Compassionate Complementarianism: Or Who Should Take out the Trash?

Male female graphicAs Christians, we want to embrace biblical truth and make it “look right” in our homes, friendship and workplaces.  But what happens when gender roles become the focus rather than compassionate, humble love?

Over at Redeemer Church we’re starting a new blog series today that talks about stuff like this.  You can read my first post here.

Enjoy your day!


Going Through Tough Times…Together

In recent months I’ve become aware of numerous marriages going through hard times. Perhaps my eyes and ears have been more attentive because Benny and I have been walking through some challenges ourselves. If you or someone you know is feeling alone in their marital struggles I pray this honest and gripping song by Steven Curtis Chapman, a man whose songs have ministered to me for many years, will bring comfort and hope.



The Assignment

I was in my 20’s when I got my first pair of glasses. I didn’t think I needed them but my eyes had never been checked and someone talked me into going to the eye doctor for some problems I was having with nighttime glare. I left the office with a prescription that landed me with glasses. I can still remember walking outside that day and realizing trees had individual leaves on them!

Recently I was in a conversation with a longtime (and long distance) friend who suggested I needed a different kind of vision correction.

Expert pinned on noticeboard

“Sheree, I have an assignment that I think we really help you.” I had just admitted I was pretty discouraged about some things going on in my life and in the lives of some folks I love.

My ears perked up. I’ve always liked assignments, especially those with an attached goal. Like when my third grade teacher assigned a reading program that would result in completing a stack of books by years end with the promise of a shiny red ribbon. Reading was one of my favorite things to do so quickly made my list, devoured the books well before the deadline and couldn’t wait to get that ribbon.

My friend’s assignment is one I have also enjoyed working on. It’s taken some hard work at times. Other times, though, it’s felt nearly effortless. Some days the assignment has been on my mind all day, while other days I fall into bed at night only to realize I haven’t given it a single thought. But I can honestly say that after a couple of months I’m starting to experience the fruit of keeping this project in mind.

And here’s the assignment she gave me: Become an expert at seeing God at work. 

Her words have rolled around in my mind again and again.

  • When a friend expressed her battles with discouragement over a difficult relationship I was able to point to several clear evidences of God’s grace in her life and the life of her friend. As tears fell we both marveled at how easy it is to lose sight of Him when times are tough.
  • When my daughter recently shared some wearying encounters with one of her children I was able to empathize with her maternal frustrations but also remind her of some key areas in which God has been at work in my grandchild. She agreed and we realized how important it is to lift one another’s gaze to God’s activity, especially when it seems our labors are in vain.
  • As I recently poured out my heart and complaints to God (yes, we can do that…the Psalmists surely did!) about some common struggles married couples walk through, including Benny and me, I experienced a fresh awareness of the importance of thanking God for some specific things in my marriage that are clear examples of His work.
  • During a challenging week when a several weighty pressures were bearing down on me I felt hopeless for needed changes in my heart. Yet God gently reminded me of an area in my life that used to be a substantial weakness but that He has turned into a Christ-empowered strength. I was reminded that His work in the past is a pledge that He will keep strengthening me to become more like Him — even in the very area about which I was feeling hopeless.

The amazing thing about these experiences was that I didn’t have to stop and put my “God’s at work even and especially during hard times” glasses on. It was as if God had given me spiritual laser surgery and I didn’t even realize what was happening until the clarity had already come. How amazing!

Becoming an expert at seeing God at work doesn’t diminish the hardships or pretend everything is okay. It also doesn’t deny that I live in a broken, fallen world with fellow weak and needy and sinful people. Rather, it puts the darkness of hardship and weakness against a backdrop of the radiant work of God’s Spirit in our lives that says, “Yes, you are weak, tired and battling hopelessness. Things are hard. People around you are hurting and you realize your help is just not enough because they need Me. But I am near. I am good. And I am busy in ways you see and in other ways you cannot yet see. Trust Me. Allow Me to open your eyes to glimpse My power on display. I am working and My work always produces fruit.”

I’m still not an expert. But something precious is happening my heart…and with my eyesight. I still get weary. I still battle discouragement. I still wish I could be more helpful in the lives of those I know are struggling. I still squint to see more clearly at times because all I can see are areas that seem to lack any activity of the Spirit of God.  But my eyesight is improving and I’m seeing more clearly that God is busy doing His marvelous work of helping His children grow and change and become more like Him.

I’ve never been an expert at anything. Hmm…in fact, I’ve never really wanted to or had the time or money to.  But becoming an expert at God’s work in the lives of those in whom He has promised to be busy is something I’d love to accomplish. 

And today my friend and I will talk again to see how I’m doing.

Lessons from a Smart Phone

I was so excited when I found out that I could speak into my phone and have it type for me!      What an amazing convenience!

I quickly learned, though, that my phone isn’t all that “smart.” How in the world could it think I would actually send someone a text that said, “I’m hey you to pick her up so reassure key lock is hopping for me” when I told it to type, “I’m heading out to pick her up so can you make sure Kayla is looking out for me?”

The hilarious thing is that I pushed send before I read the text. When Jaime sent a return “huh???” text I was confused.

Until I read what my silly phone heard me say!

Relationships are kinda like using a smart phone. Sometimes what we clearly communicated was heard quite differently by our listener.

  • We attempt to encourage a friend for growth in an area and she interprets our words as a back door opportunity to communicate, “Wow, you were really weak in this area and thank God you’re making progress!”
  • A marital conflict escalates — neither of us realize until later that it started because one of us completely misunderstood something that was said early in the conversation. (This happened a few days ago with Benny and me!)
  • A young teen reacts angrily because he or she heard Mom or Dad’s “No, you can’t go” as “Stop trying to grow up…and don’t think you’re gonna start running around everywhere like some of your friends do!”
  • Emotion-laced words are shared through email or text that should be communicated in person. Hiding behind a phone or computer is an understandable temptation when the heat rises in a relationship…but a dicey misunderstanding is pretty much a given.

There’s no way to avoid our words being misinterpreted. We live in a fallen world. We’re not perfect communicators and neither is anyone we know. We all hear things with a trail of experiences, struggles, former relational conflicts and “there they go again”‘s behind us. It’s just plain hard to talk to people and not be misunderstood — especially when heart issues are involved.

And when a relationship is already tense or there’s a growing history of hearing things wrongly (on our part or theirs), it makes communication all the more tangled.

I would be surprised if you aren’t experiencing struggles in communication with at least one person right now. Just typing that sentence brought three people I love to mind as those I get anxious about talking to these days. Even if I carefully choose my words, will I still be misunderstood (again)? Is a big part of the problem in our relationship my own inability to listen without bringing past hurts or conflicts into mind? Can we have a meaningful conversation without one or both of us feeling judged, belittled or frustrated (even if we don’t show it)?

Ugh. It’s just easier to keep conversations light and superficial something, isn’t it? And there are times perhaps we should avoid potentially thorny topics with someone because the relationship just can’t handle it right now. But we can’t give up. If we do, we’ll drift into the bitterness, withdrawal and fear that characterizes people who are unwilling to take the risk of being hurt again when what we say isn’t heard the way we meant it.

Off to text Jaime to see when Kayla is coming to do Thursday morning schoolwork with Granma. Hopefully “eta?” will come out right.

He is in the Rain

I’m sitting in my comfy chair in my room watching rain fall lazily onto my back yard. In Florida you never know how long the rain will last, but it’s typically not long at all. A light rain can turn into a deluge within minutes and then sunshine soon returns. In fact, in can be raining on my side of the street and not in my neighbor’s yard just feet away!

Moving to Florida brought new meaning to “scattered showers.” In the DC area where I spent most of my life, rain coming usually meant you were in it for the day…or week. Scattered showers typically still meant long periods of clouds and rain as far as the eye could see. Florida is different. Yesterday I was driving in the bright sunshine and suddenly I drove into pelting rain that lasted for only a matter of seconds. I’ve lived here for over 13 years and this still catches me by surprise.

In the short time it’s taken me to type these words the rain has stopped. Oh well. I missed the opportunity to set some plants out….

Aren’t our lives a little like the weather?

Sometimes gloom comes on suddenly and we’re surprised by wind and pelting rain. What just happened? Perhaps it was a phone call that left us reeling from a poor health diagnosis about us or someone we love. Or maybe a sudden job loss, exposure of sexual sin with a young adult child or weighty conflict with someone close leaves us feeling discouraged or despairing. The suddenness of the downpour only adds to the disorientation of the information we just received. Bad news falls hard on the unsuspecting heart.

Other times we see storm clouds gathering and have time to prepare for the deluge.

Growing marital strife warns that things between us and our spouse are becoming more serious. An x-ray reveals that haunting suspicions over time about strange symptoms have a cause. The “gut feeling” we’ve had that something just wasn’t right with one of our kids makes sense when we happen upon their recent online activity. But even seeing storms on the way don’t make them easier because watching dark clouds building can bring foreboding anxieties about what’s coming.

And then there are those times when the sun is out and life is pretty much going well. When sudden rain falls it’s easy to just smile and enjoy it. Florida living introduced me to the whimsy experience of driving when the sun is brightly shining and shimmers of dancing droplets play on my car windshield for a minute or two. It’s easier to handle unexpected challenges in our lives when they come when all is otherwise well.

Is it raining in your life? If so, has it been dark and gloomy for a long time, leaving you weary and fighting for hope? Or are you worried that circumstances or relationships are brewing to bring trials that test your faith? Perhaps your life is pretty pleasant right now as spurts of challenges come and go in your otherwise happy days of relative sunshine?

However the rain is falling for you, I want you to know I’m there. Over the past year or so I’ve experienced all three of those scenarios. Sometimes I feel the darkness closing in and wonder if the sun will shine again. Other days I’m able to see the clouds gathering ahead and am able grab onto my spiritual umbrella. And then there are days when my heart is light and the Son is shining brightly while I deal with the normal challenges of every day life.

The good thing about rain is that it never lasts forever. It comes…and goes. It has a purpose. For me, the rain that been falling has been softening my heart to know and love God more. When it’s dark I can tell myself, “It won’t be dark forever. The sun is right there behind the clouds. Lord, help me to endure.” As my heart softens I sense His nearness and know that He is planting tender seeds in my heart that require both rain and sun. Believe me, this is something that I have to remind myself regularly. Otherwise I easily fall into hopelessness and believing the lie that it will never be sunny again.

God measures the rain in our lives. Even when it seems flood waters are rising and we fear we might be swept away, He governs each drop that falls. If we’re swept away, it will be into His outstretched, safe arms.

Is your heart dry and hard? Then pray for rain.

Are you being pelted by a painful deluge? Then pray for strength.

Do you see clouds gathering? Then pray for God to prepare your heart to endure with faith.

Is the sun shining? Then pray for gratitude.

And always remember, He is in the rain.

Pray For Destiny Hope: Part Two


My post yesterday was the first after my summer break. The response was surprising. It seems my thoughts about Destiny Hope (scroll down to see this if you haven’t already) hit a chord in many hearts.

I’m encouraged!

Why? Because many of you, like me, are aware of the spiritual pride (as one reader defined the sinful attitude we often deal with in relation to “those sinners out there”) that tempts us to view ourselves as better than others because our actions are more outwardly righteous than theirs.

  • “You wouldn’t catch me wearing something like that on national TV…or even at the beach, for goodness sake!”
  • “How in the world could that young woman do those things in front of millions of people???”
  • “Where did she learn to act like that? Who in the world had a filthy enough mind to choreograph those moves?”
  • “What happened to the little girl who went to Sunday School and wore a promise ring?”

I’ll admit it. My first reaction to the teaser clips I saw of Miley’s moves on Fox News wasn’t compassion. They were revolting. Shameful. Disgusting. Shocking. Until I took some moments to look into my own heart.

I was six years old when my friend Linda, the pastor’s daughter, and I were walking around the “dime store” (many of you are too young to know what that means) on a Saturday afternoon. We typically headed straight for the cheap little dolls and their even cheaper little accessories. I don’t remember the details of what I was thinking that day over fifty years ago, but I do remember something important. One of the “magic” baby bottles — where the milk seemed to disappear when turned up to feed the baby — ended up in my pocket when we left. And I didn’t have the 25 cents to pay for it.

It couldn’t have been that bad because it was the pastor’s daughter’s idea! The bottle in her pocket had disappearing orange juice, so between us we could feed our babies juice and milk.

At age six these two young churched girls had already become thieves and liars. And one of them justified her actions because the desire to “go along” with her pastor’s kid gave her just the permission she needed to do what was in her heart to do anyway.

The next time I remember stealing and lying was in fifth grade. I was in the “advanced” reading group and desperately wanted to retain my role as the group leader. This meant I had to read numerous books in a given time period and answer a list of comprehension questions to prove I had actually completed them. I also had the job of checking the other group members’ quizzes and then keep track of their progress in the teacher’s grade book.

Maybe you’re ahead of me. This meant I had authorized access to the answer keys.

I don’t remember if this happened just once, but I remember cheating one afternoon when no one else was in the room. I stole the answers to one (or more?) of the quizzes because my leadership tasks had left me behind in my own reading. My proud heart craved the recognition and respect of being the leader and I wasn’t about to give that up.

There you have it: by age 10 I was already demonstrating my willingness to steal, lie (covering up sin is the same as lying, right?) and rebel against God and my parents/teacher to get what I wanted. This pattern continued into my teen years when I was willing to compromise morally and ethically to keep a boyfriend or be accepted by the “cool” people or get ahead academically.

And I wish all that had stopped when I graduated high school!

You see, a couple of months back I reacted angrily at Benny (my husband) and threw my cell phone at the wall near him. That same attitude of entitlement I had decades ago (didn’t I “deserve” that baby bottle and expedited quiz grades and cute boyfriend?) remains to some degree to this day. When Benny did something that tempted me to react angrily, to his shock I picked up my phone and heaved it toward the wall. Sigh. At least I didn’t throw it right at him. Because I don’t typically express my anger outwardly (even though it’s alive and well in my heart) he and I both realized this was a sign that something was deeply affecting me. The little girl who “deserved” a toy she couldn’t pay for became a wife who “deserves” her husband’s sensitivity, attention or encouragement. I’ve spent some good time with the Lord asking Him to search out the things in my heart that allowed me to act so wrongly toward Benny.

So what does this have to do with Miley?  What if her actions, like mine as a kid and even recently as an adult, are symptoms of heart issues of which she isn’t even aware? Are her actions really the biggest problem? Or is there something deeper and even more serious going on?

The only reason you and I become aware of what is motivating us is because God shows us. I don’t see my sinful anger, greed, self-pity or painful sadness over being sinned against with my own eyes. And neither do you. Perhaps like me, you want to blame things like outbursts of anger on disrespectful kids or incompetent store clerks or gossipy friends or unkind relatives. We see — or are even willing to see — the roots of sin or brokenness or grief in our hearts when the Spirit of God kindly shows them to us. Left to ourselves, like Miley, we would go our own way without thought to how our actions begin in and flow out of our hearts.

Jesus talked about this when He said: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Hmm…sinful actions begin in the heart. Pornography and gossip, adulterous affairs and teens making out in the backseat of cars, lies and murder all begin in the heart before they ever come out — to just one person over lunch or to millions on TV.

Seeing how similar Miley and I alike are helps me to cultivate Christlike compassion rather than pharisaical judgement toward her. We both have a heart problem. I have been declared not guilty of my many sins while she seemingly remains in need of a Savior who is just as able to forgive her as He has me.

P.S. By the way, my conscience got the best of me and I told Mom about the magic baby bottle.  She and the pastor’s wife had a good talkin’ to with LInda and me (well, not just a talkin’ to!) and we both had to return the toys to the store. The manager tried to give them back to us to say thanks for having the courage to return them (what courage??? our Moms made us!) but our moms wisely declined. They paid the 25 cents each for them, but then we all left the store with the man holding them in his hand. Thanks, Mom!

30 Days of Blogging?

What was I thinking? I decided to accept the Ultimate Blog Challenge, at the invitation of my dear friend, Debi, over at her and Tom’s wonderful marriage blog, The Romantic Vineyard.  If you’ve never visited there, please do. Tom and Debi don’t just write about marriage, they have a wonderful marriage that is inspiring many.

it’s appropriate that Debi should challenge me to write more consistently. She’s been my encourager for over ten years. There was one time in particular when I was discouraged and feeling hopeless that the darkness would ever lift. She prayed for me and shared some edifying words that gave me strength to believe God was with me and would help me through that dark time.

She was right.

I’m in the middle of a blog series on Desperate Motherhood. If you’re just visiting you may want to take a look at last week’s posts — two were written by my daughter, Jaime. Her honesty about challenging seasons with sick newborns resulted in some heartfelt feedback. Over the next two weeks three other guests will share their experiences of God’s help through desperate times.

One woman told me last week that she finds comfort here at Faith Rising because the posts make her realize she’s not alone. Her struggles are common. Her temptations are shared. And God, though seemingly distant at times, is near.

She’s right, too.


Day One of Thirty

A Message That Could Change Your Marriage

Yesterday’s post (you can find it below) resulted in a more than typical response from my readers. One of the blessings of blogging is that you can always change your plans at the last minute. So today I want to share just one more post on the gossip verses honesty thread.

Several years ago I was meeting with a group of wives of small group leaders at our former church. The topic that morning was on fulfilling our helper design as wives. When God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone He was talking about mankind in general, not just men. But any married woman or mother of sons can certainly see why it’s definitely not good for MEN to be alone!

As our conversation continued that morning, I mentioned that one of the way a godly wife is a “suitable helper” to her husband is by lovingly confronting his sin and involving others if he is unresponsive. It was one of the more vibrant meetings we had together. I was somewhat surprised by how intrigued most of the wives were by my comments. Two of them playfully asked if Benny planned to talk with their husbands about this topic at their next men’s meeting.

“If I go home and tell my husband that Sheree said I need to start confronting his sin…well…I just think it would be better for him to hear that from Benny!” (It wasn’t about what I was saying but about God’s instructions to believers to speak the truth — both positive and negative — in love to one another.)

“Seriously? Do you mean Benny invites and values your correction? Doesn’t he think you’re being disrespectful? And how do you do that without being critical and snooty?” (Benny doesn’t always eagerly welcome my correction or solicit my thoughts. But even when he doesn’t, am I off the hook from loving him enough to share them?)

The questions continued long past the ending time of our meeting — and spilled out into the parking lot afterwards.

The Bible commands the godly wife to respect and submit to her husband, as the church does to Christ. But when did “respect” equal leaving it to guy friends, co-workers or bosses to point out our husband’s flaws, sins or weaknesses? Who knows our husbands better than we do? And who loves them most?

Wifely respect and submission isn’t in competition with honesty. We all need people in our lives who know and love us enough to courageously call us out when we mess up. Sadly, too many marriages lack the depth, grace and mutual trust to do so.

But that can change, with God’s help!

What does loving rebuke or correction look look like in a Christian marriage? When do we overlook sin in our husband’s life; leave the discussion just between the two of us; or bring it up to a wise and trusted friend or pastor? How does the godly wife provide respectful biblical correction to her husband? What can happen when we wrongly interpret God’s word and either refuse to correct our husbands…or do so with self-righteous disrespect?

Author and speaker Carolyn Mahaney provides wise counsel and practical application for us in her excellent message Watch Your Man. This message may change your life and your marriage. You can download it for free here.

When I mentioned to Benny after that meeting that the wives hoped he would discuss this topic with the small group leaders, he actually encouraged the guys to listen to this, too. In fact, it may have been the first time my husband sent a message by a pastor’s wife out to other men as a listening assignment!

Please listen all the way through the message to the personal testimonies at the end. You won’t want to miss the humility, candor and practical insights you will hear from two godly wives who share their weaknesses in watching their men.

I promise we’ll move on to the Desperate Motherhood series.  Thanks for your patience!  And please consider reading the comments on yesterday’s post — and make your own! I honestly value your feedback either here on the blog or on the Faith Rising facebook page.

A Younger Sheree Learned a Few Things….

Over the past couple of days I’ve been talking about being well known in a culture where isolation and independence are celebrated while biblical relationships are too often defined by Sunday morning greetings rather than sharing real life together.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is relationships can become an idol — especially to us girls. (I’m humbled by and grateful for the guys who frequent this blog, and perhaps this post applies to you, too.)

I have six adorable granddaughters. Watching them relate to each other and to other little girls is pure joy. I more often hear “Are you ok?” or “I’m sorry” or “That’s ok, it was an accident” from them than from my grandsons. Many little girls define their best friend as whoever they just sat next to in Sunday School. The little ladies in our church flock to the babies and toddlers to help, hold, play and cuddle while the boys typically chase each other around the room or create guns with pens or pointy fingers.

Years ago as a young wife I remember picking up the phone to call a friend after a conflict with Benny. I wanted counsel…and sympathy. While it was fine for me to reach out to a friend, some months later I noticed this was becoming a pattern. Rather than prayerfully go back to my husband to resolve our conflict biblically, I turned to friends for support and advice. With a partial motive of genuinely wanting the perspective of a godly friend to help me get things right with Benny, over time the Lord revealed a pattern of wanting sympathy more than godliness. .

Wait — am I contradicting myself? In a blog series on being well known why am I warning against being well known?

There was nothing wrong with me reaching out to my friends when I was hurting, confused or needed advice. And honesty doesn’t always equal gossip. (More on that tomorrow.) The problem was I was looking to them for things I needed to work out with the Lord and my husband, and using friendship as an excuse to subtly whine. Talking to my friends was much easier than reaching for God or hashing things out with Benny! They listened; asked questions; expressed empathy; identified with my struggles and temptations; and offered gentle counsel. Girl talk left me feeling heard and understood in a different way than many of my interactions with my husband. It was during those years that I discovered men are from Mars and women are from Venus. While Benny and I have grown considerably in our communication since those early years, I still often find it easier to connect heart to heart with the girls. Gender does make a difference in communication!

God has designed us to love people and to benefit greatly from our social circles. But being well known doesn’t mean finding more comfort in people — even family members — than in God. It also doesn’t excuse dumping on a fried when relational tension creeps up in our lives. I watch people rush from relationship to relationship looking for significance, value, friendship and affection — and have done so myself! — when God’s offer of relationship stands as the only source of timeless love.

The fact is this: we are completely well known by God. He made us; personally constructed our appearance and personality; gave us both limitations and gifts; decided if we would love or hate strawberries or sports or prefer the mountains or the beach; and then died so we could know Him back. No one will ever love us so powerfully yet tenderly.

What a friend we have in Jesus.

Idols aren’t just little statues that sit in the homes of religious non-Christians. As Ken Sande says:

“Most of us think of an idol as a statue of wood, stone, or metal worshiped by pagan people. But the concept is much broader and far more personal than that. An idol is anything apart from God that we depend on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure. In biblical terms it is something other than God that we set our heart on (Luke 12:29), that motivates us (1 Corinthians 4:5), that masters and rules us (Psalm 119:133; Ephesians 5:5), or that we trust, fear, or serve (Isaiah 42:17; Matthew 6:24; Luke 12:4-5). In short, it is something we love and pursue in place of God (see Philippians 3:19).”

People can be our idols and pursuit of friendship can easily become “something we love and pursue in place of God.”

Has God been stirring your heart to be more well known? Guess what, you ARE! He knows you best and loves you most of everyone anywhere. He knows how your jaw clenches when you’re inwardly angry before a selfish word comes out of your mouth. He knows your temptations and anticipates when you’ll be lonely or jealous or anxious long before you do. He helps, strengthens and protects you when you don’t even realize it and even when you think you chose to do right all by yourself.

And when you fail or reject or push Him away because someone else seems more available or fun or loving, He doesn’t pull back but continues to stay close with patient pursuit.

I pray that you feel not just well known today…but well loved.

P.S.  If you would like to read more about the subject of idolatry you can read the article I quoted from here.

Is Alice a Monster-in-Law?

Prior to Carrie and Adam’s wedding, at the photographer’s request, she made a list of the must-have pictures she wanted from her special day. She was careful to keep the list at the number he requested since they had limited photo time before everyone involved in the wedding needed to get to the reception.

Toward the end of the photo session Alice, Carrie’s new mother-in-law, started calling her husband and children together for a photo with Adam. Hmmf. Carrie hadn’t even bothered to ask her if there were any special pictures she wanted. Carrie mentally ran through her list and realized this wasn’t one she had given to the photographer. Time was running out but she quickly remembered the photographer had agreed to deal with any requests for not-listed pictures. However, he seemed oblivious to Adam’s mother.

Suddenly, Alice started encouraging her hubby and kids toward the front.

“Carrie, I’d like a picture of Ralph and I with our kids if that’s okay,” she said as she gently took Carrie’s arm to move her aside.

Carrie’s eyes stole to Adam.

“Ummm, Mom, we don’t have much time,” he said, awkwardly. “We need to finish up the rest of the pictures in time for the recep…..”

“Oh, silly!” she chided. “Of course you want a picture with your family on your wedding day!” she concluded as she started placing family members around the new groom.

Carrie was hurt. Why would Alice want a picture on Adam’s wedding day that didn’t include his bride? And now this meant she needed to allot time for a similar picture with her parents and siblings so Dad and Mom wouldn’t feel slighted. Then when Alice decided after several shots were taken that her children needed to be placed differently for a few more, Carrie inwardly fumed. Precious minutes were being lost…

Alice was having a great time celebrating Adam’s wedding day with a picture of his family, one that would probably hang on the wall with…oh my!…Carrie realized now that there were two other family pictures at weddings with only one of the happy couple. Great. Now she would have to be reminded of Alice’s insensitivity and selfishness every time they went over to the house!

Alice and Carrie were off to a rocky start. Over the coming years their outwardly affectionate interactions were masking underlying issues. Alice was being insensitive to her new daughter-in-law on her wedding day and a thoughtful bride would have likely asked Alice for a couple of requests when she was making her photo list. Both women were likely judging one another’s heart and motives that day — and by doing so they were adding to an already growing list of normal and common misunderstanding between gals who love the same guy.

Why are in-law relationships so challenging, particularly between women?

Our culture certainly doesn’t help. I did some online research and found the following:

  • A site that says: “Next time you are fuming about your mother-in-law, visit us and find a sympathetic ear.”
  • Did you see the popular 2005 romantic comedy Monster-in-Law that depicts how the guy’s mother (Jane Fonda) tries to destroy his relationship with Charlie (Jennifer Lopez)?
  • In 2001 A&E did a series of “real-life” situations, also called Monster-in-Law. Families sit down with a relationship “expert” to talk through their problems. The site says it’s for all in-law relationships, but the name of the series puts the emphasis on the meddling, overbearing MIL.
  • Cartoons, picture and jokes abound that negatively depict an assumed inherent tension and rivalry between a man’s mother and his wife. (You see some of those here.)
  • Books including How to SURVIVE Your In-Laws; Toxic In-Laws; A Wife’s Guide to In-Laws: How to Gain Your Husband’s Loyalty Without Killing His Parents.

Wow. The assumption seems to be that in-law relationships stink and all we can hope for is survival, lessening the toxicity and trying not to kill one another!

A new book written by a Cambridge University psychologist who has researched this issue for years indicates that words including “strained,” “infuriating” and “simply awful” are used by 60% of women to describe their relationship with their mother or daughter-in-law. I wonder what adjectives the other 40% would use. Perhaps tolerable? Okay? Bearable? Decent? Would anyone say caring? Helpful? Affectionate? Or (dare say) warm?

The Bible doesn’t specifically communicate what healthy in-law relationships should look like.  And just as with any area in our lives, we don’t want to look to others as the standard of how of in-law relationships should work in our family.  Yet the Bible is clear on how Christians should treat one another  even when they are all-out enemies.

Benny and I have children-in-law (“New Kids”) with whom we share a close relationship: two sons-in-law and three daughters-in-law. Frankly, it hasn’t been easy to marry off our kids. We wrestled, cried, worried, wondered and did the whole “where in the world have the years gone????”  thing each time. (I admit it; I did more of all that than he did.) As the kids were growing up we told ourselves we would prepare ourselves for being replaced by young guys and girls who won the hearts of our sons and daughters. But no parent can fully prepare themselves for seeing the child they birthed, loved, nurtured, protected and cherished fall in love and start a new independent family. It’s exciting but sad, wonderful yet heart wrenching.

One day they’re in fifth grade talking about someone cute they want to invite to an upcoming birthday party and then…whoosh!…they’re a young adult falling in love for real and wanting to get married! It’s doubly hard when your child’s choice is someone you don’t like or don’t think has the character and maturity to make your child happy for a lifetime.

I’m obviously writing as the old person-in-law. While I want to identify with and share the perspective of the younger generation, my burden is that of one who has been on both sides of the in-law relationship for fifteen+ years. I have struggled on both sides. Yet, with God’s help three generations of Phillips women actually like each other and enjoy being together.

I want to both identify with Carrie and Alice as well as help to unravel some of the common heart issues behind their unspoken struggles. In the process,  I will share some of my own temptations and joys as Jewel’s DIL and the MIL of five beloved new kids.

Today I want to end by thanking PJ, Rachel, Rebekah, Lauren and Eric. Thank you for being patient with me in the learning curve of figuring out how be a mother-in-law to five uniquely wired but commonly terrific people. Thank you for answering my “what am I doing right and wrong” questions; extending me grace and forgiveness when I’ve failed; allowing me to be weak and flawed; never making monster-in-law jokes (at least in my hearing…smile); and spending lots of time at the house eating my food. A few of you and I have been through some pretty rough times together but God has been faithful, hasn’t He? More challenges will undoubtedly come because of the crazy family He put you into, but I wouldn’t trade any one of you for another new kid.

More tomorrow….