This I Know Wednesday: Priorities Matter

I can go months and months without turning the television on. My boys watch sports and cartoons; it is a rarity that I am the one turning it on. But over the last couple days I’ve been glued to the news and weather. The pictures are heartbreaking and the stories are just beginning.

One man’s words struck me more than the admirable yet familiar, “we will rebuild.” He said, “Last week we were looking at colleges for my daughter.  Now we have nowhere to live. Our priorities have changed.”

The pictures document changed priorities in a devastating way. No one wants to lose anything, much less everything. I can confess to being upset over losing tiny things, wholly inconsequential things, like a pair of earrings. I’m admitting that because it’s true, not because it’s right.

We can and should pray for all the people affected by this unbelievable storm (my own area outside of DC appears relatively unscathed). We can and should give to relief organizations (two good ones: Operation Blessing and Samaritan’s Purse).  But we also can and should examine our own priorities. Those images make me think about what I value most, and convicts me about what I clearly over-value.

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (NIV 1984).

This morning I am praying for those who’ve lost family members and friends, for those who have lost all their belongings, for those whose lives will not return to “normal” for a long, long time. And I’m praying that those surreal images will be an impetus for all of us to number our days aright.

Marriage Monday: The True Meaning of Forgiveness

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Remember the children’s literacy organization, RIF? Well, reading is fundamental and not just for kids. Light reading is great. I appreciate the relaxation that a good novel can provide (and since the first bands of Sandy are now upon us, I wish I had an enthralling, easy novel in my queue). But deeper reading is important too. And yet, life is busy and sometimes our attention spans are less accommodating of longer works. Well, guess what? I have a solution for you! The Trinity Forum Readings are published by The Trinity Forum four times a year and are “excerpt[s] from classic or contemporary texts that speak to a timeless issue.” A few examples: Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr., A Spiritual Pilgrimage by Malcolm Muggeridge, The Wager by Blaise Pascal, Wresting with God by Simone Weil (this one has some of my all-time favorite quotes, cannot recommend it highly enough), and Who Stands Fast? by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I don’t know how many I’ve read exactly, or exactly how many of them have been published, but I do know you will not regret picking one up and discussing it with a friend or two.

But this is Marriage Monday you say, what does reading these excerpts have to do with marriage? Yes, well, yesterday I read The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal. The preface was written by Laura Waters Hinson (director of As We Forgive, the documentary about Rwanda’s reconciliation movement) and the introduction was written by Os Guinness. It’s a fantastic read, and you cannot help but engage with the author and the unusual circumstance in which he found himself.  The inner conflict that Wiesenthal, a holocaust survivor, endures centers on whether he did the right thing when he was asked to forgive a dying SS member.

The narrative is so compelling that, as the reader, you too grapple with what it would mean for Wiesenthal to forgive, and what forgiving truly entails in any situation. And since I believe that Ruth Graham was right, a good marriage is indeed the union of two good forgivers, understanding forgiveness is vital for every marriage.

So what is forgiveness? Guinness argues that forgiveness is “not a virtue, a merit, or a heroic act…[but] simply treating others as God has treated us and passing on to others what we have received so much more generously than we could ever give.”

Can you really forgive without acknowledging what you’ve been forgiven? Can we really hope to offer grace to others without understanding the grace that we are offered through Jesus Christ? There is a humility and an ownership that comes from recognizing our own shortcomings. If you stop to think about it, you can see that God (the All-Loving, Holy, Creator of the universe) forgiving you is a bigger deal than you forgiving anyone anything. After all, you aren’t holy and you aren’t all-loving. And neither am I. Yet He forgives us. How then can we justify not forgiving others? I love the parable Jesus told about the man who was forgiven some astronomical debt, but proceeded to choke and then imprison a debtor of his own who owed him very little. We may be horrified by the hypocrisy, but we do the same thing. Because we have been forgiven an astronomical debt, and yet we harden our hearts and refuse to forgive. The parable should illuminate our own hypocrisy and point us to our responsibility, as followers of Christ, to forgive.

And it sounds limitless, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. May I be sober-minded and rely on Christ in me, to forgive any and every offense. Clearly, no one could do this in their own strength. It’s laughable. It’s utter nonsense. But as Paul wrote, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NIV 1984).

Praying this morning that my marriage will be protected, that I will not be faced with living out the limits of forgiveness, but praying also that our union will be marked by grace acknowledged and grace extended.

This I Know Wednesday: God’s Love is Unconditional

Some days I feel almost worthy of love. Things click; I accomplish much. The fruits of my parenting are apparent. My sons make winsome and insightful conversation with me and even with one another. They do their homework promptly and play outside joyfully. The house is orderly. Dinner is planned and includes a vegetable or two. The laundry pile is sorted and doesn’t look like it could clothe a small village.

Yeah. Once in a blue moon. Maybe. The rest of the time, like today, when pretty much nothing clicked and despite a flurry of activity, little was accomplished, I am so grateful that the love of my Lord and Savior is never earned. Ever.

It’s 100% grace, 100% of the time. When I’m proud and puffed up, feeling worthy, He loves me anyway. When I’m lowly and feeling unworthy, He loves me just the same. I cannot earn His love, nor can I lose it. Praise God.

1 John 4:9 says, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9, 10 NIV84).

So very grateful that He loves me without condition today, on better days, and forever.

Marriage Monday: “Frequent Texting”

Every day when my husband leaves for work he says the same thing: “Frequent texting!”  He loves for me to update him, even if he’s in meetings all day.  I share funny things the boys say, we often reference inside jokes (yes, many of them quite suggestive), and we give each other glimpses of how our day is going.  I feel like Will and I communicate more throughout the day (via text and talking) than most of my friends.  And it’s not because we have lots we need to discuss.  Generally we don’t.  But we like to stay connected.

The biblical view of marriage is that you and your spouse are one flesh.  Ephesians 5:31 says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (NIV 1984).

So the question is, how do you protect your oneness?  How do you make sure you are communicating not just at the end of the day when there are hungry kids, practices in every direction, homework, and a million other distractions?  Why not, at the very least, send your spouse a lovely little text right now?

Jackson Five Friday: Nate’s Other Mother

When I moved to Florida in June 2006, I didn’t know a soul.  To rectify that I joined two Bible studies and a MOPS group, and I ended up making some dear and lovely friends.  One friend was my leader at Bible Study Fellowship; her name was Kathy, and she had two children who were late teens, maybe even early twenties.  At the time, I was pregnant with Sam, Will was five, and Nate was three.  Having a more seasoned mom speak into your life is so valuable.  I greatly appreciated her perspective, but the thing I remember most about her is when she told a story about getting her son off to school when he was younger.  She was lamenting how challenging it could be.  She used to tell him, “you better watch it, you don’t want ‘the other mother’ to come.”  Do you know the other mother?  The mother you try to keep away, but whose ugly head can rear up and take over when domestic frustrations mount?  Well, Nate does.

In fact, Nate’s other mother shows up pretty consistently between 8:20 and 8:35, Monday through Friday.  The child is unbelievably frustrating.  Like yesterday, he did his usual aimless wandering for about ten minutes, where he says that he is looking for something, but you can tell he doesn’t really know what he’s looking for.  It’s some combination of not wanting to be out of bed, an inability to prioritize about the next step, and a stunning propensity to get sidetracked.  How do I know this is what goes on?  Because I’ve lived it for forty years.  Nate and I are one, in so, so many ways.  Poor baby.

But yesterday was particularly bad – he finally came downstairs in his usual disheveled state, with some grievance about something, and I then I noticed his uniform shirt.

“Nate,” I said, curtly.  “Your shirt is dirty.”

He then argued that it was clean.  Why he would make that argument when I am looking right at a dirty shirt, I don’t know.  But that’s Nate.

I hustled around found him a new shirt, and even helped him put it on.  I reminded him that “tucking in” a shirt does not mean tucking in just the two inches above the zipper of his pants.  Not that I think this seven-hundredth reminder had any effect whatsoever.

Five minutes later, the new shirt had a huge, crumb-laden smear of butter across the front.  If you took a piece of toast and rubbed it on your shirt, and tried really, really hard you might be able to get this much bread and butter on your shirt, but I doubt it.  You aren’t Nate.

At this point “the other mother” arrived.  Her loud and frustrated “C’MON, NATE!  Help me out here,” brought a pitifully sad look to Nate’s face.  But then he had a righteous zinger for me, which is not at all out of the ordinary.

“You know what I learned at church?” he asked.  “I learned that you should treat others the way you want to be treated.”

I’m telling you he is the cutest, sweetest, most manipulative, smartest, most self-righteous, most infuriating, most lovable, most incredible nine-year-old that I’ve ever known.  He is a bundle of contradictions, and I love him like crazy.  Even though, at times,  he makes me crazy.

Will you pray that I will take his advice and apply the golden rule, even in the witching, other-mother-inducing, half hour before school?

Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 ESV).  The rule is timeless, simple, and perfect, applying to every circumstance we will ever find ourselves in.  But that doesn’t make it easy, does it?

I can proudly report that this morning, the other mother not only didn’t show up, I treated Nate just as I would want to be treated.  Lord, help me each day and each hour, to live by Your Truth.

This I Know Wednesday: Community Matters

Do you live in community?  Because I know all too well what it’s like not to.  When I was in law school we lived in a high-rise apartment.  My husband was doing his residency — he worked all the time and I studied more than I ever thought I could.  We had a handful of friends, but our closest friends lived about a half-hour away and we saw each other a couple times a month, maybe.  I didn’t know my neighbors, and although I liked many of my classmates, I wasn’t very close to any of them.  We were faithful church attenders but were not in a small group.

Now, twelve years later, I am blessed to be part of a number of tight knit, caring communities.  My boys attend a very small school; its aim, in part, is to develop a community of learners.   Parent participation is expected to a high degree and this fosters relationships at every level.  Will has been there since the middle of kindergarten when we moved back from Florida, and so this is his sixth year with the same kids.  He not only knows these kids well, but he knows every parent, and every parent knows him.  And I know every kid and every parent.  Their school is one example, and there are others — surely, there are innumerable ways to build community.  But I hope you know the blessing of living alongside others in an intentional way.  And I’m not talking about Facebook friends, or people you talk to now and then.  I’m talking about people who hug you, share a meal with you, make eye contact with you, hold you to account, encourage you — people who do some of the same things you do, people you can see day in and day out.  May we all be intentional about building and maintaining true community.

Paul persecuted Christians before he had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  The rest of his life was marked by incredible devotion to carrying out the will of God.  He often wrote to his fellow believers about taking care of one another (if you search an online Bible you will find lots and lots of “one another” verses).  But perhaps my favorite Paul “another” verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up” (ESV).

So I leave you with two questions: (1) Who is encouraging you and building you up? and (2) Who are you encouraging and building up?

May we all have ready answers for both these questions.

Marriage Monday: The Ultimate Spurrer

Hebrews 10: 24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (ESV).  The NIV uses “how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” which I prefer.  Either way our spouse should be the ultimate stirrer or spurrer in our lives.  I once heard someone say, “How is your husband a better person because he is married to you?”

That’s a thought-provoking question, and one we should all have answers for.  I wish I had a whole list of obvious answers, but I don’t.  I do think Will is better able to overcome discouragement and disappointments because he married to me. I think he is able to have a more eternal perspective because he is married to me, but I need to grow my list.  I want to be the ultimate spurrer in his life.

And as for Will, he is a faithful spurrer.  He holds me accountable — making me stick to deadlines for projects and ideas.  And I am implicitly stirred and spurred by the fact that he has such a high opinion of me.  He thinks I’m wise and discerning; he values my opinion even on matters for which I know very little.  His esteem is very, very spurring because I desperately want to live up to his rose-colored assessment.

So tonight I’m praying that I’ll be able to spur my husband on to love and good deeds, and that he’ll be a better man because I’m his wife.

Jackson Five Friday: A Confessing Scaredy Cat

I doubt very much that I exude fear, because I’m not generally a fearful person.  But the truth is I’m a scaredy cat about one thing — a ridiculous, freaky, heart-racing, anxiety-ridden fool.  The fear?  Leaving my boys.  Not being their mother.  Trusting in the depth of my soul that God doesn’t need just a tiny bit of my help to ensure the right outcome.

For example, I don’t leave my boys for more than a few hours with anyone but my husband.  This means that my husband and I have never been away together — just the two of us — since we became parents eleven years ago.  The only exception was when we lived in Florida and I was pregnant with Sam.  We drove a couple of hours south for one night and I remember sitting by the pool at our oceanfront hotel, and reading with my husband.  My mom was with Will and Nate at home.  I should have soaked up every second, instead I was itching to get back.  I couldn’t really enjoy myself.  Too scurred.

But yesterday I took a big, albeit anxious, step and joined my husband on a business trip in Boston.  He was staying at a fancy hotel directly across from the Public Garden, and spouses were invited to come along, including for a tour and dinner at the JFK Presidential Library.  I mean, honestly, how many times are you going to be invited to a dinner at the JFK Library?  I desperately wanted to go.  And wonder of wonders the boys had exactly one sporting event last night, swim practice, and it wasn’t even my turn to drive.  My lovely niece took my three boys home from school, and spent the night.  I flew out in the early afternoon, arriving at the hotel around three o’clock.  Will was just getting out of his meeting and we walked around Boston and grabbed a coffee from Dunkin Donuts (America may run on Dunkin, but Boston definitely does).

At five the bus came to take our group over to the Presidential Library.  Our bus driver appeared to enjoy causing tiny little cars to whimper out of our way by blasting his big deafening horn.  I’ve never seen a bus driver so enamored with honking (perhaps he used to drive a cab in the Bahamas?).  When we arrived at the Library, the guide remarked that we made it from downtown in record time.  Well, no kidding!

At the Library we watched a movie narrated by Kennedy himself, and then were free to roam the museum until dinner at seven.  Maybe sometime I’ll share about it, but really I just recommend you go.  Kennedy’s era was so fascinating.  Who doesn’t love the 50’s and to a lesser degree the 60’s?  Who doesn’t admire the timeless style of Jackie?  Who doesn’t appreciate the oratory skills of this young president?  Definitely worth a visit, and if you get a chance to be there at night, the skyline view of Boston is gorgeous too.  Plus, it may be the first time I’ve been to a museum without one of my sons in eleven years too.

After we went back to the hotel, we went to a little drinks and VP debate event for a few, and then hung out in our room.  I had to stay up to watch the Tigers close out the series against the A’s, and even at 1 a.m. I was completely restless.  I guess it is sort of pathetic, but I was ready to go home.  Fortunately, I was able to do that just a few hours later.  Door to door, I was gone 22.5 hours.  A quick trip even by my short, sweet and jam-packed standards.

But it made me think a lot about surrender.  There is a chapter in my book, Sharp Sticks, about surrender.  Here is an excerpt:

On October 22, 2006, I prayed and told God something like this:  Here it is.  Here’s my whole life.  There is nothing I want to keep from you, Lord.  Not my family, not my comfortable lifestyle, not anything, Lord.  You are Lord over all of it.  I am submitting everything – everything to you.  I know living a fully surrendered life will mean opening my hand to You again and again, that I have this propensity to resolve, “Not this, Lord” or “Anything but that, Lord.”  But in this moment, I am letting go of the things I hold onto so tightly –especially my family.  I am surrendering it all and trusting Your plan for my life.

It’s nice that I have that written down.  Because six years later this is still a struggle.  I want to surrender it all.  I know His plan is best.  But the white-knuckled grip I have on my life doesn’t always reflect that.  So yes, my night in Boston was fun and indulgent (my date was very fun and very funny, as you can see), but it was a surrendered baby step too.  It was me prying my own stubborn fingers off the false controls of my life.

As Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (ESV).  May my life be lived fully surrendered, may it be my spiritual act of worship.

 

This I Know Wednesday: Praying Friends Are Vital

One of the most tragic lines in all of literature has got to be Fyodor Pavlovitch’s in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov concerning praying friends.  Pavlovitch laments  with “his slow half-drunken grin” that “I’ve always been thinking who would pray for me, and whether there’s any one in the world to do it.”  [In the interest of full disclosure I’ve not finished the book…yet]

I am grateful that I cannot relate to Pavlovitch.  I am blessed to have many who are faithful to pray for me, and just today, I saw the wonder of praying friends in action.  At an impromptu lunch I heard about an answered prayer that made me want to cry.  Such a sweet affirmation from the Lord, such a wonderful picture of His provision.

Then on the way to pick up my boys from school, my two passengers and I were able to pray over our dear friend who is having surgery today.  We were praying just minutes before the surgery was to occur.  The three of us adore this woman.  What a privilege to pray over her.

The Bible says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4: 6-7 ESV).

May you not be anxious about anything and may the wondering emptiness of Fyodor Pavlovitch never be your story.  Instead, may the peace of God that transcends and surpasses all our feeble understanding be yours in Christ Jesus.

If you are ever in that dark place and wonder who will, my email is here on the blog.  I’d truly count it a privilege to pray for you.

Marriage Monday: Win an Oscar, If You Have To

C.S. Lewis had a great insight into the biblical command to love your neighbor.  He said, “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.”  And when we do this, we find that acting like we love someone transforms us — suddenly we find our own willingness to love greatly changed.  In Lewis’s words, “As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.  When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

So on this Marriage Monday, do not worry your pretty little head about whether your heart is 100% full of love your spouse, just act as if it is.

One of my very favorite Bible verses is from Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.

This is how God loves YOU.  He takes great delight in YOU and rejoices over YOU with singing.  Now, act like that’s how you love your spouse.  Get out there and break a leg.