It’s been so long since I’ve blogged, my creativity has been paralyzed by life experiences. I have come to discover that what I thought was reality, was not. I am now painfully at the finish line of a 23-year marriage, that I gave my all to, and the starting line of more than I could ask or imagine.
Both realities carry equal emotional weight.
I resisted leaving the toxicity of my marriage for years, for many reasons. Besides the longing to give my boys the intact family I wish I had, the church certainly played a role and I cringed at the thought of doing what God hates. Every good Christian knows “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel.” Malachi 2:16
Once I was beyond my emotional means I made the move , I discovered it actually isn’t God giving all the pushback. A lifetime is absolutely His perfect will for marriage but there was a provision for me to leave years of pain and be no less loved by God.
In fact, it is the church leaders and legalistic spiritual mentors who make it feel so bad. Like a slew of other Christian leaders, I was deemed unqualified to serve in the leadership positions, that I seemingly excelled in, while hiding the depth of the darkness that prevailed in my home. It was almost as though I was quietly told, “If you can keep your family dysfunction camouflaged, we will gladly have you serve on our committee. If, however, your truth comes to the surface and doesn’t look right, we will need you to step down.”
The general message from many evangelical churches is “If you cannot stay married…you’ll need to understand that we don’t get your reality and we see nothing in you besides the fact that your marriage failed.”
I changed churches.
Seriously, I am simply stating what happens to strong Christian leaders who can no longer live a life that hides their humanity. Your church leaders are human like me, but most have chosen to hide their humanity rather than divulge their raw desperation for Jesus. Humanity and organized religion don’t really blend too well.
I’ve been in the judgement seat, judgement is one of my strongest demons. I so get it and where it comes from, nonetheless it’s wrong. My future post about the de-institutionalization that Generation Y and Millennials are seeking for will hit on this…stay tuned.
Having lived through the judgement that I used to project, has been life changing for me. The lack of compassion for my heartache and discredit for what my Lord can do through His broken vessel is nauseating. As nauseating as it was when I was doing it and certainly still do it in areas I have yet to suffer in.
I am sorry for all the years I lived under a façade, it was not intentional and I was simply trying to spare my children divorce. Sadly, however I allowed dysfunction and inauthenticity to be modeled in our home. I’m sorry to my children, to you, and to God for not trusting Him to provide. It was the most courageous thing for me to leave, knowing in advance I would, like most other leaders in the church, to be marked with the Scarlet letter of shame for becoming a divorcee. Technically it is the same shame Christ died for. After years of long-suffering I am well connected with God and know He puts no such shame on those whom He died for to remove shame from.
The scarlet letter didn’t last long.
God has since blessed me beyond my wildest imagination. For starters, He gave me a chance to meet myself again. I had died inside trying to be someone that I wasn’t. I was trying to please the un-pleaseable. I was living in a way that provided a protective covering that shielded me from having to look soberly at my situation and step courageously into faith.
August 21, 2015, I was happily adjusting to my new life, but admittedly a bit lonesome for a partner. I shot up a short prayer, “God, could I have a boyfriend?”
What did that even look like? I had replaced a my wedding band with a purity ring but I had heard even guys in churches are not always up for respecting that boundary. I had seen friends of mine longing to get married but they were shacking-up, and facing the heartache of non-marriage. I wanted to be married; there wasn’t an iota of my being that wanted to date. I wanted to be married to my wasband, but I had already given that rat wheel one last shot, it was no longer an option.
The following day I was in Frederick, Maryland at The Family Christian Bookstore. It was an unusually slow day of book signings with Heartbeats for Cancer.
The day was dragging, when in walks this thin Ted Danson looking powerhouse of energy, “Are you Charlotte?”
That was weird.
“Tim Atkins is a friend of mine, he said you’d be here today and I should stop in and say hi.”
Tim, a Godly man, a friend from years ago, had sadly been through a divorce. I had connected with him over social media some months prior.
As he kept speaking, all I heard was “I went through a rough divorce and…I go to Wild at Heart Retreats pursuing manhood…built a church…sound engineer for my church…4 kids…meet with men every Friday at a table called Waterboyz…spent every last effort to make my 23-year marriage work for God, my kids and at the advice of the church…” All I heard was how passionately he was chasing the same thing I was- God’s best.
I was speechless. There before me I saw a man who humbly pursues God, looks at his weaknesses and actively grows, with the help and strength of other Godly men. A man who serves, and walks the distance to do what is right.
I shared a bit of where I was, especially the nasty judgment I felt from the church after I needed to step out of a toxic marriage. That was the sticking point that made it necessary for us to reconnect in the near future. I wanted to hear more about his story and he’d written a scripturally backed essay about divorce in the church and gone through some tedious process to be reinstated into the church leadership after his divorce. Unlike me, he didn’t leave his church when his need for divorce deemed him unworthy of church leadership. He stayed in the church that he built for his kids, the root of his motivation for building the church to begin with.
I remember driving home that day. I mostly listened to Christian music, but that day I put on an old favorite, one from before I was married, into the station. Blues Traveler. I remember lighting up the highway as my being felt alive in a way it had never felt before.
“Mom are you on prescription drugs?” My then 11 year old asked at dinner that night.
“No,” I gleamed, “I just met someone today who made me smile.”
As I was going to bed that night I checked him out on Facebook. Wow, we had tons in common, not only 4 kids, our faith, determination to make our painful previous marriages work for 23 hard years, but he “liked” Blues Traveler and “Old Fashioned”, a movie about sexual purity!
“I’m creeping on your wall,” I sent him a message.
“Creep away,” and I found myself doing something that felt brand new to me…I was flirting.