Commitment or Happiness: Do I Have to Choose?

Our pastor and his wife, Kenny and Valerie Dean, talked yesterday about marriage. Central in there discussion was how hard marriage can be. I don’t think it matters how “in love” you are with your spouse, there are times you just want to quit and walk away. All through the Bible, marriage is used to show how much God loves us.

“God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭1:26-28‬ ‭MSG‬‬

“No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:29-33‬ ‭MSG‬‬

As I considered yesterday’s message, i understood that people often treat their marriage the same way they treat God. We expect our marriages (and God) to be exactly what we want: all fun and happiness with no rough spots. Life is a beautiful rose garden with a fairy-God granting our every wish. However, it doesn’t take long to learn that the roses have thorns. God loves us, but He loves us through the trials. It’s only through the struggles that we learn trust and commitment. When marriage is all about what makes ME happy, the rough spots are inevitable. By loving my spouse IN SPITE of my feelings, I learn what true love is.

In our fast food, microwave culture, we have forgotten how to wait. If things don’t turn out the way we want, we find another option. We don’t have the patience to wait on God, so we stick around just long enough to glimpse the truth and then jump to something else. When I’m not happy in my marriage, I find other ways to get pleasure. The divorce rate in our country is indicative of this. If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy” I will scream! That’s a lie. Happiness is a decision not a right.

Time and time again we see evidence of the messes we make trying to “help God”. The unrest in the Middle East has its origins in such a debacle. Sarah helped God by giving her servant to Abraham. Ishmael was born the result. Sarah was mad when Hagar became pregnant and abused her. Hagar ran away to die.

“The angel of GOD said, “Go back to your mistress. Put up with her abuse.” He continued, “I’m going to give you a big family, children past counting. From this pregnancy, you’ll get a son: Name him Ishmael; for GOD heard you, GOD answered you. He’ll be a bucking bronco of a man, a real fighter, fighting and being fought, Always stirring up trouble, always at odds with his family.””
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭16:9-12‬ ‭MSG

How many times do we cause issues because we aren’t willing to wait? We jump from one partner to another trying to find love and happiness. We cheat and take what we want and then wonder why there is suspicion and heartache in our relationships. Sexual promiscuity is acceptable and dangerous. You have no idea what you will be exposed to in a single moment of pleasure. When you have convinced yourself that variety in partners helps you to grow into a better lover, you rob yourself of a truly intimate relationship.

“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:16-20‬ ‭MSG‬‬

I serve a jealous God.

“You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.”
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭34:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If my marriage is to be a picture of a my relationship with God, then I cannot venture outside of my marriage to find happiness. My joy and my happiness will be realized through serving God and loving my husband regardless of what’s going on in our lives. Through the good times and the bad, through the fun and the sadness, I will honor my marriage vows. I will honor my God.

. . . “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
‭‭Ruth‬ ‭1:16-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

An Unwelcome, Unwanted Gift

Charlie Brown was known for saying “Good grief!” when he was frustrated. There a very few of us that would consider grief “Good”. But, I’ve learned that grief is a gift.

My first months after my husband’s death were dark. I remember functioning on some level. The pain of grief was numbing. The colors weren’t there. The sun seemed to have disappeared. I felt as if I was trying to swim through mud: exhausted but getting no where. I spent hours in the darkness of night walking in circles and asking God “WHY?”

Many people would tell me I should be happy that my husband was with God. When the tears would start, they would try to make things better, to encourage me to be strong. I had read 1 Thessalonians 4:13 many times:

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13 KJV

Unfortunately, I took this verse to mean that I should not grieve. I felt guilty for grieving. I tried to hide my pain. I struggled with my faith. Was I just not strong enough?

I was blessed to have friends that understood grief. They walked beside me. They allowed my grief to bubble over into their lives. They didn’t try to “fix”me. They just stood with me. They allowed me to learn what a gift grief can be.

Most of us try to avoid pain, to avoid grief. We don’t talk about death. Too often children aren’t exposed to the sorrow of death and funerals. We “protect” them from seeing our own grief. And they are not prepared for tragedy when it occurs.

But death is a reality. Sometimes it comes too early and the questions keep coming. I found myself pointing out people that I didn’t think deserved to be living and asking God why he took my husband and left them. I screamed and begged to have him back or to be taken to be with him.

But one day, I realized that Terry’s death was his reward. He was exactly where he wanted to be. He wasn’t missing a thing. I was grieving for what I had lost. And that was ok. I didn’t have to feel guilty or hide it. I missed my husband. My kids missed their dad and the tears were a symbol of our love for him. I had a new understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14:

“And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 MSG

When one loses a great love, grief is the result. It’s our last connection to that loved one. The grief will not always bring tears. The grief will not always be paralyzing. Grief will not remain acute. As you move through the process, it becomes chronic: enduring and sometimes recurring. You come to accept the dance with grief. It is bittersweet. A gift of love and memories.

SHHHHH!

“If you can’t say something nice. . .”

We’ve all heard that phrase:  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I’ve said it to my own children when they were busily calling each other names or tattling on each other.  But, I have recently realized, that this phrase has taken on a whole different meaning in my life.

My internal voice tells me that nice people never get angry, so there must be something wrong with me when I get irritated, annoyed or mad.  I avoid situations and interactions with others that have made me angry in the past.  Rather than confront the pain/anger, I’ve become very adept at “not seeing” those persons.  I’ve been told that I don’t “do guilt.”  That’s not at all true.  I’ve just learned to hide all my guilty feelings.  If I don’t see them, I don’t have to feel guilty for the way I feel.

This internal voice also tells me that nice people always agree and swallow their own differences for the sake of being nice and preventing others from being irritated, annoyed or mad.  This has been a hard lesson for me.  When I’m asked for my opinion, I usually give it.  Why would anyone ask me if they didn’t really want to know what I thought?  However, the vast majority that ask don’t really want to hear what I have to say.  They expect agreement and support from me.  I’ve been told that I didn’t know enough to have that opinion.  I’ve been told to work things out within myself and “wrap my head around” an issue (meaning come to see “the right” opinion.)  I’ve been threatened in work situations when I didn’t automatically agree.  So, I’m very careful when it comes to being open with my feelings or opinions.  It’s better to be stoic than honest.

My therapist once asked me what kind of animal I felt represented me.  My answer was a possum.  A possum is useful in getting rid of unwanted pests. A mother possum is a fierce protector of her children and carries them around with her.  But, a possum is ugly.  It slinks around in the dark.  When confronted, it plays dead.  But, I want to be a flamingo.  A flamingo is beautiful.  It spends time in the open, eating and just being beautiful. Flamingos are members of a flock, and raise their babies together.  Everyone loves the flamingo.

I recently read a devotional taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Battlefield of the Mind” that said:  “We should choose our thoughts carefully. We can think about what is wrong with our lives or about what is right with them. We can think about what is wrong with all the people we are in relationship with or we can see the good and meditate on that. The Bible teaches us to always believe the best. When we do that, it makes our own lives happier and more peaceful.”

I am attempting to rewrite my internal messages.  I don’t think anyone should purposely hurt or offend others.  Name calling is a childish behavior and should be avoided.  I do, however, need to be honest.  And being honest about my hurts and my feelings may not feel nice to others.   I may not do some things in order to keep the peace or because it’s the expected thing to do.   I may still avoid situations and interactions with others to avoid unnecessary confrontations.  And, I refuse to feel guilty for putting my husband and children as a priority in my life.  I will live my life to the fullest and stop worrying about the approval of others.

“I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself, a long life settled on the soil that God, your God, promised to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 MSG

Lonely vs Alone

I’m an introvert. I draw energy from being alone.  I need time to process information.  Interacting with people, whether family, social or strangers results in my need to withdraw  and to spend time alone to re-energize. Small talk and pointless conversations are exhausting to me.  It doesn’t take loads of alone time for me to recharge.  Just a few minutes in the evening or a Saturday morning just “piddling” in my office will suffice.

An extrovert won’t always understand the need for “alone” time. Extroverts often equate being alone with loneliness.  Being alone doesn’t have to be lonely.  Loneliness is painful and sad.  Depression and remoteness are the results of loneliness.  Alone time is energizing and breeds creativity and calm.  Being alone allows the introvert the opportunity to process the days events, the ability to download and file away the day’s emotions and make necessary decisions.

I have been lonely.  I was that person  who seemed to have it all together, but would eat take-out in the driveway rather than face the quiet of the house.  I am the one who spent entire weekends in bed.  Sleep filled the loneliest times.  I’ve done the things that had to be done on my own, because that was required.  I’ve sat through numerous  family and social events all alone, surrounded by happy couples.  I’ve been forgotten on the way to a family funeral because everyone had someone else to consider and besides,  I’m very capable.

For ten years, I was the lonely person coping with doing most things alone.  A few years ago, I was rescued from the loneliness.  I have a partner in my husband.  I believe we bring out the best in each other.  There are still things that I have to accomplish alone.  And there are days that my extrovert husband questions my need to be alone.  But, I’m no longer lonely.  I refuse to be the lonely person in the midst of the couples.  I can admit that I don’t have it all together and trust that there is someone upon whom I can depend.  I am no longer lonely.

“God said, “It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion.”   Genesis 2:18  MSG

 

 

 

 

Struggles

I have begun and stopped at least a dozen posts.  There’s so much I want to say, but the thoughts seem incomplete and unimportant.  I struggle with what to say, what to share.  I see so much around me, both good and not so good.  But, putting the words around those moments has proven difficult.

I watch friendships that come and go for so many reasons.  I don’t think all relationships are meant to last forever. There are some people that come into our lives for a season and then we move on in different directions.  What I’m seeing, though, are relationships that are coming apart because there are so many conditions that are set forth.  The most common condition:   “I can’t spend time with you if he/she will be there”  or the more definitive “You have to choose, it’s me or him/her.”  But the most interesting spin on these conditional friendships is that the conditions are usually not reciprocal.  The same person that forces the choice also requires unconditional acceptance of all of his/her own relationships.

I see snap judgments made with very little knowledge of the circumstances.  It’s easy to jump to the obvious conclusions.  It’s much harder to look through the  details and find out the circumstances that surrounded the event or person.  Not all information that is provided through the news or social media is complete or even correct.  I remind myself that a cup of salt and a cup of sugar look a lot alike, but they impart very different results.  It’s time to stop assuming everything is at face value and look deeper.

I realize how easy it is to forgive and forget a “pet” sin.  Adultery, promiscuity, little white lies, petty theft are easily excused and often expected by the majority of the population.  But, make a mistake or forget something that is involved with one the “causes of the day” and expect be hung out to dry.  Political correctness, bullying, gun control are all examples of causes that get a lot of attention very quickly.  One misstep and you are toast.

I mourn the loss of discipline in the home and schools.  Where are the strong parents that created strong homes to provide the framework for successful children?  Instead, we have given rise to the “helicopter” parent that is just trying to force the schools and society to adapt to “MY CHILD”.  Where is the discipline in schools that commanded respect? It has been eroded away, bit by bit, by the parents who see no wrong in their own special and perfect hell raiser and the leadership that is afraid of repercussions.

I’m exhausted by the total obsession with “me, myself and I” that surrounds us.  All of the above would be remedied by taking time to look around and try to understand.  But, I can’t see others if I’m focused on me.  Am I a cup of sugar or a cup of salt?  How will I affect the recipe of life around me?

 

A Prayer for my Children

As a mom, I have felt the joy and the pain of watching my children succeed, fail, love, mourn, laugh and cry.  I gave birth to and reared G & Z.  We’ve been through so much together:  great successes in school sports and music, spiritual awakening and growth, &  the death of their father.  I’m also privileged to have  three “gift with purchase” kids (K, R & J) that came with my second marriage.  I have known these three most of their lives, so I have seen them cope with many of life’s challenges as  well.  I also have a beautiful daughter-in-love (L) as well as a handsome grandson (JT).  I’ve had the privilege of “mothering” a “daughter-in-my-heart” (KM) that I have loved as my own for many years as she dealt with growing up after the death of her mom.  And, soon, we add another to the family as K & A are wed this fall.

One of the most difficult things I’ve had to learn through the years, is I can’t control everything that happens to my kids.  The good or the bad, it’s coming regardless of what I do.  I can warn and encourage, but ultimately, the decisions are their own.  These are the things I pray for my children:

  1.  Have the courage to be yourself.  You don’t have to remake  yourself to fit someone else’s ideals and you don’t need to bully your way through life.  You are special just the way you are.  Be confident in the abilities that God has given you and use them to build relationships, both professional and personal.  You don’t need to be part of a couple to be complete.  Value your independence and develop your whole being.
  2. Be content where God has you, but prepared to move forward in His timing.  It’s hard to be patient and wait for the right relationship or the best job to open up for you.  Do your best in all things.  Never stop working and improving yourself.  But, don’t try to handle things all on your own.  Remember that God has a plan for you and it’s all in his timing.
  3. If you commit yourself to another in marriage, remember you are in this for life.  Relationships are difficult at best.  It’s easy to take short-cuts and our world excuses and often encourages the failure of marriage.  Love your partner completely.  And by that I mean, always look out for whats best for him/her.  Your own wants should come in second.  Marriage is not about control.  It’s a partnership.  Loving someone doesn’t give you the authority to order them around.  Nor does love allow you to scream and call names to get your own way.  There will be disagreements in any relationship.  Don’t allow arguments to escalate into screaming matches.  Love fully and completely without selfish manipulation.
  4. Protect the intimacy that was designed to be shared with your spouse.  Beware of society’s bad advice.  Love is NOT just about sex and desire.  Sex should not be an automatic part of dating.  Sex should remain special not common place.  Girls, learn to protect the men in your life by dressing with modesty.  Boys, look out for the women you love and don’t promise love when you just desire the physical.  Love yourself enough to protect yourself, body & soul.
  5. Build lasting relationships.  Friends are important in life.  Find and cultivate relationships that challenge you to grow and mature.  In a marriage, friendship is essential.  The fires of passion may have spurred you into marriage.  Be assured that those fires will cool.   But, as you develop your relationship in other ways, the flames of true and lasting love will be stoked and burn even more brightly.
  6. If you choose to marry, don’t settle.  Many of those “cute” characteristics that you find so endearing and attractive today, will drive you crazy later.  You may try to overlook irritants and decide you can change them later.  Please hear me:  THAT WILL NOT HAPPEN!  You do not marry someone to change them.  You adjust to and for the person you marry.  Marry the person you can’t imagine living without, not the one you think you can live with.
  7.  Be aware of everything you say and do. Learn to filter what you say so you don’t offend.   And then FORGIVE, FORGIVE, FORGIVE.   Practiving “forgive and forget” is incredibly hard.   Make forgiveness a part of your everyday life.  Don’t hesitate to ask for it or to give it.
  8. Never stop building your relationship with God.  When you are at peace with God, you will be a better friend and/or spouse.  Make the effort to spend time with other believers.   If Sunday’s are your only day to sleep late and you just CANNOT give that up, there are other opportunities to grow your faith.  Cultivate time with God.  If you would get up early to go tail-gating, there’s not excuse for not getting up for church.  Don’t fall into the habit of “saying a little prayer and crossing your fingers” to get what you want.  God is not an awesome “Santa Claus” that provides whatever you want,  He is, however, the authority on all the things that occur in our lives.  The low times are much easier to confront and navigate when we’ve included God  in the good times.

Life can be wonderful and awful.  Do your best to be the best influence on everyone you meet.  Be the brightest part of the day.

love