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Marriage Counseling 101

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My head fell forward into my hands. Thoroughly disheartened, I sat on the sofa and fought back tears. The warm summer night did nothing for my cold, crushed feelings. Granted, to someone else, this would not even be a bleep on his or her emotional radar. But for me, this was a big deal.

Let me explain.

Larry threw my clothes into the dryer. Had this been towels and sheets, I would have welcomed his kindness. But these were not towels and sheets. These were my two useable summer Polo shirts, red and blue. When I pulled the load from the machine in the basement, I discovered—with horror—that my tops were reduced to the size for a toddler, and rendered useless for an adult.

Attempting good marital communication, I returned upstairs and engaged Larry in conversation. Seeing the evidence in my outstretched hands, he expressed remorse. (Great.) While I appreciated his apology, I could not imagine manufacturing the funds to replace my clothing.

So, now on the couch, I sat immobilized in a self-created cocoon. I felt sick; and I felt stuck. This was not good.

In quiet seclusion—feeling the onset of a marvelous pity party—I prayed. “Lord, I don’t want this to grip me and ruin the plans for our summer evening. Truly, I want to respond correctly. But this hurts. How do I handle it? How do I manage to get on with life?”

In that moment …

On that couch …

Heaven and earth stood still as a Whisper from the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart: Walk in newness of life.

Clear …

Undeniably clear …

And just as clear, was the reality that I had to make a choice – obey or disobey. Thank goodness, the same Holy Spirit who gave me the instructions also gave me the supernatural power to move forward to walk in newness of life.

For my laundry situation, walk in newness of life meant:

  • Engage and release: engage with Larry in prayer, and forgive him for making a simple human error

  • Enjoy our dinner

  • Embrace our summer evening’s recreational plan

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Thankfully, walk in newness of life brought peace, joy, laughter, and freedom. And interestingly enough, in the upcoming weeks, the same admonition quietly, gently repeatedly presented itself in a myriad of situations transcending the boundaries of the laundry crisis. Each time, the way forward was clear: walk in newness of life. And each time, I faced a choice: walk in newness of life or stay stuck in the muck.

Two shirts, five words—in the Hand of the Holy Spirit—provide curriculum content for Marriage Counseling 101. The clothing loss pales in comparison to the value of the lesson.

Walk in newness of life: Five. Small. Words.

Living With Eternal Intentionality®

We therefore were buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised up out of the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). BSB

How do you identify with the words walk in newness of life?

What other option do you and I have when faced with the choice to walk in newness of life?

What are the characteristics that result when we do not walk in newness of life?

Prayer:

Father, will You please give me a sensitive heart to hear You when you offer me the opportunity to walk in newness of life? I want to experience more and more the reality of this path that You so graciously provide for me. And to You be all the glory!

Lessons Learned From My Life with Sheep

The Shepherdess , Hofner, 1866

The Shepherdess, Hofner, 1866

Twelve, thirteen, fourteen .… That can’t be right; I need to count again. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen. Only fourteen; Where is number fifteen?

The conversation inside my head confirmed that only fourteen sheep were in the pen, and one was missing. My job as the shepherdess required leaving the fourteen to locate the lost sheep. After much searching, unfortunately, I discovered the missing animal curled up at the base of a tree, too sick to come when called, too sick to eat, and too sick to even move. Veterinary attention on my part was necessary.

Life alongside sheep defined my growing up years. It is safe to say that hundreds of sheep were my companions. As a toddler, I recall standing alongside my Daddy as he gently guided my hands to push a baby bottle through a wire fence in order to nourish orphaned lambs on the other side. As a teenager, I remember long, hot hours in the barn preparing for upcoming 4H shows. Until I left home to attend university, my days, months, and years ran through pastures, rivers, feed troughs, vaccinations, and livestock shows.

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This unrelenting lifestyle demanded unbelievably hard physical labor. Attention to detail for every individual sheep required rigorous attention. My duties included keeping their environment safe; poisonous weeds had to be eradicated from the pasture. Dangerous predators such as snakes, insects, wild dogs, and disease menacingly lurked, and shortcuts could not be tolerated. Any error on my part resulted in harm for my flock.

Giving an injection while my Daddy held the sheep

Giving an injection while my Daddy held the sheep

Life Lessons Emerged

While I took care of sheep, sheep taught me about life. Through my encounter with hundreds of sheep countless valuable lessons emerged.

  • The sheep were my responsibility; they were utterly dependent on my care.

  • The job demanded individual attention every day for every animal.

  • The sheep would hear me, recognize my voice, and come when called.

  • A daily count of heads, not once but twice, was mandatory. The absence of any animal signaled alarm, and the one individual had to be sought out.

  • These animals could not—absolutely could not—care for themselves.

  • As vulnerable creatures, they could not protect themselves.

  • My sheep never knew what was best for them; overeating caused a constant threat.

  • The flock always had a leader, and the leader stayed closest to me as their shepherd.

  • Personality traits differentiated one animal from another.

  • Any derelict attitude or irresponsibility on my part resulted in harm for the sheep.

  • Simple problems were life threatening; getting stuck on its back rendered the creature helpless and resulted in death.

  • Stubbornness, in particular, brought on challenges.

  • A general group identity did not exist; a personal relationship between sheep and shepherd naturally transpired.

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Spiritual Lessons Emerged

Lessons learned decades ago from the sheep pen continue to shed light on my relationship with My Shepherd.

I long to quickly respond to His Voice.

I yearn to thrive under His individual care.

I want to allow Him to meet my needs.

I must believe that He knows what is best for me. I lack awareness of lurking danger.

If I fail to respond when He calls, something is seriously wrong.

Daily contact with Him is essential for my spiritual health.

My sheep hear My Voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

(John 10:27)

Living With Eternal Intentionality®

When you consider Psalm 23 and John 10, where do you long to grow in intimacy with our Shepherd?

What does it mean to listen to HIm, to let Him lead, to depend on Him for all of your needs?

How would your life be different if you learned to more quickly discern The Voice of The Good Shepherd?

Please offer what you think. Your thoughts bring increased value to this discussion.

Nobody's Child

Rudi is on the top row, right.

Rudi is on the top row, right.

Guest post by Rudina Bakalli

This is my story, the story of someone raised in Communist Albania, trying to break the cocoon of her life while the country broke from Communism. Fier, my city, came in existence during Communism. It was the center of the oil industry where my father was employed. Our neighborhood was made of one type of four or five story red bricks buildings, positioned in kind of squares to leave some space for kids to play. Our building was made for the oilmen. I was the daughter of one of them, like most of my childhood friends.

In the evenings, the city would be covered by a dark mist that smelled ammonia due to the power plant that was a few miles away. Some people would whisper that that power plant had made us small and pale. My mother worked in the woodworking establishment and her job was to build wood containers that were used for vegetables and fruits. She had to build them from scratch, hammering hundreds of nails a day as they had to meet the daily quota of building 140 wood containers per day, for a monthly wage of $3 .

None of my parents were able to attend college due to their family situations. My father had to become an adult overnight when his father passed away and he was the only in the family who could find a well paying job to take care of his mother and four brothers. My mother was offered a scholarship to study to be a teacher on the condition she remain in her village to teach, but her father refused. He wanted her not to be confined to their village.

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I had a passion for literature and from the first grade I was a passionate reader. My world was peaceful and there was joy, but the highest achievement my world offered me was to go to University and become a devoted Communist, which became my life dream.

My brother was a talented soccer player who aimed to play for one of the main teams in our country. He distinguished himself from all his peers and his future seemed bright, until he was refused the right to study at the sports national school, even though his achievements for the entering test were excellent. My father wrote to those in authority, to no avail.

“What did they tell you?” we asked him, as he entered home, his shoulders shrugged and face paled.

“I could not do anything” he said. I had not seen my father cry before. Days later somehow he was told in confidentiality that our brother’s name was on the list till the last day when they had to replace him with the son of a well-known doctor in our city. We had to swallow that up and accept it in silence and total submission. What had happened should be a mistake. It could not be true; the system could not be corrupted. The Communist system protected and favored the working class. At least this is what we always believed. Seeing my brother perplexed as his life dream was crushed was one of the most painful journeys we had to walk through. I felt what it meant to have been born in a working class family and my dream to go to University seemed even more unreachable.

I was one of the top student at my group but the right to study at University and major were arbitrarily given by the local Communist authority based on biography and GPA. Who would speak on my favor? I had to study harder than most of my peers, whose parents weren’ t from the working class. Ironically, my close friend was one of those; the daughter of a respected lawyer who held an important position in the city bureau, she was transferred from another high school to ours. She was very friendly and faithful and we became friends from the beginning. The system enforced GPA to become our invisible enemy, but our friendship prevailed over it. We were close buddies.

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On Saturdays we loved to go to the center pedestrian street to see the university students. They would come home every weekend and we would admire them from afar, while dreaming that one day soon we would be one of them. We wanted to break our city cocoon and fly out like them to a brighter future. What would the future hold for me if I did not go to University, but the random order of life: get a job and get married to the best match make presented to my family by a friend or relative, just like the daughter of our neighbor across our building, who got engaged to an older man, less handsome than we would imagine for a beautiful young lady like her.

New and strong winds swept Albania in 1989-1990, which caught most of us by surprise, leaving us insecure and in panic. In shock we would get news about the fall of the Berlin wall, the demise of Ceausescu in Romania, and later would watch in horror the monument of our Communist leader Enver Hoxha thrown to the ground, tied with a rope and dragged in the capital city. Protesters were talking about freedom from dictatorship. What freedom and dictatorship were they talking about? Weren’t we the happiest country in the world? Weren’t we a free and sovereign country as our communist leaders would proudly tell us from their podiums? Events rolled like a roller coaster and we had to adjust to a new reality. There was joy, excitement, and chaos.

In the fall of my senior year, a group of foreign students visited my school. Crowds of students would come out of their classrooms to see these rare species. We had never been allowed to come close or talk to those few foreigners that would dare to visit our country in the past. And now we could shake their hands, touch them as if to prove they were real, let them speak to us and talk to them. We had very important questions to ask them.

“Have you met Madonna?” “Have you met Michael Jackson?” “Where is God? Have you ever seen him?” “How do you know there is life after death? Has anyone come back from death to prove us otherwise?”

Communism had taught me from childhood that God did not exist. I was a proud product of evolution, and science was my best advocate of that.

I had so many questions to which I could not find an answer to please my curiosity and intellectual search, but my heart would tell me that there was something more than mere evolution. I could not prove it yet, but there should be a God up there.

By the end of my high school I found a job as a translator in a Greek company which was promising as it would give me the opportunity to travel abroad. At that point I was not sure what was wiser, to keep the job or go to university, but I applied for the university entering test, and left the decision for later.

Rudi, left, as a university student in Tirana.

Rudi, left, as a university student in Tirana.

My father brought me the news. I had won, classified 18th out of 200 students who had qualified. At last I felt hard work had pay off. That night I could not sleep. I was happier than I had ever been, and scared more than any other time as I found myself at the crossroad of deciding for my future. What would I do with my job? Was it better to stay or go?

“-We want you to go to university,” – my dad and mom would tell me the next day.

“-Rudina go, this is a wonderful opportunity, it is a gift from God,”- would confirm Sotir, the president of the company where I was employed, who was kind of a father to me, too.

I left home for University on September 15th. My dad came with me. When he left I cried. I did not know that another Father had already preceded me and had paved the way for the most dramatic and exciting revelation. I, the child of nobody, in my battle to become somebody by going to University and becoming successful, had just embarked on the journey of knowing the One who would call me His child, and Who had paid the ultimate price for me.


Living With Eternal Intentionality®

What do you recall knowing about Rudi’s country of Albania?

When in your spiritual journey did you become aware of God making you a somebody by calling you His child ?

Meet Rudina Bakalli

Meet Rudina Bakalli

I have been on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ since 1996. Currently, my family and I live in Tirana, capital of Albania, where my husband and I serve to lead the Global Church Movement area team for Eastern Europe and Russia.

We have 3 beautiful children, and a playful English Setter dog, who keep me active and growing! I run a blog in Albanian http://shigjete.com/nobodys-child/ with the hope of reaching non believers by inviting them to taste how good God is, and exhorting believers to live in a deep, sincere commitment to Jesus.