The Gospel, Dumb and Dumber, and Radical Living

“We got no food, no jobs…our pet’s heads are falling off! What the heck are we doing here Harry?”

This ranks up there in my favorite movie quotes, and believe it or not, while Dumb and Dumber wouldn’t win any awards for its profundity (or wholesomeness if we’re being honest), Albin and I have found ourselves asking each other this same question over the last few months. Thankfully, we have food and jobs (well Albin does), and fortunately our pets’ heads aren’t falling off, but as we’ve been confronted by the gospel in the last few months, we’ve looked at each other and said, “What the heck are we doing here?”

Albin and I have been passionate followers of Jesus for a long time. In the past, we’ve served Him in many different ways: overseas missions, ministering, leading bible studies, fostering, etc., but in the craziness of trying to survive our bicultural marriage, we feel like we’ve lost a little focus. What we’ve done in the past doesn’t justify what we’re not doing now. More importantly, living out the gospel is a way of life. Are we walking that out? We might have food and jobs, but there are millions who can’t say the same. Hopefully, no one’s pets’ heads are falling off, but being dead serious, billions of people are dying without Christ and without hope.

What the heck are we doing here Harry?

Recently, God has been wrecking us all over again with the gospel. I wouldn’t say it was a complete overhaul since we’ve known about this for a long time, but definitely a paradigm shift about who Jesus really was, what He really did, and HOW he really lived. His way of life was countercultural, radical, uncomfortable, and completely challenging. Albin and I have begun asking ourselves, “Do we look like Jesus? Are really living the countercultural, radical life that Jesus has called us to? What are we doing here?”

I’ve been reading two books recently that I would totally recommend. The first is Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity by Jen Hatmaker and it has challenged me immensely. Not only is she hilarious and doesn’t always use a filter (kindred spirit), but I love how she, her family, and her church have changed their focus from “blessing blessed people and serving the saved” to living missionally in order to reach the “least of these” in Austin. She challenges Christians to live out their faith according to Isaiah 58 (loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, share your food with the hungry, provide the poor with shelter, clothe the naked, take care of your own) and Matthew 25 (being a faithful servant and stewarding what He has given us, and feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, etc.).

The second book I am reading is called You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity, by Francis Chan. Again, he and his wife talk more about changing their perspective from focusing on their marriage to focusing on how they can help each other impact the kingdom for eternity. As a result, they spend way less time worrying about the little annoyances in marriage and spend way more time on loving others and serving Christ…which in turn has blessed their relationship a million times over. Something he said that has stuck with me the most is this:

“Many people will tell you to focus on your marriage, to focus on each other; but we discovered that focusing on God’s mission made our marriage amazing. This caused us to experience Jesus deeply-what could be better? Eternal mindedness keeps us from silly arguments. There’s not time to fight. We have better things to pursue than our interests. Too much is at stake! God created us for a purpose. We can’t afford to waste our lives. We can’t afford to waste our marriage by merely pursuing our own happiness.”

I’ve also been spending a lot of time in Matthew from the Bible and just observing how Jesus handles situations. Wherever He went, the lame could walk, the dead were raised, the sick were healed, the blind saw, and the mute spoke (Matthew 9). In the same passage (vs. 9-12), Jesus is criticized for hanging out with drunks and “sinners” and he tells them to do something that has struck me profoundly:

“Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

What does that mean? To me, that means to stop doing religion and start living as Jesus lived: with mercy. That means to follow the example set in Micah 6:8 “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

So again, we’ve been asking ourselves, “What the heck are we doing here Harry?” Are we living lives that mirror Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25? I know people shy away from the term “radical” because of its uncomfortable connotation, but seriously, are we living radically? Are we focusing inward to have the perfect marriage or focusing outward to use our imperfect marriage to impact the kingdom? Are we wasting our marriage by merely pursuing our own happiness, rather than being eternally minded?

People want to see the church rise up and look like Jesus, not just hide behind facebook and bash whatever topic is the new political flavor of the month. Jesus called us to live a completely different way of life, not just trying to follow all the rules and look religious, but to:

Act justly (This means taking action for just causes)

Love mercy (Love serving the least and those in need)

Walk Humbly with God (Acknowledge our need for a Savior and walk it out accordingly).

Where does that leave Albin and me? We’re still working it out. We’re not setting out for Aspen like Harry and Lloyd; but we’ve refocused and are trying to walk this out. It’s not always pretty, but we know it is the Holy Spirit in us that is going to teach us. All we know is that we need to do it. Put our faith into action and make it a way of life. Will you join us in this journey? I’m writing about this because I want to be held accountable and I want others to join us in this. I want to see two normal and imperfect people on a journey to countercultural living and using our marriage to impact eternity. I want our kids to grow up expecting our family to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and invite the homeless into our home. We want to leave that legacy and we realize that we can’t just sit around, read about it and talk about it. We need to live in a new way. Jesus said to “Go and learn” what He means when He says that He “desires mercy and not sacrifice.” That’s what we want to do … continually position ourselves in places where we can go and learn how to live out the gospel and look like Jesus.

“We cannot think our way into a new kind of living, we must live our way into a new kind of thinking.”

-Richard Rohr

Photo credit: Everett Collection

Photo credit: Everett Collection

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Finding Hope in the Struggle

Directly after posting my last blog, I laid down with my teething, cranky baby and tried to get her to go to sleep. As I lay there, I was flooded with self-doubt. I worried my post was too negative, too honest, or that people might think our marriage has been just one big, sad mess.

As soon as I started going down that road, God reminded me that He asked me to start this blog and that He challenged me to be as honest and vulnerable as I could be. He reminded me that vulnerability brings freedom to me and to others. He whispered to me that the reason I needed to talk about the struggle was so that the others who are struggling know that they’re not alone and absolutely must know that there is hope, just like I’ve needed to know. I thought for a moment about what “hope” had come out of our struggles and that’s what I want to share about today. The last blog was to let you know that you’re not alone and this one is to let you know that there is hope.

Marriage is a two-edged sword. Your spouse usually draws out many of your good qualities. It’s fun to do life with someone and marriage can bring so much joy. That sword also can pierce you and bring out all the ugly. All those dark, stinky little areas you hoped no one would ever see, and even those areas you had no idea were all that bad; someone has a front row seat to all that crap. The beautiful thing is that God uses marriage to bring those dark hidden things to light, to make you more of the person He created you to be.  When someone else can see those areas in you that still need a little (or a lot) of work, you can work together to improve.

We all know that adversity begets character. As Albin and I have struggled through various circumstances and differences, we’ve matured greatly. We’ve grown in ways I could have never imagined. We sharpen one another, we support one another, and we challenge one another. If you’re never challenged, do you ever go to the next level? If you never face adversity, do you ever really grow?

This is the hope that I have found that comes out of the struggles in marriage. Yes, we have truly had to fight for our marriage and for one another, but we have become steadfast in the process. We are far from perfect, but we are a united front. We look much more like Jesus now than we did when we were first married, and our marriage is far more Christ-like now than it ever has been. When you do life with someone that is committed to making you better, you both will inevitably grow. I recognize that God has used the madness to edify us, stretch us, and teach us things we couldn’t have learned any other way. We can comfort others who have had a miscarriage, encourage others who feel like living in another culture is impossible, minister to those who have deathly-ill babies in the NICU, and rejoice with others who are celebrating the small victories in marriage. Why? Because we’ve been there.

As you go through difficult circumstances together, you are bonded eternally. That’s what our vows were all about. No matter what, we will support one another. A few years ago, we had a dinner with a man that was telling us about a big mistake that he made in his first year of marriage.  He told us that they are doing much better now (many years later), but that his wife had never forgotten how he treated her that first year. I want to turn that around a bit: Albin, I will NEVER forget what you did for me our first year. How you supported me in my mess, how you loved me through the struggles, and how you fought for me and our marriage. You have loved me as Christ loves the church and that testimony has given me the utmost respect for you, even when we struggle.

There is something remarkable about two people who are committed to one another despite adversity. What a testimony it is for two people to keep coming home at night to work it out and not just calling it quits because of hardship. Sometimes the struggles are big, life-changing events, but sometimes they’re just little things. Even on the days that I bust out my crusty old granny panties or the times that I forget to tweeze and my eyebrows start becoming one (more often than Albin and I become one), I can be assured that Albin still loves me. Despite any nasty habits (I won’t elaborate) that Albin may have, he can be assured that I’ll still love him as well. This is what we signed up for when we said, “I do.” Whenever we make the choice to cling to each other when doctors give devastating news, forgive when the other doesn’t deserve forgiveness, or even if it’s something as small as not minding the full-coverage undies or unkempt uni-brow, we glorify God when we choose to love.

Now I can say that I am thankful for the struggle. It may not look like other “perfect” marriages. We may look a little weathered or feel like we’ve been married for longer than three and a half years, but we wouldn’t change any of it. Every day we are helping each other to become more of who God has called us to be and glorifying Him as a result. What better a purpose to serve in marriage than that?

Based on the overwhelming amount of messages that I received in response to Tuesday’s blog, it’s pretty apparent that we’re not the only ones who struggle. I’ll also admit that I’m thankful that not everyone thought our marriage was one big, sad mess as I had feared (sigh of relief). Isn’t it incredibly freeing to admit that we’re not perfect and realize that others aren’t either?  I appreciate all of you who have messaged me and told me that your marriage isn’t perfect, both new marriages and experienced marriages, bicultural and same-culture marriages. It is my prayer that all of us not only find freedom in admitting the struggle is real, but also that we relish in the hope that God is making something beautiful out of us through it.

 

Simple, but you need to hear it

One thing that is so encouraging for me to think about in regards to our marriage is this simple, but profound truth:

God spanned continents to bring the two of us together.

He thought our union was so important that He decided to have us meet even though there are thousands of miles between our homes.

It wasn’t just Albin’s sexy Spanish that seduced me into this marriage; it was the God of the universe orchestrating every detail according to His perfect plan.

At the risk of sounding cliché, our marriage was meant to be and God will use it for His purposes.

Take a minute to thank God for that seductive Spanish accent (or whatever accent is your cup of tea) and most importantly, that He moved mountains for your marriage to happen.

Does anyone else need to hear this today?