“Divorce is never a happy thing to talk about”, said Claressa Norrell. “I think it’s even harder for me to discuss because I’ve been a strong believer all my life. I know what God’s Word says about divorce, and for a long time, I carried a big burden of guilt and shame. But it’s a part of my story, and it’s also the struggle God has used to remind me of His grace and great love for me.
I was born in Gatesville, TX, but my family moved around a lot when I was growing up. When I was 8 years old, my parents felt called to become full-time missionaries and we moved to France and later, West Africa to serve. When we returned to the U.S. and I graduated from high school and went to college in Arkansas and grad school in Louisiana. I moved to Dallas after that, went to work for a large public accounting firm, and got married.
Our marriage struggled for a while under the burdens many couples face: financial issues, communication problems, and unresolved conflict. We very rarely fought, which I later learned was bad because we never truly resolved things. In spite of the struggles, I never really wanted to divorce. So when my marriage ended a few months after my 10-year anniversary, it was a heart-breaking place to be.
At the time, it was very difficult to be around people, although I knew I needed the Lord and the comfort of being in church with other believers. God definitely spoke to me through His Word during those painful months, and eventually drew me to Watermark and the DivorceCare ministry. I committed to going through DivorceCare in the spring of ’09. By then, the divorce was final, and I actually thought I was doing pretty well. But when I sat down in that first meeting and it was my turn to speak, I started crying. I’d stuffed a lot of feeling and anger deep inside, and DivorceCare helped me process those emotions in a loving and safe environment where people really understood. That opened up the door for God’s healing.
Around that time, I also committed to read the Bible through over the course of a year. I’d never done that before. As I read, I saw how God used so many different imperfect people. Many had done things that were not consistent with what He wanted, but He continued to pursue, redeem and express His love for them. God’s Word helped me see that, in spite of the divorce, God still accepted and loved me as His child and could use my story to His glory. Through this process I also learned that community had been missing in my life for a long time. When I was married, we were involved in another church and I served on our praise team and in women’s ministry. I had friends, but nobody held me accountable or prayed with me. Very few people knew what was going on in the marriage, and when people heard we were separated and later divorced, nobody from church really reached out. It was a lonely place to be.
I’ve been a follower of Christ since I was a child, but I’d never been part of a church that stressed community like Watermark. When I first experienced what real community was like, it was actually kind of terrifying. It was challenging to sit in a group of girls, share my heart and be vulnerable. I’ve just never been good at that. But it’s what we’re called to do as believers, so I did. Today, I’m in a community group of women that continues to be a blessing and encouragement in my life.
When I’m struggling with something – big or small – it’s easy for the Enemy to get in there and really wreak havoc. If I’m isolated, I have no perspective about the struggle I’m dealing with. But when I talk about it in community, I’m surrounded by support and people who can remind me of the truth. I’m also able to encourage others and to see His goodness at work in people I care about. That really helps me stay focused and grounded in my faith.
Today, I’m also a leader in Divorce Care, and it has blessed me in so many ways. During the divorce I sometimes thought, “I’ve failed miserably. How will I ever be able to serve God again?” I see now that God has given me a special ministry tool: “to comfort others with the comfort that He has given me” (II Corinthians 1:3-4). What an incredible ministry opportunity!
I have seen the grace He has extended to me and have taken great comfort in the truth that absolutely nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39)…not even a divorce. God has given me an opportunity to minister to others during this painful process, and that is evidence of His grace and kindness. In turn, He’s also given me more grace to extend to others. Today, my relationship with God has never been stronger. I am experiencing more joy than I ever thought possible a year ago. God does heal and restore!