My four kids were 3 to 13 when I initiated the divorce. Their dad, though he was well-employed and had not physically abandoned us as Holly had abandoned Oliver, was “absent” due to alcohol abuse. I had been dealing with the chaos the abuse created in our home for a long time before I took legal action. Still, he insisted I was responsible for “breaking up the family” and I wrestled with that accusation. We were what some experts call a “looking good” family, for my husband never drank in public or let it affect his job performance—he fell apart, hid his bottles, and lived his craziness in the privacy of our home. So news of a divorce was a shock to our neighbors, friends, and even some of our family. It’s difficult to be sure about the wisdom of such a decision when no one else sees it clearly but you and your kids.
But like Oliver, who bore the burden for his parents’ instability, and chose to marry a wanderer like his mother, the roots were in both families of origin. My husband grew up in a house where he had a lot of pressure to excel and a lot of shame when he didn’t measure up. He learned to be defensive, regimented, and bossy; once he reached his teens, if he felt he had underachieved, he self medicated with alcohol. I had grown up in a family that was dysfunctional too. Dad was a rageaholic, his anger growing out of fear, and mom passive-aggressively enabled that behavior. In that environment I learned to assess an emotional situation and give in to the louder, more threatening force, devaluing myself and my needs. We chose each other as partners in part because we fit into roles we recognized.
In the years that have passed since those dark days, there is no question that the divorce was necessary. My life has been busy since then working full time and being a single parent; our home became a safe place, and the kids grew to be “honest and fair and excellent and kind”. Over the years I learned a lot about the factors that had led to our divorce, and managed to forgive my husband, and our parents for creating the situations that affected us –like Christ forgave his persecutors because “they [knew] not what they [were doing]”. The truth is, they were human beings acting out their own learned patterns, and offered love and goodness along with the pain; as Keb’ Mo' says in “One Friend”, there’s both “a sinner and a saint” in each of us. But I still had a difficult time forgiving myself; we’re always hardest on ourselves!
But then one day I found Signed, Sealed, Delivered and discovered this good man named Oliver who was hurt by a spouse, facing a divorce, and struggling to forgive himself and her so that he could find the peace that he knew was essential if he were to move forward. More than a decade later I recognized how Oliver was stuck, how I had been stuck, how each of us really had no other choice, and that choice was acceptable; I needed to forgive myself just as Oliver did. I needed to realize that when my heart was most heavy, God had been there loving me and showering me with His mercy, strength, and loving kindness. Without His looking out for this “sparrow”, how would I have survived?
I am particularly drawn to the words in Ann Rutledge’s valentine to Abe Lincoln at the close of From the Heart. She says: “Think of me sometimes as you venture out from this safe little village putting on all the love and all the heartbreaks of our past as gentle armor and stepping out with faith into a troubled world that needs you.” I see the DLO as that safe little village where the love and heartbreaks experienced there in letters or in their personal lives become armor that the POstables, and we, the viewers, can wear when we journey out with faith into a very needy world that can become a “better place” through our actions. It’s a comforting truth that finally healed my still festering wound, and that continually brings me back to the DLO for more of its healing balm.
The Living Letters series will continue as long as there are stories to share. If you would like to contribute something about how Signed, Sealed, Delivered has impacted your life that you'd be willing to share here on A&D, feel free to email me.