The Secret Service, Scandal, and Grace

I read several articles this week that caused my heart to break. The news has been full of articles about the Secret Service scandal in Columbia and being the political nerd that I am, I’ve read quite a few. None of them affected me as much as these two:

Wife of Secret Service Agent Stands By Her Man

Name of the Secret Service’s Infamously Cheap Agent Revealed

It’s easy to be shocked and disgusted by the news that men visit prostitutes. It’s easy for us to be aghast at the news that government officials engage in these acts while representing the United States of America abroad. It’s not a difficult task to condemn them for their indiscretions, the shame they’ve brought on their esteemed agency, and the potential endangerment of our President.

In our judgment, it’s also easy to forget that these men have wives and families and lives. They’re husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends. It’s easy to forget that some of them (and according to media reports, at least one) are likely fellow followers of Christ. It’s easy to forget that in many ways we are just like them. It’s easy to forget that we are just as capable of such sin. It’s easy to throw the first stone. It’s easy to forget the way that life breaks down when we sin against one another. It’s easy to forget how much our sin affects the people that we have promised to cherish.

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Marriage is Nothing Like a Hallmark Card

Josh and I are currently reading Tim Keller‘s The Meaning of Marriage with our small group.  Here’s a short taste from the first chapter (and it’s also the quote from the back of the book):

“I’m tired of listening to sentimental talks on marriage. At weddings, in church, and in Sunday school, much of what I’ve heard on the subject has as much depth as a Hallmark card. While marriage is many things, it is anything but sentimental. Marriage is glorious but hard. It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood, sweat, and tears, humbling defeats and exhausting victories. No marriage I know more than a few weeks old could be described as a fairy tale come true. Therefore, it is not surprising that the only phrase in Paul’s famous discourse on marriage in Ephesians 5 that many couples can relate to is verse 32 [‘A man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery…’]. Sometimes you fall into bed, after a long, hard day of trying to understand each other, and you can only sigh: ‘This is all a profound mystery!’ At times, your marriage seems to be an unsolvable puzzle, a maze in which you feel lost. I believe all of this, and yet there’s no relationship between human beings that is greater or more important than marriage” (Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage, 21).

Josh and I just celebrated (well, remembered) our 9 month anniversary in marriage yesterday. It’s actually quite weird though because despite the fact that it’s been 9 months, it really feels like we’ve been married for five years or longer. We already have trouble sleeping without each other, something I had equated to a problem only known by people who have been married two decades or longer. I’m sure that when we actually hit the five year mark and then the twenty year mark, I’ll look back on this post and laugh, but truly, it feels that we’ve matured and grown more in the last nine months together than we did on our own in the last few years.

There’s much about marriage that IS sentimental. What I love most about marriage is the “little stuff” that makes up the fabric of our lives. I love holding Josh’s hand, taking walks, just talking, teasing, snuggling, cooking together, chasing him around the condo to retrieve whatever item he’s most recently stolen from me, and just sharing life with him. And yes, that sounds like a Hallmark card (and in fact, there’s a card sitting on Josh’s nightstand that says pretty much what I just said here). But that’s not all there is to it.

Marriage changes everything about your life. You’re no longer able to do exactly what you want, when you want to. It grows you. It shapes you. It teaches you about the gospel. And yes, it’s hard. I’ve heard people say that love and marriage shouldn’t be too hard or something’s wrong with your marriage, but I disagree. That’s why I really like the Keller quote above.

I’m currently in the middle of another great book on marriage – Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. Thomas says that marriage is “the greatest challenge in the world,” and also asks some really important questions about marriage and cultural perceptions and expectations of marriage. He asks his readers “What if God didn’t design marriage to be ‘easier’? What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place? What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” (Sacred Marriage, 13).

I think God designed marriage to be hard. He wants us to be holy. And thankfully, I can say that marriage has made me both happy and holy, but I know that there are seasons of even greater difficulty ahead. In those seasons, I want to remember that the point of marriage isn’t that I am happy. Instead, the point is that God is working in my heart to make me holy, humble, and totally committed to the covenant that I made to Him, to Josh, and to hundreds of others last July. It’s an incredibly beautiful thing to share your life with someone. But make no mistake – it’s hard – but it is absolutely worth the struggle.

Initial Thoughts on Marriage

I know that I haven’t been married all that long and that I probably don’t have the right to starting writing about marriage until after I’ve been married for more than a month. So take everything I say with a grain of salt and if you prefer, you can wait for my 20 year anniversary in 2031 to begin believing me. All of that aside, I think it’s important to capture some initial thoughts in these first few weeks.

Marriage is, in just one word, incredible. It’s not at all about butterflies and rainbows, or even the “oneness” experience that many people described it to us as, nor is it the extremely difficult transition that the other half of couples described. So far it’s quite ordinary and normal in the sense that we already know each other so well that there have been only nominal disagreements and surprises. That’s not to say that eventually disagreements and surprises won’t come, but there’s definitely the sense that because we have been such good friends for such a long time, we already know one another’s pet peeves, likes, dislikes, and preferences.

That’s not to say that loving him is without difficulty. He tends to not hear me when he’s reading Twitter or watching Sports Center and he also annoyingly tends to leave dishes in the sink instead of putting them straight into the dishwasher. But I step on the shower mat soaking wet instead of dripping off in the shower, so I guess I probably annoy him too.

I think what we discovered during our honeymoon was that the oneness described by all of our counselors and friends isn’t something that wedding vows or living together automatically create; instead, those things merely lay the foundation and create the atmosphere in which oneness can grow. We’ve decided that oneness is likely the result of 20 years of marriage, several kids, and years of struggles, ministry, commingled finances, and lots of prayer.

All of that said, it’s great! We love it. It’s really awesome to wake up next to your best friend every morning and go to sleep with them at night. But it also takes work. I’m learning that to be successful in marriage one must be extremely intentional. Without intentionality, a couple could go through life and merely live together.

Before I was married, I never realized how easy it would be to just cohabitate  or to serve my husband merely just to get things done, without ensuring that the love and glory of Christ is the catalyst of such service.

It would be so easy to do a poor job of reflecting the relationship between Christ and the Church, merely because I lack love. I’ve realized how important it is that the love and glory of Christ be my motivation in every area of life, and especially in my marriage.

Love is such an interesting word. I’m realizing that I’ve only ever scratched the surface. It’s a word that, like the word “oneness,” is likely going to take me a lifestyle shift and an entire lifetime to figure out in its entirety. And if I’m going to live my life by Scripture, this season of life requires me to turn again to Scripture to ask “what is love?” I know in my head and in my heart that it is defined as God and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but practically, how am I going to live that out? How do I lay down my life for Josh?

I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 13’s description of love – “love is patient and kind; love does not enjoy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (vs. 4-7).” And also, like forgiving someone 70 x 7, “love never ends” (vs. 8), which means that I need a limitless reservoir of love for Josh.

But not just love for Josh or because of Josh. Not because he’s amazing or I love him, but because of God – because all I do and all we are is meant to project the love of Christ’s love for the Church to the world. All I do is worthless without love. I could be the best wife, but if I’m not operating out of an overflow of love for Christ, it is all worthless. I’ve been extended limitless grace and I can only extend it in return. Furthermore, every single thing I do, whether its organizing the pantry, making dinner, or unloading the dishwasher – if I do it with any hesitation or without love, I negate it and I do not do it as unto the Lord.

It seems silly to me that this is so revolutionary to my heart today, but it was an amazing revelation and it makes Josh even easier to love well and live with. God is so good and so faithful to sanctify me in this time and use marriage to do so.