Week 2 of the I Choose You Challenge!

IChoseYou-2PursueWeek 2 of our challenge is about pursuing your mate. How long has it been since you’ve had a “Hubba bubba hey baby!” moment? You’ll find some tips to telegraph that message this week. Here’s the link: Week 2 ICYT  Hope you’ll take a moment to leave a comment – fill us in on the steps YOU took to let your loved one know you are still on the chase!

Deb’s “Just 18 Summers” Featured Post

Cup of latte coffee

 

Do you know the story of  “Just 18 Summers?” If you are a parent or planning to become one, you need to know about this great resource. In a nutshell, here’s their story in founder Michelle Cox’s words:

During a Sunday church service, my pastor prayed with a couple who were dedicating their infant son to God. As they turned to walk off the platform, Rev. Sexton said these words, “Don’t forget—you have just 18 summers. Take time to make some memories.”  

Moms and dads, you have just 18 summers with your child. Please don’t miss the moments! Take it from a mom who would give a million dollars if she could walk down the hall and tuck her little boys into bed just one more time.

How many summers do YOU have left? What you do with your children now will determine whether you look back someday with regrets or sweet memories.

That chance encounter at Sunday service has become a novel, a movie, and a wonderful resource for parents: Just18Summers.com

Michelle recently invited me to guest on the site in honor of Valentine’s Day and my three sons. Find it here: Deb@18Summers

I hope you’ll take a moment to read the article, but don’t stop there. Look around at the great resources and be sure you subscribe so you don’t miss a thing!

 

Where There’s a Will, He Makes the Way!

Real People: Head Shoulders Caucasian Little Girl Arms Crossed“Debbie has a tendency toward willfulness.”

My mother spent much of my third grade year in the hospital. She suffered from terrible headaches that often sent her to bed. There were no MRI’s in 1963, and there were few treatments for what we now call migraines. A brain tumor was suspected as she went from hospital to hospital.

I spent those weeks sitting in white-walled waiting rooms, with the bitter smell of antiseptic, fearing my mom would die. At eight, it seemed like a reasonable fear.

What was not reasonable was the fear that struck once she was released. I would find any reason to avoid being away from Mom. Every morning a new malady appeared: my head hurt, I was sick to my stomach, the teacher didn’t like me, or the kids were mean to me. Each excuse had the same motive: I wanted to stay home to make sure my mother wouldn’t disappear again.

Reassurance didn’t work, nor did stern conversations, pleading or promising a treat if I’d just get dressed and go to school. When those efforts failed, the school psychologist became my new “friend” and Mom and I began a series of conversations and testing.

I recall it clearly: a very nice older man who seemed interested in me and what I thought and how I felt. Very pleasant. And eventually, either his conversations with us did help or I outgrew it, although I’m not sure which. But life returned to normal.

Thirty-seven years later, while sorting through Mom’s paperwork after her death, I found the report prepared by that school psychologist.

“Debbie has a tendency toward willfulness.”

It was not a compliment. It was not in the plus column.

And while it was true, it was never over the top, overt, throw a tantrum till I get my way willfulness. My folks were a couple of smart cookies who would never stand for that behavior. It was subtle. Skillful.  Understated.

The report went on to suggest, “When fearful, Debbie may try to control the situation, which must not be allowed. As her parents, you must assert your authority.”

This weekend I heard a gifted teacher at church speak about willfulness. “When obedience to God’s Word occurs it’s always an act of our will. A choice. Willful obedience.”

Hearing those words reminded me of the assessment of my character by that nice man in 1963. Is it possible I can use my powers for good, not for evil?

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose,” (Phil. 2:13) NIV.

Willful obedience. Willful mercy. Willful love, grace, forgiveness. An act of my choice, fueled not by fear, but by my loving Abba father, who desires to see me act in order to fulfill His good purpose, and who delights over me when I do. It’s the redemption of something the enemy once twisted to torment me, and Jesus has reclaimed it. I can see it now. The eight-year old me, who refuted authority, trying to run the table, is grown up.

Most days, at least.

Holidays bring family gatherings and occasionally, old hurts, fears, and resentments come along for the ride. The baggage of our past has the ability to turn even the most mature adult into a willful eight-year old.

This season can be different, by a simple act of our will, drawing on God’s strength, not our own. Choose peace. Refuse to pick up the offense. Willful grace, willful patience. Radical, willful obedience to love. This is my personal prayer, to fulfill His purpose and celebrate the birth of the One who makes it all possible.

Yup, using my powers for good!

CAN WE TALK?

By Deb DeArmond

 

Happy couple walk down stairs holding hands“Hi Sweetheart. How was your day? Did you make arrangements with the vet for the dog while we’re on vacation?”

“My day was fine. And yup, dog is all squared away,” he responded. “Did you check on whether we can change seats to sit together on the outbound flight?”

“No, I forgot. I’ll do it as soon as we hang up. Any mail today?”

It’s what often passes for communication when one of us is traveling. It’s necessary, I guess, but hardly the fascinating conversation of a couple still in love.

It happens at the end of long days, full schedules, and juggling priorities. We’re often really exhausted when we finally connect, usually just before bedtime.

It’s what I’ve begun to think of as transactional conversation. Essential to running our lives, but not really covenantal connection kind of stuff.

 What does that mean?

Life requires us to accomplish tasks, run businesses and households, pay bills, get the kids enrolled in hockey, etc. They are the transactions that keep our lives operating smoothly. When those transactions don’t take place or don’t take place in a timely manner, life can be stressful. So it’s a good thing to support one another in getting this stuff done.

But to create connection that keeps a marriage vibrant, healthy and alive, we need so much more. When you research synonyms (similar words) for the word intimacy, you discover descriptors like closeness, understanding, confidence, caring, tenderness, affection and relationship. That’s marriage at it’s very best—it’s difficult to achieve, and even more challenging to sustain over the lifetime of your love. And checking up on the mail and the dog is not going to get us there. We yearn for genuine intimacy from one another.

Intimacy is a result of connection, and it’s not limited to sexual connection. But sexual connection without intimacy is simply one more transaction. Check it off the list. Done.

 So how do we move from transactional to covenantal?

One of the greatest challenges in our marriage came at a period when God was really blessing my business and Ron’s ministry. It also meant we were apart 2-3 weeks every month. Weekends were filled with to-do lists that had to be accomplished when we were really tired. We were both aware our connection was fading in and out like a bad FM station.

As we discussed this problem, one small idea grew into a really good plan. We decided to select a book together and read it on the road. We spent Monday (often on an airplane or the evening of arrival) reading the agreed upon chapter. Each night after that, we talked about our discoveries, our surprises, and the things that really impacted us from the chapter at hand. We didn’t hurry through a section. If there had been a lot to discuss, we might let it run into the weekend or the following week.

We chose books on subjects we were both interested in, mostly topics to support marriage, parenting, life in Christ, and so on. It was enlightening, and fun, and it strengthened our connection. For a couple who spent their first date talking for nearly 8 hours straight, it shouldn’t have surprised us, but it did.

I’d never plan a business activity or conference call without giving some thought to what I wanted to accomplish in that interaction. If you just show up and say, “So, what’s up?” you are likely to be disappointed with the outcome. Because we’re both traveling less often these days,  the transactional communication is easier. It occurs throughout the day as we go about our lives. But we recently realized the covenantal connection was slipping; we found ourselves disappointed in the outcomes of our life together – and intimacy was suffering.

Talking about it was not easy, but necessary. You see, God asks us to cleave (stick like glue) to one another. We are most satisfied and most able to honor Him in our marriage when we manage the transactions and celebrate the covenant.

So, we’re returning to that really great former plan. We’ve committed to a shared devotional several times a week, which always creates a great discussion about our life together in Christ, our relationship, and our hopes and dreams for the next 39 years. We’re planning our free time on purpose, for a purpose – covenantal connection.

For you and your spouse, it may be planning something you both really love to do – a hike together, camping in the mountains, coffee while the kids stay with grandma or a great concert in the park. Be intentional. Talk about the stuff that lasts a lifetime: hopes, goals, dreams, and more.

Wouldn’t it be nice to experience intimacy as more than a transaction? Go covenantal – you’ll never go back!

It’s Never Too Late To Finish, And It’s Always Too Early To Quit!

By Deb DeArmond

Biblical Wisdom:

  • Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you. A prophet to the nations – that’s what I had in mind for you.” MSG
  • Romans 11:29: “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable (He never withdraws the when once they are given and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call).” MSG

GPS is a wonderful invention. Because I travel so frequently, it’s often helped me recover from a wrong turn or a missed exit. I can always ‘get there from here’ with the help of the soft- spoken lady who gets me on track.

God is the original GPS. Regardless how far off His intended route we may wander, He will guide us to complete the journey He has in mind for us. Even though the journey may take longer than He had hoped, we will arrive at our destination if we keep our ears open for the guidance provided.

Many of us grew up with adults asking us the question, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” It was fun when I was five – “A dancer and actress and maybe a singer!”

By ten I had decided I would be a journalist. I believe it was more an effort to identify with my much older brother (who was a news man) than follow any real interest of my own. But I discovered that I enjoyed it. It came easily and my teachers said I was good at it. And it made me seem more grown up, too. A journalist was a real career. And by that age I think I had come to the realization that Hollywood was not really a place for a chubby kid with ‘too curly’ hair. One Shirley Temple seemed like enough.

By the time I was a senior in high school, the questions inquiring about my plans for the future made me feel anxious, uneasy. It also felt invasive, a bit nosy, to be honest. The truth was I had absolutely no idea how to respond because I had no clue what the answer was. Or what answer the adults who asked expected of me.

I graduated and made choices about what to do. I chose a college and a major, although I felt unclear about whether it was right or not. I wrote letters to my high school boyfriend every day at his selected college across the country and lived for the mail each day. I worked a part time retail job and hung out with my friends. And never once did I think about what God might have wanted me to do with my life.

A month before my 20th birthday, I married that high school sweetheart. It was the one thing of which I was absolutely certain. And 37 years and three sons later, I am still just as sure. The night before we graduated from high school, he led me to the Lord. Together we walked our life, learning together, leading our boys to love and trust Christ. We did music lessons and Little League, Sunday school and homework at the kitchen table. My husband and I built careers, each establishing a business of our own. Neither of us had finished school, yet God had provided opportunities well beyond our expectations.

And even though it was a life that had evolved without a real master plan, it was a good life. A great life. And I always felt blessed. My brother used to say my husband and I lived a charmed life – that he had never known a couple so incredibly lucky. We knew it was never luck. We knew it was the blessings of our heavenly Father. We were grateful beyond belief and although we had challenges as all families do, I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t happy.

It wasn’t until after my sons were grown and gone that I began to think about this scripture: “Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you. A prophet to the nations – that’s what I had in mind for you,” Jeremiah 1:5 (MSG).

Not until the nest was empty did I take a breath deep enough to consider the possibilities. What was it that He had sanctified me for? What was I ordained to do?

I began to seek God diligently, asking for that answer. I read scripture. I asked for input from my husband. I knew the answer was there, if I could just uncover it. I kept expecting a bolt of lightning to come from the sky. The good news is that He answered. But there was no flash-filled moment when I was struck with full understanding.

It came at an odd moment, as I was involved in an activity that I never guessed would provide me the answer I was seeking.

I lost my brother in 2010 after a 10-year fight with cardiac disease. He did as much as he could for as long as was possible. The 16-year age difference between us had not kept us from being close, and losing him was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I miss him every day. His wife asked me to speak at his memorial service; I said yes without hesitation. And although I had plenty of time to prepare my remarks, I arrived on the other coast, 2 days before the service with nothing but a blank sheet of paper.

Oddly, I wasn’t alarmed. I knew that somehow it would come. As I sat at the dining room table with my sister-in-law, I asked if she knew whether my brother had saved the cards and letters I had sent over the years. She was unsure, but went to his desk and looked through the drawers. They were there. Not all of them, but many from the past 20 years or so. It appeared that the ones that had meant the most to him were rubber banded together and tucked in the bottom drawer.

For the next couple of hours, I sat on the floor and read them. Some made me laugh. Others made me cry. It was a good afternoon. Out of the contents of that correspondence, the Lord began to weave the story I was supposed to tell to those who would come to honor the life of my dear Jack.

I got through it with only a moment or two when I had to pause to swallow hard. I shared moments of his life that they knew little of. When I took my seat at the end of my time at the podium, I felt a warm satisfaction. People were smiling through the tears. Later during the meal we all shared to celebrate Jack’s life, his friends and co-workers, most of whom I did not know, thanked me. “You made me laugh, you made me cry. But most of all, you made me glad I knew your brother.”

And there it was. I had written the words that God had given me and they had impacted people in a way I had not anticipated. Something about the way in which I had arranged letters on a page had meaning beyond anything I had ever imagined. I recognized in that moment: I am a writer. I am called to encourage, exhort and educate through my writing. My husband had told me so, many times, as did several friends. I had dismissed it, although I am unsure why. Perhaps it just wasn’t time yet.

What were you doing when you realized what you were meant to do? What was the dream or desire that you left behind to pursue the life that unfolded before you? What is the hope or the vision that God has shown you, even though it may seem fairly impossible at this point in your life?

It turns out that at age 10 when I decided to be a journalist, the pull of the Holy Spirit on my heart was presented, but for some reason, I had missed the significance. Thank you Lord for a second chance to hear you. I’m starting 40+ years later than you intended, so my commitment is to go all in to fulfill this call.

It is never too late to be what you were meant to become and it’s always too early to quit. “For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn,” Romans 11:29 (NLT). He never changes His mind about us or about His purpose for our life. It’s easy to tell ourselves we missed the moment, that the opportunity has passed. A year from now you may wish you’d started today. Don’t forget who you are. He certainly hasn’t.

So, what are you waiting for?

Bumper Sticker Bytes for the Busy Believer

By Deb DeArmond

I love bumper stickers! They’re brief but they’re pithy. They send a message -putting it out there for the whole world to see. They’ve been around for a very long time – maybe because they strike a chord with us. It’s a little truth above the tailpipe.

Bumper stickers abound for many purposes: commercial, religious, secular, humorous, or in support of a sports team or other organization. They may promote or oppose a particular philosophical or political position. Bumper stickers support political candidates for elections. One thing is universally agreed: no matter the cause, bumper stickers are an expression of who we are, what we think and how we live.

The world doesn’t always agree with the beliefs or particular brand of Christian thinking. The funny thing is, we can see God in places never intended for that purpose by the non-believer—even the bumper of a car or sign on a billboard. I’ve been working on a book that aims to leverage an opportunity to see God through bumper sticker statements.

A social network friend posted two bumper stickers that she thought to be clever:

  • Don’t believe everything you think!
  • The truth will set you free, but first it will tick you off.

I agreed with her immediately that they were catchy, but also found them to be bytes of truth that I could quickly correlate with scripture and application for the believer. As a regular contributor to several online publications, I selected the second of these two stickers and wrote, “But God! I am Special!” It combined personal experience, and scripture, with a call to action and application at its conclusion. Response was good, and I knew that this format had appeal beyond online publication.

As I began to research the world of bumper stickers, friends, family and readers began sending me their favorites. What a wealth of material. These quippy sayings are universally accepted as nuggets of wisdom on the go. They make us smile, think—even laugh out loud.

So for the next few weeks, or maybe even longer, I’m going to share some of my favorite BS – Bumper Stickers, that is. A little truth above the tailpipe andI invite you to share some of yours as well. And remember, Honk If You Love Jesus!

 

Seriously?

By Deb DeArmond

When I travel, I take my seat on the plane and quickly bury my face in a book or magazine. It’s my “I’m not interested in conversation” signal. When you talk for a living, striking up a 3 hour discussion between Dallas and Omaha is not really very appealing. I will usually sneak in a quick “hello” or a smile over the top of my book, just to assure that I’m not creepy. Just choosing silence.

I broke that rule recently. Turned out to be an aggravating choice.

The young woman who sat down in the center seat beside me smiled  as she settled in. In her hand, she clutched a book whose author was familiar. I had attended a conference the previous three days for Christian writers. Could be, I thought. So I broke my self-imposed, no conversation regulation.

“Did you attend a writer’s conference here this weekend by any chance?” I inquired.

“Yes. I did,” her reply. Another question or two confirmed my guess that we had indeed been at the same gathering.

“What do you write?” she asked.

We talked about recently released  book  about the relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.

She sat forward a bit. “I don’t have a bad relationship with my mother-in-law, but it’s not close. It’s okay, though. My husband’s not close to her either,” she added quickly. “We’re both really close to my mom and dad. We live about a mile apart, so that’s really great.”

Uh huh, I thought. For your folks it’s great.

She went on to explain that her husband’s parents were older than hers by about 10 years. “And my mother-in-law is just not very, uh, smart. She doesn’t enjoy reading so she just knows what other people tell her or what she sees in the headlines of the Enquirer at the grocery store.”

I began wishing I hadn’t opened this particular can of worms. I could feel my teeth grind a bit.

“She always acts as though she knows everything, but she doesn’t, cause you know, she just watches TV. And she’s such a worrier, she’s always got something new to be anxious about.”

“It must be difficult for her,” I offered. “To live with so much fear.”

“Yeah, I guess. But it’s her own choice.”

Ugh. Is it too late to change my seat? I thought. Where is the compassion?

There seemed to be no awareness of the pain her MIL might be experiencing. Or the loneliness of a son who has made the choice to join his wife’s family and never look back. They live only 2 hours apart. “We don’t see them often,” she informed me. “It takes them at least 4 hours to make the drive. They’re just so slow.”

I was tired. It had been a long weekend. I simply did not have the energy to educate this young woman on the danger of  ignoring one of the Big Ten. There was no honor in her heart for his parents. Clueless. Without. A. Single. Clue. One of the “Big 10” is to honor your parents. And when you marry, you inherit a second set. Lucky girl!

I picked up my book and settled back into my seat. But I wasn’t reading. I was thinking about the principle in God’s Word that the world knows as “what goes around, comes around.”

Is she aware that she’s sowing a garden that will produce bitter fruit? She’ll be a mother one day.  I wonder if she’s ready to reap the garden she’s planting?

Probably not.

Holiday Change-Up!

By Deb DeArmond

“Aren’t you just devastated?” my colleague moaned.

“No, not really. I mean, we will certainly miss them,” I replied. “But they are clear that California is where God is taking them. I want them to be where He wants them to be. It was such a gift to have them here for two years.”

My friend and I were catching up on what we had done over the weekend. I had told her about a dinner last Friday evening, hosted by my hubby and I – a gathering for a few family members in our new home. The purpose of the event was to share a meal and bid farewell to my oldest son and his wife as they prepared to relocate back to the west coast. They were set to leave the next morning.

“Oh, that would just be impossible to think about,” she said, shaking her head. “I couldn’t stand to lose my boys.”

Her boys are in elementary school. I can clearly understand her feelings, even if I don’t share them. But I did at one time…

My boys are all grown up with careers, with families – all adults. It takes some getting used to – that awareness that mom and dad are not the central force in their lives. But we did get used to it and appreciate God’s clarity about the concept of leaving and cleaving. “Train up a child in the way he should go….” the Word says. Most importantly, Mama, remember they are to GO.

With summer winding down and the fall holidays approaching quickly, I want to encourage you to remember that God set them apart to stand with their spouses. That can become an issue and a bone of contention when it comes to holiday celebrations. Here are a couple of tips to make the season far more enjoyable for everyone:

• Communicate early. Make sure you discuss what everyone’s plans or intentions are for celebrating the holiday. Make no assumptions, as it will surely disappoint you and them.

• Be flexible as to what and when and where and how – and you may be surprised with the best day ever! Traditions are great, but if they no longer work, create some new ones.

• Be fair. You don’t get to have them 100% of the time. They have in-laws, friends, and may decide that this year is not your year. Don’t pout or punish them. Make your own plans and prepare for a lovely time.

• Celebrate their independence. It’s a sign you did a great job of prepping them for adulthood. This is what is supposed to happen, and because it did, you can rejoice.

So don’t hold so tightly to those adult kids that they want to squirm free of your grip. Make this holiday season one of the best celebrations ever.

Day 30 – Cliché a Day: The Last Hurrah

By Deb DeArmond

Today’s the day we finish up
I’m really sad to say
I’ve been surprised at just how much
I’ve loved each day’s cliché

It’s been a lesson I have learned
A discipline indeed
The classy sound of phrases turned
Fed my creative need

 

For each of the last 30 days
I wrote the stories, friend
That show just why the ol’ cliché
Is used and used again

Some say they’ve lost their edge, but still
We use them every day
They’re true, I’ll bet there always will
Be love for the cliché!

Day 29 – Cliché a Day: Fair Weather Friend

By Deb DeArmond

I have been blessed in life with good friends. Some I’ve known since we were kids. Some were added to my life in the last few years since our move to Texas. But there are some friends that are special indeed. You know the kind – the ones that stick with you through the storms of life.

God joined my heart seven years ago with a fellow former Californian whom I met at church. We are more different than we are alike, aside from the fact that we both love Jesus and both consider our families among our greatest gifts from the Lord. Our children are all grown and we are both grandmothers. Aside from that – soooo very different. And it’s the strength of our relationship.

The Word of God tells us “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend,” Proverbs 27:17 (NLT). What exactly does that mean?

This proverb deals with the character of a man or woman – a very precious thing indeed. Character is by far the most important measure of an individual. The proverb promotes noble friends – they will make you better (Proverbs 27:9). A good friend will make you brighter, sharper, and more useful. But not any friend will do. Only wise friends make you wiser (Proverbs 13:20) Weak and foolish men will dull and corrupt your life (Proverbs 13:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:33).

My sweet friend will pray for me regardless of the time I might call, day or night. We have shared our joys, our disappointments, our failures, and our dreams. We have confessed our faults to one another without the fear of judgment. What a wonderful gift! We have dealt with challenges together, addressing issues of concern. We joke that we must work together as she brings mercy and I bring truth. Mercy alone might make a nice conversation, and truth without mercy tends to ruffle folks’ feathers. Together we are the full package. She has been a great cheerleader for the things God has placed on my plate, and I am her true fan. I am blessed by her friendship and believe she feels the same.

Two are better than one, Solomon taught, because they sharpen and improve each other in at least four ways They can share successes of labor together, help each other up when they fall, combine complementary abilities for greater accomplishments, and defend against mutual enemies. A good friend is a great blessing! (See Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Have you such a friend? Are you such a friend? One that contributes to the life of another? One who stands shoulder to shoulder in every kind of weather?