Ten Years

I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks now. I don’t usually have this much difficulty expressing myself– words have always been my friend. But what do you say about the most wonderful man you know? The man you’ve been married to for ten years?

Ten years ago. Before real jobs, real bills, cell phones, and Facebook. Before any blood, sweat, or tears were poured into this house. Before babies were even a topic of conversation. When all of Michael’s books fit on one bookcase and the only instruments he played consisted of various guitars and a flute.

As our anniversary has gotten closer, I’ve been reflecting on those early days when we dated. I remember how we had all the time in the world to spend together. We would go to parks and sit on a blanket– he with his guitar, me with a book. We would go hiking at Umstead and Raven Rock. I remember lying under a tree looking up at the sky through the leaves and thinking how much like lace they looked. We would talk and talk and talk– about everything. And oh my gracious was he funny. From time to time, I’ll remember something he said back then and it still makes me laugh.

We recently did some pre-marriage counseling for an engaged couple; I loved that experience because it made me reflect on many of the things I’ve learned over the past ten years. There have been so many light bulb moments for me– lessons about grace, forgiveness, my own sin and selfishness. I’ve learned (am still learning, actually) what it means to die to yourself so your person can flourish. I’ve learned to be conservative in what I ask of my husband, because he really will do just about anything for me.

I love that we have our own language of sorts– words and phrases that carry pages and pages worth of meaning, but just to the two of us. I love that we have our own games that don’t make sense to anyone else (complete with scoring and point systems.) I love that we have our own traditions like hiding gifts around the house and playing “Hotter… Colder” instead of actually wrapping gifts.

Our life looks so different than it did ten years ago. In some ways it’s a little harder, but is many, many ways it is better than any life I ever imagined for myself. I will never wrap my head around why Michael chose me all those years ago. Not that I’m much different now, but man was I mess back then.

Last year, I wrote this for our anniversary and I couldn’t agree more with my past self:

My husband is the most amazing person I know. He’s wise, kind, funny, talented, and incredibly generous. He almost always has a smile on his face, and it’s not because he’s always happy– it’s because he has a joy that goes so deep that even when his days are hard, he can rejoice.

I have learned so much about what it means to love people by watching Michael. He has literally spent years loving people that others have cast aside because they are difficult to love. He’s taught me what it means to be hospitable when an unannounced guest stops by. He’s shown me what it looks like to really listen to another person. I’ve seen him give his time, his money, his energy, his life– everything. He gives it all away.

It makes sense to me that Jesus uses bride/bridegroom as one analogy for how he loves the church– the way Michael has loved me all these years has deeply changed me. And though he loves me well, it’s just a shadow of how Christ loves his church. I’m thankful for the Gospel, for understanding it more deeply, and for seeing it displayed in my husband’s life and in our marriage. I don’t know where we would be without it.

Paris

Once upon a time, Michael and I went to Paris. It was hands-down the worst trip we’ve ever taken. It was hot and the city smelled like poo.  The exchange rate was pretty terrible and, because we had very little money to actually spend in Paris, the cost of everything stressed me out. We don’t speak French but we were assured that everyone there speaks English (that is so not true.) We kept getting lost and taking the wrong buses. The Louvre was crazy-crowded and the Mona Lisa was so small. The food that we could afford was actually not that great. Most disappointingly, our credit card didn’t have whatever chip the European cards had, so we couldn’t use it in the machines that were set up all around the city to allow you to rent bicycles. Everyday, Michael looked longingly at all the lucky French people effortlessly riding bikes as we trudged around on foot.

I was pretty sad that our trip had turned out so badly. I mean, it’s Paris. Isn’t that supposed to be the place where two young-and-in-love people have the most romantic time of their lives? Before our trip I imagined that we would sit together in little cafes, holding hands, and basking in the fact that we were in Paris and in love. To say that the reality of our trip didn’t live up to my expectations would be an understatement.

I learned a couple of things from that experience– 1) For goodness sake, do a better job planning and preparing for your trip than I did. I am usually pretty good about these things, but for some reason with that trip I just didn’t do any research. I thought that getting to Paris and being there would be enough to ensure that we would have a fabulous time. 2) The reality of how things actually are is often radically different than how I expect them to be. If I had started the trip with a different expectation, I don’t think I would have been quite as disappointed.

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In his sermon, The Struggle for Love*, Keller teaches on Genesis 29 which is the story of Jacob working for seven years in order to marry Rachel. Laban, Rachel’s father, is a crafty old guy and tricks Jacob into marrying his other daughter, Leah. Jacob actually marries Leah, goes to bed with her thinking she is Rachel, and doesn’t discover that it is Leah until morning. He’s understandably upset but agrees to work an additional seven years to marry Rachel.

There are a ton of things that Keller brings out in this sermon that I think about constantly, but the one that sticks with me the most is his refrain, “You go to bed with Rachel, but in the morning, it’s always Leah.” He uses that line over and over to explain why we are so often disappointed, not when we don’t get what we strive for, but when we do get what we’ve been working for. Getting married, having children, taking that vacation (ahem…), finally getting that promotion– we “go to bed” with them thinking that this particular thing is going to satisfy us… it’s finally going to meet our heart’s desires. But we are always, always disappointed when we wake up and find that it’s actually Leah. C.S. Lewis writes:

Most people if they really learn to look into their own heart would know that they do want and want acutely something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love or first think of some foreign country or first take up some subject that excites us are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning can ever really satisfy. I am not speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages or failures of holidays and so on. I’m speaking of the very best possible ones. There is always something we have grasped at. There’s always something in that first moment of longing but fades away in the reality. The spouse may be a good spouse. The scenery has been excellent. It turned out to be a good job. But it’s evaded us. In the morning it’s always Leah.

I think about this often because I know that I am tempted to focus on the temporal. I am so easily distracted by what is happening in my life at this exact moment that I forget that I wasn’t made for this world. I put my hopes in what I can see, instead of what I know to be true.

If things are going well and everyone around me is healthy and happy, I tend to dream and plan for the future. I imagine a comfortable life where I have all the right answers, everyone likes me, and I consistently make good decisions. If things are not going well and life is crumbling down around me, I tend to be fearful and turn to my familiar frenemies, Stress and Anxiety. I worry about every decision I make and forget what it means to trust God for my provision.

But thinking in eternal terms helps me keep my perspective. My job, my pursuits, my marriage– these are good, good things… but they aren’t ever going to fully satisfy me. They aren’t meant to. I am free to enjoy and rejoice in the Lord’s blessing on my life without elevating those things to a place that only Christ should occupy. I can hold things loosely and remind myself that my identity isn’t bound up in what I accomplish or how well things seem to be going. And when something is taken away from me, I may indeed be very sad and weep bitterly, but it won’t devastate me. As Michael has said to me countless times over the last 10 years: The most beautiful, amazing thing that could ever happen to me has already happened (I’ve been saved by Christ) and the saddest, most terrible thing that could happen isn’t ever going to happen (to be separated from Him forever). What comfort it is when I remind my soul of that truth.

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I’m not sure that we will ever go to Paris again; there are other places I think I’d rather explore. But it was a good lesson for me. The Paris of my mind– the bright and shiny (and pleasant smelling) city that I spent months dreaming about– was in reality just another city. Paris isn’t supposed to exist solely in my mind or on a postcard. It is a place where people work and raise their babies and don’t have time or the inclination to help tourists. And that’s okay. Allowing things and people to exist as they are meant to exist (whether it’s your job, your spouse, or a long dreamed about vacation) means that our hearts aren’t getting unduly attached to them. The only thing that should completely capture my heart is Christ- and he’s the only thing that, in the end, won’t break it.

 

* There will be a day when I do not reference a Keller sermon in every single post I write, but today is not that day, I’m afraid. I am not very original so most of what is rattling around in my head comes from things I read or listen to. I figure I might as well give credit where it’s due.

No Fear (well, maybe a little fear)

Michael and I were talking about Plato this morning. I’ve never read Plato (except for random quotes that people put up on Facebook– somehow I don’t think I can count that) but Michael has and since I’m married to him and we’re One and all, I like to think that means part of me has read Plato. You know… the part of me that is Michael.

Anyway, we were talking about fear and how it can destroy us if we let it. He mentioned some things that Plato wrote about Courage and how Courage isn’t the absence of all fear. It’s learning to fear the right things and reject fear of the wrong things. That makes sense to me. And, more importantly, it lines up with the Gospel.

Here are some (wrong) things that I’ve feared over the years: being taken advantage of, being generous with money, looking foolish to others, not being accepted, the unknown (!), losing my husband/children, and countless other things. At times, the fear has been almost debilitating as I’ve let my thoughts run wild about what might happen or what people might think about me. In recent years, as I’ve learned more about the Gospel, I’ve found myself doing and thinking things that would have previously been scary for me. Big things. Vulnerable things. Dying-to-myself-kind-of-things. And truth be told, I was usually standing on the knife’s edge separating Courage from fear. What kept me from constantly falling over into fear was preaching the Gospel to myself. Instead of just threatening my soul with vague thoughts of trusting and obeying, I found that it is much more effective to remind my soul of what the Gospel really is.

The Gospel is about love- the love of the Father in making a way for us to be reconciled to him. It’s about the love of the Son as he came and lived among us and then died to claim us as his own. The Gospel is about unmerited grace, forgiveness of sins, and putting all the wrong things right again. It is about second chances. It is about infinite chances.

This is not a gospel of fear. This is not a gospel of self-protection. The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not call us to constantly replay in our minds all the bad things that could possibly happen to us if we reach out to someone who desperately needs us. Quite the opposite, actually. The Gospel calls us to die to ourselves– to do things that look foolish to the world. The Gospel calls us to pour out grace on people who do not deserve it. (How can it be grace if someone deserves it? It’s only grace if the person is completely undeserving of your kindness.) The Gospel calls us to reach out to others– people that are hurting themselves, people that are hurting others, people that are hurting us. We aren’t told that we will be spared pain if we do this, as if we have some sort of Jesus force field protecting us. In fact, we’re told that we will encounter suffering as we love others. So why would we ever do this? Why would anyone choose to obey the Gospel if it’s just going to bring more pain and grief?

I know I will never be able to really express what the Gospel has done to me– I don’t think I will ever recover from how it has wrecked my soul. The Gospel will crush you in a way that nothing else will. Seeing your brokenness and coming face to face with who you really are is absolutely devastating. But, the Gospel will put you back together and heal you in a way that nothing else can. It removes your heart of stone and puts in its place a heart of flesh. The grace that we experience as believers in Christ is like nothing else– just a taste of it compels us to show grace to others. As Michael and I often say (usually after one of us has sinned against the other), “What is this between us?” What we mean is, what can I possibly hold against you? I’ve been completely forgiven and found worthy by the only One who really matters– I have the “praise of the praiseworthy” and it changes everything. The extent to which the Gospel has seeped into your soul will effect how much grace you can give to others.

So what are the right things to fear? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that sin is a big one. You should be very, very afraid of sin and what it can do to you. Sure, we all have a choice to obey or disobey, and in the beginning we do choose sin. But, friends, sin is like a lion sitting patiently at your door. It is just waiting for you to step outside to play a short game of tag with it, and then it will eat you alive. If you want to know my story, buy me a cup of coffee one day and I’ll tell you how sin absolutely owned me for 12 years. If you think you are immune from sins like adultery, violence, drug abuse, etc. then, not only do you not know your own heart, but you are at high risk for judging others. As Keller says, the root of a judgmental, bitter, or unforgiving heart is the notion that you would never do something so distasteful, ugly, or heinous. How can you move out into the world, overflowing with grace for others, if you haven’t recognized that you, too, are in constant need of the grace of Christ? It’s just not possible to judge and condemn others if you have been utterly undone by the grace of the Gospel.

Let us be a community of grace– people that are not interested in protecting themselves, but in loving others. Let us encourage each other in the Gospel to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” We have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus– what is there to fear?

(Hebrews 10:19-24)

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.

Going to the Chapel?

Marriage has been on my mind a good bit lately. Partly because I’ve been reminded recently just how awesome my husband is. In the last two months, while I’ve been pathetically lying in bed for days on end, he has been grocery shopping, cleaning, and caring for Jeremiah. He is wonderful.

I’ve also been thinking about marriage because I’ve been reading through Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage. It’s well documented that I love Tim Keller (someone even went so far as to say that I have a theology-crush on him.) And so it should come as no surprise that I love this book. I mean, it’s one of my favorite authors/speakers writing on one of my favorite topics.

One of the things that has struck me as I read through Keller’s book is how grateful I am to have a husband who really gets what it means to be a husband. I wish I could say the same about myself– that I was always on his side, encouraging him and loving him well– that I had actually had one clue about how to be a wife when we first got married. Friends, I think I might have one of the happiest marriages of anyone I’ve ever heard of… but I will be brutally honest and say that it has had embarrassingly little to do with me. In many ways I have been my own worst enemy; I’ve learned lessons the hard way about forgiveness, grace, and the Gospel.

As we enter the wedding “season” I thought it would be interesting to try and compile a list of things I wish I had known about marriage. You know, when I was 22 and thought I knew everything. So here it is– my advice to young folks who are about to say, “I do.”

    • Seek out couples that have strong marriages and learn from them. Guys, look for other men that treat their wives tenderly and with compassion. Ladies, find women that respect their husbands and speak about them with adoration.
    • Read good books on marriage. What Did You Expect and The Meaning of Marriage are excellent places to start. Be discerning in your choices– a book that talks mostly about sex instead of the Gospel isn’t going to help your marriage.
    • Learn what it means to give someone the benefit of the doubt. In moments of conflict when emotions are high, keep in mind that this is your person who loves you more than anyone else. Learn and repeat often the phrase, “Baby, I am for you. I am on your side and we are going to work this out.”
    • Husbands, do not be afraid to be leaders. God has placed you as the leader of your family and it is a role that you must embrace. If you know my husband, you know that he has a gentle and gracious spirit. He is humble and kind and takes seriously the command to “count others better than yourself.” And yet he is an excellent leader of our family. Leaders do not need to crush their spouses and children in order to lead. Instead, leaders need to have integrity and believe in the course they are charting.
    • Wives, do not be afraid to submit to your husband. I’ve written about submission before and have so much more I could say. Ladies, if you are waiting for submission to feel natural, I am afraid you have missed the point. We do not submit to our husbands because it feels good or even because they are worthy of our submission. We submit because we trust in our Father. We trust that His way is better than our way, and part of His way involves us submitting to a flawed, sinful man called our husband.
    • Love the Gospel more than you love your spouse. I cannot tell you how important this is. I am convinced that the only reason Michael and I have had a good marriage all these years is because he has always deeply understood the Gospel. And as he has helped me understand it more fully, I’ve seen it change my life and change our marriage.

Marriage is such an intense thing– as Keller says, when your marriage is going well everything else in life can be difficult, but you still move out into the world from a place of strength. But the opposite is also true. You can have all the material comforts/success you’ve ever wanted, but if you are struggling in your marriage it can feel like the world is falling down around you. And so my final piece of advice to young folks is to do whatever you need to to protect your marriage. Falling in love was wonderful and, dare I say, the easy part. A strong, beautiful, long-lasting marriage isn’t necessarily difficult, but it’s unlikely that it will just “happen” to you. It is, however, worth every ounce of work you put into it.