Monday, February 15, 2016

After Valentine's Day

I don't think you will find many men who get excited about Valentine's Day. Count me in that loop. That might explain the numerous men buying flowers in the grocery store on Valentine's Day. Yes, I have been one of them. But as I have become older & hopefully wiser I have learn to listen when my wife, Julie tells me it is a special day for her. She remembers the many Valentines she spent alone or in an unhappy marriage. Thankfully, God blessed me with a low maintenance woman who did not care to go out in the masses of people dining out for Valentine's Day. She hinted rather strongly that her favorite flower-white tulips were at Harris Teeter & on sale. She also asked if I would grill steaks.

Last year at this time, we heard a fantastic message on relationships by our Pastor, Jeff Kapusta at Lifepoint Church.  He covered it all. Those dating, those not dating, & those of us that are married. I sure learned some things. He talked about those things we do in the beginning that we cease doing in time. Jeff still opens the car door for his wife 99% of the time after nineteen years of marriage.  

Jeff talked about standards & he had a list of things that were really right on target. One of my favorite things he said that I have said countless times. Listen to your friends. The word friend is sacred to me. There is a huge difference between a friend & an acquaintance. A real friend is not only there for you at three a.m. but they want you to be happy. They are not petty or envious of your success. They are empathetic with you in your failures. If they are not these things you need new friends.

So when they tell  you that you are in an unhealthy relationship....Listen. I don't care if you are in love or not. Don't be that fool like me that thinks you see something inside of them that your friends can't see. 

I've been there when my friends told me to bail. I wish I would have been wise enough to have listened sooner. On the other hand, my friends love Julie. My best friend Jack, who is not given to a lot of emotion could scarcely speak at our wedding when it was time for him to offer a toast. Thankfully, he has a great wife too, Kelly, that helped him along with his speech.

Another aspect is, don't settle out of loneliness. It made me think of the worse kind of loneliness. It is not when you are alone for the Holidays. It is not when you are alone at a certain age. The worst loneliness is being lonely in a bad marriage. Trust me.

The fear of loneliness can drive people to one bad decision after another. I bet we all know people who simply can't be alone. They close one relationship out with another. I am no counselor but common sense should tell you that is not going to work. 

Julie & I were both lonely but we both were in a position where we meant it when we said, "God if you are not in it we would rather be alone." Julie realized this much sooner than I. Of course she did should be the chorus line right now. I kept doing that thing that most people do. Let me get what I think I should have & God I will get around to you on the back end of my decision. Is it any wonder the divorce rate is 50%? I tell you why I did it my way. I did not trust God because if I did I would have wanted Him in it from the very beginning. But placing Him in it from the beginning would mean doing it His way. We want to do our way.

Julie & I did not do everything right but I will tell you one thing we did that I suggest everyone do. We were up front from the beginning. We kept throwing our cards on the table. I use the word deal breaker often. I wanted to know early if we were not on a path that would turn out differently than our history.

Think about it. You meet someone. You are falling for them & then you become hesitant because what if I share this about myself & they think it is too much? We didn't do that. I think within the first two to three weeks we had shared all the things we were afraid or even a little ashamed to share. 

Julie did something early on that I can't even explain how much it meant. I shared one of my possible deal breakers & she looked at me with those kind, unwavering eyes & said, "You keep saying these things like that is going to be the one thing that causes me to walk out the door. I am not going anywhere." She meant it. She still does.

I thought about Jeff's list yesterday. I use to have one & it was before I turned the wheel of this life over to God.

1. Great Passion.

2. Great Communication. 

3. Common Interests.  (Now this does not mean that you have to love all the same  things but you better have a few things that  you enjoy doing together because if one of you gives in to what the other wants to do all the time there will be resentment that comes to play.)

4. Common Values.

I still think it is a pretty good list but here is the one I did not have back then. It should be the first one. Place God first. Trust Him to know what is best for  you.

If you are single trust God. If you are married keep growing together. Don't allow today's minor problem to become tomorrow's major obstacle. Communicate with each other. Listen. No silent treatment.

I was confident that we would have a good marriage-even a great one because of two main things. We both wanted to put God first & we knew He was on board with our path. The second was we would both know not to take our life with each other for granted.

It had nothing to do with Valentine's Day last week when I looked at her & said, "Thank you for loving me at my worst." I have had the other love.It is not worth it.

We have made each other better. We are good for each other. Don't waste time in a relationship where you are not good for each other. 

One last thing that Julie & I both do well. We walk in the other room & say, "I am sorry. I blew it." And it is over. No lingering drama. No carryover.

You know there is scarcely a day that goes by that I don't thank God for Julie. She is better than I deserved. A gift from God & no other woman has or could ever measure up. I pray that for all of you.

But Pastor Jeff, I do need to get that door thing back in the regular rotation.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Hearts Have No Color

"Hearts have no color Daddy.  You taught me that when I was a little girl.”

This is maybe my favorite line in the The River Hideaway. I won't give away too much for those of you who have not read the book yet & if you haven't what in the world are you waiting on? :) 
What I love about this line is that it has taken on a life of its own with many of the readers. I  have had- Hearts have no color- repeated back to me by various readers. My friend, Richard Busby, suggested at a book signing in Raleigh to sign the books with that caption. I don't know why I did not think of it sooner. 
There are a few reasons why this line means so much to me. The lesson was taught by my favorite character in The River Hideaway, Clarence Wilkins, a black man, refuses to allow the prejudice he endures in his life to change his way of belief that- "Hearts have no color." He teaches this lesson to his son & daughter. But there comes a part in the story when his daughter ventures down a road that he does not approve of & he does not live out the words that he has taught. She turns his words back to him. What will he do?
The River Hideaway is fictional-unlike our lives, though at times I sure wish I could write some of my decisions off to fiction. I love the line in my book because I believe it with all my heart. I believe it because I believe in God- a Father that loves His children. Do you think for one moment that our loving Father considers the color of our skin? I don't. 
I have shared often about growing up in a church where racism flourished. Even as a little boy during the racial conflict that was a big part of Wilmington during that time as well as in much of the country I recall sitting in church thinking isn't this where we should all come together? But our doors were closed to anyone of color. I never shared my thoughts with anyone & I forgot about the thoughts a little boy once had for most of my life. But don't you think God knew that a little boy would one day grow up & write a story about racially charged times? I suspect even then He was planting the seed for the type man I would grow up to be. 
Recently, I heard a message from a black minister who felt the Lord wanted him to integrate the church that he was Shepherd at. It was met with resistance by some of the congregation but he pressed on because that was his directive from God.  The church is now diversified.
I wish I could tell you that I never was prejudice as I grew up in the south or that I had no problem when our schools begin to integrate, or when we were bused to what was previously an all black school I said, "Great. Sign me up." No, sadly I gave into the silly stereotypes of that time. 
But on the night when God showed up to a lost young man, walking down a black street & I experienced first hand how real our God is I knew without anyone telling me that God looked on the heart. The color of our skin matters not. Not in any circumstance. 
1 Samuel 16:7
The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
I coached basketball for twenty years. I was asked often. How many black kids do you have on  your team. What a question. No one ever asked me how many white kids I had on my team. My answer was always the same. "I don't know."
That was the truth. Oh, I could have sat down & thought about it or looked at the team photograph but it was not information I stored in my head. I would hope my boys would say coach just wanted us to play hard, play smart, be a good teammate. He didn't care if we were purple if we just did that.
Remember when the disciples asked Jesus about Heaven & He said you don't even understand earthly things. 
I am pretty sure of a few things about Heaven. There will be no us & them. There will be no racial division. No prejudice. No stereotypes. Maybe just one heart all tied into our Father.

Hearts have no color.  
I believe that is more than a line in a fictional story.