Visitation Rights and Wrongs

When you get married and have kids, you don’t expect to have to say good-bye to your children for more than a few hours or days at a time. Once again, divorce changes your expectations. Since she was born, I had been with Karrie almost constantly. I understood her fears, her giggles, her mispronounced words. I knew what she wanted (or needed) almost before she knew herself. I knew how to comfort her. I knew how to encourage her. I knew because I was her mom.

And then, she had to go visit her dad. Letting her go almost 1,000 miles away from me was one of the hardest things I had to do. Karrie (and Katie) were my purpose for being. This was especially true immediately after the divorce. I needed them as much as they needed me. But with divorce comes visitation rights. No matter how right it was for Rich to see his daughters, it was wrong that I had to say good-bye, even if for just a short while.

And it wasn’t fair that Rich had chosen to walk away from all the responsibilities of being a husband, father, and provider, yet he still had the privilege to take Karrie away from me for a few weeks. I was not in a sharing mood at this point in my life. And Rich was at a point in his life where he thought of himself first – not a good parenting attitude.

In our divorce decree it was stipulated that Rich could not take Katie for visitation until she was two years old. At that time, he was limited in visiting during the day so that she could be home at night. Until she knew him, and was comfortable staying with him, he could not take her out-of-state. He only visited a few hours with her when he came to pick up Karrie. He never got to know her and so Katie is not referenced much in this part of our story.

I knew that Karrie would be exposed to situations from which I desired to shelter her – at least for a few years. I didn’t know who the next girlfriend (or wife) would be. Would she love my Karrie? Would she hate her? (Think Cinderella) Would she comfort my little girl when she missed her mommy? Would she feed her oatmeal? Would Karrie forget me?

While Karrie was away in Colorado for weeks, my prayer life sustained me. With every breath I prayed for protection of my little girl. I begged God to keep her mind pure and her heart full of love for Jesus. I asked for wisdom and strength as I waited to hold her again. I had to ask God to take my thoughts captive, because the enemy knew so well how to make me worry. “She’s not getting enough to eat.” “Rich drives those mountain roads late at night. He could have an accident.” “What if he doesn’t bring her back?” “She may love being in Colorado and want to stay.”

Early on God taught me the one thing that set my heart at ease and let me rest in Him. He taught me that He loved Karrie even more than I loved her. He had her best interests in mind. He was taking care of her when I couldn’t. He took her out of my arms, and He never let go of her. My church family also wrapped us in their prayers. I know the fervent, effectual prayers of many kept Karrie safe and me sane.

The first visitation Rich took Karrie for a week in February. He flew back to get her and then my Dad flew out to pick her up and bring her home. Everything went smoothly.

And then it happened.

In the summer, Rich took Karrie for two weeks. When Dad flew out to bring her home, Rich did not have Karrie at the airport as he had promised. Dad called our lawyer. The sheriff went to serve papers to have him return Karrie, but Rich had moved. No one would tell us where to find them.

Dad flew home alone.

(to be continued!)

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” . . . but, what can I do?”

I have been uninspired lately – too busy to write. However, I have been thinking about different times about which I want to share with you. Please be patient with me. This busyness will soon pass. At least, I hope it will!

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I’ve always wanted a church to ask me, “How can we start a ministry for single parents?” I think I have a great answer.

Consider this: You just found out that your job requires that you move out of the country for three months. Just you, not your family. Sit down and make a list of all the things that you must do before you leave. What can you do that will help your spouse make it through these next three months?

The point is that when you become a single parent, all the tasks that the other person used to do, now falls on you. But, you don’t get the extra 24 hours each day, nor do you get an extra dose of energy. A single parent has to prioritize. Which is more important – paying the bills (due today) or mowing the lawn (The neighbors are starting to complain.)? Which is the better choice – shopping for groceries (cupboards are bare) or going to watch your son play basketball?

If a church wants to help a single parent cope with the stresses of life, individuals only need to think about what life would be like with “only one of me.”

And then? Be creative. Here are some possibilities:

Invite the family to dinner. Get to know them. Be an extended family to them. Even if they have grandparents or family who live close by, don’t be afraid to step in and be a blessing. Sharing the load can be a great encouragement to everyone.

Too busy to cook yourself? Call and ask what they would like you to order from Pizza Hut on Friday night – your treat. You don’t need to cook, clean up, or even deliver the food. But you will deliver encouragement.

Drive by the house and see if the lawn needs to be mowed. A downspout is lose. The flowers need to be weeded. (I have a friend who has come and worked with me in the garden. What fun to talk and laugh together as the work goes twice as fast.)

Grandparents are always talking about their grandchildren. Could you be a grandparent to a few more?

Valentine’s Day is a bummer of a holiday for singles. A couple in my church grasped this truth and they decided to do something special. Each year on Valentine’s Day, they deliver (together) a treat to the singles of my church. Homemade cinnamon rolls, or cookies, chocolates, or other treats – and always a card that tells me – they love me. (As if their actions didn’t already tell me that!) Without fail, even through a terrible blizzard, this sweet couple made my day sweet.

Don’t wait for a program to tell you how to serve!

I encourage you to take some time and ask God how you can help someone in your neighborhood, or your church, or at work. It isn’t only single parents who need help. Everyone needs help at some point in time – financially, emotionally, physically – we all deal with lives that aren’t easy. Ask God to open your eyes to the needs of others.

May God bless you as you serve Him.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.             I Timothy 6:17-19

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The Church as Family

Long before there was Divorce Care, there was Grace Bible Church. My small church is filled with people who follow the greatest commandments – to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

As I look back on the past thirty years, I cannot remember all the blessings I received from the people in my church. There was no program, no organized plan, but God used His people to help me make it through.

The single most important thing the people of my church did was to accept me (and my children). Every Sunday smiles welcomed us. Fred always greeted us at the door. And he’d get down on one knee, look Karrie in the eye (and later Katie) and shake her hand – welcoming her as much as any adult. Sunday School teachers made learning about Jesus a happy time. I loved the in-depth study and discussion in my own class with men and women much wiser than me.

One older gentleman stated to me that when he realized that I did not have a husband and the girls did not have a father interceding for us with our Heavenly Father, he determined that he would stand in the gap. I am sure, that for the past thirty years, this man has prayed for us without fail. I know that there are other ladies who prayed consistently for us. I know that I am on Janet’s prayer list on Thursdays. How precious to be brought before the Father by so many prayer warriors. Every time I had to send my daughter away for six weeks in the summer, I knew people were praying for me. I knew I could make it through.

My church also help me financially. The deacon’s fund helped when the car was wrecked and we had no collision insurance. One Sunday a dear lady slipped a $20 bill into my hand and said, “This is our little secret.” About 10 minutes later, her husband slipped a $20 bill into my hand and said, “This is just between you and me.” There was a more-than-$40-blessing that day.

One morning as I was getting ready for work, I noticed a water stain on the ceiling in my bedroom. After some investigation, the roof needed replacing including some boards that had rotted away. My dad was in the first stages of Alzheimer’s and unable to help. I turned to my church for help.

On a beautiful September Saturday morning, people started arriving at our home at 7:00 a.m. Cars lined the streets around my house.

The street lined with cars.

Soon the dumpster, delivered the day before, began filling up with two layers of shingles. Workers picked up trash around the house as others worked above them. I wasn’t sure my roof was strong enough to hold them all!

Tearing off the old roof

How many men are on my roof?

Mom and I stood in awe as over 30 men tore off the old shingles, replaced rotten boards, and installed new shingles. You should have heard the noise inside the house! The church paid for everything as well as providing the labor. I was speaking with Tom and mentioned that I’d have to get up and paint the end pieces after my roof looked so nice. He told me that wouldn’t be necessary because they’d sided them for me. I’d never have to paint again!

And, while all this was happening, ladies from the church brought donuts, coffee, and lunch to keep the workers filled. By 4:00 p.m. we had a new roof and nothing out of place in the yard or garage. What a blessing! What a testimony to our neighbors!

Overwhelmed by all the ways the men and women supported me, I expressed my thanks to my church one Father’s Day as a poem I wrote was read from the pulpit:

There are no words to say, so I thank you from my heart – for sharing in my daughters’ lives, playing a very special part.

Though their father walked away, leaving an empty space, God has filled it abundantly – sufficient is His Grace!

And you, dear friends, have been a part. Our thanks go out to you – for the little things, the big things, for everything you do.

To you who gave your time, and sacrificed your car, so she could learn to drive a stick though not so very far.

To you who cheer at track meets, for my daughter as well as your own, you’ve encouraged us immensely, though you may not have known.

To you who pray so faithfully, lifting us up each day – giving us strength and joy and hope and helping us on our way.

To you who’ve gone to basketball games, so there is someone there to cheer, then bring them home, stopping for treats – these times we hold so dear.

To you who help financially, taking care of what we need – Thanks for living out your faith in your words and in your deeds.

To you who’ve taught their Sunday School, been an example to their lives, and shown God’s special pattern, for husbands and for wives.

You’ll never know how much you help. There’s so much more you’ve done. You made our load much lighter and filled our lives with love and fun.

The list seems endless of the kindnesses which are shown to my family. May God richly bless you for ‘standing in the gap” for us. Words cannot express our thanks.

One lady came up to me after the service and said that as the poem was read, she kept trying to think who could have written it. (Pastor had said it was written by a single mom rather than give my name.) She asked if it was me. I laughed because I think I was the only single mom in the church at that time. But she responded with one of the nicest compliments I’ve received. “Lynnette, I don’t really think of you as a single mom.” Now that’s acceptance.

I believe the saying that “It takes a whole village to raise a child” has one word wrong. It takes a church.

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There Are Monsters in My Church!

Numbers 13:32-33 “So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

Sometimes monsters come into our lives and we learn to fight them. Sometimes, the monsters are of our own making.

Sunday morning church service. I had been fighting with myself all week. I knew I should go, but I was afraid. This was the church where I listened to flannelgraph stories about Samuel, Samson, and David; where I enjoyed cookies and Koolaid during Vacation Bible School; where I’d memorized Romans for the quiz team; where I sang, where I laughed, where I prayed, where I was married. No one wants to return home as a failure. And divorce meant failure to me.

How was I to face my old friends, their parents, my old youth group leaders? New people didn’t know who I was. Could I handle looks of pity? Looks of judgement? Perhaps even someone turning away from me?

In the end, I went to church on Sunday because I knew that I needed to raise my daughters in a church that would teach them the stories about Samuel, Samson, and David; that would feed them cookies and Koolaid during Vacation Bible School; where they could memorize Romans for the quiz team, sing, and laugh, and pray. What was best for my daughters was also best for me.

The first person who saw me, hugged me. Welcomed me. And little by little the fear of being judged, of being pitied, was replaced with the realization that this was my family now. Many had been praying for me – were still praying. We didn’t know each other very well, but they wanted to know me. They wanted to help me. They wanted to love me because I was their sister-in-Christ. Those looks I feared were really looks of love and compassion.

One monster defeated.

While still in Colorado I was driving up the canyon, returning home from buying groceries, when it hit me. I was going to be divorced. I would never be able to minister again. I couldn’t be a youth leader with my husband. Who would want a divorced woman to teach their children in Sunday School? Maybe I could sing in the choir. I cried at the sudden uselessness that overwhelmed me.

But a few months after Katie was born, my pastor asked if I’d like to play the piano for occasional worship services. With a new kind of fear, I said yes! He also mentioned that they needed someone to help lead the fifth and sixth graders in Pioneer Girls. Would I like to serve in that position? Having worked with this same age group in Pioneer Girls while in college, I knew God had gift-wrapped this opportunity.

Another monster defeated.

I was overwhelmed with God’s goodness and I fell to my knees and sobbed. The leadership of my church looked beyond the label and saw my heart. This first step was the beginning of years of ministry opportunities.

God surprised me with His gift of my church family. For the last thirty years we have served, prayed, laughed, cried, and rejoiced together. God used the people of this church to draw me into a deeper relationship with Him, to help me raise my girls, to give me joy, to give me life abundant.

And to think I almost missed it because of monsters that didn’t exist.

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Forgiveness

Isaiah 55: 7-8  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Somewhere in the muddle of going through separation and divorce, the Lord reminded me that I needed to forgive Rich.

My reaction to the situation was that I wanted Rich to pay for what he’d done. I wanted him to be miserable, to be sad that he’d given up the best wife and kids in the world. I wanted God to punish him and I wouldn’t have minded if He let me help.

God reminded me again that I needed to forgive Rich.

I countered that Rich had really, really hurt me. He was mean, and lied, and broke his promises. He tried to take away my girls and he acted like he didn’t even do anything wrong. And besides, he never asked for my forgiveness.

God reminded me I needed to forgive Rich.

I rather enjoyed being mad at Rich. It gave me something to do, someone on whom to put the blame for everything that went wrong. I felt a little righteous, too, because Rich had made me the victim. I hadn’t done anything wrong.

God reminded me that I needed to ask forgiveness and forgive Rich.

Somewhere in the tumult of my thoughts, I realized that not forgiving Rich was a sin in my life and was leading to many other sins – pride, anger, hate, unkindness – to name a few. I confessed my sins and asked God for forgiveness and for the strength and ability to forgive Rich. I knew this was not something I could do on my own.

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

No, this verse is in regard to fellow-believers, not soon-to-be-ex-husbands. This is what I have to do to be able to forgive? Impossible.

“But He said, ‘The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.'” (Luke 18:27)

Sigh. Yielding to God isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it. I asked again for strength and answered the phone. It was Rich. Blaming me. Telling me he didn’t do anything wrong. Saying he had been a great husband. Telling me to change. And during that call, I felt a change within me. I felt sorry for him. Sadness at what he would miss. Sorrow that he was not in right relationship with God. Compassion for one who would not ask forgiveness.

By the grace of God, I forgave Rich that day as I stood in the hallway of our home and started living my life without the baggage of the anger and hate of the past. It felt good.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. With almost every letter or phone call, the same emotions popped into my heart. Every time Rich said or did something to hurt me, I became angry. I had to learn to forgive again.

And again.

And again.

“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

And again.

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The Advantages of Being Single

After my last post, Kate thought I should elaborate on the advantages of being single. Here are my thoughts in random order:

1.  I have complete control of the remote control. This is at the top of Kate’s list which is why I lose complete control of the remote control when she comes home to visit.

2.  I have complete control of the checkbook. Of course, sometimes it looks like my checkbook is out-of-control. If I forget to write down a check, or a debit card purchase, I have only me to blame. This means fewer arguments and finger pointing.

This also means that I can purchase whatever I can afford without discussion. (OK, sometimes I argue with myself, but my point is, I don’t have to think about what someone else would say about the use of my money.) I may have less money than married couples, but then, there is only one of me spending what I do have.

When I began raising my support to work at RHMA, the first four or five people to tell me they would help were singles. My first year 40% of support raised was from single people. (Many were older widows in my church. Several are in heaven now and I miss their prayers and encouragement.) They immediately knew they wanted to give and they could commit to giving without checking with anyone.

3.  I have complete control of the refrigerator. I admit it, sometimes I drink the orange juice from the container and eat the ice cream from the carton. Why not? My cat doesn’t like either of those. (Note: When I know family or guests are coming, I refrain.)

4.  I always have enough ice cubes.

5.  When I leave the clean house in the mornings, I come home to the clean house in the evenings.

6.  When I leave the messy house in the mornings, I come home to the messy house in the evenings. Except, sometimes, I have a sweet friend who comes over and does my dishes. I love those days! (And sometimes, I pay my niece to clean. Love those days, too!)

7.  If I don’t want to do the dishes at night, no one will make a big deal of it.

8.  I sleep anywhere in my bed. Except at the foot. That’s where the cat sleeps.

9.  I use all the drawers for my clothes. I counted them – that’s 18 drawers for my things. The current season’s clothes hang in my closet. The opposite season’s clothes hang in the guest room closet. Perhaps I need to buy some new clothes. (See #2 above.)

10. I have complete control of decorating my house. I walked into a store to visit my sister-in-law and sat down on a pretty couch. It was on sale. I ordered it. (I had been looking for a couple years as mine was getting pretty ratty.) Every room of my house is totally me. Except for when it is messy, I like it.

11. I have complete control of my time. Every summer for the last 30 years I’ve spent one week, sometimes two, working at a summer camp for girls. In I Corinthians 7:32-36, Paul states that the single person is concerned about pleasing the Lord. A married person is concerned about how to please his or her spouse. I have seen this truth when I have asked married friends to come to work at camp for a week. Their first response, and rightly so, is “I’ll talk it over with my husband.” Some have not served because their husband did not want them to. At times like that, I see Paul’s point very clearly.

Too often in our culture, we forget to look at the advantages of being single and just don’t want to be alone. However, I have found that God often strengthens me through the alone times. I have become a strong and independent woman. I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought I would and although I would like to take the credit, I know I am strong only because God has upheld me, protected me, and taught me through the years. I still have a long way to go.

I Corinthians 7: 34-35 “The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

Note: Both Karrie and Kate provided input for this blog. They’ve learned to look at the advantages. Karrie is married now, but still remembers.

 

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The Vow

I realized that as a single parent, I now had full responsibility for my children. My parents were there to offer support and advice, but they would not make the decisions. Those were mine alone. Through the next 18 years, there were only a few times that I longed for someone else to make the decisions. I prayed often for wisdom as I guided my children and had many long conversations with my Heavenly Father as we discussed ‘our’ children.

I also knew that being the sole parent would take all my time and energy with a full time job and all the other tasks that needed to be done. I was blessed by parents who offered their home to us. Knowing that rent was paid and groceries were on the table took intense pressure off of me. Not all single parents have this luxury.

A different doctor was on call the day Katie was born, so my regular doctor did not deliver her. Dr. W. came for a final visit in order to release me to go home with Katie. The final comment she made was, “Now, we need to discuss birth control.” Sadly, I told her I wasn’t married anymore. Her reply was, “What does that have to do with it?” My face registered my shock when I replied, “Everything.” I told her we were not going to have this conversation and she replied that she’d be there in a few months when I changed my mind.

There is, of course, a terrible fear of being hurt again after a divorce. But more than that, I struggled with the fact that I had made a vow to remain faithful to my husband “till death parts us.” Divorce is not death. (OK, in some ways it is.) After months of study and prayer, I chose to honor my vow before God. I chose to remain single and allow God to be the one to whom I turn for my every need. A reviewer of a recent movie writes, ” Ultimately the vision of love and marriage that is being presented here is a fairly routine, secular one, that it is love that binds us to a vow and not the other way around.” When love was gone, I still saw the vow that I had made, and I will continue to honor that vow because I believe it pleases God. It has not been, nor is it, easy. But I am sure it has been worth it.

Of all the things I desired for my daughters, I wanted them to grow up with an understanding of purity and commitment to God’s way. I knew that the best way to do that was to be an example for them. I have watched friends and acquaintances go through a divorce and begin dating almost immediately. They let their guards down and soon they have become a parent telling their teenage son or daughter, “Do as I say, not as I do.” My heart breaks for the children and the parent. I would counsel anyone going through a divorce to take time to heal, to become independent, and to develop a moment by moment relationship with God before searching for a new spouse. Watch what God can do!

I also knew that my daughters would see their dad as an example – and not a good one. Karrie visited her dad every summer and almost always met a new girlfriend or girlfriends. My life needed to counter this influence and the best way was to pour my life into serving God and raising my girls. In God’s time, He would provide what I needed.

Blended families can also be very difficult. Karrie explains her perspective:  “It wasn’t until I was older and heard some of the stories of stepmothers and stepfathers, that I really came to appreciate that sacrifice you made. Some of my friends had really miserable childhoods because their mom met someone new – and therefore they felt slighted in some way. Or they didn’t get along with the new step-parent. When you meet someone and “fall in love” there is a natural “selfishness” that occurs. I don’t think it’s necessarily a sinful selfishness (it can be – don’t get me wrong), but it’s just what happens when you plan on sharing your life with someone for as long as you both shall live. Understanding that kind of love as a child is not easy because love is very simple – you love your mom and she loves you. If she starts to love someone else, that’s hard to comprehend.  (which is why God designed first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage).” I think she explained it very well.

Now that the girls are grown I look back and am thankful for the decision I made. Mom and Dad are gone and I’m alone now. I struggle with being alone at times. But there are advantages, too. And the greatest advantage is when I am lonely, I turn to my Heavenly Father for comfort.

A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, 
Is God in His holy habitation. 
God makes a home for the lonely; 
He leads out the prisoners into prosperity, 
Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”  Psalm 68:5-6

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