Thou Shall Not…DRAFT?? (Lead me part 2)

Love and Marriage Engagement photo by Greenlight Photography

Love 
Engagement photo by Greenlight Photography

Being a child of divorce and seeing the havoc it wrecked on our family, I swore I wouldn’t do the whole “marriage thing” until I knew for sure…

So I waited to get married until I was 35. I was way past all those years of college, career choices, immaturity, and had a more seasoned view of life and what I wanted. I even married an “older man” to assure that I had made a choice for someone solid and grounded. I heard marriage was difficult and I had no illusions of that fact.

Yet, sometimes the best of intentions…

Hearing about something and EXPERIENCING that very thing are two totally different ways to learn.

Apparently I needed the EXPERIENCE.

That whole marriage thing is beyond hard. A beast. I had heard, but had no idea until I experienced it.

The best of intentions for my marriage ended in my very own divorce.

Sometimes life is like a box of chocolates?  No, I think life (and marriage) is more like a triathlon.

A challenging competition made for all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities. Whether it is the swim, bike or the run, we all have different parts we are better at. And, with all those transitions and outside factors, there is bound to be something that goes wrong.

You may have trained (or waited) for months, weeks, years, but no matter how hard or long you train, stuff of life happens—flat tires, falls, goggle malfunctions, a kick in the face during the swim, gears get tangled on your bike, wardrobe mishaps that end up rubbing you the wrong way, or maybe everything goes smoothly, but you just **BONK**

Let me set the stage. It’s just over a year ago. Summer blossoms and green trees surround us. I am now forty-something and seven lucky years of learning and life brings a second chance—a new opportunity for a great relationship with the very best of intentions.  We are newly engaged and enjoying the outdoor, Oregon weather at an amphitheater with some great friends, great wine, great music. I am holding hands with my fiancé and I look lovingly over at him.

“Aren’t they the cutest?”

We hear a voice behind us.

I glance back at where the voice was coming from and find two young ladies who look to be in their late 20’s. Their eyes are filled with envy and looking longingly at… (Not us!)– We follow their envious gaze toward what captured their attention. They happen to be admiring the love between our dear friends, with whom we are attending this concert.

It warms our hearts to watch these love-birds who truly are “the cutest!” Their love seems to overflow, not only to each other, as he pushes a strand of her blonde hair away from her eyes and while she stares into his eyes, but it overflows to everyone around them!
“Don’t they act like newlyweds?” I ask of the on-lookers from behind.

“Totally! They’re so cute. I never want to settle! I want that!” One of them oogles and nods again in our friend’s direction.

“They just celebrated their thirteenth anniversary. Three kids. And still so in love.” I tell them.

“Wow, so it can happen?” One of them asks.

We nod and look back our two friends, like we can somehow absorb some of the overflow.

I love to brag on these two who’ve been blessed with so much. I love to watch their love. I learn from them because I know what they’ve been through.

Life. And it hasn’t been a box of chocolates.

Thirteen (plus!) years of marriage—something is bound to happen! Ups and downs; victories, joys, concerts, family  time, transitions, malfunctions, mishaps, health scares, deaths in the family, betrayals, loss, words that can’t be taken back…

A great piece of advice my new fiancé and I received the night before we married came from some seasoned “love birds:”

My aunt and uncle (pulling from much experience) gave us this GEM that we pull out ALL THE TIME:

“At random times during the day or month, but at least once a month, say ‘I’m so glad I married you.’”

I got this when I came home after 2 weeks of my new marriage:

so glad I married you

Fast forward one year–

I’ve just returned to Arizona after a magical honeymoon and am ready for some girlfriend time!

Just two old friends meeting for lunch and I can hardly wait to see her. Her blond hair is now straight and longer, but every head turned and watched as she entered and joined me in a corner booth. We sit across from each other. Her smile hides something. Her shoulders are rigid, like they’ve been bearing something too long.  And, like old (and great) friends do, what troubles her doesn’t take long before it pours out of her heart, her eyes and her mouth.

“I’m sorry I’m unloading all of this on you.” She looks down at her hands fidgeting on the table. “I mean, here you are, just back from your honeymoon, and I’m dumping all this on you.”

“Well, the honeymoon IS over.” I laugh and wink at her, trying to lighten the tension that now radiates from her.

Her face is pinched with pain and discouragement weighs down the corners of her mouth, “Just wait until you’re married 14 years.”

She drops her hands and sighs, “It’s a cycle and we’re back in it.”

She has **BONKED**

“I get by with a little help from my friends…”—The Beatles

My new husband and I are no strangers to “the cycle.” We’ve each experienced divorce for ourselves and we don’t want to repeat it. EVER.  After reading this ground-breaking and insightful book-“LOVE & RESPECT” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, we could finally put a name to and understand what ailed our prior relationships: “The Cycle.”

In essence the cycle is:

from "Love and Respect" by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

from “Love and Respect” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

We desire to not repeat the mistakes of our past. So we read, we seek counseling, we tell each other, “I’m so glad I married you!” every week, we invite a power beyond ourselves into our marriage (God’s grace) and we try whatever we can to not get caught back up in “the cycle.” Yet, we know we can’t do this on our own. And when we are in the cycle (and it WILL happen—honestly it already did! ;)) we might just need some help to get out/off of it—

See the thing about this life is, like the triathlon, it’s a competition. You may at the start and swimming for your life, in the middle and pedaling your butt off, nearing the finish line and dragging your legs through the run, or you may be yelling your happy lungs out adding to the competition through your words of encouragement; we are all doing this together.

But this competition isn’t against who you think it is.

There is an opponent who is completely working against us. Our “competition” seeks to knock us down, keep us out of the race, hold us back from doing our best and trip us up. Our competition tells us we’re not good enough, fast enough, strong enough. Our opponent will laugh at us when we crash on the bike, will rub dirt in the road rash when we fall and will throw our missteps and down times back in our faces during the worst possible times.

The competition is NOT OUR SPOUSE, but it is the enemy to our spirit.

This enemy wants to steal good relationships and destroy them. (John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;”)

It is this enemy that seeks to keep couples IN the cycle.—Reminding us of harsh words, hurt feelings, or our own brokenness and destroy our relationships.

And if you’ve ever been in “the cycle,” you know how difficult it is to hop off.

merry-go-round from government auctions

Like the old school playgrounds where you are spinning on the old metal (and mental!)  merry-go-rounds (now considered too dangerous.) But when you’re spinning, you hold on for dear life because– if you let go, the centrifugal forces will whip you off, like a bullet from a gun, and who knows where you’ll land!

This cycle is not fun, and the journey of getting off of it is scary. The enemy tries really hard to keep you holding on (to the baggage, hurt, past, etc.), but the sooner you get off, the better!

And then there is HOPE.

When you’re in the competition of a triathlon, (and I have experienced this for myself!) nearly everyone cheers each other on! The abilities and age ranges are all staggered, so you don’t begin with who you are “competing against.” All throughout the event, from sidelines and from everyone in the event, people speak words of encouragement to one another and pull each other along.  There are husbands, wives, kids, parents and friends on the sidelines with all manner of signs and cowbells. It is awesome and inspiring to witness this.

It’s like everyone knows, “Hey, there is a lot that can go wrong out there, we need to stick together.”

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

And just as there are covenants and vows in marriage, there are rules and restrictions in triathlons. Some are common courtesy. Like during a pool swim, if someone taps your foot, you should allow them to pass. But breaking some rules (and vows!) will eliminate you from the competition.

For example, during the bike, a warning about DRAFTING—If you are caught “drafting” in the competition of a triathlon—you will be DISQUALIFIED. All that training, all that planning, the money spent, all for nothing if you DRAFT.

I’d heard this rule (and obeyed it), but I never totally understood it, until I experienced it.

“I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames I see my beautiful wife
Always smiling
But on the inside, I can hear her saying…”

—Sanctus Real lyrics to “Lead Me”

I am not a leader.

I’ve mentioned before, my new husband and I are in the midst of training for our first triathlon together.

He is a leader.

He commands a classroom of “kids these days” every day. He’s coached cross country and track. He is a runner–He qualified four times for the Boston Marathon (ran it twice) and completed three FULL Iron Man triathlons. He has oodles of knowledge and experience in these areas. And, even though I love a good “underdog story” and watching a great come-back, when you are the one (me) always coming from behind, it can be discouraging.

And, as he “goes before me” during all our training, he believes it pulls me along. It’s a difficult place to be—behind. No matter how hard I try to feel I can never catch up; not good enough to be side-by-side, just about enough for me to psychologically **BONK**

So, when we went for our first bike ride together, I was not surprised when he pulled ahead of me.

Miles go by, I keep pedaling. The gap is still there. I pedal harder and get closer. The gap remains. It would be easy for me to make him my competition and my enemy as I struggle and struggle.

But then I experienced something awesome. As I was fighting to stay close to him and keep up, I realized something…It was actually way easier to ride behind him.

Again, hearing about something and EXPERIENCING that very thing are two totally different ways to learn.drafting

From Wikipedia:  Drafting…is a technique where two vehicles or other moving objects are caused to align in a close group reducing the overall effect of drag…, as in motor racing and cycling, drafting can significantly reduce the paceline‘s average energy expenditure required to maintain a certain speed and can also slightly reduce the energy expenditure of the lead vehicle or object.

So, I experienced “drafting.” And now I love DRAFTING. BUT, get caught doing this during competition and you will be OUT.

As I glided along behind him, I breathed easier, I began to enjoy myself and then I witnessed just another reason I am so glad I married him.

As we continued on our ride, God bless his little “leading heart;” I watched from behind as he would point down every so often. And I realized he was pointing out the jumping cholla in our path, a large stone, and a pile of broken glass or a pot hole to avoid.

“I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars.” Isaiah 45:2

Drafting aside, I suddenly see more benefits of having a leader! Having someone to go before me—to watch out for us as we ride along and to point out road hazards that could very easily trip us up! It’s actually quite nice having someone to pull you along—(and, most likely, having someone to finish first so they can cheer you across the finish line!)

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”—The Beatles

And it was fourteen years ago, in a magnificent cathedral in Genesee, Colorado that I stood witness, cheering on my blonde friend as she swore her covenants to her partner.

Now, across the table from her, I see her competing against the enemy and I cheer her on from the sideline:

ME: “Remember that invisible force drew the two of you together when you first met and worked together?”

HER: “But that was a LOOOONG time ago.”

ME: “Remember the concert? That wasn’t that long ago. Remember how you felt that night, that whole trip?”

HER: “Yeah. But this last year has been tough.”

ME: “Remember when you discovered you had matching birthmarks? Figured you were soul mates?”

She laughs.
ME: “Remember how amazing he is with all the other residents at the Alzheimer’s care clinic every time you visit your mom?”

Her eyes fill up.

ME: “Remember how you felt on your wedding day in Genesee? The horse drawn carriage ride symbolically traveling across the bridge?”

Remember the vows?

“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”

They wouldn’t have made us vow all those juxtapositions if they knew life wasn’t coming at us and going to hit us head on.

But we don’t have to do this on our own.

VOWS

A cord of three strands…

Ecclesiastes 4:12 “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Seek wisdom from those who’ve gone before you.

You may be the one asked to pull someone else along. It may be your significant other. It may be another couple. It may be someone you were asked to “stand up for” or even someone who you don’t feel qualified to speak wisdom to.  But sooner or later, it will happen. We all can “get by” with a little help from our friends…

And remember that centrifugal force on the merry-go-round that threatened to rip you off? There is a much more formidable force within each of us that empowers us to let go of our grasp in that cycle. There is a stronghold of love that resides within each of us that we can cling to when we’ve exhausted our own abilities. That invisible force that drew you to your spouse in the first place– That is the love that God placed in your hearts. That is love that knows difficulty. That is love that endures, sacrifices, and can pull you along when you think you cannot go another step.

We ALWAYS have ONE with whom we can draft.

He is FOR us. He seeks to restore our relationships and to heal the brokenhearted.

And for every couple out there who is stuck in the cycle–

Let go of the merry-go-round and hold fast to the hope we have in the One who shows us how to forgive (seven times seventy); to the One who shows us how to love (unconditionally); and the One who has gone before us and leads the way for us.

And remember this, unlike the triathlon, in marriage and life—there are absolutely NO RULES against DRAFTING!

THIRST

Thirst via flickr.com

THIRST
Sometimes a thirst is so ragged and entrenched in the soul that NOTHING seems to satisfy.

“Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again…” (John 4:13)

I live in the desert. I always carry water with me.
Because I once made the mistake of not carrying water.

It was during the running part of a triathlon. It was September and late in the morning; the sun was a blazing fireball in the sky. The course map showed several water stations along the run. I left my water bottle tucked nicely in my bicycle and, right before I headed out on the “out and back” trip, I stuffed two gummy sharks (for quick energy) in my mouth. After a chaotic swim and surviving the bike, even though it was hot and uphill, I looked forward to what is usually my strongest event.
Huffing up the desert mountain trail left no saliva to digest the sugars and those two gummy sharks became plaster in my mouth. Over the next mile of the steep run, my sandpaper tongue attempted digging those Sharkies away from my teeth in a fruitless attempt to dislodge them. Their indigestible shark bodies taunted me for 1.6 miles until the first water stop at the peak of the hill and the turn-around point of the trail.
The miniscule amount of water I was given at the first stop barely made a difference, like two rain drops falling on an encrusted desert floor.
And all those water stops on the course map?? There was ONE.
I tried to focus on waterfalls and drinking fountains, rivers and aquifers, children dancing through sprinklers…but my mind overpowered my will. My mind instead brought me all the scenes from the movie “127 hours.” Remember the story of Aron Ralston? He went out on a summer hike in the Utah desert and got trapped/pinned in between rocks for days and nearly died of thirst before he cut his own arm off to escape? That is what I couldn’t pry my thoughts from.

“… But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:13)

God nudged these words into my conscious. I let go of the nightmarish visions of “127 hours” and held fast to this verse.
Even as I crossed the finish line and chugged three bottles of water, my thirst lingered. This verse had a hold on me—it was what brought me through. It had brought me through before…

My father’s final days on the earth; he lay in Collier Hospice center in Wheatridge, CO. His skin, bones and organs were overtaken in malignant tumors winning their battle for his body. The friends and family visits had subsided except for those closest. The nurses/“experts in dying” told us his body systems would be slowly shutting down.
He was sufficiently drugged up with whatever concoctions they give to make the body more comfortable, but his face told a different story. He had lost the ability to communicate and, because he could no longer digest and swallow, we could no longer nourish him. The last friends who came by, dabbed the mouth sponge with rum and we all toasted with a shot of Captain Morgan’s and they swabbed it into my father’s mouth.

It was the last pleasant look I saw on his face.

Days passed. No water; just the moist sponge (that got really nasty after about two swabs) and his favorite lip balm-cherry “liprageous.” The things we remember… (and maybe should’ve re-thought that Captain Morgan’s).
When his eyes would open, they shone with fear and confusion. As he “slept,” his body writhed against some unseen enemy. His breathing was sporadic, sending my sister and me into panics. His existence appeared steeped in absolute torment.
In the quiet of the late nights, I sat in the chair beside his bed praying for life’s hold to let go, and for him to find peace. It was not to be so for several more days…
Every night, through those last few days of his earthly life, I prayed the same prayers–for peace and release.

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” ( Psalm 116:1)

Ever wished someone you loved dearly would leave this earth?? Don’t judge—it is TORTURE to watch them in pain and wish yourself in their place, and yet be absolutely powerless to make that happen. I thought my heart would shatter in pieces. My anguish was inconsolable.

Yet, I know Jesus. I know the love of my Savior. I know God’s love is what did this very thing for us with His Son on the cross.

It is written that no angels or demons will separate us from that love. (Romans 8:38)

He quenches the soul-thirsty. (And no “sacrificial” arm is required from you!) 😉

It appeared that God was working His magic on my father’s soul. My friends and my study of His Word all tell me that there is none too lost and it is never too late to accept the everlasting forgiveness, love and life offered through Jesus Christ. I was reminded of the one repentant thief that hung on a cross next to Jesus. His last minute change of heart and acceptance brought salvation and peace to his soul.—He would dwell with the everlasting. He would get to see his family again.

Could this be what was happening with my father? My father was a man who dedicated his life to science and engineering and who needed an explanation for everything. Faith was too murky for him. But, as his last days approached, (and it just happened to be Easter) he opened himself to the immeasurable, unfathomable faith and love of God.
As I watched the struggle between this world’s hold on him; his body and his spirit, it was the thirst that bothered me most. To be without water and with nothing but drugs and booze as the last “soul nourishment” that one experienced? Agony.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow river of living water.” (John 7:37)

My father found release days later as the world’s hold finally set his spirit free.

“… But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:13)

My thirst is quenched.

In the days following my father’s passing, I was given so many “coincidental” occurrences pointing to his salvation that even doubting Thomas would have been convinced! (The trains, the flower, the song, the cross on his brain scan…Creepy, but awesome!)

With Christ, I have hope in seeing my father again. It’s where I find refreshment. I live with it now tucked in my heart.
I will never be without it again.
It’s what my heart needs to survive the desert days ahead.