I sat close to the back that night. I was with the few friends my age that came with their parents. We were not supposed to be there, really. Afterall, it was a youth camp… we had no choice but to come with our parents who led the camp events. It was a beautiful night in the mountains of Toro Negro in Puerto Rico. The warmth of the late sun kept the chill away. As always, I was playing and whispering to my friends. The music was over and now it was time for the boring message. It didn’t matter to me, I was 7, and I had other things on my mind… or so I thought until… something caught my attention, “Who is your best friend? Do you know how much they love you?” Rev. Guzman asked. I perked up. Something about that questions started pulling me in.
As he spoke and compared the love of Jesus to the love between friends, family and more, I realized two things: 1. I wanted a best friend to love me like Jesus, forgiving me when I did wrong things, holding me when I’m afraid. I didn’t think my BFF loved me that way and 2. I want to love others like Jesus, being able to love my friends and family. I needed to know more. I needed MORE. As I listened, I realized that I wanted this LOVE of Jesus. I wanted Him to fill me with His LOVE. I felt, at that very moment, the love of Christ pulling me towards Him. I suddenly yearned to be loved, not like Mami and Papi loved me, but more. I WANTED MORE LOVE. and so it happened, I found myself among the youth at the altar that night…I found myself surrounded by this amazing, deep, profound LOVE. It was so strong that it overwhelmed me…and as the tears fell, I heard Jesus telling me, “I LOVE YOU. I will show you how much I love you.” My heart was filled with love that day, and has been spilling out with love ever since.
I suppose you can say that I began to learn to love my husband that night, when the LOVE of Christ came into my heart. Without me realizing it, as time went by, the closer my walk with Christ was and my relationship grew with the author of love, my love for those around me grew too. I learned to LOVE through Jesus. I learned what unconditional LOVE was. I learned how to give it to others. I learned to… well… just love and within that I wanted everyone to come to Christ to feel the same LOVE (grace, forgiveness, transformation). It is true what they say, you cannot give what you don’t have. To give love to others, real authentic unconditional love, you have to have it yourself. That love only comes from the author of LOVE, God.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”–John 13:34-35
It would be easy to say that Todd compelled me to love him when he showered me with compliments, or when he would say beautiful words, or give me of what little he had… but that wouldn’t be true. What compelled me to love Todd was Christ. I saw from afar the LOVE of Christ in Todd. I listened, observed and yes, questioned. I talked to others about Todd, others that knew him. I heard his struggles and his resolve. I heard the stories and watched as new stories developed. Yet, none of that was enough until I felt God pushing me, yes PUSHING me, towards Todd. And the more I fought and tried to pull back, the more God “pushed” me towards him. God compelled me. He knew what He was doing, because I certainly didn’t. And when on Feb. 14, 1991 came for Todd to fly back to Michigan, I was thrilled, because he had been relentless and was driving me crazy. “Well, good” I thought, “That is the end of that.” God had other plans!
In the next several weeks God kept “compelling me,” not just to HIMSELF but to my amazement, towards Todd. Then the letters started, and continued. I found myself reading all about him, his thoughts, difficulties, goals, and more, so much MORE. In return I found myself writing to him all about me, my life, my goals and MORE. As the letters grew in number my heart began to grow with it. In many ways I tried to fight it, but God’s LOVE is so compelling that I could see it in Todd. Time passed and we finally were able to spend time with each other. I watched and observed more, how he related to my friends and my family in Oklahoma. The most difficult time in my life was about to happen. I knew God was there, and of all people for him so send me, it had to be Todd. Weeks later Todd was gone and I was back in Puerto Rico.
Here I was again, back in the land where God’s compelling LOVE got ahold of my heart and began to fill me, change me and grow me. I realized within a few days that I had a new LOVE. And as I was overwhelmed by Christ’s love that night in the mountains, many years prior, I found myself overwhelmed back in Puerto Rico, but this time by Todd’s love. I thought to myself: God wins! Todd Wins! However, soon after, my heart went numb, as my mother lost her battle to cancer. My heart froze, and I couldn’t feel either LOVE.
Several weeks passed. I wound up flying back to the USA, and eventually my Dad paid to fly me out to see Todd. The moment I saw him, my heart cried out. And that unending pain that I felt in my heart came out like a dam breaking. He held me for 2 hours and within his arms I found the loving comfort that I could find with God. That is when I knew, God’s LOVE for me was like Todd’s love for me, and I knew that just as I could rely on the LOVE of God in my daily walk and relationship with Him, I can rely on Todd.
God’s LOVE Compelled me to Himself and later to my now husband. This February, first find that unconditional LOVE that GOD can GIVE YOU and second, find the one who LOVES you the same. That unique LOVE of GOD can be found in the person who LOVES God just as uniquely as you. You will then find that as you LOVE GOD, you will also LOVE your spouse. In return, as your spouse LOVES GOD, they LOVE YOU. That is God’s unique, awesome and compelling LOVE.
As we traveled through towns on this special occasion, after Christmas, I couldn’t help but look back and remember all that Todd and I have gone through. It has now been 27 years of wedded bliss, yet not every moment has been blissful. Marriage has gone through ups and downs, but we have conquered every bump, obstacle and hurdle.
“Why? and How?”
Many years ago, on a warm tropical afternoon, We made a vow to the one who’s love had conquered our heart. We hence, made a promise to each other to LOVE always and through it, conquer all…
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’“and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” —Matthew 19:4-6 (NIV)
Marriage is a solid, loyal and binding commitment. It goes beyond the desires of self to commit to the other person for life, regardless of the difficulties. This LOVE for each other is stronger than steel, and when bonded with the LOVE of God it makes it, well… unbreakable.
This is not to say that there are no problems. There are. The truth is that when you get to the core of any marital issues, you will find selfishness. This is the same problem we have in our relationship with God. The self seems to be more important, and when we allow selfishness to dominate the other, we have a problem.
God, in His infinite wisdom, has provided us with the means of a strong committed marriage. It begins with the scriptures and is strengthened by the constant renewal of our relationship with God. A strong bond with God will result in a strong bond in marriage. In other words, the more in-love with God you are, the more in-love you will be with your spouse.
There is a lot to be said about the “Great Commandment.” It is also a marriage rule: love God with everything, and you will love others as you love yourself. Loving God helps you love yourself and others, especially your spouse. Reading the Bible not only helps us understand who GOD is, but it allows us to see the heart of God. In return we reflect His heart to others… especially in our marriage. It puts us in our place, reminding us to let things go that are not important. It reminds us to be good stewards of what God has provided, to put the other first, to love and be faithful to our spouses as we are LOVING and FAITHFUL to God. It helps us to be selfless, forgiving and compassionate. The Bible is the first guide and counseling textbook. If you have a hard time relating to what it says to your life and relationship, then there is still another “help” God provides.
Pastors and others strong Christian leaders who reflect God’s Love in their everyday lives and marriages are the second means a strong marriage. They are there to help us understand the written marital guidance of the Bible. They are the first counselors we approach. With their help we can see what needs to happen to refocus the relationship on GOD, and then, on EACH OTHER. Praying and sharing within the safety of a pastoral counseling relationship is a great stress reliever and allows us to clear our mind to what is important.
The third means that God has provided for strong marriages is the professional marriage counselor. These can come in the form of therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists. For a Christian, seeking professional help is sometimes hard. We have to be willing to accept that we need help, and maybe even need to take medications to help deal with emotional or mental problems that one may, or may not, have been aware of before marriage. We have to be cautious in finding the right person. A good Christian professional will reinforce the values that you hold, and encourage the spiritual guidance of scripture, prayer and Christian fellowship as part of the counseling.
Keeping the bonds and commitment of marriage now-a-days is very difficult. Societal and cultural influences teach selfishness, individualism and quick escape from difficulties. There is a need to balance the needs of the self with the needs of others. When the “self” wants to be put first knowing that it will harm another loved one, true love is lost. This is a “red flag” that our love relationships are being destroyed. Our selfless heart should recognize it, and fight against such selfishness.
One thing that Todd and I learned over the years is to talk about and share all of our thoughts. When disagreements come we have to find a compromise that will work for both of us. If there is no way to truly compromise, then both have to evaluate the situation and resolve it on the side of causing the least harm to either person. This means there must be a willingness to let go of what we think is best for ourselves, in favor of what doesn’t hurt the other. There is much to be said about compromising, giving, and more, but it will have to wait for another time. One thing that we have learned to do often, and Todd shares when teaching, is the idea that marriage is a contest to see “who can outgive the other.” This is the idea of selflessness in practice. It is an idea that grows and strengthens the relationship with the selfless love of God, being mirrored in a selfless love in marriage.
I was conquered by the love of Todd many years ago. And each year has been unique. Not all have been easy, but they have all had their own unique joys and challenges. Every year we have learned to grow closer even when difficulties pulled us apart… and we held on, with God at the center of it. He always pulled us back to each other. We learned to compromise, to give into the other, to outgive each other, to forgive each other, to enjoy each other in LOVE. We pray often to be the spouses God wants us to be for the other. And because we have willingly given our heart to the other, we let the other “have” what makes them happy without harming or hurting. We are committed, loyal, faithful and true to each other now more than ever.
So as the new year starts I encourage you to find those unique ways that you can outgive the other. Find unique ways to be selfless. Remember that if you began your marriage with GOD at the center, it should always be driven by HIM. Let the Love that conquered you and united you be strengthened by God’s conquering love. This conquering LOVE will make your marriage uniquely strong and happy. This is LOVE which can only be from GOD. It is what binds us together and enables us to conquer all.