Archive for the ‘Biblical’ Category

It’s finally spring time up here in the Upper Midwest, with this weekend having a prediction of 70 degree weather this Sunday.  As I sat this morning in the front room I could hear bird outside in the sunshine and see the last vestiges of the snow that had fallen last Sunday night melting away, hopefully for good until next winter.  Soon plants will be growing and I’ll have to get outside to clean up the yard and mow for the first time.  While I hope for a bit of a reprieve, for as I get older I find I have less desire for the manual labor required to do this work, yet I know it is necessary.  Growing up my mother used to spend hours in the yard each weekend working on the flowers or the garden.  She had many rose bushes,  I remember another chore I used to hate in the fall; bringing out the giant stack of Styrofoam rose cones that were in the shed and helping Mom cover the rose bushes.  We’d carefully tuck everything in and then I placed bricks on the corners of the cones to keep the winter winds from blowing them away.  We have a large rose bush on the side of our house now, much too big to cover.

When spring came my Mom would uncover the rose bush, or my wife now goes out and the first thing that is done it to prune the rose bush.  I’ve also seen my wife do this with flower arrangements I bring home from time to time.  I just bought the thing and it is bright and shiny and new, and the first thing she does is take scissors to them to prune.  I thought, “Why?”, but was always amazed at how much better it looked afterwards.   The rose blooms were now arrayed in full splendor instead of hiding like Easter Eggs in the grass.  Some time she had also taken the one arrangement and made several out it, taking a flower or two in a vase in the window by the kitchen sink, a few more on the kitchen table and the rest on the island where I had set them originally. The effort of pruning had turned something that was already wonderful into something glorious.

I should not be surprised.  After all Jesus uses many times to explain how pruning not only takes away the dead growth, the vines that bear no fruit, but that he will even prune the vines that are bearing fruit so that they will bear even more fruit.  My Mom and my wife do this with plants all the time, but on this early spring day, my thoughts have turned more to Jesus’ example and what I can do with my life and what I see others doing as well.  What can I prune?

I think back to the many, many times I feel I know what will be said, and from my impatience, I jump in and finish a sentence.  I have justified the action in my head as showing I am listening, or I am in tune with the speaker and I am just showing them I get it.  But what if I’m not?  What if they were going to say something totally unexpected?  How many times has this action cost me something?  A better relationship?  A new view on a staid, old happening?  A chance to see a rose that was buried until someone pruned away the greenery that was hiding it?  If I prune away jumping in with my own opinions, I might hear something amazing.  More importantly I will make sure that whoever I am spending time with feels heard.  I see the reaction far too often.  The nod and statement of agreement, “Yeah, that’s right”, after I jump in, coupled with the look in the eyes that there was something else, but they’ve chosen to move on.  I vow to do better next time, but then fall into the old habit.  I have made it a goal for me to sit on my hands and keep my mouth shut more often, keep the thought in my head, and let others speak and see if they match.  In the short time I’ve been actively doing this for the last few weeks, I have been wrong more than I’ve been right, on where I thought the person was going.  How much have I missed for years because I failed to prune this behavior from me?  While I’ve had great relationships with people and had great conversations (fruit), how much more fruit could have been gained by pruning this away?  I hope to find out going forward.

I am also keeping an eye on where else I can prune over the years.  While I think my self-focus is reasonable, what if I cut back on that some more?  Would it open me to seeing how I can help others?  I’ve done a bit of that when I helped with divorce support, but with that gone now, I find I have a desire to do something else, which may turn into financial coaching, but that is still something I’ve determined by looking inward into how I think I can help.  Am I missing other gifts I have that could help others because I am looking only at what I can think of and not listening for clues people are giving, but I am missing, perhaps for the behavior above?  I want to be open to better results there.

I have been in a new job for a month now.  I no longer have a role where anyone reports to me, something that I have had for over fifteen years.  I have found that I had to prune away methods and actions in the last four weeks that I have been doing for over a decade.  I have to avoid jumping into other people’s areas of responsibility and being OK with handing the problem over to another, my part being done.  I have to let reciprocal relationships build where in the past I could have relied on positional authority to force the issue if I needed.  I’ve also exercised a lot of what I just spoke about, waiting for the other person to finish before I jump in.  I’ve not been perfect on that, as it is hard for decades of habit to get cut away in a few days, but just as my wife can quickly prune away the unneeded parts of the rose in a few seconds and uncover something great, I’m working on that too.  I consciously decided to prune away high level management responsibilities because I did not like the type of person they would drive me to be.  The stress and pressure to do the impossible was wearing on my family, my friends and my co-workers.  It was also wearing on me.  Just as unfruitful growth still saps the strength of the vine until they are removed because they still take energy to sustain, those things were sapping joy and peace away, so I decided to remove them, and it has been very pleasant.

My wife is also pursuing some pruning on her job front for some of the same reasons.  She’s returning to working with students individually through private practice rather than going to a school and having to deal with all the politics and blocking that goes on that are sapping her happiness and fulfillment.  She started out this way but without as many connections and reputational bridges as she has now, it was difficult to find enough students to help.  Now she feels that is different and she’d like to prune away the job that bore this fruit, to allow even more fruit to spring forth.  I look forward to seeing what will blossom, and I think my wife does as well.

I think I understand what this means to her, but I’m going to use my newly pruned “shut up and listen” self to hear what it really means to her, rather than making assumptions that her journey is the same as mine was.  I believe that pruning will lead to more growth in our love and respect for each other which will grow into other areas of our life and the world.  It is what we are meant to do, prune away even those things we feel may be of some good, to realize the greater good they have been hindering from springing forth.  It is also important to prune constantly, not just at set times.  I have avoided New Year’s resolutions for exactly this reason.  Why wait to prune until the turn of a year, or the turning of a season?  I happen to have been a bit more self reflective today and it tied a bit to all the changes I am going through in my job and the season happened to align, but I embraced the change rather than put it on a list to hit in nine months.  I’d encourage everyone to do the same, to strive to be a healthy vine and encourage the vines around us to do the same.

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Another transition we have been moving through is children leaving the house.  This is a normal rite of passage for any family, but as you might expect a blended family brings with it some potential nuances and perspectives that might not exist.

The most impactful is not having control over the culture of the household for the children because they have multiple households in a blended family.  In an optimal situation the households would be similar and therefore no tension would exist.  Out situation is not optimal.  Both Bert’s and Nan’s households are vastly different in rules, expectations, belief systems and operational flow.  If you listen to our kid’s our household is the worst of the bunch because we have rules, we have expectations, we believe in Jesus Christ and the parents define and execute the operational flow.   They would prefer to have no rules, no expectations, believe in whatever makes you feel good at the time and they would get to determine how things operate, and they get all or most of that at Bert’s or Nan’s so, surprise, we are a terrible place to be and they cannot wait to get out of here.

As I’ve talked about in earlier posts that Marcia moved out about three years ago to go live with Nan just a few months before she turned eighteen.  There were conversations with her and Nan and she moved out around Thanksgiving and it was disappointing to see her go but not something I was going to fight.  To hear a recent conversation with Greg, it is amazing what the human brain can create.  Greg’s view of events, while he was yelling at me about how he wants to spend as little time in our house as possible, was that I threw Marcia out of the house and was yelling at her as she left.  Just like the difference in households being almost mirror opposites, this recollection of events was very opposite what I recall happening.  Marcia felt her lifestyle choices were not being supported and so felt she had to leave.  As an adult who could fledge the nest whenever she wanted, I let her make her choice and go without much ado.  This is where I think it is hard to understand the pressures and the realities if your perspective is from an unbroken household where you and your spouse are the sole family unit for your kids.  Speaking to friends, my parents and others who have not had to live in the dynamic I get a lot of judgment,lack of sympathy and at times even anger that I am doing something wrong.  I’ve been told I should have made Marcia stay.  I’ve been told I should have guilted her into staying.  I respond with questions about how do I make an adult do something against their will, and more importantly WHY would I want to do that? Our household was a constant ball of emotions and feelings of resentment and just a lot of angst.  That went away when Marcia decided to leave.  It was a relief and many times I felt bad about the fact that I was happy Marcia was gone.  As I have had more time to absorb things, I have changed my perspective to understand that this is part of the process of a blended household where the other choices are different.

You see, it is much safer to know you have an environment with a parent to go to if the one you are in is not to your liking.  In a typical family the adulting children do not have that alternative.  Their choices are live with my family who will likely put up with my foibles and warts and love me anyway, or go out into the big, scary world and make my own way with strangers, or at best some friends who might agree to room with me.  When you have another parent on the other side reinforcing their feelings that I. my wife, or both are nuts or mean or whatever adjective you want to label us with, things are so much easier.  It is an echo chamber of the strongest confirmation bias they will ever have; their own flesh and blood is aligning with them and telling them they are right.  It is hard,from the outside, to see how hard it is to compete with that.  As we have let time pass and tried to learn and grow and get counsel from others we have determined we are not going to compete with it, and that transition has been one of the most soul wrenching yet liberating aspects we’ve been through recently.

Whenever we look for guidance we return to the owner’s manual for life, the Bible, and it was in these interactions that we have been shown the meaning of Matthew 10:34-36, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35“For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; 36 and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.”  In most of our disagreements with our children, it comes down to our identity as Christian’sand the living out of that reality that cause the divide.  Marcia is not happy that Christ condemns homosexuality as sinful.  Nan has argued with me that I should be able to walk away from my church for the sake of my child.  A sword cuts things asunder, it is not made to join, it is made to split.  Our blended dilemma is certainly exacerbated by the fact that of the three households involved in out blended family, we are the only Christian one.  Living in the world is tempting.  Living as Christ demands of us, is hard and not glamorous, and many times not fun, at least not until you get to the point of Christian maturity when you understand the peace you are given by the Holy Spirit in these times when your own children want to walk away, but you know that the path you have chosen is the only one, and that the issue is that the children need to accept salvation and not that we are driving them away.  They are running from God, and as consequence from us.

Next, we had Jan decide Bert was easier to stomach than our mantra of personal responsibility and consequences after she got into a couple car accidents quickly and was going down the path of blaming the other parties and accepting no responsibility for herself. Her departure, along with Bobbi at the time, was like a thief in the night, having Bert come collect them and their belongings when my wife and I were out.  Again, Jan is over eighteen,so no longer in any way under a court ordered set of visitation and therefore was free to make her choice not only from us but from any other authority.  Fighting her was not something we did, as we understood they need to want to be present with us on our terms, which echo God’s terms.  If that does not sit well, then they are free to do something else. Bobbi was forced to come back because of the court order and her age, but her raging against he machine has never truly ceased and it came to a head recently, but I jump ahead.

Jan returned to the nest for a brief respite in the fall for about three months.  Bert had stolen over$7,000 for her by promising a car that was never really delivered.  When he asked for thousands more, something clicked, and Jan asked to move back here. My wife agreed, but only after making clear that there were rules,expectations and a method of operations. Calling it a negotiation makes it seem more complex and heartless than it was, but it was an adult conversation about what each side was willing to live with.  In the last few weeks Jan has moved into an apartment with a couple people. She continues to get advice from Bert on things and if he provides poor advice Jan will bear the consequences.  We’ve let her know we are available to help if she wants, but she clearly has the pull of the opposing households as she still wants validation from Bert, though I personally feel she is still to naïve to see through his manipulations and is likely to get burned.

While the custody situation for Peter is still in flux,Bobbi has decided to push living with Bert even though she is still a bit over a year away from hitting eighteen, but as with the two older kids, it seems we have arrived at the heart wrenching decision to let her go rather than fight them on something they clearly do not want to do.

Cindy is off at college away from home so she is out of the next for nine months of the year, but is probably the only child who has not stirred up issues on this particular front.  She’s struggling in other areas and we help again, when she asks, because she’s passed the magic age of eighteen when our relationship naturally transitions from one of telling or dictating to a parent/adult child relationship where you simply offer your opinion and they can tell you buzz off or ask for more. 

That is then where we sit on this transition, having made the tough choice to stop fighting the kids, regardless of their age.  So Greg has been vocal about how horrendous he thinks our house is, so I gave him the option to spend more time at Nan’s over the summer, but now he’s back tracking. At this point Peter’s situation is more dependent on the court proceedings and so no discussions are happening with him.  He has made enough noise to third parties that my wife has also confronted him on if be wants to be at Bert’s more and he also seems to back track and say no, he likes things the way they are, but that may change.  The dynamic is not one I’d wish on anyone because the stress of it is high and at times overwhelming (my wife and I have both used that word to explain how we are feeling over the last two months). 

So we basically have four of the kids gone for large periods of time, two permanently, one just being away at school and one actively choosing to be defiant and using the fact that Bert will support her choice to be there even though no changes in custody have been made.  We’ve transitioned, certainly during the school year to being a household with one or two boys here with us depending on which day it is.  The move towards the empty nest has begun and we are several years into the journey, with likely a little under four years to go until we’re fully there, but could be sooner ifGod chooses to make it that way.  As with any transition there are some good things and some bad.  We are both more at peace with the situation as we have turned towards God’s Word to help us navigate this difficult time,but we are also human and therefore sometimes gnash our teeth and think we can make people do what we’d prefer they do when it is really not up to us.  I think the biggest challenge we will continue to face is determining that fine line between when tough love means we refuse to let them make the choice of where they spend their time and deal with the unpleasant dynamics that may cause or when we say we’ve done our best, they have not chosen us, and to let them go and deal with the potential consequences they will have of what we feel are poor environments for them.  Three have officially passed the age of responsibility and the others are one, two and a half and three and a half years away.  Is our house half empty or half full?  The answer depends on when you ask.  We’ll keep trying to see it as half full more often then not, but I’d be lying if I said after years of fighting the good fight that we don’t  look at each other and say it’s time to stop fighting.

Proverbs 14 is a wonderful text that most Christians are familiar with.  As a book written mainly by the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, any chapter is a great trove of what it means to be wise, but chapter 14 stands out as one of the simplest ways to determine your standing in this era of quick quizzes.  You can read through Proverbs 14 like a Cosmo quiz; am I this or am I that and then add up the score at the end of the 35 verses and see on a score of 0-35 how wise (or conversely how foolish) you are.

Today I wanted to focus on two specific verses, verse 14 and verse 29 as I find myself assessing how we are doing as parents all the time using these two measures that God has so wonderfully provided.  For those not familiar with them, let me reprint them here.

Verse 14 says “The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, But a good man will be satisfied with his.” Verse 29 reads “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.”  I’m going to talk about each of these individually and how I feel they should impact our lives as parents.

One of the things anyone who knows me understands pretty quickly is that I love personal finance and helping others with it.  I’ve been contemplating ways to start financial coaching as a side hustle because I think my combination of financial simplicity joined with a humble Christian spirit of wanting to help can benefit a lot of people.  I’m not looking to write books or be on TV, just to help people and as a bonus maybe make a little extra money to help my family.  One of the first concepts that anyone needs to grasp as a motivation for not spending (which leads to saving, which is the goal) is compound interest.  You may have even heard the statement attributed to Albert Einstein (most likely falsely but done so nonetheless to add some weight to the importance of it) that goes something along the lines of compound interest being the most powerful force in the universe, the eighth wonder of the world.  That he who understands it, earns it and he who does not, pays it.

Again, if you are unfamiliar with the concept, compound interest is what happens when you let money just sit in some instrument that provides a return.  What happens is that you earn a little interest that first period, and then in the second period you earn interest on the whole balance including the interest you earned before and ad infinitum until some point in time.  If you make a sound investment in a stock of a great company such as GE (less great this week after its last announcements), a very small amount of money invested when the company started would be worth millions today.  And this is just over a little more than 100 years.  This is an example of the power of compounding and we can see it at work all over the place in the financial world.

I believe we can take this same principle and looking at Proverbs 14:14 as our base and, understanding that God’s promises are eternal, apply this same concept to the power of influence we have through our connections.  As with any of the statements in Proverbs 14, you can be on the wicked/foolish side or the wise/godly side.  As the Einstein quote explains, if you are a fool you pay the interest, so it can drain your savings just as quickly as it can add to it, if you make the wrong choices on where to let compound interest work in your life.  With our kids we also are making an investment by showing them how to live with what we say and do every day.  We can live for the world and it’s ephemeral, short-term “rewards” or we can live for God and His eternal purposes and rewards.  Verse 14 tells us we can be guided and satisfied by what we do in following God, or we can have our fill, reap the cost, of backsliding to the world’s way of thinking about anything.  Every “investment” we make in our children can have eternal consequences.  Every word we say, every action we model they take in and it impacts them from that day forward.  What we then have the ability to do is change what happens in the world to a greater and greater degree the more time that passes.  How our children develop and how they treat others including their children continues to ripple outward and grow and the number of connections and generations grows.  We can radiate good out into eternity by making the right investment today.  Imagine what the impact you have today will have on this world 10,000 years from now, 100,000 years from now.  It is just hard to wrap our heads around that but if we return to the financial analogy, the impact we see in just 25 or 100 years is impressive, but if we calculated that out for 10,000 years it would be mind-blowing.  This is what God offers all of us to understand in life, and as a parent I think about that a lot.  Our decisions echo in eternity.  This is why God fights for every soul to be saved, because he understands the impact the compound interest of our actions has.  What we do today does not only impact today, it effects and changes everything that happens into eternity.  Can you even begin to think about what that means?  Does the awesomeness of that weigh on you as much as it does me?  That, and nothing less, is what God has given us a chance to impact.  What will you do with that awesome power?  I try to make it impact my thinking as often as I can and it helps me understand the importance of standing for what is right, asking What Would Jesus Do, and driving in the positive direction as much as I can.  Will you let this sink in and reassess your thinking?  What verse 14 challenges us to do is realize we cannot always change our position, but we can always change our disposition.  And that is the lesson of compound interest when applied to parenting.

Moving on, let’s look at verse 29.  I’m sure we all have heard this many times but do we really get what it means? Let’s walk through a scenario we all face many times as parents.

I ask my kids to do things, such as clean up around the house.  After I asked the first time, in a few minutes I heard raised voices.  When I approached I found they were arguing about who had done the most, complaining to each other that one or the other was not pulling their weight.  I asked them kindly to stop and keep working.

After a few more minutes, I returned to find them bickering about who was going to do what.  Who would vacuum, who would pick up the socks.  I stepped in again, got them to be quiet and told them to finish the job.

Finally, the third time, I checked out the results after they said they were done.  What I saw was very lackluster and not the result I expected, and they explained they did not understand what a clean basement looks like.  At this point I lost it and yelled at them about how they never help around the house, how they make no effort, how they never listen, how they never show any respect and I stormed upstairs as they started flinging their feelings at me.

I stood there thinking two things. Why am I having this discussion?  I should just tell them what to do and if they don’t I should just bring the hammer down and remove all their privileges! but the second thought pierced me to my soul, deeper than any basement could ever be, I let my anger get the best of me and I am acting like a foolish child.

I do not remember exactly what I said when I calmed down and laid out my expectations clearly along with consequences of not being able to use the space later if it was not clean in the future to help the lesson sink in but most importantly in these time I need to understand If I am going to help these kids grow up emotionally and teach them to appropriately express their anger, than I need to grow up myself. 

God never says to not get angry but he does give us example like verse 29 and Ecclesiastes 7:9 “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” that are meant to clearly explain the consequences of improper anger.  We look and act like fools.  God never said we should not be angry, but he did warn us to not let anger turn into sin.  The easy way out is to think that losing our cool is human and natural and happens from time to time, but we are called to be better than that.  Let’s not take the easy way out, let’s help our kids learn how to behave like caring, rational adults and not like raving fools.

With a lot of kids, there is always a lot going on in our house.  It takes effort to not get angry, and we can say it is worse with more people, but those are just excuses.  God does not give us criteria for when it is OK to be a fool because we just can’t handle life.  His criteria, like him, are absolute.  Unrighteous anger is always a sin and as such we should avoid it.  Like any habit, this takes conscious effort.  It takes having a plan on how things will be addressed.  I have a plan, and even though that plan is when I feel my emotions getting the best of me to step away and regroup, I sometimes fail to execute the plan.  I need to then ask God and those I was inappropriately angry with for forgiveness.  However if we circle around to the earlier discussion, these actions have eternal compounding interest built into them.  Do I want people around me to learn that what we should be compounding is anger, or should we be compounding love?  Christ makes that answer very clear for us and we need to get better at laying the troubles we cannot handle, those that make us angry and irate like exes we cannot control, at His feet and try to emulate Christlikeness and show that we trust God.

So, can we be more like Solomon and less like ourselves?  I believe we can, but I know it will be hard.  Every sinner is on a road to improvement right up till they leave this world and then I am not sure if it continues in heaven or not.  I won’t be able to update this blog once I find out, but I do thank God for the fact that he gave us a Cosmo quiz right there in the Bible in Proverbs 14 to go down and assess ourselves and the ability to reach out to the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance to fix the warts we find.

One of the things I do not recall sharing here, because it was not relevant to any of the posts I made, was that Marcia came out to us several years back.  At the time my wife and I decided we would not share this news with many, other than what was necessary.  We told a few family members and the youth pastor at church and that was it.  Anything else was up to Marcia, just as she had let us know.

Trying to recall back several years exactly what I said or did is impossible, but I do not doubt that I know I was honest with Marcia about what God tells us in this situation and that I believed Him.  Exactly how I shared this and the words I used are lost in the fog of faraway memories, but Marcia has shared with me recently that it was more direct than she appreciated.  We all make mistakes.  Could I have delivered the message in a more loving, God-centered way?  I do not doubt it, but over the last couple weeks I have come to terms with the fact that nothing short of denying all my beliefs in the Lord would have satisfied Marcia.  I think this fills in enough backstory to move back to today.

I guess I will approach this post as is the latest fad in so many movies and TV shows of the day.  I’ll hit you with the now, then flashback to walk you through how we got here.  As you might guess from the title of this post, Marcia has decided to move out.  Frame the picture, start the opening credits and zoom in on Marcia carrying out some containers with Nan to Nan’s car and watch them drive away.  Cut to them pulling into Nan’s mom’s house and them moving those boxes in.  Cut away again and splashed over the exterior gimbal shot of our home appear the words “Two weeks before”.

As weird as this story is, it all started with a kitten.  My wife has been on me for a long time to get a family pet.  We already have two pets, but what we don’t have I guess is a blended family pet.  She has explained to me that I obviously don’t get it, and obviously I don’t because I still do not see how this pet is any different than the pets we already had.  It lives, it breathes, it eats, it poops, and it looks cute for a second and drives me nuts for hours.  On the list of things that I view as joyful and necessary in my life, I think you can see that pets are not one of them.  I’m not opposed to them and Nan was a pet person too, so they’ve been a constant in my life for many years, but so has snow, cutting the grass and taking my car in for an oil change.  They are just part of the world.  They make my wife and kids happier and they usually have no significant negative impact on me, so I just let it go.  That’s basically how we finally got to the new kitten.  I explained to my wife that at no time will she ever see me leap off the couch in utter joy and exuberance and exclaim, “I just had the greatest idea ever!  Let’s get another pet!” and then proceed to run around the house clanging pots and pans and urging the kids to fall in line in a parade where we all chat “Time to get a kitten!  Time to get a kitten!”  If she wanted to get one, go ahead, but waiting for me to be on board was not going to happen.

Most of the kids and her went off to get this kitten a couple weeks ago, and from piecing together the story later, it seems that there was definitely discussion before they left when it came to naming the kitten, everyone could add whatever names they wanted to a list and there would be a vote (sometimes democracy works in a family) and that it might take up to a week if the voting was contentious or if Trump showed up and said we had to build a wall between me and the kitten and that we would have a little cat door in it.  Somehow, as is wont to happen with seventeen year olds, Marcia seems to have missed, misplaced, ignored or otherwise confused this discussion.  While at the humane society selecting the kitten and getting to know it, a name was suggested my Marcia, a few of the kids kinda liked it and started calling the kitten this as well, probably more to test drive the name, but in Marcia’s head, the kitten had been named.  If this were Inside Out, the little kitten name memory ball was created and shipped off across the canyon to long term memory.  It was far away and hard to retrieve and change, or at least that’s how I associate this incident with what was to flow from it, because otherwise it has no chance of making sense.  Think itty bitty molehill.  Like the smallest mole you’ve ever seen, maybe a new species that requires a microscope to see that has never been discovered yet and then picture Marcia Mountain that makes Everest look like that microscopic molehill next to it and you get to see where we are headed, at least in my interpretation of the events that are about to unfold to get us to the scene we started our episode with.  The journey from “here” to “there” was just not connected in any rational way, but then again if you parent a teen you understand they are not rational, so who am I kidding and why am I surprised?

Kitten came home.  It kind of resembled the stuff that happens around the house when a new baby is brought home from the hospital, except I was happy to note, I did not have to wake up in the middle of the night to an elbow telling me to go change a diaper.  In fact she was already potty trained!  Who knew!  Eight weeks old and we were past potty training, I didn’t have to feed her with a spoon, and the doctor had already fixed her so I did not need to worry about her meeting some addle brained boy in high school and getting pregnant.  Maybe pets are easier than kids?

However, despite all these unexpected joys, it seems, huh, some of the kids actually wanted to stick to the original plan and write down names and vote even though Marcia was already well down the kitten naming path.  She had already had the star engraved on Hollywood boulevard and you know, we can’t change a name after that.  So this comes out and Marcia goes into full flip out mode.  It is a version or mountain and molehill but we’ve not discovered the final ones yet.

Somehow this naming issue caused Marcia such distress that she had trouble sleeping.  It was now Sunday morning and since she had stormed off to her room last night in protest of actually doing what we said we were going to do in the first place.  Are you missing the justification for her righteous indignation here too?  OK.  Whew! Thought it was just me….and my wife…. And all the other kids… and anyone else we’ve talked to.  Figuring she might be less volatile (you’d think we would have learned after years of living with the most unstable element in the universe, the American teenager) my wife engaged with her about how childish she had been about simply going with the original plan of voting.  After all her name could go on the list and if it got the most votes, it would be the name.  Mt. St. Marcia erupted again.  She was going to call the kitten the name she had selected no matter what.  We were stupid, she was not being childish.  In fact, she was so upset all night that she could not sleep and did not want to go to church.  I explained that was not an option as the house rule is simple.  We go to church on Sunday mornings.

We then entered the valley between molehill and mountain.  Very quickly this went from her being upset about a kitten name and our reaction to her reaction and became about how we do not accept her sexuality and make her go to church where she is not accepted and so forth.  She brought up all kinds of stuff from all directions over many years about how I had said something and she took it as a promise and how she hated me and my wife.  I stayed pretty calm through things trying to steer her to some rational sense but it never really worked.  At one point she had said when she was eighteen she was going to live with her mom.  This is not the first time this has come up but it had been quite some time since she had brought it out.  As usual I did not make any comment about it when she mentioned it but after another fifteen minutes of her irrational screaming at me, I went down and had a talk with my wife.  At this point Marcia is less than three months away from being eighteen.  Even though we have been very accepting of her lifestyle choices do far not hindering her seeing her girlfriend in any way etc.  she still felt she was not accepted.  I had had conversations with her before when she had brought up that “you don’t love me because I’m gay”, and explained how nonsensical that was.  Her being anything did not change the fact that I loved her.  I thought a conversation we had had a few months back was very good and at this point I was at a loss.  My wife and I agreed to let her know if she felt it was going to be so much better at mom’s and that is she was set on doing that anyway, since I was not able to have an effective conversation with her about anything lately that I could discuss with Nan about making the change now.

Again, even a bigger mountain appeared.  Marcia started going on about how now that it was clear that I wanted nothing to do with her that she could not come to me ever over the rest of her life for any discussion or advice or anything.  I explained that was not what I was saying just letting her know that if she feels it is not possible for her to comfortably live with us anymore and she wants to go to Nan’s instead that I am not going to stand in her way.  Certainly I have no issue with her here, but if she feels it is so terrible then it is her choice.  It was really amazing to me how we went from naming a cat to this in about 12 hours, much of which we were sleeping.

Instead of having me call she chose to call Nan herself and talk about it.  That led to several conversations with Nan and I about Marcia.  Nan took her normal stance that she was not going to tell Marcia no if she wanted to come.  I next talked to Nan on Tuesday and the main conversation she had was her concern about how her mom and her were concerned that this could be the end of any relationship between Marcia and myself.  Her suggestion was why could I not just do something small to show her I really accepted her, like drop my religion and beliefs.  Now for an unsaved person, that statement makes total sense.  I calmly explained that to her and said my God is a much who I am as Marcia believes her sexuality is and she would never ask me to suggest to Marcia that she simply give up being gay to show she accepted me.  This did seem to help her understand that irrationality of her request.  We had a good conversation about how God works everything for good and I basically ended up witnessing to her for about forty five minutes with Nan asking a lot of good questions and seeming engaged in the discussion.  My explanation really centered around the fact that if this somehow caused me to be estranged from Marcia, that I trusted that God would work some good from that, even though I may never know what that is.  That is what the Bible clearly tells us.  The right answer was not to deny my God and walk away from Him.  That would only lead to destruction and even more turmoil than I have now.  Nan seemed to understand, though I would not go so far as to say she agreed.

The biggest revelation of the discussion was that it appeared that the best solution was for Marcia to actually live with Nan’s mom.  She is in our town and closer to the school than Nan is and it seemed she would let Marcia use her car if needed while Nan had no vehicle to offer her during the school day.  Marcia and Nan’s mom have not exactly gotten along swimmingly so this did not seem like a great idea to Nan or I, but was the best option.  Nan was hoping that that reality would get Marcia to reconsider.

The kids were at Nan’s over the next weekend and other than a few texts clearing up what would happen to the school parking pass (it would go with Marcia if she had a vehicle to use), nothing else really transpired.  Marcia returned with the rest of the kids as per the schedule and basically proceeded to ignore us for the time she was here.  I had talked with Nan and found out that Marcia was portraying the environment here as one where I constantly pushed her to become straight, and so I asked Marcia why she said that to Nan when the only time her sexuality even comes up is when she chooses to use it to indicate that we are not accepting her even though she has no examples of what that means, it is just that she feels that way. Marcia said she never said that to Nan and that Nan was just fabricating the whole discussion.  I explained again that I loved her and was here if she needed me, the same message I had been sending for the last few years.  She did indicate that she still had not decided, but later Cindi indicated that was not at all the conversation at Nan’s, that it seemed very decided the whole weekend there.

As an aside, as all this was going on I continued to have conversations over the week and a half with my dad.  He was aware of the fighting and that Marcia wanted to leave.  What he had still not been made aware of was that Marcia was homosexual.  This had now become a big deal, because Marcia had made it a big deal.  She had made it the centerpiece of this entire explosion, indicating she could no longer live here because she did not feel accepted and that we made her go to church, a church she felt also did not accept her.  The problem was I could not have an open conversation with my dad about exactly what she did not feel accepting about, so my wife and I over several days decided that is Marcia was going to be making adult decisions, this was one she had to make as well.  I needed to let my parents know, even though I felt they would be infuriated and possibly never speak with her again, and that if she was making this such a core of her identity then we could not keep lying to my parents.  I wanted to give her the choice to tell them herself.  She did not want to and in fact just told me to tell them if I wanted to.  I calmly asked again that she wanted me to let them know and that she did not want to share this important news with her own grandparents.  She said no.

I told my dad and he was much more accepting than I had expected.  He was certainly disappointed but it helped him understand.  He had recently told me “something does not add up.  There has to be something more”, and that was the point when I knew that it was going to damage my wife’s and my relationship with my parents if we did not share this secret.  That is what was the final straw that made me decide now was the time to tell Marcia is had to be shared.

I took the high road and let Marcia have her space to decide, as I felt that influencing her in any way could only have the down side of making her angry at me if things did not work out as she wanted, which honestly I think will be the case regardless of whose home she lives in because she is a typical teenager and wants no rules and to do exactly what she wants with no questions or consequences.

The kids were over at Nan’s again for Thanksgiving, which is the first time since we have been divorced that Nan has taken them for the full Thanksgiving holiday.  It meant Marcia was back with us for only a couple days and Cindi had let us know that Marcia had told Nan she did not want to be back in my house after Thanksgiving.

For several days, I got hit with a very unexpected sadness.  I certainly knew all my kids will leave the proverbial nest, and was OK with that, but I think the way this was happening just felt wrong and my belief that this really could be the start of a very lengthy period of estrangement and that Marcia would most likely also have a falling out with Nan and her mom and then be left to make her own decisions just scared me to death.  The pure understanding that there was nothing I could do about it was huge.  All I could do was turn it over to God and if not for my belief in Him my sadness would have been very dark indeed.  It was still pretty bad.  I would find myself tearing up at random times for the next couple days at work, at home or driving.  I had to trust God knew what He was doing, but it was so hard.

I had also reached out to my pastors for some guidance.  I was able to meet with one of our Associate Pastors on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  I shared all the details above and more and in the end my pastor felt I was using great wisdom in handling everything and that my understanding of God’s will was all I could do.  He felt he has not really done much to help me, but I assured him that the reinforcement that I was not doing something wrong was very helpful.

I made sure I hugged Marcia and told her I loved her once again before I headed off to work the Tuesday before Thanksgiving as I knew they would most likely be gone before I got home.  It hindsight it may have been a bit self-serving to remove any guilt I might later have that I could have kept her from making a decision that really could backfire, but I also wanted her to know that no matter what she thought I loved her.

A few hours after they had gotten to Nan’s on Tuesday she texted letting me know they would drop the other kids off Sunday and pack up Marcia’s things to move to her mom’s.  I tried to keep the sadness at bay as the finality of everything hit home.  I had been looking at materials about how to handle the reality that a child of mine was homosexual and that I was a Christian.  I truly struggled with her not feeling accepted and wanted to get guidance as I knew this was not a process I should go through alone.  Neither our home nor our church was doing anything to actively encourage Marcia to change, but I know she knows what the Bible says about homosexuals.  One of the questions I asked our pastor was, “If she ever comes to know Jesus as her Savior but then wants to know how she can choose to be saved knowing that she will not be accepted in heaven, what do I say?”  The guidance was this is the same conversation we would have with anyone where spreading the gospel.  We are all sinners and we all need Jesus.  Nothing is unforgivable and he paid the prices for all our sins, past, present and future once and for all.  I understand that with my beliefs Marcia will always feel a distance between us but God is my center and I nor anyone gets to pick and choose what we feel is true of not.  God gave us His Word to very clearly indicate what truth is.  The world believes many unbiblical things about homosexuality and a friend I discussed this with at one point said, “your view is in the minority in society today”, be he also admitted that does not necessarily make it wrong.  Just because a majority believe something can simply mean that sadly a majority does not know the truth.

Returning to my narrative, Sunday arrived and Nan came over a little before the rest of us had returned home from church.  Marcia and her were already up in her room getting stuff together.  I gave Marcia a hug, said goodbye and let her know I was always here if she needed anything.  At that point she indicated she was still planning to return for the weekends when they would normally be here.  This certainly surprised me.  I went off to change and as I thought about it realized I needed to have a direct discussion with her as her returning would place what she said was at the core of her wanting to leave front and center again. I went back and started to explain to her that I was certainly happy to have her here for the weekends but was not sure what she was thinking about Sundays.  In mid-sentence she cut me off; “Oh I know I would have to go to church”.  I threw up my hands, “I don’t get it!” and spun around and started to walk out, but stopped myself.  Her stance was this way she was “choosing” to go versus being “made” to go.  I get it, yet I don’t.  It’s a teenager’s logic and I sadly had it once too and remember enough of it that I can see it for what it is.

With all this transpiring, Nan piped up and asked Marcia is she was sure she wanted to do this.  She started to tear up and indicated she did not know.  She then proceeded down a path that my wife and figured she’d hit later, that of not knowing how to mend fences and find her way back and thinking it was too much.  First she indicated that Nan and her mom had already bought her a mattress and there was too much that had happened.  Nan indicated not to worry about that, she just needed to make the decision that was right for her.  Marcia then indicated all the awful and mean things she had said about my wife and how she would have to walk on eggshells and such.  I quickly jumped in and said we would need to call her up to talk with Marcia to help her decide if this was going to be a problem.  Marcia did not want to talk.  Nan and I said she had to.  My wife came up and they spent several minutes together.  In the end Marcia still was undecided.  All three of us let her know that this was only a decision she could make but the only caveat was that it was serious.   This will be what she has to live with until the end of the school year.  We are not a revolving door and there is a lot of disruption with this change and when she gets mad over there in two weeks, it’s not “I’m going to go back and live with dad”.  We had shared this message for the entire two weeks this drama was going on, and all the adults were on the same page agreeing that was a requirement.  My wife and I left Marcia and Nan to themselves again.

What I learned was that Marcia is still the typical immature teenager even though she insists she knows everything there is to know about the world and how to live in it.  We were all there once.  I get it and I can appreciate it.  I also know that if we made that decision for her and something happens she has us to blame again.  Making her do that and her living with the consequences she creates are part of helping her mature.  I also learned that God is always in control.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that final set of conversations we had on Sunday when Marcia was unsure.  On one hand it was exciting that the door was not as shut as I imagined, but on the other it was also heartbreaking because it exposes her inner struggle.  She is not comfortable in her own skin and she does not know how to deal with it.  None of us do, until we realize that Jesus is the answer.  I also know and my church community knows that that realization can only be made between two people, Jesus and the person.  Just as making the call for Marcia about if she will stay as things are or make a change and move to Nan’s mom’s is Marcia’s, Marcia’s decision to accept Jesus as her Savior is Marcia’s.  If any of us try to cajole, force or manipulate the result in either case is a poor one.  Acceptance of our lives and the choices we make must be ours alone.  Having God along as your co-pilot is wonderfully calming and peaceful, but we never know that until after the fact.

Since I started with the end, you know Marcia still choose to make the change.  She understands that we can revisit this as early as this summer if she wants.  She’s 18 in about two months so she is now also legally in control of her own life very shortly and we also get to treat her like the adult she is asking to become.  My wife and I already discussed the fact that if she does choose to come over for a weekend and Mt. St. Marcia erupts again, the dynamic is now totally different.  Marcia is no longer a child living under our roof who would get disciplined and sent to her room, she is now an adult who is behaving inappropriately in our home and will be asked to leave.

Life is always full of surprises.  I knew my kids would leave the nest and Marcia being the oldest I know would probably be the first.  I just did not expect it to come together so violently and so quickly.  In the span of two weeks three households have been placed in an adjustment scenario none of us expected sitting there in early November waiting for Thanksgiving.  With God’s grace I have had the strength and wisdom to move through this.  My wife let me know a couple nights ago how proud she is of me on how I handled these last two weeks.  That was a huge blessing.  My wife is a wonderful woman and a very helpful and supportive partner and we both follow the Lord but having that affirmation was very sweet.

Only God knows what will happen next year, next month, next week or ever the next minute.  I will still pray every day that Marcia along with all my kids eventually has a personal relationship with Jesus.  That’s the best way I know to weather this world and all the surprises it throws our way.

Many Christians, my wife included, view the book for Ecclesiastes from a less than joyful viewpoint.  It has been said that it is depressing and it is hard, but as I have learned more about the Bible over the years I have never really had this viewpoint.  The book was written by Solomon, whom the Bible tells us is a great man of wisdom.  I think we can all agree that we avoid, or skim over something written by a great man of wisdom with peril.  Every day we make choices, but I’d like to point out something counterintuitive to those of you who feel this book of the Bible has little to offer in the way of encouragement by pointing out a little nugget buried in there that can make all the difference in the world in your marriage, if applied.

Before we get to the nugget, let’s first set the stage.  Our lives are full of challenges and difficulties at times.  No one escapes these for their entire life.  We may go for years coasting along in bliss and contentment only to have something smack of off our pedestal.  Suddenly our perfect life is not so perfect anymore.  It is at these times when we struggle most and our values, our faith, if we have it, is tested.  As we assist in counseling people who are going through or have gone through divorce we see the all too common result in our culture of these times. The choice is to leave, to break up the family because it will be better.  Is that really the right choice?

Have you ever felt your spouse was not there, spending their time working or buried in hobbies that take them out of the home and away from you?  Maybe they focus on friends and not your family.  Perhaps there has been hardship:  financial, medical or spiritual.  These storms of life bring with them sadness and test our resolve.  It has become too common that the decision reached is to throw in the towel and walk away.

This is where the book of Ecclesiates applies to our trials in marriage.  The NIV translation lists verse 9:9 as “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun–all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.”  At first blush, and through the lens of this being a depressing book, it reads pretty harshly, though as a piece of wisdom it holds all the hope needed to understand that God has provided us this life and expects us to enjoy it, even through the trials.  Certainly this is a choice we make, but if we take our hardships and things that drive us mad and look for creative ways to find some fun way to deal with them, suddenly our wife and our marriage are a source of power and not a drain.  If we look at what is viewed as a more literal translation of the Bible, the NASB, this verse reads: “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun ; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”

Suddenly the moroseness and depressing language is not really there, is it?  This translation removes the burden of digging for the real point Solomon was making and makes it front and center.  God intends you to enjoy life with your wife no matter what occurs.  It is our reward for all the difficulties.  So you, as always, have a choice.  Do you throw it away when it gets hard, feeling that your marriage or your wife are the source of your misery, or do you follow the instruction of one of the wisest men who ever lived and cling to your wife and labor with her while enjoying things together, even through the bad times?  If you change your perspective, not only can a book of the Bible that gets a bad rap as just a lament of misery suddenly offer some of the best hope in your life, but you can turn around your whole view on life and make your family a bastion against the storms and weather them together, rather than apart.

Recently I came across a brief study of the section in Exodus where the Israelites camp at the base of the mountain and instead of following God they choose to do their own thing (worship an idol) and instead of entering the land of milk and honey they are led to forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

With the spectacle that happened in that time and place with God coming down on Mount Sinai in clouds and fire and still the people chose to ignore the fact that there is no greater God, how much more difficult is it for us to keep our eyes on God in our world where he does not appear with such obvious power and awe?  This is the vein I have found myself thinking in the last few weeks.

God makes it very clear in the Word that all he asks of us is to follow and revere him and He will guide us.  The example above was simply one of the most graphic preserved for our improvement in the Bible.  When people choose to follow their own interests instead of God’s bad things usually happen.  In the case of Israel they went from being at the doorstep of the Promised Land to then wandering aimlessly for forty years and never reaching what was the destination they set out for.

If we move to our modern world and look at our lives and those around us, is it not evident that the same thing happens today?  We all know someone, or perhaps many some ones, whose entire life never really got to where we thought it would.  When we look back with the benefit of hindsight the forks in the road and the paths taken are so obviously the wrong ones that we shake our heads in disbelief.  How could they not have known that making that decision as a teenager would haunt them their whole life?   How could the Israelites, at the base of the mountain on which Moses went up to meet God, have made the decision they made?  We all know the answer; that in the moments of our lives if we turn away from the teachings and guidance of God we end up on the wrong path, lost in the wilderness of life.

For non-Christians I imagine this whole thing called life can be extremely frustrating.  Nothing is connected to anything else except by perhaps some passing spirituality that they refuse to name or maybe never even acknowledge.  How empty it must feel to think that anything you do is contained in your own little bubble and not accountable to much of anything.  Sure it might be liberating for a moment, but I have countless people I have known over life with which I have had the “why did this happen” conversations.  In many of those times I was not yet equipped to understand what I do now with the wisdom provided by God to see those events for what they became.  God judges all, whether they believe in Him or not, and when a decision is made contrary to His commandments and teachings we all see the wreckage.  I have an uncle who never took to heart that work is responsibility and that God expects us to be accountable for doing the right things with people.  The result has been a lifetime filled with extreme hardship, disconnection from family and perhaps friends (none of us have heard from him in over a decade so perhaps he’s got some),and financial and physical ruin.  Like many, he went to church, perhaps still does, but just like the Israelites, while he may have witnessed and understood the glory of God he chose to go another way; the way of selfishness and inward focus.  The results are his own forty years of wandering in the wilderness as an adult and he may never come out of it, much as all those who died in the desert never reaching their desired destination.

For believers, when things are not what we would like, if we really take a look, we may have done our own idol worshipping and God has sent us wandering off in the wilderness for a time as well.  A key focus of this blog is divorce and its ongoing impact on lives.  For many of us, this is a key area where we went our own way, choosing helpmates based on our standards and not God’s, and the devastation of divorce is visited on us and ours.  In Exodus 34:7 we read of God visiting the iniquity of the father down to the third and fourth generations.  How many of us can look back on families who seem to have been shattered by something, divorce, or otherwise and the suffering and agony goes on and on from one generation to the next?  Non-Christians will look at this and say what a vengeful God, and why would this be the case, but a careful study of these lessons show that God in his grace and mercy does not condemn these following generations without recourse.  Later in Leviticus He gives clear guidance in 26:40 that if they “confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies” that, in verse 42, “I will remember my covenant with Jacob…Issac…Abraham”.  Only those who continue to walk their own way, who continue to hate God, will be condemned.  This is the fruit of what we cannot always see.  If we walk away from God, or walk off of the path He wants us on committing treachery and walking contrary we will always be judged and have a less than desirable result.

It took me a long time to understand this fundamental precept of faith.  When I do things for the glory of God, that make others who do not know Him look at my actions and wonder “why?” I always have a better outcome than if I do things for the glory of me or someone else.   I ended up in a marriage ending in divorce, I distanced myself from my children and I lost jobs when I made decisions by worldly rules.  When I stuck with the hard road after my divorce and chose to follow God’s path he led me to my wife and a loving and glorious relationship with a godly woman who makes all aspects of my life easier.  I am not wandering the desert of life, tripping over rocks, begging for water, watching death and destruction rage around me.  I have a helpmate who makes the crooked path straight, who clears my pathway and removes rather than sets obstacles in my way.  In engaging with my children in the love of the Lord and with compassion and mercy I have begun to heal the wounds created by following an easier worldly path that was saturated with bitter words, hurtful phrases and modeling a selfish man and not a loving God.  Instead of making choices at the workplace that felt good for me in the moment by confronting negative co-workers or incidents with anger and indifference, I have worked to choose the path God would want me to take of acting rightly and reaching out with care to understand the trials that might be making those individuals act negatively.  In short when I use my hindsight and look on those times when I chose to not drive God to walk contrary to me but with me because I was walking with Him, the outcome is always good.  Sure I still do things from time to time that have me walking in the wilderness but with a deeper and broader understanding of God I much more quickly find the path again.  The challenge is to foster that in the generation to come before they find themselves lost.  Just as Moses must have felt very frustrated and dumbfounded by the stupidity when he came down from the mountain and saw everyone dancing around the golden calf, so to do we as parents feel the same way at times when we witness the worldly decisions our children make and the pain it causes them.  When Marcia refuses to prioritize work over play her grades suffer, she does not find a job and she limits her options in life.  When Jan prioritizes an electronic device over the rules of when it can be used she loses that device.

Taken in this broader context is all looks so simple.  It’s just always a struggle when all of your friend’s are dancing around that pretty golden calf and grabbing your arms and asking you to join them.

“What is love Oh baby, don’t hurt me” — Haddaway
source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/onehitwonders/whatislovelyrics.html

It is that time of year, Valentine’s Day, when the thoughts of many turn to love.  As I reflect back over the last few days it’s really astounding how many interactions had some portion of this “what is love” piece in it , but only if you bothered to look.

When I speak with Marcia, I run into this situation a lot.  For the last few years, no matter what the topic our conversation seems to have one gear; confrontation.  Even a conversation this week about trying to not have confrontation in our conversations quickly turned into confrontation.  I write it off in many cases to a bit of teenage angst, however that would be to give too much credit or excuse to a simple answer.  Another part of it with Marcia is personal struggles and her trying to find herself.  Because I love her, I help with guidance, with a counselor and I continue to engage in what I invariably know will be confrontation because I love her.  I make a choice to love.

Love for me is reflected in caring, in genuine interest in how another’s life progresses.  This is why I do what I do with Marcia, and why I do what I do with anyone else in my life that I have love for.  I struggle with all this societal focus on how one “feels” when in love and that if you don’t “feel” something then you are not in love or not loving someone.  If there is one thing I have learned in going through divorce and a rocky marriage prior to that it is that giving into that belief is the shortest road to making sure you are not in love.  Why?  Because love takes conscious decisions each and every day to sacrifice, to think differently, to work.  In my years of working through my own divorce and then supporting others through theirs, I find that God, as always, made it very simple for us.  There are two reasons given in the Bible for divorce and after that there are none.  The myriad of reasons people give for divorce, many of which involve, “but I don’t love them anymore” are not supported by God, and what I have come to realize, is that is because all the rest involve understanding what is love.

Disney and eHarmony, The Bachelor and most romantic movies have it wrong.  It’s not a spark, a feeling in your gut, a slowing down of time and space.  All those things can happen when you love, but they are a result of the love not an indicator that love has happened.  I feel deep in my bones the love for my wife, but it was not what occurred the moment I met her and showed me that I loved her.  This is the fallacy and the fantasy that we are asked to buy into and that results in so many people feeling that are not in love.  No what I’ve been talking about here is certainly romantic love as a husband feels for their wife, but there are other loves that are just as critical; those for our children and friends and others we choose to keep close to us.  All this love must be nurtured by a constant set of choices to not let Satan intervene and drive our selfish desires to convince ourselves that we are not loving this individual.

There are things one does for love and if you understand love you do them not for a reciprocation but just because you love that person.  When I made certain I shoveled the walkway of the tiny bit of snow we had before Peter when off to school this morning it was an act of love.  When I understood that when we returned from Toys R Us last night at Peter’s bedtime and to let him stay up for a bit to play with the toys he was so excited about and would not be able to play with because he goes back to Bert’s the next day, that’s an act of love.  I’m not doing them to get praise or notice; I’m doing them because I care about Peter and love him.  Is it the same way I love my wife?  Certainly not, but love drives the caring actions.

I’ve said time and again, that my first marriage failed because as I understand now we were never really in love.   We were in the world’s view of love.  We had fun, had sex, and shared space.  What we did not have was a genuine caring for each other’s desires, to work through troubles.  I for certain also did not understand what is love.  I had bought into the world’s version and paid the price for it in a broken marriage for I had not chosen a mate with God’s eyes but with man’s eyes.  I learned those lessons as only God can teach them, straight forward and direct.  People get confused and say God is not clear, but what can be more clear than Deuteronomy 11:26-28a:

26 “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse : 27 the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today ; 28 and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today

To love is to work through those challenges and use them to strengthen your relationships and not drive you apart.  In the love we focus on today, romantic love, God makes clear in Genesis about marriage and the leaving of the father and mother and cleaving together as one.  Nowhere in the Bible does it state that we are to get upset when our spouse does not want to let us watch the ball game or when we leave the toilet seat up or when a word is said in selfish anger.  We are to love as God loved and to show mercy and forgiveness and work to reconcile the hurt that may have been done.  Follow the commandments of the Lord and we are blessed; listen not and we are cursed.  Open your Bibles and begin at the start.  Satan first attacked marriage with Adam and Eve and then he attacked the home with Cain and Abel.  From these roots flow all the problems in our world today.  By not understanding what is love and instead engaging in the selfish desires of the flesh we make poor decisions.  Love requires effort and choice.  Eve did not show love by not thinking about the impact on her husband and on her God by what she chose to do to further a selfish desire to know.  Cain did not show love to Abel by giving in to the selfish fallacy that God would not love both him and his brother.  Adam did not love his family by choosing to make the choice to follow Eve’s false path instead of leading and correcting the direction and so his family suffered.  By not understanding what is love, roots of problems grow into mighty oaks.

My last example is a gentleman I work with.  He has been dating a woman and it appears to me that while she is hoping for marriage, this man is not working to love in a way that will make that possible or successful.  This woman is not first in his thoughts nor even mentioned in conversations about family and friends.  He has said hurtful words to her accusing her of selfish behavior that seem to have no bearing in fact but instead seem to be a selfish way of distancing himself from her and removing responsibility for the failure of the relationship.  He is doing what I have seen countless men do in their life, choose their selfish desires of doing it his way and not making sacrifices and living for the service of others, and in the process not understanding what love is.  I do not know enough about this man’s relationship with this woman to really determine much, but what I do know if the fruit of what I heard from him in the last few days would make me seriously question if love is understood outside of the context of self.

God has taught me a lot of hard lessons about love.  He has done the same for my wife.  He has brought us together and we are doing our best to teach what we know to our children.  On this Valentine’s Day lets all do our part to make the world a better place by making sure we first learn what love is, and more importantly what it is not.  It is not selfish, focused on passions and passing things.  It grows every day, but only through conscious effort and work.  It is so easy to fall into focus on negatives of those around us and to internalize them and make them what we think of when we see them in our mind’s eye.  It clouds our actual vision by placing a filter over what we see.  We miss the little things they are doing to love.  After I have a confrontation with Marcia, she usually will show love by doing something I suggested.  Even if she does it in a snotty, teenage way she still does it.  I could let the bad behavior, the language and the rebelliousness be the definition of what I feel for her and how I treat her, but in my trials God has shown me what is love.  I provide gracious forgiveness and continue to guide her in the commandments of our Lord.  I support my wife in the trials of her life and make decisions to avoid creating more stress.  If I look through God’s eye and not man’s eye the choices are clear.  They are not always easy, but they are clear.  I may want to purchase some material thing but understand that the right choice is to make the sacrifice and wait until later as making the choice now would add stress.   If you want to know you are rich, do not count your money, count your blessings.  Count those you love and learn and decide to love them more and you will never be wasting your resources.