Article Review: “A Wife’s Testing Ground” – Jen Smidt

I read a great article today entitled “A Wife’s Testing Ground,” by Jen Smidt

She articulates well what I’m only just beginning to learn about the balance between being one with my husband but fully reliant on the Lord. It’s an interestingly complex situation. One particular sentence struck me – “There is no more heart revealing place for a wife than when her husband is vulnerable.” That is so true. When Josh is fearful, I feel afraid. When he seems vulnerable, I feel I am as well. If he’s not leading, I question venturing. If he’s discouraged, I struggle to have faith. I lean on him, I trust him, and often, I expect him to remain steadfast, stable, and strong so that I can be those things as well. However, while there areas of our marriage that Josh can support me in these ways, that’s not ultimately his role. And besides all of that, while he’s an incredible husband, he’ll never be perfect.

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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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The Idea of a “Love Bank” Isn’t a Myth… But the Idea that Your Spouse Must Make Deposits Is A Lie

If you’re married, engaged, or hope to eventually be married, I highly recommend that you read Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. Seriously, I feel that every time I sit down to read another chapter, the Holy Spirit uses this book to change some area of my heart or some long-held cultural perspective of marriage that I’ve been clinging to.

Chapter Two, entitled “The Power For Marriage,” lays the foundation for the rest of the book, namely that marriage is meant to be undertaken only through and by the power of the Holy Spirit. He turns the widely-accepted pop psychology idea of a “love bank” on its head, saying:

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You Need to Hang Out With Married People…

I’m not just saying that because I am married, I promise.

Josh and I had the opportunity to hang out with an incredible young family last Tuesday night and it really impacted me. It’s remarkable how much you can learn in a short amount of time as you watch a couple interact with one another, interact with their child(ren), and talk about marriage. They took precious time out if their schedule to serve us by making us dinner and sharing their home and lives with us for an evening. We talked about our families, our ministries, theology, and much more. They encouraged us that marriage and ministry do get easier – if only because you grow in unity as a couple and the Lord continues to refine you. Those three or four short hours had a long-term effect on my heart. I’m still thinking about our conversation and what they had to teach us about marriage, even a week later.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to stay within our comfortable friend groups made up of people in a similar life stage or age range. However, when you keep your social circle limited to a particular group or age range, you deprive yourself of an important segment of the body of Christ. And even more importantly, you might be limiting opportunities for you to grow and mature in your faith.

Let me challenge you to spend time with people who aren’t just like you. Get outside of what is comfortable or convenient. Spend time with younger children and elderly people. If you are single, spend time with married people. To those of you who are married, invite single people into your home. Serve them. Show them the realities of marriage, coupled with the blessing of covenant. Reflect the Gospel with your life.

The rewards will be great – both for those who step outside of their normal friend group as well as for those who welcome new friends in.

Quotes on Marriage

I’m currently reading Gary Thomas’ Sacred Marriage and I wanted to share some incredible quotes from his book and from others today:

“Merely being faithful to your spouse is quite a testimony in this society. But as you go beyond that to communicate love for your spouse in a consistent, creative, and uninhibited way, the world can’t help but notice. God will be honored.” – Betsy and Gary Ricucci (from Sacred Marriage, pg. 153)

“The couple is unlike the individual in that it must act for its own preservation in a much more deliberate way than the individual. Individuals might contemplate suicide, but rarely forget to eat, whereas couples often forget to nourish their relationship.” – Mary Anne McPherson Oliver (Sacred Marriage, pg. 153)

“Passivity is as foreign to Christian love as the moon is to the earth. Christian love is an aggressive movement and an active commitment. In reality we choose where to place our affections.” (Thomas, 155)

“Marriage based on romanticism embraces an idealized lie (infatuation) and divorces the reality once it presents itself. Marriage based on life in Jesus Christ invites us to divorce the lie (an idealized view of our spouse) and embrace reality (two sinful people struggling to maintain a lifelong commitment)” (Thomas, 165).

These are just a few of the ones that have impacted my heart a lot this week. Whether you are single, engaged, or married, I highly encourage you to read this book! It will encourage your pursuit of Christlikeness and will help to eradicate our culture’s definitions of love, commitment, and marriage from your heart.

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.

Contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.” – 1Timothy 6:6-7

I just searched this site for the number of times I’ve tagged a post with the word “contentment.” I found that despite the fact that contentment is something the Lord is constantly teaching me, I found only four previous posts (if interested, you can find them here). Recently, the Lord has convicted me about how frequently my heart wanders into discontentment, as well as the constant comparisons that I make of myself to others.

The area where I find myself most vulnerable to comparisons and discontentment is no longer the mall or when I’m flipping through a J.Crew catalog, though those are still avenues of temptation for me to lust for things. Rather, I’ve found that several of the greatest areas of temptation for my heart in this current season involve social media sites.

Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, among others, provide a unique environment for online community. They, like many other social media sites, have made it possible for friends and family members to stay connected, despite living on different sides of the country or even on different continents. I often catch myself heading to my sister’s Facebook page so that I can view new photos of my ten-month-old niece. They live in Los Angeles, but thanks to Facebook and FaceTime, I’ve been able to be a part of my baby niece’s life! There are so many other positive uses for social media. We aggregate news, we are inspired to pursue causes of justice and mission, and we pursue a myriad of various interests through social media. The possibilities are truly endless. I’ve made numerous Pinterest-inspired recipes and craft projects. However, despite all of the positive opportunities that Facebook and other social media sites provide, I have recently realized that there is another inherent opportunity in the use and consumption of social media – the temptation and opportunity to covet and compare.

This temptation is not new. God commanded the Israelites in Exodus 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” We all have a proclivity to want what we do not have and Facebook and Pinterest tend to make us much more aware of what is not ours. They bring the whole world to our fingertips! While looking through my News Feed, I’ve found myself comparing my body, my vacations, my family, my home, my job, my marriage, and my friendships to those of my closest 1,028 friends on Facebook. And it doesn’t stop there! You can literally compare every detail of your life to the details of others’ lives that they post for all to see!

I experienced the incredible danger of these comparisons this past fall as I settled into marriage. I had several friends on Facebook, whom had also recently been married, and I found myself in a constant state of comparing myself and my marriage to these women and their new husbands. I wondered if my marriage wasn’t as good as their marriages if I wasn’t also receiving flowers or love notes with the same frequency as the other new wives. Or if I wasn’t cooking for my husband as much as they were. Facebook opened a door into others’ routine lives and relationships that made me feel as though my life and my relationship were somehow inferior. I found myself coveting. I wanted my husband to be more like theirs. Likewise, while Pinterest is super fun (and addicting), even I have “Fitness” and “Fashion” boards. Is it full of exercises that I think would be helpful and outfit ideas that I love? Yes. But it’s also full of images that fill my heart and mind with what culture says I should look like. And sadly, all too often I fall prey to their perspective. And so do many other women. In fact, even the news media has been reporting on Pinterest’s “anorexia problem.”

I’m sure that I compare myself and what I have been given to other people and their possessions even more often without realizing it, but thankfully, the Lord revealed this sin in my heart last fall, before I allowed it to poison my new marriage. I have to constantly remember and reflect on why I entered into marriage in the first place – because God had led me to this specific man and no other! Likewise, I have had to consistently meditate on 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

I want to encourage you to take a look at your heart today. Look at where you may have allowed discontentment, jealousy, and covetousness to creep in as you have observed your friends’ lives or dreamed of new clothing, a perfect body, and what your future house could look like. Meditate on Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Please let God Himself define perfection for you. And don’t be lured into thinking that God hasn’t given you exactly what you need. Thank God for where He has placed you specifically – and remember that He is sovereign and that He has determined not just when you would live, but also “the boundaries of your dwelling place!” (Acts 17:26).

And lastly, please place a guard on your heart and do not allow yourself to be lulled back into discontentment. As 1 Timothy 6:6-7 says, “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.”

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.

Love songs, Dave Barnes, and Christianity

okay, I’ll just go ahead and admit it – I’m a hopeless romantic. so there’s your disclaimer for this post – it’s gonna be a little sappy.

The problem with being both a Christian and a hopeless romantic is that so many love songs (and love stories, for that matter) mischaracterize the role of love, romance, and relationships/marriage in our lives… they focus on sensuality or place far too much value on the feelings that accompany relationships instead of what commitment really means. Maybe I’m thinking about this because I’ve got six or seven wedding invitations sitting on my desk. Or maybe I’m thinking about it because one of the invites is to my little sister’s wedding.

Regardless, I have discovered an artist whose songs I like A LOT. I recently went to a Dave Barnes concert and loved the lyrics in his songs… they seem to convey love and adoration without giving the focus of his affection a position that doesn’t belong to her.  His songs keep playing on repeat in my head (thanks to Karen) and I think they’re beautiful. The third one below, I Have and Always Will, is the perfect wedding song and it’s definitely my favorite. I’ll have to play it for Courtney once I get to Texas!

God Gave Me You – Dave Barnes
I’ve been a walking heartache
I’ve made a mess of me
The person that I’ve been lately
Ain’t who I wanna be

But you stay here right beside me
Watch as the storm goes through
And I need you

God gave me you for the ups and downs
God gave me you for the days of doubt
For when I think I’ve lost my way
There are no words here left to say, it’s true
God gave me you

There’s more here than what were seeing
A divine conspiracy
That you, an angel lovely
Could somehow fall for me
You’ll always be love’s great martyr
Ill be the flattered fool
and I need you

God gave me you for the ups and downs
God gave me you for the days of doubt
For when I think I’ve lost my way
There are no words here left to say, it’s true
God gave me you

On my own I’m only
Half of what I could be
I can’t do without you
We are stitched together
And what love has tethered
I pray we never undo

God gave me you for the ups and downs
God gave me you for the days of doubt
God gave me you for the ups and downs
God gave me you for the days of doubt
For when I think I’ve lost my way
There are no words here left to say, it’s true
God gave me you, gave me you.
Gave me you.

Crazyboutya – Dave Barnes

You don’t have to tell me, girl, I know it
And hallelujah is coming out my mouth
Cause you’re my girl and girl I don’t deserve you
But deserving love is not what you’re about
Im gonna tell the whole wide world about you
Tell them what you mean to me
Ooh, Im crazy bout ya, baby, and I just can’t help it
Some might call it selfish
I need you by my side
I’m crazy bout ya baby
And there’s no denying
No use even trying
I need you by my side
All the girls in the papers and the movies
And the covers of the dirty magazines
They got nothing on your beauty, pretty baby
Cause you’re everything that they wish they could be
Im gonna tell the whole wide world about you
And tell them what you mean to me
Ooh, Im crazy bout ya, baby, and I just can’t help it
Some might call it selfish
But I need you to myself
Ooh, I’m crazy bout ya baby
And there’s no denying
No use even trying
I need you by my side

I Have and Always Will – Dave Barnes

Darling, we’re both scared
But where love is, fear won’t tread
All of these friends here agree
We’re right where we should be
Underneath all your white
My Lady, My Love, My Bride
In your darkest hours
Will I love you still
I have and I always will
I guess it’s because I just do
Following heaven’s clues
This is a big mystery
How I found, you found me
Underneath all your white
My Lady, My Love, My Bride
In your darkest hours
Will I love you still
I have and I always will
And you are changing now
Your part of me somehow
And I will never be alone
In your darkest hours
Well I love you still
I have and I always will
I have and I always will

But seriously. Read the lyrics. And also, always remember this:

“Most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God. And ultimately, marriage is the display of God. It displays the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his people to the world in a way that no other event or institution does. Marriage, therefore, is not mainly about being in love. It’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. And staying married is not about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant and putting the glory of Christ’s covenant-keeping love on display. If you are married, this is why. If you hope to be, this should be your dream.” (John Piper, This Momentary Marriage)

And…… done! Normal posts shall resume shortly.

I remember when

So, my little sister is getting married in June. She’s not so little anymore… I’m thrilled that she’s found someone who her heart loves and who loves her immensely in return. Dustin’s an incredible guy (and a very lucky one).

I got a notice about her bridal shower yesterday and ever since I’ve been flooded with memories of growing up with Courtlandt. She’s always been my very best friend and my partner in crime. I brought the crime, the mischief, and the ideas, and she was always my partner, regardless of our mission. She always believed in me and trusted me, even if I was leading an escapade out through our two story window. There is no more faithful friend or follower.

My very first memory of her, I think, is not of meeting her at the hospital, or of bringing her home, though I do remember being thrilled to have been given a sister. My first clear memory is of Court when she was about six or seven months old. She fit perfectly in my hot pink retro flower baby carriage. I remember pushing her around our living room and I remember being so proud that she was my sister. She wore a jumper and a big floppy straw hat and I thought she was the cutest thing ever.

And there are thousands of memories, thousands of moments just like that. I remember talking her into so much. And I remember taking her punishment as well as my own on so many occasions because I “was the one who talked her into” whatever mischief she had been part of. She was always content to be with me and to do whatever I was doing. There are memories of countless tea parties; dance parties with our Minnie Mouse dolls; dressing up in pearls, heels, and veils; rollerblading on the front porch; blackberry picking; learning to ride our bikes without training wheels on that horrid gravel driveway; horseback riding; long days at our desks in the school room; escaping through our bedroom window when Mom thought we were napping; picnics in the woods; and of lots of time in trees in the back yard. We cut holes in our frilly socks to make dresses for our barbies, dreamed up a million scenarios to pretend we were part of, made a home of the little house in the backyard, stood on stools to learn to cook, and we wore matching clothes for so long that I think it amounts to almost half of our lives thus far.

There were times that we argued, I’m sure, but I don’t remember them. And I think we both remember the two single times that she got into trouble that didn’t involve me. I hate to out her publicly, but I think she lied only twice as a child and was caught both times. Once she thought it would be really fun to pull all of the cotton swabs off of the Q-tips but wouldn’t admit to Dad that she had done it (I think she blamed Taylor), and the other time she ate peppermints without permission. I know… truly evil, right? I used to think she was perfect in every way, and then she confirmed it when she surpassed my graduating GPA with her perfect score of 4.0. She’s literally a genius.

I could never capture completely all that Courtney has meant to me. She’s loved me through life’s rough times, rejoiced with me in my successes, and prayed like crazy every time I’ve ever needed prayer. We attended Lee College together and studied abroad in England together in 2005. We followed that trip to England with another trip to England, France, and Italy following my college graduation and I know we’ll never forget our three weeks alone together in Europe. These are the memories that make a lifetime. Sisterhood is definitely one of the most precious things we’ve ever been given. All of these memories make up a woven existence, a shared life, that can’t be broken even by distance and infrequent phone calls.

Now I get to serve as her maid of honor and I’m thrilled to watch her enter this new stage of her life and experience the incredible gift of marriage. I have to admit that it’s strange to think that she’ll enter a stage of life ahead of me but I’m so excited to have the opportunity to watch her grow and learn from her experiences. One day we’ll switch places and I’ll have her standing with me as I become one with someone as well and I can’t even begin to express the joy that knowledge brings to my heart.

My mom was always right. My sister is the best friend I’ll ever have.