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Nation & World

Faith Matters for Kristin Armstrong

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Each week, we explore issues of spirituality in our segment Faith Matters. Normally, we turn to spiritual leaders and members of the clergy for their take on issues in the news. But today, we're going to speak with someone we'll call a wise layperson on a topic that many people are familiar with, unfortunately.

Kristin Armstrong saw her marriage to Tour de France cycling champ Lance Armstrong end in divorce in 2003. She's written a new book, a devotional to walk others through her path to healing. She joins us from member station KUT in Austin. Kristin, welcome.

KRISTIN ARMSTRONG: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Your book is called "Happily Ever After: Walking with Peace and Courage Through a Year of Divorce." And I noticed that you called the book your thank- you note to God. Why do you call it that?

ARMSTRONG: Because my tale, actually, has become such a tale of redemption. And the proper thing to do when you've been extraordinarily blessed is to say thank you, and even more so when it's the maker of the universe that's doing the blessing. So this book is just a meager offering, my way of saying thank you to so much healing that's taken place.

MARTIN: The book is organized sort of on a day-by-day, and each day starts with a passage or scripture and kind of a reflection on it. Did you intentionally start kind of to track the emotional arc of your experience with divorce, or is that something that came later?

ARMSTRONG: Well, I think the concept of a daily devotional was intentional, because the idea of having a companion for that tumultuous year seemed to be a comfort to me and something that I wished I had had. But it doesn't begin on January 1 like standard devotionals do, because, to me, you never know when that year is going to begin or when somebody might be inspired to give you that book as a gift. And so, maybe that's when your year starts. And so it's free that way, but each page does begin with a piece of scripture and then my reflection on it below, because I know that my words really do not have the capacity to heal. They might be somewhat comforting, but the words of scripture really do have the power to heal, so that's why they start every page.

MARTIN: I'm sure that a lot of people thought you had this fairy-tale life married to a sport superstar, living in Europe, you know, three gorgeous kids. And I'm sure that, you know, divorce is hard enough when nobody knows your business. But I imagine when you're a public figure or you're married to a public figure that, you know, part of the pain of it has to be knowing that all these other people know your personal business. Is this something that you can speak to that spiritually spoke to that?

ARMSTRONG: I think that that was a realization for me that was healing in it of itself, because if you are somebody that happens to be in the limelight, or associated with somebody who is in the limelight, your life is open to public viewing. And for a good portion of it, it was truly that Cinderella- story.

And when that becomes public and people are thinking of you and praying for you and your kids and watching, you know, Lance's career and his recovery from cancer, all that is so beautiful. You can't choose to say, well, that's okay with me if those things are public, but now that when things are difficult or ugly, you know, suddenly I changed my mind. I want my privacy back. It doesn't work that way.

MARTIN: You've said in another interview that I read that one of the mistakes you made in your marriage was surrendering too much of yourself to the marriage. How do you reconcile the kind of surrender you did in the marriage to the kind of surrendering that you're warning people against, or the kind of surrendering you're asking people to do in faith or you're encouraging people to do in faith?

ARMSTRONG: I think that it's a very different thing to surrender your being over to God and to surrender everything about you to your spouse. I do think that while we have nothing within us that needs to be guarded from God, I think we do need to be good stewards with our hearts in the confines of marriage. And by that I mean that we need to be our true selves. We need to be authentic. We need to speak our truth from our hearts and we need to be the women that God created us to be.

If we need to please anyone, I think we need to be able to please God and not always think of being pleasing, because that isn't necessarily what made somebody fall in love with us in the first place. And it's easy for people to get kind of lost, I think, in marriages, especially when you're in the throes of small children and raising a family. It's just something I wish more women talked about.

MARTIN: You must have felt like a failure at some point. How did you deal with those feelings?

ARMSTRONG: I felt completely like a failure. The biggest thing for me that was harder to swallow than a cantaloupe, really, was the idea that I had failed my children. I failed in marriage and then, bigger than that, I failed my kids, because to me what I wanted to show them is what unconditional love looks like. And to me, unconditional love is represented by an intact family. And when that fell apart, that was brutal for me to think about failing my children.

And over time and with a lot of prayer and a lot of healing, and particularly in the healing between Lance and I in our relationship, which at this point in time is a beautiful relationship, we have a relationship that's based in love, that's based in respect and trust and communication. And right now, our kids, they know that. They see that. They feel that when they're around us.

MARTIN: Did you ever get mad at God through all of this?

ARMSTRONG: Of course I did. Thank goodness he can take it. He listened to me and was so patient with me. I was really frustrated because I prayed so hard that my marriage would be healed and that we would be restored. And when the answer to that appeared to be no, I couldn't understand that and I had a lot of resentment towards God about that. But at least it was putting resentment in the right place. You know, he can take it and use it and turn it for good. So I guess that's just part of the path.

MARTIN: What would you say to people who might be listening to this whose spouses may have, you know, ruined their credit, taken their kids, you know, destroyed them financially and on and on and on, and would say, you know, it's wonderful that, you know, you've experienced this healing, but how could your story possibly have anything to do with me? What would you say?

ARMSTRONG: I would say that all suffering is redemptive if we keep our hearts open to God. And while it may look different in everyone's life - just as every trial in everyone's life looks different - it's a different flavor, but it's essentially the same thing. And the same thing, I mean by that is that it's an opportunity to make a decision: Is the person that exits this trial going to be a better woman or a better person than the one who entered? And regardless of your circumstances, that choice and that question remains standardized for everyone. Unfortunately, it's a huge choice and we make it at a time when we feel least equipped to make a good decision. But we're called in that moment to decide.

MARTIN: Do you have a favorite passage in the book, or a favorite chapter?

ARMSTRONG: I can't remember which day it is, but the quote is from Ephesians. I think it's Chapter 4, verse 31 and 32: "Get rid of all bitterness, slander and rage. Loving one another as we have been loved in Christ Jesus." And I think the reason that that speaks so powerfully to me is because that particular verse in Ephesians talks about forgiveness, and I think that's a huge point to overcome anytime there is a broken relationship.

MARTIN: Kristin, I'm wanted to ask you just to read a little bit from the book. Why don't we start with day one? The scripture passage you chose was Exodus Chapter 12 verse 2. This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Why don't you read something.

ARMSTRONG: Everyday, many times a day, you will make decisions that determine the rest of your story. You can choose healing or resentment, freedom or unforgiveness, love or closure, joy or despair. Each choice made faithfully leads to more choices. Eventually, you will be surprised to find yourself healed, whole and happily living your brand new life. It's okay if you think that sounds crazy or impossible, because in 2003 I felt the same thing. God loves to laugh at the impossible. And soon enough, you'll be laughing too.

MARTIN: Now you're already striking, I think, a pretty hopeful tone there. Did you honestly feel that way on your day one, or is that an insight that came later?

ARMSTRONG: That came very much later. Yeah. No, not on my day one. No way.

MARTIN: Is there anything that you wish someone had told you on your day one?

ARMSTRONG: You know, I think I was lucky in that I had people that did tell me things on my day one. And I wished that I had had a book like this, because you can't have people around you all the time to lift you up. But for those who don't know the Bible well enough to know where to go when they need to be fed, that's what I'm hoping that this book will offer. Because to have those scriptures at your fingertips, whether you keep it in your purse or in your car, wherever you are, it keeps you from doing a face-plant when you least expect it. Because the feelings that are associated with divorce are so much like grief, and they come to surprise you, sometimes in waves, and it's nice to have something right there, something strong and steady.

MARTIN: What are you going to do for Mother's Day?

ARMSTRONG: Have an absolutely wonderful leisurely day with my kids and my parents and my brother. I'm going to go to church and brunch and hang out by the pool and cook out at night, go nowhere. I'm excited.

MARTIN: Kristin Armstrong is the author of "Happily Ever After: Walking with Peace and Courage Through a Year of Divorce." You can get it at most major bookstores, and you can find out more about the book on our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore. Kristin joined us from our member station KUT in Austin, Texas.

Kristin, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you so much and God bless you.

MARTIN: And happy Mother's Day to you.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you. Everybody, too, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.