So if you’re one of the 3 people who read my thoughts via blog form(Hi Mom), then you know by now the story that I try to weave throughout my written thoughts is a story of hope. The world has an abundance of bad news and arguments in it, so I figured why should I give more of that? We spend half our days judging; judging others, judging ourselves, judging the world…so you’ll find no judgment here. My intent in writing my thoughts has always been twofold: to minimize my rants on Facebook (which is a work in progress) and to always have my thoughts point back to the source of my unshakable hope. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written out a complete blog post in response to the lunacy around me and wound up deleting the entire thing because it simply did not point back to the hope that I have. So, in an effort to stay in that same vein, here is today’s story of hope.
About two years ago I received an out-of-the-blue text from a friend in NH asking if we’d reach out to one of his friend’s daughter who was about to make the southward migration to God’s country (that’s South Carolina). We said yes and reached out, no big deal. At the time we were thinking that we’d give pointers on restaurants, traffic patterns, good companies to work for, etc. Through a series of texts and emails though we found out that her husband was already down here living in a hotel while starting his new job and waiting for their new apartment to be ready. Knowing the pain of loneliness, we invited him over for dinner. We jokingly refer to our house as “The Southern Comfort Inn”, which is a play on words because we both really enjoy a good glass of SoCo, but also have a somewhat open door policy at home. All are welcome around our dinner table and the guest room will always be ready for you should you ever need it.
One shared meal later with Roland (that’s what he’s agreed to be called)and we invited him to stay with us in the interim while he saved some money. And yes, the thought did cross our minds that we were inviting a total stranger to live with us and really hoped he didn’t kill us in our sleep. As we all lived together over the next week or so (I forget how long it actually was and could have very well actually been a month), he helped out with dishes and cooking, and even helped paint our guest room/office. He really was an ideal roommate. At this point in our journey towards Fosterdom, we had already taken our classes and were preparing our house for our eventual license and welcoming kids to live with us. I vividly recall having conversations with Roland about why we chose to foster and the role that our faith plays in our lives. He wasn’t exactly receptive to our faith, but was respectful of our differences in opinions.
I will spare all the details because his story is not mine to tell in its entirety, but he grew up in Catholicism knowing God as angry and rule-based, with his “people” being judgmental and elitist. He comes from a home with separated parents and was never exposed to the expression of unconditional love towards a spouse. He has walked through addictions and habits that have slowly worked to undermine the relationships around him like water eroding a bridge, all without him even knowing it. To sum it all up: The cards of life have been stacked against him in spite of his best efforts to find his way.
So, after 2 years of friendship and him knowing about our faith, we got a call from a mutual friend who just said “I think Josh should call Roland. Something’s up.” I said yes and called. Now I need to pause real quick and say that I am not a crier. My family doesn’t usually express emotions very much. In fact, if bottling up emotions was a sport, we’d have more gold than Michael Phelps and Mr. T combined. But becoming foster parents and being habitually exposed to the immense pain therein has left us both emotionally raw and vulnerable.
When I called and I asked “how’s it going?”, Roland immediately answered with “good man, how about you?” in his usual cheery tone. I pressed in a little more and said “Roland, we just got a call from our friend who said I should give you a call. Let me ask that again but tell me what’s really going on?” I listened to Roland tell me what was unfolding and it was heartbreaking and made me weep. He told me a story of a hopeless marriage. A leaderless home. A pair of spouses who each felt isolated and alone, stuck in a broken and dying relationship. He told me about a recent high-turned-south that he experienced and how he knew that change was needed. All the while I silently cried with and for him over the phone.
After all of that, in spite of the newly exposed pain he shared with me, I was able to briefly pour my heart out to him and say “Let me tell you about the hope that I have. It’s a hope that does not rely on the circumstances around me but on the ability of my God to raise things from the dead. So long as my God is around (and he always will be), the end of the story is never written in stone, no matter how permanent it may seem.” We agreed that some greasy, unhealthy food was necessary and Waffle House was set for the next morning.
Over the next few weeks I went on to have numerous conversations with him, both in person and over the phone, about how our role as husbands is to love our wives without conditions. That when we do this; when we make the choice to meet our wives’ needs in whatever form that’s required, through acts of service, quietly listening, and expressing the same steadfast and immovable love that Christ shows us, we give them a glimpse of hope for a solid and joyful marriage. As husbands, when we lead our marriages through sacrificial love, our wives take notice. In many cases that means to close down the secret bank account you have or deposit the cash stash you’ve been hording for your shadowy habit. Or maybe it’s to install an internet browser monitoring app to safeguard against porn. But no matter what, it’s incumbent on us as husbands to sacrifice whatever objects stand in the way or contribute to the walls between us and our wives.
As an aside, our culture quietly and constantly whispers to us that isolation is good because if they know me, they won’t possibly love me. The God that my hope is firmly placed in encourages me to let those walls down because it’s in those relationships that we can truly say “it’s ok, me too”. After all, my God knows everything about me and he is still crazy about me. Removing those barriers between us (as spouses) takes an incredible amount of courage that quite frankly, our American culture does not support. We live in a world of disposable relationships where all we have to do is swipe left if we don’t like them anymore. So the fact that Roland decided to defy an entire culture and everything he knew about what love is, makes me so incredibly proud to call him my friend.
I would love to write and tell you that the story has a happy and tidy ending and the entire journey only took a month, but the truth is that their story is still in-process, as is all of ours. Over the past month though, through his conversations with a handful of friends and family, I had the incredible honor of talking him through what a relationship with Christ means and looks like, and he now attends a life-giving church and learns more about who God really is everyday. He made the decision to get plugged into a group called Celebrate Recovery, which he described as life changing. He is making the decision everyday to love his spouse unconditionally no matter the cost. This, of course, works much like a muscle and needs to be exercised daily, but with encouragement and guidance, the idea of unconditional love is becoming more and more firmly planted into his marital routine.
I do not know what the future holds for Roland and his family. But I do know that my hope for his story is not grounded on anything less than an eternal God whose love for him and his family goes deeper than any of us are capable of even understanding, much less expressing. Here’s a few truths about my faith that I’ve taken away from his story:
- Say Yes: Romans 8:28 says:
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
We never know how God will use our small “yes” to impact the stories of those around us in profound ways. Unfortunately, all too often we take the stance that God will use someone else to impact their story but the reality is that God frequently relies on our involvement in each other’s lives as he is causing everything to work together for the good of those who love Him. That doesn’t mean life will be all biscuits and bacon, just that God wants good things for you and everyone else and works tirelessly to call you towards Him. By saying yes to whatever needs are around us, we are allowing God to use us as a conduit for someone else to experience the hope He’s given us.
2. Let down our walls: Proverbs 17:17 says:
A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.
When I called Roland, he initially answered the phone in good spirits, only to quickly let down the walls when I pressed in. It was through his courageous act of leaving himself vulnerable that him and I were able to connect and share each other’s pain and hearts. Leaving the walls in place and keeping people at a distance is safe and is what our culture tells us to do. But if we find a community of people who love us but aren’t impressed with us, we can find the phrase “it’s ok, me too” and the incredible healing that comes with it.
Say Yes. Let down our walls. And in all things, choose Love.