I guess we all live with regrets. I know I do. Things I wish I would have never done, things I wish would have done, people I have hurt, people I have disappointed, opportunities I have missed.
By the time I was in my mid-twenties, a series of bad relationships and poor decisions had imprisoned me in a cell of loneliness, confusion, and misery. I never thought my life would sink into such chaos. I always thought that things would somehow work out, that the right girl would come along and we would be married and have children and live happily ever after. But at 25, that vision was beginning to fade, and I was almost resigned to believe that this was going to be my fate, my punishment from God for not using the gifts He had given me and for choosing to live for the world instead of Him.
I used alcohol to try and numb my guilt and shame. But whatever relief the alcohol provided was only temporary. I was ashamed of who I had become. I knew my parents had expected more of me, and I knew God had expected more of me. Even I had expected more of me. But I just felt stuck – stuck in a place from which there could be no escape.
Yet, despite the web of sin into which I was entangled, God managed to insert into my life the young lady that eventually became my wife. (Thank God for praying relatives and friends). Now, I know that Kristi cannot deliver me from my sins, but her support and encouragement enabled me to make the changes I needed to make in my life. Her love inspired me to be a better man, to be the man that God wanted me to be. And that is what bothers me the most about this Parkinson’s Disease – watching the woman I love so very much suffer. Yes, I have to deal with the tremors and the stiffness and the immobility and the countless side effects of the medicines I have to take. But my wife suffers also. And, even though watching her suffer is difficult for me to do, the way she has handled this traumatic alteration has provided me a poignant example of sacrificial love.
Now, that is a topic that is rarely discussed among Christians – sacrificial love. But that is the kind of love that Jesus had for us, and that is the kind of love we should have for each other. Maybe the problem is that we just don’t have a full understanding of the term sacrifice. So you had to miss a weekend bass tournament to attend your daughter’s piano recital, or maybe you had to postpone your purchase of a new deer rifle because your son needed braces. But are those really sacrifices? Or are they just inconveniences?
By definition, sacrifice means to give up or let go, but not just of anything. No, sacrifice means you have to let go or give up something that is very dear to you.
I remember when my two oldest children were in elementary school. This was back in the ancient days before ATM machines and direct deposit – you know – when your place of employment actually gave you a check every week – an actual check that you could take to the bank and cash and have a teller place bills in your hand rather than a machine spitting out withdrawals in twenty dollar increments (I miss those days). But, anyway, what I did with my check on Fridays was cash it and give the money to Kristi to buy groceries. Whatever was left (which was usually not very much), we divided among us so that we could have some spending money for the week. So, on Fridays, I usually had forty or fifty dollars in my wallet. If my children wanted ice cream or a candy bar, I bought it for them without hesitation. But, by Wednesday of the following week, my wallet was generally much thinner. In fact, usually by Wednesday, I was searching for coins behind sofa cushions and underneath car mats hoping to find enough change to get a bag of chips from the canteen vending machine.
But one particular week, I must have done an exceptional job of managing my money, because when I checked my wallet on Wednesday evening, I still had six one dollar bills in there. I could not believe it. That meant I would be able to go out with my co-workers for lunch the next day. And, on Thursdays, they went to this little restaurant that served the best fried chicken I had ever tasted – except for Mom’s, of course. I was so excited, I had not been to that restaurant in months. I woke up the next morning with enthusiastic taste buds, already anticipating that crispy, deep fried chicken that could easily add 100 points to my cholesterol level. But then my son Daniel, who was six at the time, approached me and asked if he could have a dollar to get an ice cream sandwich at lunch. And I knew if I gave him a dollar, I would also have to give one to my daughter. You cannot imagine how much I wanted to lie to him at that moment and tell him that I did not have any money, but those big brown sad eyes just melted my heart.
Reluctantly – very reluctantly, I reached into my wallet and gave him two dollars, one for him and one for his sister. Then, I proceeded to the kitchen to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which I ate in the canteen at lunchtime while my co-workers were skyrocketing their cholesterol levels at the fried chicken restaurant. Now, that was a sacrifice. What I did for them on Friday, when I had money to spare was not a sacrifice. But giving them money for ice cream sandwiches on Thursday when I only had six dollars was a sacrifice, because granting them that money insured that I would not be able to visit that fried chicken restaurant that I really, really, really wanted to visit. I gave up something I wanted for them to have something they wanted.
But that Thursday sacrifice of mine pales in comparison to the sacrifices my wife has made for me. Let me begin by telling you a little bit about our beginning as a couple.
When my wife and I were married, I was living in a not so fancy single-wide trailer in a small trailer park. But neither of us wanted to stay there very long. So, about a year after we were married, we moved the single-wide trailer onto four acres of pristine pasture land in a remote region of our county. My wife was pregnant at the time with our firstborn, so money was a little tight. Still, the talk had already begun about building a house on our beautiful parcel of land. She would analyze one spot and then another spot, wondering where the house would look the best. She would check the views from several locations, trying to determine which way the house should face, whether it should be angled or cater cornered or face straight to the road. That was her dream – to build a house on that land. Well, having two children fifteen months apart sort of put the house building plans on hold, but still her dream remained. And, eight years later, her dream came true.
The house was built, not a fancy house, just a simple 1600 square foot house. But there was a covered front porch where we could sit in our rocking chairs and listen to the rain. And my father and I built a spacious deck on the back where we had many cookouts. We put a swing set in the back for the children. We put up a fence on some of the acreage and raised a few goats. Life seemed incredibly beautiful. And I knew that my wife was proud of that house.
But when Parkinson’s struck me in 2009, the house and yard became quite a burden for my wife. I was not able to help as much because I was still working and the Parkinson’s was continuing to progress. So my wife suggested that we sell the house. I didn’t suggest it, she did. After all, we had considerable equity in the home, and she thought that would help alleviate some of our financial struggles. By then, I had been put out of work and our income had plummeted dramatically. And so we sold the house. She gave up her dream house for me. The house she had waited so long and patiently to build, she surrendered for our family and me.
Now, that was a sacrifice.
That was sacrificial love.
That is the same kind of love God has for us. Isn’t that why He sent Jesus into the world? Had he chosen not to send Him, we would all perish in our sins. But, because He loved us so much, He was willing to give up someone He loved very much (His Son) so that we could have something we wanted, or, rather, something we needed – forgiveness for our sins. There would be no heaven in our future without the sacrifice of Jesus, there would be no eternity in paradise. Shouldn’t that make us love Him, when we consider the depth of His sacrifice? And shouldn’t that prove that He loves us?
Often, I drive by the dream home that my wife sacrificed for our family, and I am reminded of her tremendously altruistic sacrifice, a sacrifice born in love, a sacrifice that was proof of her love to me. In all likelihood, I will never be able to reimburse her for that sacrifice, but I can spend the rest of my days showing her appreciation for what she did for me.
Neither will we be able to repay God for what He did for us, but we can live our lives demonstrating appreciation for His tremendous sacrifice. Why would we do any less?