Guard Your Heart

Almost immediately after the separation from my ex-wife I saw the verse in Proverbs 4:23 that I knew to be very important to my future.

“Guard your heart more than anything else,
because the source of your life flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23 (God’s Word Translation)

Over the last few years I’ve thought about this verse regularly and have seen some success over the last 6 months in actually applying this to my dating life.  So as a warning — this is not a theological inductive study of this passage.  It’s just a simple walk through my experience with trying to apply it to my life.

GUard your heart

The first couple of relationships after the breakup of my marriage were very quick and emotional and full of poetry and song-writing and undying love and they were sort of a parabola of Start from nothing build to this huge emotional high and then dropped off into nothing again.  I think the longest was a month or six weeks and then there was the 21 day “relationship.”  I was clearly not guarding my heart here.  I was learning though.

By the time the third relationship came around, I took it slower — and by that I mean I didn’t tell her of my undying love for her until a month or two into the relationship.  I’ll pause for you all to finish laughing.

I’m a pretty emotional guy and I tend to have this all-in approach to relationships. This third relationship lasted much longer (almost two years), so there was success in the longevity, but I think I was still learning what it means to guard your heart.  I definitely ignored a lot of red flags and warning signs from friends and even directly from my girlfriend and kept trudging on with the “love conquers all” approach.  While highly romantic, the tendency with banking on love to get you through everything breaks down when only one is in love.  It’s not realistic. It’s not adult.  It’s a film-clip style romance that when battered by the winds of reality, breaks down.

So how am I learning to guard my heart?  I am using my brain as a gate keeper.  Some translations of this passage don’t even mention “heart” they just say “keep close watch on your thoughts…” or some derivative of this.  I am seeing the more women I date that it is easy to choose to fall in love.  If she’s beautiful to me, if she’s into me, if we can chat about anything, if she is affectionate, if she’s smart, if she treats me with respect, if she speaks kind words, if she’s fun, it’s not difficult for me to fall in love.  I’m a hopeless romantic.  I believe in love.  I believe that I will find someone who will be a best friend, a lover and someone to grow old with me right by my side.  I’m looking earnestly for that.  So when a woman comes by that hits that criteria, it’s easy to lose any kind of thought process, begin the poetry writing and the wooing and fall head over heels.

What I’m seeing here in the last six months is there are a lot of women out there with which this is possible.  I’m not saying I’ve been a playa over the last year or anything, just that I’ve had a lot of first dates and even several ongoing multiple date relationships that showed me that there are great women out there who are actually hitting all those criteria for me.  Yet, here I am, not in a relationship.  Why?  I think it’s because of heart-guarding.

But guarding my heart means choosing
very deliberately the woman I want to love.
Maybe you could argue that this is taking
some of the romance out of it.
This is undoubtedly true.

I’m working hard at seeing the big picture.  Two of the women I could have easily fallen for lived 45 minutes away from me.  One lives on the other side of the country.  Reason suggests that none of these conditions are optimal and they probably would eventually end in frustration for both of us.   To be clear, both 45 min away ladies ended our dating for that reason, but I didn’t fight it or argue.  I knew they were right and it was only a matter of time.  Another relationship ended after 4 dates because all of the criteria above was in place but she really just wanted a homebody.  I’m not that. I saw it quickly and ended it.

In addition over the last several months I’ve also met a lot of great women that have become good friends.  Every one of them would make someone a great wife.  They’re Godly women, they’re fun, they’re beautiful.  I think some of them would probably go out on a date with me (and some of them actually have), but I think this whole Guard Your Heart thing as also evolved into a place that some would call “being picky.”  I’ve actually been called that very frequently by several of my buddies.  But I think I’ve shown in the past that I have not made good decisions about who I fall in love with.  My ex-wife and even the 2 year relationship recently are good examples of this.  I dove in too quickly, didn’t understand what I was getting into and fell hopelessly in love with a woman who wouldn’t be a good fit for me long-term.  Both times.

Again — I could’ve worked really hard to make all of these relationships work.  Indeed, I wrote poetry for a couple of these ladies and felt some very strong attraction and infatuation with them.  But guarding my heart means choosing very deliberately the woman I want to love.  Maybe you could argue that this is taking some of the romance out of it.  This is undoubtedly true.  Everyone dreams of being swept off their feet and immersed in a whirlwind romance with a perfect woman.  I’ve had that experience.  It’s intoxicating.  It’s exhilarating.  It’s not love though it feels like it.  It’s passion. It’s infatuation.  It can develop into love, or it can fall apart in a spectacular fireworks show.

(Hint:  It’s most frequently the latter of those two options)

So when faced with an initial blast of feelings of passion and infatuation, what is my response?  Well, for me, it’s sitting down at my blog and working through it on paper.  It’s talking with a couple of key friends to get some coordinated wisdom.  It’s making sure I’m not wooing at warp speed.  I’m not calling her 4 times a day, I’m not talking to her for 2 hours every time we chat.  All of those things feed a fast and furious passionate rush to decision and to fall in love.

Here’s the scary thought for me.  I’m not sure if this is the right approach, but I do know that I’ve never lived like this before.  Every other girlfriend in the past 25-30 years I’ve fallen completely in love with before I really even knew them.  Including the ex-wife.  So maybe I’m trying to not expect different results from the same action any longer.  Maybe I am working hard to Guard My Heart now.

So here’s my challenge to you.  As you are seeking out your soulmate — are you careful about who you let tug on your heartstrings?  I see a lot of guys out there who are more than willing to jump at a woman who is kind to them or smiles their way or gives them any kind of attention.  I don’t think that is anywhere close to guarding your heart.  I definitely have been there and get why it happens, but I would caution you (and the ladies who have similar attention-desires).  Guard Your Heart.  Step slowly into that great ocean of love.  Step carefully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pre-Christmas for Alienated Parents

Christmas-Tree-Nature1024-226431Hi all — I know Christmas can be an incredibly difficult time for many of us.  I’ve recently connected with a group of divorced Dads and am seeing my own feelings replicated so often among them.  I would encourage you this Christmas Season to take some of these suggestions and run with them to keep you from the fetal position on the couch for days at a time.  And yes, I’ve been there.  But in the future — you don’t have to be.

Some of these are predicated on the fact that you would have a group of friends to do stuff with this holiday season.  If you don’t feel like you have this, here’s your first step.  Do a Friend Audit.  Make a list of all the friends you have.  Doesn’t matter if they are just acquaintances, work friends, relatives, or people you’d like to get to know (keep potential romantic interests in the friend zone for this audit).  Keep at it until you have a list of about 15-20 people.  Great if there’s more.

Then do a Loneliness Forecast.  Get out your calendar.  There’s sure to be stuff there already for Christmas parties for work or family events, etc. You should be okay keeping busy there, but look for holes in the calendar.  These would be days where you don’t have anything going or evenings you know will be hard because maybe you have traditions you used to do with your kids that you won’t be doing this year (like on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day).   Note which days these might be and start to plan things and find friends from your list that you could invite.  The key here is to anticipate the difficult days ahead and plan accordingly.

Here’s reality.  Virtually every single or divorced and all alienated parents are looking for friends and stuff to do around the holidays.  People are off work, there’s that evil liar “nostalgia” that works around the corners of your mind and there’s just plain loneliness.  So with all that in mind…

Jim’s suggestions for not letting Christmas get you down.

  1. Look for other Singles, lonely people you know and divorced dads/moms and schedule things to do on Christmas Day.  One of the dads in my group has a Christmas breakfast tradition with his mom and invited our whole group.  I think 10 guys are going.  I wish I could be there, but I’m spending Christmas away at my parents.  Another friend has invited the crew out to see a movie that afternoon.  Over Thanksgiving I fed the homeless and went to a pub to watch a game with a buddy and his kids.  Both great distractions and made for a great day.
  2. Spend time with the rest of your family.  Go visit your brother, sister, parents, nieces, nephews, grandma etc.  I’ve done this the last 3 years and probably won’t always do it, but it’s great for me right now.  They live on the other side of the country, and yeah, it costs money, but it’s good for my soul.
  3. Find Christmas events to go to with a group of friends.  Christmas plays, musicals, skating nights, Christmas parties, etc.  Do as much of this stuff you can.  Getting out around other people is essential for your sanity this time of year.  Staying home alone will cause depression, discouragement and hopelessness.  Know yourself well enough and plan ahead for this.
  4. Keep expectations low.  Don’t build yourself up into a big frenzy that this is the year you’ll hear from the kids.  This also helps if you do hear from them — you don’t want to gush and cry and get all weird on them if that happens, you just want to be gracious and kind and loving and the parent you’ve always been.
  5. Mix it up.  Plan a date for one night (find someone online or through a friend, it can be a first date, but it gets you out and mingling).  Do something with the dudes one day (paintball? Watching a bowl game?).  Find a thing to do with a mixed crowd — friend Christmas party, or Karaoke night, New Year’s Eve on the town, etc.  Don’t just invite the same friends, you’ve got a list — use it.
  6. Serve.  Nothing helps you get in the Christmas spirit better than doing something for the less fortunate around us.   Do the white Envelope thing (google it).  Serve at a soup kitchen.  Get two guys together and deliver Angel Tree Presents for kids whose parents are incarcerated.  I did this with two buddies and it was incredible.
  7. Perform.  I have been an “extra” along with 150 of my closest friends two years for my Church’s Christmas Program.  There’s 15 shows over 2 weeks and you spend huge amounts of time together.  It’s a great place to make friends and feel like you’re part of a family.  Anytime you do a show with people, there’s bonding.  Jump in.  Do something you haven’t done in a long time.  Be daring.  You are a better person for doing it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you who read this.  I hope I’ve helped in a small way to make it more bearable for you all!

Santa Jim

Serendipity

http://www.amazingoasis.org/2013/11/best-coin-ever-spent.html

If you haven’t seen the video about the impromptu concert in the park, you should.  I’ve linked it above.  Saw it on facebook this morning in the middle of a normal work day and found myself getting pretty emotional about it by the time it was over.  I’m not saying it’s going to have the same impact on you, but I spent some time thinking about why it hit me so hard.

I’ve written before here on this blog how I think it is so important to let yourself feel.  I spent over 20 years in a very difficult marriage with a spouse who alternated between completely ignoring me and screaming at me.  The end result of this was a person who was forced to hold back whatever he felt for fear of being ridiculed or shunned.  So over the last year since the separation and divorce, I’ve worked very hard to not let feelings go by unchecked.

Please understand, I’m not saying that we should be governed by our feelings or let them dictate our actions — in point of fact, that is exactly what the ex has repeatedly done and it has created a “walking on eggshells” situation with me and with the kids and her as well — though I’m not sure they are old enough to understand that.  What I am saying is that when you feel something, it’s usually an indicator of something in the subconscious mind that is needing to be understood.  I’m tearing up here, what in the world would cause me to tear up during a McDonald’s commercial?  Why does a concert in the park cause emotion?  Why am I so incredibly happy when my girlfriend comes to meet my friends for the first time?  

All of these emotions occurred suddenly and uncontrollably.  Which leads me to ask why and to investigate the root causes of them.  I think that is such a healthy approach.  The tendency for people in an alienated parent situation is to try to ignore the pain and push it away.  It se

Christmas at DTW

ems counterintuitive to most of us, but the embracing of the pain and the emotion actually helps us work through it better and often quicker as well.

So after this period of introspection, I think I understand why the concert in the park hit me hard.  In addition to the efforts to actually “feel” over the last year, I’ve also worked hard to see God’s intervention in my life, to take advantage of the beauty around me and to notice things that went unnoticed in the busy-ness of married with kids life.  It’s a characteristic in me that I’ve cultivated and hope to carry throughout the rest of my life, whether I’m a step-dad at some point or get reunited with my kids.  Noticing these serendipitous moments has become a mission of mine.  Like the picture from Detroit Metro Airport in November — Christmas kinda snuck up on me and it made me smile.  Seeing the tree in the concourse was a calm serendipity in the middle of a busy travel day.  It was noticed.

So in the midst of all the pain you are all dealing with this holiday season, Stop.  Embrace the sorrow and the sadness.  Cry a bit.  Feel.  Then also take time to notice the little glimpses of heaven that God is dropping in front of you every day.  The friend saying “I would love to see you for lunch.”  The Christmas wreath on the run-down apartment building.  The dad carrying his daughter on his shoulders to see the lights better.  Thank God for the beauty all around you and for where he is leading you right now.  In the midst of all the painful memories of Christmas gone, embrace Christmas now.

God Bless us everyone.

Jim

Weakness

A car accident in Tokyo, Japan. Español: Un ac...
A car accident in Tokyo, Japan. Español: Un accidente automovilístico en Tokyo, Japón. Français : Un accident de voiture à Tokyo (Japon). 日本語: 東京での交通事故 ‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: En bilulykke i Tokyo, Japan. Português: Um acidente de carro em Tóquio, Japão. Русский: Дорожно-транспортное происшествие в Токио, Япония Türkçe: Tokyo, Japonya’da bir araba kazası (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Sunday’s message at church was about letting God show up in our weakness.  We were challenged to own up to our weaknesses and let God take them and make them something incredible.  So here goes.

 

There are so many times throughout this whole alienation process where I have been willing to let things go to avoid a scene or a blow up that would certainly result.  Much like during the actual marriage, I sacrificed what I believed in and what I valued for the sake of peace.  It is weakness.  It is unwillingness to stand up for what I believe in because I’m afraid.  Or because I don’t know what to say or do, so I don’t do anything.

 

Case in point — today at a soccer game, my daughter was walking past the snack bar where I was working (let’s just say it’s easier to have a job in the snack bar than to sit by myself in the stands…).  She was talking to a friend on her cell phone explaining her accident.  Apparently she was rear-ended by someone, from what I overheard.  Interestingly, she stood close enough and spoke loud enough that I heard almost the entire conversation.  I think that was purposeful on her part.  She wanted to make sure I heard the lines like, “Yeah, I called mom like 6 times and couldn’t reach her and I didn’t know what to do so I called you (about her friend).”  She walked directly past me, like two feet in front of the snack bar window on her way back to the bleachers and I asked her, “So, you got in an accident?”  She acted like I didn’t exist.  No response at all, just a firm scowl and a deliberate walk.

 

She’d left a very angry voicemail on my phone on Friday.  I had responded via email, explaining to her that I would love to have a relationship with her, but that it can’t be a yelling relationship.  That when she was ready to have a non-yelling relationship, I would love to see her.  That had been our last “communication.”

 

So today when she gave me the cold shoulder, I honestly just stood there not knowing how to handle it.  Feeling weak.  Feeling impotent.  Feeling like whatever I did would be hated, create anger and make things worse.  So I did nothing.  It’s two hours later, and I’m still not sure what I should have or could have done.  Writing helps me explore my true thoughts and feelings, so lets go through the options.

 

1)  Speak louder.  Say her name and ask louder what happened so she’s embarrassed in front of others if she doesn’t respond.  PROBABLE RESULT:  ignoring me or turning around and yelling at me to leave her alone.

 

2) Send an email to her mom, mentioning that this is “life-change” event and by judges ruling is required to let me know about them.  PROBABLE RESULT:  “You heard her talking, you see she’s okay.  You know.”  From her mom.

 

3) Walk over to her and make sure she’s okay.  PROBABLE RESULT:  see number one above.

 

4) Write her a nice email reminding her that her dad is still here and available and would love to help her in moments like that in her life.  Tell her I’m glad she’s okay and that I hope she can get her truck fixed without too much trouble.  PROBABLE RESULT:  no response.

 

So, I think I’m going with #4, mainly because it’s the only option left at this point and it is more in character with how I’ve treated the relationship for the last year: Return hate and anger with love.  Firm boundaries, and love.

 

But in all of this, I think I get the message from Church — I am weak.  I need God to intervene.  In my weakness.  To make me strong and make this relationship strong again.

 

 

 

Contagious

A football (or soccer ball) icon.
A football (or soccer ball) icon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The thought occurred to me the other day, sitting in the soccer stands, watching another of my son’s high school games.  I must be contagious.  Why else would the former friends and soccer-watching-fellow-parents keep a judicious 20 feet away from me?  They’ll say hi, assuming I make eye contact and they haven’t looked away fast enough or assuming there’s no one else within a 50 foot radius and they have no choice in order to avoid a major social faux pas.

 

I wonder if wives tell husbands they’d better not have friendships with these divorced guys — they might catch that divorce fever and then their marriage is headed for the ICU as well….  I’m being a bit facetious.  Of course wives don’t have these conversations — they don’t need to — their husbands already get it from the negative reactions their wives have to any alternative view of the situation then the poor single mother who now must make a go of it on her own.  

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not judging any single mothers — there are many of them out there who are doing whatever they can to ensure their kids have a great relationship with their father and are working their tails off to support the now split family.  I’m judging this judgment that our society has for single fathers where we are guilty until proven innocent — and theirs no trial or place for us to ever prove that innocence.  So we are just guilty.  Most mature adults realize that it takes two to tango.  Most parents tell their kids that there are two sides to every story and maybe rather than judging the side we don’t know about, we should be curious and care enough to find out what is happening on both sides of the equation.

 

Instead, we have experiences like a week ago.  One of the mom’s from my old church walked by with her 8 year old son (whom I taught in his Church Programs).  We used to talk very regularly in our small group.  I knew her kids well — I’d taught them, coached them, and been their camp counselor.  As they walked by, I saw the 8 year old tug on her arm and say (not quite out of reach of my ears), “Momma, why don’t we talk to Mr. Jim anymore.”

 

I would have given $100 to hear her response.

 

I’m fairly certain I didn’t treat divorcees as contagious before I went through  this.  I’m also fairly certain I didn’t go out of my way to love on them.  One of the last times I was at my old church, I walked in late to a pre-Easter service and there was a chair open next to an acquaintance of mine.  It was three months after my separation and filing for divorce.  It was a pretty emotional time for me.  I sat down next to Charles.  He immediately patted my knee and made me feel welcome.  It was all I could do to keep from breaking down in tears.  Just that little human touch meant so much at that moment for me.  I wasn’t contagious to Charles.

 

All of this reminds me of the approach Jesus took toward the divorced and the contagious in the Gospels.  The woman at the well had been divorced 5 times and was living with her current man.  Jesus treated her with respect and love when no one else would even talk to her.  If you look at the interactions with the truly contagious, like the lepers, even then, Jesus had no qualms about touching them and being involved in their lives.

 

What we need is more people treating divorcees and non-divorcees a like as non-contagious and people needing love.  Go do that today.

 

 

 

Jim

 

 

 

Hope

...Hope...
…Hope… (Photo credit: ĐāżŦ {mostly absent})

When you find yourself in an alienated situation, you run the gamut of emotions from helplessness to anger to frustration to hopelessness to agony.  At some point or another, you’ll take even the smallest kindness as progress.  See my previous post for an example of this.

It’s very, very important to do this.  You’re not grasping at straws, you’re not reading “things into the situation.”  If you are able to even find the smallest things, like a text that isn’t angry, or your daughter holding the elevator for you at the DMV and allowing you to ride down with her and her boyfriend, then these small things can be steps to building a foundation for reconciliation.

Both of those small things happened in the last month with my daughter and then we had the water bottle gift earlier this week that all gave me hope that something was beginning to cause the ice to begin to thaw.

I was scheduled to deliver her new laptop to her yesterday morning and then she texted me to say she wasn’t home and could I just drop it off on the porch.  For some reason, I had envisioned me delivering it in person to her, showing her how to use Windows 8 and downloading office for her and getting the chance to just talk to her a bit about ANYTHING but the divorce.

So I was a bit forlorn as I drove to their new place to deliver the laptop, but noticed that they were driving down the long driveway, coming home, just before me, so I hoped maybe my vision would pan out.

In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have imagined that I would spend 90 minutes or so with my daughter and her Mom, just, as she put it “catching up.”  I learned about their new jobs, my daughter’s approach to her senior year (at a college, not a high school – which sounds like a very cool program).  I learned about their new horse and everything I wanted to know about their new home.  I got to meet the new horse and say hi to the old one as well as the dogs and cat.  They invited me in and we sat talking at the kitchen table while I worked on the laptop.

I got to share with them some of the things happening in my life and they got to see me as the calm and honest and decent guy I am, not this thing that they have made me out to be in the last 8 months.  As I left, I gave (and received) a great hug from my daughter and did the arm hug thing with my ex wife.  They walked me out to the car in the twilight and we chatted a bit more.

Then my ex broke down in tears (no one had said anything to really trigger it, that I could tell) and my daughter went over to comfort her.  I stood there not really knowing what to do and so after about 30 seconds, just said, “I think I overstayed my welcome, guys, I’m sorry, I’m going to head out…” and I drove off.  I texted back my daughter to say much the same thing and she replied that I hadn’t overstayed the welcome at all, but that they were just remembering the way things used to be.

It took me 3 miles before I couldn’t control it anymore and just wept.  I wept for the answer to MONTHS of prayer.  I wept for the lost time and the missed moments I was hearing about with both kids.  I wept for the loss of the dreams and the marriage.

I had been praying that when this moment came with my daughter that I wouldn’t break down in tears or get emotional in front of her.  That God would help me be calm and relaxed and myself.  All of those things happened.  I wept because God had answered my prayer, sooner than I’d expected and in a way that just blew my mind.

After decompressing with my best friend — I have said before here that I can’t just ignore emotions, but have to try to understand them.  My best friend is such a huge help with that.  Plus, he needed to hear the good news.

After I left his place, I thought for a while about a couple of things I learned about praying for the impossible.  Sorry, this is probably going to be a bit preachy, but I just feel like all of you struggling through this need to hear it…

1)  Pray.  Get others to pray.  Pray for specific results (in this case, a change of heart in my daughter and son).  Pray for specific events where those results could occur — many of you were praying for us yesterday because of my “long odyssey” post.

2)  Live in a way that honors God in spite of not seeing answers to your prayers.  I’m not saying be perfect, none of us can do that.  But talk with God and read and meditate and spend time with Him.  Whatever he’s called you to do — do that, until he’s called you to do something else.   Psalm 112:4  “Even in darkness, light dawns for the upright.”

3)  Be ready and patient and (Most important) Expectant for the answer to your prayer.

Thanks for all your prayers.  We’ve built a small foundation upon which to rebuild our relationship.  There’s a very long road ahead of us.  But I have hope.

Setting Goals

I’m learning as I go through this time alone that it is so very important to have goals and milestones to look forward to that are under my control.  If I try to set goals like “by November I will have regular visits with my kids,” I’m most likely setting myself up for failure — I don’t really have any control over whether or not that occurs.  I can set goals like — “by November I will be in the habit of writing letters to them 2x per week and leaving 1 voicemail per week”– then I can control that.  But I can’t control their reaction to those letters and calls.

November
November (Photo credit: kurafire)

So I think specific, actionable goals for MY actions toward the kids are very positive.  I’ve been working toward just such a goal of late and seem to be pretty successful with the letter part.  Just stepped up to voicemails again this week.

 

But I think there are other things that are within your control that you can also set as goals and that will help a) take your mind off of the pain of the separation and b) channel your energy into something useful.  I’m at the early stages this week of beginning to investigate a long-term dream of mine that would mean a change of career at some point (probably far into the future).  But there are a lot of steps to take prior to ever making that final career step.  I’m taking it slow, doing tons of due diligence,saving money and getting all of my ducks in a row instead of taking a wild leap into the future.  I have alimony and child support to consider and I cannot risk a dip in income, even for a dream career.

 

I put all of those caveats in there because you certainly DON’T want to make any serious life-changing decisions during at least the initial year or so of the alienation period.  You want to make sure you’ve adapted to your new life without your kids as best you can and then see about potential life-changing decisions.  But, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore future options.  As an example, I’m looking at going back for my MBA, helping with my church’s Christmas musical, working with the kids in my church’s children’s ministry and other things.

 

While I may not do all of them or even most of them, they give me the opportunity to get out and do something, they enable me to channel my parenting energies into something useful and they also have the potential to help me make new friends.

 

So I encourage you — begin dreaming again — not just about when your kids come back to you — but about what your life is supposed to be in the interim without them.  Let’s face it — you were going to have to deal with this when they went to college anyway, so why not be ready in advance….