Read this, BFFs: Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.
I repeat: Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.
I am the Prairie Purist, and this is my story.
Let me provide some background: I was raised by two exceptional parents, Dan and Ethel, on a farm in the Texas Panhandle. My dad was a farmer, and then a County Commissioner, and is now retired. My mother was an energetic, fulltime stay-at-home and work-your-tail-off mother and housewife until my youngest brother entered elementary school, at which time she re-entered the workforce. At that time, she went to work near our home, where she worked for the next 30 years until her retirement just a few years ago. Before starting fulltime employment outside the home, however, she was a dedicated wife and nurturing mother whose purpose in life was to be a loving spouse and to raise happy, God-fearing, hardworking, and dedicated children. And so, I wanted to be LIKE her.
My mother and father were classmates in high school and were wed to each other when they were 21. They have now been married for over 54 years, and I am proud that we were able to celebrate their 50th Anniversary a few years ago. Along with my parents, we (my three brothers, one sister and myself) became a close-knit family. Our lives revolved around farm work, household chores, community and school activities, our Catholic Church, and sports. We were all relatively close while we were growing up (save for the occasional conflicts that arose during our teen years, usually due to sports competition or choices of boyfriends / girlfriends that didn’t meet the other family members’ approval) and still today, we like to spend time with each other and our families. Growing up, we even shared many of the same friends and were in the same social circles on nights and weekends.
In our small German Catholic community of about 300 people, we grew up among a multitude of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Family, school, community, and the Catholic Church were the hub of our small, but extremely busy, community.
If you can’t tell, I absolutely LOVED my childhood in my small town, where we were taught daily by our parents through their examples in living about the value of hard work, personal responsibility, and commitment to family. Our Catholic faith was also central to our lives.
My mom and dad enjoyed—and STILL enjoy—a very happy and fulfilling marriage although they have certainly weathered a few crises during their many years of marriage…as have MOST marriages. During my childhood, I’m sure the IRS would have classified my family as “Lower Middle Income” or even “Lower Income”, but we all THOUGHT we were wealthy. As children, we rarely had to do without anything we really NEEDED because my parents were proficient at saving money and being frugal. They were excellent stewards of their financial resources. (Apparently, however, I missed out on the “frugal” DNA.) My parents had integrity, and they inspired me, my brothers and my sister to work hard, to be honest, and to always pay what is owed in a timely manner. Their examples to us were outstanding! While dad was the primary bill payer and decision maker, he consulted with my mother, who is a budgeting and financial genius, in implementing those decisions. In this way, my parents could squeeze 12 cents out of a dime! They respected each other’s role in their marriage, and they complemented each other in their partnerships in farming and raising children. Due to their combined talents and mutual interdependence during their marriage, they were able to save and put all five of their children through college, although neither of them had been a recipient of a college education themselves. Again, I wanted to be LIKE them. It all seemed so perfect.
Although my dad is a big man and carries a huge stick (and yes, I did acquire the Schmucker DNA in these areas), he worked long hours as a farmer, so my mother was the disciplinarian and the enforcer. (For those of you who know my mother, Ethel, she may be small in stature and considerably sweet in nature, but she was a mighty commando when it came to discipline! By the way, I am NEITHER sweet NOR petite like her. And I am okay with that!) We were all scared of whatever social punishment Ethel might dish out. As a teenager, of course, I thought my parents were overly strict. However, now that I am the parent of two young adult college students, I TOTALLY get where they were coming from. Communication was the key in their parenting. We typically sat down and shared AT LEAST TWO MEALS AS A FAMILY EVERY DAY (and perhaps you can tell by looking at my diminutive frame that I rarely missed one of these shared mealtimes!)—so our meal times provided an opportunity for communication and for planning our daily activities for the days ahead.
Of course, my siblings and I were all raised Catholic, and Mass on Sundays provided yet another opportunity to be with friends and cousins. Sunday nights were CYO nights, and we rarely missed a meeting or social activity. Attending daily Mass at least twice during the week was also commonplace for my three brothers, my sister, and me as teenagers. Mom and Dad made weekday Mass and CCD classes a habit for us. We were also fully engaged in school activities. We were all involved in sports, school clubs, and in UIL academic competitions, and my parents rarely missed any of our activities, even when all five of us were attending school. I knew I wanted that same dedication for my own family, when I had one….
My parents were experts at ensuring that we were not idle or bored during our summers, so our summer months were usually spent working. Each of my brothers drove tractors or trucks for my father, and my sister and I were domestic help for my mom or farm laborers for my dad or for local farmers. We earned extra spending money by babysitting, usually for our younger cousins. And some of my best memories from growing up on the farm are from having grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered in our home, cleaning fruits and vegetables after a substantial harvest, and canning during those hot summer months.
As you might surmise, I didn’t date much during high school. (Let’s face it. I was related to most of the town, so the boys there were my cousins.) I was content going to school, playing sports, planning my future, and envisioning college life and a career. However, I did have big dreams about marriage and a family. I dreamed of a perfect husband, perfect children, a perfect home…..just like what I had enjoyed during my growing-up years. I tell you this NOT TO BORE YOU, but to provide a little background about my youth. Perhaps most people would have been bored with this life, but to me, it was PERFECT. It was what I had always wanted for myself.
I graduated from high school, left for Texas Tech University, and never moved home again. I visited often; but my home for the next few years would be Lubbock. I wanted to make good grades in college, and I wanted spending money for my social activities, so I worked 25-30 hours per week while attending college. I continued to go to the Catholic Church, but I’d be lying if I said my attendance was consistent during my college years. I was in no rush to graduate or to get married because I was “living MY perfect little dream” at college. I had a multitude of friends, male and female, and never felt the urge to marry or start a family as long as I was still in college. I didn’t date much, but it didn’t matter to me then. I was enjoying college life and a social life. In short, I loved my family. I LOVED Jesus. But I also liked to party, eat, drink, and cuss a little….
After cramming four glorious years of college into five fun-filled years, I graduated from college, had accepted a job in Lubbock, and continued to live the dream. My life was full. God is good. Things were almost perfect.
As I started my new career, I also started dating someone that I had worked with in Lubbock. He, too, was from a small city, a farming community, and he was part German, and he was Catholic! I thought he was the perfect man! We fell head-over-heels in love, and after dating for a year, we were engaged. I believed he was everything I ever wanted, so we were eager to tie the knot, to have our perfect children in a perfect house and perfect yard and live our perfect life together. We attended Engaged Encounter, and seven months later, we were married. It was a big and tremendously fun wedding. I was 27 years old, and life was great!
I was working fulltime at a job I loved; my perfect man was working retail fulltime; we enjoyed the same types of sports and hobbies; we attended Mass together on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. We certainly weren’t rich, but we were enjoying married life. God is good!
Two and a half years into our marriage, our son, Carson, was born. He was the perfect child….for all of 5 seconds. My husband took a better job, and we were transferred to another city. My wonderful boss allowed me to transfer to the new city with my job, and we found an outstanding daycare for Carson. God is good! My husband worked a lot, and almost always on Sundays, but our family immediately became members of the Catholic Church in our new city. I was one of the Leaders of Teen Life at that time, and I loved it. We may have had minor struggles in our marriage from time to time, but we always managed to work through them. Marriage was work, but it was certainly worth it!
And then our second perfect child, our daughter, Bailee, was born three years later. About that same time, my husband was again offered a better position within his company. This required another move. Although I was hesitant to move because I felt I had an almost perfect life already, eventually we decided it was best for our perfect little family to do so. And so we moved. My husband became a retail store manager; he was working 55-60 hours a week, and he was making plenty of money and being well compensated for the fine work he was doing. I was able to continue to work at the job I loved because I made a 100-mile roundtrip commute every weekday with a 3-year-old and an infant in tow…. Again, we became members of the Catholic Church in our new city. I eventually became a CCD teacher, and Carson started CCD classes there. My husband worked most Sundays, but when he was home, he went to Mass with us. We were busy. We were tired. And financially, we were making more money than we thought possible at our age. Again, we had the perfect house….the perfect family, and fortunately, we had surrounded ourselves with lots of good Christian friends! God is good!
After making the lengthy commute each weekday for almost two years, Carson was nearly 5 years old and would soon start kindergarten. We knew that the long commute would be extremely difficult once our children started school, and we realized that I needed to find a job closer to home. As luck would have it, and because my husband and I had made quick friends from his employment and from my Mass attendance and involvement at our church, I started working in our new city just as Carson started school.
And so—Carson started kindergarten, my perfect daughter (Bailee) was enjoying a wonderful daycare, I was working a new job in our new city, which I really, really enjoyed, and my husband was working more and more hours…. God had blessed us, and life was good. I was on top of the world! Or so I thought. My husband was working so many hours and serving on so many community boards that we rarely saw him. Although I certainly was NOT a perfect mother, I compensated by becoming the best mother and the best civic and church volunteer that I could be. I wasn’t much of a wife to my husband, but he was so busy and rarely home so I didn’t think he cared, and plus, my volunteerism was great for his business…. We had a few minor issues that we had to work out in our marriage, but nothing major, plus we had made many dear friends in our new community, and although we were busy, God was still good!
Fast forward five years: My husband is working long hours, I’m working fulltime, being a non-perfect mom to my perfect children, we’re extremely active in our community, and I’m very busy with our church and church organizations and with Carson’s and Bailee’s school. Again, my husband is achieving great things at work, and thus is offered another promotion—in another city. Despite my hesitation to move again and to find employment, schools, and a new home again, we decided together that it would be best for our perfect little family.
And again, God blessed us! We found the perfect house, the perfect yard, and the perfect schools in a rural community, on the prairie, that reminded me of my growing-up years on the farm.
Although I didn’t find a job immediately, I was able to serve as a substitute teacher at the elementary school until I found fulltime work again. My perfect spouse was working more and more hours; he was serving on more and more boards. He LOVED his job and his employees! On his nonworking days, he was spending more and more time socializing with his co-workers. To compensate for his absence, I spent more time volunteering at the schools and became an officer of one of the Altar Guild circles at our church; Carson and Bailee and I started attending CCD classes and the Youth Mass, and then I started working fulltime again. The kids had started some youth sports activities through Kids, Inc., and although it kept us all busy, we loved it! Again, we were very fortunate that we had made many good and Godly friends in our new community and at church. God had been very good to us!
One year after our latest move, I attended an ACTS (the Catholic version of a “Walk to Emmaus”) retreat. Although it was a wonderful spiritual experience for me at the time, I felt an increasing distance between me and my husband afterward. I could sense that things were no longer “perfect” between us. He was detached. He was confrontational if and when he would communicate. Suddenly, he no longer enjoyed his job, where he had been for 11 years. Likewise, at work, he was being questioned about an “inappropriate relationship” with a teen-aged female employee. He told me, and I accepted his explanation, that some of his employees were jealous of him for mentoring this young employee at work. He merely felt sorry for her, he said.
Six months later, he called me while I was working and told me that he had quit his job. JUST.QUIT! JUST LIKE THAT. He was tired of being harassed at work, he said, and would try to find replacement employment immediately. I believed his version of events, and I was extremely exasperated with his longtime employer. We immediately started working together to find him a different job. Financially, I knew it would be difficult for him to be unemployed for a while, but I continued to believe that God is always good, and that my life had always been DARNED NEAR PERFECT, and we would get through this, too.
A week after my husband had “quit” his job, I received a phone call at my place of employment from the young girl that my husband had been mentoring. “Mentoring” did not even begin to describe what they had been doing. And he did not quit his job. He had been fired….
My perfect world was only starting to crumble.
We immediately separated. I was immediately bitter because I had been lied to. He told me I had been aloof as a wife for several years and this is why he had sought out the affair. I felt betrayed! He was blaming this on me! The Passion of our Lord and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary came to mind: Although my pain is nothing relative to the pain of Jesus, I felt somewhat like our Lord must have felt in Gethsemane when Judas Iscariot handed him over. Like Jesus, I HAD BEEN BETRAYED! Could my grief be anything like the agony our Lord felt in the garden?
At that time, reconciliation was NOT an option, as my husband had no remorse for his actions, and he would continue the affair for several more months into our separation. At the beginning of our separation, he said to me (and it still feels like a knife being plunged into my heart): “People go through divorce all the time. You’ll get over it.” I couldn’t breathe. ……I already felt damaged and betrayed, and these belittling comments were wounding my soul. Lord, could the pain of these words be anything like the scourging you took for me at the pillar?
I knew then, and I know now that it takes two to MAKE a marriage, but it also takes two to BREAK a marriage. I thought to myself: “All I ever wanted was to be a good wife and a good mother. WHERE did I go wrong? Was I so busy creating what I thought was a perfect life by taking care of myself, my kids, and my home that I didn’t pay enough attention to the needs of my husband?” As in the third Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, I envision Jesus, bleeding from his massive wounds already and being fitted with a crown of thorns and the intense suffering that MY sins caused him. Had I created a crown of thorns for myself through the sin of omission? Had I disempowered my spouse during our marriage?
For those of you who are happily married, I certainly applaud you. I commend couples like my parents who have been married for over 50 years and have weathered many storms and many heartaches. I soooo wanted that for myself in my perfect world. Now, though, I feel somewhat slighted that my parents made marriage look so easy. It was obviously NOT easy for me. It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I had failed as a wife. But as hard as marriage was, divorce was even more difficult. I felt as though I was being forced to carry the burdensome cross of divorce after 14 years of marriage. …………I can barely tolerate my own grief, and it is nothing compared to your pain, Lord. Forgive me, Jesus; I’m such a wimp but I don’t WANT TO SUFFER LIKE THIS! Lord, Lord, I beg you! Please take this divorce and this suffering away from me! Yes, Jesus, I only think MY cross is too heavy to bear, but you are carrying that heavy cross for me. FOR.ME. You are already beaten, bleeding, with broken bones and fighting for every breath…yet you continue to carry that cross for me, and you still LOVE ME in spite of it.
After 10 months of separation, our divorce was finally heard. It was an extremely contentious time during those 10 months. Despite having the “German Amazon” DNA from my dad’s side of the family, I lost 40 pounds. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I was emotionally and financially drained. It was all I could do to take my kids to school, to go to work, to take my kids to their sports and to church. I had to fight off depression for the only time in my life. Although I prayed a lot during my sleepless nights, I felt defeated. I was embarrassed. I continued to question God about what I had done wrong. My marriage was over. My perfect life was done. ………Lord Jesus, You were betrayed. Convicted to die. Beaten with whips. Spit upon. Laughed at and humiliated. You were stripped of your clothing. They broke your bones, they pierced your side with a sword, and they cast lots for your clothing. They crucified you, Lord.…. I say “they”, Lord, but I did that to you, too. Yet you never quit. Your spirit was never broken. You died on that cross for those of us who convicted you and then killed you. You sacrificed your life for ME by freely accepting death on a cross and then being put in a tomb. ………I’m not good at this “redemptive suffering”, Lord. I didn’t sign up for this! Dear sweet Jesus, I don’t want to feel this type of pain….
And so, I was divorced. My marriage was over. I was a single mom. A divorced Catholic. These were the LAST things I ever wanted. Being from my small town where marriages lasted forever, I thought I was immune to infidelity and divorce. This was NOT part of my perfect world….
However, at the lowest point in my life, at the time that I felt the LEAST loved and the most vulnerable to Satan, my best friends and my Catholic community showered me with love. These friends, family, and neighbors were Jesus’ hands and feet to me during my most difficult struggle. My friends and my family helped me move from my old home and establish a new home—one I could afford as a single parent. My church friends offered fellowship and forgiveness. My dear, sweet mother, who probably worked 30 years without ever taking a sick day for herself, yet knowing that I was financially broken after the divorce, offered to give me her SS retirement check each month, which to this day, the thought still leaves me tearfully humbled. I know I was the subject of many, many prayers, and friends provided daily inspiration and motivation for me during that time. The list goes on and on….. After the worst storm in my life, at the point of my life that I became the most broken and IMPERFECT, GOD became the most present to me! Only God can turn a mess into a message, a test into a testimony, a trial into a triumph, and a victim into the victor! It is through the sadness of divorce that my blessings became so evident, just as the sadness of Christ’s death helps us to realize the joy that the Resurrection brings. In the Paschal Mystery, three days after Jesus died and was buried, He was raised from the dead with a new and glorified body. Our Lord was resurrected! And Lord, just as I felt my perfect life was twisted and destroyed beyond repair, you enveloped me with love and with the opportunity to begin my life anew.
Think upon these song lyrics by Casting Crowns:
“Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again?
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me?
Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done.
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are…”
(from “Who Am I?” by the Casting Crowns)
And thus, in the Paschal Mystery, forty days after the Resurrection, the risen Christ ascended to the Father in Heaven. Through the Ascension and the Exaltation of Christ, humanity has been given the unbreakable promise of everlasting life with God.
Yes! The Resurrection. The sweetness of the Resurrection! After a slow and painful death of sorts, I’m still in the Resurrection stage of my life. I’m still creating a new life for myself. However, IF anything good came from my divorce, it was that I worked much harder to be a good mother to my kids. And although it wasn’t automatic and of course, I wasn’t immediately thankful for it, my ex-husband also became a better parent to our children. Since my divorce, I have had many friends and acquaintances confide in me during difficult times in their marriages. I have become a much better listener. I have more empathy now, and so I am hopeful that my non-expert advice has helped them in their relationships in some way. And as you can see, the 40 pounds I lost during divorce have rediscovered me. It has taken me ten years to get to this point, but I no longer feel shame for being a divorced Catholic. A single mom.
In hindsight, I have spent a lot of time reflecting about the last year of my failed marriage, and things have begun to make sense to me…. It was during my reflections that I discovered why my own ACTS retreat was not the ultimate experience I had so eagerly anticipated. …….I have learned that while I was attending my ACTS retreat, this was also the weekend that my ex-husband’s extra-marital affair had escalated. I now know that God’s timing was perfect for my ACTS retreat. It was one of many of God’s tools for getting me through my struggles. Following divorce, I struggle with financial matters. After infidelity, I struggle with trust and with self-esteem issues. Constantly, I struggle with forgiveness of those who have hurt me. Slowly, I have learned that being a follower of Christ doesn’t mean I am shielded from bad things happening to me; it means simply that Christ will provide me with the tools to overcome the bad things that might occur. Therefore, with God’s help and with many tools available to me for my growth as a Catholic, I am finally getting past my divorce.
My children have both graduated from high school, and they are thriving in college and in life. I still work at a job I love, and I have grown to love my single life and my independence. I date a little, but dating in your 50s is way different than dating in your 20s, and I’m pretty sure Dan and Ethel (and Carson and Bailee) would be embarrassed if I started trolling senior citizen centers and nursing homes in search of a husband. SO–HEAR ME, SISTERHOOD (Brotherhood, too)—whether you are single, married, divorced, or widowed: THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I HAVE EVER LEARNED ABOUT MEN IS THAT THERE IS A MAN WHO DIED TO SHOW US HIS PERFECT LOVE. He gave us His all, to show us that we are CHERISHED and we are BEAUTIFUL. His name is Jesus, and He is the ONLY ONE who can satisfy the longing in our hearts for true love. Jesus is the only perfect man I’ll ever find. He’s all I need. ………….. You see, ladies, our Lord loves us NOT BECAUSE we are perfect to Him, but because HIS LOVE IS PERFECT.
And so, I still love Jesus. But I still also like to eat, drink, party and cuss—a little.….Okay. Maybe a lot. And while I occasionally have moments that make me feel extremely broken and bitter, I know that it is through the struggle of divorce that my faith in Jesus and in myself was restored. And so I repeat: Every single thing that has ever happened to me is preparing me for a moment that is yet to come.
Or, to paraphrase: Romans 8:28: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
I am called. And I DO have a purpose.
DSB – The Prairie Purist