Holidays have a gift for the grieving

By Heather Walton

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am gong there to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place I am going.” John 14: 1-4

Christmas Tree 2015

 

It’s almost Christmas—the “most wonderful time of the year.” However, for many people, this is a time when grief is highlighted. That special loved one is conspicuously absent in the midst of all the cheer. Perhaps this is the first Christmas without someone special, or perhaps it’s one in a string of many, but that may not lessen the pain. Whether the loved one was lost through death or a falling out, whether that loved one was human or a furry friend, whether a child had been born, unborn, or maybe just longed for, the holiday season can be less merry for you than for those around you.

A few Christmases ago I had just started going through the divorce process, and my kids had to leave to be with their dad’s side of the family at 2 p.m. Christmas Day. Some family and good friends invited me over, because they didn’t want me to be alone. It was so nice of them to include me, but I remember just being miserable and wanting to go home. Here I was, hanging out with families, but I was all alone. I really wasn’t in the Christmas spirit that year, and I was relieved when New Year’s came and went.

 

This year is not like that one for me. This year I am very happily married and I’m looking forward to Christmas. But there is still the heaviness of grief as my would-have-been due date approaches in early January. Honestly, I’m tired of grieving. I keep thinking I’ve turned a corner. But as I wrapped a baby gift for a friend this morning, the heaviness returned. This time of year, there is much to remind me that our baby is gone. We are celebrating the Savior’s birth, and there are a lot of songs about the “Baby” Jesus. Our little girl’s middle name would have been Noelle, and Noel is a popular word at Christmas.

 

But in both of these situations, and in anyone’s situation during a time of grief, the above Scriptures, which I read this morning in my Bible study, apply. In John 14, Jesus was addressing His disciples at the last supper, after He had told them that He would be betrayed and that He was going someplace where they couldn’t follow. Jesus comforted them, telling them that they should trust in Him and that He was going away to prepare a place for them.

 

Heaven is the place to which He referred. In heaven, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). In heaven, there is no death, no divorce, no disease, no miscarriage, no ectopic pregnancy, no separation, no falling out, no sadness, no anger, no bitterness, no grief. In heaven, we will be reunited with many of the loved ones we have lost if they were followers of Christ or if they were children. In heaven, we will not feel the pain of separation or loss. The heaviness I feel over the loss of a child, the loneliness I felt over the loss of a marriage, and whatever grief you may feel over your losses will simply not be there anymore.

 

Jesus has asked us to trust Him on this. Since I have trusted Him with my life and my eternity, this really isn’t asking too much. And just because I choose to trust Him on this, that doesn’t mean that the heaviness is gone.

 

And even if this Christmas is hard for you because you have lost someone precious to you, remember that without Christmas, there would be no Easter. And Easter is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, which is what makes eternal life possible for us and for our loved ones. Without Christmas, there would be no hope to recover our losses or to heal from them. Even through great trials and grief, Christmas is a gift.

A tribute to five fathers who have shaped my journey

By Heather Walton

Cate graduation family

Terry, me, and three of our seven children on my oldest daughter’s high school graduation day.

Dictionary.com defines “father” in the following way:

Father
noun
1. a male parent.
2. a father-in-law, stepfather, or adoptive father.
3. any male ancestor, especially the founder of family or line; progenitor.
4. a man who exercises paternal care over other persons; paternal protector or provider:
a father to the poor.
Throughout my life I have learned that the only perfect father is our Heavenly Father. Regardless, all of the fathers in our lives shape us into who we are.
The first father I knew was, of course, my biological father. I’m told that he was essentially a good man and that he adored me. I wish I could remember him that way. However, children often remember people by the strongest impressions made on them. My dad died of cirrhosis of the liver at age 29. Unfortunately, my memories of him are scarier than they are tender, but I have to trust that he was a man who wanted to love me, but who put his alcohol first.
I went 7 years without any kind of father in my life, as both of my grandfathers died within a year of my dad. When I was 15, my mom remarried, giving me a step-father. By this time, I had an active life. Between school, a part-time job, friends, and a serious boyfriend, I didn’t spend much time at home. I left for the military at 17, right after graduation. Because of my age and a full life, I didn’t form much of an attachment to my stepdad at that point.
At 18, I eloped with that serious boyfriend, who also was a soldier. Six years later, he became the third father in my life–the father of my children. We had two daughters and two sons together before our 23-year marriage broke up. Because of those children, he is still in my life as a co-parent.
During the divorce process, my stepdad and I became closer, as he began giving me fatherly advice and helping the kids and me out in ways that we’ve needed and appreciated.
My stepdad walking me down the aisle at my wedding.

My stepdad walking me down the aisle at my wedding.

Six months ago, he got to walk me down the aisle, as I married the fourth father in my life.

I have seen my precious husband lead his biological children and my biological children in a Godly way. Together, we have seven children. Like each of the fathers in my life, except my Heavenly Father, Terry is not perfect, but he is committed to being the father God has called him to be. I never expected that my children would have a stepfather, but I’m so glad that they have the example of this kind, patient man who exemplifies 1 Corinthians 13. He hasn’t had an easy road with his kids or with mine, but God is blessing the fruit of his labor, and I can see it happening day by day.
Not only is Terry my children’s stepfather, but he is the biological father of our child, a child we will not meet here on earth. I suffered an ectopic pregnancy a month ago, and the grief is real as I consider that today is Father’s Day. I believe we would have been great parents to this child, because we have about 40 years parenting experience between us. Much of what we have learned about being good parents was discovered through making mistakes. Often that’s the most effective way to gain wisdom. However, we will not get the chance to parent the precious child we lost–the child we both were so excited about. We simply have to trust that our little one is being raised by the only perfect Father there ever was.
No father compares to our Abba in Heaven, but I know that I wouldn’t be who I am today without all five of the fathers I’ve had in my life, from my biological father to my Creator. To dads everywhere, however imperfect, I say, “Happy Father’s Day!”
Our whole family at our wedding. Our children were the wedding party.

Our whole family at our wedding. Our children were the wedding party.

He has brought beauty from ashes

3-stranded-cordChange can be scary, but sometimes you just know you have to take that step. I have had many changes over the past few years–several of which have been monumental. But nothing will ever compare to the change that took place 21 years ago, when I decided to follow Jesus. He is my First Love and always will be. So in the past three years, I have been through a variety of big changes along this “broken road” we call life.

I have been through the devastation of two separations and a divorce. I have spent time as a single mom, something I never thought I would be. Two years ago, I went through a period of major depression, so deep that I thought of ending my life at one point.

But I also have had some wonderful changes, such as having the opportunity to start my own school. I will tell you that I was not equipped to do this, so God did it through me. I still marvel on a regular basis that this is real, and not a dream.

Earlier this year, with fear and trembling (This was actual trembling, not metaphorical trembling.), I decided to enter the dating scene. (My last date had been 24 years prior, and things have definitely changed since then!) I figured I would date around and figure out what I really wanted in a man. I did want to remarry, but I expected it would be a few years. I reasoned that it would take awhile to find the right man. But I did pray that God would provide someone who would love me and my children, a godly man who put Jesus first in his life. So I had a few dates. It was fun and interesting, but also somewhat terrifying.

We should never be surprised when God answers prayer quickly. But often we are, aren’t we? After about a month on the dating scene, I met a godly man. We quickly became close friends, and then best friends, and then more than friends. I observed how he interacted with me and with others, including my children, and I knew that God had answered my prayer. So I look forward to marrying my best friend in December. It will be a change, another unexpected change, and frankly, it’s a little scary. But it’s not too scary, because I know that we both have placed Jesus first in our lives.

“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
(Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12)

That cord of three strands in any relationship should be the two involved in that relationship, with God in the middle. I am blessed and thankful that we have that strand in our relationship. God is good all the time, and He allows changes in our lives–some positive, some negative. But He always works those changes for our good, if we truly love Him. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for us as we embark on a journey through the “broken road” of life until the day He calls us into the perfection of eternity.

“beauty from ashes” Isaiah 61:3

When does God do His best work?

Sometimes a little reflection is good for the soul. As I think back on the year behind, I realize much has changed. This has been the most difficult, yet most blessed year of my life. A year ago I was just on the beginning edge of a journey that I never could have foreseen with starting a school. I had let go of the security of the public school system, not having a clue how God was going to provide. I had no idea that He would turn my small vision of eight students two days per week in my home into fifty students, many of whom are full-time, and several teachers and classrooms. Sometimes we have to let go of what we have, in order to embrace what God has in store for us.

I also didn’t know a year ago that this would be the year of the most intense personal struggle I have experienced so far, and hopefully I will never have another to parallel or surpass it. Sometimes people, especially Christians, are tempted to sweep difficulties under the rug, either because they think that God will be shamed by their struggles, or because they think they’re “supposed” to grin and bear it for God’s sake. However, God can take care of His own reputation quite well. Not only that, but He actually gets greater glory when He can work through our weaknesses. I spent my whole 20-year Christian life trying to work hard to be the best I could, so that God could get the most glory possible out of my life. This year I finally realized, because I was desperate for God and incapable of opening and running a school in my own strength, or getting through a divorce in my own strength, that if I just let Him do it through me, He would do a much better job than I could have in all my best efforts. Resting in Him accomplishes so much more than working for Him ever can.

So this year has been a dichotomy of sorts, with great success and seemingly great failure running parallel. But I know the truth: God is great and He does great things with not-so-great people who are submitted to Him. While I would trade some of the circumstances of the past year, I wouldn’t trade the spiritual or emotional growth. I also wouldn’t trade the friends who have stuck by me, or the new ones I’ve made along the way.

God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.

I am looking forward to the next year of the journey. I have a feeling it will be a good one, though it will likely hold some surprises and may not be easy. Whether it is smooth sailing or a bumpy ride, whether there is delight or despair, whether there is happiness or heartache, I know that God is able to supply all of my needs and get me through anything, and that is something to celebrate.

Lord, Keep Making Me …

A couple days ago I heard the song Keep Making Me, by Sidewalk Prophets, for the first time. It absolutely pierced my soul. This is the perfect song for this season in my life. Here are the lyrics:

“Keep Making Me”

Make me broken
So I can be healed
‘Cause I’m so calloused
And now I can’t feel
I want to run to You
With heart wide open
Make me broken

Make empty
So I can be filled
‘Cause I’m still holding
Onto my will
And I’m completed
When you are with me
Make me empty

[Chorus:]
‘Til You are my one desire
‘Til You are my one true love
‘Til You are my breath, my everything
Lord, please keep making me

Make me lonely
So I can be Yours
‘Til I want no one
More than You, Lord
‘Cause in the darkness
I know You will hold me
Make me lonely

Ok, so I’m good with broken and empty, but lonely??? That’s a little much, Lord, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not good for man (or woman) to be alone, right? Then again, Paul said it’s better not to marry. I guess he was right. It’s definitely easier to concentrate on one’s relationship with God when not distracted by the cares of a family. I know I’m definitely depending on God more as a single mom who is going through a divorce than I was when I thought everything was going fine.
“Make me lonely …  ‘Til I want no one more than You, Lord.” Yes, Lord, this is my prayer because I know that this really is the secret of a truly blessed life. I can’t say I’m there yet, but I want to be.

Small victories bring satisfaction now that I’m unexpectedly single again

lightbulbAs I changed several lightbulbs today and took the trash to the curb, I thought, “Wow, I’m kind of proud of myself.” Now, I know those are really, really small things to do. Very insignificant. But, then again, those were things I used to take for granted that my husband would do. It’s been five months since he left and I am picking up the slack. I’m now doing lots of little things, and some big things, that he used to do. So I got to thinking that this is something to celebrate.

I am making it. I have been through a lot since my husband and I separated. I have been through every negative emotion possible, but I have not given up. I have cried, yelled, vented, and agonized. And I’ve had lots of emotional ups and downs. But today I’m in a good place. I have hope for the future. I’m still anxious about how the divorce process will go, since we’re not through it yet. I hope it will be over quickly and that it can continue to be fairly amicable. I look forward to the day that it’s final, but I’m also content in today, in knowing that I have had some small victories, like remembering to take the garbage to the curb and shedding more light on my kitchen.

Growth is painful, yet ultimately rewarding

roller coasterThis week has been an incredible roller coaster of emotion and developments. Early in the week I felt very rejected–both by my soon-to-be-ex-husband, and by some friends whose intentions I misinterpreted. When you’re going through the tumultuous emotions of a divorce, you can be overly sensitive. At least I know I am.

My STBX decided to let me know that he was done pursuing me and trying to save our marriage. This didn’t sit well with me because, in reality, he has done little to pursue me or our marriage during the past five months. So I broke down and told him that I had really wanted him to decide that our marriage was worth fighting for–with actions rather than mere words. Whether or not this was wise, I’m really not sure. But it did set in motion some activity. He said he was willing to do some things, like some intensive counseling. Initially I was drawn in because, finally, it seemed he might be willing to actually do something. So I considered it.

But here were the problems:

1. He continued to lie to me about big and small things, and I had proof.

2. He refused to admit that his behaviors are outside the realm of normal.

3. He told me he was torn between his duty to our marriage covenant and his desire for the other women he has been pursuing.

With these things in mind, I decided against his offer. A person has to be truly repentant in order to change, and he is not repentant.

Today our pastor preached a sermon that totally backed this up. Using the story of Zacchaeus, he said that, to truly be sorry, a person has to be honest, that confession doesn’t equal repentance, and that a person’s actions have to back up the apology. Clearly, that is not going on here.

There is no way to have a healthy relationship with someone who is unrepentant. But I do desire reconciliation–not restoration of our marriage–but the ability to admit our wrongs to each other and the mutual decision to release each other. I hope and pray that this will happen, and I will practice this on my part whether or not he ever comes to that point.

This has been and continues to be an incredibly painful journey. I have to think that the death of a child would be worse than this, but I really can’t think of anything else that could rival it. It was horrifying to learn that I had been living a lie and that I had allowed myself to be manipulated all of those years. I have felt so betrayed and rejected. I have had anger, anxiety, confusion, and extreme sadness. I have almost been sucked back into his manipulation and deception more than once.

However, I have grown so much closer to Christ and I have become so much healthier as a person during the past five months. I keep saying it’s like I’ve been on warp speed in my codependency recovery. It’s been incredibly painful, but also amazingly blessed. Though I would never wish this on anyone (except maybe my STBX), I wouldn’t trade the growth it has brought.

Christians often alienate those they should serve

sad woman 1I attend a very conservative church where the Bible is preached as the literal, inerrant word of God. I also am very connected to our local homeschooling community, which also is ultra-conservative. I run a business that mainly draws conservative Christian families.

So when I filed for divorce, I began to be concerned about judgment. I felt the need to explain my situation–to prove that I had Biblical grounds and that I had done everything possible to save my marriage.

There are those in the Church who believe that a person should stay married no matter what. If a woman is being abused, if children are being harmed, if there is constant deception, manipulation, and betrayal. No matter what. They would say that, unless there has been proven physical adultery with another person, and that the offender isn’t repentant, there are no grounds. Really???

In my case, I think a proven affair is more reconcilable than what my STBX was into. I’m not going to share the details, but, trust me, it’s disgusting. But what’s worse is that he lies to me constantly. And he manipulates me. A marriage should be based on trust, but his lies and manipulation have destroyed that trust.

I was counseled initially to file for legal separation instead of divorce. I wasn’t enthusiastic about this option, but, because two out of three of the church leaders I counseled with advised this, I did it. I do believe that was the correct thing to do at the time, but things became clearer after I had filed.

Interestingly, legal separation is also referred to as a “limited divorce.” I don’t think that legal separation is any holier than divorce, as some seem to think. One of the leaders with whom I counseled was in disagreement with legal separation. He said that, since we were physically separated, we really were not following God’s plan for marriage. He believed we should reconcile or get divorced.

Though I was counseled by some that I should stay separated for as long as necessary, I question the Biblical basis of this advice. Nowhere in Scripture can I find anything about marital separation. It doesn’t seem to be addressed, except in Mark 10:9 and Matthew 19:6. Those verses say that, what God has joined, man must not separate.

However, when I made my discovery five months ago, it was clear to me that we needed to separate. I do believe God gives us wisdom and reveals the path to us. Sometimes it’s obvious because it’s clearly laid out in Scripture. But other times, He guides us in other ways, such as common sense or a specific leading by the Holy Spirit. (Of course, this guidance will never contradict Scripture.) I believe it is obvious that my STBX has some issues that make it apparent that our family doesn’t need to live with him. Furthermore, he is doing things that concern me when it comes to my children’s safety. And he has completely and irrevocably shattered the trust that is necessary for a healthy marriage. Biblically, he has committed adultery, even if there has been no third party involvement. He continually sought out women to look at who would arouse him sexually. This qualifies as adultery, according to Matthew 5:27-28.

Now to my main point:

As a conservative Christian who associates with many conservative Christians, I feel like I need to be careful how I present my situation, because I fear that I will be judged. I feel the need to justify and explain. I worry that people are secretly judging me. I anticipate that, through the years, I will find myself being tempted to explain my situation.

Since I found out some really sick behaviors of my STBX, two of the three church leaders with whom I consulted affirmed my decision to divorce. That helps me feel assured. But since I’m not going to share the details with most people, I fear that people will judge.

Why does the church do this? Why do we focus on sins and perceived sins? We should be focusing on people, not on their sins.

Take the whole Duck Dynasty thing for example. Christians were affirming Phil’s right to free speech. Sure, I agree with his right to free speech. But I question the line of thinking that his comments were helpful. Do you think any homosexuals were won to Christ because of what he said? I doubt it.

If Christians focus on talking non-Christians out of committing certain sins, isn’t that Pharisaical? If we target homosexuality, divorce, or any other perceived sin, aren’t we missing the point? The point is that we can’t live holy lives apart from putting our trust in Christ. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue and preach Biblical application. Of course we should. But when we separate that from love, we will not be effective.

Churches should reach out to hurting people, rather than simply pointing out their sinfulness or perceived sinfulness because of certain circumstances of their lives.

The truth is that we often don’t know the circumstances behind a divorce, and we often don’t know the details that drive many decisions people make. Perhaps they made the best choices they could, given their situations. Divorce is a rejection, even for the one who files. In my case, I was the one who filed, but he was the one who divorced me emotionally, spiritually, and, in some ways, physically. I’m just making it official.

Divorce is rejection. As the church, should we add our rejection to it? Or should we be an instrument of healing? I think the answer is clear, and I hope that my own pain will be used for God’s glory in bringing about healing to those devastated by divorce.

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