Rivals, Both Literal and Spiritual

The small town where I live could pretty much be featured in the show Friday Night Lights. High School and College football is not just a past time, it’s a defining quality. How a person is identified is often decided by the colors he or she wears and may even determine their friend circle. Most wear their alma mater’s colors on respective game days with conviction. A proud banner of their allegiance. Chances are you will be greeted by those same people with the school rallying cry, instead of the expected hello. I have walked into Wal Mart more than once only to be greeted by a “War Eagle” or a “Roll Tide.” If you live as deep in the south as me, this is just no big deal.

My husband is a pilot and he sees a lot of different people in different situations. Recently one of his flights was cancelled, and as he stood at the front of the plane while dismayed passengers were disembarking, he tried to offer some consolation for the inconvenience. As the passengers single filed past him, he noticed a family that was wearing their University of Alabama apparel. He pasted on his best smile and gave a hardy “Roll Tide!” He was both amazed and not disappointed when they all looked up and immediately smiled and returned a “Roll Tide” with gusto. You see, it just didn’t matter that they were disappointed and inconvenienced, Roll Tide made it all better for them.

For me, there aren’t too many things more fun than some type of sporting event. I love the energy, the fellowship and the comradery that comes along with cheering for a common cause. Namely, winning. Well, Friday night high school football is just as popular as NFL football around these parts, second only to college ball, the SEC. Recently our little city had a big game, a really big rival game. They call it “The Battle of Murder Creek.” I have no idea why the creek is named Murder Creek, but that is the real name. I’ve often wondered about it, but I’m not sure I really want to know the answer. Our community is literally separated by this creek. On one side they wear blue and gold and on the other black and red. If you are my friend on social media, you won’t be surprised when I tell you our family wears red and black. We wear it proudly along with all the other good, supportive and perhaps overly zealous parents. My closet has more black and red than any other color. I too am identified by my colors.

Well, as you can imagine in any small town, the days leading up to the rivalry game were filled with good natured taunting and lots of anticipation. Both teams wanting their school to win and hold the bragging rights till the next year. The night of the game arrived, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Emotions were riding high and the stands were packed. The game ball was delivered in a helicopter, what a start! The bands played and the crowd cheered, pom poms waved, fog horns blew, and the fans were on their feet more often than not. The football teams played their hearts out, coaches lost their voices, but, alas, it was not meant to be for the red and black. Blue and gold won the day and we left feeling disappointed but already talking about next year. That’s the beauty of a good rivalry, the loss is only temporary because there is always the next time. And, the next meeting usually brings redemption. I love a good rivalry.

Many of you have been on this blogging journey from the beginning, so you know that I’ve been praying so hard for the Lord to grow me up in my faith. My road has not been easy lately, but He has been so faithful. I’ve literally had to saturate myself in Him to survive. I am not one of those really strong people that shines during difficultly or pain. I try my best to avoid it. But, there are just things in life that are unavoidable and endure them we must. I sometimes feel like those poor souls that were disembarking the cancelled flight I mentioned earlier, head down and disappointed wondering what is going to happen next. But, then someone will give me a rallying cry of scripture or encouragement and I lift my head and am ready to press on. That’s just how life is, isn’t it? We go through ups and downs and we just keep going, we need each other so much.

On this journey I’m learning that, as I am growing up in my faith, the things that I used to lean so heavily on to meet my ever increasing needs—those things that used to help me keep my head up just don’t do the trick anymore. And yet, I find myself still running to them when I feel empty or sad any of the many emotions that one may go through in a day. I am understanding more and more what will fulfill my soul, but I still run back to what is safe and familiar and unfulfilling. These counterfeit “fixes” rival the good things that I know will really help me with inner healing and growth. Kind of like going back to an old habit that you know isn’t good for you, but it is comfortable and convenient. That’s how I feel about putting into practice the new insights the Lord is giving me. Whoever said walking with Christ was easy didn’t have my personality type. But, over and over again, when I do what I know will help instead of what is easy, I find deeper faith, joy and fulfillment. Should be a no brainer to turn from my bad habits, but it’s not. I love that I’m on this journey with One who understands. Scripture tells me that He was tempted in every way and still did the right thing. And, then He sent the Holy Spirit to be my strength and guide so I can do the right thing too. One day, one step, one decision at a time. There’s hope.

You know the funny thing about rivalries with me is as much as I enjoy all the good natured hype, and a good win, I still feel so bad for the losing team. I find myself a mixture of emotions when the game is over, happy for us, sad for them. I know they’ve worked just as hard as we have and yet will walk away with nothing. So, yes, I am one of those potentially annoying people that will cheer for both teams at times. I just figure you can’t have too many people cheering for you. In a game and in real life. Life is hard and there will be wins and losses. I want to be a person on my feet cheering for those who walk with me, and in front of me and behind me. Realizing that we aren’t each other’s rivals, we are on the same team, Christ followers on the long road home. We will be recognized by the “colors” we wear in our attitude and by the way we live our life. Don’t lose heart. Pay attention and listen for the rally cries. Don’t hear them? Stop and listen, they are all around you.

Hebrews 4:15 “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.”

Hebrews 12:1 “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”

I’m including the prayer below because I have prayed it a lot lately and it fits so perfectly with where I am in my life right now. I thought maybe you could relate and use it as well.

A.W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God”

Father, I want to know Thee, but my cowardly heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from thee the terror of the parting.   I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there. In Jesus Name, Amen.

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For Better or For Worse

I went out early this morning for a walk. Mostly to clear my head, walking has become my therapy. I listen to praise music and pray. I pray for my family, friends and the ministry of this blog, I’ve probably prayed for many of you. This cloudy morning, the air was heavy and filled with moisture. The kind of weather that is a sure sign of rain later. I’m not a fan of the rain, I’m a sunny day girl. I appreciate all that the rain does for us and our world, and I know we cannot live without it, (yada, yada) but I still love waking up to the sunshine. It just makes me happy, way down deep inside to feel the warmth of the sun on my face and feel the healing of its brightness in my soul. But, that was not the case this morning.

My husband likes to run, he says he’s no good at it, but I admire anyone who can run for any distance. If you run, then I admire you, and I may be just a little envious. I have run in my day, well, jogged, some may even describe it as a fast walk, but, I’ve done enough to have a genuine respect for the athlete doing it. He was also up this morning to exercise. As he left the house a smidge before me, we agreed to meet and finish our workout together. I would be finishing up my rigorous workout (ha!) and walking would be a good cool down for him. With plans to meet in place, I set off.

When I was well on my way, I heard someone pounding the pavement behind me. It  sounded like a step, step, skip, step, step, skip. What in the world? Three legs? I wanted to look, but didn’t want to be rude, so I waited for the odd sounding soul to pass me. Sure enough, moments later, they came running past. Well, I knew it wouldn’t take long because they were preluded by a rock. Yes, a rock. Sliding along the pavement and coming to a halt. Right behind it was, well, not what I expected. I completely expected to see a young person or a child running along kicking a rock, but I was surprised to see my husband flying by. Chasing the rock. Not just one or two kicks beyond me, but at least four hundred yards, he kept kicking and running. He looked so young and happy, carefree and full of life. That was amazing to me after the year we’ve had in our home.   He loved my mom as much as me. And, I know from experience how terribly painful it is to watch someone you love with all of your heart hurt so much and not be able to do anything about it. But, there he was, skipping along. Looking very happy to be on the planet.

I couldn’t help but smile. A smile that went way down deep and straight to my heart. I am truly blessed among women. He has stood by me through all the pain and tears and sleepless nights and still has enough love of life to skip along kicking a rock on a cloudy morning when it would’ve been a lot easier, and more appealing, to just lay in the bed. My heart was so full. You see, it hasn’t always been this way. I want to give you some history and someone out there needs to hear this. I know that because I have felt so compelled to write a bit of our story. Whoever you are, please hear me when I say, it’s worth it. He or she is worth it. Worth working through hard times, staying when leaving seems easier, and talking when all you want is silence, humility when pride feels so good. Doing the right thing, even though it is so hard, harder than anything you’ve ever done. Trust me, after twenty three years of marriage, I can tell you it is worth it.

We married in 1992 at the ripe old ages of twenty one and twenty two. Still in college, young and naive. I think I was more in love with the idea of being married, than the person I was marrying. (Hang in there with me, this has a good ending.) Our first apartment was an upstairs to an old house that probably should have been condemned long ago. The stairs to the place were so steep that we probably should’ve worn safety ropes when climbing them. They were wooden and creaky. It didn’t help that we lived in Iowa and the snow and ice were relentless. You really took your life into your own hands when you braved the elements and decided to come or go from our place. One slip and let’s just say you probably would have a limp the rest of your life. They felt that dangerous.  The space itself was small and cramped, but it was adequate for a newly married couple. To give you a better idea of the conditions, when the washing machine was on the spin cycle, the whole place shook. Not an earthquake kind of shake, but enough to be noticed. That’s where this whole journey of married life started for us.

If you know us, you know we are very different people. Well, nobody told us that was going to be such a problem. Or did they? Either way, it was much harder than either of us anticipated. Our first argument as a married couple was eye opening, to say the least. I mean, why didn’t he just listen to me and do what I wanted, I was obviously right. At least that’s how I saw it. I liked to spend money, who knew you would be so very broke as a young married couple? And I couldn’t cook, unless you count black eyed peas and cornbread. That’s what we ate at our house growing up.   I wish you could’ve seen my Minnesota born husband’s face when I proudly served him beans and cornbread for dinner one night. He was like, “Where is the rest of the meal?” The rest? Didn’t everybody eat beans as the entire meal? That was enough to put me over the edge and a grand argument followed. It was constant, he would hurt my ever-on-my-sleeves feelings and I would get mad and we would fuss. Same cycle day in and out.

It didn’t take me long to decide married life was not what I thought it was going to be. I had to share stuff and cook and clean and compromise and sit down while the house shook on the spin cycle.   It just wasn’t what I thought I signed up for. It was too difficult. And, don’t worry, I let him know it too. I lived disappointed and frustrated. Never mind that my expectations were unreasonable or that I wanted a mature relationship without the work, marriage was just too hard. I cannot even count how many times I threatened divorce, separation, anything to get out of this and into what I thought was going to be an easier situation. But, (and I will forever be thankful for her) my momma would remind me that I made a promise, a vow until death do I part. Death? If that was the only way out, guess I would stay. I know that my husband wanted to pull his hair out. He struggled just as much as me. I can remember crying myself to sleep more than one night, and I know he walked the floor working out his frustration many days.

I wish I could tell you that we had this amazing experience, an epiphany moment when all of this changed. That we began to treat each other better and never fought again. But, full disclosure won’t let me. I cannot even tell you when the change started, but I can tell you that things did begin to change. Call it maturity, call it whatever you want, but the Lord began to get a hold of his heart and things began to change for the good. I’ve told you before that he exampled a Christ-like love to me first. I am so thankful he did, it made all the difference.   I still remember when we had grown enough in our relationship and faith that the Lord told me I could no longer threaten divorce or leaving. I couldn’t utter the words. I had to stay. I wasn’t in an abusive relationship, I just wasn’t always getting my way. And, turns out that was a good thing, it made me happier to give of myself. It took a long time to realize that though; compromising didn’t feel so good at first.

Baby steps. That’s what we committed to. We started with space from each other when we were mad so we wouldn’t say such hurtful things in the heat of an angry moment. But, we always came back to it and worked it out, no sweeping it under the rug; that would just allow anger to brew. Then, strained apologies and false humility were how we survived for a while. But, you know what, turns out doing the right thing even when it feels terrible really does work. After some time, and lots of prayer and intentionally making better decisions, our relationship became so much better. And then even better.

Well, here we are. We made it and are making it. He is my best friend and no one makes me laugh harder than him. I love spending time with him, love sharing life with him. It was not easy, and still isn’t always. But, let me shout this from the mountains, I’M SO GLAD I STAYED! So glad I walked down the hard road with him and so glad we are still together on this road. It’s so easy to quit. I think I counted five or more bulletin boards offering divorce lawyer advice on a road trip lately. There is a loud message out there to just let it go when it gets too hard. Trust me, I know it is hard, I know how it feels to want to leave, I know, I know. But, think of all I would have missed if I had gone. It was so worth the fight, not the fight against each other, but when we finally stood side by side and fought for our marriage together, it made life so much richer.

So, back to my walk and there he went by me, running and kicking and then it happened. He turned around and ran back to me. Smiling and grinning, I think my heart skipped a beat. Oh, what a ride it has been, we have fought hard and loved deeply and twenty three years later, he is my favorite. I love this feeling of knowing someone so well and being known so well, flaws and all, and still being loved so completely. If you are thinking of giving up on your marriage, please think twice. I’m not talking about staying in abuse here, just the difficult stuff every marriage deals with. Consult your pastor or see a counselor or find an older couple you trust and ask for help. It is so worth it. He is worth it. You are worth it.

Oh, and because I’ve already declared full disclosure, I did learn to cook a more well-rounded meal. I guess they don’t eat like we do up north. Black eyed peas and corn bread, sound fabulous to me, but I guess you can have ham with it too. Whatever, I’ll compromise. I still can’t keep up with him while he runs, but as long as he runs to me, we’ll be alright. As a matter of fact, everything is alright, maybe even better. So glad we stayed.

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