For Better or Worse

Boquet

Like many couples getting married in June, I too was a blushing bride…thirty four years ago.

This morning, after my shower, I wanted to wish my husband a “Happy Anniversary.” He was on the back patio reading the news off his laptop.

No bridal gown today. Dressed in a frumpy, white bathrobe, my hair was wet and tangled. No  makeup. And I’m twenty-two pounds heavier than the day I said “I do.”

 Half-joking, I pointed to my dowdy appearance, “For better or worse!”

“That’s okay.” My husband teased. “My eyesight isn’t as good as the day we married.”

On June 30th, 1979 we made a covenant before God and became one flesh. God’s grace, a sense of humor, loyalty, communication, and selflessness kept us together. Prayer was also necessary to soften our hearts towards each other during hard times.

Today, I studied my husband’s unshaven face, his graying hair, the laugh lines around his blue eyes. It’s difficult to imagine my life without him walking beside me.

Praise God, I didn’t call it quits whenever my husband rubbed me the wrong way, crimped my style. I’m blessed to find a husband who loves me when I least deserve it, never keeps an account of the things I’ve done wrong.

 

 

No wonder marriage is the image God uses to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His Church. Wedding vows are worth remembering, when marriage seems too familiar.

“I, Karen, take thee, Dan, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith/myself to you.”

The words are similar to God’s irrevocable covenant with His beloved.

I, Yahweh, the Great I Am, take Karen, to be the Bride and Body of Christ.

To have and to hold…: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

For better, or worse: “My grace is enough for you….” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

To love and to cherish: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

Till death do us part: “Neither death or life can separate you from the love of God.”(Romans 8:38, 39)

According to my Holy plan, I pledge myself to you.

“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:9)

Have you been invited?

Do I Only Have Eyes for You?

IMG_6091Holding hands, my daughter and her fiancé stood on the church altar, gazing into each other’s eyes. Their radiant smiles and misty eyes were contagious. As the mother of the bride, I counted the poinsettias that alternated with the tea lights to keep from sobbing with joy.

Clinging to my husband’s hand, I listened as they exchanged wedding vows and made a covenant before God “to have and to hold from this day forth, in sickness and in health…”

I watched as they each took a candle, the same ones the groom’s mother and I had lit earlier, and allowed the two flames to become one on their own candle to signify the unity of their lives.

When the pastor pronounced them “husband and wife” not only were they legally married, they entered into a new relationship that redefined them.

Suddenly, I also had new relationships, a new identity. The groom was now my son-in-law which made me a~~mother-in-love! And two separate genealogies were grafted into one family tree.

Since the wedding, my daughter legally, eagerly, changed her last name to be the same as her Beloved. As the two of them resolve to become one, and identify with each other’s needs, there has been a merging of bank accounts, power of attorney, and dreams. There’s no demand for entitlement, no fear, only love as they travel the same path, together, into tomorrow.

That love and commitment exists between my husband of 33 years and me. Can I say the same for my relationship with God?

Andrew Murray wrote, “The three Persons in the Godhead are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—each one is different from the others. God desires to reveal Himself as a person…and we are called to enter into fellowship with Him.

 God greatly desires this relationship with us, but sin has come between us and our God. Even in Christians who know God, there is often great ignorance and even indifference to this personal relationship of love to God.

People believe that at conversion their sins are forgiven, that God accepts them so that they may go to heaven. They do not realize that, even as a father and his child on earth enjoy being together, so they must have this intimate fellowship with God each day.”    

No demands, no fear.

Enjoying His presence, and resting on His deep, tender love to us even in this moment.

Does a Broken Spirit Hurt?

  I’m done!” I fussed. “I refuse to plant something else in that hole!”

Those angry words, along with the memory of my husband and daughter chopping down my Japanese maple, were like television re-runs in my head a week after the fact (previous blog).

I’d confessed my sin before God and apologized to my family for my emotional outburst, but I’d rewind the tape, stuck in self condemnation.

I knew I was forgiven, but the weight of sin and my inability to walk in a manner worthy of Christ held me captive.

When I shared my sorrow with others, I was told to lighten up. “You’re justified in your anger. I’d be furious too.”

Perhaps, but God used that felled tree to prune my heart and rip out the root of bitterness  that had been growing inside of me long before that autumn day.

And the process was painful.

Not unlike a broken bone whose fracture has to be re-aligned in order to heal properly.

The image of wearing sackcloth and covering my head in ashes as a sign of repentance became a Biblical truth that finally went from my head to my heart. And left me …

Broken.

Which isn’t a spiritually bad place to be.

Because Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

For that’s when spiritual transformation and healing begins.

Because the Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

Not unlike the sinful woman who brought an alabaster jar of perfume to a Pharisee’s house where Jesus was dining. “And she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them…Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:36-50).

As God restored to me the joy of His salvation, I longed to be like that woman and show my adoration towards Christ who forgives sin and tells me to “go in peace.”

Instead of pouring perfume on His feet, I erased the tape of re-runs in my head.

And where the Japanese maple once stood in my yard, I ate my words and planted a fragrant Italian Cypress.

Ever green; ever a reminder that even in this situation,

Beauty can rise from ashes and mourning turn to joy

When Christ is allowed to be the Gardener of my soul.

Speaka da English?

 A monster-size banana split sits on the middle of the table between my husband and me. With metal spoons, we divide and conquer heaps of ice cream covered in hot fudge, lathered in whipped cream. Words aren’t necessary to communicate our pleasure.

At another table in the ice cream parlor, two men laugh as their nimble hands create words in the air; their visual conversation public to anyone in the room who knows sign language.

Reminds me of a Starbucks café in southern California where a community of the hearing impaired congregate on Friday nights. Varied in age and ethnicity, they drive from miles away for the opportunity to talk with each other, and know they’re not alone.

I understand the craving to communicate. On a recent trip to Italy, it was easy to imagine being at the ancient Tower of Babel.

“Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad….” (See Genesis 11:1-9)

Not only did I not understand Italian, a throng of international tourists around me spoke in their native tongues. I felt as helpless as a kindergarten kid looking for pictures to decipher business signs and menus. Even my infantile attempt to speak a few Italian words did little to bridge the communication gap.

So imagine how my ears perked up whenever I overheard someone speaking English. Even the broken English from a stranger’s lips seemed like a welcome mat in a foreign land.

I experience these same emotions when I meet other born again Christians particularly abroad. There’s an instant bond that defies explanation. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we speak the same language. Issues like culture, wealth, education, and occupation (that might otherwise divide us) shrink in light of who we are in Christ.

I’m grateful for the fellowship of the saints, the body of Christ throughout this world that reminds me ….

I’m a sojourner on Earth. My citizenship is in heaven. And I am not alone.

 “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).

Grace Amazing

Our summer meal was light: Chicken Caesar Salads. A sharp contrast to our heavy dinner conversation…..

“Do you mean to say that if Hitler had asked God’s forgiveness and received Christ, he’d go to heaven?”

I nodded. The expression on my guest’s face told me If that’s true, life’s not fair.

It’s True, based on scripture: “By grace, we are saved through faith; and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). If we can earn our way to heaven, then why the Cross?

But I agree, it’s not fair if a man who exterminated people like cockroaches can be forgiven and receive eternal salvation. Who in his right mind would want to absolve Hitler or his henchmen? May they rot in hell….wouldn’t that be justice?

As we washed salad bowls, I thought about God’s grace — the power to save a human soul. Yes, even the souls of leading Nazis who were the most hated men of their time.

The Cross and the Swastika by F.T. Grossmith (Pacific Press Publishing Assoc.,1989) tells what happened to Hitler’s men during their last months in Nuremberg.

US Army Chaplain, Major Henry Gerecke was assigned to them as their spiritual adviser. Dealing with Hess and Goring wasn’t easy, but the chaplain prayed for the ability to love Hitler’s gang and share the hope of Christ. “He saw several of his ‘congregation’ come to Christ before he accompanied them to the gallows.”

This testimony of God’s all encompassing grace reminded me of a television documentary. Prison inmates dressed in starched white uniforms, clean-shaven, with cropped haircuts, stood onstage. Their voices rose in unison as they sang the Christian hymn Amazing Grace. 

What hideous crimes had they committed to become society’s prisoners? And yet, by God’s grace, these men’s hearts were transformed from criminals to saints.

Nazis, Convicts, Myself….all guilty, to some degree, of breaking God’s law.

Trusting Christ as our Savior…..all pardoned and cleansed, by the blood of Jesus. And His finished work on the cross.

No one is beyond God’s redeeming grace.  And that is amazing!

“Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” Psalm 51:7

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9

Why’d You Do it?

The dark-haired woman sees me enter the jail room. Standing up, she flings her cards on the table and tells me, “Don’t even ask.”

We go to another table and sit across from each other. I study her downcast eyes, and wait for an explanation.

 “I couldn’t do it. I got lonely and anxious. So I went back to my old friends and habits.” She covers her mouth with her hand while she speaks. But it doesn’t hide her missing upper teeth. I never realized she wears dentures.

I touch her arm, remembering her joyful mood the previous month. We had praised God because she was clean of drugs, leaving jail, and determined to follow Jesus instead of her peers.

She’s not the exception. I’ve watched too many women leave jail with great intentions only to return again and again. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is the culprit. Ruined lives, and families ripped apart, are the collateral damage.

I leave jail despondent. Will these women ever break free of the lifestyle they’ve chosen? Where’s their will power?     

Days later, I come home after a long day. I’m alone. Hungry, I open the refrigerator. I don’t want to cook. I’m tired of salads. Looking for leftovers, I open a container of homemade onion dip. My mouth waters as Will Power shouts “Put it back.” But the onion-flavored sour cream lures me like a Greek Siren.

 Why not? I’ve been on a strict diet for a month. I’ve lost weight.  A few bites shouldn’t hurt.

Instead of spooning small portions of dip and potato chips onto a plate, I grab the bowl and a half bag of chips on my way to the couch.

Will Power warns, “You’ll regret this tomorrow.”

“But it tastes so good tonight.”

One bite, another. I’m hooked. Soon, I’m craving nachos. I cave into desire and smother tortilla chips with melted cheese and fresh jalapenos. If it weren’t midnight, I’d order a pizza.

At bedtime, my breath reeks of onions. I must chew Tums.

Disgusted, Will Power shakes her head. “You knew better. Why’d you do it?”

Groaning, I rub my stomach….

And weep for the dark-haired woman.

  “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do; but what I hate I do. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:15,18,24,25)  

I Love the Imperfection

Last week, I went into an antique store to browse old furniture. The man who worked there showed me a handmade fireplace mantel. He pointed to the scratches in the wood, and the uneven design along the front. Then he caressed a round, black stain on top of the mantel where a wet glass or candle had stood.

“I love the imperfection of it,” he said.

“What did you say?” 

“I love the imperfection,” he repeated, “because that’s what makes antique furniture unique and have character.”

Unique is not a word I’d use to describe the queen-sized bed frame I recently bought. It was manufactured in China, came in a cardboard carton, assembled by yours truly, and seemingly without defect … unlike the reflection of imperfection that stared back at me from a hazy, antique mirror.

I combed my hair with my fingers and left the store asking myself, do I love the imperfection in myself or others?

Absolutely not! I’ve been programmed from birth to look my best, be my best, and do my best.

Imperfection, the flawed condition of humanity, hides behind good intentions and exasperation. “I’m sorry, but I’m doing the best I can!”

But my very best falls short of the commandment to “Be perfect just as my Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Why would a holy, perfect God love me; the poster child of imperfection?

I try to wrap my mind around His love and grace, but imperfect emotions distort my vision. I return to His Word where truth resides:

And put my faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”(2 Corinthians 5:21)

Earthly perfection is impossible this side of heaven. But like the Apostle Paul, I can be “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 1:6)

IF I rest in that knowledge, I can stop striving to be perfect, and instead, “fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith….so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.”(Hebrews 12: 2,3)

Since my visit to the antique shop, I have enjoyed the warmth of a crackling fire on a winter’s day. The polished wooden mantelpiece is smooth to my touch; it is not old or unique. But the words of a stranger, “I love the imperfection,” stirs my heart because it shows me how God “whose way is perfect” used even this to bring Himself praise.