Standing Next to Steve
by Ellen Dodson
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"Well, looka here. It's another picture of Stevie," my brother-in-law lifted his
Mother's old photo album from the dining table to the overhead light. "I think it's
Steve. Is that Steve, Mike? Looks like him getting baptized in a river."
"Let me see!" I said, nearly tripping over one of the cardboard boxes of
Modella's momentos to elbow my way between Steve's brothers.
This was the first year that Steve had to work during his sister Nancy's
Christmas party. And because it was also the year he and his siblings
intended to finally divide up their late mother's pictures and knick-knacks, all
agreed that I'd fill in for Steve, choosing his share.
Usually the images I conjure of people or places before I actually see them
are strikingly different from reality. But, the faded picture of a younger,
curly-haired Steve in flannel and jeans, hip-deep in a river beside a preacher
is strangely similar to the vision I'd carried in my heart for ten years. As a
late-in-life believer, Modella would've wanted her son to have the picture. And,
as a wife who's all but given up on her husband's distant faith, God means for
me to have the picture.
Although Steve never told me about the photo, prior to our wedding he assured
me of the day he chose Christ. As the story goes, a friend convinced Steve, who
wasn't a steady church-goer, to attend a riverside revival. Steve said that it
seemed the preacher was talking just to him. He knew he needed to give his life
to Jesus. Shyly, he said he even felt a call into ministry that day.
It's been years since Steve's told the story of his baptism. The few times he
mentions God in a personal way, my invariably comical husband grows serious.
His tone reverent, otherworldly. Looking back on Steve's accounts of his life--
an extremely negligent and violent childhood, several nearly fatal car wrecks during
his childhood, damaging smoke inhalation from a house fire his senior year, two
collapsed lungs as a young adult, two failed marriages that caused acute
depression, and an armed robbery attempt at a restaurant he managed--we both
credit only God for his forty-eight years.
From the easy angle, I suppose it looks like I'm a good, long-suffering wife,
waiting and praying patiently for my husband to turn off NASCAR, wrestling, or
some empty movie, to forget a Sunday fishing or hunting trip, and pull back the
cover of His Bible to be the spiritual leader of our family. But, whereas my
husband struggles to reunite with Christ, I struggle to grow in obedience in my
existing faith. Though at times I am pure and strong in my Walk, my heart, my
thoughts and desires, aren't consistently faithful to God or my husband. It would
be easy for me to blame my sin struggles on Steve. Scripture says he's supposed
to love me as Jesus loves the church, but God Himself provides the extra grace
that my daughter and I need in Steve's spiritual absence.
In many ways our marriage is solid. We flirt, and laugh, and touch. We say "I
love you" and mean it. We rarely quarrel, finding, instead, pillows of peace
from life's combat in each other's arms. Safe, warm, forgiven, and loved--how
easy it usually is to fall asleep in those arms.
But, conviction often wakes me, showing me that I've lost a passion for my
husband's soul. I used to return from church and sob against Steve's chest,
begging him to come with us, to be what he's not yet ready to be. I learned
quickly that the guilt this caused him wouldn't be enough to rekindle his
devotion. It would have to be Steve's desire, not mine. But, now I fear I've
become too patient. I'm no longer bothered by his absence at church. I've long
since stopped trying to share with him new things I learn in my Bible readings.
What is most sacred to me, what excites me most, what is most important
in me is currently a bore--sheer drudgery--to him. But, I myself strayed from
Christ for many years. I know how real and how dangerous Steve's struggle
is. I know that he doesn't even know that he's in a struggle.
When I look at this picture of Steve standing in the river awaiting baptism,
God speaks so tenderly to me that it feels as though the protective layers of
my heart have been rubbed away. He says, "This is your place, Ellen, right
beside Steve, right in that water as still as you can be, waiting beside him
as he moves--a second time--closer to Me." God promises blessings beyond
comprehension if I can be still and obedient despite life's temptations and stumbling blocks.
With the exception of my dry, repetitive prayers, I've let my most vital ministry go
untended. Now God means for me to make a sanctuary of my home, covering
Steve in Scripture-based prayer and doing so many little things, loving things
that I've let Satan distract me from. Someday Steve's faith will no longer be an
old photograph. He'll wake up and realize he's been standing in that water too
long. The joy he feels the day he steps forward will be shared by me and the Lord.
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Hi Ellen, What an honest look at the patient and loving wife. Just a couple minor thoughts: Do you want to capitalize His when referring to your husband's Bible and Walk when referring to your walk? You might rework the following sentence so it satisfies parallel structure. Something like this: "Though at times I am pure and strong in my Walk, neither my heart, my thoughts,nor my desires are consistently faithful to God or my husband." Great writing!
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