I was 9 years old when my parents separated and 11 when they divorced. I was around 15 when I decided I would never get married or have children.
Through the eyes of a hurt child, I concluded divorce was a selfish course of action—one that seemed to make life so much harder than it had to be. I knew I would never want to put my children through the pain I was experiencing.
While I accepted the fact my parents were divorced with no expectation of reconciliation, I was still angry. Life seemed upended, and happiness existed only in the form of distant memories.
School and soccer became my escape. I thought if I worked hard enough in both, then, to some degree, I could control the outcomes. An “A” on a test, or a game filled with great plays, helped me feel like things were right. The only person I depended on for success was myself, and I certainly wasn’t going to disappoint myself.
It seems when parents divorce, the familiar is often replaced with difficult realities—one parent moves out, the other goes back to work, no one is home when you get off the bus, one parent feels you favor the other parent, one or both parents start dating, never-ending fights over money, and each parent criticizing the other. For me, all of these became realities which reinforced my decision that marriage would never be worth it.
Adjusting to new realities also meant raising the bar for my studies and sport. The independent spirit I was always told I had morphed into total self-reliance. I strived for perfection. Every time I made a good grade or helped my team win, my confidence and self-esteem soared. However, the smallest mistake on the soccer field made me feel like a failure—like I was unworthy. Shame crept in and lingered until I could redeem myself in the next practice or game. In my drive to take care of myself and make life seem normal, I never understood that redemption was not something I could achieve on my own.
Thankfully, at age 16, my mindset began to change. I was regularly attending a local church with an incredible youth ministry. One night, during a revival, my perceived safety net of self-reliance began to break. As a sinner, I realized I needed Jesus. He was my only hope for redemption and my only hope for not feeling unworthy. That’s when I asked Him to be the Lord of my life.
The moment I became a Christian, I didn’t magically stop relying on myself, nor did my fear of marriage and having children change. Immediately though, I stopped being angry, and God began His persistent and patient work on my heart, helping me learn to fully rely on Him.
I was 17 when God revealed some specifics about the future He had planned for me. He made it clear that the man I would marry would woo me—I would not chase after him. I wasn’t sure why God was telling me this. He knew I had no intention of getting married, but He also knew the one He had chosen just for me.
I dated a little during my senior year of high school and college. Those few relationships never lasted long because I didn’t have a peace about any of them. Finally, I got to the point where I was content being single. I didn’t want to date just to date. If I was going to get married one day, it could only be to the man God had set-aside for me, and divorce would never be an option.
At the age of 21, through a path only God could orchestrate, I met Eddie Coakley. My former youth pastor, who was serving at Eddie’s church in Nashville, Tennessee, asked me if I would come work as a summer intern for the student ministry. I sensed God calling me there, so I accepted the position.
I flew to Nashville for the summer, and Eddie was one of the people who picked me up from the airport. Our youth pastor also arranged for him to pick me up every day for work. Eddie quickly learned I liked Gatorade and gum, so he would often have both waiting for me in the car.
Apart from his attentiveness, his love for Jesus was like nothing I had ever seen before. His passion was to truly obey, serve and know God. I was captivated, but also cautious. Three weeks after we met, he told me he loved me. I didn’t believe it. How could that be enough time to know you love someone? Yet, I was drawn to him.
When the summer ended, we both went back to school. Eddie headed to Chicago, and I went to Nacogdoches, Texas. We started dating and spent hours talking to each other on the phone. Every night he would tell me he loved me before we said goodbye, but I wouldn’t and couldn’t say the same.
I wanted to be absolutely certain God was bringing us together. Until I knew for sure, I could not say “those words.” They were special words, reserved only for the one who would become my husband. I knew marriage was serious, and I didn’t want to be reckless.
A few months later, I was finally able to say, “I love you” to Eddie. I had total peace. God had clearly shown me that Eddie was the one.
I was 22 when God changed my mind about marriage. I was 23 when I became Mrs. Eddie Coakley. Making our vows before God to love only each other helped me see I had nothing to fear in a God-ordained marriage, and this brought me great joy and satisfaction.
Later this year, at the age of 43, Eddie and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. The 15-year-old me could’ve never imagined reaching such a milestone, and I certainly never imagined myself as a mom. Prayerfully though, as we seek to live out God’s blueprint for a biblical marriage, our daughter will only envision a future based on God’s goodness, love, and perfect design.
Kelly Coakley, a former news anchor, is a proud preacher’s wife and mother. She loves interviewing people and telling stories about lives changed by the Gospel.