For the last three months, I’ve read and re-read the New Testament, and what sits with me now is that one of Jesus’ most common refrains is “do not be afraid.” For much of this separation, I have choked on those words. How can Jesus invite me not to fear when all of my deepest fears and insecurities came to life before my very eyes? I was not ready for the idol of my marriage to be smashed in the manner that it was. God clearly has not hesitated to allow me to be unspeakably wounded and traumatized. Yet in the midst of my circumstances, He tells me “do not be afraid.” He invites me to trust Him with my needs by laying down my strategies and embracing my pain. I’m fortunate to be able to enjoy rich conversations with my sister and dad. We have a text message group called “book club”, even though we never seem to be able to be in the same book at the same time. Alys sent a poem she came across that has stayed with me:

A Voyage Taken

The compass breaks, the mast is down
my soul heeds this: the world is round;
the rising heart,
the dream and pulse,
on a sea-wind carries us.

The birds are dipping under waves,
the fish bolt upward on their wings
and we, the captain and the crew,
suspended over the abyss,
hold the wheel and rig with faith
as this frail vessel dives beneath.

Good sire, we cry,
the waves are high!
Good youth, he answers from the sky,
beyond the fracture line of land and air
your port is near, your home is there.

Michael O’Brien, from Island of the World

As difficult as it is to say it, this separation has been a healthy thing for me. I held my relationship with Jessica in such a way that when it was taken away, I was plunged into depression. I’m invited to face that in a way I have never been able to. Welcoming the diagnosis of depression was an easier thing than I imagined it would be. It really fits where I have been at, and taking an antidepressant has definitely helped keep my lows from being too low. In this separation, I’ve also seen that I have been dangerously close to burning out as a parent. Except for a handful of days, the kids have been sleeping at the house with me these last three months. The combination of their regressing sleep schedules and my insomnia has been a recipe for disaster. My employer has been immensely supportive, but I’ve seen my productivity suffer terribly. Difficulty concentrating, daytime fatigue, and a truly awful winter are all thrown on top of feeling like I’m drowning. Snow days, sickness, filling in childcare gaps, broken pipes, all the curveballs that come with three kids 5 and under, and being confined to the house in the evenings have really worn me down as a father. I’m typing this with a black eye, a swollen quad, and I’m still nursing a slight compression fracture in my lower back, all from basketball. I am seeing an invitation for me to find more respite as a parent, to receive rest, and rediscover who I am. I feel like I might be surprised by who I find.

It will take a long time to fully explore my damage from feeling discarded, but that isn’t so loud anymore. There’s more going on than how it appears; unseen battles that happen within a misunderstood war. The supports surrounding me have helped me see truth more clearly, and I have more perspective as I hold my circumstances at arm’s length. God wants to heal my pain and to do that I have to stop thrashing and welcome what He has for me. I’m also seeing that as He heals my pain, He has work He is asking me to do. He wants me to move towards the next loving thing I see. To follow the law of love moment by moment. To have compassion when He prompts me and also to have firm boundaries and advocate for truth in love. That honestly requires all the strength I can muster but has unexpectedly brought refreshing peace in the midst of the turmoil.

A stormy sea and a lighthouse

Right now love has looked like moving towards a 50-50 schedule. To be honest, I was ready to go all in on a custody battle and fight tooth and nail for primary residential status, but I was able to see an invitation to release that. My feelings are still conflicted, but it was absolutely clear that I needed to lay down that fight. I worry about the kids’ emotional well-being and their wounds but trust that God will take care of their hearts. I worry about the child support that would come with a 50-50 arrangement but trust that God will meet my needs and has a plan for where I will live. I bristle over not being seen in the burden I’ve carried with the kids care but know that He wants to give me more rest. I desperately want the kids to be with their mom, for their sake and for hers. It is a severe gift to be a parent, and who am I to take that away from anyone who asks for it?

I feel called to invite reconciliation because I have such high regard for the covenant Jessica and I made together. I feel compassion for her and have a vision of presenting her at the end of our lives closer to who God designed her to be. I was the man chosen for that, and it wasn’t a mistake. I see how God has equipped me to be His tool in her life, and think there is a path forward for us, together.

It might seem strange, but I am also making peace with the fact that it is looking like redemption will not happen. The path thus far certainly doesn’t seem to be leading there. The difference is that I see now that a divorce would not be the end of me. I trust that I would be cared for and that my needs would be met down that road just the same.

I truly, truly need not be afraid.