A couple of years ago on Superbowl Sunday, four words came out of my mouth that changed everything.
I moved back to Des Moines this weekend and in the process of packing up my belongings I found all my old journals. Which might need to be burned after they’ve lost their entertainment value. Do people really keep these forever? Anyway. As I saw everything laid out chronologically, things started clicking. Obviously everyone experiences that hindsight is 20/20. But oh man. I was cringing at the girl in those pages. I simultanesously know her intimately and not at all.
I saw something on one page that caught my eye. In the summer of 2013 I wrote an excerpt from a book I had been reading and it said, “Sometimes God delivers us from the furnace, sometimes he delivers us through the furnace.” Below that I wrote, “God, sometimes I wonder if you’re going to deliver me from divorce, or if you’re going to deliver me through divorce.” 9 months later, to the day, it was Superbowl Sunday. I didn’t even know what I was writing.
I don’t know if everything happens for a reason. I didn’t want to say those words or for this to happen. But if it hadn’t, I would probably still be writing sad, cringe-worthy journal entires. Here’s 7 things I would tell the girl in those pages:
One. You will be spending more time by yourself. This means you will spend countless moments racking your brain about what happened and why. You will write yourself a list of the reasons why the choice you made was the right one, and for awhile you’ll read it to yourself every day. Otherwise your heart will grow too soft and mushy. You should take the opportunity to explore what kind of person you are right now and what kind of person you want to be. There will be a long string of nights where you’ll roll over in bed, limbs reaching for your person, and the chill of empty sheets will consistently startle you. Eventually you will relish your days and nights alone, especially if you’re productive with them. Also, you’ll get a twin mattress.
Two. You will begin to push the limits of what you thought you were capable of. Day by day, you will conquer new challenges. Especially of the emotional and mental variety. Oh, you’ll also fail miserably at some of those challenges. Like, epically fail. But hey, sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. There is nothing more revealing than divorce. You will see exactly what you’re made of. But you’re still in the formative years of self-discovery. Make the most of them. Try to impress yourself.
Three. You will sit through some laughably terrible dates. You will be in awe at how self-absorbed some can be. You will do a fair amount of robotic head nodding. But you’ll also go on some great dates that remind you of what was missing in your marriage and if nothing else, give you a confidence booster. Mostly though, you’ll figure out that a lot of dudes are very confused about what they want. Which sucks, because you’re not so much. Having been both married and divorced at such a young age, you know exactly what you don’t want. Any desire to settle for good enough or to spend time investing in something that comes with a handful of doubts is pretty much squashed by fear of history repeating itself.
Four. Possibly the most important thing you, specifically, will learn from this is the art of choosing yourself. It sounds inherently selfish which is why it makes you squeamish. However, the decision to say no to what wasn’t serving you in any healthy way or choosing you in return, was the first of many decisions that involved sticking up for yourself. You will get better at unapologetically saying what you really think. You will recognize that what you need will change and fluctuate (different days will call for different boundaries) and that’s ok. You will start to raise your voice a little bit. You will trust yourself more and more. You will learn to never try to convince someone of why they should choose you because…well because everyone is on their own path, free will to exercise, etc…but also because if they don’t choose you, you’ll choose yourself. And you’re pretty really cool.
Five. Don’t give up on the notion that God is in the business of mind-blowing. In scriptures you read stories where there are these seemingly isolated, terrible events that happen and then later on you see there was purpose in them the entire time. It gets revealed that those events were used to restore people back to their God so they could experience this crazy, redemptive love and freedom. This gets reflected in your own life. When everything is going terribly, a little bit later you step back and see all that was being weaved together to teach you and bring you to the places and people that restore your hope and freedom. But you absolutely cannot see that from where you are now.
Six. Remember that true love is action and not passive acceptance. Being truly loving requires that you define and take a stand for what you believe to be important, regardless of the conflict it may cause. It doesn’t always make sense or come easily. It’s work, it’s messy, and you don’t need to justify it. Fear of what other people think or of upsetting anyone will prevent you from taking the steps that will ultimately bring you peace and fulfilment.
Seven. You will look back at this girl who is so insecure and unable to trust her intuition. This girl full of ambivalence, taking care of everything else but herself. Eventually you will feel like you’re contemplating an entirely different person, but this is only made possible with strength, initiative, self-awareness, and support of those who will listen to your broken record- none of which may have revealed itself if you hadn’t said those four words you hate so much.
I’m sorry you didn’t get rescued from having a “worst day ever anniversary”. But I’m really thankful that you had the courage to get through the worst day ever and to discover that the worst is never really the worst. I’m proud of you for leaning in and walking through the furnace with all your questions, complaints, and doubts.