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Friday, July 26, 2013

Is Your Song Over?

Listen to the Mockingbird, tweet tweet!

Tweet tweet as in birdsongs, not as in twitter!  The old fashioned kind of tweets.  Was out for the morning constitutional this morning…pretty early, it was still dark.  
Walking along enjoying the morning sounds of nature.  Crickets chirping, frogs croaking, birds singing, and the occasional zzzzztt, zzzzztt of somebody’s bug zapper!   I wandered into kind of a funny neighborhood.  Although there are some bugs that cause me to enjoy that little zzzzztt sound!  And one of the birds singing so cheerily was a mockingbird.  They and woodpeckers seem to be early risers.  Maybe they all are as I don’t know that much about birds.  But I do enjoy listening to mockingbirds, and whistling back at them, knowing sometimes they will respond.  

Mockingbirds get a bad rap.  At least in my opinion.  Surely you have heard people challenge us all not to be like mockingbirds.  They always talk about how mockingbirds have no song of their own, they only imitate everybody else.  Then those folks challenge us to “find our own voice” and be the unique individuals we are created to be.  Okay, fine.  But there is another side to that story, it seems to me, speaking as a big mockingbird fan.

So yes, mockingbirds sing songs that are the songs from all sorts of other birds.  I wish I knew the songs better, because I don’t recognize that many of them.  And it is apparently true that they don’t have a song of their own, but I have noticed that doesn’t keep them from singing!  In fact, they seem to enjoy all sorts of birdsongs.  They sing the song of one bird, then of another, then another, and then jump into the air and flutter their wings as they make their way back down their high perches where they begin to sing all over again.  They just like music, and they don’t stop singing, even if it is the song they heard from some other bird.  It doesn’t seem to bother them at all that they sing the songs of other breeds.  In fact, I wonder if maybe they don’t sing the songs as a way to stir up the other birds and invite them to join into the singing.  And to do that, they cannot confine themselves to just one song, they like to sing them all!

I’m kind of like that.  I enjoy symphonies with the classical music, and bluegrass, and good jazz as well as Dixie, old hymns and new praise choruses, contemporary Christian and Big Bands, Sousa Marches and songs from musicals.  There are a few I don’t care for, but I won’t mention them, because a lot of other people DO like them.  I kind of think the mockingbird makes a good pattern for life.  I think it is kind of sad when people limit themselves to just one track, just one interest, and never stretch themselves beyond the familiar and comfortable.  I think it is also sad that some people spend so much of their lives trying to find out “who” they are, what their “unique voice” is in life, and never seem to recognize and appreciate all the variety around them like the mockingbird clearly does.  

Listen to the music of life around you, all the different ways people approach life, all the beauty that comes in varied forms.  Picasso paintings look nothing like Michelangelo, and Monet’s technique is far different from Rembrandt, yet they all hang side by side in the great art museums, because there is a place for them all.  Granted, each one found the style that worked well for them, but the museums are unwilling to limit their collections to just one painter.  Much as the mockingbird is unwilling to limit itself to just one song.  

Okay, so maybe I’m overplaying it.  But maybe not.  Does it ever occur to you, though, that there is a reason God decided to include such variety in creation.  And if so, then why do we think we must limit ourselves to just one variation of that creation?  

And what does all this have to do with divorce?  Well, nothing, really.  EXCEPT….sometimes, when you go through the experience of divorce, you can feel like your song is over, the song you know and once loved, the song that you thought would last a lifetime, has now been broken and has turned sorrowful rather than bringing joy.  The same is true for those who have lost a precious loved one, as well.  If this describes you, let me suggest that you learn the lesson of the mockingbird:  there are other songs to sing, and you can learn the songs from others.  In the case of divorce, the song may come through a surprising new love, or a new hobby interest, or a fresh start in lots of different ways.  The song of your life isn’t over, but it may be time to transform it into something fresh.  Listen carefully, you will find beautiful songs all around you here in God’s creation.  And if you can’t find your own, sing another you enjoy that you have heard sung by others.  Maybe it will cause YOU to leap in the air, too!

TL:dr  Divorce, and many experiences in life, may feel like the ending of life’s song.  But there are other songs we can learn, if we are willing to hear.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

What Does Your Personality Say About Your Prayers?


So what do you think of personality tests?  I think they are pretty useful, myself, though I usually flunk when I take them!  There are lots of personality tests out there and some are very interesting, others seem rather bizarre.  But one thing they all have in common is that, if you pay attention to what they are saying, you will discover that not everybody experiences or views the world the same way you do.  They don’t even all see it the same way I do!  

This is actually true for lots of reasons. With the Zimmerman trial, and the death of young Martin, we are hearing quite a great deal about your skin color and the country in which one grows up in can really shape how you experience events.  Our gender, our subculture, the chemical balance in our brain all combine to create an amazingly complex individual fashioned by a variable of factors throughout our lifetime.  These events and factors create our personality and shape our personality into different types - the personality tests seek to identify the ways in which various people experience the world and interpret the things they experience, and in so doing, help us understand why we think the way we do, as well as improve our understanding of other individuals.
Have you ever thought about a personality test in terms of your spouse or your ex?   Now if you were to ask my wife, she would tell you some silly story about personality tests and that I thought I should have her take one to decide whether or not I ought to continue to date her or not.  There is an event out of which she spins the yarn…but whether it is all she claims is highly debatable!  

The truth is, if you participate in any of the better dating/matchmaking services, a personality inventory of some sort is used to understand you and create your profile.  Well worth your time if you are hoping for a compatible match.  Many pastors, too, have some various personality tests they give to their engaged couples to help prepare them for marriage, by helping them understand the differences and similarities in their personalities.  Probably not a bad idea, because some personalities mesh much more easily than others. 

The truth is two individuals can experience the exact same event and interpret it in two completely different ways.  Which can be enriching in some situations, but in a marriage, it can be the grounds for lots of difficulties, especially if one spouse doesn't realize the role personality plays in the way we experience and interpret our realities.    Paying attention to the information from a personality inventory might make some individuals reconsider their choice of marriage partners long before they reached the altar.  At minimum, they wouldn't expect their spouse to we do!   

I’m sure that God’s guidance and wisdom can overcome obstacles in even the most opposite of personalities, and that the differences are often enriching to a marriage that might have been boring if we were too much alike, but the whole idea really raises some interesting possibilities, doesn't it?  I know that in my experience, the two different personality types of my first and my second wife have certainly played a big role in creating a vastly different relationship in my second marriage from my first, especially with all the things I learned about myself along the way.  Might be something to explore if you are considering getting married again, or even if you want to have a better understanding in your current relationships.

Anyway, perhaps you are wondering what got me started on all this in the first place.   Well, my wife showed me something she ran across on the internet that plays with the combination of prayer and the Myers-Briggs personality inventory.  I laughed enough I decided to pass it on to you.   If you are familiar with Myers-Briggs, you can jump on down to the prayer list below.  

Prayers for Myers-Briggs Types

(Click on the link above to go to the Liturgy website for the prayers!)

If not, it might be helpful to know a bit about the Myers-Briggs.  There are four categories in each personality type, and each category has two possible identifications.  The pair options are Introvert/Extrovert, Intuitive/Sensing, Thinking/Feeling and Perceiving/Judging.  I’m not going to explain much more, you can research it online.  And if you aren't familiar with it for yourself, I’d highly recommend checking into it…you can learn a lot with this tool, in my opinion.  Anyway, enjoy the prayers of the various personality types, and the source of the humorous piece.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce - Volume 2, Spring and Summer SNEAK PEEK!!

Galley Proofs Headed Back

Well, the proofing has ended and galleys are headed back into publisher.  Shouldn’t be long now, but in case you wanted another sneak peak, here is one of I really like:

Day 122     Psalm 27:4  
  Think about the most beautiful views you have ever seen.  Like a sunset.  Remember the details:  the colors, the clouds, the sun as it slowly dipped below the horizon, the birds casting their shadow as they flew across the sky.  Then think about a painting you have seen, that you consider beautiful.  Visualize the brush strokes, the blending of hues, the shadows and shapes upon the canvas or print.  How about scenic vistas, what do you remember in that category?  And what jewels do you consider beautiful:  a glittering diamond, the deep green of an emerald, the silky sheen of a pearl?
   What about the beauty of the night sky, the crescent moon, aurora flares, shooting stars?  Or the pictures you have seen of the distant planets and galaxies, like he red of Mars, the rings of Saturn, the bands of Jupiter, the flaming arches from the sun, the spiral of distant galaxies?  What about the beauty that is found in human beings?   Who was the most beautiful woman or handsome man you have ever seen?  What made that person beautiful in your eyes?  The flowing hair, the strong muscles, the shining eyes?  Or maybe you saw inner beauty that made him or her such a wonderful person. 
  An early morning view across the Grand Canyon or from the campground at the bottom, a rainbow in Niagara Falls, snow capped mountain peaks, shady forest trails with mossy ground, the smiles of my children….those are a few of my images, what are yours?  What would you call the most beautiful scene you have ever observed?  Recall that image to your mind, filling in the details of your memory. 
  I have asked you to recall these to help you solidify your own sense of beauty in the world.  Now I want to take that sense and ask you to amplify it…..amplify it millions of times.  What would something that beautiful be like?  Can you imagine?  If you can, push even further, to an unimaginable beauty.  You have now begun to arrive at the beauty of the Lord.  Everything you have ever seen that you would consider beautiful derives its beauty from the ultimate beauty that is God.  This is part of the notion that the heavens declare the glory of God.  His beauty is reflected dimly in the glorious beauty we see here on earth.  If you could combine the beauty of all the sunsets and sunrises, add the beauty of all the earth’s natural wonders, then include all the rest of the beautiful things that exist, you would get a faint glimpse of just how beautiful our God is.  That is probably why John had such a hard time describing heaven in Revelation that he could only compare it to the most precious gemstones he had ever seen:  golden streets, gates of pearl…..ultimate and indescribable beauty, that is heaven, that is God!!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Speaking of Volume 2....

If You Will Forgive Me

Would you mind if I share with you something kind of silly, maybe kind of obnoxious, but something real that I am experiencing?  I guess if you do mind, you can just stop reading now.  I am having kind of an odd experience just now, and was so struck by it that I wanted to pass it along. 

In the process of getting a book printed, the publisher sends out what they call galley proofs.  These are a mockup of the book that is to be printed, from start to finish.  I am expected to review it all for accuracy and publisher errors, and provide my approval or list of changes.  If I send approval, the book goes to the next step of making a hard copy sample for final approval prior to printing.  If I send changes, then the publisher makes the changes and sends me a corrected galley proof for review again, and I once again either approve or send changes.  I experience this to be a very slow and tedious process. 

Earlier this week I received the galley proof for the Spring and Summer volume of Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce.  Being the second time I have done this, I kind of know what to expect, and have been able to save some steps along the way by doing some things in advance notes to the publisher.  But the galley proofs still need to be reviewed, and though I really wish things moved more rapidly and I would like to just move on to the next step, I realize that for the book to be the best quality I can make, I must take the time to carefully review the galleys.  So that is what I am doing this week.  And I do this as meticulously as possible, because I want to do my best to make the book what it ought to be.  And, sure enough, I am finding changes due to publisher errors and some typos of my own that I missed prior to submission of the text.  And so, they will soon be sent in so that the next round of galleys can be produced.  I tell you all of that so that I can adequately explain today’s topic.

To accomplish my goal, I reread the entire book at least once, looking for errors or clarifications I would like to make.  Because these divorce devotionals include many references to that troubling time of divorce in my own life some 14 years ago, it is an emotionally charged experience to read these writings once again (though not as intense as the writing of them was).  I find old feelings stirred, memories revisited and relive some of the emotions of so many years ago.  Sometimes that is difficult, sometimes it is healing, sometimes it gives reassurances…but it is never going through the motions, it is always an engaging experience for me.  And I believe it is this personal touch that makes this book different from books designed to counsel people through divorce.

But I am really struck by two things in particular.  The first is how much more I like the messages of this book than those of the first book.  This is a natural response, because the first book deals so much and so intensely with the experiences of devastation, uncertainty and loss that come with the experience of divorce.  It isn't that its messages are discouraging, because they are just the opposite.  But that first volume just deals with so many tough issues that, for me, it reminds me of how tough the experience was, and how much of life had to be reassessed and rearranged due to divorce.  

This second volume, however, deals with the next stages in the process, the stages when hope begins to return, and new directions become promising instead of discouraging.  It speaks of the beauty of God’s plan and the ability of God to carry us beyond the trauma into a new beauty and meaning of life just around the corner.  

So as I proofread these devotions, I find myself rejoicing in the progress I have experienced, and in the promise of God for my future.  It has been a joyful experience reviewing these pages.

And the second thing that has struck me is that I am actually pretty pleased with the material I am reading.  More than once I have found myself thinking how much I wish I could have had something like this book available to help me when I was struggling with divorce.  And that is really special to me, because that is the goal of the writing, to offer folks who are struggling some of the helps that would have been helpful for me, and when I see it actually materialize before my eyes, I feel assurance that I am achieving that which I have felt called to produce.  That is the part that sounds obnoxious, but it is true…I really believe there is something precious and valuable in these pages.  I really believe this book (and the other) can and will make a difference in the lives of people who struggled as I did, and hopefully, make the experience just a little less devastating than it was for me.  My wife has told me a number of times how much she believes in what I am doing in these books, and as I read this one, my own belief in their value has been reaffirmed and augmented.  I am really looking forward to the completion of this text, and am working on these final stages as quickly as possible…but as I read, I believe it will be worth the wait.  I am pretty excited about what I am reading, and what I hope you will be reading yourself before too long. 

But there is one other thought.  I am also working on some other books that have nothing to do with divorce, and am looking forward to being done with this project so that I can focus my attention and energies on the next ones.  I will let you know later what those are, because with several in the works, I am not sure which I will be finalizing next.   Anyway, I just wanted to share a bit of my world with you.  I hope you are anticipating the next volume, too!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

What Will Your Generation Do With This Church?

From Generation to Generation

You may recall in my last blog about the U.S. celebration of freedom, that I mentioned that it is up to each generation to do the things necessary to protect and preserve freedom for the next. 

I was visiting with a friend after that and we were discussing the churches, children and grandchildren.  She mentioned a person she knows who was very involved with her church who had a good sized family, and yet among her children and grandchildren, a very small percentage of those offspring are involved with church.  I know a number of families in which this same scenario plays out, and other families in which the children follow faithfully in their parents’ faith.  Coming on the heels of my Independence Day blog, it made me think that as important as it is for each American generation to protect our liberty to pass on to the next, it is even more important that we pass the faith on to our children and grandchildren.

Perhaps that describes your life.  As I look through the scriptures, I find many individuals whose children served God and followed in their parents’ footsteps.  Abraham is a great example of this…Isaac, Jacob-Israel, Joseph..the line is impressive.  But then one of the most celebrated figures in scripture, King David, had children whose lives were far from exemplary.  Later, King Hezekiah was a man whose relationship with God was pretty special, but his son, King Manasseh, was one of the most godless kings Judah or Israel ever had, (though he did repent later on).  I know that there are those who try to offer assurance that the children of believers will be people of faith if we are appropriate parents and believe, but the pattern of scripture is that though godly parents have a godly influence, providing an opportunity for their children to embrace the faith for themselves, children and grandchildren do not always follow in their parents’ faith.  Sometimes our influence may be more effective with people outside our family than with those in our family, much as we might prefer it not to be that way.  If it is, then we can pray and trust that God will have other individuals whose influence can impact those in our family who we seem unable to reach, because prayers accomplish so much more than we can accomplish ourselves.

It is absolutely critical that we take the preservation of our faith seriously.  God expects it of us, and the eternal destiny of millions depends on it. 

I have heard it said that the church is always only one generation away from extinction.  (Tried to find who first said it, but wasn't able to locate it…if you know, let me know, I’d wouldn't mind having the name.)   

A friend of mine discusses the decline in so many American churches, and how so many have lost the younger families.  She likes to inquire her faithful church friends who are of the baby boomer and older generations whether they have children and grandchildren who aren't involved with church.  She then asks whether they wish those same children were involved in the church and what they would be willing to do to get them involved.  Her final question is then: “Would you be willing to give up your kind of music if that would help them want to be involved?”  

While people will often say they would do whatever it takes, all too often we place limits on what we actually are willing to do, and as a result, those younger families get involved in other things more conducive to their experiences of life. 

In divorce, there is often a faith crisis for the children in the families, especially if one parent holds strong to their faith while the other is irreligious or openly scoffing.  But even if both are believers, the children can question what difference it makes to believe, if it doesn't protect one from divorce, because they don’t always see the whole picture.  Sometimes they can lose faith because they pray for their parents’ marriage, or that mommy and daddy will get back together again, but when they don’t, they can believe that God must not be real.  The hurts in the lives of children can drive them to God, or drive them away.  As divorced parents, we must do our best to be seeking Christ and being obedient to his will so that our children will see a genuine example of faith.  That seeking may lead us to reconciliation with our ex, it may lead us to remain single, it may lead us to build a godly home with our second spouse, but wherever it leads, it is our duty to do our best to maintain a quality witness for the sake of our children and grandchildren.  And it is our duty to be praying for those children, whether it appears that they are listening to God or not.  Manasseh was clearly doing wicked deeds despite his father Hezekiah’s example, but he later repented…God got through to him later in his life, at least somewhat.  As my wife wisely says in these kinds of discussions, “You don’t know what God is doing in their lives.”  And we don’t. 

So let me sum up a few thoughts on this whole discussion.  First, seek to be a genuinely godly influence in the lives of your children.  If you children follow in your footsteps, rejoice and continue to pray for them.  But if they do not, realize that even if your marriage had stayed intact it does not guarantee your influence of faith would have been different.  And so we pray for our children and do our best to continue to hold true to God.  But always keeping in mind that it is up to you and me, we who live in THIS moment in history, to do our best to make sure that the message of Jesus has opportunity to spread beyond this time and into the future for those generations yet to come. 

TL:dr  It is critical for each generation to carry to light of Christ effectively for following generations to see.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

4th of July and Freedom: Has it changed your life?

Free At Last…

This is the time we celebrate Independence Day here in the United States, but it is more than a celebration about gaining independence from England so many years ago, it has become the day we also celebrate freedom itself.  Freedom of speech (at least, most of the time), freedom to choose where we live, what careers we choose, freedom to travel, freedom to move to a new location…freedom to decide for ourselves in every area of our lives.  Of course, all freedom also comes with responsibilities, and is preserved at a price, preserved with diligence.   We are free, but not free to kill another person, at least, not without suffering the consequences.  Because freedom is not the same as anarchy.  Each generation has the obligation to preserve the freedom we enjoy in order to pass it on to future generations, and those of us celebrating freedom today owe a great debt to the countless individuals from the past who, sometimes at great personal cost, protected the freedom we have inherited.

Divorce brings a great deal of devastation in its wake, but for some, it can also mean freedom:  freedom from the beatings and abuse one has suffered, freedom to express oneself without being put down or ridiculed by an emotionally abusive spouse, freedom to change life directions with a new career path or a new location.  The losses created in divorce are, to some degree, counterbalanced by the freedom to pursue God’s calling and gifts in your life. In some cases, divorce allows themselves free to finally worship and serve God the way they always wanted to, but had been constrained by an unbelieving spouse.  But again, freedom comes with responsibility.  Paul tells us in Galatians 5:13 that we are not to use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but to serve one another in love.  The temptation to abuse freedom often overwhelms individuals who are divorced, sometimes cutting loose in inappropriate and unhealthy ways that lead to new heartaches, destruction and alienation from God.  I wonder, for those of you who have been divorced, if you have been wise in using your freedom in ways that draws you closer to God and brings honor to him. 

But most of all, true freedom has to do with the freedom that is given to us by Christ as we are delivered from the tyranny of sin in our lives through forgiveness, justification and redemption.  Sin enslaves those caught in it, even though they may declare they can quit at any time, or that they aren't doing their sins because they have to, but because they choose to do these things for their own gratification.  But in their case, the truth is, freedom has been sold to the mastery of sin and they are deceived as to the direction it is leading them.  There is ALWAYS a price to pay, sin is never free.  But freedom in Christ means being free from the power and penalty of sin to be free to be all God has created and desired us to be. 

Well, as you observe or participate in the celebration of freedom this 4th of July, take time to cherish the freedoms you have, to pray for those whose lives and countries have constrained the freedom of their citizens, and to examine whether you are using you’re the freedom Christ offers to live your live in a manner that pleases God and to revel in the joy life with God can bring. 

TL:dr: Fourth of July freedom is experienced by divorced individuals in a whole different manner. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Songs on the Radio....the Impact of Divorce

Silly Love Songs

So have been on the road quite a bit of late, and pretty swamped with some things around home, as well.  Lots of good visits about faith, about my books, about old friends.  Driving home today, I was listening to some oldies CD's after having visited with some folks about possibly speaking at an upcoming event in their church.  In my visit, I was told about a man who was experiencing a tough divorce, and so there was a fair amount of discussion about the topic.  As I was driving along, a song came on that was an old love song, and it got me to thinking and remembering, especially as I was thinking about and praying for the individual I had heard about. 

Let’s talk first about music, though.  I like music.  A lot.  I am musical, maybe not a virtuoso, but enough to know my way around a few instruments.  I think you can agree that there is a huge emotional tie to music.  Songs that lift your spirits, songs that lead you to prayer, songs that bring a tear to your eye.  Or at least, they do these things for me.  Anyway, so this love song came on the CD (yes, the CD…I have some old LPs around, too…).  And as it played, it reminded me of the time during the time of my divorce when I literally couldn't listen to the radio or many of my CDs.  It was too hard.  The promise of love, the joy of finding that special someone, the longing in the eyes, all those things love songs describe primarily reminded of the love I hadn't known, the love that had been shattered, the great sense of loss I was experiencing, and the love that all now felt like a lie.  Some other music was also hard to hear…like Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas Songs and certain other Christmas music, because it was all tangled up with memories of years gone by in a relationship now dissolved and cast aside.  Even some songs of faith just didn't feel very good, songs that promised God was working everything out, or that when we trust in God nothing evil will come our way….though I believed the essence of the message, the experience of my life in that moment did not match the assertions of faith.  In fact, the experience seemed to contradict everything those songs were saying, because it so often felt like either God had let me down or I had let God down, and it was very difficult to decide which was the case. 

Maybe these things describe your life these days, or describe a time you remember like I do, or maybe they describe the struggle someone you know is experiencing.  It is a hard place to be.  It is a lonely place to be.  It is a very tearful place to be.  

But it is not the place you stay…

or at least, I hope you don’t stay there.  As I experienced tonight, one does move on, and favorite songs come back with a different perspective…maybe a bit more jaded perspective, maybe a perspective that contains a bit more wisdom.  The come back because you come to realize that though the marriage ended, it doesn't mean that love does not still exist, or will never exist again in your life.  They come back because you find a place in your heart, a place in your life for all the memories, each in their own time slot, each with their own mix of joy and tears.  They come back because you discover that, even though you couldn't see it at the time, God was indeed still at work, and was still loving, and still working out plans for good.  They come back because music that is successful is successful because it touches a common thread within human hearts…the cry to give and receive love, the call to something greater than ourselves, something eternal.

I don’t have a huge point to this little blog.  Except I suspect there is somebody out there who knows exactly what I am talking about, because they have either experienced it themselves, or are in the midst of it right now.  I just wanted that person to know they are not alone.  And that they are not stuck.  It is one of the many phases and struggles tied in with the experience called divorce.  That brokenness affects so many areas of our lives, and sends out so many ripples, that sometimes it is easy to forget how much of our lives have been changed because of the words on a court document.  If you are the one struggling, I encourage you to hang in there, eventually these things move on and take a new shape in your life.  And that shape can be very, very good…even if it continues to bring bad mournful or difficult memories.  Realize, you are not alone…these things happen to many of us in the upheaval of life due to divorce.

TL:dr  Divorce’s impact can even affect our experience of music, and change the way it touches our hearts.