Courage Crush: Katie Sherman, Mom, strategic innovator, soulful gatherer
by Sarah on October 4, 2016
Katie is not only one of my dearest life-long friends, she is a voice of inspiration in the wake of one of the most resilient recoveries I’ve had the privilege of witnessing. She is a force of soft strength and tender tenacity. That’s why I have a Courage Crush on her. Check out her inspiring story of courage in response to divorce and single adoptive parenting!
Nearly four years ago now, my life took a sharp turn. I’d been married for just over nine years to my best friend. Together, we lived big, played well and suffered much. We spent three years in Beirut during assassinations and the war with Israel in 2006. Toward the tail end of our time in Beirut we were also suffering from infertility and lost one baby. Due to a myriad of circumstances, we moved back to the States to help start a development company and brought home our first adopted child from Ethiopia two years later. But, our marriage endured some tough hits.
It was December 14, 2012, the night before we were going to celebrate Christmas with my husband’s family. At that time, my son was home three and a half years and our sweet baby girl for one and a half. I arrived home from the ER where one of my best friends was admitted for undiagnosed mini strokes after a particularly scary episode that ended in an ambulance ride. I love Christmas and tend to go overboard… so taking the neatly wrapped gifts out of the closet transported me to a happy place.
My husband came home and told me to sit down, we needed to talk. Our marriage had been strained for a while, but what came next was such a shocking and traumatizing confession I could barely breathe. I was devastated and in a panic…. I packed a bag and moved in with some friends for about a week where I spent most of my time in a daze at the hospital where Sarah H. was now in surgery. It was supposed to be a level one, simple stint procedure, but when the surgeon got in there he realized the damage was far worse. As a result of the intervention and new blood flow, Sarah H. suffered a major stroke and we were losing her fast…. Sarah embodied the state of my soul. Hooked up to machines, unable to breathe on her own and at the mercy of the medical staff and God.
When your life implodes, where do you go? What do you do? I have two children adopted from Ethiopia—they were only 2 and 3 at the time. You don’t throw away a 9-year covenant and possibly retrigger abandonment trauma, right? So I continued to fight for my marriage.
I remember being at the hospital, waiting and hoping for a miracle while simultaneously praying for relief. Sarah H., coincidentally, was going through something similar in her own marriage and not being able to talk to her about my suffering left me lonelier than I can ever remember. The cruelty and injustice of these moments was overbearing.
Because the medical staff was now performing extreme measures on Sarah, she fell into a coma. I walked into the room and sat by my beautiful friend who was now completely disfigured and hooked up to machines keeping her alive. I wept. I told her to fight, I begged God for mercy, but understood if she needed to leave us. And, I said goodbye.
I remember my dad calling, crying with me over Sarah H. and telling me in no uncertain terms that I needed to get out of there. I had been living in that hospital waiting room for about a week and had to take care of my babies. He bought a roundtrip ticket for the next day and brought me and the kids to California. About a week later, on Christmas morning, Sarah H. opened her eyes and we both began the long journey towards rehabilitation and healing.
NAVIGATING THE SHOCK
Sandbags and Team Activation
In the beginning of the crisis, when the outcome of my marriage was still uncertain, I was advised to set up sandbags and activate a small team. I needed 3-5 people I could trust to empower me to make good decisions along this very tricky road. Generally, I maintain many close relationships, but this would become a liability in such a scandal. Everyone has their opinions on what you should do based on their own worldview lens, baggage and life experience. Plus, I needed the exhausting task of communication-maintenance taken off my plate. Too many people with “good hearts” want to stay in the information loop. So, I carefully chose my team and purposed to keep quiet to the rest of my community for a time. For me, this step was crucial.
The Role of Community
We have to say what we need or don’t need and trust that people will show up.
We miss out on a key component of life, love and belonging when we choose to isolate ourselves because we fear shame or inconveniencing others. The truth is, we feel deeply honored and satisfied from loving one another in times of great need. We want to feel trusted, capable and have meaningful places to display our compassion. We want to be “insiders”—this fosters increased intimacy and belonging. We essentially rob the ones we love of this opportunity out of fear or shame when we pull up our bootstraps and go it alone. Surrounding myself with a safe group and moving forward in vulnerability with the sandbag boundary was key in these first 6 weeks.
Uncertainty and Hind Sight
The hardest part of any crisis is the uncertainty… how will this turn out? Will I be okay? What about my kids, finances, reputation, family… the list goes on and on. The first 6-8 weeks when I continued to fight for my marriage not knowing if he would reciprocate was more than anxiety-producing. I stopped sleeping and was tormented by images of the facts I had learned. I wondered if God was good, why He allows his children to endure such heartache. Sometimes what feels like a devastation is actually mercy and can propel us on towards a more meaningful destiny. Like it or not, we don’t have the full picture and must plunge into the darkness. Faith in God was my sight. I shifted from being critical of God’s lack of deliverance to finding Him present with me in the pain and skillfully helping me navigate the ambiguity. You know the word picture of the frog? Put a frog in boiling water and it will jump out sensing life-threatening danger. But, put a frog in lukewarm water and slowly bring it to a boil and the frog becomes desensitized and dies. This was me in a toxic relationship, and as time passed I could acknowledge how I completely lost myself. I’m certain we all have situations that resonate.
Owning Your Story
Obviously no one marries with divorce in mind, but this was where I found myself. The uncertainty was over, decisions were made and it was time to engage the crisis head-on. I had to settle into my new reality, no matter how taboo– I was going through a divorce with two, adopted toddlers in-tow. I remember attending a wedding four months after the split. I drove with a beloved friend for two hours to the Texas Ranch. We tried to come up with different ways of expressing what was going on in my world as I braced myself for the question, “where is your husband?”. What was supposed to be a serious conversation led to roaring laughter and tears as we came up with the most absurd things I could say to people to make them feel awkward, not me. After parking, my stomach dropped, knowing I had nothing to say and praying no one would ask. Almost immediately, a hilarious friend confronted me during the processional. My lack of response led him to make outrageous claims about what was going on (drug cartel may have been one scenario). But, it broke the ice.
Owning my story and not letting it own me was the next step toward unlocking powerful waves of freedom and wisdom, rediscovering myself and remaining soft in a tumultuous world. I had to develop shame resilience by owning my contribution to the mess, yet refusing to take responsibility for the unfortunate choices of another. I am divorced, but it certainly isn’t my identity. I don’t hide it because I refuse to bow to shame and it has shaped where I am today. Herein lies the gift. We all need a legit suffering theology and to grow towards compassion and curiosity about one another’s stories. Rarely is it as simple as we would like.
My Secret Weapons
I was asked what I am most proud of in this journey. Hands down I am humbled, honored and proud to keep such quality company. The caliber of my community is indescribable and brings me to tears. These are friends that housed me, held me, prayed with me, wept over me, and sent me away from the house so they could pack my husband’s belongings when it was time to move on. These are friends that left dozens of cards, gifts and flowers at my doorstep on my first Valentine’s Day alone. These are the men to whom I became a sister-wife—loving on my children, going to family camp together, and installing new window blinds. These are friends that left their own families and journeyed with me to wine country for Mother’s Day. These are friends that threw an epic surprise party for me. These are friends that didn’t forget me after the initial shock wore off, but continued to love in profound ways. And these are friends that spoke the truth in love, telling me where I went wrong, where I needed to step up my game and not live inside a victim-mentality. Good friends ultimately lead us towards self-sufficiency (in my case, God-sufficiency).
If you do nothing else, cultivate meaningful community.
I have no doubt this saved me.
I also had amazing professional help along the way. One man challenged me to my core. Here’s the thing… we cannot live the victim’s life. This is not only cliché but a life-killer. I had to ask myself the hard question of how I contributed to a toxic relationship. What do I want to do differently? Where do I need forgiveness, grace and mercy? This is tough, transformative and vulnerable work. It feels much better to wallow in self-pity than to acknowledge any wrong-doing.
One of my biggest “ah ha” moments was realizing my head and heart had become disconnected. Much of my healing journey has been re-establishing that connection. I was living out of my head, which was an asset amped on anxiety and survival, but it’s not a healthy place to camp. I stopped trusting my gut and only trusted my logic. Somewhere in there I lost myself. But I am becoming softer, wiser, humbler, and more compassionate through this process. I have rediscovered Katie, and I really, really like her!
The Impact of Others
As humans we all impact one another. We are integrated, especially the deeper we go in vulnerability and intimacy. With belonging, my identity now also rests in you and that is incredibly risky. The impact can be extraordinarily beautiful or devastating. God and I had a face-off around free-will and it wasn’t pretty. Free-will allows us to love big without being robotic, but conversely causes unintended consequences when poor choices cannot be undone. I have had to trust God for justice… this is part of forgiveness and it is a grueling, challenging and an ongoing battle. Stop feeding the anger, which leads to bitterness. Hate feels good for a time because it gives us a sense of self-vindication, but it places the focus and blame on others and always leads us to bondage. Cut yourself free. For me this meant not following him on social media and learning to opt out of conversations that were more about me trying to control information or justify myself. In the end, I have a conviction to live and move wholeheartedly. I cannot do this and carry the heavy baggage my personal justice requires. We have to leave it behind.
From Fear and Darkness to the Light
I tell my kids—its ok to be afraid. We will revisit fear throughout our lives, but you have to FIND YOUR COURAGE and do it anyway. I stood on top of a water slide with Berrik, my now 7-year old son, for 30 minutes. Normally, I do not require my kids to do things they aren’t comfortable with, but I knew this was an important and defining moment. I gently continued to apply pressure, “You can do this”. We let countless adults and kids pass us. Through tears, refusals, and threats of walking down I kept sending the message: “You will be so proud of yourself. Just trust me and go, you will love it.” He was afraid of the enclosed tube in the beginning of the slide… the darkness, the unknown. Haven’t we all been there? The difference is Berrik had a choice but often we do not. I finally said to him “just close your eyes”. Apparently that was the secret sauce. All fear aside he said, “ok!” and jumped in. I was stunned and proud. For me this is about embracing the ride that feels out of control, dark and unknown. It’s also about trusting our guts and taking the plunge. I had to reframe, rediscover myself, have some paradigm-shifting moments and understand the gift of pain.
When you have children, divorce is really like marriage without the benefits. We have to navigate co-parenting, finances, and other complicated issues. My kids will have their own baggage, I do not need to add mine. I make it a policy not only to never talk bad about their father, but to foster a healthy relationship. But, honesty with my kids has been key. They have hard questions which deserve thoughtful answers. They know I will never lie. I try to understand the nature of the question and answer in ways that are age-appropriate. When I have no answer, I humbly say “I don’t know” or “I will need to think about that.” But there is no lying or spinning the truth in my household. We’ve shared tears and anger, but this has fostered trust and safety we all deeply crave in our most intimate relationships. I am grateful that my ex and I are amicable. I will always love him. He was my person for over a decade. Although I wish we could have stayed married and rocked an epic testimony, I can appreciate the chunk of life we shared and the beautiful mess we left behind.
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What about Katie’s story of courage inspires you? Feel free to comment below.