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January 17, 2014

How to Have a Successful Separation

I never imagined myself separated or divorced. Oh, no-- it was ingrained into me from birth that marriage was for life. If I had not truly believed God was behind the idea (read my previous blogpost for more on that), I would never have done it.

I'm sure some of you believe that God would never condone or instruct a separation--I probably thought that before this, too. As rough as things had gotten, perhaps He could see that a more permanent break was around the bend without some divine intervention. And I came to believe He did instruct us about marital separation.

I'm not a fan of separations because the vast majority of them are simply a prelude to divorce. I feel compelled to share this journey because I would never want anyone to risk their marriage because of something that worked out for me, without knowing what was really going on.

I had heard of structured separations, and even had one friend who had saved her marriage with one. Looking back, if there's one thing I would have done differently, it would be to have the structure in place FIRST. As it was, we were separated for a couple of weeks before we were able to get into counseling with someone who oversees structured separations. That set us back a bit.

A Biblical Separation

Structured separations are based on 1 Corinthians 7:5:
"Do not withhold yourselves from each other unless you agree to do so just for a set time, in order to devote yourselves to prayer. Then you should come together again so that Satan does not tempt you through your lack of self-control."

The three parts of the separation are this:

1. The separation is for a set time.

We started with 90 days. At the end of that, it was obvious we needed to set another 90 days. After that we went on a month by month basis. There was always a goal in mind--never an indefinite "we'll see how it goes". I knew exactly what I was looking for to know when the separation would end. Unfortunately, it dragged on for 10 months. I probably wouldn't have initiated it if I'd known it would last that long. But things take as long as they take, and our counselor said it's better to take a week or month too long than to end it one day too soon.

2. The purpose is to devote yourselves to prayer.

Someone was going to own this separation--either God or Satan. To make sure it was God, our counselor assigned 10 hours of prayer a week. We also had contracts that outlined everything, including rules like not having sex with each other or anyone else (or even hanging out with someone of the opposite sex), having accountability partners (he typically likes it to be the Elders in your church), and respecting any personal boundaries. (For example, in the beginning, I asked that Steve not come to the house without prior arrangements.)

A large portion of my 10 hours of prayer time was spent declaring certain scriptures out loud. I spoke and wrote and tried to memorize Isaiah 61, a picture of the year of the Lord's favor, over my family many many times. Our counselor painted a beautiful picture for me of Psalm 103:20, that the angels "hearken" to God's words, to obey them. The word of God coming out of my mouth is still the word of God...I wanted to draw angels to my home by the constant audible flow of God's words, to make those words come true. It became "turbo" praying rather than just crying and begging (although there was a good deal of that as well!). I believe this was a major source of the surprising strength I had during that time.

3. Come back together again.
This goes hand in hand with #1. If you don't eventually come back together, it wasn't a scriptural separation. I'm sure that not every structured separation is successful. It takes both people being fully committed to reconciliation...both people sticking to the contract and spending enormous amounts of time in prayer. Both people acting out of love and not anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Those things may require some counseling, but the truth is, there's no way you won't be changed after 10 hours of prayer a week for many weeks in a row! (This would also be a good separation preventative!)

Extra Credit

I believe that some additional things helped:

1. Never entertaining the idea of divorce.
Things usually look worse before they look better. Taking captive every thought (2 Cor. 10:5) is important because there's a measure of relief in being alone after a difficult season. That's one of the dangers of separation. Just don't go there.

2. Trusting God
In my previous post, I told about how God led me into the separation. I had to trust that He was also leading me through it. It took some ugly turns. Alot of icky stuff had to be processed in both of us. I had to believe in something I Could.Not.See: His plans for our future.

3. Having a vision for the future.
Our counselor had us draw up a vision of the marriage and life we wanted, and review it often. It helped. Near the end, it provided valuable talking points for us.

4. Having a friend or counselor who empowers you through the Word.
My counselor never failed to inject the perfect scripture into me. I could show up lower than low, but I always left hearing Rocky music in my ear. I was also blessed to have a friend who rarely advised me. She would hear my sob-story, then ask to pray with me.

5. Being careful about taking advice from others.
I often felt very isolated and alone, but inevitably, when I would spend time with friends or receive "encouragement" from church members, it was often unhelpful. Many people misunderstood my intent and disapproved. Having the conviction of what God was doing, and why, gave me strength to stick to the plan and hold out for full restoration. I came to realize why isolation was a form of emotional protection. I really just needed to get all my direction from God and not feel the sting of other peoples' disapproval.

6. Learning how to set, enforce and respect boundaries.
The use of contracts helped us see where we had done a poor job of this over the years. The entire separation was a microcosm of this principle, in fact.

7. Having a goal to glorify God.
The guiding principle for me through the entire year was that our marriage would glorify God. To quit at anytime (which was tempting) would indicate that my flesh was winning out over this goal, that Satan would have scored another victory. All other hopes, dreams and desires were subjugated to this goal on a daily basis.

It Worked!

One of the things I learned during this time is that there are things that can only be learned by the passing of time. Time revealed that Steve was suffering from a PTSD-like depression from a few years of extreme stress. He was opposed to the separation, which is why it took so long, but, ultimately, it forced him awake and into treatment.

In my next posts, I'll share more of how God worked during those dark days and about the amazing opportunity that came out of our separation. Here we are on our Vow Renewal Day, August 16, 2013--Praise God!

October 17, 2013

The Necessary Journey

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight 
of the shore for a very long time.

One year ago yesterday I began a battle for the most important territory any one can own. I engaged in a monumental fight with the enemy over my family.

He had been pushing pushing pushing--and making headway--for a long time. There came a moment when I woke up to the magnitude of the mess and knew that there was something I needed to know or do that couldn't be known or done while I cooked in the pot of boiling water with the rest of my family.

I went away for two days to a quiet place with no media. I had two prayers: what's going on and what do you want me to do about it? I asked those questions once and then waited.

Sometime near the end of the second day, I came to the clearest crossroads I'd ever stood at. His way was a 90-day separation from my husband. This was not an idea I would have contemplated, so, as we all do, I looked around for another way. To the right was "continuing as we were," where all would eventually disintegrate. I quickly pondered the potential risks of the left fork. As each one came to my mind (in this order), the Spirit pointed to the other path, where an altar blocked passage.

1. What about Steve's job? (I knew a minister with marital problems could easily become a minister without a job) -  "Put it on the altar"
2. My house? (we were finally in the process of buying it) - "Put it on the altar"
3. My reputation? (what will people think?) - "Put it on the altar"
4. My marriage? "Why do you think we're doing this? Put it on the altar"
5. My kids? - "Yes, put them on the altar"

In the stillness, I had found that rare, sweet bubble of perfect communication with God. I was calm when I said to God: "You're telling me that I could lose these things. That's what putting them on the altar means." He said, "Yes. And you have to let me have Steve and do not try to control anything that happens." I knew that we had reached such a point of stress that we just needed for everybody to go to their separate corners for new perspective and rest--a pattern interrupter, if you will.

God's presence + that perfect clarity + my desire to save our family + my admittance that none of my ideas for doing that had worked = a strange, crystalline moment (slow motion but in the flash of an eye) where I weighed each one for a brief moment before literally seeing myself place them on the altar and letting go. I didn't feel I was gambling...I was entrusting my most valued (some conscious, some less conscious) possessions to my Heavenly Father who was offering me a way to redeem them. It wasn't a roll of the dice. It was absolute trust and a commitment to not look back. It was a sacred moment that I frequently had to return to as a reminder for why I had embarked on this path.

I haven't written much about that year because, frankly, I was too busy holding on for dear life. Whatever difficulties I thought we had before were instantly whipped up into a sandstorm that lasted for at least 8 months. Many things were stirred up so that the revelation of them would hasten healing. Strongholds were revealed in all of us that we had no clue were a part of the mix. Friends vanished. My three teenagers reacted in various difficult ways. Life was very hard.

I was asked to stand in a dark place, alone, not really understanding what was going on, not seeing what I hoped to see, having to be the strong one for a very long time. I didn't feel like a princess warrior most of the time; more like a bedraggled girl, clinging to God--and this journey I had agreed to--with every ounce of faith I had. At the same time, I actively engaged in spiritual warfare with the Word in a way I had never done before, which gave me miraculous strength, joy and peace in the midst of the storm.

There were only a few times I lost it:

1. When Steve lost his job a week into the journey, I wasn't surprised or alarmed. Several weeks later, however, I began to wrestle with grief, resentment, and anger that God's people had abandoned us in our darkest hour by removing nearly all vestiges of support--financial, physical and spiritual. I fed myself on a regular diet of Romans 8:28 for weeks, remembering that "all things work together for good for those who love the Lord." Somehow, this must be part of the plan. I still had the grief to work through, so I did.

2. When our house sale fell through, I panicked BIG TIME for an hour but a friend prayed me back to trust.

3. And one time, about mid-way through,  I saw myself having rowed far from our current shore toward our Promised Land. I looked back (which was my big mistake in that moment) and saw that I had lost sight of that shore, yet the new one was not visible yet. That was a scary time. I was adrift, alone, with no physical evidence that this was going to work out. I thought, "Did I gamble everything and lose?" God reminded me it hadn't been a gamble, it was the necessary journey. Donald Miller reminded me that this is the truth of the middle of any journey. You've come too far to turn back, but you can't see the finish line ahead.Stay the course. Keep rowing.

The conclusion to this chapter is that I did lose all 5 valuables during that season, and some remain lost still. Having my five most important identity supports stripped away while doing battle through the power of Jesus has a profoundly freeing effect. I tried to think like Job: The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

It turned out to be my saving grace in SO many ways.

Stay tuned for more of the journey!

June 25, 2013

4 Gifts of Being in the Maze

If you've ever felt like you were in a maze--stuck, boxed in, limited choices, dead ends--then I have some encouragement for you.

I base my observations on why being in a maze is a good thing on the authority of Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord.

Try to think like a mouse for a minute.

Yes, the field is full of potential and the maze is very restrictive. Yes, you might have some family and a comforting burrow in a natural habitat, and the maze is cold, lonely and empty.

Reframe for a moment with me, if you will:

Why the Maze Might Be Exactly What You Need Right Now:

1. There is a well-defined path to the end goal, even if YOU can't see it.
That's not true in the field. There may be many paths to many rewards. It's a time of exploration for someone who has all the time in the world, including the time to make mistakes (and the heart to endure them). The maze requires use of other senses than your eyes and current thinking, is all. Mice sniff their way through the corridors. What sense do you need to cultivate to feel your way through?

2. You can smell/sense the nearness of the reward.
The maze should alert you to the fact that there is a specific destination in your immediate future. The heightened sense of attention required to step into a specific destiny also makes you hypersensitive to your doubts. Disregard. As the writer of a beautiful greeting card on my refrigerator once said, "If you're going to doubt something, doubt your limits." This is a time for walking not according to the flesh but by faith in the guidance that gives you a glimpse of the big picture and the next step--and nothing else.

3. Someone designed this maze and is watching over you, desiring that you reach the cheese, and protecting you from mission-killing predators, weather, and bad decisions.
When you miss the turn your GPS has laid out for you, it immediately starts rerouting you, "Turn at the next light, make a U turn, you missed your turn, ok, fine, go up to the next light and make a right. What are you doing? It's not too late, if you get on the freeway up ahead you can loop around and we can still get there..." You can almost hear the GPS panicking.

This is not that. This is "there's no time for wrong turns."

Multiple options decrease focus and create the stress of decision-making. Freedom holds great potential...for success and for mistakes. A closed door is a great sign that you don't have to waste time on a dead-end. Who do you think is doing that for you? You'll feel a whole lot better if you trust Him.

4. There is an almost ironclad certainty that you will succeed as long as you don't quit.
We like guarantees. A lot. Just recently I heard someone who has walked with God for a long time say, the way we all do, "I just wish He'd give me the roadmap." If you're in a maze, you've got a more detailed roadmap than a field would give you.

Are You a Dummy?
I don't mean this to be rude, because I'm in a maze myself at the moment, but sometimes being in a maze might mean that your inattention, doubt or pride have caused you to miss the pleasant path through the field God tried to point you to, and that you require a maze to get where He undoubtedly wants you to go, despite yourself. Destination for Dummies, you might call it. Take it as a sign that He loves you and wants you to succeed enough to take the reins and get you there.

In a maze right now? Trusting the maze and it's creator might not shorten the trip to the prize, but it will reduce your focus on your confusion and claustrophobia and that will surely help you find your way to the end faster.

Got any other ideas to add to this list?