Giving Thanks

I realized just tonight that I began blogging on this site on practically this exact day in 2009. Let me just say that WOW, the landscape of my life looks so different now than it did back then! I’m astounded at the changes and challenges that have occurred, but also at the overwhelming peace and perfection of the place I’ve found myself settled into today.

Who can predict from day to day where life is going to take them? How many of us can look back to even this time last year and see the absences and additions in our lives? Jobs, people, life… it ripples up and down like a slow-moving wave deep out in the middle of a vast ocean. We are all trying to navigate our ships out there, the ups and the downs, and to not allow a rough time to bring so much water into our ship that we drown. 

I’m thankful that I have a personal relationship with the Captain of my vessel. He is the One ultimately responsible for getting us to shore safely. Our job is to listen and follow His instruction. How comforting it is to know that I, in my limited wisdom of handing the ship, am not the one in charge. I have definite responsibilities during the voyage, but He is the guiding force. 

My thankfulness this season begins here… right here.  It is from this point that all other blessings and lessons are determined. 

My wish for each of you reading this is that you have a wonderful day of celebration with people you love. Take a quiet moment to hug everyone a little tighter knowing that this landscape may not look exactly the same next year. We are given these precious moments. They must not be minimized, or taken for granted.  I wish each of you a personal relationship with your Captain. It is through Him that you will have more to give thanks for than you ever imagined possible.

Abundant blessings to you all! Happy voyage!

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The Selfishness We Call “Divorce”

It’s both fortunate and unfortunate to me that in my circle of friends and acquaintances I’ve become the “go to” person for questions about divorce, because I’ve been there. People see me as proof that you CAN get through an unthinkably difficult time, and have a peaceful, productive life on the other side of this heart-wrenchingly painful mountain.

In the last week alone, I’ve had 3 different people come to me asking advice on the subject, or wanting to speak with me about mine. One was a sweet friend I’d not seen in a while. She and I used to go to church together, and I subbed for her a few times at Rogersville City School. This kind woman came to me in a sea of people during the Heritage Days festival, gently touched my arm, and quietly said, “I’ve always wanted to tell you how much I admire how you handled things after your divorce. You went to school, got your teaching degree, and just moved right on with life. Some people just shut down. You didn’t.” I felt I owed it to her and myself to be very honest in my response. I replied back, “I had children, and we had to eat. I had no choice, but to move on. There were days I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t. God was faithful to us.”

I want to always give a very truthful and realistic picture of what divorce looked like for me. It would be unfair of me to paint it prettier than it actually was. If a friend has gotten to the point that they have come to me for advice- whether it be the name of my attorney, or just encouraging words about moving ahead in life- I want to be sure that they understand this road is dark, and long, and Satan comes at you from all directions trying to break you down as much as he possibly can. That may look like many things to many different people; but in my case, I was entering a full out war that I had no idea was coming, and I want to help prepare my friend for the battle ahead.

My marriage lasted a total of 10 years. It’s not pertinent to list all of the why’s behind the dissolution of my marriage. It’s personal, and I have children to protect. Let’s just suffice it to say that my home became an unhealthy place for both my children and myself. He and I tried Christian counseling. We talked to pastors, cried at prayer rails, had deep into the night discussions, but one person alone can’t repair a broken marriage. The first thing I tell anyone who comes to me is that divorce was the absolute last resort for me. I tried for years, and behaviors weren’t getting better, if anything, they were getting worse. We had separated and reconciled. That was short lived. It all just became too much.

In January of 2011, my father died. Four months later, while standing at my front door, with a 6-year-old Elijah in my arms, I was served with divorce papers. In an instant I felt my entire world cave in around me. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, and my first thought became, “How are we going to live?”

If I could freeze that very moment in time, I wish I could have time-traveled back, given that Amanda a big hug, and told her that I’d seen the future, and everything would be fine. Fortunately for me, I had an amazing circle of family and friends who did that for me. They lifted me up when I could barely crawl. Having a personal relationship with the Lord, and having believers to talk to and pray with are TRULY the only things that got me through.

I had a talk with my exhusband just yesterday. It was one of those hour-long talks that we have on occasion. He and I have come miraculously far during this journey over the last 5 years.  What once was a world of restraining orders and unbridled hatred, has with time, evolved into a relationship where we can attend ball games together, and school functions. He will sometimes bring me medicine when I am sick. I’ve even been to dinner with my children, him, and his girlfriend. It was all very Bruce Willis/Demi Moore of us. ūüėä He and I were having a very frank discussion about finances. Both of us feel the financial strains of this divorce.

I can tell you, first hand, what it feels like to live in fear of losing your home. I can tell you what it feels like to be in line at Wal-Mart with a cart full of groceries, and to have your card declined. I can tell you what it’s like to have to call your mother, and ask if you can borrow a few rolls of toilet paper because you are out, and have no money. I can tell you what it’s like to have to humble yourself to go to this same, generous mother and say to her that I’m 2 weeks out from a check, and I have nothing left for me and my children to live on.

I pray anyone reading this never has to go through this. Or, maybe you already have. It’s a very humbling experience. Not one that I’ve shared with many people, but it is the reality of divorce. I came from a marriage where sticking to a budget wasn’t really an issue. There was always plenty. He had a wonderful job. All of that changed in the blink of an eye.

So, I’m a 41-year-old, stay-at-home mom, and I’m going to have to formulate a plan “B” quickly. Who knew I’d ever even need a plan “B”? Certainly not me. My plan was this man, this marriage, these children, and this life. With the serving of one piece of paper that all came to a screeching halt. It was audible.

The next parts are the pieces to the story I want to be sure my friends understand. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t enjoyable. I certainly wasn’t the model of daily Christian strength that I’d like to proclaim I was. I wasn’t. I fell to pieces initially. I went a little crazy. I did things I wasn’t proud of. My dad was gone, my marriage was over, and my future seemed bleak. God has allowed me throughout my Christian walk with Him to sink down into these valleys of despair at times. There were MANY days that the thought of even getting out of bed was too much. My saving grace in all of this was my children. As much as my soul was beaten down, and I had lost so much of my internal fight, I knew I had to get up each day, and take care of these little ones. Their worlds were being flipped upside down, too. I couldn’t allow myself to forget that while I was busy drowning in self-pity.

The rest of the story is an exercise in faith and hope. God showed me, through continuous prayer, that He had a plan for me. I found a career path that would make me as available to my children as I could possibly be. Teaching. I researched, and found a 16-month program at Tusculum College which allowed me to take classes in the evenings and on weekends. I met some of the most wonderful people I’d ever known in this program, and I know God positioned them in the same program, at this exact time, so we could be in one another’s lives. My family helped me with childcare, so I could attend classes. My exhusband even helped out on weekends. I was able to graduate the Master’s program with honors. I now had my teaching certification. Fast-forward on a few month, and many interviews/applications later, and I was blessed to be given a job at Hawkins Elementary School teaching my own 5th grade class! The call came 9 days before the 2015-2016 school year began. I was crying so hard when I received the call from the principal of the school, that I wasn’t even sure he could hear me saying, “YES!” through all of the sobbing.

What I learned in my experience is that divorce is the ultimate act of selfishness. Whether it be one or both parties. At some point in the marriage, someone (or you both), decide that your own needs become greater and more important than the needs of your family. What this experience did to my own children was heartbreaking to watch. My job was to love and protect them during their time on this earth. Now, because their father and I couldn’t be responsible enough to work out our own issues, these innocent little ones are thrown into a life change that they never asked for. My children are products of a broken home. The guilt that comes with that is immeasurable, and impossible to adequately verbalized. It’s daily. The only comfort I take is that I know that while our HOME may have been broken, I know they saw a mother who ultimately was NOT, and who gives all the glory to God for her strength.

I encourage my friends to have a realistic view of what is about to happen if they choose this path. It’s not “divorce parties” and freedom like some women like to imagine. (Actually, that may not be 100% true. There are people who do have their big divorce parties, but I just think that’s further outward evidence of what selfish creatures we’ve allowed ourselves to become. The destruction of a family is NOTHING to be celebrated) It’s one of the biggest doses of reality you’ll ever have. It’s excruciating to watch your babies go through. It’s an admission of failure. Divorce, and the death of my father, are hands down the most difficult life moments I’ve had.

The moral to my story is that God was faithful. He was strong when I was weak. It’s not an easy road, and it’s certainly not something I eagerly encourage anyone to do. Divorce goes against my own spiritual beliefs. That’s another blog in itself. I’ll save it for a different day. While I don’t want to be an advocate for divorce, I do want to offer hope to those going through it. There is life on the other side. It takes work. It takes an admission that you can’t do it alone, and it takes a willingness to be quiet, and listen to that sometimes soft voice of God. He won’t fail you. When you’ve lost your faith in love, He is the one relationship you can count on to be everlasting.

 

 

Cowboy Up

I had a conversation with a girlfriend the other day and she was lamenting about her romantic relationship.¬† I told her that it was time for her to “cowboy up” and look at things a little differently.¬† She very confusedly asked me what in the world “cowboy up” meant.¬† She’s from Kentucky and apparently they don’t have many cowboys in Lexington.¬† I explained to her that to “cowboy up” means to suck it up, man up, woman up, and move forward.

This specific conversation came to me later in the night and I had a revelation.¬† I’ve spent the past 15 months not being able to cowboy up in my own life¬†out of fear, weakness, and doubt.¬† I knew that this isn’t who I want to be.¬† I want to be the John Wayne of meandering through this life successfully and I learned a few things that I thought I would share.¬† So, put on your cowboy hats and continue…

1. Life isn’t always fair.¬† We all-¬†every one of us- have those moments of “why me?”.¬† We’ve all been cheated and disappointed by relationships, jobs, churches, illnesses, etc.¬† We are never once in Scripture promised that this is going to be an easy ride.¬† Our success in the ride depends on how we react and process when we are met with challenges.¬†¬†Buck up, cowboys.¬†

2. Bad things happen to good people.¬† At some point in our journey we are all going to be faced with loss.¬† If all we do is focus on the bad, however, that is where we will stay… wallowing in our self-pity.¬† This isn’t a concept I was really familiar with until the loss of my dad last year.¬† I felt very cheated and robbed.¬† I think God understands our sorrow and our crying out to Him.¬† He feels our pain.¬† We are His children and He doesn’t like to see us hurt.¬† Just as I as a mother would open a can of whoop-A on anyone who wrongs my child, I believe that God wants us to sit back and let Him take care of all of the injustices that we face.¬† He has our best interests at heart.¬† We may not be able to clearly see the big picture from where we¬†are sitting in the saddle, but we have to learn to trust that He is the ultimate leader of this crazy cattle drive and He will steer us all in the right direction if we allow Him to.

3. It’s time to start focusing on the positive.¬† Sometimes that can be as simple as being thankful for the fact that we woke up this morning.¬† In the time that you’ve spent¬†reading this someone, somewhere in this world has experienced the loss of a loved one.¬† We wake up, shower, eat our Cheerios, grab backpacks, and head out the door.¬† Someone woke up today to the realization that a loved one is gone.¬† Be thankful and grateful for what you have regardless of how trivial and mundane it may seem to you at the moment.¬† There are people who would be happy to wake up to “normal” and “routine”.¬† You don’t really grasp this concept until the day you wake up and your “normal” and “routine” is stripped from you.¬† Trust me.

4. Rock bottom does not equal the end.¬† Those days when you feel it literally takes all of your power just to get out of bed you must remember that things do not forever stay in a state of chaos.¬† We all have to muster up the strength to press forward through those times and move ahead.¬† I’ve often thought that I feel so sorry for those humans who chose to maneuver through the landmines of life without having God in the picture.¬† Frankly, I don’t know how they do it.¬† When all of my strength is zapped and I feel I can’t take another step it is beyond comforting to me to have the sweet assurance that He never leaves me and will always see me through those difficult times.¬† How wonderful to be able to crawl up into His lap and just say “I’m weak.¬† I need you.”¬† I’m 42 years old and He has never failed me- not once.

There is no person who has a perfect life.¬† I dare to say that there is no person who has an easy life.¬† Life is what it is.¬† It becomes what we allow it to be.¬† You can choose to let it drag you down or you can cowboy up, dig your spurs in, and move forward.¬† I, for one, chose to dig in those spurs.¬† You can to.¬† The reigns ultimately belong to God, and¬†He’s given us the strength to press on.¬† Grab hold.¬† Dig in.¬† Hold tight and prepare for the ride.¬† In the words of Steven Curtis Chapman, one of my favorite Christian singers, “Saddle up your horses.¬† We’ve got a trail to blaze.”¬†

Giddy up, pardners!

When Hope Is Fading

Last Christmas my mother gave me a ring.¬† It is a simple, sterling silver band with one word etched into it… “HOPE”.¬† Since the day I received the ring it has become one of my most prized possessions.

“Hope” is a word which has developed great significance to me in the last year.¬† Hebrews 11:1 says,¬†¬†Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”¬† Faith and hope are two words which have become intertwined for me.¬† I personally believe that in order to have one you must have the other.¬† I can have hope that I’ll win the lottery, but without faith it is meaningless.¬† Hope and faith must go hand in hand in order to achieve¬†hope’s full potential.

When my mother presented me with my ring she quietly whispered, “Wear it for dad.”¬† I do.¬† I will never take it off.¬† I refuse to have faith in¬†anything less.¬† This ring has developed new significance for me, though.¬† Hope is something I am clinging to for all aspects of my life.¬† I hope for a number of things in my life at this time.¬† Some easy to talk about.¬† Some not so much.¬† I do know beyond a doubt that I am on this planet serving a God Who is in the business of all things hopeful.¬† Without hope what do we have?

I have a dear friend Kelli who likes to remind me that “hope floats”.¬† I’ve told her that MY hope not only floats, but also does back flips and belly flops.¬† When things in life seem too much to bear my hope goes into overdrive.¬† If I serve a God Who can do anything why would I expect anything less?¬† I don’t.¬† Sure, having hope can be a risky thing.¬† You can be disappointed.¬† As Christians we are not guaranteed the fulfillment of each and everything for which we hope, but in everything that I read in Scripture it surely does tell you how to get there.¬† “Study to show thyself approved….”¬† “The¬†effective, fervent¬†prayer of a righteous man availeth much…”¬† There comes a great responsibility with having hope.¬† You must be diligently working toward becoming the person God intends you to be in order to reap the reward of your hope.¬† I want to be that person.

I spent the afternoon with my girlfriends today.¬† We, and our gaggle of children, spent the day swimming at a friend’s pool.¬† As I was laying out and listening to all of the laughter in the background, I began to stare at my ring.¬† I spun it around on my finger several times (as I often do as a little reminder) and noticed something.¬† The dark markings in my word “hope” have begun to fade, just a bit.¬† The tiniest portion of my “H” is beginning to vanish.¬† It was in this moment that I felt a tiny tinge of sadness.¬† I don’t want this ring to change.¬† I don’t want my hope to disappear.¬†¬†Just then¬†things took on a very literal meaning for me.¬† There is nothing that is going to lessen my hope.¬† No amount of enviroment or chlorine or wear and tear is going to diminish for one second the hope that I have inside of me.¬† Life is hard.¬† We were never promised that it wouldn’t be.¬† We have to cling to that which we know is permanent.¬† For me that is the strength and the promise that I have received from my Lord.¬† Am I always going to get the answers that I want?… not necessarily.¬† However, I firmly stand on the knowledge that if what I want is in direct proportion to the will of the Lord for my life then it shall be done.

There is amazing comfort in that thought.

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