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Archive for the ‘Our Story (Stephen and Melanie)’ Category

As a family counselor in the making, newly married gal, member of Christ’s bride, and student, I have read and continue to read a LOT on relationships.  Stephen sometimes reads relationship books with me, but even when he doesn’t he thrives in the discussion and application that the books spur in us.

“Lion’s Den” developed in my hopes as an answer to “How can we as man and wife best honor God and each other in our Sabbath/Shabbat?”  

We discussed how I independently spent Sabbath resting in God’s presence through solitude, confession, prayer, worship, and reading His Truth and inspired truths.  We considered Gottman‘s messages for a healthy marriage and read through Jeremy and Audrey Roloff’s questions they address during each week’s “Navigator’s Council” and we landed on our very own marital meeting, separate from date nights called “Lion’s Den.”

Every day Stephen and I begin our mornings with a kiss, in each other’s arms, we then say “Good morning Jesus” and pray together, followed by a shared, short devotional.

At some point in our day, we individually read through “The Marriage Minute,” a Gottman blog quick read, and respond to the daily challenge.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman and their Gottman Institute are a wealth of knowledge and resources based on decades of observational study, interviews with couples and parent-child relationships, and clinical experience considering the attachment of children, parents, and spouses.  The Marriage Minute simply presents one of his tools or lessons a day for spouses to work towards a healthier, more satisfying marriage together.

We write in our shared-notes affirmations, tasks to be done, reminders of in what we invest our finances, and prayer requests so that we can be together–in our separation–throughout the day.

We spend the last 30 minutes before falling asleep together in bed–electronics off and out of reach, overhead lighting off, sometimes reading a personal spiritual or relational growth book, worshiping God with a heart song, and one final joint prayer and “I love you.  Good night my bride/my husband.”

That’s our daily outline of intentional intimacy moments throughout the week.  However, both Stephen and I struggle with living in Christ’s freedom–mine is an issue with legalism in sticking with what has worked for me previously and holding myself to standards God did not ask of me–so, although meeting the bare minimum is necessary for us each day, we do fall short and remind one another of God’s grace and how we can choose to walk and rejoice in such freedom.  I say that because I am offering up what works for us, BUT we are still growing in understanding of and application of the very same thing.

For instance, sometimes we are both too emotionally exhausted to truly speak about the impact of our day or to process the underlying hurt of something the other individual said/left unsaid or did/left undone.  We call a HALT and readdress these issues after individual prayer during Lion’s Den.

Okay, that’s the week.  Now the break down of Lion’s Den…

Why “Lion’s Den”?

Before addressing our issues, we first turn towards God giving thanks and asking for help.  When Daniel learned of trouble, he he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God…asking for God’s help” (Daniel 6:10-11).

We recognize who or what our living suggests we worship most, recognize God’s authority, and humble ourselves in the surrender of pride, self-pursuits, and idolizing the other, and submit unto Christ. King Darius tried to come up with a way to save Daniel, but couldn’t go against the law he had signed.  Even he leaned on God to rectify the self-honoring law’s consequences on his trustworthy servant: “The king said to him, ‘May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you'” (6:16).

We seek to honor the other and to honor God with all we do, leave undone, say, and leave unsaid.  We remove from our lips the temptation to criticize and instead, cry out “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:22-23). Daniel answered, “Long live the king!  My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.” (6:21-22)

We remember our gifts: our freedom from sin, our spouse, and our unique personhood.   King Darius trusted Daniel and knew what Daniel stood for, Daniel remained faithful and trustworthy, he did not allow a law to keep him from the opportunity to remain faithful to his God (6:3,26-27).

We pursue, claim, and maintain a safe place in which we can abide in Christ individually before meeting together. Daniel retreated to his room, yet, even in the Lion’s Den he cried out to God faithfully and was safe from their grip (6:10,23).

Why Sundays?

Saturday evening is when we take time to learn each other, to make new memories, and experience life together joyfully, without thought of the responsibilities or issues that await us.  In other words, Saturday we turn off our phones (and leave them off until after sunset on Sunday evening) and say good-bye world, and walk into freedom from tasks, from selves, and from others (outside of the marriage).

Sunday morning we begin before church, then at church, all the way through sunset focusing on the presence of Christ in us as individuals, as the bride of Christ, and as a couple.  We wanted “Lion’s Den” to follow time of individual reflection, and agreed we’d benefit the greatest from having Lion’s Den on our church and solitude day.

What we did during our first two “Lion’s Dens”…

The first week we found a safe place outside our home, in nature, and passed back and forth between us sheets of paper that said:

  • What is the mission of our marriage?
  • Long-term goals (for you, for us)…
  • Short-term goals (for you, for us)…
  • Family traditions (that you enjoyed growing up and that you’d like to begin for our present and future family)…
  • Healthy marital habits to uphold (i.e. what do you like about our marriage?)…
  • Unhealthy habits to break (i.e. what do you notice that hurts our marriage?)…
  • Boundaries for the meeting…
    • Setting the stage: what do we have with us? what stays away? where do we have our meetings?
  • Meeting names…

The second week we set up camp at our dining table, processed, prayed through, and shaped our hopes for “Lion’s Den,” by labeling more specifically what we would and would not do, offering one another freedom, and affirming each other’s sharing by acknowledging what they said and inquiring how we could best serve them in reaching such goals, how they picture us partnering with them for traditions, how we can best encourage new habits and the breaking of old habits, and the most powerful part: agreeing on what we recognize to be the mission of our marriage through discussion, while flipping through, praying through, and applying Scripture to our concept of a God-honoring marriage.

“Lion’s Den” after the set-up phase…

What happens after church?

After church, we serve one another by making and fellowshiping over a meal.

We then pursue God individually through different disciplines and means.  This is a time of solitude, of resting in God’s presence.  During this individual time, at some point, we spend time in prayer and confession–praying through our vows and the missions of our marriage.

When we join together, we begin with confession to one another, express and walk in forgiveness, and rejoice in the freedom to worship as a duet, before getting into the ‘meeting’ talk.

Choose a “safe atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly about his or her convictions and dreams.”  – Marriage Minute

The meeting (adapted from conversations with a mentor, “Navigator’s Council” journal*, our dialogue, and other readings).

  • What brought you joy this week?
  • What was the hardest point this week?
  • What is one specific way I can best serve you this upcoming week?
  • Any HALT moments that need to now be addressed?
  • Is there any unconfessed sin, conflict, or hurt that we need to receive or seek forgiveness for? (this one probably was already addressed, but if not, is the MEAT of “Lion’s Den” in identifying and killing the impact of any of the four horsemen)
  • What is a dream, desire, or craving that has been on the forefront of your mind?
  • How can I pray for you this week?

Before Christ, we take part in communion with one another, surrendering ourselves in joint heart-felt prayer, and then come together.  Sundays is therefore a day spent experiencing the whole self poured out as an offering to God–delighting in the privilege of being His Family and experiencing His boundless love in how we communicate (social), affirm each other’s needs and strengths (emotional), encourage continued growth (mental), serve and fellowship with one another over breaking of bread (physical), and in prayer, worship, and exhortation of who God is to us, in us, and around us (spiritual)–as man and wife.

I’d love to hear how you and your beloved adapt an intentional time of communicating the missions, strengths, areas of growth, and prayer needs in your marriage.

*We’re intending on using the calendar in the Navigator’s Council Journal as a place to record our nightly affirmations to one another–the “how I saw you most exemplify the love of Christ towards me today”.

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This song came from first listening to Jeremiah Daly’s “At Last” and incorporates one of his stanzas as well as the general theme and flow of an outcry.  His stanza is demonstrated by its being in italics.  Also, a capital “We” includes God and I; whereas a lowercase “we” is my submission before Lord seeking where, in my relationship with Stephen, we are heading.  Because of this distinction, you will find more lowercase letters than are grammatically correct.  Please look past the grammar to the heart.  This is a song developed over the course of a brutal day requiring intensity in prayer before recognizing the replenishing of spirit as I sit before the Lord and in our togetherness.

it’s as if I lost my way;

I was surefooted, but now I question

nearly everything.

it all seems so uncertain;

and yet I believe.

so Lord,

where do I go from here?

where do I go from here?

where do I go from here?

where do I go from here?

 

my hope is that

I can learn to be content right where I’m at

time will tell

and I’ll keep searching for answers inside myself

where do I go from here?

where do I go from here?

where do I go from here?

where do I go from here?

 

lead and I shall follow

please pave the way, I know

You to be with me always

trusting You stand with me now

trusting You stand with me now

so I ask once more:

where shall We go from here?

where shall We go from here?

where shall We go from here?

O Lord, where shall We go?

 

be still, I shall.

but I don’t want to sit;

when you are clearly walking with me now.

Lord, where are We going now?

O Lord, where are We going?

 

where do we go from here?

where do we go from here?

Lord, guide us,

help us,

show us, You are here.

where will we go with You?

Lord, show us

we beg You.

 

thunders rolling, cold war

he is not my enemy nor am I his

weapons down

fighting for each other

white flags waving

unto You we surrender

 

storms raging,

we’re not flailing

no, Lord

You say be still,

be calm,

have courage,

walk with bravity

 

You, Lord, are here

and so we say: thank You

Mighty King,

we bow down

with You, we shall rise

continue

we walk with

walking with one another

so Lord, where shall we go?

where shall we go?

where shall we go?

 

Seeker of lost souls

we are found not lost

with You we shall know

this is a trusted path

with You we shall know

this is a trusted path

 

With dignity, integrity

we have courage,

walking hand in hand.

it’s as if a triangle;

us under You.

so as we look to You, we ask:

where shall we go from here?

where shall we go from here?

where shall we go?

we go with You.

we go with You.

surrendered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This weekend I attended “Equipped to Care,”  the first conference held at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary focused on equipping parents, prospective parents, students, and professionals on how to best care for themselves and the orphans of our country through foster care and adoption.

This is my heart. A healthy burden I intend to act on.

Within a few weeks of Stephen and I sharing life–truly sharing the life the Lord has revealed would come of our commitment to ministry–I opened up about my heart for foster-adoption.

Already, I  knew that my beloved Stephen traveled to Uganda on a short-term missions trip this past summer with a married couple expecting to bring home a Ugandan orphan, a dear sister of Christ who is newly engaged to his best seminary friend, and others from the seminary community.  He brought back the vision for multiple tattoos to commemorate what God ignited in him during his time serving, but also the injury that left him forced to humbly submit to the care of his sisters.

The time he spent with these sisters ignited his commitment to pray for a wife who cares for the orphans and widows of the nations.  In our dating relationship, he even joked that these two sisters would have refused him dating me if it was not my heart.

That’s the backdrop.  Over the past months, I shared about how I committed to adopting a homeless gal’s baby if he were born 4 years ago, and then, my intent to foster while living and studying in Charlotte.  Both huge commitments, lost.  And I had only realized the need to grieve their loss just months before meeting Stephen.  I am burdened for the children of God who are not receiving His love through the compassionate hands and hearts of His people.

As I shared my past experiences and known commitment in the future, I thought he got it.

When he praised God that I was a woman who cared for the orphans and widows I thought he was also making the commitment, saying “I am also burdened for the children of God who are not receiving His love through the compassionate hands and hearts of His people.”

Communication.  I am a visionary by design.  Future minded while enjoying the present adventure.  Stephen is innately present always, and can glance into the future with joy as he faithfully believes in the Lord’s provisions.   A glance.  And for me, a nearly whole picture.  Two different perspectives requiring exchanges of words to make sure the picture described is truly being viewed by the other.

There have been several conversations this week on the topic.  Beautiful times of unveiling one another just a bit more.  He sees who God has made me to be, what life has brought me, and what the future shapes me to aspire towards.

But in these conversations, it has been made known, he had no idea what I was expecting him to understand, to sign up for in those initial conversations.

I asked him this week.  A few conversations with times to rest and reflect in between after he sat in a conference session with me, “When you began praying for a wife who cares for orphans and widows, is this what you meant?”  Really, I was realizing that I had basically just thrown my boyfriend into what seemed a bit like a parenting class and asking “is this too much for you?!?”

For me, it was an invitation to see what I study on a regular basis, what I intend to do professionally and personally.  He was grateful for the invitation and he understood my intent, the material discussed, and the impact of such knowledge in caring for America’s orphans.  But it still led to a hairy discussion.

Conversations can be difficult.  It is vulnerably putting out what my heart weeps for and faithfully believing that this is the man who God so elected to partner with me in this ministry, and He will therefore, grow Stephen’s burden for foster-adoption.  But it cannot turn into something I hold over him either.

Stephen shared with me a little about a friend’s marriage.  How difficult it is on their relationship as the wife dreamed of international missions and is now planted firmly in the states supporting her pastor-husband.  They spoke briefly of passions and desires, but it was never boldly proclaimed, “I want to follow the Lord’s call on my life and live overseas ministering to families of different ethnic origins,” and the response would have been, “I can’t offer you a life abroad.  I’m called to stand firm in a church right here.”  As beautiful as their ministry is together, perhaps this difference would have prevented their nuptials; perhaps then, she would be partnered with a male missionary and her pastor-husband would have the support of a wife called exactly to the role of pastor’s wife in the American south.

These are scary conversations, but they cannot be feared.  It is faithfully believing in the Lord’s sovereignty in growing the partnership, equipping both parties for the mission, and uniting their hearts in their ability to serve Him as He so leads.  This is the purpose, the foundation for speaking boldly of what God has planted and how He reveals your particular ministry call will continue to grow.

I believed before that Stephen is the man I intend to partner with in a lifetime of ministry, but after sharing this call to parent and to counsel foster-adoptive children as a “will you commit to praying this call into your own life as you lean into God to teach you how to father kids from hard places?” his response has affirmed it once more:

i really love you. and i really love that God is moving in our relationship.  to deeper things.  seeing the real and the unknown but yet, hand in hand.  100%. and i definitely started praying. you didn’t bombard me at all. maybe call it a burden.  but it’s a good one.

precious woman, i wouldn’t of asked for your hand that day six days in if i wasn’t taking this partnership seriously.  i love your words. sinking deep in my chest.

Our difficult conversations have very much been in person.  The above two messages were sent via text as an affirmation of where he is at currently, while taking the day to rest on his own.  Stephen uses only lower case letters in text in respect of God’s name, hence how I have written his words above.

Please commit to praying with me for the burden I have shared with my love.  And also, commit to praying for the burden you share and your love or future love shall share with you.  Let us be the Body, moving with God as He paves the way.

And the light of Christ shall be known.  We are an extension of His grace, His love to all the peoples of every nation.

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