Sunday, December 8, 2019

Christmas Characters - Elizabeth

A life of disgrace seemed to summarize the thoughts of her life before giving birth to her son, John. Women from her culture did not work 9 to 5 in a man’s world, juggling car pools, soccer games and zumba classes. A woman’s life centered around her home, garden, family, cooking and possibly a trade such as sewing and babies. Yes, babies! Most women long to hold that precious bundle, gaze into his eyes and ponder what plans God has for her little one. But for most of Elizabeth’s life her arms were empty. Some of us have faced the empty places around the table...the empty nursery...and empty arms.
As I read Luke’s account of Elizabeth in chapter 1, I do not see him describe a bitter woman. Luke describes her as “righteous, “walking blamelessly in ALL the commandments and statutes.” Luke studied all these happenings and as a doctor I’m sure did careful research. He seems to give careful detail to each person he describes in his account. What a legacy Luke painted of her. Though her arms were empty, her heart was clearly not.
It makes me wonder if Elizabeth was a woman of prayer, pressing into the heart of God to give her strength in her grief. I believe she developed a real sense of God’s presence in her life because of her empty womb. But it seems as if her struggle was still there to not feel that somehow she felt deficient that her body could not produce another life. With all her obedience to the commandments and her desire to follow her Lord, Luke seems to portray that she still felt shame. Notice her response when she discovered the news late in her years that she would finally have a son....The Lord had taken away her shame, her reproach, her disgrace. God was with her in the midst of the pain of barrenness!
We get a glimpse of Elizabeth’s true character as we watch the first thing she does when God finally answered her prayers. She retreats to the quietness of her home....secluded for five whole months! I am not sure about you, but when God does something big it is very hard to keep it quiet. I want to tell everyone. Elizabeth went to her God first and stayed there for over half of her pregnancy. She took no credit for this miracle child. God did it! And she wanted to soak up His presence as she prepared for her son’s birth. Isn’t that a great lesson to learn from the mother of Jesus’ forerunner?

Hmmm...I can only imagine the influence Elizabeth had on the young maiden who ran to her side when she was told she would birth Jesus! Be it any wonder that Mary sat at the feet of her cousin to learn how to prepare her heart for the coming of the Messiah...her Savior...her son.
What a necessary reminder for me this season.
Lord, may I spend time in Your presence as I prepare my heart to celebrate Your birth. What a perfect time to pull away from the clamor and noise of the trappings we so often chase after and truly be in awe of You.”

Saturday, April 9, 2016

How Can I Tell If I Am in an Abusive Relationship??

"How can I tell if I am in an abusive relationship?", was a question that played over and over in my head, like a stuck CD track. "Some days he is sooo nice to me....he didn't mean to hurt me, I guess.... It must be me. I just don't know how to love him the right way. I must figure out how to be better next time....then we won't fight...."
The hardest thing for me was to face the fact that I was in an abusive relationship. Not just because of my own self-talk, but because of the things he would say. Things were always 'my" fault....we fought because "I should have been an attorney." But here is the key.....I needed to step outside my situation and look at it as if it was someone else experiencing it.....then I could realize how bizarre the behaviors were.
I felt like I was going crazy.....there is an actual term called, "crazy-making." I would think and think and pray and pray, trying to be a better wife....thinking it was me. Of course, I wanted to be submissive. But he knew what buttons to push to make me think everything was always my fault. The twisting of words, the perpetual lying, the verses he would quote.....all to make me think it was ALL me!
Crazy-makers function when everything is about them....they never take responsibility for their fact, when there is something that is clearly their issue, they twist it around to be the other person's fault, creating a constant atmosphere of chaos....thus making you feel crazy!
Going to church....graduating from Bible college... being a pastor....does not exempt anyone from being a crazy-maker. In fact, some 'crazy-makers seek out spiritual positions since it gives them more of an audience to control. They seek 'good' people to surround them because 'good' people will be easier to manipulate.
So....."how can I tell if my marriage is normal??" Healthy would be a better choice of words, actually.
A healthy marriage is two 'good willed' sinners who desire to create a godly home together. Is there conflict? Yes! Is there hurt? Yes! But.........the difference is that we don't purposefully try to hurt each other.
Here are a few things that describe what a healthy relationship does NOT look like:
* A healthy relationship does not lie to cover up his/her own issues.
* A healthy relationship does not flirt and blame it on the 'other' person who keeps flirting back.
* A healthy relationship does not keep the other person in financial bondage by limiting his/her partner's access to money, while racking up credit card debt.
* A healthy relationship does not ALWAYS blame the other person, never owning his/her stuff.
* A healthy relationship does not minimize the pain the other person has caused by these behaviors.
Eventually I will look at what a positive healthy relationship looks like, but for now, seeing what it is NOT is very crucial for those in an abusive relationship. Facing this truth is the hardest thing for us to. That is one of the reasons we struggle to leave the relationship. If we admit we are in an abusive will mean we truly did choosing a marriage partner. If I don't leave, no one will know.
So how do you know if your relationship is abusive? The first most helpful thing I did was to start a journal, writing down behaviors. When I saw it on paper, the chaos became very clear. It was the first step in helping me realize that I needed help.
If you are working with someone going through this patient. Leaving is not is the biggest, scariest thing you can imagine. "How will I support myself?"...."Where can I live?"...."What will I tell the children?"....."What if he comes after me?"....."What if he files for sole custody?"....(sharing custody with an abuser is the biggest nightmare you can ever, ever imagine). These are just a few reasons why women stay.
Be a listening ear....don't give advice....don't suggest they talk with their pastor....most pastors are not equipped in these circumstances. Find an organization that helps women....Focus Ministries is a great place to start! Pray, pray, pray....did I say pray?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Did I Marry the Wrong Person?!

With our culture’s pressure of finding ‘The One’ (absolutely no reference to Frozen implied there!), sometimes it may feel as if we married the wrong person because we don’t finish each other’s sandwiches... I mean sentences!  So many of us buy into the Hollywood and Hallmark lie that when boy and girl marry, that they will have children AND a dog and live harmoniously ever after.  Add to that the pressure of finding your one ‘soul mate’ and there is no wonder so many ‘twenty-somethings’ are running from the marriage commitment.
I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up nobody talked about marriage. You didn’t hear Christian radio programs about it, you didn’t find books lining the Christian bookstores and you certainly didn’t find Bible studies on how to be a better wife!

Like most of us, I dreamed about my wedding, but had no clue about the marriage.   I did not see my parents handle conflict so I assumed later in life that since my marriage had conflict there must be something desperately wrong!  I believed the lie that the absence of conflict was the absolute goal of every marriage!  

I don’t have to tell any of you married women that marriage is hard work.  You already know that and now we have all the Christian podcasts at our fingertips to help us be a better wife!  Our culture talks much more freer about the topic of marriage, but it still isn’t natural, especially in our conservative  Pennsylvania community to discuss our own personal marriage struggles.  

Sometimes we just need a cheerleader to help us to keep rowing when all we feel like doing is drifting.  Drifting is easier….it’s less work, at least in the beginning.  By living parallel lives you don’t have to keep bumping into each other.  Then the doubt starts creeping in after while, “did I marry the wrong guy?!”  I should be happy, but we are soooo different…..all we do is disagree and….. drift.

I remember when Roger and I were dating, I could not imagine us ever having our first fight.  He was dreamily perfect in every way.  Then we had our first disagreement….the night before our wedding!!  I was just then starting to see in reality how different we really are!
  • I like to be on time….well early - being late doesn’t bother him
  • I care what people think - he could care less most of the time
  • I am a filer - he is a piler
  • I am type A - he is type Z ...very laid back
  • I can be directionally challenged - He runs his own GPS inside his head...all the time
  • He is all things techy - I am not!
  • I respond emotionally to things - He is logical
  • I love being busy - he loves doing nothing!

And the list goes on!  Many of our disagreements rooted themselves in our differences.  The happily ever after got up and rode off into the sunset.  
Throughout the years, we have taken advantage of some cheerleading opportunities Family Life offered through their Weekend to Remember Marriage Events.  During our 11 years we are seeing some real breakthroughs.   We take our cars to the garage for maintenance to rotate tires and oil changes, why not do that for our marriage right?  So this Valentine’s weekend we packed our bags for another maintenance checkup at Weekend to Remember!

You may picture us spending all weekend romantically sitting in front of this fireplace, sipping lattes and holding hands.  You may even now start thinking, "I wish we could do something that wonderful for Valentines Day!"  Yes, I wish you could have been there too, but not for the reasons you think.  Yes, there was indeed opportunity for romance, but the things we glean each year we go are so helpful, we would love to have you join us!  After all, don’t we all need some cheering on at times?   

Roger and I were reminded that the goal of marriage is oneness and the ultimate purpose is that our marriage is to reflect God’s image.  What kind of reflection do others see?  So much of the time, I think ours was smudged and sometimes even cracked!  

We learned that we are either striving for oneness or isolation and the only way to be truly intimate with each other is to work through our conflicts. That meant I needed to be transparent about my hurts and also being willing to receive Roger as God’s gift to me.  That also meant that I needed to give up my right to be right.  I needed to look into my own heart and recognize how I have been hurting him.  No more drifting….row..row..row our boats!

So what about all those differences?  It isn’t easy living with someone who sees things differently than you.  The beauty of being on a team together is that each of us bring strengths.  Where one has a weakness, the other has that strength.  The women’s speaker shared this beautiful illustration this past weekend….fold your hands as if you are going to pray, entwining your fingers.  One hand is me, the other hand is Roger.  The fingers are each of our strengths and the gaps between our fingers are our weaknesses.  As we interlock our lives filling in for each other’s weaknesses, we become an incredible team!  

I was cheered on this past weekend to be a wife of purpose….on purpose I need to cheer my man on!  My man needs me.  I know... they need us, don’t they?  As I look at my folded hands again, I can see that without me, my husband will have glaring gaps.  And the same for me….without him I will have gaps in my life.  Roger feels a deep sense of loss when I don’t cheer him!  I love the scene in Cinderella Man before his last big fight, Mae reassures Jim, “You are the Champion of my heart.  You can’t win without me!”

Well I have lots of work to do.  As I clean the bathroom mirror later today, wiping the water splashes and smudges, I will be reminded that my marriage is reflecting God’s image to those around me.  As bathroom mirrors go, they need cleaned up….often….so it goes for my marriage!   Let’s cheer each other on to keep cleaning...and not just our mirrors!

Keep Rowing

Keep Rowing!
"I want my marriage to be like a Hallmark movie" some of us you take notes during your chick flicks wishing your husband or future spouse would be like that guy in the movie? Yesterday we celebrated eleven years of marriage. It was one of the most stressful days I have experienced in a while, yet one of the sweetest...yes, better than a chick flick!
Marriage is NOT like the Hallmark movies. It is hard work to stay close through the good and bad times. It is not romance every night and candle lit dinners. Real love is a choice, not a feeling. Love is purposefully choosing to stay close even during the times you want to run away. My husband often describes marriage as two row boats out to sea. The only way you stay close is if both of you row steadily to stay together. If one stops, you drift apart.
A good marriage is learning ways to allow your spouse to feel safe so they can share their deepest thoughts. That does not happen usually over candle light. That happens when your spouse has really blown it and you wrap your arms around them and say, "We are a team!, I got your back!" We celebrated team work yesterday, working on a deadline together rather than being against each other. And yes, we felt safe at the end of the day.
Those of you who know me are fully aware of how shy I used to be...quiet..reserved. Living in New York and having a very dysfunctional first marriage changed me. I learned to stand up for myself to survive. Now I am learning to tone that part of me down in a 'normal' marriage. Normal? Yes, a normal marriage is not perfect. The goal is not to find someone that never disagrees with you. Letting someone else have their way all the time is not being a good spouse.
Always being in defense mode is not healthy either! Learning to handle conflict has been a struggle for me because I grew up thinking the goal was no conflict. If you don't argue, you have a perfect marriage. No one...I repeat.... no one has a perfect marriage. If you don't have a disagreement, James Dobson says, "One of you is not necessary!" Disagreements are a part of a normal marriage. Learning how to navigate them while not crushing your spouse is what is tricky.
Having good communication includes learning to navigate the land mines of your relationship. Avoiding conflict is not the goal, because the only way to true intimacy is learning to navigate the tough times....while you keep stay together. I have watched families do this well, navigating physical and mental illness, and tragedy. I also know families that never talk....really talk with each other. They may exchange pleasantries, what is for dinner and when football practice is, but they do not navigate healthy conflict as a family. As parents, do we apologize to our children when we blow it? Do our children see us apologize to our spouse?
Marriages would start on a stronger foundation if Christian young couples could have someone in place to go to when struggles begin. Your first fight can be devastating. And yes, you WILL have your first fight....because two sinners are living under the same roof and they are expected to produce more sinners to live in that same house. Doesn't God have a sense of humor??
I have often thought that newlyweds should be assigned a mentoring couple to follow them their first couple years of adjustment. If you did not see your parents do conflict in a healthy way, how would you know that your marriage is not over? Look for couples who have faced struggles and not only remain married, but enjoy the view as they keep rowing!


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Goodbye and Hello

Anyone else saying goodbye to their college bound son or daughter?  If so, you can relate to the ever-transitioning relationship with your emerging adult.  This will be our third time saying goodbye to our daughter as she heads off to her junior year at Lebanon Valley College.  We are so proud of her, not so much for the accomplishments, but for who she is becoming...a young woman who has had to set aside her dreams and give them to God.  Not being able to play her clarinet this past year has been hard.  Instead of staying in grief over this loss, she has opened her arms to a new love....cello!  

Summertime has been a time to get reacquainted with our beautiful maturing daughter, a time to celebrate as she got her driver's license, a time to relax at our favorite beach spots, and a time to finally say goodbye....again.... 

It doesn't get easier saying goodbye. The transition of letting go and embracing our young adults can be a tricky one.  Parenting is such a privilege and ever changing role and I believe each phase gets more challenging to handle with grace.  

I am purposefully thinking that we are not saying 'goodbye' to Abby.  She is still Abby and will always be our daughter.  We have not lost the is just changing.  So instead of saying 'goodbye', we are actually saying 'hello' to a wonderful maturing young woman!  

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Weekend to Truly Remember!

As many of you know, Roger and I attended Family Life's Weekend to Remember in Hershey, Pennsylvania this last weekend.  What a weekend to remember!!!  We have attended four times.  Yes, that means we have heard the same material (give or take a few things) four times, shared four unique ways.  We can see after 10 years of marriage how much closer we really are to being the team God has called us to be.  This was the first time we went as 'empty nesters' and it is so helpful to be able to come home and have time to talk about all we learned.  Our communication actually has taken on a new level, which started during our weekend as hem......skipped a session or two...shhh!!!  We took that time to really dig deep into areas that have been difficult for both of us.

As we entered into reality today, starting our work week, we both noticed the struggle to go into 'default' in our established patterns. How exciting to see us both really trying to make changes that really matter.  For instance, asking what that 'look' meant rather than assuming the worst and communicating to each other our tasks of the day so we can better understand each other.

Ladies, one of the hardest things we struggle with is being in control.  We manage our household chores, careers, children's schedules, etc., so it is reallllllyyyy tempting to also put our hubbies under our thumb.  God never intended us to take charge of our men, even though we are most capable of doing that!  When our guys don't step up, we decide it is our responsibility.  In doing so, we chase them away even further, defeating their desire to even try to be the man we really long for.  When we take charge, our men go further into their caves and their willingness to romance us goes along with them.  And the vicious cycle begins.

There is something funny that Roger and I struggle with and I never dreamed it would be an issue....walking together.  Walking in a parking lot, walking into church, walking through the mall, walking the dog...we do not have a gait that complements one another.  If you looked at us you would say that is easy to figure out as he is over 6 feet tall and I am 5' 1".  He sometimes walks way ahead of me, thinking it is the chivalrous thing to do to lead the way.  My little legs struggle to keep up and I feel frustrated that he is leaving me in the dust. There are also many times that I am walking way ahead of him and he feels like a penny dog.  I do this when I am trying not to be late for appointments, late for church or going to the movies!  I want a good seat and he hates the move trailers so he thinks arriving 20 minutes after the start time is sufficient!  I also walk ahead of him when I am anxious to get somewhere like a good sale!

I got to see this played out at the marriage conference this weekend, which made me really stop and think and be convicted of my actions.  We pulled into the Hershey Lodge parking lot before one of the sessions, which we were running a bit later than I had hoped.  We were really trying hard to walk hand in hand to and from the sessions, because that would be the romantic thing to do at a marriage conference, right?  We were walking side by side together and Roger realized he left his book in the car and with the chilling temperatures this weekend, we decided that I would go on inside and save us good seats.  As I made my way up the sidewalk, I noticed a couple ahead of me.  She was walking at quite a clip ahead of her sauntering man, her heels clicking emphatically with each step.  He casually sauntered along on that Saturday morning,  carrying his morning caffeine with him, a can of Coke.  She arrived ahead of him and proceeded to hold the door for her husband and he walked through barely grunting, as if he was used to his woman leading!  As I tried to stifle my giggle, she continued to hold the door for me and the next person!!  Hopefully, this memory will replay in my mind next time I am tempted to leave my man in the dust!

I long for companionship, and even romance, yet the little things I do can be a threat to the oneness in our marriage.   I look forward to being late to church and even to the movies as I work on choosing to walk beside God's gift to me over being on time!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Merry Broken Christmas

Merry Broken Christmas!

Yes, you read that right.  Why do we pretend that this season magically wipes away all the hurts and struggles?  Cancer still exists, loved ones who passed on, do not come back to life, wandering prodigals may not come home for the holidays, loneliness abounds even more because we think that everyone else is having the perfect Christmas.

I am experiencing my own broken Christmas as the tears rolled down my cheeks this week over the changes that have taken place in my life this daughter leaving for college which gives us an empty Mom's many TIA's this year, the first being on my birthday.  Trying to keep up with my Mom's doctor's appointments and my own busy schedule of work and teaching piano lessons, as well as being there for our daughter in her adjustments to college life.  They don't call this 'The Sandwich Generation" for nothing!

Along with the changes this year, some emotional pain has been around for years and has left some pretty deep scars.  I never dreamed I would be divorced.  Not me, the Bible college graduate, the pastor's wife who always dreamed of ministry.  In two weeks it will be 16 years since I packed up my two kids and left my abusive marriage to start my new life as a single parent.  Over the years I faced many losses.  Yes, I felt broken. Forced to leave the ministry I loved, the women in the Bible study I led, the kids in the Christian school I was helping, friends I dearly loved.  For our safety, I just walked away from it all without saying goodbye.  So many misunderstandings and rumors that took place because I could not tell of my planned departure. 

Some of the losses included having to enter the workforce and giving up being a stay at home mom.  Did I go to Bible college to end up here?  Just like the physical scars I have, these emotional scars still exist. Even though my kids are grown and custody is no longer an issue, the scars of dealing with an abusive husband and father do not just disappear.  It takes years and maybe a lifetime to heal.  Yes, I feel broken.  My children live in limbo land not having a dad who is a great role model.  Even though I remarried and found a wonderful man, he is not their father.  No matter how loving he is, he can't completely take away the memories that haunt.

As I approached this Christmas season, I found myself struggling to keep my scars at bay.  Focusing on my losses only made me spiral deeper into the dark abyss.  Isn't it all a matter of perspective?  The glass half full or empty?

Replacing my sadness for His peace, I uncurled from my fetal position and took the first step to finding joy in this brokenness.  What could possibly bring me joy in the midst of my broken Christmas?

We sang "Count Your Many Blessings" at our Thanksgiving table this year. O how, I need that reminder. With a grateful heart, I started realizing how my brokenness has been a blessing.

So I started thinking, "There is always someone worse off than me".  We have been trying to adopt an older child.  The 'waiting children' do not have a family.  I was thinking of calling a friend who works at the Children's Aid Society to see how our family can make a child's Christmas a little more special.  She called me this morning. Isn't that a God thing?  I have not talked to her in months!

The empty nesting time has brought a sweetness to our marriage as we share quiet moments at home, candles glowing, favorite Christmas tunes playing and just being.....

Our daughter being away give us special times with her when she calls or comes home.  We love hearing of all her new experiences on a secular campus where she is letting her light shine bright.

With my baking buddy being at college, a co-worker and I baked cookies together last night.  I would never had the time to do this other years because of all the high school music concerts we attended.

The perfect Christmas? My perfect Christmas is broken as I am reminded that Jesus came to a broken world to fix my broken heart. As I read Jesus' birth story one more time, I am asking Him to show me new wonder.  The Author of Time, cared enough to create my story from the beginning.  But He gives me freedom to choose to love Him.  I love reading about His love story for me and how He is taking my broken mess and using it for Him.. 

Now I minister to broken people that I would never have been able to reach before.  I listen to the custody woes of single mothers, share God's love with friends I have made from my secular job, even a woman who owns a bar!  I would never have been able to do this as a Pastor's wife. 

So as I continue reflecting on the brokenness of my life, picking up the pieces and asking God to put them back together, I see Him making something more amazing out of my life than I could have ever dreamed.  So Merry Broken Christmas Everyone!