Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Scarlett Letter: D

 When you give another person the power to define you, then you also 
give them the power to control you. ~Leslie Vernick 


Dear Divorced Christian,
That term still stings, doesn’t it? It seems as if people everywhere want you to wear a large, scarlet letter “D” around your neck. Every form you complete asks if you are divorced or widowed, not just single or married. You are often scorned by the church because of your past. You feel as if you are a total and complete failure.1


You may wonder why I'm writing about divorce when I'm happily remarried. We've all heard that there's not a cut-off point for grief...it can span years or a lifetime. It continues for me and my children and also effects my new marriage in a variety of ways, as old scars are triggered, peeled back to reveal gaping raw sores. I also write about divorce because I've been given the gift of grief (ummm, thanks God?

For believers, we know we are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17); yet different stages of life have impacted my beliefs about who I am and what is true about me. Obviously, scripture is paramount, and it is a minute by minute fight to believe truth instead of lies shaped by my life circumstances or feelings.

With divorce, part of the struggle often comes in the new identity. The divorcee often feels like they don't fit in where they once did before, as if they're wearing a Scarlett D. It can be difficult to return to Sunday School, work, sports...life in general. The undertow of aloneness can pull hard until one is caught in the depths of shame. 

Oftentimes, friendships change. Couple-friends can become confused and left in the uncertainties of who they should side with.

One of the most painful things for me personally has been those who've washed away silently with the tide. The regular friends at my doorstep or seeking me at church, now silent. No acknowledgement, no words, only silence.

The shame of a new identity, along with lost friendships, has been painful.

Yet, He graciously kept my true friends in my life. Nothing like the sifting of friendships to know who is real. The Lord also poured out women into my life who were like me, new friends. A new season of work at my church surprisingly brought women returning to the workforce, who were walking the same treacherous path.

Divorce, like death, shakes you to the core.

It is a death in so many ways. Unfortunately the church and society do not recognize it as such. After a death, there is a funeral, meals, cards, support from friends and family (as there should be).

However, oftentimes there is an absence of nurture and care to the bereaved divorcee. The severing of a covenant relationship leaves a graveyard of broken hearts. Sunscorched tombstones stand tall marking the years, and often there is no word from community about the loss. Hopes, dreams, and promises dead in the grave.

  
How in the world does one reconcile with the smiling faces staring back at them from photos scattering every shelf, wall, mantle, and counter top of the home? How does this settle in a bruised and bloodied heart with the truth of the unimaginable? I found myself asking, what really was true for 25-years? 

It's been a messy dance of grief with the Father where I've been the one being held, my feet and His interwoven on the sand. My footprints often yield surrender, despair, anger, and endless tears and enmesh with His prints of compassion, grace, mercy, provision, kindness, strength.




In To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future, Dan Allender writes: Tragedy always moves our story forward in a way shalom could never accomplish.



For me, the tragedy is still real; yet, the Lord has, at times, poured out a strength that is not my own. There's a change that has been occurring within me for years. 

Suffering has marked my life, and changed my soul forever in ways that peace could never do.

By the merciful hand of the Father, I am now experiencing rest and peace in miraculous ways. My dance with the Father often glistens gold in the sunlight with footprints of integrity, courage, strength, self-worth, joy, and freedom that have not been there before.


I still limp. I still wallow. I still shake my fists at God. But, there is a beauty I can't explain. And He holds me and my children always. 

Always.

Only by His grace.

RESOURCES for struggling marriages, newly separated or divorced:

I am certainly not a marriage expert and do not advocate divorce or separation, unless there are biblical grounds and ALL means have been attempted for reconciliation. I do, however, have strong opinions about self-worth, abuse, and addictions. I also believe that separation or divorce can often be a means of loving-kindness in cases where all other means have been sought for reconciliation, and there are biblical grounds and wise counsel. Be sure to have good counsel to know where there is worldly sorrow or godly sorrow: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Cor 7:10). You must have wise counsel and not rely on your own feelings!


Counseling:

As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly (Prov 26:11). 
A pattern of abuse or addiction should not be overlooked. If you're in a bible-believing church and have a leader you trust, please seek help from your church. If you have a counselor you trust, utilize them as well. If your spouse is seeing a counselor on their own for their recovery, get permission from them to set an appointment for just yourself. Their counselor can not give you details of their sessions due to privacy reasons, but you can certainly give their counselor some background that may not have been brought up in the sessions. Sometimes a spouse is looking for a quick-fix and will see a counselor temporarily to try to reconcile quickly. THIS IS NOT ALWAYS THE CASE. It's imperative to pray for wisdom: ...be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Mt 10:16). And, utilize wise counsel at all costs! Get recommendations from others if you don't know a good marriage counselor...many ministries will see you on a sliding scale if payment is a factor.

Church: 
This is paramount in your walk and healing. Seek help within the body of Christ with only a few that you can trust.  

Seek out help from ministries below:

Divorce Care - find a group in your area. This group was my safe place, and is not necessarily full of all divorced people. I was in a group where some were not even separated, but struggling in their marriage. It is a biblical based group that is safe and protects your story and struggle, and often has a group for children to work through their grief as well.

Celebrate Recovery - also a huge help for me personally. It largely depends on the group leaders, so make sure to ask around to find one that is good. There are small groups for codependents, addictions, and other topics. The worship time was unparallelled for me...addicts and those at rock-bottom need Jesus in a beautiful way.

Route 1520 - hands-down the absolute best ministry that deals with sexual addiction in a compassionate and honest way from a biblical point of view. There are groups for addicted men, along with a separate group for the women. Check out their podcasts as well, they are excellent. Melody and Tray are the founders and have a ton of resources on their site, so please do not miss this if you are dealing with sexual addiction.

Books: (these are just a few. I love anything by Dan Allender, who is not listed here. So be sure to look him up as well for any trauma.) Again, I am not an expert, by any means.

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope by Leslie Vernick

The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and Respond by Patricia Evans

Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Struggle Beneath Sexual Struggle 

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Jerry Sittser 

Please feel free to respond with any resources that have been a beneficial to you. I'd love to hear your story or share it on my blog. Although I've written on divorce, I love stories of reconcilliation as well. I can be emailed privately if preferred.

 
(1) quote from crosswalk.com










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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Betrayal




It can slink quietly overlooked
like sap gliding down the sycamore.
One drip, unseen at first, 
another squeezing out,
atop the first.
Minutes turn to hours,
then days to years.
The Judas syrup oozing 
out into the light.
A normal day of gold rays,
blue sky, cotton clouds
lends itself to an uncanny
sense that all is not right.
A scan of the backyard 
for the culprit...
a missing shoe or
misplaced toy from the children.
Eyes dart and fall upon
what had not been seen before.
Or had a blind eye turned away
from the shadows and dark stains?
It's standing tall, leaves waving
in the tepid breeze.
The trunk, saturated with blood-like
stains trickling in streams.
A soundless deceit falls heavy now
like timber sawed straight through
hitting the forest floor.
The heart pumps furiously,
a steady rhythm transforming 
to a pounding.
Bile rises to the throat,
the stomach churns.
The gears of the mind turn and twist.
It doesn't make sense.
And then you fall hard.
Undone.
The limbs of the sycamore
still waving in the breeze.
The stained trunk
now piercing the heart.



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Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Wild Ride, A Wild God



"He leads us step by step, from event to event. Only afterwards, as we look back over the way we have come and reconsider certain important moments in our lives in the light of all that has followed them, or when we survey the whole progress of our lives, do we experience the feeling of having been led without knowing it, the feeling that God has mysteriously guided us."[1]


Last summer felt as if I'd washed ashore amongst 25-years of rubble- nearly drowned and breathless.

Tossed upon the sea.

Beaten by years of crashing waves. 

Some years I tread water, others I lay hopeless in the soundless depths, my heart and lungs crushed. 

When My children and I washed ashore, I grasped for their hands, reached to turn their faces towards One bigger than our circumstances. 

The shoreline produced relief, as waves of peace lapped the shore of my soul. But, tidal waves of fear flooded my mind as I thought of the future. I tend to be self-reliant, to isolate in times of need; but, the Lord propelled me beyond my comforts. I had to open my hands and ask for help.



Open hands led to provision. Miraculous grace and beauty emerged in ways that humbled me- food, childcare, and prayers. The body of Christ made repairs to our home and provided yard work. A family member paid off our minivan. Neighbors and friends welcomed my children into their homes, more often than not, feeding them dinner. Teachers were the hands and feet of Christ when my children were too heartbroken to enter the school doors. Teachers wrote scripture and sweet encouragement on test papers for which my kids were to weary to study. We were surrounded, loved, consistently and specifically prayed for. Friends wept with us and held up our arms. A youth group leader took lunch to my teenager at school. Administrators extended grace when he also missed over a month of school due to heavy grief, which led to multiple medical tests and hospital visits.

It was crushing for my mama heart to helplessly witness my children suffer. It.was.absolute.hell.

Sometimes my kids lashed out at me, other times they just wanted me to hold tight as they wailed into the darkness. As hard as it was, it was an absolute privilege to be the one chosen to grieve with them, hold them, and point them to the only One who could rescue. We were carried by a gracious and merciful Father. 

As I began to gather the shards of our lives, and put pieces back together, the menacing clouds were swallowed by the morning sun. Light broke through the darkness.



As my new life became my new normal, I sometimes juggled up to four part-time jobs. I struggled with guilt, often not present to help with homework assignments or make dinner. I constantly felt like a failure as a mom. During the months of June and July last summer, I trained as a school bus driver. This meant more time away from my kids. And it also required some of the hardest studying I've done since college. 

Every other weekend, my soul was snatched down an unrecognizable quiet, as we began the back and forth swap of the kids visiting their dad. Hardwoods, which normally echoed with horse-hoofed feet of four children, were now silent. One weekend, I could no longer put up with the walls caving in on me, so I headed to a local coffee shop to study for my CDL license. I buried myself in coffee, air brakes, axles, and the stopping distance of vehicles over 10,000 pounds.

Somewhere in the hours of studying, a deep voice of a man caught my attention. A comment about my school bus manual. Another remark about my choice of pumpkin bread, because apparently I got the last slice, and it was his favorite. He had kind eyes and we talked about his yearly cross-country road trip to visit his parents in Connecticut, how he would take a different route each year. This was his first time to navigate into Birmingham. Years prior, he had also studied for a school bus license to drive his soccer team to games. He was a Government high school teacher in Texas, 14 hours away. 

As we talked, we discovered we both majored in political science in college. It was a delightful conversation, and I was a bit caught off guard when he asked for my phone number. I didn't think we'd really stay in touch due to the 1,000 mile distance, but the Lord had other plans.

As the weeks turned into months, David and I developed a sweet friendship. He prayed regularly for me and the kids. His divorce, 13-years prior, had produced a wisdom and tenderness for my situation that was unique. He had battled cancer years prior, and his heart was full of amazing tenderness and compassion.

David and I discovered we had many shared interests and life experiences... which was truly surreal. One of many bizarre commonalities was that we prepared identical breakfasts for years... the same smoothies, down to the almond milk, vanilla whey, flax and frozen spinach. We also became believers at similar ages, in our 20s. I could go on and on about the various ways the Lord moved in our hearts, but the bottom line is we regularly were led to weep together in gratitude for His providential hand in bringing us together and binding our hearts in such a sweet friendship.

We spent 10 months corresponding and traveling back and forth to visit one another, as our friendship blossomed to dating. I've never felt more pursued or loved by the Father, or by a man. We've walked together through some difficult circumstances in our own lives and those of our children. The Lord has continued to answer prayers and provide.

In April of this year, we met with my church and counselors to discuss the plan to marry. David listed his home for sale, and had it sold within 10 days. The Lord continually held us and confirmed every decision and step of the way, including our children supporting our relationship. Even more surreal, my ex-husband shared a meal with us, and testified that it had to be the Lord making his heart open to receive such news- he also supported our decision to marry.

It has indeed been a wild ride. So, last week, I boarded an airplane with a one-way ticket to Texas to help David load a trailer and head east to move to our home in Birmingham. But, first, we traveled west into New Mexico to marry.


 

Would you please pray for this new journey? Please pray for our transition as a new family. We still stand in awe at our Savior and HIS tremendous love and kindness to do something this wild and crazy in both our lives. 










[1] Tournier, Paul. Reflections on Life's Most Crucial Questions, New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

The D-Word: when life crumbles



For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    
the God of the whole earth he is called. (Isa 54:5)



Divorce.

Seriously?

I’ve been writing about broken families for years. Foster children scooped up barefoot in threadbare clothes, tossed into a car and taken to a stranger’s home. Severed hearts, torn lives. In an instant, all of life spinning dizzy. Tantrums, guttural sounds, anxiety. A heavy fog of grief emanating through the hallways of their foster home.
Now the guttural sounds are here, within my home.

And it’s not my adopted daughter, but my biological children.

We suck in air deep, and try to breathe this new life. It’s hard.

As a young girl, I twirled, I climbed, I ran. My legs pedaled fast on my banana-seat bike. I played hard in the dirt. My only worries were not missing the timing of the ice cream truck's melody as it circled our neighborhood.

I never thought of middle-age life delivering this.

This crazy dichotomy of deafening quiet mixed with ear-piercing chaos. The drumbeat of horse-hoofed children’s feet on hardwoods sandwiching the every-other-weekends of me sitting in a cavern of silence.

My breath the only sound bouncing off the walls.

My feet the only ones to walk hallways, soft.
Alone for a weekend.

Like wisps of my daughter’s ballerina tulle skirt twirling beauty ‘round her small frame, I’d always pictured my life would be like that sheer, gauzy dream of happiness.




Throughout the summers of my childhood, my bare toes clambered up the body of the magnolia near my grandmother’s home. Year after year, my cousins and I dodged evergreen waxy leaves to go even higher. Our fingertips and toes brushed the aged letters, hearts, and drawings we’d carved into the trunk with rusty pocket knives over the years. A random limb would split here and there as we went higher to the thinner, frail offshoots.

And now, I feel like that old tree.
Worn. Aged. Frail. Broken.

My soul carved deep. Scrawled with shame-words.

Worthless. Quitter. Not good enough.

 
And I’ve questioned…

How do I even begin to write again…about these frayed edges of my life?

How do I effectively write about divorce? With courage. With hope. With beauty.

Without sugar-coating or diminishing the pain?
Without cheapening the grace of God?

I shut down my blog over a year ago because I couldn’t write anymore. Nothing would flow. I questioned my life.

Somehow, I felt like a fraud because I was a Christian going through a divorce.

I’ve always been a staunch supporter of fighting for marriage at all cost. Christians who got divorced, in my mind, somehow didn’t try hard enough. Didn’t trust the Spirit enough. Gave up. Please understand, I’m referring to cases where there are biblical grounds for divorce.

My faulty mindset left no room for the fact that redemption often comes through the severing.

Love is often the hard choice of walking into the dark, holding the hands of four children. Entering the unknown. Naked, barefoot, the feeling of being beaten bloody. Trembling hands and raw feet treading along paths strewn with shrapnel. Land mines hidden along the way.

What in the world do we do when everything has been stripped away? How is a mama with four kids supposed to go on, alone?

I never thought I’d be the one staring through blood-stained tears, realizing there was nothing left to fight for. Nothing. The truth of our marriage was buried so far under places I didn’t even know existed.

Like an archaeological dig, I’ve chiseled through decades of caked-on falsehood. My hands ripped and clawed at the years of pretense … I really believed the glossy photos hanging on our walls were true. Our smiling faces, ethereal glow of sunlight, open field, holding hands, leaning in for a kiss. The reality of over 25-years began to seep from under the crust of my mind like magma. Slow at first and then a volcanic eruption to my soul.

In the midst of the explosion, I’ve often felt as if I were sitting in the lap of the Father. Him whispering, singing, rocking, holding me near. Zephaniah 3:17 and Hosea 2:14-15 have become the anchors which have held me still.

My brain can't comprehend it all. I only know that I’ve experienced Him like never before.

His chest has been the One I’ve lain my head against night after night. His breath the One to whisper truth above the lies. He’s my husband, my love, my Jesus. The One who’s held me all along.

As this is Holy Week, I've been particularly struck (again) of all the betrayals. Christ's dearest friends turning their backs, closing themselves off from Him. And, the Father turning His back on Christ's plea for rescue.

Because Jesus chose to be our Rescuer. Spill His blood for us.

Today, I was hanging out in the driveway with my second born, the sunlight burning hot on our faces. He was climbing the pear tree high. He gazed down and questioned, "Mama, will you climb the tree with me?"

My hands grabbed limbs scarred by holes from years of a woodpecker's search for a meal.

No matter how crushed and shattered I feel, He gets it. He understands. He was crushed for us.

How does a 44-year old climb a tree? Carefully. Slowly. Un-childlike. Messy. Awkwardly.

But, eventually, there I was beside him. Our legs swinging. My boy's head resting on my knee. The breeze rustling bright green leaves dappled with sunlight.

And, I saw it. One of many reminders of who I am, scrawled permanently across my foot. Beloved.

Indeed, there is constant beauty and love poured out over me. I am His and He is mine.

And, I am so very grateful that the tomb was empty. My Jesus is alive.


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