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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Good Memories in the Midst of Everything


Memories from a lifetime

After posting my last blog, an anonymous reader posted a comment.  You could go back and look at it yourself, but it simply was that he thanked me for what I shared, and then wrote:

              “There are good memories in spite of some that are not so good.                                                                                    All of it is relevant to where we are today.”

I kind of liked what he/she said, do you?  Because I think there is some good wisdom in it.  So I thought I’d use it to elaborate a bit on some important concepts. 

The first part of the comment points out that mixed in with the memories that are painful or sad or tragic there are also the memories that bring us joy and good feelings.  Now most of us realize this is true.  Most experiences in life have something in them that can bring us joy or meaning.  But very few experiences are “perfect.”  Weddings almost always have some little glitch that brings frustration.  Family reunions often include some moments of tension.  Though we may be excited to move into new home or apartment, we may still miss the old neighborhood, and will inevitably find something in the new space that isn’t quite what we had hoped it would be.  Everything comes with mixed baggage.  But divorce, like many experiences in life, can so absorb our energy and our focus in such a way that we have a hard time seeing those good moments because the awful experiences loom so large.  But as the comment suggest, there are always both.  Sometimes it takes intentional effort on our part to remember that, and then to look for the things that are good. 

I have some friends who are currently in the midst of some pretty serious medical crises.  She is in the hospital recovering from an emergency surgery, and her husband is handling all the things that come with such an event.  He is one of those “glass half full” sort of guys, and so as he talks about all the difficult things that are going on, he always say that if you watch closely, you will see that God is always doing something.  We sometimes merely need to have ears to hear and eyes to see to be able to rise above the hardships.  In a lot of ways, it is the old “every cloud has a silver lining,” except we are not merely talking about what we might see afterwards, but being able to see in the midst of the storm itself.  How important it is that we find ways in the hard moments of life to notice the little things that bring us joy and meaning.

 The comment also includes a reference to the perspective and emotions that come each day.  While the writer did not explain exactly what is meant, I think it is fair to realize that perspective and time make a huge difference.  Sixteen years ago, I could see nothing good about my getting divorced.  A friend asked me if there wasn’t something which I was looking forward to, and the only thing I could speak of at the time was an upcoming birthday trip I had arranged for my daughter and I in celebration of her 16th birthday.   Everything else looked bleak.  Now, all these years later, with the emotional upheaval behind me and so much of the pain healed, I find that there are a lot of good things that have come in my life beyond the pain.  Even as I grieve the loss of my parents, perspectives change day by day.  Some days my emotions are more fragile, and I have a hard time seeing the good.  Other days, I find much to look forward to and the memories hold a special place of joy for me rather than mere sorrow. 

And so, I resonate with the comment that was made, and would encourage all of us to realize that the blend of life with good things and hard things is what brings richness to living, and that with the passing of time, things that seem awful in the moment may become beautiful memories as they are shaped by the growth we experience.  So if you are feeling down or low today, remember it is just today.  Tomorrow may be better, or a year from now may be when you see things fresh.  And resist the urge to become so focused on the overwhelming things that you are not also noticing the little God moments right there in the midst of the struggle.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

No Matter What, the Memories are Always There


The Crooks' Family at one of the infamous family get togethers
circa... 1970's

Many years ago, there was a lady I used to visit in the nursing home.  She was widowed, and as far as I could tell, relatively healthy both physically and mentally.  But it was also clear she wasn’t strong enough to be able to take care of herself at home, hence her move to the facility.  I never knew how the decision was made, but it was clear there was family involved in the decision beyond just her…children I think, but it has been a while.  We used to have pretty enjoyable visits, I thought.  What I do remember, though, is that we used to have conversations about how much she missed her house (in a nearby town), and all the things she had kept around her there. 

One time, I arrived for our visit, and as I entered her room, she had a big smile on her face.  She pointed over toward the wall where there stood a simple little five drawer upright dresser.  Nothing fancy, just kind of a box style pine.  She told me that the dresser came from her house, that she had gotten somebody in the family to bring it down to her.  That simple little dresser was for her a connection with her home and so made her feel more at home in her room.  Then she said something to me that I have never forgotten.  She said, “They can take my house, and take my things, but they can’t take my memories from me.”  And then she proceeded to tell me stories she remembered, especially stories about Elvis Presley, because she somehow knew him and sometimes he had even called her at the nursing home, though she said, “the staff likes to get on the phone when he calls, so I don’t always get to talk with him so much, but that’s okay.”  Quite a lady.  Quite a memory.

Probably most of you know that my father passed away last spring, and mom a couple of years ago, since I have mentioned it here before.  I am now in the position of having to sort through and make arrangements for the various household items that need to be passed on, sold or donated.  It is, of course, a daunting task.  And a very emotional task.  Today I was cleaning out some shelving, and ran across a silly little item that I have not seen since I was a child.  I didn’t even realize it was still around.  I had forgotten it, and thought it actually had been thrown away many years ago.  It was a simple souvenir from a trip to Mexico when I was very, very small.  Suddenly, I had lots of memories come flooding back, and my eye was not quite as dry as it had been a few minutes before.  It has made me think of the wisdom of my friend in the nursing home. 

Memories are precious things, aren’t they?  That was perhaps one of the hardest things for my dad, that my mother’s illness affected her ability to remember things, so he was no longer able to share and discuss memories from years gone by with her.  

Having spent a lot of my life working in photography, I remember hearing it said once, that the Chinese referred to Americans as the people who cannot remember…because we are always taking pictures of everything we see as we travel.  Guilty as charged!

These things have also made me think of some of the things I lost because of my divorce, items I will probably never see again, opportunities that can never be repeated.  In some ways similar to my father who could not share memories of his younger days with my mom, neither do I share memories with my ex wife, and the memories my wife and I have now are from a much later period in our lives.  But it is still important to remember, I might lose items in the divorce, and I may lose opportunities or have relationships impacted, but they can’t take my memories away.  Of course, since it was a divorce, there are memories that are just as well not recalled, but there are others that are still important for me, especially memories about my children or the church I pastored during their childhood. 

I think God has given our memory as a pretty special gift in life.  Memory is how we learn to not touch a hot stove, or how to find our way back home from school.  Memory is a treasure trove that brings us joy, sorrow, nostalgia and sometimes the encouragement to continue on as we remember we have conquered hard times before.  The little item I found today is really not anything significant.  The decorations on it have been tattered, faded and lost.  The metal parts are rusty, and the wood is rough and aged.  It isn’t the item that matters at all (which is part of why I am not telling you what it is), except that the item is a bridge to some special memories I had not thought of in years.  Some memories are triggered by scents, others by places we go, and others by items or photographs that transport us to another time and another place.  Memories make life full and sweet, and some of them make us realize how far we have come, or have good God has been. 

If there are some empty places in your life these days, perhaps a stroll down memory lane might just be the ticket to a smiling face and a warm heart.  Pull out that old photo album or scrapbook, or whatever would send you back, and enjoy a time of thankfulness for what God has done in your life.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Sense of Wonder and Delight


I’m a person who loves to read (probably part of the reason I have been writing books…there are several others well on the road to publication, topically unrelated to divorce, by the way).  I also like flea markets and antique stores.  At a relatively recent stop at such a store, I ran across a book from 1970 that is a step by step recounting of the Apollo 11 moonlanding of 1969, including some of the processes it took to get to that point.  The book is called First on the Moon written by several individuals in conjunction with the Apollo 11 crew.  As a really old person, I actually remember watching that moon landing on television.  As a matter of fact, I remember watching most of the launches of the Gemini and Apollo mission, too.  I remember being thrilled at the concept of space exploration and even considered pursuing a career in the field myself.  But then, what child didn’t back then?

Reading the book, I have relived some of those happy memories, and once again been touched by the wonder of what was accomplished.  I have learned some things I didn’t know, such as that the entire time Mike Collins was circling the moon by himself, nobody knew exactly where it was in the Sea of Tranquility that the Eagle had landed…so every pass he was given an assigned area to search for it.  (According to the records provided in the book, they didn’t finally confirm the location until the return flight had actually entered the pull of earth’s gravity!)  And the author, especially because of the fact that his writing was so close to the time of the landing, conveys well the absolute wonder and idealism involved in the entire project.  He projects the enthusiasm and awe we all felt at the mind staggering achievement, and people around the globe shared in it.  It was with wonder we saw Armstrong and Collins step out onto the lunar surface for the very first time.  Majestic.  Stupendous.  AWESOME…not just as a fad word, but truly AWESOME!  Or, in the vocabulary of the day, Supercalifragi…..no, skip that.  There was actually no words that adequately described the pride, the feelings, the wonder of that time.  And part of me wished that I could have been in Florida for one of the launches at some point…even into the era of the space shuttles.  I did get to visit Cape Canaveral in recent years, and saw the Saturn engines up close and personal, and I did work at a lab that did studies on lunar rocks (have an electron-microscope picture of one of them, in fact).  But still…I never got to be there when it was all happening.

Then I thought about the fact that I actually watched only a few of the space shuttle launches or landings.  I know the names of very few of the later astronauts, but most of the names of the early ones.  And I thought about the wonderful portrayals in the movie “Apollo 13,” and the scene where Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell is making a space talk presentation for the television audience, even though unbeknownst to him, the talk was not being aired on television, because the public was no longer interested in watching such things.  Until, of course, disaster struck and the mission was jeapordized.  (Yes, I remember that, too.)

Okay, so what’s the point, right?  The point is, reading this book, I have been struck again by how incredible the entire space program is.  And how sad it is that we take it so for granted.  But, as the book points out, before the Wright brothers, or even right afterwards, nobody would dreamed that a flying machine would ever be able to cross an ocean, or carry more than one passenger, or be so affordable that ordinary people would fly in them on a regular basis!  Those flights were marvelous moments, too.  The old saying is that familiarity breeds contempt.  I don’t know if contempt is the best word or not, but it familiarity certainly causes us to lose our sense of wonder and awe. 

I remember one of the first times I took my oldest child to watch an Independence Day fireworks show, and the wonder in her eyes as the colorful explosions lit up the night sky.  I remember my exhausted children suddenly coming to life when they heard the noise and saw the lights of the late night Electric Parade at Disneyland.  I have many such memories, because somehow, having young children around helps us to see things fresh as they see them for the first time.  In some ways, it would be a great thing if we could always see things as through the eyes of a child, so as to preserve the sense of awe and wonder at this incredible thing we call life, and the amazing universe we inhabit.

And, sadly, many of us lose the sense of wonder we first had when we realized and experienced God’s love for us and the power of the forgiveness we know when we open our hearts to Christ.  We get used to the idea that if we pray, God really does listen and care.  We take for granted that there are words for us from God, written down in a collection of books called the Bible.  We glibly say the name of God, not remembering the awesome and incredible nature of the being we refer to when we utter that word.  Maybe that is part of why Jesus said we need to come to him like little children.  Maybe that is what Paul desired us to gain when his prayer is that we can know the height and breadth and length and depth of the love of God, or that we could experience peace that passes understanding. 

Landing on the moon, and all the things that led up to it were incredible.  The man’s book even predicted that something like the space station and the Hubble telescope would be built that would expand our knowledge exponentially.  But those things, incredible as they be, are miniscule in the presence of a God worthy of the adjective, “Awesome.”  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Reflecting on Racism


I did something kind of weird one day which, of course, surprises no one who knows me.  After moving to my hometown a few years ago, I was at the store one day and struck up a conversation with a stranger.  Knowing me, it probably started with some stupid joke about a sale or an advertisement.  Then, in the middle of it, I said to the man something along the lines of: 

“This may sound strange, but you don’t know how much I enjoy seeing you and talking with you, because you are black, at least, that was the term we used to use, hope it’s okay.  But the point is I have lived in several towns over the years that had much smaller minority populations, and I have missed the interactions with people of different races, so I have really enjoyed just chatting with you today.  Thanks!” 

Another time I was at the store and bumped into my high school gym coach, and we started to visit, catching up a bit on one another’s lives.  He gave me a hug, or I gave him one, don’t remember which, and we each went on to finish our shopping.  He also is of African-American descent. 

Charles, Max, Verdale, Anita, Carmen (male), Debra, Carmen (female), John, Rueben, Mike and his mother Dorothy…those are a few names of friends of mine from childhood.  Some of them used to come to birthday parties at my house.  Some were in scouts with me.  Others were friends in band or at school.  Normal names, normal people doing normal activities.  All of these individuals are, as the phrase goes, “people of color,” although I never really thought about it at the time.  It didn’t matter…at least, not to me.  Each of us is now grown up and moved on or away in life.  I have seen only one or two of them in recent decades.  If I were to attempt a similar list from this time of life, it would have different names.

I have seen some of the obsessive media coverage of the difficulties over in Ferguson, Missouri, and feel sad.  When I was growing up, street protests (riots they were called back then) were every day occurrences in the news from the streets of Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco…only there were more cars being burned, more national guard troops present and more violence.  As I visited with a friend yesterday, we both recalled the school bus that received broken windows and the time tires were set on fire in the street here in town.  She even remembered another school bus being turned over. 

I was also saddened one day when I was visiting with a friend of Mexican descent about growing up here in town.  We were talking about racism, and I mentioned my awareness of the racism against African Americans here in town, but wondered what kind of experiences he knew of among our Mexican population during that time.  (We both knew that there were plenty of stories of racism from earlier times here.)  I was saddened because he was able to tell me some specific episodes during our lifetimes, one of which occurred at a laundromat not far from where I had lived.  That was the first time I ever heard of that fact.  It is too bad.

I’m sorry, I just don’t get it.  I don’t get why race is such a big deal to people.   

I mean, I DO get that individuals of certain races experience hard times because of their skin color, not only here, but other places as well.  Racism IS real.  

I DO get that racism is not merely an American phenomenon nor limited to recent times. 

I DO get that there are some cultural differences among races that affect how we view the world and how we relate to one another.  As an example, I have a hard time understanding a culture in which life is regarded as cheap, as Ho Chi Minh expressed in his willingness to lose 100 of his soldiers for every American soldier.  (Perhaps this is related to the Buddhist belief in reincarnation.)  It doesn’t make sense to me that some of the Middle Eastern peoples hold as their highest goal the destruction of the Jewish people and the nation Israel, just because they are Jewish.  I was unaware of the racism that exists between different groups of Asians until recently when I heard some comments in that regard.  Or again when I learned about the number of people of every skin color enslaved or enslaving others in the past all around the globe, including Assyrians, Egyptians, Romans, Japanese, Germans, Aztec or other American Indian peoples…the list is sadly long. 

I guess I’m one of those individuals who just wonders why we can’t all just get along.  On the other hand, I have been divorced, and if we could all just get along, divorce wouldn’t be happening either, would it?

As I watch the events of Ferguson, several thoughts come to mind.  First, it is sad that some of the same struggles still remain that were being fought back in the 60’s and 70’s.  It is sad to see one event so highlighted while others deaths of young blacks are ignored, such as the ones in Chicago for instance.  It is sad to hear the whole episode described in ways that might be exaggerated, or that some may be jumping to inaccurate conclusions and spring into this kind of action without first gathering the facts from all sides.  (There is a verse in Proverbs 18:17 that describes this…the ESV reads:  The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.) 

As facts come out, we may learn there was more behind the episode than we know in all sorts of ways.  And it is sad that individuals in official positions would even need to be questioned or legally charged to be held accountable (though there seems to be a LOT of need for that these days here in America—and in a number of other countries as well, I might add). 

Most of all, I think it is not sad, but reprehensible that opportunists will plunge into moments like this for their own self-aggrandizement or to infiltrate and stir up trouble by looting and provoking (all of which diminish the respect and credibility of the protests).  Sad, sad, sad.

I hope the day will come when there will no longer be felt a need to protest treatment as all people find a welcome place in society and are appreciated for who they are, and so choose to live in respectful and moral ways.  I hope one day some of us will wise up and realize how boring the world would be without variety.  Well, I could go on with dreams that will probably never fully materialize as long as fallible people are involved.  But maybe we each could find a way to make some little part of our world just a little bit better in this regard. And I pray that God will use all these tragic events in Ferguson to make a difference for good not only there, but among other people who are watching.  

As I watch and shake my head, I guess I owe a real gratitude to those friends of my childhood, because the relationships I had with them have laid the foundation for some important lessons in my life.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Making a Difference in the Life of a Child

Top Ten Back to School Tips After Divorce

Ideally, couples who are divorced work together for the best interests of the children.  Talking about the needs and concerns with one another and with school personnel to help their children have the best education possible.  Occasionally, that really is what happens, but from my experience, that is the exception, not the rule.  Different values and priorities, leftover resentments with a desire to inflict pain, and already poor communication skills all come together to impede the former couple working together.  

So even if a divorced couple cannot work together well, they still have the needs of the children to consider and should do the best they can given the difficulties of the situation.  

The following ten tips for various individuals involved in the children’s lives may be helpful in situations where divorced parents have difficulty working together.


1.  Be involved in your children’s education.  Every study indicates that more than anything else, parental involvement makes the biggest difference in the success of children at school.  When children have experienced the losses entailed in divorce, it becomes even more imperative that you stay engaged with your children, especially in the area of their education.  Show your child that they are a priority in your life by attending conferences and school activities.  Discuss their school day with them by asking specific questions (What did you do in reading today?  What was your math lesson about?)  and no matter what their age - READ WITH THEM!

2.  Talk to school personnel.  If parenting your children is difficult due to communication issues with your former spouse and you both have court awarded parental access, make it a point to visit with their teachers, school counselors, and office staff at the beginning of the year and through the year.  Make sure they are aware that the student has two separate households, and that both need to receive copies of all academic materials and be notified about any concerns that arise, making sure they have contact information for both of you so they can do so.  Without belaboring the point or running down your ex, you can advise them that communication between the households is not good, and so contact with both is essential.  Understanding arranged at the outset can make a significant difference throughout the year.  If your school is not cooperative about this issue it may become necessary to hold them accountable by appealing to administration or the school board, but most will be very accommodating and understanding.)

3.  Be proactive and take some initiative.  Most teachers keep pretty busy and have a lot of paperwork already.  If you attend conferences separately from your former spouse, ask to make sure that any paperwork, test reports, or grade cards are copied and available for the other parent.   If necessary, you can pick them up later at the office or have them mailed.  Even if the favor is not reciprocated you know that you are working to do your part to effectively parent your child.   

4.  Make sure children have needed supplies.  Don’t get caught up in the who pays for what and child support resentment games.  These are your children, and if they need a new backpack, then they need a new backpack…do it.  If you ex doesn’t have the funds to pay for extracurricular activities and you do, don’t rob your children of those opportunities because you are angry at your ex…be a stand up parent for your children.  Even if they reside at the other home most of the time, you can still have fun taking them shopping for extra school supplies or clothes.  Don’t have the money?  If you truly are doing your best, then ask the school personnel or your pastor what resources may be available to assist.  There are lots of people out there who love to help people who are in difficult circumstances but are trying, you just have to swallow a little pride and ask.


5.   Ease unnecessary stress for the students.  Children of divorce entrusted to your care have enough stress already and parental communication problems add more stress.  Reduce the amount of anxiety your child may have by ensuring that the office has contact information for all parents and any family members who are available.  This will benefit you and your child when conferences or contact is needed and your child doesn’t have to quizzed for the information or become the courier for notes.  This also helps the office know that you are doing the best for your child and will create greater trust.  

6.  Support your students of divorce. Yes, you only have so much time and there are a lot of students with lots of needs.   And yes, these children have to fulfill the same expectations as everybody else.  Just remember that their hearts may be torn between two worlds and they may need a little extra attention now and again, or a listening ear in the midst of their struggles.  They may need an impartial adult they trust who can help them with some perspective, an adult who realizes that there are two sides to every story and that children need both of their parents.

7.  Support the divorced parents in a difficult time.  No, they may not be spending as much time with the children in schoolwork as you think they should, and no, ideally they should be able to communicate with one another and not have you stuck in the middle somehow.  But real life is that these individuals may be struggling just to manage all the upheaval and difficult realities of life after divorce.  And the truth is, if they could get along and communicate, they probably wouldn’t be divorced in the first place.  If you notice one of your students is not performing to their ability level - don’t wait to discuss this at conference time.  Let the parent know what academic and school counseling resources are available -  this support may be the kindest gift you can give to parents who are are trying their best to help their children.  

8.  Try to imagine how YOU would feel.  Working with divorced parents can be difficult and tricky - have patience and empathize for a moment with them.  Imagine how you might feel if you weren’t notified about a meeting or given a report card.   Contemplate how YOU would feel if you didn’t have enough money to pay all the bills and meet your child’s needs and wants.  Look at it from a child’s perspective, as one whose parent is no longer at home on a regular basis and must settle for weekly or monthly visits.   Consider the stress of working multiple jobs trying to make ends meet and the responsibilities of parenting your child.  Bear in mind that the parent is dealing with the emotions of rejection and betrayal from a person they they trusted.  being rejected and betrayed by the person you trusted most.  After reflecting you might be just a little kinder when they walk ragged into your classroom.


9.  Materially support the children of these families.  Does your church offer resources for children in single parent homes with their school supply needs?  If not, then help start one or find a few friends who would be willing to step in and assist with the expenses.  

10.  Support these children with your time.  Do you even know if these children go home to an empty house?  Perhaps you could arrange a safe place for them to go, maybe even help start an after school program.  The parents may be feeling limited on their time possibilities…  tutoring children of single parents can help reduce the load on parents who are running ragged from a full plate.  What other tasks can you do to lighten the load so that they CAN spend more time with their children.   Mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, dropping kids off at practices or making a grocery run can be a blessing to the single mom or dad on the run.  In addition, there are many cases when children have limited opportunities to have a positive relationship with an adult - consider mentoring a child with guidance and love that they so desperately need. 

None of us will be able to solve all the problems that are created through divorce.  Taking the time to open our eyes and looking at a situation can allow us to mitigate the difficulties for a child or two and make a difference in their future.   

I can relate lots of stories where individuals did just that, in a variety of ways and circumstances, for my children, my step children, and other children that I know of.  There are a lot of good causes in this world that we could choose to get involved with to make a difference, but there are few causes more important than making a positive difference in the life of a child at risk.  I hope you choose to be the one who makes a difference in the life of a child this school year.    

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Struggling With Depression


 Genie, You are Free

I don’t like that term, but after considering a number of alternatives, I decided that there just isn’t a better word to use, because depression really does just suck.  

It’s terrible that it was a factor that led Robin Williams to where he could see nothing worth living for any longer.  But as a friend and I discussed casually today, anybody who has ever really struggled with depression certainly understands the battle Robin faced.  I heard actress Patty Duke discussing her own bouts with depression in relation to a book she has written about her own struggles with it.  

I don’t intend to write an article about Mr. Williams, but his death raises a topic that is so relevant for people struggling in the throes of divorce, but also relevant for countless individuals regardless of their marital status. 

Estimates of the number of Americans who struggle with depression is reported regularly in the media...but I know the number is wrong, because I know plenty of people who have struggled with depression who have never gone to a doctor or counselor to discuss it, so they are not counted in the statistics.  These statistics, at best are merely educated estimates.  

Many people struggle with depression in our world, and some of those people are individuals who smile and laugh a lot in life, at least on the outside.

If you go the topical index of the first volume of my books, Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce, you will find under the listings depression, discouragement, despair, emptiness that the volume contains 18 essays in these categories.  If you add the topics emotion and failure, you find another 11, which means that nearly one third of the book deals with the tough negative emotions individuals experience as they go through divorce.  The writings include the recognition of the reality of these difficult experiences, and some ideas for ways of dealing with these emotions.  These devotions are in there because I know myself what it is to wrestle with periods of depression, especially during the process of divorce.

There are those who believe that all an individual has to do is to pick themselves up and get back to work.  Or that in order to recover from depression we need to replace it with joy, countering the depression with pleasant thoughts and a focus on pleasant things.  Choosing to focus on the positive things in life and be happy... 

Or those who offer lots of other little quick fixes, each of which provides mounting evidence that the person offering the advice has no clue what depression is really like.  None.  

It is true that we can do things to counter the moods of depression, things like medication, sunshine, accomplishing simple tasks, spending time with a counselor, refraining from isolation…there is a long list.  And they can help.  

Perhaps one of the most useful things to note from the suicide of Mr. Williams is that he was doing those things, and yet, it wasn’t enough.  

In other words, there are NOT simple little magic answers and there certainly are not any “one size fits all” solutions.  

Depression IS a tough thing to deal with, and since divorce also means you have lost a hugely significant relationship, then one of life’s support pillars is no longer available.  That alone can be very depressing.

If you have friends or acquaintances who struggle with depression or who are going through a divorce, it is very wise of you to keep in touch with them, to monitor their moods and energy levels.  Doing so may save someone’s life, literally.  

Some may not experience as much depression as others, but some experience incredibly intense depression and, like Mr. Williams, may not be able to find their way out.  There is a time a place for intervention, and hospitalization is sometimes the only way for individuals to turn the necessary corners and receive the needed help.  

As a friend, you can offer support, love, friendship, advice, and it can make a huge difference.  But you must also realize you cannot “fix” individuals struggling with depression…that individual has to make choices themselves, too.  They have to choose to take the medicine, to call the suicide prevention hotline, to quit drinking and adding more depressants into their bodies, to get up out of bed in the morning and do something... even though they don’t feel like they have the energy.  

Sadly, sometimes no matter how much help and support is available, the end of the story may not be a happy one.  And, as those who loved Robin found out, family and friends cannot always change that ending, no matter how much they might wish they could.  

In the news coverage of Robin Williams, as the speakers discuss depression, many times I have heard them use the phrase, “fighting his own personal demons.”  Those who struggle with depression or have friends who do, understand what that phrase seeks to communicate.  However, I would also make a suggestion that this very phrase unwittingly suggests:  there is a spiritual component that makes a difference in the experiences of depression.  As a person who believes that there actually ARE such things as demons, I acknowledge that such beings can afflict individuals with devastating depression…but I would quickly add that I do NOT believe that is always the case.  Brain chemistry, financial upheaval, relationship breakdowns…lots of things can result in depression.  However, to treat depression without considering the spiritual realities of life may well ignore one of the most important components to effective treatment.  Sadly, though, all too often that is exactly the case as people believe a few pills or a few hours of talk therapy can fix everything.

One of the great things about the teachings of scripture is that the New Testament faith is one that is filled with the promise of hope.  

Death is not the end of the story.  

The evil we experience in this world is not the final victor.  

The mess we make in our lives does not mean we are beyond redemption.  

The wounds of our hearts and souls can be healed.  

In fact, Hebrews calls this hope of faith as the anchor for our souls.  Suicide from depression so often occurs because the individual has lost all sense of hope.  Why would we neglect offering the great hope offered by Christ as a significant part of help for those despairing in hopelessness?  

Having a relationship with God does not mean the believer is immune from the struggles and emotions of this world.  And when things like divorce knock us off our feet, faith does not mean that depression is not ever going to come our way.  Faith does offer something beyond ourselves to cling to, and Someone beyond ourselves Who can help conquer in us those things we cannot conquer on our own.  

The apparently suicidal death of Robin Williams is a sad thing.  His family has my prayers.  Sadder still would be if none of his friends ever told him that even in our darkest hour, there is hope, a hope that can be found only in Christ.  Those of us who have times that we struggle with depression may indeed have times we walk through very dark valleys in life.  But if we also have Christ, we never have to walk those valleys alone.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Wisdom to Stand for Truth, Love and the Character of God

Warping Perspectives

I have always been struck by a particular verse in Isaiah.  I used to always think it was referring especially to people who lived on the wild side (like Hell’s Angels) or who were blatantly evil, like the Nazis.  It certainly is clear to see how it applies to those situations.  However, more recently, since moral relativism has taken such a strong hold in our world, I have come to believe it is the more subtle applications of this verse that are perhaps the most insidious.  Here is the passage, quoted from the New American Standard Version:
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!   -----Isaiah 5:20
The images described in this passage are rampant today, it seems to me.  Debates over social issues, the vilification of virginity and glorification of teen pregnancy, renaming things like adultery and promiscuous behavior into terms like “affairs” and “sexually active,” and the bizarre world of political expediency all are multiple examples of calling evil good. 
Then, the flip side, of course, is the ridicule faced by those who DO choose to stand for their beliefs, and the characterization of all Christians as mindless and na├»ve do-gooders who are deluded enough to think they heard God speaking to them.  I was especially struck by that attitude years ago when U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno stated that she considered people dangerous who read their Bibles regularly!  (I tend to think she is confused about who really IS dangerous in that scenario.)  Notice, Isaiah makes clear that calling something good does NOT make it good, it just reveals the character of the speaker involved.
And bound up with the shift is a great deal of browbeating for any who would dare to question the politically correct point of view, whether the topic is global warming or immigration reform, to views on gay marriage and more.  Even the terminology troubles me.  For instance, somebody who does not believe homosexuality is moral, is described as a homophobe…created from the word for fear, even though it isn’t an issue of fear, it is an issue of belief about morally right and wrong behavior.  We don’t call somebody who believes murder is wrong a murderphobe, do we?  Of course not, that’s ridiculous.  But because the battles are vicious these days, in certain realms the terminology is often biting and vindictive.  And let’s be honest…that viciousness does exist on both sides of the spectrum, and there has been plenty of browbeating to go around by both sides!  Supposedly toleration is hailed as the great virtue of the day, but toleration is only for those whose opinions on valued issues are the same; there is no tolerance for those who disagree, there is only ridicule and attack.
Morality has been relegated to popular opinion, and any sense of ultimate right and wrong has been lost for many in our society who believe they are accountable to no one, least of all a God they don’t even believe in.  But Isaiah’s words begin with, “Woe,” because accountability is real, and judgment will come.
So let me close this blog by relating it to the topic of divorce.  Each of us must be careful, in all of life’s actions and choices, to not be deceived into calling evil good, or believing those who do.  But not everything that has commonly held to be true is necessarily so, either.  Consider slavery, which was acceptable for centuries, until opinion shifted and people realized that there was something inherently wrong in the practice.  At the time, remember, there were both Christians and non-Christians with strongly held opinions on both sides of the issue.
I would never call divorce a “good” thing, but I would call it a necessary thing in a fallen world, hence God’s provision for it from the earliest days in the laws of Moses.  However, as one goes through divorce, one is inundated with a multitude of decisions and choices.  Those choices can be decided based on selfish interests, they can be decided based on vindictive anger, they can be decided based on a false sense of love and humility, they can be decided on purely pragmatic bases, or they can be decided on perceived “right” and “wrong.”  And how those decisions are made affect the character of the person making the decisions.  All too often, vindictive anger and selfish interests are rampant among divorcing individuals.
Many choices involve very gray areas, areas where there seem to be no specific rightness or wrongness about it, no clear teaching of scripture or church.  In those areas, if you are trying to do what you believe is right or best, making choices becomes difficult.  A dear friend of mine suggested that sometimes, framing the issue in terms of effective and ineffective rather than trying to find a right and wrong in the muddy waters might prove more useful.  I found that was a very helpful insight.  However, I also believe it is important that an individual divorcing be very wary of their choices and actions, weighing each matter carefully, lest they end up on the receiving end of Isaiah’s woes.  

Do your best to stand for good, for truth, for love, and for those things that most reflect the character of God, even in the onslaughts of evil in our world today.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014



A day or two ago I was reading the headlines on my browser's homepage and featured one more time were deaths due to battles in the Middle East.  Frankly, I wonder if any place on earth has suffered as much warfare, throughout history, as those patches of desert ground.  As I saw the headline, I thought to myself, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to live my life in the middle of a battle zone.”  For some of the people in those countries, that is all they have ever known, and any peace they have experienced has either been dictatorially imposed through intimidation on them, or has been a fragile peace they know can be shattered in a moment with a bomb or a rocket attack.  Can you imagine?

Then I thought about how many people living in so-called marriages (if you will permit the term), are also living in perpetual battle zones.  I am grateful that my current marriage is a long way from that, and is a relationship in which I think we both feel loved, encouraged and supported.  I haven’t always had that experience…otherwise I wouldn’t have been divorced, right?  It is a precious thing to have a marriage I can treasure.

You know, I think much of life is already a battleground, without having to fight ongoing skirmishes in the confines of your own home with someone who is supposed to be on the same side as you, someone who is supposed to be your ally.  World War II would never have been won, if the Americans, Russians and British (and the other allies) spent their time shooting at each other instead of focusing their attacks on the Nazi and Imperialist enemies.  Many of us know what it is like to battle each day at work to be successful in our vocation, or to battle financial setbacks, illnesses and other such daily challenges.   There are emotional battles that rage, sometimes because of our own moods that would drag us down or cause us to make poor choices, sometimes due to the actions of others who hurt or disappoint us.  I believe there are also spiritual battles, some of which have our moral standing at stake, others of which risk our eternal destiny as the enemies of God rage against the human race (many of whom become unwitting tools in the hands of evil), and especially against those who seek to follow God faithfully.

Maybe in your life there are rockets falling and you regularly step on landmines which destroy the opportunity for peace at home, at work, or in the other arenas of your life.  Sometimes peace can only be achieved through fighting harder.  Sometimes peace is achieved by the wisdom to know which battles are not worth fighting.  And sometimes battles rage all around you no matter what you choose to do, as so many innocents experience in the Middle East (and other spots around the globe) when their leaders or self-styled soldiers impose violent situations upon them.  Many times those divorcing are seeking escape from the continual battlezone that their home has become.

Perhaps these things are why there is so much emphasis in the Bible on peace, biblically described as not merely cessation of hostility, but also as a sense of wholeness, well-being and contentedness.  No matter what the battles of life, God offers to share his own peace with us, that in the midst of this world’s warfare, we can be at peace knowing we are exactly where we need to be and doing exactly what we are supposed to do, being protected and loved by the one who designed our lives before we were even born.  

Will peace ever come to the Middle East, or the rest of our world?  Even in the United States, daily police reports of criminal activity, or the court records of divorce filing indicate that peace is more than merely lack of war between countries.  External peace may never become the experience of this world’s population.  But peace in the midst of it is promised from God for those would seek it.  I hope that those people struggling in terrible situations are able, now and then, to know some of God’s peace in their hearts.  And I pray that they will be able to find a more peaceful way to live in proximity with one another.  I also hope that in your home you can know peace as allies in life’s battles, rather than have to live in constant skirmishes of anger and resentment.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A World in Flux


Abandoned MKT railroad lines
I had to take the car in for some repairs the other day.  Since my wife was out of town, and since I usually try to take the dogs on walks anyway, I ended up taking the car in and then walking the dogs from and then to the repair shop.  I am currently living in the town I grew up in, so the route took me along very familiar paths.  

I walked by the old field where the schools used to play football and our band played from the bandshell.  The field is empty, the bandshell torn down and grown over.  I walked past my elementary school, homes of childhood friends and neighborhood grocery stores.  I walked across my paper route.  I saw the fields where we played, the location of trees we used to climb and the home in which I grew up.  Much of what I saw was now in decay or disrepair.  Favorite trees are now gone, long since fallen or cut down.  Neighborhood grocery stores no longer exist.  The neighbor’s fishpond has long since been filled in.  The old pasture now has a water tower in it.  The railroad tracks have been removed, and a grown over path has taken its place.  Many of the homes, including the one I grew up in, have suffered much over the years due to lack of upkeep.  

Because I have lived in several towns over the years, I have experienced this same kind of thing in other locations as well.  One of the false beliefs about divorce is that if the divorce hadn’t occurred, then things could have gone on and been okay, without the heartache and hassles of the aftermath of divorce.  In reality, our entire world is always in a state of flux and decay.  Nostalgia may make us believe things could have been so different…but even the good things of the past would have changed over time.  Some things change for the better, some for the worse, but everything changes.  

I once heard it said that the only thing that never changes is that everything is always changing!  (Which, by the way, is one of the marvelous characteristics of God…he never changes, we can count on him to remain always faithful, always the same.)  It seems to me that the secret of quality living is to be able to embrace change so that it can enrich our lives instead of seeing it as some kind of enemy to be avoided.  

The corollary is that we need to treasure each day we have and each relationship we have…because tomorrow is never promised to us, and when tomorrow does come, things will have changed.

There are some changes that I welcome and look forward to as exciting progress and opportunity. There are other changes that come which are harder to accept, requiring me to let go of the familiar and risk something new.  But as I walked the neighborhood, it made me realize that though it is not what it once was, it was something good when I was young.  The trees I climbed are gone, but the memories of joy-filled days remain.  Buildings are gone or decayed (and I am a bit decayed myself!), but there was a time in which those structures offered a safe haven and a place I once called home.  

Home is somewhere else now. And I am someone beyond who I was as that child.  But I still have a place I call home.  And I still have people I love and who love me.  These things have always been true in my life, though the locations have varied and the faces have changed as people have come and gone in the course of my life.  

Divorce is certainly a humongous change in life, but it does not have the power to rob us of a future with new memories, new friends, and new opportunities.  So, though it may be hard to do at times, I encourage you to embrace the changes life brings your way.  The changes that come can bring wonderful joy beyond your expectations.