Over and Over

Each New Day is a Gift from God - Over and Over

Each New Day He Lovingly Pursues Us – Over and Over

He created me to want him,

Whispering my name

Over and over.

And when I finally answered him,

Joy unspeakable and full of glory

Descended upon me

Over and over.

When in fear

Or anger

Or misunderstanding

I pushed him away,

He patiently pursued me

Over and over.

When I turned my ear to listen

To the words he was speaking to my heart,

I learned what grace really means

Over and over.

When the pain came

He whispered,

My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

Over and over.

Now, whispering his name,

I choose him

Over and over.

I am his,

And he is mine

Through faith and hope

Over and over

Until

That glorious day

When eternity begins.

Ten Guidelines for a Christian Divorce

theedgeofthecliff

Ten Guidelines for a Christian Divorce

Divorce may have led you to the edge of an unfamiliar cliff.   For the first time you realize how easy it is to become bitter.   You understand why people seek revenge.  You have moments when you subtly or overtly hurt your spouse in ways you never thought you would.  At the same time you’re asking yourself how to let go of this spouse as a lover and confidant.  The future is a scary unknown and you can’t make yourself jump into it yet. You feel like an absolute failure.  Survival is everything and sanity is doubtful.

Honoring God in the midst of this?  It would be nice but how are you supposed to do that when the divorce itself makes you feel like somehow you’ve let Him down?

What if it is possible to honor God even in especially in the midst of a messy divorce?  What if your love for God is the one thing that brings order to the chaos?  What if God is able to help you with that bitterness and show you how to love a (soon-to-be-former) spouse in a new way? Can you imagine jumping into the unknown and finding that the attitudes changed and faith built during your divorce give you dignity and purpose?  And this helps you land on your feet?  In a pleasant place?

“Impossible!”

That’s what most of us think.  But having been through a divorce, I know firsthand how hard divorce is and what a difference my choice to honor God made in me and in my divorce.  I didn’t have any guidelines to follow.  What I did have was the Holy Spirit gently reminding that Jesus’ ways aren’t my ways.  I knew I had to stick to the truths in the Bible. It was time to apply them in this unfamiliar place. So I made my own guidelines for making it through my divorce without compromising my commitment to Jesus Christ.  I wasn’t perfect.  Regrets still linger over the mistakes I did make. They are painful regrets, regrets I hope you might avoid.

Below are what I consider to be the cream of the crop.  These are the truths that transcend all situations but are especially helpful in the midst of what is not just a battle for the kids or property or our sanity, but is essentially, always, a spiritual battle.  Yes, a spiritual battle.  You may never be so vulnerable again, and Satan knows it.  Sinful attitudes and actions creep in like crazy during this season.  Never forget that even this battle is really all about your soul.  You need all the Godly help you can get to guard your heart.

Top Ten Guidelines for a Christian Divorce

  1. As much as it is up to you, have biblical grounds for divorce.
  2. Don’t bash your spouse to your children, your spouse’s family, or mutual friends.  Ever.
  3. Don’t seek revenge.
  4. Have good physical/emotional/sexual boundaries.
  5. Don’t use or manipulate your spouse to get what you want.
  6. Choose to love your (former)spouse in a new, God-honoring, (love your enemies?) kind of way.
  7. Be honest.  Period.  (Disclaimer for spousal abuse victims:  Be discreet about important details to protect yourself.)
  8. Grieve.  Get angry.  Get sad.  Go through denial.  Bargain.  Get angry and sad some more. Then deal with the painful reality that it’s over. This will take a long time. Give yourself that time.
  9. Wait until your divorce is final before dating.
  10. Trust that God has plans for your future.  These plans do not involve sexual immorality!

What will it take to do these things?  A heart that is open to learning how to put up good walls (boundaries) with a divorcing spouse.  At the same time invite God in through His Holy Spirit to help heal the deep, deep wounds. I’ll devote future blogs to sharing what’s behind each guideline; some great verses that are so encouraging. Meanwhile, won’t you take a moment right now to ask Him to help you with your situation?

Dear God,  You know the nitty-gritty of every relationship. All the good and all the bad. You grieve with us over all the losses. May those in need of your healing and your help understand how much You love them.  May they be aware of Your ability to heal, to teach new ways – Your ways – and to guide us into places we’re too afraid to go by ourselves. Hold us closely as we grieve, comfort us as only You’re able.  Give us wisdom to make wise choices and the ability to look at our situation and spouse (or former spouse) as You want them to be seen.  May we be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves, leaving vengeance and justice to You. Help us guard our hearts from hurtful people.  Help us to understand that we are never truly alone, that You love us always and will be with us always. Give us faith to believe all that You promise, and remind us that you forgive us when we forget or let our fears overwhelm us.  Thanks, God, for being here for us, at this very moment.  In Jesus name, amen.  

Feeling Weary?

Tired Woman

Every so often my passion for helping others just kind of sizzles out in an exhausted sigh.  It raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions at a time when my brain and body are begging for a break.  The questions, however, are necessary if I want to figure out why I’m feeling so tired.

Here’s my “go to” list of questions:  Am I happily serving others or am I doing some inner complaining?  Am I tired physically?  Spiritually?  Emotionally?  Is this burnout or a season of discouragement?  Do I base my serving others on the response I get short term?  Am I too results oriented?  That old buzz word, “co-dependent” flashes through my mind and I have to do a quick check to assess it.  Am I compulsively serving?  Is it feeding a need in me?   Exactly why am I serving others?  And what exactly have I been doing lately and is it stuff I’m really wired to do?

I went through this just a month ago.  It was the beginning of December. I groaned as I looked at my to do list.  I wanted to throw in the towel on everything, even the good stuff.  I didn’t have the energy or the desire to do any of it.   And I didn’t want to spend the energy going over all those questions, either.  Then I came across this.  Let me rephrase that.  Then I came across this, again:  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Funny how this verse keeps popping up in my life. I’m pretty sure I was in my twenties the first time I picked up this particular clue phone and it’s rung often since then.  It was time to answer it yet again.

It took a good two weeks to contemplate all the questions and figure out why I felt so weary.  Actually it wasn’t a what but rather a who. Someone who had reached out to me for help was being rather unkind. I realized I was looking at temporary results based on someone who had other issues in their life that weren’t about me at all. Though the issues affected our relationship, there was no need for me to take it personally.

I acknowledged my hurt feelings, prayed about the relationship and put the person and their issues in God’s hands. I forgave them, and was able to let it all go. The weariness went away.

Which brings me to today.  I just returned to Chicago from D.C. after spending time with my daughter’s family.  I was able to help out as they welcomed their latest, a healthy baby boy.  It was a gift to be invited into their home and their lives for the better part of two weeks.  I’m so proud of my daughter’s efforts as a military wife and mom to their three children. She continues to amaze me as I watch her bloom and grow.

My time there resurrected all kinds of memories of raising my own kids, and honestly, they were tough memories.  Life with kids is a constant ebb and flow of wills, spontaneous laughter, daily disasters and joyous milestones. There are tedious chores and tender feelings and lessons that are only learned the hard way.  That goes for parents and for kids.   And, I’m learning, for grandparents! But that’s another post…

I came home with a strange mixture of exhilaration and exhaustion.  I wasn’t quite sure what that was all about until I read my Bible this morning.  In Luke 8, verses 43-47, is the story of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.  She touched the edge of the cloak Jesus was wearing and was instantly healed.  “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.  “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”  The woman, seeing she couldn’t go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet.  In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and had been instantly healed.  Then Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace.”

I love this story for several reasons, the first being that Jesus persisted in wanting to see her, know her, hear her story.  He really cared about her. That’s love.  That is exactly what He has done for me.  He seeks me out.  He wants to hear directly from me what I’ve been going through.  And He heals my heart, over and over.  You know, I hope, that He cares exactly the same for you.  He wants to look in your eyes, know you and hear your story and pain and heal you and love you, over and over, again and again.

I also love that the woman shared the intimate details of her illness, regardless of the people around them.  She knew she could trust Him.  She was so grateful that she let nothing hold her back, not the crowd, not the social mores, nothing.  That is so inspiring.  But what struck me today was the power part, how power left Jesus.  I’ve always wondered about that.  How did He know power left him? (Power in this instance means inherent capacity to carry something out.)

Today I finally got it.  I gladly served my daughter and her family, but in giving to her, it took from me.  I was tired.  The same goes for my situation back in December. Giving takes from us and gives to others. In the process we lose power. We get tired. We feel worn out. And that’s okay. That’s what giving does when it comes from the heart. That’s what love is, that’s what love does.

But there’s more. After Jesus healed that woman, He continued on that day and raised a little girl from the dead. Just a few paragraphs later He sent out His disciples and “gave them power {that same kind of inherent power – ability} and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.  He told them, “Take nothing for the journey — no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt…”

Our ability to move forward comes as He provides.  We just have to show up. Say yes. Here I am. Send me. Which is what I did with my daughter. I showed up, not sure exactly what I could do that would help the most. Turns out it wasn’t the cleaning or watching the kids or any of the things I intentionally did that helped the most. It was who I am, the way I’m just wired to be a calming influence that meant the most to her. That, I can tell you with the utmost truth, is not something I can do on my own. That is simply a gift God has given me. He gave me that to give to her. He knew what she needed. Seeing that happen brought tears to my eyes.  Though I doubted my ability to be enough for her, God made me enough.  Showing up, giving, may come with a cost to us. But the most meaningful gift to others is Jesus shining through us.  Knowing that is both rewarding and exhilarating.

I had to smile as this all began to fit together when I read those verses today.  God began preparing me for my trip a month ago when I had absolutely no energy to serve anyone. He knew what was ahead and what I was meant to do.  Once again, He has my back, just like He has your back right now. He keeps preparing us, encouraging us, and giving us what we need to do the work before us. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a really good verse:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9

The Christian Divorce – Saying Yes to Divorce

IMG_7932IMG_1217 The Reality of the “Yes.”

Surely someone has breezily accepted a marriage proposal without thinking and then divorced with just as little thought. At least once or twice I’ve read a newspaper report about celebrities doing that – Vegas, right?  But what if they were hurting from the reality of their situation just as much as the rest of us?Among the hundreds of people I’ve spoken with as they divorced, no one ever breezily dismissed their marriage, no matter how brief. Spouses may grieve in different ways, but the internal pain is often quite similar.  For some, they will, really, never recover from the divorce. Children’s lives are broken in ways that will never heal.  The reality of saying “yes” to divorce. can be harsh indeed.

Loss on multiple levels, feelings of failure, grief – these are just some of the rites of passage through divorce.  The tearing asunder seems endless some days.  One day, when I was going through a very difficult time more than a year after my divorce, I asked a wiser, older woman in charge of the divorce recovery program at my former church when she thought the pain might end.  ”I’d guess it takes three years for every year you were married,” she replied.  I stared.  22 years x 3 = 66.  66 years????? How can that be? Slowly the light dawned.  Oh…I’ll never get over it. She was right.

With so much healing needed, and with circumstances taking curves you can’t foresee and spouses hurting each other in ways once unimaginable, it’s not uncommon for deep seated fears to surface.  ”What if the kids….?,” “How will I…?” “What if I lose…?” This often leads to, “I need to do this.”  ”I don’t have a choice.”  ”I have to for the kids.”  Sin stealthily slips in to steal and destroy just when we are most vulnerable.  At its worst, divorce tears at the souls of good people, people who never wanted a divorce and despite their best efforts, find themselves faced with their greatest fears.

Another harsh reality about saying yes to divorce is that we’ll be accountable before God for the call we make.  Our children, also, have every right to question our decision.  Daunting.  Simply daunting.  It still is for me, because my responsibility doesn’t end just because it’s in the past.  I continue to believe I made the right call, but I’ve had to examine my motives, my steps to fix the marriage, my reasons for calling it quits, how I handled the divorce and then how I handled being single.

I’ve gone over the details and the debris so many times that I amaze myself at how many perspectives I can have on any given day!  Clearly, I think way too much, but I know I will do this until I die because time and experience keep bringing more insights to ponder.  I also have a healthy fear of God, which continues to keep me open to owning my mistakes and seeing if I’m ignoring sin in my life.  I figure I’d rather do this today instead of dying unexpectedly and finding it’s too late!

Not all the realities of divorce are harsh, however.  For many, divorce is a cold winter of  tearing asunder that leads to a spring of healing.  Getting away from the adultery, abuse, addictions, or any pattern of sin that has developed within a marriage, can bring us to a place where we breathe freely again for the first time in years.  Fragile and barely able to move forward, God promises,”He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious.”  “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, ” Jesus said, “and I will give you rest,”  Stumbling, crawling under burdens you were never meant to carry alone, whatever it takes to get out, it’s worth it to begin to heal. Even for the children, or perhaps, in some very hurtful homes, especially for the children.

Consider, however, one more truth – that no one leaves a marriage without some responsibility for what happened within it.  Each spouse bears some of the responsibility and surely some of the guilt.  However, holding on to guilt will do you no good. The Bible says that God removes the guilt of our sin.  His forgiveness is complete, even if your spouses’s isn’t.  Ask your spouse for forgiveness anyway, because you have surely hurt them, perhaps through your blatant sin, or perhaps by enabling theirs.

Is healing harder if we’ve made the majority of mistakes?  Not necessarily.  Key to healing is the ability to have hope.  We may not have hope for our spouse anymore, but – and this is important – if we own up to our own mistakes, hope for a better future with a better outcome is possible.  Consider that God promised, of all things, hope to those who had turned their backs on him.  He said, “For I know the plans that I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. “

How does that happen?  Hope comes in many forms.  In fact, it comes in so many forms and is so, well…hopeful, that it would be a great topic for another post.  For now, I’ll start with the hope most familiar one to me – the one I lived. Strangely, hope came when I owned up to the full impact of my own mistakes.  It was time to grow up, to step up, and own up.  It had been easy to point a self-righteous finger at my spouse because he blatantly erred.  In my anger and victim mentality it felt good to think he was responsible for the demise of our marriage.  My self-righteousness became a heavy stick I carried for a long time.   Yet, despite how “right” I thought I was I still found myself hitting bottom.  Splitting asunder due to divorce brings a physical, emotional and spiritual agony that defies words.  Imagine my shock when the only face staring back at me in the agony and darkness of my situation was my own.

I took a long, hard look at that face.  It held no answers.  ”Dig down,” I urged myself. Where my motto had once been the old “you gotta pull yourself up by your bootstraps” I found that really, “I got nothin’.”  That was pretty scary.  For all my determination and anger, I still had “nothin’.”

Acknowledging the darkness of my own soul helped me see that I was just as tormented and lacking as the one I was blaming for the divorce.  I needed help and healing just as much as he did.

I began to own my own junk.  And what do you know?  In the harsh reality of owning our own mistakes God comes with our future laid out before us.  We need help.  We find we are same person we were before we married.  We have the same fears, some bad habits, same lessons to learn.  And therein lies the work ahead.  The more honest we are about this, the more we ask for help in addressing these things, the more baby steps we  will be able to take forward.  Hope begins to grow as we see that change begins within, with God’s help.  Small wins become confidence builders that inspire better choices. Little by little, the future unfolds with hope.

For the record, I hate divorce. Yet, there are clear grounds for divorce in the Bible. The Bible also gives many teachings on what a good marriage should look like.  Only you, your spouse and God really know the intimate details of what is good and what is bad within your marriage.  Many a marriage can survive adultery, abuse or addictions. Many cannot.  If you’ve decided to divorce, I pray that you will reach out to Jesus in the midst of the harsh darkness that you may be in.  His Word – the Bible – may it be a light to your path as you examine your choices.  May God give you the wisdom to know what to do and how to do it when you have no hope that things will ever work out for you.  May your fears not take root, but be rooted out.  May hope be felt in your heart again, very, very soon.

P.S.  If your marriage is in need of prayer, please feel free to contact me privately through this blog.   Sometimes I’m contacted through a “comment” below – and I respond privately and never make the comment public.   You may also email me at cottageofcontent@hotmail.com.

Beautiful You!

Do You See Yourself as God Sees You?

Do You See Yourself as God Sees You?

Timing is everything, and three things happened in the last, rather difficult week that led me to connect the dots and realize afresh a truth I sorely needed.

First, my son Nathan shared a post on Facebook by Dove, the maker of beauty products, titled “Real Beauty Sketches” with the tagline, “You are more beautiful than you think!”  They filmed an experiment which consisted of an artist rendering two versions of a woman’s face without seeing her.  The first version was the result of a woman’s self-description; the second version came from another woman who tried to describe to the artist the first woman’s face.  The second version was more accurate, with softer, more gentle features. The faces looked happier as well, more peaceful.

I love the fact that my son (he’s 26) posted this on his timeline.  Men are so aware of how critically women perceive themselves.  This bothers him, and it bothers me, too. Especially when I hear young people criticizing themselves.  The older I get the more I see how absolutely beautiful youth itself is.  The glow of young skin, the vitality and health that radiates with or without stunning features.  It’s all in perspective – and wouldn’t my mom just love to hear me say that after all the complaining I did in my youth!

Second, Turner Classic Movies (the one channel I want on a deserted island – that happens to have cable!) had a snippet showing Sydney Guilaroff as he talked about dancing with Greta Garbo.  Curiosity led me to Google, and I learned that Sydney was the man I’ve been looking for my entire life.  And when you hear who he was, you may realize you’ve been looking for him, too.  I must tell you, however, before you get your hopes up, that Sydney died in 1997.  I’m a bit disappointed, though my chances of meeting him were nil.

Who was he?  Oh, just the genius behind the “look” of all the Hollywood Stars.  As in, Marilyn, Liz, Greta, Ava, Tyrone, Clark, Lucille, Claudette, Joan, Norma, Vivian, Hedy, Harlow, Marlene, Greer, and the list just doesn’t end.  He had the gift of studying a person’s face and creating a look just for them or for their latest role.  A snip here, a part there, a curl, a twist, a bang, a color, and the stars looked amazing and the world scrambled to recreate their looks. The best stars wouldn’t dream of doing a film without Sydney to do their hair and with good reason.  He brought out their best.  He made them unique.  He saw the hidden and brought it out for all to see.  He affirmed them.  All this because he saw their potential.  Ah yes, I’ve often wished to find a budding Sydney at a local salon that I could afford! (No offense to my amazing stylist, Heather, whom I love dearly!)

Third, I had lunch yesterday with a most delightful woman.  She’s in her early eighties, and just as smart and vital as I recalled her to be twenty years ago.  She sat down at her piano and magnificently played refrains of beloved hymns, hymns that are a healing balm over my tired, wounded soul.  Her hands are extraordinary as they play; the notes resounded with depth and layers and joy and beauty that made my heavy heart simply fly as notes soared and dipped.  But what made me weep was the beauty of this aging woman – still strong in her faith, still using her gifts and blessing me so richly with them.

You see, as I saw the beauty in her, as she put her hands on the keys and I felt the incredible beauty of her music, I realized anew that this is how God sees me when I use my humble gifts.  As I saw the fullness of her faith in God and her love for Him as she played music more to Him than to me, I felt stronger in my faith.  As I saw God using her at 83 to bless me and heal me, I felt affirmed in my desire to be useful to Him, too, despite my own weaknesses.  

I walked away from our time together renewed, strengthened and encouraged in many, many ways, none of which she did intentionally.  How she would have described herself and her actions and how I’ve described them would create two completely different pictures. Funny thing is, she told me that I significantly encouraged and blessed her – in ways I didn’t even realize.  True story.  I was floored. Two women, who God brought together, blessed each other at just the right time in just the right ways just by being who God has already created us to be.

And so I connect the dots…when I’m discouraged I become so much like the women in the Dove experiment, only I’m minimizing, critiquing and creating a distorted image of who I am on the inside.  God – God! –  has studied not just my face but my very heart and soul.  He snips discouragement, parts my path from hurtful people, adds curls of encouragement just when I need them, twists that bad into good, adds some bangs and surprises, colors my vision with hope and faith and I realize I am affirmed and loved by my Creator.  He placed that potential in me, He does all He can to bring it about, and all I need to do is be faithful to Him and to who He’s called me to be.  As I do that, He brings about the healing and joy and relationships I need.

I thought I would pass this encouragement on to you, just in case you struggle with your inner image sometimes, too.  You are so beautiful in His eyes!  He studies your face, your heart, your hopes and your disappointments.  He wants to heal you, too. He has placed potential in you and He alone knows how to bring it out more fully and more beautifully than you have ever dared to hope.

Who needs a marvelous hairstylist, or even Dove beauty products and their affirmation, when our very souls are crying out for affirmation?  Only the One who created our souls can truly affirm us.  And that is only done through the powerful work Jesus did on the cross, so that our souls can be cleansed from our sins and made beautiful, white as snow, righteous and lovely, complete in Him.  And that is just the beginning of our transformation – for He who began a good work in you and in me will be faithful to complete it – which means He’s actively at work in us and through us always.  The ultimate makeover is ongoing.  Who you are is a beautiful work in progress!  He looks at you and sees you with all that potential, and yet loves you just as you are today.  Trust Him when He says He loves you so…..much!  

One last thing – go bless someone with who you are – you may be exactly the encouragement they need today, because you are beautiful indeed!

A Poem and a Prayer, For You

Image

Today, I want you to know I’ve heard you.  What you’re going through, it’s rough, really rough.  So, this is for you:

I Heard You

Just want you to know
I heard you.
I know you’re hurting.
Your marriage is troubled,
Your health is precarious,
You’ve been through a great deal,
Financially it’s rough.
You’re facing more,
With less of everything.
You’re not sleeping well,
Eating well, living well.
You’re not sure what to do.
In fact sometimes you’re downright
Scared.
You might mention these things
Briefly
And then talk about trivialities,
They are good distractions
I know, I heard.
I just want you to know,
Jesus heard you, too.
As much as I love you,
As much as I’ve prayed for you,
He loves you even more.
As you breathed in pain
And exhaled fear
Before you even voiced it,
He said, “I heard you.”

Dear Jesus,
Please give______ peace today, your peace that passes understanding. You see their fears, their pain, their questions. Help them to be open to you, to your gentleness and kindness, your desire to heal them in their innermost places where they let no one else in. Touch them in some real way, may they have no doubt that you love them. Give them faith, give them hope. Please, Lord Jesus, give them hope, hope in you alone. May they know your love, the only pure and completely trustworthy love on this earth. And if the only love they see today is from me, then let them see you in me. Teach me how to love them even more today, that they may love you, trust you.
I put them tenderly in your hands, Lord. I trust their situation to you and your ways, which are far above my understanding. In Jesus name I pray, amen.