Couple watching: On Saturday my wife, Merry, and I attended FamilyLife’s I Still Do™ event in Portland, Oregon. When I come to an event like this, I like watching the couples as they arrive and sit together in the stands. Portland is famous for its liberality, but this was quite a different gathering of people—far different from those lampooned in the TV series, “Portlandia.” These were couples arriving with smiles, laughing together, anticipating a day of focusing on their marriage.
I was pleased to see so many young couples, obviously in the early years of their journey together, at Saturday’s gathering. But what struck me most was that no matter the age or race or size or whatever, the couples just seemed to fit together. I know how subjective this sounds, but I just got this sense that these were husbands and wives brought together by God. They just seemed right.
Birthday gift: We stood in line for the “photo booth,” where couples put on silly hats and clothes and a volunteer took pictures with the couples' smart phones. Merry is the outgoing one in our blended-personality marriage, and she started talking with the couple behind us. They were from a small town in Washington, just north of Portland. The wife said she was looking at FamilyLife’s website and read about I Still Do. She knew almost nothing about FamilyLife and its events and resources to help build godly marriages, but when she saw that I Still Do was scheduled on her birthday she told her husband, “That’s what I want for my birthday present.”
Warming up: A common joke at marriage events like this is about wives who drag their reluctant husbands through the doors. And looking at the crowd before the event began you could certainly see some evidence of that—men sitting silently and sullenly, wondering why they weren’t out doing something else on this beautiful Northwest day. But as the event progressed, that changed. They seemed to relax and warm up pretty quickly.
“I’m running to Your arms”: One surprise to me was that, in a lineup full of great speakers and drama and comedy, my favorite element of I Still Do was the music. The worship team from Austin Stone Community Church of Austin, Texas, did a great job of involving the crowd, and there’s nothing like being part of several thousand believers who are really singing rather than standing and watching. The music set the tone for the day, putting our focus on the need for God in our lives. The theme song for the day seemed to be “Forever Reign”:
Oh, I'm running to Your arms,
I'm running to Your arms.
The riches of Your love will always be enoug
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign
The speakers picked up on that theme all day, reminding us that to build a successful marriage that lasts a lifetime, you need to live in repentance and humility. You need to give God control of your life.
The power of laughter: It’s not easy to keep a crowd interested and engaged. So while I Still Do featured some outstanding speakers, it also offered a variety of other segments. It’s one thing to hear strong messages, but when you see those biblical themes fleshed out in comedy, drama, and music, it really hits home. There’s a lot of power in humor: If you can get couples laughing at a dramatization of communication problems, you know they’re recognizing the errors they make themselves, and they’re relaxed enough to admit those errors to each other. And when everyone around you is also laughing, you realize your problems aren’t unique.
Prone to wander: A thread that ran through the day was, “You can’t do it in your own power.” Every marriage, no matter how strong and vibrant, will be threatened by our natural tendency toward selfishness and pride. As Crawford Loritts, pastor of a church in Roswell, Georgia, said, “Selfishness hovers over us like a malignant cancer.”
I was also struck by the words in another song we sang, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love.
When you wander from God—and we all do that often—your focus turns inward, on yourself. And who will be most affected by your self-absorption? Your spouse.
That’s why, in one of the primary messages, David Nasser exhorted couples to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. “The only way you’re going to ultimately live out the ‘I still do’s’ is to go to the One who already has, to lean on the One who’s already done it,” Nasser said. “You look at Jesus who’s inside of you and you say, ‘The only hope I have in this marriage is the Jesus who lives in me.’… If Jesus is inside of you and living through you, then every attribute is going to be something that comes out of the very pores of who you are.”
Roses: Dennis Rainey, president of FamilyLife, was the final speaker. After talking about the need for forgiveness in marriage, he called attention to the front of the stage, where large jars were stuffed with roses. “I’m convinced there is a lot of unfinished business in this auditorium right now,” he said. He encouraged those who needed to ask their spouse for forgiveness to come forward, get a rose, and take it back to their spouses.
It was like opening a floodgate. People poured onto the arena floor to get roses. There were tears and hugs of reconciliation. I saw one wife leave her seat and meet her husband several rows down as he began climbing back into the stands with a rose to give her. They stood holding each other for several minutes. I can only imagine the “behind the scenes” story in that marriage, and in so many others throughout the arena.
Renewal: It all ended with a brief ceremony in which Dennis led couples in renewing their wedding vows. Merry and I have done this before, but somehow it meant more this time. I thought of our years together, and the family we’ve made together, and I couldn’t imagine life without that togetherness. In fact, I could barely get the words out as we recited our vows.
Sometimes you need a day like that just to remind yourself of the gift God has given you.
Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
1. If you want to find out more about I Still Do®, go to the I Still Do website for more information.
2. Look for upcoming Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways near you.
3. The Art of Marriage® video event weaves together expert teaching, real-life stories, humorous vignettes, and more to portray the challenges and beauty of God’s design. The Art of Marriage website helps you find events near you and offers help if you want to bring it to your church or community.