Thoughts on Convictions – 2

In the first post in this series I explained that while the Bible speaks clearly about how we should live, there is often freedom to apply its commands in various ways. In these second two posts I hope to give some examples of how this works. These ideas can be applied to many different biblical commands, but my intent here is to examine some of the bigger issues in conservative Christianity.

Education
                There is a clear command in Ephesians 6 for parents to raise their children in the Lord. Many take this to mean that the only form of education is homeschooling. This is supported by Deuteronomy 6, where parents are told to speak to their children of God’s laws when you rise up, when you lie down, when you walk by the way, etc.  Homeschooling certainly makes obeying those commands easier, especially with younger children who don’t yet have the discernment to sort right from wrong in a secular teaching environment.[1]
But I have seen families who homeschool neglect the spiritual teaching and even more, spiritual care of their children, and I have seen families who do not homeschool excel in raising their children in the Lord. Those families had to work extra-hard to disciple their children, but they most certainly did not neglect God’s commands in sending their children to private or public schools. Successes and failures aside, what really matters is not what worked for someone but what God says.
My understanding of those two commands (Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6) is that the place of education isn’t as important as the interaction between parents and children at home. Discipling your children and homeschooling are not synonymous. Neither is simply doing family worship at the end of a school day, whether that day was at or away from home. It is teaching your children when you rise up (but you can be getting ready for school or studies at home), when you lie down, and when you walk by the way (whether that’s the car to and from school or up and down the stairs of your house).
We see homeschooling as the easiest and most practical way of doing that and so have chosen to homeschool, but believe making that the only valid option for Christians is beyond the teaching of scripture.

                Post-high school education is often hotly debated. This is an area that I don’t believe there are commands in the Bible that directly apply. However, there is teaching on the company you keep, making wise choices, and the calling of God.

We don’t see college as the only or even best route, but one of many. What is most important is receiving what you need to fulfill any calling or passion God has given you – that might mean internship, trade school, online courses, college, or simply reading and studying this and that on your own. This goes for daughters AND sons. The aforementioned callings and passions should be shaped and checked by scripture (for example, only men are to be leaders in the church, so if a daughter aspires to that she must re-think her desires). First, one must study the Bible to determine what a Christian is to do and be, and then what a man or a woman is to do and be, and finally what they personally should do and be with the giftings God has given them. From there one can determine what the wisest route is – and that is never sitting idly at home!
Because of the above, I don’t believe a daughter must stay at home, but I do believe that after careful study of biblical commands to women, it would likely be the wisest route in order to prepare for the future. I do not see a career as being the norm for a woman; see “women working” below.

 

Youth group
                As with education, the clear command of scripture is for parents to raise their children in the Lord.
Does this mean others can’t be involved? No. But others should not take the place of parents in any way. There are definitely times when peers can gather and do peer stuff. Is it always wise? No. But should it be banned across the board or generalized as dividing the church into age-based factions? I don’t think so.

 

Women Working

“Older women… are to train the younger women to be… working at home.” Titus 2:3-5. (Other translations say “keepers of the home.” Strong’s concordance suggests that the Greek best translates into the idea of housekeeper.)
The understanding of this command does depend some on the variance in translations, as noted above. Because of that, some read this passage and believe that women may only work in and from the home. Others apply that only to a wife. And still others see the application as the keeping of the home being the woman’s first and primary duty, but once that is done she is free to work outside the home. Because of Proverbs 31, there is rarely any dispute over whether or not a woman may work from the home. The issue is not a woman generating income.

I tend to side with the latter two opinions, thus concluding that daughters have more freedom in this area (though living at home would perhaps be wisest, and if at home, any family duties must be fulfilled), and that there are times it is permissible for a wife to work outside the home.
Our view is that if a woman can still manage the home (which pre-baby could easily have been as little as 15 minutes of chores and an hour of cooking a day), working is not an issue (it should also be noted, however, that working from home can cause as much if not more of a distraction from wifely duties than working outside!). This means that it would most likely only be part time and not full-time or a long-term career. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the wisest use of her time.

Before we got married, Ezra and I decided that we were okay with me working part-time pre-kids if I wanted to. But his job is plenty to support us and we decided my time would be better used in other ways – like volunteering at the pregnancy center, writing, visiting people from church, etc. Not that it was wrong for me to work, but we saw that the better use of my time would be in these other ways that were more along the lines of how the women who were applauded in scripture spent their time. Also, just because you “can” do both on paper doesn’t mean it will play out that way. As a couple, you must consider what it really means to be a keeper at home, versus simply making dinner at the end of a long day.
I wrote about this more in 2012, and you can read that here.
I understand and have respect for more conservative views, especially considering the variance in the translation of the passage, but do not see it as an across-the-board rule.

Birth Control
                 The Bible does not say anything about birth control specifically, however, it does speak about how we should view children, the sovereignty of God, the sanctity of life, and also to issues of sin in our hearts. Some look at these teachings and conclude that using birth control is always sin, implying that if you don’t take “as many as God gives you,” then you’re not really seeing children as a blessing. Others believe we have freedom to use whatever birth control we choose as long as we still view children as a blessing. In the middle are people who would use only some forms of birth control, or only at certain times.
This is a complex issue that is often emotionally charged, personal, and has many facets.
                First, there is our mindset towards children. The Bible is clear that children are a blessing, can bring their parents great joy, and are like arrows in the hand of a warrior – “tools” for engaging our culture.
                Second, there is the sovereignty of God. God is in control of every area of our lives – which combined with point one say to me that the number and timing of children isn’t something for me to regulate. This is even more clear to me as I think about the timing of S’s conception and birth – with circumstances that were better than we would have chosen, but also ones we would not have chosen – yet still showing how God’s way is so much better than ours. To say “it’s just science” is to deny God’s hand in every day details of our lives, including the science of things like the rising and setting of the sun. It does not feel right to me to try to take control of that, nor does it ever seem to me like there is a “good time” to have a baby – babies are always work and life is always kind of crazy.
                Third, there is the sanctity of life. This applies to specific forms of birth control that can be considered abortifacients, and that therefore I believe are wrong for Christians to use. If after points 1, 2, and 4 are prayerfully considered a couple still chooses to delay or prevent children, there are other options to choose from that do not compromise life, some that could even be considered God’s design (ecological breastfeeding, Hosea 1:8). However, I think in most circumstances, after said prayerful consideration, the use of birth control will be excluded.
And fourth, there is sin in our own hearts. Ask yourself: why do I want to use birth control? It’s easy to want to wait for a better time, or a longer gap (side note: I do believe God can and does give us more than we can handle – but never more than HE can handle!), or to want to be done so you can focus on other things. Those are often complex and deep concerns that often belong to the couple (and sometimes their mentors) alone, but whenever steps are taken to prevent children we must check our hearts for sin, particularly selfishness. Selfishness can also show up in our ideals for what we want our children to have. Love is not measured by what things we can give them or activities they can do.

Within that framework, I know people who have chosen to use legitimate forms of birth control, particularly for health reasons (and I know people who have chosen to still forgo any birth control despite health risks – and both decisions were reached with much prayer), or in seasons of particular trial. Whatever the reasons, though, we must always check ourselves to make sure it’s not simply selfishness that leads our decision.

Whichever side we fall on, the decision seems to come from more general texts (Children are a blessing and God is sovereign) that combined with wisdom are lived out a certain way (If the above statements are true, are we really in a place to seek to prevent kids?).

On the other side of things, I don’t think it’s right for us to pry into others’ plans for children. I always felt that if people weren’t divulging that information, then that was their choice to keep it a private matter and that was completely fine. I think that someone in a mentorship position can and even should ask about that at times, especially if the couple is waiting to have children, to help check their motives.

I’ve also often found that behind the asking and/or the way it’s responded to, there’s usually an unspoken implication that they’re hoping you take the same position as them, which in our circumstances has been the mindset of leaving it up to God and it makes it awkward if that’s not what you’re doing.

But what clicked the other day was also that the way some people reply to pregnancy announcements (or ask if you are pregnant yet), implies that we really hope you are because it’s the best thing that can happen in/because of your marriage. I don’t mean by being annoyed at this that children aren’t a great blessing or that having them isn’t good for your marriage (the past months have been very good for our marriage, especially communication, and I think a fair amount of that is due ways we’ve grown because of S). But marriage is about WAY more than having children, and there are other blessings God gives as well.

 

[1] Unless a child has a clear profession of faith and fruit to match, we cannot claim they are a necessary “salt and light” in the secular schools.

Thoughts on Convictions – 1

In the last two years or so, I’ve thought often about convictions, particularly the way they play out in conservative circles. I was raised with a lot of books and CDs from “ultra-conservative” circles  and benefited from them. However, I often accepted the rationales given for their values without question,[1] and there was definitely a time when I was lock-step with most of their teachings. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began wondering at some of what they said, so that I started studying to make sure that my thoughts were biblical and not just things that “sounded right” to me.

As a continuation of those thought processes, I re-read some of the books we own dealing with homeschooling, birth control, emotional purity, etc. I really started thinking about phrases being used and where they come from. Is guarding your heart really a biblical concept? Are we really supposed to “give our hearts to our fathers?” How “wrong” is youth group? How absolute is homeschooling? And what should a daughter do with her time? In the end, my convictions remained the same in their basic outworking, but my explanations for them changed. This was mostly due to one thing I kept seeing again and again as a pitfall in these circles: It seems that the clear commands of the Bible, such as parents discipling their children (Ephesians 6, Deuteronomy 6), are often blown out of proportion. Instead of acknowledging the freedom we have to apply such commands in different ways, the application itself becomes a further command: you must homeschool. This also happens in areas such as modesty, courtship, birth control, youth group, and women working outside the home.
I firmly believe that the Bible speaks to each of these issues. It is usually very easy to see exactly what God desires:  you shall not steal. You shall not commit adultery. Children, obey your parents. Flee sexual immorality. Parents, teach your children the ways of the Lord. However, as proved by the varied ways Bible-believing Christians apply the commands of scripture, it is clear that the simple commands of the Bible are not so simple to apply. The way a brief command interacts with culture is complicated. Sometimes, people use that to ignore commands of God, sweeping everything off of the table and saying nothing of those commands, refusing to consider the differences between our culture and what the Bible says. Other times, they make the commands to mean more than they are (as in the previous example of “bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” becoming “homeschooling is the only form of education for the Christian family”).
There are many times when we have more freedom than some allow in the application of His commands. Things like homeschooling may be the wisest and most practical way to obey Him, but homeschooling is not the only way, nor is it a command from the Bible. It may be a right thing to do, but I believe it is the application of a law of God, not the law itself. I hope in the following posts to show examples of how this plays out in various issues. I hope by these examples to demonstrate that these things are important, but also delicate and require grace in the way we live them out.

[1] Despite my family’s use of the materials in a way that went to the Bible FIRST and applied any teaching with grace.

Reflections on the Past Three Years


{two days before Ezra proposed}

It’s been three years since my parents told me there was someone interested in me. As I sorted through my stuff in preparation for our move this summer, I went through all my journals, lingering especially long on the ones from those three years.

If I had known how hard those three years would be, I may have said no… But if I knew the future to know how hard they would be I would have also known how beautiful they would be. So I would have said yes without hesitation.
Because I did hesitate. I didn’t know if I was ready to be in a relationship that might lead to marriage within a year. I didn’t know if I wanted that, especially if I wanted it more than staying in Dubai or counseling at Csehy.
But I finally concluded that God would make clear which was for me, so I agreed to begin a courtship with Ezra. That’s what we called it, but really you could call it all sorts of things: we wanted to get to know each other with prayer and counsel in order to determine if it would be wise for us to marry. It was eight months of long emails and Skype calls. Sleepless nights of prayer and soul-searching. Long runs and walks sorting out thoughts. Late nights talking with mom and dad. Did I really know what I should do with my life? Did i really trust God and Ezra? Did I want marriage to Ezra over Dubai?
But the light of clarity grew, and in December we were engaged and over the moon.

Engagement wasn’t easy either. The distance was even harder than before, there was so much to be done, and the sleepless nights didn’t end as I wrestled with trusting God about marrying a sinner and all that might entail. I struggled lot with fear, both of sin in either of our lives and of injury or death.

And then came marriage, and it has been easy compared to our pre marriage relationship, though not without trial, especially since Miss Munchkin came along, bringing a new sort of sleepless night. And then there was her reflux, which is a beast and makes sleep harder and slower in coming.
With S came postpartum depression, and with the new year came lots of traveling for Ezra.

But I wouldn’t have changed the last three years. They have shown me my sin is deep. Have taught me that God is sovereign and that the cross means even the worst of that sin is forgiven. Have demonstrated that He hears our prayers in our struggles and will help us conquer sin. That this life is just a shadow.
That He is faithful and loving and good, and gives good gifts, like Ezra and S and our friends and family, and stars and clouds and birdsong.

There have been difficulties, but even more, there have been blessings and surprises.
I knew Ezra was pretty amazing when I married him, but I didn’t know just how he would love, serve, and care for me and S, even when he’s away, and I didn’t know how exciting it would be to watch as he grows in leadership at the church and work.
I knew we had friends and family that loved us, but I didn’t expect so many of them to give of themselves in counsel, love, and help throughout these last years.

I don’t expect the next three to be any easier, especially as we leave the community we have here in just a few short months. I couldn’t have asked for a better church to be at as we navigated the first year and a half of marriage and months of parenthood.
But I’m so excited to see what He has in store for us, and pray I will remember to look back and see His work in the past and let it give me hope when we can’t see ahead.
I can’t believe I almost said no and missed out on all of this. God always knows exactly what He is doing!

Courtship & Legalism

In response to a recent article critiquing courtship, Ezra has written this blog post and I wanted to share it with my blog readers.

While Ezra’s post deals with the most glaring issue, there are a few smaller comments I wanted to make. Umstattd’s article did bring up some legitimate flaws in courtship, at least in the way he defines it. Apart from what Ezra pointed out (which, unfortunately, was not at all a part of Umstattd’s solution, as he turned to a new formula rather than God to solve the problem – perhaps the saddest and most disappointing thing about his article), the biggest “flaw” in the way he defines it is that the only difference between courtship & engagement is a ring & a date. I wanted to briefly outline how for us courtship was a completely different thing than what Umstattd makes it out to be.
– We didn’t view marriage as the only or even most probable outcome to our relationship. Courtship (as we defined it – and any time I use the word “courtship” from now on it has that caveat) was a time to get to know each other in order to determine whether or not marriage between us would be wise or glorify God. We would have still considered it a success if we had decided NOT to get married for valid, godly reasons, and it would have been a failure if we moved on to marriage when we shouldn’t have.
– Umstattd speaks ill of parental involvement. While I have heard of stories that parental involvement was taken too far, the roles our parents played were healthy and necessary, especially considering our circumstances. Our fathers were involved in our emailing, and they along with our mothers were our primary counselors throughout our courtship. This was in many ways by our choice, as we knew that they knew us well and could help us see things more clearly.
That said, they weren’t controlling. Most of our Skype time was on our own. While we were together in person, we had time with our families and friends, but we also had time where we could talk privately and without interruption, whether it was in the car, on walks, in the living room, etc. I was grateful for this, not only because it gave us time to talk through things that we couldn’t really talk about in front of others, but it showed that although our parents were involved, they also trusted us to know ourselves/know if we would be tempted/be mature and let us draw many of the boundaries (ie, WE decided not to have physical contact during our courtship).
– Many say that in courtship, you can’t really getting to know each other. However, with the involvement of our families and friends (in person and via email) we could find out if the other wasn’t being honest and genuine. I was also confident that Ezra wasn’t hiding anything or trying to “make it work” because he was clear and forthright about sin – past or present – and any theological disagreements, proving to me that his hope was ultimately in God and not our courtship, as well as that he wasn’t hiding who he really was.

I say all that not to provide another formula for others, but to explain that there are outer differences as well as deeper differences between the courtship Umstattd critiques and what courtship (or whatever you want to call it) means to us.
It’s not a perfect way, and even in the circles we run in has ways to grow, perhaps especially in men and women getting to know each other/be comfortable with each other on a friendly level, again with the purpose of glorifying God in ALL relationships, be they romantic or friendly – which is another discussion that needs to be had between communities – how guys and girls can get to know each other to even know if they’re interested in taking things to a further level.

Legalism

After reading a book called “Gospel Amnesia” and doing some reading on “anti-Vision Forum” sites (some of which have valid points), I’ve been doing some thinking on legalism. I couldn’t seem to organize my thoughts into a coherent post, but here are some bullet points:

– Legalism isn’t just something that you think will save you (or condemn you) if you do/don’t do it – it often masquerades more subtly as thinking doing or not doing something will earn you more of God’s favor, or that the opposite action will make you or others less favorable to God.

– Looking down on someone because they don’t have the same conviction is often a sign of legalism. While our outward works are a sign of our faith, we have to be careful how we monitor the fruit of others. Just because I didn’t go to college, courted, and want a lot of kids doesn’t make me more holy than the sister who went to college, dated recreationally, and has one child.

– Rules in and of themselves are not legalism. People in gospel-centered camps would err on this side, but having seen the other side – very conservative Christians – I can understand why. To balance that out, we have to remember that the New Testament is full of rules. But the rules always come linked to the gospel – what really saves us and what allows us to receive God’s favor. Living a certain way won’t save you, but there is a certain way of life that brings honor to His name. That’s the purpose of the rules given in Titus – that the gospel may not be reviled.

– When dealing with legalism, we shouldn’t be reactionary. Instead of saying that because someone made a rule legalistic we should be done with it, we need to look at scripture and go from there. And instead of saying there’s no way said rule is legalism, examine yourself and make sure it’s not (or instead of countering cheap grace with only rules, counter it with true gospel!).

– Because someone makes a rule (women need to dress modestly) and someone else makes it legalistic (if you don’t wear a jean jumper you’re not as godly as those who do/only long skirts and button up blouses are modest), doesn’t mean that any guidelines for that rule are going to be legalistic.

– However, often rather than a rule (women cannot work outside the home), it’s better to exercise and encourage others to exercise godly wisdom (the Bible says women should be keepers at home. Can you do that while you’re working outside the home? – and judge each situation from there). I don’t think making a rule from that is necessarily legalism, but it is unhelpful and often takes things to a level that goes beyond what scripture says.

– Don’t make godly wisdom law. It just makes people ungracious and upset. (and yes, I’ll admit it, that is a reactionary statement. So is this: Don’t avoid sharing strong convictions of wisdom in order to avoid accusations of legalism. And note that that wisdom often stems from an underlying, beautiful law of God, which is absolute).

– Legalism leaves scars. Often they’re small, like having to learn how to seek holiness without being legalistic. But sometimes they’re worse, when legalism twists good, biblical things (male headship) into horrible things (emotional and physical abuse), causing people to throw the baby out with the bath water. I think this kind of twisting happens because people lose sight of grace in their own life and have no grace for others.

-If you fight sin because of legalism, sin is suppressed and then it eventually will come out (hence people who grew up in conservative homes and when they leave get into all sorts of immorality, or who were harmed because their parents went at behavior and not the heart – or because their parents’ hearts weren’t changed). But if it’s a heart change, then you can fight those sinful desires with a greater desire and the help of the Spirit.

– Many of the people opposed to “fundamentalist” teaching say that courtship, skirts, large families, etc. aren’t the answer. And they’re right. Courtship isn’t the answer. Fathers leading isn’t the answer. Following scripture to a T isn’t the answer: Christ is. CHRIST needs to be first, not Vision Forum’s 10 things, not a certain way of living, or anything else.

– When living a certain way becomes our gauge of holiness, that lifestyle becomes the center, not God. And this shows yet again why the gospel needs to be first. Holiness based on a set of rules alone leads to children being forced into lifestyles they don’t want, courtships controlled by parents, hyperpatriarchy, and all sorts of other problems – and problems are always many when the gospel is set aside. We want an extreme – to say “rules are great!” or “rules are evil.” But that’s not the path we’re given. We’re saved by grace, but then our works show our faith. That’s somewhere in the middle. Our ability to follow rules isn’t what makes us holy. We are holy in Christ, so we should live that way as a response.
No – we love because He first loved us; we have the fruit of the Spirit because He has given us His Spirit; we live differently from the world because He has redeemed us from the world.

– We need the gospel. That alone is what saves us. Our lifestyle doesn’t save us, nor is there only one right way of living. But when we’re saved, we need to know how to live as regenerate people. That’s where the law of God comes in, and that’s why the first half of Ephesians is on salvation and the second is on how to live as His children. We’re new people; we need to walk in newness of life.

Our Story: Q&A.2

{Ezra’s comments are in italics}

How did you stay objective?

I think the fact that we didn’t know each other super well before we started courting really made objectivity easier – that, and how clear we were that we wanted objectivity. Plus, when you’re writing emails, you think about things longer and so your conscience catches up before you send it and you have to really assess if it’s really what you believe or you’re just saying it. Objectivity got a lot harder as our courtship went on, and by October it was really really hard (meaning it was easy to want to brush some issues aside because you wanted so badly to marry them). But that’s also where parents help, to keep you on track. And, I think we were both learning more of what it meant to be fully satisfied in Christ. Ezra was (and is) very good at reminding me of that, and also to not be afraid of a “negative” outcome, since we were both delighting in Christ, and since He was our Lord, no matter what happened we would be fine.

Aren’t you too young to get married?

According to world, yes. But getting married isn’t really a matter of age but maturity.

As far as age is concerned, I’m 19. I’ll be 20 by the time we’re married. My older sister was 2 months over 19 when she got married. Ezra is just over 5 years older than me (and way more than that much wiser!). The world sees marriage as jail, or something to do later – but biblically, it’s a high calling, something worthy and beautiful, and so it is a good aspiration (and both of us are desirous of it!). My mother has trained me very well to be able to be a homemaker.

Maturity is harder to gauge, which is why it’s so vital that family and church be involved in the lives of a courting couple. While we understand the seriousness of the marriage covenant, Ezra and I also feel that with God’s help and the affirmation of our families, we are ready for it.
One thing that shows a person’s readiness for marriage can be how they treat their family, because in many ways that shows how someday you will treat your spouse and children.

Various societies have various expectations concerning what age is appropriate for marriage. In our society, these expectations are mostly shaped by humanistic views of education, family, and egalitarianism, none of which hold any weight for Kyleigh and myself.

Was a long-distance relationship hard?

Well, I don’t have anything to compare it to. We were between 6,000 and 9,000 miles apart for most of our courtship. It was hard, but most of that wasn’t because of distance. I did learn a lot about communication, and grew in it and also grew in opening up faster than sometimes I was comfortable with. I realized how much you can talk about in fifteen minutes, and so not to hold back because “we only had 15 more minutes left.”

I learned that some things are better written than said. Some things are better said than written. And there are things we want to write, but that should be said. Those were the hardest, but I always knew that Ezra would listen well and not be offended by anything I asked, so I was comfortable asking him anything, even though it often took courage. I knew that to have a good marriage we’d have to be open with each other and I wanted to be completely honest and tell him everything (with discretion, of course). And I knew that there were hard things I wanted to ask him to know more about him so I could make a truly informed decision about marrying him. We both needed a lot of courage, and God gave it to both of us, as well as grace to both of us to bear with, help, and forgive one another.

And, it’s nice to have some things in writing so instead of asking again you can just look back over it.

The only thing I see as being more difficult because of distance was priorities. I often felt like I was being torn five directions – family, Ezra, church, ministry, self. A lot of that didn’t have anything to do with the courtship, but sometimes family and Ezra conflicted, when Ezra and I were going to talk but the family was going to do something, or I really needed to reply to Ezra but there was no time for various reasons. So instead of Ezra and family going together like they so often would have if we were in the same city, they sometimes conflicted.

It was also sometimes frustrating not to have every-day conversations, like talking after church or sitting in on other conversations together. But, it definitely had its benefits, too, especially as far as being honest goes. By the time I replied to an email, I had thought out an answer, and my conscience wouldn’t let me write something just to agree.

It will take longer being long-distance. You don’t see them in daily life and you don’t hear affirmations from those who know them well. It will take you longer to get to know each other and to build trust (mostly if you don’t know the person that well before the courtship. The first few months of our courtship could almost be considered a “pre-courtship.”). What I did to help with building trust was to email some of the people who knew him well – his family, mentors, friends, and churches, to find out more about him. It was helpful, and I learned a lot about him. I’d recommend talking to people about the other person even if you aren’t in a long-distance relationship.

What did you learn?

The short answer is patience and reliance on God. But those two things showed themselves in so many ways. I was definitely sanctified. There were a couple of times where God let me see the depths of my heart, and it was not pretty. But then He was there, helping me through that and changing me.

The providence and sovereignty of God became much more real to me as I saw it in action. I began to see His perfect timing in bringing us together. There were ways we both needed to be sanctified before we could start courting. Then in our courtship, He used hard things to draw us closer together, and to renew and transform my mind by the truth – because until your mind is renewed, you can’t discern the will of God (Romans 12:1-2).
I learned about prayer and action, learning how to pray deeply and listen while I prayed. I still struggle with that, but courtship brought me to my knees crying out to God in a way nothing else has.

I realized a lot about positive emotion – how when it’s in the bounds of wisdom and scripture, it can be a good and even helpful thing. Also, it was strange being allowed to think about a man in a special way. It took me a while to get used to that.
I also learned that him leading doesn’t mean I can’t ever ask questions. He’s not going to know what’s on my mind, or what I want to talk about, so there are times I need to ask him. But then I quickly went off the deep end of asking too many and had to pull back and let him lead.

I learned how important trials are in sanctifying us and also in His wisdom and plan for everything. I think if it weren’t for some of the trials we had, our courtship would have been much longer. The hard things sped up getting to know each other in a way nothing else could have.

What were are ways you wish you had been better equipped beforehand?
I wish I had been better at praying. I’d prayed a lot before, but it was more of lists, not wrestling with issues in prayer. I’d never really prayed for any sort of decision before, and then suddenly I had lots of them, and I realized how lacking my prayer life was (and still is, especially now that the hard decisions are all over).

A person can always say, “I could have been wiser and more godly.” But in truth, though I felt weak often, I never felt unequipped. I certainly did gain a much better understanding of how I will someday help my own children to step through the courtship process.

What’s the difference between this and storybook romance (say, Anne of Green Gables)?

This is way better. 😀

More seriously, one thing that often happens in books is that a couple is in love, so they start courting, or so they get engaged. There’s a degree of truth in that, but it’s not fully true, especially for engagement. I would never truly admit to myself or anyone else that I loved Ezra until we were engaged.
Another thought is the verse in Proverbs that says “an honest answer kisses the lips.” I know it’s a crazy sounding verse, but Ezra didn’t win my heart with flowers and presents (though the things he has given me are very, very special to me) – he won it with his honesty and character, and that will remain if we have no money for presents, or forget birthdays, or whatever comes our way, in Christ, that character will only grow more priceless and wonderful. Our love is built on a covenant and other things that last, not romances that will fade. It’s hard. Even books that write it realistically and don’t ignore the hardships of love may not help, because it feels so different when you’re going through it.

So, my opinion still holds: don’t read too much romance – be it a romance novel, a book with lots of romance in it, or just too many books that have small romances in them. Let everything be as surprising as it can, and be who you are and let him be who he is, not trying to be Anne and Gilbert or anyone else.

It included a lot of difficulty; its “sweetness” was directly dependent on whether we surrendered it to
God; I never called Kyleigh “carrots”
; the first thing that caught my attention about Kyleigh was her virtue; it is not the ultimate thing in our lives.

What attracted you to each other?

When we started courting, I knew I was interested in Ezra, but unlike most courting couples wasn’t really thinking “I’d like to marry him.” It was more of “from what I know of him, I’m interested in knowing more to see if we should get married.” So the first few months were kind of a pre-courtship but were still courtship. But what did I know of him at that point? I knew he loved his family, respected my father, sought to protect and help his sister, had similar convictions regarding things like college, women in careers, etc., and I knew that his poetry was wonderfully deep and God-centered (and his review of the Hunger Games was good and wise). I also knew we were raised similarly, had a lot of the same tastes and interests, and probably had similar convictions in most areas, from what I knew of his family.

As our courtship went on, I began seeing that he was thoughtful, balanced (something I have trouble with – I like black and white, not middle ground), sought God first, and wanted the same for me. I could also see his honesty and that he wasn’t saying things just to agree, because he brought things up that he thought we might not agree on – his intent was godly marriage, not just marriage. And as I began to see more of how we are equally yoked, more of his character, and heard affirmation from his family of that character and conviction, attraction grew. I could keep going for a long time, but those are the biggest things.

Kyleigh’s virtue, modesty, devotion to truth, and love of God.

When did you first say “I love you?”

The first time he told me “I love you” was a few minutes after we got engaged, and the first time I told him was probably right around then. We knew it wasn’t appropriate for a courtship, which is based on objective truths, conviction, and character rather than feelings, so we didn’t want to muddle things with emotions (though it still did get muddled with emotion just by the nature of a courtship, but that muddling was minimal and we sought to fight through them and be led by truth and not emotion, though sometimes the emotion and truth did go together).
We also understood that while we were moving towards the possibility of marriage, we weren’t “promised” yet and so the level of commitment to declare love wasn’t there.

That’s not to say it wasn’t hard not to say anything before then. There were times it took a ton of self-control not to, and there were times I was thinking it constantly. The main time I remember was at the end of September when he was driving across the country, and I couldn’t help but wish that I could tell him, so that if something happened to him on the drive, he would know I loved him. But I also knew we needed to wait.

I was never worried about his interest or affection towards me, since I knew that if he wasn’t interested we wouldn’t still be courting. And I was glad that we waited, since it made the courtship easier because it was objective and I didn’t think “well, this is something we need to weigh seriously, but I really love him so it won’t be a problem.”

However, there was a time when “love covers a multitude of sins.” There were things that if they had happened or I had known them early on in the courtship, I probably would not have had the heart to push through – these things weren’t necessarily sin. Sometimes they were, other times they were slight differences or just something difficult in the path. But by the time we got there, it was worth overcoming them.

Ezra said this earlier, but I wanted to put it here again: It meant a great deal to me that I would not express or speak love to Kyleigh until it would have the deep meaning given to love by being in covenant. I think that our expressions of love to each other are much sweeter and healthier because we saved them in this way. Every single time that I have said, “I love you” to her, it has meant, “through whatever comes our way, because ours is covenant love”.

 

When did you know you wanted to marry him?

I knew I was interested somewhere between late 2010 and mid-2011. But even when we began courting, it was still just “interested,” since I didn’t know a whole lot about him. It was somewhere between August and October. Before August, my thoughts were so consumed with the things we were working through that I didn’t have time to daydream. After August it was harder to not think about getting married because we’d worked through the major humps, and by October I really had to guard my thoughts. So by then I knew I wanted to marry him, but until we were engaged I never said we would get married, even if people asked. I would say probably, but since we weren’t engaged I couldn’t say yes.

Since you talked about defining courtship, how have you defined your engagement?

Engagement is the period of time when you can get to know the other person on an emotional level and in a more intimate way as far as the thoughts that you share, etc. On the practical side, it is a time during which the wedding must be planned (in all of its glorious and terrible detail).

In some ways, it is the beginning of the marriage covenant – almost a “mini” or “pre” covenant that says we will get married, and this time in between is to specifically prepare for marriage to each other, and also prepare for a wedding. It is a longer engagement that either of us would choose in ideal circumstances, but we don’t have ideal circumstances.

I am still under my father’s authority, so while Ezra has permission now to “go after my heart,” there are still boundaries, some that we have chosen and some that my parents have counseled us to use.

We have decided to limit physical contact to hand holding, at least for now. As our wedding gets closer, we may decide to allow a little more physical contact, but since the covenant is not “complete” then there’s still not freedom to “do whatever.”

Excerpt from Ezra’s post on my ring:

While Kyleigh’s ring does indicate to others that she is engaged, it does this by implication rather than by direct meaning. It is not the relationship status bar on facebook. Rather, it is a symbol of the sacred covenant which is being formed between us. By implication of the covenant, we are engaged. However, the ring symbolizes the covenant, not the “relationship status”.

When a man gives a woman a ring in modern western culture, this is typically seen as “going to the next level of relationship”. But in giving Kyleigh her ring, we began our relationship as an unbreakable union (Matt 19:6), symbolized by the fact that the ring and the diamond form an unbroken circle.

Note: to be clear, the unbreakable covenant of marriage is not yet formed between Kyleigh and myself. However, in the interim, the ring symbolizes our promise to finalize the covenant on our wedding day.

Our Story: Q&A.1

{Ezra’s comments are in italics!}

What is courtship?
People define courtship different ways, which is why I’ve decided to answer this question. It can be a helpful term, but everyone needs to define it.
For us, courtship was a time of getting to know each other (in our case, “getting to know” started very basic because we knew we were interested in each other but at least I didn’t know Ezra that well) with the intent of seeking God to determine whether or not marriage between us would be something that would be wise and god-glorifying. This was done with the involvement of our communities and families, especially both of our fathers. Determining whether or not marriage was wise didn’t come by seeking a sign, but weighing character and equal yoking, and from that making an informed decision.
We decided that for us, there would be almost no physical contact. The one exception to this was an English Country Dancing ball the day before we were engaged. I wondered about that in the days leading up to it, and decided that there’s a difference between dancing with lots of other people (and dancing in which the only contact is hands) and holding hands. Nate’s 3-foot “rule” was something he decided he would do, and that we thought funny but too far and would always try to get around it. This “no contact” rule wasn’t to be legalistic, but to help us keep our focus on character and not affection or emotion. That’s not to say there wasn’t affection. Ezra was definitely winning my heart, but he was winning it by his character and not by flowers, hugs, and presents.

I’m not saying the way we did it was the only right way. It worked for us and was right for us. I do think the world’s way of dating is wrong. But there are people who “date well” – in that they’re ready for a possible marriage, their focus is on God, and it’s not about romance, self,  and pairing off. And there are people who court poorly. It’s more important to do it in a way that honors God than to have the “good” label.

It meant a great deal to me that I would not express or speak love to Kyleigh until it would have the deep meaning given to love by being in covenant. I think that our expressions of love to each other are much sweeter and healthier because we saved them in this way. Every single time that I have said, “I love you” to her, it has meant, “through whatever comes our way, because ours is covenant love”.

What is courtship not?
It didn’t mean we weren’t ever able to talk or be in private, or that my parents “arranged” the marriage. Courtship  isn’t a formula. Having only observed my sister’s courtship, I can see that ours were almost completely different. Joel and Cait were in the same city for almost all of their courtship. Ezra and I were in the same city for about 6 days of our courtship, so almost all of our interaction was on G+ and email (and some on the phone).
Two courtships, even if one of the people is the same, will never be the same. There will be different things to deal with, different circumstances, different lengths of time. Ezra and I courted for almost 8 months. Joel and Cait courted for about 5. It may feel this way to me since I wasn’t Joel or Cait, but I also feel like Ezra’s and my courtship was a lot more difficult than Joel and Cait’s was. I’ll get into this a bit more farther down.
Courtship does not mean you’re going to get married. It means you’re considering it. If you don’t marry, it doesn’t mean the courtship failed. A failed courtship would be getting married when you shouldn’t.

How did you refer to Ezra?
I still don’t really have an answer to this question. People at camp would refer to him as my boyfriend, and I would say “he’s not my boyfriend,” and then they’d ask what I called him. Usually I would say, “Ezra.”
But I would refer to him as my friend, or depending on the context my family and I would say “suitor” or “beau.”
As long as both of you and the people closest to you – or just people who will see your relationship – know what’s going on, I don’t think it matters what you call each other (or your relationship, for that matter). We wanted to stay away from terms like boyfriend and girlfriend because we weren’t dating and didn’t want people to think we were.

How did he refer to you?
Kyleigh. A couple of times, for the sake of expedience, I referred to her as my girlfriend. But I usually did not, because I have an aversion to the words “girlfriend” and “boyfriend”. Typically, they refer to partners in a relationship of consumer romance rather than legitimate love.

Sometimes, I would speak of her as, “the girl I want to marry” or “a good friend, and she and I are considering whether marriage might be right for us” or “a girl I’m courting”. But of course, all of those are somewhat awkward, especially around non-believers, and always required a further explanation.

What did you talk about?
Everything. Seriously. We talked about things that came up in daily life, what we were thinking about, what we were doing/going to be doing.
I had a long list of questions that fell under the categories of family, personal holiness, calling/gifting, work/future, music, entertainment, politics, food and health, finances, the church/theology, and miscellaneous. I also had questions to ask his family and myself, as well as keeping a running list of things that might be a problem and hills to die on. There was overlap between these categories, but it helped to organize my thoughts and give a flow to the questions.
Under family, we talked about things like size, schooling, lifestyle, and discipline.
Personal holiness had a lot about vision for the future, spiritual disciplines, and the past. Calling/gifting was similar to this, but had more specific questions that were quite specific to things we were talking about.
Music and entertainment are pretty straightforward – music was separate because it wasn’t just about standards for music but passion for it and its forseen place in a future family.
Politics was a pretty small and easily handled area, since we already knew we mostly agreed, and with it being an election year, discussions on that were pretty easy to bring up.
Food and health included things like eating organic, vaccines, medicine, alcohol, and balance.
Finances was so we could talk about things like budget, giving, and more about standard of living.
Church/theology was a jumble of theological issues and thoughts about church-in-practice like leadership, membership, etc.

But the list of questions didn’t mean we sat there firing questions at each other (but we did that once or twice to get through the more straightforward ones!). Sometimes I had to work up courage to ask a question, and other times things just came up or were answered on their own. For example, you may not have to ask what makes him most excited… you may just see it.
Also, there were things we talked about and didn’t have conclusive opinions on or were slight disagreements but not enough that we thought it would be a problem (especially since those slight disagreements were few).

Why didn’t you tell me?
I wanted to tell everyone; I was so excited. But, especially early on, our courtship felt very fragile. Right away there were trials. I wanted to protect it and myself. I didn’t want to have to tell someone I was courting and then two weeks later say “nevermind.” We also didn’t want “prying eyes” or people always asking questions – but we did tell those whose questions we knew would  be helpful, and close friends who could be praying for us, and who knew us well or were wise and we’d be  seeking counsel from.
And then later it was less fragile and we started being more open about it, but we still wouldn’t just tell anyone. I did tell a lot of people at camp, first because they’d be seeing us together, and second because there’s a lot of room for help and teaching in the area of relationships at Csehy, and it was a great opportunity to share about godly relationships with guys.

There were small hints of it on my blog, but it was very subtle – things like referring to Skype and G+, Ezra commenting often, etc. I wanted to blog it in a way that I would know what was going on for the sake of personal history, but not so obvious that everyone could figure it out.

How did you decide?
It didn’t happen all at once, but over the course of the eight months there was a “growing light” (Proverbs 4:18) as things became clearer. I had a lot of open communication with my parents, understanding how important it was to let them know where I was at – what I was ready for, what I was struggling with, or anything else.
Some people say you need to decide if the other person is the “best one for you.” As time went on, I began to realize I really don’t agree with that statement. It can paralyze you into fearing that there’s “someone better” out there. Rather, seek whether or not you’re equally yoked, and if there’s any reason you shouldn’t marry. For us, that meant a lot of discussing theology, future hopes, and our strengths and weaknesses. I had a list of questions and character qualities, and as the months went on, more and more of those were getting checked off, and in early December, they were ALL checked off. Which was an odd feeling, yet didn’t make me impatient to get engaged because I’d already been made so aware that God’s timing is perfect.

There was a time when I realized I was thinking “I’ll marry you if…” – not in the sense of “if he doesn’t believe in reincarnation” but “if he doesn’t use that term,” or “if he plans to do xyz.” You can’t get married on that kind of condition.

But in the end, I began to understand why people talk about wanting “a sign,” because once you’ve determined there’s no reason you shouldn’t marry, and that it would be a good thing – then it all boils down to whether or not you want to marry the person. It feels rather arbitrary and strange, but it’s not like you go through a checklist and then say “okay, then we should get married.” But by October, I very much wanted to marry Ezra and was just waiting for a few things to finish being discussed and then for him to ask.

So we decided with a lot of time, prayer, counsel, and talking – and I think those ingredients should be there for everyone, though exactly how it looks will be different.

It is a little different for a man, I think, to make this decision. Typically, the fact that a man goes after a woman means that he has already, in some capacity, decided that he will marry her if the courtship reveals it to be a wise choice. Such was the case with me, anyway.

How did you and Ezra meet?
There’s a post on “our story” you should read!

What were things that were really helpful to you?
People telling us they were praying for us
Proverbs was always helpful, but three verses were particularly important to me. Proverbs 21:30 reminded me His purposed would prevail. Proverbs 4:18 helped me understand how the courtship process is like the dawn – growing brighter and brighter. It wasn’t a one moment decision, but a process of coming to understanding. And Proverbs 19:2 was always timely when I was rushing .
The hymns “Be Still My Soul,” “Jesus Lover of My Soul,” and “O Love That Will Not Let me Go” were also helpful and important, and were full of truths I often clung to. Another song I prayed a lot and used as a springboard for further prayer was “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul.” Even now, it always comes to mind when I’m weary.
Prayer. Remembering my acceptance into God’s family. Remembering His love for me. Receiving godly council, especially from my father and Kyleigh’s father.

Did you keep track of your writing/talking?
You bet! Here’s the log!  (The numbers of writing do include emails to friends and family also, but most of it is between Ezra and me).
156,372 words.
327 typed pages.
71+ hours of talking.

Did it change your relationships with other guys? 
Not really, and if you have healthy relationships with the opposite gender, I don’t think it should very much. I was more careful in my interaction with other guys, but after a “settling in” stage, everything was how it had been before.
I still treated guys as brothers and was able to talk comfortably and intelligently with them, though I still held myself back and didn’t share the inner workings of my heart with them – things that to some extent I could share with Ezra. Actually, I think it made me more comfortable around other guys because I had no reason to think of any of them as anything beyond a brother and they also had no reason to think of me as anything other than a sister, since I was “taken.”

I’d grown up guarding my heart – treating young men as brothers but not getting attached emotionally, but if I did, striving to hope in God and fill myself with Him and what He wanted me to be doing now. That never changes. Either you don’t think romantically about anyone, or you’re limited in how you think romantically about someone (courtship, engagement), or you can think that way about one person and have to guard against all others. There is a time and a place for love, but it must stay in its place or it loses its beauty, now or later – or both.
A good resource on guy/girl relationships and friendships is “It’s (Not That) Complicated” by Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin.

I want to put in a word here about guarding your heart. A lot of the time it becomes legalistic. “Don’t do it because you’ll get your heart broken,” or “You need to save your heart for your husband,” “you’ll build bad habits in the way you think about guys.” And while there’s truth in those, there are much more important reasons. We want to keep our focus on God, and we want to keep the sanctity of marriage.

Don’t play around with relationships that are to make you feel good or have nowhere to go (ie, dating before you’re ready for marriage, whether that’s lack of a job or lack of maturity). Those relationships are almost always self-centered. You want to be loved, so you seek it in a person and not in God.
Those also tarnish marriage, because how we approach marriage should be with seriousness. Marriage is a lifelong covenant that is a lot of work. It’s a picture of Christ and the church, and when you treat marriage and romantic relationships lightly, then it loses that weightiness.
Did it change his relationship with other girls?
Essentially, no. If your relationships with the opposite gender are conducted with propriety and honor, the only change is that you are no longer looking for someone once you have found your future spouse (or even once you are in a courtship).

Words to those in a courtship, from things I’ve learned:
Don’t regret trials. When troubles came, they were hard and I always wished it was easier. But in retrospect, I can see how they helped us understand each other and learn about forgiveness or how the other thought. It was also good because I was able to see how great Ezra is at helping me through these difficulties.
I wouldn’t trade all of the trials and anguish for the joy of having pursued and won Kyleigh’s heart by putting God and His kingdom and righteousness first in the courtship.

There are little things that will make your friendship stronger and will make you want to think “we were meant for each other!” – let them make your friendship stronger, but just because neither of you like coffee doesn’t mean you’re a good fit. But, if you get engaged, they can be things that allow you to see how great you are for each other. For us, those were things like he was interested in Rwanda, and I had a bunch of African stuff in my hope chest. Or, he had named his car Hezekiah, and that was the name we jokingly used for my future husband (turns out there’s more of a story to that than I thought, but that’s for another day).

Always be in prayer for grace to take counsel well. As your courtship progresses, it will be harder to think straight and listen well to others, but it’s no less important.
One of the reason that so many Christians end up with broken hearts and scrapped relationships is that they see the relationship as a private matter between boyfriend and girlfriend. It is never a private matter, least of all before covenant love has been established. Success comes by the wisdom of godly council (Prov. 15:22).

Trust each other, but more than that, trust GOD. See that God is at work, the Spirit is active, he is satisfied in and seeking God, and make certain your hope is in God and not a good marriage.
Learn the difference between a red light and a yellow light. A red light is something like unrepentant sin and unaligned conviction that would say it would be wise to end the courtship. A yellow light means slowing down to consider things more carefully, but they may or may not be a reason to end the courtship, depending on the circumstance. This was an important distinction for me to learn, since for a while I felt like I was pushing through things that were warning flags – so I had to distinguish between “stop” and “slow.”

A word of encouragement for the days when nothing seems to be happening – every day is one day closer to a decision. Be patient. Little by little you’ll start to find an answer. Don’t rush it. If you’re impatient like me you’re not used to having to wait for a decision, but you will have to. But the light will grow until you know. If it ends without marriage, you may wonder why you didn’t start with whatever it was that ended the courtship. But learn from the courtship, and don’t consider it a failed courtship, because if you agreed that marriage isn’t a wise choice and ended the courtship, then you did well.
If you do decide to marry, you’ll wonder why it had to take so long. I wondered that myself, but am glad we had those months of learning about each other. The things that came up and the way we worked through them, though hard, probably accelerated our courtship.

There will be times to “practice” for marriage – times to forgive each other, times for you to wait for him to lead, and times to work through difficult things. Don’t neglect those things, but work through them carefully.
As time goes on, the courtship may get easier, but life at home may get harder, and not daydreaming will, too. At first it was easy for me not to daydream. My mind was so full of other things. But then it began to seem more real and I really needed Ezra’s reminders not to idolize the other person or hold too tightly to the courtship, but to put God first.

That’s incredibly important. You will be tempted often to idolize the other person. I don’t mean that in the sense of thinking the other person is perfect (that wasn’t a problem for Ezra and me. We’re both aware of some of our own faults and also faults in each other). But you need to be content with God. A good way to test that is to ask yourself what your reaction would be if the courtship ended without marriage. I could tell when I was holding on to “us” too tightly if I would be devastated if that happened. That’s not to say you wouldn’t be sad or that it wouldn’t hurt, but if your focus is on God, you will be content in Him and also will probably have a better perspective of what’s going on.
Guys – it is your job to wait patiently for her while she is weighing things out. You have asked her to leave her life and join yours, which is no small thing. You must give her the time and also even do what you can to let her know that you support her in her need to weigh things out and seek godly wisdom.

A word of encouragement for those “waiting” for a husband – first of all, don’t “wait.” Be active and fruitful wherever God has put you. You’ll find it so rich, joyous, and wonderful. And secondly, be encouraged at how God brought Ezra and me together. It was long, strange, and unexpected, but really shows His sovereign hand in bring people together when He wants them together.

Words to those considering courtship: 
Courtship is hard. Some days you’ll feel like 100+ things are being thrown at you at once. But it’s so worth it.
I wondered a lot at first if I should get married. There was so much I could do being single, and I loved life in Dubai, and I didn’t feel like I needed to be married, though I knew I wanted to. I had been reading in 1 Corinthians and thinking about singleness, and wondering if I should get married. But then I realized that ultimately, my calling lies within a family, and that in many ways Ezra’s needed a family. “Live as you are called,” Paul says. Some have grace and faith for singleness, some for marriage. Don’t judge those with other gift, but weigh carefully your desires and motivation for either marriage or singleness – and rejoice in whatever God gives!

Words to those on the other side of courtship, or watching courtships: 
If you had an easy courtship, try to understand when people are in a hard one. There were times I was unsure whether or not we were going to get through the next day, and so when people would make excited comments about us or not be aware of how hard it was and treat it like a walk in the park, it was hard.
You can help us by restraining your words. I know it’s fun to comment about how cute we are or ask when we’re going to get engaged. But we’re having to guard our own thoughts to not think too much about those things. Many times I didn’t proof-read an email for fear of my fingers running away with me and saying something I shouldn’t yet. Restraint is hard enough without others making comments. (I’ll give you some leeway if you knew it was coming. My brother-in-law and sister were talking about us like we were engaged when they were visiting in October/November. But Cait had been asked a question about a ring, so she knew it was coming – but I didn’t, so it was still hard for me).