Young Love: The Backstory

When I first published my observations of enduring and sacrificial love from an elderly couple (which you can read here), I had little idea that it would be shared and re-posted enough that it would eventually get back to the man about whom I wrote it. 

I came in the door after a tiring 2-day surf trip with the youth group this summer and had a letter waiting for me. I dropped my suitcase, keys, and sunglasses in the floor and opened it eagerly. And with tears rolling down my cheeks, I read a carefully typed 2-page account of their love story. Jim later told me, “I’ve never written anything like that before.” And he gave me permission to share it with you. So here are the main excerpts from his letter:

Lauren,

That you would observe and write such a beautiful article about us is humbling. I am especially grateful that you see our situation in a positive light, since I do not wish that our ‘nonconventional’ appearance be a negative factor… I don’t wish to bore you, but I would like to make a couple of comments related to the subjects about which you wrote:

…I don’t consider my efforts to be anything outside of normal behavior… I do not [consider it an] obligation…I don’t do what I do ‘because I have to.’ To understand, I need to take you through a little history.

We started dating in high school in 1942 when we were both 15; she was a sophomore and I was a junior. We did all the ‘school things’ and Saturday night movies with hamburgers and cokes (I was a real big spender). We dated as much as we could after my graduation while I worked for a year…then I was in the Navy for 17 months. After the Navy I started my freshman year at [college]…. At the end of my freshman year (August 1947) we married. I will not bore you with a lot of subsequent history; although it is pertinent, it is not necessary to make the point that I am trying to make.

Take a look at our situation when we got married. We were almost 21, she had a steady job… and things were going pretty well for her. To marry me she would have to move away from her family, change jobs, live she-didn’t-know-where, and work for 3 more years so we wouldn’t starve. I, on the other hand, had just finished one year of college, had spent what savings I had on that, and didn’t even have a bicycle for transportation. Even more, with my background of having graduated from only a small 100-student county school in Tennessee, having worked as a mechanic, spent time in the Navy and one year in a junior college, why would she even think I had what it takes to graduate from a prestigious engineering college like Georgia Tech? You would think that such a smart, pretty, employed girl who had so much going for her would have had far better offers than I could make. However, she did agree and we hitched our wagons to my star of becoming an engineer.

During college, money was pretty tight, and I remember once we had a serious discussion about whether we could afford for her to have a 5 cent coke with her sack lunch each day. [We agreed] that when I got out of college, she would keep the home and care for any children we might have, and I would be responsible for providing the income. That would mean we would adjust our standard of living to my salary. That was not to say that everything was easy or always one way. We made most decisions together, and a number were made differently than if I had been single; she could say the same.

So what is the point I am trying to make? In addition to all the above-mentioned reasons for my desire to care for her, there is the matter that she very early-on gave up her independence and put her faith and trust in me to see that she, and a family, were taken care of. I made a covenant with her before God and a few people to do that, ‘in sickness and in health.’ So, am I now obligated to meet her needs for 24/7 care, and do I do it for that reason?…No — I do it because I want to, and even though she does not know it, I want to express my appreciation for the love and confidence that she, as a smart, beautiful, rosy-cheeked, auburn-haired young lady expressed in me 67 years ago, and has continued to do so ever since! I suspect the time will come when I will not be physically able to personally meet her needs and other arrangement will be necessary. Until such time, I will continue to care for her and nothing else will even be considered.

I hope that you will meet and marry a Christian with whom you can have the same love and commitment that [we] had/have, to jointly ‘hitch your wagons to a common star,’ with God’s Word guiding you along the path. You may find that while someone may have to temporarily give up that 5 cent daily coke, it will not matter since 67 years later, despite the circumstances, you can say, “I would do it again.”

Published in: on August 26, 2014 at 11:28 pm  Comments (2)  
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Young Love

It’s a Sunday morning in a small town church, and the preacher stands before the congregation, his Bible open to today’s chosen Scripture.  From where I am sitting in my church pew, I glance across the aisle at the couple on the second row, sitting side by side and sharing a hymnbook.

Church dates are the cutest.  It looks like it’s their first.

She modestly smooths her dress over her knee, and he tentatively reaches out and puts his hand on top of hers.  For a moment he looks apprehensive, as though he’s afraid that his gesture will be rejected.  But although she is too shy to reciprocate at first, she turns toward him and her eyes light up with that spark of young love.

Ever so gently his thumb strokes the back of her hand, and the words of the sermon fade out as I become absorbed in their little romance, staring shamelessly.

Because it looks like their first church date, and for her, perhaps it is.

But her dress is outdated and her hair is white.  And by now, as her ragged breath comes in gasps and she grips his hand, looking frightened and ill at ease in her wheelchair, their Sunday morning excursions number in the thousands.

Fifty-two Sundays a year, for at least sixty years, they have walked together through the doors of the church.  But now he walks behind her as he wheels her toward their pew.  When the communion tray is passed around, he breaks the bread for her, and the ushers respectfully stand and wait as he feeds her the body of Christ in a sacred moment.

She becomes anxious, compulsively plucking at her dress and loudly whispering words that don’t make sense.  But he turns his creased and careworn face toward her, with love and longing and a depth in his eyes that I, at 21, cannot understand.  And he steadily reaches over and takes her wrinkled hand in his, comforting her as he gently continues to rub her hand with his thumb.  Her breathing slows and her panic subsides, and she looks down at their entwined fingers as though she is surprised to see them there.  Perhaps as though it is the first time.

At church, we talk a lot about Jesus and we talk a lot about love, and now I’m not sure that any of us, even the preacher, really knows what we’re talking about.

But I think Jim does.  Oh, I think Jim does.

10 Quotes that Changed My Life in 2013

Words are powerful. Sometimes, people say things that sear themselves into your memory, for good or ill. You’ll never forget where you were when they were spoken, or how they made you feel, and you’re a changed person because the depth that they conveyed introduced you to a reality you hadn’t seen before. 2013 was a year of significant growth for me, and I am indebted to those who have shaped me along the way. So without further ado, here are the 10 quotes (and one picture) that changed my life.

“Things will never go back to normal. You’re changed because of the people you’ve met and the things you’ve experienced. There’s a new normal that incorporates all of that and how it’s shaped the way you look at life.”

Specifically, this quote was about the difficulty of moving on with life after a life-changing mission trip. As obvious as it may sound, this was so freeing as I realized I didn’t have to ‘move on’ – that is, I didn’t have to choose between two realities. I could embrace the new and let it make the rest of my life even more amazing. And so far, it has.

“You may not have heard this a lot growing up, but you’re gifted to preach. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”

If I could point to one life-changing moment in 2013, this is probably it. I can still point to the specific table in Starbucks where I was sitting when these words made my heart skip a beat. Until March of this year, I had never really given much thought to public speaking.  Ironic, then, that it has somehow become one of my most apparent ministry gifts. My knees were shaking as I walked to the podium that Sunday in March – bad combination with six-inch heels – and saw 600 faces looking back at me. And then I found my voice. Sometimes it takes other people to discern a calling for you, and without one man’s faith in my ability, I never would have thought of myself as (what?!) a preacher. To those who have supported, encouraged, and affirmed me along the way – you’ve changed my life.

“We need more people like you in the churches of Christ.”

Me? Church of Christ? I spent the first 3 years of college becoming convinced that those two didn’t fit together. But a fellow misfit — an abstract, artsy youth minister in a tradition of intellectuals who nevertheless believed in belonging — thought differently, offered me a job, and supported me through the growing pains of discovering a unity that transcends uniformity.

“It’s so obvious that God had a purpose in bringing you here.”

We all have those times when we wonder if we’ve actually made a difference – especially when we feel more like we’ve made a mess of things. But God brings beauty from the broken. I was sitting on a wooden bench with my aunt watching an incredible sunset over the water when she spoke these words. Yet, even more affirming than the words themselves may have been the tears that gave voice to my own depth of emotion.

“Find a husband to share life with, because even an independent girl like you will get lonely trying to go it alone. Don’t be in a rush — slow down and enjoy life. When you have a decision to make, ask yourself 2 things: Is it best for you, and will it hurt other people? God’s picked me up and dusted off my britches after too many selfish mistakes. And go out and look at the stars on clear nights, and see which ones are looking back at you.”

This is advice from an 88-year-old WWII veteran who joined the Navy at 15, fought as second loader at Iwo Jima, and came back and started a successful business without a high school education. I figured it would be wise to pay attention.

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A picture is worth a thousand words, right? This picture will always stay with me. Pope Francis looks at a crowd and sees individuals whose pain is very real. Learn to truly see people, and truly love them.

“Take pain and doubt with you as your companions. Say to them, ‘You can come with me if you want, but we’re moving forward.'”

Reid Hillin, Woodmont Hills college minister. He claims to have paraphrased this from another source, but either way, it’s a powerful concept. Let pain shape you and change you, but never control you. Life doesn’t have to be put on hold while you try to figure things out – live wholeheartedly, if imperfectly.

“I see people. They look like trees walking around.”

Mark 8:24. This is a text that I preached on for my Communicating the Gospel class, and this unlikely quote from my good friend Second Touch Blind Guy has changed the way I look at those around me. Do I see others imperfectly, distorted through the lens of my prejudices and cultural biases? Or do I love and appreciate their uniqueness and individuality?

“You know what disgusts me the most about Christianity? Grace.”

This was a little unexpected – and a lot thought-provoking. People have all sorts of pet evangelism methods – as if one size fits all! “Just tell people they’re going to hell without the grace of God!” Well, it changes things up a little when grace itself is the barrier to belief. Maybe evangelism – which simply means sharing good news, and is not at all synonymous with ‘conversion’ – is more about listening and understanding than it is about shoving a pre-packaged philosophy down someone’s throat and expecting them to think the same way you do.

“It would be difficult being with you, but it would be worth it.”

You asked me when I started to change my mind about you. And although I told you I couldn’t pinpoint a specific moment, this might be the closest one. As I recall, you also said that you read my blog posts hoping for a shout-out. Here it is, and I hope you’re reading, because this is about as close as I get to PDA. Thank you for loving me for who I am.

I’ve heard the first part of this quote more times than I can count, but never amended by the second half. It can be difficult for feminists such as myself to find a man who accepts the fact that we will never be domesticated creatures, yet still has his own clearly defined sense of self. These words prove that you are both. They reflect honesty and careful evaluation of the cost as well as a deep appreciation for the return. Although they might not be considered super romantic by some standards, they were to me.

“I love you.”

To anyone who has said this to me over the past year, it never gets old. These words are always life-giving and sustaining, and I could never have made it this far without the genuine love and support of so many people. May this new year be filled with abundant blessings, and may you find beauty in pain as well as joy, in failures as well as successes. Continue to love well, and change the world around you. I love you all.

Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Social Media: Does It Stretch Relationships Too Thin?

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“I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean; like butter that has been scraped over too much bread,” says Bilbo Baggins in the classic Lord of the Rings.

I feel like that sometimes when scrolling through my Facebook feed. Or my Twitter feed. Or my Instagram feed. Or my Pinterest boards. Or…

Give me a moment as I pause from typing this; I have an inbox full of text messages which I forgot to reply to earlier. Each reply will start a whole conversation, and I don’t have the energy to juggle 6 of them. How will I ever get my homework done? “Haha, yeah,” I will respond distractedly, putting my phone down only to have it buzz immediately. A conversation can’t politely be let go until someone says goodbye, so my vague response necessitates another question to keep it going. “Um…what have you been up to today?” I might have already answered this question 4 times in various ways, but I can’t be rude.

Ongoing conversations are one of the most stressful things about social media. As a recent article pointed out, “The conversation is never over.” Instead of getting coffee once in a while to catch up on the last week or month, you’re constantly bombarded with live updates of every insignificant activity.

“What are you up to?”

“Just doing some homework. You?”

“Not much. Being lazy.”

“Haha yeah, I feel ya.”

“Yeah.”

“So…what are you up to now?”

“Getting some food, you?”

“Taking a break from homework to walk the dog.”

“Sounds exciting.”

And truthfully, neither party gains much, if any, satisfaction from this exchange. If you continually have conversations like this every day, you begin to feel smothered. You can’t keep up with all the people who are texting you, you can’t come up with conversational replies, and you just feel drained. Especially if you like to have your introverted moments, you can never fully recharge, because your quiet time is peppered with demands on your attention.

And there’s another way in which social media affects our relationships: it infringes upon our ability to live in the present. As harsh as it sounds, there are some relationships in our lives which are probably meant to be seasonal — you make a difference in each other’s lives and then move on to meet new people. You have the memories, and you’re a better person for having met them, but they don’t follow you everywhere.

A couple of years ago, a middle-aged friend of mine was telling me about the ending of his long-distance engagement after he met another girl (who ultimately became his wife). “It was terrible timing because I was up there for my fiancee’s graduation,” he explained. “But if I was going to do it in person, it had to be then. She threw the ring at me and got out of the car, and I drove away.”

“Did she get over it? What happened to her?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I never saw her or talked to her again after that day.”

I was shocked by this — but honestly, think about what a clean break it was. No hanging around pretending to be friends when everyone knows that doesn’t work. No drawn-out explanations, no backsliding, no misery and tears over his wedding photos on Facebook — which we put ourselves through because it’s “petty” to delete an ex from Facebook and proves that you’re not “mature” enough to deal with being friends.

Even apart from the breakup situation, sometimes relationships end up being a far bigger part of your life than normal social skills require, or are comfortable with.

“When are we going to hang out?”

I would never hang out with you if you hadn’t added me on Facebook after I spilled my ice cream cone in your lap at a McDonald’s 400 miles away from my city. 

Now that we have social media, however, with a quick exchange of phone numbers and usernames, we create the expectation that we must remain connected to every single person we meet…for the rest of our lives. But because we will come into contact with thousands of people throughout our lifetimes, does it slow us down to have the expectations of an actual relationship attached to every one?

I’ll be the first to say how thankful I am to be able to FaceTime with people I’ve connected with all over the country/world; I miss them. And if they weren’t constantly a phone call away, goodbyes would be so much more painful. Don’t hear this as a dismissal of those important relationships. I’m glad that the technology is available to continue them, and I don’t want to let them go.

But sometimes it’s emotionally exhausting.

And sometimes, we live so much in a virtual world that we are too drained to invest in the people who are right in front of us — if we even notice them. If we are to have any sort of balance in our social lives, we have to draw some sort of boundaries to protect us from relational burnout.

Back when I worked in retail, I prided myself on my customer service skills. I would never let a caller be on hold for more than a couple minutes, or if their request took a while, I would pick the phone back up a couple of times to reassure them that I was working on it. But on the occasion that the store itself was actually busy, it would get overwhelming to juggle customers and callers. My manager had to remind me, “The customers in the store deserve your undivided attention. Tell the phone customers you’ll call them back later.”

I would give the same advice to you. Face-to-face interaction deserves priority. That doesn’t mean you should ignore or forget about everyone else, but live in the present, and value the relationships that you have there.

Published in: on October 20, 2013 at 8:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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Love as Defined by Culture…Love as Defined by Christ

A few days ago I was chatting with a friend about love.  Being college girls in our early twenties, just a year away from graduation and still without prospects like we were promised at freshman orientation, we spend a lot of our time discussing it.  Probably too much.  This particular time, we were discussing the difficulty of seeing a long-ago friend-zoned guy in a romantic way.  And then I said, “One day, we’re probably going to figure out that this whole marriage thing is really more about being with a steady, supportive companion anyway.”  And I think what I said was right, but why can my words not connect to my heart?

In other blog posts, I’ve ranted on and on about how desensitized we are to our culture and how, even though we think we follow Christ, we often follow culture instead because it’s all we know.  I’ve been so convicted about taking off the blinders and seeing the narrow road for what it is.  And tonight God showed me a new aspect of that: we have warped, twisted, and disfigured His idea of love into some wishful, lustful, fantasized romance.

Love is unconditional – yep, we got that.  But we’re only going to unconditionally love the people we choose, and we choose the ones who are good enough for us, which really erases the need for the whole unconditional part.1-corinthians-rings

I’m not saying that we need to return to a system of arranged marriages, but think about it for just a second.  It’s hard to comprehend, because we’ve never known such a thing.  The thought horrifies us.  Learning to love someone after marriage?  Learning to love someone simply because you have to, because you’re stuck with them in spite of hardships and grievances and petty annoyances?

Hmmm. Sounds uncomfortably like the love of Christ.

In the movie The Wedding Planner, Mary’s father tells her how he fell in love with her mother:

“Your mother and I had an arranged marriage.  We met on the day of our wedding.  We wouldn’t even look at each other.  I was in love with another girl, and your mother wanted nothing to do with me.  She said I had big eyebrows and a low IQ.  Anyway, one day I got very sick with scarlet fever, and she stayed by my side.  She took good care of me.  For the first time, I appreciated her.  Then appreciation grew to respect.  Respect grew to like.  And like grew to love…a deeper love than I could ever hope for.”

We’re conditioned to flinch at the thought of being with someone we don’t “love,” but what do we really mean by that?  Someone we’re not attracted to?  Someone who doesn’t meet our every need?  It’s not about being with who you love, but loving who you’re with.

A while back, I was journaling my thoughts and prayers and asked God to bring me a man of spiritual maturity and depth who would be more in love with God than he would ever be with me, who would be a good father and who would care about me and support my call to ministry.  I’m ashamed to admit this, but then I panicked a bit, realizing that this type of person might also be a sensitive man who cries, or a romantic who’s a little more into PDA than I.  So a part of me wanted to add, “And who never embarrasses me in public, please God, amen.”

Yes. I can be that shallow.

But the words never passed my lips, because as soon as they entered my brain I realized their utter ridiculousness.  Instead, God brought me to my knees in humility as He convicted me of my cultural short-sightedness and began to show me a glimpse of real love.

You see, our society has taught us to believe that we’re defined by who we love.  If we love somebody bold and important and exciting, that elevates our social status.  Conversely, if we love someone who’s not cool, that must mean we’re not cool.  If they do something awkward, we feel embarrassed because we consider it a reflection on ourselves and our taste in men/women.  But we’re not defined at all by who we love; we’re defined by how we love.  Jesus said that all men will know we are His disciples if we love one another (John 13:35) — regardless of how easy to love the “one anothers” are.

No marriage will be without its frustrations or irritations.  The vows of “sickness and health, richer or poorer” are not just nice fluffy words.  There will be hardships and pain, and yes, times that you want to hide and pretend you don’t know your spouse.

But if God does bring me a man of integrity who loves Him above all else, whose only fault happens to be that he makes dumb jokes or embarrasses me with PDA, it won’t kill me to laugh and to hold his hand in public.

But even if it did, isn’t unconditional love something we’re supposed to die for?

A Guy You Can Brag About

Heads up: this is not a bait-and-switch, Jesus-is-my-boyfriend post.  When I say “a guy you can brag about,” I’m talking about an actual, physical, human guy in the 21st century that you can hold hands with.  Girls, this is practical advice on how to lead your heart when looking for the kind of guy you want to be with.

The kind of guy everybody else is jealous of.

The kind of guy you can be proud of and want to scream to the world at the top of your lungs that HE’S THE BEST.

But it still might look a little different than you’re expecting.  It came as a surprise to me when the realization hit me like a bucket of ice water, because it can be a little disconcerting, but it’s a vital concept to hold onto as you mature and begin to see the beauty in it.

In middle school and high school, sometimes in college, and for some misguided women, their entire lives, girls tend to be drawn to the “bad boys.”  I know this is a concept heavily debated between bitter nice guys in the “friend zone” and girls who insist that they don’t like the bad boys.  But, for the most part, the guys are right.  We like the bad boys.

If you think about the popular guys in your school — the ones everyone wants to be with — what makes them so amazingly cool?  If you were dating one of them, what kinds of things would you want to brag to your friends about?  Take a moment and write down some reasons.  Then see if any of these are among them:

Everybody’s after him.

He doesn’t care what anybody thinks.

He’s tough and strong.

He does whatever he wants, and his parents let him.

He’s like an unattainable god.

He’s so mysterious.

He drives 120 mph with the sunroof open and it’s AWESOME.

He’s the life of the party and can handle more alcohol than anyone else.

He manages to sneak out at night while your parents are lame and make it impossible to escape the prison of your room.

He’s proud, spirited, passionate, spontaneous, and an attractive dose of just plain cocky.  Don’t say it’s not attractive, because it totally is.

5939227-portrait-of-a-beautiful-brunette-woman-shouting-through-megaphoneWe’re drawn to these people, and we can’t help it.  The heart wants what the heart wants, right?  There’s this undeniable attraction that we can hardly describe or define.  We just know that he’s the one we dream about, the one who makes our hearts pound in our chest, the one we would do anything to be with because he’s so exciting.  We want to tell everyone about him, because he’s what everyone wants.  And if by some miracle he can be ours, we’ll be shouting it with a megaphone to crowds of bitter rivals.

But here’s the thing: it’s a temporary, immature attraction, and the heart can be deceived.  They tell you to live for today, but if you do, you won’t be prepared when tomorrow comes.

While you’re attracted to these guys now, it’s never too early to start thinking about what you want in a guy long-term.  What do you want out of a marriage?  What do you want your family to look like?

Pause for just a minute and think of one of those guys.  Got one in your head?  Can you picture him?  Now I want you to briefly sketch out your life.

Picture yourself walking down the aisle.  How do you feel?  What emotion is on his face?

Think about your honeymoon.  Will he make you feel loved, treasured, and adored as his bride?  Or will he act like a typical guy?

How will you spend your evenings together?

Imagine having your first child.  Is he ready for that responsibility?

What if there’s a dream you want to pursue?  Will he support you, or leave you high and dry to pursue his own?

The bad boy thinks only of himself, and for some reason, that’s sexy.  But when you have goals of your own and you need your partner’s support, only to have him do his own thing and never care about your ambitions — that’s a little less sexy.

When the bad boys sneaks out at night during high school to go party, it’s so wild and rebellious and attractive.  But when you’re alone in bed at night because the same boy has expertly snuck out to be with another woman — well, it’s not attractive anymore.

When he’s tough and doesn’t care about anything, the thrill of the chase makes you want him desperately.  But when there comes a day that your world is falling apart and you’re in tears, sensitivity and comfort are what you’ll want desperately.  It won’t be so attractive then for him to shrug you off.

When he disrespects his parents, it’s oh so bold and independent.  But one day when you need him to man up and take responsibility and he says “to heck with you” — suddenly it means something very different.

All these girls that you know now — your friends with whom you dream and flirt and live life and brag that the popular boy talked to you in the hall — statistically speaking, most of them will live through heartbreak and divorce and miserable marriages, all because they followed their heart.  They lived for today, but when tomorrow came, it found them brokenhearted and alone, hoping their three small children couldn’t hear them crying themselves to sleep.

And if you’re with a gentle, patient, steady man who loves you faithfully and unconditionally, you’ll be the one with a megaphone.  You’ll be bragging to everyone that he loves you and only you.  You’ll be boasting that he works hard at a job that he hates so that you can feel secure, and then comes home and changes the lightbulbs you can’t reach.  You’ll tell everyone that he understands you and holds you and talks with you.  You’ll shout from the rooftops that you never feel ashamed, afraid, or inadequate because even though he’s too good for you, he never makes you feel that way.

And by then you’ll be the one everyone envies.  You’ll have the man every other woman wants — a man you can brag about.  Do yourself a favor.  Wait for him.

A word to the nice guys: I know how frustrating it is that girls are drawn to the bad boys.  I’m truly sorry that that’s the way it is.  But please, please, don’t change.  The same principle applies to you: don’t just live for today.  Look at the future.  Be the man who treats your girl with respect and makes her feel safe and honored and special.  Set your goal to have a marriage that not only lasts, but is absolutely amazing.  There will be a girl out there who desperately wants what you have to offer, who wants to brag to her friends about you, who wants to be the kind of woman worthy of your love.  Do yourself a favor.  Wait for her.

As Long as We Both Shall Live: A Wedding Liturgy

Here’s another fun fact about my youth ministry professor Dr. Surdacki: he loves liturgy.  Like, a lot.  Having been raised in the Catholic church and now a member of the church of Christ at the opposite end of the spectrum, he embodies some of the best things from both traditions.  So for my Introduction to Ministry class, we got to do a liturgy project, which included writing a liturgy of our own.  Hopeless romantic that I am, of course I chose to do a wedding liturgy.  Unfortunately, I had to turn it in as kind of a rough draft since I’m going to SCOTLAND in 4 days.  But here it is.

depositphotos_4138729-Love-is-Patient-Bible-Verse-with-RingsBride and groom join hands at the altar before the pastor. Congregation is seated.

 Pastor: Friends, family, and witnesses, we come together today as a community to celebrate the sacrament of marriage as a testament to the unconditional love of God for His church.  In committing to spend the rest of their lives together in love and faithfulness, N and N are pledging their relationship as a living testimony to what Christ has done in their lives.

As we witness their vows, we are called into covenant with them to help them uphold their commitment, to live in community with them, to teach them to love and care for one another, and to learn from what their unique relationship has to offer.

N and N, you are entering into a covenant relationship with one another, but also with these witnesses here and with the larger body of Christ.  As you vow to love one another faithfully, you are taking on the responsibility of representing Christ’s love together as one flesh.

Reading from Ephesians 5:21-33.

 Pastor: Lord, we praise you for the gift of marriage and all that it represents. May you bless N and N as they begin their journey together, and may everyone here be blessed by their example of love and faithfulness.  Bless their lives with joy, their family with love, and their home with your abiding peace as they make you the center of their lives. Amen.

 Pastor: I invite you to join me in the reading of 1st Corinthians 13.

Pastor: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Congregation: Love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy 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 the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Pastor: As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,

Congregation: But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

Pastor: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. For now we see in a mirror dimly;

Congregation: but then face to face.

Pastor: Now I know in part;

Congregation: Then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Pastor: So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three:

Congregation: But the greatest of these is love.

 Pastor: N, as you take N to be your wife, committing to be faithful to her, will you, to the best of your ability, love N with this kind of submissive and sacrificial love, honoring God first and her above all others?

N: I will.

Pastor: N, as you take N to be your husband, committing to be faithful to him, will you, to the best of your ability, love N with this kind of submissive and sacrificial love, honoring God first and him above all others?

N: I will.

Pastor to Congregation: Will you uphold N and N in their declaration of love and faithfulness, holding them accountable to their vows and encouraging them in their desire to live in holy union together?

Congregation: We will.

To the man:

Pastor: Repeat after me.

Before God and these witnesses

I make a covenant with you

To love you as Christ loved the church

And gave Himself for her

To love you unconditionally

To seek your highest good

To stand by you faithfully

Together or apart

For richer or poorer

In sickness and in health

As long as we both shall live.

To the woman:

Pastor: Repeat after me.

Before God and these witnesses

I make a covenant with you

To submit to you as to the Lord

To love you unconditionally

To seek your highest good

To stand by you faithfully

Together or apart

For richer or poorer

In sickness and in health

As long as we both shall live.

Exchanging of the Rings

Pastor: The wedding ring is an outward sign of an inward commitment to love and honor one another in a marriage covenant. The circle represents endless love; the gold, both the purity of their love and the refinement that will take place in this covenant relationship. N, you may place a ring on the finger of your bride.

N: I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and faithfulness to you.

Pastor: By the same token, N, you may place a ring on the finger of your groom.

N: I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and faithfulness to you.

Pastor: Now that N and N have exchanged these vows and rings and thus made a covenant to one another before God, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.

Pastor: It is my honor to introduce to you for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. N. 

Published in: on March 11, 2013 at 8:50 pm  Comments (1)  
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Intergenerational Ministry: a Snapshot

Much of my undergraduate ministry training under Dr. Walter Surdacki has focused on the concept of intergenerational ministry, and integrating the youth of the church back into fellowship with adults.  One thing that I love about Dr. Surdacki — and something that kind of drives me crazy, too — is that he doesn’t always give us practical solutions.  He just makes us wrestle with a difficult concept.  I always have to work through it asking, “This is great, but how in the world can it practically work?”  Because I’m passionate and impulsive, I want everything to be fixed right now, but this can’t always be the case.  I’ve had to learn to slow down, translate the technical jargon into life application, and implement it little by little.  Volunteering with the youth group at Grace during my time in college has been such a valuable experience for multiple reasons, but also because it provides me with a way to put into practice what I’m learning.  These concepts aren’t packed away in a dusty notebook as intangible theology or ‘someday’ ideas.  I get to use them now, and while the ideas are still fresh in my mind, they become a part of my ministry that I build on as I go.

So I want to share with you one practical way I recently put the concept of intergenerational ministry into practice.  For a while now, I’ve been wanting to do something with my girls outside of church to spend some time bonding in a more chill atmosphere.  So I started planning my first subversive intergenerational attack: a movie night for the moms and girls.  The girls may have been a tiny bit less than thrilled when I told them their moms were invited, but it actually turned out great.

IMG_7742

It was hosted by one of our moms, Joanne Kraft (also a gifted writer — check out her facebook page here), and we ended up having 10 girls and 5 moms.  Joanne had thoughtfully provided quite the smorgasbord of cookies and popcorn and all sorts of snacks, so we had a very pleasant time hanging out and grazing.  We watched the movie Leap Year, a predictable but cute romantic comedy that of course ends with the girl leaving her personality-less fiance for the sarcastic and oh-so-cute Irishman.

After the movie, we had some open discussion about it:  What did you not like about her fiance?  What did you like/not like about the other guy?  She was kind of a diva — if you were a guy, would you have married her?  What do we learn from that about what kind of women we want to be?  I read from Proverbs 31 and its male counterpart, Job 31, and we talked about what a relationship would look like between two people who are totally focused on God.  Then I asked the moms to share some of their stories, which was powerful.  Here’s a very brief summary of the 5 in their diversity:

1) Married out of high school and divorced young before she met the Lord, but then married a godly man, and has a beautiful family.

2) Saved her first kiss for marriage!!

3) Knew that her husband was The One long before he did.

4) Just recently came to know God in the last couple of years and, while dealing with the pain of a broken family, wants her daughter to make better choices than she did.

5) Met her future husband on a mission trip and prayed that God would find him a good wife, unknowingly praying for herself!

yeah, I don't really have an explanation for this -- crazy youth minister stereotype

yeah, I don’t really have an explanation for this — crazy youth minister stereotype

From there we just had some random discussion, from crazy proposal stories, to girls asking questions, to moms giving advice and sharing their wisdom.  It was so fantastic.  And even greater — I hardly saw a single cell phone out.  They were all totally engaged in the discussion — because when a woman obviously in love starts telling the story of her romance, she’s cool even if she is a mom.  Instead of distinguishing between “girls” and “women,” it was more an atmosphere of “We’re all women in different stages of life with different things to share, walking the same journey together.”

It was a great opportunity for the girls to see their moms in a different way, to spend time in community in a more relaxed atmosphere than church, and for the moms to get to know each other and encourage one another on this journey of parenting middle school girls.  And it was a huge blessing to this girl’s heart to see how God is working in the lives of my group of beautiful and precious young women.

Ironically enough, I didn’t manage to get a picture with the girls and moms together, so this totally contradicts the point of this post, but here’s a picture of me and my girls:

IMG_7750

A New Way of Playing Hard to Get

“I can’t make myself play games. He’s worth more than that to me, because he’s not just any other guy. And I don’t want to be just like any other girl. I can honestly say I’d rather never be with him than be typical or predictable.”

“What I hear from society is that to get what I want, I have to back off, play hard to get…nobody wants to date a friend because the point of dating is to get to know someone. But I honestly just can’t make myself play games because that’s not who I am. If God wants me to be married eventually, He’s just going to have to find me a man who’s okay with being friends. It’s not worth my time; he’s not the only thing on my mind. I’ve school on my mind. I’ve got work on my mind. I’ve got youth group and photography and friends and LIFE on my mind. Simply put, I’m not investing all of my time and emotional energy into pursuing something that may not even be God’s plan. If it happens, it happens, but I’m not shutting everything else down to carefully orient my life and actions toward manipulating him into wanting an elusive fictional character with nothing better to do, no nobler goal to pursue, than playing a game.”

These are journal entries from nearly a year ago, but these feelings go back much further than that.  I have always, always been frustrated by the concept of playing hard to get, partly because I fail at it.  But it’s also because I see it as being inconsistent.  All my life I’ve heard suggestions such as these: “Pretend you don’t see him.” “Stop answering the phone when he calls.” “Act like you could care less.” “Flirt with another guy.”  No, no, no, and NO.

Here’s why.  I’m contactable 24/7 to anyone I remotely consider a friend (okay, not as much now as I used to be, because I love my sleep).  But if I reply to YOUR text 45 seconds after you send it, I’m not going to sit around and agonize over whether I’ve waited long enough to respond to his.  “He took 20 minutes, so I have to wait 30!”  No.  Just no.

And I’m not going to act like I could care less, because I DO care about him.  A lot.  Not just because I think he’s cute.  Because, as my brother in Christ, I love him and consider it my responsibility to help protect his heart as well as my own.  In Scripture I see “one another” passages like “Love one another.” “Pray for one another.” “Bear one another’s burdens.”  Nowhere do I see “Ignore one another  to solicit attention for your own emotional affirmation at the expense of another.”

Playing hard to get leads to relationships that are based on an entirely false premise.  Think about it.  The rule of thumb behind playing hard to get is “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and I hope to God that’s not true.  Do you really want someone to love you more when you’re NOT there, than when you ARE?  I’ve felt that way about people before, and you know how it ended up?  Ha! NOT in spending the rest of our lives together.

At the same time, though, I will concede that sometimes a relationship needs its space if you’re spending too much time and emotional energy focusing on each other when it’s not quite the right time.  The question, then, is how to achieve that needed space without a game.  For you straightforward girls out there, like me, here’s a new way of playing hard to get.  One that honors God, does what’s best for the guy, and guards your heart without wasting time counting chips and upping the ante.  One that bypasses the shallowness of games to win you a relationship that fulfills rather than confuses, and a love story that rivals Sleeping Beauty’s.  You ready?  Okay, here it is, with a little bit of back story:

Last summer, one of my co-workers and I were discussing this, and I explained that I felt stuck in the middle with a guy, not sure how to back away but knowing that things couldn’t continue on the same trajectory without some sort of definition.

“You know my favorite thing about you?” my co-worker asked.

A little caught off guard, I shook my head.  I’ll never forget what he said next.

“Watching you worship,” he answered. “When you worship, it’s like there’s nobody else in the room.  It’s just you and God, and you’re 100% focused on Him without worrying what anyone else thinks of you.”  He paused to let this sink in. “Just be like that all the time.”

And there it is: pursue God, not guys.  Live your life proactively and wholeheartedly, seeking His calling for you instead of chasing after a relationship that will hold you back.  The less you stress over figuring things out, the more likely they are to fall into place; the closer you are to the heart of God, the more clearly you can discern what He’s doing.  If it’s not the right time, that’ll give you the space you need.  When it is the right time, God will lead you to you each other.  And if you’re both following Him, you’ll meet in the middle for the most beautiful love story of all time —  a love story only God could write.

A Beautiful Guy In the Image of a Beautiful God

In my life, I have met three men whom I could only describe as beautiful.  I couldn’t really think of any other way to describe them — handsome wasn’t exactly what I was talking about.  They were just stunningly, unbelievably, breathtakingly beautiful.  Here is how I described one of them: “In him, God has created a masterpiece.  It’s not just his looks — it’s everything about him.  It’s the depth in his eyes when he’s thinking.  It’s the way his heart shows in his actions.  It’s the way he responds to God in worship.”

Beauty has become a descriptor which we attribute only to women, or to delicate and feminine things like flowers and sunsets and snow.  We don’t typically think of men being beautiful…

…or two perpendicular beams of blood-stained wood…

…or the God that died there.

But one day I was reading Psalm 27 and noting all the characteristics of God that were mentioned.  I paused for a moment when I came to verse 4 — “that I may gaze on the beauty of the Lord.”  God? Beautiful? I had to think about this.  In a world where “beauty” is constituted by a sexy body and eyeliner and perfect hair, I wasn’t sure how to process what it really meant as a description of God.

But as I thought about it, I remembered God’s declaration of His creation: “It is good.”  It was…beautiful.  Because God created beauty, I realized, maybe He’s the only One who knows what it really means.  Maybe beauty is some kind of mysterious, intangible concept, inseparable from the reality of being fashioned by the hand of a beautiful God.  Maybe beauty is simply the quality of being made in His image.  Maybe beauty is everything God is, and everything He desires us to be.

This began to make sense to me as I thought about the three guys.  The first time I ever thought a guy was beautiful was when I saw a picture of him holding a baby goat.  Kinda random, but there was something about the gentleness and simplicity of it that was attractive.  The second time I thought a guy was beautiful, it was a pretty ordinary setting, but a powerful moment.  He was sitting on a couch across the room from me during a time of worship, and his faraway gaze happened to catch my eye.  It was like that line from the Benjamin Francis Leftwich song, “I know if I find what you hide in your mind, I’ll get lost in it.”  There was something beautiful going on behind that contemplative gaze.  The third time I thought a guy was beautiful, he was literally on his knees on the ground crying out to God.  It was so raw and…well, beautiful.  However, the word “beautiful” has never crossed my mind for a shallow, lazy, or arrogant guy.  Ironically, I never find guys attractive when they try to prove their worth or impress girls.  Beauty comes from who they are in the little moments, when the rest of the world is forgotten.

Last Wednesday when I was leading small group, my junior high girls and I were talking about the description of Jesus in Revelation 1 and the unlikely aspects of beauty.  I briefly shared with them about the concept of beauty being the image of God, and one of the girls commented, “I think it’s so beautiful to see a guy worshiping with his eyes closed and hands raised, not caring what anybody else thinks of him.”  Several other girls agreed: “Seriously, the most unattractive thing ever is when a guy thinks he’s too cool to be in love with God.”

Thinking about all of this, I came to realize what “beautiful” really means:  Guy or girl, we are beautiful when we become what we were created to be and do what we were created to do.  When we can return to the ideal for which God designed us, when we realize our full potential as His creation made in His image…that is when we truly attain beauty.  Beauty is in the intricate workings of the mind, in creative expression, in a surrendered heart, in unconditional love.  Beauty is in everything that reflects the very heart of God.

Girls, two lessons for you here:  first, beauty isn’t what the world tells you it is.  They distorted the definition.  They got it wrong.  Chasing after things that will make you attractive by the world’s standards only draws you away from true beauty.  Chase after God and His beauty, and when you become the woman He designed you to be, that is when you are truly radiant.

Second, never marry…or date…or give a second thought to a guy who doesn’t have beauty that takes your breath away.  They’re few and far between; in 20 years, I’ve only met 3.  But trust me, you want a man who is seeking God’s highest potential for him, and a man who will amaze you for the rest of your life.

Wait for a beautiful man, in the image of a beautiful God.

Ribbet collage