Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Mess

Originally posted on

Feeling sick all day, along with a rainy evening, meant one thing in my book: grits and eggs for supper. The family gone to church, I decided to cook some up just for me. I put the grits in the microwave (I know, they're better on the stove...ain't nobody got time for that) and moved on to beat the eggs. I thought to check the grits 27 seconds too late. They had bubbled over into a sticky, gritty mess. In my clean microwave. And if there is one thing I HATE to clean, it's the microwave. .

Argh. What a mess.

A deep cleaner I am not, but I do prefer the house in order. Toys put away, dishes in the dishwasher, counter tops cleared, and clothes where they belong. (As if that ever happens all at once.) On more than one occasion I've planted the children in front of the t.v. to keep them from destroying my freshly (somewhat) tidied home. A cup of coffee, occupied children, and an ordered environment. A girl could get used to that. For a whole 20 minutes.

While attempting to undo the damage done to my microwave, the thought struck me that this grits problem wasn't the only mess I had been dealing with lately. Ever since we welcomed a new family member, it seemed our life was being taken over by messiness.

There were the typical messes that comes with any newborn. Poopy diapers. Spit up. Baby wipes and burp cloths strewn here and there. Bouncy seats and butt paste and swaddle blankets and suction bulbs and tiny socks and why is all this stuff necessary?! I look around and think, "Will I ever dig out of this hole?" Who would have thought that just one extra tiny person would cause such a jump in the messiness factor. Sometimes I can roll with it, reminding myself that this season is more for loving than for cleaning. But the longer I have to literally kick my way to my bed the harder that perspective is to maintain.

But there is also a new kind of mess I've been introduced to since this baby boy joined our crew. The mess that comes with foster care. No way around it, there is nothing neat or tidy or orderly about being a foster parent. Nearly every aspect of this venture comes with complications and is riddled with chaos.

Take, for example, my weekly schedule. What used to be streamlined and somewhat normal now includes multiple trips to the social worker's office, doctor visits, court dates, visitations with birth mom, and appointments with the social security office. I've never been in so many government buildings in my life and I'm getting a first hand education on how the child protective service system works. And it is messy! (Amen?) A simple change in baby formula can constitute 6 emails, two phone calls and a visit to the pediatrician. I can no longer cross state lines without written documentation and my babysitters require fingerprinting.

Even doing "normal"community activities has changed to something interesting. We never know when we might bump into our foster son's birth family. It just so happens that our oldest son plays on the same ball team as our foster son's cousin! Now that's messy, folks. And makes for an interesting bleacher experience.

The way I feel about this darling boy's birth mother is messy too.  I see her love for him and it makes me ache.I want her to meet Jesus and get her life on track and know the joy of raising her own son.  But I also want to keep him under my own protective roof where I know the kind of care and love he will receive. One minute I'm rooting for her, and the next I'm looking at her through jaded and doubtful eyes. What a mess.

Nope. Nothing tidy about foster care. Not my future, not my calendar, and certainly not my emotions. Some days it's just plain yuck. But when I consider the mess we entered when we chose to do this, I think about Another who willingly walked into one, too.

It was no mess-free world our Savior embraced. No uncluttered lives He chose to save. He left perfection for chaos. An eternity of ease for a span of time that promised heartache and pain. As the Creator he must have craved order, this world set right the way it was intended. Sin had made a mess of things. Of relationships and priorities and desires. Which is why he came. He walked through our mess with us, to us, undeterred by what it cost him. And His great sacrifice made things right.

Jesus loved me enough to take me in, mess and all. To love like He loved means embracing this little one. Mess and all.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dear Bride to Be {Series} Wedding Worship

When Nathan proposed I was 26 years old and 4 years late on the timeline projected for my life. Like all good little GRITS (Girls Raised In The South) I was supposed to be engaged 2 months post college graduation and happily settled into marital bliss 10 months later. Heck, I should have been birthin' babies by 26! When Nathan finally put the ring on the finger elation soared. And so did the wedding planning.

In our culture preparing for a wedding is a full time job. The amount of time spent registering, planning, shopping and photo shooting is some astronomical number that my brain isn't large enough to compute. I cast no stones. My own wedding was beautiful and required loads of preparation.

But the temptation during engagement is to put all our eggs in one basket: The Perfect Wedding Day. And who can blame the modern bride? Everything from magazines to full blown reality shows brainwash us into believing that that day should be nothing short of a fairy tale. The perfect dress. The perfect flowers. The perfect setting. Guests should leave thinking that was the Pinterest wedding of the year!

Don't get me wrong. To some extent the celebration should reflect the significance of the event. Marriage is a big deal. Designing the ceremony to reflect the weightiness of that divine union is appropriate. Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding.

There is a problem, however, when we focus on the Day to the neglect of the Institution. If hours are spent walking venues and trying on dresses and tasting cakes but zero energy is given to focusing on the actual marriage, we're centered on the wrong thing. A perfect wedding becomes the idol. I call it Wedding Worship. 

So what's a God fearing girl to do? Throw away the Bride magazines and planning checklist? Skip the big wedding and elope to the courthouse? I don't think running to extremes is the answer. But a little balance and a few gentle reminders might be.

Here are five ways to keep perspective as you prepare for your big day:

1) Set up premarital counseling. Many couples are suspicious of premarital counseling because they assume the pastor/counselor is going to evaluate whether they should be getting married. Not true. Premarital counseling is designed to help you prepare for marriage, not talk you out of it. Nathan and I were both working on our masters in counseling when we got engaged. But by far the most helpful thing we've ever done for our marriage was attend premarital counseling. It will be worth the time and any cost involved.

2) Restrain the crazy. Yes, it's frustrating when you can't find the exact earrings you envisioned to go with your dress. Aggravating when bridesmaids don't show for a fitting. Irritating when the seamstress can't get it done by the date you want. Downright maddening when people don't GET how big of a deal this is. Honey baby, keep in mind that your wedding is not what most people's lives are revolving around. And that's as it should be. The more you go all Bridezilla on people, the more you perpetuate the idea that the wedding is the all in all, and that others should be bowing to it too. You only succeed at causing resentment and turning others away from you. Take deep breaths. Move on. And let it go. If the wedding is making you crazy (and mean), it's likely taken an unhealthy turn and it's time to put it in it's place. 

3) Consider Christ. As you plan the wedding day (and your life after) make sure Christ is at the center. Filter every decision through how it reflects on Him. If He has taken a backseat during the busy engagement, carve out some time to spend with Him alone. Remember that He is your first love, not a wedding. Without intimacy with Him, there will be no peace and joy in your heart no matter how elaborate that day is. 

4) Give and take. Most women have dreamed about the wedding and setting up house since we played baby dolls and Barbies. Once the ring is on the finger we can be tempted to leave our husbands-to-be out of the planning process entirely. We assume we are the ones who care about towels and duvets and tuxes and ceremony logistics. I was surprised to find that Nate had thoughts on those things. And when I relinquished enough control to consider them, his ideas actually enriched the planning. He had great thoughts on making the ceremony Christ centered. And even though we didn't go with his choice on the comforter (a hideous University of Kentucky thing), I'm glad I listened to him on the mattress decision. King size all the way, baby.

5) Remember that disaster lurks. No matter how you much you plan and prepare and seek to spoil-proof your wedding, something WILL go wrong.  But, you get to decide the effect it has on you. If the perfect wedding has become your idol, you will likely whine and wig out and make everyone around you miserable. But if you've put that false god in it's place, you'll have the grace to make peace with the imperfect and walk down that aisle with joy regardless. I pray your day goes smoothly with nary a cloud in the sky, but if a tornado hits your wedding the way it did mine, may God make it well with your soul, too. 

Darling Bride-to-be, choose a beautiful dress. Have gorgeous flowers. Plan a stunning setting. But above all of that, get married with grace. Lead your guests to marvel at the sweet spirit of Christ as He makes two become one. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Dear Bride to Be {Series} The Tornado That Hit My Wedding

Mom and I started buying supplies for my wedding around the time I was 20. We steadily added to the stock as Mr. Right drug his feet on entering the picture. Seven years later when I finally got engaged, we had a massive supply. But one of our favorite past times long before I had a ring on the finger was talking about the wedding we would one day create. One that was perfect.

Except that few things in this life are. And weddings are no exception, as we painfully discovered. It took a tornado hit to educate me, but I learned an unforgettable lesson preparing for that dream day.

Mr. Right finally made his debut minutes before I hit Old Maid status. When he proposed we set the date for just four months away. Mom and I had been planning that wedding long before Nathan was in the picture. We didn't need much time to prepare, just the groom to fit neatly into our extensive arrangements. That highly anticipated day was just within reach...

It was my last Friday at work before the wedding. Nathan and I were set to leave Fort Worth and drive to Hartford on Sunday. I was eager to spend the week enjoying bridal showers, last minute arrangements, and a blissful week centered around us. I floated down the hallway to my co-workers office to say goodbye. Dear Melanie had endured listening to me talk about the wedding every day for months. She hugged  my neck that afternoon to send me off, and I'll never forget the exchange that occurred.

"Beth, I hope everything about the wedding is just PERFECT," she said sweetly.

In a rare moment of spiritual clarity something broke through to my heart. I realized I no longer cared if it was perfect. I was marrying a man who feared the Lord and I didn't need a flawless wedding to become his wife. The importance of an ideal event had diminished, and the excitement over the marriage it represented became my satisfaction. I remember responding,

"Melanie, whether that day is perfect or not I'm okay with it. Even if a tornado rips through the church the week before and nothing is as we planned, I pray it is Well With My Soul."

Listen readers, it was the Lord himself who gave me that insight. He alone knew what we were to face 48 hours after the words crossed my lips. In an act of divine mercy, He prepared me for what was to come.

We left Fort Worth after Nathan taught the Young Married's class on Sunday morning. Kinda funny since we weren't even married yet. We had driven the long trip to Hartford multiple times together, always traveling by way of I-20. But for some reason (?!) we decided to try dipping down to I-10. We went merrily on our way, scheduled to get to Hartford around midnight.

My cousin Justin was taking that same road home. Getting a quick break after taking a job on an off-shore rig in Louisiana, he was headed to see his mama for just a few hours. (Did I mention it was Mother's Day?) Justin and his sisters grew up across the street from me and my brothers. More like one big family than two, we shared clothes and vacations and everything in between. His sisters were my bridesmaids and Justin was to be an usher until his new job wouldn't give that weekend off. I remember remarking to Nathan as we passed through Louisiana that I couldn't remember the name of the place Justin was working from and how it had been too long since I got to see my grin-big cousin.

Realizing the drive was taking longer than originally predicted, I decided to courtesy call the parents and let them know the new ETA.  Dad answered. That's weird. He's usually snoozing in the recliner trying to fake awake by this point in the night. Can't believe he even acknowledged the phone. I reported that we were an hour away while we rolled on ignorantly toward the biggest devastation of my life.

Leaving the luggage in the car when we finally reached my childhood home, I walked in and met Dad in the kitchen, noticing that Mom hadn't met us at the door as usual and was nowhere to be seen.

I don't remember much after that. Not the words of greeting. Or how Dad began those first difficult sentences. Or  how he said the unthinkable that shattered my heart. But I do remember everything going black and collapsing into his arms.

Justin was dead.

Killed in an accident on very road we had traveled just minutes before. On Mother's Day.

The week I had dreamed about for years had just become a nightmare.

Gentle readers. The week of my wedding was the worst week of my life. Lingerie Showers and pedicures and last minute shopping with mom were all dismissed. Nothing mattered. Not any of it. The pain and grief over losing Justin, the heart wrenching devastation of my aunt and cousins, the horror of burying a 21 year old light up your life kind of guy who was like a brother, those were my realities that week.

And heaped onto the heartache of losing him was the way well-meaning friends and family continued to tell me how sorry they were that this happened the week of my wedding. I wanted to cover my ears and scream every time I heard it. I know the spirit in which they offered those words, and I love them for hurting for me. But my loss of a perfect wedding was NOTHING compared to the loss of Justin.

The pain of his death shed incredible clarity on what was important.

I begged Nathan to take me to the courthouse that week. I didn't care about the money that had been spent or the invitations sent or any other aspect. I simply wanted to spare us all the drudgery of faking a happy day. In the end the only reason we didn't elope to the Geneva County Courthouse was because my mother insisted that it would send her over the edge if I did. I realized then the depth of what mom had been doing for me all those months. Working her fingers to the bone to honor and bless me with a glorious wedding day. And I wouldn't steal any more of that from her.

So we did it. Like people walking through a fog, we did it. Because Christ carried us. Wednesday was Justin's visitation. On Thursday we endured his funeral and graveside service. And that night we solemnly went to the church and began arranging flowers where his casket had been just hours before.

I won't lie to you. It was sad and tragic and we couldn't pretend we were okay. Although for my sake (and my mother's) I know many people tried. Decorating the church was a strained affair. The rehearsal quiet and the dinner following less than jovial. We all attempted to make the best of it. But you don't shake off that kind of grief.

At this point you darlings who have a wedding upcoming are terrified. I in no way want to squash the celebration and joy you are experiencing. But this true and tragic story holds a key to putting your wedding in perspective. The work God did in my heart concerning the Wedding Day turned Idol many of us bow to begs to be shared. Before you give up on this less than a fairy tale and pick up a no trauma guaranteed Bride magazine, let me shine a little ray of hope.

God's mercies are new every single morning. And by a miracle of His making, I woke up the morning of the wedding with joy in my heart. The grief was no less diminished. But that day he allowed me to also enjoy the enormity of what the ceremony represented. A husband. A mysterious and divine union. And the honor of being a wife. I was at peace despite the circumstances. Learning to be content no matter the situation.

Despite the grief, we celebrated the beginning of a God granted relationship. Along with the horror there was holiness. We worshiped the One who gives and takes away.

And we got married. Even though it was far from perfect.

The wedding was beautiful and reverent and full of tears. Grief mingled with joy on the faces of my family.  A tornado had hit my wedding. But through it all God was faithful.

And It Was Well With My Soul. Because He made it so.

No matter what goes right and what goes wrong with your own wedding, may it be well with yours too.

Aunt Laura and Me
I have no words to describe her courage other than to say
she was at my wedding 48 hours after burying her son.
Just a few of the saints who carried us through that week. They went from manning the sympathy guest book and organizing food that was brought to ironing tablecloths and decorating the church in a matter of minutes.
They were the hands and feet of Jesus. 

*Check back soon for thoughts on how to keep your Wedding Day idol free.