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devotional, divorce, grief, healing

Love Letters

Eight years ago, on my very first Valentine’s Day as a grieving, scared, newly separated, single mom, I got the ultimate rejection: legal separation papers. Yes, they were actually delivered on Valentine’s Day. I’m pretty sure I went through a whole box of tissues that day.

Last year, separated from my second husband, I found out that he was seeing another woman. Yes, before we were legally divorced. (I later discovered that they were married before the ink was even dry on his divorce from me.) 

Let’s just say I don’t have high hopes for this particular holiday. 

But there is Someone who sent me the ultimate love letter. Someone who won’t ever retract it. Someone who, although he loves many others, will never be unfaithful to me.

God sent us the ultimate love letter, so long that it fills 66 separate books. True, some books are more filled with obvious love than others, but the whole Bible is a story of redemption for undeserving people—the  ultimate definition of love.

Although nearly 800 verses displayed when I did a search for the word love in the Bible, the one verse that has been popping up over and over recently doesn’t actually have the word love in it: 

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3:17

What could be a better definition of love for someone who’s feeling rejected and forgotten on Valentine’s Day more than God taking great delight in me? That’s not an I-love-you-because-I-have-to love. That’s not you’re-not-quite-enough-for-me love. That’s an amazing kind of love! It makes me want to rejoice and sing, too!

Now I just need a way for this amazing truth to sink in the long 12 inches from my head to my heart. 

Friend, I know it’s hard, really hard, especially this week. But know this: you are not forgotten; you are not unloved. You are delighted in! Your Heavenly Father is rejoicing over you with singing!

about me, divorce, healing, moving on, writing

Why I Have to Write

Last week I shared why I’m afraid to write my story. It was enough to scare me off all over again! This week I want to share why, in spite of my fears, I feel compelled to write anyway.

God has put in my heart to share my story in order to help others who may be going through similar hard stuff. Hard stuff is hard stuff, that is true, yet some hard stuff is so unique that only those who have suffered through it can truly understand those with the same difficulties. Here’s a brief rundown of some of my hard stuff over the past seven and a half years. 

Within a period of a year or so, I endured a separation (that eventually resulted in divorce), a totaled car, bankruptcy and foreclosure through no fault of my own, a child who almost committed suicide, job loss, financial loss, custody suits, serious health issues with my parents, serious health issues for myself, loss of church and friends due to false rumors, loss of my home, and more. 

Just as I was getting back on my feet, the whole cycle started over again. I had remarried (after much prayer and thought), but that marriage, too, ended in divorce due to abuse. I had expensive car repairs and expensive health issues. Again, I lost a job and a church. A child did something that rocked my world. A parent called with another cancer diagnosis. Property and finances were stolen from me. This second cycle was a bit shorter, and I was better prepared, yet I cried out to God asking why I had to suffer through all of these hard things again

So why do I feel the need to share about some of these hard things? I need to shine the light of God’s truth onto the ugly places of marital abuse in the church. Divorce—even in 2020—is still heavily stigmatized in the church. Who are we to judge what others have been through when they most need love? I need to help parents of children living alternative lifestyles know they are not alone, and it’s not their fault. 

I need to share that even though my entire life crumbled around me—literally—more than once, I can remain standing because of God’s faithfulness. God has put in my heart to share my story to make stepping stones out of the pit back onto solid ground and to show others who are where I have been the path to freedom and wholeness. Spoiler alert: I’m not all the way there yet.  

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;     
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;    
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV

The other reason I need to share my story is that I was silenced for so many years and made to feel like I was less than and not important. I lost my sense of self. I lost my opinions. I was made to feel worthless. I lost my self-confidence. All of it. 

I need to write in order to feel heard and to regain myself! I have been silenced long enough!

Which of these topics can you identify with? Which of these topics would you like to see in print first? (Well, on the blog, not really in print.)

anxiety, healing, moving on, When a Woman Finds Her Voice, writing

Why I'm Afraid to Write My Story

I’ve been procrastinating, which is unlike me. I’ve decided that this is the year to tell my story, but I want to communicate it with redemption and hope. As I was trying to figure out why I felt so anxious whenever I thought of writing recently, I came up with this (probably partial) list of fears. Can you relate?

I’m afraid I’ll be minimalized—again. I’m afraid my parents will disapprove of what I choose to say. I’m afraid others (kids, friends, family, strangers) will disapprove of what I choose to say. I’m afraid I’ll be told my story doesn’t matter. I’m afraid to relive some of the really hard parts of my story. I’m afraid people will think I’m not a good writer. I’m afraid I won’t come up with the right words. I’m afraid I won’t be able to craft the story with redemption and hope. I’m afraid I’ll have to do marketing and all that stuff that makes my brain hurt and makes me feel inadequate. 

I’m afraid people will say what happened to me wasn’t that bad. I’m afraid to be vulnerable because I don’t want to get hurt again/more. I’m afraid to dream. I’m afraid to hope. I’m afraid to believe that I could actually write something helpful that people would want to read (never mind the fact that part of my day job title includes the word writer). I’m afraid I’ve only got one word for how I made it through some of the toughest spots: God. I’m afraid I don’t know how to incorporate all the elements properly. I’m afraid I’ll fail. I’m afraid it won’t be perfect.

There are nowhere near 365 “I’m afraid” statements there, yet God has provided 365 different verses in the Bible to address fear. A bunch of them are found in the book of Joshua as he was setting out to do a new thing. Over and over, God tells him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV). Like Joshua, I feel as if I’m setting out to do a new thing (telling pieces of my story). Like Joshua, I feel as if I need daily strength and encouragement not to be afraid. 

David also knew all about being in situations where fear was a normal response, yet he reacted like this: 

“In God, whose word I praise,

in God I have put my trust;

I shall not be afraid.

What can mere man do to me?”

Psalm 56:4 (NASB)

Turns out, “mere men” can do quite a bit, but it’s not permanent. Their words are not as powerful as the words of the Almighty God who promises to “redeem the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (Psalm 34:22 ESV).

In the end, that’s what I’ve got to cling to: God. He’s been there all along, and He’s certainly not going to fail me now. 

change, devotional, lessons learned, reinventing

Praise Before Victory

It’s a dreary, chilly day here in North Carolina, but that’s no excuse to let my inside grumpiness be on display for everyone else. Although it may seem like no big deal, it’s not. Victory in small things leads to victory in bigger things. Learning how to have victory over a grumpy mood one day leads to learning how to have victory over the negative effects of a life-altering event next month or next year. 

Turns out, King Jehoshaphat of OT Judah, knew the right formula: “He appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’ And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed”  — 2 Chronicles 20:21–22.

They’re giving praises to God BEFORE the victory! The praise band is walking in front of the soldiers. What? Isn’t that backward? Sure seems that way! We teach our kids to say thank you after we’ve given them something. Do you remember giving your toddlers something—anything—and then prompting them, “What do you say?” Sometimes I would even hold onto the item (with them holding the other side of it) until they remembered to say thank you. I was giving them the cookie, yet I wouldn’t release the cookie from my hand until they expressed gratitude. 

Lightbulb moment: Is that what’s going on here? God is giving us the victory, just like I’m giving my toddler the cookie, but just like a toddler, I often need to be prompted to say thank you. God is holding onto the victory until I get my brain in gear and acknowledge that he’s the source of the victory! But how do we gain a victory when we want to remain in victim mode?  

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”

1 Corinthians 15:57

Fill your mind with gratitude. Read the Psalms and notice that even when David was crying for help in a difficult situation, he always gave thanks as well.

Fill your ears with praises. Start singing praises to God—sing along with worship songs on the radio. Or just start by clicking on a praise and worship channel on Pandora or Spotify. 

Fill your hand with thankfulness. Express gratitude. Keep a jar on your counter and make a point every day to write one thing for which you are grateful on a slip of paper to put into the jar. For a dose of encouragement, at the end of the year (or month, or even week), take a look back at God’s personal faithfulness to you.   

Sometimes victory looks like showing up at work or church even when it took a monumental effort to pick yourself up off the floor from a crying jag. Sometimes victory looks like hugging the person who just screamed invectives at you and slammed doors on his way out because he’s your son. Sometimes victory looks like keeping your mouth closed during a work meeting or not firing off that angry (though perhaps justified) email. And sometimes victory looks like keeping the grumpiness inside and projecting cheerfulness. What does your victory look like today?

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How to Lose a Guy in 3 Emails

So, this online dating thing is supposed to be a great way to meet new people, right? You look at photoshopped pictures, read clichés masquerading as profiles, send digital winks, and attempt to start awkward conversations with strangers. If you’re lucky, some guy that sounds halfway interesting will say more than, “Hey, babe.” 

Then you get a conversation going, but it’s probably the most stilted, unnatural conversation you’ve ever had in your life. That’s ok, though, because there’s potential! You’re excited and respond eagerly to the incoming messages. Then he asks for your number, and you’re sure you’re finally going to get a date. It’s about time, after all, since you’ve been stalking profiles for several months. 

All of a sudden, the messages stop. What happened? You were sure he was The One! Or at least that you were going to get a free Starbucks out of all your efforts!

I’ll tell you what happened! Here’s your free guide to how to lose a guy in three emails:

  • Be too eager
  • Be a cold fish
  • Ask him tons of questions to get to know him
  • Don’t ask any questions
  • Return every message right away
  • Wait a few days, at least, before returning messages
  • Be proactive and message him first
  • Wait for him to initiate every correspondence
  • Tell  him all the details about your kids
  • Tell him you’re not interested in hearing about his kids
  • Ask him to go to church with you
  • Tell him he attends the wrong denomination
  • Say you hate sports
  • Run faster than he does and leave him panting in the first block
  • Text him good morning
  • And goodnight
  • Be possessive
  • Tell him you’re meeting other guys for coffee as well
  • Say you’re madly in love with him the third time you meet
  • Be totally disinterested in his most passionate hobby
  • And my final tip: actually give him your phone number!

Oy! Dating in this new-fangled age of digital matchmaking is hard, so we may as well laugh about it! What’s your best/worst tip for dating later in life?

change, devotional, healing, lessons learned, moving on, reinventing

Out With the Old; In With the New

So, maybe I’m a few days late to the game, but I’m still working on my vision for 2020. How ‘bout you? Or maybe your goals have already fizzled, and you need a reminder to reboot them. Here’s your invitation to keep working toward your 2020 vision!

Some of my goals feel so big and so audacious that I’m taking my time to break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. I’m believing God for “a new thing” in this new decade. (Yes, I’m aware that some of you think the new decade doesn’t start until 2021, but let’s set that debate aside for now.) At the end of this year, I’ll be reaching a milestone birthday with a new decade of life. So, it’s time. It’s time to shed the past decade of hurts and hard stuff. It’s time to do something with the lessons that God’s taught me through all of the yuckiness of recent life events. 

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, … “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” — Isaiah 43:16–19

— Isaiah 43:16–19 (ESV)

If my God can make a dry path for the Isralites through the Red Sea, make water spring forth from a dry rock, raise a dead man to life, and create something out of nothing, then he can give me a new lease on life this year! I’m on the lookout for his path for me through the desert this coming year. 

But here’s the thing: we can’t go forward if we’re looking back. We can’t make a new relationship work if we’re always bringing up the old one. We can’t hold new things if our hands are still clenched around the old things—physically or metaphorically. Dump out the cold coffee and brew a fresh cup, sister!

Together, let’s let go of fear, unrealistic expectations, old hurts, and feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Let’s reach out and hold onto  faith, confidence, joy, and the expectation that God will do something new in our lives in 2020. Who’s with me?

change, devotional, lessons learned

What If We're Just Supposed to Show Love?

What if we’re just supposed to show love this Christmas season? Not judge. Not worry about how our show of love will be perceived. Not worry about what it might cost us. Not worry about whether we’re doing it the right way (whatever that might be). Just love.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”

John 15:12 ESV

Like the lawyer in Luke 10, I want to question Jesus and say, “Surely you didn’t mean I have to show love to that person; he’s not my neighbor!” Like that legalistic questioner, we, too, are often guilty of loving just those who are like us, who have the same values and backgrounds. But instead, we are to have the attitude of the Samaritan—a pariah in the Jewish community—and go the extra mile for everyone, even our enemies.   The Samaritan not only bandaged up his enemy’s wounds on the spot, but he carried him to the next town and arranged for his extended care—at his own expense! 

For us, sometimes showing love looks like inviting your son’s awkward girlfriend over for Christmas dinner even though you wish they’d break up. Sometimes showing love looks like buying a gift for that rude coworker. Sometimes showing love means cooperating with your children’s father. A lot of times showing love looks like being a gracious hostess and a generous gift giver to those who don’t deserve anything by worldly standards. Showing love sometimes looks like letting go. Showing love sometimes looks like overriding your emotions. Most of all, at least for me, showing love is going to look like giving smiles and hugs, but keeping my opinions, thoughts, and fears to myself. 

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”

Luke 6:27-28 ESV

That’s the true spirit of Christmas!

What does showing love look like for you this Christmas season? Let’s share and uphold each other in prayer. May God give us the grace to show his compassion to all!

devotional, lessons learned, moving on

How to be Thankful in Tough Times

Canva - A Woman in a FieldI don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do when I’m faced with a huge, unexpected car repair bill, a looming medical diagnosis, or an impossible family situation is to give thanks. But that’s what we’re supposed to do. 

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

James instructs us to “count it all joy” as we encounter trials! Personally, I’ve always had a bone to pick with James about the word “joy.” But we are instructed to actually be joyful in times of trouble. I’m still working on it! That’s the way to become steadfast, which will lead to becoming “perfect and complete” (James 1:2–4).

The most vivid example is when Paul and Silas were in the Philippian jail. It can’t get much worse than being beaten and then thrown into a dank prison cell for witnessing for Christ. Yet Paul and Silas were singing and praising God in the middle of the night. THEN, and only then, did God cause an earthquake that set in motion the events of their freedom—and the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his family (Acts 16:16–34). Somehow, I don’t think they would have been saved if Paul and Silas had spent the night complaining and screaming invectives.  

Do I want to give praise and thanks to God when times are tough? No! Nothing in my natural self wants to do anything but have a pity party. But after my tissue box is empty and my journal is full of laments, the pity party is over. The first rung of the ladder out of the pit of despair is praise. There’s always something to be thankful for, even if it’s just a new box of tissues when you’re bawling your eyes out over bad news. 

I can praise God that though the battle may seem lost for now, the war is not over. I can praise God for past victories, however small or long ago they may be. I can praise God for another day to bring Him glory. I can thank God for friends and family who remain by my side no matter what. I can be thankful for a roof over my head and a job to pay the bills. 

Even when I didn’t have a job—or a roof, or a car—God provided for my every need. And for that, I can be thankful today as I’m facing new trials.   

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:1, 5).

So, how can you be thankful right now—in the midst of your trials?

anxiety, grief, healing

What to Say Instead

Nothing! Yes, often the best thing to say is nothing at all. But that’s so hard for this fix-it society. In fact, I caught myself opening my mouth to spout a fix-it verse just the other day. We often feel like when someone says something, we have to respond. Right that second. Don’t.

Stop. Listen. Think. Respond. Silence is not always a sign of a lack of wisdom. Sometimes it’s the greatest sign of wisdom. Use your filter!

While you’re saying nothing, try just sitting with your friend. Offer a hug, a shoulder, and a tissue box. Actually ask if she wants to talk about it, or what you can do to help. What do you need? What can I do for you? And then respect the answer. Or try a simple I’m so sorry.

“When you make one other human simply see they aren’t alone, you make the world a better place.”

Lysa TerKeurst, Facebook, Sept. 10, 2019

But what do you do about those pesky feelings? It’s ok to feel that way. God isn’t mad at you for feeling that way. Me, too (but don’t hijack the conversation). I understand (but only if you really do – “tired” is not the same as chronic fatigue syndrome; “my husband is away for a week” is not the same as not having one). I can’t say I understand your struggle exactly, but I will certainly pray for you!

I don’t want to give the impression that reciting Bible verses is wrong, but do so judiciously. Don’t offer bandaids for bullet holes. Do offer a relevant Scripture or two, but don’t try to make the issue go away or minimalize it with the “magic” of Bible verses.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Bonus responses: I’m on the way with chocolate ice cream! Let’s meet at Starbucks; I’m buying. 

Seeking to understand is always better than trying to give answers! How are you planning on encouraging someone the next time the need arises? How do you need to be encouraged yourself? What works for you?

anxiety, devotional, grief, healing, lessons learned

Jesus Is Not a Band-Aid

My people are broken—shattered!—

    and they put on Band-Aids,

Saying, “It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.”

But things are not “just fine”!

Jeremiah 6:14 (MSG)

When you fall down the stairs carrying a bag of groceries and rip every tendon and ligament in your ankle, it hurts. A lot. You have surgery to repair said tendons and ligaments, which also hurts. A lot. But you’re still not cured. You have months (at least) of physical therapy to recondition your knee. And it hurts. A lot. Eventually, it hurts a little less when you wake up in the morning. Eventually, you graduate from a walker to a cane while walking. Eventually, you carry a bag of groceries up the stairs and forget the pain caused by that same action. But it takes a long time. Healing is a painful and long process.

Our emotions are even more fragile than knee tendons and ligaments. So why do we try to slap a Sunday School platitude on a deep emotional wound and tell the traumatized to stop crying about it? That would be like slapping a Band-Aid on a broken ankle. 

  • “Don’t worry about it; just pray.”
  • “Don’t be depressed; you have the joy of the Lord!”
  • “God’s with you, so you shouldn’t feel lonely.”
  • “Just turn the other cheek; it doesn’t matter what others say.”
  • “Time heals all wounds; you should be over that by now.”

I don’t know about you, but that triteness just doesn’t cut it for me. Those phrases leave people feeling like if only we were a better Christian, or believed more, or had more faith, or prayed more, we wouldn’t feel so bad. Author Alison Cook calls it “spiritual bypassing.” Christian author and comedian Jon Acuff calls it “Jesus juking” (you’ll catch the reference if you’re a sports fan). We Scots don’t call it anything because we don’t even acknowledge our feelings. 

No matter what you call it, the effect is the same: we’re stuffing our feelings down into the toes of our winter boots and hoping summer is eternal. Reality check: it’s not. Stuffing our emotions is not healthy. It leads to a whole host of other emotional issues (stress, anger, bitterness) and even physical problems (headaches, stomach aches, chronic muscle pain, and the list goes on). Eventually, you won’t be able to keep those emotions stuffed in. They’ll erupt like Mount St. Helens. 

Here’s the thing. Being a Christian does not make us “immune to normal human emotions” (Cook). My favorite example is David. Just look at all the psalms where he expresses anger, disappointment, fear, sadness, loneliness, shame, and a host of other emotions. But he doesn’t stop there. He works through them. Growth only occurs when we go THROUGH the emotions, not around them (thus the term bypass). 

There are no shortcuts in the Christian life. Psalm 23 talks about the valley of the shadow of death. John 16:33 confirms “In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we should not have feelings! Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” It does not say don’t be angry. “You can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge. You can’t transform what you’ve pretended doesn’t exist” (Cook).

BUT, don’t camp out in those negative emotions. Don’t vent to everyone about everything every minute of every day. As Christian author and speaker Lysa TerKeurst says, “emotions are not dictators.” We should not use emotions as excuses to act out, to stay in the valley, to exhibit bad behavior, or to make others feel worse. No! They’re indicators that we need to pay attention to something going on in our souls. 

Yes, Christ helps. Yes, Christ has forgiven me, so I should forgive others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Yes, Jesus offers his peace when I commit my anxieties to him, but the anxieties keep coming back! Yes, faith is the enemy of fear, but that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid!!

I think we would have less anxiety if we were allowed to talk openly about it. Sometimes that’s all I want—for my feelings to be ACKNOWLEDGED. That’s it. You don’t even have to understand it (because chances are I won’t believe that you do understand it unless I know you’ve been THROUGH it yourself). You don’t have to diagnose it. You don’t have to fix it. Please don’t offer an empty platitude. Just let me express myself. Part of the going-through the process is just acknowledging that those emotions are there. 

Acknowledging our emotions and going through the steps to heal them is just as necessary for a healthy emotional balance as physical therapy after ankle surgery to repair those torn tendons and ligaments. Not acknowledging and working through emotions is like just lying in a hospital bed after the ankle surgery for weeks on end. Sure, you have a new knee, but it’s not going to work very well if you don’t do the hard work of physical therapy. Maybe you think that the ankle should heal up in a few weeks, just like the removed appendix did. Nope. Maybe you think that the hurt should be gone as quickly as the anger (or vice versa). Nope. It takes as long as it takes. Maybe you think you’re all healed, but then a twinge swoops in unexpectedly and leaves you breathless for a moment. Does that mean you need another ankle surgery because you didn’t have enough faith that the surgery and physical therapy you already did was enough? No! It means that healing is a long-term process!!

Whoever gets sense loves his own soul; he who keeps understanding will discover good.

Proverbs 19?8 (ESV)

So, if we’re not offering Jesus Band-Aids, what should we offer instead? What do you think? What’s the most helpful thing you’ve heard when you’ve gone through hard times? Drop me a line and let me know what you think. I’ll be posting about it next time.