The Bibliophile

the bibliophile

The Bibliophile

My oldest brother, Jonathan, recently posted this picture of himself, taken in 1972.  To my knowledge, I had not seen this particular photograph before, but it has captured my attention.  I keep thinking about it and browsing back to look at it, again.  Since when does an old photograph so move me and why this one in particular?

First and foremost, the picture is so genuinely Jonathan.  Perched on a narrow plank, elbows resting on knees, he is contentedly at ease so long as he has a good book in hand.  And the expression on his face…both relaxed and alert…attentive and absorbed…the look of a man who is reading the words on a page while seeing the pictures described by the words…a man completely immersed in his book!  That was Jonathan in 1972 and that is Jonathan today.  His love of books and joy of reading has not lessened with time.

That same pose, though, would also be typical of Jonathan’s son, Samuel.  In fact, one could easily mistake one for the other.  As we say here in the south, Sam is the spi’t’n image (spirit and image) of his father.  Then I think how often I’ve seen my own son, Timothy, in similar pose, book in hand.  I’ve not thought of Tim and Sam looking that similar, but with book in hand the body language is the same.  And where do you suppose Tim gets it?  Yep!  In this aspect at least, my son is the spi’t’n image of his father.

The posture would, in fact, be typical of most men in my family.

Those hands, though…those hands are so uniquely Jonathan!  Those are my brother’s hands.  Much larger than mine and longer of finger…nobody else has hands quite like Jonathan’s.  In 1972, Jonathan was 19 years old and I was 9…still young enough to think of my big brother as quite a hero.  I remember those hands as being strong enough to split an oak log in a single axe stroke…agile enough to palm a basketball in mid-dribble…yet delicate enough to create wondrously detailed sketches.

Look how gently he holds the book in his large hand…such a loose grip…almost a loving caress.  I don’t recall anyone else holding a book quite the way Jonathan does.

But wait…something tugging at the corner of my memory…of course…my father!  Papa’s hands were smaller…more like mine…but the way he held a book was similar to Jonathan’s…as though each book were a fragile treasure to be handled with delicate care.

How many times have I seen Papa’s hands gently cradle a book?  How many books did he read to us children in the evenings?  …First a chapter from the Bible then a chapter from another favorite book.  Through Papa’s voice I was introduced to Dickens, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Longfellow, Tolkien, Lewis, and so many more beloved authors and poets.

I recall how Papa opened a new box of books recently arrived in the mail.  Cautiously he would run a knife beneath the tape, careful not to penetrate but a fraction of an inch for fear of harming the books.  Gently, he would lift the first book as the tantalizing odor of fresh new books wafted from the box.  Placing the book upright, spine resting on the table, he would carefully fold each cover flat on the table.  First from the front of the book, then from the back, Papa would gently fold down a few pages at a time, carefully running his fingers along the binding to press the pages down.  The process continued until the book lay open to the middle.  Then he would close the book, place it aside, and lift the next book from the box.  Papa explained he did this to “break the book in well” so as to minimize stresses on the binding, helping it last longer.

Yes, to Papa, a book was a treasure to be lovingly cared for.

A few years ago, when Google was first becoming popular as a search engine, I ‘googled’ my own name just to see what would happen.  Since I had no social media presence at the time, I didn’t show up on the first listing page…but my name did.  Apparently, I share my name with a distant ancestor, a book binder who lived in Eton, England (1704-1787) and is known as a pioneer in bundling collections of books into a single volume so as to make them more affordable.

It seems the Pote Family has a long history of loving books.  It’s part of who we are…a family of bibliophiles.

Faith and Cancer

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

I awoke at 3:30 this morning to a dark, quiet, peaceful house.  As I lay in bed, drowsily assessing my condition, I slowly realized that for the first time in over a week I had no pain and no nausea.  I was a little thirsty and knew I should sit up and drink some water…hydration is very important right now…but chose, instead, to simply lie still for another hour.  Sitting, swallowing, even moving could easily lead to pain or nausea, and I wanted just another hour simply enjoying the peaceful pleasure of being free of both, no matter how temporary.  So, I lay peacefully still, thankfully pain free, reflecting on how recently this was my norm.

To put it in proper perspective, you have to understand how healthy I was prior to my cancer diagnosis in December.  I had so few prior health issues the nurses acted skeptical of my correct completion of the various new-patient medical forms.  The entry interview for my first CT-scan was typical.

“Mr. Pote, it looks like you skipped the current medications section.  What all medications do you take each day?”

“None.”

“None?  No blood pressure medicine?  No pain medicine?  No acid reflux medicine?”

“No, Ma’am.  No medicine.”

“You don’t ever take any medicine at all?”

“Well, sometimes I take a Tylenol or ibuprofen if I have a headache, but no daily med’s unless you count the caffeine in my coffee.”

“Hmmm!  Well that’s good.  Now, what about this prior surgery section?  You didn’t list any surgeries.”

“No, ma’am.”

“You mean to tell me you’ve never had any surgeries?  Not even a tonsillectomy?”

“Well, in my early twenties I had a wart removed from my little toe, and I’ve had a few other similar outpatient procedures for ingrown toenails and such, but I assumed the form was asking about surgeries requiring general anesthesia and I’ve not had any of those.”

“Well, that’s good!  That’s real good!  Now, what about this section on pain?  Where all are you experiencing pain?”

“No pain.  I feel great!”

“Mr. Pote, if you don’t have any pain or any complaints or medical issues, why are you even here doing a scan?”

“We’re just trying to figure out why this lymph node is swollen,” I responded touching the swollen area on the right side of my neck.

The scan showed a tumor, which led to biopsy surgery, which showed the tumor to be malignant.  A second surgery followed to remove the tumor along with the lymph nodes on the right side of my neck.

A couple of weeks later, we began a rigorous seven-week treatment plan of weekly chemo treatments combined with twice-daily radiation treatments.  Having just completed my 3rd week of radiation and my 4th chemo treatment, I’m counting myself as half-way through.

The first two weeks weren’t too bad in terms of side-effects, but this last week has been a lot tougher.  Some days are harder than others.  I keep reminding myself that I’m half done…and I keep counting my many blessings…while praying for strength and wisdom.

Do you realize how much faith it requires to undergo cancer treatment based solely on a doctor’s word? Click To Tweet

Remember, prior to my diagnosis I felt great!  I was active, energetic, and pain free.  I had an excellent immune system and was rarely ill, even when the rest of my family came down with whatever bug was circulating.  Other than the apparently-minor-issue of a swollen lymph node, I was the very picture of good health!

And remember, I have never personally seen or felt the cancer.  Relying solely on the word of medical professionals and the results of medical tests and scans…”the evidence of things not seen”…I submitted to surgery.

And remember, the cancer was surgically removed.  The surgeon reported successfully removing all visible signs of cancer.  The post-surgery CT-scan showed no abnormalities.

However, the biopsy showed this to be a very aggressive cancer, likely to return unless all microscopic traces are eradicated through further treatment.  And this particular cancer is known to be very responsive to the combination of radiation and chemo treatment.  Medically, my prognosis is excellent if I complete the prescribed treatment plan.

I sought a second opinion and was told the exact same thing by an independent expert.  I argued, “You don’t understand how healthy I am.  I am in excellent health.  I have a very robust immune system.  I hardly ever get sick.  Why can’t my immune system eradicate any remaining microscopic cancer cells, if there even are any?”

“It possibly could, but this is a very aggressive cancer, and it may not.  Left untreated, you have a much higher likelihood of the cancer returning.  With the prescribed treatment plan, you have a very low probability of the cancer returning.  Yes, you are young.  You are healthy.  You have a strong immune system.  You have a high expectancy of many more years of active health.  These are the very reasons you need to follow the treatment plan, because you are strong enough to handle it well and young enough to maximize the benefits.”

Logically, that makes perfect sense.  Rationally, I know the cancer treatment plan is the right decision.  Emotionally, I still sometimes struggle with it.  On my worst days battling pain and nausea, I ask myself, “Why am I putting myself through this?  I don’t even know if there is any cancer left to kill.  For all I know, I may already be cancer free.  And until I started this treatment, I felt great!”

Then I click back through the data…the research results…the accumulated histories of patients fighting the exact same cancer I’m fighting…and I know the right decision is to keep going until it’s done.

That requires a lot of faith!  …faith that my doctors have a correct diagnosis…faith in the medical technology…faith in the medical research…faith in medical knowledge and wisdom.  It’s easy to intellectually accept these things based on scientific evidence.  It is much harder to act on that accepted knowledge when the action carries a very burdensome path of lengthy treatment.  It’s still all “evidence of things not seen.”  My only knowledge of the cancer is my doctors’ word.  I am relying completely on the medical community for both the diagnosis and the best treatment plan.

That requires a lot of faith in the medical community!

If I can have that much faith in the medical community, how much more faith can I have in my Heavenly Father?  How much more faith can I have in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who continually displays His faithfulness and lovingkindess?  How much more faith can I have in Jesus Christ, my Savior, Redeemer, and Deliverer, who, for our sake, submitted Himself to be tortured, crucified, and killed?  How much more faith can I have in the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, sent by Christ Himself, to comfort, teach, instruct, and bestow wisdom?

By faith, I choose to believe my doctor when he tells me this treatment plan is going to be very tough, but is ultimately for my own good and the best thing for me.  How much more can I believe God when he tells me:

…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

 

If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

 

Fear not for I have redeemed thee
I have called the by my name; thou art mine.
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.
When thou passest through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.
When thou passest through the fires, thou shall not be burned.
Neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
For I am the Lord thy God. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me beside the still waters,
He restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His namesake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.
For thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oil.
My cup runneth over.
Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord…forever! (Psalm 23)

Now faith…

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Healing

our family riding horses

Riding with family

When I married my Rodeo Queen, I understood horses and tack were part of the deal.  However, I had no idea as to the magnitude of cultural and language barriers to be overcome for effective communication.

On Monday, December 14, 2015, my doctor informed me the CT-scan of my neck showed a tumor-like mass.  Appointments were scheduled for PET-scan and biopsy surgery later that week.  We did not yet know whether the tumor was malignant, but my medical team was working under the assumption that it likely was.

In the course of one afternoon, Sherri and I were required to adjust our thinking from expecting my swollen lymph node to be a minor concern to realizing it was a huge concern.  It was a lot to try to wrap our minds around and emotions swirled.  We weren’t sure, yet, exactly what we were facing or how timing would play out, but we began to let employers know our work schedules would need to be flexible for a while.

Tuesday afternoon Sherri’s name popped up on my ringing phone.  I pressed the answer button with, “I love you!”  “I love you, too,” Sherri responded, “What did you think of that clinic I texted you about?”

I hadn’t received the text, but the mention of a clinic left me wanting time to process…to review, think, and pray.  Sherri had mentioned second opinions the night before.  While that sounded like a good idea, I wanted to get a diagnosis before we started soliciting more professional input.  My response to Sherri was brief, “I haven’t seen a text.”

“I sent you a text about a clinic.  I want you to look at it and tell me what you think. I’ll send it again, so you can look at it.”

“Okay, I’ll look at it.  What’s the name of the clinic?”  I assumed we were talking about a clinic within reasonable driving distance, such as UAMS in Little Rock or MD Anderson in Houston, but wondered if she was thinking something further away like Mayo Clinic.

“I don’t remember the name,” she responded, “but it’s a two-day healing clinic in mid-January.  I think it might be really good for us if you’re able to travel then.”

What?  I wasn’t sure exactly what a two-day healing clinic was…nor why Sherri was looking into it.  Sherri is very level-headed…not prone to rushing to try the latest health fad.  She also tends to have a healthy dose of skepticism toward spiritual things requiring more open-mindedness than her Baptist raising.  Of the two of us, I am the one more open to natural remedies and miraculous intervention.  Although I knew Sherri was upset about my impending diagnosis, this was totally unexpected.

And a two-day clinic?  What was supposed to happen in two days?  Was this two days of Pentecostal-style name-it-and-claim-it preaching with a five-step plan to claiming your healing in two days or less?  Or was it two days of charismatic info-mercial-style lectures proclaiming benefits of expensive herbs with an abundance of anecdotal testimonials combined with limited scientific study?  Either way, I was skeptical.

That’s what was running through my mind, but all that came out of my mouth was a stammered, “What? Two-day healing clinic!  I don’t…I don’t even know what that means.  What are you talking about? What…what is a two-day healing clinic?”

“It’s just a clinic…a two-day clinic to learn about healing.  I’ll resend the text explaining it.”

“Okay.  I’ll look at it, but we don’t even have a diagnosis yet.  I really think we need to focus on the PET-scan and tonsillectomy this week.”

Long pause…followed by a stifled giggle…

“Oh, Joe!  I’m so sorry!  It’s not a medical clinic.  It’s a team roping clinic….for Dawson.  A heeling clinic, as in roping a steer’s back legs.  It looks really good, but I don’t know if you’ll be able to travel by then.”

We both laughed out loud!  Some much needed levity in the midst of a confusing situation.

That’s life married to my Rodeo Queen!  :-)

One more small detail…

One week later I had a second surgery to remove the tumor which biopsy had shown to be cancer.  Coming out of anesthesia, my mind was focused on one thing, “I have to learn to team rope!  I want to team rope with Dawson, and I have to learn to rope!”  When Sherri came into the recovery room I greeted her with, “I have to learn to team rope!”

I’m not sure what that means.

People say some crazy things coming out of anesthesia, and maybe this was just my own craziness coming out.  Or maybe it was my subconscious giving voice to some deep seated desire.  Or maybe it was a subconscious recollection of the prior conversation with Sherri and the word play on healing and heeling.  Or maybe it was God, Himself, taking advantage of the quiet of anesthesia to get my attention.

I’m truly not sure.

But, as I’ve had time to think about it, the idea appeals to me.  I know I’ll never be competitive, but it would be pretty cool to learn to rope…and finding another activity to enjoy with an adolescent child is always a good thing.  Right now, I’m still recuperating from surgery and my right arm lacks the strength to twirl and throw a rope.  But maybe that’s exactly what I’ll need for physical therapy a few weeks from now.

Maybe I’ll find healing in heeling!

Sounds like a good goal, at any rate.  :-)

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Life!

I don’t usually make a big deal about New Year’s resolutions, and I’ve never participated in the Word of the Year blogging trend.  New Year’s Day seems like a good time to start a goal with a twelve month cycle, such as reading through the Bible in a year.  However, most resolutions seem to me to be more applicable as daily life-style choices.

This New Year’s Day, however, I find myself very much contemplating lifestyle choices and what changes may be on the horizon.  It’s a matter of timing, really.  During the last two weeks of 2015 I received a cancer diagnosis and underwent two surgeries.  So, I am naturally starting 2016 with a certain level of new resolve.

In 2016…and every year thereafter, I choose life!

It’s not a new resolution…actually it’s been a daily choice for most of my life.  But current circumstances make it a fresher, newer, stronger resolution.

I’ve lived most my life with an awareness of both the brevity and fragility of this life.  Life is full of unknowns and unexpected turns.  We have much less control than we tend to assume.

The cancer diagnosis doesn’t change the unknowns, but it does put them front and center for me, right now.  My prognosis is very good.  I have every reason to expect a long, full active life after completion of treatment.  At the same time, there are numerous unknowns.

Right now, the right side of my lip sags, my right shoulder sags, and my right arm is weak.  No, it’s not a stroke…just post-surgery status.  Most likely, some or all of these symptoms will improve or disappear with time.  But there are no guarantees.  I’ve adopted an attitude of hopeful acceptance…I hope it improves, but see no reason to enjoy life any less if it doesn’t.

I still have radiation treatment coming up.  I don’t yet know exactly how that will play out…how often, how intense, how long, or how uncomfortable…nor what long-term effects may linger.  My intent is to make prayerful informed decisions then leave it in God’s hands.

I also don’t yet know what lifestyle changes may be required.  Advice from family and friends include everything from never drink another glass of wine to never eat another dessert…everything from slow down and taking things easier to throw myself into continual positively energetic activities.

Overall, I think I’ve lived a fairly healthy lifestyle thus far, and can’t see anything to point to as a source of cancer.  Post-diagnosis certainly merits more careful assessment.  I’m certainly willing to make whatever changes are likely to result in improved health.  I am not willing to live in unnecessary fear.

I choose life!

For me, choosing life means choosing Christ.  Jesus said,

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (John 11:25-26)

Yes, Lord, I believe!  I believe you are life.  I believe choosing you is choosing life.  I believe choosing life means choosing you.

I choose life! I choose Christ! Click To Tweet

I choose faith over fear.

I choose hope over despair.

I choose joy over sorrow.

I choose thankfulness over complaints.

I choose righteousness over sin.

I choose love over selfishness.

I choose forgiveness over bitterness.

I choose health over toxicity.

I choose life over death.

I choose godliness.

I reject Adam’s covenant with sin and death from which Christ has redeemed me.  I embrace the new covenant with God which Christ has enacted on my behalf.

I choose life!

 

Your thoughts?

Blessed!

I’ve always considered myself to have been truly blessed with unusually good health.  With the exception of that one year in fifth grade when I had measles, mumps and chicken-pox all in one year, I just haven’t had much illness.  At 52 years of age, I take no regular medicines, have had no major health issues, and few illnesses.  I have never been admitted overnight to a hospital.  I’ve had no surgeries requiring general anesthesia.  Never had an IV, nor a scan more sophisticated than a basic X-ray.

Last week all that changed.

Last week, I learned I have throat cancer.

Last week I went from being the guy holding a loved-one’s hand while dealing with medical issues to being the guy with medical issues.  I quickly became a pro at accepting an IV and lying still for CT Scans and PET Scans.  I am not yet recovered from one surgery and am preparing for another surgery tomorrow morning.

My head is still spinning.  I give full credit to my medical team for moving quickly to assess and address the situation.  Emotionally, I’m not sure I’ve caught up yet.  I’ve always been the guy blessed with unusually good health.  How do I accept, across one week, that I’m now a cancer patient?

And yet…in some ways, I feel I’ve prepared my entire life for just this sort of event.  I’ve lived my entire adult life very aware of my own mortality, careful to live with no regrets, never taking anything for granted.  Always quick to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry” because we never know whether we’ll have another chance…generally choosing walking over driving just because I can, because my legs work well and we never know how long that will be true.  Taking the time to enjoy each sunrise, each sunset, each rainbow, each moonrise, because it is in these moments we glimpse His glory.

More than that, my life has, of necessity, been lived learning to trust God…to trust that He knows what I do not…that He loves me immensely…that He has my best interest at heart even more than I do.

I can still point to so many areas of rich blessing.  I am blessed to have a good prognosis with an excellent chance of returning to a healthy active lifestyle after completion of surgery and treatments.  I am blessed to have such a wonderfully supportive loving family to encourage and pray for me.  I am blessed to have a good job and good health insurance with no immediate financial concerns.  I am blessed to have a peaceful home surrounded by pastures with cows and horses to enjoy as I recuperate.

And yet…I become increasingly aware that these are all rich manifestations of my deepest blessing.

The true blessing of the believer is God’s presence. Click To Tweet

His loving companionship is the blessing that will never be removed…that accompanies me every step of the way…from life to life through all eternity.

Because I am His, I am blessed beyond measure.

The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul:

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

For thou art with me;

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

Thou anointest my head with oil;

My cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  (Psalm 23)

 

Have a very Merry Christmas, enjoying the blessing of Christ’s presence!

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Why I Speak Out

wedding band on open bible[This is a repost, with minor edits, of my guest blog on Dan Erickson’s site December, 2012.]

I am a Christian.  I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.  I prescribe to a literal, conservative interpretation of God’s word.  I love studying biblical covenants and find a deep richness of covenant references throughout the Bible.  I view covenant as a common thread woven through both testaments, tying promises in Genesis to prophecies in Revelation.  I often describe our God as a covenant God for Whom all interactions with mankind are based on covenant.  Covenant relationships and the keeping of covenant vows are a very big deal to me.

So why does someone, with my background and convictions, write posts titled “Divorce is Sin…Says Who?”  “Free to Remarry,” “God of Divorce” and “The It-Takes-Two Lie”?

I have been accused, by people who don’t know my story, of trying to justify the divorce of my first marriage.

I have been asked, by people who do know my story, why I’ve felt compelled to change my perspective on biblical divorce.  “Joe,” they say, “you clearly had biblical grounds for divorce.  Your situation met the criteria of every exception clause as being permissible.  Why do you continue to search scriptures regarding marriage and divorce?”

And that’s just it.  My situation did meet the criteria of every “exception clause.”  I lived seventeen years in an abusive marriage to someone who intentionally and repeatedly inflicted deep emotional wounds, who seemed drawn to the intrigue of lies when the truth would have served her better, and for whom every word and action seemed designed to manipulate…even though I would have done anything for her without the need of manipulation.

Yet, I wasn’t seeking a divorce.  I wasn’t asking whether divorce was “permissible” or if my situation met the criteria of “exception clauses.”  My heart was not pursuing divorce.  My heart was pursuing a healthy marriage based on love and mutual trust.  My heart was pursuing a stable, loving environment for our family of four precious children.  My heart was pursuing what I understood to be God’s will for our family.

I wasn’t concerned with what was “permissible.”  I was only concerned with the relentless pursuit of God’s will and God’s best for our family.

My heart was broken…over and over again.  I was wounded and hurting, crying out to God for help and healing.

I saw many answers to prayer in that marriage….many miraculous softenings of her heart…many steps appearing to lead toward healing.

I also learned a lot about myself and improving communication.  The many counseling sessions were, in general, a healthy thing for me…and seemed a step in the right direction at the time.

And yet…each positive step turned out to be so temporary…

As the years passed, new lies surfaced, exposing deeper and more recent betrayals.  The lessons learned in counseling became tools used for the purpose of deceiving me further, while continuing to deeply wound me with betrayal of covenant vows.  New communication tools were used, not for strengthening relationship, but rather for giving the appearance of deepening intimacy while actually concealing deeper betrayals.

I prayed fervently and continuously.  Yet, as the passing of time continued to reveal ever deeper deceptions and betrayals, there was also a need to face the facts…to realize that no matter how much I wanted to see healing of the relationship, that might not be the end result.

One person in the relationship seeking God’s will is not enough for relational healing. Click To Tweet

The summer of 2000 was, for me, a time of intense prayer and fasting.  I was doing a lot of running, and as my feet wound out the miles, I continually begged God for healing.

“How long, Lord, must I wander in this wilderness of pain and trauma?  Please, Lord, I need your healing touch.  My heart is broken.  My marriage is broken.  My soul is crushed.  Lord, I don’t know what to do.  Please, Lord, lead me out of this wilderness into a place of healing!”

And I began to hear God’s answer…softly at first…then stronger and more persistent, “Go in and possess the land” (Joshua 1:11).

“Lord, you can’t mean that!  You know how many times I’ve been deceived and how deeply I’ve been wounded!  You want me to put aside all my legitimate fears and act as though my marriage and heart are healed?  That’s crazy!  It makes no sense!”

And yet, I felt His consistent prompting, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be discouraged or dismayed.  Go in and possess the land.”

I recalled the many stories of God’s miraculous work.  I was heartened that perhaps this is what God was going to do in my marriage.  Perhaps, this was my Jordan River to cross before seeing God’s miraculous victories!

So, I asked Him, “Lord, are you saying you’re going to heal my marriage?  That her heart will be changed toward me and our relationship will be restored?”

“Go in and possess the land.”

“Lord, what does that mean?  You want me to make myself vulnerable with no promise from you?  You never did that in the Bible!  You always gave a promise when asking for obedience in difficult circumstances.  Lord, what is your promise to me, today?”

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be discouraged or dismayed, and the Lord, Your God, will be with you, wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

So I began, once again, to change my attitude and behavior toward her.  I began to draw in my boundaries and lower my defenses.  I dropped the wait-and-see attitude I’d held since the last major betrayal, and began, yet again, to actively pursue her heart.

And she responded by withdrawing further.

Over the course of that next year, as I attempted to open up toward her, she drew further back from me.  I still faced each new issue head-on, refusing to sweep anything under the rug, wanting true healing of our relationship.  I was actively engaging in the relationship while refusing to side-step or ignore any known issues.  Finally, one evening while discussing a recent issue, she asked for a divorce, saying, “I just don’t want to do this anymore.”

There were still a lot of steps toward healing.  God was faithful through the divorce and later custody battles.  Not every battle was victorious from my perspective, but He continued to lead me and guide me…and to comfort and heal me.

A counselor asked me once, “You do realize, don’t you, that there is absolutely nothing you could have done differently to prevent this divorce?”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“And you do understand,” he continued, “that the divorce had nothing to do with you, personally?  That no matter who she married, it would have ended in divorce?”

“Yes, I can see that, too.  Thank you!”

And that’s the thing…the thing that so few Christians really understand…that I did not understand, myself, before experiencing it.

The health and longevity of a relationship cannot be determined by one individual.  Yes, we must each do our own part and be willing to love sacrificially.  Yet, no amount of sacrificial love, by one party, can ensure a healthy or lasting relationship.

In a marriage, we are each responsible for wholeheartedly living out our covenant vows in faithfulness, for the duration of that covenant.  However, neither partner is responsible for the longevity of the covenant.

I entered that marriage as an idealistic young man, believing if I loved deeply enough, believed strongly enough, prayed fervently enough, somehow God would always intervene to heal and restore the marriage relationship.

I learned, although God is always faithful to His promises, He does not violate human free will.  If one marriage partner refuses to surrender their will to Him, He will not force them to…and the marriage will not be healed.

I learned divorce is not always outside God’s will.  Rather, in many situations, divorce is God’s direct and perfect will.

In my case, God asked me to follow a difficult path of obedience.  That path did not lead to the marital restoration I hoped for.  Rather, it led toward further hardening of her heart, resulting in divorce.

God redeemed me from that marriage of abusive bondage in much the same way He redeemed Israel from their covenant with Pharaoh.  That divorce was a part of God’s perfect plan for my life, just as surely as deliverance from Egypt was part of His perfect plan for the nation of Israel.

God has used these experiences to drastically change my view of His heart toward His children who are enslaved in covenants of abusive bondage, or who have experienced divorce.  In recent years, I have become more outspoken about my views on these topics.

I’m speaking out, not to justify my own actions, nor because of emotional pain or bitterness in regard to that marriage.

My actions in that marriage and divorce don’t require justification, and I am now happily married to a godly woman, with whom I enjoy raising and loving children and grandchildren.

I’m speaking out against a system of biblically unsubstantiated myths regarding divorce believed by many Christians, today.

These myths lead to legalistic judgmental attitudes toward God’s children who have experienced divorce or who are currently enslaved in an abusive marriage.  They hold Christians in bondage and do not reflect God’s heart of love and redemption.

I speak out in an attempt to shine the light of God’s truth and hope in an area of blindness within the church.

I speak out in the hope someone in an abusive marriage will understand, in some situations, divorce is God’s perfect will and the godliest course of action.

In some situations, divorce is God’s perfect will and the godliest course of action. Click To Tweet

I speak out in the hope someone who has experienced divorce will better understand God’s heart of redemption and will draw closer to His heart of love.

Who do you know in need of encouragement through divorce?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Lineage Matters

Knockout Round

Knockout Round

A couple of weeks ago, we visited the Four-Sixes Ranch in west Texas, for the Return to the Remuda Sale.  What an amazing weekend!

We visited with family and friends, met some famous horsemen, toured a well-managed ranch, watched some beautiful horses, and even acted as photographers for an expectant cousin’s baby gender reveal.

A boy!

A boy!

Then, to top it all off, we purchased a really nice horse…and won a really nice saddle!

In making plans for the sale, Sherri and I discussed spending budgets, reviewed the sales descriptions of each horse, and discussed what we were looking for.  However, I did not really expect to buy a horse.  I had been to the same sale a couple of years ago and already knew the bidding was way outside our range.  With few exceptions, the bidding was way outside our range this year too.

Ken Raye Custom Saddle

Ken Raye Custom Saddle

We were looking for a well-bred gelding with ranch work and roping experience.

So was everyone else!

The experienced geldings 7 to 15 years of age were bringing top dollar.  The participating ranches are known for well-bred horses.  The 6666 Ranch, in particular, has a world-renowned horse breeding program.  And a well-bred horse experienced in west Texas ranch work is going to be ready for almost anything a rider would want to do in the way of ranch or rodeo riding.

The bidding was also high for the young stud colts.  Although the colts lack experience, they have the ability to sire more well-bred colts.  Someone involved in American Quarter Horse breeding would have a hard time finding a stud colt with better pedigree credentials than these.

The horse we bought is a four-year-old gelding named Knockout Round.  Knockout is too young to really be called experienced, and can’t breed because he’s been gelded.  So the bidding was more in our dollar range.  Although he needs a bit more finish work, we are very pleased with our good-natured high-pedigree Four-Sixes-bred ranch horse.

horse sale adWhich got me thinking about the importance of lineage.

For every horse in that sale, pedigree was an important selling point.  Lineage is so important that a pedigree chart was provided for every single horse in the sale.  Most of these horses have a few champions in their ancestry.  Although no guarantee, performance of ancestors provides some indication of potential performance of the horse.  High performing horses with good confirmation, plenty of strength, speed and agility, who learn quickly, respond well to training, and instinctively understand cattle, tend to sire horses with similar traits.

Lineage matters.

Lineage matters not only for horses, but also for people.

According to the Bible, as descendants of Adam, we all inherit Adam’s slavery to sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:22).  We inherit Adam’s natural inclination toward sin and selfishness.  Sin is not just something we do.  Sin is part of who we are…an inherited trait.  Our pedigree naturally prevents our being godly and limits us to being sinful and selfish.  In fact, because of Adam’s sin, we all have a natural pedigree as children of Satan with a natural inclination to lie and murder as Satan does (Genesis 3:15, John 8:44).

But that’s not the end of the story.

John 1:12, speaking of Jesus, says:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Think about that.

We understand the importance of pedigree, and we know pedigree cannot be changed.  We can improve a horse’s nutrition.  We can provide training.  We can address medical concerns.  There are a lot of things we can do to help a horse achieve its full potential.  However, there is nothing we can do to improve the limitations imposed by poor lineage.

Yet, here God tells us since the limitations of our pedigree cannot be overcome, He will give us a whole new pedigree!  By receiving Christ and believing in His name, we are redeemed from that relationship with the kingdom of darkness and given a whole new lineage as children of God.  We become born of God!

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

That’s amazing!

Lineage matters…and we are given a choice. Click To Tweet

What lineage do you choose?  Child of satan, or child of God?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Reins of Legalism

our family riding horses

Riding with family

When I first started riding horseback, I viewed the reins as the controls used for steering and stopping the horse.  To steer the horse one moved the reins to right or left, much like the steering wheel of a car.  To stop the horse one pulled back on the reins much like the brake of a car.

Funny thing though…the more I used the reins to steer…to control the horse’s direction…the more he tended to wander off from the direction I wanted him to go.  So, I had to correct.

It was sort of like driving a car in need of a front end alignment.  Get the horse pointed the desired direction and lower the reins.  The horse wanders to the right.  Use the reins to tug him back to the desired direction and lower the reins.  The horse wanders right, again.  Tug the reins to the left of the desired direction.  He drifts right, again.

I decided the problem was too much slack in the reins.  I would have to take tighter control to keep him from wandering off.  When the steering mechanism has too much slack, make adjustments to remove the slack, right?

So, I shortened my grip on the reins and rode with both hands rigidly holding the horse’s head position.  The horse stayed on track.  Problem solved!

Except for one little problem…

I could only be confident of holding our direction by rigidly holding the reins in position.  Micro-managing the horse’s every move does not make for a relaxing ride.  Both horse and rider have more tension and stress than necessary.  Watching more experienced riders I could see they were much more relaxed and usually rode with a loose rein.

“Maybe it’s just a matter of time,” I thought.  “I have to keep tight control for a while to let the horse know I’m boss, then I’ll be able to loosen the rein a little.”  But every time I loosened the rein, the horse started wandering off track again.

Then I started riding a horse trained to foot prompts that had not yet learned neck reining.  That was even worse!  I fumbled to remember the foot prompts…the horse over-responded…I over-compensated…and we zig-zagged along wherever I tried to go.  “Keep at it,” my trainer suggested, “You’ll get it figured out.”

It was horribly frustrating!  My horse and I could not walk a straight line.  I knew it was my fault but felt helpless to correct it.  The horse promptly over-responded to my every foot nudge just to have me immediately over-correct him back the other direction.

Finally, one day I made an amazing discovery.  Every time I turned my body at the waist my horse responded by going the direction I was turned.  “Hey, this is just like snow-skiing!” I thought, “Turn and look to change direction.”

That moment of epiphany, though just the beginning, became a major turning point in my understanding of horseback riding.

Today, I view my reins and boots not so much as a means to control the horse’s direction as a means of telegraphing my body language to the horse.  I see the horse not as a riding machine to be controlled, but as a partner to be communicated with.  I am still a very inexperienced rider, but the paradigm shift has definitely helped me progress.

Lately, I have thought about these riding-lesson truths while pondering Paul’s words about the roles of law and faith.

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:23-26)

Scripture is to us as reins are to a horse. Click To Tweet

In early training, the reins are used to teach the horse to yield direction to the rider.  Later, the reins are still in place to serve a similar function.  However, as both horse and rider gain experience and trust, the reins are used less and less as a means of directing and more and more as a means of communicating.  For a very skilled rider on a superbly trained horse, the reins become superfluous and are no longer needed.

In the same way, as immature Christians we start out studying God’s word to learn how we are to behave, and we sometimes use scripture to micromanage one another’s lives.  One person finds a scripture indicating Jesus drank wine while another finds a scripture indicating alcohol consumption is to be avoided and they beat each other up with their disparate understandings of scripture.  But they are both showing their immaturity by missing the whole point.  Both are still viewing the reins (scripture) as being for the purpose of controlling behavior.  The real purpose is to facilitate communication…to lead us to Christ…to teach us of God’s heart…and to train us in understanding and following the Holy Spirit.

Following the law (as legalists), we hear of a fellow Christian going thru divorce and immediately feel the need to learn every detail of their very personal marital relationship so we can discern (judge) whether or not their divorce is biblically permissible (as legalistic a term as ever was) so we can provide sound biblical counsel (verbally beat them up) to aid them in their Christian walk (control their behavior).

Under grace, we simply ask how we can pray for them and what we can do to help, trusting that as mature Christians they are able to hear and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in their personal lives.

See the difference?

In what areas have you learned to loosen your grip on the reins and trust God’s grace?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Rodeo Dad

IMG_1871Labels are funny.  Some we embrace and some we avoid.  I find myself resistant to accepting new labels.  I’m cautious about the changes in expectations…expectations of others…and of myself.

As I’ve posted before, I am not a horseman…and definitely not a cowboy.  It’s not that I object to the idea.  It’s that I lack both the skills and the experience.  I like horses.  I enjoy caring for them.  I enjoy riding horseback.  But I shrink back from giving the impression I know about horses, because I know just enough to be very aware of how much I don’t know.

And yet…we own eight horses…and my stepson is a rodeo athlete…

For the last two years I’ve hauled my stepson and his horse to every available roping practice.  I’ve attended numerous rodeo events where I’ve helped ready his horse and cheered him on.

For the last two years I’ve spent as much time in the saddle as I could, trying to learn a little more about this whole horsemanship thing.  And for the past several weeks, I’ve hauled both our horses to weekly roping practices, so I could start to learn a little about this sport my kid is so into.IMG_1870

Yet, I still do not think of myself as a cowboy or even a horseman.  Rodeo is such a cultural thing…usually a multigenerational cultural thing.  And it is not the culture I grew up in.  I love the people.  I’m learning to like the sport.  Yet, I still feel like such an outsider…not that folks aren’t friendly and helpful…they are.  But because I am so aware of how little I know and what a novice I am.

This year we signed our young rodeo athlete up with another rodeo association.  That commits us to attend rodeos almost every weekend for the next nine months…and half of those are doubles…two rodeos in one weekend…an all-day rodeo on Saturday followed by an all-day rodeo on Sunday.

So, now we’ve purchased a living-quarters horse trailer to facilitate all these weekend-long rodeo events.  Basically, that’s a full-sized RV for the family plus horses and equipment.

IMG_1896[1]This weekend it hit me.

I have officially become one of those crazy rodeo people who spends all their free time (and money) camping out to attend rodeos.

Yeah…that’s me.  I am officially a Rodeo Dad.  It’s become a part of who I am.

Still not a cowboy…still not a horseman…but very much a Rodeo Dad.

And…I like that!  :-)

 

Have you ever picked up a new label that felt uncomfortable at first?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Dear Anna Duggar

An open letter to Anna Duggar…and to others finding themselves in similar situations…

Dear Anna Duggar,

You don’t know me and I don’t know you or Josh.  I have, however, frequently thought of you and prayed for you over the past few weeks, as the daily news has dissected your marital relationship while exposing Josh’s infidelities.

According to reporters, your friends say “Anna will not leave him,” “She is fully and permanently committed to her marriage and her children,” and “Divorce is not even something that will be discussed.”  Your friend reportedly went on to say that you will try “on some level” to “absorb some of the blame…Maybe not publicly, ever, but privately, there will be some suggestion of whether or not she should have been more aware of the pressures Josh was under, of the issues he was facing, and how she could have better counseled him or helped him.”

Anna, your decisions and struggles during this time are yours alone, and I (a complete stranger) would not be so brazen as to attempt to tell you what decisions are right for you in this situation.

I want you to know my heart breaks for you.

I have some idea of the pain and confusion you must be experiencing, because I have faced similar situations.  Like you, I was raised believing that marriage is godly while divorce is ungodly…that divorce is always the fault of both parties…that God hates divorce…and that divorce is not an option for a true Christian.  And like you, I was faced with the reality of a repeatedly unfaithful spouse.  Although that marriage eventually ended in divorce, for many years I held the position your friend reportedly says you hold.  Determined to choose what I believed was the most godly course…to do what I believed was best for my family…I repeatedly renewed and restored fellowship, determined to avoid divorce.

My prayer for you is that you will learn of God’s grace through divorce more quickly than I did.  I pray the Holy Spirit will guide your reading of scripture and open your heart to understand God’s tremendous heart of grace and redemption toward His children who are in a covenant relationship with an oath breaker.  For your sake and the sake of your children, I pray you will at least seriously contemplate the possibility that divorce may be your best and most godly course of action.

I don’t know if divorce is the best choice for you.  How could I?  I do know you have some very difficult decisions before you.  I do know there is no easy path before you…that whether you choose divorce or reconciliation your path is filled with sorrow and anguish.  Divorce at least limits the anguish to a finite period of time allowing you and your children to heal and get on with life.  Reconciliation to an unrepentant adulterer is a path of never-ending pain and sorrow…lies continually renewed with freshly broken vows.

And therein lies the wrestling with your most difficult question, “Is Josh truly repentant?”

Your instinct will likely be (as reported by your friend) to believe he is truly repentant…because believing otherwise turns your entire life upside down.  And maybe he is…only God knows.

I pray you at least consider the very real possibility Josh may not be truly repentant…that he may go right back to the same traitorously adulterous behavior.  As harsh as that reality is to face, it is a very real possibility meriting serious exploration before making final decisions in regard to you and your children’s welfare.  Josh has repeatedly proven himself to be completely untrustworthy and entirely willing to egregiously violate his sacred marriage vows, fully realizing both the pain that causes you and your children as well the damage inflicted on your relationship.  Josh did not unintentionally ‘fall’ into an adulterous relationship with an acquaintance…rather he used the internet to actively seek out and pursue adultery.  To now take his word at face value would be neither wisdom nor faith.  Rather, it would be a refusal to accept reality.  Choosing to fully trust the proven untrustworthy is not inviting God into the situation.  Rather it is shutting the full reality of the situation out of the decision making process.

I pray you will not allow yourself to carry the burden of Josh’s guilt.  To do so is both unhealthy and unbiblical.  Yes, I’m sure you have made mistakes yourself.  That does not make you responsible for Josh’s sin.  There is a huge difference between unintentional minor mistakes and intentional egregious violations of sacred covenant vows.

Finally, my prayer for you is that God will use even this experience for your good and for His glory.  That whether this marriage is renewed or ends in divorce, you will learn God’s faithfulness in all of life’s circumstances.  I pray you will emerge from this with a deeper understanding of God’s heart of love and redemption and a fuller grace toward all of His children.

May God continue to richly bless and keep you, now and through eternity.

 

Sincerely,

Your brother in Christ, Joseph J. Pote

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]