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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Guard Your Heart

Much of our lives is absorbed with lots of activities that consume our energy, thoughts and attention on almost a daily basis.  Things such as working a job to be able to pay bills, or trying to figure out from one month to the next HOW to pay those bills.  Our attention can be drawn to how we decorate our homes and yards, or the desire to travel, or ways to get ahead on our local social ladder or in the work arena.  Some of us like to collect things, while others like to sell and trade.  We fill our lives with lots of activities, and some of those activities can become very demanding.  That demanding nature is certainly the case with the process of divorce, as couples haggle over parental access schedules, the division of property, developing plans for a holiday schedule…all of which have to be determined as part of the process after which the judge will declare the divorce final.  

I remember a couple of conversations I had with friends during that miserable time.  One was surprised at some of the items I chose not take, sharing with me the viewpoint that I had not taken a fair share of items.  Whether the perception was accurate or not, I do not know, but I remember responding that it didn’t matter, as those things were just “stuff,” and that what was really important to me was already gone, which was my intact family and marriage.  Another individual observed my reactions along the way, and commented on being struck by the way I continued to try to seek God’s help and guidance in the struggle, even though it was hard to do.  That was an encouraging comment, whether the perception was fully accurate or not.

There is a verse in Mark 8 that has often reminded me of how easily we can get distracted in life.  The 36th verse simply saysFor what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? (NASB).  I believe that no matter what is going on in our lives, this verse summarizes the trap that exists--that there are things demanding our attention and goals we may seek, but if we do so without considering the eternal consequences of our choices, we have ultimately failed…no matter how successful the world considers us to be.

For those caught in the throes of divorce, suppose you do get your way, obtain everything you want and win every contest at court.  If your sell your soul to get it, did you really win anything?  Everyone faces this test in one way or another.  You might make the top rung in the corporate world, but what price did you pay to claw your way there?  I think of those who like to consider themselves at the height of fashion, popularity or wealth, all of which will gain them nothing if they forfeited their soul along the way.

There is another verse I like as well, from the book of Proverbs, 4:23-- Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” We are so diligent about doing the work assigned to us, or to keeping the yard up, or paying the bills on time, or being part of that important social club, but it is even more important to be diligent about taking care of our hearts.  We tend to our hearts by keeping them from things that would lead us astray, by keeping them tender toward the voice of God, by keeping our hearts free from bitterness and unforgiveness.  How often life places such intense demands upon us that we can easily become distracted from taking care of the issues of the heart, which is first and foremost an issue between ourselves and God.

One of my seminary professors, Maynard Hatch, used to say, “The trouble with the rat race is that, even if you win, you are still a rat!”  Today, I just want to challenge my readers to a little self-assessment.  Where are you in life?  What are you caught up in?  If you are in the process of divorce, have you allowed it to consume you and lead you off track, or to plant troubling things within your heart?  I encourage you to take a few minutes to sit down quietly, just you and God, perhaps with a calendar, checkbook and Bible before you, to examine your life and your heart, and take a careful measure of whether you have lost focus.  What does it profit if you get things working your way here, if in the end, you forfeit your soul?  Take stock of your life, and make sure that the priorities of your life match the priorities God desires you to have.  And do it before it is too late.  God is more interested in helping you get back on track, than most of us are to find that track in the first place.  God will help you get there, if you but give him the chance.  Don’t let anything, not even divorce or an argument with someone at church, lead you off God’s track for your life.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Trauma and Divorce


This is my father, Leon Crooks, traveling through Italy during World War 2 with his Chemical Battalion

My dad was in World War II.  He served in the army, in a mortar battalion that spent lots of time at the front line…in fact, I have been told that only one other army unit had more time in front line combat than my dad’s battalion.  That was because Dad’s battalion was regularly sent to the front of areas about to be invaded, assigned to do the advance work in preparation for the foot soldiers to advance.  Dad’s battalion had a very high casualty rate.  And he was witness/participant in some very awful things, including his arrival at Dachau the day after it was liberated.  .

One day in the final years of his life, Dad and I were talking about his life, and how he handled the adjustments back to civilian life.  Dad described how his brother-in-law and sister had taken him into their business for a while, which included a lot of traveling and working with dogs.  As Dad described the experiences, he said, “Back then, nobody had ever heard of PTSD, though we did talk about guys that suffered ‘shell shock.’  I guess a lot of us had PTSD and just didn’t know it.  Working with those dogs like that probably saved my life.”  It was a very touching moment, revealing dad’s reflecting on and trying to absorb in retrospect all that he had experienced.  He also said that he got to tour Europe…he just had to walk everywhere!  And that, looking back, he doesn’t know how in the world he and his men did all the things that they had done.  It was a very tough and demanding experience in many ways.

I was thinking about our conversation, and some of the things I know about divorce and the people who have gone through it, as well as my experiences with grief (both my own and those I have worked with), and realized I have probably never written a blog that ties the struggle of and recovery from divorce to a PTSD type framework.  And yet, often those are certainly both traumatic experiences for the individuals who go through them.  I did a quick search (yes, ME, I really did!) one of the first search results I ran across was this                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    website---www.helpguide.org---which had an article about PTSD that I thought was useful to share.  Their description was very striking:

When you experience a threatening or traumatic event, your nervous system responds by triggering the fight, flight, or freeze response. After the danger passes, your body usually returns to normal. But if the upset doesn't fade and you feel stuck with painful memories and a constant sense of vulnerability, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As upsetting and disabling as PTSD can be, it’s important to realize that you’re not helpless. There are plenty of things you can do to alleviate your PTSD symptoms, reduce anxiety and fear, and take back control of your life.   …any event, or series of events, “that overwhelms you with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and leaves you emotionally shattered can trigger PTSD, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Sound familiar?  

The site goes on to talk about the lingering painful memories, loss of sleep, avoiding certain places or activities that trigger memories and several other characteristics of PTSD.  

It certainly resonates well with the experience of divorce as well as grief, wouldn’t you say?  

I think that is especially true of the person who suffered the shock of a spouse saying he/she is filing for divorce - and if you've ever seen the scene in Hope Floats - when dad is saying goodbye to his daughter - a scenario well depicted and acted by Mae Whitman and Sandra Bullock.    (Click here to view the video clip on Youtube:  Hope Floats)  

The website’s description of PTSD is applicable in lots of situations, including a serious accident or illness, the loss of a limb or ability, and also the experience of having your parents divorce.  Traumatic events are a part of the lives of many of us, in one way or another.  The shock, pain, losing and regaining equilibrium, and finding ways to move beyond the trauma are issues most of us face at one time or another in our lives.  

I think the first step in working through trauma is to simply realize and acknowledge that you have suffered a trauma, i.e., I have been traumatized.  It is not just a simple parting of the ways in many cases; it is a traumatic event that completely reorders one’s life!

The site then goes on to describe some of the things that can be helpful in overcoming.  Their suggestions include physical activity and exercise, learning relaxation techniques to apply in overwhelming times, taking advantage of healthy relationships with others, as well as working to develop a more healthy lifestyle.  If you are really struggling with these kind of symptoms, you might want to go to the website to read more.  

I find that being part of a healthy church and maintaining a healthy relationship with God can be one of the most healing resources you can find.  I'm not recommending that you should pursue your religious side to the exclusion of the other helpful treatments.  I find that those who do so can often end up in denial and never facing their grief and loss head on.  On the other hand, those who pursue all the self-help remedies and never address their need for God are also operating with less than complete wholeness.  

Nevertheless, one of the great hallmarks of God in the scripture is that he is the Great Physician, the one whose specialty is healing broken hearts and inner wounds.  Sometimes he does so through caring friends.  Sometimes by speaking directly to our hearts, or through scripture.  And sometimes he uses the means that exist in the world around us.  But today, I simply want to suggest that if you have experienced some form of trauma in life, recognize that GOD was neither surprise nor traumatized by what you experienced; he will help you move forward, one step at a time.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Person of Integrity


The process of divorce, like much of life, is highly unpredictable.  

Even the court process is that way.  I have known times when attorneys entered a courtroom fully convinced that they would win their point, only to be surprised when the judge ruled against them.  I have known of judges who tend to favor the wife, others who favor the husband, and then there are those who seek to be as unbaised as possible.  Those reputations get around, with the result that I have known individuals would file in a different county from their own simply to avoid a biased judge, or to be in a court where the judge’s bias might work in their favor.  So much for blind justice, huh?

But the courtroom is not the only place where guarantees are absent.  In negotiations between a divorcing couple,  sometimes one partner may enter the negotiation in good faith, presenting options and accepting agreements in all good faith, only to discover later that the other party was being less than honest and find they have been duped or cheated.  

You may also be the parent (divorced or not), who tries to teach your children what is right, and do your best to make good choices and be the best parent you can be, only to see your child later turn against you or everything you have taught them.  In divorce, this can even play out where a child will choose to side with a parent who has been dishonest, unfaithful and abusive against one who is really trying to do what is right.  It can be very discouraging.  In fact, it can even make one wonder why it is even worth trying to do what is right, when it all falls apart.

There are innumerable situations in which these kinds of experiences happen.  Promotions at work may be given to those who lie and manipulate, while the honest, hard worker is left high and dry.  Social circles may shun those who are sincere and honest, while favoring others who treat people shabbily or talk about them behind their back.  Fame and fortune is one place you can see this kind of apparent injustice play out.  There are many people considered very “successful” whose behaviors are reprehensible, and yet they are adulated by the masses.   

Does it pay to continue to try to be a person of integrity?

These things remind me of the verse in Matthew 5:45, where God is described as the Father in heaven who, “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”   The things we observe as the way the world works, simply does not always operate based on the principle of appropriate rewards for good and for evil.  Jeremiah asks the question of God, in chapter 12, of why the wicked prosper, surely out of the context of his own suffering while following God’s leading.  

It is a frustrating experience.  

So why bother?

Well, might I suggest that there are some issues that are easy to overlook?  For example, sometimes doing what you know to be right isn’t really about getting the results you hope you will get so much as it is about being the kind of person you truly want to be.  Choosing to be less than honest, to start acting as if the ends justifies the means, results in your own character being tainted or diminished, and though you may get a particular reward, the price you pay is very high.  In addition, there is the fact that any of these evaluations are very short term.  While things at the time may seem unjust and evil, in the long run, God will make all things right… at the final judgment if not in this world.  Time and again we are encouraged in the scriptures to set our focus on those things that are above, not on the things here on earth.  When circumstances turn against you, it can be hard to look above.

There simply are not guarantees that things will always work out the way we think they OUGHT to be.  But while there are not guarantees like that, I would be remiss to say that there are NO guarantees.  

God guarantees to ultimately honor all those who follow his will and live according to his principles…even if people don’t.  

God guarantees that you never have to go through any of life’s hard experiences alone, for he is always present, whether you sense him or not.  

God guarantees that no deed of service to him and no tear shed by his people goes unnoticed.  

God guarantees that he will give you the strength you need to face whatever comes, if you turn to him and seek it.  

And the nice thing is, God’s guarantees are not just for a lifetime, they are promises for eternity.  

So while you may have to face and accept some things in life that just seem so unfair and so hurtful, don’t fall into the misconception that what you are experiencing is the end of the story.  Ultimately, when all is said and done, when you finally see things from God’s eternal perspective, you will see God make all things right, and realize his way truly was best.