Thursday, November 1, 2012

Blessing My Blessings

No doubt about it: children are a gift from the Lord;
the fruit of the womb is a divine reward.
--Psalm 127:3

It's already NOVEMBER! Woo hoo! I'm so excited about the holidays! I've already dug out my Christmas CDs and lit my minty candles. Seriously, y'all are going to have to stop me from putting up my Christmas tree already. :)

But first... I need to slow down and enjoy Thanksgiving. After all, November is the month of gratitude, right? So instead of skipping over this month and rushing ahead to Christmas (like I really want to do), I'm going to try to fill each day of this month--NOT with memories of the pain that happened last November, but with thankfulness for the joy that lies ahead.

I choose to redeem the month of November for my family.

With that in mind, I'd love to start off this month by sharing something special I did with my kids.

A couple of months ago, I began studying passages in the Bible about blessing your children. Not just a casual "I love you and have a great day" kind of blessing, but a well-thought-out, intentional blessing.

A blessing that gives children....

An assurance of identity.
A strong sense of belonging.
A clear vision for their future.

The more I read about blessing your children, the more I realized that was exactly what my kids needed. They had been very hurt and shaken by the divorce. And they needed to feel secure. They needed to know, for sure, that God created them with high value, that they belong in our family, and that God has a plan for them... no matter what circumstances they may encounter in their lives.

I could go on and on about the signficance of blessing your kids, but these articles pretty much sum it up.

So I prayerfully wrote out a blessing for each of my children using the five biblical elements:
  1. Meaningful and appropriate touch
  2. A spoken message
  3. Attaching high value to the one being blessed
  4. Picturing a special future for him or her
  5. An active commitment to fulfill the blessing
Then I took the kids to my mom's house, where my extended family--my mom, my sisters and their husbands, and their kids--joined me in surrounding the kids as I spoke these blessings over them.

(Note: that's my mom's ginormous Bible study whiteboard behind me, still set up in her living room from her Precept Bible study the night before. Anyone wonder where my love of teaching the Bible comes from?!?)

Do you mind if I share these blessings with you? I've omitted some personal details for the sake of privacy, but I'd like to post them here to remind myself of how grateful I am for each of my three precious treasures.



[[Miss B]], your name means “royalty.” And I’ve always called you “my princess.” But much more than that, you are God’s princess. You are a daughter of the King of kings! May you always remember that you are royalty—God is your heavenly Father and you are His much-loved princess.

And your middle name is in honor of my dad. You are not only the precious daughter of your heavenly Father, but you bear the name of my earthly father, who was a very godly man. My dad loved God very much, and He loved others. This is your legacy to carry on.
Sweet [[Miss B]], you are the first child God gave me. And because you are the firstborn, you are a leader. In our home you are a role model for your younger sister and younger brother—and as the oldest female cousin, you are a leader for your younger cousins as well. Whether you realize it or not, they are looking up to you. May you always set an example for them of faith, love, and kindness.

God has made you a leader not only in our family but in all you do. You have a natural gift of leadership that shines through at church and at school. Your friends look to you to lead them. May you use your gift of leadership wisely, to lead other people toward God and His kingdom and His righteousness.
[[Miss B]], you also have a strong desire for knowledge. You want to know everything about everything! God has gifted you with intelligence. But more than that, God has given you the gift of wisdom—the ability to use your knowledge to make right choices. As you grow up and continue to learn, I pray that you will have more than just "book knowledge," but God’s true wisdom—the ability to use your knowledge in a way that glorifies God and makes His name great.
Not only are you wise, [[Miss B]], but God has given you a special kind of knowledge called discernment. When you were three years old, God placed His mark of grace on your left eye. And that “God mark,” as we call it, not only saved your physical sight, but it’s a reminder that God has given you a special “heart sight,” or insight into the hearts and motives of other people. You have a unique gift of being able to perceive what others are truly like, of looking beyond their words and actions and directly into their hearts. May God use your gift of discernment to help you make wise choices and stand up for what is right.

[[Miss B], with your gifts of leadership and wisdom and discernment, I envision a future in which God will use you to lead others to Him and to teach Him them about His love.
Together with our family here, I pray God will use you to bring many people into His kingdom. We pray that you will use your gifts to serve God by serving others as a teacher, ministry leader, and friend.



[[J.J.]], your name means “beautiful.” And you are beautiful, inside and out! I pray that you will continue to see that true beauty comes from within, from the beauty of Christ shining through your heart and life.
And your name is a special name I chose in honor of my grandmother and my mother. Both G.G. and Gran are godly women who love God very much! G.G. loved to pray and to help others. And Gran loves to teach the Bible and to share God’s love with everyone she meets. So you are not only beautiful and loved, but you are carrying on the legacy of two very godly women!
I call you “my jewel,” because that’s what you are—a precious jewel, a treasure. And you know what? You’re not only my jewel, but you’re God’s special jewel! Like a diamond, you sparkle and shine wherever you go. You are God’s treasure, a glimmering gem reflecting His light into our world.

And like a diamond, you have so many facets and sides! You are creative and artistic and musical and filled with zest for life. God has made you unique, and He has a great plan for your life. The Bible says you are God’s “masterpiece,” like a special painting filled with His light and joy. May you always remember that you belong to God and that all your unique gifts and ideas and beauty come from Him.
You are not only creative, but you have a very tender heart. God has filled you with compassion and empathy. That means when others hurt, you hurt with them. And when others are happy, you are happy with them. May your heart always stay sensitive toward others: to listen when they need a friend, to reach out when they need help, to comfort them when they are sad, and to show them the love of God.

[[J.J.]], with your gifts of creativity and artistry and compassion, I envision a future in which God will use you to shine His light and love to others around you. Because you think outside the box and see things that no one else sees, I pray that you will expand God’s kingdom by doing things that have never been done before. God has uniquely designed you to make a great big difference in the world.
Don’t be afraid to take big risks for God,  [[J.J.]]. Remember, you have no reason to fear. God is always with you, as close as the smile on your face. You are God’s precious jewel, His treasure, His masterpiece. Your heavenly Father cares for you, and He will always protect you and guide you every day of your life.

Together with our family here, I pray God will use you to help others see God’s love and beauty. And we pray that God will use you to take big risks for God’s kingdom and to shine His light into this dark world.
[[Buddy]], your name means “strong.” But being strong is much more than having big muscles. Being strong means having the courage to do the right thing. It means being brave enough to stand up for people who need help. It means protecting those in need. And it means letting God give you His strength when you need it. I call you “my little superhero,” but the truth is, you are God’s mighty warrior. I pray that He will fill you with His strength and that you will always be strong for Him.

You are named in honor of my dad. You not only have God as your heavenly Father, but you bear the name of my earthly father. My dad was a strong man. He didn’t have great big muscles, but he had a great big heart that was full of love for God and for others. He also had a strong sense of justice; and I see that in you as well. I pray you will continue to have a strong sense of right and wrong and the courage to make godly choices your whole life, like my dad did. This is your legacy to carry on.
[[Buddy]], you are my only son, the man in our family. In our home you are the protector of your sisters—and of your younger cousins too. Although you will grow up to be physically stronger than they are, don’t ever use your strength to hurt them in any way. Remember, you are strongest when you remember that your strength comes from God. He will make you strong to protect them and help them.
And just like my dad, [[Buddy], you have a contagious laugh! You are full of giggles and joy. I hope you keep laughing and having fun your whole life. Don’t ever feel like you’re too “grown up” to giggle. The Bible says the joy of the Lord is our strength, so keep on laughing and showing others the joy of the Lord.
[[Buddy]], you have a lot of friends. People love being around you! God has given you a charming and charismatic personality. Because people are naturally drawn to you, you will always be surrounded by friends. May you be strong enough to set a good example of right choices and brave enough to stand up for what is right in God’s eyes, no matter what others do. Have fun, but always remember who you are.
And you have such an imagination! You have an amazing gift of telling stories that amuse and entertain us all. And you know what? Jesus was a storyteller too! He used stories to help people understand important truths about God. I pray that you will use your gifts of storytelling and imagination to follow Jesus’ example of telling stories that teach others about God and His Word.
[[Buddy]], with your gifts of strength and joy and imagination, I envision a future in which God will use you to draw others to Him through your stories and your strong friendship. God can use you for His kingdom as an influencer, someone who introduces people to Jesus and helps them know Him more deeply.
Together with our family here, I pray you will use your gifts to serve God your whole life by being a strong and courageous follower of Him.
I know this is a crazy long post. But I needed to remind myself that I am exceedingly blessed to be the mother of these three gifts from God.
Thanks for letting me share my "blessings" with you today!

Jesus put his arms around the children
and blessed them by placing his hands on them.
--Mark 10:16

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What Kind of God Allows THIS?!?

 I don’t have a TV right now.

But all it takes is a scroll through my Facebook feed to see startling pictures and hear crushing stories of the devastation Hurricane Sandy left in her wake last night. I just Googled the news headlines, which currently cite 39 known fatalities from this monster storm.

So far.

I can’t wrap my brain around the reality of 39 people being fine one minute… then washed out to sea and killed the next by some freak storm.

It’s unfathomable.

No, it’s more than that. It’s downright unconscionable.

An “act of God,” the insurance agents call it.

Wait…God did this? The “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” God?

Okay. Let’s ask the question we’re all thinking but are sometimes ashamed to admit.

We asked it after 9/11. We asked it after Hurricane Katrina. We ask it whenever we turn on the news these days. (On the news website I read today, I was sickened by headline after headline of murder, horror, pain, and loss.)

We ask this question when our spouse betrays us. Or when a friend calls us with heartbreaking news. Or when the doctor gives us the diagnosis. Or when we watch the coffin of a loved one lowered into the ground.

[[Before I go on: let me gently say something to any Christians reading this who may claim that you’ve never doubted God’s sovereignty in the face of evil. As one pastor well said, the only Christians who don’t ever doubt are the ones who don’t really think. Author Mark Buchanan agrees: “The depth of our doubt is roughly proportional to the depth of our faith. Those with strong faith have equally strong doubts. That principle bears out in the other direction as well: People with a trivial and shallow faith usually have trivial and shallow doubts.” So trust me, if you haven't asked this question yet, someday you will.]]

But for those of us who have been shattered by pain… who know Anguish on a first-name basis…who simply cannot hide in steepled buildings or Christian conferences and pretend that suffering doesn’t exist, let’s come right out and say the question that’s haunting us:


What kind of God allows THIS?!?


What kind of God allows a pastor to walk out on his church, his family, and his faith?

What kind of God allows spouses to be abused? Children to be bullied? Neglected? Molested?

What kind of God allows people to be killed in freak accidents? By drunk drivers? By murderers?

What kind of God allows infertility? Miscarriage? Stillbirth? SIDS?

What kind of God allows rape? Cancer? AIDS? Poverty? Terrorism? War?


The questions are endless. Insert yours here:

What kind of God allows ____________________________?

Eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume asked the question this way: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

That’s a good question.

Now, I could go one of two ways with this blog post.

One option is that I could vehemently and eloquently denounce Hume’s trilemma by filling page after page with myriad Scripture verses and biblical proofs of God’s sovereignty. I could pull a few of the dozens of apologetics books off my library shelves and meticulously articulate the logical and philosophical rationales for God’s omnipotence and His overarching plan for the universe.

Twenty years ago, I would have done exactly that. Because it’s a billion times easier to cite Scripture verses than it is to wrestle with reality.

But I simply can’t do that anymore.

Because logic doesn’t mend the broken places.

Philosophy won’t bring back our loved ones.

And all the books in the world can’t turn back the clock and undo the suffering around us.

So what’s the other option I have for this blog post?

I'll skip over all the “God works all things together for good” answers (even though they’re true), and just get to the core of the matter:

God is always good.

But life sometimes sucks.

(Sorry, Mom, if you're reading this.)

I’ve been a Christian for 32 years. I’ve led Bible studies for decades. I have a seminary degree and twenty years’ experience in editing Christian books. I’ve spent my life immersed in the Word of God.

And while I could quote Bible passages, articulate theology, and write endless papers on this topic, the truth is, I don’t really know why God allows suffering. And this side of eternity, I'll never know. Because as my college roommate used to say, "If God were small enough to be understood, He wouldn't be big enough to be God."

After years of walking with Christ though good times and grief-stricken times, I can only say this for sure:

Jesus loves me. This I know.

I know that might seem like a cop-out for those of you who are hoping for a different answer to the question, “How could a good God allow suffering?” But it’s the only answer I have.
If you want a comprehensive answer replete with philosophy and logic, you can find those in any bookstore. I have a dozen or more tomes to recommend.
But if you boil down all those volumes of theology and apologetics and philosophy, you’d come up with the same answer.

No matter what the circumstances…
When your mind is swirling with doubts and your heart is shattered with pain...
You can hold on to this simple truth for dear life:

 Jesus loves you.

That you can KNOW.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fear Not!

Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand.

--Isaiah 41:10 HCSB

Okay, sweet friends, I have one more thought to share before I finally get to tell you about the special thing I'm doing for my kids this weekend. I'm really excited about it, so stay tuned!

But something else has been heavy on my heart this week. I've tried to avoid writing about it, telling myself I need to focus on editing in stead of blogging, but I simply can't get it out of my head until I get it on paper. (Or computer screen...whatever. Y'all know what I mean!) So let me take a quick break and tell you...

This week I've come face-to-face with fear.

Early this week a violent crime was committed in our neighborhood. The local news reported that similar violent crimes had occurred in nearby residential areas as well.

And the neighborhood erupted in fear.

The streets were eerily quiet as parents locked their doors and kept their children inside. Our neighborhood Facebook page exploded with residents urging one another to protect ourselves with guns and self-defense classes. Many neighbors commented that they were terrified to leave their house alone, especially at night.

And you know what? I completely understand why so many residents reacted in fear. (N.B.: I think self-defense and gun protection is a great idea. Please don't misunderstand.)

But it was the level of fear that struck me.

Overnight, we went from a typical suburban community to high alert, terrified for our safety and our children.

And it got me thinking...

Why are we so afraid?

Now, before you mistakenly think I'm approaching this subject as a "what's wrong with those people" post, let me assure you that I know fear firsthand. I've been suffocated by it, ambushed by it, paralyzed by it. Fear so physically painful that it sent me to the doctor, convinced I was having a heart attack. Fear that consumed me with the crippling worry of endless "what-ifs."

Just to give you an idea...
  • When my dad died at a young age, I was very afraid of dying.

  • When I miscarried my first child, I was afraid I would never be able to have kids.

  • When my daughter was diagnosed with glaucoma, I was afraid she'd become blind.

  • When my marriage started falling apart, I was afraid my husband would leave.

  • When our church plant started struggling, I was afraid the church wouldn't survive.

  • When my husband abruptly moved out, I was afraid of being alone.

I was controlled by fear.


I am a Christian, so my fear doesn't make any sense. In my head, I know that fear has no place in the life of a child of God. 

After all, "Fear not!" is the most repeated command in all of Scripture. The pages of our Bibles are replete with God's assurances that He is with us and will never forsake us. Reminders that He will protect us and is our refuge and strength. Commands to trust Him and to cast our cares on Him and to be anxious for nothing.

Why, then, did I react in fear? Why do any of us feel afraid?

Regarding my list above, some of my fears came true. Some didn't. Either way, I couldn't alter the outcome. All my fear and anxiety didn't change the fact that I am helpless to control my life.

Ah... there's the rub.

I can't control my life!

(Yes, I just heard you say, "Well, duh.")

I know, I know. Of course I can't control my life. God is in charge of the whole world. Those of us who cut our teeth on church pews learned this foundational truth as preschoolers. We sang, "He's got the whole world in His hands!"

Over and over in our churches, we read and teach and sing this fundamental reality:

God is in control.

Ironic, isn't it? The truth that troubles me the most is the same truth that gives me the most comfort.

I am not in control. God is.

That is both alarming and assuring.

Alarming, because I can't plan my life the way I want it to turn out.

Assuring, because I know that the God who gave me life loves me and has a plan infinitely greater than anything I could ever concoct.

Obviously, if I was writing the story of my life, I would NOT have included the plot twist of my former-pastor-husband leaving me. Or of my miscarriage. Or of my daughter developing glaucoma at age three. Or of two church plants failing. Or...

You get the picture.

But you see, God Himself is writing my story. In fact, He finished the entire story and wrote "The End" before I was even born. All of my days were written in God's book and planned before a single one of them began (Psalm 139:16).

As much as I'd like to whip out my editor's pen for a substantive rewrite of my life, all the red ink in the world can't change the story God wrote.

And all the wishing in the world won't bring my husband back or give me back the child I miscarried or reestablish the church that failed.

And all the worry in the world won't add one moment to my life's span or alter any of the circumstances God allows.

And all the fear in the world won't change the future that the Author of Life has already planned and penned for me--and for my children.

So day by day, I choose to obey the command to "Fear not!" I've filled a spiral notebook with scriptures that remind me of God's sovereign care and protection. And over the past few months, I've learned to respond to unexpected and even tragic events with faith, not fear.

That's why when I heard of the devastating event that struck our neighborhood this week, I can honestly say that I didn't react in fear. Maybe after all these years, I'm finally learning to rest in this whole "God is in control" thing! :)


It is a grand thing to be able to say, "Wherever I go, and whatever happens to me, I belong to God; and I can say that God will prepare my way as well when I am old and grey-headed as he did when I was a boy. He shall guide me all the way to my everlasting mansion in glory; he was the guide of my youth, he shall be the guide of my old age. I will leave everything to him, all the way from earth to heaven; and I will be content to live only a day at a time."

--Charles Spurgeon, "God's Will About the Future," written only a few days before he died, 1892

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What I've Gained from Divorce

  I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there.
I will return her vineyards to her
and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.

--Hosea 2:14-15 NLT


For those of you who regularly read my blog, thanks for putting up with my tangled thoughts about my recent divorce. I know my past few posts have sounded like same song, second verse; but I promise I'll be moving on to other subjects! For example, I'm eager to share something significant I'm doing for my kids... and I'll get to that soon.

But for now, one more thought about the wilderness I've been in the past year.

In my DivorceCare group meeting this week, the leader urged us to write out a list of our losses. Making this list, he said, would help us realize the magnitude of what has been taken from us as a result of divorce so that we can understand the depth of our grief.

I've been putting off this assignment because I didn't want to have to face the reality of how much my life and dreams have changed. But this morning, I sat down with a notebook and made The List.

Most of the list is too personal to share publicly, so here are just a few things on my long list of What I've Lost from Divorce:

1. My husband (obviously).

2. My identity as a wife. I'm no longer a "Mrs." I have to get used to calling myself "Miss Stair." (I still get a little pang of grief every time I say "Miss.")

3. My identity as a pastor's wife. For fourteen years I've been a pastor's wife, and I've loved that role. I really miss it. Now I'm learning how to function as a "regular" member of a church.

4. My church home. The church Brett pastored didn't survive the shock of his sudden leaving. They closed their doors in January. I truly loved that church and poured my life into the people there for five years. But I can't go back to my church home, because it no longer exists.

5. My vision of a life together. When I married Brett, I married for life. I envisioned growing old together, watching our children grow up together, having the kids and their spouses and the grandkids come over for fun family gatherings, like I do with my own mom and sisters. That dream has now been snatched away.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

Anyone who's gone through a significant loss--whether from divorce or death or illness or any unexpected change in life circumstances--could make a simliar list of losses: a lost sense of identity, security, hopes, dreams, financial status, future plans, family life, etc.

My list of losses ended up being pretty long. And to be honest, I was overwhelmed to see them in writing. Somehow writing down all those losses made them seem very REAL.

Then I sensed a strong leading....

Make another list. Make a list of what you've gained.

Gained?! That's crazy, I thought. Who GAINS from divorce? Then I thought, why not give it a try? It couldn't hurt.

And you know what? It's a lot more than I expected.


So here's my second list. The list of What I've Gained from Divorce.

1. A (faithful) heavenly husband. In Hosea 2:14-16, God calls His beloved into the wilderness to speak tenderly to her and to restore her vineyards. There, God promises to "turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope" (v. 15 MSG).

In this desert, she will no longer call God her master, but she will call Him her husband (v. 16 NLT).

As much as I never, ever wanted to be in this postition, the desert of divorce has deepened my relationship with God. I ran to Him because I had nowhere else to go! And during this past year, I have no longer merely known Him as my Lord, but I have known Him as my heavenly husband--the One who loves me with an everlasting love and makes a covenant with me that will never be broken.

"I’ll marry you for good—forever! I’ll marry you true and proper, in love and tenderness. Yes, I’ll marry you and neither leave you nor let you go. You’ll know me, God, for who I really am" (Hosea 2:20 MSG).

2. My identity as a child of God. Being a child of God isn't a new identity for me--I gave my heart to the Lord when I was seven years old. But when my life fell apart last year, I was shaken to my core. In those first few days when I was in such shock that I could barely breathe, when I wasn't even sure who I was anymore... I knew this truth: I am a child of God. 

He is not only my heavenly husband, but He is my heavenly Father.

My father died many years ago. I miss him all the time, but there are certain situations when his absence is achingly palpable. When my husband left, I desperately wanted to run to my dad, for him to wrap his strong arms around me and take care of me and tell me that everything is going to be okay. But I couldn't do that. I don't have a dad anymore.

Instead, in those lonely, grief-stricken days, I found God Himself to be the Father I longed for. I can't fully explain it, and I know this sounds really "girly" (which is SO not me!), but I have felt God's strong, fatherly presence around me during the difficult times when I'm tired of all the responsibilities of being a grown-up and I just want to be a child crawling up in my Daddy's lap so He can hold me and take care of me and tell me that everything is going to be okay.

"God in His holy house is a father to those who have no father" (Psalm 68:5 NLT).

3. My identity as God's servant. On Sunday, November 6, 2011, Brett stood in the pulpit at The Church at Sendera Ranch, told the congregation he was no longer eligible to be pastor, walked out of the church, came home to pack his things, and moved out. In a single day--just a few hours, really--my identity as pastor's wife was stripped away.

This was a much harder blow than I had anticipated. I didn't realize how much I had treasured the role of pastor's wife. Yes, full-time ministry is hard. It's life-consuming, to be sure. But I enjoyed the opportunities that came with being the pastor's wife. And, well, let me be honest here: I loved the status of being a pastor's wife. It made me feel significant, as if I was doing something really important for God.

Oops. Um, there's a word for that.


It would have been nice if I could have learned this lesson an easier way, but through the divorce God reminded me that I am His servant. The Christian life is NOT about my identity as a pastor's wife or Bible study teacher or anything of that sort. In fact, it's not about me at all. It's all about God. I'm just His humble servant.

And in the upside-down economy of God's kingdom, where the last become first, I've found that being God's servant is the most important thing I could ever do.

"Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you" (2 Corinthians 4:5 MSG).

4. A new church home. Finding a new church home after the divorce was challenging for me. For all of my married life I had gone to the churches where Brett was on staff. The kids and I continued to go to The Church at Sendera Ranch after Brett quit, because we loved the people there and they poured out God's love and compassion on us. 

But when the church closed its doors, I was on my own for the first time in fourteen years.

Through friends and God's leading, the kids and I started going to a local, nondenominational church. After our divorce was finalized on July 23, and after the 30-day appeal period had passed (to give Brett every opportunity to change his mind), the kids and I met with the pastor and became official members of the church. It's a much larger congregation than the kids have ever been part of, but they love it there. And every Sunday, as we worship with the community of believers at Hillside, I feel a strong sense of peace and belonging.

I am confident that this place--this congregation--is the church body God has prepared for us. So as a result of the divorce, I have gained a new church home. 

"But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired" (1 Corinthians 12:18 NASB).

5. A new vision of a life together in community with loved ones. Journalist Walter Winchell once said, "A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." And since November, I have found this to be true! At the moment of my deepest pain, when I felt isolated and abandoned, God sent a deluge of friends to care for us. I've written about my friends elsewhere, but suffice it to say that my home has been filled with the happy chaos of kids and friends and loved ones, just as I had envisioned it.

In fact, this year has been filled with more fun and love and joy than I could ever have imagined prior to the divorce.

While my losses nowhere compare in scope to those of the Old Testament Job, I am finding this to be true: "The Lord blessed the last part of Job's life even more than the first part" (Job 42:12 NLT).

So for as many years as God gives me in this life, I will celebrate His love with the new family of friends and loved ones that God has so bountifully provided for the kids and me.

"God sets the lonely in families" (Psalm 68:6 NIV).


I guess what I'm trying to say in this long post can be wrapped up in this:

Though my cup may be stained and marred and cracked... my cup runneth over (Psalm 23:4 KJV).


Monday, August 20, 2012

What My Friends Are Doing Right

Being single isn’t easy.

Call it whatever you want—single, single-again, unmarried—my life now seems to be branded by what it’s NOT, rather than what it IS.

As if I’m no longer a whole person.

As if single somehow equals incomplete.

Case in point: the dictionary I use for work defines single as “not married” or “unaccompanied by others.” (So according to Merriam-Webster, singleness is, ipso facto, something “un-” or “not.”)
True, my former pastor-husband left me, but I beg to differ with Mr. Webster and the Merriam brothers regarding the rest of their definition of single.

I am NOT “unaccompanied by others.”
I am, in fact, surrounded by friends.

Fabulous friends.

Friends who are doing a lot of things RIGHT.

May I take a moment to brag on my girlfriends?

(By the way, if you know people who are single for whatever reason—never married, single-again, widowed, with a military spouse deployed, etc.—some of this might help you be a good friend to them.)

·         They give great hugs.

A single person doesn’t have the kind of physical touch that spouses take for granted in marriage. (No, no… not THAT!) I mean the simple things, like a hug or pat on the arm. You don’t realize how much you need these little nudges of affection until they’re snatched away from you. And my girlfriends wrap me up in great, big, love-you-lots bear hugs. I need those.

·         They include me.

I wondered if my friends would shun me when I was branded with the scarlet D. But the opposite has been true! Our friendship has been even stronger these past few months. My girlfriends keep inviting me to their get-togethers. They don’t stand protectively closer to their husbands when I’m around. They don’t invite single men to “even out the numbers” when I come. They just include me. They treat me as their friend Jen (not their "single" friend Jen). When I’m with them, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a label. I just feel like myself. That's a huge blessing.

 ·         They offer to help—and follow through.

My girlfriends understand that being a work-at-home single mom can be overwhelming. So they’ll text me: “Going to the grocery store—what do you need?” or “At the pool—want to bring your kids?” or “My son wants a friend to play with—bring yours over?” Just today, my neighbor brought me a Route 44 Coke Zero because I couldn’t go to Sonic while my three kids were napping. I can’t tell you how much I love these specific offers to help! Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate the general “let me know if you need anything” offers too. But it's hard to ask for help sometimes. That's why I’m especially grateful when my girlfriends take the initiative to ask if they can help with specific things.

 ·         They let me bounce ideas off them.

With three kids ages ten and under, I often encounter parenting-related issues that I want to discuss with someone. In two-parent families, one spouse tends to even out the other when it comes to parenting—or anything else, for that matter. But what if you’re spouse-less? If you have wonderful girlfriends like I do, you call your friends! Remember, an unmarried person doesn't have a companion to discuss things with, so it's a huge blessing to have friends who are willing to be a sounding board.
·         They hold me accountable.

I know, the word accountable sends up all kinds of negative red flags—much like the word single. But accountability is a good thing. (Well, for me anyway. I can’t speak for every unmarried person, of course!) I have a few close girlfriends who pray for me regularly and hold me accountable for several specific things, ranging from spending time with God to maintaining my work schedule to keeping a pure heart. They ask me the hard questions. They check on me. They have the freedom to correct me. With no one else at home to notice if I sleep in or slack off or stumble into sin, I desperately need their fierce friendship.

I could go on and on... but then I'd get a text from one of my girlfriends wondering why I'm blogging so late at night and why haven't I gone to bed yet? :-)

For those of you who actually made it all the way to this paragraph, thanks so much for indulging me on this post. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed and am tempted to tunnel-vision on my struggles, it helps to step back and choose to be thankful for what God has given me.

And tonight, I'm especially thankful for my girlfriends.

I love you gals!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Days of Laughter

For all the people were weeping. . . . 
 Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, 
and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. 
Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 
(Nehemiah 8:9-10)

It's been birthday-palooza around my house this week. Two of my three kids are born just one day apart in August. (What was I thinking?!) So the past couple of days have been filled with cake and squeals of joy and cake and presents and cake and fun and... well, you know. Cake.

The kids and I have danced and sung silly songs and giggled and had sleepovers and hung out with friends.

In other words, it's pretty much what our lives have been like lately. 

Which begs the question I've been tossing around for a while...

Is it okay to have fun again?

I'm not sure how this grieving process is supposed to go. I've been through so many emotions since my former-pastor-husband walked out nine months ago: Shock. Disbelief. Loneliness. Sadness. I've dug deep into the psalms and smeared the pages of my Bible with my tears. I've woken up from dreaming that he came back to the startling reality that our family will never be the same again. That my life and the lives of my three precious kids have been dramatically changed, permanently seared with the scarlet D, branded a "broken home," forever. 

No matter how desperately I want to make things turn out differently, I can't change what happened.

I'm divorced. Our family has been ripped apart. My marriage is over.

Which brings me back to the question:

Is it okay to have fun?

To be honest, sometimes I feel guilty for having fun. Because I don't want people to think that I'm celebrating the fact that I'm divorced. That I'm somehow happier after he left me. Or, worse, happier because he left me.

But you know what?

I am happy.

(Is that okay?)

I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but in the months since he left, I've actually had a LOT of fun. 

No, not the go-out-and-get-crazy-drunk kind of fun. Seriously, y'all, I grew up Baptist! I've never done the bar scene. In fact, I've never even had a sip of alcohol (unless you count the Nyquil I took once in college and the time I received Communion at an Anglican church.) I mean the clean, giggle-with-your-girlfriends kind of fun. The water-hose-fight-with-your-neighbors-over-the-fence kind of fun. The dance-with-your-kids-like-no-one-is-watching kind of fun.

I've finally felt free to have people over--and my home has been filled with friends and laughter. In fact, several of my friends feel so comfortable here that they just come on in anytime. They've made themselves at home here. There have been times when so many people are here for impromptu dinners or get-togethers that I've lost track of how many adults and kids are in the house at any given time.

I love that.

My girlfriends and I have had a lot of fun together in the past few months. Zip-lining. A "What Not to Wear" party. Cookie exchange and recipe exchange parties. Bible studies. A sleepover with giggles and lots of chocolate. Girls' movie nights. Several girls' nights out. Our neighborhood book club and LCR. A girls' summer camping trip. Just to name a few. :)

The kids and I have fun together too. (They tease me all the time, "You're not a normal mom. But you're a fun mom!") We do all kinds of dorky things. Here are just a few of the silly things we've done this week:

* Asking the kids to tell me about their day, but making them tell me in rhyme. (Miss B: "A funny movie we did see... excuse me, now I have to pee!" Me: "Well, off to the potty you shall go.. before from you the pee does flow!")

* Random dancing to celebrate the completion of my manuscript. (Anyone seen iCarly? We do random dancing quite often to celebrate things around here.)

* Eating cake for breakfast on their birthdays (a tradition I started with the kids a few years ago). And cake for lunch. And oh why not, cake for dinner. After all, you only have one birthday a year, right? :) Enjoy your sugar coma while it lasts, kids.

Want to know some of the other silly things the kids and I do around here?

* We talk to each other in Shakespearean English ("Verily, forsooth! Cometh thou downstairs anon to partake of thine dinner. Posthaste!") or, in honor of the London Olympics, in British ("You jolly well better come down for supper, my poppets, or I'll be gobsmacked! Tally ho!")

* We practice talking in various accents. This is really fun because my children are quite good at accents. (I, however, always manage to sound like an Australian pirate. Which, of course, makes it all the more hilarious.)

* We sing to each other. Not just songs, of course, but we'll have complete conversations set to song. Especially opera--the kids love to do that. You know, you can tell your kids to do pretty much anything (clean your room, go to bed, etc.) in the form of an exaggerated operatic aria, and they'll giggle while they do it.

* We also sing actual songs--a lot. We sing praise songs and movie soundtrack songs and silly songs ("Oh I had a little chicken and she wouldn't lay an egg..."). Lately, the kids have been asking me to sing them to sleep, and I've surprised even myself by how many old hymns I know all the words to. (Granny would be proud.)

* We play cards. And board games. And made-up games. The kids put on plays, and I gush with applause and beg for encores and make them autograph my playbill. We have themed picnic-in-the-living-room-movie nights such as ocean theme (with goldfish crackers and gummy worms and Surf's Up!) and sports theme (hot dogs and nachos and Sandlot). We camp out in the game room. I make pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse or their names. We celebrate half-birthdays and half-Christmas. We hang out at the neighborhood pool and take our fishing rods to the catch-and-release pond by our house. The kids have played "restaurant," complete with a hostess seating me and a menu of various entrees for me to select, most of which featured peanut butter and jelly.

In other words, we have FUN.

(Is that okay?)

Don't get me wrong--I'm still going through the post-divorce grieving process. I'm not sure how long this will take--years? A lifetime? There are so many things to grieve, so many missing and broken pieces to sort through, so many dreams that were snatched away. 

I still have many difficult days. A lot of rough places.

And yet... I keep thinking of the psalm I learned as a child that says that weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. I love how it's rendered in The Message:
The nights of crying your eyes out
      give way to days of laughter. 
(Psalm 30:8)

Days of laughter.

So if you see the kids and me out sometime, and we're laughing and having fun or doing something silly, please don't think that we're HAPPY about the circumstances we've experienced.

We're just happy. 

Because as Nehemiah 8:10 says, we're finding that the joy of the Lord is our strength.



Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Layers of Forgiveness

"When we forgive someone, we're not minimizing the harm they caused nor condoning the sin they've committed. We're simply choosing to place the offense into the nail-scarred hands of Christ." 
 --David Jeremiah

Forgiveness is a funny thing . . . it doesn't happen all at once. It comes in layers, like an onion. First, you peel off a layer and shed a few tears, and you think you're done. Forgive and forget, right?


Then out of the blue, after a few days or weeks perhaps, something reminds you of the offense and you realize you haven't forgotten it after all. So again, you have to choose to forgive. You peel another layer off the onion. And shed a few more tears. And think, Whew, finally I have forgiven that offense.

Nope, not yet.

Because months later, you might discover that an unwanted root of bitterness is springing up within you (Hebrews 12:15), and you'll be peeling off another layer of that onion, shedding a few more tears, going back through the process of forgiveness all over again.

And again.

And again.

Allow me to clear up a possible misunderstanding out there. Yes, Jesus taught us to forgive those who hurt us (Mark 11:25-26). And yes, the New Testament is replete with commands to refrain from anger and to love our enemies and to pursue peace with all people. Forgiveness is absolutely essential to a Christ-saturated life. Yes, yes, yes.

But Christians who say that we should be able to forgive effortlessly those who hurt us, as if it's the most natural thing in the world, are CRAZY. 

Forgiveness is not natural. It's hard. It requires the intentional focus of every part of your being--your thoughts, your speech, your actions. You have to practice a LOT of self-control. You have to release a LOT of hurt. You have to keep bringing your broken heart to the One who heals you.

In other words, you can't do it alone. 

You need GOD.

Forgiveness is NOT for the faint of heart. And contrary to popular belief, forgiveness is NOT a sign of weakness.

As I often tell my kids, "The wrong choice is the easy choice. The right choice is always harder, but you will never regret it."

If you've ever been betrayed or offended, you know that it is a bazillion times harder to forgive than it would be to seek revenge. To tell the world of your hurt. To vindicate yourself. To get people on "your side." To make the offender suffer in some way.

Because let's admit it: the wrong choice (unforgiveness) is clearly the easy choice.

Much, much harder is the choice to release the offense. To purge your heart of bitterness or anger or hurt or pain. To care more about what God thinks than what people around you think. To "place the offense into the nail-scarred hands of Christ," as pastor David Jeremiah put it.

But when you make the right choice (forgiveness), you will never regret it.

When the apostle Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?", I wonder... do you think it's possible that Peter was thinking about how often he had to forgive the SAME offense over and over? (I've always thought he meant that someone offended him seven different times. But could it be that the same offense kept popping up in Peter's mind, so he had to keep forgiving that same offense over and over, like layers of an onion?)

Now to Peter's credit, seven times was pretty generous. A Jewish law at the time said you only had to forgive someone three times. (Three strikes, and you're out!) Good ol' Peter... he magnanimously doubled that and added an extra one for good measure. SEVEN TIMES! I'm sure the apostle's burly chest swelled with pride at his astonishing pronouncement of uber-spirituality.

"No, not seven times," Jesus replied (can't you imagine Peter's smirk fading here?), "but seventy times seven!" (Matthew 18:21-22 NLT).

Seventy times seven?

This isn't a math problem. (We shouldn't keep score.) It's Jesus' way of saying that there should be no end to our forgiveness. Like the parable Jesus told next in Matthew 18 to illustrate His point, the offenses people commit against us--however heinous or malicious or painful--are infinitesimally miniscule compared to our sins against a holy God. To have a right understanding of forgiveness, we need a right perspective of holiness. 

So as those forgiven by God, we are commanded to forgive others.  

Even if that forgiveness is for the SAME offense. Over and over. Peeling off layer after layer. Pouring out tears upon tears.

Every time that offense comes back to haunt us or hurt us, we can--and for our own sake, we must--choose to place it, with God's help, into the nail-scarred hands of Christ.


And again.

  "When we forgive, we set a prisoner free
and discover that the prisoner we set free is us."
--Lewis Smedes, The Art of Forgiving