Category Archives: from the heart

A Legacy of Covenant Love

Every time I walk down a certain hallway in our home, I see, among the family pictures hanging on our wall, a picture that nearly arrests me. A stunning woman looks askance at a handsome, proud young groom. Her eyes show the anticipation we normally associate with weddings, but they also betray a look we don’t expect: a nervousness which is closer to fear than wedding jitters.

She had only met her would-be husband two times, yet she was walking to the altar to vow a covenant of lifelong love to him. No wonder her eyes revealed mixed emotions.

My parents-in-law, as was the custom in their culture, were arranged by their parents. The decision was prayerfully and carefully considered. Each set of their parents saw in the other a good match for their children.

The concept seems foreign to me, one raised in a culture where there is no need for a descriptive adjective before the word marriage. When all marriages are love marriages, chosen by the marrying parties (and often blessed by the parents), there is no need to distinguish between” love” marriage and “arranged” marriage.

As an outsider looking in for the past fifteen years of their long marriage journey, I am astounded at the depths of their relationship. I am humbled by the way friendship and romance grew out of covenant and choice. I am deeply indebted to their marriage, not only for producing my husband, but also for painting a realistic yet regal picture of covenant love.

Their marriage exemplifies what Thomas Hardy so poetically and powerfully captured in his classic book Far From the Madding Crowd.

“Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.

A mass of hard prosaic reality is an understatement. They worked hard to move their family to a foreign nation where they had only tertiary contacts and tenuous hopes. They weathered losing jobs, raising children, and moving multiple times. While there marriage is neither dreamy nor perfect, it is weathered and well-woven.

The strength of their covenant love has been highlighted by over a decade of being tested by the slow, steady decline of Parkinson’s disease. Amma serves as Appa’s primary caregiver, bathing him, feeding him, managing his litany of interventions and appointments. She rarely leaves the house. She has to steal a few moments away for a relaxing trip to the grocery store. Her world has shrunk considerably to match the needs of her hurting husband.

Yet, there are still moments when the two laugh together over Appa’s less-than-lucid thoughts. Playfulness pops out in the midst of the plodding perseverance. Watching her serve him so steadfastly with all of her life literally brings tears to my eyes and refines my view of marriage.

If what C.S. Lewis says about romantic love lighting the slow coals of covenant love is true, their marriage is even more astounding. Their covenant coals were lit only with the fire of promise and trust. They give my husband and I a moving, real-life picture of the love between Christ and His bride.

Covenants and Coals

If romantic love is flame
Lighting covenant coals,
Their love is hard to name:
The arrangement of souls. 

Barely more than strangers,
They vowed longterm love,
Trusting their arrangers,
Depending on God above. 

As they walked through life,
True companionship grew.
As they navigated strife,
One formed out of two. 

After a decade of slow decline,
Years of suffering and serving,
They stand with covenant spine
In their tested love unswerving. 

Coals without first fire lit
Still offer steady heat,
God by His hand has writ
A lifelong love still sweet. 

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

The Dispersed Lady

Have you ever been reading fiction and felt like a line was reading you? That happened to me last night as I fell asleep reading Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. In this particular scene, a couple was discussing one of their dear friends as they lay in bed one evening.

At least they’ve got money.”

“That does help,” I said, “It even helps her hire a nanny to look after the children she’s already got, so she can be out promoting culture and singing in the chorus and cleaning up Wisconsin politics and being kind to the wives and the children of starving instructors. That’s a pretty dispersed lady.”

The last sentence of five words slew me. That’s a pretty dispersed lady.

While they were speaking of Charity, one of the main characters in this particular story, they could have well been speaking of me.

Dispersed

Dispersed. Spread out. Shed abroad. Scattered. A tendency to be all over the place and in everything.

Maybe you are not as prone to dispersion as I am, but even the most gathered and collected of us live in a dispersed and scattered culture. Even before the internet and its eery invitation to peer into the lives of others all around the world and to disperse our opinions and energies towards every possible cause, we were a dispersed culture. Sometime in the American experiment, better came to mean more and best came to mean most. Wider now seems synonymous with more accomplished. Our culture constantly leaks this truth into our lives, “The wider your sphere of influence, the wider the reach of your followers, the wider you have traveled, the more significant you must be.”

If people were speaking of me, as Sally and her husband were of their mutual friend, I pray that they would say of me, “That’s a pretty dependent and deep lady.”

Apart from the grace of God, this will be never be true of me. I tend to be more of a whirling dervish of energy and excitement and interest. Due to the fact that I am a mother of three busy boys, my schedule has me dispersed in twelve places at once. Add on top of that the reality that are planting a church and you have the recipe for a dispersed lady.

Dependent, Deep, and Focused

Yet, the gospel invites me to be both dependent, deep, and focused. In a culture permeated by self-will and self-talk, God asks his children to be God-reliant and God-directed. He invites us to draw from a well of strength that the world cannot see and guides us by priorities that world doesn’t always share.

In a culture spread thin running in every direction, our God invites us to be people of depth, a people deeply rooted. Rooted in his word, rooted in his promises, rooted in the messy community called the church, rooted to the people and purposes he has allotted for us (Ephesians 3:14-19; Hebrews 10:22-25; Psalm 16:5-8).

When offering us images of what it looks like to walk with God, the Spirit inspired the psalmist to give us the picture of a tree firmly planted by the water (Psalm 1). When Jesus sought to paint a picture of the kingdom of God for his disciples, he used similar imagery of a small seed which grew into an expansive tree offering shade and nesting branches to all in its surroundings (Matthew 13:31-32). Both of these word pictures share not only depth and rootedness but also dependence.

In a scattered, distracted culture, we are pulled in a thousand directions towards a thousand causes. It doesn’t help that our sin predisposes us to chase after everything but God. Yet, God commands his people to live with a clear focal point: Himself.

With our eyes fixed on the pioneer and perfecter of our faith and our gaze directed to Christ who is our life, we can do diverse things with a united heart (Hebrews 12:1-3; Colossians 3:1-4; Psalm 86:11).

The only reason we are able to become this kind of people is that Christ was the seed that died so that many might live (John 12:24). He was dispersed so we could be focused on him and rooted in him in deep dependence. Oh, that we would be deep, dependent, and focused people. When we are such, we will be free to disperse the seeds of the gospel to a world that desperately needs truth.

Adversity Anniversaries

It does not surprise me that calendars don’t include “Adversity Anniversary” among their Hair Appointment and Birthday reminder stickers, as there is not much cute or marketable about remembering devastating days.

But then again, usually these days don’t need marking out. The amygdala and the soul have their own built-in reminder systems. Smells, sounds, temperatures, songs. Even the smallest things have a way of alerting us of the approach of a weighty anniversary, whether it mark the passing of a beloved family member, an exile from home, a day of sudden disaster or a dreaded diagnosis.

On these weighty days, time seems to stand still and lives are turned upside down yet again. Haunting memories are relieved, even if one has come to the other side of the trauma. Like regular aftershocks after an earthquake, anniversaries of adversity have a way of once again shaking the ground that has been slowly settling with time.

My dear friend is approaching the anniversary of a sudden sickness that left her fighting for her life. Although God graciously spared her life and miraculously brought her back from the precipice of death, she lives with daily reminders of the trauma.

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She and her family have no need to mark out this day, this day and the subsequent days have marked them. Time is now measured and remembered as before the sickness and after.

Of course, they have deep gratitude for her life being spared. Yet, this first anniversary will be far from a day of celebration. Despite so many answers to the desperate prayers of so many loved ones, questions still swarm.

As I was processing their approach to this anniversary, the Lord was gracious to lead me to a book by the talented Michael Card. A Sacred Sorrow attempts to bring back the language of lament to an often overly-victorious Western Christianity. Card winsomely and beautifully makes the case that lament is a gift that will lead us to our lasting home.

“Jesus understood that lament was the only true response of faith to the brokenness and fallenness of the world. It provides the only trustworthy bridge to God across the deep seismic quaking of our lives. His life reveals that those who are truly intimate with the Father know they can pour out any hurt, disappointment, temptation, or even anger with which they struggle. Jesus’ own life is an invitation to enter through the door of lament.” 

The pathway of lament is not a popular highway; in fact it is not even a highway at all. For each person, it is a unique path through our own particular pains and problems, losses and longings. Yet, this path was trodden by our Older Brother Jesus who followed it to Golgotha, the place of the skull.

We know that the Cross and the tomb were not the end of His journey. We know that He wrestled with questions and wept in lament in the Garden of Gethsemane that one day His purchased people might weep and question no more.

Yet, the journey between the Cross and the Crown feels long.

May we help our friends grieve the days that have marked them; however, may we also be those quick to remind them and ourselves that all our days have been marked in His book, but that they have been written by a hand marked with the scars of a sacrificial love.

In a culture that thrives on optimism and victory,  may we become a people comfortable with lament. May we also have eyes fixed on the Coming Christ, who has prepared for us a city without walls and tearless days without end.

What My Afghan Friends Have Taught Me About Abundance

This year my heart is uniquely primed for Thanksgiving (and I most certainly don’t mean that my turkey is already prepped and my house is prim and proper). As I prepare to stir gravy tomorrow, I am deeply aware of the ways the Lord has been stirring my heart through an unexpected, God-given friendship with an Afghan family.

I thought I was bringing them groceries, but God knew they had much to give me. This brave family who literally lost everything trying to get out of their country through the Kabul airport has given me the precious gift of perspective. I am seeing the abundance around me with their eyes.

Photo by Karen Sewell on Unsplash

We have given them puzzles and rides and help with paperwork, but they have given us much more. They have shown me that we can become so accustomed to abundance that we lose our ability to be recognize and appreciate it.

Seeing our country and our lives through the eyes of newcomers has left my heart filled with gratitude for things I have grown to expect as an entitlement.

I drive by parks and playgrounds without thinking twice; however, my friends have taught me to savor the simple excitements of swinging on swings and chasing squirrels.

Outside of the present pandemic vaccination conversation, I tend to not think much about my children’s vaccination cards; however, receiving yellow vaccination cards was a hard-fought victory for our friends. W celebrated like we had won the lottery when we finally had cards for each child in our hands.

It’s easy to become demanding and narrow in our friendships. We want to hang with people who “get us” and share similar interests. Befriending someone when neither of you can speak to each other outside of body language has reminded me that we often make friendship more complicated than it needs to be. I don’t know any Farsi, but I have been reminded lately that mutual feelings of deep care don’t need translation. Eyes and souls have a language all their own.

I get frustrated when I lose my keys, yet my friends have literally lost everything and continue to press forward with patience and hope. They have to wait in lines for everything: shots, appointments, buses. Nothing is efficient, and everything requires patience and persistence. Having been successful lawyers, artisans, and managers in their country, they have to work their way back up.

Stepping into their lives has also shown me the abundance of selfishness and self-interest in my own heart. Sure, I want to serve and be helpful. But I want to do that when it is convenient and efficient, not when it is costly and circuitous. I want to help solve problems with simple fixes, but life is far more complicated and nuanced than my flat solutions. God did not offer quick fixes, but sent Jesus to be the three-dimensional, in-flesh solution to the problems we could never fix. The more I realize the wisdom of his perfect solution, the more humble and deeply dependent I become.

It seems fitting and right that the Lord has had me meditating on Psalm 104 this week. The entire psalm walks through habitats and habits. Every created things has its place, knows it place, and lives within designed dependence.

These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them ,they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground (Psalm 104:2730).

We, who are supposed to be the “very good” of creation demand, disobey, and seek to live independently. We forget what creation cannot forget: we are deeply dependent upon God for life, breath, and all things. This reality is the seedbed of gratitude. When we realize that all we have has been bought for us at incredible cost, when we see all as undeserved gift, we are inching towards a true spirit of thanksgiving.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord (Psalm 104:31-34).

I complicate thanksgiving when I tie it to my circumstances rather than the unchanging character of our Creator who became creation to save his creation at great cost.

Whether you find yourself in want or plenty tomorrow, I pray that you would know an abundance that scarcity can’t scratch and abundance cannot aggregate.

Sons are Slippery

I cry during commercials and movies, but I weep at weddings. I can usually hold it together when the bride walks toward her groom, but I officially lose it during the mother/son dance.

As a mother of three sons, I cannot help but imagine myself in that position in the future. In a moment, my mind flashes back through a montage of memories with each of my boys: dancing in the kitchen, watching them ride a bike for the first time, remembering the first time they failed at something significant that broke their heart.

What seemed impossibly far off when they were toddlers toting their blankets becomes more realistic every year. One day, I will send these boys off, not merely to kindergarten or the prom, but to their own future. While they will always be my sons, the intervals between check-ins with their mother have been slowly lengthening. I remember being nervous to leave them for a thirty-minute jog when they were infants. I remember mutual tears at preschool drop-offs. As recently as this year, I cried tears dropping them off for middle school.

Sometimes I want to cling to them, to try to clutch them too close, to corral them in realms I can control. But the best way to hold these boys of mine is with one hand tightly holding the Lord and one hand loosely holding them.

Seamus Heaney’s poem Mother of the Groom perfectly captures the slipperiness of sons. While I don’t know if the Lord has marriage in store for my boys, this poem captures a mother’s heart and the slippery nature of sons well.

“What she remembers
Is his glistening back
In the bath, his small boots
In the ring of boots at her feet.

Hands in her voided lap,
She hears a daughter welcomed.
It’s as if he kicked when liften
And slipped her soapy hold.

Once soap would ease off
The wedding ring
That’s bedded forever now
In her clapping hand.”*

Heaney’s mention of a voided lap and her clapping hands reminds me that there is joy in every season. My older boys have long since vacated my lap. Their disproportionately growing feet barely fit in my lap these days. But they will never vacate my heart. And, as one who has hope in the Lord, I can smile and even clap at the future (Proverbs 31: 25).

Photo by Vytis Gruzdys on Unsplash

For this season, God has entrusted these boys to me. These days are slipping by and these boys of mine are growing increasingly slippery. But the Lord who has entrusted them to me has a love that is steady and sure. To teach them to stand firm in him is one of the highest calls on my life.

I don’t want to pitter away these precious days filled with sweaty socks and deepening voices and constant snacking. I don’t want to miss the fleeting moments that happen as we drive to school or on our occasional hikes. I want to bottle them up and treasure them in my heart.

As I raise them, I have to fight the urge to place my deepest identity in mothering. Such an ill-founded identity will fail them as quickly as it will fail me. My deepest identity must be found in being the beloved of the Lord, the daughter of the Perfect Father, the dwelling place of the brooding-like-a-mother Holy Spirit. As I fight for this identity, my prayer is that it would bleed into their own.

Then, when my lap and these bunk beds are voided, I will still have a lifetime of being siblings in Christ with these slippery sons of mine.

*Seamus Heaney. Opened Ground. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998, 66.

A Word for Weary Warriors

Even warriors grow weary. Exhausted healthcare workers, fighting to not only serve but also truly see their patients, long to be seen. Single mommas working to keep food on the table begin to run on steam. Pastors who speak consistent truth to their congregations need someone to speak the truth to them. Deployed military personnel who leave home to keep our home fronts safe wonder if anyone even notices.

If ever there was a warrior, King David was he. He was a renaissance man long before the renaissance: A shepherd who single-handedly protected his flock from a lion and a bear; an unexpected youth warrior unafraid of a literal giant; a poet who penned songs of longing and love; a furtive fugitive who stayed alive against all odds; a wise king who led a previously marginalized people through their golden era.

In 2 Samuel 23, we hear the last words of King David as he looks back over his storied life. From the vantage point of the end, he looks back and sees a God who has made and kept covenant with him.

“For does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure?” (2 Samuel 23:5).

However, immediately after his last words, the writer of the book sees fit to include a lengthy section of Scripture dedicated to his mighty men. David had a mighty God, and such a God also provided him with many mighty men.

Initially the list reads as one would expect a list of mighty men to read: A warrior who “wielded the spear against eight hundred men” (verse 8), another warrior who “defied the Philistines” until his hand cramped from so tightly holding his sword (verse 10), and other such feats of strength and bravery. However, the list shifts to those whose bravery showed itself in feats of friendship and lasting encouragement.

At a low point in his roller coaster life, David found himself hiding in the Cave of Adullam with a band of strong and ruthless enemies surrounding the valley. Loneliness and fear were wearing down event this mighty warrior. After all, even those who break through impenetrable cities have penetrable hearts pierced with longings and doubts. Is life worth the pain and weariness? Would there ever be rest? Did anyone even miss him or notice his absence? Was all of this effort amounting to anything? Even worse, had God forgotten him?

Into this literal and emotional dark cave of hiding, thirty friends came bringing life and light and hope. They found their leader weary, weak, and uncharacteristically whiny.

And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” (2 Samuel 23:15).

Photo by Anderson Rian on Unsplash

Moved by his vulnerability, three men were moved to action. They risked their lives to sneak into Bethlehem, which was then the garrison of the enemies (verses 14 and 16).

When they returned, David’s heart was strengthened, though he refused to drink the water. Realizing the costliness of their sacrifice and the depth of their friendship and devotion to him, David could not drink the water. Rather, he poured it out to the Lord saying, “Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went to risk their lives?” (2 Samuel 23:17).

It turns out our hearts need companionship and love more than even our bodies need water. The reminder of those who saw him and loved him did more to strengthen him than the cup of water ever could.

Weary warrior, I don’t know what your heart longs and whines for in your weariness. But I do know this: there is a friend who not only risked his life, but willingly let his blood pour out on the ground for you. He not only broke into the enemy stronghold, but was held captive by death itself for days. He comes to you in your dark caves and moments of weightiest weariness to be with you.

May these realities strengthen and embolden your heart today, friend.

My Best Adventure: A Note to My Husband on our Fifteenth Year

I’ve always thought of myself as adventurous, and I pride myself on a nearly insatiable desire to learn. While those things are still true, they have taken on different forms than I thought they would. I haven’t traveled to see the Seven Wonders of the World. I have not earned a master’s degree, let alone a PhD.

However, as I sat down this morning to reflect on my fifteenth wedding anniversary, the Lord reminded me that life with you is my best adventure and you are one of the most fascinating subjects for me to learn. I decided this morning that watching a soul be stretched and shaped and sculpted in marriage might just be the Eighth Wonder of the World.

When we got married, I thought I knew you. While I did know enough to know I was not making a poor decision, I did not know what I did not know. You did not know that much of yourself yet. A decade behind you in life experience, I most definitely did not know myself. But I am so glad for that. By God’s sweet providential grace, we have been instruments to shape each other and uncover the glory selves He has been slowly revealing.

We have had ample time to learn each other’s shadow selves. And there is plenty more of those dark places to plumb. However, the light and the freedom of the gospel makes such spelunking less scary. We are growing to be more gentle and patient with what we find there. We are growing to be less surprised because we are loved by One who not only excavated those depths but was executed to free us from them.

On special occasions, when you ask me what I would like to do, I struggle to answer. In those moments, I realize that what I really want is what I already have daily. A cup of coffee and a walk with you. A chance to process the lives of our children, be they spiritual or physical. A house project that keeps us side by side and attached to Home Depot like a ball and chain. These are some of my favorite adventures.

Any dreams of grandiosity are happily settling into a deep love for the simple life we have. I love our quirky house. I love listening to your sermon prep (most of the time). I love watching your heart grow and change as God simultaneously softens and steels you.

I love that I know the face you make before you tear up talking to the people you are shepherding. I love that you are okay with me burning every dessert I attempt to make. I love that you free me to not have to be an excellent baker or hostess. I love that you know my special kind of holiday anxiety and know when perfectionism is controlling me rather than the love of Christ.

I love seeing your heart soften for people. You have always been a strong leader, but I am watching him make you a soft leader, and it leads me to worship God. It leads me to hope that He can transform my own adamantine heart into one that looks like him.

I always knew I wanted to follow you. But now, fifteen years into following you, I realize that I have been following Christ-in-you. I see you struggle to keep pace with Him. I see you letting Him define and redefine success. I see you fail and fall into Him, running home to the Father’s arms more and more quickly.

I’ve always loved your voice, except when you are singing Prince songs in a high key. But I have grown to deeply appreciate your silence when wronged or misunderstood or written off.

And all of this, as sappy as it sounds, is true. It is only true because the One who embodies Truth enables it to be so.

W.H. Auden wrote a poem about Herman Melville in his old age. While I am not saying you are old, the tenor of the poem reminds me of the adventure that it is aging with you. The young Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, a tale of revenge and effort and straining and striving. But the old Herman Melville sounds like the masterpiece to me.

“Herman Melville” by W. H. Auden

Towards the end he sailed into an extraordinary mildness,
And anchored in his home and reached his wife
And rode within the harbour of her hand,
And went across each morning to an office
As though his occupation were another island.

Goodness existed: this was the new knowledge.
His terror had to blow itself quite out
To let him see it; but the gale had blown him
Past the Cape Horn of sensible success
Which cries: “This rock is Eden. Shipwreck here…”

I like this little rock we are settling into. I like it because the Rock of Ages drew it up as our portion and our lot to tend.

I love you.

Heights and Hooves

When I think of heights, I think of incredible views and vista points. I tend to forget the uphill climb, the exertion, the precipices, and the risks involved in scaling or climbing to such heights.

I like the view, but I often don’t like the voyage. After all, there is a reason most of us enjoy pictures from those who have summited Everest but have zero desire to ever accomplish such a feat.

The same is true when it comes to spiritual heights. Most of us want maturity and perspective, yet we refuse the risky and uncomfortable journeys which lead to those vistas.

This week, I have been studying Psalm 18. In it, David is on the run from a paranoid and jealous Saul (who happens to be the father of his best friend in the entire world… and we think our stories are complicated!). David is quite literally living on the edge of existence, hiding out in crags and caves in an incredibly harsh and unrelenting climate.

“I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1-3).

Y’all. David is not in the Hilton on a comfortable vacation writing such sweet musings. He is literally running for his life from a madman. These are not soft words, but realities as solid as the rocks under which he is hiding for refuge. They are tested and proven words spoken out of tangible experiences of God’s faithfulness.

“For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? – the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights….You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great” (Psalm 18:31-35).

I wonder if David, while hiding out in the heights, had watched deer whose hooves are uniquely adapted for their life on the edge (quite literally)? I wonder if he saw their unthinkable ability to cling to crags and live off the sparse vegetation that grows at such altitudes?

He saw in God’s provision for them a picture of God’s provision for his survival on the heights. If He gives heights, He will give hooves.

Heights & Hooves 

If He assigns heights,
He’ll also give hooves. 
His thoughtful provision 
Fledgling fear removes. 

He sees the topography 
From His high ground. 
His planning is perfect.
His strategy is sound. 

If daunting and draining
The path might appear,
We trust our trainer-
His presence is near. 

For, carrying a cross, 
He climbed a hill-
To carry us home 
Back into His will. 

His jarring journey 
Our ways transform.
All He assigns us
To Him must conform. 

I don’t know what mountains you are called to climb right now. I don’t know what unstable and shifting ground the Lord has called you to stand firm upon. I don’t know the spiritual enemies that are pursuing with hatred for harm.

But I know the One who does. And He prepares His people for their paths, especially the grueling ones. His gentleness makes us great. Happy hooves to you, my friend!

A Legacy of Covenant Love

Every time I walk down a certain hallway in our home, I see, among the family pictures hanging on our wall, a picture that nearly arrests me. A stunning woman looks askance at a handsome, proud young groom. Her eyes show the anticipation we normally associate with weddings, but they also betray a look we don’t expect: a nervousness which is closer to fear than wedding jitters.

She had only met her would-be husband two times, yet she was walking to the altar to vow a covenant of lifelong love to him. No wonder her eyes revealed mixed emotions.

My parents-in-law, as was the custom in their culture, were arranged by their parents. The decision was prayerfully and carefully considered. Each set of their parents saw in the other a good match for their children.

The concept seems foreign to me, one raised in a culture where there is no need for a descriptive adjective before the word marriage. When all marriages are love marriages, chosen by the marrying parties (and often blessed by the parents), there is no need to distinguish between” love” marriage and “arranged” marriage.

As an outsider looking in for the past fifteen years of their long marriage journey, I am astounded at the depths of their relationship. I am humbled by the way friendship and romance grew out of covenant and choice. I am deeply indebted to their marriage, not only for producing my husband, but also for painting a realistic yet regal picture of covenant love.

Their marriage exemplifies what Thomas Hardy so poetically and powerfully captured in his classic book Far From the Madding Crowd.

“Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.

A mass of hard prosaic reality is an understatement. They worked hard to move their family to a foreign nation where they had only tertiary contacts and tenuous hopes. They weathered losing jobs, raising children, and moving multiple times. While there marriage is neither dreamy nor perfect, it is weathered and well-woven.

The strength of their covenant love has been highlighted by over a decade of being tested by the slow, steady decline of Parkinson’s disease. Amma serves as Appa’s primary caregiver, bathing him, feeding him, managing his litany of interventions and appointments. She rarely leaves the house. She has to steal a few moments away for a relaxing trip to the grocery store. Her world has shrunk considerably to match the needs of her hurting husband.

Yet, there are still moments when the two laugh together over Appa’s less-than-lucid thoughts. Playfulness pops out in the midst of the plodding perseverance. Watching her serve him so steadfastly with all of her life literally brings tears to my eyes and refines my view of marriage.

If what C.S. Lewis says about romantic love lighting the slow coals of covenant love is true, their marriage is even more astounding. Their covenant coals were lit only with the fire of promise and trust. They give my husband and I a moving, real-life picture of the love between Christ and His bride.

Covenants and Coals

If romantic love is flame
Lighting covenant coals,
Their love is hard to name:
The arrangement of souls. 

Barely more than strangers,
They vowed longterm love,
Trusting their arrangers,
Depending on God above. 

As they walked through life,
True companionship grew.
As they navigated strife,
One formed out of two. 

After a decade of slow decline,
Years of suffering and serving,
They stand with covenant spine
In their tested love unswerving. 

Coals without first fire lit
Still offer steady heat,
God by His hand has writ
A lifelong love still sweet. 

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Hanging Harps: Hope on Hiatus

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? 

Though written thousands of years ago in a specific time and place, Psalm 137 resonates strongly with Christians of every age whose hope has been on hiatus, who are in danger of hanging up their harps.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars, we hung our harps…How can we sing the Lord’s song while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may might hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. 

God’s people sang this mournful song in their exilic journey from their home to the foreign, strange land of Babylon. They had once been a jubilant, hopeful people, singing spontaneous songs of praise and gratitude on lyres and harps. They had known a home where they belonged, where they were understood, where life was as it was meant to be. However, through the complexities of their own sin and refusal to seek and serve God alone, they were led into a dark exile. Nothing was familiar, everything and everyone seemed harsh and unwelcoming. They were close to giving up, they wanted to hang up their harps.

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While Syrian believers can sing this Psalm with a depth of understanding foreign to most Christians, every Christian at some point or another can and should empathize with our exiled ancestors.

While we have never been to Eden, to the world of shalom for which we were tailor made, our hearts remember and long for the home country we have never seen. Our hearts hum the tune of hope and home, even though we can’t quite remember the words. Our disappointments and sense of foreignness remind us that we are indeed exiles on this earth, those looking for a better country, trying to find the way back to the home they never fully knew.

When a baby dies, when a spouse leaves, when a body betrays us in illness, when a child struggles to find friends, when the best the world has to offer leaves us hollow, we ask with the saints of old, “How can I sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?”

When physical hopes have continually been rearranged and/or ruined, it is natural to want to hang up our harps and to harden our hearts. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. 

But that is only half the story.

Desire coming is a tree of life.

God’s people hung on in exile through the dim and far-off promises of the prophets that God would come and bring them home, that while this foreign sojourn felt endless, God had plans of hope and a future. And when they came home, the harps and the hope that seemed futile were picked up and used to sing songs of joy and relief.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come, he will not delay,'”and “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Hebrews 10:35-39. 

As tempting as it is to hang up our harps and to leave our hope on hiatus, we must cling to the promises God has given us. Some days we may only be able to barely hum the tune, but we must ask our Father to keep our home song in our hearts as we pass through a hash and strange land.

As impossible as it may seem now, we will one day sing with the returned exiles a very different song.

When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dreamed; Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, Lord, likes streams in the desert, those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping,  carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.Psalm 126.