Monday, January 23, 2012

my soapbox on marriage...

Over the last 3 months I have been surrounded with marriages crumbling.  From as close as family, to dear friends, to friends of friends, friend's with couples in their small group, leaders in the church, etc headed towards divorce.  Some of these couples have been married less than 5 months, some 7-10 years. It is astounding.  And ALL of them are Christians.

God calls our marriages to be different.  Don't hear me saying marriage is always all roses and easy.  Marriage is hard. Marriage is work. But it is glorious work.
The most common picture God gives us of the relationship between us and Christ is marriage.  He is our bridegroom. The church (Christians) are his bride.  I am the bride of Christ.

Marriage was the first "institution" God created.  It was a solid and permanent covenant meant to represent or exemplify his relationship with us.  And look what we have turned it into.

Even Christian marriages these days are focused on how my spouse is treating me, what I am getting out of the relationship, if I am happy.  It becomes this scale of how much have I put in vs. how much have they put in.  What if marriage isn't about "I"?

I am meant to be the tangible love of God to my husband.  God doesn't have arms and vocal chords here on earth, he has given me a gift and a privilege and responsibility to show Jesus' tangible love to John.  What a blessing, what a responsibility.  My words have the influence to steer John towards God or away.

Also, when we stand on the altar at our marriage, I think a lot of people bypass the miracle that occurs.  Do we not focus on the fact that during our marriage ceremony, God actually takes two separate people and makes them one?? The more I think on the concept of one-ness, the more amazing it is to me.  John and I are ONE. One in body, spirit. That is a supernatural miracle.  Try separating two pieces of paper or fabric that you have superglued together.  It is nearly impossible, but at best it is messy.  You end up with two broken pieces, two messy pieces, two pieces torn and tattered.  I think we miss this when we consider divorce as an option.  From what I have heard of friends talking, they see divorce as the easier choice, just an escape from the work that would have to be done to restore, a fresh start, another chance at a better, happier life.  We don't think about the destruction of our legacy, the separation of oneness that God has joined. You can't un-one yourselves.  That is why God is so clear on divorce.

Legally our marriage is a "Contract", but if you are a Christian, it is more so a covenant than a contract.  A contract is an "I will if you will" "i'll pay this debt if you give me this service" "i'll give this as long as you give this". This is not what our marriages are supposed to be. It is a permanent covenant.  God never breaks his covenants. Our marriages should be a reflection of Christ's covenant with the Church.  He didn't leave us when we got messy, when we stopped serving him, when we stopped making him happy, when things got busy or hard, when we cheated on him time and time again.  Our marriage is not intended to fulfill our every desire, longing and happiness.  It is to point people to Christ and his consistent and unconditional love for us.

I think so often that we let our marriages fall to the backburners. Our kids take #1, our careers take the #1 spot, our comfort and happiness take #1.  You have to be intentional.
One thing our mentors shared with us early in our marriage was this
Discuss Daily
Date Weekly
Depart Quarterly

Discuss daily- have at least 30 minutes face to face time (no tv, phone, computer) discussing more than just schedules and how was your day stuff.  30 minutes of heart check, how are we doing check, what is God doing in your heart talk.
When we struggle to come up with something here we simply do highs and lows of our day and the why behind it. This connects us far more than a 'how was your day' discussion. It gets at the heart and grows and deepens our bond together. On a more practical note, once a week we try and do a "check-in" during our discussion time and lay out both of our schedules and discuss logistically anything that needs to happen (ie. working late this night, pick the kids up here, etc). Once every other week (usually after payday) we do a financial "check-in" and discuss goals, savings, tithe, pay bills, plan and get an update on where we are financially and how we are doing with our budget, etc.

Date Weekly- We try to do this as a non-negotionable. If finances don't allow for dinner out, or babysitter, get creative. Cook brownies together and eat them on the floor of a random room and enjoy conversation, Give each other a massage, pedicure. Play cards/board games together. Get creative at home. Or just go spend time in a bookstore, coffee shop, walk around the neighborhood, kick a soccer ball at a park.  All free. Do something that reminds you that you just enjoy being with that person.

Depart quarterly- Get away once a quarter, even if just for a day trip (preferably overnight) and enjoy a trip together. Use that time to refocus your goals as a couple, your ministry as a couple, where you are in your marriage, what you want to get better at, how you want to grow spiritually and can encourage each other.  Take advantage of this time more than just a vacation, but do just have fun! This has been such a great one for John and I to make ourselves a priority, leave the kids and focus on ourselves.  Our kids now get excited about this (most of the time) and what a gift we can give them to show them how that Jesus is my number 1, John is my #2 and they are behind him at #3. The minute i get those out of order, we will be those empty nesters that after the kids leave look at each other and say "i don't really know you anymore".

Disclaimer: We don't have a perfect marriage. We constantly work at it, we constantly work through issues. We don't follow these every day of every week. Life happens and there is grace for that. But sticking to our boundaries and using this as our guideline has protected us from so much and kept us connected. We can tell when we have gone a while without these in our routine and we fall quickly into the 'roommate cycle' as we call it. We have been to counseling at one of the harder parts of our marriage and it was such an amazing experience for us.  Everyone needs help. That is why God calls the spirit the Counselor.  Who am I to think I am too good for asking for someone else to speak into our marriage. Marriage is two imperfect people coming together, there are going to be hard times. Be prepared and take even the good times in marriage and work at making it even better. Pray hard against Satan who wants nothing more than to see our marriages end up broken and have divorce be a part of our kid's view on marriage.

**Please youtube Andy Stanley's sermon called iMarriage. Thankfully we heard this at our church (Northpoint) in Atlanta around year 1 of our marriage and it set the tone for us.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

adoption update and what the Lord is teaching me through it....

There are still two empty chairs at our dining room table. They never felt empty until recently.  But the Lord is doing a lot in my heart in the "in between time".  
Early december after news of riots and violence in Kinshasa after the election, adoption time tables were all extended.  Time until referral (getting the match with our child) and time after referral until travel.  I found myself just crying and crying about it.  You see, I am a planner at heart.  I set my mind on a date and I have everything planned to a T about it.  I was hoping our kids would come home August-Nov 2012... and now my time table is gone.  It hurts to surrender.  I was crying one night about it and felt God say, "do you actually even trust me?" Over the next week and a half I started to let go.  I started to not just say I surrendered my plans and time tables to him, but to actually do it.  

Because, after all, isn't he the one who originally wanted to write it into our story?
But what I realized, is that after I said yes in obedience, he gave me so much joy as I walked towards his call on our life, but I still clung to obey within what is convenient or comfortable for me. How patient I thought I could be. How long I could actually wait.  When it would fit into our lives/schedules the best.  
This is not how obedience works.  
So as of about 5 days ago, I had a break through moment of surrender with God. I said to him (and actually meant it in my heart too) that I will surrender my plans to him with this adoption.
Whether we get our referral before summer, whether we travel before Christmas, or whether we get our referral in 2013 and travel in 2 years.  He is the one writing the story.  He knows best when these two treasures are supposed to come home. He has them picked out just for us. He knows when he will reveal it to me.  Do I really want it in my time table? No, and although it physically hurts me some days to wait. I will wait on the Lord. Because he is the one holding me together, he knows me best, he knows the next chapter of our story. 
I will have to continually re-submit to him as we walk through this journey that is far too long in my heart. 
But I know who holds the future and I know who will write it just how it is supposed to be. 

Then on Wednesday, (two days post breakthrough) I got an email from our caseworker saying.....

Things are moving again and we have 5 more kids home as of last week.  Referrals should be coming in a few weeks as soon as paperwork is completed. I believe time lines may pick up as well. 

What a little blessing right after the pain of surrendering that. But even still. Even to hear those words, I found God didn't allow those to take root in my heart in a way that they would have a few weeks before. I am not clinging to my calendar or my inbox. Our referral may come in a few weeks, or it may come in several several months. I am just taking that email as a sweet reminder of what God does when I decide to give up my pen and let him write.

Monday, January 9, 2012

where babies come from....

So after my usual 15 minute sit in Car-Line, I pick up my kindergarten cutie and she pops in the car with a smile on her face. We chatted for a second until a troubled look came over her....
Reese: "Mom, Lena lied to me today"
Me: "Really Reese? How so?"
Reese: "She told me that she came out of her moms bottom or privates. I told her that is not true, we come out of our mom's bellybuttons. But she told me NO, she is sure that she came out of her mom's bottom"
Me: (accidental outburst of laughter)
Reese: (face got sadder)
Me: "Oh Sorry Reese, I wasn't laughing at you, I was laughing about what Lena said."
Reese: "Well, is it true? I really want you to tell me"
Me: I proceeded to explain that it is true, sort of, we come out of our mommies privates.
Reese: You mean I came out of that circle in your bottom?
Me: Restrained my laughter this time... And again explained that is not the case and told her what happens.

Wow, the conversations that lie ahead of me.  
Luckily, John and I had a conversation a few months before that about always telling our kids the truth in a way that is appropriate for their ages. I failed my parenting test with my loud cackle that erupted when she asked me. I think our temptation as parents is to get defensive or mad or just shrug it off with a joke when our kids ask us hard questions.  I remember as a kid, I was allowed to ask any question. Drinking, sex, drugs, whatever. So I would ask my parents about things I heard at school. They made it a safe place instead of getting defensive about where I heard it, if I was thinking of doing it, whatever. I hope I am always an approachable parent...not a friend.... still a parent, but I want our kids to feel like our home is a safe place to ask tough questions and get true answers instead of "ask your dad" or a laugh or you'll figure it out. I have such a short time to speak into our kids lives. I hope we can be a place where they feel safe to talk about hard issues. I want to make sure we always discuss WHY we have the rules we have. I think we do our kids a disservice to just say "We don't drink, smoke, have premarital sex, cuss, etc" This is going to be years of discussing more so the why than just what the rules are. I read "Grace based parenting" a while ago and one thing stuck out to me from that book. That if we are a rule-driven parent, we will create either robots or rebels.  Robots are the rule-followers. They obey their parents mostly because they are people pleasers who don't want to disappoint. On the other hand, rule driven families who do not have an open safe place to communicate difficult things create Rebels. Rebels know the rules and want to push back because there is a limit to go beyond. 
John and I want to be intentional to shepherd our children to make choices. They do need to obey us, but it is always a choice.  Life is full of choices with good and bad consequences. When they face a difficult decision in life, I don't want them to hear my voice shouting rules in their head evoking either guilt or rebellion. I want them to have a foundation of a discussion of the consequences of that choice (good or bad) and know how to walk through a decision making process that will yield a good outcome in their life. I will not always be in their corner telling them which direction to go. I am trying to raise them to make good choices, even as a 3 and 5 year old. We do a LOT of our disciplining through choices (please read scream free parenting, by hal runkel for more on this!). It has brought me so much joy for Reese to start "getting it". The other night, she said "Mom, i really want to ask you for another piece of cake but I know that would be a bad choice because then I'd have a belly ache" One mini-success story in the multitudes of other not-so-shining moments, but with lots of prayer, discernment, and seeking out others who are doing it right, we will do our best to steward the kids we have been blessed with. 
And man do we need wisdom on that one!!