Archives For love

One of the best blessings to me in my singleness were friends who did not make marriage an ultimate thing in my eyes by only telling me the beautiful parts of their marriage, but who told me the difficulties of it as well. They also prayed for me actively to someday have the gift of marriage. I hope I am doing the same for my still single friends who desire the gift. I want them to know its not all romance and intimacy and good feelings and great conversation. But I also want them to experience the gift themselves so they can both see it and minister out of it.

One thing it is very easy to believe during the long fast from sexual intimacy that is godward singleness, is the option to have sex will make things better. Most of us wouldn’t be so foolish to say having sex makes things better, but it’s darn easy to believe the option and permission to will make it better.

But sex doesn’t make things better.

Not in the way you think it will.

Sex is good, God created it, he blessed it. He made it the integral piece in the procreation of humanity—science thwarts it and succeeds it but even science admits the masterful design of two humans making more humans. Sex is great, but it does not make all the angsts of longing for intimacy before marriage go away. All those angsts still exist within marriage, they just take different forms.

I know it’s easy for the married person to say this, you protest, because at the end of the day I can still have sex. But what I wish I could tell every unmarried person I know is until we realize our issues are much deeper and more profound than a sexual itch for satisfaction, we will still find our desires unmet. Within marriage and without.

The blessing of sex between a husband and wife is not to relieve stress, to make me feel desirable, or to make my husband feel strong and manly. It is not even to conceive and bear children. These are all benefits, but none of them are guarantees. God doesn’t owe us relief from stress apart from him, the guarantee I will always feel desirable (I don’t), my husband will feel capable and sufficient (he doesn’t), or children will be borne. God doesn’t even owe us sex within marriage. None of the things we think sex will accomplish (and indeed try to chase inside and outside marriage), are guarantees.

When I hear those who are not married say “But at least you get to have sex! And live with your best friend!” Well, first, I’d warn against saying at least in regard to much. But second I want to say your words betray a much, much deeper need and the fact that you think sex or living with your best friend fixes it tells me you don’t see your need as clearly as you think. If you think I’m just saying this because I’m married, trust me, I’ve been saying things like this for years and years as a single.

I’ve heard the illustration of the gift of sex for a man and woman in marriage like this: it’s glue holding you together. But in my limited view sex is more like a reminder: I am not my own anymore, I am part of someone and sex is a tether to remind, seal, and strengthen the binding. Outside of marriage there would actually be no reason or benefit for sex because union with this specific person—my husband—doesn’t exist. What I mean is, until he was my husband, he wasn’t my husband and sex wasn’t necessary (1 Corinthians 7:2).

I know this sounds very pragmatic but I want to be a bit pragmatic if I can. Our view of sex has been so colored by films and imaginations and images, and in many ways I want to sit down and say: sex just isn’t as great as you think it is, and we don’t need it like we think we do. It’s greatness is not in how it makes us feel or how it destresses us or how awesome our orgasm is. It is only truly good in relation to the person with whom our body is intended by God to be joined with. Can sex outside of marriage feel good? Yup. Can masturbation curb the itch? Yup. But do either of them express worship of God with the gift He’s given in the right context of covenant? No. Therefore, outside marriage it is not good. And inside marriage it is only good if it points to our incompleteness apart from God.

Unmarried friends, the sex you desire and think will satisfy your longing will not. Married friends, you still feel unsatisfied? Like your longing for something is never fully realized? All of this emptiness points to a greater need and a greater longing. Sex within marriage, if anything, makes the lack of complete culmination even more profound because no matter how perfect it is, it still isn’t enough to still the longing in our hearts for God. Fasting from intimacy outside of marriage is preparation for how even within marriage we are still apart from our Groom until the culmination of all things.

My need is for Christ. In marriage and out. Sex is a gift from God but it isn’t the ultimate gift and it certainly doesn’t come without baggage of its own. We live in a broken world, my friend. If it doesn’t feel perfect it’s because it’s not, and it’s okay. Christ, our perfection, knows our longings and knows we are dust.

And that’s better than sex.

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I was 20, driving down the roads with the windows open with two of my closest friends. It was summer, maybe fall, maybe mid-afternoon, maybe midnight. We sang along with the Dixie Chicks, lyrics about being taken away, flying as high as the wild blue, “closer to heaven and closer to you.”

We all dreamed in our particular ways of that someday cowboy. He didn’t look like a cowboy for any of us, but the dream of the man was there. Romance, high heights, wide open spaces—we were well versed in dreams. Both of my friends married within five years of then, neither of them to cowboys, but both to good men, faithful men, men who work hard, own their own businesses, men who have fathered their growing broods of children. It was 15 years for me, but the dream was never too far off. I knew he wouldn’t be a cowboy, but I still wanted to be taken away, treasured, and cherished in some alternate view of what was real and tangible and difficult right in front of me.

Around the same time we were listening to Dixie Chicks on the country roads, all three of us were also reading Elisabeth Elliot’s Let Me Be a Woman. I didn’t retain all the content from the book, but there were four chapters I have never forgotten, and I wish every woman—single or married—would read those four chapters.

Elisabeth, the woman who had not one but three husbands, had to have been somewhat of an authority on these things and yet, the very recognition of them shows her understanding of her own humanity. She tells her readers that if they marry, to remember four things about the person they marry:

1. If you marry, you marry a sinner. You cannot escape the sheer fact that your spouse will sin against you and in front of you. He or she will fail you time and time again in certain areas. You will feel acutely the weight of their sin by the fact that covenant have made you one. The comfort in this is that you are also a sinner and you can approach the throne of grace together.

2. If you marry, you marry a man/woman. You marry someone who is perfectly designed to be just that. Ill-equipped, very literally, to be anything but what they are created to be. And that means that he may not understand why you fuss with makeup, but will probably appreciate it. And you may not understand why he keeps ratty t-shirts from high-school, but you’ll appreciate it too. He won’t want to share every detail of his day and you won’t understand his primal urges. That’s okay. You’re not supposed to be the same. You’re intrinsically and uniquely different.

3. If you marry, you’ll be married to a husband/wife. This means, simply, wives, you submit to your husband, not to every man who has leadership gifts. And husbands, you’re called to love and cherish your wife, not every girl who looks at you with need. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t want to join together in helping your single sisters and brothers out, but you weren’t meant to do that with every man or woman. Just one.

4. If you marry, you marry a person. A real, live, living, breathing, thinking human being. With feelings. And needs. Some as simple as eating three times a day, some as complicated as being heard thoroughly and fully. But it’s a person. Just that. A person. Simple.

. . .

It’s fun to dream—even secretly—about the spouse you may someday have or the spouse you wish your spouse would be, but at the end of the day, he or she is just a man or woman, they are just a sinner, they will simply be a husband or a wife, and they will be just human. They’re spectacularly special, but they’re not epitome of your dreams, the likeness of lyrics, or the fairy tale you’ve always dreamed of. They’re yours and they’re God’s—and you will walk through heartbreak, lost dreams, dirty laundry, broken glasses, and burnt dinners.

I thought I wanted a cowboy to take me away, but at the end of it, what I found was a man who works hard, is faithful to God, leads me gently, and always comes home at the end of the day. He is a sinner, a man, a person, and a husband, nothing more, nothing less.

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The train depot is two blocks from our house and I am learning to tell time by the sound of the train whistle.

When I was single every few months I’d ask the Lord, “How long? How long do I have to wait for marriage? Will it ever happen?” Then in the space of three weeks from conversing to knowing, there he was: the guy I’d marry. When Nate and I were dating and engaged, saying goodnight every night felt like agony, “How long do we have to be apart?” Hyperbolic maybe, especially since from first date to wedding date it was three months. Now, a full year into life together, he spends more than eleven hours a day apart from me. The best part of my day is when he gets home, but the second best part is the text message he sends me before he gets on the train for the trek back to me.

The wait is always worth it.

A friend of mine is married to a man from Belize and for various reasons, they’ve been apart for ten months. Another friend says goodbye to her husband every week while he flies jets around the world and back. Another friend is married to a captain in the army—he’s deployed more than he’s home. And many more friends are married to men who are married to their jobs; men whose faces light up when they sit across from new friends, co-workers, or parishioners, and darken when they get home to dishes in the sink, toddlers, and tired wives.

But I have one friend who has been married to her man for 47 years and she told me once that the longing only grows and it only grows if you encourage it.

Harry Burns was right when he said to Sally, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

For many years I believed the lie that I needed to squelch the desire for marriage. That the longing for it only contributed to the sadness I felt at missing out on it. Then I believed the lie that the first stirrings of love and sadness at being apart from Nate would soon wear off in marriage. Sometimes now I am caught up in the belief that this still present longing to be with him will soon die off.

All of us are waiting for something and the closer we get to the getting of it, the more the longing grows. Christ knew this and this is why He likened us to the Bride and Himself as the Bridegroom. Weddings are so brimming with expectancy, longing, and celebration—the culmination of so much waiting. At last!

But we let dashed hopes and hardened hearts get in the way soon enough. Disappointments, fears, unmet expectations—they grow resentments instead of longings if we’re not careful. Last week Nate was late coming home two days in a row and I wanted to blame traffic, trains, work, and even him for my disappointment, but this is no way to grow longing, I reminded myself.

It is like this with God too. This year has been a year full of dreams let go, mounting frustrations, disappointed hopes, and severe misjudgment. I have sinfully directed my resentment toward God more these days than I have since He saved me. My longing for Him lands silent and limp, like forgotten toys or too small jeans.

Today I pay attention to the train whistle all day. Only one of the trains will bring my love home to me, but all of the whistles incrementally remind me to fan the flame of longing for my King. He too is coming home for me and I want to stand ready, waiting, my longing found completely in Him.

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In a world of comparisons, ten months of marriage has nothing on 34 years of singleness, so consider me a toddler in the ways of I Dos. I know very little, but here are four things I do know and I thought I’d share them with you today:

1. Marriage is not more sanctifying than Singleness

Don’t believe it for a second if you’re single, and don’t convince yourself of it for a minute if you’re married. It’s a lie that one is more sanctifying than the other. If you got married in your early twenties, you grew up into an adult with your person. You were most sanctified during marriage—but not necessarily because of it. Correlation is not causation. This little lesson should be preached by more married people because it leaves most single people in the church feeling less than and not enough until they’re married. It’s poison. Stop saying it.

God is sanctifying me in marriage differently than He sanctified me in my singleness, the same as He sanctified me in my thirties differently than He sanctified me in my twenties. It’s the beauty of growth in the gospel and in life. He’s always doing something and always making everything new.

2. Marriage doesn’t make you more financially secure; God is the primary breadwinner

I came into marriage never having had a savings account that topped a few thousand. Nate came into marriage with a fat down-payment for our house in Denver and a hefty savings account. We thought between the two of us (me the penny pincher and him the miser), we’d be set.

Within this year of marriage, we’ve sold a house in Dallas, moved cross-country twice, started two new careers, went through six months of unemployment, and now have a mortgage in Denver and rent in DC—two of the most expensive cities to live in. Any carpet of financial security we had coming into marriage has been ripped out from below our feet. We are less financially secure than either of us have ever been in our lives. We are being whiplashed with bills, costs, and drains from every direction.

I know our story isn’t everyman’s, but it sure does debunk the lie that “Marriage makes you more financially secure.” The reality is having roommates (while that may not be what you desire for the long-term of your life) is a very cost-effective way to live. Those shared bills might feel like a noose around your neck, but they’re half or a quarter of what they’ll be when it’s just one paycheck coming in.

We didn’t plan on one paycheck this year. We planned to live in Nate’s salary and squirrel mine away. Instead we lost Nate’s quickly, and lived on mine and our savings account. It wasn’t sustainable. We can beat ourselves up a thousand different ways on this (We shouldn’t have left Dallas, we shouldn’t have bought a house in Denver, we shouldn’t have banked on him being able to work remotely long-term, we should have researched job options for him in Denver better, etc.), but the reality is, we did what we thought was right and good and honorable and faithful—and all of our plans failed.

I’m learning the only thing I can ever find my security in is God—which is the same lesson I’ve been learning for 35 years. My plans have never worked—never! It was foolish to think that would change just because I got married. God has always required sacrifice of me, always asked for obedience, never given me too much of any good thing. I don’t believe it’s His character to withhold any good thing, but I do believe it’s His character to give us exactly what we need of it and more is never guaranteed. Marriage and money included.

3. This one might be TMI, but here goes: the world tells us to get whatever we can from sex, but the truth is sex is only good if you give what you can—and the more you’re willing to give, the better it is.

That might be confusing, so let me flesh it out (Also, I’m having a very hard time writing this section because suddenly every word is an innuendo of some sorts.):

There was an angst in my singleness that had much to do with wanting a partner, wanting to shoulder the burdens of life with someone, wanting someone to love me, etc. But there was also a very real angst of sexual desire in me. I wanted to be held and loved and pursued. I didn’t need it to end in sex, but it culminated many times in sexual desire being fanned in my life. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. God created sex, sex is good, desiring sex is good, and getting married is good. Burning with passion is actually a good motivation (among other things) for getting married. But sex was what I thought would somehow satisfy some longings of my flesh. I wanted my desires to be met physically.

Sex within marriage is good but its goodness is almost never about my desires being met. My husband is a good and caring man, faithful, kind, gentle. He is tender with me and loves me deeply. But neither of us can satisfy desires that are too deep for words and too complicated for human hands. The best we can do is to come to bed ready to serve one another.

What I have learned about sex is that instead of it being the culmination of all the things of the day, sex is actually a very gritty, raw, messy foundation in our lives.

Instead of being the pinnacle, the point, the top of the triangle (thinking I do all the big, heavy lifting throughout life for the tiny slice of joy at the top), it is actually the base of it. Sex is the biggest part. Not because it happens the most, but because when there are a thousands things throughout the day demanding my attention, and most of them are serving my husband in some way (laundry, dishes, food prep, errands, phone calls, bills, etc.), the foundation we have within sex to serve one another makes the day to day monotony a joy.

The climax of sex is not a romp under the covers, it’s asking him every morning how I can help make his day better. It’s putting a healthy nutritious meal in his lunch bag. It’s running to Home Depot to get a special sauce for the weed-eater. It’s folding the ratty t-shirts from races he ran in high-school.

The foundation of learning to serve within my singleness translated directly to how I learn to serve within marriage. Serving my husband in sex is easy—even if there’s no physical return in it for me, because whether in bed, the kitchen, or Home Depot, serving is the posture of the Christian—married and single.

4. I am not my own anymore; marriage is shared sanctification

This has probably been the hardest adjustment for me to make within marriage. It’s not just about schedule, finances, decisions, etc. Those things are challenging for sure. I’m used to planning my own day, caring for my own finances, and making whatever decisions seemed best to me. I can’t do that anymore. Every piece of me affects a person I love. It’s a joy, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

What is more difficult, though, is the shared burden of sanctification. This relates to point one because I think often times what married people mean when they say “Marriage is the most sanctifying thing,” is that saying I Do to all your mess means more mess in my life. In singleness whenever I walked through challenging things it was almost always easy to see where God was sanctifying me and to make small adjustments in my life to submit to Him in those areas. In marriage, though, it’s two people walking through the same challenges together. God doesn’t waste anything, but sometimes the bulk of the lesson is meant for me and sometimes it’s meant for Nate. How can you tell?

Therein lies the challenge. As we’ve walked through this past season of financial difficulty it has revealed areas in our lives of idolatry, fear, pride, and more. And it has primarily affected Nate. Most of the idols being toppled are his in that area. On the other hand, we’ve just walked through a season where I’ve encountered some fearful things, the shootings, the miscarriages, failed plans, my car being vandalized, Nate’s job loss. Never in my life have I been a fearful person and at every turn these days, I’m afraid of something. God is teaching me He is the only one who is trustworthy and He is faithful.

God is teaching both of us things in paramount ways, but they are different things, and the struggle in being one flesh is entering into that sanctification process with the other. It feels like our feet are cemented to the floor and we can barely encourage ourselves, how do we begin to encourage one another?

This is what I’ve been learning: I am not my own anymore. In the past, I was the primary preacher to my soul. I was my best encourager. I was the one who pulled myself up by my bootstraps. But I’m not anymore, I feel paralyzed in the encouragement of my own soul. But I am not paralyzed in the encouragement of Nate’s soul. This is the gift of walking through the mud together: I know the words that lift up his eyes to the hills, and he knows the words for me. It’s beautiful and painful, precious and hard. We are not our own anymore.

. . .

This is long, I know, but I’m hoping it helps some other newlyweds along the way and some singles who might be believing lies about themselves or their married friends.

Marrieds love to tell singles going through transitions and hard times, “At least you’re not tied down! At least you’re free to be flexible! At least you can make your own schedule, etc.” Singles love to tell marrieds going through transitions and hard times, “At least you have each other! At least you’re married! At least you don’t have to do it alone!” The truth is that painful circumstances in our own lives can bring offensive, short-sighted, and dismissive platitudes to real struggles in the lives of other people.

Freedoms that exist within singleness come with a cost and the partnership that comes within marriage can mean a similar cost.

In singleness, the freedom of scheduling means more time spent walking through dark and difficult things with many different people. It can feel incredibly isolating to walk through hard things in other people’s lives and then come home alone to a lonely home and an empty bed. That freedom you envy in your single friend’s life comes with a cost.

In marriage, the partnership of a spouse means you can’t go home at the end of the coffee date, you can’t schedule your life in compartments of ministry time and personal time. It’s all ministry time, making dinner, raising children, making money, even having sex, it’s all ministry—and sometimes it’s incredibly difficult ministry. That partnership you envy in your married friend’s life comes with a cost.

In singleness, the freedom of flexibility means sometimes there is a very strong lack of stability. There isn’t a family needing to be provided for, so it can feel like your job is expendable to your employers, it can feel like you’re the only one paying all the bills, and it can feel like life is just one lease to another. The situation in your marriage might be the same, but “Until death us do part” gives one form of stability many singles desire and do not have. That flexibility you envy in your single friend’s life can mean an isolating instability for them.

In marriage, the partnership of fidelity also means there is a strong temptation to hope in that stability instead of in God. There’s a constant wrestle within marriage to console yourself with the belief that “at least we have one another,” when in truth that is a ploy from the enemy. We have God. The same as when we were single. The gift of a spouse can become a gift we begin to worship, to find comfort in, and trust in, instead of the Giver. God alone is faithful. That partnership you envy in your married friend’s life can mean a constant and strong temptation toward idolatry.

Marriage and singleness are both sanctifying, neither one is more or less. If you ask me where I was more sanctified, marriage or singleness, I would tell you the sanctification doesn’t even compare because it is precisely and exactly the same.

In singleness I struggled with idolatry, selfishness, fear, pride, self-sufficiency, and so much more. In marriage I struggle with all of them still, not more, not less, the same. God, in His goodness, shows me that He is the same whether I am single or married by showing me that I am the same too. The only difference in these sanctifying agents is that for 34 years singleness was the best way to prove, distill, and refine me, and now marriage is God’s best way to prove, distill, and refine me.

Friends when we are tempted to start a sentence to anyone walking through a different and hard season with the words “At least…” remember the God we serve only and ever gives the best in every season. He is not doing the least of anything in your life.

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G.K. Chesterton said, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children,” but we don’t much like that do we?

It’s been a weekend where I’ve been laying low for multiple reasons, the principle of which is I miscarried again and the secondary of which is I slipped on black ice and have a swollen scraped knee to prove it. I was meant to be at my brother from another mother’s wedding this weekend in New York, but canceled my flight at the last moment because the church family here had a week for the books. It’s really been seven months for the books—my books at least—but this was the culmination of it, and when your job is to shepherd, you don’t abdicate when the storms howl around the flock.

Nate still can’t find full-time work.

I came home from the member meeting at church yesterday and fell into bed and cried the sort of tears we reserve for death of a loved one or agony of the deepest kind. The sort where you hyperventilate and your husband can’t fix anything so he just lies beside you and rubs small circles into your back. I mostly cried but said words too, words I probably didn’t mean and some words I probably did.

Half our friends say the first year of marriage is the hardest, but we think marriage is a breeze, it’s all the other things that are the hardest.

He read the Chesterton quote aloud to me a few weeks ago and we’ve come around and around to it, in these horrible ordinary days. Both of us have believed the lie that if you work hard things will go well for you, if you honor those around you, you will be honored, if you pursue your passions, you will do your passions. We are unafraid of hard work, honoring those ahead of us, and the pursuit of passions. But what we have found is vanity of vanities, it’s all vanities. These things themselves are not useless pastimes, but they certainly aren’t the guarantee of extraordinary lives. My pastor in Texas said once, “You can’t put God in your debt,” and also we can’t put life in our debt either.

Circumstances are not what we planned, nothing about this year has been what we hoped for or thought we’d gain. Here we have been small and faithful people with secreted hopes for greatness. But that is not the Kingdom is it? The backwards upside down kingdom.

Tonight we lit candles and ate pizza from a box, and joked about how this might be our last meal and when we should put the house on the market. I have emailed a realtor on the east coast and Nate has put in months of 60 hour weeks applying and interviewing. There is nothing glamorous in these ordinary days. They are beautiful because they are life, but they are painful, disastrous even, and not at all what we thought they would be.

Earlier this year in the three month whirlwind, where everything good was happening and as quickly as it possibly could, I remember saying to the Lord, “It is so good to feel your love so tangibly these days, but I hope I remember it when everything good isn’t happening.” I think a lot about Job these days. I have walked through many painful months and years before, but never saw myself as kin to him, but now I do. The difference is I trust God in these pains, and though he slay me, still I will trust him. And it makes all the difference.

For the ordinary people in the painful ordinary days, trusting Him—and not our plan—is the extraordinary difference.

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I have yet another single friend who is convinced if only this one little thing changes about the guy she’s dating, they’d be perfect together. If he just didn’t nag her so much. If she didn’t just shut down emotionally. If they didn’t argue so much. If his family wasn’t so crazy. If she felt like herself around him.

All those “ifs” and so many of my friends persist in the same pursuit. They have “chemistry” or “spark” with this person. They feel on fire around them. They just “know” them better than anyone else has. But settling for the sort of person who, in dating incites you to anger, brings out your passivity, makes you shut down, doesn’t encourage you, and more, is foolishness, friends. Don’t so long for the gift of marriage, or even marriage with a particular person, that you lay all that marriage is intended to be on the bench and pursue the lust of being not-alone.

We have swallowed the idea that marriage is hard because that’s the narrative of the Church, “Marriage is hard. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It shows you your sin. You’ll never know your selfishness until you’re married.” But I don’t think that’s the picture God intends to illustrate the love between Christ and the Church—and I don’t think that’s the narrative we should believe or espouse. There is difficulty in life, yes, challenges, sin, brokenness, but those things exist in marriage and out. As long as you are unmarried, don’t settle for the belief that being married is another thing on the long list of hard things in life.

Don’t believe the lie that marriage is supposed to be hard and you have to choose your battles and just settle for the first girl who makes you feel alive or the first guy who tells you you’re meant to be. If you didn’t think it was “supposed to be like this” than maybe “this” isn’t it. I beg you, singles, with the words of the man who married us, “It isn’t done until you say ‘I do.'”

Here is what the bible actually says about husbands and wives:

The heart of her husband safely trusts in her (Prov. 31:11). Brother, do you trust this girl? Trust her with your weakness? Your basest fears? Sister, are you trustworthy? Do you gain his trust by being one who cares for him?

The husband washes her with the water of the word (Eph. 5:26). Brother, do you respond with words fortified with the word or words fortified by the world? Do you point her to the gospel and the hope in God, or tear her down by comparing her to the world?

A wife is not contentious or angry (Prov. 21:19). Sister, do you incite him to anger? Do you nag him and criticize him? Is your natural inclination to defend yourself by tearing him down? To make yourself look better by shaming him?

A husband is not bitter toward her (Col. 3:19). Brother, do you take all those reasons for bitterness to the cross and leave them there? Do you carry your angsts and allegations against her?

A husband cares for his wife’s body as he cares for his own (5:28). Brothers, do you care for her actual body, the flesh and blood body, the heart that beats inside of her, her emotions, her mind, her stress. Or do you only care about how hot she is?

A husband honors his wife (I Peter 3:7). Brother, do you speak well of her in front of others? Are you proud to stand beside her and be hers?

A husband lives joyfully with his wife (Eccl. 9:9). Brother, does being beside this woman bring joy to you? Deep, lasting, comfort and joy? Do you go home and night and beam with joy at the thought of someday being with her forever?

A wife is a companion (Mal. 2:16). Sister, are you a friend? Not a floor-mat and not a fierce competitor, but a friend? A peer? An equal?

A wife brings her husband gain (Prov. 31). Sister, is one of your goals to see him gain, to see him grow, and to see him succeed? Or do you tear him down with your words and actions?

A wife is respectful and pure in her conduct (I Peter 3). Sister, do you respect this man in purity? Do you care more about the way he treats your heart than the way he treats your body? Do you present your body as a peace offering instead of offering your heart?

A husband finding a wife, finds a good thing (Prov. 18:22). Brother, is this a good thing? Ask yourself that hard question before you move any further in this relationship. Does everyone around you, those who know you best: do they agree this match is a good one?

If you can’t see yourself in that list above in the relationship you’re in right now, get out. Seriously. You don’t have to marry him or her. They might be really great people, but they might be really great people for someone else and that’s okay.

I wish someone had told me this in every single dating (and engagement) I had. Or I wish I had listened. Marriage to Nate is the best thing I’ve ever experienced. It is a blessing every single day, without exception. I know there are those who would say our time is coming, but if you knew a half of the hell we’ve walked through in the past six months you’d probably close your mouth. Sin has been crouching at our door since day one and God has put his Holy Spirit inside of us and the gospel in us, and by His grace, we rule over it.

Pray over that list above if you’re in a relationship heading toward marriage. Taking off that ring, making that phone call, asking for the ring back, having that last conversation could be one of the best things you ever do for your future marriage.

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Here’s an exercise: let’s keep an account of the words coming out of our mouths and filling up our hearts today. How many of them are informed by the word of God and how many of them are informed by Christian culture and how many of them are informed by the world’s culture?

Here’s an example: “Marriage is the most sanctifying agent in a person’s life.”

Word of God?
Christian Culture?
World’s Culture?

I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t the first.

More and more I hear married people touting that line, and more and more I wish people would add a two small words to it: “…for me.”

What is communicated by saying marriage is the most sanctifying agent in life is that anyone who isn’t married can’t be as sanctified as a married person. Marriage is not always God’s best sanctifying agent. All of life is sanctification, and He may use one agent in one person’s life and another in another person’s life. At the ripe old age of 34, singleness has been the most sanctifying agent in my life. Perhaps at the age of 70 I will be able to say marriage has trumped it for me, but I think it will not have been marriage but life itself that did it.

God’s children are sanctified through whatever means God ordains to work in them His pleasure, His discipline, and His glory. Marriage, for the one who married young, may be the agent doing it for one. Singleness, divorce, widowhood, parenthood, or handicap might be the agent doing it for someone else.

Marriage is full of distractions. Singleness is full of longing and loneliness. And both are full of the other. We will be sanctified in each season to its fullness just as God designed.

Singles, stop believing true sanctification is around the corner, holding out on you, taunting you with the illusion you’re incomplete as a Christian unless married. You are incomplete—sanctification is progressive and no one has arrived. Embrace today’s sanctification.

Married people, stop saying marriage is more sanctifying than long and difficult seasons full of other gifts from God. We rob from others the beauty of this: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

If you’re God’s child a work was begun in you before the foundation of the earth and will be completed in God’s best way for you in preparation for eternity with Jesus Christ. Marriage—union with Christ—is the signifier of the completion of our sanctification!

Single and married friends, today is God’s best sanctifying agent in your life.

Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the rock of ages,” and I have written about it before. It still stands that I’d rather kiss the wave after it’s battered and thrown me against the Rock instead of while it is battering and throwing me. I am human and therefore value self-preservation.

Honeymoon stage is a phrase I wish didn’t enter the Christian’s vocabulary. If marriage is to be a reflection of Christ and the Church and we are to worship at His throne forever in joy, why would we think earthly marriage should be different? I know just saying that has some of you shaking your heads, “Just you wait, Lore, it’s coming for you.” To that I want to say this: our honeymoon was one week and two days long, we spent it in Aspen, eating delicious food and having lots of sex. It was everything a honeymoon should be.

And then we came down out of the mountains to a new city, bought a house, started a job, lived in a basement apartment for a month, tried to make a new and different church feel like home, and we still don’t know who our people here are. Honeymoon was vacation, this is real life.

In the still dark hours of the morning a few weeks ago I made breakfast, sat down to drink my coffee, and read my bible while the man ran and then showered. He joined me when my coffee was drunk and we had a hard discussion on the realities of life: we need a new roof ($15,000) and his car needs $4000 dollars worth of work. That’s nearly $20,000 out of our honeymoon stage budget.

I got to work and he texted a few minutes later to call him. His contract won’t be renewed for his remote job. He understands and is full of faith, and has a skill set that’s useful and employable anywhere, but the kick in the gut still hurts. This wasn’t part of the honeymoon. He’s been looking now for a month and jobs are harder to come by than we thought.

In September I miscarried. For fifteen days I bled and cried and couldn’t answer the question: why? and what? This foreign emotion of being tied to something inextricably and forever felt alien. I am still learning what it means to live “until death us do part,” but that is a two way commitment and this felt painfully one way.

I say all this because I feel the waves and they’re battering and pressing and bruising, but I wake up every single day confident of the goodness of God in the land of the living. I wake up confident that living means really living, really seeing God’s goodness, not lowering my eyes to the sinking depths of life, but raising them to the One from whom my help comes.

Buechner said, “This is the world: beautiful and terrible things will happen,” and I have thought of it often in recent months. Sometimes Colorado is so achingly beautiful and so achingly hard at the same time. And sometimes marriage is. And sometimes church is. And most of the time life is.

I think often on Psalm 73: the nearness of God is my good, and I ask often that I would not just know his nearness, but I would feel it too.

I don’t know what’s going on in your life today, what waves are throwing you against the Rock of Ages or what beautiful and terrible things are happening, but I know this: He is good and He is near, especially to the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. His love for you is not a honeymoon love, fervent in the beginning and waning when real life hits. His love for you is everlasting and always good.

In the mountains and in the valleys. In still seas and stormy ones. He remains.

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I used to worry that God would make me marry a man who bored me or didn’t like to read or didn’t challenge me or who didn’t have a beard. You see my frivolity? A beard? I spent time worrying God would make me marry a clean-shaven, soft-cheeked, hairless-faced guy. But I stand by the other desires: I wanted to lay on a blanket by a lake and discuss church and Church, theology and Isaiah, politics and the shape of the clouds. I wanted to never get tired of talking to him. Or listening to him.

As I made my way through my twenties and then thirties, and dated good, nice, solid, kind men, I still found myself slightly stomach-knotted at the thought of tying myself to any of them for the rest of my life. I couldn’t imagine it would be worth giving up singleness (as difficult as it was and lonely as I felt) to latch myself to any of them—and latch myself to that stomach-knottedness—for life. They were good men, but they weren’t Nate.

A friend asked me the other day how a girl can avoid settling. The market is what it is, she said, and the pickings are slim. I hear her sentiments and shared them for 34 years and I hate the platitudinous answer I gave her, which was this: don’t settle.

And I wasn’t talking about settling for a man without a beard or a man whose physique may not be what you envisioned or who might have blond hair instead of brown and who may not play the guitar or write love poems for you—in this regard, women, settle yourselves down. No, I meant this:

Don’t settle in the belief that God knows what is best for you today and tomorrow and all the days of your life. He has given you the blessed-horrible gift of singleness today. One day you feel its blessedness and another you feel its horridness, but either way, it is the gift you have today. The question of settling is not attached to a man at all, but to the God whose job alone it is to give you the gift of a mate. So the question is not “Should I settle for a man who is less than what I envisioned?” and really, “Should I settle in the belief that God doesn’t hear or care about the desires of my heart?”

. . .

Nate and I have created a small ritual in our lives these days. At five o’clock, when the workday ends, we knot our sneakers, he slings a blanket over his shoulder, and we walk to the lake a few blocks away. We find a spot high enough up that we can see the sun set over the Rockies and we talk until it creeps down behind them. Sometimes one of us rants. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes he just listens, or I do. The other day we talked about Church history and architecture, and when the wind came blowing down the hill I pressed myself against his strong back, touched his beard, and I thanked God for not giving me the chance to settle. I thanked him for all the stomach-knotted uncertainty I’d had for the past 34 years. It was God’s good protection for me, and such a familiar feeling that when I knew I would marry Nate, I knew it with a surety and freedom I couldn’t have had without all those years of knowing it was not right.

Sisters and friends—and brothers, you too—do not settle for less than the belief that God has written your story before the foundation of the earth and he is the giver of good and perfect gifts in the proper time. He cares about birds and lilies and beards and you.

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I spend all morning at the social security office and at the DMV(s). I go armed with a Texas driver’s license, a passport, a birth certificate, a marriage license, two proofs of residency, forms filled out, and find, once again, bureaucracy is all about that inconvenience. A name change is all I get after several hours in lines and in traffic. (Tell me again why they don’t put all of the DMV services in just one building?)

A whole day off feels thwarted when I finally get home, plus I’d forgotten to drink coffee in the morning. I slump in our estate sale chair and sulk silently to myself: nothing about this season feels like it’s easy. The first three months of our relationship, pre-marriage, were brimming over with blessing, but also ease, in some ways. God just felt so faithful and so surprisingly good around every corner. But the last three months—post marriage, post move, post new church/job/community/city—sometimes I wake up in the morning and want to bury my head back in the pillow. It’s all so much new.

I tell a friend today I’ve finally decided to give myself a year to acclimate. If, after a year, I can feel like myself in just one of these new identities, I will consider it a win.

I make coffee, open a cookbook, and get under a blanket to read. Something about food and traditions makes me feel like everything is going to be okay. Our daily rituals together: French press in the mornings, breakfasts of eggs (three for him, two for me) and sweet potato hash, some sort of fruit and greens, sometimes bible reading, and then again at night, slicing vegetables, browning meat, setting the table, lighting the candles. These are the times I feel most myself, and most like someday all of this new and foreign will feel as comforting as the sliced cherry tomato on the wooden cutting board or the amount of time I know it takes to make a perfect steak on the cast iron. These are rudimentary things, but sometimes it is the comfort of the small things.

I page through the cookbook and find a garden rose in it from six months ago, when he first brought me flowers he picked from his garden. They were in a short Mason jar and I knew I would love him forever then. Has it really been six months? Forever is such a very short time and such a long time too.

I know these months of transition are only months, and soon a year, five years, ten will have passed before I know it. I want to slow time sometimes, still it, just to remember, but I also want to speed time, run through it, because it is so hard. We miss our friends and our community, the people who love us best. We miss laughing hard and loud and deep and long, and beers out on the back porch. We miss being known. We are our best friends and favorite persons, but we miss who we are when it’s not just us.

Today my name changed from Lore Ann Ferguson to Lore Ann Wilbert and he came and sat down beside me on the estate sale chair: “Thank you for taking my name,” he said, and I said, “Of course, what other name would I ever want to take?” And it occurs to me that a name change is a very small thing that takes a very long time to grow accustomed to. So too with life here, I suppose. What is a new address? Nothing, really, but also it is everything too.

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We’re shelving books, no longer two, but one. We sit at the same table every night and morning. Our dishes, his pottery and my vintage, married on the kitchen shelves. We’ve bought a house. With every action there is a recurring subconscious question accompanying them all:

Who will get this when we divvy things up?

Until last night I didn’t give the thought enough space to analyze. We sat on our patio and worked through the instructions (His idea, not mine, I never think to look at instructions.) for our patio furniture and the thought crept up again, I stared it right in the face and asked where it came from. Fear of divorce? Both our lives have been shattered by that reality once, it would be natural to fear it in some way. Fear of death? I suppose there is always that. But no, deep down, I realize, it comes from fourteen years of living with roommates. Fourteen years of divvying things up.

I wouldn’t trade a single one of those roommates. I have lived with crazy, kind, cruel, caring, clean, and chaotic, and I have been all of those things back; still I wouldn’t trade a single girl. Those girls taught me to deal with my monsters, to respond with kindness when met with cruelty, to laugh a lot more than my nature would, to not listen to a fool in her folly, and to not be a fool in her folly. There has been no more sanctifying agent than the dozens of roommates I’ve had while I waited and hoped for marriage. Each year, in many ways, more difficult than the last because we learned to confront sin and to be confronted in our sin. We learned to serve and not be served. We learned to outdo one another in honor. We learned to navigate really tricky situations with no happy outcome for anyone. We learned to die.

I have not yet learned to die and this is clear in my marriage, even though my husband rarely asks it of me. As we meld our books and cups and plates and pitchers, I think about dying and I think about divvying. There has always been an end date on my housemates. A lease. A cap. But with him, there is no end date, no divvying up, no dividing, no chore charts, no questions on who is responsible for what. There is a cyclical kind of service, he serves me and I serve him, but sometimes the cycle breaks and one of us is short and one of us is absentminded (three guesses who on the latter, first two don’t count). It takes a hard restart, but not the kind where we go our own way and make up when we feel like it. It takes one of us coming to the other and saying, “I’m sorry, I’m owning my stuff here, but realizing all our stuff is shared and I affect you, whether I want to or not.”

I have heard it said marriage is the most sanctifying gift to his people, but I think that is hyperbole. I think people are the most sanctifying gift to his people. And fourteen years of roommates have taught me many things, some things I have to unlearn in marriage (there is no divvying up of stuff because there is no end date on this covenant). And some things I am grateful to have learned alongside roommates. I have sometimes felt like all the right things have to happen while we’re under the same roof, because once I am gone, or they are gone, nothing good can ever come. That God cannot continue to sanctify roommates once we are apart.

That’s the hyperbole of it all. That God is limited to doing exactly what needs to be done to sanctify his people inside of marriage or outside. He completes the work—whether we are 35 and single or married at 21. The sanctification looks different, but it is completed.

I’m sitting on our new patio furniture, drinking my coffee, and writing. The operative word there is, “our.” It’s the new sanctifying agent in my life, that this is all ours, together, stewarded to us by God for the season of our marriage covenant. It’s a new feeling, one I don’t know how to wear well yet, but I am learning; by God’s grace we are learning.

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“Crosswicks is a typical New England farmhouse, built sometime in the middle of the eighteenth century, so it is well over two-hundred years old. Its square central section has been added to haphazardly over the years, white clapboard somehow tying it all together, so that the house rambles pleasantly and crookedly. A dropped ball will roll right to the central chimneys, and the bookcases we’ve build in are masterpieces of non-alignment.”

Madeleine L’Engle, A Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

Madeleine might as well have been talking about our house. One of the oldest Denver proper houses built here, a farm that shrunk and squished until the the past fifty years, when new bungalows and cottages grew as the new farmland crop. Our bookcases lean slightly awaiting the carpentry that will fit them snugly into the next hundred years, I hope. No floor is level, no window the same. But we, like Madeleine, make a home here, fitting ourselves into a thing never finished.

Marriage, too, is a thing unfinished. Brimming with unresolved beauty, always coming round corners to find pleasant surprises, or more corners, but never finished.

I have never deluded myself into thinking marriage would bring all the resolve I longed for or the culmination of all joy. I have been the product of a broken marriage and understand the fragility of two sinners in close quarters till death them do part. Marriage has always been seen as another long walk hand in hand in the same direction, same as any other holy thing. But it is the constant unfinishedness of marriage that surprises me. The same conversations with small changes. We grow, we mature, we lean in to one another, we learn, but we are not there.

Someone says to cut myself some slack, we’re only two months in, but how many months in is it before you feel the creaks and groans of an unsettled house cease? Ten? Twenty five? Seven hundred?

Madeleine writes of practicing piano: “I was working on…the Bach Two-Part Inventions. One is never through with the Two-Part Inventions; they are the essential practice needed for the Well-Tempered Clavier.” And I understand her a bit better than I did when last I read her memoir. One is never through with the Two-Part Inventions, the marriage, the leaning in, and leaning toward. It is beautiful thing, but it is a thing unfinished.

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This is a story for everyone, but it’s mostly a story about hope and faithfulness and a kitchen table.

I’m supposed to speak about singleness in a few weeks but I can’t help feeling like I’ve given up my card, as though I’ll be the one all the singles sit and roll their eyes at, “Easy for you to say, you’re married.” And it’s true, in some ways some thoughts I have about singleness will sound trite and less than tried and true, but here is a truth: I was single for 34 years and now I am married. That means I am a statistic in two ways: people are staying single longer now than ever, and most people do in fact some day get married. I am not the exception, I am the rule. And I pray for those of you who are part of the first statistic, you will someday be part of the second.

But now here’s my story.

A few years ago a girl came to live with me. I’d known her since she was 14 and knew the cards she’d been dealt set her up for some disappointment in life, and I knew I’d be helping to carry that baggage for a season. What I didn’t know is that I’d often feel like a single parent with her. In the midst of walking through that season, a friend of mine pitched an idea to me. He said, “I think it would be good for her to work on a project and I have a project I’d like to do with her.” It seemed he had a friend, a man recently divorced who helped lead the marriage reconciliation group at our church, who had opened his home up for men to live in throughout the past two years, and who invited more men into his home every week for dinner, conversation, and friendship. One problem: this friend did not have a kitchen table.

So my friend, and my little girl, they embarked on a project: Project Farm Table. It was to be a surprise for the friend and so it was. When they gave the table to the friend, he nearly wept and said it was the best gift he’d ever been given.

Six months later I sat at that table for the first time and listened to the recipient of the gift share some of his testimony. I didn’t know it then, but at the intersection of my friend, my little girl, this table, and that man, I would meet my husband.

This is a story about a table, but it’s actually the story of so much more.

For years I wondered what was wrong with me, why no one wanted to marry me, why God was holding out on me. What I didn’t realize was that my future husband was walking through the discipline of God and the failure of his marriage. For 13 years while I whined about my singleness to God, God was shaping my future husband in the crucible of marriage to someone else. God wasn’t holding out on me, he was working in both of us an eternal weight of glory.

For years I felt convinced that online dating or other mechanisms to meet a husband was not the best, not for me or for anyone. I felt firmly convicted that service to the local church and to God was the mechanism through which God would bring marriage if that was His plan for me. I wrestled, complained, struggled to do this well, but I trusted Him in it. I put my hand to the plow and served, trusting that if God had a husband for me in the local church, then I would know because he would be a man who was faithfully serving, leading, showing hospitality, walking in grace, humbly accepting the discipline of God and other men I knew and trusted. Nate was a man well known by my friends, my elders and pastors, and others. Trusting Nate, following his lead, loving him came swiftly and easily because he had faithfully given himself to the local church in every way. No stone was left unturned in his life—he was fully submitted. And at the proper time we came face to face with one another.

For years I was certain I would have to compromise in a thousand ways if I ever found myself faced with marriage (and did compromise over the years multiple times in multiple ways), but with Nate I found we were both running so hard and so fast toward the kingdom that we were only helped by the presence of one another. He helped loosen chains of fear binding me back and I spurred him on toward confident leadership. My fears that I’d marry someone who didn’t challenge me spiritually and intellectually were baseless. My fears that I’d marry someone who was lazy or indulgent were silenced. My fears that I’d have to marry someone who I wasn’t attracted to or didn’t enjoy were proven wrong. Nate is my better in every way. I don’t say that with an ounce of false humility, I truly mean it. I do not know a finer person, a more humble and gentle man, a harder worker, a more faithful friend, a kinder neighbor, a more generous accountant, or a better servant of God.

Nate was all of those things before meeting me—after submitting himself to the discipline of God in his failed marriage, in his desire to understand and grasp the full counsel of God instead of cherry picking pet theologies, and in his faithfulness to the call of God to minister with the grace he’d been given. He was inviting men into his home, ministering to broken marriages, addicts, serving them around his table, showing hospitality, parking cars at our church’s lot, leading arrogant and broken men in reconciliation to God and to their wives as much as it depended on them. He was doing all this when my friend and my little girl made him a farm table.

I’m sitting at that farm table now, in our kitchen, in our new house in Denver. And I’m marveling at God. God who never sleeps, nor slumbers, but keeps. He kept both of us while we were making foolish decisions and good ones. He kept both of us while we were holding tenaciously to beliefs we had and our confidence in them and in Christ. He kept both of us in the midst of difficulty, trial, faithfulness, and sadness. He kept.

I wanted to tell you this story for a few reasons:

One, if you are single, remember: God is not sleeping.
Two, if you are in a difficult marriage, remember: God is not sleeping.
Three, if you are serving your local church tirelessly, remember: God is not sleeping.
Four, whoever you are, in whatever circumstance you’re in, remember: God is not sleeping.

He’s keeping.

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