It’s been a few a years since I said anything about Good Friday. It’s been a few years since I’ve even said anything ON Good Friday. I usually can’t because every thing I ever thought to say sounded vain or trite or both. There’s nothing anybody can say that could add to the miracle of what happened on this day, and I always fear to cheapen it. Or to make it about me or what I think. Or to act as though I have some deep understanding, or that I am some very-enlightened, always-humble, spiritual soul. Because I’m not.
Good Friday takes my breath away every year because that’s what happens when you get the wind knocked out of you. When you fall flat on your face and start feeling less “humbled” and more “humiliated.” It takes your breath away.
This year I’m thinking a lot about what Jesus said on the cross. He said, “It is finished.”
It: The work of love. The work of salvation. The sacrifice. The ransoming of billions and billions of souls. The thing that Jesus came to earth to do: save us.
I’m listening to this song by Matt Papa this year. I hope you will too.
“The earth shook and trembled
The sun bowed it’s head
The veil of the temple was opened for men
As Jesus went down in the cold of the grave,
Defeated the darkness when He overcame
The keys of the kingdom were placed into hands
Of children and priests and of fishers of men
Throughout generations his voice will be heard
Creation resounds the victorious words!
‘It is finished’
It is done
To the world salvation comes
Hell was silenced when you cried..
It is finished.”
(The official music video contains scenes from The Passion of the Christ. If you think you might find this troubling or too difficult to watch, maybe just listen.)
A few weeks ago I received my favorite text message ever:
It was like a dream come true. DO WE GET TO OVER-ANALYZE THIS FOR DAYS, GAILY BEATING THE DEAD HORSE INTO THE GROUND WHILST EATING ICE CREAM IN OUR PAJAMAS?
Since then, we’ve talked a lot about healthy relationships, pacing things, guarding hearts, et al. The only real difference between college and now is that today I have the benefit of having been married for seven years. So, GAME CHANGER.
One of the things I told my anonymous friend, and something I really believe, is that time and pace are just tools to make sure you get real answers to the right questions.
So – we’re having this conversation and I’m feeling maybe a little too enlightened when my friend says,
“So, what are the right questions?”
Yeah. Here’s the thing about that. NOBODY KNOWS.
But I spent a few days thinking about it, and I asked some married friends that are smarter than me, and so, together, we give you:
10 Right Questions to Answer About the Person You’re Dating
1.Listen to him eat a bowl of cereal. Is that sound something you can tolerate for the rest of your life? THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Treat this issue with the respect it’s due.
2. Does he exhibit self-control? You do not want to be married to someone with no self-control. Think finances, think housework, think fidelity, think EVERY AREA OF LIFE.
Look for: Does he put off or blow off other responsibilities to spend time with you? If so, it’s easy to feel “Yay! Chemistry! I’m a PRIORITY.” But it can be a red flag. Does he push boundaries physically? If he does, don’t think, “Yay! He can’t get enough of me!” Instead, ask yourself, “Is he exhibiting self-control?”
Now substitute “self-control” with another character trait – maybe kindness, or patience, or courage, or honesty. All the right questions will point you to character. Chemistry and compatibility matter just as much, but they’re easy to see. After just a few dates, you know. The right questions don’t answer, “Do we fit? Do we click? Is there something special here?” Because, duh. The right questions answer “What kind of character does this man have? What kind of habits? What is he made of, on the inside, through and through?”
3. Is he investment-minded? Relationships die if they aren’t tended. Committed to stay and committed to work are two totally different things. It’s very 2014 to “chill” and “hang out” and “do something.” But listen – if someone asks your guy “What are you going to do this weekend?” and he says “I’m going to spend time with my girlfriend, because that’s important,” MARRY THAT DUDE.
Look for: Does he ask intentional questions? When you’ve told each other all your stories, will you have made your own, together? Is he relationally intelligent? (When I asked my married friends what questions they would recommend asking/discovering/settling at least 85% of them said: ”DOES HE SPEAK HER LOVE LANGUAGE? DOES HE VALUE SPEAKING IT? WILL HE TRY TO LEARN HER LOVE LANGUAGE? IS HE EVEN PHYSICALLY CAPABLE?” So, that’s kind of a huge deal.)
4. Do you respect his decisions and his decision-making skills? Not whether or not you can influence them, or whether he is willing to defer some things to you. I mean, THAT, obviously, but don’t stop there. Ask, as my very wise friend Sarah suggested, “Left to his own devices, does she trust him enough that she can respect and submit to the decisions that he makes? If not, don’t marry him.”
Look for: The things he values, the way he spends his time. If you can’t get on board with his life decisions so far, do not pass go; do not collect bridal shower presents.
5. Does he apologize? This question is the one that garnered the most vociferous, vehement, visceral reaction amongst my married friends. Does he apologize? How? It speaks to humility, respect, self-confidence, and a willingness to work at relationship.
Look for: Does he apologize to other people? (I only recently learned that there is a “Languages of Apology” book/assessment, in the same vein as Love Languages. Worth looking into.) And listen: apologies are sexy.
6. How does he fight? Hot or cold? Right away or the next day? In straight-up specifics, or in softer generalities? Does he call names? Is he sarcastic? Because IT’S GONNA HAPPEN, LOVE BIRDS. And you need to know, is this the man I want to fight with for the rest of my life?
7. ”It’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favorite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party” -Nick Hornby If you had to listen to his music on a road trip, how soon into the drive would you try to throw yourself from the window of a moving vehicle?
8, 9, and 10. The three things that couples fight about the most (and the worst) are money, sex, and kids. That’s it. The trifecta. Money, sex, and kids. There are one million questions wrapped up in money, sex, and kids, and one million blog posts that explore them. I’m not adding to that number today. Google it, find a list, ask them all.
What you really need to know is, when you’re all twitterpated, and in love, and your hormones come out to play, you can’t think clearly anyway – so if you’re reading this you’re probably already screwed. But it’s okay. It can be pretty wonderful. :)
What would you add? What do you think is the most helpful, absolutely-must-settle-before-progressing, dating question? My anonymous friend and I want to know!
My middle child is my sensitive child. Sam feels things first. Changes in his environment, tweaks to his schedule, tensions in relationship – they’re all palpable to Sam. He notices and responds.
Whenever I visit with someone I love, I think,
“I hope they get to see the real Sam.”
They usually don’t. A new person in the vicinity is just enough change for Sam to holster his magic. He keeps it close to the vest.
I used to feel sad, because I knew the world was missing out. It was difficult to know that I had this treasure of a child and that even those closest to me would never really know him. When you have great joy, you want to share it. It’s why we photograph and Instagram, it’s why we call and text and “guess what!” It’s why we shout love from the rooftops. Sam is the greatest joy, and I so wanted the world to know him.
But these days, instead of feeling sad , I choose honored. I’ve begun to understand that all mothers keep their children’s secrets. I am the guardian of the great joy that is Sam at his most free, most comfortable, most true. I have the blessed privilege of being the human with whom he feels at home. It’s hard sometimes, to choose honored over sad, because the compulsion to shout him out and show him off is still so great. So I think of Mary, the young mother of Jesus, who “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2).
The shepherds were out shouting the glories of God and angels and the infant King Jesus, because great joy wants to be shared, but Mary treasured and pondered. A young mother, just like me, keeping her baby’s secrets.
I suspect this secret-keeping, this guarding of beautiful little selves, is how the universe pays us back for stretch marks. Oh, did we ever get the good end of that deal.
Debtors aren’t debtors because of misunderstandings. (Or oversights, inconsideration, or failed communications.) Debtors are the people to whom you could say, “You abused me. You took advantage of me. You injured me. You were wrong. You owe me.”
Debtors didn’t offend us; debtors owe us.
If, when you consider where you should extend forgiveness, you think first of workplace foibles – of excusing tardiness, dismissing gossip, and generally tolerating annoyingness – then your struggle isn’t unforgiveness. Your struggle is being too easily offended.
If it’s lack of common courtesy (or sense) that burns you up, you don’t need to forgive as much as you need to get over it.
I am wary of extending cheap grace and calling it forgiveness. I’m afraid that, when challenged by the doctrine of forgiveness, we choose to forgive foolishness, because it’s too hard to forgive debts.
Cheap grace is:
“She took my baby name even though she knew I wanted to use it, but I forgive her.”
“He clocks out early every day and I have to clean up alone, but I forgive him.”
“She didn’t text me back, but I forgive her.”
Of course these offenses should be resolved, lest bitterness take root and brotherly love erode over time. But if these are the sorts of things you pride yourself in forgiving? Well, that forgiveness didn’t cost you much. Your personal preference if anything. It’s cheap grace.
Jesus didn’t die on the cross so you could politely tolerate annoyances or learn to let go of frustrations. Frustrations don’t require the shedding of blood to be set right. Nobody ever had to die to make up for being kind of a jerk.
But the debt we owed to the God who requires justice? That debt had to be paid in blood. For generations God’s people slayed a million lambs on a million alters, sin offerings, blood in their place. They did it right up until Jesus put an end to it. He was the spotless animal, the sacrifice – the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. When Jesus died in your place, He didn’t do it because he was frustrated with you. He did it because you owed a debt you could not pay and live.
He demonstrated radical, scandalous, unthinkable, could-only-be-divine grace. And it cost Him.
The gospel is not a story of cheap grace.
So as I live out the gospel, I dare not cheapen it.
“But where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.” The bigger the offense, the bigger the forgiveness. That’s how it works in God’s economy.
To forgive our debtors will cost us. If it doesn’t cost us, they weren’t debtors. Real grace is anything but cheap.
I had this post half-written, waiting in my drafts, when I saw this article from the New York Times called “Portraits of Reconciliation.” I saw the first image and my heart broke and leapt at the same time. I knew, “It’s time.”
The piece is a collection of portraits of victims of the Rwandan genocide with their perpetrators. The perpetrators that killed their husbands and fathers and children. The perpetrators that burned their houses down. The perpetrators THEY FORGAVE.
This is not cheap grace. This is huge, agonizing, torturous loss, and huge, lavish, unimaginable mercy. It was difficult for me to read, because my insides ache to think what this kind of forgiveness costs. But it challenged me. It forced me to consider my own ugliness – that I am first a sinner, and only then sinned against. It reminded me that people can do hard things – and God can do impossible things. It reminded me not to settle for cheap grace. I hope it reminds you, too.
NDAHIMANA: “The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.”
MUNGANYINKA: “After I was chased from my village and Dominique and others looted it, I became homeless and insane. Later, when he asked my pardon, I said: ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, Dominique came with some survivors and former prisoners who perpetrated genocide. There were more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors.”
You can read the whole New York Times Article, and see more photos, here. I recommend it.
Intentions are good. More than good, they’re great. They indicate consideration and thoughtfulness and all the good your heart longs to do, and would, if you had unlimited time…and money…and energy.
But intentions always beg the question – “Now what?”
This morning I was all caffeinated and feeling sunshine-y and optimistic and generous. I thought about all the people I could pop in and say hello to (via text or email or something, because, 2014). I thought about encouraging my friends, making lemonade for the roofing crew, buying extra classroom supplies for Madeline’s teachers, baking with the kids for our neighbors. I was driving along, feeling very pleased with myself for being so virtuous and kind, when Bob Goff popped into my head.
“Love does, Kate.”
Sure, love thinks, love plans, love intends – but then love does.
There are too many days that I allow myself to feel like a good person because I know what a good person would do. I think, “You know, it would be really nice to invite that refugee family over to dinner. That would be a loving thing to do.” And I pat myself on the back for it! Is that not the most insane thing you’ve ever heard? I think, “A good person would do this.” And then I don’t do it. And I STILL FEEL PLEASED WITH MYSELF.
But I don’t think I’m alone. I think intentions are deceitful and our hearts are prideful – and I think that’s a recipe for apathy and selfish inaction.
So as I drove home this morning, I resolved to DO something. To do at least one loving thing. Because I want to be a loving person, and love does.
Henry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” And when I die, whenever that may be, I want to leave a legacy of love. The fragrance of Christ, following me wherever I go.
“In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, The Message
You know how some peoples parents turn their old rooms into a gym?
When we moved to Raleigh in January, and I stepped into my old room for the first time, I thought for a moment that my Dad was running an undercover drug operation.
There was a huge structure in the middle of the floor, so large only a 2-foot perimeter around the edge of the room was navigable. The giant box, constructed of 2x4s, was wrapped in several layers of industrial plastic wrap and surrounded by sundry tools all over the floor. You know, hammers, staple guns, nail guns, the like.
It looked like a scene out of Dexter, STRAIGHT UP.
“Let’s be reasonable,” I told myself. Maybe it’s something less severe. Like maybe he’s a real life Walter White and this is just the secret place he makes his drugs.
I slowly backed out of the room, down the stairs, and into the kitchen, where we had the following exchange:
Me: “Um, Dad.”
Dad: ”Did you see your room?”
Me: ”Yes. What….is it?”
Dad: ”It’s a humidor.”
Me: ” Ooohhhhhhh. Wait, what?”
Apparently a friend of Dad’s had some cigar-store inventory he needed to store, so Dad kindly offered my childhood bedroom. Some homemade shelves, plastic wrap, and 3 large humidifiers later – voilà! Humidor.
Me: ”Pretty resourceful.”
Dad: ”Yeah, but he found a warehouse and the Yeasty Boys are coming to take it down next week.”
Me: ”YOU KNOW THE BEASTIE BOYS!?!?!?”
Dad: ”No, the Yeasty Boys.”
My dad is part of a collective of men called The Yeasty Boys. They come over every Thursday night to smoke cigars and drink beer and espresso. The whole neighboohod smells like cigar smoke on Thursday nights, and it’s easy to trace the sweet, smoky smell to Dad’s man-cave: 15 cars in the driveway, windows open, kerosene heater glowing, men laughing. It’s a pretty sweet brotherhood they have going on.
And that’s what it is: a brotherhood. It’s an eclectic one, without any real unifying characteristic among its members. They’re all of different ages, religions, political affinities, ethnicities. The thing they have in common is that they like cigars and each other. The Yeasty Boys helped us move into our townhouse, they take hunting trips, vacations to Florida, day trips to seafood festivals on the coast. They brew their own beer. They do BBQs and low country boils and state fairs. They show up for one another.
After living in Raleigh for a few months, and watching this fraternity in action, I told Dad, “I wish I could be a fly on the wall down there. I love the Yeasty Boys. Everyone should have a group of friends like that.”
Well, ask and ye shall receive, y’all.
Last Thursday night Dad texted me and said, “Why don’t you come on down for a drink?”
I felt like a fawn tip-toeing down the basement stairs. Nothing can make a girl feel dainty like walking into a den of giant leather chairs and giant men smoking giant cigars. Wear skinny jeans and a chiffon shirt for bonus points. It could make the coarsest women feel like a fairy.
And here is what I learned from my evening with the Yeasty Boys.
I watch really girly television.
Yeasty Boy: Do you watch Game of Thrones?
YB: The Walking Dead?
YB: Sons of Anarchy?
Me: Um, I watch Scandal. And New Girl.
So, here’s to friendship.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go catch up on Parenthood on Hulu.
Which is strange, since He’s also the same yesterday, today, and forever.
I think the reason that God is so surprising to me is because a creature as flighty and unfaithful as myself cannot comprehend that kind of constancy.
At my very best – my most gracious, magnanimous, disciplined, and most faithful, I still find the persisting goodness of God INCOMPREHENSIBLE. How could anything be so unyielding? Everything bends under the right conditions: granite, titanium, diamonds.
But not God.
This is why, no matter how many times I hear it, the gospel still makes my heart beat fast. My breath still catches in my chest. I still cry all the time.
Because, really? Still?
It’s too sweet. Too much love, too much mercy – it’s too good to be true – except it’s not.
And peppered throughout scripture are two little words that that point to this astonishing constancy of God – to His, as Sally Loyd-Jones writes, never-stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.
These two words make me lean forward in my seat –into the story. They make me whisper, “Oh! This is the good part.”
They are the surprise I know is coming. Like the flips inside your belly when you free-fall on a roller coaster: you know it, you’ve felt it, you see it coming. But then IT IS, and it thrills you again, anew, every time.
“They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. Butyou are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.” Nehemiah 9:17
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:7-8]
These words are carried through scripture, from start to finish, on the river of God’s mercy. They speak to both his immovability and to his great compassion. How improbable that those two qualities would coexist. But they do. But God. He is immovably compassionate.
“But God” means who He is and how He is is completely independent of who we are or how we are. Oh, you are a traitor? Adulterer? Murderer? Zealot? Racist? Christian-killer? BUT GOD.
God is the independent variable. You can change, tweak, and alter everything else – but not God. He is out of your league, literally. You can do or be whatever, fill-in-the-blank, but God.
“But God” means He can give grace lavishly because He gives it on His own terms. He loves us because He is loving, not because we are loveable. He loves us in spite of ourselves. I love the despite-ness of God.
Oh, we are rotten? But God.
Oh, we were dead in our sins? But God.
Oh, we are unfaithful? But God.
Oh, we deserve death? But God.
“But God’s” punctuate my own life, marks of His hand, evidence of his care. My whole existence is a series of “This happened to me, but God. This is what I feared, but God. This is where I hurt, but God. This is what I did, but God.” I can’t imagine two more hope-filled words. They are full of promise. Because, no matter what horror or chaos or evil you are surviving, “BUT GOD.”
God is supreme and above and immovable. He is gracious and merciful and lavishly loving. Nothing is impossible for Him; nothing is too hard. He makes streams in the desert; He makes ways where there are no ways.
”All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. Butbecause of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” [Ephesians 2:3-5]
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” [Genesis 50:20]
“Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean.” [Acts 10:28]
“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” [Luke 18:15-16]
“My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” [Psalm 73:26]
“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, butwith Godall things are possible.” [Matthew 19:26]
“For the wages of sin is death, butthe gift of Godis eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 6:23]
It should not surprise me, but it does.
I spent my afternoon listening to Leigh Nash’s Hymns and Sacred Songs, sipping espresso, and hanging up all of Madeline’s artwork from our beach week. The rainy days yielded lots of drawing, plus Brooke was there, or as Madeline calls her, The Best Artist In The World.
I can’t argue.
I started to Instagram this picture, but there was too much I wanted to say about it. Then I was all, “Wait, I HAVE A BLOG.”
Here are my 5 would-be Instagram captions:
1. When Madeline was 4 months old, I could not have imagined this glory. Darling, do not fear what you don’t really know. Vision loss, hearing loss, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism – whatever the diagnosis, whatever the life-changing, dream-changing, scary unknown, do not assume what your child will not be able to do. Just wait and see. If there are things they cannot do – that’s okay. Who they are is enough. But what they can do – WHAT THEY CAN DO – will surprise you every day. Kids are brilliant, resilient, spectacular little people. Dear special needs parent, do not fear what you don’t really know. Madeline the hope-giver wants to be an artist and and astronaut. Who ever would have thought. There is so much hope.
2. I need a new phone, STAT. Here’s a game: let’s pretend this is really bright and clear and happy and gorgeous!
3. It is so important to display kids’ artwork in their home. I remember the wall above my parents’ headboard, filled with pictures from my brother and I, and I remember how proud it made me feel. There were some really beautiful ideas of how to display kids’ art at apartment therapy a few months ago.
4. I am rich. When my heart fails within me, I only have to look at this wall to remember. I am rich. Parenting matters SO MUCH. If I only ever get two things right in life, I want those things to be loving Jesus, and raising Madeline, Sam, and Henry Conner.
5. I will sing its praises again – y’all, $2 for a roll of washi tape is worth it times a billion. (I loved this ode to washi tape on the walk in love. blog.)
(This one isn’t on Madeline’s wall. It’s going in my room:)
When my mom left the beach yesterday, she said, “I wanted more.”
It rained from Saturday to Wednesday, which was okay, since we are pretty good at hanging around and just being with one another, but it was okay in a “choose to be happy because the alternative sucks worse” kind of way. And we both knew it.
We took this picture, in our own words, to prove we were there.
When my mom and brother pulled out of the driveway, it was like the clouds hitched a ride in their back seat. They drove west, and immediately, gloriously, from the east came the sun – right on their heels. In just a few hours the island warmed up by 20 degrees. Sorry, guys.
And today. Today was everything we could have dreamed. It was the More.
Today there were sand castles; both bucket and dribble style. We dug giant holes, so deep that I looked down the beach once and panicked – where’s Madeline?!? Then she popped up like a prairie dog and we laughed. We saw bottlenose seal blah blah blah’s playing in the surf – diving slowly, lolling over the breakers – only waist-deep in the water. We made sand cakes, decorated with shells and reed-candles, OBVIOUSLY. We drew in the sand. We inspected dead crabs.
At one point, Henry was sleeping in a mass of patterned blankets, the kids were playing afar off in the giant hole, and I was able to lay so still that the little conch snail we found eased his way out of his shell right in front of me. Straight-up magical.
We snacked on granola bars and healthy amounts of sand. Sam terrorized sea gulls.
And I have not one single picture of this perfect day.
My phone did a weird thing, as ancient-artifact phones tend to do, and right before we stepped outside it was like, “Oh wait, did you need me to work today? MY BAD.”
And listen. Before you think that this is going to be a holier-than-thou “I was liberated from technology and lived in the moment!” post – it’s not.
I did not feel even a little bit enlightened. I wish I’d had my phone. If I could change that part, I would. My heart does an achy thing when I think about all the sandy, happy freeze-frames I don’t have.
I had to add this day to my mind bank.
I have a treasure box in my mind full of perfect moments uncaptured by film. They’ll only last as long as my mind does; when I’m gone, I’ll take them with me.
-In my mind bank is a day in the Tuileries Garden in Paris with my little cousins, pushing sailboats around that iconic fountain with a stick. I’d used up all 13 rolls of 35mm film, and since digital cameras only existed in a think tank somewhere and not in the possession of 13-year-old girls, I was out of luck.
-There is also an endangered red hawk, perched feet from me on a fence post, as we were driving home from horseback riding.
-There is the night I felt mother-love for the first time. It wasn’t in the hospital, for me. It was at home a week later, at 2:30 am. I didn’t want to put Madeline down, and I didn’t understand why. I should have wanted to sleep, but I didn’t; I wanted to be awake with her. I can still see everything about that moment.
And now there is a perfect beach day with my three children. It was everything a beach day should be, and it’s our secret. It is safe in my treasure box with the other moments I’ve preserved on mind-film.
Do you have a mind bank? What is a moment that’s inside? Do you wish you’d had a camera, or are you glad it will only ever be your secret?