We all have chapters in our stories we don’t want to share—the ones we wish didn’t exist. They contain suffering and shame and regret. Chapters full of pain and heartbreak. Chapters from rock bottom.

My rock bottom was a divorce. And I was the one who wanted out.

A Long Way Down

If you’ve ever been there, you know how dark and empty rock bottom is—down there all alone, with ugly thoughts saying life is over. Words like worthless, sinner, ashamed and unforgivable echo in your head, with nothing to absorb their agonizing sounds.

That’s how it was for me.

From the outside, I had the perfect life. I had been married for almost 15 years and had two beautiful daughters. I drove carpool, taught Sunday school, worked part time and volunteered with the PTA. I’m sure we seemed like a happy little family.

But the life you project for other people isn’t always reality.

Sometimes real life is messy and lonely and unstable. Sometimes you drift so far away from where you started, you don’t even remember what it used to look like. Next thing you know, you’ve stepped off a ledge and are sliding down a steep, dangerous slope you never intended to be on. It’s such a long way down, too.

Instead of trying to rebuild my crumbling marriage, I gave up. I threw away 15 years and shattered my family. I walked out and basically ran into the arms of a man I thought could make me whole again. I remarried within a year, thinking it would fix everything. But it didn’t fix anything because I was still broken. My new fairytale life was haunted with some of the same old demons, along with some scary new ones.

While I deeply loved my new husband and wanted to build a new life for our blended family, the bottom quickly fell out from under me. We were not the Brady Bunch by any stretch of the imagination. Instead of building a blended family, we were being shredded.

My children were in so much pain trying to adjust to shared custody, a new stepdad and step-siblings, and that just about killed me. There was conflict and stress and tears and chaos. The guilt was excruciating. I watched my kids plummet every time they had to leave me. I felt I had ruined their lives. There was nothing harder than seeing my babies in pain.

And all those people who thought my old life was perfect? Not anymore!

In the Pit

People I admired shunned and rejected me. They gossiped about me. Every time I logged into Facebook, I discovered more people had unfriended me. It was amazing how quickly they discarded me, how quickly my reputation was ruined.

I felt I had failed everyone—my kids, my family and friends, my church and especially God. I just knew God must be shaking His head with disappointment. I didn’t measure up anymore. So I shut down. I hid from the world to avoid the humiliation, and I hid from God to avoid the shame.

But hiding only brought more misery. Soon, judgment and condemnation left me feeling completely worthless. I spiraled into a deep pit, crushed by the weight of my guilt.

I hated being in that pit. I hated feeling empty and so sad all the time. I missed being part of my community and seeing my friends. My new marriage suffered because I was closed off. And I missed God tremendously. I needed to find a way out.

I fell to my knees and sobbed. I screamed. I pleaded with God to help me. I clearly couldn’t do it on my own, and I was finally ready to let go and hand it over to Him. And when I gave up control, it was almost like a trail of breadcrumbs was laid out for me. God had been right there the whole time, just waiting for me to look up.

I followed the clues, and I started to hear Him. Not an audible voice, but a whisper in my soul: “You are so much more than your past mistakes. My grace is all you need.”

And God sent me a sweet friend—someone who had walked in my shoes and was brave enough to share her story with me. She showed me it was possible to get back up after the fall. There is nothing like someone saying, “I’ve been there, and you’re going to be okay.” Rejection left me withdrawn and isolated, but this God-inspired love gave me connection and hope.

Hope changed everything.

Grace is God

I began reading everything I could get my hands on—blogs and stories and books about people who had overcome their past and their pain. I cried out to Jesus, and I continued to hear that same message: I am more than my past, and His grace is all I need. It was in the pages of every book I was reading. I heard it in the songs I was listening to and in sermons at church. Everywhere I turned, I heard about grace.

“You have been saved by grace because you believe. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

Grace—what an amazing concept. Grace is God wiping my slate clean. Grace is God loving me when I don’t deserve it and moving heaven and earth to save me when I couldn’t save myself.

Grace is the oxygen God used to bring me back to life.

Healing continued as I began to truly trust God. I knew I had to accept responsibility for the pain I’d caused. I was terrified—an emotional wreck—as I asked for forgiveness from the people I’d hurt; but I wanted to try to mend hearts and relationships. It turns out the hardest part was actually forgiving myself.

Out of the Pit

I still struggle at times, and occasionally the pit calls out to me. Fortunately, as my faith has grown stronger, those condemning thoughts get harder to hear. Forgiveness is a powerful medicine. I honestly feel like I’ve been freed from prison—those chains that used to hold me down are gone.

Those rock-bottom chapters are now a permanent part of my life. I’m not proud of them, but my story isn’t complete without them. I used to feel I was unusable and could never make a difference. Judgment does that—makes you feel you have nothing to give. But that just isn’t true. I’m not who they say I am; I’m who God says I am. And God says I am loved and accepted and forgiven.

God assured me my future is not defined by my past.

God also changed my new marriage. We’ve been married seven years and have learned and grown so much. We joined a new church and were baptized together in the Tennessee River—one of my all-time best moments!

It’s amazing what happened when I stopped trying to fix everything and let God take the lead. Our life isn’t perfect, but we feel secure knowing it doesn’t have to be. God has continued to bring reconciliation and mercy into so many areas of our lives.

My past has a purpose now. I get so many opportunities to help and love people who are hurting. Now it’s my turn to say, “I’ve been there, and you’re going to be okay.” I love that God doesn’t waste our pain and actually uses it to help others, to bless another broken heart. I thought being broken would always be ugly, but I learned broken can be beautiful when grace fills the cracks.

Jesus said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19) The ultimate healing came when I pushed past my fear and told my story. Not just the pretty rainbow parts, but also the whole truth.

The wrecked parts.

My flaws and mistakes and how God loved me enough to lead me out of that pit.

Our real stories are so much better than fairy tales. My happy ending is that God mended me and gave me a new beginning. But my life isn’t just about the happy ending. I think the best part is the beautifully broken story itself.