Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lesson learned (or learning)

For a while I joked with one of my best friends that I wasn't going to write as often because each time I would write a post about something, I was immediately tested in that area. I told my girlfriend, "that's it, I'm not writing anymore because every time God is like, 'ok girl, you talk the talk, let's see you walk the walk.'" Yeah, sounds a little comical now, but when you know that impending test is coming, it's not so funny. Kinda like when we pray for God to give us patience. I don't know about you, but I just want God to clothe me in patience...not give me situations to test and try my patience. But, like the Father He is, He is allowing us the tests and trials to build our character. 

I often like to think of trials like this: a teacher doesn't just give you an "A" in the class. You have to study, work, put in the time, and are ultimately tested on your knowledge. If you were just given the "A," what good would it do? You would have no knowledge of the subject nor would you be able to help someone who may look to you for guidance in that subject area. Now, in some cases, like my statistics class in college, sometimes even going through the trials and testing gave me a grade high enough to pass the class, but I still have no clue what the heck I was taught. If someone stuck a statistics problem in front of me right now, I would laugh and shove it aside. I have no clue where to even begin. I would have to go through it all over again....because I didn't learn from the lessons taught. My teacher appreciated my hard work and he knew I wasn't a flake in his class, so when my final grade percentage was two percent shy of a passing grade, he mercifully bumped my percentage up and I passed the class and never have to take a math class again. Can I get an amen?!

Well, much like math, I'm not always the best student when God is trying to teach me something. I try to skate by, skirt around the edges, and hide from the truth. It never works. I'm pretty sure God looks at me and says, "how many times do we have to do this?" That's my guess because it's the same thing I say to my children, "when will you listen to me?" Lessons are hard to learn. Lessons that test your character are especially hard to learn. 

Tonight was one of those nights, which followed another one of these nights yesterday. My husband and I have just been butting heads like two rams on a mountain side. Almost everything one does or says, the other thinks is wrong. And over silly things like when is the best time to carve our pumpkins for Halloween; how many pots of chili do we need to make; we don't have enough chairs to seat everyone; is it that hard to load the dishwasher; how do you forget to put the potatoes in the crockpot with the roast, etc, etc, etc. Just one (or two) of those nights. 

You know what's funny about it? Just today I was telling a girlfriend of mine at work about how she needs to be the one to break the cycle in her marriage. She and her husband are not in the best place, and she came to me for advice. I told her that she has to be the one to make the move towards improving her marriage. She kept saying, "but I don't want to, it's one sided if I do that, he needs to learn and understand. Why should I always have to be the one to change things?"  Ooh and let me tell you, I was full of answers, including: "It's not one-sided, it's breaking the cycle." Once those words left my mouth, I knew I was in for a good test. Because the night before, I knew that this was the answer to the problem in my home, but I skipped that question on the test and plowed through the night like a bull running through the streets of Madrid. 

Let me give you a helpful hint when you are going through one of the many tests of faith you will encounter: the two H's. Humility and humble. I know what you're thinking, "aren't those just two different ways of saying the same thing?" Yes. And out of the entire English language, these are probably the two most difficult words to add to our own vocabulary.

For the last two nights, I've been anything but humble. I've displayed everything but humility. I've sat back and waited for my husband to realize his wrongs and come to me begging for forgiveness. In the meantime, my irritation has grown, multiplied and become something my pride will not allow me to surrender. I'm ugly right now. And I most definitely am not acting as a godly wife. This is where God is trying to teach me a lesson on the two H's. He knows this is equivalent to math for me - I just don't get it. And He insists on repeating the lesson until it clicks. 

Let's look at the perfect example of the two H's: Jesus. If there was ever a man to walk this earth who deserved to be treat like a king, of course it was our Lord. But the entirety of his life, from birth to death, was filed with humility. He could've demanded everyone's respect, he could've called on angels from high, he could've sat comfortably and been served. But instead, he served. The king of kings served. And he served with a humble heart. He said, "...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28
I don't know about you, but nothing humbles me faster than to see that my Lord, the King of Kings, considers himself a servant. Who am I to think I should be sitting around waiting for my husband to come crawling to me, begging for forgiveness and kiss my ring like a queen who sits on a throne?

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." Philippians 2:3-5

Do you remember cliff notes, a study guide, when studying or reading a book for a class? It was a helpful summarization aimed to help you better understand a difficult reading. Well, this bit of scripture acts as my cliff notes during times of testing. It's highlighted and underlined in my bible, and my handwriting covers the borders with words like, "imitate Jesus. Put others before me. Ultimate humility." It's my go-to. It's my "check yourself, Jenn, where is your attitude?" And it's God's repeated lesson for me.

We are forever learning. Even Jesus was learning throughout the days of his life here on earth. Each day he was faced with something that would test his faith. He was not immune to God's lessons, he was a student like you and me. He battled through temptations (I would've given in on the first day out in the desert), he battled through the loss of friends and betrayal, he battled fears and sorrow...he was human. And he was the perfect example of the kind of student we need to be. He went through every trial, every test of faith, relying only on God and His promises.

What kind of student are you? Throughout life we are going to be tested. It shapes our character. It helps us grow and mature as Christians. Do you trust the lessons God allows into your life? And don't forget, God is very much a "practice what you preach" kind of teacher. Do you only talk the talk or do you also walk the walk? Our Father is not a mean God who likes to see if you'll sink or swim...He is the perfect Father who wants to see you rise above. Remember what Jesus tells us, "for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Mathew 23:12

Now, if you'll excuse, I have a man downstairs I need to apologize to. 


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hold up, what'd she say?

I love kids. And sometimes, I love their honesty. Sometimes. I once saw this thing on Pinterest that said, "if a woman says you're ugly, she's jealous. If a man says you're ugly, he's mean. If a kid says you're ugly, you're ugly." Kids are great like that, aren't they? We can always count on them to share embarrassing truths with a stranger.

My kids have said plenty of things to embarrass me over the years, and I'm sure they'll continue to embarrass me in years to come. But there have also been times when the truths that have spilled from their cute little mouths have made me proud and have at times surprised me with the depth of their understanding.

Not long ago my daughter came home after spending some time with a friend, and I could tell that something was bothering her. It didn't take much coaxing for her to share with me that a conversation she had with her friend "really got her fired up." I asked her what the conversation was about and she lowered her head as she told me that it was about me and my husband.

Me: "what was said?"
Cute daughter: "that you and Daddy aren't living right because he's not a Christian."

Whoa. That's not a light topic.

I asked her to tell me more about their conversation. 

Cute daughter: "she said that you can't be married to him because he doesn't go to church. And she said that the bible even says that. She said that something is wrong if Daddy isn't a Christian."

I listened intently as she continued to divulge details of their conversation and I painfully watched her eyes fill with tears. I asked her how she responded to her friend's comments:

Cute daughter: "I told her that I didn't want to talk about it anymore but she kept telling me stuff. I didn't want to argue with her."

Ugh. My initial reaction was to call up the mom and tell her to quit talking about my marriage at their dinner table, but of course, I didn't. Instead, I followed my daughter's example and kept my ugly thoughts to myself. I grabbed my bible, sat down with my daughter and we looked at the only words she needs to believe.

1) "Yoke"
I first showed my daughter the scripture that her friend was most likely referring to when she accused us of living "wrong." It reads:

"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God." 2Corinthians 6:14-16

It's important to know that this book of the bible is a letter written by Paul to the church in Corinth and at this point in time, the church was weak and was struggling with division and spiritual immaturity. Paul was wanting to encourage the faithful believers to stay committed to God's truth as Paul's authority was being challenged and attacked. So who was Paul addressing? A group of spiritually weak believers. And who loves to prowl around weaklings? The enemy. So Paul was warning the believers about the idea of linking up with an unbeliever, especially in areas of partnership. He's not limiting it to emotional or physical relationships, but in business and work relationships as well. 
Do you know what "yoke" means? I didn't know what it meant when I read this for the first time. A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that was placed over the neck of two animals and was attached to a cart or a plow, therefore the animals had to work closely together and where one went, the other had to follow. Knowing this, it's clear to see why Paul would state such a warning...when we are spiritually weak, it's easy for us to be lead astray. Maybe you're single and the temptation of that cute guy is crying out to you, 'oh I want to be yoked to him!' Maybe a business deal will promise you a small fortune, but you have to partner up with an unethical person. Maybe you reconnected with an old friend and they want you to go out, drink and party with them...ya know, revive the partners in crime status. Maybe an outsider is challenging your convictions and wants you to explore a different religion with them. Whatever it is, when we are spiritually weak, pairing up with an unbeliever is never a good idea.

2) "but, my husband..."
So here we are. Married to a non-believer. And Paul said not to get tied up in that! Well, yes. I agree with Paul...if you are already a believer and find yourself wanting to be with an unbeliever, are you willing to leave God to follow a man?
A long while ago, a dear friend of mine was dating one of my best friends. They were both believers and involved in a pure relationship. My best friend, we'll call her Sally, was feeling the temptation of doubt and eventually she walked away from God. My friend, we'll call him Larry, was devastated by her decision to leave God. But he loved her so much, he tried to hold on, hoping it could still work and that she would come back to God. But after some time, Larry realized that it would never work. He said to me, "I was gonna marry her. But, you can't build a house on two different foundations." And, that was the end of their love story. 

So true. It's impossible to build a home on two different foundations. Which is why heeding Paul's warning is important if you are a single woman of faith. Imagine starting off your marriage with such different views! The first year of marriage is difficult enough. 
But then there are cases like mine: married, found God while married, husband thought he wanted God, turns out he doesn't (for now), and now we have to build on two different foundations. And boy can it be a rocky foundation at times. When I married my husband, neither of us were believers. I wasn't exchanging one for the other. I wasn't choosing man over God. I didn't idolize my husband instead of worshipping God. What happened after we married, well, I believe is all part of God's master plan. 

3) "so, is my marriage wrong?"
No way, sister. In fact, Peter addresses the spiritually single woman...which tells us that women married to non-believers has been going on for quite some time, and he didn't condemn them. But rather, he encouraged them:

"Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husband so that if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives when they see the purity and reverence of your lives." 1Peter 3:1-2

How incredible is that. Peter wasn't telling you that your marriage is wrong in God's eyes. He wasn't saying, "nice job picking that one, good luck with that whole unbelieving husband thing." He was doing quite the opposite. He was encouraging us to respect, honor and serve our husbands. He was giving us hope. He was filling our hearts with encouragement. He was not telling us that we are living wrong.
Spiritually single women have obviously had a presence in God's church for so long that He wanted to make sure that we were instructed how to love our husbands, even if they're non-believers. 


After talking with my daughter I could see the relief in her eyes. I explained to her my story of finding God after we had been married. I told her that Paul's warning is something to keep close to her heart if she chooses to make Jesus the Lord of her life (God willing she will)'s always a better idea to start your life with one who shares with you the same love for God. But for those of us who found God after we were married, or even some of us whose husbands were Christians but they walked away from God, our marriages are not wrong. We are not living wrong. We are simply a vessel in God's plan for our lives, as well as the lives of our husbands.

Don't let the words of others try to drown your hope. Remember that God's words are the only words we need to believe. He is 100% supportive of your marriage. He needs you there. He's going to use you in many wonderful ways. Listen to Him...and only to Him. But if you need to hear it from the mouth of a child's pure heart, my daughter will happily tell you, "if God says it's good, then it's good." Ahhh, out of the mouths of babes.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What's your status?

I love social media. I love it! I've heard so many people complain about it. So many people say "oh, no, I won't ever do social media, it's too much drama." Or "nobody needs to know what I'm doing."  Ok, I get that. My feeling of it? I love it. I don't see any drama because I don't invite those people into my social media outlets. I've gone through and weeded some less than mature people out of my space and I've learned to block those whose posts I'd rather not see but don't want to offend by "unfriending" them.  But, I am of the crowd that loves social media.  My primary reason for loving it? I get to stay updated with friends and family I would have never otherwise been able to keep up with regularly.  I've reconnected old friendships - even with one of my high school teachers! I get to watch the children of my cousins growing up across the country. I love social media for what it's meant to be...a place to connect. 

And here's my other thought on social media: if you don't like what you see, then get rid of it.  

Today my husband and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. So, of course I posted about it on two of my social media platforms with this adorable photo:
Awww! We're so cute! And so young!

Along with the photo, I posted a little blurb about us, the difficulties we overcame to get to 14 years and how grateful I am for my husband. Why? Because it's true.  Well, wouldn't you know it. There's always a sour grape in the bunch. I received a private message from someone who is less than an acquaintance congratulating me on our anniversary, but with a taste of bitterness as the author of the note wrote, " must be nice to have such a perfect life and perfect marriage, but not all of us have that, so your posts can be somewhat offensive." Huh? First of all, in my post, I clearly stated that we had been headed for divorce, but my guy hung in there and didn't give up (maybe the author misunderstood what I meant?).  My first reaction was anger, which is my sinful nature. Oh man, the things I wanted to say were ready to pour out of my mouth but would not have been appropriate at all. So I waited, I calmed down, and I simply replied, "my posts are never meant to offend anyone, I'm sorry that you found my post offensive. But, if you knew the entirety of our story, the details of our history, you would understand that I am proud of us as a couple, which is why I post many things about my husband. Much like you do when your child does well athletically or receives an award. You are proud of the accomplishments. I am proud of us. And I will continue to post about it."

Ok, so maybe the last line could've been left off, but I couldn't help it. I felt like I needed to warn the author that my posts would continue. But then I decided that I didn't need to worry about that one person each time I posted something, so I "unfriended" the author so they no longer live in fear of reading my offensive happy wife posts.

Obviously this person was not somebody who reads my blogs, or knows me personally, or heard me speak at a Women's Day event a few years ago. Because if that person had, they would've known that our marriage is and has been far from perfect.  Even if you follow my blog and you don't know me personally, you would know by now that my husband and I have come a very, very long way.  I am an open book. I openly share about our hardships. I openly share about our difficulties. And the reason I do that is because it gives me the opportunity to share about God's glory in our marriage, because we all know that it was by God's grace and miracles that we made it out alive. It gives me the chance to give hope to women who are hurting in their marriage.  It gives me the chance to share what did and what didn't work.  My story, my heartbreak, my marriage is my testament to God's incredible victory.

Here is my general rule of thumb when it comes to social media: don't ever post anything negative about your husband. Ever.

You're not pretending your marriage is perfect or that your husband is your knight in shining armor every day. You're not lying about bad days you have together. You're just not exposing your dirty laundry.  There are plenty of days my husband and I are at each other's throats!  But what would happen if you frequently read something like this on one of my social media platforms: "I am so tired of doing everything. Must be nice to live like someone else in this house..."

*Number one: I would sound like the biggest, um, witch, if those were my frequent posts.
*Number two: you as the reader are left to assume that my husband does nothing.
*Number three: you can't wait to read what complaints are coming tomorrow.
*Number four: you tell your friends ("omg, did you read Jenn's post? She must be miserable.")
And the other reason you don't ever talk badly about your husband:
*Number five: you open yourself up to others....("hey Jenn, I see how much you do and what a good mom you are, I would appreciate you if you were my wife...")

Five reasons right there why you don't ever air your dirty laundry. You know the unspoken rule about not speaking badly about your spouse to your mother (if you don't, now you do)? Why is that a rule? Because your mother will naturally side with you and begin to pass judgement on your husband because of what you tell her about him.  My husband and I could be in the biggest argument, but I won't bash my husband to my mother. No way. She's the captain of Team Jenn. Much like my mother-in-law is the captain of Team Ryan. And my brother is Team Jenn. And my sister-in-laws are Team Ryan. You get the point...

The problem is that when one of us is doing the verbal bashing, the listener is only hearing one side of the story.  Let's continue with that faux post I mentioned above: "I am so tired of doing everything. Must be nice to live like someone else in this house...." What you didn't get to know is that my husband worked the last 48 hours straight with minimal sleep on an uncomfortable bed at the fire station, so when he's home, he likes to sleep and needs to recover. What you didn't get to know is that it's quite possible my hormones are on high that week. What you didn't get to know is that on other days my husband is busy fixing things I can't repair or planting a garden in the yard for the kids or helping a friend fix their car. All you know is that on that one day, I do everything and my husband does nothing. 

And that's where the social media can be a problem. Assumptions are made all over the place. Look at what I experienced today! Someone who doesn't know the entirety of our life assumed I'm painting our lives to be perfect. They probably didn't even read the entire post that accompanied the photo. They took one look at it, saw the first couple sentences, gagged a bit, and sent me that message. 

Unfortunately for all the dirt seeking, gossip loving users of social media, I for one will never post negative things about my husband. It doesn't mean I will paint a portrait of perfection, nor will I lie about the status of our week. But when he does something to make me feel special, or when he does something out of the ordinary, you can bet you're going to read about it. Because for the most part, everybody knows our story. Everybody knows that him bringing me flowers on his way home from work is something he would've never done before. Everybody knows that where we are today is because of God. It's not because we're perfect, it's because we surrendered. I want to give that glory to God. I want to tell our story. I want to give hope to those who need it. 

God uses our trials for His glory. God will never waste our tears. No matter how frustrated you are, don't blab about it on social media. Respect your husband. Respect your marriage. There are two sides to every story and two sides to every status update.

Glorify your husband. Lift him up! Shout it from the mountain tops when he does something kind for you! And if somebody doesn't like it, well, you can pluck that weed right out of your garden of friends.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Comfort in the storm

Today was one of those days. I felt defeated. I felt unloved. I felt sad. I felt weak. I wished that God was tangible and I could just curl up in His protection and cry.

I imagined sitting next to God. I let my imagination soar and pictured the two of us sitting on one of those large porch swings, beneath a tree, the bright green and fresh grass tickling the bottom of my feet with each swinging motion. I imagined talking to Him, telling Him about my broken heart, as tears filled my eyes. We just sat there, He and I, on the swing. I spoke, He listened. I imagined the way it would feel to be able to curl up next to Him, my perfect Father, and feel the love He has for me. I asked God to help me not to rely on the words, the approval and the acceptance of others. I asked God to help me feel His love and the ability to see myself in His eyes. I asked God to fill me up with His love and His acceptance. And the rest of my prayer was without words, just tears.

I hope I'm not the only woman who goes through these moments of doubting my self-worth. Despite the possibility that there must be other women out there who have felt this way before, the feeling can leave us to believe that we are completely alone.  And that's exactly what our enemy wants us to feel. He wants us to believe that our value is at zero and we are alone on the battlefield. Why? Because then our faith is not strong and his power over us is strengthened. But we are never alone.

Call me crazy or weird (I can be both at times), but allowing myself to just cry and imagining myself wrapped safely in God's protection greatly eased my heart. Before I knew it, my sobs quieted, my eyes stopped producing tears, my breathing slowed and I felt myself falling asleep. It was like God let me get it out and then hushed me, much like we do with children. Think about it: when a child is hurt, they're crying loudly, they're difficult to console, and no matter what we say, it doesn't take away their hurt. But when we cradle them in our arms, offer to kiss their hurts and just let them cry it out, their sobbing slowly ceases, they are no longer loud and their body begins to relax. Why? Because we made them feel safe, loved and protected.

Just like our God. He is the perfect Father. His heart breaks each time he sees us hurting. He knows what is going on in your world. He hears the hurtful words said to you, He witnesses the unjust actions against you, He watches as you try to get through each day. And He's waiting for you to come to Him with your concerns, your worries, your fears and your broken heart. And just like you open your arms for a hurt child, He's doing the same for you.

If you've had a rough day, a rough week or even a rough month (that was me), you have the ultimate comfort waiting for you with open arms. And it's ok to break down. It's ok to cry. It's ok to tell God that you can't take another step. It's ok. Break down in His comfort. You are not alone in this battle. You have something that many are still searching for: God. And He is ready for you with open arms. 

Keep going, sweet sister. Every day is a battle. Every day is a challenge. But every day you have an Almighty God who is ready to comfort, console and love you as a parent loves a child. And that's exactly what you are: His daughter.