When Seasons Collide

Dead leaves on bench

It’s the collision of the seasons.

Here I stand on the precipice of my favorite season–autumn. Summer is merging with colder air, the leaves are giving up their green and their death grip on brittle branches. I’ve already broken out the jeans (still paired with flip flops), and I’m reticent to recall shorts.

All this exquisite splendor is the harbinger of time well spent with loved ones and favorite people in front of the fireplace, with a good book, cuddled on the couch, over a good cup of coffee (or a deliciously dark beer!)

And so, my soul is singing with anticipation, but I’m sad too, my heart is a little wounded and my hopes are fragile. It’s strange for me, this mix of opposing feelings. But I suppose it’s good–that tears are mitigated by laughter and disappointment with excitement. 

I’m not sure how much time I’ll get to spend with my husband this fall. Yes, last year about this time he was leaving for Africa, so count my blessings (more on that later) he’s safe here in the states. But, we have suddenly launched into a season of such intense training and planning that I scarcely see him for a half hour a day. And waiting in the wings are a few weeks where they will work straight through the weekends–at least 21 days in a row.

And this sadness, I might have shared earlier, but I wasn’t ready–a couple months ago, I miscarried the baby my husband I never thought we could never have.

We never planned or risked the hope of getting pregnant. So when we learned in late July (with utter shock!) that I was expecting, we were floored. Just as surprising was the joy that overtook us! We couldn’t wait to hold our baby! But that wasn’t God’s plan. Somehow, our little one lived a purposeful life, and filled the purpose of his life in just 11 short weeks.

We survived that.

But now, the pain is refreshed each month. We’ve dared to think we can try now. We’ve dared to step into the realm of miracles only God can do–and to hope. And that’s scary.

So, as you can see, my emotions (fragile as they are), are swirling like the autumn leaves shimmying to the ground. And it’s tempting to complain to God–a lot. It’s easy right now, to form all “prayer requests” around the little phrase, “God please!!”

God, please give us a baby. God please give us more time together. God please give my husband a day off. God please help me to be kind and compassionate and understanding …

You know, I think all that is okay. Today I was scrounging for peace–the peace that God promises in Philippians when we present our requests to God:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

And suddenly, it dawned on me. There were prerequisites for that peace. I’ve met one prerequisite by simply praying, the second one is harder–with thanksgiving. 

I can’t have this unbelievable peace as long as my prayers sound like whiny pleas. Of course, I still believe God will answer those prayers, but I’m sabotaging my own peace if I insist on whimpering and repelling His peace with self-imposed anxiety, even as I pray. My attitude, even my emotions, is my responsibility.

So, I changed my prayer:

God, thank you for your marvelous plan of blessing and deepening our marriage in this season. Thank you for balancing the sorrow of this season with nature’s beauty. Thank you for giving us a baby, for making us parents. Thank you for teaching me your own faithfulness through pain. Thank you. Yes, thank you.

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Submission: How to Want To Do It

Has your husband ever done something that just dropped you to your knees? You know, that submissive position–but in a good way?

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We often bristle at the word “submission.” It makes us feel beneath someone else, second rate and spineless. But I wonder if God’s command for submission should have a whole different feeling, flavor, context and evoke a different physical reaction …

So I ask again: Has your husband, or anyone, ever done something that just dropped you to your knees?

Maybe he knocked 15 things off the “please, honey do list,” or you came home from a long day and he’d vacuumed the house and done laundry. Maybe, on the way home from work he picked up your favorite coffee. Maybe, he dumped the cat litter pan even though that’s “your” job. Maybe he did something 1000 times better, but often, for me, it’s something relatively small but shows that he knows me, my desires, my heart and my needs.

When Patrick turns off the alarm on a Saturday morning, rolls over and pulls me into him, I’m suddenly awash with a gooey feeling like, “I’ll do anything you want–ever!” Or, if he pours me a beer and suggests we sit on the back porch in the evening and listen to a thunder storm, I’m struck with an almost primal-deep desire to do something for him in return, something he loves and longs for. Suddenly, I want to make his favorite dinner, or offer to not give him grief if he wants to play a video game for five hours.

His kindness toward me evokes a response of submissive love, gratitude and a desire to serve him. For a moment, I’m not huffy at all about doing what he wants, about seeking out his desires or preferring him to myself (Philippians 2)–about submitting to him. 

And, I wonder if that’s really how we are supposed to submit to God?

I was reading Psalm 45 this morning. It’s a riveting love song. Truthfully, it can be applied to Christ and the church, to the relationship between Jesus and me. Listen to verses 10-11:

“Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention: Forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.”

I heard the Father say to me: Imagine one day being loved like you’ve always wanted. Imagine that everything you’ve ever hoped your husband would do for you, every word you longed for him to say or expression of affection is granted–liberally. That’s what it will be like when you walk with me face-to-face. Indeed, I love you that much now, but your human eyes and heart don’t have the capacity to experience it. Just wait … 

Imagine indeed. What kind of response would that kind of love evoke in me?

And there I think is the key to submission to the Heavenly Father, trusting His goodness and His (often difficult) will, embracing His purpose for our lives and serving Him at cost to ourselves. Did you catch it?

The key to embracing God’s purpose for our lives and serving Him at cost to ourselves is understanding what He has actually done for us … for you … for me. 

Unfortunately, that’s where we fall short. That’s another hurdle that our human minds can barely, if at all, clear: what Christ has done for us. The essence of the Gospel. Admittedly, on a daily basis, I glimpse only shadows of the very truth I have staked all my eternity on–the selfless act of Jesus Christ on the cross and three days later, the powerful act of Almighty God erupting from a tomb.

I don’t know the secret of keeping the Gospel always before my face, but I do know it’s the key to igniting that irrational love response that says, “God, I’ll do anything you want!”

What do you do to keep the truth of the Gospel always before your eyes?

On another note, a wonderful novel based on this passage of Scripture was written by a friend of mine and edited by yours truly! Check it out:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B016AYQV9S?keywords=the+king+will+desire+tomko&qid=1444491137&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

Pulling Back the Shades, A Book Review

I started this book review purely altruistically—to write a review that might help others who really need to read the book. I mean, after all, I have my own set of temptations and struggles, but erotica isn’t one of them. And my marriage of 11 years isn’t perfect by any means, but I’ve also read most of the relationship books recommended by Focus on the Family. What new, life changing information could this book have to offer?

Through the second chapter, my expectations were confirmed. But by the time I got to chapter 7, “The Spiritually Satisfied Woman”, I was convicted, challenged, inspired and refreshed.

Dr. Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh collaborate seamlessly in their new book, Pulling Back the Shades. Instead Unknownof blending their voices, they alternate, often switching authors in the middle of a chapter. Different fonts designate who is speaking. Neither woman dominates the book; both write from their expertise. Even though they admit they differ on a few issues and come from vastly different backgrounds, Dr. Slattery and Gresh present a powerful, united front on a sensitive subject that provokes many disagreements among believers, if we even have the courage to discuss it.

The first half of the book is devoted to explaining erotica. This includes the chemical effect that it has on the brain, the addictive nature, the conflicts about it within the church, a discussion of the “grey” areas and a staunch stance against it based on the Word of God. Dr. Slattery and Gresh write graphically, borrowing short segments from the book, Fifty Shades of Grey, to make their points.

The authors’ opinion is uncompromising. To sum it up in a simple statement, without re-writing the book: God’s ideal for sex is unabashed, exciting, varied, exquisite intimacy within the bonds of marriage.

I mentioned that my heart began to resonate with the book beginning in chapter 7. This is where Dr. Slattery and Gresh delve into the incredible and unique intimacy that God wants to have with each of us.

Here, they debunk the myth that God promises every woman a “happily ever after”, fulfilling, intimate relationship with a man—even after marriage.

“I bet you’ve never heard a sermon on what God does not promise. This is unfortunate because it is quite dangerous to place your trust in things you falsely assume God has promised. Jesus said that He came that you may have life and have it abundantly. His promises are great and He is trustworthy in fulfilling each one. But His ways are not our ways, and He has not promised some of the things you may have assumed or hoped He has.”

The authors mention a quote by Dr. Larry Crabb, “God is all I need, but I don’t know Him well enough for Him to be all I have.”

This brought a twinge of conviction and a huge sigh of relief. I do not need to fret over whether my husband ever becomes more like Prince Charming. I must know God well enough that He is not only all I need, but all I have.

The book closes with numerous Scripture references and gentle guidance to help readers begin deepening their intimate relationship with Jesus. It even includes discussion questions, practical resources (other books and websites) as well as enumerated suggestions for practical application.

This book is applicable to all women in all relationships—even those who are single—and those who don’t think they have a problem with erotica. The book covers all aspects of a woman’s relational needs and explains where fulfillment is found.

The Fruit of Fretting

Most of you know, my husband is currently deployed. This article was written several months ago, but I find it again relevant–even to me, the author.

We recently talked  on LASTing Peace, about fear being idolatry. This article explains another way that fear, also known as fretting, can sabotage our Christian lives.

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He started it.

Yes, he snapped at me first, but you’d think I could’ve held my tongue and finished with a “win”. Especially after all my praying lately.

Just two days ago, I even sent my husband a text message telling him that I prayed to be a Proverbs 31 wife to him: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

With all my heart I want to learn to control my tongue; to face temptation and make the right choice—not to sin. In that moment, just before I retaliated, I saw the choice, clear as an angel and a devil perched persuasively on my shoulders. I saw it, and in the split second that it takes to activate one’s vocal chords thoughtlessly, I snapped right back. And just as James says, I set a fire.

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3:6

After his harsh words, my husband apologized immediately. He came toward me to give me a hug. With self-righteous flare, I turned my back on him. “No, I don’t want it. You’re not sincere, you’re just trying to make me stop being angry.”

He dropped the fight. That’s one thing I simultaneously admire and hate about my man. He  can simply drop his arms, turn around and let the whole argument go. All the while, the heat of anger and bitterness simmers in my chest. He settled into the couch with his computer, but a fire had already broken loose in me.

Tearful, I huffed into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. “God, why? Why is he so heartless and uncaring? Why doesn’t he care about making up? Why doesn’t he notice that I’m really hurt?”

I don’t know who I was more angry with—myself or my husband. Yes, Patrick’s words were hurtful and the capstone to my mounting frustration as I played second fiddle to his computer games all weekend. But still, when the opportunity to express forgiveness, to respond with abundant joy that rests on Jesus and not on my husband’s behavior—when the opportunity to engage the Scripture I’ve been memorizing presented itself, I glanced away from the proverbial “angel” and bored full ahead into my husband with a devilish piety.

God says His Word never returns void. So true. Even as I sat there, sulking over my hurt and groveling in my shame, my newest memory verse came to mind. Psalm 37:8 says, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”

That morning, in my quiet time, I had examined a couple of those words in the Hebrew. Fret means “to be incensed, to get hot”—in American vernacular think of “smoldering anger” or “fuming”. The most poignant definition of the word evil is “to shatter”.

As the evening waned, I sat in the darkening corner of my bedroom and listened to my Heavenly Father. Gently, without accusation, He prodded my heart with the truth: I could choose to fret and be angry. But if I did, I was playing an active role in shattering my relationship with my husband, to say nothing of my own peace.

Often we are told that fretting or worrying is pointless. We are reminded that being angry or bitter hurts us more than the person at whom it is directed. But God’s Word takes it even further. To simmer, steam or be hot and angry tends only to shatter—relationships, peace of mind and communion with our Heavenly Father.

I wish I could say I came out of my room right away with a glowing countenance and words of restoration. No, I sat there a while longer and wrestled with God. In fact, it took me until the following morning to face my husband and humbly ask his forgiveness. When I did, I saw the fruit of God’s Word bloom. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”

The wonderful thing about knowing Jesus is that even when things are shattered, He is our healer. He can restore all things, even relationships and a peaceful heart.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Ps. 147:3

Good Intentions Don’t Count

I am doing a Bible study about intentional living. So I wasn’t expecting a verse about marriage to pop off the page. But then I shouldn’t be surprised, God is always intentional about getting our attention so that He can make us more like Jesus.

“Teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

Don’t see anything about marriage in that verse? That’s because you’re not reading it with the intention of seeing God’s plan for your marriage. It’s there.

The Bible also says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)

Don’t you imagine in that our unions would be much improved if we governed them with wisdom? If we related to our spouse with wisdom and in the fear of the Lord, don’t you think we could avoid many of the pointless arguments, cold shoulders and the silent treatment? Where does this heart of wisdom come from? How do we cultivate a fear of the Lord in our homes and in our relationships?

We gain a heart of wisdom when we learn to number our days. The phrase, “Teach us to number our days”, has a much stronger meaning in the original Hebrew. It means to: Consider, be skillful in, reckon, prepare for and appoint with intention the temporal, brief mornings and evenings of life. (That’s just my lengthy amplified paraphrase.)

Often, I don’t think we approach our marriages intentionally. The expectation is for love and fuzzy feelings to buoy the relationship through the hard times. But when things get really gritty, there’s no deep-seated recourse, no Biblically founded intention to hold the marriage together.

There’s a catchy little phrase that has spawned many a movie. “Live each day as if it were your last.”

That saying is a modern assertion of the truth of Psalm 90:12. Even unbelievers know that acceptance of our brevity brings freedom, genuine love and a correcting of priorities. How many stories are told of someone diagnosed with cancer who suddenly determines to reconcile with a long-estranged sibling? How many times have we heard of someone learning they have months to live and suddenly choosing to work less, spend more time with family and begin seeking God? There’s no denying that numbering our days produces wisdom and ignites intention in our hearts.

So what if we could harness this knowledge of our few and temporal mornings and evenings so that we might have this wisdom now for our marriages and other relationships?

In American vernacular there’s a big difference between having good intentions and living intentionally. I go to bed each night with good intentions to speak kindly to my husband tomorrow and pray for him. I have good intentions when I plan to make his favorite dinner tomorrow or remember to ask about that meeting he had yesterday. Good intentions are my plans to go to the gym and eat more vegetables.

But living my marriage intentionally requires that I apply some elbow grease to those intentions. If I don’t do the hard work to make good on those intentions, then that is all they remain—good intentions, and I must plan again to live intentionally.

Marriage is one of those few relationships that we commemorate every year. Save for the embarrassed hubby that forgot several times, most couples know exactly how many years, and could calculate how many days, they’ve been married. We number those days. Therefore, we’re halfway toward a heart of wisdom.

Next time strife or bitterness raises its head or that gulf slowly widens between you and your spouse, stop and count the days. They are few. Psalm 90 goes on to say that we have 70, maybe 80 years if we’re lucky.

We are finite creatures. All our miseries and complaints are so small and short-lived compared to the eternal glory purchased for us by Christ. The first step toward governing our marriages with wisdom is to recognize how fleeting they are. Next, we must intentionally order, prepare for and appoint our days.

It’s so easy in the heat of the moment, to assume that this crisis of miscommunication or hurt will ruin our lives, make or break our relationship. It can’t destroy us if we don’t let it. When we number our days, view them in the true light of their brevity, it’s much easier to take a step back and intentionally form our response or reaction to every situation.

So, do the math. Number your days. Let that practice form within you a heart of wisdom, the beginning of the fear of the Lord. And then intentionally, with more than good intentions, conduct your marriage with wisdom.

Drastic Changes

IMG_0481-1Dearest friends,

Forgive me for defaulting on my initial promise not to miss a single week of LASTing Peace. Here is it, the second Monday of my travels and the last day of them as well. So, here I am, half-way home, hibernating in a corner of Chicago Midway, hoping desperately not to be much delayed. (I have the worst luck with airlines).

This past week has been bananas, moving one sister into her new home and celebrating one of my nephews’ first birthday and my dad’s 60th. Additionally, there have runs to the ER and the startling news that my husband will be deploying in October to Liberia for 9 months–to join the fight against Ebola. I covet your prayers for him.

I’m hurrying home to spend a few more precious days with him. I hope to settle back into a groove quickly, but I know in truth that my facade of routine will crumble overnight when he leaves. Then, I’ll rally a new form of normal for a time. No doubt, God will use this time to inform much of our conversations here for the next year.

Because He Lives.

Newest Issue of My Daily Armor–FREE

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There are delicious stories of faith, courage, hope and humor this month on My Daily Armor’s Christian Digest. Additionally, you can listen to free, streaming Christian music (click on the icon in the sidebar).
Don’t miss Edith’s letter to her son’s birth mother or Frances’ moving story of her father’s funeral. There’s also a story to challenge your expectations about marriage. This month is rich!

Don’t Miss It!

Welcome to the Bookshelves: Who Am I?

Book Banner

It’s the big day! Megan Cyrulewski’s book,
Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me to Let God and Live Again
is available in paperback and ebook! As a treat, Megan has allowed me to publish this synopsis here and also to offer you a tantalizing excerpt! Enjoy…then go buy the book!

Synopsis
Megan’s book, Who Am I?  How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again, is about her journey into post-partum depression, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, stays in the psych ward, divorce, emotional abuse, domestic violence, law school, how she managed to graduate from law school and a beautiful little girl who emerged from all of this chaos.

Author Bio
Megan Cyrulewski has been writing short stories ever since she was ten-years-old.  After attending Grand Valley State University, Megan eventually settled into a career in the non-profit sector for eight years.  She decided to change careers and went back to school to get her law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School.  While in school, she documented her divorce, child custody battle and postpartum depression struggles in her memoir. Megan lives in Michigan with her 3-year-old daughter who loves to dance, run, read, and snuggle time with Mommy.  Megan also enjoys her volunteer work with various organizations in and around metro-Detroit.

An Excerpt Just For You!

Buy the Kindle version on Amazon

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Buy the Nook version

When Faith Isn’t Enough

flag-813543-mAt 18-years-old, I stepped onto the sandy, Arizona soil in the driveway of an inpatient treatment center for the second time. Even after numerous counselors and previous inpatient treatment for anorexia, I still struggled with an addiction to exercise and food restriction. “Shipped off” to get well, I felt completely alone, unloved and abandoned by God and my family. My life didn’t appear to be “working out for good”. Circumstances seemed to belie the promises of a good God.

Many years later, my husband walked the sandy soil of Afghanistan, leading a company of infantry soldiers. Back home, I received one of the calls that every family member of a solider dreads. “We lost some.”

Patrick was the commander of Bravo Company 4/23. They had only been in theater a little over two months, when one of their strykers hit an IED (improvised explosive device) killing three men and maiming another. Hell broke loose on earth.

I watched my husband grapple with the agony and guilt of knowing he had been responsible for the men’s lives as their leader in combat. I felt like a mindless mist, moving through the motions of coordinating phone calls to the families, assisting to arrange the memorials and comforting the widows. Nothing looked like what I would expect from a good God. A few people voiced this.

“How can a good God let this happen? If God is in charge and powerful and loves us, why would He let these children lose their fathers?”

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. I don’t know how all this “works together for good”. I don’t know how this matches up with God’s Word, “I am the God who heals you.” I don’t know how lingering illness and addiction connects with, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and “I have given you the power to tread upon snakes and scorpions and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

God, how does this work?

If anyone ever had a right to pray that prayer, it was the apostle Paul. He spent almost six years of his ministry in a jail cell, he was whipped, shamed, ship wrecked and abandoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Finally, near the end of his life, he sat again on the cold damp concrete of a cell and wrote to the man dearest to his heart—Timothy. How desperately he wanted Timothy to be able to hang on to what Paul had taught him. He agonized over how to impress upon this young pastor:

Do not give up! Do not be dismayed by what appears to be. It may look like God has lost control, that perhaps He isn’t all that good—but Timothy—don’t give up. I haven’t. (paraphrase)

This kind of tenacious faith is exemplified in an Old Testament story:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stared into the fire as flames leaped higher and higher.

“You have one more chance,” the Babylonian King told them. “You must bow down and worship my statue, or I will have you thrown into the fire.”

I wonder what raced through their minds. They had been faithful to God; they had not worshipped the idol. Surely God would rescue them! Surely, God wouldn’t allow them to be killed!

Their words in Daniel 3:16-18, teach us something amazing about faith, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’”

The three men believed that God could save them! But even if He didn’t…

How do we have faith when the things we believe for aren’t happening? How do we have faith that God is good when bad things happen?

Hebrews 11 is often called the Faith Chapter. It lists many heroes of the faith, men and women who believed God against all odds, who had faith in God even when it looked like God wasn’t faithful.

Verse 39 says this, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

Have you ever felt like that—like God hasn’t fulfilled His promises?
Have you had faith that God would do something, and then He didn’t?
Maybe you prayed that a loved one would survive cancer, but they didn’t.
Maybe you were sure it was God’s will that you find a job, or keep your job—but you didn’t.
Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on, or why God allows some things to happen.

When I feel this way, I am comforted by 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (emphasis added)

One weekend, my husband and I were driving through downtown Washington D.C. We were supposed to meet some friends for a baseball game, but as we wound through construction and down one-way streets, we got hopelessly lost—at least I did. I had no idea where we were going and I could see the lights of the stadium behind us. But I know my husband. He’s an incredible navigator. I knew he would get us there safely even if it looked for all the world like he was going the wrong direction. And sure enough, he got us to the baseball game on time!

You see, the secret is not what we believe. The power of our faith is not that we simply have faith, or even that we have hope. There will always be things we don’t understand and things that don’t seem to match up with what we believe about God. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have faith in who God is. We, like Paul, know who we believe, and that He is faithful.

Most world religions require faith. Most world religions have morality as their hallmark and eternal life as their goal. But, as Christians we do not merely have faith—faith in a reward for good behavior or faith in life after death. It is not mere faith that gets us through our troubles, sustains us in prison, or allows us to stand in the flames. The good news is not that you and I have faith, but that the One in whom we believe is faithful.