I sat with my grieving, ever-so-long-time friend. Her son, for whom I had watched her struggle and agonize over the years, had just been diagnosed with Autism. She knew my life, my family. At the moment, she specifically knew of my son, my precious Tillman, with cerebral palsy, autism, borderline mental impairment. She knew also of the source of my strength, my gracious Lord Jesus – a Lord she did not yet share. She looked up at me with eyes full of pain and said those words that haunt the heart of every mother – “I just hope that I have what it takes.” And I sat quiet, loving her intensely – “Oh, my friend.” Deep breath. “You don’t. You don’t have what it takes. And I don’t have what it takes. Let me tell you Who does.”
Permit me to introduce my family. Our oldest child is also the newest to our family – 17-year-old Amber, who joined us five years ago in her own season of grief. Fourteen-year-old Tillman is next, whom you have already met – followed 40 minutes later by his twin sister Celeste. And rounding out our family in all kinds of crazy ways are 12-year-old twins, Andrew and Caleb. Yes, you read that right. Five kids. Two sets of twins. I’ve been known to say that Brian and I got as far as deciding we were ready to have ONE child – and that is as much of the planning for which God has ever had us participate. Let me tell you – I do not have what it takes.
A number of years ago, in a winter of particular discontent, with four babies at my feet, I mounted a war of expectations against my husband. Now… I am a warrior to be reckoned with, and ever-so-strong though he is, I ensured that he could not win. My siege-works were mounted against his defenses, and there would be no quarter for him.
But… the Lord, he is a warrior, the Lord Almighty is his name. His breath lays bare the foundations of the earth – and this is what he breathed to me, quiet and terrible at once: “The wise woman, Nicole, the wise woman builds her house. But with her own hands, her own hands, Nicole, the foolish one tears hers down.” (Proverbs 14:1) My selfishness! Laid bare. My self-righteousness! Laid bare. My petty, grasping, unloving, ungrateful, desperate, wounded, bleeding, weary heart… laid bare.
And I knew in that moment what I share now with you. I am both of those women. I am the wise woman who loves and plans and prays and labors for my family as an expert builder… And I am the woman who systematically sets out to tear down everything that I love most, with my own strong hands, cynical blow by cynical blow. Truth? The truth is that Destroyer, that one who tears down, is my nature. Left alone, that is where I will go every. single. time.
Listen to the gale that roars from my lips as I hurry my children to their schedule – and tear at their character at the same time. Watch the flames that burn from my eyes as I char those bridges painstakingly built. Hear the blades that whistle toward my husband – and then cry out with me – Who will rescue me from this body of death?!??
That great church-builder, Paul, had the same question. He wrestled with his own dual identity, his own one who tears down nature. And he had one answer… Jesus. Paul tells us that the mind, or the thinking, of his nature brought death, but Jesus transformed his mind, transformed his thinking, so that he brought life and peace. (Romans 7-8)
Life and peace… The Lord, he is a warrior, the Lord Almighty is his name, laying bare that nature of death in us… so that we can end our wars, and be those who bring life and peace. So that we can end our tearing down, and be those who build up.
But, how (I have asked… and you might as well), how can my thinking be transformed? Many place their faith in Jesus and do not live this building-up life. How, how does Jesus do this in me?
In the fall of 2003, years after committing my life to Christ, years after setting out in faltering pursuit of time with God in his Word and in prayer, with a son and daughter barely two years old, two six month old baby boys, and constant medical appointments for our Tillman… In that fall of 2003, my husband and I took a step. We took our faltering, back and forth, up and down, private devotional lives and moved them into community. We committed with a group of like-minded pursuers to meet weekly over the course of nine months for discussion of our time in the Bible. Accountable now to the group, challenged to continue to encounter God in season and out of season, we built habits (Real habits! Steady habits!) of drawing away to sit at the feet of Jesus and be shaped by his words. Habits of actively allowing him to transform our thinking.
(Did you catch that season that our children were in? Please don’t tell me you need to wait for an easier season of life!)
Do you know what happens over time when you build habits of drawing away to sit at Jesus’ feet in time of prayer and diving into the Bible? When you intentionally step into community with others who love Jesus?
Jesus said it best (as usual!): “I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” (Luke 6:47-49)
In Matthew, Jesus calls that person wise. A wise person has let Jesus transform their thinking.
By God’s grace, Paul’s thinking was transformed and Jesus gave him what it took to build a church. By God’s grace, my thinking is transformed and Jesus gives me what it takes to build a family.
We have known floodwaters. There are parts of our story that would make your heart sick and your body weary, just as there have been those kinds of parts to your story. I have no doubt that there will be more. But our house stands firm. It is built on solid rock, being built up more and more all the time. Sometimes I start to tear it down again, but habits of time with Jesus once again transform my thinking, and I pick back up those tools and begin to rebuild.
Let me say to you now, “Oh, friend.” Deep breath. “You don’t have what it takes. And I don’t have what it takes. Let me tell you Who does.”
Whatever it takes… find a friend to help you, a community group. Ruthlessly comb through your schedule. Mercilessly discipline yourself. Whatever it takes. Get wisdom. Get transformed thinking. Get time at the feet of Jesus.