Brenda's Story, Part 1: A Promise Broken

“For most of my adult life, all I had known was being married,” Brenda Smith says. “When I was first separated, I would go to the doctor’s office and I didn’t even want to check the ‘divorced’ box. Just having to check that box made me anxious. I didn’t want my life to be this way. This is not how I would have written my story, let me tell you. But my prayer almost from day one has been that I would see beauty from these ashes. And I’ve seen a lot of beauty.” 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…

“When I got married, I thought all marriages would look like my mom and dad’s, that they would be beautiful. We would love each other, do things for each other, and love Jesus. It would be a Cinderella story. But my marriage did not look anything like my parents’. Six months in, my husband wanted out. His exact words were, ‘I don’t want any of this.’” 

“I encouraged him to stay and fight for our marriage. He stayed, but things were often ugly. Later I would try to be a respectful, submissive wife, but at that time, I probably wasn’t. I wasn’t a believer in Jesus then. And those were hard years. He was gone a lot for work or out with his friends. He was abusive in the things he said. Looking back, a lot of my self-esteem issues are because of that environment, where I was made to feel dumb or not good enough. Never good enough.”

“I grew up in a Christian home, and I kept thinking, ‘Where is God in all of this?’ So I started talking to my mom – this was probably seven years into my marriage – and she told me about her beliefs and what God had carried her through over the years. For some reason, because of those conversations, I started journaling my prayers, and I started really searching for God. My mom would pick me and the kids up for church. And I was praying, but I had blinders on: It was ‘Lord, fix this marriage.’”

“I begged God to help me in this. Help me save this relationship I’m in. Help me be able to love this man. And God started to answer my prayers. My marriage wasn’t getting fixed, but God was definitely answering my prayers. There was peace. There was joy. I cared what came out of my mouth and what my kids heard me say, especially about my husband. I responded to my husband in a godly manner. That was a turning point in my life.” 

“I journaled my prayers and I went back and wrote the praises of how he carried me through. There was still this lifetime of hopes and dreams packed into those prayers. I was praying that my husband was going to find Jesus and that we were going to have this beautiful marriage someday.”

“ There was a thought planted by God that wouldn’t leave, even when I pushed it to the back of my mind. ‘Keep trusting me,’ God was telling me, ‘keep trusting and someday you’re going to be in full-time missions.’ I didn’t know what that was going to look like, but I kept thinking, someday my husband is going to become a believer because God has planted this thought in my heart. Someday, my husband is going to change.”

“I did see changes now and then over the years. There was a time when I really thought he had committed to Jesus. He wanted to be baptized and Pastor Lionel [Young] baptized him at Calvary. But the changes didn’t last. He started going out with friends every night again. It was like he had abandoned me while we were still living in the same home.”

“I could see the writing on the wall. I was so lonely. Married, but lonely. Alone every weekend. I kept praying, ‘Only you can fix this, God. I’m just trying to get through this and trust you.’ I still can’t believe how lonely I felt.”

“In early 2013, we were selling our home and going to counseling. I was looking for a new place, but I didn’t really know if we were going to stay together or go our separate ways. My husband had moved out for a few weeks and then back in. Did I need to pack everything together? Start splitting things up? Put things in storage? Eventually, during a drive to look for places on my lunch hour, I felt God nudging me to find a place I could afford on my own. I thought, ‘Just in case,’ and found a place.” 

“We closed on the house, and as I drove home that day with my husband, I pulled over and said, ‘We need to talk for a minute. If you want to make our marriage work, I’m all in. If you don’t, if you don’t want to love me the way God wants you to love me, if you don’t want to be the godly man God wants you to be, you’re free to leave.’ He left shortly after.”

…plans to prosper you and not to harm you… 

“So I was separated. The house I was moving into had a tremendous amount of mold. A gentleman in my Life Group called it uninhabitable and invited me to stay in one of his townhouses for the same rent I was going to pay on the house. The townhouse had a huge basement, and it may seem silly, but I was able to just put everything in the basement and not make any decisions about it for the entire year. That was a gift from God I didn’t even recognize until later.”

 “It wasn’t a peaceful time though. That first year, I fell into depression. When I couldn’t get out of bed for work one day, I called the only woman I could think of who might understand what it was like to wake up in an empty house. She prayed with me and told me to get to the doctor’s. I did. 

“It was a long path of leaning on God, trusting God when nothing made sense in my entire life. Everything that brought me joy, I felt was gone. My kids were out of the house, my husband was gone. I didn’t need to go to the grocery store to pick out meals. I didn’t need to cook anymore. It was just me.”

“On Friday nights, I would clock out and stay there working for free because I didn’t want to go home. My identity was shifting. I wasn’t a wife anymore. What was I? I was struggling to eat. I was attending church, but I was sitting in the back row because I was a sobbing wet mess, and I was ashamed to be a wet mess in church. God really speaks to me through music so it was painful to be thinking, ‘God, this doesn’t make sense. Why do I have to be the one hurting so bad?’”

“I was isolating myself from my kids so they wouldn’t see my hurt. I felt like such a failure. I wanted to be an example to them of how to love my spouse, and I’m thinking, ‘How can I minister to my kids now? My marriage is over. I failed.’ My whole family was hurting and trying to deal with their own grief.”

“I was believing so many lies from Satan. That I wasn’t worthy. That I wasn’t worthwhile. That I was abandoned. That I was a failure. For most of my marriage, I was trying to encourage women to stay in their marriages and pray for their marriages; now I was in a divorce group that I didn’t want to belong to.”

“That group was one way God was reaching me though. Another was a study I did over and over in that first year, Believing God by Beth Moore. There is a timeline in the back that you have to fill out. As I did, I saw all these things in my timeline that molded me and taught me about Jesus. So many things God orchestrated and lined up because he loves me.”

…plans to give you a hope and a future

“I went on my first mission trip that first year to Oasis, the Kids Alive home in Guatemala for girls who have been sexually abused. It was just a few months after the separation and nobody knew. Not a single one of these women from Calvary knew, and I’d known some of them my whole life. Every evening, we would sit in a circle, do a devotion, and pray together, and I still didn’t say anything.”

“Until our 6th night at Oasis. That day, one of the sweet girls gave me a heart covered in Spanish writing. I couldn’t read it so I asked my roommate, one of the interpreters, to read it. Over and over it said I was beautiful and I was forgiven and I was loved by God. That night, I opened up and shared that I was separated from my husband after 30 years of marriage. You could hear those quiet gasps that women do. It was like we all got stomach kicked. But they cried with me and prayed with me.”

“God was healing me. This is silly, but it was like peeling back an onion. When I hit the first year milestone after we separated, I really didn’t feel any better than I had the year before. But I realized, I was eating meals again. I was sleeping through the night. I was functioning. God was healing me. It was just slow. The second year, there was more healing. And so every single year, God has healed me in ways that I couldn’t imagine before.”

“It was meaningful for me when we started up the divorce recovery at Calvary and seeing my pain used for God’s glory. I still struggle sometimes, but I can check the divorced box now. I don’t like it, but God has healed me, and I’m free to move on to live my life.”

“Sure, the desire to be married creeps in or I’ll feel a wave of loneliness. Just a few weeks back, I was leaving my granddaughters’ soccer game on a Friday night, and walking to my car, I noticed all the families leaving together while I was alone. Loneliness like I haven’t felt in years crept back in. I got in my car and cried and prayed on the way home. It was sad and unexpected, but I got home and was fine. God has been gracious. He has proven he is there for me in the good days and the bad days.”

“Someday, I hope God brings a man into my life that I can love, but if he doesn’t, that’s okay too. Right now I’m just trying to pray for contentment.”

Read part 2 of Brenda’s story, A Promise Kept, where she shares how God is fulfilling his long ago promise to put her into full-time missions work