Today I am praying for marriages that are dealing with the strain of a layoff. Aaron and I went through that a few years ago, and even though we could always pay the bills (praise God!), it was not easy; it was hard for Aaron to feel like he wasn’t able to provide for his family and it was hard for me to know how to love and encourage him through that time. Looking back, it was a precious time of growth and learning to trust the Lord and learning to love each other through a challenging point in life. We had wonderful family and friends praying us through! So today I want to pray for others in that situation. Prayer first and foremost for provision for physical needs for the family. And then prayer for the emotional state of the spouse who is jobless. Love and patience and understanding for the other spouse. Dependence on Christ in new, deep, exciting ways. Protection from bitterness and anger. Hope in the Lord and who he is as our Provider and Father. Joy in the realization that God always provides everything–nothing we have is because of our own efforts but because of him. Righting of priorities, especially in our first-world country. Delight in each other now that many materialistic distractions are gone. And a rediscovery of why they fell in love in the first place.
Today I am praying for rogue marriages. And not just because I love the word “rogue,” but because I have encountered a lot of marriages that function alone outside of community and authority.
A few years ago, some marriages very, very close to us fell apart. We looked at these situations and realized that while we went to church and were involved in a Bible study, we had no one to go to if we encountered serious marital problems–that is, no one we trusted or who invested in us as a couple. That sounded some serious alarms, and we immediately started pursuing relationships with people who would walk this journey with us as well as older couples whom we could seek for counsel and guidance. I am happy to say that the Lord has provided in those ways, and now more than ever I understand the importance of those relationships.
I am praying for these marriages that have no one in their biz–no one getting in their faces, questioning what is going on, loving them through their struggles, reaching out in their hurt. No one who notices if things are off. No one to question their decisions or theology when it gets weird. I am praying for humility for these couples in realizing they need other people and they need input and they need love from others. I pray for courage for them to seek out other relationships–true, honest, messy relationships. I pray for humility for them to realize they need authority and they don’t have all the answers. I pray for a longing for community and an honest acknowledgment of their hunger for deeper relationships with friends and family. I pray that they will have safe places to go with their challenges and brokenness and that they will soon have safe places where they are free to be honest about who they really are.
Have you ever had a relationship in which the other person has such a different idea of how relationships should work that you start to question your own understanding of God’s design? And I don’t mean the kind of relationship where you are stretched and challenged and encouraged, but the kind where the other person is manipulative and draws you into some weird alternate reality where they are the boss and if you don’t follow their rules, you are a big fat sinner or it must mean you don’t love them or you don’t understand the Bible or maybe you’re just stupid? And somehow you get sucked in and start to function under this person’s craziness–their Crazy Town–thinking it’s okay and normal.
But then one day, something happens and you realize you can’t agree with this person on a certain point; you are sure beyond doubt that they are wrong. And because they can’t lose control, instead of discussing things, they just get mad and act hurt and threaten you with anger, hurl insults at you, attempt to manipulate you back into their Crazy Town. At some point the clouds part and you can see the light! All this time you’ve been duped into believing their lies. You didn’t just believe their lies, you lived in them and they tainted your perspective and started affecting other relationships. The moment you realize this is the moment you have found freedom! You start to notice that you weren’t the crazy one for thinking they were weird or for questioning their philosophy. You finally understand that going along with them wasn’t love but actually just people pleasing. You rejoice that God’s design for relationship–complete with messiness, humility, sweetness, intimacy, satisfaction–is true and right and wonderful and the legalistic expectations that person had of you were wrong and ugly and contrary to Scripture. What a relief!
Obviously I’ve been there. More than once. And as I grow up, God is helping me to become more discerning; the more I flourish in healthy, godly, true relationships, the more easily I can recognize distorted versions of what should be. Thankfully my husband and our love has been instrumental in teaching me all this. But today as I was tempted to get sucked into someone’s crazy, I thought, what if I were married to a citizen of Crazy Town?
So today I am praying for people who are married to those citizens. I pray for the blinders to be taken off their eyes and for them to see clearly. I pray for discernment, open mindedness, the realization that people pleasing does NOT equal love. I pray for support from outside the marriage–people to talk truth and sanity into their hearts and lives, and to be there for the spouse to fall back on when things are unbearable. I pray for courage for them to stand up for God’s design of relationship and not fall prey to craziness. I pray for their love of their spouse to trump their fear. I pray for courage for them to reach out to their spouse and remind them they are safe and do not need to live in this weirdness. And of course, I pray for the destruction of Crazy Town once and for all.
After hearing that someone I love very dearly has suffered a second miscarriage, today I am praying for marriages that have gone through this same loss. We know so many couples who have endured this tragedy, and my mind can’t even begin to understand the heartbreak involved. I don’t pretend to know this loss. I do know that I hate it and that it is not God’s original design. So I pray for the parents–that they will somehow be comforted by God’s sovereignty and his love. That his never-ending compassion will overwhelm them and bring them peace. That in this great loss, they will move toward Jesus and each other, sharing the burden of losing their baby with each other. That they will have patience for each other’s grief, no matter what it looks like. That they will grow in intimacy and love for each other. That her body will heal and she will be able to carry the next baby to term. That he will know how to love her in her confusion. That there will be no false guilt, no blaming, no doubt. That their friends and family will reach out in loving ways that will bring comfort. That in their healing, they will have the words and prayers to comfort others who experience this. That their broken hearts will be mended and they will have hope in Jesus.
Today I’m praying for marriages where someone has gone from in love to in resentment. Marriages where a spouse has convinced themselves they are justified in blaming the other and maybe even seeking divorce when it wasn’t biblical. Marriages where people live out of license instead of grace, counting on a second chance with a second person. This kind of resentment hurts my heart because I know and understand bitterness. I struggle with it on a regular basis and always have my guard up against it. I know I could easily become the kind of spouse who resents my husband and justifies my ugly heart and selfishness. I pray for clarity in vision, humility in heart, selflessness in action. I pray for patience, brokenness, community, accountability, and focus on Christ. And I pray for the wronged spouse–for encouragement, hope, and faith in God’s love especially when s/he can’t depend on the spouse’s.
Today I am praying for marriages that have suffered broken trust. I think all marriages suffer this on a regular basis. Often, we forgive easily because we know our spouse did not intend to hurt us or break our trust. And sometimes it takes an act of God to help us trust the Holy Spirit at work in our spouse’s heart and remember that s/he is a child of God whom God’s hand is on, sanctifying and redeeming. And then there are marriages where trust has been severely broken to the point of devastation. I have seen some marriages redeemed from this place and some not. So today I pray for these marriages–that the person who has broken the trust will be truly repentant (and not faker repentant in which they apologize only because they’ve been caught) and heart broken to the point of moving toward God knowing that s/he can’t heal or change or address their sin without Jesus. I pray for the spouse who has been sinned against, that s/he will have grace and forgiveness for their spouse, hope for their marriage, and faith in God’s hand over them. I also pray that their family and friends will come around them to love them and be a safe place for them to flounder as they sort things out.
I was at a party recently where we were playing a game and someone was asked to tell of their most memorable birthday. I laughed to myself, glad that I hadn’t gotten that question. Oh, I could tell about my 30th birthday and how I had fallen madly in love with the man of my dreams or my 35th birthday when I was induced. But my truly most memorable birthday was my 21st.
Don’t get excited—I’m not going to tell a “Hangover” kind of story where getting drunk launches a ridiculous string of events that will have you doubling over in laughter. My story is anything but funny, so if you want to stop reading now, I understand.
I turned 21 a month after my parents died. My sisters and I were still living in our family home and my grandmother came to have dinner with us. I remember my grandmother giving me a bathrobe and my sisters trying desperately to smile and create a happy celebration with the meal and cake they lovingly provided. I remember the sad looks on their faces being the worst part—their understanding that as much as they loved me, they could not take away the pain of our parents’ absence, they could not make this first parentless milestone okay no matter how hard they tried.
Sometimes people are surprised to hear that I handled the death of our parents horribly. You’re thinking, “Who wouldn’t?!” Well, without going into great detail here, I will simply explain that my self-absorbed response snowballed into a series of situations that hurt everyone around me. For years. Though we were raised in a loving, Christian home, I didn’t have the theology to help me put this depth of suffering into any kind of context. People said things like, “God needed your parents more than we did, so He took them Home,” and “Now your parents are angels and will always be with you.”
I knew those sentiments were hooey. But that’s about all I knew. I remember my high school youth pastor coming to our house, an emotional wreck. We cried together and I asked him, “What do I do? Why did this happen?” He choked out, “I don’t know!” before giving in to his tears. I went to the chaplains at college and asked, “Why was it okay that this happened? Why would God allow something so awful to happen?” They didn’t have answers. I was even approached by a theology professor who asked if I had questions I’d like to explore with him. I finally felt hope. “What is Heaven like? Are my parents spirits? Can they see me?” He hemmed and hawed before admitting he had no answers.
I cannot fault any of these people, and I certainly don’t claim to have a perfect memory. It’s very likely that people said wise things to me that I either didn’t hear or didn’t understand. Instead, I heard things like, “It’s okay to be angry at God.” “This happened because God allowed it to.” “All things will work out in the end if you love God.”
Maybe these statements have truth, but they fell flat at the time. Why would God’s perfect plan involve orphaning five children? Was this just a plan B that God allowed to happen for some random reason? Why wouldn’t God want to stop the car accident from happening? Were we really better off without our parents? Did God really want them so much in Heaven that He would allow us to go without parents? Could God really not convert the people who accepted Christ at the funeral any other way? What kind of God, who is supposedly in control of all the universe, turns his head and nonchalantly lets tragedy occur? And how does He then pick up the pieces? Does He really have a plan? If evil is allowed to interfere and trump God’s goodness, how will God triumph in the end?
I grew angrier and angrier in my confusion. I sought answers in people and books and didn’t find anything to satisfy my hurt. I prayed and read my Bible and went to counseling. But the anger and depression overwhelmed me and, unable to trust this God who arbitrarily allows horrid things to happen to his beloved children, I sank into a well of self-absorption.
Fast forward many years ahead. Years full of self-destructive behavior, painful lashing out against those who loved me the most, insane self-indulgence. It was a season of trying to prove God wrong and survive the grief that consumed me. With little or no thought of anyone in my path of thoughtless and careless hedonism.
I finally had my Prodigal Son moment in which I realized I was living in the stench of my own selfishness, the misery of years of poor decisions finally catching up with me. I reached out toward Jesus like the bleeding woman—if I could just touch the hem of his cloak. My reach was met by Grace, a Grace that accepted me for who I was, where I was. A Grace that had been quietly wooing me for years, a Grace that calmed my panicked spirit and reassured my confused mind. And that Grace was extended by all those people I had continually hurt over the years. It was a beautiful and quiet season of forgiveness and redemption.
Some time after that, once relationships were restored and my heart was safe, I experienced a deep betrayal. Looking back, I am so glad it happened, but in the middle of it, I crumpled. I had moved to North Carolina after quitting my job and selling my belongings. I had one suitcase of stuff and my cat.
Caitlin once again sat with me; the pained look of sympathy on her face was the same as it had been years before at my birthday. Tears flowed and I clung to her.
“What do I do?”
I can barely type remembering her tenderness and her overwhelming safety and compassion.
She led me right back to Jesus, and as she prayed and I sobbed, I realized I had two choices: I could go down the familiar road of self-indulgence or I could turn to Jesus. I didn’t even know what that meant or what it would look like. But it was okay—Caitlin’s faith carried me in that moment and until I was delivered to Erin’s doorstep where her faith took over. I trusted my sisters and because I trusted them, I learned to trust Jesus.
I spent a year with Erin, and it was the sweetest year of my life to that point—not just because I got to live with her and her precious family, but because Grace met me in my hardship. I lived minute by minute, one foot in front of the other. I cried out to Jesus in ways I never had before. And my questions had changed: God, will you help me in my unbelief? God, can I really trust your goodness and sovereignty? God, will you show me what it means to have hope in you and not hope in improved circumstances? God, do you really love me? God, can you help me believe that you love me?
God delighted in my questions and said Yes to all of them. When I couldn’t sleep because it hurt too much, when I was tempted to despair, when I was enraged and filled with anger, when I longed for bitterness, God met me instead. He filled my heart first with peace, then with hope, then with joy. Things I don’t think I had ever truly experienced in the context of Grace.
In regard to her own story, Kara recently wrote, “But this place of grace I now know—I could never go back. This living free, trusting grace and not my own strength, this moving in each moment needy, well—this grace is like none other.”
I understand that. I think back to being in my sister’s arms in North Carolina, first tasting the bigness of Grace, and then the year in Maryland living my desperate life rooted weakly in Grace until I was flourishing and blooming in God’s love. And here lies my regret—that I didn’t fall into my God’s embrace a month before my 21st birthday. That I floundered and fell into anger instead. That I refused to trust God and His love for me. I wonder what kind of mighty Grace would have met me there in my overwhelming despair.
It was Grace that found me in my pigpen of a response to my parents’ death, and I am eternally grateful. But it was a slow, wooing Grace. How I wish I had experienced God’s big, engulfing, loud Grace when my parents died. The intimacy that comes with desperation, the furious longing of God for my broken heart, the safety of trusting a sovereign God. How I wish I had not squandered the opportunity to be found and lifted and whisked to dependence and shelter in Christ.
God has written my story, and it is perfect. But I will always yearn and ask for big Grace.
Today I am praying for marriages in which one of the spouses lives in a place of shame so deep, s/he cannot engage his/her spouse. Either shame that rooted in assumptions of what the other thinks or rooted in misconceptions about his/her own identity. Shame that causes fear and an inward focus that prevent him/her from seeing outside him/herself and loving his/her spouse. Shame that shames the spouse and creates discord and brokenness.
I have saved this series of posts because it is so powerful and helpful to me as I seek God in pray, both in marriage and in other areas. This is the link to the first installment, but there are five, which you can link to on the sidebar.
Some days I have a keen sense of observation. Keener than usual. I notice every movement of my babies’, especially my big one who seems to be growing at an outrageously unfair rate. As I type I am watching him set up for his guitar practice—it is a painstaking process for a 2-year old and one he does every single day. He gets out his music stand, puts his book on it, then finds four or five of Papa’s guitar pedals and puts them on the floor by the music stand. He finds a guitar stand and puts his guitar (ukulele) on it. He gets the peg winder out of his guitar case and “tunes” his guitar. He looks for a pick and then is ready to play, tapping his foot and making good use of the pick that looks big in his toddler hand.
He has moved on to the piano, clearing all of my music to make space for his own. He climbed on the bench all by himself and is playing away, occasionally stopping to look for my approving smile and words of affirmation. He doesn’t bang the keys—he explores them, playing high notes and low notes, loud and soft. He will sit there for 30 or 40 minutes plunking out compositions with his index fingers. He just turned to me, laughed, and clapped for himself. “Well done, Von; that is nice music,” I say, and I mean it. He is now singing gleefully with a big grin on his face. I shared this weekend on Facebook that he finally sang his first song—not “Twinkle Twinkle” or “Jesus Loves Me” like I had expected. Instead, he belted out part of the chorus of New Kids on the Block’s “The Right Stuff”: Oh oh oh oh oh. Oh oh oh oh.
He’s got amazing rhythm and I love hearing him develop it in his baby ways.This kind of day makes me a slave to my babies in a good way. It seems I can’t help but watch them. I have a laundry basket of cloth diapers waiting to be assembled, and I really should mop the kitchen floor. I overcooked the lasagna noodles, so distracted was I by these little ones. My eyes seem glued to them, I gather them in my arms for as many cuddles and kisses as they’ll tolerate.
I’ve been wondering what it means to be happy, to take delight in things in this broken world. I know it’s dangerous to allow my heart to become too attached to anything here—I could lose any or all of it without a moment’s notice, including my beautiful babies. I know that these gifts are meant to point me toward Jesus, that He is my source of true, unending joy and hope. I know that He is the giver of all good things. But I struggle to live in this world that demands our attentions—and rightly so—to help carry burdens and soothe hurting hearts and walk alongside suffering people, and all while experiencing our own sadnesses.
This past weekend marked the second anniversary of the stillbirth of our nephew. Timothy would be 6 weeks younger than Von. His mama and I enjoyed being pregnant together and plotting how these two boys would be best friends. We imagined their faces and personalities, and I got them matching outfits. While we miss the presence of Timothy, my heart aches most for his mama; I can imagine Timothy’s face, but I can’t imagine his mama’s grief. And in all honesty, I don’t want to.
When we suffer such impossible grief, how do we reconcile the gifts of goodness in this ugly world that could snatch away our gifts tomorrow? Sometimes I feel like happiness is a consolation prize meant to comfort me until the next shoe drops. I struggle to believe God is benevolent and I try to pound into my head that His definition of Goodness is bigger, wider, more comprehensive than mine. That I can only see the here and now and a lot of my suffering is caused not by the absence of something or someone I love but my lack of trust in a loving God who promises eventual Goodness and Glory that I will not only finally understand but revel in.
In the middle of writing this, Von stopped playing the piano for a moment. “Mama? Mama?” he called. I looked up and couldn’t help but smile at his little voice, his dimpled hands on the keys, his smooth blonde eyebrows raised in question. “Yes, my babylove.” He patted the piano bench next to him. “Mama!! MAMA!!” He was asking me to sit next to him. How could I resist?!
I sat next to him, my right arm around him to reach the keys. We copied each other’s rhythms and notes, observing each other’s hands on the keys. His content head rested against the side of my breast, safe and happy.
My son is no consolation prize—he is a gift of grace. Yes, a gift that could be taken tomorrow, but a gift that has eternal significance as well as significance to me in this moment. This baby boy proves to me that God is Good, even if I don’t understand what that means. I don’t need to understand—I just need to believe, to trust, to be thankful for the gifts of grace I have been entrusted with in this minute. That gives me the strength to trust that if my gifts are gone tomorrow, maybe God will continue to be generous in giving me the faith in Him to get through loss. And the faith to focus on my biggest Gift, the Gift of Grace that will ultimately satisfy my every longing and that will heal the scabby wounds of my ever-grieving heart.