… enjoying Now…

“I believe that only one person in a thousand knows the trick of really living in the present,” wrote novelist Storm Jameson. “Most of us spend fifty-nine minutes an hour living in the past—or in a future that we either long for or dread. The only way to live is by accepting each minute as an unrepeatable miracle—which is exactly what it is.”

For a woman who lived to be 95, and wrote a book every year from the 1920s until the 1960s, she clearly knew how to live each moment.

The above quote was written decades ago, and yet it is true for today. A young man I know recently completed therapy in a drug rehabilitation program; he shared what he had learned about living the moments. “I was challenged to live 85% in the Now,” he smiled. “You then can spend the other 15% living in the past or the future. That’s all you get there.”

So how does one live in the present…

I was much too stubborn to allow the memory of my father’s smoker’s breath and his thin fingers to steal joy from my teen years.  I had discovered the first Polly Anna book published in 1913, when I was about 12.  I knew about the ‘glad game’, an optimistic outlook for life; my attitude could determine what I did with bad experiences. Life was good and wonderful if I let go of painful memories. True, it was a process, but I began to accept the hurts… as a part of life.

I learned to listen to God’s  whispers and I enjoyed Him…

As a young mother, I looked for moments to teach my children God was everywhere.  Butterflies, birds, worms, rainbows, storms… all daily lessons of His love and presence. We walked in the rain, we hiked in the hills, we dusted woodwork…conversations were peppered with delights of God’s love.

Anyone can eat at a table in the dining room, I would tell them. We spent hours listening to the birds, watching clouds or the antics of chipmunks while on picnics. There were lessons under trees, under umbrellas, under shelters… there is no place we didn’t find God.

Monks call their rooms cells, from the Latin word cella which is related to coelum or heaven… the very place one enjoys God. (A Place Apart, M.Basil Pennington.)  Early on my journey to discover the love and acceptance I needed, I began this practice of enjoying the Lord’s presence anywhere and everywhere.

In a house full of children’s antics… good and bad…I had to find a sanctuary for my time alone, when possible. There were always interruptions when the children were young. Those earlier years I was content to make a sanctuary whenever and wherever. As they grew in years, and I grew in my desire to enjoy my Creator, it was easier to be focused and scheduled in the same spot. A chair in our bedroom became a sacred place.

(The above is a chapter in a book I am currently writing on the scares and scars of sexual abuse on the way to… sacred. )

How do we enjoy God in these chaotic, changing days of Now…

It is more difficult today… Polly Anna fails me often. I force myself to trust (can one do that :-)) Hurts and heartbreaks in the family and world events create a dilemma that challenge  even a Polly Anna. We have only One hope… my one panacea continues to be my morning beginning… listening .

Even today after 40 years, this chair, recovered twice now… is the place where I enjoy the Lord alone in the moments, hearing his whispers of affirmation, preparing my heart for this day… “Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Ps 20:7

And this: “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” Ps 5:1-3

Enjoying God now… while waiting…

And you… how do you enjoy God? Maybe you can share your special places and ways.

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… waiting…

You’ve heard the statement… nothing in life is certain but death and taxes.  Let’s add another certain reality… waiting.  We all wait… for something.  Some wait longer, wait more patiently, more often. But we all are waiting.

I so wish I would write only of happy worlds, positive happenings… never imagining there are painful and tearful questions to ask.  If I did, you would think I was living in another place, another time, and you would be right. And I would be an irresponsible blogger.

I don’t have writer’s block these days. I wait… for the right words… for you, for me. I listen closely for that word.  Often it evades me in these dark, sad times.

Reading Psalms has always been part of my journey to Now.  Learning to listen to the cries and joys expressed by the psalmists was a beautiful gift. As I waited for life to begin… anew… during the months spent recovering from Lyme while in Europe and then from Q-fever in 2016. I waited… words from Psalms encouraged and soothed my troubled days.

David was running for his life, and he was waiting… in a cave. We can see his source of Hope as he waits, “I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed.” Psalm 57:1b

Three hundred people were asked… what do you have to live for? They were not in a cave! Nine of ten responded: I am waiting … on a new job, a move to a new place, when I get well, when I finish my degree, a big trip I have planned… etc, etc, etc.  (Psychologist William Moulton Marston from a reprint dated in1963.)

And we are still waiting… for that elusive tomorrow.

There is another kind of waiting—in the minutes and hours of our days.  We use many words to express waiting; a hopeful anticipation, expect, look for, bide one’s time, pause… and more. What do we do while we wait?  I keep listening even in the dark times, in the storms to the Lord’s whispers: Whispers on the Journey by Barb Suiter (available on Amazon.)

According to Market Watch, February 2016, the average American will spend 43 days of his/her life on hold… literally on hold.  You know… waiting for someone on the other end of the phone to get back with you.  I am not sure if this statistic takes my breath or makes me angry. We wait in traffic; in Europe we waited for the tram, the train, the bus. We wait in the doctor’s office… we wait and we wait.

How do we wait for the next dose of dark news?  A friend recently said, “It’s as if a black curtain is hanging over the entire world… waiting to roll down over us.” Wow! How do we wait on this? Is there a way to wait in hope?

My thoughts shift these days from the world uncertainties blasted before us on the big screen to the uncertainties and questions arising locally from Hurricanes Fred, Henri and this week, it is Ida. And Covid… How are we to wait for the next storm?  Tom and I waited eighteen hours to hear from a daughter who lives in the path of Hurricane Ida.

What did I do when waiting to hear news of  her and a grandson as Ida made landfall?  Sadly, I did not wait joyfully… but I had hope. The two Hebrews words for wait are often translated hope, an expectant hope.  This would be much too long to go into a word study of qavah and yachal.  I do like the meaning ‘a hopeful anticipation’, a waiting with intention. To look forward in readiness.

Would you believe this was my whisper the morning after Ida’s entrance into Louisiana:  “I am still confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. WAIT for the Lord; be strong and take heart and Wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13,14.  An army was after David, and he knew war against him was imminent, yet, he could affirm, “In the day of trouble, the Lord will keep me safe… will hide me… will set me high on a rock…v5.

You, O Lord, are our only Hope… as we wait…

Father, you are full of compassion, I commit and commend myself unto you, in whom I am, and live and know.  Be the Goal of my pilgrimage, and my Rest by the way. Let my soul take refuge from the crowding turmoil of worldly thoughts beneath the shadow of your wings; let my heart, this sea of restless waves, find peace in you, O God.                      St. Augustine in Little Book of Prayers

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… caring…

Something’s wrong…

… a dark heaviness draped the morning’s sunlight. Breakfast on the patio turned sour quickly.  I could not get my mind… or was it my heart, around the pictures being shown on the phone screen before me.

Hundreds of young men running for their lives, clinging to plane wings… I watch with helplessness. I can’t see any young women. What can I do? What should I be doing? Surely there is something for me to do.  I must help…

But as most of us do… the scene changes. Life goes on, and we waltz through another day.

Or do we?

Today a part of the world hides in fear, “Now, night is coming, and we are worried. We have turned off the lights in our homes.” A former worker with the international community in Afghanistan shares. (Intelligencer, August 15, 2021).  One news source described the scene at the Kabul airport as one of desperation, sadness and panic.

And while millions were hiding, I spent hours trying to find the owner of an uninvited dog in our garage. Trudging from one veterinarian office to the next, asking if the picture on my phone had been reported as one missing seemed so trifling in this sad day.

As mundane, silly, even… as my day unfolded, I had a sense that I was doing something positive, something worthwhile… for a dog.

This dog, maybe a mixture of Rhodesian Ridgeback, Red Heeler or Australian Shepherd… a lovely canine, trained, and lovable, stole my heart in just hours of her arrival here. Was she dropped off by a former owner, now tired of her. Or has she run away and can’t find her way home? Is our home an oasis for strays… remember Walter, the homing pigeon… … found. a new home… Though we are not prepared to care for a dog,  we want to make sure she is cared for.

“Many residents of Kabul now wait at home in quiet dread. Whatever their variety of circumstances, everyone is trying to find a way to safety and deciding what to do next.” Intelligencer, August 15, 2021

Some may know the truth God is near them, with them. They may trust the words, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You, in God, whose word I praise, in God, I trust. I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” Psalm 56:3,4. I wonder if they have heard the words, “On my bed… in these dark, fearful nights… (italics mine), I remember You, I think of You through the watches of the night. Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63:6,7,8.

But you know what? I doubt many know the promise of His love and care. And they are much afraid.

Yes, the plight of a stray dog pulls my emotions, and I yearn to ‘do something’.  But the dilemma of a people causes a crisis in spirit; my helplessness weighs heavily on an already broken heart.  It matters not their religion, nor their Covid status. What matters is their hearts are full of fear… for their lives, for their families. Fear for their tomorrows.

I went to sleep last evening remembering a young man who had fled from Afghanistan in 2004. Sleeping in the day hours, walking by moonlight, it took five months to reach safety  in Austria.  As one of my English students, he called me his second mama.

And I can do nothing today… but care for a stray dog.

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… keep climbing…

I ran into a tall tree this past week… a tree with a big sign posted on it: Keep Climbing.

The ant in front of me was speeding upwards through the various cracks in the hard bark. What was remarkable about this ant’s speed and direction was the fact that he (or maybe a she) had a tremendous heavy load on its back. I watched in awe, not believing such a small living insect could carry that amount of weight.  I have pondered that for days now.  If an ant can do seemingly impossible feats of carrying a large burden… upwards… surely I can. “Go to the ant, consider its ways and be wise!” Proverbs 6:6

We all know that ants can carry an incredible amount of weight, but a new study at the Ohio State University has determined that the common American field ant “can withstand pressures up to 5,000 times its body weight.” They report this amazing strength may be due to its tiny neck joint. 

Wow… I just failed my training.

It is true other insects are capable of heavy weight lifting feats, but it was this ant scurrying quietly upwards that caused me to consider how we are to carry our heavy burdens.

I am weary these weeks… too burdened to move with the burden, especially upwards. In my younger years, I managed to keep moving… and briskly, too.  Around detours, obstacles, ant hills. This Pollyanna was not daunted by the negatives in life.  After all, ‘something wonderful would always be around the next corner’. I kept climbing through the effects of childhood sexual abuse, the divorce of parents, the sad loss of an infant son.

On and on I joyfully trudged. (I wonder can one trudge joyfully!) Lyme disease couldn’t conquer an optimistic outlook; Q-fever held me hostage for a time, but eventually, I began the ascent.

These were my personal burdens; my deep trust in a loving Father kept me motivated to ‘hold on’ and progress upwards.  These days, I am overwhelmed with the troubles and trials of my children and grandchildren… and I can’t hold on.

A few days after posting the blog … holding fast… I became aware my hands were slipping; I could hold no longer.  A sweet whisper the next week while reading in Psalm 139 covered me with a gentle peace. “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.” V9,10.  No matter where I am, there the Lord will find me.

I sat weeping, knowing this is true, but asking, “Lord, how are You holding me… fast? I think I know how to hold to You, but how do you hold me when I can’t hold?

Later that morning I needed to make a dreaded service call. You know, one of those calls when you can’t understand the person on the line, or you are transferred multiple times. That morning, a most beautiful voice answered, and helped me quickly and joyfully. I knew she was Filipino even before I asked her nationality. You may not understand, but it was as if God’s love surrounded me and ‘held me fast’ as I remembered the many beautiful gracious Filipinos who had loved us so well while in Vienna. I smiled and hugged myself all morning.

Just a small thing…

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence, without fault and with great joy… to the only God our Savior  be glory, majesty and authority , through Jesus Christ our Lord…” Jude 24

“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping, Your love, O Lord, supported me, held me fast (italics mine)…” and I could keep on climbing. Psalm 94:18

You may want to listen to the song, He will Hold me Fast…

 

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… holding fast…

Hold on for dear life… how often have you cautioned your child with those words when you were pushing them in a swing. “Go higher, go higher,” they squeal, and you keep warning them to hold on.

This phrase has been around for centuries… as early as the 17th and 1800s. Then, it most likely meant your very life depended on how tightly you were holding to something that could prevent a catastrophe. Today we use it to warn someone to be careful…

I have a new understanding of holding on for dear life. One early morning I noticed several bumblebees asleep in the flower clusters of my Chaste (Vitex) tree. I shook the branches; no movement. They were clinging… stuck like glue.

Wondering what was going on with these bees, I discovered they, indeed, were sound asleep… until the morning sun warmed them. Some were females who found themselves away from the nest when the temperature dropped the evening before.  These girls work all day gathering nectar and pollen to take back to the queen. When they get busy and night falls quickly, they must find warmth. Male bumblebees can never return to the nest once they leave, so when they get tired from chasing after the females all day, then they must find a place to rest.

… holding on for dear life… when it is too cool for their fat little bodies to move.

The center of a flower or the base of any source of nectar may be 10 degrees C or 50 degrees F higher than the atmosphere around. The sleeping bees must wait until the sun warms the air, and they are able to move. They are unshakeable, clinging to their source of warmth…

As the sun warms them, they begin to dance!

Caught in the cold, seeking solutions to multiple mazes in my family garden, I am encouraged to hold on for dear life. I am clinging. I want to be a bumblebee these days. But I want to be unshakeable even after I am warm in the Son!

“Fear the Lord your God and serve Him. Hold fast to Him… He is your praise, He is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.” Deuteronomy 10:20,21.

A sweet friend recently commented she doesn’t enjoy Facebook these days. “Everyone touts their perfect vacation, their perfect children, their perfect relationships… well, my life is not perfect these days.” I can surely relate to her heart as she shared; in fact, we cried together. True, life is rarely perfect, and we survive the little battles, the detailed detours without wavering… but it is the overwhelming  avalanches that weaken our hold.  I love the honesty, the vulnerability of some who share their hurts and pain so we can walk with them during their struggles. But more often, we and others, carry our pain alone.

What do we do when we are caught in the cold? … when life issues make it too difficult to collect nectar?  Most of us know what to do, where to go. But often we must be reminded by observing the bumblebee… caught with nowhere to go except to the source of nectar.

The definition for clinging in the Cambridge English Dictionary takes my breath: a person who stays close to and depends on a Person(my capitalizing) who is taking care of them. Another meaning is to be firmly united with strong affection. I want to cling to this source of nectar, my Center, even when life hurts.

“Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63: 7,8

“You are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.” Joshua 23: 8

Clinging, holding on, remaining faithful… till we can dance again.

 

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… talking and touching…

“Someone has taken care of your meal check,” the server told us with a smile. “Now, I wish I had ordered dessert,” Tom grinned.  While we were wondering who and why someone had given us this surprise gift, the manager of the restaurant came to us.

“The way you have talked with one another, held hands across the table, no phones—well, I just wanted to thank you for showing me a little of how a love relationship looks.” He sat down with us, and we shared a few minutes of our journey.  He was surprised we had been married over fifty years.

Sometimes we must have our cell phones on the table, but this time, it was  good we didn’t!  Looking into the eyes is a must for good conversation.  I always tell Tom, I am not sure you are listening unless you see my eyes.  Ears and eyes seem to go together.

“The wise in heart are called discerning, understanding and knowing; and winsome speech increases learning in both speaker and listener.” Proverbs 16:21 Amplified Bible

Early in our marriage, Tom would say, “Barb, I can never know you unless you reveal yourself to me.” I talked more than he, but perhaps I said less! I was scared of revealing my self… due in part to being told I was stupid most of my life, I am sure. I was afraid to be real.  As he shared his feelings, his hopes, the deep things of his heart, I began to expose the parts of me no one had ever known.

Sharing hearts is the beginning of a relationship that moves towards intimacy… this is much more than a sexual encounter. I love the word ‘in-to-me-see’ for this depth in marriage. It encompasses a closeness you can’t describe, a deep understanding of another, a confidence filling you completely that this person will never intentionally hurt your heart.  It’s a walk in the dark when holding hands is the only communication needed. When I am crying and Tom simply holds me, never asking what is the matter.   He knows…

We have plenty of time these days for talking… we begin the morning that way; I told Tom last week that our hour over breakfast anchors me for the day, wraps me… Life with  four children presented challenges for listening, so we grabbed the moments… we made time for this necessary part of our relationship.  Bedtime was the one time we would talk over the day, share what needed sharing.  I have always said my two favorite places in the whole world are in ‘my chair’ early mornings listening to the Lord and in Tom’s arms at evening, listening to his heart.  You just make a time…  (an added little note here: We have always, with few exceptions, these fifty seven years, gone to bed together… a sweet ending to each day.)

I could write a book on the places and ways we made available times, but you are writing your own book on this subject. Tom says we have had a fairy tale journey, one packed with schemes and spells of witches and wizards, dragon fights and more, like any other story book… we just keep believing there is a ‘happily ever after.’The following quote whispers intimacy and acceptance in every phrase, and it is beautiful in marriage: “Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” Dinah Maria Craik

You can talk all day and all night, but there needs to be some touching going on.  When we first began leading marriage workshops, we called each one of our married children and asked them: What is the one thing you remember most about us—in the home?  All four of them said… the way you two have always touched.

“I love to come to your house,” a young friend who visited often, whispered to our daughter. “I love to see your mom and dad touch each other. I have never seen mine do that.”

“Affectionate touching is one of the most critical elements of a strong and healthy marriage, and it is one of the easiest to neglect. Regular, sincere, spontaneous nonsexual affection helps to sustain the emotional closeness needed in a marriage.” USAir Magazine, October 1992. This was written 30 years ago.

It is true that each one has a different  level of need for touch.  You will remember physical touch is one of the five love languages (The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman). It was interesting how long it took me to realize this was a language Tom spoke. Touching was always a part of our relationship, but I never associated this as his love language… (and we had taught the book!) Until… one day he told me how he felt when I reached for his hand as we walked in Vienna.

For most of my younger years, I was not hugged and touched  except in a negative way, other than when I spent  summer time with aunts and uncles who were loving and kind to all of us.  I had to learn the lesson of touch.  Marriage is a constant learning class.

John Gray, author of Mars and Venus, Together Forever, asked his mother why his father had felt the need to stray. “Your father and I loved each other very much. But as the years passed, I became his mother, and your father wanted a wife.” p2.  Not only do we need touch, we learn to love romantically, too. The website, itsovereasy.com states in one particular study, the number one reason given for divorce is … absence of romantic intimacy/love.

Sadly, this often happens. Charlie Shedd, our first mentor in marriage, declared a woman should be a lady on the street, a queen in her house, and a lover in the bedroom. (He has a stronger word than lover.) Never be a mother… I am sure some of my readers may think this is far too outdated. After all, we live in 2021, and we are equal in every way.  This has nothing to do with being equal; it has all to do with learning ways to finish well… together.

“For I am confident and sure of this very thing  that He who began a good work in you… in Tom and me… (italics mine) will continue until death do us part (italics my words), Philippians 1:6

… as long as we keep learning to love, accepting each other, seeking oneness, talking and touching…

… we will last… you will last; it begins NOW.

To my single readers I may have lost the past five weeks with these five longer blog posts on ‘finishing well… together’, be assured I will be back with truths from the garden soon… shorter!

 

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… seeking oneness…

I wish it were all so easy… in this gift of marriage we were given.  It is virtually impossible to become one.  Is it achievable for us as humans?  What does it even mean two can become one?

Early in the Biblical record, we are introduced to the bond of marriage between a man and a woman. God’s design is put forth, “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:23,24

…the two shall become one flesh… the Hebrew word is basar. This word is used 265 times in the Old Testament and 147 times in the New Testament and has multiple usages and meanings… denoting the material which makes up the human body to understanding the creative order and how it relates to God.  It can be used in relation to the soul, the body, life.  Basar or flesh is first used here in Genesis 2.

The root meaning of basar is to gladden with good news, to bear news, to announce with good news. I have not the intelligence to comprehend all this word encompasses for the marriage relationship, but I believe there is much more than we realize. I will try with Tom’s greater expertise, seek to share our practical understanding of this awesome concept.

It is interesting to note that God created them—male and female in His own image… “let us make man in our image… male and female he created them.”  Man was created in God’s image as was the woman. Therefore, we each bear a uniqueness of God’s person. God placed His manly characteristics in the man, and in the woman He put His womanly or female qualities. It is now in the union of man and woman that a full expression of God’s nature can be seen.

I remember when I first realized this truth, how absolutely precious for me to ‘see’ Tom as having God’s strong, manly characteristics. Of course, he doesn’t have them all, or perfectly, but the potential is there to be filled with more and more of Jesus. And if I have been given God’s feminine, God-like traits, then as coming together in a union, we are able to recognize more and more of how God is.

I have learned much about God’s ways over these years as I am aware that the qualities Tom has, his responses and actions to me, to life, come from being made in God’s image.  How awesome God is… I say in those moments. This, in no way, compares Tom with God, but allows me an understanding of God. I hope you understand that!

Every man possesses characteristics uniquely for him; every female… those uniquely for her.  God has gifted each of us with Himself. Is that not incredibly awesome? You were created in His image!

Someone wrote “My wife brought lace curtains into our union; I brought the muddy boots.” In the marriage relationship, there is a union of God’s traits in both husband and wife.  Another meaning of basar is a whole life—and so “two shall become a whole life.”

One essential purpose of the marriage bond is for man and woman to show or exemplify His likeness through their union to the rest of creation. This can be done on three levels:

  1. The physical… when a man and woman have a child, they become one. The child receives equal chromosomes from both father and mother. Thus, the parents become one in their offspring.
  2. The soul… both man and woman are soul creations. This is what makes them unique from all other creations. The image of God is imprinted within the soul— the mind, the emotions and the will. Both men and women possess these qualities that make them human. The ability to think and reason is a God-like quality, as are the emotions to feel and sense life on a spiritual level and the will to make choices. To become one here is to be “soul mates”. It does not mean that we think alike or feel the same way or make all choices in agreement. However, to become one as soul mates requires a sacrificial love that can only come from a spiritual source.

I was telling Tom someone compared  ‘becoming one’ like cutting a grapefruit in a perfect half… then you just fit it back together, and you have a complete whole.  Not so, said my wise man.  Because both of us are not grapefruits! That would be too easy. What if one is a buffalo and the other a butterfly…absolutely cannot happen without sacrificial love.

There is much to be discussed here. Space and your time will not allow a full explanation of living in a sacrificial relationship. In brief, when a man and woman love each other well and are willing to put the other first, then the outcome is a compromise of oneness that is built on love and respect for each other. Balancing one another’s strengths and weakness is a result of this oneness. Ephesians 5 is an expression of such sacrificial love. When a husband and wife live by this standard, they are ‘bearing the news’ to the world of the oneness of God’s nature in and through their marriage.

  1. The spiritual level of oneness…a husband and wife can only become one spiritually when they are each united in the ONE who gives spiritual life. When both are connected to God through faith, they are one in harmony with God and with each other.

The ultimate goal of creation is to be one with God so that He becomes all in all:   “When He has done this (this being… everything placed under God), then the Son will be made subject to Him who put everything under Him, so that God may be all in all.” 1 Corinthians 15: 28

From the beginning God was One and in eternity God shall be all One. The whole of creation, especially the union of man and woman is to come together in a physical union as one, to grow in sacrificial love for each other, becoming soul-mates, and ultimately to become one in relationship to their Father. When this happens, God is honored as the One source of life and purpose… and the two have become a whole.

“My soul finds rest in God alone,” David affirms in Psalm 62. The writer of Ecclesiastes adds, “He has set eternity in the hearts of men…” 3:11. There is this desire in each of us to know God and to find His peace. Hannah Hurnard says in Hinds Feet on High Places, “It is God’s will that some of His children should learn this deep union with Himself through the perfect flowering of natural human love in marriage. For others, it is equally His will that the same perfect union should be learned through the experience of learning to lay down completely this natural and instinctive desire for marriage and parenthood… This instinct for love, so firmly implanted in the human heart, is the supreme way by which we learn to desire and love God Himself above all else.” P10

“I am thankful God let me live long enough to see what marriage is to look like,” a precious older friend told me one day in Vienna. “I never believed it was possible.”

It is possible… never perfectly…but always with much… learning, accepting, seeking… talking and touching (next week’s blog).

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… accepting your gift…

“Are you two on your honeymoon?” Tom and I had gone away for a couple of days, and were asked this question one evening.  At that time, we had been married about 17 years. That question is still often asked… at times.  Not because we look young, but because we love young.

This week I asked Tom… how? How have we made it? There is no possible way to have known what love and marriage were all about at 18 and 19; we were committed, but to what? How did we do this?

“I liked you,” he smiled.

Is that it? I liked him, too…

We’ve been told we’re just lucky… Tom says it has nothing to do with luck. Maybe it’s a whole lot of liking, a whole lot of learning, and more accepting this person as a gift to me than one can imagine. And it insures a whole lot of love and security for the end of life…

Imagine you have just been given the most precious, the most beautiful, the most expensive gift, more special than anything you could hope for.  What do you do when you are given a gift such as this?  You receive it with massive joy and gladness.

And you open it everyday.

Recently we were walking into a restaurant and two ladies… maybe in their 40’s… came up behind us. “Oh, I like this,” one giggled. She was talking about the way we were walking. My favorite way when we walk slowly is with my right thumb in Tom’s right back  pocket. We stopped and talked with them… Tom has accepted the fact I will always talk with someone… and explained we have been walking ‘this way’ for over 50 years.

“What is your secret?” was the next question, and one repeatedly asked of us these years. I love to share how I have never gotten over the fact that Tom Suiter chose me… chose me out of the hundreds and millions of females in the world. Can you believe? To this day, I smile thinking about this.  I, too, cannot fathom that I was chosen by the Creator God, before the foundation of the world, to be His; He actually picked me out for Himself…. (Ephesians 1:4 Amplified) These two facts keep me anchored and secure.

A journal entry this May 19:  I am awed that You trusted me with Tom; You trusted me with this gift.  And You taught us how to love, how to receive each other, how to accept one another. Thank you, my Father, for the confidence You have in me for this beautiful trust.

A long time ago, I learned I could not change anyone else… but me.; I could not change Tom. The book Lord, Change Me by Evelyn Christenson, 1988, reveals that truth. For some reason even before reading this, I had accepted Tom Suiter as good and ‘perfect’ with all his imperfections. If I could have changed one thing… one tiny idiosyncrasy of his, he would not have been the person I fell in love with.

“We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.” Sam Keen

I love what Lori posted on the blog last week… finishing well… “I just go with ‘God made him for me.’ Everything else will work out.” Isn’t that absolutely priceless!  Does that mean they don’t struggle, cry or have trouble? I doubt it; it means accepting him as he is… just works.

“Let each man of you, (without exception) love his wife as his very own self, and let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband— that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly.” Ephesians 5:33 Amplified

Sounds impossible, right? I remember the first time I read this verse in the Amplified—oh, my, what amplification for the simple command of “a wife must respect her husband.” By taking one of those action verbs every month—it would take a whole year to learn how to love—. But a man is to love his wife as his very own self—now that needs to be amplified!

It is fun to know that our special song was released the year we began dating…  I Love You Because recorded by Al Martino in 1963. https://youtu.be/bgHIuSh4uCk   I can cry each time I hear the words.  “I love you for a hundred thousand reasons, but most of all, I love you because you’re you.” If you have never heard this song, you will enjoy listening… and smiling.  I make no changes, demand none… only a full acceptance of who Tom is.

There is another book I would suggest for those of you who want a great marriage.  You know when investigators must learn to recognize counterfeit bills, they study the real ones, not the counterfeit.  So it is with marriage.  Study the secrets of those who are successful. The Triumphant Marriage by Neil Clark Warren is a wonderful book revealing the secrets of 100 such married couples. I love this quote: “Magnificent marriages involve two people who dream magnificently.” p18 and “Show me a couple with a big dream for their individual and corporate lives, one that involves a deep sensitivity to both partners’ needs, and I’ll show you a couple on their way to a triumphant marriage.” p12.

You would laugh to know how we are still dreaming… what to build, where to go, what to plant (we planted a 2 feet sapling this year… oh, how it has grown), let’s go back to the mission field. But most importantly, we plan and work at how our marriage can be ‘more’. It is choosing the absolute best for the other.

A quote of Ruth Graham: “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”

I hesitate to think where we would be today without constant forgiveness. Tom taught me to forgive. Early on I could pout for three days and spend a night or two on the couch—not often, but it happened.  Many times, he asked my forgiveness when I should first have admitted my wrongdoing.

Have I wanted to wrap this gift up and send it back?  Rarely, but when it does, forgiveness comes quickly now as we both desire to restore the broken connection .

A friend shared recently, “The first apology I received from my husband was after almost 30 years of marriage, I didn’t know what to do with that; I was stunned. And his apology came at the insistence of a counselor we were seeing.” This dear couple is learning how to live in forgiveness, but look how long it has taken.

Some people have a hard time admitting an imperfection or realizing a mistake may have been made. Did you know that a sincere apology is more than saying I am sorry? It is another step in strengthening a relationship. An apology given and received by two people in love is a beautiful openness into acceptance. Forgiveness restores the feeling of completeness in the marriage relationship.

As a young wife, I was too sensitive—well, I guess I am still too sensitive.  Tom learned how to handle that part of me, while not putting me down.  “You hurt my feelings”, I have been able to say through these years. He never threw my feelings down, but asked how he had done so. Sometimes there would be a battle of my misconception of the situation or how I had misunderstood his words. An apology would always come.  You have been there…

Tom is a great forgetter… a positive gift in marriage. I am more like an elephant, remembering too much. I have a brother who never forgets a word… ever said.  He reminded his ex-wife of this a few years after their divorce, and she said, “That’s why we’re no longer married!” They remain friends, but it is impossible to be married –happily—without an admitting, a  forgetting and an acceptance of each other’s mistakes.

Excerpt  from the book, The Triumphant Marriage… “A physician from Georgia: We have as close to a perfect marriage as anyone could have. Not because we are great communicators, or because sex is so great, or because of anything I have done. It is just one of those strange and rare miracles that happens— by the grace of God.”

While I appreciate these words and the glory given to God, I personally think there is much more here. I am convinced they studied each other, accepted each other’s warts, learned forgiveness… spending every day grateful for the gift they were given.

“I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to Him, as I rejoice in the Lord.”  Psalm 104:33,34.

“I got gaps; you got gaps; we fill each other’s gaps,” says Rocky Balboa in the movie Rocky. Marriage is today, this one day, on the journey to the whole of life— giving and receiving, as we learn to fill the gaps.

It is so appropriate that this chapter on ‘accepting your gift’ is posted on Tom’s birthday…  I could write forever…my Polly Anna spirit has “expected something wonderful around the next corner” for 57 years. Yes, disappointments come, tears fall, but most days, I still peek around the corner…expecting.

A heart at peace gives life to the body. Proverbs 14:30

… accepting God’s gift to you…

This series of blogs: …finishing well…together…

Learning to Love

Accepting your gift

Seeking oneness— next week.

Talking and Touching— last week of June

 

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… learning to love…

“I’m going to marry that guy,” I whispered to my friend in church when I first saw Tom; I was 16; he was 17. How could I possibly know? I have no idea… but I have spent my life thanking God. Tom now grins and says, “She chased me until I caught her!”You will remember I mentioned in the previous blog a house painter  in Austria must complete three years of learning and practicing before he can become a professional.

Many more than three years are involved in being married successfully. It takes a lifetime of learning the subject…

“When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer (pleasure) his wife whom he has taken.” Deuteronomy 24:5 Amplified Bible.

Isn’t that incredible advice? Did you know that was in the Bible? Um..m. Perhaps there is something to this intentional time of learning how to live in a marriage relationship.  Many things are learned by observing, by example… but not marriage. If this were easily passed down from parents to children, Tom and I would not have survived as neither of us had lived in a strong, healthy loving atmosphere.  And our children surely would have learned how to love and ‘marry’ from our positive, growing relationship . Not so. Two of our children are divorced; one after 25 years, another after 22 years.

I am sitting here at my computer reading articles on the reasons for divorce. I crumble in sadness, in helplessness. Why do so many fail in achieving what they so long for? One study interviewed 26 couples to discover the reasons for divorce. What is interesting in this study is all 52 individuals had completed a Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program before marriage. Fourteen years later their reasons for divorce were the same as most other statistics show.

If there were books on marriage in 1964, I never found them.  But I began reading every Reader’s Digest article, every mention of marriage in our church’s magazine, Home Life, and other secular magazines.  Ladies’ Home Journal had a segment every month on, “Can this Marriage be Saved?” I devoured every word. Charlie Shedd was one of the first pastor/author/husband/lover I found in the 70s.  His books are still available; Letters to Karen and Letters to Philip answer the question, “Daddy, how can I keep him/her loving me forever?” You will enjoy these!

I had no experience, no example, but I was determined that my marriage was not going to be a copy of my parents. What else could I do but begin to read, to observe other relationships, to take advantage of every possible lead I heard concerning how to do marriage.

Tom and I signed up for every event on marriage; we joined discussions and shared with other couples seeking to learn. We taught classes at church when we had no idea what we were doing. I smiled that many of you remarked you will be following these next four chapters. You will make it!  Through these years I have learned most couples who have a good marriage are eager to participate in any conference, to read a new book… anything to strengthen an already strong relationship.

Early in our ministry, I joined a group of women to do hands on sewing for an orphans’ home. While we sat around the tables, sewing on buttons, mending torn clothes, I listened as the ladies voiced delight that their husbands left town on Monday and returned home on Friday. I was a young wife with four little children and loved Tom coming home in the evening. Older women who should have encouraged me, now caused me to wonder what marriage was all about.

Somewhere early on this journey, I realized I must know this frog-turned-prince. New books surfaced with the years, and I read each one to understand my role in marriage. If I learned only one new idea or thought from a book, it was worth it.  I learned to “study my man”. I have encouraged women for years to find something new about your man every day.  What a job this can be! I am still learning!

Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, is a game changer for couples committed to  communicate with one another. We will mention this in other chapters, but for now, Tom and I have used this in seminars and counseling sessions. It is a must to understand emotional love. We were speaking love, but didn’t understand this principle completely until 1992 when the book was published. I just Googled the best books for marriage in 2021… guess what…?  Five Love Languages is at the top, almost 30 years later. Some of you do not enjoy reading, and so, if you only can read one, I would suggest this book as a priority.

I read to Tom as we traveled, with or without children asleep in the back seat. Today most books are on audio or you can listen to a podcast. In these days of technology, learning how to love is at your fingertips.

One attractive lady scheduled a time with Tom and me in Vienna. She and her husband were on the verge of divorce.  She sat and cried, “He brings me beautiful gifts all the time, but I don’t want or need anything else. I only want him to spend a little time with me.”  How sad… they had no idea of each other’s emotional love language.  His was giving/receiving gifts, and hers was a desire for quality time. (The five love languages, according to Gary Chapman, are: Words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.)

You may have heard of the Enneagram Personality Test; it’s a system of personality testing that describes nine patterns in how people interpret  the world and manage their emotions. You can find this on line. Some employers currently use this for job applicants. I mention this as one avenue to help you understand and know what makes your spouse act and react as he or she does.  Other personality tests are available… Myers Briggs, DISC for example. Tom and I have learned through each.

The only way to love—is to know how.  It doesn’t just happen. We told our children  marriage will be the  hardest work you will ever do, but we failed to intentionally show them how to find the one gift we desired for them.

“Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.” Proverbs 23:12

Marriage is life… a blending of two rivers, with bends and curves, turbulent waters at times, crashing around the debris and garbage of life, but  always flowing.  Have problems come? Losing an infant son, the same issues raising teenagers you have, changes due to Lyme disease, crisis with Q-fever that robbed me of a year… a year I felt I was losing my mind, but Tom would not let me go, prostate cancer… and on and on.

I cannot remember 57 years of mornings, but I remember this morning, and it was beautiful.  Marriage is today… Is every day great? Of course not, but when it is not, I always know that tomorrow is coming.

Disclaimer: there is no way to share 57 years of learning. Already I wish I had written many more nuggets…

… still learning…

Next week… in making your marriage LAST… Accepting your gift.

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… finishing well…

Who of us does not want to finish well? Whether it is a race, a project, a ministry, a life… a marriage. ”I  press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us…” Philippians 3:14

After reading my blog… kissing  frogs…… kissing frogs… Tom and I were invited to share our journey of these 57 years. Several friends asked us to write down everything we said during the seminar… so they would have our secrets!   While impossible to remember every word, I want to use my blog these next couple of weeks to communicate some truths we have learned.

Disclaimer from the beginning: We do not have a perfect marriage. As Ruth Graham once replied, when asked if she and Dr. Billy Graham had a perfect marriage, “If either one of us were perfect, there would be no need of the other.”  So, you have never considered divorce was another question she was reportedly asked.  “Divorce never, murder yes.”  I smile at that, and wonder if she did, in fact, say that. But I do understand!  Tom and I have a good marriage, and one we continue to work on even in our later years.

When having some painting done on the home in Vienna, Austria, we learned a painter must go through training and a three-year apprenticeship before he is considered accomplished enough… to paint a straight wall. Can you imagine?  That’s three- 3- years.

We can understand the years a medical doctor must study, train and practice. Or a lawyer? A pilot?  But a painter?  We began to question the lack of training for marriage. I wonder if doctors or painters have a degree in Marriage 101, as well.

Marriage is the single most complex entity short of nuclear fission, and nuclear fission may be the less complicated… US News and World Reports, 1984. Tom always says ‘amen’ to this quote. Notice the date of this. Thirty seven years later it must be realized good marriages do not just happen.

Because of Covid and the lockdown of 2020, predictions are surfacing we may see the  largest single year increase in divorce in decades. You may have seen the stats on divorce for past years: some estimates say fifty percent of all first marriages will end in divorce. In preparation for this seminar, one particular fact caught my attention and disturbed me: the divorce rate among fifty year olds and older has doubled in the last twenty years. For sure, Covid is not the issue here.

Paul David Tripp’s (author, educator, theologian) definition of marriage: a flawed person in a comprehensive relationship with another flawed person living in the middle of a fallen world. And we wonder how in the world any two people can survive a union with so much against them from the beginning. It is impossible unless you commit to a lifetime of discovery.

Tom and I knew nothing… nothing…  about being married. My parents divorced when I was sixteen; Tom’s divorced when he was thirty after their shaky, insecure thirty one years.  So how have we survived this race?

Making Your Marriage LAST embraces four points:

L… earning to love                                                                                                                              A… ccepting your gift                                                                                                                          S… eeking oneness                                                                                                                              T… alking… and Touching

Four simple, yet profound, truths Tom and I have spent 57 years learning. I want to share this journey filled with many mistakes and lots of love. The next four blogs will cover the points of LAST.

I would love for you to stay with me these three or four weeks as I share our notes from our mini seminar. If your marriage is good, it can be better; if it is better, it can be great. If you are single, you can share these words with another.

One of my favorite happy verses: “He who finds a wife, finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” Proverbs 18:22. I wish there were a verse that said, “She who finds a strong, secure velvet-covered brick has discovered a gold mine.”

Join me as I share the first chapter… learning to love. .. this week.

 

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