Huffington Post: “What It’s Like To Be A Twice-Divorced Mom at 28″

Today a brief piece on my experience as a twentysomething divorcee was featured on the main page of Huffington Post’s Divorce section. Seeing it felt both good and bizarre; it’s not the topic I would have guessed or picked to focus on. But I’m enjoying making new connections through it with other single moms.

What It’s Like To Be A Twice-Divorced Mom At 28

I made it all the way through the ceremony, but when my brother hugged me at the reception, I lost all control. I pulled the whole “run to the bathroom and cry hard, then pretend you’re fine” routine. Then my grandfather and I began dancing and we started talking about my need for a divorce lawyer. I started crying, but it quickly turned into us laughing at the absurdity of it all. Read the whole thing…

“God Speaks Through Pain?” at Prodigal Magazine

This week meant forcing myself to apply an article I wrote, do a bit of art therapy while listening to songs I don’t know how to believe, and gutting it out because the emotional dizziness always gets better eventually.

This week meant catching my breath in the space made by support system and precious preschooler, feeling pride to keep my footing as well as I did, even if no one else could see how hard a battle I fought.

This week meant, ironically, “God Speaks Through Pain?” is over at Prodigal Magazine.

painIt’s midnight in the ER. I lie hooked up to heart monitors with one nurse drawing blood while another tries to place an IV. After months of regular IVs I should be used to the procedure, but I’m dehydrated. Five unsuccessful sticks later they go for the inside of my wrist on that pulsing blue vein. I nearly hit the ceiling….

I’m dancing with my grandfather at one of my brother’s weddings. I’m rarely happier or feel more alive than when dancing with a good partner, but tonight our subject matter is grim. He promises to help me figure out the confusing web of lawyers and divorce paperwork I’d just been hurled into. A sharp stab in my chest pushes out a few tears. I bite my lip until it bleeds. I will not cry about my divorce at my brother’s wedding.

How has God spoken through pain to you? What did it feel like?

“God, How Could You?” at Prodigal Magazine

godhowcouldyousmPerhaps it began at age fourteen when I visited Morocco’s slums and started taking Paxil. How can a good God let innocent children suffer? The question grew louder when I realized human trafficking still existed–in the States. Read more. 

This morning “God, How Could You?” was published over at Prodigal Magazine. It’s the piece I mentioned the other day.

I’m not one of those “write a little every day” sorts of people. For me, I want every time I write, and every finished piece, to push me in both the craft and content. I couldn’t pull that off every day. But when I do it, I want it to be a step forward. A strategic movement toward the High Places

This one wore me out, both in the living and the telling.

He wasn’t asking me to deny anything I’ve experienced or believed and unbelieved. He challenged my despair by reminding me that I don’t have the full answer or perspective on my questions. He challenged me to keep searching and fighting.

“Further up and further in” (as C.S. Lewis says) things will look different than they do right now. Was I willing to believe that my search wasn’t over?

I’m trying. Read more.

“I Don’t Like Church” at Prodigal Magazine

I don’t like church. And if I had to make a wager, I’d say the average Christian church doesn’t know what to do with me.

“I’m frustrated, God, but it’s not You–it’s Your church!”

I spent my twenties tasting a dozen flavors of churches, from Baptist to Catholic. I’d volunteer, build friendships, and tithe. Then my family moved, the church split, or a pseudo-romance fizzled. Weary, I’d return to Church Hopping 101, hoping that next time would be different. And after growing up as a pastor’s kid and graduating from Bible college, I made a venture into the Eastern Orthodox Church. Read more…

Prodigal Magazine posted my piece called “I Don’t Like Church” today. It’s one mile marker along the way toward…well, I guess that is the question, isn’t it?

When Courtship Fails

epic-failureI spent my teen years sure I’d have a first-kiss-at-the-wedding, fairy-tale courtship and happily-ever-after marriage with beautiful children. After all, if I am “committed to courtship,” believe that “true love waits,” and say “marriage is ’til death do us part’,” what else is needed? My beliefs will direct my future.

At 23, I married. At 24, my husband divorced me. Life spiraled into a maze of brokenness, a gritty reality many friends and acquaintances found uncomfortable. I fell. I got up again. Broken heart, broken life, broken dreams.

My ideals failed me. The courtship formula did not protect me from devastation. Saving my purity for my husband and being betrayed by him triggered feelings of loss and disillusionment. I felt cheated, like someone who paints a masterpiece only to give it to a friend who shreds it.

If a break-up is a broken bone, divorce is an amputation. How do you recover and return to normal? You don’t. You learn to live life differently. In my opinion, you become a stronger individual. It’s not the most desirable way to gain strength, but for those who must walk this path, it works.

Why would I want to go back to being that idealistic, naive, and self-assured girl? Here is beauty–here is grace. Here is a life of rich colors and vibrant sights which make my heart beat faster. I would never have been capable of loving and appreciating another person so deeply if my world had not been shattered. I would have felt entitled to a perfect life and happiness by following all the rules.

Instead of feeling entitled, I am thankful. Not thankful that I have some perfect love story and happy marriage. But thankful for a place to call home, a son who loves me, and a reason to get up in the morning.

I thought courtship would yield my ideals. But any man-made convention will ultimately fail. Even in outwardly appearing successes there is brokenness. Brokenness and beauty go hand in hand. The one is more than worth the pain of the other.

Courtship, ideals, and living a “good life” do not protect anyone from bad things happening. The teaching of emotional purity often causes great harm (which is a whole series of posts in itself!). Wouldn’t it be better, if need be, to date and reap a broken heart a few times, if in the end you find someone who is good and kind? Could this not possibly be better than marrying the first guy you’ve ever been attracted to, so your heart will be “pure”?

Perhaps the first man you ever loved will be good and kind. Perhaps it will be the third or fourth. Neither occurrence is superior. They should both be valid, respected options. And in courtship they aren’t.

I’m divorced. I’m a single mom. And I have a beautiful life rich in God’s grace. I would not be any more happy or fill-in-any-positive-emotion if I’d never been divorced, never been a single mom, or never seen my world ripped to shreds. I don’t sit around wishing things turned out differently. There are far worse things than a broken heart or a broken body.

Why do we see pain as bad, whether it’s the pain of a broken bone or a broken heart? I fractured my pelvis in 2011 and the pain was excruciating. Even a year and a half later, there is an ache when I walk too much in one day. Yars ago my heart broke, and the pain was excruciating. Even half a decade later, there is an ache when I least expect it. This is not bad.

It’s all about beauty and grace. If you look to the right of this post, you’ll see two quotes, my life mantras as it were. “Beauty will save the world” and “Your grace was not taken.” No one can steal my peace and joy. The grace I walk in is mine alone.

As one of my friends told me, “No man controls my life.” If we put the control of our life in the hands of a man or a formula, we are sure to be disappointed. 

“What went wrong?” People ask me. “What could you have done differently so life will fit your ideals? What went wrong?” I think that is the wrong question. It may be what we want to ask, what we want to accomplish, but it is not the right question. Maybe there is no right question. Certainly there are no answers to the “why’s”.

If there is beauty–and there always is–it is enough for me. I’ll spend my life pursuing it, instead of asking questions.

I welcome your thoughts and comments. I’m just making one small scratch on the surface of this topic.

When Courtship Fails – preview

brokenheartsmI’m working on a piece about when courtship fails. Not just courtship, but life. What do you do when people look on you as a failure? When you are ostracized and categorized and written off and…and…?

I’ve got a lot of thoughts, some still in a rough draft form. Below are a few bits to spark the dialogue.

- – – – -

Wouldn’t it be better, if need be, to date and reap a broken heart a few times, if in the end you find someone who is good and kind? Could this not possibly be better than always going with the first guy you’ve ever liked so your heart will be “pure”?

 
Why is pain bad, whether the pain of a broken bone or a broken heart? I fractured my pelvis in 2011 and the pain was excruciating. Even a year and a half later, there is an ache when I walk too much in one day. Years ago my heart broke, and the pain was excruciating. Even half a decade later, there is an ache when I least expect it. This is not bad.

Wounded Healer – Part Four

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Photo courtesy of Jamie Marie Photography

Yesterday, while visiting my childhood church, the pastor put this painting on the screen. It immediately grabbed my heart and I looked it up as soon as I could. I can’t explain quite why I am so drawn to it…maybe because I see so much of myself in that girl’s eyes.

Fear. Faith. Freedom. Shame of what she is and what she has done mixed with wonder at the love and forgiveness that Jesus offers. A clumsy love expressed in the best way she knows how, ignoring the hisses and shocked gasps from onlookers. All that matters is being able to look into His eyes and feel the warmth of his smile.

I think we all have some of the “sinner” woman in us. The question is, what do we do when we see Jesus? Do we turn away, hide our face? Do we try to pretend we are as righteous as the Pharisees? Or do we fall on His mercy, offering all that we can, even if that is pitifully small and broken?

Someday I will finally be able to fall on my face in front of Jesus. Until then I will  ponder the story of the sinner who was forgiven, the woman who was redeemed. I will hope to see many eyes such as hers softened with the balm of Gilead.

Wounded Healer – Part Three

turn to the heavens

Photo courtesy of Jamie Marie Photography

Don’t waste your life trying to look good.
Spend your life making God look good. – John Piper

The above is one of many quotations and sweet words sent to me in letters from  readers. Some made me smile; some made me cry. I’ve pondered your quotes, songs, and poetry, even copying pieces into my paper journal.

I want to give each and every one of you a heartfelt thank you for your kind, encouraging letters and notes over the past two months. Even more, I am humbled and lifted up by your prayers. Thank you so, so much.

I’ve been blessed to see the response to what I shared in my posts. I feel an affection for you all, knowing that in Christ we are true sisters and have both a privilege and a responsibility to hold each other up during the storms of life. All I can do is hold His hand and stretch my trusting “muscles” as we carve out new paths.

I wanted to share with you a beautiful work of art, and part of its accompanying letter from one of our readers, named Jaime Marie. Below is her letter and above is her photography. May it embolden your heart as it did mine.

After reading your post, I began to completely lose faith in marriage and humanity. How could something like this happen? I am so glad that Jesus is a God that hears our cries and weeps along with us. I do believe that He wept and is weeping for you Natalie.

The photograph is of a girl, who had been hurt beyond imagination. Jesus has picked her up cleansed her and healed her, and clothed her as his precious and beloved bride. She cannot dance for him yet. Yet. But she has her head lifted to the heavens, and her arms lifted in praise to him. – Jaime Marie

Wounded Healer – Part Two

woundedhealer2My turbulent nightmare began to still some time before I allowed even a hint of pain or uncertainty to show in public. But even then I needed long, quiet months to allow the wounds to begin to heal.

Some readers may recall my not-quite-planned 60 day Bible read-through this past winter. I may not have planned the timing and the speed of that journey through Scripture, but there is no doubt that Someone knew exactly what I would need. In “31 Days of Praise: Enjoying God Anew”, Ruth Myers–who lost her first husband to cancer–writes:

I found immense comfort as I expressed to the Lord my grief at losing my loved one, and then let Him speak words of love to my heart. It seemed that God used sorrow and loneliness and perplexities to stretch out spaces in my heart for deeper joy than I’d known before–especially the joy of loving and praising Him.

God spoke words of love to my heart many times through my reading. Often the passages directly addressed the bizarre, heart-breaking, and frightening circumstances in which I found myself. One especially precious chapter was Isaiah 54. I witnessed these verses play out as beautiful truth in my life. The Lord’s gentle care never showed itself so evident as in this darkness.

A portion of the chapter reads:

Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor.
Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the LORD of hosts is his name.
For the LORD has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off.
No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD
and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.

Several authors who wrote out of their own grief both comforted my heart and solidified lessons God taught me:

The decision to face the darkness, even if it led to overwhelming pain, showed me that the experience of loss itself does not have to be the defining moment of our lives. I did not go through pain and come out on the other side; instead I lived in it and found within that pain the grace to survive and eventually grow.

The choice to enter the darkness does not ensure we ever completely come out the other side. I am not sure we can or should – Jerry Sitser, “A Grace Disguised”, 45, 46

And even if it were granted that insurances against heartbreak were our highest wisdom, does God Himself offer them? Apparently not. We draw nearer to God, then, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him. To love at all is to be vulnerable. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it. – C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”, 170

As one friend wrote: “As with all of life, this situation isn’t just about this situation; it’s about the Gospel and about ultimate reality. It’s about how the circumstances of our lives reflect or explain God’s character and His salvation plan. There is a big picture here going on, and though we can’t see it yet, it’s there.”

People continue to remind and encourage me that “you will dance again” which is an especially apt and vivid word picture for this lifelong lover of ballet, ballroom, and folk dancing. Another marvelous paradox: a dancer who is wounded yet called to dance all the same.

I imagine future dancing will appear different from any I have done before; as all dancers know, injury will affect your movements. This is true even if you fully recover from a physical injury, if only because your body learned to adapt and compensate during the season of healing.

For now, my steps are tentative, careful, and slow. Yet I am trying to dance all the same–albeit with some cringing. I dance because I know to Whom I belong: the One Who has protected me, strengthened me, and carried me every step I could not take myself. It is all a testimony to the grace and restoration our King works.

Some of the restoration will not be revealed until I get to go Home, but I believe the beauty will return. In some ways, it already has. Perhaps in the most important ways the beauty could never be lost. As C.S. Lewis wrote, even the suffering in love can be an acceptable and worthy offering to our King. For now, it is enough.

Read the entire series.

Wounded Healer – Part One

woundedhealer1The Dutch priest Henri Nouwen spoke of being “wounded healers” for His kingdom. When I first heard that simple phrase, something inside me drew back in reverent fear and awe. An awesome calling, to be sure, albeit far more elevated than I ever desired to climb.

Last winter my King brought me to a crossroads. It was a diverging of path which many far braver, far stronger saints than I have trod. If given time to ponder, I would readily have confessed that I did not qualify for that pathway. As much as I admired the witness of those believers, I was hoping for a road more in line with “happily ever after” than “though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). Yet His call to me refused to be reworded or revised:

Will you let me hurt you, my child? And instead of cringing away from the blow, will you open up all the wider and allow the fiery wound to sear you to the very core of your soul? Will you be broken for me? Will you bear these wounds not as marks of shame but shadows of future glory?

Will you be my wounded healer?

As many of you know, I was married in the fall of 2007. Early in 2008 my husband forced me to leave our home. Our merciful God knows all that I did and went through to keep the marriage alive. Because of His grace, my offering of my life and my love was not and will never be wasted. But a marriage requires two people. Against the counsel of our families, counselors, and pastors, my husband divorced me.

In one of the glorious paradoxes of the Christian life, even as I lost everything, I had lost nothing (Romans 8:31, 32). The Lord mercifully and faithfully provided for me. He also protected me—not from pain, rejection, or even evil, yet His care remained evident. He held me close and assured me that He would not let me drown. When reality became worse than my most-feared nightmare, He let me feel His nearness in the darkness.

Read the entire series.