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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Step Parenting Anyone?


Met some new friends recently, another ministry couple.  She has written a book about being a step-mother.  I was telling another friend about it, and that friend immediately commented about step-parenting:  “I can’t even imagine.  How complicated that must be.”  Pretty insightful for somebody who hasn’t done it.  In her book, my friend talks about step-parenting and uses the term “in-step” as she discusses the challenges and finding ways to work them out.  I’m not done with her book yet…just got it over the weekend…but as I have been reading along, it is certainly a trip down memory lane!

Some of you may be saying to yourself, “So,what’s the big deal?”  I suspect that there are not many relationship issues more challenging that step-parenting and family “blending” which, by the way, is kind of a mythic term.  There may be shared parents, and shared space, and healthy relationships, but blending is probably more of a hope than a reality.  But on my dinner plate, various dishes can share the same plate and produce a wonderfully flavorful meal, even though they aren’t all “blended” together!  Sometimes they touch.  Sometimes the gravy spills over into the peas.  And that’s okay.  But I definitely don’t want my peas run through the blender with the mashed potatoes before they get on the plate.   A “blended” might just operate the same way, and that might very well be not such a bad thing.

So what is hard about it?  Well, let me suggest a few possibilities.  For instance, one parent believes in cell phones for the kids safety and has raised her kids that way, the other believes that cell phones are too much of a distraction for children, and they need to wait till they are in high school, and his kids didn’t have them.  The families merge…who changes?  And how do you communicate the values held dear while altering the practice those values had upheld?  A step-mother or step-father may use an expression or behavior that they have always used, even on that is common for their gender.  But in the spouse’s previous marriage, that expression may have been used in an abusive way, so when the child hears or sees it, what kind of impact do you suppose it will have?  And odds are, it was only at that moment the step-parent learned the history behind the difficulty.  There are plenty of times you will be compared to my “real” mom or my “real” dad (bio dad my friend calls them), usually only in scenarios where you come out on the short end of the stick.  Sometimes that is followed by the reminder that, “I don’t have to listen to you, you aren’t my real mom!”  It is always good to remind yourself at that point that God says children are a blessing from Him!

Or, sometimes one of the parents has been single for a while, and the eldest child has taken on extra responsibilities around the house, not quite like an adult, but definitely “momma’s little helper.”  Then, suddenly, there is this other adult now living under the same roof.  While it may be nice to have that step-parent around, the child can feel like their role has changed, and maybe not even be sure they are needed or wanted anymore.  And that new person who has come into the house may be perceived as a threat as they share their mommy with this new person.  Of course, all these things vary significantly with the ages of the children, the length of time the parent was single, the ages of the children (if any) that come with the new step parent, and a multitude of other factors.

And you are juggling all this while Christmas traditions undergo transformation as they alternate between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day year to year, or deal with ex spouses who try to interject themselves inappropriately or are excluded inappropriately.  As you handle these things, the children themselves are possibly juggling two sets of rules in two different houses that might be radically different, trying to negotiate uncertain waters at a tender age.  It may be harder to be a step child than a step parent!

Well, for all of you out there trying to navigate these uncharted waters, there are a few resources here and there.  There are so many variables, I doubt that you will ever find a guidebook with all the right answers.  You simply have to glean what you can, do your best, pray, and remember that the love you have for your spouse should be big enough to extend to your spouse’s children, or it isn’t much of a love commitment.  All we can do, is try to do out best.  Even without step children, we can only do our best when it comes to parenting, too, right?  Step parenting is just parenting…with lots of unexpected booby traps and complications thrown in!

I will let you know about my friend’s book and website later on, as she has been invited to send in a guest blog for you to read.  My friends and I are also talking about putting together some workshops that might offer some encouragement and insights…will have to let you know about that as they develop. 

TL:dr  Being a step parent is NOT an easy undertaking!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Encouraging Around the World

Divorce Around the World!

Well, actually that title is maybe a little unclear.  Because I am not going to explain all the different laws and practices regarding divorce in various countries.  (At least, not now.  That actually might be something kind of interesting to explore!)  But, if you are like me, you found Glenn’s article about divorce in the Philippines (or lack thereof) pretty fascinating.  Glenn has promised me some more blogs, so you will be hearing from him again.  About the time I was looking over what he sent, I had also been visiting the blog statistics, and was struck by something I wanted to share. 

The internet being what it is, the blog ends up bouncing around the world.  In our statistics, we found that in that particular week, page visits from China were about half the number of our United States visitors!  I thought that was pretty interesting, so I read .  Next was Lithuania, followed by Poland.  There were countries in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia, and South America.  I thought back to the other times I have reviewed the blog stats, and there is a follower in Zambia, have been a number in the Ukraine, various countries in Europe, including Monte Negro and…well, you get the idea.  And that doesn't count the people who don’t read it directly through my own blog, but read it in Paperblog, which regularly posts the blogs.  That brings in a lot of the English speaking world especially, but other places as well.  

That’s a lot of places, isn't it?  For those of you outside of the United States, let me tell you my thanks for stopping by my blog.  I’m touched that you are interested in it, and I hope that once in a while, it has something helpful for you in your situation.

Have you guessed the point of this blog yet?  No, it is NOT about the fact that words I write go all these places.  That is a by-product of my point.  

The point is that, no matter which country you reside in, marriage is tough, and divorce is even tougher.  Wherever you go, there are people whose lives and families have been torn apart by the processes of divorce.  

Perhaps there are some countries like the Philippines, where the word “divorce” isn't used, but the reality of life is that it might as well be, because the experience is virtually the same for far too many.  I once read, too, that statistically, the number of divorces ends up being about the same whether the country practices arranged marriages or marriages by courtship such as the United States.  So there are people hurting all around the world.  There are hearts breaking all around the world.  There are single parents trying to eke out an existence, and trying to find some answers all around the world.  Sometimes it is far too easy not to see them when we are busily living our lives day by day.  But they are there.  And, as evidenced by the readers of my blog, they are looking for somebody who cares, and who can offer them a ray of hope and a bit of encouragement.  Maybe they are your neighbors, and it might mean more to them for someone next door to show they care than to find hope in words from halfway around the world on a computer or iphone.  Thanks to you who read.  I encourage you to look around to see who is near at hand who can use the same kind of encouragement as I try to send.  And maybe those people might want to know about this blog, too.  Maybe, just maybe, if we offer that encouragement early enough, they might just not end up in divorce, but find healing for their marriages, instead.

Glenn, thanks for the good word from the Philippines.  For the rest of you, what’s the good word where YOU live?

TL:dr  The trauma of divorce is a worldwide experience, to which each of us could probably become more sensitive.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A World Where Divorce is Illegal

Please welcome guest blogger today; Glenn Machlan, Bible Translator with Youth With A Mission.  Currently, Glenn is translating the scriptures into a language spoken in a remote village in the Philippines   His work is the first translation for this language.  Consider supporting Glenn Machlan through the YWAM link.


Disadvantages of making divorce illegal
The Philippines, where I work, is the only remaining country where divorce is illegal. Much of that is due to the strong Catholic presence here. But that doesn't mean that all the problems associated with divorce are avoided here. In fact, there are some situations that are made worse by the unavailability of divorce. For example, adultery and the starting of a second family is more common and more accepted than in the US. Former president Estrada was known to have more than one ‘family’ though he was, of course, still married to his wife, which explains why a certain joke was going around when he was running for president. It seems he had gone to the Catholic leader in the Philippines at that time, Cardinal Sin, to make his confession, and began by saying, “Forgive me, Sin, for I have fathered.”

When I first came to the Philippines, one of my Tagalog teachers was also a pastor, and he asked my advice on two situations he faced in his church. The first was a man who had left his wife and family to start a second family, never going back to his wife. The second was a woman whose husband had started a second family and lived with them during the week, but came back to her during the weekends. The pastor wondered how the church should respond to the people in those situations. I puzzled about it for a while, until I saw that part of the problem in untangling things was that divorce was not an option. So in the first situation, the man had basically divorced his wife and remarried, though without the legal status. And in the second situation, the woman had an adulterous husband that she couldn't get rid of, and so he was basically a bigamist. Both situations, I believe, were made more difficult because divorce was not an option.
Jesus said that God permitted divorce because of the hardness of people’s hearts. And I believe that there is real mercy and wisdom in allowing divorce, because hard hearts are a reality. I certainly see the disadvantages of making divorce too easy, as in the US, but there are also real disadvantages in making divorce too hard or even impossible. And while there are definitely hardships in a divorce situation, there is also many times a mercy as well, in keeping us from worse pain and giving us opportunities for joys we would not have otherwise experienced. And whether we see the mercy or not, we can hopefully take some comfort in knowing that God is working even our bad, difficult experiences for our good and His glory.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Someone to Share Your Story With

Everybody has a Story!
   But Not Everybody has 
Somebody to Tell...

I wonder, are you a safe person?  Oh, I know there is kind of a joke around among women about dating “bad boys” vs. the “safe” guy…but that isn't what I mean.  Let me illustrate what I mean, rather than explain it.  Some of you will know that I was at the Kansas State Book Festival up in Topeka recently.  A lot of different people wandered around, doing a variety of things, and among them were the ones who chose to stop at our little booth.  Among these people were some who saw my books and stopped to chat.  As we would visit, topics would arise, sometimes, related to divorce.  Specifically, related to divorces in their past or in their family. 

One individual told me the story of a divorce that so shattered him he feels like it spun his life into a downward spiral ever since, resulting in some troubled relationships and financial hardships.  He struggled with the definition of justice in the court processes of divorce, when those decisions often lead the litigants into bankruptcy.

Another person made a comment, and I responded with a statement about how hard divorce can be.  She responded with a big, “You don’t have to tell ME how hard it is…I’m dealing with it right now!”  While another examined the books (as his wife did later), and told me stories about when he had gotten divorced many years ago, and how good his current marriage is.  Still, he was troubled because one of his children was facing a difficult divorce that was carrying with it all the questioning of God and wrestling with purpose, meaning and loss that so often accompanies divorce.  These people were all strangers.  But the events I describe have repeated themselves with other people I have met over and over again.  Stranger after stranger has a story about how divorce has impacted their lives in some way, but tend to not share that part of themselves.  At least, not until they have an opportunity to share it with somebody who understands, and might respond with some degree of compassion.

This phenomenon is not merely related to my books.  The books certainly create an opening for discussion, but the same kind of thing has happened with my wife, too.  She told me a story recently about a woman she had met (also a stranger) and spent some time with in some various meetings.  According to my wife, it was after several days hearing my wife visit in groups, and I guess hearing my wife’s story about her divorce that this woman finally decided to tell my wife about her divorce.  It was as if she was watching, waiting to see if it would be okay, if it was safe.  I don’t know much else about it, but somehow, that woman felt able to make a connection that had meaning for her when she was able to discuss her experience of divorce with my wife.

I know another couple of women who have chosen to no longer discuss their divorces.  They got tired of feeling like they had to explain, that people were judging them and of feeling inadequate as they watched the look in the eyes of their friends. 

So what difference does it make?  

Well, I think the main difference is whether one carries the pain alone, or is able instead to experience a sense of community and encouragement through connecting with someone who understands and cares.  

But to be available for that kind of connection means that you have to be willing to not treat somebody as less than you just because they have been divorced.  You have to not have quick answers, such as telling somebody they need to just “move on” or “get over it.”  You have to be able to share enough of your story to be open, but not so much that the focus is about YOU.  And, most of all, you have to be the kind of person who isn't going to take the information you have heard and share intimate details in ways that can cause more hurt (note that the stories above have been greatly abbreviated and made generic enough to avoid inappropriate disclosure…even though none were shared in confidence).  

Perhaps the core notion is, you have to be trustworthy.

I know people who are trustworthy, and some who are not, don’t you?  I once had some individuals kind of challenge me for not sharing some of my struggles with them.  Why didn't I?  Because I had seen and heard what happened when individuals confided their struggles with them:  everybody else heard about them, and the information could be used to judge rather than to minister.  I knew these were not the ones I wanted to entrust with any confidences.  But I have also known others with whom I could bare my very soul, knowing it would be a precious experience of healing and hope.

Which kind of person are you?  Down through the years of pastoring, I have learned that most everybody has a story of some kind.  Often the stories have nothing to do with divorce, they just are the stories and struggles of individual lives.  Some of the stories are horrendous.  Some are heartbreaking.  Some are disappointing.  Some are filled with desperation.  But they are the stories of these people’s lives. 

And many of them are desperately wanting to find healing, but are searching for that safe environment to share and seek it.  

Jesus was a master at creating that kind of environment…look how much “sinners” and “tax collectors” loved to be around him;  his caring was genuine.  One of the greatest compliments I ever received was after one of my parishioners told me about a family struggle that produced great pain in her life, and then as I was getting ready to leave, that individual said to me, “You know, I don’t know why, but I've gone to church all my life, and you’re the first pastor I've ever felt I could tell about that.”  Somehow, in that moment, I think I was most like Christ for that person, because isn't that what God wants to be for us, the one we can tell about every and any thing?  People are out there, longing to share their stories.  

We just need more people out there, willing to listen, to truly listen and care.

TL:dr  Many people need to share their struggles, but are lacking someone they can trust with their hearts.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Grandparents and Divorced Children...What Happens Next?

Divorcing the Grandparents?

Did you realize we just observed the day marked as National Grandparents Day last Sunday? 

There are many unintended consequences of our choices every day and lately there have been a lot of discussion about those unintended consequences and I think it is a good thing.  The simple notion that choices we make may create the results we seek, but along with those results may also create complications we never expected.  I think divorce ALWAYS does that!  Otherwise, why would the person filing so often end up so angry?  They may THINK they will get their divorce, but in fact, they get the court’s divorce, which may or may not match what they expected to happen.  Today, I want to discuss some of these unintended consequences.

A number of times, down through the years, I have had couples in my church talk with me about their concerns when one of their children was getting divorced.  I remember one gentleman in particular who made the statement that he thinks is might be harder to watch his grown child going through a divorce than it would be to get divorced himself.  As a father of adult children, I realize he may be right, a parent’s care about our children’s welfare does not end simply because they grow up and move out.  It’s just that our ability to help them solve their problems has become limited.  He was not the only parent I knew whose heart was breaking as their child was divorcing.

Sometimes, though, the family structure was such that not only did the parents watch their child get divorced, they were also suffered as grandparents, watching their grandchildren try to make sense of mommy and daddy’s problems.  Simultaneously, the grandparents’ opportunities to be with their grandchildren and to influence their grandchildren can also be curtailed.  Sometimes it is because the custodial parent loads up the kids and moves away.  Sometimes it is that the custodial parent remarries, and doesn’t want to have the hassle of always trying to make sure their ex-in-laws are included in everything.  Sometimes it is because the custodial parent never liked the in-laws anyway, and are now have nothing forcing them to make time for them, so they don’t bother.  Even worse, some parents poison the minds of their children against the in-laws they don’t like, sometimes overtly, other times through insidious manipulation and twisting of words.  (Granted, though, there are some people who are NOT good grandparents and have harmful influence, generally speaking, this is merely injecting one’s own issues into the kids relationships.)  Those grandparents often end up having to share the limited time the non-custodial parent has with the kids.  No longer are they able to simply drop by the house to visit their grandchildren, because the custodial parent wants nothing to do with them.  And the grandparents often have very little they can do to remedy the situation, because even the court isn’t always clear about what they can expect.

Fortunately, this isn't ALWAYS the case…some parents are smart enough to realize how important grandparents are in the lives of children, whether the parent likes them or not!  Those wise parents never run down the ex’s family, but encourages their children to cherish the family relationships that are so important in life.  

But sadly, all too often this schism is a side effect of parents getting divorced.  So perhaps you are a person who tries to be compassionate with individuals struggling in the midst of their divorces.  Perhaps you might want to expand that circle to include individuals you know who are having to watch their children go through divorce.  That hurt often goes entirely unnoticed.  You might be surprised at the response you discover.

And finally, if you are a grandparent who has suffered through the heartbreak of watching your child and grandchildren experience divorce, and had your own heart broken by the loss of opportunities with those grandchildren, I want to offer you a few words of encouragement as well.  There is not a wrong you have suffered that God has not noticed.  There is not a wound in your hear that he cannot heal.  There is not an injustice that will not be called to account when all things are made right and his reign is established forever. 

And furthermore, I encourage you to never underestimate the power of a parent and grandparent’s prayers for those you love.  Many things you may no longer be able to do because of the shattering of a divorce, but God can do all things, and with your intercession, he will protect and preserve those precious little loved ones. 

 Don’t give up.  God bless you!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

God is Not Interested in Divorcing You

God didn't divorce you!!!

So have been working on some publicity materials for the Kansas Book Festival, where I will have a booth with my books available.  While doing so, a friend shared a conversation he had with a friend, as he was explaining my books to her.  As he went over the goal of trying to help divorcing folks in their relationship with God, which can often be strained during divorce, his friend’s observation was that it made sense, since being divorced from an ex-spouse does NOT mean that God is somehow divorcing you, or that you are divorcing God!  In other words, though this lifelong relationship with a spouse has ended, your relationship with God extends beyond the fall of the gavel in the courtroom.  And then, as I discussed this concept with my wife, her comment was that, though she felt like a lot of other people had backed away from her during her divorce, she never felt like God had pulled away.  All of which leads to today’s blog!

The wording is odd, isn’t it?  To think of God involved in a divorce from His people?  But the experience of divorce can, for some, feel like it has broken that relationship as well, because it can feel like you have let God down, or God has let you down, as you watch the failing of the vows you had once made “before God and this company.”  And it can feel that way because sometimes God’s people may act that way toward you, like you no longer fit in, like you aren’t as good a Christian, or even inform you that you aren’t welcome in their congregation any longer.  Most Christians aren’t that way, I don’t believe, and many of those who give that impression don’t even realize they are doing so, because that isn’t what they intend.  But that does not alter the reality of how it can feel. 
And yet, we instinctively seem to know that the idea of divorcing God or God divorcing us is just bizarre to us, we understand God to be a more loving and forgiving being than that.  Now, before I get too far along, let me suggest that the scripture is pretty clear that there is, indeed, a separation that exists between us and God, created by our sinful nature and participation in sinful acts…we simply cannot be close to God and involved with sin at the same time.  God won’t accept that.  But that is a far cry from the situation in which someone has been in committed, loving relationship and suddenly finding that relationship dissolved because God chose to bail out of it, or because it was a side effect of the dissolution of our marriage.  But my friend (and his friend) point out that divorce does NOT mean also divorce from God!   In fact, as I reflected on this idea, it made me think of a passage in one of my favorite biblical books, Hosea.  As Hosea describes the varied relationship God was having with his people Israel, and as God contemplates the point of no return, he finally speaks His heart out and declares:

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.  

---Hosea 11:8-9  ESV

So today’s blog is to simply offer an affirmation in conjunction with my friend and his friend:  God is not interested in being divorced from you.  And if other areas of your life have been splintered through divorce (or other difficult life experiences), that splintering cannot impinge upon God’s focused and committed love for you.  Don’t let anything ever convince you that God has turned His back on you…if anything, in these times of tragedy, He may be pulling you closer as He reaches out with compassion, even in the darkness of divorce.  And I encourage you to not let divorce impact your desire to reach back to God!