Set Apart

I’ve often said, rather tongue-in-cheek, that “I was a lot more holy person before I married and had children.”  The truth is that as a single woman I was jealous, frustrated, selfish, and quick to react, but I just didn’t have the stimulus to bring all of that out of me like I find in this phase of life.  Sometimes I miss the days when I could be upset and just withdraw and spend time with the Lord and work it out before I faced anyone.  Now, it’s in the car with four children trying to get somewhere, or accomplish something, usually with a deadline that I have to confront my impatience, frustrations and anger.  I don’t always handle it well.

When you think of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, how do you picture her?  For most who answer this question the description is something like this:  “A pure virgin, holy unto the Lord holding the Son of God in her arms with a halo over her head”.  She is the epitome of righteousness and the highest aspiration of most women.  What if we moved on in the life of Mary?  You know, to the part where she consummated her marriage to Joseph, bore more children, became a mother with stretch marks and possibly uneven breasts?  What about when she journeyed through menopause, and then into grand-motherhood?  Has she fallen from the category of “holy” when you change the picture?

What about baby Jesus?  He is pure, holy, innocent flesh and blood in the arms of his holy Mother, who grows into puberty, develops body hair, body odor, and becomes a man with a trade in carpentry.  Does He seem as holy with this occupation and the awkwardness of teenage development?  Often we reserve the idea of His holiness for the manger scene and then again from the years 30-33 of His ministry.

Why am I asking these questions? you might wonder.  The Bible teaches that holiness is an attribute and devotion of our lives and character when we “set apart” our lives for the worship and obedience to God.  Because we say we love God and serve Him, we live our lives different than the world with a new set of desires.  Holiness is not a state an occupation or stage of life, neither is it a ladder to be climbed with some occupations or situations of life being more holy than another.  Holiness is a lifestyle of someone set apart for God.  One who applies what God has taught them in their bodies, minds, and spirit.  Holiness is a state of being bestowed on us by the blood of Jesus that washed us, made us pure before the Lord and gave us the right and privilege to call God our Father.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

 3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

God Himself has also made us holy through the blood of His Son Jesus.

2 Timothy 1:9-10

New International Version (NIV)

9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Colossians 1:21-23

New International Version (NIV)

 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 3:16-18

New International Version (NIV)

16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

All of our life is holy unto God.  When we are washing carpets, it is holy.  When we are changing tires, it is holy.  When we are growing into adulthood our lives are holy.  When we hold our grandchildren, it is holy.  Holiness is in the servant teaching Sunday school, and the family enjoying each other on a vacation.  Holiness is in being single and holiness is in marriage.  God has set us apart, made us holy and gave us the power of the Holy Spirit to work into our minds, wills, emotions, and bodies godly ways to live.

So when I lose my temper in the car, impatient with my children, I apologize, I ask for forgiveness and this is a holy moment.  When I am leading worship for a crowd of a thousand people it is holy.  When I pray for the hurting it is holy.  When I am taking garbage to the dump, or unplugging the toilet, these things are also holy when I apply God’s Word to my life and “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Oh, and what about Mary?  You know, the mother of Jesus?  Her life is recorded in the scriptures as a godly woman.  She is mentioned as part of the multitude of people in the Upper Room in the book of Acts, praying, and receiving the Holy Spirit as was promised by her son and Savior Jesus.  Her life as a wife to Joseph and mother to many sons? Holy.

The Honest Truth

This season's meat!

I am the boisterous one of our marriage. I don’t mind standing in front of crowds and speaking or singing to the masses. I love large gatherings and don’t even mind making a fool of myself from time to time. Sometimes I am embarrasingly honest. Because I am often in the public eye, I look like I can handle most anything, but here’s the honest truth:

I am married to one of the most creative, hard-working, steady individuals God ever put together. My husband, Jamin whom God has gifted with an entrepenuerial spirit, endless amounts of energy and drive, and the ability to make several different decisions in an hour is the backbone of our family. You won’t find him on the stage, or speaking to the masses. He will do his best to make himself invisible while building, creating, assembling, or helping someone else. His heart is as big as Alaska and you know it if you are his friend.

If you have ever met my husband, you will soon come to know that he will never forget you. He will keep in touch with you through the years. He will memorize things you said, or needs you have, and will always keep those in mind when he goes about his business. When he finds something that might meet your needs, he will give you a call and tell you about what he has found.

I’ve heard him on phone calls telling friends about airplanes he found for sale that they were looking for. I’ve helped him shop for vehicles, moving equipment, trailers, boats, airline tickets, real estate, hunting gear, digital cameras, software, and many other things people have mentioned needing. He has helped people build, move, repair, travel, haul, and network. He has offered to to babysit other people’s children even though he has a high sensativity to noise and can’t handle much screaming or shrill voices.

And while I am preparing my notes to speak for a ladies retreat this weekend, Jamin is building our enclosed trailer into a small home away from home. He is laying flooring, building countertops, shelves, benches that convert to beds and adding appliances. He designed a table that he will have each of the kids paint a portion of so that it will be their “place” when they sit down to eat.

I wish that I could handle as many things as Jamin does. I wish my mind could contain all of the information that his seems to keep. Once after drinking three cups of strong coffee in a row I thought that maybe my mind was experiencing what it was like to be him. But I can’t seem to keep up that pace. I would end up a heap of frazzled nerves in an assylum somewhere.

I will probably always move slowly from one idea to another and therefore rely on Jamin to make the quick decisions. I will often feel lost and have to ask for directions in the vast mind of my spouse. Although his mind is full of so many things, I am blessed because he is gifted with the abilities to make decisions quickly and soundly, and that no matter what is filling his mind, he always keeps those he loves close in his heart. I am glad that no matter where he travels in the year, he is always anxious and happy to come home to me and our family.

**Footnote: While I am typing this blog, my husband is talking to an eye surgeon in Washington trying to schedule eye surgery. As I am listening to his conversation I hear him promising to bring the surgeon some items from Alaska. Now he is telling them about the best places to see bears and the names of the guides and tour operations that offer them. I am giggling!!!

Great Expectations

In the school of hard knocks is where relationships develop and mature.  The school is always open and it will accept anyone…rich or poor, male or female, young or old; as long as we are willing to attend and hang in there to see the maturation process through.  I find that where tensions and disappointments gather there are great expectations–  expectations from others that either are not communicated or cannot be fulfilled by the other person in relationship. 

From my own personal life, let me share where great expectations have collided like a train wreck.  My husband (whom I adore) has spent much of our married life working  jobs that take him away from home.  Sometimes he is gone for just a few days at a time and sometimes it is months.  Many times he is out of phone range or any way to communicate for days on end.  We plug through the days apart keeping busy with the tasks at hand.  His tasks will involve differing elements of weather and trade, and mine will be our four children and keeping the household and businesses running in his absence.  This is when the expectations begin building. 

My husband, Jamin’s mind:  “I can’t wait to get home and relax with my family.  I am sure that Cate will be waiting for me at the door in lingerie and we will have a few wild and passionate “honeymoon” lazy days together before I have to head out again.”  This is a great expectation. 

Cate’s Mind:  “I can’t wait for Jamin to get home so he can handle the businesses and finances again.  I can’t wait for him to take the kids for a few hours so I can go somewhere by myself and have some peace and quiet.  I hope I can sleep in one day he is home and he will get up early with the kids.  I have made an extensive “HoneyDo” list in his absence that he will need to conquer quickly before he takes off again.”  More great expectations. 

The problem isn’t always in the expectations, but there are always problems if the expectations are not communicated beforehand.  Honesty and communication are the remedy for the train wreck of expectations. 

It seems to me that when relationships wain or have trouble it is because there are expectations in the relationship that have not been communicated.  Often we don’t want to be honest with the other person and tell them what we need from them, and choose instead to make the other person guess.  If the other person does not guess correctly what our needs are, we tend to punish them in one way or another for not “getting it”.  Then we draw a conclusion that our needs and expectations are not valuable to the other and therefore the relationship has lost value. 

One of the most powerful questions I have learned to ask  in relationships and expectations is this:  “What do you need from me?”  It’s a tough question to ask sometimes and even tougher for some to answer if they themselves have not fully evaluated what their expectations are.  It’s a question I ask myself when I am faced with a relationship hardship.  “What is it that I need from this person?”  Answering this question in me is the first step to articulating the need to another. 

Realizing that we all have expectations in relationship helps us to communicate honestly with one another.  We do not need to kill our desires or quiet our needs, but we do need to communicate them honestly and openly with others and then work out a plan to meet those needs.  Often this will mean compromises on the part of both parties. 

So, some examples of how I have worked out some of these expectations with my husband are these: 

He realizes that I will be tired and in need of a break when he gets home and may not be able to clear the family schedule in order to have “lazy days”.  But if he can give me help around the house and a break here or there, I can generate a lot more energy to put towards his “honeymoon dreams”.  I also have come to realize that when he gets home he is exhausted and needs at least a day or two to catch up on sleep and rejuvenate before he is ready to jump back into crazy busy family life.  He needs time and space to sleep and revive. 

I have in no way solved every issue of my relationships.  In fact every day presents me the opportunity and responsibility to communicate honestly what my needs are, and listen to and validate the needs and desires of others I am in relationship with.  It means work.  It means compromise, and sometimes it means accepting the limitations of others and allowing God to meet my relationship needs that are unfulfilled. 

Ephesians 4:25 (New International Version)

 25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  

Keep listening, keep asking, keep communicating and above all keep asking God for wisdom as we work together towards better relationships.  May God’s grace navigate us through the fields of Great Expectations.

An Ancient Aggravation

I just had to laugh!  Jamin and I were reading to our children the story of Samson the other day.  We started at the beginning of his story in Judges 13 where an angel appears to the barren wife of Manoah to tell her that she is going to have a son.  When Manoah’s wife relays the incident to her husband she tells him all about the angel and what he said to her, but she adds “I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he did not say his name.”  The following verse we see Manoah praying and asking God to send the messenger back because his wife forgot to ask the important information like “how do we raise this child” and “by the way, what is your name?”  You can read the entire story in Judges 13.

I laughed as I read because Manoah shares the same frustration my husband has.  Inevitably I will finish a phone call with a good friend where we will have spent hours talking about feelings, family, life and situations and I will hang up only to have my husband ask me a thousand questions about my friend or her husband that I have no answers for.  Questions like,  “are they going hunting again this year?  How do they like their new engine on their boat?  Is her husband still considering that job in Kentucky?” Etc….  I look at my husband like a lost puppy and respond,  “I don’t know.  I didn’t ask!”  This usually brings on the question,  “You mean you just talked to your friend for hours and didn’t even cover any of those subjects?”

Men and women are so different.  Not that this blog needs to point that out, but I found a bit of comfort knowing that this menace of deficient information has been plaguing husbands for thousands of years.  Manoah’s wife took in all the information she could process at the time and needed no more.  Manoah on the other hand prayed to bring the man back to get the rest of the story.  That’s how it so often happens in our home.  After I hang up, Jamin redials the number to speak to the husband about all the things guys talk about.

So take heart men.  Your Father’s in the Faith have been where you are and felt your frustration!  God even accommodated for some of their needs by sending the messengers back.  Sometimes you just have to pick up the phone, redial the number, and find out for yourself!

Compounding Joy, Not Mistakes

This month of February will mark the 14th anniversary of our wedding.  Jamin and I, in those fourteen years  have started six or more businesses (I can’t remember), had four children–two girls, and two boys, lived in six or more cities and made a home in various types of dwellings.  I must cite them now because they are too amusing to leave out:  houses, apartments, hotels, cabins, a shipping container (during a few months of a fish processing business), boat (while we looked for a place to rent in an Alaskan village), tool shed (the place we found to rent…no kitchen sink, but a bathtub with running water where we could do dishes), and a duplex.  We have bought and sold several vehicles and I have changed my hair color and style more times than I can count.

In fourteen years we have celebrated the births and subsequent birthdays of our children and those of our friends, and mourned the losses of loved ones.  We have burst from the starting gate of new ideas with joy and have watched some ideas fly and some of those same ideas crash and burn to the ground taking our hope with it.  We have wrestled depression, hardship, and physical pain, and have laughed ourselves silly over things we find amusing.  Oh, and we have argued.  Oh, yes we have had our disagreements.

Two opposite temperaments trying to come together to make one team is a sight to behold and a piece of art in the making.  My husband is an entrepeneur, a calculated high risk-taker, quick decision maker, and perfectionist.  Okay, you can already guess my temperament.  I am conservative in my approach to new ideas (In fact until I married Jamin, I’m not sure I knew what new ideas were), a calculated low risk-taker, molasses decision maker and an artist who doesn’t need order to create or relax…I just need a creative thought.

Needless to say in fourteen years I have learned a lot.  I have become more orderly, quicker at making decisions, and less afraid of risks.  And my husband has learned to be more patient, to dial down his risk factors, and to let me stumble without always correcting me.

2009 seemed to be a year that wiped out several marriages within our circle.  As I look at many of our closest friends, I can’t name very many who weren’t struggling with their marriages in a big way this past year and sadly I can count several marriages that completely dissolved in 2009.

Last year was tough on our marriage too.  Last year we had many circumstances that waged war against us, and I found that our frustration and anger boiled easier.  I discovered that our arguing style was no longer about dealing with the incident that just happened, but instead about compounding all the  arguments and frustrations of fourteen years.  I wasn’t fighting fair with my husband and he wasn’t fighting fair with me when we began to argue in this way.  Let me explain…

In my vow of marriage I promised to love, honor and cherish in good times and bad times, in sickness and in health, in poverty or riches until death do us part.  This committment wasn’t just to an ideal of marriage but to a person.  My committment meant that I would learn and grow, change and build with the man God gave me to marry.  I knew he would make mistakes, and I knew that I would make some mistakes too.  When we were newly married, the excitement of starting our lives together seems to propel us past the faults we saw in one another, but the longer we are married and the more negative experiences we share makes each other’s faults stand out like obstacles to happiness instead of just speed bumps in the road of life.

What happened over time is that we stopped compounding the joys of life together with each other but instead began to compound the mistakes into one big persona that now defined each other.  This is what I mean by being unfair.  “You always….”  “Every time….”  “This is just like before….”  “What in our history together would make me believe……???”

Now, if I had not committed myself to grow and change and if my husband had not committed to the same, the above statements of “You always…etc..”  could be true.  The truth of the matter is, we are both working on our personalities, behavior, and our relationship with one another.  We are a constant work in progress, and for this reason, I began to realize that I needed to recognize the changes we had made, the efforts to please each other, and the milestones that the two of us had accomplished in fourteen years, and I needed to celebrate them.  Each of these efforts came with mistakes, and weak spots, but they were efforts nonetheless.

The love chapter of the Bible 1  Corinthians 13 says that love keeps no record of wrongs.  My record of wrongs was stacking and taking on a life all it’s own.  The same was true for my husband.  We were stacking our wrongs to defend our “rights”.  We were wrong.

It was the week before Christmas when our anger came to a head again, and our frustrations spilled out.  Our conversations again began to be peppered with “You always..” and “This is so like you…”  We began with our stack of wrongs, backing up to some of our earliest beginnings and building from there.  Then somehow the Holy Spirit broke through and we caught it.  We realized what we were doing.  We called a “peace treaty” and said we were done arguing.  We pushed our stack of wrongs out of the way and decided to deal with just today’s argument…as if it had no history, and you know what?  We resolved it!  By removing the history of past wrongs, we were able to give each other grace to show where we had grown, changed, and then come up with fresh ideas to tackle our issues.  It felt so good.  We saw for the first time in a long time how far we had come, and we appreciated each other for it.

I think I understand better now what grace means.  It gives us a new slate and a fresh page to write our lives on.  It removes the ugly personas we have acquired and the weights around our hearts that keep us from ever reaching our potential.  Grace gives love a chance to embrace the unlovely, and forgive the offender.  That’s what God has done for me.  He doesn’t keep a record of my wrongs when I say “I am sorry”.  He gives me a brand new morning with brand new mercy.  I can do the same with the people in my life and especially my spouse, my gift from God.

I want to add here that grace does not allow someone to be abused physically, emotionally, or mentally in a marriage relationship.  I was raised in a home where abuse occurred and so I must state that there is a huge difference in someone who has committed to change their behavior, and another who only excuses their behavior, or refuses to acknowledge their abusive behavior.  In the latter case, the one being abused should seek help and  remove themself from that situation as soon as possible.

Marriage works best when we compound our joys and not our mistakes.  When we offer a fresh slate to our spouse and acknowledge their efforts, when we celebrate our accomplishments even if they weren’t the end goal, when we forgive and choose to see their motives as pure, we begin to choose joy and the way of love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails. (NIV)

Marriage, like all of life is a garden.  What you plant is what grows.  What you ignore is what chokes.  And if we learn to put into it what we want to get out of it we reap the greatest rewards.

One of my favorite analogies of marriage comes from T.D. Jake’s book “Woman Thou Art Loosed!” from the chapter entitled “A  Table For Two”:

“If you are looking for someone to be your everything, don’t look around, look up!  God is the only One who can be everything.  By expecting perfection from the flesh, you ask more out of someone else than what you can provide yourself.  To be married is to have a partner:  someone who is not always there or always on target or always anything!  On the other hand, should you ever get in trouble and you don’t  know who to  look to for help, you can count on your partner!  It is to have someone to curl up against when the world seems cold and life uncertain.  It is having someone who is as concerned as you are when your children are ill.  It is having a hand that keeps checking your forehead when you aren’t well.  To be married is to have someone’s shoulder to cry on as they lower your parent’s body into the ground.  It is wrapping wrinkled knees in warm blankets and giggling without teeth!  To the person you marry you are saying, ‘When my time comes to leave this world and the chill of eternity blows away my birthdays and my future stands still in the night; it’s your face I want to kiss good-bye.  It is your hand I want to squeeze as I slip from time into eternity.  As the curtain closes on all I have attempted to do and be; I want ot look into your eyes and see that I mattered.  Not what I looked like.  Not what I did or how much money I made.  Not even how talented I was.  I want to look into the teary eyes of someone who loved me and see; I mattered!'” **

I want to use this blog today to say “thank you” to my husband, Jamin of fourteen years.  Thank you for your tireless work and efforts to provide for our family, to create special memories and to challenge us to grow and to stretch.  Thank you for loving me through my hormonal shifts, various body sizes, mistakes, and learning curves.  Thank you for always being my cheering section and believing in me when I did not believe in myself.  I love you more today than I did fourteen years ago.

To those of you who read this blog today, I hope that today you can celebrate a milestone or accomplishment in your relationship.  I hope that you can begin to compound your joys and find yourself  bemused with the wonderful memories you have made together.  I pray that you have the courage to offer grace to your spouse and give them a fresh page with which to resolve a conflict or solve a problem.  You and I are a work in progress…let’s keep working!

Blessings today!!

**”Woman Thou Art Loosed”  by T.D. Jakes.  Chapter 9 “A Table for Two” pg. 115.  (c) 1993  Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., Shippensburg, PA