The Joy of Relationships

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God knew I needed this series on relationships just as much as…or maybe even more than…my readers.  This month I have experienced disruptions in relationships like I never have before.  I have watched people deceive and manipulate.  I have sat with friends as they cried in anger over sin committed against them.  I have read through arguments as they explode in the public arena of Facebook, for all the social world to see.  And I regret to admit that I have contributed to conflicts and spoken to people harshly and intentionally avoided relationships altogether.  And if I am completely honest, when I think of dealing with people I recoil inside and resist the mistakes I might make or the conflict that may arise.  So, as I wrap up my series on relationships…I believe a little hope and joy is in order so that we can keep from feeling overwhelmed and depressed about dealing with people.  I know I could use a little.

So why are relationships actually worth it? What kind of joy can I find in these messy interactions? What can I learn from dealing with people?

1. Relationships remind me that I need God. Our earthly relationships are just a mere glimpse of what a true and enduring relationship looks like.  A powerful bond between mortals is no match for the everlasting relationship that is created when we form a relationship with God.  Our friendships on earth are faulty and unstable but this only serves as a reminder that our relationship with God is lasting and strong.  Earthly connections will never complete us or bring us true joy…only our relationship with God can do that.

2. Relationships remind me that God loves me. In the garden, God saw that it was not good for man to be alone. While this applied directly to him receiving a mate, a helper….we can still see throughout scripture the need for social interaction and encouragement from our peers.  God gave us the joy of relationships because He loves us and it is only because of the sin in the world that these relationships have become as disrupted as they are. But the love of God supersedes any amount of frustration to give us hope for change even when a relationship seems hopeless.  God’s love endures in relationships even when we screw them up.

3. With relationships, I do not have to bear my burdens alone. How many times have you been through one of the most trying ordeals of your life only to say, “I am so thankful for my friend.  I could not have made it through without her.”? I know for myself I would have been lost in a sea of depression over an inability to get pregnant….I would have destroyed myself with destructive eating and exercise habits….I would have never found Jesus…if it were not for my relationships.  So as frustrating as life with other people can be…admit it, you need them! (And they need you too)

4. Through relationships, we experience God’s grace. Every time I mess I rely on the grace of the one I have sinned against.  When I yell at my husband for not doing something that I never asked him to do…I trust that he will forgive me. When I get angry and annoyed at my kids and say something that I don’t mean…I rely on them to love me and look past my sin.  Every time we seek forgiveness…every time we must admit we are wrong…we experience what grace looks like.  We know we don’t deserve to be forgiven sometimes but we long for it nonetheless.  And even when our earthly relationships are graceless, God always shows an everlasting, enduring grace to us when we sin against Him.

5. Relationships are better than what we deserve. I often have to remind myself when I get frustrated with our finances that even when I can’t go out to eat or buy a new pair of shoes, God has given me more than I deserve. Yet, I don’t think of relationships on those terms very often.  But if relationships are a gift from God then even as ugly and frustrating as they can be, they are still much more than we deserve.  So remember in the  good times and the bad times of you relationships that God has given you a gift in giving you the people you have in your life…don’t waste that gift by being ungrateful.

6. Relationships bring variety and excitement to life. So many times I have thrown up my hands in frustration and exclaimed internally, “That’s it. I give up.  I am done with everyone.  I just want to run away…far away…and never come back. I just want to take care of myself and I don’t want to worry about anyone else.” But then when I come to my senses and things calm down a little bit I am able to say to myself, “Seriously? Do you know how boring that would be? You would lose your mind if you were by yourself for the rest of your life.”  And it is true.  Think about how bored you get when you are at home by yourself for a few hours with nothing to do.  Even though your friends and family can make you crazy sometimes they bring you joy by bringing variety to your activity.

So…take time today to find joy in your relationships.  Thank God for the people in your life and for all they mean to you.  And ultimately thank God for your relationship with Him for this is the only relationship that can bring true joy.

 

Reflections on My Son’s Life

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 Life changed in the Dunham house when we discovered we were having another baby.  We always knew we wanted to make another addition, but life stopped for a few days as we took time to comprehend the news.  We had no idea how different our lives would truly become as we shared the news with those around us.  God had blessed us, yet again, in ways we had never thought possible.

 

 

 

 

 

Our little wild man was born quickly and, as deliveries go, his was somewhat easy.  He was greeted with smiles of excitement and we immediately fell in love with this tiny little guy.  Life sped up the moment we took him home and time rushes on as we celebrate his second birthday.

 

 

 

I cannot believe that my tiny little guy is two.  He has grown into a tough boy who loves to fight and a sensitive little man who worries about me when I am sick.  He is strong-willed and soft-hearted, happy, energetic, friendly, courageous, loving, fun, curious, and busy.  He loves to play with dinosaurs, trains, Power Rangers and most of all his big sister.  He never misses an opportunity to pray…whether it is for a meal or in the car or at the grocery store. And he never ceases to bring abundant joy to our lives.  I love you little man! And I thank God for the blessing of you!

 

I Promise There Will Be More Next Week

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I apologize for the great lack of posts in the last two weeks…I have been fighting a losing battle with a respiratory infection.  There were days that I didn’t even catch a glimpse of my computer.  It is looking like I will finally be myself again by Monday so I can jump right back in with new posts.  But in the meantime, this is what we did today….

This is my little dude’s favorite activity.  I fill measuring cups and little bowls  with cereal, goldfish, raisins….and sometimes candy….and he dumps it all together and stirs it with a spoon.  He excitedly calls this game “make-make” and it keeps him busy for at least a half an hour. After he ate his watercolors and threw a ball at every fragile item in the living room…this was a very welcomed quiet activity.

Relationships: A Necessary Nuisance or a Joyful Journey–Part 4

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Who of us has not been faced with a choice to forgive or hold a grudge? We have all been offended, we have all been sinned against.  We are sinful people living with more sinful people….it is bound to happen at some point.  But the Bible tells us that no matter how many times we are sinned against, we should always forgive….more than 70 times 7, right?  But what’s the point? Why should we forgive?

Because forgiveness shows love and exemplifies the Gospel.  We are called by the Word of God to love our enemies. We aren’t just told to not hate them or just kind of like them…we are called to LOVE them.  And what shows more love than forgiving someone for a seemingly unforgivable offense?  And showing forgiveness to others is a great way to live out the gospel before them and to exemplify Christ in our actions.  We sinned against God, He forgave us through the work of His son…the gospel in a nut shell.

Because you are robbing yourself of joy if you do not. As long as you believe that your happiness is determined by what happens to you then your happiness will always be out of your control. But if you can begin to understand that your life can only be changed by how you respond to what happens to you, then you can decide to be joyful by responding in forgiveness to someone who has hurt you.

Because not forgiving gives the power to the offender. When someone has sinned against me and I think about it day and night, I dream about ways to get them back, I live my life to avoid that person, I talk bad about them, and my thoughts are filled with evil towards them….am I actually hurting that person at all? Who am I hurting when I do that? Myself! I lay awake at night, I am inconvenienced, I am filled with bitterness…and in all honesty, that person probably has not thought another thing about it. So they are feeling complete freedom while I am enslaved to the sin they committed against me.

Because, through Christ, we have been forgiven. When you actually contemplate the great amount of forgiveness that God shows us every single day, how could you not want to forgive someone for a comparably petty offense?  We are wretched awful sinners…what makes us think we deserve retaliation for sin committed against us? When we hold on to an offense and try to seek justice for what was done we are taking on a role that should only belong to God…for vengeance belongs to Him (Romans 12:19). He is the only true and righteous judge and our hearts should be so overwhelmed with His forgiveness of us that we could not possibly hold a grudge against someone else.

Because your relationship with God can be hindered if you do not. You may be faced with a situation where it is impossible or unhelpful to go straight to the person and offer forgiveness.  If this person believes they have done nothing wrong, it would add fuel to the fire to approach them with unsolicited forgiveness.  But we are called in Mark 11:25 to forgive so that God will forgive us…when we forgive, our relationship can be right with God.  As long as you hold on to the sin, you can never expect a close relationship with God…whether the other person seeks your forgiveness or not, in your heart and before God, you must forgive.

Relationships: A Necessary Nuisance or a Joyful Journey–Part 3

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Umm…I’m pretty sure it was your turn to take out the trash. Now the truck has already gone through and we have that huge pile of boxes sitting in the can.  You are always bailing on your responsibilities.  Why can’t you just get it together!?!

Yeah, and YOU are always blaming me for stuff that’s not my fault.  You turned my alarm off and I didn’t get up in time to take the trash out.  You are so inconsiderate of what I have going on…just because you are lazy and sleep til noon doesn’t mean I have to too.

We have all encountered conflict with a spouse, a friend, a co-worker or a family member. A problem arises and two sinful people are left to fight it out.  Whether you seek it out or you run from it…conflict is an inevitable part of relationships.  How do you deal with conflict without losing a relationship?

1. Face the conflict head-on…but not hard-headed. If you have frustration with a person, it does no good to constantly avoid talking about it because in your mind you are talking about it to yourself a million times over, gathering fuel for when you explode…whether it is internal (through overwhelming anxiety or bitterness) or external (a catastrophic tsunami of complaints and petty irritations finally voiced in a painful and destructive manner).  Pray over the frustration and lovingly address it with the heart of one who genuinely wants to see the relationship repaired. It is selfish to avoid conflict.  Resisting a discussion because you don’t want someone to be mad at you is saying, “My relationship with you is not as important as my own fears and feelings so I am going to allow it to deteriorate while I avoid talking to you about my frustrations” On the other hand, it is also selfish to attack someone.  Though you must face a conflict, you should not address it as if your opinion is the only one that matters, shouting and belittling until you back the other person in the corner.  Then you are ultimately saying, “My opinion matters more than my relationship with you.  I am going to yell at you until you see my side and then leave you behind to clean up your own mess.”

2. Realize that conflict is actually a way to make us more like Christ…and make our relationships stronger. Facing conflict with a true desire to change yourself and not the other person will help you discover where you have room to grow on the path of sanctification.  God uses conflict to point out our sinful habits and to draw us back to Him.  For example, I continually picked fights with my husband about the quality of our home.  The bathroom wasn’t the way I liked it.  The drawer kept falling off in the kitchen.  God used these fights to point out to me that I had built up a pretty large pile of discontent and through repentance and turning from my HGTV watching I was able to gradually shovel out that ungrateful attitude so that I could truly enjoy the wonderful home that God had given me.  And along the way my husband and I began to understand each other more…we talked through concerns and passions in order to dissect the problem. And because we dealt with the issues that were bothering us we were able to clear the air of anger and bitterness so that only love was left.

3. View conflict as if it is your fault…because it probably is. James 4:1-3 says “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” So according to these verses, the reason that we fight is that we have our own selfish desires in mind.  We are concentrated so much on meeting our needs that we fail to see the other person at all.  We cannot change how another person is acting or feeling, we can only change ourselves. So I should search my own heart, deal with my own selfish desires, repent of my own sin and take the initiative to start the journey back to peace. A relationship is too fragile to leave it up to someone else and if it is that important to you, you will step up and take responsibility for it.

4. And finally, don’t be afraid to get a referee…find a pastor, a mutual friend or another unbiased, godly person to step in and see the situation with a much clearer perspective.  Often we can get so wrapped up in the situation that we miss something obvious or we are so concerned about winning that we are unwilling to give in at all even if we might suspect we are wrong.  Having a third party helps you to get advice and gain perspective and may help to create a  better plan for  discovering an agreed upon solution.

Conflict doesn’t have to be the end of a valuable relationship if we unselfishly take responsibility for our side of the disagreement. And if we use a fight not as a change to win but as a chance to grow we will not only have healthy thriving relationships but we will become sanctified along the way.

The Worst….I mean BEST Valentine’s Day Ever!

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Yesterday may not have been anyone else’s ideal Valentine’s Day, but by the end, I wouldn’t have changed a thing…. 

I woke up with the realization that the Princess and I had totally forgotten about making Valentines for her entire class of 16 kids. So at 8am (when we were supposed to leave at 9), she decided that instead of running to Big Lots up the street, she wanted to hand-make all of her cards.  I started cutting out hearts while she went to work with a frantic fury of scribbling marker.  And finally after I had gone upstairs to get ready, I hear her yell from downstairs, “I’m done!” She had proudly finished all 16 cards with time left to throw on some clothes and run a brush through her hair…so much for breakfast!

After the party we arrived home to the pair of miserably sick males we had left behind.  My husband was sprawled lazily on the couch and the Little Dude came running with his arms held up shouting, “Hold you. Hold you” in shrill complaint of his running nose and throbbing ears.  “It sounds like there is water in my ears”, the Princess declared as she thumped dully on the side of her head with the palm of her hand.  I let the little one take a nap only to have him awake screaming at 2pm, so I immediately called the doctor.  An hour later we were all sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office…my husband and I making up games for the kids to keep them from climbing the walls (and I do mean that literally…they were both actually trying to climb the walls).

After nearly two hours had passed we finally saw the doctor.  “My tummy hurts real bad. And it hurts a lot all the time.” When the doctor had found fluid in both ears, the Princess found it to be the opportune time to share her other complaints.  I spoke up, “She has been complaining in the last couple weeks about her stomach hurting. I just found out that I’m gluten intolerant, could she have that too? Could that be what is making her stomach hurt?”

“Yeah, it could be,” the doctor said with a furrowed brow, “I want to do some tests…” The tone of his voice changed as he turned to my daughter and continued…”so maybe we can figure out what is going on with your tummy.” I knew what that meant…they were going to attempt to stick a needle in my spastic, overly dramatic, pain intolerant 4-year-old while at least three adults unsuccessfully wrestle her still.  Everything was fine until she asked, “Why are we still here?”…”Oh, they just need to do a test,” I replied.  Then I remembered…she has had enough experience with hospitals to know what a test means.  “It’s going to hurt.” She began to sob.  I convinced her that as long as she could pretend to be Kimberly, the Power Ranger, it couldn’t possibly hurt.  Kimberly fights monsters so she wouldn’t be afraid of a little needle.  She wiped her tears and put on her best brave face. After a few tears…and absolutely no violent kicking…the nurses got what they came for.  By the time we got to the car she was smiling and boasting about her bandage.

Then by 6pm we were at the pharmacy waiting for the kids’ medicines.  The little one decided we should all hold hands and as I caught my husband’s eye, I could tell we were thinking the same thing…this day has been insane, but this moment makes it all worth it. The kids were laughing and talking, randomly peeking up at us with smiles of contentment.  We all knew without a doubt that we are loved and that is honestly all I could ask for on Valentine’s Day…or any other day for that matter. And though many would have considered yesterday’s events as one of the worst holiday celebrations…I would consider it to be one of the best. 

We got the kids home, fed, bathed and put in bed and then my husband and I finally sat down to a real dinner at 9pm. I would have preferred to eat much earlier, but our late dining actually gave us the opportunity to talk and enjoy our food.  We didn’t have to reprimand one for spitting or we didn’t have to go to the kitchen five times to get more juice…and the candle on the table could actually be lit without fear of the Little Dude setting the whole house on fire.  I had spent the day feeling loved and I got to have a date with my Valentine…what else could I have asked for?

Real Marriage

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After the constant barrage of negative comments and over-voiced frustrations from my Christian friends about Mark Driscoll and due to the masculine, intolerant and angry persona he has created for himself, I began to question his ministry.  I had once followed him, devotedly listening to his sermons but recently I have found legitimate reason to back away from his teachings.  As a last effort on my part to rekindle my dying passion, I picked up the book Driscoll had written with his wife, “Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together”.  I have currently read the first half and can honestly say I am glad I gave Driscoll a second chance.  Maybe the subject brings out his better side, or maybe his “better half” has a way of softening him around the edges but for the most part I was encouraged and challenged by this collaborative work. Here are some of the major points that I drew from the book:

No matter what has happened in your past or what is going on in the present, God has the power to give your marriage an amazing future.  As Mark and Grace share their stories (individual and collective), it is amazing to see the work that God did in their lives (separately and together) to bring them to where there are today.  Grace not only was abused she later grew up to have terrible relationships with men and eventually cheated on Mark while they were dating without disclosing it to him until they had been married for a while.  Mark grew up in a rough neighborhood and overcome a lot of obstacles to come to the point where he turned to God (through the loving witness of Grace) and desired to serve Him with his life.  As a couple they endured frustrating and difficult times. On the verge of divorce, God repaired their marriage to the point that they are now able to counsel and encourage other couples facing seemingly impossible circumstances.

This book reminded me that first, my husband should be my friend. Life gets crazy with raising two kids, developing a ministry in a very needy area, and finding time for extended family and friends that it is so easy to neglect making time for my husband.  I lose sight of the fact that I am my husbands first earthly source of encouragement and my goal should be to seek to aid his growth in faith and knowledge of God.  I have failed on numerous occasions to actually look for ways to promote intimacy and friendship with him because I take for granted that he is always there.  I was truly convinced of the importance of pursuing my husband as a friend…someone to enjoy, be sanctified and encouraged by, be loyal to and honest with, and to walk the path of life together with.

I found it helpful to be reminded of my role as a wife. Since the beginning of out marriage I had a difficult time coming to terms with the idea of submission.  I felt I would be giving up my independence and would be forced to begrudgingly give up my opinion to the mercy of my husband’s male headship.  Through years of studying and seeking God on the matter, I had come to terms with it, realizing submission was not being a doormat but trusting my husband and being loved and led by him as he humbly sought my best interest and listened to my thoughts.  This book presented me with a whole new task.  I now need to wrestle with the idea of respect.  Men are wired to crave respect…from those who are under them at work, from his children, from his spouse.  And I had never realized that by constantly questioning his ability to take care of me, I was chiseling away and the foundation of his confidence in our relationship.  And by failing to pray for him and not seeking out opportunities to read the bible with him, I was not fulfilling my role as a helper.

It is important too, as one of the chapter titles suggests, to “take out the trash”. It is amazing how much frustration and annoyance can build up over the course of a marriage when things are not addressed properly.  By developing bad habits of conflict resolution, by storing up unrepentant sin and by harboring bitterness toward your spouse you can literally destroy your marriage.  But by opening up and clearing out all the hidden sin…through repentance and forgiveness…even the most broken marriage can be made new.