Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Other Road

I met with my friends last Friday. We did laugh a lot, but we never made it to the shooting range. The conversation went very deep and meaningful. That is how it is with old friends. No matter how long it has been since you have seen them, you pick right back up where you left off. You don't have to spend time getting to know each other. I have shared heartaches and triumphs with each of them. I know their stories of going to the dark place, and I know that they both came out stronger than they were before. So it was easy to open my heart to them and let them speak words of comfort and hope to me.

Toward the end of our conversation, Anna was telling me about a sermon that she once heard. The minister referenced Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken." She said that the minister talked about "The Other Road" in the sermon. Why is it that the other road always looks better than the one we are on? I came home and read the poem again. I am embarrassed to say that I thought the title of the poem was "The Road Less Traveled." (You have to cut me a little slack. I am a math teacher.) After reading some commentaries on the poem, I realized that I had the meaning all wrong!

When I first read the poem, I thought it was simply a statement of nonconformity. Just do your own thing, and don't worry about what the world says. Take the less traveled path and it will make all the difference for you. But as you read the poem, you find out that in reality, neither path is less traveled. They are both the same. The writer has come to a fork in the road, and he must make a choice. It seems as if he thinks he will look back and think that he made the wrong choice, regardless of which road he takes.

Regret. Maybe that is the theme of the poem. No matter who we are or where we are in life, we often find ourselves looking at the road not taken and sighing deeply. What if...? We all have those moments, and if we allow them to, they can absolutely eat us alive and steal every moment of joy that God intends for us to have. This seems to be the writer's dilemma in the poem. He is afraid that no matter which road he chooses, he will end up regretting the choice. There is not a person alive who has not faced such a choice.

Some might say, "Well, I had no choice in the road I took." I will admit that this thought has entered my mind many times. In a sense this is true. Maybe I was put on this road of my "Unplanned Journey" through no choice of my own. But now that I am here, I face two more roads diverging. Actually, I face multiple roads. Which one do I choose? I am afraid that I will choose the wrong road. I am afraid that one day when I am old, I will be telling a story with a sigh. So what do I do?

I do what I have done all along. I cling tightly to my faith. I seek Godly counsel from wise friends, and I make a choice. There is one road that I know I cannot take. It is the road of "What might have been." This road is filled with nothing but rough terrain, and it only leads to the pit of bitterness and unforgiveness. I will not choose this road. I will choose another, and I will walk that road with all its hills and valleys and make it be the very best trip it can be.

My grandpa was one of the greatest men that I think ever walked on the face of this earth. He was a simple man with an eighth grade education. His big break in his career came when he got a job driving the bus for the servicemen at Ft. Rucker. His name is not recorded in any books, but he was a great man. He loved deeply. He loved everyone he knew, and everyone loved him. He didn't hold anything against anyone.

He was the youngest of several children. His mother died when he was two months old. He told me a story once. After the death of his mother, his older sister, who was married, offered to take him and raise him. She said to her father that they would not have any more children. He would be their only child, and they would provide well for him. They would save money and send him to college and give him a life that he could not have otherwise. He said, "My daddy wouldn't agree to it." I remember sitting there as a young teen and thinking how unfair this was. My grandpa only got an eighth grade education. Look at the life he could have had if my great grandfather had just done what was in grandpa's best interest. Then my grandpa said something that I will never forget as long as I live. He smiled this great big smile and said, "My daddy loved me too much to give me away." He could not have been any happier with the way his life turned out. He never regretted "The Road Not Taken."

I thank God that this man's genes are in my makeup. I pray that I can look at my life that way. I pray that I will not live a life of regret. Life is far too short for that. I love a quote I found by Victoria Holt:

Never regret. If it's good, it's wonderful. If it's bad, it's experience.

May this be the way that we look at our lives today and every day.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (New Living Translation)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Trust the Lord, not yourself. It is as simple as that!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Revisiting Forgiveness

Just when I think I have this forgiveness thing under control, it rears its ugly head once again. Last night something was said by one of my girls that planted the seed of unforgiveness in my heart. The thing about the seed of unforgiveness is that it takes very little cultivation for it to grow wildly out of control.

Let me say here that Jason had not done anything. It stemmed from that one simple comment. Then I began to think about other comments that had been said. That led to thinking about accusations that had been made over the last six months. Then I started thinking about things that I thought should have been said but were not said. All these things didn't come into my mind at one time. They would work their way in and out all through the day.

Here is the thing about all the thoughts I was having. Jason and I have dealt with these things. He has apologized, and so have I. We have chosen to forgive each other for the things that were said and done in the heat of the moment. So why am I resurrecting all these memories? Why am I clinging to them today and allowing myself to sink back into the pit of bitterness? Because in that moment, it feels good.

I love living near the beach. There is just nothing like sitting there looking at the waves and God's magnificent creation. As soon as a warm enough day arrives, I am there! On those first few days of spring, the wind is blowing, and it actually feels very comfortable. As a matter of fact, I usually don't even break a sweat. It just feels great. All the while, my body is baking away. I don't even realize it because in this moment it just feels so good to be out there. But by the time the evening rolls around, I am feeling the pain of sunburn. How in the world did I do this to myself? Because at the time it felt great. Once I realized that I had too much sun, it was too late. The damage was done!

It reminds me of this whole concept of unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is so deceptive. It infiltrates my mind and then takes over my emotions. All the while, I feel good about it. I am justified in feeling this way. I deserve to be mad, and I am going to bask in it for a while. But eventually, those emotions start taking their toll on me. I begin to think about them more frequently. Before I realize what has happened, they have consumed me. I have seen people literally allow their lives to be destroyed by unforgiveness. If it is not dealt with, it will eat your soul alive.

I am far from that point, but I am wise enough to know that if I don't deal with this, I am going to have a real problem on my hands. I went outside to cut the grass. There is no better way to think than on a riding lawn mower. I absolutely love that time. I was almost done, and I realized something. I had spent almost the entire time focusing on and thinking about those negative thoughts. This had to stop, and I was the only one who could make it stop.

In that moment, I looked up to the heavens. I said, "God, I give this situation to you. Who am I to be putting conditions on forgiveness? I ask you to take this from me. Please take the negative feelings, the bitterness and the anger. I want to move forward not backward." Guess what? He took it from me, and it feels so good to let it go!

Will I pick it back up again? Probably. I am sure the enemy will try to use another memory, thought, or comment to plant that seed again. But if I will take every thought captive, I can destroy all the "bad" seeds of unforgiveness well before they destroy me!

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (New Century Version)
We fight with weapons that are different from those the world uses. Our weapons have power from God that can destroy the enemy's strong places. We destroy people's arguments and every proud thing that raises itself against the knowledge of God. We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ.

I love that last line! That is the only way to do it, my friends. Seize those thoughts and give them to the One who can handle them!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Things You Are Not Told

I got the very sad news today that another friend is going through a divorce. It just seems to be an epidemic and it breaks my heart. She and I were talking about the difficulties that no one tells you about. We talked about a couple of them. As the day went on, I thought of so many more.

No one tells you that for that first split second when you wake up, you forget and for just that one precious moment in time, your life is normal. It only takes a second for reality to set in. It is like losing your marriage again every day.

You have no idea the impact those empty racks will have on you. You see where their clothes used to hang. You could really use the room, but you just can't bring yourself to hang anything there.

No one warns you that your first instinct when you are traveling and you arrive at your destination is to call them and let them know that you made it safely. Then you stop yourself. That is no longer their role in your life.

You never knew that when you were in a crowded room, you would find yourself looking around and seeing how many people in the room are wearing wedding rings.

No one tells you how incredibly hard it will be to check the "divorced" box on the paperwork at the doctor's office. You stare at it for five minutes before finally getting the nerve to check it.

You have no idea how they creep into so many conversations, just because they are in most of your memories and still so much a part of who you are.

No one tells you that they will show up occasionally in your dreams. It is bittersweet. For those few moments of sweet sleep, all is well. Then you wake up.

You are absolutely not prepared the first time you go to one of the children's events alone. You look around and see everyone else with their spouse. You are convinced that you are the only divorced person in the world.

Yes, these are just a few of the difficult discoveries that you have to make on your own. The list could go on and on. But, there is one thing that many people told me. Time will help. For those friends of mine who are just beginning the journey, hang on to that thought. You will not feel this way forever. I promise. I am proof of that. Now, I must end this blog, because I need to go move my dresses to that empty rack in the closet! :)

I usually end with a Bible verse, but today, I found this quote most fitting:
"Time heals what reason cannot" ~ Famous quote by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman statesman and philosopher who was an advisor to Nero.

Reminds me of an old chorus we used to sing in church:
In Your time, In Your time
You make all things beautiful in Your time.
Lord, my life to You I bring
May each song I have to sing
Be to You a lovely thing
In Your time.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Letting Go

Our trip to Slapout is coming to a close. We will be heading home tomorrow. By the way, I will be sporting the latest, greatest Slapout t-shirt. It says, "Slapout...friendliest intersection on the planet."

It has been an eventful trip filled with all sorts of emotions. I have laughed. I have cried. I have had moments of quiet reflection. We have been up here several times since this journey began. This one has definitely been the most emotional. I think one reason is that it was my first visit back to Cain's Chapel. The other reason is that my divorce will be final Tuesday. This will be my last time in Slapout where I am legally Jason's wife. The next time we come up, I will be divorced from him. The book of that part of my life will finally be finished.

I was privileged to be allowed to go to the movies with the girls and their friends. (For those of you who are parents, you know that we are not often invited to be seen in public after dark with our children.) We went to see Inception. In the movie the main character has to choose between staying permanently in the dream state with his deceased wife or coming back to the real world. He finally realizes that the person that is there with him is not really her. He says to her, "I miss you more than I can bear, but we had our time together, and it was great. But now I must let you go."

Lily and Anna both looked at me to see if I was going to start wiping tears. A few weeks ago I probably would have. But I was okay. I held my own. I could relate to the character. There comes a time when you have to let go. I cannot hold on to something that no longer exists. I have to let it go. I think what makes this so painful is that when you let go, you feel like you are losing a very part of your own being. And, in a sense, you are. But it still has to happen. It is not healthy to hang on to something that no longer exists.

I came across a quote back in the spring about letting go. It was in an online article that suggested that you repeat this over and over until you can say it and mean it.

"I give you permission to leave, to be gone from my life forever. I don't want you to go, but I want you to be happy. If you have to leave, I understand. You have my love and my blessings whatever you do. I let you go."

I have gone through many stages with this quote.

Stage 1: I do not give you permission to leave. You cannot do this, and I am not going to let you. I soon learned that this does not work. You cannot force someone to stay.

Stage 2: I don't want you to be go, but if you are going to, I sure don't want you to be happy! I have hurt, and you need to hurt too. I finally came to realize that this line of thinking does nothing but eat you alive. It is toxic, and it will slowly destroy you.

Stage 3: You have my love and blessings whatever you do. I am finally making it to this point of peace in my heart. Does this mean that I will agree with everything you do? Absolutely not. It just simply says that I love you and want blessings for you.

How and why would we ever want to say that about someone that we are divorced from, especially when we did not want the divorce? Because, at this point, it is no longer about me or him. It is now about our children and making life as somewhat normal for them as it can possibly be. I know that there are people out there that will disagree with me, but at this point, it is what it is. We are very soon to be divorced. I have several options. I can hang on to my marriage in a state of despair. I can let go but be angry or bitter. Finally, I can let go and hope for the best for both of us. We both need to be at our best so that we can be our best for our girls.

God is able to do new things in our lives. But I am convinced of two things. First, He cannot do something new until we let go of the past. Secondly, He cannot do this new work in our lives when our hearts are full of anger and bitterness.

So once again I will say, ""I give you permission to leave, to be gone from my life forever. I don't want you to go, but I want you to be happy. If you have to leave, I understand. You have my love and my blessings whatever you do. I let you go." This time, I ALMOST mean it!

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?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19 (New International Version)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When the Waves Turn Into Tsunamis

Tonight I just can't be perky. I have discussed "waves of grief" in previous blogs. Today has been a difficult day. There are just some days when it is hard. Early in the day I was thinking that it almost seemed like work trying to be happy. I kept having to constantly tell myself again and again that it was a good day, and I have so much for which to be thankful.

The girls and I traveled to Slapout. We just love it here and have had several wonderful trips in recent months. Tonight, however, was a first. I went back to Cain's Chapel. This was where Jason and I served in ministry for six years. I have been in Slapout on Sundays before but just could not bring myself to go back. We spent six wonderful years there. I smile as I think about it. Truly, it was our Camelot. There were ups and downs, as there always are in life. But, overall, it was a time that I look back on wistfully.

Cain's Chapel was having their summer Vacation Bible School. There was so much activity and fun taking place. I walked into the "hospitality room." The church members provide snacks for the workers. One of the young adult males was teasing some of the older ladies about Facebook. He told her he was going to post her picture as his Friday night date. There was so much laughter. It was just like old times, but then again, it was not. In the old times Jason would have been there with me. We were a team, and we made a good one. I laughed along with everyone, and truly it did feel good to laugh. But the memories were haunting.

I walked down the hallway and saw pictures of Jason at the "Baptism at Bonner's." I noticed walls that we painted ourselves, along with a few other church members. I walked by the Welcome Center. I remember when we decided that we should add that. We talked about how it would fit. Then I went into the old sanctuary. That was when not just a "wave of grief" hit; this time, it was a Tsunami.

The sanctuary was dark, and I sat on the front row. My girls had been at my side the whole night. I guess it is a little awkward for them to go back. I asked them if they could give me some time. I sat on that front row and cried as I have not cried in over two months. I can close my eyes and in an instant go back in my mind to our time there. I can see Jason standing up there. It was a smaller, more informal church. Inevitably, he would forget something, and he would ask me to clarify. He would always make a joke about it. He has this uncanny ability to turn anything around and make people laugh about it. Tonight I grieved deeply over those memories. I took the book of our life off the shelf, and I immersed myself in it. I did not hold the memories loosely. I took them all in and experienced them as if they had happened yesterday.

I called a friend. I hoped she could give me some insight to help me through this. She simply said, "It is just something that you have to get through, Amy." So I allowed myself time to mourn.

Since we left, the new sanctuary has been completed. We left in June 2007, and it was completed in July 2007. I tried to walk into that sanctuary, but it was locked. It was probably for the best. I thought of all the work that went into building that sanctuary. There was the pledge drive. Amazingly, that was such an exciting time. There was a buzz all over the church about people investing in the future. Then there were the plans and meetings, meetings, and more meetings. The sanctuary was almost completed when we left, but we did not get the chance to see it come to fruition.

It reminded me in a sense of our marriage. Twenty-one years of hard work were put into this marriage. There were difficult times, but there were so many good times. But it was over before we saw it to completion. I think it was good that I didn't go into the new sanctuary tonight. I think it would have been too harsh a reminder of what should have been.

Finally, my girls came back in. My heart was still heavy, but my tears had stopped. We went and watched the closing of Bible School. So how am I feeling now? I am nostalgic. I am longing for something past. But I know that it is just that. It is past and to be no more. I will not stay in this place, but for now I have to allow myself to grieve.

Tomorrow, I will dance, but for tonight I need to mourn.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
New Living Translation

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reconnecting with Old Friends

Tomorrow I am headed to Slapout! It is the nice little country community that we lived in before moving here. We spent six years there. Anna was six, and Lily was eight when we moved there. When they think of home, they think of Slapout.

I am going to visit some friends from the past. We have to be wise when we go into the world of divorce. But the one thing that I think we cannot do wrong is to reconnect with old friends. I was thinking about this just the other day. When you make a friend, there is a reason that person is drawn to you and wants to be your friend. Through reestablishing these friendships, I think that we can find those traits about ourselves that we have somehow lost along the way. This is critical in the process of being made whole again.

Last week I spent the morning with a friend from college that I had not seen in about fifteen years. It was such a good time! She reminded me of how strong I was back then. When I go to Slapout, I will enjoy "game night" with some old friends. We have not done that in over three years. It will be good to remember what it was like when that competitive streak in me comes out. Friday I will have lunch with two friends that I have not been around in about ten years. They were friends that I always laughed and had so much fun with in the past. We are having lunch at the Bass Pro Shop in Prattville. Afterwards they want to go upstairs to the shooting range. I am sure that through my time with them, I will remember what it was like to just have good fun and laugh like a school girl.

Friendships truly are a gift from God. When we lose ourselves and our definition, they still see it in us and help us find that which we've lost.

"Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble." Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10 (New Living Translation)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It's a great, big scary world out there!

We have a new kitten. Her name is Nala. She is full of so much mischief. Every nook and cranny inside this house has been explored by Nala. One minute she is climbing to the top of the artificial ficus tree. The next minute she is climbing the curtains so that she can play with the cords to the blinds. Last night she discovered the doorstop. She found out that it makes a really neat noise when you hit it. Today she decided to perch herself on top of a lamp.

On top of all these neat things to explore, she has a plethora of toys with which to play. She gets fed on a regular basis, and she even gets to sleep in the bed with us at night. Life inside this house is really good for Nala. She has everything she needs in this house, but she thinks there is more. Every single time that I take LuLu out to potty, she longs to go outdoors. She will watch out the window of the door just pleading to go outside.

When I come back inside, she is always trying to sneak out. I tell her, "Nala, it is a great, big, scary world out there. You just need to stay inside where it is safe."

Yesterday I decided to show her the great, big scary world. I carried her outside. She was utterly terrified. She started trying to climb up me. When I walked back inside, I felt her little heart, and it was pounding. She got a little taste of that world and was very afraid.

But I know our little Nala all too well. It would not take her any time to get over her fear. She is so curious and adventurous. I know that in no time she would be exploring the endless outdoors. I am sure that she would climb the fence and be off to see what she could find. What she doesn't realize is that there are so many things out there that could harm her. There are snakes, wild cats, and mean dogs, just to name a few. Her curiosity could lead her into great danger. So at least until she is a little older, we will keep her in the safety of the house.

Months ago, when I started this unplanned journey, I felt as if I had stepped outside into the great, big, scary world. I had always known my safe world. I had everything I needed in that world to be happy. But unfortunately, I had to step outside of that safe place. I had to step into the scary world. At first I was terrified. I will never survive out here. There are so many dangers and unknowns. What do I do? Whom do I trust?

Then, with time, I become more comfortable with this new world. This is when I have to be really careful. There are many things out there that would offer me happiness. But I must be wise and discerning. There are some things that could give me happiness temporarily, but in reality they are dangerous. Nala might see a snake with which to play. She might find this snake entertaining. But then that same entertaining snake could kill her in a moment's time.

For those of us who are traveling this journey, we just need to be careful. I know we are lonely. I know there are days that are difficult to get through. But we cannot fall into the trap of allowing the things of the world to try to satisfy the emptiness.

When Nala is older and wiser, I will allow her to go outside. She will then know where her home is, and she will be more wise to the dangers. For those of us who are on this unplanned journey, we MUST be wise. We must make good choices. We must seek God and seek Godly friends. There are many really good things out in this new world. We must look for those things. We must surround ourselves with people who will help guide us in the right direction.

Right now I am writing this with my computer in my lap. Little Nala is sleeping soundly on my chest, purring loudly. She is safe, and all is well. If you are traveling the journey with me, don't run away from God, seeking your own adventures in the dangerous world. Crawl up in your Heavenly Father's lap and rest in Him. How do we do this? I think the message paraphrase of Romans 12:2 says it best.

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I believe in teenagers.

So many are so concerned about this generation of teenagers. Now I will admit that teaching them on a daily basis has caused me to have some concern. But doesn't that happen with every generation? In my unplanned journey it was many of today's teenagers who gave me the encouragement that I needed to make it through the day.

When I started this journey back in January, I missed three days of school. I am never absent, so my students knew that something was wrong. When I came back to school, I was bombarded with questions. Where were you? Were you sick? Is something wrong? (As adults we know to give each other space. We know something is going on, but that person will tell us when he is ready. This is not the case with teenagers. They have no qualms about finding out the answers.) I told them that I was okay. It is not professional to tell students your personal problems. I have never done that, and I certainly was not going to start now. I told them that I had some "family stuff" with which I had to deal. They finally let it drop - until I was absent again. Here came the questions again. One student said, "Mrs. Adams, we have been together for two years now. You can tell us what is going on." I just smiled and got them off the subject.

I was absent from school on three different occasions for a total of eight days. At this point my coworkers knew something was going on. During my third absence period I finally shared with them in an e-mail what was happening. I think telling people that you are going through a divorce is one of the most difficult parts. It brings such a finality to the whole process. It was good that I finally shared with them. They rallied around me in a quiet and unobtrusive way. I am so thankful for the amazing people with whom I am blessed to work.

I came back to school after that third absence period. After a few days back at the very end of class, one of my students pulled up a stool in front of my desk and sat down on it. The conversation went something like this.

"Mrs. Adams, we have to talk."


"So this morning I went on your facebook to remind you to bring me the Mental Floss magazine since you never remember." (Mental Floss is a really neat magazine full of all types of trivia. I would bring it to school and share with the students. They loved it. I could not remember to bring the last issue to school!) "Now, Mrs. Adams, something really major is going on in your life. It looks like a reverend has blessed your facebook page. Everybody is praying for you."

I took a big deep breath. I don't want to say what I am about to say. It puts the last nail in the coffin of my marriage, and it breaks my heart once again. But I have to accept what is and move forward.

"I am getting a divorce."

He said he was so sorry and quietly left. No more questions. No more prying. They knew what they needed to know.

Of course, word got out quickly among the students. Not one of them approached me and asked for details. But the way that they responded to me told me that they knew. I am sitting here crying as I write this. Those kids rallied around me. Now don't think they are perfect angels. They were still up to their mischief. They still complained that we had to work every day! But, they let me know that they cared about me, and they were so sorry for what I was going through.

My girls would leave sticky notes on my desk.

"I love you, Mrs. Adams."

"You're the greatest teacher ever."

Those notes would always come at a time when I needed them the most. One of my students from the previous year came walking in one day with a doughnut. "Here, Mrs. Adams. This is for you." Her teacher told me that she asked during class if she could take it to me. He said she had been worried because I had lost weight, and she wanted to take me something really fattening.

At the end of the school year, my coworker shared something with me. He said that after the students found out, they came to him. They asked him what they could do to help. I loved his response. He said, "The best thing you can do is just be nice and good in class and let her teach. She has enough stress right now in life. So just make the teaching part of her days easier."

Through this whole process I found a renewed hope in teenagers. Now don't get me wrong. They can still drive you just about crazy! They can be self absorbed. They can be moody. They can argue with you for days on end about nothing. And they do blow everything completely out of proportion. But they have hearts the size of Mt. Rushmore. My students opened up their hearts to me this year and poured out love and encouragement that I needed at a very dark time in my life. In the midst of all of this, they still learned a whole lot of algebra and geometry. They showed their stuff on the FCAT!

At the end of one day, I found a note on my podium under my books. It came from my one of my tenth grade girls.

"Mrs. Adams, Your super pretty and its his lose. Your strong and you'll learn from this. We're here for you and we love you."

They didn't know any of the details of my divorce, and they did not need to. They knew that their teacher came in and smiled and taught every day like she always did. But they knew that even though their teacher was smiling, she was hurting. They wanted to make it better, and they did.

"Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity."
1 Timothy 4:12

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Losing Your Definition

My friend has a dog, Ellie. I mentioned her in an earlier blog. She is a miniature dachshund. Well, she is supposed to be miniature. She weighs about fifteen pounds. Her veterinarian says she has lost her definition. She doesn't exactly have the shape that she should have. Just last night as I started writing this blog, my friend's daughter sent me a text with the following picture and note:

"Ellie's weight gain caused her to not be able to wear her cute outfits anymore. This was as far as it was able to go."

Poor Ellie. As I began to think about that, I thought to myself that I can relate to Ellie. I sometimes feel like I have "lost my definition" in life. I do not mean physically, but emotionally and socially. Anyone will tell you that going through a divorce is one of the quickest ways to find yourself right in the middle of an enormous identity crisis.

For twenty-one years, I was Jason's wife. I was a minister's wife for fifteen of those years. Now what? That part of my life is no more, and that was such a big part of what defined me. Now I must redefine myself to some extent. I am slowly discovering who this Amy is, and I am finding that while some things have changed, most have not.

Some things are different but still the same:

I am no longer Jason's wife, but I am still his friend and the mother of his children. I parent two amazing girls along with him. We work together, just as we always have, to help them be the very best that they can be.

I am no longer a minister's wife, but I am still a disciple of Christ. I will no longer attend District Christmas parties or Annual Conference. But there are many things that I did as a minister's wife that I still do. Just last week, I sang and spoke at a funeral. I was not their pastor's wife. I was just a good friend of the family. But the words, the song, and the way that I ministered to the family were the same.

Some things have not changed at all:

I am a daughter and a sister. I have an amazing family that loves me unconditionally and allows me to make my own way in this journey.

I am a friend. I love many, and I am loved by many.

I am a teacher. I have the privilege of working with some really neat students who have been a great source of help and encouragement during my journey. I like to think that I have made a difference in their lives as well.

The beauty of all of these things is that through the last six months, I have seen how precious and necessary these relationships are. I do not think that I could not have gotten through these difficult times without each one of the groups mentioned above.

One thing has changed greatly:

I am a survivor. My world was turned upside down and inside out. I went through and continue to go through the fire, but I am coming out on the other side. Am I unscathed? No. I was broken, and God is rebuilding me still. There is a quote by Barbara Bloom that a friend shared with me.

"When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something's suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful."

It is my prayer that God would fill all my cracks with His love, His mercy, His grace, and His goodness. Then no longer will my "definition" by lost! I will not be the same as before, but the beauty is that I can be ever stronger, wiser, and better.

I will bring that group through the fire
and make them pure.
I will refine them like silver
and purify them like gold.
They will call on my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘These are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The L
ord is our God."
Zechariah 13:9

When the Circle Ends

There are things that you have to face with divorce about which you never thought. I remember when I decided to stop wearing my wedding ring. I had worn that ring for twenty-one years. Every summer there was a white "tan line" on that finger. If you look at my ring finger, you will still see the indention from where the ring was. I remember when the ring was placed on my finger. The minister held up the ring and said, "The wedding ring is a circle unending, and so shall their love ever be."

I never thought that I would be taking that ring off my finger permanently. I kept it on for two months into the divorce process. But one day I realized that every time I looked down at my ring, I was reminded of the circle unending. I grieved deeply for that love that I thought I would have until my dying day. But I just couldn't bring myself to take it off. I knew that when I took that ring off, I was officially saying that it was over, and I was not ready to do that.

When this journey started, I missed several days of school. I am never absent, so my students knew that something was not right. I heard one say, "Do you think there is trouble with her marriage?" The other one said, "I don't think so. She still has on her ring."

One day in the spring I was at a textbook adoption workshop. There were probably twenty other teachers in the room. I remember looking around during the break at everyone's ring finger. Every single person in the room was wearing a wedding ring. I could not believe it! I thought to myself that if I were truly honest with where I am in life, I would be the only person here without a ring.

Finally, I remember looking at that ring one day and thinking to myself, "It is time." The marriage was over. I had the papers that said, "This marriage is irrevocably broken." So the ring now represents something that no longer exists. I had originally thought that I would wear that ring forever. But I realized that this was not healthy in my process of moving on. I went to the girls and said, "I need to quit wearing my wedding ring. Every time that I look at it, I am reminded of what is no more. It is not healthy to keep focusing on that." They understood, and I took off the ring.

There is no great wisdom to offer in this blog. (Of course, if there ever is great wisdom, it is not coming from me, but through the ONE who is working through me.) This blog speaks to three different groups.

1. First, there are those who are traveling the same journey I am. Just know that there are others who understand what you are going through. But life goes on, and we will get through this.

2. Secondly, there are those who are still wearing rings and are still so committed to the promises that are represented by those rings. I am so thankful for you guys. I have so many friends that are in great marriages. I thank God for you all. I told a sweet friend last night that she and her husband give me hope that "happily ever after" still exists. If you are reading this today, go to your partners just as soon as you can and tell them how thankful you are for them. Tell them that you love them and are so honored to wear this ring that represents your vows to one another.

3. There are those who are still wearing the rings, but thinking, "Do I really want to be in this relationship anymore?" PLEASE, for those of you who know me well, DO NOT let my story cause you to doubt your marriage. If you are struggling in your marriage, please don't use my journey and the fact that we did not "make it" as a reason to get out. Thank God for your marriage. Go home today and recommit to Him and one another.

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8

Footnote: Please know that I am not encouraging anyone to stay in an abusive marriage. There are times when it is very damaging to one's self and the children involved to stay in a marriage. If that is you, please seek help from someone who is trained and equipped to help you through this desperate time.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Give God the Eraser

"What are you going to do now?" Anyone who has been through a divorce knows this is the one question that comes up in almost every conversation. I can tell you one thing. The answer to that question has changed frequently in the last six months. Should I move home where I grew up? Should I move back to Slapout? (Yes, that is a place. Our family lived there for six years, and my girls still think of that place as home.) Should stay where I am? Should I move to a completely new place and start over? My girls and I have considered every one of those options at one point or the other.

Now let me tell you something about myself. I am a planner. I want to know where I am going to be and what I am going to be doing five years from now. I just feel like I can handle things quite well if I know what to expect. Then I can just sit back and enjoy the ride!

Well, by now you know that I like to look at my "options." This time, it seems as if I have two options.

First, I could go to a fortune teller and find out what my future holds. There is a little shop right on the way to the beach. Maybe I will just stop by there the next time I go that way. I can find out all the answers to my questions!

I hope that you know that I am not serious about this. We all know that no one knows the future except God! So really, I only have ONE option in this case. That is to trust God with my future and take one day at a time. Of course, here is the dilemma. I cannot just sit and twiddle my thumbs waiting for God to drop a sign from the sky every day telling me what to do. So I have to seek Him through prayer and advice from Godly friends. Then I have to make a decision.

For now, after much prayer and consideration, we will stay where we are for the next year. Tentatively, we plan to stay here at least for three years until the girls both graduate. But who knows? For now, we will take it year by year and see what God has in store for us.

My friend gave me a great quote today. She said, "Make your plans in pencil, and give God the eraser." I like that. That is what I will do. His plans are the best anyway, and I know that He has good things in store for me and my girls.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."
Jeremiah 29:11 (New Living Translation)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The story isn't over.

I was sitting with one of my coworkers, Benji, at a recent seminar. During the break we started chatting about life. I was telling him that one of my daughters has been reading during almost all of her free time. Just the night before, she wrote down all the books that she had read. We discovered that she had read at least seventeen books in since January. (It was now May.) I also remembered that she had started reading at the beginning of our "unplanned journey." I was sharing this with Benji because I thought that there must be something or some reason that she was pouring herself into these books. Benji is only in his thirties, but he is very wise beyond his years. Without hesitation he said, "She is reading everything she can get her hands on because these stories are safe. They all have good endings. You see, she thinks her story is over. Life suddenly changed for her and that is the end of her story and the ending was tragic. So now it is just safer for her to read books. Contrary to her life, these stories all have good endings." He then went on to say, "But, if she can only grasp the idea that her story is not over -- that the story of her life is still being written, and what she needs to understand is that Christ can help her write a beautiful story with a great ending."

He then went on to tell me about a blog that he had written about that very idea and later shared the blog with me. It touched my heart deeply. I am so thankful for it and have gone back and read it again many times. I want to share his words with you in hopes that they will help you as they have helped me.

Don't judge a book by its cover, judge a story by its ending.
Author: Benji Pappal (February 2006)
The blog was actually the end of a speech Benji had given at a Junior/Senior Banquet two years earlier.

I've never understood why all filmakers and writer aren't Christians. They are constantly writing awesome stories that have happy endings to them. The characters all fit, and the ending makes sense, but why should we dream of stories such as these? Why do we yearn for this type of tale?

Is this the way our stories are? Do we see more happy endings, or tragic endings? Actually, we see more pointless endings. Life seems a random series of pointless events. People live, people die, but what really happens?

I saw a quote that really made me start to think about this. Aristotle once said, "Epics are about people better than us, and comedies are about people that are worse than us; but tragedies are about people that are just like us."

Humans were not meant to write their own stories, because we write only tragedies. We write our lives in a way that causes a recurring theme, and that theme is 'What might have been.' We may write a story that looks good in chapter five, but by the end the plot comes crashing down and the characters fall apart. Just like Romeo and Juliet, which looks good for a while but ends in sadness; so is the story of our lives. Doomed to be nothing but a tragic tale for others to read.

That's if we write it.

But what if we let Christ write it? What if the author of all.....the ultimate story teller, the eternal weaver of tales.....what if He were to write our life? What if we gave the pen over to Him? What if we allowed Him to write the title, and the chapters, and the plot, and the characters? What type of story could He tell?

A much better one.

He will write an epic, a story of such majesty and hope that it will inspire all who watch our story unfold, and countless others who only hear of the tale. He will fill it with characters and twists to intrigue and excite even the dullest of imaginations. Pain there will be, hard times too; but that won't matter because it will make sense. It will be the ultimate classic to us, one of our favorites, because it will be our own.

But we have to give the pen over to Him. We have to let Him write the tale. He must be the final author of all we do. There is no half way. For Him to write the beautiful story that is to be ours, we must give all that is ours over to Him. The pen must go into His hands, and what He writes will be our lives. Because even if chapter five looks really bad, the final chapter will be an ending beyond belief.

I know not the plot, nor the characters, that is to be your life, or even my own; but this I know: His stories are always the best; trust Him with the pen, and you won't ever regret that you did.

There is absolutely nothing more that I could add to this.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hold On Loosely

This blog is going to be difficult to write, but I need to work through what I am feeling tonight.

I had such a great time at the beach this week. Being with my daughters is always entertaining! I am so blessed to have them. Spending time with my good friend was therapeutic as well. And I had the opportunity to make some new friends.

But it was not the same, and it never will be. The beach is one of those places that holds so many precious memories. Even when we did not live near the beach, we often vacationed there as a family. I can still see the girls and their dad out at night with their flashlights looking for "fibbler" crabs. (That was what Anna called them.) There were sand castles galore in those years. Those two little girls would be covered in sand from head to toe as they posed for pictures with their creations. Of course, no trip was complete without being buried in the sand with only their little heads sticking out. But my favorite memory of all is to watch them running down the beach ahead of us. I can close my eyes and still see their little footprints in the sand.

Those little girls are now teenagers. The tiny footprints in the sand are just a memory. And now, that family of the four of us together is just a memory as well. So what do I do with those precious memories? As I sit on the beautiful beach with my girls and my friends, it seems that I have three options.

1. I can try to erase the memories from my mind. I just WILL NOT think about them at all. They make me sad, and I do not want to be sad, so I will just put that part of my life behind me and move forward. Let's just make new memories and forget about those. Now we all know that is not practical. Those are treasured moments in time. Who would want to forget those little footprints?

2. I can dwell on those memories and that wonderful family that no longer exists. I can spend all my time grieving for that family. This option is not healthy either. We know where this one leads. It leads to "the dark place," and I cannot let myself go there.

3. In the words of one of my favorite '80s song, I can "Hold On Loosely." As I sit on the beach, I see many beautiful sights. There is a little girl with curls drawing in the sand. I look at her and smile. That could have been Lily at three years old. Later in the day I watch a sassy little one stomp her foot and demand her way. I chuckle to myself. That could have been my strong willed Anna at the end of a long day. In the late afternoon I see a sweet young couple holding hands as they walk down the beach behind their two children. I smile as I watch them. That could have been us years ago. We were like these families, and it was good. As I recall all these treasures in my mind of days past, I am thankful. But I will hold on loosely to the memories. I will think of them, be thankful for them, and then let them go. This is the healthy option, and this is what I choose to do.

That was one book of my life, but the last chapter has been written. I have put that book away on a shelf. I will take it out from time to time and read some of the chapters. But then I will put it away and be about the business of writing my new book. This week's chapter was all about a single mother at the beach with her two beautiful daughters. She enjoyed time with old friends and she even made some new friends. She and her daughters laughed a lot. It was good. Yes, the first book of my life could have been a best seller, but this one is shaping up to be a great read as well!

The point is this. Once again, it comes to choices. I choose to cherish the sweet memories but to hold them loosely. I choose to live in this moment, not the past, and make this new journey in life be the very best that it can be.

I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.
Philippians 3:12-13 (The Message)

My goat is tied out back, thank you!

We have one dog, LuLu and one gluttonous cat, Nala. I am dogsitting my friend's dog, Ellie. If a bird flies by the window, Ellie and Lulu have to alert every dog within three miles. And just the time they get settled down, Nala decides that it is time to antagonize them. She draws the line in the sand, crosses it, smacks them, and then runs and hides under something where they cannot get to her. They just stand there and bark at her, while she looks back smugly daring them to try to get her. Finally, she will dart out, and it becomes a three-ring circus. They start running circles around the house. Then Nala, once again, decides to annoy them some more! She shows off her vertical skills that they are seriously lacking. (Especially, poor Ellie, since she is a little on the chubby side. But please don't tell her. She has a few social issues, and we don't want to make it worse.) So Nala will either sail ever so gracefully through the air, or she will use her furniture climbing skills. One way or the other, she will end up on a perch to which they can only dream of going. Once again, she has provoked them into a state of sheer frustration. The barking goes on and on and on! As if all this were not enough, the ultimate goading comes when LuLu and Ellie get put into their corral. Nala can either climb over the corral, or she can squeeze through the panels. You know what's coming! She goes inside, stirs them up, and then darts out. I swear, in animal language she is standing outside the corral saying, " guys are in jail and I am not!" As I watch these crazy animals, I cannot help but think of the old saying, "They are trying to get your goat!" Over and over again, Ellie and LuLu open themselves up and let this little two pound kitten "get their goat."

I started thinking about that saying and wondered where it came from. According to Wikipedia, this is the answer to that question.

"I believe the expression 'to get your goat' has its origins in horse racing.
Race horses are very high-strung animals. Goats are often used as companion animals, to keep a horse calm. Someone wanting to fix a race would slip into the barn the night before the race, steal the goat, then an upset, distracted horse would run a bad race. Hence, if you are upset and not at your best, it is said that 'someone has gotten your goat.'"

As I watch these animals with amusement, I cannot help but think of how we do this ourselves. Why is it that over and over again, we let people "get our goat"? You know, all Ellie and LuLu would have to do is walk away, and the amusement would be over for Nala. Nala would be left alone with no one to annoy. But they just cannot walk away. They will stand there and bark for fifteen minutes as Nala basks in her glory!

You know sometimes in life, we just need to "walk away." Or better yet, we should look the other person in the eye, say, "I know you are trying to get my goat, but my goat is tied out back, and you cannot have it," and then walk away! There are just some times that friendships are more harmful than good. We need to be able to recognize that and, as lovingly as possible, distance ourselves.

Another one of my favorite verses is Romans 12:18. I want to share a couple of different versions.

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. (New Living Translation)

If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. (The Message)

Sometimes, we just don't have it in us, and the best thing is to just go get your goat and walk away!

PLEASE HEAR THIS: This blog has was absolutely NOT written about divorce. I do not believe that we should walk away from marriage! I am relating it to FRIENDSHIPS that can sometimes be dysfunctional. Also, please don't think that I am talking about a friend in my life. It was just an enlightening moment for me that was inspired by three crazy animals.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

In a Relationship!

One of the highlights of my days when I am at school is sitting around the table at lunch with fellow teachers. In the beginning of the year, we had to sit at real lunchroom tables. You know the ones. They have those little round seats. You have to be six and weigh fifty pounds to fit on them! We were so thrilled the day that our principal got us a "real" table with "real" big people chairs.

I would usually eat lunch with about four women and four men. We are all from different walks of life. When I was in the "dark place," I did not eat with them for about six weeks. They all knew something was wrong. Different ones would stick their head in my door. "You okay, Adams?" "Yes, I am fine," I lied. Why do we wait so long to reach out to people for help? Why are we so bound and determined to do things on our own? With me, I think that I was holding out that all of this would just "go away," and life would go back to normal. I could once again join them at the lunch table as the happy one who was always smiling.

Well, life didn't go back to normal. Finally, I came to the day that I knew I needed to go join them again. No one asked where I had been. No one pried. They just gave me my space and let me sit quietly. Slowly, over time, I began to talk. At first our talks were very serious. They listened. They sympathized. They did not judge. As the weeks passed, we started drawing closer to the end of the school year. The gravity of my situation was finally beginning to lift a little. I could feel myself slowly pulling out of the "dark place." Finally, I could sit at the lunch table, and once again we could laugh.

One day when we were sitting there, the dean looked at me. He said, "Adams, I have been divorced. Let me prepare you for what is coming next. Everybody and their brother is going to try to set you up with somebody." Are you kidding me??? I have been married to the love of my life for twenty-one years, and people would honestly think that I want to go that route anytime in the remotely near future??? He said, "Just wait."

Well, people have been gracious and not pushed too hard, but I have gotten plenty of advice about finding the "next relationship."

- "Before you date, check the bank account. Marry for money. Do nothing all day and drive a Lexus." (From a fellow male teacher...He went on to say, "Heck, that's what I would do if I was a woman. You can get used to ugly.")

- "Take your time. You need to give yourself at least a year to find yourself." (From several friends who had been in a similar situation.)

- "Okay, as soon as you're ready, I got a great guy to set you up with. He's a really nice guy, and he drives a Mercedes. (This was from my dear friend's husband. What is it with men and cars??)

And I think my favorite one was:
- "Take a bus trip; that is where I found my man." (From my "older" twisted sister, Ellen.)

On a serious note, my very wise friend whom I mentioned in an earlier blog gave me the best advice yet. She said, "Amy, it is now over." Gosh, I still can't stand to hear those words. Sometimes I am still in denial and find myself thinking that it is all really a very bad dream. But she is right. It is over. She then went on to say, "Now, let God be your husband."

What does it mean to let God be your husband? I have pondered that, and here is the best answer that I can discern. I read a quote recently that said, "A divorce is like an amputation; you survive it, but there is less of you." By making God my husband, he can help me rebuild those missing parts and make me into the person that he wants me to be. I think all too many times, people look to human relationships to restore what was destroyed. Just hang with me a minute. I am not saying that we cannot go on and have other relationships. I am sure that some day I will get to that point. But right now I am broken. I do not need to look to a person to "fix me." God needs to do that. Then down the road, when I am whole again, who knows? To me, that is what it means to "make God my husband."

So for now, my Facebook status could be "in a relationship"...with God! And there is one thing about which I am certain. This is exactly where I need to be. So to all the cupids out there...maybe one day! For now, you are going to have a pretty hard time setting me up with someone as perfect as the guy I have!

Isaiah 54:4-5 (New Living Translation)

“Fear not; you will no longer live in shame.
Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you.
You will no longer remember the shame of your youth
and the sorrows of widowhood.
For your Creator will be your husband;
the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name!
He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,
the God of all the earth."