Saving your Marriage with Roses and Belgian Chocolate

How is your marriage? Do you wish you had a better marriage? Do you feel like your spouse is a different person than the fun, loving, person you originally married? Do you feel like they don’t understand you? Do you no longer understand them? Do you feel like ripping your hair out? their heresjonnyehair? Do you feel crazy like Jack Nicholson on The Shining? Has the screaming been waking up your neighbors? Does the crying keep you awake?

Sometimes I want to bash my head against the wall–why? Because marriage is difficult. I am not perfect. I am far from it, and my wife can attest to this fact. My wife and I had an argument today. The argument was about something which no one else would comprehend, as with all married couple argumentation. Arguments happen. Arguments suck. Two messed up people living together is bound to get messy. Why? Miscommunication and impatience. Speaking when we ought to be silent, and remaining silent when we ought to speak. How do we reconcile after an argument? How do we move forward? For some, the answer is make-up sex. For us, the answer is commitment.

Commitment: com (together) + mittere (to send) + ment (resulting action). Commitment is the resulting action of being sent together, the resulting action of committing to something together. What binds together those who are committed, rather, what mediates between those who are committed? I would be remiss if I were to avoid speaking about what, rather, who, mediates between my wife and I. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it best,

Christ has become the mediator who has made peace with God and peace among human beings. Without Christ we would not know God; we could neither call on God nor come to God. Moreover, without Christ we would not know other Christians around us; nor could we approach them. The way to them is blocked by one’s own ego. Christ opened up the way to God and to one another. Now Christians can live with each other in peace; they can love and serve one another; they can become one. But they can continue to do so only through Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus Christ are we one; only though him are we bound together. He remains the one and only mediator throughout eternity.

I often forget that Jesus is the mediator and I let my own ego control my relationships. The only way I can truly know my wife is by knowing her as my sister in the Lord, and I can only know her in this capacity because in Christ we are one. Together, my wife and I are committed to living in this world as believers in Christ. These are not idle words, we truly believe that we must be fully immersed in this world and committed to it. “The cross of reconciliation…sets us free to live in genuine worldiness.” (Bonhoeffer)

My wife having fun with bicycles

Our commitment to each other is mediated by Christ and displays itself in a genuine love for the world. This means that we ought to enjoy one another and all the goodness which is found in this world. Movies, popcorn, bicycling, travelling, laughing, music, beer, Irish whiskey, a good cigar, steak and potatoes, running, photography, sunsets, sushi, sunrises, Belgian chocolate, flowers, and the list could go on. God made this world and he wants us to enjoy it. My marriage fails when I forget to enjoy the world with my wife.

I think it is time for me to go buy some Belgian chocolates and roses for my wife….yes, I just gave a theological foundation for buying my wife roses and chocolate! I think this is a theological argument most women will appreciate–you can share this post if you agree :)flowerandchoco

Why Do We Use Big Words?

I am not sure if you are aware, but being a PhD student and a husband has challenges. No, it is not that I never have time for my wife. No, it is not that we don’t enjoy the country we moved to so I could pursue my higher education. No, it is not that she disagrees with my desires for church reconciliation (my research revolves around this). It comes down to one thing: communication. Yes, it sounds cliche, but I assure you, it is the truth. When you become specialized in a narrow field of study, you learn the lingo, you speak the lingo, you live the lingo–and then there is the spouse. My wife has not studied theology or philosophy, yet I live this language. As you can imagine, this is a major challenge. Do I force her to learn new vocabulary and concepts, or do I learn how to communicate what I believe to be profound concepts into normal language? I know the answer, but it is really difficult to put some of these concepts into everyday language. Difficulty and challenges have never stopped me in the past, so why should I allow it to stop me now. As Barney Stinson would say,

challenge-accepted

At the end of the day, these challenges actually help our marriage more than anything, and they help keep me in the real world. If I were not challenged on a daily basis to communicate–through active listening and fitting my own words into the the context of everyday language, then I would be failing in my identity as researcher, teacher, and husband. Why do challenges help us? I think it because with every challenge we face we need to have patience, and with patience comes suffering (note: Latin passio is where we get the word for both patience and suffering, and that is why we say the “passion of Christ” when we speak of the sufferings that he went through with patience). When we suffer, we realize that we need to stop living for ourselves and be willing to die for the other person. Sometimes that death is “literal,” but more often than not it is “figurative” and mundane, for instance, I die for my wife every time I do the dishes. Note: I have not said that we die to ourselves, I have said that we die for the other person. Greater love has none than this, that one lay down his life for others (John 15.13).

So why do we use big words? It is not because they make us feel more important (perhaps some people use the big words for this type of vain glory, that seems silly to me though). For me, I use the big words because I can say one word, and have it mean two or more things at the same time. I personally like this, it makes my brain get excited and pumps it full of dopamine, unfortunately, it usually results in none of the meanings coming across and I simply look like an incoherent babbling fool.

If you catch me using big words which you don’t comprehend or don’t seem to fit the context of the conversation, please stop me in my tracks and ask me to explain myself. I will not be offended.

sometimes-i-use-big-words-i-dont-fully-understand-photosynthesis

Praise God?

Have you ever heard a story about a loved one being saved from a near death experience, and then someone almost instinctively says, “praise God!”? God is certainly to be praised in this situation, but I wonder if there is more too it. Namely, ptlwhat are we supposed to say when the loved one actually dies? Should we not praise God during the tragedy? (Not for it though!) Near death experiences are far from the only occasion when you hear the phrase, “praise God!” It often comes about when a person gets a promotion at work, or when a student does well on an exam. Once again, God should be praised during these moments, however, what is to be proclaimed when the person actually dies, the promotion never comes, or you fail the test?

There have been so many instances in my journey with my wife over the past year which are “praise worthy.” We saved enough money to move to Belgium, I successfully completed the pre-doctoral year near the top of my class, earned acceptance into the PhD on a topic concerning ecumenism with an amazing promoter…it all sounds amazing, right? But then came the bad news, I did not get the funding stipend I was hoping for. How deflating! Talk about a shock to your pride. We went through an incredibly difficult journey only to now be faced with the hardest financial burden of our marriage? I ask a question to myself: if I had gotten the funding, would I be saying “praise God!”? If so, my faith is pretty shallow.article-1196755-058DCDF9000005DC-866_634x784

My financial burden is not my own, it is also my wife’s. When we got married we said, “for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse…” What would our marriage be if we only loved each other during the rich, healthy, better moments? Love is more than an emotion in the high times, it is a choice in the low times of poverty, sickness, and bad times. Is it not the same with God? As my pastor during college told me time and again, “our joy should never be dependent upon our circumstances” (Retired Lt. Col. Rev. Dr. Jerry Malone). I am so thankful that when I first became a believer, I had Pastor Jerry to help train me in the faith. Our joy does not depend upon our circumstances, our joy depends upon the faithfulness of Jesus Christ in having lived faithfully, going to the cross, dying, being raised, and ascending to the right hand of the Father so that he may continually mediate for us.

Am I saying that we should stop praising God? Heaven forbid! I am saying that we should praise God all the more, and not merely when life is going the way you wanted it to. Sara and I are still praising God, even though we did not get the funding stipend we were hoping and praying for. God is still faithful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt this point, my wife and I have very little money and in all honesty, we are considering moving back to Portland where I teach HS, if we are not able to afford living in Belgium. This is difficult because we love Belgium and serving the church here. This dilemma of moving or staying reveals a major tension in my own vocation: on the one hand I love pursuing Christian reconciliation and pastoral work, and on the other hand I love teaching students. I am a theologian and an educator. Both are fantastic options and need not be mutually exclusive or be dependent upon my future career. We love Belgium and we love Portland. Your prayers for our direction and other funding opportunities are greatly appreciated.

There are many songs by Jeremy Camp which describe what it means to praise God in all things. He has experienced some very difficult times in his life, having experienced the death of his first wife to breast cancer and the death of his youngest child. Yet he remains a faithful believer in Christ. Here is one of my favorites and I pray it gives you hope:

The Key to a Successful Marriage

W601- 119I brought the office to Heart Coffee Roasters today, and I have the privilege of watching them roast it while drinking a latte with two hearts in it—the coffee roasting process is fascinating to me because it is steeped with science, and I happen to love science. There are so many variables which could go wrong from the time of harvest to the time of pulling your shot of espresso, but through hours upon hours of practice and hypothesis after hypothesis, the product which I am drinking today taste absolutely fantastic. I compare this to my marriage…

Sara and I are celebrating our 7th Anniversary today! Marriage is not an easy task in the slightest. Over the past seven years we have had our share of highs and lows, but through it all we have decided to remain faithful to one another because we know how fabulous it can be and we know that God joined us together. There is no one method to practicing a good marriage, it is just like coffee in that sense. Some people prefer a coffee that is so thick and dark that it will put hair on your chest, and others prefer coffee so lightly roasted that it closely resembles a tea. Even so, in this process there are wonderful failures—failures so miserable you can laugh later on. For instance, have you ever had a friend whom tried to roast coffee in his kitchen and filled the entire house with a putrid stench? Some people do this with their marriage—they put little to no thought into some of their actions, hoping for the best but ending up with a disaster. That does not mean it is the end though.

Sara and I are aware of what it means to practice. She is a wonderful pianist, cyclist, personal trainer, and baker. She is good at these things because she has put in hours upon hours of practice towards each of these disciplines. I have not yet mentioned that she always knows how to cherish a person. She knows how to listen. She knows how to hold onto a friend and never let go. She is a fighter, and she will not quit—even when it means she is dying on a bicycle and has another lap to go, she will finish the race. Has Sara ever messed up? Of course she has, but she knows how to admit she was wrong and win back a friend—a feat which can be harder to do than destroying a city!

When we first got married, I would seek out counsel from more mature couples and ask them questions about how to have a successful marriage. My pastor, Jerry Malone, recommended I do three things every day: 1. Kiss my wife every day, 2. Read the Bible with my wife every day, and 3. Pray with my wife every day. I am realizing that I fail to do these things with my wife on a consistent basis, but I know that when I do these things, it is absolutely wonderful. I pray that I begin following through on the advice which I received from one of the men whom I trust more than any other. These three things are not universalized methods; these are simply principles which will help the process. For instance, when roasting coffee, you need a source of heat, a process for keeping the heat even, and a process to properly cool the beans….aside from that you can do whatever you want! This is like the three principles which Pastor Jerry gave me. These things ought not to be a source of bondage; rather, they ought to be the things which set our marriage free in our love for one another.

I adore my wife. She is my joy and my crown. She is lovely beyond compare. She is my beloved. The journey of our marriage continues towards that perfect cup of Esmeralda.heart coffee