|Feb 2||Grace Episcopal Church Luncheon||Madison, WI|
|Feb 9-10||Evangelical Free Church Retreat||Oregon, IL|
|Feb. 12||Gracepointe Church Mom to Mom||Naperville, IL|
|March 23||Valley Community Church Brunch||Pleasanton, CA|
|April 7||First Baptist Church – drama||Wheaton, IL|
|April 19-21||Parma Heights Baptist Retreat||Cleveland, OH|
My track record at filling a role in other wedding capacities is stellar. Mother of the Bride? Been there. Mother of the Groom? Done that too, and in both cases the marriages are thriving. Thanks be to God.
But if there is such a thing as a Bad Luck Bridesmaid, I’m your girl.
A few weeks ago, Mike and I were going through old photo albums from the 70’s – the kind with the sticky magnetic pages. (Ever read those warnings about what non-acid free paper will do to your photographs? Heed them.) As I was removing faded prints from albums dating back to my high school and college years, I was struck by a sobering fact that somehow had eluded me till now. Four of the five brides whom I served as an attendant are no longer married. The men to whom they pledged their lives decades ago broke their vows and their wives’ hearts. Their “I do’s” are now undone.
If I were running for political office, my opponent could seize on this fact to prove causality. (“Don’t vote for Maggie Rowe! 4 out of 5 marriages ended after she stood up at the wedding!”) But even in my most paranoid moments, I know there is no link. One marriage lasted a year or two. Another over 30. But in each case there was nothing I could do to prevent my friends from being betrayed, set aside, abandoned.
Sometimes I feel “survivor’s guilt.” Four of my close friends from my teens and 20’s were involved in marital collisions not of their making. Why have I been so blessed to remain married for over 35 years? Why could my friends not have experienced what I have: the utter joy of full confidence in a man who is not only my husband, lover and the father of my children, but also my closest and most trusted friend?
I have no answers today, if ever I did. And far too many questions. But sobering statistics aside, I still believe in marriage. Genesis tells us that God brought the first man and the first woman together to help one another – to form what author Carolyn Custis James thoughtfully calls a “blessed alliance”.
So when I attend a wedding these days as a witness, as I did in a nearly 400-year-old church just two weeks ago, I look first for the foundation under the feet of the couple repeating their vows. If it is solid, as it is for my young friends Stephen and Maggie who wed in Connecticut, I have no fear that a Bad Luck Bridesmaid might be present. These two clearly have given their lives to Someone Else before they pledged them to each other.
Granted, shared faith is no guarantee of a long-term successful marriage. And Happily Ever After has more to do with where you will spend eternity than whom you live with on earth.
But when two people mutually work at submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, they reduce the chance of “I do” becoming “I don’t anymore.”
If you read Tuesday’s post, you know that some stories that are too good to be true really do happen. In a haystack the size of Tacoma, Washington, my daughter found her stolen wedding rings.
But I can’t wait till next Tuesday to share the rest of the story! I’ll let Amber tell you in her own words:
“This past Tuesday I was at the Y again. Same time of day as when my rings were stolen last week but I had moved away from my accustomed locker location. (I kind of resent the old one now.) I was getting ready to leave when a woman in her late 60s sits down suddenly on a stool and turns to the two of us in that section.
“Have either of you seen someone hanging around here?” she asks.
Oh no, I was thinking, I know that look. Someone had stolen JoEllen’s watch and wedding rings from her locker, which hadn’t been locked, sadly. I told her I had just been through this and I fetched the supervisor, who then proceeded to tell JoEllen a story about another woman whose rings had been stolen… my story! So I jumped in and told them how I had gotten them back. I was able to tell her what I did and where I had found the rings. I left her my number and told her to be proactive. God must have meant for me to be there at that exact time. Pretty good story, right? It gets better!
Later that evening, I get a call.
“Hi Amber, it’s JoEllen… we met earlier today at the Y.” I thought maybe she was looking for some more advice. “I just had to tell you what happened!” she said.
JoEllen had gone to her jeweler to get pictures of her lost rings, since I had advised that she enlarge pictures of her rings to show around. The jeweler told her to give the gold buyer a try that very afternoon so JoEllen and her daughter and grandson decided to go first to the shop that had purchased my rings.
They headed over and took a seat on a couch to wait for other customers to finish. A young couple sat on the other couch and when it was their turn, they approached one of the gold buyers and plunked down… JoEllen’s jewelry!
JoEllen stood up, waved her pictures of her jewelry and shouted, “That’s mine!!!!” What a moment of beautiful justice!
The police were called and the man was arrested. He wasn’t the same guy who sold my rings. The girl, who is a minor, somehow disappeared. The guy selling the jewelry said he knew just her first name, so the police went onto the Facebook account of Jacob, the guy who sold my rings, and found her, thereby obtaining her full name and where she goes to school. They compared the pictures of her to the gold buyer’s surveillance videos, with which they were able to verify that she was present when my rings were sold. So it looks like all three people involved so far have evidence against them. Wow. I never imagined it working out this way. God wrote an amazing story and the truth here is as exciting as fiction!”
So sometimes that which is lost comes back to you again.
Sometimes you can comfort another just as you were once comforted.
And sometimes an experience you’ve gone through may not have been meant for you at all, but to make you useful in His hands.
Is this too good to be true, or what?!
Have you ever had a dream deferred for nearly 40 years?
I took my Graduate Record Exams in the spring of 1975, and just this past Friday I received a letter from Wheaton College Graduate School informing me that I’ve been accepted for entrance this fall into their new cohort program in Biblical Studies.
Nope, the letter wasn’t lost in the mail all these decades. I wasn’t wandering in the desert like the Israelites either. My dream of attending grad school has simply been deferred until now.
The following is a personal statement from one of the essays I submitted in my grad school application:
For me, pursuing my M.A. in Biblical Studies is not so much a means to an end as an end in itself. I am not seeking this degree for “where it will get me” but rather what it will give me – an in-depth exploration of the length and breadth of Scripture along with courses in theology and Christian ethics.
I have always loved learning, and I worked hard to excel in my studies in both high school and college. Throughout my undergraduate years at Wheaton, my intention was to go on to graduate school to pursue my Masters degree. The question that stumped me at that time was: which one?! My first love is creative writing, but while at Wheaton I majored in speech communication with a minor in secondary education. I enjoyed radio broadcasting, competed in national forensics competitions, and was accepted into the drama workout group that qualified me to perform in theatrical productions on campus.
I took my GRE just prior to commencement in the spring of 1975 yet still wasn’t sure what area of graduate study to pursue. In the meantime I became engaged and subsequently married to the man who has now been my husband for 35 years. Since he was a teenager, Mike knew he had been called into ministry, and he arranged his undergrad courses and served as a youth pastor with the clear goal of entering seminary upon graduation.
When Mike and I married in 1976, he entered a three year M.Div. program and I embarked on a great adventure with God. It was no sacrifice for me to postpone grad school at that time. It would have been a waste of time and financial resources when I still was unclear as to why I needed an advanced degree.
Amazingly enough, God used my B.A. from Wheaton to open numerous professional doors for me in the decades to come. I acted in summer stock, taught adjunct courses in business writing and public speaking at a small college in New Hampshire for nine years, had my own radio show for a time, and later spent 11 years on the staff of the regional association of evangelicals in New England.
Though I had never been a Bible teacher, my ministry position led to numerous invitations to speak at conferences and retreats. In the past 20 years, I have spoken over 300 times throughout the United States and abroad, and teaching the scriptures during the evenings and on weekends has become my passion and the joy of my heart. In recent years I have longed to study the Bible in-depth “from stem to stern” to become better equipped for the ministry God has given me.
I also work full-time days in public relations at Tyndale House, where our corporate goal is to meet the spiritual needs of people through literature consistent with biblical principles. An advanced degree in biblical studies will be a significant asset for me professionally at Tyndale as well as personally in ministry.
Back to you, my friend. I hope my story might encourage you to believe that a dream deferred can one day become a hope fulfilled.
The best is yet to be!
I can’t stand coffee and only tolerate tea. When it comes to soda (tonic to you New Englanders) it just isn’t worth the calories or, in its slimmed-down version, the chemicals.
But there’s one drink of choice I am willing to pay $4 for at the county fair: lemon shake up.
It’s fun to place the order and watch the vendor spring into action: juicing the lemons, adding sugar and then the ice, water, and lemon halves into a tall glass and shakin’ it all up. Totally refreshing.
Lemon shake ups are made up of a lot of sweet and a little sour. You can’t tell where one ingredient leaves off and the other begins.
Life’s a lot like that too. I meet with a fabulous group of college women who are studying spiritual formation on Sunday evenings, and another group of young moms in a parenting program on Wednesday nights. When we share prayer requests each week I am struck by how these wonderful women cheer each other on in the happy times. “Sweet!” they’ll say when a victory is reported or a child makes progress after lots of prayer.
But I also see the compassion in their eyes when a group member shares a loss or haltingly tells of a relationship that has soured. No judgment is rendered; often no advice is given. The group members hold each other’s hearts and confidences.
And in each group we turn to a Source far more significant than ourselves. The psalms are a favorite source of inspiration. The Psalmist never shied away from pouring out his pain. “O LORD, hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for I pray to no one but you.” (Ps. 5: 1-2 NLT).
And he also shows us where to go when our spirits need a lift: “The instructions of the LORD are perfect, reviving the soul. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” (Psalm 19:7; 73:26).
Feeling all shook up today? It’s part and parcel of this glorious thing called life.
A week ago today one of the top 10 Google searches was “first day of fall 2010.” Who would have thought? Fall arrives right on time each year whether we look for it or not.
A recent piece in the Chicago Tribune claimed that everybody loves autumn. “Some allergy sufferers hate spring,” pointed out columnist Mary Schmich. “Some heat wimps hate summer. Some people hate winter because they can’t stand to shovel snow. Everybody loves autumn.”
Guess I’m not everybody then. I’ve never been fond of fall. I don’t welcome the waning of light, the chill of autumn evenings, the fading of flowers that were brilliant under the summer sun. Fall has always seemed like an ending more than a beginning.
It’s lovely to be wrong.
This past Saturday I stood beneath maple trees in the Boston Public Garden as our niece and her fiancé repeated their wedding vows. This first Saturday of fall, the bride’s clergyman-father reminded those gathered, was truly a gift from the One who loves us all. The air had the tang of apple cider warmed to room temperature. The bride, slim and elegant in a column of champagne silk, stood facing the groom, his blue eyes mirroring the clear New England sky. A single leaf drifted down.
“Do you purpose in your hearts and minds to live together in a fashion consistent with God’s design for marriage?”
“Do you purpose to establish open, honest, and loving communication?”
“Do you purpose to love one another, honor one another, and be faithful to one another in times of personal blessing as well as personal need?”
We do, the couple responded. We do, we do, we do.
And they will.
At the wedding dinner that evening relatives sat together catching up on family news. But when the music started, both families were out on the dance floor. I sidled over to the DJ and whispered a request. The downbeat began, and as the Pointer Sisters belted out “We are Family” my brother-in-law started a conga line.
A light mist rose over the Charles River. The autumn air cooled and the light faded, but indoors there was laughter, candlelight, and the birth of new beginnings.
And we danced in celebration nearly till midnight.
Mike’s photos tell more of the story of our trip than words alone can. Here are two collages of photos from our final day in Istanbul visiting Topkapi Palace, plus a side trip this past weekend to southwest Turkey to the sites of the seven churches of Revelation.
It’s 4 am in Istanbul and neither of us can sleep. The A/C in the room has quit, and the humidity from heavy rains the past two days has made the air as thick as Turkish coffee. The newly purchased portable sound machine we were using to drown out the callers from the mosque next door has also inexplicably quit.
Strange, but if the imam or muezzin can use piercing recordings across the rooftops to call faithful Muslims to namaz five times daily, these small annoyances can certainly do the same for me. What comes to mind in the dark night are the needs of our friends and family back home – in this instance those whose comments to previous blogposts we read just before turning in last night.
I lay awake in the dark praying for dear ones who recently lost spouses due to death or divorce, another who is facing a legal situation that turns her stomach inside out, yet another who is carrying deep anxiety over her young adult children. One friend’s husband is disabled and unable to work, yet she never complains; another has a husband so gifted he could excel at practically any profession, yet cannot find work.
Lord, hear our prayers on behalf of these whom we love…I pray. Those on Central or East Coast time are going to bed right now, even as night turns to dawn here on Wednesday morning in Istanbul. Rain falling in someone’s life is one thing, but some of these women have been enduring monsoons.
Hold them close in the darkness, I ask. Let their righteousness shine like the noonday sun. Be strong on their behalf, O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You are their refuge, and underneath them always and ever are Your everlasting arms.
It’s nearly time for the muezzin to begin again, but Mike and I don’t need his recordings to remind us to pray. In the darkness, in the rain, we call out the names of our loved ones, and we sleep.
And here’s a link to Mike’s Picasa photo album, “Istanbul, Day 3″. click here.
Between 40-50 hours each week in the office, family needs, pastoral care with Mike and my personal speaking and drama ministry, life already moves at warp-speed. So why do I want to fast-forward my spiritual life?
I’m hungry to hear from God, is all. Sometimes when you’re that hungry, the only way to be fed is to fast.
In my last post, I mentioned that the month of February held two significant firsts: my first book tour as a publicist, and the beginning of my first real fast. Like lots of people, I’ve fasted for brief periods of time in the past. However, I’ve never taken it seriously as a spiritual discipline.
Jesus did, though, and in His public ministry He taught His followers what to do when, not if, they fasted.
Mike and I decided to begin a “Daniel fast” together on Ash Wednesday, and we’re now in our fifth week. When it comes to spiritual maturity in this area, I’m a toddler, but this I know to be true:
- We don’t fast to bend God to our will but to discern His. We’re the ones who need to change. He does not.
- Self-deprivation is not an end in itself. We don’t fast to please God, appease Him, or to chalk up spiritual brownie points. We give up in order to get. More of Him, and less of ourselves.
- We don’t have to totally understand a discipline like fasting in order to practice it. All I know about the computer I’m typing on is that it works.
Mike and I both recently read a book that has supplied terrific practical helps for our Lenten fast: The Daniel Fast, by Susan Gregory. Susan is a popular blogger (http://danielfast.wordpress.com) whose journey into the discipline of fasting was borne out of her own need to hear from God.
“Daniel fasts” are named after the Old Testament prophet Daniel, who asked King Nebuchadnezzar that he and his companions be allowed to forego the feasts of the court in favor of a simple diet of “pulse” (food that originates from seed, including fruit, vegetables, and whole grains), and water. Unlike a normal fast when only water is consumed, a Daniel fast is a partial one, restricting meat, sweets, dairy products, and all leavening agents.
I’ll share more in my next post about our personal journey into an extended Daniel fast, including the food products that have been a welcome discovery.