Monday, December 23, 2013

Giving Them Over

Romans 1:24:  God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity...

Romans 1:26:  God gave them over to degrading passions...

Romans 1:28:  God gave them over to a depraved mind...

God gave them over... and over... and over.  I think Paul wanted to make a point here!  When something is repeated three times, it's important it's time to sit up and take notice.  I studied those verses intently when I was a teen.  Our church's Bible Quiz team won first place at nationals the year we studied the book of Romans, so it's one that sticks with me pretty well.  I knew it inside and out.  But even though I knew it, I didn't understand it.  Oh, I thought I did.  I read about the wrath of God in Romans 1:18 and somehow I interpreted the verses later in the chapter as a show of God's wrath against unrighteous people.  It does speak of his wrath against their sin, no doubt about that.  As the parent of a prodigal child, though...  with the path I have walked... the path I am walking...  I suddenly see those verses in another light.

As a parent of a prodigal child, all I want to do is rush in and save my child.  I want to rescue her and spare her the consequences of her own decisions.  I want to prevent her from the behaviors that I know will only end in heartache.  But deep inside I know a hard truth.  Even if I could control her actions, it's her heart that needs saving.  Controlling her actions won't do that.  There's a reason the father let his prodigal son leave with his inheritance.

Our dog is a habitual counter-surfer.  We have a locking trash can; we store bread and other goodies out of reach; and we crate him when we leave for even a little while.  If we don't, he will find a way to get into trouble. I frequently laugh that, "He's a good dog... as long as all other options are removed."  Putting him in the crate curbs his behavior, but has done nothing to change the fact that he will listen to his stomach over his head every time!  I know I'm not changing his heart.  

Even knowing that, part of me still longs to control my daughter's actions; to prevent the things that I know will bring heartache.  Deep inside, though, I know that I really want more than to control her actions. I want her to come to the place where she makes those decisions on her own – even when all other options have not been removed.  I want her heart to be changed.

That's where it gets hard.  A heart change requires pain. We will never turn around if there is nothing that convinces us that our current direction is unprofitable. I know, then, that keeping my child from the consequences of her decisions will ultimately only keep her from learning... keep her from turning.  If I rush in and save her, she will never experience the pain that will cause her to grow... to turn around and change direction (repent).  So... like the father of the prodigal son, I step back and watch through my tears.  It is not because I'm angry or full of wrath... but because I want nothing more than for her to realize the emptiness of the path she is choosing.  

When you step back and let your child face the consequences of her own decisions... when you give her over to her own decisions... and your heart breaks with the pain of it... that's when you know that parenting isn't for cowards; that love is tough.  In that moment, too, I think you understand those verses in Romans 1 just a little bit more.  I think you understand God just a little bit more.   He gives us over... giving us the opportunity to realize the emptiness and pain of doing life our way...  giving us the opportunity to turn around. 

As the parent of a prodigal child, I find comfort in that.  I find comfort in knowing that I'm following a God who has been there, done that.  It gives me hope to follow His example... and comfort in knowing that He totally understands the pain involved in the giving.  Giving them over.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Our "Secret"

Nearly three weeks ago, my husband and I renewed our wedding vows.  It was a small, simple service right after the Sunday morning services in our church.  I've been told there wasn't a female there without tears in her eyes.  I don't know – my eyes never left my husband's face.  I do know that whatever was – and is – was all God.

After the service, someone called out to me, "Can you tell us your secret?"  I was on my way to grab something from my purse, but as I hurried away I yelled back over my shoulder, "Prayer!"  I wish now I'd taken the time to really answer.  The answer is still prayer, but I'm afraid it seemed a little glib as I said it over my shoulder that morning.  There was nothing glib about it.  It's honest truth... and so much more important than anyone would have believed from the way I tossed my answer out that morning.

Several months ago, during one of our counseling sessions, our psychologist asked me what my husband could do to help when I was experiencing the depressive side of my mood disorder.  I shrugged my shoulders – I really didn't know.  I didn't think there was anything he could really do for me in those moments.  It was just something I had to get through on my own.  Our psychologist then asked how it would be if my husband prayed for me.  Tears gathered unexpectedly in my eyes.  It touched me in a way that surprised me.  The thought of my husband praying over me was an intensely powerful one.

I think it was a few weeks later when our psychologist gave us an assignment – to pray together daily.    Those first few prayers stirred something within me.  To be honest, though, while the prayers continued fairly regularly... the stirrings inside didn't.  The prayers were stilted...  predictable...  a little like reading from a prayer book rather than talking from the heart.  I could almost hear my last pastor calling them "vending machine" prayers.

In late August, though, we found ourselves face to face with some tough things to work through.  In a hotel room, away from friends and family, with prayers from two pastors covering us, we began with prayer.  There were some hard questions that night... and some hard answers.  There were silent prayers as we grappled honestly and openly with the problems we faced.  And after everything was said, there were more prayers.  The seemingly rote type of prayer we had shared over the past few months was gone – replaced by prayers of true brokenness and openness between us.  Prayers of repentance.  Prayers for direction.  Prayers of thanksgiving.  After that last prayer, I leaned over to hug my husband.  As I drew back from the hug, I kissed his cheek and suddenly, as I tasted the saltiness of the tears coursing down his face (and mine), there was an inexplicable healing.  Those broken, humble, open, honest prayers had torn down something between us and allowed God in to stir things... renew things... heal things in a way that left us both with our jaws hanging open.  It was not the ending either of us had anticipated for the evening.  It was a new beginning with Jesus' fingerprints all over it – something only God could do.

We pray together daily now – sometimes several times.  Now, when I feel a mood swing coming on, I talk with my husband, let him hold me, and he prays over me. (Trust me, guys... if you do this for your wife with sincerity, she will turn to mush!).  When things are rough at the office or he's facing other personal struggles, I pray over him.  When he left town on business a couple of weeks ago, we called each other every night and prayed together over the phone.   It's my first thought now when trouble hits.  I was starting dinner preparations recently when I received a piece of disturbing news.  After just a moment's hesitation, I dropped everything and walked out the door – straight down the road to my husband's office... to pray together.  It was just too important to wait.  A couple of months ago I'm not sure we would have prayed together about it at all.  Last week, I couldn't wait.  Just this morning, I threw my arms around his neck and prayed with him outside the house as he left for work.  Yep, standing in the yard right out there in front of everyone.  It's that important.

I do have to say that prayer alone wasn't an immediate miracle cure for us.  Those "vending machine" or rote prayers didn't do it.  It took getting honest and real with each other and praying from the heart.  Praying openly and honestly with each other has brought us closer together and keeps us close – we're a team, in this together.  Praying openly and honestly for each other has also brought a new intimacy to our marriage.  Nothing makes you feel more cherished than having your spouse hold you and pray over you.  We've been extremely blessed to have a Christian psychologist who recognizes that spiritual intimacy is a vital part of the emotional intimacy that's required for a good marriage.  I just can't imagine successful marriage counseling with someone who never even brings God into it.  Prayer unites us; moves us; heals us.

Prayer.  Praying together; praying over each other; drawing closer to each other while drawing closer to God.  That's been our "secret" for the past few weeks. Yes, I know that a few weeks isn't long in the scheme of things, but I can only say that our marriage has changed in ways I can't begin to explain.  Honestly, we've been feeling a little bit like newlyweds!  My sister calls us "cute."   I call us blessed.  And each night as we fall asleep... we pray... and thank God for all He is doing in our lives.... 

We pray.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Making All Things New - an invitation

Twenty-seven years ago, a girl barely 19 years old took the hand of the 20 year old boy standing in front of her and with all the innocence and hope of those 19 years shining in her eyes said, "I do."  Twenty-six years later, she sat on a bench beside him watching the wind pound the waves of Lake Michigan into the sand, trying to find the courage to tell him that she'd spoken to their daughter's psychologist about starting marriage counseling.  When she finally found the courage, he admitted he'd been thinking the same thing.  

Over the course of the last year of counseling, we've had times where it felt like two steps forward, one step back.  Other times, it's felt like one step forward, two steps back.  While there's been progress, it's been slow.  At times it seems there've been more tears than laughter; more hurt than hope. 

A few weeks ago, at a point where our hearts were more broken than ever before, we took a night away to talk through some things.  The drive to the hotel that night was one of the longest, quietest drives we've ever had.  Neither of us knew what to expect that evening.  We began with prayer.  We ended with prayer.  There was prayer through the entire evening.  And... there was God.  In the midst of our tears, God met us there in a totally unexpected way.  Jehovah Rapha – the God who Heals – showed up in all His glory.  He restored what was broken, redeemed that which had been lost.  I can't begin to explain what happened that evening... except to say that the course of our marriage was changed forever with a night neither one of us will ever forget -- a night that had Jesus' fingerprints all over it.

At one point that evening, I looked into my husband's eyes and with all the hope and love given by my Savior shining from my eyes... I whispered, "I am my beloved's and he is mine."  Spoken from my heart, the words paraphrased from the Song of Songs were a vow; a promise; a reaffirmation of the covenant we had made twenty-seven years ago.  I meant it with everything that was within me.  At that moment in time, at this moment in time, those words mean so much more than the "I do" I'd promised twenty-seven years ago.  I understand so much more now all that those words mean.  

On that evening, with the words from Song of Solomon, I renewed my wedding vows to my husband.  This Sunday, after the morning services at our church, we will renew those vows before God, family and friends.  We understand more fully now what those vows really mean... and they mean more to us now than ever before.  We will also exchange new rings – not to replace our wedding rings, but to represent our renewed commitment.  The Song of Solomon rings bear the Hebrew inscription from the Song of Solomon – the words I spoke as a vow that evening.  We've also had them engraved with the words, "Making All Things New."  God is doing a new thing in our lives.  We want to acknowledge and remember what it was He did that night – moving beyond our wildest imaginations, hopes or dreams.

We know that there is still healing and learning to come.  We are continuing with counseling.  But now when hurt comes, we seek solace and comfort in each other's arms, covering each other in prayer and drawing close to our Savior.  We are choosing to seek the joy that God has promised and choosing to fight – together – the evil that would seek to destroy it.  Now, more than ever, we appreciate the vows that we have made; the vows we will be renewing. 

Perhaps it seems a little strange, but I think we are just as excited about renewing our vows as we were to say them the first time.  Originally, I had thought we would keep the renewal of our vows simple and private.  As we thought more about it, though, and the incredible gift that God has given us, we realized we couldn't keep that to ourselves.  We want to be a testimony to what God can do – what He wants to do.  We want to share the incredible joy He has brought us.  We still want it to keep it simple, and we don't want anyone to feel obligated.  But... if you want to share in our joy... and witness what God is doing... we'd love to have you there.  


Friday, September 6, 2013

The Silent Screams

Over the last few years, I've become convinced that the screams we don't hear are the ones filled with the most gut-wrenching pain: the heart broken in two by this world, but with a smile painted firmly in place. No one knows the turmoil. No one guesses at the brokenness inside. No one hears the scream. No one... shares the burden.

When I was around 6 years old, I was sexually abused. I didn't tell anyone because I believed that I was at least partially at fault. What would people think? Even as a young child, shame rendered me mute. No one knew the turmoil and confusion inside. No one could offer answers to questions I didn't dare to ask.

Someone else faces a personal struggle. There is fear of being found out; fear of judgment; fear of rejection. The risk seems larger than the potential benefit of sharing it, so the struggle is faced alone. No understanding. No encouragement. And when there is victory? There is no one to share that with, either. No shouts of joy. No celebration. The victory that could give hope and direction to someone else is hidden away because the struggle itself was hidden.

Shame keeps us isolated. Shame intensifies our pain. Shame keeps us from helping each other.


Sometimes, though, our reasons for not sharing seem more honorable than just protecting ourselves from shame.

A few years ago my daughter was diagnosed with cyclothymia (a form of bipolar). My screams were once again shoved down where no one could hear them, but for an entirely different reason. I wrote: 

I am... the mother of a bipolar teen. Her diagnosis is mine in that as her mother, I’m in for the ride too. For the most part, I ride alone. I don’t want her to feel I’m sharing her private information... I want her to trust me. So I don’t share. Instead, I ride the roller coaster… knowing that very few people have any idea what we deal with on a daily basis.... Strangely enough, I feel more alone now than I did before the diagnosis. I now know the reason for her turmoil, but I can’t share it without betraying her trust. Because of that, there is a large part of my life that is shut off from others....

Silent.... and alone.

Someone else goes through a tough time with her husband. She doesn't want to paint a poor picture of him to others, so she cries in silent with no one to hear; no one to reach out. She sits through the Sunday morning church service with a smile painted on her face... but heart breaking inside. It's hard. Too hard. She finds more and more reasons to be somewhere else on Sunday morning... somewhere... anywhere... where it's not quite so hard to pretend... where she doesn't feel quite so alone.

The silent scream... pain intensified by isolation. Those unheard cries... faced alone. That's not how we were meant to do life. We shouldn't sit alone in the midst of our friends, our church family. The only thing God said was "not good" in the creation story was that man was alone. So how do we bring those silent screams to where they can be heard? 

The reasons for the silence are varied; some of them even seem good and honorable. The result, though – going through the hard times without being able to talk about it – only intensifies our pain and our feelings of being alone. So how do we tear down the walls? How do we find the strength to share the broken heart... the raging cry within? How do we learn to share one another's burdens and do life together? How do we learn to recognize that silent scream and create an environment to give it voice? It seems I have a lot more questions than answers.... I'd love to hear your thoughts....


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Where the Bridge Is

A couple of weeks ago I had some time to kill between appointments.  It had been an emotional week, so I parked along the river to enjoy some quiet time.  I sat on a bench under the shade of a willow tree and let the quiet wash over me as I shared my broken heart with God. I turned my face into the breeze and felt His caress in it. I breathed deeply and listened for His voice of comfort.  I am so thankful for a God who reaches across the distance to gather us in His arms.

As I sat resting in the quiet, I noticed a man walking along the shore on the opposite side.
The river was wide enough I couldn't see his features, but the man stopped directly across from me and gazed my direction.  I don't know what held his attention -- maybe it was the college campus behind me.  There seemed something lonely and thoughtful about the way he stood there looking over to my side, though.  As I gazed back towards him, I considered the fact that we were so close, and yet so completely separated by the body of water. I thought about that as a picture of us and God. I thought about the illustrations which show Jesus as the bridge between God and man. And as I sat there watching the man gaze across the river, it suddenly dawned on me that there was a footbridge just a few yards to my left. The bridge was there: close, and easily accessible. It was an imposing presence in the sky if you just looked slightly downstream. Yet the man just stared across the river as if he wanted to cross but had no idea how.

That's when it hit me.... how many times is God providing a bridge for us... and we refuse to move even just a little to use it? How many times do we stubbornly insist that this is where we want to cross; where we think we need to be? How many times do we beg for Him to make a way... when the bridge is already there...? How many times do we just need to move... just a little... to where the bridge already is....???


Monday, August 12, 2013

Between Sentences

There are times...  times the desire to write is so strong... I feel like something inside me will come spilling out if I simply pick up a pen, or maybe my guitar.... It's something like floodwaters building up inside and somehow the pen is the floodgate to release it all.  And yet... I sit with my pen poised above the paper with nothing to say.  Nothing comes magically to the surface, despite the feeling of urgency within.  I sit... wait... wonder... and... nothing. Tonight is one of those times.

It's tempting in those times to immerse myself in a book; check out Facebook; browse the internet... anything to distract myself from the burning within... and from the frustration of the empty page in front of me.  Tonight, though, I sit in my car looking out over a local park and between sentences, as I sit and wait for the words that don't come... I hear the sound of birds in the nearby trees; the insects of a late summer evening; quiet conversations as couples and families take the walking path nearby....  

While I watch and listen between sentences, the burning desire... the desperate frustration... melts into a quiet peace; a calm enjoyment of God's creation... and the joy of a summer evening.

Between the sentences... as I wait... comes the quiet....  And maybe that's what the waiting is for.
"Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him." 
Psalm 62:5

Saturday, June 29, 2013


I'd say it started in the spring of 2009 when I purchased a CD by Matthew West.  The lyrics "You've Got Something to Say"1 resonated inside me -- demanding some sort of response.  Not sure of what I had to say, but knowing there was something inside me, I started a blog.  I haven't written with enough regularity to inspire a following, though.  It seems I couldn't really find something to say after all.... 

In the fall of 2010, Matthew West's next CD, The Story of Your Life, was released.  There wasn't a song on it that didn't speak to me on some level.  I loved the way he'd taken other people's stories and given them a voice.  He did it again with his next CD, Into the Light -- giving voice to even more people who had shared their stories with him.  Every song, every story, on that CD speaks to me in some way.  It has played over and over in my car -- to the point my family begs to hear something else, anything else!  But... people's stories are powerful.  They connect.  They touch.  They give comfort and hope.  They encourage and inspire.

Now I'm reading To Be Told, by Dan Allender.  I'd recently read another of his books and had been intrigued enough by his writing and theology to want to read more.  It's funny how one thing leads to another sometimes....  In To Be Told, he writes about reading the story of your life; how the stories form a theme, a pattern of something God wants to say through your life.  He encourages you to look at your story; to study your story; to write your story; to share your story.   This, too, is resonating with something deep inside of me.  Stories....  First Matthew West, then Dan Allender.  Seeing a pattern here?  I'm starting to....  It probably doesn't hurt that in the last few months both my psychologist and my pastor have independently encouraged me to do something with my writing.  So... yeah... I'm thinking about stories. A lot.

In reality, though, I know this story didn't really start in 2009.  It started many years before that.  It started as I found myself lost in the wonder of books at a young age... and as I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the television watching The Waltons.  Yes, I really did watch that show... and something in me longed to put words to a page like John-Boy.  To write... stories.  I can remember in middle school penning the words, "How do you get the world to taste the saltiness of a tear?"  I wanted to somehow make people feel through what I wrote; to express myself so well that they would be right there with me -- feeling the emotions... tasting the tears.  So where did I lose that dream?  What killed it?  What makes it so scary for me to even think about it now?

In that first blog entry in 2009 I wrote, "I know I feel totally unqualified to say much of anything. I don't have the imagination or creativity for a novel. I don't have the education or maturity for non-fiction."  That's part of it: fear.  Fear of failure.  Fear of not being good enough.  Fear of the unknown -- I don't have a clue what I'm doing, and that scares the bejeebers out of me!  I hate not knowing what I'm doing (and, yes, that's probably part of my story).  But beyond that... is also the fear of figuring out what to write... looking into my soul and discovering what is there.  What is my story?  I'm not so sure I know it myself.  Sometimes I haven't been sure I even want to know it....

I have so many fragmented stories....  So how do I know which is really "my story" to write and to share?  Is it the sexual abuse I experienced as a young child?  Is it the ridicule I faced on the school bus in elementary by the boys who were once my best friends?  Is it the experience of being the "nerd" who didn't fit in anywhere in high school -- made fun of for the poetry journal I carried with me for those moments of inspiration or needed expression?  Even now I cringe to admit I wrote (and sometimes still write) poetry.  Cool kids don't do that -- only geeky outcasts....  Or is it the humiliation of being betrayed by one of my best friends to one of my worst tormentors?  Is it the devastating death of a church which we had poured our hearts and souls into... and the journey through the heartache and damaged faith toward forgiveness and healing?  Is it discovering, after years of struggle, that my daughter has cyclothymia (a mild form of bipolar)... and the long and difficult path of pain, discovery and healing we've traveled through that?  Is it the experience of being the parent of a prodigal daughter, learning to let go and trust God... and the joy of her return?  Is it discovering my own mood disorder?  Is it the journey of discovering and fixing the broken things in my marriage? 

How do all those stories come together?  Which are the important ones?  What is the theme I'm supposed to be discovering?  And... sigh... how can I write about it, try to encourage someone else with it, when I haven't figured it all out myself yet?  I'm still broken; still growing up; still on the same road the rest of the world is traveling... most of the time feeling a little behind, even.  I haven't arrived.  I don't have all the answers.  Each day I'm actually finding I'm even more broken than I've realized.  So what could I possibly contribute? 

Truth is, those words I wrote in 2009 are still true:  "I feel totally unqualified to say much of anything. I don't have the imagination or creativity for a novel. I don't have the education or maturity for non-fiction."  Yet...  something inside me screams for the release of putting pen to paper.   To share.  To craft a sentence that will impact another's heart. To use my experiences to help and encourage someone else.  Because stories... the stories God is writing in each of our lives... are powerful.  I believe we all have stories we are meant to share.  Our stories are unique.  Each of us is given a different story.  Each of us has been given a different way to share our story.  So... I want to encourage you to ask with me -- What is my story?  What is the Father saying about Himself through my story?  How am I to share it?  Because... in the words of Matthew West, "You got something to say... and no one can say it like you do."1

This is the story of your life
Go tell the story of your life
Cause it's a story worth telling


1Something to Say, Matthew West
2The Story of Your Life, Matthew West