1 Cor. 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

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I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. Or maybe more positively put, a “hopeful romantic?” Like many little girls, I dreamed about my wedding day at a very young age. I just celebrated my 16 year anniversary. Naturally, celebrating such a mile mark causes one to reflect:

I planned out my wedding long before I knew Jeff and then again after we were dating and then yet again after we were engaged. A friend/coworker of mine was engaged before I was, so we spent a lot of time looking through wedding magazines and discussing ideas. I was uncertain of Jeff’s intentions for our relationship at the time. I would tear pages out of the magazines that had ideas and pictures of things that I liked. That is how I found my wedding dress. As soon as I saw the dress, I knew it was the one for me. I saved the picture for whenever the time came to buy a wedding dress. It was like someone had made it from my imagination.

After I got engaged and the time did come for me to buy a dress, I took the picture down to a local wedding dress shop. I told them that that was the dress I wanted. They found the exact one for me in their catalog and had to order it. It was $400 on sale. Score! I had to buy it without trying it on and the purchase was final. It was a gamble but I took it because I was certain that it was the right dress for me! How about that for a “Say Yes To The Dress” episode?!

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My dress was my biggest expense for the wedding. To this day, I would not have chosen anything different! I chose it because it reminded me of the pictures of my Grandma Mildred’s wedding dress; a classic 1940’s look. Very simple and slim-cut, with a deep-V opening in the back. A long, slim train and some simple pearl and sequin beading. I borrowed the veil that belonged to one of my good friends, she was one of my bridesmaids. It was long and very classic. I wore a necklace that belonged to my mom; a simple, thin gold chain with a single, real pearl as well as her pearl-drop earings. The look was timeless. I would not have done anything different to this day.

The wedding ceremony was simple but beautiful and very classic. It was held in a church full of candles, white Christmas lights, red berries, and evergreen. The ceremony was held at 4:00 p.m. The sky was a pretty, wintry dusk blue. Heavy snow had started around noon that day and turned into a full-blown blizzard by the time the ceremony was ready to start. Many people were not able to travel, and guests later told us that they had started out and had to turn around. So the wedding turned out to be an even smaller gathering than planned, but still really beautiful. My dream wedding never took place in the winter, but it really turned out nicely other than bad weather. We didn’t want a long engagement and so the Christmas season is what we chose. Also for the ease of family who travels “home” for Christmas, they were already around for the holiday.

I can still see the huge, fluffy snowflakes swirling around outside the window that was located at the front of the church. We could see our reflections in the window during the ceremony. Thinking back to all of this, it is a reminder to me of how God cares about every detail of our life and the desires of our hearts. I had seen his hand in the smoothness of how plans fell into place. He brought along the right family members and friends to help and used their talents. The ideas I had pictured in my head were all unfolding before my eyes on this day. It seemed surreal. God is good!

My parents had given us a set amount that we could spend on our wedding. They said that it could all be spent on the wedding ceremony or we could have a simple wedding and use the rest to pay for our honeymoon. My dad encouraged us to elope and just take the cash to start our life out together as a married couple. Looking back, that probably would have not been such a bad thing to do. We both wanted a ceremony and since I love to travel, I wanted a nice honeymoon. Since I’m pretty frugal we found a way to do both. I was able to accomplish my “dream wedding” at right around $1500 and the remaining ($2000) covered most of our travels. I know this sounds impossible, and today that amount would be unheard of but God provided everything we needed and it was done nicely. It really was a pretty wedding!

We had a relaxing honeymoon at Sanibel Island, Florida, one of the world’s top shelling beaches. We were both really tired from the months of planning, me finishing up college and graduating, the holidays, and then I was still adjusting to my new diagnosis of an autoimmune condition and battling the symptoms and medication side effects. A relaxing vacation was much needed! We spent most of the time either sleeping or picking up seashells.

I share all of these details because not only is it fun for me to reminisce, but a major point I want to bring across is that it’s not the size of the wedding or the amount of money spent on it that makes for a successful marriage! I need to add about 16 exclamation marks after that sentence. The amount of money spent and debt accumulated on weddings these days is, in my opinion, absolutely ridiculous! It does not make for a successful or lifelong relationship!

I recall sitting through sermon messages when I was a teenager (and yes, I was listening)! My pastor would talk to the youth about marriage and he would say, “there will be times when you don’t like each other. There will be times when you don’t feel in love. The glue that holds you together is commitment.”

Commitment. Loyalty. I think our culture is forgetting what these words mean, or perhaps not learning how to walk it out for starters. Is it yet another dying art? In my mind, commitment, loyalty, and perseverance all go hand-in-hand.

I will be the first to admit that marriage is hard. Really, really hard! My husband and I are opposites in so many ways. It’s pretty amazing that we have found a way to cohabitate and find some middle ground in many areas. I speak for both of us when I say that there are probably a handful of times over the years when one or both of us wanted to quit. I look at all that my husband has had to face regarding my medical battles and the stress and strain that it has put on our relationship from the very early days. He very easily could have thrown in the towel; said: “This isn’t what I signed up for,” and walked away. Sadly, many men would have done that.

The struggles we have faced right out of our first months of marriage are things that most people don’t expect to face until they are elderly and in their very last years of marriage. We were just 22 and 23 years old when we got married. We really did not have much of a “honeymoon phase” because of the physical battles I went through. That makes me sad. I feel that we lost that and it’s not something we can get back. Commitment is what has held us together when we wanted to quit. It is what has caused us to move forward and to find our rhythm together once again. I would also say, a healthy dose of humor! I encourage couples who are facing difficult times to seek counseling. Or even if things are going pretty well and you just want a little “tune-up.” This has taken some pride-swallowing for us, but been beneficial. There are still wrinkles to work out after nearly 2 decades together. That is a long time!

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1 Corinthians 13. The “Love” chapter in the Bible repeatedly read at weddings. Verses 1-3 speak about if you do not know how to love, no matter what amazing things you do accomplish…you are nothing. Wow! Without love…we are nothing! That is a big statement. To me, that shows the significance God places on love. Verses 4-8 break it down for us and describe what love looks like. How to love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails.

Love has so many faces. There is the love between a couple, ultimately a married couple because they have vowed before each other, God, and witnesses to stick together no matter what. There is the love between a parent and child. There is the love between friends, which I put on the same playing field as the love between family members. God even tells us, not once but twice, to love our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves (Mark 12:31 & Matt. 22:39). Then, the ultimate love, God’s love for mankind:

Live a life filled with love (some versions say “walk in love”), following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:2 (New Living Translation)

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Christ set the ultimate example, he gave his very life so that we could experience salvation (redemption from a life of eternal damnation and reconciliation in a relationship with God). So that we can experience a life of freedom from the bondage of sin and new life in Christ! What a gift!

The Bible speaks of God’s love for us as being so great that he will go to any great length to seek us out and draw us to him. The Parable of the Lost Sheep appears in Matthew 18:12–14 and Luke 15:3–7. It is about a shepherd who leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one which is lost. Following this story are two other parables with the same concept; the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son.

I enjoy the song lyrics to Reckless Love by Cory Asbury. They paint a beautiful picture of God’s unfailing, unlimited, neverending, pure and unadulterated love for each one of us:

Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me
You have been so, so good to me
Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah

When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so good to me
When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me
You have been so, so kind to me

And oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
And I couldn’t earn it. I don’t deserve it…

I don’t know about you, but I feel so undeserving of this kind of love. It’s hard for me to accept it. Who am I? What have I done? That’s the beauty of God’s love…there is nothing that we can do to earn it. His love is already there in full-force. It’s the same for the Mother Theresa’s of this world as it is for the Hitler’s. That is mind-boggling to me! You mean there is nothing I can do to cause God to love me anymore than he already does? Nope! Absolutely nothing! He is sold-out for you and willing to do whatever he has to, to draw you to him. The book of Song of Songs (also called Song of Solomon) is a romantic love story between a man and woman and his tender and adoring pursuit of her. It is also a picture of God’s tender and loving pursuit of us, for our salvation.

As a parent, I can most easily identify to a sliver of what God must feel for us. Personally, there is nothing I would not do to save one of my children. I would give a kidney. I would give my very own life. Now love others, those who are not so easy to love, even sometimes my own spouse…that can be a little bit harder. That requires a little more of God’s grace, his love through us.

At a recent women’s conference that I attended, a speaker was talking about God’s grace. She said, ” Grace means love. If someone loves you, it’s because of God’s grace. If someone has favor on you, it’s because of God’s grace.” What a concept! Grace and love go together!

Because of God’s grace (love), he pursued me. He wanted me back! Lavish people with God’s grace (love)! 1 Peter 4:10 says that each of us should use our gifts, which are trophies of God’s grace (his love). I don’t know about you, but the times when someone has gone out of their way for me; shown me grace, kindness and ultimately love, when I did nothing to earn it. I have felt so undeserving. That is the ultimate picture of love and God’s love towards us. God, loving us through others and loving others through us. What a mystery! What a beautiful picture of the greatest of all that remains! In the end, above all else, is love.

Love wins. It always does!

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