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Monday, December 30, 2013

Remarrying? Here Are Your New Year's Resolutions!

In many cases after a divorce, an individual gets married to somebody new, creating an opportunity to make really good or really poor choices.  So, at a time lots of people are considering making New Year’s resolutions, I offer the following as possible---

(some of which may apply to individuals marrying for the first time, as well)

10)  I will live in the present and enjoy my new relationship, rather than dwelling on issues of the past.

9)  I will choose to not to remarry simply out of loneliness, neediness or a fear of having to spend life alone. 

8)  Instead of going on a search for the “right person,” I will follow advice given by Ann Landers many years ago, and seek to find a person for whom I can be the right person.  (Concentrating on what I can offer, rather than what I can get.)

7)  I will avoid getting in a hurry to find somebody, allowing time for my divorce wounds to heal before pursuing a new relationship, because I recognize the emotional instability and upheaval that divorce creates and would not want to make such a life altering choice under those circumstances.

6)  I will always remember to respond to my current spouse and his/her needs, rather than base my responses on the needs and actions of a person in my past relationship(s).  Thus, I recognize that this spouse and this relationship is unique, and lessons learned with a different spouse in a different relationship cannot be assumed to apply today.

5)  I will avoid making incessant comparisons of my new partner with my ex, neither seeking a person who is “the complete opposite” nor one who is “replacement spouse.”   I will not idolize my previous nor my current spouse as if he/she is perfect or without faults, for even the faults contribute to their endearment in my heart.         

4)  I will learn from my past, and seek to grow enough to not place myself into another unhealthy relationship, falling into the same mistakes I have made previously, nor to allow resentments from the past to limit my choices for my future.  I will accept responsibility for my own actions and choices, but reject responsibility for those of others.

3) I will appreciate my new partner for who he/she truly is, valuing both the strengths and the limitations as combining to create the whole person I love, and will express that appreciation to them in word and deed, and to God as I consistently pray for him/her.

2)  When (not if!) situations arise that bring back haunting feelings and memories, I will never assume the outcome has to be the same, but recognize that I have the power to make different and better choices with a new person, who also has the power to make different and better choices.  Hence, I will never limit my present or future to the encumbrances of the past.

1)  I will embrace God’s ability to take all the experiences of my life, those things learned or suffered in the past, as well as the challenges and opportunities of the present and future, and use them all to help me become more like Him.  I recognize that God is at work, and brings people into my life, in part, so that I may learn how to love as God loves, and may experience His love through the love of others. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Finding God in Christmas

Is Anyone Out There?

Did you see the other day the report of evidence on Mars that it may indeed have been able to support life at one time?  And there was one about a planet similar to earth possibly in some remote solar system.  Have you ever heard of SETI?  The organization whose name stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and their mission is to find other intelligent life forms out there.  There are those listening stations, monitoring the sounds from space and hoping to discover a message from something or someone way out in the somewhere.  And when we send out our space ventures, such as the old Voyager, there are things to indicate who we are as the origin of the device, in case somebody or something way out there finds it.  In fact, I have been amazed at the number of shows on the History channel that deal with topics such as aliens who visited earth long ago, or maybe not so long ago, and similar searches for other kinds of life forms.  There is a hunger for something to be found, and when anything pops up indicating the possibility of some life form, it makes BIG news!  The question is whether anyone is out there, whether we are alone or not.  Some people invest their entire life’s work into answering that question. 

There are lots of sci-fi shows and books with all sorts of alien life forms.  Even the recent surge of cartoon character movies of superheroes who originated elsewhere and are assigned to watch out for us, while there are the other creatures whose inclination is to destroy, the earth.  One of my favorites was the Men In Black series of movies.  Have you noticed that these beings are almost always technologically very far advanced over, and of much greater intelligence?  In many cases, they are also imagined to be so morally superior that they pity the poor, misguided humans who are always on the verge of destroying their planet and one another. 

If any beings like that actually exist, isn’t it just as likely that they could be much more stupid, very backward and morally bankrupt?  In most imaginations, even if the beings described are evil, they still usually end up more advanced than we are.  You never see dolts driving spaceships.  They tend to remain on the freeways of earth.  Maybe the only life forms on those planets are nothing more than bacteria and slugs.  Maybe a super mosquito here and there. 

It’s funny that there is so much curiosity, and so many efforts made to search in hopes of finding some evidence somewhere of some kind of life beyond our world, there is a desperate hunger to know that we are not alone.  

And yet, all the telescopes are pointed at the great beyond in their search, hoping to find the answer out there.  Instead, if they would turn the telescopes toward Bethlehem, they would find the clear answer that was given many centuries ago:  Emmanuel—God with us.  The whole point of the title name given to Jesus is that, starting with the birth of a baby in a manger long, long ago, God stated emphatically in human terms:  NO, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!  GOD IS WITH US! 

Unfortunately, some people aren’t satisfied with that answer, they want someone or something to be out there, but they want someone or something else!  Perhaps because, if they admit that God IS there, then the following question is what our obligation is to that God, what God expects of us.  I do think this entire issue, so clearly associated with Christmas, is also extremely relevant for individuals experiencing the intense loneliness that often accompanies divorce.  

Though your spouse may have left you, though you may have to celebrate Christmas with your children gone to another house, Emmanuel.  You are not alone.  Ever.  Because God does exist.  And he cares for you in a way nobody and no thing else ever could.  Best of all, you don’t need a gigantic radio telescope to find Him.  Just open your Bible and read…”And it came to pass that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…”

Monday, December 23, 2013

Your Chance to Help a Friend....

Last Minute Tips for Last Minute Help

So, approaching Christmas quickly…if you are wanting to help your divorced or divorcing friend or family member over the holidays last minute, how about these suggestions:

10) An “Open Now” Christmas card with a little extra cash or gift card…money may be tighter than you know.

9)   If they are going to special services at church Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, be a friend, sit with them.

8)  Better yet…invite them to go WITH you…offer to pick them up, then they don’t even have to walk in alone.

7)  Do you know when their kids won’t be around?  Include them in some of your plans during that time, just not the ones that are “overly family,” as it can remind them too intensely of what they are missing this year (kind of the old fifth wheel thing with a twist of grief mixed in).  In these things, even if they turn you down, being invited means a lot.

6)  Plan now to stop by the day after, and give them a chance to debrief what might have been an emotionally difficult time.

5)  Use some of your time together to discuss their plans for New Year’s Eve…might be a lonely time.

4)  Offer to help some with the holiday meal, if they are planning one.  A guy might not feel competent to cook well, and might appreciate a pie or a little help in the kitchen.  A gal might be thrilled to not have to clean the kitchen all by herself afterwards. 

3)  Share some extra Christmas goodies…fudge, cookies, whatever…just being thought of counts.
2)  If appropriate for your relationship, you could choose to buy the person a really special gift, in place of the one that previously would have come from a spouse.

1)  And most of all, pray for the person.  As much as it is taken for granted, prayers of those who care make more of a difference than many of us realize.  Even just a short mention during prayers at meals, or silently in your daily devotional time, your prayers may be the very ones that keep them going, whether you ever realize it or not.  You might even drop them a card, letting them know they have been in your prayers.  I still have the cards sent to me by those folks almost 15 years ago!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Biblical Christmas Divorce?

The Divorce That Almost Altered Christmas!

The biblical Christmas stories describe some of the most significant moments in life:  the opening of human minds to encounters with God, an engaged couple looking forward to marriage, the joy of learning one is about to become a parent, the welcoming of a new baby into the world, a divorce situation.   What?  A divorce? 

There are not that many references in the Bible to people who got divorced, but there are some.  And there are several that are implied, such as the woman at the well and her five husbands.  But did you ever consider that one divorce almost ended Christmas before it even started?  In Matthew’s nativity story in chapter one, there is the interesting account of the time when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, and as a result, was going to divorce her before they got married.  In that culture, the engagement had a more binding impact than here in the United States, and so the process of breaking an engagement was more formal as well, so he would have divorced Mary in order to break the engagement!  Could you imagine how the Christmas story would have been impacted had the angel not convinced Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy was a miracle of God, rather than the result of promiscuous behavior? 

Not only that, but in reality, Jesus was ALWAYS raised by his step-dad, anyway.   I think step parenting is tough enough already, could you imagine trying to be the step dad of God’s own Son?  Talk about feeling like the other parent is looking over your shoulder!  Although, it says a lot about what God must have thought of Joseph that he was willing to entrust the raising of Jesus to him, as well as Mary who we often notice as being such a quality person. 
But all in all, has it ever occurred to you that divorce IS a part of the Christmas story?  Granted, a divorce that ended up not happening, but there it is, right smack dab in the middle of this most celebrated of birth stories.

There is something I find very interesting, though, in the whole account, that might be very telling for those of you struggling with the guilt of divorce today.  Did you notice the description of how Joseph was going to pursue the divorce?  Matthew says that since Joseph was an honorable man, he was going to divorce her quietly.  That’s actually kind of an intriguing thing to say, don’t you think?  Consider the fact that Joseph was described as an honorable person affected HOW he was going to get divorced, not WHETHER he got divorced!  The scripture does not indicate that his plan to divorce was a stain on his character.  There is no moral or value judgment stated against his honor at all in the matter, even before he is counseled to go through with the marriage.  Just a simple statement of fact.  As if it was perfectly natural to understand that, given that Mary was apparently unfaithful, it was only to be expected that he was not going to marry her, that he was going to pursue divorce. 

Of course, once the angel explains the true situation, he is willing to comply with God’s desires.  But had it not been for that angel, or for the fact that Joseph was a man of great faith and honor, the whole Christmas story may have had an entirely different ending.  And yes, the divorce didn’t occur.  But the tone of the passage makes plain that in such cases, divorce was a real option, one which apparently was an acceptable choice for even the most honorable of people in certain circumstances. 

I don’t know if you ever thought about Christmas and divorce in this way, but even that first Christmas was one that brought with it memories of divorce.  We know this is true, because those memories are recorded right there in the story.  Every person whose family life has been touched by divorce knows what it is to have Christmas memories and celebrations colored, at least to some extent, by the experience of a broken marriage.  But, I would suggest that, also like the story of Joseph and Mary, obedience to God can change the story into one that brings glory to God and joy to the world!  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Following Where God Takes You After Divorce

Opportunities as By-Products

So wanted to followup on the whole concept of the opportunities after a divorce.  There could be differing interpretations of what that might mean, though I think the last blog was pretty clear on what my intention was.  But many pursue divorce believing in another perspective of the opportunities, and I want to address that other point of view today.  That point of view basically is this:  “I will get a divorce SO THAT I have other opportunities to be everything I could be, because my marriage is holding me back.” 

I will say outright that I believe that kind of thinking is flawed, if not even a myth.  Yes, a divorce will remove you from a bad marriage.  But often a bad marriage ends up in a bad divorce…instead of being married to the person, you are divorced to them…entanglements don’t disappear, they instead become more complicated, and less about common goals.  Instead of spending all that time, money and energy on divorce and the aftermath, surely the best first option would be to spend the same kind of time, money and energy in the possibility of making a bad marriage better. 

“But what if my marriage is holding me back, suppressing my personality?”  Perhaps that is what truly is occurring.  But could it not also be that the close relationship of a marriage is challenging your personality, confronting you with areas of your character in which you need to grow, develop and see beyond yourself?  Certainly one of God’s purposes in marriage is to create a safe and loving environment in which we face the hard areas of ourselves that we might become something more than we are alone.

In my observation, many people who leave a marriage to pursue opportunities that they believe await them if they can only get away from their spouse, actually end up seriously disappointed and disillusioned.  

Kind of like the old saying about those who believe that “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”  It seems to me this faulty thinking is part of what sets up the statistic that second marriages suffer a significantly higher divorce rate than first marriages, and third marriages even higher.  

Because wherever we go, we take ourselves with us.  And if we have not been willing to face our issues when first confronted with them, we carry those same issues into the next relationship.  Running away from problems rarely settles any of our problems. 

But I do believe that, if a marriage has come to the point that divorce is the end result, then the new situation of life is the material God has to work with in our lives.  That is simply the by-product of being divorced.  I think this is true especially for a partner who has been abandoned by another.  I don’t think God’s desire is to set up a divorce for the purpose of creating opportunities in life.  I think his desire is for marriage until death to be the ideal pursued for which we put forth our effort.  But, just as God was able to take the cross of Christ and do something wonderful through it, or the sufferings of Paul and turn them into lessons he shared with us in scripture, so he can take the tragedy of broken marriages and create opportunities for something new. 

But those opportunities must be approached with sensitivity to God’s leading, if we are going to receive the blessings he seeks to create. 

There are many times in scripture where we find God taking the brokenness of individual lives and accomplishing something unexpectedly wonderful through them.  Perhaps the early bumblings of Moses is one of the greatest examples.  Or you may prefer the descent into the pit experienced by Joseph.  In both cases, someone who suffered severe reversals in life ended up being used by God for mighty deeds.  So while I would never suggest someone pursue divorce as an escape route to make opportunities for themselves, I would acknowledge that even divorce can end up being something out of which God can do something good and meaningful.  It is the story of my own life, and my prayer is, that it will be the story of yours if you have been the victim of divorce as well.  Seek God’s guidance in obedience, and he will get you there.  Maybe not today.  Maybe not tomorrow.  Or even next year.  But over time you will discover God’s hand upon you, helping you through to the higher plane he desires in your life.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Don't Squander the Opportunities in Divorce

Divorce:  Falling Apart, But Getting It All Together

Had an interesting comment posted on my blog a few days ago.  The blog had talked about some of the things one can be thankful for in the midst of a divorce, knowing that during the dark days it can be very hard to find anything positive.  The comment was posted by a man named Jason Ratner, and he wrote:  I am thankful that I am starting to see myself for who I am, not who my ex wife wanted me to be. I am thankful to not be put down all the time.”  What he said struck a note as I was working on another blog, and so I decided to raise some issues around Jason’s comment, issues discussed more at length in the books. 

I want to consider today, in these contexts, the issue that Jason raises in his post, the issue of who we are as people, and how who we are -  impacts our behavior during the divorce process and recovery -  and also in the shaping of the next chapter of our lives, including the way we step-parent.  As Jason suggests, in a bad marriage, it is easy to lose one’s sense of self…especially when stifled or abused.  Once a divorce enters the picture and separation occurs, there often can be a regaining of perspective, a rediscovery of the person God created you to be, a sort of rebirth of possibilities, if you will.  Making wise choices is crucial (and is a frequent topic in both volumes of my books, Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce), specifically because divorce compels one to make a fresh start. 

The truth is, our relationships bring out various parts of our personality and make differing demands upon us.  The parts of our character that impact our relationship with business associates may not include the same features that are important to our spouses which may also not be the same as those with our children, church friends or our ex spouses.  My business associates may be more interested in seeing my competence while a spouse may want to experience my kindness and trustworthiness.  And in all of it, there is the core person God has designed uniquely in each one of us, and the unique calling to grow like Christ in the midst of life’s changes, responding in a honorable way to the challenges that come to us.

It is a powerfully freeing thing to experience what Jason describes, being free to be who we really are, rather than always feeling the need to adapt oneself to unrealistic expectations.  I remember a friend once telling me that he had experienced in his second marriage being loved simply for who he was, he didn’t have to try to earn that love through changing who he was.  That is a precious thing. 

It is important, after the devastation of a bad marriage and divorce, to take time to regain some equilibrium, to discover afresh who it is God has created and called you to be, with all the characteristics that make you uniquely you, while being open to the possibilities of what God has yet to bring into being.  

There may be old habits that you are ready to shake off.  There may be forgotten enjoyments you want to cultivate.  There may be new acts of service you had always wanted to pursue, and are only now able to do.  Your own children may see changes, and perhaps realize they are seeing who you really are for the first time.  Although, it is also true that the children may not realize that you had been under stifling constraints before, or that some behavioral changes result from the extreme stresses you are struggling to overcome. 

At the same time,  it is important for the sake of your children as well as yourself, that you do your best to be true to who God created you to be, and to be consistent in character so that your children have some degree of stability in YOU, even though their home is falling apart and being restructured. 

So as Jason pointed out, the divorce process opens up the possibility for you to regain a good handle on the person God created in you.  My challenge to you is that you don’t squander that opportunity, because it will shape your choices and your relationships for the rest of your life.  Make a point to spend some quality time in God’s presence, inviting him to reveal to you things about yourself that are precious, and things about yourself that need to change or grow.  As you do so, the kind of person you are in the new relationships that enter your life will be the kind of person God can use, even as you adapt to the needs and moods of those around you.

TL:dr  While divorce creates great upheaval, it also creates opportunity to build a future of God-honoring integrity.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Wisdom for the Injured...and Refusing to Settle for Something Less

Happiness, Holidays and Healing.

I had to stop with three, otherwise I would have a 4-H sort of thing going, and that would just raise all sorts of copyright issues!  And, just to set the record straight, I DO like When Harry Met Sally, but I don’t know that I would really rank it as my favorite…primarily because I’m not a “favorite” sort of person, I like all sorts of things.  Although, would have to say, there aren’t many Meg Ryan shows I don’t enjoy…

Now, back to the topic at hand…the 3 H’s above.  The holiday season, for those who are not married, often creates a sense of unhappiness in the midst of everybody else’s “happiest time of the year.”  Seeing families and couples in the midst of holiday preparation and celebration can accentuate for single people that they don’t have that special someone around in their lives.  A divorced person adds to it that awareness that, in the not so distant past, they DID have such a person around, who is now gone.  The same is true for a widowed person.   I think the hardest of all are those who experience the reality that the holiday season have a high rate of divorce applications surrounding it, as if this holiday was the last hurrah.  So, instead of happiness, loneliness, sorrow, uncertainty and pain might be the experience.  Which is the harsh reality of our world anyway, that there are always hard things as well as joyful things, and we have to learn to handle both.

Because of these hard things, many people, especially out of loneliness, start intensely seeking someone to marry or at least to be with.  Perhaps you have seen, as I have, individuals who divorce, shortly after getting into another relationship that ends up being very shortlived and generally not very healthy.  Perhaps they get together out of the loneliness, or a neediness to be with someone, or even just a physical attraction and desire.  Sometimes I think there are some who seek that individual believing that if they can just get with the right person, everything will be okay, that, “I will be okay.  I won’t hurt anymore.  I won’t be lonely anymore.  I will be complete.”  Holiday loneliness can drive such an urgency.  But the truth is, all too often, these kind of relationships do not solve problems and issues, instead they exacerbate the problems and issues that are there, or maybe even create more of them!

Today, I just want to encourage my readers to be wise.  How much better it is to experience some inner healing before trying to start into another relationship.  Remember that young surfer who was attacked by a shark and lost a limb?  She didn’t get back on the surfboard that day.  She did get back on eventually, but first she allowed time for her wounds to heal.  We see the same thing all the time in professional sports.  When a player is injured, they are taken off the field or court.  They generally don’t come back out during the game.  And maybe not for several games.  They get back into the game once the healing is complete.  Although the wounds of divorce and broken relationships are not physically visible, and the healing is harder to identify within, the wounding still needs time for healing before an individual “gets back into the game,” so to speak. 

Imagine a football team on the field of players who are all injured, some limping down the field, others having arms that can no longer move to throw or catch a ball, and others walking around dazed because of their concussions.  I suspect it would not be very hard to defeat that kind of a team, don’t you agree?  So, by analogy, doesn’t it make sense that if you are going to get into another relationship, it would be wisest to do so when you are in good condition, when your wounds have healed up, when you can bring a more healthy YOU into that relationship?

Some talk about how many years it takes to heal from divorce, sometimes tying it to the number of years married.  I have heard one year of healing for every four or five years of marriage.  But too often, people rush back into the field of relationships half healed, like the players of the team I described.  Some people may do that to try to prove that THEY aren’t the people who are somehow to blame for the marriage, that THEY are okay!  But to rush back too fast increases the odds of another relationship failure.  And the statisticians say that in second or third marriages, the odds are already way against us. 

The best holiday gift for those who have been relationship wounded, is the gift of healing. 

I like that the prophecies about Jesus mention the phrase (echoed by Wesley in his Christmas carol “Hark the Herald”) “risen with healing in his wings.”  Christmas is about healing, healing of sin, sorrow and the woes of earth.  I encourage you to allow Christmas to remind you to seek the healing from God that brings wholeness, rather than settling for something less.  How much better it is for two people who have experienced healing and restoration to join together in marriage than for two still limping in pain to try to start something fresh in their weakened state.  If you have a friend or family member who you believe is rushing into a new relationship too quickly, though they may not be willing to hear what you have to say, it is still a caring thing to encourage them to consider slowing down.  As I have heard said many times, “If it is truly love, it will still be love in a year from now, because love can wait.”

TL:dr  New relationships are best pursued when healing is complete, not from the state of loneliness or desperation.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

When Harry Met Sally..... and your Divorce!

Harry And Sally and Holiday Friendship

The holidays are just around the corner, with music, garland, candles and party horns.  For the recently divorced, they are also filled with lonely days, broken dreams, painful reminders of love lost and scheduling nightmares.  For those whose lives have moved on after divorce, new memories and traditions have often replaced the old, creating a new overlay of feelings of hope and new life.  But even after children have grown and moved away, schedules and relationships can still be hampered by time demands and expectations by one’s ex.  This time of year, filled with joy in so many homes, can be a season of heartache and loneliness for many, not only the divorced, but those now alone through widowhood as well.   I’d like to pass along a couple of suggestions for the upcoming season, whether you are the one divorced, or if you have a friend who has experienced it.  I have been reminded especially of this as I learn of several in my social circle who are experiencing divorce in this time. 

My first suggestion addresses the area of loneliness.  Just because you are now “alone” and your spouse has gone his or her own way, does not mean you need to be lonely.  If you ever saw the movie, “When Harry Met Sally,” then you may recall the arrangement the two leading characters had with one another, that if they ever had a holiday…notably New Year’s Eve, in which they were going to be alone, instead they would find a way to be with one another as friends.  Thinking ahead about those times when you may be alone, and especially feeling the loneliness that could come with it, can help you prepare alternatives to going through uncomfortable times of loneliness.  Probably a clear example could be that if you have younger children, it would be wise now to start considering plans for the time they will be away from your house to visit the other parent.  And, if you would learn their lesson, one of the best ways to plan is to arrange to be with someone else who will be facing potential loneliness. 

Let me add, as an aside, that some would warn that you make those plans with someone of the same gender, lest you end up creating confusion or giving false impressions with your friend.  Personally, sometimes I found that to be true, but there were other relationships in which a member of the opposite sex and I had clear discussions about our friendship and expectations, and so understood we were not interested in dating.  In any case, however you choose to handle it, I encourage you now to identify some of those times that might feel particularly lonely or painful, such as sitting alone at a Christmas Eve candlelight service, and begin making arrangements to avoid unnecessary hardship.

 The other suggestion I would like to offer is along the same lines, but with a different twist.  If you choose to not put yourself in loneliness producing situations unnecessarily, then consider going one step further. 

Instead of focusing solely upon how YOU will feel in that time, is it possible you could find another person or persons who have needs that you could meet by using that time to minister or care for THEM?  

In other words, look out for somebody ELSE’S best interest, needs, or feelings.  Be the one who helps somebody else conquer their loneliness by offering your friendship.  I can guarantee you our world is full of people who long to know that somebody cares.  Some of them live in nursing homes.  Others work in sheltered workshops.  Still others are just walking out of the divorce court themselves.  And others have just left a loved one in a cemetery.  YOU could be the key that could make all the difference in another person.  If you begin to look for people who need a friend, and for ways to make that difference.  You may find your holidays transformed into something more special than you imagine.

Oh, and by the way, a wise friend reminded me during my lonely days that though I might feel lonely, I was never truly alone.   Because we have a God who promises to never forsake us.  Don’t forget to include Him in your holiday plans, too!

TL:dr  Holidays can be lonely, but less so if you plan ahead and involve yourself with others

Friday, November 29, 2013

After Divorce: A Black Friday Resurrection


In the United States, today is Black Friday.  It is the day after Thanksgiving (only now, too many stores start it ON Thanksgiving….I boycott those stores, myself), on which businesses try to lure customers by offering special one day only deals.  Or, as friend told me the other day, it is the day when, after having given thanks for all the stuff we have, we spend the next day going out to buy more stuff!!  However, from the business side, supposedly it is the day that consumer spending enables stores to shift from being “in the red” to being “in the black” by starting to turn a profit for the year. 

Similar terms are used to describe the day the stock market tanked, the several times that has happened.  Or, I know of an place where new administration came in and fired a lot of long term employees so that cronies and friends could be hired in their place.  Other long term employees saw what has happening, and chose to slip out the door by choice a bit later, and were also replaced by cronies.  Those employees referred to that day of firing as Black Friday, and you may know of similar usages yourself.  But in divorce, Black Friday may be applied to other experiences.

Instead of seeing Black Friday in the positive sales kind of way, some of us may apply the term to the day we were served divorce papers, filed for divorce, were thrown out of our homes by our spouses, or when the divorce became final and we grieved the end of a marriage.  That date may be indelibly marked in your mind when the calendar rolls around, or, if you are like me, you may not be so good at remembering dates, but can certainly recall the awful experience.  (And, maybe you also relate to a subsequent time period that some of us call, “The Great Depression.”)  But like Good Friday of the Easter Season, which some traditions refer to as “Black Friday,” out of these awful times, resurrection can come. 

Financially, the stores talk about the day they turn a profit.  Many divorced people experience great financial upheaval, even taking bankruptcy as they seek to pay off their attorney fees and manage the bills on their own after the court ordered financial alterations.  (By the way, I have yet to meet a person who feels like the financial court orders were “fair.”)  Some say that it takes as long as ten years to regain your financial footing.  And I know it can take even longer, especially if an ex has a special affinity for going to court.  In that case, you may be like the businesses, and rejoice when your Black Friday comes, and you are finally able to make ends meet, and feel a bit of the stress lift as your financial world finally gains some equilibrium.

But for me, Black Friday sales are a reminder of how far we have gotten from the core of what Christmas is all about, and the same can be applied to Hanukkah.  Hanukkah is a reminder of a time when God made special provision for his people, revealed that he was with them at a time of deliverance through the miraculous burning of the temple menorah.  But as with Christmas, shopping has almost taken over, and Santa is on every corner with reindeer, while those outside the church clamor for celebration of Winter Solstice instead of Christmas.  The Christ child in the manger is all but forgotten.  And yet, the greatest Christmas present ever given was when God gave his son, born in a manger, to come as our Redeemer, dying on the cross for our sins that we may live eternally if we choose to accept through faith the gift he purchased. 

If you are struggling in a time of divorce, the Black Friday deals may be very tempting, as you seek to manage Christmas on a very tight budget.  But I want to encourage you to allow the financial limits to help you restore a more meaningful focus to the holiday.  

Let go of the rush to buy the perfect and most expensive gifts, or even to compete with your ex in what kind of gifts you give.  Instead, find a new way to restore in your celebration reminders of the true meaning of Christmas, the most perfect and timely and beautiful and precious gift ever given.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”  

Friday, November 22, 2013

A New Way to Look at Giving Thanks... after Divorce....


We are quickly approaching the American holiday of Thanksgiving, a day originally set aside for the people of the United States to stop and give thanks to God for all the blessings we enjoy.  It is a day of good food, family and friends, and some families still know that God is the one we are to thank, though many have lost that understanding.  When one has experienced divorce, Thanksgiving, like every other holiday, is impacted in ways that can be very difficult for parents and for children. 

Ephesians 5:20 tells us to be thankful in everything, which would have to include divorce.  That can be a hard thing to do.  Apart from difficult memories that may resurface of holidays gone by, there can also be the nightmare of trying to shuffle schedules to accommodate children, family, in-laws and ex-family members.  You may or may not see your children on this holiday, though you once could count on that.  Sometimes the mere process of children growing up into adults with their own families and lives impacts the celebration, other times it can be impacted by juggling schedules or by an interfering ex.  However, I do think that there are things to be thankful for, even after a divorce, and thought I’d make a little top ten list for your consideration.

           10)      In this time when all too often news reports tell about households in which one divorcing spouse kills the other, and maybe the children, and then themselves, you can be thankful that you came through your divorce alive and well.  It doesn't always happen.  Give thanks!

9)      If you have children from your previous marriage, be thankful for that.  Though it adds to the complications of divorce, children are a special blessing, even in the most difficult times.  There are many couples who would give anything to have a child of their own.   Give thanks!

8)      You may have experienced great upheaval, having to move, finding ways to make ends meet, managing a household on your own.  If you have a place to live and food to eat, Give thanks!

7)      While divorce radically alters the course of your life, and takes away many things you once held precious, it also gives you the opportunity to start fresh, to make some new and better choices.  Give thanks!

6)      Though you may have been crushed, bruised, devastated and broken, you are still a person of worth, and may, in fact, be rediscovering parts of yourself that have long been forgotten.  Give thanks!

5)      In many cases, your marriage may have been a miserable place to be, unhappy, criticized or put down, sometimes filled with anger and disappointment, often leaving you feel lonely and unloved.  You no longer have to endure that on a daily basis.  Give thanks!

4)      This Thanksgiving, you have the opportunity to create new traditions that are meaningful to you, and to make the meal any way YOU want it to be!  Give thanks!

3)      Odds are, though your divorce has been difficult, you have found that you have some family and friends who have stood by you through it, and let you know you are loved.  Give thanks!

2)      Perhaps you have remarried, and found in that marriage the kind of spouse you always dreamed of and a kind of love you have never experienced before.  Give thanks!

And, most important of all…

1)      Though you have experienced the loss of the companion you expected to be with your entire life, there is one Companion who will never abandon you, no matter what life may bring your way.  Give thanks for the God who promises to never fail you nor forsake you!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Your Church.... Dying or Thriving?


So my wife ran across something surfing the net the other day that struck me as interesting when she showed it to me.  It was a list somebody had put together about things you can do that cause churches to close.  It reminded me of a sermon I gave in my church nine years ago, so I dug it out, and so, though it’s kind of random, I thought I’d add my tips to the mix out there in the blogosphere.  I would also suggest that many of these same issues will also strangle a marriage!  So, here are the tips, some of which are about individuals, others are about churches.  Follow these tips only if you want your church to close it’s doors.

Areas 1-12 refer to individual attitudes and behaviors

These first three have always been key issues for church life/growth:
1)  Use your Bible as a dust collector.
2)  Assume outreach and witnessing is somebody else's job.
3)  Pray only for your own needs, and certainly never for church leadership or the lost souls in our communities and the world.

These areas, though timeless, seem prevalent in many churches today.
4)  Participate in backbiting, gossip, criticism, nitpicking, and strife by speaking or listening to it…and so claim grumbling and murmuring as your spiritual gifts instead of focusing on the positive things in life and in your church.

5)  Value only the ministries and gifts that YOU like or benefit from, rather than the ones God chooses to bring for the betterment of the entire church.

6)  Develop a self centered focus, where you always ask what did I get out of it, instead of asking how it serves the greater kingdom of Christ.

7) Become suspicious and decide everybody else is working against you, rather than seeing fellow church members as varied parts of a single body of Christ working toward the common good of the kingdom.

8) Practice a pseudo Christianity where you have an appearance of godliness, but don't allow any real power to change your life or to work through you to change the lives of others.

9) Resist and quench any movement by the Spirit of God that causes people to become excited or emotional at God's touch upon them, or that causes them to step out in faith into new arenas of ministry.

10) Do everything you possibly can in your church….even if you only get the job half done….so that other people won't have to do anything.

11) Decide your church attendance based on convenience rather than commitment.

12) Choose to be a taker in your church, rather than a giver.

Both Individuals and Church bodies adopt these attitudes/behaviors in dying churches:

1) Find a plateau in your spiritual growth where you can be satisfied to dwell…you can also get satisfied in plateaus in your church's growth, too.

2) Focus on what you can't do, rather than what you could do… as individuals and as a church.

3) Place limits on what you are willing for God to do in you or through you or your church.

4) Make your decisions and operate out of fear and uncertainty, rather than faith, risk taking and boldness.

5) Go into any future God has kicking and screaming, rather than with enthusiasm, excitement and hope.

6) Ignore or refuse to act on the opportunities and challenges God places before you or before your church.

These attitudes are often adopted by dying church bodies:

1) Help create division by adopting an “us/them” mentality to describe all sorts of church interactions.

2) Develop a system that is power oriented and territorial rather than servant and humility oriented.

3) Become program and property centered, rather than people centered.

4) Adopt a "pastor as messiah or scapegoat" attitude, rather than examining issues the church body needs to face and deal with.

5) Have no spiritual vision or dreams for the kingdom, focusing instead only on how things used to be, or how they are, but never the possibilities that could be.

6) Set up barriers and hurdles to impede ministries, instead of empowering people to follow God's calling in their lives.

7) Develop a church mentality of maintaining and surviving, doing things in ways that are good enough to get by, rather than staffing and planning for growth or seeking all things in excellence.

8)  Ignore that the love chapter is addressed to churches, not married couples.

9)  Let die your heart for missions and desire to reach the lost.

There are churches with these attitudes that continue to exist, but the glory of God has already departed from them.  They have become nothing more than religious social clubs that do nothing in terms of discipleship, and their doors will eventually close….and they should….because they no longer fulfill the purposes for which God established his church.

Praying that your approaching Thanksgiving is giving you time to reflect and ponder.  Giving Thanksgiving in all things, even leaves on the ground.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Faith That is Part of a Real World


My last blog was on divorce in relation to abusive relationships, and a Christian response to such situations.  I was actually rather surprised at the reception, because it was one of my most read blogs in several months.  The sad part is, because I think all of us know abusive relationships are more common than many in the churches would like to admit…except that while it isn’t addressed often, church folks know it SHOULD be addressed.  Because we know it happens, and it happens too often, and it even happens in homes of people who regularly attend church  It’s just that all too often the church does not know how to deal with it effectively, and instead it often gets ignored in the church and left to the social workers, courts and psychologists.   

It is one topic that the church is all too often sadly silent about when the church has clear scriptural teaching that contradicts any acceptance of abusive behavior.  Why is the church so silent in these things?

Some have pointed out how poorly the Catholic Church handled the molestation of young boys by some clergy members.  And they should be criticized for that.  But they are not alone.  Abusive relationships are far too common in many areas of society, including within too many churches.  I have been particularly bothered, myself, by those who turn to Ephesians 5 to claim the husband is head of the home and then use that as justification for controlling and abusive behaviors.  Headship and submission in that chapter, so often quoted and misused is only to be understood through the example of Jesus, as is clearly indicated in the passage.  Christ as head of the church lays down his life for the church, and chose to serve instead of being served, and that is a far cry from the kind of headship that would seek to control and abuse those of whom a husband would seek to be the head.  And the verse about a wife submitting is twisted into something that was never intended, because it is often quoted with no reference to the fact that earlier in the chapter the call is for husband and wife to submit to one another, and to Christ.  It is this mutuality of respect, service and support that Ephesians speaks of, not the domineering of a misguided husband or the browbeating of an angry wife. 

I should probably not have been surprised at how many people were interested in that blog.  Because I think people are hungry for a faith that deals with the real world, rather than sweeping the tough issues under a rug, turning a blind eye to the real struggles of people in the congregation and in the world while making declarations of wrongdoing by those outside the church.  My recollection is that Jesus challenged us to deal with the logs in our own eyes before we even THINK about dealing with the specks in the eyes of others.  How much more refreshing it is, it seems to me, to be part of a fellowship where people acknowledge their struggles and imperfections, supporting one another as we seek to become more like Christ and disentangle from ourselves from the sins that stain our lives an leave us shattered and broken.  How can a doctor help heal a person who refuses to acknowledge they are sick and seek the doctor’s help?  How can we experience the healing of the Great Physician when we turn a blind eye to the life areas that need to change while pretending to be dependent upon God’s mercy and grace? 

The Christianity that most impresses me is the version I have been blessed to see in the lives of certain believers here and there through the course of my life.  Those people have represented to me and to others they meet the kind of faith that encounters individuals whose lives have been damaged by sin or hardship, and in the encounter chooses to walk alongside those people with humility and compassion, rather than sit in judgment with attitudes of rejection and “holier than thou.”  I especially see this distinction played out in the way various Christians and churches choose to deal with the reality that there are people in their congregations experience the brokenness of divorce.  I have been so blessed to have brothers and sisters who met me at my point of brokenness when I experienced divorce, and gave me the hope, acceptance and encouragement I needed for healing that pain.  

I hope your experience of the Christian faith includes those kind of people.  And I also hope that those who encounter you in life experience that kind of faith in you.