February 24, 2015

Lent – A Season of Revealing

The mirror shines, freshly cleaned, Windex sitting on the nearby counter. Polished to a perfect gleam, I see me.

Sleepy eyed, messy morning hair, not-yet brushed teeth. Glancing quickly back to the sink, I pull out the toothpaste, the comb, the makeup. Without a second glance at that messy reflection, I primp and prod until the reflection reveals a more suitable image. The dark under-eye bags, the blemishes, the frizzy hair…they all disappear.

Day after day, morning after morning, the mirror reveals an image only to me...and I change and tweak what I want the world to see before I take a single step out the door. 

Welcome to Lent.

Lent is a strange season. We approach Ash Wednesday with somber hearts, motivated to perform and anxious for God to reveal Himself in some new way. Often, when our resolve is true, we are amazed and rejuvenated 40 days later. Even more frequently, we struggle to maintain a sense of depth only days after the ashen cross is rubbed across our foreheads. How easily we forget to be somber when distractions flicker across our lives. How quickly we push aside this strange season of reflection, because in all honesty: Lent gets uncomfortable. So shortly after we’ve all made our New Year’s Resolutions, suddenly the Christian calendar throws us for another loop. “Give something up.” “Give something back.” “Find God.” Do this, do that, be better, grow spiritually.

In the hard moments of life, in the periods of spiritual drought, when prayer is hard and knowing God is harder, finding Him in Lent feels impossible. Does the church not know we’re tired? We’re busy? We want God but…how? How do we embrace this season of vulnerability when we’re still pretending we have it all together? How do we surrender control, let God work in our lives, and approach Easter refreshed and humbled, when we hide behind the façade we slather on every morning? How can we be changed if we won’t be revealed?

Gently, quietly, we are called to come before the cross and let go of all the masks we hold over our faces. Let go of the idea that we need to hold it all together. Let go of the show we put on every morning. Let go of the secrets we hold close to our hearts. The season of Lent is a season where God seems to reach out to us and whisper, “Let’s get real.”  

We’re on-stage and the show is running, we’re at work with deadlines and co-workers; we’re in church with burdens on our backs and smiles on our faces… and we need to stop pretending, be vulnerable, and be honest. Trying to fast in the season of Lent while still wearing a mask is nearly impossible. As we prepare for Easter, mourning the death of Christ and celebrating His resurrection, we need to open our hearts to His word and His redemption. Here, in this moment, He asks us to let everything else go and let Him be our Savior.

You see, God sees us: just as we are in this very moment. He has seen the darkness that resides in humanity and He has called us his beloved. He knows the hidden sins, the hearts that hurt, the choices that destroy, and He still chooses to reach out to us in love and faithfulness. When our hearts choose lesser gods, His heart breaks. When we say no, He says, “I love you.” When we turn our backs, He waits patiently. When we hide behind our masks, He gently pulls them away and says, “You are chosen.”  

As we embrace Lent, we remember that Jesus sees through the show. He sees beneath the masks we wear, the sins, the secrets…He sees us in all of our dirt and depravity and He invites us to join Him regardless. No matter how hard we try to cover up our mistakes, our shortcomings, and our regrets, He loves us beyond measure. No matter how hard we try, no matter what we choose to reveal to the outside world, He sees us. When we embrace this raw honesty, this terrifying vulnerability, we invite Him to work amid the brokenness and reveal a picture cleaner than we could ever have imagined. 

Lent is a season of revealing. The One who loves us most is gently asking us to get real and let Him work in our brokenness. As we journey through Lent, this remarkable and often difficult journey, let us approach each day with a renewed sense of honesty. Only when we approach the cross with humility and raw vulnerability do we truly begin to see just how magnificent God’s grace is in our lives.

The mirror shines, freshly cleaned, Windex sitting on the nearby counter. Polished to a perfect gleam, I see us. The church.

Christ-followers, lovers of Jesus, the people of God. We have been challenged; we are standing before the mirror of Lent and taking this season one day at a time. As the mirror glistens, daily, we must ask ourselves… will we allow God to be revealed in the midst of our brokenness?

Welcome to Lent.    

February 17, 2015

Ft. Myers Beach, Florida

Life is wonderful. Travel is glorious. And spontaneity is a necessity to avoid insanity. 

At least, that's my philosophy on any given day. I recently ran across a dirt cheap deal to buy airline tickets to Ft. Myers Beach, Florida...and in a split-second decision...I was sold. This last-minute weekend getaway was much needed, magical, and the perfect escape from gloomy January days.

(For reference, Ft. Myers and Sanibel Island are very close to each other. Our weekend was spent hopping between the two of them.)

As a kid my family vacationed to Sanibel Island semi-frequently. I knew the sea-shell filled beaches and I have fond memories of the Rainforest Café…pre-hurricane Charley.  Post-hurricane Charley, Sanibel Island remained unknown in my life, although I planned this trip with the confidence that Florida had recovered in the 10+ years since Charley has hit. With blurry memories of Sanibel Island and no memories whatsoever of Ft. Myers Beach, we packed our bags and set sail for a bargain weekend and some exploration. Florida has indeed recovered, quite well.

Without further ado, here is my humble guide to some of our favorite things to do, see, and eat if you find yourself buying a cheap ticket to Ft. Myers Beach/Sanibel Island any time soon.

1.    Do: Play Mini Golf

It’s no surprise that this area is fairly touristy. I lived in Florida once upon a time and I know Florida well, so just this once, I was okay feeling just slightly like a tourist (excuse me as I go hide my face in shame.) Which leads me to this observation, tourists play mini-golf on vacation. Go be a tourist. Visit Jungle Golf and try to find all of the hidden items or get a hole in one and win a free round. For the golf-lovers (cough – Blake – cough) and the happy-go-lucky put-putters (me), this is the way to spend the evenings. We might have played mini-golf every night we were there.  We might have won a free round. The tourist in me will never tell.

2.    Eat: Z Crepes Café

How highly can I sing their praises? Drive through the business district of Ft. Myers to the Butterfly Estates (a big name for a small section of local shops) and feast upon this glorious food. We ordered cheese puffs as an appetizer, followed by the signature homemade puree of French onion crème soup, then our entrees of a ham & cheese crepe omelet (Blake) and savory shrimp served with rosemary cream sauce (yours truly). Goodness gracious my mouth is watering just thinking about this meal. We would have ordered dessert if our stomachs had allowed. Also, the service was phenomenal. During our visit there was an undisclosed accident in the kitchen, and we were told that our food would take longer then normal. Our waiter brought out the soups on the house and offered to buy us drinks as well. We declined the drinks and gobbled down the soup. The wait was not that long at all, so we did not feel inconvenienced. To top it off, when the check came our server only charged us for the appetizer and one entrée, claiming, “We want you to remember us fondly.” Oh my, Z Crepes Café, you will always be in our fondest memories.

Note: Plan this excursion on the same day as Z Crepes Café, they are minutes apart from each other. 

For the history lovers in the group, or the house lovers, or the invention lovers, or anyone else who likes to soak in the local story…this is a must. We loved touring the Ford and Edison grounds, which are beautifully kept and preserved. From Edison’s workshop to the humorous guesthouse rules, this was $20 per/person well spent.

4.    Do: Rent Bikes        

When visiting Sanibel Island, renting bikes is a must. Billy’s Bike Shop has good reviews, but after a brunch at the Over Easy Café, we were closer to Finnimore’s Cycle Shop. Finnimore’s did seem a little bit more sketchy (shall we say), but the bikes worked and the pricing was great, so no complaints. We rented two 6-speed bikes for 4 hours at $22 dollars total. The prices decrease the longer you have the bikes. Our path took us up to the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Reserve (normally $1 for cyclists, free on MLK Day). This was a lovely scenic ride, complete with one roadside alligator chilling in the swamp. We kept pedaling. It’s worth mentioning, but a short ride further up the road will take you to Captiva Island, where we stopped and spent the afternoon on the white beaches.

5.    Eat: The Royal Scoop, Cheeburger Cheeburger, and the Over Easy Café.

Like I previously mentioned, we like to dine local. While we ate some fancy dinners and gorged ourselves in seafood, nothing quite compared to these local joints. The Royal Scoop’s ice cream is heavenly and Cheeburger Cheeburger has outtathisworld burgers and shakes. Lastly, the Over Easy Café is busy, we waited 30 minutes, but the orange breakfast rolls are heavenly. So is the orange juice. And the pancakes. And the breakfast skillets. And…I think it’s time to book another flight…

Straight off the plane and right into Cheeburger heaven.

Our trip was too fast, sunny, and wonderful. We are coastal hearts and saltwater lovers, so this reprieve from our land-locked home was much needed. After living in Belize last year, we have struggled to find contentment in a place far from the crystal Caribbean waters and warm trade winds. While it is good to be where we are, and we feel strongly like we are where we need to be for the moment, vacations help clear the mind and refresh the spirit.

Oh, and I am a little embarrassed to mention this, but we may have driven 3 hours to Orlando just to walk around the Disney boardwalk, get ice cream from Beaches and Cream, and watch the Epcot fireworks from the bridge. When I was a cast member, this was one of my favorite things to do…so Blake spoke my love language when he suggested this mini-adventure. Be still my (Disney-loving) heart. 

If you get a chance, like a cheap plane ticket and an extra day off work, I highly recommend running away for a weekend. Now tell me, what are you favorite getaway spots?

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came. – John F. Kennedy

February 13, 2015

Keeping This Covenant - 50(ish) Shades of Marriage

Note: This is not a post about 50 Shades of Grey.

I just needed to get that out there, because while I'm no supporter of the movie...I think the blogging world has embraced the boycott enough for all of us. So if you want to read some great posts mirroring my thoughts on the subject, visit here or here.

Now that that's out of the way (cue huge sigh of relief), let me tell you what this is all about. This post is about love. About marriage. About trust. About God. My words touch more on 50 shades of grey wall paint in our guest room and Blake was so great to tape off the edges best husband ever than they will ever touch on BDSM or bondage.

Marriage and love aren't all rocket-fire moments. Life, good ol' "mundane" life, exists within marriage. We're moving into a new little home right now (kissing that condo life goodbye!), and moving brings about lots of mundane. Cleaning baseboards. Painting. Dusting. Packing. Boxes, boxes, and more boxes. In those moments, the average, everyday, dusty moments...we decide who we are and who we will be in our relationships.

My old pastor counseled us before our wedding, "Every marriage has ruts, so make good ruts." These are the words we like to think of when we try to establish our good ruts. These are the prayers we pray as we speak to one another and practice true love. These are the definitions I hold tightly to as the world around me tells me to be aroused by what I see, even if it isn't my husband. These are the definitions I grip when I close my eyes and seek holiness within marriage instead of self-gratification. These are my 50 (or maybe more like 10) shades of marriage.

1. Trust. This is my #1 in marriage. More than love. More than anything else, I value trust. When you trust someone, you can love them. When you love someone, you can't necessarily trust them. Cultivate trust. Be honest. Be true. Cultivate trust in marriage. When trust has been broken, work hard to restore it. As a couple, in the ruts of life, knowing that you can trust your spouse to support you, to love you, to hold you accountable, to be faithful...knowing that your spouse can be trusted builds a foundation for so many good things in a relationship.

2. Love. I love passionate love, I really do. Unashamedly. But I hate distorted views of "love". I hate seeing people buy the lies that love is based on emotions, or physical compatibility, or abuse. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. Stop trying to buy the lies that love is sex, or passion, or being happy. Love might encompass those things in its own way, but it is so much more. It is so much harder. It is so much better. Stop selling love short and let it be fantastically more than we imagined.

3. Faith. My life is not my husband's (yay feminism!). My life is not my own (wait, what?). Our marriage is not just about us. (Hold up, Mandy.) We believe, as a couple, that this relationship is about more than just us. In our marriage, we hope to somehow, in some way, bring glory to God. To trust that God is intimately involved in our love. To believe that He is the author of holy love. When life doesn't make sense, this is the foundation we are building on. When hard questions get asked, and they do get asked, we place our faith in the unseen. Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

4. Patience. Love it patient. I struggle with this. I think fast, I reply fast, I want answers fast. I get angry quickly and cool off even slower. But love is slow to anger, patient in every moment, and kind. I prayed for God to help me be patient, and he sent me Blake. Lord, help me. (Laughter is also really good for the soul, FYI. Love you, husband!)

5. Commitment. Choose this, every minute, every day, every second of every year as long as you're alive. Forget thinking, "I would be better off alone." Keep the covenant you made. Water it, give it sunshine, and watch it grow. In the rainy days, in the tough seasons, keep it then, especially then. Stop toying with the word "divorce". Stop thinking, "If we weren't married..." Stop believing that the grass is greener on the other side. Trust the choice you made all those years (or weeks or months) ago. Choose the commitment you made, every day. (See disclaimer.) 

6. Consent. I'll admit it, this word was triggered from all the 50 Shades blogs I've read recently. But it makes the list, because I believe that a healthy relationship involves all sorts of consent, and not just in the physical sense. Marriage is, in so many ways, consenting to be vulnerable around another person. Consenting to their presence in your life, their involvement in your activities. When we choose marriage, we choose to let someone else be a part of our future. When the walls go up, when we push boundaries we shouldn't push, when we force someone's arm in a direction they don't want to go...we lose the trust of a healthy marriage. In marriage, there are boundaries that have to be evaluated and respected, but to keep communication open and to grow, there is a level of vulnerability and consent involved.

7. Respect. Remember the first time someone told you they looked up to you? Remember how it felt when someone you respected told you they were proud of you? Remember how those moments made you want to be a better person? When we respect someone, and then love them unconditionally, we can build mountains. Tell you spouse you respect them, because sometimes they forget. Build them up. Believe in them. Trust their choices and work constructively together. Don't let your pride prevent you from letting your spouse know that you believe in them, you trust them, and you respect who they are and who they are becoming. Build mountains.

8. Kindness. Living with someone else is pretty awesome. Except when you're both really tired and all you want is a cupcake but the other person ate the last one. And then it gets way tougher. Be kind in those moments. Listen, attentively. Always believe the best and stop assuming the worst. When we view our partners with kind lenses over our eyes, the faults begin to melt away. It becomes easier to forgive. To drop the defenses. To love purely.

9. Honesty. White lies count. Little lies, big lies. Half-lies. They're all lies. Honesty backs up the whole trust factor, but it deserves its own bullet point. Because it's easy to act defensive and cover our bases. It's easy to hide our tracks and make ourselves look better. But love doesn't hide behind words. Hidden behind every good marriage is a layer of honesty that provides the foundation for trust to work its magic.

10. Toughness. Not tough like a Ford, or a rowdy little boy, but tough like a runner who finishes a race even when they're in pain. Or tough like a dad who keeps working at the job he doesn't like because he wants to support his family. Tough like the cancer fighters, the survivors, the people who just won't quit trying. Marriage happens in the moments when it's tough to keep going, and you do. When love perseveres over trials, life, and bad days. I value wiry love, gritty love, stick-to-it love over any other type of love that Hollywood tries to sell. I value the type of love that wakes up every day and says, "No matter what happens, I choose you." Tough, persevering love.

 In no way do I support abusive or unhealthy relationships. These thoughts are gathered from my own experiences within a healthy relationship and are by no means offered as a solution to deeper issues relating to problems not discussed within the article.