June has been a crazy month. At the beginning of the month I moved into the apartment where JoBeth and I will be living after marriage, and I have yet to spend a full weekend there. We have either been at a wedding or having a wedding type celebration every single weekend. This weekend is no different. Well, except for the fact that after one of my best friends’ weddings, JoBeth and I will be heading back to Knoxville to catch an early morning flight to Asia, where we will spend two weeks. We are so grateful for all of the opportunities we have been given. We are grateful to have a schedule full of celebrations for and with people that we love. And we are so grateful that we have a chance to spend two weeks serving together in a totally new environment, to take a breather from wedding planning and to dive into a new experience. That being said, it feels a little more like we are stumbling into this weekend and this trip instead of anxiously anticipating its arrival. There hasn’t been a lot of time for contemplation and reflection, and instead there has been a lot of rushing from one thing to the next.
So as we sit in the airport between flights, the fear is that we would go through these next two weeks groggy and passive, not being fully aware of or experiencing all that God has in store for us. It feels like we have been tossed around by a whirlwind of the summer and are just now settling into this trip. It feels a little like whiplash, and we are working now to find our balance again, like walking on one of those big runways in the airport and trying to step onto solid ground. It’s a little disorienting at first, but then you settle in. We are settling in. So in the next two weeks we would love your prayer for strength, energy, rest, and health. That we would be fully present and fully embrace our time here. We are tired, but excited. Weary, but joyful. Also, pray for JoBeth to kick butt on her Spanish homework!
When I talk to middle school students about the idea of grace, love, and the Gospel, something that was told to me once and that I have continued to share with them is this: There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more, or any less. This means that no matter how much I try, no matter how hard I work, I can’t earn love. And on the other hand, no matter how much I fail, no matter how badly I fail, I can’t lose that same love. The love is there regardless of my performance, regardless of my track record, regardless of my refusal to accept it. It has literally nothing to do with anything that I have done or will do. It is one of my favorite things to tell people about! And, I have discovered in the last week or so, it is also apparently one of the hardest truths for me to accept.
This season of engagement for JoBeth and I has been filled with a lot of grace – that is, it has been filled with us being given things that we don’t deserve. Love, support, encouragement, financial backing for a trip to Asia, lots of gifts, some beautiful wedding showers, and of course, a wedding (49 days but who is counting?). We knew that getting married young would be a challenge, and I think we were both expecting a tough season of engagement. Certainly it has had its ups and downs, but over and over we have been shown grace and love that we absolutely do not deserve.
JoBeth’s parents have been so kind and generous to provide us with a beautiful wedding at a venue that we are absolutely thrilled about. My parents are working hard on a rehearsal dinner where we will get to gather some of our closest friends and family for a night of celebration and preparation. People have gone above and beyond to throw us wedding showers (which I didn’t even know were a thing until the last year) where we were able to congregate with people we love and who love us as we look ahead at a new season of life. And not only have people thrown showers, but other people have shown up to them and brough us gifts for our future home and life together. We are slowly accumulating furniture for our new house as people have so graciously supplied us with things that would be tough for us to buy at this time of our lives. And the most significant thing about it all is that we don’t deserve any of it.
Beyond planning a wedding which seems to take up the time and resources of an endless amount of people, and about which we are so grateful, we also decided to embark on a mission trip to Asia just a few weeks before our wedding. We were so hesitant to put the need of financial support out there during a time where people were already giving us so much. Well after one Facebook post and just a couple of weeks, we are humbly able to announce that all of the money for the trip has been covered. We cautiously put the need out there and people responded boldly. We were blown away to see the way that people were willing to give. Some were people who had already given us so much in so many other ways and absolutely did not owe us anything. Others were people we hadn’t heard from in years and yet for some reason felt compelled to support us. And all of it, once again, is something that we simply do not deserve.
It is one thing for me to talk to students about what a great thing it is that there’s nothing we can do to earn God’s love and acceptance. It is another thing for me to really believe it, and I have seen that manifest itself in these last few months. We have been given more than we could possibly repay, and I find myself wanting desparately to find a way to earn it. I feel like I need to write a 10 page Thank You note to every single person around us so that it will feel like I am worthy. I want to find ways to make it up to people, to do something for them, to make it even. I keep wanting to believe that I am somehow good or righteous enough to be receiving all of this, and yet I know my heart and I know how untrue that is. And as I come to this realization that there is nothing I could ever do to deserve any of this, I see so clearly the ways that people have been kind and generous and loving just for the sake of being kind and generous and loving. Not because JoBeth and I have done anything to deserve it, but because they want to show us love, a love that we don’t deserve.
The last 6 months have been such a beautiful picture of God’s love, manifested through friends, family members, and even new acquaintances. It is a love that, no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to earn. And no matter how badly I mess up, I’ll never be able to lose. But in my pride I spin my wheels fruitlessly trying to earn it, trying to be good enough, to be kind enough, to be impressive enough, to be worthy enough for this kind of love. And the harder I try, the more I see how unworthy I truly am. There’s nothing I can ever do to cause God to love me any more, or any less. All that I can do is respond with gratitude, humility, and love.
So, to everyone that has walked alongside us in this journey in some form or another, from dating to engagement to wedding planning to apartment hunting to mission trip sending to gift giving to words of encouragement and support and everything in between, thank you. We won’t be able to express our gratitude enough, and I’m only now learning that that is okay. Thank you for showing us a picture of God’s love in the way that you have loved us. We love you all.