Courtney Stanford is a passionate follower of Jesus and the writer of her blog, Let Every Heart. She is the wife of a worship pastor and the mommy of three little men. Courtney is an elementary school teacher on hiatus, while she is currently a stay-at-home Mommy and the keeper of a joyful (yet slightly noisy) home that she lovingly refers to as her "frat house." Whether she is leading a Bible study for women, teaching her adult Sunday School class, or writing for her blog, Courtney is an enthusiastic encourager of Christ followers, especially women and children. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!
When the call came this weekend: a call that I was waiting on, a call that I had anticipated this month, I couldn't hide my excitement. Two people I love dearly, announced via speaker phone, "We're engaged!" I knew it was coming. I had kept the secret. Still, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest because I have hoped for this day for a very long time. She's become my friend and she's going to be my (super adorable) little sister, now! We get to keep her forever and ever because she said, "YES!" (Thank you, Jesus!)
But you. You were my very first best friend and are still the one I call on my worst of days. Our bond is unconditional and we've shared life's most memorable moments. The tradition was always that we stayed up together, too anxious to sleep, waiting for Santa to visit. The tradition has grown into your annual Christmas Eve visit to my house to help us assemble the toys for my kiddos. Yep...we've all become Santa's elves together: you, me, and my husband. We've had the best talks and shared cups of cocoa, while assembling train tables and putting castles together. Your whole life is about to change now. My life will have some adjustments as well. I think I'll feel a bit sad down the road, because I can't imagine a day where we don't share our Christmas Eve, but I couldn't be happier about the one that God has given you. She is so worthy of all of your Christmases and I'm happy to sign up for the needed sacrifices that will accompany your heart's most important commitment. (Second most important commitment. Jesus is first.) About that commitment, Bud, yeah...I have a few thoughts to share with you. You know how I like to share my thoughts. It's what big sisters do.
It's so true what they say about the first child, and yeah...that's me. This big sister will always be bossy, I suppose. I've walked this road you are walking now and every big sister knows it is her duty to pass on her knowledge about...um...everything. With your permission (and the beautiful Bride-to-Be's permission as well), I am writing you this letter. I am writing it to you with my whole heart and you are obligated to listen to me because of that time I saved your life (or maybe it was two times??) Big sisters are the best, huh? This letter, though, is for you and for everyone else who is preparing to say, "I do."
Sappy movies about weddings are my favorite of film genres. I can recall details about every single
white dress Julia Roberts has ever worn and I know all of Steve Martin's lines from another favorite. There are these really important details, though, that you just won't glean from the sappy wedding movies. Maybe that's because marriage has never really been about the wedding ceremony at all. (I think this news is likely a huge surprise to our culture obsessed with the latest in wedding trends.) I'm speaking truth to you, though. The heart of a real marriage far outweighs the beautiful details and careful preparation of the most dazzling wedding day. Don't misunderstand me. Weddings are once in a lifetime. I want you to savor every minute. At some point on your wedding day, find a moment to step back and be the spectators of the event. Take time together to watch the people who love you and celebrate you. Take time to really see the fanfare, because it will only happen this once. Undoubtedly, your wedding day is a day like no other.
Hear me when I say this, though: a real marriage is far more beautiful than any elaborate detail of a wedding day. I'm not an expert. In fact, I've messed up enough to uncover some brilliant mysteries and treasures of the marriage covenant...with the most ungraceful expeditions in real life. I know a few things and a big sister is nothing without a little wisdom and a big dose of "bossy." You are welcome. This is for both of you...turns out I have enough love and bossiness to share with everybody!
1) Do not expect your spouse to fulfill your every need. God created you with a God-sized hole in your heart, a desire that can only be fulfilled by Him. Sure, you will make each other crazy happy much of the time! Still, there will be big needs in your life that only God can fulfill. Trust Jesus to heal the hurts. There will be hurts. Sometimes you will be lonely, afraid, or worried...even in the company of your spouse. Turn to each other but keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. With Jesus as the rock of your marriage, the hard stuff will weigh less heavily on the two of you and you'll demand less from each other. It's true what they say: the closer you grow to God, the closer you will grow to each other.
2) You must choose to be an expert at one of two things until you master them both. It is imperative. You're either slow to anger or you're quick to forgive. Default to one of those and then pray and trust God to refine the other quality within you. You will need both. Start by being great at one. I'm quick to forgive and still a work in progress about the other. You probably know that, huh?
3) You really will mess up. Don't let the sun go down on your anger. Purpose it in your heart that you will have bad moments but declare right now that you won't chalk bad moments up to bad days. Before you go to sleep, do whatever you have to do to forgive. Write a letter about your beef, make a list about the frustrations, talk it out, pray it out, hug it out, snuggle it out, then give it to God and allow Him to be the healer. FYI: I'm an expert at snuggling it out. I talk too much and say some stupid stuff, but a great hug can say, "I'm sorry that I've been an idiot" in the best of ways. Again: don't sweep it under the rug. Work it out, but then let the junk be in the past before you end your day.
4) Be the biggest fan of one another. Always. If it matters to your spouse, be there when you can. Find babysitters if you must. That day will come and it will be easier to stay home. Nope. Choose to cheer each other on, even when it means calling in the sitters. There will be times when you can't be there to cheer each other on, and you better be ready to cheer in another way. Know each other's love language so that you can speak words of affirmation or you can give a gift that says, "I'm remembering your big day today!" Love languages matter. The way your spouse shows love is probably the way your spouse wants to be shown love. Take time to at least skim about the big five.
5) Laugh together. Romans 12:15 tells us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. This could not be more important in any other relationship than marriage. I am here to tell you that no matter what a day brings, it will always be medicine to laugh with your spouse. When you face fears, trials, the unknown: find a way to laugh together. Be best friends. No one else deserves your laughter more than your spouse. Inside jokes or funny memories can be relived as much as possible. Recycle whatever makes you laugh until you have exhausted it of all laughter. The bond formed by laughter is therapy, I tell you.
6) Do not EVER speak poorly of your spouse. Yeah, you'll be tempted and you will mess this up. Just decide right now that you are choosing to rise above this. Beware of friends who husband-bash or make snarky jokes about their wives. Those folks are trouble. If someone doesn't encourage you to love your spouse better, cut the cords from that person and never look back. You only have room in your life, now, for those who build your marriage up. What God has joined together, let no man (or woman) separate. Speaking poorly about your spouse is the fastest way to invite trouble in and to turn people who love both of you against each other, even if accidentally. Your beautiful Bride-to-Be and your future groom: they are people with sinful natures and big flaws. So are the other people. Choose to love THIS person with THESE flaws the best. Every day. Focus on the good, talk about the good, and deal with the flaws in private. (This excludes Christian marriage counselors. You can talk to them.)
7) Create your own family traditions. You will not become a family when your first child is born. You will become a family when you say, "I do." The two of you together will be a family in every sense of the word. It doesn't take a child to make you a family. So, find precious moments that you can annually enjoy with each other. When you do become parents one day, your children will be thrilled at the invitation to enjoy the family traditions. You are now (and will always be) each other's most important family member. Enjoy each other's company from the very beginning! Your children will find great security in belonging to a family that has such a strong pre-existing bond and will love having parents who share this kind of friendship.
8) This one is likely a hard truth that you won't find in most marriage books on the shelves. You ready? Truth: Marriage is not designed for your happiness, but is meant for Holiness. The covenant of marriage is meant to resemble the relationship between Jesus and the church. (Not the building "church," but the Body of Christ. Church=followers of Jesus.) Husbands, love you wives just as Christ has loved the church. (Ephesians 5:25) I highly recommend the book, This Momentary Marriage by John Piper for a greater understanding of this Holy covenant. For now, an example: Jesus gave His very life for the church. Husbands should, in the same way, lay down their own lives (you lay down your best interest or the pursuits of your own flesh) to care for the needs of your wife. When the husband loves this way, how can the wife love in return? His wife can love like the church loves Jesus. She can follow your leadership and trust your heart for her. (This isn't a popular idea in our culture. I don't strive for popularity anyway, I suppose.) This kind of love can stand the test of time, with help from Jesus, because it follows His created design for marriage: a design of sacrifice and selfless love. That is the real beauty.
Well, that was a book. The only person still reading, at this point, is our mom. (Hello, Mother.) Oh well. I refuse to erase even one word of my heart for your marriage. I'm thrilled for you and this journey that you are beginning! You made this decision so, so carefully and I am proud of your diligence to pray and seek God as you have pursued your lovely, future Bride. I know you will both make mistakes. I'm an excellent example of mess-making in the simple ins and outs of marriage. We just can't always get it right, this side of Heaven. Yet, the beauty shines through the messes as you learn patience and show grace. I have learned more about Jesus and His love for me from my husband because I have provided him with plenty of opportunities to forgive. You will both provide opportunities to forgive and your unconditional love for each other will grow and bloom fruits as you allow Jesus to prune away the ugliness. We all have some thorns, but you will discover so much beauty along the way. This journey will be worth every moment of grace-giving. May your friendship grow. The best is yet to come! I'll be cheering (and praying) you along, every step of the way!
Love your bossy big sister,