So… God’s told me we’re having another baby…

Today’s topic is one that is close to my heart… Babies. 
They are great! But HARD HARD work… A joy to conceive, an endurance to cook (in the metaphorical oven, of course), a pleasure, joy & trial to raise… We have 3 beautiful children, and haven’t been planning for any more.

Now, S. has yet to read or hear about this latest topic, so I can hear her quivering in her boots (or flip-flops) as she will eventually read this…

I’ll set minds at ease, all is not as it may seem from the title.

Before I begin, the backdrop is quite simple:

Another baby she does not wish for. Unequivocally.

I am personally less worried about the whole thing, but that’s beside the point for now. More importantly, something odd started in me a few months ago.

It started with a rough patch with the kids and especially my patience, which forced me to begin praying for more grace for myself and for grace to fill our home. 

I started praying for abundant grace to be the testimony and story of our home life. 

I started praying that as a couple we would show grace to one another and for that to overflow and pour out over our kids. 

I started praying that through the grace we have for one another at home, they would start showing  grace to other friends and living out grace in their daily lives, at school and beyond, to the point that one day they would eventually set up their own homes filled with grace, and live out callings in whatever sphere of life they are called to be, pouring out God’s grace to whoever they meet…

Sound exciting? I thought so…

But then one day the picture changed. I got a picture in my head. A baby daughter. And her name was Grace.

What do you do with that?

I’ve been brought up in the school of ‘never prophesy about births, deaths or marriages’ – and here I am feeling like I need to be praying for something that if I really loved my wife I wouldn’t ask for in 100 years!

I love kids, and if I am perfectly honest (and decided to completely ignore the practicalities of our current callings and ministries) would love to have more, but I am also fully aware of the limitations of our humanity, and that child-bearing is not really on the agenda at the moment.

I’m also not sure that S. would appreciate the ‘manipulation’ that would come with any prophetic statement that involves bear another child!

So what is this all about? 
Every pause and lull I have had in the last week or two has left me praying for something that is physically and practically impossible at the moment, certainly not in our human thinking, and something that doesn’t seem a wise choice at this juncture at all.

So, I’ve been grappling silently with this all until today in prayer I had a mini-epiphany.

The truth is I am praying for a baby to be born, but it may never actually be born in the flesh. I believe that I have been asked to nurture and labour for a different kind of baby…

As far as I can tell, I have been asked to pray abundant grace into being in our home life. I need grace for S, I need to be speaking grace over her. I need grace for my kids and to be speaking grace in every conversation.

I desire to live in a home that is oozing with fresh and living grace everywhere you look or sit, everything you touch.

Grace needs to be flowing from my home and out into the streets; into the hearts of my kids and into the lives of their friends; into our places of work and beyond through our various ministries.

Simply put, God’s grace needs to invade and change our lives and the lives of those around us.

So it appears that for the first time in our marriage, it is my job to carry a baby, to nurture it, feed it day in and day out, consciously and subconsciously until it one day will be born and released into the world.

I read this today:

Jeremiah 31:2-3

Thus says the Lord:

“The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away.

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Even in the wilderness, God’s grace flows freely -directly out of His love – and His love is incredible. 

He loves us just as we are – with a covenantal, faithful, merciful love that endures forever, that is not phased by mistakes, that sees beyond actions and to the very core of our being. His love doesn’t change because we mess up, if anything it shows its strength in our weakness. His grace comes out of THIS love.

By this love the universe hangs together. Do I allow the father’s love to hold my universe together?

Could I learn to love others like that?

Perhaps, if I am going to see this kind of grace born into my home I should start by receiving His grace through this incomparable love for myself…

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When you’re tired…

So I’ve had a long few days… Nobody’s fault. But I am tired, and ‘doing good’ can be hard work! Especially trying to be, so and say things that don’t come naturally to you…

I was reading about Myers-Briggs personality type testing yesterday – all about how we have different types and what you should (and shouldn’t) expect from each type in a relationship.

I agreed to a point, my personality type means I am ‘naturally disposed’ to find it harder to express my feelings, I might find it ‘naturally easier’ to hole myself away into my work…

But does that make it excusable?!

I may not get it right all the time, but I want to lay down those ‘natural barriers’ to providing what S. needs – just as much as I’d hope she’d do the same to validate my needs!

Philippians 2 puts it like this:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:4

Which is tough. And tiring.

But worth it.

So, for those fighting against some of their ‘natural urges’ to be the best spouse they can be. Good on you. Keep up the good work. Don’t beat yourself up if you stuff up. Look over my catalogue of errors (sorry, blog) and be encouraged!!

These verses are for you:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? (aka. bricks vs. mortar)

What really set the little piggy’s brick home apart from the others – was it the bricks?

Or was it the mortar?

I think this question touches on the real reason why I’m trying to go through this whole exercise of blog writing – I think I’ve been pretty ok over the years at working on the ‘visible building materials’ – the straw, bricks and wood – these materials are all different in quality, but produce a similar result on their own… A substandard home…

What are these in my example? I guess I mean the visible gestures, the birthday presents (just about?), Christmas when it comes around, and all the things I probably have to do in between, plus a bit more when I’m feeling committed – but essentially, ‘keeping up appearances’, keeping her happy, ticking the boxes…

As far as I’m concerned, we have a ‘decent’ marriage – we communicate, we give each other time, we fight, we forgive… But as I wrote here, something still isn’t quite there yet.. I’ve been wracking my brains over the last couple of weeks about how to describe it, or what I can do to ‘fix’ it. (Because that’s what us guys do best, right? Spanner, hammer, saw – it’ll be better, surely? And if I’m not too handy, I’ll call my handyman, give him a few bucks and job done…)

What I’m beginning to see is that to have a truly healthy marriage, it’s like building something that will last. All of the ‘visible gestures’, these are like the building materials – they’re essential – they’re what our joint memories are made of – the happy times, the moments, the dates, the holidays, the gifts – the things we hang on our walls. Sometimes I might do something simple, like straw, sometimes I might splash out on a few bricks…

But have you ever wondered what set this little piggy’s house apart? How did it stand up against the might of the wolf?

piggie

You guessed it…

He used cement.

Take a look at this English country garden wall:

dry-stone-wall

Take this beautiful English country wall, for example – it looks beautiful, but try to put any pressure on it, try to put a roof on it… And it will fall apart.

What about our marriages? I’m pretty sure our marriages are meant to provide ‘shelter & cover’ for each other, for our families, for those that come into our homes, for our community. But a marriage built without mortar will struggle to stand the test of time & pressure.

So what is the mortar?

Good question. Why do you think I’m on this journey? I don’t have the answer fully… yet.

I’m sure there is much more that can be said, but what I am learning at the moment is that all of the ‘less visible’ communication that goes into our marriage creates a picture. The way I talk to my wife, the way that I treat her in front of the kids, the way that I support her choices, her decisions… The way that I  stand up for her in front of our friends (and even my family?).

How do I look at her when she comes in with the shopping? Do I say thanks for a job well done or jump straight to the bill to see if she’s overspent?

Whose side do I take (even if I disagree with how she’s gone about doing something?).

What about the little things? The thank you’s, taking time to actually kiss her goodbye before she leaves the house for the day? The coffee in bed, the flowers for no reason? What about serving without pulling a face? Or helping with the jobs that somehow have become hers for some reason?

This picture, even though it is not always communicated explicitly weaves its way between every single visible gesture, and feeds the bigger picture. She may not be able to put her figure on why, but if we take the time to do this well, one day she will know without question, whatever storm may come:

“I am loved. I am valued. I am honored. I am appreciated. I am respected. I am safe.”

There have been days of my life when I have given a grand gesture and undermined it entirely with every single other bit of communication – this is like laying the most precious stone into the brickwork of your home and cementing it in with acid!

And this is something that takes time – if you (like me) haven’t started very far down this path, it can’t be fixed overnight. It can’t even be subcontracted to a handyman. There needs to be mortar between every single brick in a wall. It needs to be even & consistent.

So here I stand, before a challenge, to get mix cement!

I once told a dear family member on the day of his wedding: ‘God has called you to build a home for your wife and for your family – make sure you build it well.’

I knew back then what I thought the picture should look like. I guess now I feel I’m learning what skills it takes to get the job done excellently.

Am I happy with building a shack that can barely protect us against English drizzle? Or will I actually take the time to invest in crafting a shelter that can open its doors to my piggy brothers when the wolf comes blowing, or even my community when it gets really stormy?

I guess I know what my answer is. But turning that into day to day life is probably something else altogether.

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

1 Cor 3:12-14

Wake up call

So I was woken up at 4.30am today.

Great, thanks God. Appreciate that.

But instead of the usual lazy social media surfing that I might do in the warmth of my bed, the voice was clear…

Get up! Fight for your family!

Do I have to?

Well, actually, I guess I don’t have to. But if that’s what God wants, then it’s what I want too…

Read this post (in my few mins scanning social media before I obeyed…)

Powerful stuff!!

I guess if that’s my job as a husband & father, and that’s how I’ve got to start my week well… Give me more wake up calls!!

Now I guess I better stop procrastinating and actually get on with some praying…

When is an act of service not an act of service?

Have you ever spent a whole bunch of time doing something that you thought was helping out, and then all you got at the end of it was a bunch of complaints?

I’ve been there – and I’ve been left fuming…

“I did this for you and that for you… I spent X amount of time… I, I, I, I…. Can’t you just acknowledge what I did…”

Now is there something you noticed about my response – I certainly did – the word ‘I’…

I’ve been helping clean up this morning, and like all slightly self-centered human beings, I’ve been thinking all about what a great job, you guessed it, I have been doing.

I’ve been thinking about how many brownie points I’m going to win – the mileage I’m going to get out of it…

So, all of a sudden, the question that started toying around in my mind is – ‘who am I serving here, S, or me?’

And then it dawned on me – it’s not really an act of service – if I’m serving myself!

It’s not really an act of service, if I’m so caught up in what a great job I’m doing bringing her breakfast in bed, and how pleased she’ll be with me – but all the time forgetting that when she actually gets out of bed, she’ll feel obliged to clean up the bombsite I left downstairs in the kitchen!

Is it really an act of service if it creates more work than there was to begin with?

“It’s the thought that counts…” I’ve heard myself say a ton of time, but really – if I’m going to do something, I’ve got to start thinking about who I am serving!

Philippians 2 says:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

True empathy

And I guess now I understand what empathy means – not looking at things my way, but looking at things her way – what will actually bless her? Am I trying to see the things that she sees, or just trying to check a box?

Can I do something that she’ll really appreciate – and would I do it even if she doesn’t notice?

What am I trying to communicate – how great a husband I am? what a wonderful sacrifice I made? Or how much I actually value and love her?

And with that in mind… I better get back to folding clothes.

 

 

Making all things new

What is the word for this season? This is something some friends of ours asked recently – I don’t really have much of a word for this season, but the one that has been going around S’s mind is this:

“Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5)

Since she shared it to me, I’ve been carrying it on my mind all day, but didn’t think much of it until this evening – when I sat down to read the classic passage on marriage from Ephesians 5. “Wives submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives…” You know the one…

Now this is all great stuff, but I was interested to know more. I started by asking myself where this passage fits in the context of the book. It’s nice to read that I should love my wife – but why did Paul write it? Where does the passage fit in the wider context of the book?

Funny you should ask. We may find something that connects us back up to the word that we started with.

Eph 5:1 starts with a ‘Therefore’, and as a good evangelical, I was taught that you if you see a ‘therefore’, you should be asking yourself what it’s there for… (Cue groan)

The context for our passage on marriage really starts in Eph 4:17:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:17-23

All of the passages that follow are based on two simple commands:

Put off your old self & put on the new self

Really? That’s it?

Well, I guess it may take a little more work than that, but it’s a good start…

The important thing for me today is that all of Paul’s instructions that follow fit into the context of being made new – loving each other, loving my wife is part of my ‘renewed’ life in Christ – part of what God is doing in restoring us to Him.

This new year feels like a fresh start to me – God is making all things new, and something which S tells me is that this includes old things – things that are tired, that might have been abandoned.

My lazy approach to marriage might be one of them, and probably my need for control. It’s a good time to start laying these things down at the feet of the one who can do the best fix up (or simply replacement job) I can imagine…

If he can promise a whole nation a heart of flesh in replacement for a heart of stone (Ezekiel 36:26), he can sure get me ticking over again in putting effort into this marriage!