Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Reality and hope

From an interview with the Alison Clarke-Stewart and Cornelia Brentano, co-authors of Divorce: Causes and Consequences.

"That was one of the surprising things in the literature and also in our conversations with the students taking our class, that parents don't seem to realize how much their children are suffering."

"There's no totally painless way for children to experience their parents splitting up. But it can be over, and they can learn from it and they can recover."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Be careful what you search for

From a very thoughtful article by my friend Lori:

"Many of us don’t allow our faith to challenge these deeply held assumptions. So we end up with a Christianity in which we are the center, in which the ultimate aim is not holiness but fulfillment. And perhaps we judge each other this way. If you are happy, then, therefore, you are blessed and God must be pleased with you.
We turn God into a fairy godmother who exists to grant our wishes. We devise extra-biblical formulas for having our prayers answered, our dreams fulfilled. We focus on the verses we like and ignore others.
Perhaps we generate the same plastic, high-strung happiness Disney offers. We’re looking for magic. And in the quest, we lose out on richer, truer things."

This is part of my beef with the whole "quick, get married!" message that is touted by the good folks at Boundless, among others. There's another infuriating article over there today. Apparently, now I'm not only a witch, I'm a victim of waning beauty. Then again, whose definition of beauty are we using here -- the world's or God's? According to God's definition, beauty doesn't fade. In fact, I'm willing to venture a guess that God's definition of beauty is the kind of beauty that actually grows with age.

Marriage is a great thing and I hope someday to experience it firsthand. If I don't, that's okay. I'm willing to trust that God has good things in store for me, even if those good things don't match up with your good things or even if they look from the outside like really bad things. This is the kind of Christianity I cut my teeth on: the Christianity of Jim and Elisabeth Eliot, of Chet Bitterman, of Amy Carmichael, and of Corrie Ten Boom. These were people who were willing to search, not for the outward trappings that we call blessing in western Christianity, but for the things that Scripture tells us to seek for and set our hearts on--things like wisdom and the kingdom of God and God Himself. These are the "richer, truer things" Lori refers to in her article. This is where I want my search to be focused. I want a faith and a God I would die for; it only seems fair, considering He died for me.

Steven Curtis Chapman, a child of divorce affirming marriage

From a crazily long and rambling article about Steven Curtis Chapman: "Three years into [Steven and Mary Beth's] marriage, Steven’s parents divorced (Brasher cited). That devastated everyone, especially Steven. Right after that, Steven saw a Phoenix rise from the ashes of his parents’ marriage and become a song, and since then it has become one of the most loved songs in Gospel music history: ‘I Will Be Here’ (1989). He wrote it for his wife. Do people like it because it is a ‘tender ballad’ with loving lyrics? It is much more than that – it is a love promise, and all the sweeter because the loved one didn’t ask for it. What God has joined together, let me not put asunder.
The rest is (unbelievable Gospel music) history.
Steven’s fame adds on, his Christianity matures further, the problems persist. He tells Campus Life (2002,, ‘I’m a guy who isn’t perfect, who argues with his wife and kids, who doesn’t have all the answers.’ The songmaking continues, the discovering, the growing. To Prodigy chatters, Steven says, ‘It’s a process’ (Chat cited). To Joan, he says it’s ‘struggling redemptively’ (Brasher cited), and ‘For those who think marriage is too hard, that they can’t handle it, we are here to say, ‘God is faithful.’"

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Author is optimistic

"Despite the scary statistics about children of divorce and their rates of depression and school troubles, he's a glass three-quarters-full kind of guy. When nearly 75 percent of kids end up doing quite well despite their parents' divorce, there must be something that keeps successful families thriving."

Hmm...well, maybe. But I'm a little reluctant to call it a day since this is a divorced parent speaking, not a kid. It's a little like a doctor saying a medical procedure he or she performs doesn't hurt.

A church that gets it

Saw this in a posting today for a post-divorce retreat. This is a church that has its focus in the right place. Good for them.

"The goal is to help participants discover God is with them in their struggles and hope."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The power and impotence of words

This is an interesting pop culture reference:

"Floyd fans can't help but feel like children of divorce, getting visits from both parents this year, both bearing special gifts."

I'm not sure how to take this, even after reading the full article. Are we being told that fans are doubly lucky or that, all thing considered, this is really the best anyone can hope for? "There, there, children; surely this makes up for the fact that we're no longer together."

Divorce and rape are words heavy with connotation and bitter associations, yet culturally we seem comfortable applying them to a variety of circumstrances that frankly make a mockery of the situations for which they are most plainly used. The split up of a rock band can hardly have the same traumatic impact as the dissolution of a marriage.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Why the cross matters

On Good Friday, we looked at God's omniscience, His total knowledge of our situations past, present and future. Some of us can accept that God knows it all. The trouble is we don't always think He cares. There is a tension here that we have to resolve. If God knows it all, why doesn't He spare us from pain. Archibald MacLeish's retelling of Job's story contains the haunting refrain: "If God is good He is not god, if God is god He is not good." In other words, either God can be loving or He can be powerful, but He can't be both. It's the age-old question of evil and we are all troubled by it. In the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Kushner famously concluded that God is caring but simply helpless to intercede.

I think this is one of the reasons that Jesus took on the form of a man, lived a real human life, and suffered and died on the cross. The incarnation, God clothed in flesh, put the otherness of the Almighty on a collision course with the fleshy reality of mankind. Because He lived in our skin, Jesus has more than a remote sympathetic interest in our plight. He has true empathy, a compassion that comes from knowing our plight intimately.

What seems a paradox to us is simply the perfect convergence of God's character. Only God can perfectly balance love and power. We can't. And because we can't we have a difficult time understanding or accepting how God can do it.

David, the man after God's own heart, struggled with this too. The Psalms are full of his joyful proclamations of God's overwhelming love...and his pleading for the God he thinks has deserted him. In Psalm 62, however, David finds rest. In a poetic expression of emphasis, David asserts in this song: "One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O LORD, are loving."

Only in this carefully balanced and whole image of God's character can we learn to fully trust Him and rest in His promises.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Katrina and divorce

"'Families that were operating on an emotional string, well, that string has broken,' said Paulette Irons, a district court judge. 'All that's left is dissension...'
"Although some broken families have just been struggling for a new sense of stability, others have used the storm to try to beat the legal system, Irons said. She said she had seen noncustodial parents who had spirited away their children without notice, custodial parents who had moved without good cause, and parents who had tried to avoid payments of child support."
Read the whole article here.

Marriage advice

Some good advice from Dr. Dobson on choosing wisely.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday remembrance

Today, we remember the sufferings of Christ. In the nonliturgical tradition in which I grew up, we went straight from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, straight from triumphal entry to triumph over death and the grave. Then a few years after college, I attended a Tenebrae service and learned to mourn the crucified Lord. Experiencing the pain of loss and disappointment magnifies the joy and hope and gladness of Easter morning. That's the feeling I try to recreate each year by watching Jesus Christ Superstar, which ends heartbreakingly with the death of Christ. Tonight, for the first time in several years I also attended a Tenebrae service. As my friends and I left the church with several hundred others, there was a hush, a reverential and somber silence that followed us to our cars and several blocks down the road after that.

The cross is painful and ugly, not good for polite conversation. And yet, Paul said that he was resolved to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified. There is something starkly real and necessary for us in the cross of Christ. Before He went to the cross, Jesus spent a tortured night in Gethsemane. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples that His soul was “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” On that night, Christ wept, pleaded with God, and sweat agonizing drops of blood. His sorrow was real, so real that we shy away from it. We don’t like to picture Jesus, prostrate and weeping. It’s uncomfortable and untidy. But God gives us this very vivid picture of our Lord to remind us that He knows the messy, unbeautiful reality of our sadness.

One of God's characteristics, part of who He is in His essence, is His omniscience. That's just a fancy word for "He knows everything." Everything that has ever happened to you and the people you love, everything going on in your life right now (yes, even that thing that you think no one knows about), every minute detail of your life and the lives of your children and their children and their children. He knows it all. He is familiar with your story. Nothing you tell Him takes Him by surprise. And because He Himself suffered and wept and pled with God and ultimately bowed His will in obedience to God the Father, Jesus gets your pain. He doesn't judge you or minimize you or think you should just get over it. He loves you too much to leave you in your sorry state, but He knows you're there and He offers a way out that He promises will not be too difficult to bear.

Healing: What helps and what doesn't

from Mary DeMuth:
"In college, I was pretty messed up emotionally. Still scarred from things in my childhood, I was a walking trainwreck. I'd cry often--full force. Sobs defined me.I had friends who told me that 2 Corinthians 5:17 about everything being new in Christ was mine to claim, that grieving the past was unnecessary. After all, Jesus took it all on the cross anyway. For me to grieve so much meant I lacked faith, or didn't claim the promises He so freely offered.And yet, God brought me to a group of friends who believed differently. They believed God would heal the emotional scars. They believed He would do a work in my heart. So they prayed for me. A lot. They prayed me through college, so that I came out on the other end much more joyful, much more assured of myself, much more healed."

Read the whole post here...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Joy comes in the morning

I've been wandering of late through a bit of a dry spell spiritually, feeling adrift and occasionally abandoned. If you live the Christian life long enough, such times will creep in on you. In one of my favorite stories of womanly wit, Martin Luther's wife Katie once appeared at the breakfast table in full mourning clothes and, when questioned, declared that God was dead. Her pious husband was horrified until she explained that his doleful demeanor day after day could be accounted for in no other way. "You have convinced me, Katie, dear," he said. "So if you ever see me again with a melancholy countenance, remind me that God is living, that he will live forever." Reminders are good. (And if you haven't seen the movie Luther, go see it! I plan to watch it this week as part of my annual Holy Week observation, which also includes watching Jesus Christ Superstar. Since the latter ends with the crucifixion, it's a Good Friday tradition for me. Luther is a new tradition, but it's a powerful reminder of the reasons for the Reformation and convicting if you wonder whether you'd have the nerve to die for what you say you believe.)

Some years ago, a friend gave me a devotional consisting of morning and evening readings of Scripture each organized around a central theme. Originally compiled by a father and husband who was leading his family's devotions, this little volume of Scripture drew me in the other night as I prayed to God for a boost out of the miry pit. Here's what I read:

O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me! [Is 38:14] Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak. My soul also is greatly troubled. [Ps 6:2-3] Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help. [Ps 22:11] For You cast me into the deep...all Your billows and Your waves passed over me. The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me. [Jonah 2:3,5] When my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. [Ps 61:2] My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word. [Ps 119:25] You have heard my voice; You drew near on the day I called on You, and said, "Do not fear!" [Lam 3:56-57] You are near, O LORD. [Ps 119:151] A very present help. [Ps 46:1] He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. [Is 40:29] Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord--that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. [James 5:11] The LORD has anointed comfort all who give them...the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. [Is 61:1-3] Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. [Ps 30:5]

Defender of Marriage

This is perhaps best filed under the heading of old news, but I find it interesting that one of the early drafters of traditional marriage legislation is a child of divorce whose passion for strenthening the role and place of marriage in society is driven largely by his own experience. I ran across Matt Daniels' name in an old issue of The Atlantic Monthly this afternoon. A quick Google search tonight turned up a 2004 article from USA Today with this quote: "Repeatedly, Daniels returns to his childhood to explain his commitment to traditional marriage as the cradle for raising children. His bitter experiences made him commitment-shy for years. 'I had no role model' for being a husband and a dad, he says. It was 'an act of faith' for him to marry in 1995."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Found on Jen Abbas's blog

"I'm still haunted by a ghost of a family I didn't choose to lose."

More here...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Divorce envy

From Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas

"Billie lives with her divorced mother, a position that fills me with envy. I know that is stupid, that I should be grateful that my parents are still happily wed, both of them tuned into my every ballet recital or parent-teacher conference like it's Super Bowl Sunday. And I am. But our nuclear nest also makes divorce look exotic, like the stuff that art is made of. After all, this is shortly after Newsweek declared, 'Grunge is what happens when children of divorce get their hands on guitars.' Divorce seems like a beautiful truth, a stark contrast to my own two-parent household, which at times feels stickier, more deceptive.
"What's more, divorce creates the possibility of independence, for which I am desperate. The dissolution means train rides and plane rides alone, en route to Mommy's house or Daddy's condo. And keys. I long for house keys; I want to wear them on a satin string around my neck. After school, I want to unlock the door to a quiet house and, consequently, a quiet mind...
"As much as I love Mrs. Jankoff, I know Billie spars with her, too. She fights with her mom the way I fight with my mom, but for opposite reasons. I want to be independent from my mom, and Billie wants to be dependent on hers. Billie loves my mother's involvement, while I love Mrs. Jankoff's detachment. We both have magnetic properties that attract us to each other's mothers, and repel us from our own. I want to drive my mother away from me by being deceptive; Billie tries to lure her mother home by proving she's trustworthy."

Favorite Quote of the Day

Taken from Forbes:
"I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific."
--Lily Tomlin & Jane Wagner

Thursday, April 06, 2006

On Catholics and divorce


"It's like the Church has let us go into the hands of a monster that is tearing our family apart, and the Church won't intervene," she said. "They just stand back and watch it happen. When I made my vows, I signed up for something different."
"We live in a culture in which everything is disposable," said Gauthier, "including unborn children and spouses. This culture affects even the most faithful."
marriage preparation gave him all the doctrinal answers but left him unprepared for the life that he would face.
"You see the same phenomenon with medical students," said Father Brunetta. "As they study medicine, they begin to self-diagnose. Each new ache and pain is imagined to be an indication of the most virulent disease they know. Of course, precious few of them actually have spinal meningitis or pancreatic cancer. Normal aches and pains indicate life, not death."
In the same way, he said, "There are tensions and struggles and difficulties that are normal in the marriage—these are signs of health, not invalidity."
They expected marriage to be exalted, like the Book of Revelation, like the wedding feast of the Lamb. And when they find out that theirs is not like they imagined, and they are not prepared to grow together and work through normal difficulties in their marriage, they start looking for a way out.
"What really put a knock on my faith was that I kept turning to the Church saying, 'Please help us! Please help us!' But the focus seems to be on the acceptance of individuals in the Church after divorce. It almost seems as if priests do not want to address this issue because they are afraid of offending," he said.
A marriage was Satan's first target in the Garden of Eden
"My eleven-year-old son has taken a knock in terms of what he believes about God," he told me. "We've taught him the Faith, but he thinks that sometimes God won't answer prayers, because he prayed and prayed that we'd get back together again. And that didn't happen."

The New Adventures of Rocky the Flying Squirrel

"How did he get there?"

"I'm sure he jumped over from the neighbor's deck."

I've seen actual flying squirrels, tiny little things that leap with abandon from tree to tree, arms and legs spread wide, extra web-like skin forming a hairy rodent parasail. Last year I saw what must have been hundreds of flying fish during a Caribbean cruise with friends. From the balcony of our cabin, we would watch them gain lift from the wake thrown off by the cruise ship and soar just above the water ten, twenty, thirty feet.

And then there's Rocky.

I switched the food in my backyard birdfeeder to a nut and fruit mix that the bluejays love. They've shown up, along with a chickadee and titmouse. The sparrows prefer the tiny seeds in the front yard feeder. But Sunday I turned from the sink to see an unexpected visitor. I missed seeing him arrive and leave that day. (I was upstairs heading for my camera when he got spooked by my mom and brother standing inches away through the glass, laughing at him, and scampered away.) I caught him the following day and scared him off. Tuesday, we had a battle of the wills--the poor squirrel didn't have a chance; I come from a long line of infamously strong-willed individuals. He hasn't been back since.

OK, so the picture is just so cute I had to post it, but I really have been waiting for a way to connect it with something of higher meaning. And then last night, I was glancing back over some notes I took while reading Luci Shaw's The Crime of Living Cautiously, and saw this one:

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." - T.S. Eliot

So, may you and I, like my uncautiously leaping squirrel friend, find just how far we can go, relying on the updrafts of God's grace, the sure footing of His truth, and the promised rewards that await us on the other side of Glory.