Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Signs of the Times.

Yesterday was philosophically peculiar. Besides being tricky to pronounce, that means I ran across some things that left me sad about the state of humankind. First there was this large sign plastered on the side of Fort Worth public transportation: 

This isn't the exact graphics, but it is the exact wording. While looking online for an image of the poster on the bus, I was surprised to find what a massive campaign this is on the part of secular humanists. They have chaplains. The word 'oxymoron' comes to mind. Or maybe just 'moron.'

Of course, I was very disappointed to see that our local government-sponsored bus system thought it was a good idea, at Christmas time of all times, to display this insulting sign. I was surprised to learn that Dallas refused to display this ad, considering it religious in nature, and having a "non-religious" advertising policy. Normally Fort Worth is the conservative side of the metroplex. I suppose this means Fort Worth allows religious advertising? Hopefully there's not a double standard, although I don't know for certain.

At a time when it's all "Happy HOLIDAYS" and lighting a "HOLIDAY tree," I suppose I shouldn't be shocked. Actually, I wasn't. Just doleful and a bit angry at the false message that many searching souls will try to assuage their guilt with.  

Last night when I was checking email, I was further saddened by an article that described several pastors, some that are still in the "ministry", that have lost their faith and become atheists. You can read it for yourself here. How Satan has twisted their minds is a mystery, but one that the Bible warns us to expect, especially in the latter days. Yet, once again, these sinking ships take down many passengers, and allow a gloat-fest from the media.

I haven't a nice, neat little summary, or a clever observation to close this with. It is sobering to see how we must truly know what we believe, and at the same time, understand our enemy. He will appear as an angel of light and draw moths to his flame to be burned.

A few words of truth are in order.

"The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good." Ps. 14:1
"All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one." Ps. 14:3
"All have turned away from God; all have gone wrong. No one does good, not even one." Rom. 3:12
"But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." 2 Tim. 3:13

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed." 2 Peter 2:1-2

"They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them."  2 Peter 2:19-21

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Review: Circle C Beginnings. Early Chapter Books You Won't Want to Miss!

Little girls and horses just seem to go together like . . .well . . . little boys and puppy dogs. I know that I was a horse-crazy kid, and now I have three young ladies of my own that adore all things equine. If you can’t have adventures on your own horse though—oh, what a cross to bear!—the next best thing is to READ about adventures on a horse!
Author Susan K. Marlow has delivered another wonderful series that will have your littlest horse lovers jumping in with both feet. “Circle C Beginnings” is the prequel to Susan Marlow’s other successful series, “Circle C Adventures.” I reviewed Trouble with Treasure, one of the books from the latter series, earlier this year. I just loved the wholesome fun it offered. So much so, that I bought the entire set for my 12 year old daughter. She inhaled every book and proclaimed them to be the best stories her voracious reading appetite had consumed!
When I received the first two “Circle C Beginnings” books recently, my daughter snatched them up and read them as well (even though they are aimed at an audience of 6-8 year olds). There’s something about Andi Carter, the main character of all the Circle C books, that is so endearing. She just seems to find trouble like a flea finds a dog. And it’s always with such good intentions that you can’t help but become a fan! 
In Andi’s Pony Trouble, Andi is tired of her pokey, hand-me-down pony, Coco. She is almost six years old, for Pete’s sake, shouldn’t she be ready for a full-grown horse? Her family doesn’t think so, but Andi is sure she can prove how mature and ready she really is. 
Andi and friend Riley go riding on Coco and Riley’s horse, Midnight. Riley let’s her take a turn galloping on Midnight and Andi feels like she can conquer the world! She certainly doesn’t want to ride boring old Coco anymore. In fact, why can’t the two of them ride double on Midnight and let Coco follow them back to the ranch? Good plan, until they realize Coco is no longer behind them. Andi knows that losing Coco will mean big trouble. If she can’t take care of a pokey, hand-me-down pony, then it proves she really isn’t ready for a full size horse! Maybe if she can find Coco on her own . . . (yes, it’s a bad idea!).
Andi’s Indian Summer finds Andi and friend Riley (or maybe “partner in crime” is a better description?) between a rock and a hard place. A dime-novel about Indian’s taking white men captive has planted some pretty scary images in young Andi’s mind. What could be worse than being kidnapped by a tribe of wild Indians? The children find that getting lost in the vast, unsettled wilderness proves to be a close second. When real Indians come across their path, Andi and Riley are sure they are goners! 
All of the Circle C adventures are set in the late 1800’s, in the untamed Sierra Nevada’s of California. A perfect place for a young tomboy to find trouble and adventure galore! There’s enough rough and tumble fun in these stories to ensure that boys will enjoy them as well. Although Andi makes bad choices at times, she also learns wholesome lessons through the natural consequences of her actions. Important concepts for young people to grasp!
These delightful early chapter books have a “New Words” list to help readers navigate the tale. Illustrator Leslie Gammelgaard has liberally sprinkled her charming sketches throughout the pages, serving to enhance the story that much more.The author also has a few questions and historical facts at the end of each book to add to the experience. You’ll also be glad to know there’s a definite Christian worldview woven into each story that's never preachy, just a natural part of Andi’s life.
Furthermore, on the Circle C website (visit it here), there are activity and coloring pages (related to each book) that can be printed out for FREE, serving to make these chapter books a truly educational experience. If you’re ready to add some Circle C fun to your Christmas gift list, then you can order books by visiting the Kregel Publishing website here.
It has been a pleasure to get to know Andi Carter and crew through the various Circle C books! I know you won’t be disappointed in the quality of writing and integrity of character that Susan K. Marlow serves up with each tale. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future! 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Punch for a Bunch!

Here's an easy, festive recipe for Christmas punch that you can whip up for your next Christmas party. Good anytime, really!

One gallon of Apple Cider
One bottle of 100% Cranberry juice (you can do Cran-Pomegranate, or Cran-Grape, whatever you fancy).
One 2 liter bottle Ginger Ale, 7-Up or Sprite (Cherry or Cranberry 7-Up helps to keep the drink more pink/red).

Mix in large container and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Different Kind of Prayer

My family is blessed to be able to participate in a fine arts school for homeschoolers that is over 700 kids strong! Yes, you read that right. I'll share more about that fantastic program another time, but I did want to reprint a prayer that was published in the monthly newspaper that the journalism kids publish once a month. 

I thought it was a poignant reminder that things aren't always what they seem on the surface and that the world is bigger than population three: me, myself and I.


Heavenly Father,
Help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother who worked nine hours that day and was rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children. 

Help us to remember that the pierced, tattooed, disinterested young man who can't make change correctly is a worried 19-year-old college student, balancing his apprehension over final exams with his fear of not getting his student loans for next semester.

Remind us, Lord, that the scary looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.

Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow through the store aisles and blocking our shopping progress are savoring this moment, knowing that, based on the biopsy report she got back last week, this will be the last year that they go shopping together.

Heavenly Father, remind us each day that, of all the gifts you give us, the greatest gift is love. It is not enough to share that love with those we hold dear. Open our hearts not just to those who are close to us, but to all humanity. 

Let us be slow to judge and quick to forgive. Bless us with patience, empathy and love.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thoughts on Thankfulness

As Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, I was just thinking how healthy a habit being thankful is 24/7. I once bought a friend a plaque that read, "There's always, always something to be thankful for." That is a great reminder; I like the way it stresses "always" since there are often times I lose sight of that truth in the midst of a trial. 

We are reminded of that truth over and over again in scripture. Regardless of the trial, regardless of the circumstance, regardless of our feelings: REJOICE and GIVE THANKS!

So, without further adieu, and by no means is this list all-encompassing, I would like to proclaim the many things I am thankful for (and I encourage you to write your own list and display it where you can see it in the midst of the muck of life!).

Salvation: The free gift of God, the love He had for me even when I was His enemy.
My husband: His unconditional love, his godly character, his patience, his provision, his sense of humor.
My children: Their soft hearts, obedient spirits, love of life, love of God, creative impulses, musical talent.
My mom: That she lives nearby and gets to be a part of our lives, that she is in good health, that she has passed her faith on to me.
My dad: Even though he is no longer with us, I know I will see him again! I'm glad I inherited his creative juices.
My In-Laws: From mom and dad to brothers and sisters and cousins, I now have the big, loving family I didn't grow up with!
My friends: Their love, their support, their prayers, their faithfulness. They urge me on in my walk with Christ. They are so often Christ with skin on in my life!
My church: The leadership, the scriptural grounding, the amount of men that are strong husbands and dads, the youth group, the reverence and awe they add to my spiritual life.
My job: Teaching ballet, and now blossoming as a writer, are total gifts from the Father. I have done nothing to earn these gifts, have no merit and training that I can look to as a basis for my pursuits.
My home: Cozy. Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, situated in the beauty of the country. It is so much more than a roof over our head. It is where memories are made every day!
My country: Freedom to worship, freedom to homeschool, freedom to vote, freedom of speech...just to name a few things that make America great!

Those things are just the tip of the ice berg. I must also choose to be thankful, today in particular, that even though my refrigerator keeps going out, I have a back up fridge that works! I am also thankful that although said refrigerator went out today, as well as about 10 days ago, IT WORKED THROUGH THANKSGIVING! That was a concern that wasn't realized! Yea God!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Review: A Rush of Wings by Kristen Heitzmann

Noelle St. Claire has abruptly left her life of wealth and sophistication, leaving behind a stunned fiance and father that adored her. They have no idea where to look for Noelle and she has no idea where she’s headed—she just feels a desperate need to run. 
Using cash for anonymity and taking a bus west, Noelle finds herself at a ranch in a tiny mountain town of Colorado. She isn’t sure what to make of the ranch owner, Rick Spencer, who is rugged, introspective and full of faith in a God that Noelle doesn’t believe exists. Then there’s Rick’s brother, Morgan, who is just the opposite of Rick: charming, flirtatious and greatly lacking in faith of any sort. 
The brothers are equally as perplexed about the mysterious Noelle. They can tell she is running from something but she is tight-lipped about her past and who she is. She seems like a puzzle with pieces that play hide and seek. The truth is, even Noelle isn’t sure what it is that she has run away from. Sure, her fiance was a brute when he was angry, but that didn’t explain the sudden fragmented thoughts that caused panic attacks and threatened her sanity. 
Rick sees her as a vulnerable young woman in need of God’s love and healing; Morgan sees her as a fragile beauty that needs a good dose of his charisma. Noelle just wants to be left alone to find her way: thank-you-very-much.  
I thoroughly enjoyed Kristen Heitzmann’s latest novel, A Rush of Wings. An excellent read if you are looking for romance laced with tension and mystery. I’m impressed with the way the author wove the element of faith into the story, giving believable struggles and not offering pat answers. Yet the faith was deep and vivid, not watered down. I also enjoyed the stark contrast of the brothers, Rick and Morgan, and their banter with Noelle. Exceptional characters and lovely descriptions fill the pages of this novel. Looking forward to discovering what else Kristen Heitzmann has to offer!
 **In exchange for my honest review, Bethany House publishers has provided me with a copy of this book.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Homemade Sloppy Joes . . . Let's Call 'em Sloppy Heathers!

So, I'm sitting here watching "Julie and Julia," and relating to the thrill of good food and all of those publishers calling Julie Powell and saying they want to publish a book based on her blog. . . not that I have any delusions about this blog being a hot item or anything. But the thought of someone wanting to publish one of my stories IS something I fantasize about.

Anyhoo (see, that word right there shows that I'm just messing around on this blog, having fun), tonight I made some homemade Sloppy Joes that had a surprising "yum" factor, due to the Rotel I tossed in as an afterthought. This was a big hit with my husband as well as the kids, and so much better for us than the pre-made stuff in a can. I feel inspired to share it with you, thanks to the movie . . .

Brown two pounds of ground meat. You probably will use beef. I used one pound of venison and one pound of Italian chicken sausage. Drain the fat (don't you wish you could do that to your thighs?).

In a medium bowl mix together:
1/2 C BBQ sauce
1/3 C Ketchup (not Catsup! Who spells it like that, anyway?)
1/3 C Brown Sugar (I used dark)
3 T Yellow Mustard
3 T Worcestershire 
Garlic or seasoning salt to taste
One can of drained Original Rotel

Add above mixture to browned meat and "slop" it into some wheat hamburger buns (because you gave up white bread a long time ago, right?). If this makes too much for your brood, freeze it and have it for "fast food" later!

And there it is. A man-pleasing, kid-slurpin' good meal!
I served ours with sweet potato fries and slices of fresh mango (on the side, not on the Joes!). A great sweet/spicy combo if I do say so myself!  

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book Review: Warrior of the Son

When young Evan MacKeth watches his mother’s murder at the hands of his half-brother Osric, bitterness takes up residence like an insidious monster. Although he himself is a wanted, hunted man on the run, Evan is plotting a return to his homeland and vengeance for his mother’s death.

Never mind that his mentor and companion, Julian Antony Vorenius, is a follower of The One True God, and is urging Evan to find forgiveness in Iosa Christus so that he can forgive his brother. Never mind that he has been pursued by trolls and demons and finds himself calling out to this One True God for help! 
Evan MacKeth is driven by his anger; driven to be the best sword fighter, driven to return to the castle and marry his childhood sweetheart, driven to avenge his mother’s murder. He will not know peace and satisfaction with anything less than this ideal. It takes him into exile across strange lands and propels him through many trials. He rehearses his pain and his plan over and over until it resounds like a pulse in the very fiber of his being. 

Author Samuel Schiller has written a medieval tale with all of the gallantry and danger of other well loved fantasy books. Warrior of the Son, the first in his series of Gothic stories, will be a thrilling read for the young person in your home that loves a good adventure laced with the language, legends and chivalry of King Arthur’s day.

Mr. Schiller offers up a bevy of characters, castles, peril, and creepy opponents. What he also offers is truth. Laced with scripture, this tale is honest in its look at what bitterness will do to a person without being preachy about God’s antidote to the problem. The consequences of harboring hatred bear out in a natural way. 

The story is not for young readers, as it deals with some mature themes here and there. (For instance: Evan is the illegitimate son of the reigning king). The issues are handled tactfully and only touched on briefly. The flowery language would likely be a challenge for younger readers as well.

Take a look at all of Mr. Schiller’s exciting stories by clicking here. I think you will be pleased to find an author who can provide the exploits that fantasy readers crave without glorifying the dark side. Rather, Mr. Schiller makes it clear that the truth of scripture is for all men at all time, and in any situation!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Prayer Boxes: An Easy Way to Pray for...Everything!

Do you ever feel like the list of prayer needs grows by the week...and maybe the day? I know that so often the "big" pressing things get the prayer time, and many other things just fall by the wayside or else get rattled off in a rapid-fire list as time constraints dictate. We have found a great solution for just such a problem!

I'm not sure where I read this idea, but I thought it was great! We have Prayer Boxes (I think the original idea was Prayer Jars). We made small cards with prayer needs written on them. I mean everything we could think of: neighbors, family members, our church, our school, our country, our soldiers, the persecuted church, missionaries...you name it. We wrote them down on some card stock (sturdy enough to be used repeatedly) and cut them out.

Then we put them in a small recipe box and wrote "Prayer Needs" on top. We labeled another box "Prayed For." Each day, we pass the box around and each person takes out two cards (pick a number that works for you), then we all have a quiet time of prayer. When we are finished, the cards go to the "Prayed For" box.

When the "Prayer Needs" box is empty, we start over! This way, everything gets prayed for on a fairly regular basis, and we don't have to feel overwhelmed-- or as if we are dropping the ball. Of course, as new needs arise, we put them in the box and add to the cards. 

Besides effectively praying for so many needs, the kids really enjoy the element of surprise each day. Something about pulling the unknown out of a box...that "ta-da" effect! They like that. And they like sharing with each other who or what they are praying about. 

And, certainly, there are many needs that we know cannot wait for prayer...and we pray for them all the time! 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ridiculously Delicious and Easy Peanut Butter Cookies (that also happen to be Gluten free!)

Here's a recipe with three whole ingredients! Share it with your kids and they may just keep you in a steady supply of delicious peanut butter cookies.

Two cups of your favorite peanut butter (regular or crunchy)
2 eggs, beaten
2 C sugar (I only use 1 1/2 and it is PLENTY sweet. But I like that the recipe calls for everything in 2's. Like Noah.)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix dough well with beaters. Of course, you may add in chocolate chips if you so desire, which we do occasionally. Or a Hershey Kiss on top! Roll the dough into ping-pong size balls with your hands. Place on cookie sheet and mash down with fork (the official stamp of authenticity for peanut butter cookies!).  Or squish it down with that Hershey Kiss idea. It's all good.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Scarf 'em down.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When the Severe Pain Ebbs

Sunday School. Just down from my husband and me sits another couple that I see every week, yet haven’t had an opportunity to get to know. A “hello”, a nod, a smile. 
Their son is a friend of my daughter’s in youth group. She isn’t in Sunday school with him today, she stayed the night with a friend and is visiting another church. 
Sunday School is over, we all file into the sanctuary and worship together. Our family, this other family. Many families. Many that I know. Many more that I do not. 
Fast forward about 30 hours to Monday night.
Last night.
We all file into the sanctuary to worship together. Again. Our family. This other family. Many families. Suddenly we are all family.
But, the family from Sunday School is minus One. The one in youth group with my daughter.
So many tears. So many broken hearts. So many questions. So much pain. 
Yet...So much rejoicing. So much faith. And hope. So much victory in the midst of loss. Prayers unite. Strength surrounding, scripture declaring, songs lifting our eyes from ourselves and our anguish to Christ who has vanquished. 
Even so, I cannot keep my mind in the moment. My storytelling brain takes over. The writer in me goes into third person and I find myself observing glimpses of the future that will bring back the pain, fresh and ferocious. 
I do not know these parents. But, I am a parent. I am a mother. I know the heart of a mother. 
The agony that sears and tears with intensity right now will mellow. Who could survive such heartache if it did not? God has sent the Comforter. This mother, this father, and sister...they will be comforted. They will come to a place of acceptance and a place of motion, where the world goes on and they move forward with it once again. 
A place where the severe pain has ebbed. Replaced by the sweet ache of missing someone you love beyond measure.
But I see the unexpected stabs of pain that loom in the near and distant future. Hiding behind the little things that will catch this mother, and the others, by surprise. Little things that will feel like big things, making them catch their breath. The questions, the “what ifs”, the “remember whens”. These thoughts, these pictures, these stories are what choke me with tears, what makes me pray for this family more. 
A long vigil over time seems like a good idea. Remembering to pray for this family is a marathon and not a sprint. To pray that Christ would carry, would comfort, would heal even as each memory wields a clever strategy to bring heartache. Opportunities for bitterness and anger will spark, hoping to find purchase, hoping to steal joy. We must--- I must--ask God to keep bringing this family to my thoughts so I can bring them to Him in prayer.
I think we all kind of hope, maybe even expect, that a real-life crisis will occur like it does in the movies. Foreshadowing takes place in scripts. Not in life. It would be so handy to have a string of events to look back on and see how it was all leading up to this...as if the person knew it was going to happen.
I bet this young man left his room a little messy. He plopped some books on his half-made bed, left his shoes laying around, needed to empty the trash. His room seems to be expecting him back at any moment.
There is school work left incomplete. What was he going to write about for his assignment in Literature? Was he finally getting the hang of quadratic equations? And, oh, look at that lousy handwriting! No wonder he wanted to do everything on the computer...
His basketball schedule is still on the calendar. He was looking forward to the tournament at the end of the year. His favorite movie was going to be released next week; he and some friends already planned their weekend around it. 
Mail will come addressed to him. So presumptuous.  
Do the couch cushions hold some treasure from his pockets to be unearthed at a later date? A crumbled up scrap of paper that he scribbled on or folded around a wad of gum.  Like a time capsule. That will be a precious find! Precious but painful.
Notes in his Bible. Notes on his desk. Reminders to himself become reminders of him.
A glimpse in a crowd, when-- for the moment-- it will seem natural that he is there. A case of mistaken identity that leaves the family member yearning...
These stories play in my mind when I contemplate their loss. Each of my children become this young man. Though I cannot imagine their depth of pain...in some small way I can. We all can.
I wish I could make it all better. Wish I could make that pain go away. Wish I could bring back their young man. Wish I could at least arrange a proper “good-bye”.
Yet, I remind myself of the promises of God. I embrace His sovereignty. I believe he is gracious and loving and good all of the time. And so does this family. It is very evident in their life. 
It is right to encourage them with scripture and hugs and tears and prayers. I believe all of that will help to heal. It must be done. It is being done. 
I just know the unexpected moments and memories are destined to come and I wanted to tell them that it is ok. Those times will be like a brief, sweet connection that can be savored. Like a quick visit. 
It will hurt. It may make them wonder if it will ever hurt less. I don’t know for sure. I just felt like I had to put into words what many of us already have had floating through our minds. We chastise those kind of thoughts. Won’t allow ourselves to “go there”. Such pondering doesn’t seem very spiritual. 
But it is very human. 
Sometimes these bodies of flesh and emotion demand attention. Demand to be recognized. Must be allowed an outlet. Not an excuse to sin. Not a reason to be bitter. Just permission to feel and to hurt and to swell up and gush over in tears. We are wired to find relief in releasing our emotions. Jesus allowed himself to deeply love and openly hurt. Jesus wept.
It must be ok. 
It is ok.
I pray God will remind us all to keep carrying the burdens of those that mourn as life resumes and the severe pain ebbs.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For!

Even grown-ups love a Cinderella story. Masquerade by Nancy Moser escorts our inner- princess into the late 1800’s where high society flourishes and the lower class barely survives. And never the twain shall meet. Nor would it be proper for them to associate.
Lottie Gleason is born into the British upper-crust and has been comfortably insulated from the likes of problems with politics, business and even struggles within her own home. She gets a crash course in Adulthood 101 on her 19th birthday when she discovers her family is being shunned thanks to some indiscretions by her father. Before her ship can totally sink, Lottie is forced to accept a marriage proposal from a wealthy American who hasn’t caught wind of the tarnished Gleason name “across the pond” in New York. Lottie doesn’t want to marry this stranger and Lottie is used to getting her way.
Dora Connors is Lottie Gleason’s maid. She has lived on the streets and experienced life in the gutter. Since the age of 13, however, she has been attendant and confidant to Lottie. They are very close, yet they both know their place. Dora is to accompany Lottie on her voyage to America, where she will start a new life as well.
Somewhere across the expanse of the Atlantic, a plan forms in Lottie’s mind. A plan to escape the restraints and expectations of her family and chase her own dreams. Dora can be Lottie Gleason, Dora can marry this strange man, and Dora will be glad to do it because it is a chance to better her life beyond her wildest dreams.
And so each girl assumes a new identity and they both live happily ever after. 
Yeah, right. While Dora steps into New York society with only the occasional stumble, Lottie falls flat and hard and finds herself seeing how ‘the other half” live. More than seeing, she is experiencing it first hand. 
Both girls find that “a man makes his plans but the Lord orders his steps” as they discover their masquerade is not the neat little package they had hoped. The character issues that are addressed and the relational honesty that is necessary for love and friendship to flourish are learned in the fire of the streets--and the mansions--of New York. 
Masquerade is a cinderella story. One of the best kind. No fairy godmothers here. Rather, the God of the universe helping two girls find their purpose, their love, their friendship and their true identity.
***In exchange for my honest review, Bethany House Publishers supplied this book to me free of charge.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Implications of Marriage

“Why is the marriage relationship more important than any other relationship?” 
This question was posed by a dear friend when we were having a little heart to heart about the state of various things in her life. Valid question, yes. But one that took me by surprise as it seemed obvious to me. Since I think better through my fingertips, rather than in a spur of the moment conversation, this little (make that long!) blog post is my attempt at an answer to my friend’s question. 
I don’t believe this person held marriage in a low-priority position by any means. In fact, I know she knows it is “numero uno”. Yet, she was in the midst of a heart wrenching relationship with one of her children and that was eclipsing all else. She was doing what each of us tend to do: Give the squeaky wheel the grease. 
It is much easier for me to sit on the sidelines and cheer little scripture-like cheers to my friends when I am not the one going through the fire. But, I do think it is essential to rehearse what is true when things are going swimmingly, so that when a flood threatens to overwhelm us, we can cling to what we KNOW. Peace and joy may look precarious in the face of a tsunami, but Truth will remain our lifeline. 
I think we live in an age that devalues marriage and belittles men to such an extent that even churches tend to try and feminize our guys and God Himself. Too many touchy-feely expectations that often rely on experience and psycho-babble, rather than the counsel of scripture. 
With that understood, I’ll go ahead and state that I do believe in submission to ones own husband (as scripture states in Ephesians 5:22...implying women can be awed and influenced more heavily by some other man...even a pastor). Submission does NOT imply inequality; merely the chain of command that makes things flow rather than grate. Frankly, I like it that way. There is freedom in submission...if bad decisions are wrought by my husband, it is between him and God (not to say it doesn’t have an effect on other people, myself included). I don’t want to be an Eve and have my hubby say (like Adam), “that woman you gave me wore me down until I would agree to do this...”. I prefer to keep my hands off. It helps that my husband can smell manipulation a mile away; it would be a total waste of time to try.
So, the above explanation tells of the structure of a healthy marriage (not my opinion here, either. Scripture will back me up on all of that submission stuff). But WHY is marriage so important? Why is it THE relationship that must be cherished and nurtured at all costs, especially when things get really awful in other areas of life? Why can’t we afford to just coexist for awhile, coast along and hope things will get better (when he sees what a jerk he’s been...)? Why can’t I spew all over my mate and expect them to just get over it and move on? We’re both adults, right? They know I love them.
Let’s look first at the origin of marriage. This is an obvious one, I know. Still...restating truth helps to reinforce its application in our life so it bares repeating. The first marriage was ordained and orchestrated by the Creator of the universe in Paradise. Adam and Eve were part of the ultimate blind date match up. Those two were literally made for each other!
The animals were not a suitable companion for Adam, only a woman would do! God could have just made a bunch of people that were an instant little “Village of Eden”. He could have commanded all the independent people to “be friendly and fellowship.” Instead he made one of each gender and then gave them the command to have sex...and he made that something special and symbolic as well. “Be fruitful and multiply,” he said. Oh, and it’s really fun to practice the “being fruitful” part...and the little ones that result will be one of the best things to ever happen to you! 
Even the actual act of consummating a marriage has sacred and symbolic significance. A true covenant relationship is one that is sealed in blood (the blood of animals in the Old Testament, the Blood of Christ in the New Testament). When a virgin has relations for the first time (presumably after marriage), blood is spilt; a seal of the covenant made between the bride and groom. What a beautiful picture--with deep implications-- that most do not fathom!
Scripture goes on to extol the virtue of marriage, to show it as a relationship set apart, as a Holy Covenant that should only be broken by death itself. The intimacy of the marriage bed is used as a term for the way God intimately knows each of us. Song of Solomon is a whole book devoted to the love relationship between marriage partners. Marriage is an ongoing example of unity and intimacy throughout scripture.
Still, there is something more, something that causes marriage to have no equal among relationships between people. If this were to be the only mention of marriage in the Bible, it would be enough to propel it to “numero uno”: Marriage is a reflection and representation of the union of Christ and His church.
Our heavenly Father uses the picture of marriage, the verbiage of marriage, and the sanctity of marriage to show the relationship that the Bride of Christ (the church) has with the Bridegroom (Christ). (See Matthew 25, Ephesians 5, 2 Corinthians 11, and Revelation 21 to name a few). God did not use a picture of teacher and student, or a picture of priest and congregation, but the intimate, loving, stick-with-you-through-thick-and-thin commitment that has two people becoming one in Holy Matrimony. In fact, just look at that term: “Holy Matrimony”...do you recall the relationship between parents and children being termed “holy”, or any other relationship for that matter? On the contrary, Jesus says that for his sake, those relationships may be violently torn apart (see Matt. 10:35).
Truly, being one in the covenant of marriage is a beautiful likeness of what Christ has done to reconcile us to himself through his sacrifice on the cross; collectively as a church, and individually as well (see Eph. 5 for how the husband and wife submit and give all to each other just has Christ has done for us). He is coming for a pure and spotless bride, without blemish or wrinkle. He promises to tenderly care for us, protect us and provide for us. He is preparing a feast and celebration for us when we are with him in eternity. Marriage. Marriage. Marriage. It is a thread woven throughout the Bible; a heartbeat of a passionate and loving God.
Now that we have established the high calling of marriage, what do we do with this information? Tuck it away as an interesting thought to ponder? Make a note in our Bible’s margin? Nope. I say it ought to be of the utmost priority to make our marriages the best possible union; effort given to building a strong foundation, adding to that using the Fruits of the Spirit on a daily basis. 

It is a shameful fact that the divorce rate is as high in the church as it is in the world. It should never, ever be so. Our marriage is part of our testimony to the world, it exists to reflect the glory of God and give glory to God. What message is the world getting from us about this holy union? One that says it IS NOT holy, it is merely a matter of taste and convenience. Like a mortgage on a house; it is not something to be taken lightly, but--if times get tough--you can always sell it and move on.
One last bit of food for thought... What if the bride of Christ spent it’s energy trying to change who Christ is? What if we decided to tweak the attributes of Jesus or redefine what it means to be a Christian? Well, that wouldn’t fly, would it? A peek at the churches of Revelation shows how God wants to spew the unfit from his presence and discipline those that are disobedient. We would be defaming the name of Christ if we acted like that. 
What if the church went around bad mouthing Christ to the world? “Yeah, Jesus rarely answers any of my prayers, he’s so selfish and lazy.” Or, “I would be a better Christian if Jesus would just ____(fill in the blank).” Or, “I don’t know who that Jesus thinks he is, expecting me to do this and that.” Yikes! Such speech is unimaginable from a true follower of Christ.
Yet how often do we whine and complain about what we perceive to be wrongs in our relationship to our spouse? Are we guilty of bad mouthing them to others? Are we approaching marriage the world's way, or our own way, instead of God’s? Do we distance our mate and our marriage in our words or our actions, either to their face or to others? Are we tearing down instead of building up? Manipulating and pouting, being bitter and scornful, instead of serving and showing respect with a heart of gratitude? What about shutting ourselves off in cold indifference? 
I believe that our relationship with the Lord is directly connected to how we relate to our spouse. We cannot be a grumpy, judgmental, discontent, whiney-butt with our husband (or wife) and expect to pursue an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. That holds true even in a marriage with an unbeliever. The scriptures give guidelines for everything, including that! Not to say such a union would be a cake walk, but it still can bring glory to God as the saved spouse relates to the other in a Christ-like way. 
Ephesians gives very specific directives on how we should treat each other in marriage and those standards are not earned by the other person’s behavior. They are what God expects of us as believers in obedience to His word. We cannot control what the other person does, we can only control ourselves, our choices and our reactions. And those things should be under the control of the Holy Spirit or they will only be wood, hay and stubble (aka, works of the flesh).
I know this post may come across as overly simplistic, and very black and white...
I realize that different situations may NOT be simple, but the bible reads gloriously black and white so that we can take those convoluted messes we make and find answers and hope without going crazy. The answers are there if we will take the time to look. They are not old-fashioned and out-dated. They are the tried and true remedies from the mouth of the One who created marriage! Why doesn’t that fact make a difference in Christian matrimony? It seems we often balk at how simple God’s approach is, deciding it really doesn’t apply to us. We stomp off and attempt to fix it ourselves, perpetuating the cycle. Why do we doubt the living God?
When my friend posed her question to me, she surely did not know what a heaping can of worms she was opening! And most of this post is like preaching to the choir to her and many others that may come across it. But I know, as a fellow human being, how hard it can be to get information to transfer out of our heads and into our hearts. I pray that my little diatribe may be used as a defibrillator on things that have grown cold, stale and even lifeless. 
Things like your heart.
Things like your marriage.

At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.