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It’s More Than a Fairy Tale (Marriage Matters, Part 1)

From the time I was a little girl, I’ve wrestled with mixed messages about relationships. On the one hand, there was the fairy-tale version that involved a great quest, a wicked enemy, a ballgown, true love’s kiss, and a lady being swept off her feet.  On the other hand, I saw real-life examples of broken vows, angry breakups, and heard a clear message of girl power.  Women who were themselves hurt by their choices and others, preached a message of independence and autonomy – I was told over and over, “you don’t need a man,” “never trust anyone,” and “look out for #1!”  When it comes to marriage matters, I’ve always had a jumble of messages to sort through, and the sorting and living out is vital… even before the wedding day.

 

The problem is, we humans were made to need each other.  It’s true, life isn’t just a fairy tale where you will meet that one person you can’t help getting googly eyed over, riding into the sunset to live happily-ever-after.  But our best history of the world and God’s plan in it, the Bible, shows us there is a lot we can learn from the idea of that fairy tale; in fact, it’s been said that the best fairy tales point us to the grand truths of life.

 

 

Marriage is more than a fairy tale.

In some ways it has all of the elements, but it goes way beyond the pages of fantasy.

 

Marriage does involve “true love.” Most often, there’s physical and emotional attraction, and all of this leads to “falling in love”. BUT where the movies (and our own bodies) might lead us to think we’re controlled by that emotional and physical attraction, the truth is we can choose to stay attracted, to draw near when we want to pull away and serve our own desires in the moment.  Even more, I believe we can set ourselves up for success in marriage when we train ourselves to take action in both expressing and reigning in our attraction long before we reach the marriage relationship.  We can practice self-control with both our emotions and our bodies as single people, and that practice builds strength for the needed choice to honor our spouse with our thoughts, our emotions, and our bodies, throughout our married life.

From the time we’re little we hear that we “Can’t help our feelings.”  I wish I had been taught differently.

 

The truth is, we choose whether or not to be controlled by feelings every day of our lives.  Not married?  I dare you, begin to practice that truth now. CHOOSE to feel love, kindness, commitment toward others.  CHOOSE to treat others as brothers and sisters in Christ… not just objects for feeding our emotional and physical pleasure.

Just like in a fairy-tale, marriage is a great adventure… but the hero and heroine gain their status from thousands of little moments of quiet faithfulness.

 

Marriage does have a hero and heroine.  Together they battle the dark forces of evil, literally out to get them and destroy a God-ordained picture for a watching world, of the kind of Love that made Him give His life for the salvation of mankind.

 

In his book Love and War, John Eldredge says:  “You live in a world at war. Spiritual attack must be a category you think in or you will misunderstand more than half of what happens in your marriage.”

 

The real-life hero and heroine in a marriage prove their hero-status with dogged commitment to stay faithful to each other.  With little choices like ignoring annoyances and saying no to distractions and choosing the good of another and with a huge decision: to yield to each other under a yielding to God, as they lead their own family in the order He ordained.

 

In marriage, too, whether you have physical or spiritual children, you lead your “kingdom” and serve together – influencing those around you for good!
In real-life, marriage requires sacrifice.  One of the hallmarks of true love is yieldedness to another’s best interest.  As Christians, our yieldedness is first to God, then to each other within the body of Christ.  Throughout the New Testament, God paints a picture of the specific type of yieldedness He calls for in marriage.  In Ephesians and elsewhere, husbands are called to lead sacrificially, and wives are called to submit to their leadership “as unto God.”  As we work out the specifics of that relationship personally, we paint a beautiful picture for a watching world, of the kind of love God has for us.  But if we fall to the tendency to put ourselves first, we damage our own heart, the heart of our spouse, and the portrait of Love we have the opportunity to represent.

 

Worship of “me” WILL ALWAYS FAIL US.

 

Want an honest admission?  I cannot live up to my own expectations.  I hold a high standard for my family and those I love around me… but I’m busy letting my own self down most of the time, quietly failing to meet my own standards.  So when I put “me first,” I risk causing misery for me and everyone around me.  And this is a truth my husband and I have learned the hard way:
ME-FIRST mentality hurts the team.
Here’s something we can hold onto, though (my women-friends, especially!) – the standards God holds us to are even higher.  And we can meet those standards… but only with His help.

 

And we needn’t worry about this submitted heart He asks us to have – because He has high standards for our spouses, too.  And He modeled for us what that kind of love looks like – along with the eternal, awe-inspiring, dancing-in-the-streets kind of freedom and joy it produces!  But again – we can only get that freedom by yielding ourselves completely, heart-mind-soul-strength, to Him.

 

No matter what mixed messages we’ve been fed, no amount of fury or fight will fix all the broken things in us and in those we love.  We have to move forward, give, sacrifice, grow, and sometimes step back, re-evaluate and create healthy boundaries, but it’s the yielding to God, the trust we build in Him to care for us, that produces beautiful fruit in our relationships.

This following comes from a post called Beauty in Gentleness, written by Christine Willard on The Edges Collective:

“Being married costs everything. Tears… Incredible vulnerability and sacrifice. It causes you to take a deeper look inside your heart and soul, your desires and your personality… It is not easy. But that does not come as a surprise to you. You already know that!… Of course loving costs everything–look at the Cross. But loving is always worth it…We all know that loving is hard. Marriage is hard. It is hard because it is opposed. The devil hates marriage… But God loves marriage!… He is for you… Marriage is going to ask everything of you, and that is why you must have a vision for it… We live in a great love story, set in the midst of war. We need each other–desperately. We have been entrusted with the heart of another human being. Our loving will prove to the world that love is real. We will play out before watching eyes the Great Love Story of the ages.”

How are you being challenged to live beyond the fairy tale?

Love In the Weeds – Finding Hope in the Seasons of Marriage

We were there to photograph my daughter and her friend, wanting to bless the friend with lovely images of herself. We wanted to capture a budding friendship, and create images for each girl to shine a light on her inner (and outer) beauty, and we brought our family so we could enjoy a sunflower field at the same time. It was unseasonably warm, and ever-the-over-planner-optimist, I’d hoped to capture some family images and a new headshot all on the same day.  But sweating while I carried gear (with plenty of help), and lacking artistic focus except for in the favor of the girls, I was giving up hope of the second goal I had.  Busy appreciating their youthful beauty, I self-criticized.  I didn’t feel pretty, and being in front of the camera did NOT sound fun.  I’m not gonna lie: I was having one of those self-centered, pouty moments, when hope in marriage seems fragile and elusive.

 

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“Go stand over there, mama,” my girl said. She instructed her dad to join me.  May I add that sweating profusely while standing among fields of sunflowers (mixed, surely, with the inevitable weeds) does NOT make me feel romantic, either?

 

She wouldn’t budge, though.  She took a moment and knotted my hair into some bohemian on-the-fly up-do, and she touched up my lipstick.  She used her shirt sleeve to dab the “glisten” on my nose.  And then she told me to snuggle with her dad.

 

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For just a few minutes, I forgot that I was hot and bothered, feeling chubby and disheveled, and let myself relax into my husband’s arms.  I let myself feel the way I’ve always wanted my photography clients to feel: free from the “weeds” of the everyday, and in love with the guy who won my heart all those years ago.  I felt like “his girl,” and I felt pretty in his eyes.

 

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For just a few minutes, while our youngest kiddos and my daughter’s teenage friend tried to ignore our “mush,” I melted into the moment, and I let our daughter remind me of one of the things in this life that really matters: the commitment of two people to “make it work” over decades, despite our individual and mutual brokenness, for a bigger purpose than ourselves.

 

By pushing me to get outside myself, my daughter reminded me that the fragile gift of hope in marriage is worth nurturing.  It sets an example for the generation to come.

 

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We’re in a season of transition as a family. My oldest two are exploring their next steps in growing and pursuing their calling. They’re primarily living in other states, thankfully close together and pursuing relationship with each other. I’ve never been the mom who couldn’t wait for them all to leave, and I’d be lying if I said their leaving didn’t leave a hole in my heart and in our home and rhythm as a family.  (Ask me sometime about the big, wretched ugly-cry that shocked me when my second headed off to hike the Appalachian Trail).  But something really cool has happened along the way.

 

I’ve been “surprised by joy,” as C.S. Lewis would say, in the changing rhythms of our family.

 

There’s a new type of interaction happening, between us as parents and our children, and between our kids, themselves. It wouldn’t be hard, though, for me to fall into a type of mourning, a grey-state, that shadowed the sunlight of what’s happening in our home. The ones still living and studying daily with us, their parents with a new type of attention to give, are both grieving with us at the parting of their siblings, and reveling in the sweetness of our ever-changing daily life.  Stopping to melt into that is a gift, for me and for them.

 

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Heaven knows, life is full of fields of weeds.  From our inner mess to the mess in our world, it would be so easy to lose ourselves in a cloud of resigned survival.  But I’m so thankful that my Papa uses my family to make me stop and melt into the moment.  I’m praying that with or without a sunflower field, I will remember to seek the heart of my husband with tenderness and grace, to find the romance in the everyday.

 

How do you stop and melt into the moments, finding hope in marriage and love in the weeds?

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He’s Not Perfect | Thoughts on a Christian Marriage

In the beginning, I had pretty sure thoughts on what a Christian marriage should look like. He would be strong and kind. Tall and handsome. (That part wasn’t necessary but surely, it’s what God wanted for me.) He would lead me daily in prayer time, and we’d hold hands and sip coffee and study God’s word together.  He would be a youth pastor, most likely, and I’d lead drama and music in our church, and together we’d have lots of babies and raise them to love Jesus.  And all the while, he’d be a man who was “wild at heart,” and pursue me diligently, and romance me regularly.  He’d gently lead me beside the still waters of fairy-tale-love and when needed, be outspoken with me and others about truth and justice.  He’d take care of all my physical needs and make me laugh and melt simultaneously.

 

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The real-life story just didn’t look exactly like the fairy-tale.  His style of “leadership” didn’t match the pictures in my imaginary world.  He sometimes got frustrated with me when I said too much or not enough or his words had been held inside too long and our combined sin had caused rottenness somewhere or other.  He romanced me sometimes, and he made me laugh often, but there were days and months and even years where laughter was scarce and neither of us felt particularly “smitten.”  Babies came and prayer happened and in between the beauty there was messy.  But one thing did happen – he stayed.

 

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It’s interesting how the Artist paints a better work of art than we can imagine.  How the colors he swoops across the canvas of our lives glows with golden light that is more pronounced because of the depth of the shadows.  Twenty-one years in, I’m still learning to wait on my one who is more contemplative.  To be brave and reach out when instead, I want him to first reach in.  Sometimes he does.  But sometimes, he needs me to be the helpmeet I was created to be, and to forget the romantic notions that aren’t really romance, but self-focus, and melt into the real that IS romance.  To stop dreaming of what others tell me love is, and to listen to what my Papa says it is… because He says it in the real moments.  He says it loud and clear by being my true fulfillment when a person isn’t enough.  By bringing me joy through the created, but ultimately BEING my joy in Himself.  And often, he shows me what love is, through the man who has stayed.

 

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Some mornings, we make each other tea.  Others, we roll grudgingly out of bed because one or the other of us stayed up too late. Some days, we flirt and send married-people-messages and kiss in the kitchen.  Others, we forget to have a real conversation and let the moments fly by unheralded.  Sometimes, we look like the perfect Christian couple in the perfect Christian marriage.  Others (well, most), we look like two broken people, in desperate need of ongoing grace, thankful for certain redemption, learning day and year how to love… really love.  Mostly, though, I think we are a reflection of our Papa in one tiny way every moment we choose to stay.

 

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Are you married?  Contentedly single or longing for more, whatever state you’re in?  How has God used longing, or faithfulness, to teach you more of Himself?

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