Thursday, June 28, 2007

God's Amazing Ways

It's one month and one day from my wedding and love is on my mind. Yesterday was one of those amazing days where God lifts the blinders from our eyes and allows us to see the beautiful tapestry He has made of the loose ends of our life.

I woke up and found an email from a good friend of mine. She's had a rough year, coming up on the one year anniversary of her father's death, which comes shortly after his birthday. Niels and I made plans to spend the weekend following the 4th visiting her and her family. She hasn't met Niels yet, and anticipating the anniversary, I thought it might be a good time to be there for her. Everyone needs someone like Ang in their life, but sometimes, more importantly, Ang needs someone like Ang in her life. In many ways, even before her dad died, Ang has become the backbone of her family. On the outside, she's a strong, independent woman. She's the one everyone else leans on because when they lean on her, she'll support them. At the same time, she is a compassionate, tender-hearted soul. She has used her training as an OB-GYN more than once to meet the medical and spiritual needs of women in Africa. When her father's health quickly declined, she moved her parents and sisters to a new home close to her so she could care from them and oversee their medical care (her sisters also have health conditions).

I didn't know Ang's dad well, but his funeral changed my life. A year ago, I was at a complete loss. The vision I had--and thought God gave me--for my life was dimmed and I was lost in the dark. I lost my job, had to sell my house, my boyfriend had just broken up with me, my best friends and adopted family were moving out of the country, my book was out of print and I received some discouraging medical news. I was not well.

When we heard Ang's dad died, a few of us decided to surprise her by roadtripping to the funeral. The look on her face was worth the long hours in the car that day, but the service was an appointment with God. I learned that Ang's dad had sustained a head injury and he had to give up his dream job as a church planter. He became a truck driver to support his family, but even as a truck driver, God used the pastor in him to minister to people on the road. As I heard people share how this man had influenced their lives, both pre and post head injury, it was as if God was speaking directly to me, "I haven't forgotten you, Jen. I know about the head injury. I understand your hurt and anger and confusion. The vision is still there for you. I still have a plan for you, a plan to prosper you and not to harm you. I still have hope for you. Hang on. You may not be who you were, but you are still valuable to Me, still needed by Me, still loved by Me. Will you let me show you?"

Sitting in that chapel the darkness lifted. I still didn't have any answers. But I had hope again.

My heart breaks for my friend as she acknowledges a difficult anniversary and I pray that God will use me to show her how valuable she is, how needed, how loved, not only by God, and me, but so many others in her life. Because that's what love is. Being consistant. Being there. Rolling up your sleeves and digging in when life isn't easy or fun. Ang has modeled loyalty and love to me. And I want to be more like her.

After getting dressed, I made my way over to Niels' house to hang out with Bailey before taking her to the vet. Part of my "job" at this point in my life is finding new doctors, dentists, vets and all the other important people we need in our lives. I received a note in the mail that Bailey was due for a new rabies shot. So finding a new vet was on this week's "to do" list. We sniffed around, found one close by and made an appointment. Today was Bailey's lucky day.

Bailey isn't particularly fond of the vet, and seeing what they do to her each year, I can't say I blame her. And yet, each year she gamely follows me into the vet's office, leans into me while the vet examines her and looks to me to comfort her after shots and very close examinations. Today was no different. If I moved a tiny bit, Bailey would scoot right with me. As I held her today in the vet's office, God reminded me of how similar my dog and I really are. I trust God. Even when I think He's hurting me, even when I don't understand why He allows me into a certain situation, I still look to him for answers and comfort. I still trust that He's going to take care of me.

As we drove home, Bailey sat on my lap, still striving to be as close to me as she possibly could. When we arrived home, she hopped out and ran circles around me until I led her to yard to take care of business. The whole time, her eyes were fixed on me. We came inside and I gave her a treat to reward her for her obedience. I filled up her dog dish and refreshed her water. She looks me to fulfill her every need, and even extra thing she wants. We went downstairs and after a quick run around the house, she came back to me, jumped in my lap and fell asleep. A bit later, she stretched out, all four paws in the air, completely submitted, in a position of absolute trust. Bailey trusts me and loves me unconditionally.

It was my mom's idea for me to adopt Bailey six years ago. At the time I was intimitated by the responsibility of caring for someone, and being the sole provider and caretaker. In short time, I grew accustomed to constantly thinking of her welfare--where is she?, does she need to go out?, does she have food and water? And I looked forward to the way she greeted me each day and each time I came home. I couldn't sleep as well if I didn't feel a little ball of warmth on the bed. No matter how I was feeling, Bailey would cuddle with me. She needed me, and soon, I needed her. She expanded my heart to learn to love unconditionally. I called her my "heart on training wheels." And she trained me well.

With Bailey next to me, I checked my email. A couple nights ago, I checked an old email account and found a message from a good friend from long ago asking for my current contact info. I replied with a short message and news of my upcoming wedding. He replied with a not-so-mini missive of his own. Rather than write him back, I called him and we enjoyed a fun stroll down memory lane. I don't mention Mark by name in my book, but his influence--as well as that of his family--is felt throughout.

Mark and I met when we both in our early 20s. We had the same circle of friends, enjoyed the same activities, especially volleyball and watching football, and were part of the same Bible study. Mark was one of my first close male friends and we spent many, many hours together together discussing all the hypotheticals of love, life and marriage. Mark has one of the most amazing families I've ever met, and many of the snapshots of marriage and family I mention in my book come from his family. It was wonderful catching up with him, and after a break for dinner, it was wonderful to put him on speaker and let him and the man I'll marry talk together.

After we got of the phone, Niels and I talked a bit about Mark's influence of my life. We talked about how I am slow to fall in love, and even slower to fall out. I love rarely, but deeply. And though Mark and I never dated, I realize that I have loved three men in my life, and all three will be there to share my wedding day: my first love, the love of my life, and the love that led me to Niels. Niels is the most secure man I've ever known, and hearing him and Mark talk on the phone, I can see how Niels embodies the best of all the men I've loved. (And how frighteningly well Niels and Mark will get along when they meet next month). As my male friends have married, I've seen my primary affection transfer from husband to wife, and now I can see how my old friendship with Mark could be renewed through a friendship between him and my husband to be.

I fell asleep last night with a smile on my face. When I reflect on all I've learned about love in my life, I admit I haven't loved a lot, but I am learning to love well. Ang has taught me to love in the tough times, to be consistent in the uncertainties of life, and how to keep a soft heart even when one hurts, and to love others, even when, especially when, it's inconvenient. Bailey has taught me to love unconditionally, day in and day out. She's taught me to look at the line of love, not the dot. A bad day today is only a bad day, not a bad dog (or human). She's taught me to take time to laugh and cuddle and just "be." Bailey's taught me how to love with constant consideration for another. Mark taught me about the love of family, of the important of tradition and ritual, of celebrating the silly and substantial. Mark taught me how to talk through the tough topics and helped me develop so many of the views and habits and perspectives that are utterly engrained into my being: on living out my faith, on being a steward of all God entrusts to me, on love and marriage and family.

And then there's Niels. The one my heart loves, who is all these things and more. Yesterday, together, I was with the one the I loved, the one who loved me, and one I longed to meet. Life is good, and God is better.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Words of Wedded Wisdom

My Michigan friends threw me a bridal shower a few weeks ago. Since I am one of the last of my friends to marry, I'm able to learn from their experiences. My friends put together a book of marriage advice for me. It's good stuff, so I decided to share.

If you have wisdom to share, I'd love to hear it!

  • In Terms of a Lifetime...In those moments when a situation seems SO important to you and the other one just doesn't get it. Before pursuing the "discussion," ask yourself, "In terms of a lifetime together with my love, is ____ really important or will it be forgotten in days, weeks, years? Proceed according to your answer.
  • Celebrate the Differences. If you and your spouse were exactly the same, one of you wouldn't be needed in the marriage! Usually a difference causes you to grow in some way. Growth is tough but without it the relationship suffers.
  • Pack some snack food, your computer and a DVD. Go for a drive to a nice location. Have your own drive in movie night date. Enjoy the movie and each other.
  • Go mini-golfing and out for ice cream afterwards.
  • Get dressed up for an evening out. Go to a nice restaurant for dinner and then go ballroom dancing. For added privacy, crank up the music and dance in your backyard under the stars.
  • Challenge your spouse to a $20 date night. See who can plan the best evening for $20 or less, then go out and try the winning date. It will make you feel like a teenage in love!
  • When you know your honey is having a hard week, pamper him with a foot rub and a back rub. When he's more relaxed, then you can share sweet kisses...
  • Prepare a romantic picnic with your husband. Bring a blanket, some cheese, and a nice bottle of wine. Find a secluded park or nature trail. Enjoy an hour of conversation and good company.
  • Do something sweet and don't him. Just wait to see his reaction when he does notice.
  • Go on a real date once a week.
  • Get flowers.
  • Be intimate even when you don't feel like it. Very rarely, if ever, will you regret being intimate with your spouse, but you will regret the connection and closeness you miss out on if you say, "No."
  • When tempted to pick a fight, pick grace instead. Both bickering and grace are contagious. You can choose what will abound in your home.
  • Take long walks togehter after work. It's a great way to stay connected and catch up. And you'll get some exercise while you're at it!
  • Know each other's love languages and work at filling the other's "love tank." It takes some effort at times, but the rewards are great!
  • Surprise him in the shower every once in a while. He'll love the company as long as you don't startle him too much (BOO!!) Slipping and breaking a leg in the shower in the process is not romantic!
  • Always set aside time for "just the two of you." Movie, dinner out or just bumming around the mall. Quality time together is so important. Never let life get too busy and full to allow time together.
  • After he's had a long week, make him a huge romantic dinner for the two of you and spend the rest of the night together.
  • Pick one night per month (a different one every month) and leave a note or gift tag with a quote or rhyme to clue him in or leave him curious.
  • Watch football together. Browns and Vikings should work nicely!
  • Initiate intimacy yourself. Men like to feel desireable too!
  • (My favorite) When you are feeling saucy, or even when you're not, break out the romantic game of Settlers of Catan. Oh Yes, I said romantic. Romantic variation: every road build: kiss; every settlement buitl: rub; every city built: nibble; every metropolis: lick. Winner: the sensuous result of three hour gaming anticipation!!!

We also enjoyed several romantic quotes:

  • The most precious possession that ever comes to a man in this world is a woman's heart--Josiah G. Holland
  • Love is an irresistable deisre to be irresistibly desired--Robert Frost
  • What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us--Robert Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Healing

Last weekend, my cousin, Nick, graduated from high school. Like most of our family, he has divorced parents. My aunt Lori posted about how she and Nick's dad planned the grad party. With so many milestones marred by awkward family dynamics, Aunt Lori makes me proud!

(Congrats, Nick!)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

My Mirror

Fifteen or so years ago, I prayed that God would direct my prayers for my future husband. A time of solitude led me to a list of ten character qualities, plus one verse:

Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart—I Samuel 16: 7

Now that I know the one my heart loves, I see the beauty of God's direction. When I first sensed God leading me toward this verse, I assumed that it meant that my Mr. Wonderful wouldn't look the way I might have pictured him. It's true that my lean, blond Dutchie embodies love differently than the tall, dark and handsome ideal of my single days. But the greater lesson, I think, has been accepting Niels' love and appreciation for my appearance.

A few years ago, shortly after my head injury, I lost a lot of weight. I was looking good, the best of my adult life. I wasn't physically healthy, of course. The weight loss was the result of my brain burning mad calories trying to reconstruct all the broken and twisten neurons that got scrambled up when I knocked my noggin. My doctor warned me that when I started getting better mentally, the weight would come back. And it did...and them some. Since then, it's been a battle: if I focus on the number on the physical scale, I tend to overdo things mentally and end up worse for wear.

Today was a rather depressing day on the scale. I hit one of those numbers a girl just doesn't want to see. It's never a pretty number, but being six weeks away from My Wedding Day (note implied perfection therein), it's even more sobering. Who wants to be at their all time highest weight when one is nearing their day of the pretty white dress and immortal pictures?!?

Niels is perhaps the most secure man I have ever met. We were talking about self-image a few months ago and he shared something with me that is just one of many reasons why I love this man. He reminded me that, as Christians, our job is to be God's mirror, internally. That is, our character is to reflect Christ's character. Those around us should feel God's love through our love. Even if we feel down, dirty, ashamed, or not quite good enough, we can know that we are enough in God's eyes. The Truth is what is real, and the truth is that as Christians, we are made perfect, not through anything we've done or become, but simply because we are His.

In the same way, Niels said, as my husband, he will be my external mirror. No matter what the world says about our value being tied to our weight or shape or size, Niels is the mirror of truth of my external beauty. And as his (soon to be) wife, I have become his standard of beauty. That doesn't mean I should start looking for modeling gigs because Niels thinks I'm beautiful, but rather, I can fully embrace my identity as a beautful woman, because the only one whose judgment of physical beauty matters to me judges me to be beautiful in his eyes.

I would still like to be a size 8 bride, but even though that won't happen, when I walk down the aisle on July 29, I can't imagine feeling more beautiful. I will secure in the incredible unconditional love and acceptance Niels has offered me.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Happy Birthday, Sweetie!

Today is my Dutch sweetie's birthday! Thirty-three years ago in the Netherlands, Niels was born on a beautiful June day. Today, unfortunately, I am unable to be with him because my cold has kept me here in Ohio. He's off in Canada visiting some friends who I know will take good care to celebrate his life with him today.

In 56 days, my Dutch sweetie becomes my handsome, almost-permanent American resident HUSBAND!!! Fifteen years ago I started praying for the husband God planned for me. Many people wondered over the years if my expectations were too high, but God crossed oceans to bring us together. Niels is all I asked for and more than I could have dreamed. Praise God!

I love you, Niels!