Annul a 20-year marriage with 7 kids?

AnnulThrowback Thursday 5/26/2013

I ran into an old friend of my Mom’s a few weeks ago at the grocery store.  This woman’s husband left her 15+ years ago with 7 young children.  He left her for a younger woman and his relationship with the kids is estranged at best.

Embracing her in the store, we briefly caught up on all the happenings with her mountain of children and now, grandchildren.  The woman looked exactly as she did when I last randomly bumped into her: exhausted.  She had been working two jobs for over fifteen years, was uneducated, so she was making little money for hard work.  One of her daughters had a child out of wedlock and was living with her as well.  Barely able to make ends meet, this friend secured yet another 10 hour gig on the weekends to help raise the grandchild. Let me repeat:  she looked drained.

Through the ten minute conversation, she mentioned that the ex-husband was happily married, living in another state and hadn’t provided for the kids’ needs in many years.  Upset and distraught with the Catholic Church, she said her ex received the “right” to marry because he had the marriage annulled.

Just to clarify I asked, “how long were you married?”

“20 years.  7 kids.”

She continued to explain that after the divorce, the Catholic Church had not accepted her as a formal church member, since she was a divorced woman.  She was also forbidden to take communion.  This was especially painful to this woman, because she was a devoted Catholic – so devoted to the church rules that she did not use birth control – thus, the 7 kids.

Her eyes grew wet as I suggested she try visiting a non-denominational church where she would be lovingly accepted and could develop new relationships.  I emphasized that the “church” is a group of believers in Jesus…that Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus and believing that God loves you – just as you are, right where you are in lifeChristianity is not about being alienated by your Sunday worship center just when you need love and help the most.

It’s important to note that as someone who was raised in a liturgical church, I respect and admire all the tradition.  Although I spent 25 years in a liturgical church, I am no longer familiar with the rules, having been in a different church the last 20 years.  So, upon arriving home I looked up the meaning of annulment.  “To reduce to nothing.  To obliterate. To make void; invalidate.”

Divorce is painful enough all on its own. Do we need our church to require an expensive piece of paper authorizing that a marriage was voided in order to move forward in life? In order to participate fully in our faith?

Are we seriously “invalidating” a 20-year marriage for one spouse at his request, after years of painfully rejecting the other spouse by isolating her from the church she devoted herself to?  How does this mentally impact the children?

That afternoon I had a very clear understanding of Gandhi’s words when he said:  “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Is It Really All “Small” Stuff?

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: And It’s All Small Stuff” books were at the height of their popularity, I would read the title and wonder, “What about the Mom of twins who just found out that she has stage 4 cancer? Is that ‘small stuff’”? At the time, I knew of a distant family friend who was my age, had toddler twins like me, and discovered she would not see them grow up.

In defense of Richard Carlson’s point, I’m sure he wouldn’t have categorized life-threatening illnesses as ‘small stuff’, but such attitudes definitely make us take pause, don’t they? By ‘attitudes’ I simply mean those who minimize even the greatest tragedies and offer ill-timed advice such as, “Everything happens for a reason”. Ironically, those providing such wisdom have rarely (if ever) gone through “big stuff”.

If you read my post “The (UN)Enthusiastic Mom”, you know that I’m someone who attempts to clear the mental deck daily and keep myself focused on what’s good around me. The longer we live in this world, the more effort this takes. That said, there is serious “stuff” within my current circle of influence that is not “small” and should not receive a flippant “positive spin”.

For example, our friends just buried their mother who deteriorated daily for the last seven years from the dignity-depraving ravishment of Alzheimer’s. Other family members are desperate to save their son from his cyclical use of heroin, and all the stunning behavioral horrors that accompany such addiction. A friend of mine is suffering alongside her spouse as he battles the mysterious and unpredictable disease of depression. Another close friend is attempting to manage the social, parental, emotional, and geographical shock and fall-out of ending a 24-year marriage.

Ugly, sad life situations do not need a, “oh, it’s going to be fine” statement – at least not when people are in excruciating pain right before our eyes.  Certainly not when they are deeply struggling with the “whys?” in life.

Let’s not be the people or worse yet, the Christians, who offer what I term “Stupid Comfort”. It is not all “small” stuff and we dare not minimize another’s pain. When we just don’t have words, let’s be quiet by our friends’ sides, or honestly say, “There are no words to comfort you; I’m just here.” Romans 12:15.

The TV Show The Middle is Funny. Everything Else “Middle”… Not So Much.

Middle

Sure we all like the show The Middle.    But I like little else involving “The Middle”. How about you?

Middle Age is surprisingly everything everyone older than me said it was. There really are aches and pains when you wake up in the morning. You really do notice that your skin is not what it used to be. I haven’t read, I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman, but the title makes me say, Amen Sister!

Middle of The Road or Middle Ground is not something I like to take. Although my job as a college teacher (and being a parent) forces me to accept and examine the “gray” areas of life, I like black and white. Right and wrong. I’m a rule-follower and life just seems easier when I choose one or the other. However, Middle of The Road is occasionally necessary.

The Middle of My Long-Gone Waist Line is flab and this makes me mad! I already don’t eat all the M&M’s and potato chips that I really want to, and I exercise a few times a week, and I STILL have a ridiculously soggy, mom-of-3-kids middle!

The Middle School Years… ahhhhh!!  Well, if we’re being Mommy-mushy, there are certainly priceless, beautiful moments between 6th and 8th grade. Lots of really nice days and fun events are now part of our family memories, but often, those years were challenging as I painstakingly sorted through daily questions, tears, and frustrations. Can we just camp on the Middle School years for a minute?

The Middle School Gym Class is where many girls decide that messing up their hair is so not worth actually trying to compete and win a game.

The Middle School Hallway is where walking to your locker feels like you’re being bounced through the center of a pin ball arcade game.

Middle School Staff sometimes forgets that the emotional maturity gap between a first-born 6th grader and a last-born 8th grader is the width of the Grand Canyon. Yet, we crunch them altogether and expect the 6th graders to feel welcome and safe. Some 11 year olds haven’t been raised on Black Ops and Mortal Kombat. If you’ve read my blog awhile, you’ll remember Desensitize My Kids?! This leads me to…

Middle School Assemblies. Sometimes, good intentions are ill-timed or go too far. Kids are ready for outside world information at very different ages. If they didn’t know prior to the assemblies, these events have taught kids where the best drug dealers can be found, how to roll, inject, snort and hide drugs. They introduced alcohol frozen pops and how to hide alcohol in your flip flops. Perhaps this information would be better suited for the parent assemblies in the younger grades. The Rachel’s Challenge assembly was much too early for my kids. My daughter’s eyes blazed at me that afternoon, “How can you EVER send me back to school?  Did YOU know that kids get shot at school?!” At 11 years old, the precious lesson from Rachel’s life which was well intended by Middle School administration, was buried by guns and mental images of terrified children. After that, I requested my children not attend any assemblies without a note or call home first regarding its content.

The Middle School Cafeteria is where lunchboxes stop being cool. Thankfully, my 9th grader still carries hers at the high school!  

The Middle School Church. Disclaimer: I delicately, respectfully and generally speak only of my small-world experiences!  We are in the Northeast and we can’t boast truly Christ-centered churches “on every corner”, as my southern friends have. Getting youth to come on a regular basis to church is challenging. That said, the desire for my kids to experience a thriving youth group led me a few years ago to visit several church kids programs, and similar organized events.  What I discovered was between nursery and 5th grade, the spiritual growth opportunities were plentiful. At 13, the kids are sometimes dropped off the edge of a spiritual cliff.

When kids are 0-12, they have little say about whether or not they’re going to church with Mom and Dad. When kids are 13-18, they can make dental surgery preferable to Sunday mornings.  Yet, at 0-12, my kids had more VBS, Sunday morning theatre shows, holiday events, and spiritually-driven girls and boys programming in one year than they’ve ever had as middle teens.

When they are little, we smile into those cherub faces saying, “God loves you!”  At 15, we shy away from telling them they are accepted and loved, often because their serious faces scare us off!  Leaving them alone just makes it easier for them to leave. The book, Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it, claims that approximately 90% of kids leave church in the middle teen years.

Not to mention that the best-intended parents who say church will come before sports when their kids are 5, find it terribly difficult not to break that family rule when the kids are 15 (myself included). When they do get to church, there needs to be connection. Important to note: we can be in the best spiritual environment possible and kids will still make their own choices-I know that. I’m also deeply grateful for the godly people who devote their time to the often thankless job of serving our youth at churches across this nation.

The Middle Teens: Aren’t Always “Cute”. Remember when your little ones did something mischievous or blurted out “no!!” to you? Their cuteness saved them.  During the middle teens, their moodiness and complaining is just ugly.

The Middle Teens: Puberty.  My son turned into a completely different species. Did you read, Moms of Teen Boys Be Encouraged?

Kids in the Middle of a divorce turn into adults who still identify themselves as such. Thankfully, there are programs, such as Kids in the Middle, Children in the Middle, and Divorce Care, which help children navigate the “two homes” “four parents”, etc., but living it out as a child is tough, no matter how well parents think their kids are taking it. Some interesting information is located in the book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.

The Middle of the Night. Or should I say 2am?  Anyone have the occasional insomnia? Just because I know it’s always “live”, QVC keeps me company!

The Middle Finger. ‘Nuff said.

The Middle Class and being Middle Child are up for debate! Have I bummed you out or can you relate? The Middle is not always great, so I keep striving for better. Because I hate ending anything on a downer, some good things about The Middle? Middle America! Malcom in the Middle! (I never saw it, but I hear it’s good). The Middle of an Oreo…:) Oreos