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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thank You, Veterans


Today was a day filled with a collection of odd turns and twists…mind if I share it with you?  

So I was up extremely early…about 3:30 a.m. or so…and often when I get up like that, I will read, including a little devotional I get via email.  When I opened the email to read it, there was an email from a gentleman in France I have never met, but have exchanged emails a few times, asking me a question about World War II.  In his country, he is involved in several fascinating projects that center around appreciation for what our soldiers did for them.  Many of the projects involve our soldiers whose actions received less attention, because they were part of the invasion of Southern France, not the beaches of Normandy.  His email and questions came because I had been the go between between he and dad - when he was researching the events surrounding those who landed in Southern France (and Italy and Sicily).  

Anyway, I replied to his email, and he replied back, so it was for me, a nice start to the celebration of Veteran’s Day.  Being somewhat of a ditz, I asked if he realized it was Veteran’s Day, and he indicated it was Armistice Day over there…which I have heard of, but know little about, because I am relatively ignorant about World War I.  My wife later advised me that Armistice Day was the original recognition of November 11 - until it was changed by President Eisenhower who, in 1954, changed it to Veteran’s Day.  So learning something new like that ALSO was a nice piece for Veteran’s Day. 

While eating breakfast, I watched a little more of a DVD series I have been viewing about the Civil War, a fictional story around the historical facts.  Later, I loaded up to go to the cemetery and took flags to put on my dad’s grave, and some mums to plant.  The treat with that was that a good friend went with me, providing emotional support and we shared good conversation about mutual concerns.  Again, a nice Veteran’s Day.

Midmorning I headed uptown (which in my community is only a few blocks away and only a few blocks long), because they were holding a Veteran’s Day parade.  When I arrived, the streets were lined with grade school children holding little flags.  The parade was classic old fashioned Americana, with a politician, small school marching bands playing patriotic songs, people throwing candy off floats, and a number of veterans from various branches of the military and various conflicts, including individuals currently serving at our local armory.  In addition, one of the grade schools had their classes marching in the parade, many carrying home made flags they had drawn in art, smiling and waving (probably because they were out of school for the parade, no doubt!), with proud parents and grandparents lining the way to wave and take pictures.  I thought, my dad would have been very pleased.

As I prepared to leave, I noticed another good friend a distance away, who is a vet, and took the time to thank him for his service.  He introduced me to a friend of his, also a vet, and I was able to express my appreciation to that marine as well. 

My dad was a veteran of World War II, involved in some of the most vicious campaigns of the European Theater.  Arriving at Dachau the day after it was liberated and coming home after two and a half years in Europe.  He had the privilege of hearing words of appreciation for what he did from the young man in France and an Italian woman, who had been a child when the country was freed.  He had the privilege of knowing current service men in the battalion that now replaces his.   Receiving respect and honor on a number of occasions as well as kindnesses beyond measure from them.  I closed the day by sending my best wishes to two of those officers, whom I am privileged to call friends as well.

I don’t like war.  I don’t think killing people is some glorious adventure that solves all the world’s problems.  However, when I see pictures today from Syria and Iraq and all the places ruthless killers seek to dominate weaker individuals, I realize that like it or not, we live in a troubled world, so that people like my dad and my military friends play an important role for all of us who long for the world to be a better place.  

Thank you, veterans and servicemen, who serve for freedom and justice, taking great risks for people like me, who have never had to do what you do.  

God bless you all.  I hope you have had a good Veterans Day/Armistice Day!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Finding Strength in a Season of Caregiving - Free Sneak Peak!


You may have noticed that the next volume to come out is a collection of daily readings for caregivers.  I have chosen to make it 100 days instead of an entire year, but at some point might decide to produce an expanded edition, who knows!  However, since it is on the verge or publication, I thought my current connected readers might enjoy a sample as a sneak peek.  

Maybe you know someone who could use this particular book, too.  You will be among the first to know when it goes live, so please, share the news.  I selected a sample that I thought can be useful in many of life’s situations, though it is geared toward the world of caregiving.  Enjoy!

Day 5  Philippians 1:22-25

I had to make some decisions over the last few weeks, myself.  Such as, do you want him transferred to a bigger hospital?  If the situation turns bad, what measures do you want us to take and not to take?  Should we transfer him to another kind of rehab facility now, or wait a few more weeks?  I really don’t need to list for you all my questions; they are the same kind of questions as the ones you have probably had to face, or one day will.

In some cases, those decisions are less difficult to make because you have guidance from a living will or conversations you have had with your loved one long ago.  But even then, I would comment that helpful as these things are when making decisions, the emotional impact of it all can still be very strong on you.  I remember words of decision coming out of my mouth, voicing the guidance I had been given years before, but as I heard them out loud, it felt like signing somebody’s death warrant.  It was hard to walk away.  

One recent decision was apparently a real toss up, advantages and disadvantages whichever way I decided.  There were family members I could consult with, but they were not on the scene with all the observations you get first hand and time was of the essence.  Ultimately, it was my decision to make, so I made the best judgment I could based on the information I had or could get, and based on the reality of how things were that day.  

Sometimes, the path is not so clear.  Sometimes we are in situations much like Paul’s, where we could go one way or the other, and we have to choose.  We know our choices may result in consequences we had not foreseen.  It is the reality of life, the reality of caregiving.  Gather your information, seek appropriate counsel, ask God for wisdom, then make your choice and give the consequences to God.  Then walk away, knowing you did the best you know how to do in the situation with the knowledge you had at the time.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Never Truly Alone


Let’s begin today with a confession.  I’m old.  Having said that, a couple melancholy songs I like from the “olden days” of rock and roll were sung by Don McLean and one by Abba in which they each describe the experience of being in a house that used to belong to a family or couple, but now had the feeling of emptiness as one wandered around.  There had been a breakup, a divorce, and nothing was as it had been before, with memories that were bittersweet.  

Probably one of the most profound changes after divorce is the extreme sense of empty space and loneliness.  The chair at the dinner table that once held a loved one is now empty.  The children who laughed in the hallway are now gone part of the time as they go to “visit” the other parent…(I liked my attorney’s refusal to use the term visit…she preferred shared parenting, and I agree). 

Meals for one are not as fun as family dinners, when one is in the midst of the wake of divorce.  Movies and popcorn can be fun, but the empty seat next to you literally shouts of loss.  Even the trip to the doctor can remind you that there won’t be that special someone in the waiting room should you require surgery.  The silence in a home late at night is deafening.  Loneliness can be overwhelming.

One of my favorite reminders that I received during my divorce was the one a friend who had also been divorced offered.  He simply stated that no matter how lonely I felt, I should not forget that I am never truly alone.  The God who said that he would never fail or forsake us, the Savior who promised he would be with us always, all the way to the end of this age, the Spirit of God promised to live within us and show us God’s ways do not suddenly depart or abandon us just because of a divorce.  God’s presence is much bigger than that. 

If you are feeling the pangs of loneliness because of divorce, I would encourage you to find a way to make room for God’s presence to be real in this time.  You could have a second chair and place setting at a meal that represents the presence of God.  You could place a special verse about God’s love in a prominent place you will see each morning.  Even hanging a painting of Christ can be a token to remind you he is always there.  Whatever will help you remember the lesson my friend offered me so long ago:  you may be lonely, but you never, ever, ever are truly alone.  God simply doesn’t give up on us that easily.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I Need Some Positive Affirmation!

(you believe that, right?)

I’ve noticed some things about all the different video games that are out there, especially the ones with multiple levels.  Have you even observed how often they love to tell you how great you are?  You complete a simple puzzle, and fireworks appear on the screen, stars start exploding, playing cards dance all over the screen and you are told time and again that you were incredible, fanstastic, super, STUPENDOUS!  I’ve noticed that in a certain card game I play, even when I have the worst set of turns I’ve ever had and the game quickly comes to an end, I’m still told “good game!”  I keep waiting for a computer geek to come running down the center of my yard to high five me as he or she passes by me.

Every time I am around one of these games, I always wonder if anybody every really believes those things.  I mean, it’s like the principle of positive reinforcement run amuck!    It makes me wonder if there are people out there really that desperate for approval.  

Sadly, I have known individuals who in their lives get little or no positive support.  When that is true of a marriage, it often ends in adultery or divorce, or both.  

While it is hard to believe that anyone takes any of those comments seriously, I do think the fact that those comments are so pervasively included, reminds us that people need love support, affirmation and encouragement.  People everywhere long for those things.  If that is true, as I believe it is, let me ask, where do you get those positive supports in your life?  How are you doing at investing them into the lives of those you love?

Those questions are especially poignant for individuals in the midst of divorce, because they have generally just experienced a very traumatic form of rejection and hurt.  In the midst of the experience, the traumatized individual has suddenly lost what may be their main support of affirmation and support in their lives.  It is important that the individual find sources of support and encouragement to help fill the vacuum left behind.  Those of you who know individuals in this state may not have the slightest clue how important even the simplest gesture of kindness can be to someone struggling in divorce.  

Yet, I would suggest that we must not be individuals who are so focused on receiving the love and affirmation we need, that we neglect the importance of providing that same love and affirmation to those we care about most.  As well as others who happen to be around us who also could benefit from our encouragement.  For some of them, they may need the unique affirmation that only you can provide.  Neglecting to provide it for them is a tragic mistake and missed opportunity.

Of course, the greatest affirmation any of us could ever know is to be found in the recognition and experience of the love of God for us, demonstrated most profoundly at the cross of Jesus.   Passages like Romans 5:6-8, John 3:16-17, Ephesians 3:16-18, Matthew 10:29-31 and Romans 8:31-39 are but a sampling of a Bible filled with demonstration of God’s love for us and the incredible value he places on each and every one of our lives.  

Don’t get your affirmation from gimmicky compliments in video games or other such shallow experiences.  And don’t let you the ones you love have to resort to that either.  God wants us all to move to a higher level as well, in something more than just a game, and he wants us to be participants in the wonderful work of the giving and receiving of meaningful affirmation and love….even if those you thought would be there have decided to walk away.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

You May Be Offended...


Have you noticed in the news how often there are stories about individuals who apologize for having offended this group or that group?  If you are like me, there comes a point when you see another headline and think, “Really?  Somebody had to apologize for that?  

Let me be the first to acknowledge that there has been a lot of abuse, hostility and legitimate concerns over the years, and more respect for others is a good thing.

Nevertheless, I grew up with the notion that wearing a chip on your shoulder and daring someone to knock it off was looked down upon.  In our current culture there appear to be multitudes of people walking around with their feelings on their sleeves  -  and seeking a reason to be offended.  Encouraging this behavior are legal vultures - encouraging and nurturing those hurt feelings -  seeking a way to drag the offenders into court in an effort to get rich quick.  

At least, that’s my take on the matter a lot of the time.  Especially when it involves apologies for trivial matters. 

There’s an good book that has been out for several years now that I think is a must read for every Christian in the United States.  It would benefit any christian in any country as well. The book is by John Bevere titled, The Bait of Satan.  

His theme is that there are certain issues in our churches that create the most problems and the greatest division in our congregations.   His primary point is the issue of being offended, and choosing to take that offence to heart, rather than forgive, let it go and move on. Choosing to be offended happens time and again in many churches, wreaking a superabundance of havoc and dissension.

I also believe that this happens in marriage - and divorce - as well.  

I would suggest that this same “bait” of being offended and choosing to take on the offense, and then nurturing the grudge is a prelude to divorce.  I wonder how many marriages would be much happier if the spouses were intentional about choosing to not take on an offense, choosing the path of Biblical love, with Peter's word, that “covers a multitude of sins.”  This is significantly different from saying that serious issues should be ignored, things like abuse or infidelity.  

The many marriage relationships that suffer the strain from accumulated minor offenses such as a forgotten milestone, an unkind word stated in duress, failure to notice a new hairstyle, or even squeezing the toothpaste tube instead of rolling it are on a path to further difficulties.  Jesus’ teaching included a statement that it is an inevitability in life that offenses will come our way.  It is the wise person who decides that life is too short to welcome them into their hearts and minds.  

Well, probably this article will offend somebody, because they will assume it trivializes suffering they have experienced.  

On the other hand, hopefully, those people will have the wisdom to simply choose to let it go.  Letting go of offense is a good habit to develop in life saving one from heartache and brokenness.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Control Freak!


That question is one that might be a contributing factor to a lot of divorces, I suspect, as couples haggle over which one is in charge in their marriage.  Maybe that is an issue you deal with in life in lots of ways.  However, I’d like to approach this topic from a different angle today.

Over the years I have observed a lot of people dealing with issue of control.  Some are what we would call “control freaks” who insist that everything be their way and nothing be done without their input and approval.  Sometimes taking control can be helpful, when in the midst of chaos an individual takes the lead to direct the situation into appropriate resolution.  Other times, individuals come off as little dictators, issuing their orders and making their demands with no consideration for people who might have a different point of view. Most of us like to have control over some areas of our lives, everything from the clothing we wear to our choice of food to use of our time.  The feeling of powerlessness is a very threatening experience for most of us, and being at the mercy of the whims of others is an uncomfortable place to be, and so we take time or order our lives and make our plans so that things will work in our lives in a way that suits us.

But divorce is one of those life experiences that shatters our illusion that we are in control, because suddenly we are at the mercy of courts and attorneys and an adversarial ex, and our emotions go into almost incomprehensible upheaval.  Other life experiences can have the same effect, such as an accident that leaves you physically impaired, a disease that suddenly ravages your body, a storm that somehow destroys your home, the death of a loved one…the list could go on and on.  Generally, however, we don’t focus on that list, but on the efforts we make to deny the reality that we really are NOT in control of as much as we think we are.

Many Californians these days would recognize their lack of control over wildfires that suddenly spread and water supplies that run dangerously low, all because they live in a high population area in a time of drought over which they have no control.  Really, though, we control much less than most of us want to admit.  Events like divorce or a drought just bring the reality to the surface.

It can be a very hard thing to suffer the loss of control, especially when you thought you had life pretty well figured out and things seemed to be on track.  The scriptures, however, make pretty plain that the only one who really is in control is God.  There are images in the Bible that describe the greatest nation as nothing more than a speck of sand or drop in a bucket, and how God smiles at the things we think we have planned that he knows will not come to fruition.  It kind of makes me think of the child who is attempting to accomplish a task under the watchful eye of the parent, while refusing to listen to guidance to do it properly.  How many parents have heard their children say, “I’ll do it myself,” only to know the child will be back soon asking for help in the task that is more difficult than they know?  God probably thinks the same thing about us, sometimes.

In a time when life is spinning out of control, we have the opportunity to recognize that we never really had it in control anyway…we just THOUGHT we did!  That, actually is a good thing, because, most of the time, people who think they should be in control of their own lives or the lives of others, generally don’t know as much as they think they do, especially the ones who are convinced that they know more than anybody else and think THEY know what is best for everybody!  Only God knows what really is best, and only fools put themselves in the place of God!

Life spinning out of control offers us the the opportunity to acknowledge the only one who knows the number of our days and the hairs on our head.  In times like that I have been most struck by the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, in which he deliberately relinquished control with the phrase he expressed to the Father, “not my will, but yours be what is done.” 

Around the world, every day, people are experiencing that life is not really in their control.  Earthquakes strike.  Countries are torn by war.  Refugees are displaced.  People lose their jobs.  Economies slump or collapse.  Cars and planes wreck.  Marriages fall apart.  When things in life feel so out of control, that is a perfect time to quit trying to grasp on to the unholdable and simply choose to let God make the calls by taking on the role of a servant who is willing to accept whatever God may bring our way.  The resurrection, of your own life, that God leads you to, may surprise you in the end. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Divorce, Albert Einstein and Stupidity


In a recent day’s reading out of the little devotional book “Our Daily Bread,” there was a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that said, 

          “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity,                                and I am not sure about the former.”

I must admit, I am rather taken by that thought.  I have done plenty of stupid things in my life and have observed others doing pretty stupid things as well.  In addition,  how often have you observed arguments between individuals and just thought how stupid it was to be arguing about whatever it was?  

The classic example, of course, is the children who argue over who rides shotgun and who is crossing the invisible boundary line in the back seat.  But alas and alack, it isn’t only children who act stupidly.  Personally, I might be wrong, but I categorize all the hooplah about the “Blood Moon” and the end of the world talk as an example of stupid (with the exception of course of those who found a way to convince people to buy their materials on the topic and made a fortune from it)!  

I always think the most important verse about the second coming is found in the words of Jesus in Acts 1:7.  In regards to the timing of the end of the world, Jesus says, in my paraphrase:  “It isn’t any of your business.”

Everything else we reflect on should be guided by that simple instruction.l  

Do stupidity and divorce have anything to do with one another?  Sure, lots of times.  Like people who are 50 and divorce their life partner to run off with somebody in their 20’s in the hopes of being young again.  Or individuals who divorce not because of a truly tragic marriage, but simply because they think the grass is greener next door.  Sometimes people get divorced because they don’t appreciate what kind of person their partner really is, and instead choose only to focus on their shortcomings and ignore the strengths that they loved in the first place.  And individuals who throw away decades of investment into a marriage relationship, thinking that it won’t make any difference in their lives, but instead find themselves starting from scratch again in so many ways.  

However, I think the place to find the most stupidity is during the divorce process itself and the aftermath.  Stupidity is present when couples go to the mat fighting over who gets a toaster, or eking out revenge in nasty little ways, such as throwing possessions out into the street.  

I have known individuals who have gotten their divorce, and then suddenly turned into a completely different person, tossing aside the values they held for a lifetime and living a life of reckless abandon.  That reckless abandon usually catches up to them pretty quickly!  

There are others who use the aftermath of the divorce to declare their own personal war - and become obsessed with finding ways to make the life of their ex miserable -  and like the Japanese soldiers discovered in the Pacific Islands - fighting a war that had already ended years before. 

The stupidest thing, in my opinion, is when someone enters into another relationship (or sometimes even another marriage) before the ink has even dried on the divorce decree.  No time for healing, no time for reflection to gain stability or perspective, just jumping into a need based relationship to avoid being alone.  Granted, sometimes those marriages work out, but the successful ones in those circumstances are few and far between.

Divorce is hard enough with adding additional stupidity to it…believe me, there is enough stupidity in it already!  

If you are freshly divorced or in the process, I encourage you to realize you are at risk of making stupid choices because of the emotional upheaval you are in.  Making the time to get some wise advice from Godly people  - who can provide an objective perspective - can save you a ton of heartache down the road.   

Don’t let Einstein’s quote apply to the choices you make during and after your divorce!

By the way, if those folks are right and the world does end, you can send me an email saying you told me so…but you’ll have to use my new heavenly address, though!