How to Build a House

efab7e03ee9194b2ee896c635a79ce35A house is built by wisdom, and it is established by understanding; by knowledge the rooms are filled with every precious and beautiful treasure. (Proverbs 24:3-4)

I love this imagery.

I’m not a house builder. I don’t want to be faced with all the big and small decisions that need to be made. So many details. So much to consider. So much as stake.

But I realize I’ve built a home, not all by myself. My husband helped. God helped even more. We made big and small decisions: when and how to rely on God from the foundation to details of decorations. He helped determine the memories we filled our rooms and years with. We tried some things on our own and learned how disastrous that can be. We got off track, then back on track – several times. We did our best. Or rather, we tried to give God our best, because He always gives us His.

Wisdom, understanding, knowledge. The best building materials of any home.

Not to Be Left Out

All this month, I’ve been sharing stories and thoughts about my dad, who died just over a year ago. The month is coming to an end, and I would miss an essential part of Dad’s life and my memories if I didn’t share about my mom and dad’s marriage.

They did marriage well. Maybe I can claim that for the sheer length of their marriage. But to me, it was more than that. I’m sure they would agree. It wasn’t that they had it all figured out or had a perfect marriage. They were two imperfect people doing their best.

It’s not that I think my or everyone else’s marriage should look exactly like my mom and dad’s. All marriages are different. But there are some things I learned from watching them together, through better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.

Do your best.

Love well.

Laugh often.

Be willing to grow.

I’m still working on some of these. But I’m doing my best. Just like they did. I’m thankful for their example.

Lies That Soothe Us

I know why we do it, yet I wonder why we do it.

We try to comfort ourselves and others in moments of trials and grief. We would give just about anything to help someone or ourselves get through the pain and challenges of life. But in the process, we neglect the truths the Bible tells us. God reveals Himself to us through His Word. He wants us to know Him, not just to have all the right answers but to be comforted, healed, and promised. When we neglect what He says and cling to what we think will help us feel better, we miss out. We miss out on trusting Him, and we miss out on what He wants to give us through Himself and His Word.

We want to believe that the people we lose in death, we gain in angels. Again, our intentions aren’t bad. We want to continue to feel close to people we lose. We want someone higher than us to watch over and provide for us. We can always feel close through our memories and other ways God provides. And we always have Him watching over and providing for us. And since God created angels, I would personally like His authority, protection, and provision over anyone else.

We want to believe all the people we love are reunited in heaven, yet Scriptures clearly tell us we aren’t married in heaven. Again, our intentions aren’t bad. We want to carry over some of the things we like most on earth into heaven with us. We rationalize that God says heaven won’t include any pain, and we can’t imagine being separated from people we love and not feeling pain.

But can we not find comfort in who God is, His sovereignty over us all? We don’t determine what will be best for us, now or for all eternity. Only God knows all those details. And He won’t let us down. We’re not going to be disappointed that things aren’t the way we expected them. He will blow what we imagine out of the water.

At least, that is the potential. But let’s be honest with ourselves, each other, and most importantly, God. While we don’t determine what eternity will be like, we determine our relationship with God right now. Eternity isn’t “someday.” It’s right now. We don’t create it. We respond to God’s creation. We respond authentically and responsibility, or we choose to put our own preferences and ways above His.

What will you choose to prioritize today? What truth will you seek, create, believe, or follow?

The Stitches of a Marriage

quiltI’ve been working on a quilt to give my youngest daughter and her fiance when they get married this summer.

I’m a basic quilter. I use simple designs and hope the quilts will get used for years, perhaps generations, to come. While I admire my artsy quilter friends and the phenomenal creations they make, I prefer to stick to the basics. Probably because of all the quilts stacked and used in my parents’ and grandparents’ homes throughout my life. They were warm and cozy, and I loved to look at the fabrics and stitches and wonder about the stories behind each detail.

I machine piece and hand quilt. That means, I spend most of my time making small stitches to hold all the layers of the quilt together. It’s a big time commitment, especially with this king-size quilt, but I’m quilting it well. I want it to last.

One of the things I enjoy most about hand-quilting (and other handiwork and housework) is the opportunity I have to pray for the people who will receive it. Whether or not anyone ever uses this quilt, the prayers cannot be put in a closet. I’m investing beyond fabric and thread.

This is the first marriage quilt I’ve made. As I look at the stitches, I’ve reflected on so many different aspects of marriage.

Most of my quilting follows the lines of the seams. It provides strength as the quilt gets washed and spread out and folded through the years. While the lines to follow are straight, my quilting stitches sometimes meander a bit. It reminds me of how we do our best to follow God’s instructions for marriage, but we aren’t perfect. We go a bit crooked at times.

I try to be consistent in the size of my stitches. From a distance, it probably looks as if my stitches are the same, but I see up close. Stitches are slightly different lengths. It reminds me that no matter how consistent we try to be in marriage, we “short” some things and make others too long. In some ways, that’s okay; it shows our unique personalities. But we don’t ignore the need for consistency–just allow for flexibility. We still try.

I go through a lot of thread, and I need to secure the beginning and end of each piece I use. I can’t leave big knots, because they’ll get caught on something and the thread will break, causing layers of the quilt to separate over time. Hiding knots isn’t just for appearances. It’s practical. But those knots are important. Like marriage, we need to be secure, knowing what holds us together and taking care to set those things firmly in place.

The front of the quilt always looks better than the back. The front shows the full pattern. The front is my focus when I stitch. The underside is a bit less consistent, but it’s all the same thread. The back of the quilt is just as important as the front. It’s not a quilt without all the pieces, even if we only typically see it from one perspective. Like marriage, we can’t just look at what we want to see. We need to keep a broad perspective and appreciate the things we’d rather ignore at times: difficulties, vulnerabilities, hurts, and so on.

As I move my hoop to continue quilting, I realize I’m dealing less with layers and more with a cohesive quilt. What once was pieces is becoming a whole. The pieces don’t disappear. They remain intact. They simply get firmly stitched together to create something more.

Marriage is the same.

Fit Faith: Health: Open Air Therapy

Several years ago, my husband and I started walking together. We had tried many times before that, but I wasn’t a very good walking partner. I liked to power walk, and I didn’t have much patience for anyone who wanted to stroll. I was on a mission, and my focus was on a good workout, which I defined as pushing myself physically. Walking didn’t have anything to do with anyone else but myself.

Then I made a concession. I would go for my walk and push my limits. When I was done, I’d go for another, shorter walk with Tim. It was a compromise we could both live with. The focus began to shift from the walk to the time we got to spend together. We talked about our days. We talked about our daughters. We talked about anything that was on our minds.

As we grew accustomed to walking together, we adjusted again. Instead of waiting until I got home from a walk, Tim would text me when I’d been gone for a while to find out if I was ready for a walking buddy. I rarely said no, even if I hadn’t been walking long, because I looked forward to walking with him. It wasn’t so much about me as it was about the time I got to spend with my husband.

Being able to walk and talk occasionally invited topics that spurred disagreements. That’s going to happen between two married people! Disagreements when walking, however, had a different tone. We were walking side-by-side, and as we’d work through the conflict toward a resolution, we avoided much antagonism, because we were headed in the same direction. We walked and talked it out.

The occasional disagreement and more frequent sharing took on a therapeutic effect. We were spending time together. It didn’t matter if we were talking about our relationship or things that impacted each of us as individuals, we were growing together. We still are.

We’re not in a regular routine of walking together, but we miss it when we go very long without it. We know we can spend time together in many other ways, but there’s something special about our walks – so much so that many times I don’t insist on a walk before our walk. He walks a bit faster, I walk a bit slower, and that’s okay with me. I’m just glad to be by his side, listening to his heart.

Health isn’t just about the physical. That’s often the focus, and it was certainly my main focus when determined to walk fast and far. However, there’s an emotional and relational health benefit I was missing and have been able to infuse into my walks as Tim has joined me. The physical benefits become secondary.

How do you compartmentalize your health?

How and when do you sacrifice one aspect of your health for another?

My child, pay attention to my words; listen closely to what I say. Don’t ever forget my words; keep them always in mind. They are the key to life for those who find them; they bring health to the whole body. (Proverbs 4:20-22)

Surround yourself with healthy relationships. Let them infuse health into many other areas of your life. Let God’s perspective invade your perspective. Let his words nourish you so that you know where he wants you to be when and with whom. He will help correct your focus if it’s misguided, and he’ll impact everything in your life when you develop a healthy relationship with him.

Circle of Friends

When my parents had been married for 45 years, my sisters and I planned a surprise party. We decided it would be easier to surprise them at year 45 than year 50, when a party might be more expected. Keeping it a surprise was just one of the challenges. Another major challenge was the guest list. How would we go about creating a guest list for a couple’s 45 years of life together?

My parents are community-minded, not in the sense of obligation and duties to the community but in terms of investment into friendships. They’ve established and maintained many friends over the years, and we didn’t want to leave anyone out. We wanted them to be surrounded by the people they’d invite if they were creating the guest list – but we couldn’t ask their opinions.

My parents grew up in a small farming community in central Illinois. They built relationships because people in the community relied on each other. They trusted each other, watched out for each other, helped each other. They worked fields side-by-side, lent and borrowed equipment, and lived through trials and tragedies together.

I suppose some people might be able to choose to be reclusive among the community, but it would be a challenge. Plus, my parents aren’t reclusive people. My dad doesn’t know a stranger, and since my parents are best friends, my mom doesn’t have much of an option!

So, we put together the guest list (and only left out a couple people, who graciously understood) as well as the rest of the details. It was a wonderful party. They were (mostly) surprised particularly thrilled to see so many friends from their decades together. They hadn’t seen some people in years. Others, they lived alongside daily. With each turn, as they looked around the room, they were greeted by another smiling face full of memories.

After the celebration had been going for a couple hours, a friend and I were talking. He and I had been friends since birth, because our parents were friends, as well as our grandparents. The family farms were only a couple miles from each other. We shared weddings, births and funerals.

Looking around at the multitude of friends, circles overlapping circles, my friend reflected, “You know the sad thing is, we – our generation – probably will not get to experience this when we’re our parents’ age. We’re too busy to make the depth and extent of friendships.”

I’m not saying it’s impossible. In fact, if anyone will have a 45th anniversary celebration with extensive circles of friends, it will be this particular friend, but I completely understand what he was saying. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we often skirt around and skim over the importance of long-term relationship-building.

Our relationships can use more intention and attention. Our relationships can be bumped up on the scale of priorities.

Let’s not downplay the benefits of quick, short-term relationships as we share a smile, help someone in a parking lot, or work with co-workers in a temporary job. However, who are you investing in, and who are you allowing – even inviting – to invest in you?

It’s not just about who you’ll call in the best and worst times of life. It’s about who you’ll call, drive to, sit with and sacrifice for during daily life.

Who are you doing life with?

Consider the people surrounding you.

Are you focused more on short-term benefits or long-term investment?

Are the people by your side going to be by your side in 10, 25, 50 years?

Sure, life changes. People move. Interests change.

Transitions are part of every person’s life.

But you might see life as so transitory that you’ve become comfortable in the transition instead of investing in the long-term possibilities.

Many people avoid investing money because they’re overwhelmed with the amount they’ll need. They can’t fathom such a sacrifice.

Are you doing the same with relationships?

Investing even the smallest amounts of money will accumulate into a growing investment.

Surely, you have time, energy and resources to invest in growing relationships.

Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Bliss of Ignorance

I sat beside my husband and watched a young couple exchange vows. The bride and groom are a beautiful couple who have been together for many years. They were happy to have finally reached their wedding day. They looked joyful in the present and anticipatory for the future. I thought of their innocence, their lack of knowledge of the road ahead. And I thought of the journey between my wedding day and where my husband and I are today.

I wasn’t nervous on our wedding day. I was excited and full of expectations. If I’d known to expect the bumps and potholes of the road ahead, I think I’d have been a bit more frightened. Of course, I didn’t think the journey would be smooth. I knew we’d have issues and struggles, but they weren’t specifically identified, so we dealt with them as they came along, and we have a stronger marriage because of it.

Perhaps not knowing everything that’s coming in the near and far future is a blessing.

There’s no way to pass along every nugget of advice to a young couple. Oh, we certainly try. We say, “Just wait until…..!” Or, “You think you have problems now? Well, let me tell you…” Marriage is a daunting enough commitment without hearing discouragement as the foundation is being laid. There’s sound advice we can give young couples. There are some commonalities about commitment, communication, and authenticity we can give to every young couple, but the specific experiences will be their own.

As I watch the bride and groom pour sand from each of their vases into a larger vase, symbolizing the intricate coming together their marriage involves, I thought of the grains of sand. Each grain remains distinct, but it is mixed with other grains in such a way that makes it nearly impossible to completely separate. Separate, but one. Individuals, but a couple.

Someone told me and Tim before we were married that we must take care of three distinct people in our marriage: Tim, me, and us. We would retain some of our individualities in our personalities, interests, and experiences, but we would do life together in a way that should never be separated. I didn’t fully understand the advice until we had to live it out.

The same is true with every bride and groom. They can’t know it all before they’ve experienced it.

I definitely don’t know it all as I’m somewhere in the process of the experience.

I’ve learned a few things along the way. Perhaps something on this list will be helpful to you. Perhaps you have something else to share. Ignorance might be bliss as we begin a journey, but we should certainly learn along the way. As we learn, reflect and grow, let’s remember the lessons we’ve learned and apply them into our marriages, as well as other relationships and experiences.

  • Our backgrounds, experiences, and personalities lead us to react to each other and situations in different ways. And that’s okay. Our differences make our marriage better.
  • Men are different from women in not only the obvious by also many subtle ways. When I assume my husband needs and wants what I need and want, we both get frustrated.
  • Honesty, no matter how difficult at the time, is the only option when facing a situation that might divide our relationship.
  • When one of us is weak in an area, the other one “taking over” isn’t the best option. Complementing each other means coming together where we are and walking together toward a common goal.
  • Dream together. Not “if only we could” dreams that breed discontent but a vision of where we want to go and grow together in our lives.
  • Competition can be fun but it has no place in our roles in marriage: who does what and contributes what. Replace competition with encouragement.
  • Say “I was wrong. You’re right.” as often as possible.
  • Express your love and respect for your spouse as often and in as many ways as possible. Say it. Do it.
  • Build each other up outside of your marriage…in front of your children, spouse’s family, coworkers, etc.
  • Don’t pack your bags. Avoid baggage by not packing any! Choose to face your spouse and resolve an issue or leave it behind. Packing it for later use only gives you a sore back and cranky spirit.
  • Develop a multi-faceted realtionship. Be friends, lovers, co-parents.
  • Foster healthy relationships outside marriage. Women need to hang out and do “girl” stuff.” Men need to hang out and do “guy stuff.”
  • Don’t assume. We can’t read each other’s minds and no matter how sure we are of our spouse’s motivation, it’s always better to ask instead of assume.
  • Expect changes. You’ve (hopefully) grown in the last several years. You’ll continue to grow and change. So will your spouse.
  • Take time for each other. Every day.
  • Clean up each other’s messes. Big stuff and little stuff.
  • Take responsibility. Don’t blame your parents, kids, work, etc. Grow up and own up.
  • Remember it’s not about us. We made a commitment to both ourselves and God. To break one shatters the other.
  • Have hope. When times are tough, hope for better. When times are good, hope for better.

Marriage should be honored by everyone, and husband and wife should keep their marriage pure. Hebrews 13:4

Learn the truth and never reject it.  Get wisdom, self-control, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23