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.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Multitude Monday, Take 315

"Cynicism looks reality in the face, calls it phony, and prides itself on its insight as it pulls back. Thanksgiving looks reality in the face and rejoices in God's care. It replaces a bitter spirit with a generous one.” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life)
It's a constant battle to replace my natural cynicism with gratitude. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. But this week I'm thanking God that the war has already been won, and for many other blessings, including...

5947. my sin on full display--showing the boys that everyone needs a Savior
5948. bedtime repentance and reconnection
5949. mercies new every morning
5950. a friend sharing how God is showing her His mercy and compassion
5951. baked oatmeal

5952. the ways God has been drawing a friend to Himself
5953. the incredible privilege of being a tiny part of her journey
5954. her baptism yesterday morning
5955. reminders that He pursues and loves *me* like that
5956. a meaningful, somewhat prophetic text and unsolicited prayers from a dear friend

5957. snuggling up under the quilt my great-grandmother made
5958. a big pot of my favorite soup
5959. Jude: "Can you cawwy me like a hack a suhpatoes?"
5960. precious prayers from my boys
5961. the chance to celebrate one of Elijah's friends turning 6 at Chuck E. Cheese

5962. incredible women with incredible messages and hearts at IF:Gathering
5963. the ability to livestream sessions from the comfort of my house
5964. fresh wind in my sails

Monday, February 03, 2014

Multitude Monday, Take 314

"Gratitude is liberation. We are all mortals, called into this narrative in this timestream without our consent. And we will all reach an end. See the gifts. And if they seem sparse, start counting. Omit nothing. Can you count that high?" (N.D. Wilson, Death by Living)
Still counting, counting, counting...I just hit 20,000 in my visual journal (since July 2009) this week! Thanking God for gifts like...

5932. Jude begging to be read to
5933. His immeasurable compassion
5934. meeting me in His Word
5935. opportunities to encourage a friend
5936. Lea Salonga's voice

5937. a sweet friend buying me dinner at Chick-Fil-A
5938. opportunities to preach truth to myself, and maybe help whoever is listening
5939. Jude's prayer for one of our Christmas card families (almost made me cry)
5940. new friends here for dinner
5941. Steve asking for a date night

5942. nachos pastor at our local Mexican restaurant
5943. new dance moves
5944. cuddly little girl in the church nursery, who knows me well enough now that she was fine as long as I was holding her
5945. Elijah off from school today
5946. Grandma June's sour cream cookies