Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What I Cherish

A week has passed since our eventful day, but this is the first chance I've had to write about it.  I was caught by surprise as my husband stole me away for several days to celebrate our 25 years of marriage.

I love the off season when everything, even nature, breathes a sigh and rests.  In a town normally filled with hoards of tourists and no place to park, we discovered, instead, real people . . . school children and laborers, mountain natives and grandparents with their little tikes.  At one point we found a fly fisherman practicing his cast while his dog retrieved the flying objects.  Somehow, the town drew me in with its intimacy.

Likewise, as we hiked through the aspen forests, most on the tail end of their glory, I felt the hushed nearness of their leaves under my feet.  And the fragrance, oh my!  There is nothing quite like the scent of fall in the aspens. All of nature settles in for their deep sleep of winter, anticipating their rest . . . gloriously content.

Then we came upon, this.

Appropriately named, Bridal Veil Falls.

The pool could not be seen from the road.  Only those diligent enough to hike up the hill found the treasure.

I am reminded of the beauty of marriage, the covenant we share before God, and its exclusiveness. One man and one woman, joined together to form a new family unit, a picture of the relationship between Christ and His people.

This anniversary we did something we've never done before--attend a marriage conference.  Though risky in the sense that I was not sure what would be required, the rewards far outweighed the fears.  I came away from that conference with one word . . . 'cherish'.

It's easy to joke about what went wrong at the wedding ceremony, or to make fun of the style and design at that time. And in my case, I bemoan the lack of a professional photographer which left me with few quality pictures. But, when all is said and done, it really doesn't matter.  All of that is only fluff and oh so trivial compared to the rich and rewarding treasure I have in my marriage.  I don't want to forget what I have for lack of a perfect photograph.

I cherish the covenant we made before God, because it is the marriage that truly matters, not the wedding celebration and whether everything was in place.  The beauty comes in its committment and exclusiveness, in its boundaries, for a "cord of three strands is not easily broken."  (Eccles.4:12)

My husband and I have something special, sacred, and holy. And like the awe and hush of nature in its rest, there is a contentment which comes from the Lord in the wear and tear of years that cannot be compared.

Recently, as I took some unique pictures of our rings, I noticed something.  They have scratches, nicks, and dings, obviously well worn and seasoned.  But they still matter in that they represent our marriage covenant.  Like any couple, we too have experienced conflict and trials, heartbreak and disappointment, but God has preserved our lives and kept us only unto Him and for each other. Our marriage was founded on Christ as our Solid Rock and continues to do so, providing great stability.

If I had it to do over again, I would still marry this same man.  He is one of the most selfless, capable, and understanding persons I know.  He loves God deeply and is passionate about living in a way that honors His Lord. However, we are not the same people we were when we got married.  And this is by God's design.

When left to ourselves we miss the checks and balances of relationship and can easily fall into extremes. If we are not in fellowship with other believers, it is easy to miss our own blind spots. And marriage, being the closest of relationships, does this the best.  I, for one, would have been steeped in miserable legalism were it not for my husband who lives so free. I love that about him, that he knows such joy and confidence in the Lord.  I shudder to think where I would be today if God had not brought him into my life to turn me away from extremes, and to provide perspective that is broader than it would be on my own.

I cherish my husband who is truly a gift from God.  I cherish the covenant we made before God, and recognize that it is binding, a serious matter, and not to be taken lightly.  I cherish our rings, a symbol of our promise. I cherish our four children and the way they have enriched our lives. I cherish those tiny ones known only from the dark of the womb, who precede us in heaven. And when I think of all we've gone through together, I cherish our marriage of 25 years.  Last, but not least, I cherish our parents, our heritage, where they have both now celebrated 50 years of marriage. What a treasure!  I look forward to the day when we can offer the same to our children.

"Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  
Your people will be my people and your God my God."  Ruth 1:16b

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Heart Check

Last weekend my family drove out to the desert and caught the tail end of the airshow.  As the jets flew overhead I couldn't help but wonder, what elite sort of person flies a Thunderbird?  I knew that it could not be easy, for if it were, everyone would be flying them.  These pilots had my respect because I was certain they were familiar with disciplined concentration and hard work.

Now, a week later, as I'm preparing to play songs for worship, my thoughts keep returning back to these words:

There's nothing worth more, that will ever come close
No thing can compare . . .Your Presence, Lord.
(by Bryan Torwalt and Katie Torwalt)

And I thought, do I really, truly crave the Presence of God to that degree?  If there is nothing comparable to the presence of God in my life, then what action am I taking to be drawn into Him?  I can pray more fervently, worship more intensely, and seek more diligently.  I can sacrifice my all or hush my heart, but in truth, more of His presence boils down to one thing: simple obedience.  If I want to know more of God's presence in my life I have to live by His terms.

Those F-16 pilots may have flown proud that day, but in order to arrive at that place, they had to be teachable. Resisting instruction from a commander would have been disastrous, not only to them, but to many others as well. In order to know such precision and glory, they had to fly by the rules.

Yes, I want more of God's presence in my life, but I will not arrive there by singing a meaningful song.  In fact, if my life has become self-indulgent and disobedient, my heart becomes sluggish and insensitive to the voice of God . . . . hardened.

Often God means to bless and draw me into intimacy with Him but I miss it because my heart is not in the right place to receive it.  I've become very aware of this in recent days as I've noted the response of those hearing the Word of God.  Like the parable of the farmer, some receive the Word thinking they've already arrived.  Others accept it with great gladness but then as the week progresses, lose interest. Some actively resist.  It is only those whose hearts are softened, yes, even broken, that the Word takes root and grows. (Matt. 13:3-9)

We were made for righteousness.  Therefore, in obedience is where we find the greatest joy, the highest freedom. "Be holy as I [Jesus] am holy," we are instructed. (1 Pet. 1:16) It seems an unrealistic command, and yet, by the power of God's Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we can defy gravity . . . this pull of sin on our lives.  Soaring is possible.

Yes, I want to be more aware of God's goodness in my life, more aware of His presence.  Only yesterday I saw Him pour out an unexpected blessing on my family.  But I might not have recognized it as that, if I had not been acting in obedience to Him. Living by God's terms has many motivators, but one of the greatest rewards is that it draws us into His presence.  For this reason, I "prepare my mind for action; remain self-controled and set my hope fully on the grace to be given me..."  (1 Pet. 1:13)

"With what shall I come before the LORD?  
Will [He] be pleased with thousands of rams, 
with ten thousand rivers of oil? 
He has showed you, O man, what is good.  
And what does the LORD require of you?  
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."  (Micah 6:5,7,8)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Well Preserved

I was about to speak before a group of unknown women when the lady sitting behind me found out I had a son of 23 years. She leans forward and whispers in my ear, "You are well preserved, my friend, well-preserved." I've been described in many ways but have never heard that one before! Needless to say, it tickled my funny bone.

Having just gone through the canning season where every manner of produce is put up and preserved for the winter, I got to thinking on that thought even more. The process of canning food consists of many things, but perhaps most importantly, sealing food within a jar holds back spoilage or decay.

There is coming a day, perhaps very soon, when the LORD "will gather the lame...assemble the exiles and those [He] has brought to grief. [He] will make the lame a remnant, those driven away a strong nation." (Micah 4:6-7) I am encouraged to think that God preserves those who are His, keeping us for that day when we will dwell with Him in the heavenlies. Although, contrary to the rules of canning, He does not choose the perfect. Instead, He chooses the lame, the weak, and the outcast.

Last week my children were off school for fall break, but nothing went as planned. We met one disappointment after another, from sickness to conflict to frustration to a funeral. The week seemed a smorgasborg of trials and I found my heart becoming angry and bitter with the unfairness of it all. But by the end of the week I realized I'd been fighting . . . resisting what God was bringing my way. My hope had been in my expectations rather than in the Lord.

When at last we made it to Sunday, my focus was drawn to Naomi from the book of Ruth, and her long journey to Moab, away from the land of blessing. Yet, years later, she took the road that would lead her back to Bethlehem, back to obedience and fellowship with God. El-Shaddai, her Great Provider, had dealt with her for the purpose of preserving her as His own.

I am so glad that God preserves me through my trials and my wanderings. He not only creates and redeems, but He sustains. Seasons change. Circumstances are unreliable. People let us down. But God is my strong tower, the One who holds back the decay in my life and the tendency towards evil, because I am sealed as His own.

This gives me great hope as I pray for others as well, those who are struggling to find their way and who have settled in a land of rebellion or disobedience. I know that God has the power to turn their hearts back home, back to the land of blessing, for He has preserved them in His grace and love. I can pray a prayer of faith rather than worry for He is trustworthy.

Well-preserved? By all means! I am held secure in Christ, and nothing can shake that fact.

"Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  
He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, 
and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, 
guaranteeing what is to come."  
2 Cor. 1:21-22