Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tearing Down Walls in Marriage: One Woman's Story

“Here’s your assignment for the week,” the counselor told my brown-haired friend. “Touch his arm.”

My friend couldn’t believe it. Sitting in the counselor’s office, she hated to hear this advice.

“Husbands need lots of touch,” the marriage therapist reminded her. “This week, I need you to touch his arm.”

“It took me two or three weeks to do it,” my friend recounted to me later. “Each week, my psychologist asked me about it, and re-issued the homework.”

There is a smile in my friend's voice now as she shares this story and says her husband’s name, but that wasn’t always the case.

“After 25 years of marriage, it all kind of blew up,” she began. “Looking back now, the one thing I never understood --or maybe it was never taught to me--is that spot in Song of Solomon that mentions ‘little foxes that sneak in and destroy.’ Little things that happen; your spouse may say or do something and you get that little coldness. We should just talk about it right then, but we don’t. Instead we build a wall brick by brick. Taking that wall down later is so hard, and so much work. Some incidents are even so forgotten by then that they are slightly embedded in your memory, but still need to be dealt with.”
My friends are a strong couple and family in the church, involved in missions, church programs, and working hard alongside all of us. In 2006, it blew up, as she calls it. We didn’t know details and shouldn’t have. Instead our church family respected and admired them, and was so proud of them as they vulnerably cried, and had us pray for them. In honoring-vagueness, they didn’t speak poorly of each other, they merely confessed that marriage was hard right then and that they were getting help.

“I took my commitment to marriage very seriously,” my friend said. “Getting up everyday, and doing what I had to do. We both had separate counselors, plus a joint counselor—seeking wise counsel. He had two groups he went to, and I had a group I went to. I had to put aside my feelings, and do what I knew to be right.”

My friends worked hard, through tears, anger, walls. Her husband had an in-house separation, and then moved out for a more official separation, as the couple continued to walk through Christian counseling and the hard work of rebuilding their marriage. All 2007, they worked hard. “In early 2008, we were getting back together,” she said softly, "and he moved back in the summer of 2008.”

The turning point that melted her heart happened one day while she was driving past his apartment on an errand. “I felt God telling me to call my husband and ask him out for lunch.” 

“'No,' I replied. The voice told me two more times. Finally I did it, calling him, but I hoped he wouldn’t be there.”

They met then and, in a long conversation, her husband opened up to her about hard things, sharing his heart with her. My friend melted, and they started re-connecting. “If you hear God telling you something, do it!” she advised me over the phone.

Over the next few years, our church family got to see God mend their hearts and re-ignite their relationship with passion, tenderness and romance. Their daughters feigned disgust at seeing them kiss, and hold hands everywhere, but there was a happy peace and relief in the children's eyes. 

Now my friends date, and enjoy spending time together, saying their marriage is the best it has ever been. They still know the secrets of working hard for their marriage too. 

Hi friend, what is one piece of marriage advice you have found invaluable? (If you are reading this through your email and would like to leave a comment, simply click here. Welcome!)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Guest-posting over at "Chasing Silhouettes"

I'm guest-posting over at my online friend and writer Emily Wirenga's Chasing Silhouettes website today, a "place of hope and healing for families and caregivers on the eating disorder journey." Join us there to mull over "How to Be Beautiful" and feel free to leave an encouraging comment. 

If you are visiting here after my post from Chasing Silhouettes, welcome. I am so glad you are here.
-   -   - 
Recently, I was getting ready to attend a Friday night wedding several hours' drive away. I chose an outfit, combed my hair, and laughed about the incongruity of applying evening make up at 1:30 in the afternoon. (Men, you'll just have to take our word on this.) Realizing my necklace looked tarnished, I remembered a home tip I had heard of applying toothpaste to tarnished metal for a fast shine. 

Minutes later, with goopy blue Colgate gel congealing into the crevices of my necklace, I realized with horror that the home remedy probably meant white tooth paste. Laughing at myself, I submerged the necklace into the sink and tried to wash away the blue. "Look for me at the wedding," I chuckled to myself. "I'll be the one with smoldering brown eyes and a neck that smells of toothpaste!"

Later that night, smelling minty fresh, I watched from a pew as the bride and groom stood before us all and made promises. Their eyes stared deeply into each other's eyes, obviously having faded away from all other sounds and sights, save the words and the promise and the looks that asked, "Really? Just me? You mean this?" 

I sat enraptured by the glimpse into their minds and hearts. There is a... (read the rest of the story "Smoldering Brown Eyes and a Neck that Smells Like Toothpaste"  here). 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dandelions, Thistles, and How Do You Grow Faith?

I bike to my new yard, a yellow child trailer bouncing along behind me. This is it! The new home. 

Earlier, a friend, in black “blinged” flip flops, and I, in brown bejeweled sandals, walk in measured paces across the knee-high grass. Counting feet and meandering mildly-haphazardly through the dandelions, we guess at the dimensions for a privacy fence. I dream gardens and landscaping, and skip excitedly. 

“I could put the garden there, and plant ferns here.” We sidestep thistles, and scratch itchy ankles. 

“Mom, I think I’ll wait in the van,” my friend’s daughter finally surmises, as my friend graciously walks and plans with me. We plan summer outings and moving days, and then she drives away, sharing my joy and excitement.

At the local hardware super store, I amble the aisles and ponder two by fours. 

I keep being drawn now to the yellow and green trim house, eager to move in, and ecstatic with our Abba for blessing us with this lovely home. My daughter and I peer over internet real estate photos of our new home, wondering about furniture placement and divvying up bedrooms.

Boxes accumulate in our current home, moving plans are made, and the closing dates loom three weeks away. Ensconced in our boxes and memories, we say farewell to our neighbors of fourteen years, finish up school, and marvel at our God who provided this new home for us. 

Thank you, friends, for praying for our current home to sell and for a new home for us. It’s been a ten month journey, and a great time to practice waiting and trusting

Thank you, Abba, for extravagant answers to prayer. I stand awed, humbled, and convicted that I had doubted. 
In tiny pencil on narrow margins, I had etched my worries last week.  In lead script beside ancient Old Testament type, I had joined the prophet Daniel’s prayers with my own words. Beside his lofty prayers for wisdom in discerning an impulsive king’s dreams, I scratched in my own request. Daniel urged his friends to “plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery” and I scrawled out, “A house, Lord? 5/18/12.” 

On the next page, when the young biblical prophet Daniel is given the dream’s meaning and bursts out into jubilant praise to the God who “reveals deep and hidden things” and who had “made known what was asked of him,” my pencil scratched again. “A house, Lord? 5/18/12.” 

Days later, our realtor called. Amid dancing and squeals, and hurried phone calls to family members, I opened my Bible again, and added a new date to those etched pencil-marked margins. 

“Yes! 5/22/12.” Thankful praise penciled into two pages, and across two spots in my heart, reminding me that yes, his heart is for us, and yes, he hears and answers prayers – over and abundantly. 

Oh me of little faith. I’m taught again, and so I return, by foot, by bike or by car to the jumbled grassy lawn. Walking through the tangled dandelions and thistles, I grin, amazed at my Abba, and humbly thankful.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Kid Bedtimes and Gathering Storms

Grey clouds blanket my evening sky. Wind-tossed trees are now still and a heavy mugginess descends. Swollen drops pockmark my deck, and then nothing. 

Like silence before the curtain rises, the yards wait quietly. A slight breeze stirs the leaves and a distant car muffler hums and fades away. Silence again. 

My three year old tantrums from a dark bedroom bunk-bed, trying out an angstful attitude he’s seen. Sarcasm rolls off his lips, and tiny arms are crossed. Angry eyes burn out at me. Wow, where did he hear that monologue? It saddens me, layered between the brief hidden humor at hearing his, “Hmm! What do you think about that?!” final rant. 

“Daniel, I’m so sorry you’ve heard people talk like that. How did you feel when they did that?” 

“Happy!” he huffs, crossing his arms the opposite way for emphasis, and frowning at me.

“You don’t look happy. It’s not nice to talk like that. We use kind words and voices.” I kiss him, and rub his back. Miniscule ribs beneath a red striped shirt that his towering brother used to wear. The room is dark and my hand brushes his small back for a few minutes. He’s so little. 

“Good night. I love you. You need to go to bed.”

“Nooooo!” he yells as I leave the room. We’ve hugged and tickled and prayed together. We sang our songs, and snuggled close – me trying to avoid his mono germs and yet smothering him in further-away kisses. 

The rain droplets have evaporated already outside, leaving no trace on the deck and driveway, yet the grey-green sky waits. It’s dark for seven thirty. 

He gets up again, my son. His anger intersperses with tears, and we talk it through. There’s no more sarcasm thankfully, just sadness and a hopeful expectation that bedtime will disappear. He’s mistaken, poor guy. 

The bedtime mandate stays; hugs are layered on; and sippy-cups are filled with fresh water and ice. 

“Good night, my sweet. I love you.” 

In silence outside, the rain falls, releasing the hot asphalt smell of rain and tar that signals summer to me. A cool breeze starts, and the mugginess lifts.

Linking with Shanda's On Your Heart Tuesday, and Emily's Imperfect Prose on Thursday. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Buckling Into, Not Buckling Under

He sits belted in familiar confinement. 

Spying his worn blue car-seat downstairs earlier, he had heaved and tugged it partway up the stairs, clunking, crashing, and grunting until I helped him. 

“You want your car-seat upstairs?” I asked, surprised. The child seat had been left in the entryway temporarily, in between car shifts. 

“Yes! Tant you, Mom,” he squealed. 

Now, he munches a buttery bagel from deep within his belted blue car-seat, while cartoon ponies sing onscreen.  The buckles and clasps have been shut by him.

A doctor visit, long fever, and two naps later, we have learned that he has mono. I didn’t know that three year olds got mono! Fruit juice popsicles, couch cuddling, and Lego men dances and battles made the afternoon race by. 

A cuckoo clock jumps out the hour, and a blue sippy cup drains out last milk dredges. Robins outside warble continuously and sunshine lies long on the neighbor’s lawn. Summer twilights are leisurely and warm. 

Joining Ann and Michelle, I thank God for: 

Photo Credit
-a sick boy finding comfort in his mama’s arms, and in a blue car-seat that he buckles himself into
-an Abba Lord that I can clamber up on and buckle myself into too
-geese clamoring as they swoop overhead
-dandelion oceans bobbing fuzzy heads
-fresh-brewed coffee in my favorite cup
-God’s word laying open to Daniel
-hopeful news on houses and a chance to wait and trust again
-non-stop bird songs outside

Join me in counting gifts today, friend. Buckle into him and avoid buckling under. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dad's Driving

Photo credit
Buttery salmon-avocado sushi pairs with spicy-sweet sliced ginger on my tongue. A delicious aftertaste spurs me eagerly on to the next slice. Mmm, fabulous. Scalding mint verbena tea from the coffee shop here scares me just seconds away from it touching my tongue and I lower the cup, preferring to wait.

I dropped my parents off at the airport again today. Wheeling boxy black suitcases wrapped in rainbow nylon straps, they walked away from me, after our repeated hugs. Off to Tasmania for six weeks of teaching, they watch the sky for rain, urging it to fall on their garden and flowers here at home. Dish-sized purple and white clematis had overwhelmed their climbing plant, blooming furiously as we drove away.

"You can live here, of course," my dad said, at their house as he showed me where the sheets and air mattresses were. My mom hugs me and heats me up a cup of coffee. Their house is lovely and already hosts a house-mate couple, but I am grateful for the option, and take note again of the little white disarm system.

I harvest mint from my mom's garden and hand my car keys to my dad. "Do you mind driving my car? You know this downtown area here better than I do." 

We load up the the car and he drives, my mom and I turning heads to talk over the air conditioning. It feels so safe to be a daughter loved. Resting my head on the seat, we talk and I watch cars and businesses flash by, bringing my parents up to date on the housing market.
Photo Credit: Michael Mingo

"We looked at five houses last night." They were getting further and further out from our epicenter of Mark's work, our church, and the kids' friends and bike range. "We put an offer on one of them--the second house-- but we aren't sure it's the right one for us or that we'll get the bid."

We had a little over a week left to find a home if we wanted to avoid renting after our house closed to its new buyer at the end of June. We tried not to feel frantic or rushed, but it loomed over us anyway.

"It's a chance to practice trust," I murmur back to my mom as highway traffic weaves around us. My dad expertly handles the stick shift, and changes lanes as needed, calmly driving us to the airport.

In my Thursday morning Bible study group, we are studying Francis Chan's The Forgotten God study. This week, Chan challenges about whether our lives truly reflect the truth that one of the reasons the Holy Spirit is in us is to help us realize and feel that we are sons and daughters of God. Thus, if we really are kids in God's family and he desires that intimacy too, are we talking with and relating to God as our Abba Daddy?

"Abba, we need a house," I pray silently. "We'd love one close to our community. Can you bring one, please? Is it possible to avoid renting too?"

At the airport, I hug my parents a second time, kissing them and breathing in their cheek scents. After years of international travel and several war-torn countries, good byes are always savored and regret-free.

"I love you. Safe travels," I tell them both. "Thanks for being a Daddy that helps me see Abba," I smile gently to my dad on the cement curb.

I watched them enter the airport, pulling boxy black suitcases behind them, as I drove away.

"Abba... thank you: for cars that run, for wonderful parents, for my family, for a chance to trust you... Abba, we need a house..." He and I talked on the highway home, smiling gently.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Romantic Gift Ideas Like a Dead Goat & Key Lime Pie

Photo credit
“Oh, by the way,” as I kissed his cheek hello, “you bought me a slice of key lime pie and a coffee for Mother’s Day. Thank you,” I grinned. 

My man smirked at me, slightly quizzically, as I walked in the door from studying at a bookstore coffee shop last night. 

Now I have a very romantic husband. He woos me in roses, avocados, cheeses, books and baskets. This blue eyed man also takes turns cooking meals and helping with laundry and dishes. 

This week, though, as we had been waiting with bated breath to see if we’d get the house we put an offer on, and already presumptuously researching repair costs for the new place, we had been holding off spending money on other items. Mother’s Day was relaxing, sunny, celebrated with special cards, and savored by time with extended family. 

The key lime tart had looked so good through the glass at the coffee shop, though, that I knew he wouldn’t mind.  “Thank you,” I smiled again and kissed him. “You also bought me a birthday present of a book. See?”  

Don’t worry. Mark had already said that I could get a book with my birthday money. I had just been biding my time, and choosing a title. (Mary De Muth’s  memoir “Thin Places” waits for me even now in a white plastic bag.) 

Gift ideas. 

In finishing Ezekiel this week, I grinned when I came across God giving his people gift ideas. “This is the special gift you are to offer…”  Fractions of wheat, barley, oil, and one sheep from every two hundred are what he asked for in Ezekiel 45:13. Later, bulls and goats are talked about. Different occasions warranted different gift ideas, different sacrifices. 

God whispers his gift ideas to us also.

 “He has shown you, o man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

In the book of Acts we hear that God set up the ocean currents, artistically created the diverse and beautiful range of ethnic groups, and created minutes, hours, days, years. 

God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, although he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:27, 28)

God writes: Here’s a gift idea. I want to connect with you… Here’s what I made for YOU. Do you like the oceans, waterfalls, bottomless caves? Did you see my mountain ranges, coral reefs, floating ice bergs, and still-unexplored jungles? Did you hear of the polka-dotted snake, and the black flower scientists are even now just finding…? Love, God. 

Photo credits

I’m humbled and floored, and silently love him more. Nature screams his artist heart, and his ancient words speak of love and relationship with me, with you.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Mother's Day Body Scrub

Okay, I admit. This is an older picture, but it looked a lot like this today.
Strolling down suburban side streets my daughter and I explored and dreamed. Clambering to the top of a patriotically red and blue jungle gym we leaned against the breeze and sucked in the warm summer air. Passing boxy little World War II bungalows, she grabbed my hand, and we swung our hands as we walked. "Ahh, I can't wait until Monday to see if they accept our offer on the house," she said.

An afternoon nap, some grilling in the sun, and children's blanket forts swarmed the deck. Tonight after a family supper, some speed Scrabble at the table, and a chilly twilight bike ride through shadowy wooded trails, the house is quiet. Two kids sleep, one teen emails, and my husband and I relax in the lamp-lit living room.

Inspired by a portion of Ann's post that linked to a DIY bath scrub, I researched several recipes and decided to mix up a large batch for mother's day gifts.

With only three ingredients, my final recipe was easy, healthy for your skin, and fragrant. Here is my recipe:

Mother's Day Brown Sugar and Olive Oil Body Scrub

-cold pressed olive oil, extra virgin, about four ounces.
-raw cane sugar, 24 ounces
-essential oils  (I used tangerine scent for a light, fresh fragrance, and shook in about 25 drops.)

Found at any co-op or fresh foods store, mix in large glass bowl about four ounces of olive oil, 24 ounces of raw cane sugar, and about 25-30 drops of essential oils. Store in air-tight containers and decorate as gifts.

Directions for use: Wet hands, feet, body. Massage sugar scrub into skin to exfoliate, smooth, and moisturize skin. Rinse with water and pat dry. Skin will feel silky smooth. Enjoy!

I am so thankful for the moms in my life. What is one thing you are thankful for from a mom-figure in your life?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

And Then I Saw the Smoke

A verse has been tumbling through my mind since I read it a few days ago. One of the words was unexpected and I have been puzzling through how it works. 

And then, while driving this week, I saw the smoke. A towering four-story black smoke cloud tilted off-kilter from the horizon. The rest of the world seemed normal and calm. Grassy hills mounded lazily to the horizon. Cows and horses looked up stolidly as my car passed, and faint swirly cirrus clouds stretched across the afternoon sky. 
The black smoke swelled and grabbed my attention. Gripping the steering wheel, I stole quick glances off to the left, following the smoke down to its source. Tangerine tongues of fire burned from miles away. Flashing crimson and orange flames captured my focus until the car drove over a ridge and out of view. 

The verse I had been pondering clicked in my brain. “I will show myself holy through them in the sight of many nations,” stated the Godhead to his prophet Zeke, sometime between 585 – 573 BC. I have heard of God showing his glory through us, and definitely showing his love through us to the people around us. But this concept of showing his holiness through us struck and amazed me. 

The smoke on the afternoon horizon cleared my eyes

At first all I saw was the thick column of black smoke. It stood out so differently from the surrounding horizon. It caught my attention, and I turned to watch it more. The smoke led my eye naturally down to the source. Molten orange and crimson fire danced hypnotically in my sight, and the smoke was forgotten. All I wanted was to stare into the Light. 

Lord, help me to be smoke that stands out from the surroundings and points to your Light. 

What verse have you been thinking about this week?