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March 12, 2015

...do us part

Rain slid down the windshield into the black night. Yellow, red and white glow crept through the foggy glass and into the darkness of the vehicle. The traffic stopped and started, and we splashed through monsoon puddles, back to our flat. Roommate #1 and I had just dropped Roommate #2 and her boyfriend off at a hotel where they would be spending the night together. It wasn't something I did every day; it wasn't something I did without grief.

Roommate #2 and I both had long-distance boyfriends. Sometimes we'd exchange news about them over supper, and we met each others' boyfriends when they came to town. In the evenings we'd say good night and hole ourselves up in our rooms, each to talk to our guy, long distance.  

But I felt a little shy sometimes, about the marked difference in our relationships. I knew she would think us prudish. When my boyfriend came to visit, he stayed with my friends and we had a curfew. I didn't have any naughty pictures of him on my phone. On the weekend of our engagement party, while we were singing songs about J'esus and "spending time in groups", she was enjoying a long weekend at the beach with her boyfriend.  

I didn't question why we needed our standards to be so high; we were both convinced that purity would pay off. But it felt like we came from different relationships paradigms and I wondered: How do I explain that to her? Her boyfriend is a pleasant, smart, attractive guy. She's having fun. She's not getting pregnant. Her parents are OK with it. How could I build a case for the slow, intentional and seemingly boring path of wisdom?



 
I questioned Roommate #1, a few nights after the hotel drop-off, with an intensity uncharacteristic for me. The two of us were out for dinner, eating too many entrées because the server got our order wrong.

"Do you think it's right, what she's doing, sleeping with her boyfriend?"

She replied, "Well, each person can do what works for them..."

I didn't let her go. "I won't tell her what you're telling me. I just want to know, do you think it's morally wrong to have sex with someone you're not married to?"

When her answer came, it was solemn. "I do think it's wrong." She said it with a seriousness that knew she was probably condemning 90% of her coworkers, 90% of her friends, maybe even of herself, in the past. But she said it with a raw genuineness for which I admired her. Deep down, she knew there was something wrong with their behaviour.

She used to tease me, sometimes:
"Why don't you wear more sleeveless tops [in our Asian context]?"
"Your poor boyfriend; you should let him get farther with you."
"Next time you Skype with your boyfriend, you should show him that new bathrobe..."

But I knew that beneath her teasing, she appreciated something about my standards, something so far-removed from her typical expectation of a loose Westerner. Something set apart from the darkness she saw in her own supposedly conservative culture. Something that even her own conscience admitted was better.

Sometimes I think that the Father had me fall in love in Asia so that my female friends there could watch it happen. 



At my bridal shower, those same female friends gathered and I was asked to share our love story, and related Truths. I told funny stories of childhood crushes and we had a good laugh. But then I told them how that I knew that my fiancé's love was real, based on the Word—
“Love always trusts” - He tells me the truth, always. This doesn’t mean that we say everything we think, but we tell the truth.

“Love is patient” -  He was wise in the way that he approached our conversations. He made sure that we were friends for quite a while before making any romantic insinuations.

“Love does not boast” - He did not give me a list of things he was good at; I slowly learned those things about him. 
“Love is not easily angered” - He had never been short-tempered with me, and is not known for being angry with other people, either.
“Love protects” - He protected me by limiting physical affection before marriage, and even limited emotional affection by not saying “I love you” until he was ready to start pricing engagement rings.
 As I told these tests of true love, Roommate #2 was there, and again, I felt a bit small. Like, what could my story mean to her? 

I'm boring; she's having fun. 




The fun is over for her now; the boyfriend had his fill and is gone. I heard that when he broke up with her, she was so unwell that she fainted at work, and she had to travel home to spend time with her family while she recovered. By her own admission, she is still hurting, and she should be: she was his, and he was hers—but not fully.

The joy continues for me now; my husband is with me every morning. He is still trustworthy, still patient, still humble, still gentle, and still chivalrous. And, most notably, he's still here. Those boring character traits that I saw as his friend, girlfriend and fiancée continue to evidence themselves to me every day that I spend as his wife. As Ann Voskamp says, "The real romantics are the boring ones — they let another heart bore a hole deep into theirs."

Here it is: my case for the seemingly boring path of wisdom. Perhaps now my story would mean something to her.




There is a design blogger that I follow for her creative, bright imagery. Last year when she broke up with her boyfriend after six years together, she told all her followers about her grief. Recently a follow-up post talked about things she does to make herself feel OK about being home alone, like burning candles and cooking good meals for herself. It is obvious that the pain is still heavy, almost one year later.

The world can tell you all their
free love
free sex
don't-put-any-rules-on-my-body
stuff, and you can follow it, if you will.

Or you can submit your seen body to living by faith in what is unseen.

I stood in a mini Body Worlds exhibit in January and saw dead, unclothed bodies on display. The sight was pitiful. My mind immediately turned to the fragility of our lives. How can we allow bodies (which become as shriveled as crunchy autumn leaves) to orient our lives? How do we allow our bodies to convince our spirits that God doesn't know best? How can we give in to temporary pleasure over peaceful, lasting joy? We are but a vapor, "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." When I saw the worthlessness of our bodies after 70 or 80 years, I thought: who are we to question His eternal Wisdom?

Singleness is hard in some ways, delightful in others. Marriage is a different kind of hard and delightful. But disobedience to divine design, well, even the world declares how terribly painful it is. Yes, they will sell you the gear and tell you you have the right—but when they are genuine, they'll tell you that they are deeply damaged by that cycle of bonding and breaking up. By living for fleeting pleasures. Just ask Roommate #2. Just ask Roommate #1. Just ask Bri.



I have a friend who has a new boyfriend, and I love romance, so I ask about him often. I can tell she genuinely likes him, but the stories she tells are awfully boring:

"I'm meeting his family."
"He's meeting my family."
"For Valentine's Day we read the B!ble over the phone together."
"We're going to go to a conference together."

What? No vacations to the Turkish seashore? No plans to move in together? No wild flings? Her stories are so boring that I'm happy for her—there is such peace in her words and her heart. I think she's got the real thing. Sparks will come and go, but wise, true love builds a solid foundation.

My husband's married friend told me something similar, "The beginning of our dating season was not very romantic. There was a lot of talk about theology and what kind of chruches we attended and if we could find common ground." But when I see how like-minded and joyful they are now, eight years later, it reminds me that it's better to be "boring" on the front end.

Sin always ends in sorrow, though it's temporarily masked as fun. We can shout our stories to this world graciously but boldly, because Wisdom will ultimately prevail. Even the stories the world lives ultimately point back to the truth of the Word. When their homes built on sand are being washed away, your home built on the rock will bear testimony to Wisdom. Be "boring"; be patient. 

I squeeze my husband's hand when he tells our Wednesday group that he is thankful for his wife. The group chuckles in unison; they've heard this before. I tease him, "Is that going to be your thankfulness item every week?" 

I hope so'til death do us part.



 
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord's coming.
See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop,
patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.
You too, be patient and stand firm,
because the Lord’s coming is near.
.. 
The Judge is standing at the door!
...As an example of patience in the face of suffering,
take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.
You have heard of Job’s perseverance
and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
—James
 
 Good understanding gives favor:
but the way of transgressors is hard.
—Solomon


Photos in this post are from here.

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