The Year After Divorce {As Viewed Through My Journals}

One year ago today.

I walked into a courtroom, and in the span of about 11 minutes, a judge declared my marriage legally over. I remember details about the courtroom and the proceedings.  I remember purchasing a ring to replace my wedding band.  (The ring is an old spoon bent and repurposed into a ring – fitting.)  I remember having lunch with a friend.

The year has dulled my memories of that day.

The year has also revealed and healed.  Chastised and shamed.

It’s been one of new beginnings, new routines, new friends, and new beliefs.

And it’s been hard.  Just plain hard.

In retrospect, I spent at least the first six months wallowing in self-pity and shame.  I think I hid it well from the world, but I never hid it from Jesus.  From May to December, Jesus and I talked hours and hours.  I read his Word, questioned it, wondered where my promises were, and told Him that I thought He forgot me. Forgot my marriage.

I remember saying to Him…you’re FOR marriage, so how did this happen?  I loved, I forgave, I this and I that. So.  Where were YOU?

My soul knew he was there, but my head and heart felt abandoned by Him.  Yet, instead of walking away, I searched his word day in and day out for answers.  For understanding.

In December, I celebrated my 39th birthday and decided to switch my processing from Google docs to paper to document my 40th year of life.  I bought a journal that said “Let Your Soul Shine” determined to do just that:  Shine again….because I’d lived in the dark since May with the judge’s gavel echoing “failure” in my heart.

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The first notes in that journal are from Sanctuary Church in Columbus. The topic? Worship fully.  Worship begins with seeking Jesus. Worshiping Him for WHO he is, not what you can get from Him. Seek and serve Him.  Worship without service is selfish. Serve to worship and glorify Him  – and bless others.  

And I decided to begin there:  worshiping Him for WHO he is regardless of my circumstance or how unfair I thought Him and my life to be.

Then a friend took me to Nashville to see Ann Voskamp for my birthday.  I have several pages of notes from that evening, but this is highlighted and I remember it clearly:  I can’t meet the needs of other people unless I release my grasp on the things I think I need.

I later listed what I thought I needed.  Shew.  It was long and eye-opening.  The list began to reveal a thread of selfishness in my heart that I had labelled “survival.”

On December 12th I sat down and had a long conversation with my children about our lives and our time since May…further revealing how much I’d gone into myself. Our conversation revealed that I’d focused on me, dwelling on how I’d been hurt, how I had failed my kids and my God, and how I was rapidly gaining weight.

From the outside, you could easily see a girl who was struggling with divorce and depression.  On the inside, I saw myself as a girl just trying to make it.  Day by day. Doing MY best, but not His best.

As I continued flipping through my journals, I began to notice these threads of selfishness and pity. Threads I didn’t see until I looked at my writing as a whole. I also noticed  tangible evidence of Jesus moving in me.

His first step…my word for 2015:  Wonder.  He simply asked me to step outside myself and begin to see the wonder in this world. I’d been hiding,  looking inward and sulking for so long that I was missing life.  I didn’t see wonder.  I saw failure and unfairness.

But I now see how God redirected my head and heart, reminding me that his followers deny self, take up their crosses, and follow Him – no questions asked.  He reminded me to renew my mind.

So I did.

I have pages on notes on my study of Esther, reminding me that God places us and purposes us for such a time as this.  She reminded me of the freedom found in trusting a sovereign God.  She couldn’t see the end, but she risked her life anyway to save her people – those she loved. I couldn’t’ see the end or the plan either, but could I have been placed and purposed for such a time as this?  I had to believe yes.

I reread an email from a friend stapled in my journal.  She shared how God awakened her at 3:30 am and gave her words for me.  She shared a passage from Ecclesiastes and wrote beautifully of how God plucks and places; molds and mends.

Over and over I wrote…”he must increase; I must decrease” – spiritually and physically. As I look back,  I notice that my notes on the negative are still there, but slowly they’re infiltrated with wonder – with good.

For Lent, I wrote of giving in to God instead of giving up anything.  At the time, I was just tired.  It was almost a selfish move.  It was like...I can NOT do this anymore, Lord.  I am not cut out for this.  Lots of “woe is me” and “life is hard” pity parties that I could NOT get past.  So, when faced with Lent, I said, “Here you go, Lord.  Take it all.  I can’t carry it anyway.”

And even though my heart was icky and motives less than stellar, He moved. He took the yoke and began giving me peace.  (Awww, surrender.  You stink, but I get you.)

February 23 ended my Let Your Soul Shine journal.  I look back over it and smile.  God amuses me sometimes.  He took a soul that lived in a dark place and He illuminated it as only He can.  Day by day, sending a spark, kindling a flame. Again,  I didn’t notice this until I reread the journal.  But as I looked back,  I could see and feel His work.

I began journal two:  Enjoy the Ride.

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The first page is an email from a friend.  Dated February 23, she writes Psalm 33: 20-23 like this:  Praying that as Sarah waits in hope for the Lord, he will be her help and her shield.  In Him, Sarah’s heart will rejoice; she is trusting His holy name.  May your unfailing love rest upon Sarah, O Lord, even as Sarah puts her hope in you!

This friend lives across the country.  I spent four days with her at a retreat, and that is the extent of our “in person” relationship.  But, God.  He can use anyone at anytime.  He used her and is still using her to send life-giving words and encouragement.

And so, Enjoy the Ride  was the beginning of God using words from others to speak in and move me.  A book called I Want God.  My friends.  Blog posts.  Emailed Scripture from an acquaintance that would shock me every time. Enjoy the Ride is thick with printed and stapled prayers and posts.  (Thanks to each of you!)

It’s like God  moved to step two. Let your soul shine again, Sarah.  Now, enjoy the ride as I teach and love you.  As I teach you to love again.

The following pages are filled with words of surrender, correction, clarification, and love from me to Him and Him to me.  I still love these words from my study time during Lent:

We come to Christ with empty buckets – whether we admit it or not. So let’s not bring our self-improvements and call them sacrifices.  Let’s not use our efforts as currency to buy the free grace we’ve been given.  Let’s simply come to the cross of Christ – again, today. Let’s come empty. He will fill us.

I wrote often in journal two of what God is teaching me in the surrender of Lent.  The pages of the journal say “the journey not the arrival matters” and I am learning this is so.  All I wanted was to “move on” and “be healed” and “not care.”  And all God wanted and wants is for me… To return to Him and live as His vessel, content with His timing.  To stop trying to improve myself and call it sacrifice.  To stop using my efforts as currency to buy grace that He gave freely.

A few pages later I discovered this prayer from She Reads Truth:

May I be willing to trade a whisper of my name for a shout of His.

May I stop trying to be the bigger person and start seeking the All Sufficient.

May I replace my performance with His presence.

His message to me was and is so clear.  So cohesive.  So consistent. I am only aware of this, however, in the rereading and reviewing:  I was beginning to want God more than anything.  As it should be.

In fact, at the beginning of March I shared a passage from the book I Want God on Instagram, and Lisa (the author) responded:  Here’s the thing: until we become sickened by what our comfort has cost us we will not hate it enough to let it go.  

She asked me to list what comfort has cost me (not for the faint of heart).

She said, Just keep going.  Victory is found in the long obedience.  This kind of hard is not as hard as living without overcoming because that carries no eventual benefit.

And those words stirred deep within me.  The long obedience.  I needed to keep going – keep riding – following Him – no matter how long this journey takes, I began to realize just how worth it it is.  I also began to realize that I might be worth it too.

I learned that we can’t crucify ourselves.  Crucifixion of self must be done to us. I realized I was trying in my own power again.  So I kept writing…The long obedience.  Replace performance with His presence.

I began to see His faithfulness on every page of my journal – in every moment of my life.

The pages filled with prayers of repentance.  Notes from others.  Scripture. What I was learning about myself  – what God was revealing.

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Still…I had been (mostly) ignorant of God’s work.  I hate to admit that:  I was faithful to meet with God each day, but never stopped to make sense of it all.

Then, March 21. The big day. I read this from Ellie Holcomb:  Jesus is not a victim, but a volunteer.

And there it was. I felt Jesus almost audibly say…

You might be a victim, Sarah, but living that way is miserable.  You need to make the turn from victim to volunteer.  

So true.  I look at the last year and notice how much I lived as a victim.  How much time I spent sulking and complaining.  How often I secretly thought “poor me.”  In many ways the last year was a perpetual pity party, and the guest of honor was a gal I hardly knew. Gone was the outgoing gal who loved people and church. Gone was the laughter and smiles and humor.  Yes, I could flip that switch when necessary, but my daily life did not reflect a shining soul.

Who am I, Lord? Who is this girl you’ve refined in your fire?  You’ve plucked and placed; molded and mended. Now what?

A new peace settled that day.  More burdens released.  More truth revealed.  More understanding gained.

Jesus used his word again and again to show me who he was and is.  How he works.  How he loves.

I loved rereading the one point at which I got stuck on the story of the woman at the well.  I read it again and again. Through it, He reminded me  he is interested in my heart, for when he transformed the Samaritan woman, her circumstances did not change.  She ran back and told her village of Jesus and his living water.  Of how he knew what she had done – her sin – and how he’d offered her hope. Notice…she was changed.  For sure.  But, her circumstances did not change. She most likely still had a man to whom she was not married at home.  She still had five husbands.

But.  Now she had Jesus, living water. And that was more than enough.  She was different now as a result of a changed heart, not changed circumstances.  Lesson noted and learned, Lord.  

I made notes of being asked to speak at women’s retreat and how much I struggled with the decision – page after page.  I acknowledged the mess of my heart, and tried to say I am too busy etc.  The hostess was persistent, flexible.  She offered to reschedule the retreat based on my availability.  I can’t tell her no; I just felt I should do it – messy heart and all.

She sends me my topic: What is My Worth? Seeing Myself Through the Eyes of God

You want to laugh, right?  I did.

Because now my second journal’s words shifted as I began spending my quiet time preparing for a talk about my worth in Him.  About how He sees me. And, as it turns out, that’s exactly where God wanted to steer me next. (Who’s surprised, right?:)

I had acknowledged my darkness, my lack of belief, my hopelessness.  I had repented of my victim mentality.  I acknowledged that heart change – internal change – was most needed when all I seemed to want was external change.  I had focused on Him and His character.  Now, he was turning the table to me.

God began countering my internal dialogue with …

1 Peter 2:9 – We are chosen; his beloved possessions.

Isaiah 43:1 – I have called  you by name, you are mine.

And Enjoy the Ride ends.  I am not kidding.  I came to the end of journal two yesterday.  Oh, God, you are good – and a little funny.

Which brings us to today.

I turn to May 7 on my perpetual calendar and it says: You had to sacrifice.  This is the season for upheaval, and God’s plans weren’t your plans, but you obeyed and trekked on and it is well.  God loves you so much, you conquering women, you.  You victorious daughter.  You princess.  You warrior.  You’re reminded that sometimes sacrifices are right – necessary.  But Jesus whispers sweet nothings. He calls you by your real name. Redeemed. Sanctified. Good.  You shake off the lies and dress to the nines in truth and love and know that you are enough.   Arianne Segerman

Indeed.  It is well.  He loves me. Redeemed.  Warrior.  Princess. Conquering. Victorious.  I am clothed in truth and love; I am enough.

I already had my next journal – a Christmas gift from my best friend.  Its title?  Adventure Awaits. The first page says…not all who wander are lost.

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So God begins another chapter today.  Another journal – another journey. Reminding me that I wandered, but I was not lost.  That he never left me.  He did not forsake me. He allowed me to grieve, kick, and scream all the while working.  Slowly but surely.  Even when I was oblivious, angry, and distant.

Such a good and faithful God, huh?  Shew.  I am simply overwhelmed by his grace and patience. ( I’d have kicked my whiny butt to the curb.)

You might be wondering…why share all of this? And my answer comes from a She Reads Truth study:  This is what it means to be witnesses of Jesus: to share with others what we’ve seen Him do.

Friends, as I reflect on the last year, He is tangible. I can’t say that I knew he was there working and weaving in the moment.  In fact, I thought more than once that he didn’t care and he’d forgotten me.  But, when I look at my journals, I am overwhelmed and humbled at how present he was.  Daily working in my heart and world, drawing me to Him.   (And I left out so much!)

When you seek Him, you will find Him – I promise.  You have to lose your life to gain it.  (Matthew 16: 25 and Luke 17: 33).  And you  can’t “love others as you love yourself” if you do not love yourself. (Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31)

I’m finally learning to spot the wonder.  Finally understanding why he gave me that word.  Because if I am looking for and acknowledging the wonder – of Him and of His creation – then I am not dwelling in the lost or the what if’s.  I am not throwing pity parties and sobbing into my pillow.

I am a wandering wonderer;)

Reveling in the story He is writing for me and my kiddos. In the life he died for – the life he’s freely given. And the depth of thankfulness that results is unstoppable.  Unbeatable. Unfathomable.

I can’t wait to see what He does in the year to come!

Comments

  1. Debbie says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It will help so many other people. Not only for the ones that are divorcing. Or divorced. It can help others in so many different issues. It made me feel I can do things with God by my side and I’m never alone. About 3 years ago I went through a very difficult time. And I talk to God and pray a lot. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Debbie…You’re so welcome. My heart is always to write for Him – that He might use the story He’s writing for me for His glory and to draw others closer to Him. He is tangibly at work in my life. I feel it everyday – even though there was a period in which I did not feel it (and he was still at work!) I have learned to keep being faithful, being obedient – he’s there. I am sorry you went through a difficult time and so glad you pray. Check out the She Reads Truth app for your phone – or it’s free online. It’s a great way to include His word in your day. Love, Sarah

  2. Marla Taviano says:

    I love you like crazy. (And I totally have journal envy.) (Except I already have #3 because it was a gift to me from YOU and that sweet best friend of yours.) xoxoxoxo

  3. Sarah, your journey is beautiful – right in the process! I love journaling and how reading back opens my eyes to the greater picture than what I’m momentarily dealing with in each day. How dear of our Lord to work with each of us specifically. thank you so much for sharing. Keep up the good work of healing and recovery, acceptance and moving forward! Even what we would have never chosen can be turned by God into the greatest gift.

    Have a wonderful weekend and Happy Mothers Day!

  4. Nancy Bellomy says:

    Sarah Beth, your writing never ceases to impress, move, and amaze me. Your faith is something to be admired. I think there are beautiful and incredible things in store for you! Love, Nancy

    • Thanks! While I have been trained in all things grammar and mechanics, I am still truly amazed when I reread my words, for I know they are not of me. The pour onto the page (screen:) from out of no where. I am thankful and pray I steward each word well.

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