My story

I’m surrounded by stories.

Brian and I, as part of the Story Team, spent much of the Verge conference this past weekend at the Story Team van as we collected the stories of what God is doing all over the world. The best part was sitting in the van, just listening. Story after story, God was faithful and got all the glory.

Then on Sunday, we met up with a lady who would like to be on Story Team. We told her all about the team, how everything works, and what our experiences have been like. More stories.

And for the past month, my kiddos have been writing stories and making books for a contest. The big reveal is at an event in a half hour (thank the Lord!). It’s been all about stories in class for weeks. We brainstormed, we planned, we drafted. Then we revised and edited and published. We illustrated and them bound these books– and in all this I say “we” because I have literally been involved the entire way with all 43 student books. Last night, I stayed up until LATE to get them all graded. So. Many. Stories.

And then there’s this blog– our daily recounting of the story of year one for me and Brian. It’s so close to the end of this part of the blog, but of course, nowhere near the end of our story.

I’m surrounded by stories, I talk about stories, I teach stories, I help with stories, I tell stories… and I’m living a story.

One of my favorite authors says this about story:

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”
Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
 
I am blessed to help my students create stories, and to live even better ones. I am blessed to hear and write and edit stories of God’s grace and faithfulness. I am blessed to be living a good story. I am blessed to share my story here.
 
It’s not normal– this life of mine. But, according to Miller, it just means I found some meaning in life. And I have.
 
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.
–from “Blessed Assurance”
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Loud, ugly, and stupid

Last night, I posted from our date night. I entitled the post “Sweet sweet evening”. And it was, for most of the evening. Then, we got home.

I’m pretty sure the neighbors heard us yelling. It was loud. It was ugly. It was stupid.

We were tired, and an argument broke out. But in the midst of trying to be heard, our motivations both changed, mutating into something neither of us desire for our relationship. So, we yelled. We were mean. We wanted to be right. We forgot our love, our vows, and our God, and both selfishly went down a road that leads to nothing.

There were apologies before bed. There were more this morning. And then, on the way to church, I asked, “Do I need to edit last night’s post?” We both groaned.

Our family reads the blog. Coworkers read it. Our friends read it. Strangers read it. We set out to be honest here– delivering an honest daily account of year one. But no one wants to read that a date night ended in an epic fight. I hate to write it. But that’s what happened.

I wish the clear headed version of myself from today could step into last night and slap the angry, selfish person I was then. I vowed to Brian that I would put his needs ahead of my own. I vowed to love him selflessly. But I didn’t remember any of that last night. All I knew was that I was hurt and I wanted my hurt to be known.

The biggest enemy to my marriage is in me– my own selfishness and pride. If I seek my own desires and put myself first, I will destroy this marriage.

I told my beloved this morning, as I held him in my arms, that I never wanted to yell at him again. I told him that I love him and I’m sorry for everything.

He forgave. I forgave.

We had a great day today. We even told our friends about the fight at church. We told another group at lunch. We both admitted fault and would squeeze the other’s hand as we spoke.

We promised to be honest, so here it is: Marriage is difficult. Sometimes, even on date night.

The danger of guilt

Guilt is dangerous. It is dangerous for the guilty, but it is even more dangerous for the forgiven.

Guilt is dangerous for the guilty because justice demands punishment. But when mercy and forbearance reign, and injustice is forgiven guilt is an unnecessary and dangerous burden. Where guilt is present there is no peace, there is no rest. Ultimately, there is no hope.

This evening a very small thing turned into a big thing because of my own feelings of guilt.

The example of Jesus calls me to be a servant to my wife1. I believe this, and take it very seriously, but like any person I am not perfect. I fail. I fail a lot, and I know it. Which is where the guilt comes in.

Lindsey loves to keep a clean house. She’s not obsessive about it, she’s not overbearing and she is nowhere close to a nag. She likes the house to be clean, and clearly shares what that entails. But, as documented elsewhere on this blog, I do not have the same natural desire. It’s not that I like or tolerate dirt, I just don’t have the same level of thoroughness and attention to detail  My level of tolerance for disorganization and clutter is higher than hers. That’s not a bad thing, in and of itself. We’re simply wired different.

But here’s the problem, the disorganization that I do not mind causes Lindsey stress. The last thing she needs is added stress. The best thing I can do to serve my wife is to help her out, to clean up and keep the clutter down. I do this, sometimes. But not enough. She does not tell me that often, like I said my wife is certainly not a nag. But I still know that I fail her.

So tonight when I was emptying the overly full recycling bin I made a selfish comment to her about how full it was, and how hard it is to take out like that. “Don’t fill it too full,” I said in a not-too-nice tone of voice. “It’s too hard to take it out, and it’s not like I care about recycling anyway.”

I said it as I passed her in the kitchen, and I immediately knew how hurtful it was. But when she replied back I just dug my heels in and we argued for the next five minutes.

After Lindsey went upstairs (justifiably) upset, I started to think about my comment. I realized where it came from. It was rooted in the guilt I felt for letting her down, for not doing all of the things around the house that I wanted and committed to do. I knew I had failed, and I think that subconsciously I wanted to knock her down a peg.

How sick is that? Instead of dealing with the guilt that I legitimately felt, I tried to drag my wife down with me. I tried to accuse her of doing something wrong to assuage my guilt. Here when I should be confessing my own failings to her I turn it around on her instead.

In this and other ways I do not live up to my own expectations for being a husband, and I fear that I do not live up to Lindsey’s. ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself,’ you might offer, ‘after all you’ve been at this for less than a year.’ That’s true, but that does not change the standard, it only rationalizes the failure. The standard of Jesus, the perfect man, as my standard for leadership is a tall order. In fact, it is an impossible one for any of us to achieve.

In response to this, one might comment that the weight of that standard is crushing, that no man can live up to it. I agree with that point of view, it is a crushing weight to bear.

That is, it is crushing if we have to bear it.

But we do not have to bear it. If we trust God’s promises to us through Jesus, we will be forgiven. The burden will be lifted. If only trusting that was easy all the time. But it is not. Instead of trusting ourselves we must then rely only on God to help us see our sin, and to change our hearts. He is the only source of real change.

After a few minutes of collecting my thoughts, I walked up the stairs and sat down on the bed next to Lindsey. I told her exactly what was going on, almost exactly what I just told you. Then I confessed and apologized. She forgave me, as deep down I knew she would. We had a serious conversation then spent some time in prayer about some things going on these days. It was a sweet time together.

It was a small argument, but it made something clear to me. I cannot let the guilt I feel from my inevitable failings to rule my mind and emotions. To do so is a demonstration of a failing faith in Jesus’s promises. He died to remove my guilt, and he defeated death to bring me life. The only path for me is rest in that truth and trust in his forgiveness. And Lindsey’s.


  1. There are a lot of misconceptions about the Christian view of marriage that I won’t get into here, but let me set this one straight: the role of the husband is to love and lead his wife, and Jesus shows us that this is done through selfless service. Anything else is a perversion of the gospel. 

Thanks

Facebook is full of 30 Days of Thanks posts. Same with Twitter. I think every blog I read had some sort of “I’m thank for…” list posted today. Writing about our blessings and the gratitude they generate is unavoidable on this day, but I hope to take this in a slightly different direction.

I’m thankful for the hard stuff in life. Honestly, I am. Marriage has been hard, and by all accounts it always will be. People don’t believe us when we say this, but we don’t fight. We don’t argue much either, and when we do it ends well. But that does not mean it’s been easy.

It’s been hard learning to be a faithful husband. The Bible tells us that men are to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” That’s a high bar. I think we can all agree, even our readers who don’t agree with us religiously, that loving someone enough to die for them, to literally give yourself up, is an incredibly lofty goal. It’s a goal I fail at on a daily basis. Every day I make decisions that put myself ahead of her. Every day I accept my passive instincts. I choose my comfort over her good. I do the opposite of what I should, I love myself more than I love her. Yet, I am thankful for those failures. Every single one of them.

I’m thankful because God gave me a wife who knows what it means to fail, a wife who has been forgiven herself, a wife who loves me. In her love, she forgives me for my failures. In that forgiveness I can see an image of the forgiveness I have been given for all of my mistakes.

We’ll be the first to admit, this is not always the easiest or automatic process. We get mad at each other, and sometimes the mercy takes a while to show, but in the end it is always there.

That is what I am thankful for this year, I am thankful for a wife who shows me the grace of God everyday. Because that is when I need it.

We’ve failed

The premise of this blog was to let people into our marriage, in a way. We wanted to share this first year with friends and family flung far and wide. We also hoped that others would find insight, encouragement or just entertainment with our stories and posts. We’ve certainly had some funny stories and good responses from folks, but in reality we failed in delivering on the premise.

But, in this case failure is not bad. We failed because we did not understand marriage, or at least the nature of the relationship. We were never going to let people into our marriage at all, because I don’t think that can be done for healthy marriage.

We have found out there is little about a marriage that people really see. I hate to use the iceberg metaphor, but it’s late and I don’t have anything else. A good marriage really is like an iceberg I think. The base, the mass that keeps the whole thing afloat is unseen by most. It is the good times, it’s the arguments, it’s intimacy, service sacrifice. That goes unnoticed or happens out of sight 95% of the time. Sure you see the effects of those things (the lame and cliche metaphorical iceberg does float after all), but the real work happens out of sight.

Writing a blog doesn’t open that up to you, dear reader. It can’t, and that is okay. This fact does not relieve us of our duty to be an example to others, to demonstrate God’s love though our marriage, but it does mean we can’t show how it works (or doesn’t) all the time. Marriage must be experienced to be understood.

So, yes we failed because we took up an impossible mission, but we have succeeded beyond what we hoped. We have great readers, our friends and family have stayed in touch and know what’s going on in our lives, and we communicate openly and frequently with each other about what is going on. This blog has been an unbelievable aid to our marriage, and we thank you for being a part of it.

Seriously, thank you.

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.

 

Radical Grace

The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler from Crossway Books

Tonight Lindsey and I got to hear Matt Chandler preach at our church as part of the Explicit Gospel Tour. He has been traveling for the past few weeks promoting his new book and preaching in churches.

I have listened to Matt preach via podcast for the past several years and I was excited to shake his hand and hear him preach. The best part about Matt is how passionate he is about sharing the gospel, and how even on a tour to promote his book his only desire is to preach faithfully.

Tonight, he did just that.

Preaching out of Colossians 1:13-23, Matt laid out the full gospel and its implications for individuals, the local church, the universal church and the world. It was a great sermon, and Lindsey and I were both happy to be there.

Driving home, we talked a lot about the sermon and what we heard new, or fresh, tonight. In light of our tough day yesterday we seemed to both be drawn to the perspective Matt offered on Christ’s forgiveness.

The point he made that hit us both so strongly is that as Christians it is easy for us to see Christ’s forgiveness in our past sins, in the things that we feel regret over. It is harder for us to see his forgiveness in the sin that we are committing right now, or even all the sins we will commit in the future. We really spent some time thinking and talking about this.

In our marriage, if Christ is our model for how we show grace and forgive each other this is a very instructive point. We should always be forgiving, always be wiping the slate clean and saying, “it’s okay, I love you. I forgive you.” And, just like the love and forgiveness of Christ, we should not presume upon it and take advantage of it, but rather respond to that grace with even more love, service and forbearance.

If His grace is my standard, then my wife should know clearly, and I should be showing her, that nothing she could do would place her outside of my forgiveness. So it also follows that if she is using that same standard to motivate her grace, then I should know clearly how much she loves me, how much she will minister to me when I struggle. That kind of radical grace can shape a marriage into what it is supposed to be. And that’s exactly what we want.