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.

A Father’s Love

I remember my dad smelled like a mixture of Certs and greasy flannel, with a hint of cigarette smoke that lingered, but mostly tried to remain unnoticed.  I realize that this probably sounds revolting, but in my memory, it is simply the scent that continues to represent my father, and if I could smell it once more, I would probably try not to complain so much about the smoke.  Or perhaps, knowing what I know now, I would be even more vocal in my contempt for his smoking habit.

My dad was mistaken for a homeless person more than once in his life.  Someone once gave him a cash donation outside a grocery store.  On the contrary, he was actually a fairly successful, self-employed machinist whose job necessitated that he, well, dress like a homeless person.  Each night, when he headed off to work at a friend’s machine shop, he’d don a grungy flannel shirt that would return home even grungier the next morning, leaving a trail of sharp metal chips across the living room floor that my three younger siblings and I had to pull out of our bare feet on more than one occasion.

Lest it sound like I am complaining about my father, it needs to be stated that I was a daddy’s girl.  He worked a lot—too much, in fact—but, I longed to spend time with him.  I learned to love some of the things he loved and then we would share them—like Krystal’s hamburgers, the local oldie’s station, fishing, and talk radio.  Occasionally, I was allowed to go to work with him, late at night, where I learned to de-burr and sandblast metal machine parts and made photocopies of my hand.

I was barely a senior in high school when Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.  I literally wanted to die the night my parent’s told me.  I couldn’t imagine life without him.  I couldn’t imagine what it would do to my family.  But I also couldn’t foresee what God would do in my life.  Like the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, he was creating new life even through my dad’s sickness and subsequent death just nine months later.

I believe that it was only because of my desperation (and ultimately God’s sovereign plan, of course) that I began to cry out to God at all, and thankfully he had already placed in my life a good friend who had previously placed his faith in Jesus as his Savior.  He had found hope and life in him years before, even as I was running in the opposite direction.  He began to pray with me as I prayed that God would heal my father.  He led me to the Bible for answers and to his church, which eventually became my church.  He prayed with me one night after a youth conference, nearly 12 years ago, as I received Jesus for my own.  Much later, he made me his bride and together we set out on an adventure that continues to this very moment.

Last week, an old friend’s younger sister (who was only 26) entered eternity after losing a three-month battle with cancer (although it can be argued that she did not lose in that she also knew Christ during her life, and, in fact, knows him much more fully now).   At first, I found myself solely sympathizing with her family, but then I also began to relive some of my own pain in losing my dad.  It has been a difficult week of reflection as old wounds were reopened.  I can say, however, that I no longer expect that I will ever know why I had to lose my dad, especially at such a crucial time in my life.  And I don’t think that I will ever become comfortable with the pain of losing someone so close to me.  What I can see, perhaps more easily now than ever, is God’s incredible grace and love for me in what were the darkest days of my life.  I can say with Old Testament Joseph, that what Satan “meant [for] evil against me . . . God meant it for good,” (Gen. 50:20).  It was because of his goodness towards me that I had the strength to face my dad’s funeral and the difficult days that followed, as an infant follower of Jesus—embarrassingly immature in my faith, but beginning to recognize through tears the face of the Father who would never leave, who would always be with me.

And all these years later, I’m still learning to love the things he loves.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  1 John 3:1

Don’t Miss the Point: Thoughts on the Christmas Holiday

Christmas TreeI’m really struggling with this whole holiday/Christmas tree debate. In principle, I completely agree that the large, plastic plant propped up in the corner of our living room, nearly obstructing the view of the television and tempting the cat with its dangling bobbles, has always been (at least in more recent history) a Christmas tree. I don’t figure I’ll ever call it anything else.

For those on the outside of Christianity, however, a trend has emerged to refer to it as a “holiday tree.” This allows those who don’t celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ to center their activities around a symbol of family togetherness and to decorate their family rooms with stylish, seasonal décor, just in time for all of those “holiday” parties. Seen in this light, who wouldn’t want to vacuum up dying pine needles for the entire holiday season?

Do I think it’s logical that nonbelievers would want to co-opt a religious holiday and then strip it of all spiritual significance? I really don’t get it. I’ve never celebrated a Jesus-centered Diwali. It would make no sense! But here’s the real issue: those who insist on celebrating the holidays, decorating holiday trees, or hosting holiday parties, are offering believers a glimpse into their hearts. I would guess that the majority of the time, someone using these terms would be communicating, “I don’t believe in the One you call Savior. I don’t celebrate his birth. I celebrate a secularized version of your holiday, chock full of all the reindeer, presents, family, and eggnog anyone could stand. I just don’t worship your Jesus.”

Does this make me want to respond with a superior attitude, burn their “holiday” cards in a ceremony on the front lawn, or boycott their stores? No! I must feel sorrow for anyone who has not yet come to know Christ as I have. It wasn’t long ago that I was in the same position, arrogantly denying that I needed a Savior or a Lord. Perhaps in my lostness, I still celebrated a religiously inspired Christmas, and even made an annual appearance in a church where I listened to a reading of the Christmas story and sang a few hymns about shepherds and angels and the birth of a mysterious baby. Could I have then been any better off spiritually than those who simply refuse to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas?

So how do we live out the love of Christ at Christmas time, in the midst of a barrage of ever-increasing “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings?” First, if you happen to be a recipient of such warm wishes, realize a friendly gesture for what it is and strike up conversation with the person. Then, look for an opportunity to share about the birth—and death and resurrection of Jesus, which indeed centered around a different tree altogether. First Peter 3:15 warns, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Look at the holiday/Christmas discussion as a means for sharing God’s love for the world with those who do not yet know his grace. And don’t get hung up on all of the seasonal tradition and terminology.