So today is our 29th wedding anniversary. And in observance of this extraordinary day, I’d like to tell you a story. Our story. Because who couldn’t use a little slice of real-life happy right about now?
Once upon a time, I was 14. In case you’re wondering, once upon a time was 1979. I was a freshman in high school. Awkward, pale, shy (unfathomable, I know) brace-face/bookworm Wendy was crushing hard on a senior stud/hunk/fine/fresh fox named Steve. (Like nearly every other girl in grades 9 through 12 at Central High.) Steve was oblivious, which was definitely part of the allure. Occasionally, I would pass him in the hallway. He’d smile a polite “hello” half-smile. I’d swoon and sigh. This was the full extent of our relationship at that point.
I’m pretty sure Steve Holtz would have been utterly unaware of my existence if not for the fact that our younger brothers were buddies. And my mom bought vitamins from his mom. (Called her a “dealer.” Not even kidding.) If I sneezed, yawned, coughed or hiccupped, my mom would immediately dispense a handful of chewable Vita-Cs, a multivitamin, and maybe a B-Complex or Zinc to combat whatever virulent viral plague might be lurking. When we ran out of “essentials,” Mom would ask my brother or me to fetch refills from Mrs. Holtz. And once in a blue moon, Steve would answer the door. Oh happy day!
I began taking extra Vita-Cs when I was scratchy, sniffly, or stuffy. Or stressed. Or short on sleep. Or hormonal. Or hungry. Or happy. It was a slippery slope. Pretty soon, I was tossing vitamins back like Willy Wonka Bottle Caps. And then just… tossing them. (For shame.) Being the willing and helpful daughter that I was, I’d graciously offer to pick up another order. Mom didn’t seem to notice. (Or maybe she was giggling to herself every time I jumped on my ten-speed and headed toward Towhee Lane.)
After several subsequent failed missions (every other member of the Holtz household manning the door and filling our orders), I rang the bell one blazing hot summer day. And Steve answered… shirtless.
I stared. I stuttered. I stammered. (I may or may not have had a minor cardiac episode.) Steve smiled that half-smile and yelled over his tanned, toned, taut shoulder to his mom. Mrs. Holtz hurried to the door and handed me a bag filled with Bs, Cs, and Ds… Next thing I knew I was pedaling back up the hill toward home daydreaming about S.
Seven years (and several ill-fated encounters with fakers, takers, and heartbreakers) later, my brother Rick called me at school. I was a senior in college, he was a sophomore, and we had a state line and a phone line between us. (Remember long-distance charges? Those were real, people.) Rick and I talked awhile, and as always, he made me laugh ’til I cried. And just before we hung up, he asked me to pray for Steve’s brother Jeff. I said I would. And I did. Straightaway.
Now before you start thinking I was such a good, godly girl (oh-so-faithful and fervent in prayer) let me humbly confess: I did start to pray for Jeff… but pretty soon, I was sighing and swooning over his big brother again. I think I was fantasizing about Steve before I had even prayed three sentences’ worth. And these were not noble, virtuous thoughts. Put it this way… the soundtrack to my daydream was all Al Green/Marvin Gaye/Sade. Lord, have mercy.
He did. (Thank You, Jesus.)
It was early February when I realized I had zero chance of ever shaking this seven-years-strong, schoolgirl crush. So I did what any unabashed romantic would do: I sent a valentine. Handmade, at that. A watercolor heart framing three lines of prose:
You’ve made me smile without even knowing it.
You’ve made me dream without even trying.
Thanks for those gifts from the heart.
I finished my little masterpiece with a scripture, Philippians 4:4-7:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
I signed it with a lowercase “w.” And mailed it before I lost my nerve.
Unbeknownst to me, Steve’s life had been spinning a little out of control. Or maybe a lot. A tough breakup (is there any other kind?), a dead-end job, and a penchant for partying had brought him low. And one cold, grey, February day – heartsick and hungover – he found himself weeping on the way to work.
His tears… every last one was a prayer.
As Steve tells it, “I asked God for a fresh start, strength, guidance. And a girl.”
Later, he told me he didn’t think he had the grit to go it alone, so he asked God to bring him a woman who would help him become the very best man he could be.
Two days later, he got an answer. In his mailbox of all places.
He told his folks he was going to marry the girl who sent it. Whoever she was. Since he worked at Westinghouse, he figured the lowercase “w” meant someone in his office. So he searched the kingdom (branch location) high and low for his secret admirer. Alas, the glass slipper did not fit any of the fair maidens toiling in electrical supply sales.
Rom-Com events ensued. (Admittedly more Com than Rom.)
A well-timed phone call (from me to Mrs. Holtz). An invitation (from my roommates and me) to a lovely little dinner party we were throwing in Evanston. And a telling conversation between Steve and his brother:
“I got this valentine in the mail last week. It wasn’t signed. Just a little “w” in the corner. Do you think it could be from Rick’s sister, Wendy?”
“Does it have a Bible verse on it?”
And the rest, as they say, is history. On our first official date, Steve said he was going to marry me. (I raised an eyebrow and told him he was arrogant. But he was right.)
Six weeks later, we were engaged. Six months after that, we wed.
November 21, 1987 was a very, very good day.
We’ve had our share of ups and downs and runarounds. And life has come at us hard. Like a 98 mph breaking ball, sometimes. But we have loved like crazy through it all. And here we are almost 30 years later. (Holy buckets… we’re old.) Still sighing and swooning and slow dancing… after countless kisses and kindnesses and quarrels and cups of coffee and loads of laundry and birthday parties and belly laughs and backrubs and tummyaches. And tears and hugs and promises… and prayers.
Steve and I have held on tight through 12 ER visits, 11 different schools, 10 beach vacations, 9 fender benders, 8 travel teams, 7 jobs between us, 6 relocations, 5 precious kids, 4 SUVs, 3 churches, 2 spoiled dogs, and a sacred and sweet wedding day. Which is nothing short of a miracle in my book.
So today, we will celebrate our marriage-miracle with wild abandon (and chicken pot pie). And maybe a little Al Green thrown in for good measure.
Giving thanks… for the best man I know,
P.S. And they lived happily ever after… ’til heaven. Amen.
Today, I’d like to make a few comments about… hair.
Specifically, Chloe’s. My daughter has long, lovely, thick hair. It’s the color of chamomile tea – with a spoonful of spun honey – and it’s approaching the length of a jumbo Willy Wonka Pixy stick. (Remember those totally tubular treats from the 80s? Pretty much a powdered sugar buzz in plastic pinstripes.)
We always say that Chloe is our princess, and her hair is quite literally her crowning glory. And did I mention that it’s thick? It’s wavy and windblown and voluminous. That girl’s hair is BIG. All the time. And most of the time, it’s tousled and tangled too. Knotted, gnarled, and in desperate need of detangling spray and a boar bristle brush.
When she was young, I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to untangle that beautiful, brutal hair. It was incredibly frustrating (for me). And excruciating (for her). Wince, yelp, scowl. Those detangling sessions would invariably end when she started to cry… and I would raise the white flag (ok, it was a Tinkerbell towel) in surrender. And Daddy would finish the job. God bless that kind, gentle man. Seriously, God, please bless him… and empower him to continue his mane-taming mission and ministry. Amen.
Up until the arrival of our little girl, Steve and I had a houseful of boys. With buzz cuts. No tangles. Ever. (Unless you count that one unfortunate wad of Big League Chew firmly affixed to Trent’s toddler noggin.) We were blissfully free of gnarls, knots and dreads. Plenty of dirt, grass, grape jelly, and an occasional bug or fruit snack. But no tangles. Until Rapunzel joined Team Holtz. And 486 bottles of conditioner later, we are still battling troublesome entanglements.
In her hair. And… in the daily grind.
Whether we know it or not, we’re all in the thick of it. Every dang day. Right smack dab in the middle of the muddled, matted messes of life. Entanglements are everywhere. In our global landscape and our local schools. The public forum and (most glaringly of late) the political arena. Our workplaces and, sadly, our places of worship, too. They gnarl our thoughts and knot our stomachs and produce… well, dreads.
Sticky situations. Scattered minds. Twisted words. Life is full of those. And these: career snags, relationship snarls, financial messes, and family disarray. We need not even venture out into the world to witness these. We can see them “up close and personal” every morning. In the mirror. Most of us don’t even notice these tangles and troubles until they’re so vexing and virulent that we think we must cut them (or ourselves) off. Completely.
That’s the thing about snags and snarls. When they’re few and small, we can comb through them, work them out. But once they start compounding, we have to untwist, tug, and then tug some more. The tangles become tougher to tackle. Our lips (and hearts) tremble. Tears are inevitable. And so are tatters and tears. Sometimes irreparable ones.
It’s a lot easier to just keep it clean and comb through things daily, rather than letting gunk build up and tangles take over. Then everything winds up muddled and matted and messy. And pretty soon, we’ve got a whole lotta dreads. They weigh us down, slow us down. And we end up… well… down. Discouraged. Depressed. Defeated. We’ve surrendered the battle. We’ve lost the race.
Scripture talks about this very thing.
“Therefore… let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
Sin – anything that falls short of God’s good way – is like a bola. Ever seen one? It’s a throwing weapon used by Argentinian cowboys (and ninjas :)) to capture cattle or game. Made of braided leather fastened to small but heavy weights on each end, it’s a surprisingly effective weapon. Just like a bola, sin trips and traps. It tethers and tangles. And pretty soon we find ourselves wrapped up in it, about to be strangled to death by Lust or Lies or Slander or Envy or Rage or Pride. Eventually, and always, sin destroys.
But God, through Jesus, swoops in to disentangle and carry us to safety, unscathed. Jesus offered Himself to be bound, so we might be unbound. He was lashed, so we can be loosed. He was slaughtered, so we could be spared. He sacrificed Himself. To save you and me. He was nailed to a cross, so we can run free.
And He wants us to live that way. Every day. Disentangled and unencumbered. Freed… to flourish. And finish.
There’s a race to be run. A race to be won. And it’s an ultra-marathon. We need to be steady, strong, fueled and fit. We need to be loose and light on our feet. Not weighed down by sin-burdens or dragging baggage. Not fettered by nagging doubts or high anxiety. Not distracted by the “shiny things” along the race route. Or the media covering the action. Not tripped up by the other runners. (Or their cheering sections.) We just need to run our race. Clean, clear, fair… Fast as we can toward the finish line. To win the goal and gain the prize.
But here’s the crazy thing: we can’t do it. Any of it. We can barely spring out of the starting blocks, let alone run the race. And we’re completely incapable of laying aside encumbrances. Or disentangling ourselves from our own incessant sin and selfishness. Our endurance wanes. Our pace lags. We stumble. Again, we need God. We need His Spirit to fuel us. We need to inhale His Word and fill our lungs with the breath of Life. We need prayer to pace us and protect us. We need living water to keep us hydrated. And His training program to get us race-ready. And keep us so.
The course is long. The terrain is tough. There are potholes and pitfalls. Aches and pains and palpitations. Spills and chills… and cheaters. We’ve got to keep our eyes on Jesus, the Light of the world, or we will stagger around in the pre-dawn dark. We need to focus on Jesus, the Way, or we will wander off course. We need to gaze at His beauty or the ugliness of the world (and our own propensity to criticize/condemn/scoff/scorn) will overtake us. And then trample us.
As this unprecedented, unpredictable, painful presidential race finally draws to a close, instead of disseminating the candidates (and every other voter venting or lamenting on social media) let’s simply reexamine our own race. The one we’re still running. It’s not over. If we’re still breathing, we’re still racing. And none of us knows when we’ll reach our finish line, because we can’t see it ’til we’re there. Sometimes, we round a curve and come upon the home stretch, far sooner than we ever expected.
So, let’s sharpen our focus and shift it back where it belongs. On Jesus. No matter who won the election, He has already won eternity. No matter who sits in the Oval Office, He is enthroned above. Regardless of your politics or preferences or position, only One can meet every need, solve every problem, heal every hurt, and fill every heart. Only One holds the entire human race in His gentle, strong grip. Only One can give us clean, clear, smooth, straight PEACE. No tangles and no dreads.
Because He Himself is our peace.
Let’s pray and press on. Let’s work out the gnarls and knots daily… and throw off the things that are weighing us down. Most of us have miles and miles to go. Let’s run – each our own race – with endurance. Finish the course. Keep the faith. Don’t know where to turn? Look to Jesus. Unsure which way to go? Follow Him. He is the Way.
And sooner or later, we will realize…
He is the prize too.
P.S. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” So let’s drop the labels and stop the madness. Let’s ditch the divisiveness and disparagement. And let’s pray for healing in our land… and in our hearts. Let’s link arms and work together for peace and unity, so that we truly do become one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.