Ch 5: The Promise


Before Ethan, there were the whispers of the Eternal Man spoken like seeds planted in my heart. The year was 2014 and I was in the throes of novel-writing. Throughout that year, I wrestled with a fear, a faith crisis that left me struggling with the Son of God through the night. I feared writing a better story for my characters than God would write for me. This fear caused my words to emerge as something at once skittish and aggressive. But in all that wrestling, I cherish the year I spent writing that manuscript because there Jesus showed himself to me as the lover I never knew. He was there, in so many scenes. Not just in my mind, but actually, somehow in some unseen reality, he was there. I felt him, like my own breath brushing across my lips. I heard him as clearly as the sound of the turtledove outside my window. I knew him like a friend.

Though regrettably defined by the soul-war of divided devotions, the wrestling match of that novel was etherial, a swirling of my depths and the depths of another unseen being colliding and dancing and merging into one. I didn’t always get the wardrobe of the whole thing right, but the heartbeat belonged to God, and it was that rhythm that I was learning to recognize and love.

The texture of everything He said during that novel writing year always came back to some variation or expansion of these four statements:

 “I am bringing you into your Promised Land.”

“Dance with me in the promise and the pain”

“I will turn your desert into a garden.”

“Rejoice in your suffering… hope does not disappoint.”

I didn’t know what these statements meant exactly for me and my life, and yet I knew He was saying them and I tucked these words deeper into the soil of my heart then I ever let anything go. I held them close and cherished them before I understood them because in these words was a deeper connection between two hearts then I knew to dream for. I didn’t know why God was saying what He was saying to me, but I was falling in love with the sound of His voice in my soul. I was excited to walk out the promises. Though the echo of pain and suffering was present in each of the four statements, still they stirred my appetite for the love of God. I couldn’t get enough of Him.

There was also, simultaneously, inter-connectedly the training of my hands and heart to create more life and beauty with the everyday tasks about me. Never before having much preference for cooking or gardening or home decorating, God used that year to cultivate a genuine love and appreciation and dare I even say skill in these areas. I was learning how to create a home for the family He would give me… I just had one problem. For me, finding a man and getting married felt absolutely impossible. I had a lot of personal reasons for feeling this way, but let me just cut to the chase and say I couldn’t imagine anything more far-fetched nor anything I desired more than one day getting married and having children and raising a family that would continue into the next generation. I even had long-time held dreams of the kind of grandmother I wanted to be, and yet, simply finding a man to date felt completely impossible. Normally a fairly confident person, you would think I could handle dating, but it felt like a foreign language that I just couldn’t crack the code to. I didn’t have the slightest idea where to begin or how to go about it or where to look. Simply thinking about it felt like an impossibility that existed only in a dream world and could never possibly be my reality.

And yet, I had a sticking notion that my “promised land” had something to do with both storytelling and marriage. Whenever I looked back on all my times of the greatest connection and intimacy and clarity I had with God, it almost always came back to one or both of these things: storytelling and marriage.  And in 2014, God began to train me for both, though both still felt hopelessly impossible.

But it was’t just writing stories and keeping a nice home that He was after, there were other, deeper things of the soul He was cultivating in me. That year I grew transfixed on the idea of submission, endlessly fascinated by the God-metaphor I found in male-female roles within marriage. I began earnestly asking God what is His design and purpose was for sex, I want to know His heart within in, to know the story He was telling when He created it. I wanted to understand why the best stories were the ones that played in the highest stakes, the ones that fell to ruins before we saw the plot twist to victory. I wanted to know why the gospel was just such a story and how much a life well-lived would reflect that same plot-line. And in all of this He was showing me His heart in story, His heart in family.

Much of this interaction with God came through particular Bible study I was doing at the time on Abraham’s story of faith. I have done a lot of Bible studies, all of them have mattered, a few of them have been life-changing, but this one—nothing has ever been quite like this one. God used this study as a launching pad to take me deeper and further than I ever thought I would or even could go with Him. I knew He was about to do something big though this Bible study before I ever started it, I could feel it in my bones. I remember on the first day I began the Bible study, the Holy Spirit told me to write the date down on the first page of that study. I had never bothered to do that before and I have never bothered to do it since, but something about that date was going to be important.

Throughout this study, God was communicating to me that idea of a “land” He had for me–a promised land. I began to ask the Lord to show me a glimpse into this “promised land.” I needed a vision to hang onto when the road ahead got rough.  I had the ideas, Storytelling and Marriage  constantly running through my mind as issues he was calling me to have faith in Him for, but what exactly was He up to? I wanted to know just how does one make a ministry out of the ideas of Marriage and Storytelling. It was a question I stayed with for several weeks, asking many times for a little peek into my promised land. And then one day it came. A vision, given to me while in prayer, and it unfolded as three separate but connected scenes.

The first scene of the vision was my husband with our two kids. They were young, somewhere around ages five and seven. There was a boy and a girl and we were telling them a bedtime story. It was a bible story and it was utterly captivating. My husband was bringing the story to life with different voices and an air of enchantment. I remember seeing the wonder in the kid’s eyes, they were enthralled, their imaginations lit up. And I remember looking at my husband with so much affection, feeling totally in love with this storytelling genius.

The second scene was the four of us again, but this time the kids were teenagers. We were sitting in a booth at a restaurant. We had just been to see a movie together and we were discussing the film in-depth. I was aware that the conversation was more than just likes and dislikes, it was a dissection of the worldview and ideology presented in the film. My husband and I were training our kids how to think with agility. We were equipping them through these entertaining family discussions to be able to engage the culture around them in cunning and subversive ways.

And the third scene was the four of us in the library of our home. The kids were actually youngest in this last scene, a couple of adorable toddlers. The room was elegant, yet cozy, the walls lined with books. I could see my husband more clearly in this one, I couldn’t see his face, but I could tell that he was blond and handsome. He sat leaned over a piano, playing something so beautiful it was transportive.  I sat on the floor playing with the kids and their wooden train set. And the me in the vision felt overcome with a peace-filled delight, so thankful that God had brought us into what had become our reality.

And that was it, the little glimpse God chose to give me into my promised land and it was not at all what I was expecting.

I was expecting to see more of a mission field, some kind of cause we were rallied behind, something that clearly indicated a church ministry. It was so baffling to me that God showed me something so lovely, but also so… ordinary. The vision absolutely satisfied my desire, even more than my exceptions would have, but still I was surprised that there wasn’t more clear-cut world-change happening in it. God’s involvement in the training for this “promised land” was intense and so the vision of such a normal looking future left me puzzled. I knew finding a man and getting married wasn’t going to be the easiest thing for me, but I didn’t understand why it would require Abraham-like faith.

I knew that this vision was from God and not just something in my imagination. I had my own daydreams for my future and they had looked nothing like this. For one thing, the man in my daydreams looked a bit more like the man I had had my eye on for some time. If I had fabricated the vision, my husband would have been brunette and played guitar, not blond and playing the piano. There were others things too. In my daydreams I had at least a half-a-dozen adopted kids, in fact, I imagined that my family and I  probably would have been living in Africa or at least a little boho loft in some US inner-city where we lived poor-on-purpose because we were giving all of our money away to the less fortunate. Or sometimes I imagined my husband and I flying around the world, on our way to the next speaking engagement because we had a message for the citizen’s (and soon-to-be citizens) of God’s kingdom. And I am not saying that those things won’t also happen—anything could happen, but I think it is important that God chose to impart a different picture to me than anything I had been expecting.

My aspirations were high, but the secret places in my heart wanted a man who I could create alongside, who would be an equal partner with me in creating a home full of imagination and wonder, discipling and equipping each child on the sly through engaging conversation and vivid storytelling. But that was a dream I didn’t dare allow myself to voice, because I thought it would be impossible to find such a man.

It was hard to accept this picture of my promised land, hard to believe that God wanted to give that which I wanted most. I expected life to be hard—it was much more of a stretch for me to believe that life would also be so richly good.

I began to ponder this new picture of my “promised land” and wonder at how they fit with the statements God continued to reiterate over me as I stayed in His word.

 “I am bringing you into your Promised Land.”

“Dance with me in the promise and the pain”

“I will turn your desert into a garden.”

“Rejoice in your suffering… hope does not disappoint.”

The hard was there, too, in the promises whispered to my soul. Something was in the path. Some obstacle, some pain and suffering, that stood between me and the fulfillment of this vision. I had no fantasies about marriage or family life being perfect. The perfect promised land was the new creation of Heaven and Earth. My promised land for this age would be hard. God was gracious enough to prepare me for this. But just because it was hard didn’t mean it wasn’t good and wasn’t worth the waiting and the endurance through whatever pain was coming. “Take heart,” He has said, “I have overcome the world.” I had to believe that with God, we could take the land—all things are possible. I had to believe because I had to see God in it. If I wanted Him to out-write me, I had to hold on to the faith that we would enter the promised land. I still didn’t know why it would require faith of Abraham’s caliber for me to get married and have couple of kids when such a thing was so normal, but I was going to find out.

***

Now, fast forward a couple of years and I find myself dating a man named Ethan. I wish I could play for you a non-cheesy montage of our time together.

I wish I could take you into that first moment I heard Ethan playing the piano from the other room and the music was so etherial it felt like the house suddenly had no floor, just the music and it was substance enough.

I wish I could let you hear the way Ethan read The Silver Chair to me, doing voices with incredible talent. He was such an engaging reader, with such a thorough grasp on the art of storytelling. I loved our discussions that followed each chapter as we read, in the moonlight on the front porch, or curled up together with a cup of tea on the couch, or even in a fort we made, as we shared a bowl of popcorn.

I wish I could bring you into that moment when I leaned my head on Ethan’s shoulder and asked him to tell me a story and he didn’t even skip a beat. He launched right into a tale about a pilgrim in peril, unfolding the story he was making up as he went until I was sleeping on his shoulder.

I wish you were there when he took me into his grandmother’s house and asked her for the old train set from the basement because he was nostalgic and because his career aspirations before filmmaking was to be a train conductor since in his early childhood, trains were the toy of choice.

I wish I could let you feel what I felt every time he and I saw a movie together and discussed it afterward. His intelligence was my favorite place to romp, discussing, exploring, arguing, our way into newly expanded and deepened perspectives.

Back then, even then when it seemed Ethan and I would have our whole lives together, his precision for nailing each attribute from the vision God had given me was almost too much to look directly at. It was brilliant like the sun. I was aware that it was there, but I didn’t dare look it in the face for fear of thinking my dream might actually come true.

 

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