grace. I wish I could tell you I didn't act out in hurt or become disheartened. But those would all be lies. I was a mess! I would put on a brave face for the world, I would smile and pretend I was doing just fine, but I wasn't. I was a shell of a human.
During all of this, I found myself constantly praying for God to "soften my husband's heart". I earnestly believed if God would do that, our family would be made whole again. I didn't understand why He wouldn't just FIX it all for us. Didn't God want families to be whole, not broken? Didn't he hate divorce? Couldn't He use this whole mess of a marriage to help others and further His kingdom? Why wouldn't He work a miracle for us?
After awhile, I began to feel a bit angry. If God wasn't going to mend my marriage, then what? Who was I without a husband? Wasn't I created to be a wife and mom? I believed that was truly the whole essence of who I was and who I was supposed to be.
By this time, my children were all early teens and their life was no longer fully facilitated by mom. They had their own friends, activities and life... and they didn't seem to "need" Mom as much as I needed them to need me. My dream of being purpose-filled as a "wife and mom" seemed to be dying... and that really made me feel empty.
I was designed to share my life with a partner and parent children with him. Wasn't I? Without that, Who Am I? What is my purpose?
Although I was frustrated with God, I began devouring scripture... trying to find answers. I was trying to figure out why God wouldn't answer my prayers and who the heck I was supposed to be now. I think I was genuinely at my lowest before I felt He began to give me a response to my cries for help.
First, I felt like God told me that He IS BIGGER than any mess, any brokenness, and anyone's stubborn pride, BUT He reminded me He has given each of us our own free will. That means, no matter what God may want for us, We Can Choose. And that meant my children's father did not have to choose me or our family. (ouch)
Then God revealed some things to me... Within a week, I discovered three passages of scripture that gave me some clarity and hope.
One day I was reading in Exodus... (I have no idea why I was reading Exodus. I typically sought out positive, uplifting scripture. Or, at least, new testament because it was easier to understand.) But, here I was reading in Exodus 7 when all of a sudden some words jumped off the page at me! "But I will harden Pharaoh's heart". WHAT??? Why in the world would God harden anyone's heart? That didn't make sense to me. Here I had been praying for a softening of my husband's heart and believing that is just the thing that God does. But right here in Exodus, it said God hardened someone's heart!
I had to devour that portion of the bible to try to understand. And this is what I felt God was telling me... First, Pharaoh had already chosen to have a hardened heart for many years (a lifetime, in fact). And when God chose to further harden his heart, it was to bring His full glory into view. I also realized Moses would never have been able to fulfill his PURPOSE if Pharaoh had been cooperative from the beginning. God emboldened Moses in his purpose through this experience.
The next scripture I encountered was Matthew 25:31-46. It's the parable that talks about separating the sheep from the goats.... separating those who know Christ and those who do not. I should mention... my children's father was not raised the way I was and did not have the same core values that I held. Yet, in my teenage rebellion, I chose him. Perhaps because he was so different than what was expected of me. Or maybe it was just that he was a goofy, cute, football player who made me laugh. No matter the reason, he had not chosen Christ as his personal Savior when we married. And, although I knew the bible says "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6:14), I chose him anyway.
The final scripture seemed to be written just for me. It was exactly what I needed to help make sense of my loss. It was exactly what I needed to give me hope for the future.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:2)
Wow. I was beginning to see. No, divorce is not what God would choose for His children, but He gives us our own free will. And, perhaps I was not going to ever be able to fulfill His Purpose in me as long as I was in an unhealthy marriage.
I realized that God had not chosen that guy for me, I had chosen him... out of my own rebellious nature. And, although, God can take our biggest mess and turn it into something completely beautiful, that's not always how the story goes. Perhaps my failed marriage was protecting me from becoming a completely lost sheep. Perhaps God had plans for me that could not be fulfilled if I was following the goats.
Another translation of John 15:2 says "Every branch that does not bear fruit, He takes away..." That was difficult to swallow. Why did he have to take away one of my most prized "possessions"? Well, in this case, I realized it was so I could grow.... So I could be even more fruitful! So I could bloom and be more abundant in Him.
Discovering the message for me in those 3 scriptures, didn't take away my aching or make me suddenly feel whole again, but I began to realize... God Still has a plan for ME! I Still Have a Purpose!
I'll be honest, some days I still wonder what exactly that purpose is. I feel I am a perpetual blob of clay... asking God to mold me and make me into a vessel for Him. I think I am just beginning to uncover what He has in store for me and I'M EXCITED!
xoxo - julie michelle
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