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Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson Martin

Dena Johnson is a former single mom to three amazing kids: Blake, Cole, and Cassie and wife to her high school friend, Roy. She strives to follow Christ each day and to lead her children to do the same. She delights in taking the every day experiences of life and turning them into biblical lessons for her children. Dena's daily prayer is simple: Lord, my life is yours. Live through me. Love through me. Parent through me. Let me decrease that you might increase. Dena is the founder of Dena Johnson Ministries, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people find beauty through the brokenness of this life. Her heart's desire is to use her own pain to point others to the power of God who redeems every hurt, every pain. You can contact Dena at Dena@denajohnson.com. You can also find her blog at Dena Johnson Ministries.

Cow Appreciation Day has become one of our favorite days of the year!

In case you aren’t familiar with Cow Appreciation Day, I will tell you a little about it. Every July, Chick-Fil-A hosts this wonderful event where they encourage their customers to dress like cows in exchange for free food. Over the last ten years, we have made it an annual even for the Johnson Herd.

As a single mom, Cow Appreciation Day was a great opportunity for a few laughs and cheap food. You can’t beat free food! Some years, it has just been me and my calves. Other years, it has been expanded to the larger Johnson Herd (aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews). At least one year, I loaded up the neighborhood herd. I had teen boys (dressed like cattle) hanging out every window of my vehicle mooing at every car we met. When we finished at the first Chick-Fil-A, the cattle were still hungry. So we went to a second location. When they were STILL hungry, we went to yet a third Chick-Fil-A. I don’t know how much free food we consumed that year…

This year, we loaded up the car with Roy, me, Cassie, and her friend Jolie. We took our custom-made Johnson Farm spots (complete with an embroidered cattle brand) to my sister, her daughter, and her granddaughter. The seven of us headed up the road to the local Chick-Fil-A.

Now I must pause and tell you about the incredible find I made last year. I happened upon these inflatable cow costumes that were marked down to half-price…and I couldn’t resist getting one for Cassie. I ended up purchasing them for several of her friends, too. They were meant to be Halloween costumes, but have also been special entertainment at Chick-Fil-A…and absolutely perfect for Cow Appreciation Day.

 

As always, we had a great time and made lots of memories. We got lots of stares as we drove down the road mooing at everyone. And we enjoyed our free chicken (free always tastes good). Eventually, after a couple of inflatable cows doing the chicken dance in the parking lot, we loaded up and headed home.

At this point in the story, I am going to simply use the term “Bovine” to refer to any individual. You see, if I use the term cow, heifer, bull, or steer, it could inadvertently disclose the identity of the individual in this story. If I use the more generic term “cow,” my 17-year-old son will forever disown me for failing to use the proper terms for various types of cattle. So I have chosen the generic term Bovine which refers to any member of the cattle group.

As the herd of cattle drove home, all was fine. We were enjoying every moment of our little outing, laughing and joking about our adventure. As we drove up to our home, one Bovine seems to have mistaken the gas pedal of the car for the brake pedal. The next thing we know, we had a herd of cattle sitting in our car with the garage door laying on top of my car. We were partially in the garage, but it seems that a particular Bovine chose to enter the garage WITHOUT PUTTING THE GARAGE DOOR UP.

 

Slightly stunned and not sure exactly how to respond, the car was placed in park as cattle began exiting the vehicle to survey the damage. The Bovine in the passenger seat had to crawl to the driver’s side to extricate itself from the vehicle. Eventually, the bull lifted the garage door off the car while I backed the car out of the garage and away from the garage door. I guess our little Bovine outing had a not so fabulous ending.

Roy messaged his boss to say he wasn’t going to be at work the next day because he was going to be getting a replacement garage door and trying to buff some of the damage out of the car. We began our search for a reputable and reasonable garage door replacement. This herd of cattle had definitely not planned on spending its time (or money—seems our free food wasn’t such a great deal after all) on this type of situation. The joys of the unexpected...

So what can we learn from this little story?

One, don’t let cattle drive your vehicle. Ok. Maybe this one is a given, but it is kind of humorous.

Two, one thing we can always expect is the unexpected. We certainly didn’t foresee this little situation. It seems life is constantly throwing us the curve ball. No matter what we experience, we can be certain God knew it was coming and He can carry us through. He is bigger than anything we face.

Three, there’s always room for grace. We could have chosen anger. We could have chosen punishment. We could have chosen any number of reactions. I guarantee the Bovine responsible for the accident felt horrible about the situation. There were more apologies and offers of help than we knew what to do with. The hurt in this Bovine was way worse than anything we could handle. By extending grace, we (hopefully) were able to help alleviate some of the pain and help this Bovine forgive himself/herself.

Four, eventually this will be a funny addition to our Cow Appreciation Day stories. However, I certainly don’t want it to become a part of the tradition. I am praying we don’t have a repeat next year…or ever.

Five, it could have been so much worse. We could have hit the boat. Or the brick house. Or Roy’s dad’s truck. We could have caused so much more damage. We are thankful it was just my car and the garage door. We might be looking for a new car for me sooner than we expected…

Six, God is always sovereign. We’ve had several situations arise in the last few weeks that we anticipate will make a huge difference in our financial situation. They haven’t materialized yet, but we see God stepping in to provide. It’s been a rough summer financially, but we trust He is still in control.

Seven, cattle are pretty good at gossip. At least the Johnson herd is. The text messages began flying. My oldest is in Colorado for the summer, and I received a text simply asking how the drive home was. My sister texted to see how our evening was (even though we had been with her at Chick-Fil-A). My niece had a good laugh at our expense. I don’t even know how the stories started flying as I was trying to protect the guilty Bovine! Maybe we need to learn not to “share prayer requests” so readily…although we will take all the prayer we can get.

Eight, Chick-fil-a will always have a special place in our hearts. It would be tempting to avoid our favorite chicken place in light of current circumstances. Instead, we will take every opportunity to eat the delicious chicken and dress like cows. Long live Chick-Fil-A!!

Nine… surely some of you can encourage me with your own ridiculous stories of embarrassing moments and stupid things you’ve done. We could use a few more laughs.

I guess with that, it’s time to pack our spots away for another year. Hopefully, next year’s Cow Appreciation Day won’t be quite as eventful…or expensive.

Last week, I shared some ways the church intensifies the pain of divorcees. Today, I want to share quotes from a number of friends who have so kindly given me permission to share their stories.

The pain the church often heaps upon people in their lowest moments is not isolated to one or two people. While some churches and Christians wisely respond appropriately, many others choose to throw shame, guilt, and condemnation when people find themselves in the midst of a divorce. I guarantee that all Christians walking through divorce have enough of that without having to deal with others adding to it.

I pray you listen prayerfully to these stories. I pray you allow God to speak to your heart about how you and your church are responding to divorce. I pray you take a moment to think through the pain these individuals are facing and determine to provide encouragement and support.

From a single mom of eight: The church didn’t validate my grief because of the belief "it takes two" and "we're all sinners." I was told that if I was REALLY committed to making it work, he would have repented. Really? Do you know how hard it is for a mom of 8 children to decide to leave??? The church also shut me down. It was as if letting me talk was somehow, supporting my decision!

I’ve said it so many times: It takes two to make a marriage work, but only one hardened heart to walk away. I promise most Christians do not walk away quickly or easily. If anything, we stay much longer than we should.

From two different former ministers whose wives walked away: I was removed from my ministry position. I’ve had multiple churches refuse to even interview me because of a divorce that happened when I was in my early twenties. The two churches that did interview me asked if either my wife or I had ever been divorced. That ended the interviews.

Both of these individuals understand they needed time to heal. Both have also moved forward and have very happy marriages that have lasted a number of years. Why should a divorce that happened 15, 20, 25 years ago impact their current position in the church? Why should they be disqualified from ministry because their former spouses hardened their hearts and walked away? Why can God forgive our past and remember it no more…but the church cannot?

From a now single mom: I was in an abusive marriage and seeking counsel from the pastor’s wife, who was licensed. She told me if I chose to leave knowing it’s sinful, I may not be forgiven. When I was separated and praying for my marriage and my husband to repent, several people said I was better off without him. Soon after my divorce, a parent was waiting in the nursery for someone to arrive. When he saw it was me, he left with his child.

I’m not sure where the church got this idea that a woman (or man) must stay in an abusive marriage. I don’t know how scripture can be so twisted and manipulated to believe an individual is required to stay in a marriage that is dangerous. The ironic part of this situation is that Moses permitted divorce as a way to protect the women from mistreatment (Deuteronomy 24). How is requiring a woman (or man) to stay in an abusive marriage consistent with the spirit of scripture? How is forcing someone to submit to an individual who is constantly degrading and tearing him/her down an unforgivable sin? Why do we think we must follow the letter of the law (or, in reality, the letter of human interpretations of the law) instead of the spirit of the law? Wasn’t Jesus all about grace?

Sentiments expressed by a number of women contemplating remarriage or remarried: Why do people treat remarriage as the unforgivable sin, and that a second marriage can't be redemptive? The prodigal was welcomed home by his father regardless of what he did. People tell me I must wait for the lord to change my ex and that I shouldn’t have remarried because now I'm sinning against God.

Again, in Deuteronomy 24, Moses allowed divorce so women could remarry. Why? So they had someone to help support them. Oh, you might argue, women are allowed to work today unlike biblical times. But the statistics for single moms are devastating. Single moms are far more likely to live in poverty and be homeless. Their children are more likely to join gangs or be victims of violence. You may think times are drastically different from Bible times, but they aren’t so different. Let’s add 1 Corinthians 7:27-28 into this discussion: If you are married, don’t get a divorce. If you are divorced, don’t try to find a spouse. But if you do marry, you haven’t sinned

From a former minister’s wife whose husband had an affair and left her and her children: People do not know how to deal with the situation so they do nothing. I was so hurt by the absence of any acknowledgement of my situation and grief. I felt abandoned. The pastor spoke to me one time in the early days of the crisis that was our divorce and never heard from him again. I was too wounded to return to the church and no one called or checked on me. Devastating.

From another former minister’s wife: No support from the body. He runs a ministry through the church; after an affair, leaving his own marriage of 22 years, and then he helped break up her marriage (she is 22 years his junior and has a small child). Ironically, he's still running the church ministry, teaching children how to live their lives as Christians.

And yet another former minister’s wife: My ex is now leading a ministry at a new church with the "other woman," now his wife 15 years his junior. She was in our youth group when the affair started. His Christian counselor invited him to this new church....his Christian counselor who we both saw and knows everything that was going on. He refused to end that relationship to save our marriage and his ministry. He hasn’t repented, has only lied his way into new people's lives.

I, too, was a minister’s wife whose husband had an affair. He was able to jump right back into ministry. I know he twisted the facts to make me the bad guy, to make me the one who walked out. I find it quite ironic that the men whose wives walked out were prevented from serving in ministry while the men who had affairs were allowed to continue in ministry. Perhaps we need to exercise some discernment and check the fruit of their lives.

From a remarried mom: When I was divorcing my husband he told the church I had cheated on him. (I didn’t ). The elders (all men) called me in and questioned/cross examined me and wanted me to sign a letter stating I would remain chaste while divorced and go to classes and all kinds of stuff. There were no women in there and I was blindsided about this…. I was so hurt and betrayed. It took me a few years to realize those are just men and not God or the church. A few weeks after that my husband showed up at church sitting in a pew with his arm around his widowed sister-in-law whom he shacked up with the day I kicked him out. We were married for 21 years and he was an alcoholic and verbally abusive and controlling. I didn’t care if the church had reached out to find out what was going on but to attack me like that and act like judge and jury and try to control me was unbelievable. They never even apologized later. I was also going to counseling there and my counselor tried to tell them and they would only believe what my husband said.

I’ve heard similar stories from a number of women, their abusive spouses managed to convince the leaders of their churches of their innocence and turn the entire church against the truly innocent spouse. We as a church must exercise tremendous amounts of discernment. Usually the one who yells the loudest and creates the most sympathy is the one who is the one in the wrong.

And one final story from a newly-remarried friend:  About three months after my divorce was final, a church friend sent me a message: “I knew you guys had divorced and it just made me so sad I couldn’t bring myself to contact you.” That was the catalyst that finally broke my silence. I wrote her a long message with each paragraph starting with the phrase “you didn’t know.” You didn’t know he threw our daughter into a closet when he was mad. You didn’t know that when he wanted to punish me he would disappear for days. You didn’t know he threw a large box of baby wipes at me so hard when our oldest was a baby it put a hole in the wall of her room. You didn’t know he told our son that he hated him and was no longer his dad.

Unless you have been behind closed doors in these marriages, you have no idea the abuse that may be taking place. On the outside, the marriage may be ideal. But behind closed doors, there may be more danger than anyone could ever imagine. Do not judge. Do not assume you know what happened. Do not think it’s a matter of failing to connect of speak one another’s love language. It may be the abused spouse has spent years hiding the truth—from him/herself and from the outside world. The abuser may have so convinced he/she is the cause of all the abuse and he/she doesn’t deserve any better. The victim may not even recognize the abuse until he/she is in a place of safety. You simply don’t know what one has endured behind closed doors.

I think it is time we all stop and ask ourselves how our attitudes toward divorce are creating more harm and pain for those walking through one of the most difficult betrayals on earth. What are we doing to encourage and lift up? How are we showing the love of Christ? How are we drawing the hurting to Christ where they can find the one true source of healing? If we aren’t helping divorcees navigate the pain, we might be contributing to it. That is definitely not the Christ-like attitude.

I will never forget the Sunday it first happened.

I was in the midst of a painful divorce. My soon-to-be ex-husband had been the pastor of our church and had an affair with a woman in the church. After over a year of trying to save our marriage, I finally felt God’s peace in walking away.

I slipped into the church service and found an older widow to sit next to. She had been a strong supporter through it all. As the preacher began, he made a comment about how we wouldn’t go to someone who filed bankruptcy for financial advice and we certainly wouldn’t seek relationship advice from a divorced person.

The tears welled up as the dagger was stuck into my heart and twisted so deeply. The stereotypical comment was more than my bleeding heart could handle. In that moment, I contemplated never stepping foot in a church again.

But God…

I knew the comment wasn’t my Father’s heart. I knew He had set me free from the pain and dysfunction of my marriage. I knew He loved me and didn’t want me to wear the label of divorced. He wanted me to wear the label of masterpiece, chosen, child of God.

Until that day, I had never thought about how a careless comment could cause such excruciating pain and turn someone away from the church and God—the one place where true healing is available. I vowed that day to never be silent about the pain of divorce and the healing of my God.

Truth is, there are many, many divorced people who are not bad at relationships; they simply found themselves in a relationship with another individual who had a hardened heart. There are many people who filed bankruptcy that learned lessons the hard way (think Dave Ramsey) and used those lessons to help millions of people. There are former addicts who have experienced the life-changing power of God and now are better prepared to help other addicts. Just because we have suffered a devastating blow such as bankruptcy or divorce does not mean God cannot use us to help others. It does not mean we are a failure or bad at life. In fact, it’s often those who have suffered the most that God uses in the most amazing ways.

Our pain is never wasted if we let God use it for our good and His glory.

Sadly, the traditional teachings of the church have left many divorced people wounded and bleeding. Many traditional teachings have failed to take the cultural context of scripture into account when giving interpretations on divorce and remarriage. A deeper look at the context shows many of the teachings were meant to protect women and elevate them to a place of equality.

And yet, the church continues to heap shame and guilt upon so many victims of divorce.

Where, you might ask. How is the church issuing condemnation instead of hope? What is the church doing that causes untold pain?

Here’s a few areas to consider:

Divorce disqualifies you from ministry (or any type of leadership role) within the church. As a former pastor’s wife with a very clear calling on my life from God, this one was so painful. And scary. What does a divorced woman do to fulfill a calling she has known and pursued since she was 8 years old? Why should my husband’s adultery disqualify me from serving God?

These were questions I wrestled with for a number of years. Ultimately, God assured me He still had plans for me…plans that have far exceeded anything I could ever imagine.

I fully understand—and agree with—exercising caution before putting a divorced individual into a leadership role. How long has it been? Has the individual fully healed? What were the circumstances of the divorce? Was the individual a Christian at the time? Is the person now married? How long? What is the state of his/her current marriage? If children were involved, how is his/her relationship with the kids? Is he/she fulfilling all financial responsibilities to the children?

If we are honest, these are the types of questions that should be asked of every candidate for a leadership position. You see, divorce is no worse than premarital sex or a penchant for alcohol. In all reality, it might be that the divorced individual did not sin in getting a divorce. It could be they were the victim of a spouse with a hardened heart who simply walked away or was abusive.

Christ’s forgiveness is greater than every divorce and every sin. The key is full surrender to the Father.

Insisting divorce is always the result of two hardened hearts. Um… really sorry to burst your bubble, but there are many men with loving, faithful wives sitting at home while they are out running around on their wives. There are many kind, compassionate men who are trapped in marriages with hateful wives.

Proverbs 25:24 says, “It is better to live on a corner of the housetop than in a house in company with a quarrelsome wife.”

Sadly, one hardened heart intent on going against God’s will and breaking the vow is all it takes to destroy a relationship. One person determined to do his or her own thing can easily ruin a marriage of ten, fifteen, even fifty years. We are never too old to allow our hearts to become so calloused that we walk away from the gift God has given us.

One sweet friend said her pastor’s wife was a licensed counselor and made it very clear that it was impossible for divorce to be only one person’s fault. Anyone who espouses this teaching has never been in an abusive relationship. Never, ever, under any circumstances insist that divorce is always the result of the actions of both spouses. It is highly likely there was only one hardened heart that caused the demise of the marriage.

Proclaiming that divorce is never an option. I understand the sanctity of marriage and the importance of preaching perseverance. However, when there are individuals sitting in the congregation trapped in abusive relationships, this type of blanket statement contributes to keeping them trapped. You see, most of us who are divorced Christians did not take the decision lightly. It was a decision made in counsel with many others and with many, many hours of prayer. Ultimately, it was a decision made for our safety and our sanity—and for that of our children.

I believe it is essential that pastors study abuse (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and sexual) and gain a greater understanding of what individuals in the congregation are dealing with. You must understand the brain-washing that is taking place in marriages today—often in the name of Christianity. I know how many times I was called out for failure to be submissive—which in my case meant catering to his every whim. This is not what God intended for our marriages!!

Before you preach on the sanctity of marriage, make sure you create a caveat for those who are trapped in marriages where they are suffering. Make sure you point out that the husband must love the wife as Christ loved the church before the wife has to submit. Make sure you let them know that if your spouse if insisting on you submitting to sinful practices, the spouse is absolutely wrong.

Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, has finally become a voice of reason in this argument. I am so glad to have a proponent of marriage proclaiming that God would never put an institution above the individual.

Maybe you should actually consider preaching a sermon on what verbal, mental, and emotional abuse actually looks like. Maybe you should grab some divorced people from your congregation and ask them to tell their stories. Maybe you should let those same individuals lead the discussion on abuse.

Teaching that remarriage is to live in adultery and be condemned to hell. I did not realize how prevalent this teaching was until I started writing. I was told over and over that if I remarried, I would be living in an adulterous relationship, forever condemned to hell. My only option as a divorced person was to pine away, praying for reconciliation, or to wait until my ex-husband died.

I used the example of David and Bathsheba, an adulterous couple who obviously had a marriage that was blessed by God despite its beginnings. God could have chosen any of David’s sons to take the throne, but he chose Solomon, the product of this marriage that began in adultery. I actually had pepole tell me the only reason God blessed the marriage between David and Bathsheba was because Bathsheba’s first husband was dead.

Ummm… I may not have a Bible degree, but I believe Uriah was dead because David killed him. I guess it’s ok for all of us divorced people to murder our former spouses so we can have a second marriage blessed by God.

I am being facetious, but really? How can remarriage be the unforgivable sin? Doesn’t God throw all of our sins (including divorce) as far as the east is from the west and remember them no more? Didn’t Moses allow divorce so women could remarry (Deuteronomy 24)?

In 1 Corinthians, Paul even says it is not a sin to remarry: If you are married, don’t get a divorce. If you are divorced, don’t try to find a spouse. But if you do marry, you haven’t sinned. (CEB)

Don’t take the word of just one spouse. Don’t even get me started on the number of pastors and churches that are completely fooled by abusive spouses who manage to sink their teeth in and turn everything around on the abused spouse. I know the stories I heard about myself, how I just woke up one morning and didn’t love him any more. I have been blessed to have God bring truth to light so many times, and I know He still works on my behalf.

I believe it is time for churches to change the way they handle divorce and divorced people. It is time to start ministering to them, as if they lost their spouse to death (there are many similarities). Perhaps it is time to preach a sermon on the pain of divorce and how we as Christians should minister to those who are hurting. It is time we look more deeply into scripture and see why God hates divorce (because of the pain it causes His children). It is time churches truly evaluate the traditional teachings on divorce and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate any areas where we have been judgmental instead of showing the love and grace of Jesus.

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