Love in Monsoon Season

This is my second cake picture in a row. I must really like cake.

(An Anniversary Post)

“One day Jesus was teaching his disciples.  He said to them, everyone who hears my words and obeys them is like a wise man that builds his house on a rock.  When the rains fall, and the floods come, and the winds blow, it stands, because it was built on the firm foundation.  Everyone who hears my words and does not obey them is like a foolish man.  When the rains fall, and the floods come, and the winds blow, the house is destroyed, because it was not built on the firm foundation.”  (Matthew 7:24-27)

Eight years ago, my husband and I said “I do” to a lifetime of infinite joy with one another.  Oh, and there might have been something about sickness, death, and various other troubles in the pastor’s sermon, too.  That morning, however, as I stood before our church in my beautiful, beaded white dress and veil, only the cliché, pure, unadulterated bliss of our shared future was on my mind.

Fast forward to ‘Year Five,’ if you have the guts.  In our household, the phrase ‘Year Five’ refers to what is still remembered as our most difficult year of marriage (the term “Year from Hell” is an acceptable variant title).  It truly is by God’s grace alone that our marriage survived that year of work overload, ineffective and rare communication, reverse culture shock, frequent (and lengthy) visits from relatives, loneliness due to our lack of a biblically-based support system, a windstorm, followed four months later by an ice storm (during which our son was born), and a colicky infant who, for ten months would only go to sleep if he was tied onto me.  There were days when I honestly wondered whether we would ever make it through the storm.

‘Year Five’ literally lasted the entire year, roughly from one anniversary to the next.  Suddenly, though, it was as if the worst had passed, and then slowly and methodically we were able to clean up our lawn.  Isaiah’s acid reflux had healed and he was finally able to sleep through the night in his own bed.  My husband began teaching another grade level and returned to his original workload.  Our sentences became longer and less tense than, “Where’s the paci?  Somebody find a paci . . . now!”  We talked about all of the things we couldn’t even think to discuss over the past year.  We threw out the houseplant that had died during our icy week without electricity.

For all of this difficulty, though, nothing can compare to our seventh year of marriage.  This past year has been more joyful than anything  the young, naïve, bride standing before the church could have imagined.  I think that our joy has even been enhanced by our all-too-vivid memories of ‘Year Five.’  God did not simply bring us through those difficulties, but he eventually brought us closer together, using them for good in our marriage (Rom. 8:28).  It is also clear that it was entirely by his grace that we managed to come through “monsoon season,” since we were in no position to make any wise decisions on our own (the combined effect of sleep deprivation and an inconsolable infant seriously outweighs even the most basic ability to reason).  As we began picking up the pieces and got to know one another again, we found that we had grown together in our faith and in our love for one another.  We serve each other better than we did in the early days of our marriage.  We have found a community of believers with whom we can be more open about our struggles and successes.  We have conversations that are deeper and more fulfilling, and are absolutely never, ever, about locating pacifiers (Isaiah outgrew them last summer).  All of this is God’s grace.  A home that might very easily have been destroyed was preserved.

I am no longer naïve enough to believe that placing all of my trust in my husband’s strength or abilities or love is enough.  I have learned, though, that if we both place all of our trust in Jesus, and seek to serve one another in the strength he provides, he gives us grace more abundant than we could ever imagine.  It’s not always easy and I have no doubt that even greater difficulties still await us in future years, but we can make the decision now that we will not place our faith in the appearance of the sky or water around us, our circumstances.  Rather, we can hope in the one who is our foundation, Jesus Christ himself, for unlike us, his love will never fail.

On Turning Thirty . . .

I don’t feel thirty today, but then again, I don’t not feel thirty, either.  I feel a little like the blank look that would cross my face if someone told me that, today, I am the square root of purple.  Then I think about it for a minute, do some basic math and realize that indeed, I am thirty years old.  Yep, thirty.  Once I resign myself to this fact, almost immediately I am barraged with a list of my successes and failures over the course of my life thus far.  It seems that the failures far outweigh the successes.

But I also realize that my favorite memories from these first three decades of my life are, for the most part, intangible.  They are sighs, tastes, songs, all wrapped up in people I love.  They are images somewhat jumbled out of order, like the photographs that lie atop my desk in a disorganized pile.  They are stars in a country sky and a back porch engagement; little bare feet that approach a tranquil Sunday morning bedside, eager to cuddle in between us before the day truly begins; wet clay under fingernails; smudges of newspaper ink on much younger hands; heat, noise, and life on crowded Nairobi matatus; evenings spent in deep conversation at deliciously aromatic coffee shops with college friends, long before I even drank coffee; climbing trees and building nests out of clumps of dried grass clippings, returning inside only when the night air became too cool; chai and curried rice with friends and trying to hold a conversation in multiple languages; gazing down an aisle at my beloved, who might as well have been the only one in the room; living out biblical community with brothers and sisters who dared to bring soup when I thought we all might very well die from the latest stomach virus; hay bales resting out in the fields that line the road home; eating fresh crepes on the streets of Paris with my beloved; heartbeats signaling new lives, mysterious and wondrous and oddly familiar, too; moments of desperate prayer or deep understanding of God’s Word and knowing, knowing that it was for me.

That I remember these moments is evidence of God’s grace.  That they even occurred in the first place is God’s grace, as well.  My failures are many, but God’s grace is sufficient . . . and abundant.  Though I have deserved nothing, he has lavished his love upon me, giving me life without end through Jesus Christ, which is enough success to cancel out my ever-growing list of failures.  If it appears that I should not actually get to count that accomplishment as my own, since it was a gift of God, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and not by my own ingenuity (Eph. 2:8), then my point is evident:  everything good has been by his grace!  Oh, to know more of God’s grace in the years and decades to come!

Identifying with Christ

In keeping with the “Near-Chaos” theme of my life, in which things never quite line up perfectly (I like symmetry, so this really irks me sometimes), or  fall in the correct order (our “Five-Year Plan” was tossed a long, long time ago), or seem sensible in the short-run (gotta remind myself to look at the “Big Picture”), I’m using this space to announce my baptism last Sunday evening (May 23rd).  Actually, the announcement was made for me when a friend of mine posted a picture on Facebook, so I thought I’d add clarification here for anyone who might be confused.

Some of you who have been my church family at different points throughout the past decade may be wondering if I am perhaps insane.  While the story certainly isn’t tabloid fodder, it is an account of God’s grace and faithfulness to bring me to a better understanding of His love for me through Christ.  Below is the testimony I wrote to be read to the congregation by a precious friend before I was baptized:

“Until recently, I had thought that I had come to know Christ as a nine-year-old, when I walked down an aisle, prayed with the preacher, and was baptized.  My family didn’t attend church often, so there was not a lot of follow-up and over time I became angry towards God.   When I was 17, David Alan [now my husband] and I began dating and he asked me to come to church with him.  That fall, my dad was diagnosed with cancer and I began to read the Bible and pray to God to heal him.  The day after my 18th birthday, I attended a youth conference and afterward, David Alan prayed with me as I rededicated my life to Christ.  For many years, I’ve struggled to understand whether I began to follow Jesus at age nine or at 18.  I have come to believe that at nine years old, I made a mental decision to pray a prayer, but that the Holy Spirit was not yet working in my heart, compelling me to place my trust in Christ.  I have come to believe that this was the case when I was 18.  God chose not to heal my dad, and only two months later he died.  I found great comfort during this time in the understanding that God is the Father who is ever-present.  Afterward, I found myself wanting to serve in some way at church and wanting to share Christ with those who did not yet know him.  Over time, I could see that a real change had taken place in my life and things did not seem as hopeless as they had before. 

Since I have recently come to the understanding that I did not truly know Christ until later in my life, I desire to be baptized as a believer.  Though I have been following Jesus for many years, now, I want to be obedient to my Lord and Savior and be baptized as he has commanded, identifying with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection through the act of baptism.”

I had wondered so much about this over the years, until finally, recently, I began to seriously pray that God would lead me to the truth in this matter.  I also read a lot of Scripture and theology, and listened to many online sermons on the subject.   I desperately needed to put an end to these questions and better understand my own story of how I came to know Jesus.  Also, if I was older rather than younger, I recognized that my baptism was out-of-order and had come before I placed faith in Christ.  Believing that baptism adds nothing to salvation (Jesus did it all!), but is an act of obedience to Him to be done after beginning a relationship with Him, I knew that I needed to follow through with it.  I contacted our pastor and began discussing my situation with him, although I already knew what I needed to do. 

In the weeks that led up to my baptism, I experienced everything from fear, anxiety, excitement, peace, happiness, a desire to glorify God in any way necessary, and more terrifying fear (mostly as I tried to fall asleep at night).  However, after my baptism, as I hurriedly dried off, I knew a peace deeper than I could ever remember in the past and the sheer joy of knowing that God had faithfully brought me through such a difficult thing, and graciously provided me the strength to be obedient to His command. 

By the time the picture was posted online, I found myself praying that God would somehow be glorified by His faithfulness to me in my weird little situation.  Even if that meant that the picture would be posted to all of my Facebook friends’ news feeds.  Even if that meant that I would need to blog about it.

Sometimes obeying God means doing some seemingly crazy things . . .