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)

 

They don’t think like I do!

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‘Everyone’ has discovered the Enneagram!  So it seems these days.  This lens into how each of us classifies life at an early age, whether accurately or not, points to the self-defense strategies we have cobbled together.  These tools or personality coping strategies appear to be set by age 5 and then we unconsciously hone them as we grow up.  They are NOT the real us, for they are just protective layers or a persona that we craft and wear to cover up our vulnerable self.  Finding out which type each one of us is, requires that we look at our heart motives, not our behaviors.

And that requires inward work.  No one can typecast us by evaluating how we act. Knowing oneself requires courage.  It takes ruthless honesty to pull back the layers of past shame and fear, guided by the gentle Holy Spirit. For as God says through His prophet in Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Well, with God’s help, we can know some things about our heart.

My journey with the Enneagram began in April.  I met my friend Mandy for one of our infrequent coffees.  She and I share a love for books and thinking, but she lives in Nashville and I live in western North Carolina.  As we were catching up, Mandy told me about a book whose wisdom and insights had NAILED her good!  Instantly mesmerized, I asked her about it.  The title of the paradigm she began to unfold sounded a bit new-age-ish – the Enneagram.  So instead of buying the book she was studying, I asked our library to order The Road Back to You.

When it arrived and I opened to page one, I knew I had to get my OWN copy so I could write in it.  And then the ‘binge’ began – 3 more books and all the podcasts that the authors Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile had recorded etc.

What appeals to me about this system of 9 (‘ennea’ is Greek for 9) different ways of looking at life are several key benefits that accrue to the one who decides to glean and use the useful bits:

  •  it confronts me with the incontrovertible fact that MY way is not the only way to view life and react to others and circumstances
  • there’s a reason I am weird (or maybe I’m not weird, but normal!)
  • there are ways I can grow up and discard some of my coping mechanisms that might have worked in the past. I’m learning that they are not healthy NOR are they what God is calling me to be as His beloved child and servant. Awareness, however, precedes change.

The ways each of the 9 personality types differ have to do in part with wounds we interpreted as young children.  As I understand it, Mom might have been scowling at us and as a 2 or 3-year-old, we drew the conclusion that we were to blame.  That could have been the case, or more likely, she was preoccupied with something else.  Nonetheless, very early on, from our environment, we crafted a way to protect ourselves and get our needs met.

How have this knowledge and understanding concretely helped Mike and me?   When one of us is ‘having one of those moments!’ we are beginning to offer grace more quickly and NOT take the emotional reaction personally.  “Oh, that is Maria’s 5-ness or Mike’s 1-ness acting out.”

Being an ‘Observer’, the 5 who conserves her physical, emotional and rational energy out of fear of depletion, I live in my thoughts.  I honestly believed that everyone else did as well.  So for all the 37 years before April 2017, I trumpeted to Mike: “If you would JUST change your thinking, you could automatically change your emotions.”  He never seemed to ‘get it’, or so I concluded.  But then after April,  I learned that he and others don’t view life like I do.

Call me naïve!  Or a slow learner.

So what is Mike as a 1 on the Enneagram circle like?  He is a ‘Perfectionist’ who operates out of his ‘gut’ or body.  He’d call it instinct.  Visceral feelings lead and color his thoughts.  I’m less likely these days to SAY out loud: “You don’t have to think like that!”  (code for:  Your thinking is wrong!)  I’ve realized not only how unloving that response has been, but also how ineffective it is. So these days I practice stopping myself from correcting his thinking and focus my energy toward understanding just what he is feeling.

Do I have feelings?  Yes, but they trail an event by at least 24 hours.  Often when I have hurt Mike by an action or a tone or a look, I can apologize and I do so, but I don’t FEEL sorry.  I THINK sorry.  And later, the feelings hit me. It’s then that I taste shame and sorrow and it rocks me when I FEEL how I’ve hurt him.

But as a rule, I’d much rather talk to you about your thoughts and my thoughts and what we’ve been learning Questions fascinate me because they lead to more inquiry, which gives new understanding.

This past summer, however, I actually experienced an immediate feeling of anger at someone close to me.  (Can you actually count the feelings you have had in the past year? – that would be like asking me to count the thoughts I have had.) The other intense feeling that hit me happened in early April.  So that’s TWO immediate feelings this year…..but who’s keeping track?

On this rare occasion, there was an event, triggered by another person, followed by an instant intense feeling.  In tandem with that feeling, my thoughts raced.  I stood outside the scenario and evaluated this rare occurrence.  I actually felt GOOD that a strong feeling had barged in, even if uninvited, for to me it represented growth!  I CAN feel and identify an emotion!  In between marveling over the presence of this stranger, I also rationally thought through the consequences were I to choose to welcome him fully and allow him freedom of expression.  I knew I dared not, at the risk of ruining an evening among family members.  But the cost of NOT sharing the feeling was that I withdrew and projected ‘Ice Princess’.  My protective stance.  Yes, and a bit passive-aggressive.

Back to the present.  It’s been 8 months since Mandy introduced me to this personality index.  ‘Everyone’ else as well seems to be discovering this ancient ‘spiritual’ tool toward wholeness and integrity. Or I’m finding that since it’s been in the marketplace of ideas of America since the ’80s, some of my friends have known about it for a while.  But no one I have personally encountered, other than Mandy, actually uses it.

One thing DOES annoy me.  There’s a Facebook group of Enneagram devotées.  Some of them seem to have adopted the stance that their type is the correct way to look at things.  One practitioner invited group members to offer suggestions on how to ‘help’ a 5 in her small study circle to “go deeper and learn to share feelings”.   I suggested that ‘feelings’ might be the tool and term that everyone else feels skilled at employing, but the 5 turns to thoughts as his/her tool of choice for expressing what is meaningful. And that the leader should allow this person to communicate in that way.  The advice-seeker lightly chastised me for offering the suggestion that what some call feelings, 5s might call thoughts.  No such beast allowed, apparently.

Dear Friends, one of the beauties of the Enneagram is how it shows us that we are all different. The wisest way to help a 5 or any number let go of his/her preferred, but stunted coping strategy is to model healthier ways of living in a winsome, uncritical manner.   Being around non-judgmental broken fellow sojourners who are walking with God both gentles me and encourages me.  Chastisement does not.

How about you?  Are you an Enneagram practitioner?  If so, I’d be interested in learning how the Enneagram is helping you grow more integrated, more like Jesus.  Please leave a comment!  And if you are a Five like me, please let me know.

 

What are you dreading?

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Dreading I have to admit that when I think about a very busy week ahead with what ‘looks like’ too much, given the time available, I start to dread the days ahead.

My version of dreading events is probably mild compared to those who at the other end of the spectrum fall prey to panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms.  But my projected unhappiness feels heavy and it does sap the joy and energy right out of me – ahead of time!

Since January, however, I have begun to reject the ‘automatic dread response‘ that has accompanied me since high school days.

What happened to cause this unexpected change in mindset?  Walking through a dark valley with Mike from November through the New Year, that’s what!

This flavor of suffering focused my theology like nothing else since our marriage floundered and almost broke up on the rocky shoals of individual selfishness in 2000.

Trials tend to focus one’s attention on what is important.  As Mike and I dealt with his heart-related sleep and anxiety issues, I came to trust God’s promise in Psalm 84:11:

No good thing does He withhold from him whose way is blameless*

Jesus also taught me through the onslaught of what I call ‘pop quizzes’ or opportunities to put His Word to the test, that His presence truly was my one and only good.

So when that first Sunday in January landed and I thought about school resuming the next day after 2 weeks off for Christmas, I started to dread the constricted daily schedule.

But all of a sudden the Holy Spirit applied Psalm 84:11 to this new situation, reduced time and increased tasks.  Another way to phrase ‘no good thing withheld’ is ‘all good things provided‘.  Logically then, if God’s provision of X hours and Y minutes is what He deems good, and if I only get done 5 of 8 tasks for the day in the time He provides, then THAT is exactly what He deems ‘good’ for me this day.

That may seem like a small change, but that incremental adjustment has produced an out-of-proportion effect on my outlook.

Zech 4:10a – Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin….

I think I had begun to make a move in that direction last fall with my evening reading. Some nights Mike and I catch up with each other and dine later than other nights. After tidying up the kitchen 20 minutes might remain to read.  Other nights during the school week I relax with 45 minutes.  After fighting resentment the previous 2 years, the Holy Spirit had already begun to help me accept that whatever God gave me was ‘good’.

The ‘health issues’ sped up the process.

And let me tell you, this unforeseen silver lining of the suffering is a gift.  If I START to dread tomorrow’s schedule, which might include an anticipated burden like:

  • shepherding a group of 7th graders during an outing to cook lunch for 60 women at a shelter
  • missing a planning period due to an assembly
  • an evaluative observation by my principal
  • having to make sub plans AND do my regular planning and fearing not enough time for either
  • a meeting at night  which will interfere with relaxing with Mike
  • a difficult phone call with a parent or about a large bill
  • a doctor’s appointment whose outcome is uncertain

It doesn’t take long, now, to recall one or all of these FACTS:

  • I’m only looking at the anticipated circumstances as I see them from my vantage point and I could be mistaken
  • I have NO idea of God’s planned provision
  • I might actually find something surprisingly delightful and of great worth in what ‘looks’ like an unpleasant event

VERY recently, the HS has also reminded me that it’s pretty arrogant (i.e. sinful) of me to THINK I know what is best for me.

So now, when I do indeed ONLY accomplish 5 of the 8 tasks I had for the day I can say with a light freedom:

  • I guess it was God’s will for me ONLY to complete the 5 items on my ‘to do’ list. 

After all, am I in charge?  Am I the Creator of the entire universe, the Creator of time itself?

Actually, I’m very glad I’m not in charge!  I just want to report for duty with a joyous sense of anticipation about the day and leave the results to my Master.  If I please Him in the HOW and the WHAT I accomplish in HIS empowerment and resources, then it’s a good day.

One last encouragement.  Not only have I ‘lost’ the dreading, but I am finding out that the events that I call my ‘mighta dreaded‘ ones sometimes actually provide unexpected nuggets of unforeseen joy.  Isn’t that in keeping with a loving and good God and Father!

‘The Big Fall’ into sin – again!

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I noticed the contradiction for a couple of days and named it. Preached it, even.
Then I fell for it.  And sinned big.  (Like in those days before I had heard about God’s biblical plan for wives.)
But back to truth.  Here’s the insight:
“It makes NO sense to believe in the sovereignty of God over every molecule AND worry about how I want my day to go.”  That is irrational and stupid.
But it’s been that kind of week.  I’m going out of town on Monday and the days were filling up.  I WANTED to do X, Y and Z and I saw only limited windows of time open for me to take care of those ‘important’ things on my list.  And I panicked.  Even though I know better.  Even though God patiently sets up this lesson time and time again so I can trust Him.
This past Wednesday, the day of THE BIG FALL, I even comforted myself remembering that God has ALWAYS provided in the past.  Without fail.
Not enough time
And yet…the banner over me was NOT ENOUGH TIME, so I grimmed up and grew hard.  Our conversation through dinner prep and on into the meal took on a combative edge.
That was when I found myself dishing back to him in like manner, feeling fully justified.  Just like during all those selfish years, when I would rationalize – “If he’s allowed to play the dramatic, then I should as well!”  But you know how THAT always ends.
Sin is a shortcut to what SEEMS like a good idea in the moment.  But it never satisfies.  Emotion short-circuits clear thinking. Praying to God didn’t occur to me in the midst of feeling sorry for myself.
So, how did it all end?  My husband chose the ‘mature’ card of love and softness toward me.  Having put as many chores as I could between my eventually wanting to absorb the cool mountain air of an evening in the Smokies I sat down next to him in silence.  He let no more than a minute go by before turning to me. His question drew me out, back to the truth of how much we love each other.  The humble features and pleading eyes showed me how much his heart has grown Christ-like since our last ‘raise your own barricades’ skirmish.
That glimpse and the remedial lesson in trusting God’s provision were worth the pain!
1 Corinthians 13: 7 (Love ….. )  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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

 

Pop Quiz!

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Mexican Impasse

 

 

Ephesians 4:32  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you

Why did he bring up that old sin of mine?

I’m not often caught off guard, but his comment blind-sided me. It definitely related to the movie we were watching, but I hadn’t thought of that shameful chapter from my past for years.

My stunned silence in turn took him back. He hadn’t meant any – it was just a remark. My unexpected reaction so took him back and left him not knowing how to process what was happening.

A chilly distance and awkwardness descended upon us both.

We each felt put upon by the other. We each wanted the other to lay aside their feelings and make the effort to understand our surprise and hurt. It was a Mexican impasse.

Words weren’t adequate to work through the weight of feelings. I sat down to read the paper and he made his way to the ‘man-cave’ to smoke his post-prandial cigar.

Slowly there came over me a sense that I was being offered a pop quiz to plumb the genuineness of my verbal proclamations of love for my husband. Here was an occasion to put my money where my mouth was.

Do I truly love my husband as much as I tell him and others? If so, then aren’t his feelings important to me, even more so than MY own feelings?

And there he was, down in that cold place, next to the propane heater, trying to enjoy a cigar, but feeling UN-loved and MIS-understood and probably maligned.

Soft feelings of compassion replaced my desire first to be understood. A texting conversation began and after a flurry, I knew that offering him grace instead of holding out for what I thought I wanted (to be understood) was more satisfying. I went to bed in peace.

How did I know it was a pop quiz? Because the chapter in my book I picked up after our electronic back and forth addressed GIVING versus TAKING.   And John Piper’s devotional for the day was about forgiveness.

 

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!

 

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

 

 

Freedom that comes with honest self-appraisal

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I heard the concept of hope described as the golden feeling

of having something to look forward to.

If you’re like me, you enjoy having something new in which to hope, to anticipate, to savor, or to find relief from pain or the mundane.  Something like an event, a trip, stuff or a transition.

We can also place our hope in people – – to meet our needs.  The kicker is when they don’t live up to our expectations, when they disappoint.

Among many intermittent friendships with other Christian women, I’ve enjoyed one long and sustained relationship. For over ten years, this gal and I met weekly for coffee and fellowship at Starbucks, until I moved away this past June.

Our weekly hour of spiritual and life catch-up covered both years when we read & discussed books together, to seasons of just plain keeping up with each other’s interests and needs.  Twice I betrayed her trust by divulging a confidence.  And our friendship endured and strengthened.

This was a new experience for me, to have a strong but elastic friendship that neither of us dismissed or dropped at the first encounter with unmet expectations.  It would have been easier to drift, to claim a season of ‘busyness’.  But we would have missed the blessings.

I am, by my fallen genetic make-up a prideful person.  I tend to think I’m pretty good.  Of course, once I became a Christian at age 23, God slowly but steadily took my blinders off so I could see more and more of the sin that had been there all along.

By the time I sinned against my friend the second time, I was ‘mature’ enough to confess to her something that went like this:

  • I could promise that I will never again break a confidence, but I know me.
  • And I don’t trust myself.  
  • I will probably, no..not probably, I will MOST assuredly sin against you again.
  • I don’t want to, but I also don’t want to delude either you or me. 

I hadn’t planned on announcing that fact; I think the Holy Spirit just opened my eyes to that truth at the moment.

You know, it is FREEING to acknowledge that my bent is STILL to sin.  What makes me different from the non-Christian, is that Jesus already paid for all my future sins.  And I am well loved by God.  His grace doesn’t give me license to sin, but it does remove my need to cover up my sins.

I revisited this lesson yesterday on the Appalachian Trail.  Mike and I had planned another Saturday hike. Normally these are physically and emotionally restorative.  This one turned out to be painfully and spiritually revelatory.

Three times over the course of the 5 hours (should have been only 4 – our normal limit at our age 56), we got side-tracked (aka – lost). Twice it was my fault –  due to my strong will, selfish desire to reach a spot on  the trail and my distrust of Mike’s Ranger training.

He sinned too and during the drive home, we processed.  After reconciling, I remarked:

Mike, as much as I am truly sorry for hurting you today by not trusting you and not thinking about how your ankle must have been hurting, I want you to know how thankful I am that we have a covenant marriage that is both strong and elastic enough to survive our deliberate sins against each other.  Most assuredly I will hurt you again and you will wound me.  We’re sinners. May we continue to offer one another grace and ready forgiveness.

Now that is liberating. Mike’s hope is NOT in a perfect partner and neither is mine.  That releases us  to overlook much and chalk it up to God’s sanctification process.

Mike’s face clearly illustrates God’s gritty, sandpapery sanctification process in the midst of our hike yesterday.

But what I see in it …..is the face of my beloved husband, a fellow sinner, committed to me and to God.  May God give us BOTH the strength and the desire to love well with plenty of grace when we don’t feel like it.

Pers - Mike at AT sign

Reflections on marriage – both kinds.

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"I know what I'm getting into, Mother!"

“I know what I’m getting into, Mother!”

 

It was our anniversary last week. Mike and I have been laughing and smiling through memories, all of them bathed in deep gratitude to the One who has kept us faithful to our covenant.  Holy Spirit super glue comes highly recommended.

There was that 20th anniversary cruise to which months earlier we had blithely invited MY dad, our boys Graham & Wes and Graham’s classmate & good  friend Rob. By the time we set sail in April of 2000, deep fissures in our marriage had surfaced. Walled-up tight, we barely talking to one another.  We slept in separate bunks in our cabin, keeping up the charade of a happy anniversary celebratory cruise.  It was awful.

But thanks be to the God who can heal marriages and who preserves the best for the 2nd half! (Here’s to 33 more years!)

While cleaning yesterday, I gained a deeper insight into marriage and the church.  Following my routine for manual labor, my ears were glued to a podcast.  Two Christians were ironing out the actual significance of Christ’s work on the cross.  Between dusting and scrubbing,   I caught a new understanding of something called ‘penal substitutionary attonement’.  That’s the doctrine that holds to Christ dying in our place, submitting to the legal punishment due us and absorbing God’s justifiable wrath toward sin.

The Christian opposed to ‘PSA’ advocated ‘Christus Victor’ as the label for what Jesus accomplished.  This view holds that Christ defeated the evil powers of darkness arrayed against God, but that no punishment was meted out.  He explained further that far from holy justice, actual INJUSTICE would be done were an innocent man punished for something he didn’t do.

The orthodox Christian explained that it was FITTING and APPROPRIATE for Christ as both head & husband of the Church (the called-out believers are the bride of Christ) to die and pay the penalty for her sins.  We are one with Christ if we are IN CHRIST.  No innocent 3rd party was pulled in off the street and made to suffer this sentence.

All of a sudden I SAW why Christian marriage is such a big deal.  It is the down-to-earth illustration of Christ’s relationship to us as Church. I had always known Paul to say that explicitly, but never understood it.

          Eph 5:31-33 – “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

New realizations flooded me as I saw more clearly what Mike does for me as my husband. HE actually is responsible for me.  If I err in any way, in one sense, he takes the blame.  We are one; what I do affects him and vice versa.  Only God holds HIM accountable.

What woman wouldn’t want to tuck herself safely under that kind of God-appointed covering?  If God describes that as submission, I happily submit and will pray all the more for my dear husband.

Jeff, our pastor, preached on the role of husbands today, taken from 1 Peter 3:1-7.  I love his quote attributed to Matthew Henry:

          Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.

Since husbands are called to serve & die for their wives as Paul explains, it seems a little thing to respect and honor them in return. Thank you, Father, for your planned protection.  I DO plan & carry out silly, stupid things occasionally.

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