Monthly Archives: August 2013

Twenty Years – Thoughts on Marriage

Having the chicken pox was perhaps the best reason I ever gave for turning down a date. He and I didn’t know each other very well, so I suppose his invitation was the first question he ever asked me. Chicken pox surely sounded like a lame, random excuse yet it was nothing but the itchy truth. Thankfully, he believed me, and after a week or so, post-infection, he asked again. And again. And about 10 months later, he set me up for another question….

It was August 27, 1993. Twenty years ago today.

John hid the ring in a 35mm film canister (how dated does that sound?) and tucked the canister into an apple that he had hollowed out. As a second-year teacher, I had just finished the first week of school, and he took me on a picnic to “unwind.” In his basket I discovered a small yellow piece of paper with a poem that he had written: “An Apple for My Teacher, the Apple of my Eye.” As I read the poem, he presented the apple, dropped to one knee, and asked a question that changed our lives.


“Will you?”

August 27, 1993

August 27, 1993

Seven months later, we stood at an altar where our pastor asked us questions.
“John, do you take Renee….?”
“Renee, do you take John….?”


We answered, “I do,” and gave each other bands with our life verse, Psalm 127:1, inscribed inside:
Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”

For (almost) twenty years, the Ratcliffe house has been built, in part by romantic love and friendship, but more importantly by moment-to-moment decisions to stand upon Christ our foundation. This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been times when the walls seemed to tremble against the forces of misunderstandings, aggravations, and stress. We don’t always behave like Mr. and Mrs. Right.  But because our blueprint is the very image of the Master Builder, we trust that He uses these ups and downs of marriage to build a home that’s right with Christ.

Sometimes, for us, the important question is not Who did I marry?!?” but Why did I marry?” That question keeps us from pointing fingers at each other. Instead, it points us to Him.

This past Sunday, our pastor began a series on Nehemiah, a man who is known in Scripture for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile (5th century BC). Nehemiah’s mission to restore the city’s fortifications started with a simple question.

Nehemiah 1: 1 – 2: “Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem.”

Nehemiah’s question was met with news that broke his heart and prompted him into action.

Leaders, said Pastor Alex, ask questions. They have seeking hearts and minds. They are watching for where God is working. The answers to their questions often prompt them into God’s plans and purposes. And when they believe that God orchestrates even their most ordinary conversations and experiences, they find that He does.

As our pastor said, “The great doors of history swing on small hinges.”

During His earthly ministry, Jesus asked purposeful questions.

For instance: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”(Luke 14: 28 – 30).

Wise builders ask questions before they build.

So today, August 27, 2013, I couldn’t be more thankful that God led us, before we became husband and wife, to ask the right questions and count the cost.

Not that we were so wise ourselves, but God placed wiser people in our path who loved, discipled, and counseled us.  We needed wiser people help us remember that a wedding lasts for a few hours and a marriage lasts a lifetime. We needed wiser people to ask us if we were ready and willing for our marriage to be a picture of Christ’s love, humility, and sacrifice.

When one of those wiser persons stood with us at the altar and asked, “Do you…?” we were able to answer with confidence, fully assured that the Lord was building our house. Our home.


In his book, Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks a very good question:

 What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?

John and I have shared many, many moments that have made us happy. And many moments that have made us, well, less than happy. Let’s be real and say angry, hurt, and disillusioned. The first five years of our marriage were very difficult as I battled an eating disorder and often looked to John to carry me, literally and figuratively. But those years shaped us and strengthened us, mostly because we learned to look solely to Christ for healing, hope, peace, redemption, perseverance, and fulfillment.

In Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas says,

“We need to remind ourselves of the ridiculousness of looking for something from other humans which only God can provide….How many adults have asked, perhaps unconsciously:

Are you going to fulfill me or is God going to fulfill me?”

Whoa. There’s a question that makes you stop & think, wouldn’t you say?

My husband and I were created with a spirit that craves God. But I am far, far less than God, and so is my husband. So our marriage has to be built upon an understanding that we will be two good forgivers who cause one another to crave God. We stop pointing at each other and allow the struggles of married life to point us to Jesus. Our marriage becomes the context where we grow increasingly into His image.

Being two flawed people, John and I don’t automatically or consistently regard each other in this spirit without a conscious effort to remember that our existence, as individuals and as a couple, is about more than our satisfaction. While we’re doing life together, we have to stay focused on the truth that there is more to this life. And so, as Pastor Alex reminded us, we need to ask ourselves some questions…

  • What do we value?
  • What’s God doing in our family? Around our family? Through our family?
  • What does our daughter see in our marriage?
  • What’s my spouse’s love language?
  • What’s God teaching us in the midst of this rough patch?
  • Do our decisions reflect our priorities? What about our schedules?
  • Does our home reflect grace?
  • What’s for dinner? :)

The most important questions in your life or your marriage might be different. They might reflect a particularly painful season that you’re in. Or stem from a lonely heart as you’re the only one who is working for your marriage. But our Heavenly Father invites us to ask, and He’ll reveal a way of hope:

Call to Me and I will tell you great and mighty things which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)
Our stories swing on hinges such as these.

May they open doors of purpose and promise for this life and the Life to come.

Happy "engagement anniversary" sweetie. I love you!

Happy “engagement anniversary” sweetie. I love you!

Resources –
Pastor Alex Kennedy, Carmel Baptist Church. Nehemiah – Leaders Ask the Right Questions. 8/25/13.

Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage.
(His book Sacred Parenting is excellent as well).

A Letter to my Sixth-Grade Daughter

Dear C,

I recognized that expression in your eyes yesterday as you watched the other girls decorate their lockers. Over the summer we had a lot of fun finding girly stuff for your locker – a mirror, dry-erase board, pencil cups, and picture frame magnets. And yes, of course, a motion-activated miniature chandelier.  But we didn’t purchase wallpaper. Or carpet. And I watched you as you watched the girls and moms cutting and fitting their wallpaper.  We didn’t have anything to measure. You stuck the mirror on this side, the dry-erase board on that side, the cups underneath. Done.

“They have wallpaper,” you said. You didn’t say it in a whining sort of way. That’s not your style. It was just an observation.  And part of me wanted to drive you straight to Target and get that wallpaper. But, as you know, I didn’t offer. Because another, perhaps wiser, part of me wants you to understand as you begin middle school that other kids will have other things. Pretty things. Expensive things. Desirable things. And relatively speaking, you truly have an abundance of those things yourself.  But I understand that middle school students do a lot of looking around to see who has what.

Adults do it too. I do. And when I find myself watching other people with their other things, I have to remind myself of something very important:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Okay, you say ….but what does that mean? If you did a Google search on this quote, you’d find that it’s commonly attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt (and lots of bloggers like your mom write about it. Seems that comparison is a pretty common experience….) But I can’t find where or when or under what circumstances President Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s interesting to me that one of the most powerful and legendary men of his time would make such a remark. Did he often compare himself to other people? Why would he? Was he lacking joy? I don’t know. But I’ve lived plenty of years beyond middle school, and this is what I’m (still) learning about comparison…

Don’t do it!

(Seriously) Caroline, you are truly one of a kind. Beautifully unique and original. Of course I think so, and your dad and your grandparents and aunts and uncles think so, but you know what?

God says so.

He says that you are wonderfully made.  (Psalm 139:14) He says that you are HIS workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10) He says that He chooses you. (Ephesians 1:4) He says that He has plans specifically for you. (Jeremiah 29:11) That means that God had you in His mind LONG before Daddy and I ever did. He designed you just as He knew best and set your life into motion in this place for this time. You are going to influence lives in your family, in your school, in your church and neighborhood and city in a way that no one else can. There will be things that you do really well and things that you can’t do so well. Some things will come naturally to you (like art and writing and being kind) and some things will require extra practice or effort. These years of middle school are all about discovering these things. So, as you and your classmates are making these discoveries, you’ll look at them, and they’ll look at you. It’s natural. People say it’s part of finding your place in this world. But you know what? As we follow Jesus Christ, we come to realize that our place is not really in THIS world. God has created us for eternity, sweetheart.  He has made us to worship Him, and that’s something that will last forever. Because Jesus is in your heart, you can have true joy. It’s important for you to know that joy and happiness are not the same. True joy doesn’t depend on what you possess or what you can do or whether you’re chosen by a friend, coach, club, or boy. There will be times when you won’t be happy. You already know that. There will come many moments of sadness and disappointment in this life. But joy comes from knowing that, no matter what, Jesus loves you and chooses you and keeps you.  There is no thing, no person, no pain, no mistake, no rejection, and no failure that can steal Jesus’ joy from you. So comparison can’t really steal your joy. But comparison can rob you of a joyful perspective. What does that mean? Perspective is a way of looking at life. It’s keeping your focus on what is most important to you. When we measure ourselves against other people and their other things, we tend to take our eyes off of what really matters. So, let’s try together, Caroline, to keep a joyful perspective. We are really rich, you know? In the things that matter. Jesus. Joy. Love.  Family. Laughter. By the way, my heart did a little cheer when you noticed the locker carpet and you said, “Why do I need carpet in my locker? My books don’t sleep!” That, sweetheart, is perspective! I’m proud of you. I love you. ~ Mommy

A Prayer for My Mother on her 80th Birthday

Heavenly Father,

You are the Giver of all good gifts. I praise You for Your abundant goodness, unfailing strength, and limitless faithfulness. I have experienced these gifts without measure or merit. My joy is fully known in things eternal, and yet You have extended Your love, loyalty, and goodness to me here on earth. Day after day, I receive these beautiful gifts in large part through the love of my family.

Lord, today I’m especially thankful for my mother. Her children, and her husband, arise and call her blessed. As a woman who fears the Lord, she has given her family a firm foundation upon which You have built our faith. Without ever wanting to draw attention to herself, she gives, cares, serves, and encourages. For almost 62 years of marriage, she has exemplified what it means to be a godly wife. She has devoted herself to enriching her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family, church, friends, and neighbors. In the face of uncertainty and trials, it steadies us to know that she looks to You as the anchor of her soul. Her family could not be more blessed or more thankful.

Lord, would this day – her birthday – be the beginning of a year in which my mother knows the deepest peace and richest joy?  I pray with thanksgiving for the promise that You are the strength of her heart and her portion forever. May she be sustained daily by the comfort that You are the eternal refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

And Lord, I pray for the simplest but most meaningful joys to come her way – such as sweet times with Daddy and with her family.

For laughter. And more opportunities to explore an open road.

For days to enjoy good meals with good friends. For many more victories on the court or on the field for her favorite teams (Your help is especially needed here, Lord!).

I pray for precious memories made with the little ones. For weekends to watch swimming practice or go shopping or eat ice cream with her granddaughter. For the satisfaction of knowing that these shared experiences are creating a lasting legacy.

Perhaps this year, more than any other, has impressed upon us that life is not to be hurried. We cherish each day, and thank You, the Giver of all good gifts.

Thank You, Lord, for gifting me so well with my mother. You have done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Proverbs 31: 28 – 29 – Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”

Hebrews 6:19 – We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

Psalm 73:26 – My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Deuteronomy 33:27 –The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Psalm 126: 3 – The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

God Uses Broken Things

My family enjoys American Pickers – the History Channel show where viewers follow Mike & Frank’s treasure hunt across the country that takes them into junkyards, abandoned barns, and garages off the beaten path in search of memorabilia.

According to the American Pickers website, pickers are “modern archeologists” who “drag valuable relics out of obscurity and into our stores, museums and living rooms.” I like the show because Mike and Frank always uncover something that looks like a piece of junk to me but it’s a gem to them.

They get really excited over rusty and broken things because, despite outward appearances, they have an eye for value.

I’m thinking about broken things lately. And not only because the toaster oven wouldn’t warm up this morning or because the mechanic called to say that the lawn mower is beyond repair.  Although inconvenient, I wish these were the only broken things in my life. But no, honestly, there are things that can’t be tossed away in a junk pile and forgotten. Like deep disappointments, persistent weaknesses and fears, fractured friendships, and sorrow over sin and suffering this side of heaven.

A few years ago, as I was preparing a lesson on “jars of clay,” I first understood the significance of Gideon’s unusual weapons of warfare. Last night, as I read from the Gideon Bible study by Priscilla Shirer, I returned to this story:

Judges 7: 15 – 16 – (Gideon) returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.”  Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

When you consider that Gideon’s 300 men were outnumbered 450 to 1 against the well-armed enemy camp, their torches, jars, and trumpets seem pretty useless.

Judges 7: 19 – 21 – Gideon and the men with him reached the edge of the camp … They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.

God uses broken things.

Made of clay, the jars in the soldier’s hands smashed instantly at Gideon’s command. The frailty of the jars served their purpose – piercing the darkness with a blinding flame and surprising the enemy into retreat.*

2 Corinthians 4: 6 – 7 – For God who said, “Light shall shine out of the darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

As Priscilla Shirer says, “The weaknesses we often despise are required for the light of Christ to be seen and for the darkness to be dispelled. Without the limitations and deficiencies of our vessels, we would not serve our purpose well.”*

What Gideon’s story tells me is that there is purpose in the pain of brokenness. There is a divine reason behind my disappointments. There is treasure in the midst of my troubles.

It is the surpassing greatness of the power of God.

Jars of clay, back in biblical times, were as common for storage as plastic containers are to us today. But when a clay jar became broken, it didn’t get tossed away. Instead it was turned into a lantern.


Those times when you and I feel useless, weak, broken and beyond repair are the very times for the hope and the power of Christ to shine.

Last evening, as I was finishing my Gideon study for the day and thinking about all these things, I reached for a book by my bedside. The devotional Streams in the Desert has often soothed my thirsty soul. In the index, I searched for “brokenness,” and this is what I found:

(October 15) – “It was not until Gideon’s three hundred specially chosen soldiers broke the jars that were in their hands, which symbolized brokenness in their lives, that the hidden light of the torches shone forth, bringing terror to the enemies. It was once the poor widow broke the seal on her only remaining jar of oil and began to pour it that God miraculously multiplied it to pay her debts and supplied her means of support (2 Kings 4)….It was once Jesus took the “five loaves and broke them” (Luke 9:16) that the bread was multiplied to feed the five thousand… It was when Mary broke her beautiful alabaster jar of very expensive perfume (Matthew 26:7), destroying its future usefulness, that the wonderful fragrance filled the house. And it was when Jesus allowed His precious body to be broken by thorns, nails, and a spear that His inner life was poured out like crystal clear water for thirsty sinners to drink and live….It is not until a beautiful kernel of corn is buried and broken in the earth that its inner heart sprouts and produces hundreds of seeds and kernels. And so it has always been – God uses broken things.”

Psalm 51:17 – The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

You and I may be broken, but our Heavenly Father has an eye for value. As jars of clay, our worth is not determined by our composition but by our contents.* May it be the blazing flame of Christ – with His hope, victory, strength, and glory.

Let it shine!


* “Unusual Weapons” in Gideon by Priscilla Shirer, pages 121 – 125.

Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman, devotion for October 15

American Pickers –