After God’s Own Heart

A vine producing fruit. May this be evident in my life.

God has been impressing on me lately, over and over, of the great importance of obedience. For the past several months, my heart has been meditating on 1 Samuel 15:22, “…to obey is better than sacrifice…” Without studying it too closely, I’ve had that scripture floating around my mind every day. For weeks. It was taking up so many of my thoughts that I began teaching it to my children, explaining to the girls that while doing nice things for God, for our family, or for our friends is kind and considerate, it is not nearly as important as obedience. They began to accept this and work it out in their own lives, one common example being how they’re now saving surprises and special projects to do until after their daily chores are done. I tried to quiet the incessant repetition and pressure on my heart by telling God, “See? I’m faithfully teaching my children the things You say in Your word. It’s making a visible difference in their lives. Am I done now with what I was supposed to get out of that scripture?”

But I was not. I read a section of the Bible every morning to my daughters as part of our school time together, and in July we began to read the book of John. And with “to obey is better than sacrifice” still swirling in my mind, I very quickly discovered a verse I’d previously paid little attention to, but afterwards it would not leave me alone: Speaking to a man He’d miraculously healed, Jesus said, “See, you are well now. But stop sinning or something worse may happen to you!” (John 5:14). The poor man had been sick for 38 years. What on earth could happen to him that might be worse than that? But the condition of this man’s heart was important, certainly more so than the state of his body. Jesus made that clear when He left him with a warning against continuing to sin.

What did Jesus say to the woman who was going to be stoned for adultery? “So also I don’t judge you. Go now, and sin no more.” (John 8:11) Jesus just saved her life. Literally. As in, the law stated that she should be put to death by stoning. And Jesus stepped in, and her accusers left. But the condition of her heart was worth more than her earthly life (which would, of course, eventually end). So Jesus told her to stop sinning.

How many more stories can you relate of Jesus telling those He healed or forgave to “sin no more”?

Then my husband directed me to a sermon he’d listened to from a wonderful pastor here in town that hit the nail on the head concerning John 15 (where Jesus is talking about the vine and the branches). What’s coming from my heart? Am I bearing the fruits born out of obedience? (Go listen to it. Really.)

Then I was praying with my daughter V for a relative’s sickness, and she said, “Mommy, Jesus will heal her heart and then her body will be better.” Out of the mouths of babes, right? Everywhere I turned I was confronted with this examination of one’s heart, this need to put right our innermost being above anything else.

A heart of obedience is so incredibly important. I went back to 1 Samuel to reread some verses about Saul, hoping to get this troublesome and convicting topic off my heart and mind. Surely if I examined the context, I would finally be at rest. Here’s the story connecting obedience + sacrifice:

“Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. So Saul said, “Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.” And he offered the burnt offering. Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him.

And Samuel said, “What have you done?”

Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.”

 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” -1Samuel 13:8-14

Samuel had given Saul specific instructions to wait for him before offering any sacrifices – that was Samuel’s job, not Saul’s. But the situation was tense, a bunch of people went into hiding, and even those who stayed at Saul’s side trembled in fear. So Saul decided to go ahead and take care of it. He disobeyed the command of God. And he lost his throne because of it. I don’t remember ever thinking much about this part: “For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue.”

DAVID WAS NOT GOD’S FIRST CHOICE. We all know David, right? How much he loved God, how strong his faith was, how he was a direct ancestor of Jesus on both Joseph’s and Mary’s sides. But God first intended Saul’s kingdom to be established. All Saul had to do was to obey, to have a heart that desired God more than himself. SAUL’S HEART OF DISOBEDIENCE AFFECTED ALL OF HISTORY. He offered a sacrifice (a good thing) instead of obeying. And because of that, his reign was over.

But even David sinned, right? Everyone sins. This is true. But “The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart…” David was human, and he sinned. But he sought after God’s heart with everything within him. His heart was God’s. I don’t think Saul had a heart after God. I think God gave him every opportunity to choose to follow Him completely, but Saul refused, and this one instance of disobedience simply reflected his heart, which was not turned fully toward his Lord. 1 Samuel 10:9 even says that “God gave him (Saul) another heart…” God was willing and desirous for Saul to be king over Israel and for his lineage to remain so forever. But Saul had a choice. And really, I think there were warning signs before he outright disobeyed.After all, he hid from his appointment as king (1 Samuel 10:22) in spite of being chosen by God.

Somehow I’d always had the idea that God just kind of allowed Saul to become king to appease the people, but that He never really intended his line to remain forever (hence great King David). But no, God chose Saul. Saul refused to follow God, and God removed him. Then God “sought for Himself a man after His own heart” and found young David, a shepherd who truly loved God with all of his being, who sinned but was profoundly repentant and restored to his standing before God.

A man after God’s own heart is obedient, first and foremost. All our sacrifices are worthless if we are not obeying our Lord. If He has healed us like the invalid, or saved us like the adulteress, or set us apart for a special purpose like Saul, He still requires obedience. He doesn’t request it of us or have a sweet appreciation of it on the occasions or in the rare instances that we feel like obeying Him. He demands it. He requires it. He is a jealous God and will not share our hearts with anything else – even the sacrifices we offer to Him, if they are not first grounded in obedience.

The Bible says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) And again, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” (Philippians 2:12) Look, we’re not (as believers) supposed to be scared of God, but we are to have an appropriate fear of Him and what He can do (“able to destroy both soul and body in hell”). And if He requires obedience, we need to understand that if we refuse, we are risking His purpose for our lives on this earth, and we are risking our eternity.

And before anyone jumps on the rabbit trail of eternal security, may I just say that every argument for eternal security I’ve ever heard was really just an excuse not to live in complete obedience to God. Think about it. If you’re relying on eternal security instead of spending your days seeking after God and following Him, then your focus is wrong, and your argument is worthless. Because whether eternal security is true or not, God has made it abundantly clear that He requires obedience. And if we’re pressing in to Him, then He can grant us assurance of our salvation. We then have no need to point at the concept of eternal security as our comfort and confidence because He is our comfort and confidence.

So now what? Y’all, I’ve been convicted now for some time that there were areas in my life where I was not walking in obedience to God. After I did my brief little look at Saul’s heart vs. David’s heart, I had to get on my face before God and repent. I do not want my heart, which I know for a fact was HEALED from the infirmary of sin and SAVED from sin’s wages, which is death, to be hardened now toward God because of disobedience. Practically speaking though, how do I train my heart to yearn after God, to obey Him and follow Him only?

Isaiah says, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.Cease to do evil, learn to do good.” (1:16-17a)

Y’all, in all of this obedience I’m talking about here, I’m not even thinking of “big things” like becoming a missionary or starting a ministry or adopting a child, etc. I’m referring to basic obedience:”Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;” acknowledge the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life concerning your own pride, your selfishness, your unloving attitude toward others, your lies, the TRASH you read or watch on the television or listen to on the radio, your greed, your lusts, your fears, etc. Then truly, honestly, get down on your knees and face before God to repent of these things. “Put away the evil of your doings.” That tv show you consider a guilty pleasure? Turn it off for the last time. That unChristlike attitude toward your spouse? Stop it. Whatever it is that leads your heart away from seeking after God only, get rid of it. No matter the cost, because it’s not worth it. And may I say that if you look at the things you love, whether it’s a type of music, money, books or movies, your own comfort – whatever it may be – and you think to yourself that you can’t lay it down, then you need to really examine your heart and check whether you might have spent so much time silencing the Holy Spirit’s convictions that you’ve now hardened your heart altogether. Don’t deceive yourself. God is a jealous God (2 Cor. 11:2), and He demands all of us, not the least bit willing to share space in our lives with anything evil. “Cease to do evil,” He says. “Learn to do good.”

He desires us, you guys. All of us. Our whole hearts. And He is more than willing to heal us, to save us, to redeem us. But He requires obedience. And when I meditate on that, and I examine my own heart, a healthy fear of God and what He can do wells up inside of me – for myself, but also for all the multitudes of people who call themselves Christians. This is real life, everyone. Right now, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing.

“Stop sinning, lest something worse come upon you.”

“Go now, and sin no more.”

For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue.”

I want to train my heart, to curb my own affections, to seek God with everything in me so that I might be a woman after God’s own heart. What about you?



One More Year

Dear Husband,

It was two weeks before Christmas, seven and a half years ago. You wanted me to come up to visit you in Oxford for a special date on your beloved square before you came home for the holidays. My sister drove up with me to chaperone so we could sleep at your apartment that night before returning home the next morning. I bought a new dress and Mom altered it for me. She and Dad were going out of town and I remember wondering at the strange look in her eye when she told me to have a good time. Amy and I drove the three hours in excitement, enjoying the road trip and looking forward to a night of fun. You took me to a beautiful restaurant – the nicest I’d ever been to – and I began to wonder if there was more to this night. A friend of mine had gotten engaged a few months earlier, and her fiance had taken her to a fancy schmancy place to pop the question. I knew that you were going to propose eventually, but didn’t have a clue when. Suddenly I couldn’t eat and I was so nervous I couldn’t even make normal conversation. Didn’t I blather on about dogs or something…?

After the delicious meal that you enjoyed and I pushed around my plate, you took me around the corner to a coffee shop, where I ordered hot chocolate, of course. You didn’t propose again. I thought maybe I was jumping the gun and decided to put that possibility out of my head. I purposed to just enjoy the time together. You left me for a couple of minutes and returned to say you had found something cool you wanted to show me. As you were forever exploring and discovering strange, out-of-the-way places, I didn’t think the request too unusual, so I took your hand and followed you down the dark street and into an alley, where I slipped out of my heels and climbed the outside stairs to the rooftop of a building just off the square. We stepped onto the roof, and I caught my breath at the beautiful sight. The whole place was decorated with sparkling Christmas lights, and the view of the square lit up for the holidays is something I’ll never forget. We enjoyed the sights for a few minutes before you drew my attention to a small gazebo in the corner, covered in lights and set up with a small table beneath it. It wasn’t until I stepped onto the rose petals all over the floor of the structure that I realized you had planned this whole thing. There was a cloth on the table, a vase of roses, a little lamp, and a small gift bag. I’m pretty sure that’s when I started to cry. You said you wanted to give me a Christmas gift early and urged me to open the bag. I pulled out a lovely handmade music box painted dark brown and with a beautifully embroidered gardenia inlaid in the top of it. At your instruction, I turned the handle on the side and the first several bars of Steven Curtis Chapman’s song I Will Be Here poured from the box. I was crying in earnest by then. When the music had ended, I opened the box and found a note inside that read, “Turn Around,” so I did. There you were, on your knee, holding out a flashing golden ring that I could barely see through my tears. I’ll never forget what you said. “Katie, I want to be able to sing that song to you for the rest of my life. Will you marry me?”

We married five months later in May before a little crowd of family and a few friends. My brother sang I Will Be Here during the ceremony. And our adventure began. Remember our honeymoon? A secluded cabin in the dense woods of Blue Ridge, Georgia, where I was so scared of the narrow, winding roads bordered on one side by a mountainous wall and on the other by a drop off that made me queasy to look at. We went white water rafting on that trip, remember? SO MUCH FUN!!!! I’d gone rafting years before but it was your first time. We hated to leave those woods, but Ole Miss was calling us home for summer school, set to begin the day after we returned from our honeymoon. Perfect timing, right? Except for the little matter of our car dropping its exhaust pipe on the interstate in AL. So we were stuck trying to get it fixed in a tiny, off-the-map town during a heat wave. And we couldn’t rent a car because neither of us was 21 yet. We finally made it to our new home and jumped into completing our Spanish classes together.

We discovered that we do not make good classmates. I was convinced that the teacher deserved our utmost respect and attention, no matter how dull the class was. You preferred tickling me and working on scientific graphs to paying attention. Ever since we started getting to know each other, you’ve made it your goal to get me to lighten up. I’ll never forget how mortified I was the day you brought a file filled with unrelated work and spread it all over the desk we shared. I tried my best to ignore you, which of course prompted you to play footsie beneath the desk. I was sure we’d get thrown out of class. We didn’t. And you still tease me about how you aced the class just as well as I did even without paying one bit of attention. Okay, okay, you were right! I admit it!

We explored Oxford together, walking up and down the hills with fast-growing Val. We rode the city bus. We found out just how much we both enjoy combing through thrift stores for great finds. Remember going to Washington, D. C. on our first spring break? You took me to all your favorite places. We were silent in the Holocaust museum, loud in the below-ground diner. We stayed in the most out-of-the-way place ever (another of your great finds) but it ended up being perfect. We had fun.

Those first years as we completed our undergraduate degrees, both of us were students at SMBHC, but with my emphasis on English and history and yours in biology and biochemistry, we had no more classes together. Thank goodness!

You applied for, and were accepted to, a summer research program in Chapel Hill, NC. So just a few days before our first anniversary we piled ourselves, our possessions, and our dog into that little car and drove to Chapel Hill. You spent the summer working and learning and discovering your eventual career choice, and I spent the summer quilting, learning new recipes, and hanging out in the little apartment. We swam in the neighborhood pool every night. We played tennis on the neighborhood courts every week. We hosted the family get-together for the Fourth of July. We discovered Netflix. My sister spent a week with us and accidentally bleached my hair and spent a whole day reading with me on the beach. We went to a concert in Charlotte. We fell in love with North Carolina together.

Then we headed back home to Ole Miss and our final year of classes. You were active in your Christian fraternity; I kept busy with my Christian sorority. We were both completing our honors theses and wondering what life held for us following graduation. We knew you were headed to pharmacy school, but we didn’t decide on precisely where until Christmas vacation. You had narrowed your choices down to UNC (we really loved North Carolina) and UK (my brother’s family had recently moved to Lexington and we thought it would be great to build up our relationship with them for four years). We discovered how amazing UK COP was and your choice was made.

Spring semester of our senior year, we were excited about graduation and moving to Kentucky over the summer. Then, at the end of January, I thought I’d caught a virus. I was sick. And kept getting sicker. But we googled my symptoms like the brilliant students we were and the result was pregnant???!! So the next morning I took a test and you whirled me around and hugged me tight when I told you it was positive. I was scared to trust the home test, though, so I skipped my first class and went to student health. It was confirmed. We were really expecting our first baby. Your excitement made my love for you well up within me.

The next few weeks passed in a blur of school work, classes, and editing our theses. We spent spring break in Lexington, looking for housing. I had my first doctor’s appointment and ultrasound on the day we left, and we discovered that we were not expecting our first baby. Rather, we were expecting our first, second, and third babies. I’ll never forget looking over and seeing your mouth wide open in shock. Never in our wildest dreams had we imagined we would someday have triplets. And certainly not as we’re trying to finish our undergrad work, move two states away from almost all our family, and begin four years of pharmacy school. It seemed impossible.

But time passed and life moved on along. We graduated together and two days later moved to our rental house in Lexington, which we had rented sight unseen two weeks prior. You worked hard all summer and I rested in between frequent doctor appointments. Remember that trip we took with Matt and Kara’s family to the Cincinnati zoo? Such a fun trip. I could only go because you pushed me around the whole zoo in a wheelchair. You cared for me so well, dear husband.

And in July, just one month before the girls would end up arriving, you took off work at a moment’s notice to drive me to MS to be by my grandfather’s side in the ICU. For a while there we didn’t know if he would make it, and the look in his eyes when he saw me and realized his “buddy” had come back to be with him meant the world to me. You made that happen. And when he began to recover, you rejoiced with me, not begrudging the trip or the way it messed up your schedule.

After two days in the hospital on contraction-stopping medicines that made me feel like a miserable, bloated whale carcass stranded in the desert, our daughters were born via emergency C-section. It was your fourth day of classes but you walked out of them when I called that morning and were by my side when our girls took their first breaths. Although small and nearly eight weeks early, our beautiful daughters were strong and healthy. Throughout their stay in the NICU, their homecomings, and my own physical complications following surgery, you were there. You rocked our babies, you helped to care for my infected incision, you went to class and worked three jobs around your hours studying in the COP building. We grew together. Both of us were tapped out with our responsibilities. But we were together.

At the end of that first year of school, I arranged a surprise for our anniversary. With our supplies stowed in the trunk, you unsuspectingly helped me drop off the babies with my sister-in-law so we could “grocery shop” more easily. Ha! Instead I took the wheel, passed the grocery store, and just kept driving. We spent the day in a canoe, blissfully paddling our way down Elkhorn Creek, enjoying the time away from responsibilities.

If the first year of pharmacy school was hard, the second year was only harder. Thanks to school requirements over the summer, there was no breather. AND little opportunity for earning more income, since you had to work full time for school credit for half the season. We were the poorest we’ve ever been that year, with three babies in diapers and you working around the clock to provide for your family even as you excelled in your classes. And you did excel. Your grades, professors, and fellow classmates all were in awe of you. Looking back, I realize that I was often far too consumed with my own difficulties (caring for three toddlers 24/7 almost completely alone) to see past the end of my nose. I’m sorry for that. You were amazing. You took care of your family well. You have never wavered in your promise to protect and provide for us.

By the time the end of second year rolled around (do you even remember anything specific about that year? It’s mostly a blur for me) we were disjointed in our relationship, not communicating well, and frustrated. And TIRED. Both of us were EXHAUSTED in every way. So we scraped our pennies together, accepted Matt’s offer of hotel points and my parents’ offer to stay with the girls, and we drove to Asheville, NC, for our fourth anniversary weekend. It was our first overnight getaway since the girls were born and we desperately needed that time alone together. What a refreshing trip! We got to cross something off the dream-list: seeing the Cumberland Gap. Do you remember our favorite part of the trip? The NAPS!!!! In between touring Biltmore (wasn’t that fun?!) and the biggest quilting fabric store in the USA (thank you, long-suffering husband), we slept. Any time of the day that we felt like it. We woke up, explored downtown, and went back to bed. We woke up, swam in the hotel pool, and went back to bed. We took the long way home and went to the very top of Grandfather Mountain (what is it with us and winding, terrifying roads???). We walked across the mile-high bridge. We took pictures. We drank in the sight of something so much bigger than us and we talked. We drove home and we talked. We held hands. The drive home was almost as amazing as the trip itself. It was like pushing a reset button for us.

Third year…what happened third year? Oh, yeah…potty training. That’s why everything else runs together in my mind. Potty training three two-year-olds at once is not my favorite part of parenting. Lots of messes. And that house had carpet throughout, remember? We bought our own carpet cleaner to avoid renting one so often. That was your idea. Smart, too. And quintessential Jonathan taking care of his family. You couldn’t be home much to help with the training or the cleaning up, so you did your best to make it easier for me to handle. Thank you.

We served in a church plant almost an hour north of our house. I was with the kids (naturally) and you were in the band. It was like breathing a fresh wind into your lungs every weekly practice and every Sunday morning for worship. I loved seeing you that way. I loved hearing you play guitar again (I gave it to you for graduation, remember?), watching our girls dance to Daddy’s songs. We attended weekly band members’ (and spouses) Bible study together. Together. We read together, prayed together, discussed together. We made lots of parenting mistakes in front of people who were all older than we were, who had kids older than ours. They gave us grace. They shared some wisdom. We grew together some more.

At the end of third year, we spent six weeks in Mississippi at my parents’ while you did one of the fourth-year rotations at a hospital there. We found out we were expecting another baby while we were there. It was sooner than we’d planned, and I was nervous to tell you. But you were excited, declaring that if it was another girl, you wanted to name her so she’d never doubt you wanted her and weren’t pining for a boy instead, in spite of what every stranger suggested when they saw our family. And my love for you grew some more.

We spent a whirlwind 24 hours driving to the MS coast for our anniversary, leaving the girls with my parents. We stayed in a lovely, relaxing bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by quiet, peaceful forests. Do you remember taking a stroll down the path that led to the river? We took off our shoes and played in the sandy beach like children. We discovered an open chapel area on the way back and felt it to be a very holy place. Remember standing there before the cross? We took a ferry out to Ship Island and swam in the Gulf together, collapsed on our towels together, and closed our eyes to rest. Remember the rush back to catch the ferry heading for the mainland? How we shuffled along the wooden pier, hot and wet and salty. We saw a whole bunch of dolphins on the way back in, remember? They leaped out of the water, gray and glistening in the sun, and your first thought was to take a video to show our girls. Because even when they’re not with us, we are thinking about them. We ate supper in the same kind of restaurant where, five years earlier, we ate our first supper together as husband and wife. And we dreamed aloud, beautiful dreams of our growing family. Of ourselves as a couple.

That summer, we waited several months before telling people about the coming baby. We didn’t want to hear all the negative comments we knew we’d get. I’m sorry for it now. You were right about wanting to tell people sooner. We loved the baby already and shouldn’t have cared what anyone else might say.

When fourth (and FINAL) year started we celebrated the girls’ third birthday and found out we were going to have a little boy. A son. We chose the name Benjamin, meaning “son of my right hand.” And somehow, to me, that name signifies our growing relationship with each other. Our commitment and connection to one another. Our vow that we would remain each other’s right hand no matter what.

That semester, there were no classes. Just rotations and projects. And our family flourished. We spent so much more time together than we had since pharmacy school started. We explored Lexington and its surroundings together. We visited parks, and a petting zoo, and a pumpkin patch. It was a wonderful semester. We were alone for Thanksgiving, since you had to work at the hospital, but it was a lovely holiday together. Remember the walk around the neighborhood? And how you sprawled on the floor to join in as the girls played with their dollhouse? Another moment forever captured in my heart, sweet husband, of a father playing so tenderly with his daughters.

The holidays were hard. Remember? Since the baby wasn’t due until early January, the out-of-town family opted to wait for his arrival before coming up, and we planned to celebrate Christmas with them then. So Christmas morning it was just our little family, the girls exclaiming over their gifts, then all of us bundling up to spend the day with Matt and Kara’s family. We saw their new house for the first time and shared their excitement over moving in the following weekend. We helped them move in.

Two weeks later my parents arrived, staying with the girls while we went to the hospital in anticipation of little Benjamin’s arrival. Do you remember the snow falling softly as we drove the familiar roads? How we remarked on how special that was, since we love the snow? And then we were there. And he was here. It was so different from the rushed, harried birth of the girls. I was aware and able to hear and follow along with all that was happening. I couldn’t believe how big he was – 9 lbs., 1 oz. But just like before, you were there. Standing by my side, the awe I felt reflected in your eyes.

You were there three days later when I had just arrived home and we found out that my grandmother was in very perilous condition, that family needed to make end-of-life decisions, that my mother and father and brother-in-law had to return to MS immediately. You held me in your arms as I cried, hormones colliding with real concern and sorrow, worried that my mom may not make it back in time to say goodbye. You were on the phone constantly, discussing medications and crises and generally keeping everyone calm and educated about what was going on, what the options meant. Two weeks later Mause was still with us, though barely, the doctors saying the only explanation they had being her exceedingly strong heart. And you encouraged me to take the children and drive down with Amy. You sacrificed two weeks with your newborn son, your daughters, and your wife so that I could spend time with my ill grandmother. Not a single complaint did you express, either, only encouragement.

She began to recover, though much altered, and we returned home again. We settled in to a new routine. You were on rotation about an hour away, commuting daily so you didn’t have to live separated from us for six weeks while we had a newborn. And on the day our son was seven weeks old, I was cracking eggs into a bowl for breakfast, three toddlers at my feet and a baby in the bouncer, and I answered the phone to hear a stranger tell me that you’d been in an accident, that you wanted me to know you love me.

Maybe a broken leg, someone said. That didn’t sound too terrible. I dressed myself, threw some clothes in a bag for the girls, and found someone I could drop them off with so I could get to the hospital. I was so calm for them, keeping my voice light, not allowing the smallest amount of fear enter it. I arrived at the hospital only to be told babies couldn’t enter the trauma unit. But I had to see you. So I left our son sleeping in his stroller in the care of some nurses behind the front desk while I found you. And there you were, in immeasurable pain, stretched out with two broken wrists, one shattered into fragments, and your right leg and foot broken in nine places below the knee, and the ligaments in your knee suffering additional damage. It was terrible to see you like that, to know there was nothing I could do to help, to know I had to leave long enough to drop our son off with someone so that I could stay with you. I told you I love you and left to care for B as quickly as possible. The first 48 hours following the accident were the worst. Matt and Kara came to pick up our children and take them home to care for them. Matt joined me in waiting at the hospital. That night we sat through nearly four hours in the OR waiting room, with another family joining us, some people who had been in the band with you. When the surgeon told me you had come through it well and were in recovery I wanted to weep. But I smiled at him, thanked him sincerely, and hurried to see you. It was terrible. The pain was worse. I’m not sure how we made it through that night.

It was late the next day before you got a room. Matt and Kara took our children to their house over an hour away, and I spent the next five days at your side, dealing with the totaled car and insurance, speaking with people from the pharmacy school, from your jobs, pumping every two hours to keep up my milk supply and storing it in the hospital freezer. It was my turn to take care of you. To feed you and bathe you and wash your hair. To become your own nurse and physical therapist, to learn the best way to shift your limbs, to help you sit up, stand on one foot, pivot into a chair, then collapse there, sweating and exhausted from the effort. I knew it would be a long recovery, and it was. Do you remember the day before you were transferred to the rehabilitation hospital? How your pain was under control and we just relaxed there in the hospital, talking about everything under the sun and genuinely enjoying our time together? How could we do that, with all that had just gone wrong, if we were not such dear friends? If we were not so grateful that God spared you, that instead of planning your funeral I was feeding you while your arms were propped up in the air to reduce swelling and your leg was covered in an impossibly heavy cast? We were together.

The day you were transferred to the rehabilitation hospital, Kara brought our children home. A major winter storm was on its way and I didn’t want to be stuck so far from them. My heart was so thrilled to see them all. A dear friend drove up from Nashville to help me with the children a couple of days until other help could arrive while I was spending my days with you in rehab. We learned that recovery wouldn’t take days, or weeks, but months. We learned how to handle life in our new normal of you being unable to walk, unable to lift anything, unable to care for yourself. A week later, we went home. All of us were together again. And we grew some more.

During recovery, we found out you were matched with a hospital near Nashville for your first year of residency, and I added packing up our house to my list of things to get done. I was so tired, caring for you, caring for the girls, caring for an infant. But in the wee hours I packed. You were upset that you couldn’t do more to help. We searched for housing, and after a couple of months, when you could get around on your walker well enough, we left the girls with family and took the baby with us to look at potential houses. We found our house that weekend, and enjoyed the time together.

The afternoon before you graduated, we arrived home from a family function at the UK COP and I walked into the house to shouts of “Surprise!” You, being the sweetest husband and friend, had set up a surprise party for me! My parents brought cheesecake all the way from MS, homemade by my cousin Jim, my brother’s family was there, some friends from my women’s Bible study were there. You’d had a plaque engraved for the occasion, the Golden Knot Award, and presented it to me in front of everyone, thanking me for holding our family together throughout your school years and especially your injury and recovery. I don’t know if I cried then, but I know I did later. It was so thoughtful, so special.

That night, you walked at graduation. It was your goal ever since the accident, and you worked toward it for three months. I cried proud, happy tears as you graduated summa cum laude. Remember how little F chose a perfectly silent and somber moment to call out, “Hi, Daddy!” and the entire audience laughed as you waved back at her. Afterward, everyone we spoke with had only kind, nice things to say to you and about you. You made an impact on your classmates, your teachers. I was so pleased to see it. No one else knew what it had taken to get you there.

The next afternoon it was your turn to walk into the house to shouts of “Surprise!” I’d spent a month arranging a graduation party for you, complete with all the band members and their families, catered by one of your favorite local restaurants. That year we gave each other surprise parties one day apart. Because after all we’d been through, we loved each other. We thought about each other.

Our sixth anniversary was just one week before we’d leave Lexington. We hired a babysitter for the day and spent our time revisiting some of our favorite local spots. We talked a lot, pulling up our many memories from four years living there – the difficult days of making ends meet when school loans were as many as six weeks late coming in, the hospital where all our four children were born, the arboretum where we took the girls on their first picnic, the skating rink where I attempted to teach you how to ice skate on a rare date night. The arguments over little things when we were both too frustrated and tired to think straight, the late nights we sat up together, watching Hogan’s Heroes or Get Smart while we waited to help each other with midnight feedings. The first snowman our daughters built, the first swing set you put together. Do you remember the little park in the back of our neighborhood? How many times did we walk there with Val and the girls, letting the girls run all over the place to explore, crossing one bridge only to run to the next one?

Oxford was hard to leave because we loved it so much, yet we were eager to leave because we saw such adventure in our future. Lexington was hard to leave because so many firsts happened there for our family, and we’d been so stretched in ways we’d never expected. But it was easy to leave in some ways because it was so hard. There were good times, but there were difficult times too. There are always shadows hovering when I look back at our years there.

We moved to Tennessee and had two weeks to set up house (with you still not fully recovered from your injuries) before you began work. We were downsizing, so some furniture and odds and ends had to go. Finally our bedroom was our own again and the baby was moved out of it. Much of my kitchen and almost all of our treasured books had to remain packed and stacked in the attic, as there was simply not enough room for it in the little house.

You began work and loved it. And you were home nearly every night for supper, which had never happened during pharmacy school. We spent most weekends together that year, and your relationship with our children was beautiful to see. We were not rich, but the penny-pinching mentality of the school years was replaced with a timid step toward having enough to meet the needs. We were able to spend a lot of time with our best friends from Ole Miss, who live just north of Nashville. Because of the accident, we shared one vehicle, so the kids and I spent our days at home, taking you in to work one day a week so we could attend story time at the local library. You invited us to join you afterward during your break for picnic lunches, and we’d watch the groundhogs scurry from one hole to another.

We explored our new town, which I fell in love with almost immediately. It’s a perfect place for a young family. We bought a membership to the children’s museum, got to know the local librarians, discovered the amazing paths connecting the parks throughout the city. You were excited about the proximity to Nashville, and we went to a few concerts together, then you found out about some local shows and began going to those every month or so. YOU MET STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN IN A COFFEE SHOP!!!!

A neighbor invited us to their church, and we went one Sunday to be polite. We came back the next week. And the next. And the things we were seeing and hearing there opened up wonderful conversations between us, allowing our hearts to open even more fully to one another.

That Christmas, we gave the girls their first bikes, and after a few weeks of me teaching them the basics, we became a biking family. Benjamin would get strapped into his seat behind me, the girls would all line up, and you’d lead us – throughout the neighborhood, down those paths from park to park. It’s one of our favorite things to do together.

We joked at the end of the year that except for Benjamin’s birth, we’d pretty much like to forget 2015. It wasn’t completely a joke. That was a hard year. We hoped 2016 would be more restful.

At the end of January we got another frightening phone call. Dad had fallen from the roof of a building he was finishing. Before we even knew his injuries, you were home from work, helping me pack the van, and we were a few hours into the drive by the time we learned he’d broken his back and his heel. Around midnight, you had about 30 seconds between a warning light turning on and our van shutting down. We just barely made it to the edge of the AL interstate before it died. The lights wouldn’t even switch on. What is it with us and the interstates in Alabama???  A couple of hours later we were tucked into bed in a hotel, and the next morning you took care of getting the van repaired so we could make it the rest of the way to MS. We decided it was time to buy a new family van, pronto.

You were amazing in how you helped my father. You helped with the medications to get his pain under control, you helped to bring him home from the hospital and set him up for success with his medications longer term. You were there beside me to get him in and out of his brace, to turn him, to devise a holder for his laptop so he had something to occupy his mind while he was flat on his back. You moved furniture, you encouraged him, you prayed with him. And when we were set up as well as we could be, and Matt and Kara had come to help for several days, you returned home alone so you could work, leaving me and the kids in MS to take care of Mom and Dad. Two weeks later, you came back, eager to see us and to help any way you could. You went home again and test drove a van I’d found, getting the best possible price and having them include a minor repair. A week later, Dad was more stable and Mom more able to care for him, so you drove back halfway to meet us and pick us up to go home with you. Just as you had in every family crisis since we’d been married, you stayed calm, supported me in every way, and carried the weight of the burdens for me so that I was free to do what I needed to do. Thank you.

We settled back into our routine at home. We LOVED our new van, and the kids and I reveled in the freedom of suddenly being able to go wherever we wanted to go whenever we wanted to get out. We were together again.

Two months later, the kids and I went back to MS to help my parents pack up and move. Dad was much better, but still couldn’t lift anything. We spent two weeks there before returning home, this time with Mom and Dad joining us for a visit. As always, you welcomed them into our home. You have always loved my family well, dear husband. You truly care for them on your own, and have wonderful relationships with my parents and siblings, but I know without a doubt that you also have a love for them that’s deeper for my sake. And I love you for it.

For our seventh anniversary, we decided to just have fun together. We went to a nice restaurant (not the least bit child-friendly- yay!), then challenged each other to arcade games (you won) and played goofy golf with neon balls by the light of fireflies and lanterns (I won). Do you remember the ball that jumped completely out of the hole we were playing and rolled down the rocks? Remember how long we had to wait for our turn to play each hole, and how we didn’t even care? We just stood together and talked. We enjoyed the silliness of just playing together, of being carefree together.

Two weeks later, your first year of residency was over. We’ve now just begun your second and final year of training. After this, we’ll finally be a “normal” family, where Dad has a job that includes no classwork or formal training. You’ll just work, come home, and get paid for it. We’ll start to plan things like family vacations (Great Lakes, anyone???) and look into the possibility of owning our first home together.

It’s been a long, hard road, and we have just one year left. And over the past seven years, I can’t count the number of times confused people have asked us how long we have left, or told us over and over about looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. And they’re right. It’s hard to believe that in just twelve months we’ll begin to reap from all you’ve sown the past seven years. But I don’t want to forget those years. We haven’t been on hold these first years of marriage; we never pushed pause on our life together. We have lived the past seven years. We’ve faced great challenges, real family crises, and we’ve come through them together. You have always been here, just as you promised on that rooftop in Oxford on a night that feels like a lifetime ago. You’ve kept your promise, sweet husband. And I know it’s something everyone says, but after all the stretching, the struggles, the brick walls, and one very long, seemingly endless tunnel, I love you more and better now than I could have even dreamed of loving you when we were standing beneath twinkling Christmas lights on that magical night a lifetime ago. Thank you for keeping your promise.

Love always,

Your wife

How He Hears Us

I’ve always been a little in awe of the idea that we, as believers, can actually make a difference through prayer. How is it not completely arrogant to imagine that we as sinful creatures could change the mind and plan of Almighty God?

This past Sunday was Easter, but thanks to Daddy coming down with a virus, the baby having a terrible time teething, and three out of four kids being ill with nasty colds, we stayed home from church. We did manage to still enjoy giving the children their Easter baskets, discuss in detail the great sacrifice God made for us, and arrange an indoor egg hunt that evening. The grand prize of the egg hunt was a shiny golden egg with $2 in it and a promise for the winning daughter to have the rare treat of picking out a favorite piece of candy next time we go grocery shopping. The golden egg was hidden carefully in the refrigerator and stayed hidden until the very end of the hunt, when little M discovered it, to her great joy. She immediately declared that she would get a bag of M&M’s for her treat and graciously offered to share them with her sisters.

Monday morning found me and the kids running a few errands in our van. When we were nearly home, M piped up from the middle seat with, “Mommy, can I share my egg prize with my sisters?”

“Sure, M, you can share your M&M’s with them. That’s very sweet, honey.”

“No, Mommy, M&M’s aren’t their favorite. If we cut my money in half there will be enough. Can I give it to them so that they can buy their favorite candy like me?”

That precious voice so generously and sincerely desiring to share her joy with her sisters made my heart melt. (Is there anything more adorable than your children showing love toward each other?) Of course, $2 is not enough money for three varieties of candy, and her sisters certainly didn’t “earn” the privilege of picking out their own treat. But as I glanced in my bus lady mirror and briefly caught M’s bright blue eyes with my own, the love I have for her welled up within me, and I was very happy to reply, “Yes, M, your sisters may each pick out their own favorite treat when you do.”

The squeals of delight coming from the back of the van made me smile, but a moment later I was struck by the question, Is this how God hears us?

 I’ve struggled at times with understanding how to approach God in prayer. I know that I have nothing of my own to offer Him… “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” (Is. 64:6). I know that He is holy and to be feared in great reverence… “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the one you are to fear, He is the one you are to dread.” (Is. 8:13). I know that we are to approach Him with confidence… In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Eph. 3:12). I know all of these things, and yet couldn’t see how to connect them. Should I grovel at His feet, unworthy and ashamed? Should I hide my face in fear of His purity? Should I come boldly, recklessly claiming all things as my right in the name of Jesus?

Somehow, in my understanding of God as judge (Ps. 50:6), King (Ps. 22:28), and Lord (Ps. 24:1), I had forgotten His love. I had forgotten how He delights in us.

…the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”  Psalm 147:11

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”    Zephaniah 3:17

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

How He loves us!

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 36:7

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…” Ephesians 2:4-5

“…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” Ephesians 3:18-19

Yes, in ourselves we are unworthy to approach the great throne of God. But in His love, He has made a way! He is the Judge, the King, the Lord of lords, but in His love, He has adopted us, making Him our Father and us His cherished sons and daughters. 

The love I have for my children cannot compare to the love God has for us as His children. Why do I so often forget that? When I approach my heavenly Father in prayer, He is delighted to hear me and speak with me. His desire is for me as His daughter. When I approach Him in confidence as my loving Father and make my requests of Him, He is pleased to listen to them and to answer me. I trust in His wisdom and know the outcome will not always change, but I also believe, when His will permits, the outcome can and will change. This is the way that the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16)

This different understanding of how to approach God in prayer just underscores the fact that Christianity is not a list of requirements. It is a relationship. It is love. It is completely undeserved grace and mercy offered in the greatest of loves, and when accepted in faith, Christianity is trusting submission and obedience, provision for all our needs, and eternity with the One who loves us so well. He loves us. He loves me. 

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16), not in arrogance or an attitude of groveling, but in full confidence, knowing that He who hears us is delighted with us as His children and will answer our petitions in wisdom and with unfailing love.