FB conversion pixel

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Celebrate your history...

Katy Days!!

So my little town just finished their annual celebration of Katy Days.  It’s kind of a festival held this time of year, with various live music events, foods, vendors, historical presentations, things like that…AND TRAINS!  The celebration is built around the remembrance of the fact that our little town was a significant central hub for a Midwest train line:  The MKT (Missouri, Kansas and Texas), affectionately known as the Katy Railroad.  So the historical museum is open all weekend, including the IronHorse Museum which is all about trains, primarily the Katy.  It is a simple museum…I have seen several railroad museums that are bigger, but it is pretty good for a town our size (read:  small).  I’m not a good enough historian to identify exact times and details, but our town was established in the late 1800’s around the new train line, and our town boasted of a very large roundhouse, extensive shops, a big depot and the administrative offices for the line.  (Note: Parsons Kansas was established in 1870 and named after Levi Parsons, the President of the Missouri-Katy-Texas Railroad.  Parsons served as the hub for the MKT Railroad and there were five different rail lines going in different directions.)


But if you talk to the railroad buffs, they will also quickly remind you that in the late 60’s and early 70’s, things were changing in the rail business, and bit by bit the line was reduced here in town until there are only a couple of lines left with minimal support facilities, all now owned by the Union Pacific.  Some even will claim that the rail line pulling out had devastating economic and growth impact on the community from which it has never recovered.  And maybe it did.  Yet there have been other businesses that have arisen, with factories and retailers that didn’t even exist in town when the rail line was prospering…life has gone on.  But in spite of the ambivalent, and sometimes hostile, feelings that people have toward the historical fact, the town still celebrates the annual Katy Days to remember.  And maybe as a way to bring a bit of an economic boost to the community now and then, kind of finding a way to still benefit from the railway of old.  But I had some other thoughts of my own I’d like to pass along.
Notice the celebrating of something people remember fondly, even though it also has a degree of resentment attached.  When we remember our pasts, we can create a celebration of things that weren't really as rosy as we’d like to think…as sometimes people do who wish their spouse would return and yet forget the abuse or misery they suffered.  This is not a healthy or realistic way to approach things.   Another alternative that people follow is to so focus on the good old days that they live their entire lives in the past, nor able to recognize or accept the inevitability of change in our world.  Sometimes this translates into spending all your time wishing things could go back to the way they were, and never able to look to the future with joy or hope, yearning for what will be instead of merely longing for what was. 

But the Katy Days celebration exemplifies an alternative that can be a good example as we deal with our varied pasts and difficult times of loss or change.  The celebration is put together by people who are fully aware of the sorrow over the way things transpired years ago, but who choose to highlight not the negative emotions and events, but the fond memories and the good things of that time period.  We can spend our lives pretending there was nothing bad, we can spend our lives only paying attention to the good, or we can remember things for what they were, celebrate what was good about them, accept that life is always changing and lessons we learned from it all prepare us to make a brighter future.  Kind of like the little engine that could, wouldn't you say?  I think I can, I think I can…..  Toot, toot!

TL:dr:  Change happens so focus on the positive. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

How's your Lawn?

Unwatered or Unnatural?

I like PhoenixArizona in general, actually.  I have visited many times over the years, especially since I have family living there.  In fact, this last trip down was for the memorial service of a dear uncle who had passed away.  I have special memories, favorite places, favorite things to do and always try to discover something new as well.  (Don’t worry, I’m not going to discuss all of those, you can read on!)  So I went on an early morning walk   (one of my favorite desert things to do) and noticed a couple of things that had me thinking.  One was a sad thing, as I noticed that even though Phoenix has many places they try to make the city look nice and artistic, there always seems to be trash strewn along the roads and sidewalks.  New York is like that, too.  The other thing I noticed probably because in the upcoming volume of the divorce book, I have several reflections based on Jesus’ soils parable, and it got me to thinking about some things I might share with you.

As I fly or drive into Phoenix, I am always struck by the idea that millions of people choose to live together in a place where there is very little water naturally available. Most of it comes in through canals directed to various places, ultimately coming out of the mountains to the north.  Almost anything can grow in this area, as long as you irrigate.  So walking along, I would see three kinds of yards.  The first are the ones that are simply desert oriented.  These are yard where people know that the grass found in yards elsewhere does not survive in the desert on its own, so they create yards that are more desert friendly, with pea gravel, cactus and aloe.  The rest of the yard is simply a sandy desert theme.  But most places like having yards with grass.  I would walk by some of the nicest yards, well watered, well kept, that look really great.  But right next door may be a yard that has reverted to sand, as those owners have neglected the needed watering.  As I proceed from here, you may want to take what I share as a metaphor for your own life, or maybe for your marriage or divorce, because those were the images that came to my mind as I reflected on what I saw.

The first kind of yard, the desert theme, can be an interesting approach to things.  Those owners simply step back and take a realistic look at their situation and seem to decide a couple of things.  I think they must remind themselves that they chose the desert as the place they wanted to live, so why bother to try to create something that belongs to some other climate in the first place?  And the second thing I think they do is simply take a realistic look at things:  grass isn't part of this environment, what is?  What things belong here and I enjoy?  How can I simply take the reality of the desert to create something I enjoy for my yard?  And then they decorate with some lovely cactus flowers and rough stone and create something pretty nice.  I think married couples can create good marriages doing that as well, by simply not trying to be something they aren't  taking a realistic look at themselves and their life circumstances, and then building their marriage based on the realities of their lives.  At least, it sure makes sense to me, doesn't it YOU? 

Others, like the lush green yards, instead of looking merely at what is, also look at what could be with a little effort and imagination, and so go about doing the things to make something more.  They put in irrigation pipes, they set timers to flood the lawn, they plant orange trees and azaleas, and end up with a pretty scenic spot out of the deal.  But it requires a lot of intentional planning, thought and effort.  And some marriages thrive doing the same thing.

But what I noticed most was the contrast between the yard owners who had let theirs go, and their neighbors with lush green grass.  The title of this blog captures the conclusions I came to in my reflections.  The first one is that in order to have a quality lawn in Phoenix, you have to commit and be diligent to keep up the watering and the other tasks of lawn maintenance such as edging and mowing.  Without that nurturing care, the lawn dies.  And it appears to die very quickly under the scorching heat, and soon reverts to nothing but desert sand.  It seems to me that the same is true for us, as individuals and as couples.  If we are going to be people of high character, it requires diligence on our part, because we can quickly decay and revert to something less.  I know this is true of our spiritual beings.  Our understanding of God and our relationship with Him is not something that just goes on its own, it is something we must nurture and cultivate, if we want that area of our lives to prosper.  If we want our marriages to thrive like the lush green of a healthy lawn, we need to be willing to be diligent to keep up the things that make for a good marriage: time together, good communication, consideration, that sort of thing.  If you are divorced, then you may recognize here how your marriage had gotten to the desolate point it had reached, as you reflect on the care not provided.

But then I also thought more along the lines of the people with the first yard.  The yards are gorgeous, and I grant that the desert is extremely fertile when things are watered, but there is also a certain artificial-ness to it all.  In rain forests and jungles, there is no need to try to make things grow…plants grow and grow and grow all by themselves!  In those locations, the issue is more about how to keep them from taking over!  So there is a sense in which the green yard people in the desert are trying to make their places something they are not!  And they do it for appearance’s sake, of course, they want their places to look nice.  But even if they make the yard nice and plush, the truth is, that is NOT the nature of the desert…the nature of it is to be waterless, and to harbor those hardy plants the thrive under these extreme conditions.  For the lawns to truly be lush would require a change in nature, the rain patterns to shift and turn this area into a jungle which, by nature, is a thriving place for plants. 

I think sometimes individuals, Christians and marriages all make the same kind of error in their lives.  They do the things it takes to change the way things appear to make them seem wonderful, but they never really deal with the core issue of the need to change their nature.  The marriage is a sham, the individual is disingenuous, or the Christian has no depth and is hypocritical.  It isn't enough to look godly, we must be godly if we want to please Him.  The need is for a change in the nature.  The couple in the marriage need to ask God for transformation to help make it what they cannot create themselves.  Paul says in Corinthians that Christ makes in us a new creation, that the old has passed away while the new has come, as if describing a desert turned to rain forest.  (Interestingly enough, many deserts in the world were, in fact, once lush jungles and forests, until nature changed.) 

So does any of this resonate with anything in your life?  I know that in mine, there are places that need real transformation, not merely a change of appearance.  And I know that taking a realistic look at my situation makes a huge difference in what I expect and what I know I can reasonably try to create.  And I also know that the touch of God is an absolute essential for areas where my feeble attempts at beauty leave something to be desired.  Maybe the lawn of YOUR life could use some thoughtful consideration, too. 

TL:dr  In life, as in lawns, it is wise to assess ourselves and our relationships based on the realities of life, and deal with the real nature of things, not artificial constructs of our own making.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Divorce and the Graduate

What’s the Worst Thing About Divorce?

Somebody actually asked me that question one time.  Do you want to guess what my answer was?  I simply said, “Everything.”   I was reminded of that the other night, after having attended the graduation of one of my step-children.  Being the last child to graduate, there was an awareness of the end of an era, the end of court ordered schedule and financial negotiations.  At yet, in the attending, there was the awareness of so many opportunities missed as time was spent with the other parent, and the awkwardness that arises as each seeks to find a niche for themselves without intruding or being intruded upon by the other parent.  Even something as simple and significant as a high school graduation is impacted by the complications and emotional upheavals of divorce and court battles.  And impacted even more than a decade since the divorce of her parents.  And there will be difficult things to handle for many, many years to come.  You remember the fairy tales of childhood, where the prince and the girl meet, marry and live happily ever after?  That is such an artificial myth, isn't it?  But people who believe you go to court and get the divorce, then life happily divorced ever after are also believing an untrue myth.  Those who believe divorce is some easy solution, or that you go to court and get the decree and then it is over, are sadly mistaken.  Tragically mistaken.  Irreversibly mistaken. 

Having said that, though, I do want to acknowledge that there are many who have suffered terrible abuses in their marriages:  physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse.  For those people, divorce does set up opportunity to at least minimize some of those things.  But even then, a spouse who treated you poorly will become an ex-spouse who treats you even more poorly, just with less opportunity and from a greater distance.  Many of us can relate to that truth.  The complications of divorce are so many and so sad.  In my books, there are special sections that recognize this fact, that Christmas, your birthday, or the child’s graduation are all impacted and complicated for many years to come by the fact of divorce.  At the very least, these events bring bittersweet moments in which memories of past celebrations or emotions of lost opportunities bubble to the surface.  And, of course, there are those of us who experience the garbage of individuals intentionally seeking to make things difficult or to be intrusive. 

Today, I would like to simply raise a thought with you in regard to this.  Divorce cuts a wide swath of devastation and loss in our lives, and the scars upon our hearts can take a long time to heal over.  Yet it is a kind of devastation that is very difficult for others to understand, even if you try to explain it to them, it remains beyond comprehension.  (Which, by the way, is why my little book is helpful for people going through divorce, it speaks from within the shared experience as it points a way for connecting with God.)  AND YET…

And yet, everybody has things in their life that are hard.  Being divorced, it is easy to think that life could be so much easier if you didn't have to deal with all the resulting garbage.  And it would be nice not to have to deal with all that.  But even if you didn't deal with that, there would still be junk.  Finances could still be tight.  Your job could still be stressful.  Your child could still be having problems at school.  It is an artificial unreality that we create when we allow ourselves to be so bogged down with the extremely frustrating hassles of divorced life that we begin to believe it would be so much rosier if it hadn't happened.  In some ways that is true, but those other roses have thorns, too.  If you are struggling, it might be wise to recall that.  Just thought I’d pass it along. 

TL:dr  Divorced life is difficult and complicated….but life without divorce is, too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Destruction in Moore reminds me of divorce because...

Can You Believe the Devastation?

I grew up in the Midwest.  I have heard lots of tornado warning sirens through the years.  I have seen the aftermath of tornadoes up close.  But I have never actually seen a tornado, except one in the sky a few miles off, that hadn't quite touched down yet and was heading elsewhere.  One of the daughters told a story about a time she was at school in North Carolina under a tornado watch, and they were going around telling everybody they had to go to the basement.  She looked out the window and replied, “I’m not going to the basement yet.  This is the time back home when we go outside to see if we can see any forming.”  And she is right.  I remember several times walking the sidewalk out front with her searching the skies to see if we could locate any possible tornado clouds.  But we never did, except the one I mentioned above.  And that is just as well, actually…they are not something one really wants to see up close…not like those folks in Oklahoma this week.  I do think it would be exciting to be a storm chaser/spotter, though.  Maybe someday.

Our hearts surely go out to those folks picking up the pieces of their lives.  I have seen first hand what it looks like right afterwards, and have helped gather pieces of people’s lives.  The folks in Moore have their work cut out for them.  And from the interviews I have heard, have a great attitude that will help them through; and they seem so appreciative of any help that is offered, as I’m sure many of us will. 

Every time I see the destruction of a tornado, it also makes me think of divorce.  I am struck by the parallels between the visible devastation of a tornado and the invisible devastation of a divorce.  All those people displaced from their homes…by a tornado or by the papers filed at court.  As people emerge from the tornado shelters, they look around and feel like their lives have just been shattered, just as many do who walk out of court with a divorce decree in hand.  As I look at the tornado’s path, I see all those memories, mementos and possessions scattered far and wide, many never to be recovered.  Possessions and mementos are lost in divorce, as well, sometimes in the possession of the ex, sometimes lost in the upheaval of hurried packing, sometimes destroyed by an angry spouse.  The people in Moore are being asked what they will do, where they will go, whether they will rebuild there in Moore.  The same questions every divorced person asks inside.  The same decisions have to be made, albeit without the help of insurance coverage or disaster relief assistance.  Most of the people interviewed in Oklahoma indicated they would rebuild their homes, start again.  But it will never be the same when rebuilt.  The doorpost that has the children’s height marked on it won’t be in the new home, the old familiar walls are gone forever.  After a divorce, one has to start rebuilding as well, rebuilding a life, maybe a career, probably rebuilding their ability to trust, definitely rebuilding a future.   And many things are lost forever, never to be the same again.  People will gather round to support and help the tornado victims in Moore.  Sometimes people do the same for victims of divorce, but not often enough.  I was very blessed with caring people during my rebuilding process, but many go through that pain all alone.

If you have been divorced, I am telling you nothing new.  If you have not, I invite you to view the pictures of Oklahoma with a double perspective.  See the people and destruction there on the ground, but then also recognize that similar destruction has come to the one you know who is divorcing or divorced.  As your heart feels with sadness for the loss the tornado victims have suffered, and you experience compassion as you seek to find a way to help, let some of that sadness spill over to those whose marriages have died, and your compassion cause you to consider that they, too, might need your encouragement and help. 

Would I rather have gone through a tornado or a divorce?  I’m not sure, especially now that I am years down the road in a new marriage I find very fulfilling.  But if I was in a situation where I had a choice, I wonder if I might not have chosen to experience a tornado over a divorce.  Because during my divorce I recall saying to a friend as I was sorting out household possessions, “It’s just stuff.  What really matters most to me has already been destroyed.”  And yet, as my new marriage proves, just as those folks in Moore will rebuild and move on, so it is possible after a divorce to rebuild a meaningful life and move on into something good.  But both require a lot of faith and a lot of work.

TL:dr  There are significant parallels between the destruction of a tornado and the destruction of a divorce.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Acknowledge What Is... and Then Let Go!

What’s Wrong With Me?

I am probably one of the few males in the world who really does like the old movie, When Harry Met Sally.”  If you have seen it, you may remember the scene where Meg Ryan’s character finds out her boyfriend got engaged to somebody else, and she cries out that it wasn't that he didn't want to get married, it was that he didn't want to marry her, struggling with what is wrong with her that nobody wanted to marry her.  That is an emotion lots of people feel in one way or another during or after a divorce. 

What is wrong with me? 

That can be experienced lot so of different ways.  What’s wrong with me that he/she left me for another?  What’s wrong with me that I treated him/her so badly?  What’s wrong with me that I didn't learn my lesson and work harder to make the marriage good?  What’s wrong with me that he/she didn't want to live with me anymore?  What’s wrong with me that I couldn't see this coming?  What’s wrong with me that I couldn't make it all work out?  What’s wrong with me that makes me so unlovable?  What’s wrong with me that I didn't make the changes I should and so drove him/her away? What’s wrong with me that I chose to marry somebody like that in the first place?  As I look around at all the happy couples who have good marriages and love one another and manage to keep theirs going so well, what’s wrong with me?

Maybe I could offer a few possible responses that might be helpful, if you have ever felt that way (whether you are divorced or not!).  Let me illustrate first from a wedding I recently performed.  At the front of the sanctuary, as the ceremony was proceeding and it was my turn to share some thoughts for the beaming couple in front of me, I told the groom I had some bad news for him.  I explained that this woman he loved and was about to marry was, indeed, NOT PERFECT.  She had issues, struggles, shortcomings….she just was NOT a perfect person.  But then I reminded them that HE wasn't perfect either!  Marriage is the joining together of two imperfect people, with radically difference perceptions (remember, she is from Venus while He is from Mars!) to go build a home in an imperfect world.  So, part of what is wrong with you, or with me, or your ex is that none of us is perfect or were married to a perfect person, and that combination of imperfection can sometimes turn very sour.  This imperfection, by the way, is what the scripture refers to as our sinful nature, the fallen state not only of humanity but of the world system damaged by sin that leaves creation groaning for redemption, says Paul in Romans.

Secondly, maybe the breakup with your spouse isn't so much about what is wrong with YOU, as it is what is wrong with your EX!  I know some individuals who were abandoned by their spouses and left us all wondering, “WHAT was he/she thinking?  This was a GREAT person left behind!”  Or, maybe you beat yourself up asking why you couldn't have chosen more wisely in the first place.  There is truth in the old saying that love is blind, and so sometimes we cannot or will not see things that might have warned us.  But sometimes we made choices the best we knew how at the time, even under the guidance of God, and then life happens.  We just need to give ourselves a bit of credit that we did the best we could given the knowledge we had at the time, and reality is that we didn't

 know then what we know now, and that makes all the difference.

Finally, you can waste a lot of time trying to figure it all out, all to no purpose.  Sure, if you can identify things you could do differently in your life, or ways you can grow, or things for which you need to forgive your ex…these things are all helpful when looking back and asking where you have failed.  But to be able to identify the 30% that came from your issues and the 70% that came from your ex’s (or vice versa) really accomplishes nothing usable.  Truth is we each contribute to the successes and failures of our marriages, and we always have the opportunity to become more than what we are, to become more of what God desires us to be, and these are really the only useful purpose of asking what is wrong with us.  And I believe it is also useful to acknowledge that there are some things we cannot change on our own.  We need the alcoholic support group, we need the encouragement of friends, we need the help of our doctor or counselor, and most of all, we need God’s Spirit to guide, forgive and strengthen the things in our life that will create the futures that could possibly be. 

So what’s wrong with you?  Oh, probably lots of things.  And lots of things are wrong with me, too.  But neither of us is stuck there.  And it is the same boat that all of us are in.  So acknowledge what is, and then let it go.  Limit the time your rehash the past so that you will have the energy to build the future.

TL:dr  We can obsess over what we did wrong, or we can focus on the things we could possibly do RIGHT in days ahead. 


Friday, May 10, 2013

Yep! Even Divorced Dad's can benefit from tips for Mother's Day!

Top Ten Mother’s Day Tips for Newly Divorced FATHERS!

1)    Be a stand up guy….do what you KNOW is right to help your kids honor their mother…time, money, shopping trips, card making, whatever.  (Regardless of what SHE does for Father’s Day.)

2)   Tell your kids that she is their mom and will always be their mom…to them and also to YOU.

3)   You may need to help the kids know sizes, tastes or with some cash and cards. 

4)   You may not expect it, but it might be a rough day without your wife...allow for that in your plans.

5)   Without your wife, you now have opportunity to spend all your time and energy on your own mother, if she is living.  Don’t waste it.  And let her know that her baby (you) are going to be okay.

6)   Speaking of your mother, remember she may be sorrowing over the effects of the divorce on her time with the grandchildren…and Mother’s Day may highlight that for her.  Help your kids make that up for her.

7)   Mother’s Day can raise the specter of all that you have lost in the divorce and renew feelings of anger and hurt.  But remember, your precious children from that marriage are WHY you are celebrating today.

8)   If this is your first post divorce Mother’s Day, and your church makes a point to honor mothers, it may be a good day to go fishing instead (but you didn't hear it from me, okay?)

9)   If you had a decent relationship with your ex-mother-in-law, consider sending a card to her as well.  But don’t do it if you've been mean to your ex!  At least, not without an apology.

10) Remember: by still teaching your kids to respect and honor their mother, you are also teaching them to respect and honor the step-mother you may one day marry!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Helping your friend...who is divorced, on Mother's Day


Top Ten Tips to Help a Divorced Friend on Her First Divorced Mother’s Day

1)     Don’t be surprised if you don’t see her in church……it is hard enough without seeing lots of couples and hearing more stories than you want to hear.

2)    Odds are she will have her kids with her, but may not have the funds to go out to dinner…if you have funds, how about sending her a restaurant gift card?

3)    If her kids are young, somebody may need to do for them what dad used to, helping them shop or making a project for mom.  You could be that somebody (although, there are some of us dads who still make sure the kids have funds for Mother’s Day for our ex….so don’t assume.)

4)    If you have a close friendship, you may want to find a way to offer a bit of the pampering she may have experienced (or should have) on past Mother’s Days:  hire a teenager to clean house for her, send a gift certificate for a massage, that kind of thing.

5)    Give her a call, later in the day, and make sure the listening end of your phone is working well.  It very likely will be a difficult and emotional day….she may need a shoulder to cry on or a person with whom she can vent. 

6)    I wonder if she will get any Mother’s Day cards?  You could make sure there is at least one.

7)    IF SHE DOESN'T HAVE CHILDREN---don’t assume it is a no big deal day….remember, she didn't just lose her husband, she lost a potential family.

8)    Maybe she’d like to spend the day with HER mother, and doesn't have the resources to get there…you might be able to help out.

9)    The most significant help you give may not be on Mother’s Day.  It may be over lunch the day after when you ask how things went.  It just helps to know somebody cares, or even that somebody is aware that it might have been a difficult day
10) Don’t underestimate the power and meaning of prayer.  Pray for her on Mother’s Day, and let her know she is in your prayers.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Top Ten Mother’s Day Tips for Newly Divorced Mothers

Top Ten Mother’s Day Tips for Newly Divorced Mothers

(BTW:  It may be even harder for divorced women who are NOT mothers, as they experience an opportunity shattered.)

1)    Really, like you moms would need tips from me???  Most moms I know are smart enough to appreciate everything your kids do on Mother’s Day anyway, so the first tip is:  follow your heart with your kids….remember all the special bonds you have with your children as you celebrate and let those come out.

2)   Focus on your time with your kids….especially if your ex is doing things that could distract you, it isn't about him, it’s about you and your kids.  Leave your feelings about him somewhere else for the day.

3)   Let it truly be a day of rejoicing.  It may be tempting (and fully understandable) to be in mourning on this special day as you are aware that the family you had dreamed and planned for has been torn apart by the ravages of divorce.  But you still have your children, you are still their mom, and God still can do marvelous things through you.

4)   A challenge to you:  if your ex helped the kids shop or make their cards or anything to make the day better for you….send him a thank you card.  It may impact for the better, relations with your ex for many years to come.

5)   Mother’s Day can raise the specter of all you have lost in the divorce and renew feelings of anger and hurt.  However, your precious children from that marriage are WHY you are celebrating today...there IS something good to remember and celebrate.

6)   I know Mother’s Day is supposed to be about you, but consider getting outside of yourself:  see if there is another woman who is struggling with the day, and do something to help make her day a little bit brighter.

7)   Watch your budget…in the midst of the hurt it can be tempting to splurge, and that may create big problems later.

8)   Your own mother, if she is still living, is also suffering from limited opportunities with her grandchildren.  Do your best to make Mother’s Day special for your mom, their grandmother.

9)   The break with your spouse complicates lots of relationships.  If you had a good relationship with her, will you send a Mother’s Day card to your ex-mother-in-law?  Or make sure your children do so for that grandmother?  (But don’t do it if you have been mean to your ex!  At least not without an apology.)

10) The Bible honors the mothers of Israel:  Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah.  And Mary is honored as the mother of Jesus.  If you choose, even on Mother’s Day, to pursue the paths of godly motherhood, your heritage will also be established by God.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Process of Divorce - Grief and Mess

Messy, Griefy Divorce--Reflected

I don’t know if you read the blog that has been featured on Paperblog of late, but I thought it had some really good thoughts, and I wanted to respond to and piggy back on various portions of the article.  The title of that article is “Divorced? It’s Messy and Grief is a Part of It” by Rhodainpittsburgh and one the first comments the author makes is:  “Divorced means you are wrapped up in grief because the dream of the family is lost.”  All of who experience divorce know what she means.  But I would like to suggest some fine tuning of the comment, specifically regarding the dream.  The dream of the family that she says is lost is, indeed, lost if it refers to the specific family whose relationships are now broken and strained.  There remains a dream of what a healthy, functioning family is, and that dream remains worth pursuing.  True, barring reconciliation it won’t happen with that original family.  But as one moves on in life, the dream can materialize in a second family, possibly tweaked by the reality of step children from a previous marriage.  In the midst of divorce it is easy to believe things can never be good again, which is not true; although they will be different.
 “Being divorced is really about having a whole new world view come into play. Just like grief, being divorced takes a good amount of time to recover,” is the next section for me to add my comment.  It is very true that a new world view enters life, much of which is an undesired world view, certainly nothing anyone would aspire to have.  That world view can become either extremely cynical, or one that is simply more realistic than the starry eyed idealism of youth.  And grief is exactly the right word…..the grief of divorce is the same as the other grief experienced in life’s losses, with the exception that after a divorce the “corpse” continues to interfere in your life, and he/she intentionally chose to leave and reject you, creating some significantly more intense dynamics in grief.  The hurt and sense of betrayal is far different from the grief of a death.  This difference may well add to the long process of healing the author refers to in her article.
Ms. Pittsburgh then goes on to discuss the perspectives of the dumped vs. the dumped upon, highlighting the shock and questioning about why.  She is, of course, right in the things she observes, including the rude awakening that can cause one to examine him/herself and one’s contribution to the problems of the failed marriage.  I remember my attorney and I discussing the fact that, generally speaking, the one who is filed upon faces a staggering learning curve to play catch-up with the spouse who has already begun the process of making plans and discovering legal as well as life options regarding divorce.  These things all combine to create such an intense shock that one can literally walk around in fear, desperation and the feelings of being overwhelmed.  It certainly is not the simple and easy process often depicted in movies.
As the author moves forward in her article, she begins to discuss the unhealthy ways the marriage got to the point of divorce, and the lessons that can be learned to avoid repeating the mistakes in the future.  As a pastor who has talked with many troubled couples through the years, the point she makes about avoiding problems and honest self-reflection could be expanded to include the admonishment that all too often couples are unwilling to face problems while they are still small, seeking help only after the problems have become almost unsolvable,  Or, what I have frequently seen as a cause of divorce is that, once a couple decides to work on their problems, the individuals are far too prone to focus on the problems they see in their spouse, and unwilling to do the hard work it takes to own up to one’s issues in a way that can lead to change and growth.  If you end up remarried, hopefully those words won’t describe you.
What lessons can be learned as one moves forward?  Rhodainpittsburgh makes several suggestions.  I would like to add a caveat to what is written:  what one really learns will be in the area of personal growth toward generally more healthy ways of relating and problem solving.  It is fairly dicey to take mistakes from a past relationship and try to apply correction to a future relationship, as each relationship is unique and each partner unique.  It is inappropriate to respond to a new partner in a way that is actually designed to avoid problems one had with a previous partner.  Those problems may not even apply in the new relationship!  It is more important to be, as the writer suggests, genuine and honest with yourself and your spouse, while open to growth and learning.  The example of silence she mentions in some cases may, indeed, be the stuffing of issues and attitudes, but others sort out their issues by means of silent reflection prior to speaking, while others still simply are quiet people who are more introverted and communicate more in nonverbal ways.  Again, the point is each person is unique and must be treated as such.
Further in the article, the writer speaks of reentering the world alone, without the partner you once had at your side.  Of course, she is right.  And that reentry can feel extremely uncertain and lonely.  On the other hand, it is also an incredible opportunity for a restart, the chance to choose a fresh way to live, to create a new kind of home environment, or even to be able to develop and express personality traits that had previously been left aside or long forgotten.  It is a wonderful opportunity to sit before God to simply ask, “What would you desire to do in my life and through my life from this point forward?”  Granted there may be some limitations, but there are also possibilities that did not exist in the previous troubled relationship.  I would encourage folks to never minimize the opportunity that the tragedy of divorce has created, though created in a terrible and very difficult way.
As she goes on to discuss loneliness and the opportunity to find yourself afresh, I would suggest that her point of rediscovering yourself is only part of the process, because you can also begin asking yourself, “But who do I want to become?  What do I want my life to reflect?  And, most important of all, what am I willing to do to get there?”  The loneliness, though absolutely overwhelming and often extremely depressing, does provide the solitude time to ask oneself questions such as these, without the constraints of answers imposed by a spouse with a different life agenda.
Rhoda warns one should not get lost in the loneliness and grief, seeking a balance instead.  In

fact, I would add an additional twist.  Not only the loneliness and grief, but don’t let even the divorce itself consume your life.  You are not merely a person divorced or divorcing.  You still are a unique individual, capable of making various contributions in the lives of those around you as a worker, a parent, a sibling or a friend.  Don’t allow divorce to somehow become your self-definition.  It is only one facet of the person you are. 
Yes, the process of divorce and life afterwards are complicated, messy and uncertain.  And no two are exactly alike...some couples manage to find ways to work it out well while others wage all out war for generations.  As a result, it is always hard to predict, or for specific advice to always apply.  But here are a few thoughts, partly suggested by Rhoda.  It is important to seek support and strength, but for that to be done in healthy ways and not in addictive or dependent relationships that can become very inappropriate and eventually more hurtful than the divorce.  And while there are common threads among those experiencing failing marriages and divorce, the truth is, most everything I said above cannot be generalized to fit everybody.  What is helpful for one person may be counterproductive for another.  What can bring healing to one might cause unnecessary hurt for another.  Just as couples in marriage must work out the particulars of relationship skills and tasks that work for them, so in divorce each individual has to find the direction that can lead them, over time, to wholeness and hope.  Personally, I do believe it is always best to process these things with God as your guide, hence the title of my book, Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce. But as Rhoda has so aptly demonstrated in her article, and as I seek to provide in my book and writings as well, sometimes it is simply helpful to make the journey through, as a shared journey with somebody who has gone through divorce previously who is willing to open their world, struggle and perspective enough to provide some tips along the way.  Maybe these articles can begin the process for some of you reading these pages.  At least, I hope so.

TL:dr  An insightful article about the struggles of divorce receives comment and input from Richard.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

An Alternative Reflection on Reese Witherspoon

Reese, Reese, Reese.

So have you ever wished to get rich?  I know those sweepstakes forms keep claiming my name is in the running, but I’m beginning to think they are just feeding me a line.  Ya think?  By now I can’t imagine you haven’t seen the news about Reese Witherspoon, and her arrest, and their whole Atlanta fiasco.  They are playing the video of the arrest now.  Her comments were first that he couldn't arrest her, she was an American citizen….which, of course, the officer was as well, serving a city filled with American citizens.  And then she went out into the whole, do you know my name sequence….because, after all, if he knew it was REESE WITHERSPOON he was arresting, he surely wouldn't do that.  And then, she went on the news and made a public apology….more or less.  If you don’t mind reading one more story, I’d like to throw in a few comments for your consideration.

First, let me say that we should give credit to Reese, because at least she had the integrity and courage to make the apology, and to stand up for the officers after the fact.  A LOT of people in her shoes would do neither one, so let’s appreciate that she did so.  Although she fell into a trap that I think far too many people make when she made her apology.  In her statement, she indicated they had one glass of wine too many (really?  Sure it was only one?).  And then she said that as her husband was arrested, she panicked and didn't even know what she was saying.  Really?  Do you see the trap, the fault?  It is one that is very common in our culture…in fact, in any culture it would seem.  “It’s kind of like the old, “It was that WOMAN you gave me who made me eat the forbidden fruit!”  “It was that snake who tricked me into eating that forbidden fruit!”  Funny, the snake in that story is the only one who didn't pass the buck.  So Reese tells us it wasn't her fault, she had one too many glasses of wine, and she was in a panic, therefore, she isn't really responsible for any of it.  As a person who has lost friends to drunk drivers and known spouses battered by a drunk husband or wife (yes, or wife!), I would point out that the odds are very good that nobody held the glass to Reese’s lips and forced her to drink it.  She IS responsible, she made the choice that led to the subsequent choices, whether she was not thinking clearly or not, her choices are what got her there.  And if she did get in such a panic and lost control for a bit, instead of writing off with a claim to not even know what she was saying, how about saying something more like, “I let my emotions get the best of me and lost control.  The things I said were very inappropriate and I apologize for having said any of them.”  No excuses.  No passing of the blame.  Just a simple statement.  At the same time, as far as public apologies go, hers was actually one of the better ones, I thought, so I’m not going to knock her for that. 

But there did surface in the video something I do think is worth noting, especially if you are one who keeps sending in those sweepstakes forms or buying those lottery tickets.  What surfaced was not merely a Reese Witherspoon issue, but one that is extremely common if you pay close attention to the world around you, and one that is extremely sad.  It was in her discussion with the officer in her outrage, as she asked if he knew who she was, as if the fact that she is a wealthy, famous or beautiful actress somehow made her better than any other person the officer might arrest, or would exclude her from being subject to the same laws.  It is THAT attitude that I think is dangerously prevalent in our culture, but also in many cultures around the world.  We see it in Washington ad nauseum.  We hear it almost every time a Hollywood red carpet is rolled out.  This, I believe, is one of a multitude of issues that Paul writes about in 1 Timothy 6:9:  “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (ESV)  The temptation to think oneself superior to another.  (Remember, it was CAIN who asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”)  The temptation to think one is not subject to the same laws as others.  The temptation to think one can buy their way out of difficult situations (a number of those come to mind!).  The temptation to expect others to treat you as special or important.  The temptation to pride.  Or, which I don’t hear in the Witherspoon case, the temptation to do anything and everything to get that wealth, power or fame, regardless of who it hurts or what moral lines must be crossed (and which of us can’t put names into that one?).

I do appreciate that old saying about the ground being level at the cross…..there is no rank, no privilege, no wealth and no power that makes one of us have any higher standing before God than another.  Grace is administered to each of us the same way, through the mediation of the cross and the willingness to confess our sins as we turn to God for forgiveness.  God isn't any more impressed with Warren Buffet’s or Bill Gate’s billions than with the quarter in the pocket of the New York homeless man.  God isn't any more impressed that Bush or Clinton spent 8 years living in the White House than he is with the suffering widow who spent 8 years in a nursing home.  If anything, it is US who ought to be the ones being IMPRESSED with GOD’S riches, prestige, power and glory. 

The catch?  Well, the catch is, it isn't only the wealthy, famous, powerful or privileged who suffer from the dangers of pride.  It resides among even among the most poverty stricken homes.  It’s just that the opportunities for the temptations to arise are far more abundant for people in those other positions.  We do them no favor treating them as if they are special; in fact, we may be helping create the problems they have.  I hope Reese has learned a good lesson, she seems to be a pretty decent person, but I don’t really know.  I know there are many in her shoes who haven’t learned a thing, and go from one bad incident to another in a never ending downward spiral.  Maybe the attempt to apologize is more reflective of the kind of person she is.  If I were cynical, I’d say she just didn't want to lose her career and fans.  But I am hopeful.  Just next time, Reese, accept the responsibility when you apologize.  That would be a good example to set for your colleagues among the rich, famous and powerful.  And it would be a good example for each of US to set in our own homes as well, don’t you think?

TL:dr  Reese Witherspoon’s arrest and apology reveal the dangers of fame and fortune, and the tendancy to pass the buck.