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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Struggle and Progress


At my church, this year we are celebrating our 150thyear of ministry.  It is kind of fun, going back and reading all the old stories and looking at a lot of old pictures of those who went before.  People share some of their stories and find the photos often spark memories from days gone by.  

As part of the celebration, we are moving through history decade by decade with reminders of world and church events of the particular decade.  Today, the focus decade was the 1990’s.  

As I read over the list of events, I found striking the number of terrible things that occurred in that decade, the Rodney King trial and riots, World Trade Center bombing, Hurricane Andrew, Oklahoma City bombing, the bombing of the Olympics in Georgia, and the shooting at Columbine.  What a decade of tragedies!  And even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I thought of another tragic event of the 90’s, my own divorce in 1998.  

Now don’t get me wrong.  Life has moved on for me, and I have spent the last 15 years in a good marriage with a great wife, and I can look back and see how difficult it would have been for that first marriage to continue, let alone become a good and healthy relationship.  There remains some tidbits of fallout here and there, some of which still bring sorrow or difficulty, but by and large, life has moved on.  Still, 21 years out of divorce..that seems like such a really long time!  It’s amazing to think that there would be ANY fallout still around.  

My church has also been involved in helping with local flood relief, even after four months.  Many parts of our city have moved on, living their daily lives with little or no impact from the flooded rivers that impacted the area back in March. But this week we had a group of hard workers come from Kansas, North Dakota and Minnesota who worked hard to help some of the folks who haven’t yet been able to move on, because their homes are far from back to normal.  We met people struggling to move on, struggling to get back to where they were, struggling to feel safe once again, struggling to feel that someday things are going to be okay.  They have been waiting and waiting for something to happen, for authorization to make repairs, for enough money to purchase materials, waiting to get through all the hoops and waiting periods required to apply for FEMA help, and then to appeal when they are denied, and then to apply for SBA loans when they still are denied. 

They are tired, they are sad, they are discouraged.  Some of them wonder if things will ever get back to normal, if life will ever move past the disaster for them.

It seems to me, there are some significant parallels in these experiences.  Divorce, floods and other life change moments can hit us hard and leave us devastated and numb.  Forward progress can feel very slow, and the hurt and discouragement can run deep. But, over time, a new normal comes into existence.  It’s just that, it takes time, hard work, patience and perseverance.  

In the midst of the tediously slow progress, sometimes one is well advised to recognize and celebrate the little steps of progress that are made, even while facing a mountain of work ahead.  

A counselor friend of mine offered an insightful statement. She said, “a little progress is still progress.”  Sometimes we want things to get back to normal NOW, to accomplish everything NOW, for the hardship to end NOW.  But often, that simply isn’t very realistic. 

Sometimes, all we can accomplish NOW, is “a little progress.” And a little progress sometimes can count in a very big way.  

The work the visiting group did for flood victims wasn’t a lot, there are hundreds of homes still needing assistance.  But they DID make “a little progress” by making a difference for a few homes.  And that little bit of progress meant everything to the people who were helped. 

Maybe time doesn’t really ever heal ALL wounds.  And maybe it takes more than just time to make some progress.  But no matter how daunting the path ahead, it is always wise to recognize even a little progress when it is achieved, because life is lived only one day, one moment, one step at a time, remembering that in the end, the journey becomes a long, marvelous trip.

Sunday, July 7, 2019


I was driving the other day and saw a bumper sticker on the car in front of me.  It said, “Single dad’s lives matter.”  Of course, it is a spinoff from the “Black Lives Matter” slogan, also imitated in the slogan, “Blue Lives Matter.”  In every case, the motto is an expression of frustration and a cry for recognition of a problem, a desire for significance.  I understand the frustration of the single dads bumper sticker, though there are lots of frustrations all the way around in the world of divorce.  I thought the topic worth consideration in a blog.

I once knew a man frustrated by the court as he sought custody of his young child, who was living with his mother who had a live-in lover at the time, and the lover was a known drug dealer, and yet the court refused to give the dad custody.  As near as I could tell, the dad was a responsible sort of guy, had a decent home, a decent job, worked hard, attended church, spent time with his kid when he could.  Why did he not get custody.  The man told me that it was because the judge in the county of jurisdiction was biased toward women, and always gave full custody of the children to the mother.  I thought it odd that a judge could actually be that way, until I ran into another couple going through divorce from a neighboring county.  The wife had filed for divorce in the other county not her own, because she knew that the judge in that county always favored giving the mother custody.  These two contacts I had were years apart, miles apart and independently verified that the bias did exist….justice isn’t always quite as blind as the famous statue would suggest.  Since that time, I have seen a lot of times where such bias exists.  I was even struck that a popular Christian divorce recovery program’s materials were written in such a way that they clearly assumed the mother had custody of the children and that it was the dad’s job to be paying child support.  No wonder the car had a bumper sticker demanding that single dads matter!

The battle of the sexes often comes to the foreground in divorce.  I have known of a number of husbands who falsified finances in various ways to keep from having to give money equitably to their divorcing wives.  But then, I have also known women who have done the same thing.  I suspect that the bumper sticker not only originates from custody experiences, but also from all the discussion in the media about single moms and their struggle.  I want to point out that there is often a disparity between single moms and single dads, because our society still has disparity in pay between men and women in a number of fields, so a single mom often has a harder time earning the same salary that the single dad makes.  But not always, of course.  There are a lot of single dads out there struggling to make ends meet, and feeling especially a pinch on the wallet when running a household and paying child support, and sometimes maintenance (or alimony).  It is such a tangled web.

I have also known of parents who use the children as a weapon or as spies against an ex by undermining visitation agreements, or by manipulating children to woo them away from the custodial parent, or by denying access that, though legally granted, is sometimes hard to enforce.  Out there are many dads whose children are living with the ex-wife who are trying to be a good father when only seeing their children every other weekend and a few hours during the week.  I think that the core of the bumper sticker slogan is that dads DO make a difference in their children’s lives, and for them to be marginalized or excluded from the lives of their children, or for their participation to be undervalued by court or society is doing a great disservice to the children of divorce.  Children do best when they have a healthy relationship with both parents all together in a unified home.  When a divorce occurs, the children’s best chance to grow healthy continues to require the involvement of BOTH parents.  Using access to children as a way to inflict pain on one’s ex is a cruel and reckless action that occurs far too often.  Sometimes, single parents who are suffering from that kind of abuse, can use an encouraging word from those of us who are their friends and family.  Probably the guy with that bumper sticker needed to hear someone tell him that he IS important to his kids, and that his efforts to be a good dad DO matter.  Divorce is hard enough.  Turning it into a war zone leaves devastation wherever it happens.

Monday, July 1, 2019

REDEFINING TRUST! A blog about new understandings in trusting God.

Would you mind if I shared some recent learnings on a personal level?  So I had surgery on my rotator cuff, and am now assigned to use that arm for NOTHING for a while, keeping it in a sling.  At the same time, I began physical therapy, but a really odd one.  It is a physical therapy in which my task is:  DO NOTHING!  I lie down, and the therapist takes my arm, and I am supposed to do absolutely nothing with it while he manipulates up and down and in and out and around and around.  Every once in a while (or maybe more), it hurts, I wince, and he pauses.  And then he says:  “It hurts because YOU are trying to help me.  You are NOT supposed to be using your muscles, you need to relax them, let them go limp, and let me do the work.  You have to trust me.”  So I relax, and trust him….until it goes way out and I wince again, and he repeats the mantra! 

Shortly after my first bout of this, I visited with a friend who had the same surgery some time ago, and she shared with me how she had learned during her therapy that, over time, the shoulder pain had caused her to kind of scrunch her shoulders to avoid the pain, which resulting in tensing up the muscles.  In the therapy then, it became a major task to retrain the brain to relax instead.  When she said that after I had seen the physical therapist, the combination of the two clicked for me.  All of a sudden, I noticed how often I was tensing my shoulder and neck muscles on a daily basis, instead of just letting the arm relax and be held by the sling.  So I have started really trying to pay attention, and it has taken an incredible amount of concentration to tell my arm and shoulder to relax!  It’s crazy!!

When I went in for my second session, I had made significant strides in being able to relax and trust his movements with my arm.  But there were times I still winced.  Times he had to stop.  Times he had to remind me:  “Breathe.  Relax.  Trust me.”

I think God is probably telling me the same thing.  And maybe he wants to tell you the same thing, too.  There are so many things that demand so much attention, so many questions I have about relationships and the future and understanding God’s will for me in THIS moment and what plans need to be made and all the things I need to get done and what things need to be let go of and…, and…, and…, and…

It’s a lot like that song by Johnny Diaz, “Just Breathe,” which you can hear on YouTube if you don’t know it.  Sometimes I think the most important thing we can hear from God…or at least that I need to hear from God…is the same thing my physical therapist is saying:  Relax.  Breathe.  Trust me.

What are the hard things you are facing right now?  What are the uncertainties that are nagging at you?  What are the questions you stress over?  What are the fears that have you in knots?  What are the problems bigger than you can solve?  What are the ways you feel that everything is spinning out of control?  Is God trying to get you to realize you just need to trust Him?  That you need to relax, trust him and just breathe?  That you need to realize that he does know what he is doing, and he has not left the throne, and you are the apple of his eye (Psalm 17:8)?

Relax.  Breath.  Trust.  I will give it a whirl again tomorrow morning.  How about you?