The Irrefutable Solution to Irreconcilable Differences

I wasn’t being nosy. I didn’t even ask. In fact, it started with a casual conversation about our dogs, and somehow we got all the way around to his admission, “Well, I used to have a family.”

In the course of seven brief minutes, in the hospital corridor, this complete stranger unveiled pieces of his story. “I was married once…you know, my son…but she kept the dog…don’t see them much…life was better then—when I had a family.”

My heart sunk a little, distracted from the surface of our conversation by the sadness in his eyes. Moments later, we parted and I’ll likely never see him again. But my heart was bruised with sympathy. What a loss! What loneliness; what a painful realization: “I used to have a family.”

The next day, I called my mom during my morning walk. Her precious voice, the assurance that I have a family who deeply loves me, filled me with joy as bright as that early morning sun peeking over the trees.

“You know, your dad and I had the strangest conversation the other day,” she told me. “Now that we have grandkids and all, it’s strange to wonder what life would have been like if we hadn’t hung in there through the first tough years of our marriage. We wouldn’t have you! We wouldn’t have your youngest sister. I can’t even imagine life with out each of our grandchildren! It’s startling to consider that if we had given up on us—we would have given up everything else! The entire course of our life would be so different. We would never had experienced the joy of each of our children and their children! So many fewer friendships, hugs, tears and promises.”

One of the most common reasons given for broken marriages is, “We just weren’t compatible anymore. We had irreconcilable differences.” Incompatibility—there is a Biblical App[lication] for that.

Ephesians 5 is often quoted over Christian marriages. You can almost see a finger wagging in your face, “The Bible says submit to your husband!” or, “The Bible tells you to love your wife!” Both statements are true, but just one verse before those instructions is another command we rush over on our way to our favorite ones.

“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:21)

The Greek word translated “one to another” is allelon. It means, “reciprocally, mutually”. Those words are eerily similar to the English word, “compatible”, which according to thesauraus.com means, “like-minded, together, sympathetic, on the same wavelength, cooperative, congruent”.

Compatibility isn’t something that just happens. The phrase, “submit yourselves to one another”, can aptly be paraphrased, “subordinate, or arrange yourselves mutually beneath the other”. In essence, “make yourselves like-minded, together, cooperative, congruent, reciprocal”. It is not acceptable to simply be incompatible, anymore than it is okay to simply be cruel. Scripture indicates we are to make ourselves compatible.

The impossibility of this command weighs heavy on spouses that have struggled, with blood, sweat and tears, and still find themselves hopelessly at odds. But light dawns with the next two verses, the ones that usually sound ugly, harsh and demeaning:

“Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore, as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” (Eph. 5:22-25)

In his book, The Power of Right Believing, Pastor Joseph Prince says, “…we need to teach the entire verse…The emphasis is on Jesus’ love for us. Everything we do today under the new covenant of grace springs from our love relationship with Jesus. His love needs to first work in us.”

Prince gives the example, “How would you like your husband to say to you, ‘God says that I should love you and that we should talk more, so let’s go out for dinner tonight.’? Then he sets a timer on his phone and says, ‘Alright, lady, your time begins now.’ Hey, no self-respecting woman would accept that, right? You want your husband to take you out for dinner not because he has to, but because he wants to.

“That’s why the Word of God doesn’t simply exhort husbands to love their wives and then stop there. It goes on to teach husbands just how to go about doing so—the power to love comes when husbands first experience how Jesus loved them and gave Himself for them.”

The instruction in Ephesians 5:21, “To submit yourselves one to another”, is a command. It’s a non-negotiable. Rather than a shackle for women, is a lock on the door to an easy escape from one’s marriage vows. However, God never leaves us in a position to “buck up” or “grit our teeth and bear it”. The Bible walks us right into the truth that Christ goes before us. “We love because He first loved us”. (1 John 4:19)

The answer to our irreconcilable differences is the irrefutable truth that Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us. A convinced, firm, heart-grip on the knowledge that Jesus loved us enough to die for us even when we were still sinners (and still sin), even when our abject rebellion was decisively incompatible with His holiness—that knowledge, shods our feet in the Gospel of Peace. It enables us to walk mutually, sympathetically, submissively, cooperatively and congruently. His unshakable love for us—husbands and wives, sin-stained all—sheds a new light on our differences, and if we accept it, brings peace to our homes and longevity to our marriages.

This first appeared on Start Marriage Right

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Well-Aged With Season

As with last week’s post, I’m going back through a handful of pieces I’ve written in recent years, but never published. I’m amazed sometimes at the things God once taught me but slipped to faint and distant memory. I hope this touches you today. 

“Be careful, parents! One day the little ones whose diapers you’re changing will be changing yours!”

I heard that humorous warning about aging in a sermon once. I don’t recall the rest of the lesson at all. That line was so catchy, I kind of got stuck there. But recently, the gravity and art of aging has intrigued me.

Maybe it’s because my refrigerator is camouflaged in pictures of my nieces and nephews. Kylie, the oldest, isn’t quite three; baby Acelynn hasn’t even had her first birthday. Right alongside images of first steps, yogurt-smeared chins and sparkly, wide eyes, is a photo of my grandmother. She turned 91 this year.

Granddad died a few years ago. Since then, almost spry as ever, she has lived alone a few hours from my parents’ house. The only signs of her age are fading hearing, a tremor when she tries to hold her head perfectly still and she walks a bit slower than she used to.

Or maybe, I’m contemplating these seasons of life because I volunteer doing pet therapy with hospice patients. I heard of a man who recently decided he’d like a visit. It took them months to convince him he would benefit from a few hours with a dog. Stubborn, he kept telling his son and nurses that he wants his own dog, not simply a visitor. He knows what they say is true, that it wouldn’t be fair to the dog. He’s too old and ill to care for it properly. He may not live much longer and then who would take care of his furry best friend? Brave and I will meet Mr. Thurston next week for the first time.

Or maybe it’s because a few weeks ago Brave and I attended a grief camp for children who have lost a loved one in the last two years. However unfair, they were thrust into an unexpected season, one with a stark awareness of death. For many of them, the loss will mean a drastic change in their lifestyle. Who will tuck me in at night?

I might be thinking about birth, aging and dying, youth and the elderly, old and new because a friend just told me that he and his wife are finishing their basement so that his father can move in with them. It’s only been a few short years since they tenderly cared for his mother in her final days.

Whatever the reason, the seasons of life are turning in my head. But it’s much more than a solemn observation of finite lives. It’s more of an interest in how these season change us, not just our appearances and abilities, but change the way we live our lives. Passing years change our lifestyles, our priorities, our waking thoughts and unremembered dreams.

In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

It’s not surprising that Paul includes that sentence in, “The Love Chapter”. The most important way that time changes us, that age matures us, that the end sobers us, is that we fall more in love with the timeless. Time as we know it nears its finale, and our attention is swept up by the eternal. Our love shifts to things of an infinite nature—the promises of our Creator, the surety of seeing His face, the eternal spirits of our loved ones. Our lives necessarily change to accommodate these newly found truths.

Our bodies slow down as God allows age to limit our lifestyle, to force us to take closer, longer looks at what really matters. It is in the slowness, even the stillness, that we know He is God. And in that knowing, we are so much closer to all we’ve ever hoped for–to be fully real, fully known and fully loved.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

I Don’t Want to Look Like an iPhone

[I wrote this article almost two years ago, so while the anecdotal stuff is no longer current, the emphasis of the article remains important.]

God got on a soapbox this week.

It started with a random email devotional from Desiring God ministries. I was curled in bed, determined to read the requisite “good stuff” before diving into the middle of my novel. The article by Tony Reinke was titled, “Six Ways Your iPhone is Changing You.”

Under the heading, “We become like what we behold”, Reinke wrote, “What we love to behold is what we worship. What we spend our time beholding shapes our hearts and molds us into the people we are. This spiritual truth is frightening and useful, but it raises the questions: What happens to our soul when we spend so much time beholding the glowing screens of our phones? How are we changed? How are we conformed?”

It’s kind of funny—God has used my eating disorder and the recovery process to shape me in so many ways; now most of what I learn and read is filtered through the lens of overcoming addiction, idolatry, fear, shame and the myriad other emotions connected to an eating disorder. I examined the article in that light.

In the last couple weeks, I’ve found myself more distracted by new recipes, new workout routines, conversations about health and fitness, etc. I’ve subscribed to a few different YouTube channels with more yoga workouts. Somehow, (I really don’t know how the internet seems to read my mind) I’ve started to get random emails about this or that approach to my “best body ever!”

The cool things is, these stimuli don’t affect me in the same way they used to. I still eat all my meals. I have no interest in working out like a fanatic. For all practical purposes, I’m still healthy—and I’m happy. But I’ve also felt an internal shift, a change in my affections and focus, a difference in what my mind dwells on in moments of inactivity. I’ve been wasting valuable mental energy planning tomorrow’s workout. In the evening when my husband and I watch television together, I’ve been distracted by searching for new recipes or reading the blog by a new favorite fitness professional.

These little habit changes wouldn’t raise a red flag for most people. In fact, most would probably see them as a positive interest in health and good nutrition. But I know my heart, I know my tendencies. I know my proclivity to bend a knee and subtly worship my body and things that pertain to it.

I’m praying about this, asking God to reorient my priorities. I’m leaving the smart phone in the other room. Modern culture bombards me with a constant stream of information, images, suggestions and ideas—and I become what I behold. The longer that I gaze at any form of media, feasting my mind on culture’s obsession with appearance, I cannot help but begin to assume that mold.

I want to look like Christ, not a one-dimensional supermodel. I must divert my eyes from the colorful attractions and preferences of the world and fix them on Jesus.

“…let us strip off..the sin that so easily trips us up…We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus.” Hebrews 12:1-2

God’s Version of Show and Tell

show and tellThere’s a woman whose daddy has been praying for her for years. All he wanted was to see his precious daughter healthy again, strong, fertile, free. How he longed for God to just tell him a little bit about the future, “Please God, just tell me that she’ll be okay!”

Now, she’s praying for him, “Please God, just tell me he’ll be okay.” Last week, her daddy’s hand was mangled in a workshop accident with a saw. He’ll live; the doctors did good work. But his heart is achy. All he wants is for God to tell him that he will still be useful and effective and capable.

Other hurdles have mounded in front of this godly family. A beloved elderly grandmother makes full days into over-full days, exhausting the daughter she lives with. An uncle suffers from unexpected heart problems. It’s wave after wave. Won’t someone just tell them it will be okay?

God, can’t you just explain the map a little bit? Can’t you point out the hope on the horizon?

I’ve been pulled into prayer lately. It’s magnetic, irresistible. More than the needs to pray, I feel compelled to know the heart of prayer.

God, I want to know how this works. I want to know why it works and why sometimes it seems like a crapshoot. God, I want to know why you care at all when our feeble voices wind heavenward like wisps of dissipating smoke, and why sometimes the floor heaven seems made of iron—impenetrable.

The only thing I know for sure, when my words seem worthless, God must attend His own Word. He is all truth, the essence of what is, the imaginer of all we believe real, so He simply cannot betray His own Word.

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long,” Psalm 25:4-5.

I pause.

Remember “Show and Tell” in kindergarten? Who would have cared if all we did was describe our dearest treasure? Who wants to merely hear a story when the option exists to reach out and touch the subject?

As a writer, we are constantly schooled to, “Show, don’t tell.”

A familiar phrase echoes the halls of literature, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

So I hear God say, “I could tell you, but I’d rather show you.”

Why is it I want God to tell me the future, to reveal the fearful mystery of what I cannot yet see? Why do I implore God to inform me when all He really wants is to show me?

Colorful fingers tug at my own, “Come here, Abby! I want to show you something!”

Why disillusion her by insisting that she should just tell me what it is? Why pretend I have better things to do than follow that precious girl and praise her painting, such as it is—the full palate of colors splattered on paper?

What I would miss if I chose not to follow her! She wants to see my expression, behold my admiration of her creativity.

Maybe God is the same way. “I could tell you, but I’d rather show you.” To show us, God must walk a half step ahead.

To show requires present and presence. When we arrive at the future, hand in hand with our Shepherd, we behold those terrifying unknowns in the present and are comforted by the presence of the Prince of Peace.

A Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Book Shop is a quiet book, best suited for a frigid afternoon, a cozy recliner, a smoldering fire place and a sentimental soul.

The central character, Monsieur Perdu, is an introverted bookseller with a knack for pairing readers and stories. He can read a person better than a trained psychiatrist can untangle a disordered mind. With his insider knowledge, he not only recommends books but refuses to sell them to the readers they will least serve. But despite his insight into others, he remains a mystery to himself, haunted by loneliness.

The book is intricate, using unique metaphors, layering characters and unfolding delicately, but for this reader at least, it’s a trifle slow. Though minor conflict is introduced within the first two chapters, it builds so incrementally that the reader risks dropping off to sleep.

I write each review from a personal perspective, however. Monsieur Perdu could no doubt have told me this book wouldn’t suit me and found a much better paged companion. This book is perfect for a certain reader–probably a sentimental soul.

The Prayer That Works

It’s a wonder I still believe prayer works.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do believe prayer is powerful and effective. It can change the course of history. Earth is still spinning 24 hours behind where it should be based on the creation timeline—ever since Joshua asked God to make the sun stand still. People have walked the planet who never would have without prayer—think of Samuel and Joseph and the Shulamite woman’s son. Peter might have died in prison if a whole horde of people had not been praying for him in the house of a woman named Mary one dark night.

So yes, prayer works, but I have personally prayed for many things that never happened, for blessings that never materialized, healing that took forever and sometimes never came.

One might find comfort in the empathy of Mary and Martha. You remember them, the sisters of Lazarus and good friends of Jesus. Their brother fell sick; they knew he was dying. How they must have frantically scribbled the note; no time for frilly affections or casual comments. They simply wrote, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

But Jesus didn’t come in time. Within two days, Lazarus had died. The sisters wrapped him in fragrant cloths and buried him. Then, Jesus showed up.

It’s a fabulous story—one of perfect love, death, miracles, passion, sorrow and elation. But you probably already know that story. Even those who didn’t grow up in Sunday school have heard it and know it contains the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

I’m searching for a new lesson in this story. I’m search for a reason to pray, a way to pray. Because, even if I took some comfort in the fact that Jesus seemed to ignore Mary and Martha too (it’s not just me) ultimately, He not only responded to their call of distress but performed a miracle for them. What did they do?

For years my most persistent prayer was, “Lord, please heal me of this eating disorder! Take it away! I love you God, I love you with all my heart. I want to be obedient. Help me to put this idol behind me and to live for you alone. Help me Jesus!”

Now, there’s nothing ultimately wrong with that prayer, but I heard a pastor say recently, “Nothing moves the hand of God like the love of God.”

Look at their prayer again, or better yet, see if you remember it. What did they say to Jesus?

Compare their petition to mine.

Me: “Lord I love you, please help me!”

Mary and Martha: “Lord, you love Lazarus! He needs you!”

What drove Jesus to respond to the sisters; to come and resurrect Lazarus, was not their love for Him, but His own love for Lazarus!

It’s time we re-worded our prayers. More than that, it’s time we rewired our hearts. It’s a false belief, but nonetheless the underlying motive most of us employ when seeking God’s favor—that if we love Him more, if we convince Him that we are completely “sold out”, He will capitulate and favor our request.

God doesn’t need His ego stroked. He does not bend His ear to earth because we are radically devoted to Him. God bends low to hear us because of His love for us, his unwarranted, unprecedented, deadly, life-giving love.

Psalm 25:4-7 says, “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”

God’s love is so unbounded that it overrode my theological errors. Although I often pleaded for healing based on my love for and promised commitment to God, He reached out and healed me for the sake of His Son Jesus, whose radical love cost Him His life in order to reconcile the whole world to its Creator.

Now, I am praying again; I am praying differently. Now I am praying for healing for others, for broken bodies, broken marriages, aching hearts, physical needs and more. Some of those I’m praying for do not love Jesus, and oh the wonder of the truth that their lack of love is not the deciding factor in God’s answer.

Even those of us who love God, only know love because He loved us first. If the answers to our prayers hinges on the veracity of our love for God, we are doomed. Thanks be to God, that the prayer He hears, the prayer He answers, a worthy prayer cries, “Lord, I am the one you love!”

Pre-Parenting, Discipline and Sin

scold

A fabulous article entitled “Parenting is First About My Sin,” by David Mathis recently appeared on the Desiring God website. While the entire article remains an essential read, a summarizing quote is:

“The wakeup call for parents — and for fathers in particular — is that we are sinners too, adult sinners, and our sins have even greater repercussions than the missteps of our children, and tragically our children are often the objects of the dragon still within us. It’s not as if we’re sinners only in our relationships with other adults, and above the law when parenting our children. We are sinners in every facet, and often most dangerously so in our parenting.”

While they didn’t have a direct effect on the fact that my husband and I didn’t have children earlier in life, certainly the awareness of our own specific sins and weaknesses has made us cautious and prayerful as we approach parenthood. Each of us has struggled hard with a “pet” sin. I’ve addressed his struggle (with his permission) in other articles, but today I’ll simply highlight my own. Especially in light of the knowledge that we’re having a girl, my history of an eating disorder causes me to fear for her.

Does my past make her more vulnerable to the same sins? (Specifically in my own eating disorder I call these out as addiction, idolatry, pride and fear.) Will she fight for a sane and realistic body image her whole life? Will she battle fear in the face of social eating? Will she see herself as better than others when she’s fit and thin? Will she find herself devoting more time to her appearance than to her Savior? Will she learn these sinful behaviors from me?

Finish reading this article over at www.mydailyarmorschristiandigest.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

A Book Review: Born After Midnight

John Piper has written an entire article declaring the value of “Read[ing] Old, Dead Theologians 15 Minutes a Day.”

Having passed in 1963, A.W. Tozer hasn’t been gone long, but he certainly fits the criteria.

I love reading Tozer for what I describe as the “pearlistic” quality of his work. He is often defined as a mystic and due to that trait, some of his prose require a few passes to fully understand. But, much like C.S. Lewis, once you’ve mined Tozer’s original intent, you find yourself marveling at the unusual beauty and clarity that he brings to any given concept.

Tozer’s book, Born After Midnight, is a collection of fairly unrelated devotionals. But his overall purpose is captured in the title and in this delectable quote from the first chapter:

“It has been the experience of countless seekers after God that, when their desires became a pain, they were suddenly and wonderfully filled. The problem is not to persuade God to fill us, but to want God sufficiently to permit Him to do so.”

The depth of relationship with God that we long for and admire in New Testament apostles like Paul and John, cannot be acquired in the clear, easily navigated, comfortable “daylight” hours. Rather, it is often in the dark, in the wilderness, in the lonely spaces that we are suddenly filled by God.

Tozer’s book walks the reader into the painful corners of life, and without minimizing them at all, refines them in order to reveal their necessity. While pain never seems appealing, Tozer paints it in such a light as to reveal its value and the ultimate revival that can come from patient endurance and prayer.

Anyone who has ever felt the press of suffering, or the cried out that life seems unjust, or queried how God could possibly work their circumstances for good, must read this book.

 

Free Audible Copy of “The Predatory Lies of Anorexia”

Guess What? My first book, “The Predatory Lies of Anorexia: A Survivor’s Story” is now out in audible format! It’s available as such on Amazon, Audible.com and iTunes.

I’m giving away a few free copies of the audio version through Audible.com. Want a chance to listen to my book?

Comment here and share this post on Facebook for a chance to win! I’ll announce the winner on Sunday!

My book on Audible!