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

So, that was Christmas. . .

It’s December 26th,  the day after Christmas.  Some of us have already gone back to the office.  Others are still enjoying time off.  There are ski trips to take, family to visit, and malls to invade with after Christmas sales and gift cards.  What was the holiday for you?

Because Christmas eve was on Sunday this year, many churches in our area held  Christmas Eve services instead of the normal Sunday morning services.  I was quite happy to attend the service in the morning, but I heard more than a few people grumble about not having an evening service.  I was amazed to hear the grumbling and grousing about it all.  After all, what would it take to do just one little service that evening?  Having been married to a minister for many years and also being an active volunteer for more years than that, let me tell you what that would entail.

For a regular Sunday morning service, the worship team arrives at least an hour earlier than the scheduled service.  And any setup, has to be done even earlier than that.   For the church I attend, the worship team is asked to be on stage by 7:45am and the setup crew starts at arrives begins to unload before 7:00am.  Even in churches that are not “mobile”, the worship leader (or music minister, jack-of-all trades) has to arrive early enough to get the sound system and stage areas setup and to solve any issues that may arise due to damage to said equipment during the previous days.  If there are multiple services, you may have multiple setups to do depending on the location and style of each service.  At my former church, on a normal Sunday, the praise team & band will lead  3 services that cover 2 different styles of music.  By the time you get there at 11:00, they’ve already been going 2 1/2 hours at least.  And there’s always someone ready to complain about the type of music, the speed of the music, the volume of the band or even how involved any of the members seemed to be during the service(s).

So, let’s consider this past Sunday.  There were 3 Christmas Eve services at my church.  Everything was ready to go by 9:00 am.  The videos were ready.  The prelude music was playing.  The donuts and coffee were in place.  All of the lighting was working and every seat in the theater where we meet had a special bracelet that was synced to the music that would be played/sung that morning.  There was a full band, a worship team, a sound & lighting crew.  There was also a kid’s praise team that was choreographed for a Christmas song.  We had a great time and were done by 9:55 am.  The people attending at 10:00 were lined up as we walked out.  There were volunteers busily making last-minute adjustments for the next service and then it began all over again.  And that happened once more at 11:00am.  By the time all three packed services were done and everything put away, the crew and worship team had spent 5 hours preparing and leading.  And that doesn’t count any rehearsal time outside of that Sunday.   They were ready to crash and enjoy their own families after that.

Having been married to a minister for several years and a volunteer for many more years, the holidays add a whole different level of stress.  Families often suffer as Mom and/or Dad are involved in  numerous rehearsals and planning sessions.  Family Christmas celebrations take 2nd place to providing the perfect Christmas Eve  or Christmas Day service(s) for everyone else.   Trying to figure out how to feed grumpy kids on Christmas Eve when you have to be getting everything prepped in the late afternoon and then won’t be done for several hours makes the holidays a bit irksome at times.  And, if you know a minister that has extended family living in another town (or state), you know a minister and family that been forced to drive on Christmas Day to get to celebrate the holidays with family.

I’m not complaining about the years I spent as a volunteer.  Some of the best worship times for me happened during rehearsal and setup before the “real” service.  I just wish people would consider how much work it takes to make it look so easy.  Let your worship team members and leaders know how much you appreciate them.  Maybe you don’t care for the music or the volume, but at least you have the opportunity to worship (and not like it) every week.  Your worship leaders very seldom hear the compliments, but they ALWAYS hear the complaints.

Wishing you a wonderful 2018!  Let’s make it a great year full of joy, laughter and love for our church family.

 

 

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.

happines.PNG

Joy (Take 2)

I am in a second marriage.  I was widowed in 2005.  In 2015, I married my dearest friend who had been divorced for a few years.  He was also a good friend to my late husband.  We now have a blended family with five kids:  the oldest is 28 and the youngest is 18.  They’ve know each other through the years as they grew up in church together.

Marriage the 2nd time around is familiar and different all at the same time.

I married Terry in 1987.  We were in our late 20’s.  We thought we knew everything.  We did everything together, even grocery shopping.  Having lived on my own for 5 years, it took a bit of adjustment to have someone there all of the time.  But, we adjusted to life together in our little one bedroom apartment.  We learned to love together.  We learned to disagree with each other.  We learned to give up expectations and live for today.  We learned to parent together.  We grew together in our love of family and our love of God.  And then, he was gone.  I mourned the loss of my best friend, my husband, and my dreams for many years.

I’ve never understood when I hear negative comments about marriage.  I was told once after Terry died,  that I was lucky I didn’t have to put up with a man any longer.  (I definitely didn’t agree!)  I’ve listened to comments about the “poor saps” that were getting married soon and how foolish they were.  I couldn’t comprehend “out-growing” my husband and moving on to greener pastures.  How do you out-grow someone with whom you are growing daily?  Couples that lived very separate lives always mystified me.    Terry and I had our own careers.  And, we were sometimes separated due to traveling for work.  But, I talked to him every night regardless of our locations.  While I might enjoy a day or two of being able to “do my own thing”, I counted the days until we were both home together again.  And, I think he did too.   Anytime Terry and I were in the same room, people knew we were together.  He was my husband and I was his wife. I wanted every person around us to know that.  I was proud to be married to him.   Life wasn’t easy.  We struggled with finances and work options.  There were extended family issues that affected our little family.  In later years, there were health issues to consider.  But, we had committed to God and to each other to see it through until the end.  We were together!

I married Tim in 2015.  Being married in our 50’s is an experience.  We both brought our own baggage into our marriage.  We’ve endured the buying, remodeling and selling of a home,  the buying and remodeling of another home, unemployment and the resulting financial problems, legal issues, the start-up our own business, joining a new church and just learning to be married to each other.  We’ve both had to stop filtering every comment and action through our previous life experiences.  I’m still working on my own insecurities and finding my place in our life together and with our children in this new family model.

There are always challenges in blending families.  Regardless of the age of the children in a blended family there are issues.   Jealousy about who likes who better.  Protectiveness of “my mom” or “my dad”.  While we strive to build new family traditions, there is pain as the old traditions are changed or even replaced.  Each child has different expectations for family life.  There have been tears and complaints, hurt feelings and joy since our marriage.   I expect that to continue as we grow together.

I adore being married to Tim.  At the same time, there are times that I still mourn for Terry and the things I miss sharing with him: our son, Zac’s wedding, the birth of Zac’s son, Gracie’s graduation from college and the purchase of her first home,  etc.  I also walk into unknown territory as a step-mom:  Where do I fit?  How involved is too involved?

The joys far out-weigh the trials.  Maybe because I’ve endured the loss of a husband, I truly treasure my time with Tim.  My views haven’t really changed.  I still believe marriage is for a life-time.  I still believe that we are to “become one” in every way. There is no “out-growing” each other.    I still believe in unconditional love.  I believe I have been incredibly blessed to find such a deep and abiding love the 2nd time around.  I still get butterflies when I hear his voice.  I still count the days, the hours and the minutes when we are separated.  To walk into a room holding my husband’s hand, is still one of the greatest thrills for me.  I can find the happiness we all say we want, because of the joy and peace that I have in my marriage today.

I am so glad I was given a chance at joy the second time around.

Valentine’s Day

Some have known great love in life. This day is bittersweet. A time of cherished memories.

Some enjoy great love now. This day is a day to celebrate that blessing.

Some look forward to a great love. This is a day for joy and anticipation.

Let us all take the opportunity to show love to those God places into our paths on this day.

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!

Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”
(1 Corinthians 13:1-13 NLT)

The Doll

She was a beautiful doll made of delicate porcelain. Her face was painted with the utmost care. Her dress was taffeta and was edged in delicate french lace. Beautiful red hair fell in delicate ringlets around her shoulders. The utmost care had gone into her creation. She was exquisite, not a blemish of any kind could be seen. The squeals of delight could be heard throughout the house as the little girl opened the box and saw her special gift.

At first, the little girl was careful with her gift. She held the doll carefully and just gazed at her beauty. As the days passed, her excitement began to wane. She was no longer content to just look at the beautiful doll. A tea party was setup for all of the toys with red fruit punch and chocolate chip cookies. In the blink of an eye, the beautiful doll’s dress was smudged with chocolate and stained red from the punch. She was still beautiful, just not quite perfect.

As the days turned to weeks and the weeks into months, the beautiful porcelain doll was hard to recognize. Her once beautiful ringlets were gone, cut-off with the snip of little brother’s scissors. What was left of her hair covered a large crack caused from falling off of the bed one night. The beautiful painted face was now smudged with the remnants of crayon “lipstick” and sharpie “eye-shadow”. Her beautiful dress was in tatters and had been removed so the poor doll was covered only by the blanket wrapped around it. And then one day, in a fit of temper, the once beautiful doll was thrown against the wall and her right leg was broken off at the knee. She was no longer special, no longer perfect. She was soon left in the closet, forgotten by the little girl who had seemed to love her so much.

Years later, the little girl grew into a young woman and had her own little girl. While searching through yesterdays toys, the once beautiful porcelain doll was once again discovered amidst squeals of delight. The doll was carefully held and gazed at once again. The young woman remembered the special doll and wished she had taken better care of it. She took the little doll to an expert in restoring dolls. The doll was cleaned, repaired and dressed in a beautiful new dress. When the young woman once again gazed upon her precious gift, she was amazed to see the beauty had been restored. There were still marks that evidenced the lack of care the doll had received, but she was once again a beautiful and delicate doll. A doll that deserved a special place on the display shelf in the young woman’s home. Never again would the doll be subject to not so gentle hands or be left out in the weather. She was special and to be protected.
———-
Is there a “porcelain doll” in your life? Have you been given a beautiful gift that you abused and cast aside? No matter what we do, God still cares. He is still there. He is the great Restorer.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Psalm 51:8-12

Fear

Fear. We all suffer from it. We all deny it. Too often, fear dictates the decisions and choices made throughout life’s journey. Fear may be judged rational or irrational, but it is still fear.

I have a phobia (a PC word for fear) of phones. Not talking on them, but calling others on the phone. I don’t know why. For as long as I can remember, dialing a number to call someone on the phone made my stomach hurt and my hands sweat. I love to talk on the phone. As long as I’m on the receiving end of the call, I can talk for hours. Part of my fear is getting a wrong number. Part of it is disturbing the other person. But, mostly its an irrational fear that the person on the other end is just being polite and doesn’t really want to talk to me and is making bored/annoyed faces on the other end of the line. I’m sure there have been many lost opportunities in relationships because I avoid making those phone calls. This carries over into my life today. I can TEXT anyone. And, I still avoid actual phone calls.

Although it is not often addressed as a fear, most people avoid failure. As I was growing up, I was very careful to only attempt things that I was pretty certain would be a success. I made every band for which I ever auditioned. I didn’t play sports because I didn’t think I would be good enough. I probably missed out on some fun experiences because I didn’t want to fail or look silly.

One big fear that I see in almost everyone is fear of the pain caused by rejection. We all want to be liked. We pursue love and acceptance throughout our lives. The fear of being rejected can inhibit and greatly hinder interactions with others. We build walls to protect ourselves. We may allow others into our sanctuary, but even then we restrict how far they may go. Very few people have ever made it behind my walls. Unfortunately, some of the people I invited to peek behind my walls were not good choices. They left damage in their wake. And, as a result, I’m more guarded than ever.

The only way to avoid being rejected or being hurt or failing is to never allow the opportunity to exist. Life can be incredibly lonely and boring if you do this. Some of the deepest hurts I’ve ever experienced were from the same source as some of my greatest joys. To eliminate the hurt and pain inflicted by others, you often must forego the joy and happiness also. The trade-off isn’t equal and it’s not worth it. I have to conquer my fears. I must move forward and take risks in order to live my life fully. I will not always succeed and fear will still exist, but. . .

I must try!

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18