Mere mortals

When we got home after church and date night tonight, Brian and I had an awkward conversation.

There was something I really needed to tell him and I wasn’t sure when to do it. Realizing there would never be a perfect opportunity to have this conversation, I walked down the hall and blurted it out.

“B, I’m an organ donor. And when I say organ donor, I mean organs, tissue, eyes– anything that can be used. This is just a body and when I’m done with it, someone else should use it.”

My husband locked eyes with me. The corners of his mouth curled up and his face spread into a smile. He walked up and wrapped his arms around me. “I love you,” he said.

I don’t think I needed to tell Brian that for him to know it. I think that if I was in a terrible accident and wasn’t going to make it, that Brian would know how I felt. I just wanted to say it to make sure. I wanted to make sure that in that moment with stress and anxiety and emotions and heartache, that my wishes were clear. This is just a body. I’m not going to need it where I’m going.

I don’t want to die before Brian. I’m crazy in love with this man. I don’t want his heart to hurt like that. And I don’t want him to go before me, either. I don’t want to live a day without him. He’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me beside God making me his own. In the dream-world in my head, we’ll die at the same time wrapped in each others’ arms like in ‘The Notebook’ so we’ll never have to live a day apart. I realize there’s nothing realistic about that at all… hence the blurting in the hallway.

In pre-marital counseling through Austin Stone, we read John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage. I had a hard time with concepts like not being married to Brian for eternity and the marriage as a picture of Christ and the church. But Piper explains things well, and eventually, I understood. 

“So it is with marriage. It is a momentary gift. It may last a lifetime, or it may be snatched away on the honeymoon. Either way, it is short. It may have many bright days, or it may be covered with clouds. If we make secondary things primary, we will be embittered at the sorrows we must face. But if we set our face to make of marriage mainly what God designed it to be, no sorrows and no calamities can stand in our way. Every one of them will be, not an obstacle to success, but a way to succeed. The beauty of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church shines brightest when nothing but Christ can sustain it.

Very soon the shadow will give way to Reality. The partial will pass into the Perfect. The foretaste will lead to the Banquet. The troubled path will end in Paradise. A hundred candle-lit evenings will come to their consummation in the marriage supper of the Lamb. And this momentary marriage will be swallowed up by Life. Christ will be all and in all. And the purpose of marriage will be complete.

To that end may God give us eyes to see what matters most in this life. May the Holy Spirit, whom he sends, make his crucified and risen Son the supreme Treasure of our lives. And may the Treasure so satisfy our souls that the root of every marriage-destroying impulse is severed. And may the marriage-watching world be captivated by the covenant-keeping love of Christ.”

We won’t live forever. And more than likely, one of us will have to live on this earth for some time without the other. And if I spend all my time clinging to Brian, when he’s gone, I’m left with nothing. But if our marriage is focused on Christ, then would I lose the love of my life, but not my reason for living.

 

A huge shift

This is the fourth part of our series about our experience in pre-marital counseling. We’ve learned that you need to plan for the marriage at least as much as you plan for the wedding, and in this series we will explore what that means.

Series: Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

One of the greatest “take-aways” from pre-marital counseling was the day we talked about our parents. We talked about the types of conversations we currently have with them and how much of our lives we share. Then, we discussed what may change in those relationships when we are married.

I am freakishly close to my mother. I share a lot with her and I always have. In recent years, she went from being my mother to one of my closest friends.

I love to call my mom in the mornings, on my way to work. She’s on her way, too. We’ll chat as we sit in traffic. I love to “treasure hunt” with my mother at garage sales and thrift stores. I love to stand around the kitchen island when I’m home and tell stories. My mom is an amazing woman. She is always there for me, and I am who I am today because of her love.

Prior to marriage, I would also run to my mother. I would run to her when someone hurt me, when something bad happened, or when I was ill. She has always taken great care of me and would be the first person who popped into my head in times of strife.

But I was getting married.

Brian and I had to commit to solving problems ourselves. I couldn’t run to my mother because he hurt my feelings or when I was mad at him. And when things were tough, I had to commit to go to Brian with my fears, troubles, and struggles.

Now, don’t get me wrong– I still talk to my mom all the time and probably still tell her way too much. I will always seek her advice in certain things and will always want to share what is going on in my life. But, when Brian and I fight, as much as I want to call my mom and tell her all about it and ask her to fix it, I can’t. I made a commitment to Brian and to God, and I have to go to them. When Brian and I need to make a big decision for our life together– I need to go to Brian and not to my mother. When I am sick and need someone to go to the hospital with me, I need to ask Brian first. This was a HUGE shift for me, in thought and in action.

There are two important aspects I have to keep in mind when deciding what to tell and what to keep to myself (probably to be told after the issues are resolved):

  1. No one knows the truth of what is happening in a relationship other than the two people in it. As much as you want to explain it to a friend or loved one, they will never have the full picture. So, even if I tried to tell my mom what Brian and I were dealing with, she still wouldn’t have a complete picture.
  2. My mother will always take my side. She should. I’m hers and she’s hard-wired to protect and love me. This is not fair to my husband, who will undoubtedly assure you that though I would like to think so, I am not always right about everything. If I talk to my mom about something, chances are, she’s going to side with me and because of both of these reasons (the incomplete picture and the loyal hard-wiring), I may not be right.

Brian and I are a team now. I need to work things out with my husband. I need to turn to my husband. I need to trust my husband.

My relationship with my mother has not suffered at all because of this lesson. We may talk a little less, but I get to understand her on a new level now– the married one. I will still seek her wisdom and I still need her love. And when the balance is in place– my relationship with my husband and my relationship with my mother– then both are strengthened and both can flourish.

A wonderful picture of marriage

This is the third part of our series about our experience in pre-marital counseling. We’ve learned that you need to plan for the marriage at least as much as you plan for the wedding, and in this series we will explore what that means. 

Series: Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

During our pre-martial counseling Lindsey and I were assigned to read portions of John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage. This was an unbelievably helpful assignment that helped prepare us for marriage and its true purpose. As we read through those chapters we had an ongoing conversation about the truth of his observations and writing. It impacted us deeply and still does.

Every married or engaged person needs to read this book. It explores the depth and meaning of marriage, the purpose God set forth for marriage, and an approach to a gospel-centered marriage. I can honestly say that we cannot possibly recommend it enough.

The video below was released today by Piper’s ministry, and it is a great encapsulation of what we saw in that book. It’s only a few minutes, but it is challenging and full of truth. It shows a sweet couple in a tough position who draw their strength from the purpose of marriage and the Creator of it. I encourage you to take the time to watch it, and to buy and read the book.

A little bit of a surprise

This is the third part of our series about our experience in pre-marital counseling. We’ve learned that you need to plan for the marriage at least as much as you plan for the wedding, and in this series we will explore what that means. 

Series: Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2

Lindsey and I sat down on the Saturday before our first pre-marital counseling session and got ready for the Bible study that we were supposed to do. We were happy and a little carefree. We were excited to get started and wanted to learn how to be happy, and keep each other happy. So we settled in and looked up the first verses that was assigned.

The king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite; and he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the mountain before the Lord, and the seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest.

2 Samuel 21:8-9

Um, what now? Did they really just start off our pre-marital counseling with a story of a mass hanging? Lindsey asked me if we had the right verse. I checked it. Yep, they did.

So we read on and it started to make more sense. In fact it made so much sense it was one of the most valuable things we studied in all of our pre-martial counseling.

Before I share the lesson, let me catch you up. Let’s cover 400 years of Israelite history in one paragraph.

When Joshua was leading the conquest of Canaan, they were wrecking shop, literally. All the locals were scared and with good reason, God had declared the Holy Land would be the Israelites and they were taking care of business. So, one tribe, the Gibeonites, got tricksy. They dressed up like a poor and weak migrant tribe and tricked Joshua into agreeing to a peace, therefore ignoring God’s instruction. Joshua did not consult the Lord as he was instructed (that’s bad), and made the covenant under false pretenses (also bad), and with God as the witness to it.

[Ok, I can't do it-- two paragraphs.]

Some 400 years later, Saul (king before David, the one in this passage) broke the covenant that had been made. He killed most of the Gibeonite men. Of course this made their women mad. When David had been told by the Lord that Israel was guilty of a crime against them, he asked the remaining Gibeonites how to settle it. They demanded blood. David agreed, and handed over Saul’s sons to be hanged, except for one that he had sworn to protect. After this, God lifted the famine in Israel that David had been praying about in the first place (2 Sam. 21:14).

Ok, now that we are on the same page, what does this have to do with marriage? Well, it really is a great cautionary tale.

Joshua made a big mistake when he made the covenant with the Gibeonites. He did not go before the Lord and ask Him what to do. Keep in mind, this is the guy who God is literally speaking to, a guy who was leading one little nation through some crazy battles and winning. You’d think he’d have learned the lesson, always check what God wants. But (very much like me… and you) he didn’t.  So he foolishly makes this covenant, and asks God to bless and witness it. Even though it was made in bad faith, the parties agreed and asked Him to oversee. And God, unlike us, never goes back on His word.

So, when the Israelites broke the pact 400 years later, God upheld his part. He brought a famine to the land and did not relent until David served up justice for the aggrieved party. They asked Him to oversee it, and he did. Like everything else in life, the tragedy in this story is rooted in the human mistakes, not from God’s will.

Well, if you have not made the connection yet, here is what this study was supposed to show us: Lindsey and I were about to stand up in front of our family and friends to make a solemn vow, a covenant, and ask God to bless and uphold it. This story is a word of warning. It is a serious thing to ask of God, and we had better approach it as such.

We were to look ahead and make sure we consulted with God, that we read His word and prayed over the decision with earnestness– thus avoiding Joshua’s mistake. It showed us the pain that can come from entering into a covenant like this under false pretenses– the Gibeonites mistake. It was also a warning to abide by the covenant we made– thus avoiding Saul’s mistake.

So, as bleak as this may have been for the start of the counseling process, it sure put us in the right frame of mind. It set our hearts and minds on what was important. It’s not about the wedding, or the caterer, or the music, or the weather. It’s about the decision to make this covenant in front of God and our church and families.

Ultimately, it’s about the gravity of marriage, and the seriousness with which it is to be entered into and lived in.

Confession and Grace

This is the second part of our series about our experience in pre-marital counseling. We’ve learned that you need to plan for the marriage at least as much as you plan for the wedding, and in this series we will explore what that means. 

Series: Introduction | Part 1

In software and computer engineering there is an important concept called resiliency. This means that a system has the ability to tolerate faults, or errors, and continue running successfully.  I think this is also a great goal for our marriages. We should plan, design, and build marriages to be able to withstand our faults and errors. Because those faults and errors will certainly come, our imperfect nature ensures it.

One of the biggest, but simplest, lessons we learned in the course of our counseling is that sin is at the heart of all conflicts we will have as a couple. We must adjust our thinking and relationship to accommodate this fact, or our marriage will be quite brittle. There are two things which directly lead to this kind of fault tolerance… confession and grace.

Confession is the start of building this sort of relationship. It is vital that we are open and honest with our spouses about everything, not only the everyday stuff but also about our shortcomings and failures. It won’t surprise them, I promise you. They already know you aren’t perfect.

This has played out for Lindsey and me in two keys ways. First, we both maintain a healthy prayer life in which we confess our sins to God. We pray both alone and together daily, and confession is a key part of that for both of us. Second, when there is conflict between us or one of us has sinned in a significant way, we confess it to each other and ask for forgiveness. While this was hard at first and will continue to be in many situations, we have also seen a lot of growth in our trust of each other as a result.

It is that growth that brings me to the next point. In this context, grace is the necessary response to confession. We are to show grace to others just as God has shown grace to us. When the response of the aggrieved spouse is rooted in grace we are truly ministering to each other in a way that points to the grace that Christ provides for those very same sins. For couples who take Ephesians 5 seriously, this is important stuff.

As you can see confession and grace in a marriage cooperate together to provide a firm and flexible foundation. It’s like the earthquake-proof buildings that have springs built into their foundations, when the earth beneath starts moving those springs provide critical flexibility to keep the building from collapsing. A marriage full of confession and grace has that same flexibility, and is more equipped to handle shocks and struggles.

 

I don’t have to love my husband?

This post is the first of a series about our experience in pre-marital counseling. We’ve learned that you need to plan for the marriage at least as much as you plan for the wedding, and in this series we will explore what that means. You can read the introduction here.

The Bible never tells me to love my husband.

This was shocking the first time I discovered it in my counseling homework. I’m not commanded to LOVE him– how does that make sense? He’s commanded to love me.

Well, what am I commanded to do? Respect him. Respect him? That’s dumb. I do that all the time… Wait. Don’t I?

The Bible doesn’t command me to love my husband, because I already do that naturally. In the same way, Brian is never commanded to respect me, as he already does that naturally. These are the languages through which we instinctively speak to one another. We’re made that way. Thus, we are commanded to do that thing that isn’t the most natural for us, but speaks more effectively to the other.

Turns out, I didn’t respect Brian all the time. I thought respect and love went hand-in-hand and that I must already be doing that. I was wrong.

I read several chapters about how men speak a language of respect to each other. It begins when they’re very young. And there are ways that women speak to men that men would NEVER try with each other– it would break that respect. I also learned that women who work with children all the time are a tad more prone to this disrespect.

For example, I tell children what to do all day long. It’s my job. Raise your hand. Stop running. Turn in your homework. Do this. Don’t do that. I would hang out with Brian and keep spouting orders. I didn’t think anything of it and I definitely didn’t mean to be ordering my fiance (at the time) around.

During the counseling, Brian and I were able to talk about this and he brought it to light for me. I am not the boss of him– if I want him to do something, I need to ask him, respecting that he has a life and a job and things to do as well. When I leave a TO DO post-it note, I’m ordering. When I take the time to say, “Hey babe. If you have a chance today, could you please take care of this for me? I’d really appreciate it…” I’m asking. And as you’ve read, my man loves to take care of me– so, of course he’ll respond to the latter.

There are lots of ways to demonstrate respect to my husband: supporting him as the leader in our marriage, submitting when needed, treating him as my partner and not as a child, encouraging him in his ventures (like the boat trip), taking an active interest in his activities, understanding the importance of our sexual relationship. But simply asking for assistance when needed as opposed to ordering it has made the biggest impact so far. Stuff gets done. And it gets done without nagging, strife, or conflict (for the most part).

I’m still struggling with it and I’ve messed up a bunch. Saturday’s post was all about my struggles with communication with Brian. I thought I was respecting, but in reality, I was just not communicating effectively at all. It’s a work in progress. I am still learning. But God was the one that told me to respect Brian, and He knows what that truly means. If I seek His meaning, and receive wise counsel from women that do it well– I’m pretty sure I’ll be headed in the right direction.

Pre-Marital Counseling Series: Introduction

Today we start a new series about pre-marital counseling. We found our counseling so helpful that we want to share what we learned. Over the next few weeks we will have a few posts on the topic of pre-marital counseling, our experience with it, and how it has impacted our marriage.

Why was it such a good idea? As I told someone recently, we’ve learned that you need to plan for the marriage at least as much as you plan for the wedding. Getting married and being married are two completely different things.

We are committed partners of the Austin Stone Community Church so it was important for us to be married by our church and follow their recommendations and process.  It was one of the best decisions we’ve made. We would encourage anyone who is getting married to go through counseling, and we would recommend that you start with your home church if you have one.

We were very happy with the program at the Stone. It was pretty intensive, in fact more intensive than any other similar program I have heard of. We met with a mentor couple who facilitated the sessions, we had a good bit of reading each week and several sermons to listen to. I was skeptical going in, but honestly it was the best thing we did before marriage.

In this series we will not go through each week of material or try to re-teach any of it. Instead we want to give you a sense of what we learned that was really valuable. We just want to share the experience with you because it was so meaningful. We hope you get something out of it as well.