Category Archives: Marriage

NOT your misery memoir.

Meme8

 

When I first met Katherine and Jay Wolf, they were impossibly hard not to like. Which was infuriating, because they seemed to have it all.

Young, stop-in-the-street beautiful, warm and funny, they sprung from solid Southern Christian families with a strong, foundational faith themselves. They married their college sweetheart, moved to LA to pursue law (him) and modeling/acting (her). And then on top of all that the Lord gave them the surprise cherry on the cake in the sweet form of baby James.

I can remember the day I first spotted them.   Hugely pregnant with my second, I was sweatily teaching the Young Marrieds class at our church on an appallingly hot August Sunday morning when they walked in. Even among the beautiful young coupledom of LA, Jay and Katherine stood out like a cool, uncomplicated breeze of joy.

Dealing with whatever was on one’s own plate, it was easy to look at these carefree two and think, “Well how easy is it for them to be happy?? They have everything! What have they ever really suffered?

And then, almost two years later in April 2008, I got an email prayer request saying that Katherine, at age 26, had suffered a massive brain stem stroke and was not expected to live.   Jay was only days away from sitting the California bar exam and their baby James was just six months old.

“WHAT?” It was like getting a hard, head-numbing slap.  I can still see where I was sitting at my father’s desk in England with a cold Spring light coming through the window. “What??” I repeated to myself. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen to someone like Katherine! She’s the fairytale, this isn’t right! This is not the way their story should go.” And I prayed.

Miraculous is a term that (ironically) can be overused. However Katherine’s survival has been nothing short of a divine miracle.   And her ongoing survival has come at immense cost, not only to her but also to Jay and little James.  It has at times been almost too hard to believe.

If crucifixion is the ultimate test of character, then over the past eight years Katherine and Jay have proved over and over again that they are both, indeed, the real deal. What has come out of their crushing has not been bitterness, but the aroma of Christ.  When you spend time with them they are full of humor, and honesty, and their love of life.

The many vertiginous twists and turns, ups and downs of their journey thus far they have now written down in a book entitled, HOPE HEALS.

Even though Jay and Katherine have material in spades about suffering, their story is the polar opposite of a ‘Misery Memoir’. And what makes their book so uplifting is their candor. Their generosity in sharing with the world what their journey has truly looked like from the inside: good, bad, ugly and astonishing.

HOWEVER, let me be clear. This is not a book of victory-flag-waving-at-the-summit-of-life-now-it’s-all-over.

HOPE HEALS is a book about what it means to believe in a loving God who has allowed you to fall into the very deepest trenches of life and expects you to keep going.

HOPE HEALS is about what it means to hope when hope may only now be found in the Giver of Hope Himself.

HOPE HEALS is about what it means to hold onto your marriage when it no longer looks anything like what you signed up for.

HOPE HEALS is about what it means to determinedly play out the hand you’ve been dealt and continue to lift it all up for God’s glory. When you haven’t the strength even to lift your own head.

HOPE HEALS is about… just that.

Katherine’s journey continues. The Wolfs’ lives were forever changed by the stroke. And while one can never be thankful for such horrendous suffering, I am immensely grateful that they have chosen to share all that they have learned/are learning in the midst of it with the rest of us.

If you’re looking for a book to encourage, a story to uplift, a teaching to strengthen feeble knees (in every sense, in any circumstance) to keep going, you can buy their book here.

www.hopehealsbook.com  (Also available in the UK here)

Buy it. And, as Katherine and Jay would say, HOPE IT FORWARD.

 

Jsg/April 16

God’s Field.

wrestling_fields

I used to think of marriage as a field.  When you first get married, you come to this new field of earth together for the first time.  As Christians, you submit this field to God and He begins to work the land.

Initially, as with any field, all the work involves moving stones and clearing away weeds.  Making the field ready.

That’s the first few years, and they can be difficult. Leaving you with a nakedness and vulnerability which is chilly if you’re trusting enough and committed enough to accept it.

After that – just when you begin to think the clearing and moving have stopped – God begins to plough.  Seriously now?  PLOUGHING?  The field now cleared of stones and weeds is cut into, completely uprooted and overturned.  Everything turned upside down.  But with a purpose.  Sound familiar?

The purpose is to sow.

It seems like destruction.  It looks like destruction.  But in fact you discover (if you can hold on) that He is making the newly cleared ground fertile and open to air, water and light.

So for the next however-many years, God sows.  And He waters.  And He waits.

If you’ve signed up for this ride, this season can really feel like nothing much is happening at all – except a lot of prayer and perhaps recovery from the moving and the weeding, and relief for some respite from the ploughing.

In reality, however, it is a fallow season preceding massive growth and change.  You have to remember that it’s coming – and that it’s good.

If you’re aware of this whole process, you begin to wait with anticipation for a harvest.  For the seeds to grow and produce it.

For many, many, many the harvest comes as a matter of course.  But what happens when it doesn’t?

I used to tell friends that if you walked away from the “field” of marriage, all the work God had been doing in you both and for you both (when submitted to Him) would be for nought.  So you must hang on no matter how it looks through all the pain, all the upheaval, all the change and the sacrifice.

But I have been prompted to realize that this is not necessarily so.  The “for nought” part, anyway.

Because if, after years and years of waiting, there is the realization that God’s seed has been sown not on soil but on stone, it is not for nought.  Not by any means.

Because, even if your marriage may not have been changed/may not have grown/may not have flourished… YOU HAVE.

It is not the harvest you had hoped for.  But it is a harvest nonetheless.

Refining, endurance, faith, perseverance, willingness, enduring love, determination.  These strengths are all yours to keep.  These are your wealth.  Your fruit of obedience.

And – if you do have to travel on alone – you can be assured (as I am) that you are still God’s field.  Because you always were.  His precious creation.

And all He has been doing in you through your marriage will be preparing you for what He is calling you to now.  And you will need every bit of your past fruitfulness to be equipped for that.

Because that’s just how God rolls.

He is, after all, the Great Redeemer.

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jsg/feb15

Pulling together.

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I have always thought of marriage as a boat.  You leave the individual boats that were your single lives to join together in a new boat of your mutual making.  You decide which of the things in the individual boats should be brought to the new boat, and which things no longer apply and can/should be jettisoned.

You then each grab an oar and, settling down, pull together in the same direction.  Perhaps you take turns at the tiller but – in order to move forward – you always need to be in agreement as to the direction you are headed.

If the tide turns you address it together.  If a storm hits, it hits you both.  If the boat is becalmed, you’re both stuck.  If there is a fair wind, you both delight in it. And so on.  The crucial thing is that you’re in it together, and you’re committed to pulling in the same direction together.  If you speak against each other, no matter that it’s under your seat that you’re drilling a hole — you’re both going to sink.  And if you turn on the only other person in the boat and attack them, or make a course correction without referring to them, your boat together is going to go nowhere whatsoever.

The problems with choosing not to see the boat as mutual are so obvious as to be not worth mentioning.

When I think of marriage I think of my parents, who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.  After an engagement of high drama and intrigue, they made it to the altar and on October 1, 1954 embarked on their voyage.

M&D wedding

I think my parents have a good marriage.  By which I do not mean an easy marriage, or a marriage that has not had (perhaps more than) their fair share of hardship and tragedy.  I mean a marriage where – no matter what – they have journeyed side by side and pulled in the same direction.  Shoulder to shoulder.

Attacks from without?  They have met them head on sitting back to back, and discussed what they thought of each other later.  Strife within?  They have kept it within the boat and, although not necessarily “sorted”, it has been negotiated and made to work.  In rough seas, they have kept a sense of perspective and (as far as possible) retained a lifesaving sense of humor.

The children and I wanted to make them a special present to celebrate their diamond anniversary, so we built a banner to celebrate their 60 years.

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As we worked, I thought of each canvas as another season of their journey.  Things that are common knowledge or that I remember, and things only the two of them know about themselves and each other.

Modpodge banner

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I attached three ribbons to the back for hanging and now, as I write, even that seems representative of the three cords running through all the years of their married life: faith, hope, love.

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They have modeled for me what the union of marriage means.  They committed to pull forward together, and they are still pulling.

M and D banner 2

May my children be so blessed as to find a partnership similar to the one reflected in the love of their grandparents.

A voyage together in all weather, with only one map and one North Star.

jsg/nov 14

Respect is the core of love.

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A friend dropped by to pick up something bought from our yard sale, so I asked how a difficult situation in their life was panning out.  Tears were close, their struggle undeniable and the betrayal real.  “I don’t want to lose the relationship though,” they whispered. “I know they love me.”

“But respect is the core of love!” I replied.

The truth stopped us both and our eyes widened.  It was one of those utterly brilliant comments you make that clearly didn’t come from you because you’d never thought of it before.  A gift from God for us both.

Respect.  A consideration of the other for their own sake, and not in relation to who they are for us.

God gave us free will because He loves us.  That is the ultimate sign of respect, isn’t it?  The truest love relationship of them all, and He gives us free will.  He does not dictate our choices nor prevent us from making mistakes.  He provides us with guidance when sought, sure.  But He respects our person by letting us make those choices ourselves.  No matter the depth of grief it may incur for Him.

He respects His creation.  That is where all the joy is for Him.  He created us in love so as to be able to lavish love upon us. And to surround us with His love through Creation and one another.

All loving relationship is rooted in respect.  Otherwise it is not love, it is simply self-interest.  Dallas Willard used to say, “True love is to will the good of another.”

I think about respect with regard to marriage.  You are made one in the covenant, but you remain two persons also.  In Godly order, the husband (understood to be seeking the Lord himself) is the head, the wife (equal but second in line) is a co-partner in everything.  An equal voice. And there to be listened to, to be respected for her own needs and opinions and desires.  Just for herself.  As she too respects the needs, opinions and desires of her spouse.

The Covenant of marriage works as God intends when it is rooted in a mutual respect.  Man needs a helpmate (God love him) and Woman needs a companion to cover her while she covers the kids (God love her).

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I think about respect with regard to my children.  I am in awe of God’s creation in my kids.  From the moment they were born, I have recognized that – while “mine” – they do not belong to me.  God made them, He created their inmost being and He has purposed them and gifted them for their own blessing and their own intended contribution to the world.

My sister and brother-in-law gave me a beautiful framed copy of this quote by Kahlil Gibran.  It hangs beside my bed:

‘Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters
of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you
Yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love, but not your thoughts
For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,
for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow
which you cannot visit even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward
nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children – as living arrows –
are sent forth.’

Parenting is all about respect.  Not just them respecting you, but you respecting them as the people they were created to be.  Quite apart from you.  Different.  Their own creation.  Their own purposes.  Their own path.  Their own discovery.  My role is to guide them in a Godly way of living, but not to direct them in my perception of their Godly path in life.  That is theirs to discover, mine to support.

So all one’s true love for one’s children must be rooted in respect.

And I think about respect with regard to family and friendship.  If I say I love someone, am I willing their best for their own sake? Am I willing to offer advice only when asked? Do I continue to love them through terrible mistakes without judgment and “told you so”?
Do I respect them as another person in their own right (not as they relate to me), with all the same choices, realities and frailties I myself have?

My parents have modeled true love to me through my whole life.  They have supported and encouraged me in my choices.  As a child they guided me, and as an adult they have given sage advice when asked. They have comforted me through “mistakes”, and have stuck by me in commitments I have made that have proved difficult.

Perhaps the greatest sacrifice my parents have made with regard to my life, is to bless – entirely without self-reference – my understanding of God’s calling to me to live in America.  Thousands and thousands of miles from “home.”  I came to graduate school in ’92 and I never left.

I know they grieve this distance intensely, as do I and their grandchildren.  But they have continued to bless me and support me and cheer me on for my own sake.  To their own cost.  No matter what. True love.

So I catch myself now in relationship.  If I love someone, then the proof of my respect must shine out of my every interaction with them.  And I can jolly well deal with my own stuff later.

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And so these three remain:
Faith in the other’s freedom to choose their own path,
Hope for the other’s best for their own sake,
and Love whose core is found in my respect for their person-hood.

But the greatest of these is love.

Kids on skateboards

jsg/nov 14