Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Eleven Ways To Make Your Home More Peaceful

"...seek peace and pursue it."
I Peter 3:11

What does it mean to have a peaceful home?
Does having a peaceful home mean there will never be a problem? 
No disagreements,
never a difference of opinion,
zero financial hardship, no sickness, and never an adverse circumstance?
Does it mean that life is one long, blissful string of blessings, with never a care?
Does it mean our feathers never get ruffled,
our feelings never get hurt,
and we wake up to sunshine every morning?

Anyone who has lived very long at all knows that life is chock full of problems,
disagreements, differences of opinion, financial distress, illness, adversity,
worries, things that anger us, wounds to our feelings,
and lots of rainy days. 

God didn't promise us the absence of trials and tribulations.
In fact, His Word tells us to expect them, because they will come.
It is not a matter of "IF" they will happen, it's "WHEN".

"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, 
as though some strange thing happened unto you..."  I Peter 4:12

"That no man should be moved by these afflictions:
 for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto."  I Thessalonians 3:3

Jesus' brother James even took it a step further and told us to be joyful when trials come.

"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations..."  James 1:2

I remember when Kevin and I first got married,
I had so much to learn.
We were so in love.
Somehow, I fancied this notion that life itself was just plain rosy.

Soon after our wedding and honeymoon, an onslaught of reality set in.
I began dealing with health issues that were beyond my control.
Kevin began having health issues of his own that kept me in a near-constant state of worry.
Dad suffered a massive heart attack and had to undergo open heart surgery, 
which resulted in Mom and Dad losing their place and moving in to live with us while he recovered.
The four of us lived together in a 2 bedroom apartment for six months.
Kevin's Mom was diagnosed with cancer and ended up in the hospital in WV,
at the same time Dad was hospitalized in FL, where we lived.
Family members began to die, including my brother-in-law, Richie,
who was more a brother to me than a brother-in-law.
The reality that I was very infertile and not at all likely to ever conceive a baby of our own
began to settle down over me with a dull, sickening thud of defeat.
Cars broke down, we both encountered difficult situations in our jobs,
and finances were sometimes tight.
There are many, many more things I could mention.
Couldn't we all?
Some things are just too personal and private to be shared.

I can't really tell you the defining moment when the light bulb finally came on,
and I came to the full realization that life is not just plain rosy.
That I might as well stop sweating the small stuff.
That I might as well settle in to the idea that problems happen.
Cars break down.
Sickness strikes.
People die.
Wombs are sometimes barren.
Life is very short and rushes by at an alarmingly fast rate of speed,
and making money is not all that important...
especially if you are in a job you really dread going to every day.

I can't say when I finally accepted these things,
but I can say that once I did...once I not only accepted these facts of life,
but that I expected them....I discovered a wellspring of peace.

Over 25 years later, Kevin and I are still so in love.
Even more so than way back then.
Our love is deeper now.
It reaches so many more dimensions...it has survived some treacherous storms.
It is stronger, having been tested on many levels and from multiple angles.

Through it all, I have learned what it means to live in and create a peaceful home.
I have learned the precious secret that much of having a peaceful home
has to do with having a peaceful heart.

A peaceful home is confronted with the same challenges as any other home.
It isn't the absence of storms that makes a home more peaceful.
It is the Anchor that holds the home fast while the storm rages.

So, for what it's worth,
 here's my list of eleven suggestions for the making and maintaining of a peaceful home.

#1.  Make sure you have the right Anchor on board.
If what grounds you is anything or anyone other than the Rock, Christ Jesus,
the peace in your home is not secure.
Because people are human.
They err.
They have faults.
They fail.
If you build your home on the Rock, your Anchor will hold in the strongest storms of life.
And storms of life will come...no doubt about it.
Keep the Anchor on board, allow Him to be sovereign over all you say and do,
keep Him at the forefront, let Him hold the reins, allow Him to lead,
and your home...and heart...will be full of peace.

#2.  Learn the fine art of compromise.
So what if you want to paint the living room a soothing taupe, and your spouse insists on pumpkin orange?
Is it really, really all that important?
100 years from now, will it matter?
Go ahead and cave once in a while.
Compromise is a wonderful antidote for pride, selfishness, and stubbornness.
And the smile it brings to your spouse's face is so worth it.

#3.  Let someone else have the last word.
Is it really that important to always prove your point?
No one can stand being around a "know-it-all".
Remember that the opinions of others have merit, too,
and they want to be heard just as much as you do.
Stop and listen, and you will be amazed how much peace it brings to just let it go.
Diffuse tension by swallowing words that are better left unsaid.

4.  Expect adversity.
The car is going to break down...eventually.
Junior is going to need new glasses...sooner or later.
The refrigerator you've had since you got married has not discovered the fountain of youth, 
and it will most definitely need to be replaced...one of these days.
There's a good chance that little Susie will need braces...probably within a year.
Expecting adversity does not in any way equate to having an Eeyore-like, pessimistic outlook.
It doesn't mean you walk around under a continual cloud just waiting for the next bad thing to happen,
making everyone within half a mile of you completely miserable.
It means that when the dryer makes a loud boom and you see smoke billowing out of it,
you don't go all to pieces and imagine it is the end of the world,
throw a tantrum, and create an uproar that affects everyone else in the household.
It means when your child comes to get you in the middle of the night,
vomiting all the way from your room to the bathroom,
saturating your brand-new, freshly-laid carpet in the process,
you don't land in a heap at the foot of the toilet verbally bemoaning that all is lost...
making him feel even worse than he already does.
It means expecting that trials will come.
But with that expectation, knowing there is an all-seeing eye in Heaven continually resting upon you,
and He is with you...in the storm.
Be ever aware that even though life is full of trouble, 
He is ever faithful,
and you can rest...and be at peace...because He is God, He loves you dearly, and He is in control...always.

#5.  Be content with what you have.
There is nothing like a thankful attitude to foster peace.
On the flip side, complaining, griping, criticizing, and nagging have the complete opposite effect.
As the old saying goes, "Thank God for what you have, trust Him for what you need."
If buying something will put you in debt and cause added emotional stress,
maybe it is best to just make do with what you have until God provides something better.
Find the joy that comes when you learn to be grateful for what you already have.

#6.  Learn the value of frugality.   
There's nothing like financial strain, worries, and over-extension to rob the peace in your home.
Lack of self-control in the area of spending will cause undue and unnecessary stress,
and that tension will be felt by every member living in your household.
Think, before you buy.
Ask yourself if you really need it.
Ask yourself if it can wait...until a more prosperous time.

#7. Stay home more.
Continually running around wears you out and exhausts your energy.
When you're never home, things start falling behind, with you not there to keep up.
Stress ensues, along with feelings of being overwhelmed.
This creates tension...and undue anxiety.
Staying home equals saving money, too.
I realize we all have to get out for necessary reasons...
to work, to grocery shop, to do all of the errands life demands, for recreational purposes, etc.,
but ask yourself if there are ways you could cut back and stay home more.
Cut out unnecessary trips.
Try to cover as many errands as possible while you are out and about.
Whenever possible, stay home.
Enjoy the haven God has provided for you.

#8.  Eliminate unnecessary and unedifying noise.
Turn off electronics as much as possible.
Limit your child(ren)'s time on them....and yours, too.
Quietness encourages talking.
Stillness invites the opening up of hearts and minds.
There is something about allowing only natural sounds that brings tranquility.
Don't permit music that is degrading, anti-God, vulgar, disheartening, 
or rebellion-inciting to permeate the atmosphere.
Don't allow it to invade the space God has entrusted to your care.
You are the guide of your house.  (I Timothy 5:14 KJV)
You are the keeper of your home.  (Titus 2:4,5)
Set the boundaries, and hold them in place.
You will earn their respect, if you are firm and consistent.

#9.  Develop a restful atmosphere.
Create a quiet aura and the ambience you crave.
Think about relaxing places you've been and peaceful homes you've visited or stayed in.
What did you find most appealing about your surroundings there?
More than likely, one of the main points you will remember is the loving way
the people in those surroundings reacted to and interacted with each other.
Apply love lavishly and continually to those who live with you.
Season words with love and grace and mercy.
You have much control over the atmosphere in your home.
God has blessed you with this space, however big or small,
however old or new,
however modern or outdated.
Work with what you have with a determined drive to make it peaceful.
Allow uplifting music and sounds to infiltrate the airwaves.
Allow the message of songs to encourage, inspire, and motivate holy living.
We have lots of nature sounds CDs and tapes that I love to play.
It just creates a nice, soft backdrop and sets a very peaceful tone.
I also love to use water fountains.
Is there anything in the world more soothing than the sound of gently flowing water?

#10.  Fill your space with things you love.
(within your means, which may require long waiting and patience)
Your beloved bright, neon pink lamp shades may give Aunt Delilah a raging headache, 
but as it turns out, she doesn't live in your home and only visits for an hour once every four years.
Your favorite scented tarts that emanate the smells of cinnamon & banana nut bread cause Uncle Sebastian's
allergies to kick in, but in all the years you've been married, he has only visited once.
What you like may or may not appeal to anyone else, but you are the one who lives there, right?  :)
Kevin and I love antiques, primitive decor', and quilts.
We love anything old and quaint and enjoy strolling through antique malls and old-timey stores.
Through the years, as we have been able to afford it,
we have accumulated several of these items that have found a place in our home.
Seeing them brings a sense of peace that makes our house feel comforting.
I can still tell you where many of the items came from and the happy memories attached to them,
although my memory isn't the best anymore.  :)
Make sure your home smells good.
I. Love. Scented Candles.
Oh, how I love them!
But, I often worry about lighting one, then forgetting about it, which could lead to major problems, obviously.
So, what to do?
Introducing....the Scentsy alternative!
I'll admit, these can be pricey.
But, when you have a thoughtful friend like Wanda, who's worrying?
Yes, one day, I opened our mail to find the sweetest package.
She's known to do this for me...out of the blue, unexpected, and so appreciated!
This time it was...not one...but TWO Scentsy warmers, along with lots and lots of variously-scented tarts!
The Scentsy warmers are electric, which eliminates the need to worry about forgotten burning candles.
And, oh, do they smell good!!
The scents are strong enough to completely fill up a room and make the space so warm and inviting.
I love my warmers...not only because they work so well, create such inviting aromas in our home,
but because of the precious friend who bestowed the gifts.
Check out Scentsy's website here.
Let go of things in your home that vex your spirit.
If something stirs negativity, sadness, regret, anger, resentment, or heartache when you look at it,
by all means, get rid of it and remove it from your living space...
no matter where it came from or who gave it to you.
Seeing it will always steal your peace, and it is just not worth it.
Surround yourself with things that make you smile, comfort you, warm your heart, and bring you joy.

#11. Be neat.
Keep things clean and tidy.
It is hard to feel at peace in cluttered, messy surroundings.
It doesn't take a lot of effort to keep a clean house.
Consistently keeping up with things will prevent the need for frequent deep cleaning.
Put things back where they belong before going to bed each night,
and teach your child(ren) to do the same.
This way you will start off tomorrow in an organized setting,
which is very conducive to a productive day.
Consistently apply the advice, "A place for everything, and everything in its place."

Enjoy the home God has blessed you with,
and determine to live each day in peace.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Eleven Things To Remember During Infertility

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,
which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
Ephesians 2:10

As most of you already know,
Kevin and I struggled for 12.5 years with infertility.
You can read our full testimony here.
We've been there and felt the full gamut of emotions that accompany that path.
After seeing four different doctors and being left void of hope,
we made the choice to place the matter into God's hands,
and we finally let go.
A couple of years later, God miraculously, unexpectedly, and mysteriously opened my barren womb,
for one moment in time,
and He allowed me to conceive,
carry full-term, and deliver the sweetest baby boy.
He is now 13 years old and brightens our home and lives every moment of every day.

God's timing could not have been more perfect.

I write this post because I know, firsthand, how it feels to wonder if I would ever become a mother.
I write it because my heart goes out to and breaks for those who now wonder the same thing.
I've been in your shoes, and I know how you feel.
I hope these little tips somehow bring hope and light and help to you as you yearn for motherhood.

#1.  It isn't your fault. 
Be kind to yourself.
Even if you are the one with the physical problem,
you are not to blame.
You didn't ask for this, and you didn't cause it.
Don't beat yourself up and waste energy on self-loathing.
You are precious to God,
you are beautiful,
and you are beyond special...right now...right where you are...
whether you can or cannot conceive.
Infertility does not define you.
It does not make you less of a person.
It does not make up the whole of who you are.

#2.  It isn't your spouse's fault.
They're still the same person you fell in love with...and married.
Infertility hasn't changed who they are.
Remember, they are suffering, too.
Even if they are the one with the physical problem,
they are not to blame.
They didn't ask for this, any more than you did.
It isn't the easiest thing in the world to be told your problem
is the cause for your spouse being denied something they want so badly.
To fault each other adds insult to your already injured hearts...and pride.
Don't play the blame game and cause deeper wounds.
That isn't fair.
Put yourself in each other's shoes,
and always treat each other the way you want to be treated.
Sympathize...and empathize with each other...sincerely and with deep feeling.

#3.  God is not limited...or affected by your diagnosis.
He is not derailed by the name, longevity, stage, or form of any sickness or disease.
He is all power.
He created you.
He knows what is malfunctioning.
And since He made you, He knows how to fix you.
He still opens barren wombs.
"He makes the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD."
(Psalm 113:9)
Even now.
His Word remains and is still 100% true, reliable, and you can stand on its dependability.
What is completely impossible with man, is entirely possible with God.
Sarah's womb was completely dead.
Abraham was way past the point of being able to father a child.
Yet, God overruled human logic, reasoning, and understanding,
and sent them a baby of their very own at the ages of 90 & 100.
Is your situation more impossible than that?
No matter what you have been diagnosed with,
how long you've had it,
what stage it is in,
 or what disparaging news you have received,
God is not affected, nor is His authority diminished by, man's wisdom, proclamations, assertions, assumptions, and/or declarations.
God's power trumps all.
Yes, even medical science.

#4.  God has His own timetable.
He doesn't operate within, nor is He confined to, ours.
He doesn't reckon years...or age....like we do.
Just because we think we have it all figured out,
and we think it is the perfect time to conceive,
that our situation couldn't be more conducive to or convenient for us to have a child,
that it has to happen right now...today,
does not necessarily mean any of this is true...or accurate.
Our logic and analyses do not in any way alter God's mind.
He sees the future.
He knows what is best.
He works accordingly.
We cannot hurry Him.
The sooner we realize this and accept it,
the better...for us.
Struggling with Him,
fighting against His plan,
blaming Him, becoming angry with Him,
and maintaining the mindset that we know better than Him,
only serves to frustrate and discourage us and to hinder His purpose in it all.

#5.  Enjoy the journey while you wait.
Even though it feels like it, this is not all there is to life.
There's a whole world out there...waiting to be explored.
Who knows what exciting thing is up around the bend?
Don't over-obsess.
Don't miss out on the abundant life Jesus is offering you,
just because you are solely convinced it will never be abundant without a baby included.
Instead of spending every ounce of your energy ruing what might be or what might have been,
thank God for what is.
Look at what is in front of you.
God has given you this special person with whom to walk through life.
Don't ever forget, or disregard, or underestimate the enormity of that gift.
Focus on each other.
Don't allow your whole life to be about or consumed by trying to conceive.
It will drive you crazy...and apart.
Serve one another.
Be good to one another.
Speak kindness...and love...and mercy...always.
Staying up-tight and overly-focused will actually hinder and impede what you are trying most to accomplish.
Be spontaneous.
Take trips.
Do the things you won't be able to do as readily,
once that little miracle arrives in your home...and arms...and requires your undivided attention.
You will never get to live through these days again.
God is working all of this for good, and He has many lessons to teach during the waiting.
Open your heart and mind and allow Him to minister to you.
There are things we can learn only through suffering.

#6.  Re-direct all of that bottled-up parental love.
Your spouse could use some of it, to be sure.
Shower them lavishly...with tenderness, concern, compassion, and understanding...
to the same intensity and with the same sincerity that you long to receive it and be loved.
What goes around, comes around.
You will get back what you give away.
Be generously affectionate.
It melts hearts, shatters walls, diffuses tension, and changes minds.
And what about the other people in your life?
Could they benefit from you channeling some of that pent-up parental love their way?
Who in your life is lonely?
What child is living and being raised in a single-parent home?
What mother would give anything for a break?
What parental couple could use some alone time?
You could visit that lonely person.
Call them.
Send them a card.
Give them a hug.
Speak a kind word.
You could be the surrogate parent and fill the void of that single-parent child.
Show an interest in what they like and what is important to them.
Help them with their homework.
Commit to remembering their birthday each year.
Take them to church and/or Sunday School.
Include them the next time you go out to eat.
You could lighten that weary mother's load.
 A word of CAUTION here, as this can be a tricky one.
Chances are, if she is weary and overwhelmed, she also feels inadequate.
No woman, especially a mother, wants to feel they are being condescended to
or that they aren't doing a good, efficient job all on their own.
Without the use of extreme tact and discretion, you could actually do more damage than good on this one.
Don't overstretch your boundaries or be overbearing.
Don't make her feel even more inadequate, like you feel she can't keep up,
or like you know more or better than she does.
It is so much easier to pass judgment on a mother...before you actually become one.
Once you are actually walking in her shoes,
you will long to retrieve every piece of unsolicited parental advice you ever gave.  :)
Believe me.
Be gentle with your suggestions and offers to help,
but, by all means, don't allow the trickiness of all this keep you from reaching out.
Offer to babysit her kids for an afternoon, so she can have some free time and relax.
Offer to do a few loads of laundry.
Offer to clean her house.
Offer to rock a crying baby.
Offer to allow her kids to sit with you in church, so she can actually hear what is being said
and participate and worship.
One thing you can do without offering first is to drop off a home-cooked meal...
or even just dessert.
I don't know any Mama anywhere who has ever resented that kind of help!
You could buy a restaurant gift card for that starved-to-be-alone couple.
Babysit their kids, so they can go out and actually look into each other's eyes...and talk.
Make sure there is another adult or relative present, if there is any hesitancy about safety issues.
Nowadays, you can't be too careful, and many parents aren't too keen on leaving their kids.
You also don't want to put yourself in a suspicious, questionable, or vulnerable-to-accusation position.
It's a shame you have to even think like this, but it is reality in this sin-blighted world,
and it is better to face it and put appropriate defense and protective measures in place ahead of time.
This makes everyone involved feel better and relax.
Do what needs to be done, orchestrate what needs to be coordinated,
so the couple can go away together...alone...without worry overshadowing their every thought while gone.
Another idea to consider while walking the lonely walk of infertility is to do what Elisha and her husband from Waiting for Baby Bird are doing.
They are foster parents to a sweet, little girl!
What a noble, needful, and wonderful way to re-route all of those parental gifts they long to bestow!
So commendable.
There is nothing like reaching out to others to take our minds off ourselves.

#7. Don't pull away from each other.
It is easy to become swallowed up in your own sadness and to recede, withdraw, and shut each other out.
Don't let this happen.
Allow your infertility to draw you together...not apart.
Turn to one another.
Tell each other how you really feel...gently.
Don't hold it in and allow it to fester.
You are both a part of this adventure.
You are not walking this path alone.
To pull away and allow distance to come between the two of you only adds another layer to your pain.
Grieve...and yearn...and dream....together.
Take time to really listen to what is being said.
Validate each other's feelings.
Don't berate each other or adopt the mindset that you are feeling this more keenly than your spouse
just because they aren't reacting in the same way or as extremely as you are.
We all deal with issues in our own way.
Some of us cry, vent, and show other outward signs of what is going on inside.
Some of us keep our emotions hidden deep below the surface.
What may appear to be indifference on your spouse's face,
could actually be the mustering of every ounce of courage they have to hold back a flood of tears.
Remember this...God created men and women with very different compositions.
Our individual strengths and weaknesses have been installed for a Divine purpose by an all-knowing God.
Each gender compliments the other.
We fill in each other's blanks, voids, and missing pieces.
Together, we are complete.
To pull that apart and think we know a better way is the undoing of God's perfect plan.

#8. Give yourself a break.
Self-esteem issues are rampant and highly-pronounced during infertility struggles.
We feel "less than" what we are "supposed" to be.
It is automatic.
I felt like such a failure when I could not conceive.
After all, that is the one thing a woman should automatically be able to do...right?
I didn't like myself too much during those years,
and I have given myself some pretty vicious, unfair, harsh, and mean-spirited beatings.
Sad to say, beatings leave scars...even when they are self-inflicted.
Looking back, I wish I hadn't been so self-abusive.
It really wasn't my fault.
Even though I am the one who was diagnosed with a physical disease that impaired my ability to conceive,
I was not to blame.
I see that now.

#9. There are reasons for God's delays.
 I really thought I knew best.
Thought I had it all planned out in the best possible way it could happen.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
It is so clear now...in retrospect.
Funny how the vision clears as life unfolds and hindsight is 20/20.
God's timing was impeccable...to the minute...right on.
Having Zachary right when I did was the most perfect time I could have ever become a Mama.
Having him still home with us now...when we need him most is nothing short of Divine providence.

#10. Accept the fact that it doesn't always happen.
It pains me to include this one.
But, God says I must.
I sit here, as I type these words, tears streaming.
Because, this is not what you want to hear.
I know that.
I reach out to you where you are right now...you whose arms are empty,
whose nurseries wait...decorated, warm, inviting,
whose hearts break...every, single month,
whose fists pound Heavenward and who scream, "Why?"...only to hear deafening silence,
whose pillows are wet each night...from quiet, falling-asleep tears,
whose wombs remain...barren.
My dear, precious friend!
I mourn with you.
I can't say that one day you will become a mother...or father.
I can't promise you that.
Only God knows.
Factually speaking, there is a chance you may...and a chance you may not.
You already know that.
I hate to bring it up or remind you, because to cause you added pain grieves my heart.

#11. You are going to be okay.
Whatever your individual outcome.
I promise.
You will be loved no less...either way.
You are strong...and resilient...and there is enough courage inside of you to face any lion.
The contributions you make to this world will be eternity-altering...
whether or not you are ever called a parent.
The roles you fill are making a difference...regardless.
You are still you....
unique, Divinely-designed, intricately-woven, and beyond precious to God.
Whatever His plans for you, you will succeed...and overcome.
You will leave this world a better place for having lived in it.
You will be okay, because you are a survivor...a fighter...a victor.
You are God's workmanship,
you are created in Christ Jesus unto good works,
which God has before ordained that you should walk in them.  (Ephesians 2:10)
And beautifully walk in them...you shall.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Eleven Steps to a Stronger, Happier Marriage

"Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it:
 if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned."
Song of Solomon 8:7

Love is just that powerful!

To live life...to walk through it...with one special person by your side...
is a beautiful thing.
To build a life together,
to share the ups and downs, the smiles and tears...to endure and outlast the hard places,
to weather the storms...clinging to each other with all your might,
to create a history....one that you can both look back upon and remember having lived through together.....
is a treasure more valuable than gold.

Kevin and I have some precious memories.
All glory be to God for every moment He has given to us.
It is all because of Him and His great love and mercy.
We have been through a lot.
Some of it is personal....unspeakable...just between us.
That is the way it should be.
Whether it is meant to be shared...or not....it is all intimately ours.
Just like your love story is uniquely and privately yours.

Love is a steadfast and powerful force.

If I were sitting down with newlyweds or with those who are contemplating marriage today,
and if they happened to ask my favorite secrets to a happy marriage...
these are the eleven tips I would share.

#1.  Marriage takes three.
Put God first.
Let Him be the hub of the wheel.
This is the most important thing of all.
Make up your mind that you will make no decision without first consulting Him and seeking His will.
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Matthew 6:33
Make God your number one mutual priority, and everything else will follow.
Your needs will be met.
Your life together will be fulfilled and purposeful.
You will be happy.

#2.  Pray together...regularly.
I know we all need our one-on-one time with God every day.
Nothing should substitute for that.
But, in addition to our private time with Him,
we should make it a point to pray with each other.
I am not saying this has to be an hour-long thing.
Sometimes, we have the pre-conceived notion that if we can't do something in a big way,
we shouldn't even try to do it at all.
Any together-prayer time is better than none at all.
Even if it is for 30 seconds, as you both head out the door,
seize it. 
Take that 30 seconds.
Hold each other tight....
or kneel side by side....
or hold hands.
The position is not important.
Just bow your heads....together....and talk to God.
In your own way.
Always in Jesus' name.
Do this, and watch the transformation.
"The family that prays together, stays together".

#3.  Read God's Word...together.
Again, this doesn't have to be a lengthy thing.
The longer the better, but we all know life is going on.
It is happening.
Time seems to be so short...and limited.
So do what you can.
If all you can manage is one verse....
read it....together.
Talk about that one verse.
Share your individual perspectives.
Shared revelation is double the blessing.
Who better to share it with than the one you love most?

#4.  Never stop dating.
Remember how exciting that time was in your relationship?
When all you could think about all day long was getting out of school or work
and being together?
It didn't matter what you were planning to do.
Keep the thrill alive.
Schedule dates....for just the two of you.
It doesn't have to be expensive.
Be creative.
Find a sitter, stay home, and eat by candlelight.
Take a blanket outside, sit side by side, and stare at the stars.
Could anything be more romantic?
It's the simple, little things that mean the most.
The best things in life are always free.
I know this sounds crazy, but some of our favorite "dates" are spent walking around our yard.
Kevin loves for me to come outside and walk with him.
He shows me things I wouldn't notice on my own.
He holds my hand as he opens up to me.
He takes a lot of pride in keeping our yard neat and well-maintained.
It seems to mean the world to him to hear me notice and compliment his hard work.
The other day, he was getting ready to leave for work, 
after already having done a full day's work in our yard.
"Will you walk outside with me, so I can show you the yard?" he asked.
I thought of how we were running short on time, and I still hadn't packed his lunch.
My first impulse was to gently tell him I didn't have time.
But there was a longing in his voice.
 I recognized it right away, I decided there was no way I was going to deny his request.
So, I called Zach in to the kitchen, asked him to pack his Daddy's lunch,
and Kevin and I headed outside.
It was the sweetest time.
He pulled me close as we walked, and he showed me little things....
how he had weed-eaten around the pool....
how he had tightened the cables on our clothes line, so the laundry won't sag so much when I hang it out,
how he had tilled part of the garden,
how he had trimmed and pruned the peach trees out back,
how he had leveled the ground beneath our back steps.
Can I tell you how much I appreciate all he does?
I told him.
Over and over.
It was all he needed.
It made it all worthwhile.
Our spouse needs to feel appreciated.
We should never take for granted that they just know.
They need to be told.
What better time to tell them than on one of your "dates"?
Initiate the date.
Don't be afraid to ask.
Don't let life get in the way of your alone-together time.
 Some of Kevin's and my sweetest "dates" haven't cost one, thin dime.

#5.  Communicate.
I can't stress this one enough.
You have to talk.
You need to talk.
It is imperative that you know what is going on with each other.
Don't lose touch.
It sounds absurd to think that two people can live together under the same roof,
yet never connect, but it is absolutely true...and possible...and likely...
if you don't put forth the effort to prevent it.
Spill your heart to each other.
Be each other's confidante.
Communication is a two-way street.
Don't expect the other person to pour out their heart to you,
if you put up guarded walls and never open up to them.
And don't expect them to be transparent about their feelings 
if you have a tendency of making them feel small....or even stupid or inadequate...
while downplaying their words when they do open up to you.
Don't criticize each other's feelings.
Don't minimize opinions, even if they are opposite your own.
Don't act uninterested.
Don't laugh at one another....ever...unless the other person is laughing, too.  :~)
Acknowledge that what the other person feels is real.
Validate it.
Don't close yourself off from each other.
Be available.
Make your feelings known...in a kind way.
Keep a perpetual conversation going.
Don't ever shut it down or close each other out.
Don't allow anything to build a wall between you.
Do what you have to do to keep an open dialog.
Remember, "I love you" will always be one of the most important things you could ever say to each other.
Truly, you can't say it enough...or too much.

#6.  Intimacy matters.
Make time for it.
Don't avoid it.
Don't treat closeness like it is the thing that will happen only after everything else is tended to.
If you allow it to be at the bottom of your list of priorities, chances are, it will get the shaft and never happen.
And it needs to.
Keep the passion between the two of you alive and strong.
It provides a safeguard against temptation.
Channel physical energy towards each other.
This avoids the lure of allowing it to stray elsewhere.

#7.  Only have eyes for each other.
Our world is full of lustful enticements.
Have you ever seen such wild, vulgar magazines in the checkout line?
Can I tell you how many times I have turned them around to keep Zach from seeing them?
I know I have very little control over things like this, and I can't shield him from everything, 
but I make the most of the opportunities I have.
I was standing in the photo department at CVS the other night,
when I turned to look for the nearby cashier for assistance.
What I saw right there...blazing....right in front of her register...
in plain view of small children or whoever else may walk by....
was enough to make my Papaw, (man of God that he was), blush 20 shades of red.
Three very-nearly-naked women...wearing only thongs, as I recall....
 standing side by side,
hands on each other,
on the front of a magazine.
The sight sent waves of shock through me.
But, should I even be shocked anymore?
How long before they are totally naked...right there...in the open...
for our little boys and husbands to see and have to deal with the residual lust incited by their nudity?
Remember when those types of pictures were sold sneakily?
When they were hidden somewhere in the store?
No wonder Jeremiah 6:15 says, 
"Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? 
No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush."
Do you ever see anyone blush anymore?
While sitting and watching filthy scenes in living rooms,
it has all become very commonplace and acceptable.
The shock-value has completely worn off.
We have become a world obsessed with sensuality, and in the process,
we have become completely desensitized to sin.
Everywhere you look, there are distractions.
No matter how hard you try to avoid them, they are there.
In. Your. Face.
So, it is up to each one of us to reel in our thoughts.
"Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God,
and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ..."
2 Corinthian 10:5
Don't give place to lust.
God has sufficient grace, no matter how severely we are bombarded.
Don't allow your thoughts to wander to what it would be like to be with someone else.
Don't even go there.
Not a good idea.
Even if it happens, only in your mind, it's as well as a done deal.
I know that is cutting it close, but those aren't my words.
Jesus said, 
"But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully 
has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Matthew 5:28
The grass may look greener until you get there and find out it isn't, 
 then remorsefully realize what you gave up to get there.
Don't read books that make you long for someone other than the person you are married to.
Don't allow your eyes to watch or look at things 
that cause your mind to wander into places it should never go.
Don't put yourself in compromising positions that encourage extra-marital affairs.
Stay off temptation's ground, as much as possible.
Turn your affections and desires upon your spouse...and leave them there.
Reasoning with and toying with temptation usually ends up going farther than mere temptation.
A happy marriage is worth the effort it takes
 to have eyes only for your spouse.
Make it happen.
If we are going to have strong, healthy marriages that last for life,
it is going to take continual, persistent, strong effort in the face of the overwhelming challenges
and the shameless blatancy of sin that is unique to this age of time.
Keep the faith, and keep faithful....even in your thoughts.
Be as intensely dedicated to your spouse as you yearn for your spouse to be devoted to you.

#8.  Never...ever...take each other for granted.
Life is short...and extremely uncertain.
Don't assume it will go on like it is forever.
We aren't promised another day...or moment.
Never lose that initial respect and appreciation for each other.
Think of how lonely life would be if you were walking it alone.
Don't fail to say thank you...for every, single, little thing.
Make it a point and commitment to say three nice things to each other every day.
Not all at one time, but scattered throughout the day.
A compliment.
A positive affirmation.
A word of comfort.
An encouraging thought.
Be creative.
Text each other if you are apart.
Shoot a short email message.
Being nice breaks the ice, tears down walls, and restores faith.
Say the things you long to hear...
even if you are the one who always says them first.
Just. Do. It.
Swallow stubborn pride and never forget how foolish and futile it is.

#9.  Never underestimate the power of the human touch.
Sometimes that is all it takes.
Just a pat on the shoulder,
a squeeze of the hand,
a peck on the cheek,
a genuine hug.
There are times that is all that is needed.
Aren't there times you wish for this?
Bestow it with the same fervency and sincerity you wish for it to be shown to you.
A soft, gentle, compassionate touch works miracles.
Don't ever underestimate it or feel that it is not enough.
It just might be.

#10.  Seek each other's happiness,
before you seek your own.
The old saying about joy is true...
Jesus first
Others second
Yourself last
Treat your spouse the way you long to be treated.
Speak to each other in the tone you wish to be spoken to.
Show affection to the degree you yearn to receive it.
If you are caring for others, make sure you care for each other first.
Don't neglect one another or shove each other's needs to the end of your priority list.

#11.  Forgive quickly.
Assume the best of each other, even when your feelings are hurt.
Don't automatically think the worst of each other.
Apply grace...and mercy...and understanding...lavishly and unbegrudgingly...at all times.
Leave room for mistakes and character flaws.
Don't expect perfection.
You aren't perfect either.
You need tolerance.
So does your spouse.
Don't throw up past offenses.
That isn't fair.
Once forgiveness has been granted, don't take it back...
no matter what happens after that point.
Don't accumulate points against each other, then lower the boom when you get your fill.
Go ahead...forgive....as soon as you need to.
The longer you hold on to your grudge and allow bitter feelings to fester,
the bigger your problem will become.
Just let it go and move forward.
Chances are, you are going to make more mistakes of your own before life is over.
You are going to need forgiveness and long for it.
Apply and grant forgiveness in the way and to the extreme that you want to be forgiven.

Life is short.
Enjoy the journey!
And always remember this...
there are a lot of people who would give anything they own to trade places...
with you...yes, you...right where you are, whoever you are.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

God's Not Dead!

"And the angel answered and said unto the women,
 Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
He is not here: for He is risen, as He said.
Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
And go quickly, and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead;
and, behold, He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him:
 lo, I have told you."
Matthew 28:5-7

Living proof!
Our Savior, once beaten and tortured to death,
is no longer dead!
The angel said, "Come, see the place where the Lord lay."
It was empty!
All that remained were the grave-clothes!
He was not in them...He was not there.
What a price He paid, but after He paid it all, Jesus lives!

GOD'S.  NOT.  DEAD!!!!

Do we really believe it?
Is there a doubt in our skeptical minds?

How I praise Him for not only dying for me, but for conquering that same death!
I believe...with every fiber of my being.
Do you know the main reason I believe God's not dead?
Because He is living on the inside...of me!
His presence is the most real thing in my life.

The same, precious Lamb who willingly was led to the slaughter on that horrible Friday,
walked out of that borrowed sepulcher as a Lion on Sunday morning!
The Lion of Judah!

"Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep!
See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, 
the Root of David, has triumphed."
Revelation 5:5

He is the ultimate Victor!

It may have looked like He lost on "Good Friday",

but He proved every skeptic wrong on Easter Sunday!

Praise our living, resurrected Lord forevermore!
Because the tomb was empty, you...and I...have hope.
Not just a glimmer of hope, but abundant hope.
High hope!

I saw this gate on a fence while traveling away from our dear friend, Priscilla's house.
I just had to stop and take a picture!

Our hope is HIGH because Jesus conquered!!

One of my favorite songs is "I Ought To Love My Savior", written by Daniel S. Warner in 1883.

I wanted to share the words with you here...

"I ought to love my Savior,
He loved me long ago;
Looked on my soul with favor,
When deep in guilt and woe.
And though my sin had grieved Him,
His Father's law had crossed,
Love drew Him down from Heaven,
To seek and save the lost.

I ought to love my Savior,
He bore my sin and shame;
From glory to the manger,
On wings of love He came.
He trod this earth in sorrow,
Endured the pains of Hell,
That I should not be banished,
But in His glory dwell.

I ought to love my Savior,
Upon the cross He died;
Behold the world's Creator,
"My God, my God," He cried.
Oh, listen to those accents,
Of love divine, so free;
'Tis finished!" - my salvation;
Thine shall the glory be.

I ought to love my Savior,
He pardoned all my sin;
Then sanctified my nature,
And keeps me pure within.
He fills me with His glory,
And bears my soul above;
This world, oh, wondrous story,
'Tis love, redeeming love.

The last verse is my favorite...

O, Christ, I can but love Thee,
What heart could e'er withhold;
A love that cost so dearly,
The off'ring of Thy soul?
O King of love immortal,
Reign in my heart alone;
And flood this earthen temple,
With glory from Thy throne."

This song blesses my soul every time I sing it or hear it.
Something rises from deep within...overwhelmingly...when I think of Jesus
and all He has done for me.
How can we keep from loving our Savior...and worshiping...and giving Him praise...
every moment of our lives?

Photo by Angela Gellenbeck
Aren't you glad He didn't stay in that tomb?
Praise God!
He arose!
He will never die again.
He conquered death.
Defeated it.
And He has the keys to prove it!
Now, we can have everlasting life!

The Lord and God we serve with all our hearts is real, and He is alive!
Our God's not dead...He's surely alive!
Worship Him...from the heart....not only today on Easter,
but on every day, your lifetime through.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Jesus' Not-So-Good Friday

"When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar,
He said, It is finished:
and He bowed his head, and gave up the ghost."
John 19:30

Today was a dreary day where we live.
It was like the sky was pouring tears...
cold, cutting tears...
falling down upon and around us here.
Zachary and I had to be out and about taking care of some things,
and it was a chore going in and out of all of the places we visited.
Driving was very difficult and visibility was poor.
Traffic was heavy and wild on the interstate.
Can I tell you how much I do not like the interstate?
I prefer country back roads...by-ways....and the path less traveled.
Unfortunately, sometimes, we just have no choice.
The incessant rain, coupled with the health issues going on in our household,
made today quite miserable and hard to get through.

Several times throughout the day, things went wrong.
It seemed to be one thing right after another...
in a long, succession...never-ending.
I lost count of the times today that Zach turned to look at me and say, 
"Mama, this has been such a bad day.
This just isn't our day, is it?".
To be honest, I agreed with him...every, single time.

Don't get me wrong.
We have MUCH to be thankful for.
I feel so guilty for complaining or for feeling irritated by all of the things that seemed to go in reverse.
Because, truly, in reality, we are extremely blessed...
in spite of pain and sickness and suffering and nothing seeming to go the way we wanted it to.

I forgot about what day this really is until late this evening, 
as I reflected upon the day after returning home.

Here I am...complaining about my day...the uncooperative weather and the other miseries in it...
when it finally hits me that my day was a blissful reprieve compared to His...
that Friday almost 2000 years ago.

Good Friday.

I always wondered why it is called "GOOD" Friday.
What exactly was "good" about it...for the One I adore more than words,
my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?
Could anything...at all...be classified as "Good" about that beyond-horrible day?
I mean, really.
What was accomplished on that day turned out to be good...
actually, it was the best thing that ever happened...for us, that is.
What about Him?
"Good Friday" was not good...for Him.

Every time I read the account of this day in the life of Jesus,
I am brought to tears.
I cannot read it...I cannot think upon it...I cannot remember it...
without crying...
as the sky seemed to be doing all day long today.

Good Friday...what a name to call Crucifixion Day.
Could it have been any more opposite of "good"?
For Him?

I think of the weight that hung over Him as He prayed in Gethsemane.
How He longed, with all His soul, for someone to stand by Him.
How He asked, repeatedly, for His disciples to please give up their sleep...
just so they could lend moral support to Him in His darkest hour.
How He begged His Father to make another way.
How He longed with all His soul to be relieved and excused from the horrific lot that had fallen to Him.
How His body quivered each time it felt the massive blow 
from the bone-infused whip of the merciless Roman solider.
How the blood spewed and spilled from every pore of His tortured body.
How the pain pierced clear through to the sole of His feet, 
as the crown made from sharp thorns was brutally thrust
into the top of His head, down into the very bones that made up His skull.
How they laid that old, rugged, splintery, heavy cross upon His still-bleeding, raw, flesh-torn back,
and forced Him to carry it through the open street.
How He staggered and flinched under its weight until they finally commanded 
a man named Simon to share His load.
How He walked up that lonely hill called Golgotha, knowing His main trial was yet to come.
How He willingly laid His body down upon that same old, rugged cross and allowed a strong hand...
that He had created....
to drive long, freshly-sharpened nails through His hands and His feet.
How the pain was nearly more than He could bear, as that some old, rugged cross was raised...
with Him on it...and lowered into a hole in the ground.
How He hung there for six, agonizing, anguished hours,
until the plan of my salvation was 100% completely finished.

The miseries of my day today, regardless of how miserable they were,
are not worthy to be compared to the miseries of my Lord on that infamous Friday.

Our worst day will never hold a candle to the likes of His worst day...ironically known as "Good Friday".

Take a few moments to watch Ernie Haase and Signature Sound sing,
"Oh, What A Savior" written by Marvin P. Dalton.

Thank You, Jesus.
For dying for me.
For living through what our world has named "Good Friday"
and going the distance to purchase my redemption.
Thank You for delivering me from sin.
Thank You for loving me that much...
my dear, sweet, wonderful Lord.
I will never be able to thank you enough.