honor where honor is due (or, why i love my wife)

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.

If any woman has a husband for an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife. For how do your know, wife, whether you will save your husband?

1 Corinthians 7:13-14, 16

As I’m sure that everyone who reads this blog knows, I walked away from God seven years ago. I was regularly abusing alcohol; I was engaged in all manners of blasphemous, reckless, and sinful behavior; and I was angry, bitter, and condescending. I made being at home with me a chore on a good day, and a hell-on-earth on a bad day. And yet, my wife stayed. She had every right and reason to leave me, and yet she stayed.

When you take your wedding vows before God, you assume that both you and your spouse will be standing together as Christians, enduring the good and the bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, until death do you part stuff as a team. But no one imagines the bad times being when your spouse walks away from God, and is addicted to porn, and is drunk all the time and getting high all the time. No one imagines that sickness includes depression and thoughts of suicide. No one dreams that for poorer is because your spouse lost yet another job and won’t stop drinking. But that was what Heidi faced. She stood by herself and upheld our wedding vows, even when I wouldn’t. I don’t understand why. But she stood for that. And she stayed.

She consented to stay married to me, even though I didn’t deserve it. Every Sunday for years, she woke up and got first one child, then both kids, ready for Sunday School, and I kissed them all goodbye and she went and stood between God and me and prayed and cried and pleaded for Him to work on my heart, to turn me around, and to bring me back to church. She said, “I don’t know who that is, but he’s not the man I married.” For five years, she prayed. For five years, she asked God to help.

In that time, none of the things I was propping up was working right in my life. Everything I tried to do fell apart through my own pride and ego. Job after job came crashing down. The drinking got worse, I got angrier and more combative. And then everything finally came crashing down. My lies and sins and drunkenness all came together to leave me a broken, defeated wreck of a man, and Heidi was faced again with a choice - “Do I stay with my husband, or do I leave now to protect myself and my children?"

She stayed. In my desperation and brokenness, I finally returned to church. I resented it and didn’t want to be there, but slowly, my heart began to turn. In my brokenness, in my humiliation, I found repentance. And then I found joy. I found peace in the Holy Ghost. And my marriage began to heal. And all the ancillary things in my life, the things in my life that had been falling apart and slipping through my fingers, began to come together and work again. I stopped drinking. I’m not angry or lonely or hopeless or depressed anymore. I’ve built friendships again. And all because she stayed.

She prayed for me. She loved me. She didn’t give up on me. I’m alive today, and serving God today, because my wife wouldn’t leave.

Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.

Thank you, Heidi Beth, for being the most amazing wife. And happy birthday, today. You’re my queen, and I love you. Thank you for not giving up on me.

Confess Your Faults

    What does this mean? According to Dr. Constable, this isn't (a) a public confession of all your dirty laundry, or (b) confessing all of your sins to the clergy in a Roman Catholic sense; rather, it's confessing your sin to those who the sin has influenced. Have you sinned against your brother? Confess it to him. Your spouse? Do the same. Do what you must to make it right. A public sin should be confessed publicly; private sins should be addressed between those who it affects.

    But we put on a front. We pretend often that we're perfect now. We put on our suits. We put on our dresses. Got our hair done up, a fresh shave, our shoes polished. We look good. We put on a good front. But it's a lie.

    We all are struggling with different sins. We are all battling on different fronts and in different ways, but for a few hours a few nights a week, we practice behavior modification and put on our masks of Christian perfection and pretend that everything is perfect. We might be able to fight the behavioral sin for awhile, but we don't deal with the heart issue, largely because we're not honest with each other about what we're struggling with.

    We've probably all heard the Sermon on the Mount at some point in our lives, but have you really ever examined it? It's all about breaking down the cycle of behavior modification and masks of piety; it's about dealing with the heart. How many of us have ever committed murder? But how many of us have ever lost our temper, or flown into a rage, or screamed at that guy in front of you who won't get out of the left lane even though he's going the speed limit and I'm on my way to work and if he doesn’t get out of the way I’m going to....

    How many of us have committed adultery? (Don't raise your hands). But how many of us have looked twice at that new coworker, or the receptionist, or snuck off onto the internet late at night or watched a TV show that showed more than was appropriate or read a trashy novel or magazine article? (Again, don't raise your hands).

    How many of us have held onto a grudge while speaking kindly to someone who offended us, or owes us money, or borrowed your lawn mower and didn't return it full of fuel? How many make promises we never intend to keep? How many of us worship in church while harboring resentment towards a brother or sister?

And that's just Matthew chapter 5.

    Getting to Matthew 6, how many of us make a show of our worship so that people will see us and think we're doing great? How many of us talk about how much we fast, or how much we give in offering, so that people know?

    It gets uncomfortable, but that's the difference between good behavior and a transformed heart. The message of the Gospel isn't that you can live right - it's that you get your heart right. Because if you get your heart right, you'll live right. But, as T.S. Eliot says, "The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason." Intentions matter. Why you do something matters. It gets down to the heart, not the act.

    I believe that it would be beneficial if we talked more openly about our struggles. If we were honest about the trials or the temptations. We don't get explicit, we don't have to embarrass ourselves. But what if we didn't always pretend we were perfect all the time? What if we had less judgment, more love, and more transparency within in the church, where we trusted each other enough to say "hey, say a prayer for me. I'm struggling right now. I'm going through a situation right now. I need you to lift me up. I need you to help me bear this burden. I need you to encourage me." How much stronger would the body be if we didn't attack each other, or mistrust each other, but instead loved each other with the grace that God has showed us? What if we dealt with the heart?

The Arrogance of Impatience

Abraham had a promise from God - he would have a son. God made a covenant with Abraham, and Abraham, in his own mind, didn't understand how God was going to fulfill His end of the deal. So, in his own wisdom, Abraham and his wife took matters into their own hands: Abraham took advantage of a pagan custom of the day and bedded Sarah's servant, Hagar, and she gave birth to Ishmael.

Of course, in His time and in His way, God fulfilled His promise to Abraham, and Sarah did have a child - Isaac. The descendants of Isaac are the Jews - the Children of Israel - and the descendants of Ishmael are the Muslims. And for thousands of years, these two nations, these two families, these two brothers, have been at odds with each other.

I am an impatient person. At this moment, I'm waiting on news about a promotion and transfer at work. I have to wait another seven hours for the news, and I'm going nuts. I want to grill everyone who might have any idea about it and find out what I can. I want to talk about it and speculate about it, and have everyone on my side tell me why I'm a shoe-in; I want everyone who doesn't think I'll get it to enumerate the reasons why someone else is better qualified for the job. I will obsess over this issue for the rest of my shift until I find out.

I'm okay with the answer - I have a contingency plan and I'm confident in my future in the company. But I just want to know.

I've been in and out of church. I've walked away from and back to God a number of times. But about two years ago, I was broken in my own sin. I came back to the Church, and to Jesus, and basically said, "I give up." When I came back, I never thought I'd be in a position of leadership or ministry again. I didn't want to get into a teaching or preaching position. The fascination and the curiosity were gone. I wasn't interested, and even if I was, I was sure that I had screwed up too grandly and too deeply to ever be used of God again.

After about a year, though, God started using me again. It was little things - He started using me in the gifts that I'd been used in before. That curiosity returned. The fervor for the Word and for teaching. My conversations with friends changed, and I began to spend time in the Scripture and asking questions and doing research and thinking and studying. My writing and journaling and unfocused musings changed to thinking about Jesus and serving people and seeing people saved.

So now I have the fire I had before. I have the desire to teach and preach that I had before. And while there's always the nagging doubts of Satan telling me how bad I am, how far I fell, how much I don't deserve God's grace and the opportunity to minister (and he's right!), I have another voice telling me "The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former." I have a pastor who tells me that I can't imagine what God will do with me, and that there's no time in these latter days for soldiers to sit on the sidelines, full of misgivings and doubts.

I believe again. I'm ready to serve, ready to fight. But God says "Not yet."

I want to make things happen by force of will. I want to move the ball forward by whatever means I have at my disposal. I don't want to wait, because I'm ready and eager. But God says "Not yet."

I think I know better than God. And that's arrogance. That's pride. That's sin. It's the same pride that led Abraham to sleep with Hagar. It's saying "God's ways are subject to my ways, and my plans are greater than His plans." Pride is the root of all other sins, and out of it comes idolatry. If I build a ministry by my own hand and personality and charm and charisma, who is glorified? And how much smaller will it be than if I let God direct it and plan it and lead the way?

Be patient. Be humble. Wait on the Lord.

 

NOTE: I didn’t get the promotion. There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’ve gone round in circles a dozen times and tried to plan my next steps and strategy to get to where I think I want to be. Then, one day, God spoke to my heart through three different sermons and an off-the-cuff conversation with my boss and simply said “Wait.” So this blog turned out to be especially prescient.  

UPDATED - What's happening with Heidi

I posted today that Heidi and I were in the hospital due to some labor-like symptoms. She is 32 weeks along with our second child. As most of you probably know, our son, Lincoln, was born at 34 weeks and spent nearly four weeks in NICU before he came home to us. Lincoln, of course, is perfect and brilliant and funny and precocious, so there is no problem with his having been premature. That said, we were hoping for a smoother final trimester this time around. 

At any rate, here's the current status on Heidi and baby Gavin: 

- For the past several weeks, Gavin has been very active, rolling and kicking inside her belly. Or so we thought. Now, it seems she's been experiencing at least some irregular mild to moderate contractions.  

- As of this afternoon, Heidi is about 25% effaced. For those of you who understand these things, instead of 2.5 cm, she's about 1.7 cm. This sort of thing is a sort of pre-labor symptom, but is not the same as being in labor. 

- A fetal fibronectin test was performed and came back negative, which means it's highly unlikely that she will go into labor within the next 7-10 days. 

- Heidi was on IV fluids, but they've stopped that for now. She's been given some meds to help calm the contractions and steroids to accelerate Gavin's heart and lung development. There has been talk of giving her magnesium sulfate, but that hasn't happened yet.  

- Heidi and I will be meeting with some doctors tomorrow from the NICU at the hospital, and I will have more details about what's coming then.  

- Heidi will likely be in the hospital until Tuesday, and we will reconsider everything then.  

A great big thanks to our amazing family for helping out with Lincoln, my pastor for coming by and praying with us, and my awesome neighbors for taking care of our furry kids at home. I'll keep everyone updated through the blog as news comes. Of course, by and large, this is a situation where no news is probably good news. We appreciate all of your prayers and kind words. Heidi is asleep, and she kicked me out of the hospital room because she didn't want to hear me snore. 

We love you all.  

UPDATE:  January 17, 2015 - 16:46

We just spoke with the doctor, and, by and large, things are staying the same. On Tuesday, they will measure the length of her cervix again with her main obstetrician and the high-risk pregnancy team to see how things are going. Most likely, she's going to be on bed rest until 36 weeks, at which point she will be considered full term, and will have no restrictions. 

Heidi is on a course of meds, as I mentioned before, to calm the contractions. Today, instead of frequent, irregular contractions she has been experiencing for the past several weeks, she's only had four or five. This is a great improvement. The course of medication will continue for every six hours for 48 hours, so this round will end on Sunday. If contractions continue, they will discuss other options. 

Heidi has received one steroid injection; she will receive the second injection later today. Fortunately, she does a better job of dealing with injections than I do, and she hasn't run, passed out, or hit the nurse yet. 

Again, thank you to everyone for your kind words, thoughts, and prayers. You mean so much to us both, and we appreciate the encouragement. 

UPDATE:  January 20, 2015 - 17:27

Heidi had another ultrasound today and everything is stable. We're being discharged! She'll complete her bed rest at home instead of the hospital and have weekly exams with the obstetrician. 

Again, everyone, we appreciate your thoughts and prayers and kind words. You've helped make this stressful situation much more bearable. A special thanks to everyone who came to visit, to our parents for helping us out with Lincoln this weekend, and to Brad and Ashley for looking after me and taking care of Dizzy while I was otherwise occupied. 

I Just Want You To Know, It’s Gonna Be OK. | john pavlovitz

It’s alright to admit it to yourself, and to say it to someone else. In fact, doing so isn’t admitting defeat at all. It isn’t giving-up. It’s simply consenting, to fully feeling the reality of the despair and the pain of the moment.

As you do, just remember that you won’t feel like that forever.

John has quickly become one of my favorite bloggers. I won't lie, I got choked up reading this. 

Misemployment - YouTube

This was an interesting video. I remembered the anecdote of Steve Jobs talking to then-Pepsi CEO John Sculley, when attempting to convince him to join Apple: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?"

I've made this lament before to my wife, who works in health care: She makes a difference in people's lives, and I don't. I enjoy my work, most of the time, and I make a good living at it, but sometimes it feels so inconsequential and insignificant. Misemployment is a difficult problem. 

What’s So Bad About Gluten?

From the New Yorker:

Fad dieting is nothing new in America; it’s what we do instead of eating balanced, nutritiously wholesome meals. Scarsdale, Atkins, South Beach, Zone, flexitarian, pescatarian, and paleo have all been awarded their fifteen minutes of fame and then shoved aside for the next great diet. They are rarely effective for long. Some nutrition specialists say that the current preoccupation with gluten-free products reminds them of the national obsession with removing fats from foods in the late nineteen-eighties. “Low-fat” foods are often packed with sugar and calories to make up for the lack of fat. The same is true of many products that are advertised as “gluten-free.” (emphasis added)

The conclusion is interesting - maybe the problem is that we've started adding extra gluten to so many foods as a shortcut. I don't put a lot of faith in anecdotal evidence (I cut gluten and lost 30 pounds and then won the lottery!), but I know people who have gluten sensitivities who don't suffer from celiac disease. I've heard stories of folks who had apparent psychological disorders that were corrected by a gluten-free diet. Perhaps with gluten, as in all things, moderation is key. 

What If We Could Weaponize Empathy?

"I expect you to act like a group of friends who care about each other, no matter how dumb some of us might be, no matter what political opinions some of us hold, no matter what games some of us like or dislike."

This is a principle I hope to espouse in all discussions, be it online or IRL. I haven't always done this well, but I want to. 

Much Ado about Too Much to Do

I work four jobs. I'm a substitute teacher, I drive for Lyft (use promo code BRADLEY861 for a free ride up to $25), I do this freelance writing thing from time to time, and I work part time as a supervisor at a new Carhartt retail store in Greenwood. The store manager has experience managing other retail stores, but I don't know if she's ever opened a new store before.

If you've never opened a store like this before, you can't really understand how big of an undertaking it is. When I was in high school, I helped open a new Circuit City store before the chain ultimately folded, and it was a difficult process. Everyone is new. Everyone is learning a new system. Everyone is learning how to use the computer system and the store policies and how things work, and there's no institutional knowledge to help newbies get along, because we're all newbies. It's not that different this time, and so much of the responsibilities fall on the store manager. She is inundated every time she steps into the store to pass judgement on dozens of small issues, executive decisions that don't really matter but are ultimately up to her. On top of that, she has many significant responsibilities to navigate that are above my pay grade. She can't delegate these tasks (and at any rate, I don't work often enough to be point on many of these projects).

When I work with her, I find that she gets caught in a common trap - she spends at least an hour each day telling me how busy she is and how insurmountable her workload is. I'm sympathetic because I know how difficult it is, but at the same time, I've been thinking about ways to get through the work. 

I don't know many people who aren't busy or don't feel overwhelmed by the many things that draw their attention, time, or resources. Me, for instance, I want to get out of debt, but the total balance due is sufficiently large that I find myself paralyzed by the idea. So I spend time bemoaning the situation in my journal, to my wife, and the squirrel who lives in my backyard (he's a great listener). Sometimes I ambitiously buy a Powerball ticket when the jackpot reaches the 200 million mark. I want to lose weight and become more physically fit so that I can do more things with my family, and I consider my little brother (he works out daily and runs triathlons for fun) and my best friend (a pastor planting a new church who has dropped a ton of weight and built enough muscle mass to help Jesus haul the cross up the hill) as examples of what I would like to achieve. However, when I consider the weight I have to lose, the abysmal physical condition I find myself in, and my general distaste for exercise, and then I look at what kind of shape they are in, I consider the goal a foolish dream and have another piece of bacon.  

The problem is, I focus on the enormity of the whole task, and I dismiss it as insurmountable. But folks don't get their way out of debt by winning the lottery or some other windfall. They do it by cutting costs, paying one bill down at a time, and then slowly but surely chipping away at the mountain of debt until they're free from the burden. My brother and my pastor friend didn't get into great shape overnight - they worked out daily, changed their diets (even when they didn't feel like it), and the changes started manifesting in how they felt and looked. 

What's your task? Break it down into two parts. Still too big? Break it down again. And again. Repeat this until the tasks are small enough for you to complete. Once you've accomplished one, move on to the next one. You might find that it gets easier, once you get started, to build on your success. There's momentum that will build behind you, and you can push through the hard/boring/emotionally difficult parts by the investments you've already made. 

What I want to tell my boss (though I probably won't) is that instead of telling me how busy she is and how difficult this whole process is, she needs to start with one thing and do it. Once that task is done, move on to the next one. And eventually, she'll be past it.  

Your daily clichè for this: The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. So what are you waiting for? Start walking. 

Monday

I woke up this morning to my three year old in bed with me singing "Winnie the Pooh" and poking me, saying "Dada, wake up!" When I rolled over, he smiled and said "I love you, Dada." It's going to be a good day.

I have an interview today at 3, so I'm feeling hopeful. I got dressed and took my boy to Grandma's house, stopping for a cup of coffee on my way. He hugged me and said "Bye bye, Dada." It's going to be a good day.

I drive downtown to pick up a check and meet with an advisor at school. On my way I hit a pothole and spill coffee on my shirt. It's not going to be a good day.

Now my schedule has changed. I have to go to the mechanic to have a tire fixed and it's going to take 2 hours. I walk over to the dry cleaner and they can wash my shirt and iron it in an hour. I walk over to a nearby store for a couple things we need and I pick up a hoodie that's not too expensive. I go to the register to check out and it's 50% off. It's going to be a good day.

I walk to a coffee shop while I wait for my shirt to be finished - risky, I know. I sip some coffee and read the news on my phone before I realize I didn't charge my phone last night. My battery is almost dead, and I left my charger at the school on Friday. It's not going to be a good day.

I check my watch and see that I dropped my shirt off almost an hour ago, so I walk back to the dry cleaner. My shirt is drying, but the stain didn't come out. There's no reason for me to wait, so I ask to take the wet shirt and go. At least she didn't charge me for the wash. It's not going to be a good day.

I walk back to the mechanic and they haven't started on my car yet because they had some questions and my cell battery was dead. Of course, they want to sell me more work - to hear them tell it, the vehicle is likely to explode the next time I hit a pothole. It's not going to be a good day.

My car is finished around 12, so I swing by my mom's house to see if she has laundry superpowers the dry cleaner doesn't. When I walk in, my boy runs up to me and says "Dada, you're here!" He hugs my legs and drags me to the living room so I can play dinosaurs with him. It's going to be a good day.

The stain comes out by merit of mom's dark laundry magic, but it's too late for me to do anything before the interview. Instead, I put my boy down for a nap. He plays with my earlobe while drinking some milk as I sing some songs to him. His eyes close and he starts snoring softly. I hold him until I need to leave and I kiss him on his forehead and whisper "I love you, Bubba." He smiles. It's going to be a good day.

The interview goes well, and I have a second interview tomorrow. I went back to campus and met with an advisor. I have some prerequisites to take care of and can start the program Spring 2015. Dinner with my parents, followed by giving my boy a bath. I get him dressed in his pajamas and as I get ready to leave, he gives me a big hug and a kiss and says, "I love you, Dada."

It was a good day.

Little Man got a Big Boy Bed

Last night Lincoln looked at us and said "Night night" and went to the back of the house towards the bedrooms. Heidi went to find him, and he had crawled into our bed and pulled back the sheets to go to sleep. We decided it was time for him to have a big boy bed.

Today, he picked out his new comforter, and we set everything up in his room. Here's Lincoln in his new big boy bed.

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