Divorce can be a very lonely place. As I first began working as a therapist years ago, I think what stood out to me most about it was the level of loss involved--the loss of a partner, the loss of the life you had, the loss of many of your dreams, and so much more. No one gets married planning to get a divorce. And yet, there is SO much hope for better days. I've seen such beauty come from the most broken places.
The very day I started thinking about sharing a story of divorce, Jennifer reached out to me about sharing her story. She is a woman of a strong faith, but is also humble enough to leave room to continue learning and growing, which is a sign of real wisdom. Her words here have been such a reminder to me of the goodness that can grow out of the most difficult times. And that you can wish something hadn't happened and also be grateful for the way it turned out all at the same time.
Her's is a story that so many of us can relate to. Even if you haven't experienced divorce, perhaps you've make a mistake or decision that you feel has branded or marked you in some way. If that's you, I hope Jennifer's words speak straight to you and give you so much hope for redemption.
Will you tell us about yourself and your family?
My name is Jennifer Williams. I live in Texas and I’m married to my best friend, Preston, the world’s goofiest dancer who happens to make the best spur of the moment cocktails on earth. Every Friday, we have a homemade pizza night, a tradition we started from one of our earliest dates. He’s the calm to my anxious, and the Type B to my Type A.
I’m currently an elementary gifted and talented teacher in Texas. I have a passion for and love teaching those kiddos that are so often misunderstood and under identified within our school systems, but I’m taking a step back next year. Right now we don’t quite know what that looks like, but we’re taking all that comes at us in faith and trusting the Lord to show us a clear path.
I say y’all a lot, have a vast collection of loafers, know most of the words to practically every I Love Lucy episode, and am unapologetically Catholic.
When I was 24, I got married with the full intention of making that a lifetime commitment. As a Catholic, I took those vows seriously. Unfortunately, in 2014, my marriage came to an end.
You were married for 9 years before your divorce. What were some of the hardest things about losing the life you'd known?
Wow, that’s a tough one. There is so much wrapped up in marriage that one loses when they go through a divorce. The first thing I remember struggling with was losing my life partner. The person who knows you the best is no longer there. Your ‘call this person in case of an emergency’ is suddenly gone and that was really jarring for me. I remember aching for someone to know my Chick-fil-A order, as silly as that sounds. That’s the kind of intimacy you lose when you lose a spouse. All of a sudden, from one day to the next, it’s just you, and that was at times an almost impossible mountain to climb. The loneliness was suffocating.
There’s also a lot that you don’t think about losing, like your ex-spouse’s family, the identify of being a wife, traditions you made together as a couple, or the friends you both had together. It seemed like one hit after another. I remember thinking if I was struggling so much, how much more profound the loss is to people that have been married for over 20 years. To this day, my stomach drops and I’m deeply impacted when I hear of a broken marriage.
My faith tells me that marriage is meant to be forever. It is a covenant made in front of God and I had fully intended to honor that promise. I felt like a failure and like I was branded forever. Thankfully, through a lot of prayer, therapy, and wise counsel from friends, I know this kind of thinking was so far from the truth. It took me a while to come to the realization that His Grace never ends and there is much more hope to be found in life, regardless of our circumstances. Our identify is not found in our losses, our failures, or our marital status.
What helped you keep going in those first months after your divorce?
There was no one thing that kept me going. Some days were spent in bed, shutting the world out. Some days I had to pretend I was a functioning human being. I think I literally had to take it hour by hour most days. I had to put one foot in front of the other and just do the next right thing, whether that was something as small as taking a shower and going to the gym, or something as big as going on teaching interviews, since I was a stay at home wife when I was married.
How were friends and family supportive of you during that hard time? What are some ways that you would suggest supporting a loved one walking through divorce?
My parents are still married and are celebrating their 43rd anniversary in August, so I don’t think they fully knew how to handle their daughter getting divorced. How do you watch your child go through something so devastating and painful? They were very supportive of me but gave me the time and space I needed to grieve. My sisters took action! They did things for me that I tear up thinking about even now, like driving to Austin (where we lived) to help move and sort through my things and sending me a hand embroidered bible verse in my own handwriting.
I was most surprised at how people that were new to my life truly were the ones that got me through in the immediate weeks to months after my divorce. They checked in on me daily with texts, care packages (love you @nataliecreates, @nestinggypsy, @jenlongpottery), phone calls, forced me to go out for coffee, left spiritual books at my door step (love you, @jenn_jett!) and just listened to me say the same things over and over again. They prayed with me, for me, and over me. They reminded me of His profound love for me even when I felt like I had failed and was deeply and permanently broken. In the immediate year after my divorce, I was blessed with a wonderful group of co-workers that became almost family to me. They accepted me for who I was (@handsthatteach, you are my rock!) and reminded me of how far I had already come. In so many ways, these various groups of people saved me.
How has this experience changed you? Can you see ways that you've been changed for the better?
This is so cliché, but I have so much more faith in God to carry me through the deepest valleys and pits. I trust that He was there, even when I couldn’t feel Him. He used my family and friends to carry me when I didn’t feel like I could keep going. I still struggle sometimes with trust in the Lord, but I can see from my past that He will pave a way and provide for everything. It may not be how I envisioned it, but His way is always better.
I’ve gone through something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and I’ve not only survived, but I’ve thrived. I learned that I’m a fighter and I’m strong. I’ve learned that people will surprise you in good and bad ways. I’ve learned that in order to grow, you have to get uncomfortable. Change is not easy for me at all, but I am where I am today because of my fight and my drive to live a wonderful life.
How would you encourage another woman going through divorce?
I would remind her that He redeems all. ALL. I felt so broken and so lost at times. I was in the pit of pits and I couldn’t see a way out. But each time I got to a place like that, a friend would call or a song would come on that reminded me that He saw me in my distress. We live in a broken world, and while I prayed mightily for my marriage to be restored, ultimately, it wasn’t. And I had to have faith that even then, He was still good.
I did a lot of journaling and praying over scripture. And as I look back on those writings, I can see how even in the darkest times of my life, I still remained hopeful that He would redeem my situation. At the time, I didn’t know how, but in my gut, I knew He would somehow bring fruit from this. I feel like I have so much to offer those that are going through a divorce and I don’t quite know what He wants me to do with that yet. Even though it’s been six years, the pain can still be quite raw at times, but I feel that He’s nudging me to share more and more of my experience.
Through His grace and kindness, He gave me a new husband that is so loving and patient and kind. In our lives, we’ve both learned that vows are sacred and we are fiercely protective about keeping the vows we made to each other. Marriage isn’t easy, but love is a choice you have to make daily and I'm blessed to be with someone that makes that choice every single day, even at my worst.
Where do you find hope?
I find hope in my Preston, who has seen me at my silliest, at my grumpiest, at my clumsiest (I fell twice on our first date!) and still loves me. He leads me and loves me well and is the perfect earthly example of God's love for His people. If our pizza nights at home are a small taste of heaven, then I have nothing to fear and everything to hope for.
Most importantly, I feel loved, valued, and seen by the Lord. Ultimately, my hope rests in Him and the promises He made to me. He is the one that will never forsake me. Even when people let me down or betray me, He remains my constant. And that is true regardless of a person's marital status. There was no guarantee that I was ever going to get married again and some days I wasn't okay with that. I had to get to a point where I knew at my core, that 'if not, He is still good." If my marriage failed, He is still good. If this relationship didn't work out, He is still good. In all of the trials in our lives, He is still good. Full stop. He went before me in all things and loves me more than I can even imagine. He does not brand us with our failures, but comes down to meet us where we are, and for that, I'm so grateful and have so much hope for the future.