This may sound horribly unromantic, but I can’t even remember the first time I met my husband. He’s just always kind of been there, like your parents. I do however remember my first impression of him in general. He was old…and grumpy. Now, please understand, to an insecure and giggly 14 year old he was just one of those 19 year old guys who seemed to be there with the sole purpose of saying no to anything fun. You see, I was a counselor in training at Miracle Mountain Ranch, and he was an apprentice. Not only was he in a college program, but he was also in charge of us, and that, by default, made him a kill joy.
Between this first impression and getting to know him later lay many years of vague memories. He was many people to me: my friend’s older friend, my cousin’s crush, and by now he was on staff, which made him even more distant. But there was something about him that intrigued me. By now I had become an apprentice in that same college program, and as staff, he served as an advisor to one of my fellow classmates. My intimidation of him turned to admiration, not only as he lead us through work projects and horsemanship classes, but more so when he would share of his personal walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. He was far from perfect. In fact, he’d done a good job making lots of mistakes. But I think that is what softened my heart toward him when he would share his testimony. It wasn’t a dictation of all that he was accomplishing and learning, but instead, a narrative of God’s immeasurable grace despite his fallibility and shortcomings.
Then I began to notice it. I was surrounded by girls who admired him, and it started to bother me. Others were trying to play matchmaker for him and I began feeling sorry for his plight. Through many circumstances that year, including a devastating car wreck that my parents were in, we saw each other in a myriad of ways that we couldn’t have anticipated. I saw a man willing to sacrifice and serve total strangers as he would bring students to my parent’s house to help with different projects. He saw a young lady who had always wanted to be in the program prepare to give it all up to take care of her parents physical needs. We saw each other sick, cold, frustrated, and discouraged. We saw it all publicly, but took it all in privately.
But here is where our story gets crazy. Our parents saw the spouse that God wanted for us long before we did. My dad admired Matt greatly, and would drive over an hour just for a “visit”. His parents had worked with me in our Wilderness Camp program and began inquiring after me when he would talk with them.
He called my house one night when I was home on Christmas break, and my heart leapt in a way that I had not anticipated. I was starting to like him, and I didn’t want to. I had given up this whole relationship thing. I was burned too many times to try again so soon, and besides, he was staff, and I was sure I would be in so much trouble! One day I worked up the nerve (and stupidity) to march up to his apartment, knock on the door, and tell him that I was struggling with feelings concerning him. My imagined response from him was to be one of shock, embarrassment, and telling me that I needed to go talk to my advisor and work through my ill placed affections. Instead, I was met by a look of surprise that immediately responded by reciprocating his admiration. We were in so much trouble. The distraction of relationships was frowned upon, but we soon found that God had paved the way for that as well. I think the staff had seen our growing interest long before we had, and in the following months we began courting while I was still in the program.
We had no real idea what a courtship was supposed to look like, so we made it up as we went, but because we were both at the Ranch we just spent a lot of time together. Soon our hearts were turned toward marriage and the real struggle began. Both of us had come out of many unhealthy relationships and had brought a lot of bad habits and experiences with us. We found affirmation in our physical affection and sought times to be apart from the crowd. Even though I screached into my wedding day with my virginity intact, we had compromised in so many ways and pushed so many lines that we were now shrouded in a robe of guilt and hypocrisy. If I could have anticipated how hard this would have hit us in our ability to trust each other later, I may have had the fortitude to be stronger. May have, but I doubt it. We had done the very thing we wanted to avoid, hurting each other.
Of course, this revelation did not occur to us until years into our wedded bliss, when I would question his love for me, or his ability to make wise choices. I was so afraid of being “found out” for who we really were, flawed people. We felt like hypocrites serving in a ministry, one that preached on purity. But slowly, God began to heal our hearts. Ironically, around year three we found ourselves attending a couples counseling group with the intention that we would be learning how to counsel others. We were duped! These workshops wanted us to talk about OUR issues! This was not what we had bargained for!
I love that phrase, especially where it is found in scripture. We were a mess… but God. We are undeserving… but God. We will fall again… but God! God began to show me that my issues were not with my inability to trust Matt, but in my refusal to trust Him! What if Matt makes a foolish decision? God is still God. What if Matt doesn’t meet my needs? Only God is truly capable of that. My insecurity caused me to want to elevate Matt to the status of God, and then I flung onto him a myriad of needs that only God is truly able to fill. I still wrestle with fear and insecurity, and I’m sure I will as long as I’m on this side of heaven, but I’m learning to let Matt off the hook.
There was a time in recent years when I was feeling angry at what I felt I had a right to; a man who could look at me and see the needs of my heart, who knew my fatigue, fear, and anger. I longed to be longed for, pursued, sought after. Matt is a wonderful man, but he is just a man. I needed more affirmed that any human could fulfill and I found myself standing in a worship service staring at a cross in the corner that was all lit up for Christmas. It was then that the Lord asked me, When did the cross stop being enough? When did knowing that someone else had ALREADY died for me no longer matter?!? He seeks me, pursues me, hears me, and knows the deepest aches of my heart. He lets me ramble despite how irrational I may be at the time, and more than anything else, He DELIGHTS in me. Me. This hot mess. He delights in me.
If I had to pick one word to describe our marriage it would be “grace”. When we walk in the gratefulness that we have been given more than we deserve, we are at peace. Our marriage is far from perfect, and life is constantly bringing new stress and trials with it, but I am freer now more than ever to just enjoy my husband, because I see his love as a gift I don’t deserve, not a right I’ve earned. We laugh together, cry together, and fail together. We are both messes, but he is mine and I am his, and I couldn’t ask for a better person to journey with than the beautiful soul that I’ve been entrusted with. So here’s to many more years of exercising God’s grace.
Matt and Jenni Cox have been on staff at Miracle Mountain Ranch Missions since 1992, where Matt now serves as the Executive Director. They speak, teach, and act as advisors for summer camp, retreats, and the School of Discipleship.