God’s love

God’s Most Favorite Child: Thoughts on Grace, Provision, and God’s Economy

For as long as I can remember my mother has possessed an uncanny ability to snag the very front parking spot in whatever parking lot she happens to be in. Not like, near the front. The very first available spot. The one that’s practically inside of the store and is also under the only shade tree in the lot. “I am God’s most favorite child!” she would spout in triumph, gliding into that parking spot like it was a front-row seat at the Super bowl.

I love my mother for this. For the way she taught me to see the fingerprints of God in something as ordinary as a parking spot.

Of course, she wasn’t trying to make some deep theological statement here. I don’t think she believed we could measure God’s favor by the way he doled out parking spots. There was no assumption that God gave the choice spots a few of his favorites while the less favorite were relegated to the back of the lot and the really awful people had to park across the street. She simply saw a good thing and let it point her, and all of us, straight to God.

Over the past few months as we’ve moved steadily towards the end of our time in Korea and the beginning of a new chapter in South Carolina, I have struggled with anxiety. I have struggled to believe that everything would work out. That I could trust God to provide a job with sufficient income, a place to live, vehicles to drive, new friends and community.

Even as the pieces began to fall into place I continued to Children-of-Israel the situation. Remember the Israelites in the desert? God delivered those dummies out of slavery by parting a sea and they were like, “Did you bring us here to starve?!” and then he sent them MANNA FROM HEAVEN and they were like, “Ugh. Did you bring us here to die of boredom from eating the same food over and over?”

I like to make fun of them because I see myself in them so much. My whining skills are top-notch. (My husband says he shudders to think that our children will inherit that from me). So even as God has opened doors and provided for us over and over again, I’ve continued to come up with new insurmountable obstacles to complain about. And God, in spite of my grumbling and in spite of my disbelief, has continued to provide.

I want to share the story of how God is providing for us. I want to give credit where credit is due. But in the past few years I’ve become more concerned with right theology when it comes to things like God’s blessings. I think “blessed” is one of the most overused and misunderstood words in the Christian vocabulary (but more on that another time). In particular, I am very uncomfortable with the idea that good things in my life are a sign of favor or blessing. I believe that all good things in the world come from God, but if I say that the good things in my life are from God’s favor or blessings, what does that mean for people who aren’t experiencing good things?

I know there are several of you who are in a similar situation to mine right now – preparing for a big move or a big life change and experiencing a lot of anxiety about it. I would never want to imply that things are falling into place for us because God is blessing us, but if they aren’t falling into place for you it’s because God is choosing not to bless you. I don’t believe that’s true.

I want to share how God is providing for us. If you are in a season where you aren’t seeing things work out and you feel anxious, I hope you can be encouraged by this story rather than discouraged. A parent doesn’t always give a child everything they want in the moment that they want it, but that doesn’t mean the parent doesn’t love that child or is no longer present with that child. So with that in mind, here’s our story.

The first major provision came in cars. We sold both of our old beaters before moving to Korea and have no vehicles. Jonathan’s grandmother recently decided to give up driving and offered to sell us her car inexpensively. And then my dad told us that he was planning to get rid of his big vehicle (a Tahoe) but that the trade-in value is minimal even though it’s not that old, because it has high mileage. He offered to donate it to us which means a tax break for him and a free car for us. Grace.

Next we were stressed about finding a place to live. We’re in a unique situation trying to “view” places and apply to rent them from another country. Imagine being a landlord and getting an email saying, “We live in South Korea and we don’t have jobs in America so we can’t prove our income, and our current landlord only speaks Korean so he can’t give you a reference, but we’re really great, I promise!” Not surprisingly, we weren’t getting lots of positive responses.

And then something amazing happened. I have an old family friend living in Columbia – our families were friends when I was a kid and I was friends with her little sister, but we haven’t seen them in 15 years or more. But I got in touch with her to ask about Columbia stuff and she volunteered to go look at places for us. At first I felt bad asking that of someone I didn’t know that well, but she was so kind and enthusiastic about it that we quickly gave in and accepted some amazing help. Guys. Lorien is the bomb.com. Like the actual bomb.com. She arranged viewings, talked to landlords, went to places, took pictures, made videos, found new listings for us, etc.

We signed a lease on a condo by the end of the week. Initially we really wanted a house for the charm factor, but God provided a beautiful condo that’s going to be awesome. It’s the most spacious and nicest place we’ve ever rented with a kitchen that makes me swoon. It’s comfortably within our budget and it is less than a mile from Lorien’s house which also helps put us at ease about our concern for friends and community. Grace.

While I still don’t have a full-time job lined up, I have been wishfully thinking that I’d like to work part-time and do freelancing/work-remotely things part-time so I have a more flexible schedule. As of right now I have two long-term freelance writing contracts and one more in the works. All three of these contracts have come through friends or other old connections that have randomly resurfaced. Grace.

When I look back at each of these graces, I can see God’s hand and his provision, and I realized that my mother was right. She is God’s most favorite child. And so am I. And so are you. And so is my frustrating coworker. And so is my most disrespectful student. And so is your Mother-in-Law.

God’s economy is not finite. Lavishing love on me doesn’t mean he has any less to give to you. It is the one economy in which all of our being of equal worth doesn’t diminish our value. And that is a divine, unearned, and irresistible grace.

I hope this can be an encouragement to you, wherever you are in your life, especially if you are like me and can always find something to stress out about. Take a breath and look for the places where God has stepped in, even when it didn’t look the way you wanted it to. Often you can find him in unexpected places if you only choose to look.

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What To Do When Someone Mistakes You for Their Drug Dealer

I’ve heard a lot of people rant about AT&T for various reasons (particularly U-verse customers.) It’s not at all uncommon for me to hear a friend or coworker ranting about something incompetent AT&T has done or a simple problem they seem unable to fix or just the lack of reception anywhere you really need it (like anywhere in my apartment, for example.)  But I have a hard time even understanding how it’s possible for them to have messed up whatever they messed up to cause this.

At one in the morning on Tuesday (or I guess Wednesday) I received this long string of texts from a number I don’t know that has an area code for Joliet, IL. For a while I slept through them, but after about 8 texts, this guy started calling. Four times in a row.

Obviously, it seems like they had the wrong number, but what’s weird about it is that if you read the texts (I apologize for language and the indecipherable nature of most of them) it seems like this guy is getting responses. So not like he’s just sending it to the wrong number, but like I’m getting CC’d on every message he sends this dealer guy. Sketchy.

Yesterday, this guy told me that he wanted to see any narcs for sale which was funny because as far as I knew a “narc” was a cop who specialized in drug busts. (Incidentally, I didn’t have any.)

And today I found out that his name is Paul and that he has cash. He also left me a nice voicemail about how he “Just wanted to see what was going on and sh*t.”

When I get off of work tonight I’m going to go to or call AT&T, explain that they’ve messed something up and also get Paul’s number blocked, I am thinking I’ll go into the AT&T store…I can’t imagine the automated phone system has an option for “If an unauthorized drug deal is being conducted through your phone, please press 5.” But for today I’ve been amusing myself thinking of possible ways I could respond to him.

“I’m not who you think I am.” Just that. And leave him wondering.

“Paul, this is God. I know everything.”

“Paul, this is the police. We know where you are. You are so busted.”

I actually did consider trying to report Old Paul to the police. But I don’t really know that they can do anything about it what with all of our laws about invasion of privacy. It would probably just end with AT&T getting sued for allowing someone else to receive personal messages and Paul getting away with it.

Mostly this whole bizarre interaction has made me really sad (and a little teensy bit freaked out that this druggie has my number. But at least he’s in Illinois, I think.) Especially when I listened to this guy’s voicemail. I can’t imagine living a life so empty that you’re this desperate to get high. That you spend three days at all hours of the day getting cash so you can make a deal. This guy lives in some incredible bondage. His life is ruled by this addiction.

Today I’ve been thinking about Paul and about how sad it is that his life is so empty. But I’ve also been thinking of how many Paul’s there are around me. Men and women and children who are throwing themselves into prestigious careers, financial success, popularity, substance abuse, education, materialism, etc. to find some sort of meaning, to make themselves feel better, or just to pass the time. And I’ve been thinking about how many ways I am like Paul. How often I let my need to be in control, to know what’s coming next, to have everything figured out rule my life.

Oh Paul…I really hope you get some help. I really hope you overcome this addiction. I hope you realize life is about more than getting high all the time. I hope you find something you love to spend your days doing. But mostly, I hope you realize you are loved. I hope you come to understand the depths of the grace that’s been poured out for you. I hope you come to rest in your beloved-ness and your wanted-ness. I hope you learn that you are never alone – that in your most desperate moments, the King of Glory is there.  I hope you learn these truths, Paul. And I hope I do too.

Marriage and Other Miracles

I’ve been trying to blog for days (and days and days) and everything keeps coming out jumbled and messy and I am facing a complete inability to think linearly. Instead all of my thoughts come in bursts and flashes that I can’t quite manage to capture and organize. So the options are to wait until I’ve ironed things out neatly and can present them one at a time like so many articles of clothing folded just so inside my drawer. Or I can go with the jumbled mess, something more like the pile of unsorted, dirty laundry sitting in the hamper. And on top of it. And on the bathroom floor. Which I suppose is truer anyway.

Last weekend we went to Indiana for the wedding of some dear friends of ours. The wedding was sweet and fun and I loved being able to share in the joy of our friends as they began married life. Weddings are a different experience for me now that I am married. In one sense, I feel more joy and excitement for the couple as I know what it is they are stepping into and what they have to look forward to. But I am also always struck with a sense of awe, understanding that I am witnessing a miracle, or rather the beginning of one. I don’t exactly believe that in the moment of the wedding ceremony, you magically become one, but I do believe that through the process of marriage your hearts are knit together in an inexplicable way. Somehow two people who didn’t even know the other existed a matter of years ago become a family. It’s beautiful to witness in someone else and it’s astounding to experience for yourself.

There’s so much of the daily parts of marriage that seem unremarkable, but I never want to forget that every day I am living out part of a miracle. It’s why I wrote the words of my wedding vows so carefully, “Jonathan I love you. I choose you today and every day as my husband, my helper, and my best friend…” The miracle is not just that I fell in love with him when I was nineteen. And it isn’t just that I spoke those vows to him one day last June. The miracle is also that I wrote these same words across my bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker just last week. It’s that when I come home from work at night he wraps his arms around me in a hug so big it lifts me up off of the floor. It’s that I chose him on my wedding day and I chose him when I woke up this morning. That I will choose him tomorrow and that I will choose him on the day I die. The miracle is God giving two sinful, unfaithful people the measure of grace necessary to choose this kind of faithfulness on a daily basis. The miracle is that after being together for nearly five years and married for more than one, I am still in awe that I get to choose him.

I recently started a new job in a large office full of new people. It’s been a challenge to not only learn about the work itself but to try to get to know the people working around me. Everyone has been very nice to me, but it’s hard not to feel isolated in my little cube while I listen to the other girls making lunch plans, talking about hanging out on the weekends and visiting each others’ cubes where they whisper and laugh. One thing I’ve noticed though is how rarely they talk about their husbands or boyfriends in a positive light. It seems that all that they have to say about them is something stupid they’ve done or how annoying they are. Of course, I don’t believe for a minute that this is all they feel about their husbands/boyfriends, but I wonder why it is that it’s so much easier for people talk about their spouse’s shortcomings than to talk about their good qualities.

I think it has to do with the view of marriage that is so prevalent in western culture. That marriage exists to make us happy. If this is the point of marriage, then it follows that people are intolerant of anything that makes them unhappy in their marriage. If the success of a marriage is measured in happiness and the only obligation people feel is towards their own happiness, it’s no wonder so many marriages end in divorce. If marriage is seen as something primarily self-serving it will ultimately fail.

Marriage is about becoming more holy. It is a partnership that spurs one another towards holiness. It is about laying down your life for someone else. It is about showing love and grace and compassion and forgiveness even when you don’t feel like it. It is about encouraging, speaking words of life instead of words of destruction, putting someone else’s interests before your own. The “happiness” of marriage flows out of the security of having someone who chooses to love you unconditionally, not out of your total agreement with every word that comes from their mouth or how they handle every situation. It is the overwhelming certainty of having someone who will not leave you when they grow tired of you and will not turn to someone else when they are discontent.

Living out this kind of self-sacrificing, intensely faithful marriage is impossible for a human. But nothing is impossible for God, and He is willing to share that power with us. And that, too, is a miracle.

 

Just for fun, a few of my favorite pics from our wedding as photographed by the lovely and talented Asharae Brundin Kroll and Taylor Horton. (If you need a photographer, hire one of them. They are excellent and they travel.)

Us under the huppah my brother built, being married by David Henderson

Soooo married!

This is how I feel everytime I kiss him. Only I'm not that skinny anymore. 🙂

 

My necklace from etsy and the bouquet my matron of honor, Lanise Guidry, made for me

We're so cute, they didn't know what to do with themselves.

Please, no more pictures!

 

Like A Little Child: Lessons on Love

It’s over. I’m no longer a nanny. Friday was my last day with the kids. We played at home and read books and made bookmarks and went to Sami’s school picnic at the park and then we came home and I put Dylan down for his nap. I hugged him and said, “I love you soooo much.” And he said, “No, I luh loo so much!” and that’s when I knew there was going to be trouble. I went downstairs and painted Sami’s teensy tiny toenails and her dad came home and took pictures as I read to her while we waited for the polish to dry. And then I said goodbye, I climbed in my car and I blew my horn and I drove away. And the second I turned the corner I burst into such hysterical sobs I had to pull over for a few minutes because I was squinching up my eyes so tightly I couldn’t see out of them.

As much as I have looked forward to this day, and as many times through the winter that I felt bored to tears and could not imagine another day spent entertaining little ones, it was still overwhelmingly sad to come to the end of it. I’m sure it’s similar to how elementary school teachers feel, growing close to a group of kids that they spend so much time with over the course of a school year only to have them move on, but nannying is also different. It is so much like being a mother and the relationship is so much closer than a teacher with an entire classroom to share her care and affection with. There were many days that I felt frustrated and tired and that I wasn’t doing anything worthwhile with my gifts and it was very, very hard. But I also lost my heart to these kids. I’m excited to move on to a new phase in my life and to hopefully move into some sort of career I find meaningful. But that doesn’t change the fact that I will miss them and the way that they love me—without expectations, whether we have a good day or a bad day, whether I’m impatient or gracious—ultimately it makes no difference to them. At the beginning of each new day when I walked in the door, anything that had happened the day before was wiped away, and they loved me.

I think that’s how Christ intends us to love each other. Without expectations and with no memory of wrongs. He says to come to him as little children, but in some ways I think it’s the other way around. I think He also comes to us as a little child. Not in the sense that we are His protector or that He puts his trust in us, but in the sense that His love for us in uninhibited like a child’s. He loves us this way, with no expectations and no record of our wrongs. His mercies are new every morning and His love for us is simply because we are ourselves.  And regardless of whether we have been faithful, whether we have trusted or have doubted, whether we have honored Him or not, whether we have made right choices, whether we have pleased Him in every way, He loves us freely and without limits.

I know I ragged on CCM music, but there is a song that’s been echoing through my mind for the past week, particularly as I’ve thought about leaving the kids and what I’ve learned about God loving me from their loving me. Most of you probably know this song, but I’ll post the video and lyrics anyway. Being from Louisiana I especially appreciate the image of “Loves like a hurricane.” A hurricane runs its course relentlessly and nothing can stand in its way.  I have seen such a picture of this in the kids’ love for me. It is also relentless and nothing, not even my own impatience, unkindness, or grumpiness, could stop them from giving it to me. And the rest of the song reminds me of how much greater and more perfect God’s love is than even these sweet kids.

Written by John Mark McMillan (and performed by him here), but probably  most famously recorded by David Crowder. “How He Loves.”

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all

Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy, wet kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.