Control

All couples need alone time and all parents need a break every once in a while. So when Tim proposed a mid-winter getaway for us this February, I was in! My only requirements were: 1) somewhere warmer than Pennsylvania and 2) close access to adventure (because even though I could sit on the beach all day, my husband can’t 😜).

After looking at the options, we landed on California – and landed in California on a Tuesday morning. We picked up our ‘campervan’ rental and set out for Joshua Tree National Park. New places, new adventures, and camping the whole time? What could be better than that?

Well, a lot it turns out. For all of our ‘adventure’-loving, we don’t ‘travel’ well, especially when we have to make lots of decisions – and especially when things outside of our control cause us to have to make even more decisions. On top of that, Tim was still feeling under the weather from his bout with the flu the week before. And speaking of weather, our experience was anything but “warm” as we just happened to hit the west coast during a cold spell. After experiencing snow in the desert (while our kids were at home in shorts and t-shirts eating popsicles), we headed back to the LA area for the “beach” part of our trip – during their coldest temperatures of the year so far.

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To cap it all off, just as we were pulling into our beach campsite, we got a phone call saying our boat to Channel Islands National Park the next day (our last day) was cancelled due to high winds. We just couldn’t win! Discouraged and cranky, our tank of energy to “stay positive” and “make the best of it” was running close to empty.

Thankfully, since campervan rentals were at a low that weekend (Hmmm… I wonder why?) a very nice customer service rep gave us a free “late drop off” and we were able to squeeze in a trip Channel Islands the following day before catching our flight home.

The next morning, we got our tickets and found our seats on the boat. Though I’m prone to motion sickness, I figured that after the stress of the last few days, I could ‘suck it up’ for a few minutes. But when I asked Tim how long the ride was and found out it was over an hour, I wasn’t so sure!

As we set off, the words of a wise friend (and experienced sailor) came to mind: “Eyes on the horizon!” I chose a white building on the coastline to fix my eyes on and kept them there as the building became a square and the square became a tiny white dot. Every time I looked away, even for a second, queasiness ensued, but as long as my gaze was attached to that control point, it didn’t matter how much the boat rocked and rolled – my stomach stayed well!

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Marriage is anything but smooth sailing. As kids with stars in our eyes, we think we’re signing up for a grand adventure, but it ends up being more like a detour- and roadblock-filled car ride through unfamiliar places. We pack for warm and comfortable, but end up needing our hats and wondering why we didn’t think to bring gloves! We thought surely we would have overcome our ‘illnesses’ by now, but the cough of our sinful nature lingers at the exact point of annoying.

If you grew up in the church or even if you’ve been around for a while, you’ve probably heard or sung the hymn, “It Is Well” by Horatio G. Spafford. The simple lyrics of this timeless song are a reminder that no matter how the “sea billows” of our circumstances and experiences “roll,” we are eternally stable because of Christ. We repeat in declaration: “It is well, It is well with my soul”.

You may not be as familiar with the original second verse, though:

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

When I first read this verse, I assumed that the word “buffet” meant something similar to the word “buffer” and that it was speaking of Satan attempting to block us from reaching a destination (or maybe that he picks and chooses from the various dishes of our lives to fill his own plate? 😂). But the meaning of this word is: “(especially of wind or waves) strike repeatedly and violently” or “(of difficulties) afflict (someone) over a long period.”*

In almost 17 years of marriage, our ship has certainly experienced “buffeting”. We expected some ups and downs, but the repeated violent strikes of our own sinful natures have caught us by surprise. Our only hope in this “helpless estate” is to keep our eyes on the horizon – to let the “blest assurance” of the gospel be the control point of our gaze.

No matter how much we want to fix (or at least not be affected by) each other’s sin, that’s not something that has ever been or will ever be under our control. Our sin may be different, but our “helpless” is the same. Every time I’ve put myself on a pedestal in comparison to my husband’s sin – the gospel reminds me of the “Wretched man that I am!” and that the only way to be delivered from this “body [and mind and heart] of death” is “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25). I can’t even control my own sin – why do I think I can control someone else’s?

After a beautiful sunny day (finally!) on Santa Cruz Island, we boarded the “Island Adventure” for our return trip to Ventura Harbor. I promptly plopped down in my seat, faced the back of the boat and got ready for an hour and fifteen minutes of staring. But this time it wasn’t so easy. On the Channel Islands, there are no buildings to become squares to become dots for me to focus on and not having that single point to fix my gaze on meant constantly trying to find something that stood out to latch onto!

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Saying we’re focusing our marriages “on God” is noble, but in the end it’s not going to be as effective as focusing on the single point of the gospel. Constantly looking at what Christ has done for us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8) keeps in the forefront of our minds that we have no pedestals to stand on. When your relationship hinges on the “blest assurance” of that control, no amount of “buffeting” can take you down!

If you have ten minutes, check out the marriage testimony of Chris and Stephanie Teague from the band “Out of the Dust” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvVAN2LE-ws – it’s definitely worth your time!

*https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/buffet

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