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 Gifts of Words Maintain Friendship

We had not been living in Abu Dhabi long, when I met Geetha.  Assigned to the same Bible Study small group, we sat down at a folding table across from each other.  I glanced up at her warm brown eyes.  We were instant friends, despite many differences.  Geetha grew up in India; I grew up in the United States.  After I invited Geetha for lunch at our home, she confided to me that she gets nervous eating with utensils.  Instead she daintily picks up her food with the tips of her fingers.  She says it tastes better that way.  With Geetha as my tutor, I tried eating biryani with my fingers, but was too worried about making a mess to tell if it had any influence on taste.

So, how did we become instant friends?  I am not entirely sure.  We seem to carry ourselves similarly in the world.  People sometimes mistook one of us for the other.  We have both lived in multiple countries; we are both teachers; we both love the Word of God; we both practice Christian disciplines.  But we didn’t know any of that at first glance.  I think our friendship was a gift from God in a season when I expected to be lonely.

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Throughout our friendship, Geetha has given me words, God’s words, as gifts.

In Abu Dhabi, we made memories together:

  • We spent a Quiet Day  at another friend’s home.
  • Geetha and her husband, Dev, joined Brad and I in celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.
  • Brad took Geetha on her first ever experience of dune-bashing.

Throughout our friendship, Geetha has given me words, God’s words, as gifts. The first was, “All of your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children’s peace.”  Although Geetha has daughters and I have sons, we both pray this verse for our children.

For my last five birthdays, Geetha has carefully selected encouraging word-gifts for me.  2018’s verse:  “The LORD will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”  Although we now live on opposite sides of the world, Geetha, with the Holy Spirit’s insight, chose words, perfect for this season:

  • Living in a van means we often need guidance about where to stay, and when to go; we search for balance between time with others and time alone.
  • We are in the process of moving to California, where there is a long-term drought.
  • My physical frame could use a little strengthening.
  • When I am weary, I tend to be irritable, rather than encouraging. I long to be more like a refreshing spring.

Application:  Dear friend, some friendships begin at first glance, others take time to develop.  I think we need both kinds.  Thank God for the precious gift of friendships sustained by encouraging words.

Reflection:

How might you offer the gift of encouraging words to a friend today?

Recommended Reading:

If Paul Needed Friends, So Do We by Tony Merida

The Power of a Praying® Woman by Stormie Omartian

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

Mowing the Lawn, a Divine Opportunity?

When we returned to the US after twenty-one years abroad, we bought a house with an extensive lawn.  The homes we had rented during our expatriate years had, at most, low maintenance grounds.  Since my husband, Brad, was starting a challenging job and had a long commute, I volunteered to cut the lawn each week.  Initially I enjoyed the exercise and slowly touring the whole property from behind the mower.  But as life in Texas got busier, I began to wonder if cutting the lawn was the best use of my time.  It didn’t seem to have a higher purpose.

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How can mowing the lawn be a divine opportunity?

One day, I was mowing early in the morning and two children whizzed by on scooters, followed by their parents.  Although I was rushing to finish the lawn, I felt an urgency to stop and introduce myself to them.  Knowing I was new to the neighborhood, they asked where I had moved from.  I said, “China,” and followed up with a thumbnail sketch of the foreign countries where we had lived.  Colleen, the mama, asked, “Which place was your favorite?”  I answered, as I usually do, “Wherever I am currently living.”

Colleen began to cry.  The dad, Robert, said, “We just found out that my company is transferring me to Chicago.  Colleen has always lived in Texas near her family.  She has been crying about moving all morning.”

I said, “It is very hard to move.  But my husband and I have found that each time we do, it deepens our relationship, since, initially, we are each other’s only friends.  We affirm our relationship by puzzling through each difficult transition together, and by re-creating home in a new place.  In ancient times, a lady named Ruth, affirmed to the person she was moving with, ‘Where you go, I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.’  I’ve sometimes heard this quotation used at weddings.”

Robert said, “We know that story.”  Colleen said, “I am going to write that quotation on the blackboard in our kitchen, so I can read it every day.”  I said, “You have no idea how helpful this conversation has been to me.  I was feeling like cutting the lawn was such a waste of time, but if I hadn’t been mowing, I wouldn’t have met you.”

Application:  Dear friend, all of us have tasks we’d rather not do.  Weary friend, it is easy to get in the habit of complaining about or avoiding those tasks.  My encounter with the Colleen and Robert taught me that God could use a task I didn’t want to do to position me in the right place at the right time.

Reflection: 

What task do you have to do regularly that you’d rather not do?  Tell about a time when that task became a divine opportunity.  If that hasn’t happened yet, brainstorm some ways that task might become a divine opportunity.

Recommended Reading:

Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View by Gary Friesen and and J. Robin Maxson

One Amazing Benefit of Demonstrating Grace

Most of my teen summers, I worked as a counselor in a Christian camp.  Each week, I’d be responsible for hosting one cabin of girls:  helping them to move into their bunks, waking them in the mornings, sitting with them at meals, leading a morning Bible study, getting them to their activities on time, and quieting them at bedtime.  My love of teaching and my holistic understanding of it as being relationship-centered were born at that camp.  I remember a week of lessons about Queen Esther where we experimented with lotions, perfumes and colorful scarves as we studied her story of faith and bravery.  I remember a lesson when my cabin group, sitting outside for Bible study, was visited by bees.  Fearful of them, because I am allergic, I stopped the lesson and prayed out loud, asking that they would go away.  They disappeared, and we all sat amazed, joyful, reassured of God’s specific care for us.

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I prayed, “Jesus, I want to follow you, but I’m not able to.  Help me!”

After the summer of my eighteenth year, I left home to go to college in New York City.  I explored university activities and the city itself with my beautiful, intelligent, worldly-wise roommates, none of whom knew Jesus.  Wanting to fit in with them, I began to ask my own versions of the Garden of Eden question:  “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not…’” I persuaded myself I could influence my friends for good, even as they influenced me to compromise.  But one compromise led to another until I had wandered farther than I ever expected.

I kept my wandering a secret from my family.  But every Sunday during worship I was overcome by remorseful tears.

The month of May brought final exams and as I prepared to return home for the summer, the Christian camp director called and asked if I would serve as a counselor again.  My heart sank.  For the first time I attempted confession.  I said, “I can’t, since I am not living right.”  In a generous act of grace, he called me back the next day and said the leaders had prayed and wanted me to serve as a counselor anyway.

I went to camp and heard again that Jesus loved me and died so I could be fully, freely and forever forgiven.  All summer I collected verses to help me to stand against temptations’ enticements.  I taped them inside of my jewelry box.  But after two weeks with my college friends, I had fallen again.  In my dorm-room mirror, I looked at my reflection, gray and shattered.  I prayed, “Jesus, I want to follow you, but I’m not able to.  Help me!”

The next day, I noticed a poster inviting students to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  There I met students who showed me how to follow Jesus at university. I started to study the Bible for myself.  Temptation became less attractive.

I realized that feeling distant from God makes me miserable. I need Jesus, and I need transparent relationships with other Christians to help me follow him.

Application:

Recognize the magnitude of God’s grace to you, dear friend.  I found that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”   Weary friend, risk grace towards others. The discipline of grace means you trust God to work in other people’s lives.  Your friends matter.  Choose friends who help you be your best.  There is danger in having only friends who influence you to compromise your values.

Reflection:

How might your relationships change if you demonstrated risky grace to others?

Recommended Reading:

Recovering Redemption: A Gospel Saturated Perspective on How to Change by Matt Chandler