An unforgettable ride
Bumping along a rough country road, our view from the upper level of a double decker bus, was breath-taking in the late afternoon sun. Passing the ruins of empty convents and monasteries left as ghosts of a by-gone era brought a sense of mystery. These had been the vibrant holding places for faith, sanctuary and community, but ordered destroyed by Henry the VIII. These scenes allowed us to live into the history we had only read about in books. But amazing to us was something we had never before seen--rows and rows of hedges sometimes for miles without a break in the walls of greenery.
The 6 foot thick, 12 feet high walls of bushes cultivated over years, kept everything on the outside from getting in, while protecting everything within its borders. Cattle were kept inside, safe from wandering or the harm of attacking animals. Hedges guarded the borders of land, one family's home boundaries separated from another-a literal hedge of protection.
When we pulled into an ancient town, we peered out our window before disembarking and saw the most gorgeous flowering garden in view beside the bus. When we were down on the ground, the tall hedge blocked our view of the garden and we could no longer see what was inside.
Just as we began to pass by, a small, wirey white-headed woman opened the front gate of the garden and came out into the road. I walked up to her and told her how lovely her garden appeared from our second story view on the bus.
"Oh, come in for a first hand look! I love to share its beauty."
Dozens of rose bushes in full bloom aglow with yellow, coral, reds of all shades, pink filled every corner of the garden. Tiny delicate blossoms of honey suckle, full sunflowers towering, a rainbow of mums clustered together filled the air with perfume as the autumn breeze swept gently over the plants.
"What is your secret to this splendid garden?"
"Honestly, I think the most profound but often invisible strength of my garden is the thick hedges that define the boundary of my garden. They protect all that is beautiful inside these walls from pests and predators that would destroy the beauty inside these walls. Wind and storms do not sweep away the plants or diminish the leaves and growth, deer do not munch on the bulbs or eat the flowers down to the stubs, natural storms and threats at every point are kept at bay because of the protection of my hedges. Hedges protect the beauty, the growth, and give me a safe place where my plants can grow over time."
Marriage Needs to be protected, it needs to be hedged about by God's word, God's design so that there is accountability to living and choosing the right commitments and attitudes when temptations to compromise come.
Recently, I was thinking about how this image is so clearly portrays how important hedges are to a strong marriage. The hedges of protection for my marriage have been holding my bond with Clay for many years.
There is a tall hedge of protection that has guarded my marriage for 33 years. This hedge is a wall of safety that has kept me from going outside its walls into the danger that lures one into the danger of the world, into the predators that would destroy marriage--adultery, a promise that perhaps happiness awaits outside the walls of marriage, there is a more perfect man--lover--somewhere else, vain imagination that promises happiness anywhere else, but provides only long term scars.
But my marriage hedge was built around our sacred relationship by vows made before God. The borders of our hedge, created by scripture itself, kept us moving within the boundaries of our marriage relationship, even when we would be tempted to discontent or a feeling of despair. Vows, scripture, God's desire and intention built the borders of our protective hedge.
"To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."
Sincerely, if naively, I had made these vows and intended to keep them forever.
My vows became a hedge that protected me from the danger of leaving the walls of safety that held our commitment together.
I made a vow before friends, family and most importantly, before God--and I knew from scripture that God holds us to our vows.
I wanted my integrity to match my words.
"If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth." Numbers 30:2
I also knew that God said, "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." Matthew 19: 6
All marriages are a journey from our selfish ways towards a more mature, holy, person, eventually useful to God as we learn to yield our rights, one day at a time.
All marriages are an alliance between two sinful, limited people and so stress is inevitable. Conflict rubs deeply against our grain as we run into the stress of differing personalities, immature relational habits, faults and flaws of every kind.
When selfishness, hurt feelings, disappointment, misunderstandings, arguments, disagreements came through the different seasons, there was a hedge surrounding our relationship that kept me inside, and held me from wandering outside into places of danger.
I had made a vow to God that in this trust, I would be faithful, I would be true. Even when I did not feel like being mature or forgiving or respectful, the promise made kept me inside the boundaries of marriage, and instructed me to practice faithfulness. Learning to be a team with Clay instead of letting my individualism define my life, kept me moving towards unity, family community, becoming a part of each other's history and story, built together over many years of faithful endurance.
Because I knew that God held vows seriously, when I was tempted to want escape, the hedges of my knowledge that loyalty in my marriage was to be for Him, my God enthroned in heaven, who had heard my vows, it protected me from going astray. The hedge reminded me to stay within the strong walls of His design, to live within the limitation of my own place.
We need to build strong hedges of character around all of our sacred relationships. Hedges that protect, that allow growth over seasons within its walls, that give protection from the voices, dangers and temptations outside its walls, so that we have the opportunity to grow stronger over years and decades.
The world outside these holy hedges falsely tempts us to break our vows. The voices of the world are dangerous and destructive, and tell us that we each "deserve" to be happy, as though unfaithfulness or compromise can ever build a stronger or happier soul.
Accountability to these hedges of protection, markers of what holds us fast and strong, is essential to keep us going forward, living as servants, moving forward through difficult passages by faith.
To build anything great and strong requires time. But a hedge of strength, protecting, guarding the beauty inside is a safe-guard from destroying the sacred trust. Marriage is one of the most profound ways God designed for us so that we could slowly learn and develop in our own lives, the very character of Christ, learning to serve, love, and give ourselves as He did for us.
When life brings unexpected twists and turns, God forgives. God gives grace. God heals when we put our lives and the consequences in his hands. I understand that our world and our lives are often hurt by consequence that are beyond our control.
The older I get, the more precious women I meet who did not have hedges of protection, walls of strength or easy circumstances to hold them safely inside the walls of marriage. God's grace, love and forgiveness abound to slowly bring healing. All of us find our value in His love and redemption and grace that covers us.
Yet in a generation that is afraid to hold up ideals, it is profoundly important that we understand the ideal of His heart as He created marriage was for us to strain towards sacrificial love, practicing godly character, learning the value of His own loyal love given to us.
As we have choices each day to honor Him, may each of us learn to Own Our Lives by Owning our Marriages and living within the hedges of protection that help us to grow more fully into maturity, and learning one step at a time just what His own sacrificial love toward us means.
Today, as God leads through His spirit and wisdom, Own Your Marriage, by living within the walls of protection that scripture gives us, so that we may have time to grow strong, time to beautify our story, time to leave a legacy of faithfulness for our children to follow.
I find that through the trials, the years of building team-ship by faith, the years of seeking to model love for the sake of wanting to leave a pattern for our cyhildren, forgiveness, loyalty and grace, the seeds of HIs faithful love have become a deep satisfaction to both of our souls. Our love is now a precious balm to both of our souls, as we look back and see how He was leading us to more contentment, deeper understanding of love through practicing living within the boundaries we had been given. In the end, we come to understand that seeking to follow His paths ultimately brings health, strength and deep fulfillment and satisfaction of having kept at the journey. Finishing well comes from running the race with the goal of serving Jesus as our life long motivation.