Forgiven: Accepting God’s Amazing Grace

In 1992, artist Thomas Blackshear II, painted a picture titled Forgiven. It took my breath away the first time I saw it. The image is a contemporary man wearing a T-shirt and dirty jeans, holding a mallet in one hand and a nail in the other. The expression on his face is desperation and exhaustion. Standing behind him and holding him up, is Jesus. His nail-scarred hands appear large and strong. His face is tender as he embraces this man, a picture of God’s love and forgiveness, the real message of Easter.      He-is-Risen-from-StudioJRU

Tears welled up in my eyes. The man in the painting reminded me of my husband Randy. He had tried over and over to stop the deadly spiral of alcoholism that he was caught in. Sometimes he broke down in sobs of desperation and anger. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop drinking–even though it was destroying him.

But this painting gave me hope. Though Randy’s addiction seemed hopeless, as a Christian, I had to believe that Jesus was right there loving Randy, and that his arms wrapped around him would never let him go.

One week before Easter in the early 1990s, Randy agreed to have our pastor and others pray for him. Pastor Mark and several others placed their hands on Randy’s head and shoulders and prayed. It was powerful. We all felt the intensity of God’s presence. Pastor Mark turned to me and said, “Deb, here’s your husband back.”

I noticed Randy’s eyes seemed clear and at peace, no longer tormented. He felt free! Sadly, after a week of experiencing this miraculous freedom, the old patterns crept back in. Randy struggled with his addiction until 1998 when he finally came to believe that God loved him and had forgiven him. Grasping that truth made all the difference for him. He has been free in Christ since then!

Today, on Good Friday, my thoughts have turned to this painting and the picture of a defeated and desperate man. Tears come to my eyes as I realize once again, the power of forgiveness. Maybe Randy needed that very real taste of freedom he experienced in order to ultimately be able to accept God’s unconditional love for him.

Really, Randy is no different from any of us. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We all have held the mallet and nail in our hands, demanding our own way, instead of humbly submitting to God. I like to think I would never have been part of the crowd shouting, Crucify him! I know better, though. Without God’s amazing gift of grace and forgiveness, I’d never have submitted my life to Him. Only through the pain and heartache of Randy’s struggle with alcoholism, was I finally able to surrender.

I can’t do this.

God can.

I will let Him.

Whatever challenges you may be facing today, the promise and hope of Easter always follow the desperate darkness of Good Friday.

God can do anything, you know–far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Ephesians 3:20,21 (MSG)

 

New Hope for Marriage Retreat

If you or someone you know is struggling in her marriage, I’d like to invite you to consider New Hope for Marriage, a small group retreat to help wives find hope for their hurting and conflicted marriages.

We’re now taking reservations for the Spring Retreat which will be held at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center, just outside of Bellingham, Washington, April 29-May 1, 2016.

Christie Miller, my co-facilitator, and I are passionate about helping other women come to the Lord for a transformation and healing of their marriages. We know–we’ve been there!

For more information, visit: www.nwspeakers.com

 

Christmas: God’s Special Delivery

I’d like to tell you a story. It happened a long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away–though living on Okinawa, Japan for three years seemed that way! I’ll never forget the first year Randy and I celebrated Christmas overseas  with our sons, Chris and Jeremy, who were 7 and 4- years old. It’s a poignant memory as  we’ve recently said good-bye to Randy’s mom. Even though we’re heartbroken by her loss, we’ve found comfort in a parade of memories that span several decades. This is a story about her and her generous heart that blessed our lives beyond anything I could ever have imagined.

Travel back with me through time…December 1978. Two little boys are seated at the kitchen table working on their Christmas wish lists. winter

“Mommy, how do you spell bionic?” Seven year-old Chris looked up from writing his Christmas wish list. He’d been searching the Sears catalog for pictures of the Bionic Man, the to-die-for toy every little boy wanted in the late 1970s. He and his younger brother Jeremy had grown increasingly concerned about whether Christmas would come to Okinawa. They wanted to make sure their grandparents knew exactly where to send their presents.

I smiled when I saw their lists. The boys had written pages of their most wished-for gifts; robots, Lego sets, and the all-important Bionic Man. They included catalog page numbers showing where to locate their requests. Rather than lecture them about the virtues of giving, I allowed them the freedom to write without mom-assistance. We sealed their letters and dropped them at the post office.

I confessed silently that I also wondered if Christmas would come to our overseas home. It didn’t seem at all like December. Banana palms flapped outside our windows, and the children played outside without jackets. Back home in Pennsylvania, winter had set in. I imagined snow blanketing the countryside. We almost always enjoyed a white Christmas. Not on Okinawa!

The highlight of our pre-holiday days was stopping at the post office to check for packages or letters, the only connection to our family back in the States. This was long before cell phones, Facebook, and Skype. We didn’t have a phone. Even if we called the United States from the military base, the phone bill would have cost a small fortune.

I reached into our mail box with anticipation. Empty. I managed a smile. “Don’t worry, guys, it takes a long time for mail to come all the way across the ocean to us,” I said with forced optimism. They didn’t buy it.

As Christmas got closer, I began to get concerned– and more homesick than ever.

Finally, our daily post office trip paid off. There among several letters and Christmas cards was the coveted green slip. We had a package!

Chris and Jeremy jumped up and down. “Mommy, please can we open it?”

How could I say no? The boys ripped off the wrapping paper, and pulled out some chocolate candy, a stuffed teddy bear, and some picture books.

“That was nice of Grandpa and Grandma, wasn’t it?”

They nodded, but I could tell they were disappointed.

“Do you think they got our letters?” Chris asked.

“I’m not sure, honey.” I knelt down so I could give him my best mom’s heart-to heart. “You know, it’s fun getting gifts, but we have to remember the real meaning of Christmas. Jesus is the most special gift.” I could tell they weren’t convinced.

Christmas Eve arrived much like any other day on Okinawa. Business as usual, no last-minute shopping at malls or carolers crunching through snow. Would Chris and Jeremy understand that it was too late for more packages to arrive? I determined to set a positive example. We could still celebrate Christmas, even in a foreign country, even without many gifts.

We attended the candlelight service on base later that night. Randy and I held hands while we sang “Joy to the World.” The chapel glowed with flickering candles. I looked around and realized that we had become an extended family with these friends we had come to know. Even though we lived in an unfamiliar place, we weren’t alone.

The chaplain interrupted my thoughts. “You might not realize it, but you’re making memories for a lifetime here. Oh—one final announcement. I’ve just gotten word that there’s been an unexpected mail delivery tonight. Be sure to stop by the post office. Maybe there’s a surprise for you. God bless you–and Merry Christmas!”

Of course, we joined the crowd of families checking our post office boxes one last time before Christmas.

“Daddy, are there any packages for us?” Chris and Jeremy looked hopeful.

They cheered when they saw the green slips in our box. We quickly took our place in line. I held my breath while the postal clerk searched through the mountains of packages. None of us could believe the huge package she set on the counter addressed to Chris and Jeremy Kalmbach.

Randy helped the boys tear open the gigantic box from Pennsylvania. On top of the stack of wrapped gifts was a letter.

Dear Chris and Jeremy,

We know it’s hard to be far away at Christmas. Here are all the gifts you wished for. We love you and miss you. Have a wonderful Christmas!

I still remember the incredulous look on our sons’ faces as they unpacked that box. There were the Lego sets, the robots, and yes, even the Bionic Man.

I felt stunned that Mom had found every single gift. My first reaction was embarrassment for allowing the boys to write such extravagant lists. Then I understood. They wanted us to feel their love and the joy of our family Christmas traditions, even halfway around the world.

And isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The love of family and friends and gifts sent to homesick kids is only a small reflection of God’s most extravagant gift, His special delivery of a Savior to a broken and hurting world.

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.Mother Teresa

Thanks, Mom, for the many ways you showed God’s love to us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Hope for Marriage retreat is an opportunity for a woman to come to a safe, nurturing place to be encouraged in dealing with her hurting and conflicted marriage.

Our goal is to give you a new hope as well as a definite plan to partner with God to see your marriage and your own heart healed through the power of Jesus Christ.

Retreats are limited to 8 women so we can more intimately come alongside you and the issues you are facing.

It is our great privilege to offer the same support and comfort that we ourselves have received from God!

Date: October 23, 2015—October 25, 2015
Time: 04:00 p.m.
Event: New Hope for Marriage Retreat
Topic: Help and Hope for Wives in Difficult Marriages
Sponsor: Deb Kalmbach and Christie Miller
360-966-0203
Venue: Methow Valley Ranch Ministries
509-996-3635
Location: 255 E Chewuch Rd
Winthrop, WA 98862
USA
Public: Private

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Your Marriage

I heard the news that a young couple in our community is getting a divorce after only one year of marriage. What went wrong? All I know is this is a tragedy. I remember the wedding announcement we received with their bright smiling faces, their eyes so filled with love for each other.

Being silly at Lucy's birthday party!

Being silly at Lucy’s birthday party!

I want to tell them, “Don’t give up! Your story isn’t over yet.” In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say: “Don’t give up 5 minutes before the miracle.” Sometimes 5 minutes can seem like an eternity, but when the miracle comes, you don’t want to miss it.

My husband Randy and I are celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary in a few weeks. When I look back, I remember the tough times we faced in our marriage. It seemed hopeless. Struggling with Randy’s alcoholism loomed like a never-ending problem with few solutions. In retrospect, it was 5 minutes. The miracle of Randy’s sobriety and the years we’ve enjoyed since then, have truly been a miracle worth waiting for.

Life Lessons From a Dog Named Kramer

I knew the day was coming, but I didn’t expect it to arrive so soon. “Soon” is relative, because 15 years can seem like a long time or pass by in a blink. It’s the blink side6 I’m experiencing today. We said goodbye to our faithful canine friend, Kramer, two days ago. The years had taken their toll and Randy and I couldn’t bear to watch him struggle. Nights had become nearly impossible. Kramer paced incessantly through the house, getting stuck behind furniture or in corners, not seeing well enough to find his way out. Our hearts ache as we try to adjust to life without him. Anyone who has had a long-term relationship with a dog will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Kramer came into our lives on a July day in 2000, just before our 30th wedding anniversary. We drove two hours to the breeder’s home. We’d planned to only “take a look” at the Jack Russell Terrier puppy who bounded up to meet us. It was love at first lick. And then we were driving home with the unexpected 3-month old pup passenger curled up on my lap. We decided he was our anniversary gift to each other.

And what a gift he’s been! Our lives were turned upside down and our hearts inside out with love for this little guy who we christened as “Kramer.” He needed a Hollywood name since Randy and I owned a video store in our small town. Every day, Randy packed up Kramer and his puppy paraphernalia and took him to our store, much to the delight of our customers. “Is Kramer in today?” they’d ask expectantly.

When Kramer turned one year old, we celebrated with a party at the store. Kramer secretly told me he wanted a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting which was a big hit with his guests. They brought dog biscuit gifts and even called on the phone to wish him a happy day.

Kramer enjoyed stardom in our town’s annual ’49ers Days Parade. We drove the parade route in Randy’s old ’89 Lincoln Town Car festooned with Kramer banners and balloons. Children lining the one street through town squealed, “Look, there’s Kramer!” Randy and I tried not to let it get us down that no one seemed to notice us.

As we grieve our loss, I’m reminded of how much we learned from Kramer’s terrier traits.

  • Live every moment to the fullest!  Kramer lived at”turbo speed,” throwing himself wholeheartedly into  quests for chasing chipmunks, digging holes to hunt for mice, or attacking the garden hose while we attempted to water the plants or wash the car.
  • Don’t ever give up!  We marveled at Kramer’s tenacity and what one small dog could accomplish. One day, he was intent on capturing a chipmunk that was hiding in an irrigation pipe. “Great,” we thought. Kramer was occupied and we didn’t have to worry about him for a while. Only problem was that after several hours of tussling with the pipe, he literally wore off the black part of his nose! Our vet assured us it would grow back.
  • Love without stopping! What we’ll miss most is having this sweet dog with bright brown eyes filled with pure love, greet us at the end of every work day. No matter what kind of day we’d had, it was always better because Kramer was there to welcome us home.

I can’t help but think that God sent him to us at a time when we most needed him. As Randy and I stood by his grave the other day, I realized how far we had come in 15 years. We had learned volumes about what really matters, the value of persevering, and how to love each other well. In this sad moment, we had leaned into the pain together. We stood with arms draped around each other, praying a farewell prayer to our faithful friend. Even though our lives will never be the same, we are grateful for God’s special anniversary gift to us and memories to last the rest of our lives.

I’m looking forward to being the Keynote speaker at this event!

Date: March 14, 2015
Time: 09:00 a.m.-02:00 p.m.
Event: Olympic Cluster Spring Celebration
Topic: "Bear One Another's Burdens"
Venue: Christ Lutheran Church
Location: Belfair, WA
Public: Private

God’s Extravagant Love

Before Christmas, my boss and his wife treated my co-workers and me  to an afternoonExtravagant_0 of extravagance. Each of us was pampered with a massage, facial and manicure. As I lay on the massage table having the yummiest-smelling creams applied to my face, I suddenly felt overcome with emotion. This is pure extravagance, I thought. Something we as women don’t often treat ourselves to–especially all in one afternoon! Tears welled up and one escaped down my cheek. I hoped the aesthetician hadn’t noticed. It wasn’t just the spa treatments that got me teary, but  reflecting on God’s extravagant love.

What I’ve Learned through a Lifetime of Marriage

My husband Randy and I recently celebrated 44 years of marriage.

Our anniversary celebration at Steak ‘N Shake

Wow–how can that be possible when we’re only 30+ years old? Well… we haven’t been that age for a long time, but it’s still hard to imagine we’ve spent most of a lifetime together.

When we first got married, I had this naive notion that all we needed was love. All together now: All you need is love. Da…da…da…da… da…When I hear those words, I automatically want to burst into song. Never mind about the misunderstandings and the immaturity of two 19 year-olds who are going to become parents before their first anniversary. As long as we have love, we will stay together. Wasn’t that also a song? Love will keep us together. If only it were that simple.

We do need love, but not the kind Hollywood portrays or most of us envision. I remember seeing the movie Love Story with Randy when we were dating. Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw (can you believe she’s 75?) looked deeply into each other’s eyes and proclaimed, Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

How sweet (and unrealistic) is that? But that’s the love I was looking for…where romantic feelings never fade and you sail off together as best friends and lovers without a disagreement or ever raising your voice or crying yourself to sleep.

After 44 years and weathering many marital ups and downs, I’ve learned a lot about real-life relationships:

  • There’s no such thing as 50/50 in marriage. Many times you’ll be the one giving more than you bargained for. It would be nice if everything were split neatly in half. The reality is that each of you will be called on at different times to give more than your share. It’s also good not to keep score.
  • Recognize the myth of the greener grass. It’s possible there is “greener grass,” but many of us see the grass and want to vault over the fence without considering the costs. The repercussions of an affair are devastating for everyone. Two families are directly affected, as well as extended family and friends. Life is never the same after trust in a marriage has been broken. God can heal and bring reconciliation, but the price paid is excruciatingly high.
  • Love the one you’re with. What would happen if you intentionally treated your spouse as if you really loved him/her? Not the Love Story type of love, but love that’s patient, kind, steadfast in sickness and in health, in good times and bad times. God’s kind of love that never fails.

Randy and I have been blessed to experience this love in our marriage. It didn’t come naturally, though. It took a lot of pain and struggle and heartache. We both realized the ability to love well was only possible if we were willing to get beyond our selfishness. As we experienced God’s grace, we were then able to begin to love each other unconditionally. Not perfectly, but in a way that says I want the best for you. I’m willing to do whatever I can to encourage you, to build you up, to help you become the person God created you to be.

And guess what? I found out I married the right guy– the one who has been God’s gift to me for almost a lifetime. And yes, we’ve learned that saying you’re sorry is at the top of the list!

If you’re struggling to love your spouse, there is hope! Small acts of kindness can be a good starting place. I would love to pray with you and encourage you to believe that God’s love never fails. 

Interested in reading more about marriage? Check out these similar posts:

Marriage Advice for Wives: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Got Married

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Your Marriage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raise the White Flag!

I called my homeless brother yesterday. I only wanted to say that I love him. He couldn’t hear that. He thought I was trying to intervene, judging him. He told me his life is miserable, the party’s over–not that there ever was a party, I thought. I tried to interject hope into his hopeless comments.

You don’t have to do this alone, I said. But he couldn’t hear me in his deafness to allow anyone to help him. I’m going to recover on my own, he insisted. I don’t need anyone to help me.

My heart aches for him. I’ve walked this road before with my husband, Randy, as he struggled to find freedom from his addiction to alcohol. And as I struggled to let go, to finally admit there wasn’t anything I could do to fix or change him. 

It’s funny how we think we have the power to help someone else choose life over an addiction or other destructive behaviors. Fear got in the way of my ability to surrender my husband. I believed I had the power to decide for him. I thought if I let go of Randy, he would die. That’s a scary place to put ourselves in–and rather presumptuous. Do I really think I have that kind of power? Hm…I don’t think so. I am thankful there is One who has all power–and that one isn’t me!

Surrender!

There comes a time when we need to raise the white flag. We not only surrender our loved ones, but we also surrender ourselves to the Lord. We let go so God can work in our lives and theirs. We let go so we can be free from the anxiety that is destroying us. By surrendering, we choose a way that brings life to us–and possibly to our loved ones as well.

There are no pretenses or illusions about any noble efforts to save someone you love. This is rock-bottom where the rubber sole meets the road. You admit that what you’ve been doing isn’t working. You don’t have what it takes to motivate another person  to change their behavior. Only God can do that. Finally you give your impossible situation to God.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they describe surrender in three steps:

  1. I can’t do it.
  2. God can.
  3. I will let Him.

There’s something powerful about recognizing we can’t do what needs to be done in our own strength. This might sound depressing. If we can’t do anything…who can? Ah…that’s the very place God wants us to be. He doesn’t need us, really. He has access to infinite resources. Sometimes the most we can do is simply get out of the way. We intentionally let go of our loved ones. This doesn’t mean we abandon them or stop loving them. Instead, we lovingly entrust them to Jesus. He loves them more than we can imagine. What better place for them to be! The Lord knows every detail about them. He even knows every hair on their heads. He loves them with an everlasting love. Our love pales in comparison.

Author Jan Johnson says it well: 

Letting go is both too simple and too difficult. It looks like weakness instead of strength, like losing instead of gaining, and it is. As we relinquish control and admit weaknesses, we remember who we are and why we’re here…This need to control is rooted in fear, but I need to do the thing that is rooted in faith–surrender.  

Once again, I find myself in a place of letting go. This time I know it’s the very best for me and for the brother I love so dearly. 

Is there a situation in your life where you need to surrender?