59: Off the Ropes

59: Off the Ropes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Off the Ropes

The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain.

~Madeleine L’Engle

I imagined a teaching campaign in China or an afternoon at a soup kitchen in my hometown. I never dreamed God would call me to a boxing club.

About nine months had passed since I’d filed for divorce. My college sweetheart, the father of our then one-year-old daughter, disclosed the news of his affair shortly after our five-year anniversary.

From stay-at-home mom to single mom, my life began changing faster than I wanted it to. My husband moved out ten days after his reveal, and I was on my own, trying to raise a soon-to-be toddler and turn my erratic career as a freelancer into something stable.

I had everything to fear, it seemed. How would I pay the bills? Could I keep my daughter home? How would I help her cope with our suddenly un-normal life? But when I began looking at my world through eyes of faith, I realized how much I stood to gain.

I had lived up to that point crippled by self-esteem that completely depended on what others thought. If someone said I was pretty, I could believe it — for the moment. And I would try to recreate that moment over and over with the same hairstyle or make-up or outfit, or all three. If a man showed me affection, I could believe I was worth it — until he decided to write me off because he was too busy or tired, and I was left to agonize over what I did, or didn’t do, to make him suddenly turn away.

I had no sense of who I was or what I was worth outside of other people’s opinions.

My self-esteem hit rock bottom when I found out about my husband’s affair. As we sat in his truck in the front drive of our house — the house we had purchased together four years earlier, the house we had made plans to fill with different flooring and new furniture and more children one day — my stomach ached, and my body shook with fear when he said the words no spouse should ever hear. And as much as I hate to admit it, the first and only thought that ran through my head that night was, “I don’t deserve any better than this.”

How did I get there? I asked myself this over and over in the months that followed. But the more important question I began to ask was, How do I get out?

The old saying is true — God answers prayer in mysterious ways — and for me, He answered my prayer for self-esteem by sending me to a boxing club. I’m the kind of girl who does yoga and Pilates, not boxing. I watch Chopped on Food Network, not Fight Night. I hate conflict and cringe at violence. But on a Tuesday night in November, I found myself learning about wrist wraps and strapping on red gloves.

I hit the bag as hard as I could. I kicked until my shins bruised. I landed jabs and uppercuts and hooks until my knuckles began to bleed. When I left that night, my whole body hurt — in the best kind of way. I had pushed myself to do something hard, something completely new, something I never thought myself capable of.

There’s a saying in boxing that a fighter’s “on the ropes.” That means he’s (or she’s) trapped, pushed against the ropes by his opponent and dangerously close to defeat. I think that’s where I was in the final months of my marriage. I’m not a fighter. I’m not strong. Those are things I had said to myself over and over. Those are things I would have kept saying had I stayed home that Tuesday night, like I wanted to, and done yoga and watched Chopped.

God called me to a strange place so I could hit and hurt and learn something about myself that He knew all along: I am worth it. I am beautiful, inside and out. I can fight when I need to. I am strong. I now believe these are the best gifts I can ever hope to give my daughter. She’ll never have a perfect life or the ideal family, but I hope, when she looks back on her childhood one day, she’ll be able to say she had a mom who showed her what she’s worth and how to fight to protect it.

~Rachel E. Ryan

More stories from our partners