Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A letter to my daughters… (part 2)

OK, so you have determined to the best of your ability that the guy with whom you share some mutual interest is a true believer (or, if not, reread part 1). Now what?

Ephesians 5 talks about God’s plan for the marriage relationship.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
Ephesians 5:22-28

Along with everything else He created, God created marriage. He not only has a specific plan for the way marriage should work, He has a specific purpose for the marriage relationship: marriage is a reflection of the relationship that God has with His people, the ones who through faith have entered into a covenantal love relationship with Him. This is not something we talk about very often, but it is stated in Ephesians 5:32 ("This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church.")

The implications of this fact are mind-boggling. Husbands are to mirror the love of Christ for His church in the way they love their wives. And wives are to honor and respect their husbands the way the people of God honor and respect God. In Ephesians 5:22-28, the Bible tells us about this using the term “submit” to describe the wife’s responsibility and the term “love” to describe the husband’s responsibility.

Historically, somehow the responsibility of the wife to submit has received a lot more press than the responsibility of the husband to love. The result is that submission has developed a bad reputation among those-who-are-not-inclined-to-like-the-Bible. In fact, this lopsided emphasis is probably largely responsible for the feminism we see rising up all around us all the time, demonizing men and making them out to be the bad guys. However, if you think through the plan the way God designed it, it is a totally beautiful system. It is easy to submit to someone who loves you more than life itself (which Jesus clearly does, since He died for us—this is the kind of love husbands are to have for their wives). It is easy to submit to someone who treasures you and will go to any lengths to ensure your well-being. It is easy to submit to someone who cares for you in tangible ways, taking full responsibility to provide for all your physical, emotional and spiritual needs. These are all things that husbands are called to do in this passage. Clearly, God did not plan marriage as an institution where women would be humiliated and abused.

There is an entire book written about this, based on Ephesians 5:33. It is called Love and Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerich, and you should probably read it someday.

In a nutshell, you will find your best situation if you marry a man whom you can respect and to whom you can submit gladly, and who loves you more than life itself. Easy, no? Well, maybe not. Let’s take these two sides of the coin one at a time.

Respect and Submission

You can’t marry a man you don’t respect. Well, I suppose you could, but it would be bad. Don’t marry a man you don’t respect. Just don’t. You can submit to someone you don’t respect, but it is an awkward, unpleasant and probably bitter submission in that case. It is submission in the sense that you will do as you are told, but it is not true submission from your heart because you are unhappy and balky about it. In your mind you will be saying, “I’ll do it because you made me, but not because I want to, and I’m not happy about it! And I think you and your requests are stupid!” This is a forced submission which is not a true submission of the heart. True submission can only be given by choice to someone you respect. Here are some guidelines for Respect:

1. Respect goes hand in hand with trust. You need to have a basic trust in the love your husband has for you. When you trust in his love, you can submit when things don’t always seem to make perfect sense to you. Of course, even the very best husband is imperfect and sometimes selfish, and your husband is sure to make mistakes sometimes. You can’t hold this against him, because you know you make mistakes, too. Everyone needs to give and receive forgiveness. I once heard it said, “You have to be willing to cut others at least as much slack as you expect them to cut for you.” Truly, the only One who is totally faithful to live up to the trust placed in Him is God. God is always 100% trustworthy. So at the end of the day, you have to bank on God’s faithfulness and sometimes submit to an imperfect husband, trusting that because doing so is an obedience to God, it will ultimately result in the best outcome, regardless of the mistakes your husband may make (always remembering that you are not perfect, either). But, that said, before you have taken your marriage vows and while you are still free to try to find the best possible situation that God has for you, look for someone you can trust. This means look for someone who is honest, straightforward, kind and unselfish. Stay far away from guys who try to mind-game you.

2. You should marry someone you would never be embarrassed to have by your side. It is unchristian to be proud, but there is a sense in which I think it is not wrong to be proud. You should be proud of your husband. You should esteem him highly. If you are embarrassed or ashamed of his appearance, his profession, his manner of speaking, or something else… then do not marry him. It may be your own problem in your own heart if you are haughty towards the man God has for you. If this is the case, then spend much time in prayer, asking God to form your heart the way He wants it to be. But it is also true that sometimes there just isn’t “chemistry” between two people, and if after much prayer and soul searching chemistry never happens, it may be that this just isn’t the right match. Your husband will not be happy if he senses that you are embarrassed of him, so don’t put him through that. Don’t marry a man if you cannot be proud of him.

3. You should marry a man who can support you in a manner that will make you content. This is not a blank check to marry for money. It has more to do with your own heart than with the limits of some guy’s earning potential. But you do need to be realistic about your financial expectations. If you have expectations that a man cannot meet, then do not marry him. For instance, if it is your heart’s desire to stay home with your children when you have them, then don’t marry a man whose career (or the lack thereof) will force you to work outside the home in order to make ends meet. You should also marry a man who can support you himself, without your parents’ help. You will not respect a man who is depending on your daddy to pay for his groceries and mortgage. I feel that it is also important that your husband make more money than you make. If he is the head of the home and the maker of financial decisions, then it is best if he brings home the bulk of the money. If you are the big earner, you will find it hard to turn over the financial decisions to him, or even just to let him have the tie-breaking vote, which is what the Bible tells you to do when it says, “submit.” It will be very hard for you to respect him in terms of finances if you make more than he does. I’m just saying.

4. You should marry someone who can give you good, Biblical advice when you need counsel. Your husband is tasked with caring for you. In fact, to fail to do so will actually hinder his relationship with God (see 1 Peter 3:7). He should be able to listen to your concerns and provide wise, godly guidance for you. Going back to #1 above, you need to be able to trust his wisdom and guidance. You will be best able to trust him if you know he has a solid understanding of and love for scripture. He does not need to be a pastor, but he should know how to find scriptural guidance and how to appropriately apply scripture to everyday life.

Once you are married, you are married. The vow has been made, the relationship is sealed, consummated on the honeymoon. You have become one flesh in the sight of God. This is a very serious and sobering thing. Once you have walked down the aisle and pledged your faith to a man, it is from that time forward God’s will that you should be married to him, no matter what comes next.

This time, now, when you are old enough to have discernment but before you are married in the sight of God, this is the only time in your life when you have the right to read and ask for what the Bible says husbands should be like. After the wedding, verses like 1 Peter 3: 7 and Ephesians 5:25-28 are not written to you. In effect, they are no longer any of your business; they are written to your husband, and they are part of his story, not yours any longer (as Aslan told certain characters in The Horse and His Boy when they were concerned about how others would be held accountable). After your wedding day, it is your job to obey the commands of the Lord yourself, the ones He wrote to you, and to trust Him, God, to work things out. It is not your job to be the Holy Spirit to your husband’s heart. The Holy Spirit does that job Himself. (Also, He—the Holy Spirit—does it a lot better than you ever could, and it will only mess things up if you get your fingers in it, so cultivate your trust relationship with Him now!)

It is very important to choose your husband wisely. It is of utmost importance to choose a husband who loves you, who is crazy about you. If you settle for less, it will be hard for you to respect him, and then you will find yourselves in a vicious cycle of disrespect, hatred and unhappiness. Look for love! Here are some ideas for how to do that…


1. If he loves you, it will make him happy to make you happy. Look for a man who is delighted by your happiness. He does not need to think about you all the time; indeed, he could hardly be a good provider if he spent all his time daydreaming about you. But he should think about you frequently and make regular attempts to bring you joy. If you seem to be “out of sight, out of mind” it may be a bad sign. Now, he may not speak the same love language that you speak (read The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman). Women are instinctively more natural and easy communicators, so cut him slack if he doesn’t exactly speak your love language right away. But if he is not speaking any love language at all, beware! It should be his delight to delight you, and attempts to bring you joy are mandatory, even if they are clumsy sometimes.

2. You absolutely do not want to marry a man who thinks he is doing you a favor by marrying you, and who thinks that you are the lucky one. No! You want to hear him say, “I’m so lucky I found you!” Or, if he is devout (which we are hoping), he will probably say, “God has blessed me so much by bringing you into my life!” This is no small thing. The minute he starts to think that you are the one who is being blessed by his interest in you is the minute the whole deal starts to break down. Trust me on this. It is far more important that he is crazy head-over-heels about you than that you are nuts about him. You need to respect him and be proud of him and esteem him, yes. And if you do, and if he is wild about you, you will eventually become wild about him. It will all be good.

3. He should be protective of you. He should even worry just a little bit about you. He should feel that he is the only one who quite understands everything about you, and that you need him because he loves you most and will take the best care of you. He should open car doors for you, walk you up to your door at night, and forbid you from going anywhere iffy or dangerous. He should call you often if you are working late and coming home in the dark, or if you have to drive to an unknown place, or if you have a scary doctor’s appointment. He should always be there with a shoulder for you to cry on, a hand for you to hold, and an arm for you to lean on. And he should love every minute of it. If you are dating someone and this is not the way he treats you, look for someone else.

4. He should demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice for you. If he never offers to give anything up to make things nicer for you, there is something wrong. You cannot demand this as a condition for your submission after you are married (actually, it’s never the least bit satisfying if you have to ask for this type of thing, anyway), but you sure can look for it in someone before you are married. You don’t always have to accept his sacrifices for you. As you grow to really love him, you probably won’t want to. You can give things up too, and you certainly should sometimes. But if he is never willing to give anything up to accommodate you, he will not be a properly loving husband. In the best marriages, both spouses routinely offer to do more for the other than the other will accept. Just a little secret here, that I think you need to know… men very, very rarely get nicer after you are married. Men are usually at their peak of best behavior during courting, so don’t expect things to improve with time. Things might improve, because our God is a God of miracles and, as the Bible says, with God all things are possible. But the likelihood is that things will cool down a bit after the conquest has been won, so look for excellence early on. At any rate, it is more likely to be maintained than to be developed out of a vacuum. Be very wary of a man who always expects you to sacrifice for him instead of the other way around. It isn’t a healthy pattern and it will lead to marital frustration in the future, making it very difficult for you to respect him. It seems to me that this is not a characteristic that you can really discuss or ask for. By asking or demanding, you ruin the gift—at that point if you “get your way” it is bitter and unsatisfying. You can’t figure that over time you will teach a man to sacrifice for you. If a man does not have a heart inclined to sacrifice for you now, he is not likely to develop one later.

The last thing I want to say is this: God never promised us that we could have perfect marriages. We should be prayerful, wise and discerning as we choose a spouse, but in the end, God never promised that if we do certain things right, then our marriages will be utopian gardens of pleasure. Sometimes God calls us to hard things… I am thinking about the prophet Hosea. God told him to marry “a wife of adultery”. Why would God do that? Apparently because He knew that is what it would take to get Hosea to write the book of Hosea which has since taught many generations of Christians about the steadfast love of the Lord, even towards people who are unfaithful to Him. God may call you to difficulties in your lives, possibly even through your marriage. If it doesn’t turn out all sunshine and roses, you need to throw yourself on the mercy of God and trust that He is working out His perfect plan. Even though there are no ironclad guarantees, you should strive to seek God’s will and use as much wisdom and prudence as possible in seeking a mate. If you do, it is much more likely that things will go well for you, and even if they don’t, you will have much more peace, knowing that you have sought the Father’s will and that He is in control.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A letter to my daughters… (part 1)

(your mama loves how you refuse to take yourselves too seriously)

You are getting to that time of life when the future is nearer than it was before… which could probably be said about any time of life, given the flow of time and the nature of the future. But still, you know what I mean. You are getting to that place where the future begs decisions of you, and you are forced to decide, or to decide by not deciding, what to do next. You will do something next, whether it is on purpose or as an unavoidable reaction to events as they unfold.

You are starting to have ideas about what you want to accomplish, what you want to spend your lives doing. This is good, necessary, in fact. People say you have to have a dream. I’m not sure that’s right, exactly, but it is good to have goals and ideals to strive for, as long as you are flexible and allow the Lord to guide you and don’t get upset and angry if His plans turn out to be different from those you had made for yourself.

I am so happy that you are not boy-crazy, either of you, and that your lives are not dominated by an overwhelming “need” (perceived need) for a relationship with the opposite sex. There are so many women who cannot see themselves as individuals, who must have a male in their lives to make them feel worthy. It is a true virtue to let the Lord develop you as an individual and leave the marrying or singleness in His hands, according to His will.

That said, I wanted to tell you a few things about finding a husband, in case you ever decide to do so.

The first thing is, of course, the most important. He has to be a believer and a follower of Christ. This is non-negotiable. You are daughters of God, and you have no part in an intimate relationship with someone who does not share in this fellowship. The Bible says it this way: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:15. It is a terrible sadness for a believing woman to be married to an unbelieving husband, to live as his wife, loving him, cooking for him, bearing his children, and all the time knowing that he is headed for a devastating eternal destiny separated from her and from God and from all that is good. And speaking of the children, your chances of teaching your children the truth about God and having them accept and believe what you say are severely hampered if your husband does not agree with what you believe.

So, we have established that any potential potential person has to be a Christian, and yes, I meant to write potential twice, meaning, “If he has the potential to become a potential.” But there is a sticky issue here, too. There are a lot of men who masquerade as Christians, particularly in Christian settings, in order to score a nice wife. Be on your guard. I can think of three women I know well who were duped in this kind of a situation… and that’s right off the top of my head. I could think of more if I tried.

How do you know if a guy is a real Christian? It’s not an easy task. A tricky guy, particularly one who has grown up in the church, can put on a really good show. So can one who feels the need to convert (or to appear to have converted) just so he can get you.

Here are a few ideas you can use to guide you…

1. What is his commitment to honoring the Sabbath? Does he take church attendance seriously? This may sound legalistic and judgmental, but please hear me out. Does he like to go to church? Or is he always looking for an excuse to skip? When he is at church, does he restlessly go through the motions, or does he seriously enter into worship, prayer and discussion of scripture? When debating the scriptures, does he have any real insight, or does he just mouth back pat answers? Is he excited about new things he discovers about the Lord, or is he negative and argumentative regarding spiritual issues? I am not saying that a person who goes to church is good and one who doesn’t is bad, because we all know that isn’t always true. However, a good man will love opportunities to learn about God and worship Him. On the other hand, someone who does not treasure fellowship with the body of Christ may not be part of the body of Christ, and that, after all, is exactly what you are trying to discern.

2. Does he walk along the edge of the line, or does he seriously seek the face of God? What I mean is, be looking for his attitude… is he always thinking about what he can get away with? Does he try to mimic the world and be as much like it as possible? Or does he strive to honor God because he loves Him? Does he read his Bible on his own, because he wants to? Or does he slam out an obligatory 5 minute read when he thinks somebody is looking? Physically, does he push you to get as much as he can without actually jumping the fence into sin, or is he committed to a purity that starts in the mind and trusts the Lord’s timing? (Granted, you should not be at a point where you know the answer to this last question if you are merely determining whether he has potential to become a potential, but what feeling do you get about this? And, very importantly, what is his history with other girls?)

3. What are his friends like? This is pretty huge. If his friends are committed Christians who encourage him in a righteous direction, you are much safer than if his friends are edgy and questionable. It is likely that he will continue to have guy-time with his friends after he is married, so if you don’t like his friends, you need to consider that. If you think his friends bring him down, he might not be the right man for you. On the other hand, if he has friends who hold him accountable and motivate him to take part in godly pursuits, it could be a very good thing. The significant thing about his friends is that he chose them. Analyze his choices and evaluate what they say about him.

4. What does he do in his spare time? I would stay far, far away from a guy who is always recreating on the computer, and from one who plays video games excessively. The computer is downright dangerous, as it is a cesspool of available free pornography. Video games are just plain annoying. A real God-loving, God-fearing Christian takes part in other pursuits: church activities, fellowship with believers, physical activity, exercise, appreciation of nature, music, volunteer work, helping his parents around their home, etc. This is not to say that a scholarly fellow who spends his time studying on the computer is bad, and (conversely) I know of someone who actually met her husband while they were volunteering at VBS, and he turned out to be an abusive porn addict, so you have to be careful here. Be prayerful and be on your guard. What he does when he is not with you is probably even more important than what he does when he is with you. If he keeps secrets about his spare time, if he guards blocks of unaccounted time when he is not working but still wants privacy from you, put up your antennae. These things do not bode well. Obviously (in the end) a good husband will need you to leave him alone when he at work, in business meetings, etc. But his spare time should be something he mainly wants to spend with you, and if he isn’t spending it with you, he should have no qualms about being transparent about where he is spending it. Secrets are only OK if they involve surprises that he is planning for you. In other words, secrets need to be temporary and short.

5. How does he treat his parents? A godly man will respect his parents and treat them with honor. If he is disobedient, rebellious or belittling toward his parents, run like the wind. This is an easy sign that he does not care about God’s commands or His promises (Exodus 20:12). Obviously there are some caveats here. If he has really difficult, demanding parents, he may need to assert his independence sometimes (respectfully), and this does not mean he is not a Christian. However, if this is the case, you also need to consider whether you can live with difficult, demanding in-laws for the rest of your life. You need to consider these things. Often, young people in love think they are just marrying a person, when in reality they are marrying into a whole family. The family into which you marry can bring you great joy or great pain for many, many years.

6. What does he like to talk about? It is a very good sign if you overhear him having spiritual conversations with people, discussing the scriptures with believers and sharing about Jesus with those who do not know Him. Pay attention to his chosen topics of conversation, and not just the conversations he has with you. If he is trying to attract you, he will naturally and understandably gear his conversations with you toward things you like to talk about (…until you are married, and then he may feel that he has won the conquest and no longer has to try; this is just reality). But… listen to his conversations with others. This is very important, and it will give you a better idea of what he really likes to talk about, which is what he will end up talking about after he has won you. So besides tipping you off to the condition of his heart where the Lord is concerned, this exercise can also help you determine basic compatibility, even if he is a Christian beyond all reasonable doubt. If he only ever talks to people about sports or cars, and these things bore you to tears, look for someone else.

7. Does he take a role of spiritual leadership? This is pretty key. Even if he is a Christian, if he is not your spiritual leader, you could end up a frustrated wife. If he is not a Christian, he will be unlikely to actively lead in a Christian setting. Does he pray aloud? Does he pray for you? Is he a leader in his spiritual fellowship group? Does he encourage you in your walk with the Lord? Again, all these attributes can be faked in the short term, so their presence is not a guarantee, but the lack of them is a big danger sign. I knew one woman who married a “baby Christian.” God convicted her to break up with her boyfriend because he was not a believer, but then he got converted, so she married him. In the end, she said it was often difficult because she was the one with the church background, the prayer life, the knowledge of scripture, the ingrained convictions of right and wrong. Ultimately she had to do a lot of the spiritual leading in their home, and she said it would have been a lot easier if she had married someone of a more similar spiritual maturity.

These guidelines are for the first stage… how to determine who has potential to become a potential. He has to be a lover of Jesus, no compromises. These guidelines are to help you determine whether there is any potential for potential. Next we will talk about where you go from there.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A lot of things

A lot of things have happened since I last posted.

For one, Laura turned 17. My kids are getting so big. I remember shortly after Lu was born... I was sitting in bed nursing her, watching the 1992 presidential election on TV, watching Clinton win. We came out of those eight years, had eight years of slightly better but certainly not banner Republican influence, and now the pendulum has swung way back to the left, lefter than Clinton ever dreamed of being.

Here is Laura on the occasion of her 17th birthday, posing with her birthday parfait because, as we know, everybody loves parfait.

Also, here is another shot of that delicious parfait:

It was layers of chocolate cake, chocolate pudding, cherry pie filling and real whipped cream. Yum, yum, yum.

The very next day, Lu and I boarded a plane and flew to Minnesota so she could visit Bethel University in the land of her ancestors. The pros of Bethel: her grandpa and her great uncle both taught there in the past. Her aunt, uncle (in-law) and two of her cousins attended there. Her cousin Ben, who is in the same year of school as Lu, plans to attend there as well. She would be 20 minutes away from a bunch of relatives, although a good solid 18 hour drive from us.

The cons of Bethel:

Yes, it snowed cats and dogs the entire day we were there: Monday, October 12. A small part of a red brick Bethel building appears behind that snowy tree.

On the bright side, the school is entirely connected through corridors that run between the buildings, so once you are in a building, any building, you don't have to go outdoors again until you head back to your dorm.

After we finished our whirlwind trip, it was good to get back home to the land of pumpkins and apples. In fact, yesterday, Shannon and I had a beautiful explore together. We drove from Pompey to Marcellus along Route 20, and it was GORGEOUS. Of course, I forgot the camera, but picture being on a country road at the top of a high hill, and looking out over a view of fields outlined with groves of trees in the height of their autumn colors. Barns, silos, apple and grape orchards, bright blue sky with a few puffy white clouds scattered here and there...

We bought pumpkins at Tim's Pumpkin Patch, which was mobbed with people and smelled of cinnamon coated apple fritters and livestock. After trekking out for miles with a wheel barrow, looking for just the right pumpkins, we paid, loaded up Shannon's trunk, and decided that we would continue our day elsewhere. Guess what! We found an even better place... with u-pick pumpkins for $2 just like at Tim's. You could also pick your own apples for 70 cents a pound, and they sold apples fritters, three for $2, or a slice of homemade apple pie for $2. And they weren't crowded! We'll sure try to get back there next year! It was called Burrell's Navarino Apple Farm, not that I have any idea what a Navarino apple farm is. We picked Jonagolds. But I will try to find this place again next year.

Yes, fall is clearly more glorious in NY than it is in Minnesota. We're glad to be home!

Our new pumpkins. Aren't pumpkins nice? They are so round and orange and bountiful looking.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I got my braces off... now I am trying to relearn my smile.

Hmmm. Looks a little forced. Maybe because it is. This will take some time.

Can I just say, I feel like I have really big, naked teeth. Who knew your teeth could feel naked?