FAITHFUL LIVING: God's love flourishes as our love evolves

God is love. When we take up permanent

residence in a life of love,

we live in God and God lives in us.

First we were loved, now we love.

He loved us first.

— I John 4, The Message Bible

It was during a cold, wintry day in January of 1981 that a college roommate and I met at an on-campus coffee house to design my wedding invitation and warm up with a cup of coffee. While I would not describe us as rebellious, about-to-be-married and soon-to-graduate college students, it seemed particularly important at the time that my fiancé Matt and I avoid tradition when it came to certain aspects of our wedding.

We decided, for example, that my dad would not give me away. I was not an object to be traded and we eliminated that tradition. Instead, I would honor both my parents for their equal and valuable parenting by walking down the aisle with them both. The pastor would then ask both sets of parents to welcome us, while recognizing that we would need to reformulate our priorities as a married couple. He would remind them that we were to protect and honor each other and our new household above all other past allegiances.

We also requested that the pastor not focus on children. We had planned to delay that aspect of married life and we preferred to emphasize our relationship with God and how He might use us more effectively as a couple committed to each other and in daily communion with God. We asked our pastor to talk about the ways God might use us to accomplish particular tasks in our world, using our newly acquired skills.

You get the idea. Nothing earth shaking, simply deliberate. We wanted the ceremony to reflect us and not include traditions that meant nothing to us.

The wedding invitations were a frustration to me, as the selection offered at the downtown stationary store failed to adequately explain the approach we were taking to our marriage. In truth, Matt was not particularly frustrated by this detail. This part of the story is mostly about me — the American Literature major and recreational wordsmith. I viewed the love we shared as God’s great gift to us, in addition to His gift of Christ’s saving grace. I wanted that to be clearly proclaimed, even in the invitations.

Karole stepped in with what seemed the perfect idea: She would design our invitation and a local printer would print them for us.

We talked about the New Testament imagery of a vine: God being the vine and we the branches. A delicate winding vine, therefore, began appearing on her sketch pad. And while she drew and carefully lettered wedding-day details, I perused the Bible for just the right verse. In short order it came to me; the bottom-line explanation for the depth of our love. We could marry each other, without reserve, because God claimed us first with a love so far and deep and wide it would serve us for a lifetime if we carefully tended it.

Sometimes years would pass and I did not think about those invitations, the intensity that made the verse so poignant to us, or the early romance of our marriage. That is because life marched on. During years 5 though 10, that primal and most mysterious of urges to bring children into our marriage swept over us, and we welcomed three amazing human beings into our marriage. I had little time to quietly contemplate the profound meaning of love. Instead I diapered and nursed, soothed babies late at night with stuffy noses and celebrated the host of firsts that come with children: the first teeth, first steps, first kisses, and first words. Eventually the tending to their needs changed and so did the firsts. There was the first school dance. First kiss. First driver’s license. First to don a mortarboard.

This week, however, as I quietly sat in the family room while my first daughter packed her personal belongings for college, did I begin to consider, with a new understanding, the changing face of marital love. While I marvel at how incredibly fast my 18 years of parenting this amazing daughter have passed, and tear up when I consider the fact that next week her beautiful face will grace a dorm room at the University of Washington and not the bedroom upstairs, I can also praise our wonderful God for His lessons in love. For the first time I can envision a time when all three of our children will be gone and we will still have God’s love. In fact, we will be able to concentrate on each other once again.

The truth about long, sustained love is this: It is a gift from God, given with the intent that it not only serve us personally but also our children and those whose lives we touch. What begins as a passionate, self-gratifying love between two people has the capacity to evolve and unite us when the kids leave and we face a new normal, once again.

Freelance writer Joan Bay Klope’s e-mail address is

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