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Once upon a time, I thought I had it all.

During my younger years, I worked hard to arrange all my “ducks” into neat little rows. After earning my degree, I married my college sweetheart and we built our first home together – fully equipped with a white picket fence. We purchased a family vehicle, adopted two rescue dogs, and joined a wonderful church. I found a career I loved, teaching middle school science. One year I even won Teacher of the Year! My dreams were realized when we welcomed a baby boy into our family and then a baby girl two years later. I had everything I ever wanted.

And then one Sunday afternoon, my life fell apart.

I remember the details of that day so intimately. The babies were napping when I opened our family laptop to discover my husband’s secret email account. Within minutes, everything I knew to be true and good about our life together was ripped out from under me. My heart broke as the evidence of years of infidelity sprawled out in front of my eyes, permanently burning images and words into my mind.

When confronted, my husband admitted to having multiple affairs over the course of our relationship. He confessed his latest affair was with one of my closest friends and he was in love with her. He said he didn’t know if he loved me or what he wanted to do next. Then he left us, closing the gate to the white picket fence behind him.

‘I wanted to fall apart’

Thirty years of neat little rows of ducks collapsed in one afternoon, and I became a single, working mother to a newborn and a toddler. I wanted to fall apart, but that wasn’t an option. I had to keep going. The year that followed was the hardest of my life.

My ex-husband chose not to provide child support and my salary alone couldn’t pay all the bills. All our marital debt was in my name because I had great credit, but now I didn’t have enough money to make any payments. It was humiliating. I got daily phone calls from debt collectors. They repossessed my car. The house went into foreclosure.

I lost everything.

Resentment and bitterness took root in my heart, nourished daily by my failed attempts at keeping up appearances. For a while the numbness protected me. After that wore off, I was forced to make some hard decisions. Some days I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. Some days I didn’t want to make it.

I kept attending church, although the pastor’s mere mention of “forgiveness” made my blood boil. I thought, Forgive my enemy? As if nothing happened? As if my life isn’t ruined? Are you kidding me, God? Didn’t you see what he did? Can’t you see my pain?

God’s guiding hand

But God, ever patient and loving, reminded me often: I’m here. Keep going. Trust me. I love you.

Eventually, the fog lifted and my resolve to move on grew stronger. I felt God’s hand guiding each new, terrifying step. I found a therapist and a support group, took responsibility for my own healing process, and began to feel empowered. I stopped lamenting the injustice and started letting people back into my life. Figuratively, I threw up my hands, accepting the fact that I had “dizzy” ducks and zero rows.

I learned how to mow the lawn and do basic home repairs. I even decided to have a pink Christmas tree one year– and no one was around to object! I felt transformed. The more I healed, the less my identity was linked to my ex-husband. The bitterness ebbed away like the ocean’s tide, flowing farther from me every day.

The process of forgiveness

I knew the next step was to forgive my ex-husband and the women who hurt me, if I truly wanted to move on. But this forgiveness wasn’t a single, pivotal decision. It’s been a lengthy process that began with a prayer: Lord, help me to want to forgive them.

Even now, years later, I have to forgive again and again as we navigate the complicated world of co-parenting and strive to do what’s best for our children. It’s never been easy, but it’s always been worth it.

Yes, I’ve experienced personal freedom in the process of forgiveness. But I’ve also learned that forgiveness is really about bearing true witness – even when it seems impossible – to the forgiving grace of God.

Today, I’m happier than ever. It certainly helps that I have a beautiful new life, remarried to a wonderful godly man. But my true victory is the intimacy I gained with God as I learned to fearlessly hand over the control of my life to Him and then follow His guidance. My story isn’t over yet, but I feel strong and courageous moving forward because I know from firsthand experience that, come what may, God will be my strength and shield.

Editor’s Note: Emma Reynolds, now a pastor’s wife as well as a Stonecroft staff member, was featured during the “Her Story Matters” series of Stonecroft’s Ears to Speak podcast. Click here to listen to her interview, called “From Happily Married to Single Mom.”

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