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.

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.

Character Transformation… Always In Progress

It’s been more than two months since I last posted an entry.

Two. Months. That’s a long time, even for me. I meant to write, I really did. I’ve learned so much…. SO. MUCH.

In my post entitled “Character Transformation,” I talked about how I’d been handed my dream job and all about the leaps of faith and trust that the Lord was leading me to make as I chose to leave my career on Capitol Hill to pursue full-time ministry. I said that when a story climaxes in our lives, “something is won or lost and sometimes a battle still rages, but the growth, maturity, and transformation gained make every moment of the journey worthwhile.”

I had no idea how much more true that statement could become.

I thought I had changed through the process of dreaming and aspiring to ministry. And then I jumped into ministry and realized that relative to where my heart needed to be, I hadn’t changed much at all.

Again – here’s Donald Miller’s thoughts on change:

“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another.”

I’ve realized that Miller is really, truly, and absolutely correct. Each phase, each part of the road, so to speak, involves some changing, some growing, and some adjusting. But sometimes there are major changes, seismic shifts, if you will, that God desires to create in the very depths of who we are, and those kinds of changes are the ones that turn us inside out, let us see who we really are, and then gracefully push and mold us into the people that God created us to be.

Now that I’m in ministry, I see in a new way how very much I need the Gospel.

I’ve seen in one short month just how much of a jerk and a coward (to use Miller’s language) that I am. It’s true. I’m praying the words of John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease,” more than I ever have in my life!

Everyone who has ever told me that ministry is hard told the truth. There are competing visions, clashing cultures, and multiple ways of getting a job done. Being in ministry has made me feel more inadequate than any job in government ever could have. I see all of my flaws under a microscope now – I’m  impatient, prideful, easily frustrated, and stubborn. I have to cling to the Gospel, trusting that the Lord knows what He’s doing, why He’s chosen to use me to do it, and how He’s going to break me to the point that I’m usable.

I had no idea the growth, maturity, and transformation that the last month would bring, but I was right… these things, while difficult while the battle rages, are what makes every moment of the journey worthwhile.

The point of this post, this story, this life… is transformation. The Gospel message transforms people’s lives. And I’m learning that that change – that sanctification – is both difficult and beautiful. Thankfully, God is faithful, and when He’s done with this season in my life, I know I will have evolved “from one kind of person to another.”

Character Transformation

You know how in every good book there’s a scene that sets the course for the rest of the story and the character is strengthened? It’s a climax in the story. It’s the moment we remember forever and the instant we associate with certain characters or specific seasons or journeys. Something is won or lost and sometimes a battle still rages, but the growth, maturity, and transformation gained make every moment of the journey worthwhile.

I was sitting in rush hour traffic on May 14th, and it occurred to me that that another one of those moments, a scene in my own life that I’d been anxiously awaiting for so long, was happening. Right then. I was headed in to the Capitol, but on my way in to work that morning I had a phone call to make. A phone call that would change almost everything about my life as I’ve known it for the last three years. A phone call to accept a job in full-time ministry.

I was deluged by a thousand memories and at least a thousand prayers requesting this very position. Every single thing I stood to lose fought for consideration as well. I remembered every prayer and every tear and every promise I’ve made to God for the last three years as I’ve asked Him to open the door for me to go into ministry. The choice was so obvious that there wasn’t even a choice to make at all. It was everything I’d hoped for, everything I’d dreamed of, and everything I’d asked God for. I made the call and as I did, I remembered this quote from Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:

If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. “

I hung up the phone and with tears streaming down my cheeks I realized that I’d gotten even more than I’d asked for. I got the dream job, but even more importantly than that… I changed along the way. The journey was just as important as the destination. The dream didn’t change even though I waited for years for God’s promise to take place. Instead, He changed me. He used those hopes and dreams to transform my character, illuminate my weaknesses and unbelief, and shape me to the point that He could use me in the way He felt was best.

The two quotes below are also by Donald Miller and are from his book Through Painted Deserts.

It is always the simple things that change our lives. And these things never happen when you are looking for them to happen. Life will reveal answers at the pace life wishes to do so. You feel like running, but life is on a stroll. This is how God does things.”

“No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath… We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?”

I’ve learned that Miller is right. There’s no way to wrap my mind around God’s timing. Life is about learning to trust God, after all. And in this season, instead of learning to be patient in waiting, I’m going to learn to jump off of bridges, learn to venture out, learn to be daring and brave. I can already tell that He’s going to teach me to adapt rapidly instead of wait with hope. It’s going to be fast-paced, insane, and everything I’ve dreamed of. But I can guarantee that the transformation will never stop. And I hope there will be so many moments of transformation that I can recount to you along the way.

growth

I love having the opportunity to watch my siblings grow up – even from afar. It’s incredible to get to experience this growth with them and to watch them come to maturity in Christ.

an excerpt from my brother’s recent blog post:

“I learned little things of love through the movies that have now accumulated and impacted the ways I view love and intimacy. However, the movies are probably not the most ideal source for information regarding life and love. But there is also a strong influence from the Bible (however I think it made less of an impact on me while I was really little and is making more of an impact upon me now that I’m older). Through it I have learned that love will never be just a happily ever after ending but it is a lifestyle that’s focus surrounds another rather than me. Furthermore, God must be included in this, else I fail.”

This same little brother once said, many years ago, that love was about “kissing,” and “that was all.” He had asked me to explain love and relationships in just one word. My response was “sacrifice.” He didn’t like that answer much. Granted, he was about 12 years old, and like many little boys, had a slightly inaccurate picture of what life really is about.

Even more encouraging than the change in how he sees love now (truly as “sacrifice” based on his words above), is the way he sees God… He’s not the foreword, an afterthought, or merely punctation in his life. He’s essential, life giving, the only hope of success and fulfillment.

I’m not a parent (though sometimes I feel like one since I have five younger siblings), but I have to say that I’m incredibly proud of Taylor – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for him. I’m absolutely thrilled beyond words that he understands, better than ever before in his life, not only the Truth of Scripture, but also its absolute necessity as a lens and a frame of reference in our lives as followers of Christ.

We’re all in a constant state of understanding this in our own lives. Life itself is a sort of a coming-of-age process for each of us. We’re always changing and growing in Christ. Just when we begin to realize that we’ve learned one lesson, conquered one area of sin (an area where we have refused to trust God), we’re asked to go further and learn more. We’re never ever going to “come of age” as it were, until we’re with Christ. But the more we allow Him to increase in us, the more we will decrease… and the more we’ll understand that we have to be IN Him to live, to grow, and to love.

I love you Taylor.