100 Days

It has been 100 days since we stood before God and our loved ones to pledge our commitment to each other. Leading up to the wedding, 100 days felt infinitesimally small. But the 100 days post-wedding have felt like eternity at times. We have already gone through some ‘for better’ and ‘for worse’ things. I have a few thoughts after reflecting back on these past 100 days:

I’m allergic to my husband

Just kidding. But I have suffered from endless sneezing, congestion, a sinus infection, and a relentless cough since the week after our wedding.

Today, my doctor informed me that it appears to be caused by an environmental allergen, but it’s probably not my husband. It’s more likely to be the carpets or something in my new home (aka semi-redecorated, former bachelor pad –- say no more. I’m ready to move). My current round of steroids will hopefully relieve the inflammation. But for THREE MONTHS, the headaches, snot rags, fits of coughing, and overall lethargy have prevented me from being the most doting of wives. Instead of bouncing up to greet him at the door, he walks in to find me burrowed into a pile of crumpled tissues on the couch. Instead of staying up into the wee hours of the night giggling at the newness and excitement of sharing a life together, I snore and drool into my pillow after knocking back a shot of Nyquil. Instead of making out in the back of a movie theater on our date night, I whisper a nasally “I love you” and then cradle my achy face in my hands and regret not bringing the entire box of tissues.

But even in these “for worse” instances, we are better. I know he loves me when he peers into my glazed, itchy, and slightly swollen eyes and says “you’re beautiful.” I know he loves me when he tucks my hair behind my ear and coaxes me into a nap instead of pushing me out of bed to finish the chores. I know he loves me when he does those chores for me because he knows I had a long day, too. And I know he loves me when he lights candles for me while I’m in the bathtub. It’s nice to know he still loves me even when I haven’t felt like my usual self for weeks.

And I’m pretty sure he knows I love him. He knows I love him even when he frustrates me to the point of tears, but I say “I love you” anyway. He knows I love him when I search through for dinner ideas and ignore all of the awesome looking casseroles smothered with cheese. He knows I love him when I’ve been chronically “under the weather” and I’m tired ALL THE TIME, but I sort and fold his clothes, make his dinners, clean the bathroom, wash the dishes, vacuum the floors, and make the bed most days of the week anyway. He knows I love him when I put down my school work and take the time to rub his back while he finishes up a work project.

Even though we love each other when we aren’t our best selves, I’m excited to get rid of this constant headache/congestion/cough/sneezing/achiness and bring my normal, full-force of energy into our marriage.

We have a troll.

I am convinced a troll lives in our kitchen, shits on the dishes, and piles them in the sink. There is no way that two people who aren’t even home that often can generate that number of dirty dishes. I had no idea the song to our first dance would be foreshadowing this daily struggle.

It’s true that we eat out less and enjoy more meals at home, but this is unreal. Everyday involves unloading the dishwasher, reloading it with the dishes sitting the kitchen sink, and refilling the sink with dirty dishes until it has to be done again the next day. Some days have involved 2-3 cycles… in one day! Over and over again.

I baked a lot around the holidays and we’ve had various people over for dinner throughout the month of January – I’m hoping we’ll settle into a more anti-social rhythm, which might alleviate this plight.

Or the troll will continue his antics and I will forever be stuck cleaning the same plates over and over again for the rest of my life.

We have to be intentional to make this marriage work.

Neither of us ever thought being married would be a walk in the park. I’m thankful our marriage is built on the foundation of the Gospel, because our marriage would already be crumbled without our knowledge and application of Christ, grace, and forgiveness.

Other things in life, like work or school assignments, become so urgent; they end up climbing to the top of our priority lists. Things have to be done now, and our spouse will be there tomorrow! And after we’ve depleted our energy on other things and people, it’s easy to think, “I’ll give to my spouse tomorrow – after I’ve done this for me, or make myself feel good this way.” But then tomorrow comes and we get drained again. And it’s easy to become energy-less roommates with nothing to give to the other, expecting to receive bountifully. From that selfish vantage point, it becomes even easier to binge watch Netflix, play online games, or seek attention in the wrong places, all in an effort to be filled up. We have to be intentional about replenishing ourselves through prayer, before the end of the day, so we can pour into each other. We cannot become lazy in serving our spouse, even when we’re tired or drained. We have to be intentional in making each other feel loved and secure; and we have to be intentional in making sure we’re able to do that by first resting in the love and security of Christ.

Biblical Exegesis: A Passage from the Gospel of John

53Then each of them went home, 1while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone amount you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone as her.” 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.10Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

John 7:53-8:11 NRSV

The Gospel of John is unique within the genre of the canonized gospels due to its advanced theological interpretations of Jesus as the Son of God, and well-developed literary devices such as poetry, symbolism, and irony. Scholars agree that a lot of ambiguity and conjectures about the certainty of this gospel’s authorship, date of writing, and sources continue to this day. Despite the unknown specifics about the production of this gospel, the passage about “The Woman Caught in Adultery” is agreed by religious scholars to not be initially included in the Gospel of John (Burge, 1996; Keener, 2014; Kieffer, 2007; Rensberger, 2006; Scott, 2003; Shepherd, 1971). However, according to the redactors, this passage appropriately belongs in the Gospel of John because it reflects the author’s belief in Jesus’ authority from God, and his compassionate promise to “judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgement is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me,” (Jn 8:15b-16).

The Gospel of John is included in the Christian canon, but it is not included as a synoptic gospel because is contains unique characters and events not mentioned in the other three canonized gospels, and lacks stories that are included in them (Rensberger, 2006). Unfortunately, the differences between this gospel and the others have caused speculation about the reliability of this account of Jesus (Kieffer, 2007), but scholars like Burge and Shepherd argue the authenticity and historicity of this book being corroborated by subsequent historical and archaeological discoveries, like the documents found near Qumran, that support the author’s claims.

There are a number of theories about the identity of this “beloved disciple” who wrote the fourth gospel. Some scholars recognize the author as an entire Johannine school, formed by multiple disciples of John, the son of Zebedee, which represents an “idealized literary figure,” as an author through a process of redaction and revision (Burge, 1996; Keener, 2014; Kiefer, 2007). This theory has substantial evidence in the cultural context of conflict between the early Jewish Christians and authorities of the Jewish synagogues (Keener, 2014; Rensberger, 2006). However, another widely accepted belief with strong evidence is that the author is John, son of Zebedee, and apostle of Jesus (Burge, 1996; Keener, 2014; Rensberger, 2006; Shepherd, 1971). Scholars have access to ancient accounts of Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, and other historical figures who claim to have been instructed by John, and that he “lived to a great age,” (Burge, 1996). Burge cites historical documents that claim John, the apostle of Jesus, lived until the reign of Trajan, who ruled between 98 and 117 C.E.; another account states that John lived to the 68th year after the death of Jesus, which would be around 98 C.E. Either way, the gospel’s claim to come from an eye witness is significant (Keener, 2014), and the gospel has been revised, most likely by John’s disciples (Kieffer, 2007) which is evidenced by the original absence of the 7:53-8:11 passage in the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of John.

Although the authorship of the gospel is contested by scholars, it is generally agreed that the gospel was primarily composed in Ephesus around the 90s of the first century; that time period cannot be debated because it has been confirmed by a manuscript fragment of the gospel dating to the early 2nd century (Keener, 2014). The date is significant because it shapes the literary devices and tone of John’s gospel. After the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E., Pharisees gained religious authority and power, which is present in John’s gospel, and conflict arose between the religious authorities (Pharisees) and Jewish Christian believers as early as the 70s and most definitely by the 90s (Keener, 2014). Rensberger suggests a later time period of authorship, which ranges from 90 – 120 C.E., but other scholars generally agree that it was composed before the turn of the first century (Burge, 1996; Keener, 2014; Kieffer, 2007; Shepherd, 1971). Ignatius, the martyr-Bishop of Antioch was using phrases and alluding to the gospel of John in 115 C.E., which means the gospel message had been transcribed and was circulating by then (Shepherd, 1971). The gospel, a “hostile picture of relations between Jesus and the Jews,” (Rensberger, 2006) was directed toward a wide audience, but primarily existing Jewish Christians, “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name,” (Jn 20:31 NRSV).

The estimated time scholars believe the Gospel of John had been written indicates that the author would have had all other canonized gospels available as sources, but this gospel is truly unique in having so few passages parallel to those of the synoptics (Rensberger, 2006). The fourth gospel clearly has its own agenda in confirming Jesus as the son of God, but Kieffer conjectures that it was inspired by Mark, and possibly Luke or perhaps a mutual source of Luke and John. This might be the reason that the 7:53-8:11 passage was originally inserted in the Gospel of Luke. This passage of the adulterous woman is included in John because of “its affinity to other Johannine stories in which Jesus and women engage sympathetically with one another,” but it is clearly the ending of a different passage because it has no relation to verse 7:52 (Scott, 2003). But this passage of the adulterous woman does start with a typical action of going to the temple in the morning to teach, as seen in Luke 21:37 (Kieffer, 2007; Rensberger, 2006). Verse 3 in the NRSV, NIV, ESV, and KJV translations identifies the scribes and pharisees as the people who brought the woman to Jesus, among others, which is significant because “scribes” are not mentioned by name in any other passage of John’s gospel (Keener, 2014; Rensberger, 2006). This makes the style to be very unlike John (Burge, 1996), which further supports the theory that this passage was later added during a redaction. Regardless of original authorship, this passage appears to be authentic and accurate; it is likely that the scribes were present with the Pharisees during that historical time period and in that location because they were active in the temple and responsible for administration and diplomacy (Browning, 1996). Together, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman in front of Jesus and accused her of adultery. They claimed “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery,” (v. 5), but many scholars question the truth of their assertion.

Scott provides four reasons to believe that the scribes and Pharisees presented this woman to Jesus as a set-up: First, they are religious authorities, and there is no reason to try the case in public or consult Jesus if they actually had evidence or eye-witness accounts of her committing adultery. Secondly, only the woman is brought before Jesus. Deuteronomy 22:22 states that “If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel,” (NRSV). Therefore, if the woman had really been caught in the act, then the scribes and Pharisees would be obligated to also accuse and punish the male offender as well. Since the man was not brought forward, readers can either assume the Pharisees knowingly let him go unpunished or are falsely accusing the woman, which are both morally wrong (Burge, 1996). Thirdly, given the political climate, bringing this charge to be decided by Jesus puts him in an impossible position. “Rome had re-moved capital jurisdiction from Jewish courts, except for temple violations. Thus the Jewish leaders test whether Jesus will reject the law, compromising his patriotic Jewish following, or reject Roman rule, which will allow them to accuse him to the Romans,” (Keener, 2014). Fourthly, the narrator of the story indicates the purpose of the Pharisees and scribes is to entrap Jesus, which corroborates a set-up, of which Jesus is very likely to be aware.

Next in the passage, Jesus wrote on the ground with his finger (v. 6b). Readers and scholars alike debate what Jesus was writing. At that time, Roman judges wrote the offenders’ sentences before executing a punishment, so it is speculated that Jesus was writing an acquittal (Keener, 2014). Scripture also depicts God as writing the commandments with His finger (Keener, 2014), so it is also possible that Jesus is writing a commandment, like Deuteronomy 19:18-19, which says, “and the judges shall make a thorough inquiry. If the witness is a false witness, having testified falsely against another, then you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other. So you shall purge the evil from your midst,” (NRSV). If this is what Jesus wrote, it would accuse the Pharisees and scribes for bearing false witness, which would result in an equal punishment of being stoned. There is no conclusive way to know what Jesus wrote on the ground, but the latter conclusion would better support the author’s belief in Jesus having equal authority to God by being equally able to write the commandments and be able to “judge.”

Finally, in verse 7, he stands up from writing and says “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” This statement is possibly based on the Law found in Deuteronomy 17:7 (Rensberger, 2006): “The hands of the witnesses shall be the first raised against the person to execute the death penalty, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (NRSV). At this time, the Pharisees and scribes could probably see what was written on the ground. “[A]s the elders in the Sanhedrin have not been mentioned before, presbytery designates probably the oldest men,” among the supposed witnesses are  to begin throwing the first stones (Kieffer, 2007). But instead of throwing stones, according to verse 9, “When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders.” Somehow, the accusers became convicted of their own sin, most likely of being a false witness, and walked away without throwing a stone.

Once they left, Jesus was left alone with the woman. “With much skill the author has delayed the dialogue with the accused woman to the end of the story,” (Kieffer, 2007). According to the narrator, Jesus asks the woman if anyone remains. When she answers answers in the negative, he replies, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Throughout the various translations, this line of dialogue is most likely to be significantly altered than any other line in the passage. The NIV translation says “Then neither do I condemn you…,” which the operative word being “then,” which indicates a dependence on the lack of condemnation by the Pharisees and scribes. Most other translations do not include that condition, which better conforms to the authority attributed to Jesus in this gospel; his judgement is not dependent on the judgement of others. Although it is likely that the Pharisees and scribes falsely accused the woman, Jesus’ command to her to “not sin again,” implies that she had sinned, which would be justly punishable by law. The final words of Jesus echo the admonition he gave after healing a man in Jn 5:14 (Scott, 2003), which reflect Jesus’ choice to heal the woman of her past transgressions, but without condoning her sin or condemning her.

This passage shows two sides of Jesus; his righteous judgement and compassionate mercy, which he gives equally to the adulterous woman and the false accusers. The Jewish Testament portrays God’s righteousness, judgement, and just punishment, but this gospel message asserts that Jesus has the same authority of God, and shows mercy and love instead. Jesus, in the passage, presents a new image of God to the readers of the Johannine gospel. The redactors seem to have inserted this passage, which is consistent with other actions of Jesus, historical locations, and events, into the Gospel of John in order to prelude Jesus’ powerful assertion about his authority and right to judge (Jn 8:16). This pronouncement story of the woman who committed adultery reflects the author’s belief in Jesus’ authority to judge, but within the context of his compassion and mercy.

Bibliography

Browning, W. (1996). A Dictionary of the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press.

Burge, G. (1996). John. In W. Elwell (Ed.), Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (pp. 840-858). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Goodrick, E., & Kohlenberger, J. (1981). The NIV Complete Concordance: The Complete English Concordance to the New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Keener, C. (2014). John. In The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (2nd ed., pp. 245-272). Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Kieffer, R. (2007). John. In J. Barton & J. Muddiman (Eds.), The Oxford Bible Commentary (pp. 960-1000). New York: Oxford University Press.

Rensberger, D. (2006). The Gospel According to John. In W. Meeks (Ed.), The Harper Collins Study Bible (Student Edition ed., pp. 1814-1831). New York: HarperCollins Publisher.

Scott, M. (2003). Book of John. In J. Dunn & J. Rogerson (Eds.), Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (pp. 1161-1182). Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans.

Shepherd, Jr., M. (1971). The Gospel According to John. In C. Laymon (Ed.), The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible (pp. 707-718). Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press.

100 Days

I finally looked at a calendar and counted the days until our wedding date.

There are 100 of them.

That number feels so incredibly small. In a wedding planner book I recently purchased, the suggested to-do’s that we have to accomplish are designed to span 12-18 months. And now they’re being crammed into 100 days. How is 100 days possibly long enough to combine two lives into one?!

In 100 days, I’ll have a new home, a new last name, a new family, new ideas to accommodate, new opinions to consider, new bank accounts,  new priorities, new changes to friendships and other existing relationships, and new amounts of laundry to occupy a couple nights of the week.

It’s scary to know that in 100 days, we will stop being our own individual selves. Instead, we’ll be called to lay down our individualism, and join together as one flesh (see Genesis 2:24).

And being “one flesh” doesn’t exclusively mean sex. Just like we consume the flesh of Jesus Christ to become one with him — deeply fed, filled, and led by our Savior (see John 6:53-54), we must also become one flesh with each other, characterized by shared life and mutual indwelling. It’s a type of deep, intimate knowledge of the other and his/her character so that we become of the same nature.

Being a Christian is all about this type of intimacy! We are to know Him so well through time spent praying, reading, studying, and meditating, that we instinctively know what would be “Christ-like” and be able to act with those same characteristics. WWJD.

Tim Keller spoke about this type of instinctive, indwelling relationship with his wife in one of his sermons. When he is faced with a decision-making opportunity, he feels both his gut reaction and his wife’s gut reaction instantly — giving him a split second to choose to respond with his own reaction or his wife’s. He claims that he is now able to respond more compassionately and patiently because he can channel his wife’s essence because they operate as one. According to him, he’s a better person because of it.

Am I ready?!

There are times when Jason narrates my reactions to a series of events before they happen (sending me into a fit of giggles, which is usually exactly what he’s predicted) that I feel absolutely sure that we know each other. You know, something like guessing my reaction to one of his out-of-nowhere-while-we’re-cuddling (i.e. Ariel wedged into the crevice between the couch cushions with Jason on the other side… i.e. trapped)-farts. And he says “Oh, you’re not going to like this!” And then goes on to predict the rest of my exclamations and struggles to break free from the stink.

It’s those moments (and many other much more serious ones!) that assure me of how in tune we are with each other. However, there are also many times when I feel like I’m standing on Venus wondering what the heck he is doing over there on Mars.  We have a long way to go before we’re a knowing-each-other-like-the-back-of-our-hands kind of couple. It’s going to take a lot more than 100 days to get us there…

But that’s okay. I can’t expect to have a perfect, intimate marriage before we’re even married. In fact, the only way to have that deep, intimate, know-your-soul type of relationship with another human being IS to marry him or her.

So, being someone who likes to be perfectly prepared with all my ducks in a row, I need to remember that my deadline to become a wonderful, respectful wife to my soon-to-be husband is not 100 days — it’s the process of a lifetime.

100 days

A Call to Prayer

Preface: This was originally an article I wrote for my church’s newsletter and blog. So the topic and audience is quite specific. However, I think that anyone may be able to gleen some encouragement to seek out prayer in your own church or community groups.  

As I sat down to try and write this little article (for the fourth time), I found myself distracted… distracted by work, distracted by numerous church responsibilities and issues, distracted by personal things and planning a wedding… distracted by the ‘fall’ of a Pastor who’s sermons I have found so much truth, help, and refreshing hope in. In typical fashion, I did everything other than the task that I set out to accomplish.

At this exact moment, I instinctively turned to the website that causes any hope of productivity to come to a grinding halt: Facebook. Providentially, the very top post was from Pastor Tim Keller and he simply wrote:

Pray and pray a lot. Especially when you don’t feel like praying at all.

That was the well-timed and well-themed Spirit-led kick in the pants that I needed. So here we are!

My nature is to fix things. Everything. Often times, this is a helpful trait… But sometimes it’s pretty terrible. It’s terrible when my first reaction to a problem is to immediately think of all the potential paths to a perfect resolution rather than “casting all your anxiety on him because he cares for [me].” When it comes to my prayer life, there’s a lot of refining that I need God to do in me. (Pray for me?) For me, the accountability in prayer that a Sunday worship service or an every-other-week Bible Study provides just isn’t enough. This came to a head during the last Congregation Meeting when Jerry Meltzer gave such a passionate plea for folks to join in one of the weekly prayer meetings at church. I was convicted. I knew about the prayer meetings. I had preconceived ideas of what went on there and reasoned that it just wasn’t for me and that “I had so many things to do.” But I promised myself I would attend the meeting the following week.

Wednesday came and I ended up getting a flat tire and my schedule was all discombobulated. It was the perfect excuse to not follow through on a promise I made. Convicted by the Holy Spirit, Jerry’s words ran through my head. I confess, I made it to this meeting because I forced myself to go. It was not out of joyful expectation. But praise His name, the following 3 weeks I cleared my schedule out of that joyful expectation of being able to sing a few songs, hear a brief message, and pray for an extended time with my church family. Some of the things that I used to reason why a prayer meeting wasn’t for me are the exact reasons I so enjoy the prayer meetings!

To you, the seasoned prayer warrior, this may seem like an elementary story. I tell it not because I’m some wise man who discovered a revolutionary way to pray. There are saints who have been coming to these meetings faithfully for years. They are the wise ones. They’ve realized the importance of communal prayer. God bless their vigor and faithfulness! I tell it because the turnout at these meetings is disproportionately small compared to the attendance of a Sunday morning service. I can only think that there is someone else out there that might have had a moment where you saw the prayer meetings listed in the Bulletin or the weekly email blast and glazed right over it like I did. You may have thought, like I did, “I pray at home. I hear the Pastoral prayer on Sunday and pray silently in my chair. I go to a bible study and pray along with the leader or even pray aloud sometimes. I’m so busy, so those other times are enough.” Or maybe you’ve never thought of going to a prayer meeting because you’ve managed to miss all of the advertising! Maybe you realize you need to slow down from the business of life and could use some community support.

My attempt at a plea for you to come out to a prayer meeting may not be conveyed with the same emotion and heart Jerry was able to do in person that Friday evening. It’s not meant to be a theological explanation of the importance of prayer. But I hope it’s something that might cause you to rethink coming out to a prayer meeting!

For the past 4 weeks, many of my frustrations have been put into proper perspective when I am in His presence hearing His people praying for each other, this church, and those that don’t yet know Christ. You know those prayer cards that are in the Bulletin every week that may seem so traditional or ritualistic? Every one of those that gets turned in gets prayed for – thoroughly – at these prayer meetings. Hearing people’s hearts and prayers for their friends, family, and those in the community who don’t know Christ, and being able to intercede in prayer for them, is far more eternally valuable than anything else I could have possibly done during that 1 hour on Wednesday evening – even if it was some practical church project! Hearing how much struggle there is going on within our church family is heartbreaking and humbling. Hearing the praise and hope that people have is encouraging. Seeing how church members are caring for each other “behind the scenes” provides an encouraging perspective.

Maybe prayer is an equalizer in the life of the church. Maybe it’s the one thing that we can all freely rally around. There are no preferences to be had. There are no committees to go through. There are no generational differences. It’s just pouring our hearts out to our Father who promises to hear us. Maybe the first step to deeper ‘community’ in the church isn’t more activities… but more prayer – together.

My prayer is that the Wednesday evening prayer group is no longer able to meet in the Choir Room and the format has to be adapted to support multiple classrooms and a Sanctuary: because we’re that zealous, as a church, to pray together.

I’ll leave you with what Tim Keller writes about Jesus and prayer in his book ‘Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God‘:

Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a ‘house of prayer’), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer. He prayed often and regularly with fervent cries and tears (Heb. 5:7), and sometimes all night. The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21–22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29). When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer. We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1–26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Finally, he died praying. (pp. 27)

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. –Romans 12:12

We Said Yes

On the evening of Saturday, May 16th, Jason held Ariel in his arms as they prayed on the shore of Loch Raven Reservoir — thanking God for his providence and praying for continued guidance in this next step of their lives…

Spoiler Alert! Jason asked Ariel to marry him on Saturday, May 16 at 8:15PM. Ariel said yes!

Proposal-Sunset-On-A-Knee

For those that are interested, we’re sharing the story of our proposal. Below, there are 3 parts: 1) What Ariel experienced (the play-by-play). 2) What Jason planned (the behind-the-scenes). 3) What we, as a couple, hope to strive towards (the prayer).

Her Story

Battling traffic during a commute back from Annapolis to Towson on an empty stomach, and in a thunderstorm, may not seem like the typical opener for describing the most wonderful, magical night of your life… But that’s how mine starts!

I had spent the morning boxing and moving the last of my belongings out of my room at Notre Dame of Maryland University. After cramming the last of my bags and boxes into the back seat of my tiny little car, I checked out for the semester, and eagerly set off to Annapolis. I had a busy day of plans ahead of me which included unpacking, making sure to re-pack for vacation that upcoming week, meeting my friend Brittany for a belated birthday get-together and manicure, and running some errands before running back up to Baltimore to meet up with Jason and some friends, Phil & Jenn.

While sipping a glass of wine after our manicures, I slyly asked Brittany, “So, how dressed up should I get tonight?” and winked, speculating that our outing might have been a rouse to make sure my nails look nice for a proposal. She responded with an incredulous, “I don’t know!” and convincingly assured me that we were just getting together for my birthday. She hasn’t even talked to Jason. So any hopes I had of an upcoming proposal were certainly dampened.

But then came the rain. Sitting in traffic on my way to Towson, I called Jason to let him know I was running late. He seemed rather nonchalant and let me know we didn’t have any dinner plans — we were just going eat on our own and then meet our friends later for drinks.

Around 7 pm, I arrived at his place and almost immediately blurted out, “I haven’t eaten since 12 pm. Can we please just get food or else I’m going to get irritable” (as if I wasn’t already — talk about being “hangry”). I watched him pack up his camera equipment as he explained his need to make a pit stop at the reservoir to record some footage for a video he is making for church. I definitely did not want to tag along, knowing his pit stops take forever and a nice dress with suede heels would not go well with the mud.

However, he fed me crackers and stopped for salads to take with us so I could eat while he worked. Hi ho! By the time we got to Loch Raven, the rain had let up, so we unpacked some chairs and sat on the shore of the reservoir. With the camera pointing away from us to record a timelapse of the sun setting, I slowly unwound from my funk and started reminiscing with Jason. Besides, we were at one of our most favorite date spots!

Loch-Raven-Iced-Over-Ariel
Ariel posing on a frozen-over Loch Raven Reservoir in January 2014.

In our early days of dating, Jason had taken me to the reservoir to watch the sunset and enjoy some outdoor time together. This was in January though, and the reservoir had completely frozen over! Daringly, I had walked about 10 yards on the ice, with Jason watching nervously from the sidelines… definitely a good photo op! Since then, we’ve been there many times to lovingly play, picnic, and pray throughout the course of our relationship.

But alas, time for reminiscing was over and we had to leave in order to meet in time for drinks. He started packing up his camera bags; Any hopes I might’ve had for a proposal that evening were definitely dashed when Jason instructed me to pack up my own chair… we were obviously leaving for the night, and no tripod had been set up to secretly record a proposal.  C’est la vie.

But then he took my hand and said, “Let’s take a walk.” That walk actually turned into a piggy back ride down to a wide open clearing with a fantastic view of the water reflecting the grayish blue sky. What a beautiful scene!

Proposal-Sunset-Look-Off
Reminiscing of our time together and talking about the future.

We looked out over the water and reflected on this past season together as we watched the cloud-filled scenery morph and ripple in front of our eyes. He began talking about timing and wanting to do life together; so much of our time has been spent apart in different cities. My arms started to tingle. I thought maybe this was the moment! But instead of getting on one knee, he just continued on about being so busy and “one day” being together. I was trembling as my heart yo-yo’d between excitement and mild dolefulness. Was he or wasn’t he going to ask? We’ve gone through so much in this relatively short time of “shared life” together. And as he congratulated and encouraged me for doing so well, he lamented at how little he was able to really be there and support me during this recent phase of going back to school. And as he was expressing how there’s never going to be a perfect time, and how much he wants to be with me during these ups and downs, and do life together, he pulls away and gets down on one knee to ask…

“Ariel, will you marry me?”

Nodding and crying, I took his face in my hands and pulled him close. With such a simple question, this wonderful, caring, thoughtful, and Godly man just asked me to go through life with him being his help mate, lover, best friend, challenger, and encourager… the one he is choosing to help him grow in Christ and refine him as we struggle and work to reflect the redemptive relationship of Jesus and His Church.

I said “Yes!”

The rest of this most wonderful, magical night of our lives contained a whirlwind of emotions as all of these secrets and surprises were revealed!

The ring fit like a glove! Such a happy moment.
The ring fit like a glove! Such a happy moment.

The first surprise was the ring! Jason suggested that we put it on, and for the first time I looked down to see the most beautiful, radiant ring shining out of the jewelry box. The large center diamond belonged to his paternal grandmother and has now been passed down two generations of Palmisano men. I feel so honored to wear it and be the future wife and mother who gets to pass it down to  her son. And that gorgeous, bright diamond is surrounded by a plethora of other diamonds in a cushion halo setting. As he slid the ring on my finger (which fit perfectly!), I noticed the dazzling diamonds sparkling along the band, arching up to build a flush bridge with the halo of the ring. Words and pictures don’t do it justice! I might be biased, but I think it’s the most perfect ring in the world (He did goooood!)!

But the second surprise came when we were packing up our belongings and chairs (for real this time), and Jason told me that he had asked my dad for his blessing… at 1:30AM that morning after picking him up from the airport. Cue the waterworks! I didn’t even know my dad was back in town! On the early morning drive, my dad joked with Jason,

An exhausted Jason at BWI at 1:30AM.
An exhausted Jason at BWI at 1:30AM.

“You must really love my daughter if you’re willing to go through this trouble for me.” So true! My dad gave his blessing, which I am so grateful for, and Jason went through the trouble of asking, which I respect him so much for.

After gushing the whole ride in the car about the proposal, the ring, and the excitement of it all, we arrived at the destination of our third surprise! Woodberry Kitchen in the renovated industrial neighborhood of Clipper Mill.

Woodberry is where we had gone for our anniversary dinner, and Jason was sweet enough to reserve the same private and comfy corner table for us. I was so excited!

Woodberry Kitchen for dinner!

This quirky, rustic venue has fantastic food and drinks… so I was thrilled to try out some new small plates on their menu. We placed our orders, and (here I’ll lump together surprises 4-10) as each item was brought or removed from the table, the servers presented me with an envelope with my name on it. Each card that I opened up had a small stack of pictures inside with silly inside jokes or cute comments on the back. On the actual cards, Jason had written a promise for how he will treat me and our marriage in the years to come. All in all, there were six cards throughout the course of our dinner and dessert, and I was surprised and tickled by each one! The staff at Woodberry Kitchen were so accommodating and wonderful — they were definitely a part of making this night magical.

And I really just want to brag on Jason for his amazingness. He worked so hard to make the night truly special and full of wonder for me.

His Story

Back in the Fall, Ariel and I looked at a few rings… mainly just to get a feel for her tastes and ring size. It was somewhat casual for me… but Ariel was definitely excited to be moving forward. She was ready and I was dragging my feet – hoping I could get rid of some of the fears I had. Throughout the next fews months, I met with, and got wise advice from my Pastor (David), an Elder friend at church (Michael), and my best friend (Justin). I loved Ariel so much but was fearful of how the very practical things of life would transpire in the future. Those Godly [married] men individually spoke similar truths, put things into perspective, and offered encouragement to move forward in faith. My heart (the love part) had always been in it and now my “head” (the practical part) was also in it.

And that’s when things got busy.

Early in March, I proposed hosting a concert at my church. For the next 2 months, working out the neverending little details of this concert consumed most of my time outside of my full-time job. Logic said, “Jason, you have no time and no energy to work through a proposal.” But love (and maybe some naivety) said, “Jason, you know you don’t want to wait another minute to forever be with Ariel. As soon as you get through this concert there will be another dozen things waiting to be done. There’s never going to be a perfect time.” Some of my practicalness remained as I committed to doing 1 thing at a time. I figured that, first, I should get the ring. Once I had that, then I could figure out the next step.

Ring-In-Box
Jason has had this print of MGH’s original Smyth Jewelers ad campaign for 7 years. It finally makes sense.

3 hours of shopping and staring later – I found what I thought was the most perfect ring based on everything that I had diligently listened to Ariel say over the past months. It was thin, simple, and brilliant. I particularly loved that the ring band wrapped around to form the multiple hidden prongs that held the center diamond in place. From the side, it created a neat ‘intertwined’ affect. Over the next few weeks, Ariel and I would lock our pinkies together… She thought it was just oddly cute… I would always laugh inside because she had no idea that it recreated the look of the intertwined ring that was being made just for her!

The ring was made and picked up the week before the concert at my church. It was crunch time for the concert and crunch time for the proposal. I decided I wanted to propose on Saturday, May 16th at sunset at Loch Raven Reservoir (with Sunday evening as the backup option in case of bad weather on Saturday).

Ariel’s Dad had coincidentally been in Maryland (from Washington state) for a few weeks around this time. I thought this would be a great opportunity to ask for his blessing, so I reached out to him asking to meet up for dinner during the week before the 16th. He responded saying that he had actually flown back to Washington but might be back in Maryland later in the week. Errhmmm…. this was a plot twist that I had not planned on… After a bit of back and forth, he ultimately got a flight into Maryland on Friday at 1AM and I arranged to pick him up from the airport. He was obviously a little taken aback by this offer — but he probably knew what I might need to talk to him about.

A long time ago, I distinctly remember Ariel saying that if she were ever proposed to that she would want her nails looking nice. I reached out to her friend, Brittany, to arrange to have their nails done before the proposal. Ariel was super busy with exams and moving out of her dorm, so Brittany and I had to individually figure out what Ariel had going on – without raising her suspicions. We landed on getting the nails done on Saturday afternoon – with strict instructions to get her to me by 6PM.

I reached out to my photographer friend, Samantha to see if she was available to stealthily capture the proposal. We met up on Friday at sunset the week before to scout out a location, do some test shots, and figure out all the queues. Shooting hand-held, behind a bush, directly into sunset light, and with virtually no overhead light is no easy task. But her test shots turned out great. She was gracious enough to set aside Saturday and Sunday.

I needed a cover story of what Ariel and I were going to do Saturday night and a reason for Ariel to get a little dressed up, so I contacted my good friend Phil and let him in on the plan. The “plan” was for Ariel to come up to Towson and we’d eventually meet up with Phil and his girlfriend, Jenn for drinks at 13.5% Wine Bar. Phil and I actually met up for lunch the day before to catch up and talk. He was also on stand-by to deliver me some ‘fake’ texts about needing to push back meeting up to a little later in the evening — just enough time for me to tell Ariel that we had some time to kill and maybe we could go to Loch Raven Reservoir to watch the sunset.

I knew I wanted to take Ariel somewhere after the proposal. We had both been so consumed with our own stuff (she with school and I with that concert and other stuff at church) that I wanted it to be just the two of us in a very chill place. I contacted the good folks at Woodberry Kitchen who reserved the best table in the restaurant (the same one we had on our first anniversary) and happily agreed to help out with a little extra request I had.

The day before the concert, my friend Craig delivered his set of drums for the church to borrow. We got to talking a bit and he spoke a truth about God’s timing as it related to both of our situations in life. In the midst of so much planning for the concert and proposal, it was such a helpful affirmation that there would never be a ‘perfect time’ when everything in life would perfectly and comfortably line up to marry Ariel. But because we strive to glorify God and seek His will in our lives, I believed He would bless our relationship.

Finally, the concert was over and Saturday the 16th was almost here. On Friday, as planned, I picked up Ariel’s Dad from the airport and drove him back to his house here in Maryland. We talked and he gladly gave his blessing. I made it back home around 2:30AM.

Because we were planning to leave for a week long vacation on Sunday night, I had some errands to run on Saturday. After a couple hours of terrible sleep, I got up early to take care of some car stuff, helped my parents pack their car, find and print pictures, write some love letters, delivered said love letters to the restaurant, and came home for a quick nap.

For the past week, I had been watching the weather. It looked bad — thunderstorms all afternoon — until 7PM where there was supposed to be a break in the weather. 7PM was the time I had scheduled for the photographer to arrive. Needless to say, Saturday was a stressful day. When I woke up from my nap around 5PM, I was greeted with a thunderous downpour. I. Was. Stressing. I immediately prayed the most selfish and simple prayer, “Please stop the rain” and read some Psalms. Ariel called and said she was stuck in traffic, was hungry, and didn’t want to go to Loch Raven Reservoir. Only by the sheer grace of God was I able to keep composure and somehow convince Ariel, on the fly, the reason why I needed to go to Loch Raven. There was a promise of food in there, too. Like clockwork, Ariel arrived at 7PM and the rain stopped. Just. Like. That. #GodThing

We headed to the store, grabbed some salads, and headed to the Reservoir. The ground was soaked – but Ariel in her infinite patience and grace, proceeded to trudge through the grass to the spot we picked out to have a quick little picnic. This is where I realized that in all my cunningness, I neglected to plan a critical piece of this puzzle… I so cleverly used the excuse of needing to film some sunset footage for a church video in order to get Ariel here. In doing that, I had a camera bag where I could hide the ring box. I never planned how I’d get that ring box out of bag inside the camera bag — without Ariel noticing. Such a simple thing…. but one that took me 15 minutes to do! My best plan? Asking Ariel, in her heels and dress, to pack up her own chair and to gather the trash. A totally unromantic move that threw her off of any hopes of this night including a proposal. I was able to grab the ring box and slide it into my back pants pocket. Totally slick. With that, I threw Ariel on my back, left our stuff where it was, and headed towards the planned spot.

As much as I had hoped for one of Loch Raven’s gorgeously colorful sunsets, and was sort of bummed at the cloud cover, God had better plans. Because it had rained for the past few hours, Loch Raven was absolutely empty. The clouds actually created a really serene atmosphere. God truly is the creator of such beauty.

Proposal-Sunset-PrayerEverything up to this moment (and a bit beyond) had been thought through to make a special memory for Ariel. But I purposely hadn’t rehearsed or planned what I was going to say. I said exactly what had been on my heart. It may not have been eloquent or worded perfectly, but it was honest. It’s how I hope we speak to each other in our marriage. Not planning to say what the other person wants to hear. From the heart. Honest.

Take my notions and words to heart
This is the cry of a man
I can’t bring you fortune or noble life
But I’ll love you all I can
In my heart you’ll always know
There is a place only love can go
There is a place only you can go

We Said Yes…

…To committing to love each other even when the other person doesn’t deserve it or we don’t have the capacity to do so because we will draw on the grace and strength of God who loves us even though we don’t deserve it. We will die daily (and probably hourly) to ourself for the good of each other because He died for us.

…To the heavy, but joyous, task of pointing each other to Christ. To encouraging each other in our faith.

…To caring for and protecting each other.

…To putting each other first before anything else on this earth.

…To being a couple that values true, honest, and deep friendship and desires to share our life with those that God has already, and might eventually, put into our lives.

…To knowing that reading Tim Keller’s ‘The Meaning of Marriage’ or any number of blogs before being engaged (and before marriage) does not mean that we will have the perfect marriage or know all the right things to do. We understand that books are helpful… strong friendships and mentors are helpful… the church is helpful… but most lessons will be learned from serving each other. From adventuring together. From serving others together… From serving in the church together… From hurting each other and forgiving each other… From praying together. From struggling with each other… From talking through everything together. From drowning in His grace together. From sharing life together.

…To being vessels for His service in accordance with His plan, so that in all areas of our life Christ will have the pre-eminence. For her, that’s doing exceptionally well at the University so that she can soon teach and care for God’s precious children – especially those with special needs. For him, that’s integrity in the workplace and creative service to the local church.

…To keep adding to this list as we find more capacity to love, more ways to serve, and more opportunities to grow. Together.

And that’s what we have strived to do these past 15 months. And that’s what we are ‘saying yes’ to striving to do, together, for this next season of engagement and then every season after that… until death do us part.

 

For those that have been involved in our lives and our relationship, whether friends or mentors or family, we are eternally grateful for your love, support, and encouragement. We look forward to the future together!

Jason & Ariel.

Proposal-Sunset-Couple-Embrace

Same Grace. Different Look.

Testimonies. I love them. Blogs and YouTube are littered with them. From being pulled from the depths of suicide, death, disease, self-image, and loss; I love to hear how God has drastically worked in peoples lives to bring them from ruin to abundant life in Him. Earlier today John Piper tweeted this really thought provoking phrase:

Christian, if you have good roots, that is pure grace. If you don’t you are pure grace.

All morning my mind has repeatedly gone back to that simple yet beautiful statement. Perhaps the statement can serve as multiple metaphors. ‘Roots’ are used throughout Scripture as a picture of the need for deep and strong faith in God to weather the storms of life; much like a tree needs deep and strong roots to survive. (See: Jeremiah 17:7-8, Colossians 2:6-7, Psalm 1:3, Mark 4:17, etc.)

But, I’d like to interpret it this way…

In both sentences, Piper is speaking to someone who is currently a Christian. I believe, however, that in the first sentence he is referring to a life-long Christian; someone who, perhaps, grew up in the church and has identified as Christian for “as long as they remember”. In the second sentence, he’s referring to a Christian who came to Christ later in life; perhaps after a period of non-belief, unbelief, or rejection of Jesus. The point is this; grace is the foundation of our new life in Christ; it’s the foundation on which Christian’s, who either grew up in the church or who responded to God’s call later in life, stand.

Grace is God’s unconditional love to us, otherwise hopeless sinners, wherein He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to be the propitiation for our sin by dying on the Cross. New life is found in Him. Grace requires nothing from us; but surrendering our sin and allowing Christ to take that burden. We can’t add to it, take from it, supplement it. His grace is fully and wholly sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I’m the person Piper is referring to in his first sentence. I grew up in the stereotypical middle class home. I had 2 parents that loved each other, loved Jesus, and loved their kids. My parents provided my sister and I everything we needed; physically, emotionally, and Spiritually. My ‘good roots’ are traceable to my Mom, who faithfully immersed me in the church (no baptism puns intended there). I can remember believing I had no great “testimony”; certainly nothing that would win someone over who was skeptical of the Christian faith. In a twisted way, I longed for a radical testimony. Maybe I was just too young and didn’t have enough life experience. Maybe I was just plain wrong. Probably both.

Over the past year or so I’ve met, and heard from, people who have amazing testimonies. Even I have a little bit of what I would have considered a testimony worth sharing. But I had to get out of my comfortable bubble to see and hear these things. The people with some of the most amazing stories of God’s redeeming grace don’t have stories and lives like mine. I’m thankful for my life, for sure; and that’s the point of Pipers statement! But if you really want to hear stories of God’s radical and pursuing grace you might just have to get outside of your comfortable Christian bubble; maybe the small church you’ve been attending ‘forever’.

While a human testimony is beneficial and important, it’s not what ‘wins’ people to Christ. Christ wins people to Christ. He may use our testimony – but He’ll use it how He planned to use it – regardless of how we feel about it.

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. -1 John 5:9-10

The only testimony that saves, wins, pursues, and calls is the testimony of Christ’s finished work. Our stories should be a pointer to Christ. Don’t dream someone else’s story. Accept and acknowledge the grace you’ve received; whether through a legacy of a faithful family or the radical grace that pulled you from your situation.

Christ’s death on a cross was an atonement for the sins of Paul (Saul) the Christian persecuter, the lifelong Atheist, me; the kid raised in the Church, and you; wherever you are in life.

So the next time you find yourself thinking that your testimony isn’t powerful; beg for forgiveness; thank God for the Grace and work He’s poured out in the lives of those before you that prepared you for your current life. And then look around your circle of influence for those that need to hear of that same amazing, radical, and available Grace.