Monday, April 28, 2014

Words for the Newly Married

I posted a wedding photo on what would have been our 6 year wedding anniversary this past Saturday. Folks were so sweet to express their sympathy; honestly, I wanted to respond back, "I'm really okay." I posted that photo in honor of a great love and to give credit to the One who has bound my heart back together again. Perhaps I should have posted this #MelissaFace picture instead!

Having been married a little less than 2 years, I'm certainly no marriage expert. However, I was invited to a dear friends' newly married group recently to share some insight on what I've learned from marriage. I compiled it into what I'd tell my newly married self should I get to do marriage all over again. Here are 10 things I shared with them from a unique perspective of having loved deeply and lost deeply. 
  • Your spouse is your mission field. You will never regret the time you spend serving each other. God can use you to be the best tangible expression of His unconditional love on this earth. 
  • Keep life simple, especially that first year. Don't rush into dreams and plans just because "society" starts pushing you. Trust God with the pace of your marriage.
  • Pursue Christ. Pursue spouse. Pray together, even when you don't feel like it. Encourage each other with verses of Scripture. Pray for your spouse as often as you think of them.
  • Study your spouse. Learn something new about them every day. Be curious about their differences and quirks. (Tony and I would pose questions more gently than "why...?" with the simple phrase, "Can you help me understand...?")
  • Keep the honeymoon going when you return to normal life. Be playful, intentionally create moments and memories. Write love notes. Do things together. Travel. Serve together. Go out on dates. 
  • Learn to say no, even if it's to family. Don't wait until you have children to start your own family holiday traditions. A husband and a wife are a family unit; carve out time for just the two of you.
  • Lean into others ahead of you who have the marriage you'd like to model. Don't be afraid to ask questions or seek advice. At the same time, find community together with like-minded couples; it normalizes marriage to know you are facing struggles and tensions like every other newly married couple.
  • Make finances a joint effort. Talk about it. Make adjustments to accommodate each other's wirings in this area (the saver and the spender). Begin to build a network of connections. (I was so grateful for Tony's financial mentors, advisors, and team of trusted counsel. Our accountant even attended his memorial.) As much as you'll want to resist it, create a will and put life insurance in place. See it as saying to your spouse, "I love you enough to make these plans for you." 
  • In stress and disagreements, which will come, think of this question, "Is this how I want to remember this season?" Then grab each other up in your arms; it tends to diffuse the tension. (Tony was way better at this one than I was; he did this just days before he passed away. I will never forget it.)
  • Savor the everyday moments. Treasure waking up together each morning and coming home to each other every night. (Out of all the amazing experiences Tony and I shared together, those two things are what I miss most.)
Marriage is an incredible gift; I'd choose to have two years of it again rather than never having experienced it at all. Yes, it's hard at times. But it's worth it. It's worth it to not give up. It's worth it to fight for your marriage. It's worth it to keep working at it as long as you both shall live.

That's about the best advice this widow can give any newly wed.

I leave you with a prayer for the journey of learning to do life as "one"...
"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5, 6 NIV)

Dearly loved, and hopeful of the day when I'm newly married again,

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On Suffering & Light

It's the week before Easter. It's a busy one at church as we prepare for the biggest Sunday of the year. It's quite the opposite at home. I've freed up my week for quiet stillness, which has given way to much reflection.

I've been reflecting on the words "suffering" and "light." What a contrast these words represent when describing what Jesus experienced at the end of his time on earth...death and resurrection, Good Friday and Easter. Without one, there couldn't be the other. Without suffering on the cross, there would be no ransom for our sins. Without the Light of His resurrection, there would been no hope, no way out of darkness, no way to conquer death.

What a very stark contrast. A juxtaposition. It's one I witnessed first-hand on Good Friday a year ago. It's a day and experience that's taken a year for me to put words around. Be fore-warned, this is a heavy post.

By his wounds you are healed. (1 Peter 2:24 NLT)

Good Friday 2013 was first time I had ever been nearly blinded by the light of the cross. 

I attended the Passion City service that Friday evening. I can't recall the content of the message, or even the set list of songs. All I vividly remember is a cross lit up with what seemed like a million lights at the top center of the stage. My weary eyes could hardly look at it, and yet it's brightness kept drawing me in. I could not escape it. I'd try to look down, yet I could feel the warmth from its bulbs on my tear-stained face. 

It overwhelmed me. The light of the cross overwhelmed me. It overwhelmed my tears, my suffering, my pain that I had carried in that evening, left over from the day's events. In that moment, like never before, I understood a new depth of healing and Light that could only be found in the cross of Jesus Christ. His suffering, his wounds, for my healing, for my salvation. What a juxtaposition.

The evening began with David Crowder singing “How He Loves," the very song we sang at Tony's memorial. The weight of what I had just done hours earlier hit me hard. A wave of emotion rushed over me; I could not stop the ensuing flood of tears. I lost it. I mean, I plain lost it. Yet, I wouldn't fully realize until weeks later that my uncontrollable sobbing signified a new beginning in my journey. This was my first step of many I'd take toward healing that year.


2010 was the last time I attended Passion's Good Friday service. It was the same day I picked up my Tony’s ashes from the funeral home. 

I’ll never forget the weight of that box. It was all that was left of the earthly shell of a man I loved more than anyone on this earth. That day I felt as if I was carrying every shattered hope and dream for my life in my two hands.

It was too much.
Too much.

I took that box to my parents home. And that’s where it remained for 3 years.
3 years.
I could not bear to pick it up again. I could not bear the weight of how deeply I had lost.

It took 3 years to gain my strength and courage.

On the morning of Good Friday 2013, I picked up the box again. It was time for me to fulfill the last of Tony's wishes he entrusted to me. When we were married and put together our living wills, he told me that if anything ever happened to him to simply take his ashes to the North Georgia mountains; he requested no big deal be made, no fanfare. I wanted to honor that request.

So I placed the box in the same backpack Tony had carried up to Stone Mountain. I just wanted something of his with me that day. I placed it in my car, and I headed for Blood Mountain. I picked up one of my dearest friends, Karen, along the way. It was so fitting for her to accompany me. Words could never fully express the love and friendship she has lavished on me. The last words Tony said to her as she and I headed out of town the weekend before he died were, “KK, take care of my girl for me.” He would be so incredibly grateful to know she has done immeasurably more than that.

We made the journey north up 400, past Dahlonega, to the base of a mountain I had never traversed. It was a mountain I had always heard Tony talking about hiking as a child. It was a mountain he loved.

It would be a fitting resting place. It would be his final resting place.

I strapped on his backpack and we began the ascent to the top. We stopped a lot along the way. We were in no hurry. The pack was heavy, but I was determined to carry it all the way up. We passed a lot of Appalachian Trail hikers. I kept asking them how much further to the top. I’m sure they thought I was just one of those lazy day-hikers; KK and I joked, “If they only knew what we were up to.”

We finally made it to the top; there was still a little snow on the ground. We took a few pictures, I even snapped one of two tiny twigs in the shape of a cross.

Hope. Light.

I found a place over to the side. I opened up the backpack and pulled out the box I never imagined opening when I said “I do” to my husband just 5 years prior.

This was just not how life was supposed to be.
It just was not.

I sat down to soak it all in. I fully realized in that moment that these were just earthly remains, the things left behind. My Tony was complete and more alive than ever before at home in heaven.


I let the ashes go.

I let them go.
I let him go.

I paused for a moment. Then slowly I turned, picked up his backpack and walked away. I looked back only once. I let go of my Tony on that mountain top and left behind every hope and dream I had for our life together.

As Karen and I started our descent, I could not help but notice how much lighter I felt. The physical weight of the ashes was gone, of course. Yet it was as if I had left the weight of my pain and suffering there too.

And a few hours later, an unforgettable encounter with the brightest cross I've ever seen would be the catalyst for me to let go, to walk on, to move forward.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT) 

The cross and my healing.
Suffering and light.

The weight of Easter; the hope of Good Friday.
I am so grateful for the juxtaposition.

Dearly loved,