This story is for all of us. Circumstances in the world, in our lives, or in the lives of others have certainly made us ask these questions, “How can He be real when all of this is happening?” or “If He is real, why would He allow such terrible, tragic things to occur?” We may never have answers on this side of heaven, but I am constantly encouraged by how He works and moves in our lives when we continue to doubt, when we continue to have questions, and when the unfathomable happens to us or someone we love. What the enemy meant for evil, God uses for good.
I would characterize my childhood as blissful. As a family of four, we were really close. My younger sister and I were part of a father/daughter camping club for years that took up most weekends growing up. Outside of that, we would vacation together, take RV trips with family friends, and spend weekends at the beach. Life was easy. We were Sunday church go-ers (because everyone was in my small town) and I gave my life to the Lord my freshman year of high school at a summer camp.
My senior year of high school, I started applying to colleges and received an acceptance letter from Georgia Tech. It was my parents’ alma mater, and even though it was out of state for me, I knew this was where I wanted to go since I intended to study engineering just like my parents did.
When it was time to move in, my parents and sister drove me up to Georgia Tech and we spent the weekend exploring Atlanta, taking tons of pictures, and getting excited about the adventure I was about to embark on. Little did I know, that was the last time our family of four would be together.
Two months into my freshman year of college, I got a surprise visit from my dad. I had joined a sorority and it was initiation week. I was walking back from a meeting with my sorority sisters and I heard my name. I turned around and saw my dad there. My initial joyful reaction turned into terror very quickly. He said the words I never expected to hear: “Your mom and I are getting a divorce and I’ve moved out.” Wait, what? My parents never fought, I mean never. They were happy. I could name 50 of my friends’ parents in my hometown that I would have expected this from before mine. I was totally, completely blindsided. The part I hate most about telling this story is that it’s so common. Many people probably have a very similar story to mine. But that fact doesn’t make it any less painful when it’s your family that is torn apart. You see, it shatters dreams you didn’t even know you had. Like your parents dancing at your wedding, taking your future kids to their grandparents house one day, all holiday traditions you spent 18 years building will never happen again.
The next year that followed was rough. After my dad shared the news with me, I cried for three days straight. I eventually got tired of crying and stopped. But then, there were other emotions — I was angry and hurt. I didn’t want to deal with it, which was easy for me since I wasn’t in the same state as my parents. So I kept living my life, distancing myself from my family because I hated the pain. I didn’t want to go home because it hurt me so much to see my mom’s heart so broken. My sister was rebelling. My dad had moved on. At some point, I was so tired of my dad reaching out and trying to fix our relationship that I told him I needed a break. For six months we didn’t speak. I refused to see him. My life spiraled.
During all of this, a spiritual battle was waging war within me. My numbness toward my family situation caused numbness in my relationship with God. My anger at my dad manifested in anger toward God. My broken childhood caused me to doubt if God was even real in the first place. It took a year of counseling to see the connection. I stopped going to church because when I did, I couldn’t sing the words. They felt like a lie. I would sit in the back and cry. It was easy to have faith when life was simple and happy. But when it wasn’t, it had to be rooted in something deeper, and mine wasn’t. So the doubts and questions crept in — What if this is all a joke? Is Christianity even logical? The questions consumed me, and started making more sense. So I gave up on faith. Because faith isn’t concrete. You can’t see it, so why would I stake my life in it?
For whatever reason, before it got really bad, I had applied for a leader position with a Christian mission’s organization that summer. The plan was to spend the summer in South Dakota with three other college students, hosting high school groups and doing mission work on the Indian reservation. I almost didn’t go. Ironically, my role there was worship leader and teacher. Yea, the girl who wasn’t going to church. I went, however, for lack of a better summer plan.
It was a difficult summer, don’t get me wrong. I cried a lot at the beginning. My heart wasn’t totally in it. Every week I spoke to different groups about the same topics. Thursday night was forgiveness (keep in mind I’m currently not speaking to my dad). Every week, I was telling groups of students that we’re supposed to forgive because God forgives us. Well, the repetition did me good. One week it all clicked. I had two issues going on: unforgiveness and doubt. First, God finally made it clear that He forgives us so that we can live in total freedom. That freedom, combined with God’s power in us, allows us to forgive. He freed me that summer, and my relationship with my dad has slowly been restored ever since. Second, God worked a miracle that week. I honestly can’t remember all of the details. Something we’d been praying for the whole summer happened in a way that completely shocked us. In an instant, all the doubts that had plagued me vanished. Not because it proved He was real, but because I couldn’t look at the world anymore and prove He wasn’t there. It was taking more faith for me to accept everything as accidents and coincidence than faith in a God who orchestrates. What I love about God is how He weaves our lives into beautiful tapestries and gives us glimpses sometimes to see it from His perspective.
He used the divorce in a mighty way. My mom and sister both found deep relationships with the Lord through the grieving. The three of us are extremely close, on a much deeper and more authentic level than when our lives looked blissful.
He used my doubts to minister to others. I’m currently leading a class at church for people who need basic questions about Christianity answered — it’s a class for people who were right where I was. Only now, I’m convinced — with a passion to help others navigating the tough questions also see truth.
He used my unforgiveness to extend grace and mercy to people around me. Over the past few years, my heart has been increasingly opened to love people more than I could before — to give people grace because we’re all human.
He used my shattered dreams to make new ones. Actually, I think it’s more like He gave me perspective. That this life and our earthly dreams aren’t it. We have a bigger purpose, a bigger hope that awaits us. He freed me from holding on to the things of this earth so tightly.
God’s not done. I’m young and certainly don’t think this is the biggest battle that I will face, but He used it to build a foundation. Ephesians 3:14-21 was prayed over me during that year:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
And man, did He answer those prayers! He used it to make me “rooted and established in love.” He has shown me that “His love surpasses all knowledge.” I know now that He can do “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.” May He get the glory!