Steel. Marriage, Waiting, Fire and Eleven.

Steel. Marriage, Waiting, Fire and Eleven.

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetMy alarm clock was going off. It was time to go running. The baby was calling out “Momma” in the monitor, so I snuck into a dark nursery and grabbed her out of her crib and snuggled her between us in bed. I looked over to see the Firecracker and her crazy bedhead backlit in our bedroom door. You leaned over and said, “Happy anniversary.”

I love that ours is a story of November. You asked me to marry you with the maples ablaze, and a year later we tucked those same fiery maple leaves in boutonnieres for you and your groomsmen. I looked up what the traditional gift is for the 11th anniversary. It’s steel. And while it might seem less than diamonds or crystal or something traditionally gift-worthy, I kind of think it’s the best gift ever.

Because you can’t make steel without fire, and you can’t go through eleven years together without pain. We are promised suffering in this world, and while we each carry a different story with different pain, as believers it’s a guarantee that there will be pain.  There will be fire. But it’s the very process of going through the furnace, searing hot and licking flames, that gives steel its strength and tenacity. It’s been eleven years since two twenty-one-year olds stood before family and friends to make a covenant between each other and before God Almighty. Eleven years of walking through the fire together, eleven years of God refining us through this gift called marriage.

Maybe the gift of steel isn’t something tangible you give. Maybe it’s something you build, deep within yourselves, within your family. Two souls saying yes to the One who first put a fire in their bellies. Two souls who know the soul-refining weight of grace. Two souls who have walked through the furnace of pain and waiting and sanctification.

Whenever I think of fire, I think of the story I first learned as a child about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18 ESV)

And that’s where we find ourselves on this November day as we celebrate eleven–like two pieces of iron waiting in the fire. But we know the God we serve. We know He is able. We know that with every degree of heat He is refining us into steel. And we know that no matter what we have given Him our yes. We will serve Him and only Him.

And the thing is, when every day you wake up and give God your yes you don’t have to worry about giving your spouse your yes. It just comes with it. This thing God created, this thing He’s refining, this covenant relationship we are living out–it is an overflow of the daily yes we give God. The daily surrender to His plan. His sovereignty. His fire.

I’m proud to stand beside you in the fire, Matthew Hudson Roberts. Ours is a story of November, and I’m flattened with gratitude that it is your hand holding mine as we wait and pray and watch God move. I heard this verse this morning on my run, and I thought it was the perfect gift from our good God on this our 11th anniversary.

“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. ” (Job 42:5 NIV)

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Dear Summer

Dear Summer

IMG_6016Summer, you’re almost over, and you looked nothing like I thought you would. I imagined lazy mornings and naps in the afternoon. (Apparently, I was very tired come May. Apparently, I was also very delusional–lazy morning AND naps. Yeah, I’m not sure where I got such grandiose ideas.) Those things didn’t happen. Instead the summer sprinted along like one big run-on sentence. When I try to see the whole, it still looks like a big blur–like someone accidentally put her finger over the lens when she snapped the shutter. But when I slow it down and look frame by frame, I see life. I see laughter. I see adventure. I see beauty. Singing Amazing Grace to our Peach during the middle of the night at a hospital in Mobile, Alabama. My sweaty pacing around the kitchen island while my hands shook as I first heard about our baby girl. Pajama trips to Sonic. Water fights in the backyard and Lottie sneaking up on me. Sushi couch dates every Friday night while rewatching old episodes of West Wing. An acute case of pimento cheese cravings. (I blame the adoption.) Smiling at my big girl across the table at Swanky’s while realizing she’s becoming a young lady and that I truly enjoy her company–not just because she’s my daughter but because she’s a fun, intelligent, engaging person. Eating an oreo cake that is the stuff of dreams with girlfriends and eating pounds and pounds of sun-sweet peaches. Road trips and too many FedEx trips to count. Watching miracles happen and the honor of walking with friends through intense grief. Frame by frame, I play the movie of this summer back, and I smile. There were so many tears packed into these couple of months–the joy-filled kind and the gut-wrenching kind. But I can see the beauty in it all. Summer, you looked nothing like I expected. And you remind me (once again) to let go of my expectations and surrender to the adventure. I’m finding this life is richer, fuller, lovelier when I have open hands and an open heart. That’s a lot for a recovering control-freak to process, but God’s been at work on my heart.

A few weeks ago I finished the sweetest of fiction books, and I emailed myself this quote from it, “This was a girl who sought in every way she could to make the world beautiful, to give comfort when it was least expected and joy where it was most needed.” Isn’t that just the most lovely thing to be said of a person? I am surrounded by people just like that, and my tribe has been especially strong this summer. I know that we could focus all our time and attention on what’s wrong with this world, and certainly I believe it’s our calling to stand up for injustice and do something about it. But in all that standing, we must remember that beauty and pain can exist together. We can spend all our time ranting and raving or we can choose to make the world beautiful. To give comfort when least expected and joy where most needed. Summer, you’ve taught me much.

 

*The book quoted is The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriani Trigiani.

Celebrating 10 Years in Memphis (And a list of favorite Memphis restaurants/things to do!)

Celebrating 10 Years in Memphis (And a list of favorite Memphis restaurants/things to do!)

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At the Redbirds game our first summer in Memphis

This weekend marked ten years since we moved to Memphis. Matt was driving his car pulling our tiny U-haul up I-55 with me following behind in our other car. In the nine months prior to our Memphis move, we had graduated from Bama, moved back home to Jackson, MS, and gotten married. We were young, naive, and ready for adventure. Now, ten years later, we are not quite as young, hopefully a little bit wiser, and we’ve got lots of adventure (named Lydia, Charlotte, and Georgia!)

We spent the weekend celebrating a decade in the 901 with a date night to Porcellino’s, a trip to the zoo and Belly Acres with the girls, and, of course, Muddy’s. This morning, Matt’s team invited the girls and me to their office to celebrate his 10 year anniversary at Speak. I still remember the Friday when Matt called me in Jackson on his way back from Memphis. He had just interviewed for the job at Speak, and as soon as I picked up the phone I could tell how excited he was. We talked and agreed this was a good move for us. He accepted the job, and we packed up our little apartment in Jackson. A short two weeks later we moved into our new apartment in Memphis. I returned to Jackson for a couple more weeks to tie up some things with my job. While I was away, colleagues introduced him to Sheridan’s custard so that when I arrived he said we had to go. So, that first night in our new home we drove to Sheridan’s and got the grasshopper–vanilla custard with mint and crushed oreos. And then we did it again our second night, our third night, our fourth night, until we realized about a week in that neither our wallets nor our metabolisms were going to be able to sustain this habit.

Several years passed, and when Lydia was about six months old, we tried to sell our house so we could move back to Jackson. At that time, the real estate market was struggling, and it was a bad time to sell a house. Also, we had certain friends who shall remain nameless 😉 praying that it wouldn’t sell. And it didn’t. As much as I know it would have been good to be near our extended family, I’m glad the house didn’t sell. It forced us to build our little family, to create our own traditions, and establish our own rhythm. We had to dig our roots deep here in this new home and write our own story of family.

And, oh, the learning we’ve done in this place. You don’t go from 21 to 31 without (hopefully!) learning a ton. Much of it has been painful because I am stubborn and love to learn the hard way. But God gave us a village in this city, a sisterhood and brotherhood to teach us, challenge us, sharpen us, and push us. These people have poured into our marriage, have encouraged us as parents, and have given us that rare gift of authentic friendship.

Sometime several years ago, I remember realizing that, finally, after years of living here, when I said home I was talking about Memphis. For years, Matt I would say we were going home whenever we went back to Jackson to see family, but sometime after bringing our first pink bundle across the threshold this place became home. We were building something new. We were learning something important–to savor this moment and this spot, to dwell in God’s Presence right where we are.

Some of our favorite places in Memphis . . .

Restaurants // Restaurant Iris / Porcellino’s / Second Line / Hog & Hominy / Babalu / Aldo’s / Belly Acres / Brother Juniper’s / Sakura / Muddy’s Bake Shop / and a new favorite Casablanca!

Fun things to do // Memphis Zoo / Brooks Museum / The Dixon / Memphis Botanic Garden / Walk or run the Greenway / Levitt Shell summer concerts / Civil Rights Museum / Go see the ducks at the Peabody / Antique shopping at Sheffields / Redbirds game / St. Jude half-marathon

 

 

How to See Miracles

How to See Miracles

Sometimes the strangest things flatten me with gratitude and other times they just make me mad. Little girl shoes spilling out of the shoe basket. Sticky, jelly fingerprints on cabinet handles. A rainbow of crayons strewn over the tiles. These things happen all the time, every day, but too often I don’t see them for what they are. The things that seem most mundane can be the most miraculous. If we choose to see.

This weekend I got to teach at a women’s conference at Ellendale Baptist. I had the best time with an incredible group of women. They were honest and vulnerable, and I loved hearing their stories. During my breakout, we studied the Last Supper and the Passover meal, the bread and the cup. I learned and relearned many things in preparing. One of those was how to see miracles.

While the Israelites were making their exodus (i.e. in transition), they started complaining. (Hmm, people who complain when God has them in transition, waiting. Yes, yes, I think I know something about that struggle.)

And the LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’” (Exodus 16:11-12 ESV)

This bread they would call manna literally means “what is it?” (A question I say many times a day to myself when I sit down on a smushed banana on my sofa or have Goldfish crackers crumble under my feet.) Every morning God is dropping down from heaven sustenance, provision, miracles, but to them it just looked mundane. “What is it?” they asked.

I remember doing a Priscilla Shirer study a while back where she said that our most mundane tasks are often the result of our most miraculous blessings. We had to write down a list of all the mundane tasks we dread–laundry, cleaning, washing dishes, pouring cereal, etc. And then beside the task we were instructed to write down the miraculous blessing that created that task. A marriage that only gets better with time. Three daughters I get to laugh with, dance with, and love. A home that gives us a safe place to grow and learn. After reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts I started my own gratitude list. A cracked Bible. Cotton candy sunrises. Hands laced. Green grass poking through. Coffee brewing. Little fingers licking the batter bowl. A shower of miracles every single day.

Mundane or miraculous? Maybe the only thing separating those two words is my attitude. Maybe miracle after miracle falls before me every single morning like manna from heaven. If only I have a grateful heart to see. 

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Faded Foil

Faded Foil

Somewhere between the crawfish étouffée and the bread pudding, he handed me a box. It was heavy, the size of a large book. I tore off the paper and opened the box to see navy leather and a name in silver foil, the name I would soon carry after I walked down the aisle the following day. Wrapped within that leather were the words that would carry me through the best and hardest days of my life. But, of course, I didn’t know that then.

I didn’t know those words would take us to Memphis, Tennessee, or give us friends who feel like family. I didn’t know those words would lead us to a church who would challenge us and teach us and push us. I didn’t know there would be a season when I pushed the words away because I didn’t want to confront my pride and ego. I didn’t know there would be a season when I slept with my those words beneath my pillow because of the nightmares that plagued my sleep after the miscarriages. I didn’t know those words would bring three daughters into our home, and I didn’t know those words would compel us to say yes to adoption. I didn’t know I would cry gallons of tears and write on every page and watch the spine crack from those words being splayed open day after day. I didn’t know how my marriage would change when I began praying those words for my husband over and over.

This thing we’ve forged–this messy thing called marriage, this daily choosing to break and pour–this is proof that His Word is living and active. That somehow He can take two imperfect people and tell His story of perfect Love. Maybe the cracks in the leather and the fade of the foil are the greatest indication of our first decade together.

Right now on the mantel there is a stack of family Bibles. When I open the brittle covers and turn the first gossamery pages, there is a space to record dates for marriage, births and deaths. Right there in the pages before the beginning of the Word–the Word that would become flesh for us and come to dwell with us, the Word whose body would be broken for us and whose blood would pour out for us–is a place to record and remember this covenant called marriage.

In Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas says marriage is more about our holiness than our happiness. When I first read that as a newlywed, I winced. But after ten years, I’m seeing the treasure in that statement. It’s the daily break and pour with my husband that’s drawing me closer to the One who gave up everything to break and pour for me. My Savior who took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). In this family, we have a tradition of toasting to big moments and small ones, to date nights and vacations and getting the kids in bed and also to random Tuesday pizza nights. I’ve always loved this tradition of ours, but I’ve never thought of the cup and the new covenant during our toasts. There we are with glasses raised with an invitation to remember the One whose blood poured out Love once and for all.

Happy ten years, Matt. (A few days early!) Thank you for being a tangible representation of God’s grace and forgiveness. Thank you for being a man who allows God’s Word to mold him and make him holy. Thank you for breaking and pouring every single day for me and for our children. Thank you for choosing me.

He’s not my king. I’m not his queen. 

He’s not my king. I’m not his queen. 

“The fair only comes once a year, and it isn’t October so stop moaning,” my elementary teacher used to say to us when we were complaining about something not being fair. I have this pesky little problem with wanting fairness. I’ll find myself in a foul, snippy mood and realize I’m counting what I’ve done compared to my husband to see who’s pulling more weight. I, of course, find hundreds of noteworthy things for my side of the list. But then my memory conveniently fails me when it comes to his side. Marriage being this 50/50 relationship makes sense in addition, but it doesn’t work. And it’s not what we are called to.

This morning I was reading in Esther. The short version of the story goes like this. Esther is queen, and her uncle Mordecai overhears about an assassination plot against the king. He alerts Esther who alerts the king. Meanwhile, bad guy Haman, who works for the king, notices Mordecai isn’t bowing down to him like he’s supposed to. Haman’s pride runs rampant, and he plots Mordecai’s gruesome death and the death of all Mordecai’s (and Esther’s) people, the Jews. Esther goes before the king to save her people, and the king asks her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given to you” (Esther 5:3).

This is how kingdoms and kings and queens worked, a tenuous balance of egos. Because any more than half would have made her more important than him. The balance of power would have been thrown off. And it seems this is how many of our marriages are functioning, each of us making our demands and offerings up to half the kingdom. But a King would come later who wouldn’t look like any king prior. He would look like a man sawing wood. He would look like a man breaking bread. He would look like a man washing feet. He wouldn’t look like a king. He would look like a servant. And he wouldn’t act like the kings they had known either. He would be powerful but self-controlled. He would be just but always loving. He would come not to be served, but to serve (Matt. 20:28). He would come to give his life away–all of it, every last dying breath. Not up to half. No, God would give everything, His one and only Son. And that Son would give everything–every right, every shred of dignity, every last drop of blood for us.

And then after the Son was resurrected, and He returned to the Father sending the Holy Spirit to dwell within believers, Paul would put the pieces together for us in Ephesians 5 and forever raise the bar for marriage.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. 

That’s not a 50/50 arrangement Paul is speaking of, and there’s no half my kingdom going on. That’s two people breaking every selfish desire and pouring every ounce of their service into another person, two servants forming one body.

It takes no effort at all for me to be selfish. (Exhibit A: my grumpy attitude when I get woken up in the middle of the night by one of our children, but he sleeps peacefully right beside me never hearing a thing. My true colors are usually very clear.) It takes daily time in His Word and prayer (and for this very stubborn person, a lot of learning the hard way and saying I’m sorry) to love with a love that is patient, kind, and does not envy. A love that does not boast and is not proud. A love that is is not rude, self-seeking, or easily angered. A love that keeps no record of wrongs and does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. A love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. A love that never fails (1 Cor 13). This is way more than half the kingdom.

I mess up (a lot) but God is faithful to transform our hearts when we bring our hearts to Him. There isn’t a day that goes by that God doesn’t show me some area of selfishness. I never like it when I see the ugliness in my heart, but I’m glad He brings it into the light so He can mold this messed up person into something beautiful. Every time I pray Scripture for my husband, God binds my heart closer with his. Prayer makes saying I’m sorry easier. It makes forgiveness easier. It makes holding my tongue easier. (Notice I said easier, not easy. The struggle is real when you’re feisty and stubborn like me.) I love looking back at the prayers I’ve prayed for Matt and seeing how faithful God has been. If you aren’t already, could I gently nudge you to claim a verse and pray it over your husband today before you close your eyes for bed? (If you don’t know which one to choose, you could start with 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.) Take a picture of the verse, and make it your lock screen on your phone. Write it on a sticky note, and stick it in your wallet. Use a dry-erase marker, and write it on your bathroom mirror. Pray that verse every single day for him. God promises us that His Word will not return void. I’m convinced our greatest act of service to our husbands is to pray for them. Not halfhearted prayers, but prayers from a heart surrendered completely to the One who first loved us.

The 7 Words Changing My Marriage

The 7 Words Changing My Marriage

*This was originally posted October 29, 2013. We discussed conflict last night with our Making Marriage Make Sense group after Andy’s talk on Time Bombs and Freight Trains. I thought of this post and these seven words.

I used to think love happened like it does in the movies. Then I got married and discovered it most certainly does not. In the movies love is a series of grand gestures with a beautiful score running behind it making even the scenes with conflict take on a rosy glow. If I could have three wishes, having a soundtrack set to my life would certainly make the list. But in real life, marriage is a lot more dirty laundry, overflowing garbage cans and bills to pay than it is long, lazy coffee dates and walks through the park. While love might not work like it does in the movies, I’m learning happily ever after is possible and even better than Hollywood can write it.

There are a lot of words that are important in marriage. I love you. Thank you. Till death do us part. But these seven words are the ones changing me and thus changing us

I’m sorry.

When Matt and I first got married, I wasn’t good at saying, “I’m sorry.” (Truth be told, I still struggle. A lot.) I was really good at pointing out all the things he needed to be sorry for and really good at justifying all my hurtful actions. I like to win and I like to be right, a lethal combo in arguments with your spouse. I will fight to the end just to win an argument, and sometimes when it’s over I can’t even remember what I was fighting about. Winning feels good in the moment but feels pretty awful in the end. The hard lesson I’m learning is that winning the argument means losing something in the relationship. Save yourself some pain, and learn to say, “I’m sorry” quickly and often. Saying, “I’m sorry” is vulnerable because it means admitting I’m not perfect, but vulnerability is the stuff of great marriages.

How can I help you?

Everyone gets hung up on the idea of submission because we make it into a power struggle. Who’s calling the shots? Who’s in control? But really the question that makes a marriage thrive, the question that diffuses all the tension with submission is simple, “How can I help you?” It’s not a complicated question, but we don’t ask it because we’re scared of the answer. What if he says he needs me to iron his wrinkly pants or host that annoying work colleague for dinner? What if she says she needs me to give the dogs a bath or take out the trash that smells like rotten bananas? We don’t ask because we don’t want to hear the answer, but this one question can radically change our marriage. When we ask this question and then carry the request out, we don’t just mark something off our spouse’s to-do list. It’s something much bigger than that. In reality, we are laying down our selfishness and choosing to elevate our spouse. It looks like vacuuming or cooking or scrubbing the toilet, but it feels like love.

It might not be glamorous. There probably won’t be a gorgeous soundtrack lilting in the background. But I’m finding the happily ever after I long for comes from these seven words…

I’m sorry.

How can I help you?