Marriage Tips From the Book of Haggai

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We find allegory tucked throughout the Old Testament. Though every story, every event, plays out in real time, an allegorical look often brings home a new meaning. So, whenever I read the Old Testament I ask the Lord to show me what He is saying to me, particularly me, for my issues. And He answers.

In this second smallest book of the Old Testament I learned a new way of thinking about my marriage. The idea came from that convicting verse, Proverbs 14:1: “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.” (ESV) Continue reading Marriage Tips From the Book of Haggai

River Romance

   “Up here, Honey! Look up!” Leaning over our foyer balcony, I watched him pass by under me- my handsome mid-sixties guy. At 2:00 on a Friday afternoon a new spot on the Guadalupe River awaited our arrival. Blood, sweat and tears had gone into planning this outing, designed to return a bit of romance to our lives.

     Reading James lately, taking each verse slow and deliberate, brought this memory to mind. James 1:2 tells us to “count it all joy” when we meet trials of various kinds, for we “know that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness” (endurance). And we are to let it have its perfect work in us to make us “complete, lacking nothing.”

    When I hear His words “trials” and “lacking nothing,” I think of God’s goal for marriage: To mirror His amazing relationship with His Bride the Church. It is to be both a test (do we trust God?) and a tool for changing the world, through our romance and through raising children who see it.

     I really wanted to live out this Mirror. A few years back I also desperately wanted our last remaining nestling to see a mom and dad “engaged” in their marriage; and this had become a passion all its own. But how could we do it? Family business stress ate away at our niceness. Health and financial issues brought daily annoyances. And those common Christian realities of resentment, irritations, and church activities — all conspired to put us at arm’s length from each other.

     On this day, however… we would make memories, or die trying. Private property on the river, a one-day gift from dear friends, meant privacy for us –and Hubby would love it.

“Hey, Babe, are you ready, yet? I found the perfect blanket up here, and the food basket is all set.” Practically intoxicated by Spring’s pale green live oaks under an almost neon blue canopy, I inwardly squealed with anticipation. Why did he look so good to me even though he acted almost as though being led to slaughter?

     “I have way too much going on today to do this, but…” and then he seemed to catch himself. “I’ll be ready in a minute, Baby.”

    Now, everybody knows that attraction comes before romance, and most even add the belief that attraction is the necessary fuel on which romance runs. But based on my river experience, I disagree.

Attraction is fickle.

Romance is work. But it is also attitude. With zero desire, zero attraction, a set of lousy circumstances to boot, there is still enough soil in marriage for a romantic plant to grow a nice crop of attraction.

Why do we resist this thesis? We women want romance. Actually we need it. Badly. We watch “Jane Eyre” and “Pride and Prejudice.” We long for the thrill of an afternoon on a blanket with the middle part of ro-man-tic. Enough of the “ro.” Enough of the “tic.” Give me the man! But besides work and attitude, romance is definition.

We get the definition all wrong, and live romantically through our skewed imaginations. Resentment dresses up as lack of attraction, killing romance in our humdrum lives, and we feel “forced” to live vicariously through social media, our perception of other’s lives, and even our children.

     I bet you have already pictured my hubby and me out there on that blanket. You don’t even need a photo. Not at all. You picture us kissing, eating our food, and sipping our wine, all while fluffy clouds roll above us.

     Not quite. I was attacked by chiggers before even spreading the blanket. (That tall grass between the car and the river should have tipped me off; yet he could have carried me!) Also, the river was alive with canoes and rafts and laughter. Yup. Other folks floated by, probably with the same idea- romance. So, lacking the privacy we bargained for, my husband kept up a steady conversation of a different kind.

    We did eat our food and act silly a bit.

     But did we make a memory? You bet. And did it register as romantic? Yes- for both of us. Years of remembering can improve some things. But the planning, as well as the giddiness I felt on the balcony that warm afternoon, have memorialized our river romance quite nicely.

    James 1:12 encourages us. “Blessed is the man (woman) who remains steadfast under trial, for when he (she) has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.”

    Do you have memories of attempts to be romantic? Do you find yourself defining romance in light of media?

    I’d love your thoughts!

 

 

 

Restoration

Joel 2:25–”I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten….”

There he was, standing by the kitchen door, sweaty and red-faced, filthy from stained sandpaper, smelling of harsh stripping chemicals, and obviously frustrated. Three hours earlier my ambitious hubby had salvaged from the garage two rejected pine chairs, dumpster-bound but not quite trash yet. However, in his determination to restore them to their former glory, something went badly wrong.  The chemicals produced a gunked-up mess! The longer he worked, the messier both he and the chairs became!

You guessed it, they were now in the dumpster, and I was biting my lip to hold in the giggles.

“Maybe I should give up furniture refinishing,” he groaned. “ I don’t think it’s my specialty.”

I couldn’t help but think how different it is with God. There stood my hubby, in all his “glory,” not “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” but strong, and loving, and capable– my refinished, restored spouse!

How so? Many years ago his mother had prayed this very verse in Joel regarding her far-from-God son. And since restoring people truly is God’s specialty, He fulfilled that promise! Reclaimed from years in the deep recesses of drugs’ trash heap, my man went on to begin and run a successful business, raise a wonderful family, and tell others how God had not only saved him through faith in Jesus Christ, but also “restored the years the swarming locust” had eaten!

“Father, thank you for your specialty, changing and restoring people! Keep working on me as I yield my days to you. Amen

Elegant Brokenness

“I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:19 (ESV)

 “I must file all this paperwork carefully or they will take my apartment away,” she confided.

I sometimes wondered why God brought tall, elegant “Carlita” into my life. Her silky complexion and deep green eyes had befriended me at a Bible study, and we decided to share occasional lunches together, even though living on opposite sides of the city. During our times together she described earlier days of glamour and excitement as a designer and fashion model in both America and Europe — the “high life.”

But all that changed when her children grew up to reject her, travel and leisure succumbed to depression and poor health. Finally, when a devastating divorce robbed her of home, furniture, and stability, she was forced to subsist on government housing and food stamps.

Then, eleven years ago, she found forgiveness and peace when Christ completely transformed her heart. One would think her circumstances would also change. That at least her children and health would return. No. As a matter of fact, some circumstances have gotten worse.

Next week beautiful Carlita will celebrate her 72nd birthday. Never allowing me the luxury of complaint, she chooses the excruciating discipline of praise, often through tears of heartbreak. Daily small miracles keep her going.. “Look at my life!” she says. “Never forget how blessed you are to have a family and a home!”

And I feel ashamed of my whinings.

During a heart-wrenching chat on the phone the other day, she reminded me of this Habakkuk passage. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food……yet I will rejoice in the Lord. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”

Yes, God sometimes removes many of life’s earthly trappings. Yet, most of us have abundantly more than we need, besides Christ. But if all goes away, He is our strength! He will provide just what we need to encourage another fellow traveler for another day. Paul possessed the amazing gift of praising God “in want.” He said, “I have learned to be content with either want or plenty…”

And God gives that gift to my friend Carlita. What a blessing to have such an example! I no longer wonder why this elegant woman is in my life.

Oh, that I would elegantly praise You, Lord!  Whether little wants are taken away, or in utter brokenness, devoid of everything this fading world has to offer, let me rest in You. Amen

The Pit Was Empty…

“And they… cast him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water… “ Genesis 37:24 (ESV)

    “I’m so excited! I’ve got to tell you…”

It was 1983 and my friend Teena was loading up the kids for our shared nursing home visitation day. On these carefree afternoon outings she often bubbled cheerily as we drove. But today Teena was in rare form. “Okay, when Joseph was thrown into that pit by his brothers?”

    “Yeah. So?”

    “Well, I hardly noticed it either. Until today, it hit me! Joan, the pit was empty!”

     Furrowing my brow I confessed, “I don’t get it.”

    “Come on!” she grinned. “Think what could have been in there! Watery slime, drowned animals…creepy bones, or deep mud! But the pit was dry and empty! God didn’t have to give us that detail, but He did! Maybe it was for Joseph to look back on… through all those hard years.”

    My friend’s exuberance about the pit has never left me. Now, thirty years later,  I remember driving in silence for a while, each pondering all that would come into our lives– financial losses, parenting struggles, serious health issues.

    And as in Joseph’s life, whatever difficulty, no matter how deep and dark, the pit would be empty.

Heavenly Father, Help me to trust you in circumstances that seem so pit-like. For you have prepared the way into it, as well as out of it. We praise You! Amen

Cast Aside or Called Aside?


    When I was single and also shortly after getting married, my life was full- mostly full of ministry. I taught in a Christian school full time, had my own Sunday School class, sang in a chorale besides the pulpit choir, helped with church suppers, and attended women’s Bible studies. Between school conferences with parents and rehearsing or preparing for one of the above commitments, my new husband felt a wee bit sidelined- cast aside. He brought my calendar to me one day and said, “Something must go. Please don’t let it be me.”

Soon children began to arrive; and that is when I began, for the first of many periods in my life, to understand the feeling. Now, home all day with precious wee ones, little adult conversation, my duties centered around blowing noses, wiping bottoms, and cooking and cleaning. My hubby could always count on my presence at the end of the day, albeit somewhat frazzled. His was the life that seemed to really matter. For sure, it had to be more interesting! I remember several times standing at the door waiting for him, keys in hand, as he was arriving home. The minute he dropped his keys on the counter, I blew him a kiss and bolted out to meet a friend for a needed cup of encouragement (coffee) or quick shopping trip— not really knowing who I was any more.

Over time, things didn’t get better. By “things” I mean my keen lack of feeling involved and more generally useful. As a matter of fact my older children’s needs demanded more concentrated time than ever! I truly felt that I had been sidelined, sort of cast aside by God. Keeping a happy heart had taken on a whole new dimension of effort. Good and enjoyable outside ministries and activities had to be replaced by time alone with God. Getting to know him, finding Him real and faithful through His Word. Finding my identity as his child, and trusting Him to work out all my wonderings…

In these many years since the first time the feeling of uselessness overwhelmed me I have been gathering devotionals. Watchman Nee, Andrew Murray, Hannah Whitehall Smith, Oswald Chambers, to name a few. Through the challenges of these writers I have been drawn into the sweet private presence of God – whenever I would take the time. And looking back, those times were my sanity as well as my joy.

One of my favorite devotionals is the time-honored classic “Streams in the Desert” by Mrs. L.B. Cowman. If you haven’t added this to your bookshelf, I would recommend including it as one of your top five.  Written during the throes of caring for a dying husband, this loving wife compiled the works of dozens of authors to be an encouragement to discouraged hearts.

Have you ever felt “cast aside?” In “Streams in the Desert” John Ruskin explains that rests are as important a part of our lives as they are in music. What if every instrument played non-stop? He admonishes us this way:

“God does not write the music of our lives without a plan. Our part is to learn the tune and not be discouraged by the rests… How does a musician read the rests? He counts the break with unwavering precision and plays his next note with confidence, as if no pause were ever there.”

Called Aside———-

…..Oh, knowledge deeper grows with Him alone;
In secret oft His deeper love is shown,
And learned in many an hour of dark distress
Some rare, sweet lesson of His tenderness.

Called aside——–

O restful thought—-He doeth all things well;
O blessed sense, with Christ alone to dwell;
So in the shadow of Your cross to hide,
We thank you, Lord, to have been called aside.

So, we are not ever cast aside, even when it feels so. We are called aside for His own care and pruning and training. He has work for us, but our preparation is often alone, with just Him.

Restoration

Joel 2:25–”I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten….”

There he was, standing by the kitchen door, sweaty and red-faced, filthy from stained sandpaper, smelling of harsh stripping chemicals, and obviously frustrated. Three hours earlier my ambitious hubby had dug out of the corner of the garage two rejected pine chairs, dumpster-bound but not quite garbage yet. However, in his determination to restore them to their former glory, something went badly wrong.  The chemicals produced a gunked up mess! The longer he worked, the messier both he and the chairs became! You got it, they were now in the dumpster, and I was biting my lip to hold in the giggles.

“Maybe I should give up furniture refinishing,” he groaned. “ I don’t think it’s my specialty.”

I couldn’t help but think how different it is with God. Yes, there he was, in all his “glory,” not “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” but strong, and loving, and capable– my refinished, restored husband!
Many years ago his mother had prayed this verse in Joel regarding her very-far-from-God son. And since restoring people truly is God’s specialty, He fulfilled that promise! Reclaimed from years in the deep recesses of drugs’ trash heap, my man lived to begin and run a business, raise a wonderful family, and tell others how God had not only saved him through faith in Jesus Christ, but also “restored the years the swarming locust” had eaten.

“Father, thank you for your specialty, changing and restoring people! Keep working on me as I yield my days to you. Amen

The Other Side of Friendship

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Proverbs 27:6 (ESV)

“Boyfriend Stealer!” Me? No way. I was a Christian! Yet that is exactly what I overheard in my college dorm over 40 years ago. Yes, I had, in a moment of hilarity, dumped ice and soda on the head of a handsome student, who just happened to be “taken.” Still, when the awful truth was official (ouch!), tears of self-pity flowed.

That weekend, alone in the dorm, I found my friend Donna ironing with her door open. Surely she would understand how unfair this was. But pouring out my trouble didn’t move her. Instead of commiserating, she allowed a long, tense silence to replace the oxygen in the room. Finally…

“So this is about you? Really?” Then with narrowed eyes boring into my soul, she said, “You are wrong. Flirting makes you look cheap, and it hurts whoever has a claim.”

Whoa… I was stunned, my petulant selfishness exposed! However, a strong desire to please God prompted a split-second decision.  Sure her words hurt, badly.  But I chose to thank her. These wounds were those of friendship. And ever since that day, I have thanked God for the other side of friendship.

“Lord Jesus, thank you for a courageous, honest friend. And Lord, let me be so in tune with you so as to be that kind of friend- when necessary.” Amen

~Joan