My marriage had reached an all-time low. There was no love, no joy, no relationship. From the outside looking in, we had the perfect life. But in reality, both of us were masking the brokenness of our marriage. Our suppressed emotional pain had become a bitter cancer that turned love to hate and freedom to bondage. The pain was so intense that we believed the only way to survive was to get out.
On a Saturday in July 1996, my husband, Dale, walked into our home, took out my suitcases and began to pack my clothes. He said the marriage was over and told me to get out of his house because he was finished with the relationship. I followed him into the bathroom as he packed my things. Dale closed the door behind me, held it shut and hurled verbal attacks while our son, Cole, banged on the door to get in.
I sobbed in disbelief at what our marriage had become. Dale grabbed our children and loaded them into his car. He sped off to the golf course and left the children with his mother at the swimming pool. I drove over, gathered the children and headed to my sister’s house to wait for things to settle. Dale was furious when he discovered what I’d done.
Bad Decisions From Bad Advice
I didn’t know Dale had gone to see a lawyer. The lawyer had told him the kids were also his and to go and get them. For a guy with anger and control problems, that sounded like a great plan.
The following week I worked in our church’s Vacation Bible School as if nothing happened. As I was cleaning up at the end of the day, Dale drove up, determined to take our children. Our daughter, Jorja, was sitting on the ground, and I yelled for Cole to come to me. With my back turned, Dale snatched Jorja and scrambled to the car. Confused, Cole jumped into my arms. Still holding him, I chased Dale to his car, but he disappeared with my daughter.
I returned to the gym, where Dale’s twin brother Dave knocked me to the ground, yanked Cole out of my arms and ran outside to a waiting car. I sat shocked on the gym floor as Cole’s hysterical cries echoed. And then there was nothing but silence.
A few who hadn’t disappeared helped me to my feet and encouraged me to call the police. The reporting officer explained that since Dale was the father, there was nothing he could do. The best advice he could give was to call an attorney.
Meanwhile, Dale went to his parents’ house, packed some bags, loaded the children into his car and disappeared. For seven days, Dale ran from our problems while I lay in a small, dark bedroom in my sister’s home, scared and alone. Unable to locate the children, I called an attorney — something I’d never dreamed of doing — who explained the only way to get my children back into my state was to file for a divorce. I had the attorney draw up the papers.
Living Separately Together
Little did we know we would face the most excruciating process we had ever experienced. Dale and I both wanted full custody and refused to leave the marital residence, so the judge had no choice but to place us back in the house together pending a divorce trial.
We tried to conduct ourselves as if the other didn’t exist and pulled our children from one parent to the other as we each tried to win their love. When we engaged in conversation, our talks escalated into full-fledged arguments that left us wounded and cold. On Christmas Eve, I came out of my bedroom first and placed my Santa gifts on the den floor. After I went back in and locked my door, Dale came and did the same. The next morning, both of us put on our happy faces and pretended to be a family. It was gut-wrenching.
For 15 months things continued to unravel as two competing lawyers coached us in the ways of mischief. We paid private investigators and wore tape recorders to catch the other in some incriminating conversation. We tapped phones and kept perfect records to build our own cases. We provoked the other to anger so we could accuse each other of misconduct. Our house was a war zone, and the casualties were not only two adults but also two beautiful children.
Our day in court came, and there was a glimmer of hope that the end was in sight. The sound of the judge’s gavel signaled that the lines had been drawn, and the battle began. We heard loved ones testify what a terrible parent each of us was. Our parents, who had once loved us both, defended their own flesh and blood. Our lives were ripped to shreds. The gavel fell for the last time, and we left the courthouse with our arms full of broken pieces.
Divorce is a forever funeral. We’d been awarded joint custody, and a part of me died every other weekend when one of the children gripped my neck and begged me not to leave. Divorce is what I thought I wanted, yet I was more miserable ever. All I had left was a shattered reflection of what used to be.
Redemption Meets Reconciliation
Fortunately, our story didn’t end here. God didn’t look down from the glory of Heaven and say, “Dale and Jena, you have messed things up so badly that I can’t fix it anymore.” Instead, He graciously said, “I’ll wipe this clean and help you start over if you will let Me.” Two very broken people, without knowing what the other was doing, dragged themselves to the foot of the cross and fell at their Savior’s feet, begging for His forgiveness and help.
One Wednesday morning, four weeks after the final verdict, I called Dale to discuss some gymnastics arrangements for Jorja, but we argued instead. Our yelling was so intense Dale had to close his office door to muffle the sound. But that day, I chose to allow Dale to peek into my heart. It was the scariest thing I’d ever done, but God was pushing me to obey His prompting.
From my heart I said, “Dale, what have we done? Why don’t you just come get me, and let’s fix this thing?” Dale heard words that shocked him to the bone.
He responded with this simple statement: “I can’t look at the feet of our children without seeing you.” It was like a bouquet of roses to me. I didn’t think he cared about what I looked like, much less my feet.
At that very moment, the Spirit of the Lord began to melt the hardened mess of our hearts. The pride, anger, bitterness, resentment and sheer hatred began to peel back. Within minutes Dale and I were pouring out our hearts while sobbing uncontrollably. Then he drove over and spoke these words from his heart, “Jena, I don’t know what all of this means, but I know it’s the right thing to do.” He kissed me on the cheek and drove away.
From Divorce to Marriage Ministry
We spent the next four months in marriage counseling with a godly Christian counselor who walked us through the healing process. There were hard days when we visited the painful places where we had sworn never to return. Some days all was fresh and new, while others made us question our decision to return to each other. At the end of four months, there was no question in either of our minds. Remarriage was what God wanted.
On December 21, 1997, we remarried to the glory of God.
On the morning of our remarriage, Cole entered our bedroom and said, “Since you two are getting together with each other, I think I would like to get together with God.” At the foot of our bed, our son prayed with us to receive Jesus as His Savior. God not only brought our marriage back together but redeemed our precious child into His family. His plans are truly greater than we could ever imagine.
It’s ironic that today Dale and I have a full-time marriage ministry. We travel around the world sharing our redemptive story to the glory of God. It is our heart to help others develop a marriage that is happy, fulfilling and free, with Jesus at the core. In our conferences, we share that we don’t fix marriages; instead, we help men and women grow in their relationship with God, and the marriage will grow as a result.
To find out more about our story and us, please visit our website, Stained Glass Ministries.