Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Promises of a Fool

Six Thousand Nine-Hundred Thirty Nine.  Plus one.  At the date of this writing that is how many days it has been since a very nervous young and long haired boy stood facing an equally nervous and radiant blue eyed girl and promised security, eternal love, the world, and beyond.  Nineteen years ago, plus one day.  To quote a recent James Bond movie, we "still had spots" - yet our trials to date, our proven love, and the sheer strength of our commitment to each other and to our Lord fueled our decision to launch into a new life together as husband and wife.  Invincible. 

Within short years invulnerability was laid low by cancer.  Security and trust eroded as a boy failed to grow into a man; failed to step into his new found role of servant, leader, and protector.  Failed to understand the depth of vows made and the lengths such vows would take him to.  The world shifted under our feet as intended plans and expectations eluded or evaporated.  What in my mind was to be the norm of marriage, home, family, progress, prosperity - all fell apart and out of order.  Even the bedrock of church and faith fell into question as I sought small groups, church attendance, and the actions of my faith to strengthen rather than seeking the One in whom my faith was founded. 

"If we could just attend church more often"
"If we could just connect with the right group of friends or right circle to encourage"
"If we were just more faithful"

Through this and the days after I began to encounter something in my bride that still rips at my chest, tears at my heart - though often I was blinded by the veil of anger and selfishness.  I began to see tears in those blue eyes.  At first only once in a great while, but then more frequently as offense and hurt became more frequent.  Where two had begun a new journey in the same direction energized by their love and God's promises, both now felt weighted by life's daily drain and the vast differences between each other discovered through the simple act of living as husband and wife.

Pregnancy.  The solution to renew our hearts, to re-emerge better, stronger, more united than ever.  I was working two jobs at the time and was excited to finally shoulder the mantle of "father", to become the provider for a "family".  At last - we were on track to what was ordained.  Our previous trials had strengthened us for the ultimate journey ahead.

Miscarriage.  Crushing despair.  My bride was lost and I, to my shame, buried myself in my two places of employment, leaving her to cope alone.  To this day that wound has left scars, though loved over and forgiven. 

Pregnancy.  Again, promise tethered to fear from recent loss.  Joyfully a son was born, but joy was quickly stolen as seemingly insurmountable and previously unknown birth defects threatened to immediately extinguish new life.  But miracle after miracle was witnessed from the "right nurse" happening to be on shift to the actual surgeon who perfected the procedure of operating through a tiny one inch opening in my one-day-old son's chest cavity to correct organs and save his life - God repeatedly and miraculously provided in the following months and years as if to say "You are not alone - your vows were not between two people but between a man, a woman, and Myself."

Pregnancy.  Again - difficulties, near loss of life.  Diagnosed disease.  Disappearance of disease.  Miracles again witnessed by many - irrefutably the hand of God.  "I am with you."  It begins to dawn on this man that trial and storm are to be part of this journey, part of this partnership, not an abnormality to be avoided at all costs.   I began to understand the purpose for the darkened path, in fact its necessity for born out of them are the greatest of victories.  The brightest of beacons shine forth.

Those who know our family are keenly aware of our family history of recent years.  Of adoption, of foster care, of the challenges and the amazing workings of God in our lives through the hands of others while on this leg of our lives' journey.  The darkened path has been a frequent road of travel.  Yet we've been absolutely amazed at the continued outpouring of others into our lives.  We've marvelled at the encouragements, the friendships formed, the true uniting of hearts as God has interwoven us with others who have sacrificed and lost, who have walked through darkened woods, navigated stormy days - all to be strengthened for the journey to compassionately pursue His heart to love others in the fullest extent of the word regardless the cost. 

Fool. noun - a person who lacks judgement or sense.  When I was standing in front of the assembled gathering of witnesses to the exchanging of vows, I had no clue as to the heights, the depths, or the breadth of which my vows would be tested in the coming years.  The promises I made were the promises of a fool.  Did I love my bride-to-be less?  No.  But I had no maturity and still viewed the two of us as separate individuals, that would remain so even after marriage.  Very simply, I was not truly ready to lay myself fully down for her, though I had tremendous love, devotion, and affection for her.

This created terrible problems for us in following years that took a great deal of work to get past.  But now I recognize her for the priceless soul mate that she is, my absolute partner and the one that I cherish.  I did not arrive at this station without a tremendous stripping of self, and I have a great deal yet to purge.  Recently my Pastor shared one of the most humble and honest messages I've ever heard about this role of husbands and their responsibilities in the home.  It speaks to the always taboo word of "submission" in the marriage, but deals with it in the most profound and honest way.  I dearly wish I had heard these words before I had married my bride, understood the full depth of meaning behind them - it would have saved us, specifically me, many missteps.  In fact, this message gets to the very basics of how each of us should be treating others, whether in a marriage or not.  If you take nothing else from this writing, I urge you to listen here.

This is what I promised my bride I would do at the alter and failed time and time to deliver upon as I had yet to mature spiritually and emotionally into one who would lay down his life for another.  Jesus apparently ran into the same thing all around him for he stated "greater love has no man..." (John 15:13).   I'll spend the rest of my days pursuing her and pursuing the perfection of this promise.  Likewise we have a Savior who promised his bride to pursue us relentlessly. Only, unlike myself, he never failed. He knew from the outset the full weight of his promises and from day one he has always held up his vows.  These are not the promises of a fool.  These are the fully upheld promises of a King.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Simple Currency

Having just come off of Easter weekend, thoughts continue to swirl regarding events of millennia past.  A man lived, truly lived, enshrouded in compassion.  Kneeling in the dust he pulled a used woman to her feet and instilled worth and purpose.  Stepping aside from vital tasks at hand, he confronted another woman whose faith brought her to merely touch his clothing for life giving restoration.  Risking health and well being, he engaged and embraced the diseased and outcast.  Berating his often agenda-minded followers, he instructed them to put aside the scholarly and bring forward the children who simply desired to bask in the affection of One with whom they felt safe to play and be as children should. 
This same compassion caused him to weep over a city and a people central to so many of his Father's pleadings and passions, yet so far from His heart.  This compassion fueled a holy rage against abusing racketeers that moved him to physically and violently expel them from His "Father's house".  This compassion, led him, an innocent man, to take on the mantle of criminal, villain, despised and detested.  Ultimately, this compassion led him to an agony filled and excruciating death.
Some would ask "Was it worth it?". 
He would answer " payment to restore you, absolutely.  Over, and over and over again." 
Yet once was all that was needed to usher all of us from under the impenetrable veil of separation from a Holy God and into His family.  And at the heart of this miraculous compassion is an even more miraculous love which has not only been passed to you and I, but has been freely given with the expectation that we will, likewise, freely offer in kind to others.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."
John 15:12, 13 ESV 
But for most of us, this is a high price to ask.  We acknowledge this commandment (notice it is not requested but commanded) on a cerebral level, but to put feet to motion in the manner that was actually lived out 2000 years ago...I have often found modern reasonings why this is an impossibility to carry out to the fullest.
"I might offend if I point out their need..."
"I know of a ministry/program that deals with their specific woes - I'll point them there..."
"I don't have the answers they're searching for..."
"I've never been down their path/walked in their shoes - I can't relate..."
"It seems dangerous or unsafe..."
Yet we have been commanded.  How do we ignore such a polarizing word in the midst of this verse?  How do we embrace our fears and develop a passion for that which He was passionate?  How much of ourselves are we to sacrifice?  What it really boils down to is what is the worth of another and are we willing to pay it?  And what is the currency?
It is the same exchange that it was when He walked this plane:  compassion fueled by love.  In fact, we are admonished to put it on like daily clothing in Colossians 3:12 .
"But what of the cost?  Will there be loss?"
That is the beauty of love's inherent power - true love, unblemished and pure, embraces loss in exchange for the benefit of another.  It's His cosmic model.  Yet the gain far outweighs any tangible that can be grasped in tightly protective hands.  Nothing of lasting value can be clenched or horded.
Lyrics from a song entitled "What It Costs" by the band Switchfoot contain the following:
But love deals the currency of loss
Don't ever forget what it cost....
...Our story needs the pain that we outgrew
Yeah you can't call it love until you've lost
If you love someone this is what it cost
And love does cost.  It costs your insecurities.  It costs your prejudices.  It costs your biases.  It costs your pride.  It costs you financially and it costs your time.  In short, it costs everything of you, even your life...
Sound familiar?
This is price of Heaven; both a heaven gained as our lives touch others to transform and a Heaven gained as we take up our cross and follow.  It is why we are never promised an escape from the pain and the storms of this fallen sphere, but rather given countless opportunities to engage like souls who, also, have been broken.  Our lives are to be ruled by this exchange.  God himself identifies His person with it.  Bypassing the baubles and failing trinkets of this temporal, it is the commerce of the eternal.
It is a simple currency called love.