Archive | January 2015

The State of a Union

How grows your marriage? The  State of a UnionWhen my husband and I built our house ten years ago, we planted two ginkgo trees on either side of our front yard. The trees looked identical the day we put them in the ground, but since that time one has flourished and the other has floundered.

The tree on the west side of our house gets plenty of sunshine. It is planted on level ground, not susceptible to erosion. Tall and straight, it has more than quadrupled in size. Its leaves are a deep green, its bark smooth, and its limbs symmetrical. Even when my husband accidentally backed into the tree with his truck and gashed the trunk, it managed to survive.

The tree in the east yard has not fared so well.

It was planted on a slope, where water runs off instead of soaking in. Surrounded by larger trees, it stands in shade most of the day. Gophers keep digging tunnels through its struggling root system. It has served as “base” for far too many games of tag and shows visible signs of wear from our little ones whipping the tree back and forth as if it were a stick horse.

Consequently, the trunk is crooked and spindly. Its uppermost branches were broken off at some point, so the tree is severely stunted — barely eight feet tall, as compared to its 45-ft brother. My husband has been sorely tempted to just chop it down and plant another in its place.

He nearly acted on that impulse several springs ago, but I spotted him just in time with the axe in hand and begged for mercy on behalf of the runt. Doug relented, and I did my best to nurture the scrawny thing back to health (a little staking and strategic pruning worked wonders for its appearance).

It’s important to note that my axe-wielding husband is not responsible for this tree’s present sorry state. He was simply responding to the damage already done by its other enemies — the gophers, erosion, and overly rambunctious children.

If I wanted to fault somebody for the tree’s miserable appearance, I should fault myself for not tending to it more faithfully, for not vigilantly protecting it from its various assailants.

No, Doug isn’t to blame, nor does he have anything against ginkgo trees in general. He has no desire to fell the heartier specimen, and although he considers this particular ginkgo an eyesore, he is perfectly willing to replace it with a new one. The presence of the healthy, robust ginkgo in the west yard — and the knowledge that there are countless others like it — reassures him that it is possible to raise one successfully.

But what if the west tree were just as sickly and stunted as the east? What if every ginkgo tree Doug had ever encountered were uniformly puny and pathetic? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that he might be less willing to take a chance growing one himself? That he might decide to plant something entirely different? At least he wouldn’t be pinning his hopes on something with a high failure rate. Would you buy a tree that had, say, less than a fifty percent chance of surviving?

I think the reason some groups are seeking to “redefine marriage” these days is that so many “traditional marriages” — at least the marriages they’ve personally observed or experienced — seem sickly and unappealing.

Although I disagree with their response, I do not consider these groups the enemy. They didn’t cause the problems; they are merely reacting to them.

The damage was done by a much subtler Adversary. Like the gopher that tunneled under my ginkgo, this Enemy attacked marriage at the root, digging away at its foundation, gradually shifting our focus away from God and onto ourselves.

God’s design for marriage — that we mirror the love of Christ and raise children for His glory — no longer seems to be our primary concern. Finding happiness and personal fulfillment is the new end goal.

As Danielle Crittenden observes in What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us, “We may pledge to love each other until death do us part — but we blanch at the first hint of sacrifice.”

How many couples have I heard rationalize their divorce by saying “we’re just not happy together anymore”? I’ve lost count.

More likely than not, these men and women had good intentions of making each other happy (or at least of making themselves happy) when they first married, but if happiness is all they sought, it makes sense they’d be ready to throw in the towel when happiness is not forthcoming.

But should they call it quits? Is unhappiness really a sufficient reason to divorce?

Not according to a report released by the Institute for American Values. Their studies found that two-thirds of couples who were unhappy in their marriages, but stuck it out anyway, considered themselves “happily married” just five years later. In fact, “the most unhappy marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds. Among those who rated their marriages as very unhappy, almost eight out of ten who avoided divorce were happily married five years later.”

Even so, many couples don’t persevere long enough to discover this fact. And that’s too bad.
It’s bad for their families, but it’s also bad for society as a whole. Strong and stable families make for a strong and stable nation.

Couples need to understand that happiness springs from commitment. Not the other way around. Allowing something as volatile as happiness to determine whether you stay married or not is a sure way to destroy any chance of building a love that endures.

We must stop treating happiness as if it were a destination we have to trample upon others to reach. In reality, the route to true happiness is through selfless, sacrificial love.

Deep, abiding joy is a disposition that is naturally cultivated as we seek to live for God’s glory. That, after all, is the chief end of man: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

It’s the purpose for which we were created in the first place, and we’ll never find lasting, genuine happiness, in marriage or in any other endeavor, so long as we neglect it.

Love Your Husband/ Love YourselfThis post has been adapted from my book, Love Your Husband/Love Yourself: Embracing God’s Purpose for Passion in Marriage. Packed with Bibilcal wisdom, scientific studies, and humorous anecdotes, it is a must-read for any wife serious about improving her marriage.

A Tale of Three Babies

A Tale of Three Babies --  what an amazing story!

(photo used with permission: view source)

Baby #1: Inconvenient

“I’m getting an abortion, and nothing you say is going to talk me out of it.”

That’s what a friend of ours was told by his girlfriend when he accidentally got her pregnant, twenty-some-odd years ago.

Although both were old enough to get married, settle down, and start a family, neither was interested in doing so. There were still so many things they wanted to do, places they wanted to go, sights they wanted to see.

Having a baby at that point in their lives would necessitate tabling many of those other plans. Possibly forever. So they decided terminating the pregnancy would be the easiest and most expedient thing to do.

I think our friend was initially relieved by this choice — it meant he could postpone shouldering any real responsibility for a few more years — but as the date for the procedure drew nigh, he began to have second thoughts.

Hence, his eleventh-hour call to my husband to confess what was about to go down: The abortion was scheduled for 8:00 the following morning. He’d done everything he could to dissuade her, to no avail. She was determined to go through with it.

I don’t know what our friend expected my husband to do with this knowledge. Perhaps he thought he’d just shake his head or wring his hands and commiserate, “Well, at least you tried….”

If so, he was wrong.

“Maybe Jennifer could talk to her,” Doug suggested instead.

The expectant father suddenly seemed a little nervous. Not only did he refuse to give us his girlfriend’s number — he wouldn’t even tell us her name.

But he grossly underestimated Doug’s resourcefulness and resolve… and the concern we both shared for his unborn baby.

We didn’t know the patient’s name, but we knew the name of the clinic and what time she’d be there. So after much prayer through the night, Doug drove me downtown early the next morning and deposited me on the doorstep of that very clinic, our own infant son in my arms.

I explained to the girl at the front desk that I was late on my cycle and had heard their clinic offered free pregnancy tests (true on both counts). Might I get one, please?

She had me fill out some paperwork (I’ve been on Planned Parenthood’s mailing list ever since — a great source for insider information), then grabbed a test kit, led me to a restroom in the very heart of the clinic, and left me to do my business.

Clasping baby to my shoulder, I peed on the strip, washed my hands, then took an intentional wrong turn when exiting the bathroom in an attempt to track down the girl I’d come to see.

I found her sitting in a nearby waiting room next to the father (which is how I recognized her). Sliding into the seat beside her, I tearfully urged her to reconsider. I showed her my sweet little baby and begged her to take pity on her own.

Security showed up in a matter of seconds to escort me from the premises, but not before this pregnant mama had heard my entire spiel. She, and every other patient within earshot….

Baby #2: Inviable

“Your baby’s going to die, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

About the same time Couple #1 was dealing with their crisis pregnancy, some other friends of ours were facing a pregnancy crisis of a different sort.

Having already been married for a couple of years, they were ecstatic to learn a new baby was on the way — their first! But that initial excitement evaporated into thin, sterile air as they sat in their obstetrician’s office after a routine sonogram.

“Your baby has severe pulmonary atresia,” the doctor told them frankly.

Translation? Their baby essentially had no lungs. And as it would be impossible to live without them, they were advised to terminate this pregnancy and try again later. Better luck next time.

But these friends were staunch Catholics, so an abortion was completely out of the question. They believed in the sanctity of life. They loved their baby. And they were determined to carry and care for him as long and as well as they possibly could.

In the meantime, they’d pray for a miracle. And pray, they did. They, and everyone else who knew them.

Even so, every subsequent sonogram — all twenty-three taken over the course of the pregnancy — showed the exact same defect. The prognosis remained bleak. The situation seemed hopeless.

They carried the heavy burden of that knowledge for the full length of the pregnancy. No lungs! The due date was rapidly approaching. Their baby would be born soon, but he’d never draw a single breath….

Baby #3: Inconceivable

“She’s getting an abortion, and I don’t want to hear anymore about it.”

My husband overheard a friend make this statement several years back. The people with whom the man was talking were aghast that he would even consider such a thing. Yet the more they argued against it, the more adamant he became.

Although my husband was in agreement with the vocal majority on this issue, he listened to the conversation from a distance, resisting the urge to jump on the bandwagon or join in the discourse.

Later, when he and his friend were alone, Doug asked gently, “I couldn’t help but overhear what you were saying to the others earlier. What’s going on? It sounds like you’re having a rough time.”

No shock. No judgment. No outrage. Just sincere interest and genuine concern.

The friend immediately dropped his defenses in response.

“It’s my wife,” he sighed, the worry evident in his voice. He explained how life-threatening her first pregnancy had been. How frighteningly close she’d come to dying in the delivery room. How afterwards they had taken drastic measures to ensure she wouldn’t conceive again.

Yet, against all odds, she’d gotten pregnant anyway.

“We’ve always been pro-life,” he confided, his voice raw with emotion, “but I don’t know what else to do. I can’t face the thought of losing her. I need my wife. Our child needs his mother. I don’t know how we’d cope if anything happened to her….”

My husband listened empathetically, admitting that it was a tough call.

There’s such a wide spectrum of reasons why a woman would choose to terminate a pregnancy, Doug noted: “On one hand, we have ectopic pregnancies where the baby is developing inside the fallopian tube and has zero chance of surviving, while mom has almost a 100% chance of dying unless something is done. On the other hand,” he continued, “we have women getting abortions so they won’t have to miss their annual ski trip.”

Clearly, this friend’s situation was much closer to the ectopic end of the spectrum rather than the elective end.

“I can’t tell you what to do,” Doug told him, “but I can pray that God gives you and your wife wisdom as you make that decision yourselves. And that’s exactly what I will do. But first, let me tell you a story about some friends of ours….”

The Rest of the Story

Doug then proceeded to tell him about Baby #2: Our friends were pregnant with their first child. Two dozen sonograms taken throughout each stage of pregnancy indicated the baby had a fatal birth defect that would make it impossible to survive outside the womb. Every specialist the couple saw recommended an abortion, but our friends refused, choosing instead to pray for a miracle.

And do you know what?

A miracle is exactly what they got. The baby was born perfectly healthy, the pride and joy of his parents.

Their physician confirmed this. “I know what I saw,” he told them. “I didn’t misread 24 sonograms. If this baby has healthy lungs, it’s because God answered your prayers.”

The child grew up, graduated from high school, graduated from college (early), and continues to be a smart, handsome, productive member of society.

I wish we had a happy ending to share for Baby #1, but his mama went through with the abortion, despite our earnest pleas to spare the baby. None of us know what might have been had she decided differently.

I still think of her occasionally, though. Did she later come to regret her decision?

I suspect she eventually did, as the majority of post-abortive women do. I pray she is no longer haunted by it, however, but has by now discovered the forgiveness that is found only in Christ.

And Baby #3? Those parents very prayerfully decided to keep that one, too, reasoning if God overruled their best efforts to prevent conception, He must have a very special purpose for that little one’s life.

Mother made it smoothly through both pregnancy and childbirth with no complications, and today the family is healthy, happy, and whole.

So that’s my Tale of Three Babies. Three different couples, three different cities, three different circumstances, but all facing the same decision: Will we end this story before it ever starts? Or will we let it play out, and see what happens?

Tomorrow is “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.” It is a day for Americans to remember the 1.2 million babies a year in our country who, like Baby #1, are never given a chance to live happily ever after.

If you are expecting a baby right now and are facing a crisis because of it, help is available. Please don’t let this story end before it ever begins. Choose life for your little one.

Related articles:
Something You Can Easily Do from Home Saved This Baby from Abortion
Oversold Prenatal Tests Spur Some to Choose Abortion
Dear Woman Who’s Getting an Abortion Tomorrow
We Know They are Killing Children

Never Enough Time?

"If you don't have the time to do the things that you ought to do, it means that you've tried to do something God hasn't called you to." - Jennifer Flanders

My husband and I are both list makers by nature, but we approach our lists differently.

I’m all about the details, which is why I’ve been known to start the New Year with as many as seven type-written pages of goals and resolutions.

My husband, on the other hand, tries to boil down his goals into as few words as possible. During his first year of residency, the goal was SURVIVE. Another year, his mantra was READ, WRITE, & RUN.

He informed me a few days ago that his goals for our family this year are going to be DISCIPLINE and JOY — as in, the more disciplined we are about doing what ought to be done, the more joy we’ll experience as a result.

I think he’s onto something.

Left to myself, I tend to set wildly unrealistic goals. I guess I’ve bought into the it’s-better-to-shoot-for-the-stars-and-get-off-the-ground-than-aim-for-a-lamppost-and-stay-where-you-are way of thinking.

The problem is, I sometimes let what should be secondary or tertiary goals take precedence over far more important priorities. Typically, the lesser goals are more easily quantifiable and don’t depend on anybody but myself, so I’m often tempted to work on those even when I know I should be working on something else.

This is especially true when my accomplishing something else depends on someone else who is being uncooperative or resistant or is in some other way thwarting my progress.

But that’s where the discipline and joy come in, which is why Scripture tells us:

  • “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)
  • “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

And that sums up my New Year’s resolution this year: I want to tend to the things that matter most, doing my work joyfully and whole-heartedly, and not growing weary, even if I don’t get the results I’m hoping for right away.

I still have a huge list of stuff I’d like to accomplish this year — certainly more than I could ever get done in my own strength. But God has promised to supply all my needs (Philippians 4:19), and that includes giving me the time I need to do the things that matter most to Him.

Of course, when I’m disciplined about doing the things I ought to do, I have less time for doing the things I’d like to do. That much should be obvious.

What isn’t so obvious is the fact that, when I’ve tended to first things first, I’m usually far more productive with the time that’s left over.

Like loaves and fishes, when I give each day to God, when I’m intentional about stewarding it wisely, when I faithfully do what He’s called me to do, there are enough fragments of time left over that I can make a serious dint in my dream-big list of goals, as well.

So that’s my plan for 2015. What’s yours?

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