The Last Time...

This time of year brings a heightened awareness of changes in our lives - especially the losses we're facing: Separation after graduation,  friends moving across the country,  new jobs.  We're experiencing that here in our tight-knit little Family Talk Broadcasting department right now, as in the past few weeks alone we've said goodbye to three key staff members -- each of whom is moving on to embrace new family commitments.  And in one short week, I'll join that group. 

As women, we're deeply impacted by these farewells.  My friend's firstborn son is graduating from high school tomorrow and, as such, has been barraged with 'lasts' this month:  "This is Josh's last day of high school; his final choir concert; the last time he'll drive his siblings to school."  On and on it goes.   Ironically, just as she was coming to terms with the season, a well-meaning friend at church piped up, "Hey, tonight's the last time your son will be here helping with Awana, right?"  Sigh.  Uh...thanks for pointing that out.

(By the way, I guess it's not just us females.  As I'm writing this, my 22 yr-old son bounded out the front door grinning, "Hey, Mom, this is the last time I'll be heading up to my college apartment as a resident there!") 

Then there are the 'lasts' we never see coming:  the last time your baby nursed from your breast, the last time your daughter crawled up in your lap, the last time you made your son's sack lunch.  Tragically, there are seven mothers in Moore, Oklahoma right now who had no idea that Monday morning, May 20th was the last time they'd pour a bowl of breakfast cereal for their son or daughter, as an EF-5 tornado (the highest scale possible) would rip through the Plaza Towers elementary school just hours later.  Heart-wrenching.

It's human nature to look in the rear view mirror, I guess.  After all, the past is all we know.  While there certainly could be a bright future ahead, it's completely uncharted; we can't fathom it. We have no understanding of it -- no point of reference.   As a result I seem to focus only on what I can't have any more, instead of what's on the horizon.  Only an omniscient God knows the future.

The Lord understands my predisposition to fixate on the "has beens."  That's why He gently admonishes me to look out the front windshield when I insist on glancing backwards.  

Song of Solomon, chapter 2:  
"See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.   Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land."

Isaiah 43:   
"This is what the Lord says—“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?"

...and Philippians 4:13-14
"Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

In one week I'll wind up thirty years of ministry alongside Dr. Dobson.  I'll undoubtedly have moments of looking back -- and there's a place for that.  But I'm keenly aware that after a time of poignant reflection, I'll need to brace my back to the wind and choose to squarely look ahead to the vast unwritten slate before me.  I must ask, "What new thing are you doing, Lord?  I want to be a part of it!" 


So...are you feeling it yet?  The harried, hectic, near chaotic pace of May?  Every mom of school-aged children knows the feeling.  As the academic year winds down, the activities, obligations and year-end celebrations ramp up.

Your calendar is full:  classroom parties, concerts, spring plays and art shows.  Baseball, soccer and track tournaments.  Then add in the academic stress of tri-fold projects, classroom presentations, term papers and scholarship deadlines for secondary students.  And if you dare have a student who's graduating....double everything and top it off with a heavy weight of anxiety about the future.

And while these activities and events are all wonderful (who doesn't love sitting in chairs half our size at a Mother's Day Tea!?), we're exhausted.  Exhausted because these activities are added on top of an already-overloaded calendar filled with the mundane tasks of laundry, doctor's appointments, haircuts and grocery shopping.

For me, I've added the reality that in the next two weeks I'll be tying up 3+ years of ministry leadership here at Family Talk.   So yes, I'm easily overwhelmed right now.  Busy.  Stressed.  A near frenetic pace.

That's why I must consciously monitor the frenzy.  I must constantly fight to restore a sense of balance and rest to my soul.   Let's face it:  us multi-tasking "Martha" women have an especially hard time laying down the schedule and soaking in a "Mary' moment at the feet of Jesus.  (Luke 10:38-42)

Perhaps that's why I've worn out Track #6 on my new Firm Foundation CD.  Two-three times a day I play this song and let the truth of these lyrics wash over me in the car, on my IPod, throughout our walls at home as I'm making dinner:

Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
In you I rest, in You I found my hope
In you I trust, You never let me go
I place my life within your hands alone
Be still, my soul

Take a few minutes with me right now and find rest for your soul: Be Still My Soul by Kari Jobe.  It's a sure cure for the mayhem that this month brings for moms.

It's Time To Go Home

Three years ago the Lord unmistakably called me to work more strategically alongside Dr. James Dobson to help a small team launch Family Talk.  For the previous 26 years I had primarily been a flexible worker for him -- fully supporting his ministry to families, but doing so in a different capacity and with a varied schedule.  So a full-time, on-site co-hosting opportunity was quite unexpected.   However, after much prayer and discussion, and with the full support and excitement of my family, I joined up. And oh my, the blessings have been abundant!

Miraculously, astoundingly, the pieces flowed together.  My husband was thrilled that our family was on the front lines of defending our Christian faith in the marketplace of ideas and even managed to flex his job a bit in order to assist with car pool and errands.  Our two teenage sons were grappling with worldview issues at school, so when I'd return home at night after a day in the studio, some incredibly relevant conversations ensued; they were discovering first-hand what it might look like to walk out their values in the days ahead.

In addition, our college son had surprisingly accepted a position in student government on campus.  I loved dialoguing with him about how to be a godly leader and make tough decisions, and would often share about my own successes or failures in the workplace that day.  Even my married daughter who lived in another state enjoyed this season because via our Family Talk broadcasts she could hear her mom's voice a bit more often across the miles.  (That's a precious thought that still brings a smile to my face...thank you, Lord.)  For these reasons and more, I'll never doubt my calling to this ministry and God's people over the past 3 1/2 years.

But's time to go home.

You see:  first and foremost I'm a wife and a mom.  I'm a woman called by God to serve my family.  And when those family dynamics change, I'm called to change with them.

Last fall when our third child departed for college, we faced a new frontier:  fewer drivers for our remaining son's school schedule and sports practices; a scarcity of family members to cheer at his games and concerts; less voices echoing through the hallway at the end of the day.  But above all, it revealed a stark and undeniable realization to my heart:  this mom only has three more years to serve in an active and vital role with a child at home.  My days of tripping over sneakers at the front door and climbing around backpacks on the stairway are fleeting.

Let me put it another way:  I'm 51 years old.  The US Census bureau reports that given my gender and generation, I could realistically live to be 82.  That means that, if I am so blessed, I may have another 3 decades left here on this earth.  My son will only be in our home a tiny portion of those.  In a very real sense, the Lord is simply asking me, "LuAnne, will you tithe your time?  Of your remaining 30 years, will you give Me the next 3?  Will you set aside your own dreams and aspirations to devote a mere 10% of your future exclusively to your family?"  When considered in that context, it's a pretty easy answer:  "Yes."

I'm keenly aware that as women we profoundly live in seasons.  This was confirmed to me recently as I was sharing my decision with friend and broadcast guest Dr. Meg Meeker.  Dr. Meeker cited an unscientific study she conducted which revealed that major life changes occur for women much more often than for our male counterparts.  And guess how often our seasons typically last?  Three years.  Hmmmm, looks like I'm right on track.

As I prepare to make this transition at the end of the month, my mind is swirling with emotions and ideas.  I wrestle with how this concept plays out for so many women in differing scenarios:  What about the single mom?   Is it wrong to work outside the home?  Can I still live out my unique skills and talents on a lesser stage?  How will our financial future be affected?  What about my female peers who feel they've been called to public ministry?  Lots of questions.  Ones that I'm looking foward to diving into more here on this blog in the days ahead.  I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.

For now I'm comforted by the assurance that as I head home and embrace the next season, there is a God who sees me and He's already directed every step on the path ahead of me.  And what He does for me, He'll do for you.  I pray that as women we will each have the courage to walk the individual path that He's chosen for us. Ahhh, the blessings of obedience!

What's In Your Back Seat?

Last week I drove a successful professional colleague to lunch.  I grimaced as we approached my decade-old, disfigured, un-vacuumed minivan.

Opening the door, I stole a quick glance in the back seat.  My shoulders drooped further.  Yep, the muddy soccer ball from a week ago was still there, and it would soon be playing pinball throughout the car as we headed to the restaurant.  In addition, an end-of-year care package for my college son was spread out in the back seat ready for assembly.  A second box containing a late birthday gift for my son-in-law sat next to it -- also awaiting a long-overdue trip to the Post Offiice.  To top it off, sitting on the floor was this morning's cereal bowl holding crusty oatmeal remains from my son's hurried breakfast.

Before I could open my mouth to apologize, I heard my passenger exclaim, "Oh, I feel right at home!" Bless her.  A true kindred spirit.

Right then we both realized how our cars represent a microcosm of our entire lives as moms.  Think about it. What's in your car right now?  Groceries...a gym bag...crayons.  A left-over backpack...outgrown baby clothes ready to be dropped off at a crisis pregnancy center...maybe even parking receipts from an unplanned trip to the hospital.  Or perhaps the best of all:  your children's car seats.

When I look in my back seat I see only busyness. An unfinished to-do list.  Clutter. But God sees life; life brimming with the rich relationships with which He's surrounded me.  That stained soccer ball represents an impromptu trip to the park.  Those cardboard boxes carry messages of "Hurray, I believe in you!" across the miles to young men I love.  Even that stale oatmeal bowl reminds me that not only does God provide daily sustenance for the Crane family, He also gives me the privilege of a 20-minute conversation with my favorite teenager before he faces the hallways of school that day.

Once again I'm drawn to that Genesis 16 description of the Lord as "the God who sees me."  Yes, God sees me.  Not a messy package or a dirty dish...ME.   Oh, how I want to look past the clutter and debris and truly see the people around me.  In fact, right now I'm reminded of a favorite impromptu family photo snapped just as two of my kids were getting out guessed back seat.

What's in your back seat today?  Turn around, take a look, and enjoy.

"How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?"  I Thessalonians 3:9

The Boston Massacre

We gasped in horror as the news unfolded Monday afternoon.  The triumph and anticipation of 20,000 elite athletes crossing a finish line was shattered by the malevolent behavior of anonymous cowards.

I'm especially troubled that this has occurred while our nation is still crawling out from underneath the shadow of Sandy Hook. And I find myself saying, "Really?  Again?"   In the aftermath of that Connecticut tragedy, we so desperately wanted to believe that evil of this nature was rare on American soil, or that it could be prevented with new gun legislation or increased security. Apparently not, as more trauma and mind-numbing heartache was unleashed on an unsuspecting and innocent public; this time on a Bostonian stage, with a 1/2 million spectators.

I join those of you searching for answers, and find a degree of refuge in a Psalmist's prayer penned thousands of years ago.   We forget that our generation is not the first to wrestle with exhausting contradictions between righteousness and evil.  Read with me, and find solace.

Psalm 55 (select verses)  
"Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. 
Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. 
I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. 
I would flee far away and stay in the desert; 
I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm" 

Apparently I'm not alone in my desire to run and hide while clamping my hands over my ears muttering, "not listening...not listening..."; it's an age-old characteristic of humanity.  But then I see how swiftly the author turns his focus at this point and becomes an active participant defending truth and abhorring evil; he is no longer a bystander, but has now entered the battle and pleads with the Lord for justice: 

"Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words, for I see violence and strife in the city.  Day and night they prowl about on its walls; malice and abuse are within it.  Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets. 

"But as for me, I trust in you."

This stark reality brings me crashing to my knees.  I am truly helpless apart from His overarching omnipotence.   And I can only utter, "God have mercy on our city streets.  Evil seems to abound for this brief season, but I trust in you."

Meet my friend, Stacey

Let me introduce you to a remarkable woman named Stacey.  I'm a regular subscriber to Stacey's blog, and her post just yesterday revealed a poignant and vulnerable account of her journey.  As a vibrant single woman, Stacey began by admitting that there was a particular phrase that she ached to hear.  But, I'll let her finish the story in her own words....

STACEY:  "You may have been thinking I was going to say, "I love you," as those words we long to hear.  But, those were not the three words I longed to hear.  No.

Back in 2004 following my breast cancer surgery, the best words I heard from the doctors and the oncologists were, "You're cancer free!" My family and I were so happy to hear this. You don't want to have cancer at any age, but 34 was not the time to get it either. I had just found my career, and then this happened.

I lived four years knowing I was cancer free, and being so happy how God had orchestrated my "healing." I knew that surgery had been His answer and I was content with that treatment. Paul writes in Philippians 4, "...for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." And how true that was for me those four years. It was then in 2008 when I found out the cancer had returned, and returned with a vengeance. I spent time talking with people about my short journey and telling of the contentment I felt knowing that God was in control of the situation, even with the news that I was soon going to have surgery to remove part of my pelvis. Some found it hard to believe I was so content and thought I was hiding my true feelings. But I wasn't.

I spent my waking hours proclaiming the glory of the Lord to those who inquired about my surgery. It was God using surgery to heal me back then, and I knew it was true again this time. Many told me they never would have known I was sick in the first place. Others couldn't believe how "matter-of-fact" I was about having come through surgery for breast cancer with no other treatments at the time, and was now facing yet another scarier surgery. I took no credit for being "calm, cool and collected" about it, as people sometimes noted. I shouted from the mountain top that "My God Reigns."

In the Spring of 2011, our lives intersected when Stacey joined our Family Talk team to serve as our incredibly competent and brilliant Web Designer - a position she still holds.  I'll never forget the day a modified recliner chair was assembled in her empty cubicle in anticipation of her first day of work the following Monday.  "Curious," I thought, "I wonder why that's needed?"  I was soon to find out.

You see, today Stacey lives with constant pain. The breast cancer victory above was short-lived.  The cancer returned, but this time in her hip.  Thus, more exhausting medical visits.  Recurring trips to the oncologist.  Pain management.  More medical terms.   Alternative treatments.  And all of this culminating with the removal of her pelvic bone on the right side (where the hip joins) in August 2008.  The chair and it's accompanying logistics are a constant reminder of a complete lack of bone structure on that side, and her subsequent inability to sit upright at a desk for more than 2 minutes at a time.   In fact, when our Family Talk staff assembles for daily devotions upstairs in Dr. Dobson's library, precious Stacey dials in and joins us via speaker phone from the first floor, because she can neither make the trip upstairs, nor last the 20 minutes necessary in a straightback chair.  Truly, this dear co-worker cannot even walk to the kitchen to reheat her lunch without grimacing.  It's an incredible glimpse of a life filled with struggle and physical pain.

This is precisely why her glorious conclusion yesterday hit me right between the eyes:

"Today after yet several more surgeries (3 in 2010 and 1 in 2012), I still shout, but only from the rooftops. It's harder these days. Not harder to give God the glory, because I still do that daily, but it's harder to find the strength to shout it. I am still content—on most days. I do have my moments where not being able to do a particular task overwhelms my emotions and I have a short breakdown—sometimes with tears (also referred to in our house as a meltdown). I never stay in that moment, though. Why?

Isaiah 53:1-4 tells us how Jesus was going to be treated by human kind here on earth. And in verse 5 it says, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed." As found in 1 Peter 2:24, “'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.'” (Emphasis added.) Jesus was treated much worse than anything you or I will ever experience. Yet, He took all my sins and sicknesses on Himself that day on the cross so that I (and you) may live in righteousness and be healed of all sicknesses and diseases. Now, I know it may or may not be here on this side of eternity, yet I can (and will) shout, "I AM HEALED!"

Where I used to desire to hear the words, "You're cancer free," I now long for the day when I hear my Lord say to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Original text is found in Matthew 25:23).

I pray I live up to serving the Lord well."

You do, my friend.  You do indeed.

Join me on following Stacey's journey at Step of Faith.

I Need a Mouth Guard

I'm a talker.  I love words.  Working around Dr. Dobson for three decades has only increased my passion to carefully and intentionally communicate the power of the Gospel verbally to hurting families.  Ahhhh, families:  my other great passion.   Three years ago when I first approached my husband and kids about the possibility of me joining the Family Talk team, my oldest son piped up, "Well Mom, this is a 'no-brainer'; you've got to take the job.  It's all about "family" and "talk" -- two of your favorite things!"  True. The boy knows me well.

But I'm keenly aware that every strength pushed to its limit becomes a weakness.  Given my propensity to talk, chat, converse, and occasionally ramble, I'm burdened by the realization that my words also have the ability to do enormous harm.  The Word of God confirms this by the exorbitant amount of time devoted to discussions on the mouth, the tongue, and our speech.

Humorist Mark Twain quipped, "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."  This is undoubtedly a variation of David's admonition in Proverbs 17:28 that "even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues."  By far, the third chapter of James paints the bleakest picture culminating with a harsh warning in verse 8:  "No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison."   Gulp.

But look again at how James 3:8 begins:  "No human being can tame the tongue..."  The Lord Himself acknowledges that I am powerless to combat this fatal flaw on my own.  I need Him.  The compassionate Father reminds me that the only way I can conquer restless evil is to submit myself to His oversight.  That's why one of my most oft-repeated prayers is: "Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips."  (Psalm 141:3)   I claimed this again just the other night in anticipation of an emotional conversation awaiting me the next day: "Lord, you take the sentry position.  I give you full authority to clamp a muzzle on me, reinforce the guard gate and set watchman on the walls.  I am fully incapable of doing this on my own."    Amen.  And I'm pleased to report that together we won that particular battle.  Now onto today.....

Cinderella...The Day After

I felt a bit like Cinderella the day after the ball.  I had just returned from the annual National Religious Broadcaster's Convention at the delightful Opryland Hotel in Nashville where I was treated to three days of extravagance, excitement and warm, rich relationships with dear Christian friends.  A definite highlight of the year.  So I should've seen it coming. 

The very next morning I awoke to dirty dishes in the sink, a minivan at the mechanic's, and an empty refrigerator in desperate need of a trip to Wal Mart.  My work was cut out for me.  I might have anticipated that the day would be woven with weariness right from the start when my son and I headed out the door for school, only to realize that my husband had left an hour earlier -- with my car keys in his pocket.  Hello, reality.

Home life can be ordinary, predictable, and yes -- even a tad mundane at times.  I'm sure you can relate:  You pay your bills, show up to work on time, stay faithful to your spouse.  You set your alarm for 5 am to drive your child to a before-school practice when you desperately need the extra hour of sleep.  It's a non-glamorous routine that doesn't warrant a YouTube video or a splashy Twitter post.

Scripture refers to this as the "straight and narrow."  Proverbs 4:25 instructs, "Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you", and reminds us that "folly brings joy to one who has no sense, but whoever has understanding keeps a straight course." (Prov 15:21)

The world might call it boring.  Tedious.  Something to avoid at all costs.
God calls it faithful.  Persevering.  Something to pursue at all costs.
I call it being a wife and mom. And it's one of the greatest privileges I could imagine.

Love the One You're With

Three sons.  Three schools.  Three different Spring Break schedules this month.  One is winding up his time-off right now, while another will arrive on our doorstep in the dead of night to begin his reprieve tomorrow.  Meanwhile, their little brother still has another whole week of high school before his break even begins.  Sigh.  Not exactly prime family vacation scheduling.

It's the juggle we all face raising a busy family.  The constant tug of wanting to be with your loved ones when responsibility pulls you apart.

Years ago we visited some relatives on the West Coast.  After the grueling 1600 mile drive, we woke up the first morning with four glorious days ahead of us with which to relax, recreate and make new memories.  Yet on the morning of the second day,  I noticed the wife's mood had begun to change. She was becoming melancholy - nearly depressed.  I pulled her husband aside and asked if anything was wrong.  "Not really,"  he said.  "She's just thinking about that fact that you'll be leaving in a few days."  "Leaving in a few days??" I thought.  "But -- we just got here, and -- we've still got 2 more days to be together!"   I was troubled that the mere thought of our departure was already clouding the precious little time we had together now!  Right then it occurred to me that when my children grew up I'd have a similar choice:  mourn what will come, or celebrate the day in front of me.  It was a huge reality check for me.

It reminds me of the Crosby, Stills & Nash trio crooning, "If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with."  Admittedly, that particular song suggests a cavalier style of love and even hints at a lack of affection for the person in front of you.  But that's not my point.  I'm intrigued by the succinct and simple truth found in that last line:  "Love the one you're with."  Carpe Diem. Sieze the day.

For me, that means loving whatever child is standing in front of me today.  Holding him close...then letting him go.  Choosing not to squander my heart pining away for days that are no longer there or being frustrated by schedules that do not cooperate.  Simply put:  I want to embrace every moment to it's fullest.

Tonight that means I'll be waiting at the front door at 3 am when a certain car pulls in the driveway.

Ordinary Days Make the Special Days Better

We bought discount tickets back in October, made careful reservations for affordable lodging and packed our favorite board games, microwave popcorn and tunes. Time for the long-awaited Crane family ski trip to Winter Park, Colorado. Needless to say this was definitely one of those circled dates on our calendar.

While waiting in the ski lift line for our very first run, we overheard the family in front of us:
GIRL: "Josh, stop it!"
BOY:  "You're in my way...I'm telling mom!"
MOM: "Knock it off guys, I'm sick of your arguing."
GIRL: "What? I didn't do anything...he's just being a jerk."  (increasing volume)
 BOY:  "She called me a moron!"
 GIRL: "Did not....I called you an ignoramus.  You can't even hear right!"

The four of us glanced sideways and did many others in line.  Ouch. Family dynamics sure rear their ugly head at the worst moments in public, eh?

It reminded me of something our pastor used to say:  Special days are all the more special when ordinary days are lived well.

Translated:  When I make a conscious decision in the daily, tedious and mundane hours of child-rearing to teach mutual respect, patience and laughter in my home, I'll often reap those rewards just when I desire them most.

Many of us yearn for that Norman Rockwell scenario on Thanksgiving Day, or the perfect matching-shirt-family-photo, only to have the magical moment interrupted with a petty argument or offense.  But the groundwork begins much earlier:  in the daily-ness of car pool, homework and bedtime.  Throughout the year if we practice extending grace when offended or offering forgiveness when wronged, then when those long-awaited holidays or once-a-year vacations arrive, maybe....just maybe, we'll reap the benefits and actually enjoy our time together.

And, by the way...lest we think this is all about our children?   It's quite possible that if the folks behind us in that lift line listened carefully, they may have heard a certain mom rant, "C'mon boys...let's get moving.  The lifts opened an hour ago and we're wasting time! Go, go go!"  Hmm.  Makes me realize that when I train my sons to offer patience and forgiveness, more often than not, the woman looking back at me in the mirror is the recipient of that very kindness.  Thanks, guys.

A Perfectly Imperfect Weekend

We locked ourselves out of the adorable cabin we had rented and drove around for an hour until we could get a hold of the landlords; we sweated through the first night trying to figure out the thermostat setting; I ripped a hole in my brand new stockings as we headed out the door to a romantic dinner; we paid way too much for a gourmet dinner; and to top it all off, the batteries on our portable IPod promptly ran out while Nat King Cole was crooning love songs.  Ahhh, I do declare we just returned from a perfect mountain getaway weekend!

I mean that.  We had a blast.  It's precisely what I love about being married this long.  Interruptions that would've totally thrown me and gotten me in a funk as a newlywed are mere blips on the radar at this stage.  That's the blessing of commitment; the reward of perseverance; the beauty of growth.  I guess a relationship needs to soak like marinade into a good steak -- not be tossed into the microwave right out of the freezer.

Rarely do we have the foresight to realize this early on.  I sure didn't.  Three years into our marriage I surprised Steve with a prearranged overnight hotel trip.  I had secretly arranged for his parents to watch our infant daughter, and excitedly stood before him to hand over the envelope containing his rendezvous invitation.  He was pleased - but shocked.

Within an hour we arrived at the hotel in downtown Los Angeles.  Little did I know he didn't feel completely comfortable (a.k.a. "safe") in the particular section of town I had naively selected.  Furthermore, the room was oddly decorated and the clientele rather noisy.  As the evening unfolded, it got worse.  I sat back and expected him to now pick it up and take the lead on deciding where to eat, what to do, which movie to watch....and so on.  All with absolutely no warning.  It was awkward, unfortunate and disappointing.  We still talk about "Ooohhhhh, that weekend at the Bonaventure!"

They say that most divorces occur within the first 4-5 years of marriage.  I get that.  The luster wears off and the work begins.  Life gets crazy and some things never seem to gel.  You struggle and shift, yet don't quite reap the benefits.  It's tough.  Unrewarding. That cozy weekend cabin often appears worn out and ugly.

And yet, over and over again research shows that while there may be some dissatisfaction with your spouse in the first decade or two, affection for one another and overall marital health often dramatically improve after a silver anniversary.  In other words:  most of us should just dig in and hang on.  It's worth the arguments, the misunderstandings and the exhausting midnight discussions. 

So take a deep breath.  Close your eyes and try to picture 20 years down the road.  Try to hold on and get there.  You might be pleasantly surprised what you find on the other side of your rocky journey.

P.S.  Did I mention that we had blizzard conditions driving home from the cabin?

Ode to Husbands

It’s Valentine’s Day!  A season where chocolates and flowers are lavishly showered upon women all across the nation.

But ladies, this year I propose we turn the tables and acknowledge the men.  Those husbands and fathers who faithfully and sacrificially serve our families day after day with precious little fanfare.

In this context I offer up a simple, yet heart-felt little sonnet.  It flowed from my heart recently after re-reading the inspired Word of God penned by Solomon in the latter half of Proverbs 31; my humble treatise below attempts to parallel that Scriptural powerhouse verse by verse.  On this day of love, may I take this opportunity to introduce you to the tall, dark and handsome man who won my heart 28 years ago?  And in doing so, I hope you are inspired to pay tribute to the unsung hero in your life as well.  (And, yes - every scenario below is true.)

The Husband of Noble Character
1 Wow…where in the world can you find a husband with noble character any more!?  He is worth far more than any diamond ring on a woman’s finger.
2 His wife has full confidence in his fidelity and lacks nothing of true value. 
3 He speaks fondly of her in front of his friends, and never betrays her confidence when he’s out in public.
4 He finds killer deals on car parts, and then labors in the driveway all afternoon until those squeaky brakes are fixed.
5 He’s like the FedEx truck, driving clear across town to get the best deal at Home Depot.
6 He dons his work gear at 2 am and climbs up on the roof because the wind has kicked up, and the plastic sheeting which was supposed to prevent the leak just ripped loose.
7 He negotiates a fair price to purchase a used car for his daughter who’s heading off to college; and with the money he saves, fixes up the family car for his son.
8 Without a second thought, he scrambles out the door to rescue a stranded family member in an automotive emergency – from the engine that stalls in a flooded roundabout, to the timing belt that quits alongside the I-25 freeway at midnight.  And believe me -- his arms can easily lift that tire at the side of the road!
9 He tracks the ever-changing value of silver and gold, and saves up to place a tiny order when the price is just right; and speaking of finances -- he stays up late to help his wife pay the bills.
10 In his hand he holds the wrench and grasps the greasy bolt with his fingers.
11 He opens his heart to the overlooked soul at the nursing home, and even listens to the talkative stranger next to him on the airplane (instead of pretending to fall asleep like the rest of us would!)

12 When it snows, the wood pile is stocked, and when that runs out, he’s got kerosene for the portable heater - just to make sure his family won’t freeze.
13He installs the upholstery on his ’66 Mustang himself; in the winter he drives a used, but clean little Ranger truck.
14 His wife is secure in her ministry where she is free to blossom because of his tender care.
15 He drafts contours for underneath city streets, and supplies the developers with a precise set of plans.
16 He carries himself with quiet strength, and smiles when he thinks about growing old with his wife.
17 He speaks with wisdom, and trains his children to always love one another, and the Lord above all.
18 He’s aware of “who needs what” in his family, and works 9-10 hour days to provide for them.
19 The older his daughter and sons grow, the more they recognize what an incredible Dad they’ve got; his wife, too, is incredibly proud to bear his name!
20 She says, “Lots of dynamic speakers and authors pass through the Family Talk office, but you stand head and shoulders above them all!”
21 Political charisma comes and goes, and athletic prowess is fleeting, but the man who is honorable and full of integrity in his home -- where it really counts -- is to be respected.
22 It’s time to honor him for decades of godly character, and let his years of quiet steadiness be acknowledged publicly in the blogosphere.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Steve.  I love you!
Yours always,

Marriage: The Divine Chisel

February. The month of love. Yet for some of you, it's your least-favorite page on the calendar. You're married, but it's not all sunshine and roses; it's not even overcast with daisies. It's more like constant rain with periods of sleet, hail and lightning. You may even be in the midst of an intense standoff right now. Marriage feels like drudgery and, if you're honest, the past several years have been filled with pain, heartache and recurring disappointment.  You wonder, "How could something that began so star-studded and exhilarating, end up so ugly?"

I know that whenever I muse over a marital issue, Dr. Dobson is quick to point out, "LuAnne, you married a sinner...and so did he!"  Admittedly, my spousal struggles may pale in comparison to yours, yet I assure you that my egotistical nature is Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to quarrels. That's why I must constantly remind myself of author Gary Thomas' keen observation:

"Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value...the real purpose of marriage may not be happiness as much as it is holiness." (Sacred Marriage, pgs 22-23.)

This concept of self-sacrifice is beautifully laid out in chapter 5 of Steve Holt's book, The God-Wild Marriage*:
"Like a divine sculptor, God is chiseling away our sinful nature through the hammer and chisel of that other person. Yes, He is using that other person to break our stony heart, to knife into our selfish edges, smoothing us into a new person with a new purpose and a new God-wild joy. This is the other side of the cross; this is the other side of marriage.

"Yet few marriages ever reach such a point of growth. Instead of embracing the hammer and chisel and allowing it to press us into Christ, we run! We run away from and over our spouses. We often end up fighting the wrong battles, the wrong way, turning them into the wrong war.

"But God is not an uninvolved bystander. He has sovereignly given you that other person to chip and shave you into a new sculpture through the chisel and hammer of such conflicts." (pg. 87)
I don't know what you're going through today, but I do know that the God of the universe sees you. And like a master sculptor carving an ornate image, one of His hands carefully whittles away at the excess -- while the other gently cradles you, His creation.

"If your marriage is tough, get down on your knees and thank God for your spouse. Thank Him that He is training you for battle. He is forging character in you by your submission to Jesus and His sovereign plan for your life." (The God-Wild Marriage, pg. 95)

* The God-Wild Marriage:  A Roadmap to a Dangerously Fulfilling Love Life, by Steve Holt, Alliance Publishing Group, Inc., (2012)

Women In Combat

In late January of 2013, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced he was lifting the military's ban on women in combat.  Consider just a few of the enormous ramifications of this for our troops:  Personal hygiene and sexuality issues; the overwhelming need for upper body strength against the enemy; unthinkable POW scenarios.  And the overarching fact that this one statement takes a sledgehammer to the very foundation upon which we've attempted to raise our sons, namely:  "Guys, always shield and protect your's not the other way around."  No, Mr. Secretary, this is far too serious of a social experiment to run at the risk of our nation's security.

Come to think of it, some of the best women in combat I've ever seen are not necessarily doing so in an Afghan desert. No, they're in my school parking lot, at the check-out line of the grocery store, and seated next to me at church. They're soldiers of a different sort, battling it out in the trenches of life.

One wrestles to save a dying relationship with a porn-addicted husband.  Another arrives home every night bloody and bruised from ugly court battles for custody of a young child; Yet another slugs it out in the rehab unit on behalf of a wayward son or daughter.  There are even those in the triage ward right now fighting to hang on to a high-risk pregnancy after multiple miscarriages.  These are true women in combat.  And for you brave warriors, I offer these words today:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."  (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Now ladies, let's put our camouflage on and get back into the war for our families.  I believe we can win this one.

Bumper Scars

Like thousands of carpooling moms across America, I drive a minivan. She's nothing special; she rolled off the General Motors assembly line well over a decade ago, and is fairly non-descript as minivans go.

And yet I can spot my Crane-mobile well across the Wal-Mart parking lot because of two clear distinctions:  (1)  A gaping 10" hole in the front right corner and, (2) a 4" deep divot in the rear passenger bumper. In general I'm not especially particular about my driving machine, but for some reason I'm self-conscious when it comes to these two blemishes.  Recently I was idling at our school's crosswalk when a youngster whirled around and, aghast, proceeded to point out to the world that my washer fluid reservoir was nakedly visible through the broken fiberglass!  Imagine that:  ridiculed by an 8-yr-old!  As a result, whether I'm driving on the Interstate to school, pulling into our Family Talk parking lot, or exiting my car at church, my mangled vehicle screams, "Watch out!  Stay far, far away....this lady drives like a maniac!"

In defense I want to shout back, "Hey, you don't understand...these are not my scars!  I didn't do this!"  In truth, my car was christened by other members of my family:  two seasoned drivers who just happened to be behind the wheel as it (1) slid through an icy intersection, and (2) backed into a hidden fencepost.  Honest mistakes.  But it's the car I drive.  And because we can always find more urgent needs for our hard-earned money, these dual memories will remain in full view until my husband can find appropriate replacement parts at the local junkyard.

In other words:  I daily bear the scars for another's actions.

When I stop to think about it, I'm ashamed for my selfish attitude.  I'm ashamed that the very people for whom I claim I'd lay down my life, are the very ones I quickly distance myself from the moment they embarrass or inconvenience me.  Even more, I'm convicted of the stark reality that this is merely a glimpse of the grief I caused my Lord when my sins were laid upon His shoulders.  In true agape love, Jesus willingly bore my stains, my bruises, my dents and dings in front of a ridiculing world.  He hung naked on that cross while passersby mocked His defiled image.  All for me.  I'm the one who callously slid through that icy intersection of life...not Him.  I'm the one who brazenly backed into that dark corner of disgusting behavior...not Him.  Yet He bore the shame.  And He still does today, every time I refuse His direction.

So thank you, Lord, for my minivan bumper scars.  They are a daily reminder of Your never-ending love and sacrifice for me.

There Goes the Neighborhood!

"Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth."  --  Ecclesiastes 11:9
A few years ago on a glorious Saturday I was in the front yard weeding when a raucous commotion up the street caused me to look up from my dandelions. Four or five houses away, two teenage boys were roaring with laughter as they pushed one another on a four-wheeled concoction that can only be described as ridiculous: an orange moving truck dolly complete with two bright plastic sleds for the seat, a Spiderman skim board for the back, and a swatch of foam-cushioning to top it all off. Veering near disaster to the lawn on their left, I watched with disbelief, thinking “Kids these days!” When suddenly I realized, uh…you guessed it: they were my sons.

Joy. Unabated & unrestrained. Uninhibited laughter and delight. I had to smile to myself. When did I lose that sense of delight? Why can a 16-year and 13- year old radiate from-the-belly-chortling at life, when we adults only see scrapes, ruined sleds and noise?

I want that abundant joy -- not just an optimistic personality, or a sense that all is well in my world -- no, I want to be like my Ford-engineering sons, discovering wonder and awe at the simplicity of this life designed by a loving Creator.

I imagine that Creator was relishing in HIS creation at that moment as well.

"I Was Wr-wr-wrong"

"I messed up."  "I blew it."  "My bad."  And the ultimate? (gulp) "I was wrong."  Why are these words so hard to say?

I don't know about you, but in the midst of some absolutely wonderful family memories this past holiday season I had plenty of opportunities to use one of these lines.  Take your pick.

The day after Christmas, I developed an excruciating headache that forced me to retreat to a dimly lit room with minimal stiumuli.  I longed to be with my family (especially my college sons who were only here for a limited number of days), but I simply coudn't tolerate the noise.  So they each graciously obliged and left me alone.  Yet, as soon as they did, you guessed it:  I felt neglected and abandoned!  Within minutes I unfairly snapped at Steve, accusing him of deserting me in my hour of need.  (I know...go figure.)  With the light of a new day, it was abundantly clear to me that I had been wrong and proceeded to make things right.

My arrogance pops up in silly things as well:  I'll  steadfastly argue that the coffee shop is on the right side of the street only to discover it's on the left, so I defensively retort, "Well, I was coming from the other direction last time!"  Or I earnestly deny that I misplaced the checkbook, only to discover it in my purse later that evening.  Time to add a few more responses to my growing repertoire:  "I'm sorry.  You were right.  I goofed."

My heartfelt prayer for 2013 is that I'll be teachable in this area.  Reading through Scripture again today illuminates both the warning and the blessings of this trait:
     "The Lord opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  I Peter 5:5
     "Rebuke a wise man and he will love you."  Prov. 9:8
     "He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a comand is rewarded."  Prov. 13:13
     "He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.  He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding."  Prov. 15:31-32

A friend of mine recently posted this Biblical truth on her Facebook page and I was instantly convicted of it's reality in my own life:  "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst."  True.  And yet my heart leapt as my eyes fell upon this everlasting truth at the end:  "But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."  I Timothy 1:15-16

Oh my!  Only a Savior as compassionate as ours would be able to turn the depths of my sin into ultimate redemption for another eternal soul.  Praise be to Him who gives us the victory!

Throughout 2013 let's bask in a new-found understanding of this truth.

2013: Here We Come....Ready or Not

As we flip our calendars over to 2013, the sense of expectation is high.  Graduations, weddings and vacations are eagerly penned in with great anticipation.  Noticeably absent from these pages are the countless disappointments and losses that you and I will undoubtedly face in the next 12 months.

Author and theologian Dr. R. T. Kendall addressed this on a recent Family Talk broadcast, "Totally Forgiving God I-II" discussing an age-old dilemma he calls the "betrayal barrier." He purports that when we are wronged or kicked in the stomach by life's sucker-punches we often hit a wall and have a choice:  defiantly resist, or open our palms upward and surrender to God's omnipotence.

It's a profound concept for me, and one I struggle with partly because I have an overdeveloped sense of justice:  when I'm misquoted or misrepresented, I'm ticked; when a healthy friend is diagnosed with a fatal illness, or a godly woman's husband walks out on her, I stammer for an explanation.

However, I'm learning that my reliance upon God has little to do with fairness or even vengeance.  Instead it has everything to do with the unwavering recognition that I serve a God who sees all and knows all.  Another Family Talk broadcast guest (and cancer fighter) Dr. Ken Hutcherson puts it this way:  Either God is sovereign....or He is not!

Habakkuk 3:17-18 hits me squarely between the eyes in this regard.  After recounting Jehovah's glorious strength and power from years gone by, the prophet concludes thus:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on  the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Sometimes it helps to adopt a modern-day filter:

Though the economy has faltered and there are no job prospects on the horizon,
though the milk has spoiled and there's no money in the bank to purchase more,
though there is no car in the drive way and no friends around to offer me a ride,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

I'm not suggesting we play a game of denial.  We don't pretend to eat dinner when the plate is empty, or mime driving an imaginary car to a non-existent job.  No.  But based on a constant reminder of God's faithfulness to me in the past, I am compelled to summon every ounce of my will and place my trust in this very same God for the yet-to-be seen year ahead.

For some of us, this question of God's authority in our life will come early in 2013.  We'd be wise to choose our response now.