Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Reflecting God’s Word’ Category

Last night, our pastor challenged us to learn to live wisely, to make the most out of every opportunity.

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart” (Colossians 4:2).

This morning, during the church service, I met my first opportunity since receiving the challenge.  Strange isn’t it? That sometimes our greatest opportunity to serve isn’t sitting in a chair at church absorbing the teachable moments of a sermon, or even, to be beside our brothers and sisters in a state of worship…

I have called you into relationship with me and to draw others into relationship with me, says the Lord.

My first opportunity? To calm a sister’s anxiety as she and her husband depart from our church, move to another state, and begin their search for a new church to claim home.

I never realized how clear of a process I have in searching out and claiming ‘this is right’ at a church–developed through my traveled friendships, years, states, and countries.

The framework.  Since the first week of dating, Stephen and I have used a triangle as our framework for our relationship and for everything that flows into, through, and out of our relationship.  The inner triangle symbolizes submit, surrender, together, and the outer triangle symbolizes the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In every decision we make, we check ourselves and one another:

  • Are we submitted to one another?
  • Are we submitted to Christ?
  • Are we surrendering our own will to the will of God?
  • Are we acting in the best interest of our togetherness?

Each of which requires us to die to self, believe that what God has for us is far better than what we could claim for ourselves, and lean into what He has together. From there, we are then able to elaborate in our discussion:

  • Are we favoring a Person, attribute, or characteristic of God and neglecting the whole being of God?
    • For instance, Stephen experiences Christ as His Teacher and example most.  Whereas, I experience God’s presence through the Holy Spirit most.  Our Spiritual giftings even support the development in us by studying Christ Jesus and by sitting with the Spirit of God.  But in making decisions, in pursuing ministry of any sort, we must be mindful of the growth we will pursue in honoring who God is in all 3 Persons and in what He does through the people around us?

Once the framework is set for making decisions, the discussion should be relevant to what honors God and relationship with Jesus and other, rather than meeting our own preferences.

We hear, or at least I’ve heard, a lot about the dangers of preferences in selecting churches.  This worry is twofold.  On one hand, God designed each of the 7 billion people walking on this earth with unique characteristics and desires.  We have God-given, God-honoring desires.  The second part is that our desires can be self-fulfilling desires in which we seek to act out our own will, not the will of God.

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

If we truly are surrendering what is in our interest and pursuing what is the will of God, AND we are truly submitting to Christ and our spouse, AND we are pursuing a common goal together, preferences should exist no more.  The desires relating to preaching, worship, fellowship, and all aspects of ‘church’ end up being about honoring God.  For different individuals and different couples, the answer to their search will be different.

Why? God has created and called each of us in unique ways to unique places, people, and opportunities.

Keeping the framework in mind and in remaining prayerful, consider these next steps…

  1. Reach out to pastors and church associations that have challenged you, grown you, and minister well to their direct and global communities.  Be bold enough to ask for help.  Allow others to guide your journey.
  2. Do the research.  Online we have access to sermons, connect opportunities, ministries and mission opportunities, missions and beliefs of the church.  Through your research, narrow down the list of possibilities to 5 churches.
  3. Listen, study, and pray. Allow the ministries to minister to you.  Begin to really recognize is this a church, a leader, a ministry that seems emotionally healthy or unhealthy?
    • Notice–in the sermon archive–how many church leaders preach throughout the year.  Is it the same man every week? If so, does he take a sabbatical and allow other leaders to rise up in shepherding and teaching the congregation?
      • Burnout is dangerous for leaders, the church who follow, and the community they minister to
    • Is Truth being preached?
      • We have capital T Truth and lower t truth.   Theology is the study of God.  God does not change; He remains the same.  Theology continues to take shape with numerous perspectives, helping us understand who God is in the vastness of His expression.  Theology should bring us to our knees in awe of who He is, not be a blade to dismember our brothers seeking after knowledge, awareness, and experience of God’s relation to them. We must be careful to enter a church examining the presentation and application of God’s Word by what is True rather than man’s opinion of truth.
      • The Gospel message–capital T Truth–should always be clear and preached often. If you are alarmed by how a church speaks about salvation matters, it probably isn’t the right church for you to grow or minister, but if the preacher simply has different opinions about what is not explicitly said in Scripture, there is room for compromise and discernment within the congregation.
      • Is the pastor speaking of his own accord or from God’s Word?  Are small groups a time of gossip, catching up, or is there also a deep reverence for growing in understanding and application of God’s Word?
    • Pray. Pray. And pray together.  Narrow your search to three.
  4. Attend.  I have a biased toward churches which utilize spiritual gift inventories in their Next Step meetings so that each member serving the congregation is in a position to strengthen the Body.  Again, if each of the 7 billion people on earth is unique, we have unique distributions of who God is and His abilities in each of us.  Still, it remains a bias.  The truth, and the areas to consider in your initial visiting a church are as follows…
    • How does the body function as a whole? 
      • Spiritual gifts. The Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another, the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.  The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.  He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have…But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11,18).
        • We have no need for a prophet to serve in a capacity where we would benefit most from someone whom the Spirit gifted the ability to give wise advice; likewise, we would not want to limit our church body from the urgent truths the prophet has been gifted to share.
        • Closer to home, it would seem as though my giftings of faith and intercession would provide the confidence of faith to pray for the supernatural to occur before my eyes when I pray, nonetheless, I do not have the gifting of miracles.  Others in my church serve us better in praying with belief in supernatural occurrences amidst our body.
        • Administrators are gifted with the ability to see needs and find resources to meet the needs.  Are they functioning to keep the church leaders from doing too much?
        • Are there intercessors praying that God would be revealed through the pastor’s message, that His healing would be made known in worship, and in fellowship, are His children delighting amidst God and His family?
        • Are there apostles and wise counsel overseeing the pastor (and other pastors)–is he held accountable to other church leaders?
        • Are their faithful givers in the church empowering ministry through their offerings?
        • There are twenty-five or so spiritual giftings divided into four categories-sign, communication, leadership, and practical– are they utilized in the functioning of the church body?
      • Family.
        • God calls us children. See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)
        • And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).
        • My dear brothers and sister (James 5:7,10,12,19)
        • Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results (James 5:16)
        • As you look around and hear the conversations around you, are brothers and sisters amidst the body sharing life with one another, inviting one another to pray through their trials and celebrate in their victories?  Are the members real with one another and with depth?  Is it clear that Family gets messy, but that through the mess, they stick together?
    • What else to look for?
      • It may sound indecent but look for signs of vulnerability.
        • I don’t consider volume in worship or the knowledge of the pastor or the lifting of hands to be indicators of the health of a church.  All of those are conditions of thinking and behaving that can be practiced and ‘perfected’ to mask the real condition, but they can also be conditions of thinking or behavior surrendered and practiced to honor God.  There is little way to tell at first.
        • Rather, I look for such evidence of transparency amidst the congregation as an influx in the voice and tears–which indicate sincerity, as the expression of inner workings is visible to others in the church and may be an invitation for other to walk alongside, pray with, and celebrate individual deliverances.
        • Where is the pastor’s family? Church plants have a set of limitations, often requiring the pastor’s wife to be serving in children’s ministry, perhaps.  But if you’re visiting a prominent church, watch for the wife and the children.  Does she seem to have a voice in the relationship? Does he take the time to lead his family before he leads the church?  Do his kids seem to respect and know their father–an indication of his presence and intentionality with them in the home?
        • Diversity. Who is welcome at the church and who stays?  Consider ages, nationalities, genders, marital status, socio-economic status, any and all populations represented in the community the church serves.
  5. Remember to submit, surrender, together as you abide in God the Father, Christ Jesus His Son, and the Holy Spirit.
    • Don’t give up.  Remember God wants you in relationship with Him and with His children.  Remain persistent in the search, in the prayer, and in the commitment.
    • Pray and together discern what God has purposed each of you to do–the action involved in honoring God with your living.  Consider the purposes of each of the churches you’ve experienced and make the decision that best honors self, other, and God.
    • Practice allowing needs (what God asks you or your spouse to) to outweigh wants (preferences) in your decision making.  And consider, if the church doesn’t meet a need right now, “is God calling us to bear this burden and bring ____ to the church?”  If it isn’t an ask from God, it’ll most likely be a burden to heavy to bear without His strength, and a church to remove from your considerations.  If the answer is yes, include your inner circle in praying for humility and connection as you begin with the church, patience to see the ___ added into God’s workings of the church, strength to carry His ask of you, and to remain with hearts of joy and thankfulness for the opportunity to express His presence in you in such a way.
    • Invite your praying friends, family, and former church members to pray with you as you transition into a new body of Christ.  This should never be done alone–live as a child of God, along with your brothers and sisters.
  6. Commit, dive in, join the Family, and serve God and His people through your giftings.

I hope that the framework, steps, and tools prove to be helpful to you in your present and/or future ventures in seeking out a sanctuary where God plants you.  In all of your pursuits, may God be clear in allowing you the understanding to apply His Truth to the Way in which you go.  That none of us wander too long, for we truly find ourselves in community with others who know us and work to share God.

My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins (James 5:19-20).

And may we always live lives of love.

 

Read Full Post »

Prayer of Acceptance
Gracious God,
I give thanks for the gift of your love and mercy which knows no end. I
give thanks for Jesus Christ who lived, died and rose again that I may know true life in his name. Today I confess my sins, all the actions, and attitudes that keep me from loving you and loving others.
Lord have mercy and forgive me for those things I have said and left unsaid.
Lord have mercy and forgive me for those things I have done and left undone.
In the knowledge of your mercy, I confess Jesus as the Lord of my life and my savior.
I turn my life over to You today.
Please make me a new creature through Your Holy Spirit and change my heart.
Help me walk in Your ways as You reveal yourself to me.
Thank You, Jesus, for dying for my sins.
I accept Your gift of salvation today and confess that You are Lord.
Amen

“Said and left unsaid…done and left undone…”

I have readily considered laziness a sin and its’ association with “left undone.”  I have also known cursing and pain-causing language to be sinful–“said.”  The “left unsaid” I’ve considered the times when I coward from what the Spirit asks of me to speak.  The “done,” I’ve considered the busyness that distracts me from what God asks of me, or actions that are defiant to Him.

Today I realize, sometimes God asks us to speak, to hold our tongue, to act, or to withhold from action and be still.  But the counter can also be said, sometimes the enemy asks us to speak, to hold our tongue, to act, or to withhold from action and be still.

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best, and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11)

We must learn to discern the voice which directs us–an awareness and ability that grows from knowing the love of God.

This lent I have devoted myself to the discipline of simplicity–offering myself, especially, in words said and unsaid as clay to be reformed by the touch of Christ’s redemption.

This past week was midterms.  In the past weeks, we have cared for friends who are mourning losses in their immediate families.   Last week, we met our month’s financial pot for the month.  This week finally seems to be the end of months-worth of frustration to change my name, join bank accounts, change health insurance plans, and meet many other adult-newly-married responsibility tasks.  And we have begun to truly shape one another as man and wife in discussing points of growth and affirming opportunities met in beautiful ways.  We’re being shaped in the tension for sure.  But I must also admit, there have been too many moments–lasting much more than one moment–where I spiral, allowing tasks to get the best of me.  I have been overwhelmed.

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.
Reinhold Niebuhr

Overwhelmed… Simplicity… These appear to be two sides of the same coin.  Makes sense that one who battles feelings of being overwhelmed would be challenged to stewardship and surrender in the act of simplicity before the Lord.  So here I am in the midst of remodeling.

You are sovereign Lord! And You will always be sovereign, Lord.  There will never be a time when You are not sovereign.  You are and will always be sovereign above all things.

Being overwhelmed means that the doing becomes unbearable.  There is too much to do, we simply cannot be.  Peter Scazzero challenges us to self-reflection, confession, and acceptance of the process of sanctification as he admits–to which I am also guilty (p.58):

We attach our wills to the belief that someting less than God will satisfy us.  We think if we just accomplish that one big goal, then we will really feel content and good about oursevles.  We will be ‘finished’ and able to rest.

It is out of being that our doing has purpose.  Being, then doing.  Being becomes doing.  In being with God, we are moved to action–doing for God–and not the other way around.

Overwhelmed is to be overpowered with an excessive amount of anything; overcome, especially with superior forces; destroyed; crushed; covered or buried beneath a mass of something as floodwaters, debris, or an avalanche; submerged; or, overthrown.

Ever felt overpowered by an excessive amount of responsibilities calling out for your attention–tasks that keep you from simply being, that beckon you to ‘finish’ before you can rest?

I sure have.  I know the tools that I teach others, yet, sometimes the tasks seem to be relentless prison guards.  Sometimes they even disguise themselves, claiming to be the very thing that would honor God, yet, in my obedience to the task, I find myself distant from and desperate for God.

“There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain.” – Jesus Culture

God may challenge us, but He would NEVER lead a child to suffocate or drown on their own.  Separation from His children is NOT God’s desire.  Doing and being overwhelmed by the doings can lead to separation from God–where we are no longer attuned to His voice but are commanded by the perceived need to complete tasks.

“Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Jesus says, “You will be able to bear the load I have for you.”

God, I do not wish to drown.  I do not wish to suffocate.  If I am overthrown, may it be that I am overthrown by You–humbled by Your reign.  If I am overwhelmed, may it be by Your presence.  If I am overpowered, may it be by Your strength, Your power.  If I am submerged, may it be in Your Word, Your Truth.  God, I surrender.  I want to know You more. 

I know that when I am overwhelmed I have either consciously or unconsciously chosen to prioritize tasks, the doing, over my surrendered being with God.

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians2:12).

We can examine what is according to His good purpose by knowing God and knowing God’s Truth as it is written in Scripture.  Anything that is not according to God’s good purpose we can then distinguish as not from God working in us.  If it isn’t God who is working in us when we choose doing, who is it?

 God is not a god of confusion.  Who would want to inspire confusion in us? Satan and his army. Remember: God is omnipresent and can be with you wherever you are and with all people where they are.  Satan does not hold such power nor authority.

That means as we are made in God’s image, standing as God’s children we can choose to bow our knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and as we do, we submit ourselves to God, aligning our will with His, and surrender to God working in us “to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:9-12).

  • What does my life show? I do more than I be right now.
  • What do I desire? I desire to know God and to do only which pleases God.

My life does not show the desire of my heart… perhaps, then, it is not my heart that dictates my actions, but my mind…

“Take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Dr. Caroline Leaf discusses the neuropsychology behind taking every thought captive.  She suggests it takes 21 days to replace the thought.  Let us feed and be filled by Your Word, God. That we would have the strength to persevere, to endure as we begin this process of sanctification in our minds.  I hope to be able to discern, to choose ‘God work in me, so that You may do in me that which is according to Your good purpose’ over what seems convenient or stressful and needs relieving.  Remind me, God, that You are all I need.

 The process of renewing our minds:

For twenty-one days…

Admit: Acknowledge the toxic thought

Quit: Eliminate the toxic thought by focusing on the healthy replacement thought, denying the unhealthy habit

For the following forty-two days…

Beat: Stabilize the strength of a healthy replacement habit to beat and remove possibility of regrowth of the eliminated toxic thought

The result: The natural choice in our unconscious stems from our restructured healthy habit, NOT the toxic thought life that once was.

Steps to take with honest reflection…

  1. What do I prioritize?
  2. What does God prioritize?
  3. What keeps me from being with God (admit)?
  4. Sit with God and learn the surrender of those very things that keep us from Him (quit)
  5. Allow God to renew Your mind, that His Spirit may be known and adored by Your spirit–rejoicing always and praying without ceasing as you make choices to live a life of love–honoring God, self, and others (beat).

Let’s be the Bride of Christ–doing from our being.

God, I want to live an uncluttered life.  Simplify what is of me and what is of the enemy.  Rebuke his grasp.  Overwhelm me with Your presence that all else may fall to ruin.  You are all I need Lord.  I believe in Your renewing power.  Cleanse me, O God.  Make me more like You.  Might my image of You grow to be truer and truer each day I spend with You.  I love You, Jesus, Amen.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I sat in a group of empathic counselors, shared briefly of my seemingly incohesive self, was reminded that nerve endings regrow and then…an image.  My brain works best when memories are formed around images these days.

“Nerve endings grow back”, she said.  “Well…so do lizard tails,” I thought.  In all seriousness, though, God created a creature that we know as a reptile that although damaged, will once again be whole.  Right now, I’m a lizard.  I’m awaiting my brain functioning to rise, the dopamine from stress to decrease, and for life to make sense once more.  Well, that latter part I know will never truly happen on this side of heaven, but the point remains.

In these last 30 hours, I keep reminding myself, “I’m a lizard. My tail will grow back.  My brain will function once more.”

And then, in a moment of needed pause, I found myself worshipping out under the sunlight and there beneath my skirt was this: lizard-carcus

I thought little of it besides the coincidence of a lizard appearing without full life–dead rather than without a tail, but a lizard nonetheless. My husband saw differently and replied:

“you definitely don’t look like that. i’m certain the enemy is messing with you after you find some sweet resolve in that idea. you’re mocked for it. i hate that. you will get your tail back! you are a new creation! the old has gone, the new has come! || 2 corinthians 5:17”

That’s just like him! That stupid enemy, deceiving and mocking me, just as he does best.

So although I’m missing my tail, I have life, and the life I have is in Christ.

If you’re feeling like part of you is deception or malfunctioning right now, I’m with you, but still, there’s hope.  Even more than hope for the future, there are promises of the present nearness and tenderness or a merciful and powerful God.  So, let us sing:

“Holy Ghost,

Won’t You come closer to me?

Holy Ghost,

Won’t You come closer to me?

Holy Ghost,

Kiss my eyes, I want to see.


I’m in need of Your help,

In need of Your hand.

In need of Your love,

Father.

 …

Holy Ghost,

Won’t You come closer to me?

Holy Ghost,

Kiss my heart, I want to see

I really want to see

The way that You see.

Come closer to me.”

– Melissa Helser, “Come close”

 

Holy Ghost, I want to see my whole self as You see me. As You see Yourself in me. Amen.

 

Read Full Post »

Crying and no tears fall.

Weeping and no puddle to show.

Merciful or merciless?

I can’t tell.

I want to know.

Where does this emotion come from?

No, that’s not the question. Where? That I know.

Where is the evidence of such emotion?

Numbness, leave.  You are not welcomed here.

Christ, I know You are near.

Spirit speak, I’m eager to hear.

Abba, Your embrace is my comfort.

Like Nehemiah, Lord, I too long to overcome.

“Overcoming opposition takes an overwhelming confidence in God’s word.”

A burial from responsibilities, I am unprepared for!

Why have I allowed the task to become my authority?

If I drown, might it be that I drown overwhelmed by Your goodness, Your kindness towards me in Christ today.

I know, I’m learning Your Word.

I’m applying, I’m praying Your Word.

May Yours be spoken from my lips,

even more than my own.

Your words have power;

mine are…expression.

Still, you listen.

In Your sanctuary, You are.

My cries reach Your ears;

Songs, too.

Hallelujah, for You are praiseworthy.

Your promises assure:

I am made in Your image.

You affectionately, delight in me.

You rejoice over me, singing joyful songs.

Again, I remind myself:

I am made in Your likeness

Molded by Your marvelous hands each day

In my waking, I work to glorify You

In my resting, I am renewed by You

My thoughts I hold captive,

I focus my thoughts, my actions on You and You alone.

You are in my social, my emotional, my mental, my physical, and my spiritual  expressions of life.

Each breath, and in every heartbeat,

I have purpose in You.

Fully to enjoy You, O God, is to glorify You.

If what I say reflects Your promises,

then what is said is true.

So, again, I ask:

Merciful or merciless?

You are merciful, O Lord,

and I reflect You.

Therefore, there is no possibility that this dry spell I feel is absent of You.

You care.

You show compassion.

You allow Your people to speak of our perceived needs.

You meet us right. where. we. are.

I am crying.

Jesus, You wept.

We express heart cries for salvation:

for the new birth of salvation;

for the renewal of salvation;

for all people, of all nations.

You long for salvation.

Man made intimate with You.

I am renewed.

Never abandoned, never alone.

Commune.

I shall commune with You,

with Your community.

A fountain of mourning.

A fountain of pleading.

A fountain of hoping.

A fountain of healing.

You are cleansing us with Your pure waters.

O LORD, still, I cry dry tears.

I am only human,

but You, You are blameless, flawless in every way.

Your fountain, O Lord, will never dry out.

We come, we come to drink of You.

We come, we come to feast of You.

You, O Lord, Jesus the Christ,

You are all we need.

Brethren, in these next moments, be still. Let God hear your praises.  Whether your expression is spontaneous or led, you are gathering with sisters and brothers in Christ around the globe who know intimacy with God produces joyous hearts that cannot contain the gratitude we have for Christ. Praise God, glory glory glory, hallelujah.

Read Full Post »

This post will continue to adapt as life progresses.  I believe this may be a very long post but will remain a clear, crisp catalog of necessary focal points for the engagement and early married stage.  If you have something to add, please write a comment or message.

Conflict happens; it’s actually quite a good thing.  The key is how you fight.  Make sure to ground and calm down so that the argument does not speak out of heightened emotions.  The idea is not to “win” but to end fairly, drawing closer together rather than claiming individual victory.

Conflict causes intimacy.

Avoid using “Why?” questions.  “Why?” sounds condemning and interrogating.

Reflect and discuss with your partner on how you witnessed your parents and other married adults process through and resolve conflict.  How do you work through and resolve conflict–fight, flight, or freeze?  Speak through models and concepts for future conflict with each other.  What will you say when you need a break or when the day has been too heavy and you can’t give your partner your all in a tough conversation? What does “do not go to bed angry” mean to you both?

Take time outs.  Know how one another naturally responds and find a compromise that allows for grace and mercy to speak louder than the emotional reactivity.  Take a breather, pray, write down what needs to be said, and ease your way back into the conversation.  Lean into each other and trust your foundation in Christ.

Love is an action.  It is something we do.  You may not always like each other, and it is okay to admit, but ALWAYS affirm you love one another, especially in the midst of conflict and in the resolution/conclusion of an intense moment.

Fixers out there, do not rush to the resolution.  Allow for conflict to be a time of processing and growing together.  Find a pace that benefits the marriage rather than hiding issues in the closet or under a rug.  Don’t just put a band-aid on the wound, help to clean it out and patiently seek the healing with your spouse.

Trust. Gottman’s facebook page is a quick resource and encouragement for me: “Sorry does not equal trust.  Sorry equals forgiveness.  Changed behavior equals trust.”

“Forgiveness isn’t about accepting or excusing a behavior…it’s about letting it go and preventing their behavior from destroying my heart” (Anonymous)

We’re getting to know one another each day of our entire lives.  Give one another credit and grace: When something awful is said, reply: “I know this isn’t your heart. I’m choosing to forgive you…”

In communication

If you are a counselor, you know that we have to read between the lines often.  Verbal and non-verbal cues help us to understand what is going on.  In relationships, our developed skill helps us to know people without asking all the intrusive questions.  However, your husband may need you to ask the questions to know that you care to get to know him, even though you are able to gather information about him in a more subtle fashion.

Fight with and for one another, the couple unit, NOT against one another.

Listen to understand rather than to reply.

Empathy. Offer one another warm, accepting arms, listening ears, and an understanding heart.

Communicate how each spouse understands biblical leadership roles and how the roles will be met within the couple unit.  Examine Scripture and other literature, individually and together.  Discuss what you find: what you want to adapt and what you disagree with.  What are you willing to give? Where’s the compromise? What exceptions exist that require flexibility in roles?

Finances.  Communicate where each spouse finds value.  Assess how money has been spent individually, in dating, and how categories of spending will be budgeted for in marriage.  The first month is a trial (so leave extra money for just in case and adjustment spending).  Each week assess how you’ve been doing: Where have you overspent? Where are you both doing very well? What change(s) do you want to make the next week? Then, at the end of the month make the calculations.  Month two is again an experiment.  Same guidelines.  Be open to feedback and tools from people who have been practicing and budgeting longer than you.  The key is value. Arguments over finances often occur when what one person values either causes too much to be spent, when money runs dry without them being able to enjoy their valued aspect, or seeing the opposite in their spouse.  There may be a need for compromise, but first, budget for “fun money” for each spouse and experiment with how much is practical for your relationship.

Oxytocin is key.  Get as much of the hormone as you can.  Safety in a relationship is the ultimate fabric of trust and knowing one another.  For intimacy to grow, we must each feel safe.  Oxytocin helps to feel comforted by one another.  How do you share oxytocin? Skin on skin.  My recommendation? Sleep naked.  There are added benefits.

Taking care of yourself is not selfish.  Rather, it is quite selfless.  Care for your health–physical, sexual, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  Make the effort and allow your spouse to take the journey with you.  If your spouse is challenging themselves in a specific way, keep them accountable and motivated by joining in with them.

Shared experiences.  Anything that works towards “making a home together” try to do together.  The act of creating and molding is an intimate experience in nature (ie. cooking, hanging pictures, setting the table, folding and hanging laundry, choosing where things will go and what will be displayed: formation of the room, location of furniture, etc.).

New experiences.  Share in the first memories of exploring new places, new cultures, new activities, and new cuisines.  Nothing touches memories of the conversations and trust that comes with a mutual experience.

No distractions.  Put the phones in the glove department, lock your car, and head out for a walk, picnic, or for a meal.  When it comes time for sex, have the phones in the other room and on silent (unless used for mood music). Be completely enamored with your significant other, there, before you, and in the moments you share with one another.

Boundaries.

Make a safe place in your home where conflicting conversations, phones, and stress do not touch.  Usually the bed, but can be somewhere else, is for intimacy and intimacy alone–sexual, spiritual, and emotional.  Set a place apart for heavy conversations.  Set a place for prayer and a place for fellowship.  You will need boundaries between what is communal and what is private–information shared and what is seen by visitors in your home.

Friendships.  Everywhere and with everyone you invest in takes time away from the marital unit.  Deuteronomy has a wise suggestion: “A newly married man must not be drafted into the army or be given any other official responsibilities. He must be free to spend one year at home, bringing happiness to the wife he has married” (24:5).  We can instill boundaries to protect the coming together of man and wife.  With this said, be careful and wise about the people you allow to influence your life, your husband’s life, and your marriage.  Be careful and be wise with whom and what you allow to enter your home.

Pursue relationships with couples in your life stage, who are ready to experience life fully seeking after God’s intention for their marriage, who are willing to challenge a perspective change, and who you both can laugh and be free with.

Pursue relationships with couples who are just a stage or two ahead of you, who are willing to open up their life book, inviting you to scan through the pages, learning and growing from their life experiences.

Pursue deeper community in the church.  Allow yourselves to be known and serve with one another.  Do keep in mind the boundaries that protect the foundation of marriage.  Serving may appear different for a season.  Heck, church may even appear different for a season.  The idea is experiencing life lived authentically in community with God’s children while serving God in pursuing holiness.

How will you introduce your loved one to your friends in words and reality?  How will it look differently with single and married friends?  How will you protect your single friends? How will you protect your spouse?  All while remaining transparent and available to the loving-kindness that comes from loving and being loved by God…

Speak with one another about what will be shared with friends–single and married–and what should not be shared outside the marital unit.  What is the difference between complaining and sharing?  Who will you permit to be accountability partners?  Motives.  Are you trying to up yourself or do you present problems to others with a willingness and vulnerability of heart and mind for changed perspective and approach?

Intimacy.  Emotional, Physical, Spiritually, and Sexually.

Know each other’s love languages.  Everyone receives “I love you” differently.  Some are rather good at serving, others may be brilliant poets, while others offer up intentional quality time.  Yet others know just the right gift to give someone.  And still, there are those who are most affectionate with their touch.  However, our spouse may not receive “I love you” best from the way we are naturally best at offering love.  So we MUST put their receiving love language into practice.

Honeymoon/ First time Tool Kit:

  • Coconut Oil or alternative lubricant
  • Vitamin E Oil (Trader Joes)
  • Mood music
  • Red sheet
  • Snacks & drinks (preferably ones that don’t cause lethargy or bloating)
  • A scent (cologne, essential oils, lotion) to help the memories be tied to an aroma
  • Birth control
  • Probiotics (to prevent vaginal infection and sickness for both wife and husband)
  • A sex book for communication, positions, and further exploration (Sheet Music, Celebration of Sex)

To improve sexual intimacy and health…Sexercises to be done by the bride-to-be/wife and the groom-to-be/husband and the foods that heighten sex drive and health for the bride-to-be/wife and the groom-to-be/husband.

The vagina is a very detailed part of our bodies.  We can strengthen the vaginal walls with kegel exercises (which when done during sexual intimacy adds stimulation and closeness for both partners) by flexing the muscles inside our vagina as if to hold and let go of a pencil. Daily care of the vagina consists of using a gentle soap, such as Dove’s Unscented Bar Soap, to wash around the vulva and in the folds of the labia, while not getting any in the actual vaginal canal which cleanses itself through discharge.  In case you do experience an irritating, dryness or infection–Bacterial Vaginosis, Urinary Tract Infection, or Yeast Infection–there are preventatives as well as home-care health solutions to practice.  The biggest things I learned: ALWAYS pee after sex and NEVER put a douche up your vagina–it cleans itself.  Remember bad bacteria thrives in warm, moist environments, and in cleaning your privates, be sure to keep from cross-contaminating from your anal and vaginal regions.

Speaking of lingerie…Be confident in what you choose to wear.  If you like structure, wear it confidently.  If you like freedom, be free.  If you like the unstructured feel with support, find it, wear it, and let those fawns (as Solomon says) or head lights (named by Dr. Kevin Lehman, author of Sheet Music) show.  He’ll enjoy the appearance, and you’ll enjoy the comfort.

Period sex.  To us, it may be gross and slimy in thought and feel,  but in actuality, it makes for a great lube. The key is red sheets.  After the fact, you’re reminded of its’ presence, but perspective change: you just painted your spouse naturally with your own body.  That’s intimacy.

Sickness. Understanding each other’s needs and wants is vital, especially when one spouse is sick.  “In sickness and in health” we choose to love one another.  So when expressing our needs and wants is difficult, we’d benefit from such rhythms already being known.

Clearly identify for one another what comforts–medications, environments, practices, and limitations–are expected or most beneficial when sickness occurs.

Although generally, we speak of sickness as a physical ailment of some sort, for the purpose of building the foundation of marriage we’ll include physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual exhaustion.

Limitations.  I find speaking in “engine” or “temperature” terms helps best.  When I have only 30% to give in an entire day if an intense emotional conversation happens, I’m only able to offer everything else 10%, or I’m completely absent and shut down. When my engine is low, my temperature rises quickly.  Meaning, my reactivity is up.  I’m more likely to say something that may hurt my spouse’s feelings or stop responding altogether.  That’s me, but what does it look like for you?  Discuss what is fair and loving for your relationship when one spouse is sick: What does physical affection look like–kissing, intercourse, sensual touch, manual stimulation, or any other used practice? Are all heavy conversations put on hold or is there a gauge you can use to justify if the time is now or later to address the topic?  How much grace and freedom is acceptable–do you put off homework and work projects or turn in less than average work?  What is the most loving way to greet one another when one is sick?  What does quality time look like?

Be brave enough to call a HALT (time-out for when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and/or Tired) and take 20 minutes (minimum) to cool down, climb into the upstairs brain, label what you felt/feel, explain your need, and communicate in a way that honors both yourself and your spouse.

Do not bring mom into the debate.  Moms typically care for their children when sickness strikes; however, in marriage, suggesting to your spouse, “well Mom did this…Mom did that…” has no place unless there is a time of teaching your loved one how to make soup, how to tuck in the blankets, or do any other preferred comforting practice.  Even then, take out the “Mom” language and appreciate the caregiver that is currently with you–your spouse.

Family worship.  Each morning praying each other up, recognizing and asking God’s intent for each breath to be known and experienced throughout the day.  Each night spending the last hour in God’s Scripture, praising, and praying beside one another and together.  Ending the night with a final word of affirmation of how your spouse best exemplified God’s love to you. Allowing neural pathways to form around Truth and love, shaping the night’s rest and dream content in preparation for the next day.

Regular check-insJeremy and Audrey Roloff call their time “Navigator’s Council,” Gottman calls it “The State of the Union Meeting,” and Stephen and I call ours “Lion’s Den,” so feel free to be creative with how you label these disciplined hours for your marriage.  During these times ask: What are your needs and wants for this week? Have I been meeting your needs and wants this past week?  What do you think of our communication, of our conflict this past week? Have we been assertive? Have we been fair?  Have we given each other grace and encouraged one another’s growth? How can we best pray for and affirm one another in their call this week?  How can we best pray for our spouse this week? What are our goals for this next week?  What are the priorities–necessary accomplishments and needs over wants?  How can we best affirm, motivate, and keep our spouse accountable to meet their responsibilities?  How will we each individually and together seek rest during the week?  What was said or unsaid, done or undone that needs forgiveness?  Have I held to my vows in action this week? Add any other questions and feel free to modify the list as you present yourself to God in confession and surrender, and in the emotional vulnerability you have with your spouse in deep conversation.  End the hour or so each week at the altar with your spouse, then coming together to respond with the marital gift of sexual intimacy.

Review your vows regularly.  These promises to one another are meant as an address of love, but are also a measurement, a challenge to be kept.  Bring them into your check-ins, onto dates for the romance component, or into sex, for just some ideas.  If you did not write personal vows, feel free to look over ours, Song of Solomon, other vows, or take the opportunity to write them this week and for the first time reveal them to each other on your date this week.

Date days/nights.  No electronics.  The world is the present.  Have fun, laugh, and dream together.  Check-ins are separate from dates. Family worship is separate from dates, separate from check-ins.  Each have their separate need for attention, but combined have power to build up the togetherness in understanding one another, the couple unit, and the direction two are heading together.

Set a bare minimum. In acknowledging your–yours and your spouses’– love languages, set “I need at least ___ every day to fill my love tank and serve God in what He asks of me this day.”  For example, our bare minimum includes a component from each part of our whole selves: spiritual (sharing a prayer–one opens and the other closes the prayer–in bed at the start and end of our day, we read a short devotional after prayer in bed), we read the Gottman Minute and respond to one another with the emotional challenge each day, we greet each other physically with a 6-second kiss, socially we interact with one another and our intentional friends, and mentally we remain students to Christ, school, and our marriage daily.  What are your bare minimums that honor you, your spouse, your marriage, and above all, the Lord?

I mentioned at the top that this will continue to be updated, because, in all honesty, these are practices my husband and I are learning, adapting, and applying into our own marriage.  In many of them, I have my own faults that are being worked on now or will be in the future to come.  What I ask of myself and of each of you is effort.  Reality is we are not in our heavenly bodies, so we are incapable of being perfect in any and all of these practices.  So, we remain moldable: honest, willing, and teachable.

Recommended Resources: Gary L. Thomas’ Sacred Marriage, Timothy Keller’s Meaning of Marriage, Kevin Leman’s Sheet Music (Christian author on sexuality), Dr. John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Matt Chandler’s Mingling of Souls, Christopher & Rachel McCluskey’s When Two Become One (Christian take on intimacy), Dr. Gary Smalley’s For Better or for Best and If Only He Knew (each is a book for the spouse to familiarize themselves with the gender differences. I recommend reading them beside each other and spurring up conversation when you get to an “Aha” or “Do you really think this way?” moment),  Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages (simply take the inventory and read about the different love languages online.  Their online resources suffice without needing to read the book),  Dr. Eliana Gil’s Outgrowing the Pain Together (for couples where one or both spouses experienced abuse as a child)

Books on my reading list (if you have read any of the following, please let me know if you would or would not recommend these books): Les & Leslie Parrott’s Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, Morris May’s How to Argue so Your Spouse Will Listen, Gary J. & Carrie Oliver’s Mad About Us, Michael & Amy Smalley’s More Than a Match, Ted Cunningham’s Fun Loving You and The Power of Home (for couples later in life and with children)

Read Full Post »

We’re All a Little Bit Broken

This past weekend, my husband and I got out of the city we live in for a few days of reflection, prayer, and rest. We’re just over five months of marriage at this point.

On our way home, we stopped for coffee at a quaint house turned coffee shop overlooking the beach.  The morning had been incredibly wearing on the both of us as we laid our selfish selves before the Lord and both chose to selflessly care for the marriage–and the ministry marriage is itself–above other demands in our current life stage.

Outside the coffee house, dozens of butterflies fluttered around one flowery bush.  One captured my attention.

We’re all a little bit broken….just some show it a little bit more than others.

“When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.  They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus” (Mark 2:1-4).

My husband broke it down and reflects…

that dude who got let down through the ceiling by his three friends definitely didn’t have his crap together. broken in paralysis but in humility, he stayed on the mat and allowed his friends to lower him down and bring him to Jesus. this is me. man, i don’t need to come to Jesus with my performance but rather trust the process. transformation is from the inside out. only by Jesus my sins are forgiven. only by Jesus i can rise up and walk.

So for all of us who might be showing our brokenness a little bit more than what seems to be the societal norm, let us pray together with Christ who has and continues to be constant despite changing circumstances.

My heart is confident in You, O God; my heart is confident.  No wonder I can sing Your praises! Be exalted, O God above the highest heavens, for You, O God, are constant, and no circumstance wavers Your foundation. There is no quake You feel, nothing is ever new or unexpected to You.  Be exalted, O Lord.  Lord over our circumstances.  We follow You, and You alone–be the voice we hear, the path we see.  When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.  Now I walk in Your presence, O God, in your life-giving light. You listened when I was overwhelmed by my troubles.  You have restored in me the joy of Your salvation.  Continue to make me willing to obey.  Continue to defend me with Your might.  Please, also continue to lead me through Your Word, that I would reflect back to You the power and Truth of Your Word as prayers–that my will would become Your will, O Lord, and that Your will would also be my will.  I am awake, O God, my loyal spirit seeks after You through Your means of being near to us, Yahweh, praise be to thee, the ever near God.  Your life, Christ Jesus, is transforming.  By Your example, I shall walk.  With Your watch, I shall rest.  And by the power of Your name, I shall rise and see Your purposes administered here on earth as they are in heaven.  

Jesus, in Your precious and powerful name we pray.  Amen.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »