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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Certainly


CERTAIN UNCERTAINTY

How are you at handling uncertainty?  Uncertainty, and learning how to handle it, are important parts of our lives.  Whether or not you handle it well is something you will discover about yourself when in the process of divorce if you didn’t know it beforehand.

Life is filled with uncertainty; we live with it every day, although we don’t always acknowledge the fact.  In divorce, uncertainty is very much thrust in your face.  

You may face uncertainty regarding how the court will rule time and time again.  

You may face uncertainty as to what all will need to change in your lifestyle as a result of the divorce.  

You may face uncertainty about how you will manage to survive financially on your own.  

You may face uncertainty about how your children, your family, or your friends will react, understand and relate to you and your situation in the future.  

You may face uncertainty about who will keep the house, and whether, if it is you, whether you will be able to keep it for long. 

You may face uncertainty about whether you are making the right choices, time and time again.  

You may face uncertainty about how you will like living alone and starting all over.

But then again, life always has uncertainties, divorce or not.  Most of us live with an illusion of certainty, which probably keeps us from going insane, but in our more sobering moments, we realize the uncertainty of our world.  Though we act like we are certain of things, there are any number of which we are actually not as certain as we think.  We expect we will still have a job when we go to work, but buildings burn unexpectedly, economies fluctuate, companies buy out other companies and change personnel…things just happen.  We go to bed at night expecting to get up the next morning to another day, but many people wake up to a day in which everything suddenly changes:  a heart attack leaves them hospitalized or paralyzed, a car accident ends a life or causes significant physical injuries, a tornado, hurricane, mudslide or sinkhole collapses homes.  

I used to live in a town  whose local corporate memory was how the rail workers chose to go on strike, just before the stock market crash of 1929, and the town never really recovered.  We have all heard of Enron and the other stories where retirement funds people had counted on were drained by greedy and self-centered individuals, leaving people without the security net they had expected in their old age.  Governments are toppled, terrorists and random criminal acts occur, nations rise and fall; life IS uncertain.

How do you cope with that uncertainty?  Some of us build artificial assurances, insulating ourselves from the realities of life, denying the fragility of it all, until we are forced to face all the uncertainty that really exists.  Others fight against uncertainty, putting in as many safeguards as they can with backup plans, insurance, security systems, dietary and preventive medical choices…all sorts of ways we construct our “castles” of certainty, denying that even the best of them are not as certain as we think.  

Is there anything certain?  Well, I guess that depends.  Some say the only things certain are death and taxes.  I would agree that death is a certain thing…unless, of course, you happen to be living when Jesus returns.  Taxes…well, you can decide on that one!  But there are other certainties, though they are certain to us only through faith.  

Although, if you think about it, all the other things we choose to accept as certain in our lives…health, financial stability, court justice, relationships..they all require faith as well.  

It is just that in those cases, our faith is in something unworthy of our complete trust…health fails, people betray us, courts disappoint us, and  I suspect there were those in the Confederate States during the Civil War who were confident in their amassed wealth of Confederate dollars.  

The promises of God, however, are worthy of trusting as certain, because they are guaranteed by the one Being in all the universe who never changes, never lies, never fails.  

In the uncertainties of life, and in the extreme sense of uncertainty that comes during divorce, I encourage you to discover the certainty that exists through faith with God.  Certainty of such promises as “God works all things together for good for those who love him,” or when God promises that he “will never fail you nor forsake you,” or when God says that “when you pass through the waters I will be with you…when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,” or “whoever believes in him shall never be put to shame,” along with all the promises of God’s provision for our eternal security with him beyond this life.


When facing the uncertainties of divorce, the fears of the future, the hurt of the losses, the worries about how you will make it, I encourage you to trust that God has not lost control, that God will help you when you cry out to him, that as you continue to love and seek him, God will work even the worst of our experiences into something good.  When you are surrounded and overwhelmed with uncertainty, know that you can be certain of the God who loves you and will work on your behalf.  As you develop and grow in that certainty of God, it is enough to make all the other uncertainties fade to insignificance.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Whose Side is God On?

CHOOSING SIDES

In a recent correspondence, I was asked a question that I know many of us have struggled with, and not only in the context of divorce, though that was the context of our discussion.  The question was one the writer struggled with in the midst of a difficult divorce, since both parties are confessing Christians.  The question (in my edited wording) was:  Since we are both Christian, in the hassles of the divorce, sometimes I just wonder whose side is God on?

It is certainly a difficult, and confusing thing, to be in the process of divorce from someone whose belief system also is one that speaks of seeking God’s will, honoring his commands, including the belief in God’s ordained plan for the covenant of marriage.  

Perhaps each partner is pursuing what they believe God is leading him or her to do.  And yet, in the course of the twisted process called divorce, they find themselves at odds with one another over multiple choices of the right course of action.  When one is convinced that he or she is sincerely doing their best to do what is right, that individual longs for vindication for pursuing what is believed to be the right thing...and gets very discouraged when the courts rule against them, leaving one to wonder what ever became of justice.  And the old biblical question arises, “why do the wicked prosper?”  Especially when the partner asking the question knows he or she has been honest in their disclosures and statements while the ex has been hiding assets and information. 

Whose side is God on?

As I said at the beginning, the question has been asked in many contexts over the years.  Think of the churches that have split over various issues, with each side convinced they are following the correct leading and teaching of the Lord.  Whose side is God on in those situations?  Wars, politics, social debates…the examples go on and on.

My response?  Well, some of the kinds of things I suggested are that God is always on the side of each of us…that is, God is FOR us, not against us.  He desires the best for each of us, the best as he knows what is actually truly best.  He desires that we can be freed from the things that hold us back and keep us from being all that he designed us to become.  He longs for us to grow in righteousness, and reflect more fully the image of God in our lives.  So even in the midst of a divorce, there is a sense in which God is on the side of each of us, that his desire is for us to be part of his family for ever and ever.  It is Satan who is the one who is against us.

That being said, however, God does not choose to force us to respond to him as he desires.  He beckons, he nudges, he leads…but our decisions are also involved in the process.  While he is on our side, that is not the same as saying that God is on our side of a dispute between individuals.  When it comes to divorce, I suspect that God would be on the side of reconciliation, repentance, forgiveness, genuine godly and humble love, and marriage that is “till death do us part”…but I am not convinced that it would be for a one sided reconciliation where the abused ignores the abuse and re-enters a marriage that is no marriage at all, or to re-enter a marriage in which one partner is committed to the marriage while the other is out breaking the vows night after night in adulterous relationships.  

God is on the side of genuine committed and loving marriages, and his desire would be that our marriages would be moving to greater and greater depths of that kind of relationship.  

In the course of the disputes of a divorce, whose side is God on?  I think it should also be added that God is on the side of truth, the side of righteousness, the side of love, the side of forgiveness, the side of humility.  In other words, God is always on the side of godly characteristics.  And sometimes, in the proceedings, the choices we make reflect those characteristics, and God would be pleased with those choices…whether or not they result in success in the courtroom.

Probably the most important answer to this question would be to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln.  The Civil War in the United States had Christian people on both sides, each fighting tooth and nail for what they believed was right, and praying to the same God for victory.  When asked whose side God was on, Abraham’s reply was one that could also be easily applied to the question I was asked in the context of divorce-

My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.


So, as much as we may desire that God is on our side against the perceived injustices and evils that pile up against us, the more important issue is that which Lincoln refers to:  

as you make the choices you make, do you choose to be on God’s side?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What's your Story?

THE POWER OF STORIES

I had a phone call the other day from the publisher.  More specifically, from the woman who works with the publicity department at the publisher.  We chatted about a lot of things.  During part of the conversation, we talked about various stories related to my books.  As a result, I am working on gathering some of the stories together (and if you have a good one you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it--email or even post a comment to the blog or facebook page).  I received one via email the other day, and though I had heard about it before, I learned even more and was touched by what I read.  So I decided to share it with you here (with permission), and also some other favorite stories I have heard.  Since I haven’t had a chance to clear the use of names, I am only going to identify the one that was emailed.  Enjoy the stories.  Like and share the page.  And again, pass along any related stories you have.  First, the one I received via email;

“In January of 2014 I was visiting with a friend and she told me that Richard had finally gotten his devotional books on divorce published.  At that time I was going to church with a young lady who was going thru a divorce and was mother of a 6 month old little girl.   I called Richard and asked if I could get a set of the books for Jenny.  He offered to sign them and write a little note of encouragement to Jenny.  After receiving the books, I gave them to her one Sunday morning making sure she knew that Richard had signed them.  She didn’t seem especially thrilled, but I thought at least I tried. Two weeks later Jenny shared with me that so many people had given her books and advice that she really didn’t want to read more books about divorce.  But since Richard had gone to all the trouble to sign them, she decided she should at least look through them.  After reading his “Letter to my Readers”, Jenny was hooked.  She said she could not believe how much these books were helping.  Every devotion seemed to touch on just what she needed for the day.  She threw all her other books away.  Jenny has just completed a second degree program and will begin teaching this fall.  Seasons of Divorce has seen her through many other seasons of her life.”
                                  --Margaret Grubb, retired church secretary

One of my favorite stories was from a woman I received another contact from a woman about the same time, who told me that she and her husband were getting divorce, and they each began reading Volume 1 of Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce, and as they worked their way through it, they decided they wanted to get back together and make their marriage work instead.  I was floored when I heard that…God was using the books in ways I hadn’t even imagined.  

Another individual told me that the best thing for him as he read the books, was that he came to realize that he was not alone nor weird in the various feelings he was having, and that, alone, brought him comfort.  Another individual had felt very isolated and as an outcast from both her church and her family.  The book provided her some of the stability she was seeking, and just enough encouragement to help her get through each day during the dark times, until she was able to move on.  Over the course of several years, her story unfolded through not only her readings and responding to the book, but via personal support as we emailed back and forth.

A pastor friend bought several copies, and then used them as a study guide for his local ministerial association.  Since none of them had been divorced, but they all had parishioners struggling with the experience, he decided this would be a helpful window into the world of the divorced, as well as a tool they all could use in ministry.   While they were in the midst of the process, a new pastor who had been divorced moved to town and joined the group.  That pastor told the group, “This is too real!”  


Maybe you have stories you can share with me as well.  Or maybe you need to go about helping create such a story by sharing my books as a resource for a friend or pastor you know.  If it would help to have the books signed, as I did for Margaret’s friend Jenny, feel free to contact me to make that happen.  When the first book was coming out, someone at the publisher’s asked me what my dream was for the book.  I replied that my main hope was that someday I would have a stack of letters and emails describing how my writings have helped others.  It has been profoundly touching to watch as that dream has been coming true.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

How to Help

THE POWER OF PRAYER

Our lives continue to be in transition, which has had the impact on the frequency of my blog postings that some of you may have noticed.  We are making progress, and I hope sometime soon to be able to again get back on schedule with them.  In any case, here is one for tonight.

Never underestimate the power of prayer.  Last week I completed a set of my “Jacob’s Well Workshops” at the church I pastor, designed to help church folks better understand how to be more effective in helping those caught in the throes of divorce.  During the last session, I included a number of specific actions that individuals can take to reach out and help individuals in divorce.

One of the categories I discussed included prayer support, and I thought I would share with you for tonight’s blog some of the specific tips you could use.  These are only a few items from the workshop, but I thought these are ones that can be very important.  

PRAYER---prayer is one of the biggest gifts you can give, and you can pray for them in very meaningful ways.  Here are some possibilities:
  1. Ask them what time of day is most difficult for them, and then let them know you will be praying for them at that time each day…then do it.
  1. Ask them for specific prayer requests, and then create an environment of trust so they can freely share.
  1. Ask them to let you know when court and/or mediation times are approaching, so that you can pray WITH them prior to the event, and for them DURING the event.  In some cases, you may even want to offer to attend court with them so that they are not alone in those troubling “halls of justice.”
  1. When you do this, and maybe anytime you are on the phone with them, take a second to pray for them aloud on the phone as you close the call.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, even something as simple as, “God, please help my dear friend in this time,” can be very meaningful.
  1. You may also want to help them turn their own focus to God when you visit with them and they share their burdens and fears.  Ask the simple question, “What do you think God might be trying to do in your life at this time?  What do you think he is trying to teach you?”   Because God will be working in ways they may not be able to see.  Then pray with them that God will reveal to them the things he is doing in their lives, even in the times of hardship and stress.

These may not seem to be such a big deal when you read them, but to be on the receiving end of these prayers when in the midst of divorce can be very meaningful.  I encourage you to bless someone in this way soon.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

God's Transition

THE NOW AND THE NOT YET
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.   ---Isaiah 61:1-3  (NASB)

This is the passage Jesus read in the synagogue is his hometown at the outset of his ministry as described in Luke 4.  EXCEPT---he didn’t read it all.  Jesus stopped after the phrase “favorable year of the LORD.”  

Have you ever noticed that?  

Have you ever asked WHY he stopped there?

There is a theme that runs in the scriptures that I describe as the “now and the not yet.”  Jesus quoted the part of the scripture that was being fulfilled in his life:  the anointing of the Spirit of God, the healings and the proclamation of the gospel.  He stopped short of the day of God’s vengeance and the comforting of those who mourn, because those were things that were yet in the future.  

This same idea happens when considering the kingdom of God, which is among us, and yet which also has yet to be established in fullness.  It applies to our character as Christians, which 1 John 3 describes by stating that we are already God’s children, but that it has yet to appear what it is we truly are.  There is a lot of “now and not yet” in the Bible.  We live in the period of promise….some promises fulfilled, some promises yet to come to fruition.

It seems to me a lot of things are like that in life.  As I have mentioned before, we are in that kind of transition ourselves, where part of our life is in the town we have been moving from, and part of it is in the town where our future is to which we are moving.  Part here, part there; part fulfilled, part yet to be accomplished; part looking back and letting go, part looking forward and reaching ahead.

There are lots of times in life that are like that, and divorce is certainly one of those, especially during the period between the filing and the court proceedings that completes the process.  A friend of mine called it a time of “limbo,” during which you aren’t quite disentangled from how your life was, but constrained until the court proceedings to be able to begin how your life is going to be.  You can plan, you can dream, you can mourn, and most of all, you can wait.  But that time in between can be a frustrating time in many ways.  That same sense of waiting can also be frustrating for those of us awaiting the return of Christ while observing all the evils in the world around us.  


I just want to share a simple thought with you today.  Living in the period described as “now and not yet” is simply part of how the life God designed for us works.  God is with us in that time.  He offer us reassurances that the frustrations of the “now” are temporary, because the “not yet” is on the way.  Don’t let living in limbo get the better of you…hang on, because the “not yet” is coming…and it is far better than most of us can imagine while wrestling with the frustrations of the “now.”

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Staying on Track During Times of Crisis


MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, 
SINK OR SWIM
TOP 10

For those of you who read faithfully, I apologize for the sporadic nature of recent posts.  We are in the process of doing some relocating, which has created a fair degree of upheaval, resulting in a temporary irregularity in the posts.  Eventually, things should level out.  In the meantime, I will post as I am able, so don’t give up!

This week, I have been thinking a lot about how divorce and other crisis moments in life are often times when individuals either draw closer to God or turn away.  I have mentioned this idea before in the not too distant past, but today I wanted to offer some specific, practical steps you can use to help stay on track, and even to let those crises times in your life create a more healthy relationship with God.  

So here are what I would consider to be the top 10 tips to staying on track:

  1. Make church attendance a priority you don’t let slip.  You may end up at a different church, or a different worship time, and may choose to sit in more off by yourself, all of which are fine, but make the habit of participating in worship a non-negotiable.  The body of Christ can be a critical support, even if only in the form of one or two people who walk with you through the crisis.
  1. Find a way to make regular time reading God’s Word.  Even if it is only 5 minutes a day, a paragraph a day, and even if you don’t feel like you are hearing God at all.  It’s a lot like eating breakfast or lunch…some meals are more memorable than others, but tasty or not, each one is important in keeping you going.  This is a critical way to provide opportunity for you to hear God speak on a regular basis.  The Psalms can be a particularly encouraging book to read during this time, as the psalmist often lays bear his own emotional turmoil, and you may find passages that really resonate with your experience.
  1. Seek out an friend at your church who has also been through the process of divorce, to whom you can turn for advice and with whom you can share your pain.  Such a person will understand what you are facing, and can make all the difference in the world.
  1. If the pastor is opening to hearing your struggles, then make a point to keep you pastor informed of where you are at in the divorce process and how things are going for your children.  You don’t have to belabor it all and relive all the details, but a quick update can be helpful.
  1. Choose the moral high ground.  In times of loneliness, uncertainty and/or depression, temptations can abound and it can be easy to grow so hungry for comfort that you drown your sorrows in drink or seek joy in the arms of a lover long before you are ready.  Make every effort to stay on the godly, narrow path, and be quick to get back on track with God should you fall.  For some people, having an accountability partner can be a helpful tool.
  1. Keep in regular contact with a Christian companion with whom you can be honest about your emotions, struggles, fears, wounds and choices.  Even one friend to stand with you can make all the difference.
  1. Find yourself a friend you know is a person of prayer, with whom you can share prayer requests and who will covenant to be praying for you on a regular basis.  Scripture is clear that how much difference it can make to have an intercessor “standing in the gap” on your behalf before God.
  1. Find a good devotional book and include it in your prayer time.   My Finding God devotionals are good in regard to dealing with divorce, but others such as Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest, Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, or more recent, Lucado’s God is with You Every Day are good options.  The insights from other godly writers such as these can provide some encouraging tidbits when you are unable to hear God’s voice on your own.
  1. Make time, at least weekly, to be out away from things in a quiet spot where you can be alone to reflect, to pray and to just “be.”  In those moments, express to God what you are feeling and struggling with, and spend time in silence to allow God to speak as well.
  1. Find something each day you can do that can bring a smile.  Read cartoons, subscribe to a “joke of the day” email, plant flowers, watch children at play…something to remind you that joy still exists in the world, and will one day return to your life as well.

These things may end up transforming your relationship with God, and at the least, can keep you from falling away in a time when that is a very high risk.  Don’t fall prey to Satan’s attacks.  God will help you stay strong, but you have to seek his strength for that to happen.  God bless and keep you.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Suggestions for the Single Parent in Summer


SUMMER VACATION

Where I live, school is out and the kids are now on summer vacation.  Those of you whose schools go year ‘round, will have a break or two, but it isn’t the same as that wonderful, long stretch of time called “summer vacation.”  

Vacations can be radically different when you are freshly divorced.  Instead of having your life partner to share the planning and the fun, it is up t you to make it happen.  Finance settlements may have impacted your options.  Your schedule is no longer your own, but has to be coordinated around that of your ex’s.  In fact, you may even not feel much like even bothering this year, overwhelmed by depression or loneliness.

On the other hand, you may be feeling a great exuberance, freed from the constraints of your unhealthy marriage, now you can do whatever you want with whomever you want.  You may even be thinking about jumping into another relationship and including that individual in your vacation plans.

I would like to share a bit of advice.  If this is your first summer vacation after divorce, and you are making plans for you and your children, it is important to recognize the struggles your child may be experiencing.  The child may not want to go without the other parent, or complain that it just isn’t the same.  Or the child may demand all sorts of activities that are outside the scope of your altered financial options.  Still others, especially those with limited time with their children, may choose to go all out in an effort to impress their children, to win them over from the ex, or to create a “win” as if it is some kind of competition.  It can get pretty complicated, pretty fast.  

Apart from special vacation trips, summer vacation for kids means things like playing ball, going swimming, fishing, summer camp and just hanging out with friends.  Make sure they know you are supportive of their participation on a ball team by showing up for the games.  Making sure they have opportunities to swim or fish, with friends or with you, can be a simple way to provide security and support.  Take time to think back to your own special memories of summer vacation, and then find ways to update them to match the personalities of your children this summer.

The most important thing to remember is that your children have also entered a new world…their home has drastically altered, and they will long for some kind of stability.  They will likely be grieving and struggling, and need some joyful memories.  In addition, your own emotions may color the whole experience, and you may need to do some self-care in order to appropriately parent your children this summer.  

Therefore, I would suggest the following:
  1. Be true to who you are.  Don’t be making radical changes in this context, and yet, use the opportunity to help your children gain a fresh understanding of the person you are, and what they can count on from you.
  1. Keep it within the family.  The children need time to grieve, and they need to know they are important to you.  Don’t inflict a new person on them until a significant amount of time has passed, and they have made some of the necessary adjustments.
  1. Focus on creating special memories for your children…not extravagant things,  but things that are meaningful for them that will also develop your bond with one another in this tough time.
  1. Find a way to spread some joyful times throughout the summer.  Perhaps a weekly picnic or movie, perhaps going back to a favorite location together, perhaps sharing a new experience together.  In my own life, I made a point to purchase some season tickets to activities that we enjoyed, so that there was already planned out for me some regular family time with my children that I knew would be things they would enjoy.
  1. Make some time for YOU to also have some positive experiences to create special memories.  Maybe you will go somewhere you have always wanted to go, maybe you will reclaim some activities that you enjoyed earlier in life but have not done for years, or maybe you will get involved in some small support group where you can make new friendships.

I guess I would sum this whole discussion up with a simple question:  When your children are grown, and look back on this first summer vacation after the divorce, what is it you would like them to remember about their time with YOU?  The answer to that question will shape what you do.