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

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

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. 

Trust, Hope & Love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

We have a blended family that includes 5 adult children that range in age from 20-30 years old.  We are firmly entrenched in the marriage stage of life.  So far, we’ve had 3 weddings:  Zac in 2016, Kyle in 2018 and Reagan was married this weekend.  Three down and two to go. 

As a parent, there are lots of thoughts and emotions that arise when one of your children moves toward marriage.  You want the best for your child.  You pray they are making sound choices.  There’s the joy (and lets be honest the stress) of adding another person to your family as well as the new extended family.  Weddings are fun, beautiful, joyful, frustrating, tiring and hard work.  And, after the party is over, the REAL work begins in earnest.

Marriage is a constant exercise in give and take.  According to statistics, almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation.  Researchers estimate that 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce.  Of the remaining 50 to 59 percent of marriages, I wonder how many would rate their marriages as “successful”.  I love being married.  I was married for 18 years, widowed for 10 years and celebrate my fourth anniversary in a few months with my new husband.  I had a successful first marriage and I consider my current marriage a success. 

So, what makes marriage so difficult?  I think the answer is pretty simple:  selfishness.  When I concentrate on “ME” and “MY WANTS”, I cannot put my marriage first.  My selfishness takes precedence.  I recently saw a sign that said:                   “Want a bad marriage?  Put yourself first.                                      “Want a good marriage?  Put your spouse first.                                   “Want a great marriage?  Put God first.” 

There is so much truth in these words.  If I concentrate on what God wants, I will take care of my spouse.  It doesn’t matter if my spouse reciprocates.  I am still responsible for seeking a Godly marriage.  And if my spouse also seeks a Godly marriage, so much the better!!

We’ve all heard and/or read 1 Corinthians 13, also known as “The Love Chapter”.  I find that putting scripture into my own words, makes it a little more real to me.  This is my personal interpretation of a few of the love verses. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13 (Melissa’s words)

Love is valuable.  It is worth everything to me. 

Love keeps going even through the hard times. 
Love gives to others instead of taking for itself.
Love
is happy in its’ own yard.  There are no greener pastures.
Love doesn’t exist only when it gets attention.
Love doesn’t allow my selfish wants to conflict with those I love.
Love doesn’t manipulate to get its’ way.
Love plays 2nd fiddle at times. 
Love is calm in the face of conflict or disappointment.
Love has learned the art of forgive and forget.
Love doesn’t take pleasure in making others beg for attention
Love speaks the truth (even when it hurts.)
Love withstands any attack.
Love is from God and trusts that He is in control.
Love often wears “rose colored” glasses and sees the good in a difficult situation.
Love never asks “what if” and longs for something (or someone) else        Love stands firm and stays true to its’ vows and commitments.

There are three things that will make me successful in life:  Trust, Hope and Love.  And Love is the one that is my focus. 

We all crave love.  We want to be adored and cherished.  Too often, however, we confuse lust with love and settle for less than the best God has for us.  We have found that we can avoid solving issues within relationships by moving on to new relationships.  There is excitement in the chase.  We use the excuses “I’m just not happy and I deserve happiness”, “We’ve just grown apart and have nothing in common”, or (the biggest lie from Satan) “God wouldn’t have brought him/her into my life if He didn’t want me to be with him/her.”  Just as Eve allowed the Serpent to persuade her to eat the forbidden fruit, we listen to the world and throw love and commitment to the wolves in order to have a moment of excitement and fun. 

As my children begin and continue to grow their marriages and their own families, I pray that the words of 1 Corinthians 13 will ring true and keep them on the true path. 

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7,13 NIV

Shredded Tires, a Pillar of Salt and Life

We’ve all seen the sign that warns of tire damage if you backup. You can move forward and the spikes lay flat. But, backup or go the wrong direct, and your tires are shredded. There’s no turning back when you see this sign. You are forced to “go with the flow” and drive forward.

How many times have I wanted a “do over” during my lifetime? This is especially true after I’ve made a decision and things haven’t gone exactly as planned. My mind goes into overdrive with “what if” and “if only” thoughts. I’m plagued with plans on how to “go back” and “fix it;.” But, truthfully, that’s not an option. Any time spent trying to go back will be wasted and will come at a cost to myself and may to those around me.

“ But Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.”

Genesis 19:26 MSG

Lot and his family were living Sodom and Gomorrah.  Angels visited and instructed Lot to take his family and “run for your life! Don’t look back! Don’t stop anywhere on the plain—run for the hills or you’ll be swept away.”  God was saving them from the destruction that was coming.  Lot had seen the debauchery.  He and his family trusted the Angels and started on their way.  But, what if the city wasn’t so bad after all?   If only there was one more chance.  Lot’s wife couldn’t move forward.  She was too caught up in what she was leaving behind.  She turned back and the entire family was affected by her decision.  

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” 

Philippians 3:12-14 MSG

As a young mother, I remember being overwhelmed.  I worked a full time demanding job.  We had two young children.  My husband and I always seemed to have more month than money.  It was easy to wonder:  “What if I was single and going out with my co-workers?  If only I didn’t have all these responsibilities.  Don’t I deserve to be happy and have fun?”  It was a tough time in our marriage.  Ultimately, I realized that I couldn’t go back and could only move forward with the decisions I had made about my life.  And, I’m so glad that I did.

In our world, choosing ME over anything is what we are told to do.  I need to find MY happiness.  I am the most important person in my life.  God wants ME to be happy or He wouldn’t have brought (fill in the blank) into MY life.  It’s too easy to find an excuse to abandon what I have for something that “might be”.  I become my own worst enemy.  I plot and scheme to make God fit into the itinerary I have made for my life.  And when that doesn’t work, my first thought is to try again.  I’m certain I know best.  Sound familiar?

I’ve watched so many families/marriages implode because reality has overtaken the fairy tale.  Things aren’t as perfect as we want.  Prince Charming’s armor is a little dented & tarnished and those glass slippers really pinch your toes.   You begin to look back, to wonder:  “Maybe I married too quickly.  What if I had waited for the Jack of Hearts to take and interest.  He’s really cute.”  And before you even recognize what has happened, you’re a pillar of salt.  Stuck in the wilderness you thought you wanted.  You’ve destroyed your future.  You’ve destroyed your family.  In an effort to recapture what might have been, you have chosen to backup and have suffered severe “damage your tires.”

What can we learn from this?  Is there any hope?  I believe there is.  While I don’t think any of us “deserve” to be happy, I know that I can “choose” to be happy and content in any circumstance.  You see, when I stopped looking at all of the fun that my single friends were having all those years ago, I realized something.  They were looking for a life JUST LIKE MINE!  Every one of them wanted a home and a family. I must had to stop day-dreaming about what might have been and embrace what really WAS.  My reality was a husband that loved me as much as he irritated me.  My reality was a son and a daughter that just wanted to spend time with me: quantity over quality.  My reality was God always provided for all of our needs.  I made the decision to invest in my less than perfect marriage.  I began to focus on what I could DO to bring joy to my husband and my children instead of what I thought I was missing.  And you know what?   The best years of my marriage started right then!

“But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”  E

Ephesians 4:20-24  MSG

You can never go back.  Whether good or bad, that is the past.  You can only move forward.

“Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms.” 

Luke 17:32-33 MSG

Is Love Worth the Pain?


We grieve because we love.

I learned a lot from grief.  I learned that my identity was as a wife, a mother and a daughter.  When I lost my husband, and later my dad, a lot of what made me feel whole seemed to disappear.  For years, I submerged myself in my role as “mom”.   I needed my kids as much as they needed me.  As they grew up and moved on with their lives, I again lost my touch point, my anchor.  Where did I belong?  How would I make a difference?  It was a struggle.  I forgot what it meant to be just “me”. 

Have you ever felt the effects of too much caffeine?  That jumpy, panicky feeling became normal for me.  Most days, I felt like I need to crawl out of my own skin.   On the days when my kids weren’t around or I didn’t have to work, I stayed in bed.  It was easier to sleep than to face my reality.   I didn’t keep up with my house or my yard.  I avoided being at home as much as I could.  I didn’t know how to ask for help.  I didn’t know if there was any help.  I was overwhelmed.  I was supposed to be strong and I was embarrassed to admit that I was failing in every area.  I just tried to keep my head above water. 

I lived this way for almost 10 years.  I knew I had to get used to my new “normal” and believed that I had dealt with my grief.  I helped with grief recovery groups.  I put on a good face.  I didn’t realize that I was living with depression.  All the things that had given my life meaning seemed to be disappearing.  My son and daughter didn’t need a hands-on mom.  I had accepted that I would live out the rest of my life alone.   It had been long enough.  I had to get over it all.  I had to close the door on the part of my life that wanted to be loved and accepted.

But, I had a friend that listened to me.  A friend heard what I said and what I didn’t really want heard.  He asked questions I didn’t want to answer.  He probed into areas that were off-limits.  He recommended counseling.  He encouraged me to trust again.  He challenged me to open the doors that I had closed and sort through those emotions and dreams.  He waited patiently to be allowed into all areas of my life. 

There are many that question the choices I’ve made over the last four years.   And, there are those that frankly, just disapprove of the life I now have.  I’ve heard the whispers and I’ve seen the looks.   I don’t have any doubts that I am exactly where I need to be.  I married my dearest friend.  I have never felt safer or more secure.  I am loved deeply and completely.  Our life is not without its challenges and frustrations, but we face them together. 

I have learned that grief is love turned upside down.  I will never give up the opportunity to experience a deep and passionate love in order to avoid the pain of grief.  Love is worth EVERYTHING!

What Makes You Happy?

Between my husband and I, we have 5 children between the ages of 20 and 30. Both of our boys are married. One of our daughters is newly engaged and planning her summer wedding. The other 2 girls are in their own relationships. We are surrounded with young love and wedding talk which can be very exciting. The talk of love and happiness is everywhere. Love is a wonderful thing. But, there are days when Love is just difficult. And it’s on those days that happiness seems to disappear. So, what makes it all worth it?

I married my first husband in my late twenties. We were young and in love and dumb. As the newness of newly wed life and the infatuation that accompanies it wore off, we found that love wasn’t always so sweet and happiness didn’t come easily. I didn’t particularly “love” that my husband artfully draped his clothing around our bedroom instead of putting it in the laundry hamper. He wasn’t very “happy” that I only washed what was actually IN the hamper and he had no clean socks. There were days and sometimes weeks when I wondered WHY I had decided to marry this man. We lived in a one bedroom apartment. He wanted to do EVERYTHING together. I craved my alone time. We struggled. I wasn’t miserable, but I wouldn’t describe our life as happy.

It was several years before I discovered the “secret” to true happiness. It wasn’t really that difficult either. I just had to decide to be happy in whatever situation we were in at that moment. I had to give up my expectations that anyone could make me happy. I learned that there were things that I had to sacrifice in order to build our marriage together. Instead of being irritated because I wanted to be alone, I was glad to have a husband who wanted to spend time with me and our children. I made it a point to seek out the reasons to be truly happy and content. When I decided to choose my marriage over my personal agenda, the change in our lives and our relationship was amazing. As much as I loved my husband, he would never be everything that I thought I needed. And, he was powerless to provide the happiness I sought.

When my husband died in 2005, I was confronted with such deep sadness. I didn’t think I would ever know love or happiness again in my lifetime. I was wrong. Even in the immense sadness of those years, I found moments of happiness. I became more intent on seeking out reasons to be happy and celebrate the moments. My children and I laughed at memories and tried new things. I learned that there can be great joy in the midst of deep sorrows. I once again decided that I would be happy even if I never loved another man. Some days were easier than others.

I married my second husband a little over 3 years ago. Our path to each other wasn’t easy. We both had struggles along the way. We both loved and lost. We came into this marriage with scars and (I hope) a little wiser. We know that every successful relationship requires compromises (aka personal sacrifice). He can never make me happy. He doesn’t have that power. We can offer each other experiences that bring happiness. But, ultimately, happiness is a personal decision. I love him deeply and passionately. The joy of our relationship is a blessing every day. There are still struggles. Every morning, I make the decision to choose my spouse over my self. I choose happiness whenever I see the opportunity.

My advice to the young and in love (or those wanting to be in love)? Find happiness within yourself FIRST. Then, and only then, will you be ready to tackle a lasting relationship. Infatuation will not bring lasting happiness. Identify that things that you “love” about the other person. (And don’t fall into the trap of saying he/she “Just makes me happy.”) I married my best friend. I trust him completely. We talk about everything. We have fun together. I know that he looks out for my best interests. Together, we find contentment that may not look too exciting, but it sure offers us many opportunities to decide to be happy.

“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.” Ephesians 5:22-28 msg

Hopeful Intentions in 2019

As 2019 begins, many will make resolutions and plans for the year.  A few years ago, I was challenged to choose one word that would be set my vision for the year.  That year my word was “dream.”  I had forgotten what it was to have dreams.  I had become accustomed to just getting by: one day at a time.  I recognized that I needed to dream again.  I needed to set my sights on something new and better in my life. 

This year, I have two words.  The first word is “Hope”.   Hope was the word given to me when I took a “Word of the Year” quiz.  I can always use hope.  The other word came to be a bit more subtly.   During my quiet time, I heard this word whispered into my heart: “intention”.  So, in 2019 I will focus on living my life with hope and intention.  How do I accomplish this?

First, I wanted to know what these two words mean.  I found that they are very similar. 

INTENTION

noun

a determination to act in a certain way : resolve

Synonyms

aim, ambition, aspiration, design, dream, end, goal, idea, ideal, intent, mark, meaning, object, objective, plan, point, pretension, purpose, target, thing

HOPE   

noun

a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Synonyms

Aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim goal, plan, design

What does it mean live a life of intention and hope?  Is it just setting goals or objectives and wishing it all goes well?  Choosing a word (or words) each is year is different from resolutions.  Resolutions seldom work because they are based on the type of person I’m tired of being.  I focus on the negative and are expected to be “broken”.  Instead, I want to focus on the person that God wants me to become: the transformation process.

A wise friend of mine has pointed out that a person’s focus can be found by reviewing their calendar and checkbook.  We spend our time and money in the areas that are the most important to us.  I don’t hesitate to keep my business appointments in my Outlook calendar.  I have all kinds of bells and whistles to remind me when to pay bills, when to get up, when to take medications, when appointments are scheduled.  So, why don’t I use these same reminders for my personal life?  If I intend to spend more time in Bible Study, I should block out that time in my calendar instead of saying I want to “read the Bible more”. 

Because I want to be intentional about how I spend my time, I need to be aware of my time, also.  Much as I have to plan how to spend or same my money, I need to do the same with my time.  I already know how much time I spend commuting to and from work, the hours that I am in the office and how much sleep I need.  I also know my basic commitments for church and life group.  That’s where my calendar begins.  I also know that I NEED to spend time with my husband and my children as well as friends.  It’s all too easy to say “we should get together” and never actually do it.  Scheduling a date night with my spouse is an easy way to be sure we get some quality time together.  Instead of waiting for one of the kids to call me or drop by,   need to put some time in my calendar to check in with each of them.  If I am intentional about spending time with my children every month, I will set appointments with each of them throughout the month.  It doesn’t have to be a huge event, but I MUST decide to schedule and follow up on these times.  The same thing goes for friends.  I need to spend time with friends to keep me grounded.  Finding a convenient time for both of you may take some work, but the effort is priceless. 

While I’m being intentional with my time, I need to schedule time to refill my own reserve.  It’s not only okay to take some alone time, it’s important to do so.  I need to block off time each week for my “creative” side to emerge.  I need to release myself to create.  As a student, I spent a lot of time practicing my music.  As an adult, I have been known to think of that time as a “waste”.  But, I’ve learned that I need that time. 

Does every moment have to be scheduled and every dollar earmarked?  No, definitely not.  I want to be intentional with my life, not controlling of every aspect.  There is also value in being spontaneous, flexible and generous. Calendars or the budgets should never be your master, just helpful tools to guide you.  When 2020 arrives, I want to look back at 2019 and not wonder where I spent my time and money.  I want to know that I invested wisely in the lives of my family and other around me. 

So, the challenge for this year:  Be Intentional with Hope.  Don’t sulk because you haven’t received a phone call from a loved one:  CALL THEM FIRST.  Don’t wait for friends or family to suggest a visit:  INITIATE THE SCHEDULE.  Stop with the passive/aggressive comments and just reach out to the ones you want to be near.  Life is too short.  Make the trip.  Spend the time.  Be intentional in 2019.

Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!

Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.

Ephesians 5: 11-17  MSG

Lonely in a Crowd

Have you ever found yourself filled with loneliness while you are in a group of people? You look around at those surrounding you, but you don’t connect. You may not have anything in common with others in the room. Or, there may be underlying tensions that keep you separated. This kind of loneliness is difficult at best and isolating at worst.

As I have been thinking about the Christmas story, I began to consider the journey that Mary and Joseph undertook to get to Bethlehem. Usually it is depicted as a solitary and lonely journey: just the two of them traveling on a deserted road. But, this year it occurred to me that they were probably not all alone on that road. The entire Roman Empire was traveling to ancestral hometowns.

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. Luke 2: 1-5 MSG

It’s quite possible that Mary and Joseph were traveling on a very busy road. There were very likely other relatives making the same trek. But unlike other journey’s that would be made as part of a large family caravan, Mary and Joseph were very alone on this journey. The reason is clear: Mary was Joseph’s pregnant fiancee, not his wife. Her pregnancy was an opportunity for gossip and judgement and maybe some shame and scorn from family members. We don’t really know details, but Joseph’s original reaction to Mary’s news gives us some insight into how this pregnancy was perceived.

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. Matthew 1: 18-19 MSG

As I think about Christmas in 2018, I wonder, how many of us are surrounded by people but still feel totally isolated? There are many things that can contribute to the isolation. The normal tensions that exist within a family unit may result in a feeling of detachment. New family situations that result from death, divorce or a even new marriage may greatly influence the family temperament. A death in the family will make traditions either too precious to forget or too painful to observe. Each family member will react with different expectations or preferences. Melding or ignoring the new needs may create a strong resentment within the family. Divorce always stresses and changes the family dynamic and as a result the holiday season. When anyone within the family gets married, old traditions are stretched and strained. Now there are multiple family traditions and locations to be considered and blended. Seemingly small things like what food will be served, special church service attendance, multiple family gatherings as well the cost of gifts can become contentious. Hurt feelings and blame placing only contribute to feelings of isolation.

As I approached this 2018 holiday season, it was too easy to dread the upcoming holidays. This is just my fourth Christmas as part of a blended family that includes my husband, and our five adult children, two daughters-in-love and a precious grandson. We are still figuring out how to build our own family traditions. Trying to coordinate our blended family plans with their own extended family events can be overwhelming. I love looking for that perfect gift for each person in my family and it gets more and more difficult the older they get. And this year, I determined to enjoy this holiday time. This year, I will give full attention to my family and not be overtaken with self doubt and feelings of failure when I do not meet the expectations of others. I cannot keep everyone happy. That is a choice made by each individual.

This Year, I will focus on the celebration of the birth of my Savior.

“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


Am I Human or Just Dumb?


To err is human, to forgive divine. All people commit sins and make mistakes. God forgives them, and people are acting in a godlike (divine) way when they forgive.

“An Essay on Criticism”  by Alexander Pope

We all make mistakes in life.  Some are more painful than others.  The assumption is that we learn  from the mistakes and  do not repeat the same one.  The reality is, you can can only make a mistake once:  the 2nd time is a choice. So, if we keep making the same mistake/choice, does that mean we are just dumb?  All through life, we learn things.  Sometimes, we take the advice and teachings of those around us.  But, there are the times that we get burned testing our boundaries.

When I was a child, I was fascinated watching my mother test the heat of the iron.  She would touch her finger to her tongue and then touch the the bottom plate of the iron.  I decided that I wanted to iron my paper doll clothes.  So, I did all of the things I had observed my mother do in the past.  Except, I didn’t lightly touch the iron.  I pressed my index finger to the metal plate.  I had been told many times not to touch the iron because it would burn me.  The pain and the resulting blister (and the scorched paper doll dress) were reminders to heed the warnings. 

But, my need to prove myself didn’t stop there.  It was around the same time of my life.  We were at an Easter egg hunt at my grandparents farm in Foard City.  It was a big family get-together and there were lots of eggs to find.  My Aunt Ruth, who was just a few years older than me, stopped me and pointed out some pretty pink flowers and pointedly told me NOT to pick them.  I went on about the business of hunting eggs, but I kept thinking about those bright pink flowers.  Ruth and I often would go pick wildflowers around the farm and I wondered why she was being so selfish about those pretty flowers.  In hindsight, I don’t think I had even noticed the flowers before being told to leave them alone.  But, now, I was obsessed with them.  I decided to show my aunt that I could pick any flower I wanted and deliberately grabbed the bright pink blossoms with both hands. 

Prickly Pear Cactus

If you have ever encountered a Prickly Pear Cactus, you know about the sharp spines.  I didn’t manage to pick any of the flowers, but I did get both hands full of needles and spines.  All because I was so caught up in having my own way and not paying heed to warnings that I had received.

From the time of Adam and Eve in the garden, we have been inclined to test every rule and push every boundary.  If the speed limit is 60 mph, we drive 65 mph or more.  A sign that says “WET PAINT” is more of an invitation to touch it than a warning.  We make dumb comments for excuses when ignoring rules or warnings: 

  • “It’s just a little white lie.  It doesn’t hurt anyone”
  • Texting isn’t a problem when I drive”
  • “If I can serve my country at 18, I should be able to drink!”
  • “It’s not cheating on my spouse if I’m not happy.  I deserve to be happy”
  • “God wouldn’t have brought him/her into my life if He didn’t want us together.”
  • “As long as I go to church on Sunday, I can do anything I want.”
  • “I don’t need a church to feel close to God.  I am a spiritual person and do just fine on my own. 

And my favorite dumb comment. . .

  • “It’s just sex.  It’s not important.  It doesn’t mean anything”

I have done things in my life that were just dumb.  I would bet most people have.  I have hurt other people and I’ve had to apologize for my actions/words.  And, I’ve been wounded by people for whom I cared deeply and then I had to learn to forgive.  I’ve got a good grasp on the “err” and “dumb” actions.  The “divine” part is a little harder. 

I’m grateful that God is divine.  He is forgiving and merciful.  I try to remember that I really don’t want life to be fair, because I want the benefits of mercy in every situation.   Even so, I know there are consequences when I step over the line.  The results may not be as evident as a blistered index finger or a hand full of cactus spines, but there are penalties that have to be paid.  Whether it is a fine for a speeding ticket or the loss of the trust and respect of my loved ones, there are always consequences. 

A favorite verse from the Old Testament talks about consequences and forgiveness:

If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust swarms to eat up all of your crops, or if I send an epidemic among you,  then if my people will humble themselves and pray, and search for me, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 TLB

There will be payment for breaking the rules,  choosing to rebel or ignoring the guidelines and instructions you have been given in this life.  Usually, the retribution is much worse than the enjoyment of the moment of rebellion.  My prayer is that I become more divine, more God-like in my choices.  I must face my issues and follow the best path, not necessarily the one that benefits me the most.  I must forgive those that cause me pain and be willing to pray for them, even when I just HATE doing that.  I must honor my promises and my vows in all areas of my life. 

What do your choices in life say about you?  Are you just human or moving toward the divine?  How many will admit to just being dumb when it comes to making decisions?