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

 

How a Walk Will Rest Your Soul

I love to walk alone in early morning.  I started months ago, to get into shape and lose weight; but I have discovered deeper benefits:  witnessing sunrises, observing dawn’s light beautifying ordinary things, and being renewed.

I prepare the night before by collecting everything I’ll need:  clothes, shoes, water bottle.  Somehow this little pile motivates me to walk once morning arrives.  Curiosity motivates me, too.  Will the sunrise be flamboyant or muted, brightly beaming or subtly glowing, as it develops degree by degree?

On one morning walk, as I turned a corner, the sun, peeking over the horizon, stretched my shadow taller than a super model, powerful as a warrior.  I laughed aloud.

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On one morning walk, as I turned a corner, the sun, peeking over the horizon, stretched my shadow taller than a super model, powerful as a warrior.

On another walk, I noticed dew droplets like transparent jewels hanging on blades of grass, an exquisite, though temporary, treasure.  I knelt for a closer look.

I have seen rabbits and roadrunners, lizards and lakes, humming birds and new horizons.

Walking early enhances my mood:  sunrise paints hope across the clouds; physical effort builds strength; quietness brings peace; and joy rises from deep within, enough to overflow into the whole day!

King David, in the prayer he wrote at the end of his life, describes God as “like the light of morning at sunrise.”  The exquisite beauty of morning’s glow helped David, helps me, to sense the beauty of its creator.

Several other heroes of the Christian Bible, Enoch, Noah and Abraham, are honored by the description, he “walked with God”.  I am wondering, what does this phrase mean?  How can I live it out on my morning walks?  Bob Sorge wrote, “God created man for the enjoyment of a walking relationship that involved companionship, dialogue, intimacy, joint decision-making, mutual delight…”  Yes!  I want to walk with God like that.

Application:  Dear friend, doesn’t a walk, or a drive, or time sitting on a balcony at sunrise or sunset alone with God sound like an accessible regular retreat?  Weary friend, I encourage you to take steps towards more frequent soul rest.

Reflection:

How can you add times of solitude, exercise and times observing nature into your routine?  How can these times alone become times when you are aware of God’s presence and companionship?

Recommended Reading:

Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper

The Ultimate Cleaning Guide

I like things neat and orderly.  Piles and dirt unsettle me.  I clean to find peace.  But for the last six months my husband and I have been living in a van, where every cabinet and drawer is full.  Books are stored in a cardboard box behind the passenger seat, under the dirty laundry bag.  My sister, Maryann, has her own cleaning business, so I called to ask her advice for keeping a small place ship shape.

Her advice: “Don’t have too much junk.  We all have so much more than we realize.  Ask yourself, what’s in your van that you don’t want; and get rid of those things.  Clean one cabinet at a time, rather than the whole space, and then it’s not that bad.”

One of Maryann’s specialties is preparing homes for sale after their owners have passed away.  She said, “It is interesting what people save.  Many people save stacks of plastic containers.  Others save toys, long after their children are grown.  One person saved stamps, mistakenly thinking her collection was valuable.  Another collected hats.”  Maryann said, “Emptying a house is a lot of work, even if the person was neat.”

Maryann often finds stashed cash.  Once she found five thousand dollars behind a stereo system.  Other times she has found important documents that had been misplaced:  a truck title, passports, birth certificates.

Maryann sells what can be sold; donates what can be donated; recycles what can be recycled; and only after all those options are exhausted does she throw things away.  When she puts things on the curb for the trash collectors, she is glad when passersby pick them up, so they can be used.  Maryann recommends culling your possessions regularly.  She says, “If things are orderly, you can be at peace.”

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Maryann recommends culling your possessions regularly.  She says, “If things are orderly, you can be at peace.”

In ancient times, a king named Josiah ordered a massive cleaning project.  God’s temple had fallen into ruin.  While laborers were cleaning away rubble, they found a misplaced treasure, the Book of the God’s Law, written over six hundred years earlier.  When his secretary read the law to him, King Josiah realized how thoroughly his people had abandoned God and his wisdom.  In anguish and sincere regret, Josiah tore his robes and wept.  A prophetess reassured the king that, although the long-term neglect of God was going to lead to disaster, consequences would be delayed because God had observed Josiah’s responsive heart.  King Josiah and all the people, “from the least to the greatest,” went to the temple and Josiah read all the words in the precious book they had found.  Together they covenanted to follow the LORD and to keep his commands with all their hearts and souls.

Application:  Dear friend, a messy home can make you weary; a messy heart can make you wearier.  Each requires regular, thorough cleaning.  Another king, named David, wrote a prayer asking for God’s help cleaning his heart.  I have sometimes prayed his words, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”  The good news is that cleaning a messy heart all at once is not too much work for God.

Reflection:

How could little by little cleaning make your home more peaceful?  How could asking God’s help with heart-cleaning help you find soul rest?

Recommended Reading:

The Explicit Gospel (Paperback Edition) by Matt Chandler and Jared C. Wilson

Ease Your Load by Empowering Others

Jackie loves to invite people to the meetings for teen moms.  Whenever I called to ask if she was able to come, she always responded, “Yes, Miss, and what car are you bringing?”  Then she would invite enough people to fill the car; I insisted there not be more than one person per seat belt.  We taxied her babies, sisters, neighbors and friends.  One other leader watched us unloading and said, “Your car looks like a clown car; so many people come out of it.”

Our second year together, Jackie invited three new friends and their babies.  I was glad to learn they had their own truck, since I didn’t have room for all of them.  They loved the meetings, but admitted they didn’t understand the talks, since they were only beginning to learn English.  I was learning Spanish using an app called Duolingo, and had purchased a Spanish Bible, so I over-confidently tried to lead one small group discussion in Span-glish.  Our leader, Melissa, had a better idea.  Before the next meeting she asked Yesinia to lead a Spanish table discussion, and asked Jackie to be her assistant.  Yesinia came prepared with the discussion questions written out in her spiral bound notebook, along with related scripture references.  We passed my Spanish Bible around so the girls could take turns reading the verses aloud.  My role was to pray silently, to smile and nod, and to cuddle babies so the moms could participate.  And they did.  As Yesinia and Jackie led, the young women shared their struggles and longings, often with tears.  And they prayed together.

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Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. Photo Credit:  Yesinia

The development of the Spanish table discussion group at the teen moms ministry meetings illustrates the way God designed the church to work:  “now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  To Jackie was given through the Spirit the courage to invite friends to hear about Jesus; I understood the need to share the message in Spanish; to Melissa by the same Spirit was given the wisdom to ask native speakers to lead the Spanish table; and Yesinia was diligent to study God’s Word and to lead the discussion with transparency and kindness.  “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.”

Application:  Dear friend, maybe you’re like me.  When you notice something needs to be done; you jump right in and start doing it, whether you are good at it or not.  Serving in a role that is out of your comfort zone might be self-sacrificial, but it also might mean you’re standing in the way of someone whom the Spirit has uniquely gifted for that role.  One pastor wisely advised us, “A need does not constitute a call.”  Weary friend, when you notice a need, I encourage you to pray first, to seek wise counsel, and to encourage the right person to meet that need, even if it is not you.

Reflection:  How can you stop trying to do everything yourself, and begin to empower others to work in their areas of giftedness?

Recommended Reading:

Good to Great in God’s Eyes: 10 Practices Great Christians Have in Common by Chip Ingram

The Secret to Working Beyond Your Capabilities

My paternal grandfather, whom we called Opa, came to the United States from Germany as a young adult and initially worked with his brothers as a house painter.  One day he fell from a ladder and broke a bone in his hand, the metacarpal I.  Although it healed improperly, he could still use his thumb.  Since his hand never regained full strength, Opa decided to change professions.  He applied to dental school in Baltimore, and moved his wife and babies there.  When he attended the first day of class, the administrators said, “Why are you here?  We didn’t accept you.”  Opa said, “I’ve quit my job; I’ve moved my family here; you have to accept me.”  After some deliberation, the administrators decided to admit him on probation.  Through persistent prayer and strong, courageous effort, Opa found and fulfilled his calling.

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Not through a flash of light, but through persistent prayer and strong, courageous effort, Opa found and fulfilled his calling.

By mixing dental care with conversation and good counsel, he built life-long relationships with his patients, their children and grandchildren.  Because many patients were initially afraid of dental visits, Opa bought a harmonica neck holder, so he could play soothing music while working on their teeth.  Opa flourished throughout his career, practicing dentistry into his eighties.

Long ago, when Joshua was thrust into leadership by the death of Moses, God repeatedly encouraged him to “be strong and courageous.”  Although initially fearful and prone to mistakes, Joshua grew into an inspirational and effective leader, who always gave credit to the God for his success.

Application:  Dear friend, are you in a season of fear or a season of flourishing?  I think the hardest part of seasons of fear, might be uncertainty about whether we should persist or explore other options.  I am in a season of uncertainty as I begin to devote significant time and energy to writing.  May God give us the wisdom we need to know the way that will lead toward flourishing.

Reflection:

What profession or role have you felt called to fulfill?  What challenges have you faced in living out that calling?  How have you overcome them?

Recommended Reading:

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller