Being back on the same campus where we met and fell in love is fun for Andy and me. We have so much history at this place–memories everywhere–and I love that God is continuing our story in the very place it began.
Tomorrow, we celebrate 19 years together–not of marriage, but of dating. We had a few dates in August and September that year, but we made things official and sealed it with a first kiss on October 21, 1994, 19 years ago.
19! Goodness, that’s a long time–longer than several of our dorm sons have been alive, but I try not to think about that. A few young couples here on campus remind me of us back then. Completely committed to one another, completely open to whatever the Lord has for them…and completely clueless about what both those things mean. It’s fun to watch them, and pray for them, and imagine how God will use them for His glory.
Andy found out last week that his thyroid isn’t working right. He hasn’t been himself for a long time, really, feeling tired and down and anxious–three words that have never described him before. Even as we love our new/old home, this season hasn’t been the easiest of our 19 years. Andy sees an endocrinologist this week, though, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get some answers to get him back to himself.
I love him so.
Marriage isn’t always warm and fuzzy or fun and flirty, and that’s okay. Maybe that’s what I should tell these young couples today. “It isn’t easy,” I’ll say. “You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked before. Sometimes you’ll feel like quitting, and sometimes you won’t feel anything at all. But nothing could be more worth it.”
“Want to know God better than you ever thought possible?” I’ll ask. “Want to have a best friend in every one of your most precious memories, and give the world a picture of what the Lord is like? Then give it 19 years.”
I’ve posted this before, but it’s still my favorite:
The guys in our dorm are some of the funniest people I’ve ever met. They crack me up all day, and at night when I get into bed (much too late, because they’re also some of the biggest night owls I’ve ever met), I recount all their funnies to Andy, and we laugh ourselves to sleep.
One such funny happened the very first Friday of the semester. Many of our guys serve in various churches and ministries, especially on the weekends. I was impressed at how many of them were leaving town to serve as preachers or youth ministers–and it was only the first week of school! Their service moved me. That night, I went out to the little white board in the dorm lobby and left them this message:
Be salt! Be light! (I saw that on Pinterest.) (And yes, I think they secretly appreciate my marker board hearts.) These were my boys, going out to serve the Lord! I prayed for them.
Saturday morning, I woke up to find their addendum:
Funny boys. I laughed for ten minutes.
Be salt! Be light! And be Batman. Always be Batman.
A scripture I’ve been stuck on lately says to “be” something, too.
But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
In short, Jeremiah says, be a tree!
This isn’t the only place where scripture talks about being a tree. Psalm 1 says that the man who delights in the law of the Lord is like a tree. Ezekiel 47–my favorite tree passage–talks about trees that line the river flowing from God’s presence in the temple. Ezekiel’s trees are always in season, with fruit “for food and for healing.” Isaiah 61 also talks about trees. That’s the passage that Jesus claimed for himself (Luke 4:14-21). “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me,” he said, and Isaiah goes on, “…they will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Oh, I want my life to display His splendor! I want to be a tree.
I want to be a tree with deep roots–roots of trust and confidence (v. 7). I’m not exactly known for trust and confidence–in myself or in others–but it’s that faith that will keep me firmly established, able to withstand hardships. Unfortunately, hard times make roots go deeper, but what do trust and confidence in verse 7 lead to in verse 8? No fear, and no worries! And so, I’ll pray for deep roots–deep faith, grounded in Him.
I want to be a tree that’s well-watered. I want to send out deep roots of faith to the stream of Living Water. I’ve seen what comes out of my heart and mind when I’m not constantly nourished by the water of His Word, and it terrifies me. How I need His presence! I must be well-watered.
And finally, I want to be a tree that bears fruit. Trees don’t have to work at being fruitful. If a tree has good roots and stays well-watered, the fruit just comes. Too often, though, I work at making my own fruit. I work hard for approval and worth and goodness. But God says to be, not do. He says to remain in Him, and He’ll bring much fruit–and fruit that will last (John 15:5, 16).
Maybe tonight on the marker board, I’ll draw a tree, next to a stream and full of fruit. There’s no telling what the boys will have added by morning. “Have a good weekend, boys!” I’ll say. “Be salt, be light, be Batman…and be a tree!”
There’s gross, and then there’s gross.
There’s the, “Gross!” you think silently to yourself when someone across the table chews with his mouth open and you wonder, “Who is his mama?” Then you realize it’s your kid, and you’re his mama.
There’s the gross you smell when you live in a boys’ dorm. This takes many forms, none of which should be discussed in mixed company.
And then, there’s gross. The completely disgusting, even repulsive kind of gross that makes you hold your stomach and bend at the middle.
It’s just gross.
Sin is like that.
Actually, it’s not just like that. Sin is that. It’s the essence of gross. We don’t like to talk about it, because, really, who wants to discuss gross things? We’d rather just say that God removes sin “as far as the east is from the west.” Which is true! He does! Or, we’d rather focus on the good that God brings when He redeems our sin. Which is true! He does, and it’s a truly beautiful thing.
But maybe we’d be wise to also see sin for what it really is: gross. To look at our ugly hearts, then at God’s holiness, and fall on our faces in repentance.
That’s just what I did a few days ago. A particular area of my heart was gross—and getting grosser. I often pray out loud when I drive alone, but that day, the words wouldn’t come. I realized, I didn’t want to confess. And I didn’t want to confess, because I had come to like the gross.
That realization terrified me, and the tears began to flow. I confessed freely to God, and then to Andy as soon as I could. Forgiveness was fast and sweet.
How easy it is to let sin take root! How alluring—and plain ol’ fun!—sin can be. But it’s gross. It’s disgusting. It separates me from the God who loves me, and it keeps me from all He has in store.
Why choose gross, when obedience always leads to beauty? Why settle for gross, when He gives such rich grace?
Lord, be honored when you look within me. See in me a reflection of Your holiness. Make me sick over my sin—may I hold my stomach and bend at the middle and realize just how gross it is. Help me—help me!—to guard against the enemy’s schemes, because I cannot do this apart from Your power. And thank You for Jesus, by whose death I’ve exchanged gross for grace. Amen.
Dave’s mom, though, always hoped he’d become a minister.
His senior year, Dave’s mom got sick. When she was diagnosed with advanced cancer, Dave decided to honor her wishes with a compromise:
“I’ll go to Bible college for one year,” he told his dad, “and then I’ll come back to Oregon.”
On June 2 of that year, Dave graduated from high school. June 3, his mom went in for surgery. Two months later, on August 3, she died. August 7, they held her funeral, and on August 9, Dave loaded his things into the back of his older sister’s car, and they drove across the country to Ozark Christian College.
Dave’s sister dropped him off on a campus where he didn’t know one single person, and his mom had been gone for only a week.
So Dave began to pray.
He chose a certain tree on the hill behind his dorm—his “prayer tree,” he came to call it. Day after day, sitting beneath its branches, Dave prayed and read the Bible. There, he wept for his mom and wrestled with God about his future. There, in the shade of the prayer tree, Dave decided not to go back to Oregon for poli-sci. He decided to stay at Ozark and become a minister.
That was in 1967, and Dave has been a minister ever since. He went on to be one of the founding staff of CIY, and a youth minister, senior minister, police chaplain, husband, and dad.
And who can measure the eternal impact of it all? Who can tally the sermons preached, examples set, marriages saved, hurts comforted and lives changed—all because one man earnestly sought the Lord and obeyed? A life well lived—a man deserving of the “Well done!” he’ll receive someday.
This fall—46 autumns after my dad first came to Ozark—our family moved into the very dorm where he lived. On a recent visit, my dad pointed at something out Anne and Molly’s bedroom window.
“That’s the one!” he said. “That’s my prayer tree.”
The Lord is faithful. He began a good work beneath the prayer tree 46 years ago, and He has been faithfully carrying it out ever since.
Today, as I reap the good harvest from seeds my dad planted, I pray that God’s work will continue through us. I pray that the same faithful obedience found in my dad will be found in me. I pray for the grace to bear much fruit for His glory, here in the shade of the prayer tree.
“You know, Amy,” my sweet friend said one day, “you really are the Proverbs 39 woman.”
She meant, of course, the woman in Proverbs 31—that “wife of noble character” we hear so much about. There aren’t even 39 chapters in the book of Proverbs.
I just smiled and thanked her. But later, I wondered if her mistake wasn’t actually right on. Really, I’m not much like the woman in Proverbs 31. She buys fields and plants vineyards, but I can’t even keep a houseplant alive. She “sets about her work vigorously,” but I can waste an entire afternoon on Facebook and reality TV. And I’ve heard what my kids “arise and call” me under their breath, and it isn’t “blessed.”
So what if, instead, I’m the Proverbs 39 woman? What is she like, eight non-existent chapters later? Who is this extra-biblical woman who doesn’t exactly fit the mold?
Well, for starters, she’s rather lost in the kitchen. Every Easter eve, she Googles, “how to boil an egg,” and every Easter day—“how to make egg salad.” The Proverbs 39 woman plans a menu and grocery list, but her good husband makes most of the meals.
She hasn’t touched her sewing machine in 15 years, and she has only a vague notion of the phrase, “wind the bobbin.”
At the moment, her bed doesn’t even have a “covering”—let alone a homemade one. (Her basset hound stunk up her comforter so much that she threw it away.) (The comforter—not the basset hound.)
The Proverbs 39 woman does have other talents, though. She can drive a car on “E” longer than mechanically possible. She can’t shoot a basket to save her life, but she can throw a candy wrapper directly into the trashcan—while lying flat on her back in bed—every time. She can carry all the grocery bags inside at once, just to avoid two trips.
She doesn’t like pink, or butterflies, and especially not pink butterflies.
From time to time, she even rolls her eyes at the Proverbs 31 woman. But that’s okay, because the Proverbs 31 woman rolls hers right back.
The point is this: thankfully, Proverbs 31 isn’t a to-do list for Christian women, anymore than the non-existent Proverbs 39 is. If it were, we’d all be sunk—and I, most of all. Quite simply, a Proverbs 31 (and 39) woman loves the Lord. She seeks after Him, and knows Him through His word, and does her best to obey Him in all things. She uses her talents—however unconventional they may seem—for His glory. She is honest, humble, diligent and faithful. She’s a woman of noble character, indeed.
It’s true for the woman in Proverbs 31, and 39, and every chapter in between: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).
I’ve been running on a treadmill lately, and it turns out, running isn’t so bad when you’re directly in front of a giant fan on a 0% incline. Plus, I’m likely to get lost if I venture out on trails, so the treadmill works for me.
Andy prefers to run outside, though, where he can explore new routes and make new friends. I’m not even kidding.–More than once, he has come home from a run talking about someone he met on the trail and ran alongside. But I prefer to run alone, so I can listen to music, write stories in my head, and pray.
(Mostly, I pray that it’ll be over soon.)
A truth for both treadmills and trails: to finish, you have to run. You have to begin, and you have to put one foot in front of the other, and if you keep going–fast or slow–you’ll eventually finish.
The point is, run.
It’s true in life, too. In parenting, in ministry, in relationships…just run. In patience, in kindness, in forgiveness. In weariness or joy, in faithfulness and obedience…the point is, run. Keep going. Pray that it’ll be over soon if you want, but put one foot in front of the other–fast or slow–and eventually, you’ll finish.
And, oh! Isn’t finishing the best part?! Paul said it this way: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
A crown at the finish line! An inheritance from the Lord as a reward (Colossians 3:24). A “well done” from the Christ we love.
But first…until that day…with perseverance and reliance on His grace…we run.
A friend asked recently if I’ve taken a break from blogging. My first answer was, of course, no, but then…yes would be more accurate, wouldn’t it? I’m a neglectful blogger, indeed.
I suppose that’s what comes when you spend 40 days in an RV, plus 13 more days to drive across nine states. We stayed in six hotels and even got one speeding ticket on our very last stretch of highway. But, finally, here we are, in our new home in Joplin, Missouri. And the Lord was faithful every step.
It’s His faithfulness that made me sit down to write today. Enough boxes have been unpacked that I don’t even feel guilty for it. Just now, I’m rather overwhelmed by God’s goodness and sweet favor to my family and me. I’m so thankful, and, like David in Psalm 103, today I’m telling my soul to “forget not all his benefits.”
Thank You, Lord, for safe travels, and for so much family fun along the way. My heart is full of precious memories. Thank You for a great apartment here. I told Andy that this is my favorite place we’ve lived yet. (We’ve had eight houses in 16 years of marriage.) Thank You for family and friends who supported us with prayers and generous gifts. We wouldn’t be here without them! And thank You for our new jobs–new ways to serve You. Let us bear much fruit for Your glory in this place. Amen.
So until next time, dear reader–which, let’s be honest, could be a very long time–remember that the Lord is faithful, even when we’re neglectful. And for that, may we be truly thankful!
Last week, Andy stopped by the R.V. park office (yes, we still live in an R.V.) to pay for our stay here. He told the attendant that we’re leaving for Missouri—by way of a vacation in Colorado—on Wednesday.
“Let’s see,” she said, adding up our bill. “When you leave, you’ll have been here exactly 40 days.”
40! Honestly, it gave me chills. In scripture, the number 40 represents God’s perfect timing before a major change or transformation. It’s often about a period of testing, too, like Jesus fasting in the desert for 40 days, or Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years before the promised land.
Not that Missouri will flow with milk and honey, necessarily. And even if 40 isn’t meant to be taken literally—even if 40 in scripture just means, as some scholars say, “a lot of”—well, let me tell you, we’ve had “a lot of a lot” in the R.V. We’ve grilled a lot of hamburgers, and we’ve eaten a lot of snacks purchased on a lot of trips to the camp market. We’ve had a lot of neighbors, too: people from all over the country, a family headed to Six Flags, a couple married for 56 or 57 years (they couldn’t agree which), a little boy who proudly showed off his bucketful of frogs, and more.
We’ve also had a lot of—a LOT of—talks about toilets. Toilets, it seems, are a hot topic in the R.V. community. I’ve discussed toilets enough in the last 40 days to last me the next 40 years.
“Are both valves open?” “It’s best to use paper that’s R.V. friendly.” “Make sure you keep enough water in the gray line to rinse the….” Never mind.
The toilet tip we’ve heard most goes like this:
“More water. Less paper.”
Catchy! Maybe I’ll cross stitch it and hang it in my new bathroom. Andy said something yesterday, too, that may be plaque-worthy: “When the line is clogged, it bubbles when you flush. But if it’s clear, bugs fly out.”
I’m not positive, but I think that’s in Proverbs. “A clog bubbles, but a clear line means bugs.”
Indeed, 40 days of a lot. A lot of “trailer bowling” with plastic cups and tennis balls, and a lot of goodbye meals with precious friends. Really, our family has had a lot of fun in this little house on wheels. Our “period of testing” is almost done, and we’re looking forward to the “major change” the Lord has in store. In the end, we’ll realize that, more than anything else, we’ve had a lot of God’s faithfulness, a lot of His presence, and a lot of His mercy. We’ve had a lot of Him, and that’s a lot of a lot.
“Have you been waiting long?” I asked Molly when we picked her up from school a little late. She was standing under a tree, watching all the other parents who got their kids on time.
“No,” she answered. “Just 85 seconds.”
But who’s counting, right?
I hate waiting, and not just waiting in the doctor’s “waiting” room, where I can at least bring a book or get something done. I hate waiting when there’s nothing else to do but wait—when my only option is to stand under a tree and count the seconds.
Waiting is hard. My friend is waiting to hear big news that won’t come for a few days, and I wish I could speed up the clock for her. My family is waiting right now, too—waiting between jobs, between houses, between churches. We’re waiting in an RV to finish the school year. Waiting to begin our cross-country trek to Missouri. I even dreamt a few nights ago that we’d arrived at Ozark, but couldn’t go in yet. We kept circling our dorm, around and around, but it wasn’t time. Even in my sleep…I’m waiting!
There’s always a reason for God’s waiting season, like when Joseph had to wait in prison before the cupbearer finally remembered him, or when Israel waited in slavery until God brought them out of Egypt. Waiting, to God, is about preparing and perfecting, and He accomplishes His purpose at just the right time.
And, biblical waiting isn’t about impatience or anxiety. In scripture, waiting isn’t just standing under a tree, counting seconds. Often, to wait is to hope. The Hebrew word qavah means, “to wait, look for, hope, expect.” For example:
“Wait—look—for the Lord,” wrote David, “be strong and take heart and wait—hope, expect—in the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
Qavah is also “to bind together, to twist”—as the strands of a rope are twisted together to make a strong cord. Like if I cross my fingers when I really want something, I twist them up together in hopefulness. Waiting, then, is wrapping myself up in God, and attaching myself to Him. It’s this:
“Those who hope in the Lord—who bind themselves to Him and twist themselves up with Him—will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
Waiting, then, is a good thing. It’s a chance to experience the Lord like never before—to come to know Him in the stillness, and become deeply rooted in Him, like the tree where Molly counted.
God, let me not just count the seconds until You arrive. Let me rest, trust, expect…hope. Bind me to You so securely that the wait becomes for me an assurance of Your tight grip. “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long” (Psalm 25:5). Amen.
“Seats six with two leaves. In good condition, but top has several marks and scratches, and needs to be repainted.”
I read over my description as I contemplated an asking price. I knew those “marks and scratches” lowered the dollar amount, but I felt I should defend them.
“The red paint drips are from Anne’s birthday party two years ago,” I wanted to add. “We painted mugs, and made a huge mess, and had a great time.”
“That bumpy patch where the paint isn’t shiny happened when the girls spilled nail polish remover. I wish I would’ve cared more about their feelings than about the spill.”
“The scratches around the edges are thanks to Belle the basset hound. Her claws scratch it every time she jumps up to steal our food.”
“I made that big mark at the end when Andy was in Uganda. My laptop wasn’t working, so I lugged my heavy old desktop computer in from the garage so I could still chat with him online. I pushed the monitor onto the tabletop, and scratched it in the process–and every time I see it, I remember Africa.”
But even all that still won’t explain the table. The hours and hours of homeschool lessons I taught there. The countless rounds of Clue and Monopoly, and of course, meals! We don’t eat fancy, but we do eat together, and dinners there have shaped my kids and solidified our family and filled my heart with treasured memories.
The “heavy solid wood dining table, painted black” is also my place for meeting with God. I go there in the mornings to talk with Him in His word and sip hot tea out of my favorite cup–the green and yellow one with a chip on one side. (Apparently I like things with marks and scratches.) I often sit there to write, too, because the table gives ample space for spreading out books and binders and yellow legal pads.
Last summer, when my friends gathered around the table for Bible study, one of them complimented, “I love your rustic table!” Until that moment, I didn’t realize just how rustic it had become. It isn’t smooth and shiny anymore, and it won’t bring nearly the money that it once did.
Finally, I settled on a fair price and posted my ad. Today, a beautiful young couple came over to check it out. They’re engaged–getting married in two weeks, and buying furniture for their new home. I loved them both immediately, and knew they were just right for my table. The bride and her fiance whispered shyly for a moment, and I heard her say, “My mom can help me fix it.” It was all I could do to not cry in front of them–tears of joy for what has been, and for what will be.
They loaded the table in the back of their truck and drove away. Maybe tonight they’re sanding off the bumpy patch where the girls spilled nail polish remover. Maybe tomorrow they’ll repaint it, and it will be smooth and shiny once more. And they’ll sit around it, and play Clue and Monopoly, and eat not-fancy dinners, and slowly the table will shape their family, too.