Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching, and apart from purchasing the necessary supplies for my daughters’ Valentine’s Day school parties or get togethers, it’s not a holiday I think a whole lot about. Usually Jason and I exchange cards and a quick kiss over a crock pot meal while hustling everyone out the door to swim practice, ballet, or basketball games.
But all week I’ve been thinking about Valentine’s Day because of a conversation I overhead between my seven-year-old daughter Caroline and her friend Tess.
Tess was at our house before basketball practice, and I was feeding the girls a healthy, protein-packed dinner of cinnamon crunch cereal and apple slices with peanut butter (don’t judge me; it had been that kind of a day), and I was half-way listening to their conversation as they talked and ate, and I puttered around the kitchen. Well, ok, let’s be honest – I was REALLY listening to their conversation because Tess talks at a volume LIKE THIS, and sometimes it’s hard NOT to listen to their conversations.
And out of the blue, between cereal bites, Tess says to Caroline, “Yeah, I’ve heard that boys don’t like to get married as much as girls. Girls like to get married, and boys like to stay single. But girls are more organized than boys, so boys get married so they can have someone to help them get organized.”
Out of the mouths of seven year olds…but yep, that pretty much sums it up.
And the best part about it is that Caroline listened like she was listening to Dr. Phil, and Tess’ comment led to a deep discussion about who they were both planning on marrying once boys were ready to have a little organization in their closets and in their lives. (My lips are sealed; I’m not telling who their choice of perspective mates are, but at least I know now to start praying fervently for the spouses of this dynamic duo!).
But ever since Tess made that comment, and especially with Valentine’s Day coming up, I haven’t stopped remembering and thinking about the fiery trials of dating, romance, and wondering whose manpiles you would end up organizing one day (if you need a definition of “manpiles,” click here).
Because let’s face it: figuring out who in the world you are going to marry is tough stuff. Awkward stuff. Confusing stuff. And sixteen years down the road into marriage, I am still relieved I emerged in one piece from the search for a soul mate.
I remember one Valentine’s Day my senior year of college, a friend of mine asked if we could have a “talk.” Notice I said, “friend.” We were not dating, nor had we ever had any discussions of dating, nor did I ever want to have any conversations about dating. Yet during this “talk,” at a cafe decked out for Valentine’s Day with red roses, chocolate cake, and a man walking around singing operatic love songs, my friend proceeded to tell me that after thinking long and hard about it, it turns out I wasn’t the girl he was supposed to marry, so we were free to just be “friends.” Which is so weird because I thought that’s what we already were. And at the end of our incredibly awkward conversation with a man singing a love song beside our table, he proceeded to tell me he forgot his wallet, and I had to pay the $60 bill (which might as well have been $560 to a college student).
Like I said, dating is a fiery trial and an awkward experience, one I would rather not have to repeat in this lifetime if I can help it.
But with Valentine’s Day coming up, I know lots of thoughts are going on in the minds of seven-year-olds, seventeen-year-olds, and forty-seven-year-olds about love in general, or at least about love according to our culture’s definition of the word. Because our culture is crazy-consumed with talking about love, which has really become another word for self-serving sex and ways you think another person should make you happy.
But after spending sixteen years married to a man who has lots of piles for me to organize, my definition and understanding of love within the context of marriage has changed dramatically.
Jason and I started off our journey together on rocky footing. After dating for almost a year, we were engaged and then broke off our engagement two months before we were supposed to get married. Both of us were carrying around a hundred pound sack of unresolved issues from our past that felt like deadweight in our relationship. In God’s mercy, as painful as it was, He allowed us to begin to unpack that deadweight outside of marriage instead of inside. It took a lot of counseling and a lot of humbling ourselves before God and one another, but we were re-engaged and then married seven months after our original wedding date.
During that time of separation, counseling, and healing, we learned how to come back together as two broken pieces that would humbly and dependently make a whole instead of two whole, independent pieces dead set on our own way or the highway.
During that time, Jason read Sacred Marriage, a book by author and pastor Gary Thomas that completely changed his view of marriage and set the trajectory of our relationship for the future. In the book, Gary writes, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?,” a thought that bears as much weight in our marriage now sixteen years down the road as it did so many years ago.
Because it’s true. “If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there’s no question—stay single,” writes Gary. “Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can’t imagine any better thing to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you’d never have to face otherwise.” Because marriage, as my mom says, is holy sandpaper. It is designed by God to rub off and wear down the edges of our self-centered habits, goals, and desires and transform us into others-centered, Christ-centered creatures. And let me tell you, it can be one painful process.
Three weeks into our marriage, we were knee deep into wearing the selfish edges off of one another. It was Thanksgiving week, and we were preparing to leave to go to celebrate the holiday with one of our families. And we. Got. Into it. I mean voices yelling, doors slamming, anger rising, “what-in-the-world-have-we-done” kind of arguing.
I ran into my closet, slammed the door, locked it, and curled up in a heap on the floor crying.
Not a great start to start a first holiday during the first few weeks of marriage.
And Jason says in that moment, he knew he had a choice. He too could slam the door and leave me and my hurts to myself, continuing the same pattern and cycle of leaving he had always done in relationships, or he could stay and pursue me, choosing to let the unconditional, covenantal love of Christ wear the edges off of his leaving and teach him how to stay, even with a wife who was an emotional, crying mess on the floor. And he chose to stay.
And his first act of staying was kneeling beside our bed and praying, “Lord, I don’t know how to do this thing called marriage. But I know you do. Help me to love her as You love her, and teach me how to stay.”
And the next thing I knew, I heard a knock on the closet door. He chose to pursue me, even with all my faults, and work through the issues at hand.
I wish I could say that after that incident, marriage was rosy…but it wasn’t. We had a hard first few years because both of us had such hard hearts.
But more than we stayed committed to one another, we stayed committed to Christ, and because of our love for Him, we stayed committed to our love for one another.
I want to offer this hope and healing this Valentine’s Day: a good marriage is not built on the foundation of two good and perfect people. A good marriage is built on the foundation of two broken people who have committed together to love Christ, the Only One who can put our broken pieces back together. Our marriage is living proof of that great reality.
Men, if you really want to love Christ and love your wife this Valentine’s Day, can I tell you what the most attractive thing about my husband is to me? It is his position of humble prayer before the Lord every morning. Every morning, Jason wakes up at 4:30am and spends the first hour of his day on his knees in God’s Word and in prayer for his family, his co-workers, and his friends. I usually stumble out of bed about an hour after he does, and my favorite part of the day is catching him in this act of prayer.
I do not know what the day holds for me or our girls, but I do know that we have been covered in prayer by the person whose prayers are the most powerful and effective on our behalf. And Jason’s habit of praying and humbling his heart before His God helps me trust him and trust his leadership and decision making for our family. And it helps me stay attracted to him in the day in and day out routine of marriage, work, and kids. Someone who serves me like that, loves me like that, is someone I can safely give my heart to, even when life is hard or circumstances are tough.
And ladies, can I tell you what Jason says is the most attractive thing about a woman? It’s not her wardrobe, or her body, or her achievements, but her confidence. A confident woman, confident in her God, confident in her identity in Christ, confident in the body God has given her, confident in joy, confident in grace, confident in contentment, no matter what her circumstances may be. And it’s a confidence that can only be gathered from time spent before the face of God.
I wish I could say I have arrived in this area of confidence and have figured it all out, but I am still a learner. But I can say with confidence, I am further along today than I was sixteen years ago as a newly wed in a heap on my closet floor. As I have dug into my commitment to Christ and listened long and hard to who He says I am, and then learned to confidently embrace who Jason says I am through his love and faithfulness, I have become more confident than I used to be. And it’s a confidence in which I am continuing to grow.
Maybe it seems like feeling love or tenderness towards your spouse is just asking for too much this Valentine’s Day. That’s ok. Maybe it is asking for too much. But what’s not asking for too much is cultivating or feeling tenderness or love towards Christ, the One who never leaves or forsakes you, and who then helps you act in love towards one another.
Like I said at the beginning, marriage is tough stuff. Dating and engagement is tough stuff. It’s a journey that forces you to face yourself as you really are, and not the pretty, flawless person you’ve convinced yourself you are.
And having those pretty edges worn off through the holy sandpaper of marriage is a painful process. But it’s also a beautiful one. Because through a fierce commitment to loving Christ and loving one another, you can actually become the person God has called you to be.
So this Valentine’s Day, if you are in touch place when it comes to love and marriage, don’t be discouraged by the hearts and glitter and chocolate that abound. Cultivating holiness and happiness in marriage is hard work. But it’s good work.
And if you are knee deep in hurt or curled up on a heap on your closet floor, take heart. Don’t leave. Stay. Stay committed to Christ, committed to prayer, committed to confident relationship with your God and with your spouse, and His faithful love can heal any heart. One step, one season, one year at a time. And that’s what the real love of Valentine’s Day is all about.
Call us crazy, but Jason and I decided to do something a little unconventional to celebrate thirteen years of marriage. We decided we wanted to hike the Grand Canyon – Rim to Rim. Forget comfortable hotels, pool lounging, or romantic dinners overlooking a sun-specked ocean. Instead, think tent. Sleeping bag. Plastic, inflatable air mattress that squeaks every time you move. Compost toilets (at least it wasn’t a hole in the ground), no shower for four days, red dirt stuck to my legs, feet, and every pore of my skin, and rocks in my shoes. I have to admit, when our guide handed me my thirty-five pound pack to lug up onto my shoulders and our driver, the last sign of comfort and civilization sped away, I thought, “I take it back! Put me back in the car! What in the world have I done?!”
But over the next four days, my city-numbed heart became alive once again to the glory of God as we trekked across the canyon. In the dead of night, staring up at a pitch-black sky streaked with the silver of stars, constellations, and the Milky Way galaxy, my heart was reminded of how small we really are. And in the light of the day, looking up and out at the red-painted cliffs of the canyon with the Bright Angel River rushing past, I was reminded of how big God really is. And my heart was filled with awe.
The “Rim to Rim” route we hiked along with thousands of other visitors each year is actually a small side canyon that weaves its way into the main canyon, eventually depositing its hikers, runners, and mule-riders onto the main South Rim, covering a distance of approximately 24 miles. In my limited understanding, I thought we were going to conquer the main “Rim to Rim” route of the canyon, beginning at its starting point on the eastern end and traversing its entire length, ending up at the western tip. Wrong. The entire length of the canyon, the true “Rim to Rim” route, covers a distance of 277 river miles, meaning the miles measured by the distance of the mighty Colorado River, a distance that is further than the mileage between Houston and Dallas. Those miles do not include the many small, side canyons that split off and eventually spill out into main corridor of the Grand Canyon.
Because of my limited knowledge, the sheer size of the canyon caught me off guard and completely overwhelmed me at times. It lives up to its name in every sense of the word – it is Grand. And it leaves one in awe – awe at the awesomeness of the canyon and the One who made it and holds it all together with His Word (Colossians 1:16, 17).
On our last full day in the Canyon, after we had reached our campsite and unshouldered our packs (you can’t imagine how glad I was at the end of every day to take that thing off), we walked another mile and a half down the Tonto West Trail to a place called Panorama Point. I can honestly say that the entire four days and thirty something miles we covered was worth this one view. It not only put the Canyon into perspective but all of life into perspective. It took one’s breath away in its sheer scope, size, and vastness and left one full of awe. I can honestly say I don’t think I have ever used the word “awesome” correctly until standing at the top of Panorama Point. Our guide shared that many people get to this point and simply burst into tears. There simply are no words to describe the palette of majesty at the tip of this point.
Standing at the edge of Panorama Point, I was reminded of things I do not always remember in the smallness of my day to day routine at 1313 Mickey Way. I remembered that God is not someone I dictate demands to – He gives them, and I take them. I remembered that my smallness is not something I can fight against or pretend does not exist. It simply is. I am a speck on a timeline, a momentary fleck of life on a line that stretched on long before I arrived and that will continue long after I die. I remembered that God’s Voice is continually speaking, creating, and forming order from chaos, carving canyons, splitting rocks, and directing the flow of forceful rivers. And my job is not to try to control my life, my seasons, my relationships, or my days, it is simply to surrender and submit to the One is speaking.
I took only my small pocket Bible, my journal, and two thin books with me into the canyon (anyone who has ever travelled with me knows that this is a minor miracle in and of itself). One of the books was A.W. Tozer’s classic The Pursuit of God.
The day we went hiked out to the end of Panorama Point, I read these words (it’s a longish quote, but hang in there; it’s worth the read):
“The voice of God is the most powerful force in nature, indeed the only force in nature, for all energy is here only because the power-filled Word is being spoken.
The Bible is the written Word of God, and because it is written it is confined and limited by the necessities of ink and paper and leather. The voice of God, however, is alive and free as the sovereign God is free. ‘The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life’ (John 6:63). The life is in the speaking words. God’s word in the Bible can have power only because it corresponds to God’s words in the universe. It is the present Voice which makes the written Word all-powerful. Otherwise it would lie locked in slumber within the cores of a book….
We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.
The tragic results of this spirit are all about us: shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit. These and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.
For this great sickness that is upon us no one person is responsible, and no Christian is wholly free from blame. We have all contributed directly or indirectly, to this sad state of affairs. We have been too blind to see, or too timid to speak out, or too self-satisfied to desire anything better than the poor, average diet with which others appear satisfied…
It will require a determined heart and more than little courage to wrench ourselves loose from the grip of our times and return to biblical ways. But it can be done. Every now and then in the past Christians have had to do it….I venture to suggest that the one vital quality which they had in common was spiritual receptivity. Something in them was open to heaven, something which urged them Godward. Without attempting anything like a profound analysis, I shall say simply that they had spiritual awareness and that they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives. They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response. They were not disobedient to the heavenly vision. As David put it neatly, ‘When thou sadist, Seek ye my fact; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek’ (Psalm 27:8).”
(A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, “The Universal Presence” and “The Speaking Voice,” pp.70, 65-66, 63)
God is speaking. Not past tense. But present tense. Continually. Always. I couldn’t help but remember that in the canyon. The question is, am I listening? Am I posturing my life in such a way that I can hear His voice amidst the hustle and bustle of life in the day to day? Can I rely on His Voice more than the bulwarks and walls I erect in my life to give me the illusion of control and permanency? In a moment, my walls could come tumbling down because of the force of nature, because of tragedy, because of change, because of sickness, because of the Hand of God behind it all, driving it all, allowing it all. And the question of the blip of my life against the backdrop of all eternity is not did I manage my life well, did I keep it all under control. The question of my life is did I surrender it well? Did I live in a continual posture of listening and obedience to the eternal Voice that is ever speaking? The Voice that has spoken in the past, is speaking in the present, and will go on speaking and carving and shaping and controlling and managing life long after I am gone.
Are you listening? Are you posturing your life in such a way that you can listen? Have you carved out canyons and spaces in your life to hear? Chunks of time on a daily and weekly basis when you cease from the fray and continual activity that leaves us weary, shallow, harried, and distracted, and stop instead on the vast brink of the canyon of the Mighty Hand and Kingdom of God and listen.
If we do not, we will end up as Tozer has said: shallow people living shallow lives. Capable of toppling at the first sign of sorrow because we have not carved out grand space for roots to form beneath. You don’t have to go to the Grand Canyon to stand on the edge of greatness, to posture yourself on the brink of vastness, to allow your soul to breathe and have a few uninterrupted moments of majesty. You can do it within the confines of your own home while sitting on the edges of your couch and the Word of God, allowing His Living Word to speak and apply His Written Word to your heart.
Don’t miss the grandness of the canyon on a day in and day out basis for the shallowness and rush of meetings, agendas, entertainment, and the fear of missing out. Respond to the Living Voice of God. Posture yourself in obedience. And let Him carve your life as He will. He has done a grand job for centuries in the canyons of Arizona. And if you can trust Him there, you can trust Him here. Today. In the canyon of your heart. Because more than He waits to paint the pastels of Panorama Point, He waits to paint is yours. Are you listening?
My husband sent me a link to a short video this week called “Sweet Lorraine.” I don’t want to ruin the story line for you, so take a minute to watch, and then get back to me. Here is the link:
If you needed a kleenex (or two), you were not alone. Like Fred, I am not much of a singer or melody maker, especially when it comes to the tune of life. Lately, it seems, I’ve been more prone to squawking my way through my days instead of singing sweetly. I’ve been grumpy lately, disgruntled, short with my girls, and a bit down on life. Days have seemed long and dreary rather than airy and light. Which is unusual for me this time of year when everything is “springing” up around me. So that’s what got me about Fred’s story. It wasn’t so much his song or the melody he created, it was the studio and musicians who came in and brought his lyrics to life.
I know someone like that. He listens to my lyrics and the melody I am trying desperately (if altogether unsuccessfully) to sing, and takes it out of my imperfect hands and gives it…life. He takes my squawking and makes it singing.
The first person like that is my husband. More often than not, he takes the time to see beyond my outer, imperfect melody, and dubs over my mistakes with steadfast love. And lots of patience.
And in doing so, he has pointed me towards Someone who is perfect. No matter how imperfect my melody and my efforts here, He promises to one day make all things new. Give beauty for ashes. And add His professionalism, His perfectionism, to my imperfect praise.
I spend so much of my life worrying about not finishing well. Closing out the journey of life with a “Not so well done, half-hearted and unfaithful servant.” But what if the heart of Jesus is much more like Green Shoe Studio than my own faithfulness heart? What if King Jesus’ heart is to hear the longing behind my lyrics and to make it sweet? To dub the perfection of His voice over my imperfect one?
Thank you, Jason, for pointing me to the faithfulness of Jesus. Hopefully, one day, you can write a song about me called “Sweet Susannah,” although at the rate I am going, “Farewell, Susannah, I
Survived” may be more appropriate!
But thank you, most of all, King Jesus, for loving me despite myself. For taking my sour and making it sweet. For promising to look past the imperfections of my heart and dub it over with the faithfulness of Yours. I look so forward to the day when I can see You with my own eyes, hear Your Voice with my own ears, and listen to the melody You have created with my life.