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.

 

 

What My Gingerbread House Taught Me About Social Media

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Our culture has an obsession with pictures. In fact, most of the younger generation has abandoned Facebook for more photo-based apps like Instagram and Snapchat.  There is no denying that we live in a world that is dominated by photos.

Photos demanding we look better.

Photos demanding we have more stuff.

Photos telling us our homes aren’t enough. Our parenting skills are lacking. Our creativity is wanting.

Photos crying out that we just aren’t enough.

This has led to a culture of perpetual dissatisfaction and restlessness. If we aren’t careful, even those of us who are older can get caught up in this. We see warm family photos on Facebook and we think to ourselves–I wish I had that. We see teens winning awards, homes that should be in a magazine, and the creative projects of our talented friends and we think–if only…

But photos don’t show the whole story. They never show the whole story.

Which I learned in a big way the other night.

One of our daughters planned a family gingerbread house contest. Building gingerbread houses has been part of our Christmas family traditions for years now but this is the first time we had a contest. We took photos of the houses and put them on Facebook and let Facebook viewers choose the winner.

My husband and I were a team and I was excited because he is a master gingerbread house builder! As you may already know, he is a landscape designer so he has a great eye for design. Unfortunately for me, he had also had very little sleep the night before and had been out for a snow/ice event the whole day. The timing was not going to be helping us to clinch a win!

We started out pretty well. He was manning the icing bag and I was holding the graham crackers in place. It was going pretty well until we got to the roof. Just as we carefully placed the last cracker in its designated spot, the whole thing caved in. It was around that time that our grandson started to fuss in his high chair, so I decided to take on baby duty, confidently leaving the building of the house in the hands of my very capable husband.

A few minutes later, I came back to find my husband decorating half of a house!

I found out that he had tried twice more and the house just kept collapsing. Now on a different day– with a little more sleep and without a cute baby grandson begging his attention nearby–my husband would have kept trying. But on this night, he gave up. I handed the baby to him (which is exactly what he wanted!) and told him I’d finish decorating.

Then it was time to take the photos for Facebook. We moved our house to just the right angle and ended up with this–

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What the carefully taken photo didn’t show was this–

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So, we had an adequate house for our contest photo (can’t say it is our best work, by any means) but what no one could see was that it was completely unfinished in the back!

Oh, how this is the same for so much of what we see in our photo-driven world. How much we don’t see!

The model’s desperate battle with anorexia.

The movie star’s drug addiction.

The neighbor-down-the-street’s marriage issues.

The rebellious son’s antics of our picture-perfect church friend.

Social Media is a wonderful tool. It keeps us in touch with each other and we are able to cry and laugh and rejoice with one another. But sometimes the photos we see creep into our soul and give us a deep longing for something more. We start believing that God hasn’t give us enough and there is this illusive “perfect” life waiting for us out there somewhere.

Don’t be fooled! Not only is this untrue, believing this lie can potentially ruin marriages, families, and churches.

Scripture shows us that God is intentionally designing and directing our lives (Proverbs 16:9; Psalm 139:16), and it also shows us that it is God’s will that we be content with the life He has given us (Hebrews 13:5; I Timothy 6:6).

This can be a challenge for us in a world that is a swirling, writhing mass of discontentment.

If this is something you struggle with (like I do!), may I recommend the book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. It is an old book so it isn’t easy to read, but it is full of profound wisdom in this area of contentment.

I hope that our gingerbread house incident hasn’t only reminded me of the inadequacy of a photo but that it has also reminded you. I hope that we are all encouraged to consider this area of contentment in our lives as we view the world around us–particularly social media. Choosing contentment when everyone else around us is in a constant state of complaining dissatisfaction is truly one way we can really stand out as believers in Jesus Christ.

With Acceptance Comes Peace

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When you get to be my age, sometimes you look back over your past and you realize just how much you have changed in certain areas. Oh, in many ways, I am still the person I was but–praise God!– in so many ways I am not.

Sometimes it seems that all we hear about the Christian life is brokenness and imperfectness and how that unites us all. And, yes, we are all broken. I actually prefer the term sinful. It’s what we are and it is how we are born. But there is some victory over the years in the life of a servant of God who truly desires to obey the Word of God. I’d like to share one of those small victories with you today. I am not sure I was even aware of it until a conversation took place a few weeks ago.

This person was not happy with their circumstances. They kept reminding me of how unfair it all was and questioning why life wasn’t going a bit more according to their plan.

As I listened, vague memories of my own dissatisfaction with my life circumstances came to my mind. I remembered feeling much the same way about my life situation when I was a young wife with a houseful of small children and a workaholic husband. If you remember, we were building a business. And businesses take hours and hours and hours. My husband has never worked less than 55 hours a week. Many times it was more. (It probably still is). And, of course, in the beginning years, there was little money to show for it. It was a lot of hours for little reward.

I could feel myself growing slightly resentful. I’d hear of things other husbands were doing and how they were able to help their wives and I’d think to myself: That’s just not fair.

But somewhere in that time of my life when I could have grown bitter and resentful over this, the Lord opened my eyes to a wonderful truth–

With acceptance comes peace.

This particular phrase was coined by Elisabeth Elliot. I am using it because it is the simplest, most profound way to say what I learned.

My life was my life. I was not changing my husband. I knew enough to know that. So I could choose to be joyful in my circumstances or I could choose to be a miserable grump. The choice was all mine. And the ramifications of that choice would ripple out across my family.

As I understood this more fully, I came to understand that the only thing I could change was me. Was I so arrogant as to believe that I somehow I had it all together? Did I think my husband had it so easy to be married to me?

Yes, as the Lord opened my eyes to accepting my circumstances, he also opened my eyes to my own bad attitudes, unkind words, and impatience. And it was not a pretty sight.

As I started climbing out of the pit that complaining and dissatisfaction had kept me in, I started realizing just how good I had it. Sure, my husband worked long hours but he loved his family. He was there for the kids whenever he possibly could be, making it to more games and events of theirs than most dads who don’t work those same hours. We had winters together–a few quiet months each year to catch our breath and regroup as a family.

As I started to focus on the positive and not the negative, our family life changed. As I started focusing on fixing myself instead of fixing my husband, our marriage changed.

Oh, I’d like to say I never experienced defeat in this area again, but, of course, life isn’t like that. But remembering that accepting my circumstances is the key to peace (and joy, too) in my life has helped me navigate many an unfair circumstance in my life. That lesson I learned as a young mom has helped me through many difficult times.

Let’s face it–we could all have a reason to be dissatisfied with our lot in life in one way or another. And if the thing we struggle with could be fixed tomorrow, we’d find something else to be unhappy about. It is the very nature of our humanity. We actually have to work against our selfish nature to rise above it and reach acceptance.

Now, let me just add this one thing–

Acceptance is not the same thing as resignation.

Accepting our circumstances does not mean we resign ourselves to the fact that our circumstances will never change. We still pray and ask the Lord to convict those who need to change. We ask Him to turn hearts to Him or to work in an area of our life or someone else’s life that needs changed. Oh, how we neglect the power of God to change people when we don’t get on our knees with diligence and perseverance.

But while we wait for God to work, we have to accept His timing and His sovereignty in the situation and work on our own selves–humbly recognizing our own sinfulness and need for growth.

Yes, this can all be extremely difficult, but the sweet and abundant fruit we yield when we do so is so much different than the bitter, ugly fruit we yield when we don’t.

And, so, there is some victory in the life of a believer truly dedicated to God and His Word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is so true, isn’t it? —

 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Word of God will change us–but only if we spend time studying it with a humble and yielded heart.

 

Pressing Through the Storm

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Raising kids is hard. Really hard if you want to do it right. It means saying no when everyone else says yes. It means setting boundaries, being consistent, and setting a godly example in all areas of life–at least giving it our best effort and then resting in the knowledge that God will make up for our weaknesses. It requires much prayer and lots of time in The Word.

Being an influence for good in the workplace is hard. It’s really hard if you want to not only be a good influence, but a godly one. It means forsaking popularity. It means that you may be teased, harassed, and targeted. It requires lovingly telling the truth when no one wants to hear it. And standing apart from the crowd, being lonely, and loving difficult people.

How about being a godly spouse? Or a blessing to your church family?

These are things we know are God’s will. We are supposed to be godly parents and spouses. We are supposed to be working for God’s glory in our church family and in our workplaces. But sometimes it’s just downright hard. We try so hard to do the right thing but it doesn’t always work out like we hope. People don’t like us. Or they get in the way of the good things we are trying to accomplish. Sometimes very intentionally. We are hurt. We are attacked. We are afraid.

It is at this point that many–if not most–of us cave. The storm rages around us and we grow frightened. We lose any bit of courage we may have had and we tuck our tail and run.

We go into hiding in our workplaces, staying quiet as a mouse when the subject of God comes up. We laugh at the dirty jokes and gossip by the water cooler. Anything to keep from standing out.

We stay at the fringes of the church family. Never really knowing anyone. Or offering to help in any ministry. It’s just easier and much less painful.

We become ineffective (or even negative influences) in our homes. We let our screaming toddlers and rebellious teenagers do whatever they want. We give up on our spouses and we stop praying for them. We become tired and hopeless.

But yesterday, as I read Ezra 4 for our G4L Bible Challenge, I realized anew the importance of pressing on through the storms of life. When the Jews were sent back to rebuild the temple, there was a group of people who plagued them constantly. They tried to discourage them, to frustrate them, to keep them from building (Ezra 4:4-5). And, yet, they kept on plugging away. At one point, they were required to stop working because of a letter filled with lies that this group sent to the King. But they didn’t give up hope. And, sure enough, they were back working at the temple years later.

God wanted that temple re-built, and so it was going to be re-built.

No man can stand in God’s way.

But that was then. And this is now. Those were God’s chosen people living that story and we are Americans living a world away and thousands of years later. If we don’t need to build a temple for God then what does God want for our lives? What is His will for us?

Perhaps we are supposed to be temple-building, as well–

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.(I Corinthians 6:19-20)

Our body is a temple– the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Our calling as believers is to keep our temples pure and holy, obeying and glorifying God. We are to be confessing and eradicating sin. We are to live apart from the world and shine as bright lights of hope.

Building our temple is giving our whole-hearted efforts to our roles as spouses and parents. It’s building up the church and being a godly example at work. As we build our temple, it will change every area of our lives.

When we grow scared or angry, we have to keep working on our temple. We weather through powerful storms with scripture study and prayer. We do this for the sake of our marriages, our kids, our churches, and for the lost who live and work beside us. We can’t become ensnared in human drama and give up. Like the Jews in Ezra, we need to keep building, placing one brick at a time until, one day as our eyes close in death, we can see the temple we have built before us– A lifetime of service to the one, true God!

Sure, we may be given a mandatory pause due to illness or some other unforeseen circumstance but then we get back at it again. And if it’s in our control, then let’s not pause for too long. Because when we stop using our muscles we atrophy. Our bodies grow weak and useless. And because kids don’t wait. Before you know it, they have grown and there is no more time for Bible memory verses or family devotions. And because people die and move away. And tomorrow, that co-worker may no longer be there.

We need to keep our eyes on the goal and let the rest go. Just let it go. The storm may howl around us. The winds may blow. But, through it all, we keep building, remembering what’s important–

To know God and to make Him known.

 

 

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.

 

Ironing for Jesus

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The other day, as we prepared for yet another wedding, I watched my brother and sister-in-law. They efficiently and diligently did every task asked of them without complaint or attitude. I have seen them do this before. Since they never complain and no job is too small or “beneath” them, they are wonderful to have around! While we have had so many helpful relatives and friends give us a hand these past few weeks, on this particular day there were just a few of us and I watched my brother and his wife closely. As they quietly worked, much got done and there was no drama. They willingly and gladly did anything necessary to help. By the end of the day, I was convicted.

On the way home that day, I asked the Lord to help me be more like them. I told him that I wanted to stop complaining when a task is boring or hard. Or when I’d rather be doing something else.

Little did I know that God would present me with a situation that would test my earnest prayer the very next day.

We had tablecloths to iron. Lots of tablecloths to iron. Somehow I ended up at an iron (probably because no one else wanted to do it!) But these weren’t just any tablecloths. These things were so difficult to iron. There was no feeling of accomplishment even when I’d spend 15 minutes on one tablecloth. I am convinced that many of the wrinkles in these rented cloths were permanently in place.

This made for a pretty discouraging task. For a variety of reasons–

It was hot.

It was boring.

And there was no possible way to do it well.

As I watched everyone having all the fun of decorating the venue, I stood at the ironing board, dutifully doing my “mom” thing but not with a very good attitude. I was bummed and started complaining inside my head. And then the complaints started spilling out of my mouth.

And that’s when the Holy Spirit challenged me.

Did you really mean what you prayed yesterday? Because this is a test.

No, I didn’t hear the words. But I was convicted.

I made a choice to stop complaining in that instant. What did it matter? Why not spare someone else from having to do this awful job and let others have the fun? The only reason I even cared was because I was thinking only of me. If this was my job, then I would do it cheerfully. I went to work and, instead of being resentful about missing out on all of the fun, I put on some uplifting music and chose to enjoy watching all of the activity.

Thankfully, God was so kind to me and provided my mom to help me with the ironing a little later on. But not before I learned a good lesson. Sometimes we don’t get to do the fun job or the job we think we should. Instead we are asked to do the job that we don’t want to do. The one that perhaps we think we are too good for. And that’s when our true character shows, isn’t it? That’s when we see who we really are inside. Because anyone can be pleasant and diligent when they are doing what they want to do.

Thankfully, the Lord hasn’t given up on me yet and so, while this could have ended up as one of my many spiritual failures, in this particular instance I made a choice, through the nudging of the Holy Spirit, to respond correctly and started ironing for Jesus.

One of my favorite verse came to mind while I did so–

Colossians 3:23-24  And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

Are you doing your mundane or hated tasks with a joyful heart and pleasant attitude? If not, I encourage you to, this day, think through your attitude. For it is here that Satan can so easily ensnare us. We Christians don’t always view our bad attitudes as sinful, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are sinful.

Let’s improve our characters by making the conscientious choice to smile in the boring tasks. To praise God through the difficult demands. And to be humble when asked to do something we think is beneath us. For in doing so, the light of our Lord and Savior will shine ever so brightly through us!

 

The Thing Anger Never Accomplishes

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Anger is just one of those things we justify, isn’t it? We can come up with so many different reasons why we should be “allowed” to be angry. Such as–

Someone said something unkind

Our spouse didn’t meet our expectations

Someone isn’t giving us something we want

Our co-worker isn’t carrying their load

Our kids are too noisy or too defiant or too annoying

The line is soooooo long

We are cut off on the highway

Our phone quit working

We spilled coffee on our laptop

The dog chewed a hole in the carpet

There are over a million reasons that we Christians will use to rationalize our angry outbursts or our seething, simmering, cold silences.

As in —pretend they aren’t sinful. Pretend they aren’t our fault. Pretend that we aren’t to blame for our anger. We convince ourselves that it is someone else’s fault. It is certainly not ours.

When we do this, we do feel better, don’t we? At least on the surface. This requires no repentance. No work on our part to change. No guilt.

The past few weeks we have been reading in Proverbs in our Bible Challenge. There is so much wisdom in this book of the Bible that I have found myself liberally highlighting many of the verses there. But the verses on anger may have been especially appropriate for me with this read-through. Let me tell you why–

Recently, I have fallen prey to this dangerous anger game. I would be irritated or frustrated and instead of taking responsibility, found it easier just to blame it on someone else. Even as I write, I find myself a little reluctant to take full responsibility for my anger. After all, she did this…or he said that

And then my Sunday School teacher said something the other week that stopped me in my tracks. (Thank you, Morris!)–

Your anger will never accomplish anything for God’s righteous purposes.

I felt like he was speaking directly to me (and–if I’m honest– maybe to my husband, too!) We have had an interesting last few months. Interesting seems a good word, since I don’t want to complain. Most of what is happening is really good–some of what is happening is not so good, but, through it all, we are very aware that we are so blessed. But what all of these changes have led to is a whole lot of stress and intensity of feelings that is a bit outside our norm as a family.

My teacher’s words struck a chord deep within as I realized that I had been trying to use anger (it’s cold, punishing silence and the occasional unkind outbursts) to try to make things the way I want them to be. Or to fix something. Or to make someone feel guilty. Or to change someone’s mind.

There are many reasons to be angry and to act on that anger– but none of them are for God’s glory.

Anger can be a very effective tool. But there is always a way that we could do it better and more effectively. Anger is never the best way. Sure, we may be able to make our kids obey us by screaming at them, but if we train them to only respond when our voice reaches a certain pitch, then they will continue in that same pattern with their own kids. How much wiser to keep our voices low and demand obedience immediately, with consistent consequences to follow.

And let me make something very clear– I am not saying that we did this right. I am here saying we didn’t do this right. Anger has always been a struggle for us in our family. We can see the fruits of it in our kids’ lives and we are sending them off into the world to fight their own battles with this sin. We could have done such a better job in this area. Oh, we never threw plates or shouted obscenities, but we did let many angry words fly over the years and for that I have great regret.

Especially when I think of it in light of the words of my teacher.

I remember someone talking about angry words years ago and comparing them to toothpaste– once they are squeezed out of the tube, you cannot put them back in. Our kids don’t forget the mean, hateful things we say in the heat of an argument or temper tantrum. Neither do our spouses and other family members. Self-control–that fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23–is very much in need when it comes to this sin of anger. For even if we are angry, we need to think first and confess before we act on it.

If we are human, we will have to admit that anger is as natural a feeling as being happy or sad. We humans, without exception, hate our plans being thwarted. Sure, some of us get worked up much more easily than others, but we all have our limit. We all have our threshold of when enough is enough. How that looks is different for all of us. Some of us are screamers. Some of us grow icy cold and quiet. Anger is a sin in both cases, although screamers tend to have more pieces to pick up after it’s all over. Some withhold conversation or physical touch in order to punish, others may yell and curse– or even occasionally throw something –but both reactions are sinful reactions.

There are a few sins that have become extremely accepted by the church — to the point that we rarely even discuss them anymore. I believe anger is one of them.

I have no idea today if you have fought this battle, are fighting this battle, or aren’t even convicted about this. You know where I’m at. I need prayer. These next few months promise to be so happy and exciting, but also stressful and demanding and, yes, even a little sad. I want to rise to the occasion and be a good testimony– I don’t want to flounder in my own wants and desires, demanding my own way. I want to remember that anger never accomplishes God’s righteous purposes!

I hope that you feel the same way. Here are some verses to get us started on our way to battling this sin.

Proverbs 16:32
Ephesians 4:26
Ephesians 4:31
Ephesians 6:4
Colossians 3:8
I Timothy 2:8
James 1:19
Galatians 5:16-26
Matthew 5:22

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Weekend Reflections

Weddings

Today’s post is not typical and there really isn’t going to be any spiritual lesson. Instead, I am going to try to encapsulate my emotions from this past weekend just a bit. We had my son’s wedding on Saturday (which you already know) and then we had my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary party on Sunday. S0, before we go any further, I will answer the question I know you are thinking– yes, I am a bit crazy to do that. That has already been established.

However, just so you know, my brother is from out-of-town and this just made the most sense. Plus we were able to use the wedding venue and the wedding centerpieces, so it came together pretty easily–especially when you have a sister-in-law and a daughter who should really go into party-planning as a business…

Now that we have my sanity (or lack thereof) established, we can move on to some of my impressions from the weekend.  As mentioned above already, this is certainly not my normal kind of post but I thought I would share this here because so many of us share the same emotions when it comes to our children and our parents. I’ll get back to my normal style on Thursday.

So, first, my impressions of Saturday–

I guess if you read my blog, you are already familiar with the fact that I have been on an emotional roller coaster regarding this wedding. Let me say first and very clearly, this roller coaster had nothing to do with my son’s choice of a bride. She is the perfect choice for him and we couldn’t be more thankful. The fact that her parents are some of our closest friends is a very special bonus. It’s the stuff in life you could never plan! I think, rather, that it was partly because it was my only son’s wedding and I knew he now would officially have another woman as his priority in life. Some of you will get what I’m saying and some of  you won’t. I also think it was because the reality of the empty nest is starting to set in now.

But, last Monday, I started to feel so much better. Over the course of the next few days, I had three or four dear, dear friends text or tell me in person that they were praying for me. I could feel their prayers holding me up and I had a great week last week. Prayer is an amazing thing.

And, this morning, I am okay. I am really exhausted but I’m okay. Although, I cannot lie–there is a big empty sadness that fills me when I think about my son’s room never being occupied by him again. It’s just so…strange.  No one ever tells you when your babies are little what it feels like to watch your birdies try their wings and fly off away into their own lives. I find myself wishing I didn’t feel so deeply. It makes it so much harder.

But we are so excited for our son–and for our two daughters– and their future lives. They have all grown up to be responsible adults who want to follow Jesus and have found spouses who want to do the same. What more could you ask as parents? While there may be some mourning over what was, I stand amazed (and also filled with a bit of relief if I think back to the question marks of the teen years!) when I look at my adult kids. They are not perfect kids and we are far-from-perfect parents. We take no credit. God is so good. And He is so faithful.

Which leads me to my impressions of Sunday–

As people started to file in to my parents’ party I saw many dear friends that I hadn’t seen for so many years. Memories of yesteryear filled my mind. And I had to think of how God uses certain people in our lives at certain times and then they leave the stage of our lives and we move on. It’s the nature of life. We move, we change jobs, we change churches, and we become disconnected. And it makes me thankful for two things–first, that we are graced with the presence of so many dear friends throughout our lives. People who have supported us and encouraged us just when we needed it. What an incredible blessing from God! And, second, for the really special friends that God gives us that hang around our entire lives. At the party were a few friends that my parents have remained close to through all of the changes in their lives. They have a special connection (I call it a “kindred spirit”) with my parents and have been with them through thick and thin. If we are fortunate enough to have just a few “kindred spirit” friends, we are beyond blessed. True friends are hard to come by. They are a treasure and should never be taken for granted.

And as we celebrated, the absence of several relatives was felt. But, for me it was the absence of my mother’s brother, Larry, that was felt most deeply. He has gone on to be with the Lord and life on earth–at least for this family–will never be the same. He is still so sorely missed. I know that all people are missed, but Larry was special. He was one of those uncles that you knew cared about you. That you could go to if you ever needed anything. And he made us laugh–oh, how he made us laugh. I know that life will never be the same without him.

I was also filled with such thankfulness as I thought about God’s sovereignty in putting me in this particular family as a tiny baby. Why me? Why was I so blessed to be put there? I have no answer for that. But I do have a very grateful heart.

And so this weekend was filled with emotion for me– the hope of the future and looking back to the past. It was a lot to take in. To say the least.

But I guess if there is any lesson to be had here, I would leave you with something my dad said when he shared a few words yesterday.  He said that before any children joined the family, he and mom had talked about the fact that nothing would ever be more important to them than that their children would come to know the Lord. That would always be the priority. My parents were not perfect, but that was always the priority. They held to their word.

They now have a son who is a preacher (and an amazing one at that!) and a daughter who writes about biblical principles. But their decision has also affected the lives of their grandchildren. For we, their children, have also made that the priority with our own children. And it is our prayer that our children will do the same.

If you have young children– or even if your kids are older– I encourage you to make the same priority in raising your kids. Nothing is more important. No sports trophies or academic accolades compare. No stage or glory or awards matter more than this one thing–that our kids love and serve Jesus.

Weaknesses and unkind words and unloving actions have abounded in my families. They were part of my life growing up and they are part of my life now. But if we keep the Lord our priority, he is so faithful. He is so faithful. He fills in the gaps of our weaknesses and honors our commitment to Him. It is truly hard to explain the joy and peace that fills a heart that lives for Him. Life isn’t perfect and there are hard times. But, through it all, it is well with my soul.

I know so many of you have experienced the same faithfulness. You have experienced God’s great love and grace for you. We don’t base our Christian walk on that experience (as is so common today) but, the experiences confirm what we know to be true from scripture. They confirm the promises we read in God’s Word. I leave you with just one of those promises–

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! (Psalm 34:8)