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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Your Super Bowl Ticket!


(Reader Warning:  A great number of people will not care for this blog.  In part because they will take it the wrong way.  But part of why it may not be well received is because it may challenge them to consider something they feel uncomfortable considering.  I know it was for me as I wrote it.)

I don’t know if you follow the news stories about tomorrow’s Super Bowl game or not.  Deflated footballs, deceptive tactics, city preparation, pregame opportunities for children, analysis and statistics down to how many blades of grass should be on the field (wait, no, that’s baseball whose stats go to that extreme…football still measures with chains 20 yards away).  

ANYWAY, some of the most striking reports have had to do with some of the finances.  The average ticket price this year, according to various searches on the internet, was supposedly $2879.00 or thereabouts, depending on whom you believe (although GOOD seats start at $4500.00).  But that’s only if you bought them in the first place.  If you  buy them “on the secondary market” (whatever THAT is) the average price is more likely around $5000.00.  Or, according to some reports, maybe even $10,000.  That will get you into the game with a place to sit.  If you plan on GETTING to the game by CAR, you will need to park the car.  That they are estimating will run you another $140.00.  Must be a nice car.  Or maybe it is a “designer” parking space.  I’m not even going to GUESS how much a soda or hot dog might cost once you are inside the stadium, but if you are going, you may want to take a few bearer bonds or the deed to your house, just in case you want nachos, too.  And unless you happen to live there, this list doesn’t even include the cost of getting there and where you will stay while you are in town!

Then there is the cost of commercials.  Like many things in our world, they have gone up in price. Supposedly 7% higher than last year.  Which translates to $4.5 million.  (May have to mortgage the jet, too.)  If you added in the players’ and coaches salaries, the expenses to pay the regular people who clean the place and cook the hot dogs, the money transferred over memorabilia and licensing and halftime and money spent on snacks for Super Bowl parties and…well, you get the idea.  (And you thought the national debt was a lot of money!)

Let me focus on the seat prices.  Forget the $10,000 seat, let’s assume you purchased a seat the first day, and only took an “average” seat…(which is behind the poles under the press box), so you got the bargain price of $2879.00 reserved in your name.  And then just as you are about to give them your credit card number, you notice a flyer on your table from, say, Compassion International asking you to sponsor a needy child.  You are faced with the dilemma of having that just average seat without even parking your car or eating a hot dog or making a commercial, OR, you could use your $2879.00 to pay the monthly sponsorship for that child so he can eat each day for 6 years, 3 months and about 24 days.  Oh, and the child would also get medical checkups, health and hygiene training, educational assistance, access to surgery and disaster relief and mentoring to understand their value as creations of God for whom Christ died.  But then, you’d have to watch the game on tv.  Wait, it isn’t a game.  Yes, occasionally somebody will say it is just a game, like for that player whose wife might have a baby tomorrow very inconveniently forcing him to have to choose where to be….but real life is, everybody knows it isn’t just a game.  It’s an EVENT!  It is the SUPER bowl.  

Seat at the event….starving child….it’s just so hard to decide.  Sadly, for far too many of us, it isn’t.  If the price of one AVERAGE ticket could care for a kid for six years, imagine what the price of a good seat could do, or a viewing box.  OR what would be available if a player, coach or referee decided to forego his salary for just that one game, or if the NFL told the networks to forego their payment and send it to Compassion instead.  You might have to give up a seat at a Super Bowl game, but you would probably get a really good seat at the Messianic banquet table for eternity.  And that kid might just get to sit right next to you there.

I know I am picking on football here, but you can apply it so many places:  jewelry, clothing, houses, automobiles, luxury travel, wasted food from gourmet restaurants (or even our own refrigerators).  I have even heard the application made to such things as how much we spend here in the United States on weddings or funerals.  I am surrounded by things in my home that could also be used for illustration, when comparing them to people who have no home, no food, no clothing, no safe water supply, no chance for an education.

It is a hard thing to face, but most of us have “Super Bowl tickets” of some sort, while hundreds of children die needlessly every hour of every day.  

Compassion isn’t the only agency that cares for starving children, I know, but it is one that I especially admire, in part because it does more than just feed the children.   I have always been struck by the fact that when Jesus talked about these things, he said that whatever we do to people like those starving children, we also do to him.  Does that mean we can’t have anything or enjoy anything?  

That seems doubtful.  

I do think we are remiss if we do not ever stop and give serious thought to our lives regarding these things…and too often we do not.  Many would use the word “balance” as the key, and perhaps they are right.  But somehow I think the word “priorities” is a more important word.  It doesn’t have anything to do with the topic of divorce, I know  But then again, given the word “priorities,” maybe it does.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Don't Forget to Play!


Have you ever gone to seminars or workshops, where they have material they are presenting for you to learn, and attempt to do so in the various little cutesy ways to be unique and interesting…..just like every other cutesy seminar and workshop…  As an “out of the box” sort of guy, sometimes I think I ought to give a seminar for people who host seminars helping them learn how to make their seminar not feel seminarish!  

ANYWAY, so I was at a workshop one time, that really wasn’t too bad, and included the typical silly little games and exercises - very fun for those of you who are actually extroverts and like meeting other people all the time!  But even for those who don’t, it was a decent time.  Afterwards, I happened to overhear a middle aged man commenting on the event who made the statement that he had quit playing silly little games 30 years ago, and didn’t need to be doing them now.  I looked at the man, and he clearly was not my definition of “Mr. Fun” by any stretch of the imagination.  Playfulness seemed to have long departed his personality.  He was a serious minded achiever, who took his work seriously and believed in setting an example of what mature adults act like. I know this because we had conversed earlier in the day.  I think it is very sad that he has become that way, and doesn’t even realize that it is sad.

Of course, the quote in the title has absolutely nothing to do with playfulness, as it is using the word play to refer to drama, as those of you who know your Shakespeare will recall.  But for our use today, I want to take a stand for play, because play IS the thing.  Life is hard enough, responsibilities are weighty enough and life is short enough that we should never neglect the ability to celebrate our inner child every once in a while.  

I believe this is especially true in the midst of divorce.  One of the few blessings that comes with the devastation of divorce is the opportunity to free yourself from some of the overly constrained caricatures of personhood that may have been imposed upon you in a bad marriage.  A friend of mine once expressed it this way, “After my divorce, I started discovering all these little things about myself that have lain dormant for a long time, and I find myself thinking, ‘that’s right, I used to enjoy doing that!’”  

Whether you are going through divorce yourself or not, the question still applies, “Have you forgotten how to play, how to just have fun?”  Another friend of mine likes to point out that as children we love doing things, and are willing to try almost anything for fun, because it is only as we move toward adulthood that the constraints of talent and proper behavior squelch the enthusiasm of youth.  Madeline L’Engle once pointed out that something like 90% of very young children have high creativity ability, but by the time they become teenagers, the creative children have become only 4%.  Something like that.  How about you?

I reclaimed a lot of things about myself after my divorce, and one of them was permission to do things differently, to try new things, and to play again if I wanted to.  I am not referring to the reckless and damaging abandon described in books like “Crazy Days,” where people divorcing make really poor choices and indulge in high risk behaviors.  I am talking about actual play, the dropping of inhibitions for the sake of good old fashioned fun.  For me, that included going with some friends to a city park in the middle of the night to slide on the slipper slides and swing in the swings, with blue fingernail polish on my finger and toenails!  And we laughed, played hard, and had fun!

There are days even now as responsibility weighs me down that I have to remind myself I need to go play somewhere.  And my simple advice today is that if you are struggling with the overwhelming feelings that accompany divorce…or bogged down some other way in life…I encourage you to go outside and find a way to have some fun.   Make a snowman or a snow angel.  Finger paint.  Dance to silly songs.  Whatever it takes for you to allow that child within to be freely expressed in action, let it happen…though in a safe manner.  It will lift your spirits.  It will remind you that life used to be fun.  And it will help you see that there is more to life than the burdens, cares and responsibilities of daily drudgery, even if that drudgery is called divorce.

Sunday, January 25, 2015



One time during an interview about my books, I was asked why I decided to write my book about divorce as a daily devotional.  If you will bear with me, let me show you a few things.  (The following verses are all taken from the English Standard Version Bible.) 

“The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

“Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”    Psalm 41:9

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”  Psalm 56:8

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Psalm 32:8

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  John 6:37

”For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Romans 8:18

 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   Romans 8:38-39

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Do you see any possible reason why any of these verses could be relevant to a person experiencing the upheaval of divorce?  Unfortunately, very often the only verse that rings in the hearts and minds of people struggling with divorce is the verse from Malachi which says that God hates divorce.  But there are so many passages that can be so relevant in the difficult days of divorce, or as one seeks to rebuild their lives afterwards.  

There are many good resources out there for people in the midst of divorce.  There are support groups.  There are self-help manuals.  There are pastors and counselors.  There are caring family members.  But God is the most important resource available to help someone through the devastation and hurt that are so often part of divorce.  And God has promised to reveal himself through the words in the Bible for those who would truly seek him in its pages.  

Why did I write the books as devotional books?  Because if all people would ever receive from my writings is help from me, they will be far short of the help they really need.  But if somehow I can offer something that can help them hear God speaking to their own hearts personally through the words and teachings of scripture, they will have learned something that can help them for all eternity.  And that has been worth all the effort I have put into making these volumes available for people in divorce who need to know God still cares about them!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Messy, Messy Grief


It has been a very hectic January already.  At least, that’s the way it feels.  I went on a bit of a getaway this past weekend.  When we got back, I mentioned to my wife that there were a number of times I wanted to pick up the phone and give dad a call, either to check in and see how things were going, or to pass along some of the things that were going on.  But, as you may recall, dad passed away last spring, so the experience was more about the process of grieving than it was about actually contacting my dad.  

There are a great many experiences and reminders that must be faced and worked through in the process of grief.  Those things can be as little as running across an unexpected photo or recipe, or simply visiting a place that brings back memories.  In recent years especially, I have been pretty close with dad, as we have shared together the final years of his life, so these reminders pop up fairly often, and always result in missing the opportunity to be able to have the conversations I once could have.

Often people talk about the similarities of the grief of divorce and the grief of a loss in death.  And the parallels are real, of course.  For instance, the emptiness of a house, the loss of the person with whom you used to talk about so many of life’s experiences, or even simple companionship are some of the arenas in which grieving a loved one compares with the grief of the loss of a spouse and a marriage in divorce.  But as I missed my father this weekend,  I was also struck by the profound differences once again.

For example my inability to share with my dad is what brings the sense of sorrow and loss, as I miss an opportunity that is no longer mine.  After a divorce, it is possible to still contact one’s ex, and sometimes it is even necessary to do so to discuss some matters of common concern, such as raising children.  In those instances, the visit itself is what may bring the sorrow and pain, perhaps because of the disparate interests represented in the conversation, or because of reliving mentally and emotionally that traumatic upheaval of life.  

Another difference would be the more obvious one, which is that after the death of a loved one, many of us continue to think of things we would like to share with that person if only we had the opportunity.  That desired opportunity is what reminds us of our loss.  After a divorce, most of the people I know have no desire to talk with their former spouse and will AVOID talking with their ex, especially on any regular basis.  

I admire those who manage to maintain a positive relationship with an ex….but have also learned those people are few and far between, and it is always dependent upon BOTH parties wanting to have a healthy relationship and BOTH parties treating the other with respect both during and after the divorce.  More often than not, self-interest and vindictiveness prevent that from happening before the divorce is even over.  

Money hidden in secret accounts, an individual intentionally running up a debt to impoverish the other person, clothes of the ex-ripped up and possessions dumped into the yard…the behaviors that often accompany divorce create a great difference between the two experiences of grief.  Frankly, I don’t know how one would decide which is harder to process.  But I do know that death is just part of the normal reality of the design of this world.  Divorce seems like more of a betrayal of the design, a failure or loss of it.  

If you are struggling with grief, regardless of the cause, it is important to know that there are no shortcuts in grief.  Each step, each reminder, each task and each emotion must be faced in its time.  

Grief is not something that follows a three step pattern, but is messy, unexpected and must be experienced as it comes, rather than created by design.  Oh sure, you can design some things to make your grieving go better, such as making sure you have an effective support network, or time to reflect on those things that are meaningful.  But much of grief refuses to be managed, it arises on its own terms, and in its own times.  So hang in there, if you are grieving, for grief is part of the process by which the wounds of the heart are healed.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is Your Marriage Facebook Perfect?


I spend very little time on Facebook.  In fact, I don’t even spend very much time on the internet.  I’d rather pick up a clump of paper held between two pieces of cardboard or heavy paper known as “a book”.  

However, my wife, who is pretty internet savvy, occasionally sends me a link for something she thinks I would find interesting.  One day she sent me a link to a New York Times article by Hannah Seligson entitled, “Facebook’s Last Taboo:  The Unhappy Marriage,” I followed the link and went to read the article---after all, she might be trying to tell me something!   

Here is the link to the article, in case you want to check it out for yourself before going any further, (though I will give you some summary statements myself):  

To read the article click this link:    Facebook's Last Taboo

In a nutshell, the article sprang from a posting by a couple who were in the process of divorcing and had both posted on their facebook pages their divorce announcement.  In the announcement they included appreciation for the support others offered and a statement about how well they are doing together divorced.  Other individuals are also discussed in the article, along with some analysis as to why people rarely let others into the inner workings of a struggling marriage, instead creating the impression that theirs is a wonderful marriage.  I thought it might be worth reflecting on some of the issues raised in the article.

One of the big themes of the article focuses on the “artificial image” we allow to persist about our marriages, as if everything is alright when in fact there may be struggles, disappointments and heartaches.  

As a pastor, I can attest that this very phenomenon is true in every church on any given Sunday, as families sit together nicely going through the motions of their faith, never allowing the veneer of happy marriage to crack enough for anyone to see inside.  Once they are divorced, however, those around are often surprised and say, “We had no idea they were even having problems.”  But as their pastor, I may have known for years that there were serious issues in their marriage.  

Should the other people have known of the problems as well?  

Should all their facebook “friends” have been told all along?  That is the core of the article’s questions.

The author raises the issue in this way, through the words of the individual who made the facebook post:   

“There is a fairy-tale marketing of marriage that we all participate in,” Mr. Ellsberg said. “It’s a mirage, and it does a disservice to people who are thinking of getting married…”  

I think most of us understand what Mr. Ellsberg is saying, which is also reiterated and discussed by the article’s author.  Fairy tale is an interesting usage here, because do you not recall that most fairy tales describe the romance up to the marriage, and the only subsequent comment is that “they lived happily ever after”?  

As far as we know, Cinderella and Prince Charming never argued about anything, never had to face financial stressors, never had children with the resulting stress on their time and energy.  They lived happily ever after.

That so isn’t real life, is it?  Which, of course, is why it is called a “fairy tale;” it was never intended to be real life, but a representation of the finest moments in life, and to evoke the longing and hope within each of us for something better, the striving for the ultimate perfection,  which is only fulfilled in heaven.  Even the fairy tale dreams beckon us to search for what Milton called the “Paradise Lost”.    

Do we do the disservice of creating false impressions for those not yet married by not sharing our problems publicly?  Do these false impressions add to the divorce rate by setting up unrealistic expectations?  Or do the public presentations people perceive mimic the role of the life of the fairy tale in beckoning us to reach for the very best?  

Would opening the struggles of our marriages and private lives by revealing the “sordid details” to the world help these young people or ourselves?  Or is stoically bearing the pains in private, as suggested by the adage to “not air your dirty laundry in public” the better way to go?   

Are there only these two options?   Is there not a difference between living a lie and choosing to keep some areas of our lives private?  And really, any child knows that their parents’ marriage is not always perfect, and that awareness can do a lot to offset any fairy tale images along the way.

It has been my experience that wise individuals find a middle ground, in which they teach and learn from other couples with whom they have developed close and trusting relationships with the result that each couple grows and develops.  Les and Leslie Parrott refer to these as marriage mentors, couples helping one another learn how to handle effectively the struggles and joys of marriage.  On the other hand, I have observed that those who open their lives to any and everybody - do nobody any service at all, and reap only ill-founded if well intentioned advice from individuals whose prying interest is more for self-gratification than real help and hope.  

I do believe those who try to live their existence through the creation and projection of an illusion of the perfect marriage, end up frustrated as they live lives of denial and disappointment because of unrealistic expectations and efforts to live up to a lie. 

No marriage is the perfect fairy tale.  But marriage doesn’t have to be perfect to be worth cherishing and nourishing.  It probably is not a good idea to create a false impression about our marriages to the point that we lead others believe we have the perfect relationship and refuse to acknowledge our own struggles.  

On the other hand; it also seems to me that people whose view of marriage are that it is only a relationship filled with problems and challenges and therefore not worth pursuing are perceiving it imperfectly as well.  This perception may lead them to pursue live-together relationships  (about which there are also false impressions out there), or at worst, avoid a serious relationship.   In either case, they never experience what an incredible thing a good marriage really is…even if it is NOT perfect!

Bottom line, it boils down to whether you are living a life of integrity and genuineness, not whether or not you are telling everybody about your problems.  

I think many of our issues are best worked out privately between the individuals involved, maybe with the help of a pastor or counselor.  The naïveté of youth believing theirs will be a perfect wedding and a perfect marriage and they will live happily ever after would probably not change because somebody told them about their marriage problems.  You know youth, “well, that won’t ever happen to ME!”  

Instead, modeling a life in which you live in a committed marriage relationship, willing to face each challenge as it arises is what might help others, who somehow believe that they should end their marriage just because it wasn’t “perfect.”  It may not always make a difference, but at least the example is there!