Sunday, February 26, 2006

Community and commitment

Every so often, God allows us to enter seasons that are unsettling, even to the point of causing us to re-evaluate everything we profess to believe. In fact, those are the seasons that can lead us to first come to believe in Him and accept His offer of new life. Other times, I think, He sends us a wake up call in order to make mid-course corrections. It doesn't seem like we're really doing anything wrong or bad in and of itself, but if we are praying for His best will, that those little choices could ultimately lead us way off course. Sometimes, like He did with Abraham, I think He sends us a test to give us the opportunity to demonstrate our willingness to walk in full-on faith.

I don't know exactly when this season started. As I type those words, I think maybe my whole life has led me to this point. I'm not certain of the final lesson, but I'm certain of the test. More on that in a moment.

Because this is a public forum, I'm not going to share everything that's going on in my life, but I will offer one bit of it.

Someone dear to me introduced me to something I thought I had experienced, but really hadn't. It's the idea of community and commitment. Now community is one of those words in the Bible that we read and gloss over. We adapt it to what's convenient to our life in 2006. When the book of Acts tells us that Christians worshipped together, ate together, served together, met each other's needs, shared all they had, we sit back and say, "Isn't that nice?" And we go to our big churches, and pick and choose our level of involvement and giving. Convenience is the motivator, not commitment. This friend is part of a house church. When he first told me about it, to be honest, I thought maybe he was one of those people who has problems with authority and structure, kinda like those folks who use their "ministry" to sell only their books, their music, their sermons, as if God only reveals His truth through their microphone. My friend is nothing like that, and knowing more about his background, I can more easily understand the appeal of this form of church to him. And while my first response to his church had a healthy dose of skepticism, there was also a great deal of appeal.

I've been in Grand Rapids for six and a half years, and over that time I've met friends at three different churches, two different singles groups and two different employers. My commitment to these friends has ebbed and flowed as we moved through life stages and other priorities. Something I realized when writing my book is how cyclical my relationships have been. They meet a need and then we move on. I don't want to do that any more.

My friend's church is just a handful of people, of different ages, races and marital statuses. When they gather on Sundays, it isn't just an item on their weekly to do list. It's an opportunity to engage with the other people they've committed to love and do life with. It's an opportunity to engage with God, to learn more about Him as they study together, worship together, eat together, give together, serve together, live together. I've seen my friend ache with regret when he couldn't be with his family of friends on Sunday. It's part of him. Not only do they gather on Sundays, but they meet throughout the week, both for planned, regular events, but also for informal, spontaneous game nights or watching a favorite TV show.

I had the opportunity to experience their Sunday gathering, and I'll tell you, I was intimidated by the intimacy of it! Even though I was welcomed with open arms, I felt a bit like I was intruding on something very private. It's taken me a few weeks to process it, but I think what was so overwhelming to me was the sense that this family of friends is fully vulnerable to know and be known. There were no walls between them. They all knew each other's "stuff." And what was most amazing to me, they were deeply loved despite of it--the commitment of community. And because their group isn't defined by marital status or anything else that changes, they continue to know and be known, to grow and to love. I yearn to live in that sustained kind of acceptance, free from all the perfectionist lies so deeply ingrained in my hard wiring. I have tasted it, but I want more.

The humbling thing is, I realize that I haven't experienced that total love and acceptance because I am a master builder of walls. I love on my terms, on my time, when it's convenient to me. I have lived alone nearly half my life. My relationships are based more on what I need than what I can give. I'd rather give my money than my time. I prefer email over the phone because I can respond on my schedule. I have a beautiful home with a lovely dining room set. But I can't remember the last time I hosted a dinner party or game night. I don't have roommate because I don't need to. I can afford my home on my salary and I like the privacy and independence it affords me. But not any more.

God has given me opportunities to love on His terms in recent months. It's stretched me, and it hurt, but really, it was a good hurt. I was really excited about the growth I was seeing. But then, I was unexpectedly on the receiving end of what I have so often expected of others, and it completely, utterly broke me. I need to change. I have to change. I want to be a full-on follower of Christ. I want to be in community because we reflect God best when we love as He loves. I want to love because He is love.

So...I made a decision to sell my home. Please understand, I love my house. It represents to me a pinnacle of achievement. After so many years buried in debt, my home represents my reward for struggling and saving. My house is my home in the most emotional sense of the word. It's my place in the world. After a lifetime of rootlessness, my house is my home. My house is my sanctuary. It's big and open and comfortable, and...well, mine. But I realize that my house is also a prison. It, not God, dictates what I do, where my money goes, where I live, and ultimately, what I'm willing to do when God leads me to love.

Maybe it doesn't seem like a big deal to those of you reading this. I know people who sell their houses every few years and it's never more than a temporary shelter. But for me it's my Isaac. It's a terribly tangible way of giving up what I love without any guarantees. I don't know if He will give me what I truly long for, but this is the step He's asking me to take today, to test the depth of my commitment to Him. So here goes...anyone looking for a new home?

Ministry of Music

As much as I love words and the poetry of prose, I think there are certain parts of my soul that can only be reached through music. There are a handful of artists who consistently bring me to a place of surrender and serenity.

This morning I turned to St. Chris Tomlin of Sixstep Records:

Need You Now
Time for me to step out of the water
Time for me to just loose my hold
And its time for me to leave here all that I've hoped for
Could you take me where I need to go
I am waiting for your love
I am reaching for you touch
Lost without you
God reach down
I need you now,
I need you now

Chris Tomlin, from the album, The Noise We Make (SixStep Records)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

CS Lewis on Love

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."
-CS Lewis

Monday, February 20, 2006


This is a brilliant book! Though I have never faced the issues Jen Abbas talks about, I was still enthralled because Jen is such an engaging writer. Her counsel is as practical as it is profound, and relevant not just for children of divorced couples, but any couple considering a divorce or anyone ministering to the children of divorce. You hold in your hands the debut of a gifted writer in whom the calling of God is most evident.
Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage

Though I'm a once-broken child of divorce, I've been happily married for over twenty years and am experiencing deep intimacy with my Abba Father. Through God, you can not only heal, but you can yet have your fondest dreams come true. Let Him help you through the vulnerable, honest and insightful discussions in Generation Ex. Jen Abbas is so masterful in weaving practical helps into her message that Generation Ex feels like a hybrid….is it a book or a workbook? She couldn't have chosen a better format, because processing the smothering pain and enduring fears born of a parent's divorce takes conscious work. Halfway through its pages, I was personally struck again by the overwhelming weight of the emotions of those years to the point of tears, and yet I was struck once more by the hope soaking every page as this revolutionary book wound towards its close. Generation Ex will surely free countless broken hearts to sing again.
Fred Stoeker, author of Every Man's Battle and Every Woman's Desire

Jen has written a powerful book with a desperately needed message of hope for a lost generation. What's more she does it with an honesty that is refreshing and the intimacy of someone who has walked down this road herself. I was personally moved by the deeply personal revelations in this book; and, as a result, I have been able to see the issues at work in my family in a much clearer way. The courage and compassion it took to write this book amazes me. Thank you Jen for allowing God to use you in such an important way.
—Brad Miles, Everman

Generation Ex truly surprised me. I anticipated more of a soft biographical sketch of Jen's own life as a child of divorce. While it certainly has biographical elements, it is far more than that. Generation Ex is packed with stories gleaned from countless interviews of children of divorce, statistics gathered from a wide range of sources and great interactive ways for the reader to work through their own buried emotions resulting from a life thrust upon them by the mistakes and sins of their parents. Throughout the book Jen has provided practical means for the reader to come to grips with a reality that they have tried to bury under a facade of normalcy, all the while knowing that things were not quite right and would never be normal again.

Generation Ex is not a comfortable book to read. It isn't intended to be. It is like a surgeon's knife that has to do some damage before it bring the desired healing. Jen has succeeded in gently, yet effectively, cutting away the facade of normalcy that children of divorce hide behind in order to expose the real disease of the soul caused by circumstances beyond their control. While this is not a pretty process, it is necessary if true healing is to take place. Throughout this book Jen has gently, yet effectively, confronted the reader with the hard truth and then given them the means with which to begin the healing process. She has done this through places to reflect, consistent reliance on the Bible as an authoritative source, and a really tough "challenge" at the end of each chapter to make the reader dig deep into their soul to find the answers for themselves. The resources at the end of each chapter provide a library of additional readings that make Generation Ex something that will be referred to again and again.
—Tim Way, Sr. Book Buyer for Family Christian Stores

This fine book is an excellent resource for both those seeking healing from the experience of divorced parents as well as those seeking to minister to them. Jen weaves together personal stories, practical exercises, and her Christian faith in a masterful way that is highly readable and motivating. Her voice of experience is compassionate, credible, and challenging to the reader to not only understand, but also move forward in a process of healing and restoration. This book is an essential resource for any professional who wants to understand and guide adult children of divorce through a comprehensive healing process.
—Tom Emigh, Vice President for Student Development, Cornerstone University

Anyone who has suffered the experience of their parents’ divorce will be blessed by this book. Jen Abbas will gently guide you on the path of personal health and wholeness with her vulnerability, wisdom and biblical counsel.
Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott, Seattle Pacific University, Authors of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts

More research is coming out every day about the long-term effects of divorce on now grown children. As a veteran in the publishing world, Jen Abbas knows where there are holes in the market that need filling. Jen also knows the hurt of growing up in a divorced home and offers practical, biblical help for the thousands [millions] like her-and like me. Generation Ex is a timely resource that hits a major felt need in our country.
—Dr. John Trent, President, and Author of Love is a Decision

If you are brave enough, I would encourage anyone who has been affected by a divorce to read this book. Jen deals with this very delicate subject head on as only someone with her past family experience can do. I have written about divorce in my song, “You’re My Little Girl” and am constantly being approached by children of divorced parents who are struggling with the very things talked about in this book. I am so thankful that somebody had the guts to step up to the plate and write a book like this. I will always have copies of Generation Ex on hand to give to these kids at every concert we do.
—Jamie Statema, Member of the vocal group Go Fish

The lingering effects of divorce will cripple adolescents and attempt to destroy the emotional health of adult children unless hope and healing can be found. Generation Ex helps readers take a big step in that healing process, equipping adult children of divorce to own their pain before they disown it and allow the losses in their lives to make them better, more healthy adults.”
—Gary Sprague, president, Center for Single-Parent Family Ministry

Jen Abbas probes deeply into the complexities associated with divorce in her exceptional resource, Generation EX: Adult Children Of Divorce and The Healing Of Our Pain. She accurately illustrates the heart wrenching issues, as well asthe hope and help available to those who desire healing. As a child ofdivorce myself, and an author and expert in divorce recovery ministry, I highly recommend this as a "must read" for pastors, counselors, and individuals who desire to understand the long-term issues related with adult children of divorce.
--Laura Petherbridge, author of When Your Marriage Dies: Answers To Questions About Separation and Divorce

Friday, February 17, 2006

Contentment Questions

Last weekend my pastor shared about something with a passion he described as “holy discontent.” The next day I heard another pastor talk about Christians getting out there, doing what they were designed to do. Both experiences resonated with me, and to be honest, rattled me a bit. I’ve been an enjoying a pretty nice stretch on the comfort and contentment highway and I’m wondering if these two pastors are holding up “road ends ahead” signs. Don’t get me wrong. Life is better than it’s been in a really long time, and I’m deeply grateful for God’s goodness. At the same time, I’m starting to get the sense that maybe He’s pulling up a few tent pegs on life as I know it. Fortunately, these swirling thoughts come at a good time, relatively speaking. Christian Single has offered me another article, this time on True Contentment.

A few questions currently mulling in my mind:
· in what areas am I most likely to become discontent?
· how do I respond (or want to respond) to seasons of discontent?
· what Scripture helps me refocus?
· how can friends, family and the church assist in the grieving process when delays turn to denials (i.e. become too old to have biological children, never being the spouse of one's "youth," or fulfill some other dream?)
· when can discontentment be a good thing?
· how can someone discern between "selfish dissatisfaction" and "divine discontent?"
· how can someone discern whether God is leading a change or we are simply desiring it to be?
· what are some practical ways to cultivate contentment?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Psalm for Valentine's Day

After far too many Valentine's Days alone, I am blessed beyond measure to receive the love of an amazing man this Valentine's Day. In the 14 years of being alone post-college (gulp!), however, Valentine's Day has been my opportunity to remember the crimson love of my Savior.

Psalm for Valentine’s Day

Lord, I thank You for the gift of love.
Your love created me in the beginning,
Forgave me of my past,
Sustains me in my present,
Delights in my future,
Cradles me in eternity.
Your life is the model of love.
Your Word is my guide.
When bitterness, resentment and anger are begging me to give in, You, O Lord, persuade me to try once again.

And now I will show You the most excellent way…
When I am tempted to act pious in order to shame others, You, O Lord, remind me to love one another.

If I speak with the tongues of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…
When frustration begs me to give up on my present mission, You, O Lord remind me of Your Great Commission.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing…
When I tempted to consider myself a martyr, You, O Lord, loving convinced me to submit even farther.

If I give all I possess to the poor, and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing…
Even when I forget what it means to love, You, O Lord, display grace from above.

Love is patient…
It puts Your timetable first.
It fulfills the other’s need before requesting its own desires.

Love is kind…
It is not manipulative.
It seeks to see through Your eyes

It does not envy…
Love rejoices in the blessings of others
Love is confident in the affections of others, even when others aren’t around to show it.

It does not boast…
Love realizes that boasting is an outward manifestation of pride.

It is not proud…
Love has an attitude that is other-focused, not self-centered.

It is not rude…
Love allows disagreement without distain.

It is not self-seeking…
Love looks out for the best interest of others, even when it risks hurt, even when it means letting go.

It is not easily angered…
Love has an inner peace that no trial can shake.

It keeps no record of wrong…
Love chooses to focus on what unites, rather than what divides.

Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in Truth…
It looks for whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure or admirable, and defends it.

It always protects…
Love seeks the good in others, and preserves reputations under fire.

It always trusts…
Love looks at the heart, not the circumstance.

It always hopes…
Love chooses to see the best, and seeks to make better.

Always perseveres…
Love pushes through trials. It never gives up.
Love never considers anyone beyond the grasp of Grace because…

Love never fails.

Even when I am afraid,
Your love pushes me
You have given me a spirit
Not of timidity
But a spirit of power
And love.
Your love defines me
Your love refines me
Your love transformed me
Your love saved me
You are love.

Jen Abbas
February 14, 1994

Father, teach me, enable me, empower me to love as You love me.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Happy Anniversary

Today is my 15th anniversary as a Christian.

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was a sophomore in college and first made the intellectual decision that Christianity made sense because it's the only faith system in which grace played a redemptive part.

In the years since, I've experienced times of great contentment and satisfaction. I remember one December night walking around my new neighborhood in Ames, IA. I didn't know a single person and yet, because I was certain that I was in the center of God's will. I felt completely at peace. In the other hand, I've experienced seasons of great confusion and frustration as I questioned God's silence.

In retrospect, I am grateful for the diversity of depth in my relationship with God over the years because it has allowed me to learn that healthy relationships (both human and divine) ebb and flow. When my relationship with God was most intimate, I didn't sense a need to invest in human relationships. When my friendships were most fulfilling, at times, my relationship with God was a bit neglected. I think that as I get older, I'm learning to embrace the balance, as each type of relationship spurs both my need and appreciation for the other. More recently, I've come to see my relationship with my boyfriend as a spiritual discipline. As we delight in discovering how our histories have led us to our present, I'm filled with praise for God's planning. At the same time, as two 30-somethings with more than a decade of independence each, the process of creating a sense of "we" offers us both plenty of opportunity to put our spiritual maturity to test!

Today's daily Scripture from Zondervan was a fitting one:

As it is written: 'What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived — these things God has prepared for those who love him.'--1 Corinthians 2:9 (TNIV)

I can't wait to see what God brings in the next 15 years!