“I love being us!”
I stared at my mate across the swanky parchment-wrapped table littered with house made Rye crumbs and wine-rimmed stains. As was the case in this same place ten years ago, my five-star food took a backseat to his words hanging above it, wistful and grateful and humble and happy. After a decade together and two blonde beauties snuggling into sleep at home, my husband and I cherished the rare opportunity to recognize a milestone in heels and trousers. Yet, this wasn’t just an anniversary meal. It felt more like a re-commitment, our attendance at the table an acceptance of all that had transpired since last we communed there and a willingness to go all-in for another round. That we would find the integrity of our first precious promise upheld and exponentially relished wasn’t always a sure bet.
Years ago, we approached each other timidly, unsure of who the other might be. Since that first curious encounter and after “I Do”, the distance between us has diminished as we ever explore what is possible and the shared discoveries meld us intimately as iron. These have inspired a unique vocabulary of stories, memories, priorities, values, dreams, commitments, learned lessons and their truths, humor, encouragement and prayer. This language and a growing vulnerability seem to increase our sense of togetherness as a single measure, our marriage less a contract of terms in favor of one most lovely Purpose.
It hasn’t come easily. There was the First Year during which I moved into my new soul mate’s home and uncluttered from it his past relationships. By Christmas, we were fighting and crying as we hung ornaments promising cheer. There was a morning after the birth of our first child when my husband said, “I think we should call someone”, which began two years of marriage counseling week after excruciating week. Then came a miscarriage and, soon after, another baby, during all of which we engaged the daily challenge of running a growing business together. Sleepless nights, family crises, sick children, pressing deadlines, the Great Recession, anxiety and depression.
While every relationship has hurdles, the greatest discovery in ours has been that intimacy – bedrock “us” – comes from first exposing oneself to God before drawing near to a spouse. Why? The confession that comes in these encounters invites God to enter our partnership and transform its challenges into incredible adventures not unlike the realization that a treacherous passage has been safely crossed or a rare exotic species has been spotted. The “us” we love to be, the endless possibilities and delightful discoveries, are fruit of what God intends and unfolds through hearts willing to ask him to bring this wrenching, redeeming work.
This, I am learning, matters more than any celebrity marriage could model. Where we’ve prized the familiar, we’ve merely grown accustomed, the appreciation often genuine but likely without an ability to endure. Where we’ve preferred the convenient, we’ve only taken advantage. Where we’ve valued physical encounters as the closest kind, we’ve limited an infinite joy. Rather, truest intimacy requests vulnerability, a willingness to be decidedly uncertain on behalf of our other half as we deeply plant each heart, the roots of our partnership, in the presence of God and trust his green thumb. As my husband recently reflected, “If you plant a flower deep enough, it will continue to flourish.” Deep in the soil of our Redeemer, heart-roots continue to bloom by his authority to make us grow.
God is the mortar of our body-bricks holding together the space between the reality that we have and will fall short and his promise that we won’t (Isaiah 54:1-6, MSG). While that space allows the grief of needs for a time unmet, it creates a rich dependence for those willing to desire it. That drawing near to our Bridegroom is only possible by his work to present us blamelessly to himself reminds us of Jesus’ work on the cross and begins to reveal a bigger “us” that has been intended since the day Adam’s rib was removed to breathe life into a desperately desired partner. God intends to draw us near to himself and so to each other as his desired bride.
Accepting the gift of repentance and a grafting into Jesus yields a flourishing life together as all our branches bear shared fruit for our Groom’s glory (John 15:7-8). Yet this cannot happen without a fierce thirst for his word; it is our oxygen. Crucially, our ability to remain in his word is a willingness to obey it. To simply hear it, read it or deliver it does not allow it to sink deep and dwell with us. Jesus’ word must be obeyed to continue its receipt (Romans 2:13). His word is this: “Love each other, as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you [love me this way]” (John 15:12-14).
What is possible for a body drawn near as spouses? How does God gift those who draw close to him and, so, each other? Grace. A powerful life as his chosen. An unwavering confidence as his delight. An expectant hope as his inheritance. Knowing this frees us to live out a dying process that fuels the growing “us”. Perhaps it could be said of the deeply rooted flower, “In the face of winter, its courage to bloom does not falter.”
“Because I live, you will also live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you….If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:20, 23)
“For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Cor 4:11-12)
“When Christ died, he took that entire rule-dominated way of life down with him and left it in the tomb, leaving you free to “marry” a resurrection life and bear “offspring” of faith for God. For as long as we lived that old way of life, doing whatever we felt we could get away with, sin was calling most of the shots as the old law code hemmed us in. And this made us all the more rebellious. In the end, all we had to show for it was miscarriages and stillbirths. But now that we’re no longer shackled to that domineering mate of sin, and out from under all those oppressive regulations and fine print, we’re free to live a new life in the freedom of God.” (Romans 7:4-6, MSG)