Friday, August 26, 2016

How We Might be a Stumbling Block in Our Marriages

Recently, I picked up Andy Stanley's iMarriage study from our home library, and thought that it might be nice to study it again.  Josh and I have just come out of a refining season, a season where we have allowed "I" to steal our romance, joy, laughter, peace, and wreak havoc on our marriage.  I am so thankful that the Lord pursues us even at our worst, knowing that if we surrender to Him, He can make beautiful things out of our messes. I am also thankful that I can write this post today in victory. Marriage is so fun (I am blessed to be married to my Josh), but it does require intentional work and surrender.

This is my second time working through the iMarriage study, and it is so powerful, even 9 years into our marriage.  It is nice to take the time to reflect on our marriage and surrender the not-so-pretty parts to God, allowing Him to take the reins and renew our relationship.  It has been so refreshing to do so.  The other day, the study directed me to read and reflect on 1 Peter 3:1-2:  "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives."  Then, Andy Stanley posed the question How about when you place expectations on others? What kind of response does this elicit? As I started penning a response to those questions, the Lord's personal revelation to me hit me hard; it was one that was not easy to swallow because I had been blinded to it.  

When I place expectations on others--in this case, my husband and children--it elicits a response of frustration, and even bitterness or resentment at times because they weren't created to live up to my expectations.  God made them for Himself--to worship Him, to walk in the path He has for them, and to glorify Him with their lives.  When I place my expectations on them, I am actually hindering them from walking in God's way.  I create distractions by placing expectations on them.  He has a plan and good works prepared in advance for them to do in His Name and for His glory, so how well or effectively can they do those things, follow our God, and love Him the way He deserves (with all their hearts, minds, and strength) if they are distracted by the expectations I am placing on them?  I have become a hindrance, a stumbling block, and a complete distraction at that point, and I'm actually hindering God's kingdom! 

I like this statement that Stanley gives to help us gauge our motives in marriage:  One sign that I am placing expectations on my spouse is that I stop serving my spouse."  Learning that I've been, at times, a stumbling block and a hindrance in my husband's and children's lives was not a joyful revelation, but one the Lord knew it was time for me to hear and see through His eyes.  Now I know, and I refuse to fall back on old habits. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Imitators of Light

Ephesians 5:1...this is where I've been camping out the last couple of days.

Be imitators of God, therefore
as dearly loved children.
Ephesians 5:1

This verse has challenged me this week.  Lately, my heart hurts over negative events and circumstances I have no control over.  I'm sure you feel the same way every day you live your life or every time you watch the news, get online, or scroll through social media feeds.  The events that hurt my heart begin close to home in my little corner of the world, then ripple out further as I learn of new tragedies that are affecting so many lives and families in our nation and around the world.  As much as I would like to stop them from happening, as I'm sure you do too, I know that I am not in control.  I can only trust God to make things right in His perfect time.  Meanwhile, though, I do have a choice.  The only control I have is in the way I behave, react, and respond to life's miseries.  How often do I behave or react from a place of rejection, frustration, anger, hurt, pain, embarrassment, neglect, or some other negative emotion?  Have I forgotten that I am dearly loved by the Creator of the universe, the God Who formed me in my mother's womb by His choosing, and the One Who knows me so intimately??  

This morning, I noticed something about my 5 (almost 6) year old daughter.  When I entered her room to say good morning and invite her down for breakfast, she didn't answer me like she normally does.  Instead, she answered me with a quick, sharp response.  I knew something was off, but I didn't know what.  I didn't know why she responded to me in such a tone of voice.  As I returned downstairs, praying in my heart, the Lord reminded me of this verse in Ephesians that He had shown me only yesterday. He showed me that she was imitating her friend she has been playing with recently.  Then, He gently showed me that we all have the tendency to imitate someone.  Even if we think we are being "different" or "standing out from the crowd," we are still following and imitating someone. 

Just like my daughter faces opportunities each day to be an imitator of God or an imitator of her peers, I am faced with similar choices. Who am I choosing to imitate?  When I feel hurt, rejected, neglected, ignored, unworthy, betrayed, etc., it is very easy for me to project those painful feelings onto others or my surrounding circumstances. Subconsciously, maybe I want others to know my hurt and possibly even feel the same way I do, so it would be easy for me to imitate the ones who hurt me, therefore causing emotional pain to others or responding to situations in pain rather than in love, only causing the cycle to repeat itself and causing bitterness to take root in my own heart.  Repeating the cycle never works.  Copying others' sinful behavior never makes situations right, only worse.  

This verse and passage in Ephesians calls me out of sinful behavior.  It calls all of us to rise above the circumstances and sin around us and to live as children of light, thus breaking the cycles of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice, greed, obscenity,and foolish talk that are destroying our own lives, our families' lives, and the lives of people in our nation and around the world.  If we blend in with the darkness, imitating others' sin, no one will see the light of Christ pierce the dark.  Our enemy loves to use our circumstances, people, events, and anything else he can to distract us from living as children of light and allowing God's love to flow through us and pour out of us into others' lives.  It is easy to fall into harmful patterns of behavior around us, but, as dearly loved children of God, He calls us to higher living.  He calls us to "not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Eph. 4:29).  He charges us to "be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you," to "live a life of love, just as Christ loved us," and "to have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them" (Eph. 4:32; 5:1, 11). This is difficult to do at times, but not impossible, and it is the abundant life Christ came to give us.  When we live this way, Christ's love shines through us, we are refined, and we become more like Him.  

As I have scrolled through social media and read others' responses to devastating current events that are sending shock through our country, I have seen people write, How can I be involved?  How can I help instead of add to the hurt?  How can I participate in helping our nation recover from these events?  Not all of us have the same financial or global platform or following, and not all of us have the same resources.  For me, in my opinion, I believe my way to help and not add to the hurt is to show my children and others around me how to respond as dearly loved children, imitating God, and living a life of love.  Then, they will also be a light in the dark world, drawing others to Christ's light.

So, this weekend and in the coming week, I am presenting myself with a respond, speak, & behave as a dearly loved child of the Most High God.  To react, speak, and behave from a place of love (because His love is perfect and it is enough for me) instead of a place of hurt.  All that matters to me is not what others think of me, but what my heavenly Father thinks of me, and He never created other people to fulfill me anyway.  That's His job.  I am made to be filled with God's abounding, unconditional, and forgiving love, and to walk in that love.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Family Matters

Aahhh...Quiet moments to sit and write.  Those don't come often these days.  Instead, I have traded my once quiet days of independence for days of glorious laughter, tickles, Bible studies, tantrums, and squabbles.  And I love it.  I decided I wanted to stop working outside of the home when my first child was born, so I prayed diligently for three years and, finally, the Lord gave me the green light.  And I've never been happier.  Please don't misunderstand that statement.  Some days and weeks are hard.  Some days drive us to separate rooms crying tears of frustration and fatigue, and crying out to God for help.  Being a stay-at-home mom and wife is by far the most difficult job I have ever pursued, but one that the Lord has graciously gifted me and, during these days, He has drawn me closer to Him than ever before.  I am thankful I have the opportunity to see my children grow and thrive each day.

After three years of praying, God finally answered my prayer and I was so ecstatic...scared, but thrilled at the same time.  I was finally able to be with my child (now, children) every day!  I was elated with joy!  I used to sit on my front porch with the Lord in the afternoons while my daughter slept and pour out thanksgiving for the gift of these days that I never thought I would experience.  And I still faithfully thank Him for His blessing, but somewhere along the way, I stumbled.  Somewhere along the way, as God was molding me into an abiding mom and wife, I thought I had learned enough that I didn't need His help any more.  Somewhere along the way, I picked up my family from where I had laid them at His throne and proceeded to carry them on my own.  I've got this, I thought. I've got this mommy and wife thing down pat.  Thanks, God, for your help, but I think I can take it from here.  And my sweet heavenly Father let me.  He let me carry them while He patiently waited and painfully watched.  He watched me struggle.  He watched me tire.  He watched me fall down.  A LOT.  He allowed me to learn the hard way.  He did not push Himself on me.  He loves me more than I could ever imagine, but He allows me to make mistakes and learn from them.  He was there to pick me up, dust me off, and walk with me again toward victory.  What a good, good Father!

So, how did my family...dare I say...become my idol??  How did they rise above God without me knowing?  How can that be when I love God so much and want to honor Him with everything?  Well, for me and maybe for you, I attempted to control my flock.  I called it "caring for my family" when really I was taking the reins from God.  God has blessed me with a loving, kind, and supportive husband and three amazing kiddos not so that I would replace Him, but to enrich and deepen my relationship and dependence on Him.  He has given them to me because He wants me to love Him with my heart, soul, mind, and strength and show my children how to do the same.  He wants me to live boldly while resting in faith.  And pass that faith down to the next generation.  He did not give them to me so I could put them in His place and begin to worship them instead of their Creator.  But isn't it easy for something we "have control over" to quickly become out of control in our lives?  I found that, as soon as I stopped seeking Him and asking Him daily for wisdom, my life quickly began to spiral out of control.  And none of my flock was happy.  I wasn't able to take care of any of them well because I was trying to do it on my own.

Our families, specifically our children, can easily become an idol in our lives if we are not careful.  When we fail to seek God's wisdom, knowledge, and guidance daily, we are pulled in so many different directions that it is seemingly impossible to know which way to go and when.  Our lives become chaotic and our souls become restless and empty.  We find ourselves tired, worn, exhausted.  At the moment we think we can do this family thing on our own, the enemy has already stepped in and we have given him a foothold. We start to seek the best education, friends, play groups, study groups, athletics, and extracurricular activities.  But if we're not seeking God's wisdom and discernment, then whose standards are we using? And what will happen to our flock then?  And have we forgotten the hurting, sad, lonely, needy people around us who desperately need to experience Jesus?  Have we forgotten them, people God created and loves more than anything?  People God placed around us and in the middle of our lives and paths so that He can use us to make an eternal difference in their lives.  What about them?

It is so easy as a mom to bury my head in my own family and excuse it by claiming that "I am just taking care of them," but in reality I am ignoring people who need to see Jesus. I am so immersed in my own needs, worries, and cares that I have ignored the gentle charge of 1 Peter 5:7 to allow God to handle my cares, which causes me to completely miss the cares of those around me who don't know Jesus.  They don't know peace or love or joy.  John 3:16, probably the most memorized verse in the Bible and, I believe the most important and profound, shows us just how deep God's love runs for the world.  He loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that we won't die, but live forever with Him.  That's how much He loves the world.  I wanted to examine my family's status in God's light and under His perfect expectations.  While I do have a God-given responsibility and strong desire to care for my family's well-being because I love them more than I thought I could love anyone, does that make it acceptable for me to ignore people who are not members of my family?  Can't I do both?  Can't I give my best to my family while also lending a hand, ear, or resources to others God has placed in my life?  Although I used to fill my days with seemingly good activities, I wasn't allowing God to maximize my time and energy, nor was I allowing Him to give me rest.  I ran myself ragged attempting to remain in control of everything.  God has placed us in strategic locations in the world He loves.  So, I believe we can do both; we can love our family well and love others well simultaneously.  I believe that He does not want us to become blind or numb to the people around us, to be so caught up in our own way of living that we miss those to whom He has called us to show His love.

I decided that I can't be so caught up and distracted by "making a life for myself" that I miss the real needs of hurting people.  I decided that I need to wake up, seek God first, and ask Him to order my day and open my eyes to people around me who need His love.  There is no coincidence that I live, work, and move where I do, and no person/relationship is an accident in my life.  May I be on my knees daily so that I'm ready to listen, pray, care for, talk to, encourage, or uplift people when God asks me to.  And may I never come to a place where I feel that I've "got this family thing" covered, that I can do it on my own.  That's exactly where the enemy wants me because that's the place where I will miss the plans God has for me and the "good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10).  God's "divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3).  I have everything I need to walk in victory; I just need to fix my eyes on Him and allow Him to create my schedule.