Strays

Waking up in the night with my infant daughter, the thought came in like a stray animal, hung around the back porch looking at me for something—“Does God exist?” The next night it brought me “What if the church is just an organization” and then “the bible, just a book?” Like a stray, I know not to feed those thoughts. My husband tells me the metaphor of the dogs: feed the dog that you want to win in the fight. But it isn’t a fight—I know the thoughts are wrong. But they keep coming around, here and there, and now and then I set out some food and now and then I sit with them awhile.

We have a stray cat lounging in the backyard most days now. Our home, a recently bought fixer-upper about half way “fixed,”  has a yard in shambles. A pool that needs to be filled in, bushes grown to the height of trees, a screened in porch only half-screened. The kids love it—they pluck up the puffed out dandelion seeds, the wildflowers, the occasional surprising lily or daffodil springing up from a forgotten garden plot. Our old gray tomcat, Waldo, was always one to take to other cats, and moves aside for the stray to eat his fill at the food bowl. Black-brown with dirt, with large emerald eyes, we keep telling each other he must’ve belonged to someone once. He has gotten comfortable enough with us to put his paws on the sliding glass door, to meow when the bowl is empty. We suppose he doesn’t belong to anyone now—not fixed, groomed, collared. Our neighbor says people are always dumping animals in the field behind our home, so we keep feeding him, unsure if anyone else will.

Maybe it started when my daughter, four years old, said it was funny that the Bible is a book but we do what it says. Or when reading a book of biographies, I come across a missionary woman who was miraculously saved from rape and abuse at the hands of soldiers in a foreign country, miraculously saved dozens of times, before she was victimized again and again, at the hands of these same soldiers. Where was God? What if “blessing” is just luck?

I let my doubts lounge by our broken down swimming pool that can’t hold water, let them hang around the cat that is our own, that we raised from a kitten. My husband tells me don’t feed strays, but what little faith I do have tells me that the Gospel can hold up to a few stray doubts slinking around the back of my mind this month and that ultimately those doubts don’t have a home here.

my testimony

I came to faith in Jesus Christ as my savior when I was nine years old. My family had been attending Bartlett Baptist Church for a year or so—previously we’d attended a Lutheran church, which my parents thought was a nice middle ground between my father’s Baptist upbringings and my mother’s (casually) Catholic family.

It was spring. I was painfully shy, and never said a word in Sunday school, but I was a good girl. I remember the teacher was a guy that looked kind of like Ron Howard (the redheaded guy from Happy Days). He taught the lesson, which I don’t remember anything about, and at the end said the cheesy “do you know that you know that you know you’ll go to heaven when you die” line.

Suddenly I realized that when the bible talks about sinners, it was talking about Me. Not other people.  Good girls, like me. Christ’s sacrifice was for me. I knew I needed to repent, but Sunday school had let out, so I went out to our minivan to wait for my sisters and parents (it was “Safe” to do that twenty years ago), and prayed for forgiveness for my sins, for Jesus as my savior.

Sometime later, I was baptized, along with my mother and sisters. My mother came to faith when I was thirteen. My father, though present and a great dad, was not always an active spiritual leader in our house; when my mother came to the Lord, she took the helm. She had us in church twice a week, in a Christian school, and did the best she could, but she was a fledgling believer, and I felt directionless, like I was striving to live how the bible said but couldn’t quite figure it out on my own.

The private school I attended was hellfire and brimstone; the country church I attended was say-one-thing-and-do-another. It was hard to reconcile the social Christians—who did whatever they wanted but went to church on Sunday—with the authentic Christians. And where does all that brimstone factor in?  Which was right? Were some of the ideas in the bible just ideas? Did people truly live them out?

I was privileged to attend Union University for my undergrad. I remember walking on campus for a tour (before my private school deemed UU to be too “secular” to promote to us highschoolers), and feeling that I absolutely needed to be there. I still had so much growing to do in the faith, though I didn’t know it then. I had a lot of pride and a lot of cultural ideas about what my life should be like that didn’t mesh with what the Lord had planned. There I met a fine-looking young man named Bryan. We dated throughout college and were married senior year. Though we dated for years before getting married, it was once that we were married that he became the spiritual leader in our relationship, and my life radically changed.

What followed (and continue to follow…) were the 9 most challenging and best years of my life. We prayed that God take us “out of our comfort zone” and he did—instead of moving to my husband’s home town, like we’d planned, we ended up in Boston for me to get a degree in poetry (dumb? Well it worked out!). We moved to Kentucky for seminary, Georgia for my job, then finally back to the hometown we had hoped to live in at the first.

In the meantime, we faced trials we would have never faced had we been comfortably nested in this hometown. Some weeks we didn’t know where groceries would come from; we scrambled for jobs, some crappier than others, we were the “new couple” again and again, in town after town. Bryan worked in ministry a few places, had good experiences and bad experiences. We were sacrificially cared for by some churches, burnt by others.  We made friends that changed how we viewed the world and Christianity—I can name ladies that taught me so much about hospitality, marriage, motherhood. I’m grateful for all of them.

Sometimes I still can’t believe we ended up here, after all this time. We are involved in a church we love, a mission we want to work toward, and starting a small group this fall. I love my friends here, our life here. Bryan is still looking for that perfect job, and I would not be surprised if full-time ministry is somewhere in his future, but right now we are waiting to see what the Lord has for us next. We don’t look it, but we’ve been risk takers—each move, each new job, even each new child was leaping out in faith into the Father’s arms.

My highschool self would be freaking out right now. I gave up my career to be home with my kids (I vividly remember telling an old roommate that that was a dumb idea and a waste…so sorry! i knew nothing!), our budget is tighter than i’d care to say, and we have three kids under four years old…and want more, and i’m even homeschooling, which is weird no matter how “cool” i try to make it sound. this isn’t the life i planned for myself, but it is such a good life. I’m thankful for what God has done and eager to see what He does next.

Eccl 5:18-20 (voice bible)
Then it dawned on me that this is good and proper: to eat and drink and find the good in all the toil that we undertake under the sun during the few days God has given, for this is our lot in life. Also, God gives wealth, possessions, and power to enjoy those things, and He allows them to accept their lot in life and to enjoy hard work. This is God’s gift. For people like this have no time to despair over life because God keeps them so busy with a deep-seated joy.

my body is an instrument.

 

A mark for every breath you took, every blink, every sleepy yawn. One for every time you sucked your thumb, waved hello, closed your eyes and slept in the most perfect darkness. One for every time you had the hiccups. One for every dream you dreamed within me. It isn’t very pretty anymore. Some may even think it ugly. That’s OK. It was your home. It’s where I first grew to love you, where I lay my hand as I dreamed about who you were and who you would be. It held you until my arms could, and for that, I will always find something beautiful in it.

since hitting my third trimester a few weeks ago, i’ve thought plenty on the pain & the discomfort, what i can’t do and have trouble with, the heartburn, midnight vomiting, legcramps, exhaustion, the terrifying rising number on the scale. being so hugely huge. all the uncontrolled changes in my body, and the reality that my body will Never be like it once was.

my self-conscious vanity, comparisons, relatively small discomforts.

when all the while, God is doing this beautiful thing. using me in a more physical, tangible way than i have ever been used before.

Our bodies are tools, not treasures. You should not spend your days trying to preserve your body in its eighteen-year-old form. Let it be used. By the time you die, you want to have a very dinged and dinted body. Motherhood uses your body in the way that God designed it to be used. Those are the right kind of damages….Scars and stretch marks and muffin tops are all part of your kingdom work….So realize that your body is a testimony to the world of God’s design. Carry the extra weight joyfully until you can lose it joyfully. Carry the scars joyfully as you carry the fruit of them. Do not resent the damages that your children left on your body. Just like a guitar mellows and sounds better with age and scratches, so your body can more fully praise God having been used for His purposes. So don’t resent it, enjoy it. { Rachel Jankovic }

so i will honor God with my body { 1 Corinthians 6:20 }
i will adorn myself with a beautiful spirit { 1 Peter 3:3-4 }
because i am in God’s own image { Genesis 1:27 }
and because, yes, most especially now,
i am wonderfully made
{ Psalm 139:13-16 }
(originally posted July 2011, right before having my first baby!)