In Pieces

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This is Annabelle’s Valentine to us. “I love you to pieces,” it says. Of course, someone wrote that for her (she’s only three). My thoughts today, though? I wondered if “I love you in pieces” would be more clear in conveying a true love message. At least my message…

Yes. That sounds right. I love you in pieces.

Let me explain.

It started yesterday with Stevie Nicks when her song “Crystal” came to mind. So darn beautiful. And some of the lyrics are so moving. Haunting and stirring all at once.

“Special knowledge, holds true bears believing. I turned around and the water was closing all around like a glove, like the love that had finally, finally found me. Then I knew in the crystalline knowledge of you…”

I’m sure she sings of her love for a man. Here on earth. True love, perhaps. Real love. Because no doubt, these words tell of a woman in love. And it being nearly Valentine’s Day, I’m not surprised the song came to me. Uncanny in its timing.

Thus, it prompts me to look back at my own love story…

And the real love I have for him.

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This picture came from Jason’s step-mom’s house after she’d passed on. Cissy kept the photo in a little white frame shaped like a heart. I kept it on my chest of drawers till the day it was knocked onto the floor. That’s when the porcelain heart shattered into pieces. The heart was broken and the picture came out exposing what lay underneath. It was this image of a slightly younger Jason and me.

But only by a couple of years.

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Truly, this is where our love story began. Here. I met Jason in Georgia and followed him home to North Carolina. I was the visitor who never left. And because of Jason, my man, I met another guy who I later fell in love with. His name?

Jesus Christ.

But the love I feel for Jesus now was slow in coming. Real slow. It didn’t happen 21 years ago when I voiced a prayer in February. Yes, this month marks 21 years since I was saved.

Funny thing is after I said that prayer all those years ago, nothing happened. Nothing miraculous occurred in my heart. Thus, I didn’t really want to tell anyone about it. Because what would I say? What could I say? I prayed a prayer and nothing happened and now I’m going to church.

And I have to chuckle as Stevie Nicks croons, “do you always trust your first initial feeling…” Because if I’d trusted my first initial feeling after praying that “sinner’s prayer,” I would have left church and never looked back. As I said, I didn’t feel a thing. Zilch.

But that was then.

Twelve years later, something did happen in the month of February, though. I’d been a Christian for over a decade and yet, it was the first time I felt a heartbeat. A thudding like I’d never noticed before. It was just before Valentine’s Day and I knew God wanted me to tell my story.

In truth, there wasn’t that much to tell back then. I strung together my words and formed a love story… a picture of a relentless God pursuing me. And finding me. And it was true, as best as I could tell it. But there was so much I didn’t know back then.

So much I couldn’t know.

Frankly, it’s absolutely shocking how much I didn’t know when I opened my mouth twenty one years ago to ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me. Incredible I didn’t know what lay buried inside me the first time I gave testimony of my Lord and Savior nine years ago.

But now, I know.

Now I know truth…

Before you were formed in the body of your mother, I had knowledge of you. Jeremiah 1:5 (BBE)

Today was the first time I read that particular version of the above. And maybe it’s because I was already moved by the lyrics of a soulful singer proclaiming special knowledge, but this Scripture really touched me in a new way. It was so personal.

See, I was a Christian nine years ago when I first gave testimony of Jesus. However, I was stale. In truth, I didn’t really know Him. Not as I do today. So I prayed to. It was roughly eight years ago when I purposed to know Christ. To become more intimately acquainted with Him (Phil 3:10).

And God answered that prayer. He did so in bringing me back to my hometown. Because here, I couldn’t pretend anymore. No, when you’re back to where you came from, all those things you thought you left behind come finding you. They come to the surface.

God had special knowledge of me. He knew what it would take for me to come to know Him, so He brought me home to where the mask came off. And He knew that when I came to know Him, I’d also come to know myself. And this was key to me loving my husband…

I had to know who I was, and am, in order to love Jason the way a wife should.

Yes, may you come to know His love – although it can never be fully known – and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:19

I think back to the young girl I was in the picture Cissy kept. Truth is, I didn’t even know who I was when I married Jason. I had no original thought or direction of my own. I even let the pianist choose a song for our wedding because I didn’t know what I wanted. And I hated it. Though I didn’t know myself, I knew enough to know the song wasn’t me.

Another thing I didn’t know was that I possessed a broken heart. It was shattered into pieces and I hadn’t a clue. Not twenty one years ago when I prayed a prayer, or nine years ago when I gave a testimony, or even as recent as a couple of years ago. Oblivious to what lay inside me.

No, I didn’t know me and I for sure didn’t know I had a broken heart. Thus, there is no way I could love Jason fully. I just wasn’t capable of true love. Not the real, sacrificial kind.

But God knew what I needed. He knew I needed a Savior. And mostly, I needed saving from myself. Thus, He sent His Son. For me. The Spirit of the Lord God was upon Jesus. He was anointed and commissioned… to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted.

To bind up the wounds of my broken heart.

And this is what I can testify to now. Because I know He came for me. He soothed my broken heart. And He’s fixing it piece by piece. That’s why I think the Valentine should say, “I love you in pieces.” Because every single day a piece of my heart finds healing. And every day a piece of me is healed, I’m that much better at loving my man.

I can’t lie… the process has been slow. But every year it gets better. I love my husband more and more and I love him so much better than that broken, young woman ever could have.

Yes, I love Jason in pieces.

Each day, my love for him grows, measured in bits and pieces.

As for the gift of special knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part (for our knowledge is fragmentary and incomplete). But when that which is complete and perfect comes, that which is incomplete and partial will pass away… Now I know in part (just in fragments) but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known (by God). Portions of 1 Corinthians 13

Turns out, my testimony today is not so different than the one I’d given nine years ago. It still tells of a relentless God who pursued me. The One who found me. And when I hear Stevie Nicks sing of the love that finally found her, I can’t help but think of God.

Because not only did He find me, He really saved me. I just couldn’t name what He’d saved me from all those years ago. Because it hadn’t happened yet. I didn’t know Him and I didn’t know me and I didn’t know my broken heart.

But that comes in time. If I convey any message tonight, may it be that. That sometimes, it’s not an immediate fix. Sometimes, it takes years and years. And that’s okay.

One of the most comforting verses in the Bible to me is 1 John 4:16. It says “we have come to know (by personal observation and experience) and have believed (with deep consistent faith) the love which God has for us.”

Come to know isn’t immediate. And that’s how it happened with me. I came to know Him over the course of time. And He loved on me bit by bit. And oh, how He’s been loving on me this past year. Yes, it’s true that God’s healing my broken heart. Only, He does so in bite size pieces. Slowly, He’s mending me through His true love.

His real love.

That’s what He’s doing for me. That’s what He wants to do for you. Because that’s just who He is. He is love.

God is love.

And if you haven’t found this God yet, the One true God who is love, I pray that you do. I pray this Valentine’s Day, you find real love for perhaps the very first time…

Your One True Love.

God showed how much He loved us by sending His One and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

As for me, there’s a little more healing yet to come. Alas, a few broken pieces remain. However, I remain hopeful. Ever hopeful.

And as for Jason, I could definitely love on him better. I still have those days. But it’s coming. Some good full loving is coming. That’s because I have special knowledge of the Lord. Oh, it’s not crystalline. I still look through a mirror dimly. But, I see better than I once did. And now, I know. At least in part, I do.

I know Him.

And I know me.

I’ve come to know us both in pieces.

Bits and pieces.

And with each piece, I love not just my husband better, but the whole wide world…

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

 

The Filling (or Merry Christmas to my husband)

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The filling’s the good part. You know, the stuff that fills pastries and donuts and cakes. At least that’s what my husband likes. No, it’s not salty or savory that tempts him for my man’s got a sweet tooth.

Yep, Jason likes the filling…

He’s especially fond of the fluffy goodness that fills cream horns. Or the gooey, syrupy insides of a chocolate covered cherry. And I can’t forget the thick sweetness that oozes out of a doughnut. That’s good, too. Oh, he likes it.

No, Jason doesn’t ask for much. If I just give my husband some good sugar, he’s happy.

I wonder if that’s what drew him to me in the first place. Because my name, Pamela, is supposed to mean “all sweetness” derived from the Greek words pan (all) and meli (honey). And when we first met, I may have seemed that way.

All honey and pure sugary sweetness…

That’s even what we called each other for the longest time. “Sweetie.” That was my name for him and his for me. Somewhere along the line, though, the name waned…

No, Jason doesn’t call me Sweetie anymore. Nor me him.

Alas, it seemed to fit in my early twenties. Because my insides seemed to be filled with delight. And I thought I was. Filled with goodness, that is. But if I want to be honest, something else dwelt inside me. Something not so pleasant. Bitter, even. And most assuredly, it was dark.

Yep, that’s what filled my insides.

My filling was made up of darkness.

And crazily, I didn’t even know it.

A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Luke 6:43-45

There’s been a lot of “filling” in my life this past month. Eyes filling with tears of frustration. Rooms filling with shouts of rage and stomping feet. Sighs and grunts and scowls and frowns and slams when things don’t go accordingly…

And I’m not talking about my kids here.

No, this has been my behavior. And apparently I’ve been so nasty, my husband didn’t even want to be around me one evening. It seems he’d had enough. As I said, he has a sweet tooth and bitter doesn’t go down easily.

I confess, it hurt when he said something. But sometimes that’s what the truth does. It hurts. And Jason wasn’t loud or mean. He didn’t reflect my own ugliness. Instead, he simply made an observation. And he only did so because I asked what was wrong. And because he doesn’t lie, he told me the truth.

It was my demeanor.

Don’t you know I looked that word up the next day. Turns out it means the outward behavior or bearing. Among others, synonyms are attitude, appearance, conduct.

Basically, Jason called me on my terrible attitude. And that night after everyone else fell asleep, I cried a little. But then I felt mad. Inside, I justified my actions. I was entitled to my bad mood, wasn’t I? Because life is so darn busy… especially for a wife and mother.

It’s all the filling.

The laundry basket continually fills. As does the counter and sink. And emails keep cluttering my inbox while toys keep filling the floor. The calendar is dotted with blotches of ink in the form of unexpected tasks, like doctors and dentists appointments. And let’s not forget Christmas. Because Christmas brings its own truckload of additional things to do. It fills December and the weeks leading up to it…

And all this, usually, is accomplished by the woman.

And so that night, I cried. But then I stewed. And when I crawled into bed, I moved as close to the edge as I could. Nevertheless, Jason’s words wouldn’t leave me. Earlier he’d said, “But you are the mom.”

And he’s right. I am the mom. But more than that, I’m the wife.

I’m Jason’s wife.

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A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands. Proverbs 14:1

This isn’t the first time Jason’s spoken to me about my dark demeanor. He mentioned it over five years ago when he told me I was like an animated corpse. He told me he never knew which wife he was coming home to… the happy Pam or the other one. And he asked me to stop lying to him. Because when I told him I was fine when I wasn’t, I was lying.

As was my typical response, I withdrew in cold anger. And then, there was a lot of self-justification talk inside my brain. But deep down, I knew he spoke truth. Even back then. Because that’s just what my husband does.

Within days of that particular conversation, I heard a Bible teacher speak about a woman in the Old Testament. She was described as the woman who thought she had all her needs met but hadn’t. She was the woman who thought she was fine, but was not.

No doubt, she was a description of me.

At one point, the woman from long ago was asked, ‘Are you all right?” Basically, are you well? She replied everything was. She was all right. In effect, she was complete, well, whole, and at peace. But she most assuredly was not.

It was this teaching that became pivotal in my life. Because from that point on, I began to peer into the dark hole of my heart. And I’ve been wrestling with that darkness ever since.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Last month, I thought I overcame the darkness. See, I attended a very significant weekend retreat. It was a spiritual thing and I placed all my hope in it. I believed that once I walked away from the event, I’d never encounter the dark again.

At least not like I had.

But I did.

Within days I was back to my old self. Dark and bitter and ranting and raving. I was heartbroken. And dare I say it? I was upset with my Lord. Because I believed He led me that way. I believed He promised light.

But light seemed so far away…

And that’s when God spoke truth into my blackened heart. When I was at my darkest.

See, I read the above verse from 2 Corinthians three times in two days. I knew it was a direct invitation from Him for me to read that particular passage of Scripture. And when I did, my eyes were opened.

Because it’s the story of Paul who had a thorn. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to take it away but the answer was no. Jesus said no because His grace was enough…

And that was the first time I realized the darkness may never, ever leave me completely. My epiphany being that the dark may be my thorn. Because I’ve asked the Lord to take it away again and again. Even at that spiritual retreat. I had another pray over me… to take away the darkness and to restore sweetness to my soul.

But today, I’m quite sure He said no. Just as He answered Paul. Because darkness is my particular weakness. It’s my sickness.

The amazing thing, though, is this is the very thing that drives me to Him. And when I go to Jesus, in all my blackness, He lovingly tells me, “My grace is sufficient for you, Pam. For My power is made perfect in your weakness.”

“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” John 11:4

One of my problems is I tend to focus on the wrong things. I become anxious when I stare at an overfull calendar. And I become weary when the filling of baskets and sinks are never ending.

But as Jason said, I am the mom. And he is my husband. Yes, my nest is full but that’s a good thing. My family’s a blessing. Gifts from God for He fills my life with good things (Psalm 103:5).

If only I would focus on what truly matters. Like them. And cuddles and kisses. And words of encouragement and time on the floor. Playing and snuggling and letting all that other stuff go.

Alas, I hold so tightly to the reigns. And because of my own careless actions, it seems as if I’ve been tearing my house (or nest) apart. No, home has not been much of a home. Not for my loved ones or even for me.

Because excessive activity brings on the darkness. Brought about by doing more than I should and not enough of what I should be.

But you know, I have hope. Because I’ve walked this way many times before. And God never, ever lets me remain in the dark for too long. No, He always pulls me through it. He loves me too much to let me stay there.

I’m coming to realize, though, that this may be the very place He’s been leading me. Here in this dark…

Because finally, I know I can’t do life on my own. No, in my own power I am weak and foolish. But here, in my weakened state, I finally place my dependence on Him.

And in my weakness, I find the strength and power only He can provide.

“So because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”                           2 Corinthians 12:10

Jesus extends an invitation in the book of Matthew. He says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” These words have been like a balm to my tired soul on more than one occasion. This past week, however, I made a new discovery.

It’s in that word burdened…

See, it means to load up (properly, as a vessel or animal), i.e. (figuratively) to overburden with ceremony (or spiritual anxiety):—lade, by heavy laden.

 

Burdened references a vessel. And that’s me. An earthen vessels filled by Jesus. But the thing is, I can be overburdened by ceremony. And that makes me chuckle today. Because surely December is a season of extra “ceremony.”
And so I realize that though Jesus promises me rest, I have to do my part by following His instructions. Because the rest I yearn for comes only when I take His yoke upon me and learn from Him.
I’ve just not done that. Not this month, I haven’t. And most certainly not with regard to extra ceremony. Do you know, I even thought I’d have time to make butter this past week. Thankfully, Jason talked me down with his sensible, “Really? With all you have to do, you think it’s a good idea to make butter?”
Needless to say, there’s store bought butter in the fridge.
And his words bring proper perspective back to my life. Thus, I comprehend I’ve been overloaded a couple of months now. But the other part of that is I’m the load master. I’m the one who adds to the burden. And that’s when I tend to fall apart.

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness” – He has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

 

According to 1 Peter 3:7, I (meaning the wife) am the weaker vessel. Not less than my husband, mind you, but weaker in some regards. And this passage specifically speaks to the wife as contributing to the usefulness of her husband.

This convicts me. Because I’ve not been doing that. No, my terrible demeanor has not lent itself to being useful.

The word for vessel, though, is also used in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7. Men and women alike are the vessels. And men and women alike are weak. Sick and feeble. That’s what the word “weaker” means.

But see, this is just who Jesus came for. For it’s not the well who need a doctor, but the sick. And it’s not the righteous for whom Jesus came, but sinners.

Thus, He came for me.

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Know how He did that? He sent me Jason. It was through him I caught my first glimpse of God. Of His mercy and grace. I just didn’t know it back then.

See, Jason should have run when he met me. I had baggage. He knew things about me that would have caused others to flee. But Jason? He accepted me. Moreover, he loved me when no one else would.

And he still does. When I’m at my most unloveable, he continues to extend grace. Like last week when I spied a gift tucked away under the tree. He put it there for me when I was acting out the most…

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I’m not surprised to find my husband’s name means “healer.”

Yes, Jason means healer.

And he’s just what I need. Because I can make myself sick. Fraught with franticness. But Jason, he’s constant and steady. Consistent. Sensible. And he speaks truth to me. And though what he says may sting for the night, come morning… I usually realize he’s right.

And when I do, brightness is restored to my eyes and sweetness to my soul.

At least for a little while.

Fill your horn with oil and go. 1 Samuel 16:1

Here’s what I know. Things were created to be filled. God created the earth and He filled it with light. He created man and gave instructions to fill the earth. Man populated the world and God sent His Son to dwell among us. And then, when Jesus ascended to heaven, He promised the Holy Spirit would come.

And He did.

And so it appears some horns are filled with sweet cream while others are filled with oil. Me? My horn is filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit. This is my filling. So rightfully, I felt confused about my lingering darkness for the longest time.

But now I know why. See, I carry around in my body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in my body (2 Corinthians 4:10). Oh, there are times, I’m like an animated corpse. There are dark days for sure. But inevitably, God restores life to my deadened soul. He resuscitates me. Every time.

The wonder is my life becomes a picture of the resurrection. For I go into a dark tomb. But when I exit, I find I am fully alive. Gloriously alive.

Just like Jesus.

Thus, my life gives testimony to Him.

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Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. Proverbs 16:24

In closing, I have just as many good days as I do the bad. They’re not all so dark. But from now on when darkness descends, I’ll know. It’s my thorn. His grace is sufficient for me.

And for those days when I’m feeling happy, I’ll relish them. And I’ll be assured I’m not all that bitter. Part of my filling is surely sweet.

And though my husband no longer calls me “Sweetie,” nor me him, we do call each other “Honey.” And you know what? Honey is just as sweet as sugar.

So I guess my filling’s not so bad after all.

And as long as I give my husband some good honey, he’ll be satisfied with me.

For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness. Psalm 107:9

10 lbs of pressure

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In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior… They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, pure, good homemakers, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered. Titus 2:3-5

Do you think it’s odd that older (wiser) women are given the charge to teach younger generations to love their husbands and children? Years ago, I would have thought so. Because at a glance, it seems like the statement isn’t necessary. You get married for love and out of that love, children often follow.

And so, they’re yours. Your husband and your babies. Of course, you love them. Why would you need encouragement to do something that comes as naturally as loving your loved ones, right?

But see, those were the fleeting thoughts of a younger woman. The more naive version of myself. For in those days, I was content to simply scratch the surface of God’s treasury. A brief glance at a verse and I thought I knew it. And that I’d retain it. Love my family, check. To use my 10-year old son’s most oft used phrase, my clouded spirit must have whispered to God, “I know, I know.”

Because at twenty-four, I thought I knew how to love my husband. And I thought I’d know how to love my babies when they arrived. But then, I walked through it. I walked through nearly nineteen years of marriage.

And you know what? Turns out, loving didn’t come so naturally to me. At least not the way I should love my husband and children. Not in the way older (wiser) women encourage the younger ones to…

Not sacrificially, I haven’t.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16

Next week, Jason and I celebrate our anniversary. For so long, it was just me and him. Oh, how young we were…

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Eight years in, though, we had a beautiful baby boy named Levi.

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Another eight years and we received another gift… our precious infant daughter, Annabelle.

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And so now, after close to nineteen years of marriage, I think I’ve gained a touch of insight. At least a tad. Thus, with an itty bit of wisdom and a tiny dash of revelation, I’m quite sure I know exactly why that verse is tucked away in the pages of the New Testament. Because the devastating truth is, some of us younger (and not so younger) women need to hear it.

Some of us need to comprehend what sacrificial love is. And some of us need to catch a glimpse of what really loving your husband and children looks like in the modern world. I’m talking about me here…

Yep, thanks to the stench of my own vehicle on Monday, I got the picture. That’s when this verse, among others, utterly came alive to me. After all these years, my dulled senses tingled. As if a nerve was hit.

It may have been the smell that jarred me fully awake.

Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes; instead it should consist of the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes. For in the past, the holy women who hoped in God also beautified themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. 1 Peter 3:3-5

Last week, I emphatically told Jason, “I am not a Proverbs 31” woman! Verse 28 in particular stood out. Because in the chaotic and hurried state I found myself, most assuredly, my children wouldn’t arise and call me blessed (which means happy) and my husband had no reason to praise me. Not last week he didn’t.

Because I’ve been busy. Busy doing a lot of extra-curricular activities. Which is good. All good stuff. However, all the extra happens to be outside my home. Which leaves my home neglected.

Naturally, along with the extra, my calendar constricts causing my stress level to increase. At times like this, there’s not enough blank spaces and every minute counts. And just about every day feels like a race.

Really.

I hurry my children and rush to the car, strapping in my toddler crying, “Hurry, we gotta go! We’re going to be late….”

And in the hustle, someone gets hurt. Emotionally. I get impatient with their speed and snap. I lash out and speak cutting words. Things I can’t take back. And so the hypocrisy is not lost on me. I make all this effort to go and do something worthy – a good cause – and yet, my most worthy causes get the shaft.

Because my husband and children, the ones I’m supposed to sacrificially love, get my leftovers. Or worse, they witness me when I reach my breaking point.

This is the state my husband finds me in at the end of the day. This is the legacy I’m leaving my children. And if I don’t change my ways, I’ll be remembered as a hurried and frazzled woman who lost her temper all the time.

The question I had to recently ask myself is why. Why do I behave the way I do? What drives me to take on more than I can chew? And the answer has been right in front of me all along. It’s in one of those verses I’ve skimmed and thought I’d retain. “I know, I know… beauty is on the inside.” Got it. Check.

But within this passage, there’s so much more. A treasure trove of wisdom. Especially in the phrase “the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable to God.”

And this is what’s been driving me…

Trying to showcase my value.

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This is me. I’m a wife and mother and I work from home. I spend a lot of time in my house so much of what I do is unseen. And deep down, I think there’s this insecure part of me that’s trying to prove her worth. For some reason, I don’t think being wife and mom is enough. I feel as if I should be doing more.

So that’s what I do.

Deep down, I believe my contributions give me value. Thus, I want them to be visible. I want credit for what I do. See me and acknowledge me so what I’m doing is validated. And more importantly, you’ll know I have value.

So, I base my worth on my actions. And appearances. All the outward. And in taking on more than I can chew, I’m not gentle. I’m not quiet. Instead, I’m loud.

So very loud.

But God values the quiet and gentle. This means being peaceable and tranquil. Still and undisturbed. Mildness of disposition. It’s being humble.

Oh, I’ve tried to beautify myself in this manner. I’ve tried to be meek and mild. I’ve tried to let go of all the extra and take on the yoke of Jesus. But inevitably, the old me resurfaces. And she drives me to do more and more.

And to be more.

Always.

Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. Matthew 11:28-29

 

So, how does a smelly vehicle tie into all this? It was Monday when I first noticed the stench. I even asked Levi, “What stinks in here?” Turns out, it was spilled pinto bean juice that had baked onto the floorboard. It sloshed out on Sunday and I didn’t even notice. Not even when I picked up the sticky bowl.

And the only reason I noticed two days later is because I had to gather up some loose books I’d promised to someone. Several were covered with brown crust…

That’s when I knew I had a mess to clean. When I could get to it. For sure not yesterday, though. There were no white spaces on my calendar. Because I had the food pantry and then work emails to tend to and then a pot of soup to fix before dropping Annabelle before hurrying off once more for a 5 pm commitment. An extra-curricular activity but something good.

Really.

Here’s the thing, though. I lost it yesterday. I blew my top early on because I knew what lay before me. And so I rushed not just me but my children. Oh, I was so impatient with their slower speeds.

And so, inevitably, guilt assailed me. It happened as I quietly drove to the pantry. Because my son has seen this side of me one too many times. But you know what? I think he understood. Thanks to my husband showing him how to put air in his basketball, I had a picture I could offer my boy. 

I asked him if he remembered how many pounds of air his ball held. He did, 7 to 9. I told him that the ball could only hold so much air and if you tried to put too much in, it could pop. That’s when I told him life was just like that…

You can only add so much in.

And though it was no excuse, I told him I’d added too much and it caused me stress. And that loudness usually accompanied my stress. In truth, I felt as if I was trying to put 10 lbs of pressure in a 9 lb ball.

Yep, that’s what yesterday was like.

Do not work for the food that is perishing, but for the food that enduring unto eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you… John 6:27

 

I started at the food pantry back in April. There was a need and I thought I should fill it. But within days of working there, I stumbled across the above verse. Now, I don’t know that God was (or is) telling me I shouldn’t be there, but I can assure you it caused me to question my motives…

Were my intentions pure? Or was it simply me trying to do more, visibly, so I could feel more valuable via my contribution outside the home? Whatever my motives, I think the most important word to focus on is “perishing.” Because it leads me back to 1 Peter 3 and what really holds value…

The imperishable.

It’s that gentle and quiet spirit that’s so valuable to God. And in working for the perishable, I’ve hindered the imperishable. In taking on too much extra, I’ve become the opposite.

But thankfully, there were the beans. The juice spilled all over my back floorboard. And funnily, some soup I took to my mom yesterday spilled all over my front floorboard. Yep, as of this morning, my car was a mess from front to back.

And this leads me right back to where I started. With my husband. The man I promised to love and cherish all the days of my life nearly nineteen years ago.

And the state of my car showed me how much I haven’t done what I’m supposed to.

They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, pure, good homemakers, and submissive to their husbands, so God’s message will not be slandered. Titus 2:3-5

You know, women today want to do it all. Not only that, it seems that they’re expected to do it all. Kind of like that Enjoli commercial from 1980, “I can bring home the bacon, Fry it up in the pan…”

Basically, the woman doesn’t have to stay home simply frying bacon anymore, she can go out and get it, too. The underlying message is staying home to cook isn’t enough. Being a good homemaker not sufficient. Not for the modern woman.

No, she has to go outside her walls to make a difference. In order for her to hold value, her contributions must go beyond her husband and children. And yet, according to God’s word, older women are supposed to encourage the younger to be good homemakers and to love their husbands and children. And now I know why they’re charged to do so…

Because loving sacrificially doesn’t come naturally. Dying to self is not easy. At least it isn’t to me. Moreover, being submissive to my husband’s wants and needs over my own doesn’t always sit right. Not if it keeps me behind closed doors hiding my value.

Or what I perceive as my value.

Thus, I’ve resisted submission. I’ve not fully submitted to my role as wife and mom. Because even if I don’t intend for my family to take a backseat to the extra-curricular, outside stuff, they do. It just seems to happen without my meaning for it to.

But I have to tell you, my husband is a good man. So good. So supportive. He rarely complains. And because I’m usually having quiet time with the Lord when Annabelle wakes, he’s the one who gets her situated in the morning. And he’s given her more baths than I have because I’m usually washing the pans (after frying up that bacon I went out to get).

No, Jason never asks for much. Occasionally I’ll hear, “Pam, this is the last clean pair of underwear I have in the drawer.” Or he’ll ask me to make a phone call like the one he mentioned a month ago that I forgot about! The only reason I remembered to call today is my Dad remembered and asked what the outcome was.

Here’s what I’m coming to…

My husband likes a clean car. He’s meticulous about his. Me? Not so much. I could care less when there’s dust an inch thick in my vehicle. But my hand was forced today. Because there was no getting over that smell. And in the midst of my task, I remembered what Jason told me weeks ago. He told me to get the car washed the next time I went to town.

But I didn’t.

I just couldn’t seem to find the time despite my numerous trips. Reason being I had other stuff I wanted to get to. Car cleaning took a backseat to my agenda. Outward, important, extra-curricular, ministry over-rode my husband’s desire. The things that make me feel significant trumped his request.

I forgot about that till today. But God has his ways. He gives me a breadcrumb to sample which leads to another and another. Before I know it, feasting on the bread of life takes me to where I need to be.

And he’s bringing me to a place called gentle and quiet. He’s showing me how to sacrificially love by His Son’s example. And the only way I can do that is utter submission. To not just His will, but my husband’s.

So what does submission to your husband look like in the 21st century?

Well, for me, it means I get the darn car washed. One, because Jason told me to but secondly (and more importantly), because it matters to him. See, my husband likes a clean car. And if that matters to him, it should matter to me.

Yeah, I believe that’s where God would have me start. Because you know what? I love my husband and children. I really, really do. And loving them properly means putting their wants and needs before my own agenda.

And my agenda is faulty, anyway. It’s not based on truth. But when I fully accept God’s word- that my value and worth have nothing to do with all the outward – my family will be the better for it. Because then, and only then, will I cease from my endless activities hoping to cram 10 lbs of pressure in a space that won’t hold it. Then and only then will my loudness be displaced by a spirit of gentle and quiet…

That imperishable quality that God values,

the one that will cause my children to rise and call me blessed,

and elicit praise from my husband’s lips.

Who can find a capable wife? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will not lack anything good. Proverbs 31:10-11

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An Unwilling Wife, a Reluctant Mother

IMG_2726I’ve been mad at Jason lately. And when my better half asks what’s wrong, I don’t want to say. Like this past Saturday. I didn’t want to give him an answer because I know.

Oh, I know.

My reason isn’t a good one.

Because truth is selfishness lies at the bottom of my meanness. Inward focus the cause of the inky blackness that permeates my heart and soul, eventually seeping out and darkening the paths of those I love the most.

Like my husband. My kids.

Yes, darkness pervades my atmosphere when I try to retain pieces of what I consider to be my own. When I attempt to hold back big chunks of my life. All for myself. Just for me…

Time’s probably the biggest source of contention. Because when I feel like I’m losing it, I become resentful of everything that takes from it. This is where my poor husband comes in. Him and his recent inquiry.

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

And what a pitiful answer I offered. See, I weighed out my time verses his and he came out ahead (way ahead). At least in my mind he did. And though the rational part of my brain fully comprehends my scales are off (way off), I quietly stew over my perceived losses anyway.

This is what I tried to explain to Jason last weekend. And not so eloquently, I might add.

Because I knew. And I know.

I know how awful this sounds. But it’s the awful truth. And this is where I’ve found myself more than once this past month. Ironically, in the days leading up to Mother’s Day…

Me simmering and stewing and wishing I could do something else. Something in particular. But I can’t because I’m hindered. Slowed down by the things in life that keep me from it. Namely, being a wife and mother.

Because these roles are most prominent in my life. My first calls to duty. My family is of utmost importance. They are.

But God help me there are times I want to do something else. If only for a little while. I want to get to that other thing that draws me. The thing that makes me feel full of purpose. And important.

Yes, if I could just remove my wife and mom hat for a little chunk of time, I could accomplish all the things I set out to do. Or if only each day offered more minutes to do both…

My family and the million items on my to-do list.

Maybe then I’d be a happy camper. And maybe then I wouldn’t be so unwilling to accomplish wifely tasks. Not so reluctant in performing motherly duties such as feedings and wipings and cleanings and so on.

Guiltily, though, I’ve been unwilling and reluctant. And why? Because I’ve been placing my stuff over my husband’s and children’s. My desire to do something more has caused me to be greedy. A spirit of generosity overtaken by a spirit of withholding.

Stinginess.

And the piece of me that clings to what’s mine is a piece of me my family doesn’t have access to…

Because when I pine away for the thing I can’t get to, I don’t give my family my all. Instead, they get my darkness. Thus, Scripture is proven.

She who tries to save her life – and time – loses it. Because most definitely, the tighter I cling, the quicker my life force ebbs away. And blackness prevails. Just like a tomb.

It happens every, single time.

Sigh.

Friend of God

So the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. James 2:23

I’ll tell you what. God never ceases to amaze me in how He brings home a point. And how He can weave together different threads of truth from different sources to create the most beautiful tapestry of revelation.

He did so this week. It started Sunday. An elder at church mentioned Abraham and how all the nations are blessed through him. It tickled my ear. On Monday, I heard about Abraham again. This time through a Bible study when he was referred to as a friend of God. And yesterday, my devotional book. It said, “Having a friendship with God is no small thing.” Abraham was the subject matter.

God had my full attention by then. I knew I had to investigate further. And I’m amazed at how He used this one term – friend of God – to shed light on my current issue. My struggle with selfishness.

See, I wondered what it took to be God’s friend. Because I’d like to carry that title, too. But the thing is, the relationship is costly. And it was more than belief that made Abraham a friend. It was how he acted on that belief…

Genesis 22 gives us the story.

God called and Abraham answered, “Here I am.” That’s when he heard the unthinkable for God called him to take his son, his only son, the one he loved, and offer him up as a sacrifice.

Can you imagine? God instructed Abraham to kill his son and he set out to do it. Scripture says it was a test. A test in that Abraham was called to put to death the thing he loved most.

When Abraham told his servants to hang back (it was a three day journey), he told them, “the boy and I will go over there to worship.” Worship is what he said. That’s how he described laying down the life of his only son.

Thankfully, God stepped in at the very last minute and provided another sacrifice. But the point is, Abraham was willing. He was willing to do the unthinkable because God commanded him to. That’s how full of faith he was. And that action is what made him a friend.

Abraham’s willingness to obey.

And the act of obedience is why all nations of the earth receive blessing through Abraham. “I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars… all nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.”

Yes, belief led to obedience in Abraham’s life. And this is part of what God wanted me to see.

This is My command: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14

You know, Jesus has friends, too. But no different than Abraham’s relationship with God, it’s costly. Because if we want to be His friend, we have to obey His commands and that’s not so easy to do.

Like when He says to love one another as I have loved you. Well, He loved us to His death. He laid down His very life for ours. And that’s a hard act to follow. And when He tells us to pick up our cross daily, He means we’re to die. Every single day.

Yes, Jesus wants us to put ourselves to death. Our wants and our desires come second to His command. But who wants to do that?

Who wants to sacrifice their very life? Because we love ourselves too much. We love our time and our stuff which causes us to hold back big chunks for selfish purposes.

At least I do…

If just for a little while.

But He says no. He commands the opposite. To love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Really, to love them more than ourselves. Because that’s exactly what He did when He died on the cross.

And that’s the heart of it. This is what God wants me to see.

For He’s commanding me to love other people as I love myself. No, more than I love myself. Specifically, my people. My husband and my kids. He calls me to be a willing wife and devoted mother because they come first. Their wants, their desires, their needs.

So unlike Abraham who was called to sacrifice his son, God calls me to sacrifice myself. My life in place of theirs.  This is the price of being Jesus’ friend.

And I want to be His friend.

Thus, belief prompts and act of obedience which in turn is my spiritual worship. And worship is how Abraham described sacrifice.

Me, too. This is how I worship my God…

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:2

God gives examples. Threads of truth woven into our lives to give insight. Like this week when He gave me Abraham, His friend. And He gave me Jesus, His Son. I look to their lives as a pattern for my own.

But you know, He also gave me my mom. And she knows exactly what it means to sacrifice one’s life. Because that’s just what she did. She gave up her life for mine. And for my brother.

She gave up huge chunks of time so that our future would be secure. Her wants and desires came second to our needs. Every single time.

She sacrificed her happiness. Her life. Her all.

Yes, unlike me, Mom was selfless.

And in return, I have life. And she is my pattern.

She is my mother.

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I wish I could say I’ve followed my mom’s example. But I didn’t. No, for so long I was selfish and didn’t even know it.

Like in this picture when I was pregnant with Levi…

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And I have to laugh when I see it. So carefree. So devil-may-care. That’s because I hadn’t a clue what was coming. I had no idea what a hard road motherhood is. I didn’t realize how much of myself I’d have to put to the side. The countless sacrifices and daily deaths…

At least for a season or two.

Or three.

And I’d be lying if I said I was a natural. Frankly, being a mom hasn’t been easy. Because at times, my selfish nature quells up and it’s hard to push it back. I want what I want when I want it. And when it seems far off, darkness presents.

That’s when reluctance makes an appearance. An unwillingness holds court. Like this past month.

But God grabbed my attention and He illuminated my selfishness. That ugly part that takes away from those most dear…

Like my husband. My kids.

And I know I’m on the right track. Because I want to please them. I want to put aside my stuff in favor of theirs. I want to be a good wife and good mom. So once more, light overtakes the dark and stinginess gives way to generosity.

Thus, what Jason told Levi is really true. It’s a fact I love my son more than anyone else in the whole world could. Because I’d give my life for him. I’d die for him. That’s what mothers do…

And if I’m willing to sacrifice my life’s blood, then time is easy to release… the chunks of “mine” I tried to cling to.

Thus, I put away my faulty set of scales and lay down my life for theirs… again. See, this dying thing is an everyday occurrence. I have to find fresh resolve to do it. But in doing so, I find great reward.  Because obeying makes me not just a friend of Jesus but also, a great mom and wife.

And through this act of obedience, I am blessed. As are they… those closest to me.

My husband and my kids.

Because I am a most willing wife. A wholly devoted mother.

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. Proverbs 31:28

The Strongest Woman I’ve Known (a tribute to Cissy)

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This past week didn’t go as planned. We were supposed to visit Cissy today. Jason’s step-mom. We had Christmas presents for her. There was a fluffy robe, flannel pj’s, and a calendar chock full of our kids’ photos as well as a few of her…

At least that’s what we planned to do. Instead, we received a call Tuesday afternoon. Jason’s sister said Cissy was not expected to last the day. So we threw our things in a bag and left town as fast as we could.

We hoped we’d get there in time. We wanted to say good-bye. That didn’t happen, though, for she left this earth much too soon.

And so our week was not what we thought it would be. And instead of dropping off gifts, we ended up bringing home more than we took. Items tucked into a box…

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This is what we have left of her now. Memories of our time with Cissy. And it’s what I’ve pilfered through this evening. As the photos sifted through my finger tips, scene after scene played out in my mind…

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I thought about Cissy most of our drive home today, too. Between bathroom stops and calming my toddler, I did. And along with tears, there were smiles. When I thought of all those cozy things that brought her image to mind, the ends of my mouth curved upward…

Tissues and magazines and newspapers and reading glasses. Smile. And pajamas and slippers and lotion. There’s warmth. This is how I remember her best. Cissy sitting in her comfy chair with a kitty nearby.

And I grin when I think of our first meeting. See, she wasn’t home when Jason introduced me to his dad and I was downright terrified. That’s because Dwight wasn’t a man of many words. At least not at first, he wasn’t. And at our introduction, I didn’t have any of my own.

No, flanked by two non-speaking men, I sat trembling in my brown corduroy jumper staring blankly at the TV screen. I searched the far recesses of my brain for something interesting to say but found nothing to offer. I don’t think I could have been more uncomfortable.

But then, Cissy.

Thank the Lord she came home. Totally outgoing and filled to the brim with questions, she had an abundance of words. A friend to everyone, I don’t think she knew a stranger. And God bless her, she even sat sideways on our way to dinner so there wouldn’t be a pause in the conversation.

Yep, Cissy kept the banter going and she made everything alright from that moment on. And in light of Cissy, Dwight wasn’t so scary to me anymore. And over time, my love for him pushed that unfounded fear right out the door anyway.

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Yeah, those are all good memories. So much to smile about. But there are other things, too. Sadness and tragedy. Utter heartbreak. For Cissy had it rough. Unbearable, really.

And when I found the following note the day after Cissy’s passing, written in her own hand, I decided I’d print and frame her words to keep as a reminder.

For if any woman would know about difficulty, she would.

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Cissy said we’re to learn important lessons from the things that are most difficult. And one would assume she was referring to her battle with cancer. A three year grueling ordeal.

But in truth, I believe her battle began long before that. Because I think life’s hardest blow hit when her beloved died suddenly. Without warning. A massive heart attack claimed the man she’d never get over. My husband’s father, Dwight, passed quickly in 2008.

One week beyond Jason’s birthday…

And none of us got the chance to say good-bye.

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The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

I have to tell the truth. On Tuesday, I had plans. I was in the middle of a project and there was one delay after another. Namely, my daughter wouldn’t take her morning nap which pushed everything back.

I just wanted to do the thing I’d been trying to do all morning. And when I encountered resistance, I felt anger. My attitude went south way too easily.

And therein lies the lesson of Cissy. And tackling difficulty. It has to do with attitude. Her attitude. Which was a good one.

Staying positive. And hopeful.

That’s the example she left us.

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Cissy was a strong woman. Independent and driven and full of purpose. She was that way long before she met Dwight. But alas, her Prince Charming swept her off her feet and love came knocking.

And I just love the story she told. About how Dwight had a business trip that took him away for a few days. But while they were apart, she sensed a change in him. She just knew he was going to end their relationship. A good-bye before she was ready…

And so upon his return when he asked her to sit with him on the porch so they could talk, she resisted.

No, I’m tired. I want to go to bed.

She just didn’t want to hear him say it was over. But Dwight was persistent so they sat, Cissy thinking the end had come. That’s when a song started playing…

“Sha la la la la la, live for today.”

That was Dwight’s queue. “Hear that song, Cissy? Will you marry me?” And what she thought was going to be an ending turned out to be a beginning.

And along with Dwight, she gained two step-children and eventually four grandchildren.

However, happily ever after didn’t happen. Or at least it didn’t stay that way.

DSCN4132This picture was taken a month before Dwight died. And this was a month before Cissy’s heart broke right in two. And I swear, she had every reason to be bitter.

Because her husband was gone.

But see, Cissy was a strong woman before she met Dwight. Independent and driven and full of purpose. And though life knocked her down and she never got over him, she did get back up.

Cissy found the strength to stand on her feet again. And it was this strength that carried her through her three year battle with cancer. The disease kicked her down more than once, but she stood again and again and again.

She battled unlike any woman I’d ever seen. She fought harder than anyone could have. I swear, Cissy was the strongest woman I’ve ever known.

When I told her so several months back, she said that’s what Dwight used to say, too.

The strongest woman I know.

That’s what Dwight would say…

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You know, God has a way of tying things up. Of drawing loose ends together. He did so for me this past week when I found this card on Cissy’s desk. It’s what I sent for her birthday earlier this year.

And I read the words I wrote to Cissy. I told her how I’d been focusing on the struggles of life. I said, “And what I realize is if anybody knows what it’s like to struggle, you do. You have to do battle every day.” 

Funny thing is, that’s where I found myself on Tuesday. Just before I heard the news about Cissy, I was thinking about struggle and battle. Even writing about it. Because I felt some resistance in what I was trying to accomplish.

But you know what? My attitude got really bad. I felt angry and bitter over something so teeny-tiny. If there was a skirmish, I lost for sure and my mood was the source of my downfall.

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And then, there’s Cissy. A woman who lost her husband before he was 57 years old. A woman who was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in 2012 at Thanksgiving when she was only 56. She went through one hardship after another with her illness.

And yet, her attitude remained positive.

Always.

She did not complain.

Never.

She hid her pain.

So well.

And she remained hopeful.

Always.

Her faith never, ever faltered. Ever. And though cancer eventually took her life, it never got the best of her. And though cancer claimed her body, Cissy never lost the battle. She fought the good fight…

She fought and fought till the very end.

The bitter end.

The strongest woman I’ve ever known never once gave up.

She never did.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12

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I wish I could be more like Cissy.

Unfortunately, I all too easily become bitter when I let myself. Over small things. Like not saying good-bye. I just felt so mad that we didn’t get that chance.

But you know, Cissy didn’t either. She didn’t get the opportunity to tell her beloved Dwight good-bye. Some time after his passing, though, the oddest thing began to happen. There were feathers.

Cissy would find feathers in the most obscure places. All over her home. And there was no reason on earth they should have been where they were. No where they could have come from.

Cissy believed they were from Dwight.

And that’s one of the things that makes me smile today. Because on Wednesday, I chose a globe with a bird in it for myself. I’d made it for Cissy’s mother a few years back and didn’t think anybody else would want it. I dusted the edges and sat it on Cissy’s counter but left it behind.

And the oddest thing happened.

When Jason’s sister brought it to me two days later, she asked if a feather had always been in it. But there hadn’t been. I would have seen it when I cleaned it up. And yet, on Friday, a feather was inside.

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Know what I think?

It’s from Cissy.

I think this woman who was tough as steel left an imprint as soft as a feather upon this earth. Thus, I’ll think of Cissy whenever I see it. And I’ll smile. Just like I do with tissues and magazines and newspapers and reading glasses and pajamas and slippers and lotion.

And I’ll become resolute as I recall Cissy’s words. That we are meant to learn important lessons from the things that are most difficult.

And this coming year, I’ll try to follow her footsteps.

Striving to be strong just like her,

battling courageously,

fighting the good fight.

That’s what I’ll do.

If I make a New Year’s Resolution at all, it’ll be to be like her.

The strongest woman I’ve known.

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Me and Cissy, October 2012

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:34

 

 

 

The Good Part

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How best to describe marriage? In my humble opinion, I’d have to say the opening lines of The Tale of Two Cities sums it up best. At least it seems to paint the picture of marriage’s early days. Or perhaps it just describes ours…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” Charles Dickens

Wow. That’s it. See, there’s a reason you vow to take your other half “for better or for worse.” Because believe me, the worst comes. And faster than you think. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOh, at first there’s bliss… all smiles as your stomach dips and dives and flutters. Like here. But see, we weren’t even engaged at this point. And bad days were few and far in between. Likely because I tried to present my good side. All the time. Oh, Jason had a glimpse of the other me. But usually he got the good part. He got the best of me. But then (queue music in the background, please), the ring was slipped on my finger. Next thing you know, this happened…

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In the midst of Cozumel, Mexico, on the tail end of our honeymoon, the other side of me made an appearance. The bad part showed up and she’s all over my face. Jason snapped this picture after one of our many heated conversations. Seems he had planned to do something the following weekend, sans newly wedded wife, and I was not about to let that happen. No way, bub.

That was the first time I got my way. Seven days into our marriage, Jason was the first to give in. Because everyone’s heard a happy wife makes for a happy life. Or something like that.

A good woman

This may come across as shocking but when I first entered marriage, I considered divorce to be an option. My thought was if it doesn’t work out, I could just leave. And the truth is when I said, “I do,” I didn’t realize the gravity of what I was doing. As a twenty-five year old, I couldn’t comprehend what marriage really was. Because the word covenant wasn’t part of my vocabulary. A spoken vow nothing more than words. I just had no clue…

Needless to say, we had some rough patches as two young kids came together as one. We both had our ways. Our idiosyncrasies. Our ideas. Thus, there were points of conflict in our merging. A couple incidents stand out vividly. Like the time I walked out without a word for an entire evening because I didn’t agree with Jason’s choice of restaurant for the next day’s outing. I went to see American Beauty and came home to find Jason fast asleep. The next morning, I stayed in my bathrobe till he gave in. I hopped in the shower when he called our friends to change the venue.

A couple years later, I decided there was something I wanted to change about my mate. I believe that was the one time he was just as stubborn as me, though. A cold silence followed for two or three days. I actually caved first and tentatively approached him at his place of work. But He was firm. No, he wasn’t going to change and if I couldn’t accept him as he was, he said I should just leave. I went back home in silence. And tears.

But here we are… seventeen years later. We persevered. We remain as one. And I have to give Jason most of the credit for it. Because truth is, he took on a lot when he took me to be his. Unfortunately, I carried a lot of excess baggage into our lives. Old stuff that would have been best left behind. Yep… when Jason said, “I do,” he didn’t really get the good woman he deserved. Instead, he got me.

Remembering the Salsa

Sunday was one of those days. Ironic in how bad it was (or I was) in light of all my recent writings on the good life. Embracing the good. I think I was just trying to talk myself into it. That if I said it out loud enough times, and read it that much more, my demeanor would change. That I would find myself in a good mood. Instead, Sunday happened.

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and there was loudness in our home. All me. Words spoken and looks given and ugly gestures. Again, all me. Finally, with a sigh we all settled into the car for church. Jason said, “Well this has been a lovely Sunday morning.” At church, I pasted on my smile. I nodded and laughed and smiled and played the part. Though my loved ones at home got the worst of me, I tried to give all the others the best. I made more of an effort.

Afterward, we heard a dedication on the radio. Some guy really talked up his mate. It was nice, I guess. But when Jason said, “Now that sounds like a good woman,” I took great offense. I was ready for a fight… “What are you saying, that I’m not a good woman?” I jabbed but he ducked. He didn’t throw a punch as expected.

The grand finale was Big Lots’ parking lot. Miscommunication. I thought he was going to meet me in the store. He thought I was to come outside when I finished. So I struggled with Annabelle who did not want to ride in the cart. I held her and pushed the cart and flung items in the basket. All the while, I was getting more and more heated.

Finally, I looked outside. And there was my husband playing a game on his phone. At ease and relaxed. That’s when it happened. To use my Daddy’s term, I flew mad. I flew right out of that store, Annabelle in arm, and lost it in front of whoever may have been passing. I forcefully jerked the door open and cried, “What are you doing??”

But Jason, he’s a good man. He didn’t get loud in return. He calmly took Annabelle into his arms (I’d plopped her onto the passenger seat), and exited the car without returning my ugly gestures. He joined me in the store. That’s what Jason did.

But later, I know my mate was thinking about me and my bad attitude. Because he called to me from where he lay as I performed my kitchen duties. He asked me if I remembered making salsa.  Of course I remembered making it. I figured it was something to add to my enormous to-do list. “Do you want me to make salsa?”

But no, that’s not what Jason meant. He reminded me that when I made salsa, it usually meant I was happy. Remember the salsa meant remember your good mood. And so that’s what I did. I remembered the salsa. What led up to it and what came afterward.

The good part

Throughout our years, Jason and I did a lot of entertaining. Enter the salsa. If I were to make salsa, you can be sure company was coming. And I loved it. I lived from one gathering to the next and I loved all the preparations that went along with it. I’d put on music and dance and sing. And I was happy.

But our lives changed when two turned to three. Then three turned to four. And what once seemed like fun turned into nothing more than a chore. Salsa became a job when kids made the scene because I had so many other things to do. This is what I ponder as I consider the salsa.

See, motherhood is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Because you give away parts of yourself 24 hours a day. As soon as your feet hit the ground, you start doling out the pieces. A sliver here and a slice there. And before you know it, you find you’re depleted with nothing left to offer. Nothing but the scowl on your face as you chop veggies at the counter. Like me this past Sunday.

But only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:42

Problem is there’s been sickness at our house. Nighttime interruptions and extra tasks. And because my days have been full and sleep has been lacking, I’ve looked for other places to trim the fat. Seems I took out the wrong thing, though. I cut away the good part. Which reminds me of Martha and Mary.

Most of us are familiar with these sisters, I’m sure. But in reading their saga today, I cannot help but think Martha had a flying mad moment. Just like me at Big Lots. She was busy preparing for a party and her sister just sat there doing nothing. Martha even voiced her complaint to Jesus. Tell her to give me a hand! But He said Mary chose the good part. She sat still at his feet. What’s more, she listened.

This is the part I cut away. I’ve not been doing this. Busy with other stuff. Like Martha. And because I haven’t filled up on the good part, there’s not much good in me to pass out. Especially not to my family. Most assuredly, they haven’t been getting the best of me.

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A good man

A couple of weeks ago, I had an epiphany. One of those pivotal moments in time that changes how you look at everything. It has to do with my husband. And most importantly, it has to do with how I see God.

You planned evil against me; God planned it for good… Genesis 50:20 

See, Jason came into my life when I was at a real low. And it was my bad that propelled me in his direction. However, Jason became a turning point in every way imaginable. Most poignantly, I see that through the meaning of his name: one who will heal.

By the time I got to Jason, this is what I needed. Healing. Because there wasn’t much left of my heart. Simply, I’d given too much of it away. Sadly, this is what I brought to our marriage table.

And so I find it miraculous I met Jason when I did. On the heels of having my heart broken again and again. Because through him, a good man, I found another Good Man. I found God.

Jason’s the reason I met the One who came to bind up the brokenhearted. But the healing of my heart wasn’t, and isn’t, an instant fix. Because at first it wasn’t noticeable. Not to me. Not when there was just two. But then came Levi and Annabelle. And the added stress and responsibility exposed my heart’s faulty cracks.

IMG_2070Annabelle’s her name. She is a living dream. But also… she’s one of the reasons I’ve been at wit’s end lately. Strained. Because she fights every single thing I do. She resists. Clothes and diaper changes and hair brushing. All of it. Everything is a struggle. And like me, she’s loud. Oh, it’s downright exhausting. And yet, I love her through it all.

About a year ago, I thought I’d comprehend God’s love for me through my love for my daughter. But last month, I realized I was wrong. It’s not Annabelle who’ll teach me about God and his unwavering love. Instead, it’ll be the one who’s been at my side for seventeen years now. Even longer.

It’s Jason. It’s always been Jason. One who will heal. When he asked about my past, he didn’t condemn me. Rather, he opened his arms wide and embraced me. He accepted every single thing about me.

And through the years, he’s put up with a lot. Oh, he’s not perfect and has moments of his own. But all in all, he is the one who’s been the most gracious. The most merciful. He is the one who usually relents first. The one who breaks the silence. Who calms the storm. He’s loves me so much better than I love him. Because he’s unconditional.

My great epiphany is this… if I want to get an idea of what God is really like, I need to look no further than my other half. My better half. Jason shows me every day what God is like.

It’s through this good man of mine that God has so richly blessed me. And how He will teach me about Himself. Miraculous.

I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. Hosea 2:19

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Crazy thing about women. It’s in our nature to give and give. But sometimes, we end up giving it all to everyone else. By the time the day is through, our family ends up with the leftovers. Table scraps. And this ought not be! So today I try to rectify that.

With me, it’s words. I use them to build others up. But what about that good man of mine? Have I really used this platform to do the same for him? Because this is what I do. So today, I take the opportunity. And it’s timely. See, it’s Jason’s birthday month. And I always have trouble finding a gift. But not this year. My present comes early. It’s good news…

I tell my husband God is working on my heart every single day. And I know what I need to do. I have to fill up on the good part first. That way there will be more of me to give. And one day, when my heart is made whole, it will be all his. Just as the fragments already are.

The best part, though, has to do with our vows. For better or for worse. See, worse is turning to better. And the best of me is yet to come. Soon I’ll be able to reciprocate by giving all of me just as he gives all of himself. And isn’t that what marriage is, anyway? The best of times. The worst of times. And through it all, giving the best we have. But to each other first.

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If anyone else has read this far, I ask for a prayer today. For me and for wives everywhere. That we would love our husbands to the utmost of our ability. And that we would give them the best of us. All of us.

Because good men are hard to find. And they’re worth a prayer. And so much more…

Maybe even salsa.

In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, so they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children,  to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, kind, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered. Titus 2:3-5

 

The other side of motherhood.

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This picture makes me smile. Because she’s just like me. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Seinfeld and the crazy characters the show portrayed over the years, but this girl sticks with me. I refer to her as the “frankfurter girl.” Because that was her ultimate breakdown. She would cry at the drop of a hat. Literally. And when she dropped her hot dog, tears ensued. She cried over just about everything. Another episode that hasn’t left me is the one where Jerry, the comedian, tried to be utterly serious and dark at his friend’s request. And it’s these two, the frankfurter girl and serious Jerry, of which I cannot help but see a resemblance to me. Way too serious and too much waterworks. Not enough joy and laughter. And I so miss my laughter. It used to burst forth from the depths of my belly. My mom even had to tell me to stop once. She thought I was choking. Often, I’d laugh so hard tears sprung from my eyes. But now, it’s another kind. Frankfurter girl tears. Evidently, I’m not as dry as I thought. But rather than springs of living water flowing from within, it’s wellsprings of tears that spew forth.

But you know, I already know why the tears. And I’ve known for quite some time now. Basically, I cry because dying is hard. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. Die to self. But it hurts. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. And despite progress here and there, pieces of me still hold to what I consider my own. And as I read in the book of Luke, I find this is a killer. For whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. Holding too tightly to my wants, my agenda, is killing me. I’m snuffing the life right out of me and quenching the Spirit. And the fight has been lengthy. In truth, the battle began in earnest over seven years ago. Coincidentally, that’s when I had my son.

I love my child, it’s true. I ache over his own struggles. I long for him. And I’d do anything for him. At least I think I would. But in consideration of doing anything for him, I have to honestly say that I don’t think I have. Not completely. Because the truth is that at the birth of my child, someone else was birthed too. For an incredibly self-seeking woman drew breath the moment my precious, baby boy first drew his own. That’s when selfishness rudely inserted itself into my heart and soul. Which is so surprising. I always thought I was generous at heart, but the truth began to emerge in 2006. That’s when the very real battle of self began. It was then, when I had my son.

Before my child, I had no cares in the world, really. It was just me and my husband, and we did whatever we wanted. But then, there was a baby. And my son needed me unlike anyone had ever ever needed me before. And I just have to say, this was a bit overwhelming to me. For I’m not a natural. I didn’t slide gracefully into motherhood. I was terrified and couldn’t sleep for fear that he would stop breathing. And I was never sure of what he really needed. Never. I believe I spent that first year guessing. And juggling because I began to work from home. God blessed me with both a baby and a new home-based job within months but these gifts also became my biggest trials. It was hard to balance a new baby with work because it was always there in front of me. And being the type-A person that I am, I had my own ideas about how and when I should work. But nothing ever went according to plan. Every day was different as the cries of my hungry infant rivaled the blip of incoming work emails. And this is where darkness began to fall.

Those first years were hard and now I have so much regret. Because my little boy learned way to early what it means to be happy and sad. This was evidenced by a visit to my hometown when he was about two or so. I felt happy, so I called him to me for a kiss. Afterwards, he waddled over to his me-maw and pulled out his pacifier to say, “Mama’s happy.” Even at that tender age, he could tell when I was up. I can’t tell you how many times I wish I could go back there to get my priorities straight. How often I’ve wished I could undo things I’ve done. Or not done. Because now I see it clearly. Despite love for my baby, there was also the love for myself. And so, I began to cling. I began to construct, but walls consisted of agenda and structure and rigidity and organization. These flimsy walls never lasted. And because my wants seemed to fall by the wayside, I became stingy with my time. I began the game of comparison… my list of to-do’s seemed more lengthy than my dear husbands (at least through the inward glasses I wore). And resentment deposited its seed. Bitterness flourished while I diminished. As I said, I have regret. So much I wish I could un-do. Or re-do.

So many moments that started off like this…

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Turned to moments like this…

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And sadly, there’s no turning back time. But I do have today. Not surprisingly, I find myself in pretty much the same place. Almost eight years later, I’m still fighting the same fight… building flimsy walls made of agenda and structure and rigidity and organization. The only difference is the ping of an incoming work email is rivaled by the wail of a seven year old. But you know, there is knowledge. You do learn as you go. For I know that I’m the very one who boxes myself in. Today, I see that the self-imposed rules and timelines I’ve surrounded myself with will not hold me up. This semblance of a schedule I try to maintain actually contributes to my downfall. For the foundation and structure I’ve so carefully laid out is in fact unsteady. And clinging to these unsound walls paves the way to instability.

Today I have realization. I have clarity. And often, revelation comes through the face of the little boy who stares back at me. In him, I see me. Oh, he loves to laugh. He loves to be silly and his laughter wells up from deep within. Wellsprings of mirth. But also, there’s another side to him. There are frowns and creased brow. There are sighs. And my fear is that I’m turning him into a mini-me. Because I box him in. I impose my agenda and rigidity and organization upon him. And rightfully so, as I’m his mother. But see, I’m a type-A personality. And as I tend to do, I go over-board. This past Sunday the perfect example…

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3:8

It was picture day. Little league baseball boys all in a row having their picture snapped. But, oh, the wind. It was so gusty. They laughed and giggled as the wind made their eyes tear. They grabbed to their hats to keep them from blowing away. They were delighted. And sure enough, the wind blew hats half way across the field. I could hear my son’s laughter floating on the air as he sank down to his knees, grabbing the rolling hat. I went after him. I didn’t enter his euphoria, though. Instead, I focused on his grass stained pants. See, rather than embrace the moment and cling to the joy that was set before me, I saw only what had to be done. I saw how another load of wash would affect my carefully laid out plans. And so, I utterly missed the moment. What could have been a blessed memory becomes a dark spot in my past. Yet one more regret… one more time I wish I could have a do-over. Why, oh why, didn’t I just laugh with him?

You know, structure is a good thing. But if it controls you, it can have the opposite effect. If rigidity boxes you in, then it’s time to tear down the walls. And if life is snuffed out and the Spirit is quenched because things just don’t go your way, then priorities need to be evaluated. At least this is true for me. I know I am not meant to be boxed in. God wants me to be fluid, malleable, and yielding. It’s almost as if what God said to King David, He says to me:

Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ 2 Samuel 7:5-7

God moves. His Spirit moves. And I’m supposed to be the same. He did not order me to construct my rigid walls. He did not tell me to box myself in by unattainable goals. And He did not say to chain myself to self-imposed rules and regulations. Because He knows that will be the death of me. The wrong kind of death… Spirit quenched. And because I hold to the wants and desires that drive my laid out plans, I am still holding to my life. I’m still battling myself. This is me putting myself first. Not my son. And if I say I would do anything for him, wouldn’t I do this one thing? Why can’t I just surrender? God help me.

Yes, it’s true. Dying is hard. It’s been a seven year battle. And there have been tears and failure… skirmishes lost. But the battle is not yet over. I still have today. Despite more regrets than I can count, it’s not too late. But rather than dwell on days gone by, I can live in the moment and look to the future. Because as my son wisely put it, “There’s no reset button.” And he’s so right. I may not be able to un-do or re-do what’s done, but I can surely redeem the time that’s left. For life remains within my son. The Spirit bubbles up alongside giggles of delight. Oh, he may frown from time to time, but he hasn’t lost his smile, or his laugh, yet. And the good news is, through him, I think I’ll find my own. I shall laugh again. A spring of living water flowing from within…

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