I Have Seen the Face of Jesus
UPDATE: Tuesday, 9:20 PM
Carly and I need to add to this post, and let you guys know what God has done today. We have been utterly bowled over by the way so many of you have stepped alongside us. Your comments, phone calls, emails, texts, and prayers have gathered together in a single sonorous proclamation that we are not alone. God is with us, and his people are with us. Amen! We started today multiple thousands of dollars in the red as a family, but still choosing to embrace a spirit of gratitude for God's presence with us. As of tonight, we are going to be starting March a few hundred dollars in the black. We can never express the overwhelming thankfulness we feel to Jesus for who he is - his kindness and faithfulness that he pours out on us always, but in especially palpable and clear ways today. We thank him also for the way that he inspired so many of you to step into our fray and help our family and our ministry order our chaos. Finally, we thank those of you who gave of your time, your energy, or your finances to support us today. We love you all, and this ministry continues because of you. God changes lives and strengthens marriages because of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
The original post continues below...
From Sunday afternoon to late last night, Carly and I were fighting. In spite of leading a marriage ministry, our marriage is not immune to bitter, painful conflict. It happens to us all. As so much conflict and pain in marriages does, our disconnection had its roots in the space between what one of us intended to communicate and what the other of us heard. Admittedly, the conflict itself is infinitely unimportant in the face of what followed - but it's useful for context.
I'm exhausted all the time. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. This ministry, while we love it and wouldn't trade it for anything but the express command of God, can be taxing. Being a father to my two little girls can be taxing. Being a loving, self-sacrificial husband is taxing by definition. Now, it's not wrong or even bad to feel taxed - but when you're not making a point to spend time with the true source of rest and reprieve, the exhaustion that follows that outpouring of energy can become overwhelming. And I was not making a point to do that. The Bible says "The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength... they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:28b, 29, 31, ESV)." I was not waiting on the LORD. I was powering through, or trying to. Mostly, I was crashing.
In this case of conflict, Carly intended to communicate that, while she had been praying in church on Sunday morning, she felt God communicate to her that there was a refuge from my constant state of exhaustion available to me. Unfortunately, that's not exactly what she said, and that's definitely not what my ears heard. What my ears heard was, "In spite of how hard you've been trying, God told me that you're not trying hard enough. You need to do more." And for almost two days I couldn't take a deep breath. I felt physically crushed by the idea that I needed to do more. It sucked out any energy that I had left in my body, to hear that. I woke up, every day (before today), for months and months, wondering what more I had to do for God to be satisfied. As time went on, I felt like it was true that I was doing less and less, and yet also like I was giving more and more. I was giving everything I had.
I haven't received a paycheck from Not Easily Broken Ministries since last August. The money just hasn't been there. And I would have gone out and gotten another job months ago, except that Carly and I both feel overwhelmingly convicted that that is not the will of God for us. Our ministry is designed specifically so that we are on call 24/7/365 for every couple that we have ever worked with. That's about 60 people who can call, text, email, carrier pigeon, or smoke signal us any time, day or night, whenever their relationship needs support. That's a heavy commitment to have made, but we are so, so overjoyed to have made it - because we believe that's what it takes to support marriages in this day and age. But it also means I can't work an 8-5 job and do Not Easily Broken at night. I can't have another job and be the kind of available that Not Easily Broken requires, the kind of available that I know God has called me to. God has provided mightily over the last six months, and we continue to be awed by and grateful for his provision. And yet, we haven't been able to pay our mortgage in 2 months. We can't pay our gas & electric bill this month. I tried and tried to power through - to make myself trust God, but with each day that passed, the heavy burden of that space between obeying his calling and what I've always understood my responsibilities as a man to be grew heavier and heavier, and harder and harder to shoulder on my own.
The exhaustion of the burden has crept into every aspect of my life. It makes me too tired to engage well with my children. It makes me too tired to engage well with my wife. At home, I've felt reactive at best, and passive at worst. And yet, I know in my heart that my aim is still being responsible, rationing my energy and take advantage of any opportunity to rest because I don't know when the next time I'll be called upon to serve energetically will be. So I sit in the tension between doing my best with the energy that I have and knowing that my best isn't very good lately, and that, too, is exhausting. I could go on - but I won't. Last night, I was so overwhelmed by the exhaustion and the pain of what I thought Carly was telling me and what I could only assume God was telling me through her that I just broke down. I wept and wept and wept, choking out much of what I just explained to you between heavy sobs. Carly held me in her arms and prayed for me as I wept, as she wept with me. She prayed that God would show me what was "really real."
I saw four angels kneeling behind me. One, who told me his name was Malachi, whispered Jeremiah 29:11 and Isaiah 41:10 to me, over and over and over again. They surrounded me with love and warmth and support. Then, a man appeared before me. He was Jesus. His skin was dark, and his face was scarred. His hair was long and coarse, his hands gnarled and his knuckles swollen. He knelt down in front of me and put his hand on my knee. I could see where the nail tore through his flesh. With his other hand, Jesus reached out to me and pulled my spirit from my body. My spirit was limp and empty, just crying silently. Jesus wrapped his arms under my shoulders and held my spirit up. Then they danced. Jesus whispered that everything was going to be alright as they stepped counter-clockwise in a slow, gentle circle. I watched them, Jesus and my spirit, for a while. All the while, Malachi spoke the truth of God's word to me. After a few minutes, I saw something else. A vision of my spirit, dancing again, but happier and freer, this time with the Holy Spirit. Jesus explained that he wanted to show me that he saw my pain, my exhaustion, and my despair, but that in his presence there is joy - that joy is the natural consequence of his presence. I don't know if this was a vision of how my spirit will dance in the future - or if my spirit danced with two persons of the Godhead at once last night. I may never know.
Here are a few things I do know, though. I know that, after a time, Jesus was gone, the angels were gone, and we went on with our night. I know that whatever pain and conflict was between Carly and I was gone, and we were restored to oneness and wholeness. I know that I had been speaking condemnation over myself, saying that I was a bad husband, and a bad father, and a bad worker for God's kingdom, and that if I could figure out how to be better at those things, God would restore my energy - and I know that's not true. I know that God does not speak condemnation over me. I know that it was time in the presence of Jesus that I was missing, and that time in his presence will be my restoration and my refuge. I know that Jesus met me right where I was. I know that he gifted me with extra sleep last night. I know that I woke up this morning still tired, still sleepy, but at peace. And I know that, in his timing, as I obey what he has called me to, he will restore my weariness. I know he will provide for me and my family. And I know that, while this life will never be easy, when all is said and done, everything will be alright.