Two Teaspoons of Spunk Please!

I was privileged to help give a wedding shower for a young couple in our church last week.  The soon-to-be bride and groom (Caitlen and Cody) met in Germany where Cody serves with the US forces.  Caitlen had only met her future mother-in-law that afternoon and then was surprised by twenty or so women she did not know who gathered for the party.  I was impressed by the gracious way she handled it all!

After they are married, Caitlen and Cody will return to Germany so there was a “money tree” at the shower (cash is a whole lot lighter to carry!)  It made perfect sense to do it that way, yet I felt convicted that there should be at least a few personal things for Caitlen to open that wouldn’t take up a lot of space in her suitcase.  After much thought and deliberation I remembered a special “recipe” we received forty-two years ago, still taped on the inside cover of a now very tattered, smeared and banged-up Fannie Farmer Cookbook.  I decided to copy and frame the “recipe” for Caitlen and Cody as a reminder of their commitment made before God and the intricacies of building a lasting relationship:

Recipe for a Happy Marriage

Blend 1 cup sweetness
          1/3 cup oil of diplomacy
Add  eggsactly 2 lumps humility
Sift together 2 cups love
          2 teaspoons spunk
          1 teaspoon salty humor
Add to above mixture alternately 2/3 cup milk of kindness
Flavor with tact
Bake in slow oven for many years . . . .  
“The only thing that counts, is faith expressing itself through love.”  Galatians 5:6b

I remember reading the recipe as a young bride, smiling at the list of ingredients but clueless as to their true value.  All these years later, I marvel at their richness as I reflect on what I have learned, not only from my marriage but from relationships with my children and their spouses, my grandchildren, other family, friends and from clients facing daunting life challenges:

Salty humor
Milk of kindness

As a bride I saw love to be the centerpiece of marriage, yet had little understanding of how the other ingredients serve to broaden the scope of a true and abiding relationship over time.  Now, reflecting on years of experience and observing the complexities of human relationships, I can better appreciate how the ingredients surrounding love are what bring out it’s flavor and color to the fullest.   The ingredient I have come to value most in the list surrounding love is SPUNK.  Why spunk?  While sweetness, diplomacy, humility, and the rest certainly have their place in building loving relationships, it takes courage and determination (spunk) to keep that relationship interesting and on course.  The synonyms listed in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary help to broaden the scope of spunk’s meaning:

Intestinal fortitude,
Pluck . . . .

Meaningful relationships do not just happen.  Sometimes we have to say or do things that seem harsh yet are needful.  Scripture bears this out as Christians are directed to live lives that manifest His Presence to the world around us:

Spunk “speaks the truth in love” (Ephesians 4) as words are applied with care,

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
  but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy”. Proverbs 27:6

Spunk prays faithfully:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies’  But I (Jesus) tell you,‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . .'”  Matthew 5:43-45

Spunk’s confidence is well placed:

” . . . blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water . . . It does not fear when heat comes, its leaves are always green.”  Jeremiah 17:7, 8a

Spunk is not naive:

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but . . . against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Ephesians 6:12

Spunk stands for what is right:

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day if evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and after you have do everything, to stand.”  Ephesians 6:13

Spunk hopes as priorities are kept straight:

“Therefore we do not lose heart . . . we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  II Corinthians 4:16a and 18

Spunk loves deeply:

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails . . . .”      I Corinthians 13: 6-8a

Spunk is invested in something outside of itself:

“Do not be wise in your own eyes,  fear the LORD and shun evil.  
This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”  
                                                                                                                 Proverbs 3:7,8

How we handle the challenges that come to all relationships can either strengthen or kill them.  Spunk applied in faith can be a strengthening agent, so long as we keep our motives pure.

Struggling in a relationship right now?  Prayerfully adding 2 teaspoons of spunk may be exactly what is needed.  Consider Jesus’ demonstration of courage and determination (the epitome of spunk) in Hebrews 12:1-3 and be blessed:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  Hebrews 12:1-3

All to His Glory!

Thanksgiving: Our Goal for a Lifetime ~

“You must have long-term goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-term failures.”   Charles C. Noble

Like it or not, there are times when failure and frustration are part of life. We get angry, hurt and sometimes we even want to throw things.   The problem with becoming self-absorbed at those times is, that we forget the goodness of God and think, “I don’t deserve this; somebody’s got to pay!” Consider the insight of James:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill.  You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.  You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”  (James 4:1-3)

Call it what you will (spiritual amnesia?)  God calls it sin.  Thankfully,  the painful consequences have been paid for those who trust in the blood payment of His Son.  That is why Charles Noble’s assertion that we should have “long-term” (what I call lifetime goals) as well as goals for the short-term is wise.  As we make our lifetime goal to remember and honor Jesus’ gift exchange of His life for our own, our other goals (be they failures or successes) will align with our primary goal of living life in faith.  

The key to living life well before God depends not on our circumstances, but on making choices that reflect our commitment to honor Him.  It was Jesus who clearly set the practical mandate for the lifetime goals of His followers in Matthew 6:33,

  “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”

The means of achieving our goals despite trouble, hardship and loss is rooted in giving thanks to Him for each and every day.  It is as we prioritize His kingdom and His righteousness that His peace and mercy are worked out in our daily lives.  Paul wrote a note to encourage his friends at Thessalonica with these words:

“Be joyful always; 

pray continually; 

give thanks in all circumstances,

for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Do you know what you want out of life?  Are you frustrated and discouraged because you cannot get what you want, no matter how hard you try?  Life can be a battle and sometimes it doesn’t make lot of sense.  Goals can help us focus and give us direction.  Just remember: The key to success in God’s eyes is in our offering of humility and thanksgiving to Him.  

All to His Glory!

Lean Into Joy ~

Imagine being stuck in a stinking prison cell, suffering filthy conditions, being cut off from family and friends, having little hope of ever seeing home again.  Such was the predicament of the Apostle Paul over two thousand years ago.  Humanly speaking, Paul had every reason to complain and give over to despair.  Yet he chose to lean into joy as he encouraged his friends with a formula to join him in that leaning:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 
 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:4-7)

Life!  It can be heartbreaking, nonsensical, and full of frustration.   Right now I have family and friends facing enormous challenges with their health, the loss of loved ones, financial challenges they never expected to face.  I woke up this morning with news of an earthquake in Canada, a tsunami threatening Hawaii and as I write this, the news is full of a “hybrid storm” named Sandy that appears to be headed to where I live.  I have caught myself repeatedly going over lists in my head, but have no answer to the question, “Have I done enough to prepare?”   I was grateful to be reminded of Paul’s example and call to Christians across two thousand years to lean into joy despite uncertain circumstances:

Rejoice in the One who is near . . . lean into joy as God’s peace transcends today and every tomorrow to come.  Rejoice!

Two posts ago I wrote to you about the difference between loneliness and solitude.  The root of loneliness has to do with a longing for companionship.  The danger in following the path of loneliness is that, as we become increasingly self-focused, hope and light are drained from the mind and heart.   Conversely, solitude is a necessity.  We need time alone to think, to pray, to create, to allow God to speak to our hearts.  Solitude is to be cherished as a precious commodity.

In my last post  I wrote about the value of solitude in prayer, referring to it as solitary leaning.    It is through our solitary leaning that the door is opened to intimacy with God with the help of His Spirit and His Word.  Solitary leaning urges us to, “Know that the Lord is God . . . His faithfulness continues through all generations,” (Psalm 100:3, 5) to “Be still and know” God,  (Psalm 46:10) and to “wait for Him!” (Isaiah 30:18)  Such solitary intimacy is what strengthens and matures faith.

Paul’s ability to lean into joy during one of the toughest seasons in his life, was the fruit of consistent solitary leaning on God.   There is much for Christians to learn from Paul.  We too must lay a foundation of prayerful solitary leaning as the foundation of our faith.  We are also called to live and breathe obedient to our leaning.

 The true test of living a life that reflects Christ, is learning to lean into joy when things don’t go our way.  When our circumstances no longer rule us we are freed to live for, love and serve God with glad hearts.

Paul’s determination to “rejoice in the Lord always” was rooted in the intimate relationship he enjoyed with his Savior.  But such joy was never to be hoarded, instead Paul shared it with community to pass on the blessing he had received through Christ Jesus.  So how can we consistently lean into joy?  Paul gives the answer with clarity and wisdom:

 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:8, 9)

So what are you waiting for?  Lean!

All to His Glory!

The Secret to Developing Meaningful Relationships ~

To love and be loved . . . isn’t that what we yearn for?   We were designed by God for relationships as evidenced by His commandments:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  (Mark 12:30, 31)

Yet when we open ourselves up to relationships, there is always a risk of disappointment or rejection.  As a counselor, the vast majority of my clients problems have to do with the pain of broken relationships.  When sin entered the world, relationships got more complicated and hurtful.

Still focusing on Ecclesiastes in my Journey Notes, I was grateful to get to where Solomon talks about the benefits of committed relationships.  Consider what 4:9-11 says:

 “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up.   But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!   Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?”

What a simple but beautiful picture is presented of a healthy relationship as it is contrasted with the loneliness of living in isolation.  What I appreciate about this is that it speaks to how we benefit through mutual caring and support in every relationship- parent/child, marriage, friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor.  I think of these verses when my husband or I step in to help or encourage the other.  “Two ARE better than one!” seems to float out of my mouth with gratitude and delight in experiencing the blessing of God’s plan.  But I may also declare “two are better than one” after completing a project with a neighbor, helping out with our grandchildren or while working with a client in the Counseling Room.    That kind of connection with another human being is gratifying, be you on the “helping” or the “being-cared-for” side of relating.

But let’s face it, dealing with people can be tough!   In those times when we have been hurt or disappointed in someone  we care about, we make a conscious effort to guard against being hurt again.   We may put up emotional walls to guard against hurt by shutting people out; but, ironically, we end up lonely and bitter because no one seems to care.   That is where the importance of verse 12 comes into play as it yields the secret to developing meaningful relationships with God’s help:

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

What a neat little surprise!  Do you get it?  Because we were made by God for relationships we often experience defeat in our loneliness as “one”, while as “two” we at least have a fighting chance.   Many times that is what we gladly settle for.  But consider the wisdom for the Apostle Paul written from a lonely Roman prison:

” I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through Him (Christ) who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:12. 13

When we look to Christ as our “third strand” the dynamics change in some powerful ways:  

  • We no longer look at others through our hurt, but through the loving eyes of Christ.  
  • We trust God for our healing as we refuse to keep that record of wrongs we once held dear.  
  • We pray with thanksgiving to the One who loves us and our faith is deepened.  
  • We then choose to rely on God to lead the way in speaking the truth in love to the one who has hurt us.  

It is at this point that we then watch and wait to see what God will do in the heart of the other.  Two ARE better than one but with THREE . . . that is where the adventure truly begins!

All to His Glory!