A Fairy Tale?

A few months ago a student I had in the Czech Republic messaged me on Facebook. Our conversation was brief but at the end she said, “It seems you are living fairytale life.”

Tomorrow is my wife’s and my third wedding anniversary. By all accounts we have a very blessed life. We love each other, we have meaningful employment, we have close and caring friends and family. I am very thankful. But on an occasion like this it seemed appropriate to write about, while I deeply appreciate my former student’s sentiment, I do not think I would use the term “fairy tale” to describe any marriage, let alone my own.

Marriage is hard because you voluntarily decide to give up a life of doing basically whatever you feel like as an adult and live with another adult. Ideally for the rest of your lives. It literally not about you anymore but about US. You sacrifice your freedom and independence because you think your life will be better living with this other person. I’ll explain in a bit why it is worth it but it is certainly not a fairy tale.

When I got married I was waking up at 5:15AM and driving an hour to teach a group of students who gradually over six months became almost impossible to teach. If I rushed home for school I could get home by four but I was not happy newlywed Matt. I was an exhausted, emotional wreck. I did not know all that marriage required and even if I did I was not in a place to give it. That was our first three months of marriage.

Life is complicated. In the past three years we have moved once and gone through multiple job and position changes. My knees decided to start hurting when I run for the first time in my life. My wife got a cat. Going through all this change (we both detest change) is inherently stressful. We have had to lean on and support each other all the while learning how to do that. Every time I mention I’ve gone to therapy people act a little strange so maybe this is not normal but we have both been to therapy. Together and separate, during engagement, and off and on during the past three years. Marriage takes work and if you don’t invest in the relationship it will not work.

I feel like I have been profoundly negative so far so lets get to the good part. Three years in I can say with absolute confidence the following: marriage is worth it. I can hardly do justice to the commitment I feel to this woman who I decided to marry. Every step of the way as we progressed from dating, to engagement, to marriage I expected to feel worried and unsure. But I didn’t. I simply made the calculation that my life would be so much better with her in it. So I kept going. And it has.

Those first few months when I was a braindead zombie teacher? My wife made my lunch almost everyday and often woke up when I did. Just because we were married. And solidarity or something. I still don’t always get it. Everyday my wife pushes me to be a better man and husband. We don’t always hit the mark. We disagree, we fight, we irritate the crap out of each other. That is life. But our commitment to love each other is still there and we push through.

Our society likes to push the idea that getting married is a fairy tale. That’s a lie. You can be happy and fulfilled single and you can be miserable and frustrated married. The reality is more complex. Marriage takes a lot of work to be successful and to weather all the storms life brings. But, fairy tale or something else entirely, tomorrow my wife and I will be celebrating.

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Changing Church

I have attended the same church about half my life. In 7th grade my family finally completed a move after my dad switched jobs and we started attending Grace Chapel. I grew up in the youth group and except for a break when I was in college and then living overseas I have been a regular attender. All told I have been there around 14 years.

I loved Grace Chapel. I was an active member of the high school youth group when I was a teenager and always enjoyed it. For the past seven years I served in the middle school and high school groups as a small group leader. I’ve gone on retreats and events and gotten to know many students, parents and other leaders. Most notably I met my wife while volunteering and we are approaching our 3rd anniversary next month. When I look at my experiences at Grace Chapel I feel elated, excited, and blessed. However, despite all these positive feelings toward this community and place, this coming Sunday I am changing churches.

Why on earth am I doing this?

My wife was not any lowly church girl. She was a church staff member. The first time I saw her she was speaking in front of the huge group of middle schoolers. I had never really personally known anyone who worked at church but soon I was dating someone who did. As I relate to in a previous post I have learned a lot. But because we met at the church we both attended I did not have to worry about changing where I went every week.

This did not change that my wife’s career was still developing and changing. Earlier this year she accepted a new position at a different church. It is a little farther away but we do not have to move which is great. But it does mean on Sunday I won’t be at Grace but someplace totally new.

This is undeniably bittersweet for both of us. We both know and love many people at Grace. Both our parents go to Grace and it is a place with many great memories and experiences. At the same time this church and position feels like the perfect next step for her and her development and we are excited to see what happens.

Even with the excitement of a new journey about to begin it is apparent in the recesses of my mind that if I was not married I would probably not be attending this new church on Sunday. So to be very clear at the end of this blog: my wife is totally worth changing church for. I think our society values the idea of marriage a lot in our society. We certainly still value weddings. Despite this value we ascribe to the ideal of what marriage can be I do not think we acknowledge as much what is absolutely required in any strong marriage: mutual sacrifice from both parties. In getting married we combined our lives. My wife married me, a school teacher. I married her, a (youth) pastor. Whether or not I processed what that fully meant on our wedding day, changing churches this Sunday is in a small way a fulfillment of that commitment I made three years ago to us.

I am going to a new place on Sunday. It will be new and different and maybe even a bit weird. But I’ll be sitting next to my wife so I think I’ll be ok.

Reflections on Marriage

Roughly six years ago I walked into a bar in Boston to have a drink with my assistant coach at the time. Her sister was also there as well as another friend. When I first walked in I did not get a good look at him because he was on the other side of my colleague’s sister. However I quickly was introduced and we realized we knew each other. This was Andrew; he had gone to the same church as my family did when I was growing up in Delaware in the 90s. Our parents had been friends. My family had moved to the Boston area when I was in middle school and we had not seen each other since. It had been roughly 13 years.

I bring that story up for two reasons. 1) I had the singular joy and honor of attending Andrew’s  wedding this past weekend and 2) he was the man probably most responsible for me meeting my own wife, Jocelyn. Don’t worry the story gets even better. Buckle in this one runs a bit long.

Having reconnected and caught up on life (he had gone to college in MA and was now a youth pastor at my church; I had attended another college in MA and been overseas the better part of the past three years) I promptly did nothing to cultivate our relationship. To be honest I don’t remember talking to him for the next six months. However, I was now on Andrew’s radar and he did not let that slip by.

Youth pastors are always looking for good volunteers and he thought I would make a good one. In the spring of 2011 he brought me in to see a Wednesday night middle school event. I came, I observed and I promptly left a few weeks later to work the entire summer at a summer camp. Still he did not let my unintentional blowing off of his invitation deter him.

When I returned he still needed a volunteer leader for one of his small groups. He brought me in for another visit on our Church’s kickoff Sunday for the school and  ministry year. I met my future small group that Sunday. I also heard Jocelyn speak up front for the first time.

At the time Jocelyn was Andrew’s ministry assistant with the middle school. It took a while (another story for another time) but by the end of my first year volunteering she was my girlfriend. By the end of my second year of volunteering we had finished grad school a week apart and the idea of proposing to her had entered my mind and heart. By the end of my third year of volunteering we were married. By the end of my fourth year volunteering I moved up to the high school group where my friend’s future wife, Leah, was now leading. And by the end of my fifth year volunteering, this past year, we traveled up to New Hampshire to celebrate their wedding. A wedding between two amazing people my wife and I are lucky to have as friends.

My friend’s path to his incredible celebration with his new wife was no less complex or miraculous. I’d love to tell you all the zigs and zags of their relationship but that too is a story of another blog entry. The real reason I was inspired to write today was because of the remarks by the pastor during the ceremony. Anytime you go to a wedding is an excellent time to reflect on marriage and what a successful one might look like and this pastor’s words resonated with me.

Too many people today see marriage as a personal path to happiness or contentment. Many wedding venues and planners sell this idea as well. A perfect ceremony to start your “happily ever after!” Of course my wedding and now marriage has brought me incalculable joy and love between my wife and I. It’s beautiful. But this is not because we “complete each other” a la Jerry Maguire (this reference was from the pastor, not me.) It is because we have chosen to love and submit to one another over the course of our lives come what may. We sacrifice to ourselves because we have decided our life together, no matter how messy or complex or hard it might get sometimes, is worth it.

I am deeply grateful to Andrew for providing me an opportunity to serve that resulted in me meeting Jocelyn. I am ecstatic that this weekend we got to celebrate Andrew and Leah start their life together. The ceremony was beautiful, the food was delicious, the dancing was on point. But now the marriage begins. I am thankful we will get to walk this road together with two incredible women who are truly deserving of everything marriage requires.