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Marriage Advice

To Garrett and Claire On Your Wedding Day

Garrett and Claire,

I’m sitting here in the green room on the morning of your wedding and reflecting on all the miles traveled with the two of you to this point.   From the bank tour and band concerts, movies at the house with coffee and good food, Mariners games and concerts – to today. 

The moment is right – a culmination of a thousand moments – and I am looking forward to today’s celebration with excitement.  No matter what happens in the ceremony or with people – good or bad – don’t let anything rob you of the joy of the day.  Your hearts have been yearning for this moment where you say to one another “I am yours – You are mine.”  And now, by the time you are reading this, you likely have said your vows in the presence of your family and friends and before God – the promises made and the marriage begun with a horizon of dreams and hopes ahead.

Before I give some counsel for future days I want to say how grateful I am for each of you.  Garrett – I am so proud of the young man you have become.  God has given you a kind heart, gentle and strong.  You act after reflection.  You consider, not only your own needs, but the needs and desires of those around.  You serve others with the goal of bringing them happiness.  And you are also able to lead others by example and with patience and kindness.  I love you and I am grateful for your life.  As a parent, I mainly feel my inadequacy and failures in raising my kids – you included, but I am grateful that God has worked even through my weaknesses and has formed you as He has.  On a side note you have definitely been – by a ways – my easiest child so far 😊.  Claire – It has been a pleasure having you in our house all these years.  I love your ready smile – the way you enjoy things.  My friend Bob once said to me, “Small things delight you,” and I think we share that in common.  I am delighted to welcome you as daughter (no small thing) and look forward to the years ahead with both of you.  It is clear that the two of you have been designed for each other and I am grateful to God for the gift you are to each other.

You both are musicians, but more than that even you are music lovers.  I feel this way about music too and I want to use music as a metaphor for what I have to say to you about the days ahead. 

This life is a mixture of joy and sorrow.  We naturally tend to want to skip over the unpleasant things in life – avoid them if we can, ignore them if we can’t.  But this life is not that way.  Hard things come.  Sometimes very difficult things.  Both of you had life and death experiences in your middle school days.  The weight of the world felt heavy and you felt alone.   We have an enemy of our soul and he wants to rob us.  He has a goal to isolate us and take our eyes off our hope in the Lord – to bring us to despair.  Your own natural dispositions may even tend in this direction.  So I want to say a couple things about this.  A great song has tension and even dark moments.  The notes bump against each other.  The Gsus creates the tension that creates intense longing for resolve.  Life has dissonate chords.  Sometimes things don’t seem to work – life becomes hard.  Sometimes the dissonance seems interminable.  When this happens as it inevitably will there are a few things I want you to remember.   First – difficulty does not need to drive you apart.  It can. Many marriages do not endure hard things.  But God’s design is not that a husband and wife are driven apart by sorrow but instead are forged more deeply and thoroughly together through the pain.  Just as a master composer uses tension and resolve to craft a perfect song or a painter uses light and dark to portray a perfect setting – God uses both joy and sorrow to forge you together and to form you into his image.  Romans 8:28 says God is working all things together for good to those who love Him.  This is not saying that God’s children will not experience hardship but that even the hard days are being used by Him for your greatest good.  So when these seasons come hunker together (rather than isolating) and seek the Lord together – trusting that the Great Composer is at work creating a magnificent symphony even when you cannot see how it could possibly resolve into anything beautiful.  He makes all things beautiful and you can trust him with your life.  “Weeping lasts for the night but joy comes in the morning.” 

Harmony.  Mom, unlike me, is a great harmony singer.  There is obviously a place for soloing but normally we do not expect to hear a voice or instrument in isolation.  And we would think someone strange who only listened to single instruments.  No, we expect piano and vocals, vocal harmonies, brass, strings, percussion.  In the same way we are not meant to live alone.  Yes, your marriage is a major piece of not living alone.  But you will need more.  I encourage you to be intentional about making good friendships.  Garrett find other men your same age and older that you can encourage and be encouraged by.  Claire find women that you can learn from and that you can share life with.  Make friends as a couple with other couples – though be cautious to keep some boundaries in place with friendships with the opposite sex so you are never getting your emotional support from a man or woman other than your spouse.  In healthy relationships with others you will find their gifts and insights invaluable to you as you make your way through life.  The God-designed place for this to occur is in the church.  At church we are reminded of the hope we have in Him and we are in a place to use the gifts He has given us to serve others.  When you make this a priority – not just to attend church – but to engage with the church (the people) you will find fulfillment in doing what God has designed you to do and be strengthened by what others have been gifted with.  Seek to make these relationships more than surface.  Get to know people – be transparent about your own struggles and doubts, and I know you will find this is one of the best pieces of counsel I can give you.

I won’t mention names here but I know I have heard names of folks from band over the years who, shall we say, were not contributing to the quality of the band sound.  What happens when this is you?  The bible rightly says we are all sinners.  This is not a theoretical statement.  So when you belch out a wrong note in your marriage (possibly obliviously as some of your classmates) what should you do?  Dealing with wrongs (sin) is probably the most important thing I could tell you about.  And I could say many things about it but let me see if I can boil it down to a few essentials. 

  1. Your spouse is not perfect.  Not even nearly perfect.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23.  You both are idealistic – meaning you tend to see the best in each other and gloss over each other’s flaws.  This is not a bad thing necessarily but there may come a morning when you see a glaring flaw – so then what?  The knight’s armor is not so shiny – the princess’s beauty is not so charming.  This is going to happen.  You should plan on it.  And when it does the first thing you must remember is that you are also a sinner in desperate need of help yourself.  As long as you consider yourself above the other (this is her problem – this is his problem) you will not be able to effectively help the other.  Instead you will drive a wedge between each other.
  2. Jesus died for sinners.  The cross shows us how ugly our sin is.  Jesus didn’t die on a cross to pay the penalty for pretty good people.  The cost shows us He died for wretches.  It is possible you may not see this or see this fully right now.  We tend to think of ourselves as pretty good or trying hard and that God is pleased with us because of this.  Which is exactly why we need to remember the cross.  Jesus, who is God, came in the flesh and suffered nails through his hands, though He himself was without sin, so that the just penalty we deserve (death and hell) would be paid for those who trust in Him alone and not our “pretty goodness.”  If this reality of the ugliness of our sin hits us then the message of the forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus is glorious.  Though I deserve death for my sin, Jesus has died the death I deserve in my place.  There is no way for us to do this even partially.  The gospel or good news is not “do your best and God will do the rest.”  In fact to the extent we think we can do it – we make light of what Christ has done.  Instead the Gospel says Christ has done it all (Ephesians 2 is very helpful with this idea).  Christ has died for us we are called to trust His work for us and not our own goodness.
  3. Forgiving each other may at times be hard.  In fact it may well be impossible.   I know it may seem hard to believe that you could possibly hurt each other deeply but most people experience both giving and receiving hurt from their spouse.  When this happens you can move away, isolate, sulk, despair, get angry, become bitter, hate or forgive.  This kind of forgiveness – a moving towards rather than away from the offender, a helping hand to the sinner rather than a slap in the face or cold shoulder is truly only possible when we recognize our own failure before God and receive his undeserved forgiveness.  “The one who is forgiven much loves much.”  So if/when these dark moments of sin happen either to you or because of you – GO to your Father and receive his forgiveness and then extend that forgiveness quickly to your spouse. Don’t let bitterness build up.  Confront each other lovingly when there is a grievance and then have a heart, because of what you have received, to forgive.  If there is a top key to marriage built to endure and thrive even in hard times – supernatural forgiveness is it.

There is more to say and I hope over the years ahead there will be many conversations and times to be together.  Mom and I love you in a way you probably will not fully understand until you have your own children.  Our hope is not to intrude on your lives – you are after all to leave your mother and father and cleave to your spouse – but we also would love to have as much time with you as we can.  Visit anytime – call – ask questions – hang out.  Our hope is to have a closer and closer bond with both of you as the years go by. 

And now it is time for the big moment.  A dramatic and beautiful movement at the beginning of what will be a symphony.  The moment your bride stands at the back and looks you in the eyes, Garrett, as she prepares to join you at the altar, will be something you remember always.  As you leave tomorrow for your honeymoon, revel in your first moments together as husband and wife.   There is such a joy in being, at last, joined with the one you love free to go and do as you please.  Enjoy each other.  Be patient with each other.  Learn more about each other.  Be a student of each other.  And when you get back to the real world… do more of the same.

 Marriage is a glorious gift – and “he who finds a wife finds a treasure.”  So delight in each other – and more, delight in the one who gives good gifts.

Love You,

Dad

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A Letter to my Son and His New Bride on Their Wedding Day

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. 

  1. 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.”

Dad

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