Friday, January 28, 2011

An Unexpected Gift

My daughters and I were at a local cafe tonight for open mic night.  None of us is musically talented, and the two of us who write haven't yet found the courage to share our writing at open mic night there, but we still enjoy going and listening to the talents of others and chatting with those who are hanging out there. 

This evening, I felt God prompting me to introduce myself to the man sitting at the table behind me.  You should know that normally I don't go around introducing myself to strangers and chatting with them.  However, at this cafe, it doesn't seem out of place at all.  So during a lull in the performances, when his two companions were chatting with one another, I turned around and started a conversation with this gentleman. 

It took less than five minutes to discover that he knows one of my relatives, and to cover the basics of where we were each from, where we've been, and how we ended up back here in the county we were both born in.  That covered, we moved on to more in-depth conversation. 

When I first turned around to talk to this man, I was impressed by the pain I saw in his eyes.  He was smiling, but his eyes were not.  And as we talked, I discovered that his pain was related to the end of his marriage.  Familiar story.  Familiar pain. 

I'm about a year ahead of him in the recovery process, so I was able to encourage him that he won't always hurt so badly.  And then I did something that had to be a God-thing, because it's not something I normally do.  I said, "I am so sorry that you are hurting so badly.  I could just hug you!"  And he invited me to do just that!  So we stood up and gave each other a hug.  After the hug, there wasn't the awkward, "Oh my, I just hugged a total stranger" feeling I would've expected.  Instead, he said, "Wow, I really needed that.  I don't get many hugs, except at church on Sundays."  And I felt at peace.  I knew I had just ministered to this man's deepest need at the moment, a need to feel connected and cared about.

A little while later, as he was leaving, he asked me somewhat sheepishly for another hug.  I obliged.  I must admit, those hugs ministered to me, too.  I get plenty of hugs from my kids, but I look forward to my "adult hugs" that I get on Sunday mornings.  The past two Sundays, my main hugger hasn't been at church, so I haven't had my recommended intake of hugs.  Thus, in meeting this man's need, in seeking to offer him comfort for his pain, I had my own needs met.

Once again, I am amazed at how God manages to choreograph our lives so that we are where we need to be when we need to be there so that He can meet our needs through others!  I'm fairly sure that this man didn't come to the cafe looking for someone to hug.  Neither did I.  But God, in His perfect intimate knowledge of each of us, knew that this was something we each needed.  And He gave it to us. 

I love God's unexpected gifts!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Love Languages

A friend on Facebook linked to a post called  "Creating Your Own 'Love Languages" , by Jon Acuff on "Stuff Christians Like."  I'd urge you to click on the link and go read his post before you read mine.  At any rate, I was inspired to think about the love languages in my "Family of Five."  Without further ado, here is the list I came up with.

1.  Rubber chickens. That was a family love language in the past, but then my oldest son ate it in his sleep, or so the theory goes.  We had a rubber chicken who showed up in all sorts of odd places.  I can remember going to bed one night only to find the rubber chicken laying in my bed with his head on my pillow, my covers pulled up to his chin, wearing my t-shirt.  And there is nothing like finding a rubber chicken in your underwear drawer to make a person feel loved.   Hmmm, maybe I need to invest in a new rubber chicken. 

2. Chocolate, both to give and receive - there is a fine art to finding out what kind of chocolate a person likes and then giving it to them, and if someone finds out I like dark chocolate (about 72% cocao) and gives it to me, I KNOW I am loved!  I know that one of my kids can be paid for doing extra chores if I pay her in chocolate, particularly in Reese's Cups.  One of my kids will almost kill for a Twix.  One of them prefers chocolate with coffee flavored candy.  And one, who has an allergy that makes chocolate off-limits for him, prefers Skittles, which are his equivalent of chocolate. 

3.  Jon Acuff mentioned sarcasm in his post, and sarcasm is definitely on my list. You know, that playful "I'm so comfortable with you that I can be sarcastic with you" feeling is a good one!  In our house, sarcasm is a second language, one that my children seem to speak better than plain old English some days.  And it almost always provokes laughter, even in the one who could potentially be offended by it. 

4. Camping. If you are willing to go camping with me and put up with my fear of snakes, skunks and storms, you must love me, and if I am willing to sleep outside with you, then I must love you.   Let me tell you, the family who sets up camp together and breaks down camp together without hurting each other on purpose is indeed a loving family, even though we might not sound like it while we are in the midst of it.  And one of my fondest memories is of the time when a huge storm rolled through late at night while we were camping.  The boys joined the girls and me in our larger tent, and as I sat there praying that we wouldn't all be struck by the non-stop lightning, I looked around at my youngest, huddled on my air mattress with me, my girls trying to be brave, and my oldest son laying across the doorway to "protect" us, and I knew that I am indeed blessed with a loving family!

5. Laughter.  My kids and I laugh together a lot.  We can find the funny side of almost any situation, if not during, at least in retrospect.  I honestly believe that laughter is not only medicine, but one of the best love-languages there is!

So there you have it, my additions to the list of love languages.  What are some of the unique love languages in your family?

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Cure for Cynicism

I have a tendency to become cynical about men, especially when I have to deal with my ex-husband.  So yesterday, I was a prime candidate for cynicism.

However, it seems that everytime I start to slide in that direction, God calls me up short by placing someone in my path who demonstrates that good men do indeed exist.  Yesterday, it was an old friend from my past - an old boyfriend, in fact.

This man is separated from his wife, and has been for several years.  Yet he hasn't given up on his marriage and divorced her.  I have to admire that.  It isn't easy to live in the limbo of separation, having none of the benefits of the marriage relationship, yet not being free to pursue a new relationship. 

Even more, I have to admire this man's stance on his marital status.  He was unapologetic about the fact that he is a married man, and any type of romantic relationship is out of the question.  (Lest any of my readers think that I was pursuing such a relationship with him, that was NOT the context in which he made this clear to me.  I wasn't at all confused about the fact that he IS married, and thus unavailable to me.)

Furthermore, my friend has made attempts to reconcile with his wife and get counseling to improve their marriage.  When she opted out of these attempts, he went on to improve himself through counseling and reading to gain an understanding of how marriages should work.  Very impressive!

It is good, every now and then, for me to be reminded that good men do indeed exist.  It's even nicer when they turn out to be old friends.  :-)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tough Girl Gone Soft

When I was younger, say in my teens and twenties I don't think anyone ever would've described me as "kind" or "gentle."  I was tough.  I had to be, to keep myself from falling apart from the pain inside me.

But then I got married to a man who loved me, and became a mom, and I began to soften.  I went to Community Bible Study and became more aware of who God is and I softened more. 

Then my marriage broke into a million painful shards and so did I. 

The choice at that point was to either quickly pull myself together and become that tough girl I once was, or.... let God continue to soften me.  To let all those broken pieces be tossed into the fire and melted down and formed into something new. 

It would hurt to go through the fire, and wasn't I already hurt enough by the breaking of my marriage?

But God held out that offer, and He wooed me gently, and I chose Him.

This is the result.

I like it, for the most part.  But sometimes my kindness and gentleness have led to more pain.

This is one of those times.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


There are times when my friends who are also divorced can understand my mixed-up emotions better than my non-divorced friends.  I have just encountered one of those times.

My ex-husband hasn't seen my kids for over nine months now.  Today, he emailed me that he is unexpectedly in town and wants to see them.

I want to be happy that my kids will finally get to see their dad.  And to some extent, I am.  But at the same time, I can't help but feel like this is a disaster in the making. 

The interesting thing is, my friends fall firmly into two camps on this situation.  On the one side are those who are happy that my kids will see their dad.  They believe that it's always best for kids to spend time with their dad.

On the other side are those who think this is terrible.  They understand that it will be emotionally difficult on the kids to see him after so long, and they don't believe he will actually show up.  They have good reason to feel this way.  Over these past nine months, he has made arrangements to see the kids on three separate occasions, then backed out at the last minute.   

What my divorced friends understand that my non-divorced friends might not quite get is that I am in both camps.  I want my kids to have a relationship with their dad,  but I don't want them to get hurt. I believe that it is good for him to finally invest some time in them, even if it is just a few hours, but I also know that those few hours will not make up for the pain of being ignored for nine months, and may in fact just rip the scab off a wound that was starting to heal. 

So I am conflicted.

I have a friend who is a single dad.  His ex-wife was uninvolved with his kids for several months, then suddenly re-entered their lives.  One of his children was very hurt by being ignored by her for so long, and my friend had a very difficult time convincing this child to resume the shared custody arrangement.  Finally, the child was persuaded.

The advice my friend gave his child was very good, and I think I need to give the same advice to my children.  I need to tell them, "Give your dad a chance, but guard your hearts. Give him an opportunity to win back your trust, but don't give it too easily."

And then I need to let my ex-husband choose whether or not he will win it back. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stumbling into Cesspools

Tonight I stumbled into and stirred up someone else's private cesspool.  I didn't mean to.  In fact, I had no idea that the cesspool was even there when I asked my innocent question, and in so doing, I may have ripped open wounds and ruined what had been an amazing evening for someone.

My daughters and I attended an art show, which included live music by some very talented local musicians.  After the show, one of the young men walked over to our table to chat.  He thought he recognized my older daughter, and it turned out that they did indeed have some mutual friends, and had both attended a large teen Bible study.

In the process of chatting with him, I asked him if he was related to a man who attends my church who has the same last name. 

The young man tensed up instantly and there was an awkward moment while he regained his composure.  Then he said, "Uh yeah, I am related to him."  Long pause.  "He's my dad, but I haven't seen him nor had anything to do with him for 4 years now."  Long pause.  "So, how do you know him?" 

I replied that I don't actually know him, just know of him, know who he is, because we attend the same church.  So the young musician asked me what church we attend, and I told him, and he said, "DON'T TRUST HIM!  He may go to your church, but take it from me, and don't ever trust him." 

I quickly changed the subject, mentioned his mom and another mutual friend who had introduced me to his mom a few months ago, and we went on to have a short chat.  But before long, he left, and I felt terrible.

This young man had gone from flying high on his success this evening to being reminded of what was probably the single most painful thing in his life, an unresolved relationship with his father, who was no longer part of his life.  And it was all because of a casual question from a stranger.

I wonder if my kids will ever experience something like this?  At this point, it has been nine months since they have seen their father, and he hasn't made much of an effort to be involved in their lives during those nine months.  I can see the pain at being abandoned building in them as the months pass without any word from him. 

What can I do to insulate them from this kind of pain?  I have tried to rebuild their relationship with him by forcing them to reach out to him, but my efforts have failed miserably.  He won't answer their calls, and when he doesn't return the calls or reply to the texts or emails, they hurt worse.  When he does email or call (on the obligatory days, like birthdays and Christmas), it is as if a stranger is on the other end of the line.  I have emailed him little tidbits about  their accomplishments, but he never acknowledges these emails, and I am now very careful not to let them know when I email him, so they will not be disappointed with his lack of response.

Someday, I pray that my kids will either have a relationship with their dad, or at least be at peace with the fact that they don't have one. 

I pray the same for the young man I talked to tonight.  And my friend, if you ever read this, please know that I am very sorry that I stepped in that cesspool and dredged up that pain.  Please forgive me for my careless question, and may God heal your heart!

Monday, January 10, 2011

It Ain't Over Until....When?!?!

When my divorce was final, I had mixed emotions.  I was sad that my marriage had failed, but there was also an underlying sense of relief that it was over.  When I mentioned the relief to friends who were also divorced, they said, "Put that feeling on hold.  It's not really over. You have kids together, so there will be milestones like weddings and grandkids and funerals that you will both be part of."

Okay.  That didn't make me very happy, because right about then, I could cheerfully have gone the rest of my life without ever having anything to do with my ex-husband again.  Well, except for the support checks.  I needed those to keep on coming so I could keep on homeschooling my kids in the home they've always known.

It has been less than two years since the divorce was final, and I am beginning to see the devastating truth.  It isn't over.  It may never be over.  He still has control over me through the courts and finances, and as long as I am trying to keep my kids' lives normal, I can't take back that control.

So far, we have had to renegotiate support twice, visitation once, and an issue with one of our children where we could not agree on what was best for the child.  I could fight to remove legal custody from him, but that would be a very expensive proposition, and I am still paying off my attorney's bills from the other issues.

Which brings me to finances.  My ex-husband is supposed to pay child support and alimony each month by the end of the month.  As of today, not even counting this month's support, he is well over a month behind in his support payments.  He always has an excuse for the support enforcement officers when they contact him, and apparently they don't bother to verify his excuses.

For example, when he moved to Canada, he told Domestic Relations that his employer there would not honor a US court order to attach his wages, and for the first 8 months that he lived there, he more or less paid his support on his own.  It was often late, frequently not the full amount, and never consistent from one month to the next.  But today, when I called Domestic Relations to find out why I haven't yet received all of November's money, let alone any of December's or January's, I was informed that his wages are being attached and that it takes time to set that up.  So, either he was lying and nobody bothered to check on it when he first moved there, or he is lying now, telling them that it is being set up when he knows that it isn't because his employer refuses to do it, and buying himself a few more weeks of not supporting his children.

In any case, I am still being held hostage by my ex and his desire for control.

What is sad is that this man hasn't bothered to see his children since April, rarely ever talks to them on the phone or emails them, usually doesn't answer his phone when they call him and takes days to return their calls, if indeed he bothers to, and now he is refusing to support them on a consistent basis.  And yet he can legally maintain control over the children and me.

Will it ever be over?