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 and fiercely for the other because, ultimately, the two have been made one and when one falters, the other one feels it; each can provide that secure place to land.

So, as we headed out on a motorcycle adventure this past week, I couldn’t help but, once again, enjoy the road ahead behind the man with whom I have walked alongside most of my life, taking into consideration how so many parts of that adventure were 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 took 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 were 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 them 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,” but that isn’t how the Lord intends for us to live our lives nor walk in marriage. 

We set our gaze “straight ahead; (we) fix (our) gaze directly before (us). “We give careful thought to the paths for (our) feet and (choose to) be steadfast in all (our) ways!” (Proverbs 4:25-26) 

Then we live!

We enjoy the wonder that is this life the Lord has given, regardless of the ease or the difficulty!

And as we “live, we don’t keep record of wrongs nor grow fearful of the “what ifs.” Fear is dangerous on a motorcycle, and it is even more so for a marriage.  Instead, “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 ahead at times…

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, forgive offenses, and be each other’s greatest advocates when life’s difficulties close in, 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 injury of the other.  We may gently lay down a bike and find we have a 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 and should bring quick apologies, forgiveness, and recovery. 

A deeper wound from a succession of hurtful words, actions, or betrayal needs to be quickly turned from, honest apologies given, and intentional changes made, but forgiveness must be given, even if trust may take some time to be rebuilt depending on how the circumstances are handled.   Unforgiveness is not an option; it is the seed of bitterness and erects walls that are hard to scale.

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 I’m 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 maintain our safety regardless of the terrain. 

There are “rules” for safe riding and personal accountability as well as an accountability for 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, to keep our marriage “upright and safe” as it were.  There are to be no areas of secrecy, no areas where we are allowed to “go dark,” no areas that the other is not allowed to “see into” – that being intimacy in every space. 

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 truthfulness and vulnerability, especially under the cover of God’s grace, 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 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 a part of you 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 draw you to Himself and to one another to 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 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 entered and vowed before God, 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 you 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 increasingly say “no” to my self-promoting, self-loving choices. 

Yes, I will more intentionally say “yes” to those choices that honor the Lord and benefit us both.

Yes, I will lay myself bare to you and let you “see into me” without deceit.

Yes, I will go to the Savior with you.

Yes, we will go through the fire together with Him 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; there have been tears and valleys.

Selfishness has reared its ugly head too often; 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 and the loneliness deep.

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. 

We have a Savior who has not only restored us but deepened our love for and our enjoyment of Him and each other!

I wouldn’t choose or orchestrate any of those circumstances, but I have seen the Lord chip 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!

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.”

DSCN1543 crop without antenna     IMG_3879 4 x 6 horiz

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