A Tale Of Two Showers

So I say to you, “If you knew the blessed God, and who it is that is offered to you-the sweetest love, the richest mercy, the surest friend, the chiefest good, the greatest beauty, the highest honor, and the fullest happiness… You would be more willing to leave these frothy joys and drossy delights for the enjoyment of God than any prisoner was ever willing to leave the misery of jail for the liberty, pleasures, and preferment of a court.”

-George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of the Soul

I attended two bridal showers last Saturday. Funny thing was, I didn’t even know I was at the one until I got to the other. Then these dull eyes started to make sense of what I’d seen. 

Because you’ve got to have no sight at all to miss a bride making ready for her big day. 

Bridal Showers

One shower was bigger, with dozens of cousins and aunts and friends. The other was just three sisters, until along came me. 
One shower had a table spread big with buffet of sandwiches and salads and mixed nuts and cake. The other was not so broad- some sips of soup and applesauce. Both showered refreshment on the guests. Both tables amply laid. 
At one shower, the bride-to-be was getting vases and sheets and picture-less picture frames. The other was giving vases and quilts and pictures in their frames away. Both had a devoted sister beside her, noting each gift opened or given away. 
At one shower, the bride is counting down-38 days and 18 hours-before she’s given away. The other bride knows not the day nor the hour. She suspects she knows the season and content to leave the precise timing to her bridegroom. 

She says, His timing is always best.

Preparing For Their Big Days

Both brides are picking playlists for their celebration days. Both select from among the special songs that marked their relationships along the way. One bride might play I’ve Got You. The other, for sure, Trust and Obey

Both brides are clearing clutter. One bride has far less than the other. Both sort through unneeded things from their single days. Both go deep into closets and drawers to throw old clippings and awards and cards and notes away.
Both brides can talk a blue streak about her beloved. Both smile and look just a little bit smitten when each says, in so many words how she knows his love. Both brides describe- in a word- their husband, their betrothed, as faithful every day 
Both brides will relocate upon their wedding days. One will move across the country to her groom’s new medical school. The other will go a little further than Philly. Both might miss some folks, but they say they’re not afraid to go away. 
I’m dense sometimes. I don’t always see through God’s signs to the truth that is behind. But even I couldn’t miss the message of the brides after the shower last Saturday. 

And Grandma Did A Fist Pump

It is possible for your dying day to be your wedding day…for then the fairest of ten thousand and your soul will be solemnly knit together. 

-George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of the Soul
Two weeks ago we found out Grandma’s cancer had came back. This time it was more painful-incurable pancreatic. We don’t know just how long. And how I wanted to visit while Grandma still felt, her word, perky. 
So I headed up Friday night, clueless about her shower. The second one Saturday, for lovely cousin Hannah, that one I knew about. You can see how the surprise was all on me when I walked in to find the three. Grandma with her sisters were gathered around the table writing lists and making plans and setting up the service. 

What’s the oldest blessing in the Bible? they asked me. Aaron’s, I think, at the end of Numbers chapter six. Grandma’s sister read it. 

That’s it, Grandma declared. Now, write that down so you don’t forget.
Then she let me to recite some verses I’d been working through. And when I got to- Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemptionshe broke right in with glee.

Here where Grandma fist-pumped and said so joyfully, 

That’s me! I’m sealed for the Day of Redemption, for Jesus. Oh, I’m so glad He loves me!   

Revel A Minute

A Puritan named George Swinnock lived 350 years ago and he would have fist pumped, too. Because what Grandma knows, Swinnock knew- that when outside is fading, the inward can be renewed. And that the abundant life Jesus gives only starts with our short as dew, fading like wildflower lives on God’s green earth.

We can know this too. We-me and you, church, the body of Christ, his betrothed bride-we aren’t unaware.

So revel here a minute with Swinnock and Grandma and me.

Come forth; behold your beloved in all His glory. His arms are stretched out to embrace you. His lips are ready to kiss you. Oh, what a loving look He gives you! I am certain that you have a greater place in His heart than you have in your own…Your beloved will entertain you with precious and costly feast at His own tableIf you accept this offer, it will be life for you to think of death. You will lift up your head with joy when the day of your redemptions draws near. (Swinnock, p. 76-77)

Saints know where their portions lay. Grandma’s portion showed through at her shower on Friday night. I saw Grandma’s affections are getting more set on Christ, her true husband, and that this world is gently easing out of her, so it’ll be easier to say good-bye. 
For now Grandma’s showering us all-her beautiful Connemara Girl and woolen Sunbonnet girls, her hand-sown quilts and beloved hymnals, even her dear Dutch art-her Delft blue and windmills and tulips. She’s giving it all away. 
And she’s sealed and dressed in fine linen and fist-pumping awaiting one glorious redemption day. 
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;

it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Revelation 19:6-8

Post-Mortem on a Pillow War

He can put on his own pillowcases, I fumed, fumbling to fit my own maroon pillowcase over bulging queen-sized bulk. 

And if anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar… 

Oh! but his words hurt me so, I said in my head as I slammed two clean cases-as hard as fabric can possibly be slammed-on the bed. On his side of the bed. 

For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 

But I’ve done his laundry week after week, month after month, year after year. What’s two pillowcases? They’re clean anyhow. 

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 

But he hurt me. And I’m mad. I’m very, very mad. And sad. 

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. 

Well, maybe I’ll just put one of ’em on. He can do the other one.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

I s’pse I am hard to handle sometimes, he’s right about that. I can be harsh and proud and provoking. 

For if you live by the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 

And when brother-husband came to bed, I said, 

G’night, Hon. Enjoy them fresh pillowcases.  

I didn’t break down the bedroom fight-how Spirit KO’d flesh. I didn’t explain how the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, came to my rescue and defeated pouty, self-pitying me. 

I didn’t tell him how-all glory to God-love won this pillow fight. 

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Fight the good fight of faith.

1 Timothy 6:11b-12a




On Our 19th Anniversary: Still Going Ahead, Having Fun

He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with thee, which he loves not for thy sake. -Augustine

Ya Mon! Jamaicans do have a way with words. This photo was taken 19 years ago this month. It’s a honeymoon picture. There we were in Ocho Rios: Going Ahead Having Fun.  
Yes, I was all of 21 years old. And yes, we did laugh when we first laid eyes on the words. The Sandals photographer snapped the photo while we waited for dinner one night. We had no idea Fabulous & Fantastic was part of the deal.
I wasn’t planning an anniversary post, but stumbling on photo with its corny captions was the perfect pairing with my daily reading (The Business Of Heaven, January 3). And then my man gave me his blessing, with just this caution: “Don’t get too serious.” 
So here I am again, going ahead, having some not-too-serious fun; musing on our 19-year momentary marriage. 

A Pleasant Inn

You’ve seen the photo. Now for the reading:

The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. 

The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a  merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain). 

That’s it. Serious. But not too, I hope. It expresses my heart so well. Marriage is a gift, indeed. A faithful friend who can find? A source of joy, a blessed strength, a means of grace. Yes, yes, and yes.

The closest thing I have on earth to my faithful, loving immortal God is my flesh and blood husband, who knows me well and still loves me. It is a comfort and fun to have him near- to sample this new dish, and savor that gorgeous sunset and listen to me read, Please, just this one really good part?

Marriage is a gift from the God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17b). At its best, it is a cozy, refreshing inn along our path home.

A Gymnasium

Marriage is also a great test of character, a merciless revealer of sinful hearts. T.S. Eliot said that marriage is the greatest of tests, much more than a test of sweetness of temper, as people sometimes think; it is a test of the whole character and affects every action. Which is a big part of the gift.

It is my best chance to practice confessing sin and forgiving sin. It is, in a word, the gymnasium for my growth in godliness. Not that I don’t work out a bit at work and with friends and all alone, too.

But marriage is different. Gary and Betsy Ricucci nail it: One of the best wedding gifts God gave you was a full-length mirror called your spouse. Had there been a card attached, it would have said, “Here’s to helping you discover what you’re really like!

Gentleness and patience, in particular, get the best workout in marriage. I don’t struggle at all being patient and gentle with myself, and rarely with my friends. These two can be formed only in the crucible of frustration.

And gentleness? Francis De Sales instructed women like me, we who may do the right thing with a violent diligence, not to lose any opportunity, however small it may be, for exercising gentleness of heart toward everyone. 

(Alas, I’m falling down the serious slope. But I know who can pull us up.)

G.K. Chesterton wrote, Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline. And in “What’s Wrong with the World,” he wrote, I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. 

Jim and I know this good fight of incompatibility. And still, One made suitable helpmates. 

Moderate in the House of Mirth

In 1 Corinthians 7:29, Paul gives a surprising bit of advice for the lovestruck. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none. He’s laying down what Matthew Henry calls, a holy indifference toward the world and everything in it. Even husbands and wives.

In his commentary on this verse, Henry writes,

That is, they must not set their hearts too much on the comforts of the relation; they must be as though they had none. They know not how soon they shall have none…Those that are their comfort now may prove their greatest cross. And soon may the flower of all comforts be cut down…As to worldly enjoyments: Those that rejoice should be as though they rejoiced not; that is, they should not take too great a complacency in any of their comforts. They must be moderate in their mirth, and sit loose to the enjoyments they most value. Here is not their rest, nor are these things their portion; and therefore their hearts should not be set on them, nor should they place their satisfaction in them. 

But there’s more to the story. The creation itself, extending to the mystery of marriage, is communication from God. It is not an end. It is a pleasant inn, a bit of fun, and sometimes even fabulous. And when we’re there, we’d best give thanks and chase the pleasure up the beam.

Because, as Joe Rigney writes, Created glory mediates divine glory so that when we chase the pleasures up the beam to the source, we arrive a the joy of joys, the river of delights, the person of persons, the living God and Father of Jesus Christ (The Things of Earth, Chapter 3). 

So Jim and I start our 20th year of marriage. We’re going ahead, having fun, and mostly, we are moderate in mirth and sit loose the best our union offers. We sip our cocoa in front of a cozy fire and read the Twin Towers to the boys and laugh while we are Losing Our Minds Together.

And all the while we try to chase the pleasures of marriage up the beam to the source, to our true home, and forever Groom.

Fabulous and Fantastic how that works, isn’t it?


How precious is your steadfast love, O God! 
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you in the fountain of life and in your light do we see light. 
Psalm 36:7-9


May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

2 Thessalonians 3:5

Rats in the Cellar

A Monday post-mortem on a Friday night fight. 

We were broadsided. Both of us. A burst of unseemly anger on his part with catty kickback on mine. Provoked by a by a kind question from a friend. I deferred my answer to Jim, he was caught unaware, and the fight was on. On the heels of a delightful dinner party, the three friends who lingered caught a whiff of some mighty dank laundry. 
It came fast. Just imagine the split-second when Kitty stops soaking up your kind strokes and goes berserk. Claws extend and teeth are bared; a friendly purr suddenly turns attack. All of a sudden.
God’s grace is always enough. Jim and I have more proof now. We’ve repented and mended. Forgiveness was sought and received from the friends who witnessed our scuffle. We hope we’re the wiser for it. 
In the 72 hours since, we’ve run a little post-mortem. In doing so, we’ve realized how the being caught off our guard-the element of surprise-played a big role in our big ugly.  

But the surprise breach of a delicate topic wasn’t the problem at all. It only revealed what was alive in cellar of our souls. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Our little quarrel clinic Friday night-our sinful acts- only revealed the sinful heart that’s usually hidden away. 

Surprise is great revealer of the heart. C.S. Lewis ran his own post-mortems after he sulked, or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed

The excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected: I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself.

That was it. As Jim and I examined our Friday night fight, we both included that piece. We were caught unaware: Jim by the subject itself, a bit of a touchy-topic, and me, by his airing of what I thought was a private matter. And so our sinfulness, not just our sin, was exposed.

Lewis continues his analysis, the anatomy-if you will-of unkind acts and angry words:

…Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? 

If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light. 

There you have it. The rats of self-pity and pride, resentment and anger are always there in the cellar of my soul. Suddenness and surprise just revealed them. They’re there hiding until I kill them off.

Paul and Peter and James knew about prowling pests. Be watchful, they all warned. Be sober-minded, be watchful. Be watchful and resist. Resist the prowling devil, firm in your faith, Peter wrote. Resist him and he will flee from you, James wrote.

But it’s not so much the devil outside. It’s the rats inside. I do not do the good I want, Paul wrote to the Romansbut the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me. But, if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live (8:13). Until I kill them off, by the Spirit, they’re there, dwelling in me.

What to do, what to do?  How do we kill those rats in the cellar? 

The Sunday school answers are still right: Draw near to God in prayer and in His Word. Abide in Him, obey His Words. Be watchful and alert. Repent the second you see your sin
And one more thing: Welcome trials of various-even unexpected-kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, James wrote. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Trial

 Blogger Lisa Spence observes,

How I react to the trial reflects what I really care about. This is an ugly truth, but one worth considering with great soberness. Whether it is a sudden devastation or a lingering irritation, what I value will be exposed by my reactions and most often this will require confession and repentance as I work through the sin and idols that are exposed.  

Trials give us a sneak peek into the cellar of our souls. They remind us that we must be keep fighting, because sin is crouching at the door, desiring to have usWe must rule over it. As John Owen put it, Be killing sin or it will be killing you. We can welcome trials when we see them as a mercy; an exposing of idols and sin that would be killing us.

For us, a Friday night fight revealed the rats. 

Maybe for you it was just a tactless text from a friend, or getting cut off in traffic. Or coming home from a long Monday at work or spending a hectic Tuesday at home only to find a note long buried in a backpack,  Life-sized anteater model due Wednesday. Or maybe coming home, instead, to a clinic call with not so positive lab results. 

God is faithful whatever the temptation. He’ll provide a way of escape so we can stand up under them. 

In between tests, be watchful. And when they come, count it all joy.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 
Let all you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16:12-13