We walked to this altar (and several others) many times together.
We sat in these pews as we prayed for one another, prayed about our future, prayed for family, prayed to grow a family and prayed to overcome trials.
We took our vows at the altar. I converted to the Catholic Church a year earlier. And eventually, we stood by as our babies were washed with water at the font.
Meeting here religiously has been the source and summit of our lives together —even when we had to work hard to stand together, to hold up one another.
When the world begs to draw our attention away from the One who holds us together, we will remind each other to fix our eyes and remain One Body in Christ.
It was here in this sacred space where we began our Sunday morning dates after working many afternoon and evening hours together over the week.
We grew our relationship here as we held hands during the Lord’s Prayer and sent “Peace Be With Yous” into the world standing around us.
We laid down our hurts, burdens, and desires, offered up our hopes and dreams, our losses, and our grief.
We surrendered, we trusted, we found peace.
We grew up together.
We grew stronger together.
We increased our faith.
We made mistakes.
We searched for hope.
We learned to let go of those things that created a distraction as we learned the true meaning of leave and cleave.
“And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.” – Gen 2:22-24
We learned from one another and became wiser because of our journey.
We are raising a family in faith together.
Here, a Refiner began to smooth our rough edges and shine the tarnished places, allowing gold to be revealed.
And in those days, we wondered, as we walked together through the heavy doors of our favorite house, if the commitment mattered.
We discovered it mattered because the doors felt lighter as we left that house.
It still does.
We wondered if sacrificing punctual arrivals to celebrations so we could go to the altar again and celebrate the Eucharist and Liturgical days would make a difference.
It made a difference.
Seasons change, offering glorious days of basking in the golden sun and resting on the beach by the water. Likewise, we’ve had hurricane-force winds and downpours knock out our power.
We learned the true meaning of the Vocation and Sanctity of Marriage and the weight of the (Our Wedding Gospel) Love is Patient, Love is Kind, Love does not boast….and words, “Until death do us part.”
“Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish. Love is never rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure. Love never fails. Prophecies will cease, tongues will be silent, knowledge will pass away. There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.1 Cor 13: 4-8; 13 (Gospel from our Wedding)
We learned that the hard work of meeting the Refiner in His House rewards immensely, especially in these days of “in sickness and in health.”
Having encountered many trials, we can see clearly how it’s been refining our hearts for gold all along the way.
“The trial of your faith is more precious than gold.”-1 Peter 1:7
It might explain our peace beyond understanding. Because we keep the One who suffered on that cross at the center of our life—reaching for his outstretched hands when we lost our grip.
He kept our hands sometimes hanging on only by keeping “Our Father’s” hand linking ours together when fear, pride, shame, and hurt caused our grip on each other to want to release.
In our 23 years of marriage, seasons would ebb and flow like the ocean water washing over our feet as we stand where sand and water meet.
And enter the most challenging season—thank you, brain cancer, Our Clever and Courageous Journey and all that goes with it. Yet without question, we are given some of THE most intimate days, where the meaning of intimate becomes refined and redefined.
Intimate because of the things we don’t dare speak of, things meant only for a husband and wife—holding space for the waves of emotions that wash over us.
Intimate becomes how we have eyes to see each other in these tender days. Reminding one another our most polished version of ourselves is reflecting God’s image in us.
True love is seeing each other as God sees us. and love endures with forgiveness.
Things beyond our imagination come to life. And unless you’ve walked this path, it’s hard to understand why parts of the journey (or anyone’s for that matter) are meant to remain inside the walls of our domestic church. Keeping the sacred parts inside there, offer rest and a soft place to land when the world craves to create distractions.
Or we choose to allow this moment to purify our hearts just as water washing over our feet when we stand on the sandy beach.
Like water at the font, purifying us, pouring over our baby’s head.
“Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. In order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word.” Eph 5:25
It is hard and holy work to live in the moment focusing on the divine providence—the Sacrament of the Present. Until you realize “one day at a time” is our gift. It’s your gift too, no matter the path you must walk.
We stay focused and disciplined so we can meet our Refiner and return to the place, the door of Our Father’s House, where we entered the best parts of our journey.
When we do, we understand the depth and purpose of the sacrifice, commitment, and pointing our eyes as we surrender to the will of the one who stands with us. Surrendering to His will purifies and defines us to find gold more magnificent than any rings we placed on our left fingers.
Marriage is hard and holy work especially, when children, outside forces, jobs, diagnoses, and things of the world try to wrap heavy chains around us, forcing our eyes down (in shame and fear) rather than focusing them up toward Him, the Refiner who is searching for gold—real joy and peace.
Because you know, through fire in our trials, He uses that suffering to purify us and reveal our truth, beauty, and goodness. We can use our journey to move us closer, Verso L’Alto, to him.
Meanwhile the Refiner is softening the hard edges of our souls and blazing beauty as we walk across the burning coals—our trial by fire for Him. It’s why we need our feet to be washed in those waters.
“For he is like the refiners fire and like the fuller’s lye (soap). In our suffering, He refines us like gold or silver so that we can offer the due sacrifice of our lives for the Lord.” Malachi 2:2-3
Last week tears filled my eyes as I read the words of a friend, “Your cross is so heavy. I have so much respect for you… that you keep moving forward and loving your family. Every season will bring grace that will continue to be like the Refiner’s fire for your soul. And the final result will be exquisitely beautiful.”
The friend is right, you know. There is so much grace in this journey; maybe you can’t see it from your seat.
But that’s okay if you don’t because we do.
And we see the flicker of gold being exposed more and more like tiny miracles in our hearts.
Just go back and look at my friend’s message.
The timing is God.
I was already writing words for this post about our Refiner. And then unrelated she sends me a message that fills my heart with the warm love of God—letting me know He is near and he hears as I discern the words that are meant to be shared. I will take her words as affirmation.
When we get gifts of the Spirit weaving through our lives, we believe God sees us and sees to it we are given grace when we encounter difficult moments in life.
When asked by other’s how we handle the heavy cross that we bear, I would say it’s because we keep coming back here, to the altar, over and over and over again.
Rather than run from the fire, we stand in it, knowing God seeks to purify and protect us. It will ultimately bring some beautiful transformation—like joy, hope, and peace.
As the season of Lent is upon us and you begin your journey of refining and purifying, I offer this prayer for you.
May you know the supernatural peace that comes from approaching the altar to lay down your cross.
May you know comfort and joy still can be found as you walk through whatever difficult moments and whatever cross you may carry.
May you know trials by fire can burn away impurities in your heart and reveal the gold that God intended the world to see in you.
May you know the Refiner is a Good and Faithful Father who loves you and holds your hand as you stand at the altar.
May you allow the Refiner to meet you at the altar so he may burn you beautiful too.
Speaking of Lent, can you believe it has been a year? Need I say more? Here is a reflection from inviting Church into our home, our Domestic Church on Palm Sunday last year.
“God sees us not full of impurity, but full of potential. He, in the refining imagery, is the Refiner and we are the lump of unrefined gold, full of impurity and full of potential beauty. … The refining process is hot. To refine gold, heat must be applied to force the impurities to the surface.”-M. Goeke
“If the altar’s where you meet us
Take me there, take me there
What you need is just an offering
It’s right here, my life is here
And I’ll be a living sacrifice for you…
Burn me beautiful
Burn me lovely
Burn me righteous
Burn me holy
I wanna be tried by fire
You take whatever you desire
Lord here’s my life” -Maverick/Refiner
And one last thought. Thank you for your expressions of love, generous support, prayers and Manna falling from Heaven without our asking from those near and far. We cannot do this without the continual support from community which we are all craving so desperately in this time. Thank you for showing our family the meaning of community and unconditional love.
This post is dedicated to my father-in-law, Joe, who was called home after his own courageous battle with cancer. He cherished his family, loved to laugh, flashed a smile that lit up the room, and absolutely loved his wife. His testimony of fierce, abiding, devoted love for his adoring wife, Nancy, was a witness and example to behold for marriage. They clung together, laughed together, and worked together, had fun, and got sassy together. Mom cooked, and he washed the dishes—this was a beautiful rhythm that formed all aspects of their long life together. He was a loyal husband who set a beautiful example of marriage in honoring your wife with his deep love, strong desire to provide for his wife and family. His legacy of love and faith will be a treasure. He loved big, smiled bright, laughed enthusiastically, and will be missed dearly.