Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Nothing says "Christmas" like divorce

Ahh, Christmas--that time of year when all we think about is joy, peace, and the loving embrace of our family. Unless you're an advice columnist.

Chicago Trib advice maven Ask Amy ran this piece on the 25th.

And perennial favorite Dear Abby dished this on the 23rd.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Where God has been

My biggest priority during my week of alone time is to read, read, read. I have a pile of books--well, now it looks more like a scattering of books--on my sofa, and I'm devouring them this week.

Tonight I started Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. My brother attended Bell's church in Michigan for several years, so when I noticed Bell's book on the top 100 sellers list at Amazon, I bit. One of Bell's hallmarks as a pastor is his emphasis on context--and I don't mean the ten verses before and after his sermon text. He likes to paint a picture for his congregation of the historical context in which certain words were uttered and scenes played out. His argument is that we miss a lot of the meaning of Scripture when we read it simply from a 21st century sensibility.

That's interesting to me, in a mild sort of way. What is fascinating to me is Jewish rabbinical thought. I got turned on to Chaim Potok in college and still list him as one of my all-time favorite writers. Potok introduced me to a whole new world of theology through his discussions of Torah and Talmud. Talmudic discussions are the Jewish equivalent to reading Scripture with a host of biblical commentaries on hand.

And that brings me back to Bell. In relating the story of when Moses was covered by God's hand in the cleft of the rock and then allowed to see God's back, Bell writes: "The ancient rabbis had all sorts of things to say about this passage, but one of the most fascinating things they picked up on is the part about God's back. They argued that in the original Hebrew language, the word back should be understood as a euphemism for 'where I just was.' It is as if God is saying, 'The best you're going to do, the most you're capable of, is seeing where I...just...was.'"

I find that true in my own life. I can't see God perfectly in the here and now. I quite often don't have a clue what He is up to, what He is accomplishing in and through and around me. I don't know where He's going, what His plan is, how it will all turn out. Sure, I can rely on His unchanging character, as revealed in Scripture, to know certain things He isn't doing. He isn't lying, He isn't being unfaithful, He isn't sinning in any way. And I can know certain big picture things about the future from Scripture. I know in the end that God wins and Satan loses. A lot of the details are sketchy, but that's the gist of it. But beyond that, I can't see a whole lot. I don't know who gets sick and dies and who gets better, which of my single friends get married and which of my married friends get divorced, whose kids become pastors and whose become felons.

But what I can see, like Moses, is where God has just been. I can look back, peering down the dusty road of life, and see His footsteps. They're not always where I expect them to be, but they're there if I look. I can see things like a last minute trip to cheer up my Grandpa in the hospital, that turned out to be God's way of getting me there to see him one last time--and to talk with him about God and pray with him as he gave his heart to Jesus. I see God's footprint all over that one. That one has deep treads, impossible to miss. Other times, just the faintest outline of a holy instep can be seen.

The trouble is, we get so wrapped up in our daily busyness that we often forget to turn around and look for God's footprints. It takes discipline. One friend told me of a shopping trip with a friend just before her wedding, when she still hadn't found the right earrings to wear. She wanted to look perfect, like most brides do. She walked up to a display of jewelry in a department store, and there on the rack was a pair of earrings that were exactly what she had been imagining. She saw God's footprint and thanked Him. Her shopping companion pooh-poohed her gratefulness. She believed in God, sure, but not a God who cared enough about a bride's wardrobe to lead her to the one store display that held the perfect pair of earrings. Some would say she was right. I think she just forgot to look for His footprints.

Turn around. Look behind you. Look at the day just passed...the last week...2005...the last five years. Where do you see God's footprints? Forget about where He is in your immediate situation, as vexing as that is. Forget about where He's going; it's none of your business at the moment. Turn around and look at where He just was. Do you see?

Monday, December 26, 2005

Then and now: results of divorce law

Jennifer Roback Morse on Townhall:

"When No-Fault Divorce was first introduced, it seemed like a good idea. People thought that easing divorce rules would lower the cost of divorce for people who had already decided to divorce anyway. No one fully anticipated how many more divorces would occur. We were assured that children would be better off living with parents who were happy, rather than living in a high-conflict environment with miserable parents. No one anticipated how many divorces would take place among couples who were not roiled in violence, but rather in marriages with an undercurrent of discontent. We thought that whether to get married or stay married was a matter of our own personal privacy. Little did we know that a government institution, the Family Courts, would morph into something that regulates private lives with the most minute detail, including who gets to spend Christmas with the kids.
"But there is hope. The younger generation is sick of the divorce culture. I hear it from them every day, whether on talk radio, or after a speech I’ve given, or in response to a column like this one. They are hungry for information on how to keep their marriages vibrant and their love alive. With some help from older people, these young married couples may just change the world. Or at least their own little corner of the world."

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Random Christmas ramblings

There's an interesting discussion on the adult stigma of being a child of divorce in the dating world on the Family Scholars blog.

In that discussion, I copied part of a post from my blog from back in October that talked about a terrificly annoying post on The author of the boundless article opined that children of divorce were unable to form relationships, stick with them, think of anyone but themselves. I find that really hard to stomach, especially since many of the children of divorce I know and have read about are very committed to their family.

I happen to be spending Christmas alone this year, entirely by choice. For two years, I had one of my brothers living with me. He moved here after college and I was glad to give him a place to stay while he was getting on his feet. With two of us out here in Virginia, my mom and stepdad decided they would relocate. Mom got a job here, but their house in Ohio has been the victim of a slowing housing market and hasn't yet sold. My stepdad has stayed in Ohio to keep the house ready to show; Mom has been living with me since August. So for the last two and a half years, I've had family members living with me. Not exactly ideal, but I guess one of the benefits of being single (perhaps one of the reasons God still has me single?) is being able to help my family out a little. After all, isn't that what family is really all about? Being there for each other and supporting one another through the good times and bad?

A little peace and alone-time was in order for the holidays, though. And lest anyone picture me eating a microwave dinner for the holidays, let me assure you it's gourmet all the way here, even if it is for one. I cooked up some salmon, jasmine ginger rice, and honeyed carrots for Christmas Eve dinner tonight and opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Christmas dinner tomorrow will be filet mignon with Cabernet Sauvignon sauce, lobster mashed potatoes, and (for dessert) individual chocolate cake with a soft center. Mmm...Christmas!

Here's to Jesus. May the King live forever.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Making holidays bright

Here's a really good article on how parents can help make the holidays, and any day, easier for children of divorce. The author is a divorced mother who reflects back on what she did right and what she did wrong, based on input from her now 27-year-old daughter. Pointers include:
1. Don't let your legal rights to see your kid trump what's really best for the child
2. Invite one of your child's friends along so they'll have another kid around
3. Help young children buy a gift for the other parent
4. Make sure your child actually gets to enjoy holidays, not view them from afar while whisking between homes
5. Don't compete or criticize when it comes to gifts
6. Never bad mouth the other parent
7. Have some joint family time
8. Let your child stay connected to extended family

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Squid & Whale

I've been feeling remiss in that I haven't yet seen the widely-hailed 'children of divorce movie' The Squid & the Whale. I don't feel so badly now. Elizabeth Marquardt just saw it herself, and posted some comments on the Family Scholars blog. Maybe I'll try to see it next week since I've got a nice long holiday break.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On Christmas

More than 2,000 years ago, our Creator God stepped into His own creation, became the image and essence of one of His own created beings, and set into motion the long-foretold process of redemption. As the omnipotent God lay tiny and vulnerable in a rough stable, the search began.

We know shepherds sought a Savior that first night, having heard the good news from a choir of angels performing in the sky above the Bethlehem countryside. We know a group of Eastern sky watchers saw the star that marked His birth and set out in search of the great king. We know that sometime later King Herod sought to kill the Child who threatened his throne. Savior, earthly king, threat--those who sought Jesus did so for very different reasons, not all of them good.

Two millenia later, not much has changed. The name and person of Jesus are almost universally known, but He means such different things to different people. Some come to Him in humility and awe, grateful for the redemption and salvation He offers. Some seek only to know Him as wise teacher, good man, purveyor of peace and gentleness. Still others see anything related to Jesus as a threat, a danger, or ridiculous nonsense.

The amazing thing is, He came for them all! Believers, skeptics, and scoffers. When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, they were met by a man named Simeon, described by Luke as devout and righteous. Simeon had been told that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. Holding the God of the universe in his aged arms, Simeon declared Him a revelation to the Gentiles, glory for Israel, and salvation for all people.

May you find Christ this advent season to be all of those things in your own life--amazing revelation, brilliant glory, and joyful salvation. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Small gifts

One of my favorite lines from Sleepless in Seattle is Rosie O'Donnell's line: "You don't want to be in want to be in love in a movie." And it's true. I want to be in love in a movie. Movies are a lot neater than real life. Boy meets girl, impossible situations ensue, but you know in the end boy and girl will get together and live happily ever after. Everything gets tied up in a nice, neat bow. And it all happens in the space of about two hours. I know what happens and it happens quick. Hooray for movies!

We don't get the same luxury in life. Things are messy, sometimes really messy. Neat bows have a way of getting crushed or coming untied. The ending is never entirely certain. Will the boy get the girl? Will the girl even meet the boy? Will the fairy tale fall apart in divorce, death, dullness? I want to know how it all turns out and I want it to happen quick.

But I'm called to trust. Even though I don't know how it's going to turn out, even though I can't see when or how or if situations will get resolved. It may not all get tied up in a bow. Maybe God likes gift bags better. I don't know. All I know is that He knows what's going on.

Right now, I'm just glad someone does.

What do you think?

I have mixed feelings about this one. What do you think? Would you do this?

At least this is good:"we have looked into the implications of divorce as thoroughly as humanly possible and rejected this course, choosing instead to expend our full energies on redefining and revitalizing our marriage."

These people get an F for "Are you kidding me??"

"I think marriage is good for 10, maybe 15 years. After this time you should start thinking about moving on or renegotiating the contract because people change, they go different ways."

Well, there's a good attitude. Remind me not to date any Germans.

These parents get an A for effort

Lots of parents say they want to make life after divorce good for their children, but these parents seem to really mean it. Kudos to them for sacrificing a little for their son. It can't be easy to live across the street from your ex, but if your parents aren't going to live together anymore, how nice to have them right across the street from each other so you have nearly full access to both.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Honey, I shrunk the kids

"Bitter, unpredictable exchanges between divorced parents can leave kids so stressed that their growth is stunted."

I swear vertical-challengedness simply runs in my family.

There's no place like home for the holidays

Here's a good article about the weight of holiday stress for children of divorce, including the grown children. The suggestions for dealing with it are a little weak, but the description of what holidays can be like in divorced families is poignant. Take this description: "The weight of it all often got in the way of watching for Santa." Sometimes, divorce becomes the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Where's Jesus when you need Him?

Not to be judgmental since I haven't actually been to this class (it's in Texas), but here's an example of a church that appears to be forgetting the most important component of healing they have to offer--the grace of God. Read through this news item about a class for children of divorce and you'll read not one word about children learning about God's care for them and their ability to cast all their cares on a loving God. You'll read not one word about God, as a matter of fact. Even the title of the class, "Just Me and the Kids," implies that even God has deserted them. Maybe it should be "Just Jesus, Me and the Kids." Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Solomonic Wisdom

When I was a tot becoming a child of divorce, custody was heavily weighted in the mothers' favor. A divorcing woman had to pretty much be a completely unfit mother to not get sole custody of her children. Thirty years later, much has changed. Family court judges no longer automatically assume that mom is the best one to raise the kids. And in many ways things have improved. Dads are taking more responsibility and joy in the childrearing process.

One change that I cannot laud, however, is the prevalence of joint custody. Some advocates are pushing for legal changes that would make family court judges start from a presumption that joint custody is the best situation. I have to wonder, though, for whom that is best. Surely not for the children, who are bounced back and forth between two homes, sometimes between two schools. Children whose lives are topsy-turvy need stability injected into their world, not chaos and certainly not the permanent chaos of joint custody arrangements.

I'll admit that part of what bothers me about this is the language used. Words are powerful and when I hear talk about parental rights, I wonder about the kids. Let's face it, when people divorce, acrimony is typically involved. Everything has to get split up, not just the marriage. Who gets the house, who gets the DVD collection, who gets the dog, who gets the kids? So Bobby and Susie get reduced to the level of property that mom and dad can fight over. Maybe if the discussions about joint custody were more about what's best for the kids and less about getting a bigger piece of the pie, I'd feel better about it.

As it is, I can't help but be reminded of a judge with a difficult decision about a child. Two single moms lived together. One mom's infant son died. She switched her dead baby for the other mom's living child, and then the custody fight ensued. They ended up in the court of Solomon, the wisest man who has ever lived. In all his wisdom, Solomon ordered the child cut in half, a fair division. You know the end of the story. The real mother says the other woman can have the child, her motherly love more willing to sacrfice her rights than the child's life.

Now, I'm not advocating that mothers or fathers lose contact with their children or wind up cut out of their child's life. But in the spirit of Christmas, can we all agree that the child's right to a stable, secure environment is more important than mom or dad's right to a fair share of the spoils of divorce?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Lost: I don't know what

My midnight muse and I have been sitting here thinking about what we're missing. I bought a new car earlier this year, my first brand-new, fresh off the lot vehicle. All I knew was I wanted leather seats and a sun roof, and since I was taking one of the last of the old models the selection was limited. I ended up with a Spice Red beauty with extras that I hadn't even counted on. My leather seats are heated, which is absolutely amazing now that the weather has turned cold. I have a short commute, so there's barely time for heat to make its way through the vents; but in less than a minute, I feel the warm summer sun on my back as the heated seat enfolds me in warmth. How could I have done without heated seats all these years?? I first heard about heated seats years ago when a friend in college dated an older guy who had them in his Volvo. I thought it was the most ridiculous, over-the-top thing I'd ever heard. Now I see them for what they are--a basic necessity! OK, I'm kidding, but boy are they nice! I just never knew.

A few years back, I read Judith Wallerstein's book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. She talks at one point about two girls, one from a divorced family and one from an intact family. The girl from the intact family was married, the divorced girl wasn't. The major difference seemed to be in their respective attitudes toward marriage. Not that one was pro-marriage and the other wasn't (as some media would have us believe). The difference was that the girl from the intact family had always imagined growing up and having a wonderful man fall in love with her and marry her. The other girl had not grown up with that same confident attitude. The story struck me because I could relate. Meeting Mr. Right has never seemed an absolute certainty to me. I'd love for it to happen, but it seems presumptuous to be that confident. And it hadn't really occured to me that some girls had that level of certainty. I just never knew.

And that makes me wonder what else I don't know. What other ways has my parents' divorce affected me that I'm not even aware of? Like leather seats, perhaps I'll find out in time. For now, I don't know what I'm missing.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Some thoughts on the application of forgiveness

I spent the morning reading Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies and wrote down three quotes about forgiveness. First, on the futility of harboring unforgiveness:

"...not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die."

On a rare couple of days of vacation, I turned on the television yesterday while addressing Christmas cards and watched part of Dr. Phil. His guest at the end was a devasted woman whose father had divorced her mother. She couldn't forgive him and the rat poison was obviously rapidly dissolving her insides and sucking the life out of her. Meanwhile, her father--the rat of her loathing--sat across from her, mystified and not the least affected. Her poison was killing only her.

Later in Lamott, quoting C.S. Lewis:

"If we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo."

Maybe, like the girl on Dr. Phil or me in my mother's kitchen, you're just not ready yet to forgive your family. OK. Start smaller. Try forgiving the ungrateful birds who turn up their snooty beaks at the perfectly tasty-looking birdseed you put out, or the beautiful three-year-old neighbor girl who admires your garden by plucking all the flower heads off their stems, or the geniuses who build computers for the sole purpose of vexing ordinary sane human beings. Start small and work your way up.

Finally, in Lamott:

"At some point you pardon the people in your family for being stuck together in all their weirdness, and when you can do that, you learn to pardon anyone."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Simple answers

My writers’ group is invaluable to me. They hold me accountable, give me feedback, and brainstorm ideas for new ways to market my work. More important, they’re dear friends who share the beauty and joy of their lives with me.

Last month, one of the girls commented on the first chapter of my book, “It seems like you’re giving simple answers.” Her point is that life is not always simple. True. And she’s right—I am giving a lot of simple answers. Sometimes the answers are simple; it’s the application that gets complicated.

I know what it takes to get the runner’s body I want (the one in the mirror, that is). The answers are simple. Run at least three times a week and substitute Special K for Krispy Kreme. Easy, right? But it’s turning cold outside. And dark. I bought a nifty little clip-on light to take care of the dark. And I bought long-sleeved t-shirts and gloves. I still need a little hat, though. If I go out running now, my ears will be cold; and ears are like feet—if they’re cold, the rest of you is cold. Plus it’s the Christmas season. The decorations are finally up, but I still need to make my Christmas cards, address and mail them; whip up a fabulous dessert for the office Christmas party; make the candy I send to relatives each year. So much to be done. Who has time to run? Especially in the cold and dark? Simple answers, difficult to apply.

My dad stopped speaking to me when I was 17. I’m not sure if it was a conscious decision or just gross oversight, but it lasted eight years. His silence made me sad and angry. I needed to forgive him. Simple enough. I stood in my mom’s kitchen one day and cried as I said, “God has forgiven me of everything I have ever done or will ever do, so to deny forgiveness to someone else for one measly thing would be like a slap in God’s face. I know I need to do it, but I just can’t do it yet.” I knew the answer, but I couldn’t apply it just then. That came in time, but it wasn’t easy.

I think sometimes we try to complicate things. If the answers are complicated, then our inability to apply them is not our fault. We’re off the hook. We can wallow in sin, self-pity, unforgiveness, selfishness, whatever. We’re like the Pharisee who heard Jesus say that if he loved God and loved his neighbor, he would be fulfilling all of the law and commandments—and then said, “Who is my neighbor?” He wanted to complicate things, make up a schematic for who qualified as a neighbor and who didn’t, who he was obligated to love and who he could pass by.

When the answers are simple, we’re stripped of our excuses. We’re accountable to apply the things we know. Love, forgive, hope, trust. These are simple answers, and I’m not going to complicate it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Father God

From NPR (yes, NPR!), a great essay about our Father God. Not from a child of divorce, but a child whose father was absent for very different reasons.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Want to get the blog by email?

Now you can get blog posts (or at least the first little bit) by email. No more late nights clicking into the blog every hour to see if I've posted something new. (Ha!) Feeds are available too if you look down the right hand column, but a lot of people aren't yet comfortable with feeds. If that's you, the email list is the way to go. Just enter your email address in the "Subscribe me!" box at the very top of the right hand column. Whenever I post something new, you'll get an email with the first sentence or two and a hyperlink you click on to go straight to the blog.

Want to share your story?

As I'm writing this book, I would love to hear your story of the struggles you've encountered as a child of divorce and how you've found grace to move beyond those struggles. Your story may help others who are facing the same situation. I can't promise I'll use your story, but if I do I will change names and, when necessary, details of the story that would identify you; so sharing your story is safe and confidential. Email me here.

If you're in the midst of a struggle and want to vent or ask advice, feel free to email me as well. I'll answer to the best of my knowledge and experience, but most importantly, I'll listen.

Sense in suffering, Part 2

I know I’m not the only girl from a divorced home who wondered if she had what it took to make a relationship work. We wonder this quite naturally: We’ve seen relationship failure up close and personal. Then add in the low expectations of others. Children of divorce are supposed to be far more likely to get divorced. (That’s based on old data, by the way, data based on kids from divorced homes when divorce was not so common and harder to obtain, homes that were generally high conflict and uncommonly troubled.) Folks whose parents are still together are sometimes reluctant to get involved with us. One of my friends vowed she would never get involved with someone whose parents were divorced. She’s married now, to a guy whose parents are divorced. I hear it from prospective beaux who want to know whether I’m “from a good family.” I know that’s euphemistic for “not divorced.”

After awhile, a girl can begin to doubt her own ability to make the grade, especially a girl who is 35 and single. But dating, I’ve learned, is an opportunity to learn more about myself. (Yes, it took a special kind of genius to figure that out.)

I’ve had two pretty serious relationships as an adult. The first was lovely and ill-timed. I was young, he was younger, neither of us was ready to get married. When we broke up, my heart was broken. His was broken too, but I didn’t know that until later and it really didn’t do anything to ease my pain. I’ve dealt with minor depression off and on since I was a teen, but this was different. It was like walking on the bottom of the ocean floor, the pressure and depth crushing in its force—and then suddenly falling into the Marianas Trench. I couldn’t eat, I could only sleep because I exercised and worked so hard that I was physically exhausted, there were times when I literally thought I would lose my mind. I would go to my parents’ house on weekends and Mom would rent 5 or 6 movies without saying anything. I would spend the whole weekend on the couch, wrapped in an afghan, watching movies. The dog would sympathetically nudge me and rest his head with its sad eyes on the sofa next to me. I struggled to claw my way of that depression, succeeding only through the passage of time and the faithful prayers of a dear friend. There was no making sense of romantic tragedy at the time, but now, with eight years gone by, I can look back and see the lessons learned. I learned that I was beautiful and treasured, that a man could pay so much attention to me that he could know how (sugar) and when (after dinner) I take my tea, and he could anticipate my every move (necessary for chivalry—if you’re going to hold a ladies’ chair, open every door, help her in and out of her coat, you have to be one step ahead, anticipating what she’s about to do). I gained confidence in myself as a woman, no small feat for a girl with an absent father.

The second relationship was less lovely. We dated for two years and in the end I don’t think either of us was particularly sad to see it end. I know none of my friends or family were sad to see it end. And it makes me sad that I spent two years of my life on something I don’t regret losing. What I can say is that I see sense and meaning even in this far from ideal relationship. God let me be in a difficult relationship, one that required patience and longsuffering and perseverance. Why? To show me that I do have what it takes to make a relationship work. I didn’t give up, I didn’t walk away when it got hard, which it did often. Part of me wishes I had walked away at the first fight, a harbinger of things to come; but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I had a chance to see that I could stick it out, that when the going got tough, this toughie didn’t get going, she stayed put.

Pain is a bitter pill, and I’d rather taste sweet success any day of the week. But pain doesn’t have the last word. Sense does. When I make sense of my suffering, the suffering isn’t so bad.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Are you on board?

I just went to see the new 3-D version of The Polar Express. What an experience! I hadn't seen the ordinary version and now I'm spoiled for it forever. I couldn't bear to watch it again without experiencing the sensation of snowflakes falling all around me or the train skidding to a stop just short of my nose.

At the end of the movie, the little boy has a moment of crisis when he cannot hear Santa's sleigh bells. All the other children hear them, but he does not, until finally, in a moment of surrender and willing suspension of his disbelief, he says to himself, "I believe!" From that point on, the sleigh bells ring loud and clear for him, and as the movie ends we hear him saying that as the other children grew up they gradually stopped hearing the bells, but he never did.

Like the boy in the movie, not everyone is able to hear the message of hope and healing that God offers. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Some people may stumble across this blog--or hopefully, later, my book--and find not a shred of hope in it, while others, I trust, will find a wholeness they never thought possible. What makes the difference? The difference lies in whether or not they are on board with God's plan. It's the difference that makes God's truth seem either ridiculous or profound to us.

How this all works--how the bells begin to ring bright and clear--is a profound mystery to me. Somehow the will of the sovreign God intersects our own wills and the prayers of others, and the soul's ears are opened to the beauty of God's message, His wondrous hope and overflowing grace. It is in the context of this Bermuda Triangle of belief that God heals our wounded souls.

If you're struggling to hear the bells of God's mercy, get in the middle of others who hear and work to surrender your disbelief. If you're struggling to make someone hear, remember that you can't heal the deaf--only God can do that; pray for them and let them see your joy when the bells ring in your life. If none of this makes sense to you and you want to know more, email me and let's chat about it!

Sense in Suffering

I'm sitting in my favorite chair with a Diet Coke and a leftover piece of homemade pecan pie, not exactly the epitome of suffering. I'm clearly not suffering at this moment, at least not gastronomically. But suffering becomes part of every life at some point. The question really is not whether you will endure suffering, but how you will endure suffering.

I've been reading a compilation of essays on writing edited by Washington Post Book World editor Marie Arana. In her essay, "Looking for the Spark," Joanna Trollope writes: "...we have, on the whole, so much more suffering than joy that we have resolved, out of our great surviving instinct, to insist that something worthwhile must be made of it." Sheer grit and determination can wring sense out of suffering.

In the same collection, Joyce Carol Oates writes: "One might argue that any hurt, any insult or humiliation, any horror can have an illuminating and not merely a debilitating effect upon the sufferer."

The Bible gives us several reasons for suffering. One is refinement. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says: "...for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." Job 23:10 says: "But he knows the way I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold."

I like pretty things. Yesterday for my Thanksgiving table, I brought out a silver plated bowl and ladle. I don't use my silver that often, so it gets pretty tarnished. When I pulled the bowl out from its storage place in the cupboard, it looked pretty grimy and ordinary. After a few minutes with some Wright's silver polish, it gleamed and declared itself worthy of the best table anywhere. Polishing silver requires an abrasive (albeit a very gentle one) and some elbow grease. Patiently and gently, you apply the abrasive onto the surface of the piece, rubbing just hard enough to remove the tarnish. Rub too hard and you damage the silver; not enough and you have a dull, dirty-looking piece that no one wants to look at, much less eat out of.

Can you picture God doing this to your life? He looks down and sees beyond the grime that coats and distorts your surface. He sees beneath to the beauty, the intricacy, the graceful shape and practical use. Then He gets to work. He patiently and gently rubs away the grime until we gleam. We call the rubbing "suffering."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What really matters?

In an interview with Christianity Today, Douglas Gresham, stepson of C.S. Lewis, states: "The problem with evangelical Christianity in America today, a large majority of you have sacrificed the essential for the sake of the trivial. You concentrate on the trivialities--not smoking, not drinking, not using bad language, not dressing inappropriately in church, and so on. Jesus didn't give two hoots for that..."

Ain't that the truth! This is part of the reason that the church has remained largely silent on the issue of divorce, effectively ignoring the hurting hearts right in its midst and marginalizing divorcees and their children. We're just like the Pharisees Jesus took to task in Matthew 15:3-12. "Jesus replied, 'And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?...Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' Jesus called the crowd to him and said, 'Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.' Then the disciples came to him and asked, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?'"

So I guess the good news is that our lack of care and focus on the wrong things is not unique to our generation. It's a story as old as the ages. As old as sin, actually. Remember Adam and Eve? They sinned, broke their covenant of fellowship with God, and what were they most concerned about? Their nakedness. They went shopping for some fig leaves when nakedness was the least of their problem. They couldn't figure out the essential things. Can we?

Celibate in the City

Good news for all of us single evangelicals walking the straight and narrow. Straight out of the 11/14/05 print issue of Forbes: "Researchers puzzle over the varying maximum life spans of animals...Those that mate fast and furiously die younger than those that reproduce late in life with a long lapse between trysts." Here's to long life! I think I'll go buy an annuity.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Father Longing

An article in Sunday's Washington Post caught my attention this last weekend. The story is of a 15 year old boy who tracked down his sperm donor father through research and the help of a DNA database. The article raises questions of privacy and bioethics. The main focus of the article is on the plight of unsuspecting (really?) young men who donated sperm "as an easy way to make money" and now will be "quite perturbed" by the prospect of being found by their offspring. I have to agree with Boston University ethicist George Annas who is quoted as saying, "If you're worried about it, you shouldn't be selling your sperm."

I mean, really, these guys knew their sperm was at least potentially being used to create life, to make babies. Making babies, however impersonally it is done, carries logical and natural consequences. Why we are suddenly, with a generation of sperm and egg donor babies finally growing up, surprised by their longing to find their genetic parents is a mystery to me. Kids who are adopted, even those adopted into loving homes with a mom and a dad who surround them with security and all good things, long to know their origins. I have a friend who is adopted. When her parents were gone--to work or out with friends or shopping--she searched patiently and thoroughly through the house until she found the paperwork from her adoption. She had an insatiable need to know who her genetic parents were, how and why she was adopted, who she really was.

Isn't this a universal human quest? We want to know our beginning. We want to know where we belong, how we fit in, and our parents are an integral piece of that puzzle. It's hardwired into each of us. And this isn't by accident. As I discussed in an earlier post, the idea for fathers, for parenthood, is modeled on God's relationship with us. Pascal once said, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every human being." In the same way, there is a parent-shaped hole in the heart of every child. If each of the genetic parents are present in the child's life, that hole is full, fitted neatly and snugly with the proper puzzle piece. When a genetic parent is absent, however, the puzzle is incomplete.

I like puzzles. There's a great satisfaction in finding the pieces that fit properly together. In a box of hundreds of tiny, odd-shaped cardboard pictures, each one fits easily and naturally into only one spot. I can't give up until I find that one. And there's a sense of loss, of somehow being cheated, when you get down to one last piece and find that somehow it's been lost. Every other piece may be there, but the one that's missing sticks out like a sore thumb and ruins the overall effect.

Little wonder, then, that a 15 year old boy would search relentlessly for the missing piece of his own genetic puzzle. The only wonder is that we're surprised by his need to know.

The Elephant Exposed

A few weeks ago, I wrote a review of Elizabeth Marquardt's book Between Two Worlds for the BreakPoint web site. Here's a snippet:
"During my freshman year at a Christian college, my resident director—a child of divorce and a psychology major—led a discussion group for children of divorce. It was a wonderful release to talk about the elephant in the middle of the church, and it felt a little subversive talking about this secretive thing that no one wanted to acknowledge." more here...

Elizabeth posted an excerpt from an email today on the Family Scholars web site. The woman who emailed her had taken a bold step and lifted up the children of divorce as a prayer request. I'm half cheering for her and half weeping for the fact that this should be a bold step. Caring for the hurting should be our heartbeat as Christians, even the messy hurting in our midst.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Do you yearn?

My boss is a rabid Seinfeld fan. When I started working for him, I began watching reruns of the show just so I’d have something to talk with him about. Seinfeld, that show about nothing, is a treasure trove of catchphrases. One which my boss occasionally throws out at seemingly random moments is “Do you yearn?” uttered in that sarcastically earnest tone that all Seinfelders use.

I’m a great yearner, actually. I could give up amateur status right now and go pro with it, as a matter of fact. I yearn for a great many things. (At the moment, I’m yearning for a creative brain that works on an earlier time schedule or a job that works on a later one. Why do brainstorms always hit me so late at night?)

I yearn for a runner’s body, in my mirror and in my bed. The one in the mirror is getting closer by the day, the other one seems more distant by the day. I used to date a runner, thought I’d marry him, still remember how hot he looked after a good run. I’ve been yearning for him lately and assuring myself that he was truly perfect. As I pined for him over a croissant and a cup of tea at La Madeleine the other night, my good friend Lori reminded me that he dumped me and married someone else, thereby displaying an appalling lack of judgment, clearly not the mark of perfection. Good friends are essential in moments of useless yearning.

I’ve yearned for perfection from my father, too. But Dr. Kevin Leman set me straight on that one. He wrote a book called Making Sense of the Men in Your Life and there’s a great chapter in there on accepting our fathers for who they are and letting go of who we hope they’ll be. I cried my way through that chapter but knew the truth of it.

Yearning is part and parcel of being human. We know something isn’t right with the world, something is out of place, this is not perfection. God has planted in each of us a longing for the ideal, for Eden, for heaven, for Himself. Everywhere we look, we see so much that just doesn’t measure up. It can drive us to despair, or it can drive us to yearn. To look up at the sky on a late afternoon when the rays of the sun shoot brilliantly through puffy clouds and imagine the Son of Man suddenly standing there in His glory, come to take us home. To imagine the day when all the fairy tales come true, when evil is banished, the hero arrives, the beauty in everything is awakened, and we can all live happily ever after.

These are the yearnings that God has placed within us, the ones that cry out for Him. And every other yearning I have, however silly or vain, is really a mimicry of that yearning, a pale shadow of that longing for the perfection of eternity with God.

Do you yearn?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Our Father God

One of the mysteries of life is that we all, intuitively, learn about God from our earthly fathers. It is no mistake that God calls Himself our Father. He modeled the concept of earthly fathers on His own relationship with us.

Fathers are our protectors and teachers. They teach their sons how to throw a baseball, repair a car, and tie a necktie. They screen their daughters’ dates, explore strange midnight noises in the backyard, and impress all the neighborhood children with their goofy jokes and physical stunts. In the midst of all this, they teach boys what it means to be a man and teach girls what it means to be cared for and loved by a man.

When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He taught them to begin with the words “Our Father.” For those with fathers who modeled God’s loving care, strong protection, and constant presence, this is comforting language. Too often, however, our earthly fathers fall short of that ideal, and when that happens, the biblical language of God as father can sound confusing and troubling. Elizabeth Marquardt, in her book Between Two Worlds, tells the story of a young woman who felt that a God who she couldn’t touch, hear, or see was too much like a father who was never there physically or relationally.

But Marquardt also found that those of us from divorced homes are more likely than others to think of God as the father we never had. This is the amazing grace of God—that He can make His fatherly character known through our earthly fathers and through our yearning for them when they are absent.

For those who grew up without a father or with a father who fell woefully short, our Father God is always there to comfort, protect, and teach. Need comfort? Psalm 6:8, 9 says, “…the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” Need protection? Psalm 4:8 says, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Need instruction? Psalm 16:7 says, “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Whether your father was a stellar example, a horrible flop, or simply not there, God does not change. The concept of an earthly father is modeled on Him, not the other way around.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Whom will you serve?

In a report on marriage in America (“Renewing Sacred Vows”), researchers Byron Johnson and W. Bradford Wilcox found that 48% of evangelicals agree that “divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems.” That’s stunning to me! How can nearly half of individuals in evangelical churches think this? I looked up the word “evangelical” just to make sure I wasn’t assuming a different meaning. Merriam-Webster Online defines it as “being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels” or emphasizing, among other things, the “authority of Scripture.”

Clearly, evangelicals are missing some important Scriptural teaching if half of us think that divorce is okay if you’re just not getting along with your spouse. Jesus tell us very clearly in the Gospels that divorce is just plain wrong. The only exception He makes is for adultery.

Fellow evangelicals, we need to stop fooling ourselves. We have to either stop calling ourselves evangelical, change the definition of evangelical, or take Scripture seriously. We can’t have it both ways. “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Several people have emailed me recently wanting to know how they can help their children or other children in their lives in the aftermath of a divorce. I’ll have a lot more to say on that as time goes on, but for starters how about letting them be kids? Does childhood even exist anymore? I wonder that sometimes when I hear about parents running Bobby or Susie from one after school enrichment activity to another, most of which are designed more to further the child’s marketability to colleges than to have fun. And I’m talking about 5 year olds! Whatever happened to lemonade stands as an introduction to business principles or riding a bike with no hands as a way to develop athletic skill?

For many children of divorce, childhood is cut woefully short when kids have to take on real adult-sized responsibility. Here are two examples from an article on CBN’s web site:

" 'My father was there one day, and he was gone the next,' Jeff said, 'leaving a lawn mower in the garage saying, 'I guess this will be your responsibility now.’ I remember him calling home from trips -- 'We're visiting castles.' I'm mowing the grass...' ”
"Laura also remembers extra responsibility. 'My mom showed me how to do the laundry,' she said. 'and from then on I did my laundry. What 7-year-old does their own laundry? I suppose it's common now, but none of my friends did that.' "

(Laura, I don't know any 7-year-olds who do their own laundry.)

Meanwhile, some “adults” (and here I can only use that term loosely) are making light of divorce. An article in National Review Online says: " 'divorce parties' are all the rage. Was your marriage on the rocks? Well, the divorce papers are signed and it's now time to play 'pin the blame on the ex' and 'throw the wedding ring in the toilet' games — or so it is if you talk to the likes of the author of The Woman's Book of Divorce: 101 Ways to Make Him Suffer Forever and Ever"

Talk about role reversals! The kids are taking on mom’s and dad’s chores while mom and dad are playing kids’ games. Yeah, it’s an extreme example, but it happens in more subtle ways, as well.

So, my advice for the day: Let kids be kids! If you know some kids (even your own) whose parents are divorced take them to Chuck E. Cheese tonight. Laugh with them, let them beat you at skee ball, feed them more pizza than is good for them. If you know someone who is divorced and has kids, offer to mow the grass or ask how else you can help out. If the adults step up to the plate, maybe the kids can go play ball.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I had a mad fit of manic "need to change everything" this weekend. After rearranging all the artwork in my house, including enlarging and hanging some photos I've taken over the last year, I decided it was time for a haircut. My super friend Meaghan asked me if I was doing Locks for Love, which honestly I hadn't even thought of. But I checked out the web site and, after being assured that I could still go to my trusted Robin at the Christie Adam salon in Reston, I took the plunge. That's my 14" ponytail in the picture. It's on its way to Locks of Love. I owe Meaghan lunch now--my haircut was free since I was donating my hair.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Fable

Once upon a time there was a watchmaker. He made watches of incomparable quality and beauty. No other watches ran more smoothly, kept better time, or adorned the wrist more elegantly than his. He took pride in his work, as well he should. His trade required equal parts of delicate skill and inspired art. Others followed the latest trends, producing mass quantities of watches for as little money and as high a profit as possible. Not the watchmaker. Each watch he made was handcrafted, a work of love, and required considerable investment of time and talent. Because of his fine work, people came from all over the country, indeed all over the world, to purchase his watches. The watchmaker loved selling his watches, not because of the money they earned him. For in truth, the watchmaker put far more into his watches than he ever got out of them. But he loved to imagine his watches being used by the people who bought them. He imagined them at work—keeping an important businessman on schedule, perfectly timing a housekeeper’s apple pie, delighting the recipient of a special box under the Christmas tree, or counting the hours and minutes until lovers should meet again.

That’s how he meant for his watches to be used. But once they were sold, their use was decided by the wearer. Some served far less noble purposes than the watchmaker ever intended or imagined. The watchmaker’s beautiful, precise workmanship sometimes even found itself serving as the timepiece for a bomb. It happened from time to time, simply because his watches were the best to be had. Each time it happened, the watchmaker wept bitter tears of anger and sorrow at how his labor of love had been used for destructive and evil intent.

I’ve been thinking for the last week or so—since my Grandpa died—about death and about how God must feel about it. He who is called the Life, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, who created life and called it good, how must he feel when life is destroyed? I think we get a glimpse in Jesus’ reaction to death. He was a great guy to have at funerals—the only times we see him at a funeral in Scripture, he’s raising the dead to life. Still, he didn’t approach them with a cavalier “everything will be all right” attitude. When he arrived at his friend Lazarus’s funeral, he wept. Faced with the antithesis of his very self, the God of the Universe cried.

He cried another time, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of his own death. As he contemplated the cross and the agony that lay ahead of him, he cried with such anguish that drops of blood oozed through his pores. How could he who had always lived suddenly die?

How indeed. He created us, created the world, even created the angels in heaven, and then gave us the will and the power to choose to serve him or to serve ourselves. And every last one of us has chosen to serve ourselves. We turned our backs on the one to whom we owe our very existence. And because of that choice, his beautiful work is twisted into unspeakable horror. Life becomes death, truth becomes lies, marriage becomes divorce, perfection becomes rubbish. Sin, and its necessary companion Death, rule this world, hold it—and us—in bondage. And our only hope was for the Life-Giver to intervene, to die in our place, to give his life that we might escape certain death.

“Everyone dies because all of us are related to Adam, the first man. But all who are related to Christ, the other man, will be given new life…then at last the Scriptures will come true, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death…How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (1 Corinthians 15: 22, 54-57)

Friday, November 04, 2005

Between Two Worlds Review

In my very first post to this blog, I promised a forthcoming review of Elizabeth Marquardt's book, Between Two Worlds. You can read my review on the BreakPoint web site.


In case you didn't pick up on the irony, I wrote a post a week ago Saturday after seeing the movie Elizabethtown. In that post, I talked about going to small town Illinois for too many funerals. Just a few days later, I was headed back to Illinois for... a funeral. Next time, I plan to write about jubilant weddings--whichever single friend gets married as a result can thank me by introducing me to her new husband's eligible bachelor buddies (emphasis on the word "eligible," please).

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Worlds United

My maternal grandfather passed away last week. We drove back to Illinois for the funeral services, a beautiful display of fall color marking our route through the mountains and over the prairie. (Can you hear the strains of “God Bless America”?) Visiting the small Midwestern town where he and Grandma lived their whole lives, I thought seriously for the first time about moving back there.

I’ve considered moving to Illinois before, but never for more than a minute or two. The very idea stressed me out. I loved my childhood summer vacations in central Illinois. The small town coziness of waitresses who know your name and how you take your coffee, the rows of corn (knee-high by 4th of July) or soybeans, seeing storms approach from miles away. But as I got older, my visits back to Illinois became stressful. Dad’s and Mom’s parents lived in small towns less than two hours’ drive apart. As a kid, I lived with Mom and my stepdad, so Mom’s parents would visit us occasionally. My only time with Dad’s parents was during those summer visits. When I became an adult, planning my own vacation time, no longer living at home, I tried to visit both sets of grandparents. This made for some pretty exhausting “vacations.” Like the time Mom and I drove out to see her folks, a two day drive from Virginia with a stopover in southern Ohio. We were there for less than a week, during which I drove back and forth between grandparents, before making the two day drive back home. Talk about needing a vacation from your vacation!

And it wasn’t just my over-zealous desire to keep everyone happy. I loved my Dad’s mom, Ponci. I was her only grandchild and we shared a lot of fun times during those summer visits. As I got older and began to share my visit time between my two sets of grandparents, I knew Ponci didn’t like having to share me. Her disapproval was subtle but impossible to miss.

This time, driving back to Illinois, I stayed at one house, in one town. My dad’s parents are both gone—Ponci died in 2001 and Grandpa passed away just over a year ago. For the first time I can remember, a visit to Illinois was not a guilt-ridden balancing act between two families.

Even sweeter was the vision I had over and over again throughout the visit, a vision of my two grandfathers, arm in arm, looking down on me with love, pride, and encouragement from Heaven. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Saturday, October 22, 2005


I just got back from watching Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown. I liked this movie. I didn't love it, but I liked it. Living on the east coast and making more trips than I'd like to small town mid-America for family funerals, there were moments of reminiscence and familiarity for me in this movie. It had its weird moments, some of which were explained by seeing Tom Cruise’s name listed as one of the producers. His movies always seem bizarre in a you’d-understand-if-you-were-a-Scientologist kind of way, and this had those moments.

But there was a very profound moment at the end of the movie. Drew (Orlando Bloom) is searching for Claire (Kirsten Dunst). He’s running through a crowd and in the perfect movie moment, the crowds should part, birds should sing, and Claire should be standing alone with a smile on her face waiting for him. But that isn’t what happens. Instead, he runs elatedly through the crowd, having realized that he loves her. He’s looking for her red hat and as he comes to a carousel, dozens of red hats suddenly pop up everywhere. The music from the soundtrack blends discordantly with the music from the carousel. He looks too long and we begin to wonder. Is she really there? Is this movie going to have a lousy ending? Should he just give up and go back to the car? When the moment has gone on impossibly long and we’ve nearly given up hope, there among the red hats is Claire.

And here’s the profundity. I’ve talked with several single friends lately about the difference between expectations—our own and others—and reality. The married pundits who write about the sad, selfish plight of singles seem to think that everyone should have a crowd-parting, when-you-expect-it moment during college or soon thereafter. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes there are dozens of red hats and discordant music and tense moments (years?) of waiting. I think that’s what has happened to my true love. I think he’s out there, searching, trying to hear the soundtrack over the carousel, searching every face under a red hat to see if I’m there.

Those Smug Marrieds (to borrow an apt phrase from Bridget Jones) have given up. They’ve walked away and decided that this one has a lousy ending. But if you walk out of a movie too soon, sometimes you miss the great ending. Don’t walk out on our story yet; some great moments are right around the corner.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Boundless strikes again!

Seen on today:

"Some people try to argue, wishfully against the empirical evidence, that children of divorce will marry better than their parents because they know how important it is to choose well. But the deck is stacked against them. Not only are many of them frightened of marriage, in whose likely permanence they simply do not believe, but they are often maimed for love and intimacy. They have had no successful models to imitate; worse, their capacity for trust and love has been severely crippled by the betrayal of the primal trust all children naturally repose in their parents, to provide that durable, reliable, and absolutely trustworthy haven of permanent and unconditional love in an otherwise often unloving and undependable world. Countless students at the University of Chicago have told me and my wife that the divorce of their parents has been the most devastating and life-shaping event of their lives.3 They are conscious of the fact that they enter into relationships guardedly and tentatively; for good reason, they believe that they must always be looking out for number one. Accordingly, they feel little sense of devotion to another and, their own needs unmet, they are not generally eager for or partial to children. They are not good bets for promise keeping, and they haven't enough margin for generous service. And many of the fatherless men are themselves unmanned for fatherhood, except in the purely biological sense. Even where they dream of meeting a true love, these children of divorce have a hard time finding, winning, and committing themselves to the right one."

Seems pretty dire, doesn’t it? The problem is that there is absolutely no mention of God’s healing power, His majestic grace poured out on us. Yes, we’ve had some hard knocks, but that’s not the end of our story!

For many of our parents, the Church sees divorce as the unforgivable sin; for many of us, the Church sees our status as children of divorce proof positive that we’re damaged goods. I’m sad that this author has decided to perpetuate that low opinion of our Savior’s redemptive power.

I for one believe that God is bigger than my parents’ divorce. I believe He can heal the wounds of my heart. While the author above neglects to cite his “empirical evidence” for our poor marriage choices, I disagree based on what I see around me: children of divorce in good marriages, working hard to make sure they stay good; having children and turning out to be excellent moms and dads; generous with their time, imminently trustworthy, and hopeful for the future.

Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Safe in His hands

Psalm 3:3, 5 "But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head...I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me."

I was surprised to read in Elizabeth Marquardt's book that she had fears of someone breaking into her house. I've always had that fear, as long as I can remember, and it never made sense until I read her book. She asserts that many children of divorce fear for their safety because typically our fathers were absent, the fathers that we instinctively rely on to protect us from things that go bump in the night. Even as stepfathers and husbands come along later in our lives, that early experience leaves us feeling vulnerable and afraid at times.

David's sense of security and protection was in the Lord. He was fleeing from his son Absalom, probably sleeping in caves with a handful of men who had remained faithful to him. His shield was not his own proven fighting acumen, the swords and courage of the loyal men with him, and certainly not the high walls of a protected city or castle. David realized that his only real protection came from the Lord.

Every moment of every day (and night), the Lord is your shield--watching over you, protecting you, sheltering you. Nestled in the hollow of His hand, you can rest assured that He will sustain you and protect you until the day He calls you home to an eternity of peace and gladness.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

2"Honor your father and mother"—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3"that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."

Hopefully you recognize that phrase—“honor your father and mother”—as one of the Ten Commandments. It’s a tough one, sometimes for children of divorce, this notion of honor. What does it mean? What does it look like? Are we really bound by it?

The last question is the easiest. The answer is, yes. They’re called the “Ten Commandments,” not the “Ten Suggestions,” or the “Ten Things You Should Think About Doing If Everyone Else Lives Up to Their End of the Bargain.” Commandments. Period. No wiggle room.

Okay, fine, so we have to honor our parents. Um, who is that again? That’s kind of a tricky question for us children of divorce. I mean, the word “parents” isn’t so simple for us to define, is it? How do you answer when someone asks you, “Where do your parents live?” If you’re like most children of divorce, you go through a split second evaluation before answering: Who do they really want to know about? Mom or Dad? Or both? So, a simple question suddenly becomes a lot more complicated. Just who are our parents? You might have to wrestle with this question a little as it applies to your family, but I’m going to suggest that “parents” includes your biological mother and father, as well as any stepfathers or stepmothers who have had an active role in your upbringing.

Now that we know who they are, what does it mean to honor them? Merriam-Webster Online defines honor (the verb) as regarding or treating someone with honor or respect, or conferring honor on. We have an obligation before God to treat our parents with honor and respect. You know, most of us can manage this and do so quite nicely. We have learned, through long years of practice how to be diplomatic and not rock the boat. We can treat our parents with respect. But can you regard them with honor or respect? Ugh, that’s a little harder. But it matters. Proverbs 11:16 says, "A kindhearted woman gains respect." How you treat others is only part of the equation; how you think and feel about them is every bit as important in God's eyes, the eyes that see your heart.

So what does this look like? Obviously the answers will be as varied as the individuals and situations that they involve, but here are a couple of suggestions.

1. Make the extra effort. I know, you've been doing this your whole life, and it's tempting sometimes to want to sit back and let your relationship with your parents thrive or die based on the amount of effort they put forth. But that's an attitude of resentment and retaliation, not one of honor.
2. Be honest with them. Wow, that's a hard one! We grew up feeling protective of our parents, shielding them from outside judgment and often from our own feelings of stress or sadness. But part of being in close relationship with someone is trusting them enough to be open and honest.
3. Find their good qualities and celebrate them. Everyone has at least one. Maybe your dad has a great sense of humor, or your mom has a taste for adventure. Our parents aren't perfect. They have quirks and sometimes serious shortcomings. But, hey, they made you, and you're pretty terrific, so there must be something good there to celebrate. Find it and remember it.
4. Tell your parents you love them. Say it everytime you talk to them on the phone, everytime you say goodbye when you're leaving after a visit. Even if no one in your family ever says it--especially if no one in your family ever says it! Be a trendsetter...maybe it will catch on!

The best part about this is that this "is the first commandment with a promise." Do this, and God promises that it will go well with you. It's quite a deal.

May we all live long and prosper!
Hey, all you blog readers, please send me email or post comments on the blog! That's the only way I know you're out there reading. And it will help others who read know that you're out there too. And, please forward my blog link to anyone you know who might find it helpful or interesting. OK, that's all for the advertising! Now, back to the regularly scheduled blog...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Last night, my copy of Between Two Worlds arrived. I'll be reading that this weekend and should have a review ready sometime next week.

For now, here's a word of encouragement from Scripture: “But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you…he who formed you…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine…you are precious and honored in my sight.” (Isaiah 43:1,4)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

“Are you scared to get married? Honestly?”

This question came from a male friend who read my newly-minted blog this morning. His folks divorced just a few years ago and rocked his world. Yet another reminder that there isn’t a good time, as far as kids are concerned, for mom and dad to split up.

But back to the question. Am I scared to get married? Honestly? And the answer is, yeah, a little. But I think it’s a healthy fear. Let me explain. I think an analogy will help.

I grew up around water. If there was a place to swim within 100 miles of wherever we lived, we found it. We lived in an apartment complex for two summers and had a pool right outside our back door, but usually our swimming holes were of the old-fashioned variety. The kind that are murky and full of fish. I love to swim and learned to do so at a young age. My brothers learned even younger. By the time they were born, we lived in New Jersey, near my grandparents who owned a small summer cottage on a lake. My kid brothers were bobbing on the waves with the rest of us when they could barely walk.

We didn’t just learn to swim though. We learned to respect the water. We were lectured on the necessity of checking out unfamiliar areas carefully before jumping or diving into the water. We heard
Joni Eareckson’s story repeatedly. We were lectured on the dangers of drinking alcohol around water long before any of us had our first drink. During the few winters that were cold enough to freeze the lake, we got to ice skate and ice fish—and we heard lectures about not walking on cracked ice or ice bubbles, and what to do if someone fell through the ice.

We loved the water. We spent hours swimming, floating, and boating. We dove with abandon off my grandparents’ dock, having long ago located all the below surface dangers. But even next door, we would only dive off the neighbors’ dock when cousins or siblings were standing on the rocks to clearly mark them. We were well aware of the serious danger that water could be to anyone who didn’t respect it and treated it cavalierly, or who were so afraid of it that they never learned to swim.

And that’s how I feel about marriage. I would love to experience it, to swim and float in the pure delight of a husband’s love, to discover what lies beneath the murky depths of a man’s mind, even sometimes to wrinkle my nose in surprised disgust at the toe-grabbing seaweed of a man’s less refined habits.

But I know marriage is not a thing to be entered into lightly. It is, after all, a solemn vow and commitment before God, something never to be entered into lightly. It is also something that requires work. I didn’t learn to swim in a day, and even after I learned, there was a process of becoming more proficient and then of learning new strokes. And there were times of stretching—feeling confident enough to swim out to the float; being in awe of grandpa who swam across the whole lake; taking aquatic aerobics in college, which turned out to be a grueling class of swimming laps.

A friend of mine got some concerned looks when she was seen with a copy of a book subtitled "Building an Affair-Proof Marriage." Was her marriage in trouble? No, but she knows that danger always lurks (1 Peter 5:8) and she was taking no chance of it catching her unaware. I think she's a wise woman.

I’m sure I still carry around some dreamy illusions of marriage, but I also feel that I have a pretty healthy respect for the amount of vigilance, hard work, perseverance, and sheer determination that make possible those times when you can spread your arms wide, float gently on the waves, and soak up the sun.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Boundless, a web site affiliated with Focus on the Family, ran an article by Deborah Crittenden about the cost of delaying marriage. They got a lot of flak, but are standing by the article. That's fine, but I wish they'd been a little more gracious in their defense of an article that clearly offended a lot of people. Ms. Crittenden's world is very different than mine. None of my friends sit around and proclaim our "fierce independence." We'd all welcome marriage. As one friend said, "If singleness is a sin, I'd be happy to repent!"

In defense of Ms. Crittenden, her article contains a stark fact. The percentage of women in their 20s who are married dropped significantly between 1965 and 1995. The problem is that Ms. Crittenden makes an assumption about why this happened. Her own life experience leads her to conclude that today's single women consciously delayed marriage in favor of a lifestyle that includes higher education, independence, and a successful career track. It's nice anecdotal evidence, perhaps, but let's consider the societal shifts that occured in that same 30 year time frame.

The single 20-something women of 1995 are the offspring of those married 20-something gals of 1965. They are also members of Generation X, or as some have started calling it, GenerationEx; statistically, 50% of those 1965 marriages ended in divorce. This trend has had profound effects on today's young men and women. Elizabeth Marquardt and Judith Wallerstein have each thoroughly studied and extensively written on these effects.

Another social shift worth noting is the extreme mobility of today's culture. Both sets of my natural grandparents grew up in the same town. Their families knew each other. On my dad's side, my grandparents met in grade school and had years of interaction before wedding vows were exchanged. On my mom's side, my grandpa's sister was a good friend of my grandma; that's how they met. But things have changed. We're on the go. Suitors today are rarely lifelong family friends or gradeschool companions.

So what does this mean? I think for starters it means that we need to have more compassion and less judgment. I think it's also time for the Church to welcome singles. Few churches really do that, you know. We need to reach out to the singles in our midst and embrace them as friends. You might be surprised at the insight some of them have into contentment, obedience, and even marriage. And, of course, I think we all need to understand better how the culture of divorce has affected today's young adults.
Last week, Elizabeth Marquardt's new book came out. I've ordered my copy and, as soon as it arrives and I've had a chance to read it, I'll post a review. In the meantime, here's some basic info. Elizabeth is a scholar with the Institute for American Values in NYC. She's also a child of divorce. The book, Between Two Worlds, is the result of a study detailing the "inner lives" of children of divorce, including moral and spiritual development. Elizabeth is giving a voice to Generation Ex. She spoke last week at the Family Research Council. Although I couldn't attend, I watched the live videocast and have to give kudos to Elizabeth for the way she handled the Q&A time, particularly the two gentlemen who badgered her about divorce law and fathers' rights.