Dear Steven and Kendra,
It is your wedding day. In many ways it has been a long time coming, but at the moment it seems surreal that the day is here. It is an exciting day and I am hopeful that everything goes smoothly, but even if something doesn’t, don’t let it steal the joy of this moment.
I haven’t had the chance to talk to either of you much about marriage, but I have a few thoughts I would like to encourage you with as you embark on this new chapter of life – one that extends through the rest of your life. Forever and always is not guaranteed and will require significant effort, grace and humility to have a chance.
- Fairy tales are illusory. The vows you make today, as I know you are aware, mark a covenant before God. This covenant is a sacred promise to not forsake the other no matter the adversity you face. And you will face adversity. From financial strain, to job demands, to relational difficulties, to child-raising, to where to live, to…. Life is both beautiful and challenging. Whatever challenges you face they need not drive you apart, though they do for many. Adversity faced in isolation drives wedges between you, but adversity faced with your spouse is, many times, the instrument God uses to forge you into one. You need each other. Steven you need Kendra – yes, as the man you are the leader and protector, but this does not mean you are meant to bear every burden alone, to not share your difficulties, your questions with Kendra. She is your partner in this life – including its struggles – don’t rob yourself or your marriage of availing yourself of this God-designed help in an attempt to isolate Kendra from the storms of life. Huddle together in the storms and find your strength in God together. Kendra, don’t be afraid to give Steven your counsel and your insights he needs them as you need his. While marriage is not like a fairy tale – there is something stronger that is found in marriages that thrive – joy forged on the anvil of difficulty. This kind of joy in each other and together found in God, is the mortar that will cause your marriage to last.
- Be quick to forgive and slow to anger. One of the challenges of having two human beings marry is that we are sinners. This means that you will at times hurt each other. Sometimes the offending party won’t even know they are hurting the other. I remember when Mom and I first got married – I was so excited to sleep in the same bed and cuddle with this “the woman for whom my soul craved” and having mom unceremoniously remove my arm from her person and roll AWAY from me. I felt rejected. Mom felt hot. She didn’t mean to make me feel rejected she just was too hot. My sense of rejection was based on expectations that were unmet. Unmet expectations could be its own point but I’ll include it here. You both have expectations you are bringing into the marriage that the other person is probably completely oblivious to. You may not even be able to speak to what your expectations are, but you have them nonetheless. The process (possibly life-long process) of working through your expectations and desires of your spouse and their expectations and desires of you is best accomplished by non-defensive, open communication. When those expectations go unmet and undiscussed they will often create anger, resentment and frustration – even sadness. So when (not if) that happens be quick to forgive – quick to listen – be patient with each other – look to see the best in each other rather than the worst. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” The people closest to us have the most power to hurt us and so when one party feels offended our human tendency is to close ourselves off. DON’T do this. Move towards your spouse even if they have hurt you in understanding, humility and love and you will find that almost any offense can be overcome – more just as in adversity – these offenses if shared and responded to appropriately – will draw you together.
- Pursue each other until death. I was trying to say this to you a few weeks ago Steven, but I’ll try again here. The wedding day is not the finish line or the peak or the highlight of the marriage. The wedding day is glorious – the bride dressed in white – the groom looking with eager expectation – the wedding party celebrating the union – BUT for all its glory the wedding day pales in comparison (or should) to the glory and beauty and joy of a life lived together in pursuit of each other. What I mean by pursuit is for you Steven – that men enjoy the hunt, the chase but often lose interest once the game is caught (not that you are game Kendra, but for illustrative purposes only). But as I stated before, the wedding day is the starting line not the finish line, and the race that is to be run continues for the rest of your lives together. As much as you now know about each other, as much as you now are captivated with each other, there is so much more to learn. Discuss life together – music, movies, God, philosophy, books, animals, nature – Invest time in each other. This gets harder when children come. And children are precious BUT the center of your family is always the two of you. This is the priority and should not be neglected. Continue to date (again easier now then when the children come) eventually you may have to schedule a date night. Put your phones down at dinner. Invest in experiences. Go and do things together. Steven, you have the McLain sense of the extravagant, but this does not have to cost a bunch of money to be enjoyable and Kendra sometimes it is ok to spend the money for the experience 😊. Make it a practice to continue to move toward each other and you will find that the love you have now is great but is replaced by deeper love in 20 years. This is one of the greatest joys of marriage – to be with someone who knows you at your worst and sees the best because they know, like no one else, who you are and love you.
- Smell the Roses. Don’t be in a such a rush to “arrive” at some notion you have created of a “destination” that you don’t enjoy what is going on in the moment. Life is not a future destination – you are living life now – enjoy it. Life is not defined by money or jobs or success or house or kids. These opening notes in the symphony of marriage are incredibly precious. You both have goals and aspirations and dreams about where you are going. But don’t make the arrival or achievement of those goals the place where you expect to begin to enjoy life. For one is very likely those goals will change over time and what is important to you now will be different in the future. But even more importantly, not to be trite, there is really no arriving in this life, instead it is about the journey. Enjoy these early days. Find friends to share life with. Join a church and be part of a Christian family. Laugh together. Enjoy being broke (if you are). Don’t stress about every problem. Learn to enjoy these moments together even if they don’t quite measure up to where you hope to be. You can live your whole life in pursuit of “arrival” and miss all the beauty and joy of the trip. I’m 42 – I haven’t arrived – and I wish that at times I wouldn’t have been so focused on not having what I wanted and more focused on enjoying my wife and boys and the little things of life. Ambition can be a good thing – but it can also rob you of the simple joys God has given.
- “A Three-fold Cord is not quickly broken.” Marriage is meant to be a human picture of a larger reality. Over and over in the bible, the love God has for his people is compared to love of a groom for his bride. Everything I’ve mentioned above while essential I believe to a “forever and always” marriage is ultimately not enough if God is not included in the center of your relationship. The bible pictures this as a “three-fold strand” which means that God is woven into the joining of the two of you. This has several implications I believe for how we thrive in a marriage. First it means that neither you Steven or you Kendra are the other’s ultimate answer to the longings of your heart – instead you point each other to Christ who is. Second it means that while the marriage is the paramount relationship above all other relationships on a human level, your relationship with God is of the highest significance over even the marriage relationship. Instead of making the marriage weaker by virtue of it being of second importance to knowing God, when we place God first the marriage is strengthened. Just like your relationship with each other – knowing God requires investment of your time. Reading your bible, going to church, spending time with other Christians are not “religious duties” to be done to look good or be good – they are means to know your maker. And just as you cannot in this life get to the end of all there is to know about each other though finite beings, you even more cannot reach the end of knowing the infinite God. Paul says in Philippians 3:8 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Your pursuit of knowing Jesus, or better said your surrender to His pursuit of you is your highest calling and greatest good – His love is truly forever and always.
Lastly, I want to say a few things to each of you. Steven, you are my first “arrow” into the world. I am proud of the man you are becoming. You have been given gifts that amaze me – you can do almost anything well the first time – you have great thinking abilities – you can teach others. These have been given to you so you can serve God and others – find opportunities to use them. Be patient with yourself as you find a career – it will come. I love you and am looking forward to a life-long conversation with you (as least my lifetime 😊). Kendra, I am glad to embrace you as a daughter. I have waited a LONG time to have a daughter and I could not imagine a better one. You and Steven have contrasting strengths – his boldness – your reflection – his fiery logic – your compassion. These, I believe, will serve you well in strengthening each other. He has found his match in you and I am grateful.
The bible says a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. This is right and true. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come around…frequently😊. While we don’t want to overstep in anyway – our door is wide open to you at any time and Mom and I both desire to see you as often as possible. And if visiting is not an option we would love to talk by phone.
I hope your have a great honeymoon – enjoy every minute of it – Alabama is a great honeymoon destination from what I hear – snakes everywhere (and knowing your love for animals, Kendra, I’m sure you’ll love it) 😉
Ok time to get ready for the big day – “May the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and give you peace.”