I am a gardener, after my mother’s example.
I remember the simple script, hung by a nail next to the sugar canister: “Bloom where you are planted” - a red geranium sketched in the bottom left corner. It hung in the five-bedroom house, the one with the father who went to work and the mother who made a home and the children who arrived to her greeting after school. It hung also in the two-bedroom house, the one with the mother who went to work and the children whose keys unlocked a silent kitchen and the father who came on Saturdays.
Both houses were mine. When I was nine years old, my parents’ divorce was final, and our family, like so many others, was left to make sense of the aftermath.
The conference ends and a woman approaches me at the podium. She is on the verge of tears. She has approached me before – no, not her, but ten others with the same question brimming in the corners of their eyes. I have spoken for almost an hour, but she remembers one passing detail: “You come from a broken home. Thank you for saying it.”
“Broken home” - the term is hers, not mine. A single mother, worried that her children will be consumed by the devastation of her failed marriage, that their trajectory is faithlessness, bitterness and sorrow. She sees me and wants to know: how did you bloom?
What formula I can offer? The fracturing of a marriage can look many ways. There are no hard and fast rules for how to cobble together hope. I can only tell my story, one shaped by three gifts my parents gave.
The first, of course, was a great deal of prayer. On my behalf, across many years.
The second was a great deal of selflessness on the part of both of my parents, and my stepmother as well. All three of my parents gave me permission to love and cherish all three of my parents. They treated one another with mutual respect, both in their words and actions. I was not asked to choose one parent over another. When a marriage fails, the resulting web of relationships is not always made up of honorable people. By the grace of God, mine was. I knew they had deep hurt toward each other, that thirty five years later they still do. But I knew they placed my relationship needs above their own hurt.
The third gift, astonishingly, was a high view of marriage. Who would believe it? But no one in my family would say that divorce is a simple solution to a difficult marriage. It never gets easy, never stops aching, never slips completely into past-tense. It is a measure of absolute last resort. Rather than teach me to hold my marriage lightly, my parents taught me to hold it in high regard, to enter into it with care, to guard it with determination.
An incomplete account, of limited help, but my story nonetheless. I feel deep gratitude toward my parents, somehow able to recognize that just because their marriage was a failure didn’t mean that their divorce had to be. Finding their family planted in rocky soil, they determined, as far as it was possible with them, to help us bloom.
I have been blessed with three devoted parents, but I believe - and have witnessed - that even one devoted parent can foster blooms in the desert. Do I come from a broken home? I do. And so do all of us, I suppose. I have known more love and respect, more kindness, more selfless pursuit of relationship in my “broken home” than many know in their traditional families. Take heart in this, mother in the aftermath – a failed marriage does not doom you to a failed family. No malediction guides your course. Surely the grace of God is for homes both broken and intact. Surely, if any of us blooms, we do so by that grace alone.
I am a gardener, after my mother’s example. And my step-mother’s as well, truth be told. I carry a sentimental attachment to a particular flower, tracing back to my childhood, to a sign on a nail next to a canister of sugar. My yard spills over with geraniums. The Victorians assigned a meaning to that blossom - though other flowers symbolize peace or healing, the geranium symbolizes folly.
A fitting emblem for this child of divorce, this child of God. For it is folly to believe that something whole can come from something broken. Yet God chooses what is foolish in this world to shame the wise. He chooses the weak, the low, the despised. He chooses the broken. And these, against all logic, he redeems. Mother of a “broken home”, lift up your eyes. Find hope in the folly of the gospel - it is for you. Ask the Father to give all that is needful, all that is good.
I pray hope and wholeness bud beneath His care. I pray you and those you cherish bloom.