A Divorce Story…

Author, Sonna Evans
Author, Sonna Evans

After a five and a half year period of separation, I received my divorce papers in the mail a couple of weeks ago. Some I’ve shared this with have said, “Wow, it’s been that long?” Others have said, “Seems like it has been so long.” In my opinion, it has been just the right amount of time.

Marriage should not be entered in to lightly, and the same holds true for divorce. It is not something you rush into. I did not rush in to it. I credit good, sound advice from trusted godly advisors and counselors for taking things slow. From the very beginning of my separation I sought out people who would walk this journey with me, keep me grounded in Christ, correct me, encourage me, and guide me. I found just that, and I am forever grateful for my circle of friends.

It was not an easy road. I had people left and right telling me what they thought I should do and not do. There were certainly moments of confusion, second guessing, worrying about what others would think of me, what I thought of myself and how my decisions would affect my family.

Growing up in the church, the concern about what others would think of me was a huge one. Would some think I didn’t try hard enough to make it work? Would I be considered unfit to continue ministry? If I did divorce would people judge me for my decision? Traditionally, I am a people pleaser. I want everyone to like me and think well of me. Part of this process over the last few years has been to focus less on what others thought of me and more on how God saw me. His Word says:

“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

“For they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.” John 12:43

It took me a long time to overcome this hurdle and allow myself to make decisions based on just God and me, not God, me, and other people’s opinions. In the church we can be loving, caring, compassionate and encouraging. We can also be judgmental, critical, unforgiving and unkind. Sadly, I have been the latter more than I’d care to admit. When we operate out of a heart of legalistic thoughts and feelings we hurt people. I have been hurt and I have hurt as well.

I hope that my experience has taught me that there is no one right formula to walk through the break-up of a marriage. I cannot judge someone else’s process because it is not just like mine. I can encourage, lend a listening ear, a word of advice, correction if needed (iron sharpening iron,) and a whole lot of encouragement and compassion as we are …just living the thing.

There’s no ‘I’ in team…

adrienneSometimes I feel like a phony without valuable or authentic contribution when I sit down to write. But my heart’s desire is to point people back to Jesus for truth, and what better way to do that than to use God’s own words?! So I’ll share something that stood out to me this past week in my morning quiet time.

 “Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul (the king) had bound the people under an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!’ So none of the troops tasted food.” 1 Samuel 14:24

King Saul hurt his own people because he was so blindly self-focused. Nobody was going to be happy until he felt vindicated! His son Jonathan was a different kind of leader.  He looked around and seeing the damage and said:

 “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies.“ 1 Samuel 14:29-30a

Saul felt angry and defeated, so nobody would be happy until he was happy. His ego put his own goals and pursuits ahead of the best interests of his people. His leadership style was… lacking. Even his own son saw that the people needed to eat. But Saul was consumed by his own inner turmoil.

Perhaps his selfishness stemmed from insecurity, or maybe he was dealing with anger, or maybe he never felt good enough so he developed an all-or-nothing mentality.  However it happened, he was self-centered and thoughtless of others. The people who depended on him for security suffered unnecessarily until he was satisfied.

Sometimes we can be so self-focused, blinders on, and fixated only on what is in front of us, that we don’t look back to see the trail of hurt and devastation we’ve left behind pursuing our own goals or dreams.  Are we more interested in self-promotion than we are in investing in the growth and advancement of people around us? Can a parent be so wrapped up in the comparison game, they forget about the person they are actually supposed to be parenting? Can the captain of baseball team get so wrapped up in his own stats that he forgets about the team work it takes to make the TEAM to win? Do we forget that when the team wins, WE win?

Jesus taught that we would experience more satisfaction if we cared less about ourselves, and more about the welfare of others.

“Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” I Corinthians 10:24

At some point, we will all need someone’s help, but who will be left if we’ve trampled over everyone else’s needs in our determination to satisfy our own desires, no matter who gets hurt? These are my wonderings today as I’m …just living the thing.

The Power of “It”

Author, Colleen Fraioli
Author, Colleen Fraioli

Everyone has their “it”; that thing lodged in the heart waiting for a chance to surface and take the place of Jesus. It can lay dormant for long periods of time, just waiting to take us captive for a moment, a day, or even longer when we least expect it.

I used to have many “its”. Approval, spouse, career, notoriety, children, wealth, and before this week, I thought I had been successful about surrendering “it” and all his cousins. However, when “it” popped up this time, I thought it was a bona fide good thing.

God gives me what I want so often, I mistakenly assume He will give me everything I want, especially if It is a “deep desire”. So when the answer to the thing I’ve been wanting and praying about for years turned into a definite “No”, I was confused and, frankly, hurt. In fact, I had a meltdown of sorts. It took several days to pry white knuckles off my entitlement to happiness. Or at least my understanding of what happiness should look like.

Like being under the spell of a first crush, old thoughts consumed me; other people get what they want… I deserve to be happy too… Something this good must be from God!

Yet a small voice underneath the infatuation seemed to be asking me a question:

Whom do you love?

Offended at the implication, I immediately reacted:

Of course I love you God! Why don’t you know that by now?”

 The question persisted and nagged my soul until I had to admit the truth: the thing had captured my heart. I loved “it”.

That’s when I knew I couldn’t have it. Not because God didn’t want me to have good things, but because I couldn’t embrace something powerful enough to take first place in my soul.

As I released all “it” represented (joy, fulfillment, contentment, family), I realized all those things can only be found in my relationship with Jesus. Not in a place. Not a dream. Not a longing.

I can relate a little to Jacob when he came away from a wrestling match with God with a bum hip. Yet truly, if you think about it, a limp is a small price to pay for freedom.

Because as much as I wanted “it”, I still want Him more.

“Little children, guard yourselves from idols” John 5:21

 …just living the thing.

 

All Your Ways Are (Still) Right…

tent cityMy son called it “Christian Coachella” (rude!), but it’s actually JoshuaFest, which happens every year over the Labor Day weekend in Quincy, California.  Four days of exceptional to not-so-great music from up-and-coming Christian artists, as well as some of the more established names in the industry.

My friend Lisa was having have a milestone birthday in 2016, so we began planning this trip back in December 2015 when hugely discounted tickets went on sale.  No camping for me!  But we found an inexpensive, comfortable, and clean motel not far from the venue.

Two days before D-(Departure) Day after sending yet another informational email to group (don’t judge!), it dawned on me that I had not once talked to God about this trip.

Not, “Lord, keep us safe on our journey up and back; add meaning and Your purpose to this trip; reveal Yourself through the music and in our interactions with people…”  Nothing!  Not one prayer!  Feeling a little ashamed, I began praying for our trip, and that’s exactly when everything fell apart!

One friend deployed with a Disaster Medical Assistance Team to help the flood victims in Louisiana, made it back in sufficient time to still go with us, but then got really sick, and was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.  She was supposed to be our driver but it was clear she just needed to stay home.

Another had something come up and would need to leave a day early, and I was just tired after a crazy busy week at work and did not want to drive.  So, in addition to the new logistical and financial challenges, every carefully orchestrated plan appeared to be falling apart, AFTER I prayed, “Lord, Thy will be done”.

Ugly things I learned are still inside me:

  1. Sometimes when I pray, “Thy will be done,” I really mean, “my will be done”.
  2. I still do not handle disappointment as promptly, or as well as I should.
  3. As much as I know and believe God, I still have a tendency to default to “CRAZY” when He interrupts my plans, saying stupid things like, “See God, this is one reason You have trouble ‘winning friends and influencing people!’”

Good things I learned are now in my DNA:

  1. I dial it back from “CRAZY” to repentance at lightning speed, especially when I recall Who exactly I am mouthing off to; the source of every breath I breathe.
  2. I treasure the good people God has put in my life who will help walk me back from every ‘ledge of failure, disappointment or lunacy’ whenever necessary.
  3. God’s truth trumps my circumstances or feelings, …every time!

“He is the Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are law and justice.  A God of faithfulness, without breach or deviation, just and right is He.”  Deuteronomy 32:4 AMP

wristbandsSo off we went to JoshuaFest/‘Christian Coachella’, and in my next blog I’ll catch you up with how it goes as I’m …just living the thing.

Triumphant Transformations…

Author, Sonna Evans
Author, Sonna Evans

What do you see when you look at me? Do you see a responsible, committed, intelligent, half-way put together, follower of Jesus Christ?  I hope so, but that is only half of me. What you may not see is an often fearful, sometimes insecure, controlling, critical, judgmental woman, who also struggles with co-dependency.

The last six years, through a series of difficult circumstances, God has refined me, and healed me. He has called me to follow Him more and more as I listen and strive to obey. Through these trials I have come to see His hand ever so gently guiding me to be the woman He wants me to be.

In the last three years I believe He has called me to work with women. I went back to school, finished my degree and dove into a midlife career change. Oh, the joy it has brought! I love being able to walk with women along their journey through difficult circumstances toward healing and restoration. I appreciate hearing their stories and am blessed when they listen to mine.

It is an honor and a privilege to be allowed into someone else’s experience, and when I look back at the road it took to get me to this place, I don’t look with regret, I embrace it with gratitude.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

This week I was brought to tears as I attended a Celebrate Recovery meeting at my church. I have been beyond blessed to work with several non-profit organizations in the city where I live. I have met many women along the way.  I have driven to meetings with some, cooked meals with others, and had the privilege of doing ministry with many of them.  We have cleaned houses, played games, laughed, and cried together.

On this particular night I saw women from many of those different ministries under the same roof. Most of them did not know each other. Many were receiving help from a variety of different organizations, but all of them were there for healing and restoration. It was like all my different worlds converged in this place of healing, where women shared their experiences, strength and hope. Shackles broken. Freedom found.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial. Because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

My prayer for them continues to be that through their difficult circumstances they will find the same thing I found in mine; the joy of the Lord!

I’m a blessed woman. I am so grateful, hopeful, and overflowing with joy. I love to see the change in me and in the women around me as together we are …just living the thing.

 

Hope is here…

Adrienne Yerzy
Adrienne Yerzy

We identify with people based on shared commonalities. For example, when I’m in the mood to be creative or feel like an “adult”, I start cooking, search for food blogs, or look for fellow foodies on Instagram.  Likewise, if I’m preparing for a half-marathon, I find fit people online to give me inspiration and I gravitate towards the athletic types in my social circles.

We all feel a little safer with those that we can identify with, and lean towards those that we can share stories with. And THAT is exactly why I don’t like reading Proverbs 31.

For so many women, Proverbs 31 has become this measuring stick of perfection that I associate with white doilies and shallow conversation lacking heart and empathy. If I see “Proverbs 31” mentioned anywhere, I avoid that ministry like the plague, groan internally, and my shoulders slump. The truth is, I simply cannot identify with the woman described in that chapter.

Thankfully, I have found other examples of godly women I CAN identify with in the Bible!  Hannah, for example.  After feeling inferior because of self-imposed comparison to another woman for years, and after feeling like a failure as a wife,

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.” (1 Samuel 1:10)

That single verse hits my heart in its very core.

Or what about Naomi? After losing her husband, and then her two sons, she hopelessly said to her daughters-in-law:

“’Don’t call me Naomi (pleasant),she told them. “Call me Mara (bitter), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.’” Ruth 1:20-21, notes mine.

I can’t identify with a ‘perfect’ life, but I can identify with imperfection and heartache. Although the woman described in Proverbs 31 may have gone through a lot to become who she was, we only read the results of presumed struggles. However, I can definitely identify with Hannah’s feeling of rejection and inferiority, and I can identify with Naomi’s feelings of loss and hopelessness. Both women may have thought:

“My way is hidden from the Lord, and my just claim is passed over by my God” Isaiah 40:27.

But, we cannot stay in the place of hurt and rejection. Let us also remember the truth. God eventually brought the hope, justice, and love each woman needed. He did NOT abandon them or leave them in a place of despair. Hannah received the baby she prayed for and Naomi received the family and security she thought were lost forever.

Neither woman turned her back on God, but with honesty acknowledged the truth of her situation, hung on to life…and waited. And God fulfilled each hearts’ need and desire. His answers were unexpected, but each answer was satisfying.  Heartache turned to joy!

Be encouraged! If you are going through something hard, oppressive, or seemingly hopeless.  God has not disappeared!

“Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
 Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40: 28-31)

Wait, pray, and seek God. He will be found. And for me that’s what it looks like … just living the thing.

 

Refuge And Other Forms Of Security…

Author, Colleen Fraioli
Author, Colleen Fraioli

My kind friends offered to help me sort through my parents’ kitchen after the big move. They scrounged empty banana boxes from Save Mart and together we packed up the remains of the day.

I found myself wanting to hang on to the “non-valuable” pile; cheap plastic glasses, cracked cereal bowls, old Tupperware circa 1965, and especially the chipped roast beef platter from Sunday dinners growing up in the parsonage.

But there is no room for all that in my house. Besides, my parents are still alive at 92 and 93, and I have heirlooms coming out my ears. So what’s up with the lump in my throat? And why is it so hard to walk away from the discard box?

Letting go feels like I am losing something foundational and irreplaceable. This move to assisted living is making me feel unstable, and my heart doesn’t seem to have a landing place.

Maybe that is the crisis. My security has latched on to sameness. There is comfort in the familiar, especially when it has been a refuge.

I look up “refuge” in my thesaurus. Many restful images surround this word. Retreat. Haven. Harbor. Resort. Shelter. Hiding place. These words describe how I’ve felt when we have prayed together in this home over the years.

A verse has been running through my mind during this process; as the movers came on Monday, as I talked with a potential buyer on Wednesday, and now as I say goodbye to the little things,

“GOD is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

…not the home they are leaving, or the dishes, or the roast beef platter.

It seems like I’m being asked to decide where I will find refuge in the middle of this big change. Maybe I can try and recreate the past… God plus everything staying the same…God plus the stuff that makes me feel good… God plus my parent’s faith. Or, I can release the props and let it just be God. Rearranging the environment doesn’t rearrange Him.

My head knows I can trust the Changeless One, It’s my heart that needs a little coaxing. It feels vulnerable and uncertain to leave the things. I grieve all they represent. But when I think about it I realize they are symbols of His faithfulness. Trusting the source is way better than trusting the leftovers, when you’re… just living the thing.