A Divine Mess

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!  

But God…

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.    


Cox Small

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.

How I Knew I Wanted to Marry You

I was working at an orphanage in Namibia, Africa when our story began. Ron Ward, the director of Camp Berea was looking for a food service manager, he was given my name by a previous employer, and he emailed offering me a job. I didn’t want to work in a kitchen again but I needed the money and the Camp was on a beautiful Lake. My first day at Berea I was given a tour by Luke Ward, and I took note of the fact that he was the boss’s son and not bad looking either! Luke was no longer working at Berea so it was a few months before we connected again when he came back to work.

I was the kitchen manager and he was hired as my assistant, but having grown up working at Berea every time I turned around he was telling me a better way to do something. It was both infuriating and admirable. We worked together all day and had fallen into spending most of our free time together too. One day as a practical joke on Luke’s Dad we devised a plan to pretend that we had eloped. It was payback for when Ron let me believe that I would be stuck running the Berea kitchen alone after my assistant left, purposely not telling me he had hired Luke.

Luke says, “I still remember the exact scene: you were cleaning out the tilt skillet and I was running through scenarios, you were all quiet. I knew we couldn’t really persuade my Dad that we had eloped; I had to convince you to date me first to give credibility to our story. I knew if I could get you to date me, I could convince you to marry me. And I did”.

When Luke asked me to date him I said yes and then I cried. I knew I had found a man that was godly, and good, one who would love me deeply; but that loving him back would take my life in a very different direction than I had dreamed of. I remained torn right up until the day we got married between my desire to go back to Africa and work with horses and kids, versus my growing love for Luke. In the midst of my indecision, I knew absolutely that we would always be friends if we got married, no matter where we went in life, or how little we had in common. I was uncertain about almost every aspect of our future together but I knew we could always be friends.

Luke says, “There were two definitive points during our time working together in Berea, when I knew I wanted to marry you, the first was when I heard about your work at the orphanage in Africa, I knew you’d be a really good mom. The second was while we were working together, before you went back to Africa, I remember you laughing at one of my stupid jokes, and I knew I wanted to marry you. I had written a list of the qualities I wanted in a woman and you pretty much summed it up. I didn’t want someone who was just a Christian; I wanted someone who was actively in a relationship with God. I was looking for a woman who was kind, generous, beautiful, adventuresome and funny. I remember when I wrote my list I was trying to list qualities that are important, not just important to me but important.”

Once we were dating Luke’s mom, a wonderful and godly woman, tried to persuade me not to marry him on numerous occasions, and my mom said the same things to us. “He doesn’t know what he wants to do in life yet, you two are very different, what about your plans to go to Africa again…..” We knew they were right, and we spent hours talking about ways to blend our interests and never got anywhere. We decided to take it slow and after working together at Berea for 6 months I went back to Namibia for the winter. We emailed back and forth sharing our everyday stories and discussing a future together. We talked once on the phone, I sat on the banks of the Zambezi River watching the sun go down, while Luke was frying 1,000 pancakes watching the sun come up over Newfound Lake. My heart sang to hear his voice, and broke at the thought of leaving this place.

When my work visa was up in April I came home, and by October we were sitting together in a hammock by the Lake talking about eloping. Luke asked me to marry him on top of Cardigan Mountain and we eloped the next day standing on a ledge on Newfound Lake.

We didn’t tell anyone we were married for 6 months, I moved to NH and no one even knew we lived together. When our families found out they were angry at being deceived, and heartbroken over missing our wedding. Luke and I honestly thought no one would really care, we are still wondering how we could have been so stupid! We were eventually forgiven and had a casual reception, thank God for loving families!

Over the years God has given me more purpose and joy raising a family with Luke, than I ever had pursuing my dreams alone. Luke has been a tangible illustration of my Heavenly Father’s love for me in a way I never imagined. Marriage has been the hardest, most incredible thing I have ever poured my heart into. I set aside my dream of returning to Africa and wasn’t even sure I still wanted to go, then one day not long ago Luke said, “I have held on to your dreams for you, even when you gave up on them. Let’s go to Africa.”  And one day we will, together.

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A Husband-Shaped Hole

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The first time that my new husband hurt my feelings, I sat on our front steps and cried my eyes out.  It was a warm night at the end of the summer, and as I sat there I asked God how it was possible that just weeks after the wedding I could be this crushed by my loyal and loving (and oblivious) husband.

It was one of those times that God answered me very specifically.

It isn’t his job.

What?

Filling all of your needs.  It isn’t his job.

The tears dried on my cheeks as I thought about that.  I had this erroneous idea that was probably born in my childhood or early teens that marriage was the ultimate goal and would make me happy.  Even knowing intellectually that it wasn’t true, it was a hard reality to actually encounter.

Christian dating/courtship books encourage this idea, though they probably don’t mean to.  Even most of the conversations that I have had about marriage make it seem like singleness is a long hard journey and the reward is marriage.. much like we look forward to heaven at the end of the journey of life.  But marriage isn’t a goal; marriage is a continuation of the journey.  Marriage is acquiring a running partner.  Marriage is the decision to make the hard journey of life with a loving and sinful spouse who is also a novice at the whole thing.

There’s an evangelistic concept that we all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only he can fill.. only I feel like as single women we were all subtly told that it is actually a husband-shaped hole.  We long for marriage, and so we imagine that a husband will make us secure or cure our loneliness or fix our brokenness.

It isn’t a husband-shaped hole.  It is definitely a God-shaped hole.  Don’t make the mistake of trying to saddle your spouse with responsibilities that actually belong to Jesus.

Even after 2 years of marriage, sometimes I have to stop and evaluate where I am placing my trust.  Am I expecting things of Jason that are not within his responsibilities (or capabilities) to fulfill?  Am I trusting Jesus to be my Savior and trusting Jason to be my partner?

That night, I got up and climbed the steps back into my house.  I gave my hurt feelings to God and responded to my (still clueless) husband with love.  And I let the hole in my heart be filled by the only one big enough to fill it.

The Wreckless Love of God

Rich Mullins wrote a song about the Love of God that has a line about His reckless love for us, a raging fury of passion that overwhelms & sustains. My son misspelled a word while quoting some lyrics and that spawned a whole line of thought.

My first reaction was to correct his spelling (not cool on facebook, particularly from a parent) and then I thought maybe Rich Mullins did that spelling deliberately…wreckless is certainly part of what God intends for us. In Romans 8, He promises that ALL things work together for good. Such a little word with such a big definition! All things? All the litany of woes and desolation that bitter people bring up to refute the idea of a God in control?

You have to keep reading, to see that goal He has: that we would become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. We are not alone in the waves that threaten to drown us, we are in the ocean of God’s love for us and no matter what happens next, the last thing will be eternal life with Him and all those who are His bride.

We have been being tossed around in some storms here in PA. Dave had sudden open-heart surgery to replace one valve & repair another. It was truly sudden, with few indications of the severity of the problem. Now we are dealing with his recovery, paperwork from bills, that crazy medical billing system in the US, and considerably less income. I got a book that was touted as excellent to help with the recovery issues from heart surgery…and the funniest thing about it has been that Dave can’t identify with the author much!

That author has been terrified he would die, afraid to sleep, afraid his wife would leave him since he is ‘damaged’. Dave has been stunned, but not afraid. He has had to make adjustments, as I have, but we are not terrified of death and widowhood. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it yet but I know God will get me through it. We feel overwhelmed at times, and yet God sustains us. Even when we get tossed into the waves, it has been good to know Him better and hasn’t been a wreck. What is the difference? Knowing God a little vs not knowing Him at all.

Reenacting

Dave has had a short-term job at the Civil War Reenactment in Gettysburg. He works a 12 hour shift, all night long, checking passes at the gate so the people who come in are only registered reenactors and not ‘riffraff’. Hard to tell the difference sometimes!

Someone who does reenacting is a person who is willing to be hot, dirty, uncomfortable, and inconvenienced for the sake of history. They are so excited about a particular period of the past that they recreate it in dress, living conditions, and often persona for the weekend. I come out to visit Dave at the gate, usually stay until about 1am, sitting by the campfire and watching the tents glow with candles & lanterns, talking occasionally to people about where things are in Gettysburg. Trucks and cars full of woolen uniforms and hoopskirts go past to walk the streets and talk to tourists. These people PAY to come camp in a field and be gawked at during the day while they literally live their dream of historical accuracy.

What am I that passionate about?

Wandering in the wilderness

Dave & I are in the process of finding another church…after raising our kids in one on the other side of the county. It has not been an easy decision for me because it’s more like God is nudging Dave to go a different direction than my habits have formed.

I wonder what Sarai said to Abram when he came home & said,
“Honey, we are moving.”
“Where are we moving to?”
“I don’t know exactly; just come with me…………………..”

And Sarai would be thinking about the details of packing all their worldly possessions and meals for all the servants and what is going to happen next while Abram is thinking about the promised land or something. I have no insight into his mind. I can easily imagine hers, though!

So, in the now, I am trusting God & calling my husband ‘Boss’ and not being frightened by any fear. This is not a politically correct attitude~but it comes right out of the New Testament in a book called 1 Peter in the third chapter. I have been laughed at for respecting my husband’s authority in our marriage but I think I can trust God to be right on this one.

Dave and I have had deeper conversations and an increasing love & respect for each other as we wander around our wilderness following God. I’m excited about the future, and the part of the Body that we will be planted in next.