Dear Sister: The Most Important Thing I Could Tell You About Marriage

whatiwanttotellmysister Dear Sister, 

In a month's time, you will be a wife. Less than thirty days from now, you'll put on a white dress and say yes to a forever that you've only ever dreamed about until now. And I'm sure you know by now that there are a lot of opinions out there about submission and egalitarian versus complementarianism and who should be making more money and how to have 72 orgasms in one night. But those aren't the things that I want to share with you.

When your brother and I were engaged, we took inventories that served as spring boards for conversation in premarital counseling. In the moment, I thought I had my head on straight about this whole marriage thing. Naturally, I was ecstatically joyful, but I was also reverent of the holiness of the union I was about to enter into. On the outside, I appeared cool, calm, and collected. The results of the inventory, however, told a different story.

I saw marriage as the be-all and end-all. Once I walked down that aisle and said I do, I would finally, at long last, be content. Of course, I never would have admitted that three years ago. Perhaps I didn't even realize at the time that I saw marriage as a savior. 

Maybe that's the reason so many marriages are crumbling. We expect our spouse to provide the kind of completion and contentment that only Christ can, and when we finally realize that the person we married is, in fact, fallen, they become the enemy. We wonder if we made the wrong decision and begin to look for a way out.

My husband, your brother, cannot save me. I love him more than life itself, but he cannot do the work of saving my soul. And though he complements me better than anyone else, he cannot complete me. Your husband will not be able to do those things for you, either. The same goes for our completing and saving them. The truth is, marriage reveals weaknesses we never knew we had.

Because we are fallen and our flesh is weak, we are quick to become all of the things love isn't. In our haste, we speak harsh words, demand our own way, and tally up all the little things that annoy us. This is our default. And the world will tell you that love is made up of magical feelings and grand gestures, but it isn't. Rather, love is a decision that you have to make to keep choosing each other, minute by minute, regardless of what happened yesterday or what will happen today. And in the midst of those minute by minute decisions, sometimes there is magic. There will be times of laughing so hard you cry (and also crying so hard that you laugh). There will be times where everything feels right, just like John Hughes said it would.

The other side of the coin is that some days, you'll feel like its just all going to hell. Some days, the very last thing you'll want to choose is your husband, and you'll feel like the very last choice he wants to make. A dear friend of mine experienced this very thing in the most tragic of ways this year, and it really could have all fallen apart. Where the world would see a crossroads and an easy way out, she looked ahead and saw a straight and narrow path, sure as the sun marks the day. A couple months ago, she shared something that absolutely rocked my world: though she was heartbroken, she did not look at her husband and see her enemy.

Remember this: we have a very real enemy. His name is Satan, and his mission is to steal and kill and destroy everything good. This includes our relationships. And he'll use anything he can to bring about anguish. This is why we have to always be on our guard. The good news is that we have tools to combat his attacks. Also remember that when you feel like your marriage is coming under attack (which it will, if it is God-honoring) that our very real enemy has already been defeated by our very real savior. 

That is what I want you to know about marriage. Sure, there is a slew of other advice I could offer -- advice about setting goals and always eating dinner together and the importance of serving one another, but so much more than that, I want to tell you: we serve a God who is faithful. He is Love. Perfect love.

And He is all you need.

Here's to missing turns, and a lifetime of unflashy love.

Dear Craig, When we started on this journey so many years ago, I didn't have the slightest idea that you would be the one who asked for my forever.

And now, here we are -- two years into marriage, and every second still feels like magic. Every second was worth the wait and the fight it took to get here. 

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You did not propose on Valentine's Day.

No -- instead, you made me wait nine excruciating days after, and all the while, I felt like I was about to burst.

See, the February you proposed, I was smack in the middle of taking a class on counseling and marriage. We read a book about how a woman's primary ministry should be to her husband, and yeah, it was conservative to say the least, and maybe the author had taken scripture out of context on more than one occasion. But as I was writing my paper on what it meant to be that kind of wife, the only thoughts I could muster were of how I didn't just want to be a godly wife, I wanted to be your godly wife.

I still remember your boyish grin when we accidentally missed our turn, and how in the entire time I had known you, you had never missed a turn. And I remember how just enough of the day didn't go according to plan for everything to be absolutely perfect.

There was no flash mob to some Hall and Oats song, no trail marked by rose petals. You didn't even prepare a speech.

It was just you and me, and a few curious onlookers who had been walking through the park.

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And on our wedding day, instead of talking about all the things love is or isn't, we chose to talk about what love does.

Love drives out fear.

Lord knows, I am fearful. But I am also learning what it means to bloom.

And I know over the next ninety-nine years, there will be a lot of missed turns. There will be mountains, but there will also be valleys. There will be sickness and health, plenty and want. There will be days when we just don't feel like it. There will be days when we fight with each other, but there will be a lifetime of fighting for each other. 

Our first act as husband and wife was to take communion together.

For I had received from the Lord that which I have also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NASB)

Even in this, these final moments before the cross, Christ gave thanks. And there is no cross we could bear that He did not carry first on our behalf.

There is nothing flashy about this kind of love, the kind that bears burdens and makes the hard choice: the choice to serve and die a thousand deaths to self. But oh, the joy. Because at the end of the day -- at the end of every day -- there is no one else in the world that I would rather have beside me on this adventure.

On Becoming Rooted and Established {A letter to my Husband on Valentine's}

Night before last, with your head on my chest, you told me you love the sound of my breathing. After three snow days worth of sleeping in, I felt fully prepared to write, especially when the post went live at 10:30 instead of midnight. But you, always the dedicated worker, always waking up before the sun, convinced me to come to bed. And when your sleepy head found my chest, I knew I was done for. There are no words for the way your breath mingled with mine, how your chest rose and fell, the feel of your skin. I could only whisper thank you, I love you, thank you. 

Love is always about creating space for the heart and soul to breathe.

One of my favorite lines of poetry says "beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you hold me so well." Like the earth holds a seed, warm in the soil, and we have only begun to peek through.

The song we danced to at our wedding was about a garden, how it starts little by little.

We started the same way, remember? First as friends, without the faintest idea that we would someday wind up here. We stood by each other through the hard times, the quakes of life that seemed to very nearly do us in. And love grew. When we began to catch glimpses of who we would become, we prayed hard.

We promised before God and our family and friends that this journey would last until death do us part.

Through rich and poor, sick and healthy, every up and down. When my heart becomes overwhelmed, I always look to you.

Perfect love casts out all fear, and we are being made perfect day by day. Little by little. Less of us and more of Him.

We chose that passage from 1 John for the homily of the wedding ceremony. And oh, how my knees knocked as I could barely whisper the vows through the lump in my throat. I told myself I wouldn't cry, but even before I walked down the aisle, I was a mess.

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You took me anyway, in spite of my fear. And oh, how fear can grip me at times. But never for a single second have you looked at me as less. Instead, you've taken my hand and reminded me over and over again to breathe. 

You always remind me that this life is the greatest of adventures. And there is no one I would rather put down roots with.

I love you, forever and ever. What a blessing it is to tend and expand the kingdom-garden with you.

Five Minute Friday is for lovers, ya'll. This week, Lisa-Jo shared about how to get more passion in your life, and, well, who doesn't need a little more passion? 

Conversations with the author. {Coming to Jesus, marriage surprises, favorite posts and more!}

You mentioned having grown up in North Carolina - so did I!  Where exactly did you grow up, and what's a favorite NC childhood memory? 

I grew up in Franklin, North Carolina, which is just over an hour west of Asheville. Its a beautiful little town, and I really can’t imagine growing up anywhere else. My favorite part would have to be Fall every year. Living in the mountains, Fall is absolutely breathtaking. People come from all over to see the leaves and waterfalls. Also, going to high school football games with my dad (who also graduated from FHS and played football when he was there) was a blast. We had more school spirit than anybody out there. :)

How did you meet Jesus?  When do you remember Him becoming real to you in a way that began to transform your life? 

I met Jesus at five years old, kneeling up against our couch with my mom and a family friend. The memory is faint, but I know that it was a really sweet moment. So I grew up in church, with the knowledge that I should be different because I was a believer. I was doing and saying all the right things, but I didn’t necessarily feel like I had that deep connection with the Lord. It wasn’t until college that I really began to look at the person of Christ and the scriptures in an intentional, relational  way. I knew that I needed to really surrender my life to the Lord, and college became a sort of rededication process.

On your About page, you call yourself a "car singer," which I absolutely love.  What songs might I catch you singing if I were a fly on your car window? 

I really love singing, actually -- growing up, I did solos in church on a fairly regular basis. Lately, you might hear me belting some Meredith Andrews, Audrey Assad, Sara Bareilles, Adele, and even some Taylor Swift. I don't listen to a lot of top 40’s songs, but Craig works at a radio station that plays adult contemporary music, so I do hear a few current pop songs now and then that I can sing along to.

When/why did writing first become important to you?  How has blogging impacted your relationship with Jesus? 

I have written for as long as I remember -- words have always been my way of processing, and of course, my faith played a role in that. But I think writing really started to impact my relationship with Christ when I began watching interviews with Ann Voskamp. When I heard her describe art as coming to the altar, and how she uses her blog to preach the gospel to herself, it totally changed my approach to writing. I have also learned how to incorporate scripture in my writing, which the Lord has really used to mold me in the past year.

You chose "rest" as your One Word for this year.  What facets of that word has the Lord been emphasizing to you or drawing you more deeply into so far this year? 

Part of the reason I chose the word “rest” was purely practical. Last year was the busiest year of my life, and so I wanted to be really intentional about self-care and recuperating this year. But more than that, I want to be intentional about resting before the Lord. My default response to life’s ups and downs is anxiety. In 2014, I really want to learn what it means to cease striving and live open handedly before God. Recently, I’ve been pretty overwhelmed at work, and so God has been using that to teach me. I’m really seeing how much intention it takes to rest.

If you could ask Jesus for anything having to do with your relationship with Him, and you KNEW He'd give it to you, what would it be? 

This is such an interesting question. I don’t know that I would necessarily ask for anything specific to change in terms of my circumstances. I really believe that I am here for this particular time in order to become more like Him and bring glory to His name, and the Lord uses all kinds of circumstances to accomplish His will. What I want more and more is increased passion for who He is and what He is doing. Also increased sensitivity to His voice.

How long have you been married?  What has surprised you about marriage thus far? 

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Craig and I got married on June 22, 2013. For the first time ever, here are his words on my blog: “I would say the most surprising part about marriage was how hard it was for us to move in together as a married couple. We both had all of our stuff, and while we have plenty of room for it, getting it organized is an ongoing pursuit.”

What are a couple of key things you've learned about yourself in the last year or so? 

I have grown up SO much in the past year. My life looks so entirely different now than it did a year ago. In the past year, I’ve gained such a renewed reverence for life. I’m also a lot more self-aware now than I was a year ago, but if I had to narrow it down to two things I’ve learned, the first would have be that confidence for me really comes with experience. I am not naturally one to just jump into something totally assured, so I’ve had to really learn how to be patient with myself as I process things. Secondly, I’ve learned that it is not just okay, but needed, to have something just for me to take pride in. That’s a big reason behind my investment in this blog, especially recently.

Where do you and your husband see yourselves in 10 years or so, in terms of life vision, goals, etc.? 

Practically speaking, we would like to have both of our student loans paid off. We also want to start a family, whatever that looks like; and we are looking to decide in the future about getting masters degrees. Also, we still plan to have crushes on each other in ten years. :)

What's your favorite {or one of your favorites} post you've written?  Could you share a link and tell us a little about why you love it? 

At Christmastime, I wrote about the song “Oh, Holy Night” in a post called “If You Don’t Recognize Holy Tonight.” Reading that post still brings me to tears, because it truly is the heart of the gospel. Those words are so extraordinary, but not because of any effort I put in. Words have been pouring out from a place that is not of me. I’ve started to view my blog as a place where God speaks to me, perhaps even more so than I am speaking to you. His presence was so tangible to me as I wrote that particular piece.

Teaming up with my dear sister, Dana.You guys seriously do not want to miss the beauty happening over at her blog. Thanks to her for such fun and interesting questions this week. If you want to check out my interview with her, be sure to visit her space on the web. Do you have a question or want to share a story? Here's how to get in touch. {Linking up with #AskAwayFriday this week.}

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When the world threatens to fall apart.

It occurs to me that I have barely stopped to breathe in the past ten months. And now that I've paused to write, my whole essence heaves a sigh. They say that transitions, even happy ones, cause turmoil in our systems. We have to grieve when we move from one chapter to the next. Turning the pages can be traumatic. Because sometimes, you're catapulted like a rag doll. Other times, you have to place your hand on the doorknob of change and walk through, one baby step at a time. And I don't know which one is more frightening. Its no big secret that life moves so much faster than we want it to.

My last semester of college, I juggled twenty-one hours worth of college classes that included an internship. In February, I got engaged. In April, I got hit with a fourteen hundred dollar bill on my student account and was afraid to tell my dad about it. I graduated in May and got married in June. At one point during the months since, I worked myself into a ridiculous state thinking I was pregnant, despite routinely taking my birth control pills. Because Craig works full time, I spent my days alone for the most part, in search of my own employment, and in late September, I finally heard back from one of my prospects. I got my first driver's license at nearly twenty-three years old. And I now work as a case manager for the Division of Family and Children's Services.

It has most certainly been a year of transitions. And looking back, I have been scared to death throughout the overwhelming majority of it.

There was a day at the tail end of summer that I told my friend Mat that I spent my days paralyzed by anxiety. I don't think I had ever been so matter of fact about it as I was that day. We were in the middle of the woods, hiking down towards the river, and I could barely look up the entire time for fear I would step on a snake.

I'm not proud of my anxiety. It is the most gruesome limitation.

I can only describe it this way: no matter how many storms you've weathered, anxiety is constantly telling you that the next one will be different; the next storm will be the one to steal away your soul. No matter how many times that person has been sympathetic to your needs, loved you through successes and failures, the next one will be the one to strip away that faithfulness.The world, your world, is constantly threatening to fall apart.

Fear shrinks the heart.

Emily Freeman talks about how we tend to glorify people who appear to have it all together, and I think she's right. I have spent the past ten months bracing myself at every turn, gripping my life and trying like hell to keep things together.

The past ten months have taught me that I don't have to keep it together in my own strength.  They have reinforced the heart-knowledge that I do not have to strive.

Colossians says He is before all things, and in Him, all things hold together. Romans says He is working all things together for my good. Psalms says He watches and protects me tirelessly, that He is my keeper. It assures me that when I am faithful to follow where He leads, that He will enlarge my heart.

Even when it seems like the world is threatening to fall apart. I am held together. 

Bob Goff says our actions should betray our uncertainty. And sometimes the most difficult action is simply choosing to fill our lungs with oxygen again.

A Marriage Prayer

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Lord, thank you.

Thank you for the past two months, the past four years. Time spent putting down roots -- laughing, crying, dancing, cherishing roots.

My heart is full.

But Lord, as we continue to grow, I know there will be times of emptiness. You promised that there would be trouble as long as we are in this world, on this side of glory. Help us to remember that You have not given us a spirit of fear, and that two are always better than one. Help us to remember that everything that happens here is for the purpose of making us more like Jesus.

Help us to remember that love, most often, has nothing to do with how we feel, and everything to do with our commitment, our will, the strength You have given us. We love because You first loved us. You have shown us the perfect way.

Father, we want Your Word to be at the center of this marriage. Forgive us for the times when we lean on our own understanding, and help us to forgive each other in the midst of the frustration that ensues. Remind us of Your character -- slow to anger, rich in grace and mercy.

I pray for our purity, because I know it will be challenged. I pray for our eyes, for our minds, and for our hearts, that when we are tempted to wander, we would remember the promise we made to each other in Your presence. I pray that we would honor and respect the men and women we interact with, and that we would be intentional about creating healthy boundaries in our places of work, recreation, and worship. And Lord, I pray that our intimacy would continue to grow.

Lord, You have charged me as a wife to respect my husband. Help me to consistently search for ways to encourage and build up my husband. Give me the grace to find joy in serving him. Help me to not be discouraged by laundry and dishes and things that often seem mundane. Forgive me when I take the small things for granted, and remind me that this life, this marriage, is truly a ministry that can be used to magnify Your goodness.

You have given the husband the charge of loving his wife. God, we both know that this is not always an easy task. I am anxious and forgetful and headstrong, but love covers a multitude of faults. Love not only bandages the wound, but heals it. Lord, I pray that You would strengthen Craig in Your love, and that his love for me would be an overflow of that. I pray that he would find the grace and safety in me that is required for him to be vulnerable.

I pray that we would be patient and kind. Help us not to be jealous or boastful or self-seeking. Help us not to dredge up past grievances. Give us the grace to always be truthful. Lord, let our love be a place of protection, trust, hope, and perseverance. Only in Your strength.

Above all, continue to remind us that our marriage gives only a glimpse of how the Bridegroom loves and yearns for his Bride.

Thank You for my husband, for his smile and strength and wit and constant willingness to serve and search for the best.

Help us to keep seeking Your face and expanding Your kingdom-garden.