Our Resurrection Story
In 1996, our marriage had reached an all-time low. There was no love, no joy, no relationship. Misplaced priorities and neglect had delivered us to the doorway of divorce. Dale and I (Jena) were both extremely active in church. We had brought two precious children into the world. We had built a lovely house and lived in a favorable part of town. Dale was a new deacon in the church; I was a leading soloist and had just finished writing an Easter musical for the church choir. Together we taught a young marrieds’ Sunday school class. From the outside looking in, we seemed to have the perfect marriage, the perfect life. In reality both of us were doing life while neglecting the marriage that had once taken priority.
After years of carelessness, complacency, selfishness, and total disregard for each other, a marriage that had once produced beautiful fruit was now withering on the vine. Suppressed emotional pain developed into a bitter cancer that turned love into hate, freedom into bondage. The wounds we inflicted on each other’s hearts left us bleeding to death with no hope for recovery. The pain was so intense that we believed the only way to survive was to get out.
The Marriage Shatters
On a Saturday in July of 1996, Dale walked into our home, took my suitcases from under our bed, and began to pack my clothes. He said that our marriage was over. He told me to get out of his house because he was finished with the relationship. I followed Dale into the bathroom as he packed my things. Dale closed the bathroom door behind me, held it shut, and began to hurl verbal attacks. Our son Cole was banging on the door begging to get inside. When I attempted to leave, Dale held the door strongly and laughed as I struggled to get out.
Dale grabbed our children, Cole (age 5) and Jorja (18 months), and loaded them into his car. As I stood sobbing in the driveway, I could not believe what our marriage had become. Dale sped off with the children and headed for the golf course. Playing golf was a release for him, a way to escape the problems at hand. He had left the children with his mother at the swimming pool. I drove to the pool, gathered the children, and headed to my sister’s house to stay for a period of time while things settled. When Dale realized what I had done while he was playing golf, he became incredibly angry. I called Dale and explained that I was afraid of him and wanted to stay away for a while until I felt safe again.
Internal frustrations and lack of control angered Dale. He became so enraged that he began to verbally attack and threaten me. He demanded that I return the children. Thus, I became even more afraid for myself and for Cole and Jorja. After four days, I met Dale at a park so the children could play and visit with him. There was no conversation between the two of us, and the tension was thick.
I did not know that Dale had gone to see a lawyer. The lawyer had made this statement to Dale: “Those kids are just as much yours as they are hers. If I were you, I’d go and get them.” For a guy with anger and control problems, this sounded like a great plan.
The next week was Vacation Bible School at our church. I had responsibilities there, so I brought the children and participated as if nothing had happened. While I was cleaning up at the conclusion of the day, Cole was playing in the gymnasium and Jorja was with me at the entrance. Dale drove to the front of the gym determined to get our children. I saw him and quickly ran into the gym to get Cole. As I sat Jorja on the ground and yelled for Cole to come to me, I turned around to see Dale grabbing Jorja and scrambling to the car. Cole jumped into my arms and began asking me what was happening and why his daddy was taking Jorja. Panicked, I repeatedly whispered to Cole that it was all going to be okay. With Cole in my arms, I chased Dale to his car. He drove away.
I then went back into the gymnasium where I met Dale’s twin brother Dave. He pulled Cole out of my arms, knocking me to the ground as I fought to hang on to my child. As Dave ran with Cole to the car that waited outside, Cole screamed out for me in hysteria. As I sat on the gym floor, Cole’s voiced echoed, “Mommy! Mommy! I want my mommy!” And then there was nothing—nothing but silence.
I sat confused and in shock at what had just taken place. Though people quickly made themselves scarce, a few helped me to my feet and encouraged me to call the police. As my family arrived to help, I began reporting the incident to a policeman who had arrived on the scene. As he wrote the report, he explained that Dale was the father and there was nothing he could do about his taking them. The best advice he could give was to call an attorney.
Meanwhile Dale went to his parents’ house, packed some bags, loaded them into his car, and disappeared with the children for seven days. They went to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. They traveled to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to peer through the big glass and see all the fish at the aquarium. For seven days Dale ran from our problems while I lay in a small dark bedroom in my sister’s home, destitute, scared, and alone.
After fruitless attempts to locate the children, I picked up the phone and made a call to an attorney, something I had never dreamed of doing. During my first visit, I was advised that the only way to get my children back into the state of Alabama was to file for divorce. The attorney drew up the papers and an officer was sent to serve them to Dale.
On the back roads of a Tennessee highway, Dale’s cell phone rang. It was his employer telling him that they had just received papers that read Forehand versus Forehand. Dale’s heart fell to the depths of his soul as we both realized that we were about to face the most excruciating process we had ever experienced—divorce.
Upon my arrival at the courthouse, I was told that it would be a long process unless Dale and I could negotiate with the aid of our lawyers. We both wanted full custody, however, and both refused to leave the marital residence. That left the judge with no choice but to place us back in the house together pending a divorce trial.
For 15 months we lived in the house together awaiting the trial date. The house that used to be a home had now become a prison. Dale took the master bedroom and locked me out to find my own place to sleep. I went down the hall and locked myself in Cole’s bedroom. I slept with him in his red wrought- iron bunk beds. Many nights I cried myself to sleep while our six- year-old son Cole patted me sweetly on the back.
As time passed, we journeyed back to court on several occasions, each accusing the other of breaking the rules. The judge ruled that we must have the children in the residence by six o’clock every night because of our game-playing, manipulation, and deceit. Being bound to a curfew forced us to spend time together, and our house seemed to get smaller with each passing day.
Because of Dale’s anger and desire for control, he withheld all of our money from me. Being a stay-at-home mom, I was reduced to begging from Dale or borrowing from friends and family, a very humbling and shaming experience. Dale would give me a credit card, but one false move and he would rip it away. This push-and-pull between us was evidence that our marriage had completely disintegrated.
We began conducting ourselves as if the other did not exist. We locked doors, separated our clothes and food, and pulled our children from one parent to the other as we each tried to win their love. When we did engage in conversation, our talks escalated into full-fledged arguments that left us wounded and cold. Many fights became so heated that Cole would sit in the corner of the dining room and cry with his hands over his ears begging for it to stop. We threw things, pointed our fingers, and verbally abused each other.
We tried to buy our children’s love with gifts. We made plans to keep the other from seeing the children. Manipulation became a learned behavior, and we showed no conscience in the process. The children quickly learned to manipulate as well. There were many situations where they would work the circumstances to force us to be at odds with each other and thus get their own way.
Christmas was a gut-wrenching experience. Splitting time with the children over the holidays was a mess. The lawyers made another trip to the judge because we could not agree on any terms. We could not even agree on a time to go together to get a Christmas tree for the house. So the children and I got one tree and placed it in the den, and Dale took the children and purchased another tree for the dining room.
I had no money to buy gifts for the children, and there was no way that Dale would give me any money to spend on them. I had no hope that I would be able to give my children anything for Christmas. One afternoon a friend called me. She picked me up and took me to Walmart and purchased the children Christmas gifts for me to give them. I stood in the checkout line and cried as the reality of my life began to strike to the core of my being.
Christmas Eve finally came. I came out of the bedroom first and placed my “Santa” gifts out on the den floor. After I went back to my bedroom and locked my door, Dale was then free to come and display his part of “Santa.” The next morning was a smothering event as both of us put on our happy faces and pretended to be a family.
Things continued to unravel as two lawyers (who each wanted his client to win) spent time coaching us in the ways of mischief. We paid private investigators. We 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 had become a war zone, and the casualties of that war were not only two adults but also two beautiful children.
After we had lived in this hell for 15 months, my lawyer informed me that we would finally get our day in court. The date was set, my lawyer was prepared, and a glimmer of hope that all of this might be over soon was in sight.
The Court Decrees
When our time came up on the docket, I was led into a small courtroom with my lawyer at my side. Dale and I each entered the room carrying a box that represented our lives. As the judge entered and took his place, we rose in honor of his position. The hammer of the gavel meant only one thing: the battle lines were drawn and war was about to be waged.
The next four days were spent listening to family member after family member and friend after friend testify from the witness stand. They had chosen sides, and their goal was to convince the judge what a terrible parent one of us was, thus influencing who should gain custody of our children. Lies and deceit filled the courtroom. Our parents, who once had loved their children’s spouses, were now doing all they could to take care of their own flesh and blood. And with every comment came a stab of emotional pain that penetrated to the very depths of our souls. During those four days of trial, it felt as if our lives were being ripped to shreds and placed into our hands. Four days came and went, and as the gavel fell for the last time, we left the courthouse with our arms full of life’s broken pieces.
We were told to go back into the house together pending the results of the trial. For the four weeks that followed I felt as if I was smothering, awaiting the outcome that would forever change our lives. At last we received the papers. The divorce was final and joint custody had been awarded.
Hallelujah, it was finally over! Or was it? My depression and anger seemed to be more prevalent than ever before. As my emotions swung from the elation of finality to the frustration of always having to communicate with Dale about matters with the children, I found myself on an emotional roller coaster. Yes, the marriage was over, but life had continued. The struggle for personal agendas, strategic plans, and individual time with the children began to escalate even more. We had to discuss everything pertaining to our children before we could make a decision. And every other weekend, as we passed the children off to the other, we felt as if our own hearts were physically being ripped apart. The anger, frustration, and pain were indescribable.
Divorce. It is a forever funeral as part of us died every other weekend while our children gripped our necks and begged us not to leave. It is what I thought I wanted, and yet I was more miserable than I had ever been before. It affects people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. All that is left is a shattered reflection of what used to be. And the pain associated with divorce cannot be compared to anything except a grievous death.
What you have just read is the story of the death of our marriage. Happily, however, the story did not end there. God did not 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, not knowing what the other was doing, dragged themselves to the foot of the cross, fell at their Savior’s feet, and begged for His forgiveness and help.
One Wednesday morning, four weeks after the final verdict, I called Dale to discuss some gymnastics arrangements for Jorja. Dale, still hanging onto anger from the battle, told me that he would not be taking Jorja anywhere while she was with him, and yet another argument began to brew. Our yelling got so intense that Dale had to close his office door to muffle the sound.
In the middle of this heightened argument, I let Dale see the truth within my heart for just a moment. We call this a window of opportunity. This window occurs when we allow someone to see the purest form of who we are, from the depths of our hearts and without reservations or hidden agendas. The heart is lying out there—exposed, naked, bare. It was the scariest thing I had ever done, but God was pushing me forward to obey His prompting. These words began to flow from my heart in the middle of this downwardly-spiraling conversation: “Dale, what have we done? Why don’t you just come get me, and let’s fix this thing.” Like a bolt of lightning, Dale heard words that shocked him to the core.
Instantly he was faced with a choice. Would he respond with fear, pride, or anger, or would he return my tenderness of heart with the truth of his own? Dale responded with this simple statement: “I can’t look at the feet of our children without seeing you.” That statement was like a bouquet of roses to me. I didn’t think he cared about what I looked like, much less my feet! The Spirit of the Lord began at that very moment to melt the hardened mess of our hearts. The pride, anger, bitterness, resentment, and sheer hatred began to peel back one layer at a time. Within minutes Dale and I were pouring our hearts out while sobbing uncontrollably.
Dale drove to the house where I was staying. He knocked on the door, and a friend of mine who had testified against him in court answered. With great shock and fear on her face, she called for me to come outside. Dale spoke these words from his heart: “Jena, I don’t know what all of this means, but I know it is the right thing to do.” He kissed me on the cheek and drove away.
We spent the next four months in frequent, intentional marriage counseling with a godly Christian counselor who walked us through the healing process. There were hard days when it seemed like we tap danced on the painful places where we had sworn never to return. Some days seemed like 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 that remarriage was what God wanted from us. So on December 21, 1997, we were 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. Ephesians 3:20 (NKJV) says, “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think . . . .” God, in His divine plan, not only resurrected our marriage but redeemed our precious child into His family. His plans truly are greater than we ever could have imagined.
I pray this gives you HOPE for whatever circumstances you are currently in.
(from Dale and Jena’s book, “Let’s Get Real”; to order, click HERE)