Saturday, June 27, 2015

Love Wins

My social media feed is filled with Confederate flags and multi-colored banners with "PRIDE" written from end to end.  It's overflowing with terrorists acts and people being murdered on the beaches of Tunisia and beheadings in France. And it is exploding with my Christian brother's and sister's posts of outrage and anger. 

So, this post is merely a gentle reminder to all those who believe, as I believe, that God is on His throne and Christ stands at His right hand pleading with the Father on our behalf:

God has purposed the generations from end to end, since time began.  He makes no mistakes.

THIS is the world we are to SERVE.  The one just as it is right now. I'll say it again:  God planted us HERE, exactly.  We are to SERVE this world.

Jesus tells us clearly that there WILL be troubles.  But, He also says with equal clarity that He has overcome the world.

He HAS overcome it.  Not that he will, but that He has overcome. Currently.  Present time.  Right now.

We are to serve and love and share the Gospel.  We aren't to worry if people will hear it or respond or like us. That's not our job. The Holy Spirit is really good at what He does and He's got this.

We are to stand firm in our faith, but be gentle and kind. 

We are to forgive and love and serve.

We are not called to serve only those who are kind to us or those who believe as we believe or those that we like. Actually, Jesus is pretty clear that those kinds of people aren't His and aren't following His heart.  Those kinds of people are just like the world, not different from the world, as we're called to be.

"For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?"  Mathew 5:46

We are to love God with all our hearts and all our minds and all our souls, with all the strength that WE have and then to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Period.

Side note:  He never, not once, said that would be easy.  As a matter of fact, Jesus said,

“I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33   Basically, this is going to be tough, but you can do the hard things because I have paved the way. I HAVE overcome the world.  Now go, tell the world. 

And this:

"If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you."  John 15:18

We are planted exactly where we're supposed to be and we're called to love. It's hard and it's sometimes humbling.  (more often than not, actually)  But, while we were STILL sinners, Christ died for us.  Not when we finally got our junk together or when we were good enough or when we eventually dropped all that sin that was weighing us down, but WHILE we were STILL sinners, He died for us.  

How can we possibly do any less, even knowing that some will never hear us or be kind to us in return?  

Last week, Elisabeth Elliot passed away and man was she a walking example of knowing she was planted where she was supposed to be and loving those that were unlovable to her! 

The very people who murdered her husband were the people she served. She loved them FIRST.  Their salvation followed as she told them about Christ, but most important, as she LIVED out the love of Christ.  Those she served were cannibals. They ate her husband after they murdered him. Literally. I cannot fathom it.

 If you've never read about Mrs. Elliot, please do.  Her life was one of suffering and obedience and love.  

Her life reminds me that I am not called to love the lovable and easy.  Her life stands as a reminder of who I can become if my focus is on Jesus and Him alone.  Mrs. Elliot wasn't supernatural.  She loved Jesus and believed Him and His Word.  She BELIEVED.  

She didn't come to them with harsh words and retribution for murdering the man she loved.  She came to that tribe of lost people and loved them as her Father Loved. She loved them. She knew that they could not love as she loved because they did not know the very One who IS Love.

 I am reminded by Mrs. Elliot and, more importantly, the Word of God that this world isn't surprising God or wiping God from it's pages.  This world is following the exact path God foresaw and knew and He loved it anyway.  My thanks for that cannot be expressed on this little corner of the blogosphere because He loved me right in my sin, too.  

I want to remember and know that my light can only shine when it reflects His love.  

"But I say to you, love your enemies and bless the one who curses you, and do what is beautiful to the one who hates you, and pray over those who take you by force and persecute you."

We either believe Him or we don't.  We either obey Him or we follow the world.  We either trust Him or we don't.  There is no gray or middle ground.  Stand firm in Love.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Plank of Racism

I've been blessed to travel many parts of the world, but I've lived my entire life in the state of South Carolina.  It's a beautiful state with both rolling mountains and a beautiful coastline. We have magnolia trees, backyard gardens and, usually, the opportunity to celebrate all four seasons. 

Fireflies, pecan pies, sweet tea and homemade biscuits covered in sausage gravy are common here. The beauty of comfort food and hot Southern days cannot be overstated and those from the South know this truth. I'd remind those that question this to remember no one retires and moves up North.

I live a little over four hours from the Atlantic Ocean and hardly an hour from the mountains of Asheville, NC.  I can be in Atlanta in three hours and Charlotte in a barely more than an hour.

And then there's Charleston.  It's almost exactly three hours from my home and I've been there more than a hand full of times. There's fabulous food, incredible architecture, winding rivers and easy access to the ocean. The lyrical drawl unique to the South is fully realized in Charleston.

And there's history. Charleston's history includes horrific stories of racism and hate. That history now includes nine people being shot during their Bible study at a historically black church by a white man who claimed that black people were "stealing our women and taking over our country and it has to stop." White women take note because he was talking about you and me. 

I'm ashamed to say I couldn't have imagined this truth.  It's truth because it happened.  I'm ashamed to say that I quite probably would have argued with someone who said that that kind of racism still lived in my home state. Even with the history SC has, I'd have still argued. 

A white supremacist. That's what he was. Someone who believes that the white race is superior to all others and that white people deserve to rule over other races. Read that again. 

This young man BELIEVED that as truth and he's not the only one out there. That feels surreal to me but it's not a fantasy and it can't just be ignored.

And over the last few days, I've gotten real with myself, because if we're not going to be real with ourselves, how can any of this ever change?  Don't we want it to change?

I've watched people on my Facebook defend a flag that means nothing to me and, let's be real, nothing to them, either.

I've watched people bring up terrorism and Islam or any number of things to avoid talking about the white supremacist and what it all really means and how we all play a part. 

I've seen others post about those families open forgiveness to a man who murdered their family in cold blood for no other reason than because they were black.  For no other reason than because they were not white. 

I've watched people post beautiful tributes showing more than 10,000 people of all colors marching together in unity across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Charleston . I've seen people post the faces of those nine precious souls who were shot in cold blood and I've read their stories. I've listened to Pastor Pinckney on Youtube and grieved that he's no longer here and thought long and hard on Father's Day about children who's Daddy wasn't there to celebrate. 

But, there's still more truth to tell.  There's still a log in our own eye. 

I've watched people defend and offend and do anything but just tell the damn truth.  Make no mistake, telling the truth is hard. It's so hard that God Himself had to tell us, "Thou shalt NOT lie." 

I grew up in the South and I've heard the "N" word my entire life.  I've heard it in my home growing up and through out my school years.  I heard a pastor use it once and I've never forgotten it. 

 I've heard the undertones of people not brave enough, or honest enough, to own their racism outright. I've heard the undertones of racism by people who truly had no idea that the things they were saying were racist.

I've seen people whisper behind the backs of interracial couples and I've seen them openly look down on interracial children. (I actually didn't let that go, but did I say enough? I don't think so.)

I've watched a drug addicted, non-working member of my own family go on and on about the low-down black people (he didn't say black, either) on welfare.  (while HE was collecting a welfare check and drawing food stamps because he'd used drugs often enough to fry his brain and his health).  I had to leave the room, but I didn't say a word. And I'm ashamed of that. 

I've heard racist jokes and seen racism first hand.  I've heard people say, "I'm not racist, but..." about nine thousand four hundred and sixty times and they truly didn't realize that "not being racist, but..." IS racist.  Period.

And still, I was utterly shocked that a white man walked into a pre-dominantly black church and murdered people for being black.  

It has to stop. We have to tell the truth.  We have to stop pretending we're not racists if we even listen to racist jokes, because we are. We are part of the problem as long we allow that to be said in front of us.

We have to stand up or walk away every single time someone pretends that someone's color makes them less than a human being. 

We have to stop listening when someone says they wouldn't want their child to marry someone of a different color.  We have to say to them, "Then you're a racist. Do you think your child is better than theirs?"

Because every single time we don't choose to stop racism, what we're doing is saying it's perfectly OK.  That's uncomfortable, but it's true. 

When we choose silence, we're creating an environment where men like Dylann Roof grow up and believe, truly believe, that somehow his being born white makes him superior. We like to think that the little racists things in our own lives don't birth the kind of racism that Roof displayed when he gunned down nine people in their church. We're wrong. 

It makes men like Roof think that murdering nine human beings is OK.  I know that because he killed them.  He murdered those nine people and believed what he was doing was the right thing to do. He sat with those people for over an hour and listened to them pray and worship and read their Bibles and still stood up and murdered them. 

He told the police he almost didn't go through with it because they were so nice. How can that not make your heart bleed?  They were nice to him. They welcomed Dylann Roof into their church and treated him with kindness. But still...they were black.

He BELIEVED that being white made him superior.  He learned that. He was taught that as truth by someone, somewhere.  

We, who grew up with quiet racism, like to tell ourselves that having parents who used the "N" word or grandparents who did, aren't really part of the problem.  We're more comfortable pointing out the low-hanging pants or the slang talking youth and saying "They're" the problem. 

And yet, Jesus said, "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."  We have a beam in our eye.  We have a generational beam in our eye that we absolutely refuse to own.

We're not comfortable admitting that young men in hoodies make us uncomfortable because....why?  I live here and not once has a young black man ever so much as laid his hands on me in anger and yet I've heard over and over to be careful. To be wary.  It's racism.  Flat out. 

I can't do anything about black on black crime in Chicago and neither can anyone else in my sphere of influence.  I can't do anything about all those statistics that people who can't seem to own their quiet racism post every single time systemic racism comes up in the news. 

What I CAN do is say that for me...for my house...we're going to tell the truth and we're going to try and change. I want to know absolutely that the things I can do are being done because people are dying and hurting and anger and hate is winning.  

Nine people were murdered in my home state FOR BEING BLACK and I'm horrified.  I'm sad.  I'm sickened.  I'm awake. 

Jesus also said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

I want to live that. I want to own THAT.  

How can I love my neighbor in the same way that I love myself?  

The first thing I can do is to tell the truth.  It'll begin to set us ALL free. 

The morning after this terrorist act, I sat in a doctor's office across from a black woman listening to the news on her phone.  It was just loud enough to hear and when she looked up at me...I couldn't look away. 

I started to cry.  I sat in that damn doctor's office and cried. I hate to cry.

And do you know what?  She hugged me. She didn't hate to cry. 

We sat in the waiting room with our arms around each other and we cried while others looked on. We cried for lives that were senselessly lost but I knew....I KNEW....even with her arms around me, that I couldn't understand what it felt like to be afraid that I could be shot for no other reason than the color of my skin.  I'd never truly thought of life in those terms.  I understood that fear was real for her.  SHE could have been shot for no other reason than the color of her skin by Dylann Roof even though he'd have walked by me without a glance because I was white.

That's real.  That has to change and it starts with MY skin color.  It starts with every white person with racism buried deep within our lives, quietly sitting there, to admit it and own it. 

It starts when white people stop whipping up Chicago statistics because we don't want to talk about that time we said "I'm not racist, but..." or the time we laughed at Uncle Bobby's racist story or the time we didn't stop our friends from using the "N" word.

Sin and repentance is hard business. I believe that sin is a condition and repentance is humbling and racism is sin.  

Racism killed nine people in Charleston because they weren't white.  Can we tell the truth?  Can we pull the log from our own eyes and love?  

I pray so.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

Losing My Religion

I'm tired of religion. I'm even more tired of religious people. 

The Pharisees were religious. They were the only people Jesus couldn't reach when his sandals met this dusty Earth. Man, did they tick Jesus off!  And Jesus really ticked them off, too!

The Pharisees are perfect examples of religious people being "right" and still being wrong. The Pharisees were more concerned with being right than they were the people they were trying to reach.  

The Pharisees would leave a hungry man on the side of the road if they thought he was wrong enough. 

The Pharisees taught about God, but they didn't love Him. 

They're the perfect example of religious people believing they are doing good things while sitting in their glass houses and missing God as He walks right up and talks with them.  (Literally)    

....Please God, don't let me miss you. Ever...Please.... 

I'm tired of religious people arguing about things that Jesus didn't argue about or care about or didn't really even seem to notice very much. I know those people because I used to be one of them. 

I'm tired of religion being in the news.  

I'm tired of people expecting the government to spread the Gospel because they're too busy to do it, or too lazy. 

Something about all that fatigue is opening my eyes to something I'm not tired of, though: 

The Cross and Jesus. 

The fuzzier religion gets, the clearer Jesus gets. He gets more lovely and more gracious. 

The farther away I get from religion, the closer I get to the voice that says to me:  "Do not be afraid."  "Love your neighbor as you love yourself".  

The farther I get from religion, the closer I get to the voice that consistently said, "I am willing", even when no one else was. 

The cross is divisive, isn't it?  It's not pretty and sweet, with nice little hymns playing in the background and civilized little cups of grape juice being passed around. 

 The cross causes us to change if we've ever stopped long enough to look at it and see God hanging there in our place.  We either feel humility and repentance call our name or anger and hate and disbelief.  

Some try to explain it away or work really hard to deserve it. God says we are to allow God to bleed out for us and gasp His last breath in our place and accept a gift we simply are not worthy of receiving.  

Religion spends a good bit of time telling people that Sunday from 10am till noon and, possibly, from 6pm till 8:30pm the Holy Spirit will show up at so and so address. Show up. It'll be a fun time!  And God weeps.

Jesus showed up every day of the week, at all hours of the day and night to love on people and serve them and listen to them.  He still does that, even if you haven't stepped foot in a building with a steeple in decades. 

Jesus showed up on the doorsteps of sinners.  He showed up where they were. 

God busted out of meeting in a box more than 2000 years ago when He nailed Himself to a cross so we'd have a chance at redemption.

Religion spends entirely too much time and money on new programs and equipment and fancy pews and fancy buses with graphically designed slogans on the side and big screen TV's and sound systems when all they really need is Jesus and grace.  

When what we all need is nothing more than Jesus and grace. Amazing, sweet grace...

Smaller churches spend a lot of time trying to catch up to the big churches and big churches spend millions to stay big.  I mean, they're reaching people, right?  

I suppose some do, but then the cycle starts over and something is missing in most religious places. It's missing. It's missing because church isn't a building.  It's missing because religion is not Jesus.

I'm tired of religion. 

I want Jesus. 

I want to tell people about Jesus. 

I want them to know that sin is a condition. 

Sin isn't just things that we do, like lying and lusting and cheating and pride. Sin is a condition.  We want what we want when we want it and we'll tell ourselves anything to think we're better than "that guy" or "that girl".  

All of us.  We tell ourselves whatever we need to tell ourselves to avoid the truth that we need Jesus and that is all. That. Is. All.

God doesn't quantify sin, either.  Humans do that.  Lying and pride and gossip are equal to lust and adultery and murder.  Sin is a condition. We all are suffering from that condition equally.

Religion will try it's best to tell you that one is worse than the other because religion has nothing to do with Jesus.  Religion has nothing to do with truth.  

Truth, by its very definition, is exclusive, by the way. 

The compelling truth of the cross will attract all kinds of cynics.  I have no interest in arguing with them.  

The compelling truth of the cross will attract all kinds of mockery and scorn.  I'm OK with that. It's tough and humbling to truly see the hard truth that we aren't in control of our own destiny.  It's hard to stop and look at our own lives and recognize that we are not in control. Of anything. 

Oh, yes....we can make choices or go right or go left, but we have no control of where those choices lead or how they turn out.  If we did, we'd all be blissfully happy all the time with no worries and every choice we'd ever made would have lead us right back to happy and wealthy and healthy and whole.  But, they didn't, because we aren't in control.  And that's a humbling thing. So, bring on the mockery and scorn. 

The cross holds the greatest claim in history and that claim wasn't this:  Religion and rules and laws will save you! God did that first to SHOW you those things didn't work.  Ever. Those things make your sin heavy and real so you know you can't bear it.  You can't bury it. 

You can't live through sin.

The cross holds the greatest claim in history that is THIS:

The greatest claim in history is that God died with your sins strapped around his neck. He died. All the way.  

But, death could not claim Him. He rose. He slew death like a boss.  

The sinLESS wrapped Himself in the sinFUL and He OVERCAME.  

He threw off sin and shame and found joy because He loves His creation. He loves His creation just like it is right now.  

He DIED for His creation just like it is right now.  We aren't surprising Him!  And still...while we were sinners, He loved us.

And He rose. He extended His hand and said, "I love you. Now go and tell the world. It will be hard and it will be scary, but don't be afraid. I've got this. All you have to do is tell them and leave the rest to me."

Jesus said, don't be afraid.  I overcome the world. Now go. Tell them I love them and I'll be back.


...the same way that He loved me...

...the same way that He loved me...

...Do you know all the things I've done, Jesus? Do you know all the horrific things I've thought and said and done?...

...Yes, I do...Every. Single. One.

...And you love me all the way, anyway?...

...Yes...All the way...

The Pharisees talked a lot about being clean and pure and holy.  They talked a lot about laws and religious ceremony.  But, they had no concern for the heart of a person or loving people or showing mercy or grace. 

They were more concerned with the temple than the One the temple housed.

The most religious people of Jesus' day blocked the door to God Himself.  The writer of the Law, the Creator Himself, was not good enough for religious men.

Religion isn't about plays and meetings and even Bible studies with sweet groups of men and women.  It's not about us, at all. 

It's about the cross.  It's about grace and love. It's about accepting a gift and then sharing that priceless gift.

It's about Jesus.

And it's time we said so.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Truth About Marriage

After almost eighteen years of marriage, I've learned some things. Not all the things, but some things, and after watching a sweet, young couple in front of me in the check out line a few days ago, I think I'll share a few of those things in the hopes that other young couples may read this and hear.

The young couple appeared to be in their very early twenties and still had the doe-eyed look of young love and I wished in my heart-of-hearts that they would hold tight to that love and never let it go, even when the doe-eyed look fades...and it WILL fade.  

It's the nature of new love. Those first flushes of excitement wear off and suddenly the fact that she actually does fart and doesn't always spend an hour on her hair or that he occasionally leaves his underwear on the floor and doesn't particularly care if the grass is higher than his knees begins to grind the rose colored glasses down to the real.  The real is where the good stuff lives, though, even if the Harlequin romances and 72 day marriages of Hollywood tell a different tale.

So, here's the truth of what I've learned after loving the same man for almost two decades of for better and for worse:

1. Sex matters.  Sex matters a lot. Too often, though, women use sex as a weapon and men use sex as a measuring stick for love.  Too often the world tells us that sex is only about the physical and we believe the lie.

To the women:  Sex is not a tool to get your man to do what you want, when you want.  Sex is not a toy that you withhold like your man is a dog there to perform tricks or finally have sex "if he's good". I have zero friends who play this game because I can't tolerate this kind of woman. 

Sex isn't like those stupid novels make it out to be. (Thank God)  Sex isn't going to always be up to the man to initiate nor should it be.  He wants to feel wanted, too. 

And to the men: A woman doesn't owe you sex because you took out the trash or washed the car or for any other reason. Sex isn't a reward system by which you can determine if she loves you or not.  If you only do the things you should already be doing in the hopes that you'll get laid, then your wife, and you, deserve better.  

You should do the things you should be doing because you love your family. Sex will follow because her heart feels warm and soft toward her husband who happily cares for her and what's theirs. 

This is basic stuff, guys. If your girl feels cherished and loved and knows you value her, your sex life will increase exponentially but only if you do those things BECAUSE you love her, not because you want sex. (read that again, guys)

Sex is designed to create intimacy with your spouse in a way that you can not, and should not, have intimacy with anyone else on the planet.  And, if done correctly, sex not only feels good, but also conveys a level of trust and love that nothing else can imitate or replace. A man's needs are different than a woman's but with the right level of communication and trust, sex can become the bridge by which many other obstacles can be overcome in a long-term marriage.  

PS....After 20 years of marriage, I will also share with you that "the more you do it, the more you do it and the less you do it, the less you'll do it".  

Sex, like everything else, must have a place in your marriage.  You must prioritize being intimate with your spouse!  

And here's another secret not enough long-term married couples discuss, especially among Christians (which is wrong!!):  Sex with my husband is better NOW, after almost twenty years, than it ever was when we first married and he fully agrees. Sex gets better with time!!

2.  Communication may be the key, but HOW you communicate is everything else:  We've all heard the saying that communication is the key to a good relationship and I don't disagree. You must communicate with one another. However, I think there should be a blurb after that statement that says "And HOW you communicate may determine if your key works or not."

 Ever heard someone use a tone of voice that lets you know they actually mean the OPPOSITE of what they said?  Your tone of voice and inflection matters when you communicate. It matters even more when you're speaking to your husband or wife.  Why?  Because your spouse can push buttons no one else even knows exist. Your spouse can find buttons that YOU didn't even know exist. Amen?

The tone of voice and the way that my husband communicates with me (and vise versa) determines if we're going to ACTUALLY communicate or if we're going to go around and around and around until we're both just about ready to vomit...or stab each other.  Not in the face or anything. Just in the arm or something. (just kidding...mostly)

Wait until you can communicate in a tone of voice that matches what you want to say before saying anything, even if you have to say, "I REALLY need to speak with you about what happened, but we're going to have to wait for an hour or two because I simply can't do it rationally right now."  When you feel rational, talk it out, tell the TRUTH about how you feel and recognize that the entire point of arguing is to find a compromise you can BOTH live with. 

Here's an example of something that happened in my marriage to give you a visual:  My husband is a toucher. He likes to sit cuddled on the couch and is always rubbing my back as he passes or basically just touching me in some way. He's like a super toucher.

I'm not really that way. You know what?  I'm the opposite of that, actually. But, he NEEDS to be touched. It's his love language. 

After we'd been married a few years I noticed that he got quiet when I'd sit in the love seat and read while he sat on the couch and watched TV.  I'd learned his "pout" and that was it. 

When I asked him what was wrong he didn't shrug and say, "Nothing".  (Stop doing that if that's your idea of communication. You're lying and your spouse already knows something is wrong if they asked. They live with you. They KNOW when something isn't right.  If you don't want to talk right then, then say that.  But, stop saying "nothing" when there's something. You're making the problem worse.)

When I asked him what was wrong, he didn't begin the conversation by accusing me or being angry at me. That wouldn't have ended well for either of us. He just told me the absolute truth in a conversational tone of voice. (Tell. The. Truth.)

What he said was this: "I feel rejected right now." 

I was horrified. "WHAT?!"

He went on to explain that when I distanced myself from him in that way, he felt rejected. We didn't need to have some big psychological discussion about why he needs to be touched to feel loved. We didn't need to have some long lecture about why he needs ME to initiate that intimacy sometimes. 

The simple truth is this:  I NEVER want my husband to feel rejected by me and if a simple thing like sitting beside him on the couch makes him feel better, then that's what I'll do when I can.

Oddly enough, I not only learned to initiate snuggling together on the couch, but I enjoy it.  This wasn't some big life change or sacrifice I had to make.  This wasn't "the little woman" having to change myself for my man.  This was a wife who loves her husband being told that something as simple as sitting side by side on the couch made him feel loved and cared for and wanted. And I WANT him to feel loved and cared for and wanted, because he is. Period.

Find the compromise, then go have great sex.(I'm not even kidding here.)

3. Prioritize your marriage into the #1 spot on your list:  Marriages fall apart every single day because one spouse or the other places something above their marriage on their list of priorities.  Whether it's a job, or money, or other family members, or activities, or friends or whatever else matters to you, nothing comes before the person you're sharing your life with. 

This one is much harder than it sounds.  It's easy for an ambitious person to place their job into slot #1, all the while thinking...Just as soon as I get this promotion, I'll come home earlier. As a woman who not only home educates her children but is also a real estate broker believe me when I tell you this:  You won't. You'll come home earlier when your marriage matters to you. 

It's easy for a Mom to place her kids above her husband and all the while be thinking...I'll spend more time with my husband just as soon as the kids are a little older. You won't. You'll spend more time with him when you make him a priority.  

It's easy to say to yourself...My friends were here before my husband and I shouldn't just drop them for him.  No, you shouldn't, but when you made vows to your spouse, your friends are behind your spouse on the priority list and everyone in that circle should realize and honor that position.  

Friends are VERY important and I want to clarify that if your partner tries to guilt you out of having ANY friends, you have a problem, but your friends should never try to guilt trip you into spending more time with them than with your spouse. Those people are not your friends. Period. 

I love him.

PS on prioritizing:  Dear men who play video game for hours after work every day even after your wife has asked to spend time with you:  Please put them down. No woman wants to look over at a man child who has callused thumbs because he plays games all evening. Gross. Your wife should matter more than Zelda or Call of Duty or whatever pretend world you think is cool and if she doesn't, stop looking shocked when she has no interest in you.  WAY too many women out there are having to discuss this issue.  Honestly, I'm not sure how I would have dealt with this one. My man plays games with our kids on occasion, but other than that, he lives an adult male life.

4. Never Gossip About Your Husband, Mostly:  Never is a strong word, so I want to clarify.  I think every person needs someone who knows them well enough to be able to share the good, the bad and the ugly, apart from their spouse. (This someone should ALWAYS be the same sex, too! More on this later.) 

 I have two friends that I trust enough to vomit most of my ugly onto when I'm about to explode.  These friends know me well enough, and have known me long enough, to know how to pray with me, guide me and when to just listen and let me rant it all out.  I don't discuss my husband with anyone else. Ever. EVER! 

 I don't gossip about him, I don't tell his secrets and I don't bad mouth him. I am his confidant and he is mine. I love him. 

Sometimes we scrape each others nerves, but I love him all the way, all the time, with all of my heart.  My two female confidantes know this and have witnessed this and would never lead me AWAY from my spouse, but always point me back TOWARD my spouse. If you're sharing with friends who do anything other than that when you're having a difficult time (and you WILL have difficult times), then stop allowing those people into the inner circle of your heart.  They'll break it, and your marriage, eventually.

5. Married Individuals Should Not Have Private, Individual Friends of the Opposite Sex:   I know I'm going to get emails about this one, but go ahead...bring it.

Married men and women divorce every day because they "just wanted someone to talk to and she/he was there for me".  Or what about this one: "We started out as friends and, you know, she/he just really got me. They're my soul mate".  No, they aren't.  They're the person you gave your emotional intimacy to because you stopped giving it to your husband or wife. This happens entirely too often to ignore. 

Married men/women should not be consistently hanging around alone with someone of the opposite sex. The ONLY exception here is a business lunch/meeting that your spouse is fully aware is happening.

Human beings are designed to make connections and we should. However, it is way too easy to spill a hurting heart to someone of the opposite sex that we've always just viewed as "a friend" and form a false emotional bond that is based on secrecy and lies.  It's exciting and reminds us of the time when we were still in the doe-eyed faze with our spouse.  

This is not love. This is lust, infatuation and the rush of adrenaline everyone gets when someone we find attractive thinks we're attractive, too.  Don't buy it!!! Walk away!! They fart and leave their dirty underwear on the floor, too!!!  Love is NOT a feeling. It is a verb. Put love into action, and walk away from anyone of the opposite sex who distracts you from your spouse and the vows that you made to them. 

6.  Money:  Lots of divorces happen because of money. We all know this and yet we still fall into the trap.  You have to talk about money.  Say it with me:  You MUST talk about your money.  You must know where it is, who is spending what and why.  You have to have a plan with your money and follow the plan.  The. End.  I don't care if only one or both of you work. The money, by law and, hopefully, by heart, belongs to BOTH people in the marriage and you must discuss your money. 

If money is ripping away at your marriage, you need counseling.  You may not believe that, but it's true.  Money issues will destroy your marriage if they aren't dealt with properly.  There is no shame in asking for help. 

7.  Recognize that marriage is work:   Marriage is work. I know you've heard this but you need to hear it again. Marriage is WORK. There is sacrifice involved in marriage, but it's beautiful sacrifice.  There is nothing I've sacrificed that hasn't been returned to me three-fold. 

Marriage isn't a singles dance, but a partnership that only works when both sides do their part and honor their partner.

It's hard work that can sometimes drain you and make you wonder why in the world you stay.  I've been there.  My husband is an addict. He fell into a three year addiction almost seven years and four kids into our marriage.  I know what it feels like to want to leave your spouse, and their heart, writhing on the floor. Maybe even kick it a bit after its on the floor writhing...

But, I stayed and we worked. WE worked. (No marriage will work if BOTH people in the marriage aren't willing to work) 

We went to therapy, both separately and alone. We talked. We fought. We loved. We made love. We fought some more and we found out that love has never been, nor will it ever be, a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is a verb. And marriage is work. Beautiful, difficult, satisfying, life-altering work. 

Another PS here:  My husband put down his demons through hard work, therapy and faith. Period.  If he had continued to abuse drugs I would have left him. 

If he backslides, I will leave him. 

This is not information he doesn't know and I'm only putting it here for all those women and men out there who are in a relationship with an addict.  The addiction is THEIRS. Only THEY can defeat it. You must take care of yourself or you will NEVER take care of your marriage. 

8. And finally, this:  Love isn't perfect. Only Jesus is perfect. 

Your spouse isn't perfect and neither are you. Give yourself some grace, cut yourself and your partner some slack.  We're all learning and growing and trying to figure this thing out. You absolutely MUST show one another grace and forgiveness. Do unto others...

That is the real stuff, people. That's real, dirty, messy love, which, as it turns out, is pretty freakin' awesome. 

NONE OF THIS APPLIES IF YOU'RE IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP:  Because I know someone very closely who was in an abusive relationship I always feel compelled when I'm writing about marriage to include this statement:  You must leave if you or your children are being physically abused. 

You must get away from the relationship if you are being physically abused. 

Call the national domestic abuse hot line at : 1-800-799-7233.  They will help you and they will do it anonymously. 


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Praise for the Pain and Letting it Go!

Letting go is probably the hardest thing in the world for me to do. Letting go feels like I'm ripping off some vital organ and beating myself with it.  Who knows?  Maybe I was.

 I used to take the worst relationships in my life and cling to them like they were the last crack dealer on the entire planet and I was a hard core addict. 

Part of what makes it hard for me to let go of anything is flat out co-dependency, which I have in spades. Ask a codependent to fix something relationally broken and watch them break out into a cold sweat of pure longing while their broken interior voice whispers maliciously into their ear that if they fix it...then they will be loved.

Psychology says this is typically because co-dependents view others behaviors as a reflection of their self-worth.  In other words, if I can fix this, THEN you'll love me.  If I can be "good enough", THEN you'll love me.  If you can accept me, THEN I'll be good enough. This is not love. This has nothing to do with love.  This is the opposite of love.

 But, the other part that makes letting go of bad relationships very hard for me is that I've been listening to the world's idea of what I should be doing for a very, very long time.  I want my life to look like what it "should" look like.  I was taught that how things look matters.  A lot.

 I wanted my life to look like a beautiful rainbow of peace, fun, loud mouthed family meals and people who love me with the same rabid passion that I loved them. I wanted them to trust in my goodness and love as much as I trusted in theirs. 

When people that you trust and love don't trust in your goodness and love, then you begin to question if you have goodness and love in you. This is crippling. This will cost you thousands of dollars in therapy later in life. Trust me on that. 

 I want the people in my life to think the same happy thoughts for me that I think for them. I want them to include me in the same way that I include them.  This is dangerous territory.

Learning that you must let go of those relationships, possibly even the idea of those relationships, will free you and cause you intense pain. Intense pain that must be endured to heal and come out the other side more whole than you've ever been up to this point.

Alas, one of the reasons it's been so quiet around here is that I've been dealing with loss and I don't deal with loss very well.  Frankly, I suck at it. 

I don't want to lose anything. Ever. I want to WIN!  I want to win at everything all the time in every way that winning can happen, especially when it comes to loving someone and having them love me in return. 

But, here's the thing:  Winning relationally had a very specific pictorial set-up in my head. What my relationships "should" look like had blinded me from seeing how they actually WERE. This is dangerous territory and every therapist, even the bad ones, agree on that. 

Refusing to see the reality of the relationships in your life is dangerous territory, no matter who that relationship is with.

Life HAD to look like that picture in my head or I wasn't OK!!  I was happily willing to lie to myself about the health of a relationship if it meant the relationship wasn't over yet. 

So, I've had to re-learn what relational winning looks like because the way it looked in my head was entirely different than what was happening in my life and it caused me intense pain for a long, long time. Pain that opened the door for me to be abused and mistreated. The pain of staying in the relationship finally became more than the pain of losing the relationship.

God Himself says that if you do not honor the relational rules He has laid out as acceptable, then you may not enter His house.  He still loves and He still cares, but there are boundaries.

So, I took a step back. (the first step is ALWAYS the hardest, by the way)  Then recently, I took another step back.  And suddenly, the picture becomes more clear, more manageable.  More healthy.  More true.   

And I realized that I cannot love anyone if I am not loving myself.  Loving myself includes removing people from my life who are either incapable of loving me or unwilling to love me. 

It does not mean that I wish them ill-will.  It doesn't mean I don't care for them. It simply means that I am choosing to limit the access certain people can have in my life and into my heart.  It means that I am the boss of me and as an adult it is my responsibility to take care of myself.  

Once that decision was made in my heart, it was like the sun came out from a long, gray winter and spring was near. 
Not long now...

I realized that I am surrounded by love.  

My incredible husband and our four precious children. They love me.  They love me fully and allow me to love them fully.

My absolutely bombastic friends who are there for me in a "we're going to rise together" kind of way.

A cousin whom I love like a true sister and I know she loves me that way in return. We have been friends and soul sisters since we were children playing together at our grandmother's home more than 40 years ago. She knows me all the way down to my deepest heart and she still looks at me like I'm better than chocolate. 

That same cousins children, who are very much like my own. They make my heart actually sing they are such fabulous young people.

 My church family who seriously should win some kind of award for being the most awesome church family in the history of church families.  It's like the church family lottery up in here, people.

Some homeschooling mothers who are always, always encouraging and uplifting and inspiring to me. Every. Single. Time. 

Another cousin who models what a loving aunt truly is.  She brings me to tears with the genuine affection she consistency showers on her two nephews. She values them in much the same way she values her own two boys and it's positively a beautiful thing. 

I had been surrounded by real, true love all this time that I'd been chasing love from people who simply cannot love me right now.  I had been telling myself that it was all my fault that they did not love me.  It was my fault that they simply did not like me.  

And the truth is that maybe it is my fault.  Maybe who I really am is simply not the kind of person that they can love or like very much.  That's OK.

The harsher truth is that I don't like them very much, either. I had to learn that that was absolutely OK, too. 

 I love me. I like me. And I am surrounded by love.

I am surrounded by people who know me intimately and who allow me to love them with crazy passion and joy.  There is no fear involved in loving the people that I have chosen to allow into my life.  THAT is what love should look like.

Pain will always accompany letting go and loss, though. I think it should.  

Praise should accompany the pain.  Praise that we have loved someone. Praise that we still love them, even if it's from afar and the relationship is gone. 

And then the pain begins to lesson because love is forever, even when it isn't. 

This is Grace. This is still Love. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Books...All the Books

I love to read.  I would rather have books given to me than any other gift on the planet. They make me happy and, if I'm lucky, they make me wiser.  Here's a few of my favorite books that I think everyone should own and read more than once:

This was the first book that my therapist suggested that I read when I began therapy and of all the books I've ever read, this one has had the biggest impact on how I take care of myself relationally.  It's incredible. 
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No

This is the book I'm currently reading.  It's the most clearly thought out book I've read on The Beatitudes and has impacted my walk with Christ in a very real way.  I'm re-reading part of it before I've even finished the book. And all my book lover readers get that that says it's pure awesomeness.

The Sermon On The Mount  

If you do not own this devotional, buy it now. Click the link and buy it right now.  It is powerfully Spirit filled and I re-read it almost every single year.  Mine looks like it's been through the laundry.  Buy this if you don't click on another thing on this page!

My Utmost For His Highest 

If you're in a place where you've forgotten just how much in love with you God really is, then this is the book you need to read.  It reminds me again how crazy it is that God loves me so much that He'd die for me.  I cried about every other chapter.  But, they were the good kind of tears.  

Crazy Love

And if you're looking for some light fiction reading that makes you remember why you like fiction, then Odd is a good choice.  It's Dean Koontz's finest work, in my opinion.  I call these kinds of books, brain-dead reading. You won't get anything out of it but a good read. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Odd Thomas 

And this last book is one that I call a watermelon book. It's really, really good and holds great truths in it, BUT it also has some seeds that you have to spit out. After reading this one, my husband and I re-read it with our children one chapter at a time and then had discussion time. It was powerful family time that led to some beautiful words with our children that I may not have thought to have otherwise. 

So You Think You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore

Happy Reading!!!


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Looking For Purpose

Ever feel a need to have a defined ministry? Most Christians that I know seem to have that need. Almost every person, Christian or not, wants a defined purpose, a definitive compass that points them in a specific direction with a clear directive.  Can I admit that I don't know tons of people who seem to have perfected that ideal?  

Last year, there was a lot of transformation in my life and lots of change.  During that time, God really began to bring to light what His Word has to say about the ministries in my life and what those should look like. I think some of that had to do with the fact that I'm one of those people who really need to feel like I'm being purposeful. 

But then I began to notice that in God's Word there is rarely anyone running around looking for ministry or trying super hard to make "church" happen....except the Pharisees. 

The heros of the faith weren't searching out fifteen ways to serve or signing up for committees at their local church building. (I'd like to point out that they didn't spend 100's of thousands on a church building to house the lists, either.) I couldn't find a single instance in the Bible where there was a list in the kiosk to notate who wanted to do what or who was bringing what to the next get-together.  

Now, I'm not saying those lists in and of themselves are bad things. They aren't. What I'm suggesting is that maybe we're a little more churchy in our ministries than God intends for us to be. Maybe our ministries, our purpose, are the things God has placed right in front of our faces. Maybe we're so busy looking for ministries that we're missing the Christ opportunities that are right in front of us. 

So, I started praying and asking God to show me what ministries HE has for me. What is my purpose, Lord?  He answered me very clearly:

My ministry is the four lives He allowed me to bring into this world.  My purpose is the marriage covenant that I have entered into with my husband.  My purpose is to serve my family with joy and purpose and love.  

My ministry is to uplift the precious friends He's brought into my life over the last year.  It's to be real with them and encourage them in their walk and love them right where they are today, while encouraging them to love Jesus and always keep Him as their first love. 

My purpose is to pray.  Pray for my children, their future spouses (if they decide to marry) and my children's friends. I am to pray for my husband and lift him up before the Lord every single day.  I am to encourage my friend's in their marriages, with their families and with their prayer life. I am to serve each of these people with joy and humility.  I am to walk the path placed before me and make His Word a lamp at my feet to light the path and His voice the one I listen to when I choose to go left or to go right.

I am to pray for my church, its leaders and my church family. I am to open my home to these people and love them. I am to hear them in love and speak to them in love. God love, not people love.

My purpose is to open my eyes and my heart to the ministries that God has already placed all around me.  Like that hungry guy standing at the side of the road while I have a take-out bag filled with yummy left overs sitting right there on my leather passenger seat. 

"To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away."  Mathew 25:29

Noah was not a storm chaser, but built the ark as he was instructed.  

Moses did not seek to be a leader or the center of attention, but walked over to the burning bush that stood before him and waited for God to speak.  

Paul did not first seek to spread the Good News, he met Jesus on a road trip to Damascus. 

Peter, James and John were just running their family fishing businesses when Jesus showed up and said, "Hey, let me show you how to REALLY fish." 

David did not fight to become King, he watched his flock with diligence and asked God to create a pure heart within him. 

Mary lived her life quietly, in a teeny town that no one else paid much attention to, when the angel of the Lord brought her great news of her child, who was also God Himself. 

Our purpose is not to seek purpose. It is to open our eyes, see the ministries and blessings all around us, and submit to God. He'll do the rest.  If we do this, we'll find our ministries are plentiful and our boredom, our restless hearts, will settle and be full.

You already HAVE a purpose. You are created in the image of God and He doesn't mess up. You can trust that.

PS....this post is as much as "note-to-self" as anything else. I don't have much figured out, but I'm praying to know better, do better, be better.  I'm praying every day for eyes that can see and ears that can hear.  Amen.