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.