Friday, January 9, 2009

No-Fault Divorce


Marriage in the United States can be both a religious covenant and a legal contract. Different religions have different views about what constitutes marriage and what grounds, if any, exist for divorce or anullment. I won't go into the nitty-gritty of all these theological and doctrinal matters in this post. For the time being, I'd like to focus on the legal aspects of marriage, or more precisely, the legal aspects of dissolving a marriage contract. Specifically, I would like to address the issue of "no-fault divorce," which I believe could rather be rightly termed "divorce on demand."

Before continuing, I should probably mention that I have a personal interest in the presence of no-fault divorce in our country's legal system; it is something that has dramatically and aversely affected my life. After twenty-seven years of marriage, my father left my mother. I will not give the reasons here, as this is a public blog, but suffice it to say that the blame was not on her side. Technically, New York State (where my parents were married and divorced) does not permit no-fault divorce; it is one of only three states that maintains this stance, requiring that both spouses consent to the divorce. However, the widespread presence of no-fault divorce in our country led my mother to believe that she didn't have a choice in the matter. Technically, as my father had moved away to a state that allowed no-fault divorce, she didn't have a choice; he could simply divorce her through the legal system of his new home state without her consent. My father repeatedly refused to even consider counselling, though my mother attempted for three years to save their marriage alone. Moreover, my father wanted to sever ties "cleanly," as he put it, walking away without giving her a penny, though she had sacrificed her career for his and remained at home and worked part-time for many years to take care of me. A fine thank you for over a quarter-century of love and sacrifice. This is the legacy of divorce on demand.

The worst of it to me, their only child, was that hardly anyone thought anything of this! No-fault divorce has become so prevalent in our society that my father's pathetic excuses of "It just didn't work out," seemed to satisfy the majority of our friends and family. Those of us who opposed his actions and tried to make him see reason were ridiculed for being closed-minded and judgmental.

Many people oppose overturning no-fault divorce because they say that the government should not have jurisdiction in private affairs. This attitude fails to see things in a true light. Two consenting adults enter into a marriage contract--a binding, legal agreement, undertaken mutually by two parties and conducted without the interference of the government, except to ratify the contract. Years (or months or weeks) later, one party, under no-fault divorce, chooses to reneg on that contract; the governement then steps in and tells the faithful party that their contract is no longer binding, thanks very much, have a nice life. That sounds like governement interference to me.

In a system that would not allow no-fault divorce, a spouse could still seek non-consentual divorce in the case of mental or physical abuse, abandonment of a year or more, adultery, or if the other spouse spends more than three years in prison. We are not discussing the issue of victimized women trapped in abusive relationships. We are not talking about marriage where things are "broken" beyond repair. We are talking about a consenting adult who entered into a binding legal contract and later wanted to back out with no reprecussions. If this were the state of business contracts in our country, there would be an outcry! Where is the outcry on behalf of the men, women, and children who are victims of no-fault divorce?

Frankly, with no-fault divorce ravaging American families, I don't know how anyone can even speak politcally of the "sanctity of marriage" with a straight face anymore. For that matter, why do we even have civil marriage, when one party can simply decide they are tired of the arrangement and reneg without cause or reprecussion, except maybe to lose out a little in the alimony department? It's absurd. Why bother denying gay couples the right to marry when any two adults of opposite sexes can just walk into city hall, sign a marriage contract, and then decide the next week that they're bored of it and don't want it anymore. What is the point of civil marriage in this current condition?

Tellingly, this is one issue where radical feminists are agreeing with pro-family advocates. Of course, NOW's stance against no-fault divorce stems from its assertion that no-fault divorce removes financial "bargaining chips" from a woman's table. This is not the issue I would like to stand on. But, there are many injustices that occur due to no-fault divorce, and women are frequently the vicitims of no-fault divorce. Many such women have sacrificed strong careers to stay at home and care for children or to further their husband's career instead, under the assumption that their marriage contract was considered binding on both sides and that they would benefit from her support of her husband later in life. Come middle age: the kids move out; she's not so attractive anymore, and hubby finds someone else who can "please" him more. So, he divorces her. She has no say. She has no rights. She is, in all reality, abandoned after decades of sacrifice. This is wrong. Any way you slice it, it's wrong.

It isn't just women who suffer, though. Members of the father's rights movement have advocated that grounds for divorce must be required in cases where children are involved. It has been argued that wives who instigate no-fault divorce are often granted custody of the children, and the abandoned husbands are then required to pay child support while bereft of the children they would have wanted to keep custody of. This is without even mentioning the damage done to the children of couples that have been destroyed by no-fault divorce!

Sure, no-fault divorce has drastically lowered the rates of perjury in divorce court proceedings; that is, after all, why it was instated in the first place. But, has it done any good? On the contrary, I believe it has done great harm. The system is so stream-lined now that a defaulting spouse is able to carry out a divorce in a couple of months--not even enough time to stop and think about the reprecussions of these attrocious actions. Everytime someone leaves their spouse because they "fell out of love" or "things didn't work out," real people suffer and, on a larger social level, the institution of marriage is demeaned, undermined, and spat upon.

Personally, I would love to see these United States overturn no-fault divorce and reinstate the laws as they were before the 1970s, where divorce was only permitted by proven breech of the marriage contract. It is my belief that if no-fault divorce continues to prevail, it should at least by required that any person seeking such a divorce would be made to undergo a reasonable number of couples' counselling sessions with their spouse. I believe that many, many marriages would be saved even from this, which seems to me the most minimal of efforts when considering such a momentous decision.

There are, of course, religious reasons to oppose no-fault divorce, among other attacks against the sanctity of marriage. I hope that what I have said here provides reason enough to believe that it should, likewise, be opposed for strictly political and civil reasons, as well. Divorce on demand undermines marriage. It has destroyed countless families. It has left scores of abandoned wives stranded without support in their twilight years. It has created more than one generation of youth who view marriage as a joke: an excuse to have a big, expensive party but which really doesn't mean anything. This is the legacy of no-fault divorce. It is a travesty, and it should be stopped.

29 comments:

  1. Some of the best relationship models I am blessed to have in my life are homosexual couples. The commitment of these couples - who view their bond as a permanent one - would put some of the "preserve the sanctity of marriage" folks to shame. I do find it immensely curious that American evangelical Christians have the highest rate of divorce.

    Allison

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  2. Spot on. No-fault divorce caused more damage than words can tell.

    Furthermore, with marriage treated so flippantly, many men see no need to get married at all, and easily abandon the children they have fathered outside the marriage covenant.

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  3. Bethany,

    My sincerest apologies to you concerning the divorce of your parents.

    Deanna from the Kansas Flinthills

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  4. Many such women have sacrificed strong careers to stay at home and care for children or to further their husband's career instead, under the assumption that their marriage contract was considered binding on both sides and that they would benefit from her support of her husband later in life.

    Sometimes men die young unexpectedly without life insurance.
    Can you except the fact that maybe one spouse changes and the other doesn't?
    I agree that the husband should support the wife especially if the kids are young. No fault divorce does not negate his responsibilty to pay child support.
    Hopefully your mother brushed up on her own skills and moved on.

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  5. While I will agree that many time divorce (and marriage, for that matter) is taken too lightly and without due consideration, the no-fault divorce option is heaven-sent for those of us who have suffered abusive marriages, but don't have the broken bones to serve as evidence. Mine was termed, "Irretreivable breakdown of the marriage with mutual consent to divorce" but fell into the state's category of no-fault. Had I had to produce evidence of my ex-husband's verbal, emotional, etc. abuse, the kind that leaves no outward marks, I would probably still be fighting to get away from him. Thank God that wasn't the case.

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  6. Honestly, it sounds like you are scared of the stability of your own marriage. In just about every state marital assets are split equally and if a spouse has a substatially higher income than the other, the lower income spouse gets a higher percentage plus maintenance payments. Your mother will be just fine financially. If you don't believe in government intereference why do you think it is ok for the government to force people to be married when they don't want to. No amount of counseling is going to make someone stay married to someone they don't want to. Why would anyone want to stay married to someone who doesn't love them, because you have a contract? Life is what it is, you never know what tomorow will bring, you can only change yourself. I'd focus on maturing and excepting the facts in your life instead of trying to control the actions of others (you want ridiculous laws bestowed upon the entire country because you're angry at your father and have fears about your own marriage), you will always lose and never grow. Perhaps counseling might benefit you.

    Somehow I doubt you will actually post this as it doesn't fit within your set of "beliefs". Hope you expand your mind and heart to a happier place.

    SE

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  7. Catholic Helpmate - Thank you for sharing your story. It is certainly something I shall ponder as I continue to think about this issue.

    SE- I am astonished at your insensitivity and presumption. I happen to believe I have striven very hard to mature through this terrible tragedy in my life and to accept things as they are. I have come to love and admire my mother's new boyfriend and her family and am working to accept my father's new wife and her young son. I have no fears about my own marriage and merely find it telling that you could come to such a cynical conclusion from reading this post, a cynicism that is echoed in your belief that I would not post your comment. Incidentally, I have never rejected a comment on this site, though I have received much more stinging ones than the one you've penned. I hope that YOU "will come to expand your mind and heart to a happier place."

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  8. I don't entirely agree with what SE said, but I do agree with the following statement:

    "No amount of counseling is going to make someone stay married to someone they don't want to. Why would anyone want to stay married to someone who doesn't love them, because you have a contract?"

    Counseling only works if both parties are truly willing to make the effort to make it work. Like SE, I don't understand why you would want to be married to someone who doesn't want to be married to you.

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  9. I agree with you 100% on this Bethany. My parents divorced when I was 3, and I was determined to not le tthe same thing happen to me-which led me to bounce from one relationship to another. Until I realized what I believe is the mos tdamaging misconception about romantic love-we are led to believe it should always be easy!! It isn't always easy to love our parents, our siblings, our children, so why on earth would a spouse be any different! Marriage takes work, and in a society where work is undervalued, it is no surprise that we see the divorce rates we have.

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  10. Bethany, I agree with you and am sorry about some of the comments that have been made toward you. For those of us that seek to follow the commands of our Creator, marriage is a blood covenant, not a contract that can be broken. Marriage was not set up by men/women but by God so maybe we should start seeking His counsel instead!!! jw

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  11. Allan in Renton, WAAugust 27, 2009 at 8:38 PM

    Generally a good article, but I can't agree that women are the primary victims of this. I can't begin to count the number of men who have had their children, house, and bank accounts ravaged by their now ex-wives, left in a heap, and in many cases, the wife has gone on with another guy on top of that. Shoot, there are at least 2 in my own little culdesac. It is not a unilateral problem and should never be described as one.

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  12. Allan - I do agree that it is not always women. I know men who have had similar situations to the one you describe. My friend's brother is in custody proceedings right now for something similar, and it's heartbreaking because he is one of the most devoted father's I've ever known. I was simply pointing out that, particularly for older geneartions (Baby Boomers, etc.) it was often the women who were left particularly financially victimized because they had stayed home with the children, thinking they would have the support of their husband's retirement and savings in old age, only to end up destitute after a painful divorce and no chance of building up a retirement plan of their own. Basically, they are like the widows spoken of in the Bible.

    Anyway, yes, I agree it's not unilateral, and we should never forget the men who are victims of no-fault divorce. But, at least from my personal experience, the MAJORITY of victims I know have been women, though I have known some men.

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  13. Allan in Renton, WAAugust 28, 2009 at 1:16 AM

    Bethany, I think, perhaps, historically, you would be correct. As we have moved to a more feminist and egalitarian culture, the destruction has become more egalitarian as well. God, I don't even like that word, it has grown up out of the universities and that ilk, a source of much of the mess we are in...
    Anyway, it is a sad state of affairs, and I'd like to see things become much more "biblical"

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  14. Bethany,

    Though I agree with much of what you say, you're flat out wrong about men initiating the majority of divorces. It's women who do, at least nowadays. Here's a good, mainstream source that corroborates my point. If you look @ Myth #10 down at the bottom, you'll see that women initiate divorces at a 2 to 1 ratio vs. men.

    Oh, though I rarely agree with Allison on anything, she is unfortunately right about how straight people have made a MESS & MOCKERY of marriage! It's not the gays who've messed up the institution; it's the straight people, especially Christians, who've damaged the institution. Shame on them!

    Those are my thoughts. Have a good night now...

    MarkyMark

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  15. MarkyMark- Thank you for the resource. I had not been aware of this. In my personal experience, women have been abandoned by their husband in about 80% of the cases, so this was not a perspective I held. That is very interesting. I wonder what the statistics would be in varying age groups. All but one divorce I know of with couples 50+ has been initiated by the man. However, all the divorces I personally know of in my own generation were initiated by the woman. Ponderous.

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  16. Bethany,

    Perhaps men did leave their wives more often in years gone by. Firstly, divorce wasn't so biased in women's favor as to make it a scary prospect for a man to undertake; that's why, if a man divorces a wife these days, then I'm inclined to think she must have been a real PILL. Secondly, women get richly rewarded for divorcing their husbands now. For example, she has a 90% chance of getting the kids, which means she'll get the house too. It doesn't matter whether he cheated or she cheated; she'll get the house in any case. Oh, BTW, while she keeps the house, he keeps the mortgage payment. Anyway, it's axiomatic that, if people get rewarded for doing something, then they'll do more of it-duh.

    As for the generational thing, I think that the reason women your age always initiated the divorce is not only due to the aforementioned factors above, though they were part of the equation. A young, modern woman has been told, ad infinitum, that she's perfect; that she's a princess; that she can do no wrong; that she's a goddess; you get the idea. Ergo, if there's a problem in a relationship of hers, particularly with a man, it's not HER fault. After all, how can a goddess be wrong? The mindset would be a factor, I would think...

    MarkyMark

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  17. MarkyMark - I'm afraid I take offense at your thought that if a man divorces a woman, she must be a "PILL". After 27 years of devoted companionship, my mother was cheated on and abandoned by my father who attempted to walk away without giving her a red cent, though she had sacrificed her career to care for me while I was growing up. Moreover, I cannot agree with the idea that all young women are spoiled brats while young men are virtuous. I was merely stating that I believe there might be some generationally-related correlation. I know this is something you are passionate about, but on behalf of the women--younger and older--I know who HAVE been victims of divorce, I feel uncomfortable leaving such comments unaddressed here.

    Peace to you.

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  18. Bethany,

    I wasn't saying that all men are virtuous at all. If one subscribes to any sort of Christian world view (and I do, believe it or not), then one must accept the Bible's pronouncement that we're ALL sinners, that we've ALL fallen short of God's glory. All means everybody, including men. I wasn't talking about that.

    I was rather referring to the overall zeitgeist in society; I was referring to the cultural messages that girls and boys receive. If one takes a passing glance at TV ads, we see that women are portrayed as perfect, smart, and righteous, while the men are portrayed as idiots, buffoons, and fools. This same message is also imparted in many TV shows.

    I don't watch much TV; in fact, I don't have my TV hooked up to cable. I have a VHS/DVD player, which will allow me to watch previously taped documentaries from years ago, but that's it. When I do watch TV, it's during visits to my mom's house; even then, it's to view an auto race, motorcycle race, or documentary. IOW, I'm not up on all the modern programs. Even if they weren't so female centric, they are just poorly written and acted, so I wouldn't want to watch them anyway.

    Having said that, I still see promos while watching a NASCAR of F1 race, thanks to network cross promotion. For example, I cannot help but learn about ABC's new season of 'Desperate Housewives', because ABC owns ESPN; ESPN carries NASCAR during the second half of the race season. The same applies to the other channels that carry racing; their parent networks use the commercial breaks to tell me all about the shows featured on the parent network.

    Anyway, there's a common theme to these shows. That theme is that (perhaps I'm oversimplifying) women=goodness, while men=evil; women=smart, men=stupid. When the average American spends hours a day watching this stuff, what effects do you think it has on the respective psyches of girls and boys?

    The same applies to modern movies. That's why I don't go out to see them very often. I don't want some PC message shoved down my throat when all I want is to be entertained, for cryin' out loud! The last time I went to the movies was in April; prior to that, it had been years ago when The Aviator was out.

    Another example of the cultural zeitgeist that I was referring to (but not clearly) previously is the commonly available shirt many girls and women wear. It's the one that says: "Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them!" One, you don't see a comparable shirt for boys; indeed, if one were available, it wouldn't remain available for long! Secondly, the fact that girls are wearing them is demonstrative of their contempt for the male sex.

    Anyway, this zeitgeist cannot help but give women a superiority complex WRT men. This wouldn't be as prevalent with women from older generations, because they weren't fed these sorts of messages as younger women are these days. Again, one must ask the question of how this is coloring women's view of men, and their interactions with them.

    MarkyMark

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  19. MarkyMark- Thank you for the explanation. It helped me a lot to understand your point of view. And btw... The Aviator is one of my favorite movies! I think Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the most underappreciated actors in Hollywood.

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  20. Bethany,

    You're welcome for the explanation. Most of the time when I talk about these issues, it's on boards or blogs devoted to men's issues; I'm used to just referring to the issues in passing, because my main audience can 'fill in the blanks', as it were. I have to remember that this isn't be the case when I'm outside of my normal cyber environment.

    BTW, I agree; Leonardo Di Caprio is an under appreciated talent. When he first hit it big back in the 1990s, he was seen as a pretty boy; he was 'eye candy', and nothing more. In The Aviator, one can see that he has serious acting talent. He literally BECAME Howard Hughes; to pull that off, you have to be good!

    I took my mom to see The Aviator when it came to a local, discount theatre. After the movie, she remarked that Leo DiCaprio even began to LOOK like Howard Hughes, especially during the Senate hearings and other parts towards the end. She'd grown up when he was alive and well known, so she should know. My mom also remarked that she couldn't believe that Hollywood could still make a good movie these days...

    MarkyMark

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  21. Can you tell me the name of the painting of the bride signing her name and the artist? Thank you, Shelley

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  22. I remember when no-fault divorce came in. After that, divorce proliferated exponentially. I think that it is now to late to go back. We could take back all the no-fault divorce laws and even make divorce illegal, but people would simply separate. We have become a lawless nation, without scruples or conscience. Nobody could make people stay together now. It's different now. The stable is open and the horse is out.

    My mother in law, now 87, says that marriages weren't any better in her day or in her parents' day, but divorce was hard to obtain and there was a stigma attached to it. I was surprised when she said that.

    Don't think I would want to go back to that; I don't have the answer. I agree with the commenter that said "it takes two" for counseling to work. I fear for our society. I'm rambling now.

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  23. Bethany,

    I have taken comfort in your frank and honest perspective on marriage and family.

    My wife of 17 years left me and our 5 children last year to be with a younger colleague at the firm where she works. She explained to me that I had most likely topped out salary wise in my field (I'm an Engineer),he made her feel very special in ways I had never been able to, and that being married to me and being burdened with the children had robbed her of the best years of her life personally and professionally (she's an Accountant). I was devestated by her leaving but my pain does not compare to that of my children (the youngest is 4).
    I have of course have not been a perfect husband, but I never abused my wife in any way, never been unfaithful, and do not drink or take drugs, and have never held back financially. I have made no requests of her financially for the kids, and have come to terms with her leaving. I have no immediate intentions of remarrying or dating.
    3 Months ago, prince charming dumped her and no she wants to come home. I declined, but invited her to mend her relationship with her children. I hope she finds happiness, and can help to heal the significant amount of hurt she has caused our children. I continue to reflect on how I failed as a husband, and that even after 17 years of hard work, doing the right thing and loving my wife, I fell short.

    Humbled Ex

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  24. Thanks for this post. I have to disagree with you, however, that divorce should only be permitted with "proof of breach of contract." Discovering a spouse's infidelity is traumatic enough; I can't imagine how difficult it would be, emotionally, to have to compile proof of that infidelity and to present it to strangers in a court of law.

    Besides, while a spouse might admit guilt when confronted in private, and be cooperative throughout the divorce process, I would imagine that the prospect of having one's image tarnished in public would make that guilty spouse much more inclined to deny guilt, and fight the divorce.

    I can think of a whole host of other issues that might arise, like what constitutes proof? Sticky question, in my opinion.

    I think that it's deplorable that a man can leave a woman (or vice versa) just because he's bored with her. However, I don't know that requiring proof in court would be the best solution. I'm not sure what the solution would be.

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  25. Sharon- I agree that having to compile proof of infidelity or abuse would be heartbreaking and potentially difficult. But, in legal dealings, you typically have to prove breech of contract in order to pull out. Marriage seems to be in its own category, and domestic partnership is even easier to get out of (you simply fill out a form).

    Personally, I would rather see the government just get it's hands off marriage all together and leave issues of faith up to the chuches, temples, synagogues and other institutions of worship.

    In my faith (Catholicism), the annullment process can be extremely intensive and long, but it's something that I have seen many couples willing to go through in order to have their marriage fully dealt with within the Church's ordinances. They don't mind having to bring forward proof of grounds for annullment, because they take their marriage covenant seriously, even though it is being dissolved.

    Should the government have to do the same thing as the Catholic Church? No, probably not. Not everyone in American views marriage the way the Church does, and the government is not a magesterium. But, then why make married couples get a contract at all if one partner can just back out whenever they want? It doesn't seem to make sense. It's like having your cake and eating it, too.

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  26. Hi Bethany, I stumbled across your site, and read all these comments from different perspectives, however, should we not look to God's Word for ultimate direction in our mariage/divorce viewpoints? Matthew 19:6-11 states: "So they are no longer two, but one..what God has joined together, let man not separate... Moses permitted you to divorce because your hearts were hard, but it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery"
    Matthew 5:32 "anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultary"
    Mark 10:12 adds "And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery"
    Hebrews 13:4 "Marriage should be honored by all for God will judge the adulterer"
    1 Cor 6:9 "Do not be deceived, the sexually immoral, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders... wil not inherit the Kingdom of God"
    If you had to divorce, it is clear that God reluctantly permiited divorce (and hates it), but you MAY NOT REMARRY! If only Christians could understand this principle, how many would actually divorce. The math is clear: remarriage = adultery, adultary = condemnation. Let's lay down our lives for what is right, whether it be to stay and fight for your marriage or to refrain from adultery by remaining singleif divorced according to God's ordinance. Also to teach to our children the permanence of marriage so they will be equipped, even if marriage takes mere sacrifice.

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  27. Dear Bethany,
    My mother left my real dad when I was in the womb. She took my 2 older sister and "I" , sold the contents of our house to someone on the street for 20.00 dollars. They are both gone now. I had very few answers and being 43 now, the sting is still there. Childern hurt from divorce , too. I cry for all the broken hearts divorce leaves behind. God is my Father . He is faithful, but, He hates divorce. People who consider marriage should get prematail counseling first and be very sure they are in it for the long haul, becuase it is intended to be a lifetime commitment. If divorce happens, it does not mean they are single again, they are in a divorced and separtated state from their spouse. It amazes me that no one ever quotes the verse,...and a man should not divorce his wife., from the Bible. I have come to the conclusion that I must be compassionate to all, but, divorcees do not need a singles dating service. They need comfort and love to work toward reconciliation with their spouse or stay single. Jesus Christ is our perfect example. He never married at all. He can help us through the painful "alonenes" of divorce, without complicating it by an adulterous relationship if the spouse is still living Yes, many men and ladies out there have rotten marriages, I know all the excuses and could probably help make up a few myself but, Jesus can change our hearts and turn ashes into beauty. I can only credit God and give Him thanks that I have been able to be married 21 years to my one and only man. We have had many rocky roads. I have not been an easy person to live with, but, with Christ , I am learning. we have 6 childern and another one the way. (nerves here) May God help me/ help us to give them a greater legacy than what I had. Pray for me to be a godly wife and mother. It is a challenge. and no marriage is going to be easy. I do not intend to offend anyone by what I have said here. but, I am a product of a broken marriage. My parents were Sunday School teachers. The church dropped the ball more than 50 years ago. It is up to those with courage and compassionate voices to say there is a better way. PJ Lucas

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  28. PJ Lucas- Thank you so much for sharing your story. May God bless you in your marriage as you raise your children to honor His vision for Holy Matrimony. And, God keep you and your precious baby safe through this pregnancy! (Congratulations!)

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