This week we talk about Chad’s tie hoarding, loving small, recognizing sin, and John Paton leaving home.
Here’s a link to the hip hop video Chad mentions.
I remember when my first baby was about two weeks old. I had been thrust into this terrifying world of trying desperately to keep a tiny human being alive. I fell into bed at night, exhausted, but I woke up at every slight noise coming from my fragile little charge. I constantly worried that she couldn’t breathe or that she was in some kind of distress that I was too ignorant to recognize. Night and day were all one big blur of feedings and diaper changes and rocking and swaying and bouncing, with no real clue what I was doing.
Yet, even in those days of my body and mind being completely invaded by this pint-sized little soul, I remember I turned to my mother one day, my eyes half closed, my shirt covered in spit up, and said, Being a mother suits me to a T. I honestly felt like I had been wandering through life up until that point, just waiting for God’s big purpose for my life to fall into my lap. I decided it was motherhood.
It’s easy to see how I could think so. After all, the soul-deep love that God puts in a mother’s heart is powerful. It is consuming in a way that we didn’t understand was possible before we were already eaten up with it. It can overshadow a lot of things in life, especially in the early years. Motherhood is hard. It’s all at once beautiful and devastating in a million different ways. It brings things out in us that we didn’t know were there, both good and bad. And, it teaches us so much about God’s love for us.
A few days ago, I was in the dollar store, searching for cool prizes for our Wednesday night program at church. I was alone, as I often am these days, getting lots of things accomplished while all three of my kids were at school. It’s a new phase for me, and I’m still learning how to deal with the quiet. Suddenly, from across the store I heard the happy voice of a baby. He had obviously just learned his first word or two, and his mother was playing peek-a-boo with him. I could hear the sheer delight in his mother’s voice as she said again and again, Where’s mama? Every time she dropped her hands and revealed the sweet face that her baby knows and loves, he squealed, Mama! as if he had just won the world’s greatest prize. And right there in the middle of the toy aisle, surrounded by plastic snakes and miniature harmonicas, I felt my heart bust wide open at those sweet sounds that felt so familiar. I understood the absolute thrill that the young mother was getting in the dollar store on an ordinary Tuesday, when her baby showed in the way that only babies can, that he adores her to no end. And it broke my heart into a million pieces.
That’s not my life anymore.
Those days are gone. I don’t have babies. Adelade has traded in sippy cups for lip gloss. Sawyer, pacifiers for braces. Emerald gave up her blankie for a backpack. If motherhood has taught me anything, it’s how quickly phases of life come and go.
The thing about hindsight is that it tends to gloss over the realities of past experiences. It doesn’t remind you about the long nights sitting up with a sick baby, frantic over a too-high temperature. It doesn’t recall how much time it took you to accomplish anything at all while a little one was clinging to you all day and night. It doesn’t bring up the fact that you felt frustrated over your lack of social life, your lack of sleep, your lack of time with your husband, your lack of personal space. No, that precious hindsight only brings to mind the sweetest moments, the epiphanies about how wonderful motherhood is, the secret, sweet times that only you remember, like peek-a-boo in the dollar store on an otherwise hectic, unproductive weekday. This rosy memory-vision is one reason that grandmothers are so quick to approach a frazzled young mother in the grocery store to tell her to appreciate every moment.
I wanted to go over to speak to the young mother, too. I wanted to say to her, somehow, that I understand the soul-crushing love that she feels for her child. I wanted her to know that the moment she was having there was as familiar to me as the little country road that leads to my childhood home. I wanted to tell her that the thrill of hearing that tiny voice holler Mama will feel just a fresh and real to her twenty years from now. I wanted her to know that she doesn’t have to dread and fear the growing up of her precious little boy because motherhood is NOT the purpose of her life. It is an indescribable blessing. It is the source of endless joy. It is one way that God shows us how much we need Him, and it is one way that we learn to lay our lives down for someone else.
But, what we call motherhood–training and raising and caring for children–is fleeting, just like everything else. It doesn’t last forever, this phase of life. Children grow and they change and you grow and you change, and then they begin a new life out in this great big world. If, as I once believed, motherhood is the reason God made me, then what use am I when this phase of life is over?
It doesn’t mean that our hearts won’t still creak and crack and melt just a little when we remember what we once had. It doesn’t mean that what we’re doing here, in the wilds of motherhood, doesn’t have eternal significance. But, God’s purposes are big. Much bigger than we can imagine. The purpose of our lives is to glorify Him in all that we do, whether we are mothers or not. Whether we are in the thick of chasing toddlers everywhere or simply remembering those days, a little misty-eyed. God’s purposes don’t have dates of expiration. They don’t apply to only one section of our lives. And they certainly aren’t wrapped up solely in the too-short phases of mothering children.
I wanted to tell her all of these things, but I knew it was too much. Instead, I just walked past and smiled at her baby. The sweet young mother watched me, and when our eyes met, I nodded. She nodded back, and then I walked out the door, my hands empty, heart filled with the truth of God’s goodness in all the phases of life.
I remember the way he used to react when I walked into a room. All the time I was growing up, through all the awkward phases, the big hair, the oversized glasses, the braces, the fashion disasters. My uncle never failed to tell me how beautiful he thought I was.
He could tell a story in a way that would make you laugh until you were begging him to stop, tears mercilessly flowing while you tried in vain to catch your breath. He would stand around in the kitchen at my parents’ house, drawing a crowd around him as he turned a recent colonoscopy into the most hilarious experience that anyone has ever heard of. And after he entertained everyone he could just as easily sit down with me and ask me question after question about my life, helping me decide what I should be, encouraging me to use the gifts that God had given me.
Today I stood next to his casket, looking on this man who has blessed me in so many ways, his body ravaged by the brain tumor that finally ended his life on this earth. I looked on the body that I love and I cried for his suffering, for his pain and his spiritual growth and his fierce loyalty to me and to my dad and to all those he loved. I cried because his life intersected with mine in a way that only God could orchestrate, an uncle with his own children and grandchildren, who had the heart and the goodness to gift his niece with his love and attention and genuine care.
Death hurts. It always hurts. It reminds us that our existence here is just like one snap of the fingers. It’s as if you breathe in and then suddenly eighty years have passed and you breathe out and life here is done. If it weren’t for the hope of Christ, how could any of us bear the sorrow of death? His goodness is never more real to me than on a day of mourning, when I can look at a war-torn body that I love and know that the battle is over forever, and all of that pain was instantly erased by an encounter with the Savior of the world. All sorrows are forgotten. All of the human struggles are silenced. And there is complete healing.
On those days, we who are left behind can remember once again why we are so desperate for a God who can make everything right again. Death is coming to each of us. We may get eighty years, or we may not last this day. But, every time we stand at the front of the church, looking one last time on a dear body that we will miss so much, we should be overwhelmed by the goodness of Jesus. We should get on our knees and thank Him for the hope, for the confidence, for the faith. For the fact that we can trust Him with the ones we love and, someday, when the light is fading and we are slipping into eternity, we can trust Him to make us new again, too. He is so good. Death is no match for this living God.
Nine year old Sawyer cried and cried after the funeral. He felt it so deeply–the sorrow of death. The pain of saying goodbye. The strife that comes with being human. We walked to the car, me crushing him to my side while I spoke the truth of the gospel over his sandy brown head. This is why we need Jesus, I said. He nodded while the tears flowed. We need our Jesus to make everything right again. We climbed into our minivan and wiped our tears, and I prayed that he will remember this day forever, the day we saw so clearly how good a death-conquering God can really be. The day we stopped to mark the truth that death hurts, but sorrow and suffering are only temporary. The day we realized, once again, how complete our need is for a Savior who stands between us and destruction. In Him, we place our hope.
At the cemetery, all of the adults were standing around talking while Sawyer sat alone in the funeral tent, obviously burning up in the jacket and tie he had insisted on wearing on a hot fall day in Texas. I could still see traces of tears on his freckled cheeks. He was already thinking about going to Granny’s house and playing with his cousins. My uncle would have liked Sawyer’s jacket and tie. He would’ve commented on how tall he is getting. He would’ve asked if Sawyer is playing football. He would’ve been standing in the middle of a circle of family members, telling some story that would make everyone roar with laughter. And, he would’ve told me that I am beautiful.
I’ll miss him. But, I mourn with great hope. With trust in my Savior. And with confidence in His goodness. Death has no power here, where there is faith in Jesus. And so, I can smile through the tears and I can tell my baby boy with all certainty that we don’t have to mourn the way the world does. And I can picture my uncle, perfectly healed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, the angels drawing near to hear his stories.
I can almost hear the laughter, ringing throughout eternity.
You may have read that Teen Vogue published an article this week for its audience of girls, ages 12-18, which is a how-to guide for anal sex. In fact, the creators of this magazine are writing instructive articles for all kinds of sexual acts. They want young girls to believe that sexual activity (including BDSM) is a natural part of being an older child in this country. It’s hard for those of us who are older to even fathom what kind of influence that this world can be on our kids–we, who read teen magazines for the quizzes about what type of friend we were, articles about how to handle our period. Our twelve year olds open teen magazines and take quizzes about what kind of sexual partner they are and read articles about how to masturbate and how “valid and valuable” porn is.
It’s hard to even believe that on a continent where an estimated 1.5 million children are currently being sold to satisfy detestable, porn-fueled desires that a teen magazine can so flippantly sell sex to kids like it’s candy. But, it’s happening.
As the mother of a twelve year old, I’m distraught and appalled that someone wants to teach her what anal sex is. But, the line in the article that bothered me the most has broader implications, and it’s the real message I want to counteract in my daughter’s heart and mind: “There is no wrong way to experience sexuality, and no one way is better than any other.” The writer says this with all authority and legitimacy. She is writing for a big name magazine, and her article has official looking anatomical drawings. If I have not taught my daughter to recognize sex ed fallacies when she sees them, then how will she discern that what is in this article isn’t true? Even more, if I haven’t taught her to view all things through a biblical lens, how will she know lies from the pit of hell when she sees them?
So, here is what our kids need to know. There are plenty of wrong ways to experience sexuality.
Ask any girl who has had her soul stripped bear by someone she hardly knows. The world tells her that’s fun. Ask any boy who stumbled across pornography on the phone his clueless parents bought him, who now can’t make it through the day without looking at it. The world tells him that’s the way it should be. Ask any college student who’s had so many partners that she isn’t really sure who’s the father of the baby she is about to abort. The world tells her to be proud of it. Ask any thirteen year old who saw an article in Teen Vogue and decided to try anal sex. The world laughs and says everyone tries “butt stuff,” as the Vogue writer so eloquently puts it. And, decision by decision, the kids of America learn again and again: there are plenty of wrong ways to experience sexuality. Ways that hurt them deeply. That cripple them emotionally and spiritually. Ways that will cause problems in their future marriages. Ways that wound the heart of God.
There is a better way. We have to teach our kids the truth here. We can’t avoid these conversations because we feel awkward. We can’t ignore these issues because we’re convinced our kids “would never do that.” We can’t go on pretending that we’re living in the 80s and 90s. Those days are way over, and, parents, the advice that is streaming into your kids’ hearts and minds is wicked and laced with everything that Satan would hope to see happen to your child. Do we really understand how much and how often and how effectively the world is sex educating our kids? There is no more time for being prudish and bashful and childish about sex when it comes to our children. They have to hear the truth from our lips, often, and with conviction. We have to ask questions. We have to be at least as diligent as the strangers at Teen Vogue when it comes to real sex education and teaching our children the very best way to experience sexuality.
We have to teach our kids that one of the greatest gifts of God is the intimacy between a man and a woman who have committed themselves to loving every inch of each other’s heart and soul. We have to teach them that great sex is safe sex, in the arms of the person who has vowed to hold us up when we need it, who has promised that no illness or accident, no outside interest, no schemes of this world will separate us. We have to show them what it looks like to be in love. We have to talk to them over and over and over again about the differences between Teen Vogue‘s versions of sex and God’s great blessing of sex. Most of all, we have to teach them that all this sex talk really isn’t about sex. It’s about obedience to God’s word. It’s about holiness and sanctification and trusting God with their future in all areas, even sex. It may sound cliche. It may make you nervous. It may make your teen roll her eyes. But, whose voice do you really want inside her head when she is faced with a monumental decision about sex: Teen Vogue‘s? Or yours, spouting the truths of God’s word?
I know which one I want ringing in my kids’ ears, so I’ll keep talking. I beg you, parents. Wake up. Protect my kids’ future boyfriends and girlfriends and spouses. Protect the future pastors and engineers and teachers. Show them how to live according to God’s word in the bedroom, on the internet, and everywhere. The Teen Vogues of the world won’t stop. When will you start?
I went to a conference a few years ago and sat in a room with a hundred other women, perched on the edge of my chair with my notebook and pen in hand. A mother of six children got up to speak, looking thin and radiant with her long blonde hair and perfectly made up face. Her clothes were freshly pressed and fashionable, and she had a humble yet confident air about her. She showed us graphic after lovely graphic filled with the brilliant ways that she teaches her children scripture. With the year-long schedules of their family worship times. With gorgeous pictures of her family on mission trips in exotic faraway places, her children lined up in a stair-step row in their crisp white shirts and dresses.
I scribbled like crazy in my notebook, wanting to remember everything this super Christian mom had to say so I could go home and whip my family into spiritual shape. We had no scripture flashcards or carefully cultivated family worship curriculum. We barely had time to say bedtime prayers at night after busy school days and after-school activities. I felt like the world’s most underachieving mother when it came to my kids’ spiritual development because I didn’t have a specific twenty minute time set aside every day to teach my kids how to be a Christian.
I came home overwhelmed. My notebook filled with ideas was tossed in a drawer, and life continued. Crazy, wild, busy, fun life.
Since that time I have learned that I missed the point that day when I tried to soak in all of the wisdom of the super mom. The truth is that I can knock myself out coming up with an amazing family worship hour every day, and I can quiz my kids on Bible verses at every mealtime, and I can tuck Charles Spurgeon quotes in their lunch boxes every day (I do none of those things, by the way), but what they really need from me is all at once simpler and much, much more challenging: they need to see my authentic Christian life.
The truths of God’s word need to be so real in me that I can’t NOT talk about them day in and day out. My faith needs to be so deeply ingrained in me that it informs every situation, every decision, every discussion. And, when that happens, before I know it I have spent a large part of my day with the kids just naturally talking about what the Christian life is all about, who Jesus is, and what the Bible says about things.
No matter where or how formally I try teach my kids how to be Christians, no words I say will ever be as important as they way they see me living on a day to day basis. A carefully crafted lesson about forgiveness means nothing if I hold a grudge against a family member or friend. A lecture about the importance of obeying God’s word is useless if they see me ignoring His commands.
As a mother, I can easily make this faith seem like a joke if I say one thing to my children and then live as if I don’t believe it. They are watching me to try and figure out what Christianity really looks like. And, they don’t care if I have beautifully illustrated Bible flash cards or not. They need to see a changed life. Not a perfect life, but a changed one.
So, you see, I found out that what God has called me to is much higher than lesson planner. I do need to teach my children scripture. I need to give them sound doctrine. But, I can teach these things to my children, as the Bible says, when we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we rise up and lie down. In other words, impressing the things of God on my children is an all-day, every day, life-long pursuit. It is more than a curriculum. It is a way of life.
So, if you aren’t in a phase where family worship hour is a thing that’s really going to happen, take heart. What your kids really need from you is something so much bigger. They need you and your authentic Christian life.
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
I never really expected to be married to a pastor. When Chad and I married, he was a hopeful musician, convinced that he would make it big. Through a series of twists and turns and surprising bends in the road, here we are, three and a half years into his first pastorate.
It’s a wonderful and fun challenge, this ministry life. But, from the very beginning I wondered what it would mean for our kids. I wondered how damaging it would be for them to see us in the forefront, ministering and declaring the truth of God’s word to people, when they would inevitably see us fail at living out those truths at times when we were behind closed doors. I remembered every horror story I had ever heard about pastors’ kids, and I wondered how we were going manage to show them that our faith and devotion is real, even when we fall into sin.
But, this isn’t just an issue for Christian parents who work in ministry positions. All of us should be intentional about the way we live the Christian life in front of our kids. Billy Graham said the hardest place to be a Christian is at home, and I believe he’s right. It’s so easy for us to let our guard down, to let sin and discontent and grumbling and stress get the better of us, even when we really do know that God is in control, that He gives us victory over sin and worry. We’re most likely to rage at home. To be unreasonable. To be ridiculous. To be downright un-Christian.
So, how do we live in a way that strengthens our kids’ faith instead of weakens it?
We can look at our circumstances with spiritual eyes. I remember when I was a teenager I went to the fair with a friend. I had been to this particular fair every year of my life, but I had never experienced it this way. When I looked around, I saw rides, food, people having fun, people spending money. The basics. But, as my friend looked around, he saw spiritual brokenness. He saw all kinds of circumstances that make life hard for people. He saw so many things that I had just never stopped to recognize. I realized that night that there are two kinds of seeing: there is your basic ground-level acknowledgement of what’s going on around you. Then there’s a higher plane, almost like putting on glasses that suddenly reveal the spiritual elements of the circumstances that surround you.
Imagine how our interactions at home would change if we asked God to help us see our various situations with spiritual eyes. Imagine how much more reasonably we would interact with our kids and our spouse, if only we stopped looking at the basics of their circumstances and shifted to trying to see things on a spiritual plane. Maybe we would be more understanding. Maybe we would offer more grace and mercy.
Think of how much less stress we would carry around. How much more joy we would find. Think of how much more often we would stop to praise God. To recognize what He is doing and how He is moving. Our kids wouldn’t see us panicking or worrying ourselves sick. They would see us keeping in the habit of remembering that God is good, He is in control, and He is working.
Think of how much less we would say unkind things about others. How much more we would encourage and think positively. Think of how our actions would be colored by our spiritual sight instead of by our ground-level interpretation of things. Think of how many times we would turn away from sin because our spiritual eyes can see how damaging and hurtful it will be.
It seems to me that if our kids watch us live according to the things that are eternal, the things that really matter, then they will be much more likely to want to have a part in this kingdom-minded, spiritually-sighted faith.
So, how do we get this spiritual vision?
Three things will help us: Bible study, prayer, and church life. How can we know God’s vision unless we read His words? How can we understand what belongs on the spiritual plane? We must get to know God and His word before we will be able to see things with spiritual eyes.
If we want to see things differently, we have to ask Him to give us vision. We should pray and ask Him to help us see beyond the basics, to understand the underlying spiritual implications of our circumstances and the circumstances of those around us. We should ask Him to help make our home one that is ruled by the spiritual gifts and not by emotions or attitudes.
And, we need a church family so that we can serve together, love together, and support each other. My family isn’t the only example my kids need. They need to know other Christian families and watch them interact so that they will better understand all of the ways to faithfully live out the Christian life. Not every family will do so in the way that ours does. And, it’s good for them to see that there are lots of different ways to use gifts, to glorify Him in our families and among our community.
There is no question that as Christians we are going to mess up. Becoming parents or a ministry family doesn’t suddenly make us perfect. I don’t think our kids expect us to be perfect, but they should and probably do expect us to see things from a spiritual perspective. It’s my prayer that as each day passes we are gaining clearer spiritual eyesight, and as we do, hopefully our kids will follow along after us like I did at the fair all those years ago, amazed that God is showing them a whole world of truth that they had never even noticed before.
A couple of weeks ago, Marie Claire magazine ran a story entitled, “Inside the Growing Movement of Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids.” The article is filled with testimonials from women who say that motherhood is really, really hard. They say that they are forced to put these little people first, to take care of them, to deal with the “mental clutter” of birthdates and weights and doctors’ appointments and allergies. One 60 year old woman even claimed that having her two children was the biggest regret of her life, adding, “I know my life would have been much happier and more fulfilled without children.”
Another woman describes how she wanted to abort her baby, but didn’t due to family pressure. After years of therapy, she still regrets having become a mother and sees her now 22 year old daughter “growing, exploring, taking off on a whim.” Still, she can’t find joy in seeing her daughter’s independence: “I can’t help but think she’s living my life.”
It all sounds like a scene right out of Mommie Dearest.
Yet, I understand in some respect where these women are coming from. Because, let’s face it: motherhood IS really, really hard. It challenges us in ways that we have never been challenged before. It causes us to experience emotions on levels that we didn’t know existed. Motherhood is the ultimate exercise in dying to self, in laying your life down for a friend.
And, that’s not the kind of thing we’re good at anymore.
Everything about the human mentality changed when, as a whole, we stopped living with the next life in mind and started living for this one. Not so long ago, when the Christian faith was welcomed into most realms of our society, its influence was easily demonstrated in the way that people treated each other. In the value placed on sacrifice, honesty, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, and selflessness.
Eternal things have lost their significance in many hearts and minds, and people are forging ahead through the human experience with “you only live once” as their only mantra. Why do things that are difficult? That make you unhappy? they ask. Boring marriage? End it. Inconvenient pregnancy? End it. Want a girl? Take her. Want something someone else has? Take it. Children cramping your style? Resent them bitterly. Boss disrespecting you? Quit. Someone say something you don’t like? Humiliate them.
The list could go on. As a society we have completely forgotten what goodness looks like. What does it matter how we live here on earth if there’s nothing to hope for in the next life? Despair is what I see when I see abortion statistics. When I see yet another shooting. When I see mothers who can’t even find any joy in the incredible blessing of motherhood. In desperation, our world is grabbing for any tiny bit of happiness that it can find. And, being godless, hopeless sinners as we are, we tend to look for that happiness in the worst possible things. In selfish ambitions. In disgusting habits. In horrifying cruelty. Abortion. Pornography. Drugs. Sex. Bullying. Hate. Money. And so many other things that are guaranteed to leave us empty and cold and more desperate than ever.
Despair is so terrifyingly real when you are without Christ.
You don’t live just once. There will literally be hell to pay for so many.
All the more reason for those of us who have the hope of Christ to live that way. We should be the last people clinging to government as the great hope for mankind. We should be the last ones making cruel comments on social media. The last ones supporting sex trafficking and killing our own marriages by watching pornography. We should be the last ones enjoying entertainment that curses God. We should be the very last people on this earth to place happiness on a higher plane than Godliness.
In the face of such despair in our world, let us be the ones who consistently point to Christ, through our attitudes, through our self-sacrifice, through our acknowledgement that there is so much more than this one minuscule life. Are we truly set apart?
But you are the ones chosen by God,
chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people,
God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him,
to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—
from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. 1 Peter 2:9-10 (MSG)
One of things that caused me to fall in love with Chad was his words. He has written, sung, and spoken all kinds of words to me and about me over the years. I remember all the late nights, sitting up with my dial-up internet, waiting for his words to mysteriously find their way to me across the interweb. Love was new. Heck, the internet was new. And, I could have lived on one sweet word from him for weeks.
But, I didn’t have to. He was an extremely prolific communicator, and I loved every little syllable of his sweet letters, his love songs, his late night phone calls that he couldn’t really afford because long distance used to be a thing.
After two years of complete infatuation and a passionate cross-country romance, we were married. Suddenly, we lived not only in the same state, but in the same city. In the same house, even. There wasn’t an abrupt end to the sweet words. But, something new had been introduced into our lovey-dovey existence: criticism. Before marriage, we seemed to be blind to each other’s faults. We glossed over every imperfection and excused away the little annoyances that might have otherwise caused an issue. But, now we were sharing life. Quarters were close. The air conditioning didn’t really work. The house was old and creaky and quite scary. And, we were quick to point out each other’s flaws.
I had spent our two years of dating allowing Chad’s overblown ideas of me define who I was. I had gradually and rather innocently let his opinions about me (which were much too generous in so many ways) tell me who I was. His words had given me a great sense of confidence, of worth, of belonging. In fact, I had let his words become more important to me than God’s word. I believed it when I read in the Psalm “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” yet I believed it more when Chad said so. Chad told me that I was special, that I was worth sacrificing for, that I was love-able and precious. And, that mattered more to me than anything that God had said about me. It was okay, right, since they were saying basically the same things?
The trouble came when Chad and I had been married long enough for the criticism to begin. It didn’t happen often, and it wasn’t harshly stated, but little by little we both began to see that the perfection we saw in each other while dating was wearing away. Beneath that best-foot-forward, we learned, were just two people, as imperfect as anyone else. And, because I had placed Chad’s words on such an impossibly high pedestal, when any kind of criticism came, it cut me to my core.
I had lived by his compliments and praise, and I was dying by his criticism, however slight.
I had gotten my God focus all out of whack, and I had allowed Chad’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions about me to take precedence over God’s. I had forgotten that my sense of worth should never, ever be dependent on another flawed human being, but on the God of the Universe, my Savior, my Creator. He tells me that I am loved, created for a purpose, intricately designed and deeply known. He tells me that He knows everything about me–even my thoughts that are too awful to utter aloud, and that He loves me anyway.
It was unfair and spiritually damaging for me to lay in Chad’s lap all of the things that only God can give me. Chad can help guide me to be more Christ-like, he can encourage my gifts, he can direct me toward better things and the best things. He can help me know God better. But, he can’t be my sole source of confidence, strength, worthiness, and love. If I try to force him into that role, it leads to spiritual devastation and a marriage that is ruled by the fear of rejection.
By the time we had been married for a few years, I had begun to learn what it means to be well loved by your husband. It means words of all kinds: some sweet and generous, some honest and painful. Chad has taught me a lot about myself over the years, and I’m so grateful for a husband who loves me enough to encourage me to grow, and who loves me enough to be blind to some of my most glaring faults. True love is such a great, life-giving blessing. But, I try from day to day to remember that as much as I love or hate Chad’s words, none should mean more to me or speak louder to me than the words of Jesus Christ. Jesus says I am purified, adored, imperfect, but being perfected. And, He loves me like no other. I owe Him my greatest attention and my deepest heart connection.
When I have my spiritual priorities in order, then I can be a wife who is confident in her true value, not one desperately looking to her husband to make her feel worthy or loved. It’s exhausting to be wrecked by every opinion that your husband hints at. Jesus said that if we come to Him when we’re weary and burdened, He will give us rest. When I rest in Him and His unmatched love, then I find that I can rest comfortably in the amazing marriage that He has blessed me with. I can focus on loving Chad and enjoy being loved by him, knowing that neither of us is perfect, and that’s really okay. Because we have Jesus, and He is always, always making everything new.
I vividly remember, sitting in our living room one night at the ripe old age of 16, trying to teach my dad a thing or two about Christianity. We spent many late nights during that phase discussing a whole world of Christian zeal that my youth group had introduced into my life. The man has patience like I’ve never seen, and although I’m sure he would’ve loved to roll his eyes at me, he never did. He listened, and then he talked. And, then he listened more as I tried to enlighten him out of my vast life experience.
On this particular evening, I was fresh off a stint at youth camp, so I was in ultimate super godly girl mode. I had been riding the emotional high of an experience that was catered to me for an entire week, and I came home prepared to explain to my dad just how the Christian life ought to be. The whole of life, for Christians, I argued, should be a mountaintop experience.
I’m not sure exactly where I picked up that phrase, mountaintop experience. But, I was pretty sure I had just had one. I felt like Moses. I was certain that I had just seen God, right there in the middle of Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Great Adventure” album, which played on a continuous loop at camp. I had had an experience. An encounter. And, I had no intention of ever going back to my old ways or being satisfied with the usual day-to-day, trigonometry getting me down type of existence.
I told my dad so.
He laughed. Gently, in a kind, but slightly pitying type of way. Looking back on it now, I recognize the fatherly sorrow in his patient chuckle and heavy sigh. He must’ve been thinking of all the life that I had yet to live. He knew that heartbreak was coming. That life would knock me down. That my own sin would trip me up again and again. He knew that not every day of Christianity is a glorious, shining example of how to live for Christ. Some days are just putting one foot in front of the other, holding onto to a thin thread of hope in what Jesus said, even when it looks like nothing good could possibly be around the bend. My dad, a man who had buried his mother when he was only 17, who had already watched his father and his brother die. He sat there, looking into the face of his slightly arrogant teenaged daughter, knowing that the human existence is filled with never-ending pitfalls, some of which will shake your faith to its very core.
I have learned it now, Dad.
I have learned that no one can stay there, hidden away on the top of the mountain with God forever. Not even Moses could do it. Eventually he had to come back down and deal with the huge pain in the neck called the Israelites. He got so mad about their disobedience that he threw down the tablets that God had written for him, the tablets that had been so precious a little while ago on the mountain that he had carried them with tender care all the way down, floating on the wings of a glorious encounter with God. Suddenly they lay in pieces at the feet of the idolators. Moses’ mountaintop experience didn’t last three minutes after the realities of his life punched him in the gut. Imagine how often during his wanderings with those stiff-necked people that he closed his eyes and tried to remember what it felt like there, on the mountain, when his singular focus was God and His word. When he wasn’t having to deal with stubborn people or his own tendency to fail.
And, every once in awhile, I’ll bet he could do it. I’ll bet he could remember exactly what it felt like, trembling there in the presence of the God of the Universe, completely consumed by His goodness, His might, His love. And, the memory of that very real encounter sustained him. It kept him going. It kept him humble. And, it reminded him of the truth of God’s promises.
I still have a mountaintop experience here and there. I still have moments when I feel His presence in such a real way that it changes me. I have days when I feel like I have seen His face. But, the rest of life? Well, it’s more like a series of valleys. Some peaceful and serene. Some stormy and tumultuous. Most somewhat unremarkable. I see now that my dad was right. All of the Christian life can’t be a mountaintop experience. But every single day, no matter how amazing or how horrific, can be lived with hope, because His promises are true, even when we are stumbling.
I’m grateful for times on the mountain with a good and gracious God, and when I feel like I’m bogged down in the valleys of the Christian life, I close my eyes and remember how real He is. How close my encounters with Him have been. And, I thank God for the hope that no one can ever snatch me out of His hand. I have been a mountaintop climber and I have been a valley dweller. And, I have learned, Dad. I have. God is just as real in the low places.
I have always been one of those drivers who won’t stop for gas.
I’m not sure where that trait came from. My mom is certainly a gasser-upper. If the needle goes below a half a tank, she starts looking for someplace to pull in and fuel up. Meanwhile, I’m cruising around town with a little digital gauge blinking in red: 0 MILES TIL EMPTY!, and I think, Aww, I’ve still got a little more time.
I think it’s partly because I’m thrifty. I just hate spending money on something as un-fun as gasoline. It seems so much less interesting than, say, a pair of shoes.
It’s also partly because I hate being cold. So, if there’s a wind blowing, if it’s wintry or even just kind of fall-y or sometimes if it’s one of those summer days where the shade is particularly shady, then I will put off stopping just to avoid the inevitable chill that I’ll have to endure. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to cold. Or cool. Or hot with too much shade.
You’re probably thinking that I drive around with no gasoline because I’ve never run out before. Not so. I remember the first time I was stranded on the side of the road. I was with a group of friends from high school, and the boy who was driving us around in his mother’s minivan failed to get gas before we started for home from a neighboring town. Before we knew it, we were out in the middle of nowhere, stuck in the black of a late Texas night. I don’t even remember how we got his dad there with a can of gasoline. But, I do know that every horror story I’d ever heard about high school kids and broken down cars came back to me while we waited for someone to rescue us. You would think that alone would’ve curbed my urge to coast around on fumes.
But, fast forward 20 years, and there I was in the pick up line at my daughter’s school. The line was long. I sat in my van, inching forward every few minutes while I watched my gas gauge go from 8 MILES TIL EMPTY to 2 MILES TIL EMPTY. Right about the time it hit 0 MILES TO EMPTY, I was still a good 100 yards from the front of the line. I started sweating profusely. I could just picture myself, with my crusty minivan in a sea of shiny SUVs, sitting in the line with my hazards on, holding up the entire school pickup process after my car finally sputtered to a dead stop.
So, I pulled out of the line, parked my van, and called Chad to come and bring me some gas.
It was one of the more humbling moments of my life. If you’ve never had to make an I’ve-done-something-so-stupid-you’re-never-going-to-let-me-live-it-down phone call to your husband, count yourself blessed. It’s rough.
Thankfully, he showed up. He put the gas in my car. And, he only laughed about it for a few weeks. Months. Okay, so he’s still laughing about it. Especially the part where I had to wave to all the teachers, the principal, and lots and lots of parents while Chad poured the fuel into my tank. It’s pretty hard to hide the truth of why you’ve been nonchalantly hanging in the parking lot for so long once the gas can shows up.
The truth is that this talent for denying my empty tank shows up in my Christianity, too. I am so good at faking it like I’ve been putting God’s word into my heart every day. I can convince myself that I have open communication with Him when I haven’t sat down to pray in quite some time. But, eventually, it becomes obvious that I haven’t stopped for fuel. When I find myself saying things that I have to call and apologize for later. When I realize that I’m being motivated by a desire for my own glory and not God’s. When I start feeling superior. When I can’t control my tongue or my thoughts or my attitude.
Before I know it, I’m stranded. And, all of the effort I’m putting into looking the part is just a waste of time and energy.
I can’t live the Christian life without the very words of God in my heart and His praise on my lips. Otherwise it’s all just posturing and posing, like standing next to a race car with the keys in your hand, knowing eventually everyone will realize that the car doesn’t run.
You’re wondering if I’ve been reformed since my school pickup incident. Sadly, no. I still drive the car until it’s about to give up the ghost. I suppose the next time I’m sitting in the middle of a black Texas night on the side of the road, I’ll wonder why I do this. Until then, may the miles be ever in my favor.