Bonding or Criticizing?

I have two younger siblings, a brother and a sister.  As we were growing up, there were many times that I was irritated by one  of them. I would complain about my brother being the favorite or about my sister wearing her knees socks OVER her knees. It was perfectly acceptable for me to pick on either of them. But, it was NOT okay for anyone else to do the same. We were family and I would protect them both. As adults, it angered me when an in-law would criticize a sibling.  We were Browns  by birth.  Anyone else was an outsider, even if they just happened to be married to a Brown.

Through the years, I’ve watched newly formed family relationships damaged by inappropriate conversations that are critical of another family member.  It’s easy to get on the band wagon and bash whoever is under fire.  But be warned:  anything you say, can and will be repeated and YOU  will be the bad guy in the situation.  You may think you are safe talking about sister-in-law A to sister-in-law B.  You are wrong.  Whatever you say about A will be repeated by B at some point in the future.  When I was a newly wed 20-something, it was common to hear criticism of the other daughter-in-laws at family gatherings. As a result, I was very aware of every word I said. I was never completely at ease. I always wondered what was being said about me when I wasn’t around. On a few occasions, I did know what was said because it was repeated to me by an in-law.

I am constantly amazed to meet people who appear to thrive on  conflict.  I’m never sure if that’s the only attention they feel they deserve or  if it’s the only way they know to control a situation.  I was taught that being truthful made life easier.  It eliminated the need to keep up with multiple story lines.  I guess we all say what we believe the listener wants to hear to some degree.  But, I don’t understand people that tear down a person in one discussion and then get on social media and sing their praises as soon as they leave the room.  It’s not a way to build trust.  It’s not a way to build good family relationships.

A good rule of thumb:  If you wouldn’t say something directly to someone, don’t say it about them to someone else.  I’m aware there are times that we have to discuss intervention in situations, I get that.  But, the daily conversations that tend to move to gossip can be stopped.  It’s not easy.  I find it extremely difficult when I’m irritated or feeling used.  But, I know that I should at least attempt to control my conversations.

“Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy.  We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.”                                  Romans 14:13-14  The Message

Counterfeit Living

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

 

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

social media

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wedding or Marriage: What’s the Focus?

I hear a lot about weddings right now. Weddings are a part of our life, right now. My kids are all in that age range. One is married, one is engaged and the other three are still enjoying the single life. Even my “not-the-daughter” is married. Their friends are getting married and starting  families, too. So, weddings and marriage are definitely on my radar. 
Through the years, I’ve watched as the wedding itself has taken precedence over the marriage.  This was true when I was planning my 1st wedding in 1987. In my 20’s, having a wonderful wedding and a magical wedding night was of the utmost importance to me. I thought the marriage part would be a breeze since we were soooooo in Love. I don’t remember much about the wedding or the reception, except that Terry got tongue tied and the wedding cake was late arriving. I was so tired afterwards, that all I wanted to do was cry. Magical may not be the best description of our wedding night. But, the biggest shock: Being married was HARD!

We left our wedding after being told “the two shall become one” and had no idea what that meant. We were two 20-something’s used to doing our own thing. Now, there was another person to consider. There was another person using “my stuff.” There was another person “in my space.” There was another person with opinions and preferences that were different from mine. He didn’t do things when I wanted or the way I wanted. I tried to “train” him in my ways, but he was pretty sure he was okay and didn’t need my help. We struggled. We grew. We fought. We loved.
I learned that criticism was not the best approach. Regardless of which party was doing the criticizing, the other would react negatively. It would lead to contempt toward our relationship, defensiveness for personal protection, or withdrawing from the moment to avoid things until it died down. And as a result, there would be a fight or worse, no communication at all. It took a lot of time for me to mature and learn how to be a good wife. 
If you are in the beginning of your marriage, here’s my best advise:

1. Don’t criticize. He may not put clothes in the laundry hamper. Maybe he plays more video games than you like. Or, maybe he doesn’t wash and fold clothes the way you would. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, just don’t. You can calmly talk about the issue and explain your reasoning. But have a REAL reason, more than just “I don’t like it.” Come to an agreement such as only clothes in the hamper get washed. 

2. Stop manipulating. The definition of manipulation is “control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.” I learned at young teen how to “work” my dad. I knew his interests and would casually drop something I wanted Into the conversation and ask his opinion. Usually, he would get the idea and take care of my desire. (I got a car and a car stereo that way.) As a young adult, I would mention guys I had dated in front of the current young man I wanted to date. It nearly always resulted in a date with the new interest. After I married, I just had to pout a little to get my husband to jump through hoops. Not a very honorable thing to do to someone you say you love. When your goal is to get your own way with trickery, pouting or nagging, it’s manipulative. 

3. Drop your defenses. Marriage is built on trust. You should feel safe in expressing your desires, feelings, likes and dislikes. So should your spouse. As trust grows, defensiveness dies. It takes work, If criticism and manipulation are your favorite methods of communication, defensiveness will thrive. 

4. Stay connected. My first reaction to most anything negative is to withdraw into myself. If my feelings get hurt, I shut down. I’ll keep everything shut up until the inevitable explosion, usually over something really minor. Withdrawing is not a healthy way to deal with the inevitable stresses that come with relationships.
Successful marriages are hard work. Even harder and more stressful than planning the ultimate wedding and hopefully, longer lasting. If you are planning a wedding or just wanting to plan a wedding, I challenge you to take as much time preparing and planning your marriage. This is more than just premarital counseling, take the time to find out what both of your expectations are. Compare you marriage ideals and family backgrounds. Don’t assume you know all you need to know. Decide what you want to incorporate from the best parts of your parents’ marriage and what to avoid repeating. 
“Becoming one” is a process. It’s more than sex. It’s more than wedding vows. It means cooperation and commitment. It’s recognizing that neither of you rank higher in the relationship. It’s wanting the best for the person you love, even if you have to sacrifice. 

 Are you willing?

It’s Personal

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

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

and my personal favorite. . .

  • “Your love completes me!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would I Follow?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m challenged.  I’m struggling.

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

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

Would you follow?

 

 

I Have a Plan for You

“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

This verse is often quoted when things are difficult or confusing.  It’s a comforting verse.  I’ve quoted it many times and have held tightly to it during rough periods of my life.  Today, I read the entire chapter.  It’s either the first time I’ve read the whole thing or the first time I’ve paid attention to it.  Either way, my eyes were opened.

This verse is in the middle of God sending a message to His children.  The children of Israel had been taken into captivity in Babylon.    Their only desire: to go home.  There were prophets that were assuring them they would be going home soon.  But, God had a different message:

“This is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God, to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon:   “Build houses and make yourselves at home.  Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country.  Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away.  Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare.  Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.

” Yes. Believe it or not, this is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God: “Don’t let all those so-called preachers and know-it-alls who are all over the place there take you in with their lies. Don’t pay any attention to the fantasies they keep coming up with to please you. They’re a bunch of liars preaching lies—and claiming I sent them! I never sent them, believe me.” God’s Decree!

This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. 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 29:4-11 MSG

God did promise to gather all of His children together and to bring them home.  After 70 years had passed in Babylon, that is.  I don’t think that was what the people wanted to hear.  God was telling them to make their homes there in Babylon.  They were to live their lives to the fullest.  In Babylon.  And, (I think this would be the hardest part for me), they were to PRAY for Babylon to do well!  Really!?!  They’ve carried me and my family away into captivity, and I’m supposed to pray for good things for them?

I don’t know about you, but when I pray for God to do something, I really want it done now.  Next week might work.  A month from now would be pushing things.  I’ve never requested or expected to wait 70 years.  Wow.  This changes the way I look at “plans to give you the future you hope for”. 

How many times have I kicked and complained with my lot in life?  How many times have I cried out to God and questioned His decisions?  How many times have I accused God of not listening or caring?  Truthfully, more than I would like to admit.

I’m currently living within some parameters that I don’t like.  There are rules and consequences that many times seem to take over my every moment.  My life is not always mine to do with as I please.  This will be my life for the foreseeable future.  When I read these scriptures, I knew God was reminding me to wait on Him.  I can live my life, captive to circumstances out of my control.  I can live fully and trust Him.  He doesn’t promise to remove the issues as I would prefer.  But, He does assure me that “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.”   

The next few verses are actually when the comfort arrives:

 “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.  When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.  Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”  Jeremiah 29:12-14a MSG

This doesn’t say, “Call out to me and I’ll give what you want.”  He does promise that I can always find Him.  He will always listen.  I will not be disappointed even in circumstances or trials that I just don’t like at all.  I need to make finding God my priority, not escaping from my “captors”.

So, I will always be glad that God has a plan for me.  But, my new goal is to this:

SERIOUSLY seek God and put Him above every circumstance in my life. 

Are you struggling with your own “70 year captivity”?

 

 

 

 

63,072,000

Today is our wedding anniversary.

63,072,000 seconds

1,051,200 minutes

17,520 hours

731 days

104 weeks

24 months

2 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wedding2015

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

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

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

Ephesians 5:24-33 MSG