My story starts in Maine, actually Dover, New Hampshire, because the small down where my parents lived didn’t have a hospital of it’s own. My grandparents were hard-working, “salt of the earth” people. My maternal grandparents were good, moral people, but not “church-goers” as they might have said.
My paternal grandfather died of cancer when I was a year old. My grandmother was raised in a Christian home, but didn’t always reflect Christ-likeness to others in the family. I say that only because it had a profound effect on my mother’s view of Christianity.
But I’m profoundly grateful that when my grandmother visited us once or twice a year, she took me with her to church. Seeds were planted. In fact, I remember praying a prayer to accept Jesus when I was about 12-years old.
While I do believe that God was working and drawing me to Himself at that time, I’m not sure if it was a genuine conversion. Only He knows, but I do know that He has had His hand on me.
Mom married my dad, who was five years older, three days out of high school. Their marriage was tumultuous from the beginning. I asked her about it once and whether or not she saw “red flags” before they were married. She said, “It’s just what you did. You graduated, then you got married.”
But my mother was a good mother. She was very devoted to her three children. I think she resigned herself to making us her life early on. She never worked outside the home while we were growing up. Somewhere along the line she decided that she’d stick it out “for the kids,” at least until we were all grown. When my youngest brother graduated from high school, she left.
My parents’ marriage was characterized by drinking and partying, mostly on my dad’s part, and arguments from which my mother tried to protect us.
My dad, in spite of it all, loved his kids. I don’t remember ever seeing him angry or mean, even when he was drinking. But, addictions are inherently selfish in nature and his cost his family in many ways.
Even so, I don’t remember ever feeling I had a bad childhood. I do remember wanting something different for my life.
Consequently, I married the first time at seventeen. Neither of us had any clue about God’s design for marriage. Like my mom, I focused on my children, but unlike her, I decided I would leave as soon as I could support myself. The marriage lasted less than seven years.
The next few years were a struggle: to make ends meet, to have any energy left for my two kids, and to see where my life was going.
I, eventually, got involved with an older man, in part, because I was just tired. This time, there were “red flags” all over the place, but I rationalized them all away. I left again after seven years of his drinking and infidelity. But he was a person who didn’t “lose.” It took me almost three years to get a divorce. Years that included his stalking me, drunken break-ins, threats to burn the house down with the kids and me in it, and on one occasion, kidnapping our young son.
Being good was important growing up. I remember asking my mom once how a person went to heaven. She told me you just needed to be a “good person.”
Growing up I never wanted to create more problems, so I became a “pleaser.” I did well in school. I didn’t drink, use drugs or party in high school. I wasn’t rebellious. Being a “good girl” became my identity.
As an adult, in my mind, I was a “good person.” I didn’t run around. I wasn’t contentious. I thought I was trying to be a good wife. But finally, I decided that “being good” wasn’t working and I might as well live like everyone else.
The next few months were not pretty, but God was working. You see I realize that since I had always seen myself as a “good girl,” God needed me to see that while I might have been more compliant on the outside, I was anything but good. I was “good” at figuring out what seemed right to me, solving problems the way I saw fit, and relying on myself.
He needed me to see that I was a sinner in desperate need of a Savior. While I was at my lowest and my worst, He brought my future husband into my life.
Mike’s story was strangely parallel to mine. He had married shortly after high school. Divorced after a few years, and remarried shortly after that. His second marriage lasted about six years and he was in the process of divorce when we met. He made it plain that he was not interested in getting married again and that was fine with me.
Instead, we started our relationship like so many others, doing what seemed right to us. Before long we were living together and trying to blend our two families, including my three children and his daughter.
But his story would not be complete without telling you a bit about his parents and grandparents. They, too, were “salt of the earth” people, hard-working and honest. His dad thought a lot like my mom, that you just need to be a good person and that was all that mattered. He did make a profession of faith shortly before his death, but he once told Mike that he just didn’t see the need for God or religion.
Mike’s mom, on the other hand, was a little like my grandmother and all of us, imperfect, but a devoted Christian and a prayer warrior … and she was praying for her son. I would soon be the beneficiary of those prayers, as well.
A few months later, Mike went home to visit his parents and while he was there, he went to church with his mom, mostly, to keep her happy. But when he came back and shared with me, something started stirring in me. I thought about going to church with my grandmother and how I felt when I did. So with a little “fear and trembling,” I asked if he would ever consider going to church. As we talked, we realized that what we had been doing hadn’t exactly worked, so we decided to “try church.”
With that unlikely beginning, the next Sunday morning, we were sitting in church with our kids in tow. A few weeks later, we both committed our lives to Christ.
I’d like to say, it was smooth sailing from then on, but we had a lot of growing to do. We had four kids from three of our four marriages. Two of them (my oldest two) were now young teenagers and not exactly excited about the changes we were making. And while my ex-husbands were out of the picture, Mike’s young daughter was being pulled back and forth by loyalty issues, anger, resentment and jealousy over the new children in her father’s life.
But God was at work.
That was 34 years ago. We’ve had plenty of ups and downs, in our marriage and in our family. We’ve had to live with the knowledge that our divorces and other bad decisions have impacted our children in far too many ways.
But as we’ve grown and come to understand God and His sovereignty, we know that it’s part of what He desires to use in their lives to get hold of their hearts and to conform them to the image of Christ. Have we arrived? Have our children? No … far from it, but 34 years of following God have taught us to stay faithful, to continue praying, to speak the truth in love, and mostly … to trust Him.
And I can tell you that we are more in love than we ever were at the beginning. God has taken our two broken lives and done what only He can do.
After years in the business world, He put us in full time ministry. My husband serves as Pastor of Counseling and Discipleship at our church. I am certified as a biblical counselor, though I recently retired from full time ministry.
Much of the counseling we do is marriage counseling. Someone might think that’s strange, maybe even wrong, that a couple with four broken marriages between us would be counseling others … but I believe that’s God. Only He could use a former murderer like the Apostle Paul to spread the gospel as the greatest missionary and church builder. Only He could bring about His purposes in our lives and only He can do the same in yours.
We often share our testimony in the course of marriage counseling. We tell couples who want to give up on their marriages that living life our way led to disaster and living life God’s way is the reason we’ve been married 34 years and why we have the kind of marriage we do.
And to those who say … “Well, getting a divorce worked out OK for you,” We say, “Yes, it did. And if you’re willing to go through the heartache we did to get here, to see your kids suffer and struggle the way ours did, to suffer the financial devastation divorce causes, and to live with all the other consequences we did, it might work out OK for you, too.”
You see we all make choices. Even as believers, we can choose to live life our own way and do what seems right to us. But choices have consequences and, even when we repent and seek His forgiveness, He doesn’t remove all those consequences.
Galatians 6 tells us:
7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
And Hebrews 12 says:
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.
The good news is, God has a better way! If we trust and obey Him, He will do what only He can do.