The Bench

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I clock a lot of hours on the bench at my kid’s gymnastics studio.  Not surprisingly, I hear more conversations than I would like to.  I’m not nosy, but I am female, so even though I try not to eavesdrop, sometimes it’s difficult to close my ears.

I’ve seen a lot of single dads at the gym lately.  You can always tell when there are drop offs between a tense mom and dad, usually in the middle of a divorce, and the gym is their neutral turnover zone.

Bags are exchanged.  Homework explained.  Guilt-trips are delicately laced with instructions.

Little kids wave goodbye to mommy or daddy and try and put on a brave face before their peers and coach.  Little tears escape, brushed away in an effort to be a “big girl.”

Shoulders are slumped.  Sadness exudes.  Defeat hangs like a dense fog.

I notice an air of confusion on many of the recently single parents.  It’s as if they wear a large sticker on their forehead reading “Why didn’t this divorce make me happier?”

One of these sad guys plopped himself down next to me the other day.  He looked well put together, effortlessly stylish –clearly he had money and confidence –and yet something was wanting.

Another man walked by and inquired how he was doing –and out the story spilled.

His wife left him for another man.  But not just any man –it was his best friend.  She is demanding $10k a month for her expenses.  She also left him with her daughter whom he was now raising.  They were married all of thirteen months.

Through his anger and liberal use of f-bombs, I heard heart-wrenching and desperately raw pain.

I tried to fade into the wall.  I didn’t want to hear it.  It brought back emotions and days I don’t want to remember.

I watched his little girl do a handstand and wave and blow kisses, trying to make him smile.  She could tell her daddy was hurting.

And it reminded me how every person I meet has a story. 

That even the uber-attractive and wealthy folks pulling out of the kiddie gym in a Ferrari are often dying on the inside. 

EVERY interaction and EVERY encounter I make is important to someone.  Each day I have the opportunity to bring life or death, joy or pain, comfort or more sorrow to an already suffering soul.

I was recently told by a pharmaceutical rep that our CVS Pharmacy in Ladera Ranch has the highest revenue in the nation of prescription anti-depressants. 

This means my community of beautiful wisteria clad homes, hard bodies, families with 2.3 kids, and happy smiley faces is secretly drowning in a disease of sorrow hidden behind image management.

I tried not to be intrusive, but as I left, I looked the man in the eye and acknowledged his pain.  He weakly smiled back and went on his way.

And I am brought to my knees, crying out to God for this hurting man, for my hurting community, and for a world where hope is holding on by a thin thread.

If you are one of those struggling today, please let me encourage you to hold on.  Reach out and let someone know you need help.  You can’t do life alone.  We need each other.  We need Jesus with skin on.  We need people.

God reveals himself and comforts us through those who have walked in our shoes and previously traveled down the dark roads. 

You aren’t alone.

Hang on my friends.  Hang on…

–Samantha

Putting the “Fun” Back into Dysfunction

Normally by this time of year I’d be up to my ears in Christmas cheer, volunteering, filling bags of gifts for kids of felons, and helping to clothe and feed the homeless. But this December, due to a demanding writing schedule I’ve been a bit lax in my elvish duties. I’ve watched instead of engaged.

So in a guilt ridden effort to do at least one noble deed for the greater good, I want to acknowledge those that have stepped up to the plate.

Take my ex-husband “Uncle Brent” for instance. (For more details of this twisted relationship see the Dysfunctional Family, and “NO” I am not from Arkansas or Appalachia or mountainous communities where we marry our brothers).

A few weeks ago Uncle Brent mentioned he and his wife “Auntie Lauren” wanted to serve the homeless. I just happened to have a flier from church with a list of all the “do good” activities I planned to do but put off (no judgment please).

But Brent actually followed through and took my two older kids (Kyle and Faith) last Saturday to serve in downtown Santa Ana. My son Kyle filled me in on their adventure. He told me the leader of the group –Randy, asked Brent if he knew how to pray. Brent replied “yes.” So Randy informed Brent that he was now in charge of praying for the whole group before they tended to the poor. (No pressure!)

Now this might not sound like a big deal to most of you –but it’s kind of a big deal to my son, to me and maybe to Brent too. He hasn’t been super involved in church in a long time –since our divorce, actually (eight years ago), and in a roundabout twisted way, it felt sort of redemptive.

I never wanted to be the reason someone turned away from God but in all the mess of the divorce, I clung to the church in my (victim mentality) righteousness and Brent moved away in his (bad-guy) shame.

The truth is there should be room for both of us and God makes no distinction between the prodigal son and the older brother who played by all the rules.

It took me a long time to embrace forgiveness and understand true mercy, to let go of my anger, move towards healing and learn to love my ex-husband like a real brother. Fortunately the benefits of extending grace have far outweighed the excruciating refinement of my crusty character.

I can honestly say I enjoy co-parenting my son and daughter with Uncle Brent and Aunt Lauren. I know all of you divorced parents out there are like, “Really?” Yes! Really. I pinky swear.

I love watching my husband and ex-husband hang Christmas lights together and bumble around on the boom, seeing little Kolby squeal with delight when Auntie Lauren comes over, and I am overwhelmed with emotion when I hear my boy telling me about his dad leading a group of humble servants in prayer and service to the poor and needy.

And to me…this is what it’s all about.

To seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

(Oh yeah…and TO FORGIVE. Even when it’s hard)

From the Keller’s to Uncle Brent and Aunt Lauren…we love you and Merry Christmas.

Samantha, Tim, Kyle Adams, Faith Adams, and Kolby Keller

If you would like to jump on board this Christmas and help out the poor in the South Orange County area, here is a list of service opportunities through Mariners Mission Viejo Church.

Spread the Love by serving this year! And if you sign up, let me know and I’ll join you.

The Dysfunctional Family

My baby said the word “uncle” today. That’s pretty good for a ten-month old tyke, if I do say so myself.  But, ironically, she didn’t say it to my brother, and my husband only has one sister.  The momentous words were directed specifically towards my ex-husband, now known as  “Uncle Bert.”  Welcome to our dysfunctional family.

If “sin” is missing the mark, than “divorce” is a rupture of the spirit.  No one gets married anticipating an excruciating dedomiciling, but life happens, choices are made, and sometimes the best couples separate.  Our sin nature permeates what God intended to be a beautiful symbol of the relationship between Christ and the Church.  The only problem with this lovely metaphor is that people, in all their flaws and selfishness, are part of the equation.

And so we screw up that which was meant to be Holy. Families are ripped apart.  Children blow out and bitterness sets in.  The lovely bride of Christ is alone, scared and forced to forge ahead into a wilderness of singled exile.

But after the drama recedes, the settlements are fought over, and the custody battle reasonably determined…the fragments of a family must be reassembled.  Two roads can be taken-either the road to more disparateness or the less traveled road to what I like to call “functional dysfunction.”

Right before I remarried, my then fiance and I were urged to attend blended family counseling.  So, off we trotted to hear words that didn’t settle so well in our self-righteous little paradigm.  Because I was the abandoned spouse, my demeanor towards my ex was patronizing at best.  I had anger buried deep in my heart and my hostility was only fueled with every poor decision my ex-husband made.

But the counsel we received forced us to reconsider, reflect and move in a counter-cultural direction.  We were told that our relationship with my ex-husband would determine our relationship with the children.  Our love for their father would be an indirect method of communicating love to them. And that every natural tendency to push him away would only end up shooting us and our children in the foot.

Thus followed a year of moving towards the very thing I wanted to run from.  I stopped arguing, stopped sniping, and moved at my ex-husband with brotherly love.  When he lost his car, my husband and I made a committment to help drive him to our kid’s games and practices so he could continue coaching our son in football.  Leaving work early three days a week to pick up my ex-husband did not come naturally.  Every trip was laced with prayer and surrender, but God was moving and my heart slowly softened.  As my husband drove him home some night’s after practice, their relationship grew stronger as well.

Later that year, my ex-husband remarried and his wife invited us for a shared Father’s Day celebration.  It was a sweet acknowledgement that the war had ceased and two broken pieces were fusing into one reconstructed family, albeit …  larger and messier than before.

Now, almost three years later, we have established what I like to call a good working relationship in the parenting realm.  We think of my ex-husband as our brother, and care for him like he is a part of the family.  Accepting the good and bad as we would any sibling ,and loving the way Christ loves us, without restrictions for our frailties.

I can honestly say my heart has changed, slowly and unwillingly at times, but the process has allowed me to walk free of the burden that so heavily weighed me down for years.  And so our new baby, the child of my second marriage, has a new “Uncle” and a big confusing family that someday we will have to explain.

“Sweetheart, your sister’s daddy is your uncle.” Yeah, I can’t wait for that conversation.

But, in God’s economy it seems to make perfect sense!

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