Posted in Faith, Family

Choices (part 2)

Today, May 2nd, is an anniversary for me, and a sad one.  It is the day that the Cuyahoga County court gave my ex-husband and me, the divorce we wanted, five years ago.

Though I was the one to physically leave the home in November of 2006, my ex-husband was the one to file paperwork in January of  2007.  I had no idea what I was doing or how to go about the divorce/disillusionment.  I just wanted out.  He and I quickly agreed to terms (I let him keep the house because he had my dog, and I had moved to an apartment where I couldn’t have an animal), we split everything down the middle for the most part, I read through the first draft he gave me, questioned if there was any hope for us, and waited for the end date to come.  While I waited, I drank Miller Lite like it was going out of style.

When the day finally arrived, it was a Tuesday.  Thankfully I wasn’t present at the courthouse.  We were told only one of us had to go, and my ex volunteered.  I remember the day very well.  I was scheduled to tend bar that evening and had woken up late that day around 9am.  I didn’t even want to get out of bed.  I felt so anxious.

Finally my phone sang on the coffee table at the rental I was sharing with a roommate.  I don’t remember the exact time, but the words were in black and white.

The text read, “You’re free, have a nice life.”

 

 

I think that’s when I started shaking.  I, who had gotten sick of his verbal abuse and finally stood up to him, now all of a sudden had a shocking realization: I WAS COMPLETELY ALONE.

I had gone through moments since I’d moved out of the house, battling the confusion I had in my mind: thinking maybe we’d work things out, maybe I’d still have to chase him to bars, maybe we’d do counseling, maybe we’d have kids and they’d never know their father because he chose not to be home with me, maybe we’d learn to love each other again even though I was completely numb.  I believed anything was possible with God.  After all, I’d returned to church and felt renewed in my faith.

Yet, when the text came that alerted me to the freedom I’d prayed for so much, I shook with fear, thankfulness, timidity, joy, and anger.

At that moment, I freaked out.  Had I done the right thing?  Had I really disliked his behavior so much that I went against the commitment I had stated in front of God, family, friends??  Was this even allowed?  What if my selfishness at wanting to be away from him kept me from Heaven?  Doubt and fear consumed me, and I had never felt so scared in my life.  The battle in my mind continued for months.  And my behavior declined as I began to self-destruct.  

That is one time that Satan really had a hold on me.  I began doing drugs with the people who would come into the bar.  A lot of the patrons were not shy about their extracurricular activities, and I finally felt “FREE” so I had no one to answer to, but myself (or did I?).

I lied to almost everyone I met.  It became such a pattern, I couldn’t even keep the lies straight.  I called off of work just because I didn’t want to get out of bed.  When I did go to work, I went to my day job still hung over from the night before.  I was working two jobs to pay my bills, and more than anything, I just wanted to die.  I eventually got to a place where I was okay with my marital choice, but the shame I had caused in myself had overwhelmed me.

I met a man who I got along with really well.  We talked a lot, but I even lied to him, because I began drinking so much, that my life revolved around the bar scene and I couldn’t keep my days straight, my details, my lies, etc.  I was a wreck!!
I almost lost him.  My heart hurts as I remember the shock and heartache at him leaving.
I remember one morning that changed everything.  He and I would go to a place by the lake that only the two of us knew about.  We would go there to talk and listen to one another.  Our friendship had grown over a period of eight months, and we trusted each other (or so we thought).  When he showed up at my rental unannounced, and assumed something had happened (which hadn’t, but with my track record of lies, I’m not sure I would’ve believed me), he sped off.
I called off work (again) and took off in my car.  I went to the lake, and sure enough, found his car there.  I walked to our spot, and he was just sitting there, fuming.  I don’t think we talked for some time.  We just both stared at the water.  We didn’t sit near each other.

Eventually, we had to be real with each other.  We had become best friends, so we had to say something.  And finally we did.

We screamed, we argued, we cried, we laughed, we yelled some more.  But eventually, we broke.  We sat there holding each other, realizing our lives were both complete messes and we had to make some serious decisions if we were going to take our relationship further.

We made a verbal commitment to each other to get rid of all the things in our lives that made us less of who we were meant to be.

We vowed to never do drugs again (and I can proudly say I haven’t SINCE), and we promised each other that we would contact one another if we ended up in a sticky situation that could turn ugly.

We became accountable to each other, and love blossomed where disgusting darkness once lived.  Where I felt Satan holding on tightly to my disobedience to God, his grip began to loosen as I began to stare into the darkness without fear.

I dove into Bible study.  I slowly pulled away from the bar scene.  I had already quit my job as a bartender, I just had to stop going to the bar on the days that I felt bored.  I prayed that God would transform my mind, as I believed Scripture says in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I became more aware of my decisions and my choices.

I realized that just because a peer wanted to do something, didn’t mean it was right, and I was free to say NO if I wanted.

I also attended a bible study at my church which was based on the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.  

The truths that were provided in that book helped me realize that I did have a voice, I could make my own decisions, and not everything I did had to end in shame/regret.

I began to protect my body, my mind and my heart.  I recommitted my life to Jesus Christ and walked away from a lot of the temptations that used to have a hold on me.  I’m still a work in progress, but where sexual sin used to abound, it no longer even entices me.  Satan lost the battle on that one.

My best friend stayed close to me, believed in me, and began to go to my church with me.  His eyes were opened to the truth of the gospel too, and he recommitted his life to God as well.  He changed his harmful behavior and let the Lord open up his heart to the idea of loving again, knowing this time it would be reciprocated.  We made choices that benefited our own lives, but also each others’ lives.  We gave God complete control of our lives, and learned to step back and wait for His response in certain situations.  The love that blossomed from the ugliness of our pasts grew into a full-blown relationship, dating season, engagement and now a new marriage.

I trust no other man as much as I trust my husband. He has seen me at my worst, and never rejected me. He loved me when I felt unworthy. He endured watching me let go of “old Grace” and rejoiced with me when I was able to get my license back, name cleared, a new job, new car and a new home. He stood by me when I thought all hope was lost, and he provided constant attention and encouragement. He is such a remarkable human being.

I catch myself staring at my husband every day and in my mind, I let myself go back to one of my old memories. When he asks me what I’m thinking about, I just reply, “You” and we both smile.

I wish every wife would take a moment to look deep into the eyes of the man they married, and remember the newness of meeting him, getting to know him, and falling in love with him. Initial feelings of lust do subside, but the longevity of love, trust and commitment can withstand time. With time, comes familiarity and a closeness that bonds us together so incredibly. And with Jesus at the helm, we are accomplishing much.

Though I divorced my first husband and felt guilt at leaving a then-hopeless marriage, could it have been saved?  Knowing what I know now about the power of God, my answer is yes.  Yet, I live in the present.  That time is gone.

I did have to forgive myself for not believing God could restore what my ex and I had broken.  I had to learn to love myself again and see myself the way God does, covered in the robes of Jesus’ righteousness.  I will not rejoice that my first marriage is over, but will continue to pray for my ex-husband that he sees the need for God in his life, that he surrenders to him, so that maybe we can see each other again when this life is over (who knows, maybe even before).

And for now, I’ll be happy with the choices that brought me Kevin’s love, and the desire to know my Lord more.

Every disgusting memory I had in my old life is blurry, every unfathomable scene that haunted my mind in fear of losing God’s grace is gone, every lie that Satan told me has been conquered with the truth of the gospel.  

I’m not indestructible.  I’d like to say that I conquered sin, but that was Jesus’ job, not mine.  I know now to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6) to fend off the darkness that consumes us even though we can’t see it.  We are at war with the unseen, in a struggle for power over our souls, and I am not letting Satan have me.  God claimed me long ago, and I am now strong enough to stand under His protection.  My choices now are to accept my past faults that led me to a new life in Christ, accept the forgiveness for my sin and the redemption of my life from my Heavenly Father who fought for me, and accept the outpouring of love from a man who overwhelms me with his adoration.

Posted in Faith, Family

Choices (part 1)

Our pastor made an interesting statement in a sermon last week that my mind has replayed, so I’m going to share it today.  At Church of the Open Door in Elyria, we’re in a sermon series about “Arrested Development” which basically is awakening ourselves to when our spiritual life is at a halt, and then doing something about it.

Pastor Jim’s statement was, “We are where we are today because of the choices we’ve made…”

Maybe you’ve heard someone make that claim before, or have even said it yourself.  It’s acceptance of reality, at this point in time.  In any self-analysis, we are evaluating ourselves completely naked (and Christ-followers are called to do it quite often).  And though it almost seems redundant or obvious to say that we are who we are because of what we’ve done or chosen to do, it is a fact that we ARE a product of our choices.

Figurative forks in the road are common (if you see literal forks, I’d love an SMS text of said event).  Choices occur daily, whether it’s standing in the closet determining what sweater will keep you the warmest today, standing in the line at a coffee shop debating between a chai latte or a cafe mocha, or driving to work and questioning whether to take a shortcut since traffic is at a slow crawl.

We make choices by the minute, and though the statement itself doesn’t seem to draw any dramatic conclusion, let’s walk through a self-evaluation I did recently.

Five years ago, I was bartending as a result of a layoff and working days/nights/whenever-I-could to get cash to pay bills.  My divorce wasn’t yet finalized, but my ex-husband and myself were living in two separate locations.  I was torn between two worlds.  I was praying about where to attend church because I missed the stability that had brought my life in the past, yet also drinking so heavily that I would pass out almost every night. I was a real mess and to be honest, my choices were based on the moment.  I was selfish and solely focused on Grace (my actual first name), not the grace of God that I so desperately needed.

Fast forward to NOW.  Present day, I’m newly married, have two amazing stepdaughters, two supportive families, loving and hilarious friends and a husband who is a gift!  He truly balances who I am.

I am now attending church regularly and feeding on the Word of God during the week without prompting.  I am aware of my sin, my need for grace and forgiveness, and write when the ideas come.  I am a student who in four years will have the skills to counsel others, with more knowledge than God has already given me.  Things have definitely rebounded.  But how did I get here?

Simply?  My response was surrender.  I chose to give up.  Five years ago, I was focused on myself and getting by.  I now know that I have obligations to myself, my Lord, my husband and my family.  Jesus has transformed my priorities.  And it’s a daily process of shredding my flesh and walking in the Spirit.  I still CHOOSE to give up.

I surrender daily to God to show a surrendered life, and to represent Christ to a hurting world.  I can’t do that if I’m drinking myself into oblivion, or disregarding my sin.  Where I used to drive straight to the bar to meet up with my “chosen family”, I now patiently sit in the Avon High School parking lot to pick up my stepdaughter.  Just seeing her emerge from the building brings me more joy than a cold beer ever did after a long work day.  And don’t get me wrong, I am a Christian, who like Donald Miller, still loves a cold beer, but my focus has shifted.

No longer is my life about drowning in sadness and self-pity.  It’s now serving others, because by doing so, my heart begins to overflow.

One of my greatest achievements is becoming a stepmom.  When I was younger, I chose to marry someone to have a family with them.  That didn’t work out, and it wasn’t for lack of trying.  We weren’t compatible and certainly chose to look past the warning signs (another choice that led to where I am now).

In marrying my current husband, I’ve acquired two teenage daughters.  He and I talked at length about having a family of our own, and decided we are content with our life where we’re at (another choice).  In time, when the girls are older, we’d like to serve in missions (another choice) and having a child at this point will change that dream.  Unless God has other plans, we’re fine with helping the girls decide on their future (yet another choice…see the pattern?) and then we’ll see where God moves us.

My greatest joy is helping to shape these young womens’ lives.  It’s a high calling.  Because of Kevin’s life choice, we (the girls and I) are now a part of each others’ lives.  I know when my husband asked me to marry him, there was no hesitation on my end.  I knew this guy was the top of the line and I felt peace in just being in his presence!

But accepting a marriage proposal from someone who already has an established family can be scary at first.  In the past, I never saw myself loving someone else’s kids.  I’ve heard before that, “No young woman ever wakes up and says, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a stepmom’.”  And truly, that had never been a consideration of mine until I was divorced and actively dating.  I didn’t know of anyone who was happy in their step-situation.  I had heard horror stories from friends who had divorced parents, and never gave much thought to the heartache and anxiety that divorce produces.  If anything, when I said yes to Kevin, I thought I had signed up for heartache for the rest of my life.  But that hasn’t been the case, a relief to all sides!  I chose to commit to the girls too.

The reality is that I didn’t give birth to them.  I didn’t change their diapers or dress them, teach them how to eat/drink/talk/write, etc.  But I have influence in their lives now.  That is a choice I am most proud of.  Of course, I could decide to be selfish and live for myself…after all, they’re not my blood children.  But I simply can’t live like that.  Because of my marriage and my commitment to God and my husband, they ARE my children.  I have just as much of a commitment to them, as I do their father.  I have acquired them by marriage, but will never abandon them.  They ARE my life now.

Children, no matter what age, watch and absorb everything.  They read body language, listen to conversations in the household, can sense emotions spoken and non-spoken, and internalize what they feel.  I’m aware of the girls’ hurt and pray constantly and am actively seeking to stay in their world because I don’t ever want to cause pain for them that is in excess of what they’re already dealing with.  They’re amazing young women with many gifts/skills/abilities.  They teach me daily, and I love that they incorporate me into what they like to listen to and what they’re learning.  Their perspectives are so unique, yet beautiful.

The choice to remarry was a huge one, as well as to marry someone with children.  There is an ex-wife still present and I had to accept that this woman will be in my life for the rest of my life.  I had to accept that this was already an existing family and I could be rejected.  And for a time, I was/am.

But God has been working in the intimate small moments of our lives, and slowly turning hearts toward Him.  The reactions and changes have been dramatic, yet heartwarming.  And they’re worth it.  The step in faith, was a choice, for love, for the future, for surrendering to God to see what He could do in my life.  And I’m pretty amazed when I step back and analyze where I’ve come from.  I’m blessed….simply blessed because of my decision for Christ.

Things aren’t always rosy, but as a family, we definitely pull through the storms, respect and understand each other, and love shoots up and grows where thorns had once laid claim.

We are where we are today because of the choices we’ve made.  And I’m grateful!!