Where I Don’t Want to Go

A friend recently confided that he lamented taking his wife to see Les Mis. He had heard so many positive comments regarding how the movie represented God’s grace that he had felt confident taking his lovely bride on a date to such a rare movie. As the story line progressed, however, he realized that it had taken him to a bawdy brothel, and he felt that ache in his heart of “What have I done?” In his spirit, he reproached that he had allowed the intrigue of our culture and the vague recommendations of friends to override his usual particularity for researching movie content. He grieved that his eyes had taken in the physical scenery of women other than his wife. He had allowed his emotions to take him where his mind had covenanted not to go.

But isn’t that how it works? Our feelings, with an extremely compelling force, direct our thoughts and intentions with great magnitude. In unguarded moments, our emotions grab hold of our inner man and lead him with unexpected compulsion to places we never imagined we would find ourselves.

Without giving my flesh the benefit of even mentioning the scenario, I want you to know that I find myself dealing with this battle even as I write. A mixture of ugly emotions tug and pull at my being, urging me to allow their rule in my life. I tell them “no.” I ignore them. I valiantly try to “take them captive.” But yet they arise again and again with equal power. Round and round the cycle goes.

The Lord, however, spoke gently yet powerfully to my heart this morning during our time together. He reminded me of the commanding truth of Hebrews 12:1 to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

In essence, my battle was no longer with just my feelings, but with my right to those feelings and my inner desire to set a situation straight (in my own eyes, of course). I had allowed myself to mull over imaginary conversations in my mind, ponder a blog on the subject, or even email “facts” to others. I had allowed my feelings to lead my mind to a place it had no license before God to be.

I was in sin.

Calling my emotions what, indeed, they were, also gave me spiritual truth in how to deal with them. I needed to repent and then simply lay them aside. They could not belong in my life anymore than a godly man belonged in a brothel.

What about the other person’s sin against me?

Doesn’t matter. This verse does not use a possessive pronoun such as “my” or “your,” but merely the definite article: “the.” “The sin.” Not necessarily my sin, though that needed to be dealt with as well, but the sin. “Lay aside…the sin.” I could not permit sin–mine or others–to be the stumbling block that easily entangled me…not if I intend to run with endurance the race God has set before me.

Before me…not behind me.

The situation which caused the sin and pain happened in the past. I can do nothing to alter it. It happened. God has called me to represent Him in my present and to stay my course for a godly run into the future. I cannot accomplish this high goal if I maintain my contemplation about the sin of the past.

What do I do?

  • Immediately confess my own sin, including each time my thoughts and feelings of anger, resentment, and bitterness arise, trusting that God will be “faithful and just to forgive me my sin and cleanse me from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
  • Commend my feelings, including my desire for vindication to God. He bought me at a price–all of me, including my feelings–and He deserves to be entrusted with all of me–including my feelings.
  • Lay aside the sin and garbage of the past lest it entangle my feet and derail my determination to run a higher race for His glory.

Ever since my children were small, I’ve advised them that they cannot change how other people act, but they had to take responsibility before God for their own responses–regardless. While it’s nice to know that this simple truth never changes, I am deeply blessed to understand the “why” behind it all.

When I hang onto the sin of the past, it entangles me. I stay stuck in that situation and cannot move on with God. I react from that viewpoint, and cannot respond this day–this moment–to what unfolds before me in the present. I will have regretfully allowed my feelings to lead me to a place I never thought I would be–right to where I didn’t want to go.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

PS. For those of you wondering about whether we will choose to see Les Mis, let me simply say this. I would never, under any circumstances, as a wife who loves Jesus, ask my husband to see a movie which set before his eyes such lewd scenes as may cause him to stumble. He is of infinite more value to me than any movie…and I get to live with seeing God’s grace each day.

On Making the Bed Beautiful

When Brad and I first wed, well, let’s just say I was not the best housekeeper he could have chosen. But with he and I both working, we muddled through the best we could, which–let’s be honest–wasn’t exactly that good now that I think about it. We were young, in love, and deeply fond of playing.

Fast forward a few years and within two months of each other we had three remarkable changes to our lives: I left the workforce; we moved into our own home; and we welcomed a new baby girl into our hearts and lives. Once Amanda decided that sleeping at night was an option, I developed the energy to look around our home and start making headway in the daily chore department.

One thing consistently remained undone: making the bed. It simply defied my comprehension that something which would be undone in a few hours should be done to begin with. So while great strides were made in other departments, the bed persistently stayed unmade.

One day, though, after freshly washing the sheets, I made the bed! That evening my husband smilingly noted with the sweetest voice: “I love getting in to a freshly made bed!”

Probably because I knew his comment was merely a reflection of his pleasure and not a hidden jab, I realized I wanted to give him this little joy everyday. And I started daily making that bed. And I liked it!

This delightful little habit carried on for years…until my onset of ME/CFS. Since I barely left the house in over two years, and since I frequently found myself climbing back into bed on a regular basis, the sweetness of my habit faded into practicality. The bed returned to its unmade status.

But as I started ascending out of this deep place, I once again found the joy of making our bed as a blessing to my husband.

Over the past (almost) fifteen years I have rode the pendulum back and forth between remission and relapse…and the habit of making our bed has rode right along with me. In remission–bed made. In relapse–not so much.

This past remission has lasted almost one year. (Can you believe that??) For the first few months, my bed remained perpetually mussed up. Why? I was in it for almost sixteen hours a day. Then fourteen. Then twelve. Now almost eleven. And with each stepping stone, my bed has reflected my wellness and state of energy. Although most often, even freshly washed sheets have awaited bedtime to enwrap our mattresses.

Still as I sit here today on my friendly brown couch, I know that I (and by default, my beloved husband) have lived the past month with a messy bed. But not today–

Today I made my bed.

And that is beautiful to me.

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Psalm 90:17).

The Witness of True Marital Love

Not too long ago my daughter asked me, “How do you know if he’s the one?” She had no one in particular in her mind, but as a young lady of nineteen who has friends getting engaged and even married, she simply and honestly expressed her curiosity. I didn’t pretend to have all the answers to her question, but we had a lovely conversation as I reminisced about my earlier days with her dad. You know, back when we were young and in love, and not the old boring couple we are now. 🙂

I shared with her that I had experienced “crushes” before I met her dad, but when I met him I felt as though I had finally found my best friend. I wasn’t on the prowl or anything like that. He simply walked into my life one day like he belonged–and I hadn’t even realized he had been missing.

We enjoyed all the bliss of young love. Every moment we spent together was like a play date. He made all the ordinary in my life extraordinary just by his presence. This joy splashed over into our marriage and on into the family years. Except for a rough patch somewhere around year eleven, our relationship has exuberantly marched on–even in the face of ME/CFS.

Sadly this is not always the case. In an effort to find information regarding divorce when one spouse suffers from an chronic illness, I kept coming across the often cited statistic of 75%! (The National Health Interview Survey is the supposed source, but I personally did not locate their findings.) But still…75% of marriages involving one chronically ill partner end in divorce! My mind cannot fathom this. My heart cannot believe it. Yet, thus it appears so.

I know our marriage no longer depicts that original madly-in-love young couple who promised to love each other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” I understand this cannot be what my beloved husband signed on for. What he imagined or dreamed. It certainly runs short of my estimations.

Yet we stood before God and witnesses, and each gave our word that we would remain committed to this marriage “til death do you part.” As a Christian, I have no alternative to my word. As hard as it may be at any given time, to not keep my word means to not reflect Jesus. And thankfully my husband deeply believes the same.

I feel for my husband, you know. He bears the brunt of keeping this oath more than I. He goes out in the world, sees all that it has to offer, and yet must choose commitment to me and his vows as his highest act. I esteem him greatly for this.

He generally sits in church alone, goes to our son’s games alone, shops for groceries alone. As a pastor, he meets the needs of others and then he comes home and tends to me. Am I thirsty? Do I need something to eat? Am I okay? Do I want to go for a walk? If he fails to notice a need or remember my rather invisible infirmity, I must offer grace. He is my beloved husband and a fellow servant of the Lord, who truly tries his best. And I honor him.

But as I consider his side of this marriage, I cannot help but think that perhaps the spouse of one who is chronically ill has the opportunity to stand as an even brighter reflection of Christ and His love for His bride.

So often our sinfulness pervades our life like an illness–slowly and steadily crushing the life out of our spirits. Yet Jesus stands faithful–never leaving, never forsaking. The bride He bought with His precious blood walks as a sad, faded image of the giddy young lover who promised Him faithfulness through thick and thin forever and ever. She has wilted, her response to His ministrations wanes dull. Yet He continues faithfully on–ever loving and tender. In this lays the truest form of love.

In the life and hands of a spouse of the chronically ill also lays the opportunity to display this same true love to a searching world.

Before I sign off for the day, I wanted to share with you a sweet story posted this past week on facebook by a dear friend. With Kris’s permission, I share with you one amazing testimony. Please read on:

Wedded Bliss

Planning a wedding. I googled it. About 133,000,000 results in 0.30 seconds. There are few that have not been overwhelmed by those words. It was either your own, your daughter’s or it will be.

This new year will bring about 2.2 million brides and grooms, beautiful pictures and a myriad of planning. Isn’t the blush of new love invigorating? Don’t you love to see the excitement of that young couple as they tie the knot?

Well, sometimes not. Who’s kidding who? Sometimes we cringe, knowing this couple might not be quite ready for the commitment they are taking on. Let’s face it: wedded bliss is sometimes not so blissful. It takes courage. Marriage is not for the faint at heart.

But when a couple does it well, it is truly a cause for celebration. I had a rare opportunity to see true married love not long ago. And I hope I never forget it.

It started with the text. “Shasta’s in the hospital. She has sepsis. Please pray” That was about it. Kyle’s brother had let us know his wife was in the hospital. Again. She had been on dialysis for six years. Renal failure had nearly taken her life six years ago and admissions to the hospital were not uncommon. But this time…

Later we found out that her liver had failed as well. Hepatitis as a child had started Shasta on the road to tenuous health many years before. She had recurring problems growing up, but that all seemed behind when she and Kevin tied the knot twenty-one years before. In sickness and in health…

Rocky. That would describe their early years. For most of their marriage, bliss was not the adjective of choice. The diagnosis of renal failure changed all that. When we would see the two together, there were no longer little digs at each other. The difficulties of chronic illness, the choice to embrace God in His fullness, and the commitment to their vows moved their relationship to a new level. It took on a new beauty.

While her spirit gained ground, the disease ravaged her body. We would visit and the earthly beauty that was hers at their wedding was gone. Aged beyond recognition, we would not have known her had Kevin not been the one to take us to her hospital room. But we watched over those six years a tender love emerge between the two. Refined by doctor visits, dialysis treatments and a rock bottom faith in the God of the Bible, their relationship grew beyond what we would recognize.

Now she was in liver failure. Her prognosis was not good. Weeks, not months. I went to help during the last week of her life and there God allowed me the most beautiful picture of wedded love. It was the last look, not the first. I didn’t have a camera, but the image is etched on my mind. Kevin was sitting next to her hospital bed. Nearly brown with jaundice, Shasta could hardly respond with words. He just sat looking at his bride stroking her thinning hair, his tender love obvious with each touch of his hand. She lay quiet, the usual grimace of pain gone as she gazed back at her man, smiling.

Beautiful love.

In memory of Shasta S. She went to be with the Lord December 9, 2012. She was 44.

Teary eyed? Me, too. But don’t you just see the beauty of true love demonstrated? Just like Christ loves us. Just like He longs for us to bear His witness.

Truly beautiful, unrelentless, faithful love.

“For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

Detox, Part 3: My Heart

You know me. I can’t merely talk about detoxing the body and home, and not get to the heart of the matter. *pun intended* And since so many consider the start of the new year a great time to leave some old habits behind, I really wanted to examine some issues of the heart that simply need to be left behind as well.

With this in mind, I want to look in the book of Mark, chapter 7, because in this scenario the pharisees have gone out of their way to ring up the disciples regarding the cleansing of their outer man while totally ignoring the ugliness of the inward man. In verse 5, they frankly ask Jesus, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?”

After angrily lamenting how the traditions of the elders undermined the true intentions of God’s heart, He answers their question just as frankly:

“Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:18-23).

You see, I can do all these other things to detox my environment and my body, but if my heart is toxic, I will have failed in God’s eyes. If I remove everything from my home which causes my body to react, if I perform every cleanse known by man to improve my health, yet I allow the parasites of the heart to remain, my attempts will have been for naught from an eternal perspective.

The thing is, though, that dealing with heart parasites requires just as much diligence and fortitude as body parasites–actually even more. These determined little buggers like to dig in deep and make themselves at home in a heart, usurping godly nutrients, and destroying relationships with others, which ultimately demeans the work of the Gospel. And, sadly, as I’ve witnessed many a time, they lie hidden in the dark recesses of a soul until an unguarded moment catches a person unaware, and out they fly like an ugly “elimination,” causing any witness to wonder what happened.

Can you seriously think of a better tool for the enemy of our souls to use? Nurtured wounds. Harbored suspicions. Denied covetousness. Ugliness left to live in our inner beings, while beauty parades on the outside. All lying in wait to assert themselves. All bearing the mark of Satan. All deserving of death. For if left unchecked, these bloodsuckers destroy body life, and ultimately the host.

Although I am a pastor’s wife, I am not exempt from ugliness of feelings, which most certainly must be dealt a fatal blow. The challenge to keep a pure heart while serving in ministry looms quite large actually, but I must keep my heart and mind clean before my God. I can’t allow myself to mull over agitated thoughts–even if I did hear my husband maligned. I can’t meditate on inappropriate retorts to questions on my child-rearing or my lack of involvement. I can’t dream on acquiring that which God has not provided. If I allow any of these thoughts the slightest bit of wiggle room, my Christian witness will ultimately become a “goner.” And I, no doubt, will take out someone else’s walk in the process.

Out of all these issues, though, the hardest one to let go may be old wounds. Especially if we believe an injustice was done at our expense. We struggle to let go of bitterness in particular because we often feel justified in it. Other sins, like perhaps lust, we know are wrong, though we may struggle mightily with them, but bitterness–*tsk tsk*–we tend to let live in our hearts because we feel entitled to it. And thus rests the entire witness of the Christian faith.

If the Gospel of Jesus is based on love and forgiveness, and a Christian refuses to love and forgive, then that person negates the gospel. Plain and simple. You can share all the “Good News” you want and look all pretty and spiffy on the outside, but Jesus’ truth remains. Evil things left unchecked within defile the child of God.

As we begin to tackle new habits in this year year, make sure you mean business with the inner man as well as the outer. The witness of Jesus through your life depends on it.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

PS. If you struggle with letting go of the bitterness, may I suggest reading “The Bait of Satan” by John Bevere. -brenda-