Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Belated Mothers' Day Tribute

She has chosen the good portion, 
which will not be taken away from her.
Luke 10:42

Growing up, I watched older girls who referred to their moms as their best friend, or whose mothers served as matron of honor in their weddings, with a resigned envy. I knew it wouldn't be the same for me and my mom - we were about as opposite as we could get. I craved spontaneity and adventure, wore camouflage cargo pants, stoically suppressed all outward show of emotion, carried a pellet gun and dreamed of joining the military. Mom was soft-spoken, gentle and modest. When my pet rabbit died suddenly, Mom was the one who wept over him. When I sprained my wrist tearing madly around the cauldesac on my bike, busted the side of my face while chasing my brother, cajoled that same brother into running away from home with a plus-sized box of fruit snacks for provisions, and abandoned my younger brothers and sisters on a snowy hill after a full-blown sibling war, Mom was there to soothe, bandage, train and discipline me. When I debated hotly the many reasons why I did not deserve a spanking, Mom would tell me a joke and then swat while I was laughing.

The summer I turned thirteen, Mom decided it was time to educate me in the skills of femininity and womanly living. Armed with her Bible and Elisabeth Elliot, she bribed me with Starbucks and walked me through the Bible's display of what it means to be a woman - from Eve to the Proverbs 31 woman; from Ruth to Titus 2. Quite honestly, I hated the archetypal "Bible woman." My hardened heart scorned her as passive, subdued and sickeningly submissive. I'd take a weapon and the great outdoors over a gentle and quiet spirit any day.

It saddens me to admit that my distaste for the women modeled in the Bible carried over into how I viewed my mom, the most gentle and quiet spirit in all of God's creation. Her shameless displays of affection and emotion made me feel awkward, and I vowed to have a career instead of staying at home and homeschooling kids as she had done. I am so thankful that Mom never gave up on me. I can't imagine how she must have suffered from my countless cold shoulders, but she consistently won me over by catching me at my weakest - when the lights were out and I was drifting in and out of dreamland. Mom would come in and rub my back and I, defenseless, would find myself opening up to her listening ear, unfolding the many layers of my guarded thoughts. Mom would often wake up in the early hours of the morning to find herself still sitting by my bed. I hope she treasures those late-night talks as much as I do today.

When I finally "broke free" of the confines of homeschooling in 9th and 10th grade and took classes with successful women who I truly admired and looked up to, I began to realize that Mom wasn't the only one who took God at His word about how and why He created women. I squirmed through whole classes of realization that being a woman after God's own heart didn't mean becoming prudish, meek and sequestered. Mom often reminded me of my name's origin: Jennifer means "white wave" and Anne means "gracious one." Slowly it dawned on me that God had created me as a woman for a specific purpose. My strong, restless nature was meant to be softened and feminized by graciousness and a tender heart. And as I learned to embrace the characteristics of a godly woman, my appreciation for Mom grew like never before.

My mom and I are still polar opposites, and today there are 1,500 miles between us. Yet daily I am inspired by her strength of conviction, passion for prayer, and unconditional love for and belief in each of her six children. Mom's is, without fail, the first number I dial with good news and bad; for encouragement, advice and support. She rejoices with me and carries my burdens as if they were her own. She devotes a whole day of the week to praying for me. Many women have done noble things, but in my mind Mom truly surpasses them all. She has taught this die-hard Martha the beauty of being a Mary; stepping away from the chaos and demands of life to find rest and fulfillment in Jesus. My mother embodies so many characteristics of the woman I want to be: sharp edges tempered in grace; hard heart broken in love that knows no qualifications.

Mom, thank you for carrying me, raising me, accepting me and never backing down from correcting me. Thank you for holding true to your convictions and valuing God's approval above anyone else's. You have modeled a godly woman, wife and mother to me, and I hope one day my children will esteem me as much as I do you. I love you!

"Her children arise and call her blessed."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Glorifying God in Marriage

Love does not consist in gazing at each other, 
but in looking outward together in the same direction.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

During the four years that Nathan and I dated, a poster with this quote hung in my bedroom, reminding me that my deepest happiness - and the ultimate future of our relationship - depended not on how we made each other feel but on how we enabled each other to better fulfill God's purpose for our lives.

I probably should've tattooed this quote on myself when the marriage began. Transplanted from my hometown and a jobless newlywed, I found myself in a sort of identity crisis as I wrestled with idolizing my husband and finding my calling as a married Christian ex-journalist. It was a never-ending temptation to view Nathan as the fulfiller of all my dreams, goals, wishes and unspoken needs. When I finally found a job and we both jumped into heavy ministry at church, I would give and give all day long, then come home ready to chillax while he waited on me hand and foot.

Needless to say, such misguided expectations do not lead to "happily ever after." In marriage, even more than in any other relationship, true happiness consists not in receiving but in giving oneself away. I firmly believe that the devastating divorce rates in our country today are directly due to self-centered and misplaced expectations - hopping from partner to partner in search of the "soulmate" who will somehow "complete" us and fill the void that was created to be filled by God alone. 

Married couples everywhere would do well to learn from the example of Ian and Larissa Murphy. I have followed their story ever since Ian's tragic accident several years ago, and this video brings tears to my eyes at the joy they have found in God and in one another despite unspeakable hardship. Please take a few minutes and watch their story of unconditional love. 

Larissa is one of my heroes. From the world's perspective, she has thrown her youth and comfort away on a man who cannot care for her the way she deserves. Thank God that Larissa's hope is not in Ian, but in Jesus. The love that He has lavished on her enables her to pour herself continually into loving Ian; not because he can reciprocate, but because in doing so she is making much of Jesus Christ. 

If we set our face to make of marriage mainly what God designed it to be,
no sorrows and no calamities can stand in our way.
Every one of them will be, not an obstacle to success, but a way to succeed.
The beauty of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and His church
shines brightest when nothing but Christ can sustain it.

- John Piper

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Week in the Life...

Reader Caution: The following post is obnoxiously long. Each day of the past week has deserved a post of its own, but I've been much too busy living them. Here begins a week in the life of us, featuring special appearances by dear friends, 5k races, my sister-in-law, and the world's greatest youth group:

Last Saturday Nathan and I road tripped with some church friends, Seth and Macie, to a not-so-cozy inn in Bastrop, TX. We stopped at Jason's Deli along the way, where much salad and boiled eggs were consumed. The inn, with all its flattering photographs and positive online reviews, was old and crumbling, and crickets attacked as soon as we opened the door. We fled to downtown Austin and made the Sixth Street rounds amid much beer and live music. We finally mustered enough courage to go back to our room, where we killed a spider on Nathan's pillow and laughed hysterically after the lights were out. Married sleepovers are my favorite.

Next morning we got up with the sun and donned our war (i.e. Dash of the Titans) gear:

Apparently only Nathan got the Fierce Face memo:

After the race we ate at a favorite lunch spot in Gruene and listened to some awesome live music. I am a huge fan of races and road trips with friends.

Lovely Macie!

Next on the agenda was a visit from my sister-in-law Catherine, a recent Summa Cum Laude graduate of Pepperdine University and one of the sweetest people I know. We had a lovely week of long talks, eating, exploring, eating, hanging out with friends, talking, eating and talking some more. Of course, the feats nearest to my heart are the strawberry picking and jam making episode, and our unbelievably delicious veggie enchiladas (in honor of Catherine's vegetarianism).

After a morning spent at the library (where we fittingly created a bulletin board featuring a farmer in a strawberry patch full of classic children's books - photo forthcoming), we went to Froberg's Farm and loaded up on fresh produce, including the most succulent strawberries imaginable.

Recipes for the jam and veggie enchiladas are forthcoming. As far as the enchiladas go, let's just say that it involved veggies I normally wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, roasted to perfection and slathered in a mountain of fresh grated cheese, sour cream, and homemade guacamole. Divinity at its finest, and even Nathan thought so - which is saying a LOT.

Our final jaunt was to Ca Phe Phin, a Vietnamese coffee house with waitresses who remember you and every drink you've ever ordered. Ode to bubble tea!

Last night we had a youth ministry cookout with some of my favorite kids on earth. One of the most incredible parts of this season is living life with the precious teens God has entrusted to us: playing, laughing, and growing together. I am so blessed!

The talented Catherine took the rest of these pics:

What a wonderful life.