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Discovering Beauty in the Ruins

What I learned from my mom and dad’s divorce

Dear Mom and Dad,

It's been 10 years since your divorce finalized, 18 years since your final separation. I have a family of my own now and am a very different person than the 14-year-old who sat silent out on the golf course the night you finally left, Dad.

I never had much to say then, or for many years following—not much except the one-line zingers that I occasionally spurted out awkwardly, red-faced, heart-racing at you, Dad. The impetus for your multiple separations and ultimate divorce are in many ways cut and dry. Frankly, Dad, for so long, I hated you. You could never stay faithful to Mom. You always wandered, always found gratification elsewhere. And somehow you thought your relationships with us kids could stay the same, regardless of what your relationship with Mom looked like. But none of us could compartmentalize like you could. Nor did we want to.

But as I ventured into adulthood, I began to realize that I didn't just hate you; I also loved you and longed for a relationship with you too.

I hated you for the pain you caused Mom. That was the flag I carried and what kept me distant and silent over the countless once-a-week dinners you and I shared when I was in high school. But as I ventured into adulthood, I began to realize that I didn't just hate you; I also loved you and longed for a relationship with you too. I see you more fully now—as a broken man trying to do right with what you have left, working to become a better, faithful husband and father to your second family. My disdain has finally worn and left room for a desire for you to succeed, and for you still to be my dad.

Nothing's as easy as it seems

As the years go by and I see the complexity of the world and myself, I have a greater appreciation for the complexity that existed in your marriage, Mom and Dad. Despite your direct, sinful actions, Dad, I know that every marriage is always a dynamic between two people, and you experienced your own undue pressures.

Mom, I will never say that you drove Dad away. But even you will talk about your lack of self-esteem when you married Dad. You say that you derived your whole sense of identity in marrying Dad. You would be a surgeon's wife. You would have security and a respected title. You came from a very insecure home, and your desires made so much sense. But of course those desires were misplaced. Dad failed you. I have no doubt that at some level he bore the weight of your needs and didn't want—or didn't know—how to meet them.

When Chris and I were dating, it became clear to me that I was doing a similar thing as you, Mom. I wanted to be who I thought Chris wanted me to be. It took a time of separation from him to regain a tangible, solid sense of who I was, on my own, apart from him. I remember walking through my neighborhood and literally saying out loud statements like, "I like that tree. I like the color of that flower . . ." in an exercise of knowing myself again. I had been worshiping Chris, in a way, and I had to be shaken out of that. I was so thankful for the understanding that I had gleaned from your experience in that position, Mom, and by God's grace, I was able to face into my own misplaced identity before Chris and I were married.

Shadows of the past

Mom, I still see brief shadows of bitterness in you at the mention of Dad. It doesn't surprise me, and I understand it. I carry the same shadows. But I know even you would not deny the unsurpassing gift of God's presence with you all these years—as your faithful, emboldening Husband, as your Provider and Sustainer. Mom, even when you and Dad were still married, you were essentially a single mom. Dad worked and wandered; you raised and cared for us kids at home, wanting us to know a stability that your marriage couldn't afford. I shudder to think what those years were like for you, now that I'm old enough to begin to imagine them. I know you were plagued with loneliness and anxiety. But amid all of that, you taught us to trust in the Lord.

But amid all of that, you taught us to trust in the Lord.

One of my most vivid memories is coming down to your room in the mornings and finding you always there, reading your Bible and praying for us. That picture of you in your chair, spending time with God, is one I long to pass on to my own children, and it's even a picture I want to offer Chris. In your vulnerability, you sought Jesus. When you weren't able to depend on and trust in Dad, you were forced, somehow mercifully, to trust in the Lord. Now you are a pillar in your church. Young women seek you out for help and discipleship. You have given so much to so many, including us kids, and I know your character and wisdom have been born from the suffering you experienced at Dad's hand.

How we're alike

Dad, I used to think you and I were so different, so opposite. I think I just wanted to dissociate from you every way I could. The truth is that we have a lot in common. I remember speeding down the interstate with you at the wheel a few years ago and experiencing the thrill that I know captivates you. Likewise, I have been reminded of you when I'm at church and a certain truth or lyric makes me weep. I've seen you do the same in the years following your separation from Mom. I can only suppose that when your charade was finally exposed and everything began to crumble, your spirit gained a sensitivity, and things you once turned away from began to find you again in beauty and poignancy.

I don't remember crying much at all during middle school or high school, when everything was happening with you and Mom. But at a certain point during college, when I was finally just beginning to process some of what had occurred in our family in light of a dating relationship I was in, the dam broke. Hardly a Sunday goes by now that I don't quietly weep during church. I don't say this to imply that emotions are the substance of repentance or worship. But maybe my emotions have somehow made me more accessible to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. You and I are alike in this way—in the way we are moved—and I'm grateful for that similarity.

What's more, I am made more and more aware, as the years go by, that God has always been at work, even in the darkest years of our family.

Dad, despite this sensitivity that I treasure, you have also given me a knot of pain that I am now working to slowly unravel with Chris in my own marriage. I have a very deep-seated fear that Chris will be drawn away from me to another woman. Even the idea that he would think about or notice another woman paralyzes me. Your unfaithfulness was the driving force in the dissolution of your marriage to Mom, and consequently, my fear of unfaithfulness is the heaviest burden Chris and I have to face together. I admit it's hard not to want you to realize just how crippling this fear is. But I'm reminded, almost daily, that God is at work in me. What's more, I am made more and more aware, as the years go by, that God has always been at work, even in the darkest years of our family. And I have such a sense of God's lavish mercy when I see the ways he is actually redeeming the damage that was done by you, Dad.

A new marriage

God has given me Chris and this marriage in part to undo this damage and to show me that faithfulness is possible. Of course neither Chris nor I will ever be perfect, but I have a sure hope that God is healing these old, deep wounds through my own, very different marriage now. We are committed to living in the light. We are committed to seeking counsel and accountability at every juncture. We are committed to pointing each other to the one true Rock.

I wish our family had been whole. I wish you, Mom, had the kind of husband and companionship I've been given. I wish you, Dad, had not needed to reach the depths of deception and brokenness you did to see your need of grace and forgiveness. I wish we kids had had both a mother and a father at home. But we were never promised perfect circumstances. What we were promised—and what I see daily now in my own marriage and in watching each of you—is God's mercy to save. Here we are now, each experiencing God's redemption and goodness in his sovereignty and wisdom. He is bringing something beautiful from ruins.

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Sarah Scherf writes about marriage, family, and faith. She lives in Birmingham, AL, with her husband, two babies, and a beagle.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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