Monday, February 16, 2015

Five Signs You Have Found a Keeper

My Valentine's Day Roses
I am almost thirty. When I was twenty-six I could still think of myself as in my mid-twenties, but now that I am twenty-seven, I can only think of myself as almost thirty. Not that there is anything wrong with thirty. I just expected to have things more figured out by the time I reached it. I expected to have had at least one full-time job by that point. I expected to have figured out how to keep up with my laundry and to diligently create a monthly budget. In short I expected to have grown up, but I am discovering growing up is not something you do overnight. 

I see thirty on the horizon and it does not look the way I anticipated. Of course, I haven't been idle the past few years. When I turn thirty my son will be six, my daughter will be four, and I will be looking forward to my tenth wedding anniversary. And THAT is the one thing I feel I have figured out: marriage. I don't know if I really believe in soul mates, but sometimes it seems I have found a man who fills in the missing pieces of me. We fit together like coffee in a cup, as a friend of ours once said. As I see many people my age facing the pains of infidelity and divorce, I am reminded just how much of a blessing my husband is. 

So in honor of Valentine's Day and the amazing man I have found, I want to write a post to help out ladies who are still in search of the coffee for their cup. Here is a list of five attributes to look for in the man you think may be marriage material.

1. He puts God above you

Many women look for a man who will put them above everything else in their lives. They want a man who makes them the center of their world. There is a flaw in the logic of this desire. Humans are not perfect. We regularly disappoint others. When we are made the center of someone else's world, we will shatter that world when we eventually fail. 

The man who is truly marriage material will have God at the center of his universe. Jesus made the importance of making God a priority clear in Luke 14. He said "'Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple'" (v. 26). The word used for "hate" here is a word of comparison. Our love for Christ has to be so great, so important to us, that we seem to hate every other important person in our lives and even our own lives.  

So we should seek out someone who puts God above us. He should be willing to do what is right and kingdom minded, even if he will disagree with you. He should pray and seek God's guidance instead of relying solely on you, when making decisions. 

2. He celebrates your success

During my marriage, I have graduated with two college degrees. My husband was there with me to congratulate me and tell me how proud he was of me. He did this even though he was not able to finish his own degree because of our finances. He did not mope about how it was not fair that I had this success when he did not. He chose to celebrate with me. 

From Cain and Abel to Jacob and Esau to Joseph's brothers, the book of Genesis is filled with stories of people becoming jealous of someone else's success. In each of these stories, the jealousy they feel leads them to damage their relationship(s) in some way. Cain kills his brother. Jacob steals his brother's blessing. Joseph is sold into slavery by the other children of Israel. Such jealousy has no place in a healthy relationship and will only serve to cause division between you and your spouse. 

We should instead follow the example of Paul. Throughout his letters he shares the joy he feels when he sees the people he has discipled succeed. Even from prison, Paul writes to the church at Philippi that he is thanking God for their success and praying with joy for them. He is ecstatic that they are succeeding in their mission, even when his current circumstances are less than favorable. A spouse should do the same for the good of your marriage. 

3. He is willing to suffer with you

During the nearly eight years I have been in a relationship with my husband, we have faced our share of suffering. We have seen both of his parents die. We have attended numerous other family funerals. We have sat with each other in the emergency room and hospital rooms. We have cried countless tears in each other's arms. 

As I was working on this post, I sat in the emergency room with my husband twice in 24 hours. He had a kidney stone and then was dehydrated from vomiting because of the pain medication. I did not think twice about being there with him because I knew he would do the same for me. When our children were born, he spent several nights in the hospital with me. He got up with both since I was recovering from cesarean sections both times. With our daughter I do not think he slept for the first six weeks of her life. 

In Romans 12:15, Paul tells us to "rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep." A man who is marriage material is willing to celebrate your successes and suffer through your pain. He does not belittle you or act as though your pain is unimportant. He never claims it is all in your head or you are just being overly emotional. He is affected by your pain because he cares for you so deeply. 

4. He chooses to communicate

One of the biggest problems I have seen in most damaged marriages is a lack of communication. Instead of communicating, people in these marriages either shut down or explode. They either shout insults or bottle up all of their emotions. They lie about or fail to share their feelings. 

We do fight occasionally, but neither of us let an issue rest after a fight. We take the time (sometimes all night) to talk through our feelings and come to the root of the problem. It has taken us time to get into these habits, but it has strengthened our marriage in the long run. 

Again, I turn to Paul for his instruction on communication. In Ephesians 4:31-32, he tells the church to "put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you." Within true communication we find a place to lay aside bitterness, anger, wrath, slander, and malice. We find a place to be kind and tenderhearted. Most importantly, we find a place to forgive. Every couple must spend time in the safe haven of communication in order to grow and thrive.

5. He takes on responsibility
Many marriages also die because one spouse or the other refuses to take on necessary responsibility. They cast blame for their mistakes or refuse to grow up. I know a woman whose marriage died because her husband would not get off the couch. 

To me a lack of responsibility is also the essential problem at the root of infidelity. Remaining faithful is the most important responsibility spouses have toward one another. It takes effort to train oneself to have eyes only for one's spouse. No one sets out intending to cheat, but adultery begins in the mind not in actions. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28, "'You have heard that it is said, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.'"

Infidelity is something I do not find myself worrying about from my husband. He used to get on to other men at work for looking at women lustfully. But I also know he is more responsible than that. When our second child was born, my husband became a stay at home dad to two children under two. We made this decision based mostly on finances. We are saving more money by having him stay home than we would by putting two kids in daycare while he works. Even though it was not what he expected, he has taken on this responsibility in stride. 

My prayer for all of the women in my life who are looking for a keeper, is that you will not settle. I pray that you hold out for a man who will treat you like the child of God you are. I pray that you will respect yourself enough to believe you deserve him.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Buying a Tree in Israel

At sundown on Tuesday, February 3rd 2015, Tu B'Shevat began. This was the first Jewish festival of this calendar year, but it falls on the 15th (tu) of the eleventh Jewish month, Shevat. It is also a new year of its own, The New Year for Trees. 

In Leviticus 19:23-25, God commanded the children of Israel by saying:

When you come into the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall regard their fruit as forbidden; three years it shall be forbidden to you, it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all their fruit shall be set apart for rejoicing in the LordBut in the fifth year you may eat of their fruit, that their yield may be increased for you: I am the Lord your God.

To keep from having to remember each tree's birthday, the Jewish people have one day set aside (Tu B'Shevat) when all trees age one year. Like any new year, it is a time of celebration and reflection on the previous year.

Fruit and Trees 

Two of the most common ways to observe Tu B'Shevat are eating fruit and planting trees. I chose to celebrate by eating the Seven Species which were abundant in the Promised Land: figs, dates, pomegranates, grapes, olives, wheat, and barley. 

My Tu B'Shevat Meal
That night I went to the grocery store and stocked up. I bought dates, pomegranate seeds, raisins, olives, and blueberry fig bars . I already had Multigrain Cheerios which contain wheat and barley, so I was able to make myself a small plate to eat with a sandwich for dinner. Dates were a new experience for me, and I was a little nervous because they do not appear too appetizing. I was pleasantly surprised to find them basically a larger, sweeter version of raisins (with pits). 

Certificate from Jewish National Fund
I also paid $18 for a tree to be planted in Israel through the Jewish National Fund's website ( We do not have the room to plant a new tree on our property, and I do not know the first thing about planting trees! I thought this was an appropriate alternative. They sent me a certificate to commemorate the occasion. 

Being a Tree

It is also customary to spend time on Tu B'Shevat reflecting on the image of man as a tree. In Deuteronomy 20:19 the people of Israel are commanded to not needlessly destroy fruit trees even during times of war. Trees are then compared to men in battle in verse 20. The verse is stated as a rhetorical question in most English translations, but as Akiva Wolff states " the majority of [Jewish] commentators interpret the words 'ki haadam etz ha-sadeh' not as a rhetorical question but as a statement stressing the relationship or similarity between trees and humans (147)." This is the verse that all of the Jewish websites (see "Helpful Websites" below) pointed me to when I began researching Tu B'Shevat. In this verse humans are compared to a fruit-bearing tree and later Jewish prophets and writers have taken advantage of and expounded upon this image.

In the first Psalm the Psalmist uses the image of a prosperous fruit tree planted near a water source to describe people whose "delight is in the law of the Lord" and who meditate on his law at all times (1:2). These people are contrasted with the wicked who "are like chaff that the wind drives away" (1:4). When we have our focus on the will of God and His commands, we are steady and prosperous.

The Jewish people see the root of the human tree as our faith. As the roots of a tree give it sustenance, "the bulk of our spiritual sustenance derives from its roots, from our faith in and commitment to our Creator" (Rebee, par 8). The roots are what keep a tree alive even in the harshest of environments. If the roots remain alive and healthy, little can destroy a tree except for chopping it down and cutting it off from its roots.

Humans are specifically described as fruit-bearing trees. Just as its fruit helps a tree spread its seeds, so our fruit will help us spread the seeds of our faith. Seeds by themselves are not very interesting, but "with their attractive packaging, they have no shortage of customers who, after consuming the external fruit, deposit the seeds in those diverse and distant places where the tree wants to plant its seeds" (Rebee, par 12). 

Date Palm Before Harvest

Spreading the Seed of God's Word

Jesus was well aware of this image of spreading the seeds of one's faith. He takes draws on this familiar image in His parable of the sower recounted in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. The seed in this parable represents the word of God. We are to act as the sower spreading the the good news of God's word throughout the world. 

The leaders of the temple of Jerusalem during Jesus's life had let their fruit die so that their seed was not being spread effectively. Jesus shows his displeasure with their actions in Mark 11. In the week before His death, Jesus stayed in the town of Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem. As Jesus travels into the city for the second time that week, He sees a fig tree that was not bearing any fruit. He cursed this tree by saying "'May no one ever eat fruit from you again" (11:14). Jesus then enters Jerusalem and goes to the temple where He "began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple" (11:15). The leaders of the temple had allowed it to become a place of profit instead of a place of prayer. He destroys their fruitless pursuits as He destroyed the fig tree. 

As Gentiles, we have been grafted into the tree of Israel, through Christ. As some of the children of Israel were cut away for their unbelief, our belief allows us to grafted into this tree. We should, however, keep the warning of Mark 11 in our minds. As Paul pointed out "if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps He will not spare" us (Romans 11:21). We should then strive to cultivate in our lives the fruits which attract people to the Word of God so that our seed might be spread. These are fruits are succinctly listed in Galatians 5 and are commonly known as the "Fruits of the Spirit." They are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (v. 22-23).    

So as I looked back at my life this past year, I looked for evidence of these fruits in my life. I have been in a difficult place this year, but as Jeff Manion pointed out at the end of The Land Between "the place we most want to escape [can] produce the fruit we most desperately crave" (193). Did I respond to my children with love and patience when they frustrated me? Did I choose joy, patience, and self-control when all of my interviews amounted to nothing? Was I kind, gentle, and generous with the students I see everyday? Was I faithful to God's will even when it wasn't what I wanted? I hope that the answer to these questions was more often yes than no. I pray God's will help me to have more yeses in the year to come.


Helpful Websites

Cited Material 

Manion, Jeff. The Land Between: Finding God in the Difficult Transitions. Grand Rapids:        Zondervan, 2010. 193. Print. 

Rebee, Lubavitcher. "The Human Tree." Chabad.ORG. Ed. Yanki Tauber. N.p., Jan. 2006.      Web. 8 Feb. 2015.

Wolff, Akiva. "A Closer Examination of Deuteronomy 20:19– 20." Jewish Bible 
   Quarterly 39.3 (2011): 143+. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Welcome to My Childhood

My first childhood began in the fall of 1987, in a hospital room in Atlanta, Georgia. I spent the majority of my childhood in Riverdale, Georgia which is on the southern end of the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. I can remember with nostalgia my school, my friends, and my childhood home with a large backyard. I would spend hours exploring the magical world of this backyard filled with princesses and mermaids and rolly pollies. As an only child with an active imagination, I spent ample time speaking with my imaginary friends. I was a comfortable and happy child, and had every intention of spending the rest of my life in the same situation. 

Parents, however, often have a way of ignoring the intentions of their children. So in the summer of my eleventh year we moved to Blountville, Tennessee, and I had to begin again in a new home and at a new school. That summer I also began down the most important path of my life. 

My Second Childhood

The childhood that began in Atlanta, Georgia ended as I grew up and became a wife and mother. It ended as I earned my bachelor and master's degrees and began my search for a job. It ended as the reality of working two part-time jobs to cover our bills came to be my norm. It ended as I watched my mother travel to and back from the edge of death. 

The summer of 1999, was the beginning of my second childhood. Though I had visited churches occasionally throughout my life, that was when the knock of Holy Spirit on my heart's door was answered. I found myself on an alter and then speaking with a kind lady who tried to explain the gravity of the decision I just made. I was soon baptized in a local river and began attending church regularly. 

It wasn't until high school that I discovered the importance of my decision that day. As peer pressure began pushing me to make harmful choices, my faith was something to which I would cling. As people began breaking my heart in different ways, I found refuge in the arms of my Heavenly Father. It was during that time that I discovered I was a child of the Creator of the universe, and an heir to the King of Kings. 

Child of the King


Christ compares a person accepting Him as Savior as being reborn. In fact, He says that "no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above" (John 3:3). Jesus goes on to explain how this rebirth is made possible by His sacrifice. God gave His Son up to be slaughtered, and in exchange we are all offered a chance to be His child. So every person who chooses Christ as their Savior becomes in that moment a child of the King. And as He did with Jesus, God will rescue us from death and bring us into His home. 

By Elise Anna Wood
Paul describes this process in chapter 8 of his letter to the Romans as killing off our human nature through the Spirit, so we may live. He goes on to say that "all who are led by the Spirit are children of God" (v. 14). As we choose to follow after Christ by the leading of the Spirit, we inherit the same life that God gave to His Son at the resurrection. For "if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" (v. 17). We have been given an amazing gift, a gift greater than the riches of any kingdom on Earth. We get to share in the richness of life that Christ has. 

Of course, Paul also reminds us that the process of becoming God's child is not an easy one. Truly killing off our human nature is as painful as it sounds, and it is a long journey. The childhood I began that summer will not end during my time on Earth. As Paul speaks about at the end of 1 Corinthians 13, I only have a partial picture, a child's understanding of God and this world. One day I will be able to comprehend the magnitude of my Father, but for now I have a constant opportunity to learn and grow, if I am able to humble myself to His will. When I approach God from a place of energetic desire I will grow and touch those around me. 

This approach is what Christ was speaking of when He tells His disciples "'whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it'" (Mark 10:15). As I have seen with my own son, children come at new things with an unmatched energy. The children coming to Christ, were surely excited to be so close to someone important. Likely their eagerness was what earned them harsh words from the adults around Christ, but Jesus did not rebuke them. He did not tell them to calm down and wait quietly for their turn. Instead "he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them" (Mark 10:16). He will do the same for us when we come to Him as children. 


So each day I continue to strive to be humble, to look and listen for the will of God in my life during the hardest times, and to present myself as a child of the King. This is my journey, and I welcome you to it. This blog is an attempt to chronicle my journey and inspire people on similar ones. I plan to write once a week on Mondays about the places I am encountering God in my everyday life. Three pieces of my current journey are:

  • First, I am currently reading through the Gospels in this time between Advent and Easter. I am struck by Christ's focus on His mission. He did so much in the short time of His ministry. Where would I be with such focus?

  • Secondly, I am also reading The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions by Jeff Manion. It is a devotional text that focuses on the children of Israel in the desert, the land between Egypt and the Promised Land. I am in the land between in many ways right now. I am looking for my classroom, I am seeking a church home, and I am just becoming financially stable. I know what it is to rely on God's provision and to feel His discipline. 

  • Finally, I mean to observe all of the Jewish holidays and fasts this year, along with the traditional Christian ones. The Jewish festivals and fasts are based on scripture, and Jesus was an observant Jew. I want to know a little of what it was like to walk in His shoes as well as learn more about God. The first festival of the year is coming up this week, so I will write about it next week!