When I was younger, I decided to swim across a lake. I had been swimming with my brother and having a good time, but we were bored (as kids often are). We were bored.. and the other side of the lake just beckoned to us. Since we were young.. and we were used to swimming.. we went for it.
You may be thinking that we never made it. Oh.. we made it.. The great thing about swimming is that when your legs are tired you can just use your arms… When your arms are tired? You simply use your legs. When your whole body is tired? You can roll over and just float. Float and let the peaceful sky above you soak into your muscles, strengthening you for the next leg of your journey. When you see a rough patch ahead of you.. a strong current.. or a tall weedy patch (shudder)…?? You simply rest for a moment.. and then swim harder than usual to get through. And if you aren’t sure what to do next.. simple.. just tread water while you figure it out.
My brother and I made it all the way across. Well… technically we never touched the shore.. because it would have meant wading through muck and weeds.. But we made it close enough that we felt we had accomplished our goals. As I lay there.. floating on my back… staring up at the sky… letting my tired muscles rest momentarily? I admit it. I wished for a boat. I wished that a boat would come by and tow us back across. Now.. I would NEVER have admitted that to my brother. Nope! I wanted to appear tough and in control. In FACT.. I wanted to appear so tough and in control that I asked my brother if he was ready to swim back .. BEFORE he could ask me. Lucky for me, my brother was wiser than me.
“Give me a minute,” he said calmly.
“K,” I replied equally as calmly.. but inside I could hear the Halleluiah chorus being sung by all of Heaven’s choir…!!
As I gave my brother his minute, I remember wondering.. WHY did we think this was such a great plan? Really when were we really going to tell people that we swam across a lake.. ALL BY OURSELVES! Would it make us proud? Yes. But really when would we be able to use it?.. was there a place for that on a college application? .. was there a section of a job resume it would fit under? The answer is no where. It is simply a matter of accomplishment.. a matter of pride. I had made it across the lake.. all by myself.. No one helped me… I was self-reliant and NOW I had proof.
I swam across a lake as a child.. Knowing this? It used to annoy me to watch movies about shipwrecks. I mean honestly?? How hard is it to swim .. or float on your back.. or simply tread water until help came? If I could do it? A wimpy book worm! Anyone could right? Ok, I’ll admit the thought of sharks under my feet might make me panic a little … and the fact that no land was in sight might make you feel hopeless.. AND that I have never TRIED to sleep while floating on my back.. but in my teenage mind? YUP! My teenage mind was confident that I could do it if I had to.
This matter of pride and self-reliance followed me from Childhood into adulthood. In fact, I frequently have to check my Pride at the door. When I get angry, I usually have to ask God to help me take pride out of the situation. When pride isn’t in the way? I don’t feel like I should be able to do everything myself. I don’t HOLD onto the ideal.. that this SHOULD have worked. Those moments where Pride gets in my way?? All I am doing is treading water. It doesn’t matter that I had the best intentions. It doesn’t matter that I am a strong person. It doesn’t matter how intelligent I am. If my desire to say I did it ALONE is what drives me? That means no help is in sight. Once I am tired? There is no shore of hope to aim for. If I continue to tread water? ALONE? Yup.. eventually I will be too tired to survive .. on my own.
Lucky for me.. I usually abandon my pride as soon as I feel like I am treading water. You know that feeling you get.. when you clean all day.. then cook.. then clean the dinner dishes .. then clean the kitchen.. and when you want to rest on the couch?? Your daughter wants you to pitch to her .. so SHE can have practice hitting.. (or homework.. or favorite tv show.. or.. or.. ) That feeling that your work will never end?
That is treading water..
That is when your Pride kept you from asking for help. The pride of saying, “I keep my house clean ALL by myself.” Asking for help? Or (in the case of teenagers) assigning help? It’s like asking for a life line.
Recently, my family and I moved back to Michigan. We love being closer to home. At first, we were gone every weekend. But as our lives (and our visits) slowed down, I began to miss having a church.
Now missing church IS NOT the same as missing God. I visit with God everyday. I talk to Him throughout the day. I try to read the Bible every day. I sing hymns and praise songs.. every day. And I thank God for His blessings everyday.
But Church? I began to really miss church.
Finding a church for us isn’t that simple. With a child having special needs, you need to find a group of accepting people.. People strong enough in their own Faith.. that a small outburst of laughter won’t offend them. People who can forgive tiny disruptions. When you have a 6 foot tall child with special needs? Yeah.. you need a group of VERY accepting strong faith-ed people.
It is a very daunting journey sometimes. A journey so scary to me that.. I sit here.. just treading water. If I have Faith in my heart? And God in my everyday life? YUP.. maybe I can do it on my own. I can tread water!!
But you know what? My legs are getting tired.
Moving 500 miles, cost my family a lot of money. Living in a hotel for 3 weeks? That cost my family a lot of money. Setting up a new home? That cost a lot of money. But we did it. On our own. (Okay, not on our own. Our families helped us whenever they could, with what they could.) And.. we pay the money on our credit card every month. We are making it financially .. on our own.
Then with life… and Faith.. we found answers through medical tests. Tests that cost money. More money than we wanted to spend, but money we knew would be well worth it in the end.. So we spent it…
But then.. my kids had to start this new diet. I never realized how much of our food actually had Gluten in it. So I headed off to the store.
And then.. my kids couldn’t have dairy either.. more label reading.. more surprises… So again I headed off to the store…
THEN .. my daughter’s tests came back.. No more corn.. or dextrose or maltodextrin.. (ps.. corn is in EVERYTHING).. so I headed to the store.. and found nothing.. I headed to another store.. and found one kind of chip. So I headed to the health food store.. You know that expensive little store that is only found in a big city? I headed to THAT health food store. And paid premium prices..
AND THEN?? My kids became healthy and lost a ton of weight. So I bought them new clothes.. When they lost more weight? I bought them more clothes.. and when they lost more? YUP.. you start to wish they weren’t quite so healthy. All in all, we had so many blessings because I had FAITH that God could help me heal my kids.
But financially? We have had no such blessings. Why you ask? Because we show God no Faith in Him providing for us. We know that this is something we can do.. on our own.. BY OURSELVES!! You guessed it.. we don’t tithe.
Now I know “tithing” is like a bad word to some people. I know when you see it on the schedule for the sermon? Most of us groan. It’s not that interesting.. OK.. it’s really boring to hear someone preach about it. And I don’t always agree.
God would like us to Tithe.. Yes.. But God wants it to be voluntary.. God wants it to come from the heart. God wants us to be the widow who gives Him the last 2 coins.. the 2 coins that stand between us and Poverty. He wants us to demonstrate that we have FAITH that He will provide for us. Otherwise? Otherwise it means that we would like to Financially .. do it ALONE. And God lets us try.
Now we (my husband & I) have tithed… in the Past. When we had a church.. we remembered to tithe.. And we have caught a ton of financial breaks.. in the Past. We have experienced moments of humble prosperity.. in the Past.
These days? The bills pile up. We can’t pay extra on the credit card, if we have extra vet bills and doctor bills. We can’t pay extra on our payments, when our utility bills are outrageous. We don’t seem to getting promotions or bonuses like we thought we would.. And the interest on our credit card? It’s like a car payment.
Are we surviving? Yes.. But we are literally treading water… and my legs are getting mighty tired.
Now you may be thinking.. If you send money to the church, hoping God will Bless you financially?? Isn’t that like trying to buy your way into Heaven?? If you THINK of it as “buying” favor with God then.. yes…
BUT.. if you say.. God I am treading water here.. I can no longer do this on my own. I am going to be the widow. I am going to give my last 2 coins to You.. To show that I have Faith that You can do a far better job providing for me.. then I can do on my own?? Then I truly believe that God will send you a boat.. It may be a row boat.. it may be a kayak.. That “boat”?… it depends on your show of faith.
How do I know?
“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Let me prove it to you! Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not shrivel before they are ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. Malachi 3:10-11
So today? I am trying to decide.. Do we send off a check (to a random church)? Do we send a small portion of my tithe? Do we wait to see how big of a Faithboat God sends to help us with our financial burden? Or Do we send off a check.. with the whole 10%? 10% of our meager salary is a huge step of Faith. Do we take that HUGE step of Faith and shout, “We give You our last coin Lord”? … not waiting for a small sign that it is the right thing to do? .. not waiting for a small feeling of financial peace to ease us INTO a stronger show of Faith?
Well honestly.. my answer depends on my Faith in God.. The Faith that my husband and I have together..
..and right now? Well right now.. We are really tired of treading water.
We moved back home to Michigan a little over a year ago. But it feels like it just happened. For weeks, my husband and I looked at house pictures online and took tours. My FAVORITE houses were always the old farmhouses. So much character.. I would wander from room to room almost “hearing” the stories the walls were telling me. The layers of wallpaper telling the tales through the generations that lived there. Each layer was probably picked with love and highly treasured. I could have sat in each house for hours and let the tales spin around in my mind.
But, alas.. my husband is a builder. While we often agreed that a house had (probably) been beautiful once, he does not always see the charm I still recognize. He walked each house appalled at the amateur renovations we would find. Holes cut through walls.. stairways cut through a solid oak stair rail.. Homemade cabinets. The hours of work involved in pulling wallpaper down, re-drywall-ing, or refinishing wood floors.. honestly exhausted him just thinking about it. And plumbing.. shudder.. we don’t even want to talk about that. But the deciding factor for my husband has always been the basement. The foundation NEEDS to be solid for him. He would look for cracked or crumbling basement walls. Looked for evidence of moisture or water damage. Then he examined the floor joists for cracks or rot. When my husband started to go through the mechanical room? YUP.. I tune out. I go back to imagining all the events that have happened among those walls in the last 100 years. The wisdom it had seen.
Why is my husband so concerned with the basement? He said that no matter how much time and money you put into the rooms that everyone sees.. If the basement is damaged? .. Then the house will NOT last. Honestly, I have gotten teary-eyed on more than one occasion, insisting that we could fix the basement.. make it stable. He always lovingly (and most patiently) explains that it is possible. At a huge cost and huge time commitment.. but it could be done. The upper floors could be jacked up and supported while the walls of the basement are reconstructed… and then re-poured. To ME this cost would have been worth it.. I mean think of all the memories and stories the house holds.
Marriage is a lot like a house. If the foundation the marriage is built on is sturdy and intact, then your marriage will last. If you and your spouse discuss every decision and love each other.. then the floor joists will be solid. After that, each room is built .. one memory or joyful life event at a time. When sad or tragic life events happen? Sometimes you have to patch a hole or add a layer of wall paper to cover it up.
At one time my marriage was like that old farmhouse.
You see.. I was raised with firm Faith in God. I was very confident that I knew who I was. And I had (and have) confidence in my love for my husband… We had a solid foundation for our marriage. We talked about everything and laughed with each other. So our floor joists were sturdy… We were ready to start building rooms…
So we started a family… We have 2 children. Our firstborn daughter was very strong willed. (Ok.. she still is.) She tested every level of patience… and then some. A wonderful beautiful soul… but very independent. Our second born is a son who has Special Needs. Luckily my son, decided to wait until my daughter started to grow out of the daily fights for independence before he started asking for “help”. Now at first glance, you can see my Blessing in this. I only had one child at a time, that needed my patience, persistence.. and research. But it was an exhausting existence for years.
The first crack that showed up in my basement wall was pride. I knew I could raise my kids by MYSELF.. I didn’t need anyone’s help. My husband and I could do it all alone. My pride in not asking for help caused me to be over tired and irritable at times. But all mothers are tired and irritable at times, right?!? I would simply research how to improve myself because I knew I could do a good job. But this first crack? My pride crack weakened our foundation..
My second crack was irritation. I research everything.. why strong willed children argue.. what causes Autism.. what causes bipolar.. why anxiety is genetic.. I wanted to talk through with it all with my husband when he got home from work. Sounds reasonable right? I could read a 300 page book and then try to explain it to my exhausted husband. And then get irritated because he didn’t understand it enough to discuss it with me. It seemed that he didn’t care. What I didn’t see was that he DIDN’T understand all of it. But he knew that I did ..so he trusted me. I also didn’t see that my husband was often still in that “mechanical room”. What is the mechanical room of a marriage, you may wonder? It’s the job that provides for us.. keeping a roof over his family.. insurance to keep us healthy.. working cars to take us where we need to go.. and also the financial stability that allowed me to stay home with my kids while they grew. He worried. He worried a lot more than I ever realized. Why? How could I not know? Well.. when he was in the mechanical room.. YUP.. I tuned out. How boring.. I have Faith in God. I have faith that He will provide for us.. End of story for the mechanical room. I would rather talk about the challenges God was giving us.. the set backs my son was having.. the new interventions that the special education staff was putting into place.. God’s plan for our family and the best way to follow the path He has set before us. As you can imagine.. I was irritated a lot.
Which is why the 3rd crack, rudeness, was so wide. I was tired and stressed.. and too prideful to ask for help. I prayed for strength. I prayed for peace. I prayed for my kids. I prayed for my husband. But I never prayed for help. I started to demand it from my husband though. Not everyday but on occasion. But often enough that it started to make him hesitate to want to come home at night. Come home he did though. Every night.
My 4th crack is pretty common with stay at home moms. I wonder how much more true it is for Moms of children with special needs. Moms of kids with strong wills, with disabilities, language delays, diagnoses, anxiety, attention disorders .. or any label at all. Jealousy. Such an ugly word. Envy sounds a little better.. but it still sounds like a disease. I began to envy the fact that my husband got to leave the house by himself. Envy that he was able to have full intelligent conversations with other adults. Envy the fact that my husband was a successful and respected part of his company. Small children do not show respect to their mothers. Moms at play groups are tired and worn out. Intelligent conversations aren’t even hoped for.. all we hoped for was to be not interrupted. That and to hope our kid didn’t bite/hit/kick/pinch anyone else’s child. And I just wished my son would play along side all the other children. I never begrudged another child’s successes. I always rejoiced in each one. But I would wish that my son could have easy successes too. Those wishes started to look a lot like envy for awhile.
One day, my husband came home. He helped me with out asking what I needed help with. Then he told me that he knew my job was a hard one and told me how proud he was of me. My heart soared for a full 10 seconds… and then.. I snapped. Why couldn’t he see that everyday.. not just once every 6 months. And SURE he helped out tonight.. but what about the week I couldn’t do laundry because it was upstairs and my toddler couldn’t be trusted downstairs.. did he help then? NO .. and what about the day he needed to work late.. and what about.. what about.. What I didn’t see was that my husband was trying .. he was trying to come out of the mechanical room.. he was trying to see the character in the rooms upstairs.. and he was trying to help me patch some holes in our home.
I didn’t see this for quite awhile actually. I simply added things to my “list”.. The list that my pride was constructing.
Then one day, I came across the “Love is patient..” verse in my devotions. I skipped it because I knew it by heart, right?!? The next day, a friend of mine complimented me on how my Love shines through to everyone around me.. how patient and kind I was. She couldn’t see my discontent because my pride kept it buried.. in the basement. But her comment made me pause. I thanked her .. and then shook it off. Then the next day, I found another reference to this verse in the Bible. I laughed.. because I believe that God uses our surrounding to whisper to us. Listening to that Still Small Voice whisper to me.. I pulled out my Bible… and read…
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged.” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-5
The whole world could have walked through my house.. and by all appearances it would have thought my family (and marriage) looked stable.. happy even. But in that moment, I knew… I knew that the Basement of my house.. the foundation to my marriage had some pretty huge cracks in it.
You may say that the cracks weren’t really my fault. That I had a lot of stresses.. a lot of storms that rocked that foundation. Parenting, health concerns, special needs, IEP’s, surgeries, mood disorders, medications… The storms we lived through were extensive. But I could see that I didn’t have as much true Faith as I could have. That all my tears of frustration with my husband, all the tears of heartache at watching my kids suffer and struggle, all the tears of resentment at changing all my life plans to accommodate my family’s needs (EVEN though those accommodations were what I wanted).. All those tears? Without true blind Faith in God’s plan for us? I was causing those cracks to grow bigger everyday. And soon a wall was going to collapse.
As I walked through the rooms of my Marriage.. I saw all the memories.. all the good times.. and even some bad times.. But just like that old Farmhouse that I wanted to fix up so bad.. I wanted to save my marriage. Sure it would take a lot of time and hard work.. and a lot prayer. But I knew it would be worth it.
You might imagine that I called my husband right away and told him of my discovery? You’d imagine wrong. I had apologized to him time and time again for snapping at him in frustration. I had apologized over and over through the years. What I needed was to prove to him that I had Faith.
Now I would like to say that I was an overnight sensation. I was not. There was more than one day, that constant prayer and faith was needed to keep me going. There were days that I took my good friend’s advice that sometimes we “Fake it to make it.” And there were days I crashed… and cried at my weakness. Why do it then? If I had to fake my happiness why not simply get divorced? Well I know that divorce is anything but simple… and.. I didn’t have to fake happiness. I had to fake patience on irritable days. I didn’t have to fake love. I had to fake kindness on a rude day. NOW.. I do know that sometimes divorce is the only option. So please don’t think me critical or that I am judging anyone who has chosen to divorce. But my marriage.. it had a STRONG foundation. We just needed to fix the cracks before they broke our marriage beyond repair.
Fix them we did. It took a lot of work. And I still apologize for my irritable days. But when I pray for forgiveness.. I pray that I also forgive myself for my weakness. When I forgive my husband for his bad day, I pray that God wipes it from my heart and my mind.. so I no longer have a list to fall back on. The result? The love and faith that painted the rooms in our marriage? It also paints our foundation now. All that work was so worth it.
We did not buy that old farmhouse. I saw my husband’s wisdom that we needed to have a home with a sound foundation. And the character? Well we are adding our own charm to our home one day at a time. And these days my husband and I.. well we do a better job “listening” to our marriage. I explain how I think the hole in the hallway (that we are patching) adds character to our lives, I expand on how the struggles our children go through, in the long run.. well it may be a good story to tell. And my husband listens to me.. laughs a lot.. but he listens. And when my husband wants to show me something in our mechanical room.. job, insurance, or car worries.. I follow him all the way to the basement and try to give him my full attention.
How did I know it was going to work you ask? 1 Corinthians 13:13.. There are three things that will ENDURE — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love. I knew that the marriage we built on love would endure if I had faith and hope. And I had plenty of both.
I have never been a fan of Romance.. Oh don’t get me wrong, I can watch the 5 hour version of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy falling in love over and over again. I re-read Love Comes Softly at least twice a year. I yell at the screen right along with my daughter when the heroine of a movie makes the dumbest assumptions and re-routes her life most inconveniently. But in real life.. In MY Life? I really have no place for it..
Now I did have crushes and I went on more than a few dates in my teenage years. But when I was dating, I almost treated the first date like it was an interview. And I was good. I could tell by the end of that date if I could ever see myself marrying the guy.. if not.. we didn’t go out again. I never wanted the long courtships or the long phone calls or the flowery words.. and definitely didn’t want the flowers.
And then I met Chad. Oh my sweet romantic husband was SOOO wasted on me. Jewelry.. flowers… sweet cards… romantic dates.. Ha.. In fact, I sat next to him in class for close to a month before I even noticed that he sat NEXT to me EVERY day. It was another couple weeks of talking in class before met outside of class… and then a month of “hanging out” before we went out on our first date. Our first romantic date. I knew I was going to marry him after a month of dating. Yet, my sweet husband still planned the most romantic proposal.. on the pier of Lake Michigan right at sunset.. and he was all dressed up too. He planned every detail.. It would have been so perfect and so Romantic…. But…. I made us run so late that by the time we were on our way, he was SO frustrated at me.. So frustrated in fact that he ended up throwing (gently) my engagement ring at me in his truck. After he forgave me, he took me to the Pier the next day instead. And I cried… Great big tears of Joy and LAUGHTER.. because my romantic man kneeled down on a beach FULL of dead fish to proposal.. And he would NOT stand up until I accepted.. which (of course) I did.
So you are probably wondering… if I didn’t find his romantic side irresistible, what drew me to him? Well he had something else I always melted for.. Laughing and long talks. And Chad had plenty of both. He has the best laugh.. So if you asked me what I liked the most about my husband? It would be his laugh.. Even when I am really mad and he starts laughing at me?? (Apparently he thinks I am adorable when angry). Yeah… it still melts my heart.
I asked Chad once what was the FIRST thing that he liked about me.. The ONE thing that made him switch his schedule so it matched mine. The one thing that made him want to sit next to me every day .. The one thing that had him waiting patiently for a month for me to finally notice him? Then I waited patiently for my romantic-hearted husband to decide on which romantic thing it would be.. And he said, “I guess that you were so sturdy.” Sturdy??? Sturdy to me means like Elephant trunk legs.. like nothing short of gale force winds could knock you over. Now I know that I am not a small boned girl.. I never hoped to be called petite.. but Sturdy?? So as I laugh and say, “Gee thanks..”, he calmly corrected me, “Not sturdy in frame but sturdy in spirit.. That you were so sure of who you were and confident..”. So I guess he thought my personality could survive gale force winds.. I’ll take that.. And I suppose it could be called Romantic. But next time I tell this story to a group of friends? You bet! I will still say “Sturdy? Gee thanks honey, I love you too..” You know why? Because it always makes him laugh! And you know how much I love his laugh.
Everything sounds better with the echo of a still small voice.