You Can Become a Better and More Loving Spouse

My husband and I had our first fight in the grocery store. I am a list-shopper, and he is a browser. Stopping for nothing, I steer the shopping cart around corners on two wheels, while he lingers over a cheese display, comparing relative merits and flavors at long leisure. I was raised in a home with a bare refrigerator and minimal resources for kitchen creativity. He came from a fully stocked spice cupboard and a philosophy of abundance and celebration around food.  To him, our shopping cart looked like a barren waste land of deprivation, while I was becoming convinced that from now on we would be spending 75% of our net worth on food.

By some miracle of grace, we weathered that difference and after nearly thirty years of marriage, we just like each other a whole lot. Since conflict has been minor and transient, I’m fairly unmotivated about reading marriage books, especially when there are so many other areas of life where I really DO need serious work.

However, Making Marriage Beautiful by Dorothy Littell Greco manages to offer hope and sound counsel for those whose marriages are in serious trouble while also sharing practical insights and exercises for  helping a pretty-darn-good marriage to become even better and more satisfying.

Two Becoming One

As soon as the words “I do” leave our lips, the process of radical transformation begins for both spouses. The way we handle our vows, the way we manage our egocentric selves in the life- on-life process of living as “heirs together of the grace of life” shapes us either for good or for ill. If I am committed to having my own way no matter what, I will become more and more of “myself” to the detriment of becoming one flesh.

Dorothy Greco brings the clarifying gift of story to her readers through interviews with eight couples from various ethnic backgrounds. Their real life challenges and their commitment to live their way toward healthy relationship practices is both inspiring and instructive. Too, the Grecos themselves know what it is to weather marriage turbulence, also around kitchen and food practices and extending to conversational style and the appropriate place and intensity of emotions in the room.

Viewing their own marriage as a continual work in progress, the Grecos speak with authenticity about the challenges of living transparently within a marriage. Along the way, both Dorothy and Christopher make spot-on observations and analyses of cultural and historical trends that have impacted marriage as we understand it today. Astute biblical insights on human nature and the comprehensive rescue Jesus offers make the book a valuable resource for couples or for groups to work through slowly, sitting with the Questions for Going Deeper that round out the wisdom of each chapter. For example:

“Are you aware of how your sins and limitations affect your spouse? If not, ask your spouse. (But don’t ask until you are able to listen without getting defensive or angry.”

“How important is it for you to be right rather than make sure the relationship is right? Ask your spouse if he or she agrees with your assessment.”

Expectations and Disappointment

Without advocating gender fluidity or neutrality, Greco urges readers to evaluate seriously the validity of pink and blue job descriptions in the home. Influenced by family and by American culture with its extra-biblical gender expectations, couples may either shoe horn one another into tasks that don’t fit or suffer silently from disappointment.

“Disordered attachments” are desires, hopes, or expectations that become more important to us than the relationship, competing with God and his pattern for our marriages and our lives. Ranging wildly from petty preferences to full-on addictions, disordered attachments lead to disappointment and even anger with our spouses.

Marriage and spiritual formation go hand in hand:

“This movement toward Christ and holiness is meant to influence every component of our lives and of our marriages. As we become more like Jesus, we willingly and continuously sacrifice for our spouses rather than protect our self-interests. We extend grace and mercy rather than judgment or retribution. We love lavishly rather than withhold in self-protection and fear.” (306)

God will stop at nothing to conform his much-loved children to the image of his Son. The movement toward health in our relationships is part of that process, and as our marriages become ever more beautiful, the power of God to break into brokenness with healing and hope is put on display.

The costly sacrifice that says, “My life for yours” is rooted in the gospel, and it mirrors the sacrificial love of Christ for his bride, the Church. By grace, we learn to receive God’s perfect love, to return it in spite of all our imperfections, and to let it spill over into a growing marriage that becomes more beautiful with each passing year.


 

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase Making Marriage Beautiful simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

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The Best Birthday: Receiving God’s Gift of Love

Every Sunday morning, we sing and celebrate the birthdays:  the toddler clutching three sweaty pennies for the bank, representing his three years of life; the grandfather who contributes a dollar to the bank and jokes about not needing much change. Birthdays are a big deal because people are a big deal to God. So we sing:

“Happy birthday to you,
Only one will not do.
Born again means salvation.
How many have YOU?”

Together, we celebrate birth and new birth–the beginnings that bring us together.

Meadow Rue Merrill has become a celebration resource for young families with her seasonal invitations to Lantern Hill Farm. This time Molly and the family are gathered at Aunt Jenny’s place for a birthday party. Molly sings to Cousin Sammy and makes her own birthday candle wish for another birthday. 

The Best Birthday weaves a story around Aunt Jenny’s wise reply that God offers an “even better birthday,” reinforcing the message with a scavenger hunt that makes for fun reading, but also serves as inspiration for party-planning parents.

Best of all, Merrill’s story sets the stage for a discussion of John 1:12:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

When we’re born into God’s family and receive the gift of his love for our very own, we have every reason to celebrate!

Next month, at my church home, the kids will be gathering in a Sunday School circle to listen to this story on Promotion Sunday. We’ll celebrate ALL the birthdays with a big cake, and come together around the truth that each of us is God’s special treasure, and birthdays are just one more opportunity to celebrate his love!

Many thanks to Hendrickson Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thankful for my Best Birthday,

 

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase The Best Birthday Hardcover Picture Book (Ages 4-7),simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

Vibrant Hospitality: Opening the Window of Relationship

When we moved to Mid-Coast Maine, we set ourselves a goal of inviting someone new  to dinner every month. We gathered around crock pot roasts, mashed potatoes, home-canned green beans, and usually a pie for dessert. The elderly couple we invited for August was a delight:  we talked books, they filled us in on local culture, and they were good sports about eating my blueberry pie that “didn’t quite set,” landing in a soupy pile on all our plates. I realized the extent of their graciousness, when I learned later, quite by accident, that she was one of the judges for the Union Fair blueberry pie contest.

The visit was not a contest, and my pie was not being judged on that stuffy August evening–and, thankfully, neither was I. We had invited those sweet people into our home and into our lives and hearts and a warm friendship took root. In Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness, Leslie Verner describes an invitation as an “opening in the window of relationship, granting intimacy permission to drift in like a breeze into a stuffy room.” (174)

Verner describes herself as a “goer learning how to stay,” and so the practice of hospitality for her was learned, initially, as a guest in cultures where she was the stranger and the recipient of a warm welcome and a place around the table.   Now, called to “do the hard work of staying,” (335) she writes about her own learning curve around the discipline of deepening relationships through a life time of invitations offered from one zip code.

Invited to Fight Loneliness

Loneliness has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and this has been fed by our cultural tendency toward privacy and independence. Our addiction to and dependence upon technology has only increased our isolation, to the point where even those who attend church regularly admit to feelings of loneliness. An intentional practice of hospitality fights the default.

Verner argues that our churches “don’t need more programs or plans for living missionally in the world; we just need to invite others to walk with us in our right-now life.”

Invited to Build Community

Jesus modeled an open-hearted practice of welcome, and his unruly disciple Peter must have been taking notes:  “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” he urged. Whether within our four walls or simply in the way we land in a pew on Sunday morning, it’s clear that the believer is called to a life of community building and our “neighbor” could be just about anyone. Verner has supplied an extensive list of ideas for uncomplicated hospitality in neighborhood, church, and community contexts along with some good general tips for anyone needing additional reassurance.

The practice of missional hospitality means that we begin living like “invited ones” ourselves, for God showed his heart toward us in the early pages of Genesis, inviting Adam out of the bushes and back into relationship. And he never stops inviting, holding out frosty glasses of Life to “whoever desires” and whoever will “take the water of life freely.” The power of hospitality in an age of loneliness is sturdy evidence of God at work in his people. Our invitation is an open window to Truth.

Many thanks to Herald Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness, simply click on the title within the text of my review, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a very small commission at no extra cost to you.

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Loving and Listening to God in Every Season

In every season, my garden speaks, reinforcing in leaf and humus Scripture’s messages around patience and diligence, inviting me to rejoice with the arrival of every cucumber and blazing pumpkin and to lament with the erect skeletons of sunflowers, their heads bowed at season’s end. Predictable and yet ever new, the cycling of beauty and fruition, the presence of thorns and the dirt under my fingernails together corroborate the peaceful truth that heaven and earth conspire in declaring the glory of God.

That is the message of All Shall Be Well by Catherine McNiel, in which she shares the trajectory of her own awakening to God’s presence in his messy, abundant world. Her observations pay tribute to every season in its turn:

Find spring on a walk outside, coupled with a look inside.

Spring is the season of thawing hope and widening light. It invites us to look despair in the face and to trust for joy because God is present in the clouds that obscure our view. Spring-hope whispers that if you listen with your heart, you will hear God’s voice rejoicing over you with singing.

McNiel’s spring tonic is a prescription to take in the beauty with all your senses–the aroma of green and the sound of wetness–and to make a celebratory list of all the gifts of the season.

Find summer with wide open eyes that take in the night stars on a sultry evening or the power of wind and lightening during a storm.

The season of abundant fruition, summer is also the season of toil. Long daylight stretches faithfulness thin and makes demands that remind us of how cushy our life is in other seasons. McNiel interjects the concept of telos–a Greek word that means “end purpose” or “goal” (68)–to tame summer’s crashing pandemonium. Flourishing in the midst of the buzz and brouhaha of summer requires clarity of purpose and a mindful stewarding of our faithfulness.

Find autumn by celebrating the advancing darkness with candles and twinkling lights.

In all its bright beauty and generous harvest, autumn whispers a gentle warning. While we celebrate with pumpkin carving and corn mazes, McNiel reminds twenty-first century readers that harvest carried a dire significance just a couple generations ago–and still does in many parts of the world–for abundant fall harvest is the only way to eat and live through a long, bleak winter.

The curriculum of autumn assures us that death is transformation, that letting go of the old makes room for something new; and the twilight hours are for resting, pondering, and deepening as the light gives way to darkness.

Find winter in every season by making room for rest.

God’s creative work in winter is quiet as a blanket of snow and dangerous as sub-zero air. McNiel warns readers of the futility of trying to “overcome dormancy… mutinously straining to move forward anyway.” (131) In winter, we celebrate the arrival of snow with hot chocolate and snowmen, maybe to protect our hearts from the knowledge that cabin fever will set in come February as the glory of whiteness begins to feel like wilderness living.

Celebrating every sign of life and giving thanks for the borrowed strength that comes from God and others, we are called in winter to exercise faith that endurance is not for nothing, and that a long slog through a bleak season may require good traveling companions who carry and sustain us with their presence and their love.

Predictable and yet ever new, the cycling of beauty and fruition, the presence of thorns and the dirt under my fingernails together corroborate the peaceful truth that heaven and earth conspire in declaring the glory of God.Because I love to greet each new season with joy, I will be keeping All Shall Be Well handy for, like its author, I hear God inviting me to come near in their unique beauty, and “I’d like to get better at meeting him halfway.” (32)

 

Many thanks to NavPress for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Because “all manner of things shall be most well,”


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase All Shall Be Well: Awakening to God’s Presence in His Messy, Abundant World, simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Your Battle Plan for a Holy War

From the first syllable of Austin’s prayer, her words caught my attention. The urgent tone implied warfare, and she invoked Ephesians 6 fighting words in her pleas for protection as our team prepared to lead a group of one hundred youth on an outreach project. Austin knew we were embarking on an adventure, a holy war. We had trained the teens, prepared our equipment for face painting, crafts, and games, but our battle plan depended more on the power of our message than the preparation of our messengers.

With this same warrior heart added to her military background, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson summons readers to prepare for this kind of fight. A Sojourner’s Truth is her call to choose freedom and courage in our divided world, even if the choice involves uncomfortable moments of taking our stand in a wilderness place.

War? What War?

Here in Mid-Coast Maine, in my predominantly white church family, the small scattering of brown faces belong to my friends, and they have sat at my table and enriched my life, so the war Robinson describes in vivid detail is invisible to me.  I needed to read the poignant narratives from her childhood and stories from the inside, which shine the light of truth and lend much needed perspective. For example, the white poverty of my own childhood is different from the economic disparity experienced by black Americans.

It takes courage and commitment for those of us who are safe and comfortable to accept an invitation into the wilderness. However, as the mother of four sons, I am coming to realize their bodies would be at great risk if they happened to be encased in dark brown skin.  Natasha writes about this injustice but exhorts readers about the dangers of unfettered anger and makes the heartbreaking connection between sin and death.

The Rules of Engagement

Moses was the leader God had chosen to prepare Israel for conquest, and his instructions had all the marks of a battle plan:

  1. Do not be afraid of your enemy because God is with you. (Deuteronomy 20:1)
  2. The leaders must step up. (Deuteronomy 20:9)
  3. The commanders’ strategy was to go in peace at first. (Deuteronomy 20:9-18) (143)

New Testament instructions for wearing truth, taking action, and guarding our hearts reinforce holy war strategy that “is not against flesh and blood.” There are unseen battles on many fronts, and the church will only engage effectively if we recognize our role as sojourners and citizens of God’s unseen kingdom. Every loss will not be restored and every injustice will not be set to rights in my sight and in my time, but even so, the God who causes “righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations” is at work in his people.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?”  (Micah 6:8)

How will you and I respond to his call to speak truth and to choose freedom for all?

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you,

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase A Sojourner’s Truth: Choosing Freedom and Courage in a Divided World, simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Subscribe to Living Our Days to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Wonder 101: What Your Kids Can Teach You About Delighting in God

My grandson’s favorite grape tomatoes ripen to a vivid orange in the sunshine on one of the outside rows of my garden. He literally quivers with delight when we pick them together, filling container after container with their bright beauty–and a small one to stow in his cup holder for the ride home. Children do not take for granted that small orange balls of deliciousness show up in the summer time, that they burst with flavor between your teeth, and that they produce with ridiculous abundance for a short season, and then are gone with the first frost.

As we delight together in the miracle of fruition in my garden, my grandson is schooling me in the practice of awe. In The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God, Christine Aroney-Sine has produced a curriculum of awe, reminding readers of spiritual practices which can be as natural and as much a part of our life as eating a ripe tomato. For example, when I’m walking the dog and the bees are hard at work ransacking the honeysuckle bushes for all they are worth, it is an act of worship to stop and listen to their buzzing productivity. The small insects’ devotion to the task at hand instructs me in unity of purpose and focus for my own calling.

Imagination as a Pathway to Loving God

Our big picture thinking ends up shaping the minutes of our days, and the inclusion of delight, playfulness, imagination, and love of nature becomes a scope and sequence that shapes our thinking about God. Embedding the spiritual practice of noticing God at work in the beauty around us sharpens our prayer life and leads us to worship in the present moment. Aroney-Sine works this out personally by taking regular Wonder Walks with her husband, and has introduced me to this spiritually seismic question:  “What has God enjoyed today about who I am and what I do?”

The imaginative practice of painting names and inspiring phrases on rocks to serve as prayer reminders is an alternative to structured list-making. Using colored markers and clipboards for note taking during a sermon can heighten comprehension and retention for some listeners. As a gardener, I find that God’s voice comes to me more clearly when my hands are in the dirt.

Finding God in the Present Moment

My grandson’s enjoyment of grape tomatoes is not lessened by the fleeting nature of the season or by foreshadowings of the coming frost. He takes every flavorful bite as it comes, and this ability to live in the present is a gift to the very young, but not inaccessible to adults. Christine gently inquires:

“What distracts you from the Divine Presence and prevents you from fully appreciating the revelation of God in this never-to-be-repeated moment?” (126)

Creative spiritual practices reassure the believer that God is not a workaholic–even as he is always at work! Therefore, the invitation and the example are one. He longs for us to enjoy him and to enter into his singing, buzzing, fluttering,  splashing creation as co-creators–lovers of God who bring maximum glory to him.

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God, simply click on the title within the text of my review, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a very small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

No Greater Message: God Is For You!

Given the word “God,” without self-editing or over-thinking, what’s the word or phrase that comes immediately to mind? If you’ve been schooled in the false gospel of ceaseless striving, you may come up with words like judgment, severe, or disapproving. After all, it’s clear that we are not equipped to measure up on our own to the demands of a holy God.

However, if you’re tuned in to the truth of Romans 8, you are living a better story for it begins with the soul-liberating truth:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

In If God Is For Us: The Everlasting Truth of Our Great Salvation, Trillia Newbell employs her gospel shovel to turn over the soil of Romans 8, revealing the fertile riches of major themes:

  • Life in the Spirit
  • Our role as heirs with Christ
  • The promise of future glory
  • Our assurance in the present moment
  • The everlasting love of God that is the foundation of our life with him.

A Favorite Chapter from a Cherished Book

The six-week in-depth study begins with an overview of the book of Romans and a flying trip through the first seven chapters to serve as background for the material in Romans 8. This is a sound practice to establish here and to carry forward into our independent study of Scripture, because context is crucial to a full understanding of what we read. Evangelical tradition often has us jumping right into application of a passage without a full knowledge of the author’s intent.

Insightful questions lead the reader into considering what the passage says AND what it means, urging a full engagement with the text and a deep dive into all that’s unknown before giving in to the temptation to consult with the “experts” through commentaries. Then and only then are we ready for application of the truth to our lives, and Romans 8 delivers in so many ways, for not only does it unpack the heart of the gospel, but it offers assurance to those who are “in Christ Jesus” that we can indeed, through the power of the Spirit, live in fellowship with God on this fallen planet he created and loves.

Free from the law of sin and death,

Many thanks to Moody Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase If God Is For Us: The Everlasting Truth of Our Great Salvation simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

 

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Subscribe to Living Our Days to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.