Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What my parents divorce taught me

Joe & Tina, Circa 1963
Meet Mom and Dad. Most people know them as Joe and Tina or Jose y Tina but I know them as Mami and Papi, pronounced: mommy and poppy. Aren't they lovely in this photo? It's so vintage looking and one of my faves. 

This is who I came from, who I'm bonded to, who I came to love first. Sadly, my parents are no longer married, but if they were, they would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this month. 

I was thinking about that tonight and remembering some of our very best moments and countless hours spent at our kitchen table, eating, talking, laughing, storytelling and drinking coffee. Gosh, those were good times. Our house was like a revolving door. Someone was always coming or going or visiting and I loved that about the home I grew up in. I'm incredibly grateful for the fond memories I have but I would be lying if I told you that I didn't miss that. Truth be told, I still miss it. Not in a way that's consuming but when I think about our family, and those fond memories, I miss "us." I miss the old times, the connectedness, the laughter, the traditions and that we were a family with parents who were still married to each other. I'm one of four, the oldest of the girls and we have one brother. When my parents announced that they would be divorcing, everything changed. And I mean everything. It was one of the most painful experiences in my life, in my family's life. Nothing prepared us for that moment. We were utterly shocked, confused and dismayed. And nothing about that season or that process was subtle or peaceful or made any sense. Their divorce had a ripple effect on our entire family. 

I was thirty-one when my parents announced the divorce and so-o far from God at that point. During that time in my life and for most of my life, I had compartmentalized God. I put God in a pretty little box and only tapped into the box when I needed Him, when I needed help, when I was hurting. The news of the divorce wrecked me, it did for many years. I lived with a pervasive ache and sadness. Deep inside, there was always sadness. On the outside, I looked put-together but my insides would tell you a completely different story. During that season, I learned to smile when I felt sad and forced myself to keep going when everything inside of me wanted to scream: stop! PLEASE STOP! I wanted life to stop just long enough so I could breathe, really breathe and process what was taking place in our lives. During that season, my heart hurt ... like all the time. When the divorce was final, my father moved away and we lost touch and I missed him terribly. Oh my gosh ... did I ever miss him. Little girls always need their daddy's, even if the little girl is 31. He first moved to another state, then he left the U.S. altogether. We were now separated by a large body of water. What we knew as tradition and what we came to know as family needed to be redefined. We struggled as a family to find new meaning and to create new traditions. The divorce left us baffled and with a hole in our hearts, a hole that took years to heal. The hole penetrated our hearts in November 1998, one week before Thanksgiving Day and the divorce was final in the spring of 2000. The month was May. Thirty-eight years of marriage had come to an end. It was especially painful because my father announced that he had fallen in love with someone else, someone who was 19 years younger than him, who he eventually married. And because we had such a difficult time processing his decision, he decided it was best to stay away. We had no address, no phone number and lost all contact with him. Sadly, when he divorced my mother, we felt like he divorced us too and it hurt like heck. But today, things are different, different in a really good way. I'm happy to report that for the most part, we're all in a much better place emotionally and most of us have healed from the experience. It took more than ten years for that to take place and it took alot of praying and patience and a determination to keep going, to choose not to fall apart.  

A few years ago, we reconnected with my father and he's now a part of our life again. I remember the day he called me. The day was Sunday. It was a beautiful and sunny August morning. In fact, he called all of his children that morning. Our hearts were so glad that day. Joy felt palpable again in a way I hadn't experienced before. In our hearts, we had already forgiven him and we were ready to embrace him and start a new journey with our father again. I love that we responded with such grace. This took place four months after my father's second wife had left him. I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I felt sad for my father because in a weird way, I could feel his sadness. But on the other hand, I felt happy. I felt happy to have my daddy back in my life again because I needed him. I don't think he ever realized how much I needed him through the years. It feels good to have him back in our lives. It felt right then and it still feels right today. 

Most recently, I learned that my parents spoke to each other again for the very first time in twelve years, something I wasn't sure I would see happen this soon. I learned that it was a good conversation, one where they were able to really dialogue and kid and laugh together like old friends do. When I learned about my parents' conversation, I was reminded that God still answers prayers and that he's still in the business of healing hearts. 

I share this very intimate story with you because I hope and I trust that it will encourage you in small or big ways. I'm not sure what hard thing you've had to live through or if you're living through a hard thing right now. And I'm not sure how many times you've cried yourself to sleep because your heart hurt so much you could hardly breathe or how many times you've cried out to God with your fist up in the air because you felt cheated and desperate for answers and for the pain to go away. If you've ever gone through any of that or if you're going through something really hard right now, please allow me to encourage you to hang in there, to remain hopeful and to pray and remain prayerful. Never stop believing that life can be different in really good ways because God delights in the impossible. 

What I know for sure is that my parent's divorce taught me several things. It taught me that I'm stronger than I gave myself credit for. I discovered that my mother was stronger than she realized, stronger than I realized. I'm so-o proud of her courage and her strength and how she leaned on God for strength and healing. That was SO difficult for her. I learned that time and God are great healers and that God really does hear our prayers. And until your prayers are answered, until the healing comes, alot of character building and growth takes place. And with time, I learned to view things differently, with grace and humility and through a new set of lenses. And after a while, I realized that I had a new perspective on life and hard seasons and I learned that I had the capacity to forgive without receiving an apology and I learned to let God be God. But it didn't happen over night and it didn't happen without surrender. I had to surrender dear one. I surrendered all my pain, and all my anger to God. I had to let go of the anger and give it to God because I realized and learned that anger will rot your soul like gorging on candy without ever brushing your teeth will rot your pearly whites. Anger is toxic and will make your soul sick and bitter if you hold on to it long enough and that's no way to live. I had to accept that I'm not perfect and I couldn't expect my father to be perfect either. I had to accept that his decision to divorce my mother wasn't a personal attack on her or our family but something that he felt he needed to do. Sadly, the marriage was over. And as difficult as it was to accept, I had to accept that my father was no longer in love with my mother. It was a harsh reality and one that I had to accept. I also realized that I was not in control. I couldn't make my daddy fall in love again with my mommy and if he did, I wondered if she could ever really forgive him. Her heart was so broken. And I wondered if our family would ever feel whole again. But I learned that if I partnered with God through prayer, things could shift and change and healing could take place. And when the healing arrived, I realized that was the blessing. That was God's blessing in and on our family. God wants all His children healed and whole.That's also when God filled the God shaped hole in my heart. He filled it with His love and such a sweet peace. I felt like I experienced a re-birth. I felt like I was born again.  I learned that new life is possible and available to each of us. I learned that life is filled with seasons and everything has a life cycle. My season of loss and mourning had come to end. It was now time to rejoice, to live with joy and to thank and praise God for the work He did and was doing in me and for helping me see things differently even when things hadn't changed just yet. And that's when I realized that I was more than just a survivor of a really hard thing in life. I realized that I'm a victor and not a victim and that God is really, really real and He loves to heal and restore families. Through this experience, I emerged stronger, wiser, delivered and healed.That's what I learned and that's what I know for sure.    

Thank you for taking the time to read this very intimate story and for hearing my heart through these words. I really hope and pray that this story blesses someone in ways that will fill your heart with hope and that you will walk away believing that with God, ALL things are possible. 

Until next time, 

xx, Ruthie