It’s shocking, how little privacy one has in a courtroom. On Wednesdays, when they do Juvenile and Domestic Court stuff, the room is tense – very different than the mornings when you arrive with your 16-year old to receive their Virginia drivers’ license.
You stand when the judge calls your name, and you move to the front of the room. The sign says Do Not Lean On The Bench and you don’t. You shift your weight from one foot to the other and try to figure out where to put your hands, because it’s just awkward.
And all the people behind you hear the judge, as he states the charge or the complaint or whatever brought you there. Maybe your ex is standing there, on the other side of the guy from the Division of Child Support, or maybe she just didn’t show up and you’re there by yourself. When the judge asks how much you make and how often you get paid and why you are asking for a modification on your child support, you speak softly, in front of God and everyone, and the judge repeats your answers loud and clear to make sure he heard you right, and then everybody in the courtroom knows your business, even though they know nothing about you.
There’s no privacy in a courtroom like today. There’s no backstory, no explanation, no opportunity to make your case. The judge wants the facts, the W-2s, the pay stubs. He doesn’t care that she manipulated the system in Connecticut, it doesn’t matter that you think he’s got outside sources of extra money. What matters is what’s on paper.
The stress and strain and struggle of divorced parents, reduced to the facts in the file, the numbers on the paper.
I was in court today. For 45 minutes, as I waited to hear my name, I watched the steady parade of ex’s walk up, talk to the judge, listen, and leave the courtroom.
When it was my turn, I rose. My ex held the swinging door for me to walk through. We walked together, both of us slightly nervous – it’s court, for goodness’ sake – and stood before the judge. He looked over the paperwork and looked up at my ex.
“What, exactly, do you hope to accomplish today?”
We hadn’t even discussed it, but I knew – and he knew – that he would do the talking. He shared the information with the judge, who looked over the paperwork again. He asked a few more questions, checked over the paperwork and tried – unsuccessfully – to pronounce the name of the county in which our paperwork was originally filed. G-e-a-u-g-a….
The judge looked up again and said, “I see you both nodding. You obviously have talked about this. You agree about what you want.” We both said, “Yes, sir.”
He gave a few more instructions and dismissed us. We turned to leave, and my ex held the door for me again, and we walked out together.
Earlier, when I’d walked into the courtroom, I saw my ex in the first row. Without a second thought, I walked towards him. We exchanged a quick hug; he made room for me beside him and he asked, “How’s your eye?” I gave him the update, and we talked a bit more about the upcoming weekend and plans for his mission trip to Africa with his wife’s church and how we hoped the court stuff would work out. When the judge entered, we rose with the rest of the room. We sat through the cases, one by one, and after half an hour when I leaned my head forward to rub the tension out of my neck, he whispered, “Are you okay?” and I said, “Yeah…just a headache…”
It’s been almost nine years since our divorce. It was awful and painful and terrible. Both of us have plenty of ammunition; we could have a bloody war, with all the things we’ve done wrong. He has grounds to have harbored a legitimate hatred. I have plenty of reasons of my own to fan the flame of anger towards him.
But there are no guns; the ammunition is closeted.
Today, we went to court in the interest of our kids, going through the motions required by law to make the best of our situation for our children. We went together, as parents; in spite of what we lost when we divorced, I think we both strive to see what we might gain as we move forward.
There is much that I regret. Divorce is always painful, always difficult for the children and the extended family. But I have lived my life in a state of grace, and there is no place where it was more powerful than in a Powhatan County courtroom today, when I sat next to my ex with no fear, no anger, no tension.
Only grace, and an awareness that he was broken, and I was broken, and in our brokenness we hurt one another and made mistakes and likely will make more. There is not much room for recriminations, just a desperate desire for grace to fill in the broken places.
He is a good man, and I am doing my best to be a good woman. We have both remarried, to partners who help us be better people. But this sort of grace is a miracle, something far beyond what human beings can summon up in trying to be decent and good and kind. This is the essence of the faith that we both claim, the mysteries of forgiveness and redemption and restoration and new life. This is what it means to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”; this is the core of living in the knowledge that “all have fallen short of the glory of God” and that there is something to the notion that we should “forgive one another, as I have forgiven you.”
All that Christian stuff.
This is it, lived out in real time. I am better for it. My children are better for it. Our spouses are better for it.
All things are possible.
Don’t ever doubt it.
This is my ex, who deserves more than that often pejorative term; this is Lonnie, the father of my children.
In this photo from a few months ago, he’s standing in my new kitchen, alongside my mom and dad, holding a coffee cup with a picture of my cat. We were all together celebrating Sarah’s birthday, with his wife and her son and all of the kids, a house full of family.
This is grace, and a testimony to what beauty can rise from ashes when we are willing to try. Don’t ever doubt it.