The Real Description of Love

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What is love? The word “love” is tossed about freely, without much regard to its true meaning. But as I was reading I Corinthians 13 this morning, making a careful list of all that describes love in this passage, it gave me pause. Somehow evaluating each of these words individually was way more convicting than simply reading through the familiar verses.

I wasn’t actually planning on posting today, but as I wrote and pondered, I realized that perhaps some of you, too, would be challenged and convicted by these verses in a way you haven’t been before.

Love is a big word, isn’t it? And it has multiple definitions. But Paul gives us such a beautiful description of love in this chapter. Here is a breakdown of what love looks like in a Christian’s life. Read and be challenged–

  1. Love is patient.
  2. Love is kind.
  3. Love does not envy.
  4. Love does not boast.
  5. Love is not arrogant.
  6. Love is not rude.
  7. Love does not insist on its own way.
  8. Love is not irritable.
  9. Love is not resentful.
  10. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing.
  11. Love rejoices in the truth.
  12. Love bears all things.
  13. Love believes all things.
  14. Love hopes all things.
  15. Love endures all things.
  16. LOVE NEVER ENDS.

And then let’s not forget this–

We can do all kinds of fabulous things for the Lord. We can speak marvelous, challenging words that encourage people to grow spiritually. We can play beautiful music that leads people in worship. We can even die for Christ. But if all of these things are done without love, they are nothing. They mean nothing. We gain nothing.

Think about that–ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

Imagine with me for just a moment what would happen if all people who claim the name of Christ would put this list into practice. It would literally transform marriages! Heal families! Revolutionize churches! This is a powerful, powerful list.

Unfortunately, this will never happen. But we do have the ability, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to live these out in our own life. May we continue to strive to do this as we grow for life and seek to be like our Savior!

 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (I Corinthians 13:1-8)

Have a great day! And thanks for letting me stop by your in-box on this Wednesday morning! :)

 

What Makes a Healthy Family?

10 Principles from God's Word

Healthy Family

Have you ever wondered why some families are so close and some seem so distant? Why some seem so full of love and some are so full of anger? And why some seem so happy and some seem so sad?

All families are imperfect. In fact, all families are dysfunctional in one way or another. The degrees differ, but they all are!

So what makes for a healthy family? One that, even through life’s hard struggles, remains generally close, loving, and happy?

We can find the answer to this question from the Word of God, where we see principles we can practice for healthy relationships and close families. I want to look at two passages and pull a few principles from them that we can practice in order to have healthy families–

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

1. They are loving and kind. It is no secret that the Bible teaches us to be loving and kind. Many of us manage this outside of our homes but when we get home we throw off our good behavior and become who we really are inside–selfish and rude individuals who want our own way. But having a healthy family requires lots of love and kindness. And it starts with you and with me. We can’t expect our kids to be kind if we can’t manage it ourselves.

2 They are joyful. This word can haunt those of us who really struggle with being melancholy or with a flaring temper. But families overshadowed by sadness and anger make for kids who just want to leave and never come back. We cannot let the trials and struggles of life steal all of our joy. We will all have bad days–even bad months– but healthy families still find joy. And while laughter isn’t required, it is certainly good medicine for any family (Proverbs 17:22). Families that laugh together are happier. You have heard it said that families that “play together, stay together.” How important it is that we intentionally spend time together with our families, enjoying one another and practicing joy. We must ask ourselves: Do we bring joy to our family?

3. They are faithful. “Faithful” means loyal; reliable; steady in allegiance and affection; trusted; true to one’s word. As we read these adjectives, we can see how this would be invaluable to the health of a family. When we can’t trust each other, walls go up quickly. Let’s consider if we are true to our word? If we can be trusted to do what we said we are going to do? Whether it is making a promise to our spouse and then not doing it or threatening to discipline our kids and yet never following through, we must understand that this principle has a lot more facets than we would first think.

4. They are self-controlled. Ohhhhh, this is a tough one, isn’t it? This means that we practice self-control not only on the obvious things (such as our tempers) but also on the not-so-obvious–like our finances, our eating habits, and how we spend our time. Healthy families are balanced in how much they spend. They aren’t encumbered by debts they can’t pay and their houses aren’t full of things they can’t afford. Healthy families don’t drink soda and eat fried foods at every meal (or they will be unhealthy in more ways than one!).  And healthy families don’t spend all of their time in front of the TV or allow their kids to play video games or be on their phones without boundaries. Healthy families are self-controlled. Do we understand how important it is to set up boundaries for ourselves and for our kids that lead us to practice self-control?

5. They are patient and not easily angered. Oh, dear. Another really tough one. At least for me. But there it is in I Corinthians 13 (and many other places in scripture, as well!) Healthy families do not have members that are easily angered but instead practice patience with each other. Have you noticed how those members of the family that don’t practice this bring such strife to the family? This one can really add dissension to the family quickly–particularly if the other members of the family don’t practice principle #9!

6. They are gentle. What does gentle mean exactly? The dictionary tells us this–moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe. Does this describe you? This is easier for some of us than for others, isn’t it? Sometimes I will say something and my family will tell me I sounded harsh–and I didn’t even realize it! I just told my daughter the other day that I just can’t seem to gain victory over the tone of my voice. It can be rather discouraging for me–but I keep working at it! I don’t want to sound harsh or severe. When we do this, we tempt our family members to be defensive and angry. Think about the last time you were unhappy about something and then ask yourself: Did you express your concerns gently?

7. They rejoice with one another instead of envying each other. Oh, another really big one. How much grief and strife come from brothers and sisters envying one another? We only need to look at Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37) to see what comes of envy in a family. And this story has played itself out over and over and over again throughout the centuries. (Note to parents: Favoritism has no place in a healthy family! We parents have to take this so seriously, lest we destroy our families). When we are jealous instead of happy for family members that get a break or who succeed, this leads quickly to an unhealthy, unhappy family. Do you envy a sibling when they get something you wanted or are you able to rejoice with them? And another important question: Do you show favoritism with your own kids? (How would they answer that question?)

8. They value the truth. Families that are close communicate truth. There are few secrets between mom and dad (if any!). Communication is clear and truthful–not sarcastic and “beaten around the bush”. Healthy families talk about the important things and the big questions in life. Christian families use these discussions to grow their kids’ knowledge of the Word of God and the ultimate truth that is found there. Do you love truth? Do you share truth with your family?

9. They practice repentance and forgiveness. This one is talked about a lot and cannot be overestimated. Families that don’t keep forgiving, soon have walls so high, no one can break through. Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and bitterness is a destructive root that weaves its tentacles through almost all parts of life, but particularly through a family’s well-being. Of course, forgiveness is much easier to give when the party who has offended practices true repentance over their sin. Oh, how important it is that we give genuine apologies that do not have any “buts” after them. You know what I mean–the ones that go something like this–“I shouldn’t have done that but you…” Those aren’t apologies, they are excuses. Do you give genuine apologies? Do you practice forgiveness “seventy times seven” in your own family?

10. They keep loving unconditionally–lots of grace and no grudges. All of these can be wrapped up with this final principle. Healthy families offer lots of grace to each other. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They keep on loving each other despite all of the imperfections and failures and sins. They don’t hold grudges when one member doesn’t live up to the expectations of another. Healthy families overlook small offenses. Do you give lots of grace? Or is your love conditional on your family members meeting your expectations?

And there you have it! Ten principles for a healthier and happier family. Of course, we live in a fallen world, so none of us can practice these perfectly. As I wrote, I was challenged on several of these that need much improvement in my own life.

I know that this list looks impossible to some of you. Some of you have a spouse or grown kids who aren’t practicing many –if any– of these. They may be selfish or angry or distant and they have no interest in changing or in working at building a healthier family. What to do?

I just want to encourage you to build a healthier family as best you can by incorporating these things into your own life. The tone of your family will change as you put these into practice. It won’t be easy and it won’t–most likely–be miraculous. But a few years from now you will look back and see how your obedience to the Word of God and the principles found there has changed your family. Just start with one principle today. Look at this list and determine which one of these you most need to work on.

While this list of ten principles is certainly not exhaustive, I do hope that I have encouraged you today to build a healthier and happier family! This is a never-ending endeavor and we can never be satisfied with status quo when it comes to our families, for we are investing for eternity!

 

{Please note: I am taking a break from Learn to Discern this week; more posts are coming.}

The Ticking Clock

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I have always been one of those people who is very sensitive to the noise and light around me. I can drive those who love me just a little crazy with this propensity.

For instance, a few weeks ago we were staying in a lovely hotel for a few days during our college visit. Our room had a lovely view of the harbor. Unfortunately for me, in that harbor was a nightclub. Around 11pm, I figured they’d probably be closed by midnight (Yes, I realize now that this thought was a bit naive of me! After all, it was a night club!) But they were still going strong at 1am, and then 2 am, and, yes, even at 3am. Now everyone else was sleeping soundly, seemingly unbothered by this sound. But, me–well, I tossed and turned for most of that night, finally downloading a sleep machine app at 3am and putting the sound of “pouring rain” in my ears to drown out the night club.

I am also one of those people that could never possibly read while there is music with words on or while the TV is blaring in the background. I just can’t do that. I wish I could.

So a month or two ago, we re-did our living room. It had been painted a dark red shortly after we moved in–in style at the time but quite out-dated now. And so we bought some new furniture, re-painted, and replaced the old, dusty curtains. And then as the final step, I found some accents and frames to complete the project. One of those accents was an adorable little clock. Since this is the room where I do a lot of my Bible Study and morning devotions, I specifically wanted a clock so I could keep my phone and iPad out of the room and yet still have some idea of the time.

One evening, I put the room back together and carefully placed my accents. I set the clock on the end table right beside me (see photo above). And then I stood back, looked over the room with its calming neutral colors, and snapped a few photos of my finished product.

The next morning, I came downstairs, ready to have my prayer and devotion time in my new room. As I started to pray, something invaded my peace.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, I just want to ask you to be with…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

I decided to move the tiny culprit, picking it up and setting it on the piano across the room.

As I started to pray, the clock, while a little less noisome, was still a frustrating distraction.

It was at that time that I realized that I could choose whether or not to be annoyed by that ticking clock. It didn’t have to annoy me. That was my choice.

I decided to take my thoughts captive and to choose to ignore that clock. And guess what? A few minutes later, I didn’t even think about it being there. Now I rarely think about it. When the ticking sound does make its way into my thoughts, I choose to turn my thoughts away. As ridiculous as I know this sounds, this has become a little exercise for me in training me to take my thoughts captive!

I do realize that this is a very roundabout way to get to my point, which is–

We choose what bothers us. 

So often we are tempted to blame others for our angry reactions or annoyances or irritations. When we are driving, we blame the guy who cut us off for making us angry. When we are at home, we blame our spouse for irritating us because they didn’t put something away.

But we get to choose how we respond. No one does it for us.

As I sat there listening to that clock, the verse that just kept coming to me over and over was this one–

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

You see, we can’t control anything or anyone but we can control ourselves.

I am dismayed at how often I still allow others to control me. Oh, sure, I can change where I set a clock or even remove it from the room altogether. But I can’t change people. And I can’t change circumstances. Do I take my thoughts captive or do I let them spiral me downward into a state of fear, anxiety, or frustration?

Unfortunately, I already know the answer. I live with my sinful self every single day.

But I continue to work on this! I believe this is one of the ways that the Word changes us. We know that ungodly reactions and concentrating on the wrong things leads to a defeated life. And so we must choose to take our thoughts captive and act and react in a godly way, knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort, strengthen, and guide us.

The clock was painfully prominent when I focused on it. But it faded to the background when I chose to put my focus back on the Lord.

So, too, does this same thing happen in life. Our trials and struggles are so prominent when we focus on them. Hurtful and difficult people are ever-present in our minds. Until we remove our focus from them and turn it to the Lord and His Word.

And making this choice to change focus changes our whole outlook. And trials and difficult people become a way to live out and prove our faith, rather than being a threat to our faith.

 

 

Love Trumps Hate?

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Last night my daughter showed me this picture she drew. It was her expression of feeling regarding the hypocrisy of what has gone on over the past few days. I have been trying to process it, as well. For a campaign that talks so very much about love and freedom, it would seem that love is only for those who are on their side and freedom is not for everyone.

Now, first, let me state that, just as I don’t want to be lumped along in with every person using the name of Christ, I don’t want to lump all Democrats together. I am sure there are many who are appalled at what people are doing in the name of their party.

But they are doing it nonetheless. Making threats. Spewing forth malicious venom. All while getting lots of coverage from the liberal media. I think we always knew that Hollywood leaned far left but this election has most certainly given us a whole new understanding of that, hasn’t it?

Even Trump’s ten-year-old son hasn’t escaped the vitriol of a world gone mad with hatred.

What kind of person picks up a mic and speaks such malevolent words? What kind of person tweets such hateful, ugly things about a child?

It is a person full of hate and wickedness. It is someone like…you and me.

It is who we could be without Christ. Who we were before Christ. Every single one of us has the same propensity to act in such a wicked way.

It is who Paul was before his conversion, as we read in Galatians 1:13-16a —

For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles,

God saved Paul and he took on Christ’s righteousness, having his sin covered by the blood of Christ. He then went on to be used by God in tremendous ways.

In many ways, these people who are so full of hatred who we have watched these past few days are no different than Paul was or than any other person who has singled out a person or a group of people and persecuted them. Many times even unto death.

So the question that begs to be asked is what should be our response?

I have to confess as the new stories of such hatred have clogged up my Facebook feed, filled the airwaves, and covered our TV screens, I have not been filled with Christ’s love. My natural inclination is to feel hatred back. To reciprocate. To build the hatred between two very different groups of people with two very different dreams for this great country.

And yet–

I remember Jesus, on the cross, in pain and agony and hated by the masses–

And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:33-34)

Father, forgive them. Such love. Such incredible love.

And I remember this, too–God forgave me. Wicked, sinful me. He reached out in love and washed me with his blood. I love how Paul puts this in I Corinthians 6:9-11–

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

And so it is best not to forget who we were before Christ. Who we could be without Christ.

So does love trump hate? Yes, it most certainly does. But it is not the kind of love that hates when it doesn’t get its own way. It is not the kind that feels it can say or do whatever it wants to advance its agenda.

The love that trumps hate is the kind that speaks truth. It is love that will sacrifice personal glory and reputation so that even one man can be saved from eternal damnation. It is the kind that responds kindly when attacked by the enemy. It is love that only Jesus Christ can give.

My daughter reminded me last night, as we talked about the hopelessness we feel in this world gone mad, how the one encouraging thing about this is how brightly we shine as believers in such darkness. She’s right, you know. Even a small light shines in the darkness with an intensity that would dissipate in the company of brighter lights.

And so this is our opportunity to shine with the true love of Christ. May we embrace the challenge instead of joining the hating, throbbing malicious mass on either side of the fence. Let’s stand firmly on the Word of God, loving with a love that doesn’t make sense to the world and speaking the truth of God’s Word without apology. And may we never forget who we were–who we could be– without Christ.

 

 

Some Thoughts on Love and Hate

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Would it surprise you to know that some of my favorite people in the whole world don’t agree with me on everything?

I am not sure when the rules changed and agreement on everything became a prerequisite for friendship. In fact, it has gone far beyond that now, where we are told that if we do not agree with someone it means we hate them. This seems to be the “politically correct” assumption that rules the day.

Does anyone else see how ridiculously illogical this is??

Seriously.

Yes, I believe the Bible is true. And yes, I believe that homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27). But, NO, I don’t hate anyone who is practicing it. I love them!

Yes, I believe that the Bible is true. And yes, I believe that you cannot go to heaven without trusting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior (John 14:6). But, NO, I don’t hate those who aren’t believers in Jesus Christ. I love them!

Now, I do recognize that there is a lot of hatred and condescension coming from people who call themselves Christians. They have done great damage through the years, arrogantly sitting on their porches passing condemnation on all who walk by and yet never getting in the trenches to share the Gospel. They have done great damage through protests and violence while saying and doing things that no true Christian would ever do. They have caused irreparable damage with their wagging tongues and fierce arguments.

This is a burden we true believers need to bear. Many have tainted and continue to taint the name of our precious Savior with their ungodly, worldly, and decidedly unchristian behavior.

But we are not them. And we are not filled with hate. We are filled with love. Of course, our closest, dearest friends are believers. They build us up and keep us accountable in our desire to grow more like Christ. Christian fellowship is a wonderful blessing in our lives. But this doesn’t mean we are filled with disgust for people who don’t agree with us or live like we do. We recognize that where they are now is where we came from. We know that we, too, are wicked sinners who were desperately in need of a Savior. Jesus is the only difference between us and them and we know it.

We are filled with a desire to tell them about Jesus, yes. We are filled with concern, yes. We are filled with a grateful heart for our opened eyes, yes. But not with hatred. Never with hatred.

Of course, the biblical message of sin and repentance isn’t popular. No one wants to be told they are accountable to God. No one wants to be told that their lifestyle is sinful.

But speaking truth is not equal to hatred. And speaking lies is not equal to love. And, in fact, it is quite the opposite, isn’t it? Funny how that works.

If someone is telling us what we want to hear instead of telling us the truth it means they care more about themselves than they do about us. And if they are telling us a truth we don’t want to hear at the risk of their own reputation or friendships, it is obvious they care more about us than they do about themselves.

Somehow the truth of this has been swallowed up by the mucky mire of relativism.

But we know the truth and we are not going to be swallowed up by relativism. We know that sharing truth means we love our fellow man, not that we hate them. So let us speak the truth of God’s Word with courage, even at the risk of our own well-being. Let us rise up and react to the hatred of a world gone mad with truth and grace and love.

 

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
Luke 6:35-36

How Deep the Father’s Love

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The other night my husband and I were laying in bed talking. As we prepared to go to sleep for the night, he turned over and wrapped me in his arms. As I lay there, listening to him breathe and feeling the warmth of his body, I felt so safe and secure. I don’t deserve to be loved as well as he loves me. I just don’t. I can be bossy and talk too much and struggle with being submissive sometimes but he loves me, anyway. I make mistakes and sin and fail and continue to do so even after all these years. And yet he continues to love me. For almost 28 years, this man has loved me despite my faults.

Of course, he has his faults, too, and so we love each other, offering much grace and mercy, in our mutual understanding that we are both sinful human beings in a fallen world.

I know I am beyond blessed to have this kind of marriage. I know that this is not the experience of everyone. And my heart hurts for those of you who have never experienced this or have experienced it but have had it taken away due to the great thief called Death. (And, on a side note–we all have our crosses to bear. My crosses just look different than yours. A happy marriage does not equal a perfect life.)

But as I was thinking about the security I feel in the imperfect, human love of my sinful husband, I found my mind moving to the absolute security, safety, and peace that we have in the perfect, divine love of our Heavenly Father when we are born again. We can trust Him wholly because of who He is.

It is a little easier for us to offer love to one another because we understand each others’ humanity. We expect the other person to make mistakes and to fail and change. We expect them to expect us to do the same.

But God doesn’t change. He doesn’t fail. He doesn’t make mistakes.

That He would reach down to love someone such as I astounds me. He is perfect, just, and holy. He is omnipotent and mighty. He does not need me for any reason. I have nothing to offer Him. Anything good in me is a gift from Him to be used for His glory. And yet, despite all this, He made a way for me–and for you, too–to be saved through faith alone, by His grace alone.

Ephesians 2:4-10 is just one of the scripture passages where we read of this great love towards wretched sinners–

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

God loves us with great love and much mercy. And that’s something to be thankful for today. There are so many songs about God’s love, but I think the song How Deep the Father’s Love For Us best expresses my thoughts for today–

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Here is the song, if you’ve never heard it but would like to. I hope it is a comfort and blessing to you today, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in–

How Do You Say Good-Bye?

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This year brought so many changes into my life. It was an exciting, exhausting, and emotional year. With two weddings and the announcement that we are going to be grandparents, life took a turn that I knew was coming but, for some reason, was not really prepared for. I guess it’s a little like when you get married or become a parent–you can try to prepare for what you know is coming, but there is no way to really understand until you are in the midst of the new situation, taking one day at a time.

Another big change we had this year was that one of our daughter’s and her husband moved across country after their wedding. The two of them made plans to come home for the holidays and so only three weeks ago we were waiting for them with great anticipation. We have had a wonderful time with them the past couple of weeks.

But, eventually, our final moments together approached.

We are all familiar with them. Those last few hours of time together. Wanting to make the most of it. But not really quite sure how. Talking about weather and places and people. Trying to ignore the fact that, all too soon, we will have to say good-bye for another few months or longer.

Every hello means an eventual good-bye. For some of us we are the visitors, packing up our families to stay with parents or siblings over the holidays. For others of us, we are the parents and siblings the rest come to see. Whatever we do over the holidays, most of us experience sweet hellos and sad good-byes during this time.

We get together, spending an unusual amount of time together. We try to get along, knowing that we won’t see each other again for who knows how long. It can be a challenge for so many people to live together in one house, but, for so many of us, this time spent with family is just such a wonderful blessing.

It is a strange emotion–this dread to say good-bye to our loved ones but this yearning to go back to the routine of life that we are so familiar with. And we wonder why we can’t have our routine and the people we love in our lives at the same time. But that’s just not how it is. And, for many of us, will never be how it is. It’s just life in this day and age of careers, callings, and desires drawing people to live in places all over the country. And all over the world.

And so we have joyful holiday reunions and tearful good-byes. And we thank the Lord for bringing us together again and ask Him if He would bless us with another visit again next year.

And then things settle back down to our normal routine again and we have to be satisfied with e-mails, texting, and Skype. It’s just how it is.

No spiritual lesson here today. Just a mother’s heart that was sad to say good-bye. Again. Do we ever get used to this?

 

One of our attempts at a family photo over the holidays…

p.s. Did you make it through the 2015 Bible Challenge? If so, visit my growing4life Facebook page and let me know!

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

And a Merry Christmas Message

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So many of us consider ourselves pretty good Christians. We don’t drink in excess, we don’t steal from our bosses or cheat on our taxes. We have been faithful to our spouses and we go to church almost every Sunday. All good things.

But there is nothing like a week full of family get-togethers to remind us of our sinful natures. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in our profession of Christianity.

As families go, I am pretty blessed. But in every family we have the potential of run-ins and relationship problems because we all are different– we have different priorities and we have differing views on religion and politics. We don’t raise our kids the same way. And we don’t feel passionate about the same things. Some of us tend to be very loud and boisterous and others of us are quiet and reserved. All this means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. How that plays out is not the same in every family.

Some families have loud debates or even arguments. Other families are full of sarcastic remarks that infuse every family gathering. In some families, it is just a cold, unbreakable tension that lies underneath all that goes on during their times together.

Hurtful remarks. Sarcastic comments. Cold shoulders.

They can all add up to a real lack of peace among family members.

And I am here to encourage you not to be part of any of it.

As Christians dedicated to growing in holiness each and every day, let’s be the ones that bring peace and unity to the family.

What does this look like in practical terms?

These thoughts came to my mind this morning before I started my Bible reading this morning. A few minutes later I read this in I Peter 3—

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

These verses give us such clear instructions on how to relate to others—practical and helpful as we face a week of family get-togethers and parties with friends.

We are to be of one mind. This is what Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about this sameness of mind that we are to have with other believers—

Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5 ), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word.

This unity can only be experienced with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not be able to be unified with unbelievers, as we are categorically in opposition as we journey towards two opposite goals.

However, even if we can’t be unified with unbelieving family members, we can certainly practice being compassionate, tender-hearted, and courteous, can’t we? We can practice returning good for evil. We can choose to bless, rather than to choose revenge.

Revenge is such an ugly word, but in everyday life it can be very tempting to exact. It’s not always something dreadful but can instead be how we choose respond to a person–making sarcastic remarks  or ignoring them, as we seethe in our souls.

Every day offers us opportunities to live out I Peter 3:8-10. But there are few times each year that offer us so many opportunities to practice this than during the Christmas season–a time that taxes even the closest of families.

May we be the ones that bring a breath of fresh air to our family gatherings. Let’s be the ones that offer abundant grace and blessing, no matter how hurtful the remark or how unkind the deed. It may not be easy, but we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. Let’s walk in the Spirit and choose to show loving-kindness with a joyful heart this holiday season!

**On a different note**
I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for joining me on my journey to grow in Christ this past year. I count it as a privilege and a blessing that you would use some of your precious time to read my posts. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

What We Don’t Regret

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Yesterday we celebrated our oldest daughter’s 25th birthday. That means that my husband and I have been parents for a quarter of a century now– which is almost half of our lives. Now that our kids are grown (or almost grown), we can look back on our parenting with much clearer vision. Hindsight is always 20/20, after all.

And we find that there are a few choices and decisions we made that we would make all over again. Here is a list of eleven things we don’t regret doing with our kids–

      1.    We don’t regret the hours that we chose to spend playing games or reading stories, turning our backs on those incessant daily tasks sometimes.
      2.    We don’t regret standing firm about what the kids were allowed to watch, wear, listen to, read, and play. This was especially hard and was done amidst many cries of “but my friends are allowed to…”
      3.    We don’t regret the many conversations around the dinner table talking about God, His Word, and what being a Christian really means.
      4.    We don’t regret the time our kids spent with their grandparents. They have provided incredible support to our family and the relationships that were built with our kids are priceless.
      5.    We don’t regret being flexible with bedtimes and mealtimes. This not only taught our kids to be flexible, but provided evening hours to snuggle and play games with Daddy during those long years when he was building a business.
      6.    We don’t regret having Daddy lead bedtime devotions. This gave me a much needed break after a long day and Daddy precious time with his children.
      7.    We don’t regret pulling our kids from travel soccer and other sports when they threatened to take over our priority of going to church on Sundays.
      8.    We don’t regret homeschooling. In fact, that is probably the one thing I miss the most– homeschooling my elementary children. Even now, I can get a little misty-eyed about it. What an incredible joy and privilege that was.
      9.    We don’t regret taking our kids to the Bible for any and all issues they faced. This taught them to live by God’s Word and not by what we said. It taught them that they are accountable to God for their choices.
      10.    We don’t regret hugging our kids–even our teenagers– when they were really angry with us. While we are the kind of family that hugs a lot, we found out that teenagers can be awkward to hug. But we kept right on hugging through all of the turmoil and hard times. Some days it was quite difficult but we are sure glad we did it anyway.
      11.    We don’t regret the evenings and weekends away that were spent building our marriage. Sometimes it was just thirty minutes of conversation snatched after the kids were in bed as we tried to stay in touch in some of those very busy years. Our children needed unified parents and we needed to keep our marriage relationship strong during the hectic years of growing a family.

While we don’t regret these eleven things, there are so very many things we do regret. We failed in so many ways and often we can see the fruits of those failures in the struggles of our kids. We will often notice one or two of the kids following my bad example in one way and others following my husband’s bad example. We were (and still are) so far from perfect and find ourselves acutely aware of it.

And yet, most days I stand back in absolute amazement at the faithfulness of God to our family. How incredibly gracious and kind of Him to fill in the gaps of our weaknesses and watch over the hearts of our kids so that each one has chosen to follow Him. We feel incredibly blessed.

And then to be doubly-blessed, He brought new sons and a daughter into our family through marriage that also love Him.

And, now, life brings a triple blessing. For we are going to be grandparents! Our oldest daughter and her husband are expecting in the spring. Eric and I are so very excited about having little ones around again. We have both loved parenting — all of it. We have loved the baby and toddler years, the elementary years, and the teen-aged years. Okay– we didn’t love the middle school years, but it wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be. And we are loving this time, as well, as we learn to know our kids as adults and are finally able to develop friendships with them. And now to welcome a grandchild into our family and to start that phase of life where our kids experience the wonder of being parents– oh, what joy it will be!

I know I have said it before, but I just have to say it again– if you are a young parent, please treasure every moment that you can. Focus on the eternal and on the stuff that matters. Life is just so short and before you know it, you will be exactly where I am — expecting a first grandchild!

 

Middle-Aged Marriage: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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If anyone would have told me how hard this time of my life would be I don’t think I would have believed them. I was not prepared for the changes and the emotions that would encompass this time. Kids leave our homes to start their own adventures, our bodies do crazy things to us, and life is filled with doubts, regrets, and disappointment as we reflect on past choices or wonder about the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys”. Life-changing events during middle-age– college, ill or elderly parents, weddings, grandchildren, kids moving away–often come at us quickly and unrelentingly, bringing ever-constant change. All of this can be very hard on a marriage. And it can be pretty ugly.

My husband and I used to wonder how couples could stay together for 25 or 30 years and then divorce when the kids left the house. But now that we are here, it makes a lot more sense. There are a lot of emotions surrounding this time of life for both husband and wife. If you go into it without a solid base of devotion to God and friendship with each other, it will prove extra challenging and sometimes impossible. Some marriages survive it and some don’t.

Today my husband, Eric, and I celebrate 27 years of marriage. In some ways it feels like just yesterday that we said our vows and drove off in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (anyone remember those?) but, in other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. I’d like to tell you that with age, marriage has grown easy and that we are coasting in to the finish line. But that would be a lie.We both married sinners and so we continue to strive to work together. Some times are easier and some times are harder. These past couple of years would probably fit under “harder” for us.

This is why I am so thankful that I married a guy who has continued to be my best friend through all of the ups and downs. Let me assure you–our story is no fairytale. There have been serious struggles. But through it all, God has shown Himself so faithful.

Since it is our anniversary, I can’t help but reflect on why my husband and I are still such good friends even in the midst of this all. I think one of the main reasons is that he isn’t too proud to say he is sorry. I also love that he is willing to work at our marriage and will plan romantic things or read books just for me, even though his heart isn’t in them. I am glad he hates discord and won’t let more than an hour go by without talking if we are in a disagreement. And I am thankful for a husband who desires to please God with his life and who desires to obey His Word.

I am not sure why God led me to this man, but I am certainly glad He did. And I’m glad that God has walked with us every step of the way–through the dark times and through the good times.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. There are many times that we are so frustrated with each other we could scream. My husband isn’t even close to perfect, so don’t go comparing your husband to mine. No, instead, think right now of the good things your husband brings to your marriage. Unless you are married to a complete loser, you know there are some. The same thing goes for you men– remember the good things about your wives. Oh, how important it is at any stage of marriage to always remember why we fell in love!

And just a brief side note here: If you are a mom still in the middle of laundry and soccer games and homework and diapers, I want to encourage you to keep working at your marriage. Don’t let the kids steal your heart. Always remember that you have a man who still needs you. Because some day, all too soon, you will find yourself with only him. Make sure he is not a stranger.

Some of you have been reading this blog for a while now and you have been walking with me through this new stage of life. Many of you have been there and have offered encouragement. Or you are there and can relate to what I write. Thank you for that.

The good news is that I think I am starting to see some of the benefits to this upcoming stage of  marriage. We are able to go out for dinner without finding a babysitter. We can sit and talk uninterrupted. There is a whole lot less chaos and stress in our home. And, of course, we have a little more extra money with only one teenager in our house instead of four! And, so, I think once things settle down here, we will become used to our new normal and we will find ourselves even more deeply in love.

Until then, I would just like to say Happy 27th Anniversary to my wonderful husband. He reads this blog faithfully to support me (another thing I appreciate!) so I know he will see this. I love you, Eric, and if I could choose, I’d marry you all over again.