Words

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”   A common rhyme I’ve heard many times.  The rhyme was usually said as an encouragement to ignore any name calling or mean taunts that were said by others in an attempt to hurt one’s feelings.  But, as we all have learned, words can be very hurtful.  The sting of a careless (or premeditated) comment can stay with a person for a lifetime.

I’ve always been astounded at couples that say they are “in love”, but insist on taking unkind and often rude shots at the object of their love. If my husband or boy-friend were to call me a “lazy, fat-a$$”, I would have to reconsider EVER speaking to him again.  Yet, I’ve heard this very phrase used several times in the past year between several young couples.  I have come to accept that words like this are indicative of the maturity of the individuals involved.  Immaturity breeds discomfort as well as a need to be “in-charge” of situations or relationships.  Using negative words are just one way to exhibit strength in a relationship:  they say  “I am the boss of my life!”  The negative comments are on the same level as an animal marking his/her territory.  If one is confronted concerning the negative talk, the response is often “Oh, I was just joking” or even worse, denial.

I have been guilty of using sarcasm as a passive/aggressive way of attacking others.  After all, sarcasm is just joking around, right?  Sarcasm is defined as:

the use of irony to mock or convey contempt

After being confronted with the definition, I realized that I did use sarcasm to  get my message across in an “innocent” manner.  If we are all honest, most of the humorous moments or jokes that we share at another’s expense have a basis in truth.  We usually have an agenda or a reason for poking fun at or making rude comments to our loved one.   Ephesians 4:29 TLB says:

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”

There is nothing better than having a kind and thoughtful partner in life.  Someone who “has your back” at all times.  This is the one person you can always trust to treat you with respect and consideration.  We all need laughter in our lives.  (FYI:  Dry humor does not have to be mean or sarcastic.) By watching what we say to and about our loved ones, we prove our love.  That’s not to say there will not be misunderstandings or hurt feelings along the way.  But, if I know that my husband is my biggest protector, it’s easier to cut some slack and forgive the occasional miss-step.

So, here’s the challenge:  watch what your say.  For the next 30 days, make a concerted effort to say only kind and uplifting things to your friends and family.   Be aware of what you say to everyone around you.  Consider the tone of your voice as well as your words. Before any comment escapes your lips, use this filter:  “Will my comment/joke hurt anyone’s feelings?”    Listen when others are concerned about what you’ve said or how you’ve said it.  They may have heard more truth  than you intended to convey.

sticksandstones

Commitment or Happiness: Do I Have to Choose?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I serve a jealous God.

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

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

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

An Unwelcome, Unwanted Gift

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

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

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

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

1 Thessalonians 4:13 KJV

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 MSG

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

God Provides

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 . . .”

Joel 2:25a NIV

If

If Band-Aids and kisses could fix all of your hurts and wounds , I would keep an endless supply.

If I had the power, I would flatten all the hills, grind up the rocks and fill in all the ruts that litter your landscape in life.

Given the chance, I would fill your life with rainbows and butterflies and all the beautiful things in this world.

But, band aids aren’t meant to repair anything. And, kisses are temporary. It’s the scars from battling life that give us courage.

It’s from the mountaintop that the view is the best. It’s from the glorious heights that we can see what we have accomplished and begin to see what is ahead. Conquering the rocks and ruts builds strength and endurance and prepares us for the long journeys to come. 

Even the most beautiful things can become ordinary. It’s in life’s struggles that we learn to appreciate the gifts we see everyday.

So I’ll watch as you climb the next mountain and negotiate the obstacles in your way. I’ll pray for guidance, peace and healing when things seem too hard. I’ll be there when you need a shoulder or a helping hand. And when those moments of beauty come, breathe deeply, laugh long and hard, and live life fully and completely.

The brightest rainbow may be just over the next mountain.

Fear, Failure & Other Silliness

I have NOT done lots of things in my life because I didn’t want to:
a) look silly
b) fail
c) get hurt
d) lose
e) admit I was afraid
f) ask for help
g) all of the above

In school, I didn’t try out for anything unless I was fairly certain I would succeed. I avoided any activities that might be above my current capabilities. I didn’t want to fall and maybe be hurt. If I did take a risk and then I fell, I NEVER tried again. (It’s amazing I learned to ride a bicycle!) I stuck with the things I could do best and pretended I didn’t care about the rest of it.

As I matured, I learned that there were times when taking the risk was worth it. It was okay to try and to fail. I actually found that I could excel at looking silly and survive! I’ll never be a champion skater (or even very good for that matter!), but I can say that I tried. And fell. Many, many times. On a few occasions, I’ve been forced to face my fear of heights and bugs and snakes and telephones and have lived to tell about it even if I still get a bit nauseated at the memories.

One area in which I continue to struggle and grow in is developing true relationships. I’ve never had a problem meeting people. I can be friendly and even helpful. But, when it comes to really allowing another person past my personal fire-wall, that’s a different story. Because behind this facade is a person that fears the risk of transparency. You may discover that I’m actually silly or shallow. I may not be able to live up to your expectations. What if you don’t like me or find me annoying? Will you stick around if I admit that I’m afraid or that I desperately need your help? What will I do if you let me down? And those fears have tried to rob me of the joy of truly knowing and loving others.

There are no guarantees. Some people have come into my life for a specific time and now our lives follow different paths. There are people who I have loved and mourned when they were unwilling or unable to return that love. And then there are the people who are so deeply and richly ingrained in my life and memories that even time and distance cannot break the bond. I’ve had my heart broken and bruised through the years. There have been times that I promised God and myself that I would NEVER allow anyone the opportunity to hurt me that deeply ever again. But, as the pain subsides and the new normal becomes more familiar, I know that I need to step out of my safe zone. And, I’m so glad I haven’t given up on loving and caring about others. For all the tears and pain, I’ve also experienced so much love and joy.

If I had waited until love was safe and hassle-free, I would never have married. If we had waited until everything was perfect in our lives and in our world to have children, I wouldn’t have Zachary & Gracie. If I wait until there is no risk of being hurt before I love and care about others, I’ll live a very lonely, empty life. If I only live the parts of my life that come with guarantees, I’ll never know what it is to live life fully. Every day, I ask God for guidance and wisdom and protection. And every day, He reminds me that I am loved.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 NIV

Powerless

There are days when I just feel powerless. Helpless in the face of all that life is bringing to me.

Friends in pain and I’m unable to stop the hurting.
Hearts broken when love is denied and all I can do is watch.
Growing pains in the “new” reality of life, adjusting to the unwelcome changes.
I can only watch in confusion as the “bad guys” seem to succeed and the “good guys” suffer.

But. . .

I’ve learned that pain forces me to move, to change and to grow. To endure.

I’ve realized that not all love is good. There’s wisdom in the saying “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Broken hearts do mend. There will always be scars and fears. And, we learn to use caution before giving our hearts away too freely, too easily.

I try to accept and adjust to the new reality that each day brings to me. Because, what choice do I really have? Change may not be welcome, but it is inevitable. Change is often GOOD. Instead of fighting every change, I’m trying to move on with grace and acceptance.

I still question the fairness of life. I struggle with forgiveness. What does it look like? What if no one asks for it? Do I really have to forgive and forget?

Ultimately, God is the only one that understands the reasons. I have to turn it over to Him on a daily basis.

And, I still ask “Why?”