19 April 2009

A Love Like I Never Imagined

First of all, I just want to acknowledge the fact that I don’t write that often anymore. I don’t blog—although I have a million things I’d like to say—I don’t use the bulletin/notes on Myspace/Facebook like I once did, and even my Twitter usage has dropped-off pretty dramatically.

Two of my goals over the past three years have been to write a book about manhood and to build and grow a blog about leadership with focus on the worlds of business and sports.
Those frankly, just aren’t as much of a priority right now, nor is it practically feasible.

So, I don’t write or blog all that often (read: ever), but I’m applying to three top-15 business schools, entering into Raytheon’s very selective Six Sigma Expert program, and we’re pursuing custody of Taylor & Brooke in Colorado…all while intentionally and lovingly leading/teaching/loving Emma, Laura & Caroline while Jill and I do a lot of great, deep intimate work on the foundation of our marriage and friendship.

So, writing, isn’t on the backburner…it’s back in the freezer. My voice and time is just needed in so many other places right now!

All that being said, I just have to pour out about my adoration, amazement and insanely intimate love for my bride, Jill Still.

Sometime last year, after reading some of Sacred Marriage with Jill (a gift from Bruce and Amy Bechold), I wrote a blog about how God designed marriage for our holiness, not our happiness. Of course, in God’s grace, it’s through that deep abiding pursuit of His will for our lives, that we lovingly experience true, deep & pure joy, as we find ourselves in rhythm with how He’s designed us.

I feel so humbled, so incredibly blessed to be able to say, the year-and-a-half that I’ve spent with my soul mate have been an embodiment of this love and grace. In a word, it has been amazing!

Right now, I wake up every morning to the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. I spend each and every day talking through life with the best friend that I’ve ever had. I spend each night with the most amazing wife, friend and mother, going through the trials, the challenges, the laughs, the journeys, the joys, the movies, the messes, the bills, the adventures, the confusions, the silliness, the setbacks, the lessons, the teachings and the goofiness of life.

God put the idea of ‘servant leadership’ on my heart long before I became a true believer, and before I really had to live out the idea of loving, humble, leadership. I was a newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force when I first realized that I could “lead from where I was at”, and the best way to do so was in service to my leadership—even though as an officer I might have legally outranked 85% of the military, it was incumbent upon me to humbly serve “where I was at”. I now believe this is one the character foundations that God’s been growing in me for 10 years now, to best prepare me for this marriage and the challenge of being a daddy/step-dad/father-figure to five girls (and someday maybe more?!).

I know with everything in me, that all leadership, direction, vision, tone, and responsibility for this family rest on my shoulders. I also know with everything in me, that I cannot handle marriage, work, family and household without the amazing compliment, balance and partnership of Jill. I know I’m the leader and I know God’s set a clear direction & vision on my heart for our family. I also know that if I allow my natural inclination and disposition to take-over and direct (as I would with men) overcome my appointment& responsibility to lovingly walk alongside my wife as we lead these girls, in empowerment, teaching, talking, then I am failing Jill, and each of the five girls.

And it doesn’t always play out like that. Jill, Emma, Laura and Caroline (as well as Taylor & Brooke when they’ve been with us) are the most accurate barometers of my leadership. I know when I’m wrong, when I’m off. I can feel the impact of my sin when I fall short of that ideal…and it’s this gauge that God has lovingly used for what I call my “sanctification on steroids”.

Whew…let me tell you, there’s no emotional status check like living with three-to-five girls ages 7-11, and one beautiful, deeply complex, fragile and stunning beauty of a wife. Again, I know when I’m not living out the ideal of servant leadership in my marriage and home.

But what’s brought Jill and I to this place where we’re living in a marriage that neither of us ever dreamed possible is not necessarily an ideal, a vision or a mission in our life…no, it’s the practical good ole hard, diligent work that we’ve put into the marriage. “Grinding”, by the grace of God!

The first golf analogy for our marriage is the need to “grind”. Tiger Woods talks about it all the time. Those days, or those rounds where he doesn’t have his “A-game”, or his putter is failing him a bit, or he just can’t seem to hit fairways…what does he do? Does Tiger wrap his 5 iron around a tree and quit? No. He grinds. He goes out there and literally approaches every single shot with the perspective and effort to make that shot excellent. He grinds…often he grinds his way up the leader board and into victory, or at least into position to make a great move on the day that he does have his A-game.

How is this like marriage? Well, simply, most of life is a grind. If you don’t believe that, perhaps it’s time to put down the bong and stop playing “world of warcraft”. Because life is a grind. Marriage is a grind. Everything in the world, from relationships, to work, to families, to temptation of every sort, and especially finances make marriage exceedingly difficult. (I would say even more so, if you’re newly married with a blended family, custody pursuit and both recovering from past painful marriages!) As I tell the girls all the time, “Life is hard. Every year in school and in life will be harder than the last. When you accept this, you will see it ceases to be as hard because we’re prepared for it to grow more difficult.”

Yes, Jill and I have been grinding big-time—and it’s produced incredible joy! Another golf analogy that I love to use; If Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer in the world (which he is—he’s the greatest of all time), and has the most acute awareness of every aspect of his golf game, but still works with a swing coach, what should that tell us about our own lives, and our need for expert counsel? I’m such a huge believer that everyone should routinely see a counselor. I don’t care what the machismo, self-reliant, prideful stigma in our culture says, counseling and therapy is an amazing resource!

Jill and I have been seeing a Christian, pastoral counselor every week. I started going on my own, then Jill and I started going together. Later, we broke apart and started seeing the same guy, but at different times. We’ve come back together for couple counseling when we’ve needed to, but for the most part, we’ve worked with this amazing, Godly man in parallel. We then spend Weds and Thurs evenings talking through whatever revelations were made, or whatever tools we’ve learned, or whatever insight we’ve gained. Grinding. The time has been so amazing to just enjoy a couple glasses of wine, decompress and spend some uninterrupted, intimate connection time. It’s seriously deep foundation building moments that are forging lifelong intimacy, and bringing us to know each other’s hearts in ways we’ve never been known. This is the intimate upside to ‘grinding’…this is when putting in hard work, helps make life less difficult.

Secondly, Jill and I have been going through Recovery Step-Study at The Village for 13 weeks now. It’s basically “discipleship on steroids” (as Matt Chandler calls it), unpacking every area of your life, your heart, your past, and rebuilding from the pain, resentments, fears and sins of life, and Biblically applying a Gospel-infused version of the classic 12-step recovery program. Another tool that has been unbelievably powerful and healing for Jill and I, as well as incredibly revealing to us regarding the “why” behind things that we feel or think. There’s seriously no reason anyone should not go through this type of study. Some rounds we all need to grind.

In addition to becoming covenant members at The Village, Jill and I have also studied a ton of sermons and the related Bible teachings over this time as well. This is the intellectual part of the grind. Listen to teachers—people that know more—and let God speak to our lives through it. Grinding through podcasting & reading!

Lastly, from the moment I knew I was going to marry Jill (our first 5 hour phone conversation sometime in Oct of 07), I really felt like I was missing a piece of the counsel I needed in my life. I have the most incredible group of brothers (IRON!) that I’ve gone through life with over the past three, five, ten and fifteen years. Guys like my core, small group in LA (IRON!). Guys from LA, and from my fraternity and from the military that I call my “male soul mates” (IRON!). God’s also keeps bringing some really awesome friends into our lives here in Dallas as well. In addition to always having the loving, loyal counsel of my dear mom, dad and little brother Adam, I also have a few men that I count as my mentors. But they’re not geographically in my life, and far too busy for me to really be under their counsel at a deep level. I needed to go through marriage with other godly, older married men. Veterans of the faith, of raising kids, of finding the professional/life balance, and of walking through the seasons of married life. And Jill wanted the same for me, and for herself. God finally brought those folks into our life through a home-group at church that is just filled with the most amazing men and women, who have the most amazing marriages! There are a few elder-candidates for our church in the group, and we have the most junior marriage by at least 15 or 20 years! We are so, so thankful! What a blessing!

So, what does this all result in feeling like? This year has been nothing short of feeling like our souls have been given a glimpse of Heaven! I feel a love for Jill that is bigger and more rock-solid than all of the granite of the Rocky Mountains. I have my breath taken away every single day by Jill’s beauty, and the beautiful grace that she extends to me. Everything Jill does for me, and says to me gives me the freedom and encouragement to be the man that God designed me to be. In spite of all of the love and grace that God pours into my life through my amazing wife, every day I fall short, and every day I’m selfishly absorbed…and when I repent and ask forgiveness, Jill just loves me more. I am constantly poured into and encouraged by a wife that loves me beyond words, and beyond her own explanation. And this woman is my best friend, my confidant; she is the sexiest, most beautiful and funniest girl I have ever known! It is truly a remarkable place to be emotionally, as we have given each other the gifts of trust and trustworthiness, the gifts of hope and encouragement, and the gift of repentance and forgiveness. It’s so, so solid!

We disagree, we pray/work through it and grow. We get hurt, we pray/work through it and grow. We (and by we, I mean “I”) get grumpy, irritable and tired, we (I) pray/work through it and we grow. We have stress about bills, lawyers, the future, we pray, pray, pray and work through it and grow. We relapse into old fears, hurts or places of resentment, we pray/work through it and grow. We have constant challenges and teaching opportunities with the girls, we teach, pray through it and grow. This is what grinding looks like in our lives, and it is paying incredibly beautiful rewards to Jill and I through this season of our marriage!

Thank you Jill! I love you with all of me.