Thursday, August 7, 2014

Twenty One Years

In our society, twenty one years is usually a number celebrated when a person changes legal status. This number is celebrated more than the driving age or the age to vote. For most American citizens, turning 21 is a right of passage because now these continuing adolescents can legally do what many have been doing for years. This rite of passage often leads to the what many are now calling the new adolescence that carries well on into the early thirties.

Today, the number 21 means something quite different. The number carries no weight because of its place on a jersey, a speed limit sign, or the fact that its the next number up at the restaurant, and you are holding the ticket. Instead, the number 21 is important because it is the banner on my marriage to the most amazing woman I've ever known.

August 7, 1993. First Baptist Church of Starkville, Mississippi. A worship gathering followed by a reception and a nighttime journey to Orlando, Florida, where we would begin the next phase of our lives at what many call the most magical place on earth - Disney World. I would have to disagree with them about the label, because over the last 21 years, the merciful God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has allowed me the privilege of living in the most magical place on earth - wherever my family happens to be.

Karen and I started our married life in a small town in Louisiana before moving to Panama City, Florida. From there, we moved briefly to Mississippi and then to North Carolina before moving back to Florida. We essentially started our family in Ocala, Florida. We lived in this beautiful city for 10 years before moving to another small town in Florida. After four years, we moved to Tennessee, where we currently serve with our family in a local church. Each one of these locations has deep significance in our marriage. We have strong roots in some of them and memories that will not quickly fade in all of them. Some of our closest friends are still in these places from our past. We can look back at our lives and see how we have changed over the years based on these experiences and our response to each one of them.

Being married to me may be one of the hardest burdens anyone should have to bear. Connected with my calling to ministry, Karen has been through many church adventures. She has faced each one of them with more grace and mercy that I could imagine or expect. I suppose that the exciting times of ministry help to balance out the defeating times. I let situations bother me too much. Karen just looks for the rainbow. I am sorry for the times that God's calling on our lives has put her in the line of fire of mean church people who couldn't disagree without attacking my family. I am encouraged by the people that God's calling on our lives has brought into our lives that can overshadow the enemy. These people are a protective covering from the Lord and have become extended family to us over time. To all those who are a protective covering for my bride - thank you.

The Lord has blessed us with three special children. Our oldest is 16 years old now; our middle child is 12; and our youngest is 6. With all of the mistakes I have made in 21 years as a husband, these three children are a reminder to me that God takes our flaws and makes beautiful creations. Karen schooled our children at home for most of the last 16 years. She is a stellar teacher and has helped our children to see that learning does have to have the intensity that I tend to project onto them. Karen taught them to be confident in who they were while I was teaching them to be confident in their math facts. They learned the multiplication facts, for sure, but calculators and computers make those facts less important than the ability to take life as it comes and figure out how to adjust to whatever circumstances come your way. I remember recently our oldest son talking about some of our life situations. He reminded me that whatever happened he was going to be okay. He was just going to trust God for the results. I remember Karen saying that to me on more than one occasion as our lives took several unexpected turns. He was learning from you, Karen, more than you knew.

Many times people write about their spouse on their anniversary and talk about all of the reasons she is special, usually including things that she has done for them over the years. Today, I am reminded that it is not what she has done but who she is that makes 21 such a special year. It's a year of new beginning for us spiritually, as God has given us some clarity on some questions we have had for a while. Twenty one may be a freedom year for us. Not a freedom to do things we could not do before, but a freedom to take on life with a new found sense of God's purpose.

My prayer for Karen is that she will continue to grow in the joy of the Lord and that the Lord will protect her heart from harm. When He allows difficulty, I pray that He smooths the pathway of grace so that she can take hold of the greatness of His Majesty in her life. I do pray that we grow in our love for one another, but even more than that I pray that we grow in our love for our heavenly Father who makes Perfect love a reality in the lives of couples who are committed to Him. I pray that I will surrender myself and relax for the next 21 years. Life doesn't have to be so hard or so serious. I pray that the Lord will teach me how to love Karen as Christ loved the church - He died for His bride, you know.

Thank you, Karen, for putting up with my idiosyncrasies and my crazy thought patterns for all of these years. Thank you for loving me in spite of me. Thank you for continuing to look past my mistakes. Thank you for helping me become the man God is calling me to be. I love you. Happy Anniversary, BT.