A Broken Togetherness

19059562_10155076822815091_6085062570885595610_nTwenty-seven years of together. That’s a decent amount of time—a length I could hardly grasp when I said “I do.” Even now I can barely believe that span of time, even with the years stacked behind us, a beautiful bundle of children—all of it a blur of too fast.

It’s not for the faint of heart this thing called marriage. The years are uncertain, difficult, tumultuous, breaking. They are framed with laughter, stained from tears, and cushioned with faith, hope, and love—without which they’d crumble to certain death. But all of it is the making of a marriage and the making of us, together and individually.

It goes without saying that marriage is the choosing of a life lived alongside another. That recession up the aisle represents side-by-side living, saying no to selfishness, and no more going it alone—physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.

It’s a door flung open into your interior life, and the wider it remains, the better off you’ll be. Shutting the door in unforgiveness, complete self-reliance, or self-preservation isn’t an option. You signed on for a double passage.

It’s not a give and take mentality either. It’s a give and give again. Forgive and forgive again. And love—inside of imperfection—again and again.

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It’s not just proclaiming love in word but in being. In doing loving acts, speaking love out, responding in love, listening in love, sitting quietly in love when you’d rather tell him or her a thing or two. It’s staying when you’d sooner leave. It’s working to fix broken.

And to be honest, you’ll probably get wounded. Love fiercely and there’s a decent possibility. But it’s far better to love than to close yourself off in protection and precaution. That only serves to stifle vibrant love in all its various forms.

I’m no poster child for marriage done right. Ralph and my kids will tell you. Even so, I like to joke that because of him my crown in heaven will be too heavy to carry, and I’ll be assigned a full-time Seraphim flying overhead to hold it up. But he’s the realist and will tell you I’m no angel either.

But marriage isn’t I love you because you’re lovable. It’s closer to I love you in spite of the fact that you often aren’t. To know one’s faults and failings thoroughly and still love brings us closer to the heart of Jesus who loves us this way. To be wounded by that same person, forgive, and continue to love grows us to be like Jesus.

In this imperfect world full of imperfect people, love and marriage will likewise never be perfect. We are two broken people becoming less broken only now we do it together. Yet we often arrive in our marriage in this semi-broken state expecting perfect. So when life gets messy and our expectations of perfect go unmet or completely unravel, we think we made a bad choice. Instead of digging in and shoveling out of the chaos we concur the job is too hard and throw the shovel down.

But what if we agree that marriage isn’t perfection, nor is it the place where all our needs and desires will be met, but instead a broken togetherness.

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It’s not I love you because you’re beautiful, you complete me, you say and do the right things, and show up with chocolate and flowers (though that’s never a bad idea). It more closely resembles, if we are blessed with years I’ll love you until your skin sags. I’ll hang on to your hand over the hospital bed rail until your breath runs out. I’ll stay until the us becomes one again, and all that remains is the beautiful memories and the slightly less broken me once again.

So, here’s to another year of us—of we—amid our imperfections. May we love longer and larger than expected, and leave each other better than we found us.

 

 

 

Making a Marriage Work

shutterstock_589431530Yesterday, I attended a wedding shower. The bride-to-be asked the guests to write words of wisdom on cards that she would collect and keep. It was a wonderful idea and each of us scrawled our advice across the card. I wish I had read a few besides the ones the ladies on either side of me wrote. Next month it will be twenty-seven years for Ralph and I, and it’s never too late to learn.

Being a fairly verbose person, I surprised myself by writing only one word: Forgive. 

I realize I could have filled the card, not because I’m so wise or wordy, but because there are so many things that a couple needs to learn to make a marriage work. Things such as communication, prioritizing time together, respectfulness, faithfulness, and selflessness. But for me, if I don’t forgive, the others fall apart too.

If I suffer from a bitter heart—as I’ve been known to at times—it chokes out my ability to fully tend to my marriage. The anger that comes from withholding forgiveness disables communication. The bitterness can cause distance, inhibit respect, ignite selfish behaviour, and, if I’m not careful, can dissolve faithfulness or faith in my marriage.

Anything you want to thrive takes hard work, and a healthy marriage is no exception. There are a host of things that conspire to dismantle a marriage. The lack of the things previously mentioned can be factors, but other tensions beat at the door too. Things such as sickness, financial trouble, long work hours, and constant travel. The relationship may be may strained by putting the children first, extended family issues, living for self, or passing blame. A refusal to take responsibility for their part in the marriage issues, differing interests or ideas, unrealistic expectations, or infidelity can tear a marriage apart.

Marriage is hard work; extending forgiveness makes it easier.

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I would be amiss to fail to mention love with regard to marriage. If love is the glue, I imagine forgiveness is a strong element of this cementing factor. And just like love, forgiveness is a deliberate action. It’s easy to say you love a person. It’s easy to love when the relationship is new and exciting and you feel loving, but as the years press on and the hardships press in, that feeling may wane. And so there are times when you make a choice to love even if you don’t feel loving, just as you forgive even if you don’t feel like it. Both are a deliberate act of the will. Both do wonders to keep your marriage alive and thriving.

Feelings come and go and aren’t always a reliable reality. You have a choice as to how you will behave within your marriage and toward your spouse. You can choose unloving actions or loving ones, you can choose to remain bitter or forgive. And all these deliberate choices can either dismantle or build up your marriage. Your “I do” was an agreement to work hard at something nearly impossible without forgiveness, and fairly impossible without love. But if you learn to persevere and work through each struggle, there’s a greater chance your marriage will grow stronger having overcome them.

This summer many couples will find themselves proclaiming their love at the altar. Since neither one is perfect, I hope their vows include a promise to forgive the offenses of the one they profess to love—as many times as needed. And if they find themselves at a loss, I hope that they seek help from others when needed, and learn how to craft a strong marriage graciously padded with forgiveness and love.

I’ll leave you with this song: Fight For You – by Grayson Reed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lY0cdhDbmt0

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

~ Colossians 3:13

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

~Ephesians 4:31-32

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  1. What is one thing you can think of that needs work in your marriage?
  2. Is there anything you need to forgive?

 

 

Becoming a Lover

photo-1518568814500-bf0f8d125f46With the approach of Valentine’s Day, I’m giving you permission to love. Which is weird, I know, but maybe it needs to be said. Because let’s face it, love can be a little tricky. Mostly because people are tricky and do all sorts of things to make themselves unlovable.

They push love away with their meanness, their messiness, and their thoughtlessness. Maybe it’s a result of their baggage, their wounding, or not knowing any better. Which is sad, because even in the pushing away they really wish to be pulling in. But vulnerability is scary and takes courage, yet without those, love precariously teeters on pretense. To invite love in means to risk rejection or the ache of a broken heart. But love is the very thing our hearts need most.

As much as love can tear us asunder, it can just as easily heal.

Despite love’s glorious complexity, we need to learn to how to love, actually discipline ourselves to love, and chose to love under all circumstances. Every day we’re faced with opportunities to love so there’s no shortage of practice.

Part of love is respect. It’s listening to another’s viewpoint even when we don’t share it, extending kindness to the person whose choices or worldview you disagree with, and not tearing another down needing to prove your point.

Part of love is action. It’s refusing to turn a blind eye to need. It’s serving the stranger, listening to the lonely, and caring for your family.

Part of love is sacrifice. It’s the giving away of all you thought you didn’t have to give. It becomes tangible in the sharing of such things as time, money, or other resources that you could easily withhold.

Part of love is getting dirty. It’s refusing to remain on the sidelines of others’ lives but instead climbing into the trenches with them.

Part of love is bearing with one another and forgiving. It’s choosing to let go of hurt, blame, and shame. Quite often, we even need to learn how to love and forgive ourselves.

As we learn to love unconditionally, we become impervious to the ungracious acts of others. We discipline ourselves to not take offense, or grow upset or bitter, when treatment is less than admirable. And when we do that often enough, we grow loving.

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ~ Colossians 3:13

But it’s more than respect, action, sacrifice, getting dirty, putting up with, or forgiving.

Love has to do with faith. Not in the people around you, who you are learning to love, but in the One who first loved you and sacrificed his life in place of yours. Without Christ, and the help of his Holy Spirit, I’d be remarkably unloving. My forgiveness capacity: borderline zero. Even with him it’s a daily struggle, because I prefer not to be mistreated, disrespected, or neglected.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. ~ 1 John 4:18

As God nestles into our hearts, as we draw closer to him, there becomes room for miraculous, perfect love. I say miraculous, because apart from him, there would be little chance of fear-fleeing love. Christ suffered mistreatment, disrespect, and neglect himself. Through him—and the healing nature of his love—we learn to love fearlessly, courageously, habitually, and independent from others’ treatment. What they do, or fail to do, ceases to matter as much, and that protective wall we keep up—just enough to peer over but not let others penetrate— crumbles.

God’s love heals, purifies, strengthens, and perfects. But first, we need to let it in.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

~ Mark 12:30-31

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  1. Have you received God’s offer of love?
  2. What is your greatest barrier to loving God or others?
  3. Ask God to help you love creatively and courageously today.

 

 

 

 

Moving Mountains: or how I was literally brought to my knees.

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Ten years ago I could barely walk, sleep, or carry my own purse. I could no longer drive. That’s how intense the pain had become. I’d been a runner for 28 years. My motto was, “Why walk when you can run.” Now I had no choice. It was nearing two years, and over ten health care providers, but no one could help me. On top of it, I became pregnant and couldn’t take enough medication to dull the pain. It seemed I was trapped in a hopeless situation. Continue reading “Moving Mountains: or how I was literally brought to my knees.”

Thoughts on Forgiveness from a Bitterness Survivor

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It’s easy to have the mindset that if we withhold forgiveness, we are in control and somehow getting back at the person who hurt us. We think, if I forgive them, it lets them off the hook. But holding onto unforgiveness not only allows the offender to vicariously continue to hurt you, studies show it can also make you unwell. When you forgive, you release yourself from the bondage of bitterness. Forgiving not only frees you from hanging onto the offense, it frees you from the offender, and makes room for full spiritual, emotional, and even physical healing.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Forgiveness from a Bitterness Survivor”