Category Archives: Once Divorced, Twice Married

It’s not the lesbians I’m worried about.

Three of my FaceBook friends posted an article about a Disney Channel sitcom, Good Luck Charlie, whose last episode is airing in February. In the penultimate show, a same-sex couple will be introduced, apparently Disney’s first. Two of my friends found the article appalling, and the other included no additional comment. (See it here.)

I’ve seen the show before; I have a 10-year-old daughter-by-marriage. She’ll make up her own mind about same-sex couples soon enough. Some of her friends, acquaintances, and favorite celebrities will come out while she’s in high school and college. She’ll hear her parents’, friends’, and pastor’s opinions about homosexuality. She’ll see it in the media. Something that she feels or sees will resonate with her, and she’ll decide which of the many sides of the issue she wants to be on. Most children watching Good Luck Charlie will be in the same situation.

What is much more appalling to me is something insidiously quiet in our culture: the treatment of the title character’s (straight) father. He is a buffoon character, speaking, gesturing, and coming to realizations much more slowly than his wife. She has made plans for the family without consulting him and steamrolls over his disinterest. The first time we see him in the scene, he is in front of the television, ignoring his daughter playing a few feet away. When there’s a disagreement over who’s coming to their house, he says, “Are you sure [that’s her name]?” His wife replies, “Am I sure that I’m right and you’re wrong? Always.” And when the door closes behind the couple in question, Dad pops his forehead with his palm and says, “Taylor has two moms.” His wife again ridicules him: “Wow. Nothing gets past you, Bob.” This is the wretched part of the scene; forget the lesbian couple with a few seconds of the sitcom’s hours and hours of airtime over the past few years. The problem is that my 10-year-old and others like her are learning that dads are lazy, moms are allowed to be rude, and women are smarter than men. The beliefs are so accepted that canned laughter fills the air after the mom’s snarky comments. I’d wager my 10-year-old isn’t learning much about same-sex couples in the scene, but she’s learning a lot about heterosexual ones.

If we want to argue about relationships, marriages, and the business of who’s-romantically-involved-with-whom, perhaps we should notice the unfortunate and detrimental ways heterosexual marriages are depicted onscreen. What has “traditional marriage” come to mean in our culture? I wonder how my daughter would define it.

If my daughters learn one thing about marriage from me, I hope it’s this: build one that belongs to you and your husband alone. Structure it the way that works for you. Find out what respect means to him and how to show it. Tell him how you want to be treated. Help each other see more clearly and love life more rigorously. Don’t let anyone condemn you for being unprogressive if you want to stay home with the children, or have no children, or have twenty children, or have a husband who stays home with the children. It’s your game, your rules. Be traditional. Be untraditional. Be semi-traditional. But for God’s sake, be careful what you teach. Dads are not dolts. Moms are not dictators. If “traditional marriage” amounts to anything like that, let’s throw it out and try again.

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Filed under Once Divorced, Twice Married, Stepmom Life

Love Wins.

The church my man and I attend has real people in it – people who have excelled and fallen short in their efforts at relationships, being Christians, and life in general. In an environment like that, I shared my story out loud for the first time last Wednesday night. An unexpected thing happened: as difficult as it was to admit some of my more embarrassing mistakes, I became so proud of Jesus. So proud that my God is the kind of God who pursues diamonds in the rough. So proud that my God accepts me as I am – and you as you are – because he revels in the journey we’re on. So proud that my God is in control of the whole thing.

It’s like this. Addiction was a fourteen-year way of life for me – from 1996 to 2010 – and it sometimes nips at my heels even now. I didn’t reason my way out of it or will it to stop; you can’t treat addiction that way. Instead, I went to the office of a counselor hand-picked for me by God. For some, that sounds extreme I’m sure: couldn’t it just be a happy coincidence? But here’s the truth. I ended up finally making my decision to get help on a Wednesday that Dr. Morgan happened to be sharing the walk-in intakes, something he doesn’t always do. I arrived at the Health Clinic during his office hours, which are fewer than everyone else’s due to his research activities. He happened to be the one to take me back, even though several other counselors were available. His approach to counseling proved almost exclusively cognitive, in the sense that we looked around my brain and applied logic where I wasn’t. Given that I live my whole life in my brain, the method felt tailored for me. It’s all these reasons, and a few others, that assure me God oversaw my healing process, even when I wasn’t consulting him. He put me in the right setting to recognize what I was doing, why, and how to stop it. Then, he gave me the strength to change. If you’d ever seen me binge, you’d know: only Jesus can do that.

When I got married in June 2007, sexual dysfunction ignited my addiction, causing whatever shards of self-esteem I had left to dissolve in the heart-wrenching pain of loneliness and anger. My body was too wrong, too large, and sentenced me to a sexless marriage. Every failed “treatment” plunged me into further despair, and I looked to food with renewed zeal each time. I reached a low after my third miscarriage; not only was my body oversized, not only did it reject my then-husband, but it also made a farce of my dreams of motherhood. My destructive behavior had no limits: I binged, entered an inappropriate relationship, wallowed in self-pity and hatred, and ignored God’s invitations to surrender. I couldn’t see a way out of the dark and depression; for a while, I didn’t even want one. And even still, when I’d had enough, when I shrugged and said, “Fine, You win,” there was Jesus. Even when I’d turned Him down. Even after my divorce. Even when the old patterns lured me back. And now I can’t even see a shadow of the wife I was for so long. I have eyes only for my man, and I thoroughly enjoy him – loving him, living alongside him, sharing an intimacy with him that is exclusively ours. I have been made entirely new. Only Jesus can do that.

I shouldn’t be here, in this place of lightness and joy, after the places I’ve been. I spent years destroying my body, being unable and unwilling to stop abusing food. I’ve been through the loss associated with infidelity. I’ve felt the pain of my babies fading. I’ve walked through the disappointment and rage of (supposed) infertility. I’ve tried to soothe myself, to protect myself when I felt assaulted by the storm, only to wake up drowning in further waves of pain. But I’m here – joyful, peaceful, and free. Only Jesus can do that. I am married to the sexiest, strongest, kindest man God ever created. I am mother-by-marriage of two beautiful children that look just like my favorite man. I am mother-by-blood of a 34-week-old pregnancy miracle who is about to forever change my world for the better. I am blessed to live in a lovely home with a wonderful family that makes my life a joy beyond words, beyond anything I could’ve made for myself. But even if I lost everything tomorrow, I have been shown that my God is greater than the gifts he gives and the pain I endure. Whatever I live through tomorrow, He has the answers. He meets my needs. He loves me and speaks tenderly to me and remains faithfully beside me no matter where we go. No matter what happens, there’s Jesus.

That’s all I ever needed to know, really. I’m loved, I’m of priceless worth, and there’s always Jesus.

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Filed under Addiction Recovery, Broken Beauty, Jesus Loves Me, Once Divorced, Twice Married

Grace Like the Sea

You know you’re pregnant when you roll your eyes at the ringing phone across the room and think, “I just poured myself a nice cup of chocolate chips and settled on the couch. Does anyone merit my attention right now?” That only happened once, I promise. And the cup wasn’t full. And I did pick up the call, but it turned out to be Charter Communications, so I had to reel myself in from throwing the phone straight through the window. Joe the Salesman wasn’t ready for that jelly.

That is the picture of pregnancy.

Of course, there is this other picture of pregnancy that I gaze at several times a day. It’s a 13-week-and-5-day ultrasound of the most beautiful developing baby I have ever seen. She is staggeringly beautiful. She is a picture of my wildest dreams. She is grace: a gift I didn’t earn and don’t deserve that was given to me anyway, to paraphrase Frederick Buechner. A hundred times a day, the thought crosses my mind, “How did I get this lucky? I am the wife of my favorite person, stepmom to two incredible children, and sixteen weeks pregnant with a grace baby.” Big time wow. Because when I was guiding my own life, I guided myself right into disaster. Repeatedly.

Barely two and a half years ago, I was in the throes of addiction counseling for compulsive overeating, a disorder that served as my prison warden for over 12 years. I ate little around others – excepting only my best friend, around whom I felt completely safe – but binged later in secret. I lied about how much I ate and how little self-respect I had. I was terrified of painful feelings, like loneliness and rejection, so I ate to cover them up. After every binge, I felt ashamed and helpless, which often led me to anticipation of the next one. It was miserable and infuriating and dark.

Just over two years ago, my first marriage was officially ending. Confusion and heartbreak washed over me every morning, and I couldn’t find Jesus. Actually, I wouldn’t find Jesus. I didn’t really think He could help, as none of this was His problem. Everything was a mess, and I remember telling my mom I felt untethered, like my air hose had been cut and I was floating through space without anything to ground me.

I finally gave up. I don’t remember when, I just know that I did. There’s no sensational story of sobbing or snake handling or a contract signed in blood. All that happened is one day Jesus whispered, “Give me a try now?” And I said, “Yes, please,” and that was it. Peace. And now, having given up the pilot’s controls, I have been redeemed and made pure again. And there’s a life in me – both literally and figuratively – that is so joyful and so foreign that I hardly recognize it. But it is Jesus. For sure, it is Jesus.

My man and I have to rely on Jesus every minute of every day because we both have gigantic, ugly demons that don’t go away without a fight, even when the proverbial war has already been won. I would say all Christians are to some degree in this boat, since the Bible tells us Satan prowls like a lion, hoping and searching for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). But when I say my man and I have to fight for our freedom, I mean that my man and I have to fight for our freedom. And the worst part of it is that neither of us is perfect, or even holy. We have to borrow our victory from Jesus every single day. But most of the time, that’s what we choose to do. So in honor of our Redeemer, in honor of our testimony, in honor of the blessed-beyond-all-reason life we’ve been given, we’ve chosen to name our daughter grace like the sea. “Anna” means grace, and her middle name means “like the sea.” We didn’t earn her, we don’t deserve her, but her beautiful self has been given to us for safe keeping anyway. It takes a powerful, loving, compassionate God to create something like that out of the broken, nasty selves we offered him. But that’s all we had to do. And then there he was, with all the hope and joy and trustworthy love we ever needed.

Also, happy four months of married life to my strong, sexy, incredible man. Thank God for you, my love.

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Prince Charming

I want to try this love thing again. So far, romantic love in my life has left something to be desired. Get this: I’ve been engaged three times. (I’ve been proposed to four times, but I showed a little restraint once and said no.) And we all know how I was married that one time for almost five years. Romance is the bane of my existence. But for some unknown reason, I still believe in it. I am still willing to throw myself out there if I find a trustworthy, interested (and interesting) man. But some things will be different. I’m not looking for the same kind of man that I was five years ago when I got married. Or seven years ago when I was in the second engagement. Or nine years ago when I was in the first. Those men, all good men, just didn’t work out. I was looking for the wrong kind of thing.

I want someone whose heart has been broken so he knows how important it is to take precious care of love. I want someone who is nerdy about something, such that when he talks about it passion flushes his face. I want someone who has sinned, really screwed something up, so he lavishly gives and appreciates grace and mercy. I want someone imperfect but honest. I want someone who will happily live a lilting, peculiarly harmonious life with me, ready to heed God’s direction for us at any moment. Preferably, he’s not rich, powerful, or disarmingly handsome—I don’t trust those types. My Prince Charming may in fact not be charming at all, just someone who has experienced enough life to know that all we really have on this planet is God and the people who love us.

If God is in the business of giving me the desires of my heart, which the Bible promises to those who seek him, then I have to believe that somewhere out there is a man who will be my friend and who will profoundly love me, too. He will hold my hand when I’m scared and offer his coat when I’m cold. He’ll even overlook my tendency to overcook the eggs. I will look at him with awe and respect and tell everyone how blessed I am that he chose me. We’ll laugh at ourselves, we’ll eat chicken for dinner, we’ll take the dog to the park. We’ll make each other mad, and we’ll get over it. We’ll wonder how we’re going to make it, and we’ll get over it. We’ll enjoy lots of nothing-special days together. We will not be perfect. But we will create something extraordinary together: a life.

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Roulette

Wedding days: tiaras, princes, romance, diamonds, ornate dresses. Kate Middleton isn’t the only one who dreamed it up like that. Well, my wedding was tiara-less, my hair was down, and my feet were bare under my simple dress. I’m a no-frills girl. Still, the hopes and dreams, the desire to be beautiful and to be claimed by a man in front of the people dearest to me—all of that was present. And four years ago on the 15th of June, I stood in front of the one who had chosen me and embarked on the marriage journey with him.

I didn’t go into it expecting a fairy tale. I knew the wedding itself would bear little resemblance to the life that would follow. After all, I am a sinful, imperfect person, and so is my husband. Regardless of what algebraic function we employ, two sinful, imperfect people will never equal a unit of perfect domestic bliss. No matter how beautiful the bride, how dashing the groom, how vivid the flowers, or how joyful the congregation, there will be troubling times.

Yesterday my counselor said to me one of the most honest things about romantic commitment that I’ve ever heard: “Relationships are a great gamble. When two people enter a committed relationship, they should be aware that things could go terribly wrong. Their love could die. Another could attract the attention of one of the partners. They could grow apart. I think the best thing two people can do is admit the reality of those possibilities from the outset. Is the love they have now worth the potential hurt later? Will they decide how to combat these dangers before they arise? Relationships are a gamble, always a gamble, but a good one.” Certainly, that is a far less romantic way of looking at love than what’s in the movies. It’s more fun to think of love as something that hits you when you see her lovely face laughing at a joke right before she notices you for the first time. It’s easier to think of love as an emotion that arises from attraction and compatibility and that, when it comes to you, lasts forever. Thinking of love as a risk with a potentially painful end is just depressing.

On the other hand, if we treat love this way, aren’t we actually elevating its status to something even more precious? If we’re willing to admit that sometimes things get broken, won’t it make us more determined to hold onto love when we find it? It seems to me that if two people can look at each other honestly and say, “I see your selfishness,” “I see your paranoia,” or “I see your fear,” knowing that those qualities left unchecked could destroy the relationship, and still be willing to take the risk, that is the miracle of love. To see another’s most ingrained faults and be willing to love him or her even if those traits never change, to be willing not to berate him or her for being imperfect, that is the hard work demanded by commitment. Perhaps making the decision to choose love over destruction each individual day is a more honest way of approaching a relationship than making a rash, often infatuation-driven, promise of eternal bliss early on and spinning the roulette wheel, betting on romantic fantasies.

I don’t believe committed love is left entirely to chance, of course. Unromantic, un-glorious grit and determination have their place. But it is equally true that we cannot know the future. In the limited scope of human wisdom, the enormity of our imperfection, and the frightening fickleness of attraction, “forever” cannot be certain. Even the Bible claims, There is…a time to kill and a time to heal…a time to embrace and a time to turn away…a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend (vv. Ecclesiastes 3:3a, :5b, :6b, :7a). Therefore, there are times committed love should be worked at and times it should be let go. Knowing this, admitting (but not dwelling on) the possibility of not-happily-ever-after, can paralyze us into an inability to love or can challenge us to hold love in the highest esteem, fighting for it however we can, even without knowing the outcome.

I believe there is magic in love, despite the reality of the risk. To find someone whose presence makes you feel peaceful, cherished, and deeply happy is not something to trivialize. To find someone who wakes you up from the inside out, who makes you feel special just by being who he or she is and allowing you to do the same, whose laugh delights you, who looks your faults in the eye and says, “I can work around that”…it’s a gift. Certainly one worth both the gamble, however scary, and the hard work, however frustrating. It reminds me of a quote of Benjamin Disraeli’s that Elizabeth Gilbert quotes in Committed: “There is no greater risk than matrimony. But there is nothing happier than a happy marriage” (1870). Today I wish you a successful roll of the dice.

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