from someone who’s been there

On our recent road trip, I couldn’t help but get sucked into some celebrity gossip while passing the time. If there’s anything I’ve learned this past year it’s that I’m in no place to judge any other person for their life. But, with that said, it’s shocking to me to read of celebrities who have lavish, public weddings only to change their minds 72 days later and file for divorce.

Our culture has cheapened the covenant of marriage. Instead of a permanent, lifetime bond, marriage has now become a trial – if it fits, wonderful; if not, just take it back off and throw it aside! Divorce used to be likened to a curse word; the simple utterance of it bringing a distaste to the mouth. Now, divorce is a common word – and it breaks my heart.

Is divorce as simple as some celebrities make it out to be? Does it even have lasting implications? Or is it easy? For me, it was real and destructive in these ways…

1. Financially – I only preferred my lawyer to do the bare-minimum for me, but with lawyers, everything costs. During every phone call, every email, and every meeting the clock is ticking and the calculator is adding up. I literally turned over my entire final paycheck to my lawyer. I remember selling  my entire library of beloved books to pay yet another attorney bill. I got another job working at a salon during the holidays to continue paying those bills. Divorce is not cheap. If it’s anything like mine, the cost will be in the thousands.

2. Time – From the first time I met with my lawyer to the date I received the signed divorce decree back from the judge was five long months. Struggling through a divorce was extremely painful for me. I knew the marriage was over and biblically speaking, it was irreparable – so to just sit around and wait was difficult. I longed to have my maiden last name back and to start working towards discovering who I was again. I wanted to be done arguing over real estate, the separation of bills, and our material goods. Time was the enemy. After everything I’d suffered through – I just wanted it to be over. 

3. Family Relations – It hurts to lose people and it hurts to lose in-laws, whether they be mothers, grandmothers or sisters. Divorce is painful during the holidays. It’s difficult letting go of old traditions and forming new ones. (My incredible new husband has helped me so much in trusting people again and not being so skeptical of their love towards me. He is my hero.)

4. Disappointments – mine and others. I remember speaking with a friend who took over the youth ministry with her husband after us. She told me, “The teenagers are really hurting. They keep saying, ‘Marriage means nothing anymore. If ____ and Jen couldn’t make it last, then who can?'” That phone call took the wind out of my sails. I spent five years trying to be an example to the students I was working with and even though I wasn’t in control of my spouse and his decisions, it still hurt that my marriage had let those kids down. But, looking back – I think through my divorce, I taught them more than I ever did while working in the youth ministry. Because, they were able to watch me at my lowest – praising God instead of cursing him.

5. Material goods – We were living in a beautiful house, but during the divorce neither of us could afford it any longer. We had never missed a house payment, and yet, I ended up having to short-sale my house. I must have spend 30 hours on the phone with my mortgage company and real estate agent in negotiations. Here I was, twenty-five years old, losing a house and trying to sell my wedding ring so I could afford my bills. I put my wedding ring on Craigslist and sold it to an asian man working in a nail salon. Together, Jeff and I followed him across the street to Sam’s club so he could have the jeweler verify that it was real. In the parking lot, I exchanged the ring, for his money and we drove off in the cover of a winter blizzard. It was so surreal. We were driving in slow-motion through what felt like a snow globe and I couldn’t get over the fact that I had just sold my wedding ring. I called my mom and said, “No girl should ever have to do that.”

6. Emotionally – This is where divorce made the greatest devastation in my life. There arn’t enough words to describe the pain and the different ways it took hold on me. I wasn’t the perfect wife, but I was invested in my marriage; I meant what I said during the ceremony; divorce never was a probability. It caught me completely off guard.

In my opinion, divorce isn’t a quick fix, and it’s not a bandaid. I heard once on the radio that divorce doesn’t solve a bad marriage – it’s just like trading in one pain for another, different pain. In my situation, there wasn’t another option, (and God has since blessed me with an incredible new husband) but I want couples to know that far-reaching implications of divorce. For those couples who struggle with continual arguing, please, never throw divorce in each other’s face as a probability! It’s more than a signed decree. It’s more than taking off a ring. It’s real. And it has its costs. 

hate mail

I am about to share the best advice I’ve ever received.

It’s not complex.

In fact, it’s really quite simple.

But it’s profound.

Are you ready for it?

“Do things for people…expecting nothing in return.” 

It was my very first time to co-lead a week long summer camp for 200+ junior high students. I was fresh in youth ministry, but I was zealous. For weeks I labored planning games, activities, bus lists, room lists, PowerPoint presentations – you name it. And the week was nothing short of miraculous. Students committed their lives to Christ, new friendships were formed, and well – no one died. Altogether, a great success.

A week later I was in the church office picking up the mail.

And that’s when I read it-

My first “hate mail” from a parent. We ran out of pizza the first night of camp and her 6th grade son went hungry. He didn’t tell anyone. And she was not happy. He would never be returning to the youth group.

Another letter brought complaints about the sunburn her child came home with because his counselor forgot to apply sunscreen to him at regular intervals. How could we let this happen? They would be leaving the church.

Scratching my head, I turned the envelopes over to make sure they had been sent to the correct church.

“Surely we didn’t both just get back from the same camp?” 

“Do they have any idea how much time I put into preparation for camp?”

“Do they know how much sleep I forfeited taking care of their children last week?”

“I do so much for these students and the parents don’t even notice.”

I remember I used to do youth ministry (and life) with this mindset. Give and you will receive. Love and you’re sure to be loved back. But, that’s not reality is it? Reality doesn’t coddle you that way.

Growing up as a pastor’s daughter, one of the hardest things is watching people leave the church your dad pastors and go to a new one. Why? Because it feels like you’re being replaced. Because so may times it was your family who stood by their side in the hospital waiting room while praying for a miracle. It was your mom who walked with that woman through her divorce. Because it was Dad who prayed with their dying grandfather. Try as you may, it’s just hard not to take it personal.

I used to think that loving a person with a pure heart meant that he or she “owed” me something. But that’s not how Jesus loved.

For three and a half years, Jesus hung out with Judas ALL THE WHILE knowing Judas would betray and turn Him over to the authorities. Jesus washed Peter’s dirty feet (something only a slave would do) knowing that Peter would later pretend like he never even knew Jesus. That’s Love which doesn’t think of itself. And that’s freeing.

To love while expecting nothing in return doesn’t mean you will avoid being hurt. Your husband might still be untrue to you. You best friend might still vanish without a word. You might be lied to or replaced. But the difference is, you won’t be bitter. Because you didn’t love to be loved in return; you didn’t give to receive.

You loved because Jesus told you to. And you loved the way He loved. There’s no shame in that.

“He didn’t come so that others could serve him. He came to serve and give his life…” Mark 10:45