Friday, July 31, 2009

Everything I Imagined?

A dear friend (who will remain nameless) posed a question to me a few weeks ago. Her email stayed in my inbox for days, which eventually turned into weeks, as I contemplated how best to respond. Her question was this: "has marriage turned out to be everything you thought it would be?" there's a question with a loaded answer (hence the reason this dear friend's email has been in my inbox for so long). It's a candid question from a single young woman, a woman with a heart of gold in the midst of a broken, self-gratifying world. I can understand and sympathize with her frustration at how our culture has so marred the beauty and sanctity of marriage. As believers, our view of marriage is so foreign to the rest of the world because at this great mystery's foundation is something which can never be provided by man in his own strength: the hope and grace made possible by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here is a brief glimpse at my personal history, the "everything I previously imagined" element of my response. Even as a young believer, as well-intentioned (and they really were well-intentioned in retrospect) as my hopes and dreams may have been, my view of relationships (especially marriage) was so skewed. I had this notion that the man whom the Lord brought into my life would fawn over me, cave to my every wish, and treat me as the "princess" I knew I should feel like. As sweet and fairytale as this sounds, when I really got down to the heart of my desires, I found them to be dripping with self-centered dreams of mere infatuation. Ironically enough, the only young man to ever have such feelings toward me didn't last long on my adolescent radar screen as I was simply disgusted by his gushy, ungrounded affections. (Sadly for him, it took me years to realize why I was so annoyed.) I had in mind the fairytale aspect of relationships, what I thought was the picture-perfect image of marriage... Little did I know that my outlook was riddled with gaping holes. Having what I thought was the perfect view of marriage never accounted for the reality of living with a fellow human being, a fellow sinner equally in need of daily grace.

My naive perspective was made apparent when I began dating my husband six years ago. I had demands and ideas of how this relationship was supposed to work, and I would get angry in instances when I realized he wasn't meeting my expectations. How dare he call me out on certain matters about which I am obviously wrong (knowing I was wrong but stubbornly fighting it still), and how dare he desire my good in a situation rather than simply being concerned with my feelings? My feelings were of prime importance, right?? And that is the truth that can be a crushing blow to women who have a self-serving view of how human relationships are intended to work. It is when we start insisting that our needs and feelings should come first that we are setting ourselves up for disaster, heartache, and in doing so are often sinning against the other person. If we are always insisting that our petty desires are of central importance, then that is the very place we are insisting we belong: at the center of the relationship.

All of that leads up to my answer when asked the question "has marriage turned out to be everything you thought it would be?" My answer is No. This is not what I imagined things looking like a year-and-a-half into marriage. On the contrary, this marriage covenant has proven gloriously better and more difficult than I could have ever imagined. When you commit to this great mystery of marriage (and a mystery it truly is!), you embark on a daily journey of living with another human being despite whatever struggles or events come your way. I am a better person because of my marriage to my husband, and that is of no credit to his strength or mine, but rather to the ways in which the Spirit has worked in and through him. We have had wonderful days, and we have had dark days, all of which we promised to face together. I am amazed more and more each day with how the Lord chooses to use my husband as such an instrument of grace, learning, and exposing me to my own sin. It is when both husband and wife acknowledge their desperate need of grace that they can live with one another in an understanding way and grow deeper in relationship with Christ.

How the Gospel is manifested in daily, practical ways is going to vary between couples. What the Lord deems as a means of grace in our relationship is probably going to look very different than His activity in the lives of others. That is a good thing, and should be of encouragement as we see evidence of how the Lord knows our unique, individual needs better than we do. This, too, is contrary to the world's view of relationships. In our sin nature, on both an individual and cultural scale, we are so often insistent that we know what is best for us. Is it any wonder that there is oftentimes such a negative view of Christian marriage in our culture? Frustrating and sad, yes, but not surprising. The very vows which are traditionally cited during a marriage ceremony are even counter to our culture's marred perspective. Everything about sin and how it taints our outlook is magnified within the context of marriage. If husband and wife are not grounded in Gospel truth, to what will they cling when faced with the spectrum of small disagreements to trials on a much larger scale?


"It’s a wonderful, freeing thing to realize that the durability and quality of your marriage is not ultimately based on the strength of your commitment to your marriage. Rather it is based on something completely apart from your marriage: God’s truth. . . . Marriage was not just invented by God, it belongs to God…. Marriage is not first about me or my spouse. Obviously, the man and woman are essential, but they are also secondary. God is the most important person in a marriage. Marriage is for our good, but it is first for God’s glory." (D. Harvey, When Sinners Say 'I Do,' p. 23, 25)

"What do all of us do in our marriages in some way? We all tend to deny our sin (while pointing out the sin of the other). By denying our sin, we devalue grace. . . . in ways that are very practical, Jesus is the only solution. . . . grace makes new beginnings possible. It challenged me to live like I really believe I can be a tool of God's grace. . . . We must not ignore our sin, because it is the very context where the Gospel shines the brightest. Grace is truly amazing because of what we were saved from." (Harvey, p. 12, 16)

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's Not Just Political - It's Personal

I'm not a political blogger, nor do I pretend to be one. I am, however, a personal blogger. In between posting pictures and telling stories about family comes the occasional reflection upon implications and principles associated with political issues that hit close to home. I have learned over time that some of the very aspects of our country for which we should be most thankful are the very things that cause grave concern when threatened. Some of the very freedoms we have are the ones so often squandered...or they are the ones which our government tries to take from individuals and claim for themselves. Here's where the political becomes personal...
Last Wednesday was spent away from work and in Cincinnati where my husband and I met with the team of doctors at the Tuberous Sclerosis Clinic. This is the leading clinic in the world for TS patients, and just so happens to be less than two hours from where we currently live. I visit the clinic every two years for an evaluation by the doctors, which also includes updates on current research in the field. My husband and I paid the $40 co-pay required by my insurance company, and by the time we left that afternoon, we had seen five different doctors. Not only were we able to meet with five different doctors, but I also had the opportunity to participate in one of their current research studies. We were not rushed, but instead I felt completely comfortable as a patient under their care. My husband and I were able to ask plenty of questions pertaining to tuberous sclerosis, questions regarding how it affects us now and in the future. There are many other aspects of our time at the TS Clinic I would like to elaborate on, so hopefully that can come in a later post. For now, though, I shift to another personal story...
While watching Mike Huckabee's show on Fox News last night, my eyes brimmed with tears as I listened to one of his guests. This woman whom he invited to his show lives in Canada, and was invited to share her personal experience of dealing with the healthcare system in that country. She was diagnosed in her 20s with a rare condition involving her spinal cord, which required surgery for a spinal fusion. Not only did she have to wait for nine months to meet with a specialist, all the while being instructed to just stay on pain meds, but the surgery itself did not occur until two or three years after her original diagnosis. This young mother spent the better part of her late 20s addicted to morphine, using a walker, and unable to hold her own children. Her now 15-year-old son is being faced with the very same ordeal. While being told to continue taking medicine for the pain, he has yet to meet with a specialist. The mother has resolved to come to the U.S. in order to receive proper care and attention for this debilitating condition; the cost of travel is of more value than waiting. Along with this woman's personal testimony, there was also a doctor on Huckabee's program who currently practices in Canada. He is adamantly opposed to the healthcare system within which he works (a system he once fully supported), and is appalled by the stories of such individuals as this young woman who have to wait in a seemingly neverending line. His final word to Huckabee at the close of the segment, and really to any members of Congress who may listen, was this: "Slow down, read the bill, and be careful what you wish for."
Make no mistake - our healthcare system needs serious reform. From bureacracy to caps on medical malpractice to the simple receipt of a hospital bill that makes sense, the system needs major help. However, this does not mean that the government has the right to sweep in and take from those who have worked hard for what they have accomplished. The projected tax increases that will be placed on the wealthy if a more universal healthcare system is put in place is appalling. This also does not mean that someone who has squandered the system, someone who has skated by knowing that the government will bail them out, should get a free pass. The line between those truly in need and those who have taken advantage of the system has become increasingly more muddled. Those who honestly need the assistance should be able to receive such help, and those who have actually earned the medical benefits they receive should not be penalized.
As much as I may complain about insurance premiums going up every year, my circumstances could be so much worse. I waited for only ten minutes on Wednesday morning before being called back to see the first doctor. A citizen of the country just to our north was on a national news channel to voice her personal testimony as a warning to those who have it in their heads that a more universal, socialized system is the answer to the predicament. The current structure is certainly broken. Reform, not destruction, is what our healthcare system needs.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Glorious Sight

How often the Lord rocks me out of my tired, self-centered mood. I woke up yesterday (Sunday) morning not feeling especially well, and I was not only hesitant in arriving at church to be around people, but I knew there was also an event planned for the afternoon after the morning worship service. After dragging my feet around the house, and making a stop at a nearby coffeeshop, my husband and I arrived at church late for worship practice. It didn't take long for my dreary mood to be shaken... Music has a way with me. Not only do I have this deep conviction that music moves others in a very unique way, but I also cannot begin to articulate how it moves me personally. The Spirit was so evident yesterday morning, and I cannot remember the last time I looked out on the congregation to behold individuals overwhelmed to the point of tears.
"This the power of the cross, Christ became sin for us
Took the blame, bore the wrath, we stand forgiven at the cross!"
We then took part in a very unique celebration yesterday afternoon. A young man who has been attending our church for some time now requested that our pastor baptize him in a local creek. Now Louisville is a true city, so if there was even a hint of rain, this would not take place and he would, instead, be baptized during yesterday morning's service. Lo and behold, not a drop of rain fell all weekend, and we left the church building to a warm and sunny sky. Amidst navigating the massive park where this creek was located, and the seemingly impossible parking, virtually the entire congregation showed up. We had been told this young man invited everyone he knew, from close friends and family to people he met in line at the grocery store, and what I saw as we approached the creek's bank was something to behold. Not only was the bulk of our little church body represented, but many were there whom I have never seen. Not only was a baptism witnessed yesterday afternoon, but it was also a beautiful time for this man's testimony to be shared, as well as for our pastor to elaborate on what the act of baptism truly represents. Although yesterday was sweltering, this baptism was a glorious sight to behold. I pray the hearts of those in attendance were pierced with the Gospel truth.
"Your blood has washed away my sin, Jesus thank You
The Father's wrath completely satisfied, Jesus thank You
Once Your enemy now seated at Your table, Jesus thank You"

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Free Our Health Care Now

If you are thankful for the options we are given as citizens of this nation,
or for any other number of reasons...
Go to the link above and sign the "Free Our Health Care Now Petition."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Thoughts on Then, Now, and Whatever Lies Ahead

As a naïve and hopelessly romantic teenager, I was head over heels about a boy. This particular boy did care for me, valued me as a friend, but never took our friendship further. Although I knew deep down that we would never date, he set the standard for many years. At the time, it drove me absolutely batty that no other boys could measure up. If there was a potential dating relationship in the works, he was always there to challenge and bring to mind an obvious immaturity or other concern with my juvenile crush. I'm telling you, he made me want to spit nails at times...the very one I would never date was the one continually raising the bar. One day in my early college years, we were eating lunch somewhere and he started asking questions about the kind of man I wanted to marry someday (the nerve, right?). With my blood pressure rapidly increasing, I mentioned that I had hopes of someday marrying a man who is called into vocational ministry. He responded almost defensively, asking why the person would have to be called to ministry, and I simply replied that he did not necessarily have to fit into a some mold. I just knew my heart, and knew that it would be a sweet blessing and gift from the Lord if He was to unite my heart with someone who shared the same deep convictions I had for ministry. The remainder of the conversation was quite awkward, and I remember that day being a significant turning point when I began cutting the emotional strings that had been tied to this boy for so long. While thankful for the significant imprint he made on my life, I knew it was time to move forward.
Now, many years after that lunch conversation, I am pondering the very humbling reality that my husband and I are just a few short months away from completing our seminary degrees and moving on to whatever lies ahead. I did always dream of marrying someone with a deep passion for ministry, and never in a million years would I have imagined the Lord going above and beyond as He has done. The man whom I am blessed to call my husband has an intoxicating love for the Lord and His people, and that yearning to shepherd His flock is always present. So what happens when that which you have only ever dreamed of is suddenly coming into view? I know myself well enough to know that I could easily go into panic mode thinking of all the implications that come with being a pastor's wife in a local church. Thinking of "life in a fishbowl" is enough to make me lose sleep at night if I'm not trusting in the One who has called us to such a life as this. If I am not confident in where my true identity is found, then I will lack such confidence when faced with inevitable trials and criticism. If I am not trusting in Him and the ways in which He has so specifically and undeservedly gifted both my husband and I, then I will be prone to doubt and questioning His plan. With all of this in mind, I eagerly (though very timidly on some days) brace myself for whatever He has in store for the months ahead.
Even now, as we are so close to wrapping up this season and wondering what comes next, I am mindful of those things which are of utmost importance when it comes to being a pastor's wife. These things should apply to any wife seeking to live in an honoring and understanding way with her husband, but they are especially crucial when one thinks of the whole "fishbowl" scenario. What are these things to which I am referring?

1) Watch out for him. You know him better than anyone and have his best interests in mind. If he is overworking himself, lovingly bring it to his attention. Try to find ways to lighten the load. Occasionally, there are seasons where there is no way around the busyness at church. During those the place where he can relax.
2) Give your husband helpful and honest feedback. Take it seriously... Take time to think through your opinions carefully to be sure they are wise and accurate.
3) Stand with him when times are tough. Even when you disagree with him, respect him, both publicly and privately. Pray that God will give him wisdom in making decisions. Do not forget the seriousness of his calling. He is bringing the gospel to the church each week.

Much thanks to the newly-discovered True Woman blog for posting these helpful items for consideration. I am very much aware of the very great responsibility and privilege that comes with my husband's calling, and I want to be encouraging him in whatever ways I can even now. Little did that immature teenager a decade ago know what the Lord had in store, and I can look back and see how He was preparing my heart then for how I am to love and serve my husband today.