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.

IMG_1750
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

3 Amazing Benefits of Moving

Sometimes I think I was born to move.  I lived in six homes before my eleventh birthday.  I remember standing in front of my fifth grade class, being introduced as the new kid, and thinking, “I hope I never have to do this again.”  That wish was not granted; and I am glad.

Since we married, my husband, Brad, and I have lived in eleven different homes; and for the last six months our home has been a small RV.  I am grateful for moving because it motivates purging our possessions, revives our marriage, and births renewal.

Moving motivates purging:  we can’t take everything with us, and so we ruthlessly sell, donate, recycle and discard things we no longer need.

Moving revives our marriage:  when we move to a new place, Brad and I are each other’s only friends.  We need to search together for a grocery store, hardware store, places to exercise, restaurants and a church.  We need to work together to solve problems that arise in the transition; we need to re-create home, our place of rest.

Moving births renewal:  we arrive in each new place incognito.  A fresh start is an opportunity to start healthier habits, to try out new roles, to make new friends.

There was one time though, when I did not want to move.  We had lived in Wassenaar, The Netherlands, for a total of eight years.  I was working at a school I loved, The American School of The Hague.  I loved commuting by bicycle, and riding long distances through the dunes on weekends.  I was experiencing the treasure of long-term friendships.

But Brad got transferred to the United Arab Emirates; and we had to go.  I was distraught, and everyone knew it, especially Brad.  (Sorry, Sweetie!)  A wise friend who knew how much I love the Christian Bible suggested I find a verse to write in calligraphy each day.  I acted on his suggestion for several months, and it slowly re-focused my heart.

In a sermon a few weeks after we moved to the UAE, our pastor, Cam Arensen, suggested we “plow God’s Word into our lives.”  I love how God sometimes sends us important messages through more than one person, in more than one place.  As I mused on that phrase, I decided it meant I should read the same number of pages of the Bible every day, proceeding directly from the beginning (Genesis) to the end (Revelation).  This has become my daily habit, and I have found that when I plow God’s Word into my life something grows:  renewed understanding of who God is, renewed understanding of who I am, and an increasing supply of love and grace towards others.

IMG_0712
“Plow God’s Word into Your Life.”  Cam Arensen

Application:  Dear friend, whether you have moved frequently like I have, or you have lived in the same home long-term, you can organize a soul move.  Weary friend, your soul will flourish if you purge excess possessions and commitments, nurture your closest relationships, and plow God’s Word into your heart and life.

Reflection:

What areas of your life would benefit from a soul move?  What habits can you change to help that to happen?

Recommended Reading:

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin

Getting Married Doesn’t Need to Be Complicated

Not long after I met Jackie, she told me about a young man, Luis, who was interested in her.  The first time she met him, he had witnessed her baby daddy pushing her.  Luis had quietly said, “He shouldn’t treat you that way.”

Jackie’s baby daddy was the life of every party; Luis was thoughtful.  Jackie’s baby daddy was rough; Luis was gentle.  Jackie’s baby daddy abandoned her; before long Luis asked Jackie to marry him.

When their wedding day arrived, my husband, Brad, and I met Jackie, her family, and Luis’s father at the courthouse.  As we waited for the busy judge, I noticed Luis, as usual, was holding Jackie’s son and helping her to manage her active daughter.  Luis was ready to be not only Jackie’s husband, but also her children’s Dad.  Before leading Jackie and Luis in promising lifelong faithful love to each other, the judge read the love chapter from the Christian Bible over them.

Jackie and Luis Vows
Luis’s love for Jackie can help us understand a little of how God’s love transforms us.

“Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.”

Outside the courthouse, by a stand of evergreen trees, my husband took photographs of Jackie, Luis and her family.  We gave Jackie and Luis a gift card for Olive Garden, expecting the newlyweds to use it for a romantic couple’s dinner.  Instead they shared it with the whole family, ordering strategically so everyone could eat.

Luis’s love for Jackie can help us understand a little of how God’s love transforms us.  “You are the ones chosen by God…to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.”

Application:  Dear friend, by loving others, we can begin to transform their lives.  The beginning of Jackie and Luis’s love story demonstrates the power of kind, quiet, faithful love.  But, weary friend, every relationship will ultimately disappoint.  God is the only one who can love us perfectly.  Disappointments in other relationships can help us realize we need him.

Reflection:

What can you do to love someone in a way that transforms?  How can you open yourself to the transforming love of God?

Recommended Reading:

Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? by Gary Thomas

The Truth about God’s Romantic Love

In a basement room of the on-campus chapel, chairs were arranged in a circle for an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting.  As announcements started, we heard clicking on the stone hallway floor.  Then Brad, my future husband, appeared in the doorway, wearing metal cleats, red running shorts and a t-shirt, fresh from ultimate frisbee practice.  To my surprise, he crossed the room to sit beside me.

After the next meeting, while the group socialized outside on the chapel steps, Brad opened a bag of Starbursts, and went around giving out candy and learning people’s names.  Following almost every meeting after that, Brad walked home with me.  I assumed he lived on my street.

A few months later, our whole group gathered at a retreat in the countryside.  Memories from that retreat include:

  • A girl I was mentoring telling me she thought Brad was interested in her. To which I replied, “Oh, I think he’s the kind of guy who is nice to everyone.”
  • Our speaker, a Nigerian named Joe O., telling us that marrying a Christian during university would help us to follow the Lord life-long.
  • Brad asking a small group of people if they liked to eat squid. Having eaten calamari once, I answered, yes.

A few days after we returned to university, Brad called and asked me to dinner.  I said no, since I had promised to go home that weekend, but suggested we try the following Friday.  Friday came and Brad called to say he would be late, since his mother was in town.  This seemed an unlikely excuse to me, so I began coaching myself to think of this relationship as a friendship.  I used the unexpected time to visit Ms. Wideman, an elderly, single lady I knew.  I told her about the delayed date and she said, “Men are so unreliable.”  I laughed and lowered my expectations.

Soon after I returned to my dorm, the receptionist called to let me know Brad had arrived.  I gave permission for him to come up.  When he arrived, he was wearing a tan corduroy suit jacket with leather elbow patches.  I steadied myself with the door handle as my knees melted.  We walked down Broadway to Aesop’s Fables, a Greek restaurant about ten blocks away.  Brad asked me what I dreamed about.  I told him without any editing.  We ordered squid, and were so absorbed in talking that dinner took a long time, although it felt like only a few minutes.  On the way back to my dorm, we stopped to say hello to Brad’s mother, who truly was listening to a friend of hers play in a jazz band at the West End Lounge.

We said good-bye and thank you on the steps of my dorm.  The next morning, I found a hand-written note in my mailbox, which said, “It is amazing to have your highest expectations exceeded.”

Brad and I in DC
My husband Brad’s attentiveness and pursuit of me continues to teach me about the love of God. Photo Credit:  Brad Kerr

The Christian Bible describes God as a loving, wooing bridegroom.  Like Brad pursued me, God pursues us, actively reaching out for us, seeking to win our hearts.  He takes the initiative.

  • “Therefore, behold, I will allure her…and speak kindly to her…It will come about in that day, declares the Lord, that you will call me ‘my husband’…I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.”
  • I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”
  • “We love him, because he first loved us.”

Application:  Dear friend, you have a calling far more important than your career.  God calls you into loving relationship with him.  Weary friend, God longs to speak kindly and listen attentively to you, to set a feast before you, to love you forever.  His love will exceed your highest expectations.

Reflection:

How has the love of other people helped you understand God’s love?  How has disappointment with human love made you long for a more perfect relationship?

Recommended Reading:

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Timothy Keller