Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fight for your marriage and your kids: A word to mom and dad

You may be reading this blog not because you are a child of divorce, but because you are a parent who is considering divorce, in the throes of a divorce, or already divorced.
If you are considering divorce, I hope with all my heart that you will do whatever you possibly can to salvage your marriage. Except in cases where you or your children are in physical danger from your spouse, studies show that children do better in unhappy homes than in split homes. If you’ve learned nothing else from reading this blog, you should know by now the devastating consequences of divorce on children. Yes, God can heal their hearts, but how much better if you do not bring that kind of pain into their lives.

There are times as a parent when you have to bring pain into your child’s life. Immunization shots, medical treatments, discipline, cutting off a harmful friendship—these are not easy things, but as a parent sometimes you have to do things like this for your child’s good. Ask any parent whose child has scary, painful, necessary medical procedures—especially when that child is too young to understand what is happening—just how hard it is and how much love it takes to grit your teeth and watch your baby suffer. But that’s unavoidable pain, pain that ultimately brings about a greater good in the child’s life. No parent in their right mind would knowingly and willingly inflict pain on their child needlessly…right?

If you started reading this blog hoping to find some justification for a less than absolutely necessary decision to leave your marriage, hoping that somehow your children will be okay if you just manage it all right, you need to face up to the fact that it just isn’t so. The truth is, if you are unhappy in your marriage, you need to weigh your unhappiness with your children’s well-being. As a single person (as of the writing of this book), I cannot begin to imagine the depth of loneliness and heartache that attend an unhappy marriage. But I have tried to give you a glimpse of the loneliness and heartache that attend being a child of divorce. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t love your children, so I can only hope that you will choose your love for them over your own current state of happiness or lack thereof. Fighting for your marriage won’t be easy and you may not succeed. If you do not succeed, at least give yourself and your children the satisfaction of knowing that you tried every possible route for as long as you possibly could.

While I have never been married, I know a lot of people who are, including some who have been married for many decades. They tell me, not surprisingly, that there are ups and downs in their marriages; times when they feel like newlyweds again, and times when they’d rather not occupy the same room for longer than a few seconds, and many times that fall somewhere in between. They tell me that it takes a lot of sheer grit and determination and real commitment to make it through the low points, the days when it feels easier to walk away than to try to work it out or patch it up, easier to start over with someone else than to try to start over with the same person maybe for the second or fifth or twentieth time. They tell me that sometimes the only thing that keeps them from walking away is that they promised to not ever let divorce be an option on the table.

I think there’s something to that. I’ve had lots of roommates through the years and one thing about roommates is that you never really have a great deal of incentive to work out the kinks in the relationship. I mean, if there’s something that really bugs you, well, just wait a few months or years until the lease is up or the roommate gets married or gets a new job somewhere else, and suddenly the problem is solved. But marry for life and you’re talking about a whole different situation. Now you have a vested interest in working out the problems that arise—not ignoring them, or sweeping them under the rug, or merely putting up with them—because now you know, you’re going to have to live with this person for the rest of your life. You either find a way to make it work or resign yourself to a life of misery.

And maybe you really can’t work it out. It happens. We’re not going to blame you if you give it your best shot and it still falls apart. All we’re asking is that you give it your best shot. Really try. Then you can look yourself in the eye, and look your kids in the eye, and feel glad that you didn’t inflict pain needlessly.

Donald Miller on boys without dads

Coming soon to a bookshelf near you, by the author of Blue Like Jazz, is a new book on boys without fathers, To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father. You can download the first chapter here.

Here's a teaser, comparing Bill Cosby as Cliff Huxtable with life in a home without a dad: "My mom was great, don't get me wrong, but the only guests we ever had at our house were from the singles group at church, and none of them ever whipped out a trombone to play 'When the Saints Go Marching In' or tap-danced in the living room or recited a piece of epic prose about the Underground Railroad on which 'our people' had traversed from oppression and slavery to freedom. Our guests, rather, ate meatballs on paper plates and talked bitterly about their ex-husbands."

Monday, January 30, 2006

Lauren Winner on Between Two Worlds

Indeed, sometimes I feel so defensive about my childhood that I find myself refusing to admit that my parents' divorce had any impact on me whatsoever.

I hesitate to speak about how the divorce affected me for a variety of reasons. First, it seems like Oprah-esque, therapeutic whining; I am well aware that I grew up with many advantages, and it seems ridiculous and ungrateful to natter on about my "broken home" when lots of folks had it a good deal worse. Second, I have never wanted to talk to either of my parents about my occasional, fleeting insights into the ways their divorce shaped me; I prefer to maintain the polite fiction that all was always well, that everyone did the best he or she could, that there is no place in our family story for blame or regret, let alone repentance. Finally, I bristle when someone tries to explain everything in my life—starting with my religious peregrinations—as a reaction to the divorce. I am so determined not to have my autobiography reduced to postdivorce acting-out that I often find myself at another absurd extreme, an extreme in which parents' choices have no impact on their kids whatsoever, an extreme in which I am exactly the person I would have been had I been born to June and Ward Cleaver.

I know my defenses are ridiculous and false, not to mention prideful. When I can clear my head, when it is just God and me or my journal and me, I can admit the obvious: that yes, of course, even in the most amicable divorce, even when parents don't turn their kids into chess pieces, even when divorce does not spell economic disaster for the custodial mom, even then divorce indelibly marks children.

read the whole review here...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Protecting the children

From an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

In what realm of life do we allow something that clearly hurts children to remain solely a private decision?
Government often inserts itself into citizens' private decisions through the law. For example, individuals can't decide how fast to drive in a school zone. Instead, we lower the speed limit, put up flashing yellow lights and even post police nearby to make sure everyone obeys the law...Yet, when it comes to divorce, it seems harder for us to admit the social damage that results and the need for reasonable legal measures to address it....I believe we should support and understand the needs of divorced and single parents — my parents fall into this category — but our concern for these adults has long prevented us from talking unflinchingly about the experience of children of divorce.
The adult perspective has long dominated the divorce debate in this country. How many kids' futures are we willing to risk in order to have our divorces with the least possible fuss and the greatest possible speed, no questions asked?
Is it really unreasonable to say it should take a minimum of four months to finalize a decision that will affect family members for the rest of their lives? Is it really burdensome for parents to attend one class that focuses on the challenges their children will face because of divorce and how best to help them through such a tough time?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A spiritual calling

From an article in the Kingsport (TN) Times-News:
"If you realize you're living in buckle of Bible belt (and that same region) experiences some of highest divorce rates in entire country, it comes downs like a ton of bricks on the church. It's my personal belief it will be churches and faith-based organizations that will solve this problem."

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Poignancy in the Post

Besides giving me a new-found respect for Gene Weingarten, whose work I knew primarily from his own juvenile-bordering-on-offensive humor column, this article in today's Washington Post Magazine about a high-priced preschool entertainer offered up some telling anecdotes about divorce:

"He's frightened of commitment, he says, because he is terrified of making the wrong choice. The divorce of his parents, and divorces he's seen among his friends and his clients, make him particularly scared. It's odd, because he's not really afraid of much else."

And later:

"The most significant fact in Eric's upbringing, Jane said, was when she and her husband separated. Eric was 13. The divorce became final two years later, and the whole thing was obviously deeply painful. At 14, Eric was living with his mom in an apartment with cockroaches; Eric wouldn't let her kill them. 'Cockroaches have familes, too,' he would say."

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A view from the pulpit

From an article on 4 churches's response to divorce:

...society has tried to minimize the guilt associated with a failed marriage. "Consequently, we end up discounting the pain and the brokenness," he said.

"I've seen the statistics that say the percentages of divorce is no different inside the church than out. If that's true, then as a church we have failed husbands and wives, we have failed families."

A dad's rules for post-divorce dating

It's nice to see a dad saying these things:

No matter how well we performed the divorce ritual, the kids get chewed up and spit out. ("But John... that isn't very comforting." This isn't about comfort. This is about your child.) I have heard parents tell their children to "grow up!" when they were whining about missing the other parent. Children are not supposed to grow up. They are supposed to be children! Adolescents "grow up." Then adults are supposed to be grown up. That's how it works, Bub. Reset your thinking.... Expect the child to take a long time to get used to living with a broken home and a broken heart.

Transformation is optional

At the Christian nonprofit organization where I work, the talk these days is all about transformation. It’s the latest in a string of buzzwords designed to capture the essence of the day-to-day work we do. The assumption, of course, is that everyone likes the idea of transformation. After all, one of the most popular television shows of the last couple seasons has been Extreme Makeover. I’m a fan of the Home Edition, but I have friends who are hooked on the plastic surgery one and its sister shows The Swan and The Biggest Loser. If your marriage needs a makeover, there’s Wife Swap and Trading Spouses. If it’s your kids who are the trouble, there’s Super Nanny or Nanny 911 to the rescue. (“You’ve been very, very naughty.”)

It sure is fun to watch all those other pathetic losers get dressed down and fixed up. Boy, those people need help!

Trouble is, when it comes to ourselves, we’re not so keen on change. Witness the popularity a few years back of the business management fable Who Moved My Cheese? Or Tolstoy’s great comment: “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” We’re actually pretty comfortable with the way things are in our own lives. Status quo may not be winning any Emmys, but it doesn’t require us to get our hands dirty.

This blog is about children of divorce and there are some pretty dire predictions about what can happen to us. We can end up poor, neglected, undereducated, unmarriageable, unspiritual, exhausted, strung out, self-centered, and downright unfriendly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can buck the trend—assuming you want to. But what if you don’t? What if you’re pretty happy and satisfied with things as they are? In that case, there are a couple of things you must do to ensure that you stay safely ensconced in your comfort zone.

1. Don’t pray. I’m pretty sure I read this somewhere and didn’t just make it up (unless I’m a lot wiser than I give myself credit for). If you know the reference, send it to me. For now, I’ll risk plagiarism and just give you the quote as I remember it. “To pray is to be in the presence of God, and to be in the presence of God is to change.” This is assuming that your prayer is more than the “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub” variety. If that’s all you’re praying, or if your prayers consist entirely of God’s Divine To-Do List, then you’re safe. But if your prayer consists of not only speaking to God but pausing long enough to listen, to enter into real relationship with your Creator, you’re in trouble. That’s just the kind of set up God uses to change people. Before you know it, He’ll start showing you how you need to change and even how to do it. He’ll begin equipping you for change. Minor changes will begin to occur without your having been consciously aware of them, and the big changes will begin to gnaw on your conscience until obedience is your only option.

2. Don’t forgive. There’s a reason you’ve got that chip on your shoulder. You earned it and why should you give it up all that easily. And besides, who’s asking you to give it up? Has anyone actually asked your forgiveness for the heartache they’ve caused you? You’ve got a right to be angry, so hang on to your anger and bitterness as long as possible. The minute you begin to let go of them, you’ll start to change. You might find out that the problem is not so much in the people around you as it is in you. But if you can just hold on to your anger and withhold forgiveness, pretty soon bitterness will take root in your soul. It will drive roots deep into the soil of yesterday and keep you stuck there, unable to move beyond your past. If you don’t want to change, this is one of the best methods.

3. Require others to live up to your expectations. Even if you’re not perfect, the people around you should be and you have a right to expect and demand perfection from them. If they fail to live up to your expectations, you should sulk and wallow in self-pity. The alternative is to see others for the imperfect people they are, accept their shortcomings and limitations, and learn to alternately extend grace to them and hold them accountable for their actions. But that would be an awful lot of trouble.

4. Live in isolation. Being in community means that others can see the rough edges in your life and hold you accountable for change. It also means you can see good and bad character in others and use that as a mirror for your own life. Living in isolation, however, means that you can validate your own behavior or justify it by any means you find convenient. There is no one to question you or make you feel guilty. It should be noted that married people can live in isolation just as easily as single people. Isolation is as much a state of mind and attitude as it is a state of physical reality.

A former boss of my mine, who lived and worked in a mini-whirlwind, was fond of saying, “The only constant is change.” But change is messy, chaotic, and awfully disruptive. By following these four tips, you can stay safely ensconced in familiarity and comfortable dysfunction. The choice is yours.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

I'd turn them into newts if I could

My friends need to stage an intervention with me. I need someone to set the parental controls of my computers to not allow me to view boundless.org. Every few weeks, they post another single-is-sin article and I start foaming at the mouth. I just turned down the chance to attend a reunion of a group of people I used to be involved with, a singles' group of sorts at a church. The odd thing about this group was that the couple who led it were in the single-is-sin camp. I'm still trying to figure out why they thought they were called to minister to singles. Their passions might have been put to better use in matchmaking. I wouldn't mind seeing some of my old friends, but I just can't shake the feeling that I would hear a little 'tsk-tsk, there's one of our failures' as I entered the room.

Now, this is far from the first article Boundless has posted on this topic. But as I read this article today, I literally gasped. I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from that classic Cinderella-hooker movie Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts goes to the powder room to floss and Richard Gere barges in thinking she's doing drugs. He says, "I'm sorry. It's just, well, not many people surprise me anymore." Roberts' character responds with, "Yeah? Well, you're lucky; most of them shock the hell out of me." I guess I should be more blase about this, but I couldn't help being shocked. Here's what got me:

"...singles are often reduced to extolling singleness, much like a witch having the grace to drown to prove innocence.”

I'm sorry, did you just call me a witch? Are you KIDDING ME???

I would have stayed mad if the author hadn't made such a laughable gaff just a few paragraphs later. Right after calling singles "wayward and askew," the author supports her premise with a small, out of context quote by a distinguished, respected, learned Christian author: C.S. Lewis. Who [ahem] I can't help but point out, remained a bachelor until the ripe old age of 58. The scalliwag!

The author didn't just need a good editor on this piece (who should have pointed out the hypocritcal use of a Lewis quote); she needed a good theology teacher. There is nothing in scripture that says being single is a sin. If there were, we'd have to go back to the theology drawing board, because our gentle, sinless Savior was Himself a singleton. He didn't preach any sermons on the virtues of marriage or scold any of His single followers. In fact, truth be told He just doesn't really talk about it at all, one way or the other. It seems to be pretty much a non-issue.

Of course, one of the favorite passages of the single-is-sin crowd is that old Garden of Eden command to "be fruitful and multiply." The problem with extrapolating that into single-is-sin is that the command is never repeated in the New Testament under the new covenant of grace, and bearing fruit is defined in a New Testament sense as either producing good works or evangelizing and discipling. It's a classic case of unfolding revelation and layers of meaning. The New Testament certainly doesn't prohibit marrying, and in fact there is a specific injunction not to prohibit people from marrying. But neither does it prohibit singleness.

The author of the Boundless article relies mostly on historical precedent to support her thesis. If the Puritans did it, it must be okay. The Puritans are in great vogue now in evangelical circles, and indeed there is much we can learn from their earnest attempts to follow God. But they were not without their flaws; they were, after all, human. The trouble isn't, as the author of the Boundless article wrote, that we somehow believe we know better than the generations before us; the trouble is that we too often let cultural norms define our idea of spirituality rather than the other way around.

The best book I've ever read on the topic of singleness is written by my dear friend Lori Smith. Lori's book, to this day, remains one of the few (if not the only) books for singles that looks at the topic from a biblical perspective. Rather than lamenting her unmarried state, dishing advice for how to catch a man, or coming up with pithy cute "you go girl" cheerleading sessions, Lori pulled out the Book and looked to see what the One who created us has to say about not being married. I'm tempted to mail a carton full of her books to Boundless and ask them to distribute them to all their contributing writers.

Lori did for singleness what I hope to do for being a child of divorce: look at the topic from God's perspective. I can't claim to know the mind of God, but I can read and share with you the things He revealed for all times in Scripture. Together we can grow closer to Him and become the women and men He wants us to be. Warts and all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Funny bones

I've got a sensitive funny bone. I like to laugh and to make others laugh. My parents get me a subscription to Reader's Digest, which is not really my favorite magazine, but it has good jokes. My favorite this month is on page 222, upper right corner. It's laugh-out-loud funny to me. Uncle Mike has a quick, dry wit; he's my kind of guy.

I read somewhere over the weekend that humor is not a particularly valued trait when people are listing what they're looking for in a date. Humor, the article said, denotes lesser intelligence. Well, I guess that's true if your idea of humor is three guys named Moe, Larry, and Curly or the currently popular junior high "body noise and prank" movies.

I'm an old sap, though. (Key word: sap; not old, ahem!) Give me a Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn movie any day of the week. What I love best about them is the smart, fast repartee. It's sexy and fun and to pull it off in real life you have to be damned smart. I've had that kind of relationship once and it was invigorating intellectually and the most fun I've ever had.

There is a smart movie line, touching and hilarious, at the end of an article reprinted in this month's RD. Written by Elizabeth Livingston, the article tells the story of her parents who fought about everything throughout their marriage, but stayed together through it all. In their old age, they both suffer from dementia, bringing about a surprising twist in their relationship: They've forgotten how much they dislike each other. Livingston writes:
"I don't doubt that if my mother and father magically regained their old vigor, they'd be back fighting. But I now see that something came of all those years of shared days—days of sitting at the same table, waking to the same sun, working and raising children together. Even the very fury they lavished on each other was a brick in this unseen creation, a structure that reveals itself increasingly as the world around them falls apart.
"In the early morning I once again heard the voices through the wall. 'Where are we?' my father asked. 'I don't know,' my mother replied softly."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Hope Floats

I keep feeling guilty because there's this supposedly great divorce movie out there, The Squid and the Whale, which I still have not managed to see. I don't think it's even at the arts theater anymore, so it looks like I'm waiting for the DVD to show up at Blockbuster. It's cheaper that way anyway.

In the meantime, all the stuff I've been reading about it has got me thinking about my favorite divorce movie, Hope Floats. My mom rented this during my months of couch-zombie depression. I'm pretty sure she just saw Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick, Jr. on the cover and figured she couldn't go wrong. I bawled through the entire movie, not knowing what it was about and unprepared for the emotional impact. It's become one of my favorite movies for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Harry, whose only flaw in this movie is that he doesn't sing or play the piano for us. And every time I watch it, I think that I really ought to wear more skirts and dresses. (Then I look at the thermometer and remember that it's a movie set in hot, dusty, humid Texas, where I don't live. Hooray for pants.)

In this flick, Birdee (Sandra Bullock) and her daughter Bernice move back to mama's house in small town Texas after Birdee's husband runs off with her best friend. I can relate to little Bernice in this movie, who is just in first or second grade. She's a little dorky, but very spunky, and innocent in just the way children should be. Her innocence gets her in trouble though. When Bernice's dad tactlessly shows up at mama's funeral to get Birdee to sign divorce papers, Bernice sees him starting to leave and yells, "I'm coming with you, Daddy!" She runs upstairs and packs a bag, then races back down to his car. She throws her little bag into the trunk of his car when he opens it to put in his briefcase, only to have him pull it out and set it on the ground. When she tries to get in the passenger door, he locks the doors and starts to drive off. He's patient and calm through all this, oblivious to the devastation he's causing his child. Bernice bawls, "You want me! I know you want me!" but her dad drives off and leaves her there.

I always watch this scene in a kind of horror. I know what's going to happen and I sit there watching it, willing Bernice to stay on the porch with her mother and not run after him. I knew the first time I saw it what would happen and I cringe each time I see it again for all the sweet little Bernice's out there who are left weeping on the sidewalk.

My grandma made sure I knew that when I turned 12 or thereabouts I could choose which of my parents I wanted to live with. I knew, of course, that she wanted me to live with my dad, wanted to hear me say that I would choose him. But I also knew what Bernice was too young or innocent to know. I knew that my choosing my dad didn't matter nearly as much as him choosing me--and I knew he hadn't chosen me. Although it would be several years before I learned that the visits I had with him were paid for and initiated by my grandparents, I already knew that he was pretty happy with the arrangement that let me live somewhere else. I knew he loved me in some vague way, but it was a love that was content to sit on the perimeter and look on with mild interest from time to time.

I think that's what is so amazing for me about the biblical story of The Prodigal Son. I don't really relate to the prodigal, except in the most theological sense of being a sinful person by nature. I never rebelled and went off the deep end. I was a good, church-going, obedient kid for the most part. I've heard that a lot of children of divorce relate more to the father in the story, because they've seen their parents go off the deep end and offend the very moral principles they've brought their kids up to believe in. And I can relate to that to a certain extent. But the father in the story is still incredibly compelling to me. When he sees his kid coming down the dusty road (and, don't miss the fact that he sees him coming...like he's been watching anxiously for him), he runs to meet him! How different from Bernice's dad, locking the doors and driving off, indifferent. This dad runs to meet his child. That kind of father is very compelling to me. The kind who chooses his child, who runs with abandon to meet the child.

Of course, the story of Hope Floats doesn't end with Bernice weeping and abandoned. Birdee and Bernice get to see how hope rises from the ashes of their broken dreams and makes a new dream. As Birdee's mama says, "That's why they invented families--so hopeless wouldn't have the last word."

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Road to Glory

Dr. Ruth Peters of the Today show dishes advice to a single mom whose ex-husband does fun and exciting things with their pre-teen son during their visitation time. Dr. Peters' advice misses the mark though. To begin with, who ever said parenting was about getting glory--especially from 11-year-olds? Parents start getting "glory" from their kids after the kids are grown and raising families of their own. That's when they start to realize the sacrifices their parents made, the challenges they faced, and the smart choices they made. Dr. Peters advises Mom to ask Dad to tone it down. Really? "Please don't have so much fun with him?" That's kind of a shame. Mom would do a lot better to suck it up and celebrate with her son the great experiences he's having with his dad. She should try to send him off to Dad's with a big smile and a cheerful and honest, "Have a great time, honey; can't wait to hear all about it" and welcome him back with a genuine interest in how it all went. Let him enjoy the time and share his excitement with her openly and without reservation. Her son will get to build a solid relationship with Dad without feeling guilt from Mom, and eventually he'll look back and realize how hard that must have been for his mom and he'll respect and love her all the more for her decision to let him fully enjoy his dad.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Varsity blues

An excellent article from Penn State on the effect of parental divorce during the college years.

"College is a formative time during which young adults are especially needful of parental security and support. But for students whose collegiate journey precipitates their parents' divorce announcement, their lives are suddenly thrown into a tailspin, making an already challenging transition even more difficult."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

There's an answer, but it isn't a quick fix

From a good article by Jen Abbas, author of Generation Ex:
"The good news is that there is hope for healing our hurts. It’s not an easy, 12-step kind of healing. We won’t find closure in 30 days, or maybe even 30 years. But we can find continual closure, grieving our losses as we become aware of them."

Thanks also to Jen for the mention and link on her blog. If you're checking this out from that link, welcome!

Where does compassion lead you?

Do you ever wonder why God lets some people go through hard times? Let's bring it home: Do you ever wonder why God lets you experience difficult things in life? None of us like to go through hard times. If we liked it, we wouldn't call them "hard" times.

The good news is that God can redeem our hard times. God is all about redeeming. And the very act of His redeeming something implies that it wasn't right in the first place. It needed to be redeemed, reclaimed, made whole again. He redeems the hard times in our lives, turns our mourning into dancing, restores the years eaten by locusts. And then He expects us to turn around and participate in the redeeming process.

Have you heard the humorous story about the guy standing on his rooftop after a flood? (It sounds slightly less humorous now that that image is seared in our national conscience following Katrina.) The story goes that the man prayed to God to save him from the flood. Pretty soon, some guys in a boat come along and offer him a ride and he declines. Then a helicopter shows up and again he declines. The man drowns and, standing before God in heaven, demands to know why God didn't save him. "I sent you a boat and a helicopter," God says. "What more did you want?"

Behind the humor is a truth. God sends ordinary people--like you and me--into the lives of those in danger, those who need to be rescued, and asks us to be part of His plan for showing them redemption. In the uberevangelical world I grew up in, being part of God's plan for redemption in someone's life meant "witnessing" or "sharing the Gospel." In other words, we were here to tell others about God's ultimate redemption, the kind that involves heaven and hell. And we are here for that, don't get me wrong. But Scripture also says that if you see someone who is hungry and you give him a verbal blessing but ignore his physical issue, you've missed the point. God expects us to join Him in redeeming the ordinary, not just the supernatural.

There are two examples of this in today's print edition of The Washington Post. A front page article, "Among Evangelicals, A Kinship with Jews," caught my attention, but what really drew me in was a comment buried toward the end. The preacher featured in the article, who mobilized his congregation to help Russian Jews emigrate to Israel explained his motivation. The pivotal moment of Mooneyham's childhood came at age 7 when his parents, in the middle of a divorce, took him and his three sisters to a church parking lot in Burlington, N.C., and parceled them out to relatives for a few weeks. Those few weeks turned into years. The family never came together again. Ouch! The article then describes how he was moved to tears 45 years later watching a TV show about Russian Jews who arrived in Israel and declared themselves finally home. The pastor resonated with this, because, as he said in the article, "I know what home means."

A heart wrenching article on the front page of the Metro section, "At 'the End of the World,' Charles Residents Struggle," describes how Terawana Keys-Bowman is trying to help residents of the direly poverty-stricken town where she grew up. The article quotes her saying, "They say poverty is hard to see. Well, God dang, try living it."

Both Mooneyham and Keys-Bowman have been through hard times. God (whether either of them recognizes it or not) brought them through those times and put them both in a place where they have the ability to help others. And they are using that ability to help folks who, directly or indirectly, are in hard situations similar to the ones they themselves were once in. This is not an easy task. A friend who ministers in the inner city just sent out his monthly prayer letter and said, "Passing your life onto someone can be draining, life-giving, sad, fun, disappointing, hurtful, dangerous, risky, and a mammoth responsibility!"

But this is what we're called to do. This is what you're called to do, if you're someone who can call yourself one of the redeemed. The redemption of your soul and life has more purpose than making you happy, satisfied, and generally at peace with the world, despite the promises of the televangelists and their holy prayer rugs. The redemption of your soul and life is a sacred call to grab a cross and start being a redeeming force in the broken, torn, hurting lives of the people around you. This is what Paul was saying in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, when he wrote, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."

Each of us has received a different comfort from God for a different trouble, so your call to participate in redemption may look vastly different from my call. But don't miss the call. Look at your life and try to see where God is using you to be part of the redeeming process in someone else's life. And if you can't see it, start looking around to see who and what you're missing. Let your compassion lead you.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

It's your choice

A friend who is going through a bit of rough spot said to me yesterday, "What remains to be seen is how I'll respond to this. Will I decide to believe in God's goodness and love?" From an anguished heart, her mind grasped the reality of God's character and her option to believe it or not to believe it. She's not alone. Following the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, "Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, 'So there's no God after all,' but, 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'"

I read several blogs, some of which deal with issues of divorce. I read a lot of vindictiveness, bitterness, cries from hurting hearts that have not been healed. It's painful to read sometimes. I could write it all off as a non-Christian's perspective, but a friend in college once wrote that as Christians we're in the same boat as everyone else, a boat that is rapidly sinking and we're bailing as fast as we can. The difference is that our bucket has fewer holes.

Sometimes we think we're supposed to have life different because we have God. We are supposed to live different, but life happens to all of us. We're still sinners surrounded by sinners. Your parents are sinners, your spouse is a sinner, your kids (as cute as they are) are sinners, your friends are sinners. And sin causes things to happen in our lives that really suck. There's no way around that. The question, as my friend yesterday noted, is how you're going to choose to react. Are you going to trust in God's character?

I was reminded of God's overwhelming love today on my ride home from work, listening to an old hymn on an Indelible Grace CD. Read these lyrics:

O the deep, deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean,
In it's fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Your love.
Leading onward, leading homeward,
To Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus.
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o'er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own.
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o'er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of ev'ry love the best!
'Tis an ocean full of blessing,
'Tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
'Tis a heav'n of heav'ns to me.
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to Thee!

My friend Lori writes about God's love in her book The Single Truth: "God's love is deep enough to sit down in it, splash it around your arms and legs, relax, and breathe it in. You could float on your back and blow whale spouts with it. Some days we dive in, feel Him around us, and believe in His love. But often we tiptoe around the edges, wondering if we've really been given permission to swim."

Like my friend of the anguished heart, we all have moments or days or months when we are tempted to doubt the love of our Father God. But temptation always culminates in a choice. You can choose to "believe such dreadful things about Him" or you can choose to swim in His love even when it threatens to drown you. I choose to dive in headfirst.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Tools for families

This article talks about an interesting web site that lets divorced families communicate and coordinate schedules in a neutral environment. There are some other resources for divorced parents at the end of the article.

From The New Yorker...