Thursday, September 21, 2017

Is Marriage Really Such Hard Work?

When marriage and work are in the same sentence, marriage usually gets a bum rap and is given a negative connotation.As a sanity check, I asked my husband who has been married to me for 28 years - "Would you say marriage is hard work?" He said, "Hard????" with a puzzled look on his face.  Perhaps our thoughts around work need to be adjusted so we can stop making marriage seem so burdensome.

There are few things in life that don't require work. If something comes easy it's because at some point the effort was put in to make it so. When a baby first learns to walk it's tenuous and uncomfortable. There are spills and falls. But eventually, the baby gets it and for the rest of his life walking is second nature. If something happens to disturb this pattern then he puts in the work again, re-learning how to walk because he realizes that walking is essential. While walking appears to be easy there's a lot that happens to make walking work (see what I did there?); it is synchronized motion.

Work - none of us is exempt from it
Work - usually, comes before easy; the longer you stay married the easier it becomes.
Work - a function of time, effort and maturity
Work - involves discipline which is another word for self-control
Work - affects every facet of our lives including relationships
Work - is compounded in relationships because human nature is variable

The work of marriage involves talking, compromising, listening, understanding, sacrificing, agreeing, disagreeing, forgiving, connecting, loving, accepting, touching, holding. Consider the work of marriage as maintenance - the little things you do to prevent major problems. Consider the act of work to be faith and love in action. This work is not unique and in varying degrees and scenarios can be hard but this is the stuff of life.  From the minute you said your vows there was the implication of hardship in them. The traditional wedding vows attempt to cover the ebbs and flows of life in the extreme - sickness and health, better or worse, richer or poorer, then until death do you part or something along those lines. These vows ensured that you entered marriage with your eyes wide open. We make this more difficult when our focus is on changing the other person, instead of working on ourselves.

The Bible says in this life we will have tribulation (John 16:33); life is hard and marriage is just another facet of life. But the verse doesn't end there; even though life is hard we can be of good cheer because Someone greater than us has handled it already. So it can be "easy"; we can have "good cheer" by living out our faith. Being nice to each other; being considerate; listening as you would to one of your dear trusted friends; having fun, forgiving quickly; accusing rarely and by a willingness to continue to learn and re-learn each other. Kindness and love usually get reciprocated unless you're emotionally barren. But love wins the day.

Marriage is not a prison; it's not where life ends; it doesn't prevent you from following your dreams, and it does not need to limit or cripple you. Work is intertwined with life, and marriage is just another part of life. Not working at your marriage is tantamount to neglect therefore marriage is as hard as you make it. When you feel safe with your spouse, when you have the same foundation, it becomes easier to weather the storms of life. So do the work; put in the effort and while you're at it change your perspective on work because, "Marriage, ultimately, is the practice of becoming passionate friends." Harville Hendrix

And Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. He loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother. Genesis 24:67

For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:7-8

When asked his secret of love, being married fifty-four years to the same person, he said, “Ruth and I are happily incompatible.” Billy Graham


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Monday, September 18, 2017

Isn't This the Point?

When we relocated to California, I joined the gym. This might have been because I was bored, homesick or going crazy with all of the adjustments. My husband came home with this offer from one of his co-workers and thought it would be good for me. Also, it was a very good deal, monetarily speaking, so I bit the bullet and joined. I don't believe in wasting money (paying for something and never using it) so once I joined the gym, I created time in my schedule to go to the gym.

There are many participants at the gym but two types stand out. There's a fellow that has been a member as long as I have - he is on the larger side; after all these years he remains on the larger side. Recently within the past 6 months, there was a lady who was also on the larger side who worked out with an intensity I rarely saw. She got on the treadmill, set it to 6.0 which is a 10-minute mile and ran for an hour. She would stop if she needed to and then start again. She ran hard and sweat flew. Every time I went to the gym she was working out with this intensity. Within a month or so I started to notice a change in her body, she was getting leaner. Her stomach shrank, her arms became more defined, her legs got smaller. It was as if her body was changing right before my eyes. Within a 6 month time-frame, she transformed from being on the larger side to the lean side. I wasn't the only one that noticed; other members at the gym started to stop and talk to her, ask her questions, compliment and encourage her. It was amazing. But isn't this the point of working out?

Our Christian experience can mirror our gym membership -when we're focused and have our eyes on the prize we put in the time and effort. It's hard work but it's the hard work we all need. We're using every muscle in our bodies, we're digging deeper into the Word, we're spending significant time praying and meditating and as a result of this there's a change that first happens on the inside but it is noticed by others around us. We are questioned, complimented and encouraged but we do the same for others - we share what made the difference and we encourage. Isn't this the point?

I don't know what the man's story is but there might be a degree of frustration since he has not seen the change he has desired all these years. He may be scratching his head trying to figure out what to do next or he may know and is simply unwilling to make the change (genetics and body composition aside). Some of us know what we should be doing but refuse to exercise the self-control and discipline to see growth so we remain babies never being able to digest solid food. (Hebrews 5:12-14)

When I'm consistent in my exercise routine, I feel better and others notice something different about me. Similarly, when I'm consistent in the disciplines of the Christian journey, there's a noticeable change on the inside and the outside and I can't keep it to myself. I am compelled to share and motivated to live in a Godly way because this way of living is not in vain. It brings hope, it spreads love and it has an eternal perspective. Isn't this the point?

...Instead, train yourself to be godly. “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers. 1 Timothy 4:8-10

What's the point for you?

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

My Immigrant Experience

When I came to America in 1978, besides what was portrayed in books and my limited TV intake, I had no idea what to expect.

Subconsciously, I thought everyone was rich until my older brother told me there were lots of poor homeless people right where we lived. Subconsciously I thought I could easily acquire the foods I was used to and they would taste the same, but I soon realized that there were ethnic neighborhoods where we could shop. As far as things tasting the same - they never did, but I adjusted. Subconsciously, I thought everyone had two parents and a family similar to mine; I soon learned that I was viewed as an aberration.

School was the great equalizer - for though I spoke with an accent and very fast (exceptionally fast), the smart kids received attention. I was skipped and hung out with the other smart kids and never had any real issues adjusting in school as the work came easily to me.

As an immigrant, we immediately looked for others that were similar to us. My uncle lived in Flatbush, which was a Carribean mecca at the time so we made friends and learned the ways of this brave new world from those who had gone before us. We learned about government programs, the best schools to send children to, where to shop to get what we were accustomed to, how to sign up for health plans, real estate, public transportation, and the little nuances of day to day living. In the Bahamas we had our private doctor, was chauffeured to and from school, wore uniforms to school, and someone came to help my mom with housework once a week. My mom was a seamstress, my dad was a  high-level manager and life seemed grand.

In this brave new world, my mom felt empowered and completed her education. She eventually ended up with a Bachelors and two masters degrees. My dad on the other hand never achieved the professional prestige that he had in the Bahamas. Instead, he joined his brothers and worked at a bakery. These things tear at relationships yet they persevered so that we could have better opportunities.

In all of this, the transitions were navigable until it came to discovering my blackness. Though Black, because I was Carribean, American blacks were resentful of me. I didn't understand what they were dealing with and minimized their experiences. I didn't realize that in the late 70s many of their families could still talk about what it was like to live through Jim Crow. I didn't understand what that mentality could do to a generation or a person. I'm so sorry for my short-sightedness but the resentment was not warranted as we were all fighting the same battle - to be seen and valued by the greater society.

My friend says I came here strong. I came here whole. To a degree this is true and I can only thank my parents and God's intervening hand. But I was shortsighted about how America handles race. I don't buy into it (i.e. you're not better than me because you're white) however I had to become aware of racism and its ramifications and in spite of race - survive and thrive.

Immigrants are all over the news these days and some countries aren't as welcoming of them though they're all people just like the citizens of those countries. No one can control where they are born, but once here on earth they can play a hand in their destiny. Abraham, one of the original immigrants was called by God to leave the land of his birth and settle in the land of Canaan where he would become the father of many nations. (Genesis 12:1-7) What we have in common with Abraham is that it is often an act of faith to move out of our familiar places and go to new lands. The only thing Abraham could rely on in this new land was his faith in God. It was his faith, that allowed him to make the choices he did and to prosper as was promised to him. He had many setbacks, many ups, and downs but what was for him, no man could take away. This mindset is what is common to people acting in faith, to the immigrants among us -what God has for them no one can take away. Leaving your homeland for whatever reason is faith in action. This faith can move mountains, can give you the courage to interact with strangers, and can create new roadways for our families. May our faith be rewarded as we become more willing to accept the immigrants around us.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Genesis 12:1-4

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. Hebrews 11:8-9

Do you have an immigration story you wish to share? Do you accept the immigrants among us?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Book Review - A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz

A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz is written by a pastor who reached his tipping point at the culmination of last year's presidential election. He compares the confines of the Ameican Church to the Church that was initially established in the book of Acts and finds a huge disconnect especially because the election highlighted such a divide in the American church. It is in this disconnect that he questions all the tenets of his faith -  his idea of God, what does it mean to really love as Christ commanded us, and the internal conflict of preaching one thing and living another.

He is not alone in his thoughts, as many resonated with me. Thoughts in this book are expressed eloquently through the author's life and his experience as a pastor. He so eloquently states that doubting and questioning your faith is not a bad thing, as a matter of fact, it may be necessary to deepening your walk. "Doubt isn't the sign of a dead faith, not necessarily even a sickly one. It is often the sign of a faith that is allowing itself to be tested, one that is brave enough to see if it can hold up under stress. God is more than big enough to withstand the weight of your vacillating belief, your part-time skepticism, and even your full blown faith crises."

If you are numbed by the lack of love you feel in your Christian walk today, this book is for you. The subtitle of this book could be - Challenge: Are you willing to love like Jesus did?
This book challenges what has become conventional thinking around the church. Some tough questions that he addresses are: Why are LGBTQ individuals automatically excluded from the Christian community? Black people? Poor people? Aren't they people just like the rest of us? Why are churches so segregated? What biases do we have that prevent us from reaching out to the least of theses? Are we putting principles over people?

The author is white so as a Black woman, I give him kudos for recognizing the position he's in and being bold enough to challenge the status quo. Radical love whether black or white will do that to you. Building a bigger table is messy as we find seats for all who want to partake. This is a book about humanity and one man's view of how he's trying to live out God's love.

If you are looking to broaden your views on Christianity, I recommend this book.


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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dear Newlywed.........

Dear Newlywed;

At a recent wedding I asked another newlywed, "How's married life?" and she said it was the same as before she got married.
Nothing really changed. I hope that you, dear newlywed, are experiencing the newness of marriage. I hearken back to Biblical times where when a man took a wife he embarked on making his wife happy for an entire year. (Deuteronomy 24:5) This baseline expectation of happiness and newness is a great place to start from. Expect the best. Give each other the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best intentions from each other. Be kind. Pray together. Communicate honestly. Value each other. Support each other. Expect the best but don't become a prisoner to your expectations as you will surely be disappointed. The greater the expectation the greater the disappointment so let go of unrealistic expectations yet remain open to the possibilities. It's not contradictory but the ebb and flow of life.

As a newlywed it probably won't take much to make you happy - you have each other what more could you ask for? You have your freedom and the ability as a couple to enjoy each other in every sense of the word. There is a joy and an awe in the realization that you're charting a new course together - enjoy it. It won't all be smooth sailing, but the more you communicate, the more you make the effort to hear each other, the greater the chance of minimizing the bumps. But there will be bumps - life has a way of doing that. Bumps may show up in the obvious places(jobs, cars, money, health) or in situations that you least expect, for example, a difference of opinion on the most inane thing. Either way, after being dejected and despondent, be honest, hold hands and navigate it together.

Don't lose yourself in your marriage. Expand and explore your interests - it makes for a more interesting life.

Take care of your body. Learn your body, learn your cycles become very familiar with who you are so that when you have to make decisions they are knowledge based instead of fear based.

Your in laws are in your life forever - it's much easier to get along with your new family than to have animosity. Treat them as you would your own family since that is what they now are. If you don't like your family, this is an opportunity to create a new extended family. Embrace it.

Be intentional about your marriage but don't be a nuisance. Your marriage is not the destination; there's so much more living ahead of you. You now have the benefit of not trying to figure everything out alone.

Ultimately, I want you to know that you're going to be all right. You're in this thing called life together and you will figure it out. You will figure out schedules, love languages, decorating schemes, how to argue (or not), which church to attend, careers, health insurance, bank accounts, where to live, what to do for fun, children (if and when they come), you will figure it all out because you have each other, you believe in each other and you have a firm foundation of faith in God.

All the best; I'm rooting for you.

Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. Matthew 19:4-6

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. 
1 Peter 4:8


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Monday, September 4, 2017

Women of the Word - Deidra Riggs

I became aware of Diedra through her book One: Unity in a Divided World. I wanted to know who this brave soul was who dared to tackle such a touchy topic and one that's so close to my heart. So I reached out, she responded and I'm so happy she did. May you be encouraged as I was by her heart. Meet this month's Woman of the Word, Deidra Riggs.

Deidra Riggs

1. As someone who studies the Bible, what are your favorite tools and resources?

DR: See note about resources, below.

2. Old Testament, New Testament or both? 
DR: Both.

3. Why do you study the Bible? What was your initial motivation? 
DR: My very first motivation to reading the Bible was fear. I grew up hearing a lot about being “left behind” and also hearing predictions about the end of the world. As a child, those concepts terrified me. I was constantly afraid I’d make God mad enough to stop loving me and so, I was endlessly trying to work my way into God’s good graces. I was always trying to please God. One way I worked to earn God’s love was to read the Bible from cover to cover, and then start over again.
Fear was the wrong motivation for me, and it’s the wrong motivation for anyone. Sadly, however, using fear as a motivator is highly effective, even though the end result is most often so wrong. For example, in the very Bible I was reading from cover-to-cover, out of fear that God would stop loving me and someday leave me behind, God says, “Fear not,” 365 times. But it didn’t register for me. I was plowing my way through the pages, not really understanding what I was reading, and feeling further and further from God (and, therefore, more fearful) as a result.
Finally — thanks be to God! — I made the decision to stop reading/studying the Bible. No more “quiet time.” No more devotions. No more reading from Genesis to Revelation. Of course, it seemed then as if I had the word “sinner” stamped on my forehead in big, bold letters for all the world to see. But over time, I felt myself rising above fear and into grace. It’s a longer story than what I’m sharing here, but for me, part of my freedom was letting go of the Bible and all of the expectations we place on ourselves for how we should relate to it.
All of that happened a very long time ago. In the years that have followed, my relationship with the Bible is one that I understand through the work of the Holy Spirit. In a mysterious way — in other words, in a way that is difficult to describe — the Word of God (which to me, is synonymous with the Son of God) reads and studies and knows me and, through the Holy Spirit (as promised), teaches me and reminds me of everything Jesus taught from beginning to end.
This does not mean I never open my Bible anymore. I do. In fact, it is quite difficult for me to read the Bible aloud without crying. However, the words “study” or “read” when referring to the Bible feel inadequate. I believe the Bible is a living document. When I open it, it consumes me, so I take it in small doses. A sentence or two at a time is sometimes more than I can handle. But that’s not out of fear. It’s something different; something very intimate and alive and full of grace.

4. How does inspiration work for you? How do you know that what you're writing or understanding is as if God is moving the pen and you're just the vehicle? 
DR: To be clear, I should start by saying, I don’t always know. However, I do sometimes have a physiological response in which my heart pounds in my chest — so much so that I can see my shirt moving as a result.

5. How do you handle complex topics that may not align with popular views? Can you give an example? 
DR: Before a radio interview, or a panel discussion, or some other public conversation, I say to myself, “You know what you believe. You know what you believe. You know what you believe.” I am aware that some things I say may be misinterpreted or misunderstood. I also know people may disagree with what I have to say and where I stand at this moment. But, I have to be true to me.
I also know we are all on a journey. In my own story, I can see where I once held a view of some topics that are the complete opposite of my current perspective. And there is no telling how I’ll see things, thirty years from now. I want to keep that in mind about myself and about others. I want to give us all grace for the journey. I want to hope the best for us. There is room at the table for all of our viewpoints. I believe that will all my heart. Instead of being so quick to condemn and judge and blackball those whose viewpoints are different from our own, I pray we learn how to make space for one another and allow the Holy Spirit to work among us, in spite of our differences.

6. When confronted by the truth of scripture, even for difficult topics, how does it re-orient you? 
DR: The most difficult topic of all, in my opinion, is this: “…love your enemies…” That one truth is constantly reorienting me — from the co-worker who gets on my last nerve to the neo-Nazis marching with Tiki torches on a college campus one summer night.
We all have people we would label, “enemy.” But the Truth about that is we only really have one, true enemy, and it is not each other. As long as we look to one another as the enemy, the true Enemy gets off, free and clear. When I focus on loving even those who wish to end my bodily existence, I am re-oriented to the Truth that God loves them the same as God loves me. My prayers for them change. My hopes for them change. My understanding of them changes. My love and compassion for them grows. THAT is the exact opposite of the true Enemy’s plan.

7. Tell us a little bit about yourself, current projects you are working on and where you can be found. 
DR: I released my second book, ONE: Unity in a Divided World, earlier this year. I work full-time in the marketing department of a national insurance company. My husband and I have two adult children, and we live in an empty nest with our two dogs. I am a prolific Instagrammer, and you can follow me at @deidrariggs, or sign up for my newsletter at

8. How do you deal with discouragement and doubt? (Bonus question) 
DR: When I find myself discouraged, it’s often because I’ve become disengaged from the moment I’m in. I’m either thinking back to a time that has passed, or I’m projecting ahead to a time that is yet to come. I can’t change the past, nor can I predict the future and when, in my head, I go back to the past, I go without God. Same with projecting into the future: God isn’t in my made-up ideas of what the future holds for me. This isn’t to say I don’t learn from the mistakes of my past. Nor does it mean I don’t have dreams for the future — I am an expert dreamer! But, when I visit the past or the future and find myself discouraged as a result, I am reminded to return this present moment, where God is with me and I am with God. There are a few ways I find to do this: meditation, running, and yoga.
Doubt is a different animal. As a child, my doubts fed my fears. I doubted God’s love for me. I doubted my ability to please God. I doubted lots of things. My reaction to this was to try to take control of the situation, believing I could manage the results (for example: if I read the Bible from cover-to-cover, I’ll be good enough for God). I held on tightly to this idea that I could control the outcome. But living tight-fisted doesn’t allow much room for God to move. Now, when I’m faced with doubts (and I’ve had some very serious experiences of this, which is a story for a different day), I have learned to trust that God is in my doubting, God will not abandon me in my doubting, and God is on the other side of my doubting. God is not afraid of my doubts. My doubts and fears are no match for God. When I surrender to my doubts — daring to ask unthinkable questions and to entertain unbearable thoughts — I always end up closer to God.

Note: These resources have been helpful in my journey of faith:

1. The Message Bible, by Eugene Peterson

2. On Being podcast

3. This episode of The Liturgists podcast

4. Jesus and the Disinherited, by Howard Thurman

5. Pray as You Go app for Android and iPhone

6. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon

7. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L’Engle

8. Writing in a journal


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