Find Your People

There’s a subtle lie that haunts most of us a good deal of the time. We look at others and assume they’ve got it going on, but the truth is that underneath even the most polished exterior lies insecurity, struggle, heartache and yes, sin.

“…man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Driving to a meeting last week I was musing about the fact that I know a lot of people think I have myself “together”. I was quickly reminded of the truth, which is that I am lazy and disorganized and prone to wander. I’m a great starter and less great finisher. What has made the difference in my life is that I’ve recognized my need to be dependent on those around me who remind me to persevere.

Some of my people! Find yours!

Holding it together depends on the Body I belong to and the One who created it. No one part of this body is autonomous. A finger, a leg, a nose, an ear, a foot; they all are useless on their own. Left to our own devices we are pretty useless. We all need to be part of an active body. The individual parts produce nothing, but the parts working together in harmony bring productivity both individually and collectively. It’s why I attend services regularly and am disheartened by those who eschew it saying it’s not necessary to do so. God says it is.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

I’m thankful to acknowledge my need of those God has placed in my spheres of influence. I’ve learned to intentionally seek out people I admire and want to be like, and then sometimes God brings those I never would have sought out on my own. Through each of them, I am encouraged to press on and press in– by those who will confront me when I’m out of order. I rely on them to nudge me when I’m lazy– to get up and move! When I’m weary– I count on them to remind me to keep moving, when I’m discouraged–to press on and when I’m resting on my laurels– to continue on to the next level. When I isolate, it’s easy to convince myself that I’m doing okay–that I’ve done enough. Hence, I need to surround myself with those who spur me on to good works, who by their example remind me to press on to what is good and useful and productive.

Without those God has knit me together with, I confess, I’d be tempted to spend my discretionary hours binge watching Brit-Box far too often. So, believe me when I tell you I am ever mindful of and thankful for my community. I’m not lying. I need you. I say it all the time, but, we need each other. Isolation is always our foe. Kick it out the door. Find your people.

Fighting for Marriage

This last week, the husband and I celebrated 26 years of marriage.  Note, I did not say 26 years of wedded bliss.  Marriage, without question, is the most challenging relationship on earth. The Bible refers to “iron sharpening iron,”  and I find that mental image to be  an apt one. Iron sharpening iron is noisy and hard and seems to be unyielding.  Yet,  as those two forces merge, both are polished to a smoothness they would never achieve on their own.  This is marriage.

I am grieved as I survey the number of marriages crumbling around us.  Not just young ones who are more immature and who struggle through the inevitable challenges of  two lives coming together, but more mature ones who have raised families, served their communities, walked through the fires of life, instructed others  and celebrated decades of marriage, only to watch their own families implode. Not just a marriage, but a life, a family,  a home and a life time of traditions and more.   It is heartbreaking to me.

As a Christian believer, I view marriage as the merging of two souls into one, with Christ at the center.  Ironically, this is a commitment that requires more of us than any of us would fully yield to if we knew the scope of it.  We start out with stars in our eyes, but, over time the clouds cover those stars and it becomes challenging  to persevere.     It is hard work, but it is the good work of sacrificial love and a tenacity that can only be achieved by His grace and His strength.    It is a picture that Christ uses to reflect His own relationship with His church.  We are the bride of Christ and  He,  the bridegroom.  His enemy and ours, seeks to destroy that very reflection.  When we think we are safe, we are probably  at our most vulnerable and must be on our guard.

Author Madeleine L’Engle once said,

“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover.  And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface.  A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again–till next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged.”

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Those “silver fins” just below the surface…

Sometimes it feels as if we really are drowning. But,  we can emerge from those dark waters. If only we could remember this, when we are tempted to yield to despair and throw up our hands surrendering to dark waters.

Divorce, like suicide is most often a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  I speak from experience.  You  see, the husband and I originally married some 40 years ago and divorced a few short years later.  Fortunately, we were blessed to be  reunited 26 years ago, older, wiser and with a firm commitment to enduring all things as we renewed our vows.   We did not expect  an easy road and it has not been one.  That said, it has been a road that has shaped us and has yielded the most beautiful fruit we could have imagined.

Our culture no longer honors marriage in the way it did in years past.  People talk about “starter” marriages as if we are each entitled and even destined  to make  one trial run before getting it right.  Promises are no longer kept.   Many among us eschew marriage all together, viewing it as an unnecessary  and outdated institution.  Even in the church, marriages are crumbling at an alarming rate.  As I think about my own community, I have visibility of  three marriages on the brink…couples who have been married decades, who have served faithfully, been immersed in ministry and who have instructed others in the faith. One has ended in divorce, another is awaiting a  final decree and the last couple are physically separated.   The reasons are many, I know.  Addiction, infidelity, anger, defeat, frustration and  weariness all come in to play.  And finally, one day, there is just no will to keep fighting for  survival or we can’t bring ourselves to forgive what feels unforgivable.   It just seems easier to give in and give up.  We fall out of love instead of growing through it.  Hence,  we are all the losers.

Let me interject here that I don’t believe divorce to be the unforgivable sin– not by any means.  I know there are situations that are untenable, particularly those involving physical abuse, mental illness and chronic unfaithfulness.  While I have seen marriages brought back from the brink of despair, I understand that  there are times when divorce is the last and final option. I also believe such cases should be  rare.   God hates divorce.  But He loves His children and forgives our failures.  His grace is sufficient when divorce is the only remaining option and we’ve made the most of every opportunity to reconcile.   But, far too many marriages fail without having made every effort to save them.  Those efforts may take time, effort, counsel, prayer and determination to stay the course until every roadblock has been cleared. And–it’s hard.

Even so,  there is hope even when it seems most hopeless.  I speak not as a Pollyanna, but  as one who endured years of seemingly hopeless circumstances.   If we are not actively fighting for our marriages, we will likely one day be tempted to surrender to divorce.  Sometimes we  need to set our emotions completely aside for a period of time and just commit to standing firm as we keep the promises we made at the altar. We have to guard our marriages, even when we think we are  most secure. We need to  encourage those on the brink to press on, to press in and to press through, while praying for our own marriages and those around us.   We are all one step away from a life-changing fall if we do not.  We are told in 1 Peter 5:8-10:

“Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 

Note that we are not told we will have unending bliss at all times.  We are told that throughout the world, our brothers and sisters are also suffering.  Life is hard.  Marriage requires tenacity.  Suffering is a part of the human condition and our marriages are not exempt.  We need to know that hard times not only will come, but they may go on for far longer than we expect or believe ourselves capable of enduring.   Psalm 30:5 reminds us that,

“…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

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sometimes you just need to dial 911

The nights may be long, but, if we will just hold on, the fever will break, and we can rise again to joy in the morning.  Note that I said hard times will come.  Even when it appears that all hope is gone, we cannot give in to defeat.  We need to seek help before we are hallucinating from said fever.  So, “dial 911” if you will– seek counsel, pray hard and remember what you’ve built together. Pray for your spouse to change, but, and perhaps more importantly,  pray that you will be changed.   Be assured that your circumstances are more likely to  change with the passage of time than not.  Hard days may morph into months and even years.  Yes, I realize that’s a hard pill to swallow.  But, hold tight to the vows you made.  Trust the God who knows the beginning and the end.   When you are most weary,  He is most present.  He will make a way where there seems to be no way.  Our job is to fight the good fight, never succumbing to despair, believing that He can heal what appears to be dying.  He is in the resurrection business.  When we see death, He sees another opportunity to bring a marriage back to  life.

Mine is a marriage resurrected.  I thank God for all the times we stood on the brink but chose to keep fighting for our life together. Decades down the road, I rejoice in what He has done, hard times not withstanding.  Trials  will come and they will go, but,  by the grace of God and the prayers of the saints, we can endure and even thrive.  Don’t accept a death sentence.

Rise up.  You are braver and more courageous than you know.

Press in. Press on.  Press through.

“One Good Decision…”

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all photos by hollykatephotography.com

“One good wish changes nothing.  One good decision changes everything.”                   -anonymous

Forty years ago today, the husband and I stood together in front of the fireplace of our living room, and said “I do”.    A small group of friends and family joined us that evening  to witness two woefully unprepared  souls coming together in the hopes of building a life that would endure.  Who knew then, that it would mirror the name of my favorite ice-cream?

Yep.  Rocky road.

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Four decades down that road, this merged life has never been sweeter.  Full disclosure:  it’s often been more bitter than sweet.  We’ve taken some pretty significant detours to get where we are today.   Back roads which took us through  infidelity, separation, divorce,  addiction, re-marriage, rage, sorrow, hopelessness, futility and multiple mountain ranges of frustration.  There have been hair-pin turns, comparable to the Amalfi Coast, where each curve left us gasping for breath, knowing one wrong move could plunge us over a cliff we might never come back from.  There have been potholes the size of Montana and some ice that sent us spinning into guard rails.  But, we are still standing on this side of those ledges.

I married an imperfect man and he married and imperfect woman.  He thought he could control me and I thought I could save him.  Obviously, we were both deluded.  So we went over the cliff and called it quits.  It was ugly.  I moved cross-country, seeking a new life as far away as I could get from the old one.  He stayed put, determined to salvage what was left of him.  By the grace of God, we both survived our mostly self-inflicted  injuries.

Then. one  day,   what had been legally pronounced dead, was resurrected.  It was miraculous beyond anything we’d experienced, before or since.  Twenty Six years ago, we stood in the garden of the same house and repeated vows much like those spoken forty years back.    We began the long journey  to rebuild what had ostensibly been destroyed.  It sounds like a fairy tale, but there was no “happily ever after” in the immediate future.

It has, in fact, been the greatest undertaking  of our lives.  We have struggled to know and understand each other.  We have failed to fight fairly.  We have been selfish and angry and struggled with bitterness and hopelessness.    We have forgiven offenses, large and small.  We have yelled and cried (mostly me) and have been silent for inordinate amounts of time(mostly him).    We have teetered on the edge of giving up.  But, mercifully, we did not give in to that temptation.    We have stood firm, believing  the miracle that brought us back together would hold us together. And, it has.

We made a decision and we have stood by it.  Through all the heartache, tears, grief, arguments, misunderstandings, lack of communication and sorrows,  we have slogged through them all.  Because,  we made a decision.    The miracle of reconciliation.  The miracle of forgiveness.  The miracle of life made new.  The miracle of redemption and grace.  We have learned a lot about patience and endurance.  We have pressed in and through, knowing there was something worth all the effort on the other side.  We have worked hard when it would have been easier to give up and walk away.

We are slow learners, for sure.  We took the long and winding road to get here, without question. But we are here and we are  standing.  Through wind and rain and sleet and snow,  (what are we, postal employees?) we have endured.  And we are grateful beyond imagining.

What if we had ignored the miracle?  Common sense told us that to reconcile was folly.  Many loved ones called us crazy.  We were still two dramatically different people who seemed to be  traveling in opposing directions.  But we chose to move forward,  a little older and a little wiser, knowing it would not be easy.  We counted the cost and decided  it was risk worth taking, and so we dove in.  We have weathered many storms to get here.  We are both older, wear a few extra pounds and have a few more wrinkles and rolls, but,  we are still together, stronger and more in love than we ever thought possible.

We made a decision.  The  conviction that it was a wise and worthy decision, has held us all these years.  We are still held by it. We rest in it. We rejoice in it.

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the Everlasting Arms.”  -Deuteronomy 33:27

The family the “decision” built.