“It’s Complicated.”

relationship_its-complicated

“It’s complicated.”

Maybe not in the way you’re thinking. But once I explain, I have a feeling you’ll agree.

As you probably guessed, I met someone. (Living proof that God still occasionally works miracles!) And to make things even better, he is awesome. As in, really, really stellar. And apparently he likes me, and I also like him, which I’m told is a winning combination. So if we both like each other—and if he’s not a total creeper (which he’s not, haha)—then what could possibly be complicated about it?

Oh, that’s right! I’m living in Germany for the next 7.5 months. And he lives in the U.S.  “Sure, Steffi, 7.5 months is a long time,” you say, “But won’t you be moving back to the States when you’re done?” You’re correct; two points for you! But I’ll be moving back to Atlanta and, you guessed it, that’s not where this stellar fella lives. So as you can see, this makes things a bit “complicated.”

Adding to this complication is my usual dating strategy. You see, my (very limited) dating track record could be summed up with one word: efficiency. I am usually quick to determine whether a relationship is a dead end and, once I recognize that it is, I immediately call it quits. In the past, this has worked out in my favor. At the very least, it’s saved me time, energy, and prolonged heartbreak. It’s prevented me from pursuing relationships that won’t stand a chance and gotten me out of problematic ones before much time has passed.

But this time—dare I say it?—is different. On so many important levels. For instance, unlike my past suitors, this guy genuinely wants to get to know me. And he has gone to great lengths to do so, even driving 4 hours (each way!) to take me to breakfast while I was home over Christmas break. He asks great questions, sends thoughtful emails, and even read my entire blog from start to finish. (I don’t think my mom has even done that! And I’ve only done that because I wrote them!) So he is clearly interested in me as a person, and as many ladies out there will likely testify, that kind of interest is rare and precious.

And part of the reason that this time is different is that this guy is different. He’s super smart, he’s mature and confident, and he really, really loves Jesus. He has consistently surrounded himself with people who encourage him to grow, and his rock solid character and his established sense of community show how well this strategy is working. And to make things even better (and even more different), we actually click and even have the same nerdy sense of humor. Trust me; that never happens.

So this time is different, this guy is different. But this still begs the question: am I different? Sure, this fella is incredible and, to use some Christian-ese, he’s “pursuing me” really well. But I’m still a factor in this equation, and the jury is still out on how I will respond. My usual dating M.O.—to “efficiently” gather information and come to (historically negative) conclusions—now doesn’t work. For one thing, I’m halfway around the world for the next several months, which means I can’t exactly be efficient. And because this guy is so high quality—truly, he’s such a catch!—I don’t want to run. But I have no experience with long-term, let alone long-distance. How the heck am I supposed to navigate this?!

I don’t have any good answers. Because as much as I’d like a clear indication or a neon sign in the sky explaining how to approach this complicated situation, none has appeared. But I did recently find some encouragement in a rather unexpected place. Last week, I was scrolling back through my blog, and I decided to reread some of my own Valentine’s Day posts. After all, I needed to know what I had written about relationships–especially now that I knew who else had been reading them! And as I was sifting back through, I came to my post from 2014. I had written this one during a particularly difficult time for me in the relationship category. Things had crashed and burned with a guy that fall, and then the next potential suitor, whom I enjoyed very much, had just told me that he wasn’t interested in anything beyond friendship. And while I knew deep down in my heart of hearts that “this too would pass” and that everything would be okay, I couldn’t help feeling frustrated and discouraged all the same. Here I was, taking risks, putting myself out there, and having nothing to show for it yet again. Feeling down and looking for answers, I called my friend Sarah, and she asked me a question that’s stuck with me ever since:

Would I surrender the pen and let God write my story?

Although I delved into this question in my post two years ago, I think it’s worth revisiting because, as this entry shows, my relationship situation has clearly changed. And perhaps more importantly, I have changed. In the last two years, I have ridden many an up and many a down. I’ve had to walk straight into my insecurities, and I’ve come face to face with many of my fears. To quote The Hobbit, I’ve been “there and back again”, and much has happened along the way. And through all of these twists and turns and (mis)adventures, I have returned repeatedly to the same two truths: God is faithful. And I can trust Him. So even though this distance thing is hard—let’s be real, from an outside perspective, the timing of this looks terrible—and even though a part of me is terrified of the uncertainty, I can return back to the foundation, to the most important thing: God is working in this too, and I can trust Him to write my story. I just need to keep surrendering the pen, so to speak, and live it out faithfully as I can, one 6-time-zones-away day at a time. My God is good, and He won’t let me down.

Alright, that is enough romance-induced introspection for one day. I think I’d like to watch a non-complicated chick flick now. How about Love Actually? 😉

perfeto

 

Friday the (February) 13th

Aren't they adorable? (Photo by David Guenther, http://tinyurl.com/l2wtq62. CC-A-NC-SA)
Aren’t they adorable?
(Photo by David Guenther, http://tinyurl.com/l2wtq62. CC-A-NC-SA)

As you may have noticed, today is Friday the 13th. Which in any other month would be associated with nightmares of ghouls, haunted houses, and other “normal” paranormal happenings. But this Friday the 13th elicits a wholly different—and, for many of us, far more frightening—set of fears: the fear of being single forever. Because this Friday the 13th happens to be the day before Valentine’s Day.

Ahh, Valentine’s Day. A favorite holiday of greeting card companies, chocolate retailers, and the people who make those cheesy magnetic “kissing” teddy bears. And for those lucky folks with a special someone, it’s the perfect day for a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant (provided you remembered to make a reservation) and giving each other greeting cards, chocolate, and matching magnetic teddy bears. But if you’re not among the “fortunate few” in a relationship, you don’t have to be alone in your loneliness. Netflix is ready with a  weekend’s  lifetime’s supply of sappy chick flicks, you can still buy yourself chocolate, and if your misery loves company, you can even curl up on the couch with your trusty old non-magnetic teddy bear.

Yes, I realize that this probably sounds rather cynical. And lately that’s exactly what I’ve been whenever I think about relationships, love, and dating. For instance, I normally love country music; now I change stations if Blake Shelton, Thompson Square, or some pre-pop Taylor Swift comes on. My go-to movies are usually chick flicks; now I can’t stand them. And when I walk through the grocery store and see a cute little kissing teddy bear, I can bearly (pun and spelling error intended) resist the urge to stick it to a metal door in the frozen-food section.

But while I am exaggerating (and I would never harm an innocent teddy bear), my cynicism toward dating is real. And last week after I’d angrily switched off the country radio station yet again, I found myself wondering where this cynicism was coming from. I’m not normally a cynical person, which meant there had to be a reason why. So I went on a quest (ie, a run on an indoor track) to find out. Boy, was I surprised by what I found.

For the first few laps, my mind drifted to all my friends whose smiling faces and “save the dates” cover my refrigerator door. Am I jealous of them? I wondered to myself as I rounded another lap. No, I concluded, I didn’t begrudge them their happiness; I really couldn’t be more excited for them. Having thought about my close friends, I then moved outward to my wider circle of acquaintances, sorority sisters, and Facebook friends whose engagement and wedding photos daily fill up my news feed. Okay, am I jealous of them? I wondered again. No, that wasn’t it either. As with my close friends, I’m happy for them too. So if the green-eyed monster wasn’t the source of my cynicism, then what was to blame?

I rounded yet another lap (this is a frequent occurrence on indoor tracks; they are so small!) and asked myself, Am I mad at God? After all, my undiagnosed frustration with the Almighty has caused many of my issues over the years. But after another 1/8-mile loop, I concluded that this wasn’t the case. My singleness isn’t God’s “fault”, and I wasn’t attributing to Him any blame. Okay, I thought, if I’m not jealous of my friends or mad at God, then where is this cynicism coming from?

For the next twenty minutes or so, this question played over and over again in my mind, as my feet synced up with the beats of Relient K and Superchick. Loop after loop went by, but an answer remained elusive. What was wrong? And then as I was rounding yet another itty-bitty lap, I found the answer I’d been looking for:

Somewhere along the way, I had lost hope.

It didn’t happen overnight or all of a sudden, like a balloon being popped. It was more of a slow and gradual wearing-down, like when a helium balloon loses air and inches closer to the ground over a long period of time—the cumulative effect of many years (and Valentine’s Days) spent single as more of my peers joined the “married club” without me. Doubts that began as occasional whispers became louder and more persistent, telling me that a love story wasn’t in the cards for me. I should just accept that reality and continue on with my life. Through these years of gradual attrition, I had not only quit believing that God had someone out there for me, but as a result, I had ceased to pray, to dream, to hope that this kind of future was possible for me.

Yes, I realize that this may sound a bit melodramatic, and I know that relationships aren’t the be-all-end-all-of-all. Even if I am single forever, I will still have all I need in Christ. But while I can ultimately live without a relationship, I cannot live without hope. Because hope, my friends, is a vitally important thing—arguably as essential to life as air, water, and food. Hope provides us with a reason for continuing on, even when times get hard. To paraphrase Nietzsche, hope provides the “why” so we can weather the “how”. When we lose hope, we soon after lose sight of our purpose and our meaning. And it becomes dangerously easy to fall into despair.

As I was rounding those last few laps, God pointed out to me the crack in my heart where my hope had leaked out, and despair—disguised in the toxic cloak of cynicism—had crept in. But even as He showed me my lack of hope, He offered me a renewal of it: because He gave me the desire to share life with someone, then it stands to reason that there must be someone out there with whom I can share this life. And even more importantly, I can trust that He is good and that He has my best interests in mind. For if imperfect earthly parents would never “give their kids a stone when they ask for bread”, then our perfect heavenly Father—who loves us more than we can possible fathom—must know how to give good gifts to us His children. Our job is keep hoping, believing, and asking.

Yes, I will still be single on Valentine’s Day tomorrow. And who knows? I may be single for many more Valentine’s Days after that. But if my heavenly Father loves me the way He says He does and if He indeed knows me better than I know myself, then I need keep hoping and believing that He will fulfill His plans for me—even in the relationship category

Whew, that’s enough deep thoughts for one day. I think I’m going to curl up on the couch,eat some chocolate, and watch a chick flick. Now if only I had a teddy bear… 😉

“Reality” Check

Confession: I’m not a fan of reality TV.

Yes, I know these shows are super popular and some of them are fairly clever. The UK-based “Farmer wants a Wife” has even become an international sensation, with spin-offs in 24 countries, including Sweden, France, Australia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Norway. (Apparently, the CW made its own version in 2008, but unfortunately I don’t remember seeing commercials for it. #bummer). And I realize that millions of people watch them, so they must have some redeeming qualities. So maybe before I dismiss them completely, I should try to figure out why I don’t like them.

My family’s lack of cable TV could be the problem. Maybe if I were able to watch the real versions of shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Say “Yes” to the Dress I would find them more compelling. But for some reason, the “off-brand” versions on basic cable just don’t cut it for me.

Maybe some reality shows are just too “real” for me. Take What Not to Wear, for example. Some poor, unfashionable soul is “nominated” by friends and family to get a wardrobe makeover. With the help of fashion experts, this person is transformed from hopelessly dull to unbelievably stylish in less than an hour. At the end, they are confident, chic, and ready to take on the world. And you’re probably wondering what I could possibly have against a show like that. Because maybe What Not to Wear hits a little too close to home…

... Yes, I actually wore this outfit in real life.
Yes, I actually wore this outfit in real life. … And yes, I actually thought it was cool.

…Enough said.

Or maybe some shows are just plain silly. Don’t believe me? Look at Bridezillas. Yes, I realize that these women are under tremendous stress (planning a wedding seems akin to running a small country) and being continually filmed probably adds to the pressure. But intentionally becoming the wicked witch of the white dress? Who does that?! And what’s worse is that men are willing to marry these women despite their appearing on a show called Bridezillas! Someone please explain to me how that is not THE most major “red flag” of all! Bridezillas is silly. I rest my case.

Okay, okay, enough with the ranting. Though these are all valid points, if I am honest with myself, none of them is the actual reason behind my anti-reality-show sentiments. Because if I am being completely candid, the real underlying problem is this:

Reality shows remind me of what I don’t have… especially in the relationship category.

Now I know you are probably thinking, “Steffi, do you want a farmer who is looking for love?” or “Steffi, are you jealous of Bridezilla?!” or (quite possibly worst of all) “Steffi, are you going to start wearing pastel-colored short overalls again?!” The answers are no, no, and (maybe) no. But they aren’t entirely off. Let me explain.

I’ve never been much of a dreamer, but my whole life I’ve always assumed that I would date, get married and have a family. And I’ve trusted that God would fulfill this in His way and time. (I’ve even blogged about it–surprise!) Recently, I’ve seen Him do exactly that in many peoples’ lives. In fact, all but a few of my closest friends are married or are headed in that direction. And every time I check my Facebook, I notice another friend has gotten hitched (often when I didn’t even realize they had started dating—whoops.) I am so very happy for all these people, and I wish them all the best with what God clearly has for them. And in the meantime, I will simply keep waiting on God to carry out His plan. That’s been my outlook for the last few years: Trust that the Lord has someone for me, and that He’ll bring him along at the right time.

Until yesterday, that is. It was the early afternoon, and I was heading from my apartment to downtown Krakow. During my ten-minute walk down this very long street (appropriately named “Ulica Długa”, which is Polish for “Long Street”), I found myself thinking again about my singleness and when my “day” would come. (Unfortunately, these thoughts are especially common here because Długa happens to be Krakow’s wedding district. I’ve counted at least 12 wedding dress stores, 8 shoe boutiques, 6 flower stores, and even a random place to buy fancy, old-fashioned hats). So as I was walking down the długa Długa and asking God yet again how to be faithful until He brings my guy along, a quiet thought pierced my heart:

“What if I never bring him along, Steffi? Would I be enough for you?”

Forgetting my mission to get to the city, I stopped dead in my tracks. This was a moment of spiritual de-ja-vu. I’d heard a question like this from God before, right before I found out that I didn’t get the Fulbright three years ago. Surely I was just remembering that experience. So I resumed my walking—until it came again:

“What if singleness is my plan for you? Would you still praise Me then?”

I stopped again, conviction shooting like ice water through my veins. And in that instant, I understood a very difficult truth: I had put my hope in God’s promised blessings rather than in God Himself. And in the process, I fell headlong into that ancient but deadly sin of idolatry.

But what exactly is idolatry? The word sounds foreign to our sophisticated, twenty-first century ears. The answer is simple. It means desiring or loving something more than God. Jimmy Needham, one of my favorite singers, puts it like this:

“Anything I put before my God is an idol
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol
Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol
Anything that I give all my love is an idol.”

Our hearts can turn anything—even good things like family, service, or school—into idols when we give them the attention, love or glory that only belongs to God. What’s worse is that we do this all the time, usually without even realizing it. John Calvin was right when he called the human heart “an idol-making factory.” And when it comes to idols, God has a no-tolerance policy. After all, the First Commandment says “you shall have no other gods before Me.” He truly is a “jealous God.” But why? Because He is a tyrant? No, on the contrary: because He loves us. He is the only One who can satisfy our desires, hopes, and needs. He is the only Source of life, love, and joy. Our other “gods” will leave us empty and will make us slaves, but He comes to give “life to the full.” And so in His mercy, He pursues our hearts and tears down our idols, stopping at nothing until we are fully and entirely His.

He gently yet firmly reminded me of this yesterday during my walk down Długa. If my aim is for anything other than Him—relationship, family, career, anything—this is sin. But I am thankful that God chases down my wandering heart, and I pray He will make it more completely His.

Whew, that’s enough for today. I think I’ll go shopping. Anyone know where to buy a new pair of overalls? 😉

(No More) Valen-pining

My mom the "Trophy Girl" ;) Aren't my parents adorable?!
My mom the “Trophy Girl” 😉
Aren’t my parents adorable?!

If it hadn’t been for a snow day, I wouldn’t be here.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, Lawrence, Kansas, had a sizable snow storm. Enough snow fell that the university (KU) decided to cancel classes. But did that snow prevent my dad’s fraternity from throwing a party? Heck no, techno! Although my mom was hardly a “partier,” she joined a few sorority sisters and ventured out to the snow day party. My dad first spotted my mom when she was in the main living room of his fraternity house, standing by the window and wearing a red sweater. The rest, as they say, is history. My parents got married in July after their graduation—two days after my dad’s birthday, so they would both be 22. Adorable, right? A few years later, they moved to Germany and I was born. The best just kept getting better, haha. 🙂

Over the years, I’ve heard and told this story countless times. My sisters and I have grilled both of them for details, and we’ve mined through photo album after photo album looking for pictures of them together. During Christmas break, we even stopped by my dad’s fraternity house and got an impromptu tour. At my sisters’ and my request, our parents showed us that legendary spot where they had met and, surprise, told us the story again.

I’m not the kind of person who often plans my future. I tend to stay in the moment and focus on doing the next thing. But while growing up, I always assumed that my story would turn out like my parents’. I’d go to college, join a sorority and meet an amazing guy sometime along the way. We’d get married after graduation (once we were the same age, of course) and the rest would be history, so to speak.

But that didn’t happen. Yes, I went to college and joined a sorority (and even had a few snow days here and there), but when graduation rolled around, my left hand was still as empty as could be. While I certainly wasn’t the “ring by spring” type and I didn’t attend OSU to get my “MRS Degree,” I always half expected to meet someone there, like my parents had. But the path toward the stage in Gallagher-Iba Arena was the only aisle I’d be walking down that summer.

Some time has passed and so much has happened since then. I “lifed it” (ie, worked the whole summer) at Kamp, attended the Kanakuk Institute, moved to Georgia and started graduate school, and even spent 2.5 months learning Polish. During that time, I’ve met a lot of incredible people and have even been on a few dates. But for one reason or another, nothing has panned out for me in the relationship category. And so here I am, on yet another Valentine’s Day (or as I like to say “Singles’ Awareness Day”) alone again. While God has brought me to a point where I am truly thankful for my singleness, I still can’t help but wonder when my day will come. When someone will look across the crowded room and notice me, and that chapter of my story will begin.

I love to journal. Since I’m a historian, I have a compulsive urge to keep records of my life and the things that happen to me. But over the years, I’ve developed a special love for what some people call “prayer journaling,” which is Christian-ese for exactly what it sounds like: writing out my prayers in a journal. As a writer, I find that this is the best way for me to untangle and make sense of my often convoluted thoughts. And because I invite God into this process, sometimes He even gives me a moment of insight or clarity along the way. So here is a glimpse into my prayer journal a few weeks ago:

“What does faithful singleness look like? What does it mean to wait and watch and have hope? How would it look to be expectantly content? Do I really believe You will write this story? Am I willing to quit planning, to give up my orchestrating, and actually lay down the pen? …

Do I really trust You with this area of my life?

Like a song stuck on repeat, that last question came up in my mind over and over again. Do I really trust God with my singleness? And do I really believe He is guiding and will continue to guide my life? The Sunday School answer is a simple “yes,” but the real-life, rest-of-the-week answer is so much more tricky than that. Faith seems easy until you actually need to have it.

And so I returned to that broken-record question, “Do I really trust God with this area of my life?” If I’m honest with myself, the answer is ‘no’ or at least ‘not always.’ But by His grace, I’m trying.

You see, when life doesn’t go the way we’ve planned—relationally or otherwise—we have a few options. We can sit down and mope (or as I like to say, “Valen-pine”), we can do everything in our power to “fix it,” or we can wait patiently on the Lord to see what He has in store. And for me at this point in my (*cough, cough*) very single life, I think that waiting is exactly what He wants from me. Because in the waiting, I am learning to trust and have faith that He cares for me, that He knows me better than I know myself, and that He will fulfill His purpose for me in His own time and way. If that includes an amazing fella, awesome! But if not, then He will be enough for me—and I trust He will make that true. So in the meantime, do I trust Him? And am I living in such a way that shows that I trust Him? Lord, let it be so.

That being said, it’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m not sure what to wear. How about a red sweater? 😉

red sweater crop

Happily Forever After

I was an odd child.

Scratch that. I was a very odd child.

In addition to taking home my Latin textbook over the summer, having an odd obsession with guinea pigs and blowing my nose at an unnatural decibel, I also really, really, really hated playing “House.”

When all the other little girls were dressing up their baby dolls and feeding them, or pretending to cook in their Fisher-Price kitchen set, or telling their five-year-old “husband” to take out the trash, I wasn’t. In fact, I avoided playing “House” like the plague, and to make things worse, I think I even believed deep down that it could kill me. On the rare occasion that a friend successfully finagled me into a game of “House,” I became passive aggressive in my own kindergarten way. How? Simple: By only playing the dog. As the dog, I had no dishes to wash, no kids to keep track of, no “husband” to cater to, and—best of all—everyone loved me! When it came to imaginary games, the dog’s life was definitely for me.

(In retrospect, this might explain why I had very few friends growing up. Oops.)

My keenness on canines was also rather strange since my family never, ever owned a dog. When my dad realized he was allergic to the family poodle “Sissy,” she ceased to be his best friend. And my mom’s family’s fowl fetish led them to own pet chickens and parakeets. So when I was growing up, my parents decided it would be easier not to have a pet, especially not a dog. But for some unexplained reason, I enjoyed playing a dog, and really, really, really hated playing “House.”

However, this blog is not supposed to be about dogs; pardon me for barking up the wrong tree…. Squirrel!!!! 😉

Now, since growing up, my attitude toward “House” hasn’t changed, but I have started to think a bit more about getting married, having a family, and living happily ever after. This doesn’t mean I subconsciously plan my wedding or schedule my life around shows like Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress (although the title is rather clever). I haven’t named my future children, and I keep my “future husband search engine” safely turned off 99.999% of the time. But I think it’s natural, even healthy, to pause and ponder this (hopefully) future phase of my life. And fortunately, this week at the Kanakuk Institute, we’ve had five days’ worth of pondering. Here’s a small snapshot of my gleanings. And just to keep things interesting (and to keep you reading), I’ll put them in descending order of importance. Ready? Here goes!

5) Marriage isn’t a walk in the park.

While it may include an occasional evening stroll, marriage ain’t easy. On the contrary, it requires a lot of work. Yes, marriage may seem like a world of sunshine, happiness, and butterflies—and when you first fall in love with someone, this may be true (although a guy’s description of paradise may not include butterflies)—however, when you get down to the nitty gritty of living with someone day in and day out, seeing their bad side, experiencing their mood swings, watching them squeeze the toothpaste from the middle of the tube, and becoming painfully aware of all their annoying little habits, things change fast. Very fast. And once reality moves in, it’s not going anywhere.

So what do you do when the going gets frustrating? Get going—not away, but to your spouse. Choose to work through the conflict, to communicate your needs, and, most importantly, to love them anyway. Love isn’t a feeling; it’s a decision. So decide to love them, and then do it.

(Note: If you read the instructions on the back of your toothpaste tube, it clearly states, “For best results, squeeze tube from the end” or something along those lines. I, however, still squeeze from the middle, and I’ve never noticed subpar results. But I digress.)

4) Marriage is a ring of fire.  But not like Johnny Cash.

(This one piggybacks off the last one, so if my toothpaste comment distracted you, feel free to reread point #5. Sorry for all the parenthetical comments. I will try to stop.)

When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are saved and receive salvation. Then for the rest of our lives, God is changing us, shaping us, and molding us to be more like Him. This process is called sanctification. Although God’s sanctifying us happens regardless of our marital status, He likes to use marriage to refine us. As Martin Luther wisely noted, “Marriage is a better school for the character than any monastery for it’s here that your corners are rubbed off.” And what better way to rub off our rough edges than in the  closest human relationship we could ever have? It’s almost like God designed it that way or something! Crazy! (Sarcasm…. Oops! Another parenthetical aside! Sorry.)

Seriously, though, God uses marriage and its challenges to make us look more like Jesus. That means that when your wife’s moodiness drives you nuts or your husband refuses to stop and ask for directions, you choose to seek God’s lesson in the midst of it and–get this!–then praise Him for it. Thank God that He so creatively teaches you compassion or patience. Thank Him that you have a spouse to be annoyed with. And thank Him that He cares enough about you that He wants you to be the best you can possibly be—even if the process is unpleasant.

3) Communication is key.

Yes, I realize you’ve probably heard that a million times, but hear me out for this million-and-first time: If you want to know your spouse and have them know you, you have, have, HAVE to talk. Contrary to popular belief, no one can read your mind (except God, so be careful what you think!). In case you hadn’t heard, “no one” means “no one,” and that includes your spouse. In order for communication to work properly, it takes two, baby. You have to listen AND be willing to share. Be involved in each other’s lives, and don’t keep secrets. They not only don’t make friends, but they can ruin a marriage.

2) Recognize that marriage is a covenant. Which is a fancy way of say a “REALLY BIG DEAL”!!!

Sadly, in our world today, many couples treat marriage like a contract. When one party irreparably breaches the contract, then it’s okay for the other party to “peace out, boy/girl scout”, taking half the goods with them. But marriage isn’t a contract at all. No, sir! It’s a covenant. And here’s the thing about covenants: They last forever. The only way out of a covenant is if one party passes away and, thereby, can no longer uphold the covenant. When couples say, “til death do us part,” they are actually committing themselves to their spouse for life. Which makes marriage a HUGE deal! Like “Mt. Everest+ Grand Canyon + Pacific Ocean” kind of huge. So do you think we should take marriage lightly? Heck no, techno! This is one of the biggest decisions you could possibly make because, apart from homicide (which is never a good option, tempting though it may be), you can never take it back.

For all of you single-and-ready-to-mingle folks out there, that means don’t get in a hurry. Rather, take your time and seek God’s counsel. After all, He created you, so He knows best how you’re wired, what you need, and who would be best for you. So ask for His guidance. And for all of you already-hitched folks, recognize the importance of the commitment you have made and decide once and for all to stick to it, even when you may not feel like it. If you make divorce not an option, it won’t be. Follow through on your covenant, be faithful to your spouse, and God will honor you for it. That’s a promise.

And finally, the big Numero Uno….

1) Remember your first Love.

No, I’m not talking about that girl you kissed under the slide in preschool or the boy that wrote you a Valentine in second grade. I’m talking about the One who died for you, who gave up everything—literally everything, down to the clothes on His back—just so He could be with you. Jesus is the only One who can complete you; He is the only One who satisfies without ceasing. He has loved you with an everlasting love, and He draws you with loving-kindness. He stands at the door of your heart and knocks, waiting for you to let Him in, so He can heal your soul. He is the answer to all of your problems. He’s the One you’ve been waiting for. He longs for you to know Him and to love Him back. Nothing in this world can complete you, not even the best spouse. Everything else will fall short; everything else will leave us wanting. But not Jesus. As St. Augustine said, “Because God made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”

So my final bit of advice to you and to me: Quit looking for love and find instead the One who is Love.

And that, my friends, is no child’s play; it’s happily forever after.

A “Conflict” of Interest

The history books are wrong. World War III already happened. And I was there.

Okay, so maybe “World War III” is a bit of an exaggeration. But it was at least “World War 2.389”.

How did this confrontation begin? And how did it escalate to such epic proportions? Pull up a chair (or a couch… or an oversized dog), and I’ll tell you.

The setting: A day like any other day. The situation: A road trip like any other road trip. Everything was sunshine, daisies, and small furry animals… And then all heck broke loose.

It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, and my family embarked on a journey of a fortnight (technically, it was only a week, so it was actually a journey of half a fortnight). Usually, our family trips consisted of brief stays in Branson, Missouri, after finishing our term at Kanakuk Kamps. Occasionally, we would sojourn to a small Bed & Breakfast in an itty-bitty town where we’d spend the days taking in local historical sites… and the nights soaking up some cable TV. Although I loved visiting the birthplace of Amelia Earhart and thoroughly enjoyed Harry S Truman’s library collection, I looked forward to our bigger family trips. We took one of them after my freshman year of high school when we spent a week relaxing on the beach at Perdido Key, Florida. Another was our first-ever skiing adventure in Winter Park during my seventh-grade Christmas break. But the most memorable was definitely, without question, beyond all shadow of doubt our famous—or even infamous—great American Southwest adventure.

From the trip’s inception it was fated for disaster. Some would refer to it as “Murphy’s Law,” which states that what can go wrong will go wrong. However, my family, always striving to go above and beyond the call of duty, has developed its own version of this truism: What can go wrong—plus everything that can’t go wrong—will.

Take for example, Exhibit A: our family minivan. After years of faithfully functioning, the air conditioner decided to stop. No advance warning. No two weeks’ notice. Nothing. Just up and quit.  The vents still functioned, but like your boss, they were only full of hot air. The score? Fate: 1 point. My family: 0.

Now for Exhibit B: The seating situation. Normally, our van contained five seats in the back: three in one row and two in the other. On shorter highway excursions, this arrangement worked perfectly; I would get the middle two seats to myself while my twin sisters would split the back. Plenty of elbow room, leg room, and various other appendage room. However, this was no short highway excursion. This was a week-long expedition through the desert… Which meant that our car was FULL of supplies. Which further meant that we had to remove one set of seats. Which ultimately meant that my sisters and I would be stuck sharing the row of three seats for the entire 30+ hour drive. Yikes. One more point for Fate.

And finally, the real kicker. Exhibit C: The timing. We scheduled our road trip to coincide with the end of my term at Kanakuk Colorado. This seemed like an inspired plan. My family would drive from Kansas to Durango where they would pick me up, and we would begin our epic family adventure full of momentary smiles and lifelong memories. Perfect, right? Except for one tiny detail: My term ended in the first week of August. In case you aren’t very familiar with deserts in the Northern hemisphere, let me enlighten you. In general, deserts are hot. But in August, deserts are absolutely unbearable. Which leaves us at a score of Fate: 3 points. My family: Zip.

Here I would like to pause to summarize the situation to this point. And for all you left-brained individuals, I will even make it mathematical:

No Air Conditioning + Small Seating Space + August Heat + 3 Teenage Girls = Disaster.

Apparently, however, my sisters and I have low specific heats because it took us awhile to reach our boiling point. But when we did, the chemical reaction was irreversible—and highly explosive. So what was the catalyst for this cataclysmic occurrence?

Go Fish.

Yes, that’s right; the classic kindergarten card game was the back-breaking straw that left our family’s imaginary camel crying for help.

Up to this point, our trip had been relatively uneventful. My sisters and I had been getting along remarkably well as we read books, listened to Adventures in Odyssey and played “20 Questions” to pass the time. Somewhere in the middle of New Mexico, though, we shifted to card games. And that’s when things got ugly.

Although we’ve talked about it many times since then, none of us can remember how the fight started. Maybe someone said “Go Fish” in a meaner-than-necessary tone of voice. Maybe one of us accidentally glimpsed the other person’s cards. Or maybe nothing actually happened to instigate it. Regardless of the immediate cause, a battle broke out, and before long it escalated to an all-out war.

And here’s where things get interesting.

Instead of being concerned about the conflagration in the backseat, my parents decided to remain entirely neutral. (However, to call them “Switzerland” would be a gross misnomer; the front seat was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too hot to be associated with the Alps.) Instead of interfering, they decided to let us duke it out. In my mom’s words, “They rarely fight, and that’s not healthy. Let them yell and scream and work it out. It’ll be good for them.” And so that’s exactly what we did. With my mom’s expressed blessing, we let out every morsel of pent-up frustration and emotion toward one another. Then, after exhausting ourselves, we laughed so hard we almost cried. And finally, we resumed our game of “Go Fish.” I’m pretty sure I won. 🙂

Although that road trip happened many years ago, it continues to live on in our family’s lore and in my memory.  My mom taught us a valuable lesson that day: Keeping emotions trapped inside you can be harmful. Even though conflict isn’t necessarily fun, working it out is essential. My sisters didn’t enjoy our now-legendary backseat fight, but it made the rest of the road trip a million times better. Because we could be honest with each other, our emotions no longer built up inside us; we could release them in a healthy manner.

God doesn’t want us to be pressure cookers about to explode. No, He desires that we sincerely love one another and live at peace with each other. And sometimes this peace must come through conflict and reconciliation. The Bible clearly tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger; we aren’t supposed to keep our frustration bottled up inside us. No, instead, we are called to work it out quickly. Like any wound, emotional problems fester and get infected if not treated quickly. If you truly care about someone, if you love them at all, then you must reconcile ASAP. Too much is at stake. And to do otherwise could have heartbreaking consequences.

That’s why God calls us work out our conflicts straight away. The sooner we do, the better off—and happier—we’ll be.

Okay, enough about conflict and “Go Fish.” Who’s up for a game of “War”? 😉