Marriage Monday: Remember and Celebrate!

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Will and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary two days ago.  Since we are on vacation in Florida, the boys were with us for our anniversary dinner.  And I think their presence added to the magic of the night.  We went to a restaurant in Islamorada called Morada Bay.  It is on the bayside of the island and sits on acres of sand — as pictured above.  There was a live band playing Marley and other festive, beachy tunes.   And even though it was the 29th of December, it was almost 80 degrees at five p.m.  Kids who love the spotlight, like Sam, danced around.  Sporty types like Will and Nate threw the football on the sandy perimeter.  Will and I had drinks in the Adirondack chairs and watched the sky change colors as the sun went down.  We waited for a table for over an hour, and this is the kind of place where you are thankful to wait.  It would be a shame to rush.

When we did sit down, we were all ravenously hungry.  We ordered lots of seafood: from conch chowder to conch fritters, from fresh mahi mahi to ceviche (which, for me, is the pinnacle of food).  Everything was fabulous.  Almost right when we sat down little Will, who is reliably thoughtful, started a great conversation.

“Okay,” he said, “So tell us some of the best laughs you guys have had from before we were born.”

Totally delightful night: celebrating and remembering.

After all, what is there to celebrate without remembering?  People may go out tonight and mindlessly party it up, but without the intention to remember what they are thankful for, the celebration is empty.  One of the overarching themes of the Bible is to remember — the word “remember” appears hundreds of times.

One verse says, “May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you” (Psalm 137:6).  What a picture!  Put your tongue to the roof of your mouth.  Now try to talk.  You can’t.  In other words, the Psalmist is saying if I don’t remember you, Lord, may I never utter another word!

Think about how marriages would change, my own included, if we adopted this attitude about remembering.  What if I was so intent on remembering Will’s goodness that I would rather never speak again than to forget how good he’s been to me?  And we always have the option to be grateful.  For example, Denver Moore, a homeless man had the practice of gratefully acknowledging, “I woke up!” each morning (Same Kind of Different As Me).  Convicting.  I will never be without something to be grateful for in my life and in my marriage.  May the Lord help me to be grateful, and may I carve out time to celebrate.

So on this last day of 2012, I’m praying that God richly blesses you and your marriage in the New Year!

Jackson Five Friday: My Noncomformists

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Yesterday my family went to Legoland. There were a few others there. We even ran into a family we knew. Crazy. But some of the lines were quite long. Coastasaurus? Sixty minutes. The Dragon? Sixty minutes. A burger? Forty-five minutes. But we made our way to the back of the park and the roller coaster that simulates flight, Flying School, had a wait time of five minutes. Total bonanza. Sam was a little reluctant, but was convinced to go when I promised him that the ride did not do any “flips.”

I rode with the three boys, all screaming happy screams, laughing and exhilarated. As we got off and walked to the exit, the big boys decided to get right back in line, and Sam was still grinning his unhinged grin over the experience.

“Do you want to go again?” I asked.

“No, thanks,” Sam answered, still smiling.

Then we went over to Boating School, where you steer the boat along a little manmade river. Admiral Sam caused the biggest boating tie-up in the history of Legoland (pictured above), and was totally nonplussed about commanding his own ship.

On Christmas morning, we had to practically drag him out of bed.

In May of 2010 I had a graduation party for Will. Some friends brought their adorable daughter who, at that time, was about ten. She chased Sammy around the whole night. If you want a three-year-old to fall in love with you, chasing is the secret. Ever since that day, Sam has madly loved this girl. He smiles all over himself every time he lays eyes on her, which is often. When we opened their Christmas card this year, he was mesmerized by her picture. So I said something like, “Oh is she just one of your favorites, Sam?” And he answered, decidedly, “No, she is,” pointing to the mom.

Whatever the conforming answer or action is, Sam ain’t giving it to you!

I’m not sure what this means. What will his nonconformism look like in the years ahead? I hope it protects him from negative peer pressure, and helps him to be his own man.

After all, Jesus was a nonconformist too. He was totally impervious to the expectations of others. He came to love, to fulfill prophesy, to model for us how to live, and to die and pay the price for our sins. And best of all he came to defeat death. Praise God that Jesus has victory even over death.

No matter how Sam’s nonconformism serves him in life, I am glad to know the ultimate nonconformist as Lord and Savior.  I hope YOU know Him too.

This I Know Wednesday: Jesus is the Reason, Jesus is the Answer

Giving and getting a few gifts at Christmas is great, but it is my aim that gifts in my family be more and more experiential. Very few in America need more stuff and needy we are not. But keeping Christ in Christmas — honoring that Jesus is indeed the Reason for the Season — is not merely about downplaying commercialism, but savoring the coming of our Savior. And I never feel completely satisfied that I’ve made good on this annual intention. We attended some very sweet services — Lessons and Carols at school, a mini-Christmas concert by a brass quintet, and a lovely, traditional, organ-laden Christmas Eve service. We read the Christmas story from Luke 2 before the opening of any presents on Christmas Eve (a tradition from my Papa, Wayne Cummins). We listened to tons of traditional and contemporary Christmas music at home and in the car in the weeks leading up to Christmas. And we counted down the days on our Advent calendar.

Yet Christmas Day snuck up again before I felt like I have truly pondered the wonder of Jesus — the Creator of the Universe, the All-Knowing, Timeless Being that took on human flesh. Human flesh! In the form of a helpless little baby, born in a lowly manger. Even though he was sinless, loving and humble, he was mistreated, hated, ridiculed and killed. But as is always the case, God redeemed what was meant for ill. Satan is never the victor; he only thinks he is. In the end, Love always wins.

Jesus’ death meant that His blessing, His redemptive work could flow “as far as the curse is found” (lyrics from Joy to the World by Isaac Watts). Far as the curse is found! Where is the curse found in your life? May the blessings of Jesus flow even there. Peace and Joy to you and yours this Christmas. In fact, Joy to the world, for the Lord has come.

Marriage Monday: Lessons from Joseph

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Joseph’s role in the Christmas story is sometimes downplayed, but if we stop to think about it, Joseph was a pretty incredible man.  On this Marriage Monday, I’d like to look at Joseph as a husband.

Joseph and Mary were engaged and the Jewish people of the day took commitments seriously.  In order to not follow through with the marriage, Joseph would need to divorce Mary.  But when Joseph found out that his sweet, beloved little Mary was pregnant, he resolved to divorce her quietly, as not to humiliate her.  What a contrast to today!  An attitude of “getting what I deserve” and “I’ll show her,” which we would find totally normal today, seem to play no part in Joseph’s response.  His fiance was pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father!  We’d certainly allow him a little righteous indignation.  Even in the face of what he naturally perceived as betrayal, Joseph showed great concern and respect for Mary (See Matthew 1: 18-25).

Now you could argue that Joseph did get a rather personal message from the Lord!  But let us not think that we would be more committed to our spouses (even in circumstances where we’ve been wronged or think we’ve been wronged) if the Lord sent us an angel.  Because if you are married, then you promised before God to love your spouse till death do you part.  I better not need an angel to remind me of my own promise.

None of us are going to face Joseph’s challenge of marrying a pregnant virgin, or trying to be the leader of a household that includes God in human flesh.  But we can still model Joseph’s commitment and humility in our own marriages.  We can adopt his loving heart and his lack of concern for self.  A revolutionary idea!  Imagine the impact: spouses everywhere who are committed, humble, loving and selfless.

Lord Jesus, help me each day to be like Joseph: committed, humble, loving, and selfless.

[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.     1 Corinthians 13:7

Jackson Five Friday: Eschatological Sam and the Mayans

Not long ago Sam was on a kick, where compulsively, every night right before bed, we had to have the same exact eschatological conversation.

He’d say: “On this last day will it be a different earth or no?”

I’d answer: “No.”

He’d confirm: “It’s going to be this earth?”

I’d answer: “Yes.”

I’ve wondered where “this last day” came from. He is not highly skilled with units of time. When he is referring to “today” he says something akin to “a-day.” Sometimes when he is referring to something we did yesterday, he’ll say, “last year we…” One time after swim practice last summer (and they practice every day), Sam said goodbye to some friends by yelling, “See ya next year!” This cracked da brudders up. So sometimes it’s hard to tell if Sam’s misstatements are for comedic effect, or if he really doesn’t know.

But “this last day” business has been a mystery. He has never heard of the Mayans or Nostradamus. But I believe I’ve sniffed out its derivation just this morning. The children’s Bible that Will reads with the boys does end with a little chapter on Revelation. It is called “The New Jerusalem.” And my guys did all finish a read-through a few months back. So the puzzle is coming together!

The chapter tells about John’s vision of “the new heaven and the new earth” (John 21:1). It says, “At last God will live with men and they with him, and there shall be no more death or weeping nor pain” (21:4).

What an incredible promise. What a timely promise.

No more death. No more tears. No more pain.

Setting dates is nonsense, but believing on the promise is wisdom. May we take comfort in the fact that this horribly fallen world, will be set right!

Hallelujah.

This I Know Wednesday: This is NOT the End

There are some people who believe that Elton John’s lyrics about Norma Jean are correct  — that the candle that is our life simply goes out.  But in all my experiences with death, I’ve never heard anything like that.  No one has ever said to me, “Kristie, I’m sorry to hear Craig’s candle went out.”  But part of me wonders why not.  Why do people say things like “He’s in a better place,” if candle-snuffing is more their belief system?

I have two theories about why people do this.  First, people are terribly uncomfortable with death.  And that’s interesting because death happens all the time, and it’s going to happen to you, to me, and to every single person we know.  The summer between my second and third year of law school I worked at a DC firm.  Then after I graduated, I joined that firm.  The problem was that I wasn’t really the same person as I had been as a summer associate, because in that third year my dad died of a heart attack on a plane coming to see me.  So that first day of being a real associate, they took me out to lunch.  One fellow attorney asked with enthusiasm, “So how was your third year?”  Since it was undeniably the worst year of my life, it was hard to come up with any kind of a pat answer.  So I told him it was a hard year, that my dad had died.  The attorney fumbled a few awkward words and never spoke to me again.  But he is far from alone in his inability to grapple with death.

My husband is a critical care physician.  He does less and less bedside medicine, but for years a large part of his job would be to talk with families about “end of life” issues.  He was good at this because he would be honest with people, and even doctors have a very hard time doing this.  They witness death in the ICU on a regular basis, but they still live in denial.  I’m confident that Will’s compassion and willingness to be forthright were a comfort to many.

But there is a second reason people say nebulous things like, “he’s in a better place,” even when they are more aligned with candle-snuffing than Jesus.  My theory is that they just don’t think.  They don’t let their minds go there.  I read recently somewhere (and unfortunately I don’t remember where) that freedom to think is our first freedom.  I’ve been pondering that.  You have the freedom to not think about death.  You can walk away when someone is hurting.  You can avoid hard conversations.  You can even go outside and watch stars fall from the heaven, and choose not to be awed, not to let the wonder of God’s creation shake you.  You can just not think about it, but we are what we think.  So if you never go deep, if you never let yourself really grapple with life’s enormous questions, you get stuck on “a better place,” and nebulous, meaningless candle-snuffing.

But what happens if we use our freedom to think?  What happens if we spend time really grappling with where we came from, why we are here, what explains evil, why we long for love and forgiveness and justice?  We find that the best answers to all our deepest questions are found in Jesus.

But His promise is not of a nebulous “better place,” it’s eternity with Him.  This life isn’t all there is.  This is not the end.  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14).  None of those precious little children from Sandy Hook Elementary were old enough to reject God, but you probably are.  I hope you acknowledge the longings of your heart, that you are willing to do the heavy mental lifting of searching for answers that make sense, and I hope in the end you are willing to accept the simple answer that Jesus gives.

He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Marriage Monday: A Grief Like No Other

On Friday during lunch, I was volunteering at school, oblivious to the horrific, unfathomable news in Connecticut.  It wasn’t until later that afternoon that I saw the headline on my phone.  It took my breath away, as I’m sure it did yours.  I cannot imagine how much it would hurt to lose a child, and to such evil, such senseless violence.  On Saturday when I woke up, I thought about how hard it was for those parents who, if they slept at all, were waking up for the first time to their new reality.  No, it wasn’t a bad dream.  Their darling, beloved little one was truly gone.  I’m praying for the families.  May they know the special measure of grace God offers to those who suffer.

And I’m praying for their marriages as well.  Grief can be isolating; it often takes a long, long time before the dense fog lifts at all.  May these mothers and fathers cling to one another in their grief.  May they somehow be ministers of God’s peace and comfort to each other in these dark days, where heartache is not merely an expression but a physical reality.

The Psalmist wrote that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (147:3).   He didn’t write that it would be instantaneous.  It won’t be.  He didn’t write that the scar won’t be visible.  It will be.

May I be faithful in praying for these families, these marriages, these brokenhearted people in the months and years to come.