Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lacking No Good Thing

I can’t read Psalm 34 anymore without flashing back to a pre-concert warmup with my college chorale. One of our songs featured lyrics based on verse 8: “O taste and see that the LORD is good!” Frustrated with our lackluster effort, our conductor—who was notorious for his one-liners, both intentionally and inadvertently hilarious—stopped us and cried, “O TASTE! He is a feast! You’re singing like He’s the Atkins diet!”

The memory still makes me laugh more than a decade later. But as I studied Psalm 34 recently for this month's Pick Your Portion article, I was sobered to realize how often I am still sitting down to grapefruit juice and steak, patting myself on the back for cutting out bread while entirely missing the banquet spread before me. 

Up until recently, I’ve coasted through this psalm, satisfied with my sound theology. After all, I know that "Those who seek the LORD lack no good thing" doesn't mean, “Those who seek the LORD lack nothing that they want.”

But then I thought more carefully about that little word “good,” and I realized I was missing the point. Click over to Pick Your Portion to read about the really good thing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Multitude "Monday," Take 321

"Jesus weeps because we don’t know the peace that will save us. What brings us peace is always praise.
There are donkey days and I’m the fool who doesn’t recognize how God comes. God enters every moment the way He chooses and this is always the choice: wave a palm or a hammer.
How many times have I wondered how they could throw down their garments before Him on Sunday and then throw their fists at Him on Friday? But I’m the one in the front row:
If my thanksgiving is fickle, then my faith is fickle."
--Ann Voskamp, "If You Want to Start Your Holy Week Off Well"
A day late this week, but I have an exceptional number of reasons to give thanks from the past week after a car accident last Tuesday. Thanking God for...

6085. protecting my boys from any injuries whatsoever
6086. protecting me from any but a minor stiff neck
6087. somehow, miraculously, protecting us from getting hit by another car when we spun out of control (at rush hour, on the highway) and went off the road
6088. the fact that we did not hit or hurt anyone else
6089. helping the boys to remain calm and patient in the backseat instead of freaking out

6090. kind men who stopped to see if we were OK and help
6091. excitement for the boys: a tow truck and a ride in a police car!
6092. a friend who came to pick us up and ran us all over town
6093. the knowledge and resources to purchase and correctly use excellent carseats (I am now even more soapbox-y than I already was about this issue after this terrifying experience; consider this your fair warning)
6094. Steve's opportunity to go to Together for the Gospel

6095. a visit from my mom
6096. one-on-one time with her
6097. a friend babysitting Jude so Mom and I could go shopping and have lunch together
6098. Mom's spoiling me as much as my boys
6099. a picnic at Centennial Park

6100. gorgeous tulips
6101. redbud trees
6102. boys giggling as I gave them underdogs on the swings
6103. answered prayer: a friend's baby here early, before all her help was gone
6104. dinner outside, with no bugs bothering us

6105. an easy, low-key morning in the church nursery
6106. a friend's baby calling another friend's baby "Yum Yum" (William)--best.nickname.ever.
6107. a three-year-old telling me at lunch after church that he had prayed for our family that week
6108. painted toenails
6109. a happy vase of yellow tulips

6110. natural light flooding the dining room
6111. beautiful women around my table sharing rich conversation
6112. Steve taking the boys for a long bike ride while I hosted 

6112. Jen Wilkin and her Word-centered ministry
6113. eyes to see Him at work in my life
6114. eyes to see Him at work in my friends' lives

Monday, April 07, 2014

Multitude Monday, Take 320

Thanking God this week for...

6067. opportunities to practice hospitality
6068. welcoming me into His family and home
6069. a friend's example of gracious submission
6070. flowering trees in bloom
6071. birthday freebies

6072. compliments on my cooking
6073. Jude: "When we get inside I'll say *sniff, sniff* 'Mmm! I smell delicious food in this house!' An' I'll gobble that supper all up."
6074. Elijah: "Mom, we're making vegetables! Daddy's growing food! Outside!"
6075. free music helping me think more about Christ
6076. doing immeasurably more than anyone asked or imagined at the cross

6077. the ability to dispute a charge on our credit card from a shady company 
6078. the courageous students who fought for civil rights
6079. the power of film to bring history to life
6080. Steve not letting the boys leave the house without giving Mama a kiss
6081. original language Bible resources, free online, no actual Hebrew fluency necessary

6082. giving us Himself--the greatest good and most satisfying treasure in all the universe
6083. Steve's only having to work weekends a couple of times a year
6084. friends expressing how they value my friendship

Friday, April 04, 2014

More Than Anyone Dared Ask or Imagine

Recently I downloaded a few free songs from Caroline Cobb and Sean Carter on NoiseTrade. As I listened to "The Passover Song" today, I was stunned by a few of the lyrics:
There’s a poison in our veins
And it leads to death we cannot escape
Send a ransom a perfect Son
Remedy the curse with His precious blood
The plea is so audacious, it's shocking. And it immediately brought to mind Ephesians 3:20-21: "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

I've always loved these verses, seeing them as beautiful promises for the future: "Pray big prayers! God can do so much more than you even dare to imagine!"

But as I listened to Cobb and Carter singing this afternoon, I realized how powerfully Ephesians 3:20-21 is rooted in what God has *already* done. Before Jesus came, who on earth ever would have dared to pray, "Send a ransom, a perfect Son / Remedy the curse with His precious blood"?! I can't fathom how such a request would even have occurred to anyone. Ask God to send His Son and sacrifice Him so that His blood could redeem us and set us free from the curse? Forbid it, Lord, that I should even think of such an outrageous solution.

Yet that's exactly what He did. He sent a ransom, His perfect Son. Jesus hung on the cross as a once-for-all remedy for the curse of sin and death, His precious blood able to cover and cleanse us who were otherwise condemned.

So as we pray now, we come to Him who proved decisively, two thousand years ago, that He not only could but actually *would* do "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (v. 20, NIV). We pray to a God whose power is at work within us because He destroyed our curse with the blood of His Son. To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen!

You can download Lent +Easter Songs on NoiseTrade for free here.

[linking up with My Words and Wonder for #firstfridayfinds]

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Things I Learned in February and March

I have notes for one of these posts from last month, but never got it put together--so here's a double-up for February and March. Lessons recently(ish) learned: 

1. Male mallard ducks don't quack. That little tidbit came from Ranger Rick, Jr., the magazine we've been receiving and loving for several years now.

2. Costco's dishwasher detergent cleans my dishes WAY better than Cascade. 

3. I learned a few months ago that Aldi sold a store brand version of the Girl Scouts' Samoas; once I got my hands on a box of genuine Samoas, it was time for a blind taste test.
I could hardly tell the cookies apart; Steve showed a clear preference for the Aldi cookies four out of four times. The cookie part of the Aldi cookies is softer and chewier, whereas the Samoas are crispier and the entire cookie is sweater. The ingredient list is very, very similar; oil is the #2 ingredient in the Samoas, whereas flour is #2 for Aldi, giving the Girl Scout variety two extra grams of fat. The Aldi cookies do have high fructose corn syrup, but the Samoas do not. The real clincher is the price though: $3.50 for 14 Girl Scout cookies, or $1.96 for 18 cookies at Aldi. In other words: 25 cents a cookie, or 10 cents a cookie. In other words...I was better off only being able to get my hands on Samoas once a year!

4. I have written before about loving LLBean, but I have to say that when it comes to kids' backpacks, Lands' End won out this time. Elijah's school backpack came from LLBean; a few months later, I bought Jude a similar pack from Lands' End. Jude's pack wins out for three distinct reasons besides just being cuter overall: it has side pockets for a water bottle; it has a chest clip to keep the straps from falling off the shoulders (Jude *loves* this feature); and there's no flap over the zipper, making it easier to close up. I expect both to last for several years--Elijah's looks almost like new after 3/4 of the kindergarten year--but Elijah is having a hard time not coveting his brother's new pack.

5. Don't waste your time entering the Mgramcases giveaways you might be seeing on Facebook, much less ordering from the company. The products are crappy and the customer service, worse. I could live with waiting 3-4 weeks to receive a custom case, but I couldn't live with how different it looked from the product photo on the website. Here's what was advertised:

And here's what I got: A poor-quality (muddy colors and pixelated graphics) sticker on a plain white hard shell with a plastic coating over the top which added bulk to the case.

To make a long story short, trying to communicate with the company to get them to honor their satisfaction guarantee and give me a refund has been a huge hassle. Still waiting on my money. I can't remember when I've been so disgusted with a company.

6. Everyday Minerals now sells tinted lip butter. I've long been thinking I should switch to natural lipstick--of all the beauty products to care about, the one you actually end up *eating* would be a good one to go natural with!--but I hadn't looked very hard. At only $6 a tube, the Everyday Minerals one was worth trying--and I will definitely be buying it again. OK, the tubes are pretty tiny, but my lipstick tubes always last a million years anyway. The "barely nude" color is perfect for everyday wear, when I just want a little shine and a hint of color. And unlike my lipsticks, which leave my lips dry and chapped the next day, this stuff moisturizes to make them smooth and soft. I plan to try a couple of other colors next time I need foundation!

7. Lots of places will give you free stuff during your birthday month if you sign up for their rewards program/emails:
  • Chick-Fil-A (#1 combo meal)
  • Sephora (I assume the gift varies month to month--mine was trial-sized lipstick and mascara)
  • Starbucks (any drink, any size--helloooo venti cinnamon dolce latte)
  • Dunkin' Donuts (any medium drink)
  • Panera Bread (pastry, but NOT a bagel, for some dumb reason)
  • Spiffy Clean Express (basic car wash)

8. Garment workers in Bangladesh make 1/10 of the hourly wage that garment workers in America earned 100 years ago (adjusted for inflation). Stunning.

9. You can slide text messages to the left on your iPhone to see the time stamps. Also pressing space twice will give you a period with a space, and holding down the period will give you the option to select .com, .net, .org, etc. These and other helpful little hacks here and here.

What have you learned lately?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Multitude Monday, Take 319

Thanking God this week for...

6039. fabulous NYC Instagrams
6040. opening my eyes to understand the gospel's application to life beyond the "moralistic therapeutic deism" that plagues the church
6041. friends who are pregnant
6042. awesome pastors who shepherd us so lovingly
6043. Steve's humility and honesty

6044. a friend babysitting for us at the last minute
6045. Jude's potty independence increasing
6046. the boys' eagerness to hear "Jesus stories"
6047. friends around our dinner table
6048. stories of His faithfulness and grace to a friend and her family over the last year

6049. older friends and their wisdom gained from experience
6050. friends who pray for me and with me
6051. lunch with another friend and her testifying to God's faithful love and guidance
6052. Shane and Shane met their Kickstarter reach goal = Psalms II next year!
6053. free birthday gifts from Sephora, Starbucks, Panera, Dunkin Donuts

6054. girls' night in
6055. a friend's needed challenge to "just do something!"
6056. Elijah announcing to everyone in the aisle at Aldi that he had on Superman underwear
6057. black bean tacos with lime cilantro slaw and feta
6058. how very much my tastes have expanded

6059. new dance moves + lots of laughter + dizziness with Steve
6060. His patience when I am inclined to return to Egypt again and again
6061. healthy boys who love to hike
6062. a parking spot at Radnor Lake after a long wait
6063. sunshine, fresh air, blue skies

6064. strong legs and lungs
6065. boys snuggling with me through an entire movie
6066. perfect love casting out fear

Monday, March 24, 2014

Multitude Monday, Take 318

Thanking God this week for...

6017. birthday cards in the mail
6018. chile verde on St. Patrick's Day
6019. grace to apologize to Elijah after yelling
6020. voicemails and texts and other messages from dear friends on my birthday
6021. evidence I have grown--remembering that the world doesn't revolve around me on March 18, and being OK with doing normal stuff :)

6022. snuggles with Jude

6023. Elijah's affectionate compliments and kisses/hugs
6024. Pad Thai at Pei Wei
6025. Vanilla Coke, happy surprise
6026. all vomit contained in appropriate receptacles

6027. hilarious Jude-isms
6028. two healthy, strong boys who can ride bikes
6029. days getting longer
6030. a visit from my in-laws
6031. coconut birthday cake

6032. delicious blackberry and muscadine wines from Belle Meade Plantation
6033. a dear friend's kindness in babysitting while we toured with Steve's parents
6034. lunch at Mafiaoza's
6035. the boys' Sunday school teachers
6036. an increasingly diverse church, reflecting the diverse beauty of the Kingdom

6037. our adoption as His sons and daughters
6038. our inheritance conditioned on Jesus' obedience and worthiness

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Steve and Amy: A Love Story (Part 15)

[continued from part fourteen // start here]

Newly graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University, I left for Denver in June 2004 to spend another summer working for Kingdom Building Ministries. I had loved my internship there the year before, so I was thrilled to return, even if it did mean being halfway across the country from the man I loved.

That July, Steve flew out to visit me and meet some of the people who had become so dear to me. In a phone conversation the week before, he made a request that made my heart race. "On Saturday morning," he said, "let's go someplace quiet, with a view but not tons of people around."

Oh my goodness he's going to propose. 

He then clarified--he simply hoped to do some reading together, as we'd done at a park in Cincinnati the last time we'd been together. Still, I couldn't shake the idea. I'd had a farfetched fantasy about him proposing in the mountains. But I knew it was too early based on the timeline he'd mentioned months before. I didn't want to get my hopes up only to be disappointed, and I didn't want to be anticipating the proposal whenever it happened--I wanted to be surprised! I spent the next few days having the following conversation with myself a dozen times a day:

"Two days from now, I could be engaged. I can't wait to have a ring on this finger. Imagine how exciting it will be to announce to the staff on Tuesday morning!"
"Amy. You are not getting engaged this weekend. STOP." 
"Right. I know. He's not going to propose Saturday. It's too early. It's not going to happen."
"...But wouldn't it be great? Up in the Rockies, so exciting, so romantic..."

ARGH! Even one of my male coworkers mentioned it, asking, "Would he propose in Colorado?" No, I said, it was too early; Steve didn't want to be engaged longer than nine months.

What saved the surprise was a phone conversation with my parents. I had further reason to think Steve might possibly propose during his visit because I knew he had been home the weekend before. I was certain he would talk to my parents first, and I figured he would have had the perfect opportunity to do so without my knowing. But when Steve came up in conversation, my parents didn't even know he'd been in town, and I was positive they couldn't have lied about it so well. So, I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be getting a ring that weekend.

On Saturday, July 3, Steve and I went up to Rocky Mountain National Park, and we drove Trail Ridge Road, stopping at overlooks here and there. (Sadly, I was not into hiking back then--oh the opportunities I missed!) I was actually sick, so I wasn't enjoying myself much. I think my face in this photo simultaneously says, "I'm so happy my boyfriend is here with me!" and "Ugh, I feel miserable." Please ignore the cheesy matching sweatshirts...I believe that was the only sweatshirt I had with me in Colorado, and UC sweatshirts were the only kind Steve owned :)

We parked way up above treeline (it was so windy and so cold!) and walked down the Ute Trail just a little way to find a good spot to relax and read. As I followed Steve on the narrow trail, I just wanted to cry because I felt awful--throat hurting, nose running, aching all over. Finally we found a huge rock and climbed up. As he sat with his arms around me, trying to warm me up, he handed me his Bible and asked me to find our spot (we'd been reading through Acts together). It immediately fell open to Acts, and there was the ring, tied to the ribbon bookmark. I was stunned, and tears came as Steve told me that he loved me and didn't want to spend his life without me. "Amy, will you marry me?" he asked.

Here's a pic we snapped immediately after--much bigger smile on my face :) I don't know why we didn't get my left hand in the photo! But (I think) you can just barely see the giant rock where we were sitting, over my shoulder. Wish I had a better picture of the spot. Someday we will go back!

As we talked about the whole thing, I found out that he had indeed talked to my parents--while I was in Europe on a chorale trip, six weeks earlier. Smooth move!

I wrote in my journal that night, "I am the happiest girl on the planet today..." Two days later I had to say goodbye to Steve for the zillionth time--except no longer as my boyfriend, but as my fiance. Glorious upgrade in title.

At the end of the summer, my boss invited me to stay on in Denver. Although the offer was tempting, I couldn't fathom being that far from Steve long-term. We ended up working out an arrangement where I could freelance for KBM from home part-time, and I moved back in with my parents to spend the next ten or so months working and planning a wedding. Steve and I would spend the rest of our engagement 3.5 hours apart, which was bad enough!

[coming up next: a wrap-up, finally, with some concluding thoughts from both of us]

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

NOT for Common Use

Upon visiting the local studio to ask for advice, I found out how much I didn’t know about dance shoes. The strappy heels I’d seen on display during our lessons weren’t merely “shoes that are good to dance in”—they were “shoes that are ONLY for dancing in.” Our instructor informed me that you never, ever wear your dance shoes outside. You bring them in a bag and put them on when it’s time to dance. They have suede soles, perfect for both spinning and traction, but also easily ruined. In other words, if I chose to purchase some ballroom dance shoes, they would most certainly not double as party shoes. If they were to retain the very features that made them good for dancing, they would have to be kept aside, reserved for special use.

A similar rationale accompanies the worship regulations described in Exodus 30. The anointing oil is sacred; God instructs Moses to use it for consecrating priests and objects within the tabernacle only. And God means business. The recipe isn’t a guarded secret; it’s clearly described here—but anyone who tries to make his own sweet-smelling oil or put the real stuff on an outsider “shall be cut off from his people” (v. 33). God’s instructions are explicit: “This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person” (v. 31-32).

The holy incense was protected by similar regulations: Make this exactly according to instructions, and don’t you dare mix up any for your own common use. This specific blend of spices was carefully hoarded, not to be used anywhere but in the temple.

These stringent restrictions were dismantled in a stunning way a few centuries later. And after Jesus had risen again, He would do something unbelievable, something vaguely akin to letting my little niece wear my ballroom dance shoes to an outdoor princess party.

Head over to Pick Your Portion today for the rest of my reflections on Exodus 30 and the shocking way God turned His own rules upside down. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Multitude Monday, Take 317

"The root of godlessness is thanklessness. Wickedness springs up in me — when I am thankless. 

There is Buchanan’s startling realization: “All the wickedness in the world begins with act of forgetting.” All the wickedness in the world begins with the act of forgetting — forgetting that God is enough, that what He gives is good enough, that there is always more than enough to give thanks for.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom — and the forgetting of the Lord is the beginning of all sin. Forget to give thanks — and Who you forget is God."

--Ann Voskamp, "The Real Root of Brokenness That We Forget to Talk About"

OY. How have I not done one of these for the better part of a month?? So very many gifts over the last few weeks, more than I've bothered to count. A few highlights to go back and note: thanking God for...

5982. putting me on an old friend's heart during a week when I needed prayer
5983. a divine appointment with a new friend
5984. the fact that she lives five minutes down the road from me!
5985. the way her love for Him challenged, convicted, encouraged and inspired me
5986. four hours of deep, real conversation

5987. grace to say no to my flesh
5988. an incredible weekend retreat with the woman who began as my mentor over a decade ago
5989. beautiful songs that exactly express my heart
5990. communion
5991. gracious confrontation and admonishment

5992. heartfelt repentance
5993. Jesus' blood that covers even my imperfect confession and inadequate repentance
5994. grace to surrender
5995. His patience when I am reluctant
5996. grace to own my mistakes but not berate myself

5997. husband serving, serving, serving
5998. snow day with *actual* snow, enough for sledding and snow ice cream!
5999. lunch with my parents, brother, and future sister-in-law
6000. Jude's first-ever visit all by himself at Grammy & Pops's house
6001. their spoiling him, and later his brother, rotten

6002. text updates and pics from my mom
6003. opportunities to practice resolving conflict
6004. one-on-one time with Elijah
6005. big squeezes from Jude
6006. Elijah's crazy excitement to take his turn and go home with Grammy and Pops

6007. what the Law could not do, God did!
6008. $3.99 flowers at Aldi
6009. five beautiful women around my table
6010. Elijah's crazy excited dance to see Mama and Jude again
6011. being able to trust my parents to use carseats correctly

6012. an afternoon with a dear friend who lives too far away
6013. our kids playing so well together
6014. boys unbelievably angelic on a day when I anticipated lots of issues
6015. the ability to stay in bed when sick, while Steve cared for me and the boys
6016. The Message

Monday, February 24, 2014

Multitude Monday, Take 316

Thanking God the past couple of weeks for...

5965. a Papa John's valentine from Grandma and Grandpa
5966. the means to afford ridiculous expensive eardrops for Elijah
5967. coupons on my smartphone
5968. Christine Caine podcasts
5969. compliments on my food from a really good cook

5970. grace to engage instead of escape
5971. easy-to-install carseats
5972. a quiet evening alone at Starbucks
5973. Steve snaking a clogged drain line first thing in the morning
5974. grace to slow down, get on Elijah's level and understand his feelings

5975. fresh air and sunshine
5976. putting people in my life who have shown me unconditional love
5977. my friend Laurie's blog series on mom-guilt
5978. a visit from our dear friends
5979. beautiful Diane's investment in me

5980. her daughters being sweet to my boys
5981. our husbands enjoying each other's company

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Steve and Amy: A Love Story (Part 14)

[continued from part thirteen // start here]

Before you get the impression that our early dating relationship was a smooth storybook journey, let me clarify that I was full of turmoil, doubt and confusion. It wasn't at all a matter of, "Oh, I've always known I would marry Steve, and here we are!" In fact, I was a bit schizophrenic. A few journal entries to illustrate my point:

April 17, 2003: "I can't exactly explain it, but I just have this sense of, this is it. Not a hugely powerful, 'He's The One, I'm in love, we're getting married'--in fact, I'm not even sure I know what love is. Just this feeling that we are going to end up together--it will be a ways down the road still, but eventually we'll end up together. Weird. I just find that I respect and admire him so much, and I can (almost) visualize the two of us working at life together..."

May 26, 2003: "I think, what if he doesn't want to date me anymore--what if, now that he's getting to know me better, he's deciding that this will never work? On and on--I have to keep reminding myself of Psalm 112:7, and that I must take this relationship one day at a time, enjoying where we are now and leaving the future in God's hands."

May 30, 2003: "I was suddenly full of doubts about this relationship, not even stuff I can articulate. Just scared, I guess--even though God has been trying to teach me over and over lately about trust in Him and letting go of fears. I don't even know what I'm afraid of...rejection? vulnerability? intimacy? disappointing Steve? failure?"

October 18, 2003: "Father, all of a sudden in my relationship with Steve I'm feeling cautious and anxious, completely uncertain and realizing I just don't have any guarantees. It's scary to me, in a sense, to think that I've opened myself up to him so much, but that it could all end tomorrow. First of all, it makes me wish I'd done a better job of guarding my heart up to this point. But I just don't know how. How do I guard my heart without putting up walls that hinder healthy growth in intimacy? I just don't know the answer. And now, Lord, I feel like my hands are tied. I don't want to continue this relationship any longer if we're not proceeding toward marriage...but if we are proceeding toward marriage, that scares me--and it means there are some things we need to discuss. I don't want to push on this--I want to continue to let him lead--but it's hard, Lord, and I'm kind of scared about what's ahead. Father, show me Your way in all of this. Help me to think about, communicate with and act toward Steve in a way that will be the most ultimately beneficial for both of us. Help me to find my security, my identity, my hope and trust in You. Calm my fears, Lord--don't let me do anything stupid because of commitment-phobia. Help me to have confidence that You are holding me in Your hand, that whatever happens, You will work out for Your glory and my ultimate good. Strengthen Steve and give him courage, Lord, that he may do whatever he needs to do in Your time. And instead of being anxious and manipulative or jumping the gun, give me the peace and the quiet strength to trust You at work in Steve's life. Oh, Lord, show me Your way."

I was a senior that fall, and I needed to begin making post-graduation plans. Steve was in a five-year program, so he wasn't facing transition, but my life was one giant question mark, and Steve was a huge variable in the equation. Where would I move? What kind of job would I pursue? And how should my relationship with Steve affect all that? Practicality demanded another Define The Relationship talk.

We met in Indianapolis on our nine-month anniversary, and I expressed my angst over soup in a bread bowl at Panera.  I didn't feel the freedom to plan my life around him, but I also didn't want to move halfway across the country if we were still together. The M-word wasn't uttered, but Steve could read between the lines (now...unlike years before, haha). He knew I needed some confirmation: Was he in this for the long haul?

Steve was pretty quiet, and I felt discouraged and uncertain. Just before we said goodbye, he said, "Let me explain to you my dilemma. I am very tempted to start talking about 'the future' as though it's 'our future.' But I don't feel like I'm in a place to be able to make those decisions yet. It's hard for me to hear you talk about your future--I want to help, but all I can really do is just listen as you 'verbally process,' and pray. I feel like my hands are tied behind my back...I think you're right in saying you shouldn't plan your life around me...but I guess, just don't rule me out as an option."

Not quite the response I had hoped for! A couple of days later, I got a follow-up email in which Steve indicated it would be another year before he even made any decisions--and then nine more months after that before he would feel free to marry. "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!" I wanted to scream. Also, I cried.

Steve drove up to see me the following weekend. In the living room of my townhouse, he gave me a foot rub and said, "After time this week spent in prayer and thinking and even fasting, I feel I should tell you exactly where I'm at. So...If it were just a matter of desire--I would marry you tomorrow." However, he went on to explain, he felt strongly convicted about not getting married while he was still in school, and he also didn't want to be engaged longer than about nine months. So we proceeded slowly, growing closer but resigned to the fact that we had to wait.

As hard as it was to do the long-distance thing, we've always said that we were so glad for it, for a host of reasons. If Steve had been at my school, I'd have wanted to spend every minute with him, and thus would have missed out on the priceless relationships and ministry opportunities God had for me at IWU. With Steve so far away, I was free to pour myself into friends, girls I was mentoring, chorale leadership and classes. Plus, the fact that we were apart meant that most of our interaction was based on talking, either in frequent emails and IM conversations or once-a-week phone calls. That laid a strong foundation for our ability to communicate with each other.

The other radical thing about the words we said (or didn't say) to each other was that we didn't say "I love you" for a long, long time. I had said those words to one other person, years before, and deeply regretted their prematurity (as soon as they carelessly came out of my mouth). Steve, too, wanted to save the expression for a time when he could put weight behind it--when it wouldn't be a string of flippant words, but a declaration of a forever kind of love.

The three little words I longed to hear came on a quiet morning in March 2004, when we'd been dating more than a year. Steve was home on spring break, and I had come home for the weekend to spend time with him. Because of my class schedule, I didn't have to go back to school until Monday morning, so Steve came out to my parents' house and we made breakfast together. Or rather, Steve made French toast and I stood around feeling completely stupid. (This was the time when I, totally inept in the kitchen, tried to add bacon grease to the pan before frying bacon.)

After breakfast we had some time to read together and then just cuddle and talk. Steve asked what I was thinking, and I really wasn't thinking much of anything, so I asked what he was thinking. Uncharacteristically, he didn't respond (usually he'd just tell me he wasn't thinking about anything--and here's where we owe a huge thank you to Bill and Pam Farrel for giving us a framework to understand our waffles-and-spaghetti communication styles and helping me believe that he really might not be thinking anything at all!). Having learned by that time to wait patiently without prodding, I sat quietly. I noticed that his heart was pounding out of his chest, and he finally said, "You want to know what I was thinking?" When I said yes, he said, "I was thinking...that I love you more right now than I ever thought possible." Sigh...

Outside my townhouse at IWU, right before my graduation in April 2004

As it turned out, I landed a summer job that ended up to be a perfect transition period, buying me some time before I had to make any long-term decisions. The nonprofit ministry where I'd interned the summer before invited me back to work on a special project, and I was thrilled to spend three more months there with people I had grown to love, doing work that was such a wonderful match to my heart and my gifts. It would put me farther away from Steve, but we were each able to buy plane tickets and space them so we'd see each other about every six weeks.

Based on Steve's timeline, I anticipated that we would probably get engaged that fall, and then get married the following summer, soon after Steve graduated. But Steve had a surprise in mind. More on that next time :)

[to be continued...]

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Unexpected Good News

I had grand visions of being an awesome mom a couple of weeks ago when Elijah had a day off from school. My plans derailed when I hit snooze repeatedly and then messed around on my phone instead of getting up early. I proceeded to escape on the computer instead of reading a stack of books to the boys; I reacted to their fighting with my own crazy yelling, then used chocolate to numb my irritation. 

Later, as I reflected on my epic motherhood failures, I thought about John the Baptist, and the chapter I'd recently read about him. I don’t typically think of John the Baptist as a “good news” kind of guy. Probably I'd go with “abrasive weirdo.” I mean, this is the guy who wandered the desert wearing camel’s hair and eating grasshoppers.

In Luke 3, John begins with the sensitive, winsome strategy of calling his audience a “brood of vipers,” then threatens them with fiery judgment. Twice. He concludes with a dire threat: “the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (v. 17). Then Luke sums up John’s ministry with this unexpected description: “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (v. 18).

Wait a minute. Did I miss something? If I had to distill John the Baptist’s ministry into a word or two, I’d go with “repent,” not “good news.” But Luke cuts sharply through the false dichotomy, reminding me that repentance is good news.

Head over to Pick Your Portion today for more on how repentance is the good news we didn't expect! 

Jesus Cancels Mommy Guilt
Gutsy Guilt
How Guilt is Satisfied

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Steve and Amy: A Love Story (Part 13)

[continued from part twelve // start here]

Every time the roads are icy, I think about my second date with Steve--the one I never should have gone on. We had officially been dating for only two weeks, and my hopes were high that our second date would be on Valentine's Day.

Early that week Steve sent me a letter, with an inner envelope marked "This one you can't open till the 14th! No peeking." In it, he shared why he was willing to "take this very new and challenging step." He explained how he saw in me the top two qualities he was looking for in a mate: my walk with God/spiritual maturity, and my intellect. Of course I melted.

But Friday, February 14, 2003, found me sitting at my computer, totally exasperated. I finally had a valentine for the first time in my life, and I was spending Valentine's Day alone?!?! Yet even though Steve hadn't sent me flowers or made any plans to see me, I still couldn't be mad at him--I'd never been able to be mad at him. We chatted on Instant Messenger, and ended up deciding to meet the next night for dinner in Richmond, Indiana (halfway between our schools).

By the time I left campus, the roads were already pretty snowy. I briefly considered calling Steve to say, "Forget it, this is not smart." But...what can I say? I really wanted to see him :) By the time I was past halfway, it didn't make sense to turn around--but then it got awful. I can still feel the tension in my neck and shoulders, the terror with which I gripped the steering wheel when I couldn't really tell for sure where the road was. By the time I fell into Steve's waiting arms, much later than we'd planned to meet, I was practically shaking and in tears.

Once we were seated, Steve told me to forget about what was going on outside and we enjoyed dinner together at O'Charleys. Looking back, I probably should have paid for a hotel room in Richmond that night, but instead I took the interstate back, which I thought would be safer even though it was a longer trip. Those were among the most terrifying three hours of my life--at one point I encountered a sign saying "WINTER STORM WARNING FOR CENTRAL INDIANA: NEAR BLIZZARD CONDITIONS NORTH OF INDIANAPOLIS." That was where I was headed! The roads were so bad that church, and the chorale concert I thought I had to be back for, was canceled the next day. Pretty stupid to have risked my life to see my boyfriend of two weeks...but it WAS an amazing date, and I lived to tell about it :)

Oh, the things we do for love...

We proceeded slowly, cautiously. In March I got a letter in the mail from Steve:

...Almost two months ago, when I came up to see you and we decided to jump off the ship of easiness into the sea of what-in-the-world-are-we-doing, I must admit that the main reason I was willing to “chase you” is because I felt led to do so. Honestly, in my heart I was questioning God all over the place, wondering why He would have me do such a thing.

Now I can see His picture with a little more clarity. I understand now that up until these last few months, I still considered you to be the same Amy I knew in high school. Whenever I think of the changes our Lord has made in you, I can’t help but praise Him for them. These very qualities that you now have are the very ones I would have missed would I not have “jumped off the ship” with you.

...I find myself being drawn closer to you, and yet I am afraid of how close we might become. I want our relationship to grow, but I also want to be very cautious with speed and areas within which we might grow. And so I am confused. We talked about fears over the weekend and one that I thought of but was reluctant to bring up was the fear of hurting you. All of a sudden I see I have this amazing young woman in front of me and I feel so unprepared.

I do take lots of comfort from the fact that there are many praying for us. I have made it a point to take my concerns to a certain number of guys, including but not limited to my Saturday morning gents. On a daily basis men of faith take you and I before our Lord, that we might make this exciting and new walk with purity and God’s will in mind.

So as for me I just want you to have some sort of an idea about my struggles. Remember that they are good simply because that means I’ve gotten more than I counted on. You are much more than I figured you would be, and now I have to go pick myself off the ground and catch up. The only things I ask from you is prayer and understanding. I know I’ve gotten lots of them so far. 


What he didn't tell me until later was how his feelings for me developed. Here are some more of Steve's own words, looking back:

While not your typical fairy tale beginning, my perspective is that starting our relationship before I had romantic feelings for Amy ended up being beneficial long-term.  Perhaps one of the most obvious reasons is that any relationship goes through emotional ups and downs, and if you start on the up, whenever you experience a down, you wonder if you made a mistake...

For me, I started from a neutral position, though I knew I couldn't remain there forever.  In fact, I distinctly recall walking to campus one morning, praying that if God wanted me to continue to pursuing Amy, he would have to give me feelings for her that were beyond the standard friendship feelings. I knew I couldn't marry just a good friend.  I wanted to marry someone whom I could adore at a deeper level.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I was letting God know that he could let up on the gift of feelings a little.  I'm a rather levelheaded person who isn't known for emotional swings, and therefore was not accustomed to having to deal with the onslaught of romantic feelings flooding my mind and heart.  

God showed me that He is able and willing to provide his children with an increased love for one's spouse (or girlfriend as it was in this case) if we would simply ask.  When times are low between loved ones, we need not feel like we are hopeless, or helpless, but rather remember that God would love to create in our marriages a better reflection of how Christ loves his church.  Often, however, He seems to wait until we ask for help from positions of complete poverty before moving.  Perhaps that's because we are too quick to boast in ourselves and too slow to credit God with all good gifts. 

While Steve was developing actual feelings for me, my feelings were increasing, too. I was desperately trying to "guard my heart," but it was proving more and more difficult as I got closer to this guy who was more amazing than I had dreamed.

Our relationship was wonderful, but entirely long-distance: Steve was in Cincinnati; I was in Marion, Indiana; Denver, Colorado; and even, for a short time, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia! Each of us was growing more confident that we wanted to marry the other, but this was totally unspoken. Marriage was, by silent agreement, a forbidden word between us. We never, ever talked about "our future" or operated on the expectation that we would one day be married.

And though that put me in a confusing and difficult spot that fall, I'm glad we handled it that way. All around me I saw couples prematurely planning their lives together, and I think that can lead to all kinds of pitfalls and heartbreak. By no means did Steve and I do everything right in our dating relationship, but I think it was wise for us to live in the present, build our relationship with caution, and quietly evaluate the future separately, without running ahead with the assumption that a wedding was inevitable.

We each visited the other at school a couple of times; here, when I was in Cincy for a basketball game, Steve and I stopped for a photo inside an upholstered breast on rockers. Yes, you read that right. Snuggle right on up inside a purple-velvet-lined mammary gland. The other side had a giant nipple. File this one under "differences between our two schools"...

But as I began my last year of college, I found myself in the exact place I had always said would be the hardest. Over and over I had remarked that at graduation, it would be best to be completely single and unattached, or to have a sparkly diamond on your left hand. The uncertainty of the in-between seemed, to me, like a sticky, tricky place to be. Yet that's where I was in the fall of 2003.

[to be continued...]

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Would You Speak to Her That Way?

I was sitting at Chick-Fil-A with a friend last week when I looked down and noticed an earring-back lying on the table. My hands went to my ears, and I realized that one of the silver studs I'd been wearing was gone.

My friend and I scanned the table and the floor; I combed over my scarf and shook out my jacket. It was gone. And Chick-Fil-A was the third place I'd been since leaving home, so the earring could have been anywhere.

They were brand-new earrings, a gift from my parents. I had a pair of silver ball studs like these before, and I wore them almost every day until the cheap silver coating started to peel off. So my mom had gotten me a nicer, sterling silver pair for Christmas.

My inner monologue went something like this: "It's all your fault. It was so stupid of you to wear those with loose backs. You *knew* those backs were looser than they should have been. Why would you wear nice earrings with loose backs? Stupid. I can't believe you did that. And now it's gone."

It's not like they were hundred-dollar diamond earrings. And it's not like they were irreplaceable heirlooms handed down from a beloved grandmother. I tried to tell myself, "It's just STUFF...this isn't worth getting so upset about." But still I felt sick about it, mad at myself.

Given that earlier that evening, I'd just had my first counseling session, I journaled a little and asked my counselor if she thought that reaction was normal. [You're in counseling? Yes, yes I am. Truth be told, I think we could all use someone to come alongside us from time to time and help us grow in our ability to think biblically and love well...and it should be happening a lot more in the church, informally. No major crises in my life, just feeling "stuck" in the same old, same old struggles and sins. A friend of mine has been seeing this counselor for quite some time and has had great things to say. I feel blessed to be getting some help from her now, too.]

"Normal?" Pamela responded when we talked this week. "Well, it's not the way God would have you talk to His beloved daughter. It's not godly self-talk. God doesn't talk to you that way. If He admonishes us, it's not in a condemning tone. Romans 8:1 tells us that."

I was expecting, I suppose, some sort of analysis of my thought process. Instead, Pamela's simple, straightforward words sliced sharply through my self-absorption.  

Her comments have been on a loop in my mind ever since. Would I talk to the teenage girl I mentor that way? Never. Would I use this tone of voice with my best friend? I wouldn't think of it. Would I berate my sisters in the church like this? No, no, no. Even if I did think one of these precious women had done something dumb, I wouldn't dream of addressing her with the tone or the words inside my own head.

So why do I think it's OK to talk to myself that way?

No brilliant, tidy conclusions to this post; I guess one of the things Pamela and I will be exploring is how to silence that harsh inner critic and replace condemnation with conviction. Just wanted to share some food for thought while I am still "in process," before I can tie it all up with a bow :)

Oh, and the earring? Pamela found it it in her office. It must have snagged and fallen out when I took my scarf off. The kindness of God, in the midst of my mess.