Best Advice #1…Vow THIS vow.

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“Dear God…please…I love him so much. Please let him love me. I do not want to live this life without him loving me. If You ever answer one prayer of mine…let it be this one.”
Yes. You may go back and reread it. And yes. It sounds just as ridiculous the second time as it did the first. I admit. Yet this was a serious prayer I offered up to my Father. I all but begged, well I guess I actually begged, Him to just give me what I wanted…which was for TJ to love me the way I loved him. I knew he loved me, I was his Tressa and he knew my character and heart. But he was not in love with me the way that I fell in love with him on complete accident. He never allowed me to believe he was, he was always very honest about his feelings. We always had THAT on our side…honesty. So. I prayed. A lot.

And the day came.

TJ realized, in a very unexpected way, that I was the woman he was in love with and from that moment…he never denied it. Upon thinking, “Tressa would have never done that” and “that’s just not the way Tressa is” when analyzing the girls who had been a part of his life -whether at the moment or in his past- it hit him. “I LOVE TRESSA!!” He was not able to hide it from that moment on. I remember telling him the second or third time we were together after he knew “you might as well just say it because it is written all over your face dude!” We had been broken up (for good we thought) -for the THIRD time in THREE years- and over 6 months. Yet, it was as easy as breathing to be back together and finally IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER.

So immediately the wedding talk began. I had just started back to college after taking 2 semesters off (code for I quit due to the overwhelming siphoning college had on my life) and we knew that I would have to graduate before my mother would ever be ok with me getting married. After checking the college calendar and learning my graduation date would be May 13, 2000, we set our wedding date for May 20. Yes it was dumb. Would not have changed it for anything in the world. Except THIS…

TJ was not brought up in a very Christian devoted home. So as an adult, even though he was the best person I knew, he did not live his life seeking his God. He did not make decisions based upon obedience to the Lord’s word, even though he made very good decisions. I mean, I was raised to go to church and I made horrible and sinful choices, so I am not saying that because he was not devoted spiritually that he was a bad person or that I was a better one. I knew enough to know that I was supposed to marry, join my life with, a man who would lead me and serve God with me. And I realized what had happened…God had heard me…God had answered me…He gave me TJ’s love. What did I do with that answered prayer?? I put that gift above the Giver. I loved that gift more than the Giver. I was choosing that gift over the Giver. I was begging and crying and pleading (and I’m sure getting on His nerves about it too…I mean, I know my mom, sister, best friend were all tired of it!) for God to give me what I wanted…and when He did I could picture Him going “Now…what will you do with it?”

So I made a vow. I promised my Father this: “if May 20, 2000 comes and TJ has not dedicated himself to serving You and putting You first…I will not marry him.” And I never told that to anyone. This was in October 1999. Only weeks after answering his question of “will you be my wife?” with an “absolutely I will!” I never forced, ultimatiumed, or pushed loving God on him. I never insinuated that I would call the whole thing off. Only God and I knew of this vow. And as much as I loved TJ and as much as I had begged for him and as much as I knew I would never be happy in this world without him…I knew that I could not marry him if he was not a man who would love God more than me, if I was not a woman who loved God more than him. God HAD TO BE FIRST. It was/is only right. And with this vow I knew the consequences of not keeping it. I knew that marrying a man who had not aimed himself in God’s direction with the expectation that he just one day would after we married was a lie that the devil will tell. I had witnessed this lie with people in my life. I had watched couples marry and not be devoted to God and they were just a disaster. I wanted to be Mrs. TJ Bragwell…and I wanted to be a couple fixed on God. So I prayed once more…I prayed that His will was for TJ to love Him more. I prayed that His will be that we unite as husband and wife in His sight with the desire to be led by Him. I prayed for the very thing that God Himself wants for TJ…and for me. His will is always for our good and when we set our minds, hearts, desires, and wants on what He is looking for in us -our lives- we can trust that whatever happens is a blessing. Even if that means we have to give up our wants. TJ was a want. He was also a blessing I was praying would be His will for me. I knew in my heart that my life was designed to be united to his, I was meant to be his wife, and yet I also knew that if God was not the center of this life…that meant my want for him was not of God, but of self. And how crappy that was to realize — for my selfishness — and what a blessing it would turn out to be for my spirit.

Now please understand that I admit, in shame, that I was not the perfect example of God for TJ. I was a sin filled soul who while claiming the name of Christ was not living a life in His image. I was loud, obnoxious, lustful, selfish (this is a reoccurring problem seems like I know), made horrible choices as a young adult, so TJ had no reason to come to love his Lord because of me. I was not set on leading him…I was set on having him. So there is no claim made that I lived the pattern of our Jesus and that is what provoked a love for Him in TJ. Granted I was a church goer, he knew this, and would want TJ at every service I was attending. But NOT for the reason that God Himself would want TJ present at an assembly of Christians. I wanted TJ with me because I got the benefit of that. See how it was all about me?! It was what I wanted. It was about making me happy. Me getting what I wanted out of TJ’s life…being with me. The embarrassing truth is that I somehow thought that TJ’s existence was for me…that I was the reason TJ was created. Lord, that’s just a jacked up way of thinking sisters. Let me tell you a very important truth that you may not be aware of: your man, your fiance, your husband, whatever his title, is NOT here for THE primary purpose of you. You are not THE reason for his existence. Know what is? To have a relationship with his Creator. THAT is the reason for his life. THAT is the purpose for his existence. And until he knows, accepts, and is humbly grateful for THAT…his life -nor yours with his- will be able to truly experience happiness. It can be disguised as a beautiful engagement ring, an elegant and cagillion dollar wedding, precious babies, a dream home, the perfect job, vacations all over…but notice that ALL of that revolves around our physical wants?!! Our own desires, even if sometimes of good intention, will ultimately leave us empty. Void. We can spend our whole lives filling up with stuff, and have long moments of what we interrupt as happiness, but will always always always end up empty. Searching for that “what is it I need?” God is our source of true happiness. And a marriage revolved around His principles and His commands and His roles for us has no other option but to be a happy one. Will you have the best stuff? Probably not. Will you be materially wealthy? Good chance ya won’t. Will you be of a social standing that brings friendship and acceptance with those of high standing? Um, I’m going with slim chance to none here. BUT…will you be a couple set on His will? Will you be one flesh determined to reflect the relationship of Christ and His church? Will you be completely filled with His presence and His blessing which will keep your cup running over? Yes. Yes. and Yes.
Weigh the two. Which is of more value?

“So what happened? Did he commit to loving God first?”

December 30, 1999. We were attending a mid week Bible study and when the invitation song began, TJ looked at me and asked…”will you go with me?” And knowing that I would have gone into an outhouse and just sat down beside him while he pooped -because that’s how ridiculously attached I was- it seemed like a rhetorical question. “Yes I will!” Was my simple reply so down the aisle we go. He confesses Jesus as His Savior and repents of his sins and then is baptized for the remission of them. Jesus could’ve come back at that very moment and I probably would’ve been like “just hold on a minute Jesus…I’m too emotional to stand trial right now!” THAT was the single most wonderful moment of my life. TJs obedience to God and the dedication he was committing to His kingdom was the REAL answered prayer. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt in that moment that His will had been done.

Over the last 15 years since our wedding date of May 20, we have grown and grown in the ways of the Lord. We have been stagnant at times and even apathetic to real service. We have prayed A LOT for us to be used in His kingdom the way He has designed for us. We have asked for true understanding of His word and then the courage to live out the simplicity of it. We have been praised and exalted…we have been criticized and torn down. We have been regarded as true and faithful Christians…we have pitied as lost and erring sinners. We have been a deacon and a deacons wife…we have withdrawn from from the very congregation that we served. And yet THE one consistent and unchanging truth has been this: TJ puts God first. Exactly what I prayed for. Exactly what my vow was centered around. See how that works? God’s will for TJ as a man is to be a leader, a teacher, authoritative, a husband, a father, and to seek God for wisdom in how to be all of this. And through the continual prayer offered before the throne of our Father, TJ is/does the best he can at fulfilling His will. The true gift. I am so thankful for that vow!

That’s what I want you to know sisters. The power that YOU possess as the woman in his life is SO great. You can use this to manipulate, control, degrade, or weaken him so that YOU are exalted and honored and looked at as “such a good Christian” or you can submit, honor, uplift, encourage, inspire, and pray for him in his endeavors to be a Christian leader for you and your babies. If he’s not, I know it can be discouraging and saddening, BUT your conduct and chaste behavior could be the very thing that leads him to obedience. You cannot force him, guilt him, or make him do anything for the Lord…BUT you can influence him by your submissive and obedient behavior. You can live in such a way as to invoke a wonder. You can set such a powerful REAL reflective image of Jesus and His submissive and obedient character that he becomes amazed at why you are this way. You know how I know this?? Because God says we can. So no matter your situation…dating, engaged, newlywed, or 25 years in, these are absolute truths that you can be doing for your boyfriend/fiancĂ©/husband. Pray for him. Live a life reflecting Jesus’ character that you are commanded to reflect. Be pure minded. Be humble and gentle. Be kind. Did I mention pray for him? Well in case I didn’t…PRAY FOR HIM. Pray that the Lords will be fulfilled in his life. Pray for time. Pray for a marriage that shows the world the relationship of Jesus and His church. Vow today that THIS will be your prayer. Vow that you will put the Lord first in your own life and will obey the commands He gives to you as a woman/wife/mother. Vow that your relationship be Christ centered. Pray for your attitude to be one of compassion and love. Pray that in EVERYthing you do, you are honoring God and respecting your husband. And THEN have faith that God will answer. Because He WILL. When prayer is offered for His will to be done…it is. Every.single.time! Don’t doubt because of time. Don’t doubt because of satan. Don’t give up because it’s too hard. Allow God to be God and to answer when it’s the right time to answer. You patiently wait on Him. Reach out to other sisters for help. We are HERE!! Don’t hesitate in asking others to pray with you, for him. Rely on wisdom of sisters around you who are living out Gods will in their own lives. That’s what we are for ladies…we are to be teaching one another about how to succeed in the areas of wife and motherhood! We are to be encouraging pure and humble conduct and dress and behavior in one another! So the song “use me til you’ve used me up” comes to mind but in a spiritual way not the physical lustful way I think that song implies! Hahahaa! I’m here. She’s there. We are all in this together sisters!!

So, let me tell each of you that the #1 best advice I have about thinking of marriage, being married, or any stage in between is this: VOW that you will put the Lord first in your own life and pray that he does the same. The Giver loves to give His children good gifts…and your relationship with him may very well be a gift. Don’t love it more than the Giver.

I thank you all for your encouraging words and your outreach or appreciation for these posts. I have truly felt a purpose in my life to teach and share with other women my stories and advice and what has/had not worked for me in my spiritual life and my physical as well. I love you all for knowing I am not perfect nor have all the answers. I’m just a daughter of God and a wife to TJ and a mother to Autumn and Scout and a sister to you. I want to fulfill my purpose in each of those roles. I pray for more wisdom and understanding every day and I know that when changes are required, He gives us strength to change. We are His and He is ours.
Much love!

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