She is a picture of grace, holding a babe in her arms and leading another by the hand. She is the image of perfect, juggles life and work and marriage and kids and relationships with ease. She eats organic; crafts a beautiful home; sets up elaborate art projects to engage her children’s creativity; all while managing to stay connected to her husband and her God and her friends. And she never spends beyond her budget. She is loving to all, forgives easily, and knows when to talk and when to remain quiet. She has words of wisdom ready on her tongue yet refrains from gossip. She does not silently judge others who make her feel insecure. She does not struggle with the limits of her humanity.
She stands in the corner and silently condemns me when I struggle. She is the shadow of the impossible ideal I feel I must live up to – in order to keep life, what? Perfect? Beautiful? Smooth? She takes the place of God in my heart and my life. She masks him with her demands and deceives me into thinking that she is God.
God rescues me. He gently scoops up my weary soul, reminding me that it is not “she” who sets the standard but HE who sets the standard. And he’s set it high – impossibly so – but he’s fulfilled it already, and so I go free. Free of “she.” Free to be the “me” he is making me to be.
Today I join Lisa-Jo Baker in her “Five Minute Friday” community. You can also join in here to write for five minutes on a different prompt each Friday.
It’s been seven years of learning to listen to love’s loud message through his quiet, strong, dependable actions. A cup of coffee on a long afternoon after a sleepless night of feeding newborn twins around the clock. His quiet absorption of venomous words spoken rashly. Words of “I forgive you,” spoken as soon as my stubbornness softened to remorseful regret and repentance. Light bulbs changed; garbage taken out; air filters exchanged for new ones; month after month after year after year. Home improvement projects of old floors turned new and showers replaced and woodwork of an old home restored. Bracing himself for another desperate call of a mom in distress and offering the peace of his presence and his words and his prayers. His willingness to listen, to learn, to love through all the twists and turns of our seven years – some planned for; others not so much.
A perfectly imperfect marriage forged through that shaky first year of a wife learning how to be a counselor; of a church imploding; in a claustrophobic one-bedroom apartment; and two seminary students working two part-time jobs to keep afloat amidst the financial strain. Raging selfishness and two stubborn people learning to add our strength to one another instead of fight to win against each other.
Two graduations – a move from Pennsylvania to Virginia – new jobs; new responsibilities; new life in between us. The day we learned with disbelief that what God had birthed within my womb was TWICE the planned-for new life. The scramble to adjust accordingly; to find our first home. And then the shock of bed rest and premature labor at the fragile time of 25 weeks. Ten tenuous weeks of trust and hope and prayers and work on the home that would welcome these two new lives. My steely man turning tender as he held our newborn daughters. Tears of joy and of frustration and sleeplessness of those first months as parents twice-over.
And then a settledness. No major changes in our lives for the past three years, but a deepening and absorption of all the transitions in the four years prior. A developing into the husband, father, pastor he is becoming in Christ; and the wife, mother, counselor/writer that I am becoming in Christ. Christ as the One who keeps us connected in these disconnected years of raising little ones; of nurturing one another and two small daughters; of helping to build the Church and our city.
It is Christ, the Perfect One, who has kept together our imperfect marriage when it’s frayed with our sin and brokenness and burdens of life. It is He who has loved us perfectly when we have failed one another amidst our imperfection. It is He whose perfection is our hope for many more years and decades of imperfect love and marriage and parenting and ministry to come. His is the Perfection we hope to reflect more and more with each year – a Perfection that comes as we admit our lack thereof; a Perfection that comes as we are being perfected into the image of the Perfect One through our marriage; a Perfection whose glory we will imperfectly reveal in our love for each other.
I close with a quote from my favorite marriage book of all time, The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason:
God’s love is, in a sense, the courage to go on living in the face of our sin, in the full knowledge of who and what we are.
It’s been over four years since I last met with Beverlee in her living room over a cup of steaming Lady Grey tea and chatted about life, ministry, and relationships. She invested in me, a just-one-year-into-marriage new seminary graduate beginning to counsel and serve on staff with a church plant, from her place as an older woman with decades of experience in ministry including overseas missions and full-time campus ministry. She was not strong but weak during those two years that we met weekly. We did not know it, but she might have: those were the last two years of her life and she suffered from complications of diabetes that often robbed her of sleep and forced her to be homebound. Yet she taught me more about mentoring/discipleship/gospel-centered friendship than almost anyone else in my adult life so far. Her legacy of gracious, selfless love and care for others even in the midst of her own pain lives on while she lives in Glory. And so I hope to continue that legacy by sharing with you some of what she taught me.
- Gospel mentoring flows out of weakness, not strength. She was physically weak for most of the two years that we met together. She easily could have complained and focused on her own pain and ailments, seeking my comfort and prayers. I certainly did pray for this dear woman and seek to comfort her, but it was not because of her complaints. The pain was written on her face, and yet she repeatedly asked me how I was doing; what she could be praying about; and entered into what seemed like my petty struggles (in comparison) of a new counselor and wife seeking to find my way in marriage and ministry.
- Offer what you have. She could not leave her house, but she reached out to me through phone calls; invited me weekly to come for tea to chat and pray; followed up in tracking me down in my busy, cluttered life of overcommitment. When I first began mentoring/discipling younger women, I was a college student with more free time than I realized. I met with a small group of younger women weekly for 1-2 hours of Bible study and prayer, and then sought to meet individually with each woman weekly outside of that time. After graduating from college, I volunteered with a campus ministry and discipleship/mentoring took a very similar shape then, too. Fast forward 10+ years, and my life as a pastor’s wife, mom to twin preschoolers, and part-time counselor does not allow me to devote the same kind of time to mentoring. Yet it is freeing to remember that mentoring involves offering what I have. And what I have is much less than before – but I still have something to offer. Meetings now take place in the evenings, during naptimes, or on weekends. Sometimes they include meeting somewhere where my kids can play. If I meet with a younger woman even once a month, that’s my “regular” during this season of my life.
- Mentoring begins with prayer. She prayed for me when I wasn’t with her, and we prayed together when we met weekly. She followed up about what she was praying for, and there was no secret to the source of the power she depended on herself. Only Jesus sustained her during her most painful days and nights.
- Mentoring at its simplest is being intentional to care for another. She initiated getting to know me when I first came on staff with the church plant she helped to start, and she intentionally “took me under her wings,” so to speak. She would call me if we hadn’t seen each other for awhile, and she invited me to meet regularly for the soul respite I so desperately needed.
- Gentle challenge embedded in love is an essential part of mentoring. When I had a petty complaint about marriage, she gently challenged me to love. She gave examples from her own life about love as thinking of your spouse often during the day, and then telling him about things that brought him to mind. She shared everything with her beloved Collier, as he did with her. And she encouraged me to do the same – speaking words of reproof into my life as needed.
Do I follow Beverlee’s example perfectly? Far from it. And she herself would be the first to remind me, if she could, that she was not perfect herself. But the call of following Jesus in the ministry of mentoring is a call to lay down your life – as it is – for another. It’s a call to find the grace and strength needed in the midst of my weakness in the cross, not my false notions of self-sufficiency. It is to offer to another the Life I have found and to encourage her to seek Life from this source with me. Until the day when instead of seeing dimly we will, like Beverlee now, see face-to-face the Glory to which we witness. [1 Corinthians 13:12 – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”]
I am an avid reader. I always have been, and in fact as a child I would often stay up way past bedtime reading by the light of my nightlight or a flashlight under my covers. I was such a rebellious bookworm. (Yes, I agree that’s a bit of an oxymoron.)
Since I’m seeking to write more regular posts, I thought a weekly or monthly “On my bookshelf” would give me something to work with (and something for you to look forward to). You’ll notice that I always have one fiction book, which I usually read just before bedtime and/or at the beach or stolen precious minutes of naptime. Right now I’m reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. It’s a murder mystery, a favorite genre of mine ever since Nancy Drew, and so far so good. A little hard to get into the story, but I love the writing.
Next in the stack is a nonfiction cultural read, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I’ve written a little bit about this book already, and you will be hearing more from me on this topic in the future. One quote that resonated with me from Chapter 4 – “Parenthood”:
In many ways, the happiness of having children falls into the kind of happiness that could be called fog happiness. Fog is elusive. Fog surrounds you and transforms the atmosphere, but when you try to examine it, it vanishes. Fog happiness is the kind of happiness you get from activities that, closely examined, don’t really seem to bring much happiness at all — yet somehow they do. … the experience of having children gives me tremendous fog happiness. It surrounds me, I see it everywhere, despite the fact that when I zoom in on any particular moment, it can be hard to identify.
And then I like to be reading some sort of Christian book which will help to strengthen my faith and understanding of the Christian life. I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage for, well, several months now. Not because it’s not good but precisely because it is so good that I can only digest small portions at a time. I’ll leave you today with this quote from Chapter 3, “The Essence of Marriage”:
To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life throws at us.
Last Thursday, August 26th, marked our fourth anniversary. (This picture was taken in May of this year.) What a four years it has been! We reminisced, celebrated, thanked God for the grace he’s provided for each season of our marriage so far. And joyfully looked ahead to what will be a markedly different season ahead of us when “Nelson, party of 2” becomes “Nelson, party of 4.” Highlights of the past four years:
- Both of us graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary, M.A. for me in May ’07; M.Div. for Seth in May ’09
- Worked together on staff during the first 2 years of a church plant, Cresheim Valley Church, which became like a second family for us
- Became godparents to my cousins Jillian & Logan
- Became aunt & uncle to my nephew, Caleb
- Moved from our 1-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia to a 2-bedroom apartment in historic Ghent in Norfolk, and then moved again into a 3-bedroom house to become first-time homeowners in June
- Between the two of us, we have worked 8 jobs (4 each … !) ranging from personal trainer to missions recruiter to church counselor & pastor (guess who was what?)
- Seth was ordained for pastoral ministry
- Traveled to Costa Rica, Chicago, New York City, Minneapolis, Charleston, D.C., Ohio, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Orleans. The one place we really wanted to get to was a trip to California to visit friends and see the West Coast … maybe for our 10th anniversary!!
And of course, the biggest highlight of our 4 years is becoming parents-to-be of two twin girls, due October 11th. We are so thankful that God has delayed their arrival long enough for us to get our house in order and moved in (even pictures are hung on our walls now), for us to celebrate our 4th anniversary (actually got to “go out” for breakfast – the first time since bed rest), and for us to continue to wrap our minds around the fact that we are going to be parents soon. We are eagerly awaiting their arrival, but quite content for them to stay growing and developing in utero for as long as possible.
Which brings us to today’s celebration of arriving at 34 weeks!! This is specifically what we have prayed for since the beginning of bed rest, and what so many of you have been praying for with us. We are praising him who always does “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). Who knows? Maybe I’ll even have to be induced …
In my copious amounts of free time while on bed rest, I have been able to begin reading through my stack of books that I bought but never had time to read before now. Yesterday, I picked up from my shelf a relatively new book on marriage from one of my counseling professors, Paul Tripp, entitled “What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.” I’m a few chapters in, and I’m finding it to be a good reminder of the foundation marriage is meant to be built on: loving one another out of a love for God and a perspective of living in God’s kingdom (not mine). It’s the simple thoughts that can make a big difference. In this morning’s chapter, I was struck by two illustrations about the importance of daily choices to shape the overall course of a marriage: (1) you reap what you sow: “…there will be organic consistency between the seeds of words and actions that you plant in your marriage and the harvest of a certain quality of relationship that you will experience as you live with one another” and (2) the investment principle: “Every treasure you set your heart on and actively seek will give you some kind of return.” Both beg the question and day-to-day reflection on what sort of “harvest” I am sowing to in my marriage — or what sort of treasure am I investing in? Am I sowing words of kindness and love or of harsh criticism? Am I investing more in the “treasure” of my own kingdom (getting my own way – being demanding) or in God’s kingdom (seeking ways to love and serve and build up my husband)? Here is a good summary of why these are important things to consider DAILY in marriage:
The character of a marriage is not formed in one grand moment. Things in a marriage go bad progressively. Things become sweet and beautiful progressively. The development and deepening of the love in a marriage happens by things that are done daily; this is also true with the sad deterioration of a marriage. The problem is that we simply don’t pay attention, and because of this we allow ourselves to think, desire, say, and do things that we shouldn’t.
More thoughts I’m sure as I continue through this book. And I must say it’s a nice break from all the pregnancy & baby books I’ve been reading — probably a good balance, too, as we must keep in mind that our family is built first on faith in God, then on our love for each other … into which we invite our children to join. Marriage must remain a priority for Seth and me, which I know will be all the more difficult as we double our family size soon! But that’s truly what’s best not just for us, but it will be what’s best for our daughters as well. They will derive security from knowing that Mommy and Daddy love each other – through both good days and bad.
Second set of thoughts – or actually more of a recommendation. My little bro Bryan just started two for-fun blogs called best or worst, where you get to vote on what you think about his daily pick. So I will shamelessly promote them – check it out and cast your vote: Best or Worst Ride and The Best or Worst.
Bed rest update: today marks the fifth week of it. I’m still hanging in there – and the girls seem healthy. I’m now 30 weeks along, and I’m hopeful for more! Really thankful for friends and family who are taking such good care of us during this season.