Friday, August 6, 2010

Lessons I Have Learned--Marriage

John and I are quickly approaching the seventeenth anniversary of our marriage vows. In so many ways, those years have passed so quickly. But in reality, they have been painstakingly slow at times also.

John and I have neither been good at hiding our emotions as we have gone through lifes ups and downs. Those of you who have known us over the seventeen years of our marriage and for the (almost) two years we dated prior to marriage undoubtedly could read in our faces how things were going. I am sure you had no doubt whether it was the good, the bad, or the ugly you were seeing reflected in our expressions.

I'd like to share what has kept us trying at our marriage despite living together very unhappily for the first nine of those seventeen years.

First, we sought counseling. We knew we had some serious obstacles to overcome. We both had been married before and had ended those marriages in divorce. We both brought the pain of those experiences with us. I also brought my seven year old son and my eight year old daughter. I like to (half) joke that even though I had been their mother for those 7 and 8 years, John (having never had children) and being a Yankee (Indiana) knew exactly what they needed and how to parent them better than I did. (Yes, sarcasm is one of my abrasive attributes that John has to deal with on a regular basis.)

We tried many different options for counseling. We discussed our problems with a minister and with elders. We attempted "family counseling," including the children in the process. We also saw that counselor, without the children, for marriage counseling. We each sought individual counseling with separate therapists. We probably drove our closest friends and extended family members almost insane as we "unloaded" our problems on them. None of those options worked!

One day in August, 2002, all those years of bickering and frustration came to a head and we reached a very serious crisis point in our relationship. As far as I was concerned, our marriage was over. In the process of leaving town, I dropped by the church building where we had been attending and spoke with the minister to let him know of the seriousness of our troubles. He suggested we talk with a friend of his who was a Christian counselor and instructor in the Department of Marriage and Family at Johnson Bible College. That counselor turned out to be the one God led us to in order to work on our marriage. Though I left town that day thinking and determined, that our marriage was over, that one act (a minister recommending a Godly counselor) was a turning point in our lives.

The second thing that helped us make our marriage more like what God desired was finding a group of Christian friends who came around us and prayed with us, for us, and supported us in every way.

We had friends prior to that point who had shunned us because of the problems we were going through. Now granted, we had huge problems. I know we wore every one around us out with our problems. But at just the right time, God blessed us with servants of His who blessed us while modeling His love to us. This wasn't a one time experience. These couples came around us and prayed for us regularly and held us accountable for our actions and reactions as we slowly built a marriage that was pleasing to God. One nugget of wisdom I learned came from one of the women in this group of couples. She told me that God had put John and I together for a very specific purpose. In spite of how much we regularly annoyed each other, and still do at times, God was and is using us in each other's lives to make us more like Him, into His image. Wow! That was and is a sobering thought.

We have talked many times about what it was that our counselor, Bob, taught us. What exactly were the tricks he pulled out of his magic hat that helped us heal those many years of hurt and anger. We had a hard time putting our finger on what it was that we gained in our sessions with Bob. And then, while contemplating the matter, I realized that what Bob stressed over and over was love, God's love, unconditional love. He stressed to us that it was as simple and as difficult as waking up every day and showing each other unconditional love. We had to love each other even when we were sarcastic, or hateful-acting, or sad, or silly, or whatever. Love was the answer! Keep in mind that it wasn't the passionate love that is so easily relied on in the early days of marriage. It involved the friendship love but went even deeper than that. It was God's love. I had to remember that John is God's child and I have to treat him as the son of the King. And he has to treat me as the daughter of the King.

Do we still mess up? You better believe it! But the lesson Bob taught us took root in our lives. We still have bad days, but we have more good days; and we try to always remember to truly love one another.

So if you spend more time complaining about your spouse than you do singing his/her praises, then I would suggest three things:

1. Begin your day by vowing to God that you will wear His love for your spouse that day and then do it. Live out I Corinthians 13 4-8 each and every day in your marriage. And pray for God's help each day in wearing and modeling His love.
2. Find Godly friends who will hold you accountable and will pray for you and encourage you to be the best husband and wife you can be.
3. If you are truly in crisis, get professional help, preferably Christian professional help. If your first attempt at counseling isn't successful, don't give up. It doesn't mean your marriage is hopeless, it means you haven't found the right counselor. Keep looking. Keep trying.

God ordained marriage from the beginning. Genesis 1: 31 tells us that after He joined Adam and Eve in marriage, "God saw all that He had made, and it was very good." Is it easy? No. We are fallen creations. But it is still God's will for it to be very good. So work at it every day and let God richly bless your marriage.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Forty-nine years ago today....

This morning as I was figuring out what to do with myself today, I began to think about the significance of this day. You see, forty-nine years ago today, I was born in Johnson City, TN in Memorial Hospital on Boone Street. Forty-nine years ago this morning, a Sunday school teacher went running across Boone Street to the little church of Christ on the corner of Watauga Avenue and Boone Street and announced that his baby daughter had been born at 9:45 am. Sunday school began at 10:00am and I have no doubt that my father was not late at all for teaching his class. He may have been there at the last possible minute, but he was there, and more than likely, he was on time.

I reflect with gratitude on that Sunday morning. For though, my father did not live to see my tenth birthday, he has been one of the single greatest influences on my life. My childhood revolved around "going to church" three times per week. We went every night of the week if there was a gospel meeting anywhere in the tri-cities area. My dad, in his spare time, began going to preaching school. He also had Bible studies with any one interested in studying God's word. And if possible, my mom, two older brothers, and me, would tag along with him to those studies. Some were in our home, other studies took place in the homes of others. But for nearly the first ten years of my life, our lives revolved around the church and serving God. That really didn't end with my father's death, but it did change in intensity.

My mom continued in her church work after my dad's death. We also continued to visit other congregations during their meetings. We went to the area-wide singings that were held once per month. But we no longer, as a rule, were studying with someone on a nearly nightly basis. And in truth, it may not have actually have been a nightly thing. My memories are probably a bit skewed.

But the true point of this post is to explain that from my earliest days of life, I had no doubt Whose I was. I was raised to serve God, the Creator of the universe. I was named Lisa which means consecrated to God. My father rushed from my birth to teach others about God. I was taught right along with all the others who came in contact with my parents, especially my father, to serve God to the very best of my ability.

Now I'm not saying I have served my Father in heaven perfectly, far from it. But God knew my failings before He created me. He sent his Son, Jesus, for that very purpose.

I am most grateful though that I was born into the family to which I was born. I am grateful that my parents raised me with the knowledge of God. I am glad that I was taught to look for His purpose in my life. I am grateful that God knew exactly the parents I needed and He gifted me richly. So while most new parents talk about the gift that God has given them in the birth of a newborn child, it is nice, as an adult, to look back over my life and realize that my parents were a gift to me from our Creator. And that makes this one very nice birthday! And though my parents are now in their eternal home with God, I do hope that He makes sure to let them know that they are in my thoughts today and that I love them and am very grateful for them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Extended family

As I ponder my blessings, I must share a wonderful experience I had several weeks ago. I had the pleasure of traveling to upper east Tennessee and southwest Virginia a few weeks ago to spend two days with two special nieces. These two young women are sisters, same father (my oldest brother), different mothers.

I became an aunt for the first time at age 12 which was probably the single most exciting thing that had happened in my life up to that point. A year after my oldest brother and his wife delivered their first baby girl, they delivered another sweet baby girl. Those two little girls have always had a very special place in my heart. I feel that they are part mine!

On a Thursday afternoon, I left my home and drove to Weber City, VA to spend a couple of nights with one of those precious girls and her two sons. We stayed in the childhood home of her grandfather (her mother's father, so no kin to me.) The home is now owned by his youngest brother and has been beautifully furnished with antiques and lots of books. That's my idea of a great combination.

We sat up until the wee hours talking and enjoying each other's company. I slept in a bed covered with an old, handmade quilt in a room furnished with antiques.

On Friday morning, my niece's great aunt, (her grandfather's sister) came and picked us up and drove us to Gray, TN. We toured the Gray Fossil site which lies about a quarter mile from the high school from which I graduated. When we left the fossil site, we traveled on into Johnson City where we met my other niece for lunch.

Though these two young women are sisters, they had not seen each other since the younger was about one year old and the older was around eleven or twelve. Amazingly, they "took" right to each other and conversed as though they had known each other their whole lives.

After we finished our lunch, we went to a local park which overlooks Boone Lake, took a very short walk, and then left for Weber City again due to storm clouds quickly moving in during our walk.

Upon arriving at the house, the two boys quickly went to their rooms. Both being in the tween/teen stage, they had their own amusements to keep them busy on a rainy afternoon. Meanwhile, we womenfolk sat at the antique kitchen table and learned that it was the actual table where Aunt C. and her siblings had eaten their meals while growing up in this house.

The afternoon passed so quickly as we sat and shared our lives with one another. There we were, four women, representing three generations of an extended, disjointed family, thoroughly enjoying one another's company. We shared stories of our spouses, our children, our siblings, our parents' influence, or lack thereof, on our lives. We laughed together so hard at times that we nearly cried. Even though some of us had not seen each other for 20+ years, we were able to converse as though this was a daily experience. We shared that invisible bond of family, belonging. And even though our ages were diverse, 60's, 40's, 30's, and 20's, and even though we had been separated due to divorce and conflicts beyond our control, we had so much to share with one another. We each contributed to the flow of conversation and enjoyed listening to one another as well. Story after story we soon learned we had totally lost track of the time (8 pm) and left for a late supper at a local diner. Aunt C. asked us if we had ever eaten at the Hob Nob and when we answered, "No," all around, she replied that we "had to go to the Hob Nob, cause you aren't anybody until you eat at the Hob Nob." So now we are all somebody, and we enjoyed our time and food at the Hob Nob. We were joined there by yet another cousin from the extended family of my 30-something niece. And again, we all talked and shared and enjoyed the time.

The next morning, my niece Ms. R. (30+) and her sons had to travel back to middle TN to visit a little longer there and then head home to the northwest U.S. So I met Ms. E. (my 20+ niece) and we drove past my childhood home. Then we traveled to one of my favorite restaurants, The Farmer's Daughter, in upper E. TN in Chuckey. We enjoyed wonderful home cooking while visiting with two of my close friends from my 20-something years.

After lunch, I headed home and Ms. E. headed back to her home. Ms. E. and I just reconnected a few months ago after also being separated since she was a toddler. So each time I have a visit with her is precious and a learning/growing experience.

As I drove home, I couldn't help but count my blessings. I had just shared two incredible days with two precious young women (and two precious young men also, Mr M. and Mr. R.) As well, I had time with "Aunt C." and my two friends. And during my drive home, I was surrounded by the beautiful mountains of east Tennessee driving from views of one area back into the views of the Great Smokies! How blessed I am!