Loving Well…A Continuous Call

Last weekend I attended the wedding of a friend. As each marriage between two followers of Christ should purposefully pursue, she and her husband have the desire to have a union that honors both God and each other. It is our call to continuously and increasingly desire the same, to intentionally seek after that pursuit, and to love well in the face of life as we expect it as well as life with its unexpected twists and turns.

It takes being deliberate about our choices personally and with our spouse, tenaciously choosing to submit to the Lord which includes loving and respecting our spouse more than we love ourselves and our own desires.

It’s one of the things I enjoy about going to weddings where I know the vows taken and the challenges given to the bride and groom are based on God’s Word; that I might continuously be encouraged and challenged in my own marriage. One thing Paul David Tripp has written in his book, “What Did You Expect?” is that many marriages that have lasted for years often forget the need to be intentional about nurturing – not just time spent with each other, which is vitally important as able; but also about heart issues – honest conversations, growing in grace, truthfully but kindly speaking to one another, among other things.

Tripp also reminds that every marriage needs “radical commitments” and the “regular rescue of grace” for the minor grievances and the major wounds. That doesn’t allow us to act badly or sinfully so grace will abound, but grace is needed to choose well and to rescue our stubborn but (hopefully) repentant hearts when we don’t.

Whether you are not yet married, have been married a short time or a lengthy one, we are all to be “mutually encouraging one another” to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” And our marriages, even more, are to be a reflection of the grace of God, the power of God, and the love of God.

As I listened from the balcony where I was taking some photographs for her, I was compelled to pick up my phone and write down some of the encouragements and challenges given by one of the pastors performing the ceremony. In light of Tripp’s book and my last blog, “The Dance,” I decided to share them here on my blog.

We never expect to “disrupt our dance” and, hopefully, neither do most brides and grooms so it is good to come back to the heart of the marriage vows again and again, good to come back to the heart of God for a man and woman making covenant vows and becoming one.

May these words of great joy be used by the Lord for you! (Where he used their names, I have replaced them with husband/wife, bride/groom)

It is evident you stand here in love with and in the joy of one another! Continue in that love and joy in the days ahead – the easy and the hard, the strong and the weak, and in those moments of temptation…

Guard and protect each other fiercely. Don’t trust yourself; keep your eyes on the Lord and His ways for your marriage. When you hit a conflict or wound each other, run to the Savior and work and walk through it in prayer…together. Don’t attempt to handle temptations, fears, and wounds alone; God did not intend for that – He gave you each other.

Be willing to dream and live for the desire to see your marriage be all God designed for marriage in general, your marriage specifically, and watch it grow (sometimes even through the hardest of circumstances).   Dare to believe He will do it in the two of you as you stand firm and are two who speak truth to each other and are quick to say “I’m sorry” (and mean it) and “I forgive you.”

Be intentional not to let hope and great expectations lessen. Honor God through your marriage in every way when you are together and apart, in public and in secret.

I now charge you both as husband and wife – but know that each charge can and should be applied to the other.

I charge you, as the husband:

-“Praise the Lord for all who fear God are blessed beyond expression, they find great delight in His commands!” (Psalm 112:1)

The beauty of your bride should call you to see the beauty of God and to listen to Him. Do not miss that beauty nor cover her beauty with your own sinful passions and so cover the glory of God.

Listen well to the Savior out of love for God and gain praise for His glory especially in the eyes of your bride.  Listen to God; don’t close your heart and mind to Him and to His truth. The increase of His glory and your delight will happen as you listen, act, and grow.

 -Darkness will fight to gain control of your heart that you might sin against her. Fight it in the power of the Holy Spirit; He is already yours in Christ and we have everything we need to fight and flee if necessary, but we have to do it; He won’t pluck us out. It’s our responsibility to put a guard on our mouths, our hands, our eyes, and our mind.

When you fail each other, sin against the other – learn to say “I’m sorry” out of true sorrow not a desire to get out of “trouble.” Learn to resolve conflict without dismissing the other. Give and receive grace freely.

You are each less than perfect so you need to FIGHT to keep light in your marriage – the light of truth, the light of grace, the light that keeps us from going down a dark path of sin and then secrecy, some of which will continue to damage as it is kept in the dark.

Your marriage is to be a reflection of the light of grace; she deserves to feel safe and secure with you!

 -“Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.” (Psalm 112:8)

Fight foes, of all kinds, together. Don’t try to fight your temptations, your fears, your concerns on your own. The Lord has given you a bride, a helpmate, an accountability partner. Let her be that and you be that for her as well; be her warrior and give her the freedom to be vulnerable and to share her concerns without critical pushback taking care not to build walls of prideful secrecy.

Instead, see how God wants to speak to you through your bride. Her differences are an expression of the mystery of God, the wonder. Learn to appreciate who she is; don’t let the differences become a stumbling block or an area of contention or frustration.

 -“They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” (Psalm 112:7)

Every day is an invitation to worry; don’t give in to that invitation. Take yourself and your bride to the cross, minute by minute and day by day!

The opposite of love is not hate but fear. Fear will wound love at best, kill it at worst. Be courageous in giving her a safe place. At various times, each will need to be the anchor of faith, stability, and confidence for the other – as the leader and as the helpmate. 

-“They give generously to those in need…” (Psalm 112:9)

Yes, be a marriage that sees the needs of others and, together, provides for them as able. Serve well together as opportunities arise where God has place you.

But also, be generous in your love for your wife! Be quick to protect her in every way – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Speak well of her in public and to yourself. Guard her dignity in public and private. Guard yourself when alone and, in such a way, cherish her.

 A Charge to the Wife

-You will not be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife, but in every way, determine to pursue it deliberately. “If you find a truly good wife, she is worth more than all the jewels” (and everything that “sparkles”). (v 10)

Help your husband to be all God desires Him to be. He needs your nurture and your care, your prayers and your encouragement. Helping your husband will cost you your life but will help your husband to be the leader God desires and intends.

Let him have full confidence in you and bring him good not harm all the days of your life. Let him have no reason to lack confidence in your faithful, respectful love. (v. 11)

Be clothed with strength and dignity, able to see the best in him and in the days ahead even when he struggles to see either. (v. 25)

Be a listener, a forgiver but also act and speak wisely; be compassionate. (v. 26)

Above all fear God and trust Him to work in your marriage and to change you and your husband. (v.30)

 -Trust God for your marriage.

Trusting God will be the measure of God’s work in your life. Trust God to fulfill and complete the good work He began in each of you and in your marriage. Trust God to fulfill the dreams you have for your marriage on this your wedding day (don’t forget those dreams, those desires, those vows).

 -Express your thoughts and desires, your fears and concerns!

Your husband will learn much from you (and vice versa) when each listens in humility and has an increasing desire to grow. But speak with humility as well and, as you express concerns and fears, do so in a way that reveals the heart of love. Caustic criticism will destroy the heart so be assertive in sharing what you need to but do so with gentleness and respect. Some things may be hard to share and hard to receive but Proverbs 31:26 says that when she speaks, her words are wise. Choose your words carefully.

-Be wise in establishing your home. Be used by God to bring direction to your husband your family.

Let your gifts be used with wisdom as you give your heart to your husband. Time with God alone in His Word and prayer will enhance your love for the Lord and so for your groom (and time with God alone in His Word and prayer, husband, will enhance your love for the Lord and so for your bride).

– Love your husband in a way that enhances his strength and courage. Love in a way that encourages him to love Jesus well.

There will be times he will feel weak; take him to the Lord daily, even more so in his hardest times.  Let him know you are beside him and love him well even when your own eyes can’t “see” and your strength is “small.”  Let him draw strength and  courage from you as you receive strength and courage from our Savior.

Again, let both hear the charges and apply them to yourselves as well as your spouse. Commit to love and protect each other. Commit to growing in grace. Commit to Jesus being the only firm foundation for marriage – everything else is shifting sand. Keep that foundation firm by keeping your eyes and your hearts on Him.

 

The Dance

feet-for-blog-londone-and-caleb

If you are married, you were born to dance. Not the “every man for himself” bobbing up and down with no purpose, running into whoever is in close proximity, roaming through the room with multiple dance partners in your view, but the steady, seamless cadence of being in step and moving as one.

You were born to dance in time with the one you love. When you dance in such a way, it is exhilarating; far better than the exhaustion that comes from dancing out of step.

Yes, we were born to dance but also to run the race. Not to win as in competing against our spouse; rather, as a team, coming together, side by side, cheering each other on.

In the past, dance marathons were a common occurrence. Two would begin and dance both fast and slow until the end…together. They didn’t change partners or walk away no matter how weary one of the two may have gotten, even if the other had to virtually carry that one.

We are called to lift our spouses. “Carry each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) Just, as at some points in a dance marathon, one or the other may be able to move with more energy or strength, in marriage we will have times where one or the other is stronger and can “carry” the other more easily. There is no shame in that nor is it to be a contention; it is a gift.

Spiritually, there are times we each need the other to spur us on to look at the cross, to be challenged but oh to be encouraged! Yes, mutual love, mutual respect, mutual encouragement but, at varying times, each will bear the other’s burden more intensely. God specifically gives us our husbands and wives to do just that, not in a condescending way or with a sigh but in a joy infused way that is faithfully and tenderly restorative.

“Your wife is the accountability partner God provided for you. And, wives, your husband is the accountability partner God provided for you. According to Him, the two of you are one single entity (the two shall become one)…” (Matthew L Jacobson, “Who is Your Real Accountability Partner?”)  Again, it’s a gift, not a burden.

Part of keeping the rhythm is keeping all things that can cause us to stumble or create a gap between us cleared out from under our feet; secrets, hurts, weaknesses, fears, distractions from the outside pressing in. If we keep the ground clear, we can maneuver through them together; if we don’t, they will cause us to trip and sometimes fall and we can’t hide that from our dance partners no matter how much we try; we weren’t meant to.

Have you ever seen “extreme” dancing where the man spins the woman out, lifts her high, pulls her around? That takes trust. At times, we may feel like our dancing is “extreme” and, in those times, we have to know we can trust the one gripping our hand. Trust is built when we know we are holding each other up and when we begin to fall or do fall, we have a spouse that is there to lift us up, hold us close, show us grace, and restore the music.

The more we each seek to serve the one we love, even in the hardest moments – be it physical distance for an extended time, illness, the busyness of life, the temptations that bombard, or conflict– the more our desire to love and serve them will increase and the more God will chip away at our selfishness and cause us to love them rather than ourselves more deeply.

Additionally, the more we each set our intimate sights on our spouse rather than on others, the more attractive will the one we love be to us – not just the physical appeal but every aspect. He or she will captivate us and draw us in. Choose to remember what led you to them and intentionally be on the watch, even list out, those things about your spouse that are a joy to you and others! Don’t be distracted by “shiny things” but choose to be fascinated by your “one and only” once again. Guard and keep your eyes – literally and figuratively – only for them. Deliberately find ways to increase that wonder!

On the other hand, the more we look around and intentionally or unintentionally compare our spouses to unrealistic images and the deceptive pull of a situation or a person – be it in person on in media, the less content we will become and the more the enemy will whisper in our ear – “There is more that will satisfy if you just look for it, go for it; what will it hurt?.” Slam the door on that whisper! Don’t entertain the lie and don’t for an instant believe that it is true!

Most importantly, the more we take our spouses, our marriage, and our own hearts humbly but boldly to the throne of grace, the more our God does exceedingly and abundantly more than we could think or ask, first in us and then in the heart of the one we love! Whether it be as the dance is sweet and perfectly in time or at the first hint of the dance being interrupted, lean in and pull your bride or groom closer, even if they are far away physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Call out to the One who can battle for you and put a hedge around the dance floor!

Yes, some days and in some seasons, we will be out of sync; but we must never accept that as the norm or allow the enemy of our souls to make us think the music has ended and it is time to add lines to our dance cards or stop dancing altogether. That is not the melody of delight! In those times, we should be deliberately taking the hand of our one. Then, if we stumble over each other’s feet, it will be together.

Where there is a slow dance, there are two. But we should be dancing, walking as one; not stepping on each other’s toes or being afraid of the other’s next move but able to trust because grace has done and is doing a work in the lives of each of us.

Dancing with abandon because redemption has followed repentance and forgiveness in the small little irritations of life and the bigger, more hurtful situations.

Dancing with joy because we have “found the one whom my soul loves” (Song of Solomon 3:4) and we are growing in that love that is able to stand the test of time and the shifting winds that blow.

There is something beautiful about intentionally choosing each other again and again; there is something about keeping our affections for and on our one. There is wonder in rekindling desire with the one to whom we said “I do” when life has made us weary. There is delight in transparency made possible by grace. And there is great joy in picking up the beat of the music and the rhythm of their hearts, choosing once again to keep in step.

Hear the music and move as one. If the music has grown faint or even silent, be deliberate about making melody together again. You will be amazed at how your love, attraction, and desire for your husband or wife will rekindle and how refreshed your marriage can be.

But don’t stop there! Keep choosing! Keep pursuing! Keep fixing your gaze first on the Savior and, immediately thereafter, on the one with whom you walked the aisle and promised, yes even vowed, to love, honor, and cherish.

See the beauty! See the holiness, the sacred delight of dancing with the one you love… all the way to the end!

We Will Dance   Steven Curtis Chapman

I’ve watched the sunrise in your eyes And I’ve seen the tears fall like the rain You’ve seen me fight so brave and strong You’ve held my hand when I’m afraid

We’ve watched the seasons come and go We’ll see them come and go again But in winter’s chill, or summer’s breeze One thing will not be changin’

We will dance When the sun is shining In the pouring rain We’ll spin and we’ll sway And we will dance When the gentle breeze Becomes a hurricane The music will play And I’ll take your hand And hold you close to me And we will dance

Sometimes it’s hard to hold you tight Sometimes we feel so far apart Sometimes we dance as one And feel the beating of each others hearts

Some days the dance is slow and sweet Some days we’re bouncing off the walls No matter how this world may turn Our love will keep us from fallin’

And we will dance When the sun is shining In the pouring rain We’ll spin and we’ll sway And we will dance When the gentle breeze Becomes a hurricane The music will play And I’ll take your hand And hold you close to me And we will dance

The music will play And I’ll hold you close And I won’t let you go Even when our steps Grow weak and slow Still I’ll take your hand And hold you close to me And we, will dance

Of Colorado Mountain Passes & Marriage

IMG_4721.JPGWhen you set out on adventure, you never know exactly what will come! 

We set out on adventure over thirty years ago and we have watched two of our three children do the same this year.  We have hit some of the highest highs and the lowest lows in that time, but we have done it under the watchful eye of our heavenly Father and so will our children.  It is an adventure worth sharing and the love and commitment I have for this man is greater today than when we first began.

Marriage is not for the faint of heart nor the uncommitted; neither is it for the one who is content and even set upon life and circumstances always being about “me” and “my needs and wants.”  It is for the humble of heart, the tender in spirit, and the one with the tenacity to say, “We said ‘I do’ forever and that’s what I still intend…no matter what!” It is for those not just willing to “be” together but for those hungry to live and grow and change together in the power of Jesus Christ; to love more deeply, to increasingly trust and create trust, to “outdo” each other in serving, showing, and telling of that love, to reveal more of who we are and who we aren’t because we know we are “grace-fully” loved as well.  It’s not just about staying, but praying and fighting tenderly but fiercely for the other because, ultimately, the two have been made one and when one falters, the other one feels it; but can provide that secure place to land.

So, as we headed out on a motorcycle adventure this past week, I couldn’t help to, once again, enjoy the road ahead behind the man with whom I have walked alongside most of my life and to consider how so many parts of that adventure are a picture of marriage specifically and, often, life in general.

As the road and the mountains loomed ahead of us, I couldn’t help but take in the beauty and also consider it as a picture of the life we have lived together, remembering God’s faithfulness and His grace poured out all over us!  Sure, we knew when we started that there might be things up ahead to fear on the roads of Colorado (let alone the day we married looking ahead to the roads of life and marriage), but I chose to trust this man, my husband, knowing he would never put me or us in danger.  And, if he found himself or us in a precarious situation of his own making or otherwise, he would do whatever it takes to get us safely back on track, more secure than before.

We headed up to Last Dollar Road and over to Sawpit for the ride to Telluride.  The last time we drove Sawpit, it gave both of us not a little apprehension.  Street tires carried us over rock and gravel, steep climbs and equally precipitous descents.  It felt treacherous as the drops from the edges were sharp and deep.

But the views – magnificent, breathtaking, God’s fingerprint on it all!  And, in the confines of my helmet,   I sang as I did the last time, “This is my Father’s world; I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas.  His hand the wonders wrought!”  And instead of fear I chose to see the glory – I couldn’t help but do so – it was so evident!  “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”  (Isaiah 55:12)

It was no less treacherous, perilous, steep, or breathtaking.  But we had traversed the obstacles once before, faced it together and, knowing the concerns, we took the steps to face it “more prepared.”  The scary parts felt less scary as we rode on tires more equipped for terrain such as this.  Still, one bad patch, one false turn, and what was glorious and fun could be turned upside down, literally and figuratively.  We made our way, he doing what he knew he had to do to get us safely to the other side still keeping our eyes open, but all the while with our gaze fixed on the One who ultimately has our lives in His hands.

Life is sometimes equally treacherous.  We often stand at the precipice of frightening situations externally but also internally as individuals and as a couple.  We “knew” the dangers ahead in marriage and now we have seen more clearly.  Even today, we aren’t sure what will follow at times and how we will always move forward.  We can choose to look over the edge at the “what could be’s” instead of straight ahead; “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, (we) press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called (us) heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)  We may tremble and wonder what’s next!

But God!

We can look at the difficult circumstances or we can look at the glory of God being worked out through them!  Secure in who we are in Him, we can look beyond the hard to His hand and we can lay ourselves bare first before Him and then before each other, knowing we are “grace-fully” loved.  We are not alone.  The One who is more than able to do exceedingly and abundantly more is in the midst doing just that. 

“For better or worse” can encompass so much, but when we choose to trust each other, look beyond the now to the not yet, and forgive offenses, we provide that “sure” footing, those “better tires” to get us over the rocky ground where we may get “stuck,” the unstable gravel where we may slip, and return to the more secure ground…together.

If we do something foolish on the motorcycle as in life, we will have consequences and we may have great pain often leading to the pain of the other.  We may gently lay down a bike and find we have few bruises and little scrapes or there can be a violent crash that may take months if not years from which to recover. 

The same can be said of life choices – an annoyance or an unintentional action that is little more than hurt feelings or a minor offense can bring quick apologies, forgiveness, and recovery.  A deeper wound from a succession of hurtful words or actions or betrayal needs to be quickly turned from, honest apologies given, and forgiveness must come even if trust may take some time to recover depending on how the circumstances are handled.   

We cannot expect that unwise and/or sinful words or actions will leave no scars; but, over time, if not mortally wounded, scars are reminders of God’s grace to us and our grace to one another. 

When on the back of the bike, my husband has specific instructions for me for our safety – move with him in the curves, come up close to the front and lean in while on gravel, and never ever put my foot down to the pavement (yes, that instruction came when, in fear one time, I did).  Likewise, he knows what he must do to keep the bike upright and riding safe regardless of terrain.  There are “rules” for safe riding and personal accountability as well as an accountability of both of us, one to the other.  And we do them…together.  If we get out of sync or if I choose to respond as I “feel” in the moment, the results will not be good.

In marriage, we are called to be “in sync” with one another in every way; when we aren’t, the clash is inevitable and, depending on the situation, can be light and momentary or devastating.  We are called to be answerable to each other as well, to keep our marriage “upright and safe” as it were.  There are to be NO areas of secrecy, no areas that the other is not allowed to “see into” – that being intimacy in every area. 

Is it comfortable to share our weaknesses, our failures, and our struggles?  Of course not.  We want the other to see as little of our “worst” as possible.  But, it is that which brings ultimate unity and defeats the schemes of the enemy of our souls that would weigh us down and keep us hidden from the one who has our heart. 

As Matthew Jacobson writes, “Your wife is the accountability partner God provided you.  And, wives, your husband is the accountability partner God provided for you.  According to Him, you are one entity (the two shall become one…in every aspect)…”   You share all while not clinging to “worthless idols” or justifying intimacy destroying habits that need to be eradicated from your life; you take them to the cross and leave them there…together!  That sets your relational feet on a more solid ground.

If we are to have a secure relationship built on mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual tenderness, there can be no hidden places.  The reality is that, if you are close in most areas, your spouse will sense when an area is not right, when a struggle is rearing its head, and where there needs to be a restart.  Don’t run from that; let the grace of God make you and your marriage stronger.

When we choose to hide our hurts, struggles, and temptations, we live with a guardedness that keeps us from total intimacy and the greatest joy that God intended.  When we are fully known yet completely loved, we experience the kind of completeness in marriage we were designed to have!

Don’t hide.  Don’t go deeper into the darkness.  That is the rocky ground where the enemy can heap shame and temptation again and again.  God’s word is so clear – true restoration and healing comes in the light.

Returning to our cabin over Last Dollar Road, we laughed as my hubby skillfully maneuvered his way over more gravel, rocks, and muddy puddles.  But, while my ultimate trust was in the God of these rocky places, I trusted my husband and the joy and laughter that followed is a memory I will not forget.  It took us to one of the most beautiful vistas I have ever seen and one I really didn’t want to leave!

Marriage is like that.  When we you traverse hard places together, deal with them rightly, and survive them by the grace of God and the firmness of commitment, you find an increasingly greater beauty in the covenant you vowed, a deeper love that is forged by fire.  Challenges have the power to destroy a relationship or strengthen it – it’s a choice.  Where will we fix our eyes?  On whom?

“…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance/perseverance, and endurance/perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us!”  (Romans 5:2-5)

When you turn your back on selfish desires and choices or join hands when physical, financial, or emotional difficulties come and together plow through the rocks and the mud and the cold rain, you find yourself on a marital vista that equips you to more easily say “no” to selfish desires and “me focus” responses the next time and “yes” to the Savior, ultimately yes to your bride or groom. 

Yes, I will cherish you.

Yes, I will protect you.

Yes, I will stand beside you.

Yes, I will go to the Savior with you.

Yes, we will go through the fire together and not be burned.

I would be the first to say we are not perfect, not even close.  We have failed each other more often than I would like to admit.  Selfishness has reared its ugly head too many times; at times a lack of “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” – the five most important words in a marriage – have led to deserts where the chasm between us has been wide.

But we have a Savior who lifts us up, shows us our shame not to defeat us but to point us back to the cross where we can be restored to Him and to each other.  And, time after time, He has taken what the enemy meant for evil, to make us stronger.  I wouldn’t choose or orchestrate any of those circumstances, but I have seen the Lord chipping away at the rocky places in our lives, making something beautiful in the valleys so we could come over the passes into the beauty of the mountaintops and stand amazed.

“This is my Father’s world!  Oh let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God IS the Ruler yet!” 

In His creation, in this world, in our lives, in our marriage…and in yours!

We Said “I Do” and Meant It – That’s the Beauty of Grace

32 years and a couple of months ago, my hubby and I said “I do.”

We had no idea what that would mean, but that’s beauty of saying “I do” in the power of Christ!  It’s just one aspect of the grace God pours out on relationships between two who love and fear Him.  The grace to grow up together, make mistakes together and apart from one another, the grace to love when it’s hard, the grace to  forgive and be forgiven, the grace to laugh and the grace to cry – always together!  It’s the beauty of grace.

Very soon, we look forward to our only daughter making those same vows to a young man we have prayed for all her life, though we didn’t know his name.  God’s answer, with this particular young man, is a gift to both our daughter and to all of us.

As they prepare, we pray diligently for them both knowing the great joys and the sorrows will come; it is both that shapes and solidifies a relationship that is grounded in Christ and that is committed to intentionally saying and “doing” “I do forever.”  It is the relationship where both choose to grow in their walk with the Lord and to being humble and transparent with each other.  For it is when the two are one in every way, even in humility  but trust, sharing their strengths and struggles, that the enemy can have no room for deception and division.  It’s the beauty of grace.

Recently, I watched our own wedding; the video tape etched with the years but the words, from the heart of God, still bold and true.

32 years and a couple of months ago, my hubby and I said “I do.”  As I listened to these vows and the charge from our pastor while my hubby was away on business, I sat in the living room and prayerfully and thankfully said “I do” again. And, yes, through the good and hard times, I would do it all over again with this man, “the one whom my soul loves.”  Song of Solomon 3:4

I share these words for encouragement and challenge, whether you are married now or not.  If so, commit to your spouse again; if not, prepare your heart and mind, make your choices wisely, and realize that every decision we make has an effect on the one to whom we have said or will say “I do.”

Choose to love intentionally, deeply, faithfully, fiercely!  It’s worth it!

In 1983, these words were spoken to a young bride and groom:

“The vows you are about to take are not a statement of feelings.  You are not saying to each other: “This is how I feel about you.”  You are saying, “This is what I intend to do.”  You’re making a statement about commitment, not about your feelings.

And your vows are being made before God.

One day you will stand before Him and you will give account for how you lived up to the vows you’re about to make.

S, when you marry D, you’re not just marrying another girl.  You’re marrying a child of God.

Similarly, D, when you marry S you marry a child of God.

And one day, He is going to ask you, “How did you treat my child?  How did you love her/him?  Did you fulfill your vows to one another?

What gifts to you bring as a statement of the purity and permanence of this marriage relationship…the rings.

When you look at marriage, perhaps the surprising thing is not that one out of every two marriages is failing.  Perhaps the surprising thing is that one out of two manages to succeed.

That when you join two sons of Adam, two sinners who have their peculiar way of doing things and their own selfish ways and mix them up and put them in the same room, it’s not surprising that there are problems…

But you have a great advantage.  You are Christians, you are children of God, and you have a pattern set before you. 

And the pattern is this, that you S are to love your wife.  The main point is – you are no longer individuals; you no longer are separate.  There’s been the creation of one person.  You no longer have your separate ways and separate dreams and separate goals and separate identities.  The two have become one.  The creation of one new person. 

So from here on out you are to think in terms of the unity.  You no longer have say over your own body anymore.  That belongs to your spouse.  And the two of you belong to one another.  You are to love your wife as you love your own self.

You spend all your time, money, and effort on yourself if you’re the average person, even if you’re the average Christian.  You are to love your wife with the same kind of attention you love yourself and treat her with the same kindness and tenderness you want for yourself.

You’re to love her as Christ loved the church.  Christian love does not seek its own.  Learn to say “no” to me (and my selfish desires) and yes to us.

And, similarly D, you’re called to be subject to and respect your husband.  To “be subject to” is not merely taking orders.  You’re being called to a voluntary submission or subjecting of yourself to S.  It’s used in the military context.  You are to subordinate yourself to the direction of the team; to work as a team going in the same direction.  Willing, positive, willful giving of yourself for S.

The apostle Paul says a woman was made for man so you are called to be a helper, a comfort, an encouragement to him; to make his dreams your dreams.  Most men need a cheerleader and that is something to which you are being called.

What will hold you both in good stead is:

1 – Be tender to each other as you speak sweetly and gently and kindly and never indulge in harshness or cruelty or abruptness.  To never allow yourself to act in an angry or harsh treatment of one another.

2 – The most important words you’re going to need to know and say are “I’m sorry” and “please forgive me.”  That you should be quick to admit guilt because you’re going to be guilty.  You’re going to fail and you’re going to fall short and sin over and over again.  So, it’s incumbent upon you, if you’re going to have a happy life and a happy marriage to learn to say, “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong, please forgive me for what I have done.”  And then to be quick on the other hand to forgive. 

You have a great advantage.  God has given you a pattern.  But even better than that He’s giving you the power.  He’s giving you His Holy Spirit.  And, as you seek Him, in DEPENDENT prayer, you realize that apart from Him you can do nothing, apart from Him you will fail, you will fall short, your marriage will end up on the rocks.  But, with Him and the power and the patter He has given, you stand.  You succeed. 

You need to realize how much you need Him.  Then commit to praying together and studying the Scriptures together, seeking Him daily that He would enable and empower to lead godly lives.

And, charging the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, assembled to watch this union.

Your responsibility to this couple is this:

-Rejoice with them and celebrate on this day what God is doing in their lives! 

-Support them in their times of testing.

-Forgive them when they make mistakes.

-Remember them in your prayers.

-Seek God’s blessing on their lives and on their marriage.”

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   “Together”  by Steven Curtis Chapman

Here we stand, here we are
With all our wounds and battle scars
From all the storms and all the wars we’ve weathered together
We had no way of knowing when
We started way back there and then
How the road would twist and turn and bend
We just knew we belonged together

And if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and His grace
There’s no way we would be standing in this place
But because He has been faithful
Every step along the way
Here we are together

We’ve climbed up mountains higher than
Were ever in our hopes and plans
We’ve held onto each other’s hands
Watched miracles unfold together
And we’ve crawled on our hands and knees
Through valleys cold and dark and deep
Sometimes not even sure if we could make it out alive together

And if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and His grace
There’s no way we would be standing in this place
But because He has been faithful
Every step along the way
Here we are together, together

And if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and His grace
There’s no way we would be standing in this place
But because He has been faithful
Every step along the way
Here we are together, together

 

Lessons Remembered From the Back of the Bike…Marriage and the Journey

IMG_3814     It was an excursion of many miles.  We drove through sun and storms along many terrains – some smooth and easy, some rocky, steep, and rough while others were jarring,  almost treacherous.  Yes, there were far more dangerous trails, far more difficult roads; but I had to deal with my own reservations for the ones we were on. Several times I was tempted to say, “This is too hard; too scary.”

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But the reality was, I didn’t want to get off.  I didn’t want to miss the adventure, the majesty, the soul soaring delight even in the unknown. To get to some of the most breathtaking views, we had to cross adrenaline pumping, heart pounding terrain.  There were narrow roads and sheer cliffs, winding pathways that gave way to slippery slopes.  And there was beauty.

IMG_3834     The joy was in the journey as well as the destination alongside the man I have loved for over 30 years, but I had to get beyond my fears and trust him to choose well for us, to take us where he knew we could go safely.  But I also had to trust God to bring us over and through those things he might not see or know; and I called out to the Lord and sang songs of praise from the back of the bike and smiled knowing He was directing our every mile.

And such is marriage.  Every marriage goes through changing weather of moods and circumstances, the smooth and easy paths as well as the steep, rough roads; times of laughter inducing smiles and moments of difficult tears.  Periods of sweet peace and unity and times when the chasm created by two sinners in need of grace feels enormous and the weight of it is jarring.  And sometimes one or the other whispers “This is too hard; too scary.”

But, as with our mountain adventure, we don’t want to miss either the journey or the destination.  We know that. We just want someone to smooth the rough spots so we can get to the beauty of marriage!   We want someone who can take our moments of brokenness and create beauty out of mistakes made, words spoken too quickly or too harshly, self-focused pride.

The joy is that we have One who can and does; our hope is in God alone!  Our fears are assuaged by His mercy and His hand brings light to dark places.  It isn’t always comfortable and the heart may pound as He chips away at each one’s selfish roots; painful and glorious all at once.

His goal in growing two into one is bigger than just a beautiful marriage; that is an amazing by-product, a gift.  His greater purpose is to make us more like Himself, more in love with Him and, thus, more humbly submissive to Him, becoming all He created us to be. But it doesn’t come without some discomfort, some shaping that is outside our comfort zone.  As we grow in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, He changes us and causes us to set aside our self focused agenda, to forsake all others and to love, serve, honor, and cherish the one to whom we made our vow, to the glory of the One before whom we made our vows!

Marriage is “about learning how to love selflessly by learning to know the One who loves sacrificially.  Marriage is about covenantal love.  It’s about a love that stems from the much greater, more intense, and immensely more pure love of God. Marriage is one way God refines us into people of holiness, and makes us aware of His unconditional grace and love. Marriage has more to do with eternity than we ever fathomed.”  (FierceMarriage.com)  On the back of a motorcycle, riding the roads of Colorado, I thought often of how an adventure such as this, blended with much excitement and some risk, parallels the adventure of this “holy refining,” this mystery called love that draws two hearts to become one in marriage.

I love spontaneity, but I also like knowing what’s ahead.  Call me schizophrenic, but the two can actually co-exist!  Every morning in the mountains, as we set out on our next exploration, I wanted to know, to some degree, what I could expect.  That was often something that was frustrating to my other half who would set a course and not wonder what was around the next bend until we got there.  Would there be sheer cliffs on narrow, rocky paths where I would enjoy looking up and out but not down or would we simply be traveling on wide, gravel roads with spectacular vistas that I could take in at any angle?  Sometimes things changed or, while we knew the destination, we didn’t completely know what the means to get there would entail and I had to rest.  I had to learn to sit back, enjoy the journey, trust my “driver,” and relish the excitement and the grandeur but take any fears of the unknown (or known) to the Lord.

DSCN1248     Such is life in our place called “home.”  I have one who has chosen me for his bride; who has promised to love and protect and I willingly choose to trust that he will.  But we still need to take our marriage, each other, and life in general to Jesus, moving forward but sitting back and trusting. Too easily, we can fear the “what ifs” and miss the “what is.”   We find an unexpected opportunity and we take it or we make plans and move towards them; either way, there can be unforeseen happenings ahead, but we can look at the days without fear when we walk them together, knowing Who holds each one.

When in the majesty of the mountains, I could have chosen to focus on the fear of some of the places or I could have complained about the places we didn’t go or the flaws of the places we did; and I would have failed to see a myriad of delights big and small!  I could have missed the simple but completely wonderful evenings of staring up at the sky where a million stars danced above us, a cool, crisp morning sipping a cup of coffee with the one I love in the shadow of a magnificent mountain, or even short little walks hand in hand across the campground late at night.  Simple moments yet some of my sweetest memories.

DSCN1336 46     In our day to day, we can miss the treasure of the ordinary, the delight in the daily alongside the one to whom we said, “I do.”  We can nurse our unrealistic expectations and fail to recognize the treasure in jars of clay.  We ask God to “give us this day,” but when He does, too often we are so busy looking for the “next big event,” the extraordinary that we miss what He’s given us as well as who He has given us and what He wants to do with our “ordinary,” hand in hand with the gift right by our side.

We could have complained when we locked ourselves out of the trailer late at night or when various little incidents rose up to steal our joy.  But, instead, we faced them together.  We even laughed at some of them in the moment, all of them later. Admittedly, a few of them caused our self focus to become pronounced and we squandered those times in frustration.  But God is a God who redeems, who buys back wasted moments and uses them to strengthen us at the time and prepares us for what’s ahead.  It’s the stuff of which memories are made and stronger bonds are forged; it’s the training ground for the bigger moments, the more difficult disruptions!

Back in our little corner of the world, life comes at us in various ways and again threatens to steal our joy!  But when we choose to face them, putting them in the hands of our Father who knows us so well and is using “all things for the good” of we who “love Him and are called according to His purpose,” we can laugh at life’s little interruptions and hold on to one another in the big ones. We can shake our fists at the meager attempts of satan to take eyes off the One who is not caught unaware.  We can choose joy in spite of circumstances or emotions even if we have to choose it, even fight for it, daily or minute by minute!  “Weeping may last for the night; but joy comes in the morning!”  (Psalm 30:5)

Up on Yankee Boy Basin for the second time, this time in the truck, we kept climbing higher and higher and being more amazed at the grandeur of God’s incredible creation!  We went up one way and chose to come down another, just a little off the first path.  The road was impassable; damage to the undercarriage of our truck would occur if we proceeded.  We couldn’t get down without “making a way.”  Hubby got out and moved the rocks around, placing them in such a manner so that the broken places could be restored and our tires had a firm place on which we could move forward towards even more beauty!  Ultimately, we continued back down the trail again basking in the wonder of all that was around us.

IMG_3947     God always provides a way out of the desert, of the impossible path, out of the “no way out,” out of temptation and, with that provision, a firm place to stand.  Sometimes He calls us to act and, thus, to help make the foundation stronger, firmer.  Sometimes He simply calls us to go a different way or provides a way out and tells us to step out in faith and take it.  “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  (I Corinthians 10:12-13)  Just as on the mountain road where we thought we had a firm place to drive but came upon a broken place in the path; in marriage, we have to keep our eyes open, aware of the potential broken places ahead that would threaten to take us off the right path and derail our marriage.  We aren’t to do so fearfully; rather, we are told to ask God for wisdom, discernment, eyes to see, and feet to run when they need to run!  And then we get the freedom to run together along that steadfast path, laughing as we enjoy the view!

As we followed the roads out west on the motorcycle, I was surprised to see how many riders wore no helmet.  It’s not the law there, so they chose to experience “freedom” instead of protecting themselves for what might lie ahead and, should it, would likely cost them their life.   Another thing that caught my eye on the Million Dollar Highway was the lack of guardrails as you careened up and down and around the mountain passes, twisting and turning.  A friend who grew up in the area said that, driving that stretch, she would often see cars and trucks who had plummeted over the side into the deep canyon below.  They thought they could handle the pass, maneuver the turns but they either had gotten too close to the edge or, ill prepared for danger of the sudden steep grade, their brakes had failed.

.DSC_0096     Marriage needs protection.  The culture shouts the wrong kind of “freedom” even within marriage; freedom to think more about ourselves than our spouse, freedom to make our choices completely independent of each other, freedom to fill our time with things that are contrary to strengthening a marriage and that can make us discontent, freedom to develop lives apart from each other, and set us on a course for disaster, freedom to be unforgiving; freedom to dismantle the guardrails that are intended to slow us down and remind us of God’s design for this holy union, this “oneness” that must be treasured, nurtured, cherished, and shielded.

Marriage needs safeguards, shelters. Praying with and for each other, protecting time each other, holding each other accountable, having other friends who are committed to God’s design for marriage with whom we can have mutual encouragement, learning to say no to self and finding ways to build the other up, each growing in the grace of God and their relationship with Him, each putting a hedge around their minds and hearts that keeps out whatever sets itself up against a strong and safe place for the two.

Grounded and established in the Truth of God’s blueprint, guardrails in marriage, as on a mountain highway, won’t keep us from falling over the edge; but, if we choose to keep our distance, as is their intention, we can avoid more than just the inevitable fall.  We can actually make the journey smoother, the ride less fearful, more delightful, and far more fulfilling for both of them and for those they encounter!  They will be as a hedge of protection from significant spiritual and emotional injury not only to the marriage but also to each individual, even as preparing for the steep places and a helmet will protect a driver from injury or death.

In the weeks before we left, it appeared that many situations were coming together that might make us have to cancel our trip.  We were more than disappointed in the thought as we had been thinking of and planning for this anniversary celebration for so long!  We dug in and fought for that time!  Hubby spent extra hours over the weekend and at night getting things finished at work so nothing would be left undone and we could take off on our adventure!  I made arrangements that would clear the road on my end.  A few things still loomed and we had to make some adjustments, but we didn’t let that keep us from making it work out!  We changed the days, but we didn’t give up on what was important to us – our long planned time together!

Marriage is like that!  It is worth fighting for, worth the rugged climb at times. The person to whom I said I would “love, comfort, honor, and keep in sickness, and in health, for better and for worse, forsaking all others so long as we both shall live” is worth fighting for!   Marriage to the one to whom we have devoted our lives is important enough to do whatever it takes because the “we” of marriage is worth it!  Many things, circumstances, and people will vie for our affections, our time, our attention; but by God’s grace, we will fight!  We will stand with and for each other. We will honor each other by continuing to develop trust; trust that is achieved through honesty, through transparency; laying our souls bare before the other because we can trust they will be nurtured and kept safe. Truth, no matter what the cost even to our own pride, expressing itself in love.  No walls, no deceptions.  When we fail each other (and it will happen), the one who offends must be quick to, in humility, ask for forgiveness and leave the offense behind them, not picking it back up nor continuing in it. The one offended must then commit to forgive.  Both will act in the power of the One who equips us to live and love by grace!

Our time in the mountains was, like marriage, a collection of moments; various experiences, people, and places. Moments that were thrilling but also those that made us step back and take a deep breath.  But blended together, they created a grand design.  “Marriage is a mosaic you build with your spouse.  Millions of tiny moments that create your love story!”  (Jennifer Smith)  A true love story will not just be made of beautiful, carefree moments; a true love story will often be forged over time, grounded in Christ through both the tender and tense, the ordinary and extraordinary; how we respond to them will determine how beautiful the mosaic will be.

I’ll be on the back of the motorcycle again, behind the one to whom I entrusted my heart so many years ago; and, as I do, I’ll stop and be thankful that I get to keep riding life alongside this man, thankful that I get to show him again and again the fierce heart of a woman who loves him, trusts him, and is ready to walk every road with him; thankful for the privilege of being his bride, able to share all that we are, all we are not, and all that comes our way together as we daily recommit to and strengthen our marriage in our one sure and unfailing foundation which is Christ, regardless of the terrain!

“You cannot love a fellow creature fully until you love God!”  C.S. Lewis

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”  Song of Solomon 6:3

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This Adventure Called Marriage

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  And, in between, the ordinary days that make up “life.”  That’s the adventure of marriage that I have shared with this man beside me for the last thirty years.

And I am thankful!

The beauty has not been in the perfection, for it has been a blending of two sinners, saved by grace, but sinners indeed.  The beauty has been in the commitment despite the imperfections.  The joy when life and relationship have been relatively easy and smooth but also the joy of reconciliation when selfishness of one or the other or both has disrupted the flow and caused the two to forget the “feeling” of love.

We live in an age when people “quit” everything when it gets hard, when it no longer satisfies them, or when the next “new thing” catches the eye and causes the heart to race in a different direction.  Sadly, marriage has been a victim of that same mentality.   Hurt feelings, “self awareness,” “outgrowing” each other, “boredom,” or just plain lust has led to the mantra, “the thrill is gone and so must I.”  My heart grieves for those who are there not of their own choice or have been the one in a marriage trying to put it back together, trying to selflessly show mercy and grace to another who has already checked out and moved on.   Yet, I have also witnessed two again made one; marriages restored and made beautiful through the fire.

And, over thirty years, I have been honored to walk this road with one who took his vows before God seriously, one not willing to “quit” when times were difficult or emotions were raw.

I am thankful!

Thirty years ago today, I married the man who surprised me with the offer of a first date, who chose to live and work for a summer in a city that he wouldn’t have chosen just to continue his pursuit, who laid out his heart’s desire under a starry night and asked if one day I might join him, who slipped a ring on my finger some months later and asked me to walk by his side for the rest of our lives wherever God, who brought us together, would lead us.

Thirty years ago today, we stood in the presence of the Lord and made vows that we would be joyfully bound to and which would hold us fast in the years ahead.  And we walked down that aisle to the adventure of commitment!  You see, he promised to love me regardless of feelings or circumstances and I entrusted my heart to this man.   We pledged to fight for our marriage instead of against the other.  We determined to never use the word “divorce” as a weapon or even in joking because we had seen and have seen that word become a spark which has ignited a massive fire of destruction.  He gave his word to protect my heart and to guard our marriage.

I am thankful!

Together we have enjoyed sweet times of refreshment in the big adventure moments and in the steady pace of daily life and learned to enjoy each other’s presence even when no words are spoken.  We have shared laughter and wiped away tears.   We have had the romantic moments and the ordinary.  Through sickness and health, richer and poorer, we have soared on mountaintops and weathered storms.  He has stroked my head and held my hand in some fierce battles of fear when illness came and when my emotions ran deep.  He has drawn me up close and asked for forgiveness when he has wounded me with actions or words.  We have come together and been restored after other times when both of us dug in our heels stubbornly and the “feelings” of love were negligible, sometimes with tears and sometimes with laughter at each of our own childishness.  Repentance before the Lord and the one offended is the path to healing an individual and forging a deeper bond in marriage.

I am thankful!

Blessed with three children we both love fiercely, we have battled through differences of opinion in “how” we should raise them in different circumstances all the while showing a united front.  The times we have tried to each do it our own way have never proven positive and we have had to return and restore that unity, coming together before the One who is more than able!  And we have come together before the throne of grace to ask God’s grace over these children, now grown, entrusted to us for a time and yet always, in a sense, part of who we are.

I am thankful!

Our hearts have been knit together over time watching God, who called us both by name and made us His, continue to complete the good work He began in us as individuals and as two made one.

And that is it – time!  It didn’t happen overnight.  Both of us have had moments where faithfulness and commitment had to take the lead so feelings could follow.   Each of us has, at times, had moments of such great discouragement that the one had to hold the other up.

If we were to measure a marriage and determine its course by the emotions of a single moment, it might not appear to be healthy or even worth fighting for because in some moments, the depth of discouragement can be great.  Indeed, those single moments have devoured many.   When you drop those instances in shallow bucket of a few months or years, they can seem to fill it with tears and raw emotions; but when you drop those same instances into a deep bucket of time, unless one chooses to draw them out of the depths, gaze upon them, and fondle them to stoke the fires of disappointment, hurt, and frustration, they do not stand out in bitterness but rather blend in to shape and flavor the whole with a soul satisfying thankfulness.

It is those moments, when put into the hands of our Redeemer and left at the cross, that can actually cause the foundation of a relationship to strengthen over time instead of crumbling under our feet.

I am thankful!

Our bucket is deep and I look forward, by God’s grace, to it getting deeper.  He has brought us thus far and I rejoice and am glad.  But I also rest in the surety that while we are still growing individually and as one in Christ, with teachable spirits and forgiving hearts, together we will continue to fill that bucket with increasingly grace-filled moments that nurture and strengthen not just ourselves but those that God weaves into our lives as well.

Thirty years.  Yes, I am thankful!

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