Faith Reunited Them

Faith Reunited Them

How prayer gave this divorced couple a second chance

Michelle Stewart and her husband, Michael

Any minute now Michael would be over to pick up the boys for their weekend with him. I gave the house a once-over. Not bad. I'd dusted every room. It smelled lemony-fresh. Hardly any dirty dishes in the sink. Laundry done.

What will Michael think of all this? I thought, with a chuckle. He'd probably wonder where I'd gotten the money to hire a housekeeper.

Our marriage had been over for seven years. We were civil to each other, but that was mainly for the sake of our sons, Johnny and Cameron. I had no regrets, though. Michael hadn't known what he was getting into when he married me. He deserved better. I saw that now.

And though I'd changed a lot since the divorce, especially recently, I was content to be on good terms with my ex. I certainly wasn't foolish enough to think things could ever go back to the way they'd once been, when we were two kids crazy in love.

I met Michael in high school. I was hanging out with my sister and some other kids when Michael drove by in a cool car. My sister dared me to call out to him, and I was never one to back down from a dare. Our first date wasn't long after that.

We fell in love hard and fast. That love had been real; it was so intense. All these years later, I could still recall that feeling. We married in 1991. A big, beautiful wedding, like I'd always fantasized about, and a real blowout of a party afterward. I didn't want it to stop.

It wasn't long 'til I realized the party was over. Married life was a different story. I liked going out, seeing and being seen. I mean, I was still young!

Michael? He came home from work, had a bite to eat, watched some TV and crawled into bed early. Way too early for a night owl like me. Then our sons came along, two years apart, and another realization: I wasn't made to be a stay-at-home mom.

I told Michael I needed to get out in the world. I got a job at a bank. I made a bunch of new friends and started going out after work.

Well, Michael wasn't very happy. One night we had a huge fight over my partying. Michael wasn't one to lose his temper, but that time he let it rip. We got into a shouting match that ended with him yelling, "You're just jealous of how I grew up! You're afraid of marriage!"

That stopped me cold. I thought about Michael's family—kind, supportive, loving, always there. After my dad died when I was nine, I'd never really felt stability at home, even though Mom eventually remarried.

Michael was everything I wasn't. Steady, low-key, dependable. Was that what drove me toward him in the first place? "Maybe I am jealous, Michael. Maybe I am afraid. But I'm still going out." And out the door I went.

We talked less and less, fought more and more, slept in separate bedrooms. One day Michael had to go out of town on business. He would be gone for several days.

I felt so free, like that daredevil teenager I'd once been. Free to go out into the night, where anything was possible. I could get a sitter and not have to come home to Michael's angry, disappointed face.

He called me the next day from his hotel and made small talk. Just be quiet already, was all I could think. "I miss you, Michelle," he said.

Something snapped. An awful feeling came over me. It had been simmering ever since Michael accused me of being afraid of marriage. "I don't care, Michael," I told him. "And I don't care about you. I want a divorce."

Michael drove right home. But he couldn't talk me out of it. Anything was better than this—for Michael, for the boys, for me. A couple of weeks later we sat on stools in the kitchen. Michael made a list: "Hers" and "His." We talked about everything we had and he divided it all equally. Organized and responsible to the end. That was my Michael.

I felt a twinge of shame, but pushed it down. I was determined to do this with no regrets. I moved out in 1996 and the divorce was finalized a year later. We shared custody of the boys, and when we saw each other we were civilized.

I worked hard, was a good mom to the boys and kept up my social life even after those nights out started feeling stale and lonely. It was, after all, what I'd wanted all along. Wasn't it? So where was the fun?

A few years after the divorce Johnny and Cameron announced that their dad had started taking them to church when he had them on Sundays.

"We like it, Mom," Johnny said. I guess it made sense; Michael had grown up going to church. I went with him a few times, but didn't like it. The people all seemed like goody-two-shoes. I told Michael I wasn't going back. So, we didn't.

One day I struck up a conversation with a couple of coworkers. They weren't in my party crowd, but they always seemed pretty upbeat. I asked what they did for fun.

"I guess the most exciting thing in my life is my church," one said. "It really changed my life."

"Me too," the other girl said.

Sorry I asked, I thought, groaning inside. But the next Sunday morning I woke up with an overwhelming desire to go to church. I drank a cup of coffee, thinking the crazy urge would go away. Come on, you're still young. Too young for a midlife crisis. Yet the urge stayed, as persistent as any urge I ever had to go out into the night.

I flipped open the phone book and found the nearest church. Then I got the boys up—sleepy, a little confused, but very much willing to go along with this.

We walked into the sanctuary and part of me wanted to run back to the car. But I grabbed my sons hands and found us a spot in the back row. Close enough, I thought. I don't even belong here anyway.

Oh, but I did belong. That's what I discovered. The preacher talked about how Christ made a sacrifice. For every single person on earth, not just for the people in that sanctuary. And, by the way, those people turned out to be pretty nice, when I gave them a chance.

The boys and I kept coming back. I even tried reading the Bible in the evenings instead of going out.

Before bed one night I had another irresistible impulse: Pray for Michael. Pray for him to find the good, godly wife he deserved. A fine, churchgoing woman who took good care of her kids.

Every night after that I prayed the same thing. It made me feel like I could finally close that chapter of my life with a clean conscience. There's always that one raw nerve that even a divorce decree cannot deaden. Now I felt at peace.

The bell rang and snapped me out of my reverie. Michael was here for Johnny and Cameron. "There's something I need to talk to you about," he said.

I ushered him in and—just as I'd predicted—he looked shocked at the gleaming kitchen floor and the fresh zinnias on the table. I poured us both glasses of fresh iced tea, and cut up a lemon for his.

We sat and stared at each other for a long time. What's up, Michael? I thought. Finally he spoke. "I don't know how to say this. I've been praying a lot lately. For a godly wife. Then, well…I talked to my pastor—"

"Oh, Michael! I've been praying for the same thing for you!"

"But listen to what my pastor said," he continued. "He thought I should ask you if you'll, if you'd consider counseling. Us. Maybe we could…reconcile."

The last word was spoken so softly I almost missed it. But for some reason the words shot out of my mouth: "Okay. Sure."

That first night I was terrified. Michael's pastor was a huge man, towering over me. I sat in his office, unable to say a word. "I'm not here to force you two to do anything," he said. "I just want you to give it a try, see how things go."

Michael and I both had scars from our marriage. Talking with a wise and nonjudgmental counselor helped. "Are you two open to dating again?" he asked us. "By which I mean a non-intimate, nonphysical relationship. Not even holding hands."

We agreed.

Those "dates" took place over six months. Movies, dinners, shopping. I felt like a teenager all over again, thrilled to be out with such a nice guy. Michael was still steady, low-key and dependable. The same man I'd fallen in love with all those years ago. I felt myself falling for him all over again. But what did he feel for me?

One of the very last things we were told in our counseling sessions was to write letters of gratitude to each other. We had to sit down and list all the things we were grateful for in the other person. And no negatives. We were to read them out loud, then pray together. That's what happened on our very next date.

Michael came by my place. I peeked out the window and saw him with letter in hand. He came inside. The boys were sitting on the sofa. They would be part of this too. Michael plopped down on the floor. So did I.

"I'll start," I said. I scrunched my feet up under me. "Dear Michael," I began. But I didn't have to read the letter; I'd already memorized it. "I'm so thankful for you. You're doing an excellent job raising our sons. I don't know how long I have on this earth. But however long, I want to spend it with you."

Michael read me his letter. "Dear Michelle," it started. "You're the only woman I've ever loved…" It went on from there, but honestly it didn't have to. Afterward, he took my hands. First time in seven years. Michael's grip was firm and true. "Lord, we want to do what you want us to," he prayed. "Just help us understand what that is."

Right then I felt two more pairs of hands on top of ours. I opened my eyes and there were Johnny and Cameron, who had a bit of peanut butter on his hand. To this day, the smell of peanut butter reminds me of that moment.

"Michelle, will you marry me? Again?" Michael asked.

"Yes," I said. "Yes." But this time I knew what I was getting into. Whatever I needed wasn't out there somewhere in the night waiting for me to find it. No, it had been here all along, with Michael and our sons. It just took time for God to change me into the woman—and wife—I was meant to be.

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