“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
Matthew 6:9-13 KJV
I didn’t truly learn the essence prayer until August, 1978. I had been a praying person for much of my life. I prayed often: at church, before a big test, when I really wanted something, at night, before “some” meals. I thought I had a handle on it. You bowed your head, used the “church” words and bargained with God. My first week on the SFA campus, I was all alone. For the first time, I experienced truly talking (and listening) to God.
Later, I would learn even more about prayer. During a BSU retreat, Len Sehested spoke and challenged me about my prayer life. Using The Lord’s Prayer, she guided us through the ways of praying. I discovered that I was more interested in “asking” than “praising”. It changed my prayer life.
During my darkest times, I found that I didn’t really want to pray. I wanted to scream. And, I did! I ranted, cried, begged, accused and (if I’m honest) bargained. I discovered that my prayers, my conversations with God, can be honest and raw. I’ve yet to be struck down for expressing my true feelings and thoughts. My prayer life grew.
Today, when I cannot sleep, I pray for my kids and their families, for requests from friends and church family. God will often bring to mind a specific need. I have the privilege of leading a zoom prayer time each week as well as praying for requests from our church each Sunday. My involvement in ministry has changed. I no longer stand in front of the congregation to lead worship; I now worship and intercede for my church family through prayer.
In case you’ve missed it, my faith is an important part of my life. And prayer is a huge part of it all. I don’t like to be called religious. Religion is to faith what ketchup is to French fries. Religion alone is not very satisfying. But, Faith stands on its own. And, prayer is the salt that we all want.
If prayer is not part of your life, I would encourage you to try it. There aren’t many rules. It’s just talking to God, honestly. After years of reading about prayer, I still find my self bargaining at times. There are still times that I wonder if my prayers matter. But time and time again, I return to the scriptures and my talks with God.
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:
the partners fail to cooperate?
they don’t participate equally, or don’t agree on major life decisions?
they are no longer physically or emotionally attracted to each other?
when one of the partners treats the partnership unequally?
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.”
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.”
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.”
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:
My Relationship with God
My Relationship with my spouse
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.”
We have 4 small dogs. All of them are rescues. Three of them came to us as puppies. They moved right in and made themselves comfortable. Our most recent addition is Theodore. He’s a rat terrier found wandering a country road. He had fleas and dermatitis when he was found. Theodore was 5 years old when we got him. We know this because he was chipped and the rescue organization talked to the breeder. Neither the breeder nor his first family would take him back.
When I first met Theodore, I was amazed at how very stiff and almost distant he was. He’s a very muscular dog and can jump over 3 feet, straight up. We jokingly call him Stick Dog because he never seems to relax. His legs are always stick straight. He liked attention, but he never seemed to settle in one spot for very long. It was obvious that Theodore was comfortable. His skin had cleared up and his coat a returned. He was getting good food and putting on weight. He had learned his spot in the dog area. On occasion he would fall asleep in my lap, but not very often. I had resolved in my mind that he was just a loner.
Early in December, however, something changed. It was like Theodore realized that he was in his forever home. He was suddenly a lap dog. He’s still stiff and likes to know what’s going on EVERYWHERE in the house. But now, he’s the first to crawl up for cuddles. He has “his spot” on my right side and it doesn’t matter if one of the other dogs in lying there. Theodore will maneuver his way into HIS spot. He will stand outside my bathroom window and bark while I get dressed to remind me that he needs to come inside. The more that time passes, the more at home he seems. He even jumped up and down to be picked up just a few days ago. That was a new thing. It has been amazing to watch the transformation of his personality.
Theodore’s journey has made me look at my own walk of faith. As a young believer, I treated my relationship with God much as I would Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. If I was good enough, or gave enough, or had something to trade, I would be “blessed” with a happy, pain free life. If things didn’t go well, then I just wasn’t good enough. I could never relax and really trust God to work, because I was too busy being BUSY.
Through the years, I’ve learned and adjusted. I’ve read scripture.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 2:12 TLB
“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
“Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need! He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength. He helps me do what honors him the most.Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way. You provide delicious food for me in the presence of my enemies. You have welcomed me as your guest; blessings overflow! Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home.” Psalm 23 TLB
I claimed these scriptures. I used them as proof that God would take care of me. In some ways, I think I tried to use them as blackmail to get what I wanted in life. I assumed that I would live a long, happy, care-free life. My family and I would serve Him and be under His protection. We were and we are. BUT, my idea of protection and God’s were not the same.
While God promises to ALWAYS care for me, He has never promised that things would be easy and free of trouble. In fact, He said quite the opposite.
”And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.” Ephesians 6:12 MSG
“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33 MSG
I think as a citizen of these United States, I have been spoiled to expect an easy life. I don’t have any idea what it means to be persecuted. So, when I hit a rough patch in life, I get all upset and feel sorry for myself. Bad stuff will happen. Even in our country, bad stuff happens. The worst thing I could imagine happened to me when my first husband died. I screamed and begged and cried out to God during that time. I tried to figure out what I had done wrong to deserve this tragedy. It took several years to come to terms with Terry’s death. I had to recognize my own selfishness. “I” was not being punished. God has a plan for each of us. Terry got his reward earlier than we expected. It was a hard lesson to learn. I’m still not totally sure I understand it all.
“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:26-28 MSG
As I have become more comfortable in my faith, I have learned to relax and depend upon God. Trials come. There are situations and consequences in my life right now that I would definitely prefer not to confront. I really don’t have a choice. There are some regrets about past life choices. There is sorrow in the consequences that must be faced. But, ultimately, God is still there for me. There is forgiveness in every situation. There are blessings and joy to be found.
” Then, when Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his wealth and happiness! In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!
So the Lord blessed Job at the end of his life more than at the beginning.” Job 42:10,12A TLB
“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.” Colossians 1: 11-12 MSG
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.
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
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.
It’s been almost 14 years since that awful November day when my life was turned upside down. The memories of that day will always stay with me. In an instant I was no longer married, but a widow. Our happy family of four was now a single-parent family of three. Dreams that were so exciting became dull memories. I struggled to get from one day to the next. My story now had a definite divider: before he died and after he died. Everything in our lives is gauged by that one event.
Losing my 47 year old husband was devastating. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Why would God allow such a thing to happen? I cried and begged God to let me wake up from that horrible nightmare. But, it wasn’t a nightmare. It was my new normal; a normal that I hated with every fiber of my being.
I spent hours agonizing.
Prayer was not a comfort. The
only request I had was for the pain to stop.
I questioned everything I thought I believed.
Does God really exist?
And if He does exist, is God really good?
Does He really love me and care about me?
Is there really life after death?
What do I believe about Heaven?
Is eternity really a gift for the believer?
Through the days, weeks, months and (yes) years, I got my
Yes. God does exist. And, He withstands my doubts and questions.
“Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God.” John 1:1-2 TLB
Yes. God is good. Fortunately, He’s not fair or vindictive. He treats me with Grace and Love beyond my imagination. I’m often too selfish to understand His caring and love.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” John 3;16 MSG
Yes. God really cares about me in particular. He carried me through the darkest days. I saw His care and love through friends and family that stood by me.
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
I do believe there is Life after Death. It is my hope and the only reason I could get through each day.
And now, dear brothers, I want you to know what happens to a Christian when he dies so that when it happens, you will not be full of sorrow, as those are who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and then came back to life again, we can also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him all the Christians who have died. I can tell you this directly from the Lord: that we who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a mighty shout and with the soul-stirring cry of the archangel and the great trumpet-call of God. And the believers who are dead will be the first to rise to meet the Lord. Then we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever. So comfort and encourage each other with this news.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 TLB
I’m still learning about Heaven. It’s a place prepared for me, not a floaty place in the clouds. Heaven is in the presence of God.
“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” John 14-1-4 MSG
The promise of Eternal Life is a gift given to those that have finished their “assignment” here on earth. Death is not a punishment, but a reward for those of us who believe.
“The world and its evil desires are passing away. But whoever does what God wants them to do lives forever.” 1 John 2:17 NIV
I finally stopped focusing on what my late husband was missing and accepted that he was EXACTLY where he wanted to be: in the presence of God. He wasn’t missing anything. It was ME that was missing sharing life with him. His death wasn’t a punishment. It was his reward for a life well lived.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
2 Timothy 4:7 NIV
I still grieve for my loss. I grieve that my children no longer have their dad. But, I don’t question God’s plan. I know He is in control. I believe in His sovereignty and His plan for me. My faith keeps me on track!
“Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength. I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!”
Decisions are an everyday part of life. And every decision results in a consequence of some kind, good or bad. If I decide to turn off my alarm and sleep an extra 30 minutes, the consequences are rushing to get ready for my day and leaving the house a later than usual. For every 5 minutes later that I enter the freeway, I reap an additional 10 minutes in Houston traffic. Was that extra sleep really worth the added stress to my day and drive? Honestly, it depends on the day. But, usually, I regret that decision to stay in bed. And yet, I have this conversation with myself every single morning.
We all make decisions. We decide to do the dishes tonight or wait until later. In school, it was when (or maybe if) I would study for a test or do my homework. Every interaction with others begs a decision: will I be kind and respectful, distant and unattached, or pushy and rude? Sometimes a decision to NOT decide becomes your decision by forcing another to make the call. At least that way, I have plausible deniability, right? It’s not really my responsibility, because YOU decided this one. Why is making a decision so daunting at times? Even when it’s a “good” decision, we seem to fear the consequences of our very actions. Why?
Maybe this is what we fear: ME. My “personal preference meter” isn’t a very reliable source for making decisions. When MY happiness, MY comfort becomes more important than how it affects the ones that depend upon and trust me, the consequences may be difficult to live with on a long term basis. Our society has become more and more focused on doing what is makes “me” happy as the optimal decision bias. Even though reality proves that the “happiness” is fleeting and this temporary enjoyment could very likely lead to long term misery.
We’ve seen evidence of this all throughout the Bible: Eve chose to eat the apple; Abraham had a son with Hagar; David gave into his desire for another man’s wife with Bathsheba. There are examples in our lives every day: telling the “white” lie to cover-up; condoning gossip and back-biting in order to be accepted; sneaking around outside of your marriage to get some “excitement”. We have come to believe the absolute lie that we deserve happiness. Truthfully, no one deserves happiness. Happiness is a daily choice, NOT a destination. You can chase happiness, but you will not find it. And when our decisions are based on finding happiness, the consequences will be empty and quite often painful.
So, in this carnival we call life, when we choose all the fun and exciting regardless of personal morals or conscience, consequences can be overwhelming. Much like too much time on the Tilt-a-Whirl you are left off-balance, dizzy and maybe a little ill. When the excitement wears off and the happiness is no longer palpable, guilt moves in to fill the void. You can’t go back and undo your actions or unsay the words. You can only live within this moment. Eve chose the apple and mankind would forever have sin in our lives. The consequences of Abraham’s choice to have a son with Hagar are still being played out in our world. In an attempt to cover up his wrong decision, David would go on to commit murder and saw his own son eventually turn against him. But, in each case, these people continued to seek God. They were now on a different path in life and God would use them anyway.
We’ve all heard the saying “You made your bed, now lie in it.” The consequences will be there, even after forgiveness. We must choose to make better choices and decisions. Decide to move forward toward God’s will and plan for your life regardless of the current situation. Avoid getting caught up in the endless whirlwind of running toward the next “ME” moment. Accept the consequences and work through them. Look out for those who depend upon you and put their needs first. Make the decision to be happy today, where you are, even if you can’t understand how that could possibly happen. You won’t make an instant difference, but you will invest in the future.
Consequences, both good and bad are what we reap. Make your harvest one of which you are proud.
“Well, you’ve made your bed – now lie in it; you wanted your own way – now, how do you like it?” Proverbs 1:31 MSG
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.
November 2005 was an awful time for my family. In an instant I lost my husband. My children lost their dad. I had no idea what it would be like to grow up without a dad there to give advice and encouragement. I had my dad well into my fifties. As I took on the unwanted role of single mom, I wondered how life without Terry would effect Zac and Gracie.
There were lots of offers in the beginning, “If Zac needs a male figure just call me” or “We are here to fill the void”. But, when those times arose, no one seemed to be available. It was “too awkward” or “there’s just not enough time.” But, God provides. The coaches and staff at Mayde Creek High really stepped up to the plate. I saw men just care about my kids. In time, Zac married a wonderful young woman and has a great father-in-law. He’s become a great dad himself. We’ve shed tears on all of his big days as we’ve missed his dad.
Two years ago, I remarried. It was a hard adjustment for Gracie. She had been her daddy’s little princess and had worked with him on lots of sets for children’s church and VBS. Then, it had been just “the two of us” for so long. Chris Dittert was always there to give my daughter a “daddy” hug on Fathers Day or any day she just needed it. And there were others that tried to be there, but we had developed our own rhythm. Tim was not a welcome change in her view.
As time has passed, the two of them have developed an interesting relationship. Gracie has learned to lay floors, build cabinets, run electrical wire and install windows. Although she is quick to say “we were just fine before you came along”, she has accepted and (I believe) loves her step figure in her own way. It does my mom’s heart good to see her talking and working with Tim. They share common memories of Terry as well as looking toward the future.
Both of my kids miss Terry. He was and will always be a big part of their lives. God has provided wonderful memories of the past. And he continues to provide for our family today and for the future.
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . .”
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.
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.