The Problem with Showing Mercy

Science fascinates me. I’m horrible at understanding most of it and I never excelled at the subject in school, but I sure did find it interesting. Science imagines outside the box, pushes past the limits of what we know, it dreams.

Isaac Newton was a physicist who formulated the laws of motion. It had several parts and I remember that it could be written mathematically in a way that always tripped me up, but what I gathered was this: an object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will stay at rest. Which explains why it’s hard to get moving on Saturday after sleeping in and watching two hours of the Cooking Channel. The object (me) at rest wants to stay at rest.

Basically, motion begets more motion which begets more motion which begets more motion. It’s a law that says continuing is easy once we just start. Newton studied the physical universe as an expert in his chosen field, but it turns out that his laws are applicable to much more. Because grace and respect and courage and endurance are like that too. After you offer them once, it’s pretty easy to offer them again and again and again. All those virtues, the characteristics we hold in high esteem and try hard to achieve, are mostly about practice. It can be tough to exercise them at first, but keep practicing and you’ll get pretty good at it. We can see the fingerprints of this ‘motion equals more motion’ principal all over God’s word. How many times should we forgive someone? 70×7….in other words, a ton. How often does God think of us? The thoughts outnumber the grains of sand. How much mercy will God extend to us? A new supply every morning.

Mercy is no different. There is a story that believers often bring out as evidence when discussing the unrelenting mercy of Jesus, and for good reason. It’s found in the book of John, chapter 8. We learn that Jesus has been hanging at the Mount of Olives but then returns to the Temple in Jerusalem by morning, when there would have been a lot of activity happening. Many churches sit more-or-less in quiet emptiness during the week, with the majority of the action happening on Sundays, but the Temple was different. It was the hub of interaction. Biblical recitations happened daily and offerings were carried out by a tribe of priests who officiated at the altar. Those happened inside the inner court. But the outer court was always hoppin’. It held a market, and foreign currency was exchanged. Whether you were a Jew or a Gentile, the Temple was a monumental structure that served as the epicenter of life, playing a massive role in society. So it was busy. Very busy. On top of this bustle of activity, the crowd was extra-large because Jesus attracted a crowd. Where he went, people went. They wanted to hear what this man had to say.

This is important to know because a crowd provided the backdrop for something profound in the story: maximum humiliation. In the story, Jesus is teaching to a crowd when some other teachers enter the scene. These teachers were teachers of ‘the law’. They knew what the law said like it was their job, because it was their job. They were also hypocrites and pumped up on the authority that their positions gave them. So that particular morning, the teachers presented Jesus with a woman that the Bible says  was ‘caught in adultery’. In fact, some versions say ‘in the very act.’ That added emphasis should lead us to believe that this woman was taken by surprise at being discovered and likely pretty embarrassed. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest she had the chance to get dressed or make herself presentable. What’s worse, the act she committed had a steep penalty. The law stated this woman could have been stoned. We aren’t talking about pebbles. The punishment included the use of heavy rocks flung at the accused until the gruesome end. The woman is not given a name in the story. She was a pawn being used by the teachers to prove a point and catch Jesus in a no-win situation. The teachers, bent toward the stark, harsh rules of religion, asked Jesus for his opinion but didn’t count on his ability to extend a love that never fails to a woman they were content to throw away.

I could have been her. Not because I’ve committed adultery. No. But I know what fear and uncertainty and insecurity will lead you to do. I know that it’s easy to mistake a relationship with a man as that one thing that will finally fix you. I know the shame that comes with realizing you’ve given yourself away in an effort to find the missing pieces, only to realize that you’re more broken than ever before. I know what it’s like to feel the sting of humiliation, and of shame, and to watch the judgement pass through the eyes staring in your direction. That woman and I, we’re not so far apart. We could have been friends. We would have had a lot to discuss.

You probably know the way this story ends. Jesus implores the men who are without sin to chuck the first stone at her, but none of us are sinless and these men knew it. So one by one, they left, defeated. Jesus sends the woman on her way with the command to sin no more. It was unheard of mercy, unexplainable mercy. But the mercy was already in motion at that point. You see, at the urging of the teachers to give his opinion on the situation, Jesus knelt down and began to write in the dirt. That’s a pretty curious way to react and much deliberation has been had about exactly what it is that he was writing on the ground. It’s curious, indeed…and kind….and thoughtful….and respectful. Because Jesus being knelt down, writing in the dirt, meant his eyes had to stare at the ground…. his eyes shielded from what is not meant to be seen by a crowd of onlookers…in a demonstrative effort to protect the dignity of a deeply ashamed, and likely naked, girl. This woman, regarded as an immoral harlot with everything bad coming to her, was probably being gawked at by the crowd….but Jesus began to extend mercy immediately, before he even sent her on her way without punishment, and kept his gaze low and steady so he saw her with his heart instead of his eyes.

All that mercy heaped on top of mercy on top of more mercy. In just a few minutes, Jesus showed an unloved, unwanted woman all the things sought after by everyone. He honored he and protected her. He reinstated her lost dignity. Because that’s what unwarranted mercy does. It extends kindness. It redeems. It elevates. It covers. It restores. And mercy, given over and over again, creates a lifestyle of mercy, a lifestyle that glories Christ, a lifestyle that sins no more.

Those men opposed Jesus with fatal hostility for a whole bunch of reasons, but I suspect that what upset the men from the Temple most was that they knew what Isaac Newton would discover centuries later. Surely these teachers and Pharisees understood that people were drawn to Jesus because he oozed something vastly different from the carefully crafted and controlled school of thought they were touting to the people in their midst. People who are receptive to giving and receiving grace, kindness, respect and mercy are hard to control. That’s the problem with showing mercy. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.

 I don’t worry about being stoned for my bad decisions these days, but the times we live in are malignant in their own right. You can’t listen to the radio, watch television or read the news without encountering the onslaught. But Newton’s principal is still as true today as it ever was. Motion begets more motion, and mercy begets more mercy. Start, and you’ll find it very hard to quit.

-Mande

3 Pieces of Advice for Our Daughters on Marriage

My youngest daughter, Natalee, just turned nine. Nine small years of belly laughs and fart jokes and snuggles bundled up in one body. Natalee is all sorts of fabulous because she’s sweet-as-pie, tender-hearted, and ridiculously generous with her time, her affection and her goods. If she has something in her room that you want, it’s yours. Barbie dolls? Sure, take your pick. You see some crayons you like? Take ‘em! She’ll even give you her beloved, ratty, old teddy bear if it will make you feel better. The girl just loves to give.

Natalee is also at the age where she’s noticing the concept of love. It’s pretty simplistic, but she gets the gist. Man sees beautiful woman, woman notices handsome man. They talk, laugh, fall in love. Get married, kiss, have children. Live happily ever after. This is endlessly entertaining and hilarious to her. She giggles when her Daddy and I kiss goodbye, and makes a smooching noise as we leave for our occasional date night. Kids!

The other day, we were playing Hair Salon. Of all the games I’ve played with my daughters, Hair Salon is by far my favorite. It basically consists of me sitting in the chair at the beauty salon and getting beautified by THE most fabulous stylist on the face of the planet, Natalee. And the girl has skills. Plus, who doesn’t love having their hair brushed and styled?? Sign me up.

As we were gabbing and playing Hair Salon, a marathon of Say Yes To The Dress played softly from the TV in the background. Akin to her recent recognition of love, my daughter is also newly fascinated with weddings. The fancy dresses, the gorgeous flowers, the tall towering cakes. It all serves to entice little girls who dream freely about princes and fairy tales. I was getting a fabulous up-do, when a particularly sensational dress popped up on the TV screen and caught my girl’s eye. Before long, we found ourselves in the thick of a wedding discussion, darting from one detail to the next.  Natalee started to list off the things she wanted for her future wedding. I simply adore these types of conversations with my children. When Olivia or Natalee dream out loud, my heart leaps at the thought of them as their eventual selves. Fully grown beauties with rich brown hair and sparkly eyes, pursuing goals, contributing, thriving. I love to hear what the Lord has nestled into their hearts, and how they see their lives five, ten or twenty years from now.

Twirling in her dress at 3.

 

I took the opportunity to steer the conversation slightly away from the wedding and more toward the marriage. Weddings are delightful and I dig ’em, but everyone knows it’s just a day. An important day, sure. But a day. But marriage, that’s a whole other thing altogether. To be in the trenches with someone else, your chosen partner, facing the day-in and day-out struggle of keeping a relationship alive is no joke. You have to want it. Fairy tales are just that, tales. So I wanted my girl to have a template now for how God sees marriage and what she should be looking for. If she knows what a Godly man looks like, her expectation for how to be treated will be rock solid and unshakable. And because I believe Father has already selected a mate for her, she will know this man when she meets him. Here’s what I told her.

 

  1. Your husband will sound a whole lot like God when he speaks to you. Not because he IS God, but because God is the maker of our mouths, and He promises to help us speak with the leading of the Spirit (Exodus 4:12 NAS). If we are in tune with the Spirit, our words, actions and love should reflect that of the Father as indicated in Matthew 10:20. This is how God sounds: rich in encouragement, edification, reassurance, and grace. His words toward us are void of condemnation and harsh criticism. You aren’t going to find Father calling us cruel names. He’s not cursing at us. He reminds us that we are more than spouses, parents or some company’s employee….we are His children and we will be spoken to as such. Kings speak with kindness and with an ever-present agape love. The King’s children should speak the same way.
  2. Your husband will prefer you. And she will prefer him. Because Father designs marriage to look like this: we will leave the mother and father who raised us, and cleave to one another in a new life forged as a couple (Genesis 2:24). Cleave, the act of adhering closely, clinging, remaining faithful. The only way to do this is to prefer someone above everyone else in your sphere. Clinging is hard when we’d prefer to be somewhere (or with someone) else. But the man who decides to give you his time over his friends or the sports game or his job or that party, is a man who prefers you. Preference expresses honor, respect, security and most importantly, LOVE. Father God shows each of us unwavering preference at all times, no matter what. And a man made in the image of his Creator, following the leading of the Spirit, who prefers the wife and children God gave to him, is pleasing to the Lord.
  3. Your husband will know you are a treasure, even in your imperfection. Because the Word describes a good wife as far more precious than jewels (Proverbs 31:10). Also, Malachi 3:17 reminds us that we are God’s jewels in the making, His specially selected treasures. And if a father describes his daughter as a jewel, than we can safely assume he wants the man who marries her to think the same thing. Father God is no different. A man who sees his wife as a imperfectly perfect but wholly precious treasure will treat her accordingly and that delights her heavenly Father.

 

There is more to teach my daughters. So much more. About getting to know one another’s character, about keeping your body a holy temple meant for just one, about how God sees submission from both men and women, about the paramount conversations to have before you strut down an aisle all dolled up, about how God’s design for marriage is not to be domineering but rather uplifting. Some of these lessons have happened, some will happen later, and most of them are an ongoing effort meant to raise up my girls with a grounding in what God desires for her as a married woman.

The truth is that I will know Olivia and Natalee as adults far longer than any other stage I’ve known them yet. The baby stage is one tiny year. Toddlers are only toddlers for a while. And the school years end at 18. But the adult stage goes on for decades. So everything we do now has the greatest impact on all those years that span the 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond, long after their daddy and I have passed away. We’ve paid out a good chunk of very hard-earned money to send them to an excellent private school. And we’ve taught at length on how to serve humanity, how to care for their bodies, how to pray, how to make killer brownies and a really respectable red sauce over penne. So many life skills packed into 18 teeny tiny years that fly by. Beyond anything else we can teach them, the biggest investment James and I can make is to teach them how to be daughters of the one and only forever King. After all, that’s what they will spend most of their time doing in the days they are allotted.

I sure do love a good wedding. But their marriages are where it’s at, y’all.

Making plans,
Mande

 

Can I be REAL with you?

Can I be real with you for a second?

I mean, really real. Not the kind where my ‘confession’ is that I fed my kids just regular chicken breasts from the deli at Bakers instead of the organic, free-range, hormone-free kind from Whole Foods. That doesn’t count.

I want to be really real with you, the kind that makes me squirm with embarrassment, and worry over the backlash and judgment. Not because I like feeling uncomfortable. I really hate it. But I also have learned through the bitter tears and clenched fists and sweaty palms of uncomfortable about the real joy that comes from it. How I’ve grown in those moments. The moments when I tore off my mask, shed my perfectionist desires and rid my face of the plastered smile to reveal the girl underneath. The one that God crafted and loves so. Just as I am. In those moments, a split second after the revelation and the prick of fear about ‘What will they think???’, what comes spilling forth is relief. And relaxation. And the distinct feeling that my God is pleased with His daughter being completely, unabashedly, unreservedly REAL.

So, without further ado, can I lay down for you some truths in my life? Here goes nothing.

 

  1. I’ve read in several places that it’s a must to change your bed sheets every single week. That does not happen in my house as often as it should.
  2. Sometimes I forget to remind my youngest daughter to take a shower. And then I realize with serious shame that it’s been a few days and the girl needs to bathe. Nobody wants to be the stinky kid in class.
  3. I don’t cook. Not at all. And so, if my husband isn’t around, I’ll order pizza. This is bad on not just one, but two, fronts. First, I’m feeding my kids crap instead of learning to cook something healthy. And then, I pick something that can be delivered because I don’t want to leave the house. That’s bad stewarding of both my body and my money, a double sin. And it’s lazy. La-zy.
  4. What’s worse, sometimes I don’t even order the pizza. We have a ‘Fend for Yourself’ night. One kid will eat a bowl of cereal, the other will have leftovers and I’ll eat a salad. I rationalize that I’m teaching them to care for themselves, to be self-sufficient. But, come on.
  5. Some Saturdays, I spend the majority of the day watching tv. Sure, sure – I throw in a few loads of laundry and wash the dishes and make sure my kids eat. But we’re watching tv, make no mistake about it. In a world with limitless possibilities, I chose tv over museums and libraries and parks.
  6. I am always late. Always. I yell at people when I’m late as if it’s their fault. It’s rude and makes everyone feel rushed.
  7. I use events as a license to eat like a pig. Like Christmas or my birthday. I figure, well I might as well enjoy this and eat whatever I want. Hey, I’m going to blow it anyway, right?? Let’s really blow it! There’s never a good excuse for consuming 5,000 calories, people.
  8. Sometimes I hate having school aged kids. Because they need help with homework and despite my previous college education, I feel like a total idiot when trying to help my kids with math. No, I do not recall how to find integers and I wish I could tell my daughters that there’s a good chance they won’t be using those as adults.

 

And now for the really, reeeally real stuff…..

  1. I had post-partum depression. Twice. It was horrific and still haunts the recesses of my mind if I think on it too long. I had dreams about harming myself in the most terrible of ways. I wasn’t and couldn’t be the mother my kids deserved in their first few months of life. In the still of the night, when I am awakened by my old dog needing to empty his tiny bladder, I lay in bed and wonder…”What is the long term effect of those months for them? Will it pop up later in life in unexpected situations? How badly did I fail them? Do they know???”
  2. Depression isn’t just for the post-partum among us. Even when you are two months, two years, a decade past the push and pain of labor, it hangs on. Like sap on a tree, it sticks to everything in its path. Sometimes I wake up and before I even leave my bed, I just know. That it’s a day the enemy has pegged as a war day. He wants to see how long he can keep me in that bed, in that darkened room, shut off from the light, bright world. And you guys….sometimes he WINS. The lamest, most vile creature to ever exist sometimes wins. And then I feel like I failed my Father in Heaven. Because I know better.
  3. I’m a hypocrite. Because I will tell my daughters how beautiful they are, what a stunning creation they are and then in the same breath, berate my own reflection. The skin that has held in two babies-in-the-making and the legs that walked me to and fro as I traveled the Earth, the hands that have ministered to people and the eyes that have wept a thousand tears collected in bottles by my Father – I berate that body. The vain laws of society seep into a teenage girl’s head and harden like cement, whispering to me what I need to be in order to measure up. And all the mirror shows is less than. My head knows what my Father says….I know what His word says…..I know that I’d hate for my daughters to despise their carefully crafted bodies the way I do mine. But still, the disdain remains.

 

 

So, what now? What to do with all these truths that stand in direct conflict to the things my God says? How do I reconcile them in my head? How do I change? Friends, I am in good company. Paul wrote to the Romans about this exact struggle. I am not alone. And if you are struggling  with keeping it all in line like me, then you aren’t alone either. Isn’t that good news? Refreshingly hopeful news??? Because if Paul, a man who heard the voice of the resurrected Jesus and served in the birth of His church, struggled with the massive beast we call everyday living, then I sure do feel better.

I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
~ Romans 7:14-16 (MSG)

 

Here’s what we can do. Hold our hands and our hearts wide open. God isn’t rocked by our struggles. We can share them with Him, pour our hearts out in utter honesty. And we can expect Him to work in us little by little, claiming victories big and small, then covering over the jagged parts with His grace-filled love. This fight isn’t over yet. You are complete in Christ, even as you are still being transformed. In the end, God remains. He’s enough, sweet friends. He’s more than ENOUGH.

Resting in Enough,
Mande

 

About the time I went to Serbia.

When the nightmare of last summer transpired, and I was no longer able to stay with the global journey team I was on, I figured I either needed to rethink going into the Nations OR take it as a sign that God had big plans for me. Plans the enemy would go to great lengths to thwart. I decided to go with the last theory and stand on the firm, holy ground of Father’s promises to use me in the nations, and I joined another team. All summer long, even as I trained, I wondered if I’d make it on that plane this time. You guys, even as I was driving to the airport with my family, I wondered what the enemy was planning. What was Father warring against on my behalf so I could get on that plane? I can’t know for sure, but I made it onto that plane sitting on the Eppley tarmac and every plane thereafter. They were all on time and the bags followed us faithfully. We were healthy, in good spirits, connecting seamlessly as a team and thrilled to be traveling to Novi Sad, Serbia. A place I can confidently say I never dreamed of visiting as a little girl. But that was before I knew the Lord.

Assuming that God was at work, I had my expectations set high. Maybe too high. But it was no tall order that my God couldn’t meet, because my time in Serbia BLEW MY MIND a million times over. To say that it was amazing and phenomenal and life-altering is just way too small in comparison to what it actually was.

*I loved all the strangers I met on all those plane rides, even in seats with no leg room for hours and hours. I thanked Him for every mile I covered, every cloud we flew threw and every person on every plane.  (I even overlooked the two cats meowing for 9 whole hours on the way back to the States. CATS. For NINE hours.)

*I loved the weary exhaustion that comes with jet lag and jam-packed days. Because it meant I was somewhere far, far away from my norm and I knew He was the only one that could make that happen. (jet lag = legit. The struggle.)

*I loved the language barrier. I loved every word I didn’t understand and the graceful smiles extended as we explained what we meant and bumped over pronouncing words foreign to our tongues. I loved those little kids with hearts to learn the language I take for granted.

*I loved that beautiful seminary building in Novi Sad and every team member working here. Those people God was preparing for weeks and months and years before it ever occurred to anyone to establish a Lifegate in Serbia. The people who ooze God from their smiles and hugs and hands and laughs and eyes. I have absolutely no idea how God can make people feel instantly like family, but He did. And I know I’m not the first to say it. Every day felt like a family reunion and departing from them was heart wrenching. There’s no way to describe the way I’m missing them, or the glee I feel when we communicate over social media. It will have to do until I can see them in the flesh again. Soon.

*I loved the delicious little bread store and the salon around the corner, but more than that, I loved the people working inside of them. Their welcoming smiles, their desire to know where I came from and sincere bear hugs with broken English that implored me to return.

*I loved all 53 of the children wandering the camp tucked away in a rural village in Serbia. The camp with spotty WiFi, legions of bugs, well water and dirty bathrooms. The camp that served up amazing food and warm hospitality. The camp that felt so familiar and so foreign at the exact same time. I miss it desperately. Take me back there, Lord.

*I loved those late night dance parties at the English camp, how sweat slid down the back of my neck as we bounced around, dancing like we had no cares in the world. The 50 year old dancing beside the 30 year old dancing beside the 17 year old and the 10 year old. To the same music, on that dusty floor with the moonshine streaming in and mingling with the colored spotlights we rigged in the corners. We shuffled back to our cabins, weary from the day and that dancing, but so alive.

*I loved that little hill by the corn fields and the horses at camp. I climbed up and sat to watch the sunset and to journal, the tears soaking the collar of my already drenched shirt, the pages filling with words. I loved what He told me. I loved knowing that He could only say the things He said to me in Serbia, because that’s where my ears and heart could receive them. And I wondered what He was saving to tell me as I wander the globe in the future.

*I loved the leaky eyes and falling tears of each child that we hugged at the train station, over whispered goodbyes. I kept thinking about how God collects all our tears in bottles and how the bottles have tears from all over the globe, mingling together in the sweetest way.

*I loved the dew that fell on the land of the camp each morning, blanketing everything in tiny drops of His refreshment. I loved how it made the sunrises glow through the lens of my cell phone camera, the one that could never capture well what my eyes were seeing.

*I loved each one of those believers in Belgrade and every piece of their broken stories. I love how they leaned in with elbows on knees and looked me right in the eyes as I told them my testimony, nodding their heads excitedly when they heard a part that resonated with their own. I love how each word knitted my heart to theirs and I instantly felt a kinship to those perfect strangers. I loved their sweet children in the next room, noshing on some of the most amazing pizza I’ve ever eaten. I loved the thick feeling of the Kingdom in that room in Belgrade where we met, sitting in a circle of chairs in an old building re-purposed many times over. I loved the distinct feeling of knowing that God was there and at work in gigantic ways. I loved the sadness I felt as we drove home that night, missing them like crazy. The sadness reminds me of where I left my heart, like a little bread trail.

*I loved every belly laugh from those 15 days. There were hundreds, maybe thousands. Laughs on planes and in vans and on trains and in English classes and over meals and with my roomie, in the quiet of the night because perpetual exhaustion makes everything seem really funny. My time in Serbia is hallmarked by laughter and that’s so, so precious.

*I loved the cobblestone streets we walked and shops hidden in alleys. I loved the locals sitting on benches as we passed by and exchanged smiles. Did they immediately know I was from somewhere else? Probably. But they made me feel like a neighbor anyway.

*I loved telling people about my family back at home. I loved searching for the words to accurately describe the man and the daughters I have been given, and realizing that I was coming up empty to express the feelings in my heart. I loved the way my heart leapt when a text or video would pop up on my phone, the one that faithfully scanned for service constantly. I loved the dream that God wrote on my heart to bring them with me next time, to stamp their memories with a lifetime spent discovering the world as a family. I loved the way my breathing quickened when the wheels of our plane touched down in Omaha, because I knew I was minutes away from being in the presence of the people God had designed for me before I was ever born. I love how the longings to be with both my family and people 4500 miles away have taken up camp in my heart effortlessly, and it doesn’t confuse me one little bit.

*I loved the feeling of scales falling from my eyes, and realizing how gigantic the world is. How beautiful the stars look when viewed from sleepy eyes at 1am as the camp leaders relaxed from the day over chuckles and quiet discussion. How breathtaking the sunsets are over the golden stalks of corn. How mesmerizing the storm clouds are, and how the big fat raindrops that fell on my arms felt like chunks of cold snow, even as I sat covered in sweat. I loved discovering birds I had never seen before, and wondering if they’d ever flown the air outside that village. I loved my eyes welling with tears as I gazed on the faces of those around me, the Father pressing into my heart how gorgeous He thought that person was, finding the beauty in everything and everyone. He so loves creation, y’all. It’s all His favorite.

*I loved falling in love again, with my God. That first-love feeling that screams ‘I’ll go anywhere You call me, it’s all Yours, I’m with You, Lord.’ I loved leaning into His arms and feeling Him all around. I loved the warmth in my heart, radiating from the comfort and joy that comes from a good Father, knowing that I was safe and sound, that my adventures were in His hands and for good purposes.

*I love what He did in me. And knowing that He’s never done, that there’s no limit to what He can do with a willing heart and a whispered ‘Yes’. I loved the butterflies in my stomach when it occurred to me that, at 36 years old, I wasn’t nearing the end of my God’s plans at all. If anything, He was just starting to use the girl who needed a whole bunch of molding and I was finally, finally starting to take shape. His hands must be sore, after all that sculpting I needed. I’m so glad He never gave up on me.

There’s more. More than I can write in one post, so I’ll keep writing. More than I could write in one blog, though I’ll try. The Word says that God gives the Nations as an inheritance. Tears filled my eyes as our plane sped down the hot cement runway in Munich, on our way home. Because it took me 36 years to know the gravity of that. I looked down through the clouds to the landscape below and saw deep greens, yellows, browns and blues. All those houses that got smaller and smaller as we lifted higher and higher in the air, allowing me to see so far. Bathed in the light of the high sun, Germany sparkled like jewels and a gasp caught in my throat to see the gift He was giving, the heirloom He held in open palms before me. This abundance, this richness, this treasure. He finds it in the people He knits in wombs and the trees burrowed into the soil and the water covering the land and all those stars He hung just so, each with a special name. That inheritance is for me and for you, scattered all over the terrain, just waiting to be discovered like a gift, tied up in His love. Friends, I just can’t wait to unwrap all those packages.

In love,
Mande

Marrying My Husband was the Riskiest Thing I’ve Ever Done.

 

I’ve never been arrested. Aside from a few minor traffic infractions, I’ve never broken the law. I was a 4.0 student in school and graduated with honors. I never cheated on a test or plagiarized a paper. I loved school. I actually did the work, read the required chapters, studied for tests. When I arrive for work, I try to do everything to the best of my ability. I don’t use my PTO for ‘playing hooky’, though I suppose they’re my days to do with whatever I want. I attempt to contribute good ideas, thoughtful suggestions and produce high-quality outcomes.

This isn’t to say that I’m anywhere near perfection. I haven’t arrived at that and I never, ever will. Sometimes I miss the mark at work and my best effort is pretty far off from the expectations, and I need to humbly take the criticism. Sometimes I shout at my kids as we’re trying to leave in the morning because I’m late. Sometimes I speed when I’m in a hurry. I feed my kids frozen food too often because I’m a horrible cook and rather than learn how, I simply feed them what’s easy. I eat the same food and don’t feel inclined to exercise much, so I’m constantly trying to lose the same pounds with varying degrees of success. I usually screw up craft projects and my attempts at baking fall flat (literally). I don’t change my sheets or clean out the fridge as often as I should. I ought to pray more. So much more.

So this isn’t an expression of my perfection. It’s just that I’m a rule follower. I’m a keeper of the boundaries set for me. I crave routine, I enjoy the stability of it. Sure, I appreciate some adventure peppered here and there. I revel in some of the places I’ve been, like standing on the edge of the vast ocean or the mountain top, and feeling tiny in comparison. I fully understand the dichotomy of craving a night in, while also wanting a dinner out. I’m totally outgoing and have never felt intimated by a crowd, but I’m an introvert at heart. Toeing the line, wanting order, needing calm and rest. Perfectly imperfect.

The riskiest thing I’ve ever done, by far, was marry my husband. After dating the same guy all four years of high school and then heading into a long term, committed cohabitation the first few years of college with another man, you could easily peg me as someone who appreciates being in a relationship. I never dated around. First dates are the worst to me.

So, it was uncharacteristically spontaneous of me to agree to that date with James on that ordinary Tuesday at Commercial Federal Bank back in 2001. He was a customer at the same bank that employed me as a teller. He’d come in, loud and brash, making jokes with the workers, tossing packets of mints across the teller line and making friends with the other customers. I found it completely obnoxious, this posture of look-at-me! He had a beat up, old GMC truck with a missing muffler and broken back window. To enter or exit the truck, he had to slide across the passenger seat. You could hear that truck a mile away and when I did, I’d run to hide in the bathroom until he left. Anything to avoid him. He asked me out a few times and I rejected him. But then my college relationship ended, and after taking a few months off to just breath, he didn’t look so obnoxious anymore. He led people and ran a business. The seven years he had on me oozed wisdom and command….it was so appealing.

One day, that fateful Tuesday, through the drive thru window, he asked me to dinner and I finally accepted. He was surprised. We made plans and when the night arrived, he called to give me the chance to cancel. I laughed and told him I’d be there. When I arrived, he appeared so different than what I was used to seeing. Showered, shaved, in a tidy polo and shorts, he struck me as so handsome. Normally he sported dirty jeans and faded t-shirts when I saw him at the bank….his job required nothing more and it was comfortable for the work he did. But in that restaurant over drinks and Mexican food, I saw him differently. He was still loud and perpetually joking around. But he was also incredibly intelligent, generous, complimentary. He spoke of a loving God that had captured his heart from a young age, a God I had only begun to get to know. He went from being two dimensional to three, a whole person with many facets and a complex personality. He was a complicated creature, full of contrasts: positive/negative, hot/cold, sparkly/soiled. His wit was lightning fast and it drew me in. He kissed me at the end of our date and it felt electric, intoxicating. It felt…..right.

A few months later, we were talking about a future. We looked at engagement rings, and I bought a wedding dress. My parents must have wondered with curiosity and some anxiety about their normally careful daughter being so impulsive, but they loved me and so they tagged along with my hasty plans. A few months after becoming engaged, I became pregnant. It wasn’t planned, but we were excited anyway. And so were our parents and friends.

When our daughter was just three months old, we wed on a cold winter day in February. Baby red roses, a blanket of white snow and candlelight made for beautiful photographs. After all those years of careful living, of being a good girl doing the right things, I had married a decidedly adventurous man who lived life by the seat of his pants, on a whim.

It seems that you often find couples in these odd, opposing pairings. Saver and spender. Tidy and messy. Loud and shy. We are attracted to what we lack. I found the go-with-the-flow attitude of my new husband so unlike the life of coloring in the lines I had lived. I envisioned a life of adventure and travel. My 22 years had been so vanilla, and I anticipated a marriage in bold color with him. It seemed really exciting. Until it wasn’t anymore. We had a baby. And full time jobs and a house to pay for. There were job changes. A problem with gambling. Another baby. Years of depression and post-partum depression and anxiety and melancholy, things that debilitate and suck life from a marriage. The monotony of middle-class family life can certainly wear on the spirit. If you aren’t careful, the vibrancy will dissipate under the weight of daily existence.

But there was also laughter. Around the dinner table and in the car. There were slow dances in the kitchen with dirty dishes piled in the sink, and shared tears over the awe-induced love for our daughters. Nights spent cuddled on the couch, watching shows we could agree on, like How It’s Made or Cops. Sundays seated next to each other in our church’s sanctuary, where we prayed and worshiped side by side. Holidays filled with torn wrapping paper and festive decorations. The first and last days of school and summer and vacations. And weeping together in a lawyer’s office, staring at official documents from the Nebraska Family Court, signed by a judge who deemed us temporarily unallowed to care for our children. A shared history. Hours tucked inside of days filling one year after the other, all those small hours that make up a life. Aging brought maturity and a willingness to see the beauty of the monotony I once loathed. I discovered the dance we were perfecting through shuffles and sways and twirls to the tune of the symphony in our days together.

If you look at our marriage up close, too closely, you’ll see the dings and healed-over scars left by disagreements and unkind words and unmet expectations. When I was a girl, I never fathomed that I would be married to a man capable of spewing forth verbal vomit, or that I’d be capable of the same thing. That one moment could be so embroiled in contempt and the next characterized by wisdom, encouragement, support. Little girls, and little boys for that matter, see the world in black and white. They see kings and queens, heroes and villains. They see castles. But fairy tales are just tales, friends. And real life is filled with shades of gray. And marriages, even the best and healthiest, are sometimes tripped up by the gnawing of paychecks that are too small and bills that are too big and kids that are so needy and pasts that are so broken. Actually, not sometimes. More often than not. More majority than the exception.

So if you look closely, you’ll see it all. And I’m okay with you seeing it, because the only thing worse than a messy marriage is the facade trying to cover the messy marriage and masquerade as perfection. Those facades can never reach other messy marriages in need of hope, or receive the encouragement of couples forty years deep in the trenches of day-in and day-out marriage that is fought for. Vulnerability is freedom, people. If you look at our fifteen years in those same trenches, at the compilation of my relationship with that boy I met through a teller window, you’ll overwhelmingly see love. Love that smooths over grouchy mornings and irritable bedtimes. A love that saw through blemished upbringings and fast, tarnished living and layers of errors. Love that asks the Father for His eyes, believing in the inherent worth living inside the person lying beside you, the same one that just wounded you deeply. The love that produces not one, but two amazing-stunning-witty-talented-beloved daughters, children we cherish and treasure and protect with bear-sized paws. The type of love that wants to quit, but longs for victory more. The love that covers a multitude of sins, sins that worldly, conventional wisdom says should destroy a marriage, rendering it unsalvageable, but restores it instead.

 

“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.”

-1 Peter 4:8 (MSG)

 

Fifteen years in, I’m still more careful and he’s still more carefree. Despite our best efforts, we’re still trying and picking love instead of the other option. In many ways, my marriage is better than those early years. But there’s no perfection to be found here. In fact, there’s a good chance we’ll end the day having bruised or bumped the other unintentionally. And yet. Fairy tales may just be tales, but love affairs are the real deal. Love affairs have twists and turns and starts and stops. They keep on keepin’ on. There is a love affair to be found in my broken marriage, forged by a broken wife and a broken husband. Look closely. You’ll see it there, right alongside all that wear and tear. Maybe marrying my husband wasn’t the most reckless or risky thing I’ve ever done, after all. Led by the Spirit inside me, and the love I found and extended through the brokenness of life, maybe it was the most right. And the reward has been worth the risk.

Living life on the edge,
Mande