Martin and Elle met when they were young kids at a church in Orange Park, Florida in 1979. Both children of Navy pilots, their families became close while they were growing up. Martin’s first experience with divorce was when Elle’s parents divorced in the 80s, and Martin says the experience really impacted both of their families.
“I was a believer as a teenager, but my parents’ divorce really threw me for a loop,” Elle shares, “and then I didn't really know what to believe. While in college, I got pregnant and married.”
After that time, she and Martin lost touch for about 20 years.
A lot can change in 20 years, and Martin and Elle both went through difficult periods in their lives where they drifted from the Lord. Each experienced the pain of broken marriages and divorce. Yet through every unexpected outcome, the Lord was drawing each of them back to Himself, and they were learning to trust Him.
Martin says, “Your family can only be so much support to you during that time, and they can only hear so much of what you’re going through. The church, for me, really became a place of sanctuary and a place that I could get help during that time.”
Then, Martin and Elle reconnected through their families. At that point, Elle had been single for nine years. “One of the lessons the Lord taught me,” Elle says, “was how to be single and dependent on Him – who I was without a man.”
Elle had shared some things she’d learned with Martin’s family, and Martin’s dad asked if she would be willing to talk with Martin, who had more recently been through a divorce. She agreed, and they continued to talk over the phone for several months. The Lord often works in unexpected ways and brings healing even after devastating circumstances. Martin and Elle were married in 2012 and soon found a church home at Brook Hills.
After spending a couple of years blending their families, Martin and Elle began to look for opportunities to serve at Brook Hills. When they were first approached about serving with a ministry called DivorceCare, they were initially unsure, but they took time to pray and felt the Lord leading them to invest in that area. Trusting the Lord to equip them, they decided to come alongside Sheila Moore to facilitate a thirteen-week DivorceCare class last spring and fall.
Martin and Elle have unique experiences with divorce, and they share the challenges and struggles they faced, in addition to the ways God was with them through each hill and valley.
“One of the challenges,” says Martin, “was the fear of being a failure – the fear that I’d failed my family. I faced being a single dad, and my identity was ultimately redefined. We talk about that in the early classes of DivorceCare – about your identity and the feeling that you walk around with a ‘scarlet D’ that declares you as a divorced person. Many men are tied up in the success of having a family and that becomes a point of failure for them. I also faced the significant challenge of feeling unequipped to be a single dad. But in the midst of the greatest storm of my life, God was trustworthy and faithful, and He had a plan.”
Elle agrees, “And His plan prevails. Ultimately, we saw His plan prevail. I am amazed at the way the Lord is able to use things. For many years, I didn’t see that. Some of the worst times of my life, I can now look back and say, ‘Go God!’ because of the way He worked them out for good. People think they're going to be identified as a divorced person, which means there is something wrong with them forever. So it helps when you’re around others in DivorceCare who can help remind you that you’re so much more than a married or divorced person. We want to help establish boundaries with who you are, who you are not, and where you belong with the Lord.”
There are often countless unknowns when you walk through a divorce, and Elle expounds on her struggle with fear of the unknown, “We struggled with the big unknown for a long time. In our experience, things have never gone how we expected, and so I was learning how to trust that the Lord's ways are better than our ways and to really rest in that. And it takes practice.”
Through every dark valley, Martin says, “one of the greatest things we’ve come away with is understanding how to trust in the Lord.”
The gospel and biblical truths are interwoven throughout the 13 weeks of study in DivorceCare. Martin and Elle describe DivorceCare as a safe, confidential, non-judgemental space where you are heard, understood, supported, and consistently prayed for as you work through a particularly difficult season in your life.
“I think DivorceCare ultimately helps people refocus on biblical truth and provides a solid foundation to stand on when everything else feels all over the place. It’s a place where you can find hope in the stability of Scripture and in the gospel.”
Martin and Elle Howell have been married for five years. They have six children between them, ranging in age from 10 to 30 years old, and two grandchildren. They have been part of the faith family here at Brook Hills since 2012, and they currently lead and facilitate the DivorceCare Life Course.
DivorceCare begins on January 17, for men and women, and uses biblical, video teaching and group discussion for those going through divorce or walking the road of divorce recovery. Childcare is available. For more information on this course, visit brookhills.org/divorcecare.