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From Death, Life

IMG_3589This is my backyard. Looks good, doesn’t it? If you look closely, though, you can spot the imperfections. You can see the tracks the dog has made as he madly chases his thrown ball. You can see the weeds that have gone unpulled. And if you look closer still, you can see where some plants have just not made it, despite our attention.

Recently, I noticed several examples of places where we thought we had taken out a plant that was dead only to find, months later, that it is thriving again. This comes as a surprise to me, but it really shouldn’t, because it’s so much like God. He reminded me of that this morning.

First, around our pool enclosure we have rows of a pretty flowering bush called Ixora. We had a bad frost several years ago, and all those bushes suffered. Over the years the other bushes made a good comeback, but this little one never recovered. So my husband pulled it out.

Or so we thought.

Second, next to our koi pond, we had a little variegated plant called Stromanthe (at least I think that’s what it is). It grew and blossomed and did really well. For awhile. Then the leaves started turning brown. Though it was large and seemingly happy, something was not right in its little world, and it started to decline. I tried pruning it back, cutting away the dried brown leaves and trying to shape it up a little. But it didn’t respond to my touch. Eventually, we made the decision to pull it out and once again my husband did the deed.

Or so we thought.IMG_2048

Third, we had a beautiful avocado tree in our backyard tragically eaten by beetles. I wrote about that several years ago. You can read that story here. When we found a gnawed-upon fruit that the squirrels had discarded sprouted in the corner of the yard, we thought, well, what could it hurt? So we transplanted that tiny seedling into our front yard, watered it daily, kept an eye on it and hoped. You can read about that part of the story here.

And then something miraculous happened in all 3 cases. New life.

IMG_8106Our pulled-up Ixora is small but blossoming.

The seemingly dead Stromanthe is tiny but growing.

And that little avocado seedling is now a nearly 20-foot tall tree and has fruit of its own.

Amazing.

And the lesson here? Other than caring for, watching and hoping, we did nothing to cause the new growth. It was only and always in the hands of the Creator. Sometimes it took mere months to see the growth; sometimes, as in the case of the avocado, it took IMG_8077years.

In the letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7 ESV).

Do you have a child who is straying? Pray, love, care for, encourage, don’t give up hope. God is at work, whether they want to acknowledge it or not.

Given up on your marriage? As long as there is breath in your body, pray, nurture, and don’t give up hope. Oh, please, don’t give up hope.

Do you see only death around you? Death of dreams, of chances, of families? Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

IMG_8102Make no mistake, we have had other plants over the years that have, simply put, died. The uprooting was complete and they never came back to life.

Sometimes children never come back to the Lord. Sometimes marriages fail, despite our best efforts.

But God.

He is still working. Sometimes the new life and growth is in our wandering child or our wounded marriage. And sometimes it’s simply and profoundly in us.

 

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25 Years and Counting

4 weeks ago today, David and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. I know it’s cliché, but honestly, time has simply flown by. I was 29 when we got married (go ahead, do the math. I’ll wait.) I wasn’t a spring chicken, but that just meant I brought more maturity into the relationship, right?

We’ve come a long way on this journey, and we still have a long way to go, Lord willing, but here are some things I’ve learned along that journey.

You can run, but you cannot hide. Well, yes, you can hide, but then you won’t be known, nor will you know anyone fully. Hiding might make you feel IMG_5215better for awhile, but eventually you’ll need to come out of your shell. Coming out of hiding does make you vulnerable, and it’s not comfortable, but it’s so worth it to know that somebody knows you well. And loves you just the same.

You might not always know where you’re going, but if you’re walking together, you’re not lost.IMG_5222

We didn’t know when we got married that David would be diagnosed with a chronic illness. We didn’t know that we would struggle to have children. We didn’t know that we would suffer 3 miscarriages before and between our 3 beautiful kids.We didn’t know I would lose both of my parents within a year a half of each other. We didn’t know that David’s parents would divorce after 48 years of marriage. We didn’t know we’d need counseling to get our marriage back on the right path. But we walked it together. And that made all the difference.

The enemy of our souls doesn’t want us to succeed. When we IMG_5224attended a marriage conference after about a year of marriage, we heard a life-changing truth: your spouse is not your enemy. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But how often do we blame our spouse for our troubles, or take our frustration out on them, or think that they purposely do something to hurt or annoy us? David is not my enemy. In fact, he’s my greatest ally. It’s Satan who seeks to kill, steal and destroy. And he’s always looking for opportunity to do so. Don’t give him any ground.

Sometimes the directional signals are hard to find, but they’re always there. IMG_5223When life is just going along—you’re raising kids, working your job, living your life—it’s easy to forget to keep asking the Pathmaker where He wants you to go next. I recently was asked to step down from a position that I had filled for many years. It came as a surprise and wrecked me for awhile, but as I was thinking it through, it occurred to me that I had never once stopped to ask the Lord if He still wanted me to do what I was doing. I thought it was a foregone conclusion because I was good at what I did. But stopping to look around and find those arrows that will point us in the right direction is vital to not being taken aback when something happens to our neat little life. David and I have experienced a few of those changes in direction in our 25 years, but we always acknowledge that God is the one laying out the path before us.

Version 2

December 25, 1991, year 1

IMG_5218

December 23, 2015, year 25

photographs taken in the Chuluota Wilderness Area, Chuluota, Fla.

3 Things I Learned On The Day I Got Engaged

Today is the 25th anniversary of the day my husband asked me to marry him.

sc0079bb1fAs I reflect on that day, there are a few things that I might not have realized then, but that I’ve come to see as truths over the last 25 years.

1. Though I always wanted to have someone to love me best, little did I fully know that I already did. Though we loved each other and were excited about embarking on this new adventure, if David and I had any notion that we were the answer to each other’s emotional needs, we were going to be sadly disappointed. David is not the answer to that dream I had of having someone always know where I was and love me more than anyone else, though he does those things (except the knowing where I am part. Sometimes he forgets). Jesus already did that. I know, I know, He doesn’t play favorites, but the fact of the matter is, if I was the only one in need of salvation, He still would have died for me. That’s pretty spectacular.

2. That day was the beginning of a lifelong learning process. I’ve had friends who have struggled with the question: How can I be sure? I would venture to say that it’s not a matter of knowing that your marriage will be all wine and roses, but knowing that this person is someone you’re going to make the choice to stay with and love and support for the rest of your life. I’ve been married 24+ years, and there are still things I’m learning about my husband. And he’s not the same man I married, so I have to grow and learn and change right along with him. Thank God we’re not the same. How sad would that be, to not have grown and changed after 24 years?

3. Getting to be with my best friend every day is the best thing ever. We can look at each other now and see the gray in our engagement anniversaryhair and the extra pounds which we have to work really hard to keep off. We can look at our 3 kids and know that some day, it will be down to just the 2 of us again (and probably still a multitude of small animals, if he keeps agreeing to me having them) because time keeps marching on. But we still love to do things together. We still have to tell each other we’re sorry and to ask forgiveness. We still have to date and play and laugh together. And we still have to choose every single day to say yes, I’d marry you all over again.

Happy engagement anniversary, Hunny! Thanks for proposing 25 years ago.

You might enjoy previous posts I’ve written on this day last year and the year before.

No Perfect Parenting, part 2

Last week I mentioned a couple of articles on parenting that I had recently read. (See that post here). The author of the article on spoiling kids and I have agreed that everyone is entitled to their own decisions on how they parent. We also agreed that we can’t know everything about someone’s parenting style without knowing them personally and in depth so, with that in mind and with respect, here are some responses I have to some of the other things in her post:

I don’t think my kids learn to be generous because I give them things they haven’t earned, but because they see me giving to others who are in need. We support full-time missionaries as a family. We support friends who go on short-term mission trips. They’ve learned to set apart 10 percent of their allowance or work earnings every month and then choose a ministry they want to support with it. This summer, my boys are helping send a couple and a graduating high school senior from our church to Italy on a missions trip. They see me put dollars in the baseball helmet of the high-school team trying to raise money to purchase lights for their field. They see their father take a homeless man into a restaurant to buy him a meal. They see me buy gas for a woman who says her debit card was stolen and she needs to get to work.

Do I lavish affection on my kids? That was a lot easier to do when they were little. My teenage boys don’t really go for that so much anymore. But I hug them and tell them I love them often. Do I do things for them that they could do for themselves? Yes, on occasion. But I tell you what, my 11-year-old knows how to make her own bed, and her own meals, and do her own laundry.  If she needs clean clothes, she knows how to do it. But if I’m doing a load that needs more to be full, I’ll do hers with mine. And I help her fold stuff and put it away sometimes. None of my kids are going to leave my house without knowing how to keep something clean and keep themselves fed in a healthy manner (now, whether they pig out on Pop-Tarts once they’re on their own is a question for another day).

Do I make them the center of my universe? Absolutely not. They are an important, sweet, vital part of that universe. But Jesus is the center. And David comes next, no matter what. When they leave the nest, he’ll be the one staying here. And they know that. They complain every once in awhile that we always take each other’s side. Yep. Pretty much. But what they don’t know is that behind closed doors, we talk things out and occasionally win the other to another way of thinking. In our house, it’s usually about changing Dad’s mind about pets.

My kids are not allowed to speak unkindly to each other, they aren’t allowed to laugh if one of the others gets hurt. If they want something, they work for it. But that’s about stuff, that’s not about love. We don’t ever tell them they’re not good enough to get something. Yes, the harsh reality will come at them soon enough, but I’m certainly going to do my best to get them ready to face it while they’re still in the safety of my home. You break something that belongs to someone else? I still love you, but you’re paying to replace it. Or you receive grace from the owner, which I’ve seen happen more often than not. Not gonna happen in a store. You break it, you buy it. You didn’t win a game? You don’t get a trophy. I’ll tell you I love you and that I’m proud of your effort. But the winner gets the prize.

You want that new iPod? Better start looking for extra jobs to earn it. I’ll teach you how to do that, but I’m not doing it for you. The essentials I gladly provide as God gives us provision, but the extras are on you. God loves to lavish good things on His children, so ask Him to provide that which is the desire of your heart. Oftentimes, we find that our desires change as we seek to align them to God’s desires for us.

IMG_1112 - Version 2My bottom line is this: our children are very, very important. They are vulnerable, empty pots that will get filled with whatever comes along to fill them. Will it be Jesus or will it be the world? If I keep them filled up with the love and heart of Jesus, there won’t be room for anything else. I want to raise independent adults who know how to do things for themselves, and who rely on Jesus for every step they take.

How about you? In what ways do you help your kids be independent yet reliant on Jesus?

 

 

What You Can Learn From Parenthood

ParenthoodPretty much on a weekly basis, I cry over Parenthood. I’m not talking about the actual state of parenthood, I’m talking about the TV show “Parenthood.” I was drawn to the show because it’s about family, but I was also drawn to the show because it takes place in Berkeley, Calif., a place near and dear to my heart. I love seeing familiar places and hearing them talk about the sports teams.

There is much I don’t like about the show: I don’t like the immorality. I don’t like the fact that they take things like premarital sex, abortion and drug use so lightly. Commenters on their Facebook page will tell you that they’re handling things very delicately and all, and, as I mentioned in a previous post (Speaking My Language) I shouldn’t expect people who don’t follow Jesus to embrace the things that He embraces, but it still makes me sad.

But what I love about the show is that they make family important, they don’t make the men into idiots, the adult siblings have a really great relationship, and children are valued, talked to and actually parented, not the way I would parent, but in a loving, concerned, I’m-there-for-you manner nonetheless.

When one of the siblings goes through a separation, her adopted son calls her from his dad’s apartment where he and his sister are spending the weekend. Why? He had a bad dream. All he wants is to talk to his mom.

The teenage boy of one of the sisters gets his girlfriend pregnant. She has an abortion without his consent. Who does he talk to about it? His mom. She loves her kids and they talk to her about everything. She’s been a single mom most of their lives.

Here’s the kicker for me: The patriarchs, Zeke and Camille, are still married after nearly 50 years. She feels like she’s put aside her dreams  for years to raise her family, so now she’s wanting to branch out. She spent a month in Italy painting, without Zeke. She wants to sell the family home, the place where everyone gathers and so many memories have been made. He doesn’t want to leave. It’s his home. But after spending a month without her while she pursued her dream, when his youngest son is indignant that they would consider selling his childhood home, Zeke tells him, “Your mother and I have been together 47 years, and we’ve been through a lot, we’ve been through a lot of milestones. She goes away to Europe and all of a sudden I’m left here at the house, I’m all alone, and I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. And I miss her. I miss her like crazy. I realize that I love her a lot more than I love this house, and if selling this house makes her happy, then that’s what I’m going to do. So that’s about it, Son, that’s the ballgame right there.”

That is the ballgame. Zeke and Camille might not know a thing about having a godly marriage—one that honors God and is a window into the spiritual realm—but Zeke got it right: Oneness and commitment to his wife supersedes everything. No house is worth promoting isolation in your marriage. No other relationship means more.

Now he just needs to get that little bit of advice into his son-in-law, Joel. Sheesh.

 

Parenthood logo from tv.com

The Promise

23 years. 8401 days. 3 miscarried babies. 3 born babies. 2 dogs, 2 cats, numerous fish, 3 hermit crabs and a bird. 8 vehicles. 2 apartments—one in California, one in Florida. 2 houses. Too many bikes to count. 1 husband. Together, beating the odds.

I’m glad I keep a journal, because I have written recordsc0079bb1f of so much that’s gone on in those 8401 days. 34 days before that count started, though, I wrote about what I thought the promises were that I’d be making that March 2nd day 23 years ago. Here’s what I said:

“The main thing I think I’m committing to is knowing him better than anybody else, and always being there to help make him the best that he can be. I’m promising to search out his innermost thoughts, and to listen carefully. I’m promising to point out his rough spots and to help sand them down, and to polish up his bright spots so they show up even better. I’m promising to let him know that I love him even when it may seem to him that no one else does. I will be his shelter. I’m promising to provide a home for him that is a haven, one he will be loathe to leave and anxious to get back to. I’m promising to reveal myself to him as I do to no one else. To let him point out the rough spots in me that no one else is able or willing to. I’m promising to let him take care of me and thus encourage that nurturing, caring, providing, leading attitude that comes from knowing you are really and truly needed. I’m promising to be the church to his Jesus. And it’s not going to be easy. But it’s going to be worth it.”IMG_3260

Happy anniversary, Hunny. It has definitely not been easy, but it has most definitely been worth it. Here’s to many, many more.

I See You

IMG_7606This morning, I noticed this cryptic message on my desk. I would normally attribute this kind of message to my husband, as we have been known to hide a small flyer with the Geico eyes on a stack of money in each other’s underwear drawer. But he says he didn’t do it. Must have been one of my kids. Perhaps fans of stalker movies would be unnerved by such a thing, but my mind immediately went to the movie “Avatar,” which came out in 2009.

The premise is that a group of ugly Americans bent on mining a precious ore from the planet Pandora send in a specialized team to try to talk the indigenous people, the Na’vis, into moving away from the area where this substance is most concentrated. If they don’t leave, the company plans on wiping them out. Problem is, this place is where their central spiritual life lives. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but, in a nugget, “avatars,” or beings made to resemble the Na’vis, are controlled remotely by an amazing scientific process of a sort of mind control. Anyway, a crippled former Marine gets the job of an avatar guard for a team studying the planet for research reasons, gets separated from his team, and ends up falling in love with one of the Na’vi women. In the process, he agrees to infiltrate the people and try to convince them to move. What he learns changes his mind. They cannot be moved, and should not be moved, and the wealth-aquiring aspirations of the mining company are really evil. (Check out this link if you want to know more.)

OK, so, what does that have to do with seeing? Well, instead of saying, “I love you,” Jake, the former Marine, and Neytiri, the Na’vi woman he loves, say “I see you.” It goes deeper than just saying, “Oh yeah, there you are.” It means I know you. I am a student of you. I am invested in learning your soul.

I recently read a really great article by Dr. Kelly Flanagan (see “Why One Text Message is More Romantic Than a Hundred Valentine’s Cards) about how something one loves is something one searches for when it’s missing. It’s called “object permanence” and babies learn that as they grow. That’s why “peek-a-boo” works with babies. Now you see it. Now you don’t. When you show up again, the child is thrilled. But if you take something a baby is enjoying away from them, they won’t go and look for it; they simply assume it doesn’t exist anymore. Eventually, they learn that it’s still around somewhere, and if they want it, they need to find it.

Dr. Flanagan asserts that letting your significant other know that you’re thinking about them throughout the day is more a sign of how much you love them than the most extravagant of gifts. A text message saying “I’m thinking of you” once a day can do more for your relationship than a dozen roses once a year. When you’re not there, I’m searching for you. When we’re not together, a part of me is missing. When I’m with you, I really see who you are. I see into your soul.

More than 20 years ago I heard a wonderful sermon by one of my favorite pastors, Chuck Swindoll. It was titled “Love, Sweet Love” and it contained the ABC’s of what love does: I Accept you as you are; I Believe that you are valuable; I Care when you hurt; I Desire what is best for you and I Erase all offenses.

I see you.

Happy Valentine’s Day