Category Archives: Marriage

My soul is crushed

He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38)


I had the privilege of teaching the message at our church this past Sunday. The message was on Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I love this story.

Oh, I know that might sound strange. After all, it’s not an uplifting passage, like the Sermon on the Mount or one that demonstrates Jesus’s mighty power, like when he calmed the raging seas. In this passage our Savior is admitting how crushed his soul feels and praying to God to “take this cup from me”. (Matthew 26:39)

I believe it is probably the most vulnerable, raw example of Jesus’s humanness. And that’s precisely why I love this story so much.

I know what it feels like to have my soul crushed with grief. I know what it feels like to be on my knees, in complete agony, sobbing and sweating and crying out to God to take away the suffering. (Luke 22:44)

About 12 years ago my marriage hit a very difficult spot. I was pregnant with Daniel and Olivia at the time, Hannah was only two and I honestly thought my marriage was over and our growing little family would be forever fractured. I was so overwhelmed with despair and the crushing reality that my marriage, my life as I knew it with the only man I’d ever loved, was not what I thought it was; that our story was not going to end the way I had always planned and hoped for.

I remember one night lying on our bed just sobbing in the most ugly way you can imagine, barely able to breathe through the tears and it actually felt like I was being suffocated because the grief and despair was pressing in on me so much.

In that hour of desperation I cried out to God and prayed similar words to what Jesus prayed in the garden: “Dear God, please take away this pain. Take away my suffering.” And then I prayed, “Tell me what to do! Please tell me your will.”

And I heard God so clearly in that moment…and I think maybe we never hear him more clearly than when we are in this place of soul-crushing pain and despair…but He said to me: “Stay.”

Of course, I don’t know what Jesus heard when he was praying in the garden that night. But given that on the second and third time he prayed Jesus said: “If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done,” (Matthew 26:42) I believe Jesus heard God. I believe God confirmed what Jesus had to do. I believe God spoke to his heart and told him that his agony would be relieved, but only after he walked through the pain. He couldn’t go around it because God had a bigger plan, and Jesus’s death and crucifixion was the cornerstone of that plan. He was to become the “spotless lamb of God” to take upon the sins of the world. (John 1:9)

When I heard God that night telling me to stay, it was because He had a greater plan for my marriage, for me and my husband, and my children. It was greater than what I could see in that moment. We would have to go through months and years of struggle and pain before it was fully revealed. But now, today? I really can’t imagine my life having taken a different path.

Of course Jesus’s anguish was much greater than anything that we could ever imagine or even go through, and I don’t mean to belittle it by comparing it to my own struggles. But if you’ve ever been in a dark place, if you’ve had a season of extreme pain and brokenness, you know how hard it is. So we can take that and imagine how much deeper Jesus’s anguish would have been. Yet he submitted himself to God’s will. He trusted God to take the lead, even if it meant leading him directly to the most brutal, humiliating pain imaginable.

I think maybe we never hear God more clearly than when we are in a place of soul-crushing pain and despair.

Jesus prayed to God in Gethsemane, which was actually an olive grove on the Mount of Olives. Historians believe that there would have been olive oil presses in this place. In fact the Hebrew word for Gethsemane literally means “press of oil” (gat shemen).

While I was preparing for my teaching I did some research on how olive oil was made in Jesus’s time. The olives were placed in a large circular basin in which a great wheel-shaped millstone rolled in a circle crushing the olives — pit and all. The pulp was then collected in baskets, which were stacked several layers high in stone pits. A stone weight was placed on top of the baskets, and a heavy wooden beam, with one end in a hole in the wall nearby (often these presses were found in caves) was placed across the pile of baskets. Stone weights were hung from the beam, applying enormous pressure to the olives and squeezing the oil from the pulp. It was a multi-step process so that every bit of oil could be extracted and used.

[Here’s a great video if you want to learn more about this process].

The olive has to be crushed and then pressed with an enormous amount of pressure — multiple times — before it can produce oil.

Sometimes we have to be crushed before we can fully deny ourselves and rely wholly on God. Before we can fulfill God’s predestined plans. But we are never required to do it alone.

Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross before we could be saved, but God was with him in the garden and on the cross. (Luke 22:43, 23:44-46)

My marriage had to go through a period of brokenness to get to a better, stronger place, but God was with me and David in our darkest hours.

God is not in the business of giving us easy.

God is in the business of redemption.

Does he know?

Today marks 17 years married to this guy.

I’ll be darned if he doesn’t get better looking each year, while I just get older.


It’s been nearly 21 years since our fist date…officially together for more of my life than not. It’s crazy to think about. Last week I was thinking about what I wanted to say about 17 years of marriage with the only man I’ve ever loved. I had this nice story I was going to tell about the antique rocking chair he gave me when our first child was born, how it’s been broken and repaired, much like our marriage over the years. A sweet analogy, but I’ll have to save it for another time.


Because everything changed for me on Monday when I got the call from my husband that he was on his way to the ER. And then three hours later the text that they were admitting him.

He’d had a stroke.

I was in the middle of teaching a class when I read those words on my phone. To be completely truthful I hadn’t expected it to be anything serious. He’d started experiencing numbness on his left side two days earlier, but since he had absolutely no other symptoms we thought it might be related to a recent surgery on his elbow and didn’t worry too much. Then Monday, when the numbness hadn’t gone, he went to the clinic at his work and his blood pressure was through the roof.

That’s when they sent him to the ER.

Even at that point, while I was starting to get more concerned, I really didn’t think it could be anything too serious. Because until it happens to you, you don’t believe it will.

A stroke.

He’s only 43 and he’d had a stroke. The only person I ever remembered having a stroke was my grandpa but he was sick from before I was born. Strokes only happen to elderly and very sick people, didn’t they?

As I made arrangements with my boss to end my class early and jumped in the car to start the painfully long drive from Centreville to Winchester there was one thought that kept going through my mind: Does he know?

Does he know how much I appreciate everything he did for me the last two weeks?

Does he know how his presence comforts me?

Does he know how much I respect him and admire him for all that he’s overcome?

Does he know how much I need him in my life?

Does he know how much I love him?

Because the thought that plagued me and left a knot in my stomach was that I couldn’t remember if I’d said these things lately.

We’re pretty generous with the “I love you’s”, the hugs and kisses, and even the occasional cheeky text message. But they are scattered among lots of “did you remember to buy the milk?”, “have you seen the scissors?”, and the ever-popular, “what do you want to do for dinner?” So sometimes the other things seem to get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes you say and do those things every day and you wonder if the intent behind them is truly felt. Had I sat him down, looked in his eyes, and said how I really felt about him lately?

I thought about the night before and how we’d had a tense conversation about finances. It wasn’t an argument, but let’s suffice to say that there was frustration felt on both sides. While we hadn’t gone to bed angry, I couldn’t fathom the idea that that would be our last real conversation.

Oh God, please, don’t let that be the last thing we ever talked about.

I’m not going to sit here and tell all of you how important it is to tell the people you love how you feel. To never go to bed or part angry. To set-aside differences, forgive old wounds, and restore relationships before it’s too late. It’s been said a million times by every other person who has faced a medical scare, walked away from a near-death accident, survived cancer, or lost a loved one too soon. So I won’t say it again.

Because the truth I learned this week is that until you are driving like a bat-out-of-hell on the interstate to get to a hospital room; until you are there in that hospital room waiting for test results; until you hear the word stroke, or heart attack, or paralysis, or cancer, or worst of all, “I’m sorry we did everything we could,” the reality that last night’s conversation may have been the last one doesn’t fully settle into your heart, branding itself there forever.

Until that moment we may know intellectually all that is possible, but we don’t truly feel it. We don’t believe it could be us.

I’ve cried a lot of tears this week, taken a lot of deep breaths, and said a lot of words to God. I even laid in a hospital bed next to my sweet husband and told him that if he died and left me to raise our three kids on my own I would kick his a$$ when I got to heaven. Because humor is a coping mechanism for me.

But the heart’s intent behind all of those tears, and deep breaths, and prayers, and joking was simply this: I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I don’t want to do life without you in it.

I’m so very grateful that we get more time. That we are here today, celebrating 17 years of marriage. That today I can make sure he knows. And tomorrow, and the next day.

Because I don’t know which conversation will truly be our last, but God help me, whenever or wherever it is, I will not have to wonder again if my husband knows he is the love of my life.


When marriage feels hard

I recently read an article by Joanna Gaines talking about her marriage to her husband Chip (hosts of the show “Fixer Upper”, among other things). In the article she talked about how she has never wanted to go on a girl’s weekend or spend time away from her husband, how being with him gives her energy and she thrives on their togetherness. I believe she is being sincere when she says that, and Chip and Joanna Gaines are an adorable couple who appear happily married and in-love. But my marriage looks nothing like theirs.

I can’t relate to Joanna’s desire to spend all of her time with her husband. You see, I do enjoy a good girl’s weekend. I desire alone time. I get energy from these things and sometimes I crave them desperately. The honest truth is that there are moments when being married drains me. It can leave me feeling weary and depleted. Because you know what? Marriage can be hard.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I truly love my husband with every ounce of my being. I love date nights and I especially love a weekend away with the man who has been my one and only for over 20 years. We need those moments to reconnect and remember why we fell in love in the first place. We are really good together and still genuinely enjoy each other’s company. However, there are also nights that I lie awake feeling frustrated and angry, praying for God to give me peace and sleep. There are days that I feel like we just can’t get it right…that we still have the same fight we’ve been having forever. There are moments when I feel resentment or jealousy and wonder if it’s really supposed to be this much damn work. And in those moments, it’s so, so easy to look at my marriage and compare it to others and worry that maybe we got it all wrong.

It’s easy to look at the couple at church who still stare at each other adoringly after 30 years; to see the couple on Facebook posting about how blessed they are to be married to their best friend; to see the couple on TV who spends every minute together and lovingly talk of their perfect partnership in life and business — and then compare these marriages to my own and think that my marriage doesn’t measure up.

And I get that what I see of other marriages is only a glimpse of reality…the public face of their marriage. Yet often when I speak to people who left their marriage or have been unfaithful they cite how marriage was just too much work; they always had the same fight, they didn’t feel happy, they fell out of love, and I wonder: by what standards and expectations are we measuring love and marriage? How many of us are looking at the public face of seemingly “happily married” couples and weighing our own marriage against it? How many of us have accepted the mainstream, Hollywood or Disney version that lasting relationships end with “happily ever-after”? How many of us feel unsatisfied in our own marriage and even give up because we decide it doesn’t look like these other marriages, so it must not be meant to last?

This is a problem. Because this is not how God designed love and marriage. Nowhere does God promise real love will be effortless or come to us easily. In fact, He actually says the opposite. He says love requires some hard work. It requires patience, and humility. It requires we stop envying what others have and that we cast-off our own self-seeking motivations (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

Nowhere is it written that marriage is about happily-ever-after. God’s design for marriage is sacrificial. It’s about a husband giving himself up to his wife, and caring for her in a way that puts her above all else. It’s about a wife respecting and loving her husband with reverence and humbleness. It’s about both leaving behind their individual selves and becoming one (Ephesians 5:22-33). And that last part might sound romantic at first, but when you realize that becoming one means dying to self and striving to love another the way Christ loves…it suddenly gets very real and feels nearly unattainable. Paul even declares it to be a “profound mystery.”

God didn’t promise us happily-ever-after. He never said a healthy marriage happens with ease. In fact, He made it pretty clear that there would be some real intentional work involved. And this is why I think it’s important that we acknowledge that sometimes marriage feels hard. It’s supposed to!

A healthy marriage does not equal a marriage without conflict. A healthy marriage does not mean you desire to be by your spouses side 24×7, or that you never get on one another’s nerves. It is OK to admit that some days working through conflict with your spouse drains your energy and zaps your patience. We are human beings after-all. And, no offense to the Gaines’s, but I believe that couples who publicly perpetuate the idea that their marriage is always harmony and sweet togetherness, are actually doing a disservice to the reality of what a divinely-appointed marriage is supposed to be.

This is not to say we should publicly complain, shame, or belittle our spouses. I absolutely believe we should be building each other up. But it’s OK to say, “you know what? I love my wife, but some days being married to her takes a lot of energy.” OR “Loving my husband the way God calls me to love is not easy today.” Because if we are in a community of believers where we feel safe to be honest about our challenges, we can find strength and encouragement within each other. We can say, “Me, too. I’ve been there. I know how you feel. It will be OK. God will see you through this.”

So here it is. My moment of truth and honesty. This week marriage has felt hard. So, I’ve been turning it over to God. Because while He never promised me it would be easy, He did say that if we invite Him into our marriage it will remain strong. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” – Ecclesiastes 4:12.

If your marriage feels like hard work right now, know you’re not alone. But more importantly, know that it is not an indication that your marriage is unhealthy or failing. Get off Facebook, turn off the TV and stop comparing your marriage to everyone else’s. Whatever is weighing on you, turn it over to God; invite Him to be in the center of it all. He will help you through.

Ecclesiastes 4:12

photo credit: Omar Parada Untitled via photopin (license)

When love leads, truth follows

From the beginning my intent for this blog has been to spread hope, encouragement and love. Because of this, I have purposely chosen not to write about controversial topics.

Believe me, it’s not that I don’t have my own opinions about wars and politicians and Duggars and SCOTUS rulings. In many cases I have very strong opinions; but I find that the thing that makes a topic controversial to begin with is its power to divide people, and where there is division, usually misunderstanding, hurt or anger follow.

However, it is precisely because of the division the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is causing that I feel led to write about it.

As a Christian I am called to speak truth and follow scripture. This is not optional, and I can’t pick and choose which scriptures to follow.

But, as a Christian I am also called to love. And what concerns me is when speaking truth seems to be more vital than speaking love. When being right and being heard is more important than being humble and listening.

As Christians, we cannot cherry pick passages of scripture to suit our own agenda. We cannot quote scripture that defines marriage as being between a man and woman, and not look at the full transcript of that scripture and recognize it also admonishes divorce, declaring any man who divorces his wife and marries another is committing adultery (Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10:5-12).

We cannot use portions of scripture to make a point and then, conveniently, leave off the rest of the message. Scripture was not meant to be used as a weapon, or as a tool for furthering political agendas. If we use our Facebook pages to publicly condemn one act of sin, we must be willing to, just as loudly, condemn all others, including especially our own!

But there.

That word: condemn.

That is the problem.

By choosing to use our pulpits, our newsletters, our websites, our Twitter feeds, and our voices to focus on condemnation instead of love, we are misrepresenting Jesus and misrepresenting the Word.

Jesus called us to “love one another, just as he loved us” (John 15:12).

This doesn’t mean Jesus shied away from the truth. We know he didn’t. But he loved first.

He shared meals with people first.

He healed them first.

He offered them water first.

He visited their homes first.

He asked them to come and sit with him first.

He loved them first.

Over the last few days I have seen Facebook, Twitter and the news media ignite with opinions, photos, quotes, hashtags, scripture references, and articles. Friends have been very quick to claim which side of the issue they stand on and it seems (despite the plethora of rainbow colored profile pictures) people find this issue to be black and white. Either you are for, or you are against the Supreme Court ruling. Right or wrong. And you must choose a side.

However, what happens when we choose one side is it usually alienates the other, leaving little room for open dialog and honest conversation. When we make the focus on right versus wrong, instead of on love, we are shutting the door to conversation and relationship with each other and we are giving the enemy lots of ammunition for creating a division within the church.

Yes, as the church we must speak truth. We cannot present a watered-down Gospel just to make ourselves more relevant, more palpable, more accepted. But, we must also follow the example laid out by Jesus and start with love.

Because when love leads, truth follows.

We must remove the condemnation for others from our hearts and our mouths, and instead focus on ourselves.We must accept that we won’t always see eye-to-eye, but love and respect can remain in tact even in the midst of disagreement. We must come together in homes, and small groups and listen first and talk second. We must create an environment where our friends and neighbors and relatives feel safe sharing their hearts with us, safe walking through the front doors of our churches.

We must remember that no one’s heart was ever changed in 150 characters or less. I don’t care how many emoticons you use, people cannot receive love and understanding from a Facebook post.

Look, I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, it’s incredibly complicated.

Jesus never promised us that following Him would be easy.

But we can do this. We can come together instead of standing divided. Let’s start and end with love.


Author’s note: I had begun writing this post two days ago, but kept hesitating on whether I should actually publish it. Then tonight, by chance, I had two separate conversations with friends about this topic. We did not all agree, but the conversations were based on love and mutual respect. We shared with transparency and honestly while keeping open hearts and open minds.

These conversations affirmed what I was feeling when writing this post — that these conversations are best had around dinner tables, in living rooms, or on park benches…even via the telephone is better than social media and electronic communication. These conversations need to be had person-to-person, and with an interest in listening more than being heard. I am so thankful to my friends for affirming that for me. For being real, and for being willing to listen.

If you feel led to share this article via social media, that’s great. But I hope that you will also feel led to discuss this topic in-person. The conversation may have gotten started on social media, but lets continue it in our dining rooms and back porches.

photo credit: Los ojos son las ventanas al alma via photopin (license)

A letter to my daughters on their wedding day

It was a beautiful, blue-skied, May day. We sat in the historic church surrounded by gilded marble, a painted cathedral ceiling, and stunning artwork all around. Fresh flowers adorned the alter and a row of handsome young men stood at the front. One by one the bridesmaids made their way down the aisle and then the doors opened and the stunning bride appeared. I saw the huge grin spread across her groom’s face as he saw her for the first time. I saw the sheer joy radiating from her entire being as she made her way past family and friends to say “yes” to the one she loved; to say “yes” to forever.

As I stood witness to this new beginning for my cousin and his bride I got teary-eyed thinking about a similar day 15 years ago when I was the glowing young bride, walking down the aisle to my handsome, grinning groom. I thought about all of the joy and hope, the love and excitement. I thought about what it felt like to be at the beginning and starting on that journey and what it feels like to be here, 15 years down the road to forever.

And then, I thought about my daughters. I pictured them as young brides, dressed in white, getting ready to start their own journey to forever. And there is so much I want them to know about marriage. So much I have learned along the way that I want to tell them; to help them prepare their hearts and fortify their spirits for what they cannot see or understand while still at the beginning. 

Fifteen years…in many ways it seems like a lifetime, yet I know in the big picture, we are only a quarter of the way through this journey. Still… a lot of lessons learned in the last 15 years; a lot of discoveries made, and the realization that I was completely, totally unaware of what truly lie ahead of me when I walked down that aisle.

If someone had told me, would I have listened? Would it have changed anything? If I tell my daughters, will they hear my words? Will I be able to prepare them for the journey that awaits? I don’t know. But, like any determined mother bear, I’m going to try anyway.

So here it is, a letter to my daughters on their wedding day:

My dear girls,

Today, your daddy and I are celebrating fifteen years of marriage. Of course, by the time you read this letter we will have been married for at least 25 years (because you are NOT allowed to marry until you have a college degree!) and by then this letter might have gone through a few revisions. But in the last 15 years we’ve learned a thing or two, your daddy and I, and I want to share a few bits of advice with you. Please humor your old mom and read to the end.


Next to raising kids, marriage will be hardest thing you will ever do in life. Period. But it will also be the most glorious, exceptionally audacious adventure you will ever experience. Don’t let the hard negate the wonderful. When you are in the midst of acrimony and hurt feelings, knee-deep in anger and frustration, it will be easy to forget all that is good and beautiful about this man and this marriage. That is the enemy talking. Do not give him a seat at the marriage table.

Speaking of the marriage table and who is or is not invited, I hope you will remember to invite God into your marriage every day. But beyond Him, you and your spouse are the ones showing up and doing the hard work. Nobody else. So be careful whose opinions and counsel you seek. You have grown up in a very public world where every detail of life is shared in 150 characters or less. Please remember that whatever you say publicly can not be taken back — whether posted on social media, said among a group of girlfriends, or even vented over the phone to me. It’s OK not to share every argument or decision in your marriage with us. I will be here to listen when you need me, but I will also respect the boundaries you put into place. In either case, I will always be praying for you and that boy waiting at the alter.

Remember that you are a strong, independent woman. Embrace that part of yourself. It’s probably one of the things that boy of yours loves about you. But don’t mistake pride for strength, or selfishness for independence. There is a quiet strength in being able to put aside your ego and realize you don’t have to be — you can’t possibly be — right about everything. To remember that winning an argument is not nearly as important as demonstrating love and forgiveness. And believe me when I tell you that leaning on your husband for strength and trusting him to lead by example does not take away your independence. Instead it highlights your courage and indomitable spirit.


Remember that when you think and speak highly of someone, you allow them to stand taller and rise up to their full, God-given potential. However, when you speak poorly of them, you are setting the bar low and people will often stoop to that level. If you want an exceptional husband, speak of him in exceptional ways. Regard him with admiration and respect.

Also, just one thing about intimacy. I know you don’t want to hear about this from your mother, but just trust me when I say that it’s important to the growth and health of a marriage. Don’t underestimate the healing power of alone time with your spouse. But just as important, don’t underrate the damage that can be done when too much time has passed without that physical connection.

Lastly, you need to know that love is not enough, but God is. No matter how much two people love each other, sometimes it is just not enough to keep a marriage together. But if you look to God to be your guide and your anchor; if you invite Him into your marriage and you both trust Him as your mighty counselor, there is nothing too big for Him.

Now, take a look at that man getting ready to walk you down the aisle. The one with the graying hair who sung you to sleep, helped you with your math homework, and taught you how to fish. He is the bar by which you should measure any man who thinks he is equal to the task of being your partner for life. He is the best living example I can offer you…not because he is perfect and has all of the answers. But precisely because he is not. Because he has made mistakes and asked for forgiveness. Because he has fallen short and sought God’s guidance to do better. Because he has loved me when I have been unlovable, cherished me when I have been unworthy of praise, and prayed for me in all matters. Because he has never given up. You deserve a man just like him.

I know you are young and in love, and caught up in the planning of the big day. But I hope you will keep this letter and remember my words when you need them. In the meantime, your father and I will be praying for you and that boy down at the alter, with the big grin on his face.


P.S. – Happy anniversary to my handsome, smiling groom.