Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours! I hope that you have had some time to rest and reflect on the great love of God this season - the very God who so loved us, that He gave His only Son that we might have life.
We just heard the news that on Christmas Day, one of our heroes of the faith went to be with Jesus: Rev. Fred Hill finished his race. He and his beautiful wife, Betty, have loved and encouraged so many people throughout their marriage and ministry together. He was one of the first pastors to support and encourage us so many years ago as we were starting out in ministry, and they have been such a blessing to us for almost thirty years. I believe that they were about to celebrate 70 years of marriage, which is an amazing and beautiful testimony of the goodness of God. I am grateful for his life, and for his influence in our ministry and so many others. I am thankful for the hope of heaven, where there is no more saying goodbye. And I am mindful of the beautiful force that a godly marriage can be...
Recently, I was walking into a local grocery store, when a woman coming out of the store caught my eye. We looked at one another, each obviously feeling that the other looked familiar. So we smiled at one another, and went on our ways. A few minutes later, I was in the coffee aisle when I realized where I knew that face. She was one of the girls in my first fourth grade class as a brand new teacher. I was fresh out of college, 21 years old; she was a fourth grader, probably 9 or 10 that year. Now I am a 50-year-old grandmother, and she is probably almost 40 herself, likely with a family and growing children. But still, I knew that face because I knew her back when.
One of my favorite things about campus ministry is getting to meet people, many of whom become the greatest of lifelong friends, when they are 18 years old and full of it. And I mean full of everything! Certainly pride, as we all were, but also full of hope and zest and life and fun. Now that we have stayed in campus ministry for decades, many of those 18-year-olds have grown into the most godly men and women that anyone could ever meet. They are doing incredible things all over the world for Jesus and for His people. They are the bedrock of every community that they live in: honest, hard-working, hopeful, and full of the Holy Spirit.
But still, I love that we knew them when.
I love reflecting on this in our own lives. This month we have celebrated the amazing milestone anniversary of 30 years of marriage! I have actually spent the entire year celebrating and reflecting, and in rejoicing over what God has done in our lives. Because you see, I knew us when, too.
I remember when I was 17 and he was 19, and we were both on the same swim team in college. Neither one of us was thinking very much about God, or anyone else but ourselves for that matter. We were living the typical American college student life, basically just living for what we could get out of each day. We were not particularly looking for anything, or trying to change, but God had an appointment with us, which is something I will never be able to fully understand. God knew us better than we knew ourselves, and He certainly saw how selfish and prideful and thoughtless each of us was at the time. But in His great love, He met us, and He also helped us meet each other, and we set out on a journey with Him, way back when.
Marriage is so much more than anyone just entering into it can anticipate. It is actually an institution designed by God himself, something that God had in mind in creation, even before the fall of mankind and the entrance of selfishness and sin into the world. This is a staggering thought… what might marriage have been like, if there had never been a fall, and sin and death had not entered the world?
Tragically, there has been a fall, and sin and death are very much present. So every marriage is the bringing together (some might say the smashing together) of two very different persons, each with their own idea of the right way to do everything, and with a very egocentric way of looking at the world. How difficult it is to learn of the vast and deep well of selfishness in my own heart! Even 30 years later, I am still too often surprised by how selfish I can be.
When we enter marriage with God as the center, it can be the most beautiful and satisfying relationship besides that of our own relationship with Jesus. How lovely to learn to put someone else first. How wonderful to trust someone enough to let them be honest with you, and you with them. How amazing to be with someone through so much good, bad, ugly, rejoicing, sadness, hope, fear, dreaming, changing, aging…life. Should the union be blessed with children, there are a couple of decades filled with pouring the best of ourselves into the next generation; guiding and encouraging them to be all that God created them to be. All the while, our own hearts and lives continue to be refined by the great daily choosing afforded by continuous relationship in such close quarters. If we let Him, God can do a wonderful work in all of our hearts as we raise our kids.
But then everyone is suddenly grown and gone, and it is just you two again. After so many years of focusing on the younger set together, it is a delight to look up and really see each other again, Of course, this can be a perilous time if we aren't careful to maintain friendship and to keep God at the center of everything. But it can also be an amazing time to look back and see how far the Lord has brought you since you first started the journey together. Though we still have much learning and growing left to do, I know how much we have stretched and grown and changed over the last thirty years. I remember how many wonderful people have been a part of our lives, and what incredible things we have seen and experienced. We started out back when with a little hope and love, and have watched it all grow into something deep and rich and beautiful.
I can only imagine what our parents, who are even further down the road than us, must feel, and what our dear friend Betty experienced with the love of her life for nearly 70 years. I do know the impact that these great marriages and others like them have had on us and on so many others. Godly marriages are a beacon of health and safety and hope to the watching world. The love and power of God shine through every couple that treats seriously the business of daily choosing to love, to constantly forgive, to put one another's needs higher, and to choose to believe the best of one another, year after year, decade after decade. It is beautiful picture of the way God loves His people, and of our great love for Him.
For all of you reading this who are married, I encourage you to reflect back on where you two started in your own back when, and how far God has helped you come. Spend some time focusing on the many good things that the Lord has done in you and through you. Shake off any bad habits of thinking and speaking poorly and negatively to one another. Instead, recommit yourself to the vows that you took on your wedding day, and to unselfishly choosing for the good of your spouse and marriage. Let the Spirit of God fill you with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and an extra measure of hope. May the Lord bless your marriage and make it stronger than it has ever been in the coming year!
PS - some exciting things are in the works for 2023 - I will definitely keep you posted as they unfold in the new year!
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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