Lessons Learned

The message popped up on my phone.

“I have a friend whose wife left him a few years back. He’s been reading your blog. Do you mind if I give him your phone number? He would like to talk to you.”

I responded in the affirmative. “Sure. Go ahead. I’d be more than happy to talk to him.”

A few days later, a call from an unknown number popped up on my phone. I began to visit with this gentleman. We talked about mutual friends. We talked about our past and current ministries. We talked about God.

We began to piece together where we our paths might have crossed in the past. Because he has been in ministry his entire adult life, he knows many of the ministers across the state. Because I went to Oklahoma Baptist University, I know many of the same ministers.

When I mentioned that my son was going to youth camp this week, he asked me which church he was going with. I told him that Blake was attending with the church where my ex-husband had been pastor and I told him the name of the church.

“Wow,” he began. “Our world just got a whole lot smaller. I spoke to the youth at that church. I met your ex-husband.”

Sure enough, he was able to describe my ex-husband. We had actually been in the same church at the same time.

As the conversation continued, he asked one final question: “What have you learned from walking through divorce?”

My mind began to spin. Oh, how much I have learned in the last six years! Where do I begin? How do I summarize the lessons I have learned? I could talk for hours about all I have learned. And, surprisingly, very little of it has to do with relationships.

I have written about many of these lessons over the last three years. But, I thought it might be a good time to summarize a few of my favorite lessons.

God is faithful…always. In the early days of separation, after enduring the excruciating pain of adultery and having my offer of forgiveness rejected, I really wanted nothing to do with God. I was angry. He had failed me. I had been obedient to him, and yet I received nothing but pain. Why should I follow him if the blessing I received was a shattered heart? I could have lived my way, and it could have turned out this well…or better.

But, God was unwilling to leave me in my sin. Even when I was faithless, he was faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). Never did he leave me. Never did he forsake me.

Which brings me to the next lesson.

God loves me…deeply. Despite being a Christian since the age of six, I don’t think I truly grasped the love my Father has for me. Sure, I knew it in a theological way. I could point to the scriptures that told me he loved me so much he gave his only son for me. But I had never truly understood his love in an experiential way.

As I ran from God, I found him pursuing me relentlessly. The harder I ran from him, the louder his voice became.

“Get your security from me,” he whispered day after day.

It was as if I was the only one on the face of the earth. I was the center of his attention, the one he was running after. He could have let me go.

But he didn’t.

He was not content to let me walk away from him because his love for me is far greater than I could ever imagine. He chased me. He fought for me. He pursued me relentlessly. All because he loves me.

I need his forgiveness…badly. I think sometimes when we have spent our entire lives seeking God, we fail to realize the true condition of our hearts. We become prideful. We think that Christ died for everyone else’s sins. We fail to recognize that we need his forgiveness.

In those months where I ran from God, I can honestly say that I don’t know who was inhabiting my body. I fell to sins that I thought I was immune from. And yet, as I look back, I now have a deeper appreciation for the gift of forgiveness that Christ lavished upon us. I realize that without God, I am weak and capable of falling to any sin. I realized that I am no less of a sinner than anyone else. I realized that it is only by the grace of God that I am who I am.

God has good plans for us…always. Life can often knock us down. We can feel as if our lives are over, that there is no future for us. We can believe that our ministry is over, that we no longer have any influence. We can sense that we have been disqualified from ministry, that we are no longer qualified for God’s work.

And yet, I now see that the very thing that I thought had disqualified me from ministry has become a springboard to a much greater ministry than I ever dreamed possible! Nothing that this life throws at us ends our life, our influence. God promises to make all things work for good to those who love him (Romans 8:28). If it’s not good, God’s not done.

God is able…to do anything. This journey has been a journey of faith. As I have seen my Great I Am provide for my every need just the right moment, I have seen my faith grow. My prayers are no longer for small things; instead, I am believing God for the impossible. I am begging God and believing God for power beyond my greatest imagination.

My God is able to do above and beyond all I could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-22). I have seen it. I believe it. And I am asking for more every day.

No pain is wasted…ever. I have seen my fair share of pain. No one can grasp the excruciating pain of adultery. No one can understand the pain of watching your children hurt. No one can completely know the fear of financial ruin. No one can feel the loneliness that sets in.

Rejection. Uncertainty. Anger. Unending conflict. Bitterness. I have felt every negative emotion known to the human experience.

And yet, I have also experienced the freedom of forgiveness. I’ve felt the comfort of the Father. I’ve known personally the provisions of my Father. I’ve seen my pain used for His glory and my good. I’ve experienced growth and spiritual maturity that I never dreamed possible.

And peace. That amazing peace that surpasses all understanding. His perfect peace that floods my life as I focus on him. That peace that keeps me grounded, protected as the world crashes around me.

I can truly say that for every pain I have experienced, he has repaid me with two blessings. And he’s not finished yet!

I could go on and on about the lessons I have learned. There’s no end! And, I know there are many more.

If you are walking through the pain of divorce, adultery, or any other trial, don’t despair! Our God is able and willing! He has great plans for you and will one day have you put together and on your feet for good (1 Peter 5:10)!

Praying God’s greatest blessings over you today!

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If you are looking for a way to grow, to learn some of these lessons personally, I encourage you to start with a daily Bible reading plan. Go to BibleGateway.com and choose a devotional that will meet you where you are. God’s Word will not return void…ever!

Hidden Bitterness

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. Hebrews 12:15

“Mom,” Cole began, “I have a new friend. His name is Luke Williams.”

I was somewhat surprised. Something inside of me jumped at the name. And it wasn’t a leap of joy.

“What’s his dad’s name?” I asked inquisitively.

“I don’t know. Why? Do you know him?” Cole asked.

Having lived in this area most of my life, my kids have grown accustomed to me knowing the parents of their friends. They have frequently remarked that I know more people at their activities than they do.

“Is his name Larry?” I asked.

“Maybe. Why?” he asked again.

I knew that I couldn’t keep the truth in about this revelation. Yes, I sensed that I had once met this new friend’s dad…

Over twenty years ago, I was a student at Oklahoma Baptist University. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and I had made the one hour drive home from Shawnee for a quick afternoon with family. About 4:00 pm, I began the drive back to school. I had commitments that evening.

It was rush hour on the two-lane highway leading away from my home. I knew that my dad would soon cross my path headed the opposite direction, and I was watching the cars carefully for his carpool.

I pulled up to County Line Road. There was a car waiting for a break in the traffic so he could turn left across the traffic. I came to a stop as I waited for the car to make the turn. I reached down to turn off my radio so that I could spend the drive praying.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of tires screeching. I glanced in my rear-view mirror just in time to see an orange and white truck careening toward me.

I remember the impact. I remember a spinning sensation. Then, everything went black.

As I regained consciousness, I was surrounded by tanned construction workers directing the traffic around my car. Somehow, I was facing the opposite direction from where I had been going. I tried to get out of my car, but the construction workers made me stay still for fear of a neck or back injury.

I turned around to look at the back of my car. What I saw left me shaking, anxious. The lid of my trunk was resting against the back of my driver’s seat. My back window was shattered and glass littered my car. The back end of my car was non-existent.

It was about this time that a west-bound car began to slow down as it approached the accident scene. Before the car stopped, my dad jumped out of the back seat. There was a look of sheer terror on his face as he ran to me, embraced me. To this day, I can’t think about that moment without the tears stinging my eyes.

In the days that followed, we learned that the 16 year old driver who hit me was named Larry Williams (not his real name). He had been speeding in a construction zone, far exceeding the posted 35 mph speed limit. He also had no insurance which meant that I would never see a dime for my totaled car. I was left to start over.

In the 20 years since that accident, I have suffered severe, debilitating headaches. I suffer from neck pain caused by the damage to my discs. Even as I type these words, I am having one of those days where I just want to take a muscle relaxer and go to bed, hoping that I can sleep off the pain. The damage done in that instant has caused a lasting impact on my day-to-day life. I will never be 100% again.

And now, my son is telling me that his new friend is the son of the man who is responsible for my pain.

I would like to say that this revelation was a non-issue for me. Although I verbalized to Cole that his friendship with this boy was fine, there has been tremendous turmoil in my heart and spirit. In the days since, I’ve found myself reliving those moments repeatedly. I have come to realize that forgiveness has not truly taken root in my heart; instead, there is a root of bitterness that has been allowed to grow for 20 years.

And it’s time for that root to be ripped out permanently.

Isn’t it amazing how God brings those things to light that are deeply buried, knowing that we have to completely purge ourselves of anger and bitterness? I would have never realized that this experience was still negatively impacting my spiritual life if God hadn’t brought it to light. But here I sit, facing the reality of my heart.

So, how do we get rid of anger and bitterness? How do we rip that root of bitterness away?

I forgave “the other woman” out of obedience to God. It was God’s love and forgiveness that flowed through me. The only thing I did was act in obedience. I can truly say it was a one-time forgiveness, a one-time choice to put the past behind me.

Forgiving my ex-husband has not been as easy. There are on-going insults and hurts. Forgiving him becomes a daily decision, a choice to not allow bitterness and anger to eat away at me. Some days are easier than others.

Some of the lessons I have learned about forgiveness come from the walk to forgive my ex-husband. I try to look at him as Christ does, through eyes of compassion. I try to remember that he, too, is a chosen child of God, loved and valued. I remember that when Christ washed the disciples’ feet, he also washed Judas’ feet. He knew Judas would soon betray him, and yet he served him anyway. Would I be willing to wash my ex-husband’s feet?

And recently, I began wondering about heaven. When I encounter these people who have hurt me deeply in heaven, how will I respond? Will the bitterness still be eating at me? I want to get rid of the anger since I will be with them in eternity.

And so, today I take these lessons I have learned over the years, and I must put them into practice with yet someone else. I am trying to remember that the 40 year old man who is the father of this boy is not the same irresponsible 16 year old who caused my hurt all those years ago. I am trying to remember that we all make mistakes, that we all do stupid things at some point. I am trying to look at this man with eyes of compassion.

I am choosing forgiveness over bitterness each and every day. Not only is my son now friends with his son, but my daughter is now friends with his daughter. I have met his wife. I have allowed my son to go to his house. I have yet to encounter him personally, but I am preparing myself for that day. Perhaps it will surprise me.

To keep the anger and bitterness away, I make it a point to pray blessings over this man. I pray that God has and will continue to work in his heart. I pray that God would pour out blessings over him. I pray that God would do a work in his life as he has done in my life.

Finally, I remember that God has forgiven me much. If I am not willing to forgive others the offenses against me, I am taking for granted the forgiveness that Christ has lavished on me.

May kindness color all of my actions toward others.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31:32

 

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In the irony of all ironies, I began writing this post last week. I’ve attempted to finish several times, but I’ve been interrupted. My plans were to come home from work yesterday, finish writing, and post. But instead, I was in a wreck. A lady pulled out of a parking lot, taking out the entire passenger side of my car. After an hour with the police and two hours at the emergency room, I didn’t get home until after 8:00 pm. I was tired, hurting, and unable to think clearly. So here I sit today, sore and fighting a headache. Now I have yet another person to forgive.

 

Hope Amid Devastation

I live in a small community in Oklahoma. My kids have fewer than 500 students in their high school, grades 9-12. There are several other districts nearby that are approximately the same size.

I grew up in this community. There are many, many people who have lived here their entire lives. My life has deep, intricate ties to each of the nearby small towns. I have known many of these families my entire life.

And it has been a difficult month around here. First, we had the tornadoes that struck in May. Many families have lost every material possession. They are working to pick up the pieces of their lives and start over. Others have endured flooding from the massive rains. They’ve experienced significant financial trials.

And now this…

Last Wednesday evening, a truck full of teenage boys were involved in a head-on wreck. The 16 year old driver was trapped in the vehicle when it caught on fire and exploded, killing the popular teenager. Fortunately, the other passengers were able to escape with relatively minor injuries.

As if the loss of one teenager was not enough for us to bear, the same evening there was another tragic situation. A family came home from their older son’s baseball game to find their younger son deceased in their home. This young boy was a classmate of my younger son.

There are no words to adequately express the sorrow that abounds in this community. I’ve spent my week trying to make sense of the senseless tragedies, to understand how God could allow these precious lives to be cut so short. I know that my kids are grasping to accept the reality of the situation, feeling as if it’s all just a dream.

On this side, there is no explanation. I cannot explain why God allows these painful circumstances. I cannot explain why children die young, why our community has to endure so much at one time. But I can turn to the scriptures to find hope.

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. John 16:33

There are many promises in scripture, and unfortunately John 16:33 tells us that we will have trials and sorrows. They are a part of life, a difficult concept to grasp. But, we can be comforted that God promises his power is greater than all of the trials and sorrows this world throws our way.

In the days following the revelation of my husband’s affair, I remember sitting in a strange church where I knew no one. I had lost everything: my financial security, my ministry, my reputation, and my family. I was overwhelmed.

As the pastor began to preach, he said, “The Bible never promises that God won’t give us more than we can handle. The truth is, he does give us more than we can handle because he never intended for us to handle it. He wants us to give it to him!”

When you feel as if life is more than you can bear, take heart! God wants to carry that burden for you. He wants you to hand him all of the sorrow and the pain. He wants you to run to him, because he wants to overcome every trial you face.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

As we look at horrible losses such as those our community has faced this weekend, it is hard to imagine that God could possible bring any good out of these tragic situations. But, it is a promise from God. Somehow. Some way. In his sovereignty. As only he can. God can. And God will. He promises to bring something good out of every trial. He promises that he will use our pain, that it will not be wasted.

I never dreamed that God would bring an entire ministry out of the pain of adultery and divorce that I have faced. However, I am a living testimony of how God can use the trials of this life for our good and his glory. As Pastor Perry Noble always says, “If it’s not good, God’s not done.”

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; Psalm 34:18-19

Our trials and tribulations are a set up for us to experience God in all his glory. It is in our pain, our brokenness, that we experience his fullness, his grace, his mercy like never before. When we are suffering, he promises to be near to us, to save us, to deliver us. What better promise than to know that God will never leave us in our pain and misery.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

When we are at our lowest point, when we are experiencing the frailty of our human condition, God promises that his power will rest on us. When we are weak, he is strong!

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

Sometimes it takes us facing trials and heart aches before we are willing to humble ourselves and seek his face. When we reach that place, God promises that we can approach him boldly, with confidence. We can be certain that he sees our pain and hears our prayers. And, we can be confident that he will pour out an abundance of mercy and grace.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

When we face the trials of this life, we receive the blessing of being comforted by God. After we have been comforted, we can take the lessons we learned, the maturity that we gained to then turn and help others in similar situations.

When I was 20 years old, I lost a friend in a car accident. Through the pain and devastation, I saw his parents pull together and rest in their faith in God. When another family in our church lost their teenage daughter, this couple was the first at their door, offering words of comfort, grace, and empathy. They understood the pain as no one else could.

That is what God wants from the body of Christ.

The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good.  1 Peter 5:10

This scripture has gotten me through many, many dark and painful nights. The promise that the suffering won’t last forever. The promise that God has great plans for us, no matter how contrary to our circumstances that may seem. The promise that one day he will have us put together and on our feet for good.

I can’t read those words without being encouraged, without being reassured that God is in complete control even when life seems to be spiraling out of control. My heart overflows with gratitude to know that my God is working everything together so that it will somehow work to my benefit.

I don’t know what trial or tribulation you are facing today. Whatever it is, it didn’t take God by surprise. He is still in control. He is waiting to carry your burden. He is waiting to pour out his grace and mercy on you. He is waiting to use these trials to conform you to his image, to work out his plans for your life by using these trials for your good.

I know the times are hard—we are personally dealing with grief in ways we have never faced it before. But I cling to the promise that the sun will rise again, that there are beautiful days ahead.

Our community covets your prayers as we try to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and move forward, as we attempt to come to grips with the pain that this world often brings our way. And, as you face your own trials and tribulations, know that you are in my prayers.

Our God is faithful…always.

 

All Alone

As a pastor’s family, we usually moved every three or four years. We never felt quite like we were home until we returned to the Oklahoma City area. Despite the emotions of having to disappoint people and leave relationships we had built, it was just a way of life for us.

However, when we had kids, things changed somewhat. I will never forget when we moved back to Oklahoma after ten years in Texas. My oldest had just turned three, and my younger son was only three months old. We were so excited to finally be moving home to the Promised Land where we had left our hearts! Our captivity in a foreign land (sorry, Texans!) had ended!

When we knew that the move was inevitable, I began to prepare my three year old. We visited our new home in Oklahoma, and I talked with excitement about his new house. I encouraged him to look at his new room and talked about how we could decorate it. We talked incessantly about his new church and his new school. With as much excitement as I could muster, I told him how excited we were about his new life.

Finally, moving day arrived. As everything was being loaded in trucks, I found my son sitting sullenly on the front porch. He finally came inside as the movers were packing up the master bedroom. Blake turned to me with an inquisitive look.

“You mean you are coming with me?” he asked.

That’s when it hit me. All of my attempts at building excitement in my precious child had failed miserably! While I talked non-stop about “his” new home, I never mentioned that his mom, dad, and baby brother were coming with him! I guess he thought that because we had a new baby, he was being replaced.  He was moving to this wonderful—but foreign to him—land to live on his own!

My heart broke as I realized how much pain and stress my son had been under. Of course, I wrapped him up in my arms reassuring him that we would never leave him alone, that we were a family moving together. I apologized profusely for putting him through so much anxiety.

I felt like such a miserable failure as a mother!

Fortunately, Blake survived my parenting blunder. Today, he is secure in his relationship with me. He knows that I love him more than life itself, and that I will always stand with him in support. I am so glad that our parenting mistakes don’t permanently scar our children!

As I reflected on this incident recently, I began to wonder how many of us are like Blake was during that time of our lives. We hear God telling us about the wonderful new adventure he has planned for us.  We know that he is the Good Father, and yet we can’t shake the fear that he is going to throw us out on this new adventure alone. We act as if he is sending us away to live on our own without his love and protection. Perhaps, like Blake, we feel as if he is replacing us with someone new.

Life is a constant adventure. We are sent to new places, new environments, new situations. Maybe it’s a new job. Maybe it’s a new city. Maybe it’s a new church. Maybe it’s a new ministry. Maybe it’s a new season of life because of death or divorce or whatever life may send our way. Our new adventures can be good starting points or difficult circumstances. They can lead to amazing growth or incredible pain. They can be anticipated and prepared for or take us completely by surprise.

But, we can always count on our Father to be with us.

Then he blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my grandfather Abraham and my father, Isaac, walked—the God who has been my shepherd all my life, to this very day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all harm… Genesis 48:15-16

As Jacob (Israel) lay on his death bed, he reflected on God’s faithfulness. Through the nightmare with his brother Esau, God was with him. During the years of working for his Uncle Laban, God watched over him. God comforted him through the loss of his precious wife, Rachel. God sustained him through the loss of his son, Joseph. No matter what life threw at him, Jacob recognized that God had been with him.

Jacob recognized that God had shepherded him every single day. As a shepherd watches over his sheep, fighting off all dangers that might seek to harm those in his care, God was there. He was always ready to fight the battles for Jacob, protecting him from harm. And, as the sheep know the shepherd’s voice and follow him, Jacob learned to know his Father’s voice. He learned to follow him wherever he might lead.

And God redeemed him from all harm. When hardships and pain came his way, God used those trials. He didn’t let the trial go to waste; he changed Jacob. He changed his heart. He changed his outlook on life. He became personal and real, not just the God of his ancestors, but his loving, personal guide and protector in this life.

And, when his life came to an end, he brought redemption full circle. His son, whom he thought he had lost years before, was restored to him. He went to his grave not only with his son by his side, but also with his grandsons.

Isn’t that the way God is? He always walks with us through the painful trials of our lives. Even more, he always repays us for the pain we have experienced, giving us blessings that abound. He redeems every experience, using it for our good and his glory—if we let him.

Just like a loving parent would never send her child away to a new home alone, God will never leave us. He will lead us to new places, out of our comfort zone. He may allow testing and trials into our lives. He will stretch us, prune us, challenge us. But he will never send us away from his presence. Wherever life leads us, he will go before us, beside us, behind us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

 

 

 

Letting Go

“Mom,” my 13 year old began, “can I go to Mississippi with Miles?”

Of course, the normal questions began to spill from my mouth. When? How much? What are you going to do? How are you getting there? Who is going?

As with any normal teenage boy, he knew very few of the answers. He began to gather details for me. His friend Miles and Miles’ dad were driving to Mississippi to help rebuild a church. Miles was planning to take a couple of his friends to help out on the adventure, and he wanted Cole to be part of the trip.

My heart was somehow simultaneously thrilled and terrified.

What a  joy to know that my precious teenage son wants to give part of his summer to go across the country and work with a church, giving of his time and energy to participate in hard physical labor. I was absolutely bursting with pride on so many levels and absolutely overjoyed that Miles’ dad would be willing to take my son and pour into him!

And yet, the thought of sending my precious child across the country without me there to protect him was absolutely terrifying. Yes, I trust Miles and his family. Yes, I know God is going to be with them. But, what if they aren’t as adamant about seat belt use as I am? What if there’s an accident on the way? What if Miles’ dad falls asleep at the wheel? Somehow it seems so much safer if I am there to watch over my child.

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My oldest got his driver’s permit five months ago. He has been driving us everywhere, putting in well over the required 55 hours of driving to be eligible to test for his driver’s license. In only five short weeks, he will be old enough to take his exam and drive solo.

I am simultaneously thrilled and terrified.

For the first time in nearly six years, I will not have to play chauffeur every waking moment. If I have an errand that I need someone to run, I can send my son. If he wants to stay after school and play basketball, I don’t have to make the extra trip into town to pick him up. If I need someone to run my daughter to tumbling, I can send him.

And yet, my son will be behind the wheel of a car without me there as an extra set of eyes. I will no longer be able to remind him to stop at every stop sign and make sure he uses his blinker before he turns. Who will be there to monitor his speed? Who will remind him that he needs to look before he changes lanes? Who will tell him to pull to the right when there’s an emergency vehicle? Somehow it seems so much safer for him to drive if I am there watching over him.

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I always thought that I was a pretty laid back parent, that I don’t get too ruffled about things. But I am realizing that—when it comes to my kids—I like to be in control. I want to keep them close to me, keep them within reach so that I can grab them and pull them from danger. Sure, I will give them freedom to go places and do things, but I still want to be in control. I want to be the one watching over them, protecting them from all of the evil in this world. After all, no one else will watch my kids as closely as I will.

Honestly, when it comes to driving, I have reasons to be slightly concerned. You see, not only was I in a life-changing accident at the age of 20 (caused by a 16 year old male driver), but I have lost so many friends to car accidents.

But what I am truly struggling with is letting go of my children.

It seems like just yesterday that Blake was a 6 lb 12 oz preemie, cuddled up in my arms, coming alive at the sound of my voice. I remember so well when he finally teetered precariously across the living room by himself. I still see that brilliant little two year old teaching his grandma how to access the computer by typing my name in the password window. Surely it was just a few days ago that I dropped him off at his first day of preschool with Ms. Patty.

But in reality, he is now a 6’4” young man with facial hair. He is (still) brilliant and responsible. He has been out expressing his entrepreneurial spirit by trying to start a lawn mowing business this summer. He is a good driver that has proven himself behind the wheel. Honestly, I’ve been blessed with an amazing young man.

Cole is the same way. Despite the fact that I still see him as this precious little baby who was full of zeal and energy from the moment he was born, the reality is that he’s a mature, responsible, adventurous young man who has done a great job picking godly friends. His heart desires to know and love God more each and every day. He loves to serve others out of reverence for God. How doubly blessed I am! (I’m really triple blessed, but Cassie isn’t quite old enough for me to struggle with letting go of her. I can cling tightly a little longer…)

My kids are growing up. I know that I have to let them go, let them express themselves and their own personalities. I have to let them find their passion and purpose in life. I have to let them take risks and make mistakes and grow from them. I have to let them have adventures without me watching over their every move. I have to trust that I have poured enough into them to teach them how to make wise decisions. Most of all, I have to trust that God is watching over them, protecting them, because he is truly the only one who can.

I remember when this single parenting adventure began. Back then, I couldn’t see it as an adventure. But I remember so clearly my prayer of surrender to God.

“Lord,” I began, “I will take this, but don’t you dare mess with my kids!”

Yes, I truly prayed that prayer, almost shaking my fist at God. My marriage had crumbled, publicly and painfully. I was beginning a most unwelcome journey. The one thing I longed for more than anything—a marriage that goes the distance—had been ripped from me. I was left with nothing more than God…and my kids.

Adultery and divorce are absolutely awful, but I simply can’t imagine that anything can be more gut-wrenching and unnatural than losing a child. It doesn’t matter whether it is through death or miscarriage or rebellion. I simply don’t know that my heart could handle losing one of my three most precious gifts. My children were the very reason I forced myself to keep going in my darkest days. They needed me, and I certainly needed them. I simply don’t know where I would be without them.

And here I sit, watching my children grow into young adults. It won’t be long before they will be moving off to college, beginning their own lives without me. The days of late night conversations about life are fleeting. The frantic pace of basketball season will soon pass. The sounds (and smells) of a house full of teenage boys will soon be over. One day, the non-stop activity, ear-shattering sounds, and unimaginable grocery bill will be a distant memory. One day, even the smells of teenage boys and gym bags will be something I can only remember.

I must somehow find a way to simultaneously cling to these days while learning to let go of my children. I must somehow release my children fully into the hands of my heavenly Father and rest in his wisdom and sovereignty. I must somehow trust that he has great plans for my children just as he has for me.

Each stage of parenting has brought new challenges, new adventures. Each stage has somehow been more enjoyable than the last. Each stage has allowed me to see the faithfulness of God in the lives of my children, his tender mercies poured out upon them. Each stage has brought me closer to my children and to God.

I’m sure that this stage of letting go will bring its own joys and pleasures. I know that seeing the fruit of my labor—responsible, mature young adults making an impact on this world—has to be such a fulfilling stage of parenting! Someday I will have the joy of spoiling grandchildren in ways I wasn’t able to spoil my children. I long to see my kids walking in the light, serving their savior, well into adulthood. I long to hear them one day rise up and call me blessed.

I know that somehow I must release them from my control, loosen my grip on them. I must trust that I have done my job of teaching them to fly, that the lessons they have learned in these years have stuck. I must trust that they are learning to listen to the Father and walk in obedience without me.

I simply pray that my Father gives me grace and wisdom to let go of the most precious gifts ever entrusted to me.

It’s Not About You

I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my then husband about the woman he was having an affair with.

“It’s just exhilarating that someone like that would be interested in me,” he said.

Adultery hits at the core of your being. Every ounce of self-confidence and self-respect that you carry is destroyed. You look in the mirror day after day, criticizing every aspect of your appearance. You question everything about yourself, doubting even your greatest strengths. You begin to see yourself as worthless, unlovable.

You ask the question:  Why was I not enough to keep my spouse satisfied?

And here’s the answer: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!

Your spouse’s adultery is not about you. It is not about your weaknesses. It is not about your appearance. It is not about your failures or even your successes. It is not about what you are doing or not doing. The truth is that your spouse’s decision to have an affair has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.

I absolutely encourage you to evaluate your marriage and see what you contributed to the demise of your marriage. Maybe you nagged. Maybe you were too busy with the kids or your career. Maybe you contributed to financial problems. Maybe, like me, you enabled your spouse to live in a selfish manner by not confronting their sinful behaviors.

But no matter what your contribution was, the affair IS NOT ABOUT YOU.

Let’s take a quick look at a couple of American icons. Tiger Woods was married to an absolutely, drop-dead gorgeous woman, and yet he strayed. It’s not about your appearance. Arnold Schwarzenegger had been married to his beautiful and successful wife, Maria Shriver, for over 25 years when it became public that he had fathered a child with his employee. It’s not about your abilities.

But, adultery is not limited to Hollywood and sports icons. The news is full of pastors who have fallen from grace by engaging in adulterous relationships, leaving their loving and supportive spouses to pick up the pieces. Christian recording artists are caught, leaving their careers a pile of rubble. Our churches are full of amazing spouses who are left devastated by the affairs of their Christian spouses.

Even in the Bible we see adultery, forbidden relationships that developed in spite of faithful, loving spouses. I wrote a post some time ago about a biblical love triangle. In it, I focused on David, Bathsheba, and Uriah. Despite Uriah being a faithful, responsible man, a man of integrity and courage, his wife chose to participate in an adulterous relationship with King David. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH URIAH.

Hear me out: If your spouse has chosen to have an affair, it has nothing to do with you! It is not a reflection on who you are. It is not a reflection on your successes or failures. It is not a reflection on what type of spouse you have been. It is not a reflection on your inner or outer beauty.

It is a reflection on who your spouse is, the condition of his/her heart.

And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you.  For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.  All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” Mark 7:20-23

Adultery is about a hardened heart, a heart that is harboring evil, immoral thoughts deep within. Adultery is about a person who has refused to let God and his word penetrate the deep recesses of the heart, allowing him to have free reign and transform from the inside out. Adultery is about the deceit and evil of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Adultery is about failing to allow God to replace the heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

While there are many contributing factors to an affair, I have found some themes that seem to be very common among the stories I hear each and every day.

Pornography. I was visiting with a pastor one day, telling him my story. He looked me in the face and said, “Your ex-husband has a pornography problem.” Sure, I knew there had been some small issues with pornography, but I didn’t know just how big of a problem it actually was. And, I had been reassured that it was no big deal, that it was just something all men do.

The pastor went on to suggest that I read “Every Young Man’s Battle” with my boys and help break the cycle. Although I was uncertain, I decided to at least peruse the book. The reality of my life began to unfold through the pages of that book. I suddenly came face-to-face with the reality that pornography was a much bigger problem than I ever realized. My ex-husband’s mind was so warped by pornography that women had become nothing more than objects used to gratify his selfish desires. I was nothing more than an object to gratify his selfish desires.

Pornography is devastating. It rewires the brain, changes the way men look at women. It destroys a woman’s value. And, once it is in the mind, those images are burned there for eternity. It takes a lot of time, energy, and counseling to overcome the hold that pornographic images have on a man. (Women may also succumb, but it is a different type of pull).

I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust at a young woman. Job 31:1

Discontent. One of the last sermons my ex-husband preached before I learned of his affair was on temptation from the book of James. He made the statement that temptation happens when Satan gets us to doubt the good gifts that God has placed in our lives. That statement has stuck in my head for years, because that was the exact method of operation used on my husband. You see, my husband was surrounded by a loving wife, three amazing kids, and a great church. And yet, rather than focusing on all that he had, he was focused on what he perceived he didn’t have. His church wasn’t big enough. Finances were tough. Rather than recognizing all of the good gifts in his life, he felt as if God was withholding better things from him. He began to doubt the good gifts in his life.

Discontent happens when we focus on those things that we don’t have. Discontent happens when we fail to see all of the blessings God has given us. Philippians 4 tells us to think on those things that are lovely, noble, true, right, excellent and praiseworthy so that the God’s peace that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Paul then continues with:

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. Philippians 4:12

Contentment changes the way we view life. Contentment changes the way we view circumstances. Contentment changes the way we view our spouse and our marriage. Contentment keeps our eyes from wandering to those things that would seek to ultimately destroy us.

Selfishness. I have yet to hear a story of adultery in which the offending party was always looking out for the good of his/her spouse. Instead, I hear repeatedly that the offending spouse was concerned only about his/her needs and desires. I hear about the one-sided nature of the relationship, how in retrospect it was all about one person.

Selfishness is a work of the flesh, in direct opposition to the fruit of the spirit. A selfish spouse often seeks to fulfill his/her own wants and desires instead of seeking to be a blessing to the faithful spouse.

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other… When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures… Galatians 5:16-19 (selected portions)

Could it be any more clear?

Addiction. I had an addiction counselor define addiction as self on the throne, as an attempt to fill a God-shaped void with something other than God. It is an attempt to mask a deep pain, perhaps a deep wound that occurred in childhood. Of course, we all think of drugs and alcohol when we think of addiction. The truth is, however, that we can attempt to fill that void with anything. Have you ever known someone who was addicted to shopping? Or books? Or anything else? Have you ever known someone who couldn’t understand the concept of moderation, that everything was done to an extreme?

As I look back, I see the seeds of addiction in my ex-husband. It wasn’t drugs or alcohol. But, he used socially acceptable items to try to mask his pain. We had more books than a Christian book store. We had more movies than a Blockbuster video. We had more music than iTunes. I now realize that each obsession was about masking a pain that was deep inside of him, perhaps wounds inflicted during his childhood.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you. Isaiah 26:3

Our only addiction should be to God, his word. If we fix our thoughts on him, we will be at peace.

If you have been the victim of adultery, please hear me when I say that IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU. You are precious, greatly loved, chosen. You are the apple of his eye, his treasured possession. You are child of the King, heir to all the treasures of heaven. Your spouse’s actions are about him/her. They are not a reflection on you.

Look in the mirror and love the image looking back at you. Hold your head high knowing that you are approved. Remind yourself daily that your spouse’s actions are simply not a reflection on who you are. It is not about you.

 

 

Christ’s Prayer for Us

Do your kids argue and fight?

I have three kids whom I love dearly. But, there are days when I feel like I will never survive.

“He touched me!”

“She didn’t ask if she could ride my bike!”

“He came in my room without asking!”

The bickering seems to never end. I often become weary because of the whining and complaining, but I have yet to figure out how to put an end to it. Sometimes I just walk away with the admonition to figure out how to get along.

Isn’t that how we as Christians are often perceived by the world? We argue and fight over doctrines. We can’t get along inside the church any better than non-Christians, so how can we expect to be set apart as a light to a lost and dying world?

As a former pastor’s wife, I have certainly seen my share of knock-downs in the church business meetings. It might be over the color of carpet we are going to put in the sanctuary. Maybe it is over what type of music we will have in the service. Maybe it’s over the fact that the pastor doesn’t wear a suit and tie every week.

It’s very much like parenting a group of immature children. Can’t you just see God looking down, shaking his head, and becoming exasperated over the arguing—much like I do with my own children?

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. John 17:20-21

Unity.

Jesus prayed for us—Christians today—asking that we would be unified so that the world will believe.

Of all the things Christ could have prayed for us, he chose to pray for unity. More than anything, he wants his body to be unified in the purposes for which he came, unified in seeking to bring others into the kingdom, unified in loving others. He does not want division in his body, because a body cannot thrive when divided. He knew that unity was the one thing that would attract unbelievers to us.

But what does unity look like? Does it mean we must all think alike, agree on every doctrine, perfectly follow a set of rules? No. But it does mean that we must stand firmly behind the central tenets of our faith and let lesser doctrinal issues be covered with a healthy dose of love and grace.

What are those essentials, the tenets of our faith that we must not compromise?

Jesus Christ is the perfect Son of God. Our faith hinges on the deity of Christ. If Jesus was not God, he was not who he said he was. If he was not the Son of God, our faith crumbles.

Jesus Christ died and rose again on the third day. The resurrection sets Christianity apart from other religions. Christ showed his deity through the resurrection. Several of our New Testament books were written by eye witnesses to the resurrected Christ.

Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. In John 14:6, Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” There is no other way to get to God the Father. It is only through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that we are reconciled to him.

Our salvation is by grace through faith alone. Ephesians clearly states that our good works do not save us. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it,” (2:8-9).

Outside of those fundamental, foundational truths of our faith, we must be cautious. If we are dividing the body over secondary doctrinal issues, we are heaping legalistic rules upon our brothers and sisters. We are destroying the unity of the Body, the very thing Christ himself prayed for us.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, a denomination often known for some legalistic tendencies. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t drink alcohol. We didn’t dance. Or, at least those were the rules we were supposed to follow. But, weren’t rules made to be broken? At our Southern Baptist college where dancing was against the rules, we simply went off campus to conduct our “functions.”  Somehow, we realized that it is grace by faith and not our good works (i.e., living by a certain set of rules) that gave us salvation.

Maybe it isn’t alcohol or dancing that you argue over. What about tattoos? Or body piercings? Aren’t they explicitly outlawed in the book of Leviticus? Of course, if we are going to follow those rules, we also have to follow the rules about what we eat, about ceremonial cleansings, and sacrifices.

When it comes to the non-essential, negotiables of our faith, we must be cautious that we are not heaping a list of do’s and don’ts on people. We must remember that salvation is by grace through faith alone. We must remember that we are no longer under the law, but under grace. And we must seek unity with other believers by over-looking theological differences.

What type of non-essentials require an extra dose of love and grace?

Speaking in tongues. Some will say that tongues have ceased. Others argue that tongues are an essential, the out-working of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that the gifts such as tongues are great, but we must seek faith, hope, and love above any gift. But, if we find ourselves differing with other believers about something such as tongues, we must serve up grace and love.

Divorce and Remarriage. Divorce is an ugly part of life. We can all agree that the enemy is at work seeking to tear apart the family. But, we cannot agree on the how and when and if divorce is acceptable. There are scriptures that clearly state divorce is acceptable in certain situations. There are interpretations that indicate remarriage is acceptable, at least in certain situations. However, there are those that argue that divorce is never acceptable, and if it happens remarriage will cause one to live in adultery and prevent salvation. Again, if you are fiercely arguing any of these positions, perhaps it is time to stop dividing the church over non-essentials.

Women in ministry. Again, my tradition stated that women could not be pastors, that the title was reserved for men. And yet, there are many women who are anointed preachers, proclaiming the word boldly and without reservation. Which is the proper interpretation? Or does it matter? Should we just accept that there will be differences and strive for unity in the body.

And so many more… Baptism vs. sprinkling. Healing. Homosexuality. Abortion. Capital punishment.   I don’t know what it is for you, but we really have to stop and ask ourselves some serious questions when it comes to doctrines that divide the Body of Christ. Yes, we must all seek to live holy lives, characterized by a true desire to walk in his way. But maybe, just maybe, your convictions are not the same as mine. Maybe, just maybe, we should focus on the essentials. Perhaps if we focus on overcoming pride with humility, anger with forgiveness, hatred with love, we will begin to attract the attention of the world and show them the unity that Christ prayed for. There are so many other things that we as Christians should be focused on, such as supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing persecution and beheadings simply because they stand firmly on the essentials of our faith.

Do you remember when Peter was told to by the Spirit to go to the Gentiles (Acts 11)? He argued about food. He couldn’t possibly eat what the Gentiles eat because it was his tradition. And yet the Spirit told him not to let food cause division in the body. Or what about circumcision? When the Gentiles were being drawn to the faith, some believers wanted to force them to be circumcised. And yet, God directed the early believers not to force circumcision on the Gentiles.

Ultimately, those were non-essentials, areas where believers were encouraged to extend a large dose of grace and love.

I will never pretend to know everything about God. I will never think that I have it all figured out, that my doctrinal beliefs are infallible. But I will cling to my Savior, trust him to lead me every step of the way. Where my human traditions clash with other believers, I pray that I always cover those differences with grace and love. I pray that I never let my pride and arrogance become a source of division in the body of Christ. I pray that I am always an answer to Christ’s prayer for unity in the church.

Accept other believers … and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them….So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God… Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. … So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Romans 14:1-19 (selected verses)