When I was about eight, I watched as a friend's house burned to the ground. For weeks afterwards, I lay awake at night planning my escape in case the same thing happened at my house. I carefully thought out how I would help my younger sister, sleeping in the bed next to mine, how I would wake my brothers and parents, sound asleep in their own rooms just across the hall. I didn't know then that the fire was the secondary danger. That the smoke was silent, nearly invisible, and absolutely deadly. The smoke will kill you long before the flames.
That’s what I thought about today as I read AL.com writer John Archibald's August 31 column about the impending divorce of Alabama's first couple. When I heard last week that Dianne Bentley had filed for divorce from Alabama governor Robert Bentley, her husband of 50 years, my first thought was that there had been some kind of reporting error. A misunderstanding. At almost the same time the divorce documents were filed, Mrs. Bentley was being photographed with the governor and several college mascots. Surely there was more to the story.
According to AL.com columnist John Archibald, there may be or there may not be.
"Where there is smoke there is fire, right? Right. You just don't know what is burning until you find a way to see through it."
The “smoke” of rumors is swirling in Montgomery, growing thicker every time a radio talk show host or newspaper columnist speculates about the reason Mrs. Bentley would choose to end her 50-year marriage. News reports say that the Bentleys have been separated since January. The focus now will be on finding the fire and figuring out where the matches are hidden.
I can’t pretend to know how Mrs. Bentley feels right now, but I imagine the smoke of gossip, rumors, and speculation must feel smothering at times. Filing for divorce and ending a marriage that had lived for 50 years and produced fruit (four sons, three daughters-in-law, and eight grandchildren) could not have been an easy choice. Knowing that everyone would be scrutinizing every move and every decision probably made it even harder for the shy and reserved Mrs. Bentley.
But this morning, my thoughts are not on these details. They are with Mrs. Bentley alone. My heart hurts for her. For her sons, her daughters-in-law, her grandchildren, all of whose lives are inevitably affected by this decision. I ache for the pain it must cause to hear reporters and political pundits speculate about her personal sorrow. Fifty years is a lifetime. It's a milestone that my own parents are nearing. I can't imagine hearing them tell us, their daughters, sons, daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, and 15 grandchildren that their marriage is over. I can’t imagine how it felt for her to tell her family that her marriage is over.
I do know that Dianne Bentley testifies about her strong Christian faith, and I have no doubt that it is her faith that is holding her up during these very difficult days. One of her causes as First Lady has been domestic violence prevention, and her bio on the governor’s website calls her "an advocate for healthy marriages and families" who "strives to help every victim feel support and love." I pray that she is receiving the same kind of support and love right now from the countless women she has led in Bible study and those she has quilted with all these years.
Another of her projects has been advocating for adoption. As the mother of a "child of my heart," too, my soul smiled as I read that "two of (the couple's) sons are adopted but they have been loved so long no one remembers which two." I know how that kind of love feels.
Mrs. Bentley says that if she can be remembered for one thing as First Lady of Alabama, "she hopes that the people of Alabama will remember her stand for Christ."
If the events of the last few days had not unfolded as they have, I probably wouldn't have thought much about Dianne Bentley at all to be honest. But now, I will. I will remember her devotion to her faith. I will remember her love for her family. I will remember her quiet presence, smiling next to her husband in photos. I will remember her grace in the face of pain. And I will remember that no matter how big or how small a fire might be, the smoke can kill long before the flames are visible.
I will be praying for Mrs. Bentley, Gov. Bentley, and our state this morning. Won't you join me?
I am a regular contributor to The Alabama Baptist newspaper, and I also write and edit for several religious, business and educational outlets through my business, McWhorter Media and Marketing.
One of the greatest privileges of being a writer is the opportunity to share the stories of others with a larger audience. I love to do that!
Sharing my own stories is much more challenging, though no less important to making sense of the challenges of Faith and Family in everyday life.
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