Jenn, Dave's wife of just over two months as I write this, has a handsome five-year-old son and a beautiful nearly-three-year-old daughter from her first marriage. When she first moved to Sterling almost two years ago, she was newly divorced and facing the grim prospect of living in a strange town with her parents and her children, in a home designed to accommodate one cozy couple, not a multi-generational family of five. Jenn started attending her parents' church, which she had visited a few times during weekend trips to Sterling.
She soon joined the worship team, and met my brother, who plays guitar and leads worship occasionally. My mother encouraged him to invite her along when the younger members of the worship team would go out to coffee after practice, knowing that she was in need of some friends her age. They spent quite a bit of time hanging out in groups before they started dating -- in fact, when they met, Dave was dating someone else!
Dave knew that Jenn was a package deal. He waited and prayed and sought advice before he ever asked Jenn to go on a "real" date with him, until he knew that he could be a father to her children. My admiration and respect for my brother during this time increased exponentially, because he was already protecting Jenn's heart by putting her needs and the needs of her children ahead of his own desires.
May 10, 2006 marked their first "real" date, an honest-to-goodness date at a nice restaurant, complete with wine and fancy clothes and door-opening and chair-pulling-out and the whole nine yards.
Their courtship progressed pretty quickly. Jenn got a new job at a bank, and Dave started working full-time at a local furniture store. Dave asked Jenn's parents for their permission to marry their daughter and Roy and Angela delightedly gave it. They got engaged just before Thanksgiving of 2006, and announced their engagement when Jenn and the kids came to Iowa with us. We were all thrilled (though not particularly surprised), and they started planning right away. A joint bank account called "The Gettin' Hitched Fund" was opened and they dutifully socked away every spare penny. Bridesmaids were selected, dresses purchased, tuxedos rented, music picked, helpers recruited, decorations bought, invitations sent, registries created. And before we could turn around, it seemed, the day had arrived.
I was honored to be a bridesmaid -- mostly because I got to see Jenn's total delight and excitement as she anticipated walking down the aisle to meet her groom. I read Scripture to her (from Ephesians, naturally!) as she was getting her hair done. I held her hand and prayed with her to calm her nerves. I reassured everyone when the tornado sirens (!!) went off as we were getting dressed. I stood on the platform with her as she spoke her vows to love, honor, and cherish my baby brother for as long as she lives.
Divorce is an ugly, ugly thing. The Lord hates it (Malachi 2:16). But the Lord is also in the business of redemption.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19)My dad, who officiated at the wedding, read this verse while he was preaching the wedding sermon. There was not a dry eye in the place -- dad had to stop in mid-verse and compose himself before he could go on!
I have never seen anyone so excited to get married as my sister-in-law was that day. She laughed and cried and smiled and laughed some more out of sheer delight in her groom! He lovingly gazed at her, taking great (although much quieter) joy from seeing her excitement. As she came down the aisle, she could hardly contain her emotions, which bubbled over in tears and laughter.
The Lord in his Grace, knowing our weakness, has given us some symbols, some ways of acting out the Gospel, so to speak. Communion and baptism are the two most commonly practiced in the church, but marriage, as Paul clearly states, is also the Gospel beautifully portrayed in visible form. Christian weddings, therefore, should be characterized primarily by a focus on the Gospel. The verse that my dad read about the Lord's relationship with Israel points to Christ. The Lord has done that "new thing" that he promised to do. He sent his son to fulfill the requirements of the law on our behalf, to pour out his blood as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, to turn aside God's anger at sinners, to defeat the power of death that had reigned since Adam.
It is that very power that lives within my brother and sister-in-law; that power, the same power that raised Christ from the dead, now enables them to live out the vows they made to each other with joy, knowing that final victory is sure despite their failings. The Holy Spirit who dwells in them empowers them daily to "forget the former things" -- their sins against each other, their prideful attitudes, their selfishness -- and seek to love each other in a way that is defined by the mercy of the Lord, which is "new every morning."