Three score & One

Today, I am 61.  I am 31 years past the dreaded 30th birthday.  Hard to believe, but I’m still a living, functioning member of society.  Life does exist beyond the 30’s.  In this time, I have been a daughter, a student, an employee, a wife, a mother, a widow, a Mumzy, a 2nd wife and a stepmom.  I’ve experienced many things, both good and bad. In my 3 score and 1 year, a lot has happened. 

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

RRoman’s13:1-3 MSG

I was born during the Eisenhower administration.  In my lifetime, there have been twelve US Presidents:  one was assasinated,  one resigned, one survived being shot, two were been impeached. The Supreme Court has seen 26 justices.  Politics are never more evident than in today’s social media world.  As I type this, one more justice is awaiting confirmation and the possibility of a 13th president hangs on the November election.

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3. NIV

I followed the NASA missions and celebrated the triumphs  and mourned the disasters.  I remember the Apollo 1 fire as well as the Challenger and  Columbia disasters.  Before Tom Hanks brought it to life on the screen, I sat in my 4th grade classroom and listened as Apollo 13 made it safely back to earth.  Skylab was launched and crashed to earth and  the International Space Station was built. 

Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.

Psalm 30:2 NIV

Todays young adults have never experienced measles, chicken pox or the mumps. I’ve had all three. I also have a small pox scar on my left arm. (I tried to explain the process to my kids and they just don’t get it.) I remember the sugar cube with the polio vaccine.  AIDS, Ebola, Zika, Bird & Swine flu and now the coronavirus have all become part of our normal vocabulary. 

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.

Psalm 127:3 NIV

In these 60+ years, the nuclear family has moved from the normal to the exception.  In my teen years, if you were having sex it was a secret.  Today, if you are NOT having sex it’s an embarassment.  Marriage is a convenience that is shunned by some and fought for by others.  In the process of raising strong women, we have taught them that it’s “your body and your choice” even if that means murdering a part of yourself.  I believe in choice.  I just differ on the point at which that choice should be made.  I have to join those that opine what would happen if our government supported adoption as strongly as it supports abortion rights. 

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Colossians 3:13

I’ve watched (and participated) in the social media growth.  I love being able to stay in contact with friends and family on a daily basis.  I despise the vitriol that is evident across the pages, however.  I’ve watched as a good friend attacked another dear friend over a perceived political slight.  I’ve been unfriended for being too “religious”.  I’ve had to hide or unfriend some newer acquaintances that are just too militant and/or negative.  I miss the days when you could have an opinion without being afraid of the attack.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:2

My college days were spent in east Texas at SFASU.  In the early 80s, coming “out of the closet” seemed to be the thing to do.  I did not always understand, but I have always believed that you have a right to love and be loved.  So, while I may not have embraced the lifestyle, I still chose to embrace the friendships.   I had an older friend and family member ask me how I reconciled my gay friends with my personal beliefs.  She had been the recipient of an unexpected and unwanted sexual overture with a roommate during her college years.  As a result, she was struggling the some of her favorite student’s lifestyle decisions.  I explained that I loved these friends for who they were not their orientation.  I have since realized that this is true of many things.  I can love my friends even if we disagree about politics, religion, sex or any other difference.  If I am invested in the person, the rest is just “window dressing”.  I would hope that is reciprocated. 

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

EECCLESIASTES 4:12 NIV

I’ve lived in the country and the city and learned that there are good and bad aspects to both.  Community is where you decide it is.  No matter how large or small the city, you live in your own small world.  You make your home where you choose to find your contentment. 

A person’s days are determine;  you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.

Job 14:5 NIV

I have no idea how much life is left in the 61 year old body.  I do plan to continue to expand my horizions.  I’ve taken up watercolor painting and quilting since my 60th birthday.  In the past year, we’ve added two miniture goats to our family.  They have been an education.  I’m still active in my church and strive to be more than a “religious” person and I will conintue to share my beliefs.  I love our blended family and look forward to our family continuing to grow.  I continue to treasure the friendships I have from all of my years.

This is Sixty-one.  This is me.  I’m more comfortable in my skin that ever.  I look forward to the journey around the sun.  I hope and pray you make the trip with me. 

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

PSALM 139:13-16 MSG

Partnership or Merger

I’ve read several articles recently about celebrity couples that are divorcing.  Most of them contain a statement similar to this:  “they still love each other very much, but. . .” The current quarantining was listed as the turning point in many of the articles.  One entry said they have “felt more like brother and sister”.  All I can do is shake my head. 

What is Love?  Most of us begin our relationships in breathless anticipation.  The butterflies and warm bubbly feeling is intoxicating.  You don’t want to be separated from your beloved and eagerly anticipate your next encounter. Is that really love?   Although there may be some love involved, I think it has more to do with infatuation and even lust.  Infatuation is defined as “falling in love with or becoming extremely interested in someone or something for a short time.”  While the definition of lust is “a psychological force producing intense desire for an object, or circumstance fulfilling the emotion while already having a significant other or amount of the desired object.”  Not very romantic, but very often this is the starting point of love. 

How many marriages do I know that were built on the intense desire to be married? It’s being married, part of a couple that is the focus.  The “who” in the relationship is often secondary to the need to have someone to love.  The picture is all rosy and blissfully wonderful. It’s all about living happily ever after. The object is finding “A” person willing to become “THE” person.

When we are caught up in the excitement of a new connection and the possibility of finding that “one” person, we are able to overlook anything and everything.  There are no obstacles that cannot be overcome in claiming this relationship.  Much like the fog covers the challenges of climbing a sheer mountain, desire masks the issues that may cause problems in a long term relationship.  We disregard the things that would normally signal a need for caution.  Repeatedly, the warnings are dismissed.  It doesn’t matter if there are hints of anger, unfaithfulness, insobriety, detachment, or domination.  The tendency is to ignore differences in faith, questions about step-parenting roles, and the handling personal finances.   The hard questions are left unasked rather than risk lifting the curtain and ending the dream. 

There is a very big difference between infatuation and being in love. Infatuation is when you first see someone that you are attracted to and immediately feel there is a connection based on that whereas love is knowing the good and bad of someone and still loving them all the same.  One cannot be truly in love and be unable to acknowledge the negatives in the relationship.  Unconditional love, the love we all say that we want, means we face the good and the bad and love in spite of it all.  We are willing to work through the difficult things.  We are able to love through the darkness and get to the light. 

I understand the “brother and sister” statement.  I remember thinking this very thing about my first husband.  Our relationship was good, just not very exciting.  We had two very active teenagers.  Life was busy.  We spent our time together, but after 18 years I wasn’t breathless when he walked into the room.  Still, we looked forward to the future together.  There are worse things than being married to a really good friend.  Trust me.  Burying that friend, the husband I planned to live with into old age was far worse.  It had been so easy to take our marriage and our love for granted, that I had lost touch with how deeply in love with him I was.  I made a promise to myself to never allow that to happen again. 

Marriage is characterized as a partnership.  So, what happens if:   

  1. the partners fail to cooperate?
  2. they don’t participate equally, or don’t agree on major life decisions?
  3. they are no longer physically or emotionally attracted to each other?
  4. when one of the partners treats the partnership unequally?
  5. when one of the partners becomes too sick to do their share?

Do you dissolve the marriage partnership? 

I recently read an article by Steven Berman that states: 

“Real marriage is not an equal partnership.  It’s not a partnership at all.  It’s a merger, a permanent joining to create something new.

If you look at marriage as anything other than a lifetime commitment to a mate, you’re looking at something other than marriage.  You’re looking at a friendship with benefits, a shack-up, a good time, or a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend.  Adding a piece of paper to it labeled “marriage license” adds nothing to the relationship except a tax break.”

Steven Berman

Both of my weddings included the vows:  “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part,” Sounds pretty permanent to me.  Don’t get me wrong, if you are in an abusive relationship – get out!.  If you are in danger, you are not being cherished.  However, not getting your way, not being happy, or (especially) finding someone more interesting are not reasons to divorce.  Marriage is not about what feels good.  Marriage is about commitment.  Marriage is about giving up everything to join together. 

So, what happens when you miss the spark, when the grass looks greener somewhere else?  What’s a person to do?  Basically, fertilize your own grass and make it the greenest thing around.  Put in the work.  There’s a psychological term:  “Fake it till you make it.”  Basically,

“Faking it until you make it only works when you correctly identify something within yourself that’s holding you back. Behaving like the person you want to become is about changing the way you feel and the way you think.”

Psychology Today

Accept that you only control yourself and not your partner.   Understand happiness and contentment are a choice you make for yourself.  Stop placing blame and accept responsibility for where you are in this marriage.  Offer love with no conditions, no reciprocation.  And, I think most importantly, immerse yourself in God’s love and continually pray for your partner.  Not what you want to see changed, but for true God’s guidance for your partner.  In the best marriages both people are giving more than themselves, which is impossible if you don’t believe in anything more than yourself.  A union of two people beyond the physical requires something beyond the physical to bind us.  Emotions are not enough.

 “Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:12 NIV

Looking for the best that God has for you will bleed into your relationship(s).  As you focus on Him and His plan for you, the greener pasture becomes your own.  You are able to love even the most unlovable.  You will find happiness & joy in a way you never imagined.  Even if your marriage partner doesn’t get it.  God will and He will honor your faithfulness. 

“Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.” 

1 Peter 4:7-8 MSG

No Beauty Queen

When I was 11 years old, I desperately wanted to have glasses or braces or both.  My friends and I would talk about it at school.  It would be so cool to be one of “those” kids. I would look at my bottom teeth, and I was sure I needed braces to straighten them up.  On a routine visit to my dentist, my mother asked him about the possibility of braces for me.  He looked at me and said that although my teeth were crowded, there was really no need for braces.  “After all”, he continued, “She’ll never be a beauty queen.”  Obviously, that statement has stuck with me.  (And before you get all bent out of shape, my dentist was not being cruel.  In the early 70’s not everyone got braces.  Only the most crowded, out of alignment teeth endured the torture of the orthodontist.  Cosmetic orthodontia was something that only those with dreams of the competing in beauty pageants or performing on stage would receive.  That was not where I was headed and thus the comment. )

I was disappointed that I would just be a normal kid with crowded lower teeth.  Later that year, I would get my wish and bifocals!  And so began the next phase of my journey, explaining why I wore bifocals and trying to get “OUT” of wearing glasses.   Through the years, my love affair with glasses has changed.  As a high schooler, I decided I wanted contact lenses.  The optometrist told me that I could see “too well” for contacts and to just wear my glasses when I needed them.  So, I went to a part time glasses wearer.  After college, I pursued the contact lens idea again and wore them for several years.  But, I could see almost as well with them as without them, so I went back to my glasses.  I’ve bemoaned the expense of glasses and the inconvenience.  And, I’ve come to accept that I can neither read nor drive without my glasses.  They are no longer an option for me.  I have my “regular” glasses, my computer glasses and my sunglasses.  All are important to me. 

There are so many things throughout a life time that we believe we really need.  Through the years, my “needs” have changed.  Many times, I’ve applied the “beauty queen” reality to my “need”.  Do I really need this to complete my life?  Do the benefits outweigh the struggle to get it? 

Sometimes, I’ve answer with a resounding yes.  I’ve never regretted getting married.  I’ve been married, widowed, and married again.  I’ve been blessed with two fabulous husbands.  Life as part of a couple is difficult.  Marriage is my ‘beauty queen” moment.  It’s worth every struggle, every tear, every sacrifice to celebrate the joy and the fulfillment of being with my husband. 

Sometimes, I realize I don’t really need or want that desire.  There are so many relationships that crumble and fail.  Many times, the failure is rooted in spending more time looking around than looking inward.  There was a time in my first marriage, when our kids were both toddlers that I began to look around at my single friends and the freedom that they had.  They didn’t have to hurry home to take care of kids.  They didn’t spend their “extra” cash on kid’s stuff.  It was a dangerous time for me.  Discontent was ready to swoop in and take over.  But, I was reminded that I was on the “beauty queen” track.  All the struggles were worth it in the long run.  I just had to focus on the goal. 

And, there have been other times that I pushed forward anyway only to regret my decision.  Have you ever wanted that new car that was just a little out of your price range?  Or what about the bigger house?  Or maybe a snazzier wardrobe?  It’s easy to get caught in the trap of “keeping up with the Jones’”.  You spend too much money, you over extend, you cheat on your spouse.  You ignore the path you’ve been following a veer off in another direction.  You throw caution to the wind and pay no heed to consequences or costs.  It’s all or nothing, come hell or high water.  You lose sight of the crown and pay the price.  There’s no do over.  There’s only the choice to pick up and move forward, to get back on the right track.

My dentist knew the pain that would come from braces.  He knew the best orthodontist in the area had a reputation for being mean.  He knew I was not destined for the beauty queen stage.  As a result, I’ve lived my life with a perfectly good set of crowded teeth.  I’ve never had braces. 

But, I keep hearing about the new invisible braces that come through the mail. . .

 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

Matthew 6:34 MSG

Fishing or just Fishy?

I have heard different versions of the idiom “fish or cut bait” for as long as I can remember.  If someone is dragging their feet in a situation, fish or cut bait was a way to tell them to get busy or get out of the way.  There are so many times when it’s easier to stay busy or “fish” without really committing to anything.  For some, it’s hard to understand why it’s so difficult. 

Change is hard.  When change is thrust upon me, I have been known to dig in and do my best to stay put.  It’s not always possible to avoid or to predict change.  When my husband died, my brain knew he was gone, but my emotions were in denial for a very long time.  I went through the motions of moving forward.  I put on a good show.  The reality, however, was that I just chose not to face things that were too difficult.  My house fell apart around me.  I spent money on things I didn’t really need.  I buried myself in my kid’s activities.  I refused to really engage in moving forward with my life.  And, I did a pretty good job of fooling everyone, including myself for almost ten years. That’s when I realized that I wanted to live again.  Love again.  And to do that, I had to commit to pulling my life together.   

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” 

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

The decision to love again was a simple one for me.  The reality of opening up my heart and confronting ALL of my feelings was a lot harder.  I had to admit that I loved Terry with all that I had for a very long time.  I had to face the pain that comes with that kind of love.  I had to sort through the various emotions and process them.  My husband had been gone almost ten years, but allowing my heart to love again felt dishonest, disrespectful.  Again, my brain was very logical about it all.  It was my emotions that were struggling.  I had to make the decision to move forward.  I had to decide where and how I wanted to live my life:  in the past full of memories or in the future adding new memories to my list.  It kind of sounds like a “no brainer” as I type these words, but the struggle to fish or cut bait was very real to me during that time.  I could continue to sit and watch my life as a spectator or I could commit to accept the joys and the pain that come with actively participating in life. 

There are people everywhere that struggle with making similar decisions.  And, unfortunately, many of those people are in an unending cycle of martyrdom.  The need for attention, support and even adoration from others because of their ordeal (real or imagined) is more important than living, changing or progressing.  Have you ever had a friend that keeps reconciling with an ex?  There may be a list a mile long of the problems that come with that particular relationship.  All logic is superseded by the need to have “someone”, even a bad someone in their life.  For a while, things may go well.  Life is great.  But, those bad behaviors resurface.   And, it’s now your responsibility to sympathize with your friend, to encourage her to be strong, to relieve her of any blame.  The cycle will continue, over and over, as long as the game is played.  It’s easier to sit on the bank and pretend you are fishing with a knotted and tangled line than it is to cut the line and move to another spot. 

“One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.

 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in disclosing what is on his mind.”

Proverbs 18:1-2 NEV

Our world is more interested in the sob stories than in the happy endings.  Check out what you watch for entertainment.  I grew up watching Gunsmoke and Bonanza.  There were sad story lines, but the good guy always triumphed in the end.  There was always an upside.  In every episode, decisions were made and life moved forward.  In some of my favorite shows today, it’s sometimes hard to decide who the good guy is.  We root for the anti-hero; the brooding, suffering guy that’s just doing “the wrong thing for the right reason.”   We adore and celebrate the darkness.  And, we seem to need to emulate it. 

I believe that we can grow and mature through our trials and mistakes.  In an attempt to reconcile ourselves with the flaws that come with being human, we too often elevate these very flaws and venerate them as favors.  We become enamored with the cracks that appear in life due to the struggles we endure.  We seek the compassion and tenderness that is provided by our support system rather than strive to advance and perfect our own lives.  It’s not easy to admit mistakes and correct the path forward. 

When we are told to fish or cut bait, it doesn’t mean you have to walk away and start over.  It just means you have to be committed to the path you choose.   Invest fully in life choices.  Stop complaining and looking for sympathy. Embrace your decision and don’t apologize.

So what will it be?  Do you fish where you are; or, do you cut bait and move forward? 

“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” 

James 3:17-18 MSG

Is Chaos a Choice?

I like routines.  I survive with the illusion of being in control.  I do not accept change well.  My first defense is just to ignore what’s swirling around me and wait for the dust to settle.  But, the dust isn’t settling very quickly this time.  The world is caught up in the chaos for disease and failing economies.  I track the oil prices on my phone; not a comforting activity right now.  Social media has been both a help and a hindrance recently.  There are lots of resources being offered up, but the panic buying (hoarding) has also been fueled by some of the posts.  The news media seems to be more intent on scaring up a story than providing facts and information in a calm and helpful manner.   It’s hard to know what is real and what is just hype.

We are encouraged to practice social distancing.  Schools are on extended breaks.  Universities are moving to online classes only.  Some businesses are instituting remote work.  Other are beginning the furlough process (Unpaid Corona Vacations) for employees.  Restaurants have shifted takeout only.  Churches are using the internet to meet.  Stores are closing or cutting hours.  Groceries are scarce at times.  And, Toilet Paper has become the prime indicator of how well we are doing.  When it rains, it pours!  What are we supposed to do?

Chaos is defined as “a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.”  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m living the definition of chaos.  Over the past few months, there have been several very unsettling events that have thrown my life a little off-balance.  They didn’t happen to me directly, but they have affected me just the same.  These events brought change to MY normal and I reacted emotionally and spiritually.   As I have been trying to recover my balance, the stock market crashed, oil prices tanked, and the Coronavirus pandemic took center stage.  Although, I continue to go to work each day and I may seem to be in control, my mind is reeling as my world seemingly spins out of control.  I have to fight the urge to go into “Fix it” mode. 

My morning devotion was in Psalm 37.  One verse in particular (a very familiar one) answered the question “What am I supposed to do?)  Here are several versions of the 7th verse of Psalm 37:

“Quiet down before God, be prayerful before him.  Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder, who elbow their way to the top.” 

the Message

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” 

New International

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” 

King James

“Be still before the Lord; wait patiently for Him and entrust yourself to Him; Do not fret (whine, agonize) because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.”

Amplified

Be still.  Right.  Easier said than done.  I do not WANT to be still and wait.  I want things back to normal.  But, right now, being still is the best thing that I can do.  I can be still in my home, away from the rush.  Families will have the time to eat meals together, to play games together, and to just BE together.  There are no extracurricular activities that require our attendance or attention.  We can choose to use this time to connect deeply with our spouse and/or children or we can waste the time fretting and binge watching on the internet.   We can moan about having to eat at home or enjoy the creativity of prepping meals together, even if that means helping to unpack the take-out.  We can worry about where the economy is headed or take advantage of opportunities to save money during this distancing period.  We can allow the chaos to eat us alive, or we can turn to God and allow Him to speak to each of us in the quiet.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to spend more time in the quiet.  I’ll practice being still before God.  I will spend time in His word.  I will once again spend time drawing, journaling and creating in order to connect with my refuge and my strength. 

I choose to see this chaotic time as an opportunity to reconnect, to return to my roots, to grow in my faith. I will be still.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.’

Psalm 46: 1-10 NIV

Huffing and Puffing

Straw, Sticks or Brick?

We’ve all heard the story of “The Three Little Pigs’.  The first little pig built his house out of straw.  The second little pig used sticks.  The third pig used bricks.  The wolf was able to “huff and puff” and blow down the first and second houses, but the brick house withstood his efforts.  As a child in VBS, I also remember singing the song about the foolish man and the wise man:

The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rains came tumbling down

The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the rock stood firm

The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
And the rains came tumbling down

The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the sand went smash.

So, how many of us truly heed the warnings of these two children’s stories?

We live in a “microwave” world.  We have no patience to wait for anything.  We eat fast food, drink coffee from pods, use credit to the extreme, treat sex as a dating option, and seek “happiness” above all else.  We’ve lost the need or the desire to plan, wait and/or build something of value.  We struggle and come apart over the “stuff”.  We live in a culture that confuses wants with needs.  I NEED a bigger house.  I NEED a new car.   I NEED the new phone.  I NEED to be happy.  I NEED to have the BEST. 

Instead of being content with what we can afford, we buy and sell and trade.  We save for the temporary things that we will tire of when the next newest thing is unveiled.  But, we forget about investing in the things that matter.  We are so intent in our pursuit of happiness, that people and relationships become secondary.  We don’t take the time to repair and/or build our marriages or relationships.  We treat relationships that should be the most precious with less regard than the latest IPhone. 

As we build relationships, we establish a solid footing for marriage.  We build the brick house for ourselves.  When sex becomes the basis for my happiness, I build a house of straw or sticks without a foundation.    A challenge or problem within the fragile walls will knock it down.  I know that I’m old school.  I do believe in the marriage vows “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”  Unfortunately, the truth of many a marriage is this:  “to have and to hold today, (unless you disappoint me or become a bigger liability than an asset to my happiness) or until something better comes along.”

I do believe that we have to return to our strong belief in family values.  I do not advocate the “Leave it to Beaver” life, but I do believe that marriage and family have to come first.  My children were always important to me.  I was the typical Momma Bear and they knew they could depend on me to stand up for them.  However, my husband came first.  If I did not focus on building a strong marriage, my kids wouldn’t have the family that they needed.  These are the “bricks” that I have found critical to a successful life/marriage:   

  1. My Relationship with God
  2. My Relationship with my spouse
  3. Taking care of my children

I met both of my husbands through church.  Faith has been a huge part of each of my marriages.  Without God, I could not have survived some of the things I have endured.  We believe that God is in control.  We have to trust in Him for all our needs. My kids were also raised in the church.  I would make a pallet on the floor of the gym where we had services and lay my baby on it while I practiced the hymns and/or offertories on the piano.  Gracie learned hymns in the womb with I practiced.  The church was a 2nd home to my children.  Sunday’s were not optional.  We would be in church that day.  Never a question.

Date nights every month away from our kids are important.  When my children were small and money was tight, we were known to drop them off with a sitter and go home to watch TV alone.  It was what we did as much as just building time together, alone.  It’s important to spend time growing together.  It’s so easy to get pushed apart with children in the house.  There’s so much to do.  Sleep is often at a premium.  It’s work to remain a couple and not just co-parents.

I’ve spent my life being a working a mom.  I went to the office and sometimes traveled for work.  I don’t think my children ever felt slighted.  In fact, after being laid off and home for 9 months, they were ECSTATIC when I returned to the work force. 

There are many, many options in life.  I would challenge myself as well as others to decide which battles in which you engage.  Is the fight for newest or the best “thing” critical to your life? Or, will it just bring a moment of happiness and feed the “NEXT” wolf? Will my house stand against the huffing and puffing?

Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Matthew 7:21-27 MSG

Lessons from Theodore

Theodore

We have 4 small dogs.  All of them are rescues.  Three of them came to us as puppies.  They moved right in and made themselves comfortable.  Our most recent addition is Theodore.  He’s a rat terrier found wandering a country road.  He had fleas and dermatitis when he was found.  Theodore was 5 years old when we got him.  We know this because he was chipped and the rescue organization talked to the breeder.  Neither the breeder nor his first family would take him back.

When I first met Theodore, I was amazed at how very stiff and almost distant he was.  He’s a very muscular dog and can jump over 3 feet, straight up.  We jokingly call him Stick Dog because he never seems to relax.  His legs are always stick straight.  He liked attention, but he never seemed to settle in one spot for very long.  It was obvious that Theodore was comfortable.  His skin had cleared up and his coat a returned.  He was getting good food and putting on weight.  He had learned his spot in the dog area.   On occasion he would fall asleep in my lap, but not very often.  I had resolved in my mind that he was just a loner. 

Early in December, however, something changed.  It was like Theodore realized that he was in his forever home.  He was suddenly a lap dog.  He’s still stiff and likes to know what’s going on EVERYWHERE in the house.  But now, he’s the first to crawl up for cuddles.  He has “his spot” on my right side and it doesn’t matter if one of the other dogs in lying there.  Theodore will maneuver his way into HIS spot.   He will stand outside my bathroom window and bark while I get dressed to remind me that he needs to come inside.  The more that time passes, the more at home he seems.  He even jumped up and down to be picked up just a few days ago.  That was a new thing.  It has been amazing to watch the transformation of his personality. 

Theodore’s journey has made me look at my own walk of faith.  As a young believer, I treated my relationship with God much as I would Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.  If I was good enough, or gave enough, or had something to trade, I would be “blessed” with a happy, pain free life.  If things didn’t go well, then I just wasn’t good enough.    I could never relax and really trust God to work, because I was too busy being BUSY.

Through the years, I’ve learned and adjusted.  I’ve read scripture. 

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”  Romans 2:12 TLB

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11 MSG

Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!  He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength. He helps me do what honors him the most.   Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.  You provide delicious food for me in the presence of my enemies. You have welcomed me as your guest; blessings overflow!   Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home.”  Psalm 23 TLB

 I claimed these scriptures.   I used them as proof that God would take care of me.  In some ways, I think I tried to use them as blackmail to get what I wanted in life.   I assumed that I would live a long, happy, care-free life.  My family and I would serve Him and be under His protection.  We were and we are.  BUT, my idea of protection and God’s were not the same. 

While God promises to ALWAYS care for me, He has never promised that things would be easy and free of trouble.  In fact, He said quite the opposite. 

”And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.”  Ephesians 6:12 MSG

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”  John 16:33 MSG

I think as a citizen of these United States, I have been spoiled to expect an easy life.  I don’t have any idea what it means to be persecuted.  So, when I hit a rough patch in life, I get all upset and feel sorry for myself.  Bad stuff will happen.  Even in our country, bad stuff happens.  The worst thing I could imagine happened to me when my first husband died.  I screamed and begged and cried out to God during that time.  I tried to figure out what I had done wrong to deserve this tragedy.  It took several years to come to terms with Terry’s death.  I had to recognize my own selfishness.  “I” was not being punished.  God has a plan for each of us.  Terry got his reward earlier than we expected.  It was a hard lesson to learn.  I’m still not totally sure I understand it all. 

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”  Romans 8:26-28 MSG

As I have become more comfortable in my faith, I have learned to relax and depend upon God.  Trials come.  There are situations and consequences in my life right now that I would definitely prefer not to confront.  I really don’t have a choice.  There are some regrets about past life choices.  There is sorrow in the consequences that must be faced.  But, ultimately, God is still there for me.  There is forgiveness in every situation.   There are blessings and joy to be found. 

” Then, when Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his wealth and happiness! In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!

So the Lord blessed Job at the end of his life more than at the beginning.” Job 42:10,12A TLB

“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”  Colossians 1: 11-12 MSG

The “I” in Christmas

I think one of my favorite Christmas memories is from 1982.  That was my first Christmas totally on my own.  I had moved to Houston for my first “grown-up” job.  This was the first Christmas that I purchased all my Christmas gifts with my own money.  I loved shopping for the perfect gift for each family member.  And what was even better?  I didn’t have to limit myself to just one gift.  I set my own budget and made my choices.  It was great!

My next Christmas memory is from 1988, the first Christmas that I didn’t spend with my parents.  It was the 2nd Christmas after Terry and I were married.  I was pregnant with our son and we spent that Christmas in Houston.  We were serving part-time in a church north of Houston and Christmas fell on a Sunday that year.  The church leadership decided that we should have our normal Sunday School and Church service that Sunday as well as a Christmas Eve service on Saturday night.  We spent weekends in a drab little house next to the church.  The furniture was old, the bed uncomfortable.  Our tree, gifts and dog were all in our apartment back in Houston.  After the Christmas Eve service, Terry and I went back to our little weekend house.  While he prepared spaghetti for supper, I went into the bedroom and cried.  I was homesick and (if I’m honest) a little hurt by the lack of consideration from our church.  After some discussion, we loaded up the spaghetti and headed back to Houston for the night.  We got back to our apartment about 11:00pm.  For our Christmas gifts, we had agreed to a dollar limit and decided to fill a stocking for each other.  So, late that night, we feasted on spaghetti and opened our stocking gifts.  We drove the 2 hours back to the little church in time for Sunday School the next morning.  I was so grateful for the tenderness and understanding of my husband that Christmas.  At was the greatest gift.   

It’s hard to pick a favorite Christmas with my Kids.  I loved shopping for them and seeing their excitement.  I think I enjoyed even more, the days when we would take them shopping for each other.  I will always remember the excitement of looking for the “best” gift for a sibling or a parent.  I believe we taught them that giving is what Christmas is all about. 

I find it disappointing when I see the joy of Christmas giving transformed into the greed of Christmas getting.  When I hear comments like “No one asked me what I wanted” or “I don’t want some cheap thing, I want a REAL gift” my heart sinks a little.  I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for input on Christmas gifts.  But, I think it’s also acceptable to be creative and give from the heart.  A handmade gift tells such a different story than a mass produced one.  Have I gotten things I didn’t need or want? Yes.  And, I try to find something to treasure in each gift, even if it’s only the thought. 

Too many of us get caught in the trap of chr”I”stmas where “I” is the most important part of the word. When that happens, it’s all about ME:

  • “I” want (fill in the blank)
  • “I” need to be central this holiday season
  • “I” will not be inconvenienced. 
  • “I” don’t care what you need unless it works for me. 
  • “I” deserve to be happy.

The holiday season can be very difficult and life experiences often exaggerate issues. 

The family that is missing a key member for the holidays, grieves for the loss of the person as well as many customs.  You may not be able to carry on all of your traditions. Why not try something new this year.  Don’t be afraid to be original.  After my husband died, I didn’t want to celebrate.  It took a few years to face Christmas with any type of joyful spirit.  When we were ready, we changed a few things.  Our tree was no longer traditional.  It was white and decorated in pink, purple, orange and lime green.  We used flamingos and boas to liven it up.    We still added a Santa figure to Terry’s collection and a house to his village.  But, we found new ways to move forward.

Blended families may being a competitiveness to the holidays.  There may be a desire to provide the “best” experience.  And, when adult children marry it adds another level of stress to the holidays.  There are expectations of family traditions from every branch of the family.  It can be exhausting trying to live up to it all.  Young families need to set their own traditions and accept that not everything will remain the same.  We celebrate the Sunday before Thanksgiving and Christmas with our children and their significant others.  That’s frees up the actual holiday for whatever the individual family groups need/want to do.  I’ll spend some “Mumzy time” with my grandson as well. 

Too often, the holidays are a stress on the budget.  You may feel the need to spend money you really don’t have and as a result, go into debt.  I think I forget the lesson from the story of the Little Drummer Boy.  He gave what he had.  He played his drum.  It didn’t matter that there were greater gifts being given.  He gave what he had.  When we give the best that we can, it shouldn’t have to live up to anything else.  It is the BEST.

When “I” become the center of the holiday season, I miss the reason of the season

When “I” stress about living up to the expectations that others set for me (or my gifts), I ignore the true gift that we celebrate each Christmas.

When “I” focus on what makes ME happy, I don’t have time to see what others need or have to offer. 

I need to keep the holidays in focus.  I need to remember that it is CHRiSTMAS and I have a very small part of it.  The joy of Christmas is in celebrating the birth of Christ, the greatest gift EVER!

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Luke 2:8-20 MSG

When Faith Fails

Webster’s dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”.   In Hebrews 11:1, we find the Biblical definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”   Several times through the years, I’ve heard speakers use a chair as a tangible example of faith.  You see the chair.  You believe the chair will support you.  You have faith in the chair even though you have not proven that it is strong enough.  So, what happens when you step out “on faith” and sit on the chair, only to have it collapse beneath you?  Was it your faith that failed or was it the chair? 

Most of us would agree it was the chair that was at fault.  We will look for a reason to blame the failure.  Maybe the chair was designed for a child and you were just too big for it.  Possibly, the chair was cheaply constructed and the connections just “let go”.  Or, maybe the chair was just old and brittle and was no longer safe for use when you sat in it. Folding chairs are often have a weight limit.  It doesn’t matter how much faith you exhibit, if you choose a chair that is undersized, defective or unsafe, you will have to face failure.  But, I doubt you will swear of chairs for life.  You will choose to sit in other chairs.  You will just be more discerning about your selection of seating. 

So, when we perceive that our faith in God has failed, what’s the issue?  Did God really fail, or did we put our faith in the wrong things?  Too often, I approach God with my list of wants.  I want Him to fix a relationship or a situation.  I want responsibility for which I’m not really prepared.  I want things to stay the same and never change.  I want “stuff” and “things” that I think will bring happiness into my life.  When I treat God like a Genie in a bottle or a kind of Santa Claus, there are more failures than successes in my life. 

What about that relationship?  Are you asking God to fix the other person?  Are there issues that are incompatible with your goals and dreams?  What if you focused on growing yourself and becoming the better person?  Faith is NOT “a magic wand” that will make all of the issues disappear.  Just like a chair, you need to be aware of the things the other person may bring into your relationship: bad temper, sexual promiscuity, control issues, poor spending habits, stinginess, ego are just a few.  The other person may need to be “fixed”, but it’s not your place to decide that.  You are only responsible for repairing the areas of your own life.  I believe in marriage.  I also know that marriage is hard.  Really hard at times. It’s even harder when you refuse to see the danger signals in a relationship.  

How do we define success?  In our society, success is often measured by the car that you drive, the diamond that you wear, the house you buy and the admiration that others heap upon your accomplishments.  I work near the River Oaks area.  I drive through neighborhoods with large beautiful houses.  While there’s a part of me that would love one of these homes, the practical side of me can only see the bills that would have to be paid to maintain such a home and the hours of cleaning that would be needed.  Too many people saddle themselves with debt in order to be seen as a success.  When a young couple is just starting out, there are enough stresses in a new marriage without adding extraordinary debts.  An extravagant wedding (that is over far too quickly) is too often the focus instead of the marriage that is to last a lifetime.  The first home doesn’t have to be a show place.  It doesn’t even have to be your “dream” house.  Work up to that.  Give yourself time and room to grow.  Concentrate on who you are, on what kind of family you want, before you commit to a huge mortgage and car payment. I have faith that all my needs will be met.  But, all the faith in the world will not erase extravagant decisions and the resulting debt that I choose to make. 

No relationship, job, success or amount of money will “make” you happy.  Only you can choose to find happiness in a situation.  Faith may not make you warm and fuzzy.  Faith is not about “ME” and my happiness.   Anytime, I place the responsibility of my happiness or (the blame for my unhappiness) on another person’s shoulders, there will be failure.  Being happy is a choice that ONLY you can make.  Nothing will make you feel happy. 

When hardships come (and they will) and nothing seems to be going my way, does it mean that my faith has failed?  Does it mean that God has failed and I should just write him off?  After struggling with these questions after the death of my husband, I have to answer “no” to both questions.  Because my faith says that God will meet my needs, I am reassured.   Because my faith says that God loves me as a Father loves his child, I am comforted beyond measure.  Because my faith does not depend upon “happy endings” and smiley faces, I stand confident that no matter what, God is still in control.  My faith has changed through the years.  It’s not as me-centric.  My faith is stronger because of the rotten things that have happened.  My faith stands even when the miracles I beg for do not occur, because I know there is a reason.  Ultimately, my faith tells me that I’m not promised this world. What I am promised is an eternity with my God.  That is my hope.  That is why my Faith never fails. 

Flexible or Counterfeit?

We operate in a world that preaches tolerance, flexibility and understanding.  Not bad ideals to practice, in most cases.  I, however, have grown tired of being schooled on the “politically correct” response to every situation regardless of my own beliefs and emotions.  I understand that not everyone embraces my upbringing, my history or my moral compass and I have no intention of forcing my views onto anyone.  But, at what point do my actions stop being signs of flexible tolerance and become indications of an untrue and even counterfeit life?   Is there a line where I am expected to stand up and voice my standards and beliefs even if those very beliefs offend the social norm of today?

I grew up in North Texas in what is often called Tornado Alley.  Like many homes in that part of the world, we had a storm cellar in our back yard.  It had been built by my grandparents, and the door was covered in sheet metal and made a wonder slide for play time.  One day, I discovered that I could walk up the door if I rubbed gasoline (from the 5 gallon container for the lawn mower) on the bottoms of my rubber flip-flops.  I thought it was really neat.  That is until my mother discovered what we were doing.  I was told it was dangerous to play with gasoline.  I wasn’t sure I understood the danger, but I knew not to try it again.  Fast forward 30 years, when I met a friend who had been playing with gasoline and had been badly burned as a result.  Now, I understood the dangers of the highly combustible fuel as well as how fast fires can and will follow not only the liquid but the fumes.  My mother was not flexible in allowing me to have fun and play.  She knew I was playing with fire and did her best to protect me. 

You may be thinking, “Of course she would stop you.  So what?” This example is pretty cut and dried.  The danger was obvious.  The actions were expected.  So I ask:  How many times to we allow others (friends, children, family) to play with “fire” in their lives rather than offend/anger them?  There are so very many moral chasms that we allow others to delve into without saying anything.  After all, we live in a world where sex is casual, attaining personal desire is the #1 goal and faith is only discussed as the punchline of a joke.  We speak of religion without conviction and yet bristle when called religious.  Christianity has become a social tag and the Church a place to go on Sunday mornings IF I decide to get out of bed AND it will benefit me in some way. 

My husband uses the term “American Christianity” to describe today’s social/religious Christian tag.  American Christianity tends to focus on:

  • The importance of the individual not the corporate vision or destiny of “the Church”. 
  • Individual prosperity instead of stewardship; using faith to attain stability and comfort versus encouraging taking risks to advance the Kingdom.
  • Self-fulfillment and happiness rather than glorifying God and serving humanity.
  • Promoting a consumerist mentality with regard to the home church and not the equipping for ministry; A culture of entertainment that replaces the pursuit of God.
  • The church as a building instead of a body that exemplifies a lifestyle of worship, community and Christ following.
  • Efficiency of worship but not the effectiveness.

While each individual believer is responsible for applying the Word of God to his/her own life, scripture was given to the Church.  When you read the Old Testament, references are made about the Nation of Israel.  In the New Testament, the community of faith (the Church) was the focus of scripture.  As believers, we are to be a PART of the Body or The Church.  We are not ‘stand-alone’ in our beliefs. 

Only in the United States do we believe we are “owed” prosperity.  Rather than being grateful for all that we have in our country, we pray for greater things:  bigger houses, nicer cars, better paychecks.  It would never occur to most American Christians to sacrifice in order to provide for the community around us.  At most, we give a tithe and expect a big return as a result.

If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy”, I will scream!  No one ‘deserves’ to be happy.  Did you read that correctly?  NO ONE DESERVES TO BE HAPPY.  An individual can CHOOSE to be happy in any situation.  When MY happiness becomes my prime focus, I cannot focus on God.  And just to close any gap that may exist:  God will NEVER use sin to bring you happiness.  An adulterous affair may add a level of excitement and fun to your life, but is it worth the sacrifice of your reputation and trustworthiness? 

I struggle with entertainment value attached to our American church services.  I struggle as a worship leader and as a participant.  I know the danger of getting caught up in “performing” on any given Sunday. The need to be part of the worship with the body fades if I’m not on stage.  The accolades from others become my “worship” and I no longer look for ways to grow in my own spiritual life.

I believe we need to attract people to our church services.  But, more important, I believe we need to be examples of a lifestyle of Christ following.  When we show that worship is more than filling space in a church building once a week, we influence the community is a greater way.  We make effective our worship and our lifestyle.  People are attracted to the genuine.  Worship as entertainment will lose its appeal if there is no depth to it.  That’s why we are seeing an upswing in small group/family life worship.  My pastor has said “The Row doesn’t know what you need, but the Circle does.”  The Row represents where you sit in a church service.  The people on either side of you have no idea what’s really going on with you.  The Circle, however, represents the family life group.  That’s the small group that hears you share on a weekly basis.  That may not be efficient, but it’s definitely effective in growing your spiritual side.   

I want to be flexible with people.  I want to be that person that loves regardless and sometimes in spite of the situation.  I need to be a part of weekly worship and daily growth in order to be my best self.  I cannot pretend to be something other than who I am.  I will not be a counterfeit in this world that promotes individuality but demands conformity. 

“Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” 

James 1:26-27 MSG