New potting soil for our marriage

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potting soil  With Valentine’s Day approaching I’ve been thinking about our marriage.  When Mike and I exchanged vows in church, although churchgoers, we ‘lived and moved and had our being’ in contemporary American 20th-century culture. If you had asked us the very strange-sounding question:  “What is your marriage grounded in?” we would have answered with a blank stare of incomprehension.

Had you gently probed with a further query like, “What is the basis for those wedding vows you just spoke?” I know I would have said, “Love!”  Having gotten to know Mike over 9 months, I knew simply that I wanted to be with him permanently.  Marriage made sense, for that reason.  Plus, as Army officers, we couldn’t be guaranteed joint assignments unless we were married.

But as any wedded couple can attest, living with another sinful person is very hard, whether Christian or not.  We experienced the same stress common to husbands and wives.  And at one point, year 20, separation looked like a real possibility.  Why?  Because our marriage was firmly planted in the soil of contemporary American culture where ‘what makes me happy’ is normative.  Worldly colleagues at school counseled me to ‘move on’ if my needs were not being met.

But the Divine Gardner gently repotted us into different soil, through other friends who spoke God’s truth into us.  Gradually their counsel plus sermons centered on teaching on the Biblical God, books on Christian marriage plus our participation in Bible Study Fellowship changed our individual-centered worldview for a God-centered mindset.  This steady feeding gradually weakened the lies we had accepted as true.  That ‘Mike and Maria’ died.  A new ‘Mike and Maria’ continues to grow stronger as God fertilizes and prunes us.

The dirt made all the difference.

Over time we came to understand the true purpose of marriage.  Not at all what I would have expected, certainly not the way I was brought up.  Certainly not what best selling movies and books describe.

Paul describes marriage like this, in his letter to the Ephesians. He writes:

  •  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32)

Mike and I are still learning that marriage is NOT about our own ‘happily ever after’, but about covenant keeping and reflecting  (very imperfectly most of the time) the marriage of Jesus and the Church.

As Tim Keller, a pastor in NYC writes: “If we want to be happy in marriage we will accept that marriage is designed to make us holy, not happy. Happiness is a byproduct.”

Mike and I now realize that becoming holy takes a lifetime! Being married IS sometimes painful, sometimes joyful, often ordinary.  But a ‘happy ordinary’ is SO much better now than it was the first 20 years of our relationship.

Just as Jesus will never abandon his commitment and pledge to love his bride, the Church, so too we must not abrogate the earthly union with our spouse that our Father has blessed.

Have ‘fights’ and ‘frustrations’ disappeared?  No, but they are less frequent and not as emotionally charged as they used to be when ‘getting what I want’ was each of our goals.  Mike and I still struggle, but we are learning to love one another sacrificially.  For me, this means keeping my mouth shut instead of letting loose with a sarcastic or unloving response.  A new practice of putting myself in his shoes to understand his perspective feels more right.  I now take very seriously the Father’s charge to me as Mike’s wife – to pray for him and his growth in holiness.  I know that is what will make Mike happiest and me most fulfilled as his wife.

As Peter says in his 1st letter:  ABOVE ALL, love one another deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4: 8)

 

Love my boundary lines!

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Sheep in a pen

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Psalm 16:6a

My thorn in the flesh that keeps driving me back to God in desperate need is my tendency to overeat and then get down on myself. I thought I had been liberated from that vicious cycle back in December.  It was then that I renounced once and for all slavishly weighing myself and tracking my exercise day by day.  But then, 10 days ago, I noticed that a certain pair of pants felt tight.  Immediately I spiraled into fear and loathing.

In a nutshell, I suffer from conflicting desires of wanting both to be lean AND to eat as much as I want.  I also fear future hunger and despise feeling stuffed. Taking liberty with the apostle Paul’s cry,

Oh wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me out of this ….(ceaseless struggle!) – Romans 7:24

As I went round and round with God both in prayer and reading my Bible, He brought to mind that psalm snippet above about limits.  Yes!  I NEED boundaries, both to feel safe and to forget about myself. I’m not much different from a dog that escapes from his restrictive yard only to find himself in a big, scary world on the other side.  Once he’s back home on the safe side of his fence or wall, he might then trust his owner’s wisdom and leave off future waywardness.  Actually I bet a dog needs far fewer repeat lessons than I do! After all, I’ve been fighting that wall with God since I was 16.

The Holy Spirit also reminded me what I have recently absorbed, that as Christians, our primary ministry is to our family. For me, my husband must be my focus. And if I am sucked inward, feeling bad about MY body, MY choices and MY satisfaction, I am NOT ministering to this man God has lovingly brought me.

Quickly my plea for guidance, “What am I to do, Lord?” turned into thanksgiving and praise for His Truth revealed in my heart.

Yes, I DO need limits and they DO make me happy.  Once THAT fact was settled, what I was to do fell into place.  No, I would not go back to weighing myself each day.  But I could cut out certain foods and reduce my portion size of others.

And if those parameters are what allow me to forget myself and focus on Mike and others in my sphere, then they truly ARE my happy limits.  Staying INSIDE the parameter is best.

Well, what about this fear of hunger and desire to eat abundantly?  I MUST ‘risk’ taking God at His Word and rely on His promise that I can do ALL things through him (Christ) who strengthens me – Phil 4:13. And all things means happily living with limited portions and occasional hunger pangs. For ifGod is leading me to stay within my boundary lines, then what He commands me to do, He will likewise enable me to do with Holy Spirit power.  As a Christian, it’s a fact that the Holy Spirit resides IN me. 2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but One of love, power and integral/sound thinking.

Be awed and encouraged by God’s plan for marriage

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I just listened to John Piper’s sermon (the 3rd in a series) about God’s view of marriage.  This will enlarge your vision of marriage and inspire you, whether you are single, thriving in your marriage or struggling. You can listen or read at this link.

Link to website for sermon

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Valentine's Day

 

A gentle Father

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Stop hand

 

 

 

I don’t react kindly to criticism.  In fact my mother-in-law once told me I was spoiled (I’m an only child – maybe it goes with the territory)!

So when my husband held up a hand to stop me from butting in while he was speaking, I felt shut down.  When I voiced my objection, he said he didn’t appreciate being interrupted. Not much I could say to that, for my remark definitely and abruptly had been an attempt to cut into his explanation. And it wasn’t the first time.

“I’m just raising a question!” I sputtered.  Even as I tried to justify my rudeness, I began to see for the first time how this breaking into someone’s verbal train of thought was actually habitual with me.

Scenes from visits with my adult sons flashed through my mind.  How many times in our discussions about God had I inserted MYself with MY views right in the middle of their sharing.  Much to their credit and my shame, they always patiently yielded to me when I cut in to pass on my brilliant God-moment.

Back to that incident in the kitchen with my husband.  This was not the first time he had gestured to me when I started to jump in with my 2 cents worth.  In fact, I had showcased the very same annoying habit the previous evening with friends over for dinner. Stung, I self-righteously felt wronged when he had put a halt to my butting in with discrete body language.

But this night I had seen my action for what it was – just plain rude and unloving. It was like the Holy Spirit opened my eyes.  A bit humiliated, I nonetheless discerned an emboldened desire to pray for help in retraining myself.

Since that ‘teaching moment‘ in the kitchen two weeks ago, God has provided reinforcement of not only my need to change but the truth that I CAN change. He has brought podcast remarks and scripture across my path, reminding me of supernatural power available to those who have been transferred into God’s kingdom of light (evidently, there is enough light for even me to see the need to change!)

Kingdom of LIght

Peter encourages us to make every effort to add moral goodness to the faith that we have been given (1 Pet 1:5).  But this is AFTER he has reminded believers that we have been given FAITH to become partners in the divine nature of God as we KNOW and TRUST Jesus’ promises.

What I’m learning is that all of the promises of power in the Bible are ours as God’s regenerate children.  But we have to act on them, using the faith that we’ve been given. (we don’t ‘gin up’ the faith ourselves)

John Piper created an acronym to assist himself and us in accessing God’s help during those moments when we see our need:

A – Admit you are helpless  – sounds like an AA principle!

P – Pray and tell God what you need

T – Think of one of those encouraging promises from God’s word and Trust it (like- I can do ALL things through Him who strengthens me – Phil 4:13)

A – Act on the promise, though you don’t FEEL any power. Take the action necessary, trusting that God is 100 % faithful to come through as He has said.  This is walking by faith and not by sight.

T – Thank Him after the fact for supplying the power, provision and/or whatever you asked Him for

**

Humble heart

 

 

 

I’m ashamed to admit that this is only the second time in my life that I have attempted to change my behavior in response to God’s nudge.  Oh, I’ve tried self-transformation before, but these adjustments have been me-centered, to make me happier or make others think better of me (grand-parenting skills, weight, fitness, sleep habits, intellect, hobbies).

The first time was 14 years ago when serious fissures in both my and Mike’s view of marriage threatened to torpedo our covenant.  I read books and prayed and sought out wise Christian women to guide me in adopting a Biblical view of marriage, something that was foreign to me even though I had been ‘in church’ since the age of 9.

But it has been years since that crisis. And thanks be to Him and the manner in which He got our attention, our marriage is now a source of true joy for both of us. It obviously took God hitting me with a padded 2×4 to get my attention.  At least this time, the catalyst to change my unloving interruptions was less painful.

I wonder what else is in His divine lesson plan for me!

 

How to act around ‘pagans’ aka un-believers

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I was meditating again on the fruit of the Spirit, those qualities that the Holy Spirit nourishes and grows in us as we stay connected to Jesus.

Fruit of the Spirit

God had given me a large window of time to mosey around in Scripture, a true gift.  Chaperoning the 8th grade trip meant that we spent a fair number of hours on a comfortable touring bus last week as we took in a few college visits, cultural experiences as well as caving and zip-lining.  I had not expected to have 2 seats to myself on the bus and time to read and meditate.

During my study the Holy Spirit connected the fruit of the Spirit description in Paul’s letter to the Galatians to God’s explanation to wives regarding how they should conduct themselves daily with their unbelieving husbands.

  • Wives, in the same way (as Jesus trusted God and submitted to misguided but wicked men), be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without words by the BEHAVIOR of their wives

Just what does this behavior look like?  Like the fruity verbs of the Spirit!  When – empowered by supernatural divine power – we react with love to others’ attacks, mean-hearted comments or inadvertent damaging acts, we catch them by surprise.  The world operates on a tit-for-tat basis.  You cut me off in traffic, I give you the finger or worse.

But a counter-worldly response characterized by joyful, gentle, patient self-restraint will stop someone cold in their tracks.

We all know that, even if we can’t DO it.  But nothing is impossible with God!  And here is a new thought that might make you at least WANT to try out this response again.

While away from Mike on the 8th grade trip, I experienced a nightmare.  I don’t usually recall my dreams, but this was vivid enough to stay with me upon awakening.  We were fighting, my husband and I.  One of those verbal and emotional encounters where I was checked by my superior sparring partner.  Mike is far more articulate, able to think quicker on his feet and empowered with rhetorical and emotional bullying flourishes.  In my dream I FELT humiliated and frustrated and stomped on.  What a relief to wake up and know it was only a dream!  To be fair to my beloved husband, these ‘fights’ rarely happen and have tapered off over the years as the Lord claims more of us, inch by painful sanctifying inch.

Out of this dream, however, came a powerful remedy for the next time someone hurts me or tries to browbeat me.

  • Peter encourages Christian wives married to pagans (unbelievers) to respond with Holy Spirit empowered behavior.

But here is what’s so cool!  Even when CHRISTIANS treat other Christians poorly, this remedy can work.  That means that when

  • another brother or sister-in-Christ in the office
  • my husband
  • my adult children
  • my mother-in-law
  • a church family member
  • a Christian girlfriend

…..’spews’ over me or hurts me, I can choose to say

If he’s going to act like a pagan, then I’m going to treat him like a pagan…….

– with LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS AND SELF-CONTROL.

Why?

  • it’s a startling, unexpected tactic that will prove far more effective than trying to use the same weapons as my opponent
  • this response promises to bring my adversary, ANEW, face-to-face with the unearned, POWERFUL and totally surprising gospel love of God (and we all need reminders, daily!)

I’m not ASKING God for a fresh experience of ‘meanness’ from the world, but this is the world I live in. So I don’t think I will have to wait long.  I just pray the Holy Spirit will bring this better response to mind in time for me to head in that direction rather than default to my natural and well-worn groove of retaliatory meanness.

What about you?  Have you tried this and want to share what happened?

Bottom line – if someone acts like a pagan, let’s treat them like a pagan – with the powerful weapon of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control!  If nothing else, our response will surprise the ‘hell’ out of them – hopefully!

 

The danger of worry and anxiety

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When I was mucking around in my anxiety, Satan’s lies slipped past my defenses and entered my mind as MY own thoughts and MY own analysis of reality.

Satan's lies

 

 

 

You can call this blog post Prayer Part 5 – what happens when you don’t trust God ON whom you had cast all your worries.

A couple of months ago, I offered to share some insights I had learned about contentment at a conference I attended in June.   A Saturday morning workshop for the women of my church seemed like a good idea back in July.  I don’t work during the summer and I was enjoying a more leisurely-paced life when I suggested this to my pastor.

Here’s reality:  School has been underway for 4 weeks now. The workshop is scheduled for 6 days from now.  I still need to review and finalize the material.   I didn’t realize that I was counting on VISIBLE chunks of time later in the week.  Just the night before one of those chunks became rescheduled with something else – a very good something else.  Nonetheless, that block of time dropped off my schedule and I had been fighting anxiety for 24 hours.

It’s GOOD to plan ahead.  But we should not rely on or TRUST the provision we can plan, orchestrate and see in lieu of trusting the only true and most capable provider whose name is Jehovah Jireh – ‘the Lord will provide‘.

It was Thursday, almost 6 pm and I was en route home from Asheville having done the weekly grocery shopping.  I knew that I would have very little time to relax (aka READ) before having to go to bed.  There were groceries to put away, dinner to fix (albeit a simple one), my breakfast and lunch to sort, chop and prepare, dinner to enjoy with my husband and then dishes.  But I was praying and believing God that He could stretch my 15 minutes or so of ‘me time’ to make it AS satisfying as 45 minutes.  And I had finally turned over the workshop reduced planning time THING to God and was trusting Him in the present situation at hand.

But then Mike (who writes from home for World magazine) casually mentioned that his audio piece had aired that day. We usually grab our drinks and head downstairs to listen on the big speakers to his 4-minute technology segment he writes and records.

My first thought: This will cost me SEVEN whole minutes!  Grim Wife And out popped GRIM WIFE!

I said tight lipped, “I don’t have time to listen right now, would you mind terribly if we listen tomorrow?”  And I slid into the sin of unbelief AND idolatry.

The most important thing I could have done at that moment was value my husband and trust God to stretch the time.  Instead I put MY agenda over my husband’s needs.  My anxiety and panic and yes – my anger at being so limited in time began to grow as my vision took in JUST my needs and the resources I could see.

I’ll spare you the ‘bad-to-worse back and forth’ my anxiety caused my husband and me.  But you can imagine the 24-hour coldness that invaded our relationship.  The discouraging truth was that I was doing the very opposite of what God has been emphasizing to me over the past few weeks – trusting Him with my worries in order to be:

  • clear-headed,
  • single-minded and
  • focused on the one and only thing that is important – His kingdom right here

God commands us to humble ourselves AND hand over our worries to take care of because we actually have MORE important work to do than our own agenda.  We’re to pray.

And when we don’t, the ever-roaming enemy Satan, creeps in to devour our peace and contentment and joy in Jesus. How uncanny that this ‘fight’ happened right before a workshop that might help women step out of some unbelief in their lives….

Sorry

I’m happy to report that our Father gave me a repentant heart desiring to ask my husband’s forgiveness and to get back on track doing what is in my job description and NOT what is above my pay grade.

 

 

Disclaimer:  My husband IS a huge help around the house.  He cleans our house every Friday since he works from home and I commute almost an hour each way to school.  And it’s not like he was standing by idly while I was putting away groceries.  He had gotten our produce box from the farm.  He had carried in all the groceries and put away the 2nd frig stuff.  Much of the chopping and prep of salads and veggies is for my breakfast and lunch.

Love on grumpy days

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First he was out of sorts and turned inward.  I’m not sure why.  It was probably a whole lot of little things. Isn’t it always?

Grumpy

When those moods hit, I’ve learned that choosing to show love outwardly is the best response I can offer.  I’m ashamed to admit that I used to show him annoyance.  Like: YOU DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT to be annoyed.  QUIT BEING ANNOYED!

Now that really helps, doesn’t it!  Someone is just going to snap out of a funk on command.

But on Tuesday when I did show outward love, He didn’t respond.  I couldn’t tell that it made any difference. It felt like my words and softness dissolved into the ether.  It reminded me of those times I offer a sincere compliment to certain family members and friends and they don’t acknowledge my words. My words just float away.  (I’ve since learned that ‘Words of Affirmation’ are NOT how they receive/perceive/feel love.)  However, my husband, on the other hand IS a man who feels loved when affirmed with words.  But on Tuesday, he just wasn’t showing it.  He couldn’t.

Here is where God came in (not that He is ever OUT of the picture).  The very next day, Mike felt better (some loose ends got pinned down).  But all of a sudden, the tables were reversed and I felt out of sorts.  Does that surprise you, that 2 selfish sinners can mope around at times?  That we LIKE moping around at times?  No need to pretend – not trying to impress anyone – we’re no different than you!out of sorts cat

 

 

Nonetheless, I think MY funk caught him by surprise.  But here is where his love kicked in.  By the end of the evening as I continued in my ‘blah-ness’, he started radiating soft words, a kind face and understanding gestures, all the while giving me space.  I didn’t sense any expectations, just love.  Despite how comforting it was,  I could not bring myself to communicate that it was helping, that it felt like soft rain on a parched ground.   All I could do was soak it in.

The next day I felt like my old self and could relate in my normal soft way to my husband and best friend.  My down day coming on the heels of his was valuable.   Here is what I learned:

  • Outward shows of love DO make a difference
  • It takes time to be able to let someone know that it has helped
  • Therefore, we should ‘love on’ even when there is no response or visible impact on the other
  • Love is never wasted
  • The energy sacrificed to be soft, especially when someone is hard and tight, is worth the expense
  • People who are cold and prickly are at those times most in need of love
  • Our normal reaction, if we let our selfish nature guide us, is to say: That’s it! I’ve given you a measure of gratuitous love.  If you’re not going to show any appreciation or reaction to my ‘gift’, then I’ll turn it off!
  • I’m so glad God doesn’t treat us that way!  He keeps loving us especially when we don’t deserve it.  (do we ever ‘deserve’ God’s love?)
  • They say the purpose of marriage is to make us more Christ-like.  I’m encouraged that after 34 years of sinning against each other in marriage, Mike and I can occasionally lurch forward in grace-filled moments.

These insights were worth 2 days of the dumps!

Despondant Cat

 

 

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