The Journal #3

by Rhonda, April 27, 2024

Few things are as disorienting as in-between times - between jobs, between relationships or between a rock and a hard place.  But nothing rattles the cage like a bad diagnosis, a pink slip, or divorce papers.  They cause the compass needle to spin.  And we feel lost because our plans and our lives fall apart.  But the upside is that it causes us to seek God with a raw intensity that cannot be manufactured any other way.  Disorientation has a way of driving us to our knees.  And that is one reason why the bad things that happen to us can actually turn into the best things that happen to us.
  (Mark Batterson, Wild Goose Chase)

I came across these words this week while reading.  I'm always so torn over how to discuss my divorce.  I never want to glorify divorce, but at the same time, I can't deny that it has caused me to seek God in ways I never would have before.  God pulled me out of the deepest trench I've even been in, so how can I not tell my story?  I've learned so much about God's unconditional love through my divorce.  He has shocked me with his gentleness towards me during some of my worst moments.  

As I make my way through re-reading a few items from my journals, I thought I'd share a few insights that God gave me in my lowest moments.  Sometimes I gather these things from reading, some from the Bible, and some from prayer.  I always bounce it off of the Bible to ensure authenticity, and I always write my realizations in God's voice, because I believe these realizations come from Him.  I hope they bless you as they have me.

  • Don't let fear rule you.  Your decisions change not only your life, but others as well.  Take a look at your decisions and look at the impacts on you as well as others around you.  Are they fear-based or faith-based?  Keep loving.  Keep leading in the direction I am taking you.
  • I can free you from your trauma, my child.  A life of faith is a life of freedom.  I earned your freedom through death on a cross.  Take the gift I have given to you.  I have given you My heart and My life.  My love for you knows no bounds, and there is power in this kind of love. 
  • I am going to give you a real family.  I had real family on earth.  Some were blood relation like My mother, and some were My disciples.  It didn't look like a storybook.  Nothing in my life did.  Yours doesn't have to, either.  Don't spend too much time grieving a fairy tale you've created in your mind that isn't real.  Simply move forward with your purpose.
  • You are faithful in your pain, and I see it.  I love you.  You've been through a lot of rejection, but you cannot change who you are because others reject you.  It is toxic and it will destroy you.  I will always restore you to your authentic self.  I want nothing to do with fake masks or images.  I created you, not some cheap imitation.  I never reject you.  I love you, the real, authentic you.  The world will reject you, but take heart, I have overcome the world.
  • Your body needs sleep when you are tired.  In a similar way, your mind needs rest, not manipulation.  I love you, and you are My daughter.  Stay strong in Me.  Keep close to Me and stay in My ways.  I will see you through this.  
  • Do not fear.  Fear is nothing but a mirage that disappears when confronted.  I am working in all of your situations.  Simply do as I ask of you and do not worry about the world's opinions.  No one else has solutions for you because no one else understands you like I do.  No one else loves you like I do.  My child, you must follow Me so all of these problems don't take you under.  Be kind, but follow Me. 
  • Only I can heal your wounds.  You must let go of the expectation that others will do it.  They cannot and they will not.  Take your pain to Me and don't let your anger well up.  Bring it all to Me.  
I have piles of journals with these messages over and over, because messages of love must be heard multiple times.  God knows this, and He never stops telling us how much He loves us.  

Divorce is hard, but God is greater than divorce.  His love can overcome anything.  Aren't we so incredibly blessed to have such a Savior and Creator?  

I couldn't survive without Him.

The Fence

by Rhonda, April 20, 2024

We have a sweet, cuddly, fat, spoiled dog that my daughter loves with her whole heart.  But, he's got a personality problem.  He likes to break out of our back yard.  No matter how many times we find a way to block the holes he digs under the fence, he seems to always find another weakness in the perimeter and gives himself a self-guided tour of the neighborhood.  This wouldn't be so bad if he would behave.  But, we weren't blessed with a dog that behaves. 

When he breaks out of the yard, he likes to go through the neighborhood trash, or anything else he can get his nose into.  Trash day is his favorite day because all of the trash cans are near the curb.  He can knock them over and sniff through the contents.  Let me tell you, the neighborhood loves him when he does this, and I have spent too many evenings picking up our neighbor's trash.  

About a year ago, our next door neighbor knocked on the front door with his teenage son.

"I know this is a weird question," he said, "but you haven't seen my son's shoes, have you?"

I looked at his son, standing in his work uniform and his socks.  I immediately chuckled and said no.  But then, I remembered seeing a shoe in the back yard and at the time, I thought it was my son's shoe and he probably left it lying around.  However, when I really thought about it, I realized it was an unfamiliar shoe.

"Wait," I said.  "I think they could could be in the back yard."

They followed me to the back yard, and much to my embarrassment, they were indeed my neighbor's shoes.  The teenage owner of these shoes worked at a fast food restaurant, and my dog loved the smell of those shoes, so he brought them home with him.

That is one of just many terrible experiences with our dog.  There was another instance where he took off, and my daughter and I followed him onto our neighbor's acreage to catch him.  Our neighbor didn't recognize us and called the police.  By the time we got it explained to our neighbor and I gave my name and contact information to the nice police officer, our dog had already come home and was sitting on the front porch when we pulled into the driveway.  I told him I was turning him into a floor rug, but he just wagged his tail at me.

We have a busy road near our home, so it isn't just annoying when he gets out of the yard.  It could be dangerous.  He's not smart enough to look out for ongoing traffic, so he's nearly been hit several times. Given no other choice, he is now under lockdown due to his terrible behavior. We supervise him every time he goes outside, since he poses a threat to the motorists on the road as well as the neighborhood shoes.  He views the fence as his prison, but it is actually there for his protection, since he is unable to navigate the dangers.  If only he understood we are protecting him.  But, he is stupid.

My annoying canine situation got me thinking about what it means to leave the protection of someone who loves you.  As much as I would hate to admit it (and I do hate to admit it), I probably share some spiritual traits with our dog.  I bolt from the safety of God's protection when I think I have a better idea.

Psalm 91:1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

We can make decisions in our lives that bring us peace.  We can also make decisions that bolt through our protective "fence" and throw us into chaos.  Danger abounds when we make these types of decisions, and we feel the impact of it immediately.

I have a terrible temper.  I blame my red hair, but the truth is my rebellious spirit is really to blame.  I know better than to get worked up over things, rolling them over in my mind, until I'm ready to tell someone off.  Disrespect-fully (is that a word?).

Every time I do this, I'm bolting through my fence.  One would think I would have figured this out before my mid-forties, but I honestly used to think these types of confrontations were necessary to be sure people respected you.  But, this type of behavior doesn't garner respect, and it certainly doesn't display the heart of Christ.

Yet, my temper likes to make an appearance anytime I feel threatened or rejected.  When I fall back into this behavior, I'm dealing with all kinds of fallout.  There's drama in my life, chaos, and resentment.  I have to work at healing relationships.  Let me tell you, life outside of the fence isn't all its cracked up to be.  The grass is not greener and I've found I prefer the still waters the Bible talks about.

Psalms 23:1-4  The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Another way I like to run straight through my fence is by refusing to rest.  God has been very clear with me that I need to take breaks and recognize a sabbath.  My introvert personality requires it.  I was designed for it.  My job requires a lot of hours, so I need to rest and take care of myself.

But, every so often, I decide I know better.  I will have a good time with my friends and my (albeit small) extrovert side decides to plan every weekend from here until eternity.  I need to take the families from Ukraine to a football game (they wouldn't be properly indoctrinated to America if I didn't).  Lionel Richie is on tour and I need to see him sing "Hello" in a stadium full of people.  I need to go to baseball games this summer, and don't forget, I also want to volunteer to help fix up our schools on the weekends.

Let me tell you how this plays out.  I become overwhelmed, overscheduled, and interestingly enough, my temper likes to make an appearance because I haven't had any downtime.  I also end up lying on the couch with a bag of Cheetos wondering why I can't find any peace.  God knew better, but I  blew through the fence and did things my own way.  It results in me getting run over on the highway of life, every time.

Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I'm not sure God can say it anymore clearly than he does in Isaiah.  His ideas are better than ours.  He knows what we need, even when we don't know.  He sees the bigger picture when we're distracted by small things.  But, we have to choose His ways over our desires.  That's where we always get tripped up.

If you're struggling with chaos in your life and looking for peace, it is worth examining whether you're running through a fence and doing things your own way.  I can tell you from experience, this ends up being true in my life more often than not.  Sometimes I run through the fence and don't realize it until I am dealing with the consequences.  

The amazing thing about our God is that He never closes the gate.  We're always welcome back, and we can always come home.  His love is unconditional and ever-faithful.  He's waiting for us with open arms every time.

That's our God.

The Tools

by Rhonda, April 15, 2024

There are days I get buried in it all.  Divorce often (not always) takes two people to contribute, and sometimes I look back at the last twenty years and wish I'd done things differently.  But, my marriage had been difficult for a long time, and near the end I felt like I was losing my mind in the craziness of it all.  He would say the same.  My life now is much more peaceful, I know that, but you also don't just forget twenty years.

I was thinking about when the kids were young the other day.  He and I had taken them camping, and there was a creek (nearly a river) we needed to cross by using stepping stones.  The water was rushing,  and I was ready to turn back towards the safety of the campsite.  My son was probably three years old, my daughter five.  There was no way they could jump between the stones to cross the river, and I just knew they would be swept away by the water if we attempted it.  But, he wanted to keep going.

So, he scooped both kids up, and he jumped across the stones in the river holding both of them like a sack of rocks under each arm.  They were laughing loudly, safe in their Dad's arms while he carried them to the other side.  They got to the other side of the river and then yelled for me to follow, which of course I did, because I couldn't be outdone.  I snapped a picture of it, and I am sure it is floating around in my storage room somewhere in the box of memories that I won't open.  I doubt the kids even remember it.

Life never takes us in the direction we anticipate.  I was at a business conference a few days ago and one of the speakers said, "The most difficult changes in my life have always resulted in my life being better, even though at the time it feels like everything is falling apart."  I've been pondering on that statement, wondering if it is indeed true for me.  I think the answer is yes and no.  God uses all things for good, for those who believe in Him.  But, I could have certainly lived without my son's cancer diagnosis, and a few other events in my life.

There's a new level of healing that occurs when I can look back at the past and be grateful for the experiences, but not feel buried under guilt, shame, or regret.  Its also a new level of spiritual maturity, and if I think about it, spiritual maturity seems to fast-track healing.  When I think about the past and begin to feel buried, the best counter-attack is to pursue my Savior.

I like to pursue Him in a variety of ways, but these are my top 3 ways in a situation like this:

1.  Prayer Journaling:  I spend five minutes writing down my prayers to Him.  I thank Him for things.  I ask Him for things.  I write down realizations I've had and ask Him if I'm on the right track.  I ask for help with my problems.  I set a timer on my phone and when it goes off after five minutes, I put my pen down.  

After five minutes, I set my timer for ten minutes and I write down everything I believe God is saying to me.  I try to always listen to God for twice as long as I talk.  I write down His truths about me, I write down Bible verses that come to mind, and I write down how much He loves me.  Over and over, I write down how much He loves me.

The interesting thing about this exercise is that if I go back through my piles of journals, God seems to tell me the same things over and over (and over) again.  I forget easily and so often, yet when I look back at the pages of my writings, I can see how He reminds me of the same things again and again.  His truths don't change.  He simply has to tell me a lot of times so I will remember.

2.  Exercise:  Even though I complain about it incessantly, I actually do enjoy exercising.  In particular, I enjoy running and listening to worship music.  There's something about pushing your body to do difficult things while listening to praise music that lifts your mind from a state of chaos to a state of praise.  I don't do this one often enough, because the hardest part of exercise is convincing yourself to start.  But, when I do, I never once regret doing it.

3.  Devotions, Podcasts, or Reading:  I am an avid Youtube watcher, and my subscription list is filled with live-streamed church services and devotion channels.  I like these types of study that help me read my Bible, and also understand my Bible.  There's been a lot of situations where I've struggled and I click on a podcast that directly addresses my particular dilemma.  

If my mind is exhausted, I won't watch devotions or podcasts on television.  I'll pick up my Bible or a Christian book instead.  I still love old-school reading where we get to flip the pages and make notes in the margins.  Sometimes I need to turn off all distractions and just curl up with a book that tells me biblical truths.

These are some of my tools to stop my mind from taking me to the bottom of my grief.  I think it is important for everyone to have their own spiritual tools, and it is important to know yourself well enough to know your favorite ways of working on your personal relationship with God.  Your tools may be unique, because our God made you unique.  

If you find yourself recovering from a very difficult event in your past, it might be worthwhile to write down your list.  I called them tools, but in reality, they're weapons.  They're tools for you to connect with God, but they're also weapons to be used against your enemy.  I love the image of a tool being used to help you connect with God as one function, but the same tool becomes a defense weapon.

So, fill your toolbox and stock your arsenal.  

You aren't meant to be overrun with the past.  You're meant to be powerful in the future.

The Mold

by Rhonda, April 02, 2024

Are you a morning person?  

I've tried to become a morning person, but it has never worked out for me.  I've tried to exercise in the mornings.  It lasts for about three days.  I've tried to wake up early in the mornings, study my Bible, and spend time in prayer.  I always fall asleep in the prayer time of that particular plan.  I've tried to wake up early to meal prep for my day.  It always ends up with lunch purchased somewhere nearby by yours truly.

I felt vindicated when my DNA genetic testing said I typically like to wake up around 7:40 in the morning.  I now have scientific, indisputable proof that I'm not a morning person.  It feels good, not gonna lie.  I am backed up by science when I hit the snooze button at 6 a.m.

A few weeks ago, I got up early to eat some breakfast cereal before I went to work.  I got halfway through my bowl of cereal (which yes, was likely expired) when I realized, much to my horror, there were little things floating around my cereal bowl that appeared to have wings.  I hadn't noticed them because I hadn't fully opened my eyes yet and I wasn't fully aware of my surroundings at that time of the morning.

I was unhappy, to say the least.  

I threw my cereal into the trash and fumed, "God, I'm not sure but I think I just ate a bunch of bugs."  Then I waited for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit to comfort me.

At last the voice came.  "John The Baptist ate bugs."

"John the Baptist ate bugs on purpose," I argued with the creator of the universe.  "ON PURPOSE."

I stomped off to my bathroom to get ready for work.  I can only imagine in the heavenly realm, an angel approaching the Lord and asking, "What's wrong with Rhonda today?" and God answering, "She's upset because she just ate a bowl of bugs."

It was true, I was very upset that I ate a bowl of bugs and I was in a bad mood for the rest of the day.  I'm really not sure why I'm telling you this story, or what it has to do with anything, but I'm still upset about it and feel the need to unburden myself.  

Check your cereal boxes, people.

Anyways, as I was saying, I'm not a morning person.  I had a great uncle who was a farmer.  Every morning he would get up at the crack of dawn and read his Bible in the kitchen.  I can still see him, in his overalls, hunched over the wooden table in the kitchen.  But, if someone walked into the room, he always put away his Bible and greeted you with the warmest welcome.  He was a wonderful person, and I miss him.  

I've often felt really guilty that I can't seem to wake up early and get in a serious devotional time before I start my day.   But, over and over, I come back to my study time (and writing time) in the evenings.  My evenings with God are awesome.  I can talk to him about my day, I can thank him for paving the way before me.  I can calm my mind down before I sleep.

I think sometimes we get into this trap of what a Christian needs to look like.  I don't fit the mold.  A houseful of Ukraine refugees.  Mom of two kids. Divorced.  Eating a bowl of bugs (it happens to the best of us).  Cannot get up early to read the Bible for the life of me.  House is often a mess.  Even the dog doesn't listen and continually breaks out and roams the neighborhood.

But, we only need to read a few stories in the Bible to realize the most devoted Christians probably didn't fit the mold either.

Moses was a murderer.  David was too, along with a whole lot of other crazy stuff fit for a reality TV show.  Solomon seemed to have to try every sinful thing in life to determine whether it had meaning.  (Spoiler alert, he said it was all a chasing of the wind.  Over and over.)      

Whenever I get into this rut of feeling less than the ideal Christian, I remember that Christ Himself didn't fit the mold either.  I'm certainly not suggesting he was a sinner like the others listed here.  But, I love knowing that He didn't lead a solemn, boring life.  If any of us had written His story, it wouldn't have been written the way it happened.  

His life was adventurous, compassionate, and I can't help but think He and the disciples had fun from time to time.  Who puts a coin in the mouth of a fish and doesn't have a sense of humor (Matthew 17:24)?  And did Peter roll his eyes when it happened?  Did he laugh?  Surely he did.  No one saw that one coming from the Savior.

So, if you are like me and did not plan on being divorced and leading a life that seems less than a picture-perfect Christian, you might find some solace in knowing the most important Son in history was rejected, too, because He didn't quite fit in.  Its okay.  

All you really have to do is love Jesus and do your best to pattern your life after His.  

He loves you exactly the way you are.