When I was fifteen, I received a small pocket-size black and white journal with red polka dots for Christmas. It had a pretty red ribbon that you could use for proper sealing - to ensure that if someone were going to read those sacred words, they would have to decide if it would be worth it to untie the ribbon. That journal came to me in 2006, right in the middle of the purity movement within the church, and also (conveniently) right in the middle of boy craziness within me. Just for fun, here's a high school selfie of me, wistfully hoping that my prince charming would show up in true, Taylor-Swift-like fashion.
For those of you unfamiliar with the purity movement, it was a time where abstinence was elevated as (pretty much) the Gospel. Almost every time I heard the Gospel preached in a youth group setting, it was in terms of purity and how God wanted me to save myself for my future husband. At one event, a speaker even sold a bumper sticker that said "No Ringy - No Dingy," and my sixth grade self was scarred forever. My parents gave me a purity ring when I was twelve years old, and I committed to remaining pure until my wedding day. The purity movement was a little bit of a strange time period in the life of church and youth group, and many people were hurt and are still hurting from it. For me, there was at least a sliver of good that came from it: that polka-dotted journal.
In the midst of my teenage hormones and my desire for "young love" (yes, I used those exact words in the journal), I wrote it all down in the form of letters to my future husband. Of course, at this point, I had a specific guy in mind who I hoped it would be, but I tried my darnedest to make it "general" and address my actual future husband. I wrote in that journal pretty sporadically, usually when I got fed up with the fact that I had zero boyfriend options. I poured out my heart to my future husband, and I continued to commit to guarding my heart in hopes of finding someone who would meet all the standards on my "future husband checklist." (This was also a thing that I did... this is a safe place right? No judgment? Okay, fine, you can judge me but only a little bit.)
When I got to college, I continued to write in the journal because, at this point, it was going to be a fun gift to give my future husband (if I ever had one). I was at Cedarville University, a small Christian college, and still hadn't met anyone that I would want to marry, and I was getting discouraged (my expectations were just a *little* high). Much of that tiny journal is filled with entries that start by expressing my longing for earthly love and end with remembering that I already have the perfect love of the Father. Writing in that journal was formative in the way that I viewed my future relationship. I knew that my future husband couldn't and wouldn't satisfy me the way that Jesus does. And that journal was an avenue to helping me understand that more fully.
Finally, I met TJ (after a couple of months of some light stalking), and we started talking. He was shyer than most guys I had been interested in, more pensive, more kind. I liked him. He asked me to date him one month before I left for my study abroad trip to Spain by leaving a homemade card with a picture of Spongebob in my student mailbox. I don't remember what the card said but I know he asked me to be his girlfriend. It was the first time I got that title, and I was really, really nervous but also really, really excited.
When we were dating, I had several moments when I said to myself, "Yeah, I'm gonna marry this guy." One of those moments was when we were going to get groceries, I was on the phone, and I kept missing the turn. I was a mess. When I got off the phone, I was really afraid he was going to be angry with me, but he wasn't at all. And that was all it took. I knew I wanted to be with the kind of guy who was patient enough to deal with all of the craziness that I hold within me and that comes spilling out of me.
The girlfriend status eventually turned into fiancé status, and I amped up my journal-writing so that I could give it to him on our wedding day. When I gave it to him, he bawled his eyes out and I thought about how God had given me this gem of a husband after years of waiting for the "young love" that I so desperately wanted. I am so thankful for that time of waiting captured in that little journal.
After six years of marriage, being in ministry together, becoming foster parents to older kids, parenting through trauma, and adopting our two kids, I'm even more grateful that TJ was the recipient of that journal. He's seen me stomp around like a crazy person, cry my eyes out, and throw the plastic wrap angrily to the ground -- and he still loves me.
When I see marriage posts, they are almost always about how hard marriage is and how we have to work at it every single day and how it's a picture of the Gospel because it's two sinners constantly forgiving each other. And yeah, all of those things are true. But marriage, for us, has been a picture of the Gospel in a different way too.
TJ has shown me what it means to receive love for love's sake and not because I've earned it. He's shown me a Christlike kind of love.
After my worst mom and wife day, he still loves me.
When I snap on everyone because all the things are in all of the wrong places, he still loves me.
When I fall asleep during The Lord of the Rings -- even then -- he loves me.
I had spent so many of my teenage and early twenties trying to earn love and approval - the love of my family, of my friends, of random strangers, of my students, of God himself. But marriage has shown me a love that transcends earning. If TJ loves me after seeing me at my worst, how much more does God love me? I often think about how secure I feel when I'm with TJ, knowing that he isn't going anywhere, that he loves me no matter what. How much deeper and more secure is the love of Christ?
Jesus showed me his perfect love for me by not giving me my teenage heart's desire expressed in that little red journal. And then he gave me a husband who would actually read that little journal (ha!) What a a gift!
And now, He proves to me over and over - often through my marriage - that love isn't about what I've done or earned or proved. Love is choosing to love someone no matter what, sacrificing for them, and laying down our lives for them. Marriage points us to the One who loved us first, who sacrificed himself for us, who picked up His cross and laid down His life for us. Marriage is beautiful, but it leads us to the One who is Most Beautiful: Jesus.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[p] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.