I’ve been thinking about marriage a lot lately. Our first child to reach adulthood, our son, was married two years ago. Then this past year our eldest daughter married. Almost as close to home…almost…we will attend our nephew’s wedding next month. Weddings are an awesome time to see the beauty of marriage in all its glory. But weddings are just a snapshot. Is it possible for such marital bliss to remain?

It doesn’t seem like it, does it? With celebrity marriages lasting months now (rather than the short number of years we used to expect) and the divorce rate in the church not being much better than the world’s, one would think this is an institution to be avoided at all cost. I mean who signs up to fail?

If you haven’t checked out this video of Ian and Larissa yet, I’d encourage you to. While it may not represent the norm, it certainly gives us something to aspire to…an example of the beauty and the mystery of marriage…a picture of selflessness…and a story that illustrates the things that matter most about marriage and relationships in general.

My wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary this year and I’ve gotta say that it just keeps getting better. We are SO looking forward to the next 25. Things haven’t always been perfect but they’ve always made us better and stronger. We decided a long time ago to stay together no matter what and to work through any difficulties or even tragedies…together. When we made that decision it was pollyanna at her best. We had no idea how many curveballs life could throw or just how much it could sometimes hurt…or how much we could hurt each other. Financial calamities, unsought career changes, the loss of children, dangerous health concerns, heck, even deportation by foreign governments. Life is a roller coaster…full of peaks and valleys. In the end though, there is nothing sweeter and no moment more restful to my soul than walking that path with my soulmate, holding hands, snuggling together, and smiling at each other. I see that same joy and peace in Ian and Larissa against even more stark circumstances.

Yep, marriage is beautiful…and mysterious. Ian and Larissa reminded me of that today. May the Lord continue to bless their marriage…and ours.

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notre_dame_12editedNetflix delivered the Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire to my house more than two weeks ago. My wife and I have been waiting for the perfect, angst-free, quiet, uninterrupted two hour period of time to push the DVD tray closed and watch Man on Wire. If your house is like mine, then you understand how just the thought of such a two-hour span reveals the eternal optimist that lies within me.

I’m not a big documentary fan. But given the Academy‘s recognition, a friend’s Facebook status, and that I liked Winged Migration a few years back, I thought I would give Man on Wire a go. I wouldn’t describe this movie as “must see.” I would, however, encourage anyone with an eye for style, an imagination that is too often found wanting in today’s world, and an appreciation for history to give it a shot. It documents tightwire artist Philippe Petit’s 1974 walk from the top of the South Tower to the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

The reason I would write the first words about this movie here is this: there is a subtle beauty inherent. Beauty is such a significant aspect of the spiritual journey we have accepted. I think much of my reaction has to do with the romance I associate with the world we lost on September 11, 2001. The filmmakers were intentional, I think, in making the World Trade Center a tragic centerpiece in the unfolding drama. But the subtle beauty is also associated with Petit’s “walk” across the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral in his hometown of Paris. I’ve read books on beauty. I’ve tried to write about it. It seems to be always just beyond my words. But there are those moments when you know you’re close. It’s in these times I feel like I should be grateful for what looks and feels like an invitation into something transcendent. For whatever reason, I felt like Petit’s tightwire walk at Notre Dame was his own unique invitation into beauty. Especially when you hear the description from one of those closest to Petit.

“He didn’t want to conquer the universe, just beautiful things.” That’s what close, if not romantically linked, friend Annie Allix said of Petit. Petit was in search of beauty and, by taking his tightwire act public, was–and somehow still is–invited us into his world. Beauty at this level has innate risks. It requires vulnerability. Pursuit. Sacrifice.  And so this is where we can talk about small-group leadership. You can draw your own conclusions, of course. Amid everything else, be sure to extend an invitation into beauty as you go. Conquering the universe is a noble endeavor, but there will be times on the spiritual journey when we we should just be still. Wait. And watch.

I’ve experienced a wonderful time of healing old wounds over the past two years, largely the result of deeply redemptive community. One of the paradigm changes for me was moving away from times of isolation and into moments of solitude. You see I wrongly believed those two concepts were essentially the same—that both expressed the idea of being utterly alone. What I came to see was that I had lived most of my life diving in and out of isolation, purposefully shutting myself (and my heart) off from others…most often out of shame.

When I began my journey into real community with the guys at Serendipity, Ron Keck introduced me to the idea that Jesus rejected the shame and embraced the pain of the cross but too often we do just the opposite, we reject the pain and embrace the shame. Because I had no real connection to my heart and had no concept of redemptive community, the idea of others seeing sin in my life was too painful to bear, so I ran to isolation in an effort to hide (not the first man to do that) and avoid the discomfort of disclosure.

There is nothing redemptive about isolation. It’s merely an attempt to go unseen while making the necessary penance, or allowing enough time for the shame to subside. When I choose to embrace shame and reject pain, I am held captive by the lies that I will not be accepted, I will receive condemnation, or I will disappoint those I care about. However, when I choose to embrace the pain and reject shame instead (as Jesus did), I find freedom and healing. Though there may be some pain in expressing mistakes made and seeking forgiveness and restitution, the enemy has no hold on me when secrets are revealed. And rather than the condemnation I so feared, I am greeted with understanding and encouragement from those closest to me who choose to love me through the challenges and continually remind me who I truly am—a restored son of the sovereign Lord!

This freedom allows me to leave the false security of isolation and move into moments of solitude, where I can seek deeper intimacy with God rather than hiding from him. These moments are so rewarding as God, a loving and engaged Father, speaks into my innermost being with Truth and Beauty and Love.

This has been my experience and I would love to hear some ways you have learned the difference between isolation and solitude. What experiences from your journey can you share? How has the Father been inviting you to move from isolation to solitude? How did this come to you? Was it like me when you were brought into true community or did you experience this in a more individual setting?