Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Fork in the Road

I come from a long line of Christians. Because of such a godly heritage, I never considered divorce would touch my family. I had been taught that God hates divorce--that couples can work through anything with Christ’s help. My plan was to raise the kids who would probably grow up to be in some type of ministry. Then we’d spend our empty nest years spoiling the grandkids, celebrating holidays at large family reunions, and planning vacations together with everyone. I assumed I’d grow old with the wife of my youth—sitting grey-haired on a front porch swing, reminiscing about the decades of our life together. I didn't know my wife was having affairs. I thought we were fine.
Once she filed for divorce it all crashed in on me. Over the next few months my life was consumed with lawyer consultations, comforting my children, looking for an apartment, and discovering which friends were hers or mine. All the while I continued to hope for the best.
Some days I was in denial, other days angry or depressed. I felt challenged in my manhood and self-worth. Nightmares of my wife with other men interrupted my sleep. During the day, I was consumed with thoughts of my kids climbing into another man’s lap, enjoying a better life with a guy who had won them over somehow. I imagined this man moving into my home and kissing my children goodnight. In these vain imaginations he was younger, stronger, better looking, and richer than I could ever be. I couldn’t keep my thoughts captive, and it ate away at my ability to reason properly.
My crisis came to a head one terrible Sunday night wile returning my kids to their mother. As I arrived, I noticed the lights were out. Although her car was there, no one seemed to be home. We sat in the driveway and I dialed her mobile. Perhaps she had walked over to a neighbor’s house for a moment.
Before I could finish dialing, a black convertible Jaguar pulled up to the curb. The passenger door opened and the interior light revealed my wife and the driver inside, a handsome, much younger man. Not yet noticing us, she leaned over and kissed him, got out, then waved goodbye. In a flash, he was gone. She noticed my vehicle and froze.
What just happened?
I sat there, in the darkness of my vehicle as my jaw dropped. In these months leading up to our court date—even with the nightmares—I remained hopeful that we’d be able to salvage our marriage. I never considered my fears might materialize even before the divorce was final. Did he know she was still my wife? How dare he? My stomach hurt and my throat went dry. I was trembling and getting tunnel vision.
My children saw it all and one of them asked, “Who was that Daddy?”
The question snapped me out of my stupor. “I don’t know kids, but you need to go—Mommy’s here.” I rushed them out of the car without saying goodbye and squealed the tires as I left. I wanted to catch that guy.
In the rearview mirror of my dented mini-van, I saw my wife and children standing in the middle of the front yard in confusion. Tears welled up under my eyes and began to drop as I beat my fists against the steering wheel. Then I screamed out, “What is this! What are you doing, God?
I could hardly see to drive, but I knew this home-wrecker could only be a few blocks ahead of me. I was gaining on him, but I was uncertain exactly what I would do when I caught him. Scenarios ran through my head—maybe I would run up to his vehicle with a crowbar and start breaking his headlights. Then I’d pull him out of the car and punch his face over and over again until no one could recognize him. Perhaps I’d take the high road and, like a gentleman, calmly ask him to leave my wife alone. Maybe I’d even share the gospel with him…or just kick him with my steel-toed boots right in his crotch! Yeah, the low road seemed more fulfilling.
As I turned a corner I saw him only a few blocks ahead of me—in that stupid convertible. How impractical. He slowed, and, ignoring the stop sign, turned left at a crossroads ahead of me, away from town. I rolled up to the T-intersection trying to calm down. My hands were tingling and numb. As I looked at the fork ahead of me I had a revelation. I was in trouble. Smoke was pouring out of my life, and I could no longer deny that my marriage and my heart had thrown a rod. I had a choice to make. I could turn right, go home, and abandon the chase, or I could turn left and continue chasing after…what?
I wiped my nose on my sleeve and turned right.

So let me ask you, although we can’t always protect our kids from everything in life, what are some ways you can protect your children from seeing or hearing things above their comprehension level? Would love to hear your responses.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Those Flashing Lights

I was nineteen—old enough to know better. My yellow Maverick was a clunker and needed more attention than I was willing to give. In a hurry to get to work, I cranked the engine, threw the car into reverse, checked my mirrors, and backed out into the street. I turned on my favorite Hall and Oates tunes and raced through town.  Over the music, I never heard the steady ding ding ding and the red light flashing on the control panel. However, once I got on the highway, I noticed the smoke pouring out from under the hood. By then it was too late. The engine block had cracked. I learned a valuable lesson that day—glance at my dashboard from time to time.
Now jump with me 10 years ahead.
 My friend Rick made a similar mistake in his personal life. He overlooked the warning signals of an impending disaster.
He whined, “It takes 80 percent of my paycheck for child support. I have to move in with my sister. It’s not right, man. It's oppressive. I’m already a month behind and my ex is complaining that she can’t afford school supplies for Heather.”
Society might call Rick a deadbeat dad, but they didn't know all the facts. He had been a decent Christian father for years. He brought his daughter up in church, attended her recitals, clothed and fed her well. But when his marriage ended, he found himself paying a mortgage for a house he no longer lived in and paying court-ordered child support far above the standard of living he had provided for his daughter prior to the divorce.
Over the following months I saw him become bitter and resentful toward his ex-wife as well as the courts. When he turned to his church for moral support, he was met with indifference. After a while he stopped going to church. He began drinking more and visiting his daughter less and less. Rick eventually lost his job, was arrested for a DUI, and lost all visitation rights with his daughter. Within five years, he had become exactly what society had labeled him: a deadbeat dad.
His trouble wasn’t the lack of income. It wasn’t the fault of Rick’s ex-wife or his church. It wasn’t even his drinking. The root issue was that Rick refused to stop and look at some warning signs. He never checked his dashboard to see that his forgiveness gauge was in the red. Had Rick noticed these issues early on, he might have been able to avoid a disaster.
As I went through my own divorce, I often forgot to add the oil of gladness to the squeaks that annoyed me. I forgot, at times, to filter my tongue or take time for something as simple as refueling. Sometimes the engine light was flashing like crazy, but I was too busy staring into my rearview mirror, fixating on past events I could not change.

What is your initial response or cycle of thought when things spin out of control? How do you usually react to these “breakdowns” in your life?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Control Freak

I hate carpools. If I agree to share a ride to work, this means I give up control to some degree—especially if I’m not the driver. After all, what if I want to grab a coffee at the drive-thru? What if I need to leave work early? There have been times when I decided to forgo the blessing of fellowship just so I could be the one in control.
At times I’m a control freak, or least I can be when I’m not moving in the power of the Holy Spirit. When I allow my Lord to take the wheel, things suddenly become much more organized and manageable.
Driving around town can be a lot like my life when the Lord is not in control. I encounter self-imposed stimuli like the radio, conversations with my six-year-old, the temperature in the car, the GPS chatting at me, my cup of coffee calling for my attention, and my smart phone ringing.
But there’s more. I also have outside complications. Aggressive drivers whip in and out of my lane. Traffic cones, school zones, and potholes mock me along with a million traffic signs, which I must immediately recognize by shape and color and then obey. Sometimes it’s even raining.
I have an ongoing battle with my pride. I often tend to work out my problems on my own, without asking Jesus for help. My family of origin taught me independence was a desirable trait to strive for. My childhood circumstances and most of my young-adult years reinforced this. I learned I could not rely on people to help me in certain situations. This has at times hindered my dependence on God. I need to be deliberate in chasing after and killing my independence. Without Christ I can do nothing. I might try to fix circumstances on my own. It might even work out okay. However, this isn’t biblical and it doesn't reflect a heart of trust or reliance on God. Taking the wheel from God is a huge mistake. Each time I try to move in my own skills—my know-how—what I’m basically saying is, “God, I don't really believe You can help me. I can do it better.”
I finally learned that a life directed by God was the only way to succeed. This was the only way to be the man of God—the father—He wanted me to be. Still from time to time I want to take the wheel, or at least attempt some back-seat driving, trying to help the journey with a shortcut.
So... what triggers control issues in you?
In what ways have you tried to fix your broken family on your own?

I think I'm lost!

Her name was Babette—Babs for short. She was my first Global Positioning System (GPS), and I loved the way she made my life so easy.
After a few years, however, I noticed I couldn’t always trust her.  One day while I was driving, Babs broke beyond repair. Our relationship was over and I felt, lost.
I grabbed an old map from under my car seat, pulled off the road, and navigated to my destination. This method wasn't as convenient as Babs, but I made it with the help of a good road map.
In a similar manner, my unexpected journey as a single parent also found me lost. I was at a crossroads in my life, and I needed to make a decision. Just a few weeks after my wife and I separated, I realized I had to stop and regroup. I could continue wallowing in my self-pity, eating cups of noodles, and renting movies every night. Or I could man-up, learn how to cook, and spend quality time with my children as often as possible.
I often encounter men who are in various places on the single-dad journey like I was, without a map. They drift from one roadside attraction to another without direction, letting life’s highway take them and their children wherever it wants.
Don't get me wrong—at times I too drifted. I still do sometimes. However, men don’t always have a chance to direct the route life takes them, especially in divorce or the death of a spouse. Despite this, we can still redirect our path and, if need be, pull into a rest area in order to reestablish a game plan. Although outside influences may detour me at times, I never want to embrace a fatalistic attitude about parenting the little ones God entrusted to my care.
So let me ask you right now...why are you reading this blog? What are some of the ways you feel lost when parenting? Tell us about them.
Do you consider yourself a Christ follower? Why or why not?