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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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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.”

 

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.

 

Love Your Neighbor

love God love peopleA woman fell outside my house today. I was just arriving back from my morning bike ride, sweaty and dripping, when I saw a huddled group of 3 ladies on the sidewalk. One was sitting on the ground next to a motorized scooter while one of her friends fanned her.

I stopped and asked if they were OK and did they need help. They explained that the woman on the ground, Carolyn I think her name was, has MS and didn’t have use of her legs. They weren’t strong enough to lift her up. Thinking they would need at least 2 men to get her up, they had called 9-1-1.

Unfazed, I told them I had an 18-year-old son in the house and I would get him and I was willing to bet that, together, we could get her back onto that scooter. There was roadwork right outside our neighborhood that was holding up traffic in both directions. The first responders would be awhile.

So, I rode around my yard into my garage, ran into the house and woke my son and told him a lady had fallen and we needed his help getting her up.

Without hesitation, he jumped out of bed, threw on a shirt and ran with me out the door.

Together, and with the help of another friend who was driving by, we got Carolyn back onto her scooter, a little traumatized, but none the worse for wear.

The ladies were effusive with their thanks, grateful that there were still “good people in the world.” Watch-Tower-jehovah-witnesses-31065655-549-720

Here’s the thing: When I had moved aside a bag to get a better angle to help, I had seen copies of The Watchtower pamphlet. I knew these women were Jehovah’s Witnesses, coming through my neighborhood to spread a false gospel. So, though kind and well meaning, these women, some would say, are my enemy. Their false gospel leads many people away from the truth about Jesus. In all I do, I try to connect people with God through a relationship with Jesus.

We are at odds.

And yet, I didn’t even consider not helping. They were in need and I and my son had the means to help them. And so we did.

When we knew they were OK and Carolyn was situated again, we were getting ready to leave, the sound of an approaching siren in our ears, when one of the women offered us a pamphlet to read. I kindly declined and we walked back into our house.

What I didn’t say was that we do what we do because we love Jesus, not because we’re good people. It didn’t feel right in that circumstance to talk about faith. I just pray that our actions spoke for themselves.

In that moment, differences didn’t matter. Theology didn’t matter. What mattered was that we operated out of love.

gong“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV).

 

images from: steadfastlutherans.org; fanpop.com; gambarbercata.com

Compared to Who? A Book Review

QueenmirrorThe evil queen in Disney’s “Snow White” made a soul shattering mistake. She looked in her magic mirror and asked the question: “Who’s the fairest of them all?” When the answer came back that a beautiful girl, Snow White, had usurped her in that role, the queen was consumed by jealousy and thereafter sought to end the life of her chief rival.

Heather Creekmore, in her new book, “Compared to Who?: A Proven Path to Improve Your Body Image,” would agree that comparison is a killer. And self esteem, which is what the queen wanted the mirror to help build in her, is really counter productive. Heather submits, “If we want to see true freedom from our body image struggles, we need to forsake esteeming ourselves and pursue esteeming the king.”

Having struggled with body image from a very young age, Heather, the wife of a pastor and church planter in Dallas, Texas, and mother of four, speaks from a very personal place. Her honesty about her issues throughout the pages of this book speaks to the thousands of women who are bombarded every moment of every day by images of super models and celebrities, Pinterest-, Facebook- and Instagram-perfect women who seem to have everything we could ever need to finally be happy.

Yet fad diets, hours a day of exercise and and an Imelda Marcos-sized wardrobe don’t solve the soul-craving that keeps us disgusted with the way we look even when others might look upon us with envy. So what is the key?

In “Compared to Who?” we are given, as the subtitle suggests, a way out of
our struggles to have the ideal body. It’s the gospel. Pure and simple.

Does that mean it’s an easy task? Just do these 5 things and you’ll never struggle with body image again. No, and thankfully, Heather does not sugar coat (great word picture for a body-image article, isn’t it?) the process.

So what is at the root of our body-image issues? Sin. What do we need to break free? Salvation.

Compared to Who?

And community.

It was just 2 1/2 years ago that I began my weight-loss journey that I talk about in this post. I could not have done it if it wasn’t for the group of women with whom I traveled and continue to travel to this day. A monetary incentive didn’t hurt, but the accountability and encouragement from others was key.

As Heather says in “Compared to Who?”: “My dream is for Christian women to relate to each other differently. Until our friendships move beyond superficial endorsements of our struggles, we battle alone. You may have 1, 849 Facebook friends and as many Twitter and Instagram followers, but until you have one or two women in your life willing to listen to the heart behind your words, offer you grace, and show you how the gospel applies, you walk alone.”

I don’t really struggle badly with body image. I’ve never taken diet pills or tried fad diets, or lived at the gym. I don’t look at fashion magazines or compare myself to celebrities. I needed to lose some weight and ended up almost 30 pounds lighter after our challenge 2 years ago. But I don’t always smile when I look in the mirror. And I have a 14-year-old daughter who needs to see her value in Christ and trust the gospel to tell her the truth about who she is. I’m desperate for her to see Jesus as He really is and therefore see herself through His eyes.

I am thankful for Heather’s words in this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever looked at anyone else—whether their body, their hair, their home, their children—and thought, “I wish I was more like her.”

And the evil queen’s magic mirror? Its mistake was simple. The best answer to the queen’s question about who’s the fairest of them all should have been, “Jesus. He’s the fairest, and He’s all you need.”

 

Heather CreekmoreSee more of what Heather Creekmore has to say at her blog: http://comparedtowho.me/ . Buy your copy of “Compared to Who?” at Amazon  or Christian Book Distributors.

Images from The Disney Wiki and http://www.comparedtowho.me

Pet Obsessed

Currently in my household there reside my 3 kids (14, 18, 20), my husband, my mother-in-law, and me.

And approximately 347 animals.

OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. But for my non-pet-loving husband, I’m sure it feels that way at times.

 

Currently we care for 1 big, noisy, hair-factory dog named Berkeley, a 9-year-old blackIMG_7141 lab; twin 2-year-old kitties named Stella and Luna that we can only tell apart by their collars and their personalities; 2 parakeets, Jasper, whom we’ve had for 4 years, and FullSizeRender 13Kalani, whom we’ve had for 1 after summer pet sitting turned into a forever home; a new mud turtle named Franklin who’s supposed to be in my daughter’s care—we’ll see how that goes—a koi fish pond out front that currently holds 2 gorgeous koi named Kiiro, which means yellow in Japanese, and Kireina, which means beautiful, at least according to Google Translate and an aquarium with fish that now number about 15, I think.

Phew! Sounds like enough, doesn’t it? Yet every time I see that someone needs a home for an animal, my mind always jumps to the idea that just one more won’t make a difference. Then I think of my husband, long suffering but loving, who just shakes his head at my obsession.

IMG_8058He agreed to the mud turtle because it doesn’t make any noise.

And it doesn’t shed.

Mind you, we live in the ‘burbs. We’re not on a farm where animals can roam freely and be outside most of the time. Ours are all indoor animals, though the cats love the screened-in back porch and are excellent lizard hunters.

So every morning I get up before I really want to and take the cover off the birds’ cage, let the cats out of the laundry room where they’re confined for the night because they kept bothering the birds in the wee hours of the morning, let the dog out, check the food and water levels in everyone’s bowls and step IMG_7792out the door, rain or shine, to make sure the koi get their sustenance.

Every night I cover the birds, feed the aquarium fish, clean the litter box, give the kitties their treats and lock them up, let the dog out and make sure Franklin has been seen to.

In between comes the washing and the playing and the cleaning of filters and changing of water and bird cage liners, and, and, and. The list is endless.

So why do I do it? Why do I keep these little critters that take up so much time and energy?FullSizeRender 14

That’s a good question I’m sure my husband would like answered.

Before we got the 2 cats we have, we had another big ol’ boy we named Oreo (can you guess what colors he was?). We weren’t going to get another cat, but my eldest told us of a dream he had one night where his class from school went to a pet store, and everyone got to get a pet but him, because his dad wouldn’t let him.

I didn’t even put him up to it, I promise.

As David was praying about the issue, God told him that by keeping pets from his kids, he was limiting their capacity to love. They did, in fact, need to have these creatures into which they could poor affection.

oreoWhen Oreo mysteriously passed away at the young age of 8, this is what my then 16 1/2-year-old, that same boy who had the dream, said in way of eulogy on Facebook, along with the photo (left): “My friend, it has been an exciting and pleasurable journey we have taken. Every moment and every part of your existence was well spent, and although I don’t know if cats have a true sense of feeling and emotion, I hope you felt that you partook in a life well lived. Though the circle of life continues, your being will never be forgotten as long as I live. Our vast array of memories will never leave my mind. Rest in peace, Oreo, my wonderful pet, friend, and companion.”

Capacity to love? You betcha.

I also feel like a love of animals has a biblical basis: Psalm 50:10-11 says, “For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, And everything that moves in the field is Mine.”

They really do reflect the glory of God. He made them. He cares for them. He has given usFullSizeRender 15 stewardship over them.

Do they cost a lot of money in upkeep? Yes.

Do they make a lot of noise? Some do, yes.

Do they make a lot of messes? Again, some do, yes.

Do they sometimes ruin things that we have purchased? Yes.

But would I give them up to have a spotless house, a pristine yard, an unscratched window, a lot less work? No.

When that fuzzy little body climbs onto my lap and purrs, I know that I am touching something sacred. And would I have missed my boy’s heart for his cat? No. All of my kids speak lovingly of having pets of their own when they move out.

The care and loving of an animal will prepare them for parenthood, it will make them kinder people, it will make them more patient and accepting of others. I do most of the work mainly because I want to, not because the kids are shirking their duties. They know there will be work involved.

So in my 55+ years of life, I’ve invited into my heart 4 dogs, 5 cats, 3 birds, numerous fish, a rabbit, a couple of mice and a hamster that was really my brother’s.

And I’m all the richer for it.