STORMS

We are accustomed to extreme weather in Oklahoma, but this week has gotten our attention and tried our patience.  I’m talking storms!  I’m talking frog-strangling rains, baseballs of hail, bolts of lightening, rivers rising, dams overflowing, sirens blaring, and cell phones shrieking with ear-splitting warnings. And tornados!  Yesterday we had two dozen that hit the ground and numerous that didn’t.  A popular meme on social media called it “drop-a-witch-on-a-house” weather.  

So like most Oklahomans, we have a “fraidy hole.”  In our case, the only interior “room” in our house is a small closet under the stairs. And like most such closets, ours has slowly been accumulating stuff.  Jerry kept assuring me that in case of an actual tornado he could have that space emptied in seconds.  I wasn’t so sure, so on Monday when warnings were dire, we (I) decided that we should clean it out and make room for two humans and two dogs.  Mission accomplished.  It always feels so good to clean a space and get rid of junk…including a box still packed from our old house.  If we haven’t needed it in eighteen years, we probably don’t need it.

The point is, now we have a place to go when storms are coming right at us.  A place of safety, of refuge.  But where do we go when the storms of life threaten us?  When there is a different type of peril, one that threatens to overwhelm us?  I’m thinking of those I know with serious life-threatening illnesses.  And I’m thinking of their families, so concerned about the loss that might be coming.  I’m thinking of those I know who are walking through the valley of bereavement, who are flooded with rivers of grief, and blindsided by sudden memories that release fountains of tears again.  There are those who are going through financial storms, so worried about the wolf at the door.   And those who are walking through relationship storms, including the storm of divorce or estrangement from a family member.  And there are those who are scared to death about a child who has veered from a safe path.  

Where do you go when these types of storms are bearing down on you?  You go to your interior safe room.  To your internal prayer closet.  You go to that place down deep in your soul where you meet with the only One that can protect you from the trials and tribulations of life.  You meet with Elohim Machase Lanu, God our refuge (Psalm 62:8).  You turn to Jehovah Magen, the Lord who is your shield and helper (Deuteronomy 33:29), to Jehovah Mauzzi, the Lord your fortress (Jeremiah 16:19) and to Jehovah Mephalti,the Lord who promises to deliver you (Psalm 18:2).  There is something so powerful about praying His names!    

Here is the truth.  We can plan and prepare, but our only real protection from the storms of life is God.  Sometimes He delivers us from the storm, and other times He delivers us throughthe storm.  No matter what storm you are facing, you can rest assured that El Shaddai, the sufficient, almighty, God of Heaven, always comes through and always accomplishes His purpose for us and in us (Genesis 17:1).

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the 
LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”  
Psalm 91:1-2

Mother’s Day

The older I get the less Mother’s Day is about being honored and celebrated and the more it becomes a day of gratitude.  I am so very grateful for the privilege of being a mother.  Let me say at the beginning, I recognize that Mother’s Day is a difficult holiday for many. Perhaps you have lost your mother or have a difficult relationship.  I get it. I remember many years standing in the Hallmark store with tears in my eyes thinking, “There is not one Mother’s Day card for my mother.”  It also may be difficult because you desperately want to be a mother and for whatever reason this has not happened.  Maybe you have lost an unborn child or children and this day is a painful reminder.   And tragically, you may have given birth to a child who later died.  My heart breaks for you.

I am richly blessed with three wonderful daughters.  As my wise sister has often reminded me, most of us get two shots at the parent child relationship.  The first opportunity is with our parents, and then later with our own children.  Even if you don’t have the relationship you would like with your parents, you can still resolve to have a good relationship with your own children.  Sometimes our best parenting lessons come by learning what not to do.

The greatest Mother’s Day gift I have ever received is the gift of being a mother.  I can still vividly remember the overwhelming love I felt for my firstborn daughter as she was placed in my arms.  And the surprising relief that I could feel the same amount of love for a second and a third daughter.  A mother’s love is never divided: it is multiplied.

I am also blessed that my grown children live nearby and I get to see them often.  I really like the women they have become, and I enjoy spending time with them even if it is just a quick pop-in visit.  And I am, so proud of them as mothers.  They have blessed me with nine beautiful grandchildren.  It is more than I ever could have wished for! 

There are many gifts in motherhood, but I think the greatest is that it truly teaches us about the heart of our Father.  I can remember the frustrations I felt as a young, overwhelmed mother.  There was nothing I could take to God that he had not already experienced.  “Oh Lord, they are always wantingsomething!” (Yes, I understand.  My children only come to me when they need something.”) “They don’t appreciate how much I do for them!”  (Really? How often do you thank me for all I do for you?”)  As they got older I complained that they were too busy for me.  I certainly didn’t surprise God with that one!  (“Hmmm.  My children are too busy for me too!”)   Of course, I always realized that God was referring to me.  As a parent, God has been so patient and loving with me.  

I remember when my babies were little my precious grandmother would tell me, “These are the best days of your life. One day you will want them back.” She was so right.  The days are long, but the years are short.  Oh, I don’t want to go completely back to the child-rearing years.  But I would just like to have one day, one hour with them as children.  One more handmade Mother’s Day gift.    I would love to have them snuggle up next to me and just bewith me.  Maybe that is what my Father wants: a day to just be with me.  A day when I don’t come to Him with my want list.  A day when I just enjoy His presence.    

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Psalm 127:3 (ESV).

The Power and Privilege of Prayer

A friend is very ill today. I pray that God will touch his body and heal him, but if that is not God’s will, I pray for a sweet and peaceful home going.  This man has been a lifelong student and teacher of the Word, and I can imagine Jesus standing at Heaven’s gate eagerly waiting for him. But standing on earth is a wife, family, and friends who don’t want to lose him.  I am praying for his wife, his sweetheart, and his partner in life.  I understand the anguish she is feeling because I was at a similar place five years ago.  And I pray for his family…his siblings, children, and grandchildren.

I hope you will pray for this man (God knows his name), but I’m not writing to talk specifically about him.  I want to talk about the mighty power of prayer and the privilege we have to partner with God by means of prayer.  When Jerry was sick, our family experienced first hand the power of prayer.  Five years later, we are still running into strangers who heard about his illness and prayed for him.  I know that God in His great wisdom does not always say, “yes” to our prayers, but I’m so grateful that He allowed us to keep Jerry a while longer.  I also know that each of us has an appointment with death, and that our life on earth is like a vapor.  God’s “no” is no less loving that His “yes.”

After Jerry recovered, I wanted to learn more about prayer, and I learned a new word: importunate. Importunate prayers are the prayers that please God.  They are the prayers that plead and beg God for a request to be granted.  They are the prayers that pound on Heaven’s door, and will not give up.  The illustration that is used most frequently used to describe importunate prayers is the story in Luke 18 of the unjust judge and the persistent widow.  This woman just would not give up!  The judge finally granted her petition because he was tired of dealing with her. He was annoyed by her pleas.  But God is not annoyed by importunity; He is moved by it.  Importunity is Jacob wrestling all night with God.  It is Daniel, fasting and praying, in sackcloth and ashes.  It is Jesus in Gethsemane.  All through the Old Testament and into the New, we see people of God begging and pleading with Him.  John R. Rice says, “There are some blessings that a Christian will never have without pleading, importunate waiting on God!”  

Today is Good Friday, an appropriate day for us to think about prayer.  Because on this day, God gave all believers access to the throne of Heaven.  The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn from top to bottom.  Before this day, only the high priest could enter the holy place, and he could only do it once a year.  That veil was a constant reminder that sinful man could not enter into the presence of Holy God.  But now, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we believers can go directly to God with our prayers, any time we want.  And even more wonderful, because of Christ’s death, the Holy Spirit now dwells in us. Emmanuel.  God with us.

What a privilege is prayer. My hope is we will all take time on this holy day to partake of this great gift.  

MEAN GIRLS

This morning as I was driving to work, I was listening to a radio conversation about cyber bullying and the effects it has on our children.  The speaker noted that the smart phones our kids are carrying act as real time barometers of their self esteem.  So I thought it might be time to resurrect a piece I published a while back.  By the way, I never did find Glee.  Glee, if you are out there, please reach out to me.  I want to ask your forgiveness.

 

Sugar and spice and everything nice.  Everyone knows that what little girls are made of, right?  But here’s a dirty little secret that every woman knows deep down in her heart.  Girls also have the capacity to be some of the meanest creatures on earth.  Having been a girl myself, being the mother of three girls and grandmother to seven, I have seen more than my share of mean girls. And I know what it means to be both the perpetrator and the recipient of this type of bullying behavior.

 

Usually this mean girl drama is over by the time we get to be adults.  Hopefully by then we have become secure and comfortable in our own skin.  We don’t have to jab or bully someone else in an attempt to make ourselves feel better about who we are.  We become less clique-ish and more open to accepting people who are different from us. And we no longer feel the need to get even for what we perceive as slights.  But occasionally, mean girls grow up to be mean women.  And sadly they produce mean daughters.

 

Let me tell you an unflattering personal story that has haunted me all my life.  When I was in Jr. High, I had a big slumber party one Friday night.  I invited every girl in our circle of friends…except one, a girl with the pretty name of Glee.  I didn’t think she liked me (She probably had a good reason!), so I was determined that she would be excluded.  It hurt her. I wonder now if I missed an opportunity to get to know her better.  I might have missed out on a real friendship.  I’m so ashamed of my behavior, but I have paid for it over the years.  Every time one of my daughters was slighted in some way, I thought of Glee.  And today, when my granddaughters are bullied or left out, I remember Glee.

 

When I was discussing this topic with my daughter, Amanda, she reminded me how far this mean girl business goes back in history.  All the way to Sarah and Hagar, her maid.  You can read the story in the 16thchapter of Genesis.  They are both guilty of dishing out the meanness, but it culminates with Hagar running away because Sarah mistreats her so badly.  However Hagar cannot run away from God.  While she is in the desert she has an encounter with El Roi, the God who sees. God saw her pain and assured her of His love and care for her.

 

What a comfort when our children or we are being bullied.  God sees.  If you daughter is being harassed or left out, God sees.  If there are mean girls in your office, your neighborhood, your social circle, or even your church, God sees.  Go to Him with your hurts.  But the God who sees is also an admonishment.  We can’t get away with mistreating others.  God sees.  When we are too exclusive, God sees.  By the way, we are still paying for the hostility between Sarah and Hagar today. This mean girl stuff leaves a lasting legacy!

 

Writing these words has made me realize that I have a long overdue apology to make. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have located a woman who might be the Glee from my school days.  I have reached out to her for confirmation.  If she indeed is Glee, I intend to tell her how very sorry I am and ask for her forgiveness.

 

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”  Genesis 16:13 (NIV).

 

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4: 31-32 (NIV).

LIGHT: MORE THAN YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW

We’ve had days and days of cold, dreary weather.  Gray days that drain you of energy and motivation.  At least that is what they are doing to me.  Maybe sometime this summer I will think that I could have spent this time cleaning out closets and organizing photos, but mostly I have just sat in my chair and read.  Where is the sunlight?

 

In the Bible study I attend, we have been studying the book of 1 John.  Maybe it is because I am so light deprived, but I seem to be drawn to John’s description of God as light.  He uses this reference in his epistles as well as the Gospel of John.  “God is light,” (1 John 1:5); “I am the light of the World,” John 8:12.  John also uses light and darkness to contrast truth and lies, good and evil.  On the surface these seem to be pretty elementary truths, but God has been taking me deeper, teaching me about light.

 

I left Bible study the other day thinking about how light can travel, but darkness cannot.  When it is dark in my house, but light outside I can open the shutters and a dark room becomes light.  But the opposite is not true.  If it is dark outside and light inside, opening the shutters will not make the room dark.  It won’t even dilute the light that is there.  So there was my first truth: light can travel into the darkness, but darkness cannot travel to the light.  The rest of that verse in 1 John says that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”  God is pure and holy, and the darkness of sin cannot change or corrupt His holiness. But His light can travel and penetrate the darkness of sin.  Remember, dark cannot travel.  When I was in the darkness of sin I had no way to get to the Light on my own.  The Light had to come to me.  And He did that by dying on a cross, bridging that chasm that separated me from the Light.  The Light came and rescued me from the darkness.

 

I’m told I have a weird brain and I guess it is true.  I became more curious about light and did a little research, and if you are not into a lot of technical stuff you might not want to finish reading.  Whew, there is a LOT of information about light available. It is at once simple and complex, obvious and mysterious.  I will try not to put you to sleep.

 

The world “light” appears over 200 times in the Bible, so I’m thinking God wants us to know about it. I found my second truth right away: Light is necessary to sustain life.  I guess you could say I had a light bulb moment (pun intended), because it hit me right away.  God’s first recorded words were, “Let there be light.”  Duh!  As creator and sustainer of life, He knew light was necessary for creation.  Light provides the energy for life to grow and thrive.  When plants are deprived of light they don’t do well and may even die.  Light, by way of photosynthesis, provides the very oxygen we need to breathe.  Many humans become depressed when they go for days without light.  Light is our source of vitamin D and regulates our circadian rhythms.  When I don’t get enough spiritual light, I notice the difference.  I don’t grow and thrive spiritually.  One resource noted that light increases fertility and eases pain. The light of the Lord makes me a more fertile Christian.  When I am getting my daily dose of Light I am more likely to share with others.  And oh how Light eases the pain of living in a fallen world.  I often wonder how non Believers survive.

 

Third truth: Light helps us see.  There is a good deal of neurobiology involving light and vision, but the simple truth is we cannot see without light.  One of my favorite hymns is Be Thou My Vision.  God as Light helps me see things from His perspective.  The Light helps me see people through His eyes. It reveals dangers that are hidden in the darkness and it keeps me from stumbling, from sinning.  Light directs my feet and keeps me on the right path and takes me in the direction He has for my life.

 

Fourth truth: Light purifies.  Light, especially the ultraviolet component, sterilizes. It kills germs and keeps things free from microbes.  The Light (Jesus) cleanses me from the contamination of sin.  Scripture tells us that if we walk in the Light the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

 

Fifth truth: Light allows us to see color.  In darkness we can see no colors because we need light in order to perceive color.  This gets into biophysics, which is a lot of blah, blah, blah to me, but colors have spectra.  Some spectra are absorbed and others are reflected.  The reflected color falls on our eyeballs and sends a signal to the brain, where we perceive color.  I knew there had to be a spiritual application here so I thought about all the colors of God.  If you ever want to do a study on this, a good place to begin is Exodus, where God gives instructions for the tabernacle and the priestly garments.  He instructs the use of specific colors, representing the deity of Christ…gold for His glory and holiness, red for His redeeming blood, purple for His kingship, and silver for redemption.  Once we have the Light (Jesus), we can begin to see God in His fullness.  The Light allows us to see more of who He is.

 

I guess I could go on and on about light, but this is probably enough for now.  If I studied for the rest of my life I could never learn every spiritual truth about light.  That’s because God’s Word is inexhaustible.  When Jesus referred to himself as the Light of the World there was so much truth and power packed into that declaration!  Thank you, Father for sending the Light into our dark world.

 

Light of the world, illumine me.

 

 

PAIN: GOD’S GIFT TO US

Pain.  All of us experience it.  And we all try to avoid it.  We run from it.  Or we find ways to numb it.  What if the most important thing we can do right now is find out how to live with pain, to walk through it instead of trying to walk around it?

Did you ever think of pain as God’s gift to us?  He created us with the ability to sense pain, to feel it.  We were created with pain receptors all over our bodies.  Simply put, pain works this way.  A painful stimulus (extreme hot or cold, a cut or gash, a twisting of a ligament or muscle, a fracture or break) stimulates pain receptors.  These pain receptors send a message to the brain. The brain then sends the message down the spinal cord and to the appropriate nerves that tell the body to do something. Move your hand off the hot stove! Quit running on the sprained ankle! Stop the bleeding! If we didn’t have the ability to experience pain, we could damage our bodies even more.  We wouldn’t take care of our wounds.  

Psychological or emotional pain works in much the same way.  When we are hurting, something is wrong.  We need to change what we are doing to make the pain stop.  We may need to quit doing the same thing and do something different.  In some cases we may need to move while in other cases we may need to be still. Pain should get our attention.  It should make us stop and ask ourselves what we need.

The body has two kinds of nerve fibers: fast pain fibers and slow pain fibers.  Fast pain is a sharp pain.  It is localized; we can tell where it is.  And we respond to it quickly.  But immediately after the fast pain comes the slow pain.  It is more diffuse, an ache.  Slow pain can last a day, a week, a month, or even become chronic. Sometimes there are things that can be done medically to stop the pain.  The doctor may say, “I can make you feel better, but in order to do that I will need to remove the source of the pain.  You need surgery.  The surgery itself will be painful, but you will recover, and hopefully be pain free.” But there may be other times when the doctor tells us nothing can be done.  We must learn ways to live with the pain.

When people come to see me, they are in pain.  That pain may be a crisis (fast pain) or an ongoing chronic pain.  They may have found all kinds of ways to deal with it, but those ways aren’t working.  They may have tried numbing the pain with substances or activities, ignoring the pain and telling themselves it doesn’t matter, or they have tried various strategies to avoid feeling the pain. But the source of the pain is still there.  So we may need to perform a “psychological surgery.”  (Don’t Google it; I just made that up.  But hopefully you get the idea).  We need to find the source of the pain, examine it, and figure out what to do with it. We do psychotherapy, and just like physical therapy, there are days when therapy doesn’t feel very good.  But hopefully we will get to a healthier place.

I tell my people to look for the hidden gifts in their pain.  What is God trying to teach you?  Where is He leading you?  Maybe that pain is a gift to get you to the place you are meant to be.  He may have a gift for you that you wouldn’t have gotten any other way.  There are days that are going to hurt, but you put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.  You lean into God and press on.  Every trial has an end, and when it is over you may realize it was God’s gift to you. You wouldn’t want to live through it again, you wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, but you also realize it was one of your most precious times with Jesus.  Your life is different.  You wouldn’t have wanted to miss it.    

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  Rev. 21:4

LOOKING BACK AT AUTUMN

Today I have re-visited an excerpt from my book, Seasonsand brought it up to date.  Even though we are very early in September, the title will make sense as you read on.

 

Looking Back at Autumn.  What a strange title for the beginning of September. This Labor Day weekend has still been as hot as blue blazes here in Oklahoma, and we can only dream of cooler temperatures and falling leaves. But it will come, although not soon enough for me.  So this morning I will drag out my fall decorations and transform my house from summer to autumn.

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. I like everything about fall: the vivid colors on the trees; the crisp, cool air; the excitement of children going back to school; football games; pumpkin patches.  I can almost smell a cigar box from my grandfather’s drug store filled with a new box of Crayolas and number 2 pencils.  I love it all.  I even enjoy the nights getting a little longer.  Autumn is such a rich season, a season of harvest and plenty.

As I think about the seasons of my life, I realize that my autumn days are winding down.  I would like to think I am in early or mid-autumn, but the reality is that I’m more toward late autumn.  At any rate, winter is coming.  Just as autumn is my favorite season of the calendar year, I think it has been my favorite season of life.

Autumn is a time for reaping what we have sown. I must have sown well, because I have a wonderful family, a career that I enjoy, good friends, and most important, a relationship with God.  Autumn is a time for us to count our blessings and give thanks to our Lord. It is a time to reap the bounty and celebrate.  Did you ever notice how many fairs and festivals there are in the fall?  Something inside us just naturally wants to celebrate the goodness of the life we have been given at this time of year.

But as I write these words, I am aware that autumn is also a time to let go.  Just as the trees lose their leaves in the fall, we begin to experience many losses. From something as vain and trivial as the loss of firm skin, to the profound loss of life, we must let go.

In the autumn years it is time to take stock. What is the legacy we want to leave behind?  Have we accomplished everything we hoped to do?  Are there still items on our bucket lists?  Are we ready for winter?

There are so many rapid changes in autumn.  A tree that was barely changing color a few days ago may be a vibrant orange today.  So it is in the autumn of life.  Change happens quickly.  As I write these words, I think about how many changes Jerry and I have gone through I the past few years.  Life can change so quickly.  A few years ago I didn’t think twice about long days of walking through European towns.  Now I wonder if my knees would let me do another trip.  Jerry was fine one day and gravely ill the next. Two grand children are now married, two are in college, and we only have one grandchild left in elementary school.  Changes.

Autumn is a time for shorter days and longer nights. Some days I feel like I don’t get as much accomplished as I used to.  I go to bed with my unfinished to-do list swirling in my head.  I need more rest than when I was younger.  But I have also learned at this point in my life that some things just don’t matter very much.

While I write, I am watching a squirrel outside my window, working feverishly.  He is probably trying to find a way to get inside my attic so he can stay warm this winter.  Don’t get me started on squirrels!  But I wonder as I watch him, “Have I put away enough for winter?  Have I prepared well?”  Most baby boomers are concerned with their retirement incomes, but preparing for the winter of our lives goes beyond money.  Have I invested enough in my children and grandchildren that they will be with me in winter?  Have I taught them everything I want them to know?  Are there friendships I need to preserve?  Have I taken enough care for my body?  Hopefully I will still need it for a while.  As I watch the animals prepare for winter’s blast, I need to think about how I want to spend the winter of my life.  I would like to age well and exit gracefully.  What will I do with my days?  Can I still make a contribution in the winter of my life?  As I contemplate retirement from my psychology practice, I want to be very intentional about how I spend my time.  I don’t want to fill up every day of the week with activities, however worthwhile those activities may be.  I want some time just to be.

As I ponder these things, I will be grateful for this beautiful early autumn day.  They say we will have rain and cooler temperatures today.  Thank you, Lord!  I will enjoy the bounty of family and friends.  And I will give thanks to the One who provided this good harvest.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  (Galatians6: 7-10 NIV).

 

 

 

THE DRIFT

A good deal of my clinical work is done with couples on the fault line.  Their marriage is in trouble and they come in to see me.  In a best-case scenario, both individuals truly want to save the marriage.  Sometimes only one party does, but often one person can save it, but it’s going to require changing the dance.  The worst case is when one or both come in only to check the box.  They can later say they tried counseling but it didn’t work. Let me make it clear that coming in and merely sitting on the couch is not trying.  You have to be willing to do the work.  The statistics on marriage counseling are not that great and here’s why. Most people wait until it is too late. My wisest couples come in for yearly marriage check-ups.

A conversation I frequently have with my couples is one I call “The Drift.”  I take them back to the days when their relationship was new. We all know how wonderful that falling-in-love feeling is.  During that time you amplify all the positives but turn down the volume on those things on which you disagree, flaws, and potential areas of conflict.  You ignore red flags.  “Isn’t it great we like the same music.  I love his family.  We have the same goals.”  You get the idea.  When your love is new you are close.

 

 

But then life starts to happen.  You have bills to pay, children to care for, a house and yard to tend, and besides, you are tired.  If you are not careful, the relationship starts to drift.  You end up far apart without even realizing it.  He’s absorbed in the television while she sits on the couch doing Pinterest.  They don’t go on dates any more.  She may go out with her girlfriends and he may play golf with his buddies, but they have forgotten how to have fun with each other.  The Drift has set in.

 

 

So my job is to help couples begin building bridges back to each other.  One of the first things I recommend is a bit of advice a very wise pastor shared with our church many years ago.  He said couples need to divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually.  So once every day, you and your spouse need to spend about 15 minutes talking alone, even if you have to lock yourselves in the bathroom to do it.  Believe me, if your kids see you trying to have some couple time, they are going to do everything they can to get your attention. But one of the healthiest and most loving things you can do for your children is to demonstrate that next to God, your marriage relationship is the highest priority.  So at this point couples tell me they don’t have anything to talk about.  That’s because they quit talking long ago without even realizing it.  Or the only type of talking they do is shop talk (Did you remember to pay the mortgage?  What time is soccer practice?), or spite talk (Do you need an explanation here?).  So I suggest that they tell each other three things that happened during the day, and HOW THEY FELT ABOUT THOSE THREE THINGS.  That last part is the most important.  I want to introduce sharing feelings because that is a doorway to intimacy. Sometimes I have to give them a list of feeling words, especially the guys.  Then once a week, couples need a date night.  It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant; going for an ice cream cone counts.  Again, this is done without the children.  Find a sitter or trade out with another couple.  This is necessary caretaking for your marriage.  Finally, once a year the two of you need to get away by yourselves. A good book that will help you with communication, problem solving, and other necessary marriage skills is A Lasting Promise.

Think of your marriage as a bank account.  In your account you make deposits and withdrawals.  You want to build up a good amount of deposits (good will, good experiences) to get you through those lean times.  Often when couples come to see me they have been making heavy withdrawals without much in reserve.  Their marital account is depleted.  So we have to find ways to begin making some deposits.

I have Vince Gill on my mind and in my ear because we just went to one of his concerts.  He wrote a song called Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Awaythat musically describes The Drift.  You can watch a very young Vince Gill, complete with mullet sing it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlUGTof2TWU

The lyrics are powerful:

A wounded love

Walks a real thin line

And no communication

Will kill it every time.

 

 

Wow!  Is your marriage on a “real thin line?”  Good marriages don’t just happen.  They require intentionality.  And a good marriage invites another Person into their union: Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Psalm. 127: 1-2.

Do marriage on purpose. Tend your relationship carefully.  Beware of The Drift.  You want your marriage to last a lifetime.

 

 

 

THE GREATEST OF THESE

 

Our small group has been studying I Corinthians, and we have been camped out for a couple of weeks in chapter 13.  The love chapter.  Most people are familiar with this passage even if they are not churchgoers or Bible-readers, as it is a favorite reading at weddings.  For centuries people have been expounding upon this passage, and writing about love in general.  So I am not sure I have anything new to add.  But if you will excuse the wandering and random thoughts, I would like to share some things.

This morning I woke up thinking about the infinite quality of love.  That is, we have an infinite ability to love, because love is infinite. Specifically I was thinking that when we love more, when we add more people into our love circle, love is not divided.  It is multiplied.  Love does not run out!

Ask any new mother who is holding her second (or third, or fourth…) newborn.  She is overwhelmed with love for this new little one.  But in no way does it subtract from the love she has for her first child, or for her husband for that matter.  She has enough room to love both children, because love never runs out.  Unless we willingly turn it off.

In my work, I see a good number of blended families…second, or third, or fourth marriages.  Think of the different family configurations these scenarios can present.  A common problem I see is something I will call turf wars.  I’m brining my children into this relationship, but I am not going to love yours.  Maybe I don’t even like yours.  It is as if loving these new children, or sometimes adults, will somehow diminish one’s love supply.  Sometimes the children of the new spouse are seen as a threat to the new marriage.  I don’t want you to continue loving your children.  You must now love only my children and me.  And sometimes it works the other way.  The children make no room to love the new stepparent.  They may not want to share their biological parents with these new outsiders.

Or consider friendships that are jealously guarded.  There is only room for you and me (or our chosen group).  No one else gets in.  Learning to love a new friend does not mean I no longer love you.

Now as I write these things, I acknowledge that while love is infinite, time is finite.  We have a limited amount of time, and relationships take time.  That is where priorities come in.  And intentionality.  I am blessed with a number of enduring friendships.  Some I see or talk to weekly, others maybe once every month or so. They are the kind of friendships that are relatively low maintenance.  We are all busy and we see each other when we can.  I know that June is having fun in London with Jeff, and Stephanie is busy with her grands, and others are on vacation or just plain busy! But these are people I love dearly and I know they love me too.  All I have to do is pick up the phone and they will be there.  In a few days Jerry and I will be going to Dallas to reconnect with a group of high school friends.  We have a mini reunion every year that is open to anyone who can make it. It always amazes me how those bonds that were so strong in high school fall right back into place.  I love them across time and miles.

Back to the love chapter. I told you this is random and meandering.  One commentary I read suggested replacing the word “love” with your own name:

Fran is Patient, Fran is kind. She is not proud.  She is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrong.  Fran does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  Fran always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I can tell you I fall short, woefully short, on every one of these.  And God has taken every opportunity to remind me.  “Fran are you keeping a record of a wrong, are you too easily provoked, are you persevering with this person even though they are difficult” and on and on.  I realize it is taking me a lifetime to master love as defined by God.

One more though about the infiniteness (is that a word?) of love.  It is in the last verse.  “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” One day, when this earth has passed away, when we are in the presence of Jesus, we will have no need for faith and hope, for those will be realized.  But love will always remain, because God is love.    

IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL

 

It is well with my soul. There are some days…some seasons in life, when that is that is all you can say.  But it is also the best you can say.

 

It Is Well With My Soulhas long been one of my favorite hymns.  It was written in 1873 by Horatio Spaffordfollowing the drowning deaths of his four daughters that occurred when the ship they were on sank.  That is really all I knew of his story, but after doing a little research I discovered that he had one traumatic event after another throughout his life.  Yet he could write this beautiful hymn that has helped sustain so many of us in dark days. I love the theology of this song…that no matter what happens in this world, I can know for certain that this is not my home.  I am just passing through, and one day I will live with Jesus in Heaven.

 

When you are stripped of everything in this material world.  When life slams you in the face and you didn’t see it coming.  When you have endured months and even years of a trial that seems to have no end, when life seems hopeless, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  Because really, that is all that really matters.  It is the most important thing you can ever say.  When the 6:00 news alternately makes you scratch your head or shudder in fear, when the only voice you have is your one little vote, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  When the doctor gives you a dreaded diagnosis, when you have run out of treatment options, when the miracle you prayed for seems like it is not going to happen, is it still well with your soul?   When you feel forgotten, rejected, and alone, do you know all is well with your soul?

 

When life is good, when you have the world by the tail, when you have love, health, and prosperity, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  Sometime I think it is harder when things are going well.  I remember a friend I used to have when we lived in another city.  I have lost touch with her, but occasionally I wonder how she is doing.  When I knew her she was happily married, had great kids, lived in a big house, and had a job she loved.  One day I tried to talk to her about Jesus.  About her soul.  She told me that her life was good and she didn’t want to rock her boat.  Somehow she had the idea that if she let God into her life she was signing on for trials.  I’ve thought a lot about that and in all honesty she may have been right. God doesn’t just save us and leave us where we are.  He wants to refine us, to make us more Christ-like,  But she would have walked through any future trials with a God who loves her and has a plan for good for her.

 

I can tell you in my life, my biggest growth spurts have occurred as a result of trials.  That is where my faith has grown.  I haven’t had a Horatio Spafford life.  In fact, over all I would say life has been good.  But there have been days, seasons, when I had to come right up to a hard truth: I am not in control!  There have been times when I have had to say, “Not my will, but thine.”  And then I’ve had to let go and trust in God’s goodness.  Even in those dark, scary moments, I could say, “It is well with my soul.”  If life gives me the very worst it has (Oh and I hope it never does!  The mind can conjure up some horrible situations,) even if I am stripped of everything, I know it is well with my soul.  This is not the end.  I have a home in Heaven with Jesus, who will make all things right.

 

Can you say those words? It is well with my soul?  If not, I hope you will consider what the Bible has to say.   God loves you and has a plan for your life, but there is one thing that separates you from God and that is sin.  Welcome to the human race, for the Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  And to make bad news worse, the Bible tells us that the price for our sins is death.  That is what we deserve; but God has given us the free gift (we didn’t earn it) of eternal life because our sin debt was paid by the death of Jesus.  Horatio Spafford said it well:

 

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

 

If you are not sure that all is well with your soul, I urge you to settle that matter today.  Payment for your sins has already been taken care of.  Just talk to God from your heart.  You might pray something like this, although the words are not as important as the intent of your heart:

 

“Lord Jesus, I confess to You that I am a sinner and I do not deserve eternal life. But, I believe You died and rose from the grave to make me a new creation and to prepare me to dwell in your presence forever. Jesus, come into my life, take control of my life, forgive my sins and save me. I am now placing my trust in You alone for my salvation and I accept your free gift of eternal life.”

 

If you have prayed that prayer, then you can sing along with Horatio Spafford and millions of other Believers: It is well with my soul.

 

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