Saturday, June 25, 2016

{Marriage is WORK}

I suppose since my anniversary is approaching I have the topic of marriage on my mind. I also suppose that since so many people, myself included, never thought that TJ and I would last as long as we have, I keep thinking about what it is that has allowed us to reach this point. Again, it is not a "milestone" anniversary by the world's standards, but to us, every year is a milestone and worthy of celebration! God has done a mighty work in our lives and it is only by His grace that we will be celebrating.

I did not grow up with a positive idea of marriage. My parents divorced when I was 2, and my father never remarried and my mother was remarried twice. In my opinion, marriage meant desiring to be together. However, when times got tough, which I knew they would, depending on how "in love" the couple was, determined whether they stayed together or parted ways. Although I did desire to get married and have a family, in the back of my mind I also believed I was too strong-willed and independent to have a lasting marriage.

When we first married, I really struggled with my role as a wife. I did not want to conform to the apron-wearing, submissive, and quiet stereotype that I believed characterized a "good wife." I am none of those; in fact, I am quite the opposite! Marriage was hard, and I did not like giving up my freedom to my husband. I was extremely selfish and refused to compromise on most issues. Boy I've come a long way, but I sure do have a long way to go!

I was listening to a podcast recently and the speaker shared that marriage takes work. Well duh-everybody knows that! But then she elaborated and said 'work' is really an acronym of the qualities that each partner in the marriage relationship must be willing to possess. They are:

                                                W- Wisdom
                                                O- Obedience
                                                R- Responsibility 
                                                K- Knowledge

Wisdom: we need wisdom in knowing how to respond to our husbands, when to submit, and ways to show our love and respect to our men. James 1:5 says that if we ask God, He will give us wisdom. 

Obedience: the bible says that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). I obey because I don't want my disobedience or my mess to come on my children (and trust me, it does!). If God can part the Red Sea, He can surely work in my life to give me the grace I need to obey Him. 

Responsibility: 1 Thess. 4 gives a list of commands that believers are to abstain from and also exhorts us on how to behave. My paraphrase is this (and I say it to my own children on a regular basis): worry about yourself. Take care of your own responsibilities and let God have a chance to work. If your husband isn't treating you the way he should, focus on your responsibilities and let God do the rest; God can't work if you're in the way!

Knowledge: Ladies, we need to know God for ourselves. We need to know what He likes and dislikes, but we also need to know His character. God is good and only has our best interest at heart. I think so often when we are discouraged we forget that important attribute. There is an old adage, "No pain, no gain." That is so true, particularly when the storms come. It is during those painful times that we gain the most knowledge about the Lord. 

Along with knowing God, we also need to know our husbands. We need to know what ticks him off, what tickles him, and what makes him tick. And we have a responsibility to use this knowledge in a way that pleases the Lord in our marriage. 

I am so thankful for the many ways I have grown and changed in my role as a wife. I love that the Lord has allowed me to flourish and be an example to my children. I know I am not perfect, but I am thankful for the forgiveness and grace that both TJ and God offer to me on a daily basis. 

Grow in grace,

Thursday, June 16, 2016

{The Dance}

I've been thinking about marriage a lot the past couple of days.  A friend from church is getting married next month, and her wedding shower is this Friday. Also, my 17th wedding anniversary is approaching in a couple weeks.

I've been reflecting on my relationship with my husband and how much we've both changed over the years. Thinking back to our early years of marriage, we used to do so much together before we had kids. One of the most memorable activities was ballroom dancing.

When TJ and I signed up for those lessons, we had no idea what we were getting into. Neither of us had ever done anything like it, and the only experience we had was watching dancers on television. Those classes were much more challenging than we anticipated!

Marriage is a lot like a dance. The male leads and the female follows. It's not a passive following, but rather very intentional. If I try to take the lead, we both end up frustrated and out of sync. However, if I follow willingly and lovingly, even when he missteps, we remain in sync and are better able to recover together.

Another way that marriage is like a dance is that it requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Neither of us are naturally great dancers, but by the end of our six-week session, we were able to mesh together to create a beautiful piece. But, it wasn't only because of our hard work; rather, we had an instructor who was willing to teach, correct, and encourage us along the way. God is the ultimate Instructor and He does all of those things in our lives on a daily basis.

I had to learn to trust TJ enough to lead me in the right direction. Sometimes he messed up, but the times that I was encouraging and not critical of him, the quicker he learned from his mistakes and the more willing he was to continue to try. The same can be said for him regarding my mistakes. I know I stepped on his toes a lot, and it was usually because I wasn't following his lead.

Life has often been compared to a tapestry. We see only the tangled mess of threads and knots. However, God sees the big picture and knows just what we need and when in order to create a beautiful picture. Dance is similar- two imperfect, non-rhythmic people come together to create a beautiful expression of their love and adoration for one another. In practice, there is nothing worth watching! However, by show time, the costumes are on and the dance is executed flawlessly. It is a beautiful picture of Jesus taking our mess and turning it into a message of hope, grace, and never ending love!

Grow in grace,

Monday, June 13, 2016

{Anger- Part 1}

A friend of mine is teaching a ladies-only Sunday School class over the months of June and July. However, her husband had a double-knee replacement and she is helping him while he is recuperating. She asked me to help her by teaching the first two classes so she could focus her attention on him. I happily agreed as I greatly enjoy teaching (it was my major in college!), but the lesson topic, anger, was not something I was looking forward to...

This past Sunday I taught the first lesson. I am sharing some of what I learned (and therefore taught to the class). As I completed the lesson, I did feel conviction but I also felt encouraged. I know I am not alone in my struggle and I know that God does not expect perfection from me, but rather gives grace for my short-comings.
"Anger takes many forms and may unconsciously be hidden as smoldering resentment or covered hurt. Inward anger seems to be the most destructive. Anger takes our focus off God and sets us on a course toward evil. Anger comes with high costs...Whether we vent our anger by silence, rage, or temper tantrums, we use our energy in unproductive, ungodly ways." -Martha Tyler
As I thought about the above statement, the more I realized how true it was. I also thought about how much I really do want to please the Lord in this particular area of my life.

Just as an introduction to the topic, below are some facts I learned during my lesson preparation:

  • Anger itself is not "sinful." The way we respond in our anger is either sinful or righteous,
  • There are many accounts of anger in the bible. In the New King James Version (NKJV), the word 'angry' is used 92 times and the word 'anger' is used 233 times.
  • Some accounts of anger include Cain, when God did not accept his offering (Gen. 4:5); God, in regards to the sins committed in Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:30); God, in regards to wickedness and false gods (Psalms 7:11).

Ephesians 4:26-27 tell us to be angry, but do not sin. We need to deal with the problem immediately rather than stewing it over in our minds or venting about it to friends. The reason is because when we do respond in an unbiblical manner, we are giving the devil a foothold (or something for Satan to grasp on to and use to further damage the relationship). Instead of thinking about the situation that made us angry, we need to think truth (Philippians 4:8).

Also, Eph. 4:29 tells us that our speech should be encouraging, give grace, and used to build others up. In our house, the "test" that we use to determine whether should be said is called the THINK principle. It means T-true H-helpful I-inspiring N-necessary K-kind. If what I am about to say does not meet all of the above requirements, it does not need to be said.

The area I tend to struggle the most with is uncontrolled anger (or my temper). Proverbs 14:29 describes two types of people. One who is slow to anger and shows great understanding. The other is quick to become angry (unfortunately that's me) and displays folly. Do I really want to be a fool? Of course not, but each time I allow my anger to control me instead of me controlling it, that is exactly what I am being. Ouch!

Sometimes we, as Christians, need to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11). The Lord did this during the Pass Over. God was willing to overlook the sins of His people if they obeyed the Pass Over exactly as He commanded (Exodus 12).If God is willing to cover sin by the blood of the Lamb, shouldn't I be willing to do the same?!

Another area I really struggle with is bitterness. Proverbs 17:14 likens anger to a reservoir of water that develops a small leak. If you think about a dam, the leak will eventually get bigger until the whole dam breaks and deluge of water comes flooding downstream. Everything in the water's path is destroyed, and there is no way to hold it back. The damage is done; all that remains is to pick up the pieces and try to clean up the mess. Oh how our words are like this!
"The time between an upsetting situation and our reaction to it is a small window of opportunity in which to choose our course of action." - Martha Tyler 
I hope that as you read through this post you were challenged in your thinking. As I've already shared, this is an area in which I really struggle, but I know that by God's grace I can walk worthy of my calling (Eph. 4:1). More later on this topic of anger...

Grow in grace,

Saturday, June 4, 2016

{Truth Journaling}

"The truth will set you free, but only the truth that you know."

I have a confession: I did not teach my children how to study their bible. I thought because we attend church multiple times each week, we are involved in Sunday School, and my kids belong to other children's programs designed to teach them the Word of God, that I did not need to teach them how to study their bibles. I was wrong.

A few months ago, some sin was brought to light in the lives of a couple of my children. I had suspected something was going on, but I was not exactly sure of what. When I found out, I was devastated, angry, and convicted all at the same time.

I was devastated because, let's face it, sin hurts! It hurts ourselves, it hurts others, and most importantly, it hurts God. I was angry because I had been lied to for a very long time and now all trust had been broken. I was convicted because of my wrong assumptions about studying the bible as described above.

I knew I needed to change. I knew that if I was going to disciple my children as the Lord has called me to do, I needed to begin with the most basic of skills: reading and studying the bible.  I knew that if I wanted my children to cling to the promises of God's word during the storms of life, I needed to be the one to teach them those promises. And I'll be honest, I also needed to learn those promises for myself. I knew of them so to speak, but I didn't KNOW them.

I began a bible study with my oldest son since he is homeschooled and time is on his side in the mornings. As time went on, I included my other children who are old enough to read and write. We began in the Psalms, and each morning we read a Psalm and then basically take it apart verse by verse. We ask ourselves three questions:

  1. What does this verse teach me about God?
  2. What does this verse teach me about myself?
  3. What does this verse teach me about others?
After we read, we go back and answer the questions. For questions 2 and 3, we just talk about and take notes in our bibles. But for the first question, I created a "Truth Journal" for us to use as we work our way through the bible and answer the question. 

For this project, I simply took a 3-ring binder, some sheets of blank notebook paper, and grabbed a pen. I labeled one sheet of paper with a letter of the alphabet (starting at A and going through Z). I have 26 labeled sheets in all plus extra blank pages in the back. Each letter represents an attribute of God. We write it in the form of "God..." and include the scripture reference. For example, under A I have listed: 
  • God has anger- Psalm 7:6,11; 18:7; Proverbs 6:16-19
  • God acts on my behalf- Psa. 7:6
  • God atones sin- Prov. 16:6
  • God is my avenger- Psa. 9:12; 10:14; 18:47
As I read through the bible and learn more about the God I serve, the closer I grow in my walk with Him. I cannot adequately express the comfort and peace that I have in knowing these (and many, many more!) attributes of my God. I have something in my Truth Journal for almost every letter of the alphabet. As friends have experienced their own storms, I have been able to draw from my arsenal of truth to share with them about the Lord. As I share, I am reminded of His attributes and am again blessed. 

Here are some other ways I am using my Truth Journal:

A-B-Cs of God
  • Starting at A, go around the dinner table and each person share one attribute of God until you reach Z. See how many times you can do it without repeating an attribute. It's fun!
  • Can't sleep? Do the above activity in your mind. There is nothing the devil wants more than to shut you down! He will allow you to fall asleep quickly!
  • Pray through the attributes of God, thanking Him for who He is. These are great promises that only He can give!
I challenge you- study the word of God to find out more about Him. You will not be sorry, and God's word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11). He will use this study to grow you, your children, and whomever else you share this with.

Grow in grace,

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Here I Go...

I took a break from blogging for almost two years and I found that I really, really missed it. (You can find my original blog here). Writing is how I express myself best; I often have difficulty putting my thoughts into words, but writing them down is a little easier for me, if that makes sense.

I decided I wanted to start fresh with a new blog since I have taken such a long hiatus. I've titled this one "Thistles, Thorns, and the Peace in the Storm." I think it very adequately describes life on this earth, particularly as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. I have endured many thorns and thistles, but I have also experienced great peace. As I walk each day growing in my relationship with the Lord, I am amazed at the peace that He gives; it is such a comfort!

Some life circumstances have challenged me recently to examine my life, my role specifically, as a mom. I have longed to be "in ministry" for a very long time and it seemed God never opened that door for me. I found myself envious of those who were in ministry. However, God, in His goodness, used a trial to show me that my children are my greatest area of ministry. Once I saw them for who they are in the eyes of the Lord, my whole perspective changed. No longer was I "just a mom" but rather the primary example of Jesus in their lives. I have a very short window of opportunity with them, and sadly I have wasted much of it in regards to my older children. Well, I shouldn't say 'wasted' because I learned from my mistakes, but it is still time that I can never get back.

The biggest lesson I have learned over the past few months is that no matter how many times I fail as a mom, God is enough. He is enough to sustain me, He is enough to equip me. He is enough to do more than I could ask!  This particular mothering trial has brought me to a closer relationship with God the Father, and as a result, I am changing. I am changing into His image, and that is always a good thing!

Grow in grace,