Archive for the ‘Divorce’ Category

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.

Through my work in the divorce ministry I get the privilege to take a more intimate part if some people’s lives than would be expected with strangers.  Many times the pain and struggles people face are worked through and they emerge on the other side stronger and better as the Lord intended.  I understand my role in this process is to simply be the one who can share wisdom gained from having traveled the road they are on ahead of them.

There are times, however, that the road someone is on is not one I have traveled and one I have difficulty understanding because I have no parallel experience I can pull from.  At times I can try to empathize and learn what is happening but there are limits to what our program can achieve as we are not professionals in helping to deal with serious issues.  We encourage and press our participants at that time to seek professional help, but we cannot compel and so it is difficult when someone is battling the demons within and there is little else we can do other than be an ear to listen.

Such has been the journey of a recent participant in our program, Scott.  I met Scott a year ago when he arrived at the DivorceCare session I was assisting with and he seemed to be in a decent spot given the recent timeframe of his divorce which had only completed a few months prior.  He had a job, had friends and had showed up to our program to help himself heal and be the best he could be for his son.

What came out over the next few weeks was a struggle that Scott was having that went into one of those areas I could not share direct of parallel wisdom on because it was so far from my situation.  Scott has an addiction to pornography.  I have never been drawn to porn nor have I been addicted to anything, so the associations I could try to pull from were things I had read or just a general understanding.  Scott was also drawn to a very bad relationship that he explained to use he knew was destructive but that he was unable to stay away from.  It involved too much drinking and too much sex that led Scott to some dark places and while he wanted to stay away for the sake of his son, he was drawn back in part because this woman also had a child that his son befriended and would ask about in the times when Scott had broken off contact after a particularly bad incident or situation.

During the session Scott reached out and wanted to begin some Bible study so I met with him at his home to begin a general discipleship process.  We met for a couple hours, but even during it I could see Scott was struggling, and we spent most of the time discussing his feelings there.  He was thinking about how different this was from what his friends would be doing and it was very boring to him.  I shared what was on my heart about the process but in the end I left feeling like Scott would not continue and he did not.  I sent a very long e-mail to my pastor asking for some guidance as I could not help but feeling responsible for the failure of Scott to grasp on to something that I felt would help give him the strength to see the destruction the porn and the toxic relationship were having on him and his son.  My pastor explained that I had done everything I could and that it was in God’s hands to work out with Scott if there would be more there between them.  Shortly thereafter Scott stopped coming to the DivorceCare sessions.  I continued to try to encourage him to come but he wanted to practice with his band and they met on the same night we did.  I explained that I felt the most important things he could do was heal.  I did not want to push him away but I also knew that I must speak truth or I was no better than the superficial friends he had that were guiding him down a dark path.

My wife and I are now trying to get a divorce ministry started in our own church so we have made the decision that we could not continue with the program I have helped with for four years.  Scott came back this last session and the leader reached out to me to be his accountability partner to monitor an app that will e-mail me if he goes to any questionable sites.  It has been five weeks now and nothing unacceptable has been flagged, so that is good, but I am saddened to see that over a year later Scott is in the same place he was, struggling with the demon of pornography.  He has made the step of trying to do something to stop, but he did share we me he has used this app before.  The difference he shared was that he picked a bad accountability partner.  I hope Scott sheds the pull of this vice forever, but if he returns and I see behavior and call it to his attention, will he just ignore the warnings and fall back into the darkness?

This is where not having the parallel makes it hard.  If I see something is bad for me I have always been able to walk away.  I call it will power or determination, but it is the same struggle I face with my kids when I explain to them how to stop doing something or associating with someone who is hurting them.  I cannot empathize with Scott about how hard it is to walk away because I have never been addicted to anything and it has never had that draw on me.  Therefore I cannot offer first hand guidance on what worked for me.  I feel a bit like an AA advisor who never was an alcoholic.  Every Thursday when the report comes out I offer praise for another good week but other than the first week, Scott had not replied to these messages.  I know how easy it will be for him to simply ignore me if he does regress.   The DivorceCare session he is in now will end in a few weeks and then he will be alone with the same struggles he has voiced to the leader this time around, which are the same ones he voiced the first time around; he feels stuck, he wants to not feel miserable.  This is where we pointed him to professionals.  For whatever reason he has not taken that step.  I know there is nothing I can do beyond that guidance, the old you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.  Just as I could not open Scott’s heart to a longing to learn about God’s Word no matter how eloquent I was about the glory on the other side, I get that in the end whether Scott succeeds or fails in his attempt to remove porn from his life is not in my control.  That does not make it any easier for me.  I know I will still be disappointed and will wonder if there is anything I could have done differently to help him choose.  I think part of what makes it easy for me to stay away from vices is that I see the despair and pain that those vices cause others.  I just want to grab Scott by the shoulders and shout, “What’s so hard?  Man up and just walk away and never look back!”, but I know that’s not how it works, and the fear that I cannot grasp why that is not how it works combats any desire that might spark up in me to head down a path.  People “experiment” with things, but how many fail in that experiment and never come out the other side?  Far too many.    So the parallel I get from this is that Scott and I are both just men.  If a man like him cannot shake the demons after the struggle I have seen, it helps me to understand why it is important to stay far away from those temptations for my path might not be any easier if I entered those depths as well.  That I it the piece I can empathize with here, and ultimately that may be all that God wants me to get from this experience.

No, I have not suddenly decided to move my site to Chinese, and no you are still at Blendeddad.com.  But yes, the title of this post is a Chinese character.

What you see above is the Chinese character for “busy”.  You will see many references to the fact that this is made up of the following two characters.  心 traditionally means “heart” and 亡 is “death” or “killing”.   I am not jumping on the bandwagon that many references do that say this was done purposely and I believe it is just a phonetic reference but it is ironic that the result of being too busy in our lives can feel as if our heart is being killed and that is the focus on my post today.

As we pass our three year anniversary of being an official blended family and the children progress out of elementary school (only Peter remains in that pleasant nirvana lacking any semblance of the word busy) it seems that each year has ratched up the busyness scale.  Some of it certainly is a confluence of our work lives with our personal lives as new jobs have come into play and more involving projects.  In addition our volunteering activities have risen.  I have noticed more and more that my wife and I, rather than looking forward to the upcoming kidless weekends as an opportunity to partake in some couple activities, that we use a day or two to just veg.  This is the monster I am pushing against, the one that made me return to this focus on the Chinese make up of busy.

You see one of the other things I have learned in my Christian walk is that a family is only as strong as the parents that make it up.  We teach and have read many variations on the theme that not focusing on our spouse and taking those important times to reconnect and show each other that we are most important to each other can lead to problems.  It is in this manner that the busy in our lives can become the means to kill our heart, our heart to each other.  I am certainly trying to be careful not to over think this and move to the tendency of many to over react and create a bigger issue, but I want to not stick my head in the sand either.  I understand what is causing our move to just be, and we are still with each other, but I want to also not let it slide so far that it becomes the new normal, because I do believe that would begin to cause problems.  It would be a variation of those parents who place the kids at the center of their lives and do not nurture their love for each other and share experiences that bring them closer together and make them fall in love again every day.  I just do not want our lives to turn into two times; kids are here time, and kids are not here time and all we do is rest for kids are here time.  This is the insidiousness of busy, the evil that lurks within.

This is why it is crucial, especially I think in a blended family with all the added stresses I’ve shared here in this blog, to keep control over how busy, how heart killing, our lives have the potential to become.  We’ve all heard the phrase “no one ever said on their death bed that they wish they’d spent more time at the office”, but these days “the office” is getting replaced by so many other things like social media, smartphones, e-mail and volunteering for the myriad causes that we are pulled to.  I recently began volunteering for Learning Ally, a non-profit that provides access to audio learning materials for learning challenged students and adults.  I love the work, but like any love, if I let it get out of balance it can consume everything I give it.  This is where we need to keep God’s way in mind and use that to set our priorities.  I need to be careful with this new activity pulling on my time that I do not let it take away from time with my wife and create a tiredness in me from the busy, that my heart no longer focuses on what the Lord demands of me.  Everything we do is a balance of focus and I think the biggest sucking sound these days are our smartphones.  I push back against it all the time and it has caused an argument or two and I’m sure will cause a few more between my wife and I.  When is it OK to sit and watch TV or read together without putting the smartphone down and ignoring its addictive purr?  Research has shown that people can become addicted to that rush of seeing who contacted them, what message came over.  It has the same effect as doing drugs.  My wife and I do not agree on the speed in which we need to respond to this electronic leash.  I believe I much more easily ignore my device if we are in the middle of something and will not even refer to my work phone unless I know a pressing project is happening over the weekend.  Will this disconnect grow and create larger problems over time?  I hope not and I will work to try to lovingly make sure that anything I am involved in does not become the same, be it my volunteer activity or other leisure activities.  I regularly tell my wife to come let me know if she would like me to stop what I am doing and be with her, but she rarely does so.  I try to keep my time to a minimum in these individual pursuits.  Some might think that silly, but I have seen too many people drift apart because they all just did “their thing” and were busy.  What I do not want to do is become my parents in this area.

The situation with my parents is that they have never really had those shared experiences, those times to get away from the busy and reconnect.  They are now in retirement and struggling mightily on how to work with each other.  They also have been taking care of my 90+ year old grandmother with dementia for several years and are only recently discussing the option of long term care for her.  They argue and fight and my father retreats to his phone or computer and my mother goes shopping.  They have allowed the busy to kill their hearts.  They have never learned how to connect and communicate and in the circle of life it has now come to the point where my brother and I feel like we have at times become our parent’s parents, telling them to stop acting like children, to learn to play nice and to stop taking their ball and going home.  My brother recently had to tell my dad to stop being a baby.  I’d never think it would have come to that, but this is what I see that busy has done to their lives.  It has literally killed their hearts.  My brother and I have both gone through the pain of divorce and to hear our parents making comments and discussing things in that vein is something I do not think either of us ever thought we’d hear from them.  After forty five years of marriage they can almost literally not stand to be around each other and it is looking grim.  I hear my mother yelling at my father to put his phone down and listen to me on the phone or pay attention to what she is saying.

Could it ever become me having a similar argument with my wife?  I’d like to think not, but this is what busy can do.  We have gotten so used to always “doing” something that the pleasure of just communicating with our spouse seems like a waste. This is why I push back against always poking at the phone, or having to have the TV on when we sit down, or not being able to sit down because there is a napkin on the table or a cup on the counter.  All these things can be enjoyed or need to be taken care of.  I’m not saying let your house become a pig sty, leave the laundry to stink and never enjoy a TV show to check your phone; just be aware of what your focus is on and for how long or you might end up like my parents are at this point, only focused on what they are not able to do because of the demands of the other versus what they could do if they took time for each other.  If the focus on each other is there, it is easier to deal with the busy that must happen.  They need to focus on my grandmother, but right now they are focusing individually rather than collectively.  I’ve been there with my ex, getting to the point where I could truly care less what she did, I was just going to do what I needed to do.  I truly feel it was a tipping point, where the effort to come back would have been so gargantuan that it was not possible.  Maybe that’s why I am more sensitive to those things in my life now where I feel something can be too distracting, too busy.  Family, friends, gadgets, entertainment, work can all be the sources of damage to our heart, to our focus on our strong marriage, that bond with our spouse.  I hear a woman come to DivorceCare and discuss how her husband wanted a divorce because he felt she was too focused on the kids.  I hear a man come in and talk about how he spent time with his band and porn and it led him to poor choices that drove him to such guilt that he left his wife and is torn up about it now.  I hear how a woman cannot remove her focus from the relationship her ex has with their kids enough to move on with her life.  I hear how people spend more time at work, or at school, with an ailing parent or with friends and then wonder what happened with their relationship with their spouse and blame the other for not understanding.  While all these busies might be legitimate, taken too far, they became destructive, they killed the heart.  They killed the heart of their marriage.

We need to learn to let go, to put down the smartphone, move the ailing parent into long term care when it is too much, tell the kids we’ll be back in an hour once in a while, tell that friend who wants us to help with the fundraiser not this year, tell the group we volunteer with that we can no longer be the ‘go to’ person that picks up the slack for all the other volunteers.  The Lord made marriage for two to become one flesh to be the center of the family, which in turn is the center of His world.  The core of the family are those two people who joined themselves to each other and to God.  Every time busy pulls that center off balance, it is crucial that both partners talk openly about how to get back to center before too long, otherwise you end up so far off balance that you are like my parents or like all the people who do not know what hit them in divorce.  It is OK to say no for the sake of your heart.

Do not become too 忙.

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.

Sometimes I feel like being in a blended family makes you feel like you are living a bipolar existence.  This is more so when some of the other parties, namely Bert, try to turn things into something they are not.  It is this I believe that is the source of our most recent saga.

First, sorry I’ve been away for a while.  As we approached the holidays life was just crazy busy and no topics hit me with that “you can share something useful”  kick in the pants that makes me feel like what I have to say might be worthy to inspire, educate or get someone else to think differently about their situation.

So now on to what kicked me out of my writer’s block.  It relates back to the ongoing counseling of some of the kids from challenges we had this summer (“Expected Chaos” and “Dangers of Ineptness“).  In the interest of open disclosure I will say I am like a lot of men in that I feel that counseling is a tool not an ongoing service.  Like a man, I approach things in the world with “identify the problem, find some solutions, implement the solutions, move on”.  As I’ve talked with my friends it seems this is a universal guy view of counselors and over the last few months the overriding question I get from them is “when are they going to give you guys something to use so you guys can move forward normally?”

Sadly we are still trying to get there and a step in that process is what pushed me to get out what I feel and understand in this post.  Peter was initially working with a counselor for about three to four months who ultimately did very little if anything for him.  God has blessed us with a solution that makes the counseling of Peter and his sisters free of charge due mainly to the fact that Bert is on assistance and so fees are picked up.  If we were paying per session, my “man view” of counseling would have been pushing for a resolution much sooner.  In any event this woman eventually decided she was not equipped to help Peter (glad she wasted three months to get there, but herein lies a pet peeve of mine with counseling in that when they can have no goal, than means the counseling can go on forever providing said counselor with a steady stream of income) and she referred him to a place we wanted to go initially but had instead deferred to Bert’s desire to try this other counseling center.  It worked out because Bert went along without grumbling because it was not his ex who had suggested it but a third party.  Peter has basically had a handful of sessions with his new counselor but he seems to be opening up to this one where he would not really talk to the other one.  I get it, it happens.  Just wish the other bozo had not taken so long to understand that if your client is not talking and you’ve got no plan to get them to talk that’s not really a recipe for good counseling.

So feedback to my dear wife this week is what took what was pretty good holiday season with a good cheer and such as you can have with a house full of teenagers and in the course of 24 hours took her to state of frustration and worry.  At this point Greg and Peter’s counselors have not spoken to each other even after we asked them to.  This is the source of my wife’s frustration.  Completely warranted and it frustrates me to, because perhaps if they had talked a month ago like we asked she would not have gotten the comment she did that seems to have sent her into a tailspin.  There are two issues here, but let me stick with the one here which was actually the second issue.  Hope to not confuse you.

Since they had not talked and Peter’s counselor has no information on Greg and the assessment of the other counselor when asked what she recommended what we do to monitor the boys she made the ludicrous statement that we should never have the two of them together unless they are in “eyeshot”.  My friend said it best when he said that along with all the door monitors etc. is really a Fascist state and that this counselor should use her head and realize how unrealistic and stupid that recommendation is.  I understand she is just taking the ultra conservative route and not wanting to have something occur because she said we could use a more relaxed approach since she has no input on Greg.  My frustration on this is I feel what the counselor did was very unprofessional and borders on misconduct.  It is along the line of asking a movie reviewer, “Did you like Movie A or Movie B more?”

“I liked Movie A.”

“Why?”

“Because I didn’t see Movie B.”

What?  If you do not have enough information to make a recommendation then the responsible thing to do is to say that, not make some asinine statement that has no professional basis.  A more appropriate response would have been to say “I can answer that after I speak with Greg’s counselor which I will make every effort to do as quickly as possible.”  Instead what she did was launch a domino effect that sent my wife into a tailspin that was not necessary at all.  Pisses me off to no end.  I have to go in and meet with this counselor in a couple weeks in another one of her ill advised brainstorms, and I just hope I am past her incompetence enough to handle the circus appropriately.

My assessment, and I can’t read anyone’s mind last I checked, so it’s just what I have put together in my head, is that because of my wife’s fear or worry about Bert turning everything into a made up fallacy she has placed more power on this counselor that is really there.  We are not in some court mandated assessment.  This is personal counseling entered into voluntarily and therefore protected by all that is HIPAA.  At this point the counselor has Peter working through understanding that the first steps to inappropriate action by someone is usually talking about it.  This does not mean that if someone talks about it they will do it.  It’s the old version of I saw a bird.  I saw the bird fly.  Therefore all birds fly.  Yet we all know an ostrich does not fly but is a bird.  His action does not automatically cause the event.  The counselor explained that Peter is having a hard time making that distinction and that is making him hypersensitive to comments by others.  First thing this counselor has said that I agree with.  However I believe because of this worry about Bert taking the fact that natural youngster and teenage banter about sexuality and such occurs in a household somehow makes the household a problem.  Think back to when you were a kid.  Did you talk about inappropriate things?  How often?  As often as possible, right?  That’s the nature of childhood.  When I discuss with dispassionate folks they all agree.  It is when adults create meaning that is not there that it creates the crazy train.  Greg’s counselor has pointed this out to us, and for some reason it seems my wife feels that this counselor has jumped the fence and is somehow calling something what it is not.  I’m only seeing a overprotective counselor who spoke out of turn ad should have waited to say ANYTHING until she had enough info to speak with a grain of intelligence.  Instead she created propaganda that has taken on a life of its own in my wife’s head.

You see one of the other issues that has now expanded beyond reason is that because this counselor might be worried about Greg, what would in most cases be passed off as normal behavior is viewed with a lens of adult added angst.  From time to time when Greg and Bobbi watch TV they will share a seat and hang over each other.  They will toss legs over each other or Greg will lean on Bobbi’s arm.  When I discuss this with my friend he says his son and daughter so this stuff all the time.  My brother did it with me.  I think Greg likes the fact that he has a sister, even a stepsister, who’s first reaction to him sitting within five feet of her is not “get away from me, I hate you” which is what Greg has gotten from his two sisters his whole life.  Bobbi does not get upset when Greg leans on her in fact they are usually giggling and talking.  It’s just normal human interaction.  Yet because this counselor has raised the specter of not knowing Greg because she spoke out of turn this has turned a knob in my wife’s head that what if Greg is overly affectionate?  As long as he’s not groping people etc. what parent would not be happy to have their pre-teens not be happy in each other’s presence rather than loathsome?   Yet this is what our over-sensitized counselor-fueled existence has become, and all I can think is “STOP THE MADNESS!!!!”

I certainly do not want to stick my head in the sand, so I have sought other opinions.  As I said, friends are saying their kids do this all the time and we are being ridiculous and are being driven to this stupid view by all these counselors.  Again, I have a lot of guy friends so their solution is simple.  Tell the counselor we need to get to a point where we can go forward as normal because we have crossed the line into the territory of counseling doing more harm than good.  Given the tailspin this is moving us into I find it hard to argue.  Do we want to be dumb and unobservant no, but do we want to react to everything with the result that we eventually have every child in the house walking around in an inflated bubble and my wife and I never sleep or go anywhere because we have to watch everyone?  Hell no!  Peter is already expressing his frustration with the fact that his life is not as he would like because he is basically under house arrest and constant surveillance, yet if we listen to crazy counselor we are not being Gestapo enough!   How is that going to raise a healthy child?  You see Peter and Greg were upset because on New Year’s Eve while all their siblings got to party all night they had to go to their rooms behind their door alarms because the adult’s were going to bed and they could not be watched.  Think about that statement for a bit.  In hindsight it was perhaps ill advised for me to voice it out loud as the reason for their having to go to bed while the other’s did not, but it was the reality of our existence.  It was at this moment that I realized this has gone on long enough and something needed to change and then all hell broke loose with mouthy counselor not using her supposedly educated head.

You see we are in a never ending stream of counseling on this event.  Why? Because the counselors have no set goal.  Is that our fault?  Perhaps, but because of my regular lack of relying on others to handle my problems for me I have not had to deal with counselors a lot until I started marriage counseling before my divorce.  I went to a marriage counselor, who I felt was very good.  What was the result?  I got divorced.  Now I have this situation.  Excuse me for not being too upbeat on the success of counseling.  I think we need to get the counselors to set a goal for the two remaining kids in counseling and that goal is simple.  We want them both to understand how to interact with others appropriately and to live a normal life.  The counselors should then be able to articulate a plan on how we will get there.  Peter’s counselor at least has a semblance of that, but Bobbi’s counselor is continuing her clueless trek down “let me talk with Bobbi and bill the state” land.  I have been content to just leave it be because it was not costing anything but now there is a cost.   Our family’s sanity.  Am I going to demand a change?  No not right away.  I realize I’m really upset and venting, but I do think we are being stupid ad doing our whole family a disservice by not demanding some professional responsibility from the counselors.  After all if I went to anyone else for a service would I just tell them, “Hey I’ll just pay you every week without any end in sight and you just take my money and do whatever you want, OK?” you’d call me an idiot.  And you’d be right.  I want to have a discussion with my wife on what our family’s goal with this is and get off the incorrect assumption that we must just let it go on forever because of the source.  Sure the events of the summer need to be dealt with and they have been, are and will be.  If your kids used drugs would we send them to rehab forever?  No.  Would they perhaps do something again that made the go back?  Perhaps, but all we can do is give the tools to make a good decision and the guidance to know what that is and then let them get back to life.  Yet in this case we are not.  My wife and I have discussed the imposition of the door alarms and so have the rest of the kids so we acknowledge the problem, yet we have taken no action to solve it.  Who’s fault is that?  We need two big fingers pointing right back at us.  Will the door alarms ever be off, honestly because of Bert’s meddling, probably not, but we did tone them back from shrieking sirens to simply loud obnoxious ear splitting beeps a while back.  This is making all of us edgy and so is it a wonder that when we get a little shove from a stupid counselor who speaks out of turn that one of us falls off the edge?  No!

This leads me to the counselor’s first recommendation and what started the discussion that led to her dumb second recommendation that I have just beat like a dead horse.  They have been pushing for about a month to get the adults from the households with the three boys involved with this summer’s activities into a room together.  When I told my friend about this his first response was “I hope you said no way in hell!”  His reasoning?  Bert is totally incapable and unwilling to be anything but productive in that meeting.  He will monopolize that meeting.  My reaction.  He is 100% accurate.  With what just happened with my wife because of the other comment this week I am frankly terrified about how she will handle this session.  I understand the counselors are doing what people in that field try to do.  They think they are being helpful, yet this is the same counselor who when my wife said she did not want to be interviewed with Bert in the same room insisted that “this was the process” and then my wife went through it, Bert used his manipulation over her to make her feel hideous and she had to talk it over with her counselor over multiple sessions and was not her wonderful self for weeks.  Yet here we go into this again.  Are we stupid?  I’m beginning to think so.  Yet I do not know another option, because I am also willing to give it a shot but the only way we succeed in there is if Bert talks we all shut up and let him go.  He will lie, say things that are untrue, but we cannot react.  If we do he wins.  My concern is I will blow up in there and call the counselor the bumbling fool she is for calling this meeting in the first place.  She witnessed what happened with Bert and my wife, and she knows the other mom has similar issues with Bert.  The only one who can deal with Bert’s shit is me.  But what I can’t deal with and I am having a real time sucking up is some “professional” placing my wife into a situation that she is not at all comfortable with and demanding she do it with a smile.  God made it clear that a man is supposed to protect his wife.  I am prepared to do that to the death someday if needed.  My wife is the most important person in the world to me and the fact that she deals with this shit on a regular basis tears me up.  Even though I know it is un-Christian I pray for God to remove Bert from this world often and vehemently.  I then pray for forgiveness that I did that.  I do not understand God’s point in these trials and testing, but I worry that I am not doing what I should.  Should I be saying “hell no!” to this meeting?  If you were to ask me today, the answer I would shout from the mountain tops would be a resounding yes.  I need to pray on it and see.  I have almost no confidence; no I do have zero confidence, that this meeting will do anything of value.  My wife had basically said the same thing.  It would seem that then we are not very smart for proceeding.  Maybe we talk with the other mom and decide that way.

Because Bert takes wicked advantage of everything with his sociopathy I believe my wife has added a lot of weight to this that is not there.  We recently read some excerpts from a book where the author said stop worrying about the worst that can happen because the worst rarely does, yet that is basically what is happening here.  I feel that we are letting some fear of what Bert could spin things into drive us into not demanding more from the counselors and instead taking a very passive attitude and into walking into situations that are set up for bad outcomes.

At this point however we sit at a point that my wife feels “there is a counselor with power for the county” which I feel is utterly false but she is so worried from this woman’s inappropriate statement without any of the facts she needed to make it that she will not move from that.  If we continue this way for the next few days I know my resolve will grow much stronger to say we are not participating in that joint waste of time.  The counselors have this hope that the changes they want Bert to make will be made through these types of meetings.  That is what is driving my wife and this other mom to agree though every ounce of their being does not want to do this.  They are being driven for their kids just as I am being driven for my wife.  Should I be the voice of reason?   The most dispassionate one in the bunch?  Should I stand up and say this has no chance of success?  The counselors will be disappointed but the carnage that I anticipate Bert wreaking in that room will not have a chance to take place.  If I felt one iota of possibility that he could be reasoned with and the counselors could get him to listen I would feel some hope.  As my friend said, “This better be the best fucking counselor the world has ever seen, or you are just headed into a nightmare.”  I think I’ve already established on a much smaller point that we are not dealing with that type of counselor here.  I’d really like some thoughtful comments on this one.  We’ve got a couple weeks before this meeting is to take place.  I understand that everything I’ve written says stop the madness.  Sadly that’s not always so easy.