The Happily Ever After Covenant

“Congratulations on making it this far without a murder suicide” read an awesome anniversary card we received. This month was my tenth wedding anniversary. Its not really a long time, but it sounds like a big number to me. I guess it sounds longer than it really feels. And at the same time, life before marriage is blurrier than ever.

I remember before my wedding thinking that I really had no idea what I was getting into. I knew I loved my husband. But I also knew that there was no way I could fully understand what this love would require, having never been married. Within a short time, both of us commented that we were suddenly so much more aware, in a good way, of what love meant, than at our wedding.
I also remember being terrified. Terrified that I would be unable to keep a promise whose implications I knowingly didn’t understand. Terrified of giving up what I knew for what I didn’t know.

A friend and I were talking recently about being attached and unattached. For some, attachment is the perceived as the highest attainable goal, an ultimate goal in earthly existence. For others, staying carefree and unrestrained is the dream that brings happy, idealistic thoughts. For some, a change in partners or circumstances equals the fulfillment that seems missing. Some people are tolerably content with their circumstances, but wonder what might improve if they had made different choices in the past.
What I have learned about love and marriage and life, so far, is that all of our relationships, or lack thereof, are simply mirrors that reflect our innate need and desire for God. Married or single, we want relationships that make us whole. We want completion and happiness, companionship and understanding, safety and confidence. Singleness seems to drive these wants into glaring focus and so we generally know that these are things that single people desire. But marriage does not fulfill these needs either. Of course, marriage offers some of these things, in varying degrees. But there is no relationship on Earth that can complete every need we possess. And our position in life, married, single, formerly attached, and so on serves as a vehicle to show us where our needs for God are most gaping.
In other words, the point of a relationship or the lack of the relationship is to draw us to God. To drive us closer to Him. To make us depend on Him more. To show us our need for Him and point us to the only One who can truly fulfill our deepest needs.

Sometimes we revel in the joy of our relationships. Sometimes we find our relationships breaking down. Sometimes we long for a person to come alongside us and share our lives. In every circumstance, God is pulling us to Him. He is working all things for good. Even in the hard, the broken, the empty, the boring everyday, He is reminding us that we cannot be everything we need to be. We are needy.

When I think about marriage and my neediness, the image in the mirror I see is the failed wife. I don’t love as I should. I want certain things, demand certain things even. I worry about my own self respect that I gain from a relationship. I don’t flawlessly uphold my covenant to love. I don’t love anyone like I should. But God has loved for me. He has made a covenant and fulfilled His part and my part for me. And that is where marriage and the shortcomings of marriage show me the graciousness and goodness of God.
The times I am most grateful for the state of marriage are when I recognize the covenant God has made for us. I am grateful for marriage to someone who takes a vow seriously. I am thankful for someone who mirrors God by not considering any other options than the promise he made to me.


The point is, our lives are about what God is doing, and what He has already done for us. And each relationship we have or don’t have molds our souls to make us see God more clearly. Our lives, our love, our faith are continual navigations through the unseen. When we do not know how we will continue, Christ has been love for us. Christ has already met our need.
(Photo credit: Sabrina Scolari, Scolari Photography)

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Birthdays & Broken Bones

My little baby had surgery today. I’m snuggling with her as she wanders off to dreamland, peeking back at me with one eye, to see if I’m still with her. She reaches out from her blanket to rub my arm. We are listening to JJ Heller’s   I Dream of You album. I love all the songs on this album, but tonight this one is our little world. Birthday parties not so long past, incisions and bandages tonight. 

  

“I Get To Be The One”

 

Well hello,

Little baby.

Your eyes have never seen the sun

You should know

Little baby

That I am the lucky one


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one.


Don’t feel alone now,

Little baby.

Do you hear me singing you a song

I can’t wait to show you

Little baby

How to crawl

How to walk

And how to run


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one.


How does someone so small

Hold my heart so tightly

I don’t even know you

I love you completely


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

 

I get to be the one

 

Nine

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Nine years ago I stood in a church, with uncontrollable tears, pouring from my eyes. Tears of nerves and terror and joy and excitement. I cried through my entire wedding ceremony in a way I have never cried before or after. I am not a person who likes commitment or being inextricably tied to something. I need exits and escape routes and the ability to breath.  And so, agreeing to marry someone, getting down to the end of the aisle to meet my match, literally and figuratively- the one strong personality who didn’t bore me or infuriate me-was so exhausting and exhilarating that I shook and cried through the entire ceremony.

Saying “I love you” to someone when I knew so little about life seemed incredibly superficial. How did I know I would love him the rest of my life?  How did I know this was going to work? How did I know I could keep this covenant vow that was coming out of my mouth?

And nine years later I sometimes wonder how I could say that then. But not because it hasn’t worked, but because I know now what I suspected then. That our love was untried and untested. That I would someday understand what it meant to love, after great challenges had come in life and pounded against the fortress of love, trying to topple and destroy it. When you say “I do” you often don’t know what you are agreeing to.  Which is better that you do not, because you make a covenant, a committed promise to want the best for someone else, without knowing really how vulnerable you are going to make yourself with that promise.

But “many waters cannot quench love” and covenants are made to be kept, not dissolved like faulty business deals or superficial friendships.  Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage says, “When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

And this, in a paragraph, is what makes me grateful for the opportunity to love and be loved. I am humbled to be given the chance to understand God’s love through this channel. And this understanding only comes when challenges and hard times in life come hurling toward us. It is easy to be twenty-four and dressed in diamond white silk and a black tuxedo with pink roses and white candles and say “I love you” and want the best for the other person. It is hard to manage work stress, and life disappointments, and deaths of loved ones, and critical pregnancies, and sickness, and everyday aggravations and boring things like bills and car repairs and schedule juggling and bad moods and hurts and wrongs we feel from each other and to say, “I love you no matter how hard today was and I want to continue loving you and wishing for your best and pointing you to God.”

I never regretted being married young.  Because, in reality, love is a covenant, not a whim. A covenant that meant no matter what we encountered, we would look for the best for each other.  At times, we fail on that covenant.  But, to quote Keller once more,

“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.”

And that, a covenant, a commitment, and a promise of future love, is the love of Christ for us.  And through His love, we know what true love is.  Whether there are roses and silk and candles, or everyday aggravation, or deep pain, His love helps us to vow our love and live out our love.

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Photo credit: Sabrina Scolari, Scolari Photography

Beauty Rest

 

 

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

 

(Psalm 121:3-4 ESV)

 

I gently put the sleeping silky-skinned baby onto the soft pink sheets inside her white crib. I quietly latched the baby gate at the top of the stairs and descended, sliding from side to side down the steps, trying to avoid the creaks left by time and wear. A few hours passed by as she slept silently. As the summer night wore on, the dark air cooled, the breeze whirred slightly in between the trees and I headed toward my own soft bed. Enveloped in a white down comforter, the perfect companion to an unusually cool summer evening, I had just slipped into the first stage of sleep. A bleating cry, sad, disoriented, and persistent, blared out of the white monitor on my dresser. I headed back up the stairs, heedless of the creaking floorboards, stumbled through the baby gate and gathered the crying lump up into my arms. For the next hour or so, I attempted various methods of bribing her back into dreamland. For the next hour or so, she fought sleep, and for the next hour or so, I wondered why sleep must be so elusive. I grumpily thought I was the only person in the universe awake when I really wanted to be snuggled under my white down, sleeping, turning an unconscious wall to the world.

 

Sleep is a business in our world. There are sleeping medications, noise machines, customized mattresses and pillows, sleep studies, sleep labs, sleep research, sleep recommendations and guidelines according to age.

 

We lose sleep for a variety of reasons, some self-inflicted, some understandable battles with insomnia or anxiety, losing sleep because a baby or child is awake. Some reasons seem controllable, many are not. Our minds and bodies are crowded ballrooms of twirling thoughts and actions. Rest is the ever elusive suitor who dodges behind plants and doors and evades our embrace far too often.

 

As I held the crying, squirming baby in the dark night, the words of Psalm 121 came to my mind. “…he who keeps you will not slumber.” A parent is often the lucky recipient of the sleep deprivation prize. Some of us never sleep well after we have children. The baby may sleep through the night, but we do not rest fully, knowing there are others in our house or care to think about.

The darkness of that night was a shadowy reminder that God never sleeps. Our children do not realize that they are interrupting our coveted sleep because we appear at their bedside for them, when they cry. To them, they are not interrupting. To them, we are always there for them.

In similar fashion to our children, we do not interrupt our God. He is there for us when we cry. At any hour, in any time zone, anywhere, and everywhere, our God is awake, listening to the voices He created. He is coming to our aid, responding to our cries, receiving our joy, hearing our jumbled prayers that pour out from crowded minds and noisy hearts.

He has created us to sleep and at the same time has given us children to care for through sleepy nights. As we wake in the night, our lack of sleep underlines our great needs. We recognize that God our Father is by our side, without slumber or sleep. He is our rest, without needing rest. Only a perfect parent could be this complete. Only an eternal Father could be a perfect parent. We stumble and struggle and hope to not fall down stairs while holding a baby. We sit in the dark, bleary eyed, hearing the tick tock of a second hand propelling us closer to the start of a new day. We dread the dawn when sleep has eluded us. But God is not caught off guard by our neediness. He watches over each of us and our tired rivers of thoughts, as we do our children, without a thought for His own rest.

 

“…He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” The nations fight. God does not slumber or sleep. He hears the cries. He ordains the kingdoms of Earth, He raises up leaders and sets down leaders. Without pausing for a rest, He sees His royal priesthood of believers, the Christians displaced from their homes, those who are persecuted, those who live in peace, those who worry over the future, those who worship in safety and in danger, those holding their own babies in the dark of the night, those awake praying for their children in the small hours of the morning.   He does not slumber or sleep as He holds us in His care.

“Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,” God is our rest for us. The rest that needs no rest. Because of the Cross, because of our adoption into God’s family, we can have strength through unrest because He is our rest. We can sleep because He is our rest. The Cross takes away our fear, it removes our loneliness in the night. Through the darkest hours, we have a Father- who does not sleep.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8;

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Continuing

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Growing up, I had a pastor in the house (He was my dad). With a resident theologian nearby, I became familiar with an incredible amount of Biblical and historical material at a young age. There was a vast array of commentaries, Bible study tools and various books a few steps away from me at all times. I had Bible verses and characters and stories all memorized and categorized in my little brain. My worldview was established very early – through the lens of Biblical plots, terminology, and concepts.

My daughter is three years old, and suddenly we have been thrown into the “WHY” year. I stress at times, wondering how she will learn all the same information I had without a resident pastor in the house. But, if you tell your preschooler a few Bible stories, and mention a few connections between life and Godliness to them, you will launch yourself into a barrage of questions –  seemingly out of nowhere that send you scrambling for just the right answers – for the preschooler and for yourself perhaps. As in any field of study or skill, teaching the concepts are sometimes the best way to fully grasp the answers.

Throughout life, I’ve questioned enough to solidify my own personal beliefs and worldview, but I never questioned the reality of God. I have trampled through a few figurative minefields, confirming my belief in the goodness and love of God. I am determined to teach my children about God in a way that reflects His grace and goodness and without tripping into clichéd language and un-intentional theological pitfalls.

So, we have started on the quest to read Bible stories regularly, to teach her about sin, about our neediness, about Christ’s sacrifice, about redemption and about how each of these things affects every day life. We pray, we talk about Bible verses, and we try to help her understand that by Him all things consist – along with all the implications of that concept. Recently, some of the questions that have come out of her mouth are:

 

  • Will God be mad if we do X?
  • What does Amen mean?
  • Why do we pray at bedtime?
  • God will heal my boo-boos, right?
  • Are Jesus and God the same?
  • Will God be happy with us if X happens?
  • God will not love us anymore if we do X, right?

I have been extremely careful to explain to her that God loves His children no matter what. I was floored the day she mentioned some action and proposed to me that God would not love us anymore if something specific happened. Here in a little three-year-old brain was a question with which adults grapple often. I realized, sitting there in a mall parking lot, that the oldest human struggle between good and evil was taking place. In the parking lot, on a rather boring day, I was talking about God’s grace to future generations,  denying imaginative views of a fair weather God.

Once again, I saw God at work in His ordaining of parenthood. Parenting is not an egotistical boost where we see beautiful little creatures, looking just like us, carrying on our best character traits while prancing around in adorable Ralph Lauren clothing. Parenting is a reflection into the window of God’s nature.  Parenting forces God’s nature to glint and bounce like sunbeams into the glass, piercing our sight. These questions from little mouths, learning about and processing thoughts on faith, drawing connections between Heaven and Earth, make parents constantly indulge in thoughts about our beliefs. While we may not doubt God, the re-telling of our beliefs reinforces our own faith. We look at the whys of our convictions from new angles, with new perspectives. These little people who drop crumbs on our floors and climb in our beds at unearthly hours of the morning are a means God uses to make us continue in the things WE have learned and been assured of, to strengthen our resolve as we continue trusting in Christ. God, as a loving Father, is revealed to us more clearly as we watch and hear these small creations learn, think, connect, and question.

There is a distinct reason that the Bible uses the analogies of parent and child and the language of generational continuance in faith over and over. Throughout history, stories of Scripture are given from one generation to another. Tell a few Bible stories that you learned as a child, share a few connections, and suddenly the faith of past generations meets the rising faith of future generations. Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might. Continue in the things that you have learned. Over and over, the plea is given from one generation of Christians to another – learn, believe, share, teach, remain steadfast.

This generational connection occurs between biological parents and children. It also occurs between spiritual parents and children. Paul refers to Timothy as his son in the faith. The analogy of parenting, of teaching and nurturing, while simultaneously growing and modeling, holds firm even beyond biological confines. This is discipleship in its most organic form. But, the incredible reality is this – we tend to think of parenting and discipleship as one sided and nothing could be further from the truth. I may not learn from my daughter in the sense that she is not teaching me Greek translations of the Bible. I may not learn new Biblical facts or figures from her. But God is using her existence and her questions to teach me more about His nature, His sovereignty, about His ordination, about His calling of sons and daughters to Himself. He is teaching me that His power to draw future generations goes beyond the stacks of commentaries, beyond the seminary degrees. Those things are needful, but He  transcends their presence and absence.

The concept of continuing in beliefs goes far beyond feeling empowered and inspired during a week of camp, a semester of Bible college, or a weekend conference. Rather, it is a way of life on the dripping rainy days, and in the routines of brilliant sunshine. Continuing means knowing or finding the answers to questions; it is the belief that finding unknown answers is a worthwhile endeavor. It is the understanding that questioning is normal and right and that God’s sovereignty is stronger than any doubt. Find one of your kids or a friend’s kid, or a kid who no one will hang out with. Let them ask you a few questions and you will suddenly view a broad canvas with God’s loving care surrounding you, stretching far away beyond yourself, arching over you, from one generation to another.

 

Reciting When the Winds Shift

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When the year shifts and the breezes come in from a different direction, the air swoops in from an unknown place. With new air comes restlessness, bringing with it questions about life and mulling about identity and wondering what the present tense will look like in the future. When questions and mulling come, doubt and demons sneak through the cracks in armor, riding on the breeze in through the chinks. Suddenly people seem judgmental. Life seems threatening. Retreat seems the most inviting option. Hiding looks like a palpable answer. But instead one breath at a time keeps life moving forward.

This is the point in time that professionals tell their clients to think positively, to rehearse their dreams, to visualize their goals.

It is at this intersection of life that rehearsing the goodness of God drives a person farther to real success than any visualization of dreams ever could.

It’s June. Exactly a year ago, I had a brand new baby and a few brand new ideas. I was emotionally and mentally finished with working in an office doing mindless work all day. But I had no idea where to turn. I had a small bit of teaching experience, a masters in Teaching, a blog, too many years of administrative work on my resume, a toddler, and a new born.

It’s been a year. The prayer I prayed for months leading up to last June was for employment where I could spend more time with my children, forge into a more fulfilling career,  and for provision of our tangible needs. Terrified, I made choices where no clear path was cut in the jungle.

Running through the warm summery, morning air, I thought about the choices I made. No matter what we do, dragons and demons blow fire across our paths and serpents try to convince us, as they swirl around overhanging tree branches, that our failures equal God’s failure to us. That our doubts exist because God is not good and does not really want our happiness.

But just as the nation of Israel shouted with a loud noise, crashing down the walls of Jericho, so the noise of our voices, both aloud and silently, speaking the goodness and care of God annihilates the vassals of the Destroyer.

I spoke to myself and to God, remembering my prayer. More time with my children, in order to be their mother. A more fulfilling career path. Provision of tangible needs. And as I spoke, I recognized that all of these items were specifically answered in the past 12 months, in ways I would never have planned or initiated without God’s loving care and brilliant sovereignty.  Obviously, I would like to kick back and rest, knowing my career is set, my parenting skills are perfected, my financial investments well managed.  I would like to think that every choice I make will have fabulous consequences that will play out for the rest my life and my children’s lives. But God gives manna, not lottery winnings. The “happily ever after” is reserved for Heaven, not Earth.

And so we rehearse prayers answered, promises found, and goodness felt, over and over, telling ourselves, telling our children, that all things work together for good for those who are called of God, whether it’s sunshine for our picnics or rain on our parades.

The words from Be Still My Soul wander through the breezy air.  “Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change He faithful will remain.” And as I leave the ordering and providing, I keep reminding myself of His faithful remaining.

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When All Is Made New

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Not to belabor children’s books, but I read the account of Heaven in “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones to my daughter recently.

“I see a sparkling city shimmering in the sky glittering, glowing-coming down! From Heaven… and from the sky… Heaven is coming down to earth! God’s city is beautiful. Walls of topaz, jasper, sapphire.  Wide streets paved with gold.  Gleaming pearl gates that are never locked shut.  Where is the sun? Where is the moon? They aren’t needed anymore.  GOD IS ALL THE LIGHT PEOPLE NEED. No more darkness! No more night! And the King says, ‘Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away.  Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying. Because all those things are gone.  Yes, they’re gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue. And see – I have wiped away every tear from every eye!’And then a deep, beautiful voice that sounded like thunder in the sky says, “Look! I am making everything new!” (pp. 346-7)

As I read, the happiness came.  I was happy to read this particular book myself, hearing the familiar words and message in a fresh way. It made me happy to read such beautiful, descriptive language about Heaven to my daughter. I can tell her there is a happily ever after for the children of God. In simple but rich words, I can explain that we anticipate a time when everything will be made new.

This description of Heaven is our joyful hope.  The good intentioned defenses of doctrine, the glittering personalities in churches and beyond, the out of control Twitter feeds, the strivings, the evening news, the lost friendships, the frustrating weeks, the job promotion, the platform building, the intellectual prowess, the creative achievements, the human accomplishment on Earth is not where our final hope is rooted.  These are the things in which we dabble because God is honored through our participation in the culture of our present world. But no present city can bring the joy that this city will hold.

The hope that is in us is our future hope. The reason for our hope is that we are children of God by His love and through the work of the cross.  We are at peace with God through the blood of Christ- and one day faith will be sight. The culminating hope of Heaven is so beautifully described in these words, paraphrased for a child to understand and for an adult to treasure. The love of God anchors us and this future hope propels us.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:11