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, 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?

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.

anxiety, devotional, healing, lessons learned

How Big Is Your Cross?

How big is your cross? Depends on your proximity. If you’re close, your cross is big. If you’re far away, your cross is small. In our oversized, bigger-is-better world, we equate size with greatness. 

But here’s the thing, sometimes we just need to get closer in order for it to be bigger. When we get closer to the cross, we’re closer to the Lord of the cross, the one who has already defeated our enemy—a big God who can tackle big problems.

When I forget to read my Bible, when I focus on problems, when I spend more time asking God for piddly things than praising Him for all things, when I focus on the chasm of the water between us, I find myself feeling distant from the cross and all it represents.

But when I read my Bible, focus on the beauty around me, remember to praise God for the blessings he has given me, and look for the connecting bridge (Jesus), I find myself craning my neck to take in the power and majesty of the cross that is right in front of me.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

James 4:8 ESV

What about you? Do you need to adjust your proximity? How big is your cross?

grief, healing, lessons learned, moving on, reinventing

If I Don’t Say It . . .

If I don’t say it, it’s not true. If I don’t say it, it didn’t happen. If I don’t say it, I can sweep it under the carpet. Right? As much as my reticent Scottish ancestry would like to believe that, it’s not accurate. Feelings can only be suppressed for so long; events happen whether or not I verbalize them. 

This past two years (more like seven), so many things have happened that I don’t want to acknowledge. But I’ve learned that acknowledgment and acceptance don’t necessarily equal approval.

By accepting that certain things ARE, I free my heart to figure out how to live with their realities without losing my mind.

But how on earth do you accept losing your second chance at love, your health, your finances, your job, your church, and your dreams for your family? Prayer, prayer, and more prayer! Then . . .

You get up, dress up, and show up! You put one foot in front of the other. You cry. And you cry some more. 

Then you dry your tears and do the next thing. But the thing about crying is not allowing yourself to wallow indefinitely. So many bitter people wallow forever and never get through. They are stuck in the Fire Swamp of despair—like the quicksand in Princess Bride, but without hero Westly. 

Whatever you do, don’t keep it all bottled inside! From experience, I can tell you that doesn’t work. Forty-eight years is a long time to keep a stiff upper lip. When you keep it bottled up, it bubbles over—”out of the abundance of the heart, [her] mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). And that’s just not a pretty sound.

Feelings have to be traveled through. There is no around. Going through does not mean getting stuck in them, though. It means processing those feelings, so you can heal. Healing comes from going through, not from stuffing. 

David struggled with this very issue when he was being pursued relentlessly by his enemies. He was honest with the Lord about his emotions, but he didn’t stay there. Many of the psalms document David’s struggle with accepting the hard stuff of life. One of my favorites is Psalm 79. David begins by telling God what others have done against him. Then he lets the Lord know what he’s feeling. “How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?” (v. 5). He is honest with God about his feelings; he doesn’t keep them bottled up inside. Rather, he gives them over to the Creator of feelings who knows best how to soothe them. He next asks for help: 

“Help us, O God of our salvation,
    for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
    for your name’s sake! (v. 9).

But the real sermon in this psalm is the last verse. David gives thanks to the Lord WHILE he’s in the middle of his mess. That’s what we need to do, too.

For me, writing is often the way through hard stuff and its accompanying emotions. What’s your way through the quagmire of messy life?

healing, lessons learned

Don’t Pet the Bison

. . . And other things you don’t think you have to tell your kids. I asked some of my mom friends for the most outrageous things they’d ever had to tell their kids not to do, and here’s what they told me (along with a few that have come out of my own mouth): 

  • Don’t eat Tide Pods.
  • Don’t bring a kitten home from Tennessee.
  • Don’t lick the floor. 
  • Don’t eat the dog’s food.
  • You can’t teach the cat to read.
  • Don’t put cereal in your nose.

As God’s children, he’s had to tell us plenty of things that he probably thought we should know already, but we seem to do them over and over again anyway.

  • Don’t gossip.
  • Don’t complain. 
  • Watch your attitude.
  • Love and respect others. 
  • Put God first (on Sundays and every other day).
  • Be generous.
  • Don’t worship idols (disguised as kids’ soccer games, career success, or a bigger house).
  • Don’t be jealous (of your friends’ lives as portrayed on Instagram and Facebook).

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:13

Duh. Remember when we were teens and that was the standard response that meant “I know! I’m not stupid, so you didn’t have to tell me that”? And then remember when our moms were right after all?

How many times did God have to rescue the nation of Israel in the Old Testament because they did something stupid like worship idols or make a treaty with the enemies that God told them to destroy (Joshua 9, the book of Judges)? A lot! How many times does God have to rescue us because we went ahead and said what was on our minds or skipped church for the third week in a row? A lot!

When God tells us something in his Word, it’s because he knows best. For real. We should not be so arrogant as to say “duh” because chances are we’re about to act like a tourist with her arm stretched out to pet that bison. 

Paul assures us that God gives us the ability to follow God’s directions so that we may live a life that glorifies Him. That’s what this well-known verse is really talking about: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Let me know in which areas I can pray for you to be strengthened.

anxiety, change, grief, healing, lessons learned, moving on

Take It to the Cross

How many times do we hear—or say—that phrase and not know how to take our burdens to the cross and leave them there?

“Rising Cairn” by Celeste Roberge

I connected immediately with this sculpture, “Rising Cairn” by Celeste Roberge, the first time I saw its image. Others have called it “The Weight of Grief,” and that’s what I see. Grief, bitterness, struggles, loneliness, loss, all these things weigh us down. It’s not just all in the mind or in the heart; hard things take their toll physically too. 

All this weight that we carry can make daily living difficult. Imagine carrying a 30-pound backpack on your back all day, every day. Sounds exhausting, right? Well, that’s what we do when we don’t let Christ carry our spiritual and emotional burdens for us. 

I’ve tried to envision how free I would feel to be rid of all the weights I carry. I can picture Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress stumbling toward the cross. As he nears it and lifts his eyes to see the symbol of his Savior’s love, the weights fall right off his back. Can you imagine the freedom and lightness he felt? Can you imagine the freedom and lightness you and I would feel if we could only lay down our rock loads at the foot of the cross.

We can!! In order to help those of us (me) without an imagination, I’ve thought of doing this physically, but I haven’t yet. Gather up a bunch of rocks, use a sharpie to write a burden on each one—whatever’s weighing down me heart and mind and causing me to be bent over with grief. Take those rocks, those burdens to the cross and set them down on the ground beside it. I imagine Jesus bending over and picking up those rocks and in exchange giving me His yoke of peace, love, and grace. How much lighter I would feel! Those aren’t burdens at all; they’re blessings!

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

Once we’ve laid our burdens down at the foot of the cross, we can’t pick them up again. Not that I would want to, but we are creatures of habit. 

Recently when I was struggling with a particular issue with one of my children, I was keeping it all inside and not telling anyone about it—even my closest friends. I was so crushed by this burden—just like the person depicted in the “Rising Cairn” sculpture—that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was filled with anxiety and grief. My dad finally encouraged me to let it go, to let others help me carry that burden to the Lord. It was hard to share what I felt like was my failing as a mother, but I did. It took several months of prayers, tears, and sharing with friends who carried me to Jesus, but I have let it go (mostly). When I dwell on this issue, I still cry. I pray constantly for this problem. But I don’t carry the burden of it around with me, and in that, I am free. 

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free

John 8:32 ESV

I have other burdens that I’m working on releasing, but sometimes I feel like the rocks are superglued to my hand! Why do I hold onto my burdens instead of loosing the backpack straps and letting the whole bag fall to the ground at the cross as Christian did? I don’t know! But I’m working on it, and I’m inviting Jesus to help me release these burdens. 

What rocks are superglued to your hands? What burdens are in your backpack weighing you down? Take them to the cross and leave them there, friend! If you need someone to pray with you about your cares, let me know.