Tita

I recently became a Nana for the first time.  My older, precious twin, Caleb, became a daddy in a less-than-traditional, but not terribly uncommon manner.  During the end of the pregnancy, before we knew with any certainty that He was related to us, we all experienced a gamut of emotions that were extremely difficult and exhausting.    

He was born a month early, under slightly scary circumstances.  (Did I mention that mama went into labor a full month early, on Caleb’s birthday?!)  Caleb decided that he wanted to be in the delivery room to support the baby’s mama and to witness his child’s birth with no regrets.  I remember when he asked me what he should do, I asked him if the baby turned out not to be his, could he recover emotionally.  He assured me he was fine. My mama’s heart wanted to help him make the right decision without emotions clouding things up, but that was just simply impossible.  Caleb was there when Charles was born and he even cut his son’s umbilical cord.  A few days after the birth, my son was informed that the paternity test would not be done until little Charles was six weeks old and the results typically take about six additional weeks to return.  This would mean that the baby would be around 3 months old before anyone would know who his daddy was.  The news was almost unbelievable to our family!  Waiting that long was not beneficial for anyone.

I’ve learned SO MUCH since this all began.  I found out that you can order a profesh paternity test online for about $120 or less and have the very reliable results in about 48 hours from the time the company receives it.  I learned that no matter how hard you try to stay neutral, when you are a 2 Mama and Nana, you are ALL IN as soon as you know that baby is your baby’s, in spite of your wise children doing their best to prevent your possible heartbreak.  I know the wonder of having another woman birth a clone of your baby.  I finally understand all the hype about how awesome it is to have grandchildren because you have all the fun with very little of the tedious day-to-day responsibilities.

Arlo looks SO much like his daddy – and quite a bit like his Auntie Hannah, as well.  Also, Arlo’s parents look like they could be related, so there’s that…  He was in the NICU for just over 2 weeks.  He was released from there the morning after we got the results that confirmed Caleb is his daddy…  interesting.  He and his mama then spent several days in the “Nesting” area of the hospital before they allowed them to go home, and she graciously welcomed this Nana and Papa for daily visits.  

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We received the paternity test results the day after Valentine’s.  Caleb came over so he and I could process together.  I prayed silently as he experienced the HUGENESS of the situation in every way imaginable.  He mourned the end of his carefree life.  He expressed deep shame and regret.  He questioned whether he could rise to this occasion.  He lashed out in anger.  He shut down.  He began to accept the responsibility of it all, and then, bit by bit, he gave in to the cresting dam of love he had been struggling to hold back in order to protect his heart, in case he wasn’t Arlo’s daddy.  At first it was just a little trickle of the acknowledgement of the wonder of it all, leaking out in the most beautiful and fragile way. I watched this grow into the new joy of fatherhood and all the possibilities that lie ahead.  I am humbled that I bore witness to this sacred moment in my son’s life.  I count it as one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Once he was on level ground, again, he showered and we headed up to the hospital to meet his son (my grandson!!!!).  This is when I got to witness another absolutely lovely and horrible moment in my son’s journey to fatherhood.  He walked in, worked his way around all of the cords and medical “stuff” so that he could pick up his baby and inform him that he was his father.  When about 20 minutes passed and it was time to change his diaper, Caleb told us that it was time for him to learn to do everything.  It was excruciating and glorious watching him almost drop Arlo while diligently and lovingly changing his little preemie diaper with three women looking on.  I could feel my son humbly saying with his heart, “I’m all in.  I’m your daddy.  I love you and I will do everything I can to make you feel loved and to make your life better.”  

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In the past almost 4 months I have watched my baby mature exponentially.  As soon as Arlo’s sweet mama had to return to her job, Caleb changed his schedule at work so that he could be with his son Monday through Wednesday each week.  He works double shifts Thursday – Saturday in order to do this.  He can change a diaper, swaddle and burp a little one with the best of them!  He can tell you, with amazing accuracy, what Arlo is crying about within seconds.  When they come over for dinner on Monday evenings, we all vie to hold him, feed him and diaper him to give Caleb support for our own selfish reasons, and I am always so proud of him for making it clear to everyone that he is the one responsible for his son’s care.  He doesn’t show up and step back while everyone takes care of Arlo.  He’s the kind of daddy I have prayed my sons would be.  I am proud of the way he has lovingly stepped up and fully embraced the responsibility of fatherhood in spite of the extra challenges it has brought into his life.  

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Lastly, I am thankful that he repeatedly forgives us for being so excited every time he  walks through the door with Arlo and we gush all over our sweet grandboy and treat him like an afterthought… 

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Honestly!!!  Can you blame us?!  Just look at that precious little face… ūüß°

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2, Fix You

I am learning the sweetest lesson that I would almost swear is changing my body chemistry and slowing down the aging process.  I am simultaneously trying not to regret spending so many years not living in this truth.

So much of my struggle comes simply from being a mama, but it seems to be compounded by my 2-ness.¬† I have always loved to help my husband and our children “figure out” how best to navigate all kinds of difficult situations.¬† If any one of them is in the midst of a mini crisis, there is nothing this 2-mama loves more than being needed, and if the tangle is between any 2 or more of them, well then I’ve always felt it is my responsibility to get right in the middle and help them to understand the other person’s viewpoint so that peace and love would once again be restored in our family.

ick.

Right?!

Recently, as we have been walking through this trying season in our family, I am seeing so clearly that satan wants division and isolation among us.¬† In the past, this would’ve panicked me and I would be in full-on mama-2-fixit mode.¬† I’d convince myself because of other broken relationship history that any conflict between my children could be permanent.¬† I’d be on high-alert for any harsh word or action, lest left unaddressed, would sever the ties that bind us so that reconciliation was impossible. I’d force myself, my husband and our children into conversations that none of us was anywhere ready to have, thus resulting in deeper wounding all the way around.

Often I would listen to one of my lovie’s¬† emotional assessments of a situation, all the while getting amped up about the other lovie who was clearly in the wrong!¬† Then I’d confront this “other” only to find out that I was only getting one side of the story, and in the name of reconciliation, I had jumped the gun, crossing several boundaries and hurting everyone in the process.

Holy Spirit has been unconditionally patient with my insanity.¬† He has¬†gently and consistently grown me in this area.¬† Initially, my first milestone, which was more work than I care to admit, was curbing my yelling (screaming) at my immediate family.¬† ¬†This is embarrassing, but the truth is, I lost my temper and turned into an insane banshee with my babies on a somewhat regular basis for more years than I care to admit right now.¬† This would happen for important and worthy reasons such as forgetting their schoolwork at home, not emptying the dishwasher when I asked them to, and their all time favorite:¬† when they would leave someone out, especially one another.¬† The amazing thing is that I can’t even remember the last time I went full-on banshee on anyone.¬† So, that’s a win.

My next goal was staying out of my grown children’s disagreements with each other and with their dad.¬† This was SO, SO HARD for me!!!¬† The interesting thing was that they asked me to do this and we all decided to make it a family rule, but when they would argue, someone would inevitably look at me and say, “Aren’t you going to say something?!¬† Why are you letting him/her say that without saying anything?!”¬† I also discovered that my children had become champion busybodies, thanks to my example, and staying out of arguments that didn’t involve them became a family goal.¬† So, that objective was not obtained as smoothly, but I’m grateful and proud to say that when 2 of us are having a spat and all of us are together, the other 3 stay quiet and refrain from taking sides 95% of the time.¬†

My latest ambition has been to stop being the fix-it girl. When my children share a challenging situation they’re dealing with, my mind is racing to think of the best solution for them.¬† Half the time, I’m not truly listening to what they are communicating, because I’m so busy trying to make it all better and be the hero! (insert another “ick”)

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I’m learning I should not attempt to solve the struggles in other people’s, especially my children’s, lives.¬† It is perfectly acceptable, nay, preferable to stay silent, truly listen and simply ask what they need from me.¬† I’ve found that in actively staying focused on what is being said to me, I can more easily wade through the emotion and opinions that feel like facts to him/her.¬† I don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions as much as I used to and that’s a double win, imo, because people don’t get hurt by possible untruths and satan can’t use this against me like he has so much of my life.

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All 5 of us are NFP’s on the Myers-Briggs, so there is no shortage of the feels in our family.¬† Learning to keep our emotions in check has been such a blessing.¬† We still have tiffs and we are not terribly calm or logical when things get heated, but we stay in our lanes most all of the time now, we listen to each other in a way we never did before and the banshee is gone.¬† I’d say we’re winning.

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Here We Go, Again

My babies are moving out soon.

Last year, in October, Hannah moved out, making our nest empty and I was ssstttrrruuugggggggggggllllliiiinnnggg for a minute.  

Then just as I was deciding this was an okay gig and I began to enjoy my clean home, inviting friends over for lunch, having dinner parties, being alone, not having to be concerned about how much food was in the house and all of that gloriousness, Aaron told me that he needed to move in with us for a bit to save some money to get a car. ¬†Then Caleb asked if he could take the other bedroom… the one that my Honey had just put my new desk in so that I could have my own office…

I’m a mama, through and through, so, of course, they moved in with us.

Our house has SO much stuff in it now, I don’t really do any cleaning unless it’s a health hazard – like a very serious hazard, because no space. ¬†Any. Where. ¬†

I know I will be a little emotional mess on the day they take their things to their new place. ¬†I’ll miss them. ¬†All things considered, we’ve gotten along really well and when we don’t, we communicate like grown ups, which has been sublime. ¬†I truly like our kids. ¬†They are good people, funny, loving, honest, generous, kind, and interesting. ¬†I’d rather spend time with them and their dad than pretty much anyone else in the whole entire anywhere.

But.

I’m SO looking forward to having my nest empty, again. ¬†

I’m incredibly thankful that God worked things out so that I could have this last little bit mothering my babies in my home in a healthier way than I was capable of mothering them when we all were younger. ¬†I feel like I got to know my aloof Tita in a way that I haven’t since he moved out of our home years ago amidst turmoil and mutual resentment. ¬†I was blessed to have conversations with my sweet Enu that have healed us and helped us see each other more truly. ¬†

It’s good. ¬†It’s kinda like we got a second chance to do this leaving the nest thing the right way. ¬†I know that everyone isn’t as fortunate and while I had accepted that things just happen that way when your kids move out most of the time, I am humbled that God allowed us to do this together with respect, love and healthy boundaries.

I’m also thrilled that in a month I’ll be having friends over for coffee and dinner parties, that I’ll have my house to myself and get to spend time writing in my office, and especially that my home will be much less cluttered and clean! ¬†I sure won’t mind being able to hang with my Honey – just my Honey!

I’ll have to adjust again, so that means I’ll be sad and feel a tiny bit lost for a minute. ¬†I’ll feel lonely when the house is quiet for too many days. ¬†But, this time I know I’m going to be okay. ¬†I’m more than a mama and I’m ready to get to know myself, to discover who I am now.

My nest is almost empty.

My life is full.

My heart is overflowing.

 

Family Secrets

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Every family has them, right?¬† It’s just how things happen in this American culture, especially in the generation before mine, which I often call the “sweep it all under the rug” generation.¬† My mother was a pro at this.¬† It always seemed so bizarre to me that she would preach to me about my siblings and I getting along better, when she kept so much from her own sisters.¬† I would argue that it wasn’t really getting along and loving if you didn’t really know one another, but it was an argument that never saw resolution, because my priority was being known and loved, while hers was having “peace.”

I remember when I was around 10 years old and a cousin told me that she had visited the cemetery with her mother and there was a headstone with the name, “Baby McDowell,” (my maiden name).¬† When she asked about it, her mother told her that my parents had lost their first child, a girl, when she was born.¬† I was blown away!¬† I had a sister!¬† I know it sounds ludicrous, but with four brothers and a mom who wasn’t super chummy with me, I was thrilled that I wasn’t alone on some 10 year old level.¬† When I went home to ask my mother about it, probably not with an abundance of sensitivity, I was met with such anger, I didn’t know what to do with myself.¬† She refused to answer any of my questions and told me it was none of my business and my aunt had NO business telling her daughter about it.¬† In the over 40 years since then, she’s never discussed it with me.

Later, as a young adult, I had to keep mum at extended family gatherings when another family member was in jail, for months at a time – not only once and not the same person.¬† My mother was adamant about this, so the rest of us fell in line and helped keep up the facade.¬† This meant telling our children to also lie to their relatives (because that’s healthy…).¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†When I tried to explain how uncomfortable I was, asking my kids to do this, I was berated for telling my children the truth in the first place, as if I had done something completely idiotic and detrimental to my offspring and my family of origin all at once.

¬†I was 19 and in college, dating the boy who would become my first husband, when I became pregnant and, as a result, had an abortion.¬† My husband and children are all very aware of what my experience was and how it’s affected my entire life.¬† While I wish this was not a chapter in my story, it is, and I believe the only way to change the trajectory of my children’s lives and their children’s lives, and so on, is to bring my secret sins out into the light and talk about what led up to and what happened because of those awful choices I made.¬† I can say with some disgrace and a bunch of freedom that I have been relentlessly upfront about my bad choices with my children and that the good that will result from my transparency far outweighs the shame I’ve experienced.¬†¬†

“But everything exposed by the light¬†becomes visible‚ÄĒand everything that is illuminated becomes a light.¬†14¬†This is why it is said:¬† ‘Wake up, sleeper,¬†rise from the dead,¬†and Christ will shine on you.‚Ä̬† (Ephesians 5:13-14)

With so many wounds, secrets and lies layered upon one another through the years, eventually my family of origin imploded.¬† Secrets of abortion, miscarriage, a shotgun wedding, an illegitimate child, affairs, stealing money, the list goes on.¬† It was both heartbreaking for me and somewhat of a relief.¬† The carnage is still scattered all over the place and I’ve collected all of the pieces of the implosion that I want to keep.¬† The ones I left behind are not pieces I want to include as I go forward.

The irony is that you’d be hard-pressed to find a family that doesn’t have these same or very similar skeletons in their proverbial closets, and yet, we all freak out and try to hide it when it’s ours.¬† THIS is normal.¬† We Sin.¬† We make terrible choices.¬† We are HUMAN.¬† The goal isn’t to get through with less embarrassing sin than your other family members or the neighbors.¬† The goal is to know each other and love each other through the good and the bad choices.¬† The goal is to take the bad stuff and help others to not take the same detours, because if we don’t use that junk to cause some good, what in the world is the point?!

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3¬†and provide for those who grieve in Zion‚ÄĒ¬†¬†to bestow on them a crown¬†of beauty
instead of ashes,  the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,¬†a planting¬†of the¬†Lord¬†for the display of his splendor.”¬† (Isaiah 61:1-3)

When my husband betrayed me several years ago,¬† I remember so many things going through my mind.¬† I felt horrible shame because my husband turned to someone else after I had tried so hard to be a great wife in every way I knew how. I did not want anyone to know about this and possibly take pleasure in it at my expense.¬† I reached out to our church and they connected us to another couple who had gone through something similar a few years before us.¬† They advised us to tell our children immediately.¬† We did NOT want our children to know anything – which is ridiculous when I think of how I didn’t leave my bedroom for 2 solid weeks and they must have heard all of the crying and screaming I was doing on the regular.¬† After a lot of prayer and some time, we took their advice and told our children.¬† We also shared with them that this had happened with other family members in the spirit of getting it all out into the light and moving forward in freedom.¬†¬†It was one of the most devastating nights of our lives.¬† I honestly didn’t think we would ever recover from all of the horribleness.

I’d love to tell you that we instantly became better than ever before, that once the truth was out, we all instantly forgave one another and moved on in perfect harmony.¬† I could lie, but then I’d be starting that crap again and what would be the point of this post?!¬† We did couple’s counseling, individual counseling, teenage counseling, and in the process of working toward health with boundaries and all the glitter, there was lots of fallout and sadly, some of it has not been resolved, yet.

I know one of the biggest reasons family secrets begin is because we are concerned about what other people think of us.¬† We want to appear better than we are.¬† I often refer to the time before the betrayal as our Stepford Family years because we worked SO hard to make it all look perfect – and by we, I mean me.¬† On some level (and this is where my 2-ness came into play, HARD.¬† * See Enneagram) I always believed that if I did enough for the people I loved, they would keep me in their lives because I wasn’t worth loving just because I was me.

SO, if you pour all you’ve got into being the perfect wife, then you finally burn out after 20 years and in your exhaustion your husband turns away because you’re not revolving around him anymore, all of your worst fears are pretty much confirmed.¬† Which is why I found myself rocking back and forth immediately after the discovery and chanting, “I always knew I wasn’t worth it.”¬† Satan had been whispering this into my ear my entire life.

In my diligent and often treacherous pilgrimage back to who I was always supposed to be, I discovered that I’ve always been worth it to My Father and that is more than enough.¬† As the layers of lies were peeled off of my self, my marriage and my family, I could finally hear the voice that mattered most, the voice of My Father.¬† Instead of the lies drowning Him out, His voice now drowns out satan’s lies.

Once I could hear His truth and accept His love, I was able to face my own “less-than-lovely’ traits and begin to work on replacing them with healthier tools.¬† This meant more counseling, attending a Destiny Project weekend, working through the 12-Steps (again), inter-healing prayer, revisiting boundaries and how they are healthy, and loads more time with Him throughout.

In the year after the discovery of the betrayal, I was betrayed by one of my oldest and dearest friends (the only one I shared this horrific news with), some people in my husband’s family began (and continue) treating me awfully, and my parents requested that I stay out of their lives forever (and so I do).¬† There were also many other incidents that were challenging during this period, and I can say it seemed more than I could bear at times, but mostly I had a peace like never before and because I FINALLY knew I was loved fully and unconditionally, I was able to not allow the rejection of me by other people’s brokenness to be my scale of self-worth.¬† It was all very painful, but I can now look back and see that God was preening my life.¬† In order to grow He has to trim away the unhealthy stuff, so that we can move forward without that unnecessary weight dragging us down.

In the past I would continue to insert myself into the lives of family members and friends regardless of how they treated me because I thought this is what good, christian women were supposed to do.¬† I have more broken relationships with extended family than I would like to have, but I know that this is a chapter in my life and theirs, not the whole story, and if I continue to be in My Father’s will and follow His lead, then things will work out just as they should.¬† Sometimes there will be reconciliation and sometimes there will not be, and in the meantime, He is growing me and preparing me for the next step on the path He has for me.

The other thing I want to say about bringing secrets out into the light is that you don’t have to share your stuff with the anyone who feels unsafe, especially if you are still working through the pain of it.¬† Mrs. Smith, down the street, doesn’t need to know that your niece had a baby out-of-wedlock, especially if she is prone to gossip!¬† But, if it’s about someone in your family, you should probs tell your family.¬† The thing is, that too often those family secrets affect the way we parent, or love, or live.¬† We may not even realize it, but once it’s out in the open and some time has passed, we may very well notice that we are living more from a place of freedom than ever before and that’s just better for everyone.¬† I often wonder if the reason my mom didn’t really seem to get close to me as a child is because her first precious baby that she lost was a girl and since I was the only other girl, maybe I reminded her of her profound loss.¬† Maybe that’s the reason it was easy for her to walk away from me several years ago over something very trivial.¬† I don’t know.¬† I probably never will, because family secrets.

The last thing I want to say about family secrets is:¬† Just ask.¬† Don’t do it like 10 year-old me probably did, but ask with gentleness and grace.¬† If you think there is a family secret that you should have knowledge of,¬† go IN LOVE to the person you think it involves and ask for the truth.¬† Help him/her bring it out into the light and then extend grace.

I’ve had people come and ask me about choices I’ve made with such grace that confessing to them was a blessing for both of us.¬† I’ve experienced other people coming at me with such judgement and condemnation that the only result was broken relationship and betrayal.¬† We’ve all sinned.¬† We all need grace.¬† When we remember that and approach the people we LOVE in humility, God can make miraculous beauty out of our messiness.¬† I know this because, many years after that horrendous night of bringing our devastating secret out into the light, my marriage is more authentic than it ever was and my husband & I have walked numerous others through this devastating journey to healing on the other side.¬† Our three youngest children will always carry the pain of that chapter of their lives with them, but they have chosen to use it to help others and to grow with a kind of dependence on Our Father that often only comes from walking through a period of anguish from facing hard truths.

While the temptation to have others see me as having my stuff together is always lurking, I don’t ever want to go back to living in the dark.¬† I know that living with my junk in the light is how I can best follow Jesus.¬† It’s where He lives and even when my junk is in the dark, He knows, RIGHT?!¬† In those moments of shame or rejection when I’m tempted to hide a detail or two, this thought will usually cross my mind, “HE ALREADY KNOWS!!”

¬† ‚ÄúGod, you know what I have done wrong;¬†I cannot hide my guilt from you.‚ÄĚ (Psalm 69:5)

– and it isn’t the fear of Him that steers me back onto the right path as much as the knowledge that living in truth and transparency is living in freedom.¬† Living with hidden secrets and festering heart wounds is a life of imprisonment.¬† I’ve lived there and while I struggle daily with how I appear to others, ultimately I want to be able to come to My Papa day after day, more and more in the identity He has for me.¬† This isn’t a straight road with no detours or break downs, but it is a well-worn path of persistence, humility and surrender with light and freedom along the way.

REVOLT

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                                                                                                                               -Tacitus

We look to our earthly fathers to tell us the truth of who we are. ¬†This is what God calls on fathers to do, and when they don’t, as is too often the case, we are left empty and open to every lie that we are told. ¬†We live in a culture that satan has chosen to attack in such a way. ¬†An entire culture can be broken generation by generation through weakening the fathers. ¬†I’ve witnessed this in my own upbringing by a man who scorned Jesus and gave into his own weak pride on the regular, regardless of how it hurt him, his children or his grandchildren. I wasted years tying my Heavenly Father’s loving hands behind His back, projecting my earthly father’s angry, disappointed face onto His.

I know very few people who honestly revere their fathers for genuine leadership and/or godliness.  I know some will read this and think I am seeking perfection.  I am looking for men who pursue God and His will for their lives with all they have because they took the time to experience an intimate relationship with Him and have some understanding of how great His love is for them.  These men will LEAD in HIS LOVE and that will change our culture generation by generation. 

Men who live like this will understand that women have a place beside them and that through this partnership, God will move mountains, change lives and heal our land. ¬†There will be no place for degrading women in pornography, disparaging pay, sexual assault, etc. ¬†There will be no place for racism. ¬†With men and women truly after God’s heart will come the truth that we are all gloriously different, but equal; we will finally celebrate our differences and reparations will occur with a new humility born of seeing one another through His eyes.

The demand for pornography and other sexual immorality comes largely from broken men, who were most likely broken as young boys.  We need men who will stand against this sin by coming alongside their brothers who are afflicted with this addiction, and help them bring it out into the light, so that they can be healed, and, in turn, come alongside those who remain in this sinful addiction.

We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with one another in love against those who oppress others, standing up for women, people of color and those who struggle with physical and emotional constraints.  This is how we win as a people.  We love like Jesus and we stand against sin as He does, without compromise or distraction.

Until there are more men who operate out of their love of and from God instead of their fear of losing money and power, hidden behind a shield of false godliness, we will continue to disintegrate, until we finally are morally bankrupt beyond repair.  We must raise sons and daughters who fall into His arms and turn to Him in every circumstance.  Knowing the Word is so important, but getting quiet with Him, professing our adoration of Him, and cultivating an intimate relationship with Him is where hearts are transformed and real world change burgeons.

Do you know how much He adores you? ¬†He waits for you and me, not just for an hour, or a day, or even just once. ¬†He waits for us over and again, with outstretched arms and unending love. ¬†He doesn’t turn away as we walk toward our sin. ¬†He is in the room with us, heartbroken that we are not choosing life abundant, ready to fight for us, if only we would turn from the sin we are pursuing, once again.

Make a plan to invest in your relationship with Him daily. ¬†Spend time pouring over His Word, full of rich wisdom, truth and love. ¬†Get quiet before Him. ¬†Cry out to Him. ¬†Invest in getting to know Our Father intimately. ¬†It’s the only way to start and win the Revolution. ¬†The alternative is much too grim and coming too quickly. ¬†It’s time for action.

timshel

Thou Mayest…

Freewill…

This brings SO many thoughts and feelings to my mind.

My tatoo

For a long time now, my youngest sons – twins, Caleb and Aaron – and I have been talking about getting coordinating tattoos. We discussed getting matching tatts, but decided it would be more meaningful to each spend some time praying about what our own personal version of that would look like. Ironically, Caleb was the first to decide – this is almost never the case. He is definitely my child. Almost every time we eat out, the rest of the group is waiting for Caleb and me to choose from the menu. ¬† We are just not quick to make decisions when faced with more than a few choices. When you add the permanency of a tattoo to the equation, I am just about dead in my tracks. Making a decision about the placement, size and design of a tattoo on my body simply overwhelms me. So, a couple of weeks ago, when Caleb said, “Let’s go get our tattoos SOON,” I was overwhelmed with all of the decisions this was demanding from me. I did some research and began putting together what I wanted mine to look like. Caleb and Aaron decided that they wanted “timshel” in Hebrew. Caleb wanted his on his knuckles and Aaron wanted a larger font of the same on the side of his forearm. I have recently discovered I have a love for trees, and I’ve always known I have a passion for words, so I decided to combine the two and to my delight, I remembered that several of the original book covers had a tree on them. ¬†Caleb’s color has always been blue and Aaron’s green, which is why I have the colored hearts/leaves on my tree.

              Related image       Image result for east of eden book cover tree

 

At this point you may be wondering what in the heck “timshel” even means, and moreso, why in the world would we all want permanent tattoos declaring this?!

I’d love to share the story with you because it is one of the ribbons in my life that I can trace back to my teen years in Byron, Michigan, where a teacher took the time to get to know me and recommended a novel that would have a great effect on my entire life. ¬†Andrea Broaddus was not everyone’s favorite teacher. ¬†She had a big personality and she called it like she saw it. ¬†She often called me out, but because I knew she was speaking truth and wanted the best for me, I did my best, as a teenage girl with my own big personality, to take in her advice and make healthy changes. ¬†I had just finished Sinclair Lewis’ Babbit and whined about how boring I thought it was and was just starting (and being a bit traumatized by) Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle¬†when Mrs. B. suggested I read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. ¬†She told me that there were many references to biblical characters and the story of Cain and Abel, which only dissuaded me from reading it. ¬†I had very little biblical knowledge at that point in my life and was in no way considering becoming familiar with the Bible anytime soon. ¬†But, as I said, I trusted her to see things in me and for me, so the next novel I read that year was East of Eden.

I was a bit of a drama queen back then. ¬†I typically liked to play the victim and give up when it concerned me. ¬†I would willingly fight for the people I loved, but my knee-jerk for myself was to make excuses and give up, often blaming others so that I didn’t have to admit I quit when things got too challenging. ¬†I was more a Cain than an Abel… or so I thought.

I was completely enamored with this novel. ¬†I couldn’t put it down and then I wept big mournful tears when I finished it. ¬†I prayed I would have a college professor who would assign it, just so I could read it again and discuss it with more people.

It never happened…

In my early-20’s I bought a copy and read it for the third time. ¬†I also located a copy of the original movie version with James Dean, as well as the modern version with Jane Seymour. ¬†After initiating my husband, I told him I would like to name our son, if we ever had one, Caleb Aaron. ¬†He agreed.

A few years later, I was pregnant and we agreed that if this baby was a boy, we would name him Caleb Aaron. ¬†And then Hannah Elizabeth was born, much to our absolute delight! ¬†We each had sons from our first marriages and now we had a daughter. ¬†We felt like our family was complete. ¬†We scheduled the vasectomy when Hannah was just 2 months old and a week later my dear friend lost her 4 month old baby girl on the night of her husband’s vasectomy from a botched prescription. ¬†The baby passed away in the daddy’s arms. ¬†I was a hormonal wreck after having Hannah, so I immediately canceled my husband’s appointment. ¬†In my emotional state, I was sure something awful would happen to our family if we followed through.

A few short months later, I began to feel awful – as if my previous morning sickness from my other pregnancies all returned in triplicate, and after doing 2 home tests that showed a pink line faster than ever before, I confirmed what I was afraid to believe because I had recently started teaching at my oldest son’s school – where I taught East of Eden, btw – and things seemed just lovely just as they were. ¬†I had been baptized while I was pregnant with Hannah and I decided to pray for patience, much to my believing friends’ dismay. ¬†They advised me to pray for wisdom instead, but it was too late… ¬†I soon found out that I had “two buns in the oven,” as my OBGYN told us at our first appointment where she had a feeling and did an immediate ultrasound.

My pregnancy was fraught with trauma. ¬†My dear grandma passed away in October just after she asked me which twin I was going to give her. ¬†She meant this as a tease because she had all girls and she knew I was overwhelmed with having ¬†2 older boys, a one-year-old and twin boys on the way, but I was sure that God was preparing me to lose one of my babies. ¬†A week after her passing, my OBGYN discovered I had complete placenta previa and I was placed on home bedrest for a little over a month before I began to hemorrhage late one night and had to go to the hospital for the remainder of my pregnancy. ¬†I was in that same room for 3 months, solid. ¬†I was not even allowed to be wheeled down the hallway or stand at my window. ¬†It was terrible because I felt fine. ¬†It was also the most wonderful time in my life because I had SO much alone time with Jesus. ¬†I was so confident of His leading in every step of that journey. ¬†When I began hemorrhaging and they told me they were going to do an emergency c-section that morning, I knew He had us in His hands. ¬†I truly believed I may lose one of my babies, and believed it would be Caleb, but I trusted Him completely and was as prepared as any mama could be to walk through this time to bring Him glory. ¬†I don’t think I’ve ever had that much faith since that morning…

As they rushed me down the hospital hallways, the people on all three of our teams (Caleb, Aaron and I each had a team of medical staff for the delivery) introduced themselves to me. ¬†As we talked, we began to realize that they were all connected to me in one way or another. ¬†Some of them were aunts or uncles of students of mine, some were related to people we went to church with, or knew other family members of ours, and all of them it seemed, were Jesus-followers. ¬†So, when we arrived in the delivery room, there were prayers going up all over the place for my babies. ¬†Bob was sent to get washed up and change into his scrubs just after they gave me that horrible shot in my back (UGH!). ¬†I laid back and remember feeling incredibly dizzy. ¬†I was bleeding uncontrollably and for just a minute, they lost me. ¬†When I came to, I had NO idea what was happening. ¬†My husband wasn’t in the room yet because they had kept him out during my little crash. ¬†I looked around and said, “I feel kind of awful. ¬†Can you let my husband in here? ¬†I just know I’d feel so much better if he was with me.”

Everyone chuckled. ¬†We were both still clueless. ¬†Then they let my Honey come in the room and I immediately felt better. ¬†He gave me a play-by-play, minus the blood and gore, of what was happening with our babies and my body. ¬†Both of our sweeties were struggling some and had to be incubated immediately. ¬†Aaron was biting at the umbilical cord and Caleb was struggling to thrive. ¬†After they took them down, my big, strong husband passed out cold into a chair I yelled for them to bring when I saw the look on his face. ¬†That’s when the remaining staff told me how I had flat-lined for a minute because I had lost so much blood.

Disclaimer: I admit I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t have an incredible near-death experience with Jesus talking directly to me. ¬†But I’m alive, so I’m good!

They wheeled me down to my room and would not allow me to see my babies until I could walk on my own. ¬†Therefore they found me on my cold hospital floor 3 times before my husband insisted on a wheelchair to take me down the next morning. ¬†They were the cutest little frog/chickens you’ve ever seen! ¬†Caleb’s incubator had a little card on it that said, “I’m the oldest” and Aaron’s said, “I’m the biggest.”

We spent the next 8 days gavage feeding them my breast milk and trying to get Caleb to thrive. ¬†Bob and I would sing, “Jesus Loves (Me) You” over and over in order to keep them awake to eat the 1-2 ounces they desperately needed to survive. ¬†Aaron seemed much more healthy until they came to tell us that we could take Caleb home, but Aaron had a brain-bleed that they had to keep a constant eye on. ¬†I remember running my thermometer under hot water to fake a temp so that they would let us all stay there together. ¬†It melted and broke open. ¬†So, I had to go home on the coldest day of that year with my teeny baby and leave the other one at the hospital. ¬†It was torture…

The following day they told us we could bring Aaron home. ¬†They said that since we had so much experience, he could go home for the weekend, but we had to bring him back on Monday to recheck and maybe be readmitted. ¬†Our church family prayed over him and on Monday his bleed was gone. ¬†The doctor did the test twice because he couldn’t believe his eyes.

One of my favorite memories of that time happened the day after we brought Aaron home. ¬†Hannah looked at me with her hands up on each side and said, “Where’s the more babies, Mommy?” ¬†She thought we were just going to bring a new one home every night, I guess!

We decided to name the boys, Caleb Robert and Aaron Patrick. ¬†I was teased for naming them symbolic names for Cain and Abel many times, but I named them because timshel, thou mayest. ¬†Caleb means¬†faithful, devotion, whole-hearted, bold, brave and Aaron means lofty, exalted one, high mountain. ¬†Caleb was one of only two people over the age of 20 to make it into the Promise Land. ¬†Aaron was Moses’ brother, the first of the high-priests of the Israelites.

What I love about Steinbeck is that he doesn’t leave his characters one-dimensional or simply good or bad. ¬†He shows us how God made us all with every possibility, if only we step into our freewill. ¬†We don’t have to be victims. ¬†We aren’t good guys or bad guys until we use our “timshel” to choose what to do and who we will be. ¬†When I was embarking on adulthood, East of Eden was the beginning of my journey out of self-sabotage and it helped me parent just a bit better than I would’ve without it.

When my children were teenagers, I gave them each a copy of this novel. ¬†I warned them that much of the story was harsh and even lewd, at times. ¬†They’ve known since always that the twins’ names came from my love for this story and the effect it had on my life. ¬†I never discussed the content of the story with them until their late teens or even recently because I wanted them to be who God made them and not be influenced by the characters in this novel. ¬†The interesting and often disturbing thing has been how similar our Caleb and Aaron have been during various seasons of their lives to their character counterparts. ¬†Sometimes this was so unnerving that I’d read it all over again so that the end of the story would comfort me and remind me how to encourage my children to develop all the facets of their personalities. ¬†The beauty in all of it is that through this powerful work and the influence of God’s unconditional love throughout their lives, my little miracles have grown into confident, loving and Jesus-following men who make my heart sing (most of the time). ¬†Of course they have struggles, as we all do. ¬†I’m not claiming perfection, in any way, but they’ve embraced their freewill. ¬†They are stepping into their own timshel and I am at peace knowing that because they are on this journey with Our Father, they will do amazing things in His name and for His glory. ¬†I’ve always known He miraculously allowed me to raise them, and didn’t take them almost 23 years ago, because He has a great plan for them and my joy comes from watching them walk in His will.

SO… it was time. ¬†We’ve been talking about getting “timshel” tatts for years, but I think we’re all finally embracing His unconditional love and trusting that we can walk in the freewill He’s graced us all with and take responsibility for our choices and our lives.

Timshel…

Caleb’s Tattoo:

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Aaron’s Tattoo:

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Wisdom…

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Abigail…

Are you familiar with her?

Her first husband was Nabal. ¬†He was extremely wealthy. ¬†He was a mean, sloppy drunk. ¬†His name literally means “fool.”

Abigail had to make amends to their neighbors on the regular because her husband was such an ornery cuss. ¬†The choices he made make it obvious that his number one priority was money and stuff – stuff that had value, which meant more money. ¬†He treated his wife much like angry drunks treat their wives in this day and age, with contempt and disrespect. ¬†My first reaction to this information was that of an upper-middle class white woman of the 21st century. ¬† I kept thinking, “Why in the world did she marry this guy in the first place? ¬†He was abusive, embarrassing, ¬†not attentive to his wife. ¬†What did she see in him and why, oh why was she still married to him?!”

Well… Abigail didn’t marry Nabal a few years ago. ¬†She married him in a time when men made the decisions about such things. ¬†Parents chose mates for their children based on their stations – how much land they owned, how much wealth their families had, etc. ¬†It wasn’t a really big deal if a husband took out his frustrations of the day on his wife, with his angry words and/or hands. ¬†Wives were acquisitions, more like property than partners, especially when their husbands were insecure and broken, as in the case of Nabal. ¬†The part that still confuses me is that Abigail loved and served the same God that I do, but her husband did not. ¬†My Bible tells me that Nabal was¬†a “son of Belial,” meaning he followed this false god ¬†who was known as a devil, and not at all the same God his wife served. ¬†Her actions and conversation in the Bible make it apparent that she was raised in a Jewish home with parents who loved God and trained her well in that belief, although, I can find no evidence of who her parents actually were. ¬†It seems strange that who her future husband worshiped wasn’t a deal breaker in her father’s decision. ¬†It makes me wonder if her parents had passed away or became destitute, and she had no other choice. ¬†By all accounts, Abigail was a beautiful, very wise and kind woman, so it’s not difficult to imagine why Nabal would marry her.

Her story goes something like this:

She was married to Nabal, who was despised by his community.  He was selfish, greedy and a volatile alcoholic.  There is no mention of any children between them.  He offended their neighbors frequently, and Abigail was known for wisely making amends without dishonoring her husband in the process.

During the time that Saul was after David and both were claiming to be King, David and his men were protecting Nabal’s livestock in the fields. ¬†During the time of festival, David sent word to Nabal, who was shearing the sheep David and his men protected, that he and his men needed food and he humbly requested that Nabal return the kindness and feed him and his hungry men. ¬†The response David received was insulting, at the very least. ¬†He indicated he didn’t even know who David was and suggested that he could be one of many escaped slaves.

Upon receiving this response, David, told his men to sword up because they were going to visit Nabal’s home, where they would kill his entire family and his servants and their families. ¬†One of the servants reported to Abigail what had transpired. ¬†She assured Abigail that David and his men had been wonderful protectors in every way, that Nabal had wronged them, and urged her to fix things or they would all perish.

Abigail quickly loaded up plenty of food for David and his men with her servants’ help and without a word to her destructive husband, rode out on a donkey to meet the hungry, angry men. ¬†I just love the way she got things done without a bunch of hoopla or drama. ¬†She saw the problem, and was SO connected to God and His will, she knew just what to do and how to do it. ¬†She intercepted the men and instead of arguing with David or justifying anything, she told him how much they were owed because of their hard work and protection. ¬†She bowed down before him, with her face to the ground. ¬†She connected with David by telling him she had been treated disrespectfully by her husband for years and that Nabal was a fool who was followed by folly wherever he went. ¬†She then prophesied over David the blessings that the Lord had for him in the days to come: ¬†becoming the true King, and a man who pursued God with all of his heart who would leave a lasting legacy. ¬†She reminded him that killing Nabal’s entire household would only mar his reputation and his future as a respectable king… Brilliant!! ¬†David and his men accepted her generous gift and he sent her home with a blessing over her.

Upon arriving home, her husband was very intoxicated and had guests over, so she decided to wait to tell him what has happened the following day when he would be fully present and less reactive from his alcohol consumption.  Upon waking, Abigail told him everything.  My Bible tells me that his heart failed him, he then turned to stone and about ten days later Nabal died.

When David heard the news, he rejoiced at God’s justice and then he sent word to Abigail that he desired to marry her. ¬†She went willingly, even happily. ¬†They had a son together and I’ve no doubt Abigail lived a much happier life than she did married to Nabal.

It’s funny. ¬†When I first starting studying her, I was shocked to realize that the Abigail who was married to Nabal was the same Abigail who was married to David. ¬†I just didn’t put it together. ¬†She was such a leader, wise, kind, strong, brilliant, and beautiful. ¬†I wish the Bible told us more about her life. ¬†That she stayed with her abusive husband until he passed away is quite a feat. ¬†That she worked so hard to keep their people safe and respectable is impressive.

I love that she didn’t play the victim in a situation that could’ve warranted such behavior, especially in the time she lived in. ¬†She didn’t become bitter or turn inward. ¬†She chose to think of others and see the big picture while putting out her very difficult husband’s fires pretty regularly.

Abigail challenges me not simply because she was kindhearted, wise, and possessed so many other virtuous characteristics, but more so because she was so connected to Our Father. ¬†This is where we find our wisdom because we seek His will and not our own human and often self-serving desires. ¬†This is where we see others through the correct lens and extend love and kindness without judgement and with humility. ¬†I know that I often try to feel overwhelmed by doing all of the right things at the right time in the right fashion. ¬†When I slow down and stop trying so hard to DO and I, instead, spend time BEing with My Father, the other things usually fall into place, and even when things get crazy (because things WILL get crazy for everyone here and there if you’re a human being), I’ve found that if I look to examples such as Abigail’s, I need only to be in regular, intimate relationship with Him to make wise and thoughtful choices. ¬†Choices that He leads me to are always best for me and for the situations I find myself in. ¬†I know this may seem like an oversimplification, but I believe that when I’ve struggled the most, I’ve been the farthest from Him. ¬†I get busy with the wrong things, I don’t make Him a priority, I sabotage my relationship with Him for various reasons, laziness, brokenness, busyness, etc. and then when the big junk comes, I’m trying to figure it out on my own or by asking everyone’s opinion, except My Father’s. ¬†Have you been there? ¬†I think we all have. ¬†Sometimes I beat myself up because I believe I shouldn’t still be wrestling with this at my age. ¬†That’s just where satan wants me, so it’s imperative that I pick myself up and spend some time with my Father who loves and forgives me without condition. ¬†I’m not Abigail, yet, but I’m thankful for her example. ¬†I’m His beloved daughter. ¬†I’m not a quitter and I’m no fool.

Modern Day Adam

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What kind of dad did you have? ¬†Not the face he wore in public, but the dad you had at home. ¬†Was he steadfast, loving, encouraging, generous with his time and attention? ¬†Did he love your mother tenderly, deeply and show you what commitment looks like? ¬†Did he play ball with you in the backyard, or board games on Friday nights? ¬†Did he work hard for your family, mow the lawn, take out the trash and provide for your family’s financial needs? ¬†Did he attend your school functions, your sporting events, and take you out for a “date” now and again, just so he could get to know you more intimately?

Do any of us have this experience?  Is it even possible?

My father loves my mother very much.  He wrangled us all up to clean the house on the weekends when my mother worked, so that she would come home to peace and be able to enjoy what weekend she had left.  He took me out all by myself once when I was 18 or 19 years old to a Chinese restaurant and I was beside myself.  He asked me questions and told me about himself as a young adult.  It remains one of my most treasured memories of my life.  My father and I have a very broken relationship.  He has been broken since his childhood and unfortunately, the brokenness has seeped into and affected his children and their lives in untold ways.

When I was very pregnant with our daughter, ¬†I was baptized. ¬†Just a year before that I began my serious search for Jesus. ¬†Even as a child, I had always been curious and when I delivered my first child seven years before my baptism, I also birthed a certainty that He was real – right there in the hospital delivery room. ¬†My husband and I were attending a little church in Michigan. ¬†I struggled with God for a bit, not willing to give up the “fun” I thought my life was full of, afraid of what following Him would really mean, but eventually, I gave in and asked Him to help me be who He wanted me to be. ¬†That’s when the real fun began.

I kept hearing about how loving Our Father was, but every time I did something wrong, I was sure He didn’t love me anymore. ¬†I would begin to “hide” from Him by skipping my devotion time more and more, by not praying as often, because I was pretty positive He wasn’t listening anyway. ¬†When someone asked me about my relationship with my earthly father, I began to see the connection. ¬†I was projecting the conditional love and rejection I expected from my human father onto my Heavenly Father, and since I can never be perfect or completely without sin, I was telling myself regularly that I wasn’t good enough to be loved by God. ¬†The tragedy is that, over that past many years since my self-discovery, I have found countless other Jesus followers who are struggling with the same thing, to different degrees, in their journey with Him. ¬†Their broken relationships with their fathers are having a significant impact on their relationships with Our Heavenly Father.

The truth is, I believe that if satan can attack and destroy the men in our culture, then he knows that eventually he will destroy our entire culture. ¬†He’s been at it since Adam in the garden. ¬†If we don’t have God-following men, who are willing to lay down their lives to pursue His will, then it all crumbles, doesn’t it? ¬†Children need fathers they can look to for a godly example. ¬†Wives need husbands of integrity to lead their households in deep abiding love.

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So, what’s happened? ¬†How did we end up with epidemic proportions of families broken and wounded by husbands & fathers who have physically and emotionally abused them, who have betrayed their wives, who are addicted to pornography, who are more concerned about the approval of their co-workers than their families?

Is it that men are just jerks?  Selfish, weak, cruel?

The Bible says, “… each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33) (Emphasis added by me).

I’ll admit to you that I struggle with this at times. ¬†When my husband displays his weak and very human qualities, I sometimes resent that he isn’t a little more Christlike (because I always am. ¬†HA!). ¬†I have this American idea in my head that he’s supposed to earn my respect. ¬†God, through Paul, made it very clear that I must respect my husband regardless of my current mood. ¬†It’s how He made men. ¬†They require unconditional respect. ¬†He infused me with a need for unconditional love and if I had to earn it from my husband or the other people I hold dear, I would be an empty shell. ¬†I know the deep and lasting wounds of feeling like I can never be enough and being unlovable because of my relationship with my earthly father. ¬†I am often not very lovable. ¬†The irony of my marriage is that for many years now, my husband loves me unconditionally and with abandon. ¬†He continually reassures me that I am worth loving, even when I am being ugly and seemingly unlovable.

We are inundated with examples of alpha females and beta men in television shows, books, and movies. ¬†Are we really surprised we’re all beginning to follow this example?

This first struck me years ago when I was watching an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” with my husband. ¬†We were laughing uproariously at Deborah rolling her eyes at her t.v. husband, Ray, doing something childish and selfish, and frustrating his wife, as well as once again choosing to placate his mother, while his wife felt taken for granted. ¬†It suddenly wasn’t funny anymore. ¬†It hit too close to home and I felt as if I had stopped drinking the kool-aid and was seeing how harmful this mentality is to our culture at large. ¬†Yesterday, as my husband and I were watching “The Big Sick” at the Alamo, Ray Romano was playing a very similar role, and it reminded me, once again, how saturated our culture is with “dumb, juvenile husbands” and wives who tolerate them, as my fellow movie watchers continually laughed at this dysfunctional relationship on the screen. ¬†We are products of our environment to a large degree.

This is one of the main reasons we decided to disconnect our cable several years ago. ¬†I did not want my children taking in the normalized version of men on the regular, nor did I want that for my husband and me. ¬†While I’m aware it makes very little difference to the networks, I still couldn’t be comfortable with paying for something that was so destructive for my family. ¬†I wonder when exactly this trend began. ¬†Mr. Brady was a wonderful father who loved his wife and was respected by her and their children. ¬†He had faults, but he was a good guy. ¬†In the 80’s, the only show I could find that fit the theme and may have started this trend was “Married with Children.” ¬†Shows like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Mr. Belvedere” had strong male leads with strong women as well. ¬†Unfortunately, money voted for imbecilic men and strong, disgusted women, so this is what we see on the screen, by and large.

Here’s another theory of mine: ¬†Perhaps the mamas and daddies of the previous recent generations were raised by dictator fathers and so, on some level (consciously or unconsciously) they raised sons who are more relational, but display less leadership qualities.

I know that there are people who want to blame this on the feminist movement, but I don’t think women wanting to be leaders is a negative thing. ¬†I think the Bible has many instances of strong women. ¬†Jesus treated women with dignity and respect. ¬†I believe it is a twisted male need for control that ignores Jesus’ example of the role women should fill in our society. ¬†But, this topic is a whole other blog…

So, I want to stand against satan and protect my family, protect my husband.  My part in that is to speak out when I see disrespect for men being awarded.  I need to work harder at treating my husband with UNCONDITIONAL respect.

Also, I need to support movies when the lead is a strong, loving, leader. ¬†So, I should tell you the “The Big Sick” has this. ¬†Kumail Nanjiani is kind of the anti-Raymond and the story is based on his real life, so that gives me hope. ¬†He isn’t perfect, but he steps up and stands up. ¬†He’s a man with hard-won integrity. ¬†I like that.

The Bible says, “… each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33) (Emphasis added).

So… ¬†in my experience, when we submit to His ways, things typically fall into place. ¬†Also, His ways usually are much easier said than done for this girl. ¬†That’s not me making excuses, that’s me admitting I’ve got a long way to go. ¬†But, I’m going… ¬†and I’m going to keep reminding myself how blessed I am to not have to earn my husband’s unconditional love. ¬†I’m also going to remember that even if he didn’t love me so completely, I am still called to respect him unconditionally. ¬†There’s no “if” in Ephesians 5:33…

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