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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Not Stuck In the Past!


Coulda, woulda, shoulda.  I wish I’d, if only I’d, had I known….

Haunting words, sometimes, aren’t they.  

I think everyone in life can find something that causes them to look back with just a twinge of self-doubt (or maybe a ton!).  Feelings of guilt and inadequacy often follow.  

Sometimes we are our own worst critics, spending so much time focusing on regrets of choices that didn’t turn out as we hoped - that we paralyze ourselves into fear of choices in our futures.  Sometime we are guilty of wishfully thinking our lives away, wondering how it could have been different if we had made a different choice back when.

That can be especially true if you take seriously the responsibility for good and poor choices, or the importance of doing your best to do the things God wants you to do.  In those cases, when things don’t turn out as you anticipated, you then can even question whether you were listening to God well or ignoring the directions He was giving you.  The trouble is, you can spend the rest of your life analyzing things like this, and never really get anywhere because of it.  

Sometimes we just make mistakes.  

Sometimes they aren’t mistakes, it’s just that we didn’t have the foresight to realize what all the consequences would be, so were surprised when unexpected results came.  

I always like the notion of realizing that, sure, if I had known then what I know now I might have made a different choice…BUT I DIDN’T KNOW.  

More often than not in life, I feel like I did my best to make the best choice I knew how to make with the best advice and what information I had available at the time.  If I had it to do over again, I might make other choices, but I don’t have it to do again, and even if I did, without retrospect I’d probably still make the same choices.  On the other hand, things I have learned from choices in the past that didn’t turn out as expected can help inform me to approach choices differently choices in the future.

On the other hand I don't believe it is wise to flippantly approach the matter of decision making and choices.  

It isn’t healthy to just blow off our mistakes as if they didn’t matter, nor affect anybody but ourselves.  Sometimes the poor choices we make impact the lives of others for years to come, and we need to own that, as well as learn how to be wiser about making choices.

It seems to me there is a balance to be struck.  Not so overburdened that we overly dwell on the past and are in bondage to the guilt of it, nor so flippant that we are oblivious to the impact of our choices and our responsibility for them.  We need to accept our responsibility, and also learn to forgive ourselves.  I have known people who would vocalize that they believe God could forgive them, but they didn’t think they could ever forgive themselves for choices they had made.  That is not a very healthy place to be, if for no other reason than that such a statement makes oneself more important than God!

I like the example we find in the Bible, where the story is told of Peter and his threefold denial of Jesus.  After he did so, the scripture tells us he went out and wept bitterly, realizing his sin.  But in John 21, we have the incident of Jesus and his threefold restoration of Peter, in which Jesus does not absolve Peter from responsibility for his choice, but at the same time assuring Peter that he still had a place in the service of Christ.  Jesus did not compel Peter to spend the rest of his life dwelling on his past, but urged him to learn from it and to use it as he pursued a higher future.  

If you are carrying heavy burdens from your past, then perhaps today would be a good day to examine them for what you can learn, but then take the information to turn from your past and toward the future that God would have for your life.  God takes us where we are right now in our lives; he doesn’t leave us stuck in the mistakes of our past.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Virtual Life


I am currently working with kids in a different sort of job for a while.  In this job I’ve noticed kids like to play video games on various kinds of game players, iPads  smart phones, computers and so forth.  I even hear there are adults who spend plenty of time playing those kind of games, too.  (You mean they actually make paper card things to play Hearts with?  Or people can actually roll a ball at white pins at the end of a long set of boards, like, as if in real life???)  

ANYWAY…..I’ve noticed that in a lot of these games, many of which include lots of guns, bombs, zombies and bloodshed, the player of the game risks getting destroyed in one fashion or another.  When you are, there is always something that then sets up the next round, usually a reset button, a time of waiting, or an opportunity for you to spend money to “get a new life.”  Sometimes right away, sometimes for a price, sometimes after a period of waiting, but the game is NEVER completely over, or if it is, there is always the next round.

Do you believe in a circular or a linear view of history.  That is, do you believe there was a starting point and things (including your own life) is moving to some conclusion in the future.  Some religions teach that it is all a big circle, with individuals coming back time and again in different forms, different lives and different eras.  

Biblical teaching, however, clearly disagrees.  The Bible states that however everything started, it was God who was in the beginning getting things going.  As well as it will be God who, at the end of time, will bring an end to everything we now know and experience in the final judgment and start of final eternity.  The video games fits well into the circular scenario, but to apply that over to the world in which we actually live, seems to me, at the very least, to be very misleading.

I was walking my wife's "little-so called" dogs today.  On the route we took, they were very interested when we crossed a rise and they discovered a fresh road kill…an armadillo was in the road, hit by a car and now dead.  Further on we ran across another specimen, this time a squirrel, probably hit last night, it appeared.  Neither animal moved.  The squirrel’s eyes were vacant, the life force drained onto the roadway.  Nowhere around did I notice a reset button, nor do I expect that if I had hung around it would have eventually gotten a new life and run away.  The early life of that squirrel was over (whether it is now living in squirrel heaven would be the topic of another blog). 

Children, especially the very young, are often confused with death.  Often surprised and shocked to learn that a person is not coming back after a tragic death - a shooting or a traffic accident - learning quickly that death is final.  The older child may understand death but doesn't understand the impact of the finality of death upon their own lives or the lives of others.  

We have one life to live.  I will never be a teenager again (and I’m actually very okay with that!).  I will never launch my first career again.  I will never have my first child again.  Among other things, divorce cannot be undone.  Couples can and do reconcile and get married to one another again, but doing so does not change the fact that, at least for a while, they were divorced.

Sometimes in life we do get second chances at things.  I feel very blessed in the second chance at marriage I have had, which has given me the opportunity to enjoy what I feel is a really good marriage.  However, having a second chance is not the same as being able to change our past. 

More often than not, though, we get one chance to make our choices in any given situation.  Often knowing the best or right choice is not always as clear as we would like it to be.  Some of our choices entail negative consequences we never intended nor desired.   Some choices lead us to greater things than we had ever imagined.  Even though there are many books, fantasies and movies about the possibility of time travel and changing history, in real life, that isn’t an option we have.  We make our choices now, and then handle the consequences.  

Whether divorce, marriage, career, education, starting a family…whatever the life issue about which you are required to make choices these days, I invite you to consider the values and bases out of which you make the choices of your life.  The scriptures offer guidance to enable you to be wise and godly choices that will stand strong not just in this world, but also into eternity.  They even offer guidance about how God would have you handle the mistakes of your life that he can use them for something good.  And if you aren’t sure, then Proverbs 1:7 is a pretty good place to start.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Cost of Divorce

Looking at both sides...

I was driving down the road the other day in a nearby city, and saw a big billboard that said something like, “Divorce attorney…$39.00 non-contested with no children, $95.00 with children.”  I can tell you, those fees wouldn’t have even paid for an HOUR of time with my attorney.  Nope, the attorney’s fees I encountered (as well as many of my readers) was much more than those figures would suggest.  

So how much DOES it cost to get a divorce?

Well, first of all, there are some dollars involved, as is suggested by the sign, as well as by the headlines when the wealthy and famous divorcing reach settlements for millions.  And yet somehow, I think those are actually the smallest costs.  It is the unadvertised costs that make divorce costly. 

In fact, one of the nicest comments I ever received about my books was from an individual who stated that she and her husband were getting a divorce (or about to), and when they read my book, they changed their minds and decided to work things out in their marriage.  While they didn’t explain why, I suspect it was because as they read my first volume, they discovered a lot of things come with a divorce that they didn’t expect or realize, and decided the price was far higher than they anticipated or wanted to pay. 

Staying in a bad relationship has its own cost factor.

Some uncounted costs of divorce could be the children whose inner sense of security and ability to have healthy relationships can be impaired through the process of a divorce.  

Plans for retirement may be drastically altered, as income is reduced and money that once would have been set aside for the future has to be expended in rebuilding life with a new dwelling with all its furnishings.  

One cost that is sometimes encountered, but rarely expected, is the toll taken on the relationship with a child.  This can happen as a child develops a skewed view of what happened or of one parent, either because another parent subtly poisons the child’s thinking or because the age of the child does not allow them to understand the adult issues, and the child never comes to terms with them even when he/she becomes an adult. 

I know of individuals who never saw their child again.  

During the raising of children through divorce, one of the costs is the impairment of the power of discipline, as often a child can play one parent against another or simply choose to pursue what the child wants in the household that will provide it rather than the one that objects.  Within the heart of the person who is divorced, the costs can be the loss of an ability to trust, or the development of a bitter cynicism that limits one’s hopes and dreams.  In some cases, even one’s family can turn against their own family member, viewing the development from outside and drawing conclusions that may or may not be correct.  And some have expressed the feeling of having become a failure, like they have let God or themselves down.

On the other hand, I once had a student in one of my college speech classes who gave a presentation about domestic violence.  She had found an article in a magazine that described a woman who had been beaten by her husband and resisted the impulse to leave, until the day that he hit her in the head with a ball bat, threw her in the back of his car and drove hundreds of miles, with her bleeding in the back, finally dumping her in a strange city where, miraculously, she survived.   She paid a high price to stay in the marriage.  

The children borne of a relationship of domestic abuse incur the cost of viewing an unhealthy marriage leading to heartache as they live out the example they were brought up with.  

Abuse is often passed from generation to generation.  Those who choose to stay in unhealthy marriage with mates who have no desire to make things better pay a cost.  Facing the world with a mask to hide the sadness and disappointment of a partnership that has sucked their life force from them.

Maybe, sometimes, not getting divorced costs more than it is worth, too.

There are also costs, though, to make a marriage work well, and to make things work well post divorce.  

Choosing to be intentional about healthy changes, about growing and facing issues or problems head on is not an easy thing sometimes, but is always an important thing.  

What prices do you pay for what you are pursuing in life?  Are you investing in the best things, and paying whatever it costs to do and be the best you can?  

Very few things in life are as simple as they may appear, but the important ones are worth every effort expended.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Meaning of Mother's Day


I like Mother’s Day.  Sometimes my birthday is on Mother’s Day, though I wasn’t born on Mother’s Day, nor did it fall on Mother’s Day this year.  (Thanks to those of you who wished me a Happy Birthday, by the way.)  If you have a great mother, or are the husband or parent of a woman who is a great mother, I hope you realize how precious the gift you have is.  I hope that mother knows that you realize how precious she is.  If you aren’t sure, turn off your computer and go call her right now!

For some of us, Mother’s Day is about memories of mom stored in our hearts from days gone by.  I have come to appreciate the fact that nobody is perfect, and many mothers struggle over whether they have been a good mother or not.  But the important thing to me is not whether a woman serves the role perfectly; it is about whether she has tried her best, mistakes and all.  Expecting perfection of any human being is foolish.  Choosing to cherish the good is wisdom.

Over the years, my perspectives on Mother’s Day has changed.  I think motherhood is a great thing, and should be celebrated.  

However, I am also aware that not all women are mothers, and for them the day can be very difficult, especially if they have wanted to be, or if they never were married and felt like they never had the chance.  The day can also be hard for mothers who have lost their spouses in recent years, or children who face the day for the first time without mom.  For those individuals, your gift of a smile or a simple phone call can mean a lot.

Divorce impacts Mother’s Day as well.  Sometimes children are turned against a parent, and when that happens to be the mother, then today is a day of heartache instead of a day of celebration. 

Mothers of the divorced grieve as they watch grandchildren torn between two homes, and perhaps question the values being taught in one home or the other.  For the divorced dad of small children, spending the day surrounded by smiling families when his children are at their moms, becomes a very lonely day.  

Yet, I would suggest that there is something very special and very intentional in the design of family God has built into nature.  As I occasionally like to say, God could have chosen to make us like amoebas, who make new amoebas simply by dividing in half.

Instead, God chose to place us in families, which Paul says in Ephesians 3:14-15 is designed after the fatherhood of God.  Imperfect though many families are and the difficulties involved in being a truly great parent, the design is a marvelous thing in which we have the privilege of participating.  

Someday, when we see God face to face, we will understand fully what family was really intended to be like.  

Until that day, tell your mom you love her…or celebrate by reflecting on a few special memories or photos if she is no longer here.  Happy Mother’s Day 

At the same time, a single friend of mine decided she wanted to be a mother, and adopted two children who needed a mother…and that has been, as far as I can tell, a great combination.

to all of you…even if it is a hard day to celebrate this year.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Who Planned This?


“I can’t believe this is happening to me, I always knew divorce happens, but to OTHER people, not me!”  
“I can’t believe I ended up a statistic.”  
“I never imagined that at this point in my life, I’d be starting all over again.” 
“I never dreamed my marriage would end up like this…I feel like such a failure.”  
“Why me?” 

Have you ever heard words like that coming out of somebody’s mouth (perhaps your own)?  They are very common expressions among the divorcing.

Do you think on the wedding day that anybody ever says their vows with the plan that getting married is a good idea for something to do for ten years, maybe 15, and then they’d go get a divorce and risk almost everything they have worked for in life?  Okay, there are all kinds out there, so perhaps somebody actually does think like that…maybe those who marry for money, for example.  But I think the overwhelming majority expect that their marriage will last a lifetime, that divorce is something that impacts other people, but won’t impact them.  In my premarital counseling, I always raise with the couple that even though nobody gets married planning to get divorced, nevertheless a significant number of marriages end in divorce anyway (often the statistic of 50% is quoted, although there are variables).   I then encourage my couples to consider what things they are doing and could do for their relationship that would serve as a buffer against ending up in divorce court (which is a question well worth any married couple asking and seriously answering, I believe).

It’s kind of a funny thing, I think, that we so often are surprised, shocked and ask “why me” about the hard and tragic things that come in our lives, while anytime something good comes our way we often decide we deserve it or it is the result of our own efforts and character, or at least accept it without questioning.  Beyond the why, though, there is the feeling of disbelief.   Disbelief that, in spite of your best intentions, you ended up divorced.  Disbelief that, after years of marriage, you suddenly find yourself out in the “dating world” all over again when you thought you were done with that part of your life.  Disbelief that so much of your life’s work has now been unraveled, and so many things have to be started all over again.  There is much more, but it can all be summed up with the phrase, “I never thought it would happen to me.”

Let me offer for your consideration, though, a simple question. 

In the course of your life, how much of your life has actually worked out exactly the way you thought it would?  

I know people whose youthful hopes and dreams have proved to be far different from the realities that life brought their way.  Some people end up living in unexpected places.  Some end up working at unexpected jobs after lifelong careers have fallen by the wayside.  Some have lost loved ones such as children or spouses.  Others have ended up beaten and abused.  Others have ended up making far more money than they ever expected, or had opportunities surprise them left and right. 

It all reminds me of the fact that the world does not operate according to the plans that we create for ourselves.  Some things are simply out of our control, and some things that we do control, turn out to lead to unforeseen and unexpected consequences.  Life is full of twists and turns and surprise endings.  Somehow I think that if we knew all the details of what life would bring when we first start out, we would never take the first step down the road.  And besides, the unexpected could also be viewed as an adventure we are undertaking.  

There is a Bible verse that kind of sums it all up for me found in Proverbs 19:21, one of several verses that make plain that we humans make our plans as we will, but God sees beyond and knows which plans are actually going to stand.  In my life, it has clearly been best that some of my plans did not come to pass.   Though you never thought it would happen to you, perhaps there are better plans for you than the ones you had expected.  At least, it seems to me that’s the way God sees it.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Feeling the Anger and Rage


Actually, for a person in the throws or devastating aftermath of a messy divorce, the more relevant question might be, “Do you ever get PAST being angry?!?”  One of the bits of feedback I have received about my books over the years, was a comment about the index of the first book.  The comment was that among the topics, I had failed to include the word “rage” as an index entry.  Even though there were plenty of devotions in the first volume that addressed anger of all kinds and degrees,  I thought it was a legitimate comment, and so made an adjustment in the second volume.  But stop to think of why anyone would notice such an omission:  they went looking for the word that describes how they felt in their own divorce (or perhaps that of a friend).  When wrestling with the fallout of divorce, “rage” was a word that surfaced for them.

Other words that people might focus on could be bitterness, heartache, sadness, despair, hopelessness…far more than would ever fit in a single book or a simple index!  I have recently been reading some meditations related to grief, and have been struck by the number of times the theme of anger has recurred.  That got me to thinking about the anger that swirls around and within during divorce.  (Again, forgive me for using they as the generic instead of he/she.)

Anger at yourself for not seeing it coming.
Anger at yourself for not having done something to prevent it.
Anger at yourself for putting up too long and not having acted sooner.
Anger at yourself for not having had better judgment in the first place.
Anger at yourself for not having been a better spouse, or listened to your spouse.

Anger at your ex for the hurtful ways they pursue the divorce (and THAT can 
cover a LOT of territory).
Anger at your ex for the way they have betrayed your trust.
Anger at your ex for the cheating things they have done.
Anger at your ex for the things they have said about you.
Anger at your ex for greediness and selfishness.
Anger at your ex for the vicious or endless attacks you have suffered.
Anger at your ex because of all the expenses you have now incurred.

Anger at the legal system for the snail’s pace of proceedings.
Anger at the legal system for the “one size fits all” approach to your life.
Anger at the legal system for the incredible expenses you rack up by the minute.
Anger at the legal system that has its own bizarre definition of fair.
Anger at the legal system for allowing an ex to get away with wrong actions.

Anger at those who take sides against you (maybe even a child!).
Anger at those who have lured your spouse away.
Anger at a society that trivializes the devastation of divorce.
Anger at those who withdraw from you as if divorce is contagious.

Anger at God for not having saved your marriage.
Anger at God for allowing you into a bad marriage to begin with!
Anger at God for not warning you and helping you to see what might happen from the very start.
Anger at God because his followers treat you as a second class citizen.
Anger at God because his people tell you that it is your own fault since you 
obviously were not following God’s commands properly
Anger at God because he seems so absent in your despair.
Anger at God because he doesn’t answer the question, “why?”

This long list is just a few of the possibilities.  The list can be endless...and then the scripture in Ephesians 4:26 bubbles into your consciousness saying, “Be angry, but do not sin.”   Ahh, that is the tricky part.  

The emotion of anger (or rage!) is very real and very strong and a very legitimate feeling.  

But that rage/anger requires self-discipline and wisdom to find appropriate expression rather than sin.  

Perhaps keeping an “anger journal” that can later be discarded or burned could be helpful or creating a daily forgiveness sheet that you take before God in prayer at the end of the day can lay the day’s struggle to rest for you.  

Just as anger is a natural part of grief in the death of a loved one, so it is a natural response in the grief of the death of a marriage (often death by strangulation!).  

Learning to let go, to refuse to become bitter, to find God’s way of forgiveness is one of the most important disciplines to be learned and practiced in divorce.  

The path to peace is never paved with actions born of rage.  Instead, the path to peace walks away from the rage and toward the light of Christ, who chose to forgive even while dying upon a cross.  

Even Jesus felt anger.  

But he lived forgiveness and mercy.  For those of you going through the struggle of divorce, know that though it is hard, your anger will not last forever…unless you decide to adopt it into your heart.