ARCHIVES: January 2015


01.30.2015

Friday Prayer: You are Loved

photo 4Back in December, I wrote a blog about a message that had been painted on Beta Bridge at the University of Virginia. Driving through Charlottesville yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice that the bridge – which sometimes gets repainted twice in the same night – still had the same message:  YOU ARE LOVED.

Clearly, it’s a promise that means a lot to the students.  It’s a promise that also means a lot to me, and it’s one that calls to mind the beautiful words Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, as he sought to reassure them that, despite the trouble and hardship they faced, God was on their side, and he was working for their good.

Today, if you need help remembering that God is for you – and that nothing can separate you from his love – turn these words into a prayer.  Or pray them for someone you love.

Beta Bridge is going to get repainted one of these days, but the words that are on there right now will never change.

You are loved.

 

Heavenly Father, help _____ be convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love that you have for us in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)


ARCHIVES: January 2015


01.28.2015

Renovation: When God Grabs the Hammer

photoRobbie and I have a shared love for fixer-uppers.  Everywhere we move (and we’ve moved a lot), we look for the ugliest or most neglected house we can find, and we make an offer.

One time, we bought a house and raked the leaves in the front yard – a move that soon had neighbors stopping by to admire “what we’d done to the place.”  (Yes, it was that bad.)  Another time, we added some crown molding to the living room and a wrought iron railing to the front balcony, prompting the former owner’s wife to berate her husband:  “See honey?  That’s what wanted to do when we lived here!  I kept telling you…”

Poor guy.

And, in the house we currently call home, the hardwood floors rose and fell in so many directions that, if you’d dropped a marble, it wouldn’t have known which way to roll.  When the contractor removed the eight shims that he found in the basement (and I use that term very loosely…it was more of a hole dug during Prohibition by an enterprising bootlegger), the floors suddenly dropped into place.  Less charm, more structural integrity.  It was a trade-off that made Robbie happy.

Suffice it to say, we love making old things pretty again.  And right now, as I type, there is a handyman working away on our breezeway, which, thanks to one too many nor’easters in these parts, had begun to rot.  At first, I was kind of annoyed by all of the banging (children, dogs, workmen…there’s always something that gets in the way of the Pulitzer), but then I remembered one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes.  It’s from Mere Christianity:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Wow.  That’s a nifty perspective-changer, isn’t it?

Today, if you find yourself with some rotting woodwork or wavy floors in the space that you call your life, or even if there’s something pretty yucky that’s lurking in your crawlspace, don’t worry if the Carpenter comes in and starts making some noise.  Renovation can be messy, and even painful sometimes.  But hey – you’re becoming a palace!

And I don’t know about you, but I think that’s exciting.  (I could definitely use a new tower or two.)

 


ARCHIVES: January 2015


01.23.2015

Friday Prayer for Good Communication

James 1-19If you saw Wednesday’s blog, you know we’ve been focusing on good communication in the marriage course that Robbie and I are doing at church.  But the “bad habits” outlined in that post don’t just plague marriages; every human relationship can benefit from better listening skills.

The Bible is full of good advice for improving communication, but few verses are as succinct and powerful as James 1:19.  Here’s how you can turn this verse into a prayer for your marriage, your friendships, or your kids, as they relate to their friends and to each other:

Heavenly Father, may ______ be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  (James 1:19)

(Photo Credits:  Many thanks to my daughter, Hillary, for getting one of her co-workers to snap the pic that goes with this prayer. Honorable mention goes to Annesley’s roommate, Kate Martin, who submitted this photo of her dog, Riley, whose bladder control issues are clearly offset by what looks like a keen ability to listen.)photo 1


ARCHIVES: January 2015


01.21.2015

Five Habits that Kill Communication

DSC_0338Last Sunday night’s marriage course at Galilee Church featured a candlelit dinner and our pals, Anne Ferrell and Bob Tata, in the teachers’ seat.  They hit a home run.  After starting with a story about a British fella who drove 70 miles after accidentally leaving his wife of 40 years at a filling station (“I usually sit in the back because I can move around more,” the lady said, “but normally we talk”), the Tatas dove into the first-class material offered in the Alpha Marriage Course and gave us some great tips on communication.

There was plenty of good counsel on things like acknowledging each other’s feelings, “reflecting back” (trying to accurately summarize what the other person has said, and how they feel), and identifying what is most important in any given conversation.  That stuff was valuable.  But I found myself drawn to the “bad habits” section of the presentation, habits that can prevent someone from talking about their feelings and experiences.  Left unchecked, these little nasties can make a person just shut down, destroying not just the communication, but the relationship.

Wanna know what they are?

(Be careful now.  I thought I did, too.  I thought I could, you know, identify “my” habit, get on some sort of 12-step plan, and lick it.  Um, no.  Did I mention that there are five habits?)

(Turns out I would need, like, 60 steps.)

Anyhow, here they are:

1.  Reassuring.  The reassurer jumps in before the speaker can finish a sentence, saying things like, “It will all work out,” and even sometimes offering a comparison point, like the woman the Tatas know who called a friend to share the good news of her engagement and, upon learning that the other gal was headed for divorce, said, “It’s okay.  It’s not so bad.  I am probably going to get divorced, too.”  Reassurers act like there is no real problem, which can prevent speakers from expressing any real feelings.

2. Giving advice.  The advice-giver is a “fixer.”  Instead of offering empathy, the advice-giver just wants to sort things out.  Men, especially, are guilty of this habit…sometimes, if the wife has just broken her favorite vase or pitcher, she doesn’t want a broom. She wants a hug.

(But we girls can be advice givers, too.  I mean, I write a blog.)

3.  Intellectualizing.  The intellectualizer might also be called the explainer, or the rationalizer.  When he or she hears that you’ve had a bad day, instead of listening, the intellectualizer jumps in with something like:  “There’s no doubt that it’s due to a combination of factors.  It’s very humid outside, you are under pressure at work, and given how much we just spent to fix the washing machine, you are probably worried about our finances.”  Um, who wants to keep talking into that information fire hose?  Talk about a buzz killer.

4. Going off on a tangent.  This habit probably needs no explanation.  If you’ve confided your feelings to a friend, only to have him or her say, “Really?  You know, that reminds me of the time I…,” you’ve met a deflector.  People who go off on tangents aren’t really interested in what you are saying; they want to direct the conversation down a new (and more attractive, to them) course.  Deflectors can be well-intentioned (like when they want to take your mind off of a sadness), but if the end result is that they squelch your freedom to feel or to speak, it’s a bad habit.

5.  Same goes for the interrupters.  Stephen Covey says that most people don’t listen “with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  Interrupters figure out where a person is going with a conversation and then they jump in, either finishing the speaker’s sentence or responding with something that they think is more witty or interesting. I read where the average person can only go 17 seconds without interrupting someone.  Really?  That sounds long, to me.

(I am going to try to let Robbie talk for at least 30 seconds, just to see.)

(He will probably ask if I am feeling okay.)

So there you have it.  The five “bad habits.”  Just knowing what they are is supposed to help you listen better–a skill that, they say in The Marriage Book, involves things like giving the other person your full attention, coping with distractions, showing interest, and acknowledging feelings.  And not, presumably, mocking them.

See?  I am doomed.

But at least I am in good company.  There are 30 couples taking the Marriage Class, many of whom have been hitched for less than five years.  One of the perks of the class is the free childcare and, at the end of the evening, one of the dads thanked me and started to head out to the parking lot.  His wife looked at me, then looked at him.

He was like, “What?”

(I knew where this convo was headed but, for once, I wasn’t about to interrupt.)

She waits a beat, gives me a look that will make me love her forever, and then says, “Ah…Honey?  The baby?  The one we have to get from the nursery?”

Oh yeah.  Forty years from now, that sweet gal might find herself at a filling station.  I better remind her to start sitting in the front seat when he is driving, just in case.

 

 


ARCHIVES: January 2015


01.16.2015

Friday Prayer for a Flourishing Life

I am not much of a cold weather gal.  I think I might have been the first person ever diagnosed with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder); thirty years ago, the doctor said I could pick anti-depressants or sunshine to fix what ailed me.  At first, Robbie thought I was making it up (“Honey, the doctor says I have SAD and we need to go someplace sunny!”), but now he knows better.  And when he came home over Christmas and told us that he’d booked a four-day trip to Captiva Island, Florida for the whole family, I was ecstatic.

photo copy 3If you haven’t been to Captiva, you should give it a try.  Sandpipers compete with shells for space on the beach, and the dolphins come THIS CLOSE to the water’s edge (meaning that even people like me, who don’t tend to get wet, can get an eyeful of Flipper; truly, if that thing had come any closer, I would have offered it a beach chair).

It was marvelous.

But this isn’t a travel blog, it’s a prayer blog, so I will hasten to add that the island also has palm trees, and when I looked up from my shell hunting and saw the one pictured here, Psalm 92 popped into my mind.  (I didn’t know it was Psalm 92, but I once had a friend who was Treasurer of the National Palm Tree Society–who knew?–and he signed all of his letters, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree.”  Which, for those who don’t already have that one memorized, is from Psalm 92.)

2So anyway, I went home and looked up the verse in Matthew Henry’s commentary.  (I know, I know.  I am so much fun at the beach.)  Here’s what he has to say about Psalm 92:12-15 in general, and palm trees in particular:

First, palm trees grow (evidence that where God gives some grace, he will give more grace).  As a result, they become stronger, and fitter for use.

Second, palm trees flourish.  Palm tree people (my term, not his) are  “cheerful themselves and respected by all about them,” flourishing “in their profession and in the comfort and joy of their own souls.”  Plus, Henry says, palm trees are marked by a “stately body” (and hey, if you want to quit reading now and just skip to the prayer, that’s cool).

Third, even the harshest conditions don’t impact a palm tree’s health.  Palm trees are long-lived, Henry says, and (unlike some people) not changed by the winter.  In fact, it can be said of palm trees (and here I am quoting again, although I am sure this is a familiar refrain around your house):  Sub ponder crescit.

In other words, The more it is pressed down the more it grows.

Seriously.  Who wouldn’t want to be a palm tree?

But wait.  There’s more.  Verse 14 says that palm tree people, like the actual plants, will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.  “The last days of the saints are sometimes their best days,” Henry writes, “and their last work is their best work.”

As a SAD person who is sliding down the backside of life, I can’t think of a more encouraging promise than that!  Stately body notwithstanding, I really want Psalm 92 to be true in my life.  The next time you see a palm tree–or even just a picture of one–let it guide your thoughts toward these verses, and pray them for yourself or someone you love.

Heavenly Father, may _______ flourish like a palm tree, growing and bearing fruit–good words and works that glorify you and bring strength and grace to others–even in my/his/her old age.  (Psalm 92:12-15)

 


ARCHIVES: January 2015


01.13.2015

Good News for Marriage

So Sunday night’s Marriage Course kick-off was really good. We had a little trouble with the music, which meant that Robbie had to use his techno-brain to fiddle with the system during the exercises, which meant that I didn’t have a chance to fail any more “how well do you know your spouse” quizzes. It was perfect.

And interesting. We talked about what marriage is (one definition says it’s when you find “that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life”), and why it can be so challenging sometimes. Nobody really thinks about the “for worse” part of the vows; when you head to the altar, you’re pretty focused on the “better” stuff.

But then life happens.

You lose a job. Somebody gets sick. You struggle with infertility, or a difficult pregnancy. The bills pile up. The car breaks down. You discover that your white knight leaves dark hairs in the sink. Or grey ones. You get tired.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been married for two months or twenty years; there are pressure points during every season. Some couples eventually cave under the load. Others stick it out. Still others find a way to thrive. How do you know what might happen to you?

Shaunti Feldhahn, a Harvard-trained social researcher and the author of a nifty little book calledphoto copy The Good News About Marriage, says that a lot of times it comes down to this:  Do you have a sense of hope…or one of futility?

“A couple could go through a terrible period” she writes, “but if they felt certain they would make it, they usually did.” Even just the hope that things could get better was often enough to inspire them to “do what was needed to right the ship, patch the holes, and keep sailing.”

On the flip side, if a couple thought they were doomed, they often were. A “sneaking feeling of futility” or the sense that things would “never change” would creep in to crippling effect:  “If the ship is going to sink anyway, why bother working so hard to bail it out?”

Fortunately, there’s plenty of reason to hope, based on Feldhahn’s findings.  Need some good news to put the wind back in your sails? Try one of these pearls:

Most marriages are happy. Most couples, given the chance, would do it all over again.

Most problems are not “big ticket” issues; often, it just boils down to what you don’t know about what you don’t know, and the fix is relatively easy.

Couples who attend church regularly have a significantly lower divorce rate than those who don’t.

And get this eye-opening gem:  The commonly accepted (and inherently demotivating!) statistic that “half of all marriages end in divorce” is bogus.  The real figure is closer to 20-25% for first-time marriages, and 31% overall.

I don’t know about you, but in a world that seems to slam marriage at every turn, where I meet young couples who don’t want to get married because they think they have, at best, a 50-50 shot, or where older couples slide toward boredom or infidelity (emotional or physical) because mediocrity seems to be “as good as it gets,” this sort of research is a game-changer. I mean, if most marriages are happy, then complaining about yours–without doing anything to fix it–means that you’re missing out. Why not shift gears from futility to hope and see if that changes anything? Heck, why not try going to church?

I don’t mean to treat marriage troubles lightly, or pretend that they can be fixed with a wiggle of the nose. But just knowing that they can be fixed–and that 75-80% of your pals are patching the holes in their boats–has got to mean something.

And speaking of patching the holes…next week in the Marriage Course we’ll shine the spotlight on communication.  You already know I am a gifted interrupter, but if I can manage to keep my trap shut for a few minutes and listen, I will try to snag a few good nuggets to share with you.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 


ARCHIVES: January 2015


01.09.2015

Friday Prayer for Generosity

1 Timothy 6-18If you saw Tuesday’s blog, you know that generosity is one of the biggies when it comes to happiness in marriage.  While that finding came out of the National Marriage Project, you don’t have to be a sociologist or an expert researcher to know that generosity is a pretty great thing to have, regardless of the relationship.

Here’s a simple prayer that packs a powerful promise.  Try praying it for yourself or for someone you love:

I pray that _____ would be rich in good deeds, generous, and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:18)


ARCHIVES: January 2015


01.06.2015

Marriage and Generosity: A Perfect Match

IMG_4352Robbie and I are gearing up for the Alpha Marriage Course, which starts this Sunday night at our church.  It’s a terrific class and you’d think that, having taught it five times already, my beloved and I would be coasting, but every time we go over the material, we learn something new.

One time, for instance, “we” learned that it’s not a good idea to interrupt your spouse when he is talking (even if you are pretty sure that what you have to say is way more interesting).

During another session, “we” discovered that cleaning out the garage is not, in fact, everyone’s primary love language.  Some people, it turns out, would rather have sex.

And then there was the time that we got to grade each other on questions like, My partner is good at meeting my emotional needs, and “we” got a zero.  (Honestly, though, that was not a fair question.  I mean, I didn’t even know Robbie had emotional needs.)

(But now I do.)

So here we are, getting ready to go at it again.  And this time I have a secret weapon:  I’ve been following Brad Wilcox on Twitter.  Wilcox is the brainiac behind the National Marriage Project, and his research offers everything from tips on improving your relationship to indicators that a marriage will last (inviting a lot of friends and relatives to your wedding bodes well; “sliding” into cohabitation before marriage does not).

Sometimes, the findings are surprising.  Like, you might expect things like “commitment” and “sexual intimacy” to show up as factors linked to a happy marriage.  But the third of the Big Three?  Generosity.

Generosity.  As in, being liberal with affection.  Quick to overlook offenses.  And (get this, from the research):  photoMaking your honey a cup of coffee in the morning.

“In marriage we are expected to do our fair share when it comes to housework, child care and being faithful,” Wilcox explains, in a New York Times Magazine article, “but generosity is going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small acts of service and making an extra effort to be affectionate.”  And that, he says, promotes a “virtuous cycle” that leads to happier marriages.

Wilcox & Co. even have a quiz you can take to determine your generosity rating.  (Can you tell I recently learned how to add links to a blog?)  I’d take the quiz, but Robbie’s the one who makes the coffee around here, and I don’t want to go into Sunday’s class with another big “L” on my stat sheet.

But I am going to try to be more generous.  Like, when Robbie brings me my coffee in the morning, I will tell him I love him.  Even if it’s not hot enough, because I will know to overlook that.

See?  Who needs a marriage course?

Don’t answer that.

(But do check out The Marriage Course.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for one year or 50, you’ll find it well worth your time.  Even if you already know that your man has emotional needs.)

 

 


ARCHIVES: January 2015


01.02.2015

Friday Prayer for Kindness, Humility, and More

Colossians 3-12Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the full house and the empty nest is the amount of laundry that needs doing. For years, particularly when we had four children all playing different sports, my life had a rhythm all its own:

Wash.  Dry.  Fold.  Repeat.

Partly to break up the monotony, and partly to attach some sort of meaning to an existence that seemed to be measured in soccer games and grass stains, I started using the laundry cycle as a prayer prompt.  I looked up a few verses about clothing and pressed them (a-hem) into service.

Here’s one of my favorites.  This year, instead of groaning when you see the laundry pile, why not try this prayer when you pull a load out of the dryer?  It might not help you find that missing sock, but at least you’ll be investing in something that lasts beyond tomorrow.

Heavenly Father, let _____ know that he/she is holy and dearly loved.  Help _____ to clothe himself/herself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  (Colossians 3:12)

 




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