Archive for the ‘Christian life’ Category

It has now been five months since Marcia decided she could no longer live under our roof on a regular basis (and as we have seen over the last five months what she really meant was “at all” since she has not been back at all except for two hours on Christmas Eve, then sleep and then waking up at 7 AM as asking if she could be taken back to Nan’s because she was sick).  Over the last couple weeks I’ve had some time to sit an ponder the situation.

The sad realization, and it has been said a few times in passing in our home, but as I sat around and applied some hindsight to the situation, it is very true, is that it has been so incredibly different in the house without Marcia here.  For reasons that I am either not professionally equipped to determine because I am not a psychologist, and/or because it has not been revealed to me any other way, Marcia just has always had a tendency to get upset at just about anything.  I’ve thought about the nature versus nurture aspect most certainly, because if I somehow caused this strange behavior that is so contrary to my nature, I would like to understand how and if I could fix it.  The latter piece of the puzzle I am sure simply comes from me being male.  Perhaps if I was female I would simply be content to analyze the former part of the statement.  In any event, both Cindy and Greg, Marcia’s biological siblings and therefore the relevant subjects in this thought experiment having been in the same environment for the longest time possible, do not have this predilection, which seems to point against the nurture aspect.   I suppose one could make the case that something we did in raising Marcia for the first 2 ½ years of her existence was so different that it took hold and yet did not impact the other two but an honest assessment of parenting style is that nothing changed at that time.

The big change in the environment was something I had written about four years ago (My darkest day) but that happened when all three of the kids were around so that more toxic environment that existed before should certainly have impacted all of them if that was the cause of Marcia’s demeanor, so I still find it hard to find any evidence that points to nurture and determines that nature is not a reasonable cause.  In fact, I think any reasonable person would determine that since 66% of the sample in our experiment is not behaving this way that would be a strong indicator against nurture so I lean towards nature.  In the end, the topic of this post is not about the cause of Marcia’s behavior but is about the result of what has happened in our home, what I have come to call the calm after the storm.

These last five months have been amongst the most peaceful and serene times in our home that I can ever remember.  Certainly the latter years I was married to Nan were chaotic because of the lack of marital harmony and all the subsequent mess that caused and is covered very thoroughly here in the earlier posts in the blog for those who would like to learn more.  The blended years had challenges as well, and I think in the throes of them it was easy to assume that a lot of them were related to the blending, and to be fair I would be foolish to say none of the tension in the house was related to that, but looking back the added catalyst of Marcia’s presence sadly seems to have been a significant contributor because it is much more peaceful.

Certainly with a house full of three teenage girls and two pre-teen boys there are still times when it is not peaceful, but the discipline is metted out, the discussions are had and things get back to an even keel quite quickly.  In fact, compared to the protracted, sometimes, multi-day storms clouds that lingered in the house while Marcia was upset about something, it seems almost as if the current times are gone in a matter of seconds, though I know that is not the case.  It just is amazing to see how much impact one child can have on the tone of an entire household.  To be clear, I am not sitting here happy to come to this realization, in fact I am quite sad to determine how much more positive our home is without Marcia’s presence.  This is because as a father I would like to fix this because this will only continue to make Marcia’s life more difficult than it needs to be.  I certainly tried to work with her on her temper and way of handling things when she was present here, but the results were never very good.  This root of the issue as far as I can diagnose it is that Marcia is just not at all happy when things do not go her way and feels it is her mission and duty in life that everyone know she is not happy and why she is not happy.  Some of this is because she still has not matured to understand that this behavior is not pleasant for others around her and that people therefore do not want to be around her.  She attributes this however to the fact that people are not accepting of her sexuality versus that they are not accepting of her tantrums and unwillingness to accept other viewpoints.

The new normal in our home has fostered a lot more dialogue with the other kids and it is sad again to think that perhaps this was being stifled with the storms of Marcia versus the fact that the dialogue just was not needed.  Again, with multiple teenagers in the house, I would be naïve to think it was the latter.  Certainly there is nothing we can do to turn back time, and frankly, if I could have stopped or lessened the Marciacanes I would have, so going back in time would have had little chance of having better results.  This realization was what led me to very seriously explore the nature versus nurture aspect when trying to determine where Marcia’s behavior comes from.  After all, if it was nurture then maybe I could see how different actions would have mattered, but as I stated above, I would need to make some very significant mental leaps and turn a blind eye to much contrarian evidence to land anywhere other than this is just Marcia’s personality and then to pray that God will help her with it so she can have a less chaotic life.  Another piece of evidence is that even though she has not been here for five months the information I get back from Nan seems to indicate that Marcia is the same there as she was here and just uses a different reason for being upset since Nan does not provide the excuse I do since Nan is not a believer.  The scapegoat Marcia used was my Christianity but that scapegoat is not present with Nan, but it seems the tantrums and the guilt trips and everything else are still coming forth from Marcia.

I am certainly open to Marcia mending fences, however now that she has entered legal adulthood she needs to make those first steps as anything I do is seen as nagging.  I’m here if she needs me and I have let her know that as much as possible.  In the meantime, we are certainly using the calm after the storm to impact the remaining children who are still engaged with us for good.   I pray for Marcia every day.  Life is hard enough on its own.  When you create your own storms around you however, it just gets harder.  I pray she learns that with some simpler lessons rather than massive life-changing ones, but she keeps writing off lost job opportunities or financial costs as other things rather than self-induced failures.  As a father whose job it is to prepare children for adulthood, this is hard to leave in her lap, but at this point I have no choice.  She has not been interested in my input since forever, so this is nothing new.  What is new is that she is not here to let me make sure she gets some parental wisdom regardless of her desire to hear it.  This is my new struggle to accept, and I have come a long way in the last five months with the somewhat unexpected total severing of ties.  I’ve been forced to go cold turkey on parental input and that is not at all what I expected as a father.  We are prepared for the expectation that our children will grow up and slowly move away from that, but usually they still remain connected and ask for advice here and there.  We are even aware of the shift that happens when a child gets married and their biggest source of advice becomes their spouse and not their parents.  We are even aware of situations where children are intentionally destructive or disobedient to the point that you must throw them out of the house, but this is none of those.   This is a willful immediate separation that has caused a strange calm in the household as a result and it is a confusing set of emotions because I am happy for something sad, and then sad that I am happy about it.  I think it is because God does not mean for it to play out this way, but it has.  One day at a time He gives me the mercy I need.

One of the gifts that is often overlooked that we need to thank God for is memory.

I have long been one to emphasize experience over things in vacations or other events.  If given a choice between two options such as going to a concert or buying some new clothes, I will always choose the concert.  Things that are truly needs, obviously come first, but if both the items above are wants, the experience wins every time.  A big part of this for me is that I can revisit the joy of the experience time and again, view it from different angles and perspectives and even get new insights thanks to the gift of memory.

Nowhere is memory more valuable than in our families.  As a blended family this can be a double edged sword as some memories of the “before time” can cause friction and tension where before they used to cause joy and pleasure.  For example, old traditions, some no longer practical, others perhaps “lost” because of an agreement with your spouse to compromise and just do something new, can cause issues especially if they are brought up by the children.  Suddenly the old dynamics of the earlier days, of sides, come up.  It might be a place that was regularly visited that has value to some but has little pull to the other “side” or to an activity undertaken as specific milestones in life that were fun for some but that seem stupid and silly to the other “side”.  How we look at memories can determine how this proceeds in a blended family.  Just as with any gift, it is not always only a good thing.  A new toy may be sheer joy and pleasure for the kids but a major irritant to one parent who cannot stand the noise or the mess it makes.  Similarly, if we choose to keep bringing up these old memories and lamenting over what once was and then starting to frame the new family as the barrier that exists in making it happen again, we are only headed for bad things.  Instead, I find that celebrating those memories for what they were, experiences at a place in time in a certain family configuration and just enjoying them in quiet times is what is best about them.  I do think this only works if you are making new memories, which comes back full circle to my focus on experiences over things.  I would imagine a life in which you stopped making new memories as a blended family and only lamented those things you used to do before you blended could very easily lead to heartache and sadness.

My own personal memory sink right now has to do with Marcia.  I wrote several months back about her decision to move out.  Since then contact with her has really been non-existent.  I reach out to her with an e-mail or text when I feel compelled to let her know something, to parent from afar if I really analyze what it is, and this results in at best a token acknowledgement such as “OK” but more often is just greeted with radio silence.  My decision, and only time will tell if it is “right”, is to let her live her life as an adult and not force myself into it, though as a parent there is some pain in a child just tuning you out of their life as if they flipped a switch.  It’s as if Marcia walked out of the house right after Thanksgiving, and much like we do when we leave the house every morning for work, looked over at the switch labeled “Dad” and flipped it to Off and then closed the door and drove away.  I have no idea if there was more to it than that (for my sanity I do think at times I have to believe there was) but in the end that’s what it feels like, an afterthought in her life on the way on to the cool things of the rest of the day.  So when I get to those points I choose to unpack a memory or two.  Perhaps it is something simple like a conversation we had, even are argument we had in her last couple years in the house, and see the good in it and her struggle to define herself in a world that she was railing against, or perhaps it was those older memories when I was her hero and we were doing something fun and exciting.  This is the gift of a memory.  It can change our perspective.  Depending on your mind though, it can be a danger.  I do not struggle with it often, and it is so rare that it is very easy for me to walk away from that cliff edge of resentment of why things are not the same, but I know of others who have this torment sometimes on a weekly basis.  These are the people who struggle to heal and move on and make the best of their blended family instead of focusing on them as the cause of why.  By the grace of God this is not a problem for me, but if it is for you, I cannot stress how crucial it is to get yourself some help or you will be heading down the trail to tension and strife that may lead you to another divorce.  When you unpack those one sided memories do not let them begin to rub you the wrong way and create judgements and barriers that can be difficult to erase.

Moving back to the true gift of memories.  The road continues on and the kids keep getting older.  Sure the big experiences build some great memories, but just as every gift from our loving Father, it is more important to appreciate the little facets of it.  Those memories that exist in the everyday, that spring forth just from the minimal effort involved in letting life unfold.  I believe I am more appreciative of it because of what has happened with Marcia leaving and those things that no longer happen.  It makes little difference if those things are negative or positive, what matters is that it has brought more to the forefront that we are closer to more of this than less, this nearness of getting to the point of the never more.

Shortly we will no longer have the sounds of a group of girls standing around the island in the kitchen and being loud and probably laughing at something I find utterly stupid.  The boys at the computer debating the best way to do something in their game at hand or talking about a video will be a thing of the past.  The house will not be quiet in the morning for about twenty minutes after I wake up and then start to echo with thumps and thwaps of footsteps or drawers or doors being moved as they all wake up and begin getting ready for school, it will just remain quiet.  We get a taste of “empty nest” on our weekends and for now my wife and I mainly view it as wonderful, but the prudent analyzer in me understands that part of this joy comes with knowing that it will end in a few days and they’ll start coming back, however one day they will head out and we’ll have no idea when they will be back and I know that will be less joyful.  This is when we need to look to the gift.

Memory will allow us to look back on all these trivial happenings, some that occurred more frequently than others, and recall.  We’ll recall them playing on the floor with the pets, being upset about some slight or other of the day, or the prayers we prayed for them each and every day.  The thousands of prayers lifted up to help them find their way.  When they all move away the home will not be empty.  There was a poem in the late 60’s by Bob Benson titled “Laughter in the Walls” and it fits well in what I’ve been talking about especially towards the end, when he says, “Every corner, every room, every nick in the coffee table will be crowded with memories”.  He goes on to list his particular memories, general enough for everyone to find something, as a commercial poet would be wont to do, but I will replace them with our own memories.  Our Creator gave us this wonderful gift, and I pray that all of us find the best ways to use it, rather than the hurtful ways it can be turned towards.  The goal for me is always good.  Thank you Father for this wonderful gift and for the wisdom to use it wisely.  To be able to say thanks for the memories and to enjoy the laughter in the walls.

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.

Psalm 30:5b – Weeping may last for a night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.

I once heard it said that as you get older, you obtain more wisdom and a lot of that wisdom helps you to understand that the wisdom you had when you were younger was not actually real wisdom at all but our own human arrogance pretending to be wisdom when we really are not so wise.

Many of those lessons, or opportunities to learn wisdom, come at times when we realize we are not in control.  Earlier this month I had one of those lessons in the form of a physical problem that took me by surprise.  I ended up having what I later learned was a gallbladder attack a couple times this month.  The first time it hit me I thought I had strained my back from using our snowblower and thought my abdominal pain was just a reaction to some cream sauce we had for dinner.  It hit me around bed time and as the night wore on and I could not sleep or even sit still, I began to panic.  Thoughts started going through my head about if I could continue to endure the excoriating pain or if I’d go crazy.  There were moments when I seriously thought that I understood why some people with chronic pain must get to the point when they just want to die and have it stop.  This was my first growth of wisdom.  Sure I had this pain for going on two hours at this point, but it certainly was not days, weeks or months of pain.  It was amazing to me how quickly, I, someone who I felt handled stress and challenges well was able to be turned into a whimpering ball of goo nearly at the point of wishing for anything to happen as long as the pain went away.  It literally got to the point where I was rocking back and forth on the floor in tears praying that something, anything would make it stop.

The next day as I explained my ordeal through the night to my wife and later my father, both of them urged me to go to the doctor.  As the strong masculine type I of course made up every reason in the world not to go.  I have no idea how to tell them what was happening.  It never happened before and it might never happen again so I will just wait and see.  This was my human arrogance showing through the wisdom that I had that what had occurred to me was not normal and therefore should be examined closer.  I had gone through agony in the night, only to jump for joy in the morning and feel it was handled.

Three days later, God gave me another chance as the same agony hit me right after midnight and woke me up.  In the conversations I had the other day it was suggested it might be gallbladder related to I turned to the source of all knowledge.  No not the Bible.  Wikipedia and WebMD.  Once again, human arrogance but to be fair I do not recall any verses in the Bible that tell you how to diagnose gallbladder pain.  Once again after two hours or so I was at my wits end.  This time the pain was not really worse, but I was getting nauseous along with it and it was only two in the morning.  I called our nurse help line to see if they thought I should head in to the ER or just stick it out until morning.  I had no notion of not having it checked out, I just wanted to know if my doctor or urgent care would be good enough rather than heading out to a hospital in the middle of the night.  As I talked on the phone the nice nurse eventually used her womanly wisdom to push through my manly hard-headedness and told me to wake up my wife and let her know I was heading to the ER.  Once there they went through the processes needed to find that in fact I had a gall stone blocking the duct and that would account for my pain.  By 7 AM my pain subsided but I was now admitted to the hospital.

For me this was its own brand of horror.  Up to this point I had survived on this Earth without even a personal visit to the ER, let alone being admitted and facing the prospect of surgery. My blood pressure was through the roof as we waited for the surgeon to arrive and talk with us.  I played along pretty well and even had myself fooled that I was doing OK, but every time the nurse came in and took my blood pressure the truth was right there in digital red numbers.  The surgeon eventually arrived and while I pushed back a bit on if the surgery was really necessary, he convinced me (my wife helped just a little) to get this done before it really got worse.  I had the doctor’s wisdom, my wife’s wisdom and my lack of wisdom in this regard.  I also had the benefit of more wisdom from one of my friends who works in the medical field, who put it very simply.  “There are only two things you need to know to make this decision,” he said.  “First, you do not need a gallbladder to live.  Second, yours is not working right.”  I’m a logical guy, so this straight line logic made a lot of sense to me.  It took the emotion right out of it.  Never mind the fear I was feeling, the thoughts of never waking up from the anesthesia or having the doctor leave a bedpan in my abdomen during surgery, my friend just laid it right out.  Isn’t it wonderful how if you follow God’s wisdom of surrounding yourself with godly counsel that He will make sure you hear what you need?  We decided to go ahead and the surgery was scheduled for the next afternoon.

My wife sat with me through the evening and eventually left to be home with the kids around nine.  It was then that I became aware of my reality and it really brought me to my knees.  I was going to be in a hospital overnight for the first time in my life and it scared me to death and there was nothing I could do about it.  Sure I could say I wanted to wait for the surgery.  The surgeon had said that he could discharge me and we could do it a few days later when it was more convenient, even gave me the option to do that right until the last minute.  He had also made clear that these stones were not going anywhere so doing that would just postpone the inevitable.  That little sucker had to come out sooner or later and God would leave it up to me.  There in that hospital bed in the dark after my wife had left I had never felt so alone in my life.  I had moved away from family and friends to a strange city and not felt this alone. I had moved again to another strange city leaving the friends I had made again and then gotten divorced and had not felt this alone.  In each of those situations at the time I had turned to God to help provide me strength and I felt He had taken me to the breaking point, but here in this hospital room He had taken me to the depths of despair again and shown me that no, it could be lower.  His timing had brought me here that night and even so I could have made a choice to delay but I trusted God and knew if this was what was to happen that He would work it for good.  Even if something terrible happened I had faith that this was part of His plan.  As I sat there weeping in the night I turned to God and said your will be done.

Now I am several weeks out and His glory continues to be revealed in ways seen and unseen.  We learned from the surgeon after the fact that it was worse than he thought when he had given us the option to wait and he informed us it was good we went in when we did.  It may have escalated to something much more serious in a few days had I waited.   I was given an opportunity to share my faith just before heading into surgery with the nurse’s taking care of me and it may have moved someone in God’s direction.  The first part of that verse talks about God’s anger and favor.  Do I feel that I had an issue with my gallbladder because God was angry with me?  No.  But the wisdom I gained that helps me understand that verse more clearly is that if we trust in God we are always in a good place.  His anger lasts for a moment, the verse says, but His favor is for a lifetime.  Those three nights this month had me weeping, but the rest of the days were filled with God’s opportunity and blessing.  I found wonderful support in my church family, something I have never had in any church I have ever attended.  I was shown that I can go through surgery, have an unexpected outcome and make it through, which will give me wisdom to face the bigger health challenges I sadly will most likely have as I age.  I was worried about the medical bills from this event and was surprised to find I have received the largest bonus of my career.  All I could do at that time was look inside in shame and weep. My doubt was answered by the wisdom I had neglected to recall.  God provides.  Once again He shows that ours is not to worry, just as he sustained Israel in the desert after their escape from Egypt when they thought they would surely die, He takes care of His children now.  There are still other challenges hanging over us that have not resolved but in passing through my ordeal with a tiny “useless” organ known as the gallbladder God has given me another lesson to grow my wisdom.  When I am in doubt I need to trust in Him for in everything that happens, “this is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Ps. 118:23

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.

This morning begins some major changes for half of our household.  As you might imagine with the timing of this post, these changes do all have to do with the school year beginning in our area again.

Jan and Cindy are transitioning to high school freshman, Greg is beginning his first year of middle school and my wife is beginning her teaching career in a private school starting next week but her first “official” act occurs tonight with Meet the Teacher conferences where the parents get to put a face to a name of the teachers utilized in the upcoming year.

We firmly believe that God guides our lives and so while some of these transitions are just the passage of time, the change with my wife certainly is not.  The path that led her to this position is just another one of those trails through life that should lead anyone who looks at it to a clear understanding that belief in God is always the simplest path to understanding what happens.  Certainly we may not always know why a loved one was taken too soon or why a terrible calamity like the persecution of Christians that is being carried out by ISIS in Iraq is allowed by a loving God, but there are times when we are allowed to see His plan unfold for us and it is amazing.

The path begins all the way back to when my wife’s first child was born.  Jan would turn out to have dyslexia.  Certainly a learning disability is again not something one looks on as a blessing but trusting in God has led my wife down a path that many would look at as coincidence, and while that certainly could be an explanation, I see it as the first step in the path God had for her.

As Jan grew at one point my wife decided to place her in private reading tutoring with a dyslexia specialist.  Through this connection as she had conversations with this tutor and became friends with her she learned that just a week later a special program from a college in another state was going to be offered here in our state.  The program flies up professors from the college for several weekends a year to complete the certificate program over a two year period.  Had God not placed my wife in that position at that time and led her heart to have the conversations she did at the times she did, she could easily have missed this window.  She had over a dozen other people in the program with her, but it is my understanding that subsequent attempts to continue this program have had lower enrollment so the college may not continue with it.  A window that may only be open for a short period of time was made known to my wife to lead her to the path she has traveled.

She would also not have been on that path to pursue that opportunity had she not been divorced and having to find a way to care for her children as a single mom which resulted in a career change after she lost her job in the business world.  At this time she started in home health care, recognizing her desire to be of service to others.  It was also during this period that she was saved and I firmly believe all this had to occur together for her to be open to her gifts of service in a way that allowed her to proceed down that path.

Now through the connections she made through her class she was led to a position helping our regional dyslexia association in an administrative role.  With all these connections she was contacted when this teaching position opened up in a private school which did not require the same degrees that a public school would need.  When this opportunity came up and initially when she was contacted they wanted a full time person.  My wife looked at our family situation and felt it was not the right thing to do, so she declined the opportunity.  Several weeks later she was contacted again and told that they were not having success in finding anyone who wanted the position full time so would she be interested in sharing the role with another person on a part time basis?  She interviewed and was accepted enthusiastically.  As she went in for what was to be a standard staff meeting, she was told her counterpart had subsequently declined the position and they were now looking for someone else.  While it would mean some significant change for our family my wife and I felt this was God pushing us to make the decision He wanted us to make in the first place: to take the role as a full time reading instructor at this school and share her gifts with many students to make them better instruments to fulfill God’s glory.  We quickly determined what the changes would need to be to allow my wife to take this role and promptly contacted the people at the school to let her know that she had reconsidered and we could make the full time role work if they would like to do that.  In the end they were very pleased to proceed in that direction and that is how we find ourselves at this morning.  Again, if you are not a person of faith you can simply say it was luck or randomness, however as a person of faith looking at the path that stretches back fifteen years to when God knit Jan together in my wife’s womb and included what would normally be viewed as nothing more than an unfortunate learning disability in her makeup and all that had to occur in between it is much easier to believe that a loving Father was simply using His skills to nudge, encourage and make plain the path that would lead her here.

The kids will need to adapt to a situation where my wife does not regularly work from home any longer and so we have the same logistical issues that most dual income families have.  My wife will need to adapt to not being able to run an errand in the middle of the day in between projects as she is back in a structured environment.

Change is a constant in our lives.  We can wake up one morning to a world totally changed as we did on September 11th, 2001.  We can find out that our lives are totally disrupted by a diagnosis of cancer or some other ailment.  We can walk into work one day and walk out hours later unemployed and not sure what to do next.  I find it much more hopeful to understand that someone knew this all would happen and that they in their infinite wisdom understand how all these leads to good.  That is what it means to know there is a loving God guiding the steps of everyone in this world, even those who do not believe.  It does not mean we will not know pain and anguish and hurt.  The winds of change will continue to blow.  I look forward to seeing where they will take us all.

The Mall Walkers

Posted: May 23, 2014 in Christian life, God, Love, Midlife
Not them and not the mall, but close enough.

Not them and not the mall, but close enough.

I am newly married and I find that being divorced it seems to make me a little jaded to the whole romantic wedded bliss environment that is pushed on us by the movie industry and others.  On the other hand, being divorced I learned a thing or two about what causes problems in a marriage both through my own experience and through helping with a divorce ministry and through my faith.  I’d like to think this ultimately makes me a better husband, though as I admitted above I have a little tarnish to my sparkly view.

I recently popped over to the mall during lunch.  It was a nice spring day and I was very surprised that just getting out into the sunshine on one of our first really nice days this year after a long, long grey winter was amazingly invigorating, inspiring even.  I was full of energy, had a dozen ideas fly through my head about all kinds of things and was really pumped up about my life.  After all I’ve been blessed by God with a wonderful wife, a great job, terrific kids, a beautiful place to live, material resources that comfortably meet our needs and provide a little extra for fun once in a while; in short I’ve got nothing to complain about.  As I was walking through the mall in this euphoric state, I came upon them; I’ll call them The Mall Walkers.

The mall was fairly deserted at that point of the midday Monday when I chose to visit and so it was certainly easy to see anyone who was there.  I saw them approaching, an elderly couple, leisurely walking.  Now when I said mall walkers, you were probably thinking that these were those power walking folks with weights in their hands, but this couple in no way represented that frenzied, hectic lot.  No, they were just the opposite, the other bookend to that alternative mall walker.  They  were as carefree as could be, I would guess both retired, simply enjoying the here and now and strolling through the mall before it will most likely tonight transform into the teenager, child-in-stroller, parent at wit’s end place that many of understand a mall to be.  Just as I know all the things I mentioned above as examples of my life were provided by God, I know this couple being there at that time was the provided by Him for my education just as well.

The moment I saw them, I went from the life I have now to what I hope God allows my life to end like.  I want to be The Mall Walkers.  I know nothing about them except what I witnessed in those brief moments and then what my mind has added, but again I feel it was an inspiration to make me be the best I can be.  The Mall Walkers were holding hands, smiling and just casually speaking to each other.  About what, I have no idea, as I certainly did not overhear anything, but it was certainly entertaining them both as they walked and smiled.  Were they reminiscing about a past experience, talking about their grandchildren or simply discussing what they had just eaten at the food court which they may have just left?  I’ll never know but in that moment their sheer bliss of life transported me from my happy state to an even happier one where I envisioned my wife and I doing just that many years down the road and being just as happy.  The Mall Walkers were obviously in love and totally content with just each other’s company on this sunny Monday afternoon at the mall.   My wife and I sometimes talk about how we are “old” yet newly married and how we missed the chance to have met decades ago and been one of those couples who get to their 60th or 70th wedding anniversary.  My wife always chides me for harping on the negative of that and points me to the correct focus; we can still have decades together and grow old together, even though we might not get to those astronomical numbers.  She’s right and in The Mall Walkers, I was given that glimpse.  After all, what if one of the things I did not know about them was that they were both divorced and had had similar conversations decades ago when God brought them together, and look at them now?!  God’s plan for our lives is what it is, just as it is for The Mall Walkers.

The gift God provided that afternoon was to instantly through The Mall Walkers take me what I hope will be at least 40 years in the future and to just imagine.  What will all our kids have grown up and done?  How many grandchildren and perhaps great-grandchildren will we have?  How will the challenges we face today be looked at by our 40-year-plus-in- the-future  selves?  Will they be something we laugh at, as perhaps The Mall Walkers were doing with one of their old challenges, or will they have consumed us in some way, removing a piece of our essence, our identity?  I felt an immense understanding in that moment that worrying about the moment is such a waste.  God teaches us that everything works for His glory and so if we follow His ways we will get to experience some wonderful things on the way.  Where will we have traveled?  How many people’s lives will have been made better because of our influence in them?  How many new souls will God have in His Kingdom because they ran across us just walking in the mall thanking God for the wonderful life He allowed us to live?  Is that what was meant to happen today?  I know God only knows but I am thankful for the experience and for the moment in time I came across The Mall Walkers.  I pray God blesses them with many more years and strolls together so they can continue to provide that impact to others and I can only hope we do the same in some small way.

All the petty things my wife and I argue about, all the dumb things we get upset about our kids about fall away when you change your perspective.  God teaches us to look at the eternal impact of things.  How we model life for our kids will impact how they model it for theirs and so on down the generations.  The Mall Walkers are not bitter and petty people, just happy and comfortable in their place in the world.  I believe they are God fearing souls who are an happy as they are because they are at peace that they have eternal life and a loving Father awaiting them and that in the meanwhile they are doing the right things here to those ends.  That’s all I can pray for with my wife and I.  She is wonderful and she makes me more wonderful because I am with her and we support each other.  Our trials are not her trials or my trials, but our trials.  I know The Mall Walkers spent their time the same way, lifting each other and other’s up just by their presence.  I love my wife so much I can’t wait for what we can do together to make the world a better place.  All we may ever do is point our kids in the right direction and watch them grow, but if that’s God’s plan then that’s OK.  If he has a bigger plan, I’m sure he will show us the way and give us what we need to accomplish that.

Life is good.  And God is great.