Wednesday, February 19, 2014

When stealing is a good thing...

I love Valentine's Day.

Thoughs of pink and red, lace doilies, candlelight dinners, love letters, flowers, and hearts make my heart bubble with excitement.. I love everything about Valentine's Day. Even before I met Matt and had someone to call my "special someone," I anticipated this special romantic day that fell right in the middle of the cold winter months. Each year, on Valentine's night, I would snuggle up with some blankets, a cup of tea, my Bible and journal, and write a letter to my future husband, dreaming of the day when I would be able to tell him I loved him face-to-face, and write a special letter, just for him, and finally be able to write his name at the top of it. I think Valentine's Day is such a special day to celebrate love with the ones you love- whether you're single, engaged, newlyweds, or a have been married for 50 years.

This Valentine's Day was mine and Matt's third Valentine's together, and our first with little Annie. I wanted to plan something really special for him. He was working Valentine's night, so we decided to celebrate the following night together. Since he worked until six the following day, I wanted to cook a special dinner for him and have it ready when he came home. I asked a friend to watch Annie so we could have a romantic dinner, just the two of us, and I wouldn't have to worry about standing to bounce Annie while we ate, or eating as quickly as I could because she was crying.
So the morning of our designated Valentine's Day, with Annie in the moby wrap, I cooked away- spinach and cheese stuffed chicken with a creamy white sauce, twice baked potatoes with garlic, sweet baby carrots, garlic bread, and a big heart-shaped chocolate cake for dessert. I set the table with pink and lace and our special rose china. I dusted and vacuumed. I dressed up, and I even put on makeup and painted my nails, which is quite the accomplishment now with our little lady. As six'o'clock drew near, I turned off the lights, lit a few candles, and waited for Matt to call, telling me he was on his way home from work. A few minutes later, my phone rang. It was Matt, driving home. After hanging up with him, I hurriedly gathered Annie and her things and dropped her, her bouncy seat, sound machine, swaddle, and binky all off at our friend's apartment a few doors down.
When Matt walked through our door a few minutes later, he greeted me with a kiss, and asked where our little Annie was. I smiled and told him she was at a friend's, and we had the next hour and a half all to ourselves. After another kiss, we sat down at the table. We were just pouring our sparking cider when my phone rang. It was our friend, with Annie screaming in the background- one of the worst screams I've heard from her yet. Matt went over to try to help calm her down, but within minutes, he was knocking on our front door again, this time holding a sad looking Annie in his arms.
We laughed that Annie does not like to be left out of any celebration. (She was born the day we had scheduled her baby shower :) And in a way, the situation was kind of funny, but as we sat at the table that night after calming Annie down, I found myself struggling with frustration and bitterness in my heart. I couldn't even have an hour and a half alone with my husband on Valentine's Day.
Thankfully, though, God graciously turned that thought around... I didn't have that night alone with Matt because we have been blessed with a little girl. So many times when she was growing in my belly, we thought we had lost her, but God had sustained her, and now she here she was with us this Valentine's Day, nearly a year after we had been told she was miscarried. She is such a precious gift.

Yes, my plans of a romantic evening with Matt hadn't quite turned out like I had pictured, but God had given me something even better.

As Annie's mommy, I can choose to see the "interruptions," the changes of plans, the daily tasks of diaper changes, naptime struggles, and the times of calming her cries as a "stealing" away of my time, sleep, and energy. OR I can choose to view them as opportunities- opportunities to become more like Jesus, Who gave His very life to serve! Annie isn't stealing away things I somehow "deserve" or am entitled to. Rather, God is using her to steal away little by little the selfishness that's inside of me. She is a little selfishness-stealing thief. And she's good at it - really, really good. And I know God will continue to use her to reveal more of my selfish heart and conform me more to His likeness.

When Annie was born, I was in awe of what a miracle she was, how she is a constant reminder of God's faithfulness and love to me. And I'm realizing even more and more how true that really is- she is a humbling reminder that God loves me when I don't deserve it, and that He promises to make me more like Jesus until I am with Him for eternity.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My "'Matt List"

When Matt and I were getting to know each other, I kept a list in the back of my journal of things I noticed in him- things I had noticed about his character, his relationship with God, and how he treated others. Before we parted for that first summer, I wrote him a letter sharing some of those things with him, along with specific examples how I'd seen them in his life. I wanted to let him know I really respected him and was thankful for the ways I could see God working in his life.

Now, after a year of dating, seven months of engagement, and one and a half years of marriage, my respect for him has only grown deeper and deeper, as I have had the privilege of being an even closer witness to God's working in him. Looking back over that list now, I can see that all of those things I'd noticed years ago are even more true today. I could add countless examples under each of the qualities in that list.

So, in honor of Valentine's Day, I thought I might reminisce through the list and build upon it with a few examples from the sweet year and a half since I have had the honor of calling Matt my husband...

A Gentleman
- (dating) taking dishes up when we ate together in the cafeteria, opening my car door for me, holding  doors open for me, walking me back to my dorm
- (marriage) still opening the car door for me and holding doors for me, dropping Ann and I off at church so we don't have to walk far in the cold, heating up the car for me when it's cold

Protecting me
- (dating) looking out for me when we visited the Scranton Rescue Mission together
- (marriage) going to the store for me if we need something at night when it's dark outside, standing on the side nearest traffic when we go for walks, the baseball bat by our bed :)

Desire to protect my purity
- (dating) established clear physical guidelines for our relationship and never once tried to test or cross them
- (marriage) protecting his purity in how he interacts with other women and in what he allows himself to look at

Respectful of authority
- (dating) how he treated the referees and coaches during basketball, how he spoke about our leaders and teachers
- (marriage) how he speaks to and about our elders and deacons and his professors at seminary

Respectful of my Daddy
- (dating) meeting with him to ask permission to date me, asking his permission for significant events in our relationship, calling him throughout our relationship to "check-up," seeking his advice during our relationship, how he spoke about him and to him
- (marriage) how he speaks of him and to him, still seeking advice and counsel from him

Seeks counsel
- (dating) seeking counsel from certain professors at school about theology and from Mr. Peterson, Michelle, and Coach Shaw about our relationship
- (marriage) from professors at seminary, from close friends, from guys in our Gospel Community Group, from our parents

Diligent in studying
- (dating) we had "study dates" in the library, at Krispy Kreme, and even on Skype when we were apart during our engagement
- (marriage) being faithful to study even when he's tired from working, even if it means staying up late or getting up early

Good teacher
- (dating) sharing the Gospel at the rescue mission and at the Student Mission Fellowship, how he explained things to me when I didn't understand them
- (marriage) growing sooooo much in his teaching ability through teaching children's Sunday school, seeing the excitement he has for helping others understand Greek and Hebrew

 Before I knew Matt, I had never known anyone so focused on the Gospel. He has helped me grow in my understanding of it and how it applies to all aspects of my life
- (dating) in our talks about theology, personal devotions, Bible classes, etc.
- (marriage) reminding me of Gospel truths and how they can and should affect how I live

Heart for the unsaved
- (dating) sharing the Gospel with his high school friends, bringing tracts when we visited NYC with a group of friends
-(marriage) desire to share the Gospel at work, encouraging me to open up our home to others

- (dating) in our relationship, at the Student Missions Fellowship, as an RA, and respected by many on campus
- (marriage) in our marriage, as a Sunday school teacher

- (dating) cleaning up the dishes when we visited a friend's house for the NCAA, getting chairs for others who needed them when visiting someone
- (marriage) bringing Gatorade and medicine to a sick friend, giving friends a ride to work, watching Ann for me so I can attend an SWI class, running errands for me without complaining, warming the car for Ann and I

- (dating) when I told him I was scared to do something (speaking in front of people, etc.), he encouraged me with confidence that I would be able to do it, praying for me, sharing verses with me for things I was struggling with
- (marriage) praying for me, reminding me of Truth when I worry or am discouraged, holding me when I cry, reminding me of the Gospel when I doubt, sharing with me evidences of grace he sees in my life, making me laugh, writing me letters, surprising me by doing the dishes

- (dating) not exalting himself, confession of sin
- (marriage) humble confession of sin and asking for forgiveness without making excuses, his complete honesty with me

And there are so many more qualities and examples I could add to my "Matt list."
I had written a quote in the back of that journal that I had heard from an older, wiser woman...
"It is easy to follow a good man."

And I have come to see how very true that is.

But I know that ALL of the goodness in my Matt is from God. 
I am thankful for His work in Matt's life and his promise in Philippians 1:6...

"being confident of this, 
that he who began a good work in you 
will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

I can't wait to see all that Jesus is going to do in my Matt!
Happy Valentine's Day, my Matt.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Unrecognized Graces (Part I)

Sometimes graces are unmistakable...

...a gorgeous fluorescent sunrise, the gift of someone who loves you unconditionally, the miracle of God sustaining a baby the doctors had determined was a miscarriage, the way the sun softly glimmers through the snow-covered trees on a wintery morning- in all these precious gifts from God, His mighty power and His deep love are so evident, they are difficult to miss.

Other times, though, God's gifts are like packages that we don't recognize as gifts right away. Most often this is because we have been blinded by our own sinful tendencies or by the views of the world around us. When we carefully unravel these packages in the light of God's Word, however, we are often overwhelmed by the marvelous gifts we find inside. And as we come to experience these gifts in our lives, our hearts are flooded with thankfulness to the One Who chose to lavish such grace upon us.

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about two of these often unrecognized gifts.

The first is the gift of the body of Christ, the amazing gift God has given us known as the Church.
Two weeks ago I was wrestling with the decision of whether or not Annie and I would go with Matt to church that Sunday morning. It had been a rough night, waking up every hour and a half or so to Annie's cries. She had been getting over a cold, and the antibiotics were throwing off her sleep, so that whole week had been very difficult. I was beyond tired, and most of me wanted to crawl back into bed and try to get however much more sleep I could. As I pulled the covers back over my head after Matt's alarm went off, however, I couldn't help being gnawed by guilt. Because of sickness, hard nights, and overall tiredness, I hadn't been to church in about a month. I tried to console myself by telling myself at least I listen to the sermons. But I couldn't get rid of the guilt that was burdening my heart as the verse from Hebrews about not neglecting to meet together as believers continually spun through my head. I couldn't get away from the challenge Mrs. Stinson had given in class that week to not "hibernate" as a new mom, especially in neglecting church; new moms, she'd said can be so tempted to stay home from church for a number of reasons- baby's interrupted naps, long nights, fear baby will catch a sickness, not wanting to put baby in the nursery, etc. These thoughts continued to burden my heart until the guilt was overwhelming. I pulled back the covers and began to cry, telling Matt I was so confused and didn't know what to do. At first Matt hugged me and encouraged me to come with him. But then, he told me not to go simply because of guilt. And he said something I don't think I'll ever forget, "Kali, God gave us church as a gift. Church is a grace. Come because of that. I think it will really encourage your heart." Those words were so helpful to me. They were freeing. And they were so right. That morning, I saw God use so many of His people to speak encouragement to us, to pray for us. I was reminded of God's incomprehensible love for me. And my heart was greatly, greatly encouraged.

This is not to say that church is all about us. But rather to share how God has given me a better perspective; instead of attending church out of a sense of duty and desire to please God (and being burdened and plagued with guilt and the sense that God is displeased with me when I do not go), it has been so refreshing to view the Church as a grace, as one of God's precious gifts to me. That's why God commands us to not neglect meeting together. And that is why Mrs. Stinson encourages new moms not to hibernate at home. After looking at church as one of God's gracious gifts to me, my desire to be with the body of Christ has deepened, and my heart has been so much more thankful.