10 years of marriage have brought many sorrows and joys, many answers and questions. Yet we do know God uses all the little scraps we have the courage and humility to offer Him with our hands outstretched. He makes them beautiful, and nothing is wasted.
After 10 years, we are still working hard to open our hands, and He is still making it beautiful. You should too. IT'S WORTH IT!
* Perhaps the best part of an anniversary is the chance to reflect. Here are 10 reflections on the messy-beautiful journey of marriage. We hope they make you think and maybe laugh and encourage you in your marriage today. We love you, friends.
1) LOSE THE EXPECTATIONS: nothing kills joy in the moment faster than thoughts about "how it should be". Forget that! Taste and see that what you have is good! Celebrate your spouse, cherish your spouse, champion your spouse--even if they are not what you thought they would be because NOTHING IS! Forget what the Joneses are doing--THEY AREN'T REAL (and they're likely on the brink of divorce ((behind closed doors)) anyway). The reality is, our greatest expectations should be on God, not on our spouse. Expectations crush everyone but God who actually surpasses them all and does "more than we could ask or imagine".
2) BECOME A STUDENT OF YOUR SPOUSE: Question: why do people know more about their Fantasy Football team's stats or their "Instagram friend's" weekend plans than they do about the person they have committed their life to???? That's just crazy! Learn EVERYTHING ABOUT how your spouse receives and gives love, what their dreams are, what they value, and what their perspective is on absolutely everything. Like any subject worth studying, learning the depths of who your spouse is takes time, effort, and focus, but there are few better subjects to know inside and out. And FYI, there will be a quiz...
3) INTENTIONALLY SACRIFICE: Unique to our marriage is that one spouse is very handicapped. We have a layer of built-in sacrifice happening every minute of every day. Jay has to drive me everywhere, get me in and out of the bathtub, and push my wheelchair everywhere we go. Yet, on the inside, we're all pretty handicapped, wounded, and needy. The biggest enemy to marriage is self-focus, so the practice of repeatedly, intentionally sacrificing your neediness for the sake of your spouse takes the power from that enemy and deepens the bond of marriage, making it harder and harder to break.
4.) ENGAGE CHURCH TOGETHER: In case you haven't heard, going to church is a thing of the past. To us, "Sunday Funday" always starts at our church, but many people no longer think church in the traditional sense is relevant to their lives or even necessary to enhance their walk with Jesus. We have experienced the absolute opposite to be true. We have found transformative value in being a part of a church community. It has meant everything in our lives. We don’t mean just having church in nature or watching online or being in a Small Group or occasionally sitting on the back row on Sunday morning. Now, we love Bible study groups, community groups, gender-specfic groups (we lead several of them right now) and online sermons and nature, but they are all bonus material. Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Engaging the church in a real COMMITTED & SACRIFICIAL WAY (sound familiar?), where you are indispensable to it and it is indispensable to you, will change your life and even change how you view your marriage, after all the church is the bride of Christ...
5) EMBRACE THE GIFT OF MARRIED SEX: In a world of glorified one-night stands, rampant STDs, walks of shame, and "test-driving the car before I buy it" mentalities, how amazing is it to know that you have ONE life-long sex partner in your spouse??? They know everything about your body, so there is no awkwardness, and no need to impress. Things like frequency, timing, and positions are all for the two of you to enjoy together. There is truly nothing more intimate and thus deeply satisfying than getting to be yourself to another person who is also getting to be themselves to you. It's like God planned it that way or something?!
6) RECOGNIZE THIS IS THE HARDEST WORK YOU WILL EVER DO: Yes, I said it. Marriage is tremendous WORK. It is also the very best work. Why do we assume that any valuable thing will require much of us, except in regards to relationships--we think if it's not effortlessly easy then something is wrong with it! Though marriage is often-frustrating and always challenging, it can be deeply gratifying to know you've put your best efforts into something of such great value. Good marriage does not just happen. The best marriages, like ANYTHING WORTH ANYTHING, are ones where efforts are made and prices are paid, but the return always far exceeds the investment.
7) DIGITALLY SABBATH: In this growing age of digital connectivity, dependency, and even addiction, it is critical in our relationships and especially our marriages to create boundaries with work and technology. We decided about a year ago to consistently take Sundays off from our phones/computers. We aren't legalistic about this, and we feel the freedom to check an important text message or take a call from James' grandparents in the South. However, we literally keep each other in check to NOT have our phones with us that one day a week. We let that awkward eye contact abound. We have conversations about what we're actually doing in real life! Amazingly, we don't feel behind on work or like we're missing out on our news feeds, we feel re-connected in the most simple but profound ways and come Monday, our grip on our phones has loosened just a bit more.
8) RE-NARRATE THE CULTURAL STORY OF MARRIAGE: Media and culture weave a conflicting tale of marriage--that it's both the romanticized ideal that completes you and the 50/50 sinking ship that will rob you of your individual freedom and possibly end in divorce. This confounding messaging pervades even the marriages of those who are seeking to live like Jesus--His example of love for us is in fact the ideal our marriages seek to reflect! It's vital for us to re-narrate this story to ourselves, our children, and those who encounter our marriages. The potential for every marriage is SO MUCH GREATER AND SO MUCH MORE HOPEFUL than we think. I love this truth I learned several years ago!*** I keep telling everyone and their brother: MOST married couples who are educated through at least high school, who are not living in poverty, who marry after age 25, and who are from largely intact families will stay married--it is not the 50/50, fatalistic roll of the dice that it is portrayed to be. You will not likely become a statistic. Cultivate optimism about your marriage and it's future. Believe the best for your spouse and your marriage because the best.
9) BECOME YOUR SPOUSE’S CHEERLEADER & #1 FAN: There is nothing better than knowing someone has “got your back”. There is nothing more freeing than the deep support that only a spouse can give. Approval or disapproval is a powerful tool between a couple. Jay has a men’s bible study every Thursday at 6am. I get up at 5am and “clean" the kitchen (whether it is dirty or not). I am really loud in there and stay for the full hour while making coffee for the guys and praying for them and Jay by name. I can’t do much because I’ve only got one hand working here, but I know deep down that Jay likes it. He knows I believe in what he is doing and that I will cheer on and get behind all his endeavors. An important distinction here--there's a big difference between being a CHEERLEADER & A CHANGE AGENT. We, as spouses, are the former, and God, THANKFULLY, is the latter. You cheer on who you know God is shaping your spouse to be and that makes all the difference.
10) SHARE YOUR LOVE STORY: God-willing, there is still so much of our story to be written, yet the unknown future often requires a review of the past to move forward in trust. In the moment, it's so hard to see God at work, but after time has passed, we must get in the practice of looking back and seeing that He was at work all along. This fuels not only our gratitude for what has been, but our hope for what will be. Tell each other, tell your children, tell anyone who will listen the story of your love, and how God has woven it all together. We must remind ourselves what we already know. Talk about the day you married and your life since then. Look at old pictures, watch your wedding video. Talk about your ups and downs. Be authentic and vulnerable in the telling of your story. OWN IT and know there is so much more to come.
+ PS -- I wanted to share this with you. I hadn't read it in many years. Now I need a tissue. Jay has walked by me and made the moments of hell full of moments of joy. How is that possible? This is exactly what spouses should do for each other. I love you Jay Wolf, III.
***Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage is one of our ABSOLUTE FAVORITES and inspired many of these thoughts--READ IT!