Covenant Marriage, Singular Faith

“He has remembered His covenant forever, The word which He commanded to a thousand generations…” Psalm 105:8

Marriage is a relationship like none other. When it is entered into as it was designed, it is a bond. When things are bound together, the intention is that they stay that way for good. It’s like when we choose a glue… we look for one that provides a good bond. We want those pieces to stick together as if they had always been stuck together, and we want that bond to stand the test of time, use, etc. In the Old Testament, you can read about such bonds. They were referred to as covenants. To break a covenant with someone was a serious, serious matter. So for most Christians, we view marriage as less like a contract and more like the Old Testament covenants.

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A contract has more to do with protection and mistrust. There are exit clauses and loop holes. The law of our land provides that marriage is a legal contract. This is a connection, not a bond. Connections can be broken. I lose my wifi connection at work all the time.

There are actually three states in the US that provide a Marriage Covenant for people. People who choose this route do so understanding that to exit from it takes a good bit more effort. When you look into the scriptures you will see that God made covenants with His people, not contracts. You will find no mention of a contract within scripture.

So I say all that to say this. Matthew and I have a marriage covenant, not a marriage contract. Now, we were married in Alabama. Alabama is not one of the three states that offers the actual marriage covenant. But in our hearts, we don’t care about the paper contract, we have a covenant… a bond not easily broken. We are bound together legally, physically, and spiritually. Matthew is responsible to lead me spiritually, and I am responsible to let him, bless his heart. As head of our household, he is responsible to make sure that I am growing spiritually and leading our children to do the same. I feel that very strong spiritual bond with him, and it has great influence over me.

But here’s the thing. While I have a covenant marriage with Matthew, I also have a singular faith. Matthew is responsible for fostering in me a desire to grow deeper in my relationship with Christ, but ultimately, I am responsible for that relationship. Matthew will be held accountable for how he did his part, but I will stand alone before God one day to give an accounting for what I alone did with Jesus.

For years, I blended the two so closely that I failed to really take proper responsibility for my growing faith. If Matthew was growing, I was growing. If he hit a plateau, I just hung out there with him until I got the signal that we were moving forward again. At that point, I’d gather our stuff and plod on. I did this to the point that I would even mirror his moods. If Matthew was having a tough day, so was I. I would look to him to gauge my own feelings. This was not Matthew’s fault, it was just that I felt so closely bound to him, spiritually, that I had begun to put more into that relationship than into my own, separate relationship with Jesus.

And here’s the kicker… when I began to see this area of my life differently, an amazing thing happened. My relationship with Jesus grew, and my relationship with Matthew got even better. If Matthew is having a bad day, he doesn’t need me to mirror that, he needs me to help him find joy again. If I join Matthew on his spiritual plateaus, then he’s likely to hang out there longer. I mean, he does enjoy my company!

This shift in perspective does not mean that I am then leading him… not at all. It means that I encourage him, support him, love him and pray for him. I don’t just sit and idly wait. I love his company, too, but I like it much better when we are marching forward together.

As a Christian wife, it would be easy for me to find my identity in that position, and I have often done that. But in truth, my identity is found in Christ alone and in who He says I am. When I find my worth there, then my value as a wife increases profoundly. I am so thankful for these two, very related, yet distinct positions that I hold. And I love it so much when, about my spiritual growth, Matthew says, “You go do what you need to do.”

The Sandwich Generation

I first remember hearing about the “sandwich generation” when my parents found themselves in that place. After my Pawpaw died, my Granny moved in with us for a while so that we could help her over that hump, and figure out what she needed to do next. Those were great days for me… I loved having her with us, but I know they were challenging for my parents. They still had two teens at home to look after, my dad owned his own business, and then there was the displaced, saddened little old lady to care for. They were sandwiched between two generations that needed their help.

IMG_3739.JPGNow, I look around and see that I am that sandwich generation. As my parents get older (Dad turned 80 last weekend) there are times that they need my help with some things, I’m working full time to help put my kids through college, and I’m still working to get those kids safely to adulthood. I also have the additional blessing of a bonus “parent”, my Aunt Jean, to care for. These are busy, wonderful days, and I would not trade them for anything. I love my life so much.

But these are interesting days. These are different times from when my parents where the sandwiched ones. Take phones, for instance. From the time of the invention of the phone, moving ahead about a hundred years… nothing changed too much about it. We were all pretty much tied by a pig-tailed cord to the kitchen if we wanted to talk to someone on it. Let’s just call it Phone1.0. Phones were just phones, no one expected anything more than that, and we all just talked on them. Phones were an even playing field across the generations. Everyone sort of lived in the same ballpark.

But today, things are different. While my parents have smart phones, they still pretty much just use them as… phones, and they expect/like it when people call them on their phones. My mother tells me most of the time I could stand to do that a lot more. When I call my kids on their phones, they’re like, “Um, why are you calling me on the phone? Couldn’t you have texted me?” You see, for their generation, their phones are less phones and more… everything else. The phone part of their phones is the least thing they do with their phones. I’m not even sure why they still call their phones phones. And they are always waiting for the next upgrade or innovation for their phones. I mean I went my entire childhood, into adulthood with the SAME PHONE tethered to the wall in my parent’s kitchen. It didn’t even have buttons, just a rotary dial, and I was completely fine with that.

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So being the sandwich generation is a little different these days. It’s a little like having one foot in one dimension and the other in another, completely different dimension.

C Wright Mills was a prominent Sociologist around the time of the end of the Second World War. He worried that societies were changing at a pace that was too fast for most people to keep up… and that was back when phones were still tied to the kitchen wall. I bet his head would spin if he saw the pace at which society is changing now. I used to marvel at my great grandmother, and all that she had seen happen in her lifetime. But y’all, they just grew a baby goat in a plastic Ziplock bag in a lab. Are you kidding me? There is now an app for the phone where you can take a picture of a suspicious mole, upload it to the app and it will diagnose that mole with greater accuracy than a dermatologist. There are predictions that doctors will soon go the way of travel agents. Travel agents are something my parents knew about that my kids have never heard of, and would find completely irrelevant today. (My apologies to all my doctor friends… but you have been warned.)

I can’t say that I really have a great point to all of this, except to say that I have a lot of friends who are also sandwiched right now, and I hope to encourage them as they navigate these years. We are living in a time like never before in history, and we are all just trying to figure it out and keep up. We have been entrusted with some pretty special people to help take care of on both sides, and we are the bridge that joins them together. It’s a pretty special place to be, really… sandwiched in like we are.

Mike Pence’s Dinner Rule

I’m sorry ladies. If you want to have dinner with the Vice President, you’ll have to accept his wife coming along. Can you believe that? Who does he think he is, after all? Step into the 21st century, man!

Many in the liberal media couldn’t wait to beat up on our Vice President for this seemingly shortsighted, non-progressive “rule”. Lately, I’m feeling so much like an entitled teenager, rolling my eyes at every stab people make at what seems like such antiquated thinking. Are these people really serious? This is not news, people, but it is good practice.

If you aren’t aware that you leave your wedding with a target on your back, then you need to wise up. Marriage is God’s thing. Our enemy doesn’t like God’s things and immediately will set out to destroy those things. If you step into your happily ever after without your guard up, every day, all the time, no second to waste… then you should expect the trouble that’s coming.

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

Marriages can flourish… within proper boundaries. Marriages can last a lifetime… if you stand your guard over them. You can have your happily ever after… but only after you do your due diligence.


Mike Pence shared one of his rules for marriage… I’ll share some of mine.

1.) We, too, do not have dinner with a member of the opposite sex alone. Or lunch, or breakfast, or coffee… I mean unless it’s each other… then alone is awesome.

2.) We do not get into a vehicle alone with a member of the opposite sex… to go across town or across the street.

3.) We do not meet for business alone in a room with the door shut with a member of the opposite sex. As a matter of fact, Matthew has had a window cut in his office door before, just for people to be able to see in at all times.

4.) We do not send private messages on social media to members of the opposite sex. I severely limit the members of the opposite sex that I friend on Facebook. You pretty much have to be related to me for me to accept your request if you are a man.

5.) We know where the other one is pretty much all the time. We share plans for the day. We have an app on our phones that shows us where everyone in our family is at any given time. (Find My Friends) We don’t make an obsessive habit of looking at it, but it’s there if we need it.

6.) I can look at his email and he can look at mine. I can open his snail mail, and he can open mine.

7.) I know all of his passwords, and he knows mine.

8.) I can pick up his phone and read anything on it I want, look at his photos, too. Same for him.

9.) I can look in his wallet, and he can look in my purse. God, help him if he does, but he can.

10.) We do not have close friendships with the opposite sex… apart from our spouse being close friends, too, with that person. 

I realize that some may find these things very restricting. I guess they are. But within these guardrails there is complete freedom. There is complete trust. There are no secret places or shady practices. There is no space where he cannot look into my life, and none closed off to me. We know the target on our backs and we are ever vigilant to ward off any attacks. There is no room to be lax or lazy. Flattery turns into compromise… lack of diligence into accusation. Loss of trust is the beginning of the end.

I happen to be very proud of our Vice President and his very public dinner rule. He has a lifelong marriage to show for the consistency and concern that he demonstrates. Take a look at the marriages of those who are throwing stones… ten to one they can’t hold a candle.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

Getting older isn’t for sissies, sister. I say this on the heels of someone I love turning forty. Like many of us, she is not completely embracing this adventure into a new decade. As one who has been there and done that, (forty, I mean) I can say in all sincerity, that forty really is fabulous. It’s true, there’s no denying the image in the mirror looking back at you is no longer that hot 25-year-old who once peered back at you, but hey, there are always tradeoffs.

On the eve of her fortieth birthday, she sent me a text that said,

“I’m not doing well with turning 50”

Then she said,

“40. Lol”

And finally,

“I guess that auto correct put it into perspective”

Yes, I thought, it does. You see, I’M actually the one turning fifty…

 In preparation for turning fifty (tomorrow!), I have been calling myself fifty for the last year just to get used to the idea. My best friend will always emphatically remind me that I am not fifty… YET!

I can’t say that I completely appreciate the folks who say that age is just a number. I can find merit in what they are trying to convey, but they want to assert that your age is irrelevant. I think it is relevant. With age comes a lot of things. Each year brings us experience and insight. We gain perspective and wisdom as we move through this life. That 25-year-old young woman who used to look back at me from my mirror was lacking in so many ways. She thought she had the world by the tail, but she was so naïve. She had no idea of the things she would experience and learn, and the ways she would grow and become.

There is a Facebook group that keeps a record of and memorializes classmates who have passed away since my high school graduation. Far too many have died way too young. They didn’t get to grow old with their spouses, see their kids grow up and get married, and they didn’t get to meet and love on their grandchildren.

Every day we exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen is a blessing, and to bemoan any single one because we are growing older is displaying an ungrateful heart. At least that’s what I tell myself on those days when I notice the wrinkles, sags, and bags, and aches and pains start to get me down.

I am determined to face this next decade with grace and class. To my younger friends, I can say with all confidence that the last decade has been fabulous. The forties have us stepping into a confidence in ourselves that we have not felt before. We have finally had enough life experiences to go boldly into each day knowing that we can likely face whatever is coming and know how to handle it well. Our relationships grow deeper and mean more to us because we finally begin to understand the things that truly matter in this life.

And here’s the kicker for us who believe and trust in Jesus. We are just passing through this place anyway. We hold so tightly to this world that we can sometimes forget that we will one day take off this aging, sickness prone, imperfect body in exchange for one that will know no time, no age, no pain and no leaky bladders! We will praise Jesus, worship the Father, and abide in the Holy Spirit for ten thousand years and find we have “no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we’ve first begun”. We trod through this life in a body not meant to last, and we get all upset when it begins to show signs of wear.

Not too long ago, I played a silly Facebook game that assigned an age to my profile picture. The age I got was 21. Now that’s funny. Facebook is such a liar.

No, Facebook, this is what FIFTY looks like!

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Yesterday, I was in my garage repainting a few interior doors as Matthew and I get ready to sell our house. I was pondering our next steps when the next song from my iPhone started playing. It was Bachman Turner Overdrive’s song from 1974- You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet. It is one of my classic favorites… despite the terrible grammar.

And as I listened to it in the light of turning 50, I couldn’t help but think, “That’s God’s message to me right now!” He’s done so much in and through me to date, but in that moment, I believe He was telling me, “You ain’t seen nothin yet!” And I believe Him.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6

The Kindness Diaries is a show I found on Netflix recently. I liked the show’s premise. It’s about this English guy who hops on a motorcycle with no money and sets out to travel the globe depending only on the kindness of strangers for food, gas, and shelter. A few people turn him away, but by and large people are pretty helpful. 

So often when we stand back and look at the world from a distance, it looks bad. Terrible even. 

But when we zoom in close, it begins to look differently. 


People are still people and we are still image bearers of God. And while the media would love for us to appear angry and divided, mean-spirited and uncaring, what we find when we look up close is interesting. We find a world full of really wonderful, caring and kind people who, when presented with the opportunity, are more than willing to help their fellow humans, no matter their race, religion, political views, or whatever.

Sometimes in our laziness, we choose to sit back and be spoon fed our opinions. We decide to trust what those who appear to be out there and in the know about things to tell us how to feel, think, and behave. But we are often being handed a pile of twisted truths. 

Of course, there are real atrocities in the world. Evil is rampant, and the god of this world is doing what he does best, and he will keep right on working without vacation until Jesus comes back. You only need turn on the television to see those horrors in real time. We offer him free 24-hour coverage on our cable news networks. He is pushing and prodding his demented ideology upon many of us who are not paying attention, and people are suffering greatly because of it.

But when we look more closely at what’s going on, really, we don’t have to search too far to find kindness and love even in the most unlikely places.

The true God of this world calls upon us to love one another… unequivocally and without exception. But love almost always costs us something, so we tend to dole it out carefully and in measured amounts. We decide to give it only to those who we think deserve it, agree with us, or are like us. Our love is worth something, after all, and how could it be prudent to pass it out willy-nilly without first counting the cost?

Only that doesn’t make any sense in God’s economy. The cost counting time came when we decided to give our lives wholly and completely to Jesus. And even before that,  Jesus counted the cost when He decided to take our shameless sinning upon Himself, and pay that unfathomable debt. 

The cost for love has been paid already. The source of our love is God Himself who knows no boundary or limit, so there is no foundation for our decision to ration our love. We can love the unlovely without fear of then not having enough to love those we find easy to love.

Real life change cannot happen from a distance, and it cannot happen in the absence of love. No one ever changed a political view because we threw a rock at them. No one’s heart was moved toward Jesus because we hit them with clever biblical rhetoric. Change comes when we snuggle up close and show people love. Love can melt even the hardest of hearts, and it can open even the most cemented of minds. It’s the only thing that ever has made real and lasting change possible.

If we stand and watch at a distance, things look pretty bad. If we want to see the love, kindness, compassion, and selflessness we have to step in for a closer look. Those are at work through us because God is at work in us. 

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” 1 John 4:7

Hope is Not a Strategy

“And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7

Matthew and I recently watched the movie, “Deepwater Horizon” on Netflix. It’s a movie about the 2010 BP debacle that left eleven oil rig employees dead and 4.9 million barrels of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

It was a difficult movie to watch. I mean those were real lives affected. The poor decisions of a few leaders trying to save a bit of money led to the largest catastrophe of its kind in human history. Yet none of those leaders wanted it to happen, and they put their hope in the fact that it wouldn’t despite warnings from more learned people than themselves.

One of my favorite lines from the movie was this. “Hope is not a strategy”. You see, the BP executive had sent the oil well inspectors away without allowing them to properly inspect the well for safety. It was going to be a costly inspection, and they were planning on pulling out from that drill site soon anyway. The BP executive decided to just hope for the best and save the company some money. Preliminary tests all looked good, but the experienced drillers on the rig all knew the inspections were needed.

After watching this movie and connecting so much with that line about hope, I started thinking about the role that hope plays in our lives. We all have hopes. I find myself hoping for lots of things. But is hope a strategy? Most of the time, I don’t think it is.

Let’s say you own your own business and you want to grow that business to be more profitable. You narrow your options down to two plans for growth. One plan will likely be more successful, but you are unsure as to which one that is. So you decide to add hope to one. Will merely adding hope to one of the plans improve its chance for success? I don’t think so.

Okay, look at it this way. Financially, things are tough. There is often more month than money in your account. You are really hoping for enough money to be able to pay your bills this month. Is that hope going to be enough to change your circumstance, and see more money come in to your account? No. It really isn’t.

You see, hope presumes on a future that only exists in our minds and in our… hopes. The past is gone. The future does not yet exist. The only moment we have is this one. We can have hope for things in the future, but what does that really do? Can hope really be a strategy? I can hope for grandchildren one day, but does that mean my hope will ensure I get them? I can hope my neck stops looking more and more like a chicken’s, but will that hope restore the worn out collagen in my skin?

In only one context that I can think of, can hope be a strategy. We have to change the preposition associated with hope. Instead of hoping for things, we hope in something… more specifically, in someone. As believers, when we put our hope IN Christ, that makes all the difference. When we change the preposition, we aren’t presuming on the future, but trusting in the One who is able and holds our future. 

When we put our hope in Christ, we can stand on the promise that he will give us the desires of our hearts, because now we are called according to His purpose. When we walk in the purpose He has for us, then our hopes are not wishes… they are the foundation for the steps we take to fulfill our purpose. We have the confidence to form the strategies that will see our hopes in Christ realized.

We inspect the well. We budget our money. We begin interviewing potential wives for our sons and husbands for our daughters so that we can have those grandchildren before we are living in an old folk’s home, too old and demented to enjoy them.

Sigh… Anyway…

As believers, Christ is the great hope that we have. It’s the only place where hope has any teeth, and the only context where it is a strategy. King David hoped for many things, but he knew the best place he could put his hope was in the Lord. Jesus is the only real hope we have.

 

 

Independence is a Four Letter word

It all started a very long, long, LONG time ago. The garden was lush and green, but not just green. No, there were flowers and leaves of every color imaginable. Life in this place was the kind from which dreams are made. Not even show hosts from HGTV could add to the curb appeal of this place to make it better. That is, unless there really was better out there… somewhere. I mean maybe all was not exactly as it seemed. Why depend on this place and its beauty and bounty when there might be more?

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That’s when Independence came along and ruined everything. Independence came in the form of a lie. It was a lie told so well, so skillfully, that even the best of minds, uncorrupted by sin and circumstance, would believe. Did believe. And that lie ushered in a cosmic shift that would change everything. It ushered in Independence.

When Adam and Eve chose to believe Satan’s lie about the garden, God, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he did it with the lure of Independence. There was no real need for God to tell them what was good or bad for them, they alone could have the ability to choose for themselves by taking one, solitary bite. Certainly Dependence was inferior to Independence, right? What could be better than self-sufficiency and self-reliance?

Up to that point Adam and Eve had depended upon God to tell them what they needed, how the world worked, and how to live. He had afforded them great freedoms there in the garden and bestowed upon them hefty responsibilities, but it was all under His care. Suddenly, after one bite, that all seemed wrong somehow. Now there were options.

Now there was the option to be afraid and feel shame. Never before had Adam or Eve feared God their Father, nor had they ever encountered shame. But completely understanding the weight of what they had done, they were wholly terrified and fully shamed. The garden was made for them, but only if they daily chose to depend on the Father for everything. Now, with the ability to choose for themselves right and wrong, good and bad, they were free to make judgments. But freedoms come with a price. Independence costs us. For Adam and Eve and for the rest of us, it costs us relationship with the Father.

Now we judge others. Now we judge ourselves. Now we judge God. We assume, we manipulate, we control, and we plot and weigh options. We are completely free to do that inside our Independence, but we are not the judge that our Father is, and so often we are wrong, more often wrong than right. But we do not learn, rather we move on the next decision or circumstance, and place a label of “good” or “bad”, as if we know.

We live in a world that tells us to seek Independence as if it is some pinnacle of existence. We are to be the masters of our own destinies. We can be self made men and women. Yes, we can be. We can fight, struggle, scratch and claw for everything we can, or we can choose to become dependent again. We can choose to enter once again into a circle of relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, where we find it is far better to live in Dependence. Who are we kidding, anyway? The very breath in our lungs is His, and Independence is a lie. To choose to live in dependence means we submit to God and to those He sees fit to put in authority over us. Together, they form an umbrella of protection for us.

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How do we leave Independence behind? We can choose to step back into the garden. We can give up the lie of control. We can give up the lie of self-reliance, and let God be God in our lives. It was a cosmic shift when Adam and Eve stepped out from dependence upon God, but the God of the cosmos gave us Jesus in return. Yet for that to have any bearing on our lives, we have to give up our independence and learn once again to depend. We have to learn to sacrifice what we can do under our own power, and fully rely on His direction for our lives.

For many of us, giving up our independence seems so scary, but I would imagine if we were able to talk to Adam and Eve about that, they would tell us that Independence is a four letter word.