Musings on the Road to Marriage #5: Marriage Advice

bride & groom

When my fiancée had her bridal shower, the women all had marital advice for her.

I just had my bachelor party, and I asked my guys to do the same for me. Below are some wise pieces of advice from my guys. (Some of these are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and those are asterisked just in case ironic humor isn’t conveyed well through printed text sans nonverbal cues):

  • Keep dating each other
  • Have a regularly-scheduled date night
  • When you pack for your honeymoon, lay out all your clothes and money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.*
  • You get exactly the person you deserve, because couples rub off on each other. If you are mean to the other person, you will end up with a mean spouse. But if you are kind to the other person, you will end up with a loving spouse.
  • Always celebrate and encourage her
  • Be a good roommate
  • Watch out for the temptation of being too busy, both in the sense of time and prestige; make sure you’re creating enough time for her.
  • Why couldn’t the blind man see his friends? Because he was married!*
  • Say kind and affirming things to her, even if she knows it; don’t just think it
  • Hugging and kissing is important even if it doesn’t lead to sex. Nothing will turn her off more than realizing that hugging and kissing is only for the purposes of leading to sex.
  • Communication is important, always ask how she’s doing/feeling
  • Pray regularly
  • Nobody will shape the other person more than each other, view it as a ministry.
  • Invest a lot of time in each other even if you feel like you have to be in two places at the same time
  • When you argue, don’t bring up everything under the sun
  • It’s not about winning the argument but what’s best for both of you
  • When you come home from work, leave your phone at the door and be completely present to her
  • Admire her lingerie because she put a lot of thought into it; don’t just take it off in 2 seconds
  • Foreplay, for a woman, consists of all the sweet things you do for her the whole day beforehand.
  • There are a lot of temptations in marriage from the outside (it will come), so don’t ever play with the edges or push the boundaries. Temptations are especially become bigger if it comes during a hard time between you two, so be on your guard.
  • When you fight, have guidelines and rules of engagement that you abide by.
  • Lower your expectations for the first night; you’re both beginners at this, but sex gets better with age like a fine wine
  • Play a lot of Kenny G*
  • View your wife’s soul as soil, and plant seeds in her that will bear fruit
  • Never be more than a set agreed-upon number of days away from each other, to avoid temptation. And always maintain continual contact when you are away from each other.
  • Get matching snuggies and t-shirts*

Musings on the Road to Marriage #4: Weddings (Man-made) vs. Marriage (God-ordained)

Jewish wedding tradition

I am a professor of Intercultural Studies, so of course I love culture. However, culture can be good or bad.

As I am about to get married this weekend, I have done a lot of reflecting on the “culture” of weddings and what are the good, the bad, and the ugly (or simply neutral) about it—because there are a lot of each of these!

In one sense, weddings are definitely cultural: there are all sorts of traditions such as what the bride should wear, what kind of food should be served, what sort of music is played, what traditions are observed.

But marriage is another thing altogether. You see, the difference between nature and culture is that the former is God-made whereas the latter is man-made. This makes marriage natural while weddings are cultural. This, I think, is part of the whole misunderstanding in the whole “gay marriage” debate: confusing weddings with marriage. Evangelicals are decrying the desecration of the institution of marriage but what they are really upset about are gay weddings. And a wedding does not make a marriage!

Weddings and birthdays and graduations and smaller things like getting your driver’s license are all man-made things. In contrast, marriage, baptism, and communion are the only institutions created by God. The Catholic Church calls these sacraments (in fact they have a total of seven sacraments) but Protestants only acknowledge two as sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Marriage is not a sacrament because not every Christian is able to do it, nor is it directly commanded by Jesus of his followers.

However, this blog post is mainly about weddings, not marriage. Similar to how a missionary goes overseas to preach the Gospel and encounters other cultures, discernment needs to take place so that the wheat is separated from the chaff: uplift the good things of a particular culture, get rid of the bad things of that culture, and leave alone the neutral things of the culture. For example, if a particular culture prays five times a day, that’s probably a good thing to uphold (they just need to be oriented to pray to the right God)! If they eat food with chopsticks instead of forks, that falls in the neutral category which means just leave it alone because it doesn’t matter and that’s not a hill to die on. And if they sacrifice children, that’s certainly bad and something that needs to be changed!

What about with weddings? There are so many things that can be mentioned, but I’ve picked one per category:

The Good:

The vows of commitment. How can anyone not be moved by people pledging their lives to each other “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, til death do us part”? Though many don’t live it out, the bar should not ever be set lower than this.

The Bad:

What the wedding party wears. Traditionally, the bridesmaids wear all the same thing (something somewhat ugly, I’m told, because it makes the bride look all the more radiant by contrast), and the groom wears exactly the same thing as the groomsmen. Well, I wanted to wear something different from the groomsmen because if the bride gets to look distinct and special, why shouldn’t the groom? I think this is a tradition that can and should be changed. On the other hand, now due to Pinterest, it is fashionable for bridesmaids to wear mismatched outfits from each other! That is just plain distracting and that is a tradition that ought to be kept traditional.

The Ugly:

The wedding registry. This is something meant for people in their young 20s who are just starting a new life and need everything from silverware to a microwave. This does not apply to couples who are older and are already established and independent with everything they need. Yet, we can’t just register for anything we want. (I foolishly thought that, since we are both professors, we can just ask for, e.g. books on Amazon! And my fiancée gently reminded me: “No, tradition dictates that we can only register for things that help us build a life together.”) So instead we have to ask for cutlery and plates when we already have them. In many ways, registering for stuff (one would think it would be delightful to be able to “shop” to our heart’s content and know that we’ll get it for free!) was one of the most tedious and least interesting parts of our engagement process because it just felt like an obligation. Can’t I just register for a pair of running shoes so that I can run my next marathon, since that’s actually what I need? (OK fine, I’ll just register for another napkin holder…)

The Neutral:

Wedding invitations. Tradition dictates that they ought to be printed formally and mailed out 6-8 weeks ahead of time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that; yet, there is also nothing wrong with forsaking that traditional way of doing it, and making it an online RSVP system. Either way works, and nobody should disparage anyone who chooses to do it one way or the other.

Another example is the garter. Yes this is traditional, but some people think it is inappropriate because it is, essentially, a public display of the man removing his wife’s underwear. So some people choose to dispense with it, which is totally understandable. It certainly doesn’t have to be done if it misaligns with your sensibilities.

The Fun:

Be original and/or borrow from other cultures. My fiancée is wearing the traditional white wedding dress, but is also wearing a red Chinese qipao. Hey, if you can do both, why not? Also, instead of doing candle lighting (because our wedding is outdoors and the flame could blow out with the wind) we are doing wine pouring. It’s not exactly “traditional” but it works for us, and has symbolic Christian meaning too. We are taking our vows and framing them for everyone to see on display, and reading to each other from the frames. We also each have one attendant of the opposite sex, because we believe in cross-gender friendships (so, she has one male “bridesmaid” and I have one female “groomsman”). It’s always great to mix it up and “riff” on traditional customs to make it your own.

So, similar to missionary work, I think that separating the wheat from the chaff is so helpful so that we don’t become enslaved to things which are, frankly, silly. But this doesn’t mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater—there are many beautiful things about weddings that ought to be kept and affirmed. At the end of the day, weddings are man-made institutions, but they lead to a God-ordained institution: marriage! And for that, wedding traditions not only should be tolerated but given great care and thought—cherish the things that are meaningful, delete the things that don’t work, revise some things to suit your personality, but most of all think “big picture” of the larger meaning that all the little details point to.

Musings on the Road to Marriage #3: Men and Women Are Different

men vs women

“Oh come on, this is so obvious!” you may say. “It took you how long to figure this one out?” But I don’t mean it in a Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus (the well-known book written by John Gray) kind of way, nor do I mean it as a Men Are Like Waffles and Women Are Like Spaghetti (a book written by Bill Farrel) kind of way either. I mean it in a theological way.

In a previous blog post, I talked about the biblical categories of reconciliation: race (Jew & Gentile); gender (husbands & wives); class (masters & slaves); and age (parents & children). These are the Apostle Paul’s categories, spelled out in Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians.

I am a missions professor, and I tell my students that the definition of missions is “God reconciling the world to himself.” In other words, reconciliation is synonymous with the Gospel! But what does reconciliation mean? First of all, it implies difference. You don’t need to reconcile two things that are the same. Secondly, it doesn’t imply war. Hopefully parents are not going to war against their children, or husbands against their wives! So what is reconciliation, then? In my previous blog post, my definition was: UNITY WITH DIVERSITY (or, unity without uniformity). This means the body of Christ must look multiethnic, multi-age, multi-class, and both genders.

But this is more than just coexisting; it is thriving! God wants the Body of Christ to get along so well and work as a unit, much as an eye or a hand need each other because they’re not the same thing but each can do something the other can’t.

The problem is this: in those four categories, part of the need for reconciliation is because of power inequalities. Just as Jews saw themselves as superior to Gentiles because they were the chosen ones, men often lord it over women, masters over their slaves, and parents over their children. The difficulty is: in the latter two categories, there really was a power dynamic going on and there’s no getting around it. In the first two categories, the power dynamics are culturally and socially constructed but ought not to be there.

In Acts 10, the Apostle Peter sees the sheet being let down from heaven with all the unclean animals, and is told to kill and eat. He refuses to do it, but the Lord admonishes him: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This was an analogy for the Gentiles. Basically Jesus was saying: “Hey, these ‘unchosen’ people now have access to God via the cross, so they are now your equals! Do not despise them.” And Peter is flabbergasted by this, saying: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” His paradigm has been rocked as the old hierarchies passed away. God raised up the previously culturally despised into equal status with the powerful. Mary sang of this in her Magnificat in Luke 1: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” This is called the Upside-Down Kingdom.

As I am entering marriage, I am well aware of these power dynamics that need reconciliation. Men and women are different because men traditionally have held power, and women have not. As a man, I am responsible to not act out the dominance and abuse of women that is so often perpetuated in society. But it’s not just coexistence, as I said above: it’s thriving and flourishing. I am to lift up my wife in ways in which she soars above the clouds. This is part of my call as a husband, and part of my marital duty to my wife.

My fiancée have been reading a book by John Gottman, a professor at the University of Washington and the nation’s #1 marriage expert. In Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he says that an egalitarian marriage tends to last longer than one which is not: “men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce than men who resist their wives’ influence. Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81 percent chance that his marriage will self-destruct.” And, “marriages where the husband resists sharing power are four times more likely to end or drone on unhappily than marriages where the husband does not resist.” In other words, allowing the wife to be equal to her husband in power is not just good reconciliation, it could save your marriage from unhappiness or destruction!

I would also argue that the latter two categories—class and age—also need to be equalized. We realized that American slavery was wrong, and we abolished it. There are still other forms of slavery around the world (such as sex trafficking) and we are also working to abolish it. And though parents have power over children, age is something which needs to be equalized too, in terms of giving dignity to children who often have very little rights and are often abused.

Interestingly, regarding the first category, my fiancée is ethnically Jewish, and I am a Gentile! Not only that, she is white and I am an ethnic minority. And what is so beautiful to me is, she has always supported me and lifted me up in a racial reconciliation way. She fights for the rights of ethnic minorities, which is one of the many reasons I fell in love with her. So she supports me when she is the “powerful” in the racial category, just as I will support her as I am the “powerful” in the gender category.

This, I think, is what God calls us to in marriage—in life—and in the Church. To him be the glory!

Musings on the Road to Marriage #2: Should You Wait?

waiting

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about why I’m glad I’m getting married older. But if people ask my advice, they may be surprised that I would caution against it.

“Should I wait?” This is a big question which I’ve often been asked. Don’t good things come to those that wait? Let me make a parallel to another question I often get asked as a professor: “Should I get my Ph.D.?

The reason the two questions are parallel are because the assumption is: Allen, you did it this way, and it worked out for you!

But the problem is, I don’t know if it will work out for everyone. Yes I waited to get married until I was 40, and then ended up meeting a woman who knocked my socks off, who is amazing in every way. But let me tell you, all my friends thought that I had missed my window of opportunity. They all thought I waited too long. They all said, “Stop being so picky!” They thought for sure that I was going to be “bachelor til the rapture.” So imagine their shock when they found out I was finally getting married, and I didn’t have to “settle” to do it!

The reason why this is parallel to the Ph.D. situation is that I often get asked by students if they should go for a Ph.D. And I think about how hard it is to get one, how many grueling years you have to put in of being a broke grad student with very few prospects for a job. And often people end up being adjunct professors with no benefits and below-minimum-wage pay; or they have to fight for that one faculty spot over against a hundred other applicants. But my students will say: “But you did it, and it worked out for you!”

I want to tell younger people “Don’t do it the way that I did it.” Because I don’t feel right encouraging them to “playing the odds” like this. What if I tell them to wait to get married, or to go ahead and do the Ph.D., and then they end up never finding the love of their life or a professor job? I would feel horrible. On the other hand, if someone had told me to not wait to get married, or to not do the Ph.D., I would never have ended up with my amazing woman, or a doctorate from Oxford and a faculty position. I hope I never end up being like the equivalent of Michael Jordan’s high school basketball coach who infamously cut him from the team! That coach is mocked for being stupid, but hindsight is 20/20.

I think what it comes down to is this: how you rank your priorities. Here’s what I mean. How would you rank the following four?

  1. a) happily married
  2. b) happily single
  3. c) unhappily married
  4. d) unhappily single

For many people, they would rank them exactly as I listed them. For others, they would switch (b) and (c) because any marital status is better than any single status in their minds! And I think most people would put (d) at the bottom. However, for me—and maybe I’m just unusual—I would put (c) at the bottom. I would much rather be miserable single than miserable married! To be trapped in a relationship that you really don’t want to be in, where you and your spouse don’t even like each other—that, to me, is hell. At least if I were just miserable because I was alone, I could always find some hobby to distract me. But there’s no escaping a spouse who you dread.

Personally, I had no trouble waiting until I was older to get married, because (d) was a greater good, to me, than (c). But really, I was at (b). Because, though I was sometimes a lonely (c) in wishing for marriage, in reality I was a joyful (b) by living it up in traveling the world, running marathons, visiting baseball stadiums, and more. I could afford to wait to be married until I was older because being single for the rest of my life was not such a bad thing. Of course I’d rather be happily married, but my single life was so good that I could afford to hold out til later and not “settle,” so playing the odds didn’t scare me.

The same thing goes with the Ph.D. What is the greater good: getting a job, or the love of learning? If getting a job is your #1 priority, and you slave away for 6 years to get that doctorate degree with nothing to show for it, of course you’d be devastated. But if you enter into that degree with your eyes wide open, knowing that you may very well be unemployed or at least underpaid when you graduate, but if you glean nothing else from it than the fascination of learning, then by all means play the field and see what happens!

What it comes down to is: Only wait to get married later if you are pretty content with your singleness and you’d be ok being single for the rest of your life if it came to that. Regarding the Ph.D., only enroll in a doctoral program if you just love learning and you’d be ok not getting a job because the satisfaction of learning in and of itself is a great reward.

I went up against the odds in both areas, and ended up with the most amazing woman that I’ve met in my 40 years of life, as well as a great professor job. But it could’ve turned out much differently. Would I encourage others to follow my pattern? Not necessarily. It depends how you’re wired.

If you absolutely cannot stand the thought of staying single for the rest of your life (or at least you can’t stand the thought of getting married older), then I encourage you to get married younger. If you are risk-averse and absolutely are dead-set on getting a job after a Ph.D. degree, don’t go for it; get a degree in something more guaranteed, like an M.D. or M.B.A., where there are a lot more employment opportunities.

Ultimately, everyone is wired differently and we all have to follow our own paths that God has laid out for us. The only “right” way to do it is whatever suits your strengths and passions and disposition the best.

Musings on the Road to Marriage #1: Getting Married Older

An older couple holding hands

I am getting married this weekend and I’ve learned a lot of things along the way. Don’t get me wrong—I am far from an expert. In fact, I think that a wedding, like a graduation (which actually is called “commencement” which means “to begin”) is just the first step out the door. There is still much I have to learn, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some wisdom to share along the way. In no particular order, each day this week I will share some musings from the journey. First, let’s start with this:

There are pros & cons to getting married younger, and there are pros & cons to getting married later. What are some? (The following are generalizations; of course there are plenty of exceptions to these pictures I’ve painted):

Pros to getting married younger / Cons to getting married older:

-The pool of available people is much larger when you are younger. The older you get, the fewer choices you have, and those remaining choices may be either undesirables, or people who have exceedingly high standards. Or they may just be normal people who haven’t found “the one” yet. Whatever the case, the longer you wait, the more the odds are not in your favor.

-Young couples are flexible and not yet set in their ways, so they are like putty that can mold together a lot easier. Older couples are often much more set in their ways so they have to break formed habits in order to gel with the other. Sometimes it’s really tough to put together two inflexible people.

-Young couples grow together. They have more time to develop history together, so they have more of life to share and become one. That is beautiful, to share so much history.

-Getting married younger forces you to grow up and mature faster. Being Peter Pan forever is not an option, and that is a good thing.

-Young couples can inflict a lot of pain on each other via inadvertent mistakes, but I list that in the “pro” category because as a Christian I believe in forgiveness and in healing and the power of reconciliation. Younger couples have had more opportunity to forgive each other’s mistakes and that can make a relationship grow stronger, if it is done right. (One qualification: old people are usually either full of grace, or bitter and crotchety—it all depends which direction they go when confronted with life’s struggles. But if the right path is chosen, it is so beautiful. If the wrong path is chosen, the result is quite ugly.)

-Similar to the point above, young couples often learn to make do with very little. They learn to be frugal, and learn to be content with not much. This can make for some lovely “Gift of the Magi” moments. That kind of perseverance breeds a lot of character. The couple who successfully transcends struggles together, stays together!

-Young couples can wait longer before having kids, so they can enjoy each other’s company in a kid-free (aka less stressed) environment. Older couples don’t have the luxury of waiting as long and sometimes bring in the stressful dynamic of children before they’ve barely even started getting to know each other as a couple. Or they may find they have waited too long and now can’t conceive, which is a bitter pill to swallow.

-Getting married older means that I may be a father at 50 when my peers were fathers at 25. That’s not ideal. Not to mention, I don’t know if I will ever see grandchildren.

Pros to getting married older / Cons to getting married younger:

-Older people know themselves more and are more settled into who they will be for the rest of their lives, so they can find a good match with someone who likewise has discovered themselves. Whereas, younger people sometimes marry someone and they don’t know how the other person (or themselves!) will turn out.

-Older couples are less prone to letting their hormones dictate how quickly they jump into marriage (this is more true of guys than girls, but it can be true of girls). I know that when I was in my 20s, my criteria was very skewed: physical looks were very high on my list of criteria and I probably would have ended up marrying someone hot but shallow and regretted that decision for the rest of my life. Now that I just turned 40, my priorities are much more sensible and I can think a lot straighter and wiser in my decision-making without being controlled by my libido.

-Older couples have enjoyed life as singles (traveled the world, earned university degrees, gotten their dream jobs) and have “lived it up.” They don’t have to regret missing out on life because of marriage, or resenting their spouse for keeping them from living out their dreams. For example, I got to move to England and do my doctorate degree at Oxford University. I know many married people with kids who, in order to do what I did, have had to either drag their family to the other side of the world which causes a lot of uprootedness and angst; or they’ve had to turn down the opportunity to study in exotic locales. In contrast, I’ve been able to have my cake and eat it too, by doing it in linear fashion: study overseas and get my degree, then get a job, then worry about navigating marriage, instead of trying to do all of them at the same time (trying to parent kids while working on a Ph.D. while living overseas) which often wreaks havoc on a couple’s relationship.

-Older people have more money. I was able to afford a really nice engagement ring that a 21-year-old couldn’t have. I was able to offer a house to my wife that a 21-year-old couldn’t have. I don’t bring tens of thousands of dollars of tuition debt into my marriage like a 21-year-old would. And that’s not just a nice thing, it is a marriage-saving thing, because I’ve heard that the #1 cause of divorce is finances.

-And the most important one: I was so immature as a person when I was in my 20s, in fact even when I was in my 30s (I confess I’m a late bloomer)! I probably would have done a lot of stupid things inadvertently (and intentionally) to hurt my wife if I got married young, whereas I have “grown up” a lot more and have learned not to do some obviously stupid things now. It took me a long time to mature, and I’m so glad that I don’t have to inflict so many idiotic mistakes on my wife which I most certainly would have done if I were 21. Now I only will inflict half as many idiotic mistakes! :)

Is there a right answer? No. Everyone is different, and God slotted each person to be married when they were ready, depending on their circumstances, dispositions, and maturity.

All in all, looking at the above list, I’m glad I’m getting married older* rather than younger, because God knows that that was best for me. I know I’m probably biased because of my personal situation, but I’d be happy to hear what others have to say about the “pros” of getting married younger. I’m sure there are lots that I’ve missed. (And I have to say: many of my best friends got married younger and have fantastic marriages, so I definitely know it can be done quite successfully!)

Speaking of getting married older, check out my blog post which will appear tomorrow, on the topic of “Should I wait?” If getting married older has so many benefits, shouldn’t everyone do it? My answer may surprise you…

*I just turned 40, which is not really “old”—it’s middle age. But that’s why I said “older” because it’s relative to getting married at 21. And my fiancée is much younger than me so she certainly wouldn’t be classified as “older”!

On Turning 40

three weddings

Today I have just turned 40 years old. I have never been one to put much stock in such things (e.g. I didn’t make a big deal about turning 18 or 21 or 30), and I’d be the first to use the hashtag #ageisjustanumber—but for some reason this turning of the digits seemed more profound to me than other transitions.

Maybe because it just sounds old—anybody in their 20s and 30s can still claim to be on the younger side, but not once you’re 40. I am no longer a “young man” anymore. If an average lifespan in the U.S. is 80 years, then I’m exactly at the halfway point, and society tells me I’m now on the downhill. (Of course, this is coming from a society that idolizes youth, which is the opposite of most societies in history which value maturity.)

Or maybe because there’s biblical precedent for 40 being a significant number, but in a good sense: 40 represents a time of desolation (Noah’s 40 days of flood; Moses’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness; Jesus’s 40 days of fasting before he began his 3 years of public ministry) after which comes rest, home, and flourishing. I much prefer the biblical way of looking at it!

Here are some reflections:

  • 1) The glass is half full, not half empty. I once heard someone say that when you hit your 40s, your limitations are greater than your opportunities. I don’t agree. I think I’m much better equipped and confident in the second half of my life. My “tool box” or “utility belt” is much more diverse and competent now than it was 10 or 20 years ago. I am no longer trying to prove myself, or trying to “find” myself. I know what I’m good at, I know what I’m not, and I don’t have to spend my time exploring options. Which stage of life is preferable: would I rather be applying for grad schools, or trying to finish my Ph.D., or be post-Ph.D. writing books and teaching? Having done all three of them, I’ll definitely take the last scenario. I can’t wait to write more books, mentor more people, run more marathons, and do more missions work overseas. This is living life, not just preparing for it.
  • 2) Stability. Speaking of not spending my time exploring options, I am getting married in two weeks and it is really nice to not have to date anymore. Uncertainty may be fun for a while, but it can get old fast. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to figure out what I’m good at; I’d much rather just know what I’m good at and start doing it. In the same way, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to figure out who is going to be the love of my life; I’d much rather just know and start living life with her.
  • 3) Learning from my mistakes. I now see so clearly so many of my immaturities that were blind spots to me even just a couple of years ago. It is really hard to reflect on my younger, less mature years, but this process is absolutely necessary for me to self-correct and grow. As a historian, I always think of the famous mantra “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.” This also helps when dealing with people much younger than me. I can think back and remember how I behaved at certain ages, and thus give a lot of grace to those going through the same life stages.
  • 4) Relationships. Many friends and family are lifers, some were only in my life for a brief but necessary season, and some have betrayed my trust or I have betrayed theirs. But to those who have stood the test of time, thank you. You are truly my closest friends through thick and thin, and I’m so appreciative of your intentionality. To those who were friends for a season, that’s fine too. I’ve learned that that does not mean your friendships were worthless or disingenuous. Seasonal gifts are also gifts, and I couldn’t have made it through some stages of my life without you. I now have friends in many nations around the world as a result, and though we do not keep in regular contact, when I do see them it seems like no time has passed. And finally, the people I have had falling-outs with: I have to also thank God for what I learned through the difficulties and hardships. Learning to forgive, learning to say I’m sorry, learning that not all things can be restored on this side of heaven, are some of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned, and they humble me. A good dose of humility, and a broken and contrite heart, are all things that are good for the soul and that God is pleased with.

Speaking of relationships, I ushered in my 40s in the best way possible: with two weddings of dear friends on the last day of being 39 years old. Surrounded by many close friends and joyous celebrations, how can anyone feel lonely under such circumstances? Even though the parties and cake were not for me, I didn’t care. The “gifts” were the people around me. And the party isn’t over: I have my own wedding to look forward to, just around the corner, where I’ll get to see everyone all over again. It’s like a party, followed by an after-party! And on my actual birthday, I get to spend it with my family in the morning and evening, and my closest friends in the afternoon.

The Bible highlights the value of community. Here are two great verses, one from the Old Testament and the other from the New:

Ps. 133— “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head… For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Heb. 10— “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

And to think, I may have another 40 years (or more!) where new friendships will form, some of which may be my dearest for life. And, in a couple of weeks I am marrying my best friend. But most importantly, our Lord said in John 15,

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit… This is my command: Love each other.”

I’m so passionate about this subject that I’m co-authoring a book on friendship next year with my wife.

I think my 40s are going to be sweet. I have a feeling it’s going to be much better than my first 40 years of life. Like commencement, it’s not an ending but a new beginning. So let’s get this party started!

Happy Chinese New Year 2015!

CNY 2015

 

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

 

Today begins the Chinese New Year. I guess if Jesus had a Chinese New Year animal, it would be this year: the Year of the Sheep/Ram/Lamb!

 

Yesterday was also the beginning of Lent.

 

So there are two happy coincidings of events:

 

1) Timing: It’s interesting that Easter (and thus Lent) is the only Western holiday that we celebrate which is on the lunar calendar. Chinese New Year is also according to the lunar calendar. This year, Chinese New Year’s Eve and Ash Wednesday occurred on the same day (yesterday, February 19, 2015).

 

2) Animal: Lent is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament Passover. Passover is when the lamb was sacrificed to save God’s people. This year, it is the Chinese Year of the Lamb!

 

Here are two passages to meditate on today:

 

John 10:11—I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

 

Exodus 29:38-46—“ 38 “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. 40 And with the first lamb a tenth measure[a] of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin[b] of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering. 41 The other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.