12 years ago was a devastating time in our marriage. (See The Ugly Beautiful (Women’s Retreat Speech) Part 1) We had taken on too much and the busyness of our lives prevented us from investing in our relationship as we should have. I made one poor ‘small’ decision after another and fell into an emotional and somewhat physical affair. I was drowning in darkness and hopelessness, and knew I couldn’t continue down that path. So I grabbed hold of God’s hand and He walked me through reconciliation with my husband. We were now on the path to our marriage being restored; we woke up to the fact that something had to change or we would continue living as an easy target for the enemy. We simplified our life dramatically and began to regularly pray together, though in the beginning, ‘regular’ was a couple times a week. Then it became so addicting – seeing prayers answered that we had sought the Lord together on – that we developed the habit of praying together every night. Initially, we shared our hearts with the Lord and wrapped it up with a quick Amen. But soon we decided to also spend time just being still together in the Lord’s presence, wrapped up together under the sheets, listening for the Lord to speak.
This has honestly become my favorite part of our days as we wait expectantly for Him to reveal His heart. We’ve learned to seek God together on everything from how to discipline a child, to what activities we should commit to, to what houses we should flip, to how we should spend our money, to how we can help others. Through this time the Lord has given us clear answers, and at other times we’ve stepped out shaking, a little unsure, but once we’ve stumbled out on the water He is there.
Through this time together God also led us to minimize screen time dramatically (for us and our children). Up until this time, once we put the kids to bed we would usually sit in front of the TV or work separately online. We found that when we simplified our lives and cut screen time to a small fraction of what it had been, we had ample time and energy to pray together, as well as time to communicate our hearts with each other and read books that grow us. I tell younger couples often that regularly praying and seeking the Lord together knits your hearts together in ways not possible otherwise. Through it God multiplies your love for each other.
We began to flirt with each other as our relationship evolved from one that was dry (as we just focused on the tasks around us) to a playful, intimate relationship in which we truly see each other. It’s not all champagne and roses, but we live in the mindset that we’re on the same team and are more aware of the concerns, joys, hopes the other possesses. Together, we’ve been floored at the ways God has revealed Himself, provided for us miraculously, and given us guidance in the details of our lives. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27-28
The main longing God had placed in my heart from my earliest days is to be a mom. To nurture, love, and train young souls to love God and rise to His calling. I always loved the idea of teaching, but never felt God was leading me to necessarily be a school teacher. Growing up, there is no paid occupation that I can muster the least bit of interest in.
As I grow the voices come at me from every angle.. in school, TV, magazines, movies, and yes even people from church. ‘To be a mom is not good enough. You must go to college and get a degree you can be proud of first and foremost. Then a career. At that point you can start thinking about marriage. Once you’re settled and you’re both making plenty of money, only then do you start a family. But don’t let that family get in the way of your career. Oh no. Because to be ‘just a mom’ is not good enough.”
I want to be accepted and admired more than anything growing up. So early on I get the message: to become what my heart truly longs for is not acceptable. I am constantly told to hold on to my dreams, but it is clear that this means only as long as they involve a money-making career.
I don’t realize that my longing to please people is choking the very life out of the dreams God has placed inside me.
I am instead learning that my hopes for the future are unacceptable and must be suppressed. And as I push them away, part of me dies. The deep down joy I know as a child is lost and I don’t look forward to the future. at. all. I know I don’t fit into any of the career boxes. So I only look at the future with dread. And this begins when I am 10.
This makes it difficult for me to draw near to God because I feel He is calling me to do things I will find no happiness in. Trusting God with my life sure seems unattainable and rather scary.
If only I could have heard then that a mother is the shaper of souls. That there is no higher calling.
Sally Clarkson, who has written many books on motherhood and parenting and who is my mentor, says this:
“For thousands of years the view of motherhood described in the Bible was generally respected in western culture. Motherhood was seen as a noble and important calling. Women considered themselves blessed to have many children, and it was considered normal and good for home and family to be the central focus of a woman’s life. The office of ‘mother’ was respected and revered, and it was generally assumed that entire generations were shaped during the time they spend at the mother’s knee.
Now it has become a lifestyle option – and to many a lesser option – rather than a divine calling.
Friends and teachers had encouraged me to do something important with my life, which meant choosing a career and a type of work that would make the best use of my talents and personality. I could marry and have children if I wanted but not at the expense of fulfilling my potential. Even many of my Christian friends and mentors managed to convey that being ‘just a wife and mother’ would somehow be less than God’s best for me.
God designed motherhood to be a deeply meaningful role. We have the opportunity to influence eternity by building a spiritual legacy in the lives of our children. Through our teaching and influence, morality can be learned and modeled, love and kindness are taught and received, purpose and vision for their lives are ignited and passed on if the mother’s relationships with her children are strong.”
Such truth. How I love Sally and wish I had her books when I first became a mama.
As we walk through life with our kids each day, sharing our hearts and hearing theirs, sharing in good books and good food, playing and learning together, seeking and serving God together, we are molding these eternal souls who are learning the goodness and love of God and who are being filled with His love.
Raising these souls will impact the world. When the time comes they will be shapers of souls as well.
A month after I graduate from high school I am in breathtaking Northern Ireland on a missions trip. And this is where I meet him for the first time though we are a part of the same missions team from TX. This guy pursues me, this guy who boldly shares his testimony on the streets there, this guy with the big brown eyes that fully captivate me and leave me breathless.
3 weeks after we meet, we both feel our relationship will be forever. We make a forever commitment to each other. We don’t see it so much as a boyfriend/girlfriend thing, but we see our relationship as one preparing for marriage.
So a year later on the bright green coast of Northern Ireland, towering high over the rocky blue waters below, we cross a rickety rope bridge to a small island. Dan bends his knee and asks me to be his wife, with dear friends surrounding us.
A year later, and 2 years to the date of committing to a relationship with each other, on August 5, 2000, we nervously exchange promises and rings. I am not nervous because I doubt if Dan is the right one, but because my head is filled with shame as we are getting married before our culture deems it proper. a.k.a. before we finish college, and certainly before we have money-making careers. I feel I am failing in some way. But now, looking back, I know we were married at the right time.
6 months later I am pregnant. I thought we had taken the proper precautions to prevent that. I struggle with an opposing mix of utter joy and devastation. The world is saying my life is over. I am breaking the cardinal rule, having a baby before we have finished college and have plenty of money rolling in. What should have been one of the most joyous times of our lives is drenched in grief.
Then we begin to hear God. He gently says, “I’m in this. You are blessed. It’s going to be alright.” And we try to believe it.
The world is calling us irresponsible. God is calling us blessed.
I know the Scripture. I know God calls children a gift and that nothing is created apart from His will. I know of His promises to provide, and His promises to provide don’t depend on if you stay within the acceptable 2 kids limit, nor do they depend on college degrees. But even the Christian world is telling me something different.
Once Gavin comes, my blue eyed, chunky, perfect Gerber baby, I am smitten. The role of motherhood seems a perfect fit for me and I soak up every minute, kissing those cheeks, tickling those baby rolls. Yet I still have the shadow of how the world perceives me gnawing at me.
I go back to school. Before long my world is caught up in making all A’s, even being the top of the class, and all the recognition that goes along with that. My ego is being fed. And my family is taking a backseat.
During this busy season in which we are both in school, with each of us working as well, we put our marriage on the back burner, each believing the other will understand. We each think we can just pick our marriage back up when we have more time. We fall for another one of Satan’s lies.
We don’t know then that we are giving our marriage a death sentence. And die it did.
This is a lonely time. The little time Dan and I have to be together is spent with us studying in different corners of the house. We and I are not connecting. My heart aches that I don’t get to spend the time with my toddler that I long to.
But this pressure rages on inside, the pressure to do it all. The pressure to be everything but what I truly want to be.
My days at school are long. I make a friend who is there the same hours I am in the business building. He is seven years older, hard working, mature, makes pretty perfect grades. We have much in common (but not necessarily those things) and enjoy each others company. In Business Calculus whatever I am struggling with, he excels in, and I do well in the portion he doesn’t understand. So we begin meeting together to study. It makes sense, but is one bad decision that seems innocent and small enough at the time. Satan set it up well.
Before long he is the one I am connecting to and sharing life with instead of my husband. Over time this becomes an emotional affair. This guy is truly genuine. He speaks to me in a way that makes me swoon, all the right words. At all the right moments. And says them with such depth.
I recall lingering in his car with him one time. I am looking out the window, then when I turn back toward him he is gazing at me and says, “Damn, you’re beautiful.” He holds the weight of me with these words and I melt.
He makes me feel like a goddess.
Being with him gives me such an adrenaline high. I am addicted. And my ego is thriving.
During this time I feel no attraction toward Dan. I think even God can’t fix it.
I am torn. There is a war waging inside of me between this addiction, this lust, and God’s hold on me.
I have already listened to the world so much that it is natural now and I continue to. I listen to the world say I haven’t experienced enough. I was a virgin when I married my first boyfriend. The world is saying I missed out on something.
There is a battle in me between these thoughts and what I know to be true.
And now my relationship with this guy is deepening and becoming physical. We make out in the elevator and in the car after school. But I am surprised to learn that the more I am with him the emptier I feel. This lust can’t be quenched, can not come close to being satisfied.
I eventually find myself in bed with him, but I can never go through with it. God has me. And even though parts of me want to helplessly give in to the temptation and not give a rip, for the most part I am screaming internally.
I know I can’t continue to live like this, with all the inner turmoil, without God and my family as priorities.
I know enough of God’s character by now to know He is waiting with open arms. And I am ready to run toward them.
I miss who Dan and I once were. I hope God will restore our marriage, that He will raise it from the dead, but I have a difficult time believing it possible.
Finally, I open up to Dan about it all. I know this is the only way to the healing. Heartbroken, anguished, but still full of love for me, he forgives. And I am overwhelmed by his goodness and his rich love for me that I have missed. All because of the lies I have listened to.
Dan sees how he has neglected ‘us.’ I know I have done the same. We have ignored the red flags.
We work to pick up the broken pieces of our relationship and start over. This time with new vigor, being all too aware of the fragility of marriage, and knowing it’s something we have to fiercely protect.
I have 2 early miscarriages at this time, within 4 months. As we grieve God knits our hearts together afresh.
During this time I learn that the sacrificial, unconditional love of my husband may not always bring on that adrenaline high, but is deeper, more satisfying, and far sexier than anything the world has to offer.
I learn that lust, the lust to be admired, the lust for that next adrenaline high, is nothing but a black hole that is never satisfied. It sucks you in deeper and deeper but produces nothing but darkness and emptiness.
I continue on in school but at a different campus. God gives us our daughter, Ellie. Quite a gift. I have never been happier, with 2 precious kids and long to be with them. But this pressure inside rages on and I feel I must forge on in school.
By this time I am in the senior level operations management business classes. These classes require far more than I have peace about giving. Challenging case presentations. I can’t do this and be the mom I know I need to be.
For the first time in my life I began having chest pains continually. I end up in the ER. I try to control the stress but the pain continues.
Dan and I venture out on a long walk together and I share with him how I’m trying to figure out what to do with these struggles, this unhappiness. He simply says, “What if it isn’t God’s will for you to finish school right now, or ever?”
Not God’s will! The thought had never occurred to me. I have always heard it from Christians.. so I have figured it is from God, it was always implied that you get.a.degree. This is what our world puts their faith in. No one ever said to seek the Lord on the matter.
But in that very moment I know. And I see clearly for the first time in my life. In this moment God’s peace floods me and I hear Him say, “I’m not in that. Not in that pressure to finish school, that heavy weight like chains all over you, this way of life that robs your joy and keeps you from your family. My promises to provide for you are not based on you acquiring a degree. The longing to be with your kids and the vision you have of the mother you want to be is there because I placed it inside you.”
An indescribable peace washes over me and I am released from this people-pleasing bondage I have lived in far too long.
I am set free.
Set free from the weight of it all, this hunger to be accepted by others and the fear of what will happen if I am not, set free from my dim view of God and what He is calling me to.
And in that moment I am aware that I have made pleasing and impressing people my god. I have longed for the world to validate me and it has blinded me. Blinded me from a life that is not easy, but rich and full of joy. It blocked me from an intimate, trusting relationship with God as I thought He was calling me to that which every fiber of my being found miserable.
So I stop in the middle of the road with Dan, tears in the sunshine, and there’s this sweet release. These chains all over me – this heaviness from trying to please others – is lifted. Gone! And I no longer give a rip what others think about our choices. Only what God says.
I am delivered.
I know God’s holding my hand and leading me down the path I had dreamed of all along. And I fall in love with Him all over again; joy is now attainable and a reality.
It is the sweetest surrender. I feel light as a feather and as though God and I are dancing together, rejoicing together.
So Dan and I embark on this life long journey, going against the flow of our culture. Little do we know at this point that this will affect all areas of our lives, that He will lead us to something radically different even from what we often see as the Christian norm.
Freedom comes when you listen to God’s voice and tune out all the others. As well as a rich life.
And at this point in our lives we are set free.
Romans 12:1b-2 says,
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
I spent so much of my life looking for approval, not understanding that Jesus had already accepted me.
Ann Voskamp says,
“What if the beautiful reality of His extravagant, lavish, ardent, complete acceptance became your everyday reality?
What if your complete acceptability became your complete identity?
We need to learn to live loved. This frees us into the art of life.
When identity is not drawn from a performance- but drawn toward a Person, the Person of Jesus- this is the place where a life makes music. If your performance is fueled by your need for acceptance, this is what BURNS your life OUT.
But when His already acceptance is the very fuel of your performance – this is what ignites a life into pure glory.
An erupting relief of grateful joy moves you to dance, knowing the completeness of your acceptance.”
We need to allow this to sink in, how completely He loves and accepts us now. Not when we’re spiritual enough, not once we’ve rid ourselves of our bad habits, but NOW!
When we surrender fully we are met with a life sweeter, more satisfying and fulfilling than we ever dreamed possible.
Because it is the life He has created us for.