Gifts

My convo with my dad last night went something like this.

Me: I don’t think I’m really cut out for this parenting thing.  It’s not fun and it’s hard and I’m tired of it.  I really don’t have any of the talents you need to be a good parent.  My children are whiny, argumentative, and I really don’t want to be around them right now.

Dad: Did you know that your mother wanted to give you back when you were a few months old?

Me: What???

(continued conversation about how I didn’t sleep and she was exhausted and decided that motherhood wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.)

Dad: (this is where it gets really good and I will be unable to remember accurately enough to do it justice, but I’m going to try) Parenting is one of (pause.  I jump in:  …the most horrible things ever???  Yeah, I was in a great frame of mind!)… the best tools that God uses to transform us.  That, and marriage.

Me: Well, marriage is a lot more fun.

Dad: (laughing) Yes, parenting 2 children with self-centered wills is not always fun.  And that’s the thing.  They are individuals with the ability to make decisions and it is your job to shape that, to shape them into the likeness of Christ.  That doesn’t come easily, but God has tasked you, as their mom, with that responsibility.  Bad parents see their children as an annoyance and are apathetic.  The fact that you’re frustrated means that you are wrestling with the process.  Parenting is exhausting, frustrating, and overwhelming– that goes with the territory– but don’t equate that with being a bad parent.

Good parents see their children, not as an annoyance, but as gifts.  Gifts are different from presents.  Presents are fun things to enjoy, but they don’t change you.  Gifts create something in you.  Think about the gifts of the Spirit that God gives us.  They are to transform us.  Same with kids.  God didn’t give you your children because you are worthy.  He gave them to you because he trusts you with them.

Me: I shared a prayer request with my Bible study group about this and I said that we were in a rough parenting phase right now.  I said that I know I should ask for wisdom and patience and character-building, but what I really want right now is for it to be easier!  Remember when we were kids and it was so easy for you because we were perfect and wonderful in every way?

Dad: Umm… yeah, right.

 

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Re-upped

On Sunday night, Dennis and I got to share a bit of our love story and participate in the I Still Do wedding at our church.  We were interviewed about our story and then we renewed our vows.  There were about 150 people there and we represented the 1-15 years-married group.  It was really cool to be a part of community in this way, with so many people reaffirming their commitment to one another for life!  There were 2 other couples who also shared (one had been married for over 20 years and the other for 46 years!) and it was also inspiring to hear from those who were so seasoned in their life together.

Even though we were on the short-end of the marriage  journey in that group, it was fun to reflect on the past 14 1/2 years and to re-up our commitment to one another.  Basically, in the interview we shared how we met, a little bit about our wedding day, and some of the good times and difficult times that we’ve experienced together.  Of course, after we sat down, there were several things that came to mind that I wish I would have talked about!  I thought I’d give a little synopsis here of some of what has made our marriage great over these years and why WE still do.

  • During our first year of marriage, we read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  It has really helped us love each other in the ways that communicate love to the other person.  We also periodically ask, “how is your love tank doing?”.  In other words, “are you feeling loved? And if not, what can I do to fill that?”.
  • We truly do strive to put the others’ needs before our own.  No keeping score, no 50/50.  It’s 100/100.  Not all the time, but as a general rule.
  • When we became parents, we made the commitment that our world would not revolve around our children.  Our commitment to each other always informs the decisions we make about our kids and we truly believe that the best gift we can give them is the gift of a strong marriage.  The two of us will be together long after they have grown up and moved out and we don’t want to end up as strangers in the same house!  God comes first, our marriage comes second, and parenting is third.  Period.
  • We are on the same team.  We are for each other.
  • Dennis’ words of wisdom at the end of the interview?  Happy wife, happy life.  Yes, yes indeed.

Leaky

I’m having one of those mornings where my heart is full and I’m having a hard time putting into words the things that God is showing me.  I’m going to do my darndest, though!  I’m learning a ton as I read through Love and War by John and Stasi Eldredge.  Dennis and I have what I have always thought of as an “easy” marriage.  This is because of him, not me!  He’s very laid-back and there aren’t too many things that shake his confidence or rile him up.  We have our moments, but mostly things run pretty smoothly, even after 14 years of marriage.  I am constantly thankful for this and rarely take it for granted.

As awesome as I feel our marriage is, I’ve been challenged by several things in this book.  The first is about transformation.

Learning to live with our opposite and all their little quirkinesses is part of learning to love.  “Love it is a rock,” Shawn Mullins sings, “smoothed over by a stream.”  We want love to be stable and immovable, like a rock… but that stream part is another matter.  Some force constantly washing over us, smoothing our rough edges.  We don’t much go in for that.  But let’s face it– we’ve all got some roughness to our personalities, don’t we?  For this wonderful process, God gives us… each other.  Marriage is the rushing stream God uses to shape us into more loving people.

I’ve never thought of marriage in terms of a transformative process, but it truly can be.  God throws us into close proximity with someone who is different from us and asks us to do life together.  Surely that’s going to change us!  We get to choose whether we change for the better or not!

The second thing I’ve been challenged by is the reminder that my husband cannot make me happy.  When I expect him to, I place a pressure on him to be something that only God can be for me.  We all are leaky cups!  He could do the most amazing job of loving me, filling my cup, making me feel special and cherished– but it doesn’t last.  I need it again and again.  Dennis is not a well.  Only God is.  I can count on Jesus to constantly be able to fill my leaky cup, but not my husband.  I am not a well and I cannot adequately fill his every need either.  Part of the disappointment in marriage comes from that unmet expectation or the pressure to live up to that expectation.  Think about this: how your spouse is doing is not the report card on you.  The authors say, “your spouse’s unhappiness doesn’t mean you’re an ‘F’ as a person.  Your spouse’s unhappiness– and yours– means you both have a famished craving within you that only God can meet.”

Tough stuff.

A bit of truth

It’s the subtle lies that get us.  Blatant deception doesn’t usually trip us up because it’s so obvious.  It’s the things that sound good, that are mostly or partly true with just a grain of falsehood that can really mess us up.  The enemy is a master of just-close-enough-to-the-truth-to-be-dangerous.  This is one of the biggest reasons we need each other!  In isolation, the half truths sound much more believable and take root more deeply, our personal blind spots become much broader.

There is one half truth that I’ve been hearing a lot lately.  It’s a much more subtle variation on “you’ve got to look out for #1”.  That sounds too selfish for our cultured selves to handle anymore, so instead it’s shifted to “love yourself and take care of yourself first”.

First, the truth part.  Jesus himself says, “love your neighbor as yourself”.  Clearly, you will have a harder time truly loving others if you haven’t learned to love yourself.  In addition, I see “take care of yourself first” as a bit of a pendulum swing from the child-centric philosophy that many moms (and dads) have been exposed to.  When you put your children first, when your world revolves around them, you get marriages falling apart due to neglect.  The world was never meant to revolve around your children– the sooner they learn this, the better!  When you’re constantly pouring out without filling your own cup, you are running on empty all the time and that is never an effective strategy.  Also, in marriage itself there is a difference between putting your spouse’s needs above your own and looking out for their best interests (true love is self-sacrificing– just look at the Cross), and allowing yourself to become unimportant.

Next, the off-base part.  The companion belief to “love yourself first” is that life’s ultimate goal is our individual happiness.  This is where the downward slide begins.  Can you imagine if that had been Jesus’ primary goal?  In a classic understatement, we’d be up the creek without a paddle!  The perceptive among you will chide me at this point– after all, this very blog is called Today I’m Happy!  Personal happiness, choosing things that contribute to our well-being, is not unimportant!  Where it goes wrong is when we place it in first priority.

Back to truth.  It’s all about Jesus.  Period.  Anything that comes before or between us and him will lead to disappointment and shallow living.  It’s part of the crazy economy of God– put Jesus as the center (he doesn’t want to be the first among your priorities, he wants to be in everything you do) and you get all the rest.  Put yourself or anyone else in the center and you have a void.  You want to live with purpose and intention?  Love your family from a place of abundance?  Serve others?  Find happiness?  Then love Jesus (more on this another time), do whatever it takes to press in close to him, surrender absolutely everything to him constantly and completely.  He’ll give you everything else, I promise!

I still do

We just started a series at church called I Still Do.  I’m also reading Love and War by John Eldredge (when I find an author I like, I tend to devour everything they’ve written), subtitled “finding the marriage you’ve dreamed of”.  Dennis and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage this summer and we’ve got it pretty good!  We’re mostly on the same page with parenting, our spiritual journey, life in general.  For us, marriage doesn’t take a lot of work in this phase of our life together.  Or does it?  Maybe it doesn’t take much work to have a good marriage, one in which we are content and happy.  But what about a great marriage?  An amazing one…one that impacts the world around us.

The big idea from yesterday’s sermon is that in order to find true fulfillment in life, you need to find “the one”.  But “the one”  is not your spouse!  We made a commitment to live our lives and marriages with God as our number one and our spouse as our number two.  Pastor Steve gave an illustration about how he would often come home from work and be on the phone as he walked in.  Erin asked him to finish his phone calls before he walked in the house, so that when he came home, he was home.  This is something I’m completely guilty of as well.  I try to make the best use of my time and I almost always am on the phone when I get home.  It’s challenging for all of us when I arrive trying to finish up a call.  My kids and husband deserve my attention when I walk in the door and I can’t give it to them if I’m talking to someone else.  I’m definitely going to work on this.

The statistics aren’t pretty, as we all know.  Steve cited a study that found that 70% of married men and 60% of married women will have an affair.  Half of marriages don’t last 15 years.  Those that do often fall into what Eldredge calls a “cordial detente”.  We sacrifice the passion for an amazing relationship, in exchange for “smoother daily operations”.  That hits home!  Steve gave the hyperbolic example of going to the beach with your family and seeing a sign with the warning: your odds of a shark attack today are 50%.  None of us would casually dismiss that, allowing our kids to play in the water with a nonchalant “swim fast!  Be safe!  Keep your eyes open!”.  So why do we go into marriage, or stay in our marriages, with a similarly casual attitude– just hoping for the best?

I want to serve my husband, giving him my best, not my leftovers.  Not servitude, but true love showing itself through giving.  Dennis comes second, right after Jesus, and wouldn’t it be great if I actually lived as though that were true?  I do most of the time, but I need reality checks often.  Even the best marriages take intention and effort and I don’t want to settle for less.

Not Normal

Yesterday we finished up a sermon series at church called Ri-dik-yu-lus, which I loved.  The central message was, “if you want want normal people have, do what normal people do.  If you want what few people have, choose to do what few people do.”  Pastor Steve talked about normal vs. ridiculous prayers yesterday.

The thing that stood out to me the most was this: the way you pray reflects what you believe about God.  He used an illustration of a “normal” family facing an issue in their lives.  They talk to their friends, do everything in their power to solve the problem, come to the end of their rope and decide “well, all we can do now is pray”.  How often is that true of us?  I think God wants us to pray while we act.  Not sit around waiting for him to answer and not do anything, but “push and pray” as Steven Furtick says.  He tells of the day when his wife was in labor with one of their children and things got a little dicey at the end.  The doctor and nurses went on high alert because the cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck and she needed to push that baby out!  He talks about how he was glad that the medical team didn’t just gather around the bed and pray for everything to turn out right.  They took action!  Push and pray!

Normal people pray normal prayers, safe prayers.  Don’t go out on a limb.  What if God doesn’t answer the way we want him to– let’s not make God look bad or get our hopes up, only to be disappointed.  Here’s the thing.  When you pray and God doesn’t do what we ask in the way we want him to do it, it doesn’t have to rattle our faith.  We can choose to believe that God is sovereign, he is a good God, and he is in control. 

My final insight from the sermon was this question: if God were to answer all your prayers from this past week with a yes, just stamp them all yes, how would the world look different?  In other words, are you praying ridiculous prayers or normal prayers?  Just for those closest to you or for more than that?  A related question might be, if God were to answer all your prayers with a yes, would you have asked for more?  This isn’t presumptuous– it’s bold!  Pray with boldness and for boldness.  Pray for miracles to happen.  You won’t manipulate God.  But don’t underestimate him either!

God is better than we thought

What I’d really like to do this morning is transcribe the entire chapter from Beautiful Outlaw because it is just so good!  I think that might get me in trouble with copyright laws of some sort and I don’t really want to blog from jail, so I’m going to do my best to bring out the essence and really encourage you to go buy the book!

Throughout the whole book, the author has been looking at different aspects of Jesus that we overlook, coming back again and again to the theme “and this is why I love Him… this is what is so amazing about Him… this makes me adore Him.”  He brings out the personality of Jesus in a way that just makes you love Him!  You can admire someone from a distance, respect them, think they’re cool.  But the only way to love someone is to know them up close, to see them for who they are, to see their personality come through.  We don’t often do that with Jesus.  We gloss over the stories that we’ve heard before (sure, Jesus walked from Judea to Galilee– did you know that’s 70 MILES?  He was human and humble enough to walk, when he could have just appeared wherever he wanted to.).  There’s this religious glaze that has accumulated in our minds, obscuring the beauty of who and what Jesus is.  It’s imperative to strip that away if we want to experience Jesus.

And that’s the point.  Eldredge says:

All of this is merely entertaining unless it opens the door for us to experience Jesus.  The best thing we can do now is pause, before we are saturated with more information about Jesus, and begin to discover him for ourselves.  Experience him personally….

Friends, this is not simply a nicer view of Jesus… This is not confetti– lovely while it falls, soon to be swept away.  Jesus is our life.  We need Jesus like we need oxygen.  Like we need water… Jesus is not merely a figure for devotions.  He is the missing essence of your existence.  Whether we know it or not, we are desperate for Jesus…

A true knowledge of Jesus is our greatest need and our greatest happiness.

Wow.  It’s so simple and yet so… unfamiliar.  When I say unfamiliar, I mean that we aren’t used to thinking of him this way.  Sure, we know that he died on the cross for our sins and wants to work in our lives, he did amazing miracles and we ought to pray to him and all that.  But our greatest happiness?  That jolts me out of what I “know” and into a whole new world.

He goes on:

Love Jesus.  Let him be himself with you.  Allow his life to permeate yours.  The fruit of this will be breathtaking.

Now for the best news you will ever receive…

You get to.

You are meant to have this Jesus, more than you have each new day, more than you have your next breath.  For heaven’s sake– he is your next day, your next breath.  You are meant to share life with him– not just a glimpse now and then at church, not just a rare sighting.  And you are meant to live his life.  The purpose of his life, death and resurrection was to ransom you from your sin, deliver you from the clutches of evil, restore you to God– so that his personality and his life could heal and fill your personality, your humanity, and your life.  This is the reason he came.

Anything else is religion.

God is better than we thought. Much better than we feared.  Better even than we dared to believe.

Yes, yes, and yes.