Unicorns, Hard Marriages, and a History of Singleness

Opinions are in plenty and so are experiences. We all have both and are rarely short on either. I have often heard the opinion that marriage is hard and will only grow harder until sometime after the halfway point, or further still, when the synergy may still be a struggle, but not more than the thought of going through life without one another. I am married to a man whose first spouse got the itch and am the child of two parents who got it too, so I know marriage isn't a cakewalk for everyone. I know ahead of us there will be dark and hard days, maybe days when I wonder what I've done and who I've hitched myself to for life. 

A conversation with the man I'm hitched to happened over the kitchen counter the other afternoon. I chopped vegetables and he, the one who can't multitask if his life or the lives of others depended on it, spoke truth to me. It seems I have a constant, pulsing fear, lurking somewhere between certainty and faith, wisdom and the future. I fear that, like those in our lives have done, we will come to an impasse someday, cite irreconcilable differences, refuse to make up, and we will have encountered the Hard Place so many talk about so often. 

We came to marriage quickly, three months from first date to wedding date. We came at it surprised, bewildered, happily, and not at all anxious. We came at it not with hopes and dreams of tomorrow, but with what we had built up until then. There's no way we could have envisioned what the next two years would bring (every manner of richer, poorer, sickness, and health), but the future wasn't our focus. Today was. And yesterday was. I could look behind me and him and see years of failure, frailty, fear, and faithfulness. I could see tested faith, submitted lives, broken hearts, and the fellowship of the local church. It wasn't what was ahead of us that determined our path, but what had come behind us. 

My pulsing fear that there is a shoe—or more likely a steel-toed boot—about to drop on us and that our marriage will go through eons of difficulty and opportunities for affairs and abuse and all manner of sin against one another, is a future focused fear, and not a past-proven faith. We came to one another with histories behind us, men and women who had poured into us, loved us, disciplined us, and when we came together with surprising speed, no one was worried about our future because our past had proven us. 

I'm thinking about this today, again, because I read an article today about being unequally yoked and, though I agree with the sentiment, that sort of article can leave unmarried folks feeling like, "Okay, but what?" What do I do? Where is this mythical creature of wit and beauty and chemistry and Christianity? Do they even exist? And if they do, where can I meet this unicorn? 

It's a very lonely place to be an unmarried Christian in the church today. It's very easy to slip through life unnoticed, your history unfolding with no one's eyes on it, your life taking place with no one to reflect on it but you. And when the time for marriage comes, it comes with muddled emotions and confusion and disappointment and a flurry of passion and wedding planning, but little to no consideration of the yesterdays that led you to that place. I've been there, friends. I don't talk about it often on here (because it was a shared story), but I got caught up in the tomorrows, the plans, the hopes, and the future, with little consideration and insight on the paths that led us there. I'm grateful God saved us both from marrying one another and led to the spouses we have today, but that history threaded through became part of who I was standing across from Nate on June 25, 2015. 

I want to live free of a fear others have put on me by saying "Just you wait," or "Those dark days are coming," because I don't think they have to come and I don't want to spend all my time waiting for the steel-toed kick. I want to be faithful with today—not to an outcome, but to the Word of God. Faithfulness in my singleness looked like submission to my leaders, joyful service in my church, faithful relationship with others, and a willingness to accept correction, and faithfulness in my marriage looks very much the same. 

If we had come to marriage with patterns of selfishness, an inability to listen, a need to be heard at all cost, arrogance in the face of rebuke, an unwillingness to submit to one another and others, and no history of serving anyone but ourselves, yes, our marriage would be hard and it ought to be. God will sanctify us and sometimes he uses marriage to do most of it. But, I think, if we let our whole lives be one stream of sanctification, when we come to marriage, marriage itself can actually be a sweet gift. Not our defining gift, but a sweet one just the same. 

I don't want to live as those the other shoe was going to drop. I want to be faithful as long as it is called today. Hard things may come, but many hard things already have come, and my sweetest spot is still next to the man who comes home to me every night. 

If you're single, planning and hoping for tomorrow, but struggling to live in today, I know it's hard, and I'm praying for you. My best counsel is get into a local church and press yourself into the hard places. Get eyes on your struggles, sins, and patterns. It will be hard, but if God gives you the gift of marriage someday, those years of sanctification working up to it will not be wasted. 

If you're married and your marriage is hard, I am so sorry. Living side by side with someone in unreconciled differences is painful, really painful. But those differences don't have to be irreconciled, or unreconcilable. God is a reconciling God, but he always doesn't start with bringing broken things together, sometimes he just starts with just one broken heart being reconciled to him. I hope today, whatever you're responsible for, whatever angsts you're holding onto, you'll turn them over to Him, trusting him. 

If you're married and your marriage is strong, that is a gift, and a rarer one these days. I want to encourage you to rejoice in that, even publicly. Sometimes I struggle to be public with my joy because I know there are so many others who haven't got it, but I want to balance out the scales of "Marriage is the hardest thing you'll ever do." It doesn't have to be, but I don't hear very many people saying it. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. Praise your husband in the gates. Don't be surprised if your house begins to fill up with unmarried folks, wanting to learn from you because most people just talk about how hard it is, and it's hard to want to learn from those folks. Shout the goodness of God in the gift of marriage to you. 

The Crushing Illusion of Control

I've never known my own weakness like I have this year, never felt more overwhelmed with my frailty. It's nothing someone has to fix or mend or preach to me about—I know the answer is to see the cross in its fullness and my place before it, but it doesn't change the feeling. Theologically I have a spot for the place of weakness and need in regard to the gospel, but (I suspect like most of us) the actual feeling of weakness and need isn't quite as beautiful as good theology makes it seem. It's an ugly spot. There's not much attractive about limping, saying "I can't," or not having any control over how the spiritual/emotional/psychological affects the physical. It's a place where arrogance can grow—a refusal to hear counsel, an intentional ignorance toward truth, and a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps exit from whatever disappoints. It's also a place where humility can grow. I'm not sure which direction is harder, but I know neither of them feel good in the moment. 

During an errand run last week I felt the now familiar panic rising from somewhere in my chest. It stems from a specific event I witnessed nearly a year and a half ago, but it was exacerbated by thirty other events happening in my life around the same time. It is an overwhelming feeling of a lack of control. Nothing I could do in that season of life could change the circumstances of our lives: I couldn't get pregnant and stay pregnant, I couldn't give my husband a job, I couldn't fix what was broken in my work-place and church, I couldn't sell our house, I couldn't make enough money to support us on my own, I couldn't fix my husband's fears, I couldn't stop the gun violence around our house, I couldn't stop the cop from being shot, I couldn't stop someone from breaking into my car—I couldn't do anything. I felt absolutely powerless to change any circumstance in my life. And it crushed me. 

We love to quote II Corinthians 4:8 & 9, "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed," but we rarely begin with verse 7:  "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."

The surpassing power belongs to God and not to us—and the moment we get that wrong (and we will, friends), we panic, we fear, we are anxious, we search for some sort of fix to give us back the illusion of control: exercise, diets, essential oils, medication, massages. None of those things is wrong in and of themselves, but they can all numb the thing we need most: to remember God is the one with surpassing power and not us. And more than numbing us, they can crush us. 

This past year I could not numb the fear. I could not fix the panic. I could not stuff down the tears or fears or emotions or dreams. I could not fix myself. The only thing I could do was go to the cross again and again and again and again and again and again. Take my crushed jar of clay, once full of life and vitality and knowledge and success, and say, "I cannot fix this and I cannot even make you fix it when it bring it to you. I can only trust that someday you will." 

Maybe that's you today, friend. I don't know. Maybe it's not. Maybe you're on top of your game, drinking your supplements and rubbing whichever oil you fancy on your feet. Maybe your bank account is comfortable and your job is certain. Maybe you can get pregnant if your husband merely looks at you. Maybe your church is nearly perfect. But maybe none of that is true for you and you're not sure where next month's rent is coming from and your knee injury is keeping you from exercising and you've stopped buying pregnancy tests because it's just a waste of money now and maybe your church is really hurting right now, limping along. Maybe you have panic attacks on the way to the dry-cleaners too. Maybe God is healing you, but it's taking longer than you wanted. 

I don't have wild words of wisdom for you today, but I read this from Scott Sauls and Russ Ramsey this morning and saw myself in it. I need to know it's okay to limp and I need to know the leaders I respect and follow limp too. It reminds me I'm an alien, but there are other aliens here too—and there's a God who is on his throne and one cross for us all and the ground before it is level and only for those who limp.

Friendship is Messy Beautiful

The other night we had some friends over and the topic of conversation turned to how well our current theological culture seems to major on theology, polity, and male/female relationships, but what a terrible job we do at understanding Biblical friendship. We might have a few good friendships, but talking about them, navigating them, being truly God-honoring (instead of self-honoring) in them, seems to be not of great concern. We major more on what not to do and how not to be a friend to certain people, different genders, other season of lifers, than we do on what to do. 

Last summer Christine Hoover, author of The Church Planting Wife and From Good to Grace, sent me her upcoming manuscript, Messy, Beautiful Friendship, and I loved it. It's a book I want women everywhere to read. To know a woman is to know someone who struggles in friendship (it may be the same for men, but I know it is true for women). How much is too much? How little? Am I enough? Is she enough? Is God enough? Did I say too much? Too little? Who is trustworthy? Who can I confide in? Who can I be vulnerable with? Who can I cry alongside? Those are tough questions and Christine does a beautiful job of unpacking them in a way driven by the truths of the gospel, while being vulnerable about her own struggles, sins, and story. 

Messy, Beautiful Friendship releases into the world today and if this is an area in which you struggle, I hope you will consider reading it. I was deeply encouraged by it and I pray you will be too. 

Below is a post Christine wrote for Sayable to give you a taste of what's in her new book. Enjoy!

Seeds of Encouragement, by Christine Hoover  

My brother-in-law Travis, a farmer, daily dips his hands in the fertile south Texas soil that is his family’s very provision. In the current season, the realized hope of summer harvest has past, the remnants of harvested crops have been destroyed, and now the soil he sifts in his hands has once again taken center stage. Alongside his farmer-father and his farmer-uncles, he has already turned, tilled, leveled, and molded the soil into neat rows and borders, preparing ready receptacles for seeds. These spring days are for fertilizing--acres and acres must be covered, and then acres and acres must be implanted with various species of seeds: sorghum, sugar cane, cotton, sesame, or cabbage.

Their work--the daily wrestling with the soil--is circadian and perennial yet has only ever just begun. After planting, they will scrupulously monitor the soil, coaxing it with aeration, searching it for even the smallest of weeds, scrutinizing it for signs of pests or worms. And then they will wait, giving time and space for the sun and the rain and the mysterious and miraculous work of seeds becoming sprouts becoming stalks.

This is hard work, and the hardest part is the waiting.

A farmer, perhaps more than most, knows something about faith. He knows he must work with the unseen end in mind. He knows he must value steady work more than fruitfulness. He knows how diligently he must watch over his growing crop, quick to rid the stalks of pests and weeds. But most of all, he knows of his need for others and their need for him, because the work is long and often uncertain.

As Travis speaks about farming, it strikes me how often he mentions his surrounding farming community. He speaks of relying on his dad and uncles, who have more experience; he speaks of relying on common farming knowledge that’s been passed down through generations; and he speaks of relying on the larger farming community: “When you don’t know what to do, if you ask around, someone is going to help you out.”

When he was first learning how to combat weeds, he says, he went row-by-row and hacked them off at the stem. His dad came behind him and pointed out his mistake: “That weed will be just as tall in a week if you don’t chop it out at the root.” A lesson regarding sin, certainly, but even more a lesson of how invaluable the help and exhortation is traded between those working by faith.  

As I consider the faithful life in comparison to the farming life, a little jolt of recognition goes through me: “Let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). The faith-filled life, like the farming life, is fueled by community. Paul tells us what specifically this fuel looks like: “Let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25).

I imagine in his first planting season, Travis felt uncertain and inadequate. I imagine he felt this way because it’s so often how I feel as I sow the seeds of my own ministry to my children, to my husband, in my writing and teaching, and in the church we planted. No matter how much experience I have standing at the plow, I’m still prone to uncertainty, discouragement, and weariness. There is nothing that helps me more than a friend coming behind me and giving me eyes to see and remember the crops God has given in the past, or a friend pointing ahead with assurance of the crops to come.

Many times, however, my uncertainty and weariness gives way to self-pity. I look around for friends, and they are not always there. Some of that is because I avoid “asking around” at all costs. I might rather drown in self-sufficiency than admit I need help at the plow or that I don’t know what to do about the weeds choking me. It’s important, I’ve discovered, to go to others with my weariness and ask for them to pray for my drooping hands and weak knees.

But Paul doesn’t say, “Look around for who is encouraging you.” His is an imperative: Let us be the ones to act. His command is a purposeful pursuit of others, an intentional plotting: “Let us consider.” In other words, he is much more concerned with whom we are encouraging than with where our own encouragement is coming from.

One thing I know: we’re all prone to second-guessing ourselves and exhaustion and thoughts of giving up. We’re all wondering if the work we do in the name of the Lord is having an impact and bringing him glory. Everyone is thirsty for encouragement. Other women around us are among those wondering and waffling and even despairing. They are feeling unsure of their calling, their giftedness, and their work. They may be growing weary at the plow. Let us consider how we might come beside them with encouragement:

  • If a seed has been sown in you by another woman, and if it’s grown up and borne something in you, tell her about it.
  • If someone willingly entered your mess and helped you till hard ground, tell her what it meant to you.
  • If you see the fruits of love or joy or peace or patience flourishing in another woman, point them out to her.
  • If you see another woman standing at the plow, doing hard labor for the Lord, exhort her to continue on and tell her why it matters.
  • If someone has taught you how to plant and to harvest the Word for yourself, express thankfulness to her.

Friendship is built upon encouragement and exhortation, because encouragement directed toward others is a fruit-bearing seed that, once sown, grows up and offers us delightful sustenance in return. “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 11:25). Although encouraging other women is not a guarantee of friendship, it is an invitation for friendship and a certain assurance of joy. When we encourage others, we water and are watered in the process.

Living Faithfully Instead of Fancifully in an HGTV World

Someone asked, "Why do you mostly post photos of your house on Instagram?" I'm sure they meant it as a slight, a subtle jab that there's nothing more important to me than the corners of my home. As opposed to, say, selfies in cars and in elevators and chumming with celebrities and new shoes and what we ate for breakfast and whatever hot, exotic place we happen to be now. I'm not opposed to any of those things—the pursuit of joy is good but can come dangerously close to hedonism and not the Christian kind. But that's not why I post photos of my home. 

It's easy to get suckered into HGTV and Pinterest and DIY blogs these days and the temptation is everywhere. And there's something appealing about it all, working hard, changing something from old to new, or old to refinished. I think we humans were made to remake and it's all we've been doing since nearly the beginning of time. I believe in being makers, but it's a perilous close line between being a maker and being a copier, or worse, only ever a daydreamer. I'm not against dreaming, but at some point we have to put our hand to the plow, regardless of how little we have to work with or how little experience we've garnered for ourselves, and we have to make with what we have. 

We don't have to be materialists, or its just as sneaky sister, minimalists. We don't have to have the perfect subway tile or shiplap or whatever design feature is today's thing. We don't need to redecorate with the seasons and fashions. But if we're Christians, we are intended for good work (Eph. 2:10), we are intended for faithfulness (Gal. 5:22), for quiet lives (I Tim. 2:2) and working with our hands (I Thes. 4:11), and we are intended to flourish as we tend and work and keep what God has planted us in (Gen. 2:15). 

Nate counted on his fingers last night. We have lived in five houses since we got married less than two years ago, a grand average of five months in each. Before that, for all my adult years of singleness, I lived in 22 different homes. Some as long as two years, some as short as eight weeks. But I've tried, with all my human skill, to be a homemaker right where God had me with what he gave me in that time. Sometimes it's been plenty. Sometimes it's been lack. Our call is to faithfulness, not fanciness. I have loved all my homes in their own way and that's part of what Instagram is for me, a tool to love what's in front of me and to hopefully teach others to love what's in front of them too. To see the corners. To watch the way the light hits a wall or a floor or a plant. To revel in the beauty of an earthly home knowing it will never completely satisfy because there's a heavenly one ahead, but that it will still satisfy the call on my life to be faithful with little. 

I don't know what that place is for you. Maybe it's not your home, maybe it's your workplace, maybe your co-workers, maybe your children, or maybe their childish mess, maybe your garden, maybe your closet, maybe, even, your breakfast. I say go ahead and delight in it. Prepare the feast of your delight as if the King of glory was coming to share it with you. And then share it with others. They can read or watch or look or judge or not, it's up to them. Just be faithful with your today.

It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money. After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’ The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’ The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’ The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest. Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’

Matthew 25:14-30 MSG

The Unoffendable Heart

One of the unforeseen blessings of spending a year in near isolation was the ability to grow more proficient at naval gazing than I've ever been before. It was glorious if you like that sort of thing. There were few people to discourage, dissuade, distract me, nothing to hold me back, and with those circumstances you'd think I'd excel in every area of my personality and proclivities. But you'd be wrong. 

This morning I pulled a load of laundry out of the dryer and turned on a sermon a few friends have recommended to me over the past few months. It wasn't a sermon I felt a particular need for (after all, I've spend a year being unoffended by everyone except myself), but when more than four people you trust say, "Listen to this sermon," you obey. And so I listened as I folded laundry. 

There is no great exegesis in this hour long talk, no wow moments of Scripture's depths, and at times it sounded more like a youth pastor exhorting a youth group than a treatise on offense and forgiveness, but, friends, it is good. 

In my year of aloneness and in the absence of people and opportunities and ministry, ministry, ministry, God unearthed some things in me I'm still reckoning with. Bitterness I never knew I carried, fears uncovered, shame and offense, all of these ugly sins I'd smashed far enough down for long enough that they seemed nonexistent, but when it's just you and mirror for long enough, you can't help but see them. God has been faithfully tending to each of those areas, slower than I'd like, but with care and discipline. 

It is so easy to take up an offense about nearly anything. Feeling misunderstood, feeling a lack of empathy, missing out on something, being overlooked, not being considered as worthwhile or the best for an opportunity. Matt Nelson, in the Unoffendable Heart, says this, "The enemy is glad to serve up offendable situations all day long." I'm offended that she didn't text me back, or that he didn't reach out when he said he would, or that she didn't try to understand my heart and barely understood my words, that he wasn't as attentive as I wish he'd been, or that she doesn't see past appearances. All day long there are missed connections, missed opportunities, times when stress gets the better of us, or we've felt far from the Lord and divided with others—and each of these moments is a sliver the enemy can slide into. 

After the sermon was over and I was putting laundry away, I began to think of all the ways my seeming offenses at others are ultimately rooted in feeling offended by God. Theologically I know God is perfect, without flaw, without menace, and always good in all He does. But literally? In my life? Sometimes he feels everything but. If he intended good, why didn't he stop this? If he understands me perfectly, then why can't he make this person live with me in an understanding way? If he is without menace, then why does he let all these fiery darts come at me a thousand times a day? 

I don't really know the answer to that, though I could venture a guess for my own life: because he longs for my heart to be humble, to truly mourn over my own sin as it affects others and grieves him, and to trust him more than I trust the opinions of others. 

Mark 12:14 says, "And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God..." I read this earlier in the week and I thought about it again today while listening to the sermon: most of my offenses are because I do care about everyone's opinions (particularly my own) and I am swayed by appearances, and I am more true to myself or my own preferences than I am to the word of God. To be easily offended, or offended at all, is to not be like Jesus.

And I want to be like Jesus. 

If you've found yourself keeping a record (no matter how small: annoyances, unforgiveness, grudges, withholding love or affection as payback), I'd recommend listening to this today. 

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