How Changing One Habit Transformed a Marriage

For months after I fell in love with Brad, my feet barely touched the ground.  He sent love notes on tiny papers and read me poetry; we walked the length and breadth of Manhattan, deep in conversation.  I thought Brad was perfect; I thought we were perfect.

Thirteen months after our first date, we were married in the church where I worshipped as a child.  We moved from New York to California, and less than a year later, our first son was born.  We worked at parenting, our jobs, and serving in church.  I longed to fulfill each role with excellence, but the demands of each one seemed to steal time and attention from the others.  Disappointed with my own performance, I developed a perverse addiction to niggling my less-than-perfect husband with criticisms.

If I was stressed and he asked me to help him with a task, I sighed or rolled my eyes.  If he left tools on the patio, I would groan.  One day, he said, “I think my spiritual gift might be faith.”  I cackled.  Inside I was thinking of George Muller and Amy Carmichael, next to whom anyone’s faith would be small.  I ignored the living hope my husband maintained that things would improve; that if his boss was upset, tomorrow’s assignment would earn him favor; or if our two sons were fighting, patient conversation would help them reconcile.

As I participated in a women’s Bible study, I began to recognize my criticism of my husband was wrong.  One day, I overheard myself grumbling under my breath about something Brad had done.  I said aloud, “I don’t want to criticize him anymore.  God help me.”

I tried recording my daily number of criticisms.  The first day, I tallied five or six.  The second day, four.  The third day, fifteen.  I had believed the false story that Brad should be flawless, because I believed that I could be flawless.  Tallying helped me recognize the magnitude of my critical flaw, but it didn’t help me recover.

My sister recommended The Power of a Praying Wife, by Stormie O’Martian.  I began praying one of Stormie’s scripture-based prayers every day. The first prayer ends, “God, give my husband a new wife, and let it be me.”  Daily prayers aligned with God’s desires for Brad began to change my heart.

Later our pastor, Matt Chandler, taught a sermon series about God’s Beautiful Design for men and women.  While preparing us for communion, Matt said, “God would never roll his eyes at you.”  As that truth penetrated my mind, I felt a wall around my heart dissolving.  If God responded to my mistakes and failures with compassion and kindness, valuing me more than he valued my accomplishments; I wanted to respond to Brad that way, too.

Brad and I enrolled in a twelve-week program called Steps.  The first four weeks examined the gospel, which reminded me that God, the perfect Father, runs to forgive us and welcome us home, even when the only thing we’ve done right is to begin walking towards him, realizing how much we need his help.

During the middle four weeks of Steps, we inventoried our failures and people to ask for forgiveness.  Brad topped my list.  I wrote the sins against him I needed to expose.  One day we sat outside in the sunshine and I confessed.  Like God, Brad forgave me.  The wall in my heart dissolved further.  Forgiveness, God’s and my husband’s, freed me to begin becoming Brad’s new wife.

Today we celebrate our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary.

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Forgiveness, God’s and my husband’s, freed me to begin becoming my husband’s new wife.  Photo Credit:  Tracey Crackel

Application:  Dear friend, if you are wrestling to conquer your own critical spirit, I encourage you to continue to fight.  Weary friend, when you recognize the magnitude of God’s grace to you, that abundant grace will begin to flow out of you towards others, especially those nearest and dearest to you.

Reflection:

A friend suggested that most people who are critical don’t realize it.  They intend their comments to be helpful, not realizing that they tear down, rather than build up; discourage, rather than encourage.  Do you have a relationship habit that needs to be uncovered and dissolved under the waterfall of God’s grace?

Recommended Reading:

The Power of a Praying® Wife by Stormie Omartian

Steps Member Book: Gospel-Centered Recovery by Matt Chandler, Michael Snetzer

A Vision of Jesus, Especially for Warriors

As I returned from a sunrise walk, an elderly man called out, “How far do you walk?”  When I told him, he said he walked that same distance.  Then he shared his story, revealing he has walked a much longer, harder road than I.

Jim was a United States Navy Seal, an expert in the lethal use of knives.  In 1969 he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.  His torturers caged him partially under water.  He survived by eating bugs and grasses.  The enemy tried to make him divulge military secrets.  After rolling up his sleeve, Jim tapped the metal plate protecting a broken bone that will never heal; he lifted his hat and showed me the place where another plate replaced crushed skull; he showed me the tip of a finger where bone had been reconstructed with steel.  After he was rescued, he spent one year in the hospital recovering.

When he finally arrived home, his wife told him about the dignitaries who attended his funeral and the medals he had earned, including two purple hearts and the congressional medal of honor.  She also told him he was no longer welcome.  Thinking he was dead, she had married another man.  She said, “You won’t hurt him, will you?”  He said, “No, I’m too tired.”

He told me the medals of honor don’t stop the nightmares that haunt him every night.

Through tears, I said, “Thank you for your service to me, to all of us.”  He said, “Don’t cry for me, I have made my peace.”  I prayed aloud, looking him in the eyes, “God, thank you for the privilege of hearing Jim’s story.  Please bless him every day for the rest of his life.”  He said, “I am blessed,” and showed me a photograph of his daughter and two grandchildren.

On and off throughout that day and night, I prayed that Jim would be relieved of his nightmares.  When I walked the next morning, I realized the reason his story had moved me.  So many aspects of it reflect the greatest story.

I remembered another tortured and imprisoned man’s vision of Jesus:  not the one where Jesus, holding a lamb, looks down with gentle, compassionate eyes, but the vision of Jesus, as a victorious warrior.  He’s dressed in white with a sash of honor across his chest.  His hair is white; his eyes fiery.  And, I’ve always wondered about this in the past, his feet are bronze.  Jesus’ once scarred feet shine.  Could it be that Jesus’s feet were so destroyed by the torture he endured that he now has metal, prosthetic feet?  His bronze feet forever remind us of his sacrifice for us, just like Jim’s scars helped me to understand the sacrifices he made.  And, like Jim, Jesus’s weapon is a sharp blade.  The glorified Jesus, almighty warrior, continues to be on active duty in spiritual battles, fighting on our behalf, powerful enough to overcome any enemy.

There is nothing, no terrifying memory, no vindictive person, no dark spirit able to overcome him.  This Jesus longs to walk beside each one of us as our defender and friend.

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The glorified Jesus, almighty warrior, continues to be on active duty in spiritual battles, fighting on our behalf, powerful enough to overcome any enemy.  (I found this image on Pinterest with no credit given.)

Application:  Dear friend, do you have a terrifying memory or deep regret that haunts you?  Have you thought that you need to live with the consequences of past hurts?  Weary friend, I long for Jesus to set you free.

Reflection:

What experiences have you had in the past that caused or continue to cause you suffering?  How are you taking steps towards recovery?  If you have not found relief, who might you ask to help you?

Recommended Reading:

Warfare Praying: Biblical Strategies for Overcoming the Adversary  by Mark I. Bubeck

How Prayer for my Aching Feet Healed my Heart

As I teacher, I found that proximity was key to classroom management.  I was constantly on the move, making sure my students were using their time wisely.  This had an unexpected result; I developed plantar fasciitis.  Each morning my first steps were excruciatingly painful.

Around my thirty-ninth birthday, Pastor Jim preached a sermon about Asa, an ancient Israeli king.  The story ends with this verse, “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet.  Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians.”

I am not sure what the main point of that sermon was, but I knew I needed to ask for Pastor Jim to pray over my painful feet.  When I asked, he said something like, “We believe that healing can happen in three ways.  God can and does heal instantly, miraculously.  He also can heal through the common grace of doctors and other health aids.  We will ultimately be completely healed in heaven.  We do not know which of these means he will choose to use to heal your feet.”  Then Pastor Jim showed me this Bible passage, “Is any one of you sick?  He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.  If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

He asked me to spend a week asking God to reveal any sin in my life, so that I would be prepared to confess it to the elders before the prayer for healing.  I agreed, but I thought of myself as a good person, so I didn’t expect to uncover much.

But as I prayed, God revealed two sins to me:

  • Pride that thought I could do most things without help from God or other people
  • Pride that was more concerned with my reputation being damaged, than I was about my son’s immortal soul.

The next Sunday after church, I confessed my sins to the assembled elders.  Pastor Jim anointed my forehead with a tiny drop of oil.  He and the elders prayed aloud.

That afternoon I rode my bicycle to the beach.  As I walked on the sand, my feet tingled.  Between the place where the waves crested and the place where they broke, I noticed a flock of gulls paddling.  I felt the Lord was saying to me, “That’s where you are:  paddling in rough seas, but safe between the waves’ crests and the breakers.”

My plantar fasciitis slowly healed.  I learned to wear supportive shoes and went through two rounds of physical therapy.  But asking God for help healed broken places my heart I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.  C. S. Lewis wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

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Dear friend, do you have physical or emotional pain you are trying to ignore?  Weary friend, I encourage you to ask wise leaders in your church to pray for you.  

Application:  Dear friend, do you have physical or emotional pain you are trying to ignore?  Weary friend, I encourage you to ask wise leaders in your church to pray for you.  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Reflection:

What hurts?  Who can you ask to pray for healing for your deepest pain?

Recommended Reading:

The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis

 

The Amazing Benefit of Asking for Advice

Maybe it is because I am the oldest of seven children; or maybe it is my pride; but I like to do things myself.  I don’t like to admit when I’m struggling.

But once, when we were living in the Netherlands, concern for one of my sons was so heavy that I asked our pastor, Jim Jarman, if we could meet.  He invited his wife, Lynn, to join us.  After school on the day of our appointment, I rode my bicycle from Wassenaar to Leidshendam.  I shared my concerns with Pastor Jim and Lynn, expecting that they would give parenting advice.  Instead Lynn said, “You don’t trust God with your son.”

Self-defensiveness rose in me.  But as I cycled home, Lynn’s comment echoed in my mind.  I remember the moment when the fietspad turned and, coasting downhill into a tunnel under the train tracks, I realized what she said was true; I didn’t trust God with my son.

So often when I am struggling, I want to blame someone else, but God is teaching me that the solutions to my problems start with examining my own heart; assessing my own relationship with God.  Lynn’s truth-in-love words helped me begin to learn that lesson.

On this day of the year, we remember how Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and, servant-like, washed his friends’ dusty feet.  When he finished, he said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

It would have been easier and safer for Pastor Jim and Lynn to give parenting advice.  But instead they washed my dusty heart, inspiring me to trust God and to be more patient as God worked with my son.

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It would have been easier and safer for Pastor Jim and Lynn to give parenting advice.  But instead they washed my dusty heart, inspiring me to trust God and to be more patient as God worked with my son.

Application:  Dear friend, if you are struggling, asking for advice from a wise counselor is worth any risks.  Weary friend, when a trusted friend gifts you with tough advice, spend time in solitary reflecting on it.  Speaking the truth in love can be like surgery; it hurts, so it can heal.  Weary friend, are you struggling to trust God with those you love, as I am?  God, give us faith to believe you are both caring and capable.  “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Reflection:

How are you struggling to trust God?  Who or what might help you learn to trust him more?

Recommended Reading:

Prodigals and Those Who Love Them: Words of Encouragement for Those Who Wait by Ruth Bell Graham

The Most Effective Way to Speak Hard Truths

Aunt Ruthie, my mother’s youngest sister, went out of her way to spend time with my sister and me when we were middle schoolers.  She drove us in her car, wind in our hair, music blaring.  She took us on our first trip to a mall; and treated us to our first restaurant lunch.  I ordered a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich: salty, sweet, crunchy, gushy…delicious!  When I reach out to someone younger or someone others might ignore, it might be because Aunt Ruthie reached out to me first.

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Aunt Ruthie took us on our first trip to a mall; and treated us to our first restaurant lunch.  I ordered a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich.  Delicious! Photo Credit:  Steve Kerr

In my later teen years, I chose a one-piece bathing suit on my own.  I loved its asymmetric leafy print, but the derierre was skimpier than I realized.  My mother diplomatically asked me to try it on and show Aunt Ruthie, who said it wasn’t flattering.  I protested and cried a bit, but Aunt Ruthie volunteered to help me return the bathing suit and choose another one.  Whenever I have the courage to speak hard truth lovingly, it might be because Aunt Ruthie cared enough to speak the truth to me first.  Whenever I help someone to follow through and live the truth, it might be because Aunt Ruthie helped me pick a better bathing suit.

Wherever we have lived, Aunt Ruthie has sent birthday greetings to each person in my family, and over one hundred others.  I asked how she remembers.  She answered, “Every year I write the names…on my kitchen calendar.  I write the cards monthly—first I pick out cards, then decide on [Bible] verses for each person, and then write the cards.  It’s my way of keeping in touch with people I love and pray for, but don’t see often.”

Recently I shared my anxiety with Aunt Ruthie about the purchase of our new home.  The next day she sent me this quotation, “Give me ten million dollars, and one reversal of fortune may scatter it. Give me a spiritual hold on the divine assurance that ‘the Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want’, and I am set for life. I cannot go broke with this stock in my hand. I can never be bankrupt with this security.”  (Charles Spurgeon)  See how she continues to speak truth into my life?

A rich young man once asked Jesus what he should do to get “eternal life.”  Jesus told him to obey the commandments; the young man said he had.  Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  Maybe the young man wanted affirmation for his efforts to be a good person. Jesus lovingly implied that only being perfect is enough; and we can’t achieve perfection by our own efforts. Each one of us needs a heart, transformed by God. We need to value treasure in heaven more than treasure on earth; and following Jesus more than independence and self-sufficiency.  This truth was too hard for the young man; he went away sad.

Application:  Dear friend, we earn the right to speak truth into another’s life by faithfully caring.  Loving makes us brave enough to speak hard truth, even when we anticipate the listener might protest or cry.  Weary friend, I often shy away from speaking hard truth.  I’m not brave enough because I don’t love enough.  Or I blurt out hard truth with an irritated tone, harming rather than helping.  Jesus demonstrated speaking the truth in love; Aunt Ruthie demonstrated it, too.  God, help me to follow.

Reflection:  Who needs you to lovingly speak the truth into his or her life?  How can you cultivate a heart that listens and learns when hard truth is spoken into your life?

Recommended Reading:

Powerful Conversations: How High Impact Leaders Communicate by Phil Harkins

Why You Should Ask Children For Advice

Throughout my teaching career, I found that the best advice came from my students.  In the early years, I regularly surveyed my students asking, “What should I keep on doing?  What should I stop doing?  What should I add that is new?”  Students let me know that it was hard to see when I wrote with red or green marker on the board; that black and blue were clearer.  They told me they liked knowing each day’s schedule at the beginning of class.  They told me they would like to spend more time studying biology outside.  Whenever possible I implemented their advice.

When we moved to a new place, we would first look for a school for our sons.  Then I would apply for a job at that school, since I wanted to have the same hours and vacation schedule as our boys.  Each time, God provided a job:  in England I taught grade six biology, in the Netherlands I taught grade seven biology, in Singapore I taught grade eight general science.

But then Brad was notified on June first of a surprise transfer back to the Netherlands.  I telephoned to see if my former school had a job available for me.  A few days later, they said, “We have a high school grade nine and eleven chemistry position available.  We think you can do it.  Do you think you can?”  I took a risk and answered, “Yes.”  Then I spent two hours most days that summer studying chemistry, re-activating my memory of content I had not glanced at since university days.

I loved teaching chemistry:  it’s orderly systems, interesting mathematics, and practical applications.  Laboratory work was especially engaging.  But sometimes when I was teaching difficult concepts, I confused students.  I am so thankful for one student, who would raise her hand the instant she didn’t understand.  She was so aware of the progress of her own learning, that she could pinpoint exactly when she got lost.  Her questions taught me to slow down; to check for comprehension more frequently; and to treat my plans more flexibly.

Long ago, there was a Syrian warrior named Naaman, who had a skin disease.  His wife’s maid, a young Israeli girl, who had been captured, said, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria!  He would cure him.”  Naaman followed her advice and not only was his skin restored, “clean like that of a young boy,” but also he chose to worship only the prophet’s God even after he returned to Syria.

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God sometimes sends children to teach us.

Application:  Dear friend, being teachable is more important than being right.  God sometimes sends children, students, employees, coworkers or spouses to teach us.  Weary friend, pridefully defending the way we do things, and ignoring advice, can make us weary.  Good advice is a gift that can help us find a better way.  I need to re-learn this.

Reflection: 

How might asking for advice help you to fulfill your purpose?  Who might you ask for advice?

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Recommended Reading: 

Humility: True Greatness by C. J. Mahaney

Reporting Suspected Abuse Can be Confusing

I loved my teacher education classes.  I applied to student teach elementary aged students.  My sons were in preschool and grade three, so I was confident with children their ages.

My first four-week assignment was with a third-grade class.  Every morning my supervising teacher wrote the plan for the day on the left edge of the green board in her best handwriting.  She began the day by talking through it with the students.  I imitated this habit throughout my career.

My second four-week assignment was with to fifth-grade.  The teacher had recently given birth to twins and was struggling to transition back to work.  One day she was absent, and a substitute was assigned to our class, as required for insurance purposes.  But I taught and managed the class that day.  Students were quietly working in response to an assignment and one girl raised her hand.

“Mrs. Kerr, can I borrow your sweater?  I fell on my tailbone this weekend and it hurts.”

I folded up my red bulky sweater so it could serve as her seat cushion, and she sat on it.  But throughout that day and night, I turned her question over and over in my mind.  I looked up signs of abuse in one of my textbooks.  A few signs applied to the girl who had borrowed my sweater:

  • She seemed distracted, distant, insecure or withdrawn
  • She had recently begun to skip lunch
  • She would sometimes recoil from incidental contact

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We had been taught to report suspicions of abuse, so I went to school early the next day, not sure that the clues I had observed added up.  When I walked into the faculty lounge, the school counselor happened to be there.  I asked if I could speak to him privately.

Not realizing my supervising teacher had been absent, the counselor went directly to her for clarification.  She reacted angrily, asking why I hadn’t informed her first.  Our interactions that day were tense.

I left school thinking my teaching career might end before it began.  But it didn’t.  That evening the principal called and told me that it was likely my student had been abused.  Child Protective Services were investigating further.

The Christian Bible tells us to “defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.”  But doing that can be confusing, risky, and tiring.  Maybe weariness is sometimes a badge of honor?

Application:  Dear friend, whether you defend someone short term, like I did, or long term, you are doing the kind of work God does.  “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Weary friend, pray daily for alertness, wisdom and bravery as you watch over those entrusted to your care.  Ask for advice and help from others, too.

Reflection:

How are you currently living out the call to defend the weak?  Who could help you do that more effectively?

Recommended Reading:

Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal by Eric L. Johnson