This post is sloppy and long and mostly brags on my husband, Andrew. But this weekend, I learned a lesson about grace that I’m compelled to share. These things don’t always translate cleanly into language as we hope, so we just put down what we can wiggle out. Here’s what I wiggled out.
It seems important that you understand Andrew’s character at least a little bit to appreciate my message, so I made this messy list of stories about the qualities that make him great. Stick with me, I’m getting to some important stuff.
1) Andrew is beloved by his friends. To note that at 25 he’s been a best man once so far and a groomsman four other times (not to brothers), would vaguely attest to the kind of friend he is.
2) Andrew loves people. At our New Year’s Eve gathering, I caught Andrew with tears streaming down his face as he spoke to a friend around the fire on our back porch. This particular friend struggles with insecurities and as it turns out, Andrew was trying to the point of tears to convince his friend that he is loved and valued just as he is.
3) Andrew respects and honors me. Before we started dating, he said to me, “Jane, you will come to respect yourself more because of how I respect you.” Andrew is the one who drew the physicality line and told me not to wear that too-tight dress. He’s the one who calls me angel face when I take my make-up off.
4) Andrew respects and honors all women. Our close friends have a five year old daughter. Andrew once told me that he is always going to pay lots of attention to this little girl, that he is going to tell her how smart and beautiful she is all the time, in hope that one day she will believe those things and not seek negative attention from men.
5) Andrew is wise. Recently, a friend told Andrew that he gives some of the best advice of anyone he knows.
6) Andrew is generous. We don’t have much money, but one day Andrew felt compelled to write a check to a couple in our church starting up a new ministry. So he gave them $50.00. Over Christmas, Andrew felt like he should help his mom out with some of her expenses. So he gave her $200.00.
7) Andrew is a servant. If I suggested that Andrew splits household duties with me, it would be an insult. He dusts weekly, sweeps, vacuums the furniture, changes the cat litter, takes the trash to the dump and recycling to the center, folds the laundry, makes the bed and cooks breakfast every morning. And that’s if I don’t ask.
8) Andrew loves God. At our wedding, Andrew’s best man told a story about him from his bachelor party. They all went to a bar that night and drank rather heavily as they sometimes do in reunion. They caught a cab to the condo and Andrew sat in the front seat with the driver. Raising Cane in the backseat, the others soon began to notice that Andrew was in serious conversation with the taxi driver. According to Andrew, he told the driver about getting married and being faithful, a conversation that made the driver ask why Andrew cared to talk with him when most people actively tried to ignore him? He answered honestly that he’s a Christian, and welcomed the opportunity to share his faith. During his bachelor party.
9) Andrew prays before our meals that God would show him how to love better. He works children’s church and recently became a volunteer with the youth. He cooks dinner, gives back massages, and has never gotten a traffic ticket. He is funny, passionately loyal, and off-the-chart intelligent.
10) What I’m saying is, Andrew is the Chuck Norris of admirable men. He isn’t completely flawless, but in heart and deed he fiercely strives to be.
So, here’s how my weekend went.Andrew is in the wedding we attended, and I’m sitting there in a pew at the ceremony, watching him. His lips turn down in that sort-of frown just before one starts to cry. He nods his head noticeably as the pastor talks about object versus subject love; loving someone for who they are, rather than what they have to offer. He is model-handsome.
It’s hard to explain the group of men Andrew is friends with. But in a speech during the rehearsal dinner one girl described them as the the greatest guys she’s ever met. A lot of girls would say the same. They are gentlemen in heart, not just manner. And as I’m sitting in that pew, I’m thinking about these remarkable men standing up there with Andrew. But I’m struck. Even these guys say Andrew is one of the greatest men they know. Even these guys look up to him.
And who am I?? Who am I that I have been given this man in marriage? Who am I that this man would commit his life to me?
I look around at the devastatingly beautiful women in the bridal party. Nurses, teachers, songwriters and almost lawyers. Women of the most graceful stature, with the most endearing talents. They are but a sampling of the multitudes of outstanding women in this world. How is it that this sparkling gem of a man ended up with me?
Two responses are possible to this thought.
I chose to fret for the entirety of the wedding, wondering if I looked pretty enough, if my dress fit well enough or my legs looked toned enough or my hair styled perfectly enough. If I laughed cute enough or talked intelligently enough. I tragically compared myself to the women around me, testing whether I measured up. I clung to any semblance that Andrew might’ve noticed another female, and reacted nastily.
The other possible response? Accept grace.
On our Sunday drive home, I tentatively breached the issue. I told Andrew I felt embarrassed and ashamed even to mention it. He prayed out loud for my strength to share.
I blubbered on about how amazing he is, unbelieving that I ended up with him and confessing it made sense to me why he might notice other women if he had any understanding of his greatness. I said, I realize I might not give myself enough credit for who I am, that maybe if I could recognize my own goodness or beauty or worth, I wouldn’t struggle so deeply with this.
And even as the words escaped my mouth, I knew they were wrong.
If I could recognize my own greatness, then I could feel like we deserve each other. That’s really what I said, isn’t it. If I believed myself as beautiful as you are handsome or as smart or thoughtful or likeable, then I could feel like we got the same deal. Like we’re all square.
Andrew knew the words were wrong too. He replied, “Jane, would you stop loving me if I dropped out of school or gained 40 pounds?”
“Of course I wouldn’t.”
“I know,” he said. “You love me so well and rightly that I know your love is impossible to deserve. No one can deserve love, that is an oxymoron. Love by nature is a choice. I often see you just the way you now see me, awesome beyond acceptance, and I wonder how can I continue to keep her love? But that’s wrong of me, and in those dark moments I must remind myself that love exists through grace; it is something I am given but do not deserve.
In this situation, I believe God desires us to learn more about his love. He loves us and wants a relationship with us, not because of how awesome we are or how nicely we fit a mold, but because God chooses to. Love cannot exist apart from grace and that is good, because it means who we are, fundamentally, is loveable.
Jane, you are loved simply for who you are. All the looks, jobs, money are just layers of clothes meant to be be pleasing, but actually covering up the true object of my love and God’s love.”
A man once told me that before he married, his spiritual growth was like a rolling hill, but after he married, it shot up like the steepest mountain. In confessing my thoughts and feelings to Andrew, I realized even more clearly how the marriage relationship reflects our relationship with God. I can’t ever deserve God. I can’t ever make myself beautiful or charming or interesting enough to be worthy of Him. But love doesn’t operate like that. Love sees all my flaws under a florescent light and wants me anyway. Except it doesn’t just want me, it grandly welcomes me and throws a party to celebrate.
The world’s principles don’t apply. Love can’t be won like a football game or achieved like a degree. It can’t be figured by an equation or oiled like a machine. By definition, grace is being given what we do not deserve. It gives back 100 fold any portion I meagerly put in.
As Andrew and I navigate the hardship and hiccups of wedlock, the one thing we know for sure is there aren’t conditions. We didn’t accept each other bearing some contract of “ifs.” We said yes simply. Yes to ugly habits, yes to insecurity, yes to bald heads and cellulite. Yes to refinement, forgiveness and growth. We can’t earn the other’s love with a pretty face or well-paying job. Instead, we try to reflect the free love of the Father. Because that’s what we believe marriage is for.
For knowing love, unconditional.
What have you learned about love through relationship? How do you understand grace? What do you think it means to love freely?