Sunday, September 25, 2016

You are here, Emmanuel



You are here in the hurricane, You carry me through the driving rain
All I need to know is You are with me.
You are here in the desert sun, And in Your shadows where I belong
All I need to know, is You are with me.
We will never walk alone, Emmanuel, You abide with us, Emmanuel
You were there when the battle raged, Now these scars are a song of praise
All I've ever known is You beside me
You were there in the lions' den, You keep me safe til I'm home again
All I've ever known is You beside me


We believe that our God will keep us, Til the very end
You are here, You are here, Emmanuel, You are here, in the fire, Emmanuel
(Emmanuel by Martin Smith, from the album God’s Great Dance Floor)

Today in a church, one of many I have attended in my life, I sang this song.  As I did, I pondered the significance in God being there, and His tangible presence being with me, in that particular local church.

His Spirit was definitely there today, in spite of the fact that there has been quite a mixture coming from the pulpit of this church in the past year- everything from bizarre manifest destiny revisionist history lessons by a nationally discredited guest speaker, to amazing sermons on prayer and the Holy Spirit from the senior pastor that contributed to my spiritual growth, to patriarchal marriage teaching on Valentine’s Day from a church elder that insensitively ignored the existence of singles, possibility of spousal abuse or the daily realities of single parents in the congregation.

You are here, you are here, Emmanuel.

I reflected again.  It is really no less amazing that God showed up in an imperfect church where there is a mixture of good and bad, truth and lies today with His Holy Spirit than it is that He has done it many other times for me throughout my life, and throughout history for all His people.

He was there with me when, at the age of 20, I reluctantly left my non-demoninational church of choice to attend a traditional Baptist church.  My mother had remarried a narcissist posing as a Baptist preacher and I was told that I needed to attend church with them in order to be right with God.  I did, but continued to raise my hands and use sign language while singing traditional hymns, much to the alarm of the elders. Eventually I found I could close my eyes, shut them out, and still have my worship time with Jesus in that church too.

You are here in the fire, Emmanuel.

He was there with me when a few years later I was worshipping Him in the weekly services of a cult that I unwittingly joined.  His presence remained with me there in a setting where I was almost completely controlled and deceived by a number of dangerous false teachings; where for almost two years I was told I had a spirit of Jezebel and was unable to hear from God or even pray apart from the direction and covering of male leadership, and where all of the congregation was taught that to go to a doctor for medical help for even a life threatening condition was lack of faith that would open us up to demons.

You kept me safe in the lion’s den.

He was there with me a couple of years later when I was praising Him weekly in one of the biggest Cantonese Christian churches in Hong Kong. I was surrounded by strangers who didn’t speak English, didn’t know me, and didn’t know that I was trapped in an abusive marriage and singing and weeping my heart out every week not out of joy, or from a burden for the lost, but out of desperation to enter God’s presence for a few minutes to get what I needed to survive one more week of hell on earth. 

You kept me safe til I’m home again.

He was there with me in the church in Nepal, a foreigner singing in an unfamiliar language, struggling to understand the words of the sermon, swathed in local clothing and sitting at the back of the church on the floor nursing my baby under my scarf.  He whispered to me there in the wind that came in the back door and reminded me that He spoke my language and  fully understood what I could not clearly express to those around me.

All I’ve ever known is You beside me.

He was there with me in the California mega-church where I attended while I was fighting to hold my marriage together though my heart was broken in a million pieces by unfaithfulness, lies and betrayal.  I offered up my praise and worship in tightly scheduled services and His Spirit slipped through the spaces in the script to comfort my heart. I heard God speak to me directly on grace and deliver me from a lifetime of legalism through a pastor who didn’t even know my name.

Now these scars are a song of praise.

He was there with me in the small Texas church where after my divorce I finally found the joy and freedom to dance in praise again. I encountered God and His anointing and provision multiple times in multiple ways in the seven years we attended and thought I had found my permanent safe place, totally unaware of the lack of ethics in the leadership. I would eventually be attacked and turned against and leave so disillusioned and deeply wounded that my children and I are still recovering several years later.

We will never walk alone, Emmanuel.

He was there with me where we visited more than one church, for seasons of each, looking for a good fit.  No matter where we were, God’s presence found a way through whatever style of worship was there, and whatever type of message was preached. In each place God and His Spirit would always find its way through the imperfect form to our hearts with conviction, instruction and encouragement.

You are here with us, Emmanuel.

My mind traveled back over all these seasons today, and I again marveled at how God is not limited by the century, the environment, the culture, the script, man’s agendas, less than pure motives in leadership, church trends, size, politics, legalism or even false doctrine.  He can and He will break through all of it to the hungry heart seeking Him and reach and them with His anointing, His Word and His truth.

I am not alone in my experiences.  There are centuries of church history full of such stories. But He is faithful even when we get it wrong, or when the church we are worshipping in gets it wrong.

If it were not so, He would not be anywhere.

But He is here,

He is here,

Emmanuel.



Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Raft instead of a Village

“Are you CRYING?!”

My 15 year old son reacted in alarm as he happened to glance over at my face as I was driving. 

(The very fact that this is an unusual occurrence these days says a lot.)

“Yeah.”

“Why?!”

I struggled to put it into words.  I had randomly thought of a couple who had lived on a street we had just passed, a young couple we were friends with, no children, who had been on staff and in church with me at a very difficult time in my life when I was becoming single and going back to work with three young children.  Based on the relationship we had, I had specifically reached out to them and asked if they could be a temporary part of my support team in the absence of family to help me with my kids.

They had politely declined, citing busy work, school and life schedules.

And I felt embarrassed for asking, and went on without their help.

And now, I had made it, without them, and didn’t need that kind of help anymore.

Weird reason to cry, I know.  But suddenly it had all come flooding back, the memory of my desperate day-to-day struggle to find child care and help ten years ago, when my kids were too young to be left alone, when they couldn’t drive themselves places, when every day was cobbling together tiny pieces of life and support wherever I could find it.

Memories also, of another young couple from our church, also on staff and working in the same department and living very close to me.  More than once they walked right past me making endless phone calls seeking childcare, or struggling with small children and bags of groceries, or needing other practical assistance with my house, without offering to step in, and making it abundantly clear with specific statements and deliberate behavior that they did not want to get involved in helping me unless it involved pay.  I’m pretty sure they weren’t trying to be mean, but rather thought they were doing the right thing establishing healthy boundaries for their personal lives.

So I redefined what “friendship” with them meant, and went on without their help.

I went on, without parents, without other family, and without much practical help from a church “family” who saw me every Sunday teaching children’s church or in the nursery and never really ever got what I was going through the other six days a week.

‘Cause I put a brave face on it, as best I could.  And somehow, there was always just enough help to get by on.  Not comfortably.   Not consistently.  But enough to keep from going under.

And eventually, there were others.  A sweet lady in my church who babysat for a living and watched all three of my kids come for the price of what she usually charged for one.  Another acquaintance, not in my church, who had taught my daughter sewing class, and watched my kids a few times for free.  A boss that let me bring my kids with me to work.  One family who sometimes picked up my son from Royal Rangers and took him home afterwards. And eventually, a children’s pastor and his wife who were at our church for a brief year and truly lived and understood what the words “church family” and “community” and “relationship” were supposed to mean- after years of emptiness there was actually someone at my church who would regularly offer to come pick up my kids for events and either bring them home or have them spend the night at their home afterwards. They were also the first ones in my own actual church to make me feel like they saw me as real family, and liked to be a part of my life instead of performing a reluctant Christian service when I asked for help. 

This meant a lot because I spent so much of my time agonizing over asking for the simplest “favors”- like once or twice a year asking another family with kids in an event with mine to pick them up or bring them home when I was working.  And when they did, but didn’t say, “sure, no trouble,” or act positive, or offer to do it again, I would obsess over whether they thought I was needy or taking advantage or asking too much, or if I should have offered them more gas money. Even when people were nice, I was always worried that I had asked one too many times.

(I since have realized that if this kind of relational and practical support isn’t a personal value of the pastors in the church, you aren’t likely to find it consistently functioning through the rest of people there, or in the church structure.  It has to be built in by the leaders as an intentional value.)

I felt like I had to profusely apologize for every time I asked a person not related to me for even the smallest bit of help, whether it was kid related, car related, or home maintenance related.  I would offer to pay people, and then when they would sometimes take it, I would realize that indeed, they didn’t feel any obligation to me as a friend or a sister in Christ or a fellow church member or whatever, and I was expected to stand on my own two feet.

And so I did, though it cost me a great deal.

The struggle was real.  But now, a big part of that was over.  The reason I was crying was that I suddenly realized with relief that I had made it to a new stage of life, and had actually been experiencing and enjoying it for while without realizing I had arrived.

The random acts of kindness from scattered individuals and friends at inconsistent times had gotten me through.  God in His goodness made sure I never went under the choppy waves of life and single parenthood.  I never got a cruise ship to rescue me, but there was always a raft or a life preserver – or I was given the strength to dog paddle.

(Lots of dog-paddling.)

And now.  Now my kids are 15, 17, and 18.  The need for child care and transportation help is totally past. Two are graduated from high school. The oldest two drive and I own two vehicles.  They are all supportive and helpful when I need it. 

The tears my son asked about were those of a mama had been paddling her little raft through the storm for years, and suddenly realized the waves had subsided and she had come into port.



This was a bit hard to put in words for my 15 year old.  But I tried.

He was silent a minute and then said, “Wow, okay.  That’s deep.”

Yeah, it was.  Thank God He brought us through the deep waters, and used those willing to be used.

Just want to shout out to those of you still in the choppy water of single parenting or isolated parenting with littles.  Hang in there.  God is good.  You will make it. Keep reaching out.  Some people will be there for you when others aren’t.  Forgive those who aren’t- it may seem like they are selfish (and maybe they are) or maybe they are just oblivious, or have their own private crisis you are unaware of.  And move on. Do your best alone when you have to. Keep looking for your tribe. If one person or one group of people lets you down, I promise, ask God and He will make it up to you, somehow, even if it is giving you the strength to dog paddle for a little while until you get to the next raft of support.

It does eventually get easier.  And on that note, another BIG shout out to the good people who were/are there for me- you know who you are.  I love you deeply and this blog is not in any way meant to minimize the help you gave and still give.

Beyond this, I have been interested to gradually realize that I am not the only one to experience the isolation and challenge of raising kids without a family, a tribe, or a village.  (In the Absence of a Village, Mothers Suffer Most.) It is an American phenomenon, affecting all demographics, and both two parent and one parent families. Most of us don’t live near extended families, don’t live in small close knit communities, and don’t interact much with our actual neighbors.  Most of us pay through the nose for decent childcare from people not related to us. Most churches don’t address or provide for this need for community and practical support.

Although I survived with sporadic support, and lived to tell about it, I am aware of how desperate it can get in the trenches. I don’t have any mind-blowing solutions except that as best we can in our fragmented culture we need to try to lend one another a hand.  Even if you can’t be someone’s everything long term, you can probably offer a ride or two, or take someone’s kids to the park once a month, or bring a sick family a meal or help someone move, or offer to help a single mom friend with car maintenance.  Whatever your thing is, someone would probably very much appreciate it. If you notice another family going to all the same events you do, offer to car-pool or ride share.  Moms with littles are desperate for household help they probably can’t afford- consider sending your tween or young teenage girls to be helpers for a day.  Or how about calling another mother with small children for a “mom date” at Chick-Fil-A while your kids all play?

Because even a little bit of help can be someone’s life preserver or raft when they are tired of dog-paddling.

It made all the difference in the world to me.





Friday, April 29, 2016

A Good Mom

Mother’s Day has been a difficult day for me for many years.  That’s why I’m especially pleased to redeem it this year… with a story.

The fourth book in the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series includes one short story by yours truly called, “A Good Mom”. Of all the stories I’ve published in this series, this one is especially close to my heart.  Writing from the point of view of a single mother, I was able to pour in some of the emotion of my own experience.





When you are a single mom, you often find yourself in awkward situations.  Like suggesting a family your kids made friends with come over to dinner sometime, and getting a laugh from the wife as if you made a joke and the comment, “But who would my husband have to talk to?”  Or meeting new people at a homeschool social event and getting along great until the question comes up, “What does your husband do?”

The thing is, I’m pretty contented being a single mom until these weird moments pop up.  Like, I practically forget I’m different, because single parenthood has become my normal. My comfortable normal, in fact, like a comfy sweater that I wear every day and forget that it has unusual patchwork colors until someone stares or comments.  My kids and I have good relationships, finances are stable, and I have a solid circle of friends who know my back-story.

And actually, I’m not so different.  When I get into heart to heart talks with other mothers, whether they are married, divorced and remarried, or single, if I get past their facades, I often find someone who shares my values and feelings.  I find that we all worry about our kids, and we all want what is best for them.  I find we all think we fall short.  I find we all get tired. 

And most of all, we all love our kids.

I’d like to think that what we have in common is much greater than our differences.  

When I see other mothers, I don’t think of them as different from me, I think of them as the same.  When I am with mothers in labor as their midwife, I remember my labors.  When I see other mothers struggling to get their crying children into their car seats, I remember that struggle all too well.  When I see moms cheering for their kids, or hugging their kids, or praying for their kids- I identify.  I do all those things too.

And so, here is my request to the mothers who are married- don’t see single mothers as different.  They are no less than you.  They are doing their best, just like you are.  They love their children. And they are broken, just like you are.  Their brokenness just shows in a more visible way.

To the other single moms this Mother’s Day, I want to tell you something too.  You are no less able to parent your children than someone who is married.  You have everything you need inside of you.

And God is for you. You are a good mom.

And by God’s grace and with His help, so am I.

You can read my story and many others in 21 Days of Joy - now available from Amazon.com and Christianbook.com

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Relationship Status with Church: It's complicated



Last weekend I had a friend spend the weekend with me.  She mentioned she wasn’t sure about Sunday morning plans because she had read my last blog, Valentine's Day Lies in Church and didn’t know where I "stood with church" at the moment.

Another cue that I need to do some clarifying came a couple of weeks ago when I was dropping my kids off at our homeschool co-op play practice, giving me a rare opportunity to interact with some of the other mothers I don’t see very often.   One gal I hadn’t seen in a while hugged me, and then we sat and chatted while our kids figured out where to stand on the stage.

“I just love seeing everything you post on Facebook.  Except the stuff about church, that just breaks my heart.”

So, yeah, need to clarify. Here’s the bottom line (as of today).  Church is hard.  I still go.  I’m a Christian (trying).  It’s what I (mostly) do.  I have yet to ditch church attendance for any length of time since I was carried in as a baby.  Probably has mostly to do with my long history/habit of being and doing everything in church that one possibly can do.

As a brief clarification, Biblically and theologically the Church (with a capital C) is people, not a building.  Biblically, church is supposed to be Jesus followers, doing life together, and showing and telling everyone else around them the good news of Jesus.   But they/we don’t do that very well.  That simple concept of church is as messed up as anything else is in our messed up broken world.  And so, as part of the brokenness, when most people speak of “going to church” (with a small c) they are referring to a specific group or sub-division of Christians that meet in a building or place, under the signboard of a denomination or name. 

As far as my involvement with the Church, I’ve pretty much done it all- from full time ministry/missions overseas for six continuous years where I did everything from teaching in indigenous Bible schools, to evangelizing unreached areas, to smuggling Bibles to the underground church, to discipling new believers to helping plant churches, to preaching on Sunday, to organizing conferences, to participating in giant crusades, to writing newsletters, to itinerating and fund raising – and, I must not forget to mention, that I was pregnant and delivering and raising my kids during this time.  This isn’t counting various stateside church roles I’ve filled both before and since then: home group leader, lead children’s church teacher, VBS volunteer, mission director, altar prayer team member, women’s conference speaker, and church janitor. I’ve done everything from preaching behind the pulpit to vacuuming under it.  And I’m really familiar with church toilets.  

(You could definitely say I know all about the Church excrement, both literal and figurative kinds.)

As a child and a teenager raised in Church, I was taught to expect that the greatest attacks on my faith and the hardest things that would come my way in life would come from “the world”- the secular community outside of the church.  However, this was not where any of my hardest trials of life actually came from.  The greatest temptation to “quit” my faith did not come from the evil government, from the secular community, or from non-Christians from any sector.

My greatest trials and personal attacks have all very much come from within and from the place that was supposed to be safe and where I was supposed to find support. The church. Christians.  People who say they follow Jesus.   And especially the leaders of this group of folks, and those in ministry.

While I have found and kept many good and loyal friends within the Church who have stood by me through thick and thin (including pastors), I have found that the Church as a group doesn’t handle certain things very well, nor do many of its individual members. 

The Church doesn’t handle marriage problems between its members well.  Church leaders are not trained to know how to discern the difference between a couple needing counselling, and an abusive or unsafe situation, nor what to do about it when they do figure it out. The Church doesn’t know what to do when its leaders start sinning or getting out of line.  The Church often doesn’t know what to do with singles, either before marriage or after a divorce.  The Church clings desperately to rules and legalism, no matter how much they profess grace and freedom in Christ, and often default to applying these arbitrarily to anyone and everyone.  The Church gets really hung up on external appearances and behavior and status and has trouble valuing everyone equally.  The Church has big issues with both race and gender. The Church does not understand grief nor is it comfortable with brokenness, messy circumstances,  pain or depression- therefore it often minimizes, rejects or ignores its members who have these things. The Church is more comfortable with a “top down” business model of organization than servant leadership and relationships. 

And sadly, the Church is not exempt from corruption. Some people are attracted to church leadership and Christian ministry precisely because they have narcissism and control issues, and the church is a good place to act those out. In other situations when sincere church leaders gain status and influence and fame, they are just as likely to be corrupted by them as their secular counterparts in business, entertainment and politics.

And, as a Jesus-follower who has drunk of many bitter waters of life, I found my church tribe as a whole hasn’t always done so well by me.  In some cases they flat out abandoned me and failed me.  In other cases they were just at a loss.  In other cases I got in the way of their carefully planned agendas.  In a few situations, they totally screwed me, and, I have also been burned.

But at other times, at so many other times, the Church has been my place of comfort.  It is where I have gone- and still go- to find strength to face the coming week.  It is where I go to worship corporately.  It is where I go to take communion.  It is where I go to hear the Word of God taught and proclaimed publicly. It is where I go because I have freedom of religion and I can, at a time when many Christians in other countries do not have that privilege.

And it is where I take my kids to do all these things too.  You see, it isn’t just about me and how I struggle with feeling jaded about church as I approach half a century of life on the twisted planet. It is about my teenagers who are only at the beginning of their journey.  There have been times I “got nothing” out of a church service and one of my kids might say, “That was the best sermon I ever heard.”   And I would think, okay, that’s why I went today. 

Because, I am the church, my kids are the church, and in participating and attending, we are also a part of making it better.  My blogging about my negative experiences and frustrations with church are nothing more than a chapter in my own journey of short-comings and pain, and how sometimes that intersected with the short-comings of the body of Christ as a whole.  It is not a deserter’s diatribe, nor the railings of a bitter backslider.

It is me telling the truth about how we - us- the church- need to change.  It is me saying, hey, how about we stop hurting broken people, because that is actually most of us.  It is me saying, how about we admit most of the people here are struggling with everything everyone else in the world struggles with, and start helping them instead of ignoring it.  It is me saying, how about we be less about programs and doctrines and politics and more about support and love and honesty and relationships?  

So as we say on Facebook, yes, I’m "in a relationship" with a local church.   Yes, I “attend” a specific sub-group of the body of Christ.  No, I am not always happy with things that are said and done there- sometimes they are hurtful and damaging to me and many others.   And so, yes, I will speak up, for how else will there be change?  

And is it only the church I attend or the church at large that needs to change?  Of course not.  And that’s another reason I keep going. I know I need to be there for me, for my own spiritual growth.

Yes.  It’s complicated.  

But most relationships are- at least, ones worth having.











Monday, February 15, 2016

Valentine's Day Lies in Church




Today I was lied to in church.  By the man behind the pulpit. On Valentine’s Day.

I really didn’t want to go to church today at all.  I woke up at three AM with a horrible stuffy nose and after spending over two hours trying to get relief from everything from rubbing tiger balm on my chest, to sticking lavender oil up my nose with a Q-tip, to taking allergy medicine, to finally resorting to the magic cold medicine purchased in India, I finally fell asleep propped up on tons of pillows.  

Getting up on Sunday morning after all that wasn’t easy.  Making breakfast for my family wasn’t easy.  Getting my Valentine’s Day mood on for my teens wasn’t easy.  And following through on the regular plans to go to church sure wasn’t easy.  But hey, I’m trying.

It did occur to me – briefly- that Valentine’s Day coinciding with church might be a problem. But I pushed that thought away, get thee behind me Satan.  I shouldn’t be over sensitive to Valentine’s Day anyway.  I’m so over my abusive marriage and excruciating divorce. It couldn’t be the Holy Spirit trying to tell me to stay home in my robe and drink coffee, no way, that has to be the devil.  Church is where I go to get healed from my past and move forward and Lord knows I need to do that, and I’m sure there will be an encouraging sermon, so go I shall.

And so I went.  And all the drugs kicked in and my worship time was rather hazy.  I think I was sitting down for most of it.  I think Jesus and I had a conversation in there somewhere.  We were good. 

And then I find out that we are not going to have a message from the senior pastor, but rather hear from an apostolic elder who has been teaching in the XO marriage conference the church has been having for the past two days, and this is a continuation.  Yep.  Sunday morning, Valentine’s Day, and the sermon is coming straight from Ephesians 5. 

Shoot. Me. Now. Okay I need to hold it together for the teens.  I don’t need them to pick up my issues about marriage.  They need to hear good solid Bible teaching on marriage. I need to pretend I’m cool with this so they can do better in life than I did.

Then I get this text on my phone from teenager #2:  “Ahem, this is single awareness day. He needs to get it right.”

I text back (because I have to try to be the adult) “Good actually for him to preach this.  For the peeps that didn’t come to the marriage conference.”

But she is too quick for me and shoots back another text: “Too bad it’s totally irrelevant to 97% of the church.”

I sit up straight and look down the row at her, and give her the eye, the mama look that says more clearly than words, “Young lady that is not true and besides you need to stop texting.”

She texts back: “Yes, 100% true and you know it.”

Sigh.  I’m beaten and I know it.  But still maybe something good will come of this. 

But nothing good did.

First of all there was not one disclaimer of any kind that a sermon entitled “God’s Perfect Plan for Marriage” would not apply to everyone listening whether they were married or not.  On the contrary, he actually said it was for everyone whether they were married or single. No clarifications or exceptions mentioned.

And this is how he started, stating the three things he wanted to make sure all the thousands of people in all the campuses and online listening heard – including all the single people, separated because of addiction or abuse people, divorced people, children of divorced people, widows and widowers, as well as actual married people-  had straight right off the bat:

 1. God has a perfect plan for marriage

 2. You have a 100% chance of success in marriage. (This was repeated many times).

     3. The reason marriage is failing in our society is because we have rejected the Word of God.

The only allusion to divorce was (word for word quote), “If you failed in marriage, if this is maybe your second or third marriage, I hope this is your last marriage, but I want you to know you have a 100% chance of success in marriage. God made you for marriage.”  No mention of special circumstances of abuse or addiction requiring separation or divorce.  No mentioning that someone might have failed you in a marriage even though you did your part.  No mention of currently divorced people or single parents existing in the world at all.
   
No mention that some people are called to be single and that is a good thing. In fact, quite the opposite, we were told it wasn’t good that man should be alone and statistics showed married men lived longer… because their wives make them eat salad and vitamins.

About this time I get one more text from my irreverent child:



Over and over again we were told God’s word has a 100% success rate for marriages.  There was not one clarification or exception given.  We were told that if we didn’t like Ephesians 5 it was because of our flesh reacting.  “There is no plan B because this is God’s perfect plan. This works for everyone that does it, and it’s not complicated and it’s not hard.”

Um, excuse me?  Anyone who has ever been married or who is currently married out there agree that marriage isn’t hard?  No?  I didn’t think so.

But according to this speaker the take away comes down to: if you are divorced you didn’t obey the Bible.  If you are a woman it means you didn’t submit and respect your husband.  If you are a man you didn’t nurture and cherish your wife as your own body enough, or lay down your life enough.

He read Ephesians chapter 5.  And then he said, “The roles in Ephesians 5 make us attractive to our spouse and cause them to open their hearts to us. They will not open their hearts to you until you do what this says right here. If you do these things it is incredible the change it makes in a marriage.”

And I lost it, right there in church and the tears came.  With that one statement this man reopened the wound caused by that evil lie that had been repeated to me over and over again, from the pulpit, from marriage books, from marriage counselors and from my abuser.  If I would submit and have a gentle quiet spirit my husband would find me attractive and he would treat me well and love me.  Based on this premise, the obvious reason he didn’t love me and stay faithful to me was because I hadn’t honored him, respected him, and submitted to him properly. 

I really thought I had completely replaced that lie with the actual Biblical truth that God gives us all free will and nothing I do can make anyone else do anything.  But this apostolic elder found that old wound under my well healed skin and stabbed it open again, right there in church in front of my kids and everything. He rubbed in a little I Peter 3:2 salt in it just for good measure with this personal application (his exact quote): “You can change your husband without a word as he observes your chaste and respectful behavior.”

He even repeated it, just to be sure we all got it: “You are your husband’s equal in every way, but without a word you can change him.”

We were told to be gentle in person but violent in prayer.  Hmm, I wonder if praying three copies of “Power of a Praying Wife” to pieces counts for that.  Apparently not. I must not have prayed enough, because the Word of God has a 100% success rate.

I’m thinking about the message my kids are getting, sitting there next to me.  The Word of God has a 100% success rate, but their parents are divorced.  That equals, wish Mom had just respected Dad and prayed more and we wouldn’t be in this mess.

The speaker did say he believed that men and women were equal, more than once.  But then he proceeded to unsay that by almost every example he gave.  I was shocked to hear things so outdated that I have no idea how this person is preaching them in 2016 in the fourth largest church in America.  The speaker actually recounted the eight cow wife story, made famous by everyone in the 1980s from Readers Digest to Bill Gothard- after giving the disclaimer-  “I don’t know if this is true or not.” 

We were also told at one point how women react positively to men’s sweat.  Not as in sexual pheromones, but as in, men sweating as they perform housework.  He described a test done at the University of Pennsylvania where men’s sweat was put on women’s upper lip and found that under the influence of male sweat women “relax, get happy and feel romantic.”  “So men, (the speaker declared) you are a clean house away from the night of your dreams.” 

I tried desperately not to let my mind go certain places and began to wonder if I was in church or listening to a 50 Shades of Gray promo or in the Twilight Zone.

But hey, I do wish I had known all those years that all I needed to do is submit and all my husband needed to do was clean the house to fix those deep issues of dysfunction, abuse, addiction, unfaithfulness, and living lies. Come to think of it, I did submit, and he actually did clean the house regularly... and that didn’t fix things. At all.  It actually made them worse. 

FYI and totally TMI, his sweat did NOT turn me on.

Then there was this little gem: “If we could reach our potential on our own God wouldn’t have created marriage.”

Excuse me?  We reach our full potential in MARRIAGE?  Not through Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit?   Seriously?  

That really sucks for singles, since I guess they will never reach their full potential.

Yes apparently he really meant that. We were told the role of every husband is to be God’s partner to bring his wife to her full potential.  He has stewardship over her, like a piece of land.  One day every man will stand before God and give account for the most precious thing God gave him, his wife.

Um, I’m no theologian but I’m pretty sure we all stand before God individually and give account for our individual lives.  I actually think that according to the teachings of Jesus, He is the vine and His Father is the husbandman, or the “farmer” and I am to abide in Him for growth. (John 15) Jesus is the only one who is my high priest or who stands before God for me. (I Timothy 2:5) Under the new covenant I can’t use my husband (or now my ex) as an excuse for anything I did or didn’t do in this life.

And here’s where we got the eight cow wife story.  If there was any way to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of his audience that a preacher really doesn’t believe what he said earlier about men and women being equal it’s by telling a story about a man buying a wife with cows.

Oh and now comes the one tiny part of his message directed to the single women, “Don’t sell yourself short to any man who is looking for a discount wife.  You are worth eight cows. Oh just kidding, you are worth a lot more than that… haha.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen this is exactly why I wanted to raise my half Indian daughters in America instead of elsewhere- so someday when they were 17 and 18 they could sit in an American mega church in 2016 and be told they were worth 8 cows.  Thank you for that.

Then he mentions Proverbs 31 and concludes that the wife gets all the credit for her husband being an elder because her respect created an atmosphere that allowed her husband to excel. “Her behavior produced an elder in the city.”  Oh joy.  Now promotion – or lack thereof – can be attributed to how much respect a husband is getting or not getting at home.

Pressure much?  And isn’t that a dis on both husband and wife?

And then he talked about the merit of cheerleaders in men’s sports.  Yes, he actually went there.  And said the role of wives is to be cheerleaders and husband will be inspired to live up to his full potential.

Cheerleaders and eight cow wives.

And finally, the icing on the cake.  Our greatest sins in marriage: Women are too independent and men are too apathetic. Uh oh.  Shades of Jezebel and Ahab stuff for sure.  I’m having flashbacks to cultish deliverance sessions.

“This has a 100% success rate, it isn’t complicated it just takes a respect for the Word of God and a commitment to do what it says.”

So… if your marriage failed you didn’t respect the Word of God?

His prayer at closing: For the single people- for God to bring them a spouse.  For marriages- open our eyes to the reality and brilliance of your Word, and the perfect plan that will work for us.

Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

I’m sorry, my friends, I may be a divorcee without a degree and this man may be an apostolic elder who heads a marriage ministry and has a TV show on marriage and has written books on marriage- but I’m calling out this sermon today as inappropriate application of scripture: overly simplistic, misleading, hurtful and damaging.  (Not to mention totally insensitive timing.) This is legalism, pure and simple, for it puts all the responsibility for a marriage on what one person can do, and how well they can do it. This kind of message leads to ignorance and minimizing of deeper problems of addiction and abuse among Christians, which actually makes them worse.

Furthermore this kind of simplistic “marriage teaching” in the Church hurts both men and women.  Why?  It condemns them and dismisses all their real life  and very complex personal and marriage issues that cannot be "fixed" by simply submitting or nurturing. 

These complex issues can include family of origin dysfunction, spouses coming from different backgrounds, a history of physical or emotional abuse, sexual trauma or dysfunction, infertility, the death of a child, PTSD, sexual and substance addictions, depression, codependency, chronic pain, and verbal, emotional or physical abuse, just to name a few real life situations that are affecting people and their marriages every day.

And when none of these problems are acknowledged in church, everyone who is experiencing them feels shamed and isolated. They wonder if they are only one who struggles among this church full of seemingly normal people.  This leads to people not being able to be honest about their problems, to faking it to look like their marriage is fine when it isn't. When you are told from the pulpit that all you have to do is follow Ephesians 5 and every problem in your marriage will be fixed, it doesn't make you feel safe to open up when that doesn't happen.

And if that isn’t what the speaker meant to convey, he should have stated that.  Because hundreds of both men and women in all these situations were sitting in church listening to that sermon today, on Valentine’s Day, and feeling condemned, depressed, beat up and hopeless because they’ve tried, and it wasn’t easy and didn’t work perfectly.

It rarely does.  Because the truth is, marriage isn’t simple.  It’s hard.  Because life itself isn’t simple.  It’s hard.  Please pastors, don’t lie to us like that in church.  And don’t tell us our marriages have 100% chance of success if we follow the Christian formula (any more than you should tell us if we raise their kids a certain way they are guaranteed not to rebel- after all, the Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it- 100% guarantee.)

Very little is 100% in this life – apart from God’s unfailing love for us- and that’s 100% because that depends 100% on God and 0% on people.

Tell people instead that life is hard, marriage is hard, singleness is hard, being divorced is hard… but no matter which hard you have, God’s love is powerful to carry us through, 365 days of the year.

Maybe, just maybe, not on Valentine’s Day.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Unfair

Yesterday I was listening to the news as I was driving home from work.  Sitting in my air-conditioned car, ambulating myself home on my own timetable, I heard the report of Syrian refugees who had been stopped in a train station in Hungary.  Attempting to get to Germany by train, the issues of borders and politics and governments had stopped them in a station.  To avoid being forced into a refugee camp they had refused to get off the train.

And so they were still in the train. All day in the heat.  And then into the night.  Men, women and children.

As I pulled into a gas station and turned off the key and the news, I was struck at the intense contrast of where I was at that exact moment, and where they were.  I got out of my own car.  Swiped my debit card.  Filled up the tank of my personal car with fuel.   Got back in, turned on the key, drove to my home.  A nice house in the country of my birth, in a safe neighborhood where I live as citizen in freedom and security without fear.  My children are waiting for me there.  They are watching TV.  We sit on comfortable couches, eat dinner, use computers, talk, and go to bed in our comfortable beds.

This is utterly unfair.  It is unfair that I should have a home, and they should not.  It is unfair I should have freedom to go anywhere I want, and they do not.  That I can offer my children security, education and a future, and they cannot.  I did not do anything to deserve to be born in America any more than they did anything to deserve to be born in Syria.

I lay in bed, thinking about them.  What can I do to reconcile this sense of unfair contrast?  I care.  I pray.  I fall asleep.  I wake up this morning and wonder.  Are they still on the train?  I roll over on my Egyptian cotton sheets covering my pillow top mattress and reach for my iPhone to check the news.  They are, as far as I can tell.  I feel slightly too hot.  I go turn down the air conditioning, use my private bathroom, and return to my comfortable bed for a few more minutes.

I wonder if someday I will be in a disaster or a crisis like that and someone will be reading about me on the news.  What would I want from someone on the other side of the world completely unable to help?  

I would want them to know.  I would want them to care.  I would want them to pray.

I do all those things.  And I go back to sleep.

(I also wake up, do my research, and find that I can donate online to the refugee crisis through the reputable Samaritan's Purse.)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dear Anna Duggar, I've been there. Here's what I learned.

In the recent aftermath of former 19 Kids and Counting reality TV star Josh Duggar's infidelity to his wife becoming public, I write this letter to his wife, Anna.  




Dear Anna,

Oh girl.  My heart goes out to you.  I know where you are right now.  I was there fourteen years ago.   Pretty much exactly.  The number of years married, the very young children, the Christian husband in ministry who was caught living a double life- one in public as a Christian husband, father and leader, and the other in private with a pornography addiction and multiple affairs.

I’m so sorry for your loss. You have my deepest condolences.

The only difference is, you are a household name and I wasn’t, and the internet has made your situation much more public than mine ever was.  You probably hate that right now, and just wish the ground would open up and swallow you, and you could deal with it all privately.  It may be hard to believe, but it’s actually better this way.  Addicts struggle with serious denial and reality issues and tend to re-write their story as they go along.  Your husband has already been caught doing this, editing his confession online more than once.  No matter what reason he gave you for changing his statement, this is part of the denial and self-scripting all addicts do. But the internet is unforgiving and won’t let Josh do this, which is the best thing that could ever happen to him (although it really sucks for you and the kids).  It is his best chance of really repenting someday- the fact that he will never get to pretend his sin didn’t happen, or wasn’t “as bad as people said it was.”

You see, right now he is just sorry he got caught.  Otherwise he would have told you the truth before he was exposed.  But that sorry can lead to real repentance eventually.  Don’t be confused, it hasn’t happened yet.  I know he told you he has.  He may even think he has.  He may currently be acting VERY repentant and very loving. But only time will tell if that is real and permanent.

I know also, as many people may not, that it isn’t like you had a good marriage or a decent marriage or even a normal struggling marriage and then, boom, this came out of the blue one day.  No.  Sexual addicts have lots of destructive behaviors in their “normal life” that wears away at their spouses and children.  Sex addicts are angry people.  You’ve wondered why.  You’ve tried really hard.  You’ve questioned what is wrong.  And all this coming out about his sexual addiction is the answer to the questions you’ve been asking and the prayers you’ve been praying. 

You aren’t just hurting now.  You’ve been hurting, badly for a long, long time.  And you haven’t been able to really talk about it or get help.  I know.  I’m so sorry. 

It isn’t your fault.  Your husband was a sexual addict when he married you.  This was 100% his sin, his choice. He is responsible for his sinful behavior, before and after his marriage.  Yes, I know you aren’t perfect and you’ve also sinned and made lots of mistakes.  But you aren’t the dysfunctional addict in your marriage.  You aren’t the one who was living a lie.  You aren’t the one who broke your marriage vows of sexual exclusivity.  You aren’t the one who smashed your marriage covenant.

Let me repeat.  What Josh did isn’t your fault AT ALL. There is nothing you could have done that would have kept him from cheating on you, I promise.  You see, it’s not about sex.  It’s an ADDICTION more deadly than if he was hooked on heroin, and addicts never have enough.

I hope this gets to you somehow.  I want to share with you everything it took me years and years alone to find out the hard way.  If any of it can be any help, take it. 


  1. As soon as you possibly can, get someplace, out of town, away by yourself, with your children but not with your husband or with your parents.  No, really.  You need to get away where you can hear from God and not from all the voices around you. You aren’t leaving him.  You are taking time to pray.  It may just be a couple of days, or it may be longer. You may need to do this more than once.  It’s okay.  You don’t need to apologize for needing this.  If Josh is truly on the track to repentance, he won’t have a problem with it. If he does, it shows he isn’t even close.  Find a hotel, a B&B, something.  Take someone along to watch the kids if you can.  The sooner the better.  I know he will say you need to pray together and heal together. That's for later.  Do it alone first. 
  2. And then you need to cry.  And let yourself get angry.  It is normal to be angry when you have been betrayed.   That kind of anger isn’t a sin.   Even God had that kind of anger when Israel was unfaithful to him.  God gets angry at sin.  It is a righteous anger.  You don’t need to feel guilty for feeling righteously angry about the sin your husband has committed against you and against God. 
  3. Journal your feelings.  Be honest, let it all out.  And keep that journal private.
  4.  Pray.  Like never before you are going to need to strengthen your own relationship with Jesus.  You know you can trust Him to give you good advice.  But you need to think of yourself in a different way now- not as part of your parent’s family, not as part of your husband’s family.  Just you as an individual directly talking to Jesus and getting direction in a way you never have before for you and for your children.  You must do this.  Take responsibility to hear from God directly for you and your family.  You are the moral head of the household now.
  5. Start reading and learning about sexual addiction.  Online and in books.  Pray for God to lead you to the right sources, the information you need in particular.  Go to Amazon and type in “wives of sexual addicts,” and “sexual addiction.” Google “resources for wives of sexual addicts.”  There are so many more good websites, articles and books than there were when I went looking- because this problem is becoming bigger and bigger and people are dealing with it more openly. You aren’t alone Anna, many other Christian women and couples have been down this path, and they have wisdom to give you.  The first one I read when I was reeling from the pain was “Love Must be Tough” by James Dobson.  It’s not about sexual addiction specifically, but there are some things in there you need to know.  The sexual addiction book I read that helped me understand what my husband was struggling with was “An Affair of the Mind” by Laurie Hall.   More recently written: “Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners can Cope and Heal” by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means. Also, get the book and the accompanying workbook, “The Healing Choice: How to Move Beyond Betrayal” by Brenda Stoeker and start working through it.  The other one you may want to get is “Restoring the Fallen- A Team approach to Caring, Confronting and Reconciling” by Earl and Sandy Wilson.  And finally, please be sure to read “Boundaries in Marriage.”  You may find things you don’t agree with in all these books.  That’s okay. I did too.  But I also found nuggets of information that the Holy Spirit used in all of them as well when I was desperately trying to understand what had happened to me and what I needed to do next.  Order them all.  Jump around, pick and choose, ask God to help you discern what applies to you and to Josh.   Anna, I know these aren’t the kinds of books on your shelf.  I know you may believe that they are too worldly, or not Biblical.  I believed that too.  Here’s the thing.  None of the books on your shelf cover your situation. Not much in your world prepared you to handle the awful situation, because you thought it would never happen to you.  I didn’t either. It wasn’t supposed to happen to girls like us who did things right- who homeschooled, stayed pure, saved ourselves for marriage, didn’t date, and married a Christian.  But it has.  So now you are going to have to go beyond your world, and what you have learned up until now about marriage and relationships to cope with this terrible thing.  I know that’s scary, to look for answers in new places, and it feels wrong.  And people may even tell you it’s wrong.  But here’s the deal- it was your husband who did wrong, and now you are trying to cope with it.  Looking for resources to help you cope and survive and heal is not wrong. A word of caution.  In an addiction situation, where your husband has lied about multiple affairs and pornography, pretty much everything the regular Christian marriage books tell you won’t work.  They only work when you have two people on the same page.  Josh is in a completely different book now. 
  6. Okay, this is going to be hard.  I know you aren’t going to want to face this, or do this.  But, you have to.  You have to get tested for STDs.  You don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood.  You can do it anonymously. (Google it.) But the fact is, you’ve been exposed.  No matter what Josh said about how he always used a condom (did you ask?), or was careful, you can’t know for sure, (and anyway, condoms aren’t 100%). So make sure you get tested for HIV, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Hepatitis A B and C, Oral and Genital Herpes. You don’t have to go to a doctor and have a long embarrassing exam, nor do you have to go to a sleazy free clinic.  You can fill out paperwork online and then slip in and out of a lab close to where you live, and get the results by mail or phone.
  7. Next. Your husband needs to get tested for STDs too.  Insist on it.  Don’t have sex with him until he tests and you test and they all come back negative, as I pray they do. If he won’t agree to test, or gets angry when you ask, it is an indicator of lack of repentance, and possibly that he hasn’t given up his addiction.  If he is repentant he will understand and agree that is what he needs to do and be willing to do it.  Anybody you are counseling with should have mentioned STD testing for you both first thing.  If they didn’t, they aren’t on the right track.
  8. So speaking of counseling-You need to find a good counselor.  Not a church based staff counselor at your church.  Not a trusted pastor, not an elder with a counseling certificate on his office wall.  Not an older woman or couple that you look up to that does marriage counseling in their home.  And above all, not anyone who is related to either one of you. A real honest-to-goodness licensed professional counselor with a degree in psychology (PhD or PhyD) who specializes in sexual addictions and will keep everything you tell them absolutely confidential (as long as you don’t talk about harming yourself or others or report the molestation of a minor).  Pray that God will lead you to the right one.  I know this may be way, way out there, and that you have been told and believed that all counseling should come from church leaders and your spiritual authority, not someone with a secular education.  Please, I beg you, for your own sake, skip the church based counseling with pastors.  It set us back years and did great damage.  Pastors and church leaders can definitely be a part of the healing and accountability process, and God can use them to bring wisdom, but when it comes to sexual addiction you need a specialist.  Just like you wouldn’t go to a doctor who is general practitioner if you needed heart surgery, you can’t go to your pastor and get the kind of help you need right now for your very intense specific need for help with sexual addiction and betrayal on the level it is present in your marriage. This professional counselor can still be a Christian, and in fact should be. This isn’t for you and Josh to do together, by the way.  This is for you.  If you want to help him, if you want to be strong for him and for your children, if you want your marriage to have a chance, you have to help yourself first. Alone. I remember when I finally got up the nerve to go with great fear and trembling I told my first counselor “I have three months to get my issues dealt with,” and he just smiled.  It took a couple of years.  That’s much more realistic.  Seriously, a real counselor can’t even legally tell people you are coming to see him or her.  It’s a safe place to talk and get perspective.  They won’t lead you astray.  You are too well grounded for that.  But you do need help and this is the kind of person who can potentially offer that. It’s normal for their quoted price to be $100-$150 per hour.  Don’t let that stop you from going.  You are worth it, and your marriage is worth it. Most of them offer a sliding scale to pay, and are very willing to work with you without a lot of financial paperwork.  Tell them what you can afford.   Josh should be absolutely willing for it to come out of your family finances.  It’s no different than paying a doctor bill for you after a family car accident left you with fatal injuries. If he doesn’t want you to go without him, it indicates a problem in his heart, not an indicator that you are doing something wrong or want to leave him.  Remember, you didn’t break his trust, he broke your trust.  You have many options open to you that I did not- counseling by phone or Skype, for example.  I am not recommending these sites or organizations specifically, but here are a couple for you to check out.  Click around, read their articles and information, call, ask questions, learn what your options are: www.comfortchristiancounseling.com and www. drbarbarasteffens.com/safe-passages. These both offer phone or Skype counseling/coaching sessions and/or support group that supports the trauma model and do not label you a co-sex addict.  The first one offers an online wives support group.  I joined one of those that helped me immensely as well as attending one in person. They do not tell you to leave your husband.  I know.  I was afraid of that too. 
  9. You can also do professional marriage counseling, and will definitely need that as well.  Follow the same guidelines in finding a joint counselor.  Consider not going to friends or people in authority you both already know.  You need objective help that is professional and effective and unbiased.  You are allowed to decline to talk to someone you don’t feel comfortable with.  You are allowed to help decide who you and Josh will go see together.  Find someone who will back you up if you need help talking to Josh about this. If he refuses to get professional counseling, then you carry on and go on seeing someone for yourself individually until Josh is ready.  By the way, that would be a strong indicator he isn’t repentant and ready to be fully honest.
  10. Don’t listen to any time frames people are giving you for “healing your marriage”, especially Josh.  The truth is, it’s going to take many years and it depends on Josh’s choices what that looks like.  Don’t let anyone pressure you (and don't pressure yourself either) into making promises or commitments you aren’t ready to make.  Anything or anyone that pressures you or makes you feel guilty right now is wrong.  You shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for hurting, for talking about your feelings, for reaching out for help, for being angry. You are the one who has been wronged.  You are not the one who caused this wrong. (Yes, I know you aren’t 100% right all the time.  I’m not saying that.)
  11. Find things that help keep you stable and keep them close.  That can be constantly playing your favorite hymns and praise and worship music, or audio Bible - especially at night.  It can be favorite movies you watch over and over.  It can be a place you stop in every day for a cup of coffee.  It can be a walk you take.  It can be a trusted friend or friends you call to pray with you day or night.  It can be taking a really high potency B-Complex vitamin daily and keeping some Bach Flower Rescue Remedy (all natural fast acting anxiety supplement) in your purse.  It can be getting a massage or a pedicure without the kids once a week.  Nothing is “too much”.  Do whatever it takes not to go crazy.  You are investing in healing the most devastating of wounds.  It’s okay.  Don’t feel guilty for not being the most attentive mother right now.  Get help with the kids.  As long as your children are safe and fed it is okay that you are just maintaining and not 100% on top of everything. Don’t worry about doing school work with them. Videos are fine.
  12. Don’t let people pressure you into forgiving your husband.  Of course you have to forgive him.  But forgiving doesn’t mean instant trust restoration and everything okay, or everything okay in a few months.  He can be forgiven, but he has to earn back trust by years of accountability and faithful loving humble behavior, in private as well as in public.  If he gets resentful when you need time and patience from him in this area, it indicates he isn’t really repentant, and maybe hasn’t given up his addiction. If people pressure you about what you are “supposed to do” right now, they aren’t on the right track either.  You need support, not pressure, and that’s what healthy people truly hearing from God will give you. Support for you, accountability and boundaries for Josh. No one should rush you.  And don't rush yourself either.

Anna, even after you do all of this, I don’t know what will happen.  There are people telling you that you have to stay with your husband.  There are people telling you that you should leave him.  I know you don’t want to lose your marriage, even after everything that has happened.  I get that.  That’s a godly desire.  But the truth is, only God knows how your situation is going to go.  And that revelation is probably going to be one step at a time with you not knowing the end of the story til you get there.  I’m guessing if your situation is like most, you won’t know what you need to do permanently for quite a while.  It takes a long time to see if Josh will really change and stay committed to change.  This process is going to be a lifetime for him, not something he does and moves on.  (Common misconception.) There is a lot you can do to set the stage for your husband’s repentance, accountability and opportunity to change, as well as moving toward your own healing from betrayal and working on personal issues that this has brought up.  But no matter what you do, it is still his choice whether he gives up his addiction or not, and then stays free from it.   If he makes the wrong choice, it isn’t your fault.  

Just like you doing the right things up until now didn't keep this from happening, doing the right things from now on can't give you a guaranteed outcome, only the best opportunity for it to happen.

Josh getting caught isn’t the same as him giving up his sin.  Please, please hear me.  I thought once everything hit the fan and became public it meant my husband would of course not continue seeing other women or looking at pornography- it seemed like such a no-brainer to me that once he had been exposed he would never do any of that again.  And of course that is what he told me as well- that now it had all come out he was glad and ready to move on.  But getting caught doesn’t set you free.  It can be the first step.  But it isn’t automatic.  (I went through a lot of pain to learn that that truth.)

Josh can’t help you heal right now, because he isn’t healthy himself.  You are going to have to turn to Jesus and trust Him, not your husband.  God is faithful, your husband isn’t.  I repeat, Josh getting caught is not the same as Josh changing and giving up what he got caught doing.  Not at all.  I know he thinks it is.  But he has disqualified himself as the spiritual head of your home.  In the same way you can’t submit to an intoxicated husband when he demands the keys to the car to drive you and the children home, Josh isn’t able to drive your family car right now.  And that authority over you and the kids doesn’t revert back to your parents.  Or his parents.  Or your pastor. 

I know that doesn’t sound right.  Just pray about it.  See what God tells you about that.  Listen to God each day more than you listen to people.  You are in a very important window of opportunity- use it wisely.

I’ll be praying for you.  Seriously praying.  Lots of other people are praying for you as well.  We aren’t all out here judging and thinking badly of you and Josh.  Some of us have been exactly where you are, and we know how it feels.

Again, I’m so sorry for your loss. You have my deepest condolences.

Love,
Roxanne

PS It's going to be okay.  I don't know what "okay" will look like for you in the future, but I know God is faithful and He will never leave you or forsake you.  That's my ultimate definition of "okay".