What is the secret to a great marriage, besides, of course, being married to Karen?
Contrary to what we often hear, even from pastors and Christian marriage "experts", we do not think it is all that hard. In fact, we believe it to be as simple as 1-2-3.
In the articles which follow we will discuss our marriage, and the things God has taught us. Or is teaching us, since "we ain't perfect yet". At least I'm not. Karen on the other hand, as I tell her often, belongs in the Mary Poppins wing of heaven. You know, the wing reserved for those who are "practically perfect in every way". And I mean that in the very best way. I truly don't deserve someone like her.
Again, we do not know it all. And we certainly aren't free from the occasional "bobble". Nonetheless, God has been good to us to help us in a variety of ways. And we do not believe God teaches one person or couple a lesson, or blesses them in some way, simply for them to keep it to themselves. So we want to pass along what we have heard.
"Ah, such a pretty bride."
"What a handsome groom."
If you have been to a wedding, you have likely heard statements such as these. For a moment, consider the scene:
The guests are gathering. A camera shutter is going off nearly incessantly. Flowers are everywhere.
Somewhere the bride is putting the final touches on her hair and dress. At least 2 women are crying. At least 1 woman is trying to get a fidgety flower girl and/or ring bearer to "stop messing up your hair". 3 or 4 other women are pretending that "these are the prettiest bridesmaids dresses ever", and "I can think of many places I can wear this later."
The guys get into place. At least 1 groomsman is late. At least 1 thinks pushing the groom to see if he'll fall down is a great idea. "Uh, who's got the ring...?" The music starts ... "dum, dum, de dum...dum, dum, de dum..."
Then the preacher begins to ask the questions. Do you take this woman/man? Do you promise to love and cherish? Do you promise to not forsake each other? To keep yourself from others?
Marriage is as easy as 1-2-3. At least that's what I said in the intro article "We Do". And to prove my point, let's look at one little word: Do.
When the preacher asks those questions, the bride and groom are supposed to answer, "I Do". I -- Do.
Do what? Oh yeah, do whatever those questions say we are supposed to do. But it is more than that. It's got to be. Because unless we see the video, most guys never even know what they promised to do.
To bring about; effect. To put forth effort; exert. Those are the "textbook" definitions of the word do. That would sound like a good place to start. But it's got to be more than that too. After all, there are other definitions of do that won't make my point, so we can't just rely on Webster's to help us.
What are we supposed to do? Marriage doesn't come with an instruction book. Most brides are hard to read. And even if they weren't it wouldn't do much good. Most grooms are illiterate anyway. At least when it comes to "reading" their wife. And although most women can read their men like a book, it is a book written in disappearing ink, so it doesn't do much good reading it.
Let me suggest a slight change in one of the more familiar scriptures in order to help us understand what we promise to do when we make that promise, "I do".
(Philippians 4:8-9) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.
"Put it into practice". In other words --- DO IT!
In your life together:
Whatever is true -- DO IT!
Whatever is noble -- DO IT!
Whatever is right -- DO IT!
Whatever is pure -- DO IT!
Whatever is lovely -- DO IT!
Whatever is admirable -- DO IT!
Whatever is excellant -- DO IT!
Whatever is praiseworthy -- DO IT!
Consistency & Grace
Two little words: Consistency and Grace.
In a marriage ceremony I performed a while ago I told the couple that marriage was NOT as hard as everyone was going to tell them it was. That when all is said and done it comes down to two words: consistency and grace.
When we are first dating each other we are very quick to do certain things. We dress well around each other. We speak softly and tenderly. We prefer the other. You know, stuff like, "No, where do you want to eat tonight?", "What movie do you want to see?". Guys might even dare to say, "Oh, it's just a game. I don't mind going shopping instead".
Then what happens? We get married and suddenly the remote control is nearly chained to our wrist. The best clothes we own is that ratty t-shirt and a pair of holey shorts. Dinner out only happens if the word "pizza" is in the name of the restaurant. And don't even think of doing anything between noon and midnight from mid-August and early-February (football season for the uninformed).
What happened? Inconsistency happened. What do you think our marriages would be like if we actually treated our mates the same way we did when we were dating? If your marriage is good, but stale, try it. If your marriage is headed toward trouble, try it NOW! Act toward your mate the way you act toward complete strangers or potential business clients.
But, there are two words here. The first is consistency. The second is grace. And believe me, Karen is a master at extending grace. Unfortunately, she has to be. And, equally unfortunately, I am not as good at it as I need to be.
What is grace? Grace is treating someone better that they deserve to be treated. When I am not consistent, Karen's grace helps us through. Grace is acting toward the other as if they have been consistent towards us, even when they have not.
Good marriages need both. They need consistent behavior. And they need grace when the behavior is not consistent. And, of course, I mean consistently good.
I Love You
3 little words. And, oh boy, what GREAT BIG little words. But not just words. If it is, you’re missing the point.
I have mentioned that marriage is not as hard as many people would like you to believe. In fact, I think it is as easy as 1-2-3. 1 was “Do”. 2 was “Consistency and Grace”. 3 is “I Love You”.
In the article “Do”, my point was that a couple should do those things Philippians 4:8 tells us to “think about”. “Consistency and Grace” was a reminder that we need to treat each other the way we used to when we were “young and in love”, that’s being consistent. And when one of us doesn’t, the other needs to exercise a little grace.
“I Love You” is a little combination of both of those.
I was on my way home the other day when I had the opportunity to do something I have not been able to do often --- buy flowers for my wife. We share one car, and she generally is with me most everywhere I go. So surprising her is a bit difficult. But the other day I was driving myself, and the urge just overwhelmed me. I stopped and bought her 6 roses.
You know what was interesting? The reaction I got as I walked through the store with those flowers. 2 guys were shopping with their little children, and both of them looked at me as I walked by with that “Hmmm, that’s probably a good idea for me too” look. The lady who checked me out went (altogether now) “awww”. An older man who worked there commented, “That’s the way to do it”. As I walked out to the car holding the roses (they were the only thing I bought), a lady on her way in, across 2 lanes of the parking lot, said, “That’s so sweet”.
And, no, I wasn’t in the “dog house” looking for a way out. Such cynical people read this website.
As I write this Christmas is approaching. We have a couple traditions in our home during the holidays. And one of them involves leaving a gift for Santa. Karen knows that her Santa likes eggnog and homemade cookies, so she will leave some out for the “old man” on Christmas Eve. In gratitude for the gift, “Santa” will clean some long-overlooked nook or cranny of the house. One year it was the linen closet. Another it was the kitchen cabinets. This year I believe it will be the garage, since Santa and the Mrs. have recently moved and not everything is unpacked yet.
And it goes both ways. Karen knows I like sports. Especially football. But I do not turn her into a football widow during the season. Whether or not I watch an entire game, no matter how important it seems to be, will not change the outcome one bit. Since Saturday is the only day we can really hang out together, it is not fair for me to ignore her for 6-8 hours as the games play out. Pausing to give her some attention between games or at the half does not tell her she is the most important thing in my life. And I need her to know that EVERY DAY.
But she does know I enjoy it. And she does know I need some “down time” as she likes to say. So there will be times when I will be getting ready to go with her wherever she wants to go, and she will surprise me by putting a pizza in the oven, turning on the TV, and – watch out now -- handing me the remote. Now that is love.
And that is the point.
Marriage really is that simple. “I Love You”. Say it. Show it. Do it. Over-and-over again.
II Corinthians 6:14 -- Do not be yoked together with unbelievers...
We commonly interpret this verse, and rightly so, as being a warning for a Christian not to marry a non-Christian. But I have always considered it to mean a little more than that. I maintain that "not all Christians are created equal" when it comes to marriage.
As Christians, we all have a calling, something we know (or should discover) God wants us to do, a dream or vision God has placed deep within us. When we are considering whom to marry, it is imperative we consider that vision. If you feel a strong call to the mission field, and you want to marry someone who feels led to other areas of service, you might be "unequally yoked", even though you are both Christians. One of you is going to have to leave their calling unfulfilled in order for the other's ministry dream to be realized.
As Christians, couples need to be going in the same direction, serving together. That does not mean you have to do everything together, or serve in the exact same capacities. But the general direction of each of your callings needs to be a shared direction. You have to share the dream.
You have to maintain it too. I have seen too many couples, some with deep,personal connections to me, not "make it" because they eventually drifted onto two different paths. And that does not always mean one drifts from God. Sometimes one will begin going in a direction that the other cannot, or maybe just does not want to, follow.
It is not always the fault of the one who wants to change direction, but it is not always the fault of the one who does not want to change either. If two people are happily serving together in a local church and one feels led to leave that church to begin their own pastoral ministry while the other is adamantly against it, the one who wants to make the change needs to check with God about what is truly the correct path. Or, if you marry someone whom you know feels led to pastor, but then refuse to go along with it when the opportunity arises, you need to get before God also. You have to share the dream.
Which is why I call this article Cabbagetown.
A few years before Karen and I met I lived in an area of Atlanta known as Cabbagetown. The name alone should give you some clue as to what type of area it was. I was living in part of the parsonage to a church that had been burned down by drug dealers unhappy that the pastor had allowed DEA agents to use the church as a base for gathering evidence against them. I was there helping that pastor with the congregation that continued to meet in the parsonage, another that was meeting in a local mall, and yet another that met in a nearby high school.
Recently we were in that area again, and there has been some changes. Cabbagetown is a historically significant area in Atlanta, and has begun to experience some rejuvenation, due in equal parts to its significance and proximity to downtown Atlanta. After we got home, Karen mentioned that she would like to move there. When I asked why, actually I think I said "why on God's green earth would you want to do that", she said because I had lived there and she wished she had been there with me to share the work I was doing.
That is sharing the dream.
When I decided to leave education some years ago and join the staff of our church, that decision needed Karen's input. When the decision was made to leave that church in Florida and move to Atlanta (which I began to second-guess the first day the low temperature was 17), that decision was also made in tandem. It was, in fact, Karen who first mentioned the possibility. (And, as I sit here shivering this frosty morn, I want to say "thanks a lot".)
Yes, one has to lead, but if no one follows, you're not leading. If one partner feels God is calling them in a particular direction, He will confirm that leading through the spouse. If your spouse is listening to God, and willing to follow where He leads, and they do not confirm what you are feeling, reconsider. After all, it is not His will to cause problems in a marriage. He wants you to share the dream.
In the above article, "Cabbagetown", I implored you to "share the dream". That is, to be serving together and following a similar path in ministry. I believe that is part of what the Bible means in II Corinthians 6:14 when it tells us to be "equally yoked" in marriage.
When you share the dream your effectiveness is incredibly heightened. I believe God can use a couple working together much more than He can use the same two people separately. That is because you can provide support for each other. You can also give encouragement when necessary. And, or course, you can offer "course corrections" when needed.
In a nutshell, obedient service to God can be summed up by one phrase, "doing all for the glory of God". Our service to Him may be voluntary, but it is not optional. Our faith is only completed by our service. Not only are we saved to serve, but I believe we are also married to serve. And to serve together.
Accepting that as a given, then, means being married equals doing all for the glory of God. Doing all. In my first article on marriage I listed a few things I thought our marriage vows might mean when they ask, "Do you?". That article was entitled "Do". Well, I want to extend that into our shared ministry, which is why this one is called, Doing All.
I previously suggested that in our marriages we should do those things Philippians 4:8-9 tells us to think about. In John 15 Jesus teaches us that we are the branches of a vine. He commands us to "bear fruit". The evidence a branch is alive and viable is fruit. If there is no life (fruit) proceeding from the branch, then there is no life in the branch.
So, what fruit do we need to bear? What does it mean to be "doing all" together? Discipleship, evangelism, and missions are quite interconnected.. In the Bible book of James, true religion, religion that God accepts, is defined as meeting the need of those around us and keeping ourselves pure before Him. I believe doing all would include doing everything in our power to:
Show love to our neighbors. Even those whose music is too loud, whose kids are too unruly, or whose homes and yards are too unkempt.
Be a positive influence to those around us. What jokes do you laugh at in order not to "stick out"?
Be actively involved in helping others. Notice the word "active".
Meet the needs of people around us. Of course that means taking the time and effort to learn what those needs are, not just waiting for those with the need to make them known to you.
Lift the poor out of their poverty. Yes, that may include giving money. Be wise, not stingy.
Feed those who are hungry, but not only that, help them become able to feed themselves. Do they need a job your company could provide?
Provide shelter, both short tern and long term, to the homeless.
Come to the aid of those who are oppressed. Meaning take up the fight for ones who are mistreated by those who hold power over them.
Get necessary medical attention to those who are sick. Medical attention and medication is not "medicating demons". It is providing comfort to hurting people. Quick rule of thumb: if medication helps, it is not a demon!
Make life a little more comfortable for those who are disabled. This could mean providing proper equipment or supplies, but it could also be going out of our way to give a little understanding. And keep in mind not all disabilities are physical and easily recognizable. It make occasionally require a little effort on our part.
Restore those who have fallen. We are quick to "pounce" on those whom sin has snared, but are we perfect?
Begin looking for ways you and your family can be "doing all". And do it together. Maybe you will decide that 4 TV's and 3 video games are enough for any one household and invest in others next time a gift-giving season comes along. After all, how much wrapping paper needs to be scattered on the floor for it to feel like Christmas (or a birthday or anniversary)?
And, if you're single, keep in mind these two things:
1-- All these articles about marriage should serve as a road map for finding God's mate for you if your path of life includes marriage. 2-- You do not have to wait, nor should you, in order to begin serving God in any of the ways described throughout Destination God.
Fabulous Wife Babe
It is a question we often get, "How did the two of you meet?" Of course, the real, unasked question is, "How in the world did you end up with her!" I know it is, and I ask myself the same question most every day. So here is how.
In the summer I turned 30 I was working part time for a Christian radio station located about and hour and a half from where I lived. I was the "weekend overnight guy". A friend of mine had gotten me the job. He was the "weeknight overnight guy".
One night, as Memorial Day was approaching, he began to solicit callers to give a testimony about any miracle they had recently experienced. He was going to splice the best ones into a song for a Memorial Day special. Karen, whom I did not know at the time, called in because she had recently survived an accident on the Interstate where her car had gone under an 18-wheeler. I happened to be in the studio with him that night and heard her call.
A few weeks later he and his wife accepted a position as Youth Pastor in a church several hundred miles away. He threw himself a going away party on the radio and, as was his custom, acted like a nut. However, when he got to the church, no one there knew anything about him. Apparently, after he was hired, the Pastor went on vacation and had a heart attack (he survived) before he was able to tell anyone. Added to that, my friend's car blew up and left them stranded.
Knowing nothing else to do, he called the station about getting his old job back, which he did, and then called me to come pick him and his wife up, which I did. His first night back on the air the phone lines lit up with people interested in knowing why he was back. One of those callers was Karen.
For some reason, still unknown to him, he had the bright idea to try to hook Karen up with me. He got her permission, gave me her number, and we played phone tag for a couple of days.
Then, one night we connected. We spent about and hour and a half on the phone, 45 minutes of which we prayed with each other (mostly her praying). The goodness of her heart was immediately apparent. That was a Thursday (August 7 to be exact).
The next night I drove down to the station for my shifts. Before I went on I told my friends there that unless God did something unexpected (universal guy code for "unless she is as ugly as a dog), I was going to marry her. Little did I know that at almost the exact same moment, Karen was in her church, at the altar, praying for me to be "the one" (good girl code for not a "filthy, low-down, rotten sinner").
The next week we had our first date. And God had not "done something unexpected". She was (and is) breathtaking. Which is why so many people, when they first meet us, assume that we are rich. (Let that sink in for a second.)
Two and a half weeks after the first phone call, I asked her to marry me. She laughed. She claims it was nervous laughter. I think it was more a well-I-did-ask-God-for-this-so-I-guess-I-have-to-say-yes laughter.
Since I knew from the very beginning just how sweet, kind, caring, compassionate, and (and this is the "biggie") Godly she was, I conceived of a novel way to present the ring. I bought her a Women's Devotional Bible. I marked three scriptures with bookmarks. One scripture was in Ruth about the kind of woman she was. Another was in Ecclesiastes about how lucky I was she said yes. And the third was in Habbukuk concerning God's role in our marriage. The ring was taped to the third bookmark. On the Bible I had her name-to-be inscribed. I handed her the gift-wrapped Bible and waited as she opened it.
Because I had to ask her what her name was going to be (was she dropping her middle name, her maiden name, or hyphenating), when she saw the gift, she thought it was a plaque. She immediately began crying (of course) once she realized it was a Bible. And she continued crying as she turned from scripture to scripture.
And this is the kind of woman I married. When she got to the bookmark with the ring, she was so excited to read the verse, that she handed me the ring. Then, once she saw what the verse said, she gave me her hand to put the ring on.
A shade before three months after our first phone call, we got married. It's been 17 wonderful years.
That's it for now. I'll tell the rest of the story later.
Oh yeah, for those still wondering about the "rich" comment earlier. Since she is so beautiful, people would naturally assume I would have to be rich to get her.
And, why is this called Fabulous Wife Babe? Well that comes from a talk radio host whose theme song I appropriated and paraphrased to refer to Karen.