A typical Hallmark Channel movie goes something like this:
Two young professionals meet in a small town where one of them lives and works; the other visits the town for a business meeting. After the two meet, strolling occurs; hot cocoa happens; ice-skating, and falling into the arms of the other person ensues; a snowball fight arises; laughter breaks out. The visiting professional begins to “like it here.” Cookies are made, Christmas decorations blanket the town, festivities occur, and the two begin to fall in love. The almost kiss is interrupted, and inevitably a misunderstanding occurs. Visiting professional’s ideal job beckons her/him back home because s/he worked her/his whole life to get that job. S/he heads back to the airport, but realizes true love is more important and hurries back to small town. The delayed kiss finally occurs! He gets down on his knee to pop the question, and she says, “Yes, of course I will!”
Someone I want to introduce you to is my husband, Mark. When Mark and I first met in the late 1980s, he was kinda interested in someone else. So, I made him a cheesecake. Turns out, it was a good idea to spend the $3.99 on that boxed confection. Yes, some cheesy cheesecakes come in boxes, but that is what began to turn his affections toward me. Before we went on our first date, we had a predate – when we were on dates with (not dating) other people. I know, let me explain.
The occasion was a Moroccan themed dinner group date, with about 12 couples. We dressed up, removed our shoes at the front door, had our feet washed, and the women were given bracelets to wear. As we entered the dining area, we feasted our eyes on the vibrant colors of the décor. Floor pillows surrounded several coffee tables to sit on while we ate our Moroccan meals. My date was a co-worker, and we went to this party as friends. Mark was invited by a friend also, but they didn’t spend much time together because she was in the kitchen preparing the delicacies we were about to receive. It just so happens that my date was also one of the chefs occupying the kitchen. My assigned table for four, minus two chefs, left this guy named Mark and me to fend for ourselves. And that we did. We talked throughout dinner, as our friend-dates brought us more various meats and vegetables to try. By the time we were ready to watch Casa Blanca, I wasn’t thinking about my co-worker, nor did I think about couscous or Morocco, my mind and my heart were thinking about Marko!
The following week when Mark called to ask me out on our first official date, my heart flitted with excitement! What a telephone voice! He sounds so mature, so handsome! (Hallmarkish). A year-and-a-half later, we were married!
If I were to sum up Mark in one sentence, and I will, it would be this: Mark prioritizes his loves. God comes first, me second, our daughters third, and work, fourth.
But living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally.”Augustine (On Christian Doctrine, I.27-28)
When Mark looked into my eyes on our wedding day and said, “I will always be faithful to you,” and, “I will love you in sickness and in health,” they would be words that as the years rolled by, would become even more loving and meaningful to me.
Mark has done both despite the severe challenges we have faced with my physical pain. One of the most difficult times in our marriage, was nineteen years ago when I was bedridden and suffering from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. People with this condition cannot even bear the feeling of a bed sheet touching them. I was so sensitive to touch that I could not hold or be held by Mark. My nerves over-fired, and any slight touch to my skin sent me over the moon in pain. At times, I wondered why Mark stuck around. We didn’t know if I’d get better, if I was going to die, or if I’d be rendered unable to walk for the rest of my life. But Mark’s loves were prioritized. He loved God more than me. By loving God more than me, he followed God’s command to love his wife as he cares for himself (Eph. 5:25-33). In his mind, it was never even an option to consider leaving me, even though it was a legitimate fear of mine.
When you are the recipient of the kind of love that keeps giving, and you can’t give much back, it deepens your understanding and appreciation of love. For years, I couldn’t bake Mark a boxed cheesecake, take him on a date, physically express my love for him, greet him at the door, or walk side-by-side holding hands.
Recently, we have found ourselves in a very similar place. I am not bedridden, but I can’t walk. Mark has stood by me, and I am more secure than ever in his love because his priorities have been demonstrated and maintained throughout the years (Mt. 22:37-39). He spends time with God every day before I get up, and he closes his day in prayer with me, and then alone with God (Mt. 7:7-8). However, Jesus was the prime example at loving his Father first, and the bible teaches us this is the way to love.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.John 15: 9-13
Mark lays down his life for me every day.
From October 2018 through February 2019, I could use neither my hands nor my feet due to extreme pain. Later, I wrote this in my journal:
Mark moves me from place to place and moves furniture to accommodate my needs. He pulls up a mattress from the basement and places it in the middle of our living room so that I don’t have to be in the bedroom all day. He moves the commode from here to there, helping me on and off, then empties, cleanses, and sanitizes it. He removes my insecurities and embarrassment. He dries my tears, looking into my eyes and recommits his love for me. He moves my heart.
He bathes and dresses me, detangles, brushes, and dries my hair. He calms me by reading to me or finding soothing music to play on my tablet. He lies carefully beside me, being careful not to touch me (not to intensify my pain), but he wants to look into my eyes and be beside me. He assures me he will always be by my side. He dries our tears and tenderly kisses my forehead. We memorize Psalm 23, then pray. Sometimes we quietly sing. It helps me to get through a few more minutes.
He takes me every weekday, in my wheelchair, to the orthopedist, hand specialist, podiatrists, neurologists, physical therapists, pain specialists, and imaging appointments (eight MRI’s and two ultrasounds). He bandages my disappointments after each visit. He picks up my prescriptions and first aid items, and follows my tedious medicinal and supplemental schedules. He spends boatloads of money on doctors, medical supplies, medicine, and no diagnosis. He buys me padded seats and a gazillion dollars’ worth of worthless insoles. He finds someone to stay with me to go to the shoe store to purchase various shoes for me to try. He covers the recliner with blankets for extra padding, then applies creams and salves to my legs.
Mark shops for the food, cooks all the meals, and makes me special smoothies and salads. He prepares every meal I eat. He feeds me, wipes my mouth, and washes my face. To lighten the heaviness of my heart, Mark often uses food art to decorate my turkey burgers with smiley faces made with ketchup, mushrooms, and pickles.
He cleans all the dishes, does all the laundry, and runs all the errands. He places me ahead of his job and says, “You come first.” He comforts our girls, extending words of encouragement. Mark anticipates my needs by buying a new puzzle to build together to help my fingers regain function. The day after I told him I changed my favorite flavor of ice cream to mint chocolate chip, he bought me some.
He brings me flowers weekly. “It’s to bring the outdoors inside to be with you.”
Mark bought me a shower bench, orthopedic walking boots, wheelchair cushions, and an expensive little red motorized scooter (Mario Speedwagon). He loads me into the wheelchair and rolls me down the ramp that he bought and installed in the garage. He takes me into the garage where I’m protected from the winds, but where I can bask in a little sunshine and breathe fresh air (trust me, the air in the garage is a welcome change). He takes me to unsuccessful therapy pool visits, helping me through the meticulous and painful efforts to get there, and then consoles me through the disappointment, and resulting breakdowns. The pool helped me last time I was sick. So far, this time is different.
Mark works from home while I sleep. He responds to my late-night requests for help to relieve my pain. He opens water bottles for me, tilting them so I can drink. He turns the heat up to 75°, never complaining. He applies ice packs to reduce my inflammation, applies turmeric poultices to my hands and feet, keeps me covered with blankets, and microwaves rice bags repeatedly to keep me warm. He makes me hot tea and then reapplies my ChapStick®.
We pray for sleep and peace. It’s my only break from pain and a rare reprieve for him from our predicament.
Currently, I’m not quite as dependent on Mark, as I have been slowly improving. We have been severely tested, and know full well that we aren’t beyond the schemes of Satan to try to break us apart. We fight and sometimes give each other the silent treatment. We’ve both broken down in tears, not understanding one another’s perspective. We both look for chocolate to help deal with the stress. There are times we just don’t get each other; nothing said is taken right, or everything said is taken wrong. It has been difficult for us to be in this season of hardship, but God has allowed this trial in our marriage to strengthen us ultimately. We can’t know all the reasons, but we trust they are for our good, and not to harm us. We need this trial in our lives, or God wouldn’t allow it. Whatever we go through, God is hovering nearby to help.
’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back from captivity.’Jeremiah 29:11-14a
Overall, in our marriage, Mark reflects Jesus to me, providing a glimpse into what heaven will be like. I feel so loved and cared for, and am amazed by his dedication and commitment to me. I have a clearer picture of who Jesus is because of his sweetness. He has helped me understand my relationship with God more than anyone. I look into his eyes and down into his soul, and I see and feel love – the closest thing to heaven I’ve ever experienced, and sometimes it makes me cry.
However, Mark is not Jesus.
Jesus is even more loving and faithful to me. He will also dry my tears one day and take away all my pain (Rev. 21:4). He will give me eternal life to relish in our love forever. The Better Than a Hallmark Love is a love story about the Jesus of the bible, who traded in his crown of thorns to offer us, not a small finger ring of gold and diamonds, but instead a heavenly eternal crown. He holds out his proposal to us every single day, whether married, single, widowed or divorced. He wants to be with us for eternity! There has never been, nor ever will be, anyone who loves us more. We are invited to feast with him at his dinner table for eternity, if we accept his proposal with a, “Yes, of course I will!” response.
And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’Revelation 19:9
Whatever God allows in your life may not play out like the stories on the Hallmark Channel either, but you can experience the best love of your life if you trust in him. He has a plan for you. And he has set eternity in your heart so that one day you might seek him (Ecc. 3:11).
This kind of love story is Better Than a Hallmark Love. It’s better because the characters are not fictional, and the story is real. The love story of Jesus holds the purest selfless love we can ever find. He is fiercely in love with each of us. “Yes, of course I will!” I said to Mark in June of 1991 to a marriage on this side of heaven, but even before that proposal, I told Jesus on July 5, 1985, “Yes, of course I will!” in response to his proposal for an eternal marriage.
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”1 John 4:9-10