When Someone Joins this Journey

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A friend sent me a copy of a blog yesterday.  It was a blog sharing the loss of another Christian marriage. I’d already read it, but I opened it…just to glance at it again.  As if to remind myself what had just happened to this lovely Christian woman.  And fresh heartache came to me…not just for her and her family, but for the many husbands and wives who have had to walk this path.  Who have had to end a marriage through divorce because of the choice of a spouse to abandon.

Every week I hear at least one story of a marriage ending.  Every. Single. Week. Sometimes more than once a week.  It is always, always sad, but sometimes I find myself numb to it.  As though, my thoughts are, “Oh.  Again?  Yes, of course.”  It’s those words, “again” and “of course” that cause a deep sigh.

But I will admit that reading her blog shook me…a lot. My thought was, “Lord, what in the world?!? Can anyone to be trusted?”  I know the answer is a resounding, “YES!” but doesn’t it sometimes feel that the answer is “Well, probably not”?

I hear it echoed in conversations with my children who, although each wants to be married with a family, feel that nothing is guaranteed…no covenant is necessarily going to be kept.  It’s a reality of our world that relationships are often viewed as disposable, but dang…

I asked my son Peter, who desperately wants a tattoo, if he would consider getting one on his ring finger when he gets married some day.  He said, “No way, Mom! What if it didn’t work out?”  My heart breaks.

My daughter Emma recently shared with me that even if a young man presents himself as a believer, how is she to truly know?  What if he is just faking it?  What then?   I didn’t have an answer, except trust God.

That is a good answer for anything…for everything actually.

Marriage isn’t something we humans came up with…I believe God created and designed the covenant of marriage as the perfect picture of His covenant with us.  

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God to you and to your offspring after you.  Genesis 17:7

This covenant God made with His people – to never leave us or forsake us, to love us always – is beautiful.  A perfect God binding Himself in covenant with his very imperfect people.

And when two imperfect people bind themselves together in the covenant of marriage it is also a beautiful thing…to promise before God to love, honor, and respect one another, to live beside one another, united, committed to love until death…what a gift!  What a blessing!

Maybe it’s social media…all the stories we read.  Maybe it’s the ease of communication, the open sharing, the willingness to sin in public…I don’t know, but it feels as though a barrage of bad things is raining down sometimes.  

And I wonder if this is just the world now…vows and covenants and promises are truly disposable – just things that can be thrown away when they are no longer useful, relevant, or fun.  

It seems that working on a relationship is viewed as unnecessary. Why should we have to do that?  Things should just be blissfully wonderful all the time.  Right?  Not in my experience.

Why is working seen as a bad thing anyway?  We work towards many things we want…work towards getting, keeping or excelling at a job.  Work towards health.  Work towards fitness.  Work towards organization.  Work towards goals.  

Why is working towards a better marriage not considered a viable option by some.  Why do some bail?  I don’t understand.  I really truly don’t.

No person is perfect.  No relationship is without bumps – we, men and women, are made differently…wonderfully different.  God’s design.  And through relationship we grow, are refined, are challenged, are strengthened…through relationships God does amazing things in our lives…or not – if we don’t let Him.  If we are unwilling to invest in each other, to love sacrificially, to value one another, to fight for “us”, what hope is there for relationships that truly reveal the glorious covenant relationship we share with each other and with God?

Oh dear – I will step off my soapbox (a little bit…)

There is a way God wants me to see things.

All along, from the beginning, God had a plan for what marriage would be…what it would mean…what it would reveal about Him.

Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church because we are members of his body.  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.  Ephesians 5:22-33

We have twisted and tried to destroy that revelation, but God has not changed His plan or His vision for what this beautiful covenant means.

This covenant of love between us…the Bridegroom and His bride.

It is not shaken by man’s sin…not denied its power nor its message.  Not shattered like so many happily ever afters…

It remains intact…strong as from the beginning of time…firm in its foundation…held together by the very God who holds the stars in their places.  

Unshaken…never ending…never forsaking…never forgetting…unchanging…unaffected by time or tears or tests…always…forever…

My hope for marriage might wobbly a bit with each end of marriage message…but even in these moments of misery God is not absent.  He reminds me that He is the covenant keeper who never fails.  He will never abandon His children, His bride.

There is always hope because there is always God.

And when others share their stories of marriages ending, there is still hope.  Because as a dear friend pointed out, we don’t hear about the marriages going along smoothly…the marriages where grace, love and respect thrive, not perfectly but beautifully.  Mess gets the most attention.

But maybe we need to look beyond the mess and see the Bridegroom before us.  See the One who takes care of the Covenant completely.  Who doesn’t need us to do anything but trust that He has got it covered.

My marriage covenant shattered…my faith did not.  

My spouse abandoned…my Savior never will.  

My hope wavered…my Hope remains.  

My future seemed uncertain…His plan stands firm.

God’s covenant to be our God…to be with us always…to love us relentlessly, unconditionally, unceasingly…to provide an eternal inheritance beyond our imaginings…that Covenant will never shatter.

As we sojourn here, whether married, divorced, widowed, or single, it is our joy to remember that our Father is with us always.  There is no place, no circumstance, no sin beyond His reach…there is no person beyond His reach.  So as we pray for one another, encourage one another, identify with one another, weep or rejoice with one another, let us never forget the One who keeps the most important Covenant strong and unwavering. The One who knows what betrayal feels like, the One who felt abandonment, the One who choose to trust and obey in circumstances beyond our imaginings.  This is the One who goes before us, the One who stands beside us, the One who is always with us, the One who never, never leaves us nor forsakes us.

When I was in the thick of things a few years back this verse brought me comfort:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4:14-16

Jesus understood, still does.  He beckons us to trust confidently…to approach Him without fear…to know that He has all that we need.  

The Covenant is secure.

 

Can I Say “Really?!?” to God?

IMG_7221Have you ever felt like the verse you just read, the devotional you just opened, or the thought someone just shared was…well…for lack of a better word…ugh?

My sister-in-law Debbie sent me a devotional this morning. She surprises me with really beautiful encouraging texts. Just when I need them. This morning the devotional included this verse:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

But this morning, I responded, “Wow and ugh…”

And then I thought, when am I going to stop responding to God’s word with ugh?

When am I going to stop having such a negative view of His plans, will, and timing?

Because really, when I consider who He is and how He does things, shouldn’t I be really excited about His plan for my life?

He is perfect…His ways are perfect. His timing is perfect…who can’t get excited about perfect timing?

His plans are big picture plans like REALLY big picture…like eternity big picture plans. I have next 30 second picture plans. And even then my plans are still clouded by my not perfect thinking.

So when God says humble myself under Him and at the proper (just the right time) time, he will lift me up…why wouldn’t I humble myself?

What does that look like? Humble myself. I feel humbled a lot lately. But I think my definition of humbled is all screwy. My feeling like a failure is not me being humble. In fact, there is probably a little bit more pride than humility in that.

Humbling myself under God’s mighty hand is more about acknowledging that He is bigger, wiser, stronger, and better than me. In all the best ways.

Humbling myself under God’s mighty hand is me saying, “All yours, Lord. All of me. All my stuff. All my hopes, dreams, and even all my stress.”

Hence, the later verses… “…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

I can picture myself…loading all my stuff into a big old black trash bag…my stresses, feelings of failure, fears, insecurities, and even my hopes and dreams.

Struggling to sling it over my shoulder. Staggering under its weight – I have a lot of stuff to put in it.

Stumbling up to the throne of grace and laying it tentatively albeit awkwardly at His feet.

Stepping back embarrassed. My messy, sweaty self. Head down. Knees down.

I tentatively look up. The bag of burden is already gone.

And the only thing I see.   The only thing.     His eyes. Tender. Compassionate. Loving. Kind. Gracious. Smiling. Focused. Waiting for me to look.

Really look at Him. Really see.

See His love. See His forgiveness. See His strength.

And now my eyes adjust to the beauty of those eyes and now I see that His whole face is smiling at me.

He really loves me. Me.

Shaky, ashamed, red-faced me.

I’m still shocked that big ole ugly bag is gone. Doesn’t He want to pull it all out in front of me? Make me answer for it? Make me understand the great sacrifice dealing with it all is going to be? Doesn’t He want me to know what a mess I am?

I don’t understand. It must show in my face.

His smile softens more, if that is even possible. And He says to me, “Dearest child, it is finished. I finished it at the Cross. When I look at you, the apple of my eye, I only see my precious daughter.”

Is it okay to say “really?” to God?

Because sometimes when I realize His love for me…when I cannot deny what His word says about me, I want to say, “Really, Lord?” Do you really love me? Really? Because I’m so not who I think you want me to be. I want to be so much better.

And again, I cannot deny His word…He loves me.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are! 1 John 3:1

The thing that really surprised me when I was looking at verses about love was how often love is paired with mercy and forgiveness.

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin… Exodus 34:6-7

Just what I need – a lot of love and a lot of mercy and a lot of forgiveness.

When I drag my big ole bag of burden to my Savior, He greets me with mercy, forgiveness, and love.

Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

Now if I could just leave the bag there and not feel like I need to pick it all back up again.

Each day is a new day of mercy…a new day to begin again. A fresh start. Burden free.

Seems impossible right now. I pray and lay my burden down. I trust that God can handle it, but for some unknown reason I begin almost immediately to find things to stress about…and very often the very same things.

How do I lay it down and not pick it back up again? How do I trust when the answer isn’t there immediately or the situation still exists or the fear flairs again? How do I do it?

I guess that is another thing to pray about…that must be why God says to pray continually…without ceasing. Keep my mind focused on him…keep my thoughts centered on him….hold fast to the word of life.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:3-4

I guess when God shows me something that’s what I REALLY need to do instead of just always feeling like ugh and “Really?!!”

I think I’ll try  responding “Ok!” instead.

Maybe even a “Yes!”

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

The Process of Forgiveness: Steps 1 to 70×7

steps Recently I’ve had a few people tell that if I’ve forgiven my husband I should be in a better place.  From what I’ve heard I shouldn’t be angry at him again.  The only problem with this idea is that I gotta deal with the man and he’s difficult so that’s gonna be real hard.

It isn’t so much how he treats me – honestly, whatever.  But I do have a hard time with how he treats my kids.  So being human, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have to forgive him repeatedly and sometimes I’m gonna even get angry before I forgive.

I think there is this thought that once you forgive you forget and live happily ever after.  I wish that was the case.  It’s really more like this:

Forgive…move forward…something unpleasant happens…forgive again…move forward again…something difficult happens…forgive again…repeat until heaven…

I think if you are to a place that you don’t have to repeatedly forgive an unrepentant person for their continued rotten actions – you rock!  And I mean that! And I do truly wish I could be like you.

But I’m finding forgiveness to be a rather long and arduous process.  But God in his infinite wisdom, grace, love and faithfulness has some instructions and some encouragement for me (and you if you are like me).

I guess the first thing is this

Forgiveness takes time, effort, intentionality and God.

I don’t have it in myself to be a completely forgiving person, but God is utterly and infinitely forgiving and I have Him so that makes all the difference.

God can enable me to forgive anyone, but He also allows this whole forgiveness thing to be part of my sanctifying.  Do you remember how many times Jesus said you have to forgive?  70×7.  (Matthew 18:21-22) His point was that we need to forgive a lot.  Why would He say that we were gonna need to forgive so much if we weren’t gonna need to forgive so much?

I think that if Jesus was just talking about how much we forgive in general he wouldn’t have even needed to say 70×7.  I can absolutely forgive one person one time…it’s having to repeatedly forgive the same person that’s tricky.

In my situation with my ex – forgiveness must be offered without request or repentance.  In fact, I think we have been moving farther away from repentance rather than closer to it over these past few years.  So forgiveness is challenging – and continually choosing to forgive is also challenging (sometimes almost as much as the first time).

In marriage we must continually offer forgiveness.  It is the same in divorce.  But I’m kinda getting the impression from people that it is not okay to have to repeatedly forgive my ex.  That I should forgive and move on already.  (I think that is a message I’m getting about a lot of things, but I will hit that in another post.)

When I forgave my husband’s adultery and then his abandonment I didn’t’ understand the nature of forgiveness…at least not totally.  I kind of expected some warm fuzzies and some serious peace about things…a happily ever after of sorts.  Although I did experience that peace which passes all understanding, it came with a cost.  I had to and continue to have to lay aside my feelings in order to embrace the gospel as it relates to forgiveness.  And boy does it!

God has modeled forgiveness for us…and to us.

Forgiveness requires sacrifice on the part of the forgiver.

God sacrificed His son and Jesus sacrificed His life so that we could be forgiven.  God didn’t want to be separated from us so He made that sacrifice.  So that he could have a relationship with us.  That forgiveness offer is available to anyone who accepts it, but it only changes the nature of our relationship with Him when we accept it.  If someone doesn’t accept it – the relationship is not restored…in fact, there is no relationship.  And that sin still separates and grieves the Lord.  In fact, my sin still grieves the Lord even though I can ask for forgiveness and receive reconciliation.

Forgiveness is offered over and over again.

God continues to forgive me even when I sin repeatedly.  He accepts my repentance every single time.  He never says, “Sorry that is the 70×8 time you’ve done that…we are done.”  Oh my, I’m so thankful He doesn’t.

The difficulty we have…those of us who forgive because we are called to not because it was asked for by the offender…is that we must often deal with repeatedly being offended and continually having to offer forgiveness.

What has helped me immensely is understanding that I have truly been forgiven so very much and that, but for the grace of God, I could be that offender…that person who rebels.  I could be rotten…well rottener.  That gives me a measure of grace for my ex.

I see that often forgiveness is like love…it’s a choice I make, something I do even if I don’t feel it.  I decide I’m going to be gracious and kind and I act that way.  But that gracious kind way might have to come after a little bit of fussiness and anger.

But honestly, to think that the lousy things my ex-husband does are not gonna bug me?  Really.  (Please comment if you have no problem with that sort of thing and tell me how you do it!)

I love my kids and when they are hurting my mama bear comes out…can’t seem to help that.

And that brings me to my second point…

Anger isn’t bad.

It’s what we do with that anger that can be very bad.  Feeling a justified emotion is not a sin, but acting bitterly, unkindly, rudely, and punitively is.

God doesn’t say, “Don’t get angry.”  God says, “Don’t sin in your anger.”

It isn’t a bad emotion, it’s a valid emotion God gave us to signal that something is wrong…something needs to be dealt with.

God gets angry…and I am made in His image.

What about the Old Testament?  God has some righteous anger at Israel…it’s justified and often acted upon but always with the purpose of drawing His people back to Him.   Responding to my anger with the purpose of just simply punishing is wrong, but taking my anger to God and asking Him to give me wise ways to deal with it…that’s good.

I have read back through my blogs and I don’t see that I’m sinning in my anger at my ex-husband.  I admit I have anger towards him at times…again, human.  But I truly am trying to not sin in my anger.

The amazing thing is that God uses my anger to draw me closer to Him.  He’s cool that way.  He uses everything in our lives – if we will let Him – to draw us closer to Him.  He sanctifies us in the most amazing ways.

So despite what some people say or think, I do think I’m in a good place.  I’m forgiven and I’m learning to continually forgive…so far I think I’m on step 659… 🙂

Father, guard us against being prideful, bitter, and angry.  Soften our hearts, “renew a right spirit” within us, and give us compassion for our ex-spouses (Psalm 51:10).  Please help us be like Christ.  It seems impossible at times, but You tell us that we “can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens” us (Philippians 4:13), and we ask that You would give us strength to forgive 70×7 times because forgiveness gives us the ability to move forward and enables us to be used by You.  God, help us give our children the gift of a forgiving, loving parent.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Prayer adapted from When Happily Ever After Shatters: Seeing God in the Midst of Divorce and Single Parenting by me 🙂

Colorful Aspen Pines Against Deep Blue SkyStruggle

I think I use that word too much.  I think I should use a different word more often. Maybe…conquering.

 Don’t feel much like a conqueror.

 And yet, God tells me I am.

 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  Romans 9:37

 More?  More than conquerors?  Mind-boggling. 

 Sometimes I feel like all I do is struggle.  Struggle with fear.  Struggle with worry.  Struggle with anger.  Struggle with frustration.  Struggle with weariness.  Struggle with being overwhelmed.  Struggle with feeling like a failure or that failure is imminent. Struggle with not being the godly woman I desperately want to be. 

Lately I’ve felt like I just have got to get this struggle thing under control.  I just have to…I keep struggling with the same blasted things over and over again.  My sins are so annoying.

Things I thought I’d dealt with…I’d determined to overcome…have snuck up on me again.   How is that possible?  I honestly don’t understand how I can be so convicted and seek forgiveness and restoration and then slide right back into them.  Really?  Am I serious??

Last night I prayed and wept to God again at my continual slipping and sliding in my relationship with Him.  I love Him so much.  I want my life to honor Him…I mean really honor Him.  Not just a little bit…not just when I sing at church or write an article full of Scriptural references, but when life is challenging and overwhelming and frightening and just not what I planned, I want it to glorify Him.

Today was a no school day. Also known as a “no-get-anything-done” day. 

So I got nothing done. 

Well, I mean nothing I planned on doing.  And on top of that, it was a lovely day, and did I take my kids outside to play?  Nope.  I fussed at them for making messes inside and spent the day cleaning up after them without offering a better alternative.  Poor planning.  Poor attitude.  Poor children.  Instead of facing an unplanned day with a smile and some spontaneity, I tried to do it all and pleased no one!  I wish I’d taken advantage of the day with my kids – done something together…something fun.  Ugh.  Fail.

Lest, I sound like I’m hopeless.  Let me share what God is showing me.  Let me show you the sweetness of my Savior.  O How He loves me!

It might be a familiar verse but how sweet it is to my ears and my heart:

Romans 8:1-4

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who did not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Its so easy for me to focus on my mistakes and failures…there are enough of them!  But God does not desire that I live in defeat.  He does not condemn me…I keep being drawn back to 1 John 3:1,16, 18-24

See what kind of love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and so we are…. By this we know love that he laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers…Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.  And this is his commandment that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.  And by this we know that he abides in us, but the Spirit whom he has given us.

If God knows everything about me and yet does not condemn me, I don’t think I should do it either!

I believe my desire to live my life in a manner worthy of my calling (Ephesians 4:1) pleases God.  I believe that my sins are forgiven and thrown as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) – that’s pretty far away.  I believe that God calls me to live a life of victory – “But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57) I believe God is making me into the woman He designed me to be…despite me. 

May we rest in the knowledge that

God is a “God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Nehemiah 9:17b)

Jesus knows.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Hebrews 4:14-16

Jesus helps.

 “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

 Jesus does not leave us…ever.

 “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who drawn near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”  Hebrews 7:25

 Live by confident and courageous faith.

 “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.  For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”  But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”  Hebrews 10:35-39

There is hope and a future for us.

 “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:12-15

 Thanking God that even the struggle reminds me of how loving and faithful my God is to me.

 GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!!!

ALL THE TIME GOD IS GOOD!!!