Dirty Boots

I read an article in Christianity today about a small town in North Dakota.  Their population has tripled over the last 10 years because of the oil industry.  This town has been flooded with workers seeking housing in a town that doesn’t have room for them.  There is no homeless shelter and the hotels stay booked weeks in advance.  Several churches have opened their doors for temporary housing for these workers until they are able to find a place to live.

I was thrilled by their Mayor’s comments.  First he mentioned that this was the perfect opportunity for churches to reach into someone’s life that might not otherwise have interest in religion.  He further told the magazine, “They (the workers) may not understand the whole process of trying God, but they will try the church.”

Everyone has this basic knowledge and pull to go to a church if they need assistance of some kind.  Even if they don’t “do” church, there is somehow an instinct to connect with a ministry if help is needed.  How much more should we as the body of Christ, or the “building” shine with big blinking, neon signs that read:
•    “I won’t judge you”
•    “I love you for who you are, right now”
•    “It is safe to talk to me”
•    “I survived, let me help you to survive”
•    “I honestly care about you”

Pastor Jay Reinke, another minister in the town said:  ‘A lot of people say, “Well, pastor, you can’t save the world.”  I’m not trying to save the world, but here’s a man standing in my office.  I can help this man.” We get so bummed out from the big picture of how impossible obstacles look that we can’t experience what is right in front of our face.  This town could easily have flipped out and refused to accommodate the new residents.  They could have viewed them as a looming mountain of despair.

Instead a few leaders focused on people and not situations, to be God with skin on to men desperate for basic human needs; shelter, food and more importantly acceptance.  The beginning of the article painted a humbling picture of the sun setting on a local church with a pile of work boots stacked outside the activity hall.  The heavy shoes were stained with oil and red dust.

That’s the perfect picture of humanity.  We are stained, tired old work boots BUT, they are left outside the activity building when we allow the Lord to stay in our hearts.  After all, he was looking for a place to stay just to be born.  When we allow Him residence in our lives, he doesn’t try to scrub us up, He just tells us to take off the old, dirty stuff, leave it and come in where life is being lived.

A Sweet Deal

Even though this is the age of technology, meetings, late nights at work, Facebook, soccer games, sub-divisions and networking; it’s really easy to feel lonely.  You may have hundreds or even thousands of contacts in your phone, email, and social networks.  You may be part of a large family that regularly meets for dinner.  You could be part of a mega church with thousands worshiping together weekly, but no one but you resides in your skin.  At the end of the day, when the noise shuts down and you crave those few hours of blessed rest, you alone are left with your thoughts, decisions and choices.

In 1 Peter 1:1-2 there is a precious reminder that none of us are overlooked, abandoned, misplaced or dismissed. I, Peter, am an apostle on assignment by Jesus, the Messiah, writing to exiles scattered to the four winds. Not one is missing, not one forgotten. God the Father has his eye on each of you, and has determined by the work of the Spirit to keep you obedient through the sacrifice of Jesus. May everything good from God be yours!

You may very well feel like an exile.  Maybe you feel insignificant or you have slipped from the Lord’s memory.  I know you are not alone in these feelings.  Depression is at an all-time high.  It can take medication, therapy, etc. to work through depression, but the biggest component of successful treatment is settling your mind on knowing that your Creator has His eye on you.

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you have been, what you have done, or even what has been done to you; our Daddy has our number.  He is a responsible parent (1 Peter 1:17) and wants our life to be energetic and blazing (1 Peter 1:13-16).

Let’s be honest, this is a hard concept to wrap our minds around, but allow me to take the pressure off—He never asked us to comprehend or understand it, just accept it as He offers.  It’s a gift. A gift is something given freely.  It’s a benefit, an offering…a relief.  In my opinion, we have a pretty sweet deal.  It cost God quite a bit to rescue us from this dead end life; do we realize how fortunate we really are?

Sixteen Candles

In a few days my husband and I will celebrate our 16th anniversary.  That seems like a really long time.  I feel like we are in a minority.  It’s hard to find anyone in today’s society that hasn’t been divorced at least once.

There are so many circumstances that warrant divorce and I certainly could not sit here and oppose it.  That is a decision made by the people involved.  Ultimately, whatever that decision is, it is between those families/spouses and God, not the rest of humankind.

I don’t want to appear as an advocate for or against divorce, I just really want to share from my personal experience about marriage.

At the heart of any comment I could make would be that marriage is the hardest thing I have ever done.

There are days when I don’t even want to be married.  I would be lying if I said otherwise—pick your jaw up; you know you have thought the same thing too.  I don’t always say the right thing.  Sometimes I don’t say anything which is worse than talking.  There are instances that I yell in anger.  I make bad choices and then blame the consequences I experience on someone else.  I pout; I whine and make those comments that grate Tim’s nerves.  I have bad habits, I embarrass him in public and I say I am reminding him of things so he doesn’t forget, but it is really just a disguise for nagging.

I huff and puff when he asks me to help him with something.  I mumble behind his back when he doesn’t do what I want him to do.  What I am doing is always more important that what he is doing.

I probably sound like a very difficult person to live with!  So, what is the secret to our marriage?  I am not perfect, but neither is Tim.  We are two people with different:   perspectives, tastes in furniture, music, clothes and sometimes even parenting skills.  Recognizing our differences and respecting them goes a long way in keeping us on the same page.  Is it easy? No!!  There are days I want to pinch his head off, but I know the same goes for his feelings toward me!

As young girls, we play with Barbie and watch princess movies.  We read fairy tales and dress like Cinderella for Halloween.  We start planning our weddings at age 5.  We are trained to think that our Prince Charming swoops us off our feet and we then live happily ever after.  Could this be a reason the divorce rate is so high?  Maybe, maybe not, but either way it is unfair for us to place those types of expectations on any man.  I should never look to Tim to complete me.  I am whole and complete because of God.  He is the only one who can fill the empty places and help me live to my full potential.

I am the total opposite of a Proverbs 31 woman, but I try every day to be a better person than I was the day before.  I’m not always successful, but that’s not an excuse for me to quit trying.

Tim and I have our ups and downs, like everyone, but as long as neither of us place unfair expectations on the other, we make a pretty good team.  We have certainly experienced the “worse” part of “for better or worse” from our vows.

Marriage is a full time job in addition to all the other things going on in our lives.  So why do it?  When your heart tells you that you don’t want to spend a minute without that person in your life … when your brain tells you that there is no other alternative than making this commitment… the butterflies in your tummy won’t go away… when you smile just thinking about them…when you know that you don’t expect him to be perfect and you know you aren’t either.

Saying Goodbye

Dealing with death is seldom easy for anyone. It can be especially hard for children to understand.  Or so I thought!  Last week, I was up mentally and emotionally preparing myself to say goodbye to my grandpa.  He had been in the hospital with pneumonia several times, but this time he seemed to not be able to kick it and come off the ventilator.  Sometime around 2 am on Wednesday, September 5th, he passed away while the song “I’ll Fly Away” played on the radio.  My granny, my mom, and my stepdad were there to see him off.

Now, I had already told my girls, who are four and eight years old, that Sam [which is what we called my grandpa] was sick and in the hospital. The next day I prepared myself to tell them that he had passed.  I actually Googled it so I had the right words and didn’t get into too much.  I found a very helpful article on babycenter.com that gave me some great tips and verbiage. There were actually two articles that I came across on their site that broke it down by age groups: preschoolers and school-age.  I sat them both down and told them that Sam had died.  My oldest’s response was, “Awe…..can I have a snack?”  My youngest wanted to know, “Who is Granny gonna have now?” (She meant who would live with Granny.) I told her that Granny has Scooter, her dog, that we would visit, and that Granny has friends too. And that was it. There were no questions after that. They handled that part well. I decided not to take them to the funeral home because I didn’t think the youngest would handle it well. My husband stayed home with them while I went.

The next day was the graveside service and we took them with us.  It wasn’t graveside actually… it was a service held in the mausoleum. On the way there, I explained what they would see. I told them about the casket being kind of like a big pretty box and that Sam was in that box but they wouldn’t see him.  I told them about the pallbearers and how they would roll the casket in the room, and someone would say a prayer and talk about Sam a little, and then they would pray again.  I also told them that they may see Granny and other people crying, and that was ok because Granny was sad.  We arrived at the graveyard and started walking towards the mausoleum. They were getting ready to pull the casket out of the hearse.  We stopped while they finished that part.  My husband was holding our oldest daughter’s hand and he said that she squeezed his hand at that point.  He was worried about them getting upset during the service.  He loves his girls more than anything!  We proceeded down to the family and stood outside while they prepared for the last viewing.  After that was done, we were led into the room.  The girls sat quietly. My youngest checked out all of the flowers that were on the walls and was amazed at how they got them all up so high.  While walking out, she looked up at me with her beautiful blue eyes and said, “I’m sure gonna miss Sam.”  I lost it there for a minute!

The rest of the day was filled with laughter and memories!  The girls know that Sam is in Heaven and have dealt with it well.

Are YOU in a Toxic Relationship?

Toxic relationships are detrimental to our overall health and happiness, yet so often, we just endure a bad boss, frenemy, or even an incompatible significant other. You may even have a toxic relationship with yourself—berating yourself, self-doubt, not treating your body right, or neglecting to go after your dream career. Or, perhaps you have a trying family member, which is tough because cutting them out of your life completely may not be an option.

I know this is heavy stuff, so when I was writing my first novel, Couple Friends, I wanted to examine but also poke fun at just one type of unhealthy relationship we allow in our life: ill-suited couple friends.

When doing research for my novel, I was amazed out how many ads I saw for couples seeking other couples for purely friendship purposes only (no kinky stuff!). It’s downright difficult to find other couples that both you and your partner enjoy because the dynamics are tricky.

Factors for Happy Couple Friendships

•    The guys have to get along
•    The girls have to get along
•    You have to like both the guy and the girl
•    Your partner has to like them both
•    They each have to like both of you
•    The non-couples cannot flirt with each other
•    You all have to enjoy doing the same things
•    Ideally, you are in a similar socio-economic class

When just one piece of this puzzle is off, it can make for uncomfortable double dates, but the reality is, we crave these types of “grown-up” interactions. We don’t always want to go out with a big group and be pulled in a bunch of different directions, but we also don’t want to only hang out with our partner every day (sorry, honey!).

Couple friends fill that need of guy time, girl time, and quality time with your partner all in one night. And some things are just more fun with friends, like white water rafting, celebrating a promotion or birthday, and definitely karaoke.

But think about how hard it can be just to decide where to eat when it’s just you and your partner. Now, throw in two more opinions and tastes. Better yet, if your group of couple friends grows, you might be dealing with three, four, even five couples with their own two cents.

The More, the Merrier?

When the group of couple friends gets that big, it’s even more likely that some of those personalities are going to clash, or one couple will be on the brink of breaking up or divorcing (hello, divorce stats) and start bringing their baggage out as they get more comfortable with the group. Talk about a downer.

You don’t want to be the couple that is shunned from the group, so you’re careful not to rock the boat. You try to make the best of it and just avoid the person or couple that makes you cringe because going out and finding new couple friends isn’t easy.

But just because someone was part of your past doesn’t give them the right to be part of your future. I’ve had couple friends that tried to force us to behave like a pseudo-family, with the same obligations, manipulations, and guilt trips that many of us experience from our real families.  Saying “No” once was never enough; we would get badgered until we changed our mind or the event passed.

Controlling=Toxic

Take a quick inventory of all the important relationships in your life. Are these people treating your right? Are you forcing your partner to hang out with people he or she doesn’t really care for? Are you filling up your social calendar because you don’t want to be stuck alone with your significant other, EVER? (Red flag! Red flag!).

Couple friends can be a wonderful part of life, and some studies show these types of friendships make our own romantic relationship stronger. But I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t just let any couple into your life. As with any friendship, you deserve to spend your time with like-minded, kind-hearted, and compatible couple friends.