Marriage: Democracy, Dictatorship or Equal Partnership?

I recently posed this question on Facebook:

How do you define marriage?  Would you say marriage is:
  • A Democracy where everyone gets a vote
  • A Dictatorship where one person is responsible for decisions and directions of the relationship.
  • An Equal Partnership where EVERYTHING is shared equally
For this discussion, marriage is defined as the legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship. Historically, in most cultures, married women had very few rights of their own. But for purposes of this writing, marriage refers to the general definition of marriage in the western world; specifically the U.S.

Most that commented defined marriage as all of the above.  Other common thoughts were we should marry our best friend and that marriages should emulate Jesus and the Bride of Christ.  And, I would agree with “all of the above”.

In the New Testament, the image of Christ coming for his bride is presented.  It is through these scriptures that we see the devotion of the bridegroom and the readiness of the bride.  The ideals of commitment, love and servant-hood are woven throughout the picture we are given.  It’s the perfect blending.

Unfortunately, today’s marriages are not that perfect.  I would venture that most of the couples that get married or are planning to marry in this day and age envision a 50-50 partnership.  Everything is shared:  money, household chores, care of the children, etc.   This is an almost impossible ideal to meet.  One or both of the people involved will feel that they are giving more than their 50%, whether it’s through money earned and contributed  or time spent around the home.

When the Equal Partnership doesn’t seem to providing on the equality front, democracy may come to the forefront.  Both sides begin to “campaign” for their own interests.  Both sides are able to lay all their cards on the table and come to an agreement on how responsibilities, money, time, etc. should be divided.  During rational times, this is a good method.  The flaw comes to play when there in no “majority”, no winner or agreement.  And that’s when, the marriage often moves into the Dictatorship phase.

In a dictatorship, one person is responsible for decisions that are made.   There are circumstances where a decision has to be made whether it is popular or not.  The “dictator” makes that decision and proceeds for better or worse.

In a healthy marriage, all of the things occur.   We both work.  My job keeps me away from home a majority of the day and as a result, most of the cooking and household decisions fall on my husband.  We don’t split them equally at all.  I try to do my part on the weekends.  And, he does ask for my help, too.  There is no “honey-do” list that must be completed for either of us.  When decisions arise that are not of the day-to-day variety, we do discuss them and try to come to an agreement.  There here have been times when my husband has had to make decisions that I could not or would not make.  I didn’t necessarily like it, but I knew that it was for the best and I would acquiesce to his authority at that time.  And, I’ll be honest, there are times that I have done the same thing.  So, you can say that my marriage is all of the above.

Many relationships fail because the “mix” isn’t palatable.  One person may feel they do “everything around the house”.  Or,  they don’t feel they have a say in any of the decisions made.  Maybe one person is a perfectionist and likes things done a particular way and just can’t accept any variations.  The key to getting through all of this is communication.  You have to be able to talk.  What you may perceive as laziness on your partner’s part, may actually be hopelessness because nothing will please you.  Or, it may be defensiveness: no adult wants to be treated like a child in their own home.

Customs and traditions concerning marriage in this country have morphed over the years. Cohabitation has increased by nearly 900% over the last 50 years. The focus often becomes “THE WEDDING” instead of the marriage. The average cost of a wedding is at an all time high of $31,213.  On average, researchers concluded that couples who lived together before they tied the knot saw a 33 percent higher rate of divorce than those who waited to live together until after they were married. Part of the problem was that cohabitors, studies suggested, “slid into” marriage without much consideration. Instead of making a conscious decision to share an entire life together, couples who shared a dog, a dresser, a blender, were picking marriage over the inconvenience of a break up. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, outlined the “cohabitation effect” in a widely circulated New York Times op-ed in 2012.

When we look at marriage as a life-long commitment to serve our partner not just as an escape from life alone, the decisions we make and the actions we take may be different.  We may have to leave behind the baggage of past family relationships.  Just because our parents did it this way, doesn’t mean that it’s the best decision for our family.   If my goal as a wife is to serve my husband to be best of my ability, to provide for his comfort, to encourage  and support him, to love and treat him as my best friend, then our marriage will survive and maybe even prosper.  But, it takes a conscious decision to be that servant.  It means that I don’t always get what I want.  It means that I may have to accomplish everything on the honey-do list instead of demanding my husband does so.  Someone else will have to take priority over me.

That’s the example that Christ gave for his bride, the Church.

“Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”
Ephesians 5:22-33 MSG

Crispy Edges

My daughter looks forward to the pancakes at Cracker Barrel.  Really, she just looks forward to the edges of the pancakes; the crispy browned edges are her favorite.  But, when it comes to orange rolls or brownies, it’s the soft inner pieces that are the best.

Grief gives life crispy edges.  Edges that are delicate and break easily.  Edges that call to you at times.  I prefer to live in the warm, protected center of life.  That’s where my family is the safest and the happiest.  That is where I search for my  value and my worth.  But, there are times, that I must venture out to the edges and taste the bittersweetness that comes with memories.  Fragile memories that still have the power to break my heart.  Precious memories that fade a little with time, but still stir up so many emotions when unwrapped.

Today is a day for the edges.  Thirty years ago on this day, I became Mrs. Terry Benson.  We set out on the adventure of life together.  I see people talk about marrying their best friend and can’t help but wonder how they define friendship.  Terry was indeed my best friend.  We did  everything together.  We had one car for most of our marriage, so he drove me to work each morning and picked me up each afternoon.  He packed my lunch for me.  When the time came, he was a stay at home dad for our kids.  He never complained about me to my family.  He was only complimentary.  He didn’t call me rude names behind my back.  He was always uplifting and protective of me.  He loved my family and never criticized my relationship with them.   Even when things were rough with his own20140214-070338.jpg family, he never said unkind or mean things about them.  There were many times that we disagreed and fought.  And we always came to an agreement and forgave.  Our marriage was more important that either of us as individuals.

So for today, I venture out to the edges that are crisp and full of memories.  Today, I will savor the memories of the love of my early life, the father of my children.  I know that these memories don’t diminish the love I have now for Tim.  My past has prepared me to love him even more deeply.  The edges remind me how fragile life and love can be.  I know that I want to protect the soft center where my life and love currently exist.

Sometimes crispy edges are what we need.  And, sometimes its the soft center that we desire.  Life is made up of both.

Counterfeit Living

When I was a teenager, I was told that I should never watch soap operas.  The reason was simple:  they portrayed lives that were not realistic.  The women were always perfectly coiffed and dressed.  The men loved to talk about EVERYTHING.  Life was not that exciting or interesting.  This was reinforced when I was touring Europe with the United States Collegiate Wind Band the summer of 1978.  When the family I was staying with in Buitenpost, the Netherlands found out I was from Texas, they immediately asked how many oil wells were in my back yard.  They watched “Dallas” on television and  believed it to be the ‘real’ Texas.

 

Fast forward to today.  We still have the fantasies created by television shows.   And,  we have added reality TV & social media to shape the way we view life.  All of these work together to create an unrealistic view of what life SHOULD be and how we SHOULD be living.  As a result, there are many, many individuals living counterfeit lives.  They are busy making things appear as they “should” and avoiding the reality that is life.

social media

 

Have you talked to anyone that is of dating age recently?  Most of them talk of getting married, buying a home and starting a family.  But prevailing wisdom of today is to live together.   The reasoning is that you can be sure it will last without the “big” commitment.   But the reality is “I just don’t think it’s worth waiting until I’m married”.  I remember being asked about waiting for marriage as a 20-something.  The question was “What if the sex isn’t good?”  My response, “If I don’t have anything to compare to, how will I know the sex isn’t good?”  I was also raised to value myself  and to know that marriage is more that sex.  It’s commitment and building a life & family together.  I’m not saying that waiting is easy.  It is definitely not! And, the further down the path you go the more difficult it is to stop.  What I am saying is that anything you value is worth the wait.  You save money for a house, instead of buying a tent because “all my friends are”.

Counterfeit living is grabbing for all the advantages of life without any of the real commitment.  Counterfeit living is pretending you are married when you are just “shacking up”.  Counterfeit living is escaping into something (alcohol, drugs, shopping, games, television, etc.) to avoid facing a reality you don’t want to see.  Counterfeit living is pretending you value yourself, but willingly give yourself away for the illusion of “living the life”.

Reality can be hard.  Reality may mean walking away from something you really want in order to grow into a better person.  Reality may mean saying “No” to pleasures that you don’t want to miss, but realizing you are worth more than the momentary pleasure.  Reality may mean giving up control for just a moment and allowing others to  follow their own path.  Reality may mean manning up and facing the life you have chosen without whining or  tattling about the person you “love” so much.

When my husband and I were dating, I told him I just wanted to make him happy.  His response was “You are not responsible nor capable of making me happy.  I choose to be happy or not.  You can only provide opportunities for me to choose happiness.”  Not very romantic, but entirely true.  If I’m looking for circumstances or people to make me happy, I will never get there.  I must choose to be happy in the circumstances I am presented with at the time.  Real life doesn’t always provide opportunities for happiness.  But, when the opportunities do arise, they are marvelous.  Because,  I can  know the opportunites are real and solid and I can trust them.  I can choose to be happy.  I can choose JOY!  Counterfeit living will never provide that.  Counterfeit living will only cause questions to arise:  “Is this real?  Will this last?”

And for me, the only way to cope with reality is to turn to my faith.

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Psalm 37:4 

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.”  Proverbs 16:20

There are many people who have successful marriages after living in premarital relationships.  And, I know many of them also live with years of guilt because they didn’t stand up for their own convictions.  They will always have that small question “Would we still be together if we had waited?  Was I worth it?”

I challenge you to look at your own life.  Are you living in the reality of life with all of its struggles and joys?  Are your walls stripped bare for all the world to see?  Or, are you living in a counterfeit reality with facades that need constant attention and repair?  Facades that provide for more stress and less happiness?  When I was able to allow the facades to fall, I found an entirely new reality.  I found a reality where I didn’t have to the strongest or the smartest or the best.  I found there is contentment in just doing the best that I can in this moment.  I still struggle and at times try to hide behind the old walls, but I’m no longer trapped and afraid to be honest.

happines.PNG

It’s Personal

I have been challenged to define love several times over the past few weeks.  There’s lots of information about love out there:

  • “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.”
  • “Love is a many splendored thing!”
  • “Love isn’t love until you give it away.”
  • “Love will find a way.”
  • “You can’t buy love.”
  • “Love is friendship caught fire.”
  • “Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.”
  • “Love makes the world go round.”
  • “Love is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can feel it. “
  • “Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by imagination.

and my personal favorite. . .

  • “Your love completes me!”

The question that comes to my mind over and over is this:  Is love an emotion or is love an action?  When we are discussing love, we are usually talking about the “feelings” that are described as love.  You know those tingly feelings.  It’s all bubbly and exciting.  The world is beautiful as long as you can be around the one that is the object of your love.  We LOVE being IN-LOVE!  Many relationships are based on the feelings of love.  So, what happens when the feelings calm down and reality takes a toll on all the bubbly excitement?  There appear to be 2 choices:

  1. Decide to move on since you have ‘fallen out of love’ and you are no longer happy.
  2. Recognize that love is an action and made the decision to show love to your partner is  every way, regardless of how I feel in the moment.

How many couples have moved-in together because they were just so “in-love” only to see things fall apart since there was no real commitment to stay together?  The fun ends and the exit sign lights up when it becomes too difficult to stick around.

How many marriages fail because at least one of the people involved is “not happy” and decides to look for happiness elsewhere?  We hear “You deserve to be happy” or “You only live once, so be happy!”

Love is not an easy choice.  I love my children.  I love my husband even when he drives me nuts with some of his preferences.  I love my siblings and my parents.   I would give my life for any of them.  That doesn’t mean that I always like them or their decisions.(And just for the record, I can say anything I want about my husband, children, siblings or other family members.  But, you better not criticize or demean any of them or I WILL come after you!)  I choose to love through the hard spots, through the disappointments, through the struggles.  My heart breaks when I see any of the people that I love in pain.  I’m concerned when the choices being made aren’t the best and I offer advise even when it’s not wanted.  I stick it out because I have chosen to make love a verb.

I have friends that get really turned off  and even a little offended when I use the Bible to support my points.  However, there are several verses about love that anyone can put into practice, Christian or not.

‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’

‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’

‘Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.’

One of the best known and most quoted scriptures on love is found in 1 Corinthians 13.  I’ve taken verses 4-7 from the Message and made them very personal by inserting my own name in place of love:

Melissa never gives up.
Melissa cares more for others than for herself.
Melissa doesn’t want what she doesn’t have.
Melissa doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head,
doesn’t force herself on others, isn’t always “me first,”
Melissa doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Melissa puts up with anything, trusts God always,
always looks for the best,
Melissa never looks back, but keeps going to the end.

Are these truth’s about my life?  Not always.  But, these are the ideals I want in my life.  In relationships, we need to make this list personal and to work toward loving others unconditionally.  And that may mean, not complaining about the person that I say I love to someone else.  It means that I forgive and FORGET offenses.  It means that I stop manipulating the people I love and let them grow and love in their own way.   It means I have to be patient and content with my life and stop working to “keep up with the Jones”.  It means that keeping the spotlight on myself isn’t really success.

What’s your definition of love?  Go ahead, define it for yourself.

Would I Follow?

I am currently reading the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.  This book is Nabeel Qureshi’s personal account of his life as he went from a devout upbringing in the Muslim faith to find that Jesus Christ was indeed his personal savior.  Throughout the book, the author talks of how simple it often was to shut down any Christian that tried to talk to him about faith in Christ.  The reason it was so simple: the  Christians had only a head knowledge of the “whys” of their own beliefs.  They could not back up the normal rhetoric that is given to prove their beliefs.

I have been struck by many parts of this book.  Most of all, I have to face that many of us cannot defend the faith we say that we have.  Nabeel studied the Bible to be able to  refute the usual comments.  It wasn’t until he met someone who was willing and able to give him facts that Nabeel began to truly “hear” the message.  On the flip side, Nabeel also had to come to terms with the fact that much of what he knew of his Muslim beliefs were based on what he had been told.  Studying the Qur’an and other documents as he defended his childhood religion was very unsettling for him.    Even though he have read the entire Qur’an by the time he was 5 years old, he didn’t know or understand much of the basics of his faith.

Nabeel Qureshi’s decision to follow Christ was not an easy choice.  It took years to get to that decision.  He had to weigh giving up EVERYTHING in order to follow the Christ of the Bible.  This decision caused immense pain for both of his parents.  In “Christianity Today”, he made this spoke about the effect his conversion had on his family:

“A few days later, the two people I loved most in this world were shattered by my betrayal. To this day my family is broken by the decision I made, and it is excruciating every time I see the cost I had to pay.
But Jesus is the God of reversal and redemption. He redeemed sinners to life by his death, and he redeemed a symbol of execution by repurposing it for salvation. He redeemed my suffering by making me rely upon him for my every moment, bending my heart toward him. It was there in my pain that I knew him intimately. He reached me through investigations, dreams, and visions, and called me to prayer in my suffering. It was there that I found Jesus. To follow him is worth giving up everything.”

I have to ask myself, “Would I do this?”  I’ve lived a pretty easy life.  Sure there have been bumps along the way, some of them very big bumps.  When my first husband died, I struggled with my faith.  I reviewed all that I said that I believed.  And, I concluded that my faith in God was correct and real.  But, I was never required to give up everything:  my family, my core beliefs, the familiar.  Would I do that?  Could I defend my beliefs to another in a logical and cohesive manner?  Would I be able to give details and truth?  I wish I could give a resounding YES, but I’m not sure.

My family and I have been watching the Leah Remini show on Scientology.  I often sit in astonishment at what people are willing to do and to give up for their beliefs in this “religion”.  While reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I have a different understanding of the Scientology followers:  they too risk everything for their beliefs.  The difference?  Nabeel Qureshi’s Muslim upbringing did acknowledge parts of the Bible and recognize some of the same people as Christianity (although differently), he had a basis to build upon when confronted for Christianity.  He was willing to debate and discuss to prove his point.  Scientology doesn’t allow any questions.  There is no debate.  It’s all or nothing.  As we have listened to people who have left Scientology, it is so sad to see that most have still not found salvation in Jesus.  How do we as Christians help to fill the void?  How do we take steps in this tender and painful area of trust for people’s of any faith that are hurt and searching?  Do we really care?  Do we really want to step out?

Again, I’m not sure.  It’s more  convenient to throw a tract or book at someone than to interact with  them in any depth.  It’s emotionally safer to invite someone to church than to sit down and have coffee and talk over  and over again.  It’s easier to only communicate about God when you need something by asking  for “a little prayer for _____”  instead of getting involved with God on a daily basis with His people.  It’s less intimidating to just mind my own business and let someone else do the hands on stuff.

I’m challenged.  I’m struggling.

For you see, standing up for one’s beliefs to those in your closest circle of family and friends can be hard, especially if they don’t agree.  It takes balance to lovingly rebuke those who claim to be Christian and  do not live as such.  It takes a measured patience to be ridiculed as “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” when you have lived and may actually have a basis for this “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” advise.  The easiest road may not be the best choice and momentary laughter does not mean a lifetime of joy.

Nabeel Qureshi passed away after a year-long battle with stomach cancer on September 16, 2017 at the age of 34.   His parents were helping to care for him during his illness.  I am so fortunate to have his story from which to learn.  He has touched and continues to touch many lives with his stand for Christ.

Would you follow?

 

 

63,072,000

Today is our wedding anniversary.

63,072,000 seconds

1,051,200 minutes

17,520 hours

731 days

104 weeks

24 months

2 years

I am so blessed to be married to this man who just wants to take care of me.

I will always be grateful for this man who opens doors for me,  pulls out my chair and prepares my first cup of coffee every morning.

I am so happy that this mans works so hard, but still finds ways to make me laugh.

I will never underestimate the value of the man who loves and serves all of our adult children.

I will never take for granted this man who is so passionate about our life together.

He is my friend, my confidante, my joy, my lover, my husband.  I love him more that I did two years ago, more than I thought possible.

Here’s to the rest of our lives together.  Whether it’s for 1 second or 1 Billion seconds, I am so glad we get to spend it together!

wedding2015

24 Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

25-28 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

29-33 No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”

Ephesians 5:24-33 MSG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Church is a Building

When you hear talk about “the church”, what comes to mind?  Is it a building with a steeple with a cross on top?  Do you think of a place for weddings or funerals?  Does a picture of intolerance come to mind? Or, do you think of a group of people who make up the body of Christ?

Most of the times when I hear “the church” discussed, it’s a synonym for “organized religion.”  Over and over, it has been said “I can worship God on my own.  I don’t need organized religion telling me what to do.”  “The church” is seen as another  entity that will try to control the way they think, or dress or behave.  And, in all honesty, that fear comes based on some history.

At various times, “the church” has been identified as judgmental and negative.  Having grown up in the Baptist church, there always seemed to be “nos” that we had to remember.   As a teen, it seemed that if it was fun, we weren’t allowed to participate.  Many of the rules that were laid out were not Biblically based.  When we would question why we couldn’t dance, the answers were vague and very unconvincing.  Alcohol was another hazy area.  We were definitely told “NO!” but all through the Bible, we saw examples of drinking wine.  As a young teen, I was told by a church teacher that the wine mentioned in the Bible “didn’t have alcohol added yet. ”  this worked for a little while with me, but eventually I figured out that this was false.  I don’t believe that my Sunday School teacher lied to me.  She just stated what she believed to be true.   I wonder how many people were dissuaded from following Christ because of the numerous rules and regulations that were enforced by “the church”?  Now, please don’t misunderstand, I believe that there are sins that need to be corrected.  And, I believe that we need to stand up for what we believe.  However, when the message becomes “you have to do it this way to be accepted”, then, we lose the message that God loves and transforms people, and we have a problem.

Too often, we spend out time trying to correct the unchurched and fix their issues.  when, in reality, it’s the people within the walls of the “church” that need to be corrected.  We need to lose our “holier than thou” attitudes.  Once again, I have a confession:  I LOVE big churches and chapels.  I enjoy organ music and old hymns.  I was taught to respect the inner sanctum of the sanctuary:  no running, no jumping, no food, no drinks, etc.  As an adult, I’ve come to understand that God doesn’t stay in the sanctuary.  I’ve learned to worship in a school, a strip center, a movie theater or a gym.  It’s not the place  that needs to be revered, but God Himself.

I currently attend church in a movie theater.  Today, was the 4 year anniversary of meeting there.  The first Sunday, there were 85 people.  Today, we fill the theater for 2 services and that doesn’t count the theaters used for the children.   God meets us there.  He doesn’t mind the drinks and food (yes, sometimes popcorn) in the theater during worship.  He doesn’t mind hearing the sound track from the neighboring movie theater in the background of our service.  He works in spite of it all.  This has been a big change for me.  I’m used to regular services, in a permanent building with Sunday School classes at 9:45.  We have 2 services and Life Groups that meet during the week.  And, we are growing.   We have no plans to build. And, I’m glad.

I’ve witnessed time and time again when churches lose sight of their calling after they become a building.  The time during the funding and building phase is a time of goal setting and dreams.  Everyone is excited about what God is doing.  Miracles often are seen during this time of faith and growth.  Then the building is dedicated.  And, the excitement wanes.  There are arguments about the use and colors.  The struggle to pay the bills and the upkeep becomes primary.  The differing views on what is sacred and what is not causes issues.  And, I think, worst of all it becomes comfortable.  There’s no longer the push to grow and stretch and stand on faith.

The Houston area has had a hard week.  Hurricane Harvey has destroyed much in it’s  path.  This week has been at time to see that “the church” is not building.  The Church is a body of believers that work together to spread the love and forgiveness of God.  We’ve seen examples of this from all over the city.  We’ve seen churches opened for people to come in and take shelter.  We’ve had the opportunity to be a living, breathing example to others in our community, both inside and outside of the church.  We are still being given the opportunity to  be more than a building.

The Church is more than a building.  It’s more than a denomination.  We are challenged to prove to the people around us that our God is relevant, that we are more than an organized religion.  Let’s take the challenge!