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Monday, December 30, 2013

Remarrying? Here Are Your New Year's Resolutions!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Finding God in Christmas

Is Anyone Out There?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

Your Chance to Help a Friend....

Last Minute Tips for Last Minute Help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Biblical Christmas Divorce?

The Divorce That Almost Altered Christmas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Following Where God Takes You After Divorce

Opportunities as By-Products

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Don't Squander the Opportunities in Divorce

Divorce:  Falling Apart, But Getting It All Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 8, 2013

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

Happiness, Holidays and Healing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

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

Harry And Sally and Holiday Friendship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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