Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dear John (a decade of love, struggle and triumph)

Dear John,
I decided to forgo a silly anniversary card that over-optimizes marriage or over simplifies all we have worked at and overcome and fails to mention all God has done between us. Plus, since you know me well, you know I am too wordy to fit what I want to say on a 5x7 card.
10 years, as of today, I have been officially married to you for a third of my life. When I look back at my 20 year old self, having graduated a month prior (by taking two 22 hour semesters to be able to graduate with you;), I thought I knew what marriage was and thought how much I loved you would carry us through any struggle, but I also had a few fears walking down that aisle of what the future would look like when we got to year 5, 7, 10, 25, 35. 
I remember sitting in a chair at Northpoint Community church, hearing marriage is not a contract but a covenant, not an "I'll serve you if you serve me" but being the actual tangible hands and words of Jesus to your spouse. I remember feeling the weight and privilege of what we were entering into. 
People say that when people as young as we were get married they don't know what they're getting into. I've heard people use this as a cop out of marriage 5, 10, 20 years later. We didn't know what we were doing. one does.  We sought counsel and made the wisest decision we could understanding the commitment as much as we were capable.  But, just as if you parent your first child at 22 or 32 or 42, you don't know what you're getting into, because you have never parented a child before. Same as walking down that aisle. Yes, we were so young. But we committed to our God, a choice, a vow and the unknown. We never knew what life would hold for us, but we committed to each other and a love and a God we knew was bigger than any circumstance we would face. 
10 years later, my wildest dreams have been imagined and I've also felt deeper pain than I ever imagined. That's just part of it when entering into life with another flawed human being. If you would have told me at age 20, walking down that aisle, that 10 short years later we would have 4 kids age 3-8, been through 6 moves, 3 churches, an international adoption, 5 international trips with our kids, a ministry partnership in Kenya, counseling, 2 restaurants, and a whole lot of ups and downs I would have laughed in your face! It has been quite the adventure and I cannot imagine what the next 10 holds. 
As we have watched marriages crumble around us, it has brought an ever-present reality to mind. We are not "immune" to struggle, separation, sin. Sure we have done our best to put protective boundaries in place, sought counsel when we have hit hard times, prioritized date nights, been in small groups, gotten away several times a year together without kids. Those have all been crucial in protecting and building upon our covenant. But Satan is still out for us. No amount of boundaries can protect us from that, only the strong power of Jesus. I was talking to Reese in the car a few days ago explaining what separation and divorce are. I told her about how God gives us guidelines and boundaries not to keep us confined, but to protect our hearts and protect us from the damaging consequences of sin. Same for marriage, he has made this beautiful union that can be an amazing, hard, beautiful adventure if we stay within the guidelines he has given us. Just like the CS Lewis illustration of the fish who always dreamed of living outside of the confines of water, until one day he lept out of the "cage" that had been holding him captive only to realize that pleasure was fleeting, and outside his home was only death. He was designed to be in the water, it is not a confine but a boundary to where he can live abundantly. When we step outside those confines, there is hurt, brokenness and sin. We will still sin and have hurt inside our marriage, but nothing like the brokenness that happens outside. So I explained to her, Daddy and I have agreed to choose God's way over our own, even when things get hard and messy. And this is why I try to instill in our kids a heart that loves God's word and way, and to grow their will that can make the right choice in the hardest of circumstance. I hope our home is a breeding ground of small choices will bear fruit into a person who commits to God's way when the storms come. Reese asked, "so why doesn't everyone else just decide to obey God instead of hurt their wife or husband and break that apart?". Self and sin and Satan's lies are a powerful deterrent from the choice we all make at the altar of our marriage. I pray you and I continue to arm ourselves to daily fight that battle.
John, it is so freeing to know your struggles, to know where you continually disappoint yourself and me, to know what makes you tick, to know what you're gifted at; and that you know me all the same. One of my fears in walking down that aisle was that the glitter would soon wear off our relationship and it would no longer be anything to look forward to, there would be nothing else to learn about each other.  What if I wasn't excited to see you come home anymore or get butterflies to see your name ringing on my phone?  I was afraid the excitement of dating would wear off and leave me with a boring relationship. That was one of my biggest fears, but where some of the glitter has faded, security, sacrificial love, transparency, vulnerability and fun has risen in a larger way. There is a safety that comes when you know someone so deeply and you are known deeply by them and accepted. There is a deepness in our bond of friendship that is so comforting.  That beats all the first date feelings to pieces. Because when we are holding hands as we watch a grandparent take their last breath, when we are up until 2 am with friends going through separation, or when our child comes home in tears over a lie they've told, we don't need the butterfly, fleeting flirtatious relationship, we need a rock and shield and a partner who knows you through and through and is ready to go into battle with you. And I am honored to be your battle partner.
I am so proud of the man you are becoming. A man who treats me with gentleness and tenderness, a man who loves our children well, a man who is concerned by those in need, a man who desires to love and know God more deeply, a man who conducts his business with integrity and care, a man who pours into others, a man who loves to give generously, who forgives abundantly, a man who loves to go to the broken places in the world, and a man who can serve well. Your humility is one of my favorite traits of yours. Never do you use your position to put someone down or sit on the sidelines and watch others do the hard work. You have a team mentality; if there is a problem what have we done to get it here? If there is success, you put it back on the team, not yourself. That is present in our family and your business and I think that is why you are successful at both. You lead with wisdom, kindness and a servant heart and thats why you are a leader so many want to follow, including me.
But even on the days when you are not so easy to love; when you're home late, when you don't give me the input I desire in communication, when you disengage or even watch golf on a sunday ;), even then I love you, I respect you, I choose you. In the midst of your faults, I see who you are becoming still and I want to love you into that man. You were created as a fun, wild, tender, courageous warrior and I have the privilege of being a part of your story and that is one of the greatest gifts to me outside of my salvation. 
So 10 years in, I am still here, not because you are worth it, but because He is, not because I deserve happiness, but because Jesus deserves my ultimate devotion and commitment. 10 years from now, Lord willing, I will still be here, loving you when you don't earn it and humbling myself when I mess up time and time again. You are mine and I am yours.
Happy 10 year anniversary my love,

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A letter to Maran on her 6th birthday

Six. Six years of growth. Each birthday brings a new year for us together. But your birthday is also a time for me to look back. I missed your first 4 birthdays. Your story had not intersected mine yet. I do not discount the joy, the hurt, the challenge, and the history you made in the 4 years before me. Those years are as important to me as the two we have had together. Your history is a part of who you are and I am grateful for those formative years that shaped you into the joy you have become. You are a light, a ball of energy and fun, you are excited at the smallest of things and love to tell about your day. You are a peacemaker, you look up to your sister, you are affectionate and silly. You know you have a voice and you love to use it!
For the years when I didn't have you but knew you would come, I prayed these things for you.
1. A joy unexplainable. One of your referral pictures we were given you looked like the shell of a girl that used to be. Lifeless, joyless, hopeless was the look on your face. From that day especially, I prayed for God to fill you with joy. Joy that is beyond explanation. All adoption starts in trauma, grief, loss. But Jesus brings hope, life, and joy abundant. So I prayed he would give you those things regardless of where your story started.
2. A heart grateful. I prayed your history would not make you angry. Some days it probably will. On the outside it may seem desirable to just be ordinary, to hide behind the curtain, to not stick out. But God has given you a story. I prayed one day you would come to be thankful for the story God has given you and embrace the fullness of what he intends for your good and his glory. I pray you are thankful to and for your first family, for all they have given to you and the ways they loved you. I pray you are grateful to a God who sees you, who longs to call you daughter, and to a God where you have always belonged, been accepted and desired.
3. A generous spirit. I prayed that as you transitioned to a new home, a new country, a new family, that you would always remember who you are, where you are from, and who God made you to be. I prayed that God would create in your spirit a generosity to see people in their hurt and brokenness and give of yourself to them. I prayed you would be extravagant with your love and sacrificial with your life for those who are lost, abandoned, and alone. I pray that you will always tap into God's love to pour out of and to live a life spent for others.
4. A knowledge of your acceptance. I prayed for this the day I saw your picture and I still do today. This is one place in your heart where you will be attacked. The enemy wants to tell you that you don't belong, you aren't fully loved, you aren't accepted for who you are, you are different and different is bad. These are lies that will fill your heart and mind one day and I pray you will cling to truth to remind yourself you are fiercely loved, deeply known and completely accepted. We are all different glimpses of the image of Jesus. He stretched his arms wide and gave up his life for you to know you are his daughter, fully loved and redeemed.

Our journey together has not always been easy. You challenge me to trust and lean fully into God in a way I have not before. I fail daily to love you the way you need to be loved. You are always so quick to forgive, to give grace, and to find joy. I realize God has answered many of my prayers already in you. He has used you to call me to Himself in a way I wouldn't have experienced before. I pray for wisdom so that I can continually point you to the healer, the provider and your perfect father. You are a light, you radiate joy that cannot be explained. You challenge me to not let little things stress me but to rather look to the simple things God has given and created and just enjoy, just live, just revel in all he has done. I am so thankful for you and you are a gift I do not deserve. I pray this year brings about a knowledge and dependence on Jesus you have yet experienced. I am so honored to be your mom. Happy Birthday and I love you Maran,
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