Saturday, June 23, 2012

God Loves Sandusky

Sexually molesting ten innocent children: if there is one crime for which I can hardly fathom forgiveness, it is most certainly this one.

Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to life in prison yesterday -- and justly so.  He deserved to be punished severely, and if he is murdered in prison, he most likely deserves that as well.

However, in the midst of my celebration of “justice being served,” a still small voice rose up inside of me.

“I love him.”

I knew it was the Lord.

He came again, but louder this time, “I love him.”

I was speechless. Yeah, sure, I know that God loves everyone, but never before had it shaken me to the core like this. Here was man whom abused ten innocent children, and probably more, and God is telling me he loves him. I just couldn’t swallow it.

As I watched one Facebook status after another pop up in celebration of Sandusky’s demise, the Lord’s words played on repeat, “I love him. I love him...”

I don’t understand.

And that’s just it, as humans we have such a difficult time fully understanding the height and depth  and width of God’s unconditional love because it is, well, so un-human.

God loves Sandusky as much as He loves you, your children, and your grandchildren; and even as much as he loves those hurting, aching, and wounded little boys that Sandusky abused.

It’s not fair.

It’s not fair!

“Grace is not fair,” the Holy Spirit interjected unwaveringly.  

I guess that’s the mystery of grace; you just can’t get God to quit loving you.

It’s crazy love, way beyond my comfort zone – yet, for it, I’m forever grateful. If grace can be extended to man like Sandusky, then there is hope for us all, and that is good news.

And as for the victims, I mourn for them, but I don’t put anything past my God. I know that out of this horrendous tragedy, He will bring about healing, peace, transformation, and a beautiful display of forgiveness and the ability to overcome all things through Christ.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fortnight for Freedom

Protestants, we ought to join the Catholic Church in this cause. We can't allow Washington to assume the role of the church or family. Please join me in saying this prayer everyday until July 4th, Independence Day! 

O God our Creator,

Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.
We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be "one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Expectancy vs. Expectation

Soon after my youngest son, Colt, was born, my husband and I began to struggle in our marriage. I had been loading the anger, jealously, and resentment filled bullets for quite some time, but the hormonal imbalances of post-partum-hood finally cocked the gun and pulled the trigger.  

I’d always been too prideful to seek professional help but I felt, we felt, it was time. I contacted my pastor and asked him for a referral to a trustworthy, Christian therapist. I only went to one session, partly because it was too expensive and partly because I was too lazy to return. We continued to struggle for another six months or so before God really started working in our lives, but that’s another story.

In this article, I want to discuss something the therapist said to me, which never really started sinking in until now, years later. At the end of our 90-minute session she gave me a homework assignment.

“For the next week,” she explained, “I want you to completely eliminate the words, 'should,' 'ought,' and 'must,' from your vocabulary. These expectations you’re creating are killing all your relationships.”

I shrugged off the assignment and never returned to her office.

Yet, every so often, over the next couple years, her words would replay in my mind as I’d listen to myself grumbling over how, “He should of have shown me more respect,” or “It’s just what people ought to do,” or “If you really care about me, then you must...”

Should, ought, must; should, ought, must.

This was my life mantra and it continually left me feeling offended, shortchanged, and disappointed.

I lived my life based on expectations. Expecting others, myself, and God to behave in whatever particular way I deemed as good or reasonable; and when they didn’t live up, I would be hurt, disappointed, angry or all of the above.

Not only would I be chagrined in that moment of offense, but I would hold on to the grudge, letting one resentment pile on top of the other.

Countless times I nagged my husband for not doing whatever I felt he ought to do. Worse still, when someone else would fail to treat me how I assumed they should treat me, I would not only attack them, but also my husband for not responding to their wrongdoing in the way I felt he should respond to it.

Shwew! Talk about exhausting. Expectations on top of expectations – and it was making me miserable.

“But,” I would protest, “as my husband, he should do certain things for me! I mean, isn’t that kind of part of the job description!? The marriage vows?!”

No, it isn’t.

Marriage vows are what we promise to do for the other person – regardless of the situation we are in and without a promise of getting anything in return.  Problems arise later when we “expect” our partner to respond in the way we want.

Instead of living a life of expectation, I’ve started living a life of expectancy. What’s the difference?  Well, expectation sets up exact terms for how something should happen, or a particular way someone must respond to us or illustrate their love. We bring these expectations into our friendships, marriages, and our relationship with God.

The major problem with these expectations is that no one, not even God, ever lives up to them. And because we are so focused on whether or not they have done what we think they ought to do, we overlook all the other good things they are doing.

Let me explain.

When I married my husband, one way in which I felt that he should demonstrate his love for me is by cutting off all communication with his ex-girlfriends. If I saw him talking to one of them I would become so irate, so offended and oh, so heartbroken. His insistence on noncompliance became the only thing I could focus on and I was convinced that since he wouldn’t stop talking to these other girls, he must not truly love me.  And, since I was so focused on his failure to meet my particular expectation of how he should demonstrate his love, I was missing all the other ways that he was communicating his love for me, i.e. spending time with me, loving my child, being affectionate, supporting me in anything I do, gift giving, and helping me in times of need.

We do the exact same thing in our relationship with God.

We go into the relationship with expectations; expectations of how God should display his love for us, and when he doesn’t, we become hurt, disappointed, and lose faith.  Yet, just like in our earthly relationships, when we focus solely on our own preconceived notions of how God should communicate, love, or respond, we miss all the ways that he actually is loving us, communicating with us, and responding to us.

This is why, if we want any real joy or true relationship, we must quit living with these expectations, and instead, live with expectancy.

Expectancy is simply the state of thinking that something pleasant will happen. Expectation sets standards for what, when, or how it should happen.

Expectancy allows for freedom. Expectation boxes God in and limits the ways He can move in our lives.

Just think about it. The Pharisee’s would have seen Jesus if it wasn’t for all their looking. That’s right, their expectations of what the Messiah should be like, look like, etc., blinded them to the true Messiah.

And remember those disciples on the road to Emmaus, bemoaning the absence of the very one present with them? They sighed, “...but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Their expectation of what Jesus should do blinded them to the cross, the resurrection, and to a deeper redemption than they could ever imagine – and our expectations are doing the same to us today.

In one of my favorite books, The Shack, God is talking to the main character, Mack, and God explains expectancy versus expectations like this:

“Mack, if you and I are friends, there is an expectancy that exists within our relationship. When we see each other or are apart, there is expectancy of being together, of laughing and talking. The expectancy has no concrete definition; it is alive and dynamic and everything that emerges from our being together is a unique gift shared by no one else. But what happens if I change that ‘expectancy’ into ‘expectation’ – spoken or unspoken? Suddenly, law has entered our relationship. You are now expected to perform in a way that meets my expectations. Our living friendship rapidly deteriorates into a dead thing with rules and requirements. It is no longer about you and me, but about what friends are supposed to do...”              
“But,” argued Mack, “if you didn’t have expectations and responsibilities wouldn’t everything just fall apart?”             
“Only if you are of the world, apart from me, and under the law. Responsibilities and expectations are the basis of guilt and shame and judgment, and they provide the essential framework that promotes performance as the basis or identity and value....The idea behind expectations requires that someone does not know the future or outcome and is trying to control behavior to get the desired result. Humans try to control behavior largely through expectations... I already know you and everything about you...I have no expectations of you, what I do have is a constant and living expectancy in our relationship, and I give you an ability to respond in any situation and circumstance in which you find yourself. To the degree that you resort to expectations and responsibilities, to that extent you neither know me nor trust me...”

Did you catch that? God said, if we truly know and trust Him, we will have a constant and living expectancy in our relationship, not expectations.

When I finally began to let go my expectations and preconceived notions of how God or other people should respond to me, I began to experience relationship with God and with others in a way I never imagined possible. Instead of the disappointment associated with looking for God in certain places, and not finding Him there, I began to experience the joy and gratitude of discovering him in the most unimaginable places!

Instead of experiencing the pain and frustration of my husband and my friends not treating me in the way I felt they ought to, I began to experience the contentment, satisfaction, and freedom of receiving their love in whatever way they most enjoy expressing it.

When we let go of our terms, guidelines, ultimatums and control -- in other words -- our expectations, and we replace them with a simple, childlike expectancy, we will frequently find ourselves, as C.S. Lewis puts it, “surprised by joy.” And really, isn’t that the only way to experience joy? Through surprise?

Just watch a child’s face light up in the presence of something as modest as a firefly’s glow. Why so much joy over something so ordinary? Because they didn’t expect it, and thus, because they had no expectation, they had no disappointment -- only joy and gratitude for the bug’s little yellow light.  

As I began removing the “you should’s, you ought to’s, and you must’s” from my vocabulary, and replaced them all with, "have Your way,"  my life changed – and it changed for the better.

Let go of your expectations, they are stealing your joy, killing your relationships, and holding you back from truly living. As you replace those expectations with expectancy, you will begin to see, know, and feel God, and the all the people around you, in a way you never knew possible.  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Hurt and The Healer Collide

I’m passing mile marker 106 on I-64, eastbound, when I start mulling over my to-do list.

Let’s see, I've got to pick Jon up from basketball camp at noon, take Nate to Subway as I promised him, get Jon changed and to rehearsals by 1:30 p.m. -- and somewhere in between all that I need to get supper figured out and when on earth is Colt going to squeeze in his nap? And, darnet, this Saturday is Travis’ birthday and I haven't finished his gift.

It’s only 11:23 in the morning but my mind is already somewhere around noon, 1:30 p.m., and this coming Saturday.

In the midst of my ruminating, I roll down the driver’s side window. The Holy Spirit comes blowing in, reminding me of a question I recently read, “Where do you think I intended for you to live: in the past, the present, or the future?”

I remember the book, I know the answer, so I reply quickly, “The present.”

“Correct, and where are you living now?”

“The future,” I say just above a whisper, as to not let my step-son, sitting passenger side, hear me.

 “Correct again,” the Holy Spirit nods, “and you know, I’ll be there too, in your future - but right now I am here, in the now. Experience me here. After all, you’re the big writer, eh? Don’t you know that “I AM’ is present tense?”   

I laugh aloud. Guess I see where I get my sarcastic sense of humor from. Ha.

“Ok, Lord, I got it. You’re here now. I’ll pay attention.”

I take a deep breathe. The air feels warmer than it did before. 

I roll down all four windows, letting the air violently whip in and out. Here I am, driving down the interstate, in a silver, 2001 Ford Windstar; an eleven-year-old beside me, fist pumping at every semi-truck that passes, hoping to get a honk; a two-year-old behind me, kicking my seat while steadily throwing french fries all over my already fast food covered floor boards; and I’m still twenty miles out from my nine-year-old son’s basketball camp. 

Everything, in the physical, screams boring, suburban, typical, mom.

As the wind whips blonde strands of hair across my shades, it sticks to my lip gloss. I use two fingers to gently pull the hair away and attempt to tuck it behind my ear. It flies right back. I run my hand up the side, then the back of my neck, and on up through my hair. I extend my hand out the window as far as I can. In this moment, I feel like no weary soccer mom. No, no, no. I feel free, adventurous...alive. Like I’ve been transformed into a young girl again, two-days shy of eighteen, running off with the "bad-boy" in his rag-top convertible, rocking out to Springsteen, not worried about what’s to come, and not caring, as long as he is with me.

 Bordering the highway is every shade of green imaginable, in every shape, and every size, and they all have a species name.  Dancing among the greens are yellows – no, more like golds – and lavenders and fiery oranges. They all point in one direction: higher. 

The sun must have heard me, because it rose up as if to say, “Ahem, I am the fieriest orange He made! look at me!” So, I look, but not for long. Even at ninety-three-million miles away, its brilliance is too much for my eyes to fixate on.

As it hangs there in the sky, awaiting dusk, I can hear the hosts of heaven applauding its act, and shouting, “Encore, encore, rise again another day.” I applaud with them.

It’s not just nature reflecting the divine. It’s also the road hard motorcycle gang closing in on my rear view mirror. As they zip past me I think, “How dangerous!”

I’m dangerous,” the Lord winks back.

Aha, no wonder I feel eighteen again. Why, I.... I bite my bottom lip, trying not to smile, a little embarrassed, and not sure if I’m ready to accept such an out-of-the-box view of God, but I finish my thought anyway....why, I am running off with the ultimate bad boy.
Photo by: Jason Lee Perry

Oh, how I wish I could’ve seen the look on those Pharisees’ faces. And with that image, my lower lip slides out from my top teeth’s pressure and my half smile turns full. 

The car behind me begins to tailgate, inching closer and closer. I get the impression this driver isn’t as interested in “experiencing God here and now” as I am. His mind is in the future, and I’m holding him back from getting there. I move over to the right lane and let him pass. I toss a smile his way as he drives past; he smiles back, except with his middle finger. I can’t help but giggle when I see the handicap parking permit hanging from his rear view mirror. “Yeah, handicapped, alright -- on several levels,” I think to myself. I send a quick prayer up for him, and shrug it off; just another one of God’s angry kids.

“Hey, Morgan, do you think I can make this one honk?” My step-son, Nate, interrupts, leaning his head towards the window in order to direct my attention to the approaching tractor-trailer.

“I know you can,” I answer with a smile awkwardly large for his simple question. You can do so much more than you even know, son. We all can – through Him.

The truck passes silently. Nate sinks into his seat, disappointed that the driver didn’t even look his way. I watch the semi-truck pass. It’s hauling giant equipment that I can’t identify, but whatever it is, I’m sure it’s headed somewhere, to become a part of something greater than itself – and I know the feeling. 

The wind and pollution spiraling around the car irritates my contacts, but I've never seen so clearly in all my life. 

This must be what Thomas Merton felt when he, too, wrote about experiencing God: “I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet. 

I feel the fire, and the music, too. 

My knees have that weak feeling you get after barely dodging a wreck, my heart pounds in my stomach, and right there, at mile marker 111, I experience God here, and now.

I turn up the radio, and the Holy Spirit couldn’t have been singing any more clearly: 
"I’m alive, even though a part of me has died.You take my heart and bring it back to life, I’ve fallen into your arms open wide. The hurt and the Healer collide...."
Don't worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will care for itself.
Fall into His arms now. Lean into Him as much as you need to today. Draw near to Him in this moment, and He will draw near to you -- but buckle up, cause peace hits hard when the hurt and the Healer collide.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Real, Raw, Ravishing Love

At fourteen, I willingly opened the door of my apartment to a thirty-six-year-old drug dealer -- and he raped me.  At fifteen I was arrested for shoplifting. By seventeen I had been in drug rehab --twice.  At nineteen, I left my three-year-old son with my mother and moved to Michigan, then Washington, DC, and didn’t return home for four months. At twenty, I joined the ARMY, signed up for six years, yet served less than three before chaptering out. By twenty-two I was pregnant, out of wedlock, for the second time.  In March 2008 I received a DUI, and in December 2011, I was nearly kicked out of law school for my “failure to disclose.”

Even just this morning, I awoke, asked the Lord for an opportunity to bless someone, and he snapped back with that same unnerving response as always: “Start with treating your own mother right.”

I raise my voice on Sunday mornings over things of great import like misplaced socks and spilled cheerios -- and then head off to teach Sunday school.

At times, I’ve wished people were dead and, on occasion, I’ve wished it was me. 


Secrets isolate.

Secrets imprison.

Secrets intimidate.

Secrets sit in the dark, smoky corners of our lives, reminding us who we “really are.”

But secrets lie.

They hide in darkness -- terrified of Light; because they’re fearful we may catch a glimpse of what they really are: empty suits, paper tigers, tin gods.

I freely tell you all those ugly things about me (and believe me, there is more) because I’ve discovered that my identity doesn’t lie in any mistakes I’ve made, or will make.

I’ll never forget the first time I read the quote, “Be kind; for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  

True, that.

Everyone, even the people who have hurt us, or more likely, especially the people who have hurt us, are wrestling with their own pains, longings, desires, fears, failures, secrets and sin.

Whether you have told one white lie, stolen money, hated or murdered, you have something in common with every human being in existence: you’re desperately in need of a Savior.

And that is our great equalizer.

My secrets don’t haunt me. I don’t hide from them, and I genuinely don’t care what you think about them. Why should I? My identity does not rest in them, or in your opinion of them, but rather in the traces of grace that they leave behind.

The last thing our world needs is more Christians pretending. Pretending to have it all together, pretending to be good, to be pious, or to be anything other than a mere vessel of His mercy. Christianity is not about behavior modification, but is all about throwing ourselves headlong into his consuming, yet tender, embrace.

John Piper says it like this:

“I think it is virtually impossible to honestly say that knowing God, as God intends to be known by his people in the new covenant, simply means mental awareness or understanding or acquaintance with God.

Not in a million years is that what “knowing God” means here.

This is the knowing of a lover, not a scholar. A scholar can be a lover. But a scholar—or a pastor—doesn’t know God until he is a lover.

You can know about God by research; but until the researcher is ravished by what he sees, he doesn’t know God for who he really is. And that is one great reason why many pastors can become so impure. They don’t know God—the true, massive, glorious, gracious, biblical God.

The humble intimacy and brokenhearted ecstasy—giving fire to the facts—is not there.”

We have no reason to sugarcoat our lives, or to put up facades; for the one opinion that truly matters, already knows our innermost being, and He loves us anyway.

If we, as Christians, would rip off our masks and start getting real, raw, and unadulterated about who we are and where we have come from, then maybe, people would no longer look at us and simply see another self-righteous, hypocritical person, claiming to have all the answers to their ills -- but instead, maybe, just maybe, through our fears, they'd see His strength; through our mourning, His gladness; through our despair, His peace, and through our ashes, they would begin to see His ravishing beauty. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

More Beautiful You

My middle son has a big, funny shaped head, and on it rest one little bitty freckle to the left side of his nose -- it’s my favorite place to kiss him. When he pronounces any word containing the letter “F” he brings his bottom teeth to his upper lip, instead of bringing his upper teeth to his bottom lip, and the words never come out quite right; yet, still, I hang on every one of them. My youngest son’s left front tooth is split right down the middle, and yet, I’d do anything to see it peering out from his crooked smile. My husband has small wrinkles trailing from the corners of his eyes; yet, as they set deeper into his skin, my love for him follows suit.

Imperfections we call them.

But “imperfect” compared to what?

Compared to other, more “normal,” people? Compared to pictures that haunt the check-out lanes of our local grocery stores? Compared to our husband’s favorite actress or his old high school crush? What exactly defines a physical feature as “perfect” or “imperfect”?  

When I look at the people that I love, I see there “imperfections” as anything but.

Yet, I myself seep with envy for her hair, her height, her eyes, her complexion and her more “perfect” body.  

Day in and day out we succumb to the lie that our value, at least partially, lies in long flowing hair, an even skin tone, or a small waist -- and we spend, collectively, billions of dollars a year trying to measure up. We carry around the burdensome whispers that we’d be so much happier if only we could change this, if only we had that -- or worse, the sense that our husbands would love us more if only we had her butt or her breasts, or if only...

If only...

These prerequisites to happiness are such a slap in the face to our Creator.  

When I complain about my flat hair, my chubby cheeks, or my dull brown eyes, aren’t I really saying to the Lord that he is not enough for me? Aren’t I really saying that to be of any real worth, or value, or beauty, I need more? Aren’t I essentially saying, “God, you shortchanged me, and I deserve more”? 

Insecurity and pride: two sides of the same wicked coin. Strange how the most insecure people you know are also the most self-absorbed. Insecurities are born when we look to the wrong place for our worth, when we look to ourselves or other people. We, alone, will never be enough or have enough, but in Christ, we are fully-equipped.  Only when we put ourselves aside and look to Him, do our insecurities begin to melt away, and they are replaced with true contentment.  

Insecurity is a demon child of fear, but if we rest in Him and His perfect Love, all fear is cast out. When we turn our gaze to Christ, we find our daily affirmation is in the surety of our atonement, not the praise of men; we discover our identity in His innumerable graces, not a “perfect” body or face; we understand that our only fame is that we bear His name, not the applause of our audience; we recognize that our only glory is in His grace, not our own gifts; and the Holy Spirit, alone, is our comforter.

Just think about it, if we, as sinful humans, can see the beauty and marvelousness of our own children’s’ form, even with their so-called imperfections, then how much more must we please our Heavenly Father, who is capable of perfect love?  

I’m embarrassed by the time and energy that I have wasted on superficial ends, but I’m also thankful for them, because through their inefficiency to satisfy me, I was driven right into the arms of Christ, and I’ve never felt more beautiful or loved.

Quit comparing yourself to other people -- that is Satan’s impossible game – instead, take comfort in the truth that you were made for a purpose that only you can fill, and there could never be a more beautiful you.

Help us to remember that you are shaping us into the image of you. Help us to remember that we do not battle against flesh and blood, but against powers of darkness, and that those powers want us to believe that we are not valuable and not worthy unless we look a certain way, but we know the truth: that we are ready for anything and equal to anything through you, who infuses us with inner strength. We are sufficient in your sufficiency.  Help us to quit believing the lie that we need more, and help us to be grateful for what you have already given us, because what you have given us more than enough. And most importantly, Jesus, please, reveal to us your deep, unending, unconditional love, because you know we will only be truly free from our insecurities when we understand that all-consuming love. 
          In Jesus name, Amen.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Getting What I Deserve

I fix pancakes for breakfast, his favorite. I holler down the stairs that they’re ready and he gripes back, “But, Mom, I thought you said we could get McDonalds today.” Stab...

I set my alarm thirty minutes early in order to wash his new shirt so he can wear it to his eight a.m. practice. I hand it to him. He complains, “Gross. Why is it still so damp?” Slash...

In between carpooling him to his basketball and her to her softball, they grumble, “I hate when you take this way, it’s shorter the other way.” Slice...

As I serve dinner on plates, he whines, “Why didn’t you put mine in a bowl?” Rip...

I pour my time, my emotions, my finances, my heart, and oh-so many prayers into two children that are not even my own and I hear...well, I don’t hear much. Gash....

These thankless responses cut my pride-filled flesh like knives, leaving me to kick and scream, silently, “Helllo! What about ME?! Hey, look over here! Remember me?!”

I hold it in, teeth clenched, as I pick up another pair of muddy shoes from the living room floor.

Other times, my willpower fails me and my wounds gush with rage, “I just spent two hours cooking this for YOU and you don’t even appreciate it. Next time you can just cook your own dang food!” or “Do you think I WANT to get up and drive you all around town for this or that? No, I don’t, but I do it for YOU anyway. The least you could do is so me some appreciation!!”

Lashing out temporarily releases the pressure on my flesh, but leaves me feeling empty, disappointed, and unsatisfied on the inside.

When people don’t give us the response that we think we deserve, we get so angry and hurt, but why?

Pride wears many masks, often times it presents itself as anger, or fear. Pride is easily offended. Pride is always afraid; afraid of being unnoticed, unaccredited, or unaccepted. Pride only knows three words: me, myself, and I.

And pride never, ever gets what it thinks it deserves; for its thirst is unquenchable.

But I’m so thirsty.

So incredibly thirsty.

I’ve drank from pride’s fountain, and it is laced with salt. The more I drink the more I thirst. I know that if I want to live, I must find another source.

“But Lord,” I cry out, “don’t you understand? My kids ought to be more grateful, my husband should have showed me some appreciation for that, and those other moms should have thanked me! I do so much for these people and they...

It’s not for them,” the Lord interrupts.

“Not for them?” I laugh, “Then who is it for? Because it sure isn’t for me!”

“It’s for me. Don’t you see?”

“See what, Lord?”

See me – in everything. I’m in those piles of laundry, I’m in those pancakes you cooked this morning, and I’m in the freshly vacuumed carpet. I’m in the alarm you set thirty minutes early and the ‘atta boy’ you gave your step-son in the car. I’m in the half-a-dozen ‘momma, look at this’s and ‘momma, watch that’s. I’m in the shoestrings you spent five minutes tying just the way he likes them, even though you were running late. I’m in those nine dollar Wal-Mart-special fold-out chairs that get warmed up every single little league game, rain or shine. I’m in it all, watching it all, and it’s all for ... me.”

My phone rings, it’s my husband telling me that he’s on his way home. He’s trying to talk to me about an employee he is having issues with, but I quit listening. Colt needs a bath, the stove just went off, and I have my own list of issues I would like to talk about. I start to rush him off the phone, when I hear it again: “It’s all for me.”

Ok, Lord, I’ll listen.

“...and this is the third time he has showed up late,” my husband continues, “I’ve given him so many chances, and I just don’t know what else to do. The guy nearly cost us five thousand dollars today with some careless mistake he has made over and over. Oh well, you probably don’t want to hear all this. Sorry. I’m just venting. I let you go, be home soon.”

I hang up. His picture pops up on my phone as the call ends. I stare at it until the screen goes black. He does so much for me -- for us. He works so hard. I love him.

I walk into the bathroom and start my baby’s bath water. I run my hand through to test the temperature. It’s just right. As I watch the water rise, I think about what the Lord spoke to me.

It’s all for Him. It’s all for his glory, not mine. Just the thought of it loosens a few of the chains wrapped around my heart. I don’t wake up each morning, wrestle these four children all day, keep the pantry stocked, or even rush to kiss a another skinned knee merely to hear the words, “Thank you.”

No, I wake up, I wrestle, I stock, and I kiss all for His glory. It’s all worship.

And worship is the ultimate salve for my wounds. I only begin to heal when I look beyond myself and remember that it is all for Him, by Him, and through Him. 

I bow my head.

“Thank you, Lord, for revealing to me my purpose: to glorify you in all that I do. Thank you for setting me free from the smallness of myself and letting me enter into the fullness of you. I worship you, Jesus, right here, right now. I prepare this bath, all for you, and when I bathe my baby, that’s also for you. And when I dry him off, dress him, and tuck him in for another night’s sleep, that, too, is all for you. Help me to stop believing the lie that I always deserve more, because truth is, you are more than enough.”

I raise my head just in time to see the water run over the tub’s edge and I know it is Him – he always fills to overflowing.

Get what I deserve. The ridiculousness of the thought now makes me laugh aloud. Thank God I don’t get what I deserve. I get above and beyond, exceedingly more than I could ever hope, dream, think or ask for. I turn off the faucet, but my cup still runneth over.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

1,000 Gifts: My Husband's Love

I’m standing bedside, setting my alarm, when my husband comes up behind and places his hands on my waist.

“Hold on, please.” I jerk away and continue setting my alarm.

He walks to the other side of the bed, turns out the light, lies down and ... silence.

I sigh, shake my head, roll my eyes in the dark, and lie down beside him. The room is silent; the only noise is the humming of our fan. All is calm in the physical world, but inside our hearts and minds, storms are brewing.

I know what I should do. What I should do is reach over, touch my husband, apologize for shunning his advance, and initiate intimacy. I feel the Holy Spirit prodding, but my ego shoves harder.

My ego is reminding me, “You’ve had a long, hard day with the kids, his kids, and you deserve to sleep. You are the one who will be getting up with the baby in a couple hours, not him, why should you have to do everything?”

I feel a storm approaching. I begin the toxic habit of replaying in my mind the times I think my husband has hurt me, let me down, disappointed me; all this causing my ego and I to agree even more: Why should I have to sacrifice my sleep for him? What’s in it for me? Why does he even deserve my physical affection? Better yet, don’t I deserve a break?

Just as I begin to feel justified enough in my defiance to fall asleep, the Holy Spirit chimes back in, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”

Although I’m not willing to be fully obedient, I’m at least willing to give this command some attention, or maybe I just want an excuse to talk.  

“Are you mad at me?” I break the silence. What a dumb question. Of course he is mad at me, but this sets the ball in motion.

His response comes so swiftly that it’s evident I barely beat him to speaking first.

“Why don’t you love me like you used to?”

Pain shoots through my body; a golf-ball size pit forms in my throat. Once again, I know how I should respond. I should tell him that I love him more than anything, explain how sorry I am if that’s not coming across clearly, hug him tight, and kiss him longer than ever. I should recognize the pain in his question and I should try to alleviate it. I should...

But I don’t.

“How could you not think I love you?!?” I snap back, “My entire life revolves around sacrificing for you and these kids. I left my dream career, I spend my whole day cleaning and cooking and making this house a place you will want to come home to, and I always make sure we don’t go longer than a couple days without, well, ‘you know.’ All I DO is show you that I love you!!”

Oh really? Then why won’t you show him now? Ugh, the Holy Spirit just won’t leave me alone.  

“Oh, I know,” he explains, “you DO everything perfect. You accomplish everything on the daily “Good-Wife-Checklist,” but I don’t feel like you look at me the same way you used to...”

I say nothing. I’m too busy thinking.

“You’re right,” he starts backing down, probably due in part to mere tiredness, “I guess we just communicate our love differently. I will work on not getting so upset with you. You do a lot for me and I know you love me very much.”

My flesh feels success but my spirit aches.

Sometimes, often times, in a marriage, we allow little drops of resentment to rain into our heart’s buckets. We carry these buckets around with us, trying not to spill them, struggling to keep them balanced as we run errands, go to work, eat dinner, and watch television. Yet, despite our best efforts, they get tipped, and the water falls out. Sometimes just a dribble, a sarcastic remark, a murmur under our breath, and other times the entire bucket turns on its side, the water gushes out, and falls from the inner corners of our eyes. 

I lay my head on his chest and let the tears silently fall.  He drifts off, but I’m wide awake – angry. Not with him, but with myself.

“Why can’t I just let go, Lord? Why am I still holding on to all this control and pride? Why would I rebuff the advances of a man who has vowed his heart to me forever?” I pray.

Why is it that, as wives, we would rather scrub the mildew from the tubs, spend hours cooking a meal, or planning a party for our husbands, than simply say yes to his wooing? After all, isn’t physical intimacy the main attribute which separates the marriage union from all other relationships?

Here I am, the woman with the “gratitude wall” in her home, the “gratitude journal” in her purse, and the blog that’s even titled “Eucharistero,” literally meaning “to give thanks,” and I just spewed ingratitude and entitlement all over the best earthly gift God has ever given me: my husband.

Where did it come from? In the midst of all my gratitude reading, thankfulness teaching, and Eucharistero blogging, how did I allow myself to overlook gratefulness for my own husband, even to the point of denying him my love when he gestures for it? Was he becoming so familiar that he was losing his “specialness” in my eyes?

I am reminded of a quote I recently read that says, “Familiarity breeds boredom only to the blind.” Am I blind? Blind to what a gift my husband is, blind to what a great opportunity the Lord is giving me to honor him with my affection, blind to the joy of unselfish, Christ-like, marital intimacy.

I lie there on his bare chest, eyelids shut, heart-lids opens.

I run my hand across his torso, it’s hairy, and I’ve always liked that. I slip my hand into his, it’s calloused and rough, and I like that. I hear his heart beat and I know it beats for the Lord, for me, for our children, and I love that.

What a gift he is. What a gift it is to honor him with my love, however he wants it – whenever he wants it. Whether it is taking care of his children, cooking his meals, cleaning his clothes, listening to him when he speaks, laughing at his jokes, or stopping everything that I am doing, to let him kiss me, it is all a gift from God. It’s all grace. This revelation makes me smile.

I can’t help but whisper aloud, “Thank you, Lord,” as I fall asleep in the arms of my gift.

If we want a fulfilling, joyful life, then every day we must retrain our brains to see the world through a lens of gratitude, remembering that all is grace, and that even Christ our King didn’t come to be served, but to serve.