My daughter is ten years old and is already dreaming of getting married someday, which scares me a bit. At least, it does until I realize I was eleven when I had my first big crush and I apparently survived.

At that point in my life, my boy-judging skills were pretty much non-existent, so the only thing that fostered this particular crush was a newly discovered thing called attraction. And I was attracted to a basketball player on my brother’s team who could swish three-pointers like nobody’s business. (Yes, this is a very poor reason to crush on someone. Thankfully, that particular ninth grader never found out that the blushing sixth grader on the bleachers was daydreaming of marrying him someday. And by marrying, I mean, I dreamed that he would look me in the eye and maybe, maybe hold my hand. Be still my beating heart.)

Yes, I was certifiably nuts. Which is to say, I was a girl, through and through.

And I am super thankful that not only the player-with-the-mad-basketball-skills but also the next half dozen crushes I sustained through my high school years all pretty much overlooked me. I’m thankful because there were many things I learned in the following dozen years of growing up that have made relationships so much easier than they would have been then. A few things that I am hoping I’ll be able to pass on to my children.

There is a lot of natural maturing that takes place from ten to twenty years old, of course, but there are also some things that are worth learning that might take a bit more of a specified effort, and these are the things I’m focusing on.

In particular, there are two things I am purposing to teach my children now before they are old enough to think about marriage.

Two things that I hope you’ll learn before you marry.

(And if you’re already married, then by all means, jump right in—because it’s worth it to learn these things at any point in life!)

Things You Should Know Before You M arry

1. Know who you are (not just who you wish you could be).

When I was seventeen, I had a lot of ideas of who I wanted to be, but I didn’t always understand who God made me to be. I dreamed of marrying, keeping a perfect house, raising a dozen children, being incredibly organized, and baking chocolate cake every day so my husband and children would think I was amazing.

Now, none of those things are bad. Not at all. Except they aren’t me. I don’t keep a perfect house. I just don’t. (I like people and books too much for that.) And baking a chocolate cake every day? Well, I do have my moments but the ultimate truth is that I don’t even like chocolate cake—and I physically can’t handle much sugar or gluten, so you know, that kind of cramps my cake-baking style.

Also, I hate dishes. And baking creates extra dishes.

Now, I can bake and I do bake, but it’s not high on my priority list. Neither are the dishes, for that matter.

But there are things I do and I do them well. Like write stories and sing silly songs and dance in the rain and teach my children to love books and people and the God Who created them.

So how horrible would it be for me to try to be the wife and mother that I had created in my head (and fail miserably at it) and never be the wife and mother that God created me to be?

Knowing who you are is so important. Not that we don’t ever strive for things that are good but hard (like, in my case, keeping the dishes caught up and the house in order), but that we don’t get so caught up in those things that we miss the important things that God calls us to personally.

And maybe for you, the call is to organization and a clean house.

Or, maybe, like me, it’s writing stories about God’s love.

Or maybe it’s something completely different.

But whatever it is? Make sure you know who you are before you get yourself depressed by trying hard to fit into a mold that God never created for you.

If you’re struggling to know who you are, maybe take a personality test, ask a trusted friend what they see as your gifts, or better yet, pray! Ask God to reveal His purpose for you at this stage of your life. I’ve found that He loves to reveal His heart to His children. He really does.

Know who you are.

2. Learn how to choose love (even when it’s really, really hard).

Here’s the truth about marriage: it’s hard.

It’s beautiful, and intimate, and life-changing and very, very hard.

I love hard things. They produce the most glorious beauty. They are worth every single second.

But marriage is not a fairy tale. It’s more like adoption. It’s a choice to make someone family. For keeps. And with that choice comes all the mess, along with all the good stuff.

I didn’t understand that before I married. I don’t think I even understood after the first year. But now, nine years later? I get it. My husband is the closest person to me. He sees me with all my imperfections, all my glaring faults, all my beauty, and all my brokenness.

And I see all of his.

I am thankful, so, so thankful, for the practice I had before marriage of choosing love when it was hard.

Sometimes choosing to love my husband and my family is the most difficult task I have, but practice in my past helps me make the right choices in the present.

I practiced by learning to love my siblings—who were sometimes a pain-in-the-neck to love. I practiced by learning to love my friends—who weren’t always there for me right when I thought I needed them. And I practiced by learning to give grace to everyone who let me down, even myself.

I learned that love is a choice. Of course it is. And even when everything is really hard, we can still choose to love.

Every time you practice this choice, it becomes more natural to you. So in the middle of a crisis? When your new husband/wife has just hurt you (because, dear ones, they will) and everything in your flesh wants to hurt back? All those moments of choosing love will help you bleed love instead of poison. Wounds are inevitable, but we don’t have to keep on wounding. We can choose something different. Love.

Oh, friends, let’s learn this truth—and never forget it.

Study I Corinthians 13? I think you’ll be overwhelmed at how detailed God’s description of love is. And surprisingly, there’s nothing there about emotions. It’s all about what we choose.

Marriage is not a fairy tale.

I pray I continue to learn these two things—and that my children do, too. I pray they embrace the person God created them to be with confidence and humbleness, and they learn to give love even when it’s really, really hard. Because if my children walk into marriage with those two things along with an intimate knowledge of the Creator-God, they’ll be okay.

It might not always be easy. It might get ugly and hard and scary. But it’ll be okay.

Stepping into marriage is not a light thing. There is a lot of guidance and advice available for those in the place of choosing a marriage partner. Do listen to advice. Do pray continually.

And in the meantime, before your spouse arrives? Learn who you are in Christ. Learn to love well.

You won’t be sorry.

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