The Bigger Picture

Last week I went to a women’s conference hosted by Lee Grady at a Russian Pentecostal church in Philadelphia.  The women who attended represented several denominations and came from all over the place.  The first night about eight women read Galatians 5:1 in their native tongue.  We heard it in Swedish, Turkmen, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Romanian and, of course, English.  It reminded me of Pentecost, when 120 believers praised God in different languages.

Passionate women preached about the importance of being set free from various encumbrances so that we can make a difference in our world.   There were lots of altar calls and each time, women poured forward to receive prayer.  They were released from emotional and spiritual chains and unburdened of years of hurt and brokenness.    I arrived sleep deprived and came back home sleep deprived but the excitement of praying for women and seeing them set free buoyed me up and put wind in my sails.  There are few things more energizing than seeing the Holy Spirit at work in people’s lives.

I also loved hearing people’s stories at mealtimes.  One lunchtime I sat at a table with some women from Belarus and Turkmenistan.  I asked them to share their testimonies and discovered that they all had heard the Gospel from missionaries in their home countries.  They were so grateful to those men and women who took a risk and shared the Good News with them.  They had joy in their eyes and a depth to their faith that warmed me. They knew they had found the Pearl of great price and they looked like it.

I’m so glad I went.  Yes, it was great to have a break from housework, diapers and kid chaos, but mostly it was great to be reminded of how large, diverse and amazing the Kingdom of God is.   It was like being transported for a brief moment to a mountain-top and given a panoramic view of something vast and wonderful.  We can become so focused on our little spheres and cares that we lose sight of what God is doing in the bigger picture.  We all need, sometimes, to get out, mix with other cultures, sing different songs, pray different prayers and remember that we are part of a vast company of God lovers.   Hearing each other’s testimonies encourages us and puts life in perspective.

It’s only March.  Try to make it a goal to go somewhere this year that will boost your faith and give you a bigger view of the Kingdom.

Dating? Is He a Glider or a 747?

About a year before I met my husband, a minister prayed for me and said, “God is going to clear the runway of your life of all the gliders so that there’s room for the 747.”  A little while later, a friend came up to me and said, “You know, gliders have no engine; they’re just carried by the wind.  A 747 not only has an engine, but it has to be big enough to carry a lot of people 30,000 feet up in the air.”

In this case, the engine represents the heart.

Up until then, the guys I dated liked me enough to ask me out, but then quickly changed.  One day they called, the next they didn’t.  One day they seemed super interested, the next indifferent.   They were carried by the wind of emotion and lacked a heart conviction about our relationship.  It was a recipe for insecurity, self-doubt and turmoil.  And over the course of a year, God did exactly what He said.  He cleared them away from my life.  I became convinced that they were not right for me, and I no longer mourned the loss of their attention.

And then Marvin came along.  Shortly after we met, he knew he wanted to marry me and his actions and attitudes were honorable, steadfast, and single minded.  There were no double messages.  I never wondered if he still liked me or questioned his motives.  While we dated, I was secure, happy and grounded.  And I still am.

When God awakens love in the heart of a man, that man sets his face like flint and pursues the woman he loves.  He gives, waits, listens and learns.  He does what it takes to get the girl.  And if he’s a good man, this won’t change after the honeymoon.  Most men relax the pursuit, but the love doesn’t diminish, rather it grows, matures and solidifies.  Largess continues to mark the relationship and there is joy.

When mere emotion or physical attraction awakens “love,” the man shifts like the wind.  He likes you; he doesn’t like you.  You’re the one; you’re not the one.  He has eyes only for you; his eyes wonder over every cute figure that passes by.  And there’s nothing you can do about it.  You can’t be pretty enough, funny enough, spiritual enough or flexible enough.  You’ll never be good enough.  Nope, he’s just not that into you and the fruit in your life is misery.

This is what your friends see and sense while you’re still blindly hoping.

It doesn’t automatically make the guy a villain; he may have genuinely thought there were possibilities, but time proved differently and you both have to be willing to let go and move on.

You don’t want a relationship built on fickle emotion; you want one grounded on the rock of God breathed conviction.   You don’t want to get aboard a glider, which can never carry you to great heights or bear the weight of life’s challenges and which will surely crash given a strong enough gale.  You want a jumbo jet, which can climb above the storm and lead your family through the exigencies of life.

It is truly better to be single, and learn to let God be your 747, then to be in a relationship with a glider, who may be cute and fun at first, but who will surely take you on a nauseating, unstable ride.

Putting Your Husband First

Much has been written of late about the importance of putting our marriages first. Perhaps we’ve seen how unpleasant children become when they are at the center of our universes.  That coupled by the divorce rate in both the church and secular world have made psychologists and pastors a like place an emphasis on giving our spouses first place (well, second to God, that is), instead of our children.

I agree with this wholeheartedly, but agreeing and doing are two vastly different things.  And like so many good things in life, making our spouses top priority doesn’t happen naturally.  We love our husbands with an undying love, but the truth is, children will slowly but surely soak up every bit of time, physical and emotional energy and money we have, if we let them.  When they are little, they need us to do almost everything for them, from providing meals to making sure they don’t kill themselves during their enthusiastic discovery of life.

We love our children so much, we worry about them so much and they need us so much that our husbands can slowly wind up at the bottom of the pile.  This is even more so if we have demanding jobs or aging parents.  Everything important vies for first place and it’s easy to take our marriages for granted and let that one slip.

So how do we do it, really?  This is one of those things I’m discovering right along with you.  I haven’t arrived at the elusive goal of Perfect Wife; I don’t do any of these things as consistently as I’d like, but it’s far better to have a goal and fall short of it than to have no goal at all.

Here are a few suggestions, if you, like me, are trying to figure out how Godly priorities actually happen in day-to-day life.

#1:  Time alone together at home with no kids around.  Many of us understand the value of regular date nights.  And date nights are incredibly important.  We need to get out of the house sans kids, do something fun and different and reconnect on an emotional level.  We need time away from computers, televisions, cell phones and dirty dishes where we can focus on US.

But we also need time, everyday, when we’re home together and the kids are in bed.  Even if we’re doing our own thing (working, writing, watching TV or reading), if the kids are out of sight, we have emotional space to have casual conversation and gel as a couple.  We might comment on the book we’re reading, or a problem at work or laugh at a funny TV show.  Even though we’re not having serious, concentrated conversation, we still learn something about each other in a casual way.  With kids bouncing around, this rarely happens, especially at night when they’re either tired and whiny or tired and hyper.  There will always be evenings when we go our own separate ways to have dinner with a friend, or attend a church event, or work late at the office, but on those nights when we are both at home together, it’s important that there is a pocket of time when we’re just couples again.

I think a good rule of thumb is two hours: two hours at night when you’re awake and your kids aren’t.   So if you can’t stay awake past 10, put them in bed by 8.  If they’re old enough, they can always read in bed if they’re not tired enough to sleep yet.   But avoid the tendency of letting them stay up so late that you hit the sack as soon as they do.  It’s just not healthy: for you, for your kids or for your marriage.  You need that same emotional space as a couple that you may get during the day when your older kids are in school and your youngest is napping.  It’s time to breath, time to slow down, time to think, time to love.

#2:  Be as attentive to your husband’s preferences as you are to your children’s.  For example: sometimes I find myself thinking only about what the kids like to eat and fail to think about what my husband likes.  My kids love pasta and tolerate rice.  My husband loves rice and tolerates pasta.  It would be easy to serve some sort of pasta dish 5 out of 7 nights a week because I know the kids will eat it – without complaining.  But that leaves my husband merely tolerating most of the meals I cook.  And that doesn’t seem right.   So I try to have a variety, knowing sometimes the kids will love it and sometimes Marvin will (and on a few occasions, everyone will!).  My husband shouldn’t be the only one compromising.

#3:  Get the rest you need to be his friend, and his lover.  Sometimes at the end of the day, it’s very hard for me to concentrate when Marvin is trying to tell me about his day.  I want to know how things are going at work, but I’m so tired.  In my flesh, I just want to veg out.  So if I am particularly tired I make myself take a nap mid-day, instead of getting distracted by dirty dishes or email, just so that I’ll have more energy at night.  Let’s face it, you want your husband to try to be attentive to your needs, even when he’s busy or tired, and he wants the same from you.

Also, at times I say No to the kids when they want to do some strenuous activity because I’m already tired and if I agree to a 3 mile bike ride, I’ll be toast.  I’m consciously trying not to let them suck every last drop of life out of me so that there’s nothing left for anybody else.

#4:  Make your bedroom into a cozy refuge, not just a place to sleep.  I learned this from some dear friends whose marriage I admire.  They have a warm coffee nook in their bedroom where every morning they drink coffee alone together.  This is especially important as kids become teenagers and don’t go to bed at 8:00 anymore.  It’s an attractive, romantic space, not a kid space.

#5: Pray for your husbands as much as you pray for your kids: for their safety, success and protection on every level.

At the end of the day, we want our husbands to put us before their jobs.  Even though they spend more hours there than at home, we want to know we come first.  Our husbands want the same.

We love our kids enough to die for them, but in 18 years, they will probably leave home and never return (except for visits).  They will fall in love (God willing) and get married and start their own families and we will fall a few notches on their priority list.  By God’s grace, we will always be close to our kids and be there for each other, but their spouses and children will come before us.  That’s God’s design, and it’s a good, healthy thing.

Your husband is the only person you cut covenant with; it is to him alone that you made a solemn vow to stay with for your entire life.  You have become one flesh.  That’s powerful and sacred and wonderful.  Make sure you are just as close and just as in love when your kids leave home as you were on your wedding day.  It will take work, but I want to be in love when I’m an empty nester, don’t you?

Returning to The Well

Important things happen at wells.  People rest, get refreshed and meet the Savior at wells.  Civilizations radiate from them and families who depend on them visit them every day.  In spiritual terms, when we go to The Well, Jesus, the Living Water, speaks to us, reassures us, quenches our thirst, rejuvenates us and fills us again with the wisdom and strength we need to continue our journey.

I visited The Well everyday when I was single.  I felt so desperate to know His presence and hear His voice.  I woke up feeling dry and ran to Him for refreshment.  I could barely manage to get dressed until I sensed His nearness.  And then something happened when I got married and had kids. “Small Children Fatigue” set in: interrupted sleep, early mornings, needy little people pulling, tugging, demanding and requesting almost all day long. And I began visiting The Well less often.  I didn’t feel as spiritual desperate and I was more physically exhausted.  But then the physical depletion made me emotionally desperate which made me thirsty for that Well water again.

I remembered wistfully my mornings at The Well years ago, and though I don’t get to spend the hours there that I used to, I once again go back to it on a regular basis.

So many of us experience this.  We experience God and His refreshing and then we get busy and wander from The Source.  We haven’t forsaken Him, we just don’t talk and listen to Him as much as we used to.  That last long drink keeps us quenched for a long time and we don’t feel the intense need – until life changes and we feel desperate and thirsty once again.

And so we return to The Well especially as seasons change in our lives.  We go there and drink from Him as we navigate our youthful insecurities.  We go there as we become women and fall in love. We go there when we become mothers and feel both sucked dry and emotionally vulnerable because of intense love.  We go there when we feel weighed down by the taxing demands of work and finances.  We go there when the grey hairs multiply and we realize we are now middle aged and that sometimes feels sad.  We go there when our children begin to leave and we wonder what now will give us a sense of purpose. And we go there when we realize we are actually old and our control of ourselves and our surroundings decreases and the number of unknowns increases.  I am watching my mother return to The Well as she nears 80 and wonders what the next years will bring.

And Jesus is always there waiting.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we only pray when we’re desperate.  I am saying, however, that there are times of sipping and times of gulping: times when we drink a little and feel satisfied and times when we know such intense thirst that we plunge that ladle into that Living Water, we cast off decorum and we drink until water drips off our chin.  At those times, if we don’t drink, we will die.  And He always satisfies.  He always has a word to mollify our fears and instill peace in our hearts.  He is so faithful, even when we wander and think we can live on sips.

I am grateful for this Well of Living Water, called Jesus.  I am so grateful we can approach Him without fear and boldly, greedily drink.  He is so patient, so kind and so full.

I Don’t Want to Live in a Religious Country

Leading up to the 2012 election, I’ve been saddened by all the bitterness expressed on both sides.  The angry posters and commercials, the accusatory mass emails: the raw emotion swirling around the ballot is, well, alarming.  I don’t mean that people should not have strong opinions about which candidate would be better for our country.  What bothers me is when it seems like Christians are putting their hope in any man; when I hear the implication that this country will rise or fall based on who sits behind the desk in the Oval Office.  I’m concerned when I hear more emotion being expressed about a political party than about God, Himself: when certain news channels are given more time and attention than Scripture, when people pray more fervently for a candidate than for the salvation of family and friends, when a party winning the majority is given more weight than a spiritual renewal that brings salvation to many and changed hearts on a large scale.

Looking at politics in other countries both sobers me and helps direct my prayers.  Apartheid South Africa, had very conservative laws: for example, homosexuality was banned, teachers and students freely prayed in schools and businesses had to observe the Sabbath.  On paper it looked like a “Christian” country.  But underneath the thin veer of righteousness, dwelt corruption, hatred, deep and repressive racism, gross inequity, segregation and police brutality towards non-whites.  In other words, the Apartheid South African government was Pharisaical: truly a white washed sepulcher.  Men attempted to enforce righteousness through the rule of law, but without the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit, that country degenerated into a bastion of human rights violations.

Personally, I do not think social conservatism is the answer.

But nor do think secularism is.

When I look at what is happening in many countries of Europe today, I don’t wish that on America either.  In a lot of Europe, marriage is becoming obsolete, couples are bearing fewer and fewer children and the country is feeling both the economic and sociological effects of that.  Added to that, subconsciously or consciously citizens look to the state as their source of provision.  Churches are dying more quickly than they are being planted and a fear of God is rejected as irrational and anachronistic.  The culture is so liberal, I often think it must be hard to raise Christian kids with Godly values there.

You know the kind of country I’d like to live in?  In a country experiencing revival.   As a result of revivals in Great Britain and America, orphanages were formed, and prisons reformed, sweat shops closed and slavery ended, the poor were cared for, marriages were healed, drunks stopped drinking, men returned to their families, Christians repented and worshiped God with abandon, crime rates plummeted and church attendance soared.  It was no Utopia, but human hearts were changed across social, gender and racial lines and the society was all the better for it.

I like a good political debate more than many, and I feel passionate about some issues, but I have to ask:

Do we pray as fervently for a move of the Holy Spirit as we do the election?  Do we think a revival is unattainable or too ethereal, so we instead pour our energy into something that seams more realistic, like a certain party winning and addressing our pet grievances?  If we put all our eggs in that basket, we are bound for disappointment, no matter who wins in November.  I’m not saying elections are unimportant.  They deserve some of our time, attention and emotion, but not all of it, or even most of it.  Something is always trying to gain central place in our hearts.  Washington doesn’t deserve that position.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God (Ps 20:7).

As Babbie Mason sings, “The only hope for the world is Jesus…”