Faith, Life, Relationships

“I’ve Got This”

Uplifting Hero by JD Hancock on flickr

There are pictures that continue to haunt you long after you’ve turned the page or clicked away from them.  You can see them with your eyes shut.  And, somehow, these pictures work their way through your optic nerve straight into your heart.

Last week I saw one of those pictures.

At first, when the image popped up in my Facebook feed from a couple of friends’ status updates, I thought it was just a funny little boy doing what funny little toddlers do.  I thought he wanted to stay at the beach, so he was lying in the sand in protest.  What a shock, then, to realize that it was no joke. 

The little boy was dead.

He was three years old.  I have a three-year-old.

He had been in a boat fleeing, with his family, from the devastation of his homeland; the boat capsized, and he drowned.  His Mama died, too.  And his brother.  And there is nothing – nothing – that can make that whole story OK.  There’s nothing that can make it settle for me.

Later I saw a picture of his Dad – this grieving, broken man – and I read the comments on social media; sentiments ranging from ‘we all have to help, somehow’, to ‘why do we care about something that’s happening so far away when we’ve got enough problems in our own backyard?’, and even people questioning whether or not we’d even want to welcome those refugees into our country.  I was compelled to add a comment of my own:

At what point does it stop being about where people are from

and start being about the fact that they are fellow human beings?!

We’re living in such a broken world!  There’s so much division between people – barriers we’ve created based on race, language, beliefs, culture, status…  We have forgotten that we are all God’s children.

At times like these we could really use a hero, you know?  If we were in a movie, the action star would show up around now – all muscle and machine-guns – and declare (to our breathless relief), “I’ve got this.”*  He’d coolly sort out the bad guys and set the good guys back on their feet and everyone would live happily ever after.

We want a hero like that.

That’s what the Jews were looking for, as well.  A couple of thousand years ago, they were ready for a hero to walk in and sort things out.  The Jewish people had been living under Roman rule for a while (even if in the guise of a Jewish ruler – the Kings were appointed by Rome), and they longed for the promised Messiah.  They were pretty sure they knew what they wanted in this Messiah, too: he’d swoop in wearing battle dress and lay waste to their enemies, declaring the Jews the victors and heirs of this magnificent inheritance he had restored to them along with their Promised Land.  He’d be a great, charismatic, political leader of royal descent, and he’d ‘execute justice and righteousness on the earth’.  In short, the Messiah would step in and tell everyone, “I’ve got this.”

As it turned out, though, the Messiah was not what they’d expected.

They wanted a warriorhe was a lamb.

They wanted a judge – he submitted himself to judgement.

They wanted a redeemer for the Jewshe redeemed us all.

Jesus came in and turned everyone’s expectations upside-down.  They wanted revenge, but he preached ‘Love your enemies.’  They wanted him to fight – but he submitted himself to death, instead.  They wanted him to be the powerful, charismatic leader of the people – but he was the meek and humble servant of all.

So, Jesus wasn’t the type of hero who’d declare to an adoring crowd, “I’ve got this.”  Instead, he simply demonstrated – to his disciples, to his detractors, and to all those who just showed up out of curiosity – how to live in the understanding that God has ‘got this’.  He showed us how to have faith, how to have hope, and (perhaps most importantly) how to love.

God has got this.

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

– Isaiah 41:13

The same God who said that to the Israelites almost three thousand years ago is saying that to us now, too. “I will help you.”  I’ve got this.

Emboldened by this belief, we need to act. What we need to do is what Jesus did: we need to demonstrate our faith – in God and in humanity – and our hope, and our love.  We need to do the little things that make a big difference.  We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world around us – doing God’s work, according to God’s good purposes.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

– Romans 8:28

We can be reassured as we trust in God, because we cannot see the big picture – but He can.  Imagine the infinite nature of space and time… but, we can’t.  Let’s just imagine, then, that we are but a particle on a stitch on an enormous tapestry… We have some vague idea of the array of colour and pattern in our tiny portion of that giant work of art but we cannot fathom what the whole thing looks like.  Ridiculously, we couldn’t even tell you whether we’re part of an ant’s foot or a flower’s petal or even a steaming divot; however, because we trust in the hope described for us in God’s Word, we know that we are a part of whatever it is ‘according to His purpose’.

God’s purpose is, ultimately, that we should live in relationship with Him – and share in His son Jesus’ inheritance of eternal life when our time on earth comes to an end.  Therefore, let us partner with Him in the world.  Let us ‘seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly’ amongst our fellow men.

I don’t want to ‘get over’ the shock of that devastating image I saw last week.  I want it to move me into action, trusting that ‘God’s got this’, and that He has called me ‘to this good purpose’.

John Wesley’s Rule:

Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.

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*[I’ve got this – meaning, ‘I am going to handle this situation’]

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A Note from Trix:

If you have been moved by the refugee crisis, but you don’t know where to start, here are some ways of making a difference:

Be encouraged. God HAS got this.  Watch and listen for some inspiration: ‘Come to Me

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Faith, Life, Philosophy, Relationships

Have Courage, and Be Kind

The Kindness of Strangers by Darinka Maja on flickr

I sit here in the golden light of evening, wrapped up snug and warm in my duvet.  I’m holed up in my room for some quiet writing time, and it feels like bliss.

I haven’t been finding enough time for writing – not enough for writing blog posts, anyway, although I’ve been working on a piece for a local publication.  When Westley ushers me out of the chaos of boy noise and action and into the sanctum of this quiet space to collect and record my thoughts, I know that he cares.  He understands what it means to me to have this time to process feelings, thrash out ideas, and write, write, write.

And the thing is, the more I feel cared for by West, the more I feel connected with him.  So even though I am here, far from the madding crowd (as it were), and he – bless him – is in the midst of it, our connection is nurtured.

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A week or so ago, we watched Disney’s latest ‘Cinderella’ movie.  In the film, the protagonist Ella’s dying mother gives her an enduring piece of advice:

“Have courage, and be kind.”

This motto, which Ella puts into practice throughout the movie, resonates with me.

The necessity of the first part of this counsel is evidenced throughout the trials and challenges of life; if we are to chase dreams, pursue goals, and follow our hearts, we will undoubtedly encounter obstacles along the way.  Having the courage to face and overcome those obstacles is key to both success and happiness.  Not only that but, although we don’t always realize it, having courage is often a necessary step towards connection with others.

It takes courage to approach people we don’t know – even if we imagine that some of them might have the potential to become our friends.

It takes courage to show empathy to those outside our immediate sphere.

It takes courage to meet people where they’re at (and, for me, that includes having the courage to drive new roads and tackle traffic in unfamiliar areas!).

It takes courage to perform, speak, or play in front of people.

It takes courage to make ourselves vulnerable in sharing our hearts.

But each of these things, if we summon the courage to do them, can lead us into a closer relationship with those around us.

I remember, on my first solo trip overseas as a young adult, meeting another young woman on the Tube from Heathrow.  We were similarly adorned with large backpacks and other carry-ons; but whereas I was journeying into my adventures, she was returning home from hers.  We got to chatting, as you do, and she shared with me how excited she was to see her family again, but that she felt it was so important that she’d been brave enough to head off and go travelling on her own.  She said, “I was so scared to leave, but I realized that courage isn’t doing something without being scared – it’s about doing something you need or want to do in spite of the fear.”

That wise young backpacker – she was probably a decade and a half younger than I am now, but she’d got it right.  Being courageous doesn’t require us to be fearless; it requires us to do the important thing even when we are afraid.

And as for kindness, well, it has been on my heart lately to write about the symbiosis between caring and connection.  Everywhere I look, I see the one leading to the other, and it is a beautiful thing.

A while back, I heard the story of Tinney Davidson (as depicted here in a Canadian TV news segment).  Mrs. Davidson is in her eighties.  When her husband retired, the two of them began a habit of waving to the high school students as the teens walked by their living room window en route to and from school each day – and pretty soon many of the students were waving back.  Her husband passed away some time ago, but Mrs. Davidson has continued her practice of greeting the students walking by her house.  She makes a point of being there to see them.  This elderly lady has shown caring, simply by making a point of greeting these kids, and the result has been a connection that runs deeper than either she or the teenagers could have anticipated.

Then there’s that Thai life insurance commercial – you know the one?  (It’s here if you’ve missed it.)  In the video, we see a young man going about his day.  On his way to and from work, he performs one small act of kindness after another: he pushes a parched plant under a dripping gutter; he helps a vendor push her unwieldy cart across the road; he shares his lunch with a stray dog; he reaches into his wallet and pulls out one of the few bills within to give to a begging mother-and-daughter; he hangs a small bunch of bananas on an elderly neighbour’s door handle.  And at the end of the day, this generous man sits down alone to a simple meal of boiled rice.  He is not rich; but we see by the end of the video that he has cultivated relationships with those around him – his wealth is in the connections he has forged through his kindness.  And he has made a true difference by caring; the poor beggar-woman has been able to send her daughter to school.

It’s such a simple video, and yet it has gone viral – it touches people profoundly.

The reason kindness is so powerful is this: we are all LONGING to connect.  Kindness is a means to that connection. (It is, too, an expression of love – and a response to the goodness with which God has blessed us – and the fringe benefit is that we become more deeply connected with others through it.)

We all need relationship.  Oh yes – even introverts.  Even if you connect with others and then need to retreat from the world to regain your sense of equilibrium, I’ll bet that, deep down, you still covet connection.

I take, as further evidence of this truth, the enthusiasm with which my little gang of boys and I are greeted as we arrive on the path to school.  One little boy, who’s accompanied to school by his loving Grandma, leaves her side to make a beeline for our party when he spies us.  He hops off his scooter and slows his pace (and ours!), as if to draw out the time until we arrive at the schoolroom; and he always has something he wants to chat about.  He looks up at me, eager to share some little nugget of news or other.  Why?  He wants connection.  His Mama is working in the morning, but he’s still craving that Mama-time – and I’ll do in a pinch.  He’s not neglected – no doubt he’s loved and cherished by his parents as much as our boys are loved and cherished by us – but he has a specific need for a mother’s nurture.  I recognize it, because my boys have the same need – and that’s why our morning walk and hang-out time before school is so precious to me.  If I were working away from home at that time, I’d hope that another Mama would understand their need for reassurance and show them just a little bit of kindness to fortify them for the day ahead.  Eye contact, a pat on the shoulder, a listening ear, and an encouraging word as they head into school – it’s a simple thing, but it makes a big difference.

Another boy joins us for our walk home.  He makes a point of checking in with me and asking us to wait while he fetches his scooter so that he can walk home with us – even though we only go a portion of the way with him.  This boy is ten – not yet old enough to be left on his own, and yet (by necessity of his situation) he does spend a lot of time at home alone.  He’s mature, worldly (possibly rather too sophisticated for his age), and very self-assured.  And yet this child, too, craves connection.  He is thirsty for a mother’s attention, because his own Mum has to be at work to provide for him.

It is a small kindness to notice the people in our lives who need us to share a bit of ourselves.  The old lady whom we see through her window, sitting alone in her living room – or the young teenagers, alternately unsure and cocky, striding along the sidewalk outside our house.  A young man who dines alone each night – or the poor woman who’s desperate for the means to allow her daughter to attend school.  The little boy who needs a stand-in for his Mummy at the beginning of the day – or the older boy who just wants to connect with a caring adult before he heads home to an empty house.  Even my very own boys, clamouring for my attention and trying my last nerves at the end of a busy day.

The reward for this caring is connection.

Have courage, and be kind.

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What situation in your life is demanding your courage, your caring, or your kindness?

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Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that connection is very important to me.  I’ve just set up a new way to connect with my readers, too: if you’re on facebook, head along to my new fb page: [https://www.facebook.com/autocratricks]  This is my new way to notify friends of the latest posts and to share more informally with my readers.  Thanks in advance for checking it out, and for ‘Liking’ and sharing it!

– Trix

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Faith, Grace, Life

On Not Being Spat Out

Cliff by Zach Werner on flickr with text added

My toddler’s behaviour has epitomized the ‘terrible two’s lately.  He (D) is climbing too high; ignoring instructions; disobeying rules; and just generally pushing the boundaries with everything.  At the same time, he is SO affectionate and so funny and so totally loveable (speaking with absolute bias, of course) that we think him adorable even while he’s challenging our patience.

Because D is a sly button-presser, I have to keep an eagle eye out when he’s in the kitchen to avoid an unwanted extra dishwasher cycle.  And because he’s fascinated with dipping his hands into cups, I have to keep hot drinks well out of reach.

One of my sisters-in-law visited for tea the other day, and D hovered next to her teacup.  It was no longer hot enough to burn, but I did want to avoid any mess and embarrassment.  I warned him, “No touching!  Keep your hands out!”

And he obeyed.

He didn’t touch.

Instead, he leaned forward and, with expert aim, he spat an entire mouthful of milk right into her teacup.

My sister-in-law was the mirror of me as we simultaneously clapped our hands over our mouths, eyes wide in disbelief.  But as the shock wore off, our shoulders started to shake.  What could we do but laugh?

The thing is, D wasn’t spitting because he didn’t want his milk.  He was spitting to see what would happen (and I made sure to explain later that we can spit in the sink when we brush our teeth, but it’s NOT OKAY to spit in people’s tea!).

Recently I read an article that reminded me of a verse in the Bible that talks about not being spat out.  The spitting in this case is a sign of God’s disgust with wishy-washy faith:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

-Revelation 3:15-17

In his commentary, Matthew Henry expounds on these verses thus:

Lukewarmness or indifference in religion is the worst temper in the world. If religion is a real thing, it is the most excellent thing, and therefore we should be in good earnest in it; if it is not a real thing, it is the vilest imposture, and we should be earnest against it. If religion is worth anything, it is worth everything; an indifference here is inexcusable: Why halt you between two opinions? If God be God, follow him; if Baal (be God), follow him. Here is no room for neutrality.

In short, we are to take a stand for what we believe in.  (And this is what the article I read was talking about.)  But how do we take a stand in a way that is honouring to all aspects of God – how do we respect his law and demonstrate his love?

It’s easy to see what not to do.

Westboro Baptist Church and its followers stand for the law and ignore the love.  They’ve obviously got it wrong.  On the other end of the spectrum you have the churches who preach that love is all that matters, and they ignore the law.  This is wrong, too.

Both are unbalanced views, and both are unbiblical.

What does being a Christian require of us?  We have to look to Jesus for the answer.

Jesus didn’t ostracize those living outside the bounds set by God’s commands – he didn’t get up on a pedestal and just denounce, denounce, denounce.  He didn’t try to motivate people to change by warning them that they were going to go to hell if they didn’t.  Jesus didn’t spew hate and he didn’t withhold his love from those deemed unworthy under the law.

He also didn’t endorse the views of the lost – he didn’t discount the error of their ways; he didn’t go up to the woman at the well and say, “Well, your husband was probably a lout and impossible to live with!  He practically drove you into the arms of that other man!”  He didn’t say, “Zacchaeus, you probably had very good reasons for collecting extra taxes to fill your personal coffers, and I’m not going to judge you for that.”

Instead, Jesus walked alongside sinners.  He loved them.  He spoke Truth to them.  He didn’t wait for them to change their ways or behave perfectly or even to confess God as Lord of their own lives before he gave them his attention and offered them his grace.  He healed and he restored.  And he told those newly-minted whole people – those sinners he had healed from their brokenness – “Follow me;” “Go and sin no more;”; “”Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.“.  He didn’t say, “Don’t go changing, now!”

The Truth is that God’s love changes us.

There once lived a man called Saul.  Or perhaps that should more correctly read, there twice lived a man called Saul – because once Saul had encountered Christ he was a different man.  Saul was a Jew, and a conscientious one at that.  His job, in fact, was in rooting out blasphemers and heretics; and his focus was on a new sect that had recently cropped up: followers of Jesus, also known as ‘Christ’.  As far as Saul could see, this was a dangerous new philosophy that needed to be stamped out through swift and severe action – and he was doing his level best to ensure that these followers of Christ were stopped before they could spread their messianic views any further.  He was dogged, determined – and devout.

And then he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

The Saul (henceforth known as Paul) who emerged from that encounter was just as dogged, determined, and devout.  But his focus had shifted 180 degrees.  Now, instead of working to cease the spread of Christianity, he aimed to increase it.  He moved from persecuting Christians to proclaiming Christ as Lord.  Why?  Because God’s love – in the form of Jesus Christ – had changed him.

He was transformed.

Almost every time Jesus exhorts his believers to ‘come, follow me’, he precedes that invitation with an instruction about what they need to release in order to do so.

In Saul/Paul’s case, he had to let go of all of his preconceived ideas about Jesus and followers of Christ.  He had turn his back on convictions he had carried through to death (not his, but those of so many believers), and turn towards a new conviction of the truth of Jesus’s resurrection (which he also carried through to death – this time, to his own eventual martyrdom).

Jesus knew that the young man was willing to abide by the law but not by the love – the young man’s heart wasn’t in it because he was unwilling to give up his home comforts for the promise of God’s reward.

  • Jesus called Peter to step out in faith – literally – and join him in stormy seas.

“‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”

Peter had to leave the boat.  He had to trust in Jesus’s ability to literally support him – and, when he believed, his faith provided a firm foundation for his feet.

Take my yoke upon you.  Faith can be a burden; but in Christ’s strength we are more than fit to carry that burden.  We are called to release our need to be in control over our lives and give up this freedom to accept the Freedom that is in Christ Jesus.

We are changed by faith.

The world at large doesn’t know this truth.  In an age where everything is relative, personal choice is king.  Further, there is an expectation that whatever those personal choices are, they are right.  And good.  And uncontestable.  There is a pervasive sense of this supremacy of personal choice and of the idea that if anyone doesn’t agree with someone else’s personal choice he is being hateful.  According to this new line of thinking, if I don’t support a woman’s ‘right to choose’ or hang a rainbow flag out my window then I must be passing judgement on everyone else, no matter how vehemently I deny it – and no matter how much I love the woman who has to make an impossible choice and the ones who endure hate because of their sexual orientation.  The world tells us that we have to agree with everyone in order to love them, but that is a fallacy.

I parent differently from how some of my friends parent – don’t we all, by necessity, make choices based on our own situations, our own research, and our own instincts??  If I choose not to let my kids ‘cry it out’ does that necessarily mean that I stand in judgement of my exhausted friend who chooses to try that approach in order to save her sanity?  If I believe that a meatless diet is healthiest for my family, does that mean that I hate those families who aren’t vegetarian or vegan??

No.  Not at all; disagreeing does not equal disliking.  Lack of assent does not equal lack of love or respect.  Believing that faith necessitates change doesn’t equal hypocrisy, even when it’s a belief held by a still-imperfect person.

Jesus loves sinners in spite of their sin (in spite of our sin).  We love others because Christ first loved us – not because they are married or single; gay or straight; religious or secular; or carnivorous or vegan, but in spite of those designations.  I love my friends in spite of their agreement or disagreement with my beliefs, and regardless of my agreement or disagreement with theirs.

But because of these differences, I have – at times – muzzled myself.  I have erred on the side of caution in sharing my views for fear of appearing unloving; because in this world, disagreement is taken for hatred.

I wonder, though, how much this is deference on my part – and how much it is cowardice.

A short while after I read Matt Walsh’s rousing exhortation to Christians to stand up and be counted, I read an article that cut me to the core.  This article, written by Ann Voskamp after a trip to Iraq to meet displaced women and children, is a raw and powerful portrait of the destruction wrought by Isis (and perpetuated, I fear, by the indifference of so many in the rest of the world).

Persecution is happening now.  Discrimination is happening today.  Prejudice is happening alwaysMothers are having to choose which children to bring and which to leave behindCan you imagine??

The world tells me that I am unloving if I disagree with someone.  But how loving is it that we ignore the slaughter of Christians in other parts of the world and the displacement of so many?  How loving is it to ignore the enslavement of their children?  There is a modern-day holocaust going on in the Middle East, and we are tip-toeing around for fear of offending*.

We are (correctly) outraged at the description of events in WW II – the idea that so many people sat idly by while Hitler moved brutally forward with his plan to exterminate Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone else who didn’t fit into his ideal.  And yet we ourselves sit timidly by as a slaughter takes place a continent removed from us.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

And so I am not going to ‘do nothing’.  I am not going to be lukewarm.

Law and love are both central to living as Christ lived, and I cannot apologize for that.  Jesus honoured the Sabbath, but he also healed on the Sabbath.  Jesus embraced sinners, but he also expected sinners to release their sin in order to follow him.

It is not loving to pretend that we sinners are just okey-dokey if we keep sinning wilfully.  “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Finding faith has to be the catalyst to change.

“Jesus Christ did not say ‘Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right’.”

– C.S. Lewis

If I water down my beliefs to make someone else feel better, how is that loving?  I don’t tell my kids, It’s OK if you don’t want to wear your seatbelt, ‘cause I know it’s restrictive and uncomfortable… – I tell them, I want you to be safe, and this is how you keep safe.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” – Proverbs 14:12

So this is what I believe:

I believe that God is sufficient for all of us, to fill every one of our needs.  Therefore I don’t need to apologize about my beliefs to the unmarried friend living with her boyfriend so that she’ll feel OK about her decision, because ‘after all, doesn’t God just want us all to be happy?” No because the truth is, God wants us to be fulfilled – and He is the one who can accomplish that. 

I am not writing this to stand up and denounce, denounce, denounce.  I am not trying to point out the splinter in someone else’s eye whilst ignoring the log in my own.  I don’t believe that there are shades of sin – there’s sin on one side (the result of which is separation from God), and there’s forgiveness on the other (in which we are reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrifice) – and I also don’t believe that watering down the Truth to make it more palatable is a kindness.  The truth is that we have all sinned, and we all fall short of the glory of God – and that’s where his grace steps in.  His sacrifice – like his love – is complete, and it demands action on our part.

What do we do, then?  Keep the law, and share the love.

I will not stand up and shout out against people I love, no matter whether or not I agree with them.  But I will stand up and be counted.  I will risk discomfort and even (‘though I cringe at the idea), being ‘unfriended’.  I will do my best to speak Truth into the lie of an untransformational salvation.  I will not accuse, but I also will not apologize.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

– Romans 6:1-4

Here I am, Lord.  Count me in.  I will honour your sacrifice, Jesus, and the sacrifice made by countless Christians around the world to this day who have been willing to die for these beliefs we share; I will honour you by speaking Truth, upholding your law, and sharing your love.

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My little D wasn’t spitting because he didn’t like what he tasted – he was just testing the boundaries of propriety.  But I’m not going to allow the boundaries of propriety to dictate to me so much that *I* am in danger of being spat out.

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*For the record, Isis is radical and not representative of Islam in general, and I know this.  I have beloved friends who are Muslim; by no means am I condoning hatred towards followers of that religion.  I do understand that there is a point at which our faiths divide, and that is OK.  I don’t have to agree with them to love them.

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Family Harmony, Life, Marriage, Relationships

‘Til Death Do Us Part (or until it gets boring…)

Boring by Cheryl Colan on flickr

I woke up this morning to a Pokemon transaction taking place on my right, a pocket-money negotiation on my left, and a nappy-clad wriggly bottom right. in. my. face.

It’s not glamourous, this parenting-of-small-children.  Don’t believe anyone who tells you it is (is there such a person?  I can’t imagine so.)

Just in that moment, though, surrounded as I was by all my special little people and flanked on the left by my one scruffy big one, I was perfectly content.  This is my life, I thought, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Married life, when you’ve got kids, is so often not wine and roses.  It is so often waking up at an unearthly hour next to a chronically unshaven spouse (prickly legs or prickly face – equally uninviting), to the indescribable noise and chaos of some cranky early risers doing battle in the next room.  So often it’s leaping out of bed into the cold when you’d rather snuggle into the duvet and curl closer to your hubby or wife; it’s rushing to stop the six-year-old from flooding the kitchen as he pours milk from the giant containers that take up too much space in your always-too-small fridge; it’s stepping into the shower to find that your ten-year-old has used up all the hot water; it’s tripping on toys or sliding on a book left on the floor and having nobody there to help you up because everyone’s busy and it’s not like in the movies when your other half is there to lift you lightly to your feet or mop your brow or rescue you.

It’s tough.  It’s gritty.  It is not romantic.

So many couples find, in fact, that as the dust settles after raising small kids – whether it be the slight release from the constant exhaustion of the parenting-babies stage or the final emptying of the nest as grown children set up their own homes – they are left depleted, scraped-out, and devoid of any semblance of the romance that first drew them together.

Others wake up, in the midst of a mundanity that they’d never imagined in their most pessimistic dreams, and discover that they’ve drifted into complacency about their relationship and it has grown stale.  Life as they know it has become Boring.

And it is at this point that the cheerleaders of the world start to offer their tuppenceworth, with the ‘wisdom’ of modern philosophy (i.e.. if it’s broken then throw it out):

You deserve better.

You deserve to be happy.

You need romance.

Couples whose relationship has become Boring realize that changes need to be made.  They decide that they deserve better.  They decide that they deserve to be happy.  They decide that they need romance. And so these couples make a big decision – to call it quits.

What’s important, says the world, is that you do what you need to do to make sure that you are happy.

As long as you end it first before starting another relationship, it’s just fine.

Kids are better off with happy single parents than unhappy married parents.

People change.  It’s not fair to expect someone to stay married to a spouse that’s so different from the one they married.

You’ve heard all those before, right?  Sometimes you’ll even hear celebrities marketing these philosophies.  Undoubtedly you’ve heard friends or relatives speaking in this way about a marriage that has gone sour.

We throw away a life together with the same careless abandon we’d display in tossing a carton of milk that is past its Use By date.

It is a throw-away society that we live in.  We are a society that applauds people for walking away from mistakes and failures instead of teaching them how to fix and restore.

We forget that when we get married we take on the responsibility for another person’s happiness as well as our own.

We should be willing to work to meet that other person’s needs, to go the extra mile to answer the question, What can I do to be the husband/wife that my spouse needs?

We should be willing to fight hard for our marriages.  We should be willing to claw our way back to togetherness when we find we’ve drifted apart.  And, more than that, we should be alert to the signs that our marriage is eroding in some way, and act with great effort and intent to repair damage – with the clear goal of restoring the relationship – before things get to a point where the problems feel irreparable.

Of course I understand that there are marriages in which abuse and serial infidelity have so marred the trust that the relationship cannot be salvaged without both a complete change of heart by the offending partner (such change is possible) and the wronged spouse’s courage to forgive.

Of course.

We live in a broken world, and broken people can break the things and the people around them if they do not look to the Restorer of Life for the strength to heal.  But these are the rare exceptions to the rule of ‘til death do us part – and we are kidding ourselves if we think that these particular separations are any less painful and damaging than those in which a decision to divorce is taken more lightly.

Bless you, friends who have been hurt and harmed by the ones you should be able to trust the most.  Bless you if you have watched, helpless, while your spouse has walked away.  God sees your pain, and I do not judge it.  It is not your story to which I direct my critique; you know all too well the damage that is done when a marriage relationship is ruptured.  You know all too well how it can bleed you dry to cut off a part of yourself –and you weren’t even given a choice.

We used to refer to divorced couples as having had a ‘failed marriage’.  But in treading lightly out of care for the feelings of divorced people we now do them the disservice of championing their decision to call it quits.  Instead, we say that couples have ‘split up’ or that they’re just ‘not together anymore’ – as if marriage were just a casual arrangement that has just as casually been undone.  We no longer speak the truth about divorce – that it is, indeed, the result of a ‘failed’ marriage.  It does, indeed, damage people – and not only does it damage the couple at the epicentre of this severance but also their family and friends.  Their children – those poor innocent bystanders in the whole messy operation – are damaged, too.  These children’s marriages may suffer because of the trust their parents broke with one another.  How do you just stop loving someone like that?  And on it goes, through the generations, like a curse.

We need to see divorce clearly for what it is.  It is an amputation.  It is a severing of a part of you – it will leave scars.  We need to return to the ideology that marriage is for life, and anything less than that is a failure and a denial of sacred vows.

Married people, we all need to evaluate ourselves regularly: Am I doing what it takes to nurture this relationship?  Am I giving my best to my spouse?

So – you deserve better?  Do better.

You deserve to be happy?  Invest in keeping your spouse happy.

You need romance?  Instigate it – make a date, plan for romance.  Make it happen.

We need to cultivate a good relationship.  We need to cultivate feelings, actions, and attitudes to have a successful marriage.

We need to be invested in our relationships; to perform check-ups and tune-ups on our marriages.  We need to be willing to work on ourselves instead of pointing the finger at our spouse.  We need to avoid the trap of vanity; the presumption that the person we married should look better, be better, act better, ‘because we deserve better’…  Instead, we need to be working to better ourselves.

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‘Til death do us part should be a thrill and a privilege.  And Boring?

A marriage is what you make it.

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At the end of the day, it boils down to the choices we make:

What’s easier: taking time out each week to connect with your spouse or watching the one you said ‘I do’ to walk out of your life?

What’s worse: having to work at keeping the romance alive or accepting the status-quo of a relationship that feels boring and unfulfilling because you have done nothing to bring enrichment or satisfaction to your marriage?

What’s better: seeking opportunities to grow as a couple through attending marriage events and courses or allowing your spouse to become a distant stranger?

Choose love.

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Faith, Life

My Simple Superpower

Smile by Jason Csizmadi on flickr

You’d never guess it if I kept it hidden, but I’ve got a Superpower.

With the slightest effort, I can transform myself.  With a tiny bit more effort, I can transform the world around me.

Can you guess what my Superpower is?

Give up?

It’s my smile.

 

Now, my smile isn’t the straightest around.  It’s not the brightest.  It’s not the whitest.  The corners of my mouth don’t curl adorably upwards – when I smile, I just kind of end up with a wider mouth with thinner lips.  My full cheeks swell out and my small eyes squeeze smaller.  You wouldn’t think it would work for me; it’s decidedly not the stuff of supermodels.

And yet…

And yet, without the whiteness or the brightness or the dazzle or the glamour, my smile transforms me.

I cannot count the number of times people have commented on this.

Friends laugh about how constant my smile is, in spite of all the crazy in my life – the noise and mess and delight of having four little boys, travelling and moving, etc…  Those I haven’t met yet but who’ve seen me at school have referred to me as ‘the girl who’s always smiling’ or ‘the smiley one’.  Total strangers have stopped me in the street to remark on my smile.

And I can say this entirely without vanity, because I know that the reason people notice me smiling is not because of how it makes me look – but because of how it makes them feel.

In this distracted, busy, hectic world, we are simultaneously over-connected and not connected at all.  We know everything about everybody but we don’t know each other’s hearts.  I could document my friends’ meals and outings, name their children, remember their birthdays and anniversaries, and yet be completely oblivious to their personal triumphs and struggles.  I could walk past a thousand people in the city centre and never truly see a single one of them.  So I have to choose to connect; I have to consciously acknowledge other people with eye contact and a smile, or else I risk passing them by without reminding them that they matter.  And we all need to be reminded that we matter.

Yes, my smile transforms me.  But the thing that you might not know is this: so does yours.

You have a Superpower, too – the power to transform yourself, and the power to transform the world around you.

A truly warm smile is simply an outward sign of the joy contained within.  I believe that this joy – God’s gift, freely-given – is meant to be shared.  I see smiling as a way of sharing my heart with others – and, more importantly, a way of sharing God’s heart for them.  Quite simply, if there is anything whatsoever remarkable about my smile, it is that God’s love for others can shine through it.

So smile, and spread the joy (it is truly contagious).  Show the people around you that they matter.

Transform the world with your smile.

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