In with the new?

As believers, we might easily quote verses and pictures proclaiming “Beauty for Ashes”, holding to the image that God can bring anything good out of something hard. Or, we find encouragement in a song like “God’s not done with you” – clinging to the fact that our unfinished stories can still hold purpose and promise in the years ahead.

I honestly believe this is true, yet the reality is that until you have had this truth tested, it only feel so real to you. It’s not “yours” – until you walk it, own it, and come out the other side. Then… its no longer just a cute little picture. Its a deep truth, burned into your life, built into your theology.

I will share this as a precursor to the post: I look back, and have to admit there was a day where I once felt like a piece of my heart died with my marriage, and I wondered if it would ever return. I trusted God would bring me back to life. I thought for sure all of my heart would be resurrected…. Then I would hit a day every now and then and wonder if I could ever experience delight and joy in a relationship like I had before. It was on a day where those feelings were right on the surface that I wrote this.

I share this just as a testimony to how much the Lord heals our memories, how much he can shift things for us that need to be shifted, even when we seem stuck. Because in reading this over again – I guess I was stuck. I hope it will be an encouragement for some of you that may be stuck in your own way.

P.S. In case you’re wondering.. Joy has returned and I am floored at quite a number of things right now 🙂

______ ________ _______ _______ ______ ________ _______ _______

Today I ran for the first time in a while. Spring finally in full display, from the trees to the flowers blooming, to the scents that mark a holiday weekend floating in the air (everyone was grilling out for Memorial Day cookouts). It was beautiful. It reminded me of when life was simple, and all I cared about was life and loving Jesus more and more. Sometimes I wish I could go back – back before the scars, before the hurt of life marred the way I see the world. Before I had to start over all again.

I keep thinking of a verse the Lord gave me a while back:

“Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing; Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?” Says the Lord (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV)

It’s hard for us as people, not to look back, isn’t it? Back to before when we were younger, or when we were single or married, or before we lost our job, our loved one, our whatever we built our life around before it got so complex. Before we gave into the addiction, before our body started breaking down, before we left the life we had and moved across the country. Before we started asking questions or …. before whatever.

You know we’re not alone in thinking that way, right?

The Israelites did the same thing. Over and over, when God was bringing them to freedom in the wilderness, they longed for the things of Egypt. They longed for when they had meat in abundance and luxuries, obviously forgetting their great slavery. They forgot that the idols they worshipped were powerless, that the gods they served were but figments of their imagination.

I’m not saying things in our past were idols necessarily. After years of fearing anything I enjoyed was an idol, I have set down that way of thinking, and I’m not about to take it back up again. Yet what is it about looking back and longing for things that were?

Sure, sometimes its because we are afraid of change, but that’s not always it.

More often, I can’t help but wonder if its because its what we know, and the new seems unfamiliar and strange. There is no map, there isn’t a pocket guidebook for what’s next or what to do when we get there.

Later in this same passage in Isaiah, the Lord reminds them that the foundations of Jerusalem will be rebuilt. He will move on their behalf, even though they don’t remember him

Isaiah 45:2-3 (NIV)

“I will go before you

and will level the mountains;

I will break down gates of bronze

and cut through bars of iron.

I will give you hidden treasures,

riches stored in secret places,

so that you may know that I am the Lord,

the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

Poetic. Mysterious. Something to make them wonder. He never tells them what the “hidden treasures” will look like, or how He will move, but he says He will.

Even though they still forget him.

Maybe we are more like them than we realize, unable to see or even perceive what He is up to in our years to come. Maybe we wonder, how could what is to come ever be better than what was?

Oh… but if we remember the heart of our God… He is a God that always keeps His promises. His love is true, it is faithful and never gives up. It was offered to us over a sacred meal with a cup of wine, a new promise.

We question how the new could ever be better….yet if we are able to dwell in the mystery that is the Lord, and swim in the love that He offers us, somehow I think we will find it that the new – however different – is still just as full of joy and delight in ways we could never imagine.

Are you willing to keep pressing into the One who loves you, to let Him do this for you? I hope so my friend….I am praying for courage for you for the journey forward!

Boy Erased: Another side

Boy Erased.

I’m not sure how many of you have gone to see it, or how many of you will. I haven’t yet, but I’m slowly reading through the book. For those of you who haven’t heard or read about it, the book (and movie) is essentially the story of Garrard Conley, a young gay man who went through conversion therapy at the insistence of his religious parents. It dives into the types of things that were taught, the way any non-hetero sexual urges were handled, and the struggle he had knowing he was still gay. After being suicidal, he eventually came to terms with his sexuality while attending college.

First off, I’m glad he’s telling his story. It needs to be told, even if its a hard one to hear – and I realize I am glossing over a ton of detail and nuances in my summary that should never be glossed over, because the negative impact that conversion therapy has had on the past generation (and is evidently still going on???) is horrendous. I should know. I was married to someone who also went through it for the first 10 years of our marriage. It destroyed him… and I never knew how much until he told me one night through tears that he loved me, and he hated the how much he knew he was hurting his best friend, but he couldn’t keep this part of his identity hidden any longer. I never knew he was suffering so much. There was so much he never said. So much I overlooked. All out of love, because love endures all things, hopes all things, never fails.

And so, with all the media coverage on Boy Erased, I can’t stay silent. There is another side of the impact of conversion therapy and/or teaching that ignores sexual orientation that probably won’t ever be made in to a book (unless I write one) or a movie: What happens when someone who is LGBTQ marries someone who is not (and either hides it or promises they will work on their “same sex attraction” because its the right thing for a Christian to do). Or because they have been taught it will make them straight, or they have been told it is the only option. Because…. who knows the other reasons. But they marry and raise a family and dream dreams with this other person who commits their whole self to the relationship.

The other side is what happens when the realization comes that its not working. The drive is too strong, the orientation yells for validation, and the only way to make peace with self is to end the relationship.

We are the ones who get left in the wake of sexuality being hidden for so long.

The children who end up with stories they never wanted.

The young adults who now wonder if real love is actually possible, who now look back and wonder what they saw of their parents’ love was real?

The spouses who suddenly find themselves single after having married with the expectation they would grow old with their spouse. The loss of a best friend, the loss of dreams and hopes and … the one they thought was their “person”.

Don’t get me wrong, friends – this isn’t easy for the one that is coming out either. It’s heartbreaking for them too. How the relationship ends is critical. It can get very ugly, or it can be full of sorrow, grace, and forgiveness in a very unique way. Ultimately, both have to decide what they want this to look like… but “hard to go through” doesn’t even come close. Death would be more like it – for both spouses.

Sometimes what happens is that the one who is coming out leaves to find community where they will be accepted, because they are not accepted in their friend or church groups any longer. There can be great celebration when someone who has hidden their sexuality (or had it forcibly shoved down due to external pressures) is finally able to come out and realize who they really are. There is a mountain of shame to overcome,there are courageous steps they have to take to fight back voices and lies and hurt and only God knows what else. If any of you know me or Jon, you know this is what he has dealt with, and this is what he has fought for in the past year. I cannot begin to imagine what its been like.

Others stay hidden and wrestle with where they fit in, feeling lost but knowing they cannot stay married. This might be the harder road, but the impact is no less. I have a new friend that is going down this road and it’s just as painful to watch.

What you must understand though, is that I am not writing this to get support or sympathy. I am not writing this to say that what I and the girls have gone through is anything near what Jon has. We have all been broken in this. We have all hurt. BUT we are all healing and we are going to be ok. God’s grace IS enough for us. If my older daughter’s recent Facebook post isn’t proof… I don’t know what is.

I am writing this because although the media coverage is exposing the pain of conversion therapy and church teaching, it isn’t talking about the impact it has had in the lives of those who ACTED on the advice and recommendations. It’s not just that we need to understand how harmful conversion therapy has been for so many.

We need to realize that because of it, there are families that are broken that never should have had to go through such hurt and pain. Choices are made to break covenant by people for whom covenant is real and binding, and so it hurts like hell to know you are breaking it — yet who would ever understand or believe that laying down your life in love can be the very act of letting your LGBTQ spouse go? None of the love and the memories and kids that come out of these marriages bring regret, mind you. The marriage was never a lie. The love and care and concern for them was always there and still is. The families created mean the world to both spouses. But regret for the hurt and pain? Yeah.. there’s that. Lots of it. There is a great deal of trusting God can heal things in ways that we can’t even begin to know how to make right. There’s the work of not letting yourself get lost in a pity party, or villianizing your former spouse. There’s the choice to parent the kids in a way that is honoring to both people (regardless of age). There’s the choice to believe that grace can help navigate the narrow way of still being kind to each other, and want the best for each other. It doesn’t come easy…. but it is possible

I know the Body of Christ is divided over same-sex marriage. I am not addressing that here. Yet I think the church (big “C”) needs to think carefully about this one. Can we at least make the church safe enough so that someone who does identify as LTBTQ can be honest about their sexuality and not feel ashamed? Can we welcome them – their gifts, their personality, their faith – and not think they are less than, or are only valid if they marry the opposite sex?

Whatever we do, I am begging you, please don’t think that telling someone to get married will “fix” their sexuality. I’m not saying a mixed-orientation-marriage (which is a marriage where one spouse is opposite sex attracted and one is not) can’t work – but if its something two people are considering, they need to go into it with eyes wide open to the challenges they will face. They are real.

Something has to change. It starts with us.

Labels & Percentages

Labels and Percentages

I met an old friend for breakfast the other day, one that I hadn’t seen in person for over 25 years. We had followed each other on social media some, so we knew in general how each of us were doing, but man… was it good to catch up!

Seems that both of our lives have taken some unexpected and similar turns recently. The details – vastly different. But who we are finding God to be for us in the midst? Very similar. It’s amazingly crazy and yet so very… normal, when you think about who our God is.

One of the things that we both talked a little about was how we and our kids were now percentages. Statistics…… ones we never intended to be part of. It reminded me how much I had to face that reality at the end of last year, that I would now be labeled as a “divorced woman” and my kids from a “divorced” family. Internally, I was determined to fight to NOT wear that label for myself. I refuse to let it define me. Sure, that means my marital status will be single for quite a while, but it was the whole broken-home-and-I-couldn’t-fix-it definition I had to fight internally.

The reality is, we have all at one time or another worn labels in our own heads, or had a label slapped on us by someone else, haven’t we? As a kid they are ones like teacher’s pet, jock, stoner, geek, beauty queen, wall flower.. or maybe closer to home like good-for-nothing, idiot, worthless, ugly, invisible, unwanted, weakling – or any other plethora of things said to us or put on us by others. We ingested them, we may have fought them, or we may have leaned into them.

As adults sometimes more labels get tacked on, don’t they? Like being from a broken home, having a messed-up childhood, being an addict, having bipolar/OCD/depression/ODD (or any other diagnosable mental illness) or have an anxiety disorder. Then there are of course mom or dad or abandonment issues. Someone could be a workaholic, an absentee parent, a divorcee, widow, or single parent. Oh – and of course there are good labels too, but we wear them much less often.

Why do I bring this up? This is not news. We all know this. There are songs about it, pastors preach on it, magazine articles and blogsites are full of discussion about this reality, all the time.

Because we need to be reminded. Because so many of those labels do nothing but bring shame into our lives, and they say NOTHING about where our identity should come from, and we so often think that is the ground we have to build on. Yet our God is a God of redemption, one that enters the broken places in our world and our lives, and longs to bring something different to our understanding of our lives. You may have become something, or you may have coping skills because of your ‘label’…. but you are so much MORE. There is ground to still be staked in your life to take you out of shame, out of hurt, out of broken places. It can take a lifetime, but it’s worth fighting for.

Isaiah 51:1 has always been a favorite verse for me:

“Listen to me, you who pursue justice and rightness, and you who seek the Lord; Look to the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were hewn”

You were made from the stuff of eternity, the stuff of love, the stuff of beauty and goodness and what is right and just.

Do you get that?

You are not your label or statistic

Sure, it may have changed how you see and operate in the world. Yes, it probably gave you scars. Yes you may have to take medication to deal with it, and you may need others to help you through the crap it left you with. But your label doesn’t define you, and it certainly doesn’t define how much good your life can have in it or what you can become.

This is what our God-in-the-flesh came to do – as Isaiah 61 speaks about:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve….

Please don’t just gloss over the truth of this. I know we hear it all too often. Stop reading this as just as captivity and darkness = sin.

We are captive to our labels, we are prisoners to our addictions and the things we do to hide our hearts. Can you see that? Can you hear how determined our God is in this passage?

Isaiah says he came to crown us, trade our mourning and despair into joy and LIFE.

In verse 7 he says “instead of shame, to receive a double portion… instead of despair you will have an inheritance” . Think of areas in your life where you have felt shame or despair. Can you hear the heart of God, that this is not the way it will always be for you?

Part of the work of redemption in our lives is the vengeance of God on all the stuff this world has brought against us to cause pain and hurt in our lives that has tried to, and continues to try to rip away the image of his goodness in us.

Dear one.. I hope that when you are in a season of challenge, or when the past comes calling, you can remember this:

God is FOR YOU. You are not your label, you have a greater defender than you realize, and you are made of the stuff of eternity.

Start carrying THAT label in your heart!

Burden of proof

Those of you who know us are probably wondering how the girls are doing in all this. Well, I’ll be honest: they are doing better than they were last winter. I know the news hit them just as hard back then, for more than a few reasons. (But they are strong and working through things, and I am really proud of them!)

Let me backtrack a bit.

When we lived in Illinois and the girls were in 3rd or 5th grade (or 2nd and 4th, I can’t recall exactly), nearly all of their friends parents were getting divorced. It was heartbreaking to watch and to see how it was coming out in their friendships. Their friends would get mad at them for no reason – and we knew it was because of the stress going on at home. All we could be was a safe haven for them at that time. Naturally, both girls came to us with questions… and so we did our best to reassure them that no, we loved each other and would never head down that road. We were honest, telling them that marriage is hard but God gives us strength. We knew it was important for them to feel secure in our love and relationship. What kid doesn’t need that? When they are young, your togetherness is often their grounding.

Nothing about what we told them was false. It’s not like things were bubbling under the surface and waiting to explode (that I know of). Jon and I were in this together and we really worked hard at being each other’s best friends and supporters. We knew we wanted to model something for the girls that was different than what they saw all around them – and show them that marriage COULD last a lifetime.

Fast forward 12 years and … well…. now we are now one of the “statistics” too.

The label I knew the kids would carry for the rest of their lives haunted me.

It exposed in me a fear I didn’t know I was bound by (how can you when they are seemingly coming out of every corner?)

I knew I didn’t want to be ruled by my fears, and I knew that facing them and finding the truth was going to help me NOT live out of them, so I tried to deal with them when they came up. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure – but what other option is there?

In a way it felt like taking apart a chain link fence one loop at a time.

One of the big fears I had in going through this whole thing was how it was going to impact our girls’ view of and desire for marriage.

My counselor thought I was kidding, that I had no friends who I had watched go through a divorce. Did I know divorced people? Yes. But did any of our friends get divorced? NO. Because in a faith community, you help each other keep your vows. You walk through the hard parts of marriage together, because that is what a covenant is. For better or worse, in sickness and in health. Through all of life. (Note: I am not saying there are not circumstances that definitely warrant divorce, just that where those do not exist, you work through things together with your community)

What had settled in my soul was a HUGE fear that somehow, in spite of all we had taught and modeled thus far for the girls, the dissolving of our marriage would ruin it all.

After talking with a my best friend about this one night, she shared some things about her own life that got me to thinking.

Her story gracefully started unraveling what I had been holding onto so tightly.

She was the product of divorced parents, yet she has been married for 30 years and she has a great marriage. Her faith in God is strong- in fact, I have had the privilege of watching her come alive to God in new ways over the past year that are just amazing! My friend shared that even though her parents split when she was a teenager, she had a relationship with both of them, and their commitment to still get together helped her through her young adult years.

I needed to hear that was possible, because it is what I was hoping for the entire time. I know relationships between Jon and I and the girls will change, and I know it will take time, but somehow I needed to hear that our actions won’t ruin their chances for a stable marriage. Yes I know that sounds ridiculous, but I have obviously let stories I have heard of kids whose parents divorced give up on the possibility of a long marriage drive my impression of how this goes in the long run.

The morning after that conversation brought to light another side of the fear.

I remember taking the girls through some of the book of Proverbs when they were in elementary school (in my attempts to do some sort of devotion with them). One I remember, which was especially close to my heart, was Prov 3:3 – “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them on your heart, write them on the tablet of your heart”. I loved the imagery of that advice, and, having found this verse early in our marriage, it had become a banner for me. To me, this was the challenge for every marriage, as I had always believed that marriage is an earthly example of God’s commitment to us and unconditional love for us – so faithfulness and love were huge in my mind (and still are, let me just clarify).

As I read the verse again, fearful that somehow the concepts of love and faithfulness would now fall on deaf ears, I realized that this verse wasn’t spoken to a son in the context of marriage. Love and faithfulness still apply – they are life choices in any relationship. Why had I limited it to just marriage?? And, as my friend challenged me last night – Jon and I can still be faithful friends. After all, we have been best friends for over 28 years, so why would that change?

I started talking with the Lord about all this, about my fear of this ruining the girls’ idea that marriage can last a lifetime, about dashing hopes that a good strong marriage could ever happen for them, and realized that somehow I had latched onto a belief that I was responsible for the burden of proof that faithfulness and marriage can last.

Almost as quickly thereafter came this one:

Who told you that was your job?

It took me a few minutes to process.

Who told you that was your job?

Slowly, as I pondered the still quiet voice that I know is the One that unearths all the hidden beliefs and deep things in my soul, I realized I had been carrying a burden I wasn’t meant to carry. I am not, and never have been, the owner of faithfulness and love – God is.

I cannot tell you how freeing that recognition was. It felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted off of me all of a sudden, and I could breathe again.

It felt good to breathe.

So my question to you, my friends, is what burden of proof are you carrying that is not your job? We all do this at some point, don’t we? We carry the burden of being “perfect” Christians to our unbelieving families, as if our perfection will woo their heart. We work hard to provide for our families, as if it’s fully up to us to make sure they have what they need.

This is a story of the burden of proof I had to learn to let go.

I challenge you to think about whether or not you are doing this in your own life… and if you are….can you let go?

It’s pretty freeing.

Blessings!

Tama

Fair Warning

When the girls were little, we spent two years in Ohio – two years that seem like a blur from where I stand now, to be honest. We made some friends while we were there, but the one couple we have stayed in touch with and absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE their family, we weren’t always close with. In fact, it wasn’t until we drove back through Ohio about five years after we moved that we reconnected. I cannot be more grateful that we did.

In our years living in the Chicago suburbs, everyone in this family (except for their oldest) came to stay with us, either with one of their parents or by themselves. Sometimes it was for vacation, sometimes it was to audition for The Voice *yes their kids are that crazy talented*. Those weekends were some of the best, because we got to catch up amidst raising our families in two different states and two different worlds.

Why do I mention them? Well, because I have come to love one of the things that my friend says whenever she has to have difficult conversations with people. I probably am quoting this slightly wrong, but with great love, she always looks them in the eye and says:

“I know you might not want to hear this, but we have to talk about some hard stuff”

I admire her for that, because she is not afraid to have the hard conversations – and she does it with great love and a heart for restoring relationships between both God and people.

So that is what I need to say to you all now:

I know you might not want to hear this (or read this), but we have to talk about some hard stuff.

For some of you, this may make you stop following my blog. Please know that if you choose to do that, its ok. Be free to go – no judgement here. For some of you, this is going to be hard to read because you know me. All I can say is that I understand, and I’m sorry for the sadness it might bring, but I hope you can hang with me. Because I can promise it gets better. I can promise that with what I am going to be sharing in the coming weeks, you will see the goodness of God in the midst of everything.

I have been hesitant to write about this for a while, mainly because I was very much still in process and it was just too raw. Not that I’m through it all, but I do feel like at this point, the Lord has brought me to a new place, a place where I can write with honesty and hope.

Where do I start? To be honest, I am not quite sure. I’m not sure there ever is a good place to start a conversation like this, because you see, I do not like conflict. I do not like to rock the boat or unsettle the waters, or do anything that will cause people to think less of me. Yet here goes, for the sake of living in honestly and truth, for the sake of showing how God is in the hard places, and hopefully for the eventual healing of someone else who is going through similar things.

You see….. last October, just a few months after moving to Colorado, Jon and I started having some very honest and tearful conversations that essentially unsettled just about every piece of me that could be unsettled. My marriage of nearly 25 years was suddenly shifting in a way that I NEVER saw coming. Nothing was right, tension and internal conflict began to rule my life, and fear took hold in a way that it never had before. Jon had reached a point in dealing with some things in his past that brought him to truth he could not admit to in the previous 25 years: he was gay, and he wanted to live as a gay man, which meant he wasn’t sure he could stay married.

[Bomb dropped].

Those are words no one ever wants to hear: I love you, but I have to leave. It didn’t make sense. All of a sudden, my world came crashing down. Everything I had looked forward to at this stage in our lives suddenly slipped away in that moment, and I was left with questions like I’m sure some of you, or some one you know, has asked at one time or another, whether due to divorce or loss of someone close:

Why, God?

Isn’t there any other way?

Nothing about this seems right.

What am I supposed to do?

How am I ever going to recover from this?

What am I supposed to give my life to now, if the love of my life is gone?

I had prayed over, fought for, and delighted in our marriage for nearly 25 years. So had Jon. We loved each other, we were best friends, and we thoroughly enjoyed the family we had built together.

I was faced with two choices:

Fight. Refuse to give in, hold him to the vow he made. This is what I wanted to do so badly, yet I knew to do that would be controlling, and he would resent me for it. On top of that, I would most likely add to the damage he had already experienced (that is a whole other part of the story).

Or, I could willingly let him go to be who he needed to be, living openly and honestly as a gay man.

I can still remember the exact place in our neighborhood where, on a run, I realized the only choice I could make was to let him go, and agree to dissolve our marriage. I cannot tell you how much that decision hurt. There are no words to describe the pain. I think I spent another half hour crying, having a panic attack for the first time in my life, and calming down before returning home.

Needless to say, we had many tearful conversations in the months between October and December, about what this meant and how we would tell family and friends. Some of those things I will be sharing, some I will not be. It was difficult for both of us, really. Jon was painfully aware of how his request, his decision, was hurting his best friend in the entire world. I felt lost and numb. Jon was hurting too, in his own way, over past abuse and shame, and having to hide this part of himself all these years. The hardest part was probably that we had always been there for each other, and I desperately wanted to be there for him in his pain, but how could I, when it only brought more to my own life? So we started the dance of finding the boundaries. We found our own support groups to talk about what we were processing. Hard doesn’t even touch it.

This is where, as a person of faith, I knew had a choice. I could turn inward and not let people around me know what was going on, or I could risk telling people close to me, and face the fear and shame that was growing in my head every day. This is where I knew, even with all our family had already gone through due to mental health issues, I had to choose whether or not I could still believe that God was still good, that His promise to sustain me and never leave me was still true when life hurt like hell. That hope still had a place, when all the hopes I had moved out to Colorado with seemed to just have come up empty.

If you have ever known loss, you know what I’m talking about.

And you also know, there are really no words.

Let me just say… if you have been there before, if you are there right now, or you know someone else who is – my heart goes out to you in ways it never could before. I get it now. I’m sorry I never did before.

I’m sorry for being overly cheery, for what might have seemed to you like a shallow sense of hope. I am sorry for not knowing what to say, or saying too much and not just sitting with you in your pain. Believe me, I thought I had gone through the fire a few times already, but compared to this? yeah… compared to this, everything before was a walk in the park.

As I continued to cry out to the Lord, he began to put people around me to support me in ways that I never expected. It was more than humbling to go from the one that always helped others, to being the one who needed to ask for others to pray for me. I had to let them be “my people” – because I desperately needed the support.

But that’s what we are to be for each other, isn’t it? That’s where we have to walk knowing that sometimes God may seems silent to our cries, but He always shows up. Sometimes, it is in the face of a dinner invite from a new friend, or in the rustling of trees on a walk in the neighborhood. Sometimes it is a song that reminds you that joy may not be present for you now, but that the promise of joy is still there.

Times like these are where trust in the Lord, and who He is to you, are forged in the fire.

And what I can tell you, what I can promise you, is that you are NEVER, EVER alone.

Tama