As with any week, I guess, this one didn’t turn out how I planned in so many ways. There were high points and low points. We are getting ready to start raising chickens. My mother-in-law happens to be a chicken expert and a master builder. She came down to build us a chicken coop. Of course she had to delay her trip because our disease fest last week, but she came in on Friday. A few days into her trip we found out that Papaw Johnny, her father, had died. Obviously this was devastating to all of us. Papaw has been such a constant in our lives. Always working on something, fixing things, driving HUGE machinery around and locking anything that was unlocked. I loved him dearly and the week turned into one of refection, even in the midst of building a chicken coop.
Saturday morning Sue and I got up and went to Lowes to get supplies. She brought plans for us to build it from scratch. She has one of those architectural engineering brains that sees plans and then also sees how to improve them. The job was a big one for sure. I looked at the plans and thought to myself, dear God, that looks intimidating. But I like things to be unique and special and “from scratch” so I was happy to help in any way I could. We were two women on mission!
So I have to take a pause and let you know a little about me and my mother in law. If our family were giving out superlatives mine would be “Most likely to not want to do it the easy way,” and Sue’s would be “Most likely to build it from scratch exactly how she wants it.” We are some of the most determined people you have ever met. She and I would travel to horse shows together and we would care for, make show ready, feed, and clean up after three horses. Not to mention we have driven about 30,000 miles to all sorts of shows together. And for Sue’s part she has designed and built at least three houses, totally built an equestrian center from the ground up, not to mention ran it herself. So the point is, we are the kind of people who decide we want to do something and do it, our way. Knowing that about us makes this next part so amazing.
We had to go to Tractor Supply after Lowe’s to get a few other things and to start figuring out an outdoor structure for the chickens to scratch in. We pull up and they have these coop’s set up out front. We start looking at one to see how the scratching pen is set up, and then we start looking at the coop part. And then the amazing part. We look at each other and say at exactly the same time, “What if we just bought a coop kit?” I think we both said it a little trepidatiously because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings and she didn’t wan to disappoint me. Putting that aside we went in to find out if they had any more. Long story short. They had a great one that Sue thought she could re-engineer to make work for us. This huge pivot was a big deal for us. Now we didn’t know it at the time but it was actually God’s providential care over us because we didn’t know our time together to build this thing would be cut short. I am thankful for that.
This led to the best Griffith Saturday in a long time. Our foreman, Sue, deciphered the instructions and got us organized. Then with the unity of the military we all worked together, one step after another and we built that coop! Sydney and Brock learned from Sue how to use a power drill. And then of course Brock kept trying to drill things that didn’t need to be fastened, but it was all a learning experience. The dogs made it exciting by taking wood pieces that we needed and running off with them. They like to test me to see how close they can get to watching me murder one of them. As we were working I found myself thanking God for giving me Sue. Thanking Him for gifting her with the ability to build and see how things should come together. That thankfulness did what it should do and lead me to reflect on what God has done in our relationship and in all my relationships in general.
In my BC life there were no rules in my relationships with people. It was simply who was right and who had the power. I got good at being right and telling everyone I was right until they would back down. The problem with this is that it doesn’t lead to unity. It leads to someone being in charge and someone being a subordinate. The power struggle leads to fights and the fights lead to splits in relationships. With no agreed upon rule book the rightness and power struggle eventually took its toll. I also was under the assumption that how I did things was the right and only way to do things. I was trying to exercise my will on everyone around me. I am sorry to say that I have been really awful to my mother-in-law in the past. It was about getting my way and furthering my cause. Of course I loved her and loved becoming part of the family, but operating under the delusion that I was doing everything right doesn’t help you see the good in other people.
After Christ came into my life I started to learn that God had some things to say about relationships and how a believer should conduct themselves with other people. As He started to mold and shape me He also started to break down my pride. My pride told me I was right, and did everything right, and no one else held the same rightness that I held. What a jerk! Humility was a foreign word to me, but that word was used over and over in the bible. As I started to study His word He started to address my pride, and by address I mean pulverize it into a million pieces. Take a look at what God says relationships should look like:
Philippians 2: 1 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Tyndale House Publishers. Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013. Print.
Man! I just love that! It’s a rule book for relationships. Now Paul is specifically speaking about relationships with other believers but I don’t think we can go wrong if we adopt it in all our relationships. Power struggles and rightness have no place in relationships that honor God.
I love that when I struggle with pride in my relationships, God, like a sharp-shooter, shoots a huge hole in all my “go-to” power plays. Selfishly want my way? God says “Don’t be selfish.” Impress others with my rightness? God says “Don’t try to impress others.” Think I am better at life than everyone else? God says “Be humble, think of others as better than yourself.” Obsessed about myself? (how am I doing? how am I feeling? how do I feel about any number of situations? am I right? am I wrong?) God says “Don’t just look out for your own interest but take an interest in others.” The coolest thing about God’s ideas for relationships is that they bring unity to every relationship.
So how do I choose humility? How do I let go of pride and choose to put others first? I have no idea. All I know is that because I have a relationship with Christ I have the power to choose God’s way and I have the power to say no to my pride. Without Him I can only do it the way the world does, power-struggles and rightness. For me it’s putting one foot in front of the other and taking those baby steps toward humility and away from pride. The incentive for me is that Jesus did this. You see in that passage above that He gave up His claim to God-ness and Glory and humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross to save us. In its most basic form I think “Well if He can do that, and he asks me to be humble I will give it shot, it must be important to Him.”
I read a quote from C.S Lewis this summer and it really showed me where I am trying to get to with this humility thing. Check it out:
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pg. 128
As with everything I do when it comes to God’s commands, I read that passage in Philippians about humility and thought, “Oh, I got this, imma be the most humblest person I know.” The problem with managing your own humility instead of letting God teach you about humility is that you turn into a really self-centered insecure person. I fell into a ditch of always monitoring myself to make sure I was coming across humble. I was putting myself down when I talked to other people. Honestly that fake humility is what kept me from writing, until now. When I read that quote from C.S. Lewis I nearly hit my knees thanking God for the clarity about humility. And that is why I say I don’t know how to be humble. Instead of reading that passage and saying, “Oh I got this,” I am saying, “Oh God, I don’t got this, please teach me.” I just know I have the power to choose humility and a God who will teach me how to be humble. And thanks to C.S. Lewis I know it starts with thinking about others more than I think about myself.
And so to bring all this humility talk back to relationships, Godly relationships require humility. When I start taking interest in others I start to see God at work in them. I start to see how God made them. I start to see that maybe they have something to teach me. One thing I have learned is that Godly relationships are the meat and potatoes of the Christian life. I have learned more about God and myself through pursing unity with people than I think any bible study has ever taught me. I say it is the meat and potatoes because you can know all you want to about God, but if you can’t walk out what He teaches about having Godly relationships you really don’t get that life-changing relationship with Him. To avoid coming off hypocritical, let me add that there are still many relationships in my life that do not reflect my belief in Christ. That is where the sifting will come, and my pride will be broken down even more because God wants me to be humble and unified in all my relationships.
And so, back to the chicken coop. As I was working with my mother in law I was practicing choosing humility. I was trying to put her wants before my own, I was practicing taking an interest in her. I was practicing not being absorbed in myself. I was amazed at what God showed me. I watched a woman in her element. I watched a woman exercising the gifting she was given. I watched her hands move so carefully over the tools, so precise. I watched her stop and give instruction to her grandchildren with patience and joy. I watched her smile and cheer them on as they learned how to use the tools. I watched her think though things and plan the next step. I watched her work methodically with an attention to detail that I could only dream of. I watched her stand back and admire what she had accomplished, and I was so thankful for this woman, in a way I have never felt before. Below are some examples of her handy work.
I then got to watch this woman receive the news that her beloved father had died. She was so strong and so brave. Her husband and brother encouraged her to stay here because there really wasn’t anything for her to do at home. We have known Johnny would pass sometime soon, and everything had been planned for a while. There was nothing for her to do at home except for wait for the funeral, so she stayed with us. I watched her go back to work on the chicken coop. She even baked some bread that will be the death of me because it is so good! She said that she needed to be busy. I watched her grieve for her father and I loved her the best way I knew how.
She said to me one day that Papaw Johnny was the one who taught her everything she knew about building. She said she felt like he was with her when she was building. The funny thing is Jesse said the same thing. Papaw Johnny was very important to Jesse. He and Johnny spent many hours tinkering and building. Johnny was the first person Jesse shared his faith with. It is our biggest comfort right now to know, as a result of that conversation, that Johnny had put his faith in Christ. We know he is in heaven with Jesus. Jesse and I have been warmed by the thought that Johnny gets to tinker with anything he wants now without cancer and Alzheimer’s to slow him down. Praise Jesus for saving him.
I then got watch Jesse and Sue work together. Two people grieving for someone they loved so much, and doing the very thing he taught them both how to do. It was really beautiful and I felt like it really honored Johnny’s memory. I feel like this chicken coop is not just a chicken coop anymore. It feels more like a tribute to Johnny. I love you Papaw, thank you for always smiling at me and giving me a hug. Thanks you for always making sure the barn was locked and the horses were in out of the weather. Thank you for always watching the road to be sure no shady characters drove up at night. Thank you for teaching Jesse to be a useful worker and for making him so capable. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with all of us. Thank you for always saying yes when I needed some hay moved or some dirt harrowed. Most of all thank you for welcoming me into the family the way you did. I miss you so much. Tell Jesus HI for me.