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Sunday, August 26, 2018

New Normal


There is in the book of Matthew 12 this really odd story that Jesus tells about what happens when he casts an evil spirit out of someone.  He says that when the evil spirit leaves the person, it wanders aimlessly until it decides to go back to the person where it finds things empty and open, so it moves back in with others and takes over. I think there is an important lesson in it, that has nothing to do with the evil spirit side of it.  In some ways, it is kind of like the old saying that “nature abhors a vacuum.”  

For many people in change points of life, there are these “empty spaces” that are the most painful or most lonely.  Weekends are one of those places.  If you are post-divorce, or recently widowed, or maybe relocated alone for example, the weekend may come around and you see all these people with their plans for Friday night or a Saturday outing, and you realize that you have no one to go with.  It can intensify the feeling of being alone.  

The same can be true of special places.  Like that favorite restaurant that you have eaten at for years, or the vacation spot you enjoy.  When you go through these times of change, those places can start to feel very awkward.  Places you once loved now make you feel out of synch.  Activities that you once loved just don’t feel the same.  

It can even be the case in your living space.  You can walk into an empty house and the walls just seem to echo with emptiness.  If divorced and the children happen to be at your ex’s, then the silence in the house can be deafening.  Or you can walk into the kitchen where the dishes are waiting and be reminded that you are the only one there to deal with them…because you are on your own.  For someone who has lived in shared space previously, these things can be hard.

Whether it is about the space, the experience or the activity, sometimes everything just feels out of kilter.  What do you do?  This is where I think the words of Jesus can be helpful.  To leave the “empty spaces” of our lives empty, will not be a useful place to be…it can just create problems.  Instead, we need to learn how to fill the empty spaces of our lives with something meaningful.  Let me explain.

When we come into an empty home, if the home is just as “it used to be” when YOU are not, or when the people in the home are no longer there, then perhaps it is time to make the home “NOT like it used to be.”  If that favorite restaurant now feels awkward because of past associations, then perhaps it is time to find a new restaurant you can claim as your own new discovery.  

Or when you have those long empty times such as weekends, maybe it is time to make a new activity the focus of that time.  Whereas you used to go to a movie on Saturday night, instead choosing to go help at the homeless shelter on Saturday nights instead.  It is as if you are reclaiming a piece of yourself as you stake out new uses for the empty spaces of your life, uses that are uniquely your own.

This kind of principle is found in Ephesians 4 in relation to a changed lifestyle.  Paul writes that we are to no longer tell falsehoods, but INSTEAD, we are to speak the truth in love.  Those who have been know to steal, INSTEAD need to work hard and develop the habit of giving!   No longer speak evil and disparaging words, but only words that impart grace and encouragement to others. 

It is the idea of intentionally choose NOT to live with a vacuum, but instead, to operate on the theory of replacement.  Or, as a friend of mine who happens to be visiting today said, you create a “new normal” for yourself.  So if you have places in your life that just feel like empty spaces, whether due to being an empty nester, newly widowed, recently divorced, relocated or for any number of reasons, I encourage you to consider ways to not leave those spaces empty, but see them as opportunities to express yourself in new ways and allow God to use you in new ministries you never knew you could do! Sure beats having an evil spirit and his buddies come back to attack, huh?  😊

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Unexpected Move!


Have you ever moved to a new location, far away from your previous home? 

You find a new place to live in which to unpack and arrange all your things, you meet new neighbors, you identify new schools for the kids, you have to find a new doctor, a new dentist, a new church….pretty much everything except for the people and things you brought with you.  

It can be pretty overwhelming.  And it can involved a great deal of grieving over leaving behind the life you had established before.

Maybe instead, you have started a completely different career. Once again, you have to make your space at work your own.  You learn a lot of new procedures, skills and processes.  You meet and learn about new coworkers, and make new friends in the workplace.  A new routine is established over time and you begin to settle in. 

Both of those experiences can be kind of exciting, if are making those changes by your own choice.  But what if you had to move because your house and community were destroyed in a hurricane?  What if you had to start a new career because your company closed and your job skills are no longer needed.  You know, like the old slide rule I ran across the other day…which was soon replaced in the 1970s by the new technology of calculators, which were subsequently replaced by computers.  If your job skill was your ability to repair typewriters and adding machines, your customers today are very few, and you are known for your ability to work on antiques! 

In life, we often are faced with situations that require us to start over in one way or another.  Divorce, of course, is one of those situations, but it is far from the only such experience.  Right now, there are a lot of folks out in California and Hawaii who are faced with starting again, as they have lost homes and family heirlooms.  Perhaps you have seen, as I have, the headlines of various major companies closing out their stores, or at least some of them. I was at one such store recently, and learned that the woman at the register had just started work a couple of months before the store announced it was closing.  The job she had just gotten was suddenly about to disappear.  She was going to have to start again, too.

As in her situation, if you are starting again because your spouse has chosen to divorce you, you can feel abandoned and fearful.  If, on the other hand, like the person who moved for a new job of their choice, your divorce came because you have decided you need to get out of an abusive situation and make a fresh start, you may be approaching it with hope and a sense of liberation.  In both cases, though, the emotions will be mixed, because any time a fresh start is made, there is something left behind that had become familiar, comfortable and maybe even rewarding.  

Every one of us has made some kind of fresh start in life:  moving from elementary school to high school, starting college, moving into the job market, moving out of our parents’ homes...the list is almost endless.  

If you are in the midst of wrestling with a time of a fresh start, I encourage you to stop and think back.  Remember those skills you learned in your past that helped you make whatever fresh starts you have experienced, and consider how to apply them now.  Remember the advantages you obtained through the fresh start experiences of your life, and let that inspire you to the possibilities for your future.  Consider the ways you brought healthy closure to the things you had to leave behind, and let those skills guide your closures now.  

When we grow comfortable in our situations, it is easy to forget that life is a journey that is continuously shaping and moving into new terrains.  Some of those new terrains may be difficult, as health fails or loved ones die.  Some of them may be very exciting, as new challenges, opportunities and adventures are explored.  But each experience of life is only for a season, and must be cherished in its time.  Living in the past or in the future robs us of the joys of the present.  I like the old saying, “The only thing that never changes is:  that everything is always changing!”  

Of course, the other constant that never changes is God.  He will always be there for you through all the fresh starts and losses of your life, if you are willing to look for him in them.  And remember, if you are struggling in a time of change, remember, even the things you are leaving behind came into your life because of a change in your past.  You can make it through the changes that are ahead…you have done it before!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018



In the last blog, I began the discussion about how to know when it is time to leave a marriage or to stay.  

I ended with four suggestions:  1) not just because it is difficult; 2) not if some effort will turn things around;  3) consider it a last resort; and 4) be realistic about WHETHER you would be able to work out issues, make sure BOTH of you are willing to do so.

Having offered those pieces, let me follow up with just a few more thoughts.  Before providing my little list, let me remind you that the Bible gives specific grounds for divorce, although even with those grounds it doesn’t say you HAVE to divorce.  It lists specifically the case of an adulterous spouse and the case of a non-believing spouse who chooses to leave you.  I think one of the underlying principles of those situations is that in both cases, the relationship already isn’t a real marriage…there is no real commitment to love, honor, cherish, obey, etc.  That principle could be helpful as you sort things out, and those scriptures might help when you wrestle with whether God will be displeased if you divorce.  I would remind you that the same Mosaic Law that speaks of “a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife” also makes provision for the process of divorce.  Jesus said that this was given because of our hardness of heart, and as near as I can tell, human nature still contains many hard hearts…sadly, in this fallen world, there remains a need for divorce.   

So here are a few suggestions:

1)      Don’t fall for the fantasy that things would automatically be better with someone else. Every couple has to work out some of the same issues, and if you can’t work them out in the first marriage, don’t assume you would have the skills to do so in a second.  It DOES make a difference if a new marriage partner is different enough that you can work together on problems in a way not possible with your first spouse.  But that is not something you should assume.  Instead….

2)    Don’t leave until you are convinced that you really have done everything you could possibly do to make the marriage work.  Have you gone enough extra miles?  Have you truly forgiven 70x7?  Have you recognized the ways YOU contribute to the problems, and worked on YOURSELF to remedy them?  Because if you have not, you will bring the same problems with you to another relationship.

3)    Don’t leave because “We just aren’t happy.”  Even the Declaration of Independence doesn’t promise happiness…it promises the PURSUIT of happiness.  Happiness is a fleeting emotion.  Marriage is about much more than being happy.  It is about commitment, stability, agape love and forgiveness, endurance and, as the vows say, “for better for worse, in sickness and in health.”  You didn’t promise to stay married as long as you were happy, right?  Happy can come and go.  Some things of worth come powerfully, bringing satisfaction (or maybe happiness) AFTER the fact, not always along the way.

4)    Don’t leave your marriage until you first seek some godly counsel…talk to someone who really understands.  Not someone who will merely feel sorry for you and tell you how awful it is, and not someone who will merely quote little platitudes as if that will solve all your problems.  Someone who can realistically hear your struggles, challenge your thinking, share biblical perspective, help you evaluate wisely all your options, and someone who will challenge you to be more than you are, to take on the hard things.

5)    Don’t leave a marriage thinking it will solve all the problems. Many who have been divorced will tell you that divorce creates at least as many problems as it solves…and they are right!  Take time to research what the divorce will really end up costing you (and not just financially).  

6)    Make your choice in faith, not in doubt.  Romans 14:23 makes clear that operating based on doubt is NOT a good choice, but that our decisions need to be made in faith.  If you have uncertainty, seek God’s Spirit to provide you some assurance, some confirmation to help guide you.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you will “feel God’s peace” before you act, though some believe you will.  Often, I have observed, the peace doesn’t come until AFTER we have stepped out in faith.  Feelings follow faith, not vice-versa. 

7)    Force yourself to have an open mind and heart.  Even once you think you have decided.  Recognize that you just might be wrong, and allow God to show you that you may need to change your thinking.  I have an acquaintance who had that very thing happen, ready to leave her marriage, convinced it was time to go, she was confronted by her godly father, and returned to her marriage, resulting in a restored family and healthy relationship.  Don’t discount that kind of guidance.

8)    Don’t stay in the marriage based on deceptions and promises that you know by experience simply are not true.  Every battered woman has heard her husband or boyfriend tell her that he didn’t mean it, it will never happen again, and he wants to change.  IT IS OKAY TO RECOGNIZE THE TRUTH!  He or she may say he is sorry and wants to change…but if they aren’t willing to do what it takes to prove it, don’t be deceived. The old adage says, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me!”

9)    Whatever decision you make, realize it doesn’t have to be the final decision.  You can choose to stay and make that best honesteffort…and later realize that you were wrong.  (But make it an honest effort…sometimes people set up a fake sort of trap to prove they are right, just waiting for their spouse to mess up so they can leave.) If you choose to file for divorce, you can always postpone the court date, or drop the case and reconcile instead.

10)  Don’t start on the course all by yourself.  If your marriage is in such bad shape that you are considering leaving, then choosing to stay means you need the support of friends, family, prayer partners and a good counselor.  If you choose to leave, you will need that same kind of support.  Either way, it may be a tough path ahead…you don’t have to go it alone.  And be sure to use the experience to draw closer to God for His support, which He promises to give.

Divorce is serious business.  People get hurt.  Lives can be destroyed.  Families end up broken.  Children suffer.  Finances and calendars become messy.  But sometimes, those things are LESS destructive than the marriage with extreme dysfunction and problems.  If you have been contemplating, or have a friend who has been, perhaps these little tidbits might help provide some direction and guidance.  In the end, we all make choices, and sometimes the path ahead isn’t so clear, so we just have to make the best choices we can, knowing sometimes we make mistakes, but sometimes we will get it right.  And God can use even our feeble attempts that look like mistakes if we listen to and follow His leading.