We recently celebrated Mother's Day. It's taken me a few (ok, several) years not to have expectations for this day. Not that my husband has ever overlooked this day since I first became a mother, but because no matter what he did, I thought he could've done something a little bit better, a little bit sweeter, or a little more sentimental. The poor guy never stood a chance against the made-for-film Mother's Day I imagined in my mind.
So, the last few years, I've learned to recognize my husband's sweet efforts rather than pick them apart. This year, I was so impressed with his gift giving skills. He bought a cork board for my closet. Before you scratch your head in confusion, let me tell you that this cork board meant more to me than a fancy handbag or expensive shoes. The reason it meant so much to me is because several months ago I mentioned that I wanted a cork board for my prayer space because the sticky notes I purchased don't stick to the wall very well. It was a simple sentence that I didn't expect to last in his mind, especially because it slipped mine repeatedly.
That was my only gift. And it was the only one I wanted. It was the only one I forgot that I had even mentioned. My heart was bursting at the seams over my new cork board (complete with decorative pushpins).
And then, my bubble popped. My husband said something to me that he hasn't said in years. And he said it in front of my children. We were all sitting on my bed when my husband said, "don't go to church. Let's stay home and just relax. We can stay in our pj's, watch movies all day and just relax..." The background noise was that of my two children: "ooh yeah, Mommy! Let's stay home! I want to go back to sleep! C'mon, Mom! I don't want to go to church!" My husband's smile was as big as the sun on a summer day. He was acting as though he just solved the problem of world hunger. And the kids were cheering him on.
That sounded like such an ideal morning. I hesitated. Then I said, "no, I'm going to church. You don't have to come with me, but I'm gonna go." Everyone's cheers suddenly became groans. My daughter's teenage attitude erupted because she was annoyed. My son thew his head back and whined as though I just took away his favorite video game. My husband put a hand on my leg and said, "come on...it's just church..."
"It's just church."
Years ago, my husband and I had a long talk about my need for God and His church. We had to have this talk because many, many years before that my husband loved to talk me out of going to church. He promised to make me breakfast, take me on shopping sprees, day trips, anything that could bribe me into staying away from church. I let those bribes work. And do you know what happens when you don't regularly spend time with God and the fellowship of His church? You slowly start pulling away. It becomes easier and easier to stay away. And suddenly, you haven't been to church in so long that it feels weird to go back.
And, if you're anything like me, once the accountability is gone the old habits come rushing back. I eventually stopped going to church. My marriage was falling apart. I was drinking, smoking, cussing, and partying as if I were a young, single girl. But I wasn't. I was a wife. I was a mother.
I missed God so much, but I didn't know how to go back. I was ashamed and embarrassed because I walked away. I tried everything to fill that void, but I was never satisfied.
Finally the day came when I couldn't stand another minute without God. I called a friend from church and asked her to pick me up and take me to church. I didn't trust myself to actually walk in the door once I was there.
When I walked into the church building, I was covered with an overwhelming sense of relief. I was home. And I never wanted to leave again.
As I was falling in love with God and giving my heart back to Him, I knew I had another man who wanted the entirety of my heart, as well.
It was time to tell my husband that God is, and was going to be, my first priority.
I think I just blurted it out one night: "I have to go to church. I need God." My husband was very supportive, after all we had just reconciled our marriage after being separated for a long time.
"No, I don't think you understand. God has to be first, then you." He didn't like the direction of our conversation. "Please don't ask me to compromise Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights. I want to be at church. I need it."
I needed to lay down the foundation that God is first and I will not compromise my time with Him. And with that foundation in place, my husband was able to see that I was a better wife. I was a better mom. My overall being was just better.
For years since then, my husband has never asked me to skip church. Until the other day.
I immediately heard myself entertain the idea: "what's the harm in skipping church here and there? We rarely get these mornings together. And it's Mother's Day. Totally understandable."
But then I looked at my children and their faces begging me to stay home: "If I decide to stay home, what does that say to my kids? It's ok to skip church because I'm feeling lazy? Would it look like I put God first, or me?"
I scooted myself out of bed, much to the disapproval of my family, and started to get myself ready for church. This was the first time I didn't tell my children to get themselves ready for church. I silently got ready and tried not to imagine the pathetic picture of me sadly moping into church, having to tell everyone that on Mother's Day my family allowed me to attend church alone.
As I was putting together the final touches, I noticed that my husband was getting himself ready. My daughter poked her head into my bathroom to ask if she could borrow my perfume. I could hear my son downstairs looking for his shoes.
Before I knew it, the four of us were in the car and on our way to church. Nobody complained. Nobody whined. Nobody had an attitude.
And when it came time to pray with the congregation, I grabbed my husband's hand and thanked God for the best Mother's Day gift ever.
The gift of my husband. The gift of my children.
The gift of my salvation.
The gift of His love.
The gift of His grace.
Because it's not "just church." It's my foundation.