life

A Mighty Four-Year-Old Fist

She sat, legs outstretched, hair towel-wrapped, back against the wall, on her bed in a rented house in the historic part of town. An old house near the tracks, just barely safe, just barely respectable, just barely far enough away from the drunks in the flophouse. Her out of place sophistication and beauty did not go unnoticed by the beer guzzling neighbors on her right and on her left.

She called her little house the meat in a redneck sandwich. It was a temporary dwelling, until she got back on her feet.

She was on the phone, midway through a dreary conversation, when her daughter appeared beside the bed and took the receiver from her hand.  Clenching her little four-year-old-fist she spoke into the mouthpiece loud and clear:

“I want to know why you don’t live with us anymore!”

There was a pause. She held her breath wondering how he would answer. She wanted to know, too.

His stern reply came through loud enough for her to hear:

“Put your mother back on.”

She was stunned. Stunned by the courage and stunned by the cowardice.

That sweet, gentle, smart little girl with the impressive vocabulary had a question brewing in her little heart that her mom knew nothing about.  It had been over a year since her father left, and she was just now asking it.

Perhaps it took more than a year to muster the courage. Perhaps at two-and-a-half she didn’t know what to ask.  Perhaps she hadn’t noticed, until she was four, that the dads of other kids lived with them, so why didn’t he? Perhaps she had thought he was away for a while and the while had grown too long.

“I’m just as surprised as you are,” she replied after being berated for putting their daughter up to it, “and someday you are going to have to answer her question.”

Courage inspires. Cowardice disappoints.

Sitting on her bed, receiver back in its cradle, she was disappointed.

The only answer she had ever gotten when she had asked the question was, “Marriage isn’t what I thought it was going to be and I don’t want it anymore.”

But in that breath-held moment she hoped he would muster enough courage of his own to give his daughter a gentle, truthful, more specific answer. Or at least a gentle, truthful promise to talk with her about it later, in person, when he wasn’t caught so off-guard.

But he chose angry defensiveness instead. He chose his discomfort over his daughter’s brave, vulnerable, broken, suddenly demanding little heart.

Sitting on her bed, receiver back in it’s cradle, she was inspired, impressed, in awe.

Her little girl was BRAVE.  Her little girl was going to be okay in life. Her little girl had the courage to ask tough questions, to risk anger and disappointment, to speak up. Her little girl had the courage to ask for something more than the status quo.

He never answered his daughter’s question with words, but he answered it.

He answered it in the choice of his second wife, a lovely woman who is kind and nurturing and not the sharpest tool in the box, not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Sometimes she marvels at the fact that he doesn’t appear bothered by the dullness of her bulb.  But, then, she supposes, perhaps that is what he imagined marriage should be.

And (@ANNELAMOTT), if she remembers correctly, his you-know-what was kinda’ small.

 

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family, love

Goin’ Back to the Chapel of Love

What are anniversaries for if not to retell the story?

“Hey Julie,” he yelled from his balcony as I was hopping onto my bike, “Would you like to go to the Monet exhibit at the art museum today?  My friend has extra passes.”

“No thanks, I’m going to ride my bike today.” I was always riding my bike back then.

“My friend likes to ride bikes…”  His voice trailed off as I rode away.

A week or so went by:

“Hey Julie,” he yelled, as my daughter and I walked out our front door, “Would you like to go to the final day of the U.S. Open tomorrow?  My friend has invited us to his corporation’s hospitality tent.”

Thanks, but I’m going to church tomorrow.

“My friend likes church,” he said as we smiled and waved…

On it went all summer until one day I finally said, “Why don’t you invite him to something sometime.”

So he did.  The something was a dessert auction and the sometime was November. My job involved planning an annual fundraiser.   Every year my daughter would slip a flier for the event under our neighbor, Chris’s, door and every year he would attend.  Alone.  But that year he brought a friend.  Four friends actually.

He called as I was putting the finishing touches on my presentation and asked if I wanted to join him and his friends for dinner before the event.  “Can’t,”  I said, “I have to get there early.  I’m working.”

I met the hub through a serving window.  He came to introduce himself and I reached across the counter to shake his hand.  Me in the kitchen and him in the banquet hall.  As I shook his hand everything in the banquet hall faded away and I saw only him, a solitary figure with a warm smile extending a friendly hand.

Because Chris brought FOUR friends, I wasn’t sure at first which one he wanted me to meet.  But after the introduction and handshake through the window, I was pretty sure it was him. At the end of the evening I sat down at Chris’s table and chatted with all of them.  Pre-hub shone forth.  He told me about the time he road his bike down a mountain in Hawaii.  Bike rider, huh?  He must be the one.

In early December I invited Chris to a concert at my church.  He brought his warm-smiling, friendly-handshaking, biking-riding friend.  He asked me if I would like to meet them for breakfast beforehand.  I did.  We had breakfast together, went to church, then did a little Christmas shopping.  No one wanted the day to end.  I mentioned that I was about to paint my condo.  Pre-hub said, “I’ll help you paint if you help me put up my Christmas tree.”  Deal!

So hub and I became acquainted with our backs to one another – him painting one wall and me painting the opposite wall.  As we chatted I realized that we had stuff in common.  And he often would say exactly what I was thinking.  I am sufficiently in love with myself to appreciate a man who thinks like me.

“I like to cook,” he said.  “How about if you and your daughter help me put up my tree and then stay for dinner?” I LIKE TO COOK?  That racked him up some serious points.

Then the day came when the painting was done.  As he was putting on his boots to leave I thought, This is it.  It’s now or never.  Turned out to be now.  As he was heading for the door he turned and asked me out on an official date.  I told you about that date when I told you about the scarf from heaven.

We had been dating for about a month when he said, “I can’t believe no one has snatched you up.”  “I didn’t want to be snatched up,” I replied.  “Well,” he declared, “I am going to try.”   I was surprised by the smile that spread across my heart.  I didn’t think I would react that way.  But who can resist a man with a plan?

I wanted to make sure he loved the real me and not the me of his imagination.  So I asked him in an e-mail what he liked about me.

Here’s what he wrote:

When I look at you, I see:
the tender, unquestioning love of a mother;
God’s grace– a warm, compassionate, giving heart;
a heart in search of a true soul mate;
a gifted writer, speaker and leader;
a friend;
someone who likes me for being me;
an inspiration;
that little girl smile, the woman in your eyes that always gets to me;
passion;
home;
someone I want to know all about.

Okay, so he liked more than my looks, even so, I had been a single mom for 9 years.  My plan had been to delay dating and remarriage until my daughter went off to college.  But God was changing my mind about that and here I was with an eleven year old, considering marriage to someone I had only known for four months.  It was risky business.

So he quoted a Brooks & Dunn song:

“I know forever is a long, long time for a girl to put her heart on the line.  Trust is a tightrope that we all have to walk; but don’t be afraid.  I won’t let you fall.  With a little faith, mountains move.  I feel that you and me, we can’t lose.”

And then he laid it out for me:

The bottom line is….

1. Do you trust me to guard and protect our love and our relationship?
2. Do you trust me to guard and protect my family?
3. Do you think I will serve God with you?  … fix my eyes on the Lord?
4. Do you think I will provide a safe, secure and responsible home and
finances for us?
5. Do you believe that I will remain devoted to you?  to God?
6. Do you love me?
7. Do you believe that I love you?

#7 was the tricky one – hadn’t had a whole lot of experience with that one.

Even so, he bought a shiny diamond, got on his knee and made a stellar proposal.

We were married in a tiny chapel on a Friday morning.  April 6, 2001. There were 15 people in attendance – my daughter, two of my six sisters and a small assortment of co-workers and friends.  My dad had a balcony seat – watching and smiling from heaven.  My mom was on a cruise in the Seychelles.  The hub’s parents had health problems that made it too difficult for them to make the drive.  (On May 20 we had a “blessing ceremony” in his boyhood church so our entire families could celebrate with us.)

witness

My daughter served as an official witness. Days before the wedding she said, “Mom, you have to realize that it is going to be hard for me to share you after having your undivided attention for so long.”  I realized it.  And it all worked out. We still had plenty of mom and daughter time, and all these years later we still have our annual mother/daughter road trip.

After the tiny chapel ceremony we had a luncheon at hub’s house/by then OUR house.

Me, the Hub, the Best Man/Best Neighbor Chris

Scan 5

Sneaking a kiss when no one was looking.  No one but the photographer, and now you.

The dress?  My friend bought it at an estate sale for $5.  She thought her daughter – who was my daughter’s age (11) – might be able to wear it some day.  It fit well enough and I liked it so it was a done deal.  Hub proposed at the end of March and we were married two weeks later – not a lot of time for dress shopping.  Plus I loved the whole old, new borrowed vibe of it.  AND I was way more interested in the marriage than I was in the wedding.  The pearls were a wedding gift from the hub.

It has been 14 years and I am happy to report that the hub has done a really good job of numbers 1 through 5.

As for #7?  We had dinner at one of our favorite restaurants the other night to celebrate.  I told him about the file I found with all the lovey things he had written back then.  He said, “It was all true then and it is all true now.”

And right then, with a delicious spoonful of chocolate pot de creme swirling in my mouth I realized that after 14 years of marriage I can finally answer #7 with a confident “YES!”

What has he gotten out of the deal?  Well, in his words I am “a good little cook.”  And when the nurse said he needed more fiber in his diet as he was coming out from under the colonoscopy anesthesia, I took it to heart and immediately planted two raspberry bushes.  Because raspberries have a lot of fiber.  I’m looking out for his colon and he appreciates it.

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Plus, as he says, I “tickle” him (make him laugh for those who are unfamiliar with the expression).  And I take really good care of our friends.  All in all it’s been a pretty good deal for both of us.  But I got the better deal.

(Originally posted 4/6/2015)

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life

Ripening, Gathering, Harvesting Joys

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It was a tiny bit chilly that morning as I sat on the bench of a picnic table, beside the lake, sipping coffee and watching the early sun glisten off my diamond. I had just awoken for the very first time as someone’s wife and I was surprised, sitting there with coffee in hand, husband out at the end of the dock checking his minnow trap, admiring the pairing of my engagement ring with its wedding band. I was surprised by a feeling of increased social status. Of feeling like being the Mrs. to someone’s Mr. made me a little bit more. More what, I couldn’t quite pinpoint, just felt like more.

Surprised because I had not a smidgen of a thought on any day of the 26 years leading up to that morning that I was less or lacking.

Sitting there, basking in that early morning summer sun, I was looking forward to joining the young marrieds Sunday school class and forging life-long friendships. My then-husband’s parents both grew up in the same Swedish covenant church, married and formed close friendships that lasted their entire lives – even as many of them aged and moved to the same retirement community in Florida.

That’s what I wanted: Friendships laid in our carefree newlywed years and forged as we reared our children together, served shoulder to shoulder, laughed, rejoiced and grieved together through the ups and downs of life.

I was reminded of that long ago morning this morning when I read a quote on Facebook:

Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perfect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase—that of realism and of true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as people—each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.  —Jean Vanier

I longed for that journey toward something more beautiful.

And then, six years and one two-year old in, my then-husband bailed.

My Sunday school class of no-longer-newlyweds didn’t know how to respond. I tried to stick it out, but back then Baptists shot their wounded, lest anyone mar the happy illusion of happy Christian marriage.

A single friend – who discipled me when I was a new Christian – invited me to attend her church. We taught Sunday school together and my daughter was loved there.  We settled in. But when my single friend moved to Atlanta, a couple of the women pulled me aside and said that the church was geared toward families headed up by COUPLES, not single parents. I’m pretty sure they were worried I might try to steal their husbands. I wasn’t going to steal anyone’s husband. Not only would I not do that, but, as if.

My daughter had started kindergarten by then, so she and I went back to our original church, where she was attending their Christian school. Week after week I went, worshiped and left. No Sunday school, no fellowship, no community, really, just worship and go.

Over the years I’ve bounced back and forth from church to church. Sometimes because I was rejected by the community, sometimes because it didn’t have what I needed. Or what my daughter needed. Or what my new husband and I wanted or needed.

Perhaps if my first husband had stuck it out through the disillusioned second phase of our marriage, I would now be enjoying the deep, enduring, hard-won, life-long friendships I envisioned that first morning of my first marriage.

But maybe not. All these years later I am still loosely connected enough to a few of the women from that first class to know that even they, whose marriages succeeded, are no longer walking in close community together. Many of them have scattered to new church communities.

Blessed be the ties that bind…for now.

I didn’t get to “grow towards something more beautiful” with that little band of young marrieds all those years ago, but I’ve got the hub. And together we are on a journey to enjoy “the deep, hard-won truths of marriage.”

Perhaps the greatest blessing in marriage is that it lasts so long.
The years, like the varying interests of each other,
combine to buttress and enrich each other.
Out of many shared years, one life.
In a series of temporary relationships,
one misses the ripening, gathering, harvesting joys,
the deep, hard-won truths of marriage.
Richard C. Cabot

#longing

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church nonsense, war on women

Woe to You, Sir!

Ted McGrath, Creative Commons

Ted McGrath, Creative Commons

I was going to write a parody on a ridiculous post:  10 Women Christian Men Should Not Marry.  But as I read through some of the many comments it garnered, I decided to go a different route.

Most of the comments zeroed in on #2 – the divorcee.  I have something to say about that, too.  And since comments are closed on the post, I’ll weigh in here:

My first husband divorced me after six years of marriage.  We had a two year old.  His reason for leaving us?  He didn’t want to be married anymore and God wanted him to be happy.   “No,” I said, “God wants you to be a man of integrity, a promise-keeper.”  But with no-fault I had no say.

I lamented that my life was irreparably ruined.  Sin was foisted upon me and there was nothing I could do about it.  And then my friend, to whom I was lamenting, simply said, “God can forgive sin.”  Whoa!  What?  My life isn’t over?  It still felt over.

For years I did not date because I was not sure Scripture allowed me to remarry, so what was the point?  But God showed me through Scripture that He held my ex-husband accountable, not me.  He also showed me that He likes marriage, it was His idea and He would prefer that I rear my daughter in the context of one.  How will she know what a good marriage looks like if I don’t model one?

So I began to open up to the idea.

About that time a male friend mentioned that he would never marry a divorced woman.  Damaged goods and all.  I told him he might miss out on someone really great.  Someone like me.

When I married my first husband, I did not believe in divorce.  My parents were divorced and I knew the pain it causes.  Life with him was not easy but I was committed to sticking it out.  My commitment to the long haul was tested and true.

My first husband, who grew up in a Christian home with parents whose marriage lasted until death did they part, also had his commitment tested.  His commitment failed.

On paper he looked like a solid investment – reared in a Christian home, parents still married.

On paper I looked like a risky investment – reared in a non-Christian home, parents divorced.

And yet his commitment failed and mine did not.

You never know for sure what will come out of a person until marriage squeezes them.  My friend who would never marry a divorced woman is still single these many years later.  If he does find someone to marry, someone who looks good on paper, it is still a gamble.  I think he will have a greater guarantee of success if he marries someone whose commitment to marriage has been tested and proved solid.

The pastor who wrote the post, the one I yesterday called vile, evil or sorely misguided, once again played fast and loose with the Scriptures.  The examples are many.   I pulled this one from the comment section:

Andy, I live in New York State where gay marriage is legal. What happens if you get saved after a gay marriage? Well, you must immediately leave the gay marriage and cease from the sin of homosexuality.

Same thing here. What happens if you get saved after a 2nd marriage? Well, now that you know it’s adultery, you immediately forsake the 2nd “marriage” and cease from the sin of adultery.

John 8:11:
“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

What?  Two wrongs make a right?  Repent from the sin of divorce by committing the sin of divorce?

And don’t go misinterpreting Jesus’s words.  The woman was not married to the man with whom she was committing adultery.

If I could, I would ask that pastor what he would do with David.  David clearly committed adultery with Bathsheba, then married her.  When Nathan finally confronted him, marrying Bathsheba was not on God’s list of grievances:

Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 2 Samuel 12:9

Yes, God hates divorce.  Not for the sake of hating it but because it hurts people.  He also hates judgment and gossip and slander and lies and haughty eyes because those things hurt people, too.  They hurt the people He loves.  Of course He does.

I’ll give Jesus the final word:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”  both from Matthew 23
© The Reluctant Baptist, 2015
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life

With No-Fault You Have No Say

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Whenever I heard a speaker say that God had brought her through a difficult marriage, I would want to raise my hand and ask, “How difficult?  I need details.”  I needed to know whether hers was as difficult as mine.  It was a horrendous time.  I remember seeing couples hand in hand at craft shows or other events enjoying the day together and my heart would break over the prospect of never knowing that kind of compatibility.  My single friends would lament over not being married and I would think, “Well at least you still have the potential for a good marriage.”  Things finally began to look up in year 3 and we were blessed with a delightful daughter.  It was a precious time for me, but apparently not for him.  On the day before Father’s day, when our daughter was only two, he bailed.   We had already been through counseling during those first difficult years and he was not willing to go again.  Still I had hope.

Then the doorbell rang one cold damp November night and suddenly my heart was gripped with dread.  I knew what was on the other side of the door.  I had been eluding it for days.  I thought about turning off the lights and hiding but I was going to have to face it sooner or later so I gathered my courage and answered it.  Through tears I asked the process server if he enjoyed his job. Then I staggered to the kitchen, braced myself against the refrigerator and collapsed to the floor.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/trio-no-three/

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Jesus, Light, love

Of Course He Does

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My daughter was in her crib napping and I was on my bed wrestling.  Weeping, wrestling, clutching my Bible and searching.  Searching for answers, searching for relief, searching for a way out of the wilderness.  I felt like Israel, wandering in the desert, forsaken by God.  But how had I gotten there? What fatal mistake had I made?  In what ways was I a worse wife than the others in my young marrieds class?  One of them had an affair.  Why was she still married and not me?  I asked God, “Am I Israel?”

He nudged my thoughts to the New Testament and to verses that spoke of His love for me.  Forget those, I thought, because clearly He doesn’t.  I kept turning my attention back to the Old Testament wilderness passages trying to find the way out.

My defining moment.

Finally He said, “You are going to have to make a choice.  You can believe what your circumstances say about my love for you, or you can believe what I say about my love for you.”  I chose to believe Him.  Months of wrestling came to an end in that one defining moment and, with a deep and cleansing sigh, I curled up and fell asleep.  He knew how my marriage was going to end the day I said I do.  He knew I did not believe in divorce and yet He allowed it anyway.  He loved me and He allowed it.  There were no cracks in His fingers through which I had fallen.  I hadn’t made a fatal mistake.

His defining moment.

I had been a Christian for eight years, and the divorce was my first faith-testing experience.  I wouldn’t have another for seventeen years.  My daughter had just gone off to college, when a sudden fall set off a string of strange neurological symptoms that baffled a string of doctors.  I sat on my sofa day after day trying to distract my fearful thoughts by watching movies as I waited to die.  It occurred to me that maybe God didn’t care about me as much as I thought He did.  Perhaps I had been foolish to think He cared about me at all.  I teetered between hope and despair until He finally reminded me of His defining moment.  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

One step further.

“Okay,” I thought a few weeks later as I was washing my tear-streaked face, “He loves us.  But does He love me?”  I had always felt special to Him because I loved Him so much, but maybe I wasn’t.

As I grabbed the hand towel He reminded me of the day He called my name.  He reminded me of the following night when He revealed Himself to me.  It was a glorious revealing.  He made me His own.  Knowing that I would let Him down, knowing that I would let myself and others down, knowing every bit of my past, present and future, He chose me.  “Why would I call you into a relationship with Me and show Myself to you, only to abandon you?”, He asked.  I love it when He reasons with me.  He reminded me of everything I love about His character, His plans, His stick-to-itiveness.  He wouldn’t adopt me as His child and then turn His back on me.  He isn’t a bad parent.  He finishes the good work He begins in us.  He accomplishes His purposes.  He isn’t lazy or distracted.

“But Christians sometimes die in their prime, when their ministries are thriving and there is still work to be done,” I countered.  “So there is no guarantee I will recover.”

“If you do not recover, it won’t be because I don’t care or because I am not paying attention or because I am unable.  It will be because it is time to come home.  And if it is your time and my will, you will have peace.”

I thought of the peace He gave my sister – still gives her – as she battles cancer.  And that is when I realized that it wasn’t God who was trying to kill me, it was the author of fear.  If there is fear, then God’s hand is not in it.  And since the presence of fear proved the strange illness was from the devil’s hand, I was going to be okay because God is stronger.  God loves us.  God loves me.  I rested in that and I recovered.

More defining moments.

Job’s defining moments came when he resolved, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” and when he realized that “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

Peter’s greatest moment came not with words, but with action.  After he denied Christ thrice, after he threw his best friend under the bus to save his own skin, he got back up and walked with Him.  Not as one who was just barely forgiven, but as one who was amazing. (Acts 2:14-41)

Those are the moments the Holy Spirit illuminates when I am struggling.

I wrote this post to say, “Of course He loves you, sweet Shazzameena.”

He sees the ministry that happens at your table, your hospitality.  He gave you gifts and He is not going to waste them.  He is not wasteful, He is perfect. He saw you clambering over stone walls to see the old well.  He saw you noticing the stain-glassed window.  He heard your heart on the way home saying you want to be remembered as a sower of His word and He smiled.  He loves how you love Him.

Beth Moore shared something sweet in the Bible study video I watched yesterday:

God to Beth:  “Don’t say, ‘I love you’ to Me.  Say, ‘I love you, too.’  Because I am always saying it first.”

I like that.

Our defining moments, as tough and heartbreaking and scary as they are, are designed to bring us to the place where we “come to know and believe (once and for all, but with occasional need for reminders) the love God has for us.”  1 John 4:16a

Does God see you?  Does He love you?  He chose you, dear child.  Remember that day? That was the day He answered “Yes!”  Forever.

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