In three short months, we fell in love over reformed theology, missions, the church, and the God of them all. We got engaged in November and married just over six months later (6 months too long, as we’ve often joked!).
You moved me to metro-Detroit and carried me over the threshold in our first home at Southgate Park Apartments. You had set up “house” and decorated for me and I loved it. Home was where my heart was and that happened to be wherever you were. Never mind the windows were so drafty my hair would blow in the breeze standing inside the apartment. And who cared that the roof was so unreliable it blew off within our first month and a half of marriage, drywall crashing down on your head and water flooding our apartment? It didn’t bother us! The long distance dating was over and we were together.
We quickly started into a routine working opposite shifts – me early mornings and you late nights. After that, it wasn’t too long before another semester of seminary began and Hebrew studies made our carefree honeymoon days seem like a lifetime before!
And as those weeks passed, it wasn’t too long either, before I began to be haunted by Scripture verses about marriage I thought I would easily be able to obey when the time came. But instead, I found myself trying to ignore, dismiss, and explain them away with what I considered to be some legitimate excuses. And frankly, my struggles ticked me off. Although I wouldn’t dare verbalize my self-righteousness, I really thought if anyone could pull this wife thing off without a hitch it would be me. I had spent the past five years studying the Bible, counseling myself, reading Jay Adams, and pouring over case studies of how to help people change.
So, God in His wisdom brought you along and made me love as I’d never loved before so He could unravel my self-sufficiency. He placed me in front of the mirror of marriage and with gentle, sovereign care, measured each revelation with divine mercy. Bit by bit He opened my eyes to His rivals being exposed in my idolatrous heart.
Testing my Submission…to Him
One area of nagging conviction was that I was horribly failing the test of submission. I knew that the true test of submission wasn’t when we agreed but when we disagreed. Who isn’t happy and easy-going when she’s getting her own way? And boy did my idolatrous heart love having its own way! I loved my own thoughts and plans. And I wasn’t too into bearing the fruit of patience and self-control to follow your lead when you didn’t share equal love for them!
I remember one specific argument in our apartment kitchen. I wasn’t backing down. And instead of your backing down and being passive and letting me have my way to keep me “happy,” you stood toe to toe with me, literally.
You didn’t invoke your role (“I’m the leader here and you have to listen to what I say!”) nor did you have pity on me and label me as an emotional, irrational woman that you had to “manage.” You engaged me as someone who was equal to you in worth and had an opinion that mattered. You didn’t see your role or position as something to be grasped (sound familiar?) but humbled yourself and patiently tried to work through things. Your example startled my proud heart. And although the matter wasn’t resolved on the spot, that argument was a definite turning point in our marriage.
God was revealing in my idolatrous heart that my real struggle wasn’t with submission to you but with submission to Him. I didn’t want to submit to the fact that He had control over you and I didn’t.
Rewriting the End
But God was working all these things together for our good. He helped me see that the Bible wasn’t a book for perfect marriages, but was for all marriages that exist on the face of this earth – imperfect ones. And obedience to that book was the answer to working through all the imperfections. He used a timely challenge from Claudia Doran on the sin of idolizing our husbands; whether it be idolizing what we wish our husbands were (if they’re “bad” husbands) or what they actually are (if they’re “good” husbands). He also used a book I was reading, Lives of the Three Mrs. Judsons, about the spectacular wives of missionary Adoniram Judson, who each left him a widower. Nothing tempers your role of a wife as much as realizing how replaceable you really are!
And so I began to look beyond our marriage, realizing that it was not the end God had intended for me. It was a means to the true and rewarding end of enjoying Him and glorifying Him. In searching out ways to enjoy Him and make Him look great through our union, I actually began to find great joy in you too!
Love Grew More Love
Thankfully, our good God wasn’t done with us yet. Along came an unbelievable delight to our family, sweet Stella Grace. The surprise of our life-changing love for her made us eager to have more children. About a year and half later God gave us another precious baby girl we never got to hold. And then about 6 months after that, a dear baby boy we can’t wait to see in heaven.
Once again, my friend and mentor Claudia came to my side. She wept with me, but wisely warned me, “Erica, these losses can tear couples apart. Men and women grieve differently and it can be very hurtful to the other spouse if you don’t guard your heart and prepare yourself to work through the struggle together.”
God was so gracious to us in the long months that followed. Thankfully, He didn’t add to our grief by having us struggle against each other. And although we did grieve in different ways, we both were crushed. I’ve never seen you cry like you did at our own little memorial we had after our first loss. You posted here about a truth that carried you through that time. I tried clinging to the truth of God’s goodness as well, but my anger was welling. God was opening my eyes to another corner of my idolatrous heart. Hadn’t I had enough trials I’d worked through in my young life? I thought my quota was met. And the counsel from Scripture that had helped me through those difficulties of the past weren’t granting my soul rest this time. My faith in the character of God was shaken to the core and I was skeptical of His care for us.
One morning our paths converged at the coffee pot and I pretty much blurted out, “If Jesus says, ‘”If you ask your father for a piece of bread what kind of father would he be to give you a stone?”‘, then why is God giving us a stone?!”
How often I have gone back to the wise words you spoke to me that morning. You reminded me of the hard life in this fallen, sinful world and of a God who righted the wrongs to His own hurt. You brought me to the cross and showed me Jesus’ nail scarred hands and told me He tasted our deepest griefs and sorrows to take away the eternal effect of devastating blows like what we were going through.
And God in His mercy opened my eyes to see afresh His goodness to me in Jesus. I’ve never forgotten it. Or gotten over it since.
The Sands of Time are Sinking
Here we are about five years since that morning conversation at the coffee pot. God is continuing to use our marriage to pry idols from my heart’s embrace. He is changing my heart in the process and inclining it to you in the right ways – so much so that I long to be the first fruit of your ministry (thank you to Linda Minnick for that challenge). I want to be saved from my self-love and learn from you and benefit from your observations on ways I am lagging behind in my walk with Him. Often you talk through what you’re learning and in a sense “preach” to me first. I want a pliable heart that responds to His Word through you. I hope that at the end of your ministry, one life you’ve effected to the praise of His glory will stand above the others as more humbled by free grace, motivated by the gospel, captivated by God’s glory in the face of Jesus, and obedient to His Word than the rest…mine!
To many, even after ten years of marriage, we’re just starting out. And maybe we are. Maybe we have decades more together to go hard for the sake of the gospel and the spread of His fame. That’s what we want. But we don’t know the end of our story. We know in the eternal scheme of things, it will be a short one. I hope it will be a glorious one too, though. Not because there’s anything uniquely great about either of us. Quite the contrary. But we have a great God who has utterly convinced us of His greatness and His goodness and we want His glory to be magnified because of our lives together. On June 15, 2002, we set out asking God to make a name for Himself in our marriage with Psalm 115:1 being our theme verse. Ten years later, the prayer of our hearts hasn’t changed:
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” Amen.