Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What The Heart Wants - Part III

My beautiful friend Meredith Evert in Malibu, California
Used With Permission
(This is the third of a three-part post written from the perspective of a 40+ year old woman who desires to be married, and for whom contentment in singleness is difficult. This post represents only one of many valid viewpoints on this topic.)

"The unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious 
about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit.
But the married woman is anxious
about worldly things, how to please her husband."
I Corinthians 7:34 (ESV)

When the heart of a woman longs to be married, the waiting moves from uncomfortable, to difficult, to excruciating from her point of view, as Part I of this series describes. Then there's the point of view, in Part II, of those who are trying to fix us so that our debilitating disease of singleness might be cured. But here's the thing - there's NOTHING wrong! 

The truth is:
  • Marriageability is determined solely by whether or not you want to be married - that's it! Think about the strangest couples you've ever met and how they don't seem to "match" with all of their oddities and eccentricities. If they can get married, so can you. You are just as marriageable as anyone else on this planet!
  • The fact that you aren't married means you are unwilling to settle for less than God's best. Think about couples you know whose relationships are dysfunctional; they are proof that if being married is all that matters, you can have that tomorrow. You don't simply want to be married, you want a marriage; there's a difference and you know it. You're holding out for the best, the right one. 
  • Marriage may not be part of God's plan for your life. Before you smash whatever device you're currently using and vow never to read another word I write, know that a few years ago I would have hated the guts of anyone who dared to say such a thing to me. But killing the messenger doesn't negate the message. 
 Our Deepest Needs Are Met In Jesus

No marriage (regardless of how unbelievably awesome your man might be) fills the longings of the soul. I know - that's easy for me to say because I have a husband. You're right. It is easier to say now, but I can tell you that I fully understood that before my wedding. (How's that for a hook? Now maybe you'll read the book I'm writing to hear my story!)

We women long for a flesh-and-blood man who will protect and defend and provide for us. One who will be a fierce warrior, yet sensitive too. One who will send us flowers, sweep us off our feet, make us laugh, hold us when we cry, open doors, pull out chairs, and help with the housework. One who will parent our kids perfectly, work hard and play harder. One who will never hurt us, never betray us, never abuse us and never leave us.  One who will snuggle with us and also sacrifice for us. One who will put us first, treasure us, cherish us, and love us wholly and purely. 

But it's too much. This burden that we long to place on one man is too much for him to carry. He will crumble under its weight, then be crushed again and again by our unrealistic expectations and subsequent disappointments. And he will wither and die analyzing his own shortcomings, mistakes and inability to complete us.

Don't you see? 

What we want is not humanly possible. 

Our burning desires can only be satisfied in the divine.

What we want is Jesus!

"Love is the antidote to loneliness."
Rick Warren

Yeah, yeah! We know that Jesus is the fulfillment of our deepest desires, but how do you convince a heart so sick with hope deferred that this is true?  A precious friend who is single and approaching the age of 50 recently shared with me the many unfulfilled longings and passions that she has grieved the loss of while living a life she never thought would be hers. All too often married women (or content single women) have been quick to offer her thoughtless tongue-in-cheek statements such as "Jesus is your husband!" Meanwhile years of frustration and disappointment gushed from her longing heart as my friend pointed out, "I cannot make love to Jesus!"

So what are we to do? How do we combat the life-sucking loneliness? How do we make peace with the married world around us, with ourselves, and with God if, after shoving thousands of prayers and petitions through heaven's door, our truth is that singleness is part of God's plan for our lives? The answer - LOVE!

Love Jesus.

When the heart aches and the loneliness overwhelms, lean into your Savior. Press hard. Claw and crawl your way to Him, refusing to let any lie of the enemy distract you from the one, true lover of your soul. Pour out your anger, frustration and tears at the foot of the cross, the place where the ultimate sacrifice for you has already been made and where your sacred romance with your Creator, the God of the universe, begins. It is there and only there that we find healing and wholeness.

Love others.

It's difficult to wallow in self-pity while ministering to the needs of others. We live in a world full of hurting people. Pour out all the love you've been saving up. Invest in others. Dive deeply into their pain. Everyone longs for something; our proverbial thorns may be different, but the remedy is the same.

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love
covers over a multitude of sins."
I Peter 4:8 (NIV)

It's in the pouring out of ourselves in love that we are filled to overflowing. 

And to all those who know and love single women...

What single women need:
  1. LOTS of hugs, kisses, pats on the back, handshakes, and other appropriate touch. Single women often go weeks/months without any real, intentional physical contact. We needed meaningful touch as babies to survive and develop/maintain emotional well-being; that need does not lessen as we grow older.
  2. Regular invitations from married friends (with or without kids) to hang out, eat dinner, watch a movie or go on a vacation. Sometimes the company of more singles is not what is needed. They want to observe what marriage looks like and see how difficult raising kids can be. Sometimes single women want to be part of a family.
  3. Not to be abused or taken advantage of just because they are single. The quickest way to alienate or burn out a single woman is to assume she has nothing better to do and is available 24/7 because she has no husband or children at home to take care of.
  4. To be valued for their wisdom and insight. Life experience has taught the single woman many lessons; lessons others can learn from. Seek to be mentored by older single women. Take younger single women under your wing. They can teach us a lot.
  5. To be a woman. A whole, complete woman. Lacking nothing. And to not be treated as though she is anything less because she has never been married, never been pregnant, and never birthed a baby.   

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What The Heart Wants - Part II

My beautiful friend Meredith Evert in Malibu, California
Used With Permission
(This is the second of a three-part post written from the perspective of a 40+ year old woman who desires to be married, and for whom contentment in singleness is difficult. This post represents only one of many valid viewpoints on this topic. Click here to read Part I.)

"'Have you not read that he who created them 
from the beginning made them male and female, and said,
'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother
and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?'"
Matthew 19:4-5 (ESV)

Being single when your heart wants to be married is difficult at best, devastating at worst. Each decade of singleness has its own distinct characteristics (Part I). Each decade also garners different reactions from family, friends, church family, co-workers, and even strangers. 

In your 20's people are likely to say:
  • Do you have a boyfriend? 
  • I know some great guys and would love to set you up.
  • You're young and have your whole life ahead of you. Go have fun and when you're not even thinking about it Mr. Right will come along.
  • Girl, you're too young to be tied down with children! There is plenty of time for that in your 30's.

Typical comments to a 30-something single:

  • Are you dating anybody right now?
  • Most women wait until their 30's to have kids these days anyway!
  • Where are you going and what are you doing to meet the right kind of guys? Are you in a singles Sunday School class? 
  • Have you thought about e-Harmony or Match.com? My cousin's best friend's sister met an awesome man online and they got married in less than six months.
  • I bet your parents are thinking they will never have any grandchildren!

Words uttered to an unmarried woman in her 40's:
  • I'm so sorry.
  • The Bible says singleness is a gift. You should be honored God has chosen you for this gift!
  • Statistically speaking, you have a greater chance of being hit by lightning and/or winning the lottery than you do of ever getting married.
  • No words. Just a pity-filled stare.

However unintentional it may be, the message is pretty clear: you are less of a woman without a man. Your worth is diminished if you never marry or have children. You are to be pitied, especially if you are over 40, because your life will never really have meaning without the experience of marriage and family. 

Adding insult to injury, single women of all ages are apt to hear:
  • Pray and ask God to reveal what is wrong with you. When you fix those issues God will bring you a husband.    
    Really? Are you kidding? Most of the married people we know (including the ones making that statement) are screwed up way worse than us, but we've gotta fix ourselves so men will want us?
  • You have a strong personality and you're too independent. That's intimidating to men. If you could tone yourself down some, guys would flock to you.
    So we're supposed to alter our God-given personalities in order to attract men? When did confidence and healthy self-esteem stop being sexy? What about all of the strong, independent women we know who are married?
  • A husband doesn't complete you; only God can do that. If you're empty now, you'll still be empty in marriage.
    Deep in our hearts we know you are right, but we don't want to hear that. Would you be able to say that as confidently if you weren't married?
  • When you give up and quit looking, that's when the man of your dreams will find you.
    Do you have any idea how many times we have quit? How often we've begged and pleaded with God to please take the desire for marriage away if He never intends to fulfill it? How we've given up only to have the desire hit us again out of nowhere, leaving us feeling crushed and defeated all over again?

Then there's the taboo topic discussed only in whispers - SEX:

If you're in your 20's, your youthful hormones are raging, understandably, but you have the opportunity to die to self and honor God by practicing self-control. If you're in your 30's, your married friends discuss their sex lives openly. Assuming your self-control is still strong, you listen and learn and, of course, blush at the appropriate times. If you are currently making ungodly choices (and your friends know it) you still do not participate in the conversation. Outwardly everyone pretends you're handling abstinence well, while inwardly they judge you a little for your lack of purity. But they don't envy you and have no idea how they would handle themselves if they were in your shoes. If you're in your 40's, it's assumed that you don't really need or want physical intimacy. Besides, by this point many married women you know are busy figuring out how not to have sex and assume you understand that it's a necessary evil that you've been spared (a sad, but pervasive view of sex embraced by many older married women in the church who are passing this unhealthy, ungodly perspective on to single and young married women alike).

The Bottom Line

I'm certain that married people don't intend to make singleness more difficult. They're mostly unaware that they communicate to single women that we possess a tragic flaw rendering us essentially unattractive and unlovable. But we don't and we're not. 

From the woman's perspective of singleness last week, to the common platitudes we often hear from those wanting to help us this week, I hope you'll hang around for one more week as I wrap up what began as two-parts, but has grown into a three-part post ending in the most amazing love affair imaginable! 

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life."
Proverbs 13:12 (ESV)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What The Heart Wants - Part I

My beautiful friend Meredith Evert in Malibu, California
Used With Permission
(This is the first of a three-part post written from the perspective of a 40+ year old woman who desires to be married, and for whom contentment in singleness is difficult. This post represents only one of many valid viewpoints on this topic.)

"Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good
that the man should be alone; 
I will make him a helper fit for him.'"
Genesis 2:18 

For a woman whose heart yearns to be married, there is a huge difference between singleness in your 20's than in your 30's, but being unwed in your 40's takes on a whole new meaning. In no way am I implying that being single in your 20's isn't difficult. But it is different than dealing with the deep longing for marriage when you are older. 

Being unwed in your 40's takes on a whole new meaning!

Several single friends recently asked me about my feelings and experiences as someone whose desire for marriage was unfulfilled until I was in my 40's. I don't have any great wisdom, but their expertly camouflaged pain is so similar to what I felt that I thought it was time for me to write about it. From the heart of an older, single woman desiring marriage to those who seek to understand and minister to such women, and to those who desperately need to know you're not alone, here is a glimpse of the differences in the decades of singleness:

  • 20's - You have finished high school/college and friends are beginning to pair off. Sparkly engagement rings and adorable photo sessions are the rule. You want the Cinderella story too and, every once in a while, the jealous twinges get to you. But there are lots of fun parties to attend, colorful bridesmaid dresses to buy, and wedding festivities to fill your social calendar. By the end of your 20's the initial frenzy is over and it has been a blast. As the big 3-0 approaches, you secretly admit to your closest friend that part of you has enjoyed the carefree lifestyle, but you don't say it too loud lest God think you're OK staying this way. You still socialize with your married friends, but they are being drawn like magnets to other young couples - not because they don't love you or desire your company anymore, but because they have moved into a new station in life and, unfortunately, it's one you don't understand. You feel like you're being left behind, so you cling to that handful of friends who are in your current life station. You pretend that you're fine with it, because desperation is not an attractive quality. 

You want the Cinderella story too and,
every once in a while, the jealous twinges get to you.

  • 30's -  The wedding decade is over and you are genuinely happy for your friends, but each aisle walking occasion rubbed a little more salt in the proverbial wound. You observe your married friends, further defining what you want (or don't want) your marriage to look like. Meanwhile babies begin popping out everywhere and you become an "aunt." You adore your friends' kids and view your time with them as practice for yours (you still have hope that marriage and family are in the cards). Bitterness is biting at your heels, but you're fighting to keep it at bay (mainly by avoiding family gatherings and reunions). By your mid-30's you play math games with yourself - "Ok, if I meet someone this weekend, we can know we're in love within three months, get engaged at six months, be married within the year and, if we plan carefully, I can get pregnant on my honeymoon and have baby #1 before our first anniversary." The bar scene lost its appeal years ago, so you try online dating because several friends have had success with it. Forty is looming. Your heart breaks because this is not the way you pictured your life unfolding. You're angry with God (He could fix this if He wanted to, but He doesn't) so your relationship with Him, that is supposed to fill you and make you whole, suffers. 

Your heart breaks because this is not the way
you pictured your life unfolding.

  • 40's - Over the past twenty years you've looked at all the engagement, wedding, honeymoon, ultrasound, weekly pregnancy, monthly newborn, kid birthday party and happy family photos you can stomach. The longing for the life you thought you would have has erupted into a grief so deep that it's palpable. You put on a happy face publicly, but privately the tears flow as you mourn. You miss God. You need God. But you blame God. How are you supposed to find comfort in Him when you feel like this is all His fault? Statistically speaking, it's now highly unlikely that you will ever marry. Your reality is that you must wrestle this out and, like Jacob, refuse to let go until God blesses you with the ability to be at peace and accept your singleness as a fact of life. The desire still burns, but it's time to stop licking your wounds. You renew your pursuit of God as the lover of your soul, imploring Him to give you a new purpose and the will to walk it out.

You miss God. You need God. But you blame God.

Not all single women struggle with their marital status. I did. And I know others who do. Many unmarried women are not able to embrace their singleness because it's not what the heart wants. Next week I will talk about the way families, friends, co-workers, strangers, and, yes, even the church both hinder and help single women arrive at the conclusion that their wholeness as humans and women has nothing to do with whether or not they wear wedding rings, but, instead, depends entirely on their identity as children of the King.

"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

Monday, May 16, 2016

First Fruits: Meeting God Early

I am not a morning person.  

I am, in fact, a true night owl. If I can get past 9 p.m. I'm good to go until around 4 a.m. Then it only makes sense to sleep until 11 a.m. followed by a nap from 2-5 p.m. Such sleep habits are perfect for the jobless high school/college student, or even the unmarried high school English teacher on summer break I used to be, but they don't work so well, say, for a stay-at-home mom with a husband and a two year old. 

An Invitation from the Holy Spirit

After adjusting to the shock of being a first time mom and having an infant in the house, I began to feel like something wasn't right. Thinking it was simply lack of sleep (not understanding I was never going to sleep again), I dismissed the feeling. But the months rolled by, and the emptiness persisted. During worship one Sunday morning, as the pastor talked about the importance of daily interaction with the scriptures, I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I had opened my Bible outside of church.

I sat on my realization for several weeks more while the God-hole in my spirit continued to grow, until it was so big I confessed to a close friend my sin of neglecting God.

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
John 8:32

Speaking the truth of my sin threw open the door to my soul, allowing the Holy Spirit to extend an invitation:
"Meet me early in the morning, before the sun comes up, while the world and your house is still asleep," whispered the Lord.
I responded, "Wait. . .what??? Meet you when???"
"Give me your firstfruits, Pam! Offer up your day to me before it starts and I will fill you," said God.  
Early in the Morning

Was God really asking me to do this? But I'm a night owl! He's instructing me to go against the grain of my own personality. Deep in my heart I knew I had to, but I didn't want to. At the same time, I was painfully aware that late night Bible study didn't work. Even though I was wide awake, I couldn't focus; the weight of the day rested heavily on me and my mind constantly wandered away from a heavenly gaze, back to my worldly cares. The more I begged him to show me another avenue, the more convicted I became that, for me, there were no other options. 

Early it is! Now let me make sure a hammer is on my night stand so I can smash that clock when the alarm goes off!

Looking for Proof

When my husband and I held our marriage retreat back in December, my top personal goal for 2016 was to be an early riser and spend time with God before my day got started. Still questioning whether or not this was the best way, I hopped on my favorite Bible website and did a key word search for 'early morning.' It would appear that the scriptures are veritably stuffed with examples of those who rose before the sun to conduct important business with and for God. 

Early in the morning:
  • Abraham took Isaac to the mountain intending to sacrifice himas God had commanded
  • Moses approached Pharaoh to plead for the release of God's people and to warn him of the coming plagues
  • Joshua lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land
  • Job offered sacrifices to God on behalf of his children to cover their sins
  • Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joanna went to the tomb with oils to care for Jesus' body
And the most compelling:

"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark,
 Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, 
where he prayed."
Mark 1:35

Twilight Time

It hasn't always been easy or fun, but it has been worth it to meet Jesus in the quiet of the darkness just before dawn. No noise in the street outside, my husband and son still deep in slumbera hot cup of coffee and my Bible.  It is a precious time when I delve into the scriptures and bask in the glow of the God who invited me into this sweet fellowship. I confess that there are mornings when I doze off, and mornings when I hit snooze a few times before I can drag myself out from under the covers. There have also been a few days when I just couldn't do it; but by the end of those days I'm so thoroughly drained by life that I know I won't sleep through the next day's divine appointment. I'm still a night owl; I always will be. But there's something special about the morning.

"Satisfy us in the morning 
with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy 
and be glad all our days."
Psalm 90:14 

To Ponder

I'm reminded of the words of a favorite hymn, In The Garden:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses 

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

  • Do you rise early to meet with God?
  • How are the morning hours with Him different from later in the day?
  • If you have never given God the firstfruits of your day, I challenge you to do so.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mommy, I Want You To Be Happy

"Love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark...
to have been loved so deeply...
will give us some protection forever."
J.K. Rowling

As a little girl, Mother's Day for me meant another excuse to wear the pretty new dress that had been previously showcased on Easter Sunday, but this time accessorized with a pink carnation neatly pinned on the left side, just over my heart. Going to the florist to pick up two pink flowers for me and my mom, and a white one for my grandmother was a highlight of the weekend. That, and hearing my mom say how much she loved whatever macaroni and fresh glue-glob craft I presented her with after Sunday School. It made me smile. It was a happy day.

Then I grew up.

That's not to say that Mother's Day is not still a happy day, because it is. Let's just say it's an emotionally complex day:
  • The loss of my maternal grandmother gave me my first taste of the bitter-sweetness of the day. Suddenly it occurred to me what she must have felt all the years that she wore what I thought of as a pretty white flower, never really stopping to think about what it signified in her life.
  • I've had a ring-side seat over the years as both my own parents and my husband's parents lost their mothers, observing grief and the myriad of ways they have individually sought a new normal without the women who brought them into the world.
  • When I became a mother through adoption, I quickly learned that it is possible to feel elation and devastation simultaneously. The gift of a beautiful baby boy for me meant profound loss for his birth mom. I carry this amazing young woman in my heart every day along with the juxtaposition of emotion that will never go away.
  • A little more than a week ago, the woman who has been my best friend more of my life than not gave her mother permission to step into eternity and be fully healed. Her loss is my loss because we are connected that way, and because when you grow up in a small town as we did, everyone else's parents are yours too.
  • Then there is the amazing beach week I just spent with my mother. Watching her picking up shells and wading knee deep into frigid water whose pounding waves made it look like she'd been in waist deep, all for the little boy who calls her Mimi. Wishing I possessed a fraction of her patience for Play-Doh and stickers. Memorizing her face, her voice, her hands, her laugh.
The fact is, if we live long enough, Mother's Day, and every other holiday, birthday or special occasion, eventually becomes melancholy. The sin and brokenness of this world touches us via the outstretched fingers of death and relational wounds, marring days that should be filled with life and laughter. 

So, experience and wisdom have brought me to this junction, a crossroads where idealism and humanity collide. It is my purpose from here forward, on Mother's Day and every other day, to embrace both the heights of joy and the depths of grief - not just my own, but that of those around me. To feel it all. To enter into it willingly. Because One before me did the same. Not because He had no choice, but so that He could fully identify in every way with those He loved. 

"In your relationships with one another, 
have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 
Who...made himself nothing 
by taking the very nature of a servant...
And...humbled himself by becoming obedient to death --
even death on a cross!"
Philippians 2:5-8

A few weeks ago the phone rang, a Face Time call from Peru. But instead of a typical conversation with my South American family, this chat delivered a blow - one of my "fur babies" at El Jardin had passed away. Being the dog lover that I am, my heart was broken and I cried. In the moment it did not occur to me that Toby had never seen me cry like that before or that his two-year-old brain was scrambling to make sense of what was happening. I regained most of my composure and we went about our normal bedtime routine.

After several sloppy goodnight kisses he headed off to his room so his daddy could tuck him in. Seconds later, when he should have been in bed, I heard the sound of Little Man's feet on the floor. He rounded the corner in a dead run, headed straight for me, huge crocodile tears flying from his eyes. Bounding up into my lap, he threw his arms around my neck and said, "I not want you to be sad, Mommy; I want you to be happy!"

Isn't that really all any of us wants for our mommies?

(In Loving Memory of Glendel Marie Ashley.  See you soon, Tootsie! We will pick up where we left off when I get there...)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Jesus Lives At The Beach

"The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters."
Psalm 24:1-2

In the weeks leading up to Easter, Collins and I explained to Toby that Jesus was no longer the baby who was born at Christmas, but instead he was a grown man who chose to willingly sacrifice himself for our sins.  We discussed Jesus' death on the cross as well as his resurrection. And we talked a lot about how shortly after his resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven to take his place beside God the Father, and those who receive him as their personal Lord and Savior will see him in heaven someday. 

Ok, Little Man, the lesson has been taught, now time for a quiz:

Mommy: After Baby Jesus was born at Christmas?
Toby: He grow up and be a man.

Mommy: What happened on Good Friday?
Toby: Jesus died.

Mommy: What happened on Easter morning?
Toby: Him came back alive!

Mommy: Where does Jesus live now?
Toby: Jesus live at the beach!

Well. . . not exactly the answer I was going for. . . 

One of the marvels of adoption for us is the way God has truly prepared this child to be ours. There's the whole nature vs. nurture thing - we have observed characteristics that are clearly genetic, while also seeing evidence of our influence on him. But there are also aspects of his personality that are so much like Collins or me that the presence of divine fingerprints is the only explanation. This little one's absolute and undeniable love for the beach and the ocean is so much a part of who he is that it goes beyond nature or nurture; it seems to be one of the ways God speaks to his heart - just like his mommy.

"He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea."
Job 9:8

For as long as I can remember I have been a beach lover. As a young child on family vacations I wanted to be covered in sand or rolling in the waves for as many hours as the sun (or my parents) permitted. As a teenager I would hop across the hot sand and land on my lounge chair, reading book after book to while away the hours, taking dips in the salty surf as needed to cool off. As an adult I have nestled into the fullness and abundance of my relationship with Jesus while digging my toes into the sand, listening to the sound of the swells pounding the shore and watching the sunlight dancing on the water like liquid diamonds. 

From the moment we first dipped his toes into the ocean on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama at seven weeks old, Toby has been in love with the coast too. We celebrated his first birthday at Edisto Beach, SC where he ate Gold Fish cheese crackers covered in sand and laughed when the waves knocked him down. We hit the beach at Ocean Isle, NC as often as we can where he wakes up ready for the two block ride to the shore in his wagon. He wallows in the sand like a pig in mud, then runs for the water like a prodigal returning home. 

There's something about the water. And the sand. And the salt. And the thick, sticky air.

I know it. Toby knows it.

We take deeper breaths here. We relax here. We enjoy family and friends more here. We appreciate more and take less for granted here. We know what it means to be still here. We feel closer to God here.   

And just like my Little Man, it makes me want to lie down where the sea meets the shore and throw my hands up in the air in pure praise and adoration while the peace that transcends understanding washes over me again and again and again. 

So, yes, Toby - Jesus does live at the beach!

"How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number --
living things both large and small."
Psalm 104:24-25

(Post written while vacationing with my parents at Ocean Isle Beach, NC. Thank you, Lord, for this time with my family and for this bond you've orchestrated between my son and me.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Beautifully Imperfect, Amazingly Challenging

"Marriage was never meant to make me happy all the time.
Marriage is a decision to honor God by honoring the one He entrusted to me."
Lysa Terkeurst

My husband and I recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.  On one hand we stare in disbelief, wondering where the time has gone.  On the other hand we have felt the weight of family issues, major life changes, and adopting a child - all things that can make a short amount of time feel a lot longer.  Regardless of how quickly or slowly the years have passed or what has transpired while the clock has been ticking, we have a beautiful and amazing marriage.  

I did not say it is perfect.

I did not say it is easy.   

I can no longer remember what it was about, but several months after Toby was born an argument erupted between Collins and me. Later, after the guns had cooled, we realized that the explosion happened because it had been weeks since we had really talked to each other. And it scared us. In that moment we made a decision - outside of our individual relationships with God, our marriage would be our highest priority. 

"The husband and the wife should be like the hand and the eye. When
the hand hurts, the eyes should be crying, and when the
eyes cry, the hand should wipe away the tears."
John Chrysostom

After praying, reading scripture and receiving some quality counsel from some incredible people, we felt like God was speaking into some key areas of our matrimonial journey.  Yes, there are days when we are tired, ill-tempered, busy or just plain don't want to give our relationship the attention it needs. Most days, though, we get over ourselves and do the work, because we've had a glimpse of what can happen if we don't.

Though we fall woefully short in all of these areas at times, we try daily to honor God and each other in these ways: 
  • Talking and Listening - We make it a priority to talk and listen to each other every single day.  Some days we may only get 10-15 minutes, taking the time to fill each other in on our respective days and get on the same page about a discipline issue with our son. Other days we have the luxury of a lengthy discussion when we share our struggles, dreams, hopes and fears, and work through current conflict or problems we are facing.  
  • Humor - It's not always easy to find humor in life's day-to-day grind, but it is necessary.  If we don't laugh frequently, tension grows until minor incidents become major blow-ups; we don't have the time or desire to clean up messes that never had to be to begin with. 
  • Address Conflict Immediately - Sweeping it under the rug and pretending it didn't happen is the worst possible way to deal with conflict, as is expecting the other to instinctively know he/she has caused conflict without being told.  We may take several days or even weeks to come to full resolution of our conflicts, but it only takes us a few minutes or hours to express to the other that a problem exists.  When issues arise, getting them out in the open is more than half the battle.  
  • Physical Affection - We hold hands. We kiss. We hug. And we make sure to do all three in front of our little guy to model for him what normal, healthy affection looks like. We've also learned that daily doses of non-sexual affection make intimate connection easier and more meaningful.   
  • Children Come Second - We love our little man more than anything in the world, but not more than we love each other.  He is the most important person in our lives - outside of each other. If we rearrange God's established order and elevate him to a place he was never intended to be, we are handicapping him as a man and as a future husband and father. We are loving him best when we love God first, then each other.  
Five years in and we are still head-over-heels in love. We firmly believe that is because we are grounded in the hard, sometimes tedious work of investing in each other.  It's the blood, sweat and tears we put into walking through life together that produce our joy. 

"Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children 
and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us
and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Ephesians 5:1

The passage of scripture we chose for our wedding, Ephesians 5calls us to submission and sacrifice, love and respect, and ultimately to holiness. We have come to understand that the pursuit of holiness, following God's example as it was lived out in the person of Jesus, is what transforms our imperfect and challenging relationship into a marriage that is both beautiful and amazing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Living in Intentional Community

If you read my last post (#Misery Needs Jesus' Company) you may have walked away thinking that I was saying you should never share your hardships; that you should endure suffering alone, in silence.  To the degree that our whining, complaining, throwing fits, and having pity parties is intended to draw attention to ourselves so that others might make us the center of their sympathies and dote on us, then that's exactly what I'm implying (boy am I in trouble!). Better to be silent and alone than to selfishly seek the indulgences of others, the pursuit of which is designed to put us on a false martyr's pedestal. But that's not to say that we should never bear each other's burdens.

Created For Relationship

From the beginning, even as Adam drew his first breath from the very mouth of God, man was created for relationship - first with God, then with other humans when Eve became Adam's companion and helper.  

Jesus sets the example in the New Testament as he surrounds himself with the disciples whom he loved and into whom he poured himself, entrusting them with the propagation of the gospel. He demonstrates even deeper, more intimate relationship with Peter, James and John; as his most trusted friends the three are often referred to as Jesus' 'inner circle.' 

Further Evidence

In I Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul advocates for relationship as established by God and exemplified by Jesus through an analogy comparing the Church to the human body. Each body part has a distinct and unique function that cannot be performed by any other part. If one part is missing, the body is lacking. The parts must cooperate and work together for the body to operate efficiently and effectively. 

The Bottom Line

Like it or not, we need each other (and being the fiercely independent soul that I am, I will admit that sometimes I don't like it). We were never meant to do life alone.  Now you might say, "But I live in a house with four other people, I work in an office of 25 employees, my church has a membership of 680, I socialize with about 10-15 friends, I have 950 Facebook friends and 322 Twitter followers - how much more life do I need to 'do' with others?"

Well, of the roughly 2000 people you say you interact with on a regular basis:
  • Do you confide in any of them when life is hard and you are struggling?
  • Are any of them in your circle of accountability?
  • How many have been invited to lovingly speak truth to you when your words or deeds cast a poor reflection of Christ?
  • Do you meet with any of them for Bible study and prayer?
  • When is the last time you confessed your sin to one of them?
  • Do you keep their confidences when they share their hearts with you?
  • Are you able to really listen to them without interrupting or daydreaming?
  • Have you taken the risk of calling them out in a loving way for non-Christlike behaviors and attitudes?  

If these questions leave you puzzled, confused and maybe even offended, or if the one answer to all of the questions is 'No,' then it's highly likely you are in proximity, but not in relationship.  You might be around people, but you are not invested in anyone, nor are they in you.

Proximity vs. Relationship

Intentional biblical community cuts through surface level niceties and delves into vulnerabilities. It's that place where we come together with a group of people and rip off all the many layers of masks we wear, lay aside all presumption, pride and arrogance, and reveal to this trusted inner sanctum the reality of who we are. It's here (not social media) that we are meant to share our trials, griefs, heartaches and pains - with people who speak Truth into our lives, reminding us that we are beloved children of God when we lose sight of that fact. They refuse to let us feel sorry for ourselves and will not let us wear our wounds like badges in order to attract the world's attention.  They come alongside us and walk with us in our darkest moments until we are strong enough to stand on our own again. They celebrate our joys and revel in our successes. And we return the favor.

Scary? You bet! 
Risky? Absolutely!
Worth it? Every single time!

Life like this doesn't happen by accident; it is planned and purposeful because it is radically different from what the world offers. Getting involved in each other's lives on this level is intimidating at best, dangerous at worst. Sacrifice is involved. It takes work and is messy. You will get hurt and you will injure others. But you will also experience more joy and contentment than you ever thought possible. Allowing trusted fellow believers to be 'lovingly intrusive' (shout out to Jason Malone at Summit Church for this awesome phrase) in our lives, and doing the same for them, is to function the way God intended.

It's not about me. It's not about you. It's not even about us. It's about Christ-centered community.  It's about living authentic lives and investing in each other's brokenness so that we might reflect to a lost and watching world a God who loves us so much that he actively pursues us, wooing us back to himself, into the purest, most intimate, unbroken relationship we've ever known.  

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 
not giving up meeting together...but encouraging one another..."
Hebrews 10:24-25

Monday, March 21, 2016

#Misery Needs Jesus' Company

It was a rough three weeks at my house. From ear infections to runny noses, from croupy coughs to bronchitis, from low-grade fevers to aching bodies, we had it all. As a stay-at-home mom to a two-year-old, I don't have time to be sick, but when the toddler and I are under the weather at the same time. . . 

Don't think for one minute that I suffered in silence. Why would I when there's an entire online world out there waiting to "Like," "Favorite," "Share," "Comment" on, and "Retweet" my misery? So, like any self-respecting social media addict, I grabbed my smart phone between nose wipings and thermometer readings and shared my sickness.

Misery Loves Company

It's a sad fact that far too many of us like to make our sufferings known. If we are experiencing pain, facing a trial/obstacle, or enduring injustice, the world would have us believe it’s our obligation to drag as many others as possible along with us. Because if there's one thing we hate (maybe even more than the suffering itself), it's the idea that we are alone.
Via Dolorosa

Easter is a glorious time of celebration. Sin has been overcome. Death has been defeated. The victory is won. The God of the universe, who put on human skin and entered time and space in the form of Good News and Great Tidings on Christmas morning, completed His earthly mission; the empty tomb attests to that fact. Hallelujah!

But what about the not-so-pretty parts? What if social media had existed at the time of Jesus' betrayal, suffering, and crucifixion? And what if Jesus, like many of us, took to cyberspace to wallow in self-pity? What might that have looked like?

o    Instagram –  a selfie in the purple robe and crown of thorns while blood trickles down His face with the caption, "What did I do to deserve this?"

o    Facebook – Status Update – “My best friends fell asleep on me when I needed them most. Another “friend” ratted me out to the cops for something I didn't even do. I was arrested and gang-beaten. Now I'm on death row. Could my life get any worse???”

o    YouTube – Video upload of the cat o’ nine tails flogging, ending with a 30-second shot of Mary sobbing hysterically that she can't understand how anyone could get away with doing this to her innocent baby publicly.

o    Twitter – @manupstairs, what kinda man sits back, watches this happen 2 his son? ppl wanna know why i am like i am #itsyourfault #letmedie

A Better Way

Jesus' experiences and photos are different from mine, but the sentiments expressed above sound shockingly familiar. Like, maybe I could have written them. Who among us has never felt like we were being abused unjustly, or that our respective lives were at rock bottom and couldn't get any worse, or that we had been falsely accused, tried, and convicted of something we didn't do, or that we were victims of our raising, or that our suffering was so great and so painful that we just wanted to die? I know I have. My guess is you have too. 

The difference between me (and you) and Jesus:  He really didn't deserve it, His life couldn't get any worse, and He was innocent, but he never blamed anyone for anything. If ever there was anyone in the history of human existence with the right to complain and assess blame for their misery, it was Jesus. But He didn't.

What Jesus did say:

·         Matthew 26:42: "'My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away
       unless I drink it, may your will be done.'"

·         Mark 15:3-5: "The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked
 him, 'Aren't you going to answer?. . .' But Jesus still made no

·         Luke 23:34: "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they
   are doing.'"

·         John 19:30: "Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up
   his spirit."

I had a nagging cough, some body aches, bronchitis and a touch of pneumonia (all while being waited on hand and foot by my sweet husband) and I made sure everyone in my house, my contact list, and my social media network knew how bad I felt. Jesus endured the most horrific torture and death imaginable, bore the sin of all mankind, and experienced an incomprehensible loneliness as God turned away from Him, yet the closest we come to even a tiny glimpse of His physical, emotional and spiritual pain is in His final cry from the cross as death came for Him (Matthew 27:46) . 

The world teaches us to whine, complain, pitch a fit, and throw a temper tantrum when pain and trials come our way. It's all about us. If we are miserable, so must everyone else be. Go down swinging and refuse to walk the way of suffering alone. 

Jesus shows us a different way, a better way. He is living proof that there is purpose in pain (John 16:33). May our lives (and our social media) bear witness to this truth!

  • What do your social media posts reflect about your relationship with God?
  • Do they reflect the world as your primary influence?
  • Or do they reflect someone who truly understands what it means to take up his/her cross and follow Jesus?