The alarm sounds and I reach over to find my husband still sleeping. “Wake up, you leave today. . . I miss you already.” We linger, holding that one last hug before we set the day in motion. I pray, “God, cover him as he travels this week,” and I rest in his arms another minute.
We stumble around in the morning light. Our usual morning routine disrupted by this early morning flight. Two showers. Breakfast. Last minute packing. Snacks. Passport. Hanging clothes. Book. We are ungraceful and the clock says it is time to leave–well past the time to leave. Forgotten items send us scurrying. And the peaceful moments we savored just before we slid out of bed become a distant memory.
We head out the door later than planned. And rain–torrential–slows our pace further. Traffic. Brake lights. A bumper-to-bumper parade going nowhere. I note that we missed every light. Why is it when I’m late that the lights are all red? And why not bring up more negative things to pile on to the morning stress. . .
Why is it that, when things are what they are–things I can’t change–I make them worse? I thrive on the negative and create more stress. Instead of savoring the last hour I get to spend with my loving husband, I squander it with my ugly side. Why don’t I just shrug things off and laugh about them? And then I think:
“All that makes Him precious and dear to the Father has been transferred to me. His excellency and glory are seen as if they were mine; and I receive the love, and the fellowship, and the glory, as if I had earned them all.” –Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness.
This morning I haven’t earned them all, that’s for sure. I’m grateful I don’t have to. And, I’m certain the way I’m behaving isn’t what Bonar was talking about with respect to the things that make Christ precious and dear to the Father. I imagine God, in a parental stance, arms folded, saying those things parents say to children when they over react–those things I’ve said to my only children so many times.
Yet, I am loved by the Father, even when I am clothed in the ugly. In my tattered “clothes,” I feel ashamed. Deep sadness for this foolishness. Deeper sadness that I haven’t poured out Christ’s love on my husband.
I breathe in God’s grace and forgiveness. The words spill out, “I’m so sorry. I wanted to take you to the airport so that I could spend this last hour with you. . . . And now, look what I’ve done. . . . Please forgive me.” I see a glimmer of God’s grace and mercy and love trickle down on us. We travel in silence the rest of the way to the airport.
We remain wounded by the morning, but I know we will heal like we have so many times before. We say our good-byes and I-love-yous, and I slowly pull away from the curb, reminding myself that “All that makes Him precious and dear to the Father has been transferred to me [and my husband].”
My tattered clothes remain, but the gift of the Father’s love and the promise of the cross, is transforming me one tiny thread at a time.
I have a longing that tugs at me: to serve the homeless. It isn’t new. But, it pulls at me stronger now. In the winter months. In the cold and damp and dark months of the year. In those times when I am blessed to sit in my home, with the warmth of a fire and warm meals on the table.
I pray for the right opportunity to serve. To know God’s plan for me. And, yesterday, at church, I thought: This is it. This is it.
Our church has a ministry called 3 O’clock People. Those involved serve hot meals to about 100 of the homeless in our city every Saturday–every Saturday–at, you got it, 3 o’clock.
This year, Christmas falls on Saturday. And so, hot meals need to be prepared and served. Without 3 O’clock People, these members of our community would go without on the day when we celebrate the birth of Christ. The savior. God among us.
And so, we are serving Christmas dinner in the gym at church. Fully decorated, tables, home cooked food. And, we are sitting down–together–with the homeless, and breaking bread. On the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. God among us.
I came home excited, ready to sign up the family. Drawn to the opportunity to live Christmas a little differently this year. Drawn to the opportunity to serve.
But, when I spoke to my husband about it, he had a different view. He wasn’t as excited about sharing a meal with the homeless. He was happy to help–to provide food, to help with set up. But sharing a meal wasn’t what he wanted. He explained, it wasn’t about not wanting to share a meal–it was about having to be social. Having to push himself to talk to people he doesn’t know.
I understood completely. But, I was let down. I told him, “That’s not my vision at all. I really want to do this.”
“But,” I said, “let’s talk to the kids and hear their thoughts about this.”
My selfish, blame-it-on-my-husband voice kicked in. The ugly me. I thought to myself. Of course he doesn’t want to do this. He never wants to. I wish he would change. If he were a Christ follower, maybe he would want to do this. Another Christmas where I’m reminded so loudly of our different beliefs.
Then, I heard my husband’s voice, “You know, I’ll do whatever my family wants to do. I just want to spend time with my wife and my kids.”
My selfish voice, the voice in my head continued: Great! We’ll get him to do this. It will be perfect. A selfless Christmas serving others. We’ll get to do what I want. I know the kids will want to serve.
In the quiet of the morning–this morning–it struck me. My husband—seeing the excitement in my eyes, and the disappointment when he told me he really didn’t share my excitement–was willing to give sacrificially for me–to push himself beyond his comfort level for me and the kids. This man who does not know Jesus, showed me what it means to live sacrificially.
Any selfishness was mine, not his.
And so this morning I’m grateful. Grateful that my husband displayed for me selflessness. Grateful that God showed me my selfishness Grateful for God’s grace and mercy. Grateful that God reminded me of the things I love about my husband and the things I need to change about me. Grateful that God reminded me that I was placing my desire to love those I don’t know over my love for my husband.
I don’t know how or where we will spend Christmas day. I’m praying about it. I’m praying that my heart won’t be restless about it. And, I’m praying, whatever it is, that it will reflect Christ to those around us and to my husband. I’m praying for a heart that trusts God fully and trusts that God is faithful.
And, I’ll continue to pray that God will show me how to serve the homeless. Where He wants me and why He has placed this on my heart. And, I pray that serving and loving others will be a response to God because of my faith.
“Serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command:
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” — Galatians 5:13-14.
I picked up the book from the shelf and started to read. I had read it before. Years ago. But, I wanted to come back to it. It was a book about marriage–having a successful marriage–despite the spiritual differences a couple might have.
But, this time, as I read, I became tense, immediately. What was it that bothered me? It was well written–certainly. Easy to read. But it was something else. I couldn’t put my finger on it. So, I put the book down.
This morning, I picked up the book again and started to read. This time, I knew the source of my tension: the author’s choice of words.
Loaded words. Words that seem harmless, but which carry negative emotions. Words, especially used in the context of marriage, that have a powerful message: you may not make it.
Surviving your marriage.
Managing your marriage.
The challenge of marriage.
Wow. How did I miss this the first time? Or, maybe, those words resonated with me the first time I read them–there were times when I wondered if I would ‘survive’ my marriage. And, certainly, marriage can be challenging. The first time I read this, maybe that is all I was looking for.
This time, the word ‘survival’ stirs up images of struggle, barely making it. Hopelessness. Maybe just ‘accepting’ marriage or ‘settling’ for it.
But, the gift of marriage is more than something to survive.
It is something that God beautifully created. Something that we long for–that we dream about when we are young. We yearn for the companionship and intimacy–beautiful intimacy–that marriage provides. That is the marriage God wants.
So, I close the book. I fold my hands. And, I turn to God to write the script.
Seek forgiveness, grace, and beauty.
Live fully and thankfully.
I attended a woman’s forum yesterday where a friend shared a story about the pain caused by names–brands or labels–we allow others to place on us. After she shared her story, and the pain that she felt by being labeled as “disgusting,” she talked about how Christ can redeem our name–renaming us–to reflect the image God created us for. Through Christ, she redeemed her name: “Beloved.”
I walked around branded: adopted, unequally yoked.
Adopted at birth. I thought it was a gift–wonderful. But, as I wrote in my post Adoption, Hope, Heritage–during my college years I began to see myself as having no heritage–needing to create my own. I strove for high grades, top leadership positions, prestigious jobs. Then, one day, many years later, at a woman’s retreat, God washed away that brand–that burden I carried–I realized, through Christ, that I was–and am–first, a child of God. This Earthly heritage didn’t matter.
“Unequally yoked” is another label. Pastor’s talking about marriage at church, friends talking about marriage, others questioning me about my choice. Even my mom. I was “unequally yoked” to a man I loved.
I allowed that brand to slowly create a divide in my marriage. I blamed our different beliefs on our inability to make decisions together. I looked at what I didn’t have, instead of what I did have in my marriage. At times, it created pain in the raising of our kids. I longed for my husband and I to share our faith.
But, at the same time, I fully believed that the covenant of marriage was for all time. And so, I prayed for peace about this aspect of my marriage–that the rejection and the shame–would subside. I prayed that my selfish desire would subside. I turned our marriage over to God.
Over time, the label curled up and peeled off, bit-by-bit. Rather than “unequally yoked” I began to see Christ at the center–a marriage bound together by Christ. I can’t tell you when it happened, but I began to shed the guilt and shame and pain caused by the label.
I began to see all the wonderful things I do have in my marriage rather than this one thing I don’t have in my marriage. I began to see my husband’s gifts again. The things that made me first fall in love with him. God gave us a “Perfect Mismatched Marriage.”
I fell in love with him all over again.
A little residue remains from those labels, but I am aware of it and I turn towards Christ. He redeems my name.
What name do you need to redeem? What label or brand do you need to throw off?
“Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Try always to be led along together by the Holy Spirit, and so be at peace with one another.”
–Ephesians 4:2-3, TLB
This scripture speaks loudly to me in the context of marriage. If only I could say I consistently lived by these principles. As a Christian married to a loving, caring man who is not a believer, I have lived a range of emotions that don’t always reflect Christ well.
I sit in the pews of church–alone. As communion starts, I fight back the feelings–the longings. I watch as couple, after couple, after couple and family, after family, after family, walk together toward the table. They wrap their arms around each other and pray before the table. They drink from the cup and they break the bread of communion, together.
I ache. I wish. I hope. And, I think to myself, “If only . . . .” I take my eyes off Christ, and I think only of me. The jealousy and “if onlys” reflect what I want. These feelings linger–sometimes barely there and other times more pronounced. I think of what I don’t have, instead of the incredible gift that I do have–the incredible, loving, brilliant, hysterically funny man who God chose for me.
I need to fix my eyes on Christ. Because, more than my longing to stand before the communion table with my husband, I long for him to know Christ. I long for him to know God’s grace and mercy.
And so, in the early morning hours as I wake, I roll over, wrap my arm around my love’s middle, hold him tight, and pray. I pray for us–for the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life–and that we will be led together by the Holy Spirit. I pray for my husband–that God will pursue him and prepare his heart. And, I give thanks for the incredible gift of marriage–with all its mountain tops and valley floors and all the paths along the way.
When I seek Christ’s face, I live the rich reality of my marriage with the man who loves me deeply, who makes me laugh, and who still calls me his bride some 23 years later. And I am at peace with God’s plan.
Instead of thinking,”If only. . .,” I breathe softly, “Amen.”
Note: In this story, I hope to honor my marriage and show my deep love and devotion to my husband. Perhaps those in Christian marriages will understand a little more about mismatched marriages, and know that our struggles are not so different. And, perhaps by sharing my story, others in mismatched marriages will know that they are not alone.