Submission: The Other “S” Word

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My son absolutely loves to play basketball. He’s good at it.  One of the highlights of dreary Januarys and Februarys the last couple of years has been Noah’s Saturday morning games.  I praise God for making Noah’s strong body and for creating his sharp mind whenever my son is on the court.  It’s a joy to watch him play. 

On one of those Saturday mornings this past winter, my husband was helping out by keeping time and running the score board. Jason was positioned between both competitors’ benches. He did his volunteer job well, encouraged the players, and helped out the coaches however he could during timeouts and halftime as he was often called to do even in their absence.  I sat across the court watching the game with my daughter and the rest of Noah’s supportive family. 

Unfortunately, my son and his team, who were largely a successful winning team, had a bad day. As the game got away from them, my son got more and more frustrated.  He wasn’t used to losing and missing shots, and his little nine-year-old body showed more and more signs of stress with each run of the court. 

During a timeout towards the end of the game, Noah went to his father in tears. I could see Jason trying but failing to console him.  A few seconds later, Noah was told to sit down on the bench and pass a colored armband he was wearing to a teammate so that that person could enter the game in Noah’s stead.  Instead of handing the armband to his teammate graciously, Noah threw it to the ground with great flourish and a frustrated grunt.

I watched the whole scene unfold quietly until Noah was disrespectful to his teammate. I have zero tolerance for that kind of behavior.  Knowing that the outcome of the game had already been decided (Noah’s team was down at least 10 points with less than 2 minutes remaining), I made a quick decision to pull my son from the game to teach him to never act that way again.  I knew it would be a tough lesson, but I preferred to address unsportsmanlike conduct while Noah was still little. If left unchecked he would morph into a rude teenage ballplayer.

I rose from my seat and began to march determinedly around the perimeter of the court to get Noah while the coaches and players continued to discuss strategy during the timeout. However, when my feet began to make the final turn to approach Noah’s bench, Jason’s gaze stopped me in my tracks.  He lifted a palm and mouthed, “Stop!”

Before reacting in any way, two thoughts went through my mind almost instantaneously. One, I was just sure that Jason hadn’t seen Noah throw his armband, so I was also certain he had no idea why I was approaching the bench. Two, Jason’s mortified expression told me that my approach was embarrassing him.

Instead of pulling Noah out, I chose to obey my husband’s plea to “stop”. I turned on my heels, gritted my teeth, and went back to my seat still determined to address Noah’s behavior at the end of the game.

A few minutes later, the ending buzzer sounded. As players and family started to mingle in the center of the court, Jason approached me and said with a tone of finality, “Do me a favor.  Don’t ever do that again.”

I was nonplussed and angry. When I tried to explain that Noah had thrown an armband and been unkind to his teammate, Jason wanted to hear none of it.  My reasons for trying to pull Noah out didn’t matter. 

“Just don’t do it again,” he repeated firmly.

I intuitively knew the subtext of what he was communicating without ever hearing the words. I understood that Jason felt emasculated when I publically encroached on his territory as he parented and volunteered. Although the thought never crossed my mind, Jason felt I was saying to him and to the world watching that I didn’t trust him to do a good job- that I didn’t believe in him.

A war began to rage inside me. As I attempted to bite my tongue, my mind whirled with thoughts that went something like:

“I’m Noah’s mother! I have every right to make parenting decisions!”

And

 “How pathetic that he is so insecure! Why does he feel the need to impress spectators… strangers really?” (I’m just being honest here.)

But mostly, my will reared up and quietly raged:

“HE CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”

A still small Voice tried to pour water on the flames threatening to burn a hole through my body and incinerate my self-control.  

“Love is patient… love is kind…”

After honoring Jason’s initial wish for me to sit back down, I felt I had compromised and been considerate of Jason’s feelings. So, when he dismissed my explanation after the game, I had no patience left.  I also didn’t feel particularly kind. 

As I quietly fumed about not feeling truly heard, the Spirit whispered Ephesians 5:22:

 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

I inwardly balked at the instruction. By the time Jason and I made it to the car, I chose to squash God’s wisdom in favor of the whip that was my tongue.  I laid into my husband with the full force of my selfish will while ignoring God’s.  I said something about his pride being ridiculous (ignoring the pang of guilt when I felt the hypocrisy of my words).  The conversation quickly degenerated to a shouting match as we fought harder than we had in years.  The worst part was that I disrespected my husband in front of my children.

In short, I failed the test God had given me. Sigh.

Today I want to talk about the very volatile subject of submission. It’s such a difficult topic that I have tried multiple times to begin this entry but have been too spooked and overwhelmed to continue after typing only a few sentences.  The main reason tackling the subject has been so hard is because I know I haven’t even come close to mastering the command in Ephesians 5:22.  My doubts surface and say, “How could I possibly teach on submission without being hypocritical?” 

After praying for guidance, the Lord showed me where to begin: with the above story that demonstrates my failure. Ha! Of course!  Jesus requires my naked transparency and commands me to “first take the log out of my own eye [which I am currently working on], and then I will see clearly to take the speck out of my brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

I could spend time writing about what Jason did wrong in Noah’s game day scenario, but I won’t.  I am only responsible for my own actions/reactions.  Jesus asks me to work on ME and my plank, which brings me to my first piece of advice to wives.  In order for you to learn Biblical submission:

Work on you and you alone

Don’t be tempted to waste time asking God to change your man. Don’t spend your days making “helpful” suggestions on ways he could improve.  Your need to fix your hubby will only push him away because he’ll probably just hear your suggestions as critical nagging.   Solomon, who knew more about women than most said, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” (Proverbs 21:9) Again the wise king warns, “A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike…” (Proverbs 27:15) Yipes!  I certainly don’t want my lover to view my words as a constant dripping faucet! 

Instead of trying to play the role of the Holy Spirit in our husbands’ lives, we need to learn self-control and trust the Lord to deal with our mates in His time and in His way.   Our job is to try our hardest to let the Spirit change us and lead us to righteous behavior while encouraging our men and championing their strengths!  Oh how many marriages could be saved if we ladies could just follow this simple advice?! To put it most succinctly, a selfish woman dwells on the faults and failures of her partner and whines to Jesus for Him to change her husband.  A godly woman bravely asks, “Jesus, change me!”

It is in the spirit of that righteous “change me” prayer that I plunge into the controversial topic of submission with full steam and great faith.   The word submission can make even the godliest of women bristle, and with good reason.  Since the fall of man, men have used their strength and power to subdue and lord over us. For millennia and with few exceptions, women were seen as second class citizens, given no real right to participate in government or leadership, and granted no voice to speak out against cultural practices that continued to propagate our weaker status.  Women were used as pawns or property in political jockeying for power and control.  We couldn’t own property.  We couldn’t vote. We couldn’t drive.  Even today women around the world are mutilated, beaten, forced to hide behind veils, and enslaved.  Just last week, Nigerian Islamists stormed a schoolhouse where girls were taking exams because the militants thought it wrong to educate women.  Jewish men still pray the Talmudic prayer, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has not made me a woman.”   

Jesus never intended women to have this “less than” status. In fact, He was always elevating the role of women during His earthly ministry.  There are so many examples I can’t list them all, but here are a few:

  • In a culture where it was forbidden to teach women Scripture, Jesus did so boldly.
  • It was forbidden for a man to speak to women in public.  Jesus did so many times and expected women to demonstrate the same faith as men.  Jesus even spoke with the Samaritan woman and revealed to her that He was the Messiah.
  • Jesus gave the woman caught in adultery grace and treated her with dignity unlike her accusers who simply saw her as disposable property. 
  • Christ commanded Mary Magdalene to go and tell others that He had risen.  Mary was the first to take part in the Great Commission.

The rest of the New Testament is in agreement with the Gospels on the role of women. With one sweep of his pen, Paul gave women equal status with men when the apostle wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Even though God has demonstrated that He loves women and assigns the greatest of value to us, we have an enemy that seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. Because Satan hates God, he also hates women who are created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27) Therefore, the war against women rages on. Therefore, when I begin to speak to wives on submission to their husbands, many women fear that I am asking them to take a step backward and voluntarily agree to shackled wrists and feet.  I can assure you, Dear Reader, that this is not what I am asking!

(*I wish I didn’t even have to write this, but I feel compelled to pause here to address the devastating and always critical circumstance of spousal abuse lest someone misunderstand what I am trying to say. Please do not misconstrue my meaning here. I would never in a million years think it is okay for any man to abuse a woman. In fact, if a husband mistreats his wife, he has made the gravest of error and completely disregarded the Ephesians 5 mandate for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. A battered woman should escape a dangerous situation, and God is faithful to provide that way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13)).

To continue, what I am requiring is that we Christian women trust God and His wisdom over our own. For Yahweh declares, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) God has demonstrated that we can trust Him time after time.  Take a step of faith with me and trust Him at His Word. 

So what does God say about submission? Let’s read Ephesians 5:22 in context to get a better idea of what the Lord is asking of us wives.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,  that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,  that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.  For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-32)

OK. Taking a deep breath and starting with the most difficult command:

“Wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.” Ladies, I’m sorry to say there is no wiggle room here.  God made it clear He was serious when He led Paul to write that last part: as to the Lord.  We are to submit to our husbands as we submit to Jesus.  Ouch!

When I first was confronted with “as to the Lord”, my stomach fell to the floor and fear rose up to choke me like a noose. I cried out, “How can you ask this of me, Jesus? I can easily submit to You because I trust You completely.  You are GOD!  But submit to Jason like I submit to You?  You’ve got to be kidding!  Asking me to trust Jason with my LIFE when He has hurt me, failed me, and proved that he is all too human many times is terrifying!  This is too much!!!”

After my initial freak out, though, I began to reflect on the results of disobeying the command to submit to my husband on an individual level. For years I wished for a husband that was more involved.  I was frustrated with Jason’s lack of leadership in my home.  Instead of stepping up to lead, Jason took the road of passivity.  I was unbearably alone in training up our kids in God’s ways.  I walked around with a huge invisible weight on my back and resented the fact that Jason never seemed to want to help carry the load.  However, I had to admit to God and to myself that on the rare occasion when Jason did try to jump in and assist, I would criticize his efforts.  “Fold the clothes this way,” I’d say. “Don’t park there… park over THERE!”  Jason withdrew more and more preferring a comfy chair and the remote over a conversation with me.  And no wonder! Watching a game or hanging out with the guys spoke more to his heart and provided more validation than he usually got from his own wife.  

Then I wondered what the results of lack of submission in marriages were on a national level. Just a cursory glance told me that it was not good.  The divorce rate in America had risen 80% since 1970.  It is not a coincidence that radical feminists’ ideals took root in the hearts and minds of our daughters during this same period of time.  In 1960, only 11% of children lived apart from their fathers.  In 2010, that number had risen to almost 30%. I discovered that I was not alone in my frustration with Jason’s lack of interest in spiritual matters.  A typical congregation was 61% female and 38% male meaning that on any given Sunday there were 13 million more women in church than men.  

While feminists fought and won many battles for women’s rights, I observed that their once noble quest for equality had morphed into a movement that trampled boys. A few statistics that show this disturbing trend:

  • Women now surpass men in college degrees by almost three to two.
  • Boys are 30% more likely to drop out of school than girls, and girls consistently outperform boys at all levels of academia.
  • Boys are more likely to commit suicide and/or struggle with depression than girls.

While society has spent the last few decades empowering its girls, we have largely ignored the heart cry of boys who grow up to be disillusioned unmotivated men. There is an epidemic of prolonged adolescence in America.  A Failure to Launch is not just a movie title, it is a way of life for millions for 20 to 30 something men who still live at home.  Studies show, for example, that men ages 18-27 spend more time playing video games than 12-17 year-old boys!  While the guys flounder, teenage girls and young women encourage each other with chants of, “You go girl!” and sing songs with a united theme that says “I am woman, hear me roar!”  What’s worse, if ladies were honest, many would have to admit that they silently believe that men are bumbling characters not as capable of “doing it all” as the feminine sex (just watch your average American sitcom to see men scoffed at and marginalized). 

But can women do it all?  The stats above and current trends say that even if we try to hold down the fort alone, there is a tremendous cost for our stubborn need for independence.  While it is increasingly acceptable for a woman to begin and raise families alone because of the “who needs a man anyway?” mindset,  a woman’s need to have a husband and a child’s need to have a father cannot be erased even by the most militant of feminists. United Families International writes, “As men who would fulfill [husband and father] roles no longer take their place, women increasingly turn to government for support. They [radical feminists] are the greatest supporters of government subsidies and are angered when the taxpayer isn’t eager to give enough support to daycare, government health care, even school lunches. In short, they choose to have the government become their husband. What radical feminists seem not to realize is that by exploding the family, they are destroying the very institution that has protected and provided for women over most of human history.”

The irony of the postmodern “enlightened” feminist is that she is not modern at all. She is simply living out the curse God pronounced on humanity after the fall.  For the Lord said to Eve after she had disobeyed God by eating stolen fruit,

“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;

In pain you shall bring forth children;

Your desire shall be for your husband,

And he shall rule over you.”

(Genesis 3:16)

I want to focus on the phrase “your desire shall be for your husband.” I used to think that this meant that women would have an insatiable craving for their husbands’ time and attention.  After closer examination of the original Hebrew, however, I now understand that the Lord was speaking of Eve’s desire to usurp her husband’s position of leadership. When the Lord said to Eve, “And he shall rule over you,” He declared that Adam’s sinful nature would cause him to overpower her with ungodly dominion.  Clearly with the fall in Genesis 3 we see the beginning of the battle of the sexes.  Women will always be clawing to supplant men’s God given role of authority in the husband/wife relationship, and man will, in his fallen state, abuse his natural strength and position of power.  Scripture reveals that it is therefore my sinful nature that seeks to be critical and control Jason.  The “I can do it better” attitude, the “my way or the highway” need to control, the subtle jabs, and vicious comments all can trace their roots to the curse. 

Beneath my desire to control and reign in my relationship with my spouse, however, is a softer beautifully feminine wish to be taken care of, fought for, desired, and loved. The untarnished paradise of the Garden calls out to that fiercely strong woman inside. This renewed Julie is brave because she is open, vulnerable, and willing to risk her heart by putting her life in God’s hands.        

The world sees those who submit to authority as inferior and views those who are in positions of leadership as greater. However, in God’s economy, the world’s view of what’s important has been flipped on its head.  “The first are last and the last are first.” (Matthew 20:16).  We can look to none other than Jesus for an example.  The Son submitted to His Father in everything, but in no way was Jesus inferior to His Daddy.  Christ said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38) Jesus’s role was to submit to the Father’s will though He was in all ways equal.  Jesus submitted out of His great love for us.  Philippians 2:5-8, one of the most awe inspiring scriptures in the whole Bible says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

A woman is asked to submit because her role is to follow in the husband and wife relationship.  However, her value is still equal to that of a man as I’ve already demonstrated using scripture. This is a super important yet subtle concept to grasp! It takes more supernatural strength to trust and obey God in submission than it does to follow a deceived worldly heart and take control.  Submission requires us to open our hands in total surrender and trust in God’s promises. 

Instead of shrinking back from God’s command to submit to Jason as unto the Lord, God asks me to demonstrate great courage and strength by being the most vulnerable I have ever been.  Even my female body beautifully echoes the bold, selfless, openness the Lord planned in my marriage relationship.  With great trust and faith, I lower the shield around my heart and take a step out into an unknown world where Jason leads.  I am the steel in my husband’s spine because he knows I believe in him.  The Spirit whispers, “Be strong and courageous for the Lord will be with you wherever you go!” (Joshua 1:9)

What does God require of my husband in return for my trust in his leadership? Let’s look at [the best part] of Ephesians 5 again: J

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,  that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.  For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-32)

God asks Jason to love me as Christ loved the church. When I read this requirement, I know Jason got the tougher job!  Jesus’ love for the Church is perfect love.  Christ’s “love is patient, His love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. God’sLove does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-9)

Every girl dreams of being loved in such a way. I already am loved like this because Christ loved me and gave Himself up for me.  Because I am satisfied in God’s love, I can offer Jason grace when he fails, when he proves that he is human, and even when he isn’t obedient to love.

I began with a story of failure. I’ll end today’s entry with a tale of victory.  And true to the blog’s promise, it is the story of a miracle.

One day when I was first exploring what it looked like to submit to my husband on a day to day basis, Jason and I drove down a local road with Zoe and Noah in the backseat. We were ruminating over where to dine out for dinner.  He asked me, “What do you want for dinner?” Thinking this was a great opportunity to practice submission, I replied, “You pick!”  (For the record, I’m not saying that a woman can never pick a restaurant.  However, when a man hasn’t led much in a marriage relationship, it’s best to start out small.  Let your man try his hand at leading in a small matter.  He’ll gain confidence as you respond each time he leads with affirmation and encouragement.  Finally, your husband will have the courage to lead in the bigger more critical areas.)  As soon as Jason made a restaurant suggestion, I almost responded in a way that was borderline cliché by suggesting something else more to my liking even though I had just asked him to choose!  I am ashamed to confess the strength it took to not complain about his decision and instead say, “Okay, let’s go!”

We pulled into the parking lot and walked inside the little Mom and Pop place. That’s when God began to show off.  From the moment we sat down at our table in the dimly lit restaurant, I was absolutely astounded by the reward Jesus gave because of my one teensy act of obedience.  The owner of the restaurant greeted us and spoke tenderly to my children as a grandfather would his grandchildren.  We knew within seconds that he was a Christian.  His well worn finger pointed to the dark brown walls that surrounded us directing our eyes to pictures of smiling kids.  He said with pride, “These are my children!”  The owner explained that he worked and ran the diner just so he could make money to visit these pictured orphans in South America and minister to them.  He then went to the kitchen and brought out gifts for my children.  My daughter got a beautiful bracelet made by one of the owner’s orphan girls, and my son got a hand crafted wooden toy made by a young boy.  The man then ended our experience with a free desert for both Zoe and Noah.  As we prepared to leave the restaurant, I stood behind my husband who was paying the bill.  A small whiteboard sign sat on the floor near my left foot.  It read something, “I work so I can give.” I stared at the back of Jason’s dark haired head fighting back tears and thought, “Lord Jesus, how have I limited this man that You love because of my pride? By Your grace, God, help me to never get in the way again.”

God says that our work is to believe in the One He sent, Jesus Christ (John 6:29). Women, I call on you to do the hard work of believing that Jesus, the Word of God Who became flesh, is faithful to keep His promises.  Ladies, we work so we can give. By believing in God’s wisdom, we are empowered with the strength to submit and trust in our husband’s leadership.  In our obedience, we give to our husbands the most precious gift we could ever give them: the strength and encouragement to do the work God has prepared for them to do since the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10).  Our men will in turn give us the love we have always longed for and craved.  It is in this give and take that we become one.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery.” (Ephesians 5:31)

 

SOUCRES:

http://thisismarriage.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/the-failure-of-feminism/

http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/04/opinion/bennett-men-in-trouble/

http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/where-are-the-men/

http://www.livescience.com/5505-society-ignoring-boy-problems.html

Knock and Keep on Knocking

I’m not a naturally patient person.  While today’s fast food, text message, Instagram, I-need-it-now culture hasn’t helped me develop patience, Jesus has.  The fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) take years of walking with Jesus to cultivate.  While I can be patient and kind in my flesh for a short time, only the Holy Spirit can develop a heart that is truly patient and joyful. 

When I started praying for my husband’s salvation, I honestly expected a quick answer because I had been so loved and “spoiled” by my kind Daddy those first few months.  Living with Jesus as a baby Christian felt like living in a holy bubble.  Everything was sweet, colors were bright, and I was always protected.  Most importantly, God was merciful and gracious by answering many of my childlike prayers almost immediately.  When I prayed for my brother’s salvation, for instance, it happened within months!  Many days I would pray for the Lord’s provision because our budget was super tight, and within hours of those prayers, I’d often find an unexpected check in the mail or a surprise gift of food, clothing, or whatever it was that we needed.  One day I prayed that a high fever would leave my daughter.  She was well within ten minutes!  Sometimes my prayers were silly.  “Lord, please give me a good parking spot so I don’t have to walk in the rain!”  He almost always answered.  Eventually, though, I had to stop acting like a baby Christian and grow up a little. (1 Corinthians 13:11)  So, Father began to wean me of immediate answers so I could begin to crawl and then walk in faith.  He also allowed me to face trials and storms that refined and caused me to mature. 

I’m not going to lie.  The transition from baby Christian to toddler was hard!  When I prayed for Jason’s salvation, I was shocked when my prayer wasn’t answered as others had been.  Months and then years passed with no visible change in my husband’s heart.  In response, I’d cry manipulative tears to Jason and yes, even to God.  “Please change him!” I’d beg.  When that didn’t work, I‘d indignantly stomp away from God’s presence and peace to accomplish this important task on my own.  Like a three-year-old, my actions said to my Lord, “I do it by myself!”  I argued with Jason.  I coerced and reasoned.  When that didn’t work, I’d relent and admit it was beyond my power and then go back to praying harder.  I’d anoint his pillow and his shoes and weep into my pillow until it was ruined with tear stains.  Still my prayers for Jason’s salvation were not answered.  As my past entries have clearly demonstrated, God was not silent on my husband’s future salvation.  Jesus gave me words of encouragement and signs to keep me hanging on in faith that my prayer would eventually be answered.  God also stretched my faith further and promised that one day Jason would serve in youth ministry.  In order to see these promises, though, I would have to be patient whether I wanted to be or not!

After three or four years of praying fervently, however, my husband had almost no interest in the things of God.  It was about this time, however, that my prayers began to change.  I realized that the “change him” prayers were wrong.  Instead, I really needed to pray, “Change me.”  I searched the scriptures for much needed advice and decided to at least try to take the first steps to obey Peter’s instructions to unequally yoked spouses: “Wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives…” (1 Peter 3:1)

I’ll talk more about the often volatile topic of submission in another entry.  Today I’ll focus on the second half of Peter’s instruction when he said, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that it was my behavior, not my words, that would do more to win Jason to the Lord. 

Men are creatures of action.  They want to see results.  Advertisers know this, so men’s ads look very different than women’s.  To demonstrate the point, I suggest taking a trip to your local grocery store and meandering through the soap isle.  Look at the descriptions of men’s body washes and compare it to the descriptions of products made for women.  The difference is almost comical!  A man’s body wash might say something like, “Fresh.  Clean.  Triple action formula to remove daily dirt and grime.”  A women’s soap description might read something like, “Rich moisturizing soap that sooths and protects.  Beautifully scented and enriched with chamomile, hibiscus, and Vitamin E.  Relax and rejuvenate as you wash your cares away.”  If you watch TV ads, you’ll notice the same pattern.  Also notice how males spend their free time.  Think about the activities guys choose when spending time with other guys.  Gentlemen fish together, attend a sporting event, or canoe up a river.  Men were created to want to fix, do, take charge, and conquer.  In short, they want results!

In 1 Peter 4:1, the Lord wants wives trying to win their husbands to know their audience!  If we don’t, we can make the mistake of trying to win a guy with what comes naturally to almost every female: words and conversation.  Talking makes sense to us!  While men cultivate relationships with activity, women develop friendships face-to-face.  We meet for coffee or have breakfast together so we can talk, vent, and share!  God’s advice to me regarding winning Jason to Christ was to ignore my girlie instincts that told me to present hubby with lofty arguments for my faith (which he would probably consider nagging), but instead to change my behavior so Jason could see the results of living a life for Christ.  This request was a whole lot harder than giving a speech or well-reasoned argument! 

So, in short, I shut up.  I let the Holy Spirit speak, and I just continued to try to be more like Jesus every day.  I directed all that pent up talking energy at the Lord, kept praying, and never gave up!  I went to church.  I guided my children in the ways of the Lord as best as I could.  I served Him where and when I felt led. 

One of the ways that I chose to serve was in a ministry called Kairos Torch Prison Ministry.  For those that are familiar with fourth day movements like Walk to Emmaus and Great Banquet, Torch basically ministered in a similar way except inside prison walls to juvenile inmates.  Team members conducted three day weekend retreats on a biannual basis.  (To learn about 4th Day movements, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_day_movement .)  Torch team members then followed up weekend retreats with hour long mentoring sessions once a week for the next year (or until the inmate was released) to make sure boys were cared for, loved, taught, and discipled long after life changing weekends. 

During my very first weekend retreat inside the prison, a man from another Torch chapter in a different state came to observe our new team and give notes for improvement.  As I prepared to leave the facility after a long, exhausting, and exhilarating time with precious boys, the observer came up to me specifically and asked if I had ever attended a 4th day event like Great Banquet on the “outside”.  I hadn’t and in fact didn’t even know what he meant or that Walk to Emmaus or Great Banquet existed.  He suggested that I attend a weekend on the outside as soon as I had the opportunity. 

The very next day, I attended a Bible study with my mother that was being held at a local Christian radio station through Moody Bible Institute Broadcasting.  During that study, a woman I had never met approached me and said, “Can I sponsor you at a ladies’ Great Banquet event?”  Obviously, I knew immediately that this was a God moment, so I said, “Of course!”  Although I was in another city for the Bible study, the Banquet was to be held at my home church, and it was scheduled for that very weekend!  For a girl who doesn’t have a lot of patience, this kind of timing was AWESOME!  I knew I would find out what the Lord had in store for me in a few days!  I could not have been more excited.

As expected, my Great Banquet weekend was life changing.  I have never felt more loved by God’s people- the Church- than during those few days.  I won’t ruin the surprise for any reader who may be prompted to seek out and attend a 4th day weekend in your area by sharing many details about the weekend.  However, something happened that particular October ladies’ Banquet that is critical to my husband’s salvation story.

On Saturday evening, the women at Banquet prepared to go to dinner.  I waited in line to enter into Fellowship Hall where tables were set up and food was being served.  When I entered the room, a very polite volunteer greeted me kindly and offered to escort me to my table.  I took his arm, and we began to walk. 

Suddenly the Lord spoke, “Ask him his name.” 

Um… okay.  “What’s your name?” I asked in obedience.  The young man replied, “My name is Jason.”  I started to cry almost immediately because I knew what the Lord was saying.  Because I had spent years walking with Jesus, I knew His character enough to know by now that this was another sign that He was going to save my husband.  When Jason saw my tears, he began to fill the dead air with more conversation.  “I attended the men’s Great Banquet two weeks ago.  It changed my life.  I gave my life to the Jesus and now I’m here to serve as I was served.”  Wow.  It just got better and better!

I immediately had a new mission: GET MY HUSBAND TO THE NEXT MEN’S BANQUET!!!  How was I supposed to do that, though, without nagging (something the Lord specifically warned me against in 1 Peter)?  I went home from my weekend and immediately asked both Jason and my brother to go to the next men’s Banquet scheduled for January.  (I had to wait 3 months for the next event!  Ahhhh!)  I thought it would make Jason more comfortable if he had a friend to go with him and thus make it more likely that he would agree to attend.  Of course my brother, an “all in” believer, was willing to attend. My husband’s answer was, “I’ll think about it.”  What a frustrating response!  I couldn’t push him on it though.  I had to be patient and believe that he would somehow make it to the weekend in January.

Finally, the month of January came and Jason finally agreed to go.  I was bursting with excitement because I just knew that all those years of tears and waiting were almost over.  My prayers were about to be answered!  A few days before it was time to drop Jason off at the church for Banquet, we went out for a dinner date.  After years of reserved silence on the issue of his salvation, I finally spoke.  I know that I wasn’t 100% loving and patient as we chomped our burgers and chewed over this most important of all issues.  I could and still can be a bulldog when it comes to apologetics and matters of faith.  However, I knew the Lord led me to point out something painfully obvious that evening. I told Jason quite frankly that he couldn’t spend his life living on the fence or just ignoring Jesus.  In so doing, he was really saying no to Jesus’s offer of grace.  I said, “Indecision is no.”  Jason got angry and clamed up as usual as I began to push- so I dropped the subject and moved on to safer topics.  I sighed inwardly knowing that I had done everything I could do- it was up to the Lord and His timing.

When I went to Jason’s Great Banquet closing ceremony, I found that the Lord did indeed answer my prayer to save Jason.  My husband went up to speak to the crowd gathered, and because he was choked up, he could only manage to get out, “I’m on a new path.”  I cried.  Others sitting with me in the audience who knew my story rejoiced with me and held my hand.  I no longer had to walk the faith walk alone in my marriage- Jason would be walking with me and my King.  I would learn later that Jason had been moved and forever changed by the true agape love and transparent fellowship of other believing men.  The brotherly love that he felt in that vulnerable, tough, broken, and rugged group had chipped away at any remaining doubts leading to final surrender at the cross.  Praise Jesus!

Because of my experience with Jason, I have come to believe that many churches have missed the mark in ministering to men.  Again, it’s clear that men want and are moved by action.  How much “do” can they experience on Sunday mornings when they are expected to sit, listen, and take notes for an hour and fifteen minutes?  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for teaching, expository preaching, and studying the Word of God.  However, I am of the opinion that it might be a good idea to pair solid Biblical teaching with outreach events beyond the walls of our church buildings so they our men can experience the love and grace of God first hand while “doing”.

Through the years, I’ve also come to the conclusion that men need other men. I spent so many years talking about Jesus with no change in Jason’s heart. However, Jason spent one weekend with “the guys” and that did it! While I rejoiced in Jason’s rebirth, there was a teenie part of me that was indignant. I thought, “One weekend? SERIOUSLY? Why would he listen to them and not to me?” But then I noticed with cursory glance at my Bible that Jason was no different than other men in scritpture. Moses needed Joshua.  David needed Jonathan.  Timothy needed Paul.  The disciples needed each other.  Even Jesus needed Peter, James, and John!   It’s clear that men desperately need other men to grow! For this reason, I began to pray shortly after Jason’s Banquet that he would get a spiritual mentor. The answer came a couple of years later when the Lord sent a man named John to pour into my husband’s life. The friendships that he has developed with other Godly men have done more to help him in his walk than I can express here. God is so good!

A year to the month after Jason’s Banquet, he was baptized.  He is currently serving every Sunday as a teacher in the youth ministry at our church and hopes to serve Jesus in full time ministry one day soon as God has willed and promised. 

The difference this time is that we can (hopefully) patiently wait together for this particular promise to be fulfilled.

Luke 11:19 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

Gifts

When I got married, I was far away from God. Then, in His great mercy, Jesus called me to Himself. Although I rejoiced in my rebirth, the longer I walked with God, the more I could see that there was a problem. A BIG problem. I was living unequally yoked with my husband (2 Corinthians 6:14). Simply put, Jason and I were not walking on the same narrow path that leads to Christ. In fact, we weren’t even going in the same direction. Jason was heading south. I was heading north. God never intended His children to live this way because it is painful, annoying, frustrating, and divisive all at the same time.

As I reflect on this time, I am aware perhaps for the first time of how difficult my transformation had to have been for Jason. In the span of a few short months, almost everything that connected us when we had first dated dissolved away. I was no longer interested in the same movies, TV shows, or songs, I had no interest in partying or attending shallow gatherings where conversation was blurred by alcohol, and I had very different ideas about how to raise our baby girl.

At first, my priority was to “get Jason saved”. In my zealous desire to see his salvation, I did absolutely everything wrong. I remember one day in particular. I stood in our bedroom crying like an idiot sobbing into his chest, “I don’t want you to go to hell!” I lamented. Poor guy! I would give anything to have a video of this encounter so I could see the look on his face. It must have been a mix of amusement and annoyance. How did he ever endure my dramatics?

While my heart was in the right place, I was trying to do the work that only the Spirit can do. Instead of taking my fear for Jason’s soul to the only Person that could do something about it, I tried to win him for Christ using my own efforts. I anointed his pillow with oil, his shoes, his coat, and his car seat. I lectured often, probably making him feel guilty and put off, instead of feeling loved and drawn to the light.

Slowly, when I saw that my manipulations were clearly having no effect on Jason, I began to retreat emotionally. I stopped trying so hard. Instead, I directed my energies outside my home. I sought solace and fellowship with Christ, with my parents and brother, and with a Christian friend that I met at work. I poured out my heart to my friend instead of to my husband. I dreamed of serving the Lord in many ways, but never really included Jason in any of those visions and plans.

The end result of this was obvious: my heart became almost completely detached. I went to church by myself. I prayed and worshiped by myself. I even traveled without Jason or my kids. After a few years, because I had not invested my time and heart into my marriage, I no longer cared about my marriage. I just wanted out! “He doesn’t understand me!” I complained to God! “He’s difficult. He’s stubborn. He doesn’t love me like Christ loved the church, nor does he have any interest in trying!” I felt trapped and hopeless many days.

The lowest point came when I sold my wedding ring so I could afford to rental truck to move closer to my parents. I wanted to be nearer to the support system that I felt I needed to survive, and I no longer cared about Jason’s opinion on the matter. The ring and our marriage had little or no value.

Looking back at this time, I can see how selfish I was. Don’t get me wrong. Jason wasn’t blameless. But my heart was steeped in self pity and entitlement. God, in His patience and loving kindness, endured my tantrums and toddler like maturity. Hindsight allows me to stand in awe at the Lord. He was doing work in me to prepare me to be a partner instead of an island, and as always refining me in the process. Praise Him Who is altogether holy and Who knows me better than I know myself!

There are two things that kept me clinging to hope and to my marriage vows throughout these years. The first and all encompassing reason was my love for Jesus. I loved my Lord (Lord = King and Master) more than my own desire for happiness. So, I chose to die to myself and lay down my desire for temporal happiness as a sacrifice to my King. I knew from all the hours I had spent studying scripture that God hates divorce. He hates divorce because He is in the business of restoration and reconciliation. In fact, all God’s efforts throughout the history of man have been to restore our relationship with the Father that had been severed in the Garden. How could I not then continue to try to maintain the connection with Jason? I was self aware enough to know that giving up would be because of my own hard heart and selfishness. I also knew others were watching my walk with God- many many others. I prayed for these precious souls almost nightly. They needed salvation just like I did. What would it say to them if I simply walked away from my marriage? What would divorce say to my kids? If I could stand firm and hold fast, I knew that our home would serve as a much better launching pad for their future service and ministry in God’s Kingdom. I had stay married if only for them! Finally, Jesus hates divorce because marriage is the only earthly relationship and institution that echoes Christ’s relationship with the Bride, the Church. This is a great mystery, and I wanted to uncover that mystery! I’ll admit this daily death to self was hard. Hard doesn’t begin to describe it really. It was gut wrenching and heart clinching- especially when Jason failed me. When he hurt me. The worst pain I endured was when he was aloof to the efforts I made to try and build upon our crumbling relationship. Throughout it all I continued with Jason because I loved Jesus. When I was weak willed, He was strong. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The second reason I stuck it out had to do with a promise. In my communion and conversations with God in prayer, Jesus said that Jason was called to youth ministry. He promised that one day Jason and I would plow side by side, equally yoked, in God’s service. This promise was confirmed by a precious few (including the mysterious woman who wrote me the encouraging letter described in my last post). The promise was given before Jason was saved, and it took faith to believe. I may have lacked discipline at this point in my walk. I may have been selfish. The one thing the Lord has always given me in abundance is faith. So, I clung to this promise with all my might during the really really tough days.

As I clung to this promise, the Lord would often remind me of the reasons I fell in love with Jason. Back in the summer before we married in a hurried frenzy, we worked together at a YMCA summer camp. He was one of the associate directors of the camp, and I was a lowly camp counselor. Growing up, I had a reputation for being observant. I had always watched and observed others closely, and Jason was no exception. I spent many days that summer with my probing eyes on Jason. As I watched him work, my respect for him grew. The kids at the camp absolutely adored him. He was brash, cocky, and could handle both the campers and parents in an unfamiliar inner-city population with ease. His brutal honesty was something that I wasn’t used to, but I loved it nonetheless. I knew exactly where I stood after a conversation with Jason. I also recognized and valued Jason for his strengh. There were many days that summer when I struggled to control my assigned group of campers. Because I had had such a sheltered suburban upbringing, I had no idea how to handle the problems and disrespect that urban kids can throw at authority figures. So, when I was failing, Jason would come and literally rescue me. At first, it wasn’t preferential treatment. He rescued all counselors who struggled because he just had a way with the students. Then, after we started dating, he became my knight in shining armor whenever I faltered or was overwhelmed. I felt protected, cared for, and loved just knowing that he was in the same building. Years later, God would constantly remind me of these qualities, and would further promise that all of Jason’s Godly characteristics would be put to use for His glory… someday. So, I hoped, prayed, and believed the word spoken over my husband.

After that low day I used my wedding ring to pay for a moving truck, things started to change. God really began to work on my isolated detached heart. It was during this time that Jesus stripped almost all material things away. The only thing I had left to focus on was my own selfish ways. Eventually, I understood that I had gotten it wrong when I had spent all those hours serving as only a single person should! In typical Julie style, I had run ahead of God hoping to do “big things” for Him. All my ambitions, dreams, and desires to participate in great missions seemed like good ideas. However, the root of those plans was selfish. They were my dreams and really had nothing to do with God’s will for my life. The Lord had to use the hook on His Shepherd’s staff to pull me back to Him and His heart and will. I had to repent of my ways and behave differently! Again, I had to lay down my dreams and die to myself. My desire to “go” and “do” for the Kingdom would have to be put on the back burner for a time while I concentrated on far more pressing matters: loving my husband and children. Jesus beautifully and kindly taught me that being a good mother and wife was just as important to Him as feeding orphans and visiting prisoners.

One evening during this season, I was spending some time walking around the local town square with my twin brother. We were chatting like we always do when my best friend and I get together and looking for some place tasty to have dinner. As we walked passed little boutiques and shops, I saw an advertisement for a beautiful wedding band set. I frowned down at my naked ring finger and prayed a silent repentant prayer, “Lord, I would really like to have a wedding ring.” God responded with one of those goosebump raising replies that indicate He is indeed sovereign and the examiner of all hearts. He said, “You will get a ring when you are ready.” Wow. How much had been said and implied in that one small kiss of a sentence? He knew I was working on changing the direction of my heart- and recognized my effort. Jesus also had said with only a few words that I hadn’t arrived yet. Finally, enclosed in those words was a promise: I would get a ring when my heart had matured and was spiritually ready to be married. “OK, Lord. I’ll wait on Your timing,” I replied.

A few months passed. At first, I impatiently waited for a ring to mysteriously fall from the sky and drop into my lap. That never happened. The daily grind and monotonous tone of my life continued to try to wear down my resolve to stay faithful to my vows and persuade me to wave a white flag of defeat. Throughout this time as always, I sought strength and encouragement to continue in the Body of Christ. Because I loved writing, I found solace and kindred spirits in an online Christian forum. I met so many beautiful people from across the country and around the word during the days I was active in this online thriving community. I established life long intimate connections with a few precious saints including a friend that lives in North Carolina, one in Illinois, one in Washington, and still another in Oklahoma.

One day on the forum, a beautiful artistic lady living on the east coast named Laurel wrote an open message to members describing a dream she had had the night before. Laurel knew she was to paint a picture of two children dressed in black, and that the children were connected to the forum. After reading the description of her dream, I knew that the picture she was describing was a recent photo of my children! When I sent her this particular photograph, she quickly wrote an ecstatic reply confirming that, yes, these were indeed the children she saw in her dream! Laurel promised to begin working on painting my beloveds and to send the painting to me when she was finished. I was flabbergasted! Laurel knew that I was dabbling in painting myself. What she didn’t know was that I had given all my creations away. I thanked God. We do reap exactly what we sow (Galatians 6:7).

During spring break 2008, my daughter and I made a trip to Oklahoma to visit one of my forum friends, Valerie. It was a great time in the Lord! Valerie has four daughters, so Zoe played and connected with her kids while Valerie and I prayed, laughed and fellowshipped. The whole time I was gone, however, I missed my family. In fact, the theme of the entire trip was family. I knew that God was honored and served by how His beautiful daughter and my friend served her husband, daughters, and parents. She was a model of womanhood, and I wanted to be as beautiful as she was! As I drove back home after my few days in Oklahoma, the closer I got to Indiana, the longer the miles became. I was so excited to see my husband and son! I couldn’t wait to get home, throw my arms around Jason, and begin to love him as I had seen Valerie love.

I pulled into my apartment complex and lugged my bags up the stairs. I remember that I was completely alone, so I must have dropped off my daughter to see her grandparents as she had probably missed them terribly while she was in Oklahoma. When I got to my door with my keys in hand, I saw that a big, square, brown paper wrapped package was sitting there waiting for me. I knew instantly from the package’s shape that it was the painting Laurel had made me. When I opened it, I cried. Here is the painting:

kids

Of course the first thing I wanted to do after opening the painting was to write Laurel a gushing thank you note. How could I convey how much her gift meant to me? I sat down at my computer and quickly logged into the online forum with shaky fingers.

Suddenly, Jason burst through the door. He was home early from work. “I have something for you,” he said. His eyes were excited and my heart fluttered. As he walked towards me with purposed steps, he reached into his pocket. To my utter shock, he pulled out a wedding ring. Not just any wedding ring. I recognized it immediately as my grandmother’s wedding ring that had been on her hand for 45 years.

That did it. I SCREAMED with shock and joy at the overwhelming grace of God.

I knew exactly what the Father was saying in giving me these two precious presents on the same day. The fact that the painting and ring had arrived within minutes of each other was… well even now words fail. Jesus was saying that my heart had indeed moved back home towards my husband and children. My heart… HAD CHANGED! I shook. I cried. I worshipped. Only the Lord could have orchestrated such magnificent gifts in His glorious, extravagant, endless love and perfect timing.

I called my mother immediately to thank her for giving me Grandma’s ring. When my mother didn’t answer her cell phone, I left a tearful message of thanks. My throat was thick as I struggled to form coherent but inadequate words. (My mother saved particular voicemail message and I believe still has it in her saved messages today.) What I didn’t know that afternoon but learned in a later conversation was that while I was in Oklahoma, God had spoken directly to my mother instructing her to give me the ring. Of course He had! I’m so glad she obeyed. Only later was I able to tell Mom the whole story and explain why the gift had meant so much to me.

I can’t lie. Things didn’t magically get better with Jason and I after this day. I didn’t find myself at the end of a some fairytale living out the words “happily ever after”. In some ways, things got tougher. However, change and progress is slow but as steady and faithful as the sunrise. Jesus promises to finish the work He begins (Philippians 1:16).

I will end this entry on a very happy note: God did keep his promise to save Jason. When I stopped “trying” and began to love, Jason became curious. (More on this later!) Today, he is currently serving in youth ministry and hopes to work as a full time youth pastor soon. God’s Word and His promises are true (2 Corinthians 1:20).

I have seen miracles, and they are precious and fabulous to behold.

Mysterious Letter

When I gave my life to Christ, I experienced rebirth, a new joy, and contentment I had never known. However, just as scripture promises, God began to refine me in fire. (1 Peter 4: 12:19) In a slow, loving, relentless burn, The Lord began to rest His finger on dark areas in my heart. I prayed, “Lord, make me like you.” He answered by illuminating sinful areas, and I was changed and sanctified. Holy is His Name.

One dark heart area was a love of money and material things. My husband, Jason, and I had made poor financial choices out of both ignorance and selfishness (wanting to live beyond our means). God was displeased by my material focus. So, in the span of a year, I lost my teaching job when my school rifted every employee that had been with the district three years or less, I foreclosed on a house, my car was repossessed, and I declared bankruptcy. All my “stuff” was burned away so the Lord could show me this: I could not serve God and the world at the same time.

After this season of purging, I could honestly say that material things meant nothing. The lesson stuck because they still mean squat. Jesus was and is all I need!

Another area that God began to work on was my marriage. I could write a whole novel about this subject, but for now I’ll just focus on the fact that I went into marriage with a totally wrong attitude. I foolishly believed the lies of culture and bought the idea that a husband would make me happy. When the lovey-dovey butterflies flew away and the daily grind hit, I was too spoiled to want to do the work true intimacy requires and put Jason first.

I was also unequally yoked. Again, I will write more about this later to hopefully encourage those out there living this reality. Life as a mid-twenties married Jesus girl whose husband wasn’t remotely interested in the things of God was tough. The hardest part of being unequally yoked was not being understood. Jason was supposed to be my best friend. Instead, there were many days I felt like he looked at me with a puzzled expression as if I were an alien. I do not want to dishonor Jason. He was always supportive and never once tried to hinder my walk with Christ (God knew what I could handle). His apathy, however, was agonizing.

During this time, I was also a mother of two children under six-years-old. God says that women are saved by childbearing (1 Timothy 2:15). When women nurture, we pour our lives into another human so that they can flourish and grow. As I loved my kids, I began to understand true love. It’s selfless. It’s raw. The act of loving can be exhausting. God’s fire burned hot and bright as I parented my children. I discovered, to my dismay, that I had a temper! I was not a naturally patient person. Worse, some days I didn’t want to be a mother! I wanted to have my weekends free to do whatever it was that my will desired. However, day after day, as I loved and served my family despite my selfish desires and wishes, the light inside me grew brighter and dark spots were swallowed up by God’s glory.

It was through these and many other trials that Father made me more like His Son. Some days I felt strong in battle. However, there were many days I felt overwhelmed and weary. Instead of running the faith race with purpose and joy, I wanted to sit down on the curb in defeat.

There was one day in particular in this season that I was completely spent. In typical dramatic Julie fashion, I sat under my kitchen table sobbing. I was literally like a child wanting to hide from the scary world outside. Pain laced through my heart. How could I continue in my marriage when I didn’t felt loved or understood? Why did God have to take my car too? Noah wouldn’t sleep through the night and I was exhausted. How would I sit through my son’s cries at 3 AM another night? “Oh, Father, I can’t go on!” I silently cried. “I just cannot go on!”

Eventually I crawled out from under the table… probably to go hide under my covers in my bed. I know I called in sick at work that day because I couldn’t face a classroom of alternative students (many of my kids had probation officers, had no real parent at home, and were always high maintenance). All my reserves had been exhausted, and I needed God to intervene.

The next day, I drove to work on a sunny morning. I watched a happy sunrise with sarcasm and brooded over the fact that the day did not reflect my mood. I knew in a few minutes I would have put a smile on my face and be present and available to students who were needier than my own children. “How am I going to make it through this day, Lord?” I wondered.

When I sat down at my desk, I opened a green planner to read the notes the sub had left the day before. To my complete shock, a stranger had written a letter. It had absolutely nothing to do with lesson plans or my students’ behavior.

As I read my substitute’s words, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. She acknowledged that Jesus knew my life was overwhelming. She encouraged me to continue on in my marriage, and promised that God would use my husband and I for His glory. She compared us to two different fruits. Jesus had put us in a blender. She said, “The blending of the two fruits would be loud and fast. Afterwards, you, as one, will be offered as a pleasing drink.”

I was speechless. All I could think was, “!!!

The last line of her letter read: “God sees and loves your #worship.” How… did… she… know? The simple sentence caused me to weep.

What this beautiful stranger didn’t know but the Holy Spirit did was that I spent hours a day praising God. I danced, sang, and loved Jesus passionately as a bride adores a groom. Christ had captivated my heart and I adored Him. Many days I walked into work with water stains on my top because of all grateful tears I had shed during the commute. After awhile, my daughter stopped asking, “What’s wrong, Mommy?” when she saw my puffy swollen eyes. She knew my tears were for Jesus.

The fact that Christ saw my worship and loved me back was enough to keep me going. The letter’s last line alone filled my tank for weeks. No… that’s wrong. Years.

The words about my marriage I didn’t fully understand. I did know that I should and could hang on to my vows. God had made a great promise in this letter, but it required me be strong and ignore my flesh when it told me to run. “Oh Jesus, I can do that. For You, Lord, I can do that!”

I wanted to call and thank the woman who had been there to sub for me the day before. I wanted to tell this prophet of God how much her obedience in writing had meant. I knew that in order to hear the Lord as she obviously did, it took great personal sacrifice and prayer. I frantically called my district’s sub office to get her name, email, number… anything! There was no record of her. No one knew anything about her! My coworkers had never seen her before, and she never came back to sub at my school again.

I don’t know why I didn’t save the letter. I could kick myself for not saving it. If I still had it, I would frame it. What this servant of God did in writing those words was to encourage a sister in Christ who was failing.

The letter also taught me an undeniable truth: that Jesus is El Roi- God Who sees (Genesis 16:13). Christ knew exactly where I was spiritually. He saw that I was hurting and weak. God did not leave me that way, because I am His daughter! Jesus sent His servant, a complete stranger, to both give me a day off of work and write words that still encourage me to this day.

Oh Lord God, you are so merciful and loving. I pray that those that read this story, will also know You, El Roi. We all crave to be known and understood. You, Jesus, SEE! You know us better than we know ourselves, and Your love shines and strengthens all.

All glory and honor to His Name.