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God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. —Psalm 46:1–3
It was my own personal 9/11. A beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, birds chirping, children playing—when out of nowhere disaster struck with six words uttered by my husband: "I think I'm going to leave."
With those six words came the end of my world as I knew it. But let me backtrack for a moment. Before I tell you my story of abandonment and divorce, let me share with you my love story.
My husband and I met at a Bible study on the book of Revelation. (I'm sure there's a really good end-time joke there somewhere!) He was an engaging, handsome, intelligent man, and he definitely caught my eye.
I didn't realize he had any interest in me until a few weeks later at one of the Bible-study meetings when he sat down next to me on the sofa and struck up a conversation. We soon were choosing each other's company at more and more church events. We found we had a lot in common and enjoyed talking about our faith, politics, and our shared interests.
After the Bible study ended, we continued to do things together as friends. I say that, but looking back I might have been a bit naive to think that was the extent of our interest in each other. He had just turned thirty and was seven years older than I. One night after we had spent a few months getting to know each other, he asked me what I thought a thirty-year-old man would be looking for in a relationship.
I said something like, "Someone to hang out with?"
He said, "No, I'm looking for the woman I will marry."
I was surprised but replied, "Well, whatever God wants is fine. I'm happy being friends and would be open to this turning into something more."
He shared later that my response actually made him like me more. He said he was attracted to my confidence. The nature of our relationship didn't change immediately. I hadn't planned on dating anyone at the time, so it took a little bit longer for me to wrap my brain around him as husband material.
One particular night he graciously ate two slices of the worst apple pie I had ever made. While watching him eat that horrible pie with a smile on his face, I knew I was falling in love. Then he leaned over and kissed me. The man had just eaten the worst thing I'd ever made, and two helpings at that! I had to kiss him back!
A few months later, on the Saturday before Easter, he professed his love for me. I shared that I loved him as well. Within the year we were engaged and married. I used to be proud to share our love story, but now after what has happened, I'm slightly embarrassed to share how quickly we were married. And yet I was truly blessed to be happily married ... until the day I wasn't.
The next seventeen years were filled with children, foster care, adoption, city management, church, homeschooling, community involvement, and life. Our home was happy, but as anyone with a family of five children will tell you (if he or she is being honest), it was chaotic joy. I won't say I had it all together because I didn't, but I did try. I passionately, but not perfectly, loved and respected my husband. I loved being married and taking care of my family, with all the struggles and joys that entailed.
There was no great season of tumult. There were no warning skirmishes, battles, or war cries. Only an ambush. There was no discussion of difficulties, disappointments, or impending disasters. There was just my simple question, "Hey, why did it take you so long to pick up your dry cleaning?" And my husband's answer, "I think I'm going to leave."
As my five children and their friends raced around us playing, blissfully unaware of the tragedy that was unfolding, I stood staring at the man I loved with tears streaming down my cheeks. Inside I was crying out in fear and disbelief, but what actually came out of my mouth were only shocked, whispered questions. He was unaffected and stoic. He gave me nothing concrete, no reason, and even denied the existence of another woman. I chose to believe him.
I was terribly misled. It took me days to determine there was more to the situation than I originally believed. As I fought desperately for my family, my husband withdrew more and more—and acted guiltier and guiltier. It didn't take long for me to demand he come clean. At first he described the other woman as an acquaintance he found intriguing and was thinking about pursuing. Still, I felt there was more to the story.
A few mornings later, as we prepared for our day, I asked again about the woman. He literally ran out of our house, jumped in his car, and sped away. I called his office to no avail. When I did get in touch with his secretary, she said he was locked in his office and wasn't receiving calls. I insisted she let him know I was on the phone. Thankfully, he took my call. Over the phone he shared that he had met someone else, but she was just a good friend. He implied it was an innocent friendship. I asked that he end it. He said he would think about it.
This might seem hard to believe, but I felt relatively calm at this point. I thought that I might indeed be getting the truth. Oddly, it was a relief. Unfortunately, I was again being duped, but I didn't discover the truth until later.
That evening I dressed up and went to one of my husband's weekly city council meetings. I made sure to look as attractive as I could. I sat down right in his line of vision. He looked extremely uncomfortable and wouldn't even glance my way. When the meeting ended, his staff all greeted me with smiles and kind words. Many said, "We're so surprised you stayed for such a long meeting!" Long meeting? Were they kidding? It was only ten o'clock! I had always thought the meetings went much later, sometimes until one or two o'clock in the morning. Oh my. I really had been fooled.
A few days later, on the sidelines at my oldest daughter's field hockey practice, he spilled the whole sordid tale. It was horrible and more shockingly painful than I can describe. What I had hoped was simply a fling was so much more. While we watched my daughter play, he shared about his relationship with this other woman. They had been together physically, and he thought he loved her. I was devastated.
I don't remember what I said in response. I just remember quickly grabbing our eighteen-month-old daughter, rushing to the car, calling a friend, and weeping like I never had before. The rest of the day and the next day and the next were a blur. My children stayed with friends, my husband continued life as if everything was normal, and I tried to figure out what to do. I tried to make a battle plan.
I called our pastors, who tried to talk sense into my husband. The few friends who did know the situation tried to convince him to stop the insanity, but he was indifferent. It seemed as though he had turned off his emotions. Everyone who spent time with him had the same story. They shared that he listened without response and seemed unaffected by anything they said. He was a completely different man from the one they had known for so long.
Close friends of ours urgently reminded him of the importance and value of our family, but he no longer treasured us. No amount of talking could influence him. This other woman had captured his attention and, it appeared, his heart as well. He told some of our friends that he felt bonded to her and considered her his soul mate. I had become nothing to him.
For the next several weeks, I begged, pleaded, changed what I thought might help, prayed, and wept. I didn't kick him out for fear he would never come back. I knew whose house he would go to, and that, frankly, wasn't an option. Although he said he was considering what to do, I think I knew that in his heart he had already left.
Despite the fact that he seemed to love someone else and had obviously shut down his emotions regarding me and our children, over time I came to believe that he didn't want to be the one who officially ended our marriage. I learned from our counselor and my attorney that adulterers often don't make the final move to end the marriage. Sadly, it's the betrayed spouse who is forced to make that difficult decision. I found that to be the case for us. (I'll share more about that process later.)
Strangely, based on some of the things my husband said, I wondered if he also thought he might be able to keep us all. I learned that this, too, wasn't a completely uncommon behavior for adulterers. In their view, they had been able to have it all up to the point of being caught, so why wouldn't everyone be willing to continue with the arrangement? My husband's behavior was clouding his ability to think rationally and realistically. Thankfully, my vision was clear, and my next step was to arrange for marriage counseling and for the two of us to attend a marriage conference.
He was willing to go to both, but he didn't participate in either. He was basically just a body on the counseling sofa—warm body, cold heart. Despite this setback, I was undeterred in my efforts to get through to him. Every day I tried to talk to him about the hope I had for restoration. I tried to convince him that God had planned for us to be together. I reminded him of our vows, of our life together, of our children. It was our life to be lived together. He was not God's best for this other woman.
It was like reasoning with a rock. I kept thinking he would respond. I couldn't reconcile that this man, who had been my best friend, partner, and lover, suddenly was my betrayer. I kept remembering our life together. Only days before everything exploded, we'd been laughing so hard that we ended up practically sitting on the kitchen floor with tears streaming down our faces. How had we gotten to this point? I was baffled.
The pain of betrayal was more physical than I could have ever imagined. I couldn't eat or sleep. The thought of swallowing anything past the giant lump in my throat was daunting. I was definitely on the adultery diet—effective but not recommended. Every time I lay down at night, I would end up fighting thoughts of fear and despair. I would lie there beside my husband and feel hopelessness wash over me. It was completely surreal in so many ways, and all too real in others.
This man who had slept beside me for more than seventeen years was now unrecognizable. This man who had been a leader and teacher in our church was no longer walking with the Lord. This man who was the father of our five children was daily pulling further and further away from them. And I was discovering that no matter how desperately I wanted to change him and our circumstances, I was unable to do much at all.
Regardless, I resolved to not give up on my marriage. It was no easy resolution. Betrayal was like no pain I could have imagined and responding in kindness was incredibly difficult. I did all I could to offer grace to him, to treat him respectfully, and to love him despite his behavior. I definitely didn't do it flawlessly. I struggled, but I felt that this was what I was supposed to do—until God showed me otherwise. I hoped God was going to do something mighty and miraculous, which to me meant restoring my marriage and my family.
I believed that God would bless my efforts because I was striving to be a godly wife to an adulterer. That warranted something pretty amazing from God, didn't it? That might not have been the best motivation, although I did honestly feel that God was leading me to love my husband regardless of his actions. I was hopeful that I could love him back to me.
To be perfectly honest, at times it still feels as if all my attempts to save my marriage were for naught, but I know they weren't. Like many people in this situation, I didn't receive the outcome I desired, but I did begin to understand myself and my relationship with the Lord on a much deeper level. And while it was a day-by-day, step-by-step, remind-myself-to-breathe kind of experience, I saw that God was (and continues to be) with me, helping me maintain a Christ-centered perspective even during the worst times.
I believe that God's perfect will is that all marriages stay intact (Matthew 19:5–6), that we love each other always, that we keep our marriage beds pure (Hebrews 13:4), and that we raise our children to love and follow the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). I also believe we live in a fallen world, where our choices have consequences. There is no doubt that the actions of my ex-husband had negative consequences on my children and me, but there is life after adultery and divorce. I am proof.
My story is unbelievable, at least to me. There are still days when I shake my head in disbelief, but I no longer struggle so much with the troublesome thoughts that plagued me early on, such as, I can't believe my husband was an adulterer! Am I really divorced? How did this happen? What happened to the man I married? Was it me? What did I do wrong? How am I going to walk my children through this? Will I survive this life? Oh, God, help!
Maybe you're dealing with all those thoughts and asking yourself and God those same questions. Maybe you're where I was a few years ago—stunned, in the initial stages of grief, wondering, Oh, God, how am I going to do this? Maybe you are, like I am now, a single parent looking for answers for how to do this task you weren't really made to do—to be both Mom and Dad. Perhaps you're a friend of someone in this situation, hoping to find trustworthy biblical information on how to help him or her through this ordeal.
Unfortunately for me, none of my friends had the real-world experience with abandonment to help me understand all the eventualities. They loved me well, supported me completely, and blessed me immeasurably, but none of us were equipped to deal with the onslaught of issues adultery and divorce presented. Over the years I had met quite a few women who had been through divorces, but I hadn't considered asking specific questions about their situations and how they got through them successfully. I certainly hadn't gleaned any information that would have prepared me for a situation I never thought I'd be in.
Though friends at my church stepped up and tried to help prevent our divorce, they weren't sure how to guide me through the process once it was clear that it was going to happen. Even a biblically supported divorce is difficult to navigate. Others wanted to advise me from a worldly perspective that just struck me as wrong. Even Christians can be vindictive and mean when provoked, and I didn't want to be that kind of Christian. Also, I had five children looking to me for help, comfort, and stability. It was more than important that I determine not only how to survive this tumultuous situation but how to succeed in marching forward as well.
A Battle Plan to Share
My purpose in writing this book is to share my journey and offer you hope and a path to healing. I won't be able to provide a definitive five-point plan for surviving unwanted abandonment and divorce—because there isn't one. But whether you are the abandoned spouse or that person's friend, mentor, or counselor, I can take your hand and walk with you through this agonizing and arduous ordeal. Everyone's situation is different, but all spouses going through the experience of abandonment and divorce feel the same pain and need the same healing. And if you're going through this, or have gone through it, I want to encourage you that there is hope for those of us who have known the sting of betrayal and the ache of abandonment.
As I share my story, I pray you'll see that even in the midst of great pain, there is potential for great miracles. I've found that when life is beyond difficult, strength and peace are available through Christ. On both a practical and emotional level, each stage of the healing process is its own battle. In the pages ahead, we will tread carefully through the aftermath of abandonment and the minefield of divorce to the victory that lies ahead. I cannot promise you ease, comfort, or pain-free living. But I can promise this:
1. God is "able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20). After my husband left and was subsequently fired because of his adultery, I feared that I wouldn't be able to take care of my children. In desperation I prayed that God would enable me to provide for us, and within a few months, I secured a job at a Christian school, where my four youngest children were welcomed as students. My two-year-old was cared for across the hall from my classroom, and my three-year-old was two doors down the hall. Occasionally I was able to rock them to sleep and even comfort them when they cried.
Going from being a homeschooling mom to a full-time working mom was gut-wrenching, especially with two toddlers, but God provided the perfect imperfect situation. That to me was so much more than I had asked or imagined.
2. God is worthy of our trust (Psalm 37:5–6; 1 Thessalonians 5:24). I had a lot of fearful and anxious thoughts based on the reality that was my life. But God was faithful to help me deal with each one. I feared the loss of my husband, and although that did indeed happen, God proved trustworthy in helping me handle my fears. He provided what I needed when I needed it. He gave me a home, a job, friends who helped with my house, men who modeled godly manhood to my children, faithful friends and family who prayed for us daily, and the strength to meet each day.
Implicit in the directive to trust God is a big "do not worry." In Matthew 6 Jesus speaks to this worry many of us struggle with daily. He compares us to birds that "do not sow or reap or store away" food but are fed by our heavenly Father. Jesus asks us, "Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (verses 26–27). Our Father knows what we need, and He will provide (verses 32–33). Beloved, God loves you very much, and He can be trusted with your life.
Excerpted from When Happily Ever After Shatters by Sue Birdseye Copyright © 2013 by Sue Birdseye. Excerpted by permission of TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted March 5, 2013
I was given a free copy of the book from Tyndale. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are mine.
I am thrilled to recommend this book. I wish I had this book in my resource library the past three years that I’ve sat with women as a church counselor.
I love Sue’s quote that she was “happily married…until the day I wasn’t”. Her husband walked in one day after 17 years of marriage and said, “I think I’m going to leave.” There were no prolonged issues. No combative counseling. Just an “ambush” and abandonment. Sue was left with 5 children, ages 15 down to 18 months. Sue homeschooled her children, was involved in church activities and thought she was married to the man of her dreams.
Sue says that friends at her church stood with her and wanted to help her fight for her marriage. However, when it became apparent that he was unwilling to stay in their marriage & family, her church friends didn’t know how to help her walk through the loss and devastating consequences. She needed this book to help her walk through those hard days & months!
The book covers the topics that are inevitable like forgiveness and vengeful thoughts. But it also goes deeper into fear and faith and God’s sovereignty in seasons of indescribable pain.
I highly recommend it for women walking through the issues of betrayal, abandonment and divorce. I’d also recommend it to church counselors and small group leaders.
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