“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter, we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8
This morning, I looked for the perfect card for Valentine’s Day. Some were funny, and some were romantic, some seemed to put down the husband to elevate the wife, while others were just generic. A few had beautiful pictures, but the sentiment inside didn’t match the design of the card, while others were clearly not my style. After looking for twenty minutes, I left the store feeling disappointed. All the cards felt inadequate. How do you express your feelings after a hard, good year in a simple card with a cutesy saying, and at the inflated price of $7.99? And aren’t the feelings you are expressing contradictory? How can one have a hard good year?
Last Valentine’s Day, Terry pulled out all the stops in celebrating the holiday. He ordered me a box of chocolates from French Broad Chocolates, my favorite chocolatier, and a beautiful Rifle coffee mug. He wrote me a sweet note in a card and gave me flowers. He then took me to a local restaurant I had been wanting to try. I felt loved, cherished, and valued that day!
The year started off well, even though we had made a major life change a few weeks prior. However, from the romantic high of Valentine’s Day we moved into a year of hard moments: one uncle died in April, Terry had emergency surgery and subsequent short-term disability for three months, a new auto-immune diagnosis for me, some additional family challenges, vacation plans canceled, an unexpected job loss, no income for six weeks, Covid-19, and the death of another uncle in November. When I look at this list, I understand why, at times, we felt everyday was a battle. Both of us were stressed, anxious, and struggling just to survive.
But I also look back on some of the wins from last year. When you have stresses in your life, they often trigger your underlying fears. In the past, Terry and I have reacted out of those fears and worked against each other, neither of us feeling heard or supported by the other. This year was different. We had both been doing some reading and learning how to identify those triggers, get to the root of our fears, and share with each other what was really going on. While one person shared, the other worked hard to listen well, validating the other’s feelings without trying to fix them. When we got the heart issues behind our fears, we both learned to pray for one another more effectively.
Did we always do this well? Not at all. So many times, one or both of us would get defensive. So many times, our voices would raise, and we would have to start over. Yet, the more often we had the hard conversations, the better we got at it. The benefits of this hard work were that both of us, for the first time, felt completely safe with one another, heard, and validated. Furthermore, we are both learning to position ourselves in a posture of love towards one another.
About three and half years ago, Terry and I had a major crisis in our marriage. It is not the story either of us ever expected or wanted. For many marriages, this could have resulted in divorce or years of bitterness. Instead of pointing fingers at one another, we each took a hard look at ourselves and our relationships with God. We both refocused on putting God first in our lives by saturating ourselves with worship music, studying scripture, reading books, and listening to sermons and podcasts. We also learned the importance of being transparent with God in prayer. As we grew closer to God, we were able to recognize where we personally were coming up short. This made room for confession, personal responsibility, and healing to take place.
This past Saturday, Terry and I had the privilege of sharing our story and its details at a marriage retreat with some other couples in our church. As I listened to my husband, I was in awe of God’s ability to take something broken and craft it into something beautiful. It reminded me of Jeremiah’s vision at the potter’s house. Jeremiah saw this expert potter creating a vessel on the wheel. As he worked, scripture records that the vessel was “spoiled” or “marred” depending on the translation. This word was also used in the book of Ruth when Boaz asked the nearest relative if he would be willing to redeem Ruth. Being a Moabite, she was not viewed as a prize for the chosen Hebrew people. The man told Boaz that he was unwilling to redeem her because it would mar his inheritance and reputation. Both the clay and Ruth had no apparent value or worth. Yet scripture declares that the potter reworked the clay and made it a vessel that was good. Boaz saw Ruth’s heart and compassion and willingly entered a marriage covenant with her. The result of this unlikely union was Ruth being named in the lineage of Jesus. In the case of our marriage, we allowed the master potter to rework our marriage into a vessel that exudes his expert craftsmanship.
I don’t think a simple greeting card can express my gratitude for the hard work my husband has put into our marriage. No saccharine sentiment could adequately express the hard year we had, how we chose to invest into each other and into God. No picture on a card could capture the beauty of how God took two broken people, healed their deep wounds, and created something new. And the value of the God’s craftsmanship is far greater than $7.99; it’s measured on an eternal scale!