Taste and See

Still Life by Gerard Van Honthorst

You’d think after ten years, I’d have figured out a better way. You’d think that I’d have learned how to motivate, how to cajole, or how to simply avoid the conflict altogether  But no. Ten years into this thing called parenting, dinner time can still be a battle.

Not every night, of course. The nights I serve up macaroni and cheese, chicken, or pizza, all is well and all manner of things shall be well. But the nights we’re broadening our palate, the nights my husband and I enjoy a grown-up meal or attempt some exotic recipe, these nights devolve into protestations, stalling, and outright depression. I can never guarantee precisely how it will all go down–which food will be the stumbling block or which child will stumble–but I have noticed a pattern.

It begins with quiet resistance, moving the food around on the plate, sad looks, and barely uttered sighs. Perhaps all the other portions are consumed, leaving behind the one offending pile of vegetables or curry. My husband and I will have finished by this point. We will be ready to clear the table or have dessert, ready to move on. But instead, we stay. We stay for round two. We stay to encourage, to confront, and eventually to demand. We set timers, appeal to their sense of gratitude, and promise no other food until morning. Sometimes this works; sometimes they take us up on the offer.

After ten years, I should know better. Yet, each time, I continue to be surprised.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic. I understand their resistance to foods they don’t like. I understand that we all have our own set of preferences. I understand that my husband doesn’t like olives or carbonated drinks. But what I can’t fathom is why my children resist foods they have never even tried. How can they know they don’t like something if they’ve never even tasted it?

So while I’m willing to go through the process with them, go through the process we must. We insist that they taste. We insist that they try. We insist that they open themselves up to possibility.

It starts with a gathering of courage, putting a tiny bit on the spoon, hesitantly raising the spoon to the lips, closing the eyes, and tasting…  And it. is. good. The eyes open; relief and surprise wash over the face. “It’s good. No, mommy, I mean it’s good. I’m not just saying that. I really like it.”

After ten years, I should know better. I should know that my children are no different than the rest of us.

It is human nature to doubt. It is human nature to question. It is human nature to think the worst. Of course, I won’t like that food. Of course, I won’t like that change. Of course, I won’t like what God is offering me. As I wrote recently at a colleague’s blog: “We are helpless, flawed people and our inability to trust God is just one expression of this.”

In some sense, we are all small children sitting at a banquet table with sorry looks and unuttered sighs, pushing the food of the gods around in circles on our plates.

But instead of demanding that we clean our plates; instead of setting timers and threatening no more provision, God simply invites us to “taste and see.” He invites us to test him. To hesitantly raise the spoon to our lips, to close our eyes, to swallow.

I wonder if we expect more of each other than God himself expects of us. We want robust expressions of faith and confidence in God’s plan. We want to see his children gobbling up the food that is put in front of them–whether it is a unforeseen trial or simply a change in life circumstances. We want to hear bold proclamations of faith that “all things work together for good” and that we trusting God’s plan.

But God knows better. He remembers our weakness. He knows we are but dust. And so, the perfect Father, opts to go through the process with us. Instead of demanding mature, perfect faith, he simply says, “Taste and see. Taste and see that I am good.”

And so, slowly, hesitatingly, we obey. We open ourselves up to the possibility that his ways are beyond ours. We open ourselves up to the possibility that a good God might just give good gifts. We open ourselves up to the possibility that the Lord is indeed what he claims to be.

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***You can read the full interview about faith and doubt here.

Pulling Together: Marriage, Ministry, and Calling

Yesterday, Bible teacher, Christian radio host, and conference speaker Nancy Leigh DeMoss announced that she will marry Robert Wolgemuth this coming fall. If you’re familiar with DeMoss’s ministry, “Revive Our Hearts,” you’ll understand the significance of this news. For years, DeMoss has been an advocate for Christian women to embrace the “freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness” found in Christ, including the unique calling to home and motherhood. At the same time she has confidently and comfortably embraced her own singleness, believing it to be a gift that has allowed her to commit herself to ministry.

But as God does, just when we think we know the plan, He changes it. Recently, He has brought widowed Wolgemuth and DeMoss together in order “to continue serving Him wholeheartedly, trusting Him to make us even more spiritually fruitful together than we could be apart.”

DeMoss continues:

I love this man dearly and look forward to becoming Mrs. Robert Wolgemuth. But my life mission has not changed. It will now be our life mission to magnify the Lord together… We envision a continued robust Revive Our Hearts ministry. Our longing is for even more women (and men) around the world to experience freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.

And Wolgemuth adds:

My promise to our heavenly Shepherd, to Nancy, to her precious ministry family, and to the thousands around the world who love Nancy Leigh DeMoss, is that I will come alongside her and her ministry with my prayers, encouragement, and support.

And all God’s people said, “AMEN!” This is precisely how we should talk about married women and their calling to Christ’s kingdom.

Unfortunately, I don’t hear this language employed very often. Instead, I regularly hear Christian women being told to seek their callings through their husbands. Don’t get me wrong. I am fully convinced that a woman is called to minister to her husband and family. And I’ll be the first the trumpet the imago Dei-quality of a well-made peanut-butter-and- jelly sandwich or a properly laundered (and folded) pair of boxer shorts. What I’m concerned about is how often we confuse our prepositions—how often we misunderstand the difference between through and to.

In I Corinthians 7, Paul makes it clear that husbands and wives must cultivate and care for each other. Of all the neighbors you are called to love, your spouse is the closest one. This means that being married will naturally limit your ability to pursue other callings in the Church. But Scripture also makes it clear that the call to marry is rooted in a larger call so that even as we enter it, we remember that marriage itself is not all-consuming. It is only part of how we serve the Lord with our whole hearts and lives. This is true for men. This is true for women.

It may sound like I’m stating the obvious. Don’t Christian women understand this? No, I’m afraid that some don’t. Some, in fact, believe that the calling to help their husbands trumps every other ministry calling or desire. Sometimes they believe this because of their own immaturity; and sometimes they believe it because this is what they have been explicitly told. The result is confusion and frustration as women wrestle with their own gifting and place in the Church. They either become weak and directionless, unable to serve apart from their husbands; or they become frustrated and manipulative as they attempt to live out their own passions and gifting through their husbands.

How do I know? I used to be one.

Early in our marriage, when my husband first entered professional ministry, I honestly believed that my calling in the Church would be fulfilled through him. So whatever he needed me to do to further “his” ministry, I did. But I also ended up crossing a lot of boundaries I shouldn’t have crossed. I invested myself too deeply in his career, attempted to do the Holy Spirit’s work in his heart, and meddled in things that were not my concern—all in the name of “supporting” his calling.

What I was really doing was longing for a way to use my own gifting to serve the Church.

God was faithful despite my immaturity, and today I work beside my husband as a wife, mother, and active member of our local church. Out of the Holy Spirit’s gifting, I offer advice, counsel, and support as he needs it; but what he most certainly does not need is for me to confuse my calling with his.

As I’ve found the freedom to develop my own gifts, God has led me to a place I never expected. Today, a significant part of my ministry happens independently of my husband’s. It happens through mothering and homemaking, to be sure, but it also happens through blog posts and articles just like this one.

The result? Today my husband and I are more fruitful for the Kingdom than we have ever been.

You may know that I live in the Blue Ridge of southwest Virginia. You may not know that this is railroad country. Our county and the surrounding area was built on rail and to this day, Norfolk-Southern is one of our largest employers. We also have a lot—A LOT—of mountains. So it’s not unusual to see two engines coupled together pulling a load of cars. With hills this big and loads this large, one engine simply can’t do the job alone.

In many ways, marriage is the same. Both men and women have the same basic calling: We are called to work for Christ’s Kingdom. We have to get the load up the mountain. But just like one engine can’t do it alone, neither can men nor women do it alone. “So God said that it is not good that man should be alone; I’ll give him a second engine to help him.” (That’s from the SWVA version of the Bible which also translates the plural of you as “ya’ll.”)

But here’s the thing: too often, we think of a woman as the coal car that fuels the man’s mission; in reality, she is a strong, second engine tasked with the same mission that he is. His engine may be out in front, and she may even be a different make and model, but make no mistake, they are both tasked with getting the load to the top of the mountain.

I am thrilled to see Nancy Leigh DeMoss and her fiancé confirm the work that God has called her to. I am thrilled that in God’s providence, He has brought them together to serve His Church as husband and wife. But mostly, I am thrilled that they will be able to model this for the rest of us. Because ultimately this is what a truly Christian marriage looks like—two people bound together by a mission greater than either one of them. two people bound together to love Christ and serve His people.

Frost Date

It’s finally spring in our hills. Officially, it’s been spring for over a month, but an Appalachian spring is not a spring you can trust, especially if you are a gardener. The mountains tease and tempt you, blossoming one moment and freezing the next. That’s why “frost date” is so important. This is “the day of the year, based on these 30 year averages, that there is only a 10% chance that there will be a frost.” Statistically speaking, this means that you should be safe to plant after this day. For us, it tends to fall at the end of April.

But every year, I watch grown men and women tempt this “frost date.” For people staunchly opposed to all forms of gambling and avarice, the gardeners I know have a particular penchant toward risk. If you put out your seedlings early enough, and the weather holds, you might also be the first to put out home-grown tomatoes at a church supper. But if you presume too much upon spring, and put them out too soon, your tomatoes won’t show up until August because you’ll have to replant them after they die. (Of course, you could always do what one friend of our does–tend your plants in a greenhouse until they’re nearly grown and then put them out already in bloom–but for the most part, this kind of behavior is frowned upon.)

I spent my childhood watching my father worry and wait until the frost date had finally passed. Today I watch my husband do the same; in fact, as I type, he is out in his garden finally putting out his broccoli and cabbages and tomatoes. He hasn’t been this happy in months. Last year, I wrote a short poem about this angst-ridden season and remembered it just today–a day far enough past frost date to ensure that we will have tomatoes come July.

 

Frost Date

Spring comes to these hills on
lilting steps of two forward, one back.
The man who has known eighty
lifts his hat
and smooths down wisps of white.
“You cannot trust these days; they’re as fickle as a woman.”
But these days seduce old men
(and young too)
to sow their seeds of hope–
a hope that is less than confidence–
lest April make fools of them all.

A Forty-year Providence

40yo card

When I first saw it, it was all jumbled up with grocery ads and direct mail fliers that urged me to consider the metaphysical significance of my current gutter system. But this piece of mail, this greeting-sized envelope postmarked from Long Island, NY, was less noisy, unassuming somehow. I recognized the handwriting as belonging to my husband’s grandmother—a carefully-formed script that she’d learned through hours of instruction in elementary school, back before the ubiquitous keyboards and touch screens that now dominate our lives.

The card, I assumed, would be a late birthday card with the requisite birthday check. I’d heard from my mother-in-law how sorry her own mother was about the delay and how they had had so many things happening and to look for it soon. But when I opened it, it wasn’t what I expected. The envelope did include a check, but instead of a birthday card, it was a “Get Well Soon” card. Inside the same script had written:

Hope this card is inappropriate and that your recovery is complete!! Oh, and by the way—Happy Birthday!!

Still, it was fitting. I had been sick a couple weeks earlier and so perhaps a belated “Get Well Soon” was as relevant as a belated “Happy Birthday.”

But the greeting was the only thing that surprised me. The paper itself was thicker than normal; the picture on front was slightly faded; and the entire card seemed aged. Tiny brown spots dotted the edges and the once-white surface had turned a creamy off-white. Curious, I inspected the card more closely, and sure enough, it was stamped “MCMLXXV.”

1975.

Four years before I had even been born.

Immediately, my head started to spin. I was holding a greeting card that had existed longer than I had. And yet, my name was on it, the envelope was addressed to me, and the postscript clearly contemporary. The card I had just taken out of my mailbox had been posted only days earlier but had been waiting forty years to fulfill its purpose—it had been waiting forty years to extend belated birthday/get-well-soon greetings to me. And suddenly I felt very small. I didn’t feel special. I didn’t feel important. I felt humbled.

Precisely how I should feel after an encounter with Providence.

God’s providence can be described as that inexplicable combination of His love and power working out the details of our lives. It is what undergirds our belief that all things truly do work for together for good and that God knows the plans he has for us. Without it, we are simply the products of fate; or worse, victims of the consequences of our own choices and the choices of those around us. God’s providence a wonderful, necessary doctrine that gives purpose and meaning to our days. It is also one that is easily misunderstood.

The most common way that Christians presume upon Providence is by assuming that we are the center of it. Sometimes we talk as if the whole world–the universe–has been orchestrated to provide this one moment in our lives.

When the manufacturer made this card, God had YOUR name stamped on it.

When the retailer sold this card to a customer, it was God’s way of getting it to YOU.

When this card sat in a drawer for forty years, it’s because God was waiting for YOU to need it on just this particular day.

As nice as these sentiments are, they feel a little too cliché for me. Almost contrived. The reality is that this card did not “have” to end up in my mailbox.

It could have been lost behind a desk.
It could have been sent to another person.
It could have been thrown away.

In forty years, any number of things could have happened to it, and if I don’t recognize this, then God’s providence will mean little. If I don’t recognize that it took a literal Act. Of. God. to direct that card to me, I won’t appreciate it when it happens. But, on the other hand, when I realize that the odds were stack against me, suddenly, I’m overwhelmed by the power of God when it shows up in my mailbox.

At the same time, if we don’t personalize the truth of God’s love, Providence becomes nothing more than a spiritual name for fate. A card ended up in my mailbox simply because God wanted it there and this fact has nothing to do with me. Unless of course, it does.

The beauty of Christianity is that it teaches us to embrace both the power of God and the love of God.  The odds are indeed stacked against us; in the scope of time, we are small, insignificant beings. But even for our smallness, God loves us and does orchestrate events to care for us. Because if even a sparrow can’t fall without His notice, then a greeting card can’t find its way to my mailbox without it either.

In the end, we must embrace the paradox. We must embrace both His power (that card could have easily ended up somewhere else) and His love (that card ended up in my mailbox). And when we do—if providence has done her work—we’ll probably feel a bit like I did that afternoon when I found a 40-year-old greeting card sitting in my mailbox: Small and big at the same time.