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Archive for the ‘Relationships: as God intended’ Category

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)

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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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I haven’t written in a few months, because I haven’t known what my voice looks like in this context, for this new stage in my life.

In speaking of the Apostle Paul’s many self-disclosures, James R. Beck writes, “through all of these self-disclosures runs a strong thread of confidence anchored in God Himself” (The Psychology of Paul, 2002, p. 96)

I know that I am confident in God through sharing His presence and what He does in my life, and now through my partnership with Stephen in living a life of worship as we head towards uniting in a covenant relationship one day; however, I never want this to be a place I unload.  So I am still prayerful of: what angle, Lord? what is the voice I am to share?  I’ve never hesitated to write when You speak.  I speak boldly of who You reveal Yourself to be through Stephen’s actions, his words, his love for me expressed to persons I know well and even those I met only moments ago.  You are so good to me, and I walk in Your many blessings.  Thank You Lord.  And yet, here, in this place….I hesitate.  This is not my journal to You.  I do not know the hearts of those whose eyes glance upon the screen.  You have been received before through the transparency on this page, and I know You will continue to receive praise for who You are in me, through me, and in the lives of those reading these very words.  And yet….I hesitate.  Sort this out in me, Jehovah.  Make Your way known. 

So for now, this is what I can offer:

Something BIG has happened, and led up to this weekend of my parents flying into New Orleans for less than 27 hours to meet my boyfriend.

I suppose this is a little introduction into the man Stephen is after God’s own heart, the woman he sees me to be in Christ, and how we minister in the lives of those gathered around us.  It also serves as a springboard for exploring the bridging of relationships between nuclear family and future family.

The Lord invited me into this weekend with the foundation of assuring His presence, His authority, an overview of His greater character (Psalm 136):

641“Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever.

Oh give thanks unto the God of gods; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever.

Oh give thanks unto the Lord of lords; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever:

To him who alone doeth great wonders; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever…

Who remembered us in our low estate; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever;

And hath delivered us from our adversaries; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever…

Oh give thanks unto the God of heaven; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever.”

The Lord endureth forever.  He revealed Himself quite clearly.  And this promise is indeed a life-time and beyond kind of guarantee.  We have His love, His mercy, His reign, His deliverance, His goodness for all our lives through the (countless) days we spend in His presence amongst all His Family in Heaven.

By the end of the weekend, which followed a week of me being present with (only) my parents in Maine, Stephen addressed the “hiccups” and things he loved about our shared time.  For me, the time spent with my parents also affirmed so much of what I had analyzed about myself and family history since beginning the years of intense self-analysis that a graduate counseling program requires of its’ students.

After it was all said and done, the song on my heart remains:

“His love endures forever and ever.                                                                                                                           Lord, Your love endures forever.”

LORD, I call out to You as LORD, for it is Your supremacy that is required in this plea.  Guide us to understand how to speak continuously of You, to delight in You in ways that transcend the language barrier between those who love You and those who have no understanding of You.  As Stephen and I speak of ministry, of love, of freedom, of healing, of a life of worship, might my parents grow to have ears to hear.  Your grace is upon us, it blesses us, and allows us to move forward.  Thank You for grace.  We apologize for taking the defense.  Might we move forward in speaking highly of You in a way that makes sense to them, but does not belittle who You are in us as individuals and as a united front.  I ask that Your army is stirred up, prepared to go to battle on their knees.  I pray that Stephen and I, too, are on our knees depending on You for provisions.  You have said this is good, a blessing to be enjoyed. En-joy.  In joy, we dance.  In joy, we sing. In joy, we lean in.  We are leaning into You.  Thank You sacred King, You are mighty and Your lovingkindness endureth forever. 

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I find that most days we hear songs, read books, or continue in conversation hoping in tomorrow.  We ask God for breath in our lungs so we have the opportunity to delight in another day.  We want to have enough days to earn our dream job and experience its’ benefits, to marry our partner in crime, to then see our kids grow up, and be present for their weddings.  We ask God for life in order to treasure that very life itself.

I know this is over-arching, but it is a message of conviction I hear today.

If breath being in my lungs, this very day, is truly better for those around me, then what am I doing?

Paul writes, Philippians 1:23-26:

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

You may expect that my conviction today (based on the afore-mentioned narrative) to be one about “store your treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-21), but it is not.

Rather, I am convinced, that I have fooled myself in believing that for the time being, life on earth is better for myself than life in heaven.  I do believe I will witness all God has promised me for the retreat center before my dying day, but that does not give me the privilege of living every day for myself, nor my own ambitions (that appear God-honoring).

No, Paul clearly says, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”  Or, “I live because it is better for you, if I were pursuing my own interests, I’d prefer to leave this earth and be with Christ in heaven” (my translation for all intents and purposes).

I’m under the impression that Paul’s words are not meant to comfort his family, his dearest friends, but to suggest God’s usefulness in speaking, in acting through his living.

Christ is not finished with me yet.

Heaven would be better for me.  I would have a new body, not brought down by infection and disease, but one that serves as a pure and beautiful temple in Christ’s presence.  There will be labor as we attend to God’s Kingdom, and I will physically be able to successfully honor God properly through such work.  There would be no need to cry, for there will be joyous reunion as we dance and sing, ceaselessly.    There is no shame, no guilt, no condemnation.

That is better for me, but Paul tells us what is better for the people.

How does life look if we are truly living in a way that is better for Christ’s people?

For me today, I have taken a commitment with one other.  We notice a language of sarcasm that plagues our church.  Our prayer is to witness God’s restoration of communication amongst this specific family.  Our action is to commit to removing sarcasm from our lips and model gentle words of encouragement–without giving the impression of judgment towards others for their continued use of sarcasm and demeaning language.  We will wait on the Lord, if He ever does call us to, to bring this to our congregation’s attention, but for now, we will work on ourselves and be kind to one another, and intentional in our use of words and silence with church members, alike.

We desire to have a voice.  We all want to know that we are heard when we speak, instinctively.  So we will work to not become manipulative; to remain humble, not seeing ourselves as better for this movement away from bettering ourselves by bullying others with our words.  Our voice, we pray is heard when it is meant to be heard, and that the words are clear with purposeful meaning.

Words.

I also was reminded of the power of words today, and take a personal vow to name it, always.  Whatever my fear, whatever my sin–my desire, my foolishness, my pride, my arrogance, my lust, my laziness, my cowardice–I will call it what it is.

There is God’s Will (which is perfect), my will (which I often think is best), and my flesh (which I often foolishly allow to lead me through the day).

As I press the snooze button and remove the possibility of following my will (3 hours of prayer before work), I succumb to my flesh (disobeying the call to ceaseless prayer, God’s Will).

“There is a fleshy taste in my mouth,” my friend said today as she spoke poorly of another.  She labeled it and it lost its’ power.

I sometimes wish sin, our “fleshiness,” had a distinct smell.  One that would make conviction and one another calling us out so simple, so evident, so obviously required.  Perhaps though, we would all avoid one another as though each person were a leper, infected worse than ourselves, and we’d flee each other’s presence and feel abandoned, as we abandoned those we supposedly loved before.  There is reason, this being my small-feeble-minded reason why God did not permit fleshy desires to disgust our senses, nonetheless I pray we acknowledge them and work to remove them from our lives, with the accompaniment of conviction and accountability from Christ and His Bride.

I do believe sin loosens its’ grip on us when we rebuke Satan’s hold on us.  When we call the light that is within us to shine greater than the darkness that seems overwhelming we often find such freedom.

The only word I can think of that has power in itself is JESUS.  There are other names for the Trinity (each member of the Trinity) that are glorious, I recognize.  But calling out “Jesus” in the midst of darkness, I gain strength to endure.

Therefore, I shall say “that was wicked of me to think, to say.  Jesus, enlighten my way” or something of the sort.

Jesus, I come to You today.  I ask You to reorganize my thinking.  May we truly delight in the purpose that You have for our being here, speaking into the lives of others, serving them, loving them as You love.  Demonstrate how Paul encouraged others to progress and be joyous in their faith.  Might Your Truth continue to sink into us.  Might our very skin no longer reek of such fleshy-disgust.  Might we practice rebuking Satan’s grip on us.  Might we identify the spiritual warfare in us, around us, and call upon Christ’s strength, His sight as we endure and triumph over it all for His glory.  These requests and so much more, as You know ponders through our heads, we lift up to You.  Amen.

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Intimacy.

DSC04922“Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.” – Rilke, poet

Solitude to me, has for a long time, been the time spent where I am most intimate with myself.  Simply put, to be intimate is “to make the innermost known,” to portray “the truth about who one really is” (Cassidy, J., Truth, lies, and intimacy: An attachment perspective, 2001).

The Holy Spirit, God Himself, resides within my heart always, but when I enter into a safe place where I dedicate my full attention to seeking Him with my mind, body, and soul fully integrated, I feel a special invitation to enter into His peaceful, Almighty presence.  In that safe place, everything I am and everything He allows for me to understand about myself, my surroundings is exposed.

I’m going to expose the reality a bit and say it as it is, this summer there have been many days where I catch myself saying things like, “I really don’t like myself right now…if I were a new person meeting me, I don’t know if I’d want to be my friend.” Not that I was being led by pleasures of the flesh, but nothing I did seemed to be done as a servant of the Lord Most High would present before their King, nothing seemed to have purpose.  Very little was done with joyous laughter, with complete dedication, or with a sense of coming together as a band of His Family to secure His will in our actions.

I don’t like who I am, when I am not who I am in Christ Jesus.

“You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar…for you created my inmost being” (Psalm 139:2,13).

This inmost being, is said to have meant (to Hebrews): the seat of sensation and feeling, of desire and longing (“The Treasury of David” Commentaries).

My feelings, desires, and longings are always known by God, who formed me; yet, I am most reflective in processing them with Him when I am in solitude.  Therefore, it can be said that intimacy with the Lord is the only intimacy I have explored on a regular basis up until recently.

This summer, God introduced a brother in Christ into my life.  Within the first few meetings, he cried in front of me, and ever since, I continued dialogue with God and with peers, mentors, and books alike to explore loving him fully, appropriately.

A (desired) need to understand the labeled and unlabeled boundaries became a distraction for me, and I never fully lived up to my potential in serving him as the Lord pressed on my heart.  Our friendship never really deepened with any new found knowledge of eachother’s true selves, but still, just having him present was my motivation to discover the real me, to acknowledge my own feelings.

I do think that in relationship with those whom we trust–God, ourselves, family, spouses, children, mentors, and friends–we are meant to grow in an outward expression of our genuine selves.  Up until living in New Orleans, I never had a problem with this.  Ironically enough, as I studied and analyzed every single possible and real interaction between this new friend and I, I found myself muting my voice.  With others here too, I have confined my true self to the image they initially label me as.

I am not okay with this.

So, to this friend, I am thankful.  For several years now I have cried countless tears for a friend, a stranger; I have carried burdens to the cross that are not my own; I have sobbed when I’ve been overwhelmed, but unable to express the feeling or find resolve; I have “protected” myself from feeling for too long.  Enough is enough.  I’ve been living as if mercy isn’t relevant in my own life, and that is not okay.

His freedom to express and his willingness to withdraw, process, and speak with wisdom at the appropriate time (if the appropriate time exists) has established in me the ability to withdraw, process, and speak with wisdom at the appropriate time (if the appropriate time exists).  I am still learning, but am a willing participant in this path of sensing my own connection to Christ’s connection to what is all around me.

I feel my feelings, I’m no longer numb.  This memory of mine better not suppress anything more, for I have a life that belongs to the Lord and I want to be able to tell its’ stories.

For the relationships that God intends to grow in my present and future, I look forward to truly acknowledging their presence, as they are in Christ, as we–two emotionally-led, attachment-seeking, passionate to seek purpose individuals–live united together.

To brush up against one another, to stimulate the growth, and trust in Your steadfast love.  Be our calm Lord, as You promise.  This is my prayer I lift up to You tonight.  Might we trust so deeply in Your promises, that we expose our true selves to one another, enabling You to fully use each member of the Body as One.  I pray a prayer of blessing over all those whom will honor me by their touch.  Guide us, Lord, on a path that pleases You.  Might we find ourselves in digging deeper with our toes, reaching higher with our arms, and walking with courage as we provide strength and encouragement to one another as You provide in us.  You are our purpose, our motivation, our drive.  And with great desire we pursue to love You by loving as You love us, with a great sense of compassion for all Your children.  O Israel, let us claim His Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven. 

This is me, we are exposed as You are present, the innermost being made known for all to see.  Praise, praise, we glorify Your name!

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Often times sarcasm is said to be the comedic form of delivering a hateful or negative message to the recipient.

When two of the most sarcastic people I know (or at least the two people who talk about sarcasm and sass the most) got serious for one moment, awkwardness dampened the air.

Was it meant to be hurtful? Not necessarily. She was calling him out in what seemed, to her, an offensive belittling of labels. To him, it was a joke, shared among friends and made for a good story to share among the intimate group.

So are we meant to keep quiet when we feel unsettled by someone’s words or story? No.

God makes it known to us when we are not listening, when we fail to obey His decrees, and when we live by our own desires.

“Where is your brother Abel?” God asked of Cain. To which Cain foolishly responded, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?” as if God had not seen his actions.

Romans 12:3-5:

Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

Paul continues to describe this belonging to one another in Galatians 6:1-5:

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.  For each one will bear his own load.

I know that when I am misunderstood, my voice raises as I attempt to overcome the rebuke coming from the recipient of the partial message. In my head, I tell my tongue “stop speaking so viciously you pompous fool,” and yet, the words overwhelm me when silence is due.

My over-speaking someone to clarify, to promote myself…this is my lapse of temptation, my guilt of failure to “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.”  It is also what I witnessed today, and later, in reaction, fell to myself.

So we pick up our crosses and seek redemption, first with Christ in our own lives, and then in our relationships with Christ and one another.

Preferably, the conversation would have been approached with gentleness from the start and with awareness of the audience, Matthew 18:15-17:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

But for the future, as Christ’s forgiveness and cleansing washes today away and we awake anew, rested in Him, we shall gather “not neglecting our meeting together” as we “encourage one another and build up one another,”  “confessing our sins to one another, and praying for one another so that we may be healed” (Hebrews 10:24, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, James 5:16, with change of tense and pronoun).  I am not naive enough to think this exchange will be forgotten between the two, but I am hopeful to believe it will be redeemed.

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God’s answer to him, the recipient of the harsh critique:

“Sin…is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies.  Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind” (Shusaku Endo, Silence).

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LORD, we know You to be supreme over everything.  You are aware.  You see when we betray our brothers and sisters.  You hear every lie.  We refuse Your correction, and You offer it again.  You, Jesus, have already taken the weight of our crosses upon Yourself, it was not and is not too heavy for You.  It is with Your strength that we persevere.  We come to You asking for courage in letting go.  We let go the fear of being misheard, of being submissive, of being dismissed and/or ridiculed.  We know there will be hate, for You Lord were mistreated and our faith is in You.  We do not belong here, we are merely here for a short period of time.  Why do we seek such comforts?  If someone hears Your name on my lips and nothing else, that is a victory!  We come asking for the courage to back down from a fight that is in our own name.  We come to You with the desire to fulfill our vow to You: a life of union to You and to Your Church.  We long to serve You, Lord, in a way that is pleasing to You.  Thank You for loving us, especially when we find it difficult to love ourselves, to love one another.  We come with hearts of thanksgiving as You show us Your way.

 

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Gouge my eyes. Replace them with your eyes, so that I see as you see the people around me, LORD.

This prayer is for my sight of one person in particular, but truly can be generalized to all people–family, peers, strangers who are Family in Christ, and strangers whom don’t believe in God.  To all people, I wish to see them as God Himself sees them.

As Creator, God sees His masterpiece.  As Abba, God sees His adoring and lost children.  As Savior, Jesus died and weeps for those who do not recognize He has died for their sin.  As Shepherd, Jesus came and gathered us, brought us closer to Him and leads us. As Teacher, Jesus taught us God’s Truth by living a pure example of His grace and provision.   As Host, God calls us in communion with Him and with all His people.  As Spirit, God is near to us, guiding us with discipline and discernment as we move forward to live a life of worship.

And so, with many additional attributes and perfect characteristics of God, the Holy Spirit, and Son of Man and God, we have a perfect, triune perspective of life: surrendered and submitted to His authority.

To this “special prayer assignment” that God has given me “as a temporary prayer burden,” I vow to develop a zeal for praying.  Following the wise words of Wesley L. Duewel I will “as far as possible, go to prayer for that need immediately.  Use every free moment possible until God lifts from your heart the prayer concern to pray for this need.  Your prayer passion will be greatly increased as you obey this call from the Spirit” (Mighty Prevailing Prayer, pp. 79).

I know my biases are fatal, and are not of God.  My ears have been open and have heard the call, the Spirit has convicted me, and now, I am to increase my dedication of praying for this person, for our relationship, and for my eyes as I long to see them anew, as God sees His child.

As Jesus wept over Jerusalem, His people, and as Paul asked Christ’s followers to agonize with him (Romans 15:30), to pray on his behalf, I ask of you, please join me in this prayer.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Hebrews 5:7).  “He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39,Luke 22:42).

Jesus was not answered in the way we imagine He pleased to be answered.  Death was still required, as it was the plan all along. He understood the authority of God’s prevailing will.

He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).

I find it ironic and in great support of our misconceptions of God’s perfect attributes that the one verse that rests between the two previously mentioned verses reads, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43).

An angel comes and strengthens Jesus, and then His sweat drops to the ground as blood. (In your most street-talking voice:) But, but… In modern society a drop of blood is a sign of weakness.  Why would an angel lead to Jesus bleeding?

It is this same foolish misconception that leads me to victimize this individual I previously mentioned.  My arrogance and desire to rant on about the testimony I have learned to communicate so well keeps me from speaking God’s relevant Truth.  He has overcome! It is a beautiful thing to be celebrated, so let the tambourines ring and the trumpets blow, for I believe a sheep has wandered and Jesus is leading her back into His gates!

Forget being the “only believer in my family” and having a story that allows me to empathize with the ostracized, the persecuted, the lonely, the abused, the unsupported,blah blah blah.  God is bigger than that.  My testimony may be growing to be a story of God’s redemption in a family that so desperately needs His grace, His headship.

I can only see what is permitted of me to see, and my gaze has been widened.

So today, I vow to stop shaming my family by saying I am the only believer, for truly, Scripture is accurate in saying:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6).

We, His Creation are always transparent before God.  He sees the real us, and knows us better than we know ourselves.
We, His Creation are always transparent before God. He sees the real us, and knows us better than we know ourselves.

I want to live a life that is pleasing to God, that glorifies God, I have no intention of bringing shame into His house, or storing a corrupt heart in His temple.

For some time I have said, “I need to put on my Jesus glasses.”  But now, I look forward, with anticipation, to the day when I remove my murky goggles marked by all my predispositions and see through the pure, clean lens God initially provided.  Until that day, I will praise God for the moments of closeness with Him that allow me such a view, and ask for His guidance as I attempt to live out His word and example in my interacting with this individual, with all His people.

So with all my heart, I seek Christ, praying to Him about this matter with urgency, and I will find Him (Jeremiah 29:12-14).

What is the urgent pray need on your heart?  If you too feel it is to be shared–whether to keep you accountable or to encounter the power of ringing requests in Jesus’ ears in multitude, I commit to praying with you.

Jesus, we thank You for teaching us how to speak with You. Truly we recognize the Father’s will to be far greater than our own desires, and so with fervency we speak, we move in obedience, desiring to see Your plan Abba come into full.  Convict us of our sins.  We know our eyes fool us, often. We ask to experience Your people as You meet with them, as You teach them, and as You call them Yours.  We, Abba, are Your creation and to You we submit all that we are.  We long to be more like You, Jesus.  Teach us Your ways.  Give us the eyes to see, the hearts to feel, and might our zeal for praying to You change the reality of our today.  You are the light in the darkness that lingers outside this prayer.  I will have to go out, and You will be with me there, just as You are with me behind closed doors.  Thank you for that, for never leaving me alone.  And by Your lead, I commit to following.  Amen.

 

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