Cheating Death – On Being Happily Married.

Recently, I’ve been near death more than usual. By “near” death, I don’t mean that I have nearly died – rather, that I’ve been in funeral homes and attended memorial services more often than I’d like and I’ve been reflecting on death – and life.

Any Moonstruck fans out there?

Rose: I just want you to know that no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.
Cosmo Castorini: Thank you, Rose.
Rose: You’re welcome.

Physical death is inevitable. No matter how well we take care of our bodies, no matter how much plastic surgery we pay for or face cream we slather on, it is happening. Even if we always play it safe (which I usually do), the only thing we can do is delay it by a little bit.

Still, I resolve to cheat death.
Not in the physical sense, of course, but I believe there are some deaths we can escape – such as the death of a dream, and the one closest to my heart: Death of a Marriage.  We’ve all seen it. Some of us have experienced it first-hand, even though we weren’t expecting it or wanting it. I have walked with friends through that dark valley and I believe it is one of the most emotionally painful things there is.

If this has happened to you, I am so sorry. These words are not meant
to cause more pain for you. I pray that your hope will remain strong and
that you will emerge from the valley a stronger person, ready for the
life and love that is ahead. (I’ve seen that, too, praise God!)

I am writing to remind and encourage those with healthy marriages and to offer hope to those with marriages that are in a tough spot. If your relationship still has a pulse, I hope you’ll try to revive it. I’ve seen God work miracles in marriages. I’ve also seen, as I’m sure you have, times when there was just no chance for bringing it back to health. Not because God wasn’t showing up, but because someone  (or both someones) didn’t have the will to keep going.

Here are 6 strategies for cheating death in our marriages:

1: Be Full of  Gratitude

Thank God for your spouse. I remember, when Rob and I were dating, I was filled with awe that someone so wonderful cared for me and wanted to be with me. After we were married for a hot minute, I lost my feeling of wonder and gratitude at being loved – it seemed like I felt I deserved it. But if I want to cheat death, I’ve got to remember that my husband is a gift from God. The way he is right now.

Thank your spouse for anything you can think of to thank him or her for. Making the bed. Taking the trash out. Getting the kids to bed. Getting the kids up. Making the sandwich. Cleaning up after dinner. Picking up the pizza. Doing the Christmas shopping or wrapping. Paying the bills. Reminding you that the milk is gone.You get the idea. All these tasks and to-dos are just part of being married and running a household, right? True, we are adults, and adults “do the things.” It is also true that every little thing can be seen as a gift. We all know how awful it feels to be taken for granted. I’m not saying that we should get a gold medal or a standing ovation for making dinner or raking leaves, but gratitude is always appropriate and worth the time.

2. Love Extravagantly.

This isn’t about monetary expense; there are opportunities every single day to show love in a way that “costs” me something. Whether that means big things like putting our wants on hold for the moment to help a spouse’s dream come true or planning something extraordinary that will surprise and delight, or small things, like making a late-night run to the grocery store so that the busy morning will go better, being the first one to say “I’m sorry,” or getting off the couch when you’re comfy to get the TV snacks so your spouse can stay warm and cozy. (Thanks for all the coffee and ice cream, Rob!)

3. Choose Happy

Most of the time, I am taking myself too seriously. (Anyone else?) I have found that there is nothing like laughter to break tension, and that a positive outlook makes even a bleak day brighter. Choosing to stay positive and hopeful takes the burden off any given moment. A year or a decade can handle big goals and expectations, but it is unwise to put too much pressure on each moment. So loosen up just a bit. Laugh it off. Find the bright side. Choose to believe that a good outcome is possible.

4. Protect and Defend

Always, always, always. Choose your spouse over all others, even when he or she is  imperfect, grumpy or flat out wrong. Especially then. There will be plenty of people working against, fighting against your marriage and your spouse. We have to be intentional to protect our relationship.  Imagine that your marriage is a helpless infant – be as gentle and nurturing in caring for it as you are warrior-like in defending it.

5. Keep the Marriage Bed Holy, and Keep the Marriage Bed Healthy. 

It’s not enough to just “not be unfaithful.” Lasting love requires faithful intimacy. Intimacy is not just a symptom of health in a marriage, it is also a builder of health in a marriage – a bonding factor, an energizer.  If an illness or tragedy has made “some things” impossible, work to find something that is possible, and be faithful in that.

6. Ask for (and Receive) Help When You Need Help.

Anyone who has been married more than a minute (okay, maybe 2 weeks) knows this isn’t easy. If you see a couple that makes it look easy, it is either because they  are good actors or because they are doing the hard work of making their marriage happy. Find a couple that is really doing things right and ask for some pointers. Talk to a counselor, your pastor, or another spiritual leader you trust. Consider this: therapy isn’t cheap, but the cost of divorce, financially and emotionally, is much higher.  An athlete doesn’t expect a broken bone to heal itself properly and certainly wouldn’t just switch sports and hope the problem goes away.

God can help you do all this.

As I write this, I am praying for the marriages (present and future) of you who might read this. I believe with my whole heart that God is for our marriages. I also believe that he is the source of the power we need for this cheating of death. I’ll leave you with a good Word about what it can look like to trust him…

… we didn’t think we were going to make it.
We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us.
As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened.
Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it,
we were forced to trust God totally—
not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead!
And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. 
And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing.
2 Corinthians 1:9-10ish (The Message)

 

 

 

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A Summer Memory: Running in the Fog

Cape Cod is one of my favorite places to run. (Actually, it’s my favorite place to do a lot of things.) In North Truro, where Rob and I met, there is a beautiful (and beautifully flat) spot to run along Route 6A. It is heavily populated with beachfront homes, hotels and rental cottages. My favorite are Day’s Cottages, a string of tiny saltboxes shaped like the green houses in Monopoly – each named for a flower – Daisy, Rose, Violet, Larkspur… The road is just one lane in either direction, but since there are plenty of driveways to dart into when the cars go past, it always feels safe, even in the height of summer.

Cape Cod Bay is just on the other side of the cottages and houses, so there are sneak peaks of the beach and refreshing blue water in the gaps between the buildings and glimpses of yesterday’s beach towels, flapping in the wind. The beauty of it all makes the run so easy.

Except when the fog is thick. Then there are no water views or “possibilities beyond” in the gaps. I see more of the cottages themselves as I’m forced to look at what is closest to me. Like when a person loses one sense and the others grow stronger. I see the roof lines, the color of the siding and trim. I’m more apt to notice things in disrepair. It’s not as beautiful, but it is interesting to focus my eyes and attention on something I am normally too distracted to see.

Isn’t it like that with life, too? In times of uncertainty, we are forced to focus on what we know, and we come face-to-face with that which is in disrepair right around us. It makes the world seem smaller, but not for long, because periods of uncertainty or trial are often followed by growth as we exercise muscles of trust, courage, faith.

The world seems to contract just before it expands.

Returning to what we know – the truth, the nest, our family and closest friends, is a necessary part of the process of spreading our wings.

1 Corinthians 13:12
We don’t yet see things clearly.
We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.
But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!
We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us,
knowing him directly just as he knows us!

Older and Wiser – On being happily married.

My wedding album made me cry today.

Rob is speaking this weekend on marriage and needed a wedding photo of us. He retrieved the book from the attic and chose this photograph from our engagement shoot.

Wow, would you just look at those fresh young faces! And Rob’s hair! And my Laura Ashley sweater! (I sure loved that sweater.)

I’m struck by how much older we are, but I’m not pining for that smooth, taut skin like you might expect. Rather, I am thankful for the years that have brought us to where we are now. Thankful for the wisdom we’ve gained. Thankful for Elizabeth and Nick, who made us parents and brought with them lessons that we didn’t know we needed to learn. Thankful for the trials that have strengthened and shaped our bond and for God, who keeps watch over us and helps us keep watch over one another.

Yeah, I cried a little bit while looking through the photos. But not because I’m wishing I could go back. I cried tears of joy at how much more I love Rob Perry today than I did then, even though I wouldn’t have thought it possible. There were also tears of grief, as I counted the people who helped us celebrate that day but are no longer with us. And tears because some of them, who had loved and nurtured and cheered us on, never got to see how much better at loving we’ve become…then a few more tears as I realized they were wise already – they knew how we could turn out and are part of our “cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12)

As I look into the eyes of “young-innocent-bride-me,” I think, “Yeah, Girl, we turned out alright! We are better for all the bumps and bruises along the way, and our softer edges and the lines worn into our face from years of living, loving and laughing – they are trophies. And even now, the best is yet to be.”

(Photo by Brenda Saul Thomson)

Remember the Moments

I’m a keeper of things, a documenter of moments. I take pictures of plates of food and cups of coffee. I have a difficult time parting with birthday cards and notes that people leave on my desk or the bathroom mirror. Sentimentality is one way I’m like my grandmother… and my dad… and my brother. I’m not mad about it! So last year, when I noticed that our daughter, Elizabeth, was saving meaningful slips of paper in a jar, I was all-in.

In January, I put an empty jar on the kitchen counter and jotted notes and stashed small mementos all year long. As the collection was growing, my anticipation of the remembering also grew. It took a good amount of restraint not to look through it between then and now, but what fun I had going through the jar tonight – reliving highlights, chuckling at funny experiences I’d forgotten. Some of the notes represented things we had planned and chosen, like vacations, trips, and theater tickets. Others experiences were surprises (hospital visits, important conversations, meals around the table with family and friends, unexpected blessings).

Remembering where we’ve been in the last year has got me imagining where we’ll be and what we’ll do in the next. I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness and His promises. This is a good spot to be in.

I’m starting 2018 with an empty jar and an expectant heart – and thanking God in advance!

 

Hang in There (Another Life Lesson from the Garden)

I’m no farmer.

I’m not even smart enough in the area of growing plants to be called a “gardener.” The most that can be said about me in this arena is that I have bought plants to put in the ground and have only killed some of them. While parenting feels natural and intuitive to me most of the time, gardening feels awkward; I have no instincts about how things are supposed to go. This doesn’t stop me, of course, but it makes for some great “a-ha” moments. Two examples…

This spring, Rob and I planted sweet potatoes. Our friends who really are gardeners told us about how the plants shoot out “tubers” and that sounded cool, (also, we found we quite enjoy saying,”Tubers!”) so we bought a 6-pack of the pretty plants and put them in the ground. Sure enough, the plants started shooting out vines like crazy! My understanding from the words I’d heard was that the vines were going to take hold of the earth at points along their lengths and put down roots, thus enabling the shooting out of tubers.  I inspected them from time-to-time and found that, though the vines seemed very healthy, they were not putting down roots anywhere. But they were beautiful with their dark green and purple leaves, so it was all good. Then there was the day the deer ate the vines down to nubs and I lost all hope of tubers.

The vines grew again, though, and we enjoyed their beauty all summer long. A few weeks ago, I thought I’d check for tubers one last time. As I approached the side of the garage where the plants were, a thought crossed my mind…”What if the tubers grow from the base of the plant and not from the vines.” I’m not sure if it was Divine inspiration, or whether common sense had finally taken hold, but it seemed right to call for Rob to join me. We poked around the base of one plant and found a huge, softball-sized sweet potato! We dug some more and eventually found about a dozen that were suitable to eat. Oh, did we laugh when we realized we actually had some tubers! They were there all along, we just didn’t know where to look.

Then there’s the pink muhly grass plant we bought last fall. It was past its peak when we bought it, so we cut it way back and planted it in the ground. I’ve been eyeing it since spring. As the grass grew, I’ve been watching for the pink “fireworks” to shoot up from the base. For months, nothin.’ But a few days ago, I walked past and they were suddenly there! Guess what?! The pink fronds don’t grow out from the base of the plant like I had thought – they emerge from inside the green grass that’s been there all along. The beauty has been trapped inside the grass leaves, all this time – waiting to pop out at just the right time.

Why am I sharing this? The past several months have not been the easiest for me – I’m guessing that maybe they haven’t been the easiest for you, either. (If you’ve been in a season of ease, Hallelujah for that – tuck this away for later!) It’s nothing major, but I’ve been praying and hoping and watching for some relief – know what I mean? And now that it has shown up, just like with my sweet potatoes, I realize that I had let myself grow discouraged simply because I wasn’t looking in the right spot. And just like with the muhly grass, the beauty and relief were there all along – and have appeared just at the right time.

I’ve found that sometimes, uncertainty and discomfort are not signs that something is wrong. They can be signs that something really good is growing – something really good that God knows we’ll need for the next season.

Here are some verses I read this week that have encouraged me in the process of emerging on the “heaven side” of this struggle. If you’re in the middle of a difficult season, I’m praying they will speak to you as well!

Colossians 4:2
Pray dilligently. Stay alert, with eyes wide open in gratitude.

I Thessalonians 1:6
Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit! Taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.

I Thessalonians 2:3-5
God tested us thoroughly to make sure we were qualified to be trusted with this Message. Be assured that when we speak to you we’re not after crowd approval. Since we’ve been put through the battery of tests, you’re guaranteed that both we and the Message are free of error, mixed motives or hidden agendas.

 

I Thessalonians 3:11-13
May God our Father himself and our Master Jesus clear the road to you!
And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you.
May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when our Master Jesus arrives with all his followers.

 

 

 

When Life Lessons > Summer Tomatoes

Our little backyard garden was doing amazingly well. Until it wasn’t.

A deer from the woods behind our house discovered and helped him- or herself to our plants. Overnight, our healthy vegetable plants and hydrangea were munched down to nubs. Seriously. Where there had been beautiful, strong leafy plants loaded with blossoms, baby tomatoes and cucumbers, there are now green stalks with roughly-munched ends.

The morning we discovered the thievery, we were stunned. And bummed. And a little ticked.

But hey, gardening is never a sure thing (especially with my “black thumb of death), and we have the opportunity and the means to go to the market to buy produce, so this loss certainly wasn’t the end of the world; not even close. It settled quickly into something we can chuckle about – the image of “that deer” chomping on the leaves of the sweet potato vine which led the way to the tomatoes and cucumbers like a signpost. “Dinner: This Way.”

The next day, our sister-in-law brought us a beautiful bouquet of hydrangeas “just because.” I didn’t make the connection until another sweet friend brought an armful of “extra” zucchini to Bible study two days later. As I carried my share of the veggies to the car, it hit me. What a sweet (and swift!) reminder that God has the ability and the resources (and access to people who can help) to restore us when we suffer losses of any kind. This is not the first time I’ve been the recipient of this sort of blessing. And I’m sure it won’t be the last.

I’m praying that I will remember this the next time I feel God whispering “share your stuff.”

Everyone was amazed at what God was doing. They were amazed when the apostles performed many wonders and signs. All the believers were together. They shared everything they had. They sold property and other things they owned. They gave to anyone who needed something. ~Acts 2:43-45

PS: I’m happy to report that the blueberries are still safe, and just beginning to ripen!

Promises, Promises

We planted two blueberry bushes a few years ago. This will be our second season with fruit. Take a look at these beauties! I mean, seriously. Just look at ’em.

The bushes are along the path from our house to the garage, so I pass by them several times a day. Each time, my reaction is the same.

Pure delight.

The promise of future berries is a gift in its own right. I have enjoyed watching the bushes closely this spring. There was the first sign of flowers – little white bells in clumps, almost like lily of the valley. And then the blossoms fell away to reveal the tiniest little swellings on the ends of the stems. Heavy rains in the last few weeks have resulted in plumper berries than last year, and their color is shifting slightly with each passing day.

All of this feels like a sweet miracle.

The promise season is lasting much longer than the eating season will. I’m enjoying every minute.

Today is a gift. Life on earth for some is long and for others is much too short. Either way, let’s not waste any of it. Let’s enjoy the promises that come true today as well as the ones that we are still waiting to see fulfilled. There are rich blessings in both.

There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
Romans 5:3-5 (The Message)