Scenes from the past three years of my life have looked very similar to an episode of a trashy talk show. Double lives, affairs, addiction, manipulation and all sorts of crazy in between. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself, “This can’t be real life!” And worse off, it rarely died down. As soon as I thought the madness was lessening, I’d be jolted in the opposite direction with a whole new twist. Each new twist brought me to a deeper level of emotional exhaustion, heartbreak, and grief.
Our divorce was final this past April and I will say it’s been smooth(er) sailing since then. The finality felt nice. Not nice in a, “what great news!” type of way, but more in a freedom to start over knowing I gave my marriage my whole heart. I use finality lightly because in having our daughter, there is no real end to the relationship I hold with my ex-husband. Nor do I want there to be for the sake of my daughter. She deserves parents that remain united in their love for her. However, still having him in my life does bring a tricky dynamic to put it politely. Mostly because it’s not just him, it’s them. The third party in our story stuck around.
There was much resistance on my end about the interactions that would come between her and my daughter. There was a full year where they did not see one another. I didn’t trust her intentions for my family (for obvious reasons) nor did I trust her character. Graciously, after a year had gone by of her respecting my request, I saw fit for my daughter to spend time with her. After all, my daughter was piecing together that Daddy’s “friend” lived at Daddy’s house. My daughter only had nice things to say about this new person in her life and if there’s one staple I could give for the entire divorce and rebuilding process, it would be, take the good with the bad.
If you’re currently sharing your child with someone you’d rather not, take heart. I will tell you flat out, splitting time with the other woman got easier. This time was never spent alone, always with my ex-husband supervising. Sifting through this new reality is a completely separate tangent. There are many practical and legal specifics that go into their current relationship. And these stipulations WILL change IF this woman takes on the role of stepmom. For now, I view her as an individual who shows care for my daughter (and lives with my ex-husband). That very statement has been a gradual undertaking. The shift away from viewing her as the homewrecker is ongoing. One that is motivated by forgiveness.
This is fresh in my mind because last week I received an email from her. As I said before, since April life has been smooth(er), but there are loose ends. This was one of them. Her email offered an apology. Her words illustrated awareness of the destruction she caused. She spoke of her hope for a cordial blended family in the future. She understood if I didn’t respond. She understood if I still hated her. In short, my response to her read a little something like this: “My choice to forgive has been a process that I decided on three years ago, soon after everything went down. I say process because it is a decision I have to make over and over. Some days it’s easier than others and some days I am better at it than others. The past is behind us and life has moved on. People make mistakes and all we can do at this point is make the most of the situation we are in … I too have hopes of a blended family where everyone gets along famously, being that exception to the rule of tension and bitterness. We can navigate through that once it’s more of a reality though. As for now, thank you for reaching out and for showing care for my daughter.”
Many advised me not to respond, that she didn’t deserve to even hear from me. However, if I’ve learned anything it’s to keep your peanut gallery safe and protected. I saw her apology as brave and humble. This little back and forth between us had me reflecting on the forgiveness that has occurred over the past three years. I spent months where my mind would spin with questions like, “How do you forgive the person who took the life you loved, the heart of your spouse and the family your daughter deserved?” It always came back to committing to the decision, not the feeling. Ironic how that notion would have kept us from this mess in the first place.
The wisdom of C.S. Lewis acted as an anchor:
“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
For me, I would replace love with forgiveness in the passage above, although if we are being real, the two go hand in hand. Nothing about forgiveness is easy. Nothing about it is deserved. However, the alternative leaves you in a bitter, emotional prison. My decision to forgive has pieced my heart back together. With all that piecing back together, I can honestly say I stand thankful to experience forgiveness at this great of depth. In a way, it gives me a humble glimpse into the forgiveness God graciously extends. And if you feel that forgiving is just too much, simply act as if you do, and you will. Commit to the decision, not the feeling.