My Bitter Heart Is A Mask Of God

By Cindy Koch

In June of 1999, I experienced humidity for the first time. Growing up in Coastal Southern California, the only time I ever inhaled dense wet air is when I happened to set foot in an indoor pool (which was very rare, even then). But that summer, seven months pregnant, I breathed the heavy hot atmosphere of my new home in St. Louis, Missouri. Two newly married crazy college kids had just embarked on this adventure called life. Paul and I had graduated from Concordia Irvine. He was pre-sem, and I left with a smattering of theology course credits. BA degrees done, we looked into the future excited for what the future held.

Shortly after moving our half-full Budget rental truck’s worth of possessions into the basement apartment, halfway across the country from everyone we knew, I sat down on our secondhand pleather couch and cried. Behind blurry tears, I could only see a dingy air-conditioning wall unit teetering under a dark windowsill. We had a spectacular 2×4 foot view of the bottom of a ditch. I could see the weeds of forgotten care blossoming outside of my mildewed window.

And then he left. I was eight months pregnant, and Seminary classes began. He was busy and happy and studying and satisfied. I was not. I watched an ugly yellow flower slowly emerge from that weed outside my window.

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Soon enough, our daughter was born. We had an interesting couple of weeks learning about car seats, sleep deprivation, and entertaining parents while delirious. Months of novelty faded away, and our visitors all went back to their own lives. My husband went back to his regularly scheduled classes. I, once again, was left sitting on that sticky couch, breathing the heavy, humid air, and staring at the dead autumn leaves that now covered my weeds.

My new role as a mother was a wonderful thing. Even though our little girl cried most of the night and slept long hours in the day, I knew these were times to be cherished. I loved making her baby food, and I loved reading those stupid board books 100 times every day. I cooked, cleaned, and made our house a home the best I knew how. Every morning I would kiss my wonderful husband goodbye but covet every step he took towards that door – to do something that mattered.

My secret thoughts echoed in the frustrated voices of other wives I met. The men were somehow free to pursue their dreams, and we had to pick up the rest of the responsibility. Sometimes, we had to work extra jobs to make ends meet; other times, we had to stay home and scrape together rice and beans again. On top of that, I was married to a man who was training to care for the souls of God’s people. How could I compete with that? The weight was suffocating. I was a little jealous.

Our situation didn’t really change throughout the years. Whether it was alone in a basement apartment or caught in vicarage limbo or figuring out where to grocery shop in Southeast Georgia, he always seemed to be able to sneak out of the door to do something significant. I wanted to go out and do important things and make a difference. I was a person, after all, with thoughts, dreams, and even a degree. Kids, laundry, and meals became so boring and rote that I constantly questioned if this was it for my life. I was more than just a girl stuck in a ditch.

Somewhere along the rut of mundane, I heard a voice that changed everything. Strangely enough, the voice was nothing new. It had been there the whole time. I heard the words day after day from the lips of my husband. It was calm and reassuring. It was simple and clear: “You are doing the most important job in the world.” But somewhere along the line, I actually listened. He said I was the mask of God taking care of our family. I was serving God by making dinner for my husband. I was the hands of God by changing my baby’s diaper. I was the means by which love and service filled our home and our lives together. I actually did make a difference.

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All at once, I saw the frustrating and wonderful work of our God. He works through the bitter and tired actions of a mother. He preserves His people with the mundane and tedious care forgotten by His saints. It’s not sparkly and sexy; it’s actually all very boring, but it is all so very good.

All at once, I saw the muddy ditch I had dug for myself. I counted the prickly weeds of disgust that grew there. I had fed and nurtured a garden of sorrow in this place. And yet, God still moved my hands for His love.

One winter day back in St. Louis, I watched snow cover the muddy terrace of weeds that winter for the first time in my adult life. Flake by flake, the dark hill outside my window frosted over until it was a blurry gray. Piece by piece, the ugly picture of my life in a distant Midwest city began to look more like a tranquil blanket of white. I knew the dead weeds still lurked deep in the ground outside my window, but they didn’t taunt as loudly now. The mess was clean.

Word by word, He kept calling for me to remember that I was already white as snow. Piece by piece, He fed me forgiveness even when I didn’t know I needed it. Day by day, He moved my feet to work in amazing ways. Right in the middle of my self-centered darkness, He highlighted that I was already doing the most important job in the world.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Not a result of works, so that so one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

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3 thoughts on “My Bitter Heart Is A Mask Of God

  1. I’m a layman whose job it is to build cars,in a very large factory. Sometimes I feel like just a number. Thanks for the reminder that I’m God’s mask,and that what I do serves mt neighbor,which is God’s service.

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  2. Thank you, I loved the honesty about staying at home with the kids. It is joyful but it is non-stop. I loved the imagery of the humidity, plants and snow falling, … well done.

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  3. Being a mother can be very hard. My wife stays home with our three boys, aged 3 1/2, 2, and newborn. I think she gets overwhelmed by the mundane sometimes, too. In fact, I think she’s been feeling it a lot lately. This is a good reminder for me to encourage her and give her a break.

    I’ve worked 2 (and briefly 3) jobs to make ends meet, because i don’t feel like its right for her to work outside of the home. I’m taking night classes to get into a master’s degree program so that I can make more money to take care of her and the boys. Sometimes life is all about my hard work, my career goals, my education, but you’re right that she needs to be told that she is doing important work as well, and sometimes she needs a break.

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