I got married at 17 and had my first son, Noah, when I was barely 18.
Still selfish and immature, I wasn't exactly fussy or doting. To my mother-in-law's chagrin, I thought baby undershirts were a silly hassle because no one sees them. I fed Noah his baby food cold from the jar. And he liked it fine, I'd tell you.
And yet, ironically, my husband Tom and I were determined to be the perfect Christian parents. We set out to apply every Bible verse, naively imagining that we'd never repeat our own parents' mistakes -- the most egregious one being divorce.
Baby Noah is 31-years-old now, and like me, he's an alcoholic in recovery. When I recently wrote my memoir, I asked his permission to tell his story where it overlapped with mine, and he generously agreed.
One night, after he'd read the complete draft, he invited my husband and me over to dinner. He told me that he really liked the manuscript a lot. But he did have one quibble.
My heart sank.
"It was something you left out," he said. "About how you and dad promised that you'd never, ever divorce."
I had almost forgotten. Tom and I had repeatedly assured our two boys that they never had to worry about our family breaking up because "God hates divorce." We practically swore on a stack of Bibles.
And then we got divorced. Noah was around 11 then, Nathan eight. A couple years later, I remarried. Tom quickly remarried, too. My boys adored their step-dad Dave, their three stepsiblings, and Tom's wife, Rachel. They've told me often how it all worked out for the best.
But that night at dinner, Noah wasn't talking about the outcome. He was talking about how as a child his parents had made an adamant, repeated, hands-on-our-hearts promise to himonly to break it. He was talking about how betrayed and hurt he'd felt then.
I apologized to Noah all over again. He insisted that he'd forgiven us both a long time ago, and I believed him.
Still, it was a big reminder to me about how our best intentions as parents and believers can go terribly awry.
Tom and I genuinely wanted to make our kids feel secure. Our convictions mattered a great deal to us, as did our marriage. We made that promise in utter certainty that we'd deliver on it.
But we also made it with mistaken pride. We assumed that the shining nature of our beliefs and values was some kind of guarantee that we could live them out.
Today, I would do things so differently! If my boys came home from school and asked with frightened eyes, "Are you guys going to get divorced, too?" I would not make promises.
I would not use my marriage as a proof test for my faith.
Instead, I would agree that divorce is tragic and their friends are right to feel sad when their parents split up. I would assure them that we'd both do our absolute best to keep our family intact; that we would never stop being their mom and dad; that no matter what happened, we'd always love them.
When they got older, I'd explain about redemption. How God can bring good from what seems only bad. How God can bring purpose from our pain. How God showers us with compassion and gives us second chances.
I've been married to my second husband, Dave, the love of my life, for 18 years now. Tom's been married to his lovely wife Rachel for almost as long. They have two beautiful children together -- half-brothers for Noah and Nathan.
Of course, such happy endings are far from the norm. Divorce is a tragedy under any circumstances. It tears apart lives, destroys people's dreams, and robs children of family security.
But it can't rob us of God's redeeming love.
I think some Christians get confused on this point. They assume that since God hates divorce, he hates people who get them. But I think God hates divorce because he loves the people who get them. His objection to divorce isn't only -- or even mainly, in my opinion -- because he is deeply attached to the institution of marriage, but because he's so deeply attached to us.
Thankfully, God is bigger than any failure that well-intentioned parents set out with all their hearts to avoid, any pain that children dreadand that includes divorce.
Nothing is bigger than God's relentless, healing love. I promise.