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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Advice for Surviving Your Divorce

A Wife’s Wisdom

Many of you are aware that my wife is a essential part of this ministry for the divorcing.  We have been in touch with various people along the way and recently she wrote a piece that contained a great deal of insight and good counsel.  She is a wise woman (after all, she married me, right?).  Anyway, I decided there were many tidbits in it that I would like to piece together with some comment to share with you, my blog readers, because her words may strike a special nerve for many of you, and perhaps make life a bit easier.  I will place her words or ideas in blue, to distinguish them more easily for you as you read.   I think you’ll find it is kind of nice to get a woman’s perspective.   With no further ado…

Nola first describes those early days of the divorce process as a time of “absolute numbness and shock,” including a time when she could only stare a bowl of cereal before her because she simply couldn't even eat.  

Indeed, it is very hard to describe the intensity of the experience, or to fathom how paralyzing those intense emotions can be.  I have known parents unable to cook for their children, adults unable to drag themselves out of bed, women who could not stop weeping, the list is almost endless.  

Though circumstances may vary from divorce to divorce…many may not be shocked at all…still the intensity of the emotional upheaval is profound. It is wise to garner for yourself - friends and family whose support and encouragement can keep you going.

Nola also raised the issue of the sudden shift from a relationship with someone you loved to a relationship that has suddenly become adversarial.  

In many ways, this is almost unavoidable, as each person shifts their attention and energy from building and preserving a marriage, to building a new future from scratch and suddenly moving to a self preservation mode.  It is especially difficult when your ex chooses to be vindictive, manipulative, jealous or just downright mean.  After all, you once loved this person, and they once loved you….it shatters so quickly.  

There is no easy way to deal with the pain this causes.  But know that none of the actions go unnoticed by God…yours or theirs.  And it is God who will bring the appropriate vengeance and justice in the appropriate time and way that only God knows.  Much as you would like to, don’t overstep your bounds and take on the role of avenger.  All of this is especially hard when poor choices by your ex damage the psyches of your children (and theirs!), but YOU choose to be the best and most godly person you are able to in the process.  The children will need an alternate example, and you can be that for them.

Nola also shared a bit of her own personality:  I will admit that I am some one who generally tries to find the silver lining in every cloud - but during this process - there was one day - when the kids were at their dads - that I realized that this is what depression is.  Something I really had never encountered or dealt with....     

Indeed, the emotional upheaval may introduce you to a plethora of emotions you never experienced before.  But they are usually temporary if you deal with them as they come, and as my wife points out, not only will you come out a stronger person, your experience will be something God can use to bring comfort to others.

Nola’s next line is one many of us struggle with, and the way it is experienced varies from person to person, but this dark time also impacts our experience of God, though remember, it does not change God!  

Nola expressed it this way:  I did believe that God was there... but I don't think I knew what to think about how this all aligned with what I knew about Him.  It took weeks - probably even 3-6 months - for me to really realize that He was very much still there.  

And then Nola wrote an exceptionally beautiful and profound paragraph, one that resonates deeply for so many of us.  It may not be your experience, but it is for many.  Hear her words:  

Just don't expect this to go fast - you will be angry - and what I can say - there is very little that will be "fair" about this process.  You will get screwed over, lots....   and just when you think you are at the point where you have your equilibrium back.... something will hit you square in the face and you will have to start all over again...  and to be honest - you will never be able to have the thought that you will receive "justice" for this.  You are just going to have to wrap it up and let God handle the justice part of this...   however - you will take months  (or years) before you can really do this - and then you will have to do it again.. and again.. and again...    but someday - the day will come - when it may bother you but you can walk away and say "God, I know you see.... and I know you will take care of it... I can't.."    If you spend too much energy focusing on the justice part of this it will eat away at your core - and you are far too priceless to waste your time on that.  

And then she points directly to the heart of the issues we all experience as one we loved now rejects us.  Her advice?  

God sets the price for you.. not man.  

Though all the world abandon you, God has sworn he will never fail or forsake you.  And though your company is no longer valued by the one you loved, God’s desire to spend time with you eternally is worth so much, that Jesus died on the cross for you, just so that you and God could be together forever. 

Nola’s note includes some other little snippets, a few of which are: 

So be angry - it's ok....  tell God... it's ok....  but take care of yourself.....

You are going to have to hold your head up high - even if you don't want to and don't feel you can.

And then, some of her last bit of counsel, perhaps the wisest of all, she simply says: 

Hang in there... you will be fine...  not the same, but fine.

Wise, because the truth is, if you belong to God, God will get you through.  And make you a better person through it all.  Awful though divorce may be, God is able to transform it and use it for his own purposes in our lives, just as he transformed the ugliness of the cross into a thing of beauty and salvation. 

So, see?  I told you she was a wise lady!  And now you have just a glimpse of how blessed MY life has been these past ten years in my second marriage!  Thanks, Nola, for sharing the things God has taught YOU through some of the toughest times of your life.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Maximum Effort: Saving a Marriage

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. 

“I did everything I could”

After my wife left me, I heard some people in similar circumstances say that they had done everything they could to save their marriage, but it wasn't enough. Every time I thought, Did they really do everything they could? Who really does that? Who is that perfect? I was certainly aware of wrong things I had done, and good things I didn't do in my marriage. So I thought it was incredible that there were people who had been that good in their marriages. And yet there have still been many times when I've thought, I wasn't bad enough to deserve that! Which I suppose, when you come right down to it, is the same thing!

Still there’s a persistent idea in our humanness that if we do a certain amount of good, then we deserve certain good results. And we are shocked and offended if we not only don’t receive good results, but actually suffer instead. And if you’re like me, you can easily wallow in self-pity. 

Shortly after the roof collapsed in my marriage, when I was falsely accused, I was encouraged by 1 Peter 2:13-14. “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” (ESV) It was amazing to think that this would be the source of my blessing, but it helped me avoid self-pity at the time. (Of course, many times since then I have had a hard time believing I was blessed, and self-pity seemed to be a good friend!)

About that same time, I watched the DVD of “Fireproof.” The message in the movie seemed to be that if you do all the right things, your marriage will be good, or will at least survive. But that seems to be a very legalistic approach to marriage and to life. I thought it was interesting that in the film that even when the main character had finished the Love Dare, his wife still wasn't sold on staying with him. It was only when he took the sizable amount of money he had been saving for a boat and used it to help her parents out that her heart was melted. I thought, Great! What can I do of that magnitude? I knew that God is capable of doing anything, but in my situation it was going to have to be Him doing the heavy lifting if things were going to change. It wasn't going to be anything I did, unless God opened up the opportunity and gave me the power to take advantage of it.

Several years ago I read a Christmas mystery by Anne Perry, and she made a profound point through one of her characters. A young woman had surprised people by turning down the proposal of a handsome, charming, wealthy young man, and instead married his younger, seemingly less attractive brother. The reason she chose the younger brother was because the older one was not a forgiving person, a very wise decision indeed. She recognized that marriage is not the coming together of two perfect people who can then enjoy each other’s perfection, but the joining of two rather imperfect people in constant need of forgiveness. What life is like for us as Christians, in perpetual need of God’s grace and forgiveness, is also what life is like for us in relationships, but especially a marriage relationship.

I’m reading the book Assaulted by Joy: The Redemption of a Cynic, by Stephen W. Simpson. A big part of his ‘redemption’ happened when his wife gave birth to quadruplets (and the rest of us should thank God every day that He hasn't so blessed us!). Coping with four needy babies put an incredible strain on their marriage and they – both psychologists – started to see a marriage counselor. One day the counselor pointed out that Stephen didn't like his wife to see his flaws, a revelation to his wife. “In that moment, things started to change. We started giving each other more grace. I started trying harder, and it worked because I was motivated by love for Shelley rather than fear and resentment….Shelley and I started to see

each other as we really were: broken, imperfect people who were trying to love each other and our kids.” 

That’s it! We don’t do everything right, or everything we can, but there is forgiveness and acceptance and grace that covers our sins and empowers us to do better.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Challenge of Parenting!

Want An Extreme Challenge?  
Try Parenting!

Or if that’s not enough of a challenge for you, try STEP-parenting!  There are all those guides out there to parenting, each with a specific perspective and favorite techniques.  And some of them have some really good ideas!  I especially like the materials put out by Jim Faye and by Stephen Glenn…but there are plenty of other good ones, too.  However, I've always thought it would be the most helpful if you could get your kids to read the books, too, so they would know how they are supposed to respond when you implement the strategies!!  

In the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, we are presented with individuals who turned out in different ways after tough childhoods; amazingly different responses, in fact.  And if you look up the life story of the woman depicted, you discover some parenting issues that arose out of an adoption she did. Truth is, raising kids is just pretty messy, isn’t it?  While most parents don’t want to admit it, the truth is, none of us really know exactly what we are doing, and spend plenty of time wondering if we made the right choices.  We have this child (or children) we love more than anything in the world, but the child did NOT come with a set of specific instructions.  And since we know that God created each of us to be unique beings, even if there were such guidebooks, they would always have to be tweaked and adapted to the unique child who is yours (which of course is why the Bible has such a wide variety of individuals and examples for us to consider).  We do the best we know, and we pray a lot, maybe even attend some seminars and read some books, but there are not easy answers in a one size fits all format.  I know great parents whose kids have made very poor choices, and lousy parents who ended up with kids who are some of the greatest people I know.  And I know a LOT of adoptive parents and step parents who deal with some very difficult issues. 

I was visiting with some dear, dear friends in recent days who have just lost a young adult son in an automobile accident.  (Say a prayer for them….God knows their names.)  Life is so unpredictable, isn’t it?  We talked about choices our children make, and we talked about lessons we try to instill, then afterwards, visited with another family who have their own issues with adult children and concerns for grandchildren.  I also know lots of people who try to step parent effectively, and wrestle with exes who are at odds with them or have different values and priorities, and seek to undermine everything they do. 

All of these things led me to the few simple points I’d like to make in today’s blog.  

First, if you are divorced and having issues with your children, it isn't legitimate to assume that all the problems are due to the divorce, the step-parent or interference of the ex.  Even “perfect” families can have great difficulties in child rearing.  

Second, again, primarily for those are divorced, it is already difficult enough as it is, don’t complicate it more by dragging children into some kind of war with your ex.  Put the kids first, and do you best to leave you personal issues aside.  

Third, God bless you if you are seeking to be a godly parent raising your children in the best traditions and teachings of the Christian faith.  God will honor your choices, even if your children don’t always do so.  

Fourth, realize life is precious, life is short and life is unpredictable.  We only have our children for a season, and it is important that we appreciate and love them with the opportunities we have, for we do not know when those opportunities will cease.  

Last, and most important of all, as I say so often in my books, pray for your children, knowing that God knows them better than you, loves them more than you, and He doesn't need any kind of guidebook to tell HIM what is best for your children.  Trust Him with these precious gifts he has given that we call sons, daughters, step-sons, step-daughters and adopted children.  Never underestimate what He can and will do in their hearts and lives.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Choice in Life and in Marriage...


The older I get (and I am definitely doing that!), the more I am aware of how much choices we make in life affect the outcomes of our lives for many, many years.  When I was in junior high a few years ago, back before everybody had middle schools, the librarian at the school had a plaque on her desk with the following quotation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “Choice, not chance, determines human destiny.”  I have never forgotten that, and believe there is a lot of truth in it. 

(NOTE:  I know that this quote is not an actual quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The quote is attributed to Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watchers.)

Theologically, I have a certainty of God’s control over the affairs of the world, and of His ultimate sovereignty.  I believe He works His good will into our lives, thwarting even the worst of intentions, as He did with the cross and as Paul describes in Romans 8.  And yet, somehow, the choices we make are woven into the texture of how God works in our lives.  It isn’t entirely up to God to accomplish everything, nor is it entirely up to us.  But the two dovetail and sometimes we blame God for the results of choices WE make, and take credit for results HE creates! 

I remember a Swedish Christian singer named Evie Tornquist Karlson once telling, that because she gave her life to the Lord as a very young child, she later realized that there was a great deal of heartache and suffering she was spared, because she did not get involved in the practices so many young people do that result in far too many tragedies.  I remember speaker/professor/writer Tony Campolo talking about life, and comparing people to the balls on a pool table.  In his talk, he said many people behave like the numbered balls, sitting around on the table waiting for something to bump into them and make something happen.  But there are also people whose lives are more like the cue ball, who initiate action and set things in motion.  His point is, of course, it is our choice that determines which way our lives will transpire.
I have seen in my life and the lives of those I know, people make choices and then find out years later that those choices have literally shaped the kind of person they are, and the kind of life that they have.  Sometimes it is in the realm of education and career choices.  Sometimes it is more how we respond to difficulties in life.  Sometimes it even relates to how we respond to the consequences of choice we have made previously!  For instance, we may choose to major in a specific field in college, enter the work force, and after a few years, decide we do not like the work we do or the place we live.  Are we then stuck with the choices of the past, or do we realize it is time to take some classes to retool in order to change our situation?  I know many who feel they have just kind of gotten stuck.  But I know others who have the courage to step out and make the changes.

Marriage and divorce are certainly all about these kinds of choices.  We choose a mate early in life, and then later discover that our marriage is not all that we imagined it could be.  We then must choose again.  Are we willing to choose to do what it takes to make the marriage better?  Do we have no other choice than to be stuck in a marriage that doesn’t work or get out through divorce?  Harriet Lehrner’s books, such as The Dance of Anger, explain ways that, even within a lousy system, one person has the ability to choose to make things different.  At the same time, it is also true we can only make our OWN choices…we cannot choose for another person to change and behave differently or make wiser choices.  Every parent wishes at some time or another they could make their children see the “right choice,” but even our children must learn for themselves sometimes.  And, of course, divorce is also a choice that many make, sometimes way too early, sometimes way too late. 

In all of this, I just want to come back to King’s quote:  “Choice, not chance, determines human destiny.”  God has given us the ability to reason and choose.  In fact, multiple times in the scripture, He challenges us as to whether we will choose to be obedient to His teachings or choose to rebel and walk away.  Can you see in your life things you do not like, but know that they are the consequences of choices you made long ago?  Do you pay attention, as you make choices now, to the fact that those choices will also bring consequences you will experience for many years to come, some of which you cannot even know at this time?  And, if life is not how you wish it were, are you willing to choose to make something different happen?

My wife shared with me some things from a very interesting book she has been reading, in which the cultural differences are described in relation to people and their experience of power.  Many people have suffered under powerlessness for so long, they do not know or believe they have any power to make anything different.  But we do, if only we can learn, the incredible power of choice.  I encourage you, no matter what state and stage of life you are in, to consider making your choices in such a way that God’s teachings are the core and guiding values.  Choose wisely, choose thoughtfully, and as much as possible, do not choose hastily.  As Evie pointed out, THAT ONE CHOICE, may well spare you the heartache of many difficult choices later in life.

TL:dr  God gives us choice and then gives us guidelines to make wise choices, and our lives are shaped forever because of the way we decide to choose.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Seasons of Divorce


So today the temperature outside is two degrees below zero Fahrenheit (about -19 Celsius), due to an artic mass of cold air that has invaded much of the United States.  We do get weather like this where I live, just not this extreme every winter.  The ground is white, me breath is visible and we put on our warmest clothing.  It is just how it is right now.

I have titled my books Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce, the first volume dealing with autumn and winter, the second dealing with spring and summer…not calendar seasons, but the “seasons of divorce.”  The concept is not a unique usage of the seasons.  People do the same thing with life, starting with the springtime of childhood, the summer of young adulthood, the autumn of middle age, with winter being the declining years.  The suggestion of using the seasons in the book was actually my wife’s idea, back when I was organizing the topics, and she was right…it just fits so well.

I was visiting with a friend the other day who was got divorced some years ago, and she was thinking about getting one or the other of the books.  She was trying to decide what season would be applicable in her life.  She has been divorced for something like 15 years, and, to my surprise, she thought perhaps she was in winter.  When I inquired why, it was because her ex was continuing to bring heartache and hassles to her life after all these years, by playing games with the children and the finances.  Pretty stupid, huh?  But her story is not the only one like that I have heard.  When I pressed further, though, and described the topics in the books, she thought perhaps spring might be more relevant, and left with volume two

I have a point to this, but before I get there, it might be helpful to recap the description I offered to her about the organization of the book.  (Those of you who have been divorced, though, will already pretty well know exactly what I mean by the notion of seasons.)

Autumn refers to the time when life is falling apart around you, you are sensing the loss of your family, marriage, home, purpose…it is a very scary and depressing time, and the devotions are designed to help the reader through it.  

Winter is the time of desolation, when everything feels cold, lonely and empty.  In this time, the comfort needed relates to the presence of God, the sorting out of grief, and trust that there is promise for the future…these are the kinds of topics discussed in that season’s devotions.  

Spring is the time of new life, as the brown grass begins to turn green, the flowers and trees begin to bud, and one can see signs of life returning once again.  The devotions here have to do with that hope and the rebuilding of life with godly choices, as well as wisdom in handling the ongoing entanglements and hurts.  

Summer, of course, is the season of fun, life, energy and warmth, when life is good and things run smoothly.  The devotions for this period have to do with remembering God in the midst of life, finding ways to minister to others with what you have learned, and reflections on has kept you through the hard times.

Now, back to the subzero weather outside.  I cannot imagine living in someplace like Antarctica…or even northern Alaska.  Remember C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia talking about it always being winter but never Christmas?  It must feel that way sometimes in those places, too!  Here, though, I watch the storms blow and the temperature drop, and know that it is only temporary.  The snow on the ground today, will be gone before too long.  It doesn’t stay on the ground in our area that long, the sun shines and melts it with a few days, maybe a couple of weeks.  We will have more storms, and more cold weather, but I know it is only temporary. That is one of the earliest promises in the Bible, one God made to Noah, that the seasons would follow one upon the other.  

I don’t really like winter, but I like that it keeps the insect population under control.  And I like how beautiful the snow, ice and frost can be.  I like watching fires burn in the fireplace, and I like the feel of warm sweaters.  Heck, I even kind of like the feel of vigorously shoveling snow in the cold!  But I know in the ground around my house are bulbs I planted that will yield tulips, jonquils and crocus in just a few months.  I know there are forsythia bushes whose golden blossoms will bring beauty to the landscape, and the redbud and mimosa trees will lend their blossoms to the sky.  In winter, that knowledge gives me hope and the ability to endure.

If you are in the autumn or winter of your divorce, or maybe even of your life, I would encourage you to let the snowfalls and darkened skies remind you that this season of life is temporary, too. 

Remember the blossoms you have planted deep into the soils of your life.  Recall the roots you have sent down, that come next summer will produce the apples, peaches or whatever fruit your life will bear.  And if you are nearing the end of life, in that coldest of wintry seasons, remember the promise that the next season will be the eternal sunshine of God’s heavenly summer, the most beautiful season of all.  Because we can endure most anything, if we know that it is only for a time.  God has indeed created the world so that the seasons come and go, and we move on to something fresh, the sunshine after the storms.  Keep your eyes on the horizons of your life, for there is a new day dawning that can be filled with warmth, promise and joy.  But in the meantime, you may have to shovel some snow!