15 Years

jon carrie bermuda 2001How do you sum up fifteen years? How do you find words to describe an adventure that’s taken you to places you never imagined, that’s helped you to learn things you could never have dreamed of, that’s made some of the things that you longed for seem so inconsequential compared to what you actually got? How do you find words to describe the gift that God has given you?

Fifteen years ago today, on a very hot day in upstate Connecticut, my wife and I were married. Even though it was hot and there were some hiccups along the way, it was a perfect day. The storybook wedding that my wife had always dreamed of took place in a country church in Woodstock, Connecticut followed by a reception under a tent.

If you had told me that day where we would be today, I’m not sure what I would have said. I don’t know that I would have believed you, but I don’t know that I wouldn’t have believed you either. My wife married an engineer. We lived in Connecticut for the first three years of our marriage. I eventually left engineering when God called me to be a pastor.

We’ve hardly been the perfect couple or had the perfect marriage, but we’ve knew early on that the big secret of our marriage would be to make sure Christ was at the center and to make sure that we always worked together. We eventually adopted the phrase “better together” as our motto, realizing that separately we might have been good, but together we were so much better.

I don’t know that I would have believed that we would have three kids, but we do. After I held the first one, I didn’t think I could ever love another human being the way that I loved him, but I did. After having two boys, I wouldn’t have imagined that we would have had a little girl, but we did. I wouldn’t have imagined how crazy, funny, sweet, and unnerving that those kids could be all at the same time.

I never would have imagined that I would have lost my parents at this point in the game either, but I also don’t know what I would have done had I not had my wife by my side through all of the storms. Her empathy and experience in counseling was exactly what I needed to help me through the struggles. Her quiet strength, faith, and trust in God were just a few of the qualities that would be so essential for me to weather these storms.

People who have been married for a long time might look back at their own fifteen year mark and think that it feels like yesterday. I think that we can say the same thing about that day fifteen years ago, that it feels like we blinked and we got here. Time has both flown and crawled at the same time, if that makes any sense. There are days that it feels like all fifteen of those years have passed while there are other days when it feels as if I stepped into a time machine to fast forward to this day. Then I just need to look in the mirror at the face I see staring back at me to know that there was no time machine, but in fact, I can see all fifteen of those years lined out on my face, in my hair, and in my body.

No, I can’t adequately describe fifteen years, but it certainly hasn’t stopped me from trying. The one word that means the most to me in all fifteen of those years is “grace.” If it weren’t for grace, those fifteen years would have never happened. If it weren’t for grace, my wife would never have put up with me. If it weren’t for grace, I wouldn’t be able to wake up every day and realize that no matter how badly things went yesterday, there was today before me, allowing me a second chance.

Today is a day of celebration, and for that I am thankful. God is good and I am blessed. Happy fifteenth anniversary to my wife, I love you. Here’s to many more.

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3/3/00

Every year on this day, I can’t help but thinking what happened in the year 2000. On March 3, 2000 (3/3/00), I asked my wife (then girlfriend) to marry me. I’ve blogged about it before (see here), but every year, I am astounded at just what happened that day.

Now, my marriage is far from perfect. If I’m honest, I can see my own deficiencies and inadequacies come through. I see my faults and foibles, my sins and missed marks, but there is something about marriage that shows me a picture of God.

We were made for relationship. God did not create us in order that he would have something or someone to play with, robots to heed his every command, or groveling servants who simply obey his every whim. God created us to experience the relationship that had existed between the persons of the Trinity from eternity past. Marriage gives us a picture of that when two people come together to make one.

All too often, we can look at our marriages and think that they are there to fulfill our every wish and desire. We want what we want and when we don’t get it, we think something is wrong. But the longer that I am married, the more I see my own selfishness, the more I see just how deep it runs, and the more I realize that marriage is about being changed and transformed. I’m not who I need to be, but I’m moving in that direction……I hope.

I got married a little later than my peers. It’s not that I hadn’t had relationships that had been serious before, but I just don’t think I was ready or in a place where marriage would have been viable had I not waited as long as I did. I fear that my marriage would have ended in divorce had I got married earlier than I did.

But on March 3, 2000, I was given a gift. She said, “yes.” She said, “yes” to an engineer who eventually became a pastor. She said, “yes” to a home that was only a few minutes away from family but eventually was a half a day’s drive to family. She said, “yes” to not one, or two, but three kids. She said, “yes” to walking alongside me when I buried not one, but two parents. She said, “yes” to an adventure that would lead us to North Carolina and Virginia. She said, “yes” to watching her husband be beaten, battered, and bruised by those who claimed that they were striving to be like Jesus.

In front of a small group of friends and family, I asked her to marry me and she said, “yes.” We celebrated the next day with our family, a few months later at a party with a larger crew, and fifteen months later, we were married.

There are many days when I look back and I wonder what I did to deserve her, and then I realize that I didn’t do anything, that’s grace. Many days I wonder how much more she can put up with, and then I realize that’s grace too. As I wrote in the song with which I proposed to her, “Your love makes me more than I dreamed of, more than I wished for or ever thought I could be.” Every day I get a picture of God’s grace through the gift that he has given me in my wife.

Like I said, we’re far from perfect. We both have issues, I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t have issues, but we’re moving through them. It’s not been an easy road, but the journey has been rewarding and the changes that have taken place in us are not of this world.

I celebrate the gift of grace that came to me through a woman saying, “yes” sixteen years ago. She’s said, “yes” every day since and in that “yes” is a gift that I experience every single day.

I love you, Carebear!

Two Years…Again

Today marks the two year anniversary of my dad’s death. Time keeps passing by, there’s just no stopping it. I can’t really say whether or not it actually feels like two years have passed.

It was such a wearisome process that brought us to April 17th, 2013. Many times I thought the day would have arrived much sooner. Many times I wished that the day would have arrived sooner, if I’m brutally honest. It’s not that I wanted my dad to die, it’s just that there are times when what we might call “living” doesn’t really equate to a really good definition of that. While he wasn’t taken by something like Alzheimer’s or ALS or some other devastating disease, depression and heartache can take their own toll on the human soul. And that’s just what they did.

In many of the same ways that I have begun to see the growth that has come out of the death of my mom, I’ve started to see the same thing with my dad’s death. Relationships within the family that had been strained or non-existent have been reborn and restored. What might have seemed impossible or improbable has actually become real and existent. Who am I to doubt what God can do with broken and dead things….or people, for that matter?!

There are certain things that I’ve done that might seem weird to people. I still keep my parents’ phone numbers in my phone. It’s not like they still belong to them or that I can actually pick up the phone and call them. They won’t answer if I did and the people who belong to those numbers might think me crazy if I did, nothing new for me though. I’ve left voicemail messages on my phone from them as well. It brings me comfort to hear those voices. There’s something about hearing my dad say, “I love you very much” in a message. It’s as if all of the weakness that I was seeing was stripped away, even if for a moment, and I was left with a glimpse of what used to be.

I still want to pick up the phone and call them both. I still want to share things with my dad, to get his insights, to hear his voice, but I can’t. Nothing can replace him, just as nothing can replace my mom. They’re gone, not forgotten, and there still remains hope.

While some people have seen my sharing of thoughts as possibly exhibiting bitterness or anger, I can honestly say that those emotions haven’t really been strong within me. Sure, there is remorse in lost moments and maybe some regret as well. The regrets are more selfish though, I wish that I knew more about this or that, they don’t have anything to do with what I did or how I treated my parents. I wouldn’t take back anything. There’s nothing that I wish I had said or done. I feel like they left with things in as good of a place as any for us. Still doesn’t change the fact that I still wish for them to be here, to share more moments with me and my family.

Two years have come and gone and my heart still continues to ache. On these days, it’s almost as if the pain is palpable, that I can touch it and feel it more than other days. I imagine that no matter what anniversary it is that I’m remembering, those days will always give way to a fresh feeling to that grief and loss, as if it had just happened. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, unless I let myself get swallowed up by the moment. Feeling pain can sometimes help us remember that we’re human and that we’re alive.

I love you, Dad. I miss you every day. I can’t wait to see you once again.

300

Nope, this isn’t a post about Spartans or the next movie based on one of Frank Miller’s graphic novels. It’s simply a celebration, of sorts, of my 300th post. 300 posts, that’s nearly one for every day of the year. 300 posts may be considered an awful lot of babbling for a blogger, depending on what it is that they write about.

Throughout my life, I have been blessed with people who aren’t afraid to call me out. I can’t say that it’s always been fun, but it’s been worth it in the long haul because it has generally led to growth. Growth is good, if we really want it, but I have found far too many people who are completely satisfied to stay where they are. If I’m really honest with myself, I am one of those people at times. Growth means movement, it means progression, it means going forward, and that’s not always a comfortable thing to do. In fact, it’s usually pretty hard work.

I haven’t set up shop here on this blog to fill an inner need to be liked and followed. Sure, it’s nice to gain more followers, to know that you are being read by more and more people, but that’s not the driving factor.

I’ve generally been the kind of person who learns from the mistakes of others rather than feeling the need to make those same mistakes myself. Nope, can’t say that I’ve never made mistakes, and there’s no shame in that. Mistakes can lead to some of the greatest growth a person can experience, but if you can gain that same wisdom and growth by watching the experiences of others, is there really a need to go through it yourself?

This blog has caused me to look at myself in greater detail, through a stronger microscope. It’s caused others to look at me in a similar fashion. It’s not always comfortable and easy to put myself out there, admitting my own faults, but if I can’t admit that they’re there, how do I expect to move forward at all?

I’m grateful to have been here for 300 posts. I’m grateful that people have taken the time to read, to comment, to like, and to share what I’ve written. My hope and prayer is that growth can happen as we reflect on who we are, that I can grow as I begin to understand myself better and better every day.

Thanks for reading and following. Thanks for helping me keep asking the questions, keep searching for answers, and keep growing.

3 Years

irene and jon 1974It’s hard to believe, but this week marks the three year anniversary of my mom’s death. Without having to look at the calendar, I probably could have told you that it was coming just by the growing tension rising up within me. My anxiety level rose almost like clockwork, signaling to me that this day was on the horizon.

I think that I can safely say that a day hasn’t passed when I haven’t thought of her. For the first year, I struggled not to pick up the phone in an effort to call her. Fortunately, if I had done that, my dad would still have been there, but that only lasted for a short time, maybe five months, before his own decline.

There are reminders of her all around. A “Praying Hands” plaque over my vanity. A framed picture of a North Carolina lighthouse on our wall. Framed photographs throughout the house. Then there’s the car that she drove, bought with her own money, still holding that lingering scent of her. Every once in a while, I’ll sit in the driver’s seat and drift off, remembering a different time and place when things looked a little more promising than they ended up.

I just remarked to someone recently, I think it was my brother, that the day that I see her again she will probably say that it only felt like hours or days since she last saw me. I hardly think that the sentiment will be echoed by me, but I look forward to the day still.

Life has changed since that day and it will continue to change. Navigating that change is the challenge.

I am grateful for the time that I had with her. I am grateful for the relationship that I had with her, relationship that I saw as fairly unique. It’s not every mother and son who gets along well, there was always a special bond between us, right until the end.

I remember the last time that we really talked. I knew that the end was near and so did she. We sat on the couch in her home and I told her that I was lucky because not every son could say that they had a special relationship with their mother. Our noses met and we rubbed them together, something that I do with my daughter often. That moment hangs in time, captured in my memory to forever remind me of what I had.

My father chose to put the phrase, “She is not here, she is with Jesus” on her grave. My brother and I wouldn’t argue, we weren’t the ones burying our wife, our partner, our love. He did the best that he could, but he was a shell of who he once had been by the time that they moved and they received the news that no one ever wants to get. I don’t fault him for his struggle, I can’t say that I would have done any better and I hope that I never have to make that comparison

She is gone and yet their affairs still remain open as I try desperately to close them. All I want is some amount of closure and selling their home will be a large step in that process. Every day I pray that it will happen and I know that the day will come, but when? It’s not that I don’t want to remember them, but I want to remember them away from that place, the place which marks so much pain and unrealized dreams. That place where she breathed her last breath, I could do without having to grace those walls with my presence, it took far too much of my energy, both physical and emotional.

Three years isn’t a long time, but in some ways it feels like a lifetime.

I love you, Mom.

Lucky 13

Carrie and Jon wedding bubblesToday, my wife and I celebrate 13 years of marriage together.

As I look back over the pictures from that hot and humid day in Woodstock, Connecticut all those years ago, it’s hard to not get emotional as I see so many faces of loved ones who aren’t here anymore. Life has changed since we got married. Friends have changed since we got married. We have changed since we got married.

A little less than 3 months after we got married, the world changed on September 11th, 2001. It’s interesting to think about our honeymoon in Bermuda and how it would have been different had it come a few months later.

We’ve wanted to celebrate our anniversaries more significantly than we have. We’ve wanted to take another trip, but life hasn’t afforded us that privilege. The last three years have been a roller coaster, not between us, but in our family, in our church, in our life.

Through it all, I can’t think of a better person with whom to spend this time. When I need a laugh, she is there. When I need to cry, there is her shoulder. When I need a gentle word, she speaks it. When I need silence, she offers it.

She has endured much through these 13 years. She married an engineer who turned into a pastor. She left her family behind to move states away. She finished her Master’s degree by distance and travel, enduring much of the home stretch through the sickness of pregnancy. She supported my seminary education and ordination process and made it possible for me to be gone for studies and classes.

In some ways, it feels like yesterday, in other ways, as I look back over this landscape of our lives, it feels like 13 years. God has done work in both of us, we are different, I think and hope that we are better.

Yes, today we celebrate. God has made my world brighter because of who he’s given me. God has made me stronger because of the training partner that I have had. God has made me gentler because of the precious and tender gift that he has given me through my wife.  We’ve been blessed with three great kids that always keep us on our toes, pushing us, challenging us, and making us laugh.

I’m looking forward to celebrating more with you in the future.  Today, here’s to you and all that you do!

With all of my love!

An Anniversary In Heaven

tony and irene wedding46 years ago today, my parents were married.  They had met a little less than a year before, on January 23, 1967 at a roller skating rink with a church group.  They were engaged on July 4, 1967, and then on January 13, 1968, they were married.  This is their first anniversary together in heaven.

The road to my parents’ marriage was not an easy one.  Both of them had difficulties during their years of growing up.  Abusive or alcoholic parents.  Poverty.  There were certainly more difficult upbringings than they had, but there were simpler ones as well.

My grandma, my dad’s mom wasn’t fond of my mom.  He was the youngest, the baby, and it was probably difficult for her to find anyone who could meet her standards.  My dad was thrown out of the house for dating my mom.  He lived at the seminary.  My mom typed his seminary papers.  They persevered.

In Matthew 22:30 Jesus says, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”  While there isn’t a need for marriage in heaven (the bride and Bridegroom will be together), that doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t know each other as we did on earth.  Our celebrations will be different there, they will center around the ultimate wedding feast.

So, there’s really no need for them to celebrate their marriage to each other, just their marriage to the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, but it’s a celebration.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them or miss them.  Today, I celebrate them together.  There is sadness for me, but not for them.  There is loss for me, but not for them.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.  I hope you’re celebrating well.  Thanks for finding each other, because you did, I’m here.  I miss you and love you.  I’ll see you again someday…..