Thursday, January 31, 2013

When marriage hurts

Years ago, during a difficult time in her marriage, my niece called me. As we talked she asked if I ever had second thoughts about my marriage. I answered her with complete candor. “If I had known then what I know now I never would have dated him, let alone married him!”

My answer stunned her and she asked, “then why do you stay married to him?”

“Because,” I responded, “if I could know now what he will be like ten, twenty or thirty years in the future I may find myself saying I never would have wanted to marry anyone else.”

So often we get so caught up in the immediate world around us, tinted and splattered with dirt from the past that we have a hard time looking forward toward the beautiful colors awaiting us on the horizon…and that includes the beauty of marriage.

All of my children know one of the most important decisions they will make is who to marry. But I have also told my children that is just the easy, first decision. Each one of them, at some point after their marriage, will have to seriously decide whether or not to stay married.

It’s a test that all marriages must face it.

Some marriages and spouses will have to answer this question only once. Others seem to have to answer it on an almost daily basis.

The test, I tell them, isn't about whether or not they can get married. Any two people can do that. The real test is about deciding to stay married when things go bad...especially if they go really bad. When the immediate world around them gets dirty, when the mud from past decisions seems to cover their entire view, will they keep their eye on the horizon? Most importantly, when it’s hard to want to keep their promise to their spouse, will they keep their promise to the Lord?

There will be times when all of us will be disappointed by our chosen partner—deeply hurt, let down, offended or even ashamed. That is part of marriage. It is learning to deal with the deepest emotions of every kind, the good and the bad, when our hearts are so closely tied to the outcome.

There may be times—even long periods of time—when we don’t respect our spouse, don’t love our spouse, don’t even like our spouse. What then?

I love Proverbs 31, but verse 26 is especially poignant when marriages are struggling. “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”

It doesn’t matter how someone is treating us. What matters is how we treat them. When we are hurt, let us try to respond with kindness. When we are disappointed, let us try to announce our appreciation. When we are let down, let us find ways to give sincere compliments.

“Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm…even so the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things.” (James 3:4-5)

When the words and actions of our spouses seem fierce, unforgiving, even harsh; when we feel the storm is too great to pass through, let us remember to find tiny ways to verbally express our love and appreciation to our spouses. And let us share with others, and the Lord, the things we appreciate and admire about our eternal companions.

The power of kind, gentle and soothing words is immeasurable...and we may find it can eventually turn even the largest, most storm-locked ships.

Remember, Christ also used words when he calmed the raging seas. And what did he speak?


Friday, January 25, 2013

When Naaman, the leper, went off the clock

Have you ever met a Naaman?

The story of Naaman is an interesting account with a lot of backstory. Naaman was the head captain for the king of Syria. Syria was a neighboring enemy of Israel and battles between them had see-sawed their borders for years.

Naaman was known as a great man, honourable and mighty in valour…so honourable that "by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria.” Think about what that meant to Israel...through Israel's sins and Naaman's valor, the Lord let Syria gain the upperhand!

Yet, Naaman's life wasn't all metals and honor. He had a personal problem—leprosy. In fact, this problem was bringing him a slow, torturous death.

During one of his forays into battle against Israel, Naaman had brought back at least one captive for his wife, a little maid. A young girl. Now, I am sure that being taken captive was very traumatic for that little maid. She found herself a slave in the enemy’s house but there must have been some honor and greatness in the way they treated her because this little maid showed concern for Naaman’s condition and told her mistress, “Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! For he would recover him of his leprosy.”

How many of us wish healing on our enemies?

The little maid's statement intrigued not only Naaman's wife, but Naaman and even the king of Syria. In fact, the king was so desperate to save his favorite captain that he sent Naaman to Israel with a personal letter pleading for Israel’s help in healing this great captain who had led battles against them. Syria’s king also sent ten talents of silver (750 pounds), along with 6,000 pieces of gold.

Now, we don’t know how much those 6,000 pieces of gold weighed. We do know a shekel, a type of ancient coin, weighed just over 15 grams. So, to be conservative, let’s say those gold pieces each weighed 10 grams. That would be about 132 pounds of gold.

I just checked the market value today and gold is at $1,661 an ounce and silver is running at $31.40 an ounce. That would mean 132 pounds of gold would be worth $3.5 million and 750 pounds of silver would bring $376,800. The king of Syria sent, from his own coffers, almost $4 million dollars to buy Naaman’s health from his enemy. He truly loved Naaman and put his personal reputation (the letter) and his pocketbook on the line for this man.

So Naaman arrived at the enemy’s palace and Israel’s king—worried a failure to save Naaman’s life could cause new battles to erupt between the two countries—rent his clothes in despair and asked, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive?”

Letters, the threat of war, millions in gold…none of it could save Naaman.

But this story isn’t about worldly enemies or earthly bank accounts. There is a spiritual story going on with this that is greater than all the power and wealth in the world.

You see, Naaman didn’t know about the Lord or his prophets; yet only the Lord’s chosen servant had the power to save Naaman’s life.

That is true today. Millions of people in the world are slowly and spiritually dying because they don’t know the truth…that the Lord speaks to men through prophets.

“Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7)

And we know that He is “the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever,” (Heb. 13:8) so it just stands to reason that prophets would still be the way He communicates with man.

But people today don't know or understand that truth anymore than Naaman did. Like Naaman, they are dying and nothing they are doing is going to bring them peace or healing, even if they do have $4 million in their bank account and stand in palaces and mansions.

So, that’s when Elisha showed up. He went to the palace, where everyone was in an uproar, and told the king to send Naaman to his house. He could have healed Naaman there, so why didn't he?

That is key…Naaman had to redirect his search. He had to go looking for a prophet of God.

“So Naaman came…and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.” (2 Kings 5:9)

“And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.” (2 Kings 5:10)

We all know what happened next. Naaman got upset! Here he sat in front of a humble abode with all this wealth and power…in the middle of enemy the risk of being captured and killed...sent by the directives of two world kings…and the prophet sends out an errand boy!

Naaman's anger was most likely a result of his pride. He thought he'd done enough. He thought he was enough.

Naaman wanted a "miracle", a show…a striking of the disease and a calling on the Lord that would drive the leprosy from his body in one fantastical instant while he just stood there and watched.

But the Lord doesn’t work like that. He doesn’t put on stage shows. He quietly starts His miracles only when we are finally ready to work and receive that miracle in our lives.

Naaman wasn’t ready. He didn't want to go bathe seven times in the River Jordan. He didn't want to take part in his own miracle. He even grumbled that the waters in his own country were better than all the waters of Israel. Irritated, offended, not willing to do what the prophet instructed, Naaman left--willing, instead, to die for his decision.

So, I ask again...have we ever met a Naaman?

Have we ever been like Naaman—wanting the Lord to perform some fantastical miracle without us having to do anything? Or maybe we grumble because we think our lifestyle is better than what the Lord proposes.

That’s when his servants stop him and point out a simple truth…that truth is simple. If your life is at stake, why won’t you do what the prophet asks? Just try it. Test the words of a prophet. See what happens.

These were servants who spoke the words that changed Naaman’s life--not his family, not a king, not even his officers...but plain, simple servants who obviously risked Naaman’s reaction to kindly speak up, with concern, and say something about prophets.

And Naaman heard them.

So “humbling himself, he went forth complying and lo! the blessing directly followed.” (Lorenzo Snow)

Therein lies another great spiritual truth in this story… “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—

“And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
(D&C 130:20-21)

Blessings are based on obedience…not timing!

Naaman walked away from a testimony of a living prophet unready, at that time, to obey and comply. Later, when he was finally ready, he returned and did what the prophet asked and the scriptures tell us "his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean...and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel."(2 Kings 5:14-15) He still received the same promised blessing.

There are many Naaman’s in life. For a variety of reasons they walk away from the counsel of the Lord’s prophets. Yet, in time, when others say the right things to them, those words of the prophet will return to their minds. They will feel compelled to “wash and be clean” and, when they do they will receive the same promised blessing.

Yes, the blessing may come later in their life, and they will suffer in the meantime, but this one truth is clear and simple: the Lord’s blessings are based on obedience…not the clock.

Isn't that nice to know?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Intruder

At 5:30 this morning my second son turned on the hall light and poked his head in our bedroom door. This is a son who hates getting up early for any reason, especially on a Saturday morning. My husband asked him what was wrong.

Worry filled his voice.“I just saw someone in my room and they walked up stairs.”

“You must have seen one of your brothers or sisters,” my husband responded.

“No, I checked on them and they are all in their beds sound asleep.”

Still groggy and not wanting to wake up too much, my husband pulled the covers over his shoulder. “Then you must have been dreaming.”

Not about to concede to that explanation, my son protested. “No, I wasn’t dreaming. I could hear someone breathing and that’s what woke me up. Then I saw the shape of someone beside my bed. I watched them walk up the stairs. That’s why I’m up here.”

I got out of bed and went to help my son, who was obviously upset by the situation and was checking every closet and room in the house.

When I joined my son in the early morning sweep, he told me he wasn’t dreaming or making it up. I already knew that. That's why I was up, too. I knew he had seen someone in his room.

My son again told me he had heard breathing and opened his eyes. That’s when he saw someone moving around his room. Then my son gave me a bit more information. The person stumbled over something before leaving the room and heading upstairs.

Stumbling over something was a key piece of evidence— That is not something you randomly make up.

Though I knew he had actually seen someone in his room, I did not feel alarm. Still, I wanted to be sure my family and home were completely secure, so my son and I checked the rest of the house together. As we quietly searched the house I told him I didn’t think it was a prowler because it was 5:30 in the morning and that was an usual time for a prowler. Besides, our dog was up and needing to go outside and if there was a stranger in the house, he would have reacted to it.

Comforted by my help, our concluded search and (I hope) my words, my son went back downstairs to bed. I decided to stay up and study my Sunday School lesson.

About 8:30 in the morning our youngest son woke up. He came out and sat at the kitchen table to visit. As he chattered away he asked if I wondered why he was sleeping in his own bed last night.

"No," I answered. (I honestly had not wondered why he slept in his own bed.) "That’s where you always sleep.

My youngest son shook his head and told me his older brother had invited him to sleep downstairs with him last night after he got home.

“So I laid in my bed and tried to stay awake until he got home but I must have fallen asleep because when I woke up again it was five in the morning."

The timing caught my interest. Maybe he had seen or heard someone, too.

My youngest chattered on. "I guess I didn’t hear him come home so I went downstairs to his room.


He continued. "I lay there for a while but I didn’t bring a blanket so I got cold. That’s when I decided to just come back up stairs to my own bed but I tripped over his shoes when I was leaving."


My youngest looked at me, concerned. "He really needs to pick up his shoes because I tripped on them when I went downstairs, too. Anyway, that’s why I was sleeping in my bed this morning.”

Story finished. Mystery solved.

The intruder was my youngest son, eager and anxious to have a “slumber party” with his very cool, older brother. So anxious and exited to be invited and considered one of the “big boys” that--even at five in the morning--it was still important enough to him that he went downstairs to spend time with his brother. Even though the night was almost gone and his brother was asleep, my youngest still wanted to be with with his beloved, older brother.

I was touched by all the love that simple little gesture showed.

I was also touched by the love of my older son who, when thinking the house was in peril by the intrusion of a stranger, got up and checked on his brothers and sisters first, before doing anything else. Then he, on his own, spent time checking the entire home to make sure no threat to his family remained.

All in all, I thought it was a perfect way to wake up early on a Saturday morning.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cleaning house: should we be perfect or faithful?

We were talking in church today about preparing ourselves to be worthy to stand before the Lord either at His coming or when we leave this life. One woman made an interesting observation.

“It’s like when friends show up at your house unannounced and the house is a mess. If I’ve been watching a movie, I feel guilty and embarrassed but, if I have been running around working to take care of other needs for my family or my friends then, if the house is a mess, I will have an entirely different feeling. I may not like the messy house. I may feel embarrassed about them seeing the mess. I may wish things were different but I won’t feel guilty. I won’t feel like I am a failure because I will know I was busy working hard at other things that needed my attention.”

She likened that to meeting the Savior. She said when we face Him in the next life, if our spiritual house is messy because we’ve been lounging around watching movies, so to speak, and spending our time in leisure, worldly pursuits, we will feel guilty.

But, if we’ve been running around serving others, fulfill our callings, and trying to do good things to the best of our ability then when those messes are seen by Him we may feel embarrassed. We may wish things were different but we won’t feel guilty. We will know we were working hard throughout our day.

I liked that analogy. We don’t have the time or ability to solve every problem in this life and clean up every messy spot in our personal world. We will all die imperfect in some areas but those who have dedicated their lives to working as hard as they can at the things the Lord has asked them to do will know their time of labor was well spent.

In the parable of the Kingdom of Heaven, Christ never claimed the Lord said, well done thou good and perfect servant.

Instead, “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou has been faithful over a few things. I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matt. 25:21)

He is not asking us to be perfect servants. He just wants us to be faithful ones, to do our best, and not waste our time--so we won't feel guilty when we face Him. Best of all, if we try our best to be faithful, I know the Lord is the kind of friend who will say, ‘you’ve been so busy doing other things, let me help you with the rest.’

That is the kind of Savior I know and love.