“I do.” In sickness and in health. Did that. Check.
“I do.” For richer or poorer. Did that. Check.
“I do.” Till death do you part. This part became a bitter pill during our very tumultuous marriage. I still was able to make that check mark on my life list; I just figured that one of us would kill the other in order to keep us faithful to this vow. We didn’t kill each other but after 19 years of marriage, my husband had enough. That began a marital separation that lasted for several years.
It was, by far, one of the most painful experiences of my life; but with that pain was a tremendous amount of growth…and grace. Remember those teen years? Bodies being stretched, at times several inches in a year, sometimes vertically, sometimes horizontally, depending on your gender. It was painful and awkward. Often, you didn’t feel like you belonged in your own skin. There were many times during those teen years when I didn’t want to look at my own reflection in the mirror because I just didn’t like what I saw.
During my time of separation, I often felt like that insecure, awkward teen. When I looked in the mirror of my soul, I didn’t like the woman I had become. But God, full of grace, used that time to stretch me, to grow my faith, to smooth out the many rough edges that I had accumulated over the years. Just as every teenager has to go through some growing pains, physically and emotionally, to become young adults, I had to go through my own growing pains to become the woman God wants me to be.
It was during this time that I also learned what it meant to show grace towards others, to offer the same forgiveness that He had offered to me, to choose beauty over ugliness. It wasn’t easy ~ it isn’t easy ~ but then I think of all the ugly that God has had to look beyond in me to see anything of beauty.
It is amazing what our great God can do when two people are willing to surrender their own selfish desires into His hands ~ when they are willing to lay down their hurts for His healing, their right to be right for His mercy and justice, their own paths for His. Miracles can happen. Marriages can be saved. I know because mine was and yesterday we celebrated our 30th anniversary.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Serendipity. The event was over and now it was time to take down the banners. It was a beautiful Southern California day and as I gently rolled up the last vinyl banner I began to think about how close I was to the ocean. I haven’t been to the harbor in so long, I thought, and I brought my Bible. Why not? Why not take a little quiet time at the harbor?
I cruised up one hill and down another and merged onto Harbor Drive. It was at that corner, the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Harbor Drive, that I first saw the signs – Festival of the Whales. The Festival of the Whales is an annual event in Dana Point and draws people from all over. And this was the last day – it didn’t take long to realize that it would be extremely crowded at the harbor. Remember the Turkey Trot? I reminded myself. Oh yes, another time I decided to make an impromptu visit to the harbor and ended up taking half an hour to travel half a mile only to end up right where I started. I decided I would make the loop around Harbor Drive, and if by some miracle I found a parking spot, I would stay.
It wasn’t looking good. Cars lined the road, filling every legal place to park. Some of the parking lots were cordoned off and occupied by colorful booths filled with all kinds of things to eat and buy. My hope of finding a spot was dwindling until I slowly drove past the parking lot adjacent to Baby Beach. Could that be an empty spot? I quickly turned in and to my utter amazement, I found a place to park.
Baby Beach is so named because it is a quiet part of the harbor, shallow and marked off by buoys, a perfect place for little ones to play. The water gently laps on a soft, sandy beach. On this particular day, though, adults outnumbered children and a floating dock had been assembled in the harbor. From the dock I heard the sounds of a band warming up, the mic checks, the drums and I realized that they were preparing for a concert. I sat down on an empty bench in direct view of the band platform and opened my Bible. I began to read, but couldn’t help but stop to thank God for this wonderful opportunity. To thank Him for a beautiful day filled with sunshine and ocean air. Soon the band began to play and music filled the harbor and more people filled the empty spaces so that the sand now looked like a patchwork quilt of blankets. Women danced on the shore. In spirit, I was dancing with them. In reality, I only let loose from the waist up – my lower half stayed planted on the bench. I didn’t want to embarrass my children, after all. It was a glorious way to spend an hour and it was so completely unexpected.
Serendipity – the accidental discovery of something pleasant, valuable, or useful. Was it really serendipitous, or was it a gift from God? The divine nudge to go to the harbor, an open parking spot, an empty bench in direct view of the band – I wondered. But I didn’t wonder long. The answer sang in my heart and a smile filled my face as I thanked God for being so wonderful.
Rescue. “Just push through. It will be fine,” my husband said over the phone. “Well, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be fine. It feels like it’s going to stall,” I said, pushing harder on the gas pedal while my SUV bucked and bounced like a horse with a thorn under its saddle. And now I was adding spurs to an already irritated ride, but I was pushing through. I was pushing through, all right, pushing through right to the mechanic. But my car began to stall before I got there and I began muttering some things about pushing through and everything not being fine when I spotted a tow truck. I pulled off the road and parked right next to it. Why would I continue to push through when there was a rescue vehicle right there waiting for me? There’s more than one way to get a car to the mechanic!
It seemed so obvious to me that this was the way to go ~ I know my limitations when it comes to cars. Sure, I’ve been known to accurately diagnose a car problem or two in the past, like telling my daughter she probably ran out of gas when her car died in the middle of the road, or the time I told my husband about the kill switch in the trunk when he couldn’t get a car to start. But fixing them? I don’t have the know-how or tools for that. Like I said, I know my limitations and I also know a rescue vehicle when I see one.
It’s too bad I don’t apply the same wisdom when I am in need of a spiritual rescue. Many times my spiritual ride gets rough and I find myself clenching the wheel. I tell myself, just push through, it will be fine, you can do it, you don’t need to bother God with this one. Sometimes I am even pretty good at diagnosing what is causing the rough ride ~ poor choices, a broken world, martyrdom. How many rescue vehicles do I pass in my desire to just push through? How many times do I drive by God, who is just waiting to take the wheel and bring me to safety? How can I be so wise when it comes to understanding my need for rescue when it comes to my car, and yet foolishly think I can rescue myself when it comes to a spiritually bumpy ride?
It’s time to pull over and pull out God’s word. He’s the only roadside assistance you need for the really bumpy rides in life.
Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Psalm 31:2
Ants. “My husband said I have ants,” my friend said.
“What does he mean, you have ants? Doesn’t he mean we have ants?”
“No, not those kinds of ants. He means automatic negative thoughts, you know, ants.”
“Ohhhhh…” I nodded my head in understanding. Let’s say you find an envelope from the IRS in your mailbox. Some people might automatically assume their refund check has arrived; their thoughts automatically go to a positive outcome. Others are certain the envelope holds an invitation to meet an IRS agent in person, and not for tea; they have automatic negative thoughts, ants. Sadly, those kinds of ants have darkened my mental doorway more than once. It’s a pest problem I have determined to exterminate.
Some people think that you can’t control the thoughts that come into your mind, but I am not sure I completely agree. I think of the mind like a sophisticated muscle, and like other muscles, it has memory. If it is trained properly, we can change its shape, the same way we change the shape of our arms and legs with exercise. Sure, there are going to be times when thoughts just randomly come into your mind, but once they get there it is up to you, and me, to decide what to do with them.
I hear my ant loving friends out there saying, “Oh, that’s fine if you want to live in la la land but I prefer to be realistic”. I like living in reality, too, but the reality is we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or five minutes from now for that matter. Maybe sometimes, realistically, the outcome looks less than favorable; but how often do we jump to that conclusion automatically, when a favorable outcome could be just as realistic? That’s an ant problem and it’s not the way God intends for us to live.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7
Imagine, our minds can be guarded by the peace of God!
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
True. Noble. Right. Pure. Lovely. Admirable. Excellent. Praiseworthy. Think about it.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-6
We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ ~ God would not tell us to do something we are incapable of doing. Have an ant problem? Put away that can of Raid ~ nothing beats the Bible to exterminate those pesky pests.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24