Tag Archives: divorce

The Title-Loan Disciple.

By some cruel twist of fate, my family had to pay the IRS this year. It’s not yet been explained to me in a way I find satisfactory. Even so, it’s nice that the IRS isn’t an evil oligarchy running the show and illegally making money off the poor in order to oppress them further. From what I’ve read, that was the case in the Roman Empire a couple millennia ago. Tax collectors took not only the requisite income tax but also outrageously more in illegal funds to keep for themselves. Worse, they were abusing their own people: the brutal Romans hired them as Jews to steal from the Jews. The profession, of course, attracted the greediest, most dishonest thieves alive. They were so sinful that Jesus lumped them together with pagans (Matthew 18:17).

So it’s odd that in Luke 5:27, Jesus stops at one of these booths and asks the guy inside to be a disciple, in Jesus’s most intimate circle of friends. I think this would be kind of like Jesus stopping into a title loan shop and inviting the manager to become a disciple.

But not only did Jesus choose that kind of person, he also gave the invitation while the sinner was in the middle of sinning. Matthew’s at work, stealing from everyone, generally being abusive and awful, when Jesus says, “Wanna get away?”

Jesus saw this terrible man not as he was but as he would become. Jesus knew the strength and goodness seeded in Matthew’s heart. It caused Jesus to push past the sin in the guy’s story to get to the real man underneath.

And look what it does to Matthew: the immediately following verse tells us he threw a huge party at his house (Luke 5:29). He went from being swallowed up by greed, hatred, and abuse to utter generosity. He was willing to pay to feed everyone so they’d come over and meet Jesus too. That’s what Jesus can do: when he calls you away from your junk and starts whispering to you about who you really are, it changes you. Whatever ensnared you the most forcefully can be completely reversed. You simply can’t look at both options – the sinful you and the freed you – and want to stay where you are.

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There is one thing that can keep people from Christ though, it seems. He says to the religious bigots, “I have come not to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Luke 5:32). A person who “thinks he/she is righteous” is pride-full, and that’s what apparently keeps Jesus away. In order to receive the grace of the Messiah, you have to know you need it.

But why choose greed and pride over Jesus? He is kind, protective, loving, and holds all power. He has sustained me with joy in my very darkest moments. He has surrounded me with a community of people who, because they love him, hold me up and cherish me as he does. He has not stopped giving me the desires of my heart since I trusted my life to him. And even if none of those things were true, he is still all we need on this earth. He literally provides everything from food to healing to comfort. There is no one like my Jesus. And even though I started out as selfish and sinful as Matthew, Jesus is fulfilling his promise to accomplish inside of me all he promised to accomplish since the beginning (Psalm 138:8). Since it’s a promise made to everyone, that promise goes for you too.

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Patterns.

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In the first grade, I failed at patterns. The worksheet asked us to color a series of shapes in a red-blue pattern, but that bored me. Instead I colored mine teal-violet-violet-teal-violet-violet – a pattern, to be sure, but the wrong one. My teacher not only gave me an F for the assignment but also refused to let me leave during bathroom break. The anger on my mom’s face when I told her about it that afternoon might have been amusing had it not been so terrifying.

Still, it is of vital importance that we get our patterns right. Like a quilt is composed of its patterns, we humans are composed of patterns too. A repeated choice to numb pain with alcohol creates an alcoholic. A repeated choice to overeat in loneliness creates a food addict. A repeated choice to light up creates a smoker. The patterns make the person.

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Not only that, but our patterns end up manifesting themselves in our children too. They do what we do. That scares me a little; I know how often I fall short of perfection. However, blessedly, this is a biblical concept, which means there’s hope attached. In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul thanks God for Timothy’s mom and grandma, who passed down their faith, establishing a pattern of Godliness for Timothy. They were examples to him of how to live wisely, and they also raised him in truth and love. We can do the same, constructing the same type of patterns within ourselves and our children. If our children can be persuaded to scream when angry because that’s how they see it done, they can also learn to be patient when angry if it happens around them. Paul says that’s what teaching is for in the first place – building patterns for living. In verse 13, he tells Timothy to “keep the pattern of sound teaching with faith and love in Christ” (NLT, emphasis added). We’ve got to show our children how to live according to Godly patterns.

Some transparency: in my story, what has most often kept me from the patterns Jesus wants is a belief that I have no self-discipline, as in, “I’d eat better, but I just can’t seem to stop.” That often leads to a second, more detrimental belief: “It’s just who I am.” But that’s not Godly. First Timothy 1:7 says, “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” It’s not a quality you have or don’t; it’s part of the Spirit given to you by God. If you have him, you have self-discipline. Self-discipline for the Christian is like quad muscles: you’ve got them already, but you have to exercise them if you want them to be strong. You can get your patterns sorted out. You can stop yelling when you’re angry. You can find another way to deal with boredom. You can end any bad habit or any destructive pattern. Jesus gave his life to secure freedom for everyone (1 Timothy 2:6), which means you’re in.

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In addition, I’ve spent a lot of time believing that “one piece of chocolate won’t hurt.” It seems many of us fall prey to this: “one cigarette won’t hurt,” “one porn film won’t hurt,” “one beer won’t hurt.” And maybe it won’t (although these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA), but the pattern you’re setting up will. The pattern of all that chocolate, all those cigarettes, all those hours of porn, all those beers, all those moments spent killing time when you could be talking to Jesus…those will eventually hurt. In fact, they’ll eventually destroy.

Know what I’ve found to be even harder? When you know all that, and you even keep trying to change your patterns, but your efforts produce nothing. Simon Peter, the day he met Jesus on the lake, had been trying all night to catch fish, and nothing had worked. Every fisherman’s technique he knew failed him. Then, Jesus said, “Try one more time. Row out to the deep water and give it one more go.” Simon says, “I’ve already done that. But hey, if you say so.” He rows out and, boom! More fish than he and his partner can lug into the boat. (The story is found in Luke 5.) That’s the power of obedience: it can change your patterns. You’re trying, you’ve seen yourself fail repeatedly, and Jesus says, “Just one more time.” When you respond, “Okay, if you say so,” it will work. It will. It still may not be a straight shot from sickness to health, but you’re headed in the right direction. Just take his advice; he’s Jesus, so he’s right.

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It probably goes without saying that you won’t ever get your patterns right all by yourself. It’s not because you’re weak. It’s not because you’re a failure. It’s because you’re human, a condition that’s not going away. But God has “unlimited resources” (Ephesians 3:16) to help you follow a different pattern.

And we have to – we really don’t have a choice if we’re going to be followers of Jesus. It’s part of “training for holiness,” as Paul labels it in 1 Timothy 4:7, 8. Paul knows we won’t get it right the first time, just like you’re not ready to participate in the Iron Man until you’ve spent a considerable amount of time training. We are called to holiness, and that’s a tall order. But we’ve also been equipped for it by a God with unlimited resources. Besides, imagine what that would be like: complete freedom from the pattern you’re so tired of following.

So maybe give it one more try. See what happens if you row back out one more time. Jesus will make sure you have everything you need to change your patterns. Jesus will set you free.

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Hot Water

I’m not so much on the science, never have been. It explains away so much of the poetry in life. I remember being actually sad in the third grade when we learned that rainbows were merely light passing through water. I’d rather them simply be a sign from God, like in Noah’s story, rather than banal scientific fact. Same with flowers that spring up where you didn’t plant them. Why do we have to attribute that to bird poo? In my book, they’re just a beautiful surprise from a romantic God. My distaste for demystification goes all the way back to my very young days in which I was amazed at how the insides of an egg went from soupy to solid after some time in hot water. How could something so simple bridge the difference between splat and boing? How could the possibility of bouncing exist in the same egg that minutes before had been such a mess on the inside?

I want to think this is what trials, the “hot water” in our lives, are for: to get us from being so easily splattered to people who bounce. If we’re supposed to equate problems with “great joy” (James 1:2), it had better be for something worthwhile like that. Personally, I am not holy enough yet to respond naturally to trials with joy. I will not be joyfully cheering if my car explodes tomorrow. But…to see the grace of God while I rebuild my life, that would produce joy. Albeit slowly, I’m guessing.

In Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace, he claims God gives away grace in a way that is “almost wasteful.” It’s sloshing out of the too-full bucket with every step. In fact, this is how God gives everything. The disciples needed some fish. When they did as Jesus suggested and threw the nets over the other side, “they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it” (John 21:6, NLT). A crowd needed dinner. Jesus created so much that everyone ate and twelve baskets of leftovers were collected (John 6:13). You need a Savior who loves you. The love of Jesus is so wide and so long and so high and so deep that it’s literally impossible for the human brain to understand (Ephesians 3:18). You have a life, but Jesus offers you one that is “richer and more satisfying” than anything you’d have by following your own desires (John 10:10b). Jesus is all about infinitely more, fuller, bigger, greater, wilder than you can ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). It’s not just that Jesus is all you need; he’s all you need and a billion percent more.

If the hot water fortifies your heart and mind and the fortification of your heart and mind allows you to bounce, then I suppose I can stand the heat. As Dallas Willard wrote, God’s “overriding concern” is for my joy, and it’s clearly more fun to bounce than splat.

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Easter’s coming.

One of my professors just suffered the loss of a dear friend, right here before Easter. The next time our class met she told us about it, and even in the middle of that pain, she repeated, “Easter’s coming. There’s sadness now, but Easter’s coming.”

I think that’s one of the reasons the gospel of John calls Jesus “the Light.” John 1:5 says, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” We who have Jesus aren’t limited to the dark scope of our pain; we have the Light to see past it into the future. Easter’s coming. Regardless of how deep the darkness of our pain can be – and most of us have known profoundly dark pain – it can’t extinguish the Light, who is our hope. We can see more than the hearts not lit up yet. It may be in the distance, but we can see it: Easter’s coming.

As we know from John 1, Jesus is more than the Light; he’s also the Word. Because John 1 is so familiar to me, I decided to read it tonight from my French Bible. It’s absolutely beautiful: La Bible en français courant calls Jesus the Parole. As is the case with most French words, this is a great one. Parole does mean “word,” as we’re used to in John 1:1, but it also means “promise,” as in, “I give you my word [parole].” So in John 1, Jesus is our promise that Easter’s coming. He’s our promise that we never have to live without the Light. He’s our promise that “God’s got it,” as my hero Anne Lamott says, no matter how big “it” is. He’s our promise that it will all be okay in the end – the paroles of Revelation confirm it.

But parole has another meaning in French. It’s tucked away in English too. If I ask whether you know “the words” of a song, you know I’m referring to the lyrics. Same in French. If Jesus is the Parole, he is our promise, but he’s also our lyrics. And his song doesn’t end with heartbreak, so ours won’t either. His lyrics are the substance of that crazy hope lodged so far in our hearts that the worst pain we’ve ever known hasn’t extinguished it. He’s the reason we believe that the song isn’t over, even though some of the verses feel interminable. He’s our lyrics, our music, our joy.

I’ve known pain in the last eight years. But Jesus is my Light, so I can see past the mess to the hope that lies beyond it. Jesus is my Promise that it isn’t over until he comes back for me. Jesus is my Song that keeps my heart vibrant. And in fact, I wouldn’t trade the pain because it’s shown me where my idols were. As I dealt with years of infertility, I realized I had made an idol of the motherhood dream. I wanted a son or daughter more than I wanted to learn how to serve the Lord without children. As I dealt with a failing marriage, I realized I had made an idol of wifehood, wanting to be in a romance with a man more than with my Savior. No epiphany minimizes the pain of infertility or divorce or anything else, of course, but it can remind me to keep in check where my worship is going and whether I’m trusting my Promise and my Light to guide me. Jesus is the Promise that even the pain has meaning, and it won’t last forever.

However heavy your pain might be, you have a Light. You have a Promise. You have a Song. And I can promise: Easter’s coming.

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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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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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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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