A Broken Togetherness

19059562_10155076822815091_6085062570885595610_nTwenty-seven years of together. That’s a decent amount of time—a length I could hardly grasp when I said “I do.” Even now I can barely believe that span of time, even with the years stacked behind us, a beautiful bundle of children—all of it a blur of too fast.

It’s not for the faint of heart this thing called marriage. The years are uncertain, difficult, tumultuous, breaking. They are framed with laughter, stained from tears, and cushioned with faith, hope, and love—without which they’d crumble to certain death. But all of it is the making of a marriage and the making of us, together and individually.

It goes without saying that marriage is the choosing of a life lived alongside another. That recession up the aisle represents side-by-side living, saying no to selfishness, and no more going it alone—physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.

It’s a door flung open into your interior life, and the wider it remains, the better off you’ll be. Shutting the door in unforgiveness, complete self-reliance, or self-preservation isn’t an option. You signed on for a double passage.

It’s not a give and take mentality either. It’s a give and give again. Forgive and forgive again. And love—inside of imperfection—again and again.

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It’s not just proclaiming love in word but in being. In doing loving acts, speaking love out, responding in love, listening in love, sitting quietly in love when you’d rather tell him or her a thing or two. It’s staying when you’d sooner leave. It’s working to fix broken.

And to be honest, you’ll probably get wounded. Love fiercely and there’s a decent possibility. But it’s far better to love than to close yourself off in protection and precaution. That only serves to stifle vibrant love in all its various forms.

I’m no poster child for marriage done right. Ralph and my kids will tell you. Even so, I like to joke that because of him my crown in heaven will be too heavy to carry, and I’ll be assigned a full-time Seraphim flying overhead to hold it up. But he’s the realist and will tell you I’m no angel either.

But marriage isn’t I love you because you’re lovable. It’s closer to I love you in spite of the fact that you often aren’t. To know one’s faults and failings thoroughly and still love brings us closer to the heart of Jesus who loves us this way. To be wounded by that same person, forgive, and continue to love grows us to be like Jesus.

In this imperfect world full of imperfect people, love and marriage will likewise never be perfect. We are two broken people becoming less broken only now we do it together. Yet we often arrive in our marriage in this semi-broken state expecting perfect. So when life gets messy and our expectations of perfect go unmet or completely unravel, we think we made a bad choice. Instead of digging in and shoveling out of the chaos we concur the job is too hard and throw the shovel down.

But what if we agree that marriage isn’t perfection, nor is it the place where all our needs and desires will be met, but instead a broken togetherness.

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It’s not I love you because you’re beautiful, you complete me, you say and do the right things, and show up with chocolate and flowers (though that’s never a bad idea). It more closely resembles, if we are blessed with years I’ll love you until your skin sags. I’ll hang on to your hand over the hospital bed rail until your breath runs out. I’ll stay until the us becomes one again, and all that remains is the beautiful memories and the slightly less broken me once again.

So, here’s to another year of us—of we—amid our imperfections. May we love longer and larger than expected, and leave each other better than we found us.

 

 

 

Making a Marriage Work

shutterstock_589431530Yesterday, I attended a wedding shower. The bride-to-be asked the guests to write words of wisdom on cards that she would collect and keep. It was a wonderful idea and each of us scrawled our advice across the card. I wish I had read a few besides the ones the ladies on either side of me wrote. Next month it will be twenty-seven years for Ralph and I, and it’s never too late to learn.

Being a fairly verbose person, I surprised myself by writing only one word: Forgive. 

I realize I could have filled the card, not because I’m so wise or wordy, but because there are so many things that a couple needs to learn to make a marriage work. Things such as communication, prioritizing time together, respectfulness, faithfulness, and selflessness. But for me, if I don’t forgive, the others fall apart too.

If I suffer from a bitter heart—as I’ve been known to at times—it chokes out my ability to fully tend to my marriage. The anger that comes from withholding forgiveness disables communication. The bitterness can cause distance, inhibit respect, ignite selfish behaviour, and, if I’m not careful, can dissolve faithfulness or faith in my marriage.

Anything you want to thrive takes hard work, and a healthy marriage is no exception. There are a host of things that conspire to dismantle a marriage. The lack of the things previously mentioned can be factors, but other tensions beat at the door too. Things such as sickness, financial trouble, long work hours, and constant travel. The relationship may be may strained by putting the children first, extended family issues, living for self, or passing blame. A refusal to take responsibility for their part in the marriage issues, differing interests or ideas, unrealistic expectations, or infidelity can tear a marriage apart.

Marriage is hard work; extending forgiveness makes it easier.

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I would be amiss to fail to mention love with regard to marriage. If love is the glue, I imagine forgiveness is a strong element of this cementing factor. And just like love, forgiveness is a deliberate action. It’s easy to say you love a person. It’s easy to love when the relationship is new and exciting and you feel loving, but as the years press on and the hardships press in, that feeling may wane. And so there are times when you make a choice to love even if you don’t feel loving, just as you forgive even if you don’t feel like it. Both are a deliberate act of the will. Both do wonders to keep your marriage alive and thriving.

Feelings come and go and aren’t always a reliable reality. You have a choice as to how you will behave within your marriage and toward your spouse. You can choose unloving actions or loving ones, you can choose to remain bitter or forgive. And all these deliberate choices can either dismantle or build up your marriage. Your “I do” was an agreement to work hard at something nearly impossible without forgiveness, and fairly impossible without love. But if you learn to persevere and work through each struggle, there’s a greater chance your marriage will grow stronger having overcome them.

This summer many couples will find themselves proclaiming their love at the altar. Since neither one is perfect, I hope their vows include a promise to forgive the offenses of the one they profess to love—as many times as needed. And if they find themselves at a loss, I hope that they seek help from others when needed, and learn how to craft a strong marriage graciously padded with forgiveness and love.

I’ll leave you with this song: Fight For You – by Grayson Reed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lY0cdhDbmt0

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

~ Colossians 3:13

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

~Ephesians 4:31-32

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  1. What is one thing you can think of that needs work in your marriage?
  2. Is there anything you need to forgive?

 

 

A Eulogy for My Best Friend

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This Easter weekend, I’d like to introduce you to someone I’m most fond of. He may be the most misunderstood man who ever lived. But I love him for it, because he’s probably the only man who didn’t care one bit about any of that. And because he didn’t care about what others thought of him, he was unswerving in his life’s purpose.

He didn’t get in the way, like some religious people of his time, and block others from seeing God. He showed up in unlikely places—often with the unpopular—and pointed people to his father. Instead of harsh judgement and criticism, he honoured everyone: men, women, and children, and reached out to those on the outskirts of society who would have appeared unholy, unworthy, and labelled sinners by the “religious”. He showed great compassion and said they were the ones he came to call (see Luke 5:32). He offered healing, grace, love, hope, and peace to anyone who would listen and even offered his very life. He gave all, for all, until his last breath.

He was the most unselfish person the world has ever known. His life was lived for his father’s purposes for the sake of others. Every place he stepped, every action he took, every word he spoke was for another’s benefit. His mission was clear: to show God’s love in a myriad of ways so all could see, hear, and understand his father’s great mercy and love.

The beauty of his unfathomable life is that none of it was typical—nothing you’d expect of a king. That was part of the problem. People found his humanness and humility unfitting. It was difficult to take him seriously and hard to accept that he wouldn’t fit their preconceived idea of God. Those who had spent their whole lives waiting for him, missed him. Those who should have known better, crucified him.

This is how one man explained him:

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”  ~ Isaiah 53:3

In the end, even his closest friends scattered. He died utterly alone, and it appeared his thirty-three years on the earth had amounted to nothing. But I adore the way looks are deceiving, and more than that, how his heart-wrenching obedience changed everything. Because he suffered the most horrific death known to humankind, I was offered a second crack at life—a chance to surrender the life I deemed so dear for a new one with him.

He once said: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” ~ Matthew 11:28-30

And there it is, with him I live freely and lightly; the heaviness of all the things I wasn’t meant to carry handed over. My burdens lifted, my sins wiped out, and my mind renewed. All the former things fade in importance for the friendship found in him. And as the load is lifted, love fills the deadened creases of my life. This same love brings with it a breath of freedom and joy, and peace that ignites hope. You can’t describe his beauty. It’s something to behold.

He moves into our tired lives when we let go. But it’s not easy—the letting go. You see it at the cross, this refusal to release. Some hanging on tightly to their position or praise, others hanging on to disbelief, and others to the material things of this world, grasping at anything that seems too precious to leave behind. Because what is known feels safer than launching into the unknown, even if the known is mediocre at best. But all the praise, position, money, best behaviour, or good deeds count for nothing if I reject him.

His radical, life-altering offer is extended to all. No one left behind. No matter where you come from or what you’ve done, you aren’t excluded. His forgiveness is a free, unearned gift, and when you receive it—believe in and trust him—you’re renewed for today and preserved for eternity.

You’re beautifully and unconditionally accepted and adored by the creator of the universe, all because one Easter, over two thousand years ago, Jesus died for you.

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God loves you. There isn’t a thing you can do, or not do, to earn his love. With a simple prayer, you can receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and step into tomorrow with him.

Becoming a Lover

photo-1518568814500-bf0f8d125f46With the approach of Valentine’s Day, I’m giving you permission to love. Which is weird, I know, but maybe it needs to be said. Because let’s face it, love can be a little tricky. Mostly because people are tricky and do all sorts of things to make themselves unlovable.

They push love away with their meanness, their messiness, and their thoughtlessness. Maybe it’s a result of their baggage, their wounding, or not knowing any better. Which is sad, because even in the pushing away they really wish to be pulling in. But vulnerability is scary and takes courage, yet without those, love precariously teeters on pretense. To invite love in means to risk rejection or the ache of a broken heart. But love is the very thing our hearts need most.

As much as love can tear us asunder, it can just as easily heal.

Despite love’s glorious complexity, we need to learn to how to love, actually discipline ourselves to love, and chose to love under all circumstances. Every day we’re faced with opportunities to love so there’s no shortage of practice.

Part of love is respect. It’s listening to another’s viewpoint even when we don’t share it, extending kindness to the person whose choices or worldview you disagree with, and not tearing another down needing to prove your point.

Part of love is action. It’s refusing to turn a blind eye to need. It’s serving the stranger, listening to the lonely, and caring for your family.

Part of love is sacrifice. It’s the giving away of all you thought you didn’t have to give. It becomes tangible in the sharing of such things as time, money, or other resources that you could easily withhold.

Part of love is getting dirty. It’s refusing to remain on the sidelines of others’ lives but instead climbing into the trenches with them.

Part of love is bearing with one another and forgiving. It’s choosing to let go of hurt, blame, and shame. Quite often, we even need to learn how to love and forgive ourselves.

As we learn to love unconditionally, we become impervious to the ungracious acts of others. We discipline ourselves to not take offense, or grow upset or bitter, when treatment is less than admirable. And when we do that often enough, we grow loving.

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ~ Colossians 3:13

But it’s more than respect, action, sacrifice, getting dirty, putting up with, or forgiving.

Love has to do with faith. Not in the people around you, who you are learning to love, but in the One who first loved you and sacrificed his life in place of yours. Without Christ, and the help of his Holy Spirit, I’d be remarkably unloving. My forgiveness capacity: borderline zero. Even with him it’s a daily struggle, because I prefer not to be mistreated, disrespected, or neglected.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. ~ 1 John 4:18

As God nestles into our hearts, as we draw closer to him, there becomes room for miraculous, perfect love. I say miraculous, because apart from him, there would be little chance of fear-fleeing love. Christ suffered mistreatment, disrespect, and neglect himself. Through him—and the healing nature of his love—we learn to love fearlessly, courageously, habitually, and independent from others’ treatment. What they do, or fail to do, ceases to matter as much, and that protective wall we keep up—just enough to peer over but not let others penetrate— crumbles.

God’s love heals, purifies, strengthens, and perfects. But first, we need to let it in.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

~ Mark 12:30-31

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  1. Have you received God’s offer of love?
  2. What is your greatest barrier to loving God or others?
  3. Ask God to help you love creatively and courageously today.

 

 

 

 

Learning to Fight

My husband and I learned how to fight. This seems like a bad idea, but there are some substantial advantages to mastering techniques for conflict resolution. By virtue of being human, there will always be possibilities for disagreements with others. It seems marriage is full of such opportunities.

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Ralph and I have been married for twenty-six years, but while dating, we had to overcome contrasting upbringings and approaches to conflict. I was raised in a polite British philosophy where I often heard, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In theory, this is rather lovely, but when applied to conflict resolution, it results in generous amounts of “sweeping things under the rug”.

My husband’s family is German. They got things out in the open, forgave, and moved on. During a conflict, my silent treatment, or disappearance from a tense room, shut down communication. Eventually, I saw that my tactics were ineffective, and began communicating by facing things head-on. Generally, for most things to improve, it takes undoing poor habits and mastering new ones. Such was the case for fighting well.

Whether a spouse, family member, colleague, or friend, we will be confronted with opportunities to fight and forgive well. When we face disagreements, or experience hurt at the hands of another, it’s easy to become offended and get angry. The key is to not grow embittered, carry that wounding around with you, or worst of all, shove it under the rug.

Fight for relationships that are worth fighting for. Instead of withdrawing or rebutting with silence, develop the habit of forgiveness. This doesn’t mean we excuse the behaviour or pretend it didn’t happen. We acknowledge the wrong done, communicate how it made us feel (if possible), and then forgive—independent of whether an apology is offered.

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Ralph and I – 2010

Forgiveness is a loving act both toward ourselves and others. It’s saying, what you did hurt me, but I refuse to let it rule me. In a fearless act of love, you forgive and in doing so, it’s as though you’ve covered over their fault so that it’s no longer visible. It’s probably the only time it’s a good idea to cover up something. In the meantime, you’ve secured your freedom. You’ve freed yourself from the weight of carrying anger and bitterness and can move forward in soul-settled peace.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

This courageous and almost contradictory behaviour—just as learning to fight appears at first glance—brings us close to the heart of God. Christ’s death meant we were loosed from sin and fully forgiven. When we behave in like manner, laying ourselves down for others, and beautifully offering a cover of forgiveness for their shortcomings, we are behaving like our Father in heaven. Here’s some helpful instruction: 

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Forgiveness doesn’t mean giving others a license to repeatedly mistreat you. You still need to set healthy boundaries and remove yourself from toxic people or harmful situations. Forgiveness simply means you release offenses, and, as a result, remain free from others’ baggage.

Forgiveness isn’t easy. It’s not a one-time effort either. For me, forgiveness often looms like an unscalable mountain threatening to block my journey. But nothing worthwhile happens without fighting for it, or at least applying focused effort. Sometimes we need to reset our default button to bypass unhealthy mindsets or patterns of thinking.

It helps to remember that we needed mercy too. And don’t we continue to need it? We aren’t faultless. There will come a time when we hurt another—either purposely or unintentionally—and what a relief it is when this same forgiveness is extended to us. It also helps to remember we’re forgiven by God who never reminds us of our sins. The least we can do is love the same.

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  1. Make a list of those you haven’t forgiven.
  2. Pray and ask for God’s help to forgive.
  3. Go the extra mile and bless them (wish well for them).

 

 

 

The God We Didn’t Know

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Sketch of Napoleon crowing himself. ~ Drawing by David, kept at the Louvre.

I’ve noticed that a lot of animosity hurled toward God is misdirected.

God has become the cosmic scapegoat for many misdemeanors of mankind. He’s the fault of others’ failings. The illness for the ills injected by humans upon humans. The ugliness freely deposited by others. And this blame drags heavy, like the cross he staggered beneath and heaved up the hill to his death; unjustly accused even then.

Let’s be honest, humans are notorious for redirecting blame.

How could God allow children to starve? we exclaim as we dab our mouths, rub our bellies, and declare how stuffed we are. How could God allow women and children to be abused? while our insatiable appetite for pornography helps fuel the multi-billion dollar human trafficking industry. How can God allow mass genocide? as we welcome the supposed savior and then keep silent to save ourselves. How could God allow the homeless to freeze overnight? as we cross the street, lock our doors, and add an extra blanket to our beds.

Our hostility towards God can also be fueled by former hurt. We may have been wounded by those who should have known better; some who even claimed to know God. With that layer of proximity, there can be a propensity for the hurt to spill over and affect our perception of God. Sometimes we purposely distance ourselves from God in the aftermath of such disillusionment and disappointment, ascribing undo blame and fearing to love a God whose people behave so poorly.

But abuse and neglect, hatred and homicide, others’ judgment and exclusion, is not a reflection of God’s nature, but more accurately a picture of people who have forgotten who he is. Perhaps they never really knew him in the first place, or what they do know of him, they dislike or disregard. Possibly they prefer to pick and choose the parts they can accept and reject the rest. In all truth, often we’re so caught up being the ruler of our own little kingdoms that we sacrifice others in our self-coronation. So caught up, in fact, that we don’t really understand who God is, and often could care less.

And like any relationship, fraught with misunderstanding and confusion, fault lines and frayed edges, unscalable distance and disappointment, so too is our relationship with God. It’s difficult to know someone we’ve never really encountered or regularly spend time with.

This world, and all that’s in it, is a gift. As with all gifts, after they’ve been given, it becomes up to the receiver how they’re treated and maintained. God generously gave and let us be the caretakers. He offers help if we make room, but so often it’s too crowed in the kingdom of one. That’s when things tend to get ugly.

But every now and then, we make room and let Him in, and we begin to see beauty, and truth, and love.

We begin to realize that:

The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”  ~ Psalm 145:8-9

We learn that:

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  ~Lamentations 3:22-23

We hear that:

“The LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.”.  ~Deuteronomy 31:6b

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

~Psalm 68:5

When we encounter and accept the truth of God’s surprising love, both our heart and outlook is altered. We are sorry for our failings. We understand how we’ve misplaced blame, and learn to face our faults. Our relationships begin to shift, and instead of exploiting, we look at all the things he entrusted us with a little differently. Some of the things that formerly preoccupied us fade in significance. God’s gentle, patient, kind, healing, and unconditional love propels us, and as we grow stronger, we in turn help strengthen. Beauty ensues and love stands a fighting chance.

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1. In what ways have you blamed God for the failings of others?

2. In what ways have you contributed to another’s pain or misfortune? Ask God for forgiveness, for the strength to change, and, if possible, make restitution.

3. If you sense you’ve never really known God, He is just a prayer away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Kind of Impact Are You Making?

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A precious offering from a student: a reminder of the little hands I held and also helped teach how to print their names.

This past Tuesday, I spent my last day in the kindergarten class. At the end of the day, just before nineteen little humans trundled off for home, I was inundated with colourful masterpieces and priceless hugs. Working to hold back tears, I received their affectionate gestures. The teacher commented on the impact I’d made after being in the class just over a month and added, what if it had been a full year as he had hoped.

It begs the question: what about an entire lifetime?

Within such a lifetime – composed of one day piling on top of another – there exists the opportunity to make a day-by-day, moment-by-moment difference. Some of those difference-making impacts will be the result of a cognitive choice or disciplined action, but there will be many that won’t. Some impacts will occur without you giving them a second thought; the mere result of you being a living, breathing human with the potential to leave an imprint on other human beings, for better or for worse.

I think to myself, what sort of impact am I making? Am I helping or hindering those around me to be the best versions of themselves? Do my words and actions encourage and build others up, or tear them down? Am I using my resources, including my time, finances, skills, and gifts to make a difference, or am I selfishly expending them only on my personal comfort?

Some may not think it matters, but I prefer to think it does. As a child, whenever we visited somewhere, my mom used to instruct us to leave it better than when we arrived. I think that applies to people as well as places. We can leave a person better than we found them. Our exchanges, no matter how small, can leave a positive or negative impact. The ability to shift the atmosphere is ever at our disposal.

It’s easy to grumble about poor service, complain about a coworker to another, treat a server poorly, or lose it entirely. But how much greater is a simple smile, a kind word of encouragement, a well-placed compliment, a small offer of help, a show of affection, or an extension of forgiveness. All of these can make all the difference. You won’t often know the mountains another is scaling in the midst of climbing your own, but at every handhold there exists the opportunity to make that assent just a little kinder and more manageable.

Beyond all this, there’s the impact in eternity, which, though temporarily invisible, will one day be all there is left, and all that matters. Not that we do these things for gold stars. We do them out of the outflow of love and forgiveness that we each have the opportunity to receive and extend. But make no mistake, everything, whether seen or unseen, applauded or ignored, matters.

I’ll leave this last thought: Be the person your dog thinks you are, the person your family wishes you were, and the person God made you to be!

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

~ Luke 8:17

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  1. In what ways are you leaving people better than you found them? In what ways could you stand to improve?
  2. Look for opportunities this week to make a difference.