Grace Through the Storm

12/17/2017 .
Amber Sayer and Liz Stefani  .  Volunteer Storytellers

Christmas was fast approaching as Liz completed her last semester at Saddleback College. Amidst recent accomplishments and cheerful holiday celebrations, it should have been a joyous time for Liz. Instead, she was alone, encompassed by despair and fear. In one day, her husband of eleven years suddenly decided to end their marriage and leave. Liz was paralyzed by the worst heartache she had ever experienced. Uncertainty became her new reality.

Throughout their eleven year marriage, Liz’s husband struggled with both alcohol and drug abuse, and was emotionally abusive. The sting of his words and actions over the years took a toll on Liz leading her to feel unloved and unworthy. During his periods of sobriety, they enjoyed their relationship and were hopeful about their dreams of world travel and starting a family. Though their marriage was a turbulent roller coaster at times, Liz remained devoted to her husband and committed to remain faithful to their vows. The last thing she expected was her husband’s sudden abandonment a few days before Christmas. Her dedication seemed futile.

Liz cried out to God for answers but didn’t receive an immediate response. She took her situation one day at a time, fighting to push through her despair while searching to find peace — hoping and praying for her marriage to be restored. At her lowest point, she prayed to God for a “slap in the face” type of sign to help her choose the right direction to move towards. Immediately, her husband called her and said, “I haven’t loved you in a long time.”  With the sting of the slap radiating and breaking her heart even more, she knew where God was directing her. The next few months she found herself depressed and heartbroken, trying to make sense of life’s new direction, while mourning the future she dreamed of. What made matters worse is that she could not find many people to sympathize with her. In an effort to try and comfort her, well-meaning people who told Liz “it could be worse” and “at least you didn’t have kids.” Liz felt her difficult situation was only being minimized by these comments and didn’t feel they helped her at all.

As a psychology major, Liz knew that she had to battle the depression head on in order to come out of the darkness. A counselor at Saddleback Church encouraged her to start attending the Separated Wives Support Group. This support group helps wives through  marital separation in hope of reconciliation, or if that is not possible, the helps the wives build the necessary strength for the next phase of life. Liz was welcomed and embraced by the entire group at her first meeting. All were loving and gave her such strong words of encouragement every week. Her feelings were accepted, never dismissed and Liz felt God’s warm embrace. “They let me share my struggles, my feelings of despair, and gave me the support that I needed, when I needed it the most.”

As Liz worked at dealing with her new reality, she found herself paying for a home and a life meant for two on her meager salary — eventually using her entire savings to survive. Grieving, Liz reluctantly moved all her possessions into a storage unit, packed up her car with clothes and the necessities. and drove to a friend’s house where she would spend the next few months sleeping on a couch in a house made for one. Devastated, heartbroken, unable to sleep or eat, Liz never lost hope for the day that she no longer felt pain and emptiness inside. 

Though the downpour seemed endless, Liz began to see breaks in the clouds. Within months of being welcomed and supported at group, she was blessed with an incredible new career, a room to rent, and to her surprise, acceptance letters to four outstanding colleges. One of the schools — University California Irvine — offered her a near full scholarship to earn her Bachelor’s degree. Things seemed to be leveling off. But after starting classes at UCI, a new dilemma arose; her current living situation abruptly ended, leaving Liz with nowhere to live.

Disheartened, Liz packed up her car once again facing homelessness. Finding her situation crippling under the circumstances, she couldn’t believe it — prestigious college and homeless. Where would she go? How would this all play out? The following days felt desperate. She needed a miracle. She needed one fast and yet God was not answering her prayers. When her actions seem futile, she stopped and gave up all her worries of finding a home to God. She also surrendered all of her struggles; completely removing the thoughts from her mind. At the eleventh hour, before readying herself to relocate to a home in another county and almost one year after the date her husband walked out of their home, God showed Liz a place that she could call her own — a place she could afford, maintain her career, attend school, and build a new foundation for her life.

With a safe and secure home, Liz began to grow, learning how to overcome her pain and personal struggles. Having gained the strength to transition into the next phase of life through the support of the Separated Wives Group, for the first time in over a decade, being single was something she could embrace and celebrate. Through the healing gained from counseling, Liz felt the fear of the unknown future dissolve. In the process, she regained her confidence while changing her focus from what she could not do to make her marriage work, to all that God could do and was doing as he worked in her life for his purpose. “He loves me, is always faithful, and he has shown this to me every day by using the people around me to send me his love.”

 Through the storm, Liz lost everything and was forced to say goodbye to many aspects of her life, but through God’s grace, gained so much more. With the help from counseling and the Separated Wives Group, she built a new foundation for her life, found new direction, and strengthened her hope. Now in her last semester as a psychology major at UCI,  having added stamps to her passport and enjoying a fascinating career, her future looks incredibly more exciting than she could have ever dreamed. he is looking forward to being used by God to fulfill his purpose for her life and help people. “The loss of my marriage was painful every moment of every day. I knew that I couldn’t get through this on my own. God and the people at church were the only ones to help me through when I couldn’t see past my pain. And I knew I had to give it time. I can say that God’s promises hold true and learning and understanding his Word gives me so much hope for an amazing future where my hurts can be used to help not only myself but others along their path. The physical pain does slowly get replaced by warmth, love, joy, and hope.t does take a lot of work, but this isn’t the end.”

Learn more about Saddleback's support groups HERE.