Delightfully Difficult

Number twenty-two. The copper anniversary. Whoever designated anniversary themes must have figured if you made it to 22 you could risk giving a copper-themed gift to your spouse. Copper is great for circuit boards and statues, but as an anniversary present? Seriously, what’s a guy to do? I find consolation in my navigation around the “wax” theme of the 16th anniversary, as well as “feathers” for number 18. I propose we simplify and modernize. How about a, “dinner and a movie” theme for every year?

As part of our recent anniversary celebration, my wife moved a few wedding treasures into prominent view. Slightly more than arms-length from where I sit is the figurine that sat atop our wedding cake. Side-by-side in a convertible car sit a porcelain bride and groom – wide-eyed and pensive. They embody hope, innocence, and shameless dreams. Their faces evoke laughter and sunshine and the thrill of oneness. They symbolize humanity’s best sentiment for togetherness.

Yet veiled by the idyllic cuteness of our Precious Moments™ pair is something contrary to a fairytale sculpting of happily ever after. Our wedding cake couple has secrets. A close look reveals damage and scars. Here a chip, there a crack. Tin cans that once dangled from the car’s bumper have been ripped from their anchoring point. This marital duo is not as they were that January day when they nestled secure in a thick bed of white frosting. They’ve changed.

Such is marriage. A refining endeavor of being broken and changed.

In a recent reading of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, I attached myself to the character Levin. He’s traditional, stubborn, and idealistic. He’s a self-aware dreamer in tension with life’s realities. After some favorable twists of circumstance, Levin’s marital dream comes true as he weds his true love. Here’s Tolstoy description of Levin’s thoughts, still very new to his role as husband:

“Levin had been married three months. He was happy, but not at all in the way he had expected to be. At every step he found his former dreams disappointed, and new, unexpected surprises of happiness. He was happy, but on entering upon family life he saw at every step that it was utterly different from what he had imagined. At every step he experienced what a man would experience who, after admiring the smooth, happy course of a little boat on a lake, should get himself into that little boat. He saw that it was not all sitting still, floating smoothly; that one had to think too, not for an instant to forget where one was floating and that there was water under one, and that one must row; and that his unaccustomed hands would be sore; and that it was only to look at it that was easy; but that doing it, though very delightful, was very difficult.” (Anna Karenina, Part V, Chapter 14)

Easy is the story of that wedding cake couple with painted-on smiles and forever young features. Easy flowed our dreams of marital life, twenty-two years ago. Easy was the dress rehearsal.

Then we stepped into the boat.

And there we sit. She and me. Side-by-side in a weathered skiff upon life’s ocean. Happy and sore. Disappointed and surprised. Broken but joyful. And always dreaming as we paddle into the delightfully difficult.


Pinch Me

Reality can be a Vulcan nerve pinch. A painful, paralyzing squeeze.

A few weeks back, I intruded upon my daughter and her friends in the midst of a hairstyling frenzy. After twisting and tying and combing and spraying they digitized their artistry via an iPad camera. I perceived this as ripe opportunity to enhance my ‘super cool dad’ image. After asking for an appointment to get my hair done, I weaseled my way into their photo shoot. I felt youthful and cool, expecting to ‘wow’ with a smoldering mugshot. Of course, my intense self-absorption blinded me to their collectively raised eyebrows and silent thoughts of, “Ummm…he’s, like, weird!” Reluctantly, they took my photo.

Mouth-covered giggles bounded among the young ladies as my photo was viewed. I pensively reached for the iPad, expecting to see an unappreciated GQ-like mugshot. I neither giggled nor grinned. I gasped. Shocked, I was, at my visible scalp-to-hair ratio. I was losing population in my hair metropolis (and I’ve been such a good mayor!). The ego-deflating snickers continued as I relinquished my attempt at ‘cool.’ No longer can I deny that my steps are firmly plodding on the ground of middle age.

Confronting the truth about who I am is a curious engagement. A tenuous mixture of pride, fear, expectation, denial, longing, and disappointment. It’s a collision of questions unanswered and uncomfortable truth. It’s thinning hair alongside relational complexities.

It’s easy to dwell on what I lack. What I don’t like. What I wish was different. How I desire more ‘this,’ less ‘that.’ Accepting my finite self is difficult. Frustration and sadness and anger can swell in discontented moments. And when I brush against my limitations, I often hear the burdening lie of inadequacy and respond with passivity and silence. At times, I do laps around the pool of self pity or fret away hours coveting the skill or ability or circumstance of another.

But I must live in my reality.


I am what I am. A special blend of the spectacular and deficient. A moldable soul, ready to be shaped – shaped divinely by the tool of grace.

Grace that can sting as it transforms through corrective words, firm nudges, providential circumstances, difficult choices, loss, and gain. In those moldable settings, when confronted with my incomplete humanity, do I reach for bricks and a trowel to build a wall of defensiveness, or submit to the all-wise care of the Gentle Shepherd? Do I embrace my short-comings and yearn to be shaped more and more into a humble, patient, grateful follower of Jesus Christ?

I’m a weak, imperfect creature. So are you. But we’ve been crafted to flourish. To enjoy and promote the good, true, and beautiful. To bask in the benevolent and powerful grace of our Creator, who lovingly shapes us with life’s grace-filled pinches.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV)

That was Unexpected

Walking on water is spectacular. Raising the dead? Out of this world. Feeding thousands from a sack lunch? Set loose that kind of power and say goodbye to The Golden Corral and Old Country Buffet.

The miraculous certainly peaks my attention. But one particular miracle of Jesus – his turning water to wine – has seemed rather…dare I say, mundane. Lack luster. Dull.

Why my blasé attitude? I’m not sure. But trust me, I wrestle with how I tiptoe the rope of sacrilege with my thoughts. Perhaps my Baptist heritage is getting the best of me. Any mention of alcohol sends an instinctive jolt through my system.

In my reading this week, I found myself back at the water to wine story. Knowing my biases and baggage, I resolved to let the Spirit speak. To be open to fresh observations. To be excited about an account of something truly amazing.

As I reset my expectations, God was not slow to infuse my mind with joy for this seemingly average miracle (is that an oxymoron?). I marveled anew at Jesus as He quietly revealed His divinity. He was obedient and gentle. Decisive, yet humble. In the midst of a crisis, I saw my God give generously. Joyfully.


This theme of the unexpected was, for me, a surprising revelation. The bridegroom did not expect his wine to be depleted before the party ended. And he surely did not expect to find his reserves replenished with more than one hundred gallons of wine – and not just any wine, an unexpectedly delightful wine. Most unexpected was the quiet expression of divine power as the Son of God let the world taste of glory.

This rolling sequence of unexpectedness gripped me. In the simplicity of this no longer “boring” miracle, God met me in a way I did not expect.

He led me to ponder opportunities I’ve missed to experience Him because I expected something predictable. Ordinary. Repeatable. Rational. For sure, I expect God to be in the struggle of cancer. But how about when I’m mowing the lawn? I expect God to be present when I pray. Shouldn’t He also be in the baking aisle at the grocery store? Or in the conversation with the barista? Or when putting on band-aids? Or when helping my child “solve for x?”

Jesus didn’t need to turn that water into wine. And the wine didn’t have to taste spectacular. Mediocre would have been fine. Expected. But God is not predictable. Yes, He keeps His promises. We can fully trust Him. But when I box God within the limits of my experience I exclude the unexpected – even miraculous. I dampen my receiving “every spiritual blessing.” (Ephesians 1:3) Blessings much better than fine wine. Blessings that present themselves unexpectedly.

God is mysterious, yet sovereign. He is wonderful. He is grace and truth and light and love. He is humble, yet holy.  He gives blessing upon blessing because He is good. And it appears He likes a good wedding feast.

I want more of Jesus. To drink deeply from His love. To expect the unexpected.