Thursday, August 26, 2010

I heart Wednesday

I currently love Wednesday. Not because it's the middle of the week. Not because kids eat free at some fast food chain. Not because it's laundry day and I like pulling the clean clothes from the dryer and pausing to smell the Bounce dryer sheet when it falls out of the machine (though I do like that a lot). No, I now have a big crush on Wednesdays because of missional community.

When Andy and I started going to the Austin Stone, I was impressed immediately. The teaching was challenging and seemed always to relate to what we were going through. It was truly food for hungry souls, and it continues to be. The music was really moving. To this day, I want to cry with emotion almost every Sunday worship service, and since it's happening on a weekly and not monthly basis, it must not be hormonal, right? I was on the edge of my seat when head pastor Matt Carter announced to the church that we as a church would not be going into debt to build a giant worship center, while we skimped on the not-for-profit community center currently being constructed in St. Johns. The money would go into the community center, and the worship would have to wait- actually, it was that our comfort during worship would have to wait. We'd still worship- but it would be packed in like sardines at the high school we meet at or in the smaller worship center in the new building. Community over comfort. Gospel over goodness. This is the Stone. And I love it.

But even after all of those impressive things, I found myself challenged and impressed further by a phrase I kept hearing at every worship service- "missional community." Curious about what we were hearing, Andy and I went to an after-service class called "Discovery" one Sunday. It was there that we discovered that "missional community" was how Austin Stoners say "small group." We learned how to use the Austin Stone's handy-dandy website to find a missional community near our apartment. That's how we found the Starnes' Missional community.

I remember driving up to Anthony and Katy Starnes house back in June and semi-dreading the idea of having to rub elbows with "church" people. Like a lot of people, I have had a few rather unpleasant experiences with Christians. So it was with trepidation that I sat on Katy's couch sipping water, guard way, way up, cautious to even hope that this experience could be the real deal.

Three months later, we had the folks from the Starnes Missional Community over to our apartment last night. Caution was long ago thrown to the wind because, even on that first night, I realized that these are not people who are trying to make themselves look good and make you feel bad. They are the real deal. They are people, each very different in their gifts, who love the Lord and love each other, who are really just living life together, trying to make an impact for Christ wherever they go. And every week since that first night, I have seen a deeper, more beautiful glimpse of what it means to be a "family" in Christ.

It's not that I haven't seen this before. My parents church when I was growing up was very much a "family." But I was a child in that family. And it's not that those bonds were not meaningful. I love some of my church family "mommas" (Mrs. Haley, Mrs. Howard, Kinsey) with a love no one is ever going to touch. But ever since I grew up, I have not ever truly found a church "family" of my own. Last night, while Wesley shared the sweetest promise of Christ's unshakable love from Romans 8, I felt deeply comfortable, genuine and loved.

Because of the hurt that I have suffered in the past, I am comforted by these men and women who are open with one another, trusting one another with their weaknesses, their trials, their worries, their prayers, their joys and their victories. It's a precious thing, and a reminder that my God is a God who comforts me, who meets every need, even if it is in an unexpected way.

This is a really remarkable revelation in my life because I have really begun to struggle with Biblical commands concerning unity among believers, the body of Christ, the family of God. When individual members from God's family make you feel like there is no place for you, then it becomes difficult to see the family the way that God sees it. And, unfortunately, I have seen this face of some members of God's family more clearly than I have seen the equality of worth that Christ intended. But there is no guilt on Wednesdays, no rejection, no humiliation- rather there is humility, vulnerability and love.

So I love Wednesday. Because the guard is down. The need to impress is off. Acceptance is in the air. And Christ is on our tongues. So, Starnes Missional Community, I love you guys. Deeply. And from the heart.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Awesome. Columns.

I went to Whole Foods on Sunday afternoon. Andy had been at drill for the weekend, and I was tired of feeling lonely. I decided to travel the twenty miles South so that I could surround myself with the other lonely Austinites trying to drown their problems at the organic juice bar.

While I was there, I saw a guy in shorts and a t-shirt. He had a neatly groomed beard that was slightly gray. He looked clean and relaxed, but with the appropriate earthiness requisite of someone who hangs out at Whole Foods on Sunday afternoon. On his t-shirt, in a font that looked reminiscent of an old typewriter type face, I read the word, "writer." I caught his eye for a moment and held it, transferring both pity and envy in that one look. "Me too," I thought.

The envy- well, I reason that if you're brave enough to go out to Whole Foods in a t-shirt that says "writer" then you must be a very legit writer. Meaning that, someone has actually paid you actual money to write words that other people read. And, in my world, nothing is really very much cooler than that.

And the pity- well, writing is somewhat of an addictive affliction for me. But, like any addict, I enjoy every moment of it. Sometimes I wonder what it's like to experience something, like, say, a trip to Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon, without writing some sort of essay about it in your mind the entire time. Like, there have to be people out there who see the tomato display and think, "Oh, look. Tomatoes! I bet they taste good!" and never once think of how they look like the North Carolina mountains in the fall, or have the same pallet as a Manet painting you once saw in a museum in some city you can't remember the name of. I've been like this since I was 13. Ever since the Diary of Ann Frank. I was probably like it before Ann, but she was the first person I ever connected with verbally. I can remember re-reading her Diary and thinking, "someone like me." Words do that. They connect Holocaust victims with middle-school losers. It's a beautiful thing. But, sometimes it drives me a little crazy. Or a lot crazy. I think that Jeremiah the prophet put it beautifully when he said, "his word is on my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot." (Jeremiah 20:9) Of course, Jeremiah had really worthwhile things to say because he was repeating what Jehovah had told him. Not quite the same as my urge to alliterate about the tomatoes at Whole Foods.

Anyway, I'm trying to figure out what to do with this identity as "writer." I am not yet confident enough to wear a t-shirt proclaiming my hobby/job/personality to the entire population of Austin tree-huggers, but I'm trying to own it just a little more. So, I'm branching out and trying to write as much as I can. Both because I want to, and I feel like I have to.Maybe one day I will write an entire essay on how I never should have felt obligated to write anything- but hopefully that will come after I got paid for some of this dribble. For now, I'm crawling, not walking, so branch out, I must. I had an offer a while back to do some writing for the Fayetteville Feed magazine. The Feed interested me because it's a local publication that's trying to give Fayetteville residents a source of edgy information about local events. It's the best attempt to try to keep Fayetteville hip that I've probably ever seen- sort of the verbal equivalent of Ikea, if you will.

Anyway, I was asked to do a "local" piece, so, on Sunday, before the lonely drove me to the Whole Foods, I punched this into my computer keys.

Pick a Point and Breath
By Meredith Mitchell

I confess. I flocked with the masses of middle-aged women to opening night of Eat, Pray, Love. I had not planned on being so fanatical about this movie. I had seen a lot of hype building up on Facebook and some of the blogs I read when I am trying to forget my own self-loathing and half-mock, half-envy other people out there on the internet whose lives appear somewhat more interesting than my own. Even so, I make it a point to at least attempt to not completely give in to hype. It's a matter of principle. I'm not sure what that principle is, but I try not to worry about that. I'm too busy trying to be independent. But my attempts to not act like a teenager desperately counting down seconds until the midnight showing of the next movie in the Twilight series desperately failed. I blame Oprah.

I clean on Fridays. I always clean on Fridays because I am completely manic and cannot enjoy the weekend if there is anything out of place in my apartment. (Go ahead and judge) Four PM is the apex of the day. With the rest of my living space spotless, I begin my cleaning cool down by dusting my living room and watching Oprah. (Judge again).

Well, this past Friday, as I was winding down my fervor for flawlessness, I was held captive on my sofa by Oprah's interview with Julia Roberts discussing her latest movie, Eat, Pray, Love. I know I'm totally sucked in when I can only dust on the commercial breaks. Such was the case with Julia and Oprah. So, dust rag in one hand and Pledge in the other, I was mesmerized by the true tale of Liz Gilbert's global journey that introduced her to gluttony, God and guys from Brazil. Gilbert's book, which bears the same name as the movie, has captured many hearts since it was first published in 2006. Devotees have waited with baited breath for this movie, which, Oprah assured us would not disappoint. And, even though I had not read the book, I found myself just as entranced with the story as Oprah, Julia and every other eater, prayer and lover out there. By 4:45, I was on Fandago.

This is not a movie review (Fandango yourself) so I'm not going to get into the story, and I cannot confess to some sort of supernatural spiritual revelation. I also am not obsessed with Edward Cullen (anymore) so I guess I am just above all of that crowd-following trendy nonsense. But, I must own up to the absolute truth that even a rebel like me could not escape from absorbing after watching this movie. Slow. Down.

This summer, while in another city, I went for a run on a really hot day. Just when I thought that I would sweat myself into a puddle somewhat reminiscent of the “I'm melting!” Wicked Witch of the West scene, I noticed something inscribed in aerosol on a train trellis. It said, “Pick a Point and Breath.” Wonderful advice. Not only because I was about to go into some sort of heat-induced stroke thing, but also just in life in general. And that's basically the point that I got out of Eat, Pray, Love.

Look, Fayetteville, I know what you're thinking. “If I'm picking a point to breath in, it's not going to be anywhere in Cumberland County.” You make a good point. Especially since most local spots are traffic-infested and breathing can feel a little more like drinking when the humidity is this high. But how many of us can just hop a plane to Italy, then skip on over to India and Bali for, like, a year while we pull our crap together? I'm not dogging world travel, but, in case Bali isn't in your budget, I am here to tell you, that there are some places around town that are good for eating, praying, even loving. All you need to do is pick a point and breath.

Now, if I tell you my local girl secret spots, you cannot all go rushing there at one time. That would completely defeat the purpose. But, I consider it my moral obligation to convince people that there are other places in Fayetteville to go besides Cross Creek Mall.

For eating, where in the world have you been going if not to Blue Moon Cafe? Eat the CAB sandwich, drink some Riesling and stop complaining about how things were so much fresher wherever you were stationed before Bragg. Or if you're in the mood for something a little more hearty, go to Luigi's and order basically anything. Sop up lots of olive oil and vinegar, drink down their bisque and eat up the fact that you aren't at a chain Italian joint for once in your life.

For praying, in an effort to encourage quiet moments of thought and personal faith rather than push any one denomination, I would suggest a reflective walk through Fayetteville's Botanical Gardens. Or, sit in the shade by the fountain in Festival Park. Pray for the homeless guy who is probably seated on the bench next to you. Or enjoy a walk on the Cape Fear River Trail, especially once the weather has cooled down and the leaves have turned. Or, walk through the lobby of the Special Operations Museum. Look up. Pray for everyone overseas.

And for loving, take someone special to the Poe House on Bradford St. in Haymont. Go at sunset if you can. You'll actually get a little bit of a view of downtown. Sit on the swing and hold hands. This site has special memories for me, because it is where my husband proposed to me.

Whatever you do, if you find yourself inspired by Oprah or Julia or just the idea of taking a break from constantly thinking “When do we PCS?” get away from the mall, Raeford Rd. and Skibo all together, slow down, pick a point and breath.

If you're still reading, thank you. I'll wrap things up here shortly. I sent this off to the guys at the Feed and received some unexpected feedback. It was the closest I've gotten to any kind of constructive criticism as a writer. I've spent the morning obsessing about it with Andy. The editor had given my piece some very nice feedback before letting me know that he hates columns, thinks they are self-indulgent and talk about nothing. Well. Huh. I supposed that's what I am as a writer, aren't I? I'd never really thought of that before. Self indulgent? Talking about nothing? Repetitive? I vacillated on whether or not I thought the same thing, and whether or not this hurt my feelings.

Then I realized that I, in fact, love columns. I only buy Time magazine for Joel Stein's "Awesome Column". Well, that's maybe a stretch. I also want to read the articles so that I can look smarter than other people when we're discussing anything political or global, but, in truth, when I'm at the news stand deciding whether or not I want to spend 5 bucks on a magazine, I flip to the back to see if Joel is in there. (The Awesome Column is only in every other issue) And, I confess, that most of the time, if his column is absent, I leave the political stuff on the shelf.

What does this mean? Apparently it means that I am shallow, self-indulgent, and that I talk about nothing. But so is Joel Stein, and I love him. His last article was about peanut allergies in kids and sticking q-tips too far down your ear canal- fantastic stuff. I loved it.

So, I'm going with this for now- we write what we like. And I like columns. Sorry Fayetteville Feed. I do understand their point. There's something much more sophisticated about being ajournalist
and recording the very serious things that are going on in the world. Without journalists, how would we be able to sound like we know more than everybody else? Columnists do not help at all with that process! What a waste! But, alas, this is what I find fun and entertaining about writing, and I don't know that I can go on without indulging that part of the writer in me from time to time. I'll try to be serious. Promise. But, sometimes you just gotta indulge the part that wants to paint the portrait of the world you see- even if it comes out looking like a kindergartner's finger painting. I know I won't get paid for that stuff, and the whole cool "writer" t-shirt thing will have to wait. But at least that whole burning of my bones thing will subside, if only for a moment- until the next essay arises.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hoarders of the Heart Unite!

I was completely engrossed in Oprah's two-part expose on the secret lives of hoarders last week. Thursday's show introduced the audience to a lady who lived in a nice middle-class neighborhood in a large house that was completely filled with STUFF! And I mean completely filled! She and her husband navigated their way through the piles by creating paths that reminded me a lot of deer trails through the woods. In their bedroom, they could hardly find the bed through the piles of clothes, and hadn't seen their fireplace in years. Their basement was infested with mice and flees that lived amongst the clutter. Their grown children hadn't been to their house in years and their grandchildren had never been in. Their stuff had completely taken over their lives.

I was completely zoned in on the show, but during commercial breaks, I'd rush to a drawer or closet and begin purging and organizing. I was that affected by what I saw. It made me want to take immediate action to reclaim order in my own life where things had gotten a little scattered about.

After shocking the audience with the vast amounts of stuff- clothes, gifts, craft supplies, papers, everything you could possibly imagine- Oprah introduced the experts. One guy was a professional organizer. He had a British accent and could get a little tough from time to time with the woman. (He's showing a little tough love in the picture up above) I actually thought he had incredible patience to even be able to go into a house like that and begin to tackle the mess. But every now and then, he would tell the woman that she had to set a limit on what she was going to keep. For example, in one room, which was filled with gifts that had never been given to whomever they were intended for, he told the woman she had to put the items she wanted to keep in plastic bins. But she had to set a limit for the number of bins that she would keep. He suggested she keep six bins (which I thought was a lot!) and the lady's expression on her face was absolutely twisted with panic. She bumped the number up to eight, then ten, then twelve. Finally, he started to get impatient with her, and scolded her for not sticking with a number. She began to cry- both out of self-pity and shame.

But the professional organizer was full of helpful hints. Not only was the limit idea a great one- and one that I want to implement in my own life! But, he insisted that the things that you do have that are valuable should be treated with honor and respect. This revelation came about when the lady discovered her father's wallet, one of her only pieces of memorabilia from her dad, underneath a pile of junk that needed to be trashed. She broke down into hysterics when she found it and the organizer guy was really gentle while he explained that an item like that should have a place of honor in the home.

After this kind of footage from the on-site sorting going on at the lady's house, the camera came back to rest on Oprah in her studio with a psychologist who specializes in this type of behavior. He explained that hoarding behavior is a mechanism of control. The person who is keeping everything thinks they are controlling their life by piling up stuff, but, in reality, the stuff ends up controlling them. This woman had seen her whole life get clobbered by her piles of stuff- her family could not spend time in her home because there was literally no room for them, and her children refused to let her grandchildren be exposed to such mess.

Before Friday's show, I went to Target and stocked up on some organizing supplies. Some bins, a plastic drawer organizer, and a shoe organizer that was buff enough to hold Andy's boots. While Oprah revealed the beautifully organized home (after thousands of man hours of work, three semi truck loads of stuff being taken away, and a complete home make-over courtesy of Lowe's and Broyhill furniture), I sat on the floor and again organized and purged. By the time the family was touring their beautiful new home, I knew where everything was in my apartment. All my drawers were organized, my closets and cupboards were in order, even my refrigerator and freezer could have been opened on Oprah and I wouldn't have been ashamed!

I was quite proud of myself, I guess, but as the week has gone by, God has revealed that I am, in fact, a hoarder of the worst kind. My house may be immaculate, but I hoard things in my heart.

At small group on Wednesday night, we read Ephesians 4:31. "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every kind of malice." I couldn't help but see the similarity with this instruction and the British organizer guy's reprimands. I could imagine him peeking into my heart, looking at the piles of anger and resentment that I've been shifting around for the past year, and saying "Whot ahh you dewwing with ahll of theese stoff?" Nothing good. That's for sure.

When I saw the beautiful new things that Lowe's and Broyhill had provided for the hoarder lady, I had a brief thought that she didn't "deserve" all that help. She had made the mess and been "rewarded" with this brand new, beautiful, organized home. But then I realized that the only way she got that was by humbling herself before Oprah and the rest of the world. We all thought she was a slob, we witnessed her emotional break-downs, and thought to ourselves, "at least I'm not that bad." What a vulnerable position to put yourself in. But her reward was great. She got a lot of help from a lot of people, and, in the end, her family rejoiced with her at the new home they could enjoy together.

Having a dirty heart is so much the same sort of thing. No one wants to own up to it. Everyone wants to say, "oh, I really have put all of that behind me." And maybe some people have. Not me. I'm a hoarder. Yes, Oprah and the rest of the world, I have junk that I need to get rid of. But I need more than the British guy and the psychologist and hefty organizational tools from Target. I need the Holy Spirit.

I read this really encouraging story this week, right in the middle of this heart-hoarder diagnosis. It was about a woman who was on the mission field in China in the 1930's. She was basically back-stabbed by another missionary, and she was ticked about it! I was really impressed that, even back in the day, people who served as missionaries in China got ticked off at one another. Not that I'm glad that there was conflict, but I'm glad that people owned up to their own nature. Anyway, the lady didn't want her mission work to be affected by her anger and resentment. So, she pled with God to "prove His power" by delivering her from all resentment. I like to think that she basically asked Him to help her take her bad junk to the dump. And He did. Plus, He did a make-over that rivals what I saw on Oprah, he gave her heart rest and happiness.

So I want that. I want rest and happiness. And, no, confessing to the internet doesn't really do a whole lot. But this comes after I have confessed this attitude to God. And, in the hope that humility and vulnerability can be an encouragement to others. Because, let's face it, who is not just annoyed by those "I've got it all put together" Christians? This is the best that I've got. A mess that needs to be taken out. A place where I've stored up bad thoughts that needs to be overhauled and replaced with new, worthwhile ones. That's all I've got people. It's not a two part Oprah special, but it's true.

Another hopeful verse that comes to mind, while exposing the mess and asking for help, is Psalm 51:10, "Create in me a pure heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Help me not hoard, Lord, but to store up treasures (neatly organized and useful) that you find valuable and that give life.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


It's Saturday! Andy and I have been debating on how to spend our weekend. As usual, I consulted my Austin Events Calendar to see what was happening around town. I saw that there was going to be a hot air balloon flyover at Lake Travis early Saturday morning. I love hot air balloons! But that word "early" had me a little anxious. I love to start Saturdays early-ish but I usually want a bowl of cereal, a cup of coffee and a fifteen minute back-to-sleep nap before I face the world on a Saturday.

I checked on the central Texas ballooning website and saw that the balloons were set to launch at 6:53 AM. Andy already had plans to meet up with some friends from his team to travel to Burnet for a fallen soldier's memorial service. He would need to leave around 8, so we decided it was best to forget about the balloons and get a good night's sleep.

When we awoke a little after 7:30, I got up to make coffee and oatmeal. I wanted to get a good look at the morning, so I walked out onto our second story porch. When I got out there, I heard this really loud noise. It sounded like a pressure washer. They've been doing a lot of maintenance on our building lately, so I thought that someone was pressure washing the walls or something. I was looking down, toward the sidewalk, looking for the maintenance person making such a racket, when suddenly the noise sounded again and this time, it sounded like it was coming from somewhere overhead. I turned my gaze upward and found myself staring right at a hot air balloon! It was almost eye-level with me. I could make eye contact with the people in the basket! It looked close enough to touch, but in reality, it was probably about 100 feet away. Still, there was a hot air balloon in my apartment complex! I ran to get Andy and my camera!

When I got back out to the porch the balloon that had been the closest had moved on. I was almost beside myself with excitement as I tried to describe to Andy how close the balloon had been... closer even than the apartment's leasing office, which sits across the parking lot from our building. As I described my experience, I heard the noise again, and looked up in time to see another balloon floating just above us. I snapped some shots, but my lens fogged up, so nothing turned out very well.

Anyway, it was a really exciting way to start the day. I called my mom immediately, because she loves hot air balloons, and wants to go up in one some day. But re-telling the experience doesn't do it justice. Maybe I'm a nerd, ok, I am a nerd, but it's exciting to wake up and see a hot air balloon hovering in your apartment complex parking lot. They were lovely, peaceful, colorful, fun. A great way to start the day! And I still got to have my coffee before going out! :)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I've been thinking lately about the phrase "believer." I don't know exactly when or where this particular term originated, but I think it could be one of the greatest misnomers I have ever encountered. I have been asked many times, "Is so and so a believer?" And I know what the inquirer is looking for- they're really asking me, "Does that person believe in Jesus Christ?" But lots of people believe in Jesus Christ. Even more believe in God. Probably more than that in angels or some higher power. Almost everyone is some type of believer.

But I play along with the Christian jargon because that's what American evangelical Christians like to do with one another- speak our language, sing our songs, read our books, to and with one another. And I will say, "Oh, yes, she's a believer. She goes to church and has read lots of books. She quotes all these famous Christian authors all of the time and is in three Bible studies." But, tell me, what does any of that have to do with believing anything at all.

When did belief become equated with doing? Sure James said that faith without action is no faith at all. But when did we stop completely with proclaiming our belief and begin covering ourselves with our actions?

Many of these so-called "believers" characterize themselves mostly by what they do, how good they are, how many missionaries they support, or how many hymns they can sing from memory. That is not believing. That is annoying.

I was reading Isaiah 35 today. In the NIV version (though I could really care less what version of the Bible I'm reading) this particular passage is titled, "Joy of the Redeemed" About half way down, I found this verse, "your God will come with a vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." Then it goes on to talk about opening blind people's eyes and deaf people's ears and streams in the desert and other miracles. I've decided that this is going to be my personal definition of being a believer. Can I or he or she or they or whoever read Isaiah 35:4 and believe, without shadow of a doubt, that the person He is coming to save is you.

This, of course, would mean admitting that we would need saving. It would mean that all that doing isn't all that important. It would mean that despite our best efforts, we might end up blind, or deaf or lame. It would mean we need a miracle. It would mean waiting on a Savior.

So I'm through with calling people who do good moral things "believers." You have to really know someone really well to know what they truly believe. It's a very personal thing. But it doesn't have to be private. And it certainly doesn't have to be masked by what you do. Pure belief should produce spiritual growth that manifests itself in genuine kindness and love and generosity. But the work is hardly what we should go around talking about. It's the faith that fertilizes, that makes any of it possible in the first place.

Sorry to harp on this issue once again. I'm sure it will be coming around more and more often as I dig through my book and my heart and heap up shovel-full after shovel-full of frustration with myself and other Christians who have forgotten how to believe and become obsessed with how we behave.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Happy Birthday Husband!

Twenty-eight years ago, something marvelous happened. A little boy named Andrew Mark was born. Births are a great example of how ego-centric we can be. When babies are born, few mommies and daddies proclaim to the world, "God has a new child!" It's more like they hunker down and hold their little one close and say, look at what we have made. Maybe they'll get really spiritual for a moment or two and have their baby christened or dedicated. Then, they might, for a Sunday morning at least, proclaim to God and others that they're willing to let God have a role in their child's life. I'm being a bit tongue in cheek, of course. I know that many parents are very dedicated to introducing their children to the Lord, and I admire them for that effort. But I do think that the majority of parents that I know today have a hard time trusting God with their children's lives. Not to say that this is an easy thing to do, by any stretch of the imagination. And in no way am I saying that I'll be like a champ at this or something. That would be absurd. I have a hard enough time believing that my dogs really belong to the Lord.

Maybe that's why the story of a woman named Hannah has struck many a woman with admiration and fear. Hannah was married to Elkanah, a religious man who doted on her, despite the fact that she hadn't born him any children. This was a really big deal back in the day. Not that today's culture doesn't push its own "bear children or you are worth nothing" agenda from time to time, but in Hebrew culture, it was considered shameful to be barren. Hannah's greatest desire was to have a child. I know people who are in her same predicament. Their longing is not to be taken lightly- neither was Hannah's. So sick was her heart that she wept and refused to eat.

One day, Hannah went to the temple and poured out her broken heart to the Lord. I love the way that the Bible describes Hannah's posture before the Lord, "in bitterness of soul, she wept much and prayed to the Lord." (1 Samuel 1:10) As she was praying, Eli, the priest came in and saw her. Her prayer was in her heart, but her lips were moving, though no sound was coming out. There's a great picture of what fervent prayer could/should look like. Private. Full of emotion. Truthful. Painful, even. But very very real. How funny that Eli, a priest, who should have been an expert on prayer didn't even recognize Hannah's fervency. Instead of assuming that Hannah was unloading her burden on the Lord, He thought she'd been hitting the bottle all night. Hannah had to defend herself- she said, "I'm not drunk! I have been praying out of my great anguish and grief!" When she said this, Eli believed her, and he told her to go in peace. But before Eli had come in to where she was praying, Hannah had made a vow. She told the Lord that if He would give her a son, then she would give him to the Lord for all the days of his life. Big words from a woman who wants so badly to be a mommy- and sort of counterintuitive to the Western world, I should think. Why would you beg God for a son, just to give him away and never see him grow up? Seems harsh, doesn't it?

God didn't think so. He was pleased with Hannah's request. And after many years of heartbreak, God opened her womb and gave her a child- a son she named Samuel. Then Hannah does something that people with hardcore maternal instincts probably shudder at (I am not one of those maternal people, so I don't shudder, but I'm still mightily impressed) She keeps her promise. She hangs on to little Sam until he's able to eat solid food, then she marches him right back to the temple where she had begged God for this sweet gift. And she leaves him there. For the rest of his life.

Think about that for a minute. We live in a Facebook world where most mommies record their baby's every burp and dirty diaper and cute look for the world to see. Women dream, not only of having babies, but of raising children- of nurturing them throughout their lives- watching them become strong and smart and successful. I doubt Hannah wanted any less, and, if you keep reading her story, you find out that God gave her more children that she did get to cuddle and play with and watch grow up. But, what caught God's attention in the first place, was Hannah's insight into what was most important for her child. Hannah reasoned, that if God would be so gracious as to let her participate in bringing forth a child, then she would return him to the Lord, not because she had to, but because she knew that it was what was best for him. The child belonged to the Lord.

Don't you think it's funny that people don't really think that way? I do. I find it ironic and sad and very challenging. The reason Hannah's story is so remarkable is because none of us really want to go there with those who are precious to us. And that's why I'm writing about Hannah on a day that's dedicated to my sweet husband. Like Hannah, I prayed long and hard for someone- a husband who would love the Lord and love me. Everyday, I wake up next to the answer to that prayer. But it occurred to me this morning, that just like that day twenty-eight years ago, the day that he was born, Andy's life was not my plan, or his parents plan or even his own. Andy's life has always been a part of God's plan.

Romans 12 says that if our minds are transformed by God's Spirit, then we will be able to see that God's will is good, pleasing and perfect. Before cereal and coffee this morning, I thanked God that His will involved introducing me to a person named Andy Wermel. I can certainly see how that was good, pleasing, and, well, yeah, kind of perfect.

But it doesn't suit to cling too tight and claim a person as my own. True, Andy is my beloved. I have the privilege of loving him in a more complete way than any other person ever has or ever will. But, he isn't mine. And, like Hannah, I wouldn't want him to be.

I used to think that Hannah must have been really sad when she let her son go. Maybe she was. But had she not given him over to the Lord, things would have been very different for the people of Israel. Samuel grew up to be an amazing judge over the people of Israel, and, before he died, he anointed David as King. I have no doubt that if Hannah had not kept her vow, the Lord would have found someone else to judge the people and set the King's line, which would become Christ's lineage, into place. But she was faithful, and Hannah and Samuel both got to participate in God's good, pleasing, perfect will. I think that is the best thing that could ever happen to any of us.

So, sweet husband, happy birthday. I am so thankful that God brought you into this world, and that you have accepted His invitation to participate with Him in His will. I hope you hear His voice and follow Him, and love Him with all your heart and mind. Like Hannah, I say, "My heart rejoices in the Lord!" to know that you are His, all the days of your life.

I love you, Andy. Happy Birthday.