When it’s more blessed to receive …

If you’ve been following me or have read my most recent book, you know that I grew up without my dad. Back then moms were expected to stay home with their kids. So that’s what my mom did.

She took very good care of my brother and me, but we didn’t have a lot. Christmas meant one gift each … often bought through the genius of my mother’s financial expertise, which could best be described as the Robbing-Peter-to-Pay-Paul method of survival.

On more than one occasion, we were the recipients of Holiday Cheer bestowed on needy families by a local charity. I remember receiving a food basket one year. Literally, it was a bushel basket filled with all kinds of tasty goodies … and some items we’d never seen nor heard of … and never opened.

But the time I remember most was the year of the Shopping Spree. I was in junior high. I don’t know how many kids were involved, but I do know I was one of them. The local discount store was still closed when a bunch of us kids were bused to the front door and turned loose inside to made purchases for ourselves.

What was the limit? I never asked.

I remember a volunteer trying to get me to make a decision about what I wanted. I’m sure we were there for more than an hour. It actually seemed like several hours, though I don’t recall. I ended up with one pair of dark teal slacks – made of lightweight material – and a coordinated printed cotton blouse. Not the warmest choice for a Kansas winter.

The volunteer tried to talk me into other things, but I respectfully declined. It wasn’t that I thought I was above receiving. I was just taught that you should never ask for anything. Never. Not even when something’s freely offered to you.

The enemy still uses that one against me today.

  • He has continually attacked my finances, my relationships … and my identity.
  • He tells me I can’t have what the Lord Himself has promised.
  • All of Heaven’s resources are available to me.
  • Yet – when I fall for the lies, I still opt for my own limitations.

Yes, I have far too often believed the enemy’s lies.

Maybe you have, too. We believe that we must suffer in silence … payment for our mistakes as well as our blatant sins. And we fail to receive the blessings the Lord has stored up for us. Wait! Didn’t Jesus die to pay for all of that?

That’s all a lie! And this means war.

If you’re like me, and you’re still struggling with the same old mindset … and the same problems keep you up at night, you’re probably stuck in some sort of Negative Cycle. We clearly need a new Strategy for Life.

One of my favorite Bible teachers is Priscilla Shirer, author of Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer. She puts it this way:

Strategies? Yes. Because as you may have noticed, the battles your enemy wages against you – especially the most acute, consistent ones – possess a personality to them, an intimate knowledge of who you are and the precise pressure points where you can most easily be taken down. Random accident? Lucky guess? I don’t think so. There areas of greatest fear and anxiety in your life are clues to some important spiritual information. They reveal, among other things, that a personalized strategy has been insidiously put in place to destroy your vibrancy and render you defeated. It’s been drawn up on the blackboard by someone who knows where you live and whom you love, knows your customary tendencies, and knows from long experience how best to exploit every single on of them. And maybe up until now, it’s been working.
(pp. 6-7)

But those days are over! Are you with me?

Théoden: I will not risk open war.
Aragorn: Open war is upon you, whether would risk it or not.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

My Boldest Prayer

Just over a year ago, I prayed the boldest prayer I’ve ever prayed. And I’ve prayed a lot of prayers. But this one was life-changing in ways I could never have imagined. And I did ask for it.

I’d just boarded a plane headed east to meet my youngest grandson for the first time. Exhausted, I opted for a silent flight. No music. No internet. Not even a book or magazine. Just my earplugs … and 4+ hours of quiet time with the Lord.

What should we talk about?

Prayer changes things. And people.

As you know from reading My Story, my life has been one challenge after another. Many of my lifelong dreams have remained just out of reach. Even now, I consider only a few of my endeavors to have been successful ones.

  • My three amazing sons (grown with their own families)
  • My three psychology degrees (BA, MA, PsyD)

It was July by now, and for several months the Lord had been talking to me about establishing a Christian Couples Retreat Center. [You can read the back story here.] The ideas flooded in as fast as I could write them down. “No one is doing anything like this,” I quickly realized. “The concept is totally unique, Lord! Very romantic and exciting!”

There were just a few problems, however.

Although I certainly have the training for it, I couldn’t help but wonder. Why on earth would the Lord give such An Amazing Vision – such a unique and brilliant concept –

  • to a woman who has been divorced twice,
  • a woman who is clearly no longer a Spring Chick,
  • and who has very little in terms of material resources?

Seriously. No one has that kind of money these days.

But if God wants it, He certainly can make it happen. Right? But why me, Lord? What have I ever done? Yet who am I to question God’s choices for leadership in His Kingdom?

He’s picked a lot of unlikely candidates to advance the Kingdom throughout history.

  • Abraham (an old dude with no kids … at first)
  • Jacob (second-born son who’d been a liar and a cheat)
  • Joseph (a bragger who lived the life of a slave and prisoner)
  • Moses (another old dude … this one with a stick and a stutter)
  • Esther (an orphaned Jewish girl who became Queen of Persia)
  • David (a scrawny shepherd boy who failed to fit the armor, but became King)
  • and Paul (who persecuted Christians … then wrote most of the New Testament)

… just to name just a random few.

So why NOT Dr. Debi (an old dudette)? “Ok, Lord,” I prayed on the plane that day. “I’ve been reminding You of how old I am, and You keep ignoring me.

“Your idea for this Christian Couples Retreat Center is so far beyond anything I’ve ever done. So – assuming You really want me to do this – You’re going to have to put me on The Fast Track.”

“I know I’ve played it safe all my life. But from here on out, you call the shots, Papa. All of them. Let’s make the Second Half of My Life a Real Adventure! You write the script. I’ll follow Your direction and do whatever You ask of me. Whatever You ask.”

At the time, “The Fast Track” I had in mind meant He’d have to start teaching me a ton-at-a-time about how to run the multi-dimensional business that He’d shown me.

Nope. Not even close.

What He’s done is put me on His Fast Track. He’s challenging me like I’d never imagined possible. And refining me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be refined. Here are just a few things I’m learning at a deeper level … so far.

  • Submit to His Lordship. If He’s in charge, then He’s in charge. Follow Him always.
  • Trust in His Goodness. For everything. I mean literally. Everything. Anxious for nothing. I mean literally. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
  • Stand on His Promises. I’m learning to hear His voice best and to take Him at His Word. Always. Because He never lies. Never. And nothing is too hard for Him.

Is this a new thing? I suspect it’s something He’s had planned all along.

I’ve always wanted to make a difference. And that was my goal when I began college as a single mom [and later, graduate school]. I wanted to help at least one person live a better life. But was that a new thought for me at age 40?

No, indeed. I recently recalled a time in junior high school. Yes, that’s when it was. Though I don’t remember the specific context, I’m sure it was during my Youth Group. The passion of it all – still fresh on my mind today – as I eagerly responded – even as Isaiah did – to the voice of the Lord. And I don’t think He’s ever forgotten it either.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

QUESTIONS: What Passionate Pursuit have you had on hold? How long has Your Dream been waiting for you? And what would it take to get you going again?

Can Women Be Trusted with a Man’s Heart?

“Wondering Wounded” asked:

“I would like your interpretation of a man who seems more interested in spending his time with other men.

“I went out with him a few times and we really hit it off, but he suddenly withdrew without much explanation.

“He spends most of his time on hobby of Ham Radio consisting of mostly men friends, and he also spends much time going to Tradorees and trading and selling vintage Boy Scout patches (once again mostly men and boys attend these). Most of (90%) the friends he has on social networking sites are also men. He does not go out with women often in fact it is rare. Do these things indicate he might be gay?”

Dear “Wondering Wounded,”

No, they don’t. In fact, there are many, many reasons a man would prefer to be alone … or in the company of other men. Most have to do with issues of safety.

Dr. Stephen Bergman described a common emotional experience he refers to as male relational dread. This fear is characterized by a sense of inevitable, never-ending disaster and an expectation of immense and irreparable damage. The closer a man feels to a woman, the more intense his dread. He feels unsafe, guilty, incompetent, and ashamed in this uncharted territory.

Under the pressure of needing to fix things, he is overcome by an exponential increase in his dread. Even though he may desperately want connection, a man may interfere with activation of his own attachment system by

“withdrawing, striking out, tuning out, changing the subject, joking, being nice, falling silent” (Bergman, 1995, p. 83).

As Dr. Bergman has observed in his workshops, men may have sufficient experiential evidence that disconnection is the better, safer, way to go.

“The men—sometimes with good reason—did not trust the women to let go of their images of men and to accept male vulnerability” (Bergman, 1995, p. 83).

Want to know more? Check out the
Quick Start Guide to Understanding Men

Your Spiritual Heritage & Knowing God Today

Church was always a big part of our family life, even when my parents were together. Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday night prayer meetings.

I remember asking Jesus into my heart during Vacation Bible School one summer, and true to His Word, He came in to stay.

But other than going to church, Mom didn’t contribute much to our spiritual understanding or growth.

I don’t remember ever hearing my mother pray, though she did read her Bible a lot. In fact, she kept it near her rocking chair and underlined her favorite verses with a pen.

Sadly, that was her only testimony.

Like most adolescents, I had a hard time during junior high. Thankfully, our ultra-conservative Midwestern church provided the Rules for Living, and we had the world’s absolute best youth group. We went roller skating, camping, boating, and for hayrides. But we never engaged in my favorite sport: dancing.

Trying to make sense of it all as an adult, I composed a brief bio that I shared with folks who asked about my religious upbringing. My early Spiritual Formation went something like this:

  • My dad was Pentecostal, and my mom was Baptist. Their marriage didn’t last. Go figure.
  • We moved into a house between the First Baptist Church and the Nazarene Church, and my mom chose the Nazarenes. So I was raised a Nazarene by a Baptist mom. Go figure.
  • I married a Lutheran when I was 18 years old, and we became United Methodists. Our marriage didn’t last either. Go figure.
  • Yet the Lord has remained faithful to me. Hallelujah!

QUESTIONS: What’s your spiritual heritage? How has your understanding of God changed over the years?

Let Joy Be Your Strength

The Joy of The Lord is your strengthWhy process life – and marriage – through the lens of suffering when we have something better instead? Jesus processed life through Joy and it gave Him strength! (Hebrews 12:2)

I write a lot. Much is actually handwritten. So recently I ordered several journals from Amazon. My favorite has a watercolor painting of a hummingbird. Something stirred in me when I saw it, so I went to Google and learned that, in some cultures and religions, the hummingbird is a symbol of resurrection and joy. Who knew?

Life is hard – to be sure.

Like you, I’ve been facing some pretty tough challenges these past few years – and still am. Not that life was a piece of cake prior, of course. And if you’ve read my story, you know that already.

As we each process all that’s happening around us and around the world, we have a choice to make. It’s simple really. I must choose – each day – between death and life:

  • I can process life through the lens of Suffering.
  • Or I can process life through the lens of Joy.

Suffering is a given.

But how we process it makes a HUGE difference in how we experience Life and Love and God. Here are a couple of not-so-productive ways to look at suffering.

It means I’m bad. When we focus on suffering, we open the door to shame.

God is displeased with me. I must work harder to improve my behavior if I want a good outcome – in this life and the one hereafter. God helps those who help themselves.

We know that’s not God’s perspective. But we often think, feel, and act like it is. Very sad.

It means I’m good. Or focus on suffering can turn me into a self-righteous martyr.

How good of me to suffer with the likes of you. You’re so lucky to have a great Christian wife like me. It’s okay because I’m earning stars in my crown by putting up with your faults.

Yep. When I “benefit” from adversity in that way, I rarely – if ever – make progress. And life continues to go downhill – with my willful participation!

  1. I give in to negativity.
  2. And I give up on fulfilling the call the Lord has upon my life.

When I focus on Jesus instead …

I can’t help but be joyful. Joy is the one emotion that lasts throughout eternity. So why don’t we practice it more in the here-and-now?

Because we are bombarded with negativity. Much of it comes from within our own camp. Just this morning, I received this word of inspiration by email:

Your marriage is a tool and a test to deepen and demonstrate your love and reverence for Jesus Christ. God is using your spouse to bring you an eternal reward.

I actually disagree with this way of looking at marriage. This point of view keeps us sin-focused – on our own sin, as well as our partner’s sin. It’s like trying to walk forward while looking behind you all the time. You’re bound to trip and stumble. And your reward is only available in the hereafter?

Instead, let’s focus on learning to walk in the Newness of Life in Christ!

This day is holy to our Lord.
Do not grieve, for the Joy of the Lord is your strength.

NEHEMIAH 8:10

Simply put, Marriage is a place to practice the Joy of the Lord. To see another person as God sees him. And to love him accordingly! Two simple steps:

  1. Focus on the marriage you want to create.
  2. Keep moving forward with your heart and your eyes fixed on Jesus.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Your spouse is the primary recipient of who you are. Let him reap all the benefits of your Joy in the Lord! Let Joy Be Your Strength & Reason for Living in Love!

Question: What is the biggest challenge you face in loving your mate? Share your answer in the comments box below.

Living in Love

I’m so excited about sharing my own love story.

What’s yours?  Message me now (mail@drdebismith.com) and receive a free copy of my new eBook, What Women Want: the simple Truth about Living in Love.

Once Upon a Time

She was 14 and alone. The kitchen sink was full of sewage. No one knew, but her

… and the Lord.

Junior high had been a struggle for her, as it is for many a lonely teenager. But her experience in 9th grade had rocked everything in her world.

The pain of her shame was so sharp she couldn’t sleep.

Night after night, she’d stay up ‘til the wee hours, crying – sobbing – because she didn’t fit in. And she never would.

She’d wanted so badly to fit in. But she was poor. Very poor. Living in a middleclass neighborhood. Pretending she was middleclass. But she wasn’t. How many of her friends knew that? Only the few who’d dared to enter her house.

From the outside, the family home seemed quaint – some might even say it was charming. Yellow unpainted stucco that, seen up close, looked like thick cornbread batter, dolloped and swirled in a more-or-less uniform pattern. Perhaps the oldest structure on the block, its uniqueness stood out among the rows of neatly painted white houses that lined both sides of the street in a very quiet neighborhood. French doors led from the small veranda into the living room on one side and into the dining room on the adjacent side, adding to its enchanting ambience.

If you looked closely at sunny reflections in its huge picture window, you’d see wavy places, revealing the fact that it had been installed a long time before its present tenant had been born.

The grass was green enough, except for the scattering of bright dandelions, which always seemed to pop up in defiance within just a few hours of being mowed down. A closer look revealed that the lawn’s rich color was the result of a thick combination of clover, broadleaf, and volunteer grasses that had drifted onto the lot from other, more intentional plantings over the years.

The inside, however, told a different story. The whole place reeked of wet wallpaper. Layers and layers of ancient wallpaper that someone had tried unsuccessfully to strip away. Here and there the bare plaster revealed an old and now-ugly past … stained with yellowed paste, chipped in places, and sometimes revealing the rough surface of the lathe underneath.

No central air. No central furnace. Only a gas stove that stood on the weathered wooden floor in the dining room. The kitchen cabinets, painted with thick ivory enamel, were no longer squarely connected with their doors. Behind the kitchen stove and the hot water heater that stood next to it, someone had attempted to pretty it all by tacking up a large piece of bright yellow linoleum trimmed with broad black stripes that made its crookedness all the more apparent. Nothing matched.

The dark hardwood floors of the living room and bedrooms no longer shined. Their varnish had worn away decades before. The stairs creaked. The lighting was dim. Dark and lonely. Hot in the summer and cold in the winter. No wonder she escaped so often … sometimes to neighbors’. Sometimes to her only friend’s house. Mostly to her church.

She felt safe at church.
She knew it’s where she belonged.

When she was younger and lived on the other side of town, she’d ridden the Sunday School bus with her older brother. They’d walk two blocks to stand on the corner in front of the Christian Bookstore and pitch pennies while they waited to be picked up. Back then, she only got to go on an occasional Sunday morning.

Thanks to an urban renewal project, however, they had to move to another house, which was back in the old neighborhood. The best thing about it: Now church was just six blocks from home. Before the family owned a car, she’d walk there and back three times each and every week – Sunday morning services, Sunday evening services, and Wednesday night prayer meetings.

The summer she was 12, she left church shortly after dark to walk home. She remembered that it was that particular June because she was wearing the polka dot blouse and matching wraparound skirt she’d make in 7th grade home economics that spring. Ever cautious about her surroundings, she watched and listened as she headed for home.

Just a block or two from the church, she heard footsteps behind her and looked over her shoulder. It was a man in a checkered shirt. Not wanting to appear afraid, she turned her head back in the direction she was going and quickened her steps, but only slightly so as to appear calmer than she actually felt. Kansas was always rainy in June, and the sidewalks had puddles here and there – mostly small, but some large. She lengthened her stride to make it over one of them – at the same instant the man did.

He wrapped his arm around her neck, slapping his hand tightly over her mouth, and commanded, “Don’t scream.”

Then he yanked her purse from her hand and took off. She didn’t know in which direction. Her heart was pounding so hard she couldn’t think. As soon as the man had let her go, she began screaming at the top of her lungs. Instinctively, she headed back to the church. Visibly shaken and out of breath, she ran into the foyer where several adults were still visiting. Her Sunday School teacher offered her comfort as she told the story. The police were called, and the pastor gave her a ride home. She didn’t sleep well for months. Lots of months.

Now she was 14 … and living alone. The kitchen sink was full of sewage. No one knew, but her … and the Lord. Instead of crying, she plunged. And plunged some more. And as she plunged, she sang aloud every hymn she’d ever learned. How Great Thou Art. Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us. Glorious Freedom. All four verses of every song she knew.

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus
Sing his mercy and his grace
In the mansions bright and blessed
He’ll prepare for us a place.

When we all get to Heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory.

Instead of singing and plunging her way through her fears, she should have told someone so they could call a plumber. It all seems pointless now. Or does it? How could she have made it through such a dark time without the Lord?

Many times throughout the years, life struggles would cause her to question the reliability of His love for her. But she always knew He was there.

I know this story well because it’s mine.

However, it’s only one chapter of my story … a chapter that had its origins in early life experiences and beliefs I’d held about who I was.

Excerpt from Ephesians 5 Romance: the Truth about Love by Dr. Debi Smith

This is just one of many early experiences that helped shape who I am becoming. Several decades and many more experiences later, I am just beginning to learn how to ride the waves of life with Jesus by my side. When I feel like I’m sinking, I just look into His eyes and see His love for me. Then I am stronger than before.

Never give up!

Save

Breaking Free

Growing up is a process. Jesus did it. And so do we. We go from dependence on our parents to independence. If we keep going as we should in our human relationships, we will begin to understand interdependence. Ultimately, we realize that we have always been – and always will be – dependent on Our Creator.

At the time I wrote the following essay, I was just beginning to realize how to achieve my independence from dysfunctional relationships. Yes, my freshman year of college – at the age of 40 – was a great time in my life. Part of my story that I often forget. So I decided to share it with you.


The afternoon was beautifully complete with emerald grass, sapphire skies, and the moist heat of August as I pulled my van onto the airport road.

Was it just yesterday that I stood at the end of this same runway and watched a sleek King Air carry my husband off on another adventure? As a full-time wife and mother, I envied his business world. There in the wind, my feet planted firmly on the ground and three little boys in tow, I had said to myself, “I’m going to do that someday.”

At the time I thought I meant that I would go places and be somebody too, but perhaps I meant much more than that. Maybe even then I knew that I would fly.

My husband and I were now divorced. Having to fend for myself and my sons, I attained a position as a marketing assistant for an avionics company. Several times a year we called on customers in our company aircraft. I looked forward to every trip, but it was not enough. I just had to fly myself.

I parked the van, scooped up my log book, and walked around the huge gray hangar. The airport seemed deserted except for the varying hum of single engine aircraft muffled by distance and the sound of my own pounding heart. I spotted the Cessna 152, a mere speck in the southern sky that disappeared as it approached the runway then reappeared as it took off again.

The late afternoon sun was scorching, but I was too excited to care. I had been through ground school, studied the flight training videos, and logged several hours in the Cessna, but this day was special. My heart picked up the pace as the white and blue airplane rounded the corner and headed toward the hangar.

Randy, the student who had been flying the plane, grinned at me through the windshield as he shut down the engine. We were coworkers and often kidded each other about our abilities as pilots.

“Hey, Randy, not too bad! When are you going to solo?”

“I don’t know. That’s up to the boss here,” he said, referring to Arik, our flight instructor who remained seated in the plane. We exchanged a few pleasantries and Randy headed for home as I took his place in the left seat.

Arik, an engineer with the company, was still dressed in his usual office attire of white shirt and black slacks. His short blond hair and fair complexion sparkled with perspiration, but I knew it was from the summer heat and not from nervousness. He was at home in any aircraft, even with unskilled student pilots. He briefed me on the goals of the lesson.

“We’re going to stay in the pattern today and do touch-and-go’s to get you ready for your solo. There’s nothing to worry about, right? All we’re going to do is practice.”

Arik was from Israel, and his Hebrew accent coupled with the static on the headset made communication difficult. I frequently asked him to repeat his instructions, but he never lost patience with me.

I ran through the preflight checklist out loud, contacted the control tower, and taxied to the end of the runway. Cleared for takeoff, I checked the instruments again and pulled the plane up on the center line of the airstrip. I drew a long breath that didn’t seem long enough and pushed the throttle all the way in. My heartbeat accelerated in direct proportion to the speed of the airplane. At eighty knots, I gently pulled the yoke toward me, looked out the window, and checked my pitch attitude against the horizon. The plane lifted off and left the world behind us.

As we reached the desired altitude and cleared the end of the runway, I automatically banked to the right. I usually looked to Arik for affirmation, but that day I was more confident; I knew what to do. It just felt right. I’ll never forget the sense of accomplishment I experienced at that moment. All the details of previous training were finally coming together. I was really flying. I wasn’t just playing the notes; I heard the music.

Above the airport, above the circumstances of life, I found a new and refreshing perspective. Not so long ago, I had looked to my husband for affirmation in my life, much as I had looked to Arik in the plane, but I had come a long way. I no longer required the constant reassurance of another person. I could read the instruments myself. I sensed the freedom that comes with the willingness to take risks on one’s own.

Although we still need other people, there comes a time when we must put the pieces together for ourselves – and fly.


Do you remember a time when you felt free?

  • Where were you?
  • Who was with you?
  • What feelings did you experience?
  • How did that sense of freedom impact your life going forward?