Who am I to the World?

I’ve just started a Bible study by A Fruitful Woman (check out her blog – she’s an awesome writer with a beautiful heart for Jesus), and assignment #1 is to journal my story. So I figured I’ll make a blog out of it and accomplish my blogging goal (which I am way behind on. Don’t read my post where I said I was going to post twice a week. I might need to change that to twice a month!)

So . . . here is my story.

I grew up in a conservative, “Christian” home in middle America. I fluctuated between being homeschooled and attending Christian schools, we didn’t have a TV, we listened to Christian music. We went to a very legalistic church. I had prayed the “salvation prayer” a million times out of fear of hell, and I considered myself a Christian, but did I really trust God? No. Was I following Him? No. Did I love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind? No.

In high school, we moved to another town and I started public school. We also changed churches to a more Jesus-centered church. It was a good move. I made great friends and I stayed out of trouble. But when it came to Jesus, my heart was confused. I still believed being a Christian meant how modest I dressed (or didn’t), what music I listened to, what shows I watched. Was I out drinking or smoking pot, or was I at youth group?

I’d read my Bible or devotional books occasionally, but I wasn’t seeking God.

Like most teens, I was insecure. I felt out-of-place because of my home school roots. I had acne. Money was tight. And things were starting to crumble at home. I knew my parents were heading to a divorce.

It wasn’t all bad. My mom was my rock. My siblings were wonderful humans (not that I would have admitted it at the time). I had good friends. I had a job. I was doing well at school.

But, I was hurting and empty inside, trying to follow all the rules to be a “Christian”. I  still wasn’t seeking God.

And then I found what I thought would be my escape: a guy. I got married young, just a few years out of high school. I won’t go into all the details, but it was a hot mess. I was a terrible wife. He wasn’t a great husband. We fought. A lot. And still, in the middle of the chaos, I wasn’t seeking God.

My personal life was messy. My spiritual life was non-existent, even though I went to church every Sunday, taught Sunday school, etc. But there was one area I excelled – work. I wanted more than anything to be successful in my career. I wanted to be financially secure. I was juggling work, college, and a crumbling marriage. Since I sucked at marriage, I focused all my energy on school and career. By age 23, I graduated Summa Cum Laude while working full-time at a job in my field. I had a 401(k), a house, a dog, and a new car. I was set.

By 25 I was divorced.

But I still didn’t seek God.

By 28 I was remarried. My priorities were 80% career, 10% marriage, 8% other, 2% God. We went to church and I went to occasional Bible studies. I prayed. But I wasn’t seeking God.

By 29, I was a Mom, but my priorities still didn’t really shift that much. My focus was still on my career and building a nest egg. If anything my career was still 80% of my focus, 15% kids, 4% husband and whatever was left-over went to God and other “priorities.” Thankfully, my second marriage was much better than my first. My kids were easy. Life was good. But God wasn’t my top priority. Not even close.

By 36, this life I was trying desperately to build came tumbling down. My career was extremely successful, but I was working from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., 6 days a week. I was never home. My husband was raising our kids by himself while struggling with his own inner demons. He couldn’t take it anymore. Things went from bad to worse. We ended up separating. My daughter was having panic attacks. I was a mess.

And I finally started to seek God. 

I pulled out my Bible and didn’t just read it to check something off my Christian to-do list. I opened it for answers. I opened it to find my savior.

There wasn’t some life-altering, noticeable change in me, but slowly God started to work in my life. He started to re-arrange my priorities. I started to see my husband and children with different eyes. I  started to really work at my marriage. I started to see Jesus, not just as a destination after death, but a daily companion.

At age 37, I attended a Bible study about finding God’s mission for my life. I went into the study thinking God was going to call me to some huge mission or massive undertaking. But God had a different message for me. He showed me my mission field: my husband and children.

At age 40, I “fired” all my clients, let all my employees go, and shut down my office. I read the entire Bible. I started my blog, “Becoming Mary”. I started making my time with Jesus my #1 priority. And He, in turn, has been changing me.

I’ll be 42 years old this year. I’m still a work in progress. If I go a day or two without reading the Bible my husband and kids can tell as I fall back into my old patterns. I still have to remind myself regularly to focus on the mission field God gave me, rather than chasing shiny career goals. I need reminders that I am not defined by my career, or lack of it. I am not defined by marriage or divorce. I am not defined by motherhood or the successes or failures of my children. I am not defined by the church I attend or my good works.

I am defined by my savior.

And when I go to bed at night and mull over my day, the question isn’t what I accomplished or failed to accomplish. But, was I faithful?

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ Matthew 6:33

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. Luke 10:39-42 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Proverbs 31: A Virtuous and Capable Wife

#DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.

She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She finds wool and flax and busily spins it. She is like a merchant’s ship, bringing her food from afar. She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.

She goes to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard. She is energetic and strong, a hard worker. She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night.

Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber. She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes.

She makes her own bedspreads. She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns. Her husband is well known at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders. She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants.

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.

Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.
Proverbs 31:10-31 NLT

The Kindness Challenge: I was Mean

#JoinKindness

I’m on Day 11 of the 30 Day Kindness Challenge. The recipient of my supposed “kindness” is my husband.

Days 1-5: went pretty well. I was excited, figuring out the challenge, seeking ways to be kind, etc.

Days 6-7: were OK. I was busy preparing for a trip with my daughter and was doing laundry, making to-do lists for my husband, packing, etc. I did give my husband a pair of Pittsburgh Steelers sunglasses, which he seems to like (and looks really sexy in).  I didn’t put a whole lot of effort into being kind, but I wasn’t mean either.

Days 8-9: I was out-of-town. Sent a few nice text messages about missing him. Easy!

Day 10: I was tired from my Passport2Purity Getaway with my daughter. My husband had been up late at a golf tournament the night before. He got a speeding ticket. The house was a mess. I was not nice. First thing in the morning I complained about him. Then I complained to him. I did a lot of grumbling with a side of yelling. For some reason housework makes my irritation level rise about 200 degrees. I definitely didn’t say anything nice. (Though I did begrudgingly give him a pocket knife he had been wanting) Last night we went to a birthday party and I had been planning to compliment him in front of his friends . . . but that didn’t happen.

My lack of kindness – and my abundance of frustration – brought the whole mood of my house down. My kids started complaining and bickering. My husband pulled back and didn’t really talk to me the rest of the day. It was not a good day. I was not a good wife. And I set a horrible example for my kids.

Day 11: 7:30 a.m. Only my dog and I are awake (side note, I love my dog because no matter how I act she never gets upset with me). It is just me, the dog and my coffee. And Jesus. And the reminder that God’s mercies are new every morning. Thank goodness for that. I need a lot of mercy.

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:21-23 

Once the footsteps start I am going to need to apologize for my lack of kindness and losing my temper. And ask for grace.

And I am going to need to come up with some pretty off-the-charts kind words and actions for today.

Lamentations 3-22.jpg

 

The Kindness Challenge: Respect

#JoinKindness

Speaking words of praise and affirmation seems simple on the surface. It is easy for me to say things like “I love you” and “You look nice” to my husband, but I might not be speaking the language he wants and needs to hear.

For the 30 Day Kindness Challenge I want to choose my words of affirmation/praise carefully and make sure they count.

I am reading “For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men” by Shaunti Feldhahn.  Shaunti is also the author/inventor of the Kindness Challenge. For this book she conducted qualitative and quantitative research to find out what men really think and really want from women.

Shaunti found that 74% of men would rather feel “Alone and Unloved” than feel “Inadequate and Disrespected”.  Bottom line: Men need and want respect.

She also makes another significant point – most women want a man to love her unconditionally. I know I want my man to love me (and think I’m hot) even if I’ve gained 25 pounds, am getting gray hair and have sagging boobs. I want him to love me even when I nag, complain, don’t clean the house, yell at the kids, etc. I don’t expect anything less. He married me for better or for worse, and some days he definitely gets the “worse”. That is marriage. That is life.

On the other hand . . . and this is something I really struggle with . . . I don’t give him unconditional respect. I know the Bible repeatedly tells wives to respect their husbands. And it never gives the caveat, “if they earn it and deserve it.” Actually, the Bible says quite the opposite:

In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives.
1 Peter 3:1‭-‬2 NLT

Wow.

If I want to be a missionary to my husband and set a good example to my children then I really need to get a handle on this “respect” concept. But honestly, I don’t even know if I grasp what it looks like in practical terms. In America’s society there aren’t exactly a lot of role models of strong, successful women submitting to and respecting their husbands. Especially in an unconditional way. And a healthy, biblical way.

Shaunti gives some concrete examples in her book:

  • Conflict – if my man get’s angry during a conflict most likely it is because he feels disrespected. 80% of men said they feel disrespected by their wife during conflict. That is something to tune in to. If my husband and I are having a disagreement and he gets angry most likely it is because he feels disrespected. Of course the damage is already done, but hopefully I can be discerning enough to figure out what I said and change it for the future.
  • His Judgement – “A man deeply needs the woman in his life to respect his knowledge, opinions, and decisions” Shaunti wrote about her findings. “No one wanted a silent wallflower (nor would I advocate becoming one!”), but many men wished their mates wouldn’t question their knowledge or argue  with their decisions all the time.” Thinking back, I see so many times when I do this to my husband for no reason, other than I want to prove I’m right. Even about super stupid stuff. Like if he sings the words to a song incorrectly I’ll google the lyrics and tell him the correct words.
  • His Abilities: Here I just need to keep my mouth shut or tell him I trust him. He doesn’t need me to give him advice on how to do everything . . . from proper mowing technique to how to handle his business to parenting.  Or if he is folding towels instead of just thanking him, I’ll also insert a helpful tip on the correct way to fold towels. Even when I am genuinely trying to offer advice or be helpful, he may see it as me not trusting his abilities. Shaunti had a great point: “The next time your husband stubbornly drives in circles, ask yourself which is more important: being on time to the party or his feeling trusted? No contest”.
  • Shaunti found that 7 out of 10 men would rather have their wife notice and thank them for an action, rather than say “I love you”.  And not add a “but” to the end of the thank you.  Just “Thank you for cleaning the kitchen”. Not “Thank you for cleaning the kitchen, but you forgot to take out the trash.”
  • The majority of men take a “reminder” as his wife expressing disappointment.
  • Don’t put my man down in public, even if I am just teasing. I can wound him. Deeply.
  • Praise my husband in public. Brag on him.
  • Assume the best about him.

My goal for today is to be as thoughtful and reflective as possible when it comes to praising and affirming my husband. And outside of that, to keep my mouth shut. To a man, not saying anything negative goes beyond outright mean remarks. It means to keep my mouth shut – no “helpful” reminders or suggestions or corrections – for 30 days.

There was a great response from one of the survey takers in “For Women Only” who said, “You know the saying ‘Being every good man is a great woman’? Well that is so true. If a man’s wife is supportive and believes in him, he can conquer the world – or at least his little corner of it. He will do better at work, at home, everywhere. By contrast, very few men can do well at work or a home if their wives make them feel inadequate.”

P.S. Thanks to last year’s craze of loom bracelets I now have a lovely rubber bracelet on my wrist, handcrafted by my daughter, to remind me to be kind.

Proverbs 31-10‭-‬12.jpg

The Kindness Challenge: Day 2

#JoinKindness Day One Review:

  1. Say Nothing Negative about that person: I think I did this, but not too well. There was one incident when my husband and I were discussing some scheduling and budget stuff and I caught my tone of voice, which wasn’t kind. I also went out with friends for dinner last night and completely forgot about the challenge and later had to think back to remember if I’d said anything unkind about him. I don’t think I did (fingers crossed)
  2. Speak Praise or Affirmation: This one is easy for me. I praise my husband a lot – compliment his looks, thank him for things, tell him I love him, etc. So I stepped it up a notch. It was to the point where my daughter said, “Dad, mom is just saying all that stuff because she is doing a Kindness Challenge.” Maybe I stepped it up too much and wasn’t being completely sincere.
  3. Act of Kindness: I washed my husband’s portable grill and put away his laundry.  Writing them down is  a little embarrassing because they seem very small . . . and like things I should have no problem doing. But typically I don’t pick up or clean his stuff. And I didn’t want to do it (which also sounds ridiculous and makes me aware of my selfishness and laziness when it come to household chores). But I did it.

#JoinKindness Day One What I learned:

  • I need to be more thoughtful in my praise and affirmation. I need to really observe my husband and reflect on his strengths and weaknesses and how I can build him up, rather than just throwing out lots of random compliments.
  • I need to watch my tone, not just my words.
  • I need a physical reminder about the challenge so I don’t forget about it when I get busy during the day or if I have a Corona while stuffing my face with Mexican food and laughing with girlfriends. I thought about wearing a rubber band or hair tie around my wrist (but then I worry about cutting off circulation). I need to come up with something.
  • I am selfish.
  • I need to come up with additional and creative ways to do Small Acts of Kindness or Generosity . . . and I also need to be willing to do the stuff I don’t want to do. Like scrubbing a dirty grill even if I didn’t eat the steak.

Proverbs 3-3.jpeg

Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Proverbs 3:3 (NLT)

#JoinKindness Goals for Today:

  • Find a physical reminder of the challenge to wear
  • Write a list of all the things I love about my husband and leave it on his pillow tonight
  • Reflect on a certain situation that he handled well, and tell him that I appreciate it and why
  • Watch my tone of voice

The Kindness Challenge: Verses for Encouragement

June 1: My Thirty Day Kindness Challenge is starting today!  Click here for more information.  #JoinKindness

When I first signed up for the Kindness Challenge I was doing to improve my marriage. I was signing up to challenge myself. I was doing it to bless my husband.

But in my daily Bible reading today I read a verse that made me realize something – the person I need to be doing this for, above anyone else, is Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15-58.jpg

This will be helpful for me because I’m sure there are going to be many days when it is going to take everything in me to keep my mouth shut. There will probably be plenty of days when I am not going to feel like doing anything kind for my husband, whether because of laziness or selfishness or plain old meanness.

But God is kind.  Jesus is kind. Kindness is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit. And God commands me to be kind.

I’ll be re-reading these verses every day through this challenge to give me strength to be kind, even if I don’t feel like it.

The Lord is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. Psalm 145:17 (NLT)

Your kindness will reward you, but your cruelty will destroy you. Proverbs 11:17 (NLT)

When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. Proverbs 31: 26 (NLT)

So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. Ephesians 1:6-8 (NLT)

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. 1 Peter 2:1-3 (NLT)

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!  Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12 (NLT)

Unequally Yoked

Married . . . but walking on different spiritual paths

I am unequally yoked.

When I met my husband we were at similar places spiritually – we had both grown up in church, though in different denominations. He was raised Catholic and I was raised in non-denominational and evangelical churches. While we both considered ourselves “Christians” and believed in God, we weren’t living like it. I went to church occasionally, but didn’t live like it the other 6.5 days of the week.

We got married and had babies. We went to church on an irregular basis. We had our kids baptized in a church where neither of us really felt like we belonged, but it was a middle ground between a Catholic church and evangelical church.

And then our marriage hit a very rough patch. I talked to a divorce attorney. I went to counselors. I read marriage advice books. I went to meetings. My heart was breaking for my kids and myself. I couldn’t find a way out.

couple outside cold.jpeg

And then I found Jesus.

Not the Jesus who I had “known” as a kid or the Jesus I wanted to hide from while in high school and college, but the Jesus who said this:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28‭-‬30 MSG

I started keeping company with Jesus. I’m learning how to live in His grace.

My husband is in a very different place spiritually. I don’t know for sure where he is. We don’t talk about it much. He comes to church with me. He prays with my kids occasionally. He questions God. A lot.

I understand why Paul said: “A wife is bound to her husband as long as she lives. If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) I know the discomfort of walking through life with a partner who isn’t at the same place spiritually. Maybe not even on the same path.

But I also know my calling. I know why God has me here. I know that I have a mission field just as important as if God called me to Africa or China as a missionary. My missions field is in a house that I call home.

couple window.jpeg

I am a missionary with three beautiful people watching my every stumble. Listening to what I say. They are seeing how I forgive. How I pray. Every day they see how I walk with Jesus.

Reading yesterday and today in 1 Corinthians there were several encouraging verses for my walk:

For the believing wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the believing husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy.

1 Corinthians 7:14 NLT http://bible.com/116/1co.7.14.NLT

Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?

1 Corinthians 7:16 NLT http://bible.com/116/1co.7.16.NLT

Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches.
1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT http://bible.com/116/1co.7.17.NLT

 

For any of you “unequally yoked” spouses out there – whether your spouse is another religion, is an unbeliever or just in a very different place in their walk with God . . . don’t give up. Keep praying and keep loving. And above all else, keep walking with Jesus.

P.S. If you are looking for a Bible reading plan to keep you focused on keeping daily company with Jesus, I highly recommend YouVersion app – found here.  I am currently using the Skövde Pingst plan and love it!

Couple outline.jpg