Beauty for Ashes

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On Friday, September 29th, I was asked to speak for the women at our church for their Fall Celebration Dinner. I was asked to share how I exchanged Beauty for Ashes.

So, I wanted to now share with each of you my message from that evening. Yes, I have shared of what it means to be a survivor and how to not play the “victim” card; however, after that evening, I felt God move so much deeper in so many ladies lives that night because of my obedience and transparency.

So here is my message. May God speak to each of you as He continually speaks to me.

At around the age of 8 my mother allowed a male family member to live in our house that sexually abused me over a period of time.  The instability in my young life allowed for me to “neatly” package these experiences away. It wasn’t until the age of 37, 17 years into my marriage, did I finally realize that in order to heal I had to acknowledge my abuse. Even though I never admitted the abuse, it permeated into the intimacy of my marriage and the ability to deeply know the fullness of my Savior Christ!

Let me explain the “Trigger Point” that brought me to the beginning of my healing. Joe was officiating a wedding and as he spoke to the couple about how important transparency was in a marriage it hit me that I wasn’t being transparent to Joe, not myself. I knew my hurt was like a wound that was festering. It was gaping and severely infected at the time. I truly believed that if I never looked at it, acknowledged it, that it somehow didn’t exist. So very silly to think that way; however, I truly believe that we all do that with so many things in our lives.

I had to speak it, bring it to life, acknowledge it before I could begin the healing process.

During my healing process I realized God was there. He never left my side. It is difficult to think about God being there, but I believe God saw the crown on my head-He saw the ending before it even began.  He protected me physically and mentally when my young mind couldn’t process what was happening. Christ–as fully man and fully God–knew the feeling of shame and embarrassment. Anything I was feeling or thinking, if it was anger or sadness, I could give it to Him.

The healing process took a couple of years, many a bit longer. I would truly think I dealt with it all, then a memory would come up and the process would start all over again. I now truly see God speaking to me during those times, “OK, you are owning this part, now let me give you this piece to add to the overall picture.”  It also took Joe time for him to process and heal as well. For the first couple of months he was ready to get on a plane, find him, punish him and even possibly place him in a place no one would ever find him. Joe’s anger and rage was only tempered by God’s grace and the men of God who surrounded him. We all needed and took “baby steps” in this healing process.

My abuser has since passed away and I really do pray that that before he passed away he surrendered his life to Christ and sought forgiveness.

During this healing process and every day since, Isaiah 61:3 comes alive in my soul!

I want to share with everyone on how His words spoke directly to my pain and abuse.

“To all who mourn in Israel, He will give you a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, a festive praise instead of despair.  In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory.”    Isaiah 61:3

 

When I gave Him my past, He let the hurts completely burn and all that was left was ashes.

“To all who mourn in Israel, He will give you a crown of beauty for ashes,”

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The definition of ash is the solid residue left when material is thoroughly burned.  Think about it, these hurts can no longer be a fire again that can dictate my fears or thoughts. To get those ashes burning I must add something to them to create the activation energy needed.  This is why I must not use my past as a reason to think or behave in a negative way. When I fully gave Him my hurts — they became ashes. And the beautiful thing is that He took my ashes and gave me a beautiful crown.

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The definition of a crown is a reward of victory or a mark of honor. Something that imparts splendor, honor, or a finish, a culmination. I love that last part- a culmination- an attained objective. God not only was with me during my abuse, but was walking with me, healing me, turning my hurt to ruins, and then in turn He took my ashes and in turn, gave me a Crown!  A Crown He places on my head! WOW. He has always seen that Crown on my head, always.

 

a joyous blessing instead of mourning,”

I have an option here. Will I choose blessing or mourning? I choose blessings. The blessing of forgiveness that He shows to me for holding on to the past and letting it infect my marriage relationship. And to the forgiveness that I can offer my offenders: my mother and my abuser.

My mother and I never had an intimate relationship. I probably spoke to her once a year. When I found out she had cancer, I made a trip to see her in August of 2016. When I was there I asked her if she had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She replied, “Yes Kerry.” That was closure for me. When she passed away this past June, I took comfort in the fact that we will both be together in Heaven and will have a whole new and restored relationship together.

Because He forgave me I can forgive others.

The blessing of hope of the future that offers peace. The blessing of His truth and not the poison of the world that tell me to live out my past as anger. The blessing of being able to share with others the healing. I love what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. This is what it says from the Message:

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” 

All circumstances can lead to His Glory. That is the reason I am standing here right now.

 

“a festive praise instead of despair.”

Again, I have an option. Because of that, I choose to praise Him.

Have you ever gotten ashes on your hands? They come off on everything you touch. To me this is a picture of despair. I will not take the ashes of my past hurt and spread them on myself or to others as a sign of “poor me.”

Praise shakes up the enemy and empowers us to be bigger than our circumstance. Praise is being active in the healing process. Praise is showing that the Lord is great and powerful. Praise requires intentional thoughts and actions and I want to be intentional in my walk.

 

“In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory.”

When I choose joyous blessings, when I choose festive praise, I then stand in righteousness.

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Remember this: A great oak tree stands for strength, but it starts off as a seed.

Oak sapling sprouted from an acorn.

Let me show you something amazing about our creator God. Look at this other definition of a crown. The region of a seed plant at which the stem and root merge. He makes us like great oaks but it starts off as a crown. And in order to grow we need to stay in Him.

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When we are submerged in Him we grow deep roots and become stronger in Him. The outcome is we grow like a great oak that He planted for His glory

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When we give Him our hurts and truly let Him in our lives we see His grace and love. We see that those hurts are now ashes. We give Him our ashes and He gives us a crown of beauty. A reward for our victories in Him that marks the splendor of His love!

 

Thank you for taking time to read about my journey: Beauty from Ashes.

May you look for those hurts that are in your life and replace them with a Crown of Beauty!

-Kerry

 

Content or Disillusioned

“How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”     Philippians 4:10-13

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I wanted to take time to share with you how much these verses mean to me. Throughout our 27 years of marriage, and 3 years of dating prior, Kerry and I have seen our fair share of seasons. There have been times of long winters, some beautiful and fulfilling summers, and many transitions of fall and spring in our lives. With that said, I hold dear the words spoken by Paul in his letter to the Philippian church. This is a letter of joy in the crucible of trials. To focus on the blessings instead of the darkness. Yes, for some, you believe that the darkness will never leave your heart. Trust me, I fully sympathize with you. I was there nine years ago. It was a time that I felt all alone and so out of control. Yet, through the encouragement of friends and from Kerry, they lifted me up and guided me back towards what Christ was doing in my life to wrought my heart closer to Him.

So let’s see what Paul is sharing. He first learned this attitude, this focus. He had to continually practice this mind set. It was not one and done, it was a continual process that occurred daily. Next, he understood what it meant to be content. To be content is to satisfy the mind and to make quiet in your spirit. It’s to stop your complaining and/or opposition to the situation at hand. This leads to the final observation I now own as my own. Through Christ. Paul reflects on the ups and downs he has encountered, but the learning of being content is nothing without Jesus Christ. He is the One who gives the peace in our hearts. He is the One who we must rest in daily. And it is not a passing emotion or conversation, it is Through Him. We must dwell in Him, daily.

So as Kerry and I begin our journey with you, I want you to know that we would not be where we are today in our marriage, our friendship, our family, if it were not for the strength and love of Jesus Christ in our lives. So this begs the question, are you choosing  daily to be content in where Christ has you today?

 

Joe

Adulterous Affairs Don’t Begin with Sleeping Together

“Catch all the foxes, those little foxes, before they ruin the vineyard of love, for the grapevines are blossoming.”  Song of Songs 2:15

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Adulterous Affairs Don’t Begin with Sleeping Together; they begin with inappropriate friendships. Friendship and emotional attachments with people of the opposite sex can spell danger for your marriage. This is where you husbands, must daily make a choice to protect your marriage. Wives, this is for you as well.  What do you chose?

 

Kerry and I have witnessed many couples who “innocently” will become emotionally attracted to a member of the opposite sex. They become “bored” with the relationship they are in and begin to truly believe that there is something better for them. Instead of investing into their own marriage by seeking counsel and choosing to focus on where they are falling short in the marriage, they instead begin to drift away-emotionally and physically, and especially-spiritually.

 

So here are 4 Warnings for you to be aware of in your marriage and heed immediately.

 

 

  1. Protect your marriage by avoiding private communications and intimate conversations with people of the opposite sex. Too often we see Social Media and Texting becoming a hidden area of spouses worlds. The best way to avoid this is to make sure that you and your spouse share the same pass codes and that at any given time, they have the right to look into your phone for emails, texts, social media posts and IM’s. You have nothing to hide from your spouse…Nothing.

 

 

  1. Beware of workmates who seem too concerned with your personal private life; those that tell you “let me know if you need anything.” That’s the beginning of an open invitation to draw closer to them instead of your spouse. Do not share intimate details with workmates about the trials and struggles in your marriage. If you need to talk to someone, find a marriage counselor, a pastor or find another couple that shares your values and the four of you take time to talk it out.

 

 

  1. Beware of those that give you exaggerated and suggestive compliments about the way you look. Regardless of what is happening in your marriage don’t give the Devil a foothold in your marriage by falling victim to this trap. Let your workmates know there are things you won’t tolerate. Enough said…

 

 

  1. Keep a healthy physical, social and emotional distance between you and people of the opposite sex. This is the most important facet to all of these warnings. Your workmates need to know without a doubt that you are married, that you are in love with your spouse, and nothing will come between you both. Make sure to have pictures up of your family and spouse. Wear your wedding ring. Smile when you talk about your spouse.

 

So in closing, I ask the same question…”What do you chose?”

 

 

Joe

Victim or Survivor?

Victim: Something destroyed; something completely sacrificed in the pursuit of an object or situation.

Survivor: One who outlives another or a situation of conflict.

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In this world, it seems that we begin to classify ourselves as either a “Victim” or a “Survivor” of our past or current circumstances.

It’s become easy to play the victim card and stay a prisoner of the past. Not allowing ourselves to look forward, but to be perpetually stuck looking in the rear-view mirror.  We use the pain of past or the trials of the current to set the tone for our life. We become “Hand-Wringers” and use that victim card to remain hopeless and broken. It is the excuse we carry so we no longer have to take responsibility for our own actions but instead we place blame on the past.

Or, we take a new ownership and call ourselves Survivors! We have overcome the past. We no longer place blame on the past, but instead we know where the pain came/comes from and we conquer it. We take either responsibility for our actions or we choose to forgive the one who caused us the pain and terror. We no longer live in the grip on its guilt. We point back to our past and declare we are a survivor.

However, I am asking that you notice something from both those classifications: Victim or Survivor. They both still point to the past. While one is victorious and the other is brokenness, they both rely on the past as their “Badge.”

In the next couple of weeks, I will share with you all some very personal and raw emotions and events from my past. I will also take time to share with you where I was a Victim, where I became a Survivor, but most of all, when I chose to become a New Creation in Christ. The past is gone, a new life has begun.

Hear me please, I truly know that there are many circumstances out in the world that are so overwhelming that you cannot fully understand how to even begin to survive. I will not be trivial nor contrite in the upcoming weeks. I give you my word that I will be honest, true and very transparent. I will share with you my journey and where my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has brought me. So please, let me share with each of you my heart.  Thank you. We will continue this discussion next Monday.

Kerry

Are You Married in Public?

“He has brought me to his banquet hall, And his banner over me is love.”  Song of Solomon 2:4

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Here’s a question for you married folks…Is your love for one another evident to those around you? Better question, “Do strangers know you two are married?”

Ok, before you quit reading and move on with life, seriously take time and reflect on those answers.  Too often, we as married couples, fall into a rut or routine.  We take for granted the relationship God has ordained for us as a husband and wife. Instead of purposely pursuing intimacy in our marriages daily, we begin to assume that each of us is ok and content with the amount of physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy we are currently displaying to one another. So, no need to try any harder, it’s just fine where we are. To that attitude, I cry foul! That’s just plain lazy as a spouse.

Look what the Shulamite Woman writes in SofS 2:4. Solomon, the King of Israel, displays a love for her for all to witness. It is evident that there is a genuine love he has for her and she in return, reflects that love for all to see. It is clear that they are in love. This is probably the first Biblical account of a PDA: Public Display of Affection. There is no need for them to be locked in a passionate kiss, nor are they all handsy with one another. No, it’s probably the way they look at one another, set aside and focus on one another, probably the way they hold hands and speak to one another in public is the beginning of telling those they encounter that they love one another.

Jesus spoke it clearly, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”   John 13:34-35

Stop what you are doing when your spouse enters a room or is in eye shot and make eye contact with them. Smile and give them a wink. Acknowledge that you see them and know they are near. Hold hands and smile when you are together. Be walking side by side, not in a military line showing “who is in charge.”  Speak words of encouragement and tenderness to one another. To be sarcastic and rude to one another in public, or even in front of friends or children, is rude and toxic to your marriage. Even a soft kiss on the cheeks or lips, save the passionate kissing for private, is a beautiful way to display the precious gift of marriage that Christ has given to each of you.

Again, when you are in public with your spouse do those around you see a “banner of love” between you two? Start today to display the love you have for each other and in turn you will display a Christ-Centered love that will reflect the Gospel for all to witness.

Begin today with a new banner for your spouse!

Joe and Kerry

5 Toxic Phrases to Immediately Remove from Your Marriage Vocabulary

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You see it as a central theme in most television shows and movies: “Lack of Effective Communication.”  Ya know what else, that could be the same theme for Marriages.

Kerry and I facilitate to couples the benefits of effective communication; however, too often we both have learned that when it comes to communication, it’s not a matter of if we disagree, but when we do disagree, how well will we handle it? Yes, Kerry and I have not fully mastered “Effective Communication.”

In a sentence, here’s the key to healthy communication through virtually anything: Both Husband and Wife should never quit and always communicate until they begin to reach the other side. This, of course, takes courage, humility and constant dedication… and a few bits of sound wisdom on how to resolve things more healthily wouldn’t hurt either. Thus, this article.

It’s not our intentions to define everything everyone should or shouldn’t say in every situation. That’s impossible. Instead, we should seek to remove some phrases from our vocabulary as husband and wife. Here’s our list from our personal experiences.

5 Toxic Phrases to Immediately Remove from Your Marriage Vocabulary

1: “I’m busy…”

This could be the easiest to begin to remove. Do you know why you’ll want to remove “I’m busy…” from your vocabulary for good?

Because saying “I’m busy” is often just a force of habit and usually an indication of some deeper dysfunction (no, not always, but often). There’s a saying: “If you’re too busy for your spouse, you’re too busy”. That being the case, we should always make time for our spouses without relegating ourselves to simply being “busy”.

If you are actually busy, that’s fine, just articulate exactly what’s going on so your spouse may understand and support you with your tasks!

2: “You always…”

Absolute statements like “you always…” or “you never…” are something Kerry and I have worked very hard to remove from our marriage. We’ve yet to fully succeed in this endeavor, but we recognize it and continue to grow in reducing those statements.

The problem with absolute statements is that they’re never true when speaking of behavior, and they are always hurtful (there are two absolute statements you can be sure of!). Absolute statements say more about who’s saying them then they do about whom they’re directed at.

If I may be blunt, absolute statements are just plain lazy.  Let me explain why. Follow the example below.

Example: Instead of “You never want want sex…”, consider a statement like “lately, I’ve felt like we’re not connecting intimately enough. Can we talk about what’s going on?”

By being specific and purposeful with your language, you can actually move forward together instead of accusing one another. Removing absolute statements from your marriage vocabulary will do wonders.

3: “Whatever.”

How many times have we ended an argument with a single dismissive “whatever”?

Whatever” is the Arch Enemy of Biblical Reconciliation. By dismissing disagreements with “whatever”, you’re essentially stating that you don’t care enough about the person or disagreement to discuss further. Love never quits. Love is patient, kind, not easily angered, and always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13).

It’s not that whatever is a bad word, it’s just usually used in times when love isn’t at it’s best. Removing whatever from your marriage vocabulary will force to to either 1) explain why you’re OK with dismissing the conversation, or 2) explain why you’re truly ok with whatever.

4: The word Divorce

It’s tragic when we hear couples use the word “divorce”, either jokingly or seriously, in reference to their own marriage. Marriage only works if divorce is not an option; If there’s no back door, you’ll both be committed to working through anything.

The greatest enemy we’ve seen at play in marriage is simply giving up; someone decides to step out the back door. They mentally, emotionally, and spiritually check-out of the marriage. How can you work something out if one person leaves or refuses to engage? Divorce is just that: giving up on the marriage.

Using the word “divorce” potentially cracks the door on a terrible possibility into your marriage. Would it be funny or appropriate ever if you said “I sincerely hope you die a horrible painful death”? Nope. It’s hurtful no matter how you slice it.

Kerry and I implore you, please remove “divorce” from your vocabulary. Don’t use it as a threat, comedic relief, or otherwise. It is toxic from the get go.

5: “I wish you were more like…” and “you’re just like your [parent]”

Ok, yes this is two phrases. I wanted to combine them here because I believe they come from the same place: comparison.

Comparison is truly heartbreaking. Nobody likes being compared to someone else, whether it’s a friend, a stranger, a family member, or a celebrity. People aren’t things, like cars with features to be compared. “This one has GPS”, “that one gets 40 MPG”, etc.

Nothing makes me feel smaller than when I’m unscrupulously compared to someone greater than me. Feeling that kind of small is ok, I guess, but only if it’s relation to Jesus. May Jesus be the only person we compare ourselves and our spouses to.

Here are some tough comparisons married folks tend to make; some explicitly and some internally that Kerry and I have heard through marriage counseling.

  1. I wish [my wife] looked more like [other woman]

 

  1. I wish [my husband] acted more like [other man]

 

  1. You’re just like your father/mother.Usually used to illustrate an undesirable behavior, thus pigeonholing the person compared.

 

  1. Why can’t we be more like [some other couple]?

 

Let’s close with this thought…

Be selective with your words. There are two things in this life you can never get back once used, words and time. Use your words to give life.

Joe & Kerry

 

 

Pulling Back the Curtain on Physical Intimacy

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The past several Monday’s have gone very fast and have, for a better word, exposed some of the honest truth about physical intimacy in a marriage. Comments we have received runs the spectrum: “Thank you for discussing a topic on marriage that churches seem to shy away from.”  “Appreciate your honesty and candor. This is an important issue that seems to be brushed aside and avoided by most pastors.”  “You are wrong to be spreading these ideas. Sex is strictly for procreation in a marriage, nothing else.”  “Thank you for allowing me to feel sexy and giving me permission to enjoy sex.”  “Keep your comments to yourself, you will only increase promiscuity by your posts!” “By sleeping naked this past week, my husband and I for the first time in our marriage have enjoyed our time between the sheets like never before.”

So, you see, we are causing a stir and making people think again about physical intimacy in a marriage.  Whether it be good, bad, or just convicting…people are thinking. That’s good.

This now leads us into this day’s post. Communication is key when it comes to fully enjoying each other’s bodies as well as enjoying an active sex life as husband and wife.  However, too often we shy away from asking the key questions that will allow us to grow in our physical, sexual intimacy with one another. We are too embarrassed to ask and very embarrassed to respond truthfully. To those reactions, I say “STOP!”

It’s time to take a risk and step out of your comfort zone. It’s time to become transparent with one another. Genesis 2:25 says it clearly, “The two were naked and not ashamed.” They were completely vulnerable before one another. They were transparent and had no shame for being so.  As husband and wife, we should be the same. The questions will be difficult at times but our hope is that they will first encourage each of you to open up emotionally which in turn will allow you to open up physically. Treat these as conversation starters, modify them to suit your marriage, pick and choose what you wish to discuss; however, please don’t try to rush through all of them in one sitting. That’s not what they are for. It’s important to ask these questions so as to learn more about your spouse. These will help you be a student of your spouse.  Don’t get upset and try to “readjust” their answers, instead, explore the answers, listen to your spouse and grow! Also, final instruction, answer in complete and clear sentences, don’t give vague answers because you are embarrassed of the answer as well as give specific answers.

So here are 30 Sex Questions to Ask Your Spouse:

  1. Where is your favorite place to be touched that isn’t sexual to you?
  2. When I initiate sex, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
  3. What is your favorite way for me to initiate sex?
  4. How do you usually try to let me know you are in the mood for sex?
  5. What does sex mean to you?
  6. Describe your favorite memory of us having sex.
  7. Where and how do you like to be touched the most during sex? Why?
  8. Where do you not like to be touched during sex and why not?
  9. Describe something you’d like to try, regarding sex, which we haven’t tried together.
  10. Describe something we have tried before, regarding sex, which you’d like more of.
  11. How often would you like to have sex, ideally?
  12. What do you think about during sex?
  13. What’s your favorite position? Why?
  14. Would you rather have sex with the lights on or off? Are you afraid of having sex with the lights on?
  15. Does being naked in front of me make you uncomfortable? What can I do to make you more comfortable?
  16. Are you happy with how long we spend on foreplay? Would you like more or less?
  17. Are you happy with how long we spend having sex? Would you like more or less?
  18. What is your favorite foreplay activity?
  19. If there was one thing you’d like to improve about our sex life, what would it be?
  20. What is your favorite thing for me to say during sex?
  21. What activity gives you the strongest, or longest, orgasms?
  22. Describe what an orgasm feels like to you.
  23. Describe what it feels like to you when I have an orgasm (physically or emotionally).
  24. What is the most important part of sex to you? Why?
  25. Is there someplace you’d like to have sex that we haven’t already?
  26. Would you rather have sex in the morning or in the evening?
  27. Would you rather give oral sex, receive it, or neither? Why?
  28. What do we do in bed that you never thought you’d participate in?
  29. Which one of my body parts are you favorite? Which one of your body parts are your favorite?
  30. Name one thing that really turns you on.

 

There you have it. Here is our list of 30 questions. You may have additional ones and you may think that these are 29 too many. Either way, the key here is to communicate with your spouse. Talk to them and begin to open up to one another.  Be transparent with one another and don’t be ashamed of the answers.

 

Joe & Kerry