The Battle For Oneness

I’m just going to put this out there: The longevity of a marriage is not an indication of oneness.

sc0079bb1fMy parents-in-law divorced after 48 years of marriage. My sister-in-law and her husband separated and are heading toward divorce after 30 years of marriage. When people say they’ve been married for more than 20 years, we applaud them. But no matter how many years you are married, you have to work on oneness. It doesn’t come automatically with a ring and some vows.

Oneness means vulnerability and trust and truth and humility. It means caring about someone else’s needs before your own. It means sacrifice and teamwork. And love. Most of all, love.

My husband, David, and I will have been married 27 years on March 2nd. I think we have a really good marriage. But we definitely have room for improvement. There are things that I struggle with that I just can’t seem to overcome and he has areas that he wrestles with as well. Just last night we had to work through a situation of hurt feelings and misunderstanding. After 26 years! Sheesh, you’d think we’d have this down by now.

27 years at any job looks good on a resumé. But we’re definitely not experts yet.

But I don’t think that either one of us would say that we haven’t strengthened our oneness after 27 years.

Many years ago when our kids were still little, we went through marriage counseling to20120722-083057.jpg try and get a handle on some nagging issues. I had fought it for a long time, pridefully thinking that we could fix it ourselves. When I finally let God through, I gave the gift of agreement to my husband. It did a lot of good.

We still read books and go through daily devotionals on marriage. We talk to each other. We bring up issues, though it’s not comfortable and sometimes isn’t well received. We know that if we don’t keep these things in front of us, our oneness will be affected.

We are going in the same direction. We communicate. We try to remember to think the best of each other. We are on the same team. (I wrote a series a few years ago on how tandem biking mirrors marriage. Find the first in that series here.)

It makes a huge difference.

Once you stop thinking of your spouse as your partner and teammate, and start seeing them as the enemy, then you will be on a downward spiral that will lead you away from oneness.

Isolation is the enemy of oneness.

Anger is the enemy of oneness.

Unforgiveness is the enemy of oneness.

1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

85670316F046I realize that some marriages have been extremely hard. Perhaps there has been abuse or infidelity or addiction. The marriage covenant was broken a long time ago. I’m not suggesting by any means that anyone stay with an abuser.

Truth is, God is a God of redemption and reconciliation. The Trinity is the perfect model of oneness.

The best time to ensure that oneness grows in marriage is in the beginning.

And then do all you can to keep it going.

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Hands: A Guest Post Poem

My 15-year-old daughter, Morgan, is quite an incredible writer. I have posted essays of hers before (see this one from when she was 10, and this one from when she was 13). Once again, I share her work with you.

As I lie here in the new year, I reflect on my past, and as I do so, my eyes slowly fall to my hands.

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Morgan’s baby hand with Momma’s.

These hands, that have done so much. These hands that have helped build houses, and destroy them. These hands that have held both monstrous and precious things. These hands that have written poems and painted masterpieces (at least in my mind). These hands that have drawn stick figures of best friends in a park.

These hands have done so much. They have wiped away tears, caused comfort and hurt. They are both yin and yang as they fold together for prayer. The things they have done, the monuments they have touched.

You wouldn’t think it at first glance, but they are the most experienced part of our bodies. They have realized things that our brains did not record. They have felt things that our feet could not reach. They have done things that the rest of our body could never deem possible.

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Morgan’s hand, 4th grade

These hands that have broken objects, and fixed them. These hands that can carry a gun in one hand and a child in another. These hands that are so complex, they require more bones than the rest of our body. These hands that so often go unnoticed, yet hold the most fascinating stories. These hands that have seen sorrows, hardships, joys, and triumphs.

Hands that have helped me climb mountains and explore caverns. Hands that have helped me beat a punching bag and hold a small kitten. These hands that hold so many memories and trials.

These hands are God’s. He holds them as you lift them for praise. He holds them as you raise fists in the air, as you ask Him why? He holds them as you cry. He holds them as you laugh. Because like your hands, He is always there by your side no matter what it is you are going through.

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Morgan’s hands hold a sleeping Linus.

Because like your hands, He is with you through hardships and successes. Because like your hands, He will help you build what needs to be built in your life, and tear down the walls that you had so foolishly built.

God holds the whole world, but He also holds your hands. He places his hands on your face as you melt into His presence. Take a look at your hands, and wonder what stories they hold, and how God has been with you, every step of the way.

I Am Ezer, Hear Me Roar

I began to realize this summer as I had a chance to read some non-fiction books I had never had a chance to read before, that I tend to just accept things that I hear preached or that I read from well-known Christian leaders.

IMG_0708Even though I’ve been told to test things against Scripture, I was lazy. And that’s a dangerous thing to be when it comes to understanding Scripture.

One of the things I didn’t realize was what the word “ezer” really means. In many versions of the Bible it’s translated “helper.” I accepted that. Women are meant to be helpers to men.

Then, I read those books. The Blue Parakeet, The Resignation of Eve, and Half the Church.

Oh, my.

Did you know that “ezer” actually should be translated “power” and “strength”?

Wow. That’s a bit different than the “helper” I’ve been taught to believe.

“Ezer Kenegdo” are the words used in Genesis. According to many scholars, it should more accurately be translated “warrior,” “one who comes to save you.” It was a name used for God.

I am not a biblical scholar. I know I have a lot to learn. But this is big.

There’s a ton being said these days about inappropriate actions of men toward women. IMG_4559We have seen many men of power taken down by the testimony of women with whom they acted inappropriately.

I’m thinking it quite possibly has to do with how women were viewed by men as lower, less than, second-class citizens. Why else would men think they can treat women the way so many have? What has given them the idea that they could get away with that?

The 18-year-old daughter of one of my best friends just told about an incident on a bus where an older man, possibly under chemical influence, made an hour-long bus ride miserable for her as he spoke inappropriately, touched her hair and scared her to the point where she didn’t want to speak up.

Oh, if I had been there, he would have been very sorry.

What made him think that was OK? What tools does she need to never have to be in that position again?

I’ll tell you what I think: society has told them that it’s OK. For years, upon years, upon years women have been used as servants, slaves, “helpers.” Not warriors. Not equals. Not ezers.

But we’re beginning to see the repercussions of that, aren’t we?

I’ve been blessed to have a husband who sees me as an equal. We are partners. He doesn’t expect me to serve him; I do it because I love him. And he serves me, as Christ served the Church.

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I never knew until this summer that there is an organization called “Christians for Biblical Equality.”

I never heard the terms “complementarian” and “egalitarian.” Where in the world was I living? Under a rock?

I’m not talking about radical feminism. I’m talking about equality, which is at the heart of feminism. I’m not talking about taking men down a notch or two, which is what some think feminism really is; I’m talking about lifting women up to their rightful place: having a voice.

I am ezer. Hear me roar.

*I linked the 3 books I mentioned to Amazon, but you can find them also at CBD or Barnes and Noble. I highly recommend them. I borrowed the ones I read, but I’m probably going to buy them myself so I can highlight and make notes and refresh my memory. They’re that good.

I Accept You As You Are

I accept the fact that I’m never going to be an Olympic Athlete.

I don’t like it, but I accept it.

103_0372I accept the fact that my sons will never play Major League Baseball. I always hoped they would continue their baseball careers after Little League, but they just didn’t want to continue. I wish they had, but they just didn’t want to.

I accepted the package the UPS man handed to me. It was addressed to me, and I had ordered it, so I took it and claimed it as mine.

I accepted the change the cashier at the grocery store gave me. It was due me and he was handing it to me, so I accepted it.

We use the term “accepted” in many different arenas these days, and I think there might be a misconception about what it means.

Acceptance does not mean that you agree with everything a person does; but it does mean that you love them for who they are. I can say that I accept my husband the way he is, but if I see something in his life that needs addressing, I am going to bring it up.

I heard a wonderful message years and years ago by one of my favorite pastors, Chuck Swindoll. He titled the message “Love, Sweet Love.” At one point he listed the ABCs of love: I Accept you as you are, I Believe that you are valuable; I Care when you hurt; I Desire what is best for you; I Erase all wrongs.

Now, it has been a really long time since I listened to this message, but even without it right before me, I’m thinking I have those right.

What everyone wants to feel is that they are accepted and that they are valuable. But if IMG_7277someone is participating in a behavior that I don’t think is healthy, I am not going to accept the behavior, but I AM going to accept them. It is they who are valuable, not their behavior.

I think many times we equate the behavior with the person. My kids would get mad at one of their siblings and say, “He’s so mean!” I would say, “No, he is not mean. What he did was not kind, and could even be called mean, but he is not mean. He just did something that was unkind.”

I didn’t want the behavior to define the person.

Labels of any kind can be dangerous for people. The beauty queen, the smart one, the loser, the one we can count on, the one we worry about. These can define a person; but they are not who that person is at their very core.

But it’s much easier to stick a label on someone than to spend time getting to know who they really are. Does the child who struggles in school deserve to be labeled as “slow” or “dumb”? Does the person with amazing athletic talent deserve to be labeled as a jock? Is that performance or behavior going to define them for the rest of their lives?

I accept you as you are, and I believe that you are valuable.

fullsizeoutput_96f7You are too valuable to be accepted solely on the virtue of your behavior or your performance. Those things can change over the years. When I am no longer able to throw a football downfield to a receiver or run a mile in record-breaking time, that label of “athlete” becomes useless to me.

Acceptance means that I see you for who you really are. I believe you have value because you are an image bearer of God.

That’s a label that never changes.

Rest

Rest

A few days ago I wrote a post about relaxation on my Facebook author page and how that isn’t the same thing as rest. On Sunday I was sitting in my family room watching football, which can be relaxing, if your team wasn’t in the process of losing mostly because they gave up 4 turnovers.

Sigh

But I digress. It was a relaxing afternoon, but I must admit, that my mind was still running and therefore I’m not sure I was really experiencing rest.

Jesus said, “Come to Me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

He’s not saying, “I’ll give you a break for a little while so you can catch your breath.” He’s talking about true rest, where our burdens are not our burdens anymore. We have laid them on the deep, strong shoulders of Jesus, and He takes them. Forever.

Sunday is called a day of rest, but in this time, there is still a lot of controversy about that. Some people say you can’t do any work at all. You can’t mow your lawn, you can’t do your laundry, you can’t cook.

Some take it to mean you shouldn’t go shopping or out to eat, because then you’re making someone else work.

I think I can make dinner and be totally at rest because my mind is stayed on Him.

Or I can be sitting and reading a book and be burdened by things that are not mine to carry, and be very much not at rest.

So rest for me means a lifestyle. Sabbath rest means I am trusting in Jesus to always carry my burdens. I am fixing my eyes on Him. I am filling my mind with praise music and talking about Him with those I spend time with.

This is not just on Sundays.

I can’t go to church and not do all those things that people say I should not do on Sundays, and then turn around on Monday morning with a knot in my stomach because of all the cares I am hauling around.

Some versions of the Bible use “rest” when they’re talking about death. Maybe that can look like dying to yourself over those things you want to carry but shouldn’t. Maybe that’s taking an analogy too far, but it makes sense.

Rest. Don’t pick up that thing that’s not yours to carry. Don’t take on that task that’s not yours to do. Don’t worry about that situation over which you have no control.

IMG_3895Psalm 62:1: “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.”

 

A Flag, a Nation, and What it Means to Show Respect

OuterbridgesRecently, a close friend of mine experienced something that appalled me and caused me to rethink the meaning of respect.

My friend Collin is a young, tall, good-looking man of color. He is married to Stacey, a petite, lovely white woman. Unimposing, articulate and well educated, Collin is currently pursuing his Ph.D. He is the father of 4; 3 biological children and 1 adopted son who is white.

Recently, Stacey shared an incident that happened when their family went to a restaurant they frequent. Their toddler, being, well, a toddler, was having a meltdown before their food arrived because he was hungry. In order to stave off further screams, Stacey asked Collin to go to the counter and get a cookie.

chocolate chip cookie

Collin didn’t have cash with him, so he pulled out his credit card to buy the $1.50 treat. The cashier asked for his i.d. He didn’t have his i.d. with him. It was in the car and it was pouring rain. The cashier proceeded to tell him that she would not sell him the cookie.

Thankfully, their food arrived shortly thereafter, so further meltdown was avoided. But Stacey wasn’t done.

Fully believing that she would not experience the same thing if she went to the cashier and attempted to purchase the cookie, Stacey, with Collin’s credit card in hand, approached the counter where the same cashier waited on her. She was able to buy the cookie with no problem.

But there would be a problem for that cashier as Stacey asked to speak to the manager.

To her credit, the manager was appalled and apologized profusely and said that was not the way they did business. But Collin and Stacey simply chalk this up as another example of experiences they have way too often.

Something needs to change.

So when I saw that Major League baseball player Bruce Maxwell took a knee during the National Anthem in Saturday’s Oakland Athletics game against the Texas Rangers, I saw his side. When NBC noted it on their Facebook page, I commented that one can love one’sbruce_maxwell_national_anthem country while not agreeing with everything they do. I actually thought Maxwell’s stance was very respectful. He had his hand and his cap over his heart and he was looking at the flag. He wasn’t disrespecting it in any way. He was acknowledging and bringing attention to the fact that things need to change. Click the link above and listen to his short statement. It’s very thoughtful.

Of course, by making my thoughts known in a pubic forum, I opened myself up to the haters. Although more than 100 people liked my comment, there were several who labeled me as “liberal” and “sick.”  Which is totally laughable if you know me at all.

I love my country, but by no stretch of the imagination do I believe that everything going on is right and good. We’re always asking our famous people to use their platforms for good, so why, when some of them do, are they then vilified?

Blind nationalism isn’t loyalty. I have been married to my husband for more than 26 years. I’m loyal to him and I love him with all my heart, but I’m not ignorant enough to think that he has no faults. I wouldn’t be much of a wife if I didn’t encourage him to be the best version of himself that he can be. Does that mean I don’t respect him?

I want America to be the best version of herself that she can be. Does systemic racism need to be rooted out and destroyed? Do people need to be made aware of their prejudices and educated about how to rise above them? Do we all need to be more willing to lean in and listen to people’s stories?

Yes, to all of the above. That is what respect looks like. It’s not about a country and a flag. It’s about people and how they are treated by others.

light-in-darknessIn just my one little comment on Facebook, I became a target for haters to label me. It doesn’t feel good, but I know that they are speaking out of ignorance. Will I condescend to name calling myself? No. I will pray for them, because Jesus alone can bring light where there is darkness. And He has tasked us with shining that light ourselves. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16, New International Version, emphasis mine).

I will let my little light shine.

 

photo of the Outerbridge family courtesy of Stacey Outerbridge; cookies from bettycrocker.com; Bruce Maxwell from complex.com; candle from friendsofjustice.wordpress.com

Hurricane Irma and the Storms of Life

IrmaIt’s Atlantic hurricane season, in case you didn’t know. We all watched the devastation in Houston. We read the reports, we saw the pictures. What a tragedy!

What I didn’t know until the other day was that this disastrous flooding had been predicted in the Houston area for a very long time. (See this article in the Dallas News about a report that was basically filed away and forgotten about this issue.) But because of politics or ecological concerns or the astronomical cost of fixing things, the harbingers of danger were ignored by the local government.

And now the cost of clean up and rebuilding is likely to exceed that cost by billions of dollars.

Today, we wait for Hurricane Irma to come across our area of Florida. Irma has us in her sights and we are being warned to not ignore the advice of our county and state officials. We’ve known this massive storm has been coming for days. We’ve known we are in the “cone of uncertainty.” We watch, we prepare, we wait. When the storm hits, hopefully we’ll be ready.

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Watching Hurricane Charley in 2004

2017 has been a very stormy year for our family, and they have been storms that we had no idea were coming. We didn’t have emotional doppler radar scanning out weeks and months in advance, warning us that we’re going to be hit. Wouldn’t that be nice? Maybe then we could be ready.

But the fact is, life doesn’t work that way, so we need to be prepared for life’s storms even when things are going well.

Am I anchored on the Word of God? Do I know who God is? Do I trust Him to be good and loving and merciful?

“Through every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” These words were penned by Edward Mote back in the early 1800s. That means we have to have an anchor, number 1, and we have to keep it deployed, number 2. Sometimes I see kids riding bicycles with their helmets hanging from the handlebars. Dude, that helmet won’t do you any good there. An anchor held by a person or a job or money will not save us in a storm.

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Bent but not broken. A pine tree in a nearby neighborhood after Hurricane Charley came through in 2004

If our anchor is not held by our strong and mighty God, we will be tossed by those stormy gales.

In preparation for Hurricane Irma, we are taking down loose fence panels, trimming dead wood from nearby trees, picking up everything that is not tied down in our yard. What’s not anchored becomes a potential projectile.

It’s easy to find those fly-away objects in a yard; it’s not so easy in a life. What might look stable could end up being the very thing that overwhelms you.

We are also filling containers with water and eating any perishable foods that might not survive an extended power outage. These are all normal preparations when you know a storm is coming.

Feeding from God’s Word, drinking from the Living Water on a daily basis helps prepare our hearts for whatever storms might come.

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Morgan and Sunny stand by the only loss our home suffered from Hurricane Charley in 2004.

So, do we just live in constant fear of future upheaval? No, that doesn’t show faith. But being prepared for the inevitable helps.

Ground yourself in God’s Word.

Listen to wise counsel.

Ask for help when you need it.

Ride out the storm in community. In other words, make sure you have good friends praying for you.

When Irma rushes by us in all her fury this weekend, we will rest in the assurance that we have done all we can to prepare. And then we trust in Jesus, that beautiful, solid Rock, for the results.

Enjoy this old Benny Hester version of the hymn containing the words mentioned above.