When Did We Stop Taking Kissing Pictures?

when did we stop taking kissing pictures?I was walking on our treadmill last night, or rather waddling, at 20 weeks pregnant. And since I had no music or book to occupy me, as I usually do, I just stared at the wall.

And on that wall, was a shelf. And on that shelf, were three framed pictures. And one of them caught my eye, and I couldn’t help staring at it for those 20 minutes of cardio. It’s a picture of my husband and I…kissing.

I mean, really smooching.

He wasn’t my husband at the time the picture was taken, he was my boyfriend. And I remember when we took the picture, with my digital camera (yes, it was before cell phone selfies), that we were celebrating our one-year dating anniversary. (For us, it was a big deal.)

He had surprised me and took me on a private sail-boat ride on the lake. It was just the two of us, and a man who introduced himself as “Captain Dan,” who sailed us around for hours after he scarfed down a can of sun-dried tomato tuna and Snack Pack in front of us. He was nice enough to be our captain.

He sailed us around for hours, as we sat in the back of the boat,  so close, we looked like one person. The sky was orange and pink and the lake looked like glass.

And we kissed.

As I stared at the picture, above my treadmill, with no where else to look, I couldn’t help but wonder, “When did we stop taking kissing pictures?”

It must have been at least 7 years ago, when we got married. I think those were the last kissing pictures we have–on the beach, at our wedding ceremony. That our photographer took.

Hmm. I started to think. What made us stop?

Did we lose our wonder…of a simple kiss?

Now, he sleeps inches away from me. Every night. And sometimes I forget the wonder, that I once felt when he would brush against me. When he would lean in for a kiss. When his Jeep’s ignition would shut off, and we’d sit there in the dark.

And kiss.

We’ve been married seven years. And…

We still kiss. And he still tells me, with my pregnant body, and hormonal break-outs, that I’m beautiful–even though I don’t believe him. And I still think he’s so cute. Even though he just rolls his eyes when I tell him that.

I guess we both feel not-as-beautiful as we once did…

But I want to remember–what we felt then. I don’t want to let those two kids on the sail boat drift away as a memory. I would like to keep them right here, in front of me, kissing.

Kissing not just like he is leaving for work,

but kissing like he is leaving for war.

Because we’re not guaranteed one more day together. You know? And why do we treat each other like we are?

We don’t know when our last day together will be. We don’t.

And I don’t want to waste it, on stupid arguments that don’t matter. I don’t want to waste it rushing around, rushing past each other.

I want to remember the boy on the boat.

And not let him drift away. 

And kiss him again. Simply kiss him.

Like he’s just killed the ignition in his Jeep.

And we’re sitting in the dark.

Feeling our way through.

To each other.

Don’t Lose Sight Of Your Lover

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We were in New York City when I lost sight of him. My husband–the fast walker. The only one who knew the way through the crowded streets. The only who knew how to get where we were going. He was only my boyfriend at the time–and you’d think as in crazy love as I was–I would have kept an eye on him.

But I didn’t.

I looked around at all the glowing billboards, and stores, and people. I could see him ahead of me. I was keeping track of him from a distance. He was just a couple people ahead of me.
And then, he was gone.

I didn’t see him anywhere. His friends, who were also following him, caught up to me, and asked where he was. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t see him.”

This was before cell phones–and we searched for him. We moved awkwardly through the crowd, me and five others. Until we finally found him, waiting for us underground, in the subway. “Where did you go?” he asked, clearly waiting for us to come stumbling in.

And it’s like that with Jesus, too.

We think we can follow at a distance. We think if we keep an eye on Him–we can get to wherever it is we want to go.
But then we look up, and He’s gone.

And we have no idea where to go.

We get callous and and all we care about is the “plan.” When all along, it’s the relationship that mattered. It’s the relationship that would have kept us in the plan.

My friend Adam Frano says, “We have to come to a place where we trust God’s character, more than His plan.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of trying to follow Jesus at a distance. Because these streets are crowded. And loud.
And I’m lost. Without Him.

I want to follow Jesus so closely, I am walking right in His steps. I want to walk so close, that when the wind blows, the mantle of His robe gently hits me in the face. I want to be so close I feel His breath on my cheek. That I can hear His voice when He is softly speaking. And not only when He is shouting. Or rescueing me from peril.

Jesus wants to be my Lover, not my tour guide.

My heart is pierced today over this. Because I’ve tried to make Him a tour guide–and I’m lost.

If you too have lost sight of Him…

Maybe today He is waiting for you in the subway.

Maybe when you find Him, He will say, “Where did you go?”
But when you do find Him–slip your hand into His.

And do not let go.

Let your pulse beat with His. Let your feet move with His.
Jesus is on the move. Move with Him. He’s going somewhere today.

Go with Him.

It’s all I want. I pray, it’s all you want, too.
There is nothing better you could do today–then to lock hands with Jesus. To lock your eyes on Jesus. The Lover of your soul.

The streets are crowded today.

Stay with Him.

When God Calls Your Marriage Out Upon the Waters

Our wedding day, June 13, 2009

Our wedding day, June 13, 2009

It was a hot June day, when I glowed in white all the way down the aisle. And he beamed, he beamed brighter than the sun with love, and joy, and promise. It was so easy then, as I walked barefoot through the sand, holding my Dad’s hand–and saying ‘Yes’ to all God planned. And everyone watched, and clapped, and cheered.

But that was before we knew what it would cost. Before anything was ever lost.

I knew marriage would get hard, but to be honest, I thought ours would be just a little easier than the rest. After all, we had Christ in us. How hard could it be?

I stood there at the altar, like a freshman ready to ace her first final exam, a big wad of index cards in my hands. Knowing every chapter and verse, and all the things I had rehearsed. And all the great lines I neatly highlighted from all those marriage books.

But the wind came.

The wind came and blew all those index cards away, out of my hands. Because all those books, and all those index cards were strapped to my forehead like a Pharisee wearing the Law. And it covered my eyes so I couldn’t see. I couldn’t see a man, in need of grace, and tender affection, standing right in front of me.

It’s been six years since the day I married him. And his eyes are still the same steady green they were then, and he captivates me still, without even trying. His voice, still tender smooth. And I still like to sleep in his old t-shirts. Soft and threadbare, worn with love. And they get softer in time.

And so do we.

But there have been nights, where that shoreline where we made our promises has seemed a thousand miles away. When we stood in the kitchen, exchanging red-hot words, like swords. And getting stuck in sticky webs of complicated conflict. Unsure of how to sort it out—unsure if it was even possible. And no one is watching anymore. No one is clapping, or throwing petals, or cheering us on.

But God.

I am convinced He really likes marriage. It was His idea after all. And I think He actually likes when marriages get hard–because that is when He does some of His best work. In our hearts. The only places that really matter.

I used to think good marriages were always easy, and never hard. But I don’t think that anymore. I think good marriages are insanely hard–but when they get hard, you don’t see the struggle as a reason to quit, but as a reason to keep fighting for it. To keep fighting for each other.

It seems so fitting now, that we got married by the water. Because all along, God would call us into it. We had no idea, as we exchanged our vows, and rings, and promises, and the waves collapsed innocently behind us—that God was going to call us into them. But that’s in fact, what marriage is.

It’s going into the water together. And there is nothing safe about it.

So that moment we were pronounced “husband and wife,” and we turned and walked down the aisle, and everyone congratulated us and cheered, we should have actually headed the other direction. Into the water, and not away from it.

When God calls you into marriage, He calls you out into the water. First, it’s just ankle deep, and you tightly hold hands, and smile. And you walk a little further, until you’re knee deep. But as you go further out, the water starts to go up to your waist. And the waves begin to break around you. And sometimes, it doesn’t matter how tightly you are holding hands, a big wave comes, and knocks you over, making you lose your grip on each other. And you try to find each other, but sometimes you can’t, because those big waves keep coming. And you aren’t strong enough to withstand them. The current gets strong, and threatens to pull you under, and you’re just fighting to stay afloat.

The waves just keep coming to knock you down, again and again. And you can’t swim any further out, you’re just stuck right there, getting tossed to and fro in the waves. I think every marriage comes to this place where you get stuck in the rough surf. And it feels hopeless and humiliating. Why can’t you just do this? Why aren’t you strong enough? And everything is telling you, “Turn back! Turn back! Turn back!” And you want to, because it would be so easy to just go back and lay on the shore and just cry, with your face against the sand, and think about how awful and scary those big waves were. And what a big mistake it was, to ever try to get past them. And just when you are about to turn back. Just when you decide it isn’t fun anymore, and you can’t take one more wave to knock you over, and are about to just swim back to shore—for good. You keep swimming.

You link hands with your spouse and you keep swimming. Sink or swim, but you refuse to go back to shore—because you know, deep down, that there is some mystery waiting for you out there. In that place just beyond the surf…is this place of deeper waters. Where you learn to tread. Where you learn to swim. And that’s where the adventure is. In that place where you finally learn to love.

A love that pushes past all the waves.

Because in the midst of those waves, you hear a Voice, that sounds like a thousand rushing rivers, that screams,

“Come out here! Keep coming! Further out! Keep swimming toward My love!”

“I have something out here for you!”

“This wasn’t a mistake! This is my plan!”

“I have ordained you together in this marriage! For My purpose! For My pleasure! For My glory!”

And when you have kept going–you suddenly get to this place of calm, in this place past the surf. And your treading together, stronger now, and having learned to swim. Having learned to follow the Voice. You realize He enabled you to withstand the storm. And you clasp each other, both looking like you’ve nearly drowned. And you laugh and kiss and you cry because you are so happy you didn’t swim back to shore, and because you can’t even behold the beauty all around you. The beauty waiting for you all along.

And then you see Him out there, walking on the waters, like nothing happened at all, like you didn’t just survive a hurricane, like swimming out there was the easiest thing in all the world. And when He sees you bobbing together in the water, He just smiles and says, “You of little faith. Why did you ever doubt?”

And we see, in that moment, we can trust Him. Not only for ourselves, but for our marriage. For the One who called us out to sea, surely will not let us drown in it.

So we don’t have to be afraid of the deeper waters. We don’t have to fear when the waves come. Or stormy skies. Or strong currents threaten to take us under. “For the One who called us, is faithful, and He will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

So let’s keep swimming.

Because He’s out there waiting for us. Ready plunge us into the depths of His mercy and grace—and into a love so deep, your feet could never, ever touch the ground.

Redeeming Valentine’s Day: There’s Only One Shade of White

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Thousands will flock to theaters this weekend to watch the pornographic book-turned-movie Fifty Shades of Grey. And while news-feeds of both Christians and atheists light up with blog posts and articles written by lovers and haters of this movie and book series, it’s begging one big question: What is this all about?

Well, I’m not here to answer that question. (And in fact, I actually advise you not to dig too deep. “Curiosity” is what’s been drawing the masses to it, and keeping them there. “Curiosity” is also what introduces and entices people to porn. There’s a reason we’re warned to “not even speak of what the disobedient do in secret.” Ephesians 5:12)

But while I hate everything this movie stands for, the bigger question stirring in my heart is: What do I do about it?

Of course there are the faithful few who will be picketing at the movie theater. But will that really be changing anyone’s heart?

And then there are the thousands who send out social media “slams” to convict the ungodly. (Too bad, the target audience won’t be reading these.)

So what can I do that will be effective in a world that loves perverted sex?
I found two things.

1. Realize that this battle against lust starts in my own heart and marriage. (Not in shaming the masses.) Ask questions like: Am I aroused by the idea of anyone other than my spouse? And, do I want to hold anyone else’s affection or gaze other than that of my spouse? Is my marriage bed pure? Are my thoughts, and imaginations, and fantasies…all pure?

2. Realize that our nation, and much of the church is in bondage to lust and sexual sin. (And that I need to be filled with compassion, and a willingness and urgency to learn how to minister in these areas with individual people that I am in relationship with.)

God has made us to be incredibly sexual beings. And at the same time, He designed marriage as the platform for that sexuality and pleasure to be enjoyed with our spouses. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor…” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4

So my first fight against the release of Fifty Shades of Grey is not to shake people by the collar going into the theater and ask, “What the hell are you thinking?!” But to simply kneel by my bedside and say, “God, search me, search me, and show me if there is any offensive way in me. I want to be pure in Your eyes.”

Because there is only one shade of white. And it comes only through the precious blood of Jesus Christ. See, it doesn’t matter what shade of grey you are. We are all stained the deepest black apart from Him. We are all desperately wicked at our core. None of us are pure, even the best of us, is like filthy rags. Whether we are addicted to porn, or tangled in an affair, or we hide something in our closet, or on our iPhone, or we are the best, most devout Christians. We all desperately need Jesus.

And Jesus came to rescue us out of the grey, out of the bondage of sin and death. Because sin leads us to the grave. And only to the grave. You want to learn more about “bondage?” Only learn that we are all in bondage apart from Him. And He has come to set captives free, to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

There is only one shade of white: Jesus Christ. And He “is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) The more I see Him, the more I want Him. So let us throw off the sin that so easily entangles, and run to Him.

Next, I look at my marriage, and realize that it is part of God’s design and will and passion. The way I speak to my husband, the way I touch him, and think about him, and speak about him, is of utmost importance to God. And the same for how my husband acts, and speaks, and with towards me. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. And Christ never quits on His Bride.

The way we live out our marriages speaks louder to our world than any picket sign or blog post.

You don’t like Fifty Shades? You don’t like the billion dollar porn industry? You don’t like that another one of your friends is getting divorced? Then tonight, go home and look your spouse square in the eye and tell him, “I love you. I am for you. And there is nothing in this world I want more than to love you the way God has called me to. I am committed to walk with you through the deepest valleys, and the hottest fire, and I am never quitting. You are mine, I am yours, and we are God’s. There is no one else on this earth for me. And I will do whatever it takes to make this marriage work.”

And confess. Confess if you have been lusting after someone else or something else. Confess if you have had a bitter heart. Confess if you’ve been disrespectful. Confess if you haven’t been listening well. Confess if you’ve treated your spouse like a little kid. Confess if you’ve been dishonest. Because, “The one who conceals his sin will not prosper, but the the one who confesses and forsakes it finds mercy.” Proverbs 28:13 So, step into the light.

And if God exposes something, be willing to ride out long times of darkness in your marriage. Because Jesus restores shattered marriages. And He restores shattered people. He is so serious about this.

For an excellent resource for husband and wives involved in sexual sin check out Setting Captives Free. (And check out courses A Way of Purity and A United Front.)

Marriage is so important. And that’s actually what Valentine’s Day is all about. The man this holiday was named after was actually beheaded because he believed in marriage. In a time when Christian marriage was banned for the sake of military service in Rome, Valentine would wed Christian couples in secret. And that “red heart” for Valentine’s Day was originally meant to commemorate his martyrdom. (Red as in blood. As in he would rather be imprisoned and have his head cut off and let the blood pour out, than see an end to Christian marriage, or let it be perverted.)

I hope to feel as strongly about marriage as Valentine did. Because we too live in a time when there is little or no value put on Christian marriage. We live in a time when people need to hear, and see that we believe like Valentine, with sweat, and tears, and blood, that marriage is pure and precious in the eyes of God.

It’s time to redeem Valentine’s Day. To celebrate the love, and the purity, the marriage He has called us to. And that includes passionate love-making. With our spouses. Because what God has called us to is better and more satisfying than all the whispers of darkness.

Our world loves every color of darkness. And every shade of grey. But we have been called to be washed, to be cleansed, in the saving blood of Jesus Christ.

For only He can make us white.

The Man Who Sleeps Beside Me

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It’s early morning, when I wake and feel him next to me. I lie as still as possible, careful not to wake him. I look over through the pale blue morning light, the quiet prelude before dawn. The beeping will sound soon, and he will wake and rush with the rest of the world. But for these few quiet minutes I lay here, hearing nothing but the sound of his breath.

This man.

How did he come to me?

I remember the day I met him, I remember the way his hand greeted mine. The touch of his skin. The only skin I would ever touch or be touched by, again. I had no idea then, that we’d be lying here together, eight years later, like this.

I remember the way his fingers moved with careful fretwork up the neck of his guitar. And the way his voice soothed a part of me I never knew needed soothing.

I remember the first time he kissed me. The gentle flush in his cheeks. The steady green in his eyes, like the sea after it’s rained.

What happened to the wonder? The wonder of…

Of…him?

How did I get like…this? Love-less. And demanding. And more interested in making dinner than making…

Love?

Could I be still enough,
to take him in?
To drink deep and long of love again?

Too many words are spoken, broken, spilled. There are expectations and disappointments, and flaws and failures, and real sin, and real pain, and real…

Grace.

That word, that thing that Jesus came to show us. And poured out His blood for. So we would know what real love looks like. That it sweats, and cries, and bleeds. That it gives up self. And makes itself low.

And is gentle. And is kind.

And is not rude.

Do I see him the way God sees him?

Because: God sees him as precious.

Precious.

Fearfully and wonderfully made…by God Himself.

I have him for only such a short time. I do not even know how short. And I wasn’t chosen just to be his housemaid, or his business partner…but his wife. His bride. His friend.

To have and to…

hold. 

I look over this morning. His chestnut hair falls across his forehead. He is so still. So quiet. So handsome. It all seems so simple here…before the beeping.

But it’s a choice: Who will I rise to be today?

Today, could I bend a little lower,

speak a little softer,

wait a little longer

kiss a little slower?

To fall in love. To fall like leaves, in surrender. To fall to my knees, becoming tender.

For I am his, and he is mine. And the banner over us is Love.
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[Your turn! I am challenging you to participate in the”Fall In Love” challenge. All you have to do is to share in the comment section one thing you love about your spouse. Or, if you are blogger, you are doubly challenged to write a post endearing to your spouse and leave a link to it in the comment section.]

I Set The Thermostat: How A Woman’s Attitude Affects the Whole House

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“You have like this bad…aura.” Those were my husband’s actual words. Of course that annoyed me even more. He came home around 10 A.M. and by that time it was too late. It was too hot in the house. My toddler was already too crazy. Evidence of breakfast was all over the counter (…and the floor). The shopping list was only half written.  I was trying to print coupons—but she kept turning off the printer before they could come out. I was trying to save a few bucks—even if it cost my sanity. I was trying…to keep it together. (Did I mention I was extremely hot?)

When he walked in, he could see it all over my face. The irritation. The heat. My attitude was like bad perfume. He could not escape it. And as I spouted off the reasons why, his face became like a mirror. All my angst was soon reflected back at me. My ugliness was contagious. Soon we were both frustrated. And angry. And hot.

We made it, (miraculously) out of the house and down to the (air conditioned) YMCA where we just got a membership. We took turns watching our daughter. He took her to the pool, and I went to the treadmill. To blow off some steam. But as I began to run, I looked down through the glass wall that overlooked the swimming pool and saw them. She was sitting at the pool’s edge and he was encouraging her to jump into his arms. He carried her around in the water, helping her float.

Everyone around me watched the TV screens on their treadmills, but my screen stayed black. I couldn’t help but watch these two. These two—that God had given me. These two—that I was born to love.

With everything.

They spotted me and began waving. I waved back through the glass, catching the eye of the short Puerto Rican man on the treadmill next to me. “She’s mine,” I said. He looked confused. “Down there!” I said, almost shouting, “That’s my daughter!”

She was mine. They were both mine. And as I watched them bobbing around in the pool together, I suddenly wanted to cry. My main job was simply: to love them. To make them feel loved. How do I get so off track? So many other goals, so many other boxes on my checklist. So many other things I want to do. Feel I need to do.

Beyond this.

Just this.

On the way home, I broke the silence, “I’m sorry…for my attitude.”

“It’s okay,” he said.

“No. It’s not. Sometimes…I just feel like—when things get really crazy, I have permission to act however I want,” I said. “Without self control.”

“Yeah,” he said. There was some silence before he spoke again. “It’s just like, when I come home—when I come home, I can’t handle walking into you in a really bad mood. I mean, we can buy some air conditioners. I don’t care how much we spend. That would be better than walking into you all…irritated and mad. I just can’t handle that.”

He was right. I wore my attitude like a big ugly sweater. As the woman of the house, my mood, my mind, my heart all play a bigger role than I than I thought.

I set the thermostat in our house. More than I realize.

My kindness and gentleness…my stress and frustration actually do something to the environment. Not the air, or the heat…but the atmosphere. The state of my heart affects everyone. For better, or for worse.

Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.”

Am I building my house? Or tearing it down?

I may be cleaning the kitchen, whipping up dinner, vacuuming the carpets, and organizing the closets—but if I’m doing it with an obligated, irritated, frustrated attitude…am I really helping anyone? Am I creating a life-giving environment?

Last night, the three of us went out and carted home Walmart’s finest air conditioner. And while we all enjoyed the cooler temperature, I know the AC can only work so hard. I need something, Someone much more powerful to change the thermostat in our house, the thermostat in my heart.

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6

Oh God,

            I need more than a machine in my window,

                                                                        I need Your Spirit in my heart. 

How Beach Trips Have Changed

This season’s swimwear is skimpier than ever. I know because I searched rack after rack, and tried on enough swimsuits to dislocate my shoulder. I was just looking for some coverage and support—because, this year, I would be running on the beach. Chasing my toddler. Juking out of people’s ways. And doing sprints to grab her out of the surf. (She’s quick.)

I was disappointed to find so many zippers, strings, and strategic cuts in the fabric–all exposing as much skin as possible without being totally nude. Even some of the one-pieces seemed like something an adult store’s creepy mannequin would be wearing in the window. The sides were totally cut out, leaving no fabric but what resembled the core of an apple, along with strings, laces, and cups almost as thick as my mattress.

Yeah…not happening.

In the fitting room as I hung up suit after suit on the “Definitely Not” hook, and saw the few lone attempts at modesty hanging on the “Considering It” hook, I realized something: not too long ago the suits on those hooks would have been reversed. I used to wear “those” suits that now feel more like lingerie when I put them on.

There was a time when beach time = me time. When my #1 goal was to look good. I’d lay out all day in a bikini, basting myself with oil, basking in the sun, and working on my tan—the only souvenir I could show off, in order to get some attention from guys. This is what I loved and lived for. Then.

What changed?

I’m sure it would be safe to say: my body. But that’s not really true.

It’s something much deeper. Something in my heart.

A promise.

A promise I made on another beach, not in a bathing suit, but in a long white silk gown. Where I walked down an aisle barefoot, toward his beaming smile. Where I looked into his deep green eyes, and clasped his hands. Where the wind took away my veil. Where my name changed forever. My identity changed, merged, melted together with his.

It was a simple promise:

“My eyes only for you, my body only for you.”

The vows we wrote together. The vows we made together. The vows…we had no idea how hard it would be to keep.

My eyes

            Only for you.

My body

            Only for you.

The vows, like our hands clasped tightly together, that this world, and sin, and life, and stress and selfishness would try to rip apart.

The vow to love.

And the love that would give birth to life.

The life of this fearless little girl I now chase through the surf. Her hair so blonde, it’s almost transparent in the sunlight. She’s laughing, and screaming with delight as the waves hit her. Everyone hears. We’re getting soaked and scream together now. I scoop her up just before another wave crashes against us, knocking us off balance. Her little wet body clings tightly to mine. I look up in the foamy wake and my eyes meet my husband’s; he’s gazing at us and smiling, that same beaming smile that met me at the end of the aisle, on another beach, five years ago.

What happened to the girl I used to be?

The Tide came in,

            and swept her away.