2015-06-13 16.31.10

On June 14, 1997, I married Angie Kirk, the most amazing woman on earth! The last eighteen years have been an adventure. We left home to go to college together and got engaged a little over a month into our freshmen year. That next spring I started pastoring a small church and Angie went back to Kentucky for the summer to finish planning our wedding. I cruised into town just a couple of days before the big event after all the hard work was done and took my beautiful bride as my wedded wife.

We’ve lived through a number of significant changes since then. Angie became a social worker, earning her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the field. She worked in Kentucky recruiting and training foster and adoptive families, offered therapy to foster families and children, and now serves Grace Hills doing counseling, women’s ministry, and more.

I served as Pastor of a couple of small, rural churches when I was way too young to know what I was doing and then enjoyed eight great years leading a church in my hometown. I led a church in Northwest Arkansas for five years and then we headed west to California where we joined the staff of Saddleback Church and lived a bit of west coast life.

Together, we took a big leap four years ago and moved back to Northwest Arkansas to plant Grace Hills, which has continued to change our lives in radical ways. We’ve had three precious kids along the way. Ella, beautiful, smart, and sweet was our special, grace-gift from God. Sam, tender-hearted and brave, was an answer to years of praying and struggling through secondary infertility, miscarriages, and a lot of waiting on God. And Drew, wild and joy-filled, was our big surprise!!

Before I get to my eighteen big words of advice, here’s what I’ve noticed in the last few years of our life together:

  • Life has become more of an adventure as we’ve loosened up and lived it to the full.
  • We’re closer than ever, mainly because we’ve dealt with things that could’ve torn us apart.
  • The best is yet to come for us as a couple, as a family, and especially in eternity.

Let me stop and interject that in too many ways, I’ve blown it as a married guy over the last eighteen years. But the grace of God has been at work in me, in my wife, and in our relationship. She’s shown me forgiveness, love, and respect and it’s changed me radically from who I once was. And I’m still on the journey, hoping to become the man she deserves in this life. Angie amazes me more today than ever.

So to you who may be early on in the journey – single and searching, engaged, or newlywed – here are eighteen of the most important things I think I’ve learned in the last eighteen years.

  1. You can’t do it. You can’t be the spouse you need to be. Period. You need the grace and power of God in your life on a daily basis. He’s the author and creator of marriage, so he’s the greatest expert there is.
  2. Be honest. From day one. Talk about your past hurts, your present habits and hang-ups, and your innermost struggles. Absolutely nothing will destroy a marriage quicker than secrets.
  3. Find your identity and self-worth in your relationship with God, not in each other. Your spouse can never be the messiah you need – Jesus alone carried that cross and wears that crown.
  4. Don’t do stupid things, like buy things you can’t afford with money you don’t have. Give at least 10%, save at least 10%, and live on less than 80% from this day forward.
  5. Have friends. Develop relationships with others and refuse to isolate. Seek advice from other couples and let the wise counsel of godly friends sharpen you. Be part of a church and a small group.
  6. Keep a short account of wrongs. Confess things quickly, listen quickly, forgive quickly and often. Don’t carry baggage because it just keeps getting heavier the longer you do.
  7. Forgive quickly and often, but understand that passivity isn’t the same as forgiveness. In fact, passivity prevents real forgiveness and stunts the healing process. Name the problem, then cover it with love and grace.
  8. Dream together. Set big goals. Have a big vision for life and for the world in which you live. This might be about money, but most likely not. It’s more about how you’re going to make a dent in the lives of others.
  9. Live an adventure. Go places. Do things. Don’t wait for all the answers. Follow God by faith even when it makes little sense and when no one else seems to get it.
  10. Establish some rituals, like foot-rubbing or shoulder massages or long walks at dusk. Talk, pray, and laugh during these times. Fight routine, but forge good traditions.
  11. Fight for each other, not at each other. Remember, even in the most intense moments, that God let you get married so you could serve the soul of your mate.
  12. You can be right, or you can be married. Stop defending yourself so much, and stop worrying about making sure your partner knows you’re right. Being wrong isn’t the worst thing in the world.
  13. Be intimate. Enjoy each other sexually. Deal with sexual brokenness from your past with a counselor and each other. Give and be selfless while respecting comfort levels in this arena.
  14. Parent together. If you have kids, share the load, from making lunches to handing out disciplinary measures. Be a team and back each other up.
  15. Laugh at each other, not just with each other. Make a mess sometimes, on purpose. Dance silly. Do voices. Be a goof now and then. You will need the comic relief.
  16. Listen. Then listen some more. Then respond. Change the order of these at your own peril, but even Scripture spells out this plan quite well. Be slow to make any assumptions and quick to love.
  17. Smile politely and knowingly when young couples who are just starting out act like you’re a moron for telling them that the best marriages are the hardest work. They’ll find out. Usually within a year.
  18. Keep going. Get help when you need it – counseling is good for you. Hang in there. Don’t bail. Stick it out. Suffer together. Be stubborn as a team and determine that you’re going to be faithful until death do you part.

There’s much more, I’m sure. I’ll write about those in future years. For now, this is the stuff I’ve been blessed to learn, often the hard way. And I wouldn’t trade my life for any on earth. I’m more in love with, attracted to, and smitten with Angie than ever before – even in the days when we were young and knew nothing.

It’s been through the fire, the fight, the thick of the tension that our marriage has been formed thus far. And we both have a long way to go, but we believe in a faithful, truth-honoring, grace-showing Jesus who is in this with and for us, and He is faithful to finish whatever he starts in us!

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