Marriage Advice, part 2

Just after I wrote the blog entry “Marriage Advice, part 1”, Dave (my husband) left for Germany for two weeks. For some reason, it felt odd to write about marriage while my spouse was gone (plus, I run nearly every blog entry by him before I post it), so I decided to wait.

Well, he’s back (has been for almost two weeks), and here is the Second Most Important Piece of Marriage Advice I would give to young women about to be married:

Understand the true purpose of your marriage.

This sounds un-romantic.

But the truth is that romance is a horrible purpose for a marriage. So are children, companionship, sex, fulfillment, even “love.”

Those all fall abysmally short of the true purpose: to honor God and make Him known.

If that seems a little too “spiritual” or dry, hang on. My contention is that when we make romance or “love” the ultimate goal for our marriage, we are aiming far, far too low.

To honor God and make Him known: that is a purpose that is sacred, amazing, practical, mystical, adventurous, and, yes, incredibly romantic.

Every marriage, including yours, is meant to build a love that is like the love Christ has for His own bride, the church. This has two major implications:

First, this means that you are focused on meeting the needs (emotional, physical, social, and spiritual) of the other person, not on the needs of self. To do this consistently and well requires the power of the Holy Spirit and the blood of Christ; there is no other way to accomplish this. (Marriage was the first major tool God used to expose and combat selfishness in my life.) This results in true romance, a marriage that has others saying, “There’s something about that couple. They love each other differently.”

Second, God has good works planned for the two of you together. He has adventures mapped out for you as a couple. He did not create your marriage only to impact you and your spouse. This is a really, really cool thing. You get to be a team. You get to do ministry together. You get to develop and then share God passions. When Dave and I look back on our marriage, we don’t point to weekend getaways or candlelight dinners as times of growth; no, it was moving together to Okinawa—and the difficult decision to move back. It’s been having children together. It’s been feeling the nudges of the Holy Spirit separately and then realizing He’s guiding us in the same direction (like to take in international students or make one of our many moves or adopt or simply befriend a particular neighbor).

Your marriage has a big, BIG purpose. It’s part of a big, BIG plan! That’s exciting! And when the two of you are more focused on this—on your marriage being an agent for the Gospel—your love and romance will deepen in ways that make movie romance appear shallow.

Well, it could be worse

This is the downstairs bathroom in our new house, and, yes, that is a cold-water-only pump for the sink and a toilet disguised as an outhouse bench. And, yes, we will move right at the end of soccer season and the school year. More adventure awaits!

When Maddie was three years old, she climbed onto the top bunk of her and her sister’s bed; crawled across the five-foot-high wardrobe next to it; grabbed the bottle of cough medicine that we’d accidentally left there after a middle-of-the-night dosing; unscrewed the “childproof” cap; and drank enough to make her loopy drunk. We took her to the emergency room, where she spent the night for observation.

After we got over our fear (“Too much cough medicine can cause heart-stopping seizures?!”), it was actually humorous. The doctor asked her to jump on both feet (the toddler version of walking the straight line, I guess). When she flopped over instead, she looked confused. “I’m all twisted up.” When the nurses inserted an IV into her little wrist, she was so high it took a good five minutes for her to notice it. “Daddy!” she said, looking at it with her face scrunched up. “This hurts. What happened?”

Before the hospital would release Maddie the next morning, I had to speak with a social worker. She opened her binder and, pen in hand, asked, “Why was the bottle out in the open? How did she get ahold of it? Where are medicines generally kept in your house?”

Then, “Does Madeleine have any siblings?”

“Yes. Emily is seven, and Maddie has a twin brother, Jake.”

Her pen paused. She capped it, closed the binder, and got to her feet. “She’s a twin, Mrs. Underwood?”

I was confused. “Ye-es.”

She smiled at me. “I hate to tell you this, but I doubt this will be your last trip to the emergency room, Mrs. Underwood. Twins have a way of… well, they…”

She wasn’t sure how to say it, but I knew exactly what she meant. From the time Jake and Maddie were able to crawl, they began collaborating on schemes Emily would never have thought of. They snuck in the fridge so often we put a childproof lock on it, but Maddie figured out how to rip it off. A few days later the two of them walked down the hallway carrying egg cartons, dropping an egg every few steps. Splat. Splat.

Another time I’d run downstairs to grab a load of clean laundry. I carried the basket up the steps of our split-level ranch and stifled a scream when my eyes were floor-level with the kitchen. Somehow they’d opened the dishwasher, and Jake had used it to climb onto the kitchen counter. He’d pulled several apples from the fruit basket, taken a bite out of each, and dropped them on the floor. Maddie had grabbed a sharp knife from the dishwasher. Plopped on the floor, chubby legs spread wide and an apple between them, she was stabbing the fruit with her knife.

I did NOT scream—only because I was afraid Maddie would jump and stab herself.

So I knew what the social worker meant about twins.

Even after they were old enough that I wasn’t so much concerned about them accidentally killing themselves, they could make amazing messes in no-time flat.  I taught myself to pause before I entered a room where they’d been “playing.” I would close my eyes and imagine how bad it could possibly be. Then I would walk in. Generally my imagination had created the worse picture (hallelujah for a vivid imagination), and I would say, out loud, as if reassuring myself, “Well, it could be worse.”

I didn’t realize how much I said it until I sent Emily to check on them one day and she came back and said—in a perfect mimic of my tone—“Well, Mommy, it could be worse.”

I’ve gotten out of that habit of dealing with the “mess-ups” in my life, and I’ve decided I should get back into it. I read an essay by G.K. Chesterton a few days ago titled “On Running After One’s Hat” ( He wrote about how silly it is to be frustrated and seriously miffed by mere inconveniences. He suggested the opposite: taking joy and even humor in the moments when things go wrong. He wrote, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

I imagine that in heaven toilets won’t clog, and sheets won’t get tangled into knots in the dryer, and long trains won’t cross the tracks just when we have six minutes to make it to a meeting on the other side. But here, those things WILL happen. They have to in a world that’s broken in its core and cracked all the way to its surface. But this is STILL the day God has made for me, and He is not surprised by any “inconveniences” I encounter. In fact, believing as I do that His sovereignty is a truth, there’s an awfully big chance He may have planned them.

And so I can rejoice—because they MUST have purpose; because He knows what those purposes are even when I don’t; because there probably is a funny side to it that I can find if I only look for it;

Because, really, isn’t it true that, almost always, “it could be worse.”