In His power and with His joy…

We wrote drafts of our vows in Atlantic, Iowa, a little town halfway between our parents’ farmhouses. Our tired eyes hovered over cups of bad coffee that a very sweet, very blonde waitress brewed happily after she heard what we were doing. It was supposed to be our “date night” the week of the wedding, but the bowling alley wasn’t open and we didn’t feel like hanging out in the Hy-Vee parking lot or at the Tropical Sno stand. We were getting married in a few days, which also made “scooping the loop” seem a little silly.

So, we slid into a booth at Oinker’s and scribbled on scraps of paper while we imagined what covenant and promise and marriage was supposed to be about. We looked at other vows and wrote out our own words and I mostly remember saying, “We are really getting married!” over and over again.

There is nothing light about making a marriage covenant. The first covenant in the Bible involved God walking through halved animals with a vow that the same would be done to him if the promise of provision was broken. Covenant promises are heavy things and when something is really heavy, I seem to go in search of large rocks to have “writer’s block” against.

writing vows

So, I mostly sat there while Patrick mostly wrote versions of our vows and then read them to me out loud. At some point, we both realized that making any statement of promise was completely ridiculous. We were weak, and not just because we had planned a wedding in three months. We were weak because we were (and are) human – fearfully and wonderfully made humans whose words and promises are limited just like our existence.

But the promise we were powerless to make to each other in front of God and witnesses was still possible. I will never forget the statement of introduction we wrote that seemed to both honor the weight of our commitment and resign our powerlessness to keep it on our own.

“I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise.”

I still have the scribbled scraps of paper. I found them in the zipper pouch of my backpack this past week when I was fishing for a pen. I’m not sure how they got there or why I decided it was a good place to keep them. But, there I was, staring out at lunchtime commotion in Bryant Park and thinking about all the things God was holding together in that moment.

Somewhere in the mad middle of our three month engagement, our pastor challenged us to write a mission statement. Our excitement to make a declaration about how we wanted our love to honor God and bless others seemed more important than parking arrangements and party favors. So, we thought and wrote and prayed in the summer quiet of his living room. I don’t think we realized at the time that our mission statement would have the same foundation as our vows.

We are disciples of Christ and believe that in Christ all things are held together. We will proclaim the Lord’s name to one another, family, friends, and neighbors through acts of service, words of encouragement, and invitations to break bread.

As it turns out, our belief that in Christ all things are held together (Colossians 1:17) has been one of the most beautiful truths to preach to ourselves in the first few weeks of marriage. Our excitement for this new adventure feels like holidays are happening every morning. In Iceland, we were almost embarrassed by our goofy grins enjoying lobster soup at little roadside cafes and standing at the bottom of glacier mountains and holding hands in coffee shops. We were that couple, on honeymoon.

And, as gratitude for this new life spilled out over the unbelievable horizons and breathtaking views, we were in awe of just how completely Christ holds things together. Our confidence in Him grew as we thought about our vows – confidence that the God who holds all things together is holding us together and empowering us to do the same.

It has been exactly two weeks and I am now more convinced than ever of my inability to keep such a crazy promise as I made on my wedding day.

But, God. He’s such an abundant provider! He is making it possible in this moment for me to keep my promise. He is holding us together like He holds together the Icelandic moss fields and Iowa’s rolling hills and the New York City skyline. He is making it possible for us to make these promises again today.

I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise.

I, Patrick, take you, Caroline, to be my beloved wife. I will lead you, protect you and provide for you as I seek to glorify God with my life and with our lives as one. I will stay committed to you for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, wherever the Lord leads. I will be by your side, as long as we both shall live.

I believe that in Christ all things are held together. In His power and with His joy, I am able to make this promise.

I, Caroline, take you, Patrick, to be my beloved husband. I commit myself to you, striving to encourage, uphold, forgive and affirm you as I seek to glorify God with my life and with our lives as one. I will stay committed to you for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, wherever the Lord leads us. I will be by your side, as long as we both shall live.

when faith sees

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19–21)

What does it look like to be convinced that God is able to do what He promises? And what does it look like when what is promised is impossible?

What if someone told you that one day you would be the President or that you would be the Queen? And what if it wasn’t just an offhand comment, but a promise. It would be an impossible promise (maybe not for you, in which case I’m very honored that you are reading my blog).

Abraham was promised something impossible, but He was convinced in God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. There were a lot of details that didn’t make sense – a lot of good practical reasons to doubt the Word of the Lord – but Abraham persevered in faith. God’s grace allowed Abraham to believe and grow stronger in His belief that God would keep His promise.

This active believing was counted to Abraham as righteousness. God wrote out the storyline (Abraham would be the father of nations) and then by His grace Abraham lived out the impossible story by His belief that it was true.

Abraham had no idea of knowing what the promises would look like, but he knew what God’s faithfulness looked like – steadfast, sure, steady, true.

Sometimes, we are consumed with figuring out what the promises will look like when they are fulfilled. How will God show Himself faithful in finding me a job? How will God’s promise be fulfilled in my friendships? How can God be faithful to overcome the evil in the world and dispel the lies? How do I believe what He promises about eternity?

What will His fulfilled promises look like in my life – in those impossible things?

God’s faithfulness to keep every promise He has ever made gives us a clear picture of the Promise Keeper. Sometimes we are not meant to see what those impossible promises look like, but we are always meant to see who holds the promises secure.

Our faith sees this Promise Keeper and actively believes in His faithfulness. 

Abraham could never have imagined what God was promising – what it would look like. He never would have expected that Christ would come as a result of God’s promise and die to demonstrate His faithfulness and mercy. In Christ, God made a way for us and proved His ultimate promise keeping in the most impossible situation: satisfying the debt we owed and securing our place with Him for eternity.

Our faith sees this Promise Keeper and actively believes He will continue keeping promises, even if we have no idea what the promises will look like when they are kept.

but He has made provision

Thank goodness God, in His grace, gave me beautiful women mentors who ministered faithfully with the Word of Truth throughout my childhood and adult life. Even while I snubbed the corporate ministry of women, God was blessing me with the very personal ministry of a few very special women.

I was the kind of woman who ran the other direction when “women’s ministry” events were announced in the bulletin. The chit chat and the centerpieces and the circle discussions never seemed to get deep enough into the thick of theological things to convince me of their importance. I much preferred a coed conversation around the dinner table to a room full of hormonal ladies with space to air their grievances.

O, pride, you nasty little devil – keeping me from things my heart needs because my heart is too proud to receive them. 

But I have been feeling God make provision. He is creating space where pride once stood so that He could bless my heart and so that I could fall in better love with His beautiful design.

This weekend, I attended a two-day women’s ministry conference (gulp): many women, large room, round tables, chocolates, and vulnerability. I shuffled in just as a session was starting and the panel of speakers spoke on God’s design for womanhood and the way it reflects God’s over-arching story of cosmic redemption.

It was a slow succumbing, really. And it was kind of like a springtime bloom.

The room was full of ages – from pre-teens to great-grandmas – and I was realizing that God’s Word speaks the same beautiful message to each one of our souls. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” His creative display of His glory in mankind was very intentionally reflected in male and female. I need not roll my eyes at my femininity like it will carry me away to frivolity. God’s glory is displayed in His creation, intentionally in the inner-workings of relationships and uniquely in the differences of men and women. His reflection does not hide. His glory is proclaimed in creation whether or not eyes roll in rebellion.

And His grace pressed down on me with a heavy heartbeat.

This is my God, my Creator, my Redeemer – this God made me to reflect Him and know Him and love Him. His reflection does not hide behind my female-ness but shines through it.

I listened to wisdom from friends and strangers and teachers, just listening. My favorite moments came as we delighted in Scripture together. There is great power in opening the Word with right expectation that it will not return void. And, I believe, there is also great beauty in the corporate delight of Scripture.

The slow succumbing came as I swallowed the prideful expectation that women’s ministry events were about chit chat and centerpieces and circle discussions. The blooming came as I saw God’s nature reflected in the lives of these women. I imagine the honesty, support, and encouragement are exactly the reasons why such gatherings are so important.

After the women’s event, I spent the rest of the weekend making precious memories with my grandparents. What a gift. Not a moment was out of place, even as we squeezed every last laugh out of the midnight hours Saturday night.

And, when we listened to the story of Abraham and Isaac play out in Genesis 22 on Sunday morning, I felt fresh the reign of my rebellion. I marveled at Abraham’s obedience and his early morning departure to sacrifice his only son and I asked if my heart was capable of that kind of trust. My belly twisted as Abraham raised the knife to slaughter his son and I asked if my faith would ever be that kind of bold.

My spirit sighed when the ram appeared, overwhelmed that God had made provision. God had promised Abraham He would provide and Abraham trusted that He would keep His promises. Abraham’s trusting meant early morning obedience and his believing meant conquering his heart’s rebellion. When death was certain for his son, Abraham believed God to be a promise keeper.

Though death is certain, God has made gracious provision for our salvation, that by faith we would be rescued from rebellion.

Communion tasted different on Sunday. It was hard to swallow. Because this mystery of salvation doesn’t make any sense.

I choked down the bread and the wine and breathed the kind of prayers I imagined Abraham might have prayed after God made provision for Isaac.

Even for all my rebellious and prideful ways, He has made a provision that is sufficient for my salvation.

O, that I would trust that God is my constant provision.
O, that I would live believing His provision is sufficient.