Sunday, August 13, 2017

What 39 Years Looks Like


I know what one year looks like. It looks a lot like two strangers, still with remnants of wedded bliss floating around and yet just waking up to the fact that in so many ways, they are still really just strangers. Five years looks like awareness, more committed to the one who is becoming less a stranger and more awake to the selfishness that lives inside and still trying to figure out how to navigate life together. Eleven years feels more comfortable, more humbling, and still has much more room to grow. But what does thirty-nine years look like?

You showed me what it looks like.

 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

39 years looks like you giving yourself up for her. You, laying down your ministry and your life’s work and your own agenda to be there and be true to the promise you made four decades ago. In joy and in pain, in sickness and in health. It looks like you being faithful like your Shepherd.

that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word

39 years looks like you, the most modest man that I know, you with the unbelievable gag reflex, becoming a nurse at age 67. Learning how to clean a wound, and then doing it – unpacking, cleaning, repacking – day after day after day, and doing it without a word of complaint. (Except for when you got angry at the latex gloves that were three sizes too small.)

so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish

39 years looks like you on your face before your Maker, begging Him for strength and for healing and for relief for her. Crying out for answers and for faith and for help. Clinging to the promises that laid the firm foundation so many years ago. Speaking them over her. It sounds like the same low voices I heard all the years I slept in the next room, teaching me how to commune with the Savior.

in the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies

39 years looks like you driving her to Augusta every week or twice a week or as many times as it takes. Driving as she cries, waiting, driving as she sleeps. It looks like you buying eight different kinds of protein powder and 418 bottles of grape juice. It looks like you doing laundry and dishes and vacuuming and getting rid of over half of the coffee mugs when she’s not looking. It looks like you doing whatever it takes.

he who loves his wife loves himself

39 years looks like you holding her through the night. Losing sleep for months and staying by her side and fighting with her through pain. It looks like your tears mingling with hers, weeping with those who weep, hurting with her and for her and wishing you could take it from her.

for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church

39 years looks like you, still laughing. Still delighted at that bride, still holding on to the humor that has shaped a household for four decades. Still finding joy and cracking jokes and trying to get a rise out of her. Still smiling.

therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh

39 years looks like a long way off. It looks real. It looks beautiful and hard and right.

39 years looks a lot like Christ and the church.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Story About Us, or Not at All

It was eleven years ago today, and I was as giddy as a little girl. The doors opened and you were waiting, and the day was everything I dreamed it would be. My daddy preached the gospel and I nodded my head and grinned the whole time, and then we kissed and I was Mrs. Shugart and you were a husband. We were lost in joy and delight and anticipation.

And God was our Father, delighting over us.
And then there were the days and years in the little duplex on West Pine Avenue, where we learned how to survive together. You had three jobs and I was clipping coupons you found in the dumpster and we were in school and learning what it meant to be married. We had nothing, but we had everything we needed.

And God was our Provider, giving us our daily bread.
One weekend we went to Boone and you made me climb Grandfather Mountain. And not just climb, but run and slide on the ice and hold onto the rope for dear life. And I was terrified because it was the first mountain I had ever climbed and hello, the ice and the ropes and the cliffs. But we made it, you holding my hand, and we sat at the top and felt the triumph.

And God was our Strength, pushing us beyond our limits because He was enough.
There was the music, always the music. Music in our living room, in our church, in the coffee shops and at Spinners. Music in Hadley’s shed for six months, recording and learning how to play in perfect time and watching Hadley do Chris Farley impressions.

And God was our Song, working through our fingertips and our voices to fill the space with His beauty.
There were three days when the timing worked out perfectly, we got to the hospital in time, you held my hand and told me I could do it, and we saw three perfect little humans enter in to the world. I watched you transform into a dad and we were overwhelmed and they were all exactly right for us, and our family kept growing.

And God was Creator, bringing forth new life in our arms and in our hearts.
There were the days and weeks following the first birth, when I couldn’t walk and couldn’t get better, and you suffered with me. There were too many surgeries to make sense for your age, each time a blow to your passion for staying active and fit and healthy, and each time I suffered with you.

And God was our Healer, making us whole again and filling our hearts with His sufficiency.
There have been many arguments and misunderstandings and moments or even seasons of selfishness. Iron rubbing against iron, clay pots in the fire. It has not been easy, and I have found myself ashamed of forgetting what really matters.

And God is our Redeemer, working through our ashes to produce beauty.
One day we decided to put the kids and a tent into the van and drive across the country to the Grand Canyon. We were almost eleven years in to this thing called marriage, and over seven years in to this thing called parenting, and we knew how crazy of an idea it was and how awesome it could be. We made it and we hiked and we stared and we breathed in the air of majesty. We shared it with each other and with our children.

And God was our Shepherd, ever leading us back to His glory.
And now I realize, as I have before and as I will again, that this is not so much a story about us as it is a story about Him. Because He is the author, and He is the provider and the shepherd and the song.  We are the sheep of His pasture and we are being pursued by His goodness and mercy. We are on a journey to reveal His wisdom and kindness and glory.

And Coach, I wouldn’t want to share this journey with anyone else.
Happy anniversary.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

On the Days When You Suffer


This is one that I didn’t really want to write. You see, the worst thing that happened in your life today was that your muffin got cold before you finished it at breakfast, and as tragic and understandably earth-shattering as that was, I would like to think that you can keep living in that kind of world. But the truth is that today you are seven and five and two, but tomorrow you will be teenagers and then grown-ups and I have learned that the older you get, the more the brokenness of this world crowds in on you.

It seems like these days I can taste suffering all around me. There is hurt in every corner, and though I wish I could hide you three in my pocket forever, I cannot.  It’s not the way.

So on the days that you suffer…on the days when you fail miserably or make a terrible mistake, or when your heart gets broken…on the days when cancer sneaks up on someone you love, or when your trust is betrayed or you have to endure the valley of loss…on the days when afflictions grow bigger than you have known them to be so far…on those days, remember this:

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted…

Near. Closer than a breath, even when you can’t breathe. He enters in. He already laid aside His glory and put on skin and walked a thousand miles in your shoes. He took all your sin and swallowed it, became it so that you could taste righteousness and peace, and so He knows. He knows all the awful secrets that chase the tail of sin, the emptiness and despair, and He knows every bit of the pain wrapped up in the fallenness of the world. He knows it and He enters in. He feels every ounce of what you feel because He is your compassionate high priest.

So on the days when you suffer, suffer in His nearness. Feel your pain and grief, but don’t feel it outside of His presence. He enters into it with you, with groanings too deep for words. Trust in Him at all times and pour out your heart before Him because He is a refuge.

And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

There is a promise, and even another one. There is a promise for the brokenness and a promise for the ages. A promise for now – that no pain is ever wasted, that He is ever at work for good, that He will make beauty from ashes. And a promise for later – that one day He will wipe away every tear and destroy the crushed serpent and make all things new.

Kids, the last thing I want to think about is you suffering, but I know I can’t stop it. But you have His presence and you have His promise, and that is worth more than gold. Heavens, I can’t even keep your muffins warm, but He is a good, good Father, perfect in all of His ways.  So on the days that you suffer, cling to Him. He is enough.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Not New Resolution


New Year’s is my favorite time of year. I love Thanksgiving and I love Christmas, but there is something about slowing down right after the holidays that makes me long for a fresh start. I begin to feel all kinds of motivation and might have been known to overshoot the runway in my New Year’s resolutions. Not this year, though. Nope. I’m only planning to write a book, start a business, eat a salad every day, completely organize and keep my house clean, be emotionally transparent with my husband, and work my way up to 10 unassisted pull-ups in 2017.

You know, I hear a lot of voices in my head. Mostly little voices yelling “Mommyyyy!” or asking “Why?” a hundred billion times. And right now the refrain that runs through my brain a lot is the voice of Owen saying, “I do it myself.” Here Owen, let me help you put your shoes on. No, I do it myself. Here buddy, let me buckle you up. No, I do it myself. Morning bud, you want me to cook you breakfast? I do it myself. Hmmm.

I probably sound a lot like Owen when it comes to my longings for fresh starts and new commitments. Not just in New Year’s resolutions, but in my futile pursuit of perfection. I do it myself. Strap on my boots and gird up my loins and gather my resolve and all that jazz. I’ve been following Christ for 26 years, you know? Like a child growing up into independence, I start to think that I should have this. I can be more patient, more joyful, more loving, more selfless, more faithful, more perfect.  I can do it if I just try hard enough.

But then He whispers.

As you received Christ…

How did I receive Christ? Can I remember back that far?

As you received Christ…

by grace

through faith

by the hearing of the Word

by calling upon the name of the Lord

with nothing in my hands

As you received Christ, so walk in Him.

Well that seems backward. But His kingdom is upside down, after all. Or my vision is.

Again He whispers.

You have abandoned the love you had at first…Repent and do the things you did at first…

Repent. Turn around. Change directions.

Oh, I can’t do it myself. If I try, I am forsaking my first love.

I am a branch. He is the vine. I am a sheep, and He is my good shepherd. I am a child, and He is my Father. That’s how I received Him. Confess. Believe. Accept. Thank. Those are the deeds I did at first.

Owen often follows up his declarations of “I do it myself” with “Help, Mommy!”

That’s how I can repent. It’s a new kind of a resolution, except that it’s not new at all. It’s the very gospel, and it is my life and breath and joy. It’s the old, old story that I have loved so long.

Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy law’s demands
These for sin could not atone; Thou must save and Thou alone
Nothing in my hands I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling

Here’s to a new year full of the first things, full of the gospel, full of grace. It’s still a fresh start. Let’s make goals and plan to meet them. (I did just buy a salad spinner, after all.) But let’s also rest in the finished work, and in the same way that we received Him, let us walk in Him.

Friday, December 2, 2016

To Number our Days


I used to spend so much more time spinning around , but partly because of the load of responsibilities that seems to grow each day, and partly because of the endless distractions I give myself to, and partly because I think I’m beginning to experience an aging process called inner ear failure, I just don’t spin like I used to.

But then you walked through the living room, and Pandora was playing a song, and the Spirit whispered wisdom into my heart.

So I turned away from something not as important and said, “You wanna dance?”

You grinned and grabbed my hand, and the dancing turned into twirling which turned into “Pick me up and spin me around Mama!” And so I scooped you up like I used to, or at least that’s what I intended to do. But you weigh a ton now, and when did you get so tall? And so the scoop turned into more of a heave, but I got you up and we spun. Your face was the only thing in focus as the background all blurred and I almost fell down, but thankfully I didn’t. You were so beautiful, laughing and spinning.

So teach us to number our days…

I don’t know what the number of my days or your days or any of our days will be. But that’s okay, because “number” doesn’t just mean to count. It also means to assign, appoint, ordain.

Most often, though, it seems like the days are assigning me.

But today God gave me grace to turn it around. To stop being passive about my time, to stop letting the moments fly away.  Just to stop. To be still enough to assign that moment to something so much more important than online snooping browsing or whatever it was that I was so wrapped up in.

So that we may gain a heart of wisdom…

Wisdom is more valuable than gold, more precious than all the riches on earth.  And it can be gained. It can be gained by pursuing it, by fearing the Lord, and now, I am learning, by numbering our days.

You are four years old, and I don’t know how you got so big. But all I know is that I want to learn how to number my days before you get much bigger. I want to number my days so that I will be able to gain a heart of wisdom, a heart that can discern what is the most important thing in each moment. Because one thing matters, and a million things don’t.

You matter. And so today, I choose you.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fruit on the Vine


I felt it coming. You can’t spend 8 ½ hours at the fair with three kids, two corndogs, and a bucket of Dippin-Dots and expect to have a pleasant evening once you get home.
No. No, you can’t. What you can expect is to have a scary evening where no one understands why they have to take a bath or why they have to brush their teeth or why on earth you are selling the camper. What? Where did that even come from? I don’t know, but that’s how our day ended. With  you, my dear six year old, accusing me of using a MEAN voice (and you were probably right) and me accusing you of being RIDICULOUS (which was completely accurate.)

And after the storm blew over, I went in to your room to have a heart to heart chat. I apologized for my mean voice and you did NOT apologize for your ridiculousness. I tried to speak to your heart; you rolled your eyes. I reassured you of my love, and you said, “You don’t want me to be happy.”
You’re right. The entire reason we are selling the camper is to destroy your happiness.

I shared examples from Scripture and from my own life to show how just because things don’t feel good doesn’t mean they aren’t done out of love. Oh, it was good. I was on fire with this talk.
And you looked at me with your forty year old eyes and said curtly, “I don’t see how that applies here.”

Wow. I’m done. I threw up my hands and kissed your forehead. I am helpless to make you understand, helpless to change your heart.
Later I was walking through the laundry room and the most unexpected thing caught my eye.


Babe, I didn’t even care that apparently we need to step up our spelling game in homeschool. The tears came instantly and I bowed my heart before the Maker. You see, there is one thing that you, my beautiful, serious, intense and independent daughter have never done in your life. And that is to willingly initiate an apology for something that you have done wrong.
I rushed to your room, but you were already asleep. Hours before I was looking into your fury, coming out in a show of disrespect and sass . Now I was gazing at your tender, peaceful, sleeping beauty, and I knelt beside you and gave thanks.

Now don’t get a big head, because a few days later I looked down at your paper during church and you had mine and your daddy’s names written in a circle labeled “Bad”, with an awful looking scary face drawn right above it. So, you know, you still have some issues.
But here is what I realized, and what I am realizing…

I can till soil, and plant seeds and water them, and do everything I can to nurture and protect – but I cannot make fruit grow. I can’t make it grow in my babies’ lives and I can’t make it grow in my own life.
Because I am not the Vine Dresser.

There are seasons in my life, and maybe I am in one right now, when I feel…stuck. Stagnant. Maybe even regressing. I feel surrounded by my faults and failures, by fears and doubts, by unmet expectations and unfulfilled desires. In those days I simply don’t see or feel the fruit growing.
But it is.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
And so it was that on a long day in the middle of an even longer week, in a dry season with you, my sweet girl, the Vine Dresser showed me a piece of fruit – small but utterly significant – and reminded me that He is always at work.

So I will celebrate that fruit in your life, and I will not grow weary in doing good, and I will know that fruit on the vine will never come from me. But it will come.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser… As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On Walmart and Sweetness


It seemed like a good idea at the time.

“Okay, you each get $4.00 to spend on whatever school supplies you want! Have fun!"

I mean, come on. Here’s your budget, now I will set you loose in the school supply section of Walmart - let’s be honest, this is a fantasy straight out of my childhood.

Fast forward 20 minutes, past a blur of explanations that Paw Patrol bandaids don’t qualify as school supplies and reminders that you MUST look before you step/jump/run out into an aisle and orders to apologize to the people that you just crashed into and stubborn preschool “I will not do as you say” determination, and here we were, you hyperventilating over the fact that I will not buy the 4 slap bracelets in your hand and me trying to stay calm in the Walmart-tantrum-vortex.

And into the cloud of emotions, and my rising disbelief at how this was turning out, and the hopelessness of my desire to lecture you out of your tantrum, came a voice behind me.

“She’s so sweet, isn’t she?”

Are you kidding me? She is anything but sweet right now.

I turned toward the voice and saw a little old woman, white hair in wisps around sharp eyes. Eyes that cut right into mine as she said again, in a deliberate voice…

“Isn’t she, Mama? Isn’t she sweet?”

And the gentle rebuke from the Father spoken through this stranger cut me to the quick. I turned back around and saw you. Really saw you. I saw your pigtails and your swollen, tear-filled eyes and snotty nose and the way you broke your crying for a yawn, and I remembered the way you had come to my room at 2:00 that morning and flailed around, unable to go back to sleep, for the next couple of hours. And I know how hard it is to function on a lack of sleep as a 32 year old, and I think how much harder it would be as a four year old, and my heart filled back up with compassion instead of annoyance.

Yes. Yes she is. She is so sweet.

By the time I looked back up the little lady was gone, so of course we had to hunt her down through the wilderness of Walmart, and when we finally did find her I gave her a hug and thanked her, and she pulled back and looked at me, her eyes softer this time, and whispered, “I remember how it is.”

Honey, you are sweet. Your sin is not sweet and your tantrums are not sweet, but you – bearer of God’s image, fearfully and wonderfully made, precious gift from the Father – you are sweet and valuable and important.

And this is part of what grace is, isn’t it? Looking past the outward appearance and into the heart, seeing the beauty behind the veneer, and being able to show compassion for weakness. I wouldn’t want any bystanders to judge you or write you off as a spoiled brat in Walmart, because they don’t know. They don’t know how alive and bright and funny and generous you are. They don’t know that you are the best helper I know or that your laugh can fill up a room or that you bring joy to everyone who knows you.

But I do. And I know your weakness. I know that you have trouble with self-control, and that you haven’t figured out yet how to handle your emotions when you are tired. And if I can remember those weaknesses in the context of who I know that you are, I can come alongside of you and direct you with grace.

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever…

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God…

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

You see, dear one, this is the grace that I have tasted. I do not normally have tantrums over slap bracelets in Walmart these days. But I do set my jaw and shake my fists when my plans do not go right, or when people do not act right, or when my emotions do not feel right. And I have learned, and am learning, that God’s grace extends to me even, and especially, in those moments. He doesn’t write me off as a spoiled brat. He sees Christ in me and lovingly refines me every day.

Yesterday did not get much better in the way of meltdowns until you crashed into bed at 7:00 last night. And I imagine we will have more days like this to come. But I pray that I will always remember to see past the frustrations and hear that little whisper behind me as I strive to shepherd your heart… “She is so sweet.”

And you are. I love you, sweet sweet girl.