Monday, June 27, 2011

Genesis vs Nemesis

Ever find yourself searching the skies for an IM from heaven? Maybe a brief personal note from the Master of the Universe scribbled in the orange corner of the sunset sky? 

I've been thinking a lot lately about discerning God's will.

Like ... how do we do it? How do we know which decision is the right one when there are so many that assault us daily? How can we be sure we're on the path He prepared for us, especially when we encounter roadblocks and potholes? Are they there to detour us or for us to climb over?

In my recent study of Genesis, I noticed that Abraham faced some of the same challenges I do in trying to discern and follow God's will. But he seemed to have a better handle on it than I do.

The first amazing thing is that when God said go, Abe went (Gen 12:1). He picked up his family, tents and belongings that had been his home for his entire life and without argument or what we would call human reasoning, just up and took off. Where, he didn't even know at first. He just marched on in the direction that God's supernatural finger pointed until He said "Stop!" (Gen 15:7)

Once he finally arrived where he didn't know he was headed, God gave an entire country (Canaan) to Abraham at age 75 (Abe's age, not God's), but he still had to work for it. It didn't come gift wrapped with a big red bow. It wasn't a huge empty plot of beautiful, endless pastureland and bubbling streams just waiting on him to move in. There were people living there - big people with big swords and big egos who didn't want to leave.

Abraham not only had to conquer all his enemies, but he had to plant crops and dig well to sustain his flocks. Work, work and more work. 

And there were problems. Major problems.

Shortly after he arrived in this promised land, a famine struck, forcing Abe to leave his barely-broken-in-homestead and flee to the country next door (Egypt) just to be able to keep his family alive. Then after he got kicked out of Egypt, he became a nomad in the desert until finally, many years later, he was able to return to once again stake his claim in the land that God gave him.

I don't know about you, but if I was Abe, after all that trouble, I might have wondered if I'd misheard the Almighty. If God had really given me this property, why in the world was I having such difficulty living on it? Shouldn't following God's will be easier?

And there's the rub, isn't it. Shouldn't following God's will be easier?

I don't think Mother Teresa would have answered yes. Or Martin Luther King. Or Corrie Ten Boom, or a thousand other godly men and women pushing their own personal boulders out of the road God set before them. The obstacles were not their nemesis. They were there by design.

God doesn't promise us red bows and smooth sailing in following His will. I wish He did. But His word makes it pretty clear that it's actually the opposite.

Abraham hung in there despite all the thousands of time he must have wanted to turn his donkeys around and head back to the comfort of his roots. And so must I. Even when I can't see the next turn in the road because of the thick fog. Or even when the pavement disappears into a sink hole.

Because that's what this faith journey is all about.


Monday, June 20, 2011

What's your marriage creed?

"Do you know what my husband said to me yesterday? He said I needed to decide whether I wanted to be married or single."

I almost choked on the water I was chugging down as we took a break between tennis games. Seven tennis buds and I were fighting the blistering heat to squeeze in three sets, and one of the players suddenly decided to spill.

Alana wasn't someone I was particularly close to, but having been a tennis acquaintance for over a year, I was aware of her fiercely independent nature. I recalled a few weeks prior when she appeared for her regular tennis session rather than attending her only child's 5th grade graduation ceremony.

"I don't see why we have to make a big deal about something that should be normal," Alana had said. "Besides, my son won't even miss me - his father and grandparents are there."

And now it appeared as though her marriage was in danger, but Alana didn't seem at all distressed. The rest of us simply stared at her, stunned, as we silently placed ourselves on the wifely end of that ultimatum she'd been given and began to feel the devastation of loss.

A feeling that Alana apparently didn't share. 

"I won't tolerate anyone telling me what to do. If he wants a divorce, he can have it. I'll just get a boyfriend. Or maybe two." Alana wiped her pretty face with a towel. Slim and athletic, she looked ten years younger her 43 years. No, she wouldn't have any trouble getting a boyfriend. Or two.

"We've been married 13 years and I've always had a back-up plan. Separate finances, my own car. I kept my house in my name when he moved in ... just in case."

And then, while we were still absorbing this info, she hit us with the biggest zinger of all.

"I know how men are. You have to treat them like crud. Then when you're nice to them, they wag their tails like happy little puppies."

I felt as though someone had poured a bucket of ice water over my head.  

"But don't you care about your son?" asked one of the other tennis players. "What about him?"

"He'll be fine," Alana assured us - and herself. "We'll just split him right down the middle." With this Solomon-esque statement (although I'm pretty sure she had never read that biblical account), Alana made a cutting motion with her hand right down the center of her body.

I must say Alana's callous attitude about her family shocked me. Especially her philosophy of marriage. I know she's not a Christian, but what kind of relationship creed is that? You treat men like pond scum and then when you're finally civil to them, they're thrilled by the wonderful surprise. What???

Contrast that self-centered, "it's all about me" attitude with what I consider the Christ-followers' marital creed, Colossians 3:12 -13 (NIV): Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Sure, like Alana, we all get annoyed with our spouses at some time during our marriages (we just hope it only lasts hours instead of days or weeks!). What would we do without compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and especially patience when the going gets rough? Those spiritual qualities that can only come from the Lord when we're scraping the bottom of the barrel?

As astounding as Alana's confession was, it certainly made me think about my own marriage and renew allegiance to the creed I choose to live by.

How about you? What's your creed?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I'm Getting Engaged

I've been thinking a lot about life lately. Not exactly the "Why am I here?" or "What's it all about, Alfie?" kind of soul-dredging thoughts.

More like the "How can I fully engage in living while I'm passing through this life?"  kind of practical fare that sneaks into my brain betwixt rising at 6 am, fixing the same breakfast I've had every day for the last decade, doing my job, tending to my chores, walking my dog, waving to my husband as we pass going in opposite directions, and making sure everyone's fed at night.

My tendency to float through my days aloof and disengaged is what bothers me. Why don't I feel more? Why do I so often just go through the motions?

I suppose the arrival of my first grandson is the spark behind this flame, and that's likely something everyone goes though when they hold a brand new life in their arms. A fresh body and spirit just embarking on the fantastic journey that is this life. So pure and unscathed. So real. So into every picture on the wall I've passed a thousand times unnoticed. So mesmerized with the magic of a tree branch. So red-faced as he screeches his little punkin head off.

Not yet schooled that the best way to avoid feeling pain is to turn the spigot off.

I hope and pray that he doesn't make it to age 60 and stare in the mirror one day thinking, "Where did the time go? What did I do with all those decades that were a gift from above?" 

The stages of life are simple, really:
Young Adulthood
Middle Adulthood
Advanced Adulthood

There seems to be no getting around the fact that I'm lurking in the cracks between the last two. At least externally. Internally, I'm smack dab in the middle somewhere and sometimes inch closer to the top.

I guess that's why I write humor books. The irony of Dorian Gray isn't lost on me. The prune is still plum-y beneath the wrinkles. It's when the wrinkles permeate the core that the soul begins to shrivel.

Okay, enough deep thinking for me. That's more than my quota.

But I will set a goal: My goal is to be fully present in mind, spirit and senses for the rest of this day. Like a baby does. I will see, touch, smell, hear, feel and enjoy each activity I undertake. Like it's the first time. Yep, that's what I'll do.

Now I'm off to explore my world through the eyes of Baby Blaine. Oh, look. The fresh chocolate smear on my white capris are evidence that I've got a good start putting everything not nailed down in my mouth.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sweet Wine vs. Sour Grapes

It starts out with wine and roses, a luscious wedding cake, gorgeous beaded dress and the promise of endless joy-filled tomorrows.

But then something mysterious happens. Somewhere along the winding pathway of unity during the next few years, erosion creates a few potholes, roadblocks, and maybe even a detour or two.

The disillusioned bride and groom are left standing on the side of the road asking, "What happened?"

In all honesty, it happened to me. And it'll happen to you, too.

But we don't have to abandon our wrecked cars and hitchhike. Nope. We can change the flat tires, fill 'er up with brand new gasoline and climb back in to continue our life-long journey to happily ever after. How? Read on ...

I've been reading through 1 and 2 Samuel in different translations (you should try it - adds fresh perspective to passages you've read a thousand times) and found myself wondering what happened to tarnish Michel's love for David. Michel had been secretly in love with David, her father the king's political rival (1 Samuel 18: 20) and was used as a pawn by dear old dad to coerce David into avenging the king's enemies. Saul was hoping David would be killed in battle, but after David slew a hundred Philistines to win Michel's hand, Saul was forced to give Michel to David in marriage. (Saul had already promised his older daughter to David and reneged - 1 Sam 18:19). 

At first, Michel loved David passionately - enough to deceive her father (whose nasty temper could have easily resulted in her own death) and help David in a daring midnight escape (1 Sam 19: 11-17).

But then later, in 2 Sam 6:16-21, we see that Michel's love had turned into contempt for her husband. She criticized him openly and ridiculed him for his celebratory behavior before the Lord. The Bible doesn't say specifically, but my guess is that their relationship took a sharp downward spiral at that point.

What went wrong? What made Michel's mighty, life-on-the-line, heart-bursting affection morph into disdain and contempt?

What soured the grapes of her marriage?

A little research reveals some very telling events that probably contributed heavily. During the years after Michel risked everything to help with David's daring escape from Saul, her jerk of a father turned around and married her off to another man in David's absence. David, too, took at least two other wives while he was constantly running and hiding from Saul.

Time passed. Lots happened before David finally was crowned king of Israel and Michel was able to return to his household. Barren (a source of shame in that culture) while David's other wives spit out babies like watermelon seeds, Michel became bitter and haughty in spirit. She and David had little quality time together and she allowed her critical tongue to fan the flames of discontent. Michel was unable to accept her circumstances and allowed ungratefulness to control her thinking processes, attitudes, and behavior.

I know she's usually skipped over in Bible studies and generally overlooked as a woman of far-reaching consequence in the Bible, but I really feel for Michel. I identify with her in a lot of ways. I think God included her story because there are important things we can learn from her. She didn't ask for all the lousy things that happened to her, but she did have control over her future by the way she responded to the circumstances in which she found herself.

Just like us. Today. 

So what are the elements that contributed to Michel and David's relationship erosion?

1. Separation - physical and emotional
2. Allowing situations over which you have no control to make you bitter
3. A runaway, critical tongue
4. Focusing on what you don't have rather than being grateful for what you do


In retrospect, these are all elements that I, too, have been guilty of allowing to creep into my marriage during our difficult patches. The times when our marital vehicle ran off the road or overheated.

And I feel sure that the key to our marriage still being on the road after 33 years is found in #4 above. It can be nutshelled into one word: gratitude. If we seek a spirit of gratitude, and make it a priority to renew our grateful attitudes daily, everything else in #1-3 will become a non-issue.

Those potholes of emotional distance, bitterness, and destructive criticism will be paved over with humbleness, patience, and generosity of spirit. And our marital Edsel won't break down nearly so often. Strangely enough, we won't want to ditch the old boring model and upgrade anymore. We might put forth a little elbow grease and polish it up. We'll actually begin to respect and admire it just like when it was new and shiny.

It's hard to stab a man when you're holding his hand.  



Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lovin' Those Grace Kisses

Okay, I realize I'm delinquent in announcing the long awaited birth of Baby Blaine - my very first grand. I stand guilty as charged by my faithful readers who have scolded me soundly for my omission.

He's two weeks old today and cute as a newborn porcupine (have you ever seen one? They really are cute!) and not nearly as prickly.

As I shower the little fellow with baby kisses all over his pink scrunchy face, I can't help but be reminded of Papa God's love for us, His precious children.

He loves to cover us with kisses too - little intimate caresses of affirmation and affection born of His overflowing love, grace, and mercy for us.

Grace kisses. Yep. That's what they are.

We can't earn them and certainly don't deserve them. No more than Baby Blaine did anything to deserve all the love lavished on him because ... well, just because. He's one of us. Part of the family. More than just accepted, he's beloved simply because of who he is, not for anything he's done or will do.

And if I stop my frantic pace long enough to focus, I can actually imagine curling up into my Heavenly Father's big ole lap and feel His arms encircle my tense body and envelop me in His sublime tenderness.

Ahhh. So nice.  

So I hope you'll take a moment today and bask in the warmth of Papa God's grace kisses all over your scrunchy face. Relax. Enjoy. Can you feel His soft, loving lips caress your forehead? Be still and know that you are loved.