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.

Forgiveness, Tolerance & Acceptance

Forgiveness is something we all want and usually expect,  but we often find it difficult to give; especially when it comes to forgiving ourselves.  This verse is one that come to mind when I don’t seem to be getting the forgiveness I think I deserve:

 “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”  Matthew 6:14-15 The Message

I don’t like to think about this verse when I am angry and need to forgive, however.  I’ve been told my entire life to “forgive and forget” when I am offended or hurt.  That’s really hard for me to do.  I think I’m good at forgiving, until something new arises and I all those old memories come flooding back.  I don’t always realize that I’m holding a grudge, but it’s there.  Forgiveness is something that I have to work on everyday.  When that old grudge rears its ugly head, I must remind myself that it’s been forgiven and move on into the light of life.

I find that I have a hard time forgiving when the offense is against someone who I love.  If one of my kids or my husband, one of my siblings or my parents are the object of ridicule, unjust criticism, rumor or other attacks either physically or emotionally, I want to punish the person responsible. History has proven that retribution doesn’t always pan out the way I would like, it just leads to more hurt.  And the cycle is repeated over and over and over.

“Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”  Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.” Romans 12:19-20 The Message

I am learning each day that I must forgive.  Even (especially) when the other person involved is not aware that they need forgiveness.  Words are thrown carelessly around.  We talk about anything and everything without a thought to what those words may mean to the listener.  Hearing another woman wish her husband was gone caused pain to me as a widow.  My children react when they hear others complain about their parents and/or step-parents.  We need to be aware of the audience and be sensitive to others.

We say what we “think” others want to hear.  Unfortunately, social media is used to broadcast our every thought and action.  Inconsistencies are highlighted because of it.  Keeping our stories straight is very difficult these days.  If I say I cannot go to dinner with you because I don’t feel well and then post on social media my night out on the town with someone else, you probably would be hurt.  The trust between us would be broken. And I may never realize there was a problem. What if I go out of my way to help someone and they thank me profusely; then, I find out that they complained about my interference to a mutual friend.  I’m probably not going to help or trust as easily the next time.  And, I must forgive that person and tolerate their inconsistent behaviors.

Tolerance has become a big part of forgiveness for me.  There are things that offend me, that make me angry.  Being angry is hard work.  I don’t tolerate half-truths very well.  My nature is to point out the white lie very loudly.  However, I’ve come to understand that sometimes, people are conditioned to say just enough to get by.  It’s the  way they have survived:  by saying what they perceive is expected of them.  It’s usually not meant as hurtful.  And, I need to learn to be tolerant of the behavior and earn their trust so we don’t have to tell half-truths any longer.

I continue to learn how to tolerate  and to forgive those that need to tear everyone around them down in order to feel bigger.  These are the gossips that grab any shred of information and blow it up to destroy another person’s reputation.  The gossip  may have begun with a shred of truth, but it rarely is accurate.  It’s not meant to tell the truth.  It’s meant to help the teller feel better about their own fallacies.  We have all been victims of rumors and gossip and one time or another.  And, I would venture to say, we have all gossiped as well.  I struggle with forgiving the back-stabbers, the ones that smile to your face and tear you down when you walk away.  But, I’m working on it.

“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.”  John 8:  The Message

I fear that one of the biggest issues we all encounter is accepting forgiveness.  When we have wronged another, it can be very uncomfortable and maybe even awkward.  It’s hard to ask for or accept any forgiveness.  Sometimes, we don’t believe that we deserve that  forgiveness.  And, I find it especially hard to forgive myself for stupid decisions and mistakes.  I have only to look at the example of Jesus to see how important forgiveness is.  He gave His very life so I could be forgiven.

“If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.”  1 John 1:8-10  The Message

So, why do I find it so hard to give or accept forgiveness?  Why do I continue to hurt others with my words and actions?  Why do I gossip?  What makes me better than anyone else?  Each day, I decide anew to be the more like Christ in my actions and deeds.  I strive daily to do my best to forgive any wrongs of others, to be tolerant of those that just don’t “get it” and to accept the forgiveness I am given.  It’s hard.  I fail. I try again.  God continues to work on me.  What about you?

 

Eagles

Life can be interesting. It is often a conundrum. We seek peace and calm and then complain of boredom. We look for fulfillment in our spouses and our children while blaming them for the bumps and difficulties that we face. We look for happiness in every moment, but destroy opportunities for joy along the way.

Humans are supposed to be at the top of “the ladder.” We are above all of the animals. We have opposable thumbs. We think and have the freedom to make choices about our lives. We control our own destiny. At least, that’s what we like to believe. And yet, when I watch a pair of eagles work on their nest and raise their chicks, I have to wonder. Are we really better? Eagles mate for life. Occasionally, a young female will attempt to steal the nest and the male from a pair. But, that doesn’t happen often or very successfully. The claws come out (quite literally) and the fight ensues. The established female will fight to the death to protect her nest, her chicks and her partner. Why are we humans not willing to fight to protect what we have? Why is it so easy to just walk away?

I’ve not been in the situation where my spouse walked away. My husband died. There were no second chances. During our marriage we fought. We fought with each other. We fought to stay together. We fought to raise our children. There were many times that I would not describe as “happy.” But, we had a life-long commitment to work through the bad times. We were willing to fight for our marriage and our family. I guess that’s why I love to watch the eagle-cams on the internet. I can relate to the pair of eagles as they work together to protect and nurture their family.

I was blessed with a good marriage to a Godly man. For eighteen years, we worked at keeping our family together. We laughed and cried together. We faced fears and illnesses. We coped with extended family issues. There were times that we both entertained the idea of walking away. But, the promises that we made to each other were real. We were together until “death do we part.” We were committed. And all too soon, he was gone. No do overs.  There were no more options for us. As a result, I don’t have any tolerance for the common excuses for breaking marriage vows: “I deserve to be happy” or “We’ve just grown apart.” No one deserves to be happy. You choose to be happy. You choose to grow together.

Now, I’m engaged. After 9 ½ years of widowhood, I’m planning a new life with another wonderful, Godly man. And, honestly, I am scared to death! I’m also extremely happy and blessed. As we make plans to blend our lives and our families, I am so excited about what the future holds. I never dreamed that I would get a second chance at love, a second chance to build a marriage and a new life. I know there will be challenges. We are not in our twenties. We have children (and a grandchild) and all the baggage that comes with a more mature life. We have dealt with death and divorce in our past marriages and as a result we face trust and security issues. But, we are committed to building a strong marriage on Godly standards. We will face life together and weather the storms that come.

During the ice and snow storms last winter, there was a video released of a bald-eagle sitting on its nest, covered in snow. At first, it was hard to see anything but the snow. Only the eagle’s beak was uncovered. Then the snow began to move. The eagle emerged from under the covering of snow and tossed it aside with its strong wings. While inspecting the eggs that were protected from the cold, the partner eagle flew down and brought food and relief. They were a team. That’s the marriage that I want to build. Again. No matter what problems seem to cover us up, we will be together. No matter what storms approach, internally or externally, we will stand against them together, supporting each other. When one partner is covered up, the other will be there with the support that is necessary and needed. No one walks away, grateful for the happiness but seeking the joy that comes from a marriage established with God as the center.

This year will be exciting, happy, stressful, scary, fun and joyful. And that’s what makes life so interesting: the Ups and the Downs. Strap yourself in, it’s going to be a ride to remember!

“but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31 NIV 

Boundaries

I don’t like being told “No”. A sign that says “Do Not Touch – Wet Paint” is an open invitation to reach out and test the true wetness. Too many times, “Do Not” becomes “I Dare YOU” in my mind. In many cases, I don’t like boundaries.

When I was six years old, my aunt pointed out some pretty pink flowers during our family Easter egg hunt and said “Don’t touch these flowers.” I probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to them if she had not been kind enough to point them out to me. I kept wondering why I couldn’t touch those flowers. They were really pretty. I decided my aunt was just being stingy and she should really share. So, I went directly to the hot pink flowers and grabbed one. Unfortunately, these particular flowers were attached to a prickly pear cactus. Instead of the pretty flowers, I ended up with two handfuls of cactus spines. I cried as the spines were pulled from my fingers and as I heard my aunt say “I told you not to pick those flowers!”

Sometimes boundaries are necessary. They keep my dogs in my yard and hopefully other dogs out. I know to stay on my side of the road and I try to park my car between the yellow lines. Cell phones are not welcome in movie theatres (I have been know to sneak a quick peek!) I’m expected to be at work during specific hours. A married person is off-limits, no matter how unhappy or “free thinking” they claim to be. As a single-again, I’ve learned to appreciate the art and even the importance of “No.”

Personal boundaries are the most difficult for me. I have no problem erecting a high wall around my personal space. It keeps me safe and secure. I find that I want to push out of those boundaries and test the life I see living around me. But, you see, I have some issues with knowing the difference between the prickly pear flowers and the plain gardenia. Too often, I’m drawn to the drama and the excitement and totally miss the quieter opportunities that God has presented to me. And then, when the drama and excitement leave me in tearful pain, I run from even the most joyful and delicate choices. How does one love completely and unconditionally and avoid the pain? You don’t.

I believe the key is to love unconditionally. There are flowers I can appreciate and enjoy within limitations. While they may be beautiful, I’ll never get too close for fear of the spines or odor or other irritants they harbor. But the flowers that I love completely, are the ones I can hold and sniff and enjoy up-close. I am aware of how delicate some of the flowers can be and I handle them carefully. There will be times that I’ll come across a thorn or a bug hidden among the petals, but it doesn’t change the complete adoration I have for their grace and beauty.

Relationships are similar. There are some people/relationships that are toxic or even dangerous for me. I can appreciate the people involved and love them for who they are. But, I cannot lose sight of all that God has for me and get caught up in the excitement of the life they represent. I may to be in their world, but I cannot be a part of it. Thankfully, there are glorious opportunities for friendship that God has placed in my life. They remind me that it’s worth getting up every morning. These are the friends that I trust and invite behind my own personal walls. The few that I love completely, without reservation. Our only boundaries are trust and love. These are relationships that take time and effort to cultivate. They don’t always look exciting or even interesting, but the end result is indescribable.

I would like to think I’ve learned how to push my boundaries as I’ve gotten older. I try to see the beauty in everyone I meet. I still look for thorns before I rush to pick a flower.

And, I still leave finger prints in the wet paint!

20140617-133139-48699003.jpg

Keep it in/Keep them out

“Frozen” is a popular animated movie that’s out right now. It’s popular with children and adults that see it. The movie is loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the battle between good and evil, “The Snow Queen”.

In “Frozen” the older sister, Princess Elsa, has the power (or curse) to freeze anything she touches. In an effort to protect Elsa and her younger sister, Elsa’s parents lock her away from everyone. They tell her she must “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.” She has a secret. She doesn’t want anyone to know about her icy touch. She hides and shuts herself off from the very people who love her. As a result she never learns to control this power, but instead it controls Princess Elsa. Through a series of events, Elsa’s icy power is revealed and she runs away. As she sings about finally being free to be herself she uses the phrase “The cold never bothered me anyway” to dismiss the loneliness of her life.

Wow. Can you relate to this story? Not with Elsa’s icy touch, but with the power of the hidden, being controlled by the very secret we keep. I can. I want to be accepted. I want to fit in with the people around me. In order to do that, I try to be perfect. I want to be an individual, but I don’t want to be too different. (Can you say oxymoron?) I don’t admit to emotions I might be feeling, hiding the less than perfect parts of my life. I go with the flow because it’s easier. And, acceptable.

What would happen if I actually said what I wanted to say? What if I was honest with myself and with those around me and didn’t hide any longer? Would my life be different? It might be. I might have to learn to live the light instead of creeping around in the shadows. I might lose the ‘friends’ who prefer the people pleaser to the real me. I might learn that I’m valuable just the way I am.

I’m not advocating losing all of the filters we use in life. I don’t need to discuss/reveal everything to everyone I meet. But, when I shape my life to suit the people around me, to avoid offending anyone, to be acceptable at any expense, that’s when I need to take a look at what’s going on inside of me. Sometimes, it’s easier to slam the door on openness than to expose the vulnerable parts we protect so jealously.

Eventually, Princess Elsa learns she can’t hide from her fears. Viewed through the lens of love her terrible secret isn’t so bad. We just have to take the chance, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Sure, there will be days, weeks and maybe months of pain and hurt. But, there will be moments of love and pure joy too. We just have to step out and take a chance.

Fear

When I was a child, I would watch my mother test the iron with her finger. Maybe you know the move: 1) lick your finger 2) lightly and quickly touch the ironing plate to see if its hot. One day, I decided to “test the iron.” I licked my finger and stuck it to the bottom of the iron. Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t picked up on the “light and quick” touch. And the iron was HOT. I ended up with a big blister on my index finger and a fear being burned by the iron.

There are lots of things in life we avoid because of the pain they have caused us in the past. Whether it’s a burned finger, an embarrassing moment or a broken heart, painful memories stick with us and may cause us to use caution in the future. In many cases it’s good to avoid something. I certainly avoid burning myself. I learned that lesson well. But there are other things that I probably shouldn’t avoid. I learned to ride a bicycle when I was six. I fell a few times before I learned how to balance and pedal all at the same time. It was tempting to stop trying to ride my bike after my first fall. But, instead of avoiding the bicycle, I decided to avoid the falling part. However, when I tried out a skateboard and ended up with road rash from sliding across the pavement, I decided to avoid skateboards completely. My life didn’t need skateboards to be complete.

One of the my biggest fears has to do with love. Specifically in loving others. Like most of us, I’ve put my trust in the wrong person at one time or another. I’ve allowed my emotions to rule over my good sense and fallen head-over-heels “in love” with a jerk or two in my lifetime. I’ve shared too much with a “friend” and then discovered that we were really just acquaintances. I’ve pinned all my hopes on another person’s word only to see everything come crashing down around me. As a result, it’s harder for me to trust. Harder for me to love.

After my husband died, I promised myself that I would never allow anyone to get close enough to cause that kind of pain in my life ever again. We had fought for our marriage and learned the value of trust and love. Love didn’t protect me from the pain of his death. In fact, it was that very love that caused the deepest pain. When he died, a large piece of me died too. And I was determined to avoid caring about or trusting anyone else. And life was really lonely and sad.

Although I could justify my avoidance in my own mind, I knew it was not right. I kept reading the scriptures like Romans 5:8, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” And John 15:13 “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Over time, I realized that I had to stop avoiding trust and love. It didn’t matter if I got hurt along the way, my example is Christ and He died because he loved me.

I may never have another chance at the kind of love/relationship I shared with Terry. Honestly, that makes me a bit sad. But, I will be forever thankful that I loved and was loved enough to break my heart so completely. Not everyone gets that chance. I will continue to look for ways to show trust and love to others around me and to honor the love the God has given to me.