Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2Here’s a lesson Wanda and I learned the hard way:  You don’t get married out of “need”. And if you did, you need to fix that problem…quick.

When Wanda first walked into my life, we were just teenagers.  She was beautiful, godly, intelligent, intuitive, disciplined, compassionate, honest…a girl who was a thousand times more than I ever dreamed would be interested in me.  But below the surface, there were deep hurt and insecurities from growing up in an alcoholic home…years of abuse and conditional love and a life of painful emotional scars.

I grew up as an only child in a home where my mother loved me…but served me, babied me, protected me, enabled me, and made me think that the world revolved around me.  My father was a typical man of the baby boom in the 50’s and 60’s. A hard working hunter-gatherer who didn’t have a lot of time for talking, feeling, or relating.  My mother served him, also…a cup of coffee waiting at the door at the end of the work day, dinner on the table, and no demands.  Through that (and many other things), I became, in many ways, a self-centered, people-pleasing, rescuer.  I’ve worked against it my whole life.

More importantly (at least for today’s discussion), I became a rescuer…of Wanda.

Our relationship was built, from the very beginning, on meeting each other’s needs.  That sounds so good…but it is so deadly.  Wanda had huge unmet needs for belonging…for security…for protection…for healing…for self-confidence.  I had a huge need to be a knight in shining armor…to rescue and protect…to have my ego fed…to be in control and have someone depend on me.

Sounds like a recipe for a perfect marriage, huh?  Wrong.  So wrong.

When we look to people to fill needs in our life…the deepest needs of purpose and worth and belonging and security and significance…we are headed for failure.  Why?  Because people are not perfect.  They fail.  Eventually.  Sooner, usually, than later.

Being the created, there are needs that can only be met by the creator.  We cannot look to people…not even our spouses or our parents or our children…to meet them.  That’s asking too much.

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19

Once we start understanding this, life…and marriage…can be different.

  • Wanda does not meet my need for a purpose in life.  I find that in listening to the voice of Jesus.
  • I cannot meet Wanda’s need for security…not perfectly.  She can only find that in a relationship with the one who can never, ever, fail her.
  • Wanda cannot meet my need to have someone depend on me.  That comes from a twisted self-centeredness.  What I really need is to simply be a servant.
  • I cannot meet Wanda’s need for healing.  That can only be met by a Healer.

When we look at our spouses to provide the things that only God is designed to provide, we set our spouses…and ourselves…up for failure.

In the earliest years of our marriage, my failures to live up to her expectations led to her jealousy, frustration, loneliness, conflict and withdrawal.  Her failures to be what i needed her to be, led to my judgment, anger, emptiness, disappointment and alienation.

(It was at this point in our marriage…around years two and three…that we had the loving, but determined, involvement of others move into our lives for encouragement, teaching, and accountability.  Without it, I don’t think we would have figured this out on our own.  We were too young and stupid!)

This doesn’t mean we don’t give our spouses our best and continue to grow and develop and deepen.  It simply means we have to place responsibility where it belongs.

We have the capacity, by God’s design and presence, to be strong, confident, independent, loving, giving, serving, bold, forgiving, consistent, disciplined, honest, committed, dependable, secure, loving, healed and purposeful…and God may even use your spouse to build those characteristics in your life.

But your spouse was never, ever designed to meet the primary needs of personal worth, security, confidence, significance and purpose in your life. Your marriage was never designed to define you, give you meaning, or fill holes in your life.

Marriage is designed to be the icing on the cake of your life…not the cake, itself!

Marriage Tuesday

in a lot of ways, marriage is defined by decision-making.

to be more precise, your married life together will be a never-ending avalanche of decisions that you and your partner will have to make…together.  (and since i see marriage as a co-equal partnership and not the traditional hierarchical model, that means the “big” decisions don’t just fall to daddy!) 

in marriage, you will make all sorts of decisions:  to have kids or not…when to have them…cars to buy…jobs to take… houses to purchase… financial investments…insurance…friends to invest in…career paths…continued education… church involvement…and countless subplots that all demand decisions.

and it never ends.

so after nearly four decades of wedded bliss, here is the most important piece of advice i can give you…not just about decision-making…but about the whole direction of your lives together:

don’t try to ever try to make life-family-financial-spiritual decisions of any kind or of any magnitude without being in agreement on where everything is headed.

in other words, don’t ever do the “what?”, without being in agreement on the “why?”.

nobody can  do this for you.  you cannot try to be what some other married couple is like.  you can learn from others or be inspired by others, but you have to arrive at your own “why’s”.  and if you’re married, there’s no time to lose.

personally, i think this is the one area of our life together that has created the most stability and contentment for me and wanda.  from the very beginning of our relationship, we reached agreement on the things that were the most important in our lives.  

we agreed that if we honestly and practically placed the kingdom of god and our service to people for their good and the honor of god first, then that decision could frame and define every other important decision we would make in our lives…

  • where we would live…
  • what kinds of jobs we would take…
  • how we would raise our kids…
  • the kinds of friendships we would invest in…
  • the kinds of houses and cars and stuff we would buy…
  • how much money we would give away…
  • the things we could and would say “yes” to…
  • the things and people and places and opportunities we would say “no” to…
  • how we’ve defined fun and contentment…
  • what we’ve learned to be satisfied with…

people seem pretty amazed to find out that we don’t fight.  ever.  i’m not.  we agree on where we’re headed and what we are to be doing with our lives along the way.

we are both opinionated.  we definitely disagree on things.  but when it comes it comes to purpose, we ironed that out years ago.

and it’s never too late for you to start ironing…

Axioms…from my perspective

normally, i dedicate thursdays to giving some of my personal life axioms…truth that, from my perspective, is self-evident. sometimes practical. sometimes philosophical. sometimes whimsical. but truth, no less.

“spend your life doing something you would do…even if you weren’t paid to do it.”

you know, there are a lot people who have to get up every day and go to work at jobs they don’t really like.  they have bills to pay and children to feed and financial responsibilities out their ears…and job prospects are limited, so they have to take just about anything that comes their way…just to make ends meet.  my heart goes out to you, if you are one of those in this situation.

frankly, there are many who struggle just to make it through each day…people who would love to trade in their current job…or current situation… for something more meaningful, more fulfilling, more purposeful.  but they can’t.

but what i am saying is less about a job and more about what’s going on in our hearts.

what thrills you?

what is really important to you?

what puts purpose in your step?

what do you go to bed at night anticipating for the next day?

is there anything that transcends the mundane in your life?

what produces joy…even in the midst of difficulty?

i’m a pretty fortunate guy.  for most of my life, i’ve really had a job that allowed me to spend most of my days doing youth ministry…the thing i always loved and the thing that has always been the  most important to me.  but i would have done  it if nobody paid me.  i used to.  i would again.

it’s that important.

so i’ll ask again.  what do you believe in so much that you would do it (and will do it) simply because it means that much to you?

what is it?

a personal insight…

we had lunch with an old friend today.  we had not sat and talked…really talked…since 1990.  in 1990, he was a just a kid.  he’s a man now.  older.  wiser.  deeper.  it was great to be around him.

as we talked, old wounds of mine were opened.  i thought about things that i had long since buried.  i remembered a lot of good stuff, but some of the pain was still there.  lurking.

but it’s in the past and i have moved on.  older. hopefully wiser and deeper, too.  we are all products of our past.  life events…both good and bad…are the things god uses to shape us and mold us and turn us into something for noble purposes.  or not.

i’m grateful for the pain and the struggle and the injustice and and difficulty and the mistakes and the growth curve that my life journey has produced.  i would not be who i am without it.

i am even more grateful that god never quit on me…even when i doubted…even when i wanted to give up…even when i called his existence and wisdom into question…even when theology and philosophy didn’t square up with what i heard others saying and doing.

i am grateful that faith and reason learned to coexist in my world.  i am grateful that i got to the point that i didn’t have to have answers for everything and that i became (by the grace of god) a pursuer of the “big picture”.

i am most grateful that i didn’t let people define god for me…or ruin faith for me…or box me into corners where there was no reasonable way out.  i am grateful that hurt or mean people did not suck me into bitterness…or lure me into apathy…or blindly call me to a life of judgmental self-centeredness (though i struggle with it everyday).

i will be eternally grateful for mercy, forgiveness (both for me and for those i interact with), for purpose, a higher calling than a mere existence centered on my own pursuit of happiness, and a the capacity to live life within the touch of people…in spite of the risk.

yeah, i’m a pretty happy guy tonight…and it has nothing to do with my location!

A little bit of history

wanda and i were both born in san diego.  we were on the back edge of the baby boom in socal, when many midwesterners were migrating to the coast.  with the end of the korean war, the growth of hollywood, the transplanting of the brooklyn dodgers and the general lure of the coast, southern california was ripe for growth.  our parents were part of it.  we were the product of it.

here’s the house that wanda spent the majority of her childhood growing up in.  vintage 60’s.  yeah…that’s an suv parked on the front lawn.

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here’s the piece of land that the house i grew up in was located on (it’s now a playground at a middle school):

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it’s been 55 years since we were born.

we’ve known each other for 39 of those years.

we’ve been married for 34 of those years.

two years from now, we could both go to our 40-year high school reunions.  i can tell you now that we won’t.

i feel like i’m talking about some other people.  some other old people.

you blink and years pass.  seeing things from my past today, has left me a little melancholy tonight.  wanda and i have some amazing memories with each other.  our first date at the san diego county fair…high school football games (my school kicked her school’s butt)…four-wheeling in the anza borrego desert…getting married at good old national city first christian church:

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our first apartment…the national city la-la-la-love shack (which was only 30 yards up the street from where i spent my childhood. (our balcony was on the second story, right hand side):

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look, you can either believe that life is nothing but a bunch of random, meaningless events that are sandwiched in between the “bookends” of your life and death.  or you can believe that life has had the essence of purpose breathed into it by a sovereign god of design.

for me, i choose design over meaninglessness.  purpose over chance.  life over existence.  a creator over a random accident.

what about you?  have you made up your own god?  do you live as if you (and your little world and little timeline) are at the center of the universe?  or do you see something bigger out of your life?

do you acknowledge a creator-god who is having a hand in weaving your life story?  do you believe that there is something greater at work in your existence?

narcissism or submission.  you can’t have it both ways.

I don’t know what to title this post…

here are some possible titles:

“yankees suck!”

“rangers suck!”

“why i don’t drink alcohol”

“when grown men don’t grow up”

“the F word…perfect for every occasion”

yankee_fani’m certain, by comparison, the obnoxiousness that occurred in my section of last night’s rangers-yankees contest was tame by new york standards.  not even close to what goes on throughout the whole of yankee stadium every game night. but for the genteel, southern-hospitality minided folks of arlington, this was a big night.

we had it all.  a myriad of obscene gestures.  taunting.  men calling each other “bi*ches”.  women with the wrong choice of clothing.  a frightened ranger hospitality host.  multiple security guards.  a few challenges to “take it out to the parking lot”.  F-bombs.  liquid stupidity flowing… i’m pretty sure the ranger concessions made a killing in our section.  a spit in the face.  a push down the stairs.  a bunch of grown men rushing a bunch of other grown men to defend the honor of their drunk bro.  four ejections.  and friends with a couple of nice guys in back of us.

for me, it was just another night at the ballpark.

for wanda, who  grew up in the home of an alcoholic,  it was not a good night.

we laughed and stared and ducked and avoided the conflicts that brewed (nice choice of words) for five or six innings.  we tried to watch the game (glad i’m not a real ranger fan…they got spanked by the pin stripes) and enjoy the company of our friends.

by the way, no one should ever go to a ball game in the midst of a high-fiber, fruit and vegetable “cleanse”…the ballpark hot dogs were screaming “eat me” all night…

without getting too philosophical, i think the thing i’m stuck with after last night is the depressing awareness that most people in life have nothing more than the events of their day to give them meaning and purpose…whether it be a ranger game, a beer, a fight, a hook up, a job, a new car, or whatever.

for me, it’s sad and challenging at the same time.  we are surrounded by brokenness on every side.  we rub elbows with all kinds of people everyday.  we walk in the midst of messy humanity.  are you looking?  are you listening?  do you care?

better yet, what are you doing about it?

Truth for today

i read these words today (quoted by todd rhoades from “monday morning insight”):

“If you expect people to come to church just to hear your music, you’ll be disappointed. If they want to hear music, they’ll pop in a CD. It’s better quality than you can do.

The unchurched will not crawl out of bed to watch your drama. They can get a lot better drama on television by watching a rerun of Seinfeld or Friends or whatever show is hot today.

If they want to sit around tables and talk, they’ll go to Starbucks…

Present God’s Word in a clear, compelling way with a deliberate sensitivity to those you’re trying to reach, because the Word of God alone has the power to bring people to Christ and keep them there.”

(from “The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Churches” by Ron Gladden)

this was a good reminder for me.  it’s an overwhelming and humbling thought to realize that the word of god…alone…has power to bring and keep people.  i think it’s pretty easy to get into the trap of trying to come up with “cool” stuff…like music or coffee or visuals or programs…just to attract people.  dangerous.

i learned a principle years ago in my early days of youth ministry.  it goes something like this:

“what you win them with, is what you win them to.”

i think that is more true today than it was thirty years ago.