Posted in Marriage Monday

Marriage Advice?

I don’t really know where the thought came from. It started running through my mind the other day, I think while I was processing through my morning devotional reading. And it has not left me alone since.

The thought was this: there is no such thing as universal parenting advice. I could write a book on all of my parenting tricks and tips. I could share my successes and failures, how my children have grown and matured both because of and in spite of my parenting techniques. And the things I share would, without a doubt, help some people, just as the advice and experiences of other parents have helped me. Ultimately, though, all those tricks add up to just that – tricks. They do not give the complete picture.

As I think back on all of the parenting advice I have ever given, I regret that I have never looked at a fellow mom and asked, “Can you pray while you are disciplining your child? Playing with your child? Teaching your child?” In the future, I desire that to become the core of any advice I give. Thinking back on all of my progress as a parent, I have grown the most and parented best when I have stopped in the middle of any moment – happy or sad, infuriating or exhilarating – and drawn upon the wisdom, joy, and strength of our heavenly Father.

Marriage is no different.

Recently, while enjoying a wonderfully peaceful, nourishing, and much-needed visit with my best friend, our conversation drifted toward marriage. We talked about the seasons when our marriages are tested. When communication is hard work and true health requires extra effort and attention.

My friend and I both hunger to pour into other marriages and see couples grow in their relationships with one another, their children, the world around them, and Christ. We have different specific passions – different ways we hunger to invest in relationships. But, the passion is there for both of us. As I continue to ponder our conversation, that pondering merges with the parenting thought, causing me to realize that our best tool for encouraging Christian couples is the same as the parenting advice: Can you pray in the middle of this?

Whether it’s an argument or a success. A stroll in the park or time apart. A season of closeness or a season of strain. Can you seek the Lord in the middle of it? If not, what’s holding you back?

There are too many times in my own marriage when pride and selfishness have turned my attitude sour and my responses toxic. Instead of praying for the right words, I have spewed out my own idea of justice. Even what I have intended to be positive has often turned ugly because it has come out of a heart that had chosen to not first ensure it was in tune with Christ. I have not sought the Lord in the midst of the situation. On the other hand, as with parenting, I have grown most as a wife in those times when I have been able to seek the One who ordained our marriage, no matter what the circumstances.

Whatever you are dealing with in your marriage right now, can your heart turn to your Savior in the middle of it? If not, please, precious friend, find your way back to Him first. When you do, all other marriage advice will fall into place.

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Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

These Things

1 & 2 Peter tug my heart in a special way. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is true, but they just might be my favorite epistles. Although I’m not currently reading in Peter’s epistles, I was recently flipping through my journal and was reminded of a thought from last year’s reading of 2 Peter 1.

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.
2 Peter 1:5-15

My journaled thought came from the end of this passage – the constant reminding. I am a teacher. I teach my own children. I teach youth. When I have opportunity, I lead or co-lead Bible studies. And I don’t mind repeating things. Ask my kids. Ask my Sunday school class! Half the time when any of the girls ask a question, I look back at them with a look that asks, “What do you think I’m going to say?” They know I’m going to remind them of the importance of a daily interaction with the Word of God. I have told them time and again that it’s up to them whether or not they actually heed my advice and make Scripture a prominent aspect of their lives. I cannot force them to do what they should. But, I can make sure they don’t forget the teaching.

At first glance, the last verses of this passage endorse my tendency to remind. But, as I ponder what verse 15 is really saying, I realize that the reference to “these things” is very specific, hearkening back to the qualities listed in verse five through seven: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. And suddenly, I’m convicted instead of applauded.

If I possess these qualities, I am “neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” and I “will never stumble.” But if I lack these qualities, I am “blind or short-sighted, having forgotten [my] purification from [my] former sin.” If I remember these things, I will be effective as a teacher, not because my listeners will all heed every word, but because every act of obedience brings glory to my Savior, and He uses it to produce fruit in His time and His way. But if I forget them…

My heart breaks with the realization of how often I forget or actively ignore the command to walk in these things. No wonder there are so many times when I cannot find wisdom, when I feel like I can’t get anything right.

Every now and then I put a sticky note on my monitor with a verse I want to regularly see and remember. The one currently staring at me is Ps 110:169, which reads, “Let my cry reach You, Lord; give me understanding according to Your Word.” I think He’s answered that prayer with the reminder of 2 Peter 1:5-15. And now, I think I have a few new verses that need to be stuck to my monitor and seared into my brain that I may live a life in which I am not useless or fruitless and do not stumble.

 

Posted in Wednesday Work, What I Do

Learning, Not Doing

I am realizing something as I learn and grow. What I do – the methods I have perfected over the years – isn’t automatically the best thing, even if it seems to be working. Sometimes, what I do need a serious overhaul.

Take my learning, for instance. I love to learn. And I like learning about practical things. How to do something. How to improve an area of my life. I like to gather resources that will help me out and supplies that will make a practical application easier. It’s fun to try to figure out all of the ins and outs, getting everything lined up and perfectly in place so that the doing will be easier.

There’s just one problem. I can go on and on and on without exhausting all there is to learn, figure out, or plan. In the process of trying to make the doing easier, I neglect to get around to the doing.

I justify my behavior by watching those on the opposite end of the spectrum. They are the ones who dive in full-force, doing without putting any time or effort into figuring out how to do what they’re doing. Sometimes they accidentally succeed, but more often than not they blunder their way into a mess. Surely my way is better than theirs, isn’t it?

Except that they, at least, are doing something.

Learning, planning, and gathering tools are important. But, they are as useless as the blundering mess if I don’t actually take a step and act. I suppose fear is often what holds me back, just as impatience leads the go-getters to skip the learning stage. I am afraid that I’ve missed something. Afraid that I don’t know enough. Afraid of failure. Embarrassing, humiliating failure. (Maybe there’s a little bit of pride in there, too.)

I don’t ever want to stop learning and exploring. But, if at some point I don’t also step out and do, then I am not walking in obedience. I’m not glorifying Christ in all things. I’m not furthering His kingdom or pointing people to Him. Instead, I’m just filling my brain with information that could be useful but won’t be because I don’t act.

Learning is good only if it leads to doing.

I want to learn to do.

Posted in Marriage Monday

Conflict Seen

I can’t remember when I first heard the “never argue in front of your children” advice. I definitely see the benefit. Children, especially at a young age, cannot process or handle the emotions that go with their parents arguing. It introduces insecurity and uncertainty. And that is a burden none of us want our precious children to bear.

And yet…

Have you ever met a young couple impacted by the fact that at least one of them never heard their parents so much as disagree with one another? I have. It’s an interesting sight. The first time this young couple has a disagreement, argument, or fight, the “sheltered” one is devastated. Convinced that the relationship must be doomed. Or, at the very least, certain that there must be something terribly wrong. After all, Mom and Dad never argued.

Or did they?

The undeniable, irrefutable, and even biblical truth is that all relationships are marred by sin. If we cannot even succeed in relating flawlessly to our perfect, pure heavenly Father, how can we possibly think we will ever relate perfectly to a fellow flawed human being? No matter how much love may exist in the relationship?

So, it follows that all married couples – yes, even the most grounded and mature – will have conflict in their marriage.

Now, let’s contemplate parenting for a moment. As parents, it is our responsibility to nurture and protect our children. But it is also our responsibility to teach and mold them. That includes finding opportunities to safely teach them how to handle the not-so-great (as well as the downright horrific) aspects of this world. We watch for opportunities to discuss and explain, exposing them to the difference between a godly home and what they will experience one day as adults trying to navigate this mess.

That brings us back to conflict between Mom and Dad. While on the one hand we do not want to air all our dirty laundry before our children, and we especially don’t want to show a divided front in parenting, I wonder if there might be times in which it is beneficial for our children to grasp that we are in conflict.

If they see us disagreeing, then see us work through the disagreement, then see us choose to hug and kiss and say, “I love you!” as we go our separate ways for the day, could that not bring benefit in the long run?

How many things have you learned about your spouse because you disagreed at some point? How have you matured in being able to swallow your own pride or offer a sincere apology or choose your words carefully? How much have you learned about the difference between arguments worth having and arguments not worth having? How has your prayer life grown?

When our children fight with one another, we step in and separate them. But, at some point, they are not going to have Mom or Dad around to step in and end the conflict. They are going to have to figure out how to end it themselves. They are going to have to learn how to find resolution and restore peace. How better to learn such things than to watch their own parents handle conflict in a manner that honors Christ?

Of course, the first step is for us effectively model handling conflict in a manner that honors Christ!

Our children are precious, and our hunger is to protect and nourish them. But, sometimes the best nourishment we can give them is to help them see how to live Christ-honoring lives in a dark and sinful world. And sometimes that means letting them see.

 

Posted in Wednesday Work, What I'm Learning

New Habits First

I was recently part of a book study group that processed through Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney. I already knew I struggled in so many areas of discipline. That study confirmed and enhanced that realization. A few of the disciplines are things that I have worked on in recent years and turned into habits – of sorts. But, I still have a long way to go.

One of the most immediate convictions was in the area of Scripture memory, probably because I’ve tried to start memorization efforts multiple times over the last few years, only to fail miserably every time. Since processing through the chapter on memorization, I have tried to restart the process and have had great intentions. There are note cards in my planner and I have a system. But, I still struggle to make progress.

I run out of time in my quiet time.

I forget to pull the cards out during the busy flow of the day.

I let multiple days go by between recitations, forcing me to backtrack and relearn.

After weeks of frustration, a realization hit me: last year when I wanted to start a new habit, I put it first. I wanted to read more books during my morning time. I knew I would dive into my Scripture reading every morning without fail. I didn’t want to diminish the importance of that in any way, but I knew how much time it typically required, so I read other books first, then switched over to the Bible at the appropriate time. Over the course of the next few months, I developed a habit of reading at least two different spiritual training books in additional to my Scripture and devotional reading.

Now I love it. Now it’s a habit. Now I will read additional books no matter when they fall in the morning routine. In fact, I have since returned Scripture reading to an earlier slot in the morning so as to ensure plenty of time for meditation. If I miss a day or two of my other books because I spend extra time meditating on the Word of God, that’s okay. The other reading is enough of a habit now that I know I will return to it.

Pondering this, I have realized that Scripture memory has always been at the tail end of my quiet time. When I run out of time because reading takes a while – which it always will! – it is too easy to drop the memorization off the end of my morning routine. So, I never make progress.

Could it be that easy? Could that truly be the simple, practical solution to establishing a habit of discipline?

It’s certainly worth a try! I can tap the voice recorder on my phone and recite those verses, playing them back later to check them. I can even work on it while pouring hot water into our French presses for coffee and Choffy – or while waiting for them to brew. Who knows? I might even end up taking a few notes here and there as I process what is being written on my heart and mind.

Discipline is often a matter of simplicity. Removing the gimmicks and tricks to try to apply something new and choosing instead to simplify. To shift details. To put new habits first on the list, knowing that everything else will fall into place behind it.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Be Still

Stillness. Solitude. Silence.

I was recently reminded (in a study through the book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney) just how necessary these disciplines are. And, when I am practicing them diligently, I definitely reap their benefits. But, oh how easy it is to fall out of that discipline! It does not take long to forget how to be still. How to soak up the solitude. How to embrace silence.

Any time there is a call to practice these disciplinary triplets, Ps 46:10 is bound to come up. It is regularly quoted and continually promoted as we attempt to step away from the chaos and truly embrace the presence of our God and Savior. But how often do we truly stop and contemplate the fullness of this particular psalm? What do we regularly recall of its context?

The opening verses speak of God’s presence in our trouble, even if the trouble is profound natural disaster. The awesome power of God’s voice and presence pound through the chaos in great might and victory. And that victory does not come in mildness. It is violent. Aggressive. He makes wars cease, but He does so through a show of power – a demonstration of the fact that He is, indeed, greater than all other kings put together and therefore has the authority to cause wars to cease.

In the midst of this, we get the well known instruction to “be still.”

Even though there is more to the verse, we put the emphasis on those two words – the “be still” part. We seek stillness. The ideal getaway. Sabbatical. The perfect season to stop and reconnect. And as we seek, we completely lose the context of what is being said here.

I re-evaluated this psalm lately by reading it in five commonly used translations, and here is what I found:

“Be still and know that I am God.” (KJV, ESV, NIV)
“Stop your fighting and know that I am God.” (CSB)
“Cease striving and know that I am God.” (NASB)

In the middle of an aggressive and blatant show of power, God practically bellows into the chaos, telling every power, every aggressor, every warrior, every nation to stop! Cease! Be still! And know that He is the only One in charge. Period. This is not a calm, reconnective moment. This is a show of true authority. It is seen in the middle of chaos. Utter and complete chaos that is shattered by the truth of God.

STOP! Be still! Stop your fighting! Cease striving!

Stillness is not a natural response to chaos. We keep pushing, keep working, keep trying to get on top. But God says stop and recognize who He is.

Can I? It bucks against everything my soul screams to do! It feels like giving up! It feels like surrendering in the most horrible of ways!

Will I? It is the epitome of obedience. It is surrender, but surrender to the One who controls the chaos in every way.

It is excruciatingly hard and incredibly vital.

So, I will be still, stop fighting, cease striving…
…and know that He is God.

 

Posted in Marriage Monday

Not My Best Friend

I have a confession: my husband is not my best friend. I’ve called him that before, but when I stop to think about it, I realize there is a different truth.

Now, before I go any further, let me emphasize that nothing I am about to say is intended to be critical of those who say their spouses are their best friends. That is great! It is wonderful! And, once

I share my perspective, you may end up laughing at me and saying, “It’s all just a matter of semantics, Ann.” But, I’m a writer. Semantics are important to me. So, hashing out these particular semantics is important to me.

Doug and I started our relationship as friends. Just friends. I respected Doug, admired him, and appreciated his friendship. But, I did not think of him in any other way.

Then our relationship changed. As we went from friends to good friends to becoming a couple, the way we interacted with one another became very different. And rightfully so. We were no longer in the friend zone. We were choosing to join ourselves together in a way that would always be unique to us.

As my husband of nearly 19 years, Doug knows me in a way no friend ever has. And, although the sexual intimacy is a part of that, it is a knowledge that goes far beyond the physical. It is a mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical oneness that we share with no one else.

Is friendship a part of that? Yes, most definitely. But this is also very different from what we once were as friends.

I’ve had several “best friends” throughout my lifetime. As a child, I had stretches of life when I was close to various other girls. In high school, I experienced my first true close guy friend. In college, there were more – girls and guys – I grew close to. Could trust. I could pour my heart out to.

And I still have friends like that. I still desperately need friends like Doug was to me before we became a couple. I need girlfriends I can trust and interact with freely, comfortably, and safely. I am thankful for the men – often husbands of women I am close to – I can trust and depend on without fear of relational issues. And in my mind, one of the reasons I can enjoy those friendships without fear of relational issues is because my relational definitions mark Doug as my husband and my friends – both male and female – as individuals used by God to meet a completely different need in my life.

I love that there is something incredibly special about the marriage relationship. It is unique. One of a kind. Irreplaceable. An intrinsic, inseparable part of my life.

I am thankful for the difference. The distinction in my head. It allows me to freely interact with friends without contest or conflict. For Doug knows – at least I hope he does – that there is not a single friend on the face of the planet who can be who he is to me.

Not my best friend. My husband. What a glorious relationship!