Sunday, May 8, 2016

For the Ones Who Call Me Mama

I opened my eyes in the morning light of my tenth Mother's Day to find the littlest one had crawled into our bed in the early hours of the night and curled up into the curve of my hip with a sleep-clenched hand resting on my face.




Lyla, she turned 10 just a few short months ago - went and spun my heart in bewildered circles with how fast time really does go.

She laughs when I ask her to stop growing, to become small again. 


I look back onto the very first post I ever put on the internet, the one where she is only 4 months old and still able to be held, all curled up in my arms and my brain can't fathom at how all those fully lived days have become wispy and faint memories. 

Our lives looked so different - he and I were so different.


We were at the very tender beginning, still wondering how many babies we would have, still figuring out how to relate to one another as husband and wife now that we were also Daddy and Mama.

Our families, both immediate and extended looked so different - I never could have imagined the great gaps that would be left where people should have been.


I thought mothering would look like the ideal picture in my mind that had grown large since I was small - 

but that's just it...my picture of mothering was based on my own ideals and dreams.


 

There's a little one who pulls up her chair beside me in the tutoring room Monday-Thursday. She always has something left over from lunch, and as she pulls out her sheets of homework, she'll pull out something to nibble on too.

She has my heart - I'm sure she doesn't realize this,

her mothering hasn't turned out the way she thought it would either.




This small one, she had curled up beside her mama just a few short years ago, curled up for a nap in the early afternoon pressed up against the one whose heartbeat she had known since her very beginning...but when she woke up, her mama didn't.

Medications were unknowingly mixed and turned lethal.

And this daughter was left without a mother.


She came in one afternoon a few months ago and plopped her backpack right beside my feet. Started pulling out her homework and as she laid it on the table, she turned her eyes on me and asked,

Can I call you Mom?


My own four had been running in and out of the room, homework done and freedom calling and shouting my name over every little thing.


The juxtaposition of both situations made my breath catch.


When was the last time she had even said the word, Mom? And here were my children yelling it freely and without thought.


I wrapped my arm around her and told her how much I loved her - how much I wished that she could. I told her how everyday I looked forward to her showing up, how my day was that much brighter when she came around the corner and sat down beside me.

I told her that I could never be her mama, but that I could always be her friend.


It made me think of my own family, my own small four - how where there has been lack, God has always been so faithful to provide.

It may not look like what I imagined and dreamed about all of those years ago, before there was Tony and the life that we've made...but we have never lacked love.





A decade into this journey where all four of my children are under my roof and I don't know what the future will look like for all of us.

I know what my dreams and my hopes are for each one -

I know that I hope they will always love and follow Jesus, that their faith will be strong and grow...

that, should they become mamas and a daddy themselves, that their marriages will be ones that are grounded in the beauty of the gospel...their love for the other would be deep and faithful and lasting.

That the faith that we are sharing with them now would be passed on to the next generation of grands that we don't yet know.


I can hope these things and pray for these things,

but I can't guarantee it.

The world around me, with all of it's statistics and foreboding predictions would have me believe that hoping for good is foolish, to prepare for the worst instead.




But just when I begin to worry, just when I begin to think that maybe the darkness will win out in the end over my children, I am reminded of the verse that begins the recounting of those before me who had faith and hope in the sovereignty of God alone:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1

The further in to the chapter one gets, the more it becomes apparent that faith *doesn't* guarantee all we hope for and dream about...the final verses of the chapter talk about their successes and victories, yes, but just as quickly we read about mocking, flogging, imprisonment, torture...


What I need to be reminded is that hope should lift our eyes off of ourselves and what is right in front of us and cause us to realize that what, or really, Who we are hoping and longing for is Jesus. What pushed all of these men and women listed in the 11th chapter of Hebrews to remain faithful to God?

It was the promise of Christ.


My heart that loves my children fiercely is slowly learning to see their hardship and struggle in a different light. 

Learning that when my heart breaks over their pain, that this is a tender mercy as well. That here, when everything feels like it is falling apart around them, that Jesus is showing Himself to be all that they need. That He is greater than this moment, this temporal pain...and He is even greater than the joy that threatens to overwhelm.


So, for the ones who made me a Mama,


May you know how deeply you are loved, despite my daily failings and fumblings.

May we enter into these days together firstly and fully recognizing that this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

May you be bold and courageous when others are mean and unkind and when you hear gun shots across the street, because sweet ones, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

May you face the future with hope and joy regardless of what the outside circumstances are, because in Christ, God always leads us in triumph.

The four of you are the joy of my heart, even on the days when I feel so overwhelmed...over and over you point me back to the feet of Jesus and make me see my deep need for Him and feel such deep love for each one of you.


As we press into each other learning from and growing through the good and bad, may we be found pressing into Christ together, for He is our refuge and our strength.

With all of my love, always,

Mama

 


Sunday, April 3, 2016

For When it All Breaks Outward

The list of names is growing in the back of my Bible.

Even though our rooms are overflowing and it seems at times there are more kids than any of us as staff can handle together, there are faces that you come to expect each day - smiles and voices that  you suddenly realize haven't been seen or heard by anyone for a few days.

When a couple of weeks pass, I pull out my pen and slowly write each name under the one above it.


There is a mama and her family here in town who loves strong...who is strong. I know the secret of her strength, because I know Him too, and she opens her heart and her home to kids who need somewhere safe and there have been some kids that we have known who have ended up under her roof and her care - who have been enveloped in peace and the love of Jesus the moment they have walked through her door.

She has a list too.

I've seen the growing expanse of it when I pick up my kids from their Friday mornings with her, their names painted up on the walls of her home - I've seen the names I recognize and I know that they have been loved deeply here and I am grateful for all the ways God crosses paths.  Grateful for the ones in this community who have said "yes" to the uncomfortable and the awkward. "Yes" to the hard and the heartbreaking. "Yes" to the loving and the praying and the entrusting, not only of these children they don't know, but the entrusting of their own children into the Hands and ways of a good God Who asks us to love like He does.



The last couple of weeks have been difficult - I think I can write that down here.

Feeling as though I'm fraying on the edges, I've only wanted to hide out in my home. We've been sick, off and on, and I've been thankful. Thankful for the moments that meant I could curl up with my littlest and let her sleep on me on the couch. Thankful for vomit and sore throats and fevers and all of the extra snuggling that meant. Thankful for the volunteers who took one look at me after a bout of food poisoning and sent *me* home, telling me they had everything under control.

When the edges are raw, I want to retreat, and for about a week I could.

But the next week pressed in harder and by the time this past Friday finally came, I thought we were all going to collapse.



Spring bursts onto the scene, but so does violence in this place we find ourselves. A double murder happens just down the road a ways, police presence is thick. We hear yelling and screaming and gun shots and I see the color red everywhere - caps, shirts, shoes, shorts - and I find myself double checking our own attire before we head out for the day; the red bag I take with me to work gets replaced by a gifted brown backpack.

The overthinking everything rounds my shoulders in weariness.


I don't remember ever reading anywhere how lonely ministry can be. Surrounded by many, pressed in on all sides by children desperate to be seen, but it can still be so lonely.

I see it in my own children when we venture out past the inner city - their struggle to find where they fit.

They see and hear things that are much different here. My oldest daughter leans against me one evening last week, sobbing because of the horrors that her friends right here experience and bravely share with her tender heart...how do you voice that outside of the inner city to your peers? I watch my children flail at times, trying to get their footing...and it breaks my heart. I know that God is using this, that this is part of His plan for their lives for the good works He has planned for them, but I don't know how to help them through these moments where they feel like misfits - like the odd one out.

But isn't this a feeling common to everyone?

It's just worn differently, depending on who and where you are.



Sure, it's easy to see in a Red or Blue shirt, in the woman strung out on drugs, on that man who walks by our house, desperate to get rid of his demons by trying to drown them in the alcohol in that bottle he carries around.


I wear my glasses.

Now, there are times I wear them because I genuinely need to - contacts aren't as comfortable anymore, no matter how many brands I try,

but there are days when I put my glasses on to put a wall up between me and the world outside. As though that one small barrier will make my smile stronger.


Because things are easier to carry around, to wear. Being bold and vulnerable and saying to the person across from you that you are a mess is just...well...

messy.


And who has time to be bothered anymore?


Everyone is running around like the world is on fire, because it feels as though it actually is.


And our alone-ness feels as though it is going to consume us and it's so much easier to just play one more round of the newest game on the newest app on your phone.

But the hiding it just hardens us...

at least, it hardens me.





The kids all went fishing this past weekend at a local Kid Fish event put on a by a number of people who go to our church. Madison House packed over 40 kids into a couple of vans and they reeled in a good number of trout.

I opened the door to a little boy who proudly carried the fish my girls caught in Ziploc bags right up into my home. Marched across the threshold and through the school room and up to the kitchen counter and plopped them down on the counter.

Plopped them so hard the bag burst open and fish...juice...went everywhere.

 I sighed.

Loudly.


And I watched his face fall.




I still want to cry over it all - not the spilled and watery fish liquid, but over how I reacted. I love this kid like he is part of our family. I love how brave he was and how comfortable he is just to walk right in my door...but in the trying to hold it all together, I became brittle and it took absolutely nothing at all to break me into shards.

Our shards always break outward, hurting those closest to us.

It doesn't seem to matter how deeply I know this, I always seem to forget when I am most weary.





There's a portion of verses in Exodus, when the Hebrew slaves are groaning over their burdens in the heat of Egypt, that always jumps out at me - seems to come to my mind most when I feel most alone, and it's simply this:


And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. 
Exodus 2:24-25



I think to that page in the back of my Bible, of the wall of my friend - both marked by the names of the faces who have touched out hearts, no matter how briefly we have known them. We write them down because they have worth - these children matter, their souls bear the very image of the God Who created them.

Their names are written down, because they are seen and known - not just by me...not just by her - they are known by Jesus and should I ever be given the opportunity to sit down with one of these children who came by everyday and then just didn't - I want to be able to pull out my Bible and show them this - show them that they have never been forgotten; they have been prayed over and loved still, no matter how much time has passed.


The One Who is Most High and Almighty, He sees you and me. He sees each one that feels most alone and forgotten - the one who feels like the misfit and outside of everything. But He doesn't just see - He knows - and in the knowing, He came near...He is near.



Monday is less than an hour away and a new week will begin. Madison House will be open and who knows how many children will press in close and yell and push to be seen.

My edges, they still feel a tad raw, a bit frayed. I'll admit here that I feel a bit of a mess.

But it's the raw and frayed edges that open my eyes to the beauty of Jesus. In Him I'm not alone and when I press into that, I can point the other raw and frayed ones to His love that took on our grief and our sorrows, our pain and our sickness. The One Who wears our names in the scars on His Hands.

There isn't a pen in the world that can beat that.







Sunday, March 20, 2016

For When it isn't Enough {A post by Tony}

People often ask me what the worst part of this job is.  

Contrary to popular belief it's not gunfire at all hours of the day and night, physical violence, constant lies, all our things that have gone missing, lice, broken promises, mice or a myriad of other things to choose from.

Jesus said (Mathew 10:22) that we would be hated for His namesake; that sending us out would be no easy task.  

Great, I know all that, I know what I signed on for.  I told the committee during my interview four years ago that I would never work in an office again.  

I did that job; where I answered to only the president of the college and had 12 departments under me.  

Boring. 

 60k a year, nice car, top level corner office, cheap college housing and good health care, boring, boring, and boring.  

I'm never going back.




So what is the worst part of this job? What did I miss when I signed up? 



She's only ten years old, maybe 11.  She's dragging her family behind her.  A brother,6 and a sister, 4 - about the age of my three oldest children.  They heard about the Madison House at school and came to check it out.  After a couple of weeks they decide they like it and stay.  

She's a nice girl, really shy but she's tough too, and funny.  Being the oldest she is responsible for little brother and sister and she does a good job.  

She loves to play pool and every day she asks me to play a game with her.  We talk and I learn that she doesn't have a mother, there's a father but he seems in and out of the picture.  

"He's gone," she says.

 We are playing pool and I look up from my shot, "Who's gone?" 

"My dad." 

"Where did he go?" I ask.  

"I don't know. He said he was going to the store and he never came back." 

"Ok...how long has he been gone?"

"He left on Friday."  It's Tuesday. 

"Well who's taking care of you?" 

"Grandma." 

"Oh, ok,"

I ask more questions about gangs or drugs, trying to find out details but she adroitly dodges all my questions from that point on. She's said all she's going to.  




A week goes by, we are playing pool again. 

"He came back." 

"Oh good, when?"

She shrugs, "a couple of days ago."

"Great," I say, "right?"

"I guess so." 

"Did he tell you were he went?"

"No." 

Weeks go by and Christmas approaches; we've been doing all we can as a staff to help her family in particular.

No mother, no father most of the time.  We give them extra food after dinner to take home, rides to church and tell them how much we care and are praying for them. 




It's a week before Christmas and there's a third day in a row of snowfall.  All the kids badly need gloves and I've given out all I have.  

"Tony, do you have any gloves?"

"No," I say "I'm all out." 

We gave them all away, 100 pairs, maybe more. 

"Ok," she says, clearly sad and looking at her red chapped hands.  

She starts to walk away and I feel a pang of guilt. 

"Wait," I say calling her back, "take my gloves, they might be a little big but you can have them,  I can always get more gloves."  

She yanks them on,  runs off down the hall.  

That is the last time I see her, a smile on her face, headed outside with floppy, oversized gloves. 

She never shows up for the Madison House party, or the Chistmas Party. 
 
None of the kids she attends school with have any idea where she is or where she went, they just keep telling us, "one day she just didn't come to school." 



We've driven her home enough times that I know where she lives so finally 2 weeks into January I drop by the house and knock  on the door. 

A lady, mid twenties, answers the door.  I've never seen her before and she's never seen me.  She says she's a cousin but she has no idea where the three kids have gone and clearly and understandably doesn't trust me, a perfect stranger. 

"Oregon maybe?" She finally offers in an effort to get me off the porch. 

I climb back into my car and head to Madison House filled more with sorrow than frustration. Wherever she is at least she has warm gloves. 






It's late February and my 8 year old daughter is holding something dirty, heading toward me. 

"Hey dad," she yells as she gets closer, "isn't this your glove?" 

"We found it under the last snow pile outside, do you want it?"

"No, just throw it in the garbage." 

This daughter is most like me and she immediately senses something is wrong and asks, "Are you proud of me for finding your glove dad?"

"Oh yes," I put my hand on her shoulder realizing my tone and body language have given her the wrong impression.  "You did a great job bringing it to me, but I bought another pair so I don't need the old ones anymore." 

She skips off happily to the garbage.  

I will see her again. 

That's what drives me crazy.  

I know kids are sold into sex slavery, I know they move from house to house, town to town. I know they are used as look outs and drug runners.  I know they are abused in every way imaginable.  We call CPS about something and they tell us, "We've already been to that house 3 times in the last year, there's nothing more we can do."  This is just one story where kids disappear and we never see them again.  It kills me more each time.
  
People will tell you that whatever I wanted to do, I could always do it:
 
Played on my state football all star team in high school, worked three jobs and paid my way through college, always made it to management level of every job in less than a year, 

Started a band in Seattle, made top seller of the year in my region for Starbucks, Director of operations at a college.

But I'm down here, living across the street from Madison House and I feel completely helpless.  I open up the field and building on weekends, I give away my own money and things constantly.  I have endless conversations about fundraising and volunteer work.  

There's nothing more I can do. 

 It isn't enough.  

I have perfect peace that God is in control but it doesn't take away the loss and pain.  It hurts and sometimes it overwhelms me to the point that all I can do is weep.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

For When You Aren't Always Sure

I don’t think he would have noticed it if the glass of that old window wasn’t in shards all over the ground.

It’s a window that I found hidden far back in a forgotten corner of the basement in this place we now call our own.

It’s been sitting on our porch for almost 2 years now, leaning up against a ladder that belonged to Tony’s grandfather, snugged up against an old screened in window that I found in the old chicken coop out back.

I was going to cover the glass with chalkboard paint this summer – that was my plan. It already had a place, and now it had a purpose and I was already thinking about all the things I was going to write on this fragile space.


Only, a bullet found it first.



One night in early February, while I was far away in Ohio and lost in conversation with a dear friend into the early hours of the morning, Tony listened as gunfire happened in the street right outside of our home. He told me it had sounded close, but he didn’t realize just how near until he went outside the next morning and his shoes crunched on glass. 

Until he looked closer and saw the hole that now scarred our siding.

He didn’t tell me this right away.


It was on the long drive home over the mountains and into our valley after that cross-country plane ride, when little ones had finally drifted off to sleep that he started to share with me what had happened that night. 


This home of ours, it’s old and marked. The siding is ugly and the paint colors drab. I look at it and see all kinds of potential and I’m still processing at how Jesus opened all the doors for this place to become our own.

But now, as I knelt down to look at this hole near our front door, I couldn’t see anything else; how it would draw my eyes as I would drive up to the curb and walk up those front steps.


It’s one thing to say that you are bulletproof until God calls you home,

It’s another thing to believe it when it marks your home.

I woke up slowly in the early hours of the morning this past Sunday, disoriented and unsure of what I was hearing as the slow and deliberate metallic boom of gun shots settled deep in my chest. This was no fast drive-by, but it was calculated and pointed. And it was right outside our four walls. Amazingly, all of our children slept through it all.


It was after this and  after church, Tony sent me out to a local Starbucks with my bible and journal and told me just to be for a bit.

I found myself in the book of Acts, following Paul and his many words and journeys when his impassioned voice  grabbed a hold of my heart:

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,
If only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the
Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Acts 20:24

Because, as I had been praying and wrestling with that bullet hole on our front porch, as Jesus had been asking things of me that required great trust and I was fighting back by pointing out that hole, convinced He didn’t see the gravity of it, I was coming to realize that I *did* view my life as precious…and not only my life, but the life of my husband, of my children, of the young men and women we see at Madison House everyday and have grown to love like they are our own.

All life is precious because each life has been lovingly knit together and thought of before time even existed. 




But it was at that point  the words of Christ blazed brightly off the page as I flipped to the book of Matthew – 

Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let Him deny himself
 and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, 
but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.   Matthew 16: 24-25


Yes, our lives are precious, but they should never be more precious than the life of Christ in us. 

As Easter approaches and my Lent study leads me closer to the path of the Cross, I am reminded daily of His sacrifice, of the One who counted His life as nothing so that we could have eternal life through Him.



As I sat in my leadership class last night at church, one phrase burned itself deep into my heart and I haven’t been able to let it go,

*We are saved to serve*.

Five words, but they are wrecking me.

I used to think that serving and ministry used to involve big and grand acts. But what I’m learning now is that it’s in the little things, the ordinary and mundane things.  The things that seem small and insignificant.

It’s in sitting on the steps on the side of your home and handing a glass of water to the woman beside you as she shares her story.

It’s in rejoicing with her as she shares that she learned that prostitution didn’t have to be her path – that she could find purpose and joy in salvaging discarded things and giving them purpose and then giving them away.

It’s in the moments spent in the kitchen baking cakes and cookies for ones you worry over and pray for and you know of no other way to show them they are loved than this.

It’s in stepping into the middle of squabbling siblings and pulling them all close and letting them know that their mama struggles with wanting her own way too and then pointing us all to Jesus.

It’s in messing up and failing in so many different ways, of getting overwhelmed and scared and frustrated and worried and then turning back to Jesus and asking Him for mercy and grace and help.


It’s in the little ways that we die to our selves – it’s bit by bit that we loosen the grip we have on our own lives and raise our open hands in praise of the One Whose own life gives us all we need.

It’s always in the ordinary and small ways that we die to ourselves.


While I was out this past Sunday, drinking coffee and lost in Acts there was another shooting right on our corner; the text from Tony flashed up on my screen telling me to stay out as long as I needed.

I’ll be honest here, it didn’t take long for fear to rise up and my imagination to run wild, until I believe the Holy Spirit led me to this verse in Psalm 116:15,

Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints.   

Whether a physical dying or a dying of self to His call on our lives…as our lives become smaller to us and His life becomes all, our lives don’t lose significance to Him. 

And I can’t help but wonder, as we, you and I, run the courses He has set before us with everything we have – as He becomes our focus and everything else becomes secondary, when we come to the end of all that He has given us and we finally see Him face to face, if the whole of all that we have given up and for Him in worship and love isn’t what marks our lives and our deaths as precious. 



It’s our dying that makes our living rich and full, because Jesus, Who is Light and Life, becomes center.


Sunday afternoon, I knelt before that bullet hole with a different purpose in mind.

I could either be gripped by fear each time I walked up those steps, or it could become a thing of beauty. 

Because the reality is, the siding on my house and the power of warring gangs aren’t bigger and stronger than my God who kept the bullet from going through the siding and into the house.



So I frame it, because it’s a picture of grace. A picture of the tenderness of the One Who gave us all we have and the One Who would still be worth it all, even if He took it all away.






 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

For When You Come Home... {A Post by Tony}

Yakima, Washington.  

From time out of mind, it never mattered.  It was just another town I had to reduce my speed for on the way from Seattle to Sun Valley, Idaho.


I came here once, by accident, in 2005.  I ventured as far off the freeway as the Olive Garden where my wife and I stopped for lunch.  I remember us telling each other as we left, "It seems like a nice town".



In 2011, when Starbucks transferred me out to Yakima to open a new store, I wasn't too worried; I had no connection to Yakima and people telling me I would be killed or shot, or worse, seemed like the normal panic I assign to those who are overly concerned about a life and death they can't control anyway. 





      "Don't worry about it', I told my wife, '"There are bad parts of Seattle too and we avoided those once we were aware of their locations."


 So this week, early on a Monday morning I found myself in the Terrace Heights Cemetery stumbling and slipping in the wet grass and mud during a rare downpour, trying to find a body, or at least what was left of it.




  In 1858, Leonard Andrew Foster was born in Ohio.  In 1899 his wife died giving birth to his last child and he decided he'd had enough.  He didn't want to live with the memories her life and death brought by the very familiarity of his surroundings so Leonard packed up and moved to a place with no memories:  


Yakima, Washington.

He remarried a woman named Alvira who was from Kansas, lived in a quaint little house behind Target and worked as a night watchman until his death in 1942 at the age of 84. 


When Leonard moved west he brought his son Claud with him.  Claud settled down and had a son of his own named Ken and Ken had a daughter named Karolyn.



Karolyn lost a brother in Vietnam and swore that her sons would never play with guns. But, boys being boys, and fathers having the last word, the first time I was ever shot at was at the age of 13 while my father and I took cover in some rocks, bullets whining past our heads.  The hunters below us had buck fever and couldn't see past the deer they were shooting at so we hid in the rocks while they spent all their bullets, missing everything.



 The week of Thanksgiving, 2015, I was at my house, across the street from Madison House when 5 of the older kids dropped by needing gloves and scarfs.  I told them I would meet them at their house, and headed to Target.  



Their house is further up and further in to the area known as "The Hole". (As you can see, I've wisely taken my own advice and stayed out of the dangerous parts of town.)



 Before I can knock, shots ring out just down the street, another volunteer is with me and we stop and listen thankful for the concrete walls of the basement entrance.  More shots fire into the cold night air, 12 shots have been fired in total, two revolvers. A couple seconds later one of the kids I am bringing gloves to flees down the alley behind the house and looking back I see 3 more MH kids running along the front of the street. 



I head back out to the street knowing this is the moment when I could be killed, but I also know that fear is a weakness I have always resented when I sense it in myself.



Jesus did not call us to weakness but to acts faith and great kindness.  Besides, once the shooting starts, I am fully aware that it is over quickly and the instigators take flight almost immediately.  As I reach the street in front of the house I see residents coming out of the their homes armed with bats and other weapons in case further fighting breaks out.  I take a head count of the kids I was bringing clothing too, all are present.  An unmarked police car pulls up and I take point, explaining who I am, what I am doing down on 7th.  The police let us leave without further incident and I hug each of the kids and tell them to stay safe; I know they won't.  I head home to my wife and kids, thankful to be serving God in this capacity of His work - it is truly a blessing to be used by Him.




I never had a connection to Yakima until my sister was digging through some of my grandmothers old papers last week.


 I stare down at the small brick that has been depressed into the earth by time.  It is covered in mud and I had to kneel down on the soaked earth of Terrace Heights Cemetery and remove the leaves and filth just to read the name stamped into it: Leonard Foster. 





If I could speak to him I would tell him that his wife's death, was not in vain.  That even then, God, knowing everything, was planning to use his great great grandson's life to reach kids in Yakima, but that Leonard would have to lose someone he cared about for that purpose to come to fruition. 



 God gave us His son, someone He loves, because He loves us. For the same reason, I am not afraid to die, so that others may know Christ.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

To Love: A Valentine's Post {by Tony}

I'm fifteen years old and I'm in the backseat of the car.   My friends and I have just left youth group and the conversation has turned strange to me.  They are discussing how attractive our youth leader's wife is.  I sit listening for a few minutes and then I blurt out, like a dumb kid, 

"Hey that's another man's wife!"  

 There's a pause and then the boldest and the oldest of us smirks and says, 


"Who cares, she's hot." 

 I don't respond because I've already said my peace and been overruled. Besides as I relive this conversation in my head, I also notice that I'm a scared, young kid, giving in to peer pressure and going down without much of a fight.   

  Fast forward 7 years and I'm in college, I'm listening to another conversation and feeling a different level of confusion.  Our friend who's getting married that summer is excited about his new discovery,  "I found a website where you can count down how many days it is until you get married. I only have 110 days until I can have sex!" 


 Internally I think, 
"You can actually have sex any time you want at this Christian institution as long you have a car and no conscience." 

  Out loud I say, 
"Why are you marrying this girl? What is it about her that you love?" 

There is initially a blank stare. I've ruined the joy, but the blank stare is quickly replaced by this explanation, 


"Well, uh, she loves God and is smart, and she's really hot!"  

"Yeah!" 
yell out the other guys in the room to much high-fiving and "that's what I'm talking about!"  I leave the room realizing that I'm probably just going to make people angry.  


 So let me get this straight: women are supposed to, 
- be smart and hot, 
- really hot, 
and, oh yeah, I almost forgot, if you're Christian,
- love God.  

Or...at least say you love God so your parents will approve of your spouse. 

OK, got it.  So apart from the standards of the world the only other criteria of Christianity is 'love God.'



     

I wasn't asking these questions at this age out of anything other than confusion and concern.  Women in general at the high school level did nothing I thought was very impressive (I wasn't impressive either) and in college I felt that the only reason women were there was to procure a husband.  I wasn't' there for a wife so I was not meeting any of their expectations.  My wife still laughs at the story I told her about the time I didn't hold the door open for a girl in college and she yelled at me, as a large group of us headed into church,

"Hey Tony Baker, you didn't hold the door open for me!" 

 "Why should I?", I shot back, "Your arms don't look broken. You can open it yourself." 


Yeah I know, subtly wasn't my forte, or necessary in the mind of a 21 year old. She quickly lost interest the second those words left my mouth.  


Good.
 

Nowadays I just fight a war of sedition and contrition against any woman showing more than passing interest. A well placed e-mail or a disappearing act are just as effective and no one gets as embarrassed or hurt.

So, what did I want?  


I kept coming back to, 'Love God.'  


Taylor Swift, in the song, Blank Space, states,

"'cause darling, I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream." 

I believe this is a excellent description of the entire human race.  

All of us walking around in this macabre attire pretending to be Snow White, but that poison apple we willing took from the wicked witch is slowing seeping it's way into our already tainted blood, just waiting for the perfect set of pride and circumstance to eliminate our witness and neutralize any threat we pose to the king of evil angels.    


 If you really believe the Bible is true, that Satan is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour then, 'love God' is really your only chance.  Besides, isn't Jesus seeking you, not to devour, but because you are his creation. He's the very sacrifice that paid for our salvation.  He FIRST loved us.  This is love, that Christ loved us and gave himself. 


  There it is: Jesus sacrificed.  In Ephesians 5, men are asked to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  



  When I got down and my knees at the age of 26 and asked Kimberley to marry me, I wasn't asking her to have sex with me for the rest of my life because she was hot.  Getting down on my knees was an act of service, not just that one time, but for all time.  I was asking her, "will you let me sacrifice myself for your every need for the rest of my life."


   This last weekend, Kimberley used the Madison House to put on an 'IF' women's conference.  She was going for small and intimate to reach a few women at a deeper level.  This still took hours of her time planning and organizing.  I put our four kids, ages 3-10, to bed by myself on Thursday night.  When she got home late I asked her, "What more can I do to help?"  She needed to talk for about an hour and then she really needed to sleep.  Since I had already done all the dishes and organized the kids into a house cleaning army before she got home, she could sleep in peace.  



 Photo credit: Nicole Spellman



 Friday night was the first day of the conference and it was supposed to run from 7-9pm,  I took the kids home from Madison House around 5:30pm. We cleaned the house again, washed dishes, solved 25 different fights about chocolate, seating, and so forth; did devotions, read a book and then I put the kids to bed around 9:30pm.  Kimberley  texted me and asked me to pray because the feed was going out on the Internet.  The conference lasted until 11:30pm.  Kimberley got home and into bed around 1am.  I tried to wake up and talk but I remember nothing except thinking, "she needs more from me tomorrow."


Saturday was the last day of the conference so I was responsible for the kids breakfast, lunch, and dinner and everything in between.  We re-cleaned the house, and then tackled laundry, mountains of laundry.  Elias claimed, like he claims every time, that he "forgot how to fold a pair of pants."   A quick frown from me and shake of the head got him back on track.  The 3 oldest quickly formed themselves into a laundry folding assembly line and we took about a hour to fold all the clothes.  We did the dishes, again, cleaned the house, again, and then it was time for shopping and dinner.  


 Midway through Costco I was practically hanging from the cart and my two oldest daughters grew concerned and asked, "Daddy, are you ok?"  "Oh yeah," I said, "just fine, I have been fasting today for your mother and her conference.". They asked what fasting was and I explained it was something that their dad does for spiritual reasons.  This particular day I was fasting and praying for their mother to be strengthened but more importantly that the ladies she was working for would be blessed and encouraged by the Word of God. 





 We got home, cleaned the house, again, did the dishes, again and folded the last of the laundry that had finished drying while we were shopping.  Wash, rinse, repeat - this is having children.  Next was devotions and jammies.  



  When Kimberley got home all she had to do was help me pray for the kids and then put them into bed.  I had let them stay up till ten because I knew she missed them and after three days with old dad, they REALLY missed her. 


  As Kimberley and I settled into the evening she needed to talk for a couple of hours about how well Saturday had gone, in juxtaposition to Friday.  She was glowing, the whole experience was a blessing.  She talked till it was late and I was so excited to have been a part of it.  I get deep satisfaction from working hard for her and seeing the fruit it produces in her life.  


  The next day, after church, we went over to Madison House and broke down all the set-up, did all the dishes and brought everything back over to our house.  The only truly happy marriage is one of sacrifice.  I didn't complain, I didn't throw any Mantrums(man tantrums), I found joy in serving Kimberley, her joy over the event was enough for me to feel that I had served the purpose that God has given me for that specific weekend.  


 So...what's the plan for Valentine's Day?  Our Friends from Seattle moved out to Ohio for a couple of years and I've conspired with them to send Kimberley out there for five days while I watch the kids.  I can't wait, I love Jesus, I love our children, I love my wife.