Category Archives: Family

Things I Learned in March

Seems like I just wrote about what I learned in February. But Emily Freeman @ Chatting at the Sky has asked her readers to again share pieces of life lessons, so here’s my take on life at the moment from random to relevant to reflective …

1. I like alliteration.

2. God speaks, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit is real. I recently felt led to find and send a Bible verse to a friend about “confidence.” While searching, I discovered Jeremiah 17:7 ~ “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” I wasn’t familiar with that verse, but it seemed fitting. After I shared it with my friend, she replied: “Love that verse!  I actually have a necklace based on that verse and wear it often.” God is amazing like that! If He places someone on your heart, do something about it. I am so grateful for friends who have listened to the Holy Spirit and encouraged me with just the right words and timing.

20140328_073339

3. Although I’m part of a congregation that doesn’t formally observe Ash Wednesday, I’m drawn to its significance. This past Ash Wednesday, I shared my recovery story with a class of high school students, and the timing was not lost on me. Everyone bears a mark of sin, frailty, and mortality. It’s good to be reminded that we need a Savior who exchanges our shameful ashes for His beautiful mercy.

4. The best foot warmer is a furry doggie.

20140324_091854

5. Frederick Buechner said so well, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I’m learning that deep gladness arises from those places where I once knew the deepest fear and regret. It is a place touched and transformed by God’s compassion. This junction between my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger isn’t confined to one place. I may find it located within my family circle, down the street, on the other side of my city, and across the world. This place is likely outside of my comfort zone, yet God would not beckon me a place where He is not already present. He’s calling, and that’s all I need to take the first step.

6. Can we just let go of “Let It Go” already? The song from Frozen was everywhere in March.

20140327_205511

As the mom of a preteen, I became concerned with its lyrics; for example, “It’s time to see what I can do; to test the limits and break through; no right; no wrong; no rules for me – I’m free!” Uh oh, red flags. But I eventually considered that the mass appeal of “Let It Go” has less to do with its lyrics and more to do with its compelling tune. We covet (oops, admire) Idina Menzel’s soaring voice. In the context of “Let It Go,” Princess Elsa finally owns up to her long-hidden secret. When she casts off restraint, however, her actions have damaging consequences. Eventually, a plot twist leads to a redemptive act of love. I exercise “parental guidance” over my daughter’s entertainment choices, but if there is a questionable agenda in Frozen, it floated right over her head like a snowflake. One of the challenges of being a preteen parent, I’m finding, is discerning when to step in and when to – uh – let it go.

7. Just because something is attractive on the outside doesn’t mean that all its attributes are beautiful.

20140324_115649

20140324_125151

Have you walked under a pear tree lately? Eew – that smell! Reminds me of a birthday cake that my mother purchased for me from an upscale bakery. It was gorgeous, but as my mother lifted the cake out of the box, she sniffed and said, “Something is wrong.” The repulsive mold on the inside became an object lesson that I’ve never forgotten — a rotten interior will eventually be exposed.

8. Thanks to one of the leaders in my grief support group, I’ve learned to think of “comfort” as “common-fortitude.” We are stronger together.

9. I’m learning amazing new things about the intentional foreshadows in the biblical events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Our church commemorated a version of a Jewish seder, the Passover meal that Jesus observed with His disciples on the evening before Calvary. As we passed the elements of the seder, we learned how specifically they point to Jesus, the promised Messiah. Read more here @ the Word of Messiah Ministries Passover page.

Plus, I never knew, until a few days ago, that the name “Gethsemane” originates from a Hebrew term meaning “oil press.” The garden where Jesus went to pray before His crucifixion was a grove of olive trees. The “gethsemane” was a press that crushed the olives until they extracted the highly-valued oil. When we feel hard-pressed on every side, may we remember that the Lord Jesus, who has already withstood the crushing weight of sin and death, invites us to exchange our yoke for His.

10. “Target haze” has been coined to describe the experience of going to Target for a specific something and leaving the store with a cart of goods except for that one item. Apparently, I am not the only person who succumbs to this phenomenon.

11. “Remembering” between generations is something that my husband and I want to prioritize.  Now that one of us has lost a parent, we appreciate even more the opportunities to speak words of honor and gratitude to the generation before us, to cherish past memories, to prioritize occasions to create new ones, and to hold fast to this treasure called legacy. Some may call us the “sandwich generation,” but we choose to see this season as a tremendous privilege to create remembrances with the generation before and behind us.

Our church’s Generations Ministry equips parents to commemorate milestones with our children as they mature in Christ, and at this weekend’s Blessing Retreat my husband and I had an opportunity to intentionally speak words of affirmation and blessing over our 12-year-old daughter. As John and I wrote letters of blessing to her, he wanted to write about “remembering.” His written words encourage our young lady to remember for years to come that her identity, worth, and purpose are established in the love of Christ.

20140330_175651

After the Lord and Israel won a victory over the Philistines, the prophet Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer or “stone of help” for “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). Whenever the Israelites would pass by the stone, they would remember what the Lord accomplished on their behalf.

Now, an “Ebenezer” (as in “here I raise my Ebenezer“…) refers to the remembrance of a spiritual principle or an important life event.  This weekend, we gave gifts to our daughter to help her remember our words of blessing. We hope and pray that she will commit to memory this occasion as a marker of maturity, developmentally and spiritually. And for us as parents, we will remember this milestone event as a “stone of help.” While it’s probably normal to be a little nervous about the years ahead, we’re reassured by God’s guidance and the wise people who walk before and beside us along this journey of milestones.

12. This year, “March Madness” could refer to the weather as much as basketball. Equally unpredictable, both have thwarted our best efforts to nail them down. Maybe a little perspective can be gained here; life usually doesn’t go as forecast.  So we’ll roll with the messy days, but we’ll take every warm & sunny day we get here in North Carolina as an opportunity to stock up on the allergy meds, open the windows, and enjoy the ride!

Happy Spring!

photo 2

Have Second Thoughts about Marriage

I noticed in Walmart on Tuesday, before the snowstorm that has paralyzed the South arrived, that just as many (well, almost as many) people were hunting the greeting card aisle as the bread aisle. Because no one, especially a Southerner, wants to be unprepared when the first flakes fall and the forecaster predicts that this is going to be a BIG one, right before the BIG day. Yet I imagine, especially if we’re still stuck indoors today, that there will be many homes in which the cards, roses, jewelry, and chocolate don’t arrive by Valentine’s Day.

And, you know, that’s okay … Makes me wonder why we buy in (literally) to the idea that love has to be expressed in these particular ways on one particular day anyway?

Last night, while the clinking of sleet against the window kept me awake, my thoughts wandered to things like love and Valentine’s Day, and how marriage to the man sleeping next to me has been a more unexpected journey than I could have ever imagined.

This April, it will be twenty years since the day we stood before God and spoke words from the second chapter of Philippians to each other.

And while it’s been a struggle sometimes, our vows to God and to one another are still intact even as the initial dreams that we had for our marriage are not.

So, I would advise any starry-eyed couple who is nearly married to have second thoughts.

I know, without a doubt, that my husband did.

Like on the days into the second year of marriage when he had to pick me up off of the floor because my legs (and my soul) were too weakened to stand. Who could blame a young man for having second thoughts when his wife is buried under failure, depression, and shame?

In the midst of this mess, when our marriage was severely tested, my husband made up his mind. Or perhaps I should say that he chose the mind of Christ:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus …”

My husband committed himself to the promises that he made, based upon the second chapter of Philippians. And he purposed in his heart that his personal ambitions, needs, and desires would be second.

And twenty years later, he and I know that enduring marriages are based upon second thoughts.

Our union is not perfect now. We still live in the consequences of that most painful time, but we don’t regret it – not for a single second. Because we had to learn early that not every day is Valentine’s Day. Yes, there are moments of romance, but the days of roses are limited. Real love is expressed in the ordinariness of taking out the trash, getting the kids in the bath, clearing the toilet, and paying the bills.

And the truest love – agape love – finds and expresses itself in the laying down of one’s very life, as Jesus did. Yes, it means (in the human experience) that there is morning breath, dirty laundry, harsh words, misunderstanding, and disappointment. But (in the eternal experience) there is a picture of Christ’s devotion for His Church – His unconditional love for His people who are utterly unlovable.

In her advice to young men considering marriage, Elisabeth Elliot writes this:

“Christ is the supreme example … His sole aim in life was to be obedient to the Father. His very obedience made Him the most manly – responsible, committed, courageous, courteous, and full of love. A Christian man’s obedience to God will make him more of a man than anything else in the world.”

“A Christian’s rule of life should be, My life for yours. He is concerned about the comfort and happiness of others, not of himself. He does not seek to have his own needs met, his own image enhanced, but to love God, to make Him loved, and to lay down his life to that end. In small ways as well as great, he shows the love of the Lord.” (Keep A Quiet Heart, page 162).

If God’s plan for my daughter includes marriage, I ask Him to bring this kind of man into her life – the kind of man who has second thoughts. A man whose commitment to her is second only to his steadfastness to the Father. A man whose aspirations and wishes come in second place to whatever gives glory to God in his relationship with his wife and children.

And lest I advise my daughter that second place is for the husbands, I remember that honor and respect is my calling as a wife. Placing myself second may require the setting aside of my pride and my preferences, but to follow God’s intention for my marriage is to lose nothing in the eternal realm. I must believe Jesus when He tells me that those who lose their lives for His sake will find them back again, fuller and richer and better than anything they could have expected. When a wife puts herself second in her marriage, she finds the grit and grace to do so for Jesus’ sake. And the immeasurable gift that she receives in return is way better than perishable roses and chocolate could ever be.

Marriage is not for us. It is for God’s glory, designed in His mind to be the picture of sacrifice and selflessness. Husbands and wives who give Jesus first place in their marriages live in a way such that romance comes second to redemption. There are occasional opportunities for husbands and wives to be flush with romantic feelings. But there are daily opportunities for our marriages to reflect God’s redemptive love for us through continual giving of forgiveness and grace.

Let us have second thoughts about marriage and follow hard after the example of the One who loves us first.

*******************************

Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2: 5 -11, J.B. Phillips New Testament).

 

A Line of Gold Thread (dads and daughters)

The greatest political storm flutters only a fringe of humanity, but an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children will literally alter the destiny of nations.” –GK Chesterton

My daughter and I have a very important event in common this week – we’ll celebrate the birthdays of our daddies. I love that my husband’s and my father’s birthdays are just a couple of days apart. It’s a special time of honoring the two most beloved men in my life. And as I write, it’s Veteran’s Day. Facebook is dotted with tributes and recent or black & white photos of loved ones in uniform. We want to say ‘thank you.’

It’s right to say ‘thank you.’ These are our heroes. These are the ones who deserve our appreciation in word and deed not only on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day or July 4th.  But on Election Day as well (even in a non-presidential year.) And every day.

These are the kind of people who shrug off the applause and say, “I was just doing my job.”

Exactly.

We live in a world where it’s increasingly uncommon to find a man or woman who does the job. Someone who works day in and day out, when no one is watching, with integrity, humility, and perseverance. Someone who makes menial tasks meaningful. Doing the menial tasks requires character and commitment. Doing the job means that a family will have shelter, food, and clothing. And a country’s freedoms will be protected. How do we thank you enough?

Military veterans, I’m sure, have experienced ordinary and extraordinary moments in their service. I’ve not served in this way, but I imagine that whether in times of peace or times of war, the job requires intensity and courage along with preparation, training, and waiting.

Perhaps your job, military or otherwise, seems quite ordinary at the moment. But character and commitment are extraordinary qualities.  These characteristics are refined in the times of preparation, training, waiting, and doing the job whatever it entails.

The definition of “veteran” is “a person who is long experienced or practiced in an activity or capacity.” My father is a veteran of the Air Force. And an almost 62 year marriage. And 50-some years of parenthood. And a long-standing family business. And more years than I’ve been alive in the same church.

Daddy is a veteran of dance recitals. Graduations. Family vacations. Car maintenance. Home repair. He’s long experienced and practiced in the art of writing checks and picking up the tab. And calling his children, even the sons, “honey” and “sugar.”

Obviously my husband hasn’t had as many years to be “long-practiced” or “long-experienced.” But he is the same kind of man. That is saying so much of him that it brings tears to my eyes. I am blessed.

There’s something like a line of gold thread running through a man’s words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself.” – Author and professor John Gregory Brown

My daughter and I will forever carry the warmth of this cloth in our hearts.

Thank you, Daddy. Thank you, John. Thank you, Poppy.

You are loved with gratitude that overflows, not just for what you do or what you’ve
done, but for who you are and who we are because of you. Our stories are forever woven with the gold thread of your loving legacy.

357

358

Why (and how) our family does Halloween, Part 2

Dear C,
I really like your Halloween costume this year! And I won’t give your idea away, but I think you and Toby are going to look super-cute in your outfits. That’s a fun part of Halloween, isn’t it? It always brings out your creativity. You carefully plan and create your costume (sometimes with Grandma’s help). And with each year you take on a little more responsibility for designing and carving our jack-o-lantern. Last year was the first time you were willing to help us scoop out the goopy insides. Feel free to do that job all by yourself this year :)

022
fall4

025

Today I wondered about pumpkin-carving – who first did it and why? It’s really interesting to discover why our traditions became traditions in the first place. So here’s a little history lesson for today …. (hang with me – you won’t think it’s boring!)

Hundreds of years ago, a people group called the Celts lived in Europe and on the British Isles. They believed that the souls of dead people visited earth on October 31. Fearful that evil spirits would destroy their crops, they built bonfires and wore scary costumes to frighten them away. The Celts also carved frightful faces into turnips or gourds, put burning coal inside to turn them into lanterns, and set them outside their homes. And by leaving food (treats) on the outskirts of their towns, they hoped that evil spirits would not enter their villages (and perform tricks). Get it?

In the 8th century, the Catholic Church declared November 1 as a day to remember honorable Catholics who had passed away. It was commonly called “All Hallows’ Day,” and the night before (October 31) became known as Allhallowe’en. Somewhere along the way, as a mix of European settlers came to America, their customs blended into what we now know as Halloween.

So, why did I explain all of that? I think it’s important for you to realize that the traditions of Halloween have always been rooted in fear and superstition. (“Superstition” is a way of behaving that is based on the fear of the unknown and belief in magic or luck). But the day itself, October 31, is NOT an evil day. Like every other day, it is a day that the Lord has made. (It’s also “Reformation Day” – a very important day in our Christian history that highlights our freedom in Christ. We’ll talk about that another time).

As you know, there are signs of this fearful, superstitious side of Halloween all around us. In our culture, Halloween brings out a fascination with images of death, darkness, and the supernatural. It’s true that there is a kingdom of darkness ruled by Satan. He wants to keep people separated from God, in a grip of evil and fear. But honey, you don’t need to be afraid. As a follower of Christ, you are a part of the Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1: 12 – 14). 1 John 4 says that GREATER is HE who is in you (Christ) than he who is in the world (Satan) and that perfect love (the love of Christ) drives out fear (verses 4 & 18). Jesus is victorious every single day of the year!

So what do we do about Halloween? Christian families respond in different ways.

Some families avoid Halloween all together. I understand that. Perhaps they try to find alternatives to Halloween, and Daddy and I once considered that. You might say that this choice is like “isolation from the culture.”

Some families see Halloween, even the creepy business, as harmless fun. I get that too. We are wired in a way that we get a little kick out of being spooked. You could describe this approach as “immersion in the culture.”

While Daddy and I believe that families are free to decide for themselves, neither of these two choices is entirely appealing to us. The Bible tells us that although we are not of this world, we are still in it (see Jesus’ words in John 17: 14 – 15). In fact, we’re called to be Light in our world. While there are appropriate ways and times to protect you, we don’t want you to live in a bubble. And yet, the Bible also tells us to think on things that are pure and honorable to God, and it’s our personal conviction that the creepy side of Halloween puts our thoughts elsewhere. So, regardless of Halloween’s origins, we believe that our family can give a new meaning to October 31. Instead of isolating from or immersing into culture, we want to interact with it – but with discernment (knowing how to make wise choices).

You’re 11 now, so you can understand that Halloween is an opportunity for you to learn how to discern when you must separate from culture and when you can be a redemptive participant in it.

What does being a “redemptive participant” mean? I’m so glad you asked! :)

Let’s think about this biblically –

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 14 – 16

Honey, it’s getting harder to engage in our world, meaning that our phones and our gadgets keep us from actually talking to each other (weird, but true). Face to face interaction is more valuable than ever. Your dad and I believe that God has deliberately placed us in this city, in this neighborhood, and on this street to care about our neighbors. How can we effectively do that if we don’t take opportunities to see them face to face? If we keep our lamp under a bowl?

While we struggled for a while about Halloween, our perspective changed when Mr. Sam and Mrs. Ellen started their annual tradition next door. When Mr. Sam brought his huge stockpots of jambalaya outside, the neighbors came. And the next year, we and the neighbors brought food too. By talking face to face, admiring the little ones’ costumes, and eating together, we connect. When we connect, we care more. And then you go down the street with the neighbors’ families and get free chocolate (oops, I mean candy, since you don’t like chocolate). And either Daddy or I stay at the house with the light on, and people come.

People are drawn to light – and to each other – and that’s what Halloween means to our family.

So, we’ll treat Halloween not as a holiday, but as an event. We’ll see this event as an opportunity to be for community. We’ll concentrate less on being against the darkness and focus more on being for the light. The light always wins! We (I mean, you) will scoop out our pumpkin and we’ll talk about how great it is that Jesus has cleaned us up on the inside and put His light there. And we’ll put that light on display.

Sweetheart, let it shine!

030

Love,
Mommy

In his book, Celebration of Discipline (1978), Richard Foster says, “Why allow Halloween to be a pagan holiday in commemoration of the powers of darkness? Fill the house or church with light; sing and celebrate the victory of Christ over darkness.”

I like this thought too – “One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.” – from the blog post, “Halloween – Treat or Retreat?” by Tim Challies. http://www.challies.com/articles/halloween-trick-or-retreat

Other helpful sources –
Jennifer E. Jones – Banning Halloween http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/biblestudyandtheology/perspectives/jej_BanningHalloween07.aspx

“Christians and Halloween” on the Grace to You website – http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/a123

The concept of “redemptive interaction” with culture is explained so well by Paul David Tripp in his book Age of Opportunity. http://paultripp.com/age-of-opportunity

I Think You are Courageous – Another Letter to my Daughter

First of all, I’m sorry. The Bible provides timeless principles for raising kids but I haven’t yet found specific instructions for “what to do when your child wants to do something really hard for a sixth grade project.” And so, being a little overwhelmed for you, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about your project, was I? Truthfully, we know that I tried to talk you into doing something different – something easier.

Sweetheart, I’m learning so much as your Mom. While you are an imaginative, positive, creative thinker, I’m realistic and sensible.

You dream up a project and say “That has potential!”
I consider your ideas and ask, “Is that possible?”

It’s my responsibility as a parent to be reasonable and practical. I think about costs and time and effort. Some people would say that’s being “down-to-earth.”

And yet, honey, I never ever want to ground your dreams to fly.

I was afraid that you would be disappointed. And that your idea might be a failure. And you’d be working on Plan B at the very last minute.

But now I understand that protecting you from failure doesn’t serve you well. The time for you to fail is now. Doesn’t that sound weird? It’s not that I want your ideas to fall flat or I’m hoping that you will miss the cut. But my better responsibility as a parent is to be a safe place when you try. If you fail, if you don’t make the team, if you don’t make the grade, if you’re disappointed after the big audition, I will love you. And support you. And cheer for you anyway.

I want you to try.

As you walk with Jesus, He will take you on a narrow road. You might think that this was just a history assignment, but I’m proud of you for not shying away from a difficult choice. Take it as a life lesson — as part of your own story.

Of course I want you to think and plan and practice wisely. Learning how to do this is a process of growing up. Learning how to let you learn is a process of growing as a parent. You’re just beginning middle school, and your decisions are going to become much bigger than what to do for a school project. We have a lot of learning and growing to do together.

We’re going to make mistakes. I just did, as a mom. I’m writing about it. Failure is not final. I think somebody famous said something like that. Oh, Winston Churchill. (I just looked it up.) You’ll probably learn about him this year.

Ok, here’s what he really said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

So, all day long, on Saturday you worked. And shed a few tears. And continued.

“I can do it, Mommy.”

Sweetheart, I think you are courageous.

Kids and parents are discussing the life application of courage this month at our church. How appropriate, huh? Last week, our leader asked us to talk at home about things that have been hard and scary. I told you that, for me, 2013 has been a year of hard things like going on a mission trip without you and Daddy, taking a class on pastoral care at the hospital, and watching our dearest loved ones go through surgeries and chemotherapy.

At the class in the hospital, I had to go into the rooms of strangers and offer a word of hope or prayer. Sometimes those strangers were thankful and friendly and sometimes not. The director of the program knew that this was hard for a shy person like me.

“I think you are courageous,” he said.

His words gave me encouragement. Get it? En-COURAGE-ment. Just hearing that someone considered me courageous made me feel courageous.

But I couldn’t ultimately depend on courage coming from within myself or from the words of another person. An unkind word could just as easily dis-courage me. Before I could raise my fist to knock on another hospital room door, I had to rely on a promise that the Lord gave to Joshua:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

The Lord is with you, sweet girl. By His Spirit, you are courageous. Continue in hard things.

I remember now where I saw that quote from Winston Churchill. It was posted in a room where your Poppy received a treatment for his cancer.

Cancer is a hard thing. Your Grammy knows that too.

Poppy and Grammy are courageous. Sometimes you have to be courageous about things that you don’t choose.  But no matter what, God chooses to love you and stay with you, just as He continues to do so for your grandparents.

It is the courage to continue that counts.

Colossians 1: 6 – 7 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in Him….”

Continue on, sweetheart. He will give you roots and let you fly.

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.

20130826_093113

“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….?”

20130826_13241120130826_132441

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.

 20130826_132356

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. http://www.carmelbaptist.org/media/sermons/

Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage. http://garythomas.com/books/sacred-marriage/
(His book Sacred Parenting is excellent as well).

The Better Treasure

Isn’t it fun to decorate for Christmas? One of the highlights of post-Thanksgiving is bringing the Christmas boxes down from the attic. We burn our scented candles, play our holiday music, and open the boxes to rediscover our treasures.

Yesterday was box-opening day, and the candles were lit and the music was playing but things didn’t seem quite right. We had just returned the night before from a 12-hour drive, and I was tired. Laundry demanded my attention.  Homework demanded my daughter’s attention. But she was so excited to “start Christmas,” so we tried to make it work.

Before I could clear away the mantle to make room for the special decorations, Caroline was face and arms down into the boxes. It happened that the first box she came to was a box of her special Christmas things. Little girl decorations with sequins and stuffed animal faces.  It quickly became apparent that Caroline had a plan. She started putting her things on the mantle.

“No, no, no….these don’t belong here,” I stammered.

And it quickly became apparent that we were at a standoff. How could I tell her that her decorations were not mantle-worthy?

My husband and I have been married for 18 years, so I figure that means I’ve been in charge of decorating for 18 years now. This was the first time I ever encountered another point-of-view about the way things should look. 

“This is where we put our pretty candles and our greenery,” I explained.  She didn’t care.

“Mommy always decorates the mantle.” She pouted.

With guilt and frustration mounting, I pushed her things aside and set the candles in place. Caroline disappeared.  Guilt eventually gained the upper-hand, and I set off to find her, expecting that she would be sulking in her room. “I’m in here, Mommy,” she said sweetly, and I discovered her sitting at my desk. Caroline was drawing a picture of the mantle, with her decorations interspersed in the greenery and candles. “Isn’t it pretty, Mommy? When we work together?”

Ugh.

So I relented. We decorated the mantle with an assortment of angels, shepherds, Santa Claus, candles, and a lion-faced Nutcracker. I decided I would be okay with it after all. Until Caroline pointed to one of the pretty candles.

“We don’t need this … it doesn’t look right,” she asserted.

All the tiredness and unexpectedness of this encounter with a pint-sized trespasser caught up with me.  I exploded. “OKAY. YOU do it YOUR WAY. It’s ALL yours!”

Did you ever have a moment when you wished for a rewind button?

As I was listening to the radio later, I heard an interview with Lysa TerKeurst of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She was speaking of Christmas with all of its joys and (sigh) all of the “where’s rewind?” moments.

“Bad mommy moments don’t make bad moms,” she said. And for that, I am grateful.

The truest spirit of Christmas is about reconciliation.

Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King. Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled!”

I have had my share of moments as a mom, wife, daughter, relative, friend, and Christ follower that wouldn’t make the yearly Christmas letter.  But I love what Charles Stanley says about Christmas:

“Jesus came to earth to find each person where he was, not where he ought to have been. And the same is true today. God reaches into the darkest, dirtiest, most fearful places to correct and restore us into who He meant for us to be.”

Can we ever fully grasp our Savior’s humble sacrifice through which He reconciled us to God? How can we wrap our minds around the truth that the King of Kings was the “infant holy, infant lowly” born in a dark, dirty cattle stall?

“Bethlehem” literally means “house of bread.”  “The living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51) was born in the house of bread.

Yesterday, our pastor spoke of Matthew 6:11 (in the Lord’s Prayer): “Give us this day our daily bread.”

According to Pastor Kennedy, the “Give” of this request is rightly expressed in an attitude of humility and dependence.  It follows worship (“Our Father who art in Heaven. Hallowed be Your Name”) and surrender (“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.”).

Worship and surrender set my heart right toward God. Worship and surrender also set my heart right toward others. As Pastor Kennedy pointed out, the prayer is “Give US our daily bread.” Instead of being self-absorbed, I seek the good of others.

Instead of being controlling, I can be content.

Instead of being led by pride, I can be guided by perspective. What’s the better treasure – a beautiful mantle or a beautiful heart?

In the midst of a season when shopping lines are long and time is short, we have to be intentionally focused on worship and surrender. This preparation helps us to respond in the Spirit when otherwise we might react in the flesh.

So I confessed my irritability and selfishness to Caroline and asked for her forgiveness. I asked her today what she thinks of our mantle.

“I love it!” she said. And so do I.