Loved

January 20, 2022 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Heather Allen –

I attended college just hours from Washington D.C. and this, combined with my school’s overtly political university Chancellor, fanned my fervor to be a champion for Christ into full blaze. It seemed right that marriage should be in the distant future. My sights were set on law school. Which I believed presented the quickest route to transforming the world. I was confident that was my destiny.

During the winter of my freshman year, a college-sponsored ski trip landed me on a large bus headed for the mountains. A friend and I were the last to climb aboard. We scanned the bus for two open seats. The search only turned up two good-looking guys.

My friend nudged my ribcage “I call the dark-haired one.”

My eyes scanned both faces. But when I looked into the eyes of her choice, my chest grew tight.

I tried to be discreet. “No deal.” I tried not to stare.

He stood to his feet and moved to the aisle, offering me his seat.

Suddenly shy, I thanked him and sat down. I kept watch for him on the ski slopes, but he was nowhere in sight. When the ski area closed, my friend and I trudged to the bus and wound back down through the dense Blue Ridge Mountains.

No one was sad when the bus driver pulled into a restaurant. We stood in line, cold-cheeked, but cheery. When I had a steamy cup of hot chocolate in hand, I worked my way to the last seat available. I looked up. The guy from the bus sat across the restaurant and his eyes had already found mine.

He stared.

I stared.

Neither of us was able to look away. If it were not a purposeful, intent gaze it might have grown awkward. The young woman sitting at his table turned to see what held his attention. I silently prayed, hoping she was not his girlfriend because I had no intention of breaking eye contact.

My roommates were asleep when I entered my dorm room. I did not sleep much that night. I was shaken to the core. I knew who I was going to marry and I did not even know his name. Upon being introduced two months later, I told a group of friends that I finally had the name of my future husband. They laughed, thinking I was joking. I tried to laugh, but the laugh came out more like a cough. I was terrified.

The truth is, real lasting love takes more than we have. It changes everything. When a commitment is honored, it means no longer being first, but rather being first to go last. It is staying up late to doctor a sick spouse when you are exhausted. It’s picking up dirty socks that land right next to the laundry basket for eighteen years straight. It means keeping your mouth shut when you have a really witty, but unkind retort. But it also means holding hands. Laughing over jokes no one else knows. Having arms hold me tight when I am afraid and prayers prayed over me when I am discouraged.

Tonight, I watch the sunset, light grazing his nose and brow, taking in every detail. He senses my gaze, grabs my hand and smiles.

“This is going too fast. I am not sure loving you the rest of my life is long enough.” I breathe, choking back bittersweet tears.

Thank You Lord. Thank you for love. Thank you for marriage. Thank you that your plan overcame mine.

What Love Looks Like

January 14, 2022 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Kathleen Brown –

Of all the miracles we experienced during my mother’s illness, few compare with the day of the wheelchair ride.

Despite the ravages of Alzheimer’s, Dad was able to keep Mom at home until just a month before she died. But eventually the disease forced a change. Because Mom couldn’t do the rehab necessary after she broke her hip, her doctor insisted she must live where she could get professional care.

With only 24 hours before Mom was to be released from the hospital, I despaired of finding a place good enough, in Dad’s eyes, for Mom to live. Would she have a room to herself? Were there plenty of nurses? Would everything look nice? Smell nice? Would the other residents be friendly?

I needn’t have worried. The Lord led us to the place He had prepared.

Dad often tried to describe for Mom the beauty of “Golden Acres.” The landscaped grounds, the parlors, the artwork hanging in the halls. The courtyard, the gift shop and the nice ladies there. He promised her she would see it all, and she, eyes blank, looked back at him and, sometimes, smiled.

But Dad didn’t take a promise lightly.

I knew nothing about the wheelchair ride until a phone call early one evening.

“Guess what, Katrinka!” Dad boomed into my ear. “Your mother went out in the wheelchair today! The nurse put her socks and robe on her, and the physical therapy people lifted her into the wheelchair. It didn’t bother her at all! No pain! She sat up and looked around at everything.”

“We passed the nurse’s station,” he went on, “and I showed her the big TV. People waved to her and she waved right back!”

I asked if a nurse or an aide came along.

“Nope! Just your mother and I! We went everywhere. She really liked the gift shop. I knew the ladies would offer us coffee—I carried your mother’s ‘til we got out to the courtyard. It was warm enough to sit out there, so that’s where we drank our coffee.”

Before I could wonder aloud how he managed two Styrofoam cups and the wheelchair, Dad had moved on to introducing Mom to the receptionist and then sitting for a while on the walk outside, beside “those tropical-looking ferns.”

I hadn’t heard such satisfaction in Dad’s voice in years. He had wished for something: to show Mom that he had searched out, and found, a nice place for her to live. The best place. And, of course, he wanted her to see it his way—all at once, on a grand tour, led by my father himself. And he had gotten his wish. Against all odds, Mom sat in a wheelchair for two hours in the middle of the day. She had, Dad boasted, smiled, waved, enjoyed coffee, pointed to flowers, smiled some more, responded in some fashion to his undoubtedly animated commentary, and, in his words, “really had a keen day.”

All this in two hours. A true miracle.

Love may be hard to define, but it’s not hard to recognize when you see it. Those who saw Mom and Dad tooling down the halls of the nursing home that day saw love. In action. And I heard it in Dad’s voice that night. I would hear it again each time he told the story of the wheelchair ride.

From the Giver of all good gifts, love given and received and given and received. From my Father to my father. From my father to my mother.

For love at once immediate and eternal, we thank You, Lord.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17 NKJV).

Wake Up Call

January 7, 2022 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

Molly sighed, plumped her pillow, and rolled over again. Hank’s sigh echoed hers. After stilted conversation at dinner, she had lingered in the bath, debating ways to heal their marriage. She hated the arguments alternating with silences full of mutual hard stares. Her mother’s advice resounded through the years: “God can heal anything; He can restore a romance.” Molly humphed. I still feel romance—when I’m not angry or hurt or tired. Does Hank?

So she shaved her legs, slathered on musky, floral lotion, put on her not-too-obvious shorty nighty, and here she lay. She chanced to bump her smooth, silky leg against Hank’s hairy, hard one. Molly sighed again.

She heard Hank inhale and felt his calloused hand rest on her forearm. Molly turned invitingly. Hank stared at the ceiling. He released his breath only to draw another. “I think we need to see a counselor.”

Stunned, Molly sputtered and bit back a cry. Oh, God! Oh, God! She screamed in her head. She managed a breathy, “You do?” as all the fluid in her body rushed to gather behind her eyes and at the top of her sinuses.

“Yeah. I got a name from Steve Dell.”

Molly felt herself shrinking. “You did?” she choked.

“Yeah. What do you think about it?”

Failure crashed in and strangled her. “I guess that would be okay.” She managed a whisper, then held her breath. Hank seemed so calm, breathing evenly.

Silence reigned for a few moments. “I’ll make an appointment then.”

****

The previous passage is a snippet from my first—unpublished—novel, Menace. You know what they say: Write about what you know.

Eighteen years ago, I was much further into denial than my character Molly. We had two very young children. Tired and stressed at times, I still would have rated our marriage at a sevenish. Wes’s request sent my world reeling. The only people I knew who had been to marriage counselors were divorced.

Intellectually, I believed the advice of Molly’s mother, and my own, that God can heal anything. I’d been blessed with a mom who shared enough of her own story to know that marriage doesn’t bloom without watering and pruning.

But a counselor? My husband’s suggestion shouted to my shaken soul that I wasn’t giving him enough water, that I needed pruning, that I had let our marriage wither. I had been rolling along content with a measly seven rating, and I was crushed to know I’d been oblivious to Wes’s misery.

Nowadays, Wes would probably call misery an exaggeration, if only to spare my feelings, but I needed the shock to call me back to my priorities. We went to counseling. We learned to talk. We kept learning. A few years later, we attended the His Needs, Her Needs seminar where we forced ourselves into more soul searching and more communication.

And now our marriage is a ten, and we’ve lived happily ever after.

Truly, God used our Christian counselor to strengthen our commitment. He has used several seminars through the years to grow our relationship with each other and Him. We’re not perfect, but we’re doing better at living up to the pledge engraved on our wedding rings—committed to love.

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6 RSV).

Comment prompt: Will you share any wake up calls that improved your marriage?

Questions without Answers

December 30, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Kathleen Brown –

Hot coffee. Thank you, Lord.

The café next to the motel is a classic—breakfast served all day, coconut and chocolate cream pies displayed in frosty glass cases, endless refills of coffee. I lift the mug to my lips and tell myself everything is fine.

But the confusion continues this morning. In the tiny motel room, Mom couldn’t find the toilet. It was plainly visible, but she couldn’t find it.

What should I do about this? I don’t even know what “this” is.

Across the table from me, my parents have their heads together over the breakfast menu. I hear my father suggesting ham and eggs. Or French toast. Or how about good ole’ oatmeal? His voice is loud, too loud, but she doesn’t correct him as she normally would.

While I was awake last night, I came up with a mental list of things Mom is doing differently. Or doesn’t do at all anymore. Like answering the phone. It’s always Dad now, though he hates to talk on the phone. And ironing. Every shirt he wore to work for 34 years was washed, starched, and ironed by my mother. Even the pants he wore to work on the car were scrubbed and pressed. Now his khakis are wrinkled and his collars look tired. And gardening. The plants and shrubs she tended so carefully are my father’s charges now.

When did she become so inactive?

Bacon? Ham? Sausage? Dad tells her to just make up her mind, just choose. But Mom keeps repeating, “Whatever you’re having. That’s what I want. The same as you.”

Just choose? An hour ago she couldn’t choose what to wear from her little brown suitcase. If I hadn’t helped, would she still be standing there?

Is Dad doing this at home? Helping her get dressed?

I look at them across the table. Mom’s eyes are fixed on my father. His are scanning the café, probably homing in on the goodies in the frosty glass dessert case. But when he turns from the pies, he meets her gaze in a way I have watched since my childhood. About this, there is no confusion. Their eyes speak clear devotion to each other.

The world seems to settle back on its axis. With a silent promise to expect only good things, I drink my coffee and look forward to the day.

Thank you, Father, for parents who still love each other, in spite of the changes the years have thrust on them. But Lord, I’m scared. Have I overlooked too much for too long? Has Dad been hiding this from me? Why? What do I do now? Who knows how Mom will act tonight? Tomorrow? Ahh, yes. You do. You know, Father. You have always known what this day holds. You have a plan and this day is part of it. Thank you for helping me to see the truth. Open my eyes to see the things that have changed; open my spirit to trust in the things that haven’t.

The Wrath of Dad

December 22, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

My father’s wrath frightened my siblings and me. We’d hear friends boast about smart aleck retorts made to their dads and shudder at the very thought. Whether by nature or Marine Corps indoctrination, he developed an authoritative style that intimidated the socks off our feet. His tour of duty as a drill instructor perfected his ability to bark an order with justified expectation of immediate obedience. He didn’t require salutes, but “yes, sir” better be the only verbal response he heard.

One evening, most of our family had been away from the house attending some function now relegated to obscurity by the events that followed. Wade, my youngest sibling, in his teens at the time, remained at home. When five of us trooped through the door loudly rehashing some fine point of contention, we interrupted Wade’s TV program. As Daddy summarized his argument, Wade growled with teenage ire, “Shut up!”

Mark, Nancy, and I froze. Wade’s audacity stunned us. We’d heard of siblings who intentionally got each other in trouble, but none of us would throw a brother or sister onto Dad’s lack of mercy.

I held my breath. Anticipation of the coming furor stiffened my bones.

Daddy kept talking.

I looked at Nan. Had I misheard? She was gazing in disbelief at our father. We all shared furtive glances, waiting for the coming disaster.

Daddy wrapped up, and threw a mild scowl toward the couch. “By the way, Wade, don’t ever tell me to shut up again.” Up the stairs he went.

Our chins dropped. By the way? Our world tilted off kilter. On the heels of relief that our brother still lived, resentment crowded into our collective brains. That’s all?

Almost thirty years later, we still can’t let go of our incomprehension, and we never let Wade forget it either.

Have we lost our incredulity at God’s mercy toward us? I’ve been reading Francine Rivers’ rendition of the Exodus in The Priest, the story of Aaron helping Moses lead the Israelites. God’s wrath is fearsome. His people stir the Lord’s fury and suffer for it.

My father never hurt me. I never doubted his love. Yet, his anger could make me cringe.

God’s purity and jealousy led Him to strike some of his beloved but rebellious children with leprosy and death. His awesome Presence caused the Israelites to tremble and run in fear. “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning with a thick cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled…The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder… Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (Exodus 19:16,18 and 20:20 NIV).

God’s wrath didn’t disappear with the birth of His Son. Although Jesus took God’s anger upon Himself, sin is still unacceptable. James is speaking to Christians when he says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?” (James 4:4a NIV).

Let us keep in mind that the God who adores us is a vast and fearsome Being, not to be taken lightly or for granted.

Comment prompt: How do you balance God’s mercy and wrath?

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