yesterday and today.

It was one of those summer nights in which time seemed to lag a bit. A night which called for driving with the windows down. As I enjoyed the abnormally desolate city streets while the warm breeze rustled my freshly cut hair, a peace settled over me. It wasn’t the beautiful sunset painted across the canvas of sky overhead. It wasn’t the sweet wind on my face. It could only be described as that peace which passes all understanding.

That night, I had been out to eat with a new friend. She asked me about my story and so, I told her about my divorce. It had been so long since I had recounted my path of pain. In truth, I forgot how much it hurt. Did this really happen to me or was it just a dream? 

It did happen. It was real. Each and every heartbreak that comes with divorce. And the greatest heartbreak was my shattered expectations. I did not come from a pattern of divorce in my family. All four of my grandparents are still happily married. My parents are still head over heels. When I got married as a virgin at 20,  I expected to be married for life. But, four years later my picture perfect fairytale was shattered.

Two years ago on this date, I believed my life was over – period. I had no hope. When my marriage fell apart, I was in the deepest darkness of depression.

People say that time heals all wounds, or maybe time just numbs them. As I drove home the other night, I remembered the pain. BUT, I realized how much God has restored me. If I could, I would shout from the rooftops how happy I am. I am now remarried to a man that continually amazes me. My heart has healed. My smile has returned.

I don’t know when your darkest day was. Maybe you too know the pain of divorce. Perhaps you are a victim of abuse. A child that never lived up to his parent’s expectations. To walk through life without being burned by someone else is an unreal expectation. This world is messy.

I used to wonder why God wouldn’t punish that person who had betrayed and hurt me so bad. Maybe you have too. God is the Great Judge and I cried for justice from Him. Why wouldn’t He do something about my injustice.

I recently read RC Sproul’s Holiness of God and my spiritual eyes where open. He wrote, “If ever a person had room to complain of injustice, it was Jesus. He was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God…If we have cause for moral outrage let it be directed at the Cross.” Because, it was on the cross, when Christ was laden with all the sin of the world (every sin committed in the past and every sin to ever be committed in the future) that He became “the most grotesque and vile thing on this planet. He became repugnant to the Father.” So much so that God had to look away from His only begotten Son and the whole world became dark. “God poured out His wrath on this obscene thing.”

And Jesus never cried about his injustice as He hung there. Because he hung there for you. He hung there for me.

If my precious, sinless Savior doesn’t demand justice from God, WHO AM I to do it? No, Jesus was the one who said, “Father forgive them because they do not know what they do.”

Wow. As I read those words and the implications settled into my heart, I felt so…convicted. So dirty. Yes, people have hurt me. Yes, people will hurt me. And sometimes it will appear that God just…lets it happen. But, I’m not God and I don’t know what He’s doing.

Exodus 33:19 says, “I will have mercy on those I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on those I will have compassion.” He’s God. I’m not. If you’re holding on to anger over the pain another has caused you, let it go. Because if God demanded justice of us – NONE of us could stand. None of us is perfect.

And if anything, I should thank those who have hurt me – because God used those people to help form me into the woman I am today.

Two years ago I believed my life was over – period. I had no hope. Today, I have so much joy my heart is overflowing.

If you’re in your deepest darkness, hold on, because the light is just around the corner.

undeserved attention

Last night I dropped $150.

As I sat in that black, nylon salon chair, enduring two hours of beauty treatment on my hair, I couldn’t help but stifle a giggle. All around me, women were having their hair highlighted, cut, straightened, blown dry and teased. And for one small instant, I found it all absolutely…hilarious.

Why? Because every month, I spend money on something that is dead. That’s right. By the time each one of my 120,000+ hairs  emerge from under my scalp they’re already dead. Lifeless. In that moment, it just seemed so silly that women give so much attention, not to mention cash, to something without vitality.

After my chuckle, I started pondering about all the undeserving things I give attention to.

I’ve been thinking for, well two weeks now, about new year’s resolutions because 2012 is a big year for me. In the fall of 2010 my previous marriage fell apart, I lost my dream job and many close relationships. It took an entire year to heal; a complete year to put my life back together and pick up the pieces. This year, 2012, is a fresh start – with my new wonderful husband at my side and endless possibilities before us. It’s a blank page.

Besides working out more, eating healthier and running a marathon (okay, maybe not that last one), this year I want to resolve to stop giving attention to that which is dead and gone. Paul wrote in Philippians 3, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on”.

There have been times I have screwed things up in my life. There’s been times that life just threw me a disastrous curve ball. I failed history in college…twice. My first marriage ended in divorce. The church building my dad pastored at for 15 years foreclosed. All of those things happened and more. But you know what? Those things – those faults and misfortunes, they’re dead and gone now.

Isaiah 46:18-19 reads,
“Forget the former things; 
   do not dwell on the past. 
See, I am doing a new thing! 
   Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 
I am making a way in the wilderness 
   and streams in the wasteland.”

God rejoices in producing water in the desert. The desert of your past; the wasteland of my past. 2012 is about watering that which still lives, and cutting away those things that are dead. No more regrets.

As for my hair? Well, I don’t think I can do without my highlights just yet. Or maybe ever.

For more on this topic, some great blogs:

One Word 2012: BURN by Matt Price

The past by Jon Acuff

after

My dad is a pastor, so I’ve heard a lot of sermons. I’ve heard sermons that motivate, sermons that convict, sermons that I’ve sworn were written and preached straight to me. And then there have been those sermons that have lulled me to sleep. It seems I’ve heard it all.

And yet, here I found myself sitting in a group with only 10 others, absolutely transfixed; as if hearing a sermon for the very first time.

The speaker was a man named Marvin. He dressed in shabby clothes and was missing a few teeth. Neither eloquent nor educated, however his words were like a knife to the soul. As I listened, it occurred to me that instead of a speaker’s level of education, perhaps it’s the amount of suffering he has endured which gives him and his words credibility.

Marvin is living with Aids. 

Along with a few dozen other patients he stays at the Hope Care Aids home. Last year, after hearing about the good news of Jesus Christ, Marvin gave his life to the Lord and became a Christian. Almost instantly his best friend at Hope Care, Larry, lost his fight to with Aids and passed away. It was a dark time for Marvin. And again, several weeks ago Marvin lost another friend at Hope Care to the disease.

“After my second friend died, I started to get depressed again and thought, Oh no, am I going to have to deal with this again? But, then God showed me a verse that gave me the strength I desperately needed.”

Marvin read 1 Peter 5:10 to us, which says, “And the God of all grace…after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Marvin will struggle with the hurt and reality of death, but the struggle won’t last forever.

In that moment, I wanted to pen a note with this verse and send it back in time to myself in 2010: Jen, I know you feel like you’re dying right now. But, keep holding on. The suffering won’t last forever. Restoration will come. 

Time seemed to stand still; Marvin and the others froze. I looked over at my husband, and realized how happy I am. How blessed I am. How far I’d come from the dark dungeons of August 2010.

Last week, I spoke with a friend who is struggling with a broken marriage and threats of divorce. She said, “Sometimes it feels as if this will never end; that I cannot make it through.” To her and to others who bind arms with us in struggles, this is the message of hope.

That God has a plan for restoration. 

The ironic part is, I was at Hope Care Aids home to minister to Marvin and the other patients. I was there to “give back” during the Christmas season after being challenged by our Christmas reading plan. But, I was the one who left encourage. I was the one who was ministered to. I left with a full heart.

This Christmas, don’t forget about those in need. Here are some easy ways to give, without even having to leave your computer screen:

1. Hello Somebody: a ministry existing to help educate and feed children and to break the cycle of poverty and hunger. You can make a financial donation or purchase a stylish watch which will help buy Christmas gifts for street children in Rwanda.

2. Operation Christmas child: a ministry of Samaritan’s purse which gives shoe boxes filled with Christmas gifts to needy children. Donate $7 to help with shipping boxes or $35 online to fill and ship a box.

3. Operation Warmth: Make a financial contribution to help provide a warm coat to a needy child.

Question: What did you do to give back this Christmas season?

 

my first song: the video

Several months ago, I published this post, which was the lyrics to the first worship song I wrote, entitled, “I Come to You.”

I just got ahold of the video of the Rock Band playing my song for the first time last Christmas. The Rock band consisted of a special group of kids that are near and dear to my heart (Danny on acoustic guitar- who wrote the music for the song, Billy on bass guitar, David on drums, and Katie on background vocals). Since we performed this song, the kids have now gone off in separate directions to various colleges and the Rock building is no longer I place I’m constantly at. But, I’ve learned that people come and go and buildings can be locked up, but the truth in the words of this song will forever be in my heart. I hope you like.

The Rock band playing at Schlitterbahn 5-21-11

We can now call ourselves "songwriters"! Me and Danny

from someone who’s been there

On our recent road trip, I couldn’t help but get sucked into some celebrity gossip while passing the time. If there’s anything I’ve learned this past year it’s that I’m in no place to judge any other person for their life. But, with that said, it’s shocking to me to read of celebrities who have lavish, public weddings only to change their minds 72 days later and file for divorce.

Our culture has cheapened the covenant of marriage. Instead of a permanent, lifetime bond, marriage has now become a trial – if it fits, wonderful; if not, just take it back off and throw it aside! Divorce used to be likened to a curse word; the simple utterance of it bringing a distaste to the mouth. Now, divorce is a common word – and it breaks my heart.

Is divorce as simple as some celebrities make it out to be? Does it even have lasting implications? Or is it easy? For me, it was real and destructive in these ways…

1. Financially – I only preferred my lawyer to do the bare-minimum for me, but with lawyers, everything costs. During every phone call, every email, and every meeting the clock is ticking and the calculator is adding up. I literally turned over my entire final paycheck to my lawyer. I remember selling  my entire library of beloved books to pay yet another attorney bill. I got another job working at a salon during the holidays to continue paying those bills. Divorce is not cheap. If it’s anything like mine, the cost will be in the thousands.

2. Time – From the first time I met with my lawyer to the date I received the signed divorce decree back from the judge was five long months. Struggling through a divorce was extremely painful for me. I knew the marriage was over and biblically speaking, it was irreparable – so to just sit around and wait was difficult. I longed to have my maiden last name back and to start working towards discovering who I was again. I wanted to be done arguing over real estate, the separation of bills, and our material goods. Time was the enemy. After everything I’d suffered through – I just wanted it to be over. 

3. Family Relations – It hurts to lose people and it hurts to lose in-laws, whether they be mothers, grandmothers or sisters. Divorce is painful during the holidays. It’s difficult letting go of old traditions and forming new ones. (My incredible new husband has helped me so much in trusting people again and not being so skeptical of their love towards me. He is my hero.)

4. Disappointments – mine and others. I remember speaking with a friend who took over the youth ministry with her husband after us. She told me, “The teenagers are really hurting. They keep saying, ‘Marriage means nothing anymore. If ____ and Jen couldn’t make it last, then who can?'” That phone call took the wind out of my sails. I spent five years trying to be an example to the students I was working with and even though I wasn’t in control of my spouse and his decisions, it still hurt that my marriage had let those kids down. But, looking back – I think through my divorce, I taught them more than I ever did while working in the youth ministry. Because, they were able to watch me at my lowest – praising God instead of cursing him.

5. Material goods – We were living in a beautiful house, but during the divorce neither of us could afford it any longer. We had never missed a house payment, and yet, I ended up having to short-sale my house. I must have spend 30 hours on the phone with my mortgage company and real estate agent in negotiations. Here I was, twenty-five years old, losing a house and trying to sell my wedding ring so I could afford my bills. I put my wedding ring on Craigslist and sold it to an asian man working in a nail salon. Together, Jeff and I followed him across the street to Sam’s club so he could have the jeweler verify that it was real. In the parking lot, I exchanged the ring, for his money and we drove off in the cover of a winter blizzard. It was so surreal. We were driving in slow-motion through what felt like a snow globe and I couldn’t get over the fact that I had just sold my wedding ring. I called my mom and said, “No girl should ever have to do that.”

6. Emotionally – This is where divorce made the greatest devastation in my life. There arn’t enough words to describe the pain and the different ways it took hold on me. I wasn’t the perfect wife, but I was invested in my marriage; I meant what I said during the ceremony; divorce never was a probability. It caught me completely off guard.

In my opinion, divorce isn’t a quick fix, and it’s not a bandaid. I heard once on the radio that divorce doesn’t solve a bad marriage – it’s just like trading in one pain for another, different pain. In my situation, there wasn’t another option, (and God has since blessed me with an incredible new husband) but I want couples to know that far-reaching implications of divorce. For those couples who struggle with continual arguing, please, never throw divorce in each other’s face as a probability! It’s more than a signed decree. It’s more than taking off a ring. It’s real. And it has its costs. 

the record

On a train traveling to Ludwigsburg, Germany sat a young man. Head in his hands, paying no mind to his fellow travelers, he did nothing to try and stop the large, crocodile tears that fell continuously out of his ocean blue eyes. For twelve hours, miles of landscape passed by the windows and the steam engine continued to hum. Alois squeezed his eyes shut and balled up his fists in desperation.

Though he was only 18, life had lost all of its purpose. There was no longer any rhyme and reason. He had successfully escaped from his communist-led homeland of Czechoslovakia.  But what waited on the other side; freedom and happiness? No. All he had known had been pain, hunger, and disappointment.

He was supposed to be alongside his three friends en route to Australia and a better life. But, his visa had been denied and he was sent back to the refugee camp in Ludwigsburg. He would depart the train there completely and utterly alone; no friends, no family. There was no one in Germany to share his pain and sorrow. His escape had been for nothing. He had left his family back in Czechoslovakia and they did not even know he was alive.

Alois contemplated jumping from the train and ending it all. He felt numb; lifeless. To God, he prayed, “If you are really up there, look at me, what is happening to me? My three friends go to their new lives, and I go back to nothing. I do not have one human being in Germany to go to and I am at the end of my strength.”

Alois is my grandfather and he has an incredible story; a story of disappointments and sorrow, but also a story of God’s passionate love. My grandfather (or as I affectionately call him, “Opa”) penned his story. As I read this section, I suddenly felt a bond form between him and I, which I never knew we shared.

You see, I too sat in a seat, while tears fell constantly down my cheeks, believing my life was over and nothing was left. I shoved my face into the crevice of the seat. For 14 hours on a flight to London I battled my own personal demons. From all looks of it, God had abandoned me.

Without any forewarning, my marriage had fallen apart. My greatest fears had become a reality. My dream job was ripped away. Everything was gone. My heart was broken into countless pieces and I was deeply scarred.

Sixty-one years after my grandfather contemplated the value of his life, I followed in his footsteps. But, thankfully, Opa kept his record.  Yes, it was began as a record of his lowest moment on the train to Ludwigsburg. But, it became a record, which later tells of him meeting my Grandmother in Ludwigsburg. A record of passionate love between a daredevil of a man and his sweet bride.

Without the rejected visa and train ride back to Ludwigsburg, my Opa would never have met my Oma. Without that day, my mom would not exist – and neither would I.

I called Opa the day I read of his suicidal thoughts on the train to Ludwigsburg. He said, “Jeni, you know that was probably the lowest moment of my life. But, as I look back on it now, it was the best moment of my life.”

God has a way of doing that, doesn’t he? We blame him for orchestrating the devastation of our own personal tragedies. And, maybe we are fair to do that. Because, more often then not, He is behind our worst moments. But, while we cannot see past the reality of that single moment of pain, the same box does not bind God. He sees  the glory that awaits. In His tender way, He smiles down on us and says, “I know child. I see. But, please, just wait. just wait…”

Opa and Oma showing me the route of the train to Ludwigsburg, Germany


unanswered questions

Last year I really felt like in many ways, I lost my innocence. Like my nieve bubble abruptly popped. As if the whole of my life had just been an audition for the reality I was then facing.

The Christian life never guarantees success. The fact is, sometimes the marriage fails, the pregnancy test reads negative again, and the business bombs despite all efforts. Failure (just typing that word puts a bitter taste in my mouth) happens; and often times to those who don’t deserve it.

And then the questions become:

Was the sacrifice worth it? What of the four years I gave to that marriage? I gave so much, yet reaped so little. 

Sometimes, there are no answers, and no simple bible verses to explain why God actually allows the unexplainable.

Depressing? Yes. But, honest and real.

At 25 years old, I experienced divorce and watched my beloved, childhood church building foreclose, despite all efforts. Pain jumped out from the dictionary and became a living, breathing thing, whose grip clawed at me, threatening to chain me up forever.

Maybe your world is falling apart. Maybe there arn’t answers to your situation. But, I know one thing:

James 5:11 “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

TRANSLATION: “God REALLY cares.”

Like little children in the backseat during a road trip, in the midst of suffering, we ask God, “Are we there yet?“; “Am I done with this suffering?”; and “Are we going the right way, God?“.

The truth is – He WILL get us where we need to go. As Galatians 5:9 promises, “in due time”, or God’s divinely appointed date, the suffering will be over.

Two weeks ago, Christian Newsome, the pastor of Journey Church International spoke of my testimony of divorce, recovery, and rediscovered love. It was amazing to realize that only a year ago, I didn’t believe I could ever smile again, much less fall in love again.

I wrote a prayer in the margins of my Bible asking God to give me open doors to share my testimony – that while life can fall apart, God can heal and restore. My story is a story of hope, and my hope is that God will allow many opportunities for me to share my story.

Listen to Pastor Christian’s sermon, “Patience While Suffering” here.