When a woman comes to you in tears and tells you she is thinking about divorcing her husband, it’s a tipping point in your friendship: a door opens between you, and you are given an opportunity. You can step forward and enter into deeper friendship, or you can step back and let it close.
I’ve had several friends make this confession to me in the past decade. Often, the confession is made in a moment of frustration or fear, and it amounts to little more than words, but there were two times in particular that I recall with stinging regret. I screwed up, and I owe the two of you a long overdue apology:
I am so, so sorry about the way I responded when you told me you wanted a divorce.
The words were hard for you to say, small and broken in your mouth, but my response was altogether too easy to give. I’d been so programmed to believe “Marriage = Good” and “Divorce = Bad” that I kind of panicked when you told me, to be honest. My religious upbringing took over, and judgment disguised as advice came out of my mouth, as it is so often wont to do.
I launched right into a chorus of all the things I thought I was supposed to say in order to save you from yourself: “Oh, no, you can’t do that!”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, things were different between us, but in the moment, I was blind to the damage I had caused, so I panicked, and I kept on talking. “It can’t be that bad, can it? Think about all the good things! Think about the kids! Everybody has flaws. He’s a good man, really, I’m sure he is. God never gives you more than you can handle. Marriage is supposed to be hard work. Don’t throw it all away!”
You were (both) crying even harder.
I am pretty sure I tried offering a hug at this point.
I knew that I had screwed up somehow. I just didn’t know how.
Then I even gave one of you a sympathy card with a picture of broken pottery and an inscription about Kintsugi, the Japanese art of using gold to make repairs to highlight the brokenness and make it beautiful—a metaphor for how I thought your marriage ought to be fixed.
And I had the audacity to do all of this without ever even asking you why.
I’m so ashamed of this now. You each came to me in confidence, seeking love and support, and I didn’t even bother to find out why.
I never knew if your husband was beating you or your kids. I never knew if there had been an affair, if he had bankrupted you, if he was doing drugs or had committed a crime. I never knew if it was something less concrete—irreconcilable differences. Emotional abuse. Mental illness. Some kind of trauma. Or something else entirely. I still don’t know. I never bothered to find out, either, because at the time, it did not matter to me. I simply could not fathom a justifiable reason for divorce.
You were in tears when you told me. The immensity of the decision was a weight on your shoulders that I did not understand—I see that now. You were completely tormented by the idea. You were in pain, and instead of offering you comfort, I’d stepped onto my soapbox to give you a good old-fashioned morality lecture at the moment you needed it least.
I have played your confessions to me over and over and over in my head with cringing regret, wishing I could go back in time and fix the damage I had done, imagining myself giving you a different type of response, one that involved a closed mouth and open ears—a thousand shame-filled should-haves.
I should have given you space to talk. I should have made myself available to you. I should have offered my shoulders and some tea and a box of Kleenex and given you the space to tell your story and be heard before I ever opened my mouth to respond.
The least I could have done was listen to you. I owed you that much.
If I had done those things, maybe our friendship would be different now. Less awkward when I see you.
Maybe we’d even be close.
One of you ended up getting divorced (and I never did find out why). The other one did not. But I see now that I did irreparable damage to each of our friendships. I never offered either of you the simple courtesy of listening to your side of the story.
I see now that you were not confiding in me out of a need to hear me weigh in on the morality of your decisions. I see now that you were simply trying to share your story with someone you thought you could trust.
I abused the gift of your trust.
I am so, so sorry.
I’ve had two more friends make the same similar confession to me since I’d bungled things with you, and I learned from my mistakes. I’ve tried to take a more supportive stance—closed mouth, open ears. They, too, had not made their confessions lightly. They had considered the cost. Their reasons were sound.
And most surprising?
They weren’t 100% on board with the idea of divorce themselves.
They weren’t looking for someone to talk them out of it.
They weren’t looking for someone to read them Bible passages or show them pictures of broken Japanese pottery to manipulate them into feeling a certain way.
They just wanted to feel like they weren’t alone during a very lonely point in their marriage. They just wanted to be seen and heard. They wanted a safe space to lay out the mess of their feelings, and I see now what an honor and responsibility it is to be chosen to help bear that burden.
Listening to them just talk has brought us closer together. It tipped the balance of our friendship the other way: forward, deeper, stronger.
I should have done this with you, my friends. It ranks among my greatest regrets. I hope that you are reading this now, and I hope you know that the damage I caused our friendship changed me. I have tried to learn from my mistakes, and I’m trying to do better.
Please accept this apology as my own golden attempt at Kintsugi. Perhaps there is still a chance that our friendship can be made more beautiful for having been broken.
I inadvertently gave my most encouraging piece of advice about coming out to my gay brother when he was still very, very closeted.
I'd always had an inkling that my younger brother might be gay, but at this point in his life (his senior year of high school), that’s all it was—an inkling. He wouldn’t come out for another five years. But high school is always a challenging season, particularly for those who dare to be different.
And dare my brother did.
He loved the stage. He acted in plays and musicals. He sang in choir. He took dance lessons. (He’s amazing—he does it all professionally now.) He was drum major. He played the flute and the piccolo. He was not afraid to make nonconformist fashion choices. He drew, painted, sculpted. He wanted so desperately to express himself authentically in the best way he knew: performance.
These things made him a target.
He had a girlfriend, sure. But that too was performance, and it wasn’t enough to silence the cruelty of those who suspected and weaponized the truth against him.
He played the lead role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat during his senior year, and he threw himself into the show. The musical is based on the Bible story: Joseph’s father gives him a beautiful, multicolored coat that makes his brothers so jealous that they plot to kill him, but when a chance to sell him as a slave arises instead, they take it. Long story short, Joseph overcomes many obstacles and ends up winning Pharaoh’s favor.
My brother loved this role. He is a performer, after all. But in the rehearsals leading up to the show, I could see that he was performing through a haze of pain. Kids were being downright mean to him.
I wanted to do...something.
So I made him a present.
It was small, but it was something. It was the only bit of encouragement I felt I could offer him.
It was a piece of word art—rainbow cutouts in the shape of Joseph’s coat that I had carefully cut by hand, a relic from a time before Cricut machines. It said, Wear it anyway.
Twelve years later, he still has it—it's hanging in his office.
Wear it anyway.
It’s good advice, really. There’s some universal truth there.
But I did not know how true that mantra would actually turn out to be for him.
When I made him that sign, I was thinking so small. My aim was to encourage him to take pride in his talents in spite of the opinions of others—haters gonna hate, after all. But, as is always the case with universal truth, the sentiment is bigger than I imagined, and it encompasses so much more than just talent.
Wear it anyway is a battle cry.
It’s a roaring declaration of pride.
Now that he’s out, I understand why my brother kept that sign.
That rainbow coat has taken on an even greater significance for him, and I am proud to stand behind him, holding it up and sliding it over his shoulders and encouraging him to Wear it anyway.
Pride is all about owning your personal truth. It’s about radical self-acceptance and love. There’s a takeaway for all of us, really, this celebratory, radical acceptance. It’s religious, almost, a reminder of Christ’s grace.
Be you, brother. In all your flaming glory.
Happy Pride Month.
I am trying to make peace with Mother’s Day.
It’s a day I have softened towards, a day I once despised and have come to tolerate.
It’s the best I can do.
I was once indifferent to the day. I do appreciate and love my own mother and think she deserves recognition and thanks for her role in my life, so I remembered her with cards and flowers.
But as soon as I was old enough for people to expect me to become a mother and I was not able to rise to their expectations, I began to hate the day. For years, I hated it, being expected to celebrate what I could not have, to honor and bless those who had achieved something I so desperately wanted but was perpetually denied. For me, it was a day of resentment, not of joy.
I celebrate my mother. I love her. I celebrate my mother-in-law, my sister, my sisters-in-law. But I would be lying if I denied my own jealousy at the natural, effortless ways they came into motherhood.
I first became a mother second-hand, borrowing kids for a brief period while their own mothers tried to heal. Even then, the words “Happy Mother’s Day” felt like a knife, a clean slice through the ribs, straight to the heart—a reminder of what I could only do by proxy.
And even after I officially became a mom, after the adoption of our daughter was finalized, I was never the only one in her eyes. My daughter loves another—a woman who made the hard and courageous decision to give up her child for the chance at a better life, a woman I’ve come to respect and appreciate, a woman who made it possible for me to become a mom, a woman my daughter loves in complicated and tangled ways I will never fully understand.
So I share the day. I buy her flowers. I sign my name to her card. It is not always easy, but without her sacrifice, I would not be a mom. She gave me the most precious gift by putting her daughter’s needs before her own.
Mothering is, after all, a concern for another above yourself.
So I am making peace with the day. I must acknowledge my own jealous grief, but I cannot be consumed by it. I am not a mother in the effortless way I imagined, but I am still grateful for the children I’ve been given to nurture, however briefly. I remain grateful for the maternal figures in my own life. And I am grateful for my precious daughter and for her other mother, the woman who made it possible for me to become a mom.
It's not what I thought it would be, motherhood. It hasn't gone at all according to plan. The day is still grief-singed, but I cannot deny the incredible beauty in the gratitude of the children I have nurtured. Even as I'm typing this, as my phone is on silent while I work, I see a missed call and voicemail from my first foster child, and a text from another. They remembered me, and they are grateful.
Happy Mother's Day indeed.