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.

While I enjoyed the movie immensely, it’s a little tougher to enjoy sometimes without the popcorn and when the main characters in the story are all too real. Since discovering that our youngest son has not only a growth deficiency but genetic abnormalities, it just never seems like we can fully come to grips with what we’re up against. While Ben’s development has gone much better than I expected when I first heard the news, it seems that every visit to the doctor brings another punch to the gut. This past month it was news that he has four kidneys for some mysterious reason and his blood pressure is strangely high for a six-year old. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy…it all adds up. “One step at a time” I tell my wife, “Everything will work out just fine.” Of course, fine is relative.

Last week I got on an elevator with a fella who was probably forty but whose smile made him look more like four. He had a nicely pressed uniform on and was delivering packages. For more than a passing moment, I saw in this cherubic man my son Ben years from now. I wondered what his parents’ expectations were when he was little. I wondered when they found out that he would probably not live what most of us consider a normal life. How many punches in the gut did they receive…or was it just one big one? I wondered if he lived with his parents now or if he was able to live on his own. I wondered if he had a driver’s license. I wondered if his parents were still alive and what he would do without them. And once again I thought of Ben. A little selfish I know given that this guy deserved his own story without my absconding with it for a pity party or even just somber personal reflection. I would like to think that I was just hurting for Ben in those moments, but if I’m honest that’s probably not all it was. Ben seems to be as happy as can be so I probably mourn in no small part the death of a dream.

Ben may yet overcome his difficulties and live a more fulfilling life than I can imagine. That’s our hope. And God really is in control. I hold firmly to Romans 8:28, one of the first Bible verses I memorized after becoming a Christian at age 20…but no longer in a trite way…no longer as a pat answer. Instead, it has worked its way through my soul and I’m now in a position to really share what it has meant to me with others…thankfully. God’s Word doesn’t always take the worry away completely, or the pain. But it does keep me anchored in faith with not a small measure of hope. And I can’t help but hurt for those who try to make sense of the never-ending story or even the rollercoaster that is life without the love of Christ.

That’s just one more reason to share the hope that is within me. I hope you’ll be encouraged to share your own hope as well…through the lens of your own story.

Deep.” “Depth.” These are words I have used a lot —A LOT—to describe ideas at varying levels over the course of my life. They are terms that, for the most part, require no additional explanation … right? We all know what we’re talking about and we agreed about what we mean when we use words like “deep” a long time ago.

But I wonder.

I wonder if what people really mean by “depth” is information; facts. Maybe even words on a page or even the size of the words. Maybe we refer to knowledge that can be wielded like a sharp instrument in times of need. I wonder if knowledge—even good knowledge—is not so much about growth as it is about one’s default–my defaults, your defaults. That is, to prove I am a person of substance, of some relevance to the world around me, I have been conditioned to believe that I need to be armed with certain facts and special knowledge. I find comfort in fact; find comfort in things that are absolute and can be quantified with certainty. With facts I am not open to examination and, a nice by-product, I can keep people at a safe distance. Fact is commensurate with formula.

But what is knowledge without the intrinsic mediation of the heart?

I almost always try to talk movies during a haircut. Call it my “safe place.” I can’t explain it, but something about the scissors whirring around my ears drives me to a place of would-be and hopeful safety. (Or maybe I want to avoid a meaningful conversation while captive in the stylist’s chair.) Magnolia. No. There Will Be Blood. No. Hotel Rwanda. No. The stylist and I recently found common ground in that we had both seen The Dark Knight. Upon mention of the recent Batman movie, she issued a cease-cutting order that went out to her extremities. Pausing momentarily, she looked at me now instead of my reflection in order to capture the gravity of the moment, and said in a way any Southerner would recognize, “Now that’ll make you think.”

During group time we need more “That’ll make you think” moments and less “Wow I didn’t know that” moments. Facts are comfortable and safe. They are predictable. Not wrong or unimportant, mind you, but not the pinnacle of group time either. Proposition is neither transformational nor redemptive. Allowing group time to become a dazzling array of facts robs us of story, heart, and meaning. As group leaders and small-group pastors, encourage members to go beyond rote and pat answers and look for the story behind the text. Challenge them to know their own stories and the ways God wants to redeem them. We need to look deep inside who we are and who we are becoming. To find true redemptive community a group should relegate facts and special knowledge to a percentage—a small percentage—of the group experience.