A letter to myself of ten years ago

Dear Me,

Oh, sweet sixteen.  I see you there, all aglitter at finally feeling grown-up and secretly delighted that you’re actually to the age where you can sing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and supposedly mean it.  Except in your mind, there needs to be a dashing young man there to sing it with…and there’s definitely no one like that in sight.  You think he’ll probably show up sometime soon, because you really want to get married, and think it should happen by the time you’re eighteen.  Oh me, you’ve got much to learn…

These next years will be hard.  Despite loving ballet so much and enjoying the bits of musical theatre you have a chance to do, you and I both know that more than anything, you just want to be married.  No more “ambitions” than to be a wife and mother, and you’re not really sure what you’ll do after you graduate high school in a few short years…thus the married-by-eighteen plan seems to be perfect.  Well, dear one, you won’t be married by eighteen.  Or nineteen.  Or even twenty.  You won’t say “I do” until a month before your 23rd birthday (you’ll actually only be a day older than the age your mom was when she got married!), and though most of your peers won’t understand why, those years between sixteen and then will sometimes seem to drag on and on.

They won’t drag on for lack of things to do though.  After you graduate, you’ll travel the world (literally!) and it will change you so much.  I’m excited for you!  So many of those fears that you’ve struggled with in the last years, the Father will gently bring to light and will continually be working in your heart.   You’ll discover the details as you walk along this journey, but the main lessons seem to be trust and grace. They’ll show up again and again and again, and you’ll still be learning them all the more ten years from now.

You especially need to learn to trust the Father with this desire to be married.  Believe me, I know just how hard it is for you…but if you learn now to rest in His timing and trust that He’ll bring you two together in His perfect time, it will save you a lot of tears and grief over the next years.  I know you’re starting to despair (and will do so even more in the coming years) that there are no “real men” you know that you would even consider marrying.  No young men who are serious about wanting to be married and no young men who are strong enough to pursue you.  Oh, but dear one…just you wait.  When it’s time, he’ll want to be married just as much as you do and he’ll pursue you around the world and across oceans.  And you’ll be utterly blown away by our Father’s goodness.

And while we’re on the subject of young men…you know all those courtship books you love to read?  Just stop.  As you’ll see in about six years, real life is nothing like the courtship books.   You and I both know well the tendencies of having a rather extreme personality and over the next years, what you read in all those books will cause you to subconsciously build a little box of what a proper, Godly relationship should look like.  And let me tell you right now…God is going to totally explode that little box.  From beginning a “courtship” after communicating online for two weeks with a man you had never heard of before, to starting to fall in love with this man before you’ve even met him in person.  From across-the-Pacific plane rides, and hundreds of chats and emails, to finally marrying each other seven months and two days after first even hearing of each other’s existence.  It’s going to be a wild and crazy ride, and it’s not going to be like anything you’ve ever imagined.  But dear one, don’t let that keep you from one of the most amazing gifts your Father has ever given you.  His hand will be so apparent through it all, so just stay under His mercy and He will lead you both.

And as a little aside to the whole courtship thing — just stop writing your “list” of things you want in a husband.  You can keep the first one (“a strong believer”), but anything after that, especially #2 (“taller than me”), just toss out the window.  I’m serious.  Because I’m going to let you in on a little secret…your incredibly good-looking future husband is shorter than you.  By at least two whole inches.  And you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  Because there’s so many other amazing things about him that a couple inches is hardly worth even thinking about.

Well, sixteen-year-old me, I know how much you love reading, but this letter is getting quite long and I need still get some stuff done while the littles nap (yes, your children are more beautiful than you ever dreamed), but I wanted to quickly touch on the grace I mentioned earlier that our Father will keep teaching you.

You don’t really see it now, but that legalism that Dad and Mom warn you about having tendencies toward?  Well, they’re right (and over the next ten years, you’ll see they’re right about a lot of other things too).  Our extreme personality so loves rules and doing things all the way, but dear one, that will become a bondage for you.  But the amazing thing about our God — He sets the captives free.  And over the next years, you’ll be set free from that and slowly, slowly, learn to walk in grace.  It’s going to be hard, and believe me, you’ll stumble and fall…but again, there’s grace.  So keep clinging to that, dear one, and know that in ten years, you’ll still be learning and you’ll feel like you aren’t any closer to being like Jesus than before.  But that’s when we need to keep remembering that Scripture from the beginning of Philippians that you have memorized and underlined.  That “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day the day of Jesus Christ”.

And He will.  Because if there’s anything I’ve learned in these last ten years, it’s that the goodness of our Father surpasses anything we could ever imagine and that we can trust Him with it all.

So just keep your eyes on Jesus, me-at-sixteen.  And that will be enough.

~Jessica

(The blogosphere is full of letters to our teenage selves this week, in celebration of Emily Freeman’s new book Graceful. Care to join us? What would you like to be able to tell your teenage self?)

Dance

Five Minute Friday: Dance

GO

As soon as I heard the chorus, I knew it was going to be a good one.

And we’re dancing in the minefields
We’re sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for

And it was.  Andrew Peterson‘s song, “Dancing in the Minefields” quickly became one of my (many) favourite love songs.  And the video?  Definitely made me cry.

Because it’s all so true.  Especially the metaphor of marriage being like dancing in the minefields.  Delicately and beautifully finding our way together through a place that can be full of danger.  Earlier this week I was thinking about how incredible marriage is.  This relationship between a man and a woman — so rich, so unique, so beautiful, so precious — yet so very strong and fragile at the same time.

It really can leave me without words.  And so that’s when I’m so thankful for those who can say it so much better than I can.

So when I lose my way, find me
When I loose love’s chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith, till the end of all my days
When I forget my name, remind me

‘Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man
So there’s nothing left to fear
So I’ll walk with you in the shadowlands
Till the shadows disappear

‘Cause He promised not to leave us
And His promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby,
I can dance with you

STOP

(All quotes from the song “Dancing in the Minefields”, by Andrew Peterson, from his Counting Stars CD)

Five Minute Friday

In which there is no formula for marriage

The other day, my husband did the sweetest thing for me.  Recognizing how much I hate clothes shopping, and that I rarely have time for it as it is, and yet knowing that I needed some new summer shirts, he stopped by Target and picked out five new shirts for me (along with a couple more…romantic items).  I loved all but one of the shirts (it was a cute style, but the colour didn’t work with my skin tone), which is even better odds than when I pick out clothes for myself!   And I know for sure that he likes them — a major bonus in my book.  I was amazed with what a great guy I had…

But I know that a lot of women would not have thought that was very sweet.  They may want to always pick out their own clothes, or would enjoy the opportunity to go shopping themselves.  And that’s totally fine.  Each person is different and therefore the ways that each couple shows their love to each other are different too.

Just recently I saw the Facebook status update of one of my husband’s friends.  He was talking about something nice his wife did for him and ended it with declaring he was “the luckiest man in the world”.  I thought it was sweet to read about, but at the same time it kind of made me laugh since what his wife did for him wouldn’t necessarily bring about the same response in my husband.  And yet again, that’s totally fine.  Each couple is different.

I used to think that idea was pretty basic and obvious, but sometimes I wonder.  Especially when I hear touted a mindset that is pretty prevalent in some Christian circles.  There is this idea that in order for a couple to have a good, Godly marriage, they must have regular date nights “out”.  I’ve even heard some formulas such as “an evening out every two weeks, a night away every two months, and a week away every two years”.   Supposedly this is doubly as important when you have young children and therefore you must make a point to leave your baby with others even when they’re very young just to make sure that you get this time “away”.  And — if you don’t do this — your marriage is pretty much guaranteed to not thrive at all and will basically fall apart.

Honestly, I find many, many things wrong with this mindset.  Some of them may find their way into future blog posts, but right now we’re going to focus on the most basic.  All couples are different.  There is no formula of “you must do this in order to have a good marriage”.  Each couple has different things they enjoy, different ways they connect, different ways they show love to each other.

For some couples, that may very well look like regular date nights out.  If that works for you and your husband, and you both feel like it’s the best for your family, then by all means, go for it!   But for other couples, that may not work for them, but that doesn’t mean that their marriage isn’t going to thrive.

For Aaron and I, we rarely go on dates “out”, for various reasons.   We both don’t feel that it’s worth it to regularly spend a lot of money on going out, we don’t really feel comfortable regularly leaving our kids for long periods of time, etc.  But does that mean that we never have time for each other?  Hardly!  Quite a few months ago, we started having weekly date nights….at home.  They aren’t anything super fancy.  Sometimes I cook a nicer-than-normal meal, maybe we’ll play a game together or watch a movie. Oftentimes we just end up cuddling on the couch and talking.  The point isn’t really what we’re doing — the point is to make a specific effort, in the busyness of our daily lives, to focus on and spend time with the other person.

I’m sure that the reason behind the mindset I mentioned earlier is to get couples to spend time together, focused on each other.  And I completely agree that if you don’t make a specific effort to do this, your marriage will not thrive.  But you don’t have to go “out” to do that.  Because…oh yeah, each couple is different.  So the ideal date for one couple may be incredibly boring to another.  But that’s okay.  Let’s just focus on our own marriages and learn to love our spouse in ways specific to them.  And rejoice in the amazing uniqueness of your couplehood and a God who made you perfect for each other.

Now one

This past Saturday, my sister-in-law married one of my husband’s best friends.  It was a beautiful wedding, very worshipful and focused on Jesus.  In my in-law’s lovely backyard, they stood under the arbour that Aaron had made for our wedding and pledged their lives to each other.  And after a delicious meal shared with family and friends, and speeches from the same, the bride and groom ran down the driveway surrounded by bubbles and sped away in their car.

Later that night, as I was cleaning up my little cottage from being used as the groomsmen’s dressing room and hangout place, I was thinking more about the couple’s getaway and how symbolic it was of the incredibleness of marriage.  Here is a young woman, married at the home that she had lived and loved in for her entire life.  She has an amazing family and had contributed much to that household over the last twenty years.  And yet, in the end, she runs hand-in-hand with her beloved and they drive away without a backward glance.

As I thought about it all over my sinkfull of dishes, I realized that is such the picture of marriage. No matter how much a girl has invested in her family and in her father’s home, or how closely-knit that family is, she (hopefully gladly) leaves it all behind when she vows to become a wife.  And that is how it’s supposed to be.  When she leaves her family and marries her husband, they become one.  While she will always be a daughter and a sister, now she is first and foremost a wife.  And that is how God intended it.

Occasionally I get asked if it’s hard for me to “live so far away” from my family in Idaho.  And while I have a great family that I’m very close to, honestly it’s not that hard.  Because this is where I’m supposed to be.  This is my life.  By my husband’s side, wherever that may be.  And while close proximity to family definitely can be a good thing, wherever our next adventure takes us — my love and I — we’ll be together and that will be even better.

Musings on golden moments, perfection and heaven

My birthday was this past week.  My golden birthday…I turned 26 on the 26th.  And golden it truly was, in so many ways.  By far the best birthday I have ever had.  A simple, lovely day spent with my little family.  Glorious weather: a rainy, foggy morning that turned to an afternoon of sunlight and shadowplay.  My new computer arrived much earlier than expected (and I LOVE it!).  Good food shared with good company (my husband and babies).

And then, in my birthday card that morning, my love topped it all off by surprising me with a night away (with a tagalong baby) at a local B&B…for that night!  It was the same B&B, and the same room, that we had booked for our anniversary last year, but that had to be cancelled because it ended up being in the middle of the week-long power outage we went through.   Aaron had apparently been planning this reschedule since January and I hadn’t a clue.  Yes…I am blessed with an amazing husband.

It’s funny though, and rather sad, that even when we’ve been given so much, we still think that we’re entitled to more.  That afternoon, as I was preparing supper, I was thinking about the upcoming night away.  As you would expect, I was really looking forward to the time, especially because certain things had come up during several recent attempts at romantic getaways that interrupted them and caused them to be different than what we wanted them to be.  And this time, my husband had an injured knee that was bothering him and the sweet baby that needed to come with us (since she still nurses several times during the night) doesn’t have the best track record for staying asleep in the evenings.  So my thoughts went something like this: “Why does it always have to be this way?!  Can’t we ever have a perfect evening together?!  Something always has to mar it.”  Yeah…very spiritual and thankful, I know!

But even before those thoughts were gone, the answer came.  The reason why it always is this way — the reason why life is never totally perfect –is  because we’re not Home yet.  And even though there are often beautiful moments scattered about, those gifts from an ever-loving God, we still live in a fallen world.  And as a result, things will never be “perfect” in this life.   Because if they were, why would we long for heaven, our true Home?

So I have a choice.  I can either whine about all the things that aren’t perfect and be mad when everything doesn’t work out exactly how I want it to — taking offense that not everything will be completely “in order” as I would like.  (Sounds rather ridiculous when put like that, eh?!)   Or I can rejoice in all the good gifts that I have been given to me (for there are more than I can number) and when I’m longing for perfection, remember in Whom it is found.  And remember that someday I will experience Perfection, and amazingly enough, it will be even better than the most romantic of date nights here on earth.

And for the record, our little night away was lovely.  Aaron’s knee didn’t bother him too much and our baby girl (who is turning one tomorrow!) slept very well, giving Mommy and Daddy ample time to enjoy the in-room jacuzzi.  It was definitely the most relaxing twelve hours of the past year.  Truly a gift.

Together

Five Minute Friday: Together

GO

I remember it so well.  It had only been three and a half months since we even knew the other person existed.  Three and a half months of chats and emails and “phone calls” through our computers on separate sides of the world.  And only about three and a half weeks of those months had we even spent in each other’s presence.  But we knew.  And so when he got down on his knee on a bench on a seaside pier at sunset and asked, without hesitation I answered “yes!” four times.

Wrapped in each other’s arms for the first time, we sat on that bench and watched the sun sink into the ocean.  The sky painted beautifully, just for us, and the moon rising at our backs.  And I can’t remember which one of us said it, but there it was: “It’s us now”.

And it is.  It’s us and we’re together and sometimes that’s all that matters.

STOP

 

Learning to love

Since before Aaron and I were first married, my mom has often told me that one of the main things she prays for us is that we would learn to love each other.  To be honest, when she first mentioned that, I was confused and a little offended.  What do you mean “learn to love each other”?!  We already love each other more than I ever dreamed it was possible to love someone!  But in the past three years of marriage, I’m beginning to understand more and more what she means.  (I’m not sure why I even doubted the words of a woman happily married for 25 years in the first place, but I was a new bride…what can I say?!)

In the past, I’ve written about the different seasons of love.  And the thing about seasons is…they change.  Constantly.  The love between Aaron and I now looks much different than it did when we first were married, and I’m sure it will look completely different in another three years.  And with the changing of our love comes a constant learning of how to love the other person.  Just as I respond to situations differently in the spring than in the summer, so it is with loving my husband.  The ways I show him love (and the ways that he perceives love — which I’m learning are not always the same) are different now than they were when we were first married.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my maternal grandma.  My grandpa, her husband of over sixty years, died this past Easter morning.  He had battled with cancer for several years, and in the last weeks of his life, things got really hard.  Near the end, both the cancer and his medication started affecting his mind, and sometimes he wasn’t all there.   And yet, my grandma was by his side and loved him all the while.

And I when I think of that, I can’t imagine how I would deal with it.  And then I remember that they had over sixty years of learning to love each other.  Sixty years.  With fifteen kids and going through all the ups and downs of life together, they had learned to love each other in many different seasons and situations and times.

And so, in a way, I wonder if this end season wasn’t that much different than all the rest.  You just hold tight to your love’s hand and know that you’re in this together.