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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Avoiding Insanity!

Part 1
During the process of divorce, one of the most difficult questions to answer may well be the question of whether to reconcile with your divorcing (or ex) spouse, if that opportunity arises.  In some divorces, though one party is desiring to do their best to make choices that are pleasing to God, the other party may have decided that he or she has no interest in ever pursuing reconciliation, so unless something radically changes (which sometimes does happen), reconciliation is simply not an option.   Then there are those cases where the ex-spouse has already entered into another marriage - then Deuteronomy 24 pretty clearly states that one is not to remarry that spouse should they get divorced again…or at least it says that in the case of the woman.

But for those individuals where the possibility arises…the decision and process can be heart wrenching.  Some individuals I have known spend a long time waiting, hoping that their mate will return so they can start over and rebuild their marriage.  This can be a great attitude to have, or it can be an avoidance of reality.  In other cases, an individual may have closed the door to the possibility, denying the fact that change can actually happen.  This attitude can keep an individual from experiencing the wonder of a near miracle as God works in their lives.  But then there are those somewhere in the middle, perhaps hopeful for reconciliation one day, and fearful of it the next.  

It is to the latter situation I want to address, those who, for one reason or another, find themselves asking whether or not to reconcile with an ex and re-establish a marriage.  

I offer the following as my collection of thoughts and suggestions that might help you in sorting out your options (with the caveat that this is not an option I personally had available, so though I did imagine the “what ifs,” my opinion is based more on the things I have observed or read about in the lives of others.)

1.  There is a certain attractiveness to the belief that getting back together must certainly be what God would want, right?  After all, isn’t that the point of the sacredness of the marriage vows?  While there is no doubt that the divine intention for marriage is “till death do you part,” that is not the only divine intention for marriage…even though sometimes people act as though that is the only one that matters.

2.  If your ex is saying he or she wants to get back together, with the notion that you can just start where you left off, it is probably wise to be just a little bit skeptical…especially if there was an affair.  

The truth is, things cannot go back to just how they were; some fundamental shifts have taken place.  

Sometimes when an ex just wants to get back together and move on, there are ulterior motives.  For instance, perhaps the ex realized that the timing was bad, and plans for a bit more time to get the finances in order.  Or perhaps they realized that being divorced is inconvenient or more costly than they had intended, and would rather just go on in a pseudo-marriage, with the expectation of having another affair.  

This may sound cynical, and there certainly are those who genuinely are seeking restoration, but there are those who continue to plot as well.  

The possible reasons for such a request are many…make sure you know what the real reasons are before you make a final decision.  Most importantly, make sure that instead of wanting to get back together as if nothing has happened, there is a real desire to get back together to honestly face and deal with all the things that HAVE happened.  Along with a willingness to work on solving the problems that created the bad marriage relationship in the first place.

3.   Some reenter their marriage relationship without making the necessary changes in that relationship.  If a marriage got to the point that one or both partners pursued divorce, then getting back together without also working to create a more healthy relationship strikes me as very similar to that oft’ quoted definition of insanity:  Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different outcome.  New results require new behaviors.  That is a fundamental of true reconciliation.

Since this blog is getting too long rather quickly, let’s end here with: TO BE CONTINUED!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

With God, Grief is Never the End of the Story


There is an interesting statement of Jesus related to loss found in John 12:24, which the New American Standard renders this way:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

He is primarily speaking prophetically about his own death, then resurrection resulting in the opportunity for salvation for so many, but it is such an apt presentation of the experience of loss, grief and moving on.   

I like marigolds.  But I know the little orange blossoms wither away, but turn into seeds that then produce far more blossoms than the one from which the seeds came.  

Loss and mourning are like that, too.

The process of divorce, and many other aspects of life, does confront us with the realities of loss, as I mentioned in the last blog.  But the story does not end there.  In case you haven’t seen them, the two volumes of Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce are divided by seasons, with the first volume represented by Fall and Winter, and the second volume represented by Spring and Summer.  The cover of the first volume is stark, barren and cold looking, representing the difficult days of divorce and the losses entailed in it.  But to only read that volume is to only focus on loss as in the first half of Jesus’ statement, that something has died.  But volume two is bright green, verdant and bursting with new life.  That, too is part of the process of divorce, the aftermath in which life starts afresh, and new opportunities and beauty arise that could not have done so without first experiencing loss, which is the second half of Jesus’ saying.

The other day my wife and I were talking, and in the course of the conversation, she referred to some of the things we have experienced in this marriage that was simply not part of her first marriage.  That got me to thinking with amazement at all the things that have blossomed in my life after the loss of the first marriage.  Don’t get me wrong, the loss was real, and the grief was real, and there are some things that have been dramatically impacted negatively in that experience.  HOWEVER, just like the two volumes of the book set, that isn’t the whole story.  

There have been opportunities come my way that are part of a drastically different new chapter in life.  There have been joys and amazements that resound that hope outlives loss, as new blossoms have come into my life.  My wife and I have had incredible opportunities to travel that we did not know before.  I have developed some long distance ministry relationships with people I have never met through this little blog.  I had the privilege of several special years of close fellowship with my parents at the end of their lives.  I have gotten to see the rebirth of some aspects of my personality that lay dormant during my first marriage.  With my new wife, I have known a new kind of love in our marriage relationship.  None of this is as a slam against the first marriage, but all of these things came into being in the aftermath of the loss of that marriage.  

Rebirth is possible.  New horizons come into view.  Pathways previously unseen emerge and beckon.  Life can be fresh and new. 

It may or may not entail a new marriage, God may have a completely different way of bringing renewal into your sorrow, but it will always mean new life and hope.

It is important to mourn and grieve when loss impact us deeply.  But as Paul says in Thessalonians, we don’t grieve as do those who have no hope.  Hope transcends our grief.  Today and tomorrow are not bound by yesterday’s loss, but are full of eternity’s promise.  As a friend of mine told me many years ago:  there IS life after divorce!  The same is true for any of life’s losses.  Because with God, grief is NEVER the end of the story!  The scriptures promise that weeping is but for a night and joy comes in the morning, that mourning will be turned into dancing as the oil of gladness is poured out, and that the day will come when every tear shall be wiped away from our eyes.  In the story of the raising of Lazarus, Martha hears Jesus speak of this kind of hope, and assumed he means only for the end of time.  But Jesus surprises her by bringing new life to her brother right then and there!

If you are struggling with the experience of loss (even if it is the loss of a baseball card collection!), look around for the new growth that God has planted in your life.  Watch for and celebrate the blossoms that follow the loss of the seeds.  Recognize, in fact, that so many of the loss experiences in our lives are exactly that:  seeds for something beautiful in the next part of the journey!  Don’t mourn the withered blossom so long that you cannot see the beauty of the flowers that arise in its place.  God promises the desert shall one day blossom!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

How Do You Handle Loss?


“I think I have a hard time dealing with loss.”

“Ya’ THINK????”

That was the core of a conversation I had with my wife yesterday.  She was the one who said, “Ya’ THINK???”  She may not have used exactly those words, but it was pretty close to that, if not in verbage, in tone and intent.

You see, we had a few items that had gotten damaged recently, and I sorted through them yesterday to see what, if anything, was salvagable.  Not much was.  The items, some mine, some hers, included a few photographs, some of which are replaceable, some of which are not, and some nostalgic momentoes which cannot be replaced.  After working through the items, saddened at losing many of them as well as the work it will take to replace what I can, I walked by a polo shirt she had picked up the other day for me and told her that we just needed to take it back.  When she asked why, I explained it looked too similar to a shirt my dad used to wear, and I think it would bother me to be wearing it.  It was at about this time that I made my comment.

One would think I would be a person who has no issues with loss, having been through divorce and all the loss it entails, and having lost a plethora of aunts and uncles to death in recent years, as well as having moved multiple times in life, loss should be a no-brainer for me, huh?  Some of my earliest memories of loss center around good childhood friends who moved to another town when I was young, and a multitude of cats, mostly named Tinkerbelle (by my sister), who ended up on the wrong end of a tire on the nearby highway.  

Life is filled with losses.  Divorce is rampant with them.  (I claim I lost my African violets in the divorce, because they thrived in the bay window of our house, but when I moved, the first place I lived had terrible window light and the violets died, one by one.)  

Divorce brings loss of hopes for what the marriage might have been, loss of memories with children due to drastically altered life schedules, custodies and “visits,” financial loss, loss of a home, loss of companionship, maybe loss of optimism, innocence or joy, loss of various relationships that are entangled in the process…  If divorce is anything, it is a LOT of losses all wrapped up in an already difficult and drawn out process.  

I have noticed as a pastor that people handle losses lots of different ways.  Some grieve briefly and move on quickly.  Others become weighed down and almost obsessed with their losses.  Some process loss over time, weeping a bit here and there, and then dealing with another level later when some reminder pops up.  For some, loss is just an ache that is carried in the heart that remembers the hurt.  There is always an opportunity to learn through loss, and we can grow through it.  

Loss can teach us to appreciate the things that really matter in life, which probably was NOT my framed magazine cut out picture in the damaged box, which had come from the old toolshed.  No, probably more important was the person with whom I shared time in that toolshed, and the skills learned there, and the precious memories that are stirred whenever I encounter the right combination of the odors of sawdust and oil.  However, sometimes what is lost ARE the important things…such as time with your children that has suddenly been drastically reduced.  

Interestingly enough, after that encounter last night, in this morning’s devotional time, I was reading in last year’s Our Daily Bread, an article by David McCasland in which he refers to Joshua setting up stones from the middle of the Jordan River as a reminder for generations to come.  McCasland talks of the various souvenirs and trinkets he had collected over the years that evoked nostalgia on his part.  They, along with Joshua’s rock markers, become for McCasland a useful reminder of the positive ways God has acted in his past, but instead of leaving the focus on the past, he uses those reminders to give him hope and encouragement as he faces today and tomorrow.  Knowing God has helped in the past, provides evidence of his faithfulness and yields encouragement that he will also be there to help today and throughout the days to come.  The timing of the article was impeccable for me.  (I’m glad I didn’t have it to read last year!)  

I don’t believe there is a specifically right and healthy way to handle loss.  There are certainly some UNHEALTHY ways to deal with it…such as so much of the violence we witness in America in the news.  But the right and healthy ways vary from person to person, and the time it takes to work through loss varies from person to person, as well as according to the kind of loss suffered.  However, the most important task in experiencing losses is accepting them as part of life and learning to grow from them, to weave them into meaningful life lessons to help us as we face life’s challenges today and tomorrow.  

I love the joy that these tokens of memory bring to life when I see them, joy from happy celebrations, special trips or valued relationships.  But they are only tokens.  Life is so much more than the tokens we accumulate along the way…much as we may treasure them.  If you are grieving a loss at this time, I encourage you to also search in the midst of loss for those tokens of the past that bring hope for tomorrow, knowing that the God who helped you then has not changed and will continue to watch over you today and forever.  

Then again, there was the loss I experienced that my father confirmed just a few years before he died.  As I was helping him clean out some things at the house, I voiced the possibility that perhaps I might run across my childhood baseball cards, cards with pictures of heroic ball players…Mickey Mantle, Roger Marris, Willie Mays, Sandy Kofax and more.  Dad simply said, “You aren’t going to run across them.  I know that your mother threw them away when we moved.  I saw her do it.  I don’t know why she did it, but I know they are gone.”  Lost baseball cards are in a category all its own!  But for everything else, loss can be a valuable experience in life.  

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Pain of Mother's Day


Frankly, I do not know if this day is celebrated around the world in the same way it is here in the United States, but it is the day so many celebrate and honor that special person in our life called, “mother.”  

However, over the years I have learned that as we celebrate it, there are those among us who experience inner pain and struggle on this day, and today I would like to be mindful of some of those.

My first awareness that Mother’s Day can be difficult for some was when, as a pastor, I had an elderly single woman explain to me that she never attends church on Mother’s Day, because for her, it is a reminder that she never had someone who wanted to marry her, and that she never experienced the joy of having children of her own.  It may have been different if she had intentionally chosen those things, but these were not what she had hoped for in life, and Mother’s Day was, for her, a reminder of her disappointment.  In addition, in her generation, such a person received the title “old maid,” and her self-worth had been damaged by that image in her life.  Until that point, for me, Old Maid was simply a card game played by children…I had no idea of the pain in women like her.

I guess it never struck me, because two very special aunts in my life, two of the ones who lived in closest proximity in my childhood, were both childless.  Looking back, I wonder now if they struggled as this widow did.  Their husbands both loved them dearly, and honored them on this day…as did I , knowing that their mothering skills were not wasted, but shared with nieces and nephews like myself.  

I suspect it would also be hard to be joyous today for a woman (or a man) whose mother has recently died, and today brings some mourning in the midst of the joy.  Or, the mother who has children who are ungrateful or too self-absorbed, and who will make no significant acknowledgement to their mothers today…that would have to hurt as well.

There are other women for whom, the pain bound up in Mother’s Day comes from a different source.   Some individuals struggle with the day because their mother was not the kind of mother we celebrate, but the kind of mother whose children are taken from her because of the abusive way she treats them.  Those children today may be struggling with the disappointment and suffering they experienced at the hands of an abusive mother.  

For some women, Mother’s Day has become a day of prayer for a child who has broken mother’s heart by choosing a wayward and godless path for life, perhaps with mother not even knowing where that child is now.  This day is hard to celebrate under circumstances like these.  

In addition, there are also women who have given birth to a child, only to lose that child to death somewhere along the way, and who may choose to be at a graveside today, rather than celebrating over Sunday dinner.  She may feel her joy of motherhood has been cut short.  

The Bible contains examples of some women like these, but often with different endings.  Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth are examples of women who struggled in a society where being childless carried a stigma of shame and pain, but in each of their cases, God eventually changed the story and granted them a child, even in old age.  

But then, there is Anna the widow, for whom childlessness is implied, who served God day and night in the temple for years and years.  There was also two widows whose sons had died, one a Shunnamite and the other from a city called Nain, but their sons were brought back to life in the ministries of Elisha and Jesus, respectively.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a powerful example of a woman whose heart had been pierced through by the death of her son.

Women in these situations we understand may struggle.  But there are others who struggle because of the ripples that come from divorce.  For example, there is the mother who is also a grandmother, but will not see or hear from her grandchildren today because they are at their mother’s home, which is no longer the home of her son.  

There are mothers who sorrow today, because their son or daughter is suffering because of a divorce that has split their home.  Though their sons or daughters have not died, still their mother’s dreams for their lives have been broken by the tragedy of divorce instead of the “happily ever after” of fairy tale fame.  

There are mothers who have gone through divorce whose children have turned on them, perhaps because their minds have been poisoned by dad, perhaps because they blame mother for the broken home, and perhaps because she did not make the best of choices in the throes of divorce.  

Some of those mothers will not hear from their children today, so Mother’s Day will be far from happy.  Some divorced mothers will experience today as a reminder of the brokenness that has come into their lives, and perhaps the financial struggles as well, and the father of the children who once helped make the celebration of Mother’s Day special is no longer around to remind or help the children to remember.  

There are some divorced mothers who will remember this day with ambivalence, for though they love their children dearly, they are also reminded of the abuse they suffered at the hands of the father, perhaps for many, many years.

So am I trying to be depressing on what is supposed to be a day of celebration and joy?  

That isn’t my intention.  But I wanted to encourage you today to realize that if this is a joyous occasion for you, then you are truly a blessed person and need to be thankful for it.  

If it is a joyous occasion for you, then perhaps you can find a way to share a bit of that joy with a woman somewhere around you who may be experiencing more tears than joy today.  

Joy needs to be shared, and when it is, joy is multiplied!  

I encourage you to make Mother’s Day a happier one for someone like that whom you know.  

P.S.  I focused only on women today, but the hurting person around you may be the recently divorced dad, for whom today is a reminder that he is no longer with the mother of his children.  Though we don’t always say it, guys have feelings, too!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

You Didn't Fail


Divorce is filled with a plethora of emotions, assailing the divorcing person in random and sometimes overwhelming ways.  

One of those emotions is the feeling of failure, and hours can be spent rethinking all the possible things that, if only done differently, MIGHT have made all the difference in saving the marriage.  That struggle is one that is easily understood and certainly to be expected, whether the conclusions are true or not.  

An emotional struggle that is less obvious is the concern about messing up during the process of divorce as one makes decision after decision that affects the lives of one’s children.  Perhaps each decision is made with great consideration, trying to predict how the decision will impact the children.  Sometimes, a divorcing parent is either so desperate or, sometimes, so self-centered, that he or she only thinks of self-preservation and self-gratification with no thought given to the impact on the children.  Regardless of which way a parent goes through divorce, there surfaces at some point a fear that somehow, I will have done something that has screwed up my children for life; I messed up!

For years people used to say that children are resilient and bounce back and so on.  Several years ago, that claim was debunked and it was discovered that children of divorce are more likely to end up in divorce and have other significant problems later in life.  

A divorce DOES impact children, no matter what age they are when it occurs.  And no matter how careful one is in making decisions in the best interest of the children, none of us is perfect, sometime, somehow we will each mess up something.   

Some would quickly point out that the best decision is for the parents to stay together and provide that stable home for the child.  In many cases, that may well be true…but I believe it is true only if the home is indeed stable.  It is not helpful for children to grow up in a home where one parent is regularly beaten or berated by the other.  It is not healthy for a child to grow up in a home where each evening that child waits in fear to see if a parent is going to come home drunk and beat them.  So staying together in situations such as that ONLY is helpful if the real problems are resolved and the home is changed.  

So how does one handle it when children are hurt by the decisions we make?  How does one face the fear and guilt that one may have messed up their children’s psyche for life?

I would suggest three things today.  

First, while in the process of divorce, pray about each decision…even if you don’t hear clear answers, keeping an attitude of prayer makes a difference.  And while you pray, entrust your children to God, for God loves them even more than you do!  

Secondly, if you take the time to truly think through your decisions and make the best choice you can in the murky waters or divorce, afterwards you may need to grant yourself the grace of acknowledging that you did the best you knew how to do at the time.  Don’t let hindsight lay guilt upon you, because the truth is, you didn’t know then what you do know now.  

And finally, don’t over blame your divorce.  If you look around you, there are plenty of individuals who were raised in a home without divorce whose lives are equally screwed up.  There are even plenty of individuals raised in a solid Christian home, whose lives in adulthood reject everything they were taught as a child.  Not every problem your child has as they grow up is a result of your divorce.  Children are also responsible for the choices they make in life.  No parent is perfect, and no child is perfect either.  Sometimes life just happens, and sin’s influence takes its toll.  

Do the best that you can each step of the way, confess your mistakes to God and to others appropriately, and then ask God to fill up the gap when you have fallen short in your efforts to be a good parent.