More Than Ever

For 29 Valentine’s Days, she’s been my very own.

28 years of marriage, six kids birthed and raised and launched, several others by fostering and accepting and encouraging, 11 different homes, 12 vehicles, 8 church families, a few epic arguments, buckets and buckets of tears and a whole lot more laughter… and counting.

To look back at those wedding photos, it’s clear we were just kids. We were so excited to launch into this life together and had no idea what was in store. I thought I loved her then, but now more than ever.

She came across this song today and shared it and I listened… and cried.

(If you know me at all, you’re not surprised. I’m a cryer. It is what it is.)

It’s by a duo known as Out of the Dust. It says so much about where we are in life. You just need to give it a listen.

A marriage is intended by its Designer to be a place of absolute vulnerability and familiarity…

Darling, here we are
You know every strength and every scar
You’re seeing every part

It’s not a place that is found and fueled by feelings. It’s a decision to daily choose what is best for your partner…

Feelings change but that’s when love will say
Now more than ever
Write it on my heart for when it’s hard and we forget
Through joy and pain love will whisper
Now more than ever

But there’s so much more here.

This marriage thing (as I seem to be writing over and over again) is not simply a thing people decided to do. It’s not a societal construct or a cultural feature. It was the very first human relationship and it was created with a deep and powerful purpose—beyond procreation and comfort and companionship.

Marriage was made to show us our deep, deep need and God’s grand and glorious provision…

It’s still a mystery
That heaven fights through hell to help us see
There’s more than you and me
Our love is prophecy
It shows a broken world how it could be
It speaks through you and me

This indescribably precious gift that is my marriage is a vehicle through which God shows me my need for His redeeming and transforming grace, through which He shows me my need to live for someone beyond myself, through which He shows me how much He loves me.

It is my deep desire that everyone that knows us will see these truths in our marriage, that you will hear the song that we were made to sing…

Now more than ever.

Just As You Are

If you want to know what a great pop love song should be, the perfect example just might be Billy Joel’s masterpiece, “Just the Way You Are.”

When you take each piece – well-crafted, accessible lyrics, smooth and singable melody, a simple central notion – it’s a great combination. When you add to that like icing on an idyllic cake one of the most gorgeous and exquisite saxophone solos ever by the legendary Phil Woods, it’s musical magic.

If you’re not familiar or need a refresher, give it a listen.

Mr. Joel has many examples of his lyrical and musical artistry. But this one is perhaps the most famous of them all. I have a theory about why that is the case.

Deep within our hearts, there is a desire to be known and loved for who we are and not just who we might someday become. For someone to love us unconditionally just as we are is perhaps our deepest need.

When he penned these words, it seems Billy Joel was locked in on the need of the woman he loved to be accepted without any expectation of improvement in her appearance, her habits, her performance as a wife, or whatever other area of perceived expectation. We should all be so attuned.

Think about these lyrics:

I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are

So why is this such a powerful message?

I believe it speaks to a need written deep upon our hearts to be loved unconditionally, sacrificially, and absolutely. It’s a love we were made to experience. In fact, it’s the love that motivated our creation in the first place.

I can say that with confidence because I have come to see the great Story that explains our existence and all of the innate needs. We have this need for this kind of love—a love that is not based upon our performance, our choices, our character, or anything other than the character of the One who loves us. We were made to know this love.

Of course, it seems so unusual, so unique, so impossible even. You and I both know that many people spend their entire lives looking for a love like that. But it’s been right there all along. The One who made us for Himself loved us so much that He came to be with us. He lay down His life for us. He conquered death for us.

And what does He ask from us in return?

Believe it.

Just accept this love and believe that He loves us just as we are.

But there’s more to this reality. God has invented this thing we call marriage to be a learning lab for this very love that He first gave us. He loved us just as we are and He gave us this unique kind of relationship in which to learn to do the same. We take a vow to love this person no matter what.

This kind of love—loving someone just the way they are—is also called grace. Marriage is the learning lab of grace. In the close quarters of sharing a home, a room, a bed, and everything else, we learn to love “even though.” We learn to let stuff go that doesn’t matter. We took a vow to love this person even if they never get better at stuff or improve their appearance or any other area of improvement.

We took a vow to love just like Jesus did.

So… this means that my beloved is mine to love and care for just as she is. Maybe you and I should go take our spouses by the hand and remind them.

“I love you just the way you are.”

(And don’t be afraid to sneak a little squeeze and a kiss while Phil Woods works his saxophone magic in the background.)

Work Song: A Resurrection Story

I don’t know why.

I just love this song.

I suppose it’s because it sounds a lot like me in some ways.

Hozier’s “Work Song” is a strange piece of music. I suppose that’s Hozier’s thing. But it takes a subtle rhythmic grip on me.

But the lyrics are a mixture of dripping sweetness and grave self-awareness.

My baby’s sweet as can be, she give me toothaches just from kissin’ me
I was three days on a drunken sin

You might want to give it a listen.

That unique juxtaposition is part of what attracts me. The absurdity of some of the claims rival the most trite of love songs. When you consider the chorus, you see the hyperbole that simply underlines the depth of the love he is striving to express.

When my time comes around
lay me gently in the cold dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I’ll crawl home to her

You hear these words and you know that it’s a deliberate overstatement of the reality it’s meant to express.

But there’s something deeper here that stands out to me that I suspect was richer than even the lyricist had intended. The idea that this human love can endure even the separating chasm of death is a stretch even for a dreamer like myself. But the notion that there is a love deep enough to overcome the grip of the grave is not simply a stretch.

It’s truth.

As a follower of Jesus, I understand that Jesus was God in the flesh. God came near and lives the perfect life that none of us could possibly live. Then Jesus lay His own body on a cross to endure the penalty of death that you and I deserve because of our selfish hijacking of our life from the One who made us for Himself.

Jesus’ lifeless body was placed “in the cold dark earth,” (to borrow Hozier’s expression). But, in something so very much more than an expressive dramatization, Jesus did rise from that grave.

But there’s more. The Scriptures unfold for us the plan for Jesus to return some day and gather His beloved, His Church, to Himself and take us out of this mess.

I know that this was probably not on Hozier’s mind when he penned these lyrics, but he is overstating a love that, in his human brokenness (just like the rest of us), he wants to be true—that he could crawl right out of the grave to return to his beloved. But, as I hear these words, my mind is drawn to the promise of the One who died for me. Because He died and conquered the grave for me, out of His incredible love for me, is preparing a place in His own presence for me.

SO… in a very real way, when my time comes around and my body is placed in the cold, dark earth, my spirit will fly on home to my Beloved. And then one day my body will join—having been instantly transformed to be like Jesus’ own glorious body—to spend forever in a state of everlasting wonder and peace.

But the wonder of all of this is not even the overcoming of the grave. In fact, the second verse of Hozier’s work paints a picture I want to draw to your attention.

Boys when my baby found me
I was three days on a drunken sin
I woke with her walls around me
Nothin’ in her room but an empty crib
And I was burnin’ up with fever
I didn’t care much how long I lived
But I swear I though I dreamed her
She never asked me once about the wrong I did

Hozier expresses here a picture of what I believe is the greatest wonder in all of the Story. It is the wonder of grace.

Just like his description, my Beloved, my Savior, came to my rescue when I was wallowing in the gravity of my sin. When I accepted His help, all of the mess, all of the sin, all of the self-absorption was washed away.

It wasn’t that I was worthy or even worth it. It sure wasn’t that I was good enough. It was entirely out of His own character. He gave me a new life that will not end in a grave. It’s going forever beyond that.

No grave can hold my body down.

I’ll be raised to be with Him.

Now… I think this is a great song. But it’s what it points me to that strikes such a chord in me. But, at the same time, it makes me think a great deal about the most powerful earthly gift I’ve been given—my partner, my helper, my refuge here in this world. And when Hozier sings about crawling home to his love even out of the grave, I get it. I’m that kind of crazy in love with my girl too.

But that love was a gift with a higher purpose. It was given me to help me see here a glimpse of the more wondrous, more powerful, everlasting intimacy for which we were made.

That makes me want to simply hold her close and give thanks.

I think I shall.