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Tonight as Tim and I were driving around I saw the sign for a church stating PALM SUNDAY WORSHIP AND PICNIC!

It was undoubtedly the announcement for last Sunday’s service.  And just like last Sunday a part of me, bigger than I would like to admit, grumbled, so irritated by this repeated excitement.

Confession: I left church on Palm Sunday.

I know, I know, it isn’t right, but what is done is done.  We had raced out the door of our apartment to make it on time.  As we walked into the service I was handed a palm leaf, nice.  A speaker took to the stage as we found our seats, enthusiastically reading from one of the Psalms.  It was about a king, and gates, and a lot of joy. I took a deep breath and tried to convince my heart to resonate with the reading, but this wouldn’t happen. I found my heart shutting down and I just could not join in the excitement. 

My grumbling heart was not honoring to the Lord, and so I asked Tim if we could leave.  He is so patient and kind, and as soon as we walked out the door His first question was “do you want to talk about it?”  I love him deeply.

I got on Facebook today to find pictures of smiling kids with palm leaves only to feel disappointed in my inability to appreciate the celebration most people were experiencing.

Is it because I’m going through this time of questioning?  Do I have a dark and cold heart?

So today as we drove and I once again could not react to this excitement proclaimed in all caps, I grumbled. 

This Lenten season I chose to journal my journey to the cross, but after my experience the past few days, it seemed my journaling had been futile.

I came home and curled up on the couch ready to seek answers to more of my questions, choosing to read “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis.  However a few pages in I began to randomly flip through the rest of my book which is a collection of his writings.  I flipped open to “A Grief Observed” and I was instantly taken by the personal introduction written by his step son. Douglas Gresham explained that this work had been a product of Lewis’s grief after losing his wife.  Each heart felt word kept pulling me further into his writing.

“I have no photograph of her that’s any good.  I cannot even see her face distinctly in my imagination… But her voice is still vivid.  The remembered voice – that can turn me at any moment to a whimpering child.”

 Can you imagine that pain? Can you imagine that loss? Some of you may not have to because it is already all too real, and for that I am so incredibly sorry.

I read this, and I cry, deeply.  Sorrow reaches into the deepest parts of my heart and soul.  I read this and I cry because I know that this separation will one day be all too real for us as well.  Tim and I. One day, most likely, one of us will be without the other. I can’t imagine, I don’t want to imagine my life without this beloved partner and friend I have. I feel incomplete without Him. I can’t imagine, I don’t want to imagine him living a life where I can’t console him.

It may be silly to think in this way, I can hear people now: “Enjoy what you have now!” “Don’t worry about tomorrow!”

Here is the reason I am allowing these emotions to seep so deeply tonight.  Yesterday the church celebrated Jesus riding in on a donkey, Sunday we will celebrate him raising from the dead, but before that, on Friday, we will mourn his death.

Friday, we remember what he did, and we must also remember why: separation.

He from we.

I don’t want my words to ruin this powerful story, I am going to try to do it justice now.

He made us.  Why us? I don’t know. He made us. He loved us. Why? I don’t know. He and we shared everything, until the day we chose we before He.  He was our creator and our truest lover, and his heart was broken.  He was separated, like a groom from his bride. Can you imagine the agony He must have felt? Why would He subject Himself to this? I don’t know.

But because of our choice we and He were separated. We were separated like death separates loved ones.  And the resulting grief was as real as the grief of a husband for his dead wife.

How do I know that He felt the pain of separation from us?  Because of everything He did to get us back.  The story is long, stretching thousands of years, the people change, the kingdoms change, but the story does not: A God desperate to end the separation between Him and His creation.  A God desperate to end the death we chose, so desperate, He was willing to die Himself.

This is the story of Friday.  And without this, Sunday will have lost all significance.  We cannot celebrate if we cannot remember the depth of His grief in our death and separation from Him.  We cannot sing praise until we willingly mourn the reason this season exists in the first place.

We were separated from the love of our life.  You were separated from the love of your life.  I was separated from the love of my life.

 Because He chose to chase after, because he created a story that seamlessly weaves itself together over thousands of years and through countless people, because he ends this separation in death, which is our consequence, because we observe his grief on Friday we raise our hands on Sunday and our hearts are full of joy.

Since I met Tim at the wonderfully fashionable tacky Christmas sweater party in 2008 we have just clicked.

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And marriage hasn’t phased us terribly yet.  We’ve definitely had some nasty fights, and there are days where we get so frustrated with this person we live with that we can’t fathom another day, let alone a lifetime of being with each other.

But most days we are just having a great time with the person we love: watching TV, walking our dogs, grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, you name it, we will have a blast being together.

But what happens when all of a sudden two people have dramatically different visions for their lives?

I never considered this as a potential in marriage, I always assumed God would move both of our hearts in the same direction at the same time… always.

But apparently this can happen and it did.  After we found out that we would not be going to Malaysia, we were both really bummed out.  Instead of sulking (for too long) we decided to seek God on the matter, and what we found were two beautiful paths, that did not align at ALL.

As Tim prayed he became more convinced that this opportunity had been purposeful, and that we should be seeking other opportunities like it.  I always use the phrase if Tim could have packed up and moved us two weeks ago we would be gone to describe his enthusiasm for living internationally.  He was confident, steady, and determined.

I prayed as well, but instead of receiving this same message it became abundantly clear to my heart that God was calling us to live more intentionally in our community here in Houston.  I have at times felt Houston is not our forever city, but our city for now.  I prayed about this from the perspective of a teacher wanting to know if she should be looking to sign another contract, and received a very firm answer that we should plan to stay another academic year.  I was confident, steady, and determined.  And scared… but save that for another day.

So Tim was ready to pack us up and ship out, and I was ready to dig roots deeper here.  Hmmm.

So many nights we would get frustrated with each other both saying “I don’t feel like you are honoring the call that is on my heart” and both being right.

When I wanted to talk about what we could do here to settle in Tim wanted to talk about applications for positions across seas.  When I wanted to invest time in friendships, Tim wanted to invest connecting internationally.

Oh crap.

Compromise.  How do we compromise?

His heart:

Tim and I have decided to visit some friends in Kurdistan this summer and also take some time to visit Jerusalem.  On our trip to Asia, we will also be stopping in London and Istanbul.  Tim has been planning like crazy for weeks now and I have been doing my best to stay focused during our itinerary meetings and keep up with his enthusiasm.

I have no idea how we will react to traveling.  We are both so excited, but we could go and decide another country is indeed where we need to be, or we could go and decide that this country is where we need to be.  Either way there are so many questions we will then want to ask.

Her heart:

And when we are not running around new cities and airports? We will be focused on being present here where we are.  Being more intentional about time with others and service (hopefully starting in July when we return).

So many things are still undetermined.  We know that we will be in Houston this next year, but doing what? After that, then what? We don’t have a five year plan, or even a 5 month plan, but in this we feel most content.

Some may say we are being unwise, but we are learning to trust our Savior daily, a difficult lesson indeed.  For now we do our best to honor each other, and above this, the one who calls our hearts to live fully and wonderfully, individually and together.

We live in very confusing times.  As a Christian this really isn’t surprising.  God never said the world would get fixed after he left, he said it would continue to spiral until he came back.  The problem though, isn’t the confusion in the world; it’s how the church and non-church respond to our circumstances.  From my perspective, the two most controversial non-essential spiritual issues I have faced have been drinking and views on gay marriage.

 My experience with alcohol has presented itself to be the epitome of how poorly we handle confusion and of the tension Christians feel in and outside of the church.  As a kid, I knew that beer and wine were for the adults, and I never had a problem with that.  My dad usually had a few of what he called, cold “brewskies” in the fridge and it was never a shock to find a box of mom’s weird grape juice in the lower cabinets.  I knew the rule that the wine was for my momma, and the brewsky for dad, leaving all other liquids in the fridge up for grabs for my sister and I.  This never concerned me, and alcohol never stood out to me, it was just there.  This isn’t to say I didn’t see the problems alcohol could cause.  My parents and adults around me weren’t perfect, but they were great at teaching me from a young age that when I would drink when I was older, moderation would be the key word (though to say I didn’t learn this lesson fully the hard way would be a lie).

It wasn’t until college that I first began to see that alcohol was the great divide between the prudes and the popular.  As a freshman before becoming a Christian I drank underage a few times thinking that it was just “what you did.” However, after becoming a Christian and getting involved in a youth ministry I chose to stop drinking until I was of age.  No big deal right? It’s not like I actually enjoyed the Natty Light frats served or that disgusting mix o’ crap they called punch. 

WRONG!                          

Oh my gosh, you would have thought I was a leper from the way some people reacted to me and my friends for not drinking.  Not all people, I met some really awesome people who drank underage and were really cool with me not joining in.  But oh my gosh, this was like THE thing that distinguished a “Christian” from a true Christian in college, or it was the thing to defend if you were a Christian.  I felt so on edge and left out all because I wouldn’t drink! In the defense of the insiders, I probably acted as awkward as I felt, which was probably more of the cause for being (or should I say feeling) on the “outside” than drinking.

No big deal, push through and it will all be over after college.  We’ll all move on from the drinking issue and no awkwardness will exist when the drinking age has come and gone along with the rebelliousness or newness that had come with it in school.

WRONG!

Now I’m not worrying about people on the outside of the steepled buildings thinking I’m a prude, I’m more worried about the people inside thinking I’m living in sin (gasp!).   This feels ridiculous to write about, but I know I’m not alone.  Once when I offered wine to a couple friends, a girl came up to me and whispered “I really needed some Christian friends who drank, thanks.” I totally knew where she was coming from, and I totally understood her need to whisper.  For whatever reason, alcohol has become this very uncomfortable topic.

What? Why?

Why is this such an unspoken hot button issue for the church?

I’m going to go ahead and get it out there right now: I drink! I love a good margarita, white wine, Dos Equis, or hard cider! Yum!

To some people that may not seem like a big deal, and back in the day I wouldn’t have thought so either.  However, having experienced people whose view is that drinking means I can no longer be a part of the church, and having felt the pressure of not letting others see me participate in what is really such a simple thing compared to, oh, I don’t know, war, hunger, poverty… just to name a few, I love being able to just put in writing that I drink.  Moderation, like my parents so wisely taught me, is key.

This isn’t to downplay that drinking can be a problem. I have seen what alcoholism can do to a person and their family, and I always want to respect that person and their sobriety over having a freaking drink.  In other situations a person may not be able to drink because of medication they are taking (I have been this person at times).  In instances such as these, a beer just wouldn’t cross my mind. It just isn’t a big deal to not consider alcohol in that case.

I write all this to show how something so unimportant in the big picture (again, war, poverty…), can be blown out of proportion.  And amid all of what I wrote about, amid my whole experience, how often did Jesus come up?

It should have been simple when I was in college: I met a man named Jesus, and his love has changed me, so now choices I make look different than before, but that doesn’t mean I love you any less or look at you as any less.  If anything it is the exact opposite. I love and value you more than ever. 

The same awkwardness and tension arises in our nation over things such as the marriage debate.  In our hearts there are so many devoted followers of Jesus that know that our job is well defined: love others.

Not love others unless they drink or unless they are homosexual or unless they use bad words.

And yet we’re scared because you see all of these controversies where the church is trying to protect the “sanctity” of marriage (let’s just ignore the 50% divorce rate in and out of the church), and we’re scared into silence.  Are we not being truthful enough? Defending what God defined as marriage? Are we not honoring God if we vote the “wrong” way? God, am I going to have to be the prude once again?

And amid all of this, how often am I, are we, mentioning Jesus?  How often do we ask about him, talk about him, consider him? After all, he is the cornerstone of our beliefs and our church, and yet we aren’t talking about him at all.  No one is discussing the man who lived over 2,000 years ago, let that soak in.  People will argue till they are blue in the face about the morality in marriage without considering who they are following, a man who died, over 2,000 years ago.

Everything about this situation is strange. 

First, that we aren’t talking about the foundation of what we believe; the one who started our movement, the reason we (Christians) exist, while we exhaust ourselves trying to figure out how to defend which politics we side with.

Second, that who we are forgetting is strange in and of itself considering he died over 2,000 years ago.

We are distracted, as individuals, as groups, as a nation.  We are so caught up in defending what we believe is morally “right”, that we have forgotten to discuss the one we believe in.  This is really our loss, because it is quite fascinating that 2,000 years later, a lower-class individual from an afterthought of a country still has people so devoted to his story and to him.

My sincerest desire is to step outside of our cloud of confusion, step outside of alcohol, outside of the marriage debate, outside of the politics and the mundane distractions, and focus on the question that matters, the question that started over 2,000 years ago, the question that changes everything.

I want the masses to stop bickering, so the individual can ask: Who was Jesus?

 

It was late, the sun had gone down, the apartment was a disaster, and it was time to start thinking about bed time (teachers have to get up early).

Our typical routine of dinner, a show, and then bed had been interrupted.  A typical night completely derailed  all because of four simple words: “tell me the truth.”

Now we sat, staring at each other, crying.

It was late, the sun had gone down, and for the first time I felt how truly young and dumb I really was.  It was one of those “God, we’re only kids how the hell are we supposed to figure out marriage” moments.  He cried, then I cried, we cried, then I cried some more.

Marriage is hard, but it is so good.

We had come up against our first true blunder in or marriage.  No more bickering over soccer games or stress levels, no more wondering why he wouldn’t take the dogs outside or why she wouldn’t just chill out for a second.  This was a blunder that helped us see a huge hole in our marriage, and it hurt.

It wasn’t a him problem, or a her problem, it was a we problem.

The next day I went to work and received disappointing news that crushed me.  Normally I would always call Tim, and out of habit I still did, but it felt hard, forced, not natural like being with or going to him always has.  I hung up the phone feeling confused and hurt and guilty.

I came home feeling heavy, and confused as to how I should react to Tim when he came home. Do we sit and talk more? Do we continue feeling this pain in silence? Do we act like it never happened just so we can actually try and enjoy the night?

Little did I know Tim had taken care of these questions earlier that day. I walked into my apartment to find it spotless, clean, neat, and orderly.

For those of you who don’t know, it stresses me out to have things messy.  If my environment is messy it is hard for my thought process to be orderly.  I can’t explain this but it just is.  Messy spaces bring me down in a weird way.

As I walked throughout our apartment finding not just one room, or two rooms, but the whole thing clean I began to cry.  I knew Tim hadn’t done this out of guilt or of feeling like he had to get out of the dog house (like I said, and I can’t emphasize enough that this was a WE problem) he had done this out of love.  He knew that  I enjoyed having a clean space, and without even realizing the news I would receive later in the day, he just wanted to make life a little less burdensome for me, because he loves me, and wanted to serve me in some way.

Well that snapped me out of my confusion quickly and when he came home I hugged him and cried again, this time out of gratitude.

The door to communication had been opened and we realized that there was a hole in our marriage, one that had been there for a while, but that we were just now seeing.  There was a problem, and we began strategizing how to fight against it.  We came together to fight for each other, for us.

Fast forward 3 weeks, and once again the apartment is a disaster (we’re working on ways to KEEP it clean throughout our busy weeks, we have not mastered this).  Our daily routines have resumed with some exciting additions, such as guests having come down to see us.  We’re laughing, I’m crying, we’re having fun, we’re feeling stressed, we’re trying to look to God, we’re just living life.

This morning I woke up and realized how grateful I am for marriage.

Over the past week I’ve been thrown into a position where I’m having to look at myself a lot;  I have to reflect on my strengths, and my weaknesses, I have to believe in myself, and be ready to show others why they should believe in me.   In that sentence alone I mentioned myself 5 times.

I’m not trying to be prideful, and I don’t want to be prideful, I’ve prayed to the Lord several times this week first thanking him for the supernatural confidence that had been filling me, and then second confessing that I was worried that I was actually just a puffed up marshmallow of a person full of pride.  I think God answered this prayer of gratitude and concern this morning as I laid next to Tim enjoying the first few moments of daylight snuggling in bed with my partner (I treasure these moments as during the week we don’t get them).  That’s when it occurred to me one of the beautiful aspects of marriage: you’re constantly needing to think of someone else.

Breakfast: what foods should we invest in?

Money: what does Tim think about this budget plan?

Work: how can I get my work done prior to Tim coming home so that I can spend that time with him?

Recreational: when is Tim busy doing things, I will try to plan my events alongside those.

Lunch: what foods should we invest in, frozen meals, sandwhiches?

Hairstyles: what is tim comfortable with? How much maintence do I want to put into a hairstyle, this affects our budget.

Dogs: should we go to the dog park together tonight? Is he willing to go for me so that I can get things done? Am I willing to go for him so he can get stuff done?

Dinner: Tim doesn’t like mushrooms, I’m craving mushrooms, how can I make a meal where I satisfy this craving without making him feel like he is going to throw up.

Bed time: Tim wants to stay up and watch a game tonight, do I stay up with him so that we can go to sleep at the same time, or go to bed and sacrifice that extra time together?

At every moment, in everyday, my thoughts have to go back to my partner, my friend, my beloved, my husband.  I am so grateful for this.  At every moment I am forced to think about someone outside of myself.  I don’t always love doing this, but I do it because I love the one I’m thinking about, and I am grateful that this causes me to take my thoughts off of myself.

The dictionary defines pride as having a super high opinion of oneself. I think though that having a super low opinion of oneself is also pride.  Having an obsession with yourself, whether it be through arrogance or insecurity, puts a person a risk.

Out of arrogance one risks getting to the point of pride where they say Look at all I can do and have done, I don’t need God.

Out of insecurity one risks getting to the point of pride where they say Look at where I am or what I am not, not even God can help me.

Pride, in either form, challenges the power of our Perfect and Loving Lord.  Focus on the self puts one at risk of distancing themselves from God.

Marriage is a beautiful thing, because when good times come I don’t become puffed up with pride to the point where I think I can do all things on my own, and when the bad times come I don’t become so consumed with prideful insecurity that I think no one, not even God himself, could help me out of my situation.  I don’t, because my thoughts are not solely on ME.

I’m thinking what can I do to help my beloved, how can I build him up through this situation? How can I support him through this new trial? How can I make him feel like the amazing man God made him to be? How can I show him that I care about him? How can I get past my insecurities to better love him? How can I level the confidence I feel on my good day to build him up on his bad day?

Marriage is a beautiful thing for so many reasons.  It has helped me grow so much over the past 9 months.  It has challenged me in areas I didn’t know existed, let alone needed to grow.  God has worked through our marriage to stretch me in ways I never perceived.

I am utterly grateful that I have a God that loves me so much, who knows my needs, and gave me a partner to walk through this life with. I am utterly grateful for a night of grieving over a hole in our marriage, that as Tim and I work together to fill, we are drawn even closer, something I arrogantly thought impossible prior to marriage.

Marriage is not easy.  It goes against every natural human instinct to fend for yourself.

But Marriage is so good.

**I want to make a quick note that if you are unmarried I do not think that your are prideful, only you and God know where you stand in that area.  God began working on my humility prior to marriage, we still have long ways to go after marriage, marriage has just been a helpful outlet to see and help me in working through some of my prominent areas of pride.  I am confident that God is doing incredible things in his followers whether or not, in the words of Beyonce, they “put a ring on it.”

The other night I was somewhat anxious as Tim and I drove to the grocery store (or maybe it was McDonald’s), trying to put the pieces together of where Tim and I were going long term.  We are in the middle of a small transition yet again as we have decided to move in closer to the city when our lease is up at our current apartment.  However, this presents a litany of decisions we need to consider.  How far into the city, how much do we want to spend on rent, how much space will that allow us (um, with two dogs is that enough??), is an apartment the best choice, should we consider renting a house, should we consider buying a house (answer: hell to the no),  how do we find a place near the city and a good commuting distance for both our jobs, will I even have my job next year, should that be a factor in our decision making?

That’s a long list and that’s barely scratching the surface.  We’re trying to figure things out long term even if only little by little.  How much do we want to spend on rent, because that affects how much goes towards paying off debt and saving up for our house.  How soon do we want to purchase a home because that affects how much we’re willing to put into saving for it.

1 year, 2 years, 3 years 4?

Is it even right for us to be thinking about purchasing a house? Y’ know, since we might not be here in Houston forever.  And if we’re not going to be here forever how much effort should we really put into establishing ourselves? Why put myself out there for friendships and community when there is a chance we might have to pick up and start all over again.

I shifted in my seat and tried to jokingly present my concerns to Tim.  “Isn’t it funny how we still have no idea where we’re going in life?”

Tim could sense that I was not joking, but that there was some stress in my worried question.  What he said next made him the hottest husband of the year.

He squeezed my hand, smiled, and said “But we know where we are now, and if we need to go elsewhere in the future, He’ll let us know.”

So Sexy.

That’s my man, squeezing my hand and gently speaking words of wisdom directly from the Lord into my heart.  A marriage moment I hope to never forget. Simple yet profound (and so hotT**, did I say that already?).

We don’t know where we’re going, but we know where we are, and that’s what I am to focus on.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Matthew 6:34 The Message

Many things have been brought to my heart and mind that I need to devote my attention to right now: serving my current students, building a solid foundation with my husband, forming community, finding the beauty in humility.

Yes, the Lord is currently doing many things in my life that I need to devote my attention to, he has brought me here now, I know where I am now, and that is where my entire attention should be.  I don’t need to get worked up about tomorrow’s endless possibilities, and I don’t need to be afraid, because God Himself promised that He would meet my needs when the time comes.  So for now I focus on where I am, I can do this in peace and joy because if the time comes where something needs to change, I will know because He will tell me, and He will help me.

And this is very good, because I am free to simply enjoy the ride, relax and find joy in the drive, whether that be to the grocery store or McDonald’s.

**Tim wanted to ensure that hotT was spelled with two T’s, hence I made sure that the second T was highly visible.

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