Dear Noelle and Joy,
I realize, at 5 and 3, that you are too young to be worried about the man you’re going to marry. Oh, you talk about your wedding day, since you were the baby flower girls in my cousin’s wedding, and you love to imagine yourselves twirling around in a floofy white dress. But the sooner you learn, the better you’ll be: a wedding isn’t a marriage. It’s a five-hour moment in your life that will pass in an instant, one you will remember with nostalgia and laughter (seriously, no one told me to pluck my eyebrows!).
The long hard slog that follows, the decades of work and toil and agony and joy, those are the things that concern me the most.
Let me start by saying the most important thing of all–you don’t need to get married. You don’t need a man. You need to define yourself as yourself in the Lord’s eyes, not yourself as your friends see you or your job sees you or a man sees you. You are you and that is more than enough, because the “you” that you two are becoming is glorious and strong and brilliant and funny and beautiful and holy and good. Never let anyone tell you that you are less or half. You are capable of standing on your own two feet. You are gifted and unique. You are all that you will ever need to be.
If you choose to get married, make sure you’re looking for the kind of man that I married. I cannot imagine a more wonderful example than your dad. As a parent and as a partner, he’s all I want for your husbands some day. But finding a man like him is not easy.
When you look for a husband, find a man who loves you and respects you as his equal. Make sure he cherishes you for who you are. He needs to think your gifts and interests are fascinating and not threatening. I hate this so much, but there will come a day when someone will say to you that you are “too much.” There might be men who will tell you that what they told me, either blatantly or subtly: “You’re not the kind of girl I want to find.” Once, at the end of a date, one guy let me know rather rudely it wasn’t going any farther because I’d always “wear the pants” in the relationship. (I should have told him it wasn’t going any farther because he was a jerk and, besides, we were both wearing shorts.) The kind of girl those guys are looking for will be gentle and quiet and easy to be around. Good for her. I wish them well.
You were born of different stock. The women in our family stand up loudly and firmly in the face of injustice. We speak out for the good of our community. We listen and we love and we cultivate gentleness, but we’re not afraid to use our voices. We are teachers and leaders and visionaries. We have a spice that makes life delightful even if it’s a bit hard to swallow on occasion. If your fits are any indication right now, your strong wills are on the way to becoming righteous indignation and fierce determination. I’m so sorry if it’s hard for you as you grow older, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The first time your dad heard me speak to a group of people in college, I was waiting for that moment when he worried how my gifts reflected on him. But he didn’t. Not once. He gave me a huge hug and his eyes lit up and he told me I did great. And it’s been that way every time he’s ever heard me speak or teach in the last twelve years. He knows who he is, what his gifts are, what he likes to do, who he is called to be. So do I. Our various callings do not negate or threaten or lessen each other. It is glorious and freeing to be married to a man who adores me exactly the way I am.
Some day, when you grow a little older, you’ll realize that the roles in our household are a bit different from other people. It used to be, and still is in some places, that moms take care of the kids and the house while dads work outside the home. In our home, we mix it all up. Some days Mommy works and Daddy stays home; other days we switch. Daddy gives you baths and puts you to bed every night, then comes downstairs to take care of the dishes while Mommy works on her dissertation. Daddy does all the grocery shopping, with his spreadsheet on that adorable clipboard he uses, and takes you girls and a bag of snacks with him every time. (You get irritated when I take you shopping–”This isn’t how Daddy does it!”) Daddy mows and Mommy cooks, but that’s because we like to do those things.
When you’re looking for a husband, try to find a man who is hungry to be with his children, who hurries home from work for extra cuddle and wrestle time before dinner, who fights to be the person that takes his girls to birthday parties just for the joy of watching them jump in the bouncy castle. Find a man who never uses the verb “babysit” for his own children. Look for someone who gets a bit annoyed at all the comments he gets in the grocery store or at princess parties or in pre-school, as if his involved parenting is unusual or he’s doing his wife a favor.
It is imperative that you find a good man who thinks, like you will, that the purpose of his life is to help and serve others. Ideally, he would be as generous as your father, who never buys himself anything and always has room in his well-organized budget for homeless people and refugees and friends in need. He should be strong (even if that strength lends itself to stubbornness) and tender. His heart should break for children in need. He shouldn’t begrudgingly allow you to do ministry or adopt, he should partner right beside you in those projects. He should be so ready to get his next baby girl home in his arms that he pushes through paperwork to get to China faster.
Make sure you find someone who loves to spend time with you. He should be your best friend, your favorite companion, your confidante and your partner in crime. He shouldn’t be your only friend (good girl friends are second in importance to a good husband) because that is too much pressure to put on any relationship. But he shouldn’t find you annoying, shouldn’t criticize and nitpick. You shouldn’t do those things either. He might not do laundry the way that you’d like, but your criticism will only serve to push him away. Trust him, love him, let go of a few pink socks and realize you mess up (with the laundry and other things) all the time anyway. Travel together. See each other in new lights. Spend time alone sitting in silence watching people go by in an airport or a city square. Cultivate memories that involve just the two of you–the restaurants you ate in, the mountain tops you’ve explored, the weird people you’ve seen. The memories of bright moments you shared together will lighten the dark days that come.
If you find someone like that, it might be worth getting married to him. And there’s a slim chance your father will not chase him away from the house with a shotgun. I’m already working on him to stop giving every little boy who comes near you the stink-eye. We’ll make a deal–in twenty years, you bring home good men who love the Lord and love you for the women he created you to be and I’ll work on your father to be sweet when the time comes.