Our only daughter recently delighted us with the announcement that she is engaged to be married. As the nuptials are scheduled this summer, we promptly found ourselves in a flurry of activity. During the process of selecting a wedding gown, deciding upon the right setting for the ceremony, and discussing details with the caterer, someone asked us if we had a wedding planner. Of course, we replied that we ourselves were serving as the (albeit unpaid) wedding planners. Now that the bride and groom have committed to the marriage, we are scurrying about, attempting to tend to every detail, hoping we don’t forget something significant, and — of course — wanting our daughter’s day to be memorable for all the right reasons!
It occurred to me that God (as seems quite typical for Him — Jeremiah reports that God’s ways and thoughts are on a far higher level than ours) plans a wedding quite differently. We did not even begin to plan our daughter’s wedding with her until there was an official engagement, which indicated that both parties had agreed to the wedding. Suddenly we were mired in a myriad of details that demanded decisions, all in the space of a relatively short period of time — in our case, a matter of a few months. However, God planned all HIS wedding details millennia in advance of the actual date, certainly long before we were even born. What earthly father of the bride does that? Our heavenly Father paid for the entire wedding before we were aware that we would even receive a proposal from the Bridegroom, King Jesus! He bought our dress (we will be clothed in white garments, according to Revelation 3:5). He has already decided to hold a wedding feast (the marriage supper — see Revelation 19:9). He sent His Son, fully God and fully Man, to lay down His life for the Bride who had yet to even know her Savior, the Lover of her soul, existed! The most unusual part of this process is that God planned the entire wedding and reception before there was any commitment on our part to be that bride. Sounds a little crazy and backwards, doesn’t it? We would never have dared to set a time and place for our daughter’s wedding, much less worry about details of the event or pay a deposit on anything, before she had agreed to marry anyone.
However, God, mercifully, is NOT like us! He put everything in place, made all the decisions for an exquisite ceremony and celebration, and THEN He set about wooing us, His Bride. Yes, it technically is an arranged marriage, but unlike some earthly arranged marriages, the bride has a very real option. Hence, the question remains: Will we accept His proposal? Will we say, “I do!”?
Even though in my heart of hearts, I know without a doubt that I have accepted His proposal, I occasionally find myself behaving more like the runaway bride (see the movie by the same name). Each time I don my running shoes and flee in fear or even a little bit of rebellion, Jesus comes running after me. He is truly the most patient and loving suitor, and His love never fails. He NEVER gives up passionately pursuing us!
Lord, help my pursuit of You to be as passionate and unflagging as Your pursuit of me!
On Valentine’s Day, we pause to reflect on our relationships with others. I arrived home this evening to discover that a display case shelf in my kitchen had collapsed on top of one of my most treasured possessions: a biscuit my then-boyfriend had baked and brought to me in April of 1973. You might well inquire why I kept a biscuit so lovingly offered. The fact is, I do not like biscuits very much, or any white flour product, for that matter. However, I was moved at the thoughtfulness of that gesture. Not many girls have boyfriends who would even attempt making biscuits from scratch. Because I appreciated his kindness, I graciously accepted the proffered biscuits (yes, he actually brought me two) and thanked him profusely. It would be inappropriate to eat biscuits in an engineering class, so I claimed I would eat them later. (I am grateful that he and God forgave my lie.) Overcome by the sentimentality of the gift, I stored the plastic bag with the two biscuits in my makeup drawer, and there they remained for two months, until the university semester ended and I moved home for the summer. When I packed my things, I discovered the biscuits — one had crumbled beyond recognition, and the other lay in the drawer intact, completely free of mold after two months in room-temperature storage! I was so impressed, that I saved the biscuit.
Three years later, when we were married, I confessed my distaste for biscuits to my boyfriend-turned-husband and showed him the biscuit he had made, perfectly preserved. That same biscuit has been proudly displayed in our home ever since. Unfortunately, it has been forced to weather drastic climate changes and a few unfortunate mishaps. For the past decade, it has barely resembled its original form, as it has become rock-hard with crumbled, irregular edges.
All our children are aware of the history of the biscuit. When our eldest was ten, he tried his best to convince me to send it in to the Guinness Book of World Records to be certified as the oldest preserved biscuit on earth. Concerned for the welfare of said biscuit, I patently refused. That was twenty-three years ago.
You can imagine my consternation when I arrived home from out of town to find my precious biscuit in pieces under the collapsed shelf! Did I throw it away? Of course not! I patiently pieced it together, re-arranged and re-assembled the shelving, and put that four-decades-old biscuit back on display.
Somehow, the Holy Spirit is speaking to me of His love for me. No matter what bumps, bruises, or afflictions I weather, God’s love for me is always intact and perfectly faithful. My 40-year-old biscuit is no less precious to me now than it was when I was 18 and received it from the then (and now!) love-of-my-life. In fact, that little biscuit has become a symbol of everything we have weathered together, both joys and sorrows, and is even more valuable to me in its semi-crumbly state. Similarly, in my own brokenness, I bear the marks of various experiences in life, both joys and sorrows. God values and treasures me none the less for those bumps and bruises and has faithfully patched me up and put me back together over all those years. He has taught me much about His staying power in the face of trials and His care in the face of my failures.
Today, on Valentine’s Day, I praise Him for His goodness to me and for the very dear husband He gave me, who has given me infinitely more than a biscuit over the past four decades…
As the years roll by, I become more acutely aware of how much forgiveness God actually has poured out on me. When I was a little girl and first learned to pray, I had a vague understanding of repentance. When I was talking to God, I tried hard to think of what I might have done wrong so I could tell Him I was sorry (of course, bossing my two younger sisters around seemed only RIGHT, since I was older and knew what was better for them, so that never made the list of offenses in my mind!). In fact, I was twelve before I remember having an overwhelming sense of failure and sinfulness. By that time, I was mired in a deep sense of self-doubt and incipient self-hatred; I recall making a list one day of all my talents (which, from a child’s perspective, still seemed pretty extensive – ha!) and another list, side-by-side with the first enumeration, of my character flaws. In my estimation, the few character flaws were SO pervasive and wicked that they FAR outweighed anything I could do well (which, by the way, was mostly limited to excelling in a long list of academic subjects). Hopelessness and a profound sense of guilt entered my heart at this point, accompanied by a boatload of self-condemnation.
My sense of defilement continued to increase as I navigated the murky waters of college life. I entered university at age sixteen and quickly grasped that the youth culture of those around me was immoral and misguided. In spite of my academic success and best resolutions in the ethical standards department, I found myself affected by the “frog-in-the-pot” syndrome; when I paused at intervals to examine my heart, I realized I had compromised in some areas and was no better at heart than many of those around me. How did I cope? I continued to read my Bible and worked even more assiduously at performing well by worldly standards. I enrolled in increasingly heavier course loads and even excelled in some graduate courses as a very young undergraduate student. I finished a triple major in under four years and was catapulted, quite unprepared, into the working world, where I found I could no longer be a college student; I was forced to be a grown-up. My self-loathing had not disappeared. I loved God but had no clue how active He longed to be in my life. I judged myself harshly; regardless of how many awards I had received or how high my grades had been in school, I found myself severely wanting in the righteousness department. After over three years of pushing myself with campus activities, leadership in various organizations, and heavy course loads, all the while pretending to have a casual attitude about school to avoid being ridiculed by my peers, my health had also suffered. A success on paper, I left university years behind; however, I also left school anorexic, bulimic, and hypothyroid. Worse still, I despised myself and knew in my heart of hearts that no successful performance imaginable could erase the heaviness in my heart.
What was the root of my dilemma? A blindness to the overwhelming power and magnitude of God’s mercy toward me. Jesus said that the one who is forgiven much is the one who loves much (Luke 7:37). What I had not understood was that all sin is sin, regardless of how minor it may appear. The blackness of my heart was not my responsibility once I had given it to Jesus, who DOES forgive and wipe away that blackness of heart. Somehow I had believed God’s Word but had been incapable of receiving it as truth for myself. I had somehow become trapped in a paradoxical mindset that regarded myself as somehow better than others because I KNEW what was right, yet far worse than others because I was therefore more accountable to DO what was right and found myself utterly incapable of that perfection. I thereby had exempted myself from receiving God’s forgiveness and mercy. However, through all those years, Jesus never left me; He continued to tug at my heart, and as my desperation for deliverance from myself increased, He poured His love out on me and wrapped His arms around me, His broken child. Ultimately, I found myself at His feet in complete despair. He responded by speaking to me of His love. What an incisive revelation it was to me that He really loves me more than I hated myself! His mercy for me was unlimited; He loved me before He set me free of self-condemnation and the downward spiral of self-hatred. He had loved me all those years as He watched me descend into the morass of hopelessness I had become. Ultimately, He met me at the bottom of the pit I had dug for myself (with some assistance from the enemy!).
I am forever grateful to Jesus for pouring His mercy out on me. I cannot thank Him enough for His acceptance, His goodness to me in spite of my faults, and His willingness and kindness to pick me up every time I stumble. Now, years later, as I find myself involved in outreach to bring His love to those trapped in some form of slavery, I have great compassion — for I am no different. I have a message of hope that no one can take away from me. God’s love is UNFAILING, and His mercy and delivering power are, indeed, BOUNDLESS! As Isaiah 55:7 states, God “will abundantly pardon.” As the psalmist says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has HE removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because HE DELIGHTS IN MERCY. He will again have compassion on us and will subdue our iniquities [good news, huh?]. You will cast all our sins INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA (Micah 7: 18-19).
On Beyond Zebra, by Dr. Seuss, serves as a great testimony to the mysteries and surprises of life! The main character in this supposedly nonsensical tale is a boy who contends that there are many more letters in the alphabet than we commonly use. He proceeds to describe these letters (that follow after z for zebra) and the phantasmagorical creatures whose names begin with said letters, such as the letter wum for wumbus. This book serves as the expression of my journey with our heavenly Father!
On Friday, our fifth and youngest child will graduate from college. Since we have had one, two, or even three children in college for fourteen years, this graduation truly marks the end of a significant era in our lives. Although our budget is looking forward to relaxing a little, we actually are experiencing nostalgia rather than jubilation as the day approaches (along with a tremendous surge of gratitude!). There was a time when I feared I would never have any children. Then I was afraid that, although I knew I would LOVE them, I might not LIKE them. Miraculously, against all apparent odds, I conceived and even had five beautiful babies. Again, quite amazingly, I actually LIKE our children! I enjoy their quirks and idiosyncrasies, their sometimes off-beat likes and dislikes, and I love talking with them about their lives. We were naturally concerned about their education and managed to pray our way through public school, private school, and even home school (which I had sworn I would never undertake and ended up loving!). We watched sporting events and piano recitals and ballet performances, participated in various experiments and proofread a multitude of term papers. We navigated the turbulent rapids of life on our family raft and hung on with prayer and a few squeals of fear and delight in the process. Suddenly, that era is now drawing to a close, and we are truly done with child-rearing.
However, as I look back over the years, I feel as though God has absolutely gone “on beyond zebra” in His outpouring of goodness and grace toward us. I could never have dreamed I would have so many children or enjoy them so very much. I could never have imagined how we could help all of them through a university-level education on one income (not mine!) and survive the purported perils of the teenage years (one of my favorite seasons, as it turned out!). I never imagined that it would even be possible to have the privilege of being so proud to have five faith-filled children of character who are concerned about the integrity of their walk with Jesus Christ. Moreover, I KNOW I did NOTHING to deserve this storm of blessings that we have received — other than grab God’s Hand! His love is beyond our wildest dreams in length, breadth, height, and depth (Ephesians 3:18-19). We cannot possibly conceive of the things He has prepared for us (I Corinthians 2:9).
The really magnificent part of this story is that God is not finished with us yet. Yes, Friday evening marks the end of an era for us as a family, but it also marks the beginning of yet another era — a new season of experiencing His grace and glory in our lives, in spite of our mistakes and weaknesses. Just as a baby must ultimately leave the womb and be birthed into a new world, we know that God is birthing us into a new season. We look forward to what He has in store. It will certainly continue to be “on beyond zebra.”
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us,to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” — Ephesians 3:20-21
When I was a kid, all forms of soda were a treat. Occasionally, my mother would buy a six-pack of Fresca or Tab, which was always marketed in bottles. When I was in junior high, I was only allowed to drink one 10-ounce bottle after school. My mother was not being stingy — drinking soft drinks on a regular basis was simply not something that most people did. Soda was considered a luxury.
I remember my first Burger King meal at age thirteen, when Burger King was new in St. Louis. I marveled at the “flame-broiled” hamburgers and was entranced by the hamburger, fries, and Coca Cola. When we purchased the Coca-Cola, we received one cup full of sparkling, bubbly Coke. We would never have considered asking for a refill, as that would have cost more money.
Years later, I had the opportunity to live in France, Germany, and Norway. Soda of any kind was expensive, and ice was not abundant. In Paris, I remember ordering a Coke to go with a pizza. I was appalled at the narrow glass of room-temperature Coke the garçon whisked in front of me with a grand flourish. I stared at it and quickly flagged him down; politely, I requested ice. He grabbed the glass of warm Coke, placed it deftly on his serving tray, disappeared, and swiftly returned with the glass. Stupefied, I stared at the ONE small cube of ice floating in the Coke. The French way of drinking soda was certainly different from the American! Of course, there was no discussion of refills, unless I wished to pay another two dollars, which in the 1970s was an astronomical price for a glass of Coke.
Years later, we moved from Europe to Texas and were happily surprised to discover that we were residents of the land of unlimited free refills. We could sate ourselves to our hearts’ content with Coke, Diet Coke, Minute Maid Orange, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and numerous other varieties of soda. In fact, I ultimately found myself placing limits on the number of refills my children consumed with their Happy Meals. Moreover, the size of the soft drink cups had increased exponentially over the years. When I was a child, no one would EVER have considered drinking 32 ounces (nearly a liter!) of Coke or Pepsi. Suddenly, gas stations were offering 32-, 44-, and even 64-ounce cups of soft drinks for unbelievably low prices. To this day, our children laugh about the rare occasions when we relented and bought them a 32-ounce cup of soda, only to have someone (usually our daughter) spill it in the van.
In Texas these days, most customers assume that the purchase of a soft drink at a restaurant entitles them to unlimited free refills. We expect to be allowed to overindulge ourselves in something that is not a healthy habit. We are convinced that, if we have paid two dollars for a soda, it is our right to gulp down as many glasses of our favorite beverage as we can possibly hold.
One of the many wonderful things about God is that He exceeds our wildest expectations. He is the One who INVENTED unlimited free refills! The best part is, we don’t even have to pay ANYTHING for them! Those refills come with being part of His family. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38) Jeremiah tells us that God Himself IS the Fountain of Living Waters (Jeremiah 2:13). A fountain continues to bubble and sparkles with life. It doesn’t ever go flat or stagnant, as it continues to move. John 4:14 assures us that “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” In Revelation 21:6, Jesus promises: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.” Clearly, this fountain of living water is something we don’t even have to pay for! It doesn’t even cost two dollars, and it is readily available to all who believe! Paul urges us in Ephesians 3:19 “to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” He also encourages us in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled, and keep on being filled, with the Spirit of God. God delights to give us an abundance of Himself. He calls us to drink fully and freely: “Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway—buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money—everything’s free!” (Isaiah 55:1, The Message)
When I feel discouraged and disappointed by this world, these words remind me that NOTHING in this world will ever truly satisfy my thirst. Unlimited free refills of Diet Coke may sound good, but Coke really does not quench my thirst; it also chips away at my budget and erodes my health. On the other hand, God offers the water of life in abundance. His fountain never runs dry; His refills are readily and freely available, at no cost to me. All I need to do is ASK Him. His fountain is full of life, healing, hope, joy, peace, delight, and wholeness. His refills are alive with His very Presence. Why would I ever consider drinking from any other fountain?
Thirty-two years ago today, our first child was born, a son we called Matthew. His name in Hebrew means gift from God, and that is exactly what he has been and still is to us. Thirty-two years ago, natural childbirth was all the rage, to such a degree that a woman was nearly compelled to resist even the mildest form of medicinal assistance to prove herself faithful to everything natural and unmitigated. Pain, we were told, was natural; gravity was natural. As one who harbors instinctive but paranoia-level fears of all manner of pharmaceuticals, I was all too willing to join the ranks as a fast dévotée of natural childbirth.
What I only barely understood, however, was the fact that childbirth is an innately supernatural experience. In the wake of childbirth classes and discussions of back labor, breathing patterns, and pushing techniques, I was aware that, by all rights, I should never even have been able to conceive a child. Somehow I knew that God, by His grace, had allowed me to get pregnant in spite of the abuse to which I had been subjecting my body. My female cycle had been out of whack for quite some time, as I was both anorexic and bulimic. The anorexia would have been evident to a discerning eye, but I had managed to keep the bulimia well-hidden. My husband and I truly wanted children, and I had personally vowed to myself that I would curtail my secret cycles of binging and purging if God would only allow me to get pregnant. Miraculously, I conceived. Predictably, I found myself unable to stop the binges and subsequent episodes of self-induced vomiting.
My sense of guilt and fear increased exponentially as the months of my pregnancy progressed toward the due date. In spite of my efforts to remain a toothpick, my body relentlessly packed on the pounds. The fear of being fat tormented me, yet the fear that I could be damaging my baby also began to haunt me. I feared this child would be born missing one or more limbs, or mentally retarded due to malnutrition. The nine months dragged on, and my emotions vacillated between excitement and dread.
Suddenly, one evening, little twinges of the first contractions began. I knew that something different was happening and chose to focus on the anticipation of meeting our child. In those days, ultrasound was in its infancy, and I had never heard of anyone having such a procedure. We headed for the hospital with no knowledge of what lay in store, apart from what we had learned in our childbirth classes and the fact that I was determined to navigate the birth process with no IV and no medicinal aid.
After a minor altercation with an old-fashioned nurse, I set about the breathing routines we had learned in our classes. Mercifully and miraculously, everything went according to every description of the ideal birth we had ever read: no IV was needed, and our firstborn son arrived with no medical intervention other than the doctor’s instruction to push at the proper moment. To my relief and joy, Matthew had two arms and two legs and a beautiful, lusty cry upon being expelled into this strange world.
A tidal wave of love and wonder engulfed me as I watched my husband cradle this new life in his arms. I knew that I had done nothing to deserve this gift, and I was in awe that God had given us this beautiful, healthy baby boy. God’s grace and goodness were so very evident.
Thirty-two years later, I am still in awe. Since February 2, 1980, God has been busier in my life than I can express. He is still laboring to birth new life (although not necessarily in baby form!) and work miracles in me. Four more children were delivered to us, different from one another but equally amazing expressions of His love and grace to us. Over the course of those childbirth years, Jesus set me free from the destructive bondage of those eating disorders and the snare of self-hate and rejection. These many years later, He continues to shower undeserved mercy and grace on us. As we have practiced parenting over three decades, God has used our children to expand our understanding of His love for us. Each one is a breathtaking combination of qualities, quirks, and talents that God Himself put together completely on His own, without our direction. We are amazed and delighted at the young adults they have become, in spite of our ignorance and inexperience in the art of parenting.
Our children have been powerful examples of the fact that God loves us when we are least deserving of His mercy and kindness. He has set His heart on us. He made us for His glory, and He delights in us. It is His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (Luke 12:32) and to reveal Himself to us (I Corinthians 2:9-10). What a grand process God initiated in our lives when “we decided” (ha!) to start a family. How self-sufficient and full of import we thought we were in making that decision, when, in reality, it was all God’s doing! He worked His purposes in us in this department in spite of the fact that we initially had little to no understanding of the role He intended to play in our lives, a role of glory, goodness, and redemption of the broken places in our hearts and minds. In the ensuing years, God has often used our children to speak truth and life to us and to tenderly teach us about Himself.
God is clearly in the birthing business, whether we understand it, deserve it, or not. His business is LIFE — creating it, giving it away, redeeming it, resurrecting it. Now, when I contemplate the births of our children, I am also keenly aware of a multitude of other things God has supernaturally birthed in my life besides our five babies. I deserved none of those things. God’s love for me was His reason for birthing His life into my own. I am grateful to my children, as well, for helping God to show me His goodness and grace.
I continue to ask Him to birth and grow Himself in a greater way in and through me — may His character, His hope, His love, and His life be more real to me and to those around me every day! (And to you, too!)
P.S. Happy Birthday, Matthew! And thanks!