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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Reflecting on Racism


I did something kind of weird one day which, of course, surprises no one who knows me.  After moving to my hometown a few years ago, I was at the store one day and struck up a conversation with a stranger.  Knowing me, it probably started with some stupid joke about a sale or an advertisement.  Then, in the middle of it, I said to the man something along the lines of: 

“This may sound strange, but you don’t know how much I enjoy seeing you and talking with you, because you are black, at least, that was the term we used to use, hope it’s okay.  But the point is I have lived in several towns over the years that had much smaller minority populations, and I have missed the interactions with people of different races, so I have really enjoyed just chatting with you today.  Thanks!” 

Another time I was at the store and bumped into my high school gym coach, and we started to visit, catching up a bit on one another’s lives.  He gave me a hug, or I gave him one, don’t remember which, and we each went on to finish our shopping.  He also is of African-American descent. 

Charles, Max, Verdale, Anita, Carmen (male), Debra, Carmen (female), John, Rueben, Mike and his mother Dorothy…those are a few names of friends of mine from childhood.  Some of them used to come to birthday parties at my house.  Some were in scouts with me.  Others were friends in band or at school.  Normal names, normal people doing normal activities.  All of these individuals are, as the phrase goes, “people of color,” although I never really thought about it at the time.  It didn’t matter…at least, not to me.  Each of us is now grown up and moved on or away in life.  I have seen only one or two of them in recent decades.  If I were to attempt a similar list from this time of life, it would have different names.

I have seen some of the obsessive media coverage of the difficulties over in Ferguson, Missouri, and feel sad.  When I was growing up, street protests (riots they were called back then) were every day occurrences in the news from the streets of Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco…only there were more cars being burned, more national guard troops present and more violence.  As I visited with a friend yesterday, we both recalled the school bus that received broken windows and the time tires were set on fire in the street here in town.  She even remembered another school bus being turned over. 

I was also saddened one day when I was visiting with a friend of Mexican descent about growing up here in town.  We were talking about racism, and I mentioned my awareness of the racism against African Americans here in town, but wondered what kind of experiences he knew of among our Mexican population during that time.  (We both knew that there were plenty of stories of racism from earlier times here.)  I was saddened because he was able to tell me some specific episodes during our lifetimes, one of which occurred at a laundromat not far from where I had lived.  That was the first time I ever heard of that fact.  It is too bad.

I’m sorry, I just don’t get it.  I don’t get why race is such a big deal to people.   

I mean, I DO get that individuals of certain races experience hard times because of their skin color, not only here, but other places as well.  Racism IS real.  

I DO get that racism is not merely an American phenomenon nor limited to recent times. 

I DO get that there are some cultural differences among races that affect how we view the world and how we relate to one another.  As an example, I have a hard time understanding a culture in which life is regarded as cheap, as Ho Chi Minh expressed in his willingness to lose 100 of his soldiers for every American soldier.  (Perhaps this is related to the Buddhist belief in reincarnation.)  It doesn’t make sense to me that some of the Middle Eastern peoples hold as their highest goal the destruction of the Jewish people and the nation Israel, just because they are Jewish.  I was unaware of the racism that exists between different groups of Asians until recently when I heard some comments in that regard.  Or again when I learned about the number of people of every skin color enslaved or enslaving others in the past all around the globe, including Assyrians, Egyptians, Romans, Japanese, Germans, Aztec or other American Indian peoples…the list is sadly long. 

I guess I’m one of those individuals who just wonders why we can’t all just get along.  On the other hand, I have been divorced, and if we could all just get along, divorce wouldn’t be happening either, would it?

As I watch the events of Ferguson, several thoughts come to mind.  First, it is sad that some of the same struggles still remain that were being fought back in the 60’s and 70’s.  It is sad to see one event so highlighted while others deaths of young blacks are ignored, such as the ones in Chicago for instance.  It is sad to hear the whole episode described in ways that might be exaggerated, or that some may be jumping to inaccurate conclusions and spring into this kind of action without first gathering the facts from all sides.  (There is a verse in Proverbs 18:17 that describes this…the ESV reads:  The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.) 

As facts come out, we may learn there was more behind the episode than we know in all sorts of ways.  And it is sad that individuals in official positions would even need to be questioned or legally charged to be held accountable (though there seems to be a LOT of need for that these days here in America—and in a number of other countries as well, I might add). 

Most of all, I think it is not sad, but reprehensible that opportunists will plunge into moments like this for their own self-aggrandizement or to infiltrate and stir up trouble by looting and provoking (all of which diminish the respect and credibility of the protests).  Sad, sad, sad.

I hope the day will come when there will no longer be felt a need to protest treatment as all people find a welcome place in society and are appreciated for who they are, and so choose to live in respectful and moral ways.  I hope one day some of us will wise up and realize how boring the world would be without variety.  Well, I could go on with dreams that will probably never fully materialize as long as fallible people are involved.  But maybe we each could find a way to make some little part of our world just a little bit better in this regard. And I pray that God will use all these tragic events in Ferguson to make a difference for good not only there, but among other people who are watching.  

As I watch and shake my head, I guess I owe a real gratitude to those friends of my childhood, because the relationships I had with them have laid the foundation for some important lessons in my life.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Making a Difference in the Life of a Child

Top Ten Back to School Tips After Divorce

Ideally, couples who are divorced work together for the best interests of the children.  Talking about the needs and concerns with one another and with school personnel to help their children have the best education possible.  Occasionally, that really is what happens, but from my experience, that is the exception, not the rule.  Different values and priorities, leftover resentments with a desire to inflict pain, and already poor communication skills all come together to impede the former couple working together.  

So even if a divorced couple cannot work together well, they still have the needs of the children to consider and should do the best they can given the difficulties of the situation.  

The following ten tips for various individuals involved in the children’s lives may be helpful in situations where divorced parents have difficulty working together.


1.  Be involved in your children’s education.  Every study indicates that more than anything else, parental involvement makes the biggest difference in the success of children at school.  When children have experienced the losses entailed in divorce, it becomes even more imperative that you stay engaged with your children, especially in the area of their education.  Show your child that they are a priority in your life by attending conferences and school activities.  Discuss their school day with them by asking specific questions (What did you do in reading today?  What was your math lesson about?)  and no matter what their age - READ WITH THEM!

2.  Talk to school personnel.  If parenting your children is difficult due to communication issues with your former spouse and you both have court awarded parental access, make it a point to visit with their teachers, school counselors, and office staff at the beginning of the year and through the year.  Make sure they are aware that the student has two separate households, and that both need to receive copies of all academic materials and be notified about any concerns that arise, making sure they have contact information for both of you so they can do so.  Without belaboring the point or running down your ex, you can advise them that communication between the households is not good, and so contact with both is essential.  Understanding arranged at the outset can make a significant difference throughout the year.  If your school is not cooperative about this issue it may become necessary to hold them accountable by appealing to administration or the school board, but most will be very accommodating and understanding.)

3.  Be proactive and take some initiative.  Most teachers keep pretty busy and have a lot of paperwork already.  If you attend conferences separately from your former spouse, ask to make sure that any paperwork, test reports, or grade cards are copied and available for the other parent.   If necessary, you can pick them up later at the office or have them mailed.  Even if the favor is not reciprocated you know that you are working to do your part to effectively parent your child.   

4.  Make sure children have needed supplies.  Don’t get caught up in the who pays for what and child support resentment games.  These are your children, and if they need a new backpack, then they need a new backpack…do it.  If you ex doesn’t have the funds to pay for extracurricular activities and you do, don’t rob your children of those opportunities because you are angry at your ex…be a stand up parent for your children.  Even if they reside at the other home most of the time, you can still have fun taking them shopping for extra school supplies or clothes.  Don’t have the money?  If you truly are doing your best, then ask the school personnel or your pastor what resources may be available to assist.  There are lots of people out there who love to help people who are in difficult circumstances but are trying, you just have to swallow a little pride and ask.


5.   Ease unnecessary stress for the students.  Children of divorce entrusted to your care have enough stress already and parental communication problems add more stress.  Reduce the amount of anxiety your child may have by ensuring that the office has contact information for all parents and any family members who are available.  This will benefit you and your child when conferences or contact is needed and your child doesn’t have to quizzed for the information or become the courier for notes.  This also helps the office know that you are doing the best for your child and will create greater trust.  

6.  Support your students of divorce. Yes, you only have so much time and there are a lot of students with lots of needs.   And yes, these children have to fulfill the same expectations as everybody else.  Just remember that their hearts may be torn between two worlds and they may need a little extra attention now and again, or a listening ear in the midst of their struggles.  They may need an impartial adult they trust who can help them with some perspective, an adult who realizes that there are two sides to every story and that children need both of their parents.

7.  Support the divorced parents in a difficult time.  No, they may not be spending as much time with the children in schoolwork as you think they should, and no, ideally they should be able to communicate with one another and not have you stuck in the middle somehow.  But real life is that these individuals may be struggling just to manage all the upheaval and difficult realities of life after divorce.  And the truth is, if they could get along and communicate, they probably wouldn’t be divorced in the first place.  If you notice one of your students is not performing to their ability level - don’t wait to discuss this at conference time.  Let the parent know what academic and school counseling resources are available -  this support may be the kindest gift you can give to parents who are are trying their best to help their children.  

8.  Try to imagine how YOU would feel.  Working with divorced parents can be difficult and tricky - have patience and empathize for a moment with them.  Imagine how you might feel if you weren’t notified about a meeting or given a report card.   Contemplate how YOU would feel if you didn’t have enough money to pay all the bills and meet your child’s needs and wants.  Look at it from a child’s perspective, as one whose parent is no longer at home on a regular basis and must settle for weekly or monthly visits.   Consider the stress of working multiple jobs trying to make ends meet and the responsibilities of parenting your child.  Bear in mind that the parent is dealing with the emotions of rejection and betrayal from a person they they trusted.  being rejected and betrayed by the person you trusted most.  After reflecting you might be just a little kinder when they walk ragged into your classroom.


9.  Materially support the children of these families.  Does your church offer resources for children in single parent homes with their school supply needs?  If not, then help start one or find a few friends who would be willing to step in and assist with the expenses.  

10.  Support these children with your time.  Do you even know if these children go home to an empty house?  Perhaps you could arrange a safe place for them to go, maybe even help start an after school program.  The parents may be feeling limited on their time possibilities…  tutoring children of single parents can help reduce the load on parents who are running ragged from a full plate.  What other tasks can you do to lighten the load so that they CAN spend more time with their children.   Mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, dropping kids off at practices or making a grocery run can be a blessing to the single mom or dad on the run.  In addition, there are many cases when children have limited opportunities to have a positive relationship with an adult - consider mentoring a child with guidance and love that they so desperately need. 

None of us will be able to solve all the problems that are created through divorce.  Taking the time to open our eyes and looking at a situation can allow us to mitigate the difficulties for a child or two and make a difference in their future.   

I can relate lots of stories where individuals did just that, in a variety of ways and circumstances, for my children, my step children, and other children that I know of.  There are a lot of good causes in this world that we could choose to get involved with to make a difference, but there are few causes more important than making a positive difference in the life of a child at risk.  I hope you choose to be the one who makes a difference in the life of a child this school year.    

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Struggling With Depression


 Genie, You are Free

I don’t like that term, but after considering a number of alternatives, I decided that there just isn’t a better word to use, because depression really does just suck.  

It’s terrible that it was a factor that led Robin Williams to where he could see nothing worth living for any longer.  But as a friend and I discussed casually today, anybody who has ever really struggled with depression certainly understands the battle Robin faced.  I heard actress Patty Duke discussing her own bouts with depression in relation to a book she has written about her own struggles with it.  

I don’t intend to write an article about Mr. Williams, but his death raises a topic that is so relevant for people struggling in the throes of divorce, but also relevant for countless individuals regardless of their marital status. 

Estimates of the number of Americans who struggle with depression is reported regularly in the media...but I know the number is wrong, because I know plenty of people who have struggled with depression who have never gone to a doctor or counselor to discuss it, so they are not counted in the statistics.  These statistics, at best are merely educated estimates.  

Many people struggle with depression in our world, and some of those people are individuals who smile and laugh a lot in life, at least on the outside.

If you go the topical index of the first volume of my books, Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce, you will find under the listings depression, discouragement, despair, emptiness that the volume contains 18 essays in these categories.  If you add the topics emotion and failure, you find another 11, which means that nearly one third of the book deals with the tough negative emotions individuals experience as they go through divorce.  The writings include the recognition of the reality of these difficult experiences, and some ideas for ways of dealing with these emotions.  These devotions are in there because I know myself what it is to wrestle with periods of depression, especially during the process of divorce.

There are those who believe that all an individual has to do is to pick themselves up and get back to work.  Or that in order to recover from depression we need to replace it with joy, countering the depression with pleasant thoughts and a focus on pleasant things.  Choosing to focus on the positive things in life and be happy... 

Or those who offer lots of other little quick fixes, each of which provides mounting evidence that the person offering the advice has no clue what depression is really like.  None.  

It is true that we can do things to counter the moods of depression, things like medication, sunshine, accomplishing simple tasks, spending time with a counselor, refraining from isolation…there is a long list.  And they can help.  

Perhaps one of the most useful things to note from the suicide of Mr. Williams is that he was doing those things, and yet, it wasn’t enough.  

In other words, there are NOT simple little magic answers and there certainly are not any “one size fits all” solutions.  

Depression IS a tough thing to deal with, and since divorce also means you have lost a hugely significant relationship, then one of life’s support pillars is no longer available.  That alone can be very depressing.

If you have friends or acquaintances who struggle with depression or who are going through a divorce, it is very wise of you to keep in touch with them, to monitor their moods and energy levels.  Doing so may save someone’s life, literally.  

Some may not experience as much depression as others, but some experience incredibly intense depression and, like Mr. Williams, may not be able to find their way out.  There is a time a place for intervention, and hospitalization is sometimes the only way for individuals to turn the necessary corners and receive the needed help.  

As a friend, you can offer support, love, friendship, advice, and it can make a huge difference.  But you must also realize you cannot “fix” individuals struggling with depression…that individual has to make choices themselves, too.  They have to choose to take the medicine, to call the suicide prevention hotline, to quit drinking and adding more depressants into their bodies, to get up out of bed in the morning and do something... even though they don’t feel like they have the energy.  

Sadly, sometimes no matter how much help and support is available, the end of the story may not be a happy one.  And, as those who loved Robin found out, family and friends cannot always change that ending, no matter how much they might wish they could.  

In the news coverage of Robin Williams, as the speakers discuss depression, many times I have heard them use the phrase, “fighting his own personal demons.”  Those who struggle with depression or have friends who do, understand what that phrase seeks to communicate.  However, I would also make a suggestion that this very phrase unwittingly suggests:  there is a spiritual component that makes a difference in the experiences of depression.  As a person who believes that there actually ARE such things as demons, I acknowledge that such beings can afflict individuals with devastating depression…but I would quickly add that I do NOT believe that is always the case.  Brain chemistry, financial upheaval, relationship breakdowns…lots of things can result in depression.  However, to treat depression without considering the spiritual realities of life may well ignore one of the most important components to effective treatment.  Sadly, though, all too often that is exactly the case as people believe a few pills or a few hours of talk therapy can fix everything.

One of the great things about the teachings of scripture is that the New Testament faith is one that is filled with the promise of hope.  

Death is not the end of the story.  

The evil we experience in this world is not the final victor.  

The mess we make in our lives does not mean we are beyond redemption.  

The wounds of our hearts and souls can be healed.  

In fact, Hebrews calls this hope of faith as the anchor for our souls.  Suicide from depression so often occurs because the individual has lost all sense of hope.  Why would we neglect offering the great hope offered by Christ as a significant part of help for those despairing in hopelessness?  

Having a relationship with God does not mean the believer is immune from the struggles and emotions of this world.  And when things like divorce knock us off our feet, faith does not mean that depression is not ever going to come our way.  Faith does offer something beyond ourselves to cling to, and Someone beyond ourselves Who can help conquer in us those things we cannot conquer on our own.  

The apparently suicidal death of Robin Williams is a sad thing.  His family has my prayers.  Sadder still would be if none of his friends ever told him that even in our darkest hour, there is hope, a hope that can be found only in Christ.  Those of us who have times that we struggle with depression may indeed have times we walk through very dark valleys in life.  But if we also have Christ, we never have to walk those valleys alone.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Wisdom to Stand for Truth, Love and the Character of God

Warping Perspectives

I have always been struck by a particular verse in Isaiah.  I used to always think it was referring especially to people who lived on the wild side (like Hell’s Angels) or who were blatantly evil, like the Nazis.  It certainly is clear to see how it applies to those situations.  However, more recently, since moral relativism has taken such a strong hold in our world, I have come to believe it is the more subtle applications of this verse that are perhaps the most insidious.  Here is the passage, quoted from the New American Standard Version:
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!   -----Isaiah 5:20
The images described in this passage are rampant today, it seems to me.  Debates over social issues, the vilification of virginity and glorification of teen pregnancy, renaming things like adultery and promiscuous behavior into terms like “affairs” and “sexually active,” and the bizarre world of political expediency all are multiple examples of calling evil good. 
Then, the flip side, of course, is the ridicule faced by those who DO choose to stand for their beliefs, and the characterization of all Christians as mindless and na├»ve do-gooders who are deluded enough to think they heard God speaking to them.  I was especially struck by that attitude years ago when U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno stated that she considered people dangerous who read their Bibles regularly!  (I tend to think she is confused about who really IS dangerous in that scenario.)  Notice, Isaiah makes clear that calling something good does NOT make it good, it just reveals the character of the speaker involved.
And bound up with the shift is a great deal of browbeating for any who would dare to question the politically correct point of view, whether the topic is global warming or immigration reform, to views on gay marriage and more.  Even the terminology troubles me.  For instance, somebody who does not believe homosexuality is moral, is described as a homophobe…created from the word for fear, even though it isn’t an issue of fear, it is an issue of belief about morally right and wrong behavior.  We don’t call somebody who believes murder is wrong a murderphobe, do we?  Of course not, that’s ridiculous.  But because the battles are vicious these days, in certain realms the terminology is often biting and vindictive.  And let’s be honest…that viciousness does exist on both sides of the spectrum, and there has been plenty of browbeating to go around by both sides!  Supposedly toleration is hailed as the great virtue of the day, but toleration is only for those whose opinions on valued issues are the same; there is no tolerance for those who disagree, there is only ridicule and attack.
Morality has been relegated to popular opinion, and any sense of ultimate right and wrong has been lost for many in our society who believe they are accountable to no one, least of all a God they don’t even believe in.  But Isaiah’s words begin with, “Woe,” because accountability is real, and judgment will come.
So let me close this blog by relating it to the topic of divorce.  Each of us must be careful, in all of life’s actions and choices, to not be deceived into calling evil good, or believing those who do.  But not everything that has commonly held to be true is necessarily so, either.  Consider slavery, which was acceptable for centuries, until opinion shifted and people realized that there was something inherently wrong in the practice.  At the time, remember, there were both Christians and non-Christians with strongly held opinions on both sides of the issue.
I would never call divorce a “good” thing, but I would call it a necessary thing in a fallen world, hence God’s provision for it from the earliest days in the laws of Moses.  However, as one goes through divorce, one is inundated with a multitude of decisions and choices.  Those choices can be decided based on selfish interests, they can be decided based on vindictive anger, they can be decided based on a false sense of love and humility, they can be decided on purely pragmatic bases, or they can be decided on perceived “right” and “wrong.”  And how those decisions are made affect the character of the person making the decisions.  All too often, vindictive anger and selfish interests are rampant among divorcing individuals.
Many choices involve very gray areas, areas where there seem to be no specific rightness or wrongness about it, no clear teaching of scripture or church.  In those areas, if you are trying to do what you believe is right or best, making choices becomes difficult.  A dear friend of mine suggested that sometimes, framing the issue in terms of effective and ineffective rather than trying to find a right and wrong in the muddy waters might prove more useful.  I found that was a very helpful insight.  However, I also believe it is important that an individual divorcing be very wary of their choices and actions, weighing each matter carefully, lest they end up on the receiving end of Isaiah’s woes.  

Do your best to stand for good, for truth, for love, and for those things that most reflect the character of God, even in the onslaughts of evil in our world today.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014



A day or two ago I was reading the headlines on my browser's homepage and featured one more time were deaths due to battles in the Middle East.  Frankly, I wonder if any place on earth has suffered as much warfare, throughout history, as those patches of desert ground.  As I saw the headline, I thought to myself, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to live my life in the middle of a battle zone.”  For some of the people in those countries, that is all they have ever known, and any peace they have experienced has either been dictatorially imposed through intimidation on them, or has been a fragile peace they know can be shattered in a moment with a bomb or a rocket attack.  Can you imagine?

Then I thought about how many people living in so-called marriages (if you will permit the term), are also living in perpetual battle zones.  I am grateful that my current marriage is a long way from that, and is a relationship in which I think we both feel loved, encouraged and supported.  I haven’t always had that experience…otherwise I wouldn’t have been divorced, right?  It is a precious thing to have a marriage I can treasure.

You know, I think much of life is already a battleground, without having to fight ongoing skirmishes in the confines of your own home with someone who is supposed to be on the same side as you, someone who is supposed to be your ally.  World War II would never have been won, if the Americans, Russians and British (and the other allies) spent their time shooting at each other instead of focusing their attacks on the Nazi and Imperialist enemies.  Many of us know what it is like to battle each day at work to be successful in our vocation, or to battle financial setbacks, illnesses and other such daily challenges.   There are emotional battles that rage, sometimes because of our own moods that would drag us down or cause us to make poor choices, sometimes due to the actions of others who hurt or disappoint us.  I believe there are also spiritual battles, some of which have our moral standing at stake, others of which risk our eternal destiny as the enemies of God rage against the human race (many of whom become unwitting tools in the hands of evil), and especially against those who seek to follow God faithfully.

Maybe in your life there are rockets falling and you regularly step on landmines which destroy the opportunity for peace at home, at work, or in the other arenas of your life.  Sometimes peace can only be achieved through fighting harder.  Sometimes peace is achieved by the wisdom to know which battles are not worth fighting.  And sometimes battles rage all around you no matter what you choose to do, as so many innocents experience in the Middle East (and other spots around the globe) when their leaders or self-styled soldiers impose violent situations upon them.  Many times those divorcing are seeking escape from the continual battlezone that their home has become.

Perhaps these things are why there is so much emphasis in the Bible on peace, biblically described as not merely cessation of hostility, but also as a sense of wholeness, well-being and contentedness.  No matter what the battles of life, God offers to share his own peace with us, that in the midst of this world’s warfare, we can be at peace knowing we are exactly where we need to be and doing exactly what we are supposed to do, being protected and loved by the one who designed our lives before we were even born.  

Will peace ever come to the Middle East, or the rest of our world?  Even in the United States, daily police reports of criminal activity, or the court records of divorce filing indicate that peace is more than merely lack of war between countries.  External peace may never become the experience of this world’s population.  But peace in the midst of it is promised from God for those would seek it.  I hope that those people struggling in terrible situations are able, now and then, to know some of God’s peace in their hearts.  And I pray that they will be able to find a more peaceful way to live in proximity with one another.  I also hope that in your home you can know peace as allies in life’s battles, rather than have to live in constant skirmishes of anger and resentment.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A World in Flux


Abandoned MKT railroad lines
I had to take the car in for some repairs the other day.  Since my wife was out of town, and since I usually try to take the dogs on walks anyway, I ended up taking the car in and then walking the dogs from and then to the repair shop.  I am currently living in the town I grew up in, so the route took me along very familiar paths.  

I walked by the old field where the schools used to play football and our band played from the bandshell.  The field is empty, the bandshell torn down and grown over.  I walked past my elementary school, homes of childhood friends and neighborhood grocery stores.  I walked across my paper route.  I saw the fields where we played, the location of trees we used to climb and the home in which I grew up.  Much of what I saw was now in decay or disrepair.  Favorite trees are now gone, long since fallen or cut down.  Neighborhood grocery stores no longer exist.  The neighbor’s fishpond has long since been filled in.  The old pasture now has a water tower in it.  The railroad tracks have been removed, and a grown over path has taken its place.  Many of the homes, including the one I grew up in, have suffered much over the years due to lack of upkeep.  

Because I have lived in several towns over the years, I have experienced this same kind of thing in other locations as well.  One of the false beliefs about divorce is that if the divorce hadn’t occurred, then things could have gone on and been okay, without the heartache and hassles of the aftermath of divorce.  In reality, our entire world is always in a state of flux and decay.  Nostalgia may make us believe things could have been so different…but even the good things of the past would have changed over time.  Some things change for the better, some for the worse, but everything changes.  

I once heard it said that the only thing that never changes is that everything is always changing!  (Which, by the way, is one of the marvelous characteristics of God…he never changes, we can count on him to remain always faithful, always the same.)  It seems to me that the secret of quality living is to be able to embrace change so that it can enrich our lives instead of seeing it as some kind of enemy to be avoided.  

The corollary is that we need to treasure each day we have and each relationship we have…because tomorrow is never promised to us, and when tomorrow does come, things will have changed.

There are some changes that I welcome and look forward to as exciting progress and opportunity. There are other changes that come which are harder to accept, requiring me to let go of the familiar and risk something new.  But as I walked the neighborhood, it made me realize that though it is not what it once was, it was something good when I was young.  The trees I climbed are gone, but the memories of joy-filled days remain.  Buildings are gone or decayed (and I am a bit decayed myself!), but there was a time in which those structures offered a safe haven and a place I once called home.  

Home is somewhere else now. And I am someone beyond who I was as that child.  But I still have a place I call home.  And I still have people I love and who love me.  These things have always been true in my life, though the locations have varied and the faces have changed as people have come and gone in the course of my life.  

Divorce is certainly a humongous change in life, but it does not have the power to rob us of a future with new memories, new friends, and new opportunities.  So, though it may be hard to do at times, I encourage you to embrace the changes life brings your way.  The changes that come can bring wonderful joy beyond your expectations.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Help for a Broken World


Have you ever had to go to a specialist?  It seems these days that there are specialists in EVERYTHING.  Even restaurants have started putting on their signage, “specializing in Italian cuisine,” or whatever kind they happen to be.  I always think of medicine when I think of specialists, as the family doctor will make referrals to them when difficulties arise.  A few years ago I learned that there are specialists called “cardio-thoracic surgeons;”  I always assumed that a cardiologist was THE heart specialist, but learned there are specialties beyond that.  

It’s probably a good thing, but sometimes it seems like specialties get overdone. At the same time, when you have certain medical conditions, you certainly want to be talking to the proper people, right?  You want the specialist then!

The heart specialist I think we need in our world is a broken heart specialist!  It seems to me that there are a lot of broken hearts out there in our world, as dreams shatter and hopes crash.  Hearts break when careers are cut short, when loved ones are lost to death and when relationships are broken through estrangements or divorce.  From the breakup of childhood sweethearts to the death of a spouse after 50 years, broken hearts abound.  

Has your heart ever been broken?  Perhaps it was broken by another person, perhaps by a tragic loss, or perhaps you are one of those compassionate people whose heart breaks anytime you see the suffering of others in our world.  There are lots of folks who could sure use a broken heart specialist!  I know there are plenty of times I have needed one.  

So, just as individuals share the name of a good specialist when their friends need one, I thought maybe I’d refer you to the broken heart specialist I found, in case you or someone you know needs one.

As I begin, let me show you a passage from Isaiah 61 in the New American Standard Bible:

“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”

Isaiah 61:1-2a  NASB

This is the passage, quoted in summary fashion in Luke 4,  read by Jesus from the scroll given to him in the synagogue, publicly announcing the beginning of his ministry.

Now, there is a very good chance that this was the reading that came naturally in the cycle of biblical readings for synagogue services.  (notice in this passage that Jesus is handed the Isaiah scroll), which means he chose to make his announcement coincide with the day that passage was scheduled.  Although is is also possible that Jesus, as the guest speaker, chose this passage himself to read for the day’s exposition as a guest speaker.  Either way, he chose this selection out of all the possible messianic prophecies he could have chosen.  I believe this is a significant point.  Just as a medical student reaches a point in which he or she must choose his or her specialty, so God also chooses this manner to announce a specialty that includes assistance for the brokenhearted.

In my life, I have found that my physical body heals up a lot more easily than my inner being does. Kind of like the silly commercials on television these days that announce that words really can hurt, we all have awareness of events in our lives that leave behind bruises, scrapes and tears on a broken heart.  

I often think about King David, and the multiple times he faced betrayal and abandonment in his life.  His heart must have been broken and aching so many times.  But what did David do about it?  He turned to the specialist…he sought God’s healing, and as a result, we have the book of Psalms, the great heritage of the Jewish people and a Messiah who came through the lineage of David.  In my opinion David's specialist was pretty good.

When Jesus began his ministry and declared what his calling and mission were - he did so by reading this passage from Isaiah.   Jesus chooses a passage which aptly describes the compassionate care of a loving savior.  Ponder for a moment the scriptures that he did NOT choose to read as he declared his specialty.  

             Jesus did not choose to read the prophecy about the descendent of David
             who would sit on the throne forever, though he fulfilled that one as well.  

             Jesus did not read the passage about the seed of Eve who would bruise 
             the head of the serpent of old and his ministry certainly fulfilled that 
             one too.  

             Jesus  did not read about coming with power, or being the prophet 
             who would follow in the footsteps of Moses, nor the suffering servant of 
             Isaiah 53, nor about the virgin birth and not even about the coming of a 
             shepherd who would care for the people of Israel. 

There are a lot of other messianic prophecies that he did not choose as well.  Significant as all those things are, they were not what he felt was the key to the announcement of his life’s work.

Jesus chose instead a passage about preaching to the poor, release to the captives, eyesight to the blind (mentioned in Luke from the Greek Isaiah) and the binding up of the broken hearted.  

In other words, he chose this passage about compassion and healing as the identifying hallmark of his ministry from the very start.  

I appreciate that Jesus made this his first priority.  

And as you read about how he invested his time, you indeed find the story of one whose life was filled with great compassion.  He had time for lepers that were shunned from society, individuals bound in poverty, for other outcasts such as women of poor reputation, Roman soldiers, wild party guys, even tax collectors (and THAT must have required great compassion!).  

He was at the side of those in mourning, blind beggars and lots of individuals who today would have disabled stickers on their windshields.  He just cared about people.  And, of course, that was most profoundly demonstrated by his sacrifice on the cross to give us the opportunity to be lifted out of the worst bondage of all, the bondage to a sinful lifestyle and the resulting eternal penalty.

If you have struggled with a broken heart, whatever the cause, I would recommend that you make an appointment with this specialist.  My experience is that there is no wiser counselor, no better listener, no more faithful friend, no more understanding companion, no more skilled physician and no better prescription than this God who came to us through the incarnation as offers to bind up our broken hearts.  I’d give you his business card, but he doesn't need one, as his practice is accessible all around the globe.  You can access his treatment program by opening your Bible, and consulting with him wherever you happen to be.  He has also established a good support program in the form of local churches (though remember, they all contain hurting people who are in need of healing, too).  He does have a phone number - I have been told that God’s phone number is Jeremiah 33:3, though I often refer folks to the theme verse of my books, Jeremiah 29:13.  

Take your broken heart and give him a call; he is always willing to take on new clients and patients in need of his expertise. 

 In a world filled with brokenhearted people, it’s good to know there is someone who can help.