So there I was; somewhere between excitement and sadness, hope and confusion. I was a 19 year old college freshman, home for Spring Break. I was in the middle of a soul storm where I was trying to figure out whether or not I should give up my dream to coach college basketball in order to pursue what I felt like was a calling into vocational ministry. I was excited because of a new sense of calling from on high and hopeful regarding what that new calling might hold. I was sad because I did not want to give up my dream to coach basketball and I was confused because my passion for basketball had not waned. With my soul torn, I decided to go see the person who, I believed if she had been alive during Jesus’ time, could have been Jesus’ sister because she oozed with so much compassion and wisdom, Toby Poore. I was hoping that Toby could provide the healing balm needed to calm my soul.
(Important note: If you are a Jesus-follower, everything you do has a chance to be ministry. You do not need the title “pastor” or “bishop” or “elder” to do ministry. I still believe one of my greatest ministries was working third shift at Wal-Mart.)
I walked into Toby’s immaculate house and took a seat on the couch. The peace and beauty of her house, no doubt, matched the peace and beauty of her soul. Toby offered me some tea and then proceeded to sit down on a couch across from where I was sitting. She looked at me with her piercing, peaceful eyes and asked, “What brings you here today, Paul Bryant?” What followed was a ten minute frantic description of my dilemma. I poured out my excitement, my hope, my confusion, and my sadness. I told Toby that I had a church interested in me for their youth ministry position, but that it was a small church and that I really did not feel qualified. I expressed to Toby that I was not ready to leave the life I had always known, the basketball life, in order to pursue vocational ministry. Yet, I also expressed to Toby that this new calling felt refreshing and right. (Even as I type now, my soul is stirred. I had a lot going on in my heart that day).
I finished and looked down at my hands, waiting on some words, any words, to calm my troubled soul. I looked up at Toby and, once again, saw her piercing eyes and graceful smile. My heart rate slowed down and I felt my body relax. Toby had not even spoken yet, but there was something about her demeanor that calmed my heart. She then spoke the following words that changed my life…
“Paul Bryant, stop worrying. God will show you what he wants you to do. If the God who hung the moon and the stars is calling you, he is able to show you his will. Stop worrying.”
All of a sudden, the waters of my restless soul that had been stirring in my life for the last few weeks were calm. Somehow, someway, God used Toby to tell me that everything would be okay. He would show me, in a clear way, what he wanted me to do. Through Toby’s simple wisdom I learned that God is bigger than any calling, any soul storm, and any confusion that might cloud our way. God is not the author of chaos, but instead, he is the author of order and peace.
Who is your Toby Poore? It just so happened that I had my own Jesus-in-the-flesh type mentor who lived the Matthew 11.28-30 life. And, on the day I went to visit her, she showed me the way to rest in the midst of a soul storm. Who is the person you can turn to for wisdom, for peace, for a reminder that God is in control? I pray you have one. Or, better yet, are you someone’s Toby Poore? Are you taking the time to invest in the life of someone who is younger, who has yet to live a large portion of their life? I needed a Toby Poore. There are many who need a Toby Poore. I will always be grateful for Toby Poore.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2.19
I have always been struck by the above verse in Luke 2. In the midst of all the craziness of giving birth, a birth that was full of promise and confusion, surrounded by the bleating sounds of livestock, while gathered together in a cold drafty stable full of visitors, Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I have often pondered myself, “How was Mary able to ponder anything in that moment?” I found the answer to my question on an August night in 2008.
Tara was scheduled to be induced late Monday afternoon. We checked into the hospital early that morning and were told that we had the time to go run errands before Tara would be fully admitted. I remember looking at Tara and thinking, “Run errands? We are supposed to run errands right before our lives change forever? What kind of errand am I supposed to run?” The answer, with a very pregnant wife standing next to me, was easy; grab lunch!
I remember driving through the streets of Lubbock, Texas full of questions as we drove to lunch. “Lunch. What a novel idea. It’ll be good to grab lunch one more time before this foreign little creature that is inhabiting Tara’s belly arrives and started to rule our world. Lunch. Yeah. Let’s grab lunch like it’s any other day.” Tara and I went to Arby’s, ate, and then returned to the hospital.
Upon returning to the hospital, the staff judiciously escorted us to our room where Tara was soon induced. It was approximately 4 o’clock and we started seeing tiny, tiny contractions on the monitor around 4:30, Tara looked at the monitor and said, “I wonder if that is a contraction.” She would not be asking that question a few hours later. . (For any of you who have experienced the joy of labor, you understand why I write the words, “tiny, tiny.” Those “tiny” contractions would turn into not-so-tiny contractions later.)
Fast forward to a few hours later…After watching the Home and Garden Network and waiting on Tara’s contractions to increase, the intense moments of childbirth began around 8 p.m. I will always remember two very vivid moments from the four hours that followed.
I will always remember the heart-wrenching beauty of watching Tara endure and push through the pain in order to give birth to Natalie. Tara tried taking an epidural, but for medical reasons, the epidural did not work. That meant that Tara had to give birth to Natalie totally aware. My love for her intensified that night as she fought to give birth to our little girl. How could someone be so tough and tender at the same time? How could a difficult and painful process be so beautiful and miraculous?
I will always remember what happened once Natalie was delivered. Immediately after cutting the cord, the nursing staff rushed Natalie over to the heating tray and started to clean her off and do the necessary medical procedures to ensure the health of a newborn. I remember staring at Natalie, so confused and appreciative of the last few hours. Again, how could a process that appeared so painful feel so moving? How could this same little person who was in her momma’s belly while we were snacking on Arby’s a few hours earlier be the same little person who is now filling the delivery room with her cries?
As I kept pondering these things, something happened that made my heart stop. Natalie turned her head and…She opened her eyes and looked at me. Natalie opened her eyes and stared, what felt like, deep into my soul. In that moment, I knew I was hopeless.
Tara had stolen my heart back in 2001 when we started dating. However, when Natalie made eye contact with me, I realized that our (me and Tara) hearts were metaphorically outside of our bodies lying on this heating tray. Tara stole my heart, but somehow this little beautiful, wrinkly, crying very loudly, little person helped me see that my heart, our hearts, would always be captivated by her.
(Time does not currently allow me to tell of the birth of our son, Isaac. But, needless to say, I was as deeply moved by Isaac’s birth as I was Natalie. However, Isaac’s birth brought about a new set of circumstances that I will try and write about later.)
After Natalie’s birth, I was able to understand Mary’s ability to ponder a little bit more. Upon reflecting about the day she was born, I realized that I pondered a lot during that process, as noted above. But, as I write, reflect, and ponder now, I am moved by a few specific things. First, giving birth is a beautiful paradox. The beauty of life occurs through a painful process. Secondly, I have learned that that little ones we birth and raise have an amazing ability to hold us captive in awe inspiring, time-slowing-down, kind of ways. Our hearts leap within us when we take the time to wrestle, draw, and play dolls with our children-who-are-miracles. Thirdly, the same thoughts and feelings we encounter during the birth of someone we love are very probably the same thoughts and feelings Mary and Joseph had the day of Jesus'. It may not have been an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, but I am sure Mary and Joseph ate something the day of Jesus’ birth while wrestling with their new reality. Finally, I am moved by the reality that through another paradox, a baby-born-in-a-manger-who-would-be-a-sacrificial-king, we have hope of forgiveness and new life.
My prayer for all of us this Christmas season is that we would slow down enough to ponder the beauty of our families and the power of salvation, forgiveness, and life change through the tiny baby who was born in a manger over 2000 years ago, Jesus. (Whether or not you choose to eat at Arby’s this Christmas season is up to you, but if you do, and they have the King’s Hawaiian bread, a roast beef sandwich is a must!)
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Hardinsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.