Dear The Dating, The Engaged, The Married,
“Just wait. It’ll get worse when you’re married.” “Just wait until you’ve been married for a year…” “Just wait until the seven year itch…“ “Just wait until you’ve been married as long as we have…”
The “just wait until…” scale seems to be sliding further and further away no matter how long you’ve been married. My husband, Rocco, and I have been married for seven years and are determined to tell anyone who will listen just how amazing marriage is!
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “Oh, you’re engaged? Congratulations, but just wait for marriage…” or “Oh, you’re newlyweds? Congratulations, but just wait until after the ‘honeymoon’ phase…” messages delivered with a sense of impending doom. At work or elsewhere, these “just waits” are often accompanied by comments about “the old ball and chain”, snide remarks about spouses, and all kinds of dubious marriage advice.
I guess we are never quite married long enough to be considered to know what married life is like, but we would disagree. At no point do Rocco and I think we know everything about marriage. We are learning more and more about one another and about married life every day. But to those who are engaged, to those who are dating, to those who believe their vocation is to one day get married, to those who have already spoken those vows, take heart: Marriage is an amazing, life changing, ridiculously fun adventure!
I’m on a mission: God created me to love Val and sacrifice my life for her. He created her to be my perfect match and to those to whom God’s calling to the vocation of marriage, He’s created a perfect match for you as well. Forget anything you’ve heard from people who’ve become disillusioned and instead just wait for the joy, the excitement, the laughter, and the sheer fun of what’s to come!
Just wait… until you come home and your husband, who has just come home from work, has the fire going in the fireplace, Christmas lights plugged in and hot chocolate set out for you.
Just wait… until you come home to a house full of balloons and a gigantic card on your birthday and you realize how hard your wife worked to see your joy and that she’s been planning this moment for a long time.
Just wait… until the first snow since you’ve been married and your husband goes outside and creates a huge heart in the road to show you from the upstairs window.
Just wait… until she hatches a plan to feed the homeless and you remember how much you love her generosity and compassion.
Just wait… until you find the love note he hid around the house for you to find during the day.
Just wait… until you get to open your lunch bag to read the love note she wrote you that morning.
Just wait… until your husband comes home from work and the first thing he does every day is to run, literally run, to find you, lift you up in an embrace, spin you around, and give you a hello kiss.
Just wait… until you see your wife waving from the window as you come home from work, with a huge smile on her face, so happy to see you, and she surprises you with a scrumptious meal, a clean house, and plans for the future: fruit of a grueling day while you were at work, and all out of love.
Just wait… until your husband pulls a dozen beautiful red roses from behind his back, in the middle of the week, for no other reason than he loves you and knows you love surprises.
Just wait… until when you serve food for the two of you and she insists you have the warmer dinner, the choicest portion of meat, and the bigger cookie, just because she loves to see you smile.
Just wait… until he changes his routine and brings his laptop over to work with you because he knows you enjoy his presence.
Just wait… until you two realize for the first time that you are not just her family, not just your family, but your own family.
Just wait… until your husband tells you every day that you’re his most beautiful bride and he’s the luckiest guy in the world.
Just wait… until she giggles every time you surprise her with kisses on her cheek.
Just wait… until your husband asks to hold a friend’s baby for the first time, he instantly melts and you are reminded for the billionth time how good of a dad he will be one day.
Just wait… until you see your wife cradling a friend’s infant in her arms, she instantly knows everything to do to calm him and you are reminded for the billionth time how good of a mom she will be one day.
Just wait… because you have so much joy ahead of you…
Just wait… because you have so much joy ahead of you…
You. Are. Loved.
*Recently I had the privilege of speaking at a retreat in western Virginia to a group of 8th grade girls who were preparing for their upcoming Confirmation. My prayer for them is that He moves their hearts and helps His daughters recognize the great love He has for all of us. To that end, I decided to write them a letter:
So, I wrote you all a letter…
Dear Sister in Christ,
I remember when I was a teenager. I liked boys, just like you. I liked hanging out with my best friends laughing about who knows what in the middle of the night, just like you. I loved going to concerts and dancing around my room to the latest radio hit, just like you. Also, just like you, I went on this very retreat that ended up changing my life. My cabin was cabin five and I slept in the same creaky bunk bed, just like you. Meg was my small group leader and she talked a lot about this Jesus who she said was crazy in love with me. I hadn’t want to go on the retreat in the first place but by the end, I was hooked - I wanted to know more.
Sister, the world tells us girls so many lies about what to hope in, who we are and where to find love. Go to any store and you’ll see countless ads and magazine covers with the latest beauty trend, dating tips, hair styles and the list goes on and on. I want us to be honest today. Who we are is too often dictated by who the world says we should be and we feel like we don’t measure up to the world’s definition of beauty.
So, let’s get real with each other - I don’t know your struggles, I don’t know your past hurts. I don’t know if you think you’re unworthy of love because of a broken relationship, I don’t know if you're parents have told you lately that you’re beautiful, I don’t know if you’ve been hurt by words someone else has said to you that made you think you were worthless. But, friend, our God tells us something completely different.
Christ is the one who tells us who we are! He is the one I want to have tell me I am loved, I am adored, I am beautiful and that I am His daughter. If no one has told you lately that you are beautiful, let me remind you that you are beautiful because God made you His. Don’t you know you are the pinnacle of creation? God created the whole of creation; billions of galaxies, enormous oceans, the endless sky, the soaring birds, all the way down to each individual blade of grass. He made Adam, then stepped back while marveling at the wonder of it all but knew something was missing. What was that something? It was a woman… it was you. You are the pinnacle of creation and God is crazy in love with you. When we realize just how much we are adored, how in love our God is with us, everything about how we see ourselves changes.
Let God embrace you today; let Him hold you. He doesn’t love you because of what you have or haven't done; no, let loves you because you are his. Let me say that again. He doesn’t love you because of what you have or haven't done… He does you because you are His princess. You are His beloved, beautiful daughter. Our God is a good, good Father. A lot of us have grown up with a picture in our minds that God is an old, long-bearded man in the sky who is angry and is sitting in Heaven waiting to judge us. But, let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. Spending time in His presence, I’ve come to know our Father is a loving, playful, incredible Dad.
The best day of my life was seven years ago when I married my amazing husband, Rocco. On that perfect Saturday morning, I was going to become the wife of the greatest man I’ve ever met. When I rounded the corner in the back of the church to walk down to my future husband, all I could see was him looking so handsome standing there waiting for me. When he first saw me walking down to him, I’ve never seen someone happier in my life. He was there at the end of the aisle beaming from ear to ear, barely able to hold in his excellent, tears rolling down his face because he was seeing his bride for the first time, on her way to him, forever.
Isn’t that who we all want to be loved and adored? How Rocco looked at me on our wedding day is exactly how I picture Jesus looks at you right now. Whether you know it or not, God is adoring YOU. He’s smiling from ear to ear, tears of joy streaming down his face because of how beautiful you are. He’s so happy that you’re here with Him. He’s so proud of you, His daughter. Jesus, our groom, adores you, his most beautiful bride.
So, how could we not come with hearts full of joy to Him? How will our lives change because of this revelation that no matter what is going on in our lives, no matter what the world may say we need to be like to be beautiful, no matter if we feel worthy of this amazing love or not, Christ is crazy about you. Do you feel far from Him tonight? I have good news for you - look up ahead - He’s running toward you, sprinting with arms wide open waiting for you to fall into His love. Our God is a God who leaves to 99 to run after the 1. No matter how long it takes, He can’t live without you. Will you be bold enough tonight to stop running from Him and instead fall into His arms? Trust me when I say it will be the greatest decision of your life.
Dear sister, you and I are both searching for love and the great news of the Gospel is that we don’t have to search any further than right here. We have found it! Jesus IS the love we have been looking for. God is telling you that You. Are. Beautiful. You are His. This changes everything!
So, rest easy tonight, sister, because you know, finally, WHO you are and WHOSE you are… you are the beloved, beautiful daughter of the King!
I’m rooting for you and I’m praying for you…
Your Sister in Christ
Stations of the Cross
*Below are reflections I wrote on the Stations of the Cross for this past Lent.
First Station – Jesus is condemned to death
Jesus stands silent. His hands tied, His eyes turned toward the ground and His body tired from the long night of accusations. His head has been pierced by a thorny crown made to mock and embarrass Him. For a third time tonight, he steps in front of one of the leaders; this time it’s Pontius Pilate. Pilate paces back and forth in the palace and asks him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Silence. Pilate tries again, “Tell me, are you the King of the Jews? Don’t you know I have the power to free you or crucify you?” Silence. Exasperated and unable to find a charge against Jesus, he takes Him outside. He opens the palace doors and is immediately overwhelmed by the shouts and screams of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Aware a riot could break out, in front of the crowd Pilate washes his hands of the situation and gives Jesus over to the chief priests to die a sinner’s death; to be nailed to a cross.
Jesus. Alone. Betrayed. Abandoned. Where are His friends? In the moment where He needs them the most, they are nowhere to be found. One of them is even the reason He’s here in the first place.
Do you feel betrayed? Do you feel abandoned and lonely? In the dead of night, when everyone else has gone away and you’re by yourself, are you afraid? Jesus finds you in that place tonight. Jesus meets you there, face to face and gently whispers, “I’ve been there. I understand. I know what it feels like to be let down by those you love the most in this life and to look fear straight in the eyes. I’ve been there and please know you’re not alone. I love you.”
Second Station – Jesus takes up His cross
Pushing and shoving, the chief priests lead him past the crowd, past those who mock and jeer at him to a cobblestone road where two pieces of wood have been nailed together. One of the soldiers picks up the three, six inch nails laying next to the wooden beams and places them in his uniform. He will take them out once they reach the hill of Calvary. It takes four men to lift the heavy cross and they drop it on the worn, beaten and bruised shoulders of Jesus. He almost collapses under its weight and he winces as the splinters poke into his neck. The sheer amount of pain releases a couple tears from his eyes. He takes a heavy breath and places one foot in front of the other as he slowly makes his way down the road. It won’t be long now.
Jesus. Bruised. Exhausted. Stripped. In that moment, does He think about how many more steps he has left on this earth? Does He think about the prayer He made in the garden only a few hours earlier asking the Lord to take this cup from Him or at this point is that only a distant memory?
Are you carrying an incredibly heavy cross tonight? Do you feel overwhelmed by the weight and stresses of this world? Do you know that Jesus carried that cross that terrible Friday so that you wouldn’t have to? See Jesus turn His head toward you tonight while he walks down the road and see His loving gaze as He whispers, “You’re not carrying the weight of your cross on your own. I’ve got you and I’ll never let you go. You were never meant to carry the weight of this world; I already did that and I did that for you. I love you.”
Third Station – Jesus falls the first time
As the wooden cross scrapes over each individual cobblestone, its weight overtakes Jesus and His knees buckle under Him. As He falls, His shoulder hits the ground and the cross lands like a brick on his chest. The crowd gasps and for a moment, there is silence. Everyone peers over one another to get a closer look. They watch as Jesus finds an ounce of strength and pushes the wood off his chest. He takes a long drawn out gasp of air. As He lifts Himself to His feet, dirt from the road creates a fine cloud around Him. He lifts the cross, places it back on his bruised shoulder and takes a step forward.
Jesus. Weary. Hurt. In unimaginable pain. There is further to travel; He can’t stop now. Where did He find the strength to get back up after He had fallen? What motivated Him to continue?
It was you. He saw each time the world got the better of you and you fell down under its weight. Do you feel beaten down on all sides, unsure you will be able to get up again, grasping for any hope or sliver of light? Tonight, Jesus sees you, stretches out His hand, wipes the dirt from your eyes and whispers, “Rise, my child. Let me take the load you’ve been carrying and give you hope for your future so you can walk this life with joy. I love you.”
Fourth Station – Jesus meets His mother
With determination in His eyes and sweat pouring down his face, Jesus slowly continues on. The crowd is pressing in on all sides. He looks across those who have come out on this Friday morning to watch and cheer for His crucifixion and recognizes a few locals; the farmer down the road, the fisherman who He normally sees early on Sunday mornings and the woman at the market who always sells her rolls. He sees a woman open her second story shutters and lean out the window to see what’s happening in the street below and then grabs a shirt and hangs it on a clothesline. To her, it’s just another criminal being sent to his tragic fate. Jesus turns his head to the left and notices a group of children chasing one another, with not more than a notice of the man passing them, they run off down a nearby alley. Just then, in the middle of the crowd, He sees her; His mother. His mom is here and for a brief moment, He is comforted just by her presence. She’s crying as she looks Him in the eyes and the warmth of her love gives Him the courage He needs to take the next step. The moment is suddenly broken by the violent push from a soldier behind Him.
Jesus. Sad. Brokenhearted. Crushed. Jesus wants nothing more than to run to His mom, to hug her and be held by her like she did when He was a child. Does He think about all those times she cared for Him? All those long nights He didn’t feel well? Even in his pain, He longs to comfort her at this moment.
Are you searching for love? For a love that surpasses understanding? Are you eager to find a love as strong as a mothers love for her child? That love is found in Jesus. Be held in His arms and listen as He whispers, “Just rest. Rest in my love; in my arms. Don’t worry about anything. You are safe here. You are protected. I love you.”
Fifth Station – Simon the Cyrenian helps Jesus to carry the cross
The searing hot sun beats down as Jesus slowly continues to make His way down the road to Calvary. His eyes are burning from the sweat that continues to run down his forehead and His grip is becoming slippery from all the moisture on His hands. A soldier walking next to Jesus notices Jesus’ pace starting to lag so he grabs the first man He sees: Simon who innocently was on his way home from a long day working in the fields in the countryside. He tries to pull back as the soldier grabs his robe and yanks him into the street. Jesus pauses briefly to look at the commotion behind him and is relieved, even just slightly from the weight of the cross as the soldiers hoist the vertical beam onto Simon’s shoulder.
Jesus. Drained. Sweating. Thankful. Did Jesus feel bad for Simon helping him carry the cross that was made for him or did he welcome the help? Even Jesus, in His humanity needed someone to help Him along His journey and to carry His cross. We aren’t made to live life by ourselves – we need one another.
Do you have those “Simon’s” in your life that take, even a small part of your burden, and lift it alongside you? Who is someone in your life whom God has blessed you with? Jesus sees this person and whispers, “I have given this person to you as your help in your time of need. Lean on them. Pray for them. Just as I needed help on that day, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. They are my gift to you. I love you.”
Sixth Station – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
The heaviness of each step taken by Jesus seems to take every ounce of strength in His body. He stumbles from left to right, hardly able to see from the swelling of his eyes due to the beatings He endured only a short time ago. His face is disfigured and the blood from the deep cuts make Him virtually unrecognizable. If only He could pause for a moment to clear the sweat and blood from His eyes. He sees a blurred figure ahead of Him and notices it’s a woman. Unashamed that she is in front of everyone, she runs over to Jesus, grabs a piece of cloth on her dress and wipes His face. That’s all she knows to do for this poor man who is almost at the point of death. She does what she can to clean His face and then is forced back into the crowd. Jesus turns His eyes toward her as if to say “Thank you.”
Jesus. Bloody. Cut. Aching. He can now see a little better than before but His head is throbbing from the pain. Did it mean the world to Jesus that Veronica wiped His face for Him? Such a simple yet profound gesture of kindness and humility.
Who in your life needs you? Who can you be Veronica to? What person in your family needs the hope of Jesus and how can you share His love with them? Jesus whispers, “I’ve placed people in your path so you can be my hands and feet to them. Even small acts of kindness can give someone the hope they need. Don’t be afraid to step out in front of the crowd and be a light to someone. Find your courage in Me. I love you.”
Seventh Station – Jesus falls the second time
Every ounce of His body is burning, in pain and agony as his foot catches an edge of a stone and as if in slow motion, His body gives way and He collapses to the ground. He tries to catch Himself but the cross strikes Him in the back of the head and for a brief moment, the world goes dark. The ground gives Him a place to rest for even just a second. The soldiers begin to poke and yell at Him to get up. Their voices are just a swirling mass of noise in His ears but somehow, someway, He places both hands underneath Him and pushes His chest off the ground. He lifts Himself back up. Slowly, he continues. Right foot, left foot, right foot…
Jesus. Numb. Blood-soaked. Silent. While He lays motionless on the ground, does He think about how much longer this pain will last? He’s taken more than any human being could endure and yet, the journey to the cross is not yet over. He must endure more suffering.
What area of your life do you continually find yourself falling into sin? Do you give in to greed, anger, jealousy, self-pity? You are who Jesus thought about when He was walking the road that day. You were on His mind. Once again, He offers you His hand and whispers, “Trust me, take my hand and walk with me. I will be your help along your journey. I will be the one you can call on for help. Life is a challenge but know you aren’t doing life alone. I’m here. I love you.”
Eighth Station – Jesus comforts the women of Jerusalem
The crowd is thinner now then when He first began this journey. The mocking shouts have now become dulled by a large crowd of women whom Jesus had ministered to for the last three years. He looks up and sees their eyes red with tears. They are here, weeping and crying for Jesus and aware there is nothing more they can do. This man, who spoke life to them and shared with them that He was the Messiah looks the furthest from the “chosen one” in this moment. Up until now, Jesus has been silent while carrying the heavy cross. But, all of a sudden, He ever so softly says, “Do not weep for me but for your children.” Then again, Jesus falls silent.
Jesus. Comforting. Empathetic. Compassionate. Jesus, in the greatest pain of His life, chooses to comfort those who are there to comfort Him. Unbelievable. Did Jesus purposefully make these statements as one of the last things He said on earth?
Have you had a loss in your life? Maybe a loss of a job? A friend? A family member? A spouse? The hurt from these loses are real and the scars they cause run deep. There is a comforter. It is Jesus. Listen as He places His arm around you and whispers, “I’m your healer. I will speak words of peace in the midst of your storm. In the midst of your loss. When words fail you and all you need is someone to be close, I’m closer than your very next breath. I love you.”
Ninth Station – Jesus falls a third time
As a cloud covers the beating sun above Him, Jesus lifts His head to see how much further He has left to walk. The cobblestones in front of Him begin to narrow and steepen. His tattered pieces of clothing stick to Him on all sides and His feet are bleeding from the tiny pebbles pushing into them with each and every step. Suddenly, the world around Him begins to spin, his eyes roll back and He collapses, one final time onto the road. There’s no way He can continue to press on; exhaustion has taken over. Is this the end? Did this poor man not even make it all the way to His execution? Everyone stares intently waiting to see if He’s still breathing. Then, ever so slowly His fingers clench into a fist. It takes every last drop of energy left in His body to pull Himself up. He will finish the job His Father has set before Him. He once again looks forward, hoists the cross onto His shoulder and presses on. In the distance, through two small buildings, He can see His final destination; Calvary.
Jesus. Spent. Empty. Determined. He’s unwilling to quit. Was that ever even an option? Did Jesus in His humanity, plead with God while He laid there in the dirt to let this whole process be over?
Where in your life do you need to find the same determination Jesus had to continue on? Maybe it’s a dream that you felt God calling you to that hasn’t become a reality yet or a promise from God that has yet to be fulfilled. Maybe it’s the need to muster up enough strength to forgive someone who has hurt you. Or maybe, it’s the need to muster up enough energy to forgive yourself. Find your courage and determination in Jesus as He cheers you on and whispers, “Keep believing. Keep hoping. Keep dreaming. I have wonderful plans for your future. Plans to prosper you; not to harm you. Chase after me with all your heart and I will be found. I love you.”
Tenth Station – Jesus is stripped of His garments
They’ve arrived. The place of the skull. Golgotha. Calvary. From up here you can see all of Jerusalem below. Jesus drops the wooden beams and they fall to the ground in a cloud of dust. Two soldiers, one on each side of Him, each grab a handful of His robe and yank it off His bruised, tired and worn out body. There He stands; stripped of His final ounce of protection. Gone. He glances sideways and sees a young soldier finishing up scraping out the dirt in the hole where His cross will stand.
Jesus. Humiliated. Embarrassed. Exposed. Whatever dignity He had left has been torn away from Him. This would be the last few moments that His earthly body would walk this earth. Did He press His heel into the dirt one last time just to feel the ground beneath Him?
Have there been moments in the past that have stripped you of your dignity, embarrassed you and you felt like you were left with nothing but the skin on your back? We all have had those times where we wished we could do it over again. Maybe it was something you said before thinking about the repercussions, maybe it was a person or possession taken from us or maybe it was a situation that was downright unfair and humiliating. Those times can feel crushing but find some peace as Jesus whispers, “I know what that feels like to be humiliated and stripped of everything. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. But, tonight, don’t let that moment define you. Tonight, the most important thing that defines you is that you are my child. I love you.”
Eleventh Station – Jesus is nailed to the cross
There on the ground, the soldiers have placed the cross. The soldier takes out the three nails. They order Jesus to lay on the vertical beam and to stretch out His arms along the horizontal one. Trembling, eyes clenched shut, He stretches out His arms. In what seems like an eternity, the soldiers pierce His hands and feet. It takes 6 soldiers to raise the cross and place it in the handmade hole. A sign above Jesus’ head reads, “This is Jesus – King of the Jews.” Suddenly, darkness covers the whole earth.
Jesus. In pain. Excruciating pain. Unbearable pain. How did He remain conscious during this torture? How is He still alive?
Do you feel like you have fallen too far from God’s love? On that cross, he took our pain that we deserved. Do you see the love in His eyes? Do you see His mercy? Nothing can separate us from His love. It was for our sins that He was crushed and pierced and held on that cross. If we truly believed Jesus took our guilt, our shame, our sin that Friday, wouldn’t we live our lives differently?
Twelfth Station – Jesus dies upon the cross
Three hours. Three hours of darkness. Three hours of hanging on the cross. The beams that held Jesus were meant to be the end of Him. Jesus raises His head and with eternity in His bloodshot eyes, He shouts, “It is finished.” Black clouds swirl overhead. One last gasp and His head drops.
The Son of God, Jesus Christ, has died.
Thirteenth Station – Jesus is taken from the cross
The crowds have disappeared. The soldiers have gone. The world is frozen in time as Jesus hangs, lifeless, on the cross. A few yards away, Mary and Mary Magdeline sit on a rock hunched over, their faces lined with tears. Footsteps can be heard behind them and they look and see Joseph of Arimathea carrying a ladder and making his way up the hill. He has received permission from Pilate to take down Jesus’ body. Jesus is lowered down from the cross and Joseph lays Jesus’ limp body into His mother’s arms. Her eyes well up with tears. Her son. Gone. She looks at Him, holds Him close to her and rubs His forehead with her thumb.
Fourteenth Station – Jesus is buried in the tomb
Joseph knew of a garden nearby that had a new, empty tomb. He wrapped the body of Jesus in a clean shroud and laid Him gently on a rock bench in the cold, lonely tomb. Then, a large, round boulder was rolled in front of the entrance.
Was this the end? Would the sun ever shine again?
We wait with unfailing hope that after the long, bitter night, the dawn will reappear and in the deafening silence, we still hear the gentle voice of Jesus whispering, “I love you.”