Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ordinary Man, Extraordinary God: A Tribute to My Grandfather, Elmer Forrest Bender

Today (February 29) marks 20 years since my maternal grandfather, Elmer Bender, passed away at age 79. I was 18 when he died, so I remember him well. But I never knew much about the first 60 years of his life. His wife Geraldine (my Granny) is still alive—97 years young, and as beautiful as ever. She consented to my writing a tribute to Papaw here on the blog. This is the fruit of our long conversation about his life, and what shaped him into the man he was. I loved my Papaw Bender dearly, and I hope this post will help you understand why he was so special to everyone who knew him.

Born to William and Dolly Burton Bender on November 27, 1913, Papaw grew up with his pant legs rolled to the knee and dirt between his toes. From the time he was old enough to walk, he explored the sycamore-lined stream that meandered along Bonser Run. In his 79 years of life, his eyes knew little more than that wild, wooded holler in the heart of rural southern Ohio.

The avid outdoorsman, 1934.
His lifelong love for the wilderness took root early on, in the company of his three siblings: Ada, Dorothy, and Sam—and Geraldine, a neighbor girl down the lane. With each briar that grabbed at his trousers, nature took hold of his heart. It became the place he most loved to be—hunting, fishing and sitting silently for hours on end, even into his latter years in my memory. I think that’s where he felt closest to God.

When he was a boy, Papaw walked many miles to and from school in the humid heat, the pouring rain, and the driving snow. In that time and place, Money was tight and truancy laws were loose. So at 16, he dropped out of school to try to find work. He picked up odd jobs when he wasn’t plastering houses with his dad.

At 18, a traveling evangelist came to the area to hold a week of tent meetings. On one of those nights, Papaw saw Geraldine, the neighbor girl, across the way. He asked her if he could walk her home. That night marked the beginning of their 5-year courtship. They got married in 1936. He was 23, and she was 21.

Papaw cleaning his gun, 1940s.
Papaw and Granny had 2 daughters—Dottie was born the week after Christmas in 1940, and Diane (my mother) was born the week of Thanksgiving in 1948.

But a quarter century later, one moment in Papaw's life would be so defining, so devastating that it would just tear his heart in two.

It happened in 1971, when he was 57 years old. He was working at the State Highway garage at the time, driving salt trucks and repairing roads, depending on the season. One sweltering July evening after work, he had a hankering to enjoy an ice cold beer when he got home. He decided to take a different route home to pick up a case from a local carryout, when an unthinkable tragedy struck.

After he left the carryout, he headed up over Woods Ridge, which to this day is a road known for its steep inclines and hairpin curves, on one of the area's many Appalachian foothills.

As he was negotiating one of the ridge's many twists, a pickup truck sped around a blind curve on a steep incline, its left front fender just over in Papaws lane. He knew who it was. It was the Baker family. Mrs. Baker was one of Papaw’s distant relatives.

Target shooting with a muzzle loader he made himself, 1943.
Several children were lounging in the bed of the truck. One more little boy was standing in the middle of the bench seat of the cab, between two adults. They had just come from a birthday party, and were high on life.

Papaw drove as far over into the weeds as he could to avoid the truck. His cars fender barely brazed the truck, but it was enough of an impact to eject the little boy from the seat of the truck cab, right into the road.

After the impact, the Mr. Baker must have panicked. The truck started rolling backwards, and ran right over the young boy. Miraculously, all of the other children in the bed of the truck were OK. But the boy died at the scene.

Granny and Papaw sitting on their back stoop, 1957.
That moment in Papaw’s life—the sound of the collision, the image of the little boy’s lifeless body—would stay with him forever.

The Bakers didn't press charges, but nothing would ease the stinging pain of that calamity. And the looming fear of a delayed law suit was a recurring nightmare that haunted him hundreds of nights.

Papaw never drove faster than about 40 miles an hour after that day, even when he was on the highway. He lost his ability to sleep, and was prescribed Valium to help his insomnia. Valium would be a constant friend from that point on.

Granny describes Papaw as a kind, gentle, “moral” man. That’s how I remember him, too. During most of his life, he reckoned he didn’t need Jesus because grace was for the lawless, the thief, the murderer. Even after the accident, he continued to suppress God and the gospel.

But it was clear that his heart was full of turmoil. Granny recounted that on the Sunday she was baptized, Papaw lay on their bed and wept with conviction the entire afternoon. He would not finally surrender his life to Christ for many more years.

Me with Granny and Papaw, sometime around 1980.
Papaw’s glorious conversion in 1980 didn’t erase the pain of that horrible accident. But the experience of it gave him a deeper gratitude for grace. In hindsight, his sorrow was a merciful stepping-stone that led him to realize his need for a Savior. Jesus finally freed him to live above the burden of that day, despite its long, foreboding shadow. He never grew numb to the pain. In fact, he was one of the most teary men I knew. But he drew nearer to Jesus because of it.

Perhaps the one thing I remember most about Papaw was the way he would pray before a meal. You had to really listen hard to hear his prayers, because they were just one notch above a whisper. But hearing his low, quivering, and often tearful prayers always gave me a tangible sense that God was right there with us at the table. Papaw clearly knew and loved the Lord.

In 1986, Papaw started a downward spiral into dementia, which finally took him on February 29, 1992. He wasn’t really himself for those last 6 years. But we don’t dwell on the dementia-ravaged man who was forgetful, unstable, depressed and distant. We knew his better nature too well, and choose to remember who he really was. We remember his laugh, his love of nature and the outdoors, and his gentle way with friends and family that made him so easy to love.

Elmer Bender was an ordinary man who lived an ordinary life. He didn’t have a commanding presence, or eloquent speech. He didn’t make millions. He didn’t make the history books. He endured unimaginable sorrow, and was familiar with grief. But my last memories of Papaw Bender are of a man with a deep, stilled reverence for God. It’s a reverence that continues to sing in his grandson when I think of him, and when I think of his extraordinary God.

Monday, February 27, 2012

#MarriageLetters (Vlog Edition): "I Knew You Loved Me When"

Each Monday, Joy and I have been writing love letters to each other on our respective blogs. It's a wonderful movement started by fellow blogging couple Seth and Amber Haines that invites couples everywhere to write each other letters as a way to fight for their marriage. Join us any Monday with your own letter to your spouse. Amber hosts a link-up on her blog, so please share your letter there! This week, our topic was “I Knew You Loved Me When.”

Chock it up to Oscar night, or our giddiness from daffodils peeping up out of the ground. But this week, Joy and I mixed our marriage letters up a little with a vlog this week. We each had stories in mind that we knew would be best told in a face-to-face conversation.

We did this in one take, and only edited out one short sequence somewhere in the middle for length. You'll notice that we even encounter a visit from one of our four-legged friends toward the end, which was completely unscripted (like the rest of it).

In our 13 years of marriage, we've had thousands of conversations on this couch. We're glad to let you in on one of them we had along the way.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Remembering Elli: 2-26-00 - 10-19-08

Today, with heaviness of heart, we remember what would have been our first daughter Elli's 12th birthday. Elli went home to be with the Lord on October 19, 2008. This photo is me holding Elli just hours, maybe minutes, after she was born at 8:17 a.m. on February 26, 2000.

Below is what Joy and I co-wrote for the programs we distributed at Elli's wake, on the night before her funeral. We wrote it in the first 24 agonizing hours after she died, with her wheelchair sitting empty in the living room, and her bedclothes still fragrant from the sweet flowery scent of her last bath. 

To our knowledge, this tribute has never been posted publicly, so I am eager to share it here. Our aim was to help people truly experience who Elli was—even those who may not have known her. I hope that in reading it, you find that to be true.

Elli, just a few weeks before she died.
Elli Renee Bennett went home to be with the Lord during the early morning hours on Sunday, October 19, 2008.  In His great mercy, God chose to gently and quietly call her home in her sleep, with no apparent distress or suffering. In this time of anguish and weeping, we are deeply grateful for that.

Elli had life-threatening congenital heart defects that left her fighting for her life from the day she was born. A lack of oxygen and critical illness shortly after her birth left her with severe cerebral palsy and many other physical challenges. She never ceased to amaze the many doctors and nurses who cared for her throughout her life. Despite dire predictions, she clawed her way back from death’s door countless times.

Despite her many physical challenges, Elli’s mental faculties were intact. She was a bright girl who had amazing abilities, even though she could not walk, talk or do anything for herself. We and countless gifted people devoted ourselves to finding ways for her to demonstrate those abilities in ways that everyone could understand. She learned to communicate with a touch-screen computer and had begun learning to read. While this process of learning often led us through seasons of frustration, we took such pleasure in the priceless moments of delight when she mastered something new.

Using her communication device to talk
Elli enjoyed music from birth. We played music constantly when we were in the hospital, in the car, and at home. When she was a baby, her favorite songs were the ones with hand motions. 

As she grew older, she constantly requested either Veggie Tales music or praise and worship music. And when we would sing in church, she would smile from ear to ear, and then loudly protest when we stopped.

More recently, Scott began singing 80s pop music to her. She pretty much loved anything her daddy sang to her.

Everywhere she went, Elli made friends. The therapists who came to our home when she started Early Intervention still remember her today. She loved going to the Aaron W. Perlman Center and learning to use computers, communication devices, and power chairs. 

Singing a goofy song to make her laugh, 2 years old
One of her favorite things was swimming and playing in the water. She participated in aquatic physical therapy on a regular basis, and enjoyed every minute. She was able to control her body so much better in the water ­– walking, swimming, and playing games with her swimming buddies. 

At school, Elli never lacked for volunteer helpers among her classmates. She competed in the Special Olympics in first and second grade, and rang bells in her second grade music concert with the help of a classmate.

Elli was a pretty typical kid, too. She grumbled at her siblings over which video to watch and complained when she didn’t get her choice. She would hear someone mention McDonald’s, immediately go to her McDonalds touch-screen page, and request a yogurt parfait. She was very sensitive to anyone hurt or upset around her, and would weep with those who wept.

Sunday afternoon in the hammock, summer 2008
Through the ups and the downs, the terrifying moments and the serene, the frustrations and the laughs, Elli was an ever-present reminder that God makes no mistakes. He orchestrates all things for His greater plan and purpose, even the things that don’t make sense to us in the here and now. 

Elli’s little life changed so many lives permanently. Her radiant smile shining right through her challenges has been one of the greatest blessings to so many people. 

You may ask: “Why does God allow suffering in the world?”  To have people in the world with Elli’s joy, shining through such profound limitations, can glorify God more than almost anything in the world, apart from God’s own gracious, spiritual presence with us.

Elli, you are a precious gift of heaven. You have left God with us.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Precious by Proxy ... Or Why I Love the Church

'Big vase, Fiera Antiquaria di Arezzo' photo (c) 2010, Monica Arellano-Ongpin - license:“What Christians offer is an understanding that the world is not ours, that we are not the ones that give things value.” - Wendell Berry

I am the altogether wrong demographic. But there's a mysterious allure about Antiques Roadshow that draws me right in. It's just everyday people like you and me, presenting their vase or clock or etching to someone who is uniquely qualified to appraise its value.

From the intricate and beautiful to the downright bizarre, every kind of dusty attic artifact and flea market find has appeared on Antiques Roadshow at one time or another.

With palpable uneasiness, the owner of the antique sits and listens, while the appraiser divulges its entire history. The owners are understandably nervous. After all, this could be the conversation that changes everything. This family heirloom could become their family fortune, right before their very eyes.

My favorite moments are when the appraiser almost breaks into song about the exquisiteness of a particularly dilapidated piece, or how it's perhaps the only one left in the world, or how Abraham Lincoln probably sat on it ... you get the idea.

As the appraiser's crescendo of praise builds, you can watch the once anxious owner's shoulders rise. She smiles, looking down at her dusty old ugly something-or-other again, and again. By the end of the spiel, her tentative posture melts away, and celebration ensues. She falls in love with its ugliness all over again because of what someone with authority says about it.

Something great happens in our hearts when an objective, outside authority declares an item of unknown value to be one of uncommonly high value. It may be cracked, stained, faded and full of holes. But that doesn't matter, because the basis for its value shifts from the appearance of the object to the authority of the observer.

If I'm not careful, I can start to see the church—the body of Christ—as a dim, dusty, dilapidated old antique. Voices around me downplay it, claiming it doesn't fit with our more sophisticated society. It's the digital age. Individualism is alive and well. A connected collection of diverse people who come together for the love of worship and the Word is simply obsolete. It's a sign of weakness.

Besides, people are messy, and they get their moth ball smell all over you. Pieces of them fall off on you. They're brittle, and we like new things. Instant things. Shiny things. Strong things. Convenient things. Customized things. Personalized things.

But the authority to "appraise" the church's value in the world does not belong to me. I look to Christ, who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. I listen to Him—like that antique owner listens to her appraiser—hanging on His every word. Christ alone is crowned to make that "appraisal" (if you will).

Even as a church-loving Christian, my view of the church can be superficial, sentimental, subjective—and at times, sour. And sooner or later, it may even fail me, hurt me—or just plain frustrate me. I need to lean on an Objective, Outside Authority who declares it impenetrably precious, and thus fall in love with it all over again.

More than merely speaking highly of the church, Christ bought the church. He called her His bride. He obtained her with His own blood (Acts 20:28). He loved her, and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). He nourishes and cherishes her (Ephesians 5:29). This is far more than any mere appraisal. This is an act of unparalleled devotion that leaves me in stunned silence. It dazzles the mind.

Despite the decades of ministry-inflicted scars I bear, Christ's bride remains deeply and timelessly precious to HIM.

My growth in grace is a process whereby what is precious to Him gradually becomes more and more precious to me. As I love Jesus more, I will grow to want to serve and love His people more. What was once precious by proxy blossoms into being precious to me personally.

I will never give up on the church because Christ gave Himself up for her. When I stop and consider that He sees her as precious—even when I may momentarily not—it changes everything.

That's what brings me back to loving the church—over and over again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Demystifying "Family Devotions" - Part 2

As I said in Part 1 of this post, the discipline of family devotions can be a hit-or-miss, or even flat-out neglected part of our family life because it mystifies us—we don’t know exactly what it is, or should look like—or because the ideal we have created in our head is simply unattainable. So we don’t try.

The aim of the next two posts is to bring family devotions back down to the level of real life, where so many variables are at play, wrecking our routines. With God’s help, it is possible to break through those variables and keep them going by simply exercising a kind of “flexible faithfulness” and working diligently with the time God has given you on any given night.

As an aside, one of our biggest (and most pleasant) surprises has been the enthusiasm our kids have shown toward family devotions. Since it has become such a mainstay, they count on it. They ask when we are going to do it. They enjoy it. We consider it a great mercy of God that the kids are actually asking us to do it, especially on those nights when we are extra, extra tired.

So at the risk of being cliché, here are five out of ten things I want to encourage you to keep in mind as you embark on a more consistent and meaningful family devotions time in your home:

Find a window of time that is most predictable in your home for family devotions. For us, it’s between 7 and 8pm — after dinner and bath time, and right before the kids go to bed. For families where a parent(s) may work second shift, that golden hour may be 10am, and so on. When you do family devotions is the least important thing, as long as you find a time that is relatively predictable for everyone in your household.

Don’t demand their undivided attention. “What??” you say? Yes. While we would all prefer that our kids make eye contact with us and nod in agreement at the things we say in family devotions, we have to realize that toddlers and school-age kids are quite adept at listening and even retaining information while being busy with their hands.

I use the word “demand” very intentionally here. Make no mistake, we should “request” their undivided attention. But most “demands” we make point to an idol in our heart. The idol of feeling entitled to respect can cause us to make harsh, angry demands that exasperate our kids, which can turn them away from us, and from enjoying family devotions. We must lead in such away that fosters a climate of healthy, glad respect and submission from our kids during these and all other occasions, with very reasonable expectations of what they can do.

Biblical truths—and a real sense of God’s greatness—can be communicated to kids while Legos are being built, cars vroomed and dolls stroked. While I encourage the kids to pay attention, I only pause to give correction when their voices or their activities escalate to a level that makes them a distraction to their siblings.

If a child persists in distracting behaviors during family devotions, whisper gently to them 1 on 1 as you are tucking them in bed that you want them to do better next time, or there will be consequences. I have found that these gentle yet firm reminders in private are more successful than spewing harsh public demands.

If you do nothing else, pray. Some nights, if it is well past the kids’ bedtime, I simply say that I am going to pray before I tuck everyone in bed. Family prayer is such a precious time. A parent’s simple prayer can give children a sense of God’s magnificence and “declare His mighty acts” like nothing else.

Pray prayers that exalt God above all things. Thank Him for being in control of clouds and bugs and runny noses and flowers and ponies and bunnies and planets and trees and elephants. Earnestly ask Him for help with small things and big things. Thank Him for loving the world so much that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but will live forever and ever and ever. Tell Him you love Him, and thank Him for loving us first. Thank Him for a cool (or warm) and dry place to sleep, and for soft beds and blankets and pillows. Thank Him for being the giver of every good thing. Thank Him for His promise to never leave us or forsake us.

If you only pray, you have left them with a keener sense of God’s greatness than they had before, and therefore you have blessed them greatly.

Share prayer requests, majoring on thankfulness. So many passages in the Bible make a heart of thankfulness one of the hallmarks of a true believer. So to cultivate the habit of having a thankful heart, we ask each child to share something he or she is thankful for, in addition to sharing prayer needs. We have done this ever since they were able to talk, and sometimes the comments have been quite humorous. But hearing a toddler express things for which she is thankful is a rare and precious gift.

We also have the kids share prayer needs, or requests. I have found that once a prayer request is introduced to young kids, it sticks like glue. For example, we support two missionary families in Turkey. And every night for the past several months, the kids have prayed for this family without any prompting from us. What a marvel that night after night, this family has been lifted up by a 4, 6 and 9-year old with astounding consistency — more than any adult (including me) could ever hope to maintain.

Give everyone the opportunity to pray. Some believe that, because young children who have not expressed belief in Jesus are unregenerate, their prayers are null and void and there is no value in having them pray. But I would callon John Piper to refute this notion better than I could ever say it:
“I think we should teach our children to pray as soon as they can say anything. The first words they should say are, “Dear Jesus, thank you.” … practically, it seems right to put the vocabulary of prayer into a child’s mouth from the very beginning. That way, when his faith is born, he has a whole vocabulary, orientation, and habit that the Lord can use … Build the disciplines of the Christian life into your children from the beginning, all the while praying that they are going to grow up and mean what they say.”   
— excerpt of John Piper: Should children be taught to pray even if they haven’t professed faith?
Some of the first prayers of a toddler are as simple as “Dear God, thank you…” and that is OK. I am simply exhilarated as I hear the words of our kids today, who have been praying since age 1. Their prayers are an ongoing source of encouragement to us. When we hear them break out of learned, routine word patterns and express unprompted, spontaneous words of thanksgiving and praise to God, I get a joyful sense that God is indeed answering my never-ending prayer to help them finally “mean what they say.”

My next post will give five more tips for your own family devotions.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Letter to Joy: My Job, Your Job

Dear Joy,

I like the way we get it done around the house.

From early on, we loosely agreed that whoever cooks, the other does dishes. You pay the bills, balance the checkbook and plan the menu for every night of the world (unless I swoop in with takeout). I'm the official toilet plunger, landscape manicurist, garbage handler, and Scutigera coleoptrata killer (unless you're situated near a shoe with some substantial sole when they slink by).

You keep your eye on the kids' clothes hampers, while I keep my ear to squeaking serpentine belts under the hoods. This loose list goes on.

But even these rules aren't Rules. On any given day, one might say, we both do both. On plenty of occasions, things turn the rules and roles round.

Some nights, I cook and do dishes; or you do. Neither of us holds tightly to our tasks, nor do we hold it against the other when they reverse. You've killed your share of S. coleoptrata, mowed with beaded brow in the 90-degree heat, and courageously cleared many a jammed john. We just roll with it.

Rolling with it - and settling for its less-than-perfect results - is a best-kept secret to the longevity of this parable we're living out. Never being above a job. Tackling a basket of clean laundry that needs folding, a dirty dish that needs rinsing, a renegade dust bunny or a burned-out light bulb. Throwing ourselves into what might be the other's task, chasing bitterness away with Bible.

We don't do it perfectly, but we aspire to. We have our days. But I must say, God has been kind to bless me with such a roll-with-it kind of woman.

And oh, by the way, I have to work late tonight. Can you set the garbage out on the curb?


On Mondays, Joy (don’t miss her letter this week) and I join Seth and Amber Haines as they fight the good fight for their marriage. They call this weekly series “Marriage Letters” and pray that it encourages each of us in our own hard work of marriage. This week our topic is “His job, her job.” You can join us any time with your own letter to your spouse, whether you both write or blog or not. Amber hosts a link-up on her blog, so we hope you’ll share your letter there!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

De-Mystifying “Family Devotions” – Part 1

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  Deuteronomy 6:5-7

“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4

Let’s face it. The idea of organizing, leading and maintaining a consistent time of “family devotions” in the home can seem like an insurmountable challenge. 

Between the long hours at work, the many responsibilities outside of work, and the daily demands that fall into the category of “all other”, it seems there is never enough time for any kind of focused family devotions. 

And so we walk around with a perpetual sense of discouragement. We know we need to be doing it. But it’s just so hard to fit it in on top of everything else.

Part of the reason we don’t even start (which can apply to pursuing ANY spiritual discipline in life) is because it mystifies us – we don’t know exactly what it is, or should look like – or because the ideal we have created in our head is simply unattainable.

We conjure up false expectations of family devotions time:  our kids, sitting in perfect formation like military cadets, their hands pressed together with not one hair out of place and not one cross word spoken between siblings. We daydream about deep theological talks with tiny toddlers that plunge the depths of the depravity of man, the horrors of hell, the glory of God and the power of the cross of Christ. 

While none of these expectations is completely out of the question, they are rare-at-best during real family devotions with younger kids. And if held onto tightly, they are a recipe for disappointment.

Commending the works of God to the next generation should be a way of life for pastors, parents, grandparents, teachers, babysitters, aunts and uncles alike among the household of faith. What I am calling “family devotions” time is only a fraction of the fuller-orbed vision set forth by Deuteronomy 6. But I believe it is a critical time that may actually be simpler — and more urgent — than we make it out to be.

I cannot overstate the brevity of life, and the urgency to teach the children in your life about God while today is called today. I have been a father for 12 years. My oldest child, who was born 12 years ago, did not live to see her ninth birthday, and is home with the Lord today. The time God has given each of us to teach the next generation is terribly, terribly short.

My fondest memories of my daughter are the nightly bedtime routines we spent together in family devotions – especially the last time.

On the night before she slipped into eternity in her sleep, we sang some praise songs, just like we always did. I read a short passage of Scripture. We shared prayer requests, and each of us shared something we were thankful for. Each of the children who were able to talk muttered a short prayer. Then I prayed, and tucked everybody in bed. As I tucked my oldest daughter in bed, I kissed her forehead and whispered in her ear the same words I had been whispering in her ear almost every night for about the last year of her life:

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

Those last words I spoke to her are permanently etched in her tombstone today, and serve as a persistent reminder to me of the preciousness of focused family devotions. Had my last words to her been throwaway words — or worse, bitter words — God’s grace would have sustained me through the inevitable guilt. But instead, I live with the sweetness of having pronounced a blessing on her, which brings a smile as I consider the degree to which God did indeed “make His face shine” on her, beyond that which I could have ever asked or imagined.

God summons us to teach and declare His mighty acts to the next generation. And as Joy and I have painfully learned, any given day may be your last opportunity to do so. Family devotions is a time to declare God’s greatness in a focused format that, when done with some variety and creativity, kids will grow to love and enjoy, making it an enduring highlight of your home life.

In a second post, I will provide some practical (and perhaps some surprising) tips to help as you embark on your own style of family devotions.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Letter to Joy: Patience

Joy and I are writing each other on our blogs each Monday, as part of a Marriage Letters series started by fellow blogging couple Seth and Amber Haines. We're doing it to celebrate our marriage, and encourage couples everywhere to keep fighting for their own. Today is our 5th installment in the series, on the topic of "patience."

Dear Joy,

'165' photo (c) 2012, >littleyiye< - license: the long summer months leading up to our wedding day, there were a LOT of things I looked forward to about being married to you. Patience, I reasoned, was something I would need to exercise until that day, and not a day later.

Six hundred fifty miles separated us during our engagement (which, by the way, was both a blessing and a curse). To pass the time, I would dwell on things like the impending thrill of exploring you with playful, naked abandon; never needing to say good night and go our separate ways again; sleeping and waking next to you, spitting cherry pits with you, living with you, laughing with you. This was what consumed me. But for now, I needed to be patient.

This letter is starting to write itself, huh?

Yes, our wedding day was just the beginning of God’s inner working of patience in my heart. Those vivid fantasies of satiny romance and rose petals, while definitely strong at the start, have been a grueling gig to maintain. Real life kicks in, and with it comes real conflict.

In those first few years, we saw so many things differently that we never saw coming—from financial decisions, to bedtime routines, to organizing strategies, to laundry philosophies. We’d lock horns. Ice would enter the room. And I quickly realized that my pre-marital patience was actually another word that starts with “P” and ends with “E”: practice.

Now thirteen years later, every day is still a bending-over-backwards exercise in pleading for the Spirit-wrought fruit of patience. While much has been ironed out, plenty of wrinkles remain.

Just this afternoon, we had a painfully difficult conversation about a matter on which we continue to see things quite differently. For the thousandth time, our hearts' gears ground, and those muscles of patience flexed further and further for both of us. It will not be the last time, because we are in this for life.

God has been so patient with both of us through the years. Without His perfect patience pouring out of us in those moments, we would be dry wells of bitterness and begrudging scowls. The patience we find is not native; it is from above. And so we get down and plead for more.

I hope I have been half as patient with you as you have been with me.

I love you so much.

Patiently yours,


Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Prayer for the Pillar of Truth

Today I'm thrilled to be contributing to an incredible series put together by Preston Yancey entitled "At the Lord's Table." In just under a month (from January 25 to February 22), Preston's series is featuring posts from over 50 writers from all different walks of church life, all united under one topic: why we love the church. I'm humbled to be one of the newbies among this seasoned line-up of writers contributing to such a much-needed series. I encourage you to join in the conversation on Preston's blog.

5:58 pm.
I take my last breath of cool air in the cavernous lobby and lean into one of its gold revolving doors. They spin me round and spit me out into the city, transporting me from one world to another. I slide on my sunglasses and speed up to a run-walk pace through the downtown streets—5 blocks to the bus stop—in the hazy, humid 90-degree heat.

It’s my first time outdoors in 9 hours, and the air is barely breathable. After a few yards, I cock my head back and look up. The mile-long wall of high-rises on either side of me leaves only a narrow strip of sky visible above. Concrete and metal have crowded the heavens out.

I’m late for the 6:08 bus, as usual.

Read the rest of the story on Preston's blog.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Letter to Joy: Opposites Attract

Joy and I are writing each other on our blogs each Monday, as part of a Marriage Letters series started by a fellow blogging couple Seth and Amber Haines. We're doing it to celebrate our marriage, and encourage couples everywhere to keep fighting for their own. Today is our 4th installment in the series. This week we landed on the daunting topic of "opposites attract."

Dear Joy,

My first clue that we’re quite a bit different came during our 1996 Spring Quarter in college. It was the night of those terrible flash floods on campus—remember? We weren’t really even “dating” yet. We barely knew each other.

I was settling in for my usual evening of sedentary study when you rang my dorm phone.

“Come out to the lobby for a sec,” you said.

I walked out to find you standing there with your friend, Lisa. Both of you were soaked to the skin with rainwater.

“Lisa and I are slip-and-sliding in the flooded field, out by the dorm. Wanna come out with us?” (This is an actual photo from that moment. I have no idea who took it, or how I got it.)

Every bone in my body wanted to say, “Heck, no.” That photo of me? That is my “Heck, no” face. But I knew you well enough to know that you simply wouldn’t accept that answer.

I eventually went back to my dorm room, put on my oldest clothes and, with a mixture of frustration and trepidation, met you and Lisa in the parking lot. My hall mates’ jaws dropped as I walked out of the room. “This is completely out of character for you, Scotty,” they jeered. “It must be love.” They must have been right.

Little did I know that my slip-and-slide escapade in that flooded field with you that night would set the rhythm of our relationship from there on out.

I am the quintessential stand-back-and-watch-until-the-coast-is-clear kind of guy, while you’re a why-bother-waiting-for-the-ice-to-break kind of girl. I’m content to sit on the back row and keep my questions to myself, while you lean forward on the front row with your hand raised high. I could go on for days about all the ways we’re different.

To make things even more interesting, we each violate the stereotypes of our respective gender. I am the epitome of a feeling, sensing, perceiving introvert. You’re an equally strong thinking, intuitive, compartmentalizing extrovert. It’s been quite comical to see the faces of those who have counseled us in the past. They really don’t know what to do with us.

Finding our way hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world. But we seem to have found a method for melding our proclivities into a rhythm that’s quite a thing to behold.

Based on our experience, I’m a firm believer that opposites make great marriages. In our 13 years, you have dragged me out of many proverbial dorm rooms to puddle dive with you in the rainwater. I have tried things I would have never tried without your persistent elbow poking my rib cage.

And I think I’ve helped you in equally opposite ways—encouraging you to pause a little longer until the time is better to speak, or write, or call, or commit. Together, we’ve stretched and saved each other’s necks more times than I can count.

I can’t credit myself for having the foresight to find someone like you. On paper, it’s pure insanity. But it’s just like God to shatter statistics and create inseparability from two oppositely charged particles like us.

Keeping my ion you,