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

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hemmed In

You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me. (Psalm 139:5)

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these past few days about what it means for God to go before me.  As I continue to walk along these unfamiliar paths, I'm trying to look for the ways He is going before me to make the rough places smooth and to turn the darkness into light (Isaiah 42:16).

In my study this week, verse after verse confirmed something so precious I have to share it with you:

Not only does God go before us, but He is also behind us.

In other words...

We’re bookended by God

(Forgive me for thinking in bookish terms. I’m a book editor; I can’t help it.)

I love this verse in particular: “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5).

No matter what our circumstances, you and I are hemmed in by His love.

Hemmed in by His grace. 

Hemmed in by His protection.

We are hemmed in by God.

This reality hit me like… well, like a flicker of grace this past week. As I mentioned, I'm a book editor. And I’ve been working on creating a compilation of Max Lucado stories. (Yes, I actually get PAID to read Max Lucado books. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it!)

While I was skimming through Max’s previous books, looking for stories of (of all things) second chances, I suddenly had this striking realization:
When my husband walked out nine months ago, I was in the middle of working on a Max Lucado compilation. With eyes blurred by tears of grief, I read story after story of God’s grace and comfort and peace.

And when the divorce was finalized a couple of weeks ago, I was in the middle of working on another Max Lucado compilation. Again through my grief, I read tear-stained story after story of God’s grace and comfort and peace.

Coincidence? Of course not.

God bookended my storm with His love.

He went before me. And He is behind me. And according to Psalm 139:5, He is also over me, sheltering me with His hand of blessing. The Lord stands beside me (Psalm 121:5 NLT). And underneath are His everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).

He's before me, behind me, above me, beside me, and under me. 

I’m utterly surrounded by God.
And so are you.

No matter how abandoned, overlooked, unappreciated, hurt, or insignificant you feel, you are hemmed in—bookended--completely surrounded by our great and faithful God.

Whatever you have done, wherever you are, whatever has been done to you... I'm praying that you feel bear-hugged today--this moment--by God's all-surrounding, everlasting, unfailing love.

Allow me to borrow Neal Plantinga's blessing to pray over you:

God go before you to lead you, God go behind you to protect you, 
God go beneath you to support you, God go beside you to befriend you. 
Do not be afraid.
May the blessing of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you. 
Do not be afraid.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Rough Places Made Smooth

  ... along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
    and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
    I will not forsake them.
--Isaiah 42:16 NIV

Ever had a week that was full of "rough places"? Mine has been like that so far.

If you've been reading my blog--or know me at all--you know that I'm recently divorced from my former pastor-husband. (Note: as I've mentioned before, I'm not sharing details about the divorce, just sorting through some of my thoughts as I trudge through the process.) 

As I'm discovering, the process of rebuilding a life post-divorce is very rough indeed. Here are just a few of the "rough places" I've gone this week:

* updating my will
* seeing my doctor before my health insurance was cut off
* finding a mortgage company that will refinance my home loan in my name only
* cleaning/prepping the house for the assessment--and getting rid of many memories in the process

I'm definitely traveling along "unfamiliar paths" these days (Isa.42:16).

Unexpected paths.

Rough places.

Yet as I've stumbled along some rough places this week, I have discovered that God has gone before me. Here are a few examples:

* The lawyer who helped me redo my will is my former Sunday school teacher who has known me since I was very young. Before one particularly difficult decision, she stopped to remind me how rare it is to have such a great family. She said far too many people sit across her table and struggle to think of just one person they trust enough with their kids or finances. Yet there I was, with an amazing mom and sisters and brothers-in-law who all love God; I trust each of them implicitly to raise my children wisely. Yes, I agreed, I am very blessed. In that moment, at that table, God shone His light into that dark place to remind me, Look at the family I have given you. I will not forsake you.

* Next, I went to the doctor--not thrilled about the fact my health insurance was being canceled. What if my asthma flares up? What if something happens to me? After I waited anxiously in the frigid room (why is it always subarctic in doctors' offices?), my doctor came in. He, too, is a Christian and has encouraged and prayed for me for months. He asked me how I was, and I told him--weeping--the latest news. He gave me a fatherly hug, had his staff fill a bag with samples, and assured me he would make sure I always have medical care. I was overwhelmed with relief. Awash in gratitude. Aware of another God-whisper: Don't worry about tomorrow. I will not forsake you.

* The process of refinancing my home has been filled with God-glimpses. My father-in-law-in-law (what do you call your brother-in-law's dad?) who has been a father figure to me through this whole "unfamiliar path," is helping me with the paperwork. My friend who works for a title company is helping me with the process. My Realtor friend came by to help me stage my home. My fix-it friend taught me how to unclog my sinks by disassembling the pipes underneath. (I felt so empowered!) A dear friend gave me delightful scents to make my house smell nice. A neighbor mowed my yard. Another neighbor came over to help me change my light bulbs. And--surprise!--a friend told me I won a Scentsy drawing and got a new plugin! So many God-reminders: Look at the people I have given you to help you through these rough places. I will not forsake you.

Little by little, I'm starting to see how God is guiding me along these unfamiliar paths and turning the darkness into light. Now, to be honest, it doesn't feel like God is shining a dazzling spotlight and dispelling all the darkness ... but if I look hard enough as I travel through these rough places, I can see the flickers of grace that guide me along the way. Step by step.

Even as I stumble on these unfamiliar paths, He IS going before me to make the rough places smooth.

He WILL NOT forsake me.