When I was a little girl, my mother, who at the time, I thought was the most unfair, vindictive, Amish mother in the world, made me wear very modest swimsuits. You know the ones. Not just one-piece, but one piece with a skirt. A skirt! Oh, the injustice! Oh, the stifling of my personal expression! While my tiny little friends sashayed around the beach and pool in their adorable bikinis, I was billowing around in my layers of body-covering rayon, so very aware of my too-tall frame among such petite lovelies.
Oh, mom. I am so sorry. Sorry for saving up my money and secretly purchasing those hideously neon bikinis from the clearance rack. Sorry for shoving them deep down in the recesses of my sock drawer, or once you caught on to that, between my fitted sheet and the mattress pad (the only hiding place for anything I might have slipped past you). I am sorry for leaving the house in my rayon swim-burka, only to hastily change into a bikini when I got to the pool. I totally, 100% get it now.
Do I think there is anything inherently wrong with wearing a (respectably cut) bikini? No. It’s a hot topic among Christian women, and I see both sides of the debate, but no. I do not. In fact, throughout my college years, I competed in the Miss America pageant system wearing a modestly cut, body-flattering bikini and was completely at ease doing it. The whole point of the swimsuit competition (the original point, y’all. Not the media-sensationalized point) is fitness. It’s called the “Physical Fitness in Swimsuit” competition. It’s designed to show that a young woman competing for the title of Miss Indiana/Miss America/Miss Whatever is the whole package. The brains to rock an interview chock full of current events, the talent to captivate the audience with a well-done performance, and also the desire and ability to be physically fit and invested in her health. Finding time to go to the gym and eat healthy is not easy, right?
Bikinis weren’t required in the swimsuit competition. I could have worn a one-piece. Truthfully, I wore a bikini simply because my abs were sick, you guys. Two babies later, I can say that without any ego, because my abs are no longer sick (in that sense, anyway). I look at those photos from the glory days of my mid-section, and it’s like looking at a younger, hotter long-lost cousin. I have mixed feelings of admiration and hate for the girl in that picture. I totally underappreciated the tummy of my youth–my goose that laid the golden egg of scholarship money.
RIP, old friend.
Oh, stop. I can hear you gasping in horror.
Anyway, back to life now. So my daughter, a fashionista at the tender age of 6, desperately wants me to let her wear a bikini, and I will not do it. I will not. We’re at the stage where she won’t wear the tutu one-pieces anymore, so I have acquiesced to the tankini. It covers everything a one piece covers but comes in two pieces. Easier to pee. What’s not to love?
My little girl, however, still so young by the measurement of years, but so mature in appearance and intellect, thinks I’m terribly unjust for refusing to let her wear anything less covering than her tankinis.
“Why can’t I wear a bikini? They even make them for two-year-olds, Mommy.”
“I know, but I wouldn’t let my two-year-old wear one either.”
“You wear one sometimes.”
“I know, but I’m a grownup. I don’t want creepy people looking at your body.”
“Do you want creepy people looking at your body?”
Well…shoot. Swift shut down from a 2nd grader.
My sweet little girl is growing up so fast. Her physical development is one step ahead of her emotional development. I experienced the same tug-of-war at her age. Navigating a body that changes so quickly, you hardly recognize it day to day, while your brain bounces between wanting to watch cartoons and wanting to catch up to your body. I remember knowing I wanted to wear a bikini and makeup and high heels and perfume, but not knowing why I wanted to. It’s an odd instinctual pull, the desire to embrace the idea of womanhood while you’re still only a child. I grieve a bit for the little-girl-me and the fight she had to navigate those strange emotions. People look at you differently and make comments about you that seem vaguely uncomfortable to your young brain, but you’re not exactly sure where the discomfort lies or why.
Yes, knowing Jesus helps–but at that age, there’s something a little weird about being like “Hey, Lord? Why are my hips wider than all my friends’? Also, I held hands with a boy while I was roller skating, and I didn’t hate it. What’s going on? Boys are gross, Lord. You made them. You know this. What’s happening to me?” We are free to come to Him with anything and He deeply cares about all of it, but still– I can’t help but imagine Him fielding some of my more angsty prayers back then with His hands over His ears going “Lalalalalalala! I can’t heeeeeeear yoooooou!”
I am holding on to my daughter’s innocence with white knuckles. I am not going to let go. I will protect her for as long as I can from the sideways glances, the comments that are callously made within her earshot, and most of all from a society that wants her to desire bikinis and boyfriends long before her tender heart is equipped for any of it. In hindsight, I am grateful for the struggles I had as an “early bloomer” and the perspective it gives me on how to pray for and talk to my precious daughter. I can still feel the same awkwardness of growing up as if 1987 were just yesterday.
We’ve got this, my sweet girl.
I stand by my statement that bikinis don’t ooze sinfulness just because the hem of the top piece doesn’t meet the hem of the bottom piece. I will stand just as firmly, however on the fact that my tall, curvy, lovely daughter doesn’t need the masses at the pool to be privy to this vulnerable time of growing up while she’s trying to figure it all out. That’s just where we are.
She might be six, going on 16, but she’s my baby. Please treat her as such, World, or I will cut you.
Suffice it to say, my collection of bikinis has since been boxed up. Tankinis, here I come. I draw the line at anything with a skirt, though.
A girl has her limits.
I saw my GI doctor yesterday for my regular visit to check up on the fiasco that is my insides. We celebrated the fact that I haven’t had an extended hospital stay in just over two years. We lamented the fact that I still have SOD and IBS and GERD—pretty much all the letters.
As he poked around on my furious innards, he asked what I’ve been up to. I told him we just finished the longest and shortest summer EVER, and I’m getting ready to start my busy travel season for work.
“Remind me how many kids do you have?”
“Five, between my husband and me.”
“FIVE? And you work full time? And you travel? My dear, you don’t just have irritable bowel syndrome. You have irritable LIFE syndrome.”
We proceeded to talk about how your brain and your digestive system are tightly connected (please refrain from any head vs. rear end jokes, thank you very much). You can lie to your brain sometimes, but you can’t lie to your gut. The gut knows. The gut sees. The gut reacts…like a boss.
As usual, he implored me to take a vacation, reduce my work hours, create something called “free time” for this thing called “more sleep.” So many magical unicorns. I only rolled my eyes twice. Maybe three times.
I left the office with a shiny new drug to placate my angry insides. It’s a pill roughly the size of a ping-pong ball, and it tastes like dryer lint and old potatoes. I have high hopes.
Irritable Life Syndrome. I don’t feel like that’s the case, but my GI bills say otherwise. How can it be that when my brain’s glass is half-empty, and my tummy’s glass is fizzing with Alka-Seltzer, my heart is full to the brim? Because God nourishes my heart with the peace that passes all understanding. The peace that keeps you from completely losing your junk when you find the bathtub full of chocolate milk. The peace that stubbornly replaces your resentment with compassion when life isn’t “fair.” Stoically bridging the gap between my southern and northern hemispheres, my heart makes peace with what should be an “irritable life” to the casual observer–one desperate prayer at a time.
Admittedly, sometimes my brain tackles my heart like a 300-pound freshman linebacker who just got put in the championship game. Sometimes there’s no stopping it, and my heart gets clobbered.
More often than not, my heart is there to gently pat my frazzled, pulsating brain and say “there, there” when it threatens to revolt. Heart can talk Brain down from the ledge 9 times out of 10. It runs interference between my pragmatic gut and my idealistic thoughts of how things should “really be.” It reminds me that my life is GOOD. On my worst day, my life is so good.
Heart gently nudges me to look when my kids are playing some imaginative, albeit horribly messy game. It softly shushes Brain when it starts to calculate how long it will take to clean up after whatever creative display of childhood has just taken place.
On the occasions when Brain sneaks an angry outburst past it, Heart marches me in to meekly apologize to my children. It reminds Brain that they will only be little for such a short time.
I don’t have Irritable Life Syndrome. I have everything I’ve ever wanted. It doesn’t always look exactly the way I thought it would, but as long as I continually ask God to keep my heart soft and full, my brain will be just fine.
Now, Gut…that guy’s always going to be a jerk, but I’d rather have Heart than all the Guts in the world anyway.
God, please make my heart soft for You and for my beautiful, crazy life.
You may remember that we decided to move about eight months ago. Eight months later, here I am, sitting in my same living room in my same house, looking out at my same backyard. To quote the infamous Arnie Grape in one of my favorite movies: “We’re not going anywhere!” All that mental anguish over leaving the home where I’ve raised my babies since infancy for nothin’.
We jumped with both feet into the seventh circle of you-know-what that is making a home “show ready.” And show, we did. We packed up five kids, two dogs and laundry basket after laundry basket of crud and killed hour after hour while strangers paraded through our home. We were repaid with mostly useless, mildly entertaining feedback. My personal favorite was the couple who wants one more bedroom than our house has. Um…yes. So do we, actually.
I took comfort in each comment of “you have FIVE kids? Your house is immaculate!” Oh, friends, I took each of those comments and tucked them in my pocket to pull out on days that it looks like a giant reached down and briskly shook our house like a big, brick snow globe.
God, give me the strength to accept the number of bedrooms I cannot change, the courage to change the flooring I can, and the wisdom to say “are you KIDDING ME? NO.” to the tire kickers. Amen.
So. Here we are. I am about 50/50 on relief that we don’t have to move and terror that seven of us still live in this clown car of homes. Oh, and because I am full of good ideas, I decided that what we really, really need right now is a kitten. Because: masochist.
In all sincerity, he is the sweetest, most adorable little ball of delightfulness in all of feline Christendom. He’s just perfect, and we love him. So, no regrets. Just dubious timing.
Jump in the clown car, Mufasa. We create space here where space does not exist.
As we move our ten pounds of stuff from our storage unit back into our proverbial two-pound bag, I have become creative about how to re-re-combine our two households into one. If you’re newly married or just delaying your household merge, maybe these hard-learned lessons can save you a few hours of rocking back and forth in the fetal position.
1) If you haven’t used it in a year, RUTHLESSLY PURGE IT. Seriously—box it up for Goodwill or sell it. In 365 days, you’ve marched through all four seasons, my friend. You’re not going to use it. Don’t you lie to yourself. You know it, and I know it. Purge.
2) Don’t completely eradicate your children’s memories of their pre-blended life. Be sensitive to the fact that things that may bring back sticky memories for you might hold dear memories for your children. In the same vein, don’t be afraid to hang on to a few pictures of you and your ex and your kids together. Don’t put them out on the mantle, for crying out loud, but in most cases, your kids will someday appreciate the gift that is permitting them to keep the memories they choose to keep–not just ones you choose for them.
3) Can’t decide between “mine” and “yours”? Sell ‘em both and get “ours.” Is your 4-slice toaster really that much better than his? Does it matter that his knife block has a filet knife, and yours doesn’t? Does it? If you’re at an impasse, then sell both and get something you can agree on. The trick is agreeing. If you are incompatible shoppers (you know who you are), then please ignore this advice. For the good of salespeople everywhere—please. I’ll just be over here enjoying my new 72-speed mixer, while you guys fight it out over whose whisk is better…
4) Foster philanthropy in your greedy little children. If your precious womb-fruits are anything like mine, they are hoarders. Hoard-ers. I can’t throw away so much as a rotten banana without my children bemoaning some far-out sentimental reason we have to keep it. My strategy? Guilt. Guilt those little packrats. Remind them that there are people in the world who have NOTHING. Let them take some of their own things to a shelter or Goodwill and then really make a BIG deal about how someone less fortunate will be forever changed by the gift of their soccer cleats from three seasons ago. Soon, they’ll genuinely catch the generosity bug and give more freely and practically. It’s a slow process, but it works.
5) Purging. Never. Stops. Any chance you get, clean out your junk drawer. Attack your attic. Gut your garage. You’re never done, y’all. It’ll creep back up on you before you know it. Don’t let your “stuff” rule you.
5.5) Pray for my husband, will you? Bless his sentimental, hanging-onto-things heart. He married a ruthless purger. Thankfully, we love each other so much, that I will happily overlook his box of antique cell phones if he lets me throw away 30 or 70 pairs of his old flip flops. I may or may not have a 50 pound box of memorabilia from my pageant days, and he has not so much as uttered a word about it. Offer grace to your family and accept it back from them.
Good luck creating your own space where there is no space. It’s not futile if you are patient with your family and relentless in your pursuit of order in your chaos.
“All things should be done decently and in order.”—I Corinthians 14:40
My kiddos left yesterday for a 10 day adventure in Seattle with their dad and his family. They’ve been gone 24 hours and 6 minutes…not that I’m counting. I’m glad that they get to go visit their family and create memories with their cousins. We’ve never been apart for longer than a week, though, and try as I might, I can’t stop feeling a little melancholy at the prospect of being 2,200 miles away from them. To top it off, my stepsons went home today after their last summer week with us. I had a wistful little moment about that, too.
The summer evaporated, like water on a hot griddle–one sizzling, noisy moment at a time. It happened so slowly and all at once.
I feel a little lost.
I’m not one of those people who is looking forward to an empty nest. Ask me again when they’re teenagers, but right now, I adore being Mommy. All too soon I’ll just be “Mom,” and one more inevitable door will shut on their sweet innocence. I want to scoop up the moments I have with them and hide them somewhere that time can’t find them. Every time I snuggle my daughter until her eyelids overpower her will to stay awake and talk to me. Every time my son gives me a knowing smile about an inside joke that couldn’t possibly amuse anyone but us, but that makes him smile so much that even his recluse dimple shows. The way my stepsons crave the hugs of my husband, sinking comfortably into him when he picks them up as if they are feather-light. I tuck those moments away, with determination that I will remember every last detail, long after our children have grown up and left our home.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. –Psalm 90:12
I might be a little lost, but I’ve also found some things.
I may not want an empty nest, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to miss my children. I wrote about the Blessing of Being Alone, and how precious it is to reunite with your family after you’ve been away from them. On the opposite side of that coin is the opportunity to reconnect with your spouse when your kids are away. If you are in a blended family, and you’ve managed to work out the improbable voodoo of coordinating childless weekends, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m not implying that there is a silver lining to being divorced. No–I picture the lining coated with that goo you find on the sidewalk when you walk down Bourbon Street at 7 am on a Sunday morning. You aren’t quite sure what it is, but you sure wouldn’t walk around in it in flip-flops. That being said, if there was a silver lining, this would be it. The time I have just to be alone with my husband is pure magic. Sitting in a clean house (hallelujah!), eating food our kids wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, laughing at our own inside jokes—it is a balm for the soul. When our nest is empty, we are only going to have each other. Thank goodness we like each other AND love each other.
On a more practical level, I’ve also found time to go to the gym for as long as I want. I did two sets when I lifted weights tonight. TWO WHOLE SETS! As if uninterrupted gym time wasn’t enough, we’re going to catch a baseball game with friends and have dinner with another set of friends. We’re actually going to remember what it’s like to be social–with real, live grownups, you guys.
*Note to self: do not refer to the restroom as the “potty” and PLEASE don’t ask grownup friends if they have to use it every time you walk past one. Also, please DO NOT refer to yourself in the third person as “Mommy.” Please, Lori. Don’t.*
Blended family or not, I hope you can find what is so easily lost in the hustle of parenthood.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mommy needs to take the dogs to go potty.
Last week, we finally had a beautiful, sunny day and our three youngest kids took full advantage of it. I lubed them up with sunblock, pulled swim shirts over their protesting heads, and positioned them where I could still take conference calls, but make sure no one was setting a fire or playing with homemade lawn jarts.
That day, they built tiny boats out of tree bark and rescued imaginary Smurf villages from imaginary floodwaters. They birdwatched, jumped on the trampoline and had a wonderful day. As much as I was trying to just hold it together with a full day of work, making lunches, cleaning up after the “creativity” and managing the day-to-day, I was consciously touched by how much fun they have together. Periodically throughout the day, I’d do a quick skin scan when someone would ask me for something to make sure they weren’t getting eaten by mosquitoes or sunburned.
Fast forward to the next morning, when my stepson asked me to put some lotion on his back because he thought he had a sunburn. I helped him get his pajama shirt off, and HOLY MOLY. There it was. A big, juicy blister the size of a quarter, on top of two little epaulettes of tiny sunburn blisters—one on each shoulder. After nearly passing out, I discovered that in the process of switching from dry clothes to swim clothes and back, he “took his swim shirt off for a little bit.” Umm…how long of a little bit? I tried to recall every time I looked at him the day before. Was he wearing the shirt?!? WAS HE?!?!? His two compadres (my biological children, to make matters worse–amiright, stepmoms?) were fine. No burns, no bites, no problem. How did this happen? Well…he didn’t bother me during the day, frankly. That’s how. He wasn’t the squeaky wheel, asking for twenty different things at once.
My red-headed stepchild (he really does have red hair) is the one who got burned, because he wasn’t actively vying for my attention and I falsely assumed what was working fine for the other two was working fine for him. I am heartbroken that anything happened to hurt him while he was in my care. I vastly underestimated the delicacy of Ginger skin.
I don’t consider myself to be a “helicopter parent.” More of a stealth “drone” parent. I’m watching, but I don’t want them to know I’m watching. Oh, but BlisterGate…it caught me completely unaware.
What did I learn?
They all need to be watched differently, because they all have different needs.
In this case, the need was for swim shirt mandates and extra sunblock, but it made me think about other, intangible things I may overlook that I’m not providing as a stepmom. I’m just too new at this to know what they are or how to offer them yet. I’m adept at providing what my bio kids need because I know them about as well as I know myself.
I give waaaaaaay more space to my stepsons than my biological kids out of a desire to respect their comfort level with the whole stepmom situation. As a result, I’m struggling to figure out how to show and tell each of them how much I love them as they are simultaneously being told the opposite. I wish they could see my heart, just for a second. *sigh*
Aside from giving my little fair-skinned stepson a full body SPF 50 dip every hour the next time he is with us, I will be on high alert with all five kids for ways that they need to be watched (and loved) differently. My husband, a veteran stepson for quite a few years now, assures me that it just takes time, but love will make its own case eventually.
I have time and I have SPF. Bring it on.
I urge you to live a life worthy of your calling. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.–Ephesians 4:1-2
My son said something to me recently that stopped me dead in my tracks. I laughed at some funny comment he made, and he threw his arms around me and said “You laughed! You don’t laugh very much anymore.”
I started to protest, but I realized that he’s right. I used to be silly and goofy and joyful with my kids. That has shifted in the last few years, little by little. The incremental change might be imperceptible, but the overall effect is apparently pretty noticeable.
I guess I know why I’ve changed, but knowing doesn’t help. After I had my gallbladder removed in 2010, I developed a condition called “Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction.” I’ll give you a second to giggle at the name…
Basically, my digestive fluids are held hostage by this little creeper called the Sphincter of Oddi. He doesn’t let pancreatic juice and bile in and out, and the result is pain, extreme nausea, and fatigue. I’ve had two surgical procedures, 2 endoscopies, 3 colonoscopies and about 2 weeks in the hospital as a result. Imagine having the stomach flu nearly every day to varying degrees.
We’ve also had our share of major life events since we’ve been married. You know how you take those quizzes that tell you how stressed you should be based on which life events you’ve experienced? Divorce, marriage, moving/selling your house, death in the family, illness, job changes–it’s a daunting list. Overachievers that we are, we checked a whole bunch off in the span of a few short years.
In all sincerity, I guess I didn’t realize how much I let the weight of my circumstances affect the lightness of my life.
Since my son made that comment, I have made a concerted effort to rid myself of the thoughts and worry that are stealing my joy. It is not easy. I have literally had to tell my friends and family that certain topics are off-limits and replace triggering thoughts with prayer when they try to sneak in. The stomach stuff is a little trickier, but the longer I live with it, the easier it gets to cope with it. Definitely a work in progress.
I’m trying to be present with my family, letting myself laugh and loosen up a little. I ask the kids every night, on a scale between 1 and 10, what my “Happy Mommy” number is for the day. I joke (in my used-car salesman voice) that “I aim for a 10!” but I want their honest assessment. Since I’ve started consciously trying to find my lost joy and laugh with them the way I used to, I’ve scored pretty high. In fact, I got a unanimous rating of 10 two nights ago. *fist pump* It’s a silly way to keep tabs on a serious concern, but it’s working, and to my surprise, I’m not faking it. I truly feel lighter and more joyful. It feels good.
So what’s your number? Summers can be especially tough with the extra messes, busier schedules and lack of alone time. As you strive to be present and joyful for your family, ask God to remove the triggering thoughts and worries that steal your laughter and to replace them with joy. Praying 10’s for you!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope. –Romans 15:13
I’ve spoken to a few of you recently about the special kind of torture that is seeing an issue in your children/marriage/blended family/etc, knowing that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, and being 100% powerless to do anything about it. It’s maddening, isn’t it? Here’s this big, hairy problem crashing through your family like a runaway yak, and for a variety of reasons, you are the one person who is least able to intervene and solve it. In the meantime, you are forced to dodge the steaming piles of yak poo this lumbering nuisance leaves behind, while you assess and repair the damage. Talk about adding insult to injury! Not only does it feel like you’re the only one who really wants to stop the yak, you have to clean up after the stupid thing when it goes on a stampede.
If you find yourself in this position for whatever reason, I’d like to share a few suggestions that have helped me. I have to be honest, that some days I am much better at following my own advice than others. I am not immune to stepping right in the poo—believe me.
1) Talking about the yak won’t catch the yak. It will however drive you crazy and distract you from the things running wild in your life that need to be caught before they grow up into yaks. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t breed yaks.
2) Don’t try to reason with a yak. You’ll get kicked right in the face. Did you invite the yak? Are you feeding the yak? No? Then stop trying to analyze its behavior. It won’t stop the stampede, but it will drive you nuts, Yak Whisperer.
3) Let the yak get caught. Hide your valuables, find a comfortable seat a safe distance away, and watch the yak foolishly tire itself out. A yak can’t tell the difference between insanity and perseverance, but it will eventually get its head stuck in a fence. It’s a yak.
4) Give your yak to God. He made you. He knows what you need. Maybe you need this yak in your life for some reason that only He understands. Ask Him to change your heart and bring you peace and stop begging Him to change your yak into a kitten. Seek His comfort, especially when you’re stepping right in the piles. He doesn’t get tired of hearing you ask—even if it’s the same prayer, or just the same word over and over. Some of my best prayers are incoherent babbles.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world. – John 16:33
What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked? I am desperately seeking improvement in my own Yak Management tactics. I’d love to hear from you.
I love competition. I loved being part of a track team and I still love beating my own times when I enter a road race (although those new PR’s are hard to come by these days!). For me, track was the best of both worlds: I could compete as an individual, but I could also compete as part of a team. To be honest, the individual competition appealed to me the most. Beating my own records, analyzing my split times, hearing my name called for coming in first–it was exhilarating. Of course I wanted my team to do well, and I was delighted to contribute to the point totals. More than anything though, I loved racing as an individual—even when I ran against people on my own team. Sounds silly, but in my teenage arrogance it was true.
I may not be tearing up the track in a polyester singlet any more, but let me tell you—my competitive streak is alive and well. I can turn anything into a competition against myself or someone else. Anything. You’re running on the treadmill next to me at the gym? We’re competing. The GPS says I’ll get to my destination in 3hrs? I’ll do it in 2.5. Thirty grocery bags to carry in from the car? Bet I can get them in one trip! If you ever have occasion to watch Jeopardy with me, I’ll just apologize now.
Let me tell you where my competitive spirit can get me into a little trouble:
Parenting, especially in a blended family, is not an individual sport. What might seem like Parenting 101 to you may be something your spouse would never do in a million years (and for very valid reasons). When you add in the complexity of remarriage and a new step-parent relationship, things really get tricky. I know exactly two things about teenage boys: they eat a lot and they like video games. My husband, on the other hand, has vast experience with 3 boys and will tell you that raising a daughter is a pink, princess-filled mystery. What works for my 6 year old daughter will not necessarily work for his 14 year old son. Sometimes I need to tell my competitive spirit, which is constantly screaming “put me in the game!” to zip it, and just let my teammate handle it.
I am the strongest player and the weakest player on our team. I’m the coach and the red-shirt freshman. I’m riding the bench one minute and carrying my teammate across the finish line the next. It’s unpredictable, but it’s exciting. It’s the most important competition of our lives, to beat the influences of the world that want to destroy and diminish our children. We can’t afford to lose.
Let us run with perseverance, the race set before us. –Hebrews 12:1
Carry each other when you need to, but keep competing together.
I have to go. There’s a spelling bee on TV.
During my devotions this week, one of the passages focused on the widow who used the very last of her oil and flour to make bread for Elijah during a great drought. At first she protested, telling him that she had just enough to make one last meal for her son and herself, after which they planned to wither away and die (a regular Susie Sunshine, eh?). Believing that Elijah was the man of God he said he was, however, she gave up her last meal and chose to trust that God would care for her and her son. To her delight, her oil jar and flour canister never ran out, no matter how many meals she made.
For this is what the Lord says: The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land—I Kings 17:14
When I read the story of the widow and Elijah, I personally relate it to the energy required to keep my family running. I kid you not, I did 7 loads of laundry yesterday and was all caught up for approximately 17.2 seconds, before I found another pile of dirty underpants and socks hidden in the far recesses of a bedroom. In addition to laundry, I cleaned, cooked, scrubbed dog pee out of the carpet, played the piano at church, went to the pool with the kids, worked on some writing projects, forced the aforementioned kids to bathe, made a campfire, caught up on work for my day job, went to Pilates and did my devotions. It was a slow day.
I know I don’t have the market cornered on busy days. I can feel your weariness from here, parents. So how do we keep the energy coming when we need it? We don’t. God does. And coffee. But mostly God. Even when a monkey wrench hits your to-do list squarely in the face, God keeps your energy canister just full enough. If it were solely up to me to get everything done, I would hibernate hard. Like a narcoleptic bear. God gives me (and you) what we need, though, just when we need it. All we have to do is ask. Now all I need to do is work on my attitude while I do it. I detest self-made martyrdom, but was guilty of it yesterday, I am ashamed to admit.
If you are up to your eyeballs in Clorox and carpooling, don’t fool yourself into thinking that the minutia isn’t a ministry. It absolutely is, my weary friends. Even when you feel unappreciated, used up and undone, God sees you and is tickled pink when you serve your family with humility and grace. To be clear, serving doesn’t make you a servant (lest you think you need to let your sweet little cherubs treat you like one), but serving changes you. It brings value to the mundane. (Remind me of this the next time I am picking Play-doh out of the dog’s fur, please.)
Here’s to you, Supermom and Superdad. Fold those socks and wipe those noses. Cut off those crusts and force-feed those vegetables. You are doing important work that only you can do.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. —Romans 12:10-11
Ready for a touchy subject? *deep breath* Sometimes Christians get divorced. Divorce is an evil monster, but it is a very real monster, inside and outside the Church. It creates stifling feelings of failure, shame, guilt and unworthiness. I couldn’t even bring myself to check the “divorced” box on forms for a while after my marriage ended. It’s a mean, taunting word and it reeks of stigma.
When you are a Christian, that stigma feels magnified several times over. In addition to feeling like you’ve failed as a spouse, you may feel like you’ve failed as a follower of Jesus. It leaves a scar that never really goes away. You can “move on” and you do heal, but you’re never the same. No matter the cause of your divorce, or who chose to end your marriage, it’s easy to remember every single thing you did wrong that contributed to its demise. Every argument. Every selfish act. Every wrong decision and sin. Every time you sought your own way. You’ve asked forgiveness for those things over and over again, but still…the nagging persists. You know that if you repent of your part in it, Jesus immediately casts that sin as far as the East is from the West, so why can’t you forgive yourself that easily? A better question…
…why does the Church sometimes find it easier to love an adulterer–or even a murderer– than it does someone who gets a divorce?
Let me be very clear. I know that God hates divorce. If you’re divorced, I bet you hate it too. I’m not promoting divorce as an easy-peasy, go-to solution—there’s nothing easy about it. It should be the very last resort, and even then, it’s a horrible one. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Whether or not you chose to end your marriage, and regardless of why it ended, divorce hurts. It’s the enemy of happiness and security. It’s the wrecking ball of your most fundamental dreams. It sideswipes you in a way you can never prepare for and you never forget. What I want to tell you, and what has taken me so long to learn (and I’m still learning it) is that God’s grace doesn’t cover some sins and tragedies in life and skip others. You can’t twist and mold grace into something smaller or more exclusive than what it actually is– it’s not origami. If you believe that God’s grace is big enough to wrap you up and hold you tight because Jesus died for every single one of your sins to make that possible, then stop placing limitations on it when you “sin big.” Go and sin no more, but run from the well and shout it from the rooftops that Jesus knows everything about you and loves you anyway.
Let’s pretend you are the most frivolous person alive and you wake up one day, look over at your wonderful, loving spouse and declare “Meh. I’m done being married. See ya’!” –that would be a foolish mistake, yes? It would be a sin. God’s heart would break. But also consider this: if you are in an emotionally or physically abusive marriage and you finally get brave enough to leave, God’s heart will break just as much when you make that choice to leave as it would for someone who made the decision on a whim. Hang in there with me—I’m going somewhere with this. In both situations, the God who created you and loves you more than you could ever imagine, hates what is about to happen to you, to the covenant you made on your wedding day, and to your children, if you have them. He hates it, but He still loves you.
Maybe your spouse was unfaithful and you choose to leave. God’s heart is still breaking and He still hates it. He hates divorce, but He loves you.
Maybe you thought, in all sincerity, “I am not going to live through this marriage” and you entertained thoughts of getting in an “accident” or just “slipping away” because the pain of your marriage became unbearable. You prayed and grieved and tried to repair your marriage as nothing changed and your thoughts grew darker. Do you think God secretly hoped you would choose suicide over divorce? Of course not. He hates both options, but He loves you.
What I think we fail to grasp sometimes as Christians is why God hates divorce. Here is what I know to be true:
He hates broken promises. We all do. Have you ever told a lie? Promised to read your Bible every day and quit after the first week? Promised to stop yelling at your kids and lost your cool by dinnertime? A promise is a promise, isn’t it? Is one promise you make to God bigger or better than another?
He hates wasted resources. God’s ultimate goal for your life is not for you to be happy. Sorry. It’s just not. Of course He wants that, but more than anything, He wants you to live your life for Him. If you spend every waking moment focused on a destructive marriage and the subsequent divorce, how are you furthering the Kingdom? Don’t let your circumstances rule your ability to serve or not serve God, and don’t buy into the lie that you are of no use to God post-divorce. He can use you for greater things than you can imagine if you focus and let Him.
He loves children. The Bible is very clear about how God feels about children. No matter how amicably you co-parent with your ex-spouse, or how young your kids are when it happens, they are still going to hurt in your divorce. I hate that for my children and for my stepchildren, but thankfully, they have parents and stepparents who love them and a heavenly Father to heal and protect them. This is where it hurts the most for me when I lose sight of God’s power to redeem. That redemption isn’t just for me—He loves my children and stepchildren more than I ever could. Not one prayer that I cry over them goes unheard.
He hates Pharisees and can spot them a mile away. God knows (as do you, if you are a divorced Christian…amiright?) that Pharisees are alive and well in 2015. He doesn’t like those guys. He didn’t like it when they picked on His Son, and He doesn’t like it when they pick on you. It’s easy sometimes, when there is a plank in your own eye, to jump up and down and cry “you’re a fraud!” when a fellow Christian stumbles in a way that you haven’t. Divorce feels more like a head-over-heels roll down a steep embankment than a stumble, but we don’t need the Sin Police to rub that in when our hearts are already broken and we’ve already asked for forgiveness. We know it. God knows it. He’s handling it and He doesn’t need the modern day Pharisees to get out their sin-measuring sticks and declare us unworthy. We’re all unworthy already. Don’t listen to Pharisees and for heaven’s sake, don’t be one. Just don’t.
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.– Matthew 6:15
I want to encourage those of you who have ended your marriage for reasons that are between you and God–reasons that you know in your heart-of-hearts are covered by the blood of Jesus and His plan for you and your children. You don’t publicize the pain of your marriage and divorce because it hurts too much and you don’t defend your choices to the Church or to the world. The Pharisees are left hungry for the juicy details that you refuse to give. You know at which point it all fell apart, and you’ve cried out to God to forgive you for your role in it.
Does it ever get better? It absolutely does. It can take a variety of different forms, but it gets better. I am writing this to you as a divorced woman who is remarried to a man I love dearly who loves me back. I have a second chance to further the Kingdom and learn from my mistakes. After my divorce, I was fully prepared and willing to remain alone for the rest of my life. I was content to be a mother and never again a wife, and I had peace about that. God had other plans. Between then and where we are now, believe me, I nearly ruined things time and time again. I went through a really ugly healing process and it got much uglier before it got better. I finally stopped trying to drive and let God take over. He has blessed our marriage beyond what I could have imagined and far beyond what I deserve. We are stronger in our service for Him together than we ever were apart. God made beauty out of our ashes, and I can never thank Him enough for a second chance.
I would love to pray with you and for you if you see yourself in either role– failure or Pharisee. Grace covers both with plenty of room to spare. I would appreciate your prayers too.
If you don’t already have one, I encourage you to find a home church where you’ll be held accountable when you need to be, but you’ll be loved, encouraged and strengthened. I am so thankful for our church family and the love they have for our blended family.
Lastly, if you’ve never trusted Jesus, and you’re trying to go it alone, I would love to tell you how you can change all that.
Thanks for hanging in there on such a difficult topic. This one has been on my heart for a while.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.– I John 1:9