Don’t Quit in the Middle

Years ago, around the time I was birthing babies #3 and #4, I quit right in the middle of a sewing project. I’d imagined how cute my gray dress would be, after perusing the gigantic pattern book and choosing the perfect one. I’d purchased the fabric and cut out the pattern per directions. Then I quit. I accomplished the easy and fun part by the impetus of my imagination, but quit right when the project became difficult. I felt terrible about my(frugal)self when I FINALLY tossed that pretty gray fabric, already poised to be a stylish dress. My approximate expenses were $7.00, three hours and weeks of self-degradation. It was a failure; but not exactly a life-altering one.

Some quitting, however, produces dire results.

Awhile back I took a sweaty walk around “the loop” at Wrightsville Beach. I started to think of this subject of quitting. As I walked, I recalled a recent conversation with a friend who’d just retired. She said, “I wonder if I should have retired earlier; our time together is just so precious.” I looked at her, a bit shocked, replying, “Precious? I remember when your marriage was anything but precious…that season when awful things occurred and your marriage was hanging by a thread. When anger and hurt permeated your days”. I wanted to be sure she knew how profound her choice of adjectives was.

Precious: Of great value or high price. Highly esteemed or cherished.

We both teared up. We realized that it was by God’s Grace and their commitment to their vows that they now had more richness than they could’ve imagined; more than seemed feasible.

I was still dripping in 100% humidity as I continued my walk, still pondering the earlier chat with my friend. She and her husband could have quit in the middle and the fallout would have been devastating, causing ripple effects in the family and community. But they didn’t quit! I’d seen her smile and sensed her contentment—tangible fruits of righteousness.

One caveat: I understand that some marriages are not salvageable. I experienced a divorce in my early twenties, after trying everything in my power to keep it together. I then became even more passionate about the importance of fighting for marriage.

Statistics show that most couples who come to the brink of divorce and then decide rather to work on their marriages, actually become much happier in later years than they once were. Sometimes we have to navigate pain and struggles before we see the sweet fruit!

I thought of my Tom. We’re so happy and in love. But there have been many times when, behind the smiles on our faces, there was anger, hurt and resentment. Those years I wrote about earlier when we “passed like ships in the night” Marriage is So Much Trouble. When intimacy was a job to check off the to-do list. The times when I had unhealthily learned to “turtle” as Bob Goff likes to say. My natural response was pulling away—head in, tail in, arms and legs in. And I thought myself “nice” because I didn’t outwardly express anger. Then I learned that silence and withdrawing are just as negative a response.

 And if one person is vulnerable to attack, two can drive the attacker away. As the saying goes, “A rope made of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

I’m convinced that the reason we didn’t give up and quit in the middle of our marriage was because of the Three Strand Cord. We have been able to stay true to our covenant with each other and with God because He has always been at the center, closely wrapped around us, even and especially in the hardest times. When life was anything but fun. When the dreamy days of flipping through the pages of a bridal magazine were replaced with poopy diapers, poopy bathrooms, tantrums, cleaning, an angry child, constant cooking, predawn sessions begging God for Grace to survive, and finally, another 24-hour day was completed. The season I learned to take one step in the right direction and to not stop. To say one more kind word and reach out with a gentle touch when I just wanted to be held and comforted myself. Some days, weeks and even years were so hard to bear that it’s painful for me to remember now. But the gift of growing older is to see a broader clearer perspective. To see that He really was faithful and He really had a plan all along. And all the not-quitting was truly worth the sacrifices.

We got married to be together. For better or worse. Guard your heart. Guard your eyes. Put on love. One touch here. A kiss there. A kind word. Love is made up of lots of little decisions. Let’s wear LOVE like a coat. Let’s wrap our SELVES completely in it.

Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let your hearts fall under the rule of the Anointed’s peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15

I Married a Stranger

I Married a Stranger

Sometimes I feel a little bit jealous when someone says, “I married my best friend!” or when I find out they were high school sweethearts.

I married a stranger!  There were only a handful of dates during the six months we were acquainted before the wedding. We met on a blind date and virtually dated on the old landline. After all, we lived over 800 miles apart. I knew he was truly serious when he paid the hefty Bell South bill each month! The day after our first date, Tom walked up to my friend Dolly, thinking it was me. We were sometimes confused as sisters. Another time when I picked him up at the airport he didn’t recognize me! I’d gotten a complimentary perm the night before from my overzealous (novice) friends.

We barely knew each other at our wedding; it’s true. I can still picture myself in a scene from our honeymoon. As we took a walk in a hilly area of Saint Martin, I had a surreal and scary feeling—thinking to myself, “What have we done?!”

After thirty-three years of marriage, we still don’t know everything about each other, but we’ve built a marvelous life together and written a history that’s even better than one of being ” high school sweethearts”.

We have a little joke between us that has to do with me being full of surprises, and Tom seems to think it’s fun to keep getting to know different versions of me. I assure him that he’ll never have me completely figured out. Especially since I can’t even figure myself out most of the time.

I didn’t know him that well, but here are some things that were true:

  • I wanted a husband and desperately prayed for years that God would bring me one. As best I could, I surrendered my life to Him. I believed that my wishes were valid and that He wouldn’t give me, figuratively, a stone when I asked for bread. (Matthew 7:9)
  • In a man, I wanted: someone who’d love my two children as his own, one who’d be always faithful to God and to me, a person who’d provide financially for us, and who had broad shoulders (because he’d need them and I liked broad shoulders!)  God gave me everything I asked and more!
  • He was a man of character and integrity. I’d watched him around work peers, church folks and friends who had utmost respect for him. I’d met his parents and was impressed by the mutual kindness and interest they showed each other.  They acted like friends who really liked each other.

Things I didn’t know when we married:

  • He called a package of peanut butter and crackers “nabs” and erroneously said “Cut the light on”, rather than the correctly stated, “Turn the light on.”
  • I didn’t know that he’d never owned a pair of  jeans and that his mother only bought him blue shirts. “His color”. That he called his black belt his blue belt and he wore it with blue shirts and pants as opposed to the brown belt. That he was a born engineer and came equipped with everything but the pocket protector!
  • That one day I’d find myself delivering our baby and I’d watch as tears of awe and gratitude streamed down his face. That we’d borrow a huge dinosaur of a video camera and he’d film many hours of  labor, only to be abruptly halted by a dead battery seconds before baby came!
  • That another time, about ten years into marriage, I’d take a call from the paper mill where he worked. “Tom just got run over by a fork lift! He’s alive but will probably lose his legs.” That I’d live on adrenalin the next few days–and I’d be more grateful than I knew possible when he was very much alive. There’d be recovery time, but he most certainly did not lose his legs!
  • I didn’t know there would be unimaginable heartaches and pain many times over, and that we’d lean on  and comfort each other; ultimately relying on our faith in God.
  • That God would call us into situations and places that we didn’t ask for or expect, yet we’d confess our trust in Him, and say, “Yes” to His direction.
  • That somewhere around the twenty-fifth year I would begin to tangibly love him more deeply. I’d become a tiny bit less selfish and I’d nearly feel pain myself when he was in pain or hurting emotionally. That I could care so deeply for another human really moved me. I wondered if this is what “becoming one” meant.
  • That today we’d say to each other that we’re more in love and enjoy each other more than on our honeymoon.

The whole notion of becoming one—who could have come up with such an idea other than the One who designed us. Who would ever think that such unrestrained, raw specimens like us humans could really love another person? That we’d actually serve, prefer and deeply care for them.

We’ve blended. We’ve acquired a private language; taken on family colloquialisms, anticipate each others’ answers and feel a bit lost when not together.

Glancing back over thirty- three years, I’m really grateful for that blind date AND that stranger!

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.

Mignon McLaughlin

Matters That Matter

It was a good morning! At first light my coffee brewed as I journaled and enumerated my “gifts”.

#1,491-great hike with Diane and Jim.

#1,492-Abigail’s sweet wedding

#1,494-FALL!

All mornings don’t begin like this. I hate to think how many mornings have started with my choosing to click on that little multicolored camera icon. Before I know it, 30-45 minutes have disappeared. And what have I to show for that squandered time? A really cool quote for my journal and several times feeling like I’m not as young, clever or known as I’d like to be. More often than I like to admit I’ve dragged a discouraged attitude into my fresh new day.

But today was different. With my trusty sidekick steaming in my favorite pottery mug, I wrote, prayed and read my devotions for the day as well as chapters in the Old Testament.

I walked four miles, listened to uplifting music and thought how much lighter I feel when I start the morning this way.

Walking helps me clear my head and think about the things that really matter.

There is a part of me that would like to climb up on the old soapbox and tell you what I think about all the craziness in our world today. If I did, my voice would only heighten the loud cacophony all around, in which it is hard to distinguish a true voice that matters.

Interestingly, a synonym of cacophony is the word babel. Our world today and the Tower of Babel Biblical event are not without comparison.

There are harsh angry sounds coming from hoards of people. Some of them loosely invoke Jesus’ name. They like to tell us what he stands for and what he would do. Anyone who is championing one people group and crying out murderous threats toward another does not represent Jesus Christ.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3

Jesus loves the entire world — not just certain humans. His desire has always been for everyone to know Him and live with Him forever.

I worked as a nanny for several years and simultaneously became part of a wonderful family. I love them so much to this day. When I began, I quickly learned that when it came to some key values, we didn’t share the same world view. I had to discipline myself to reserve opinions on occasion, because I like to discuss things I’m passionate about.

That five year period became an opportunity to revisit my deepest core beliefs. I held them up to scrutiny; placing them on one side of the scale and those of my new family on the other side. I weeded out, best I could, acquired “truths” that weren’t really biblical. Even though I know God’s word and have followed Jesus continually for nearly 50 years, some traditions or mores can tag along with Bible Truth and become standard thought.

Over time, I came to a new excitement about my beliefs and how beautifully they have played out in my life. It’s hard to put these things into words.

I’ve heard that a person whose task it is to identify counterfeit bills, learns by intensely studying authentic dollar bills. In the same way, we study God’s Word so we’ll recognize the counterfeit thoughts when they come along.

Looking back, I realize that I made an intentional choice to read and meditate on Scripture. Most often it was out of a desperate need to know Him. A realization of my deep need to be enveloped by Him.

In some seasons, I set the alarm to wake before the kids. When I was single mom, my study time was usually during the kids’ sleep time. It always takes effort and creativity to accomplish what’s important.

My hope is that it will be important enough for you to take a look at your schedule and carve out the time. EAT HIS WORD daily, before the interruptions and noises begin. As Christ followers, we need it more than food. Let it find its home in the depths of who you are.

“Live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way you received Him. Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.”  Colossians 2

Expectations

Pray, and let God worry.

Martin Luther

 

On my morning walk I was praying like it was my job— serious praying that befits this season. Friends with serious health diagnoses, a sweet friend fighting for her life after a horrific accident and a couple manuevering a very painful breach in their marriage—we love them all so much and we’re crying out for answers. It seems almost too heavy a burden sometimes.

Not only are there urgent needs; there are those perpetual prayers that I’ve voiced for years, sometimes becoming weary and bored with my own words. I pray rotely— like songs or idioms that stick in your head. They never completely leave my consciousness.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever see the answers to those long-term prayers. The measure of my hope seems to be commensurate with the amount of time an item has been on my list. Those old tired prayers can become repetitous, almost numbing.

On my best days I stir myself to visualize glorious outcomes. I watch for the answers, peeking through the cracks of my awareness much like when I’m expecting arriving friends—walking to the door; looking through the window to see if they’ve arrived.

I believe for the answer but I know that it may not come in the way I want. There is that faith element in our companionship with God that we can’t get away from. It takes believing without seeing to even know Him. Faith motivates us to keep after it (prayer) when we don’t see results. When we think God is deaf or busy doing something else. I have to pray in agreement with what I believe He would pray and then trust that I’ll see it come to pass. He is Love. Also, He is Sovereign and He keeps some things in a secret place that I’m not privy to.

What if God answers some prayers after I’m gone? What if He answers differently from what I imagined? What if an amazing response finds its way into the life of someone in conjunction with my prayers?

AM I ABLE TO LET GO AND REALIZE THE FUTURE BELONGS TO HIM?

Years ago as I was thinking along these lines, I found myself encouraged by a beautiful young woman named Ruth. There is true beauty in one whose heart is so pure and selfless.

We find Ruth living in Moab in 1140 BC. At that time a Jewish family relocated from Bethlehem-Judah to Moab to escape a serious famine. One of the family’s sons married Ruth. Sadly, after only a few years, the father and two sons died, leaving only the mom, Naomi, and her two daughters-in-law to fend for themselves. One daughter-in-law, Orpah, decided to remain in her homeland, but Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi and returning to Bethlehem. Naomi urged Ruth to leave her, but Ruth was emphatic, even though the future looked very bleak.

” Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”  Ruth

Ruth’s story is interwoven with God’s Sovereignty; His overall Purpose in history was sure to be accomplished. In Ruth’s determination to support her mother-in-law, she played an important role in continuing the lineage that would bring the Messiah to our world. As she set out to earn a living, Ruth found favor with a prosperous leading man of the city. He allowed to her to glean barley in the fields after the workers left. The man, Boaz, kindly asked the workers to leave extra grain for her to collect. Ruth quickly created a livelihood for herself and her mother-in-law. She also caught the eye of Boaz. Naomi had explained that he was a relative of hers and one of the men whose responsibility it was to care for widows in their family. In what is a true love story in itself, Boaz married Ruth and relieved she and Naomi from their fear of the future. Ruth would go on to have a son, Obed, making Naomi a happy grandma and carrying on the family line.

That’s all exciting enough, but here’s the real clincher. RUTH WAS A DISTANT GREAT-GRANDMOTHER OF JESUS CHRIST THE MESSIAH! And…she didn’t even know. Ruth made selfless choices apparently with no thought of herself.  She chose what what she perceived to be God’s will in real life decisions. And just look how prominent a role she plays in history!

Ruth has given me much hope.  Our pleadings DO HAVE RESULTS, even though we may never see them. We have to walk in faith, praying and making the best decisions we know to make and then LEAVE THE RESULTS TO OUR FATHER. As earthlings, we see only part of the big picture. We might be flabbergasted if we knew how profoundly our choices and prayers affect the future.

 

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

Corrie ten Boom