My solemn vow

On this day, exactly one year after I stood in front of family and friends and promised my life to one man, I need to make something clear: I did not marry for love.

For those of you who know my husband and me as a couple, this statement might be a bit puzzling. Allow me to explain.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my husband very much. But my love for him is not why I married him. In fact, I think that love should not be the main reason two people get married, and that you can love someone and at the same time respect that marrying them is not the right thing to do.

When I met Steve I met a man who I could respect, not because he is perfect, but because he is good. I’ve never met another person who has more knowledge about the word of God or more desire to serve God and others in a way that is entirely true to how he was created. He honestly and sincerely always tries to do good.

In Steve, I met someone who I knew would work with me to love, not based on feeling, but based on a calling to a model of marriage that is designed to bring us both closer to God. I met someone who I respect enough to listen to and allow him to help me grow into who I was meant to be. I met someone who respects me enough to allow me to do the same for him. I knew that we did not want to change each other to meet our own selfish needs, but that we both wanted to be the catalyst for us both to be more Christ-like, as individuals and as a couple.

I knew that Steve was someone who would do the work of marriage, first and foremost because it is right to fulfill your commitments to God and others, and secondly because he knew who I was and loved me anyway. I believed that we would both keep in mind that the purpose of marriage is not to complete each other, but to exemplify God’s love.

That is why I married him. And that is what prompted this vow that I said to him one year ago.

“I grew up with an ideal of what I wanted my future husband to be. But then, I grew up.

 I grew into a fiercely independent woman, quite sure marriage was meant only for those hopeless, twitterpated romantics.

 And then I came to understand what marriage really means, and what it is meant to do. 

 I do not marry you today out of fleeting emotion or idealistic notions of love. I marry you today so that together we may grow in the likeness of Christ and so that our home may be a testimony to Him. Together we will face all of life’s experiences and difficulties with the option of growing closer together and toward God, or of seeking to meet our own needs. I promise to always grow toward you as we grow toward God. I promise to share your dreams and goals. I promise to encourage and inspire you, to laugh with you, and to comfort you in times of sorrow and struggle. I promise to love you not only with my heart, but with my actions, my will, and God’s strength, regardless of the obstacles we may face together. I take you to be my partner, loving what I know of you, and trusting what I do not yet know.

For where you go I will go; and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. And where you die, I will…bury you, just like you want. And then I’m turning up the thermostat!”

So on this day, I want to remind my wonderful husband: I love you and I like you. 😉

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Smelly cat

Very dear friends who stay at our house when we are out of town recently informed me that my cat stinks.
 
Truth be told this is not, in fact, new information. Steve and I have marveled since the day we brought him home that we’ve never before known a cat who could audibly fart. But our little Luigi is gifted…beyond measure. (Fortunately for us, and him, Luigi has a host of other pretty awesome characteristics that incline us to be willing to deal with his occasional flatulence.)
 
The funny thing is that Luigi has no idea that he stinks. Every once in a while he will get a whiff of an exceptionally pungent odor and look around in disgust before I remind him that it was him who caused it. But otherwise he is perfectly content to sit in his stink without it fazing him in the slightest, while our eyes water and we gasp for fresh air.
 
We all accept things from ourselves that we do not tolerate in others. Knowing, at least to some degree, our own circumstances, thoughts and feelings, we tend to excuse, minimize and accommodate ourselves without assigning meaning to who we are as a person. For example, if we lie about something we know all the reasons that we did it, so we excuse it as a circumstantial thing rather than consider ourselves liars. When we look at others, though, we assume the worst, tend not to consider or care about the situational circumstances, and assign personality characteristics to their actions. So when they lie, it doesn’t matter why; they are liars.
 
This is called the actor-observer bias if you want to look it up. And it’s wrong. I mean, it’s accurate – it is how we approach ourselves and others – but it’s the wrong thing to do. There is little room for truth and no room for grace in that approach, and that’s not how we are called to operate.
 
Add a lot more truth to how you view yourself, and a lot more grace to how you view others.
 
If only that were easy.
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The reminder

It’s a funny thing to observe a creature realizing they’re doing something wrong in the middle of doing it.

We do not have a ton of rules at our house…at least, not for our kitten. Don’t chew on the electrical cords. No biting. Don’t get on the table or counters. Don’t walk on the computer. It’s really not a lot to overwhelm his 4-month-old brain.

And although he is aware of these rules, at times he forgets. He gets excited or gets wrapped up in play or curiosity and he totally forgets what is considered appropriate behavior.

Sometimes, his senses rejoin him while he’s in the middle of this behavior. He will jump on the kitchen counter in hot pursuit of a garlic skin being gently tossed about by the current from the ceiling fan before pausing, looking down, realizing he’s on the counter, and jumping down to the stools, looking at me as if to say “What? I wasn’t doing anything!”

Other times, though, he is far more stubborn. It’s not that he got carried away and forgot the rules. He makes a choice. He will wait until I look away, jump on the counter, and hunker down. I will tell him to get down – a command to which he often obeys – but this particular time he will crawl on his belly further onto the counter and away from me.

It’s in these moments that we employ “the reminder” – a lovely, bright orange squirt bottle. Generally, simply bringing it out, showing it to him, and asking him if he needs a reminder is enough for him to comply.

Other times, though, he simply moves further away – further into disobedience – and we have to squirt him.

He knows he is doing wrong.
He is confronted with a consequence.
He knows he will not like that consequence.
He does it anyway.

I’d like to say that I don’t understand this behavior; but that would be a lie. Cats aren’t created all that differently from people in this way.

I’d like to think that if I had a “reminder” directly in front of me when I was doing something wrong I would quickly stop and make a better choice. But I know that, just like for Luigi, it would only sometimes effective for me.

It seems that all creatures are capable of convincing themselves that the thing in which they are engaged at the moment is worth the consequence, or that the consequence will never come to fruition.

It’s never worth the gamble.

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A more perfect union

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

I had to memorize this Preamble to the Constitution in sixth grade. (As taught to me by the craziest teacher I’ve ever had. Come on Huth middleschoolers. You remember her!)

This comes to mind every time someone asserts that their individual rights have been violated. Individual rights are important – don’t get me wrong – but they are not a carte blanche to do whatever you want.

We seem to forget that the purpose behind individual rights is for the good of the people, as a whole, not for the benefit of the individual. It is to form a more perfect union.

We were not designed to live as individuals with our society rotating around each of us, and our forefathers knew that. You can’t have each individual be the center; it can’t work. As each member of society attempts to force others to rotate around them there can be nothing but derision and collision. Which is essentially what we have now. Everyone’s always fighting and trying to place themselves and their own needs and wants above everyone else, and anyone else’s feelings.

That was neither the design of our creator nor the desire of our forefathers. Rather, the goal was a unified society; individuals, looking out for each other, loving each other, and considering the good of the whole. That is the way it was supposed to be.

That is how all of this works.

We cannot live without other people. Let’s not forget that.

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That’s what it’s all about

For the last few months I and 10 others have been working to raise the funds to spend a week working in a refugee town in Guatemala. We’ve been required to do things like solicit donations for a silent auction and go restaurant to restaurant asking for donations for a spaghetti supper.

Admittedly, at one point, I thought to myself “Why don’t I just buy 40lbs of spaghetti noodles for my part?” I mean, surely, at some point the hours I was spending driving to all of the little Italian restaurants in the surrounding towns asking for noodles was worth the $40 that I would’ve spent had I just broke down and bought them myself.

But I didn’t. I kept going restaurant to restaurant, grocery store to grocery store.

And you know what?

I’m glad that’s the path I chose. Because on that path I met a small businessman, who, even though he was struggling, has faith in God and a heart for humanity. And we’re returning to that store to continue to build a relationship that man (and to buy fresh, handmade pasta). On that path I met a woman who was about 20 months pregnant, whose parents were born in Guatemala and were encouraged to hear that we were going there to help. And we’ve returned to that grocery store to continue building that relationship with her. We will bring our pictures back to them and show them what their support has done.

By going through the fundraising process, our team bonded. By hosting auctions and spaghetti suppers, our church bonded. And by asking everyone and anyone for donations and sharing our story of what we hope to accomplish, we bonded with our community.

And now, on the eve of our departure, we are ready.

Tomorrow, we take the work we have been doing for the last several months and we will bond ourselves, our church, and our community with our new brothers and sisters in Guatemala.

That’s what it’s all about.

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No fear in death

Have you ever thought about how you might die? Of course you have. We all have. Minimally, you’ve thought about the method by which you, for sure, would not want to die. Drowning, freezing, burning, buried alive, exploding lava lamp…no one picks one of those as their ideal way to pass. No, if forced to pick, you, like me, would likely choose passing quietly in your sleep without any forewarning or painful experiences leading up to it.

And after thinking about it for a little bit, you, like me, likely put it away and stop thinking about it. Because dying is scary.

We’re all going to die; but how scary I think it must be to know you’re dying soon. I’d like to think that in those final moments the comfort of knowing my soul would soon be with Jesus would make everything calm and peaceful. I know some people who have been able to rest in that in their final moments. But I know me. I would guess that the fear of the unknown and the anger at my failing body would well up and consume me. And I would not likely go peacefully into that dark night.

I don’t know that that’s unreasonable. I think about Jesus who, even knowing better than we could imagine the splendor of the life he would have with God in heaven, still sweat drops of blood prior to his crucifixion while praying that God might come up with some other way.

Jesus didn’t want to die either. He wasn’t afraid of death. He knew it meant union with his father. He wanted to save the world, of course, and he was completely willing to die to do it, but if in between that day and the following day when he was to be brutally tortured and murdered on a cross, had God changed his mind, Jesus clearly wouldn’t have been complaining about that.

We weren’t created for death. It wasn’t a part of the initial, perfect plan – you know, in the beginning, before sin entered the picture. But sin did enter the picture. And that meant that death had to.

Although we, like Jesus, do not have to have fear in death, the dying will always be scary.

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Noise

At any given moment I have a half a dozen topics rolling around in my head that I want to write about. It’s a nonstop whirring in the back of my mind all day long. That is, until I sit down to write. By the time the end of the day comes around and I sit down to get my thoughts onto paper so much else has bombarded my brain that my thoughts scatter like roaches in the light.

Life is loud. I don’t know that I would have described it that way a week ago. I think I would have said that life is busy. There are always a ton of things to do and my brain is busy tracking all of the things that need to get done in any given moment and trying not to let one item slip my mind into the abyss.

Life is a little chaotic, I would have said.

Then I went for a walk.

Ok, it was a little more than a walk. It was a walk in the middle of a vacation in the United Kingdom. The first several days of vacation were packed with exploration of everything there is to see in London, followed by a jaunt into the English countryside where my husband had to spend a few days working while I continued my holiday.

My cell phone reception was spotty at best. My internet connection was virtually nonexistent. The television shows were less than entertaining. And I was in the middle of splendor, alone, with no agenda.

After being reassured by locals that the hills of Great Malvern contained neither villainous murderers nor rodents of unusual sizes, I went for a walk. Although it was still in the 40s, the sun was a welcome addition, and I didn’t even notice the cold until I stopped on the highest peak.

Despite the constant rustle of the wind, it was quiet – a quiet that I had not experienced in a very long time. Standing there, my mind melded with the silence and the rest of the world faded away.

With the cold nipping at my ears I decided that the next peak was too far to walk, and I had intended to head back to my hotel. But, lost in the quiet, I ended up at the next peak before I knew it. I looked around and realized I had no idea how to get back to my hotel, so I paused on a park bench on the side of a hill, letting the sun warm me and taking it all in.

I think I have a better idea now why God’s voice is sometimes described as still and small. I did not hear an audible voice of God, don’t get me wrong. But in those hours of no technology, no other people, no to-do list tugging at my attention, and nothing else to rush off to, I was reminded of who I am and who I was created to be. I received no major revelations, but suddenly things were clear.

I realize now that life is loud, and it can drown out the sound of that still, small voice if I’m not careful. When was the last time you turned down the volume on life?

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