Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Love Story

This Valentine's Day has me dwelling on the love story God wrote for John and me. I so clearly see His hand in bringing us together. Truly, if it were up to either of us, we would never have crossed paths. I marvel when I think of how He frustrated each of our plans in order to lead us to one another.

You see, John originally planned to go into the army. Despite a fear of heights, this husband of mine thought it'd be a fabulous idea to earn a few extra bucks by jumping out of airplanes. God had other plans, though, and the army evidently was not a part of them. With that possibility eliminated, John considered working on a cruise ship. I chuckle when I remember this since he absolutely hates water and cannot swim a lick. You guessed it - that idea didn't pan out either. As a last resort, he ended up working at the amusement park Cedar Point.

As for me, I graduated highschool and went away to the University of Toledo. I planned to be an elementary school teacher. That is, until people began discouraging me about how little compensation I'd receive in this field. What if I ended up raising my kids alone like my own mother had? I really should pick a job that would afford a comfortable life if that were the case. Many people encouraged me to go into the nursing field and the pay really was pretty good. I talked to my adviser about switching over to classes needed to enter the nursing field. And what of my germ and fear of blood issues? I was sure I would be fine once I started to get used to it, afterall I needed to do everything I could to ensure that all elusive security. Of course, God had other plans for me that did not include becoming a nurse or even gaining security. After two semesters of college, I discovered that I needed to earn money to continue my education. My step mom "happened" to spy an article in the newspaper that spoke of an upcoming employment fair at, you guessed it, Cedar Point.

Of course, I went to the job fair, secured a position, and everything was perfectly lined up to meet John. Not only did I meet him, but I did so on the very first day I moved in. His friend was dating my roommate and they had come over to visit. That was on March 31st and we began dating on April 19th. One year later we got married on April 19th, the anniversary of the day we began dating. It wasn't long before we learned that our first child was on his way - I had gotten pregnant just three weeks after our wedding day! We figured it was time to lay down roots in John's home town of Akron. From that point on, any thoughts of school for me would sit on the shelf while I poured myself into being a wife and mother.

Though I can see without a doubt that God meant for us to be together, I've got to say that it has been terribly difficult. Both of us came into our relationship as very broken individuals with enormous amounts of baggage. Add to that the fact that we did not have the advantage of living a life submitted to Him for the first half of our years together, and you've got a ticking time bomb. I cringe to remember the times when we have given up on one another and our marriage, even to the point of going to the courthouse and picking up divorce papers. It is a true testament of God's grace in our lives that we are still together just weeks away from our 20th wedding anniversary.

This brings me to the story that goes behind the picture for this post. Since we have struggled so desparately in marriage, it has given us a degree of hypersensitivity towards the struggles that others have in this area. Having been there ourselves, we have compassion. Knowing how we felt, we can relate. Being aware of what has strengthened us aids us in praying for those facing struggles. And pray we do! It has become a sort of ministry for us. We like to tell people that we will go to war for their marriage. To date, we have stood in the gap and done battle for many a couple. Out of the ashes of our nearly exterminated union, has risen a very beautiful prayer ministry. We love to pray for marriages! If you know us, there's a good chance we've prayed for your marriage. If you don't yet have a spouse, there is a good chance that we have prayed for your future marriage - for Him to prepare you and your future spouse for the time when you will be one.

There was a time, not too many years ago, where it seemed that divorce was everywhere we looked. I think we counted twelve or thirteen marriages that had ended in divorce or were heading that way. Even more disheartening was the fact that the majority of them were Christian marriages! One particular day, I ran into a friend who I had been trying to encourage in her marriage. I had been calling, praying, and sending little notes... but she had been avoiding me like the plague. I was thrilled to run into her and spent some time talking with her and asking some tough questions. She answered truthfully, but her mind was pretty much already made up by that point. I got into the car discouraged, shaking my head in frustration. I lamented to John how I had been fighting hard for this couple's marriage, but she didn't even care. I brought up a few more couples that I had been fighting hard for and who seemed to not care either. I looked at him and said, "There is no way that we should even be together after all that we have endured, yet here we are. Why are we here, but they aren't at this place of reconciliation? I fought for them!!! Who fought for us that we should be here?" John just looked at me and said, "I don't know. I guess we just fought for each other." That pretty much ended our conversation, but my heart remained heavy until the next day when I was reading in my Bible. I had come to the place at the end of Joshua's life as he was addressing Israel. I nearly fell over when my eyes came upon Joshua 23:3b: "it was the LORD your God who fought for you." Tears flooded my eyes as the beauty of the words soaked into my heart. Of course! It had been the Lord who had fought for us all along. How could I not have seen it sooner?

The above picture is one of the wildflower Skunk Cabbage. When I came upon this shot, I immediately thought of how it looked like an army. Today, as I reflect on the love story God gave to me, it reminds me of how He fought for my marriage... and I am thankful.

Heavenly Father, I praise You for the good plan that You are working out in my life. Thank You that You know better than I do what is best for me. I trust You to open and close doors in my life in accordance with the path You want my feet to walk. Thank You for the doors that You have slammed shut up to this point, steering me where You would have me go. Help me to always be mindful of You at work in my life, Lord. May I always be thankful, never grumbling, about each new circumstance, fully recognizing Your sovereignty. Lord, I thank you so much for providing just the right husband for me. Thank You for fighting for us when we would have given up on one another. I am comforted that You have kept us these twenty years and I cling to the promise found in Exodus 14:14 that You will fight for us; we need only to be still. Help me to be still - to tune my ears to what You would whisper to me. And always, help me to obey when I hear You.

Your dearly loved daughter, Tamra.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Set Apart

I received a 4:30 AM wake-up call from the Lord this morning. When it became plain that I was going to be awake for a while, I slipped from beneath the covers and crept downstairs. I took advantage of the first hour or so to do some housework, shooting arrow prayers up for friends as He brought them to mind. I was eventually able to sink into the couch with a hot cup of tea, my Bible, and devotions. I would not let this precious chance to be with Him slip away - especially since He had arranged for me to have it in the first place!

I happen to be finishing up the book of Leviticus in my daily reading. To be honest, this particular book of the Bible probably ranks near the bottom on my scale of likeability. I respect it as God's Word, but I've found myself on several occasions petitioning Him to speak to me through it and make it come alive for me. I have discovered that He loves those kind of prayers and is usually more than happy to oblige. This morning was no exception as I asked and He delivered. I knew I was hearing from Him as soon as I read it: "Be holy because I, the LORD your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2). I was excited to have heard from Him and filed it away until the time when He would reveal more to me.

I came across the tree in the above picture a bit later while hiking with friends. I paused in front of it, admiring its beauty. As I began snapping pictures and really soaking it in, I couldn't shake the feeling that He was speaking to me. But what?  I sensed that I would be writing something about this tree and even told my friend so. It wasn't until hours later that I finally "got" that He was reaffirming the Scripture He had given me that morning.

You see, one of the thoughts I had when I came upon this tree was that it resembles camouflage. That word, camouflage, kept coming to me. "Camouflage, Lord? You want to talk to me about camouflage?" He wasn't giving me any help. I tossed it around in my head a bit and thought about how people and animals use camouflage. "Okay, they use it to blend in." Do you remember the verse I gave you this morning, Tamra? Be holy because I, the LORD your God am holy. That was it! I had felt Him impress upon my heart the importance of being holy and set apart. He reminded me through this tree's appearance that He has not called me to blend in with this world. I am not to fly safely under the radar undetected. If I live the way He wants me to, it is guaranteed that I will stand out. People should recognize that there is something different about me and be drawn to the One who continues to transform me. Amazing!

Precious Lord, thanks for encouraging me to live my life for You in a way that causes me to stand out. I realize that You telling me to be holy (and set apart) does not mean that I should wall myself off from those who are not like me. On the contrary, I am 100% positive that You have been calling me to love others in a more radical way over the past several months. Choosing not to blend in with those around me does not hinder my ability to love like You've called me to love. Help me to love like that, Lord. Strengthen me to live for You in a such a way that others take notice. When they do take notice, I ask further that You would give me just the right words to explain the reason for the hope that is within me. Please keep my heart soft towards You and my ears sensitive to anything You would speak to me. When I hear from You, I pray that I will quickly obey You. Help me decrease so that You can increase and do Your thing through me. In the strong name of Jesus I pray, Amen.