The Wonder-if-They’re-Gonna’-Make-It Years

I’m in my very late fifties, and I’ve been experiencing a blessing that is unique to these years: the blessing of seeing old marriages in their prime. I’ve seen more than a few friends go through “wonder-if-their-gonna-make it” years. And lately I’ve been seeing those same marriages that were rocky during our 30’s and/or 40’s, rockin’ the 50’s and beyond.  Today I saw a FB post by an old friend wishing her husband, “the love of my life”, a happy birthday.

There’s a key in that moniker, “love of my life”.  You’ve got to honor the vow “for better or for worse” to earn the title “love of my life”. We’ve all seen couples stay together for life as they bite their tongues or bite their spouses heads off in the process; growing in bitterness, rather than love. I’m honored to know a number of couples who have bit their tongues in order to get to this other side; this joy of having spent the better part of their life with the one who is the love of their life.

The “for better or for worse” vow shouldn’t be interpreted as resigning yourself to a worse marriage than you hoped for! The “worse” part is meant as a commitment to share in one another’s burdens. The worse part also can mean bearing one another when we’re at our worst (when we’re the burden) and believing in one another in order to bring out each other’s best.

It’s rather comical that I’m writing this blog this week.  I can confidently say that I’ve been a rather irritable, judgmental, impatient, spouse, of late. Clearly, God wanted me to see those triumphant social media posts by friends who’s marriages have been in deeper water than I’ve been stirring up. Looky there! Social media used for good!

40 to 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. I wonder if we could lower that rate if those teetering on the brink saw the fruit of those who had marriages that lasted into their 50’s and 60’s; marriages that had gone through entertaining the idea of divorce in their 30’s and 40’s, and landed at a place where they were joyfully referring to their spouse as the love of their life? I know, that’s was one doozy of a run-on sentence. Let me break it down.

30’s or 40’s = teetering on the brink of divorce
50’s and 60’s = victorious in perseverance and joyfully naming their spouse “love of my life”
70’s and 80’s and beyond = a legacy of true love

I think it’s positive motivation to realize many a rocky marriage transforms into a life long love story.

If you prefer negative motivation: 67% of second marriages and 74% of third marriages end in divorce.

But, a good marriage is a heart thing; not a statistic. Although, statistics can serve to protect us during the hard seasons. And, on the other hand, if you happen to have 3 hands, statistics can be bent to our liking.

Let’s end where I should have begun, with the source of all truth.  The only source that can help us keep our vows and in the keeping, have spouses who become the love of our life.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1Corinthians 13:4-7





In Defense of Fanaticism

My friends, both face-to-face and FaceBook, will not be surprised to see that I am writing a piece in defense of fanaticism.  My name is Carrie and I am a Dodgers-aholic.

Have you heard?  The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the World Series!

I will confess here that I am not one of the elite Dodgers fans who have watched a majority of games through decades of consecutive seasons.  I’ve lapsed.  I may blame it on my husband not being a baseball enthusiast or, gulp, on being a fair weather fan; I rather emphasize that over my life time a sample of my blood will always serve as evidence that I do bleed Dodger Blue.  And yes, the fact that they have been division champs for 5 years running has got my blood pumping.

The word fanatic has carried the burden of negative connotations for the most part as a result of religious fanaticism.  Although, spouses/girlfriends/boyfriends of sports fans may beg to differ.  The dictionary app on my computer even defines fanatic with the negative word “excessive”.  Fanatic:  a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause.

I became a fan of Jesus during the 70’s “Jesus Movement”, a time when the label “Jesus Freak” was used both pejoratively and as a positive self-identifier.  I didn’t jump on the Jesus People bandwagon fully.  For example, I was never interested in communes. I did think if you’re gonna be called a freak it wouldn’t hurt to be seen as freaky about Jesus.

Sports fan culture and Jesus fan culture have similarities.  We get a thrill out of coming together and celebrating our shared enthusiasm.  Some of us are in the habit of shouting and throwing out our hands in adoration. We value loyalty and community.  We’ve developed a lingo of our own.  (Sometimes to the detriment of others). Being fans bring us a lot of joy.  Joy that can’t be fathomed by those who are not fans of our particular persuasion.

Fans can have a number of weird, yet harmless, traits.  Baseball is full of superstitions.  Christians have a bunch of traditions that don’t have their roots in the Bible.

Being a sports fan or a Christianity fan can also resemble the negative connotations found in the dictionary definition of fanaticism.  Let me use an outrageous, far-fetched, impossible, illustration: imagine the Dodgers not winning the current World Series.  (My superstitious readers are freaking out right now).  If I then fell into a depression over the loss, my status as a fan would be unhealthy and you could make a reasonable deduction that my emotional and/or mental health was poor.  You could rightly say I had a unhealthy obsession with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Religious fanaticism can have far more serious consequences.  That pretty much goes without saying in this terrorist ravaged age.  However, Jesus followers, by Jesus’ own definition are not to be religious.  In his time here on earth he got angriest over the self-righteous religious of that day.  Following Jesus means trusting Jesus.  Not trusting a religion.  Trusting Jesus is about having a relationship with him; choosing to love as he has commanded; choosing love over man made rules.  The only rules we’re to follow are the commands he gives us.  And since he is love and he is good and he is perfect, he’s the only one completely worthy of my obsessive fanaticism.

The synonym that rightly applies to obsession with Jesus is “all-consuming”.  The sports team or celebrity or anyone we fan-girl about is gonna fade.  At some point they are going to fail our expectations or fail themselves.  But our God?

Turn to Hebrews 12:28-29  “…since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

His love is a consuming fire.  That’s a fire I want to fan.


A New Normal?

When I wake up each morning the first thing I’m aware of is this rather loud buzz in my right ear. I’ve had tinnitus (a sound in your ears that comes from the brain, not your surroundings), for a few years. But, for a couple of months now it has increased in consistency and volume and is accompanied by a full sensation in the ear. As you can imagine, it also gets in the way of me hearing clearly.

Tinnitus is one of those annoyances in life that can light the flame of fear. The questions that fear ignites are common: “What if this is my new normal?” “Can this get worse?” “Can I cope with this?” More specific to this condition, “Is this going to stop me from being able to communicate in a crowded room?” “Will I ever enjoy lying down to sleep again?”

When I feel the panic of these fears creeping into my thoughts I do one of four things: focus on the fears, pray, distract myself, or compare myself to those in chronic pain. I think the latter habit has pros and cons. The pro is it serves to be a distraction because friends come to mind who need prayer and who inspire me with their forbearance. The con is comparison can be a source of fruitless guilt.

As one who puts my faith in Jesus, I’ve been instructed to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, put on the full armor of God and take my stand against the devil’s schemes. For those with physical ailments it may sound weird to read in Ephesians 6:10-12 “that our struggle is not against flesh and blood”, because our physical experience is that it most certainly is flesh and blood! I’m coming to the slow realization that there is an AND here. I’m living with the trial of physical ailments AND the devil can use those to get me to struggle in my thought life.

I don’t want tinnitus. I don’t want a full sensation in my ear.  I don’t get to have a say in either condition.

I don’t want to be consumed daily with either one of these annoyances.  I do have a say in what I focus on and the status I give anxiety and fear in my day.

Jesus doesn’t give us a spirit of fear. And Jesus is a rescuer from anxiety. And, anxiety happens to exacerbate tinnitus!

James 4:7 tells me — “submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”.

It’s time for resisting. It’s up to me to take advantage of the mighty power I have in Christ and resist anxiety and fear. There are signs scattered throughout the city I live in that say RESIST. They are political signs meant to proclaim that the owners of these signs will not accept “this new reality as normal”.

I choose to RESIST and not accept my physical conditions to dictate what is my new normal. Fear and anxiety are not normal. The sound mind given to me by Jesus is my normal.

2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

I thought the previous sentence was the end of this essay.  As I read over it I realize it’s as confusing as the RESIST signs posted around my city.  Just how does one go about resisting?  Gritting my teeth doesn’t help tinnitus and it doesn’t help overcoming fear and anxiety.  How then, do I take advantage of the mighty power of Christ and resist anxiety and fear?  Ephesians 6:10-12 needs verses 13-18.

It takes armor to successfully take a stand:

The belt of truth to be ready.  The breastplate of God’s approval to protect our hearts.  The footgear to proclaim the gospel of peace.  The shield of faith to to extinguish all the flaming arrows the evil one sends our way. The helmet of salvation to protect our mind from doubting what God has done.  The sword of the Spirit which is God’s Word.  And prayer to the God who helps us stand with all this armor.

My normal?  I’m living with a sound mind, in a battle, knowing God’s won the war for me.





Refreshment for Poor and Wealthy Alike

Living in a city for the past year and a half I’ve lost something I wasn’t cognizant of possessing.  I’ve lost the ability to avoid seeing the pain that people in poverty endure.  My suburban life was oblivious, in a way.  It was generally free from the pain of witnessing fellow human beings who spend each day struggling for basic sustenance.  It was free from seeing how poverty can change the posture of a person.

I’ve read a few tweets and quotes lately that urge us all to be tender with one another because we don’t know what those whom we come in contact with are facing in their lives.  Wise and kind sentiments.  In my suburban life I was very aware of the types of pain and the variety of struggles those around me were facing.  Sickness, disappointment, strained relationships, addictions, death, divorce, wayward children and even loss of employment, were shared realities for many friends, family, acquaintances and neighbors.

However, chronic, hopeless, humbling, degrading, desperate poverty, were abstract conditions; only acknowledged by me with occasional donations to impersonal charities, or by volunteering to provide food for those in need, (chiefly during the weeks framed by Thanksgiving and Christmas), or by mechanically sending off a monthly check to the child we “sponsor”.

City life has thrown my abstract numbness onto cold concrete.  During the past 24 years living in suburban California, no one ever approached me on the sidewalks asking for some change.  I never experienced a request in an aisle of my grocery store for a couple dollars.  Only once during those 24 years did someone beg for money in the parking lot of a shopping center.  My comfort zone was protected.  There were quite a number of people living below the poverty level in my town, but the desperation of poverty lived behind closed doors.

Tonight, a woman knocked on our door.  My husband opened the door and was faced with a woman who removed her hat to show her bald head and tell her sad story of cancer and need and desperation for her children and willingness to work for a bit of help.

That brief encounter left us both deeply saddened by her pain and amazed by how different life presents itself here in this city.  Not only are we regularly approached for a handout when we are out of our home, tonight we were asked in the sanctuary of our home.

We moved into this home just 2 weeks ago.  We’ve been keenly aware of and grateful for the blessing of this home and the luxury of the improvements we’ve been able to make to it.  This woman made me keenly aware of the insignificance of a ding on my cabinet made by the men who delivered my shiny new dishwasher today.  It’s not shame I’m feeling; it’s perspective.

I ask myself, how do I cope emotionally and respond compassionately and effectively now that I’ve been forced to part with my oblivion?  What will my attitude be toward those who choose to beg for money?

“To whom much is given, much is expected,”  Luke 12:48.  What is the much Jesus is asking of me?  Earlier in this same chapter Jesus warns, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions”.

God’s Word makes it clear that I can cope and respond to the desperation and poverty around me, by being on my guard against my own greed.  I can purpose to not spend my hours focused on my possessions.  Also, the Bible gives a coping response that is life giving (to me and to the poor whom I encounter):  joyful generosity. Generosity in possessions and in service.  “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  2 Corinthians 9:7  Again, …”life does not consist in abundance of possessions.”

City living can be exhilarating and it can be draining.  Actually, that’s true whether you’re living in the country, suburbs, or city.  That is true whether you are rich or poor.  And it’s true that wherever God places you that, “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25b.   We all have unique opportunities to refresh others.

And yes, there will be times like tonight that will leave me sad.  But, the one who is poor in possessions is not always poor in spirit.  During my time here, I’ve experienced gifts of encouragement and inspiration by some who don’t even have a place to live in.  I have been refreshed by relationship with them.  I also want to be one who refreshes.

As a city dweller, I’ve been given the privilege of being in a position to refresh both those who are poor in possessions and those who are poor in spirit.  I can’t partake of that privilege behind a closed door or with a closed heart.









A Weird and Ugly Church

One of my daughters went on vacation to Barcelona and brought home photos of a unique church building.  Barcelona was home to the architect Antoni Gaudi.  His best known work is the still unfinished church Sagrada Failia.  It has been under construction since 1882 and completion is planned for 2026.  It is unlike any other cathedral sized church in the world.  It is gothic.  It is art nouveau.  It is Gaudi’s vision.  (Although, some of the plans were lost in a fire and after his death in 1926, the partial plans and current technology have changed the shaping of the stones and the project itself).  New technology that has allowed for shaping of the stones has not stopped the irregular shape of the church itself.

In the Bible, those who follow Christ are described as those who are shaped like living stones.  In the book of 1 Peter, Peter writes that those who consider Jesus the living cornerstone are being built into a spiritual house.  This past Sunday a deacon from our church, preached on this passage and pointed out to us that we’re stones, not bricks.  Stones are all shaped differently and yet we all come together to build a holy temple.

To some Sagrada Failia is a weird and ugly church.  I’ve only seen it in photos and I tend to fall with this group.  However it is a Unesco World Heritage Site and many have made the building of it their life’s work.  To some, the people who make up the Christian church are weird and ugly.  That reality has always made me sad; sometimes outraged.  I’ve grieved that our ugliness makes us poorly represent beautiful Jesus.  I think I should reconsider how I react to the odd architectural design of the Christian church.  There’s an irregular beauty to delight in:  Christ’s desire to take us in our weird and ugly state and build us “into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”.

Not only does Jesus accept us in our weird state, he makes us beautiful.  1 Peter 2:9-10 tells us that we are a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God; once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy.

Mercy, (compassion and forgiveness), is about as beautiful a thing as one could imagine.  The fact that the Christian church may appear weird and ugly to those who do not yet know Jesus may be a great representation of Christ!  We’re displaying that we are precious to Jesus in spite of the shape we’re in.  We’re stones that come as we are and invite God to shape us into a building that shows his glory.  And this God who is glory and deserves glory, is merciful.

When Gaudi was questioned about the extremely long construction of Sagrada Failia, he is quoted as saying, “My client is not in a hurry.”  Glory to God that he is not in a hurry with us.

The house of God is being given time to grow and each new stone is being made beautiful.

2 Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Big Hair, Bigger Blame

Last month, my husband and I had the joy of going to Puerto Rico for the wedding of the son of one of my cousins.  Before another cousin arrived she saw a photo of me in San Juan and thought, “I’m in big trouble”.

I have big hair.  I have coarse, thick, wavy, humidity-driven, hair.  The aforementioned cousin shares the big hair gene with me.

We brought 2 suitcases and we had pulled everything out of them when we arrived in Puerto Rico. It was then that I discovered the plastic bag with all of my hair product was missing.  That discovery represented serious consequences for this gal with BIG hair.  Those of you who remember Roseanne Roseannadanna might understand my predicament.

You might be thinking that one trip to CVS would solve my so-called problem.  Well yes, we went to CVS a day into the trip (after the initial damning photos) and bought leave-in conditioning cream.  And yes, I was able to flat iron every quarter inch of my hair on the day of the wedding and stop by another cousin’s hotel room to use her hairspray.  But, I wasn’t willing to do the quarter inch flat iron treatment every day of my vacation.  And, I had spent a pretty penny on frizz “nourishing styling cream” and frizz “nourishing oil” for touching up my stubborn frizz determined hair.

Besides the trivial nature of forgetting my bag, was the nagging belief that I hadn’t forgotten that bag and the possibility that the airline was to blame.  This blame isn’t on the level of bodily dragging me off the plane, breaking my teeth and giving me a concussion.  I was simply annoyed.

Today I’m packing for a business trip my husband is about to take.  Yesterday I couldn’t find my flip flops so I started checking all the pockets in his suitcase for my flip flops.  They were nowhere to be found.  I did find a lump in the suitcase.  And I couldn’t figure out how to get to the lump.  This suitcase is new and I came upon a zipper that I didn’t know was there.

Yes, you’ve guessed it:


My little blame game ended in a good laugh.  Most blame games don’t end in laughter.

I was blaming myself for some innocuous mistake yesterday when a wise friend responded, “Oh yes, you are to blame, because we must blame someone!”  Her tone dripped with humorous sarcasm.  What is this compulsion to blame?

Blame can be an ugly verb.  It generally isn’t accompanied by humility or trust.  So, blame has the potential to separate us from aligning ourselves with God.  (My suitcase story is not an allegory here!  That story just led my thoughts in the direction of exploring the topic of blame. My thoughts like jumping on trains that take me in new directions! The only thing separation from my hair products did was give my hair permission to act naturally.  Don’t worry, I’m not going off the deep end and saying it separated me from God).

Jumping back on my train of thought:  blame can take us to ugly places.  In our efforts to place blame we fail to turn to God in the moment or situation.  Jesus doesn’t seem to be big on blame.  He’s big on spiritual growth and restoration.  Restoration takes trusting him in our circumstances.  Restoration takes a willingness to be taught by our circumstances.  Blame puts a different focus on our circumstances.  Looking for someone or something to blame in our circumstances can grow bitterness, anger or shame in us.  Looking for how God might make good out of our circumstances can grow beauty, kindness and joy in us.

Okay, I can’t resist:  I rather beauty be growing in my character than on my scalp.

On Funks and Humanness

I’ve been in a funk for days now. One of those unjustified funks. You know the type, where you can’t really name what it is that has you so irritable? Sure, a good guess would be that I’m not setting my heart on the things above and I am getting bogged down in world (past, present and future). This malaise has had me unwilling to “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3). This uneasiness has me stuck in place. And the place ain’t pretty.

The recent celebration of Easter should have given me heightened awareness of the power of his resurrection. That power gave us our own resurrection. Right?  (Eternal life and abundant life, here and now).  That power has even given us the ability to participate in his sufferings without losing hope.  Resurrection life is not one of the products of funks.  Hope is not one of the products of funks. Nor is thankfulness.

I’ve got a boat load full of things to be thankful for in my present circumstances. Those things are not getting the attention I’m giving my worries. Whether I name my mood a funk or a malaise or unease or irritability, it’s interesting how something so paralyzing can light a fire to worry.

As I catch myself worrying, I’m fully aware that there have been times in the not too distant past, where I thought I had a handle on worry. Every little saying and every verse from scripture on worrying made perfect sense to me! I confidently thought that I knew the bottom line: worrying is useless. Well, woe to me whenever I think I’ve got a handle on something!

Pressing on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me takes holding onto nothing but Jesus. Allowing myself to be stuck in this funk has been a choice to not take hold of Jesus. It has felt like emotional paralysis, but the truth of Easter is Jesus made me a participant in His resurrection. His resurrection is my resurrection. There is no paralysis in that truth.

So, I haven’t been fully living in the truth. I’ve been kicking around in gutters and behaving like I don’t have the legs to step up to the sidewalk and move on.

I do have those figurative legs. But when I go too long without opening my Bible or get sloppy with my prayers, those legs get weak. It’s really no surprise that I let time go by without doing something I know benefits me. As much as I love going for walks I often don’t take the time to go. No rationale. Just human.

I think I’ll sit with those last two words for a moment. There’s grace in those words — just human. So, I’ve been in a funk for days now. It’s passing. I’m human. And this human has hope. This human has Jesus.  This human has resurrection power.

Hebrews 2:17-18  For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Things I Say That May Be False

A list of things I say that may be false is coming to my mind at a rapid rate!

When I don’t get something I want: “He’s got something better for me”.

When I’m worried about finances: “He’s always provided for us in the past so he’ll provide in our future”.

When I fear the direction our society is headed: “He’s in control”.

When someone I love is struggling: “You can do this”.

All of the above may be partial truths, but they are also partial falsehoods. They shouldn’t be taken on face value.

That house I wanted? The house I end up in may not check off as many boxes on my list of desires. But, God can make it better for me in his promise to grow me up and use me for his purposes.

That retirement we’ve pursued? It may come sooner than we hoped and our budget may be tighter than we hoped. But, God never breaks a promise. He will provide us with the ability to be content. It’s up to us to seek and use that ability.

The direction our society is headed? Apart from God, it’s never headed in the right direction. And a few truths come to mind: there will always be people who choose to be apart from God; even those of us who’ve invited Jesus to live in us, still have our moments (or seasons) when we choose to be apart from God; God can control anything, but He chose to give us free will; He’s told us the last days are not going to be pretty.

That loved one who is struggling? They may continue to struggle for far longer than we’d hoped. They may always struggle with the challenges they live in. But, none of us are meant to live by our own power. We’re all meant to cooperate with Jesus. On their own, they can’t “do this” well.

It scares me a bit that I can so quickly think of things I say that may be false. Jesus, forgive me for the times I’ve led others astray. Holy Spirit please continue to show me my wrong thinking and help me to hold my tongue.

“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”  Psalm 25:5

Desperate For (Because of) Help

I stepped out onto the sidewalk in front of our building and was instantly filled with, all’s right with the world, take a deep breath, take in the beauty of spring, the endorphins are coming, joy! I picked up my pace and was a short block from my home when I realized that I hadn’t put on my FitBit. This is when the craziness tried to sidetrack me from my joy! “Oh bummer,” I thought, “I won’t get my step count for this walk. Should I go back?”

And just as quickly I thought, “If I’m a slave to the things that are suppose to HELP me, Lord help me from the help”!

Geez! Our gizmos and gadgets can become the ends rather than the means. I asked for the FitBit as a gift to motivate me into a healthier lifestyle. And, I thought it would just be fun to know how much I actually walk on my favorite paths. Setting a goal of 10,000 steps a day has become the latest health fad. But 10,000 steps isn’t the prize itself. It’s a goal meant to help me reach the prize(s). The prizes for me are greater health and being renewed by the beauty of the great outdoors.

Have you ever set goals with your spiritual life? Maybe you’ve decided you’ll read through the Bible in one year or start out each morning with prayer. Maybe you’ve thought of helpful strategies like avoiding your phone and computer when you first wake up, so that you’re not distracted away from that goal to read scripture or start the day with prayer. Those strategies can feel empowering! But what happens when we receive an important call as soon as we wake or we oversleep and have to rush off to an appointment?  Suddenly our strategies meant to help us, just serve to shame us or discourage us.

The purpose of any spiritual discipline should be greater intimacy with Jesus. When we start emphasizing the way(s)/means to that intimacy we’ll start behaving as if all is lost and believing we’re not going to reach the ends unless we’re a slave to the means. The helpful truth is that choosing to turn to God when my day is not going in the way I planned often brings me closer to him than a smooth morning which goes as I planned.

So, I didn’t turn around for the FitBit. I took another deep breath, continued listening to an inspiring podcast, continued enjoying the blooming trees of Spring, and lo and behold, the spiritual and physical endorphins came to the rescue! The weather even cooperated by sprinkling a cooling mist on me as I explored new neighborhoods.

I’d like to stay aware when help is making me helpless.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21