20 years together… happily!

Today we celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary!  It is sweet to pause in the quiet and let my heart sift back through “snap shots” and “video clips” of treasured moments on that clear October day.  … The huge maple tree bursting with golden yellow leaves that canopied our wedding photos at the arboretum.  The whispers just between the two of us, lost in our own bubble of joy.  The words of truth and encouragement in our ceremony.  The sweet hugs and smiles from so many loved ones.  And stealing away in our rented Buick Park Avenue sedan to dinner and dessert for two in our fancy hotel room!

 

To this day, there is no warmer, cozier, more surrounded place than curled up in each other’s arms.  Sharing whispers just between the two of us.  The memories of our special day – and so many moments in the two decades since – are truly happy!  And we are grateful to feel abundantly blessed with the gift of our marriage!

But, did we walk down that aisle, blissfully believing in “happily ever after?”  Married at age 30, we both had lived through enough “blood, sweat and tears” to understand that life is hard.  There are no guarantees.  The enemy of our souls is always working to undermine and destroy the beautiful picture marriage holds of Christ’s love for His own.  As frail humans, our promises to one another are only as powerful as our commitment to them, and ever dependent on the One who gives us the ability to keep them.

Knowing the dangers, we have fiercely guarded our marriage from the start.  We look to the Lord again and again for wisdom and guidance as we encounter new seasons of life side by side.  How are we able to look back over 20 years and stretch an over-arching banner that simply yet poignantly says “happily married?”  And where can we best commit our hearts, going forward, to position ourselves to draw the same conclusion if the Lord grants us another 20 years together?

These are some of the questions presented in Kevin A. Thompson’s new book, “Happily: 8 Commitments of Couples Who Laugh, Love & Last.”  I was grateful to receive of copy of this book just a few weeks before this milestone anniversary, and to share much of its wisdom with my husband as we reflect and rejoice together.

 

In his years of experience counseling couples, Kevin Thompson has concluded there are a few basic longings for marriage – that it will be fun (inspire joy), that it will be a place where genuine love is expressed, and that it will endure.  He has written a previous book “Friends, Partners, and Lovers” that describes what a happy couple can do to build their friendship, partnership, and intimacy.  In this second book, he delves deeper into how those commitments should be carried out.

Kevin lists various verbs that are associated with a good marriage: love, care, listen, learn, forgive, trust, encourage, submit, cheer, embrace, and so on.  He believes that the powerful adverb “happily” makes all the difference in how those verbs are lived out and the impact each will have on the strength of a marriage.

As a basis for his challenge to married couples, Kevin walks his readers through the Beatitudes from Matthew 5.  These are the principles the Lord Jesus taught when He walked this earth.  Heart postures that lead to God-honoring attitudes and actions are applicable in so many facets of life.  Kevin suggests one of the greatest places to enjoy the fruit of Godly choices is in our marriage relationships.  Blessed (happy!) are those who choose God’s way.

Rather than pride, humility.

Rather than avoiding pain and failure, confronting it and processing through it.

Rather than apathy or aggression, meekness (strength with vulnerability).

Rather than self-centered perspective, reaching for a higher goal (glorifying God).

Rather than selfishness, compassion and mercy.

Rather than hypocrisy, truth and honesty.

Rather than division and strife, pursuit of peace.

Rather than giving up too easily, working through challenges to grow stronger.

I believe this book will touch each couple personally and uniquely.  I also believe it is a book worth revisiting at each new milestone or when walking through different experiences.  Reading it for the first time, these are the few quotes that really stand out to me:

Marriage at its best is meek.  When someone acts in a meek manner, they quickly act on behalf of another but are never self-serving… they are a person restrained by love and grace.” (p76)

“Love restrains us.  It keeps us from using our strength as a disservice to our spouse.  Our strength is best used for the benefit of our spouse, not for their detriment.  Meekness keeps our strength under control.”  (p82)

“Mercy requires toughness to restrain any desire for revenge … and tenderness to have empathy and compassion for another person.  The best marriages are defined by both toughness and tenderness.  … When thinking of the qualities that lead to a lasting relationship, few people would ever consider mercy.  Yet anyone who has ever experienced a truly meaningful relationship can reflect on and realize the influence mercy had on their union.”  (p125)

“More than anything, marriage is an avenue through which a couple can know God and express Him to others. … Marriage is about a joint pursuit of the heart of God.”  (p100-101)

In conclusion, Kevin makes the point that through the whole of Scripture, God reveals a pattern of working from the inside out – in human hearts and in relationships.  He draws a very interesting and helpful correlation between the Lord Jesus’ teachings in the Beatitudes with our best choices in marriage.  He concedes that these choices are neither easy nor natural – but that they can lead us to a different way of life – a little bit of heaven on earth!

I am so thankful for this fresh look at the Beatitudes and the very practical applications to marriage presented in “Happily.”  Kevin’s insights encourage me (causing me to be grateful for the ways the Lord has already guided, grown and preserved our marriage through these principles), but also challenge me to look more closely for ways I may have slipped from God’s standards.  Do I love like He does – faithfully, sacrificially, tenderly, kindly, and intentionally?

As my husband and I celebrate 20 years together and trust the Lord for the future, there is no better way to refocus my heart than to ponder our Savior’s teachings and apply them to our marriage.  I firmly believe that these commitments will not only honor God, but will bless our marriage with deepening love, infectious joy, and a relationship that will endure!

20th happily

“A good marriage is built through a thousand small acts.

As a husband and wife lay down their lives for one another, the marriage thrives.”

– Kevin A. Thompson –

. . .

Blessed (happy!) are the poor in spirit (humble),

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

– Matthew 5:3-10 –

. . .

“HAPPILY: 8 Commitments of Couples Who Laugh, Love & Last”

by Kevin A. Thompson is published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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breaking open to new life

It was just a walk on a random afternoon, to get some fresh air and a little exercise.  But I quickly realized how much I needed that space to wrestle out some burdens that had my shoulders tensed up around my ears and lines deepening in my forehead, threatening to stay that way!

Despite reminding myself as often as possible to LOOK UP, I realized that my vision had been downcast for too long.  I was chasing my own head and the walls were closing in.  Too many circumstances outside of my control (aren’t they all?  when will I learn this??), too many challenges with no light at the end of the tunnel.  My heart was heavy and my body felt stiff and achy.

But just a few paces into this unplanned walk, I felt gratefulness rising.  Thankful for the nudge to step away – from that head space and the literal space of “real life” – to air it all out for a while!

My iphone streamed downloaded songs while I walked along.  Various lyrics caught my ear, especially Johnny Diaz’s song, Breathe :

breathe, just breathe

come and rest at My feet

and be, just be

chaos calls but all you really need

is to take it in, fill your lungs

the peace of God that overcomes

just breathe

let your weary spirit rest

lay down what’s good and find what’s best

just breathe

I began to look UP and around… and notice the beauty of God’s creation.  I had walked the same path so many times and looked at the same flowers and trees, but there were new discoveries.  On that October day, with my northern-girl-self still expecting falling leaves, bare branches, and the arrival of dormancy, I was stunned and delighted to find the opposite!

The plumbago hedges were bursting with clusters of periwinkle flowers.  The pine trees were covered with the bright green needles of new growth.  Another delicate shrub was loaded with beautiful yellow buds and petals.  The fuchsia bougainvillea seemed more vibrant than ever before.  But the sweetest sight of all was the red bud tree in full leaf, in that same tender, bright green!

 fall growth collage

Just a few weeks before, those red bud trees looked exactly as I expected during autumn – bare branches with open seed pods, some still dangling from the tree, but most strewn about the ground.  I was so captivated by those pods!  I eagerly collected them to add to our fall décor.  A closer look at them, as I cleaned off the dust and dirt from the ground, only heightened my wonder!

Before the pods opened, they were thin, flat, dark brown slivers, with an outer shell that looked charred.  Nondescript.  Unattractive.  Almost ugly – in shape and in color.  But as the pods opened to sew their seeds, the two long strips of each pod curled in opposite directions, revealing a beautiful inside shell in varying shades and swirls of caramel and brown, like the richest, most interesting wood tone one could imagine.  And their shape was permanently altered, standing firm in their perfectly turned curls!

 fall pods trio

Those seed pods touched my heart.  It was in the breaking open, in the giving away of their insides, on the way to being discarded, that their true beauty was revealed!  The process sewed seeds for new growth and changed those pods forever.

It was in His breaking open, giving His own life, disregarded and discarded by the very ones He created and came to save, that our Savior’s truest depth of love and beauty was revealed.  He is forever now the God-Man, the Lamb freshly slain, bearing the marks of that sacrifice – for us.  He is forever changed.  And so are we.  Because of His death, we now have new life!  A life that will never die!  We are being transformed into His image – with a love and a beauty that we will never fully comprehend.

Although my son got his greatest pleasure from crunching those seed pod curls under his feet on our walks, I was grateful to have discovered them and preserved them!  As I catch sight of them around the house, they remind me to be grateful for my Savior… and not to fear the breaking, the spilling out, or the process of being transformed.  True beauty in His eyes will be the result!

 fall curls trio

Just a few weeks later, I stood beneath the same red bud tree and looked up into the sea of brand new, bright green leaves.  New life.  A new growing season had already begun!  Even after seven years in south FL, it still takes me by surprise that this is a blooming season here!  A time of thriving!  It is so unexpected.  It brings a deep, widening smile to my heart.

Months of deep soul wrestling, those burdens that have my shoulders tensed up and lines trenching into my forehead, have taken me through a season that has felt a bit like autumn or even winter.  Bare, falling away, dormancy –  a sense of grieving without fully being able to identify the loss.  What an encouragement to realize that this season could surprise me with new growth!  Seeds sown in brokenness can turn barely surviving into thriving!

When my heart breaks, my cries spill out in desperate prayer, even then… especially then, what new life, new growth might He be birthing?  I don’t know.  But I trust Him.  And it thrills my heart to know that it is the One and only Master Craftsman at work behind the scenes!  I really can’t wait to see what He has been working on all along.  For I know with confidence I will be awe-struck to see it all unfold.

renewed day by day

It was just a walk on a random day to get some fresh air and a little exercise.  But my Savior met me there, touched my heart, and shifted my focus.  I came home with a spring in my step, a lighter (and bigger!) heart, and a sweet smile… the JOY of the grateful and blessed!

 * * *

Psalm 84:5-7 ~ What JOY for those whose strength comes from the LORD… when they walk through the valley of weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs… the autumn rains will clothe it with blessings… they will continue to grow stronger.

James 1:2-4 ~ Consider it pure JOY, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance… let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

2 Corinthians 4:16 ~ For this reason we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

James 1:12 ~ Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of LIFE that the LORD has promised to those who love Him.

Proverbs 12:25 ~ Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.

 

 

 

out of the ordinary

In my one and only photography class in college (to fill an elective spot with something fun!), I heard more than once, “true artistry is creating something extraordinary from something quite ordinary.”

I had to smile as I listened to Christie Purifoy and Mary Jo Baker say basically the same thing in their “Out of the Ordinary” podcast this week.  How sweet to realize that little moments which could easily be overlooked, and may even grow tiresome on some levels, can become treasured glimpses of extraordinary in our very routine, ordinary days.

They asked us, as their listeners, to ponder where unexpected EXTRAORDINARY might be found in our own day to day?  [what a gift to see His hand creating amazing GRACE out of the ordinary in their lives… and begin to recognize His touch in our own!]

* * *

When I pause to think about it, two things come to mind … one from my own childhood home and one small but lingering thing my kids have kept alive, even though they are now big kids, starting to contemplate life decisions like cars and colleges and part-time jobs!

My little piece of extraordinary gives away where I was raised … Pennsylvania!  As far back as I can remember, my mom has placed little electric candles in each of the windows of our home.  They are set on timers to come on at dusk and stay lit until we are all deeply asleep, sometime after midnight.

I hold treasured memories of climbing into bed each night, hearing the house settle to a lovely quiet, seeing and feeling the soft glow of those little candles, cast across our darkened rooms.  Even now, when I travel home for a visit, I fight sleep as long as possible, soaking in that glow.  The word that comes to mind is “surrounded.”  In that safe and happy place, loved and provided for by those who know and love me best.

IMG_5968

Although the candles are present all through the year, the sight of them often takes my heart back to the holidays.  I suppose we appreciated their light all the more during the darkest parts of the year.  But it was also during those festive times that drifting off to sleep was accompanied by wafts of fresh cookies baking or a crackling fire, and the sound of Christmas music.  There was no greater time in our year to feel “surrounded” than when we purposely chose to gather with loved ones, to celebrate, and to express gratefulness.

When we moved from Pennsylvania to Savannah, GA, over a decade ago, we continued the tradition, placing our own electric candles in every possible window.  Neighbors were perplexed, since they had only seen such a thing at Christmastime.  We persisted anyway.  And I still loved the gift of falling asleep under the soft glow in a quiet house  (at any time of the year!), feeling surrounded by our own growing family in the home God had provided for us.

When friends would come to visit for the first time, we would often tell them to look for the house with candle lights in the windows!  We were from Pennsylvania, after all, and those roots run deep!  It was so nice to hear how many of them viewed that unique touch as something warm and welcoming.

IMG_5972

Now that we live in south FL, our home doesn’t have windows that are suited for electric candles.  It was a sad realization for me.  The rest of my family does not seem to miss them.  But I do.  So as a feeble second choice, I have a night light plugged in next to my side of the bed.

It is not quite the same as light beautifully reflected on the glass panes of a window, but I appreciate the soft glow all the same!  Maybe one day, the Lord will lead us back to the northern hills where I can light candles in our windows again!

* * *

My kids are much more practical and not so easily touched by aesthetics.  (I tease them that they cannot be my children!)  Their holdout traditions have much more to do with food!

Dad’s famous pancakes!  Mom’s chocolate chip banana bread!  Or Miss Barbara’s unmatched recipe for pound cake (with NO icing!) that my son insists on every year for his birthday.  Yep!  My kids’ favorite traditions are definitely about what tastes good!

When they were small and we were planning to be out and about for the day – park, zoo, beach, even errands – I would pack each of them a Ziplock snack bag with their water bottle.  I would grab whatever dry goods were in the pantry – pretzels, goldfish, cereal, teddy grahams, and maybe a few M&Ms for something sweet – and create our own snack mix.  I would stash their munchies in a tucked-away place and bring them out when absolutely necessary to settle the restless natives!

It always made me laugh when my parents were visiting and my Dad would whisper his request that I make an extra one for him!  To this day, when we travel, I will catch my kids making themselves a snack bag for the road!

IMG_5971

* * *

How truly beautiful to realize that whether it is an aesthetic touch or something yummy for our tummies, it is the little things that linger and remain meaningful.  Those easily overlooked, ordinary things, that mamas do to let their children know that they are loved and provided for, are really quite extraordinary!

How important, as well, to be reminded to look for the ways our heavenly Father loves and provides for us each day!  There is no other who knows and loves us best!  But to busy humans, many of His touches and foresight can seem small or be easily overlooked.

It is so encouraging to know, if we train our eyes to see, we will discover the truly EXTRAORDINARY artistry He is creating every day… right in the middle of what seems rather ordinary!

* * *

Psalm 77:13  O God, your deeds are extraordinary!

Isaiah 29:14  I will again do an amazing thing for My people – an absolutely extraordinary deed.

Zechariah 4:10  Whoever despises the day of small things will rejoice…

I Corinthians 1:27  God has chosen the simple things to confound the wise.

Luke 16:10  Whoever is faithful with little things will also be faithful with much.

out of the ordinary

#outoftheordinarypodcast

#christiepurifoy  #lisajobaker

#littlethingsthatareextraordinary

#Hemakeseverythingbeautiful

#trueartistry

#receivingHisbestgiftswithJOY