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Posted on Sep 14, 2011 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 5 comments

The Inner Ring

The Inner Ring

There was a time in my life when I didn’t care about marriage.  I’m sure of it.  Really.  There MUST have been…  When I was younger I knew it wasn’t time yet, but I still looked forward to the day I would have a husband, when I would have that part of my future determined and set.  When my parents had my baby brother, I was nearly eleven years old.  I don’t think I realized he wasn’t my own son – until I wanted to go outside and play…  His baby sweetness consumed me and I knew I wanted to have children of my own.  As the years of perpetual singleness dragged on, my empty arms ached, longing to be a part of marriage, a family, that elusive world I couldn’t seem to join in spite of the ease with which nearly everyone around me seemed to be entering it.

One of my favorite writings addresses this issue.  By C.S. Lewis, it’s a 9-page article entitled, “The Inner Ring”, published in his book The Weight of Glory.  He addresses the reality of our human desire to get into the group we are excluded from.  We always want what we think we cannot have, want to be accepted by those who don’t accept us, want to climb over that fence that separates us from whatever is on the other side.  At times, we think there is no way we can be happy until we cross that line.  We strive and strain and turn ourselves inside out, trying to get into that elite group that eludes us.

The craziest part of it all, as Lewis points out, is that once we are a part of the group we wanted so badly to become a part of, it suddenly loses it’s magic.  After all, the group accepted us, so it can’t be as great as we thought it was to begin with!  We realize there is a better group that hasn’t yet accepted us, and so we begin seeking acceptance into the next group.  The rings never end because each time we get deeper into the inner ring, the same thing happens all over again.

Lewis’ answer to this problem is that we should forget about getting into anyone else’s inner ring.  We should do the best we can at what we have to do and soon we will be known for our excellence and be included among those who make decisions about the thing we do.  In our spare time, we should hang out with people we actually like and do fun things with them.  Then we will form friendships and without even meaning to, we will find ourselves at the center of an inner ring of our own.

I’ve been caught up in the tasks of planning my wedding, preparing to move to another area of the country, leaving my jobs and friends and church, settling into a new house, and learning to know and understand my fiance better.  Yet today I opened my email and saw a newsletter from a website for brides that provides resources to help in the planning process, and I stopped for a moment.  I stopped because I had a flash, my heart squeezing tight, remembering how it felt to be on the outside of this inner circle – the inner circle of “bride”.  I remembered the longing, the feeling that I might never belong to the group, might never experience how it felt to be chosen, loved, and accepted, and might never get to pick out the perfect white dress.

Today I took care of some precious children I have grown to love, laughed as the little one threw her arms in the air twirling and dancing, calling for me to watch her, and then helped her older sister write a story for school.  I listened as my precious niece sang me a song and felt the joy of anticipation that I get to spend time with her in a few weeks.  Motherhood now looms before me, the next inner ring that I have not yet been welcomed into.

I have to laugh at myself.  I must be still for a few moments tonight to soak it in, appreciate the tremendous blessing I’m currently walking in.  I don’t want to rush through this beautiful time in my life without even recognizing that this is GOOD. 

Tonight I’m thankful for love, even though I understand it is not the solution to every problem.  I’m thankful for the children God has given me to love at this time, in this way.  I’m thankful for hope – finally a hope I can sink into a bit – that I will one day have children of my own.  I’m thankful for the home being prepared for me, for the family that Rick and I will create, to provide that stability and security I’ve been missing.

And I pray for all my dear friends who stand outside the circle, waiting for the day when the boundary will melt away and they will be welcomed in.  If I could pull you in myself, I would.  Instead, I will pray as so many have done for me.

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Posted on Mar 21, 2010 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 15 comments

A Good Day

A Good Day

    

I’ve been through some dark times, days when I wondered if God had forgotten I existed or had simply decided to punish me for my many sins.  I have faced depression and anxiety, rejection, loneliness, fear, hatred, being over-looked and discarded, and other negative emotions and experiences.  I have also faced days when I thought the world was crashing in because I couldn’t meet a deadline or my laundry wasn’t done when I wanted to wear that special shirt.  None of you have ever done that, right?     

One day several years ago, I got frustrated over an assignment that couldn’t be completed without the input of colleagues who were not cooperating.  After work I called a friend to complain about what a bad day I was having.  She listened to me for about 60 seconds and then told me to turn on the news.  In stunned silence, I watched the end of a report on foster parents who had just been arrested for sexually abusing the children in their “Christian” home.  When the report ended, my friend quietly told me that she was the social worker who had trained those foster parents and placed the children in their care.  She was responsible for overseeing them.  She had no idea of the abuse taking place.  There were no signs.  She was devastated.  Can you imagine?     

I’ll never forget her words to me:  “This is a bad day.”      

That situation taught me a lot about perspective.       

During one of my darker days, I longingly remembered some good days I’d had.  I had good friends and an active social life, a good job with relative calm, and there were no major problems shaking my world.  But as I looked back I realized that I had not fully enjoyed nor appreciated those days.  I had allowed worry over things like losing 20 pounds or not having enough money to get a facial to steal my joy.     

That day I made a commitment to appreciate the good days.  Using the perspective I had learned, I’d put aside temporary struggles and be thankful for the day I had been given.  I would learn to declare good days GOOD.  So these days I often stop in the middle of a day to evaluate how things are going.  There is such joy in recognizing the good days when they come.  I declare the day GOOD, thank God for it, and try to be fully present in each moment.  Rather than missing the joy of that moment because I’m fretting over something I won’t remember in two weeks, I soak it in and use all five of my senses to enjoy it.     

March, 2010 - In front of cabin at the retreat center

 

Last week I spent the night at a spiritual retreat center.  Alone in a little cabin on 225 acres in the country, I could be as loud or quiet as I wanted to be.  The weather was perfect and I had nowhere else to be.  It was just me and God, and He gave me a peaceful spirit.  I explored creeks and woods, sat by a fire, read some good books, wrote in my journal, and prayed.  I sat in the sun on my flagstone porch and listened to the sounds of nature all around me.  I disciplined myself not to dwell on my problems, but to enjoy the moment.  After leaving there, I got to hang out with many good friends in a relaxed, casual atmosphere full of celebration.  I came home happy, tired, and satisfied.    

It was A GOOD DAY.    

How long has it been since you had a good day?    

My "Hermitage" at the retreat center

 

The creek I explored

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Posted on Nov 25, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, My Crazy Family | 13 comments

True Religion

True Religion

Photo Credit: Lydia Wenger Wade

The home that I’m staying in tonight is located in rural Iowa. It belongs to my aunt and uncle and I’m here with my parents for a family reunion. It’s one of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever had the privilege of staying in. It’s an old farmhouse surrounded by barns and out buildings. Some of those buildings house a few animals – goats, ducks, chickens, dogs, and cats. Once it was a working farm with cows and pigs and crops, but my aunt and uncle have retired from farming.

It’s hard for me to describe this home adequately. On the outside it looks regular enough. You enter through a side door into a mud room with a wooden coat hanger and a place for muddy boots. Next is a dining room with a large, well-worn table and brown carpet. The kitchen, a long and narrow room with a few cabinets and some storage, is behind the dining room. The living room has large windows that overlook the beautiful countryside and give my aunt and uncle the ability to watch deer and other wildlife as they wander through.

The bedroom I’m staying in tonight is what got me to thinking of the beauty of this home. The bedroom has a linoleum floor, two small beds with colorful, tropical fish themed comforters, and matching curtains. It has an old bureau with a mirror, a lamp clipped to the top of the mirror, and another lamp near the door. There are some hooks hanging from the wall that serve as a closet of sorts. The wall is blonde paneling and above the bed I’m sleeping in is a large wooden cross with praying hands in the center of it.

I brushed my teeth tonight before bed in the tiniest bathroom I’ve ever been in outside of an airplane. It is maybe two inches wider than me on either side and the light is on a pull chain. The electrical outlets won’t allow me to plug anything in because they aren’t three-pronged outlets.

The beauty of this old farmhouse struck me when I walked in the door tonight. Seated at the kitchen table was a young boy, perhaps twelve years old. He wore leg braces and didn’t stand to greet me. When we were introduced, he spoke with difficulty. My uncle was playing a card game with him. For the first thirty minutes I was here, I was able to observe my aunt and uncle interacting with the boy. They understood what he was saying, they treated him with dignity, and they laughed and joked with him. Soon it was time for my uncle to take the boy home.

The bedroom I’m sleeping in tonight was prepared with children in mind. Today the child that my aunt and uncle were caring for went home at the end of the day, but there have been countless children who have not been able to go home because their homes were not safe places. My aunt and uncle have spent countless years of their lives as foster parents. To the best of my knowledge, they began 28 years ago by taking in a little blue-eyed, blonde girl whose mother wasn’t able to care for her. They fell in love with her and adopted her. Today I know her simply as my cousin Devon.

Trent and Devon – all grown up

Devon was the first in a long line of children for whom my aunt and uncle provided a home. She’s the only one they adopted, but they continued to provide a home for needy children for many years. I’m sure putting a linoleum floor in a bedroom frequented by displaced children was the wisest thing to do. I can just imagine carpet with gum stuck to it, holes from the adventurous things children do, and messes made by those who haven’t been taught basic cleanliness skills.

They were given the most difficult cases over the years because they were able to achieve such tremendous results. I don’t know many details of the children who stayed here and what was accomplished because my aunt and uncle don’t talk about it much. It’s just something they have done.

My aunt and uncle are well into their sixties now and I don’t think they take in foster children any longer. These days they are licensed to work with special needs children. They provide care for children whose families need assistance. That’s why my uncle was playing Skip Bo with the young boy I met today. His family needs help and they are providing it.

Photo Credit: Lydia Wenger Wade

There’s a wall full of children’s pictures here. It tells the story of the children who have lived under this roof. The beauty of this home is in the love that resides here. The beauty of this home is in the way two people have chosen to give of themselves to help others. The beauty in this home is in the legacy they are leaving their grandchildren. Their oldest grandchild is now in college majoring in social work. They have made such an impact on me that I look forward to the day I can follow in their footsteps and bring hurting children into my home to help them, to show them love, to teach them responsibility, and to be the hands and feet of Christ to them.

My aunt and uncle seem to understand the command of Christ to care for the fatherless better than nearly anyone I know. I know that it has not been easy for them. You can see in their eyes that their hearts have broken many times. I have no doubt there have been times of great frustration and personal sacrifice. Yet they have continued to help.

This is true religion. This is true beauty.

I live near one of the wealthiest areas in the nation and am regularly in mini-mansions that are decorated with all the latest things. They are gorgeous and tasteful. They smell wonderful and have soft music playing in the background. But in an old farmhouse in rural Iowa, I have discovered true beauty. It is the beauty of a life well-spent. It is the beauty of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  

Robert and Linda admiring their newest grandson

Thank you, Uncle Robert and Aunt Linda, for being the real thing. I am honored to call you family.

James 1:27 (ASV) – Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

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Posted on Nov 6, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 1 comment

Ignorance is Bliss?

In a conversation I had with a woman in her late 50s who was describing the abusive childhood of a loved one, she repeated a commonly used excuse for the irresponsible behavior of the parents.  How often have we heard this phrase: “They did the best they could with the knowledge they had”?  That phrase is usually followed or preceded by a horror story of child abuse or some other atrocity.  I decided a long time ago that I despise that phrase, that excuse. 

I do realize that we often do things out of ignorance and on some level that will always happen and cannot be helped.  No one can know everything or understand any situation fully but God.  Perhaps that’s why God is infallible?  He knows everything and sees each situation from all sides.  But I don’t mean to get into a theological discussion of God’s perfection, so moving on…  As I was saying, I do understand that each person will make mistakes out of ignorance and this is to be expected.  The reason I so despise the phrase mentioned is because it’s often is used to excuse behavior that is reprehensible.  When a small child is beaten with a board full of nails for saying a curse word he’s heard his father use a million times before, then forced to “confess” by repeating that curse word and is so frightened he can’t remember it, is then forced to guess what curse word he said then beaten for each incorrect curse word he guessed until he’s nearly dead – that is inexcusable.  Don’t tell me the father didn’t know any better.  No one is that stupid.

I heard that phrase many times while I was growing up in the form of, “I’m sorry I hurt you.  I did the best I could with what I knew to do.”  And I decided I hated it.  I was not the one beaten with boards, thank God!  But in a pastor’s house, you hear horror stories every day.  People bring their problems to their pastor and I paid attention.  Ignorance was sometimes an excuse, but it struck me as totally unreasonable.

I made a decision somewhere around the age of fourteen that I would not let that be an excuse for bad behavior in my life.  If I didn’t know something, I would find out.  And I have built my life on that concept.  I’m a researcher.  It may appear that I make quick decisions and don’t take the time to think them through.  I am a decisive person.  But what many don’t realize is the number of hours I’ve spent searching for answers to questions I don’t have to answer yet, so that when the day comes that I do have to make a choice, I can choose wisely.  I rarely decide anything without much research and forethought.  When I do, I usually regret it. 

Ever since the day my brother was born when I was nearly eleven years old, I have known that I want to be a mother.  I began to research parenting and did all I could to apply the principles I learned to the children around me.  When I was in my early twenties, I finally put down the parenting books because I realized I was driving myself crazy with all this theory and no one to practice on.  I haven’t picked up another parenting book since then, but I’m a really good babysitter and aunt! 

The point is, I didn’t want to make parenting mistakes out of ignorance when the time came.  I haven’t picked up any more books since then, but I’ve been a diligent student of my friends with children.  I’ve watched how they do things, asked questions, and made mental notes for myself. 

In my mid-twenties, a friend challenged me with a unique understanding of Scripture as it relates to the end times and Christ’s return.  She walked me through the Scriptures to prove her point of view.  As she did this, I realized I disagreed strongly with her, but I couldn’t articulate why.  I KNEW she was wrong, but I couldn’t walk her through Scriptures myself to show her why.  I became furious and had to walk away from the conversation before I lost my temper.  I wasn’t angry with her, but with myself for not knowing more so I could discuss it with her.  I’d been a Christian all my life, was a pastor’s daughter, the product of several Christian schools, and had even spent a year in Christian college.  Yet I was mute before her argument.  That realization drove me nuts.

A few years later I enrolled in seminary.  The major paper I did for my last systematic theology class was on this very subject.  I was determined to understand it and refute it.  When I finished that paper, I felt such a sense of accomplishment!  I went back and talked to her about it and was finally able to explain why I disagreed with her.  I didn’t change her mind (darn it!), but I was no longer ignorant either.

Proverbs 13:15 says, “Good understanding gains favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard.”

What good would it have done for me to have yelled and shown my anger toward my friend that day when I didn’t know what to say to her, just knew I disagreed with her?  I kept my mouth shut until I had good understanding.  She had no idea I had been so worked up by what she said.  When I went back to her years later, we had an intelligent conversation about it and she was touched that I cared so much about her ideas that I went and studied the matter out to be able to answer her.  We are still great friends to this day and every once in a while have to acknowledge our different opinions on the end times.  This is done with no animosity, but respect.

Proverbs chapter four is full of admonitions to get wisdom and to make sure we understand things. 

Proverbs 4:5 Get wisdom! Get understanding!
      Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
       6 Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
      Love her, and she will keep you.
       7 Wisdom is the principal thing;
      Therefore get wisdom.
      And in all your getting, get understanding.
       8 Exalt her, and she will promote you;
      She will bring you honor, when you embrace her.
       9 She will place on your head an ornament of grace;
      A crown of glory she will deliver to you.”

We often do shameful things out of ignorance; things that embarrass us later.  We can’t explain why we did them except, “I didn’t know any better.”  But Proverbs urges us to seek wisdom and understanding.  Instead of shame, it promises that we’ll have an ornament of grace, a crown of glory on our heads. 

I try to live my life by the words of Proverbs 4:13, which states, “Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life.” 

What would the world look like if we all sought after wisdom and understanding?  If we all tried to understand the best way to do something before we did it?  What would the church look like if just the Christians did that?

There’s no way I’ll ever know all the things I’m interested in, curious about, or need to know.  I wish I could, but when would I sleep?  I realize how little I know, which drives me to learn more and apply myself to getting instruction.  Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power.

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Posted on Oct 29, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Just Goofing Around | 5 comments

You want HOW MANY children?

Last night I was watching “18 Kids and Counting” – a TLC show about the Duggar family who have 18 children and are pregnant with their 19th.  All of the children are from the same parents and appear to be healthy, normal, and happy.  Their oldest son got married at 20 years old and he and his wife announced their own pregnancy within a few months.  Their child was just born, a few months before Michelle’s 19th child is due.  They are thrilled with all these children and believe they are a blessing from the Lord.  They don’t believe in birth control of any kind and feel that if they leave it totally up to the Lord, He will give them the number of children they need and nothing more than they can handle. 

When this show first came out, I watched it out of curiosity – judging them in my heart and feeling sorry for their poor children.  I felt it was a ludicrous concept and that Michelle Duggar was endangering her own health and the well-being of her children.  I was certain that many children would make it impossible for the parents to know each child and give the proper amount of attention to each one.  And I can’t forget to mention that they home school their children, the girls all wear skirts or dresses, they don’t watch television, and they have a home church.  I think all those things can make a family a little weird; however, every time I watched the show, something stirred in my heart and I found myself watching it the next week as well.  I now record it every week so I don’t miss anything. 

Surprisingly, I’ve found the Duggars to be one of the most sincere and healthy families I’ve ever encountered.  I know it’s a television show and they can edit out whatever they don’t want shown, but this family truly appears to get along with one another, to be well-educated and entrepreneurial, hard-working, creative, and sincere in their love for the Lord and their study of His word.  When asked to explain their unusual beliefs, they often say that this is the conviction of their family and not something they expect everyone else to do. 

Jim Bob Duggar, the dad, made a comment on a question and answer show last night that stunned me.  He said if he and Michelle end up having 20 children, and each of their children has 10 children, then there will be 200 grandchildren and the family will never be without young children toddling around.  It seems ridiculous – 200 grandchildren!? 

But then I think about how much I loved my younger brother when he was born.  I was almost eleven years old and I had no idea that I was capable of so much love.  He brought joy into our family in a way we never could have anticipated.  I adored him and stayed close to home in college to be near him.  And then our family had no babies for 21 years.  Christmas morning became rather boring – adults sleeping in and sitting around opening presents we’d often picked out for ourselves.  We played games and made everything look pretty, we went to movies, but we were working hard to amuse ourselves.  Then my sister had a baby – a beautiful little girl who brought immediate joy and laughter to our lives again.  She will be almost two years old this Christmas and we are all thrilled.  We can’t wait to make Christmas special for her.  She’s a constant subject of conversation and we can’t get enough of her.  A six-hour drive home feels like nothing when I know I get to spend time with that little princess.

I wonder how much joy and laughter we have missed because we think we have to wait for the perfect time, the perfect economic situation, the perfect amount of energy to have babies.  Michelle Duggar is in her early 40s and she isn’t slowing down one bit.  She is healthy and happy.  When she went on interviews early in her pregnancy and was asked how she felt, she joyfully said she was nauseous and that was a good sign because it meant the baby was healthy.  When they announced the news to their children, there was joy; none of them groaned or acted like now they were going to get less attention from their parents. 

Obviously not everyone can have 20 children.  Michelle Duggar is an unusual woman who is physically capable of having babies without difficulty and stared very young.  But I think there’s something to be said for the way they do things.  We are such control freaks in our society.  We want everything to be perfect and get out of sorts when we realize the inevitable –that life is messy.  We want to be able to buy designer clothes for ourselves and our children (when the Duggars seem perfectly happy to shop at thrift stores for much of what they need).  We want to fit nicely into a booth at a restaurant.  We want to keep things small and contained and under control. 

I find something beautiful in the lives of these people who have turned control over to God and trust Him to help them manage their humongous family.  Michelle is a very organized woman and she has systems in place for everything.  The older children help take care of the younger ones.  Everyone has chores.  They built their house themselves and made it an educational adventure.  If they didn’t know how to do something, they brought in professionals who were willing to work alongside them and teach them how to do it.  They are completely debt-free.  Their house stays clean because each child has regular chores they are expected to do.  They agreed to do a television show so they could be an encouragement to others, sharing the message that their faith sustains them and children are a blessing.  Sure, they get paid to do the show, which is a huge incentive.  They are creative in finding ways to sustain their large family and continue to be debt-free.

I’m not saying I plan to adopt their way of doing things, but I do think it’s an interesting and challenging point of view.  They seem to be doing it well and are an inspiration.  It definitely gives me something to think about.  Don’t expect me to start walking around in ankle-length skirts and perming my hair though.  And as for babies, there will need to be a husband first.  I’m mature enough to realize that this yet-to-be-seen husband will have ideas and opinions of his own.  But if that day ever comes and I’m married and pregnant, I promise to do my best to smile through my nausea and tell you joyfully that it means the pregnancy is going well.

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