Bowing Down

I had a potty-training toddler in my home this week.  Like most two-year-old boys, this one is not nearly as eager for mastering this milestone as the adults in his life, but he’s giving some half-hearted effort from time to time.  To increase his level of commitment, his momma is rewarding him with an M&M every time the deed is adequately done.  When I was handed the small container of M&Ms with instructions, I absent-mindedly set them in my bay window and went on about my business.

An hour or so later, Little Guy’s six-year-old sister came in and just stood near me while I worked in the kitchen.  After a few seconds, she inquired, “Why is he bowing down to M&Ms?”

I stopped what I was doing and looked at her.  “What?” I asked.

She jerked her head toward the bay window and repeated her question: “Why is he bowing down to M&Ms?”

I followed her gaze and took in the scene.  From her perspective, the shepherd in my African nativity display did, indeed, look as though he was paying homage to the tiny container of M&Ms!  I laughed and laughed!  I then explained that the candies were just randomly set on the ledge and lifted her and her little sister up to see the true recipient of the shepherd’s worship: Sweet Baby Jesus.

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I continued my work in the kitchen with a smile on my face, appreciating the good laugh this precious little girl had given me.  Life is almost always more interesting when occasionally seen through the eyes of a child!  What was so obvious to me was completely missed by my young friend.  I was tall enough to see the whole picture while she and her sister were not.

I wonder how many times I have looked like I was the one bowing down to something as ridiculous as M&Ms.  How many times have I been mindlessly going through life, paying little attention to the decisions I made, giving the very appearance of bowing down to that which is worthless?  From the perspective of the ones around me, where does my heart lie?

Lord, help me to speak, to act, to live as though You are the sole object of my worship.

 

 

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Monday Morning Prayer

Worn out.  Flat.  Empty.  Unwanted.  This is what I feel some days.

Lord, help me to focus on You and what is true.  When I fix my eyes more on who You are, I less concerned with how I feel.

Please show me today a glimpse of who You are.  Open my eyes so I can see Your glory and open my heart so I can become more like You.downtree

 

Commit

Twenty years ago, I was in a miserable marriage.  We fought constantly.  There was verbal and emotional abuse.  There was mistrust, misbehavior and a strong belief on my part that our marriage had been a big mistake.

Eventually, I decided to leave him.  I was over the heartache and the sorrow and the unrealized expectations.  Aside from my mom and one other little old lady in my life, I came up against almost no opposition.  On the contrary, my break from this miserable circumstance was greeted with celebration!  My actions were justified by my right to be happy, to live independently and to look out for myself.  It was such a tremendous relief to me.  After doing battle with my husband for 2 1/2 years, I had no desire to do battle with anyone else.

I reveled in my newly-found freedom.  Having married young, I had never lived on my own.  I loved almost everything about it, and I embraced the opportunity to “find myself” and to live for me for a change.  It was wonderful!  I found a lawyer and filed the paperwork.  I would soon be free from one of the biggest mistakes I’d ever made.  My relief was practically palpable.

In the months that followed, I initially pretty much did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.  Six months later, the freedom and excitement I had initially felt began to fade, and I started to feel something different:  bondage and regret.  I had already been angry with my husband–consistently and violently so.  I had heaped a mountain of blame at his feet, and I had no problem hurling accusations at him.  He had not been honest.  He had not been kind.  He had not been who he’d led me to believe he was.  Eventually, though, my anger found a new target; I became angry with myself.  Interestingly, this turn of events just renewed my attack on my husband.  If I was at all to blame, it was obviously because of him!  At this point, I was almost completely fueled by my emotions.  I had honestly allowed myself to stop thinking and just feel my way through life.  It was a vulnerable, chaotic season.

Enter God’s grace.  During this time of brokenness, He did a few things for me that changed the course of my heart.

  1. He helped me to feel the consequences of my actions.  I began to see how the divorce would affect my relationships with my extended family, my in-laws and friends.  It was one of the most painful revelations of my life.
  2. He allowed me to go to Alaska and spend 3 weeks with a dear friend and her parents.  Not only did this remove me from some negative influences, it put me in the direct line of the very positive influence of a couple who had been married 30 years and was still very much in love.  I began to yearn for that kind of love.
  3. He allowed some very unhealthy relationships to fall apart.
  4. After my time in Alaska, I went to sign the divorce papers that I had filed.  As I stared at my husband’s signature, my heart broke a little bit more.  I felt a sorrow deeper than any I’d ever felt.  I told my lawyer that I’d never imagined myself in this position.  She looked at me with compassion in her eyes and replied, “Trista, if you ask me, Indiana has more than its share of divorces.  You don’t have to do this”.

Fortunately, my husband had been brought to a place of brokenness and repentance before me.  He was ready to put the pieces of our marriage back together.  He willingly forgave things a husband should never have to forgive.  He lovingly welcomed his very broken wife back into the protection of his arms.  It was a humbling time for me, one that I still cannot remember without tears of shame and sorrow.

Rebuilding and reconnecting was not easy.  It was sheer determination in our commitment to one another and our faith in God that brought us through.  I learned that marriage was not about me being happy or in my needs being met.  It was about me becoming who God wanted me to be for my spouse.  As I learned to die to my own “needs”, God provided all of my needs.  It was a strange paradox.

God never said He wanted me to be happy.  God did say that He wanted me to have His peace and His joy.  These latter qualities are deep-seated and lasting–strong enough to withstand the valleys of sorrow.  I have often said that I don’t pray that my kids will be happy.  I pray that they will choose the joy and peace that come from Christ.  Anything else is just not good enough.

Next month, my husband and I will celebrate 22 years of marriage.  Has it always been easy?  Um, not even close.  Has it been worth it?  Rewarding?  Exciting?  Challenging?  Fulfilling?  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!  If given the opportunity, I would marry him all over again.  (Although I hope I would do those first three years very differently!)

When I go to bridal showers, I am often asked to share my best marital advice for the bride-to-be.  I see the women cringe when my advice is read aloud, because, well, it’s just a little too…direct for that kind of setting.  However, it’s what I believe to be true.  Without the awkwardness of 15 other women listening to our conversation, I will share it with you now:  To truly make your marriage last, commit to it.  Build your foundation, set your course and grit your teeth through all of the tough days…because there will be tough days–days when you can’t stand the sight of each other.  Determine to stay married.  Resolve to stand firm.  Refuse to give in.  Commit.

 

 

Love Bank

Years ago, when my husband and I were still trying to put the pieces of our broken marriage back together, I read a book called “His Needs, Her Needs” by Dr. Harley.  This was the height of my marital self-help book era, and I can honestly say that I gleaned at least one nugget of truth from every book I read.  This book was no exception.

Dr. Harley likens a marriage to a bank.  We make love deposits and love withdrawals with our spouse, and they do the same with us.  When we serve them, praise them, hug them–whatever–those are seen as deposits.  When we mouth off, blow off, take off–those are definitely withdrawals.  This concept can be applied to any relationship, and a thriving relationship will show a healthy balance of give-and-take.

I hadn’t thought about this concept for a long time.  Fortunately, my husband and I have developed much better habits in our marriage, and we don’t have to be quite so pointedly intentional about making deposits these days.  However, this Love Bank metaphor was recently brought to my mind during a conversation with a friend, and then with my children, and then with another friend.  And today, with yet another friend.  It seems as though there’s been a lot of withdrawing going on.

Every person, in every relationship, needs to be on both the receiving and giving ends.  Relationships thrive when both parties love well and feel well-loved.  That’s just the way it is.  Sometimes, there are seasons when one person does more giving than the other.  Maybe there’s an illness, a job change or some other life crisis in which one person just cannot make the deposits they usually make.  During this time, the primary giver can still rest solidly on the store of deposits that had previously been made by the currently not-so-available party.  This is normal–for a season.  However, most relationships are not built to withstand this kind of one-sided investing for long.

Then there are times when someone feels like they have carried the weight of the relationship on their shoulders for too long.  This can happen for a number of reasons, many of which may seem valid.  The fact remains, though, that relationships suffer when there is no balance of give and take.

Perhaps one person feels like they are the sole initiator of time together.  Or, maybe one friend feels like they are valued in the relationship more for what they can give than for who they are.  Sometimes one spouse seems to be the only one working toward better communication.  Whatever the situation, chances are good that most of us have been on either end of these scenarios at different times in our lives.

Of course, there’s also the whole issue of perception.  Sometimes we just feel like we’re the only one giving when we really aren’t.  Maybe we’re distracted or overly-emotional or we’ve fallen victim to our own unrealistic expectations.  Whatever it is that skews our perspective, we must be very careful to examine the situation with wisdom and discernment so that we can come to a true understanding of the situation.  Many perfectly good relationships have bitten the dust because of pent-up, untamed emotion.  This is a tragedy.

One of the endless lessons my husband and I try to teach our children is that they are only responsible for themselves.  As much as they would like to manage the people around them (primarily their siblings), they cannot.  They can communicate respectfully and in love toward any changes they would like to see made by their peers, but they are only able to truly alter their own behavior.  They may be able to shame, bully or barter to get results for a short time, but the new behavior will not stick, and the relationship will suffer.

So, the question is:  What is to be done with the people who take more than they give?  I really don’t know.  There are too many variables for a one-response-fits-all kind of answer.  I do know this:  God’s grace is complete.  We are called to love in Truth.  Relationships don’t benefit from shoving the Truth under the rug.

I have been a record-keeper in the past, and I gave that to Jesus a long time ago.  I asked for freedom from keeping score, and He helped me get it.  I don’t want to give out of obligation, and I don’t want to remember every offense.  I want to serve where God calls me to serve, loving as I want to be loved.  Having said that, I’m okay saying “no” when people try to take too much.  I’m also more than happy to give myself some space from the folks who try to suck me dry.  This is actually one really big reason that I don’t have a smartphone.  I don’t want to be on call for other people all of the time.  There’s a big difference in giving generously and in giving constantly.  This is one of the healthy boundaries my husband and I have set.

I wish relationships were easier, but sometimes they just aren’t.  I wish I was more selfless, less overly-sensitive, more patient.  I can work toward these things, but the fact of the matter is that I will never be perfect.  I do know, though, that I want to give more than I take.  And, when people out-give me, I want them to know how incredibly, completely, totally grateful I am.  I want them to know that I know I’ve been out-given and that I super-duper appreciate their selflessness.  I don’t want them to ever think I take them for granted.  Then, I want to pay that kind of generosity forward–in my own way with my own gifts and in God’s good time.

In a way, I think gratitude may be one of the biggest deposits we can make in the people around.  We all want to feel like what we give has value.  An appreciative spirit is a giving spirit; it communicates that we understand the investment that others have made in us.  Sincere and intentional gratitude can make even the biggest over-givers among us happy to keep on giving.  When we feel appreciated, we feel loved.

Free Labor

Not long ago, I was met with an interesting proposal.  A friend asked me if she could send her teenaged son out to my house to work.  For free.

Apparently, this young man had gotten a little bit too used to Mom and Dad paying for the things he wanted to do.  A youth event at their church was advertised, and the teen assumed that his parents had the money and were more than happy to hand it over so that he could participate.  I’m not sure of the specifics, but I can probably surmise the particulars of the conversation.  It is all too familiar to those of us who have children.

These wise parents recognized a trait in their son that they were not willing to encourage, and they decided to do something about it.  Instead of shaking their heads and muttering something about “Kids these days!”, they decided to act under their own convictions.  They want their son to work for the privilege of attending this retreat.  These parents realize that his levels of gratitude and understanding will increase with his level of personal investment.  Smart!  Since these folks don’t have the same opportunities for physical labor at their place as we do at ours, my friend decided to ask for my help.  Would I please allow him the opportunity to work hard for 3 hours on our little farm in exchange for a sewing class for my daughters?  They will be the ones to actually pay him; I just need to provide him with an opportunity to earn it.

Ummm…yes!

I made the stipulations that he and my son could have time to just hang out and play afterwards, and I wanted to be sure that I got to feed him a good meal for his time.  I told my son, Isaac, that he could order up whatever he thought they’d like for supper.   He will be working alongside his friend, honing his skills as an instructor and encourager.  (Well, theoretically, anyway.)

I admit that I am a bit uncomfortable making out a To Do List for someone else’s child, but I confess that I am super impressed with these parents.  Counselor Dave says that entitlement is one of the biggest issues that keeps today’s young adults from living healthy, effective lives.  My friend and her husband are recognizing the issue early on and addressing it in a proactive, intentional way.  They are taking direct steps in protecting their kiddos from the selfish habit of expecting a free ride in this world.  How admirable!

I was telling another friend about this situation.  She is a young mom with three daughters and a son.  Her immediate response was, “Wow!  I’d like you to keep this young man in mind for me!  When my nine-year-old daughter is looking for a husband, this kid may be a good option.  His parents are raising him up right!”.

Parenting is tough.  Good parenting oftentimes makes waves with our kids and raises eyebrows among our peers.  There is no step-by-step manual for every situation that arises.  And, even more frustrating, what works with one kid will often not work for another.  Positive parenting is this remarkable balance of firmness and grace–always on the watch, continually challenging the norm, firmly established in love.

I’m thankful for other parents who make these tough decisions.  I’m thankful for the ones who are willing to make themselves vulnerable and to ask for help.  I’m thankful for the ones who listen without judgment and share from their experiences.  What is so difficult for us now may make things easier for someone else later.  We were never meant to live our lives on an island of our own making.

So, thank you, sweet friend, for trusting me to walk alongside you in your parenting journey.  Thank you for loving your son enough that you are willing to make him uncomfortable for his own good.  Thank you for the example you are setting for my own children.  And, most of all, thank you for making yourself vulnerable to me; I now know that you are a safe place for me during my own challenging seasons of motherhood.

Slowing Down

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While most folks are dreading the colder temperatures, I find myself really looking forward to them.  Our days just take on a different feel this time of year–slower, cozier, less stressful somehow.

Even while I was crumpling paper for a fire in the woodstove this morning, I felt a little bit like I was on vacation today.  Yes, we have things to do.  Yes, we even have places to be.  But, for the entire morning, and again this evening, I am free.  Free to check schoolwork, free to crochet, free to catch up on housework and send letters and play games with my kids.  The pressure of our summertime responsibilities and the magnetic pull of beautiful fall days are gone for the present.  I get to just be a mom and a wife again.  Such a lovely time of rest.

So, this morning I made a double batch of applesauce muffins–some for breakfast and some for the freezer.  I returned some emails and scheduled some speaking engagements.  I cut my oldest daughter’s hair while chit-chatting with her about her friends and her job.

I treasured the miracles in the mundane.

I know that the cold weather and the shorter days have their drawbacks, but, for me, they also have their advantages.  There is a gift in every season, and I pray that my heart is always open to receive it.

Into the Light

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Do you feel like the things you have loved most in this life have been stolen from you?

Do you feel like parts of your soul have died from abuse and neglect?

Do you feel like there is destruction all around you?

Stolen happiness.  Dead dreams.  Destroyed relationships.

Yeah…I’ve felt like that, too.

Guess what, though?  There’s Hope.

There’s Life–full, abundant, Life.

In Jesus.

He doesn’t ask much.  He just wants you.  All of you.  Broken, battered, incomplete you.

That’s seriously all He wants.

In return, He will breathe His perfection into your weakness and His joy into your heartache.  He will shine His Light through the cracks in your heart.  He will bring healing.  Restoration.  Full, abundant life.

It’s time to move on, dear one.  The promise is there.  You’ve just got to claim it.  One step at a time:  Walk out of the darkness and into the Light.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  –Jesus, Book of John, 10:10