“‘I’ll wait” I said, on a bright, cool winter’s day.
I was on the cusp of 17, he about to turn 18, and we loved each other. But he was trying to sort out where to go in life, this boy who was not made for school, and wanted us to wait until high school was over to start a relationship. So I said I’d wait.
We could never have known then that it would take 20 years for our picture of love and life together to really become real.
I loved him, and I knew he loved me, and that was all that mattered, right?
At 16, what did I know of love? What did I know of waiting, of patience?
I was living through my parent’s divorce, one that had taken nearly my whole life to eventually happen, so I thought I knew what love and marriage wasn’t. I knew what I didn’t want our marriage to be.
And I knew I was going to marry this boy. That was as true to me as knowing that the sun rose in the morning and set at night, because even though I didn’t know it then, they were words God had spoken into my heart.
A few days after our conversation, we started ‘going out’, as dating was called in our part of the world in the 1990’s, and I thought I had everything I wanted. A boyfriend, great friends, the end of high school and the start of becoming an adult in sight. I had an on-and-off relationship with God, having been raised in church with my mum and my sister, and never questioning that God was real. But I didn’t know Him, didn’t know that He was as real and present in my life as the people around me, and that above everything, He loved me.
Fast forward 10 years, and the dream life I had pictured was falling apart. After high school I had gone to uni (university) for a year, and hated it so I came home, and he started working. We moved in together, and I got a job, eventually moving to a town an hour away for work. We got engaged, and then a few months later life took a turn for the unexpected.
I became pregnant. So not a part of the plan, but a very welcome surprise nonetheless.
Our eldest son was born, and at 21 my heart’s deepest desire came true – I was a mum, and I was going to be a wife. I didn’t think I could be any happier, but even then, our life together wasn’t all sunshine and roses. On the surface we looked happy enough, but you didn’t have to dig very far to see the discontent, the struggle, the wounding and the damage caused by words spoken in anger.
Our son was nearly two years old when we got married, we bought a house the next year, and our daughter came along 8 months later. Our youngest child, another son, joined us when our daughter was 21 months old, deciding to arrive 6 weeks early and throwing life into a tailspin. But we managed, and eventually settled into life with 3 kids, me a stay-at-home mum and he a shift-worker in a local factory. I thought I was living the life I wanted, the life we had dreamed of having – simple, hard work, and time to enjoy our completed family.
When our youngest son was about 4 months old, I was diagnosed with post-natal depression, and I can honestly say that that was the worst time of my life – of our lives – and it was all downhill from there. The cracks in our marriage became wider and deeper, and neither of us had the energy that we really needed to try and fix things, try and make it work. We became two people struggling for survival, almost completely unable to help the other, despite knowing we had to for us to stay together. We were beyond exhausted, and just existed in the same house together, doing our best to raise our kids and trying not to fail in the process.
There was only so long we could keep going like that, and in January 2004, the day before our youngest son’s birthday, we had an argument that was a repeat of the thousand we’d had before, and in that moment, I knew that was it. I had a moment of pure clarity where I realised that I couldn’t change him, despite how hard I’d tried, and that I couldn’t keep living the way we were. We couldn’t keep living the way we were.
It was then that I knew I had to leave, and the relief was overwhelming.
I had thought of leaving before, but had always dismissed the idea, because as far as I was concerned, that wasn’t an option. I was never going to repeat what happened to my parents, I was never going to put my kids through what I had experienced (even though I had always thought that my parents had a ‘good’ divorce), and so to me, a broken marriage would mean that I had failed, and I wasn’t going to let that happen.
But it did.
And it was the best thing that ever happened to us.
Of course, that wasn’t what I was thinking at the time. Our world as we knew it had been blown up, and we sat stunned amongst the debris of our life together, barely knowing where to start, what to do, where to go. The dream I had so desperately tried to live had been completely destroyed.
Back then I had no idea of the concept that for God to truly be able to do His work in us, for His plans and purposes for us to be realised, that which we create and hold dear in place of Him – our idols – has to be broken and torn down and destroyed so that He can work in us, work for us, building in us the real dreams and hopes that He had planned for us all along.
God created me to be a wife and a mum, it was my picture-perfect expectations of marriage and motherhood that became my idol, one that I could never live up to. We both know now that we didn’t really know what it meant to be married, the true purpose of marriage – to love and respect and serve your spouse above yourself, not to seek to be fulfilled by what they can do for you.
Structures with shaky foundations never last, they need to be torn down and a new foundation laid, so they can be rebuilt as something strong that will last forever. That’s what happened to us, to our marriage, we were built on a shaky foundation, and now after the tearing down, we’re living in a construction zone of being rebuilt into something that will last forever.
Our broken marriage and the subsequent journey I’ve lived over the last 10 years has taught me what real love is, what it means to truly love someone – not just my husband, but everyone in my life. If that was the sole purpose of that experience in life, to learn true love, God-style, then it was totally worth it. It is a challenging lesson I live and learn every. single. day, and every day I learn a little bit more about how to love, how to be loved, how much God loves me.
Love never fails, despite what we think, and I thank God for that truth every day of my life.
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