By Amber Cloke
In the midst of major struggle in our marriage, I gave my husband a card for Valentine’s Day that read, “I just want you to know that I’m not giving up on your ability to truly change…or God’s ability to change you. I will keep praying and waiting, and watching God do the impossible. I know that God is for our marriage and with a little faith and trust, I believe He will restore us and we will be better than we were before.” This was my staple prayer – the solid rock I stood on, the prayer that I repeated over and over again; Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you, I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”. I asked God repeatedly “God, change my husband. God, change me. God, change my marriage.”
Little did I know, that at the time I wrote those words in that card, my marriage would continue to crumble. My life would only become harder. My faith would only hold on by a tiny thread. Divorce. Even the sound of the word frightened me. It was something I did not want for my life. I come from a family of divorce. As a child of divorced parents, I knew very early on that I did not want divorce attached to my story.
It started in June 2014, just after I miscarried what would have been our second child. Things with my husband spiraled. We grew distant, barely communicated. We became strangers living in the same house. We had a few sessions of marriage counseling but it didn’t help. Then, I unexpectedly became pregnant with our daughter. This came with a whole whirlwind of emotions, given our previous loss, the unplanned nature of this pregnancy, and that our marriage was in jeopardy – but
God’s timing is always perfect.
I had planned a small vacation for us to take as a family, before the birth of our daughter in July. When the vacation grew closer, he didn’t want to go. At about 34 weeks pregnant, I was desperate to get away. So, my dad stepped in and went along with me and my son. While sitting on a crowded beach in the middle of June, I remember thinking, ‘I just want to stay. The only thing waiting for me at home is a divorce.’
My husband left me; he left us. Just weeks before our daughter was born, he decided to move out. He wanted a divorce. I was alone with my son and my daughter on the way, while he was enjoying life with someone else.
The birth of our daughter came; my mothering instinct set in, I stepped up and did it all. I was in true survival mode. I was a single mother of two very young children. I heard the word ‘divorce’ more times than I can count. I got a divorce lawyer, filed for child support, and was granted custody of both children. He was out. Gone. Done.
It felt like the harder I prayed, the worse things would get. Where was God in all of this? It didn’t matter how much he hated me or how absolutely miserable our relationship was. I felt a deeply rooted pull in my heart that reminded me of the vows I made on October 9, 2011. I said, ‘God, I’m gonna do this, but I know I can’t do it without Your help.’ So as God tells us, I sought wise counsel within my church and close friends (Proverbs 12:15).
I prayed every single day – all day long. Praying for a marriage that was so incredibly broken was hard. But the worst part…? That was when I prayed and prayed. And prayed. And prayed some more. And didn’t see or feel or hear any answers – even after over a year of prayer. At one point, I considered giving up. For a few months, I decided I didn’t want to pray anymore; I just wanted to survive.
Somehow, with God’s soft pulls at my heart, I kept seeking wise counsel. Deep down, my faith was still there, hanging on by a small thread of hope. Still, prayer after prayer, day after day nothing seemed to change. I remember nights when I would drop to my knees and cry out to God – asking him ‘Why?’ – Why was my marriage crumbling? Why was my life crumbling? I had to step away. Step away from my husband, who was struggling from mental illness – my husband who I made a vow to stand by through better or worse, in sickness and in health. How could I do this? I remember the moment I let go. I was running on the shores of the Outer Banks in NC. I let go. I knew my husband could sense that I was different, because I was different.
In the midst of my ‘letting go’, I made plans to have coffee with someone else. The guilt poured over me; I was still married. I just couldn’t do it. I cancelled my plans for coffee. It wasn’t right. I was still married, even if we were separated. I confessed my plans to my husband. God knew what He was doing. He used this moment as a turning point for both of us.
Not long after this, I remember finding a note in my car after work one day from my husband, thanking me. Another day, he surprised me at work with our daughter – just to ‘say hi.’ Who was this guy? Surely not my husband, I thought.
He was changed, 180 degrees. Since July 2016, it has been as if I am married to a new man; a kind, loving, supportive man who truly values and cares for me. On December 10, 2016, we renewed our wedding vows in our church. That’s right, our church. Prior to this, it was my church. I went alone, with our children – never as a family.
I saw my husband as a new man, with a heart of flesh. God changed me. He changed my husband. With that, comes forgiveness. We were different. Today, we make time to invest in our marriage because we have learned over the years that this is the most important thing we can do for our relationship and our family. Our marriage is not perfect, and neither are we, but I can tell you that our marriage and our relationship is the strongest it has ever been.
Our story comes with a lot of heartache, shame, and pain; but it also comes with peace, comfort, and hope. I chose to share our story because I want to spread hope –because there is hope. My staple prayer, the one I prayed over and over again, Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you, I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”. Our marriage is proof that God hears our prayers. I want you to know that God hears you. Your marriage can change. Your spouse can change. You can change. Do the dirty work. Get on your knees; pray fervently. Seek wise counsel. God is able. He is for your marriage. Do not give up.