Originally posted June 2018, revised June 2019
Late through the night before our 12th anniversary, we stood hunched over our kitchen island and mapped out our divorce.
Who would take what, and what would we do with the house? Who would live where? And what about the children? What would happen with the finances and retirement accounts?
As the clock struck midnight, we turned into pumpkins in what had become the most backwards and depressing Cinderella disaster. How did we get here?
We had decided to take a trip on that next-day anniversary (awkward) knowing it was most likely just an escape from reality for a couple days. Everything had unraveled and neither one of us held any hope of mending it back together. So we packed books and ear buds so we wouldn’t have to talk to each other and one presentable outfit so as to appear normal in the nice restaurant we booked for dinner that night. We may have hated each other’s guts, but we still love to eat.
We left on that trip carrying duffels packed full of anger, confusion, hurt, pain, and fear.
But we serve a God of miracles.
On the car ride over, icebergs we couldn’t seem to crack through in months of hard work in counseling started melting away. A tough topic sermon in church that morning had prompted a very tricky conversation the moment we left. I shoved Whataburger into my face every time he asked a hard question, buying myself a few extra seconds to gather my thoughts. I chewed and chose to give honest answers instead of the angry barbs I had thrown for the last nine months.
We looked at the road and not at each other. As I answered honestly, he received graciously. Even the painful things. Rather than flying off the handle that I was in the hot seat, something supernatural gave me the peace to breathe through the process and offer him the only thing I could – truth. He started to relax. I started asking questions of my own, and he responded kindly and honestly too.
By the time we got to the hotel, we had thrown some of our angry baggage out of the car. We laughed at the terrible view we had out our resort window. He gave me a beautiful gift, one I was truly surprised by and thankful for. I hadn’t even written him a card. He didn’t say a word about it. And we headed down for dinner.
I felt like an awkward teenager on a first date. My legs stuck to the chair and I could see my own heartbeat. This man I have known more than half my life – the man I fell in love with, buried a child with, built a family with, walked through hell with – felt like a stranger to me. A stranger I had hurt and betrayed. A man who had hurt and neglected me. A man I didn’t know if I wanted to yell at, cry on, never see again, or wrap up inside.
For the first time in over a year, the conversation turned to the future. “Next time” and “when we…” felt scary, but trust is scary. We had broken our trust down to nothing at all. Building it back felt impossible. But walls started crumbling down that night. The anger I had held onto for so long felt easier to put down. The pain I held against him didn’t seem so important anymore. I stopped responding in sarcasm and dirty looks and found gentler things to say.
That is the better version of me – the one I actually recognize. I don’t know the girl who spews anger and fear. I started to recognize him again too – the man who, at his core, loves me, adores our family, is becoming a transformed version of himself in faith, and wants to be the apple of my eye.
We looked up, and the restaurant was empty. The servers were polishing stemware and folding tablecloths. We looked at each other dumbfounded. Months were spent avoiding each other, not speaking. We intentionally operated on different schedules to spend as little time together as possible. How did the whole night suddenly pass us by?
The next day brought more walls tumbling down. More hard questions and more honest answers with long pauses and deep breaths. Tough admissions and words of forgiveness.
“Burn the plows,” or BTP, is our way of turning away from the old and moving forward in absolute faith in the future. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah the prophet meets his successor Elisha plowing in a field. Elijah calls him to follow. Elisha burns his plows, cooks his oxen to feed his village, kisses his parents goodbye, and without a doubt in his mind, sets out to follow Elijah. He asks for and is given a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, and performed double the miracles Elijah did in his lifetime.
“Burn the plows” meant eliminating our escape plan. It meant choosing to fight for our family, for ourselves, for each other. I know God blesses that kind of crazy determination because I have witnessed it repeatedly in my own life. There is no wreckage He can’t repair. It doesn’t come without pain and sometimes that wreckage washes up on shore when we least expect it. But when we ask for help – and are humble enough to take it – God can repair that residual washed up wreckage too.
This simple inscription of burn the plows, or BTP, is our affirmation, our claim, our motto, and our prayer over our marriage. We sign our cards and notes with it and it’s a daily reminder that while our past made us who we are, the only grip on us is God’s vision for our future together. And that hold propels us, never restricting us.
We grabbed a quick brunch. I mustered up all my courage and asked: if we make it through this, how would you feel about renewing our vows? We looked at each other and started to cry.
We called our families and asked if they could help keep our children one more day. I think they were as confused as we were. Cautiously optimistic, no idea what was happening, lovingly lifting our little family in prayer. We needed every ounce of that love because each word of encouragement and breath of belief gave us a stronger hold as we got our footing back. To those who loved us even when you were confused: thank you. You may never fully know how you brought us back to life.
We renewed our vows shortly after and in so many ways, that sweet little ceremony in our home is more meaningful than the big fuss we made in church 14 years ago. We printed our new vows on our walls and hung them on the refrigerator and I hope we never leave this house. It’s where sunlight streamed through the windows over our family as we promised a new future to each other. God washed us in blessings that day. In spite of all our flaws and mistakes He let us start over and do it right.
The rebuilding was (and still is) a long process. But today is our 14th anniversary and I can’t help but fall to my knees in gratitude for this life that almost wasn’t. For our beautiful – and still growing – little family, and for the dreams we get to turn into reality together.
We still have to burn the plows from time to time. But I think that’s the point. It’s daily intentional effort to slay our dragons together. It’s worth every ounce of the work and sweeter than I ever imagined it could be. May yours be, too.
HP, and burn the plows,
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This is beautiful, heartfelt, and Real! Sharing this stuff takes guts, but always best to share the stuff that gives others hope and of course God the Glory. Best and Beautiful Wishes to you and your family.
So brave for sharing. So amazing for doing the beyond hard work and keeping your family together.
Wow, Jessica. You have me in tears here. Happy 1st anniversary! Though I don’t know the details, your words sound like my own shortly over a year ago. We too “burned the plow”. God is a redeemer and a restorer if we can get ourselves out of the way a bit. Praying for your continued restoration, freedom from fear, and much blessing for your family. Thank you for your vulnerability and empowering me to be vulnerable as well.
Lucia, thank you so much for your kind affirmation. Congratulations to you as well! I would love to know your BTP story. Keep showing up – God will keep showing up too!
I am so glad you found restoration! Having lived through a divorce my heart would break knowing you know that pain. Will be praying for your marriage bonds to grow stronger as I know they are.
You are so real Jessica. God bless you for accepting to humble yourself so the rest of us can learn from you.
If there’s ANY good that comes from struggle (and there is!) it’s that we can use it to shine light on the path for other people going through it too. Thank you so much for reading, Irene!
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