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I always knew I would have a traditional Catholic wedding. It was what we did. My parents got married in the Catholic Church. My sisters got married in the Catholic Church. I, a cradle Catholic, would obviously get married in, yup...you guessed it... the Catholic Church. And so we attended pre-Cana, chose the readings, brought the family-friend priest in from out of town, and an incredible Catholic ceremony happened on a beautiful fall day on the Upper East side of Manhattan. And just like that, we became husband and wife.

We were so in love.

And yet, we had no idea what true love was.

Why? I think it's because I always held tight to this one moment in the courtship stage of our relationship. When I surprised him at the hotel where he worked on my way home from my job, his face would light up, giving birth to a smile that stretched deep and wide; I swear, in that instant, I had never felt more wanted for being just who I was.  Surely, this was true love. This being seen and joyfully embraced for doing nothing other than just showing up, it was all so easy that it must have been love.

But beware of falling into the trap of believing that love is a feeling.

Be sure to ground yourself in something greater than how someone makes you feel.

It took being anchored to nothing and drifting away to wake up to truth; that love is not a feeling but an intentional action, a choice. That love is not about how much I can gain, but how much can I give. It is not about how much you fill me, but how empty can I be. And because I have chosen to love you in all times, then I will also choose to die to myself and invite Jesus into this relationship without delay, because a marriage without Jesus in the middle is just as good as bringing your boat to dock and never dropping the anchor.

It will drift away.

As did mine.

But because God loves nothing more than stepping into our brokenness, if we let Him. He rescued me from my “quit and stay” attitude towards my marriage. And He didn't lead me down a  path of rose petals lined with scented candles. He didn't gently place me down on a soft lounge chair, beachfront, with a tropical drink in my hand. But He took my hand and He walked me to the foot of the cross. He led me to the wood that my own hands nailed Him to, the thorns that pierced His head, and He showed me that…. THIS. THIS is love. The betrayal, the scourging, the beating, the heavy carrying, the nails, the unfairness, all that He endured for me, was endured out of love. And He reminded me that while none of that felt good, while not a moment of it was easy, all of it, every single bit of it, was fueled by love. A love so deep, so life giving, that not even death could not destroy it.

I am still learning about this love. And it has not been through romantic dinners, or exotic getaways that my husband and I have come to know love. It has been by the cross we have been chosen to carry. The necessary hardships we have been entrusted with. The long suffering placed upon us. And it has been by His grace upon grace, that we receive it as a gift; a way to minister and intercede to and for those who walk the same path, who yearn for relief, who have been burdened by a similar cross. And in this sharing and uniting, we get a glimpse of the sorrowful heart of Jesus; the indescribable love that is let loose and takes over; the very thing that by its beating and breaking, miraculously holds us together.

You know, I hear my young girls talk about love. The world is trying to redefine it for them. Music lyrics write love off as an emotion, something you can throw away, a gift that's totally dependent on your looks and body. Social media wants them to believe that without a boyfriend, they are undesirable, alone, never complete. And they chase after this secular love…this lie...and they believe that love is something that will only make them happy, feel wonderful, and will free them of any pain, anxiety, worry, or problems. It is all so wrong and upside down and couldn't be a more inaccurate definition of what true love is.

You see, real love is messy, painful, hard, and risky. I pray that my children, in witnessing how their parents have lived through hard times and yet held tight to Jesus, recognize that the glue in this relationship has nothing to do with the occasional bouquet of roses or heart shaped box of chocolates, but everything to do with the cross.  Feeling in love is great, for sure. But if you want to feel great, go and eat a piece of cheesecake or watch Nacho Libre. But if you are seeking true love, run to the foot of the cross. Point your children, who are dying to be seen, known and loved, in that direction as well. Offer Him everything you are and have and invite Him into your heart. Hand Him your loved ones. Trust Him with your very life. Anchor yourself to Him, who is love; to Him, who joyfully embraces you for doing nothing other than just showing up.

 

With all my love,

Laura

Get your copy of Harmony, Part I of the Keeping in Balance Young Adult Series, here!

Laura Phelps author bio

For a special February treat, read these words from St. Therese of Lisieux…

I assure you that the good Lord is much kinder than you can imagine. He is satisfied with a glance, with a sigh of love…In regard to myself, I find it easy to practice perfection, because I have learned that the way to Jesus is through His Heart. Consider a small child who has vexed his mother by a display of bad temper or disobedience. If the child hides in a corner through fear of punishment, he feels that his mother will not forgive him. But if instead, he extends his little arms towards her and with a smile cries out: ‘Love, kiss me, mamma, I will not do it again,' will not his mother press the little one to her heart with tenderness, and forget what the child has done? And yet, though she knows very well that her dear little one will misbehave again at the first opportunity, that means nothing if the child appeals to her heart. He will never be punished… ~St. Therese of Lisieux

An appeal to the heart of God never goes unanswered. It's always met with goodness, mercy, and grace. So why do we so often behave as if God is a harsh taskmaster? The lover of our souls wants to shower us with His love, and we run in the other direction, afraid of His disapproval.

Never enough. Does that phrase ever describe how you feel? Do you wake up and think, “I didn't get enough sleep”? Do you race through the day and crawl into bed thinking, “I didn't get enough done”? Never perfect enough. Never thin enough. Never beautiful enough. Never happy enough. Never enough.

Whose voice is this? Let me tell you emphatically, it is NOT God's. God looks at you with kindness, and His heart fills with pride. This is the good kind of pride. It rejoices in the wonder of who you are. He says to you, “You have been given fullness in Christ! You are complete in Christ!” (Colossians 2:10).

So who is creating these expectations? Is it possible that we have heard what God desires from us, and then added our own expectations and those of others? Could it be that the feeling of being overwhelmed and inadequate is coming from trying to do things that God hasn't called us to do?

What means the most to God? Is it an impressive resume of volunteering, our accomplishments at work, or the cleanliness of our homes? It's none of those things. What God cares about is how we love. That's how He measures success.

When the voice whispers, “You're not enough,” speak the words, “I choose love.” I choose to stand under the shower of God's love and just soak it up.

I choose to be measured by God's love for me- and it's unconditional, limitless, and steadfast. I choose God's love instead of perfection, love instead of expectations, love instead of a never-ending rat race of busyness.

I won't get all the things done today that feel so important to me. Instead of giving into feelings of discouragement, I'll choose to be defined by love. I'll choose to return God's love by admitting that I don't have nearly as much control over things as I sometimes imagine. Then I'll confirm my love for Him by telling Him I'm glad that He's got it all under control. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'll give it all to God as an act of love. As I fill up with His love, I'll ask Him to let it overflow into the lives of those around me. On my own, I'm not enough. But “Christ in me, the hope of glory”…now that's a different story.

Praying that you experience a February full of awareness of how crazy God is about you and choose love.

Blessings,

Lisa Brenninkmeyer

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