surprised by joy

Zach and I are celebrated six months of marriage on December 15, 2019.

The first few months of marriage – maybe the first ten years – are for taking in all the experiences like a sponge. We take it all in with open eyes and raw nerves. I hesitate to celebrate such a small amount of commitment in light of a lifetime, or to offer insight as a twenty-year-old wife. Gosh, I can’t even legally order a margarita or rent a car but I’m committed to Zach for life. But here’s the thing: the reason the Israelites wondered in the wilderness for so long, the reason the rebellious teenager strays from the faith of Sunday school truths, the reason so many of us are out here floundering? It’s because we forget. We don’t celebrate the goodness and the faithfulness of God routinely – and then our routines become drudgery. 

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” — 1 Samuel 7:12

So we are staking our claim – the Lord has helped us. Through six months of figuring out how to love each other like the church should devote itself to Christ, how Christ lays down His life for His friends. We lay this stone of this small victory in faith – in sureness of things not seen – that it’s one of many.

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Our first six months – setting up our home with IKEA finds and sentimental pieces of our pasts, getting and training and loving our puppy, my busiest semester yet, living the untold stories of behind-the-scenes ministry life, walking through a whirlwind of family tragedy. Panic attacks, laughter only two close friends could share, passive aggressiveness rooted in deeply hurt feelings, freedom found in open communication – you can find a bit of it all here. It has all seemed like too much at times, in good ways and bad.

This week, we brought home a present for our six month old puppy. Bones are the only thing that seem to hold his attention for longer than two minutes – with the exception of possibly his tail. Zach went to pick up only his food, but he also noticed something Usher would love – a bone that is 3/4 his length. He picked it up and as soon as I saw it, I couldn’t wait to see Usher’s face when we brought it home for him. We delighted to give the gift and he delighted in receiving it.

As Usher grabbed the bone from our hands, he could barely keep it up with his mouth. On the way to his favorite spot on the couch, he dropped the bone twice, fumbled over himself, and needed help. And was deliriously excited.

Stretch your imagination with me in this moment. Isn’t that a bit like God’s gift of marriage?

We did absolutely nothing to deserve the gift of marriage. We are not holier than the single person seeking companionship. But God saw this gift for us and He couldn’t wait to see our faces in the receiving! Even though He knew that we would need help – every single hour. Even though He knew we would make fools out of ourselves. Even though He knew it was a bit too much for us to carry on our own. He delighted in the giving and we are delighting in the receiving – of the gift and the help stewarding it.

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I’ve been thinking about the fact that if our lives were a movie, Zach and I’s story would be over. The curtain would close somewhere between our wedding ceremony and the airplane that took us to the Cayman Islands. But this, this — is a holy beginning. The world would say that we’ve got nothing else entertaining to give. And it’s true, our dating and engagement was a whirlwind of excitement. But God has just begun the good work in us, of growing love larger in our hearts every single day.

I think the crux of couples getting lost in the day to day is how they perceive a successful relationship. Is the goal to never fight, to always sync physically, to feel good?

There’s a better way. And it is the hardest, holiest way.

The thing that matters? It’s not whether I am being served or happy, while those things are included in the package deal many times. The only thing that matters is whether our marriage tells the truth about the gospel or not.

Are we irritated at each other but laying it all out on the table to work in out? Is the romance just not there today but are we rooted in the unconditional love of Christ? Is your “better half” being a jerk, but you know that when the lights go out you can use this as a conversation for growth of character and the relationship?

Is it all feeling broken, but we are leading one another to the cross?  

As long as a couple is married, they continue to display – however imperfectly – the ongoing commitment between Christ and his church. . . . The first purpose in marriage — beyond happiness, sexual expression, the bearing of children, companionship, mutual care and provision, or anything else — is to please God.

— Gary L Thomas, Sacred Marriage

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A month ago I was leaving my friend Gloria’s house. As Midwesterns have been mocked on the internet for doing lately, we were standing in the kitchen next to her back door saying our 15 minute goodbye. I looked at her with a decidedness in my voice: “I just wish that we would have been honeymooners a little longer.” By that I mean, the first time I was so angry to sleep on the couch – even in beautiful, fun, finally-no-boundaries-unplugged paradise – wasn’t even a week into our marriage. #wifeoftheyear.

“I think most of us who have been married for any substantial length of time realize that the romantic roller coaster of courtship eventually evens out to the terrain of a Midwest interstate – long, flat stretches with an occasional overpass.” — Gary L. Thomas, Sacred Marriage

She nodded her head with understanding.

She assured me that it’s okay if your story doesn’t seem to look like someone else’s newlywed story – because it’s real. Can I lean in and say that again? It’s okay if your story doesn’t look like someone else’s. It’s you. It’s authentic. It’s good to walk through hardship – as long as we walk, crawl, and stumble together.

Gloria finished her words of encouragement: “Don’t worry. God will surprise you with joy.”

He truly has.

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