Today my Pastor, Viatta Carter, preached a message called "The Pain Produces The Promise" about how who we are is the product of everything that we've gone through in our lives; the good, the bad and the ugly. Ultimately it's about learning how to see our trials and tribulations from a different perspective, and to respond differently than we normally do. We need to see those things as a part of the process of God making us into who He wants us to be.
I started thinking about the things in my life that have cause me pain, the way I responded - usually negatively - and how God had, in the end, worked it out for my good.
For many years, the Fourth of July had been a very difficult day for me. It was on that day in 2009, under the backdrop of Independence Day fireworks that my marriage began to end and my life was forever changed.
I've written extensively about it so I won't rehash it again. When I think about what has surely been one of the most painful things that has ever happened to me, I often only think of the negative things; the breakup of a strong and happy marriage, the cracking of the family foundation, the effects on my finances and worse yet, the damage to my mental health. But I need to start thinking about the ways in which God has used that awful time to make me better.
The first positive thing was Fanning the Flames of Faith. I only started this blog as a way to deal with it all, first using coded language and stories, and then finally with full transparency. It began as a way to try to keep my sanity through the roller coaster ride that was my life and has now become an attempt to encourage others, and myself, through the Word of God; to remind people of what He says about them.
My personal relationship with God changed. I learned how to really pray, to seek His face and to trust when I couldn't see a way forward. That "process" was more difficult than what those few words show. It was one of the greatest struggles of my life, to give in completely, because I'm such a control freak.
I learned to ask for help. I spent many many years pretending that I was okay, until a severe depression took hold. I learned that Christians need to stop shying away from dealing with mental health, and to stop telling people to "pray it away". I couldn't pray. But medication and therapy helped to get me back to a place where I could. I needed faith and medicine.
But most importantly, I learned to forgive. Forgiveness wasn't for him, it was for me. For my spiritual health and wellness. It was the only way I was going to be able to try and claw my way forward.
"Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." Matthew 18:21-22
How could I not forgive someone I loved in the same way that God has forgiven me? I decided that I wasn't going let this horrible event totally destroy me and make me bitter. I could have, easily, given in to hate and anger, but I want to be better than that. God wants me to be better than that. Did he deserve it? It doesn't matter. Neither did I when God forgave me.
Forgiving him released me to really look at people differently. To realize that everyone is going through something. Everyone is in some kind of pain. Everyone is deserving of compassion and grace, not just from God, but from me. Just as I am deserving of it from others. Things just don't bother me like they used to. People are people, they make mistakes, they are mean, they talk about folks, they feel superior, they look down on others, but so what? Pray for them and keep it moving. Because I don't know what they are dealing with. I am not aware of their particular type of pain, so because of that, I forgive and continue to love. Just like I hope they do for me. But what if they don't? Again, so what? God's got me.
That summer of 2009, God gave me scripture to rehearse. "Behold, I will bring it health and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captives of Judah and the captives of Israel to return, and will rebuild those places as at the first. I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me." Jeremiah 33:6-8
After 8 years, my ex-husband and I have a strong and bonded relationship. We are family. There is no bitterness between us. We have moved beyond past mistakes and there is nothing we wouldn't do for one another. We are healthy and at peace.
We've gone from fireworks to forgiveness to friendship. The process was so so difficult, but the divorce was just a small part of the 37 years that we've known each other. The pain ended and God was fulfilling His promise the whole time. Even when I couldn't see it.