I was remembering my bridal magazine days this week when I heard heartbreaking news about marriages that I thought looked pretty good (speaking as an outsider). When you've spent over 8 years in full time ministry, you aren't naive about happily ever afters. I've often thought nothing will surprise me anymore. Without fail, something does.
The second reason I was brought back to my days at Barnes & Noble is upcoming plans for my grandparent's 60th wedding anniversary this August. Also in August my parents will celebrate their 35th anniversary. Not to be outdone, S. and I celebrate our 10th anniversary the same month.
The year S. and I got married, we hurried back from our honeymoon for the big party that was my grandparent's 50th anniversary. I called my parents during our honeymoon to wish them a happy 25th anniversary. I was enamored with the legacy of long marriages and sweet love. I still recognize the rarity and blessing that we have in our family. I now recognize something else: it wasn't easy for any of them. They don't have long marriages because they happened to 'get lucky' and find great, lasting love.
I see my Pake fondly look at my Beppe when he calls her "Her majesty". Only a few years ago did I learn how scared my Beppe was as a newlywed when her charismatic, immigrant husband would have WWII flashbacks and deal with rage and fear. They laugh at each other's quirks and faithfully serve each other but now I realize what a toll a lifetime of ministry, raising 8 children, and bouts of things like malaria and financial hardship must have taken.
I recall my parents kissing (so embarrassing!) in front of all my friends...at a dance...when I was in 8th grade...when they were supposed to be chaperoning. Only in recent years have I learned the pain and process involved in getting to that 35 year mark. It had less to do with soul mates and more to do with grit.
As S. and I have experienced our own heartaches and disappointments, I heard the Lord speaking to me what I've always known but see more clearly watching the disappointments in love stories around and within me: my love story with Christ trumps all stories.
"Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, "Write: Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!" And he said to me, "These are the true sayings of God."
"Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God."
Revelation 19:7-9, 11-13
How breathtaking is being arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright which is the righteous acts of the saints? Beat that, Vera Wang.
The bridegroom's clothing is dipped in blood, representing how much He has already sacrificed for His bride.
My bridegroom defines Faithful and True (note the capital letters). Not only do I not need to question his loyalty but unfaithful thoughts don't even cross His mind.
He's a fighter and He is defending my honor.
His forgiveness is permanent.
I can't over-prepare for this wedding. I will never be disappointed and my expectations can't be too high.
I read these verses and thought, "My story with Jesus is the only never failing, true love story". I was overcome with grief over my ideals and expectations of an earthly love story.
Jesus convicted me. While I do have to come to grips with disappointments, He is teaching me that having the Perfect Love is what brings beauty to the imperfect loves. It's not that I have to abandon an earthly love story. I have to come to terms with a different kind of love story.
My original idea of a love story didn't need much grace because it was focused on 2 people getting it mostly right. My different kind of love story involves a grace so deep that onlookers marvel. I can't achieve that without the power of the Holy Spirit working out a deeper love story within me. When I already have the Perfect Love story with Christ, I can love S. without fear even when he falls short of my expectation. Christ exceeds my expectations. Christ protects my heart. Christ casts out fear. He allows me to pour in when I have nothing to give.
A friend told us he was learning to not look back and ask, "Did I make a mistake? Did I marry the wrong person? How could I have avoided being in this place?" Instead, he said, "The Lord is for marriage and since I am now married to this person...God is for this marriage. Regardless of what grounds it started on, it is now His will that I stand behind and love this person."
I have watched imperfect marriages endure tumultuous times because of the Perfect Love of Christ. They aren't ride-off-in-the-sunset type of loves. Some of them are love-them-unconditionally-through-mental-illness kind of loves. Some of them are extending grace to an untrustworthy spouse when divorce papers would be justified. Some of them require staging an intervention to see the one they love get healthy. I've seen true warriors intercede for their lovers. I've watched marriages restored and wondered, "How do they do that? I could never do that." But...they don't do that. Their Perfect Love does it.
Thank you- those of you who have modeled Perfect Love in Christ and also warred for your flawed, earthly love stories. I realize some warriors still lose a marriage... and yet cling to Christ. May your expectations in Perfect Love be exceeded! Thank you to those of you who taught me that God uses marriages to make us holy, not merely happy. I've watched your lives poured out, not for another's reciprocation, but as a sacrifice to the Lord. You don't fight for yourself or for being "right", you fight for a love that surpasses human understanding.
Recently S. has taken to saying, "I choose you today," and I realize this is more powerful than many of the more romantic words he spoke early in our relationship. It's intentional. Regardless of feeling and regardless of circumstance we stand together. More importantly, we have experienced a Perfect Love that is teaching us how to love each other.