I sit in the bath and mess with the bubbles. I make my hands look like those puppets you cast in front of a light to make an animal shadow on the wall. The only animal I can make is a duck. It looks ridiculous. Then I submerge the duck in into bubbles below and let it resurface for some fresh air, bubble-beard and all. Now it looks like a wise old bubble-bearded duck. And now I’m the one who’s ridiculous. What good Christian woman plays with hand-contorted-looking animals in the bath after a hard conversation with her husband?
Apparently I do. Silly adult, imagination is for kids.
It all replays in my head, as happens in the minds of most women after any conversation ever. For someone who is supposed to have good perspective, today was a grade-A fail.
It all started when we turned on Netflix and instead of starting the show, I asked Cole if I could ask him a question. He looked at me with that “say it’s not about a house” look when I said, “It’s not about buying a house.” I asked him what our price range would be when we change apartments.
See our apartment is tiny and smelly we are more than cramped. So we discussed finding a better place to nest during the years we need to save money in order to one day buy a house.
And that’s where the whole thing started.
We jabbered back and forth until it was obvious that we were not in agreement. He wanted us to stay in the exact same price range we were in. I, in my head but not telling him so, wanted to live in something Downton-Abbey-esque the middle of Downtown Durham.
Right. Like that’s real life, Ashley.
I wouldn’t have told him that’s what I wanted, but something in my heart just couldn’t do life in this tiny, smelly apartment. Regardless of how much bleach, wood cleaner, and Febreeze the place had experienced since we moved in, that smell came visiting every few days.
I heat up dinner Cole’s mom sent over our way since he had recent ankle surgery. Praise God for that dinner. I may have exploded if I had to cook tonight.
We chat over delicious enchiladas. Cole has been editing all day. His photography blog is backed up since we’ve been so booked this past season with weddings. He is taking February to bring the blog up to date since he has to be off his ankle. So our life is this: he sits there and edits all day and I act like I know what I’m doing in the home as a new wife. But I don’t. It’s been 5 months of marriage and I still don’t have a clue what I’m doing.
We decided recently that I should get a job, since I do better in life with a lot on my plate. We can use my paycheck to save for a house.
So I feel the pressure. The pressure of being the lovey-dovey wifey when we haven’t been lovey-dovey lately. We haven’t had any time apart to miss each other since we are both in the same house all day. Of course we aren’t lovey-dovey. Hence, getting a job out of the house. And then there’s the pressure of getting the right job—you know, the one I want to show up for everyday. There’s nothing worse than coming back home to the apartment you hate except coming from the job you hate back to the apartment you hate. So the right job, that’s the ticket. But then there’s the pressure of setting aside the right amount of money from the right job for the right house in the right location at the right time with the right interest rate and then all of a sudden I’m right tired of having to be right all the time.
My filter and my mouth go off simultaneously. Cole gets an earful. I overdose him with a verbal mess of sentences and fragments and opinions and frustrations and concepts that don’t connect. I feel relief for about a millisecond and then I do what women do best: I panic. Verbal processing is the Devil. I wish I was one of those keep-it-all-in people. Cole would probably bust the door down in an effort to leave me as soon as possible if his ankle didn’t keep him here like a chained dog without a choice. Why do those thoughts have to find their way out of my mouth like that?
So I apologize. I tell him I’m just feeling pressure from life.
But then that thing happens…you know, that same fight happening all over again in a different way? It happened.
A few days later I’m sitting looking for apartments in our price range, and a real estate website pops up with the perfect house we could buy. I mean it’s everything we ever talked about, and it’s in a good price range! It looks like a modern cabin in a wooded area with a pond, which is what we’ve always wanted. It’s got modern architecture, which we love. It’s got a huge attached, geometric looking sunroom. And it’s got an artists’ studio included, which would be perfect for Cole. Not to mention the perfect amount of bedrooms, and a big tub. Cole is 6’3”. He seriously cannot fit inside a normal bath tub. The price was surprisingly lower than others similar to it. The list keeps going until I am ready to buy this house, as in buy it tomorrow.
You can imagine Cole’s surprise when we have to rehash the exact same “it’s not time yet” conversation repeated from two days before. He loved the house, but it still wasn’t time yet.
And it hits me. I’ve never given a rip about a house before. I’ve never daydreamed about houses. I’ve never looked at them with longing in my eyes. What is going on? Somehow this house idea has run away with my heart. Why?
And as Good Lord always does, He flashes a verse on the screen on my mind:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Oh come on. That’s the verse I had to plaster everywhere when I struggled with letting men get the better of me. Surely this doesn’t apply in marriage. I’m already married. I don’t have to guard my heart anymore. Cole gets access to all of it now. I don’t have to hold it back mysteriously. I fought and fought to not give it away flippantly or to someone untrustworthy. I guarded it. I paid my dues.
Oh there we go. “I paid my dues.” There’s the problem. I suddenly understand where all this house drama is coming from. As I sit in my unwanted apartment, He shows me what I’ve done. I started to believe something dangerous somewhere along the road, and it sounds something like this:
Since I gave due attention to my heart’s [emotional] health for a short season, I now deserve to do whatever I want with it now. I did what I was supposed to and now I deserve to get whatever I want.
I bought into the false “divine formula” again: that if I work hard enough in an area, I’ll earn God’s blessing.
I guard my heart in singleness + I try to be a good wife = God will give me a house when I want it.
The only problem is God is God. Not a formula. And God decides what God allows in and out of my life. And His purposes and plans can’t be bought with manipulative ‘goodness.’ He’s not a politician who will scratch my back if I scratch His, or if I make him look good he’ll do me a favor in the end. As if the unconditional Almighty would operate as conditional humans do! And all at once, he thunders in my mind to remind me who He is:
God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
(Numbers 23:19, ESV)
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.
(Job 23:13, ESV)
Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
(Prov. 19:21, ESV)
There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan
that can succeed against the Lord.
(Prov. 21:30, NIV)
Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
(Ps 115:3, ESV)
The Lord Almighty has spoken—
who can thwart his plans?
When his hand is raised,
who can stop him?
(Is. 14:27, NLT)
These passages definitely put me in my place when it comes to the formula I’ve been trying to live by. God has purposes that will not be thwarted by my meager attempts to earn his blessings. As if I could manipulate his hand to shower me with gifts like he’s Santa! I follow because He’s really, truly God. Not because He can give me stuff, else he’d be nothing better than a genie in the sky. And my motives lie bare and nasty before me, as they did the day I became a believer: you don’t want God, you want the things He can give you Ashley. And I crumble inside. I know the truth. I see the reality of my sin-clogged heart. I am doing Romans 1 all over again—exchanging the Creator for inadequate, measly, created things. And those verses scare me until He whispers something glorious:
Oh, love. My Ashley. No one can thwart my plans, of course. But you forget I’m not just the all-powerful, un-thwartable Almighty. I’m love, too. My plans aren’t just impenetrable. They are good, too. You forget I am kind, my love. I don’t demolish or crumble your sin with anger. There is no anger left for you. There is One who absorbed all that for you, remember? Can you remember Him? I dismantle your sin with grace. Of course you chose “things” over me. You will struggle with that until you and I reign victorious on the other side. But remember, oh remember: I fashioned that heart that has gotten clogged. And I am the Maker of that heart and the Unclogger of it. I am the Master Planner and the One who walks you through it. I am the Great Giver of new hearts. The part of you that wants all the wrong things—I am the Great Redirector of all your wants. Yes, I can even change your wants, my love. Remember I don’t just make plans that you can’t change. I make great plans from a pure, good, untainted heart that you can’t change. My good plans for you cannot be swayed by anyone for you or against you. There is no one more for you than I, and there is no one, not even you, that can undo the careful construction of good I have planned for you. My character itself protects that from happening. Oh my Ashley, do not be afraid. It is alright to be confused about my plans for you, but rest and know that I am unable to plan anything but good for you, for goodness is not something I simply possess from time to time, it is what I am. Trust me more than houses my daughter. And not because you’re supposed to, but because I’m a safer home for you and I have much better plans than they.
And my heart floods with relief. Relief that my heart is not too far-gone for His grace. Relief that my sin is not a surprise to Him and He never forces me to return to Him out of slavery. Relief that even when I go astray, His method to bring me back is to show me how much better He is, not how mad he is. All His wrath was poured on the head of His Son, so in this moment, there’s no anger left for my wanderings. Only grace.
And I sense Him again. Finally. I can sense how much greater He is than the world, than houses, than things, and I love Him for what He does best: keeping His Word to me that He can even redirect the wants of my heart. And that’s the whole reason he asks me to guard it, so it will remain wanting the right things, things that are good.
Oh how glorious it is to know the One who is for you, who is for ducks, and hands, and bubbles, and play-time and imagination itself, because he made them. To know the Great Giver and Calibrator of Hearts who can direct a heart when we can’t, because he made them. This is the God we know. He uses His words to teach us lessons during bath-time and to hold the Universe together at the same time (Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:17). This is our God.
The LORD is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray.
(Ps 25:8, NLT)
The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and loving toward all he has made.
(Ps 145:17, NIV)
The heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.
(Prov. 21:1, NIV)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
those who have been called according to his purpose.
(Rom 8:28, NIV)