When I was younger, I could get totally consumed by television. If there was a TV on, the chances of you getting my attention away from that screen were not good. I would completely fall under its spell. I remember the day I first became aware of just how distracted I can get. I was at home watching TV and my youngest daughter was trying to get my attention. I don’t know how long she stood by me saying, “Momma, momma, momma…” I feel like I was vaguely aware of her presence but I didn’t actually snap out of that television trance until she climbed into my lap, grabbed my head with her chubby little hands, turned my face toward hers, and put her sweet three-year-old nose inches from mine.
That feels like a lifetime ago. Emma is nearly 21 and today I rarely watch television, but the memory came to mind recently during my morning quiet time. I just had to smile. It was so clearly God’s way of grabbing my head and turning my gaze back toward Him. He was showing me, through a precious memory, that my focus has been aimed in the wrong direction. As I thought about joining this community and attempted to put my transformation story to words, I kept getting stuck…in the past. I wasn’t writing about salvation at all. The words on the page didn’t even sound like my own. I was looking back to my life before I knew Christ, and getting mired down in a long history of misguided decisions. In looking back, I found my spirit spiraling downward. Shame, self-doubt, and fear commanded my attention. I was transfixed. And then God grabbed my head.
The night before I recalled little Emma’s face in mine, I shared my struggle to write my testimony with some new friends. The wisdom they shared was powerful. Maybe, they suggested, I was trying to tell my story instead of inviting God to tell His. Before they left, I asked my new friends if they would pray for me. They said they would be praying that very night during their long drive home.
Countless times over the last 13 years or so since I came to know Jesus, the Lord has shown me the power of prayer; how He is so very worthy of my trust. Still, time and again, I’ve found myself looking back, overwhelmed with sadness at the person I was before I understood truth. I lament the incredible pain my children suffered when I divorced their father, berating myself on repeat. And, time and time again, the Lord has taken hold of my head and turned my face back in His direction. I had to smile that morning after my request for prayers when, for what must have been the fifth time in as many days, I came across this scripture. “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
It’s like God was saying, “Stay with me, Joan.” The thing is, we are always either moving closer to or away from relationship with the Lord. When we allow our focus to shift back to mistakes made and messes left behind, we allow the enemy to pull our attention away from the Lord, blind us to His redeeming love, and hinder our work in the kingdom. And, while contrast certainly helps tell a story, I discovered a slippery slope. Satan was all too ready to push me down, right back into a pit I’ve already been rescued from. The truth is, we have to choose, over and over and over again, to keep our gaze on God. The enemy wants nothing more than to draw our attention elsewhere and he’ll use all manner of trickery to keep us wondering which way to look.
We have to remain mindful of Satan’s wily ways and intentionally choose the way of faith, hope, and love. And, when we do, we invite God to tell His version of our story…through the new life we live in Him, for His glory. That’s His version of our story.
Later in that evening after I shared my struggle to write my testimony and my new praying friends had headed home, my husband and I were sitting around a table with dear friends and colleagues. We were relaxing and enjoying fellowship at the end of a long day. One friend turned to me in a side conversation and asked me what project I’m most proud of. He was referring to the many companies and community projects Jose and I, and our team have supported as part of our community and economic development company. We have been extraordinarily busy these last several years. It was a good question and normally would have left me hard pressed to answer. But, in a moment of God-given clarity (no doubt prompted by the prayers of new friends), I knew the answer. “My marriage,” I said. It wasn’t the answer he was looking for but it is absolutely the truth.
This marriage–rife with all the struggles you would expect from a second marriage, blended family, and the added demands of serial entrepreneurship–is a story of redemption. Thinking of the work the Lord has done in me and in Jose in the last 11 years brings tears to my eyes. It makes no sense that this woman, who spent decades being tossed around by waves of fear, doubt, selfishness, insecurity, and bad decisions, could arrive at a place of such abundant joy. But then again, does it ever make sense? True love…God love?
I am living an abundant life. I genuinely delight in living and working alongside my husband every day…even when I’m not feeling particularly delighted by him or delightful myself. Gratitude grounds me. The Word enlightens my path, and, when I am struggling to find truth, the prayers of friends make the scales fall from my eyes.
Still, marriage is hard. No relationship more readily exposes our sinful natures, but it can also be a great teacher. Perhaps the greatest thing I’ve learned is that love is both a promise and a choice. God promises to love us and shows us how to love others. We choose to honor God and in doing so, choose to love…even when–especially when–our spouses let us down. And, let’s be real. They do let us down. But it doesn’t matter. As Christians, we are called to love and honor our spouses…and to ask forgiveness when we fall short of loveliness. And we do, or at least we try, simply because that’s what God expects. Every decision is grounded in a desire to do His will; and every confession is a humble acknowledgement that we fall short of the mark and need our Savior’s grace.
Ultimately, I’ve come to understand that a happy marriage and joyful life comes down to this one thing: obedience. That’s a pretty unpopular word for so many people these days. But, obedience is, in fact, the win, as my daughter Chelsea likes to say. I could write a whole blog on that topic but suffice it to say this. Whether we realize it or not, we are all choosing to be obedient to something or someone. When God grabs my head, and turns me back to look into the face of Jesus, I remember who I am, who I live to serve…and just how liberating it is to walk in obedience to Him. Do I resist sometimes? No. I resist often! But by the grace of God, the prayers of friends, and the love of a most adoring (and patient) husband, I pick up my plow and look forward, with great hope, to continuing to grow in relationship with Jesus and serving to build His kingdom.
Here’s my prayer for us today.
Lord, turn our heads to you today and every day we find ourselves looking away, distracted by the snares of the enemy. Open our eyes to see your glorious face and open our ears to hear your wisdom. Then, put us to work! Show us where you need our hands and feet, Lord, and embolden us with the courage to get out there and serve. Jesus, we trust in you!
With faith, hope, and love,