Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Glamour of Wedding Vows

Marriage

Happily Ever After
Riding off into the sunset
Bliss
Companionship
Romance

As a young girl the image of what a marriage relationship would look like was formed by our culture- by Hollywood, by marriages I looked up to. It isn't that these dreams of what I would one day experience and live out were 100% wrong, I am married to a great man who I deeply respect. He has been faithful, is an excellent dad to our boys, loved me unconditionally and has weathered ups and downs alongside of me through the years. But I wasn't prepared for how hard marriage is in real-life. Until you are in the thick of it, you really can't grasp the challenges a relationship will face, how life will press in hard on all sides and try to choke the life out of your relationship. Pressures from work, school, taking care of a home, car and yard maintenance, PARENTING, schedules, balancing it all. And the ever present but sometimes far too ignored spiritual battles that go on in a home; there is an enemy who wants to destroy us. It's not easy, and over the years we've had patterns of living more like peaceful roommates than that deeper connection of husband and wife that we dream of. We've had seasons of storms, and deserts. But marriage is GOOD, I know this because God created it. He made for Adam a help-meet, and said Eve was in fact not just good but very good. He created the blessing of intimacy that comes with a marriage relationship, He created us with different needs that when we put the other first can be met. He created marriage to draw us closer to eachother and I truly believe to draw us closer to Him as well. So real-life marriage isn't the same as a Hollywood movie, but it IS such a blessing to live out in real-life.  

To take someone for better or for worse, in sickness and health, richer or poorer, as long as you both shall live seemed almost glamorous when those vows were spoken on our wedding day almost 14 years ago. I'll never forget the actual rawness of our first real "worse" we weathered together- how it almost took the breath out of you how hard those storms can be. The glamour was gone and what was glaring in our face was two selfish people trying to work together as one.  It was about as unnatural as could be! We didn't think the same, we didn't respond or communicate the same, we didn't have the same priorities, or emotions or even expectations.  But we DID have the same foundation- we built our marriage on Jesus, and what has shown itself time and time and time again over the years, is that having that common ground, that solid Rock we are building our life upon IS ENOUGH. And not just enough, but is what really matters. It doesn't make everything easy, but it is what makes it possible. Establishing our marriage, our home, our family on Him has been the best decision we as a couple have ever made and one that we've never regretted.  He is the strength to get us through, He is the wisdom, the balm of forgiveness, the joy that comes. He is the love that is far far greater than any love we could muster up on our own. He is what has made this marriage work. He is our courage, our eternal perspective, our peace in the storm. He gives us Living Water when we are in a desert chapter. As we continue to grow in our faith, we continue to give Him glory in all the ways we can look back over the years and see His faithful hand at work in us. We are thankful! I am humbled and awestruck to see the miracles He has worked! Being married to this man of God is really good!   

So if your marriage is rocky, I encourage you to look at your
I promise to keep
standing firm
foundation and see if it's built on The Rock. If your relationship is feeling a little too suffocating, I challenge you to turn to the one who Breaths in the breath of Life.  If you are feeling restless or discontent, I'm telling you to replace those emotions with thankfulness. Serve a little more, love a little harder, laugh a little longer, pour out more grace, and let the natural mountain tops and valleys be a journey you continue to embark on together. Vows fleshed out aren't nearly as glamorous as when they were spoken on your wedding day, but how incredible it is to get through a time of "worse" and realize you're back in a time of "better" again, having grown through the challenges, and are now stronger. Your foundation never once faltering.  


A wise man builds his house upon a rock and the rains came down and the floods came up but the house on the rock stands firm.

Stand firm.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Floods in life and The Living Water


This week we had some major storms move through our area- a tornado demolished an entire section of homes not far West of us, extremely large hail (baseball size reported) caused damage to buildings and vehicles, and the rain just kept coming.  Strong wind knocked down trees and took out powerlines in widespread areas. We weren't effected as badly as some, but our power was out. The duel combination of no power and heavy heavy rain, we were at risk for flooding.  My husband was out of town for work, so I was trying my best to handle the situation on my own-  Lugging out 5 gallon buckets of water from my basement couldn't keep up with how rapidly both of the sump pump tanks were filling. I was unable to handle the situation so I called for help.  My dad, who lives not far from us, hauled over his generator and got it started. Once connected to its source of power, the sump pump could function to do it's job, it started pumping out the water from the basement. We caught it in time, we acted quickly and with urgency and prevented it from becoming a much much worse situation with much more damage to our home.  

The rain has stopped, puddles are slowly going down, the concrete is drying out. As I reflect over the past few days, I can't help but feel relieved it's over and grateful for the help that I was able to get. I also can't help but look to the bigger picture- it's always there, but I don't always make the connection. Taking the time to make this connection really helps my perspective with the real-life situations we all face.  It helps me process it all, cope in a healthier way and also fixes my eyes on Eternity, where my hope is anchored securely.

In the basement of my home we were fighting the flood waters, we were pulling a late night, battling the storm and getting the damaging water out of my home.  We worked hard. My back and shoulders feel the strain of the 5 gallon buckets I hauled. Upstairs in my home we didn't have power, so that meant no running water, no flushing toilets, no washing hands, doing dishes, or having fresh water to drink.  The same storm - 2 different problems on both ends of the spectrum.  Water that we needed to get out absolutely as soon as possible, and water we needed to live; water to sustain us.  

I know there are areas of my life, looking back through the years and also presently that flood waters came rushing in, flood waters that in reality were and are sin. I need to get that damaging water out. It came in the form of bad decisions and continual bad choices, unforgiveness, a bad attitude, how I react in moments of stress (this one is really something I keep dealing with)... the list could literally never end. If left alone, if ignored or justified or even just "hidden", the flood would keep rising. The damage would take place. Even the smallest amount of flood water has the potential if left undealt with to cause problems. I called my earthly dad in for reinforcement in my emergency during the storm, but we also have a Heavenly Father who alone is capable of bringing in the necessary tools, the machinery, the knowledge far greater than our own to enable us to deal with sin in our life. He alone has the "Power Source" that can offer forgiveness of that sin. Complete and total forgiveness that not only can get the flood waters out, but can restore us and make us new.  Those floods of sin left un-taken-care-of will destroy us. They rob us of the present, and effect the future. They will crush our joy, wreck our relationships, wipe out our purpose. Wash away the reason we're here. Water left to rise in a basement would eventually destroy the entire building, mold would grow and it would become a contaminated place to live. Sin is much the same, even if we think "it's not really effecting anything" even if we believe that lie or justify the situation, or think it's hidden, the damage IS taking place.  We need to treat sin with urgency and in order to do that we need to connect to the life giving power source of Jesus, who alone is able. But not just able, He is available & willing.

During this storm I also needed the life giving water to drink, to cook and wash and clean.  Just like we need water to live here on earth, even more desperately we need The Living Water.  In John 4:14 Jesus is speaking and says,
"whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life"

How our life literally depends on this Living Water- on the work Jesus did on the cross that was, is and will forever be, the only sacrifice offered that can forgive sin. Our eternal destination is hinged on our response to the free gift He is offering us. Just like most would consider it foolish if I would have denied my Dad's offer to come help, his offer to rescue, to bring over his power source that could get the job done. Foolish! How much more foolish is it if we deny the gift Jesus is offering each and every one of us. But how incredible that it doesn't end there, He isn't just out to save us for eternity (as if that wouldn't be enough to offer!) He loves us so completely, so thoroughly and FULLY, that He even wants to come along shoulder to shoulder with us through each and every storm we face in life, and help us with those too.  The small ones like we face everyday, and the HUGE ones that threaten to wipe us out. We are't facing any of it alone when we make the decision to do life with the Life Giver, the only TRUE power source that exists! My heart is completely overjoyed!

Thank you for taking the time to read, 
                Blessings, Stef

Monday, May 15, 2017

From Broken to NEW!

Brunch had ended, we were putting leftovers into smaller containers to save for later- washing the table, sweeping up the crumbs on the floor. Visiting and catching up while we worked alongside each other- The sweet melody of conversation filling the air. A new friendship beginning to take root as our paths were merging and we were now part of each others lives.  "Oh, be so careful, there's a broken glass in the sink"  Not entirely sure how it happened, but in the hustle and busyness of the morning a glass had broken. Carefully and thoroughly all pieces were gathered, double checking to make sure none were left, and wanting no one to get cut on the sharp edges, and the glass was thrown away. Because in our culture, broken things are often just tossed aside, thrown away, and replaced. That glass was no longer functional.  




A broken glass couldn't be used for its original purpose any longer because the water would't hold; Any liquid put inside would just spill out because of the break.  We don't think of brokenness being the first step to fullness. The message of the cross is entirely different though. He willingly became broken to offer us restoration, and newness of life.  We are shattered without Him,and when we accept His free gift of salvation through the work on the cross He makes us new. Now able to live victoriously and with a purpose we were created to fulfill. When we can begin to see ourselves the way He created us to be, there is a deeper meaning than we could ever experience outside of this relationship.  Through His gift of complete brokenness, suffering, sacrifice, ransom & redemption, we are offered NEW! We start out broken, in every sense of the word- and are transformed. What an incredible gift! 




What season are you living in right now? Maybe it is one of brokenness and you need to be reminded of His deep love.  Maybe you are trying to piece the brokenness of life back together on your own, and instead you need to bring all that mess, all that brokenness, your shattered edges, sharp shards of glass and burdens you are trying to shoulder on your own to the foot of the cross. He takes brokenness and makes it new.  He takes our messiness, our ugliness and our sin and washes it clean! He takes our lives and breathes in the breath of life. 

Maybe you just need that reminder- and to allow that joy to sink deep into your weary soul. 

2 Corinthians 5:1Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Or the Message translation puts it this way: anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons!

What is God doing with brokenness in your life right now? Where is He during a broken season or chapter? Who is He asking you to share this message of Newness with? To share this HOPE!  




The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:1

My prayer is that we can all live life in the fullness of life that He offers!  

Friday, May 12, 2017

From behind a couch to living in His strength.



Let me describe for you a day that was a turning point for me... it was back 6 1/2 years ago, when I had 3 boys, ages 4, almost 2 and a few months. When I had 2 kids I really felt like I had this figured out, or it was at least manageable. I didn't feel overwhelmed, transition from 1-2 had been smooth... then came surprise number 3! I wouldn't trade him for the world now, but getting used to caring for 3 was a bumpy ride. The day had been unraveling before it even had a chance to begin.  I was woken up to a fight between brothers, and then a fussy little one.  The house was turned upside down and shaken hard. Dishes were piled. Laundry was a mountain. my nerves were fried. I felt like I was failing, no, that's not quite how I felt,  I actually felt like I WAS a failure.  There's a big difference between the two,  we can fail at a task, or a job... but it is still just a task or a job. When we start to take on the persona of Failure... Like we're identifying with that as a term to describe ourselves, that's a whole world of difference.  My strength was gone.  I was overwhelmed, spent, stressed to the max.  I wasn't functioning well at all. I would have complete anxiety take over at the mere thought of going anywhere with three kiddos in tote, so typically I just stayed home.  Isolation was at least comforting. No one had to KNOW how much I was in desperation mode.  I could just be in these 4 walls... and survive. When I would muster up enough courage or energy to venture out, it wouldn't match my expectations, and it was completely exhausting anyways, so it only pushed me further into the feeling of being completely trapped.  I felt like a prisoner in my own home and it was so claustrophobic.  I really was trying to manage it all. I really was putting in my best effort, but it wasn't cutting it!  I wasn't able to keep up with chores. I wasn't able to multitask on the small blips of sleep I was fitting in. I wasn't juggling the daily stuff well at all.  As this day wore on, I remember just feeling so exhausted: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I was running literally on empty.  I couldn't get the baby to take a nap, my 4 year old was tantruming it up and fighting me on every turn. My almost 2 year old was getting into trouble any time by back was turned.  I wanted to escape. I wanted to hide from it all. I wanted to run away.  I put the baby in his crib hoping he would give into the sleep he was so fiercely fighting and I quietly snuck behind our couch and hid. I hid from the mess. I hid from my kids. I hid from the pressures of the day and my life that honestly felt like it had fallen apart all around me.  I sobbed. like soul wrenching cries. Then my sobs of overwhelmeness, exhaustion, frustration and failure turned into a plea for help.  As I sobbed my heart out, my heart made a shift. Not one of defeat, although at the time that's how I would have described it.  But one of surrender.  I had been trying and trying and trying to get through each day (and night) on my own strength... and a quick inventory would reveal that it wasn't enough.  My strength had depleted about 2 months prior when the sleep deprivation really took root.  In that cry of defeat and surrender a few things happened that will be a bit of a challenge to put into words, but I'm gonna give it a shot because maybe, someone needs to hear this chapter of my life, this chapter of my testimony to get a dose of some encouragement, a friend coming shoulder to shoulder along side of you and saying "girl, I get it.  I was sooo there a handful of years too"  Maybe someone needs to hear this washing of grace that filled my spirit with renewed hope.  As I cried and cried and cried, hidden from life's pressures, life's blessings, life's responsibilities and challenges, my Savior met me right there in the disaster.  And wrapped His love around me, in a way I can't really describe, and poured His strength into me.  See, my strength wasn't enough, that's why I was feeling the way I was. I wasn't created to do this on my own, in fact I couldn't.  I needed Him to fuel me. 

This was the first time in my life where the saying we all quickly say "rely on God to get you through" Really became authentic to me. Like I learned how to flesh out this relying on God thing.  I NEEDED Him. Desperately. and man, was I at a desperate place.  He met me there behind my couch, with all the cheerios, dust, toys and probably a lost remote... and He didn't disappoint. He hadn't abandoned me before that, but I had turned blindly from Him. As the days started to compile into a longer amount of time, I started reading the Word while my coffee was brewing first thing in the morning. I'd get at least a verse into my soul... and I started giving Him my challenges, my areas that seriously felt suffocating to me, and He breathed in me new life. New breath. The breath of Life.  Real-life didn't go away.  It's not like I got to come back out from behind that couch and my house was magically clean, and my boys were suddenly angelic well mannered little cherubs.  Nah, that's not how it works.  But my soul was less weary, and I KNEW... like not in my brain knew, but in my heart KNEW, I wasn't in this alone.  I didn't have to try to juggle this all on my own and on my own strength.  His grace sunk deep into my spirit, and that identity of failure was no longer one I claimed. I am in no way what so ever a perfect mom. and in no way what so ever do I feel like I've got this figured out... but my prayer is that I won't forget the lesson learned through hidden tears that day that I'm not in this alone. I don't have to do this on my own strength... because His strength is infinitely greater. His wisdom is infinitely deeper. His patience, His love, His joy exists right there in sleepless nights, and brother fights, and sass.  In the raw, ugly, realness of life, He can add so much hope, and perspective and courage. He can replace our anxiety with trust.  He can give us courage to invest in friendships that bring life!  He can fuel our days and calm our souls at night to rest.  He wants to do real-life with us.. and until that day, hiding from my real-life, I didn't really get what that meant.  He offers us Salvation for eternity and Salvation and grace for Today! We have the privilege to walk through life (real-life) with Him! So if you are on your face, in the dust and cheerios today... trying to hide from it all.  Girl, I get it.  You are NOT alone, and you aren't meant to do this alone.  That defeat you are feeling can actually be a moment of great strength. 

Isaiah 40:29 He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak.   

Happy Mother's Day to all the real-life moms!