11 years ago, a young man woke up and after showering, he opened his closet, got dressed in a suit, tied a tie, and drove from Manhattan, Kansas to a little town called Minneapolis, Kansas. He drove with a young lady sitting in the passenger seat. Both were excited, nervous, and had no idea of the seriousness of what they were about to do. They were filled with hopes and dreams for the future and intoxicated with affection for each other. When they arrived in Minneapolis, they drove to the courthouse and walked inside with two of their friends. They both stood before a judge, handed her a piece of paper, and she began. Though neither of them realized it, when they walked out of that court room, something profound had changed. They were married.
The young man returned to Oklahoma to continue military training and the young lady returned to Manhattan to continue school. Within a month, he would have to move to El Paso, Texas for more training, she would stay in Manhattan, and they would both learn how difficult marriage is. They spent the first 9 months of their marriage apart. They argued over the phone. They visited when they could, which was typically once every other month or so, and would video message when the internet would keep up. He had his life, she had hers, and they struggled to build a life together.
After all the training was over, he came home to get her and they moved to Washington state together. For the first time, they had to learn to live together. They learned that things that were once endearing began to become annoying. They learned that utter independence in marriage never brings unity. In short, they struggled... a lot. It seemed like he did his thing and she did her thing. Their marriage could be characterized by tension, arguments, and strife with intermittent seasons of fleeting peace and happiness. While they had been joined together, something was missing. Something wasn't right, and things were getting worse.
In time, the young man told the young lady that he was once so fond of, that he at one time couldn't wait to see and hold and be married to, that he didn't think that he loved her anymore. He didn't get to that point overnight though. It started with being sick of the arguing and thinking "is this really what I have to look forward to the rest of my life" and that little seed that was planted grew. His feelings started to change as that tiny seed took root in his mind and he became more and more hardened toward her. He began to only see her flaws and shortcomings while at the same time, seeing none of his own. To deal with this, he immersed himself in his work, but all of this was spilling over into work. In addition, he began to despise the marriages of others that were happy. He would spend more and more time with single friends, staying out late with them drinking and playing poker while his wife was at home alone.
So when he mentioned that he didn't think he loved her anymore, he finally gave voice to these feelings that had been festering and growing. His wife was hurt. Not only by what he said, but by how he had treated her. She had an idea of what marriage should be like as well and nothing was like she thought it would be. Her mom and dad had a wonderful marriage and she longed for that. But the man that she married wasn't living up to what she though he should be like. Disappointment and hurt became the norm for her. She tried desperately to make him see what she wanted and needed. She tried to change him, and when he didn't change, she got angry as well.
They began to talk about divorce when they would argue. They both said hurtful things in anger. While the hurt showed more with her, he buried his feelings and refused to show any hurt, which compounded the problems. What once started out with joyful, hope filled anticipation of the life they would build together turned to dreadful sorrow and anger. Dreams gave way to despair and the whole situation seemed hopeless. The family that they talked about when they were dating, the kids they imagined, the dreams they had talked about while dating seemed to vanish into impossibility. They became more roommates than husband and wife, and when they did spend time together, they sat in silence because it was easier than arguing. They both selfishly thought of what it would be like to be with someone who made them happy.
In time, neither could see what they once loved in each other. Neither could see the beauty, happiness, and satisfaction they once saw and hoped for. In essence, they had both given up, but neither one would pull the trigger and call a lawyer. Maybe it was the embarrassment that would cause when they explained it to their families, or maybe it was a simple as they were each so stubborn that they were refusing to do it while waiting for the other one to so they could say it wasn't them. In any case, what once was a vibrant relationship, what once had life and joy, was now drawing it's final breath if it was not dead already.
Then one night a call came that he had to go to the hospital. They went to the emergency room and the young man was told that he was sick and was dying. In order to keep him alive, he would have to go through surgery, and hopefully, they would be able to find him an organ to replace the one that was failing before he died. He wept, not because of what this would do to his wife, but because he would not deploy with his unit. He wept over that when he had never wept over what he had done to his wife. She was facing the prospect of losing the man that she still loved, and he was not even sad for her. Just when it seemed he could not hurt her more, he found a way in his selfishness to do it. She tried to care for him, but his pride wouldn't let her. He responded in anger. He didn't need this. He didn't need her. He didn't want her around. He could handle this on his own.
They flew together to Washington D.C. for him to get evaluated for an organ transplant in almost utter silence. They returned home and things got worse. He was in denial and tried to live as though he was fine when he wasn't. He despised anyone who treated him as if he wasn't healthy. Both of them became encrusted in a shell of bitterness and anger, even hatred. When the time came for him to go to D.C. to get the transplant, he told her that he didn't even want her to come. He would do it on his own. She was stubborn so she came anyway. She still loved him and wanted to be there for him.
They went to D.C. and he got his transplant. After a couple of days, she flew back to Washington to move her stuff out of their house and move in with a friend. He had told her it was over. He didn't want her. She had seen him through the transplant and she was going to give him what he wanted. Eventually after she left, his parents and sister left to go home as well. He was alone. Aside from the nurses that would occasionally come in to check on him, he had no one, and in that loneliness, as emotions that had been suppressed and immobilized by toxins in his body began to come back, for the first time, he felt sorrow. Sorrow for what he had done, how he had treated people, especially his wife. Sorrow that his marriage seemed to be over and that he was at fault for that. This sorrow, this pain was different from what he had experienced when he was diagnosed and in the months that followed. He couldn't explain it, but it was different. It wasn't sorrow for himself, but for others.
Laying there by himself, he opened the drawer of the nightstand next to his bed and found a book. He had seen this book a thousand times, even read parts of it, but this time it was different. In the days and months, even years that followed, he would attribute it to boredom, but it was more than that. It was not a desire he had, but something compelling him to read it. He opened this book and flipped through it and started reading and when he started reading everything began to change. What he was reading was telling of how God is angry with humanity because we have all rejected him. As he read about these people that reject God, he realized it was talking about him. He was the person the author was describing and because of their rejection of God, he gave them up to what they loved instead of him. God gave them up to the sin that they desired. The young man realized as he read that he had loved his sin and hated God. As he kept reading, there were words that he didn't understand like "justified" and "propitiation". He almost put it down, but couldn't. He kept reading. As he did, he thought "there has to be some remedy to this problem". Then he read this:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
That sentence hit him like a ton of bricks. He was a sinner, and Christ died for sinners like him. Because he died, he could be forgiven and be right with God. He remembered earlier reading about faith and not working. He realized that God saves people who believe in Jesus, that he died for them. He didn't know what to do so he just prayed "I don't know what all of this means but I need this. I don't know how you do this, but I'm trusting in Jesus to save me. I need you to change me".
Eventually he got up enough nerve to call his wife and express over the phone his sorrow and remorse over what he had done and how he had treated her. He told her that something had changed. She was skeptical if not unbelieving of this, but he kept calling. He kept apologizing and crying over the phone over what he had done. He said he was willing to do whatever he had to do to make this right. He wanted to save their marriage. He called believers who had been in his life and talked to them. He asked them what all this meant and how to fix the damage that had been done. They encouraged him and committed to helping.
When he was getting ready to return home, he called one of their friends who was a Christian and asked him to set up a meal at the house for when his wife dropped him off after getting him at the airport. He wasn't sure if she would stay, but he had to try. The young man flew into town and his wife picked him up and drove him to their half-empty house. He asked her to come in and she did. He then asked her to stay for dinner... and she did. He committed to working through this together. The progress was slow and painful. It took years to work through the pain and to rebuild trust. He had to learn how to deal with the sin in his life, but God was faithful. He put believers in his life to teach him, encourage him, and challenge him. God did the same for his wife. Slowly, painfully, they worked through it. He began to love her as she should be loved, sacrificially, and though he did it imperfectly, she began to see that something was different. Over time, wounds healed. They began to trust each other. They began working together, sacrificing for each other, putting selfishness aside. They had a great church that came alongside them and helped show them what it meant to follow Christ together. Most importantly, what changed was that they both had Christ at the heart of their marriage. They learned to live out the gospel in their relationship. They learned to love Christ more than each other.
As the wounds healed, over time, joy characterized their marriage. They still disagreed, but they disagreed differently. They learned to give each other grace and forgiveness, to disagree with charity. As time went on, they began to realize that they talked more than they yelled. They both sought to good of each other. They learned that love is not just a feeling, it's a commitment to the good of the one loved. When strife came into their marriage, when there was disagreement, when they hurt each other, apologies and forgiveness became quicker and more frequent. They looked to the Word of God to govern how they lived and in their relationship with Christ and commitment to His word, those thorn bushes of selfishness and anger that grew from tiny seeds were cut down and replaced with seeds of joy, peace and love that began to grow.
In time, God blessed them with opportunities to serve him and his people. He gave them two beautiful children that were born into a home characterized by grace, love and joy. A home where Christ is honored, loved and cherished above all else. What was once hopeless was now filled with hope. What once seemed to be void of love and peace is now overflowing with love and peace. It wasn't because of what he did, or what she did, but because of what God did. Theirs is a story of an extraordinary love. The extraordinary love of God for his children that produces extraordinary love in them.
Jesus said: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion - to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified"
Today, Carlee and I have been married 11 years. This is our story. It is a story of God's grace and mercy. It is a story of His forgiveness and steadfast love. It is a story of His ability to change hearts and heal hearts. It is a story of His ability to fully satisfy us in Christ. It is no small miracle that we have been married 11 years. We almost didn't make it to 5. God, in his sovereign providence and kindness has changed hearts, healed wounds, saved sinners and taught us to forgive each other over the last 11 years. He has taught us that he is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. I once asked Carlee "how did you endure all of that"? She said that she had to learn to find joy in God and trust him to change my heart. She cited Romans 12:12:
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer"
Carlee - I love you and am thankful that God gave the girls and I an example of grace, patience and faithfulness in you. Thank you for your faithfulness and commitment to Christ. I look forward to many more year of treasuring Christ together with you.
Husband to Carlee, Papa to Fin and Ainsley, Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne., and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast.