Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chapter Five: Transforming Poverty

Moving from a beautiful hundred year old four bedroom country house in my home town into a one bedroom basement apartment with no windows, a walk-in closet turned mini-kitchen was humbling. I had wanted the house, the car, the fine things, but most of all I had wanted a marriage and children. Over the next year Shane and I would have to fight for our marriage and family and forget the material things we so often desired. God brought us to this humble place emotionally, spiritually and physically. He stripped away everything and made us utterly dependent upon Him. He had provided in a real and tangible way, yet humbled us to poverty.

While it would've made sense for me to keep working full-time catching up on our debt and saving, that was not where God wanted me. Emotionally I was broken and needed to reconnect with my baby girl and with my husband. God used that time to put Shane in a position where we completely depended on his work to provide for our family and to heal our marriage. As he was recovering emotionally, Shane bounced from job to job: painting & drywall repair, bellhop, valet, and once again, pizza delivery. The thing we wanted most was for him to get a record deal and much of his time - his heart- was focused there.

A few weeks after our son was born, a real record label was interested in Shane and his music! We were excited in anticipation of what lay ahead. They planned to put him on a European tour with a known artist that spring. We couldn't have been more elated. As we waited for more details to follow, our hopes began to fade. Eventually the label folded. There would be no tour and NO record deal.

We struggled to pay the few bills we had, and often struggled to buy food. We were experiencing poverty. Here I was, a college graduate, married to an intelligent, talented man with two babies, and we didn't have enough money to buy groceries. Shane had already sold the guitar his mother and dad had bought him a few years before she died, along with much of his gear and equipment. The only thing of any value left was my engagement ring. I had had it since I was seventeen and had imagined wearing it for the rest of my life, but our children needed to be fed. Too proud to ask for help from family or friends, and too embarrassed to admit to our church family who had so graciously helped us before, I slipped it off of my hand and gave it to Shane, asking him to sell it so we could buy groceries. Even now, when I see it missing from my hand, I mourn it's loss, but it's absence reminds me of where we've been and how far we have come.

Even during our time in a free living situation, we struggled to stay afloat. We incurred medical debt when three separate occasions sent us to the emergency room, one involving an ambulance ride. I have no doubt we could have qualified for government assistance, but were convicted not to go that route. Financially, we were no better off than before we had moved. Trying to find meaning in all this was difficult. While my head was immersed in the biblical doctrine of God's sovereignty over all, my heart was struggling to believe.

Shane got a steady job delivering radiators for $8.00 an hour and we moved back to my hometown. Our marriage was strong and our children were precious to us in a new way. On paper, one would wonder how we survived on that little income, but I am confident that it was God Himself delivering us through every turn.

I was learning that the value of worldly possessions and success is worthless. I was beginning to trust my Savior to not only provide and sustain us, but to save me.....I still thought I was "good," taking care of my children and being faithful to my husband, but my inability to pay my debts was weighing heavily on my heart. They had mounted to a level that seemed insurmountable and I knew on our own we could not overcome them. God was revealing to me my own depravity, my own sin. While I was usually able to do good and be good, internally my heart was hotbed of sin. It had been full of doubt and despair, had thought of leaving my husband a year before, resented his unsuccessful attempts to make it in the music business, and often doubted the faithfulness of my Lord. Rarely, if ever, did I reflect on my own sin, seeking repentance from my God and from those I had wronged. I too needed The Savior. As though a veil had been lifted, I saw all my attempts to be the perfect daughter, the perfect wife and mother, had failed. I could not redeem myself, but the perfect work of Christ had already.

As I began to walk in faith in a new way, recognizing that I needed the saving grace of Jesus Christ, -not just for my head, but for my heart- I was refreshed and hopeful. I was being transformed by a new faith, a new hope and no longer had to look to myself or my husband for a way out of life's difficulties or even my own sin; I could truly trust God who was making my heart rich. God had taken us to that lowly place and would carry us through every circumstance with a faithfulness that no human possesses.

Today, I leave you with some scriptures that have given me hope and confidence:

2 Corinthians 7-10
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Ephesians 2:4-10
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Stay tuned as I fill in the gaps and connect the dots for His perfect story of my life....

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chapter Four: Called, Loved, Kept.

I was starry eyed for the 22 year old young man I met when I was sixteen. He was a gifted musician who loved the Lord and spoke confidently of his hope in Jesus Christ; He knew the Word and could defend it. I trusted him to lead us spiritually, guarding our family with Truth. When he was performing on stage, singing his original songs and skillfully playing his guitar, I was enamored. From the moment I accepted his proposal of marriage, I imagined a bright future for us. I dreamed of supporting him as he rose to fame and worldly success in the music industry, having a house full of children, and being deeply fulfilled and happy. I had never imagined supporting him through the death of his mother and my friend. I had never imagined how the instability of the music industry would affect our marriage and our finances. I had never imagined depression or financial ruin entering my household.

We hadn't followed the logical, practical path for success. The American dream: the college education, the career, the house, the car, the vacations, the stuff, was not happening for us. The more we depended on ourselves, the deeper we struggled.

Finally, in my despair, I had turned to the only One who could provide a way out of this land of famine where we lay. I imagined Shane getting royalties from a hit song, money in the mailbox, or Shane finally getting a record deal. I prayed, and the God of All Creation had heard me and answered my cry...

Shane picked up the phone and his countenance changed. He was joyful. Moments later, he hung up and shared with me God's sweet provision. It wasn't a record deal, money in the mail, or news of a hit song...Some new friends we had met in a parenting class only a couple months before were calling to offer us a free basement apartment for a year so that I could come home full-time right away and so Shane could focus on fully providing for our family. We knew that God had answered our prayer in His perfect way.

Two days later, we learned that another baby was on the way. While our families mourned over this poor timing and the horror of us moving into a one bedroom apartment several miles away with two babies, the doctrine of God's sovereignty that we held so dear made us confident that God was working in our lives and providing for our needs.

We moved into that apartment with a walk-in-closet turned kitchen with our baby girl and my pregnant belly, thankful and humbled. We were thankful for God's grace to provide, but our pride was humbled by our inability to provide for ourselves. How it appeared to the world outside was humiliating. God hadn't used my solutions to provide (a hit song, money, or a record deal). He had not used ways that would give credit to me or to Shane. My God is not a tame God, but His mysterious ways are holy and perfect and He is jealous for His glory.

We believed that God "knows the plans [He] has for [us]...plans to prosper [us] and not to harm [us], plans to give [us] hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11). We had to believe He had called us to this place. As the next year passed, He would love us, yet keep us in a state of dependence upon Him and .....there He keeps us still. We were -and are- called, loved, kept.

Today, I leave you with the lyrics to a beautiful song my husband wrote. I wish it was recorded so you could hear the beautiful melody God gave him.

Called, Loved and Kept
Shane Martin

This world hates me
Like it hated you
Lies surround me
As I hold your truth

But it’s only by Grace and Sovereignty
I can suffer with You


I’ve been called by God, from death to life
I am loved by the Son who bled
I am kept by a grace that preserves to the very end
I am called, loved and kept

Infinite mercy
Love that has no end
Before the beginning
You took away my sin

And it’s only by Grace and Sovereignty
I’ve been drawn to You
©2002 Ninety5 Songs, ASCAP

I also want to send love to Chris & Hannah who so graciously responded to God's prompting of their hearts. That precious apartment was a gift.

Stay tuned as I fill in the gaps and connect the dots for His perfect story of my life....

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chapter Three: The Good Girl

A small town country girl who was quiet and classy and a creative, smart, funny young man who was moved around by the military his whole life met in high school and married as soon as she graduated. Only seventeen, she moved from the only home she'd ever known, to Boston, Massachusetts, where he was stationed with the navy. Then on to Florida where I was born to an almost nineteen year old wife and her twenty-one year old husband....When I was three, my dad's stint with the navy was over and we moved back to Tennessee to the same street where several aunts, uncles, cousins and my grandparents lived. Always surrounded by family, there was never a time I didn't feel loved.

When I was five, we moved with my new baby sister in tow, to a small town closer to Nashville where my dad worked. I have never known anyone with such strong moral sense, diligent work ethic and integrity as my parents. Active in the church and community, they were never afraid to get their hands dirty helping someone else. Never legalistic, they inspired me to do good and be good. I always wanted to please them, wanted to be trustworthy and moral; I wanted to be pure in the eyes of God and of my parents.

Growing up, I was the "good girl." I certainly was never without sin, but the moral code I learned from my parents protected me from all kinds of trouble. Yet, I didn't realize I was depending on myself - my doing good to save me. I was blind to my sin, and blind to what my Savior had done for me. I thought there was a perfect formula, a checklist, to follow to enter the door of heaven.

Morality = check...Doctrine = check, check...What else was there?

Marrying and having a baby young, before having a stable career, I was following in the footsteps my parents surely wanted me to avoid... Now, here I was, barely twenty-three years old with a precious baby girl and I was thinking of myself. I was imagining what my life would look like if I violated my moral code, gave up on my marriage, disappointed my family, cut my losses and tried again. Shane and I had made it through a long tumultuous engagement and the death of his mother, but I could not see how we could rise above depression and financial despair.

The night I told my husband to talk to someone because I was "having thoughts I didn't need to be having," he left and I didn't know if he was coming back. By God's grace, he did come back and he had talked to someone. Shane had gone to our church and spoken with our pastor. He came home and assured me we would get through this unimaginably difficult time. Pride kept us from sharing that struggle with the family we loved so dearly - pride kept ME from sharing it. My moral code had failed me and left me in a land of famine. I was ashamed and continued to pretend all was well.

The following week, the church surrounded us, counseled us and comforted us, not just with pretty words, but with helping hands. They held Shane accountable for finding work to provide for our family and helped us financially.

Shane was hired to play guitar for a promising country singer and delivered pizzas again; our situation seemed to improve. All the while, we had been attending a parenting class with other Christian parents in the community and had shared our prayer request for me to be able to come home full-time. Selfishly, I hoped Shane's gig would be steady and lucrative and imagined him finally getting a big hit on country radio, one that would set us up for a while and let me be the mom I wanted to be. I was depending on my husband and myself to provide a way out. One night in desperation, I prayed, asking God to either fulfill my desire to be home full-time despite our impossible situation or to completely take the desire away.

The next evening, exhausted from work and sad for missing most of my baby girl's days, I broke down. As Shane was holding me, trying to offer words of comfort, the phone rang and my prayer was answered.......

"Hear my prayer, O Lord;
listen to my cry for mercy.
In the day of my trouble I will call to you,
for you will answer me."
Psalm 86:6

Stay tuned as I fill in the gaps and connect the dots for His perfect story of my life....

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chapter Two: The Honeymoon?

In the summer of 1999, Shane and I were married in a candlelit ceremony in the church I had known since I was a little girl. The next morning as we arrived at the airport, we were told that I couldn't board the plane without my marriage license (which was thirty miles away with my parents). My parents, who had been so anxious about our marriage were very gracious and seemed happy to bring it to us. We boarded the plane just in time. The day Shane and I came home from our honeymoon, he had to leave for ten days on the road with a known country group. I was setting up house - or apartment, rather - working and getting ready to start my senior year of college. The first few months could not have been better.

Four months into our first year of marriage, in October of 1999, we learned that Shane's mother's cancer was back after being in remission for almost six years. We were hopeful that surgery and chemotherapy would restore her body, but when the doctors opened her up, they found cancer throughout her abdomen. The next ten months of our new marriage was consumed with loving my sweet mother-in-law and seeing her ushered to the door of heaven in August of 2000.

That October, we were excited to learn that I was pregnant with our first child. I graduated college that December and immediately began working full-time as a graphic designer. In the back of my mind I hoped to come home full-time to be with her, but didn't think it would be possible. Her arrival was quickly approaching so we began trying to order our lives. After church hopping for a while, we agreed to proceed with joining the huge church where we had been worshiping, only to find they didn't have "membership". They offered a "welcome to [our church]" class so we began attending.

Growing up in a Methodist church where the people were truly sweet, and the messages were even sweeter: a few anecdotes tied together with one verse here or there, I was simply ignorant to matters of doctrine. I believed the Bible to be true, but never had been introduced to "doctrine". Thankfully, my husband had grown up in a solid Baptist church and recognized some essential biblical truths were missing in the church where we thought we'd be raising our children. One night, Shane came home from work and declared that we needed to find a different church. Normally, I would have retaliated, seeing how I was two or three weeks away from delivery and wanted this aspect of our lives to be set. I had admired Shane's spiritual convictions and ability to defend them from the day I met him, so I managed to listen to his reasoning and completely trusted him.

That week a friend invited us to a new Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) church in the area. We were welcomed by their warmth and astounded by the clarity of their doctrine and passion for the gospel. We had no doubt that's where God had led us.

The following Saturday I delivered my daughter, Maddie, by c-section and we began our new journey as parents... So everything should be happy now, right?

Still dealing with the loss of his mother, my husband became distant. His work in the music business was becoming less and less dependable. Our hearts -and wallet- would often break over the ethics of the Christian music industry. Shane began a pizza delivery job to make up for lost work. Ten weeks after delivery, I went back to work, heartbroken each day as I left my new baby daughter with a sitter. The burdens I felt grew greater every day as I pretended all was well. My hope of raising my daughter full-time was fading. I began to have thoughts that I knew weren't healthy for a marriage and I was scared. We could barely afford baby food and were beginning to use credit cards just to buy groceries. I thought I was alone. I didn't feel I could confide in my family because I didn't want them to be right about the struggle they said I would face as the wife of a musician. Shane was sinking into depression, and our two year marriage was drowning. After taking Maddie to the sitter, working all day, picking her up, feeding and bathing her and putting her to bed (all while Shane was at home barely getting out of bed), I simply told him "I'm having thoughts I don't need to be having. You need to talk to someone."

I had all this new found doctrine - doctrine I had always believed, but never had been able to articulate. I believed that God is sovereign over all, but I felt forgotten. What good was all this theology for my situation? Well, I tell you, it drew me to the cross where Christ saved my life and saves me still.

Stay tuned as I fill in the gaps and connect the dots for His perfect story of my life.