At the age of 20, Kenna Christensen was newly married in the temple and beginning what she thought was an eternal marriage. Nine months later, she found herself divorced and shattered from the disappointment. Though it wasn’t easy, Kenna found healing through counseling, blogging, and a deepened sense of spirituality.
Tell me about your upbringing.
I grew up in Salt Lake City and then we moved to Spanish Fork, where I attended high school. I’m very social and I was on a dance team. I have a great family; they’ve always been very active in the Church and they’ve always supported and strengthened me.
What did you do after you graduated from high school?
I started working. At the time my parents were living in New Zealand, so I also went out there a few times for a few months. When I was 19, I met someone and we got married about nine months later. We were married for nine months and then he left me.
How did you meet your ex-husband?
I met him one night at a dance in Provo (Provo dances are really good dances) and we started dating from there. I was very young and all I can say is, I was infatuated and he was a returned missionary and had all the qualifications. At that time in my life, I wasn’t sure what questions to ask and what things to look for; I just went along with it. Ultimately, we got married in the temple. Once we were married, we had our ups and downs, but nothing to the point of getting a divorce. We were very poor; he was trying to get through school and I was working. I had heard that marriage can be difficult, especially the first year, so I was just thinking we were having our moments. But then I got a text one morning that he no longer wanted to be married and was leaving me. And that was that. I was shocked, completely blindsided. There was no working through it after that; it was 100% over. I didn’t understand what was happening. I grew up watching my parents and I knew that they would never get a divorce. I believed that marriage was forever, especially temple marriage. When it wasn’t forever, it completely turned my world upside down. That’s when I started writing and started a blog.
You were very young when you got married. Was that a difficult decision to make?
Not at all. I love Provo–I still live here–but my friends were all getting married, and that’s just what you do in Provo, and often it’s at a young age. That works great for some people and they’re super happy, but I wasn’t prepared in the way that I should have been. I didn’t know what to expect.
Did marriage meet your expectations at first?
Oh yeah, there were great points throughout our marriage. Experiencing everything for the first time was exciting. I thought I was creating the beginnings of an eternal family. I had an eternal companion and we had made these eternal covenants and commitments together. I loved being married. It’s interesting for people to hear me say that now because I’m divorced. They assume I’m bitter about marriage, but I value marriage so much more because of what I’ve been though.
I don’t think the Lord intends for people to go through divorce. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s plan, and it was really hard for me to wrap my head around. I think the Lord gives people opportunities to make right choices and to follow through, but people still have their agency. They will do with it what they want and the Lord isn’t going to get in the way of that.
How did you cope at first?
I didn’t. It was awful. My body just shut down. I got physically sick and was in and out of the hospital; my body was just so traumatized. I couldn’t stop throwing up, it was just one thing after another. Ultimately, I think it was just the result of stress–my body manifests stress physically. I was a mess.
After our marriage ended, my parents, who were still living in New Zealand, offered to fly me out there. So I ran away to New Zealand for eight months and it was the best thing in the world for me.
Tell me about those months in New Zealand. Did you learn how to deal with the stress and disappointment?
I went to therapy through LDS Family Services in New Zealand, which was a huge blessing. I had so much support. People in New Zealand are incredible; they’re such a kind people. I spent most of my days reading scriptures and Church books on the beach. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to heal; it was a huge blessing. My dad always says, “I think it was worth it for me to go on that assignment so that you could go there and heal.” It was exactly where I needed to be.
I can honestly say it took about a year for me to feel like I was going to be okay and for me to regain my hope and realize that I had a bright future. Everyone has a different grieving process; I think mine took longer than most, considering the length of time I was married.
Tell me about the therapy that writing on your blog provided for you.
I started my blog when I was in New Zealand. It was a way for me to find peace with what was going on. I love to write, and writing helped so much. Most of my writing was just bearing testimony of what I know and what I have felt. Putting that on paper and actually getting those feelings out was very helpful. I think that’s why bearing your testimony is so powerful: when you express it, it becomes so much more real. It was very therapeutic for me.
Honestly, I didn’t think anyone was reading my blog, but then I started getting feedback from people all over the world saying they were going through similar experiences. I’ve made so many amazing friends–I’ve even had people take the missionary discussions because of my blog. It’s been such a fun adventure.
I’ve gotten so many emails from students at BYU telling me they haven’t told people about their divorce. They’re ashamed of it; they feel it’s completely taboo. I have found so many young people who have gone through divorce; I think I have more divorced friends than anyone in the world! It’s been so helpful for me to have a support group.
Tell me about the people who have investigated the Church as a result of your blog.
The first time it happened, this woman emailed me and said, “I’ve been reading your blog, and I’m going through a very similar situation. I can’t find this hope that you talk about. Where are you finding this faith?” I told her about my beliefs and the gospel and she said that she would like to know more and meet with the missionaries. That was so worth it!
Tell me about your spiritual journey.
I grew up in a Mormon family and was active, but I wouldn’t say that I had a solid testimony. I believed that my parents were good people and I believed that what they believed was true. It was just a way of life for me; that’s what everyone did. What changed my testimony was going through the temple. I will forever be grateful for my marriage because I have been able to attend the temple. When I was married, that’s actually when the gospel fell into place for me and started becoming so important to me. All of a sudden I realized, “I have a family and I want this family to be centered around the gospel and have a firm foundation.” My testimony grew throughout my marriage.
How have you felt the Lord’s presence in your life?
My divorce has been the best thing that has happened to me. I never once was upset with Heavenly Father. The second I found out my husband was leaving me, I was on my knees. The first few months my knees were literally blue and purple because I was always on my knees–I had bruises! That was the only source of strength I had, and it was the only source I needed. It wasn’t that I was gaining strength through learning all these doctrines; my testimony and my strength were founded on the love I know my Heavenly Father and Savior have for me. It was just such a growing experience for me.
After eight months in New Zealand, you went back to Provo. Was it hard to go back to a singles ward?
At first I went to my family ward in Utah. My bishop was like, you might want to consider attending a singles ward. I did, and it was awful. I was terrified of all the guys in the ward; I thought they were all terrible people. At one point my bishop called me in and was like, Kenna, you need to be nicer to all the guys in the ward. I was just projecting what I had gone through onto everyone and it wasn’t good. It was hard for me to start dating again. For some people it’s not so bad, but it was very difficult for me.
What advice would you give to other young people considering marriage?
In my case, I wasn’t spiritually grounded. I was worthy to attend the temple, but I didn’t have the spiritual maturity that I have now. So I would say, number one, make sure you are completely grounded in the gospel. Number two, realize that you may have different timing than others; your plan is different than other people’s. Number three, don’t settle.
There’s this strange culture here that we’re running out of time and getting old, and we’re not going to find anyone. It’s terrible! I watch my friends go through it; everyone feels this desperation to get married. But the Lord has a plan for us and He has our timing set; we need to trust that.
What advice do you have for people who have recently gotten out of a difficult marriage?
I would say, the Lord is aware of you and your situation. He has the ability to turn any tragedy into something beautiful. If we seek for His help and guidance, that’s exactly what He’ll do. I would also say honor your grief. That was something a friend of mine told me during my grief. Our feelings matter. It’s okay to hurt and it’s okay not to be okay. It’s hard, but it’s a part of mortality.
What have you learned about yourself?
I learned how committed I can be to something. It was really good for me to see how committed I was to working on a marriage, and to really realize that I would have done anything to save it. If at any point he had come back and said, “I’m so sorry, let’s do this again,” I would have done it again. I would have tried. That was really helpful for me to learn about myself.
I also learned that forgiveness was harder for me than I would have liked it to be. I thought I was a terrible person because I still had hard feelings. It’s a process and I had to learn that Christ loves everyone and wants everyone to return to Him. That was very humbling and very hard for me.
How is life now?
Life is good after divorce! My future is bright. I am in school, I have a great job, and believe it or not, I’m dating someone. He is wonderful. He’s just one more evidence to me that the Lord is aware of me. My divorce has been the biggest learning curve, but also the biggest blessing in my life. It’s prepared me for the things that I’m going through now. My dad recently gave me a blessing and in it he said my divorce was perfectly tailored for everything that I needed to learn at that time. I truly believe that. It’s been a blessing.
At A Glance
Location: Provo, UT
Marital status: Divorced!
Occupation: Instructor at a substance-abuse home for adolescents
Schools Attended: Spanish Fork High School, BYU
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Favorite Hymn: “Be Still My Soul”
On The Web: www.kenna-hope.blogspot.com
Interview by Linda Yamamoto. Photos used with permission.