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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Inside Out


My wife really likes going to the movies, and I enjoy it, too, so that is often where we go when we get an evening out.  She usually selects, because I am very forgetful when it comes to movies, and have been known to unknowingly purchase tickets or rent DVD’s of movies I have already seen at least once or twice.  It just works best if she makes the choice.

We recently went to see that animation movie that is out called, “Inside Out.”  I had heard ahead of time that it was considered a pretty good movie, and that women especially like it.  It’s all about feelings.  Which is probably why it is from the perspective of a young girl.  Personally, I kind of related to one scene in particular where the dad is suddenly aware that his wife is talking to him and all of his feeling characters are totally oblivious…until he realizes he has to come up with something to say.  After all, he’s a guy, I’m a guy, and at least I spell feelings right!

Watching the movie (and hopefully without giving away too much if you haven’t seen it yet), the story is about the internal workings of emotions and memories, and their impact on personality formation.  Fortunately, it is presented in a much more interesting way than that last sentence would imply!

In the twists and turns of the girl’s life, as she faces dramatic changes, some of what are called her “core memories”..those especially formative and impactful experiences in life…get shifted with a stirring of emotion.  As a result, some that were once joyful memories get overlaid with a coating of sadness that transforms them.  At the same time, new memories get formed that vie for the position of a core memory in her life, some of which are not so happy.  The shift is apparent in the personality and relationships of the young girl.

Guess what?  As I watched it, it made me think very much about divorce.  So many memories that an individual has gets overcoated through divorce.  Memories that once were full of joy get shifted to bittersweet or even sorrowful memories.  The core essence of the values and experiences that have shaped your life are challenged, shaken and sometimes exchanged into something new, and that can be a very painful process.  

It is amazing how many internal things are affected by divorce.  Some people who were once bubbly and happy become melancholy and timid.  Some who were the most trusting and caring individuals develop a protective coating that keeps them from getting too close to anyone again.  In the movie, the parents share memories of the first days with their infant.  As a divorced person, I realize those memories are no longer shared with my spouse, and the person who did share them with me is no longer part of my life and memories around her are not the joyful things they once were.  If I am not able to remember those special moments myself, then they are gone from me, unless triggered by something unexpected.  

People are often aware of the external impacts of divorce:  moves to a different home, financial stresses, often strong hostility and family life that is fractured.  But the more subtle inner shifts are sometimes the most difficult to deal with, because they can be much harder to identify.  Nevertheless, even the most painful of experiences can be used by God to shape you for the next chapter of life’s journey.  Sometimes, it just takes a little patience to get there.  

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Birthday, America


I saw an article on the internet the other day about a book that has recently been published.  It is called, The Girl With Seven Names, by Hyeonseo Lee.  The article recounted some of the stories in the book, which is about her escape as a refugee from North Korea, and the subsequent rescue of her family.  I am looking forward to reading it.  The various blurbs about the book I have seen mention such things as the possibility of being arrested if you didn’t have a picture of the nation’s leader on your wall, and even if you did, it had to be “properly” cared for.  She apparently tells about the fear under which she lived, in a country where everyone is afraid and cannot trust others because many become informers out of fear.  She also talks about the controlled information she was given growing up about her country and the world, and the fact that she had no access to accurate information about how the rest of the world really lives.  

I have heard about people working with young African boys who have grown up in a war torn world, whose experience is that soldiers come and force them into the military.  Their first task of service, to harden them and make them learn to obey, was to shoot their own parents, then they were hauled off to battle.  Once the army tires of them, they are discarded like trash and left as orphans wherever they happen to be.  I have read about repressive nations living under Sharia and near Sharia law, in which a single hair showing outside a woman’s covered head is a crime subject to beating or other such punishments, and a starving person caught stealing food will have his hand instantly chopped off, while bystanders are forced to gather around to watch.

I’m guessing today is just another day for many people in the world.   But when I know of things like that going on in the world, I realize how blessed I am to have been born in the country that celebrates today as its birthday.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am the first to admit the U.S.A. isn’t perfect and has made our share of mistakes.  And let me tell you, there are some presidents we have had whose pictures I have NO interest in hanging on my wall.  But I do believe ours is a country that strives to value individual lives, and believes that individuals should be permitted control over much of their own lives through the exercise of freedom, and our nation desires that not only for ourselves, but for other nations in the world.

I had a friend from Swaziland, Africa some years ago.  He told me that he had very fond affection for the United States.  He stated that it had not been that many years since they had gained their freedom from colonialism, and were seeking to establish their own free nation.  He went on to say that, although there were other countries with historical ties who should have helped them with aid and support as they began, those countries did not do so.  However, he went on, the United States did, even though there was no obligation or expectation for them to do so.  He went on to state that the United States provided that aid without any strings attached that required any kind of subservience or conditions.  After years of hearing people bash the U.S. for its international behaviors, some of which have definitely been very misguided, as my friend shared the story of Swaziland, I felt a great deal of pride, knowing we had also done some things right when others had not. 

We will see fireworks tonight, and have picnics today, but there won’t be tanks rolling in our streets to make sure we remember who is boss, or to see if the President’s picture is on the wall properly.  Near as I can tell, more people are trying to escape from places like North Korea INTO the United States, than are trying to escape from the United States into places like that.

I was honored to receive an invitation to the Change of Command ceremony for a Colonel friend of mine down at Fort Hood next week.  I am sorry I won’t be able to attend, but I appreciate what he and his fellow soldiers do to help keep or spread freedom in our world.  My father served in World War II, my brother served in Desert Shield and my father-in-law was career military, and I appreciate what they have done so that I was not forced to shoot my parents or to watch someone’s hands being chopped off by thug policemen.  The U.S.A. may not be perfect, but it is a lot closer to it than many nations in our world.  Ask Hyeonseo Lee, if you don’t believe me.   HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICA!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Thank you!


I was at a meeting with a few hundred folks last weekend, where I met a friend of my wife’s from a distant state.  I don’t know if she knew I was going to be there, or if she just happened to see me across the room.  She came up to me, introduced herself and told me that she didn’t want to visit long, but that she wanted to tell me how much Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce had been helping her deal with a tough divorce.  I was humbled and touched by the fact that a person I didn’t even know made a point to find me to tell me thanks for writing something that made a difference in her life.

A friend of mine gave the books to her friend, who thought, “Great, another book to read…ugh!”  But when she saw that my friend had me personalize them to her, she figured she had to at least look at them.  Later she called my friend and told her the story, then said that she had been drawn in and was reading them and that “This guy knows exactly what I’m thinking,” then thanked my friend for caring enough to provide her the book which had been such a help.

A lady whom I do not know posted a note that the book was helping her keep her focus on God during a tremendously difficult time of life, and recommended them to anybody going through a divorce. 

A man I know got the first book and finished it in a month.  When I pointed out it was supposed to be daily readings for six months, he simply replied, “It’s hard to put it down.”

I have individuals I have never met with whom I have offered email support as they struggle their way through their divorce.  I have read reviews posted in a variety of places by people who have been touched and encouraged by what they have read in the books.  

I have had others who have expressed to me their appreciation at having something they could offer a divorcing friend when they did not even know what to say.  I met a lady in tears once, who did not have the funds to buy the book, and we were able to help her get one.  I have had individuals who purchased books to give away because they said, “we believe in your ministry.”

After I met that woman the other day, my heart was so touched I decided I had to just say thanks to those of you who have read and benefited by what you have read, then taken the time to let me or others know that it had made a difference.  I had wanted to offer people something that I didn’t have when I was going through my divorce, but sure would have liked to have had, and it is encouraging to hear these books do just that.  I don’t want to just to say thanks, but thanks because you are part of my dream.  Let me tell you why.

After a number of years of writing, reflecting, rewriting (not to mention my own personal healing) and doing all the tedious preparation required to get my devotional books for divorcing folks ready to go, it was finally at the publishers in the final steps before press.   A woman at the publisher’s asked me some simple questions:  “What is your goal for this book?  Is it for a few friends?  Is it for a wider audience out there?”  After some reflection, I responded that while it would be great to sell lots of books and make some money out of all the hard work, ultimately the goal was that one day I would have a stack of emails or letters of individuals thanking me because the book had helped them get through their divorce.  

The first time I heard from somebody that it had helped them, and especially the first time I heard it from somebody I never met, I realized that something I believed had come to pass.  I believed that if it made a difference in one person’s life, then it was worth everything it took to get them out there.   Better than that, I have started to grow the stack of emails, notes and quotes that remind me of what it is all about.  Not that they are perfect, but I am thrilled to know they have become a tool God is using in the lives of my friends and friends I have yet to meet, like the lady I saw last weekend.  God bless you all, dear readers.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Secret About Marriage, Divorce and Christianity


 Churches all around the world of a variety of sorts have made clear in their teaching that marriage is for life, as the vows say “till death do you part,” and often end marriage services with the old phrase, “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Jesus words about marriage from Matthew 19 are some of the most loved about marriage, as Jesus responds to a question from the Pharisees about divorce:  "from the beginning it was not so, the two become one flesh.”   When they question him further about why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus responded that it is because of their hardness of heart.  

Correction, OUR hardness of heart.

What is the secret?  The secret is that, even though Christians teach and stand for the sanctity of marriage for life, as we should, and even though we believe that a marriage with a spiritual connection in God makes for a stronger marriage, even among the best of Christians there are times divorce comes into our lives.  

The “dirty” part of the secret is that from the time of Moses forward, God in his wisdom, recognizing the fallen state of man, made provision in the scripture for the possibility of divorce.  We may not like that it is there, or think it speaks of failure and falls short of the ideal, the provision is still there.  

In other words, though we hold a wonderful ideal and seek to maintain the highest standard for marriage, divorce still occurs because hardness of heart still exists in our world.  Even the best of us, with the best effort, fall far short of God’s perfection.  

While I would never advocate divorce as a quick solution or the first choice for marital tensions, neither would I pretend like there is no need for it in our world.  God can accomplish great things, but my observation has been that often marriages can come to a point in which one partner is willing to submit to God while another has grown tired of trying and is ready to quit.  When one partner or the other reaches that point of no return, until or unless they soften their heart, divorce continues to be the end result.  

In His wisdom, God knew the realities of our lives here on earth,  and he made provision for our weaknesses for the sake of those whose hearts have been broken by one -   whose heart has grown hard.

One of the wisest statements I ever heard came from the mouth of a pastor’s wife I met only once or twice in my life.  I was present as she was visiting with a mutual friend, and she shared the heartbreaking story of the chairman of the deacons in the church her husband served.  She indicated that after 25 years of marriage,tha chairman was facing divorce.  The wise statement that she uttered came after she described her sorrow over that divorce, and then said, “But for the grace of God, there go I”.  Instead of judging those she knew who were divorced, or quoting scriptures to suggest they were wrong to pursue that course, she recognized the fallenness of our world and that it is only through God’s help that her marriage vows had been preserved.  

Now that God has granted me a second chance, I pray that the same God will provide the same help and grace for my wife and I as we seek to live out our wedding vows for the rest of our lives. For those readers who are married, I pray that God will enable you to do the same. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Your Faith and Your Children


The other day a friend and I were having a conversation over a donut, talking a lot about this and that and even more about nothing.  But in the middle of the conversation, he made  a comment that I told him was a really important statement.  I told him I thought I might even use it for a blog topic, and his response was, “feel free.”  So, without embarrassing him about it and leaving him nameless instead, here are the thoughts he ignited as we conversed.

My friend’s comment was a simple one, and we were talking about how much of our lives have been the result of things we did not choose, such as what country we were born in.  Reflecting on that, he added the comment, “You know, if there were nothing else to be thankful to them for, I at least should be appreciative of the fact that my parents raised me in such a way that they taught me the basic principles of being a Christian.”  I agreed, and began turning the topic over in my mind.

Many of us attempt to do that very thing.  Sometimes it works out great, and the children follow in our footsteps and become quality Christian leaders as adults.  Our children can also be challenges to our faith, helping us see ways we still need to grow in our obedience to Christ.  In some cases, the children abandon the principles they were taught as they grow up, wandering in “the far country” like the prodigal son, during which time we have to remain faithful, trusting God and praying for his hand upon our children.  How our children respond to the Christian faith as they grow up is not something we parents get to choose; what we get to choose are the examples and opportunities we provide.  Our children have to make their own decisions for or against Christ, just as we have ourselves.

This can get complicated by other things as well, such as church drama, youth ministers that impact our children for better or worse, parents whose faith experiences and commitments are radically different, and, of course, by divorce.

Divorce can cause children to struggle in their faith, questioning a God who did not keep their family together.  Beyond that, however, is what happens after a divorce.  Many times I have observed one or both parents abandon their church and even abandoning a Christian lifestyle after they get divorced.  Some individuals never darken the door of the church again, leaving their children to question the sincerity and validity of what they have been taught over the years.  Others who were once apparently devout in their faith, suddenly shift and live in ways clearly contrary to the faith.  

All too often the children are faced with a set of divorced parents, one of whom continues in faith and church, while the other rejects and maybe even ridicules that very faith.  This can all be very unsettling for the children.  In those cases, it always makes me think of the times Jesus warned us not to put stumbling blocks in the way of children, that it would be better to be drowned in the sea than to ever do that.  

However, once again, the only thing we can control is our own example and commitment.  Much as you may want your partner (or your ex) to be more committed to Christ, or to be more obedient to the teaching of scripture, you only have the ability to work on your own growth.  We have to pray and trust God to work on those in our lives we love.

The good news is, though, that we CAN work on the heritage we are leaving behind.  We can each choose to do our best to be faithful.  We can leave an example by how our Bibles are open and our attendance at Bible Study and Worship is regular.  We can demonstrate by our lives that we believe the teachings of scripture are not mere information to be absorbed, but principles to be applied and lived in our daily lives.  We can become “the sermon” our children see every day they are around us, and in so doing, do our part in giving our children the greatest gift any parent can ever give:  knowledge of the salvation made available for us in Christ.  

Let me add one final thought.  Many of us, especially those divorced, struggle with whether we have provided an inadequate example and have failed in passing on the faith properly.  The truth is, divorced or not, NONE of us live the faith perfectly.  Always remember, we also set an example by how we handle our failures.  When we accept responsibility for them, honestly confess them to God and appropriately to others, and seek to continue to grow we are providing an important example they need  

I invite you to consider what the heritage is that YOU are offering to YOUR children.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Not Stuck In the Past!


Coulda, woulda, shoulda.  I wish I’d, if only I’d, had I known….

Haunting words, sometimes, aren’t they.  

I think everyone in life can find something that causes them to look back with just a twinge of self-doubt (or maybe a ton!).  Feelings of guilt and inadequacy often follow.  

Sometimes we are our own worst critics, spending so much time focusing on regrets of choices that didn’t turn out as we hoped - that we paralyze ourselves into fear of choices in our futures.  Sometime we are guilty of wishfully thinking our lives away, wondering how it could have been different if we had made a different choice back when.

That can be especially true if you take seriously the responsibility for good and poor choices, or the importance of doing your best to do the things God wants you to do.  In those cases, when things don’t turn out as you anticipated, you then can even question whether you were listening to God well or ignoring the directions He was giving you.  The trouble is, you can spend the rest of your life analyzing things like this, and never really get anywhere because of it.  

Sometimes we just make mistakes.  

Sometimes they aren’t mistakes, it’s just that we didn’t have the foresight to realize what all the consequences would be, so were surprised when unexpected results came.  

I always like the notion of realizing that, sure, if I had known then what I know now I might have made a different choice…BUT I DIDN’T KNOW.  

More often than not in life, I feel like I did my best to make the best choice I knew how to make with the best advice and what information I had available at the time.  If I had it to do over again, I might make other choices, but I don’t have it to do again, and even if I did, without retrospect I’d probably still make the same choices.  On the other hand, things I have learned from choices in the past that didn’t turn out as expected can help inform me to approach choices differently choices in the future.

On the other hand I don't believe it is wise to flippantly approach the matter of decision making and choices.  

It isn’t healthy to just blow off our mistakes as if they didn’t matter, nor affect anybody but ourselves.  Sometimes the poor choices we make impact the lives of others for years to come, and we need to own that, as well as learn how to be wiser about making choices.

It seems to me there is a balance to be struck.  Not so overburdened that we overly dwell on the past and are in bondage to the guilt of it, nor so flippant that we are oblivious to the impact of our choices and our responsibility for them.  We need to accept our responsibility, and also learn to forgive ourselves.  I have known people who would vocalize that they believe God could forgive them, but they didn’t think they could ever forgive themselves for choices they had made.  That is not a very healthy place to be, if for no other reason than that such a statement makes oneself more important than God!

I like the example we find in the Bible, where the story is told of Peter and his threefold denial of Jesus.  After he did so, the scripture tells us he went out and wept bitterly, realizing his sin.  But in John 21, we have the incident of Jesus and his threefold restoration of Peter, in which Jesus does not absolve Peter from responsibility for his choice, but at the same time assuring Peter that he still had a place in the service of Christ.  Jesus did not compel Peter to spend the rest of his life dwelling on his past, but urged him to learn from it and to use it as he pursued a higher future.  

If you are carrying heavy burdens from your past, then perhaps today would be a good day to examine them for what you can learn, but then take the information to turn from your past and toward the future that God would have for your life.  God takes us where we are right now in our lives; he doesn’t leave us stuck in the mistakes of our past.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Virtual Life


I am currently working with kids in a different sort of job for a while.  In this job I’ve noticed kids like to play video games on various kinds of game players, iPads  smart phones, computers and so forth.  I even hear there are adults who spend plenty of time playing those kind of games, too.  (You mean they actually make paper card things to play Hearts with?  Or people can actually roll a ball at white pins at the end of a long set of boards, like, as if in real life???)  

ANYWAY…..I’ve noticed that in a lot of these games, many of which include lots of guns, bombs, zombies and bloodshed, the player of the game risks getting destroyed in one fashion or another.  When you are, there is always something that then sets up the next round, usually a reset button, a time of waiting, or an opportunity for you to spend money to “get a new life.”  Sometimes right away, sometimes for a price, sometimes after a period of waiting, but the game is NEVER completely over, or if it is, there is always the next round.

Do you believe in a circular or a linear view of history.  That is, do you believe there was a starting point and things (including your own life) is moving to some conclusion in the future.  Some religions teach that it is all a big circle, with individuals coming back time and again in different forms, different lives and different eras.  

Biblical teaching, however, clearly disagrees.  The Bible states that however everything started, it was God who was in the beginning getting things going.  As well as it will be God who, at the end of time, will bring an end to everything we now know and experience in the final judgment and start of final eternity.  The video games fits well into the circular scenario, but to apply that over to the world in which we actually live, seems to me, at the very least, to be very misleading.

I was walking my wife's "little-so called" dogs today.  On the route we took, they were very interested when we crossed a rise and they discovered a fresh road kill…an armadillo was in the road, hit by a car and now dead.  Further on we ran across another specimen, this time a squirrel, probably hit last night, it appeared.  Neither animal moved.  The squirrel’s eyes were vacant, the life force drained onto the roadway.  Nowhere around did I notice a reset button, nor do I expect that if I had hung around it would have eventually gotten a new life and run away.  The early life of that squirrel was over (whether it is now living in squirrel heaven would be the topic of another blog). 

Children, especially the very young, are often confused with death.  Often surprised and shocked to learn that a person is not coming back after a tragic death - a shooting or a traffic accident - learning quickly that death is final.  The older child may understand death but doesn't understand the impact of the finality of death upon their own lives or the lives of others.  

We have one life to live.  I will never be a teenager again (and I’m actually very okay with that!).  I will never launch my first career again.  I will never have my first child again.  Among other things, divorce cannot be undone.  Couples can and do reconcile and get married to one another again, but doing so does not change the fact that, at least for a while, they were divorced.

Sometimes in life we do get second chances at things.  I feel very blessed in the second chance at marriage I have had, which has given me the opportunity to enjoy what I feel is a really good marriage.  However, having a second chance is not the same as being able to change our past. 

More often than not, though, we get one chance to make our choices in any given situation.  Often knowing the best or right choice is not always as clear as we would like it to be.  Some of our choices entail negative consequences we never intended nor desired.   Some choices lead us to greater things than we had ever imagined.  Even though there are many books, fantasies and movies about the possibility of time travel and changing history, in real life, that isn’t an option we have.  We make our choices now, and then handle the consequences.  

Whether divorce, marriage, career, education, starting a family…whatever the life issue about which you are required to make choices these days, I invite you to consider the values and bases out of which you make the choices of your life.  The scriptures offer guidance to enable you to be wise and godly choices that will stand strong not just in this world, but also into eternity.  They even offer guidance about how God would have you handle the mistakes of your life that he can use them for something good.  And if you aren’t sure, then Proverbs 1:7 is a pretty good place to start.