Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine
When Cheryl married her longtime boyfriend shortly after her college graduation, she had every reason to believe that theirs would be a “happily ever after” love story.
He was an especially kind and responsible Christian guy, she says of the man she married, a young man she had admired for his integrity since she met him at the age of fifteen in a church youth group.
“As far as I knew,” she says, “our marriage was built on a great, pure, solid foundation.”
In the early years of their marriage, the couple attended church and Bible studies, read books and devotionals together, and celebrated the births of two little boys, born less than two years apart. But by the time their third son was born, less than seven years later, Cheryl’s marriage had been torn apart. Her once dependable husband had chosen a reckless and irresponsible lifestyle, and his heart, she says, had turned against God and against his family.
“I felt like I was married to a rebellious teenager,” Cheryl recalls, “and my mind was spinning with the chaos.”
She was seven months pregnant with her third son when her husband left the family, but in an effort to protect the hope that her marriage could be restored, Cheryl kept his defection secret—even from her own parents and her children.
Left alone to cope with the care of three little boys—including the new baby delivered by cesarean section—and money troubles caused by her husband’s careless spending, she continued to believe that divorce was not an option.
“I didn’t realize at the time,” she says, “how powerfully evil thrives in secrecy. So the baby was several months old before my own supportive parents knew I was in survival mode. I clearly remember many nights crying out to God in despair.
“I’m still not sure how I made it through that awful year, except by God’s tender grace each day.”
Only when Cheryl realized that she could share the secret of her broken marriage did healing begin. “In January of 2013, I finally began very gradually to let people into my secret struggle,” she says. “That was a breakthrough time, when I could finally begin to surrender my fears and recognize the extent of the burden I was trying to carry alone. I began to realize, more than ever, how we were made to live in genuine community.”
A Tentative Yes
Even so, it took more than a year for Cheryl to accept the invitation of a good friend to come to the Single Parenting group at Wheaton Bible Church, telling her friend that she would come on one condition.
“I was still so sure I didn’t want a divorce,” she says, “that the night of that first class—which would have been our thirteenth wedding anniversary—I was still holding on to little glimmers of hope, even with all that had happened, that my husband would agree to celebrate our anniversary together.
“Of course, that didn’t happen. So when I came to the group that night, I was an emotional mess. Fully distraught,” she says. “But the welcome I received at Wheaton Bible Church turned those trauma tears to gratitude tears. I was accepted, understood, and encouraged.”
Over time, Cheryl says, she was able to move through the process of grieving the loss of the good, cohesive Christian family she’d always wanted and thought she had—and find a path to healing in the company of people who truly understood what she was going through.
“I am forever grateful for the DivorceCare and Single Parenting groups and for what they have meant to me in this journey.
“I don’t know how my boys would have made it without their Caring for Kids groups!” she adds. “The leaders who work with the kids are truly a special group of people who genuinely—and fiercely—cared for my family. I am grateful for each one who came alongside us through this season of significant life crisis.
“Even my son with special needs has looked forward to Caring for Kids each and every week. They provided a support person to walk right beside him each week, and it was wonderful. It was the first time in his life that he actually liked a group he was part of—and the first time he had ever been eager to go to something like that. And my preschool son tells me he wants to go to Caring for Kids every time we drive past the church building!”
Cheryl loved how the program helped her sons to process the changes that were going on in their lives. “It’s been especially valuable to me to know they have had some positive male role models investing in them. That’s something I just can’t give them myself!”
A New Role
Today, Cheryl says, her misery has shifted to ministry, as she is enjoying the opportunity to serve as co-leader of the Single Parenting group.
“It’s been ‘ashes to beauty’ as only God can do!” she says. “We continually remind one another in our group that all those church clichés we’ve heard—like “amazing grace” and “peace that passes understanding”—are real. We have come to experience them as powerful truths in our lives.
“While my boys—now ages twelve, ten, and four—are not living the kind of sheltered lives I had hoped they’d have, they, too, are coming to know these truths experientially.”
“The hurts, pain, instability, and rejection have been extremely tough for each of us, but I am so very grateful for the community here who have been the hands and feet of Jesus. Our family was broken—and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Yet we’ve truly gained so much by learning to cling to Christ tight and hold His blessings loosely. It has been a powerful and humbling experience indeed.”