The God of Angel Armies

Happy New Year!

Michael and I just returned home from four days in Atlanta, worshipping with sixty thousand young adults in the Georgia Dome. Passion 2013 was more than I ever dreamed it would be, and one of the best experiences of my life. There are memories that I hope I will hold onto forever, because God used that time to completely undo me in so many areas of my faith. The main area is fear, and my ability to trust Him.

I don’t mean to be so serious, but I need to write about this. It helps me process it and work it out in my mind. I’m also very transparent and honest, and I feel strongly that we need to share what we go through in order to encourage others.

The week before the trip was a mess. If there was a germ in this house, we caught it. There was flu, ear infections, eye infections, stomach stuff…the whole shebang. I knew on Christmas Eve that I was getting sick, and then Aidan and Molly went down with me. We spent most of that day and the rest of the week in the living room, under blankets, watching movies. Paisley came down with it a few days later. I prayed constantly that God would protect Michael, and He did. Michael is still not sick. I’m in awe of that, because there is no logical explanation. But our God so often defies logic.

The worst part of the week, however, was not the sickness. I was attacked with fear. I am not a fearful person. I have never worried about taking a trip, or leaving my kids with my parents, or spreading an illness. I’m usually brave and ready for anything. Last week, however, I was wracked with a terrible fear that something bad would happen. I would shake involuntarily. I would cry out as I tried to fall asleep and my mind was filling with thoughts of all the awful things that could happen if I left town. I would beg Michael to pray over me, because I just felt so afraid all the time. I couldn’t understand it, it was so out of the ordinary for me. I was afraid of being afraid! I didn’t know what it all meant, and why it was happening. I talked to my husband, my dad, and friends and they all told me I was overthinking and worrying unnecessarily. That’s true, I was, but it was more than that.

I believe that there is an enemy who hates us. He lies, steals, and tries to ruin whatever joy and hope we are promised. He lives constantly in fear, because he knows he has already been beaten, but still he tries to make us believe lies that keep us from identifying with the One who is victorious.

In the worst of the fear, I wanted to stay home. I had thoughts of guilt for leaving my children. I had thoughts of guilt for possibly exposing the students to sickness (even after I was better). I had thoughts of getting so behind in my work, school and housework that I’d ruin the start of my year and spend the rest of the year catching up. They were ridiculous lies, and I was believing them.

There was hope, though. Throughout the week, I held on to the knowledge that Michael wasn’t sick. He was able to care for all of us, work his job from home, and help me get ready for the trip without getting sick. I knew that if God was answering my prayer for Michael, then surely He wanted us to go to Passion2013.

So I packed my suitcase, and the knot in my stomach started to release a little. We took the kids to my parents’ house, and the knot loosened more. The next morning, we loaded the van and headed east, and I felt the anticipation and excitement of the teenagers with us, and the knot came undone. I was fine. There was no more fear.

We arrived at the Dome, and found a row for the nine of us. The lights went out, and the music started, and I knew I was exactly where God wanted me to be. At some point that night, we sang a new song with these words:

“You hear me when I call, You are my morning song. Though darkness fills the night, It cannot hide the light.

Whom shall I fear?

You crush the enemy, Underneath my feet. You are my Sword and Shield, Though trouble lingers still.

Whom shall I fear?

I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind. The God of angel armies, Is always on my side. The One who reigns forever, He is a Friend of mine. The God of angel armies, Is always by my side.”

While singing that song I was so aware that He has WON. I have nothing to fear. He has defeated the evil one, and nothing formed against me shall stand. I’m in awe of that truth, knowing that it’s so much more than I deserve, and yet, it makes perfect sense because why wouldn’t a loving Father protect one of the children He gave His life to save? He loves me. He loves us. He wanted me there because I needed to move past the fear that paralyzed me in the process of getting there. Once I was there, I learned so much and loved every minute with our students and worshipped with everything in me. But the real lesson was just in the going. Even in the darkness, God gave me something to hold onto: Michael being well. That was an answered prayer, and I could trust that He was working. Then once we actually moved forward with what we were supposed to do, God affirmed that it was right, He was there, and there was nothing to be afraid of.

There is so much more I could say about the week. I’ve laughed my head off and sung my heart out. It was a time of refreshment for both Michael and me. We rarely get to spend four days just soaking in, we’re usually being squeezed out! I feel recharged and energized and ready for a new year. It was great for our marriage, because spending four days talking about what God is doing in your life is pretty much the same as getting a steroid shot in your relationship.

So many people prayed for us, and I’m so grateful. Our students had an incredible time, and they are amazing young people. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

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Labor of Love

Last night, I had the opportunity to sing with my family in a program at church. It’s always fun to make music with them. I sang a song called “Labor of Love” and before I sang, I shared just a little bit of why that song means a lot to me. This is what I said, and the song I sang (but not me singing it, lucky you!).

When I was a kid, and later as a teenager, I appreciated Mary for who she was, the mother of Jesus. I recognized that having a baby in a stable must’ve been quite inconvenient, but it never occurred to me that the inconvenience was probably not the hardest part of her becoming a mother.

I’ve heard a quote that I think is attributed to Beth Moore. She says that becoming a mother is like watching your heart walk around outside of your body. The day I held Aidan for the first time, I understood that completely. I remember that first Christmas as a mother, I cried a lot, because I GOT it. Mary didn’t just have a baby that would save a sinful world. She became a mother who would love, protect and raise the child who would change everything about how we approach and know God.

In today’s broken, uncertain times, motherhood is a gut-wrenching job. We can control so many things about our kids’ circumstances and environment, but there are times when we just have to trust the God that made them. There are times when we just have to know that God is sovereign and all-knowing and His plan supersedes our own. I don’t know if Mary realized what all her firstborn son would have to go through to redeem us, but I think surely as a good Jewish girl, she’d been taught what the prophets had foretold. Maybe she realized that tragedy would come one day, so she held him even tighter that night in the stable. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that the labor she experienced, both in childbirth and the work of raising a son, was a labor of love. Not because Mary loved us, but because God loves us, and chose a girl with a servants’ heart to show us just how much.

Since It’s Rude to Point…

I don’t have one at all.

No point, whatsoever. But I haven’t written a pointless post in quite some time, so I’m due.

Michael is down for the count. He came home from working out of town today and didn’t feel well, so the kids and I just finished our two episodes of Duck Dynasty and they headed off to bed.

Remember how I said that I have to talk at night to decompress from the day?

Lucky you.

When Michael feels bad, I am completely at a loss on how to help him. I know just enough medical information to be dangerous. I gave him ibuprofen and told him I loved him and left him in the dark. Considering he’s the man who wrapped his arms around me and quoted scripture to me during my epidurals, and held my hair back when I’ve had a stomach bug…I feel like I probably shortchanged him.

Next month is his birthday. It’s so weird to think that he’s almost thirty-nine. I still picture him as nineteen, which is when I met him. Gosh, we’ve been friends for twenty years. We talked about that Monday night. We are both so much the same as we were then, but we’re also both so different. Our basic personalities haven’t changed. I’m talkative, extroverted and silly. He’s thoughtful, considerate, and hardworking. We have both been those things all our lives, but we’re both so different now in so many other ways. We’ve matured together, and for that I’m thankful.

The story of how we got together still amazes me. I will say to anybody that you just never know what God has in store. Michael and I were good friends. He was the nicest guy I’d ever known. I didn’t think I would, or deserved to marry the nicest guy I knew. But I did.

In the last few months, there have been some great men that have meant a lot to my family that have gone to be with Jesus. They leave behind beautiful, loving wives who are grieving. I think of them, and the love they shared and the life they lived together and it makes me want to be a better wife. A better supporter. A better friend. A better homemaker. True Christ-following men are becoming harder to find in this world, and I have been given the opportunity to be married to one. I want to give my best so that he has everything he needs to be the husband, father, friend and worker God called him to be.

I promise we have rough days. There are lots of times when we aren’t really crazy about one another. I’ve written a couple of posts that make it sound like it’s sunshine and roses around here all the time. It’s not. We’re as human and messed up as anybody could be. We are sinners, and grateful every day for our Savior.

We just try really hard to make home the best place to be. It’s safe here. Nobody makes fun of you or talks down to you. That’s at the top of our unwritten house rules. No matter what you look like, smell like, say or do…you can come home and be loved here. Another one of our unwritten rules is that you have to dance in the kitchen while cooking supper.

Continuing with my whole theme of not having a point…I’ve been making wish lists of places I’d like to go with just Michael. We haven’t been on a trip by ourselves in years, and we still have a horrible honeymoon to redeem. I’ve suggested cities we haven’t been, scenic places…but my top choice was DisneyWorld. I think it would be a blast to go by ourselves. Michael said it would cause way too much emotional damage to our children, so that’s off the list. I don’t know why they’d have to know, but he insists that they’d never get over it and become adults who need therapy because we took a trip to Orlando without them.

See? It’s not all sunshine and roses. Which is why Disney needs to be an option. It’s the happiest place on earth.

But you know what’s NOT the happiest place on earth? Home, when you tell your kids where you went without them.

Yeah, that breaks that unwritten rule about home being safe and loving, I suppose. I don’t think Michael and I would ever be safe if we did that. We’d have to sleep with one eye open for the rest of our lives.

Speaking of sleep, I need to do that. Thanks for letting me talk. I promise, once Michael’s back on his feet, you’re off the hook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the Magic I Need…

…is right at home.

So you’ve probably heard about that movie, Magic Mike.

I’m not going to argue with anybody about it, because arguing is just not my style and personally, a movie like that isn’t worth the effort spent on an argument.

However, I do want to address it in light of marriage, because as you know, I like talking about marriage. Grin.

In the review on pluggedin.com, which is my favorite site for checking the content of what I see or listen to before I spend time or money, the reviewer for Magic Mike wrote in the “sexual content” section:

…”And it’s difficult, if not impossible to describe the pornographic nature of these scenes without sounding, well, pornographic. To detail every pawing grab at a leather g-string, every mimicked sexual act and every naked male backside we see would take pages.”

So the guy couldn’t even write about the whole movie without it sounding pornographic. The review also goes on to say that the story line is pretty weak, because the main point is just to demonstrate gratification of lust.

I could go see it if I want to, he doesn’t tell me what to do and not to do. But I love him, and only him. I want him, and only him. I need him, and only him. If me going to see a movie that is so obviously geared to visually stimulate and cause lustful thoughts would dishonor him, then I’m not going.

On a side note: the reviewer also said that there were one hundred and fifty f-words in the movie. Y’all, I’d hate that no matter what the movie was about. There are so many movies I’ve only seen the first thirty minutes of, because the language was awful. I just really don’t like it. I don’t understand how people can make money writing screenplays that have no other words. How is that entertaining? It makes my head hurt.

So instead of spending our hard earned money on movies that desensitize our thoughts and ultimately hurt our relationship, I’d rather spend it on a date night with MY Magic Mike. He’s better looking to me than he was on our wedding day, and still looks better in blue jeans than anyone I know. I adore his gray hair, and the way his eyes crinkle up at the corners when he smiles. I love his voice and his sense of humor. I love the way he works hard and provides for us, but will jump on the slip-n-slide the first chance he gets. I love how he looks at me and talks to me. I love that he thinks I’m pretty cute. Those guys in the movie? They don’t, and they won’t, and they offer us nothing of any value.

Wives, love your husbands…and husbands, be your wife’s dream guy. Apparently, by the response to the movie, she’s looking for a dream guy and if you don’t step it up, then she will find him in a book or in a movie.

I think it’s ultimately about trying hard for each other. If you want Magic Mike, then you have to be the kind of girl your husband would want to be a Magic Mike for! I had a boss tell me a long time ago when I was engaged that he didn’t believe marriage should be work at all. Love should be enough. (He was divorced.) Well, in almost thirteen years, I’ve learned that yes, love is enough, but love is not a thing. It’s an action. So love is giving your one hundred percent to love your husband. If that’s work, then work! The good thing about work is that you get paid back!

The sex industry is huge. It’s huge because we accept substitutions for what we have, which leave us wanting more of something that ISN’T REAL. If Michael goes to movies with naked women, then that becomes his standard for women. Even if he never actually acts on what he sees in the movie, those images are in his head. Well, I ain’t ever gonna look like those women. So he chooses me, and I choose him, and our standard is each other, and we hold each other accountable and spend our life together building each other up and steering one another to looking more like Jesus. It’s a choice on our part to live that way, and the payback on the investment has been amazing.

It’s your choice what you go see, and how you spend your time and money. But if you’re married, please consider investing in each other, rather than something that’s not real and offers you nothing.

Real life, and real love, is the best way.

 

 

 

It’s Hard to Write About Marriage…

…when you’re spending so little time with the one you’re married to.

Michael’s in the middle of a crazy time with work. It gets like this every few months and he works pretty much around the clock. He’s also teaching at a local college (and is so great at it), and he gives that a few nights a week. This week, we’re going to a camp with first through third graders from church and then next week we leave for our mission trip to England. I hope that the eight hours we have on the plane together will be a good time to catch up on the quality time we’ve missed in the last month.

So while I haven’t had much time with him this summer, I’ve had tons of time with the kids. They’re having a great summer and except for a few days when I wanted to go sit in my new van and just stay there while they yelled at each other in the house, it’s been fantastic.

But I miss my husband.

Right now, he’s sitting on our bed working, and listening to Needtobreathe. We’ve watched the US Olympic swim team trials and played Twister with the kids…and he just reached across the bed and squeezed my hand. I said “I love you.” He said, “I love you, too.”

Even when the quality time is limited, I’m grateful for the quality of this man, and the quantity of his love for me.

 

A Word from Your Friendly Neighborhood VBS Teacher

VBS.

Those initials evoke memories of red kool-aid, the cookies with a hole in the middle that you could stack on your finger, pledges, songs, crazy games and fun.

I adore Vacation Bible School. Regardless of denomination, it’s a big week in the life of kids and the church. Many, many children grow in their faith during this week and many become followers of Christ.

I’ve worked or taught in VBS for more years than I can remember. I started in the seventh grade, and except for the four years that I worked at an office, I participated in some way. I’ve helped with snacks, assisted in crafts, led the worship rally time, counted the attendance sheets, worked with preschoolers, and for the last five years, fifth and sixth grade. I love these kids. They’re fun, and the games for older kids are games that I enjoy too, so it doesn’t feel like work at all.

Side note: I know this is a marriage blog. But my husband is crazy busy at work, and I am crazy busy with VBS. We’re still happy. Things are great. But I have nothing new to say about married life at this moment. Oh wait, yes I do. He bought me a minivan yesterday. It’s my dream vehicle and the nicest thing I’ve ever owned. I adore it, and I adore him for getting it for us. The old one was about to fall apart. That’s the update on married life.

So this is what’s on my mind right now. Children and teenagers have an awesome opportunity to grow spiritually over the summer. Camp staffers, ministers, volunteers…lots of people spend lots of time investing in kids and praying that they will discover how much God loves them and enter into a relationship with Him. Summer is a wonderful opportunity for a young person to start to become who God has created them to be.

The flip side of that is, so many parents want the church or the camps to be the source of spiritual training for their child and hope they’ll “catch it” while they’re there. The kids come home and the attitudes or behaviors of the parents de-validate everything they just spent a week learning. The kids are surrounded by people that love the Lord and want them to know Him, and they come home to parents that are absent, critical, abusive, hurtful and mean. Or they come home to people who have good intentions, but take no responsibility for the spiritual training of their children, and everything they learned falls by the wayside because the parents are not taking the time for spiritual growth themselves and the kids receive the message that it is not important at all.

It’s a responsibility issue. The church is there and wants to be a part of the spiritual growth of young people. But the church is not the biggest influence in their life. Parents are, whether they think they are or not. The church supports and facilitates, but kids are going to learn truth by what is modeled in the home. We as parents cannot expect the church to shoulder the responsibility for our children growing up to be godly people. If we are not following Jesus and shaping our lives to look like Him (meaning who God’s Word says He is, not who we want Him to be) then our kids will have a much harder time following Him, even if they want to.

Now, I believe with all of my heart that God can and will protect those that want to follow Him and they can grow and have an intimate walk with Christ on their own. I’ve seen that happen with people I love many times. God draws people to Himself all the time, despite our circumstances. But if a child has parents at home that care enough to send them to camp or church, it’s the parents’ responsibility to live in such a way that what they learn at church or camp cannot be denied. Mixed messages can confuse a young person and cause them to doubt and draw them further away from God. Consistency is the key.

Living a life of faith requires effort and sacrifice. It also is full of blessing and ultimate reward. Your children will benefit greatly by you caring about your own spiritual life. It’s worth it. Jesus is always worth it.

 

 

Quirks and All

In twelve years, (yes, twelve! I remembered this time!) you learn a lot about someone. I know there is much more to figure out, and I look forward to the next fifty or so years. But for now, it’s fun to notice the quirks that are part of what make Michael distinctly who he is. Such as…

-he drinks lactose-free milk, and has figured out the perfect formula for his own chocolate milk. I won’t even attempt to remember what all goes into the mixture, I just know it’s Nestle’, Ovaltine and Carnation all mixed up in there.

-he puts his keys, phone and wallet in a different place every night when he comes home. Sometimes they’re on the piano. Sometimes on the counter. Sometimes on our dresser, but never in the same place two days in a row. I think it’s cute.

-he loves to buy books and has to “break them in” as soon as he takes them out of the box. His twelfth grade english teacher taught them how to do this, and I’ve never seen him open a book to read without breaking it in first.

-he watches movie trailers to relax, and will go back and watch trailers to movies that have been out for years if he loved the movie.

I’m sure there are ten times more things he can say about me, so I’m going to let him say a few:

-she never puts things in the same place twice. I say, “hey Anne, where are the nail clippers?” and she says, “try the dresser, or maybe the bathroom cabinet, or maybe the kitchen table, or maybe by the tv, or maybe the van…”

-it took the first two years of our marriage to realize that sometimes she calls and is frustrated and just needs to vent…and all I need to say is “mmm hmmm…that’s frustrating…I understand.”

-she’s a salsa-eating machine. She eats chips and salsa for at least one meal every day…EVERY DAY.

-She brushes her teeth first thing every morning, even before drinking orange juice. (note from Anne: I don’t drink orange juice. This quirk is invalid.)

We’re just keepin’ it real, folks. I guess what you can learn from this is that it’s a pure miracle from God that we make it out the door with our stuff, considering we never put things in the right place. There’s a reason we’ve never had a very big house…that’d be a nightmare.

Q&A With the Dude

After a long Mother’s Day of church, lunch, visiting parents, kid-wrangling, and grocery shopping…my best guy is going to answer some questions. We’ll see how this goes…

Me: So hey Michael. What’s up?
Michael: You’re putting me on the spot. I have nothing to say.

Me: Okay, legit question: After eleven and a half years, how is marriage different than you thought it would be when you were single?
Michael:  I thought we’ve been married twelve and a half years.
Me: Seriously? Dude. We got married in 1999.
Michael: I don’t remember what it was like to be single.
Me: Do you want me to say that?
Michael: Yeah, go ahead.
Me: You’re really into this, I can tell.
Michael: I still haven’t gotten past the whole roommate “equal chores” thing and I still put away just my clothes. But it’s only because I don’t know where to put your clothes.
Me: That’s okay. Now that I’m the one that is home more often, it makes sense for me to put my own clothes away. Is that your answer?
Michael: Who are you, Regis? Okay…turn the question back to you. How is it different than you thought it would be?
Me: I honestly don’t know. New question.

Michael: What were you least prepared for?
Me: Conflict resolution. I stink at that. In every relationship, not just marriage.  What about you?
Michael: Same thing. I avoid it and I’ve had to learn to face conflict with you, and learn that that is a good thing.
Me: I hate conflict. I’d rather just say I’m sorry and move on.
Michael: Then you just make a smart-aleck comment thirty seconds later.
Me: True. It’s not a characteristic I’m proud of.

Michael: When did you lose a year?
Me: We’ve been married eleven years.
Michael: We’ve been married twelve.
Me: Let’s count. (holding up fingers….) WHAT? We’ve been married twelve years? When did that happen?
Michael: Maybe you lost a year during Paisley’s first year of life. You had a four year old, a two year old and a newborn.
Me: That would explain a lot. I feel like I should apologize to the world for my miscalculation. I hope it doesn’t cause any conflict I need to avoid later.
Michael: Well, when you’re aiming for sixty years together, what’s one or two?

And that folks, is why I married him.

Last Night

I sat down last night, feeling guilty about not blogging much this week and tried to get some words on the screen.

I had two problems. First, my eyes kept closing. Second, I had nothing to say.

That’s the hard part about blogging. In order for people to keep reading, you have to keep writing. And there are just days when there is nothing to say.

So, in honor of Mother’s Day tomorrow, I am going to use my lack of words to my advantage and show you what eleven years of matrimony has produced.

How about this dude?

Then this little dumplin’ came along…

And a few years later, she showed up and knocked our socks off…

And then they turned into these people…

And I couldn’t be prouder of them. I love being a mom, but I especially love being THEIR mom.

And I’m married to a guy who shows me every day that I am loved and appreciated. Home is our favorite place to be, because we are each other’s favorite person.

I’ll have more to say about marriage next week, but tonight I am just enjoying it. I wouldn’t trade these people for anything in the world.

Two Hours a Week

We all know the importance of setting aside time to just be with one another. No kids, no work, no scheduled events. Some people manage a date night once a week. Some manage to get away for a weekend every few months.

We love those things, and we will jump at the chance to go on a date or get away, but in the last two years we’ve found a way to have “our” time without spending a lot of money or getting a babysitter.

We watch “Castle” on Monday nights, and “Person of Interest” on Thursdays.

Those two hours a week are a lifesaver for me a lot of times. We are not big television watchers, and these are the only shows we follow. The key is that we always watch them together. We make a large effort to get the kids in the bed half an hour before the show comes on and we get comfortable in the living room and talk for a while, then enjoy the escapism that only cops and bad guys can bring.

There have been weeks that those two hours were the only time we had to be by ourselves. We are so committed to our family, church, work, and friends that we find all of our other hours filled with the requirements of those commitments.

So we protect our two hours a week. I know it sounds dramatic, but we fight for it. I write it on the calendar and make sure we’re home. Last Thursday night, we took the kids to a community event and they were having a blast…but we made them leave by a certain time because it was important for us to get home so we could have our hour together.

We take that time for ourselves, but I don’t consider it being selfish. We give so much of our time away, it’s fun to give those hours to each other.

And wondering what is going to happen to Castle and Beckett, or how Finch and Reese are connected and what part does The Machine play in it…that’s all just icing on the cake.

Make time for one another, any way you can.