Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Awaiting Our Happily Ever After...

My husband is amazing! Yep, he really is! James and I met when I was only 18, but even after 15 years together, he still manages to take my breath away! Although things haven't always been perfect in our 11 year marriage, I have never once thought that we wouldn't always be together. He is truly my best friend, my biggest ally, and loudest cheerleader. He is the person who I need to have on my team, and he always makes it clear that he is right by my side in all things. He is my champion as well as my companion. I never feel lonely when James is in the room. And although there have been times when he hasn't always agreed with me on things, he has always respected my opinion and offered his loving support and guidance. We truly love being together, and as I get older, I am beginning to understand how rare that is. You see, I not only love this man, but I really LIKE him too!

When James and I first met, I was a very broken person. I was scared of being in love and my heart had been broken in so many pieces, I never thought they would fit back together. I had learned horrible relationship skills from my mother, and I certainly didn't make it easy for anyone to love me. Sure, I was pretty good at faking it, but James always managed to see beyond my plastic smile. There were many times when he would say, "Babe, I KNOW you. You don't have to pretend with me." I am so thankful that he never gave up on me. Our first year of marriage was very trying to say the least. We struggled through communication issues, as well as priority issues. It was hard and scary, but I knew we were meant to be together. And then one day, God intervened. James and I both received a wake up call. We suddenly realized that the only way we could be certain that we would be together forever, is if we made God the foundation of our home and marriage. Sure, there were days when things got tough, but we were always united in our goal. We were certain God had brought us together, and since He wrote the details of this romance, how could we ever consider giving up on the happy ending??

Now, I'm not claiming to be the perfect wife. I know I am a work in progress, and I pray every day that God will guide me in my journey to be all that He desires me to be in that role. However, over the years I have learned a lot about how (and how not) to be a partner to my hubby. Here are just a few tidbits I have picked up...

1. Let go of your selfishness and self-centeredness.

I have learned that if you want to have a successful marriage, you have to put your partner's needs before you own. Now, I'm not perfect at this, but I'm working at it. There are definitely times when my selfishness casts a dark shadow over our lives, but God is ever so faithful to shine a light on those areas. "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor." ~ Romans 12:10. I have realized that when I put James' happiness before my own, he inevitably does the same for me in return. So, we both end up happy and content in whatever life throws at us!

2. Learn to trust.

Another lesson I have learned about having a great marriage, is how to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. I know James loves me. I know James has faith in me and wants what is best - so I need to trust in him. Trust is hard for me. I have been hurt by so many people in my life that I sometimes struggle with this act, but you know what? There is no reward for those who don't try. If I hadn't learned to take those first steps in trust, I would never have learned how to appreciate a trusting, loving relationship. And there is no greater reward that a great marriage!

3. Make time together a priority.

Like all couples, sometimes life seems to get away from us. Busyness sets in, and we find ourselves out of touch with one other. James and I have both noticed that when we don't take time to invest in "togetherness," tension seems to set in. In an effort to combat that, we have begun to set time apart for one another. At least once a week, we will have a "date" that includes good quality time together doing things we love to do. Since he and I are so much alike, this can be something as simple as going to our favorite coffee shop and reading, writing, or chatting about our week. Throughout the week we also try to spend time together in "mini-dates" which may include us sitting together to enjoy our favorite television show after Kayla goes to bed or just a nice chat about work/life. We have also learned to budget for our date nights. Sure, finances are sometimes tight, but being together is important to us, so we don't allow any excuses for not spending that time. We make it a priority, and that has really made a difference in our relationship. Now, I realize we are fortunate to have a grandma close at hand to cover babysitting duty, but even when that wasn't an option, we still found time together by obtaining a babysitter or including our daughter in whatever we wanted to do. Regardless of how it happens, spending ample time together makes a huge difference in our happy marriage.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

I think a huge factor in our marriage has been our ability to really talk to one another. James and I realized early on that this was the main issue in both our parent's broken relationships. If we wanted to learn from their mistakes, we needed to make a change in how we related to one another. I can honestly say that this continues to be an area I struggle with. From a very young age, I was taught that showing emotion was a sign of weakness. If someone upset you, and you admitted to being hurt, you were giving away your power or just drawing attention to yourself. Neither of those things was looked upon kindly. So, instead of confronting an issue at the time it occurred, I would inevitably stuff my feelings down and allowed them to fester like an ugly mold. And the end result was always me becoming overwhelmed with the emotion and then completely exploding. This was not beneficial to anyone... and would really confuse James.

Instead of waiting for those emotions to explode out of proportion, James has helped me to work at communicating my feelings as they come. Because we have become so great at talking through our struggles, fighting becomes unnecessary. Sure, there are times when we disagree, but because we are willing to share and listen to one another's viewpoint on issues, we usually can end up laughing about our differences of opinion. And as much as we are alike, we are also very different people...and that is a great thing! He will never fully appreciate Josh Groban and I will never understand why he listens to talk radio and Brazilian Jazz, but we appreciate that together we make a pretty awesome team!

5. Build up one another.

I remember watching my mother tear down my father on a daily basis. Now, she usually did this in a teasing spirit, but you know what?? My father began to resent her for it. He became bitter and cold over time... Now, I'm not blaming my mother completely for his transformation, but her constant teasing did not help my father either. Instead of allowing that pattern to continue in our family, James and I are always encouraging one another. We are honest about each others strengths and even have fun bragging about each other. I am proud of my husband! He is a terrific husband, an amazing father, and fantastic friend! He is smart and witty, and he's very sweet. He takes care of me, he supports me, and he is always the encourager. I no longer hesitate to tell him how proud I am of him. I need him to know that I think he is my perfect match! He doesn't need me to point out his flaws, the world does that without any help from me. What he needs is to know that there is one person on this planet who thinks he is pretty amazing, and so I strive to make it my daily mission to do just that. And you know what? As we build up one another, our marriage becomes even stronger!

Now, I'm not saying that our marriage is absolutely perfect, I know we are all works in progress. I also know I can not allow myself to become complacent in my marriage. It takes dedication and hard work to sustain and protect something so precious! The enemy has it out for us, but God's grace is sufficient! God has blessed us with a harmony of spirit, and a desire to invest in each other. James and I are on a mission to have a strong marriage, and that united front won't be easy to overcome. I love my hubby! I am so thankful for him! I know that together we are stronger than we would ever be apart, and I am confident that God will grant us our happily-ever-after!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Precious Gifts

As I was walking my daughter into school this past week, I overheard one of the kindergarten teachers chastising a student for his poor behavior in the classroom. "Little Billy, you know we don't treat our classroom friends that way!" You see, in Kindergarten, they call each student a "friend" instead of a "classmate" or "kid". After hearing the exchange, my precious observant child looked up at me and smiled her special "I want to ask you something" smile. Later, before I led her into her own classroom, Kayla whispered to me, "Mama? Do I have to be friends with him?? He's not very nice to me." I couldn't help but smile at her question. It was a valid point. How many times have I asked myself the same question when faced with someone who is completely self absorbed and more focused on what's wrong with everyone else than self reflection?? So, like any good mother, I skipped right over that question and gave her the stock reply of, "Just be try to be kind and considerate to all of the children, Honey." But in truth, I wanted to say, "Heck NO! Don't be his friend! Pick your friends wisely and be thankful when you get it right!" But that's not how it is in Kindergarten. You see, at that stage of life, the choice regarding who your friends will, or will not be, is not really up to you. The ability to embrace or walk away from another individual is not given or encouraged. So how will kids ever learn how to choose just who to let into their special circle?? Perhaps we should just leave God up to the match making...

I have never been one to have an abundance of friends in my life. Now, don't think I'm complaining or anything, because this is not a bad or sad thing for me. Being someone who has a hard time opening up to new people, I prefer to reserve the label of "friend" for those precious few who learn to know me beyond the quiet, subdued, exterior I portray to the world. I tend to guard my friends closely, and treat them as I would a precious stone or diamond. You see, a diamond is one of the strongest, yet most beautiful, of all materials. They are rare, priceless, and are appreciated and admired.... just like a true friend should be. It's too bad that often times we forget just how valuable those gems are, just as we forget how precious a true friend can be.

I remember that fateful day when I first met my friend Catherine in the 7th grade. I walked into that large cold Biology room and, after meeting our overly excited, super geeky teacher, Mr. Mackey, I felt my insides trembling. Catherine and I were placed at the same lab table simply because we were seated in ABC order and her last name started with an M and mine an N. As luck (or rather God) would have it, I pushed my mother relentlessly to register me in school under my stepfather's last name (even though it wasn't legally mine yet) when I really had no reason to do so. If I hadn't been registered in that way, Catherine and I might never have become the friends we did! She and I made it through that horrid Biology class, and even stuck together as best friends through all of high school. She was the person I confided in about every crush, every homework assignment, or any problem. She was the first person I told when I met my future hubby, and her opinion of him meant the most. She was my maid of honor at my wedding, and remains to be someone I care a great deal about. Although we don't get to see each other as often as we once did, we remain in close contact and I know she is only a phone call away should I need her help. She is very precious to me! I will always remember Catty as the one person in my childhood who had a glimpse at how awful my life could sometimes be, but who never judged me for it. She never pressed for information, she never pried, she just loved me.... warts and all.

When I got older, my husband and I started visiting a new church about a year into our marriage. One special day, I recommitted my life to Christ, and my husband was saved. It was a very memorable moment in time for me! Not only were my husband and I united in an extremely deep and meaningful way, but God also blessed me abundantly by orchestrating a meeting with someone who would come to know me better than I knew myself. On that day, I met my dear friend Lizbeth! She and her husband were on call that weekend in the prayer room and, as God's plan would have it, had been praying for a couple to disciple... and of course, we were right on time! Over the course of the next 11 years, our friendship has flourished into something a kin to sisterhood. Although I have never known what it meant to have a blood sister, I do know how it feels to have a Liz... She is one of the first people I not only want to call, but need to call, when things go right or things go wrong. She helps to celebrate my victories, and is always there with a tissue, hug, and Coke during times of defeat. And the most amazing part of this relationship, is my desperate desire to be there for her whenever she needs me too. We need each other, just as close sisters do. I am so thankful that God had this relationship in His plan for my life. I don't think I would be where I am today without my dear friend's love and guidance, and I believe this is how God intended us to be with one another.

And yet, throughout my life, I have noticed how very little stock some women put in those special friendships. I have personally witnessed grown women treat the person they claimed to be their "best friend" with little or no appreciation at all. I have seen how women will twist words of love and encouragement into something foul and meaningless in an attempt to gain favor from people they believe to be in positions of authority. I have also watched women blatantly lie about the actions of their "friend" in an attempt to hide behind their own pride and sinful nature. It is so sickening. But mostly, it's just super sad. Friendship is not a gift that every person has, so it should be cherished! Just as that precious stone is housed safely in your velvet lined jewelry box, our special friends should be housed securely in our hearts. We should give them the benefit of the doubt when things come up that are out of character. We should immediately apologize when we mess around or mess up. I'm not saying we always have to agree with them, but we should treat them with the love and respect they deserve! Let's face it, we're only human! We all fall down, get dirty, mess up, and need help! Why do we feel it necessary to use our friends as a punching bag?! Why is it so easy to cast the blame their way, instead of accepting responsibility for our own selfish behavior?

When Jesus came down to the earth, He picked twelve special individuals to enter into His sacred circle of friends. He knew they weren't perfect, and yet He loved them any how. He knew they could and would fail Him, and yet, He forgave. He saw beyond what they were, and believed in who they could be. He even watched them walk away in His time of greatest need, and still ran to them when they were lost in the woods. That is what friendship should look like. That is the kind of friend I want to be. That is the kind of friend I want to teach my daughter to be! So how is your friend doing today?? Have you talked to her of late? What has she been celebrating? What has she been mourning? Don't just claim the title "friend", but do everything in your power to BE the FRIEND! And the next time you find yourself in need of it, I guarantee your friend will be there for you too!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Being Thankful for the Small Stuff

My sweet daughter just lost her first front tooth. Although she has lost a couple on the bottom, that top front tooth was a nightmare for her to get out. It was wiggly and giggly for a couple of months before it finally let go. It hung on so long it actually turned black before falling out! I really hated seeing that happen as well as hearing her worries that someone might make fun of her, but thankfully no one seemed to notice and the little bugger let loose and finally it was done! YEA!

While we were talking about her newly lost tooth, and looking at the buds of her permanent tooth already poking through the gum, she asked me, "Momma, where do those new teeth come from?" I explained to her what little I know about baby teeth... We get baby teeth because our mouths are not big enough as a baby to hold a full set of teeth. Later, when we grow big enough to house bigger teeth, God designed our bodies to allow the little ones fall out to make room for the new big ones. I also told her what I had come to believe about baby teeth... they are God's way of giving you practice. No child can be perfect at brushing and flossing while trying to learn to potty train!! And what kid could pass up a chocolate cookie or ice cream right before bed?? And do you really think they can remember to brush after?? So, it's my belief that God gives us a few extra years to get that other stuff down so that when we are big enough to start mastering good oral hygiene for real, those new teeth are coming in to reap the rewards! I know, it's not exactly a scientific theory or anything, but can you argue the logic?? LOL!

It was this conversation that left my daughter looking at me in awe. "Wow! Momma, God sure does a lot for us!" That nearly made me tear up! She got it! Something as simple as knowing God already had a plan for another tooth helped my daughter see how amazing our Father is at taking care of us! So why is it that I can't trust in Him to take care of my big things?? Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, ""Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." This is what he was taling about! Unless we are able to think like babes and trust in Him with every aspect of our lives, we will never understand what it means to be free from our sins. We must believe He has a plan, and walk knowing we are not alone. He is there for us in our every breath, our every hope, and even our every tooth! God is so awesome!

What are the little things you have neglected to be thankful for? How about that hot shower in the morning? the warm coffee in your mug? the ability to have that Bible sitting across your lap during your quiet times? And what are those big worries that have you down? Rent? Taxes? Relationships? Be thankful and trust that God has it all under control! After all, if He has a plan for your teeth, He will also have a plan for your life!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Drowning in a Sea of Life Jackets

I remember going through a pretty intense time about 16 years... I was 16 and still living at home with my folks at that time. As I have said in the past, every night was a "let's get drunk and point out Tilly's flaws" night, so you can imagine how much I tried to avoid being home at all costs. But I couldn't stay away forever, so I always found myself at home each evening getting my daily dose of degradation. It got to be pretty bad. One night, I don't know why or how I worked up the courage, but I shouted at my father, "Why can't you just STOP DRINKING?!" And you know what he said? "I will STOP DRINKING as soon as YOU stop your FAT MOUTH from EATING!" Yep, that pretty much sums up my self esteem vault. But you know what? A little part of me believed my father would stop drinking if I weren't fat. A little part of me prayed that what he was saying was true.

That was about the time I began my first serious diet. No, not just calorie counting mind you, I mean the big D-I-E-it. (I call it that because there is no way I would have been able to keep up what I was doing to myself for any greater length of time without dying!) I wouldn't eat more than 400 calories in any given day. I would take laxatives, about 9 a day, to move food through my system more quickly. I began popping diet pills like they were another food group and I watched my bones start to pop up against my skin. I remember thinking how much I wanted to be a size 2... it was all about that number. Of course, now I realize that with my bone structure I would have been dead long before reaching my goal size, but I think a part of me didn't really care. I think a part of me wanted it all to fall away, for me to be an invisible face in the crowd melting into nothingness.... but that's not what happens when you become thin.

When I began to see the physical effects of my diet, I felt pretty good about myself. I was finally in control of something! It was all up to me! No one could take the power away! I ruled over my own body! In time, however, I realized that I didn't much like the effect it was having on those around me. I started to notice guys looking at me who never paid me much attention before. It wasn't genuine attention though, I suddenly had become a conquest to them. It didn't mean anything to them - not really! That made me feel sick inside. I placed a fake smile on my face wherever I went. People thought I was a really happy person, but I wasn't. I was a great actress and I stared in a magnificent play every single day. No one suspected how miserable I had become.

One day, while working at one of my jobs, one person began to reach out to me. He was older than I was (about 43), and really seemed to like me for who I was. He worked at the same store I worked at and, at first, showered me with attention I didn't know I craved. We began seeing each other outside of work.... a movie here, a dinner there. How could this have been wrong when he made me feel so great about myself?! We were "dating" for about three months when I found out that he was actually married. Yep! I felt horribly crushed! I couldn't believe that this person who made me feel so great could be wrong for me! We discussed his marriage and, of course, he promised me he was planning on leaving his current wife really soon and then we could be together. I wish I could say that I slapped his face and ran away from him that very instant, but I didn't. I stayed. I believed him. I WANTED him to be mine. We continued dating for about three more months. I started to feel so disgusted with myself for constantly sneaking around with him... but those few stolen kisses made me forget... for a while. I think part of me knew it was all wrong. I KNEW all the wonderful attention that I basked in for all those months was never truly meant to be mine. Deep down, I knew it... I just didn't want to face up to it.

One day, after feeling too overwhelmed with my emotions regarding this person, I reached out to a friend for advice. I told her how he made me feel. How I wanted, no needed, to be with him. Do you know what she said to me? "Tilly, you have to end this. He is NOT good for you!! He is married and he can't be yours!" I wish I could say that I took her sound advice, but I didn't. I knew she was trying to help me, but that wasn't the help I wanted. I wanted someone to say, "hang in there Tilly! He'll be yours soon enough! Surely he'll be leaving his wife for you soon, right?!" But my friend, who loved me more than I deserved to be loved, couldn't say that to me.... she told me the truth and I ran away from her. I was drowning, she threw me her life jacket, and I threw it back at her. I would rather have continued flailing wildly in the sea of my own downfall than to accept the help she was offering. So stupid! To this day, it is one of my greatest regrets.

After my friend gave me her advice on running away from this man who was basically preying on my weakness, I began to look for advice from other people in my circles. It didn't take long before I found someone who gave me the advice I wanted to hear. I shook my head agreeing with a second friend's thought process on how this man would be mine some day. I swore to her that I cared about him enough to wait. And wait I did.... I waited for another three months. That's when I found him kissing another girl, who was younger than I was (14 years old), in the parking lot after work one day. I was devastated. Once again the man in my life that meant the most to me had thrown a dagger at my heart. It wasn't too long after this happened that this person moved on to another store. I cried when he left. I knew he didn't love me, but I sure did miss that attention...

I have learned so much from that experience. Sure, I messed up. I committed a horrible sin and to this day wish I could have done things differently. Sure, I could blame it on a pedophile of a man who worked with me, preyed on my weaknesses, and took advantage of me. I could blame it on my father, who pushed me to "better" myself to the point that I was desirable for this type of person. Or, I could even blame it on the second friend who encouraged me to pursue this relationship... but I can't. It's not their fault. It was all me. I am the one who made that choice. I am the one who, after seeing the truth, did nothing to fix things. I was in sin, and I loved it. Sin is nice. Sin is comfy. Sin gives you exactly what you think you need. But you know what, sin never made me truly happy. I was thin, desired, pursued, pleasured... but I was NEVER happy. Even WITH that man, I still felt completely alone.

But you know what?! God is so MARVELOUS! After my weakened heart began to heal from that first "relationship", He brought another man into my life. This man was smart, charming, funny, witty, and to this day remains one of my all time best friends! My hubby loves me just as I am. He even tells me how much he loves my chubby cheeks!! And no, I am not anywhere near a size 2... but you know what, I am happy to be the size I am! I am finally comfortable in my own skin! Not because of the man in my life or the church I go to or the job I work at.... but simply because I wake up each day knowing I don't deserve God's love and grace, but He gives it to me any how! If He can love me enough to see through my many faults, than I must be a pretty okay person! And no matter what happens in my life, I can always take comfort in the knowledge that I will never be alone again!

What sea are you drowning in today? Do you feel the weight of the world pressing you down? Stop and look around. You may be surprised to see quite a few life jackets just waiting to pull you free. Don't allow your pride to look beyond the help that loving friends can be offering. Don't allow the superficial pleasure of sin to blind you from those lifelines! Grab hold! Hang in there! God loves you where you are, but He refuses to leave you there!