Thursday, February 25, 2016

why we wait for love

And now these three remain: faithhope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
-1 Corinthians 13:13

I'm feeling nostalgic about my husband. It's the result of several things happening at once in my life. First, Morgan and I are speaking at a marriage retreat this weekend, so of course, I'm dwelling on all the reasons our love is bringing life to our souls. Then yesterday I had a few extra minutes before a meeting, so I went into Hallmark and looked at some cards about marriage and friendship. Hallmark knows what they're doing, man. I left there with cards I didn't know I needed and a new found tenderness about life-in-general. 

But the thing undoing my heart the most is this: Morgan and I are stressed and strained with too many responsibilities in this current season, and we are clinging to each other. The storms of life can drive you apart or together, and we have found that together is a lot of hard work, but always preferable.

When we met twenty-two year ago, I would never have guessed we would end up like this.

Back then I was just eighteen and he was nineteen, and like all good American college freshmen, we knew everything important about life except the actual important things.  

We were at a mutual friend's apartment. He was sitting by his cute girlfriend, playing guitar, and thinking nothing particularly nice about me. (Actually, he was thinking the really short shorts I paired with an overtly Christian sweatshirt indicated some Spirit/flesh hypocrisy on my part. I think he judged me and so God made him marry me later. Let that be a warning to all the earnest single men of the world.)

Basically, it was more disinterest at first glance than love at first sight.  

But friendship grew, he broke up with his girlfriend, and somehow, we became favorite friends for six years despite my morally questionable California style.

There are many reasons and factors that added up to six years of heart blindness. But the truth of the matter is that waiting is easy compared to choosing forever.  

It takes courage to look at another person and believe his words that say "yes" when your insecurity fears there is a "no" lurking around the corner.

My mind knows he loves me, he will never leave me, and he is my forever love. But it has taken time, and a lot of hard work in my soul, for the dull and dusty ruts of fear to sprout and grow with the seeds of love.

A ministry that no one thinks can survive, a campus no one thinks will be reached, a church that is limping after a long history of trials, a girl who fears she is not worthy of love. These are the kinds of things he chooses. It is a mercy that this man of mine has an eye for a lost cause, a diamond in the rough, and a massive challenge all rolled into one. 

I will always be glad I waited for the best person and the right moment to let love bloom. Mostly because waiting while we were single was good practice for all the waiting we have had to do while married. All of life is pregnant with expectation, and the best joys take time to fully develop before they can be born fully alive in our lives.

Fifteen years of marriage, and we are still often waiting on love. We can hope for it and have faith that God will fill us with it, because love wraps itself around us and fills us to the brim the very purposes of God. 

And in the end, the thing that makes us most tender, most in love with each other, and most fulfilled in our daily life is the closeness of our God. He is the one who has eternal patience with us, loving us in our mess and brokenness, and bringing people to us for the simple purpose of exalting love in the world like a triumphant banner of victory. (Even if we are sporting some too-short shorts.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

let's be adventurous

Yesterday we packed up some snacks and drove to the Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. We've been studying WW2, and wanted to put some skin on the stories. The museum didn't disappoint.

As we entered, a grey-haired man in a museum vest looked my kids and said, "I'm so glad you came today. This place is here for you." Then he looked at me and Morgan and thanked us for bringing them to see the display.

He treated us like heroes for driving in from Austin. But I knew what he meant. He wanted the story of his generation to be told and understood by the next generation. Someday it will be their job to carry the weight of what their great-grandparents survived.

We read about the politics of America, China, and Japan leading into the war. We saw tanks and guns and yellow telegrams expressing the deepest kind of regret. We went through rooms explaining the individual battles. War is terrible, and yet, we can never know what the world would be like if that generation hadn't suffered and sacrificed like they did.

I was simultaneously struck with a hope that my life could accomplish something meaningful, and the desire to become Amish and forget that the world is so full of conflict.

Then I noticed my daughter was falling asleep on the museum floor, so I decided to take her across the street to a cute shop we saw on our way in. I bought a dress because it was on sale and it was very adventurous for me in bright pinks and mustard yellow. My preferred palette is usually black and grey- you can take the girl out of LA but you can't take LA out of the girl. Also, I hate standing out. It makes me nervous.

But I needed something adventurous to wear to a marriage retreat this weekend. We're going to gather with a few hundred of our favorite married people and learn about adventure in marriage.

Adventure is not easy for me. The dress helps.

It takes a great deal of internal pep talking for me to get excited about adventures. And I'm pretty sure I lack the proper traveling clothes. I think I need the ones in the Sky magazine on the plane. Those black silky dresses are never supposed to wrinkle or get dirty in any way. How do they do that, by the way? Those dresses are like a suit of armor that can never be ruined, even on the longest flight with small children who dump goldfish and cranberry juice all over you when the turbulence hits record highs.

But this weekend, I just need something that says, "Let's do something daring!" because my heart will be saying, "Let's stay home and read a book!" The right clothes help stoke the fire within me to slay the dragon, triumph on a grand quest, step into faraway and mysterious lands, or take on life's greatest adventure: making a meaningful life with the person you promised to love forever (even when they drive you crazy).

This marriage adventure is a doozy. It's challenging to do it well. Especially if you're not a natural adventurer.

I'm typically more of a You've Got Mail kind of girl. I'll stretch my comfort zone and watch Sliding Doors occasionally. I like to read Emily Bronte, F Scott Fitzgerald, and Jane Austen- not exactly authors who penned adventures of grand scope. I do enjoy Alan Bradley, though, even if Flavia's daring acts do give me anxiety attacks. Maybe there's hope for me after all.

Deep down in our souls, in the place that heroic love springs forth to baptize us with its refreshing waters, we are so brave. On the shores of that Soul Kingdom, we can be like the Greatest Generation. We can do the impossible, endure the sacrifice, win the battle, and hope to build a better world.

Because there's One who was the Greatest of All Generations, and He is cheering us on. He is clothed in shining garments and when we drink of His cup, we are never thirsty again. He weeps at what the terrors of war have done to the people of the world. He has clothed us in garments of righteousness that can never wrinkle or stain or fade. He stands at the end of time, when all the pain and suffering that selfishness and cruelty have brought upon us will be swallowed up in Perfect Love forever.

The truth is, our greatest adventure is Jesus himself. May we make Him glorious with every movement of our being.

Monday, February 15, 2016

when darkness means love

Just north of Austin there’s a 30,000 year old limestone cave that’s been turned into a tourist attraction. A friend of mine organized a group tour for a bunch of families, and we couldn’t resist the excuse to take a day off of homeschooling and call it a “field trip”. Besides, there were enough of us going to warrant discounted admission, so how could we say no?

The unfortunate truth is, I was grouchy that day. I can’t really explain the cause of my prickly attitude. I could say I was tired, or hormonal, or stressed out by the long to-do list of my life. But I’m also a grown-up. You’d think self-control and perspective would come in a package deal with years of our lives, but it doesn’t.

So when we walked into the waiting area for the tour, which was actually a giant gift shop, a fire started in my immature bones. My kids went berserk for bags of fool's’ gold, uncracked geodes, and personalized flashing light up keychains. I just went berserk.

“Mom! Look! A mood ring. Isn’t it cool?”

“Let me try it on,” I said. “Well, my mood is GROUCHY, so that must be what blue means.”

“Um...okay," he said. (Awkward pause in which my child stared at me like a lion in a cage.) Then he said, "Let’s go buy it!”

So we did. We bought the ring and a geode. Then the tour guide gathered us up and we entered the cave.

We followed a path into room after room of damp rock. I chatted with my friends along the way, keeping my gnarly emotional state distracted with catching up on kids’ schedules, trips to be taken, projects to be done. This is the best survival skill of the introvert on a bad day: keep the other people talking and hide in your own head.

Then, halfway through the tour, the guide announced that it was time to experience total darkness. All I could think was, I’ve been there before, lady. In fact, I think I’m actually already there now. My tendency to get a little overly dramatic is both part of my charm and what makes my husband bang his head against the wall when I treat our perfectly normal life like a Bronte tragedy.

“There are two rules in total darkness,” she said. “One: No moving. The rock formations don’t disappear with the light, and you could hurt yourself. So stand still. And two: NO SCREAMING.”

We all nodded in submission to the rules, and one second later every light in the cave went out. The guide told us to put our hand in front of our face. None of us could see it. It was completely silent and the darkest dark in all the world. I tilted my head back and tried to absorb the terrifying nothingness. I took a long, slow breath through my nose and begged God to help me remember what this was like later.

Because somehow, total darkness was exactly what I needed that day.

I pressed the words of Psalm 139 in between the pages of the memory I was creating there in the pitch blackness of the cave: “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,  for darkness is as light to you.” 

I willed my soul to acknowledge that even this kind of darkness wasn’t dark at all to the God who is Light.

I thought, this is the point of life, the reason we get up every day and try to be kind even when we’re grouchy. It’s why we drag our broken hearts out on blind dates with perfect strangers when our mom’s coworker fixes us up. It’s why we go to work and then send our money to Africa to feed children we will never meet instead of blowing that cash on overpriced designer coffee. It’s why we get married and promise to love an imperfect person who could ruin us with one error in judgement. It’s why we forgive that person when they are a supreme and total jerk at 2am when the washing machine has flooded the downstairs. It’s why we have children and love them more than we can bear, despite their talent for making us crazy with their insistence to be a separate person with naive and foolish opinions of their own.

We have to learn to be still and quiet, avoid the giant rock formations, and, hope, love

But the greatest of these is Love. And love was what I was absorbing in total darkness. Even there, at the heart of my snarky mood-ring attitude and overly dramatic view of life, I was worthy of God's Love.

When we walked up out of the cave we bought some more geodes before we went home. I still felt grouchy. But I didn't mind it so much.

I thanked God for the darkness, even though it's not dark to Him. I focused on being still and quiet so I could remember the Love.

Monday, February 8, 2016

grace means goodness

I woke up and found the pot of leftover, homemade spaghetti sauce from last night still sitting on the stove. Failure and waste waved its hand good morning at me.

I stumbled around fixing coffee, tired after a stormy night. Two children had cried out for comfort when the thunder boomed and woke them up. Now the dog was whining aggressively at my feet with a ball she wanted thrown. 

A vintage typewriter loudly clacked away as one kid practiced spelling every word related to toilets he knew.

The kids had every light on in the house and it was so bright I thought I was going blind.

Someone punched someone else for sitting in his "spot". Everyone had 2,754 things to tell me. I was spreading Nutella for one kid before I had the chance to take my own cup of coffee and learn to be human again.

Can a girl get a redo at 8am?

I was pretty sure it might be an Airstream kind of day.

On Airstream days I shop for cute vintage travel trailers online. I calculate how much money we would have to save to live a nomad life, camping at beaches and on mountainsides all over North America. I imagine homeschooling under the striped pop out awning after collecting shells at Doheny beach or pine cones in Banff. Since it’s a fantasy, the kids are obedient and love to do all their schoolwork. I have perfectly toned arms and really amazing hair in these fantasies, too, because why not? For an hour or two, I pretend a family of six could comfortably and peaceably live in a tiny silver bubble without being tempted to drive straight off a cliff when no one gets along.

Airstream days are lovely because my dream seems so good it could actually become our real life. We could cruise away, unencumbered by responsibilities and callings and the expectations people and God toss at us while we swing away like my boys at batting practice. I become part hippy, part nomad, and part Chris Farley ala Matt Foley, ready to live "in a van down by the river!"

Except a promise I made twenty years ago contrains me, binds me, and draws me back to reality. Faith can become a real dream squasher when you've ditched reality in favor of dysfunction.

Jesus asked me to follow Him, and I vowed I would. He isn't leading me to hop in an Airstream and choose my own adventure.

God has led me here, to whiny dogs and bickering kids, to stormy skies and loud clacking typewriters, to a beloved family and a church full of His glory. I live in this house where the leftovers get forgotten, but we are remembered forever by the Maker of all things.

Twenty years of following Him has proven that His goodness blossoms in our willingness to trust and obey. Life makes so much more sense in the rear view mirror. I can see how the darkness that prowled taught me to love His invisible light. I can see how the wounds we suffered drew us closer to Him and to one another. And I can see that I rarely had a proper grasp on how His goodness was overtaking even my own efforts to change the path He chose for me.

The odds are pretty good that His goodness is in the all the mess around me right now, too. It's just hard to detect because of the emotional noise and ridiculously bright lights.

I hope eternity is like an Airstream dream-come-true. We will all of live a happy nomad life on heavenly shores after following Jesus through all the deserts and darkness. Until then, our happiness is bound up in our assurance that God is who He says He is and our ability to follow even when we'd rather run away.

Cheers to Monday, friends. Here's to annoying lights and coffee that takes too long and people who can't get along. Dig in and savor the gospel right in the middle of it all. His grace means goodness.

Monday, February 1, 2016

old enough

I promise it's true: the older we get, the younger we feel.

Which is ridiculous, because we remember middle school like it was yesterday, when we thought thirty was old, forty was ancient, fifty was incomprehensible, and sixty year-olds probably need to just take a nap all the time. Our plan was to be forever young. Growing old seemed about as likely as being abducted by aliens or mastering the moonwalk back then.

And yet, time itself just kept ticking away until we became the world's oldest middle schoolers in the history of the world.

In all honesty, it's the best thing that ever happened to us. Maturity is better than the Beatles, Bono, the Backstreet Boys, or even Bieber (depending on your awkward middle school music experience.)

I suspect it's all the vulnerability we are learning to bravely live. All the shirking of shame; all the scary choices to let love and weakness lead the way. Those choices make us younger as the years pass. It seems impossible, but those of us who have lived this way can bear witness to the miracle.

Youth was full of wonder: wondering what we would become, who we would be, who would find us worthy of love. Wisdom has given us a gift in the years: we have become who we are and we are happy to alive, to be loved, and to not be in middle school any longer.

Sure, our bodies are fading, but our souls are getting brighter. It's easy to miss this storyline of ours when we're running around trying to be enough for the demands of the day. But it's all there in 1 Peter 1:7-9.

"These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

Faith isn't faith if we know how everything's going to work out. Faith looks Hard Luck in the face and names it Amazing Grace.

And vulnerable faith, well, that's faith on steroids. Vulnerable faith knows it can't stop the years from running along at breakneck speed. It doesn't want a cure for aging, it wants joy in the midst of life-as-it-is.

Vulnerable faith is sticking our chins way out there and deciding the punch we haven't taken yet- the one we can't see coming because it's coming at us through the safest door- that punch is going to be the one Jesus uses to change our life and make us more like Him.

Don't say it isn't fair. Fairness is fleeting nonsense, a pish-posh nothingness that will only leave us crooked and full of resentment. Love and forgiveness are never about fairness. We don't want today to be fair- we want eternity to burst with endless belonging.

But to get to eternity, we'll have to get old first. Aging is like passing through customs to get into a new country. Lots of lines and waiting, until suddenly, one day we find ourselves in our thirtieth or fortieth or eightieth year, awestruck at the way youth was fleeting and maturity is like a sun rising and gaining beauty with each tick of the clock. 

This life only keeps getting better. All we do is win, because all we do is love Jesus most of all. 

(But I'd still love to master the moonwalk. A girl's got to have dreams, you know?)