Costly love

Our third wedding anniversary was June 6. I’m a little late in posting because a cousin got married in the same place we did just a few days before our anniversary, so we took the opportunity to travel for a bit of a vacation. Being in the same place at about the same time for a wedding was a delicious reminder of our wedding week. If I could relive any day of my life it would be our wedding day. It is still, by far, the best day of my life (I honestly cannot remember much of the day our daughter was born — but that’s another story for another day).

When I thought about this post I first thought about sharing three things I’ve learned over three years of marriage, but upon further reflection I decided what I ought to be thinking about is what God has been revealing to me about himself in marriage. And the first thing that came to my mind was the costliness of God’s love:

“And he said to them all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.'” (Luke 9:23-24)

When Jack and I were introduced to one another, it was long-distance. He was here in the Midwest and I was in Washington, D.C.. We were both comfortable where we were. We were both considering that God might be calling us to marriage and going on dates. But we were wholly unprepared for the whirlwind that God actually had in store for us. Jack is very up front about the fact that he knew not very long into our communication that he wanted to marry me. And it showed; he thrust himself out of his comfort zone to pursue me. He’d never been in a plane before we started talking. But he took his first flight to see me. He sacrificed vacation time and resources to fly out to see me as frequently as we could manage because his schedule was more flexible than mine. When we finally got married, he continued these sacrifices to let me continue to do a job I loved in Washington. But long-distance wasn’t ever going to be a sustainable long-term option, we knew. One of us was going to have to give up our world so that we could be together. That person was me.

After a few months of long-distance marriage we were able to find a house here in the Midwest. We purchased the home, and I gave my office a few months’ notice that I was leaving. My last day at the Capitol was horrible. I walked through the building one last time laying my hands on all the walls, crying as I went (which was very assuring to the Capitol Police, I’m sure…), knowing I’d never walk through that beautiful, historic building unescorted ever again. I handed over all of my work to my successor and gave up any worldly importance I had (real or perceived). I said goodbye to all of my friends — many of whom were the first true Christian friends I ever had — and walked away from my community to start all over again somewhere else.

I remember the New Year’s before our daughter was born, I turned to my husband and said, “We’re going to have a baby in three months. Our lives are over, Jack.”

Jack responded, “Well, they were over on June 6, 2015.”

(He’s so smart!)

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:22-33)

Yes. We died to ourselves that day. And every day after.

Marriage isn’t a status, it’s a vocation. And like any other vocation, its something to which God calls specific people. He asks us to follow after him into it, and by doing so we lose ourselves. He asks those called into marriage to do this as a specific illustration of His salvation. Each of us gives up our individual identity to be part of this marriage — to be one flesh. I’m so blessed to be married to a man who shows me Christ-like, sacrificial love every day. He lays down his life for me in so many ways, and I know it’s hard work for him. You’d think, recognizing all he does for me, submission would be easy, but it’s not. It’s hard work to die to myself daily. This has gotten to be more of a conscious effort for both of us as we’ve become parents. We had to do a lot of dying to self when our daughter was born. In a funny way it made us better spouses, I think.

I’m so thankful for God’s work in our marriage. I’m beyond thankful that I have a husband who shows me costly love every day. I’m blessed to be able to try to return it. And I am so glad God is showing these things to us.

Memorial Day

I’m kind of a genealogy nerd. I’m actually one of a long line of genealogy nerds on both sides of my family. Because of this, family comes to me with all sorts of stuff from time to time — questions, information, artifacts, and pictures. I love it.

Some of my most treasured artifacts are copies of letters sent from my third great-grandfather, Edward Ellis, to his wife, Elizabeth, during the Civil War. They had two small children. Edward was a Union with the 115th Ohio Infantry, which defended railroad lines in Tennessee. He was eventually taken prisoner of war and sent to Andersonville prison camp, the most notorious of the war:

Andersonville, or Camp Sumter as it was known officially, held more prisoners at any given time than any of the other Confederate military prisons. It was built in early 1864 after Confederate officials decided to move the large number of Federal prisoners in and around Richmond to a place of greater security and more abundant food. During the 14 months it existed, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined here. Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, or exposure to the elements. …

By the end of June, 26,000 men were penned in an area originally meant for only 10,000 prisoners. The largest number held at any one time was more than 33,000 in August 1864. The Confederate government could not provide adequate housing, food, clothing or medical care to their Federal captives because of deteriorating economic conditions in the South, a poor transportation system, and the desperate need of the Confederate army for food and supplies.

These conditions, along with a breakdown of the prisoner exchange system between the North and the South, created much suffering and a high mortality rate. “There is so much filth about the camp that it is terrible trying to live here,” one prisoner, Michigan cavalryman John Ransom, confided to his diary. “With sunken eyes, blackened countenances from pitch pine smoke, rags, and disease, the men look sickening. The air reeks with nastiness.” Still another recalled, “Since the day I was born, I never saw such misery.”

Edward was lucky enough to survive the camp and be paroled to Vicksburg. From there, he wrote to his wife on April 12, 1865, their 10th wedding anniversary:

Just 10 years ago now I have the honor of being the husband of a true, loving, and affectionate wife, and I hope from this… I shall do my duty as a husband, father, and Christian more faithful than I have done the time past, and by the grace of God shall try and do better to try and lead a life that I would not be ashamed to have our children to imitate, we should let the trials and experiences we have gone through prove a benefit to us, and thank our Heavenly Father that it has been no worse with us.

Edward died on April 27, just days later, in the worst maritime disaster in US history.

Can you imagine how his wife must have felt, finding out that her husband was alive and coming home, only to have the reunion snatched away from her? Can you imagine the confusion and pain of their two children, growing up without their dad? And all of the things Edward must have suffered, the hope he must have felt after liberation, only to never return home. My heart aches for these people I’ve never met, and yet who are so close to me.

I’ve been thinking of Edward a lot this Memorial Day. Memorial Day was originally known as “Decoration Day,” a tradition of decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers in the springtime. Eventually the tradition expanded to include the graves of soldiers from other conflicts and came to be known as Memorial Day. Congress declared it a federal holiday in the 1970’s. Memorial Day is a day we set aside to remember those who gave what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion” to their country. Those who died for our freedom.

In Memorial Day we have a tangible reminder that freedom is costly. We can visit the graves of those who gave the last full measure and ponder their suffering, the suffering of their families and loved ones, and do our best to honor their sacrifices.

But for Christians, every day should be a Memorial Day of sorts. Our ultimate freedom — freedom from sin, God’s wrath, and death — was paid with the precious blood of Jesus. How easy is it to forget! Especially today when much of Christian media peddles in messages of a needy Jesus who just wanted us to be with him in heaven. That’s not what Jesus was doing on the cross. Much like a soldier who goes off to war to protect something bigger than himself, Jesus submitted himself to the wrath of God on our behalf to show us God’s mysterious, glorious, redemptive plan. He loves us, of course! That’s why we needed to see the cross. We needed to see our need of Him. Not His need of us.

So today I’m thanking God for the tangible reminders of His grace in things like the temporal freedom in which I live today in the United States. Many, like Edward Ellis, sacrificed so that I can sit here and write this blog. I have done nothing to deserve any of the certain inalienable rights protected in our Constitution. I have done nothing to deserve true freedom and right standing before God. But by varying measures of mysterious grace I have both. He is so good!

For good

I remember very vividly one day, not long after bringing our newborn daughter home from the hospital, changing her diaper. Everything to her was new, and consequently everything was very scary for her (and me — let’s be honest). Diaper changes? She hated them. Sleeves on her shirts? WHAT IS THIS DEVILRY. But what’s a parent to do? You can’t just say to your kid, “sure, stay in the dirty diaper. And I know that shirt is covered in spit up and/or diaper blowout but since you don’t really want it changed, you can keep wearing it.” You’re the parent. You just have to bear up and plow ahead.

It had been a long morning with lots of crying, not a lot of sleeping, and a deep desire for things to JUST BE NORMAL FOR ONE MINUTE. Despite her very inconvenient protestations, which included flailing and rolling everywhere, I started to change the diaper. “I know you don’t like this,” I said to her, exasperated, “but its for your good!”

My words echoed very loudly in my own head. Not because I’d said them in anger or frustration, but because I was suddenly very aware of the Holy Spirit working in that moment as I struggled to get the Huggies fastened snugly on my wiggling, crying infant.

The older our daughter gets, the more often I get to realize just what a unique perspective parenthood gives us on God’s relationship to us. I’ve always had a good relationship with my parents, and it was very easy for me to comprehend my status as a child of God. But I’d never had much of a chance, until now, to wonder how God feels as my Father.

How frequently am I the infant crying as God is trying to clothe me in his righteousness after he’s cleansed me of my sins? The better question still, is how frequently is he the exasperated parent, rolling his eyes and admonishing me, “it’s for your good!”

The Bible is always whispering to us that God’s plans, discipline, and provision are for our good.

For I know the plans I have for you… plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproved; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal…. Behold, this we have searched out; it is true. Hear, and know it is for your good.” (Job 5:17-18, 27)

But the perplexing thing (for me and my sinful heart) is that God is apparently never exasperated.

The Bible constantly reminds us that God is slow to anger and abounding in mercy:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6)

“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Numbers 14:16)

“They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.” (Nehemiah 9:17)

“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:5)

The Old Testament repeats this phrase, “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” no fewer than a dozen times. God’s chosen people disobeyed him, ignored his power and might, and turned to other gods all the time. He did provide discipline. He let his children experience the consequences of their actions. Yet, instead of losing his patience with his children he reminded them of his patience.

It’s hard for me to imagine myself doing the same in situations when I’m tempted to lose my patience. First of all, it wouldn’t feel particularly honest to remind my daughter of my abounding steadfast love, mercy, and patience because, frankly, I am none of those things naturally. I am naturally a self-centered, fickle, impatient person. But what if every time I was at the end of my fuse I tried to remind myself of my newness in Christ?

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I haven’t actually tried this strategy yet, but I’m willing to guess that I would slam doors with much less frequency. And I’m willing to bet that if I remembered more often that God’s provision for me – however perplexing to me in my present circumstance – is for my good, I’d probably be generally more content to wait and see.

I’m so thankful that God reveals himself to us in little things like diaper changes. Praise be to him who is making all things new, whose plans are perfect, and whose love never ends!

What am I doing here.

I’ve tried to start this blog about a dozen times but I think the time has really come for me to actually commit to it. Allow me to explain.

About two years ago, I started praying regularly that God would “Create in me a clean heart… and renew a right spirit within me,” (Psalm 51:10) and “remove the heart of stone from [my] flesh and give [me] a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26). My husband and I also prayed that he would bless us with children. I didn’t imagine that these prayers were related — in fact, we only prayed once before we got pregnant — but as it turns out, God is accomplishing the answer to one with the answer to the other.

Our daughter was born last spring and I can guarantee you that there is something different in my heart (if nothing else, I am now KEENLY aware of my depravity!). I know that my experiences aren’t unique. I can see that God has been working to systematically divest me of things that aren’t of Him, and I know that Christian parents everywhere can probably share stories similar to mine. But what got me writing was something that God was specifically working out of me.

I used to be a Congressional staffer. I didn’t think that my job was my life, but when I moved away from DC and opted to stay home, I realized just how much priority I’d given my job and how much of my identity was wrapped up in it. Time and distance helped to erode some of the unhealthy hold my old life had on my new life, but not all of it. Enter parenthood.

Every parent knows that parenthood is the most important job you’ll ever have with the least amount of recognition you’ll ever get. I had a lot of trouble with this. Even if I knew that this was kingdom work at its very greatest, I still craved the importance that came with my old job. So I was not shy over social media with my opinions on all sorts of things, political and otherwise, posting long-winded things on Facebook and quips on Twitter, craving the “likes,” and the retweets. I wasn’t posting every day, or even every week, and I always kept in mind that my words and my actions spoke about God so I did my best to be respectful.

But even if I was being respectful and not seeking to malign the Gospel, I was still doing it for the wrong reasons. Predictably, the likes and the retweets could not satisfy. Eventually, through studying Romans in Bible Study Fellowship, God convicted my heart of this right in time for Lent. So I gave up posting on Facebook for 40 days. I still allowed myself to skim, but I wasn’t allowed to respond to anything — no likes, shares, reactions, and definitely no posts of my own. And, perhaps not so surprisingly, when the 40 days was over, it didn’t seem so necessary to keyboard rage whenever something happened. God used that time to speak to me about the importance of spreading the Gospel, and if the Gospel was so important, why would I spend my time talking about anything less?

Convicted of this, nonetheless, I still craved. I wanted to write. I wanted importance. I want, I want, I want… So I did my best to try and trust that God was doing a work and I needed to trust that the importance I craved is really not found on a screen, it’s found in running a Godly household. I wish I could say that I dove into this idea with enthusiasm, but I didn’t. I moped. I was pitiful. I was ridiculous.

And then, one day at BSF, we were asked to share something that God was doing in our lives through our study of Romans. So I shared all of the above and talked about how hard it was, even though it all sounded silly. I got a lot of encouragement from all the moms in my group, and left feeling like I could still trust God with all of this. And when I got in my car, the song “My Story” from Big Daddy Weave was playing on the radio. The chorus goes:

“If I speak then let it be
Of the grace that was greater than all my sin,
Of when justice was done, and when mercy wins,
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in,
If I tell you of my story, let me tell of Him.”

… … … … … OK God, I hear you!

Then, one day not long afterwards, a funny, kind-of-ironic thing happened with my daughter and I posted about it on Facebook. A friend of mine who is currently expecting her first child responded that she thought that God give children to parents to teach parents that they aren’t in control (TRUTH!). I responded, “I could write an essay (or several) on all the things God is using parenthood to teach me.” Another friend responded, “Please write the essays. I’d love to read them.”

OKAY GOD, I REALLY HEAR YOU!

So, all of that to say, I don’t really know where this is going. But I believe that God has been revealing all of these things to me so that I can write about his sanctifying work in my life, and that if it is His will, by this He will be glorified.

I don’t want this to be about me. I want this to be about the grace that is greater than all of my sin, of justice done and mercy’s victory, of Jesus’ kindness, of HIS story in my life. So God, may I write of and for only you. In Jesus’ name, amen.