Today is Valentine's Day - the day of romance. This is the opportunity for love to blossom and for the creative lovers in our midst to demonstrate their passion for their beloveds. As the photo on the right clearly testifies, my love for Mary Kay was young once too! This morning as I reflect on our early passion, I'm also asking the question: "What are the ways that our early LUV turned into a LOVE that has survived these 33 years?" With the total admission that we are still working on it, that we haven't got it figured out at all, that we still struggle, but that we know we truly love each other... I humbly offer these 5 thoughts:
#1 Marriage Is Still The Best Way For True Love To Grow! Marriage is declining in our society. The marriage rate has declined to less than half of what it was just 4 decades ago. Never before has co-habitation been more of an acceptable option in our society. In fact, couples living together has increased ten-fold since 1960. I understand all the many reasons for why couples would choose to avoid marriage. Sadly, the failure of marriages is also at an all-time high! Nevertheless I believe marriage is the best way for true love to grow. There's something about the commitment of two people promising to remain together as a couple for their lifetime that allows romance to mature into relationship. It's God's plan and God's idea. I know you exect to hear me say this since I'm a pastor. You should know, though, that marriage is just as much work for Mary Kay and me as it is for anyone else. Pastors' marriages fail just as much as everyone else! Mary Kay and I told each other often in our early years that "divorce is not in our vocabulary." Each phase of our married lives has brought new challenges. We're now entering the empty nest phase. We're discovering that we each have new work to do to affirm and grow our love in ways that we have not needed to do before. We don't always succeed. We mess up. Knowing that we are committed to the marriage working no matter what helps us through our mistakes and missteps.
#2 Major in Forgiveness, Humility, and Empathy. Here's another piece of advice one expects to hear. Trust me when I tell you, this is not just a throw-away line. LUV is all about me and getting my emotional (and other) needs met. LOVE is entirely about the other person in the relationship. That means that in many ways LUV has to die in order for LOVE to flourish. After 33 years I'm here to tell you that LUV doesn't die easily. I still struggle with my own selfishness. It's still deliberate, purposeful effort for me to stop looking at things from my point of view and to start looking at things from Mary Kay's point of view. If marriage were like college I'd say everyone would need 3 majors: Forgiveness, Humility, and Empathy. Swallowing my pride to say, "I'm sorry," doesn't get easier over time. Humility doesn't put me down, but definitely raises Mary Kay up. Learning to think (and talk and even act) like Mary Kay is still a struggle sometimes. The same is true of her. Yes, it's true. That saint of a woman I married can sometimes be just as stubborn as me! However, we have both learned that our LOVE is more important than our selfishness.
#3 Share The Mission. In the early years our mission was pretty clear. This is especially true if you have a large family early, as was the case for Mary Kay and me. Survival! In the war of raising a family, Mary Kay and I became foxhole buddies. We worked our entire day for that magical hour when we put the children to bed so we could commiserate with one another, maybe watch an hour of non-cartoon television, and fall exhaustedly asleep in one another's arms. Here's the thing about mission and marriage. The marriage commitment remains the same. The mission changes over time. What was the most important thing to each of us when we were married 33 years ago has not remained the same. I was a finance-focused stockbroker. Mary Kay was a university-educated, Registered Nurse. If there was one thing that I think has been the most difficult for us to navigate it is this idea of shared mission. From the tragedy of Mary Kay's own family, she became one of the greatest advocates for mental illness I've personally ever known. And somewhere over the map of these past 33 years, God has called me to become a pastor of a new church! No one would have read this in the tea leaves three decades back. I've learned to share the challenges of families with mental illness. And Mary Kay has become the most supportive pastor's wife anyone could ever ask for. Neither has come without purposeful work and determination on both our parts.
#4 Become The Best Me I Can Be. Marriage does not end singleness. I am still me. I am still responsible for becoming the best me I can become. Mary Kay cannot fulfill all my personal dreams, nor can I fulfill all her dreams. I still have to like the person I am becoming. I still have to grow. The same is true for Mary Kay. One of the greatest joys of LOVE is watching (and loving) the change that happens as we grow older. No one likes the physical challenges of growing older. But that is a small part of the whole person. I've loved watching Mary Kay blossom into the most merciful and helpful person I've personally ever met. Watching her advocate for a family who has struggled with subpar mental health care is better than watching the Super Bowl. How someone can be so melty, gooey, lovey on the inside and yet tough-as-nails on the outside is still something that causes me to marvel. I am growing too - in ways I never could have imagined. I love the study of God's Word. I love learning creative ways to share it with others. I love thinking about how I can get better over time. In the early years, LUV focused on all the outward appearances - looking as beautiful as we could look. These days, LOVE is all about making the hard decisions required from our focus on our inside life - becoming the best person each of us can become.
#5 Never Forget Our LOVE Is Shared 3 Ways! Our love is made up of three persons, not two. And before you go thinking something really weird, our love is shared between Mark, Mary Kay, and Christ! Our wedding bands each have three small diamonds representing all three persons in this relationship. Marriage and LOVE cannot survive without Christ. Each of the above 4 ways to turn LUV into LOVE has Christ at the center. Marriage prospers with Christ's Spirit at the center. There is no such thing as true humility and forgiveness without the daily reminder of Christ's humilty and forgiveness. Our shared missions always come back to Christ's calling for each of us. There is no personal best I can be without God's Spirit continuous teaching and instructing.
Valentines Day is not meant for philosophizing, but for actualizing our love. I still have to make the store run for Mary Kay's card and hope there is one that doesn't look like I waited until the last moment. We'll join some friends tonight and hopefully we can find a table. I'll tell Mary Kay how much I love her. At the end of the day, however, we still have February 15th to live through. LOVE instead of LUV means the 15th is just as much about the romance of love as the 14th. And the 16th and the 17th and the 18th. Here's hoping your Valentines LOVE is special today! Pastor Mark