16. On Mowing and Marriage and Trying to Be Like Jesus

There’s very little in this life that I like less than mowing grass. Reasons? Oh yeah, I got plenty:

    What a waste of time–I could be gardening, reading, writing, baking bread, washing dishes, mopping the kitchen floor…
    What a waste of gasoline and added pollution, when we could be growing food, or flowers, or sheep instead of grass…
    Lawn grass has no value whatsoever, unless one is playing golf on a golf course…
    Why would I want to push around a horribly noisy, smelly machine that could easily cut off my fingers, or my toes, or throw flying sticks or rocks at my head?
    Imagine sitting down on Friday evening to a glass of your favorite beverage and some appetizers and having your neighbor fire up their stinky, noise-polluting lawn mower. Right. Just imagine…

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Usually mowing the grass is the contractor husband’s job, and I don’t have to think about it. But he’s busy doing the roof while the sun shines. (July in Pennsylvania makes watching the Weather Channel unnecessary; we know what the forecast will be: 90 percent humidity and scattered thunderstorms.) And the grass has to be mowed when the sun is shining too. Plus, the tractor is broken. So I’m being the selfless servant and mowing the grass with the push mower.

Right. Not quite so selfless as one might think…

Today as I started mowing, silently congratulating myself on serving my busy husband, he came down off the roof and waved at me to stop. When I stopped, he bent down and raised the mower deck on me. “You’re cutting it too short,” he said. Then he disappeared back up onto the roof.

Excuse me? If I am cutting the grass, I will blimey well cut it at the height I want. The shorter the grass, the less it has to be mowed. I’d just as soon kill the wretched grass anyway. That’s the trouble with it; grass doesn’t die. Its roots live forever and come back to haunt you next year after you’ve planted a lovely flower bed there. But I digress.

I confess that I was sweaty, hot, and bothered. Muttering the whole time, two passes later, I stopped the mower and lowered the deck back to where it was. But that still didn’t make me feel any better. Here I was, unselfishly mowing the grass so he wouldn’t have to, and he comes to tell me I’m doing it wrong? What kind of ungrateful man is this anyway?

Oh wretch that I am…


I’ve heard enough sermons in my life to know that this is not what Jesus would do. And I’ve also heard enough John Dorean sermons to know that the goal of every Jesus lover is to grow and be more like him every day. Of course, we fail all the time, but that IS the goal…

So when I stopped to take a break and get a cool drink of water, I sat down on  the couch and picked up the book I’ve been reading. Sacred Marriage. (If you know this book, you may laugh here.)

I had a copy of this book once, but we were newly married and I ended up giving it away to someone before I read it, and I never got it back. Since then I’ve read sections of it and heard sermons from it, and I know the subtitle by heart: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy?; but I’ve never read it cover to cover.

Turns out, maybe I should have.

I always thought, yeah, yeah, I know what Gary Thomas is going to say. Die to your self. Respect your spouse. Love unconditionally.

And yes, that’s what he says. And yes, it’s hard. And, as Thomas says, none of that comes naturally to us.

But as I sat there reading Chapter Six,  “The Cleansing of Marriage: How Marriage Exposes Our Sin,” I knew. I knew that those words needed to penetrate my soul. Just as I need to die to my self a hundred, no, a thousand times a day, I also need to desire humility a hundred, no, a thousand times a day.

Of course, we always see our spouse’s sin — it’s so much easier to see other’s sins, isn’t it? Yes, this specifically refers to taking the log out of our own eye before we take the speck out of someone else’s eye (Matthew  7:3-5). Listen to this:

View marriage as an entryway into sanctification–as a relationship that will reveal your sinful behaviors and attitudes and give you the opportunity to address them before the Lord. But here’s the challenge: Don’t give in to the temptation to resent your partner as your own weaknesses are revealed. Correspondingly, give them the freedom and acceptance they need in order to face their own weaknesses as well. In this way, we can use marriage as a leg up, a piercing spiritual mirror, designed for our sanctification and growth in holiness.

I needed to re-read that sentence Don’t give in to the temptation to resent your partner as your own weaknesses are revealed. There it is–the basic sin of all sins: Pride. Lack of humility. Thinking that I know best, yet knowing in my heart and soul that I do not. It’s ugly, pride is. Later Gary Thomas quotes François  Fenélon who wrote: “…all the saints are convinced that sincere humility is the foundation of all virtues.”

To grow in holiness marriage must be understood as a spiritual discipline, Thomas says. “To do this,” he writes, “we must not enter marriage predominantly to be fulfilled, emotionally satisfied, or romantically charged, but rather to become more like Jesus Christ.”

There it is again…to become more like Jesus; to do that we must put on our robe of humility and not throw it off each time we get hot and bothered. And not only do I agree with Fenélon that humility is the foundation of all virtues, but can I suggest that pride just might be the foundation of all sin?

Today as I was reading an article about the need for us to feel awe before our holy God, I came across the term self-forgetfulness. How I long for it. The author, Jen Wilkin, cited research that suggests when humans feel awe they are better able to forget themselves and reach out to other people. And I started wondering: What else makes me put on self-forgetfulness?
Blue sky behind gray cloudsDoing something for someone else with no expectations. (Remember mowing the lawn? It went wrong because of my own expectation–that my husband would be pleased and thank me profusely for doing something I hated to do.)

Praying–talking to the Holy God of the Universe. Yes, that’s one that definitely gets the mind off oneself.

Thinking about Jesus–whether it is reading the Bible, listening to worship music, or just meditating on how weak and incompetent I am, and how strong and competent Jesus is for me.

Immerse yourself in something beautiful that reminds you to thank God for creating such beauty. It may be poetry, it may be nature, it may be a conversation with a loving friend…

So here we have: Go watch a sunset or the clouds or stand on a beach or a mountain or a hilltop; Make dinner for your neighbor; Read your favorite passage in God’s word and thank Him for it; Meditate on the strength of Jesus and your own shortcomings and feel awe that you are so loved; Be grateful.

As I read further in Sacred Marriage, this paragraph jumped out at me:

Don’t run from the struggles of marriage. Embrace them. Grow in them. Draw near to God because of them. Through them you will reflect more of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And thank God that he has placed you in a situation where your spirit can be perfected.

And today, in the sermon I heard this: He loves us where we are at any given moment. Certainly He invites, encourages, challenges us to become more like Christ, but that becoming is not a prerequisite of His love. Can I get an Amen?

white clover

It’s time to mow the grass again…

The tractor is fixed. As the contractor husband took it for a spin to see how it was running, he said, “I’m not going to mow the grass short because there are lots of bees on the clover, and I don’t want to mow the flowers away.” Yes, he knows how much I like bees and clover…

I smiled to myself. Thank you God that you have placed me in a situation where my spirit can be perfected.

And thank you, God, that the tractor is fixed.


For further study, read Matthew 7:3-5

Questions to think about:

  • Think of the traits in your spouse that bug you to death; you know the ones that make you mutter to yourself Every. Time. (Surely I’m not the only one????) Ask God to help you see the good in them. Ask God for new eyes to see that they probably don’t do those things just to bug you….Ask God for forgiveness for your critical spirit. Ask God to bring to mind the things that you do that undoubtedly bug your spouse.
  • Look at Matthew 7:3-5. Last week we talked about Matthew 6:22-23 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.” How can we correlate and compare these two verses on eyes?
  • I read somewhere that it is not only seeing well, but perceiving and understanding well that makes the difference between being holy and being worldly. My trouble is I know what I’m supposed to do and how Jesus wants me to think, I just don’t have the self-discipline to do it. As Paul says, “Oh wretched man that I am…” (Romans 7:24-25) I particulary like this passage in the The Living Bible translation, here.
  • It seems the more I grow in my faith, the more I struggle with how unholy I really am. Can you think of any other verses that can comfort us on this?

15. The Messy Beauty of Everyday Life: Jesus Loves Us Despite our Messes

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

I bought a new photo app for my phone the other day for 99 cents. While playing around with it (just pushing buttons, in other words) this photo was the fourth one I took.

Random messy beauty

I was shocked. It is really just a shot from the back porch here at Apple Hill. None of the others looked like this at all, and I have no idea what I did or how it came out like this. It is totally random, and I’ll probably never be able to recreate the effect; it’s messy; it’s artistic; and it reminds me of a favorite quote from Madeleine L’Engle:

“Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it.” ⁠1

That means, don’t wait—just plunge right in; that means, keep working—it will come; that means, while you’re working, don’t forget to say thank you to the Creator who created you to create.

I’ve been thinking about beauty lately because in the middle of a house remodeling project there is very little beauty: walls being ripped out; ugly boards; years worth of dust and dead bugs (and maybe a mouse or two, as well). 

Yet there is a beauty in messes that only the person close to it, the creator, can see. We know what the mess is going to turn into (or at least what we hope it will be!) Think of making a cake: flour, eggshells, sugar spilled on the counter, dirty cups and measuring spoons all over? Yet the end result is a delicious dessert.

We are moving everything out of the kitchen to get ready to lay the floor. All the stuff that was in the kitchen is now in the living room along with what actually belongs in the living room. I don’t even see this mess because I know it’s just a temporary inconvenience; but if anyone came to visit, they might think we’re applying to be on the television show Hoarders. And, really, the entire cottage looks like this right now; there are no Beautiful Photos because there are no beautiful spaces. 

Yesterday there was a package of BX Cable coiled around like a hose on the floor of the mudroom; it is shiny silver and wrapped in heavy duty plastic. Electricians use this cable to run wiring—it is waterproof, mouse proof, fireproof. This coil of wire is not the essence of beauty to most people. Most of the time it just sits on shelves of the local home improvement stores and looks plain. But I look at that gorgeous roll of BX cable, and I see new wiring in a wonderfully rehabilitated, once dilapidated, old cottage. I see the cost of it, the hands that labored over it, and what it is replacing—old jumbled up, mouse-chewed, taped-together wires. Now see again with new eyes—Isn’t that a fantastic coil of shiny cable? 


What a metaphor for everyday life, for God. Our creator knows and loves us regardless of the mess we used to be (or still are) because he knows what we will be later: a perfectly created work of art; a delicious dessert; a remodeled house, perfectly wired.

For those of us who are still in the messy state of wondering how this is all going to turn out–God loving us regardless of how ugly and taped together we are–is the epitome of hope. And realizing that we are all jumbled up, mouse-chewed, taped-together wires is the beginning. Those wires can’t change themselves into brand new cable; no, not only was there a cost involved in buying the new cable, there were hands that labored over it ripping out the old and replacing it with new…

Just as there was a cost involved for Jesus—and it was very great. It cost Him His life to buy ours. Our lives, bought by Him, are no longer sin-scarred, taped-together wires. Those have been replaced and made new. They are silver-shiny and rehabilitated. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!(2 Corinthians 5:17)

That’s the version of us that He sees, because He is our creator. 

Thanks be to God for this wonderful hope.


For further study, read 2 Corinthians 5

  1. What helps you see beauty in things that aren’t necessarily beautiful? Read Matthew 6:22-23 in The Message.
  2. Madeleine L’Engle’s quote about inspiration happening as you’re working is so hopeful, isn’t it? Especially to a procrastinator who often uses the excuse that I’m waiting for inspiration… Is there anything that you are putting off doing because you’re waiting for inspiration?
  3. Look at your biggest mess (according to you) and think how Jesus will see it when it has been redeemed and made new.
  4. Do you have a mess going on right now? Broken egg shells and spilled flour all over the counter? Pray for a new vision for it; pray to see it through Jesus’ eyes. Ephesians 1 may help with this: Verses 3-14 tell of God’s amazing plan of adopting us and seeing us as “blameless before Him”, and verses 16-18 remind us to see through the “eyes of our hearts” so we can know this hope.
  5. We are created in His image, so we also are creators. What are you creating right now? Think of this question as holistic and apply it to all areas of your life–physical, emotional, spiritual…

1 L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water, p. 176

10. Paint It White: The Covering of our Sins Has Been Accomplished

FOR EVERY HOUSE IS BUILT BY SOMEONE, BUT THE BUILDER OF ALL THINGS IS GOD. — HEBREWS 3:4

Has anyone noticed pictures of mudrooms lately? They are white with clean shelving, unmuddied boots, and a few jackets hanging neatly on pegs. So unlike what a true mudroom in a country house looks like. I wasted many hours looking at photographs of mudrooms. Mudrooms in magazines. Mudrooms in real houses. Mudrooms in Decorator houses. (I’ve lived in thirteen different houses in my life, and I had never lived in one with a mudroom.) But one thing was clear from the beginning—I didn’t want the mudroom to be white.

We collected things in a hodge-podge fashion: terracotta tiles for the floor and a new entry door from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore; small French doors to open into the kitchen from Construction Junction; a wood stove for the corner that was in the basement of the city house. I repurposed the top part to an old desk and painted it green to coordinate with the kitchen, and it is now a combined shelving unit and coat rack for one wall. We have done this mudroom one wall at a time, at about the speed of one wall per year. Including the floor. Including the ceiling. What was once the three-year plan turned into five years. But now that it is finished, yes, the walls and the ceiling are painted a creamy white–just like the other rooms in the cottage—and just like the white mudrooms that I originally rejected. 

Have you wondered about this white trend of living? Kitchens are white, bathrooms are white, living rooms are white, mudrooms are white. I’m guilty. All the walls in the cottage (except for a couple of accent walls) are creamy white. It just speaks to me of how we try to whitewash everything for the world—from the concrete nouns of our houses, cars, and things, to the common every day sins of our lives…

The contractor husband was my first boyfriend. In 4th grade I was invited to his 10th birthday party, except he failed to inform me it was a birthday party. (The first of many miscommunications…) I thought we were just going roller skating. I was fearful because I’d never roller skated before, but I went because I liked him! Rita, his sweetheart of an older sister, took care of me that afternoon and taught me to roller skate—held my hand as we went round and round, helped me up when I fell, and encouraged me the whole time. Then we went back to his house and the kids put their birthday presents at his feet! I was mortified that I didn’t have one for him. I must have cried because his mom, Clara, put money in an envelope and gave it to him and signed my name. Their whole family took care of me that afternoon! Six years later we were boyfriend and girlfriend again—for two plus years in high school. We broke up in college, married others, had children, lived our lives, and saw each other once every five years or so at high school reunions. Thirty years later, we met again…and now are happily married, redoing a cottage, and painting it white. 

A happy ending, yes, but there was divorce and sorrow in between. No matter, we like to paint our pictures with the happy endings, the fun trappngs, and sweep the other stuff under the rug. There are no unhappy photos on Facebook. Got an ex-husband? Block him. Don’t like what someone says? Defriend them. Our public lives are white; what color are our private lives?

Here is an unpopular truth that we all must hear and know: All suffering is caused by sin. Please note what I did not say: I did not say that God sends suffering. But He allows it, doesn’t He? And I also did not say that your suffering is a direct result of your sin. It certainly could be; but it could also be the direct result of someone else’s sin, and for some reason, perhaps a reason that you will never know, God is allowing it to affect you. And you can block God, or defriend Him for awhile, but can I just tell you from experience? It doesn’t work well for the long term.

Here in the twenty-first century western world, we don’t talk about sin very often. It’s pretty much out-of-fashion. While reading Yours Jack, by C.S. Lewis the other night, I came across Lewis’s writing on the seven deadly sins:

 “I was thinking of the old classification of the seven deadly sins: They are Gula (Gluttony), Luxuria (Unchastity), Accidia (Indolence), Ira (Anger), Superbia (Pride), Invidia (Envy), Avaritia (Avarice). Accidia, which is sometimes called Tristitia (despondence) is the kind of indolence which comes from indifference to the good…⁠1

That letter was written in 1930. Today, ninety some years later, many of these deadly sins are just a regular part of modern life. Gluttony is now called being a Foodie. In most circles one would be laughed (or scorned) out of the circle if one referred to their sexual proclivities as sin. Indolence is simply depression or despondence, which Janet Porter called the “new trendy illness” in a 2010 article in the Daily Mail.⁠2 Envy is capitalized upon by every television advertisement and just considered part of life. Avarice or greed is covered over by calling it financial planning or retirement strategies. Pride is simply caring for yourself, isn’t it? Being yourself, doing right by yourself, having confidence in yourself, taking selfies of your self, self, self. The only one of the seven that still gets a bad rap is anger, and these days even anger seems to be prevalent and OK. Just start reading comments on social media posts….

The main drawback to denying the sin in our lives is that in order to need a savior, we must acknowledge our neediness. If we are doing fine, we won’t need Jesus; it’s hard to repent when there is no problem. We have painted everything white. From kitchen cabinets, to mudrooms, to bedroom carpets, we have whitewashed our sins by incorporating them into regular life and making them normal behavior. And we are all fine, thank you very much.

In that same letter, Lewis speaks of besetting sin. What he means is that each one of us has a tendency toward one of those seven sins—our main character flaw. I can’t speak for you, but at different times in my life, each one of them has been a besetting sin. Yes, I own them. Many, many sins. But God is gracious and merciful to all us sinners who ask for His mercy. My bible is full of verses meant for us sinners to hear: 

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” — Hebrews 8:12

“There is no one righteous, not one….” — Romans 3:10

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” — Romans 3:23

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the worst.” — 1 Timothy 1:15

“…He will never leave you, nor forsake you.” — Deuteronomy 31:6

“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” — Romans 4:7

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” — Romans 8:1

There is no need for us to whitewash our lives, our mistakes, our sins—for Christ has already done it for us. His white paint, or bleach, was His own red blood. I’ve often mused on the words, cleansed by His blood. Those two words are such a stark contrast —cleansed and blood. I think the juxtaposition of those words is meant to be strikingly severe, so that we will never take the sacrifice of Jesus, of God, lightly. Blood covering us? No, it’s not so appealing, especially someone else’s blood; it only works if it represents something so amazing, so glorious, that we can hardly comprehend it—only then would we ever submit to such a crackpot idea.

That’s part of the gospel’s magnificence—it is so shocking, so unbelievable. Really, if someone wanted to make up a religion, who would ever have come up with such a preposterous, miraculous, staggering scheme? Only God. The apostle Paul tells us this in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.

And again in a later chapter, he writes in 1 Corinthians 3:18-19:

Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight…

Yes, by the world’s standards blood cannot cleanse; happiness is all important, so do what feels good; if you are suffering, it must be someone else’s fault; and listening to (or believing) some ancient prophet and His followers’ writings is indeed, foolishness.

But in a sermon two weeks ago, I was reminded of some other words of C.S. Lewis: liar, lunatic, or Lord. He is one of the three, and we have to choose—no whitewashing, or wishy-washing. Jesus Christ is either what He claims—the son of God who comes to take away the sins of the world, or He is crazy and deserved to die on that cross, or He is lying about being the Lord of the Universe, and at the very least deserves the ignominy that He is receiving in the world today. Here is the official quote from Lewis:

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”⁠3

I’m writing this on the Saturday that is sandwiched between Good Friday and Easter, so the Cross of Jesus Christ is definitely on my mind. Last week in church we sang “My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart…⁠4 It is a beautiful worship song and it reminds me of one of my favorite verses in Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

And I picture that hand of Christ outstretched on the cross, that wounded hand dripping blood, forming my name on His palm. I have fallen at His feet and called Him My Lord and My God. And His blood is allowing me, a sinner, to come before God. Cleansed by His blood, indeed.


For further study, read Romans 8.

Questions for thought:

  • Picture Jesus on the cross, His arms stretched wide, saying “I love you this much.” Write a love letter to Jesus.
  • Lesslie Newbegin talked about bending the majesty of Christ into our own likenesses rather than making His greatness the focus of our lives. How do you see that happening in the church? In your own life?
  • Romans 8 is filled with familiar cherished verses that are worthy of memorizing. Which is your favorite and why?
  • Verse 26 says the Spirit intercedes for us, and verse 34 says the Christ also intercedes for us. So not only did Christ die on the cross for us then, but He is still interceding for us now–to allow us to come before God. This realization should surely make us “more than conquerors”. Is your God too small?
  • Name your favorite hymn or praise song that sings the gospel story of Christ so much it brings you to tears almost every time…

1 Lewis. C.S. Yours Jack, p. 11.

2 Porter, Janet Street. accessed at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1278510/Depression-Its-just-new-trendy-illness.html

3 Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan, Rev. ed., 1960, c1952, p. 41.

4 Cook, Vikki and Charitie Lees Bancroft. “Before the Throne of God Above.” Published by Sovereign Grace Worship.