Picture Perfect: Thoughts on Forgiveness, Family and the Future

A picture is worth a thousand words.

English language adage

Picture This.

This is my “family photo” from Julia’s graduation.

It is not the family photo I envisioned taking with my family. The one planned out in my head looked quite different.

Originally, I wanted all five of our young adult children in the picture, each one holding a chalkboard sign with the year they finished high school, from Maddie and Joel who finished in 2018 to Julia who is part of the Class of 2021.

Jon and I would hold signs too. His with the words, “Finally our nest is empty!” My sign would read, “Officially Retired Homeschool Mom.

In my mind’s eye, I could clearly see all of us, standing close together with big smiles. The image in my head was sentimental yet cute, trendy yet witty. It would definitely be a social media worthy photo.

Unfortunately, that photo was also not meant to be.

None of our kids were eager to take a photo in the first place. There were various comments and complaints from the oldest right down to the graduate herself. At best, they were an ambivalent, uncommitted group who didn’t seem to appreciate their mother’s sense of humor..

One day as I washed up the lunch dishes, I asked myself, “It it worth it to try to beg and plead just to get this photo?” As much as I loved the idea of that cute photo in my head, I also didn’t really want to have to convince my mostly grown children to do this one thing just for me. The truth was I wanted them to want to do it too. I wanted them to share in my excitement. Unfortunately, I could tell that really wasn’t the case.

I told Jon, “I really don’t want to have to beg our kids to take a special photo for me, because then every time I look at it I will remember how no one really wanted to be there. Furthermore, the last thing I want is a picture of a bunch of fake smiles because I don’t want us to just look like a happy family. I want us to actually be a happy family. I’m not sure this a photo where I had to force people into participating will truly reflect that.”

Jon understood my perspective, and so it was decided that we would just take a picture of whoever could be with us — and we would definitely not use any cute or trendy chalkboard signs.

A Well-Captured Photo

Obviously, the above photograph looks nothing like the family picture I originally envisioned. Yet, I am not unpleased with the way this photo turned out either.

Why? Because this picture is worth a thousand words.

A long time ago, in what feels like another lifetime, I was married to a different man.

My heart shattered into a million little pieces when our marriage ended. The young lady proudly wearing the cap and gown had just celebrated her 4th birthday. She cannot even remember a time when her mom and dad lived in the same house.

Over the years, with a lot of counseling, the intense grief subsided and my heart began to heal. And yet, forgiveness didn’t come easily to my wounded heart. I wanted to forgive, but the struggle to actually do it was hard and real.

When the graduate was still a little girl of just 7 years old, I remarried. While my new husband certainly brought a lot of joy into my life, being married again didn’t help me forgive my former spouse. I wanted to forgive. I prayed about a lot about forgiving. But my wounded heart still struggled to let it all go.

You’ve probably heard it said, “Forgive and forget.” Logically it seems like forgetting would be the more difficult part of that process, but for me forgetting actually came much easier than forgiving! For periods of time, I would actually forget about the pain of unforgiveness in my heart, which oddly enough fooled me into believing I had also forgiven my ex-husband. Unfortunately, just as soon as I saw him in person again those old wounds felt fresh all over again.

Forgiveness might lead to forgetting, but forgetting doesn’t mean that you’ve actually done any forgiving.

I complained to my counselor about my inability to forgive my former husband. “Detach yourself,” she said. I wasn’t exactly sure how to detach from someone you have to be around as you co-parent your children, but I decided it couldn’t hurt to try.

And so I pulled back. My kids were teens anyway. It was easy enough to just step back and let them handle their own interactions with their father. The more I detached, the more I wanted to detach. The distance grew and I suddenly discovered I felt less stress and worry than I had in years. This detachment idea was working!

But unfortunately, every time I saw my ex-husband in person, my heart felt all bruised again. Forgiveness seemed awful slow in coming.

As the months passed by, my counselor remained full of advice:

  • Give it some time. You have been holding onto the pain for a long time. It’s not going away by tonight either.
  • Practice focusing on your positive attitudes and emotions. What you spend your time thinking about will influence the way you feel.
  • As much as possible, let your children manage their relationship with their father. Your main goal is detaching.

Due to his military career, my children only see their dad a few times a year. Furthermore, for the past couple of years, he had opted to fly the kids to visit him in Kansas instead of traveling down to see them in Louisiana. As my daughter’s graduation approached, I wondered how seeing him in person would make me feel. After his last visit, I could tell that in spite of all my work on detaching and letting go, I had still not truly forgiven him. Even though I hadn’t seen him in over two years, I sort of assumed it would be the same this time around, too.

My ex-husband was due to arrive in town the day before graduation. As it happened, I was out running errands when he showed at my house well before lunch. Jon sent me a text to let me know, stating, “I told him to make himself at home.”

When I walked in the door, the first thing I noticed was he was doing exactly that. My former husband was sitting on the sofa, talking and laughing with his children and completely enjoying himself in my home. For the entire weekend my ex-husband spent most of his time hanging out with our family. It surprised me that I didn’t feel put out by his presence.

On Sunday morning, my kids left for a week of vacation with their dad. As I waved them off, I realized I had just spent the majority of the weekend in the presence of my ex-husband, and yet emotionally I felt okay. No annoyance. No anger or bitterness. My emotions were totally in check and I felt in control of myself, instead of being strung out or tied up in knots like I normally felt after interacting with him..

For half a moment, I wondered if maybe I had actually forgiven him … but I still felt too uncertain to believe it could finally be true. And since we were also in the midst of moving house, I truly didn’t think much more about it over the next several days.

A week passed before the graduation photos came back. The very first picture in the digital file sent by the photographer was my family photo. I clicked to open it up, feeling excited to see the photos of our special day, and yet as the picture loaded on my computer screen, all I could do was stare in amazement.

How could I have not noticed at the time the photo was being taken that my ex-husband was standing right there? As we all crowded around my daughter, I didn’t even see that he was standing in the group too?

I pondered this for a second, and then looked to see if we had taken another group photo with just my family. Nope. Just the one big group picture.

The strange thing I noticed was not only did my ex-husband not seem out of place in the photo, but there was no rush of negative emotion within me about having him included in my family photo either.. While both of these things certainly surprised me, what I noticed next surprised me even more.

Before graduation, all I wanted a family picture where the people in it weren’t faking smiles. I wanted a truly happy photograph — one where I wouldn’t look back and remember how I had to work hard cajoling people to participate. In fact, I wanted it so much, that I willingly gave up all my plans to try to force it happen.

And the end result was this unexpected photo, where everyone looks happy to be together. There are no fake smiles here! In fact, I’m willing to bet that if you didn’t know the backstory, you might just think all the people in this photo were part of one big, happy family who had gathered to celebrate a person they all loved.

The more I stared at that amazing picture, the more it dawned on me that my focus was finally right — and that’s when I knew forgiveness had come at last.

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.

Proverbs 17:9

A Picture with Words

An idea for a new picture came to me two days before graduation, sort of a spin off from my original idea.

At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it but when I mentioned it to Jon, he said I should go for it.

With a little bit of hesitancy, I asked my graduate what she thought. When she said she would be delighted to take the photo with me, I think I nearly fainted. I was hoping for just an ambivalent agreement. Instead, she gave me her full enthusiasm.

I already had the chalkboards and the chalk marker. I just needed to find the time to pull it all together. Even though I had a million small task to complete on my graduation to-do list, I happily added the words “make chalkboard signs” to it.

Late on the night before graduation, I sat down and wrote out my three simple chalkboard messages.

The first for my daughter: “I’m done! Class of 2021”

The second for Jon: “College costs more than homeschool.”

And the last one for me: “Officially Retired Homeschool Mom”

Immediately after our family group photo, I asked the photographer please take a second picture. This time it was just the three of us … me and Jon and Julia … posing together for a picture.

And this time, the photo captured a thousand words wrapped up in my heart. It was the perfect combination of sentimental and witty; creative and silly. It’s probably even social media worthy.

Even though it is not my original idea, it’s still close enough so that it made my heart smile, intentionally and creatively demonstrating my personal decision to embrace the end of one season in anticipation of the next.

Finally, I didn’t have to beg or console anyone else to go along with my idea.

Win-Win-Win!

Life in Proper Focus

My counselor once told me I needed to practice embracing reality, regardless of whether I liked my reality or not.

Like it or not, as of May 8th, I am no longer a homeschool mother. The end of this part of my life has been coming for a long, long time. Therefore, I might as well embrace it with as much grace as I can muster.

The truth is part of my issue with unforgiveness was the fact that I felt forced into being a single mother, as if everything I ever loved about my life was stolen from me. I couldn’t see how things would ever feel right again.

I could have accepted the reality of what was happening, choosing instead to embrace the new gifts God placed in my life. But I didn’t, and that inability to accept reality cost me 14 years of pain in my own heart.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

Once again, I’m being forced to leave behind one season of life and head into the next.

Whether I like it or not, many things I have loved and treasured about my current life are coming to a swift end. I can choose to kick and scream or moan and cry, but I cannot stop what is happening. My past experience tells me that if I choose to focus on this negatively, I will only prolong the pain of moving forward.

This time, I’m determined to embrace the next season as an adventure, even though it means I leave must behind what I once loved so dearly in order to step into a reality that I do not yet know.

As I gave Julia her high school diploma, I encouraged her with the following scripture:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

You see, my daughter freely admits to feeling somewhat anxious about heading out to college in the fall.

“Mom,” she said to me recently, “I love my current life — my part-time job, hanging with my friends, taking long walks in our neighborhood, cuddling with my dog in bed every night. Every time I think about going away to college, I get sad because I’m going to miss so much about life right now!

Who can blame her for not wanting to trade a life she loves for something new and unknown?

She’s not alone in her anxiety.

I am anxious about upcoming changes too. Suddenly I’m not going to be a homeschool mom, which means my whole world is turning upside down. Part of me is jealous of my daughter. At least she knows that she is going to college. I still have no idea what my next season includes!

But I can choose to willingly embrace this time in my life because God already prepared it for me. He knows my life’s path and I can walk in it with Him, knowing that He is going to be there with me through every twist and turn.

So the truth is, I picked this Bible verse for me too!

Here’s to a new seasons — to accepting the reality of my life, to forgiving myself and others, to moving forward into the unknown, and to embracing all that is to come.

Most of all, here’s to knowing God walks with us so we are never alone.

Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at at time.

Matthew 6:34 (The Passion Translation)

Dumb Way to Die: Thoughts on Living with Fear

Several summers ago, when all five of my kids were pre-teens or young teens, they found this YouTube video of a song called “Dumb Ways to Die” (lyrics by Tangerine Kitty).

You can click the link to watch for yourself. Alternatively, you can just trust me … it’s a dumb video. (Jon disagrees. He liked it as much as the kids. Sometimes I question his taste in entertainment, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

Just imagine five kids (and their crazy dad) trying to out-sing each other:

Set fire to your hair; Poke a stick at a grizzly bear …

Keep a rattle snake as a pet; Sell both your kidneys on the internet …

Dumb ways to die-ie-ie, So many dumb ways to die

No one sang in tune or in the same key. Heck, they didn’t even all keep the same tempo! This truly was caterwauling at its finest … and it went on every single day, all summer long. They thought it was hilarious and spent hours laughing uproariously as they watched the video on repeat, until I thought all of their brain cells were going to rot from the continual inaneness and stupidity of the song.

For my children (who at the time were ages 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13), the summer of 2012 was The Summer of Great Silliness.

(Personally, I called it “the summer from you know where” … however, in light of the Summer of 2020, with its pandemic and riots and swarms of locusts, I admit in hindsight that I may have judged 2012 a bit harshly.)

The truth is, back in 2012, I wasn’t totally sure my kids would all live to see the end of the summer. I worried one of them might get the idea to try out one of the dumb things from the song just to make their siblings laugh and end up … well, you know … dead. Furthermore, based on their insane senses of humor, I had very little hope for their futures to be bright or successful should they survive after all.

Thankfully, that summer didn’t last forever.

I’m glad to report that not only did we all live to see the summer through, but no one actually tried out one of the dumb ways to die. (Don’t laugh … success is sometimes found in the small things.)

I’m even prouder to say that currently those same five children (now ranging in age from 17 up to 22) are doing quite well at managing their mostly adult-ish lives: holding down jobs, making great grades, washing their own clothes, returning library books. The list goes on and on.

That thing I was missing during the long summer of 2012 … well, I have it now. In fact, I have lots of hope for their futures.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The world is currently a rather scary place.

Apparently, 2020 is determined to be the year from you know where. We cannot escape bad news. As if pandemics aren’t enough, people are rioting in the streets and killing each other and arguing over who should or shouldn’t have to wear a mask, all while children are being trafficked as objects of sexual gratification.

I don’t know about you but I have a lot of fear. Here’s a short list of things I’ve feared in the last six months:

  • getting sick and/or dying with COVID
  • not getting the correct medical treatment if I do get sick
  • wearing a mask / not wearing a mask
  • riots and shootings
  • police being defunded
  • going to church / being banned from going to church
  • schools re-opening / schools not re-opening
  • mail-in ballots
  • outcome of the presidential election
  • truthfulness of the media
  • truthfulness of the government
  • sending my kids out into this world
  • my kids never leaving home (cause frankly this college break has been going on since mid-March and some of these people need to go back to their prior living situations — just sayin’)

The list is endless. I could add probably 50 more things to it right off the top of my head. But the point isn’t the list or any one of those items on it.

The point is that I don’t think I am the only one who is feeling fearful. In fact, mostly what I hear these days is fear … and it doesn’t matter which side I’m listening to.

We have become a fearful nation. And we are fearful because we have lost our hope.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’ve lived a lot of my life in fear. This is not a lie. You saw my partial list of fears from this summer! The struggle is real for me, y’all. Anxiety likes to snuggle up with me at night and be my bed buddy.

And that’s so not cool because as a Christian, there are three things I know about fear:

  1. Fear is a liar.
Fear is a liar image: VectorStock.com/20532337

I live in the State of Louisiana, where the number of COVID cases since March is about 84,131.

That number is pretty scary. Eighty-four thousand people. That’s equivalent to a fair-sized city! And the more I think about exactly how many people that is, the more I start to freak out.

It’s not just that big number either because if you keep up with the headlines, the media announces each day the number of new COVID cases.

Are you like me, wondering will this ever end?!

Last week, I decided to take a good look at the COVID numbers on the Louisiana Department of Health website. These numbers, which are presented as straight facts, are updated every week on Wednesday. The numbers below were posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

Total Tests completed by both state & commercial labs — 1,001,200

Total positive tests — 84,131

Total Deaths — 3,351

Normally, when I view the map with the numbers, I feel my anxiety start to ramp up. My throat tightens, my heart rate increases, and I feel the familiar panic start to set in. But this time I pushed through that initial anxiety. I didn’t stop to question whether or not these numbers are real or fake or inflated or whatever. Instead I did a little math.

(By the way, this isn’t rocket science math. It’s just basic percentages, exactly what my math teacher showed me how to do in Jr. High school. Your math teacher probably taught you how to do it too. If not, google has pretty simple explanations on how to figure up percentages. I know because I doubled check, just to be sure I remembered how to do it correctly.)

Louisiana has a total population of around 4.6 million people.

84,131 cases / 4.6 million people = .07% of the total population positive for COVID-19

84,131 cases / 1,001,200 completed tests = 8.4% positive test rate for those tested

3,351 deaths/ 84,131 cases = 3% death rate for those with COVID-19

The numbers haven’t changed. They are still big and scary. But, when looked at from a big picture perspective, I can also see the situation isn’t totally without hope. And while I still hate to think so many people have suffered and died from COVID, I can now view it in a more realistic manner.

COVID-19 is certainly a terrible thing to experience. But this world is full of many terrible things.

How about cancer or pneumonia or car wrecks or snake bites, just to name a few? I would hate for anyone to go through terrible things like this, but the truth is I don’t exactly live my life in fear of it happening either.

(Except for maybe the snake bites … I am currently pretty anxious about getting bitten by a snake. You see, several weeks ago I joined a FB group on snake bites and suddenly I am more worried about coming across a snake while weeding my flower beds or putting the trash can out at night. See, I told you I have a problem with anxiety.)

Anyway, here is my point:

Just because something is terrible doesn’t mean it has to be terrifying.

You see, fear is a liar. Fear is never from God. Furthermore, Jesus Himself said, “The truth will set you free.” (~John 8:32)

Truth will set you free image: VectorStock.com/15478485

If fear is a liar and the truth can set us free, then …

2. Fear is a dumb way to live.

It shouldn’t surprise us that terrible things happen because the Bible tells us that in this world we will experience troubles. (John 16:33) Bad things are going to happen to us.

Even so, a Christian has no reason to fear.

In fact, you will see the words “Fear not” or “Do not fear” more than 100 times in the Bible. (This number does not include all of the other 500+ verses that address fear but do not use that phrase.) Obviously, God does not want us to fear.

But about when we do fear? Like right now … when the world seems to spin out of control and all hope feels lost. I’m human and I get scared. As a Christ-follower, how do I deal with my fear?

Here are a few things I’ve found to help me deal with my own fears in this life:

Remember who God is.

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore, we will not be afraid though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil. ~ Psalm 46: 1-3

Over and over God tells us that He will not leave us. He promises no matter how dark or how long the night, He is with us. Sometimes, when the fears hit me hard, I have to say it over and over and over again, like a spiritual mantra. Breath it in. Breathe it out. God will never leave me or forsake me. He is my strong tower.

Spend time in the Bible and in prayer.

I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. ~ Psalm 34: 4

How do we seek God?

Well, one thing is for certain: keeping track of the ever-changing numbers or tuning your TV to the 24-hour news cycle or spending hours keeping up with the social media frenzy about whether or not to wear a mask will not bring you peace or comfort! (I know because following that FB snake bite group has made me more afraid of snakes than ever before!)

There is such a thing as too much information.

Instead, spend time reading the Bible and talking to God in prayer. Call up another Christian friend for encouragement. Tune into online worship services or attend in person if you can. God wants to be close to you, and when we make God a priority in our life, then we will ultimately find more of the things He has promised us … mainly His peace and joy and love.

Troubles may find us, but Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly!” (John 10:10) I am grateful I can experience God’s abundance here on earth, even in the midst of bad things.

Living a life of abundance is good, but eventually we are all going to die. And if we are going to experience death, then …

3. Fear is a dumb way to die.

What’s the worst thing that can happen?

My husband Jon likes to ask me this a lot … especially when I am particularly anxious about something really random, like being bitten by a snake as I push the trash can to the end of the driveway.

Generally, my response is, “Well, I could die!”

Is that really such a bad thing? (Snake bites, yes. Dying, no.)

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” ~John 11: 25-26

We know that this earthly life will end. What happens then?

Some people say those who have died go on to sleep in the arms of Jesus or rest in eternal peace or become an angel. According to the Bible, none of that’s true.

Lots of people talk about Heaven being our final destination. It’s a perfect place: a beautiful place with streets of gold and a crystal sea, where the inhabitants experience endless joy without tears or pain or sorrow.

The great news is all of that IS true! In fact, the Bible indicates that Heaven is a place where we will eat and work and laugh and worship. We certainly aren’t going there to sleep in heavenly peace; we are going there to live with abundance!

However, there is only one condition. In order to go to heaven, you must submit your life to Jesus Christ. He is the only way. Only He can forgive us of our sins and reconcile us to God. There is no other option.

Have you thought about eternity? Have you asked God to forgive you of your sins and given your life to Him?

If not, I urge you to do that today because dying without Jesus wouldn’t just be dumb. It would be tragic.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is save. ~ Romans 10: 9-10

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The summer of 2012 was a hard summer for me as a mom. I felt like my tweens and young teens were never going to be responsible adults. I was parenting without hope.

A lot of people today are living in fear: COVID, unstable economy, cashless society, race relations, lack of respect for police, upcoming elections, etc. It feels like a hopeless situation.

It’s not.

But in order to get that hope, you have to know where to find it.

In Christ alone image: VectorStock.com/30495253

Jesus is our great hope. Trust in Him and see what a difference He can make in your life.

Without Christ there is no hope. ~Charles Spurgeon.