Marriage & Family
With 8 chock-full suitcases, 7 carryons, 6 tearful children, and a partridge in a pear tree, we boarded a plane 4 years ago today that would take us to the uttermost distant corner of the earth from the quite little home we’d raised our family in along the lake in the backwoods of South Carolina. And Ill admit, there was a lump in my throat too as C and I glanced at eachother across the very full row of littles in between us as the plane pulled away from the gate and as we struggled to fasten seatbelts and divvy out earphones and stow tray tables. As passengers peered warily waiting for a baby to scream or someone to spill their drink and wondering what would possess us to travel so far, the questions in my own mind brought the fiercest bombardment….
What are we doing taking 6 babies to the other side of the world!!?
Will uprooting our children cause permanent damage to their little hearts?
What about aging grandparents, parents, extended family and the weddings, new babies and cousin-Christmases we will miss?
Is it really God calling us to go?
Im reminded that steps of faith never come with a blueprint or handbook. If we are certain of the course, it is not really faith, but only taking calculated risks. Faith requires us to step out into something of which our only certainty and security is the Lord, and usually something far out of our comfort zone!
Knowing this does not mean that I havent gone back repeatedly to question this assurance. Ive watched my man-child suffer a grief as he’s tried to reconcile himself to a lifestyle out of his “natural habitat” hunting and fishing and instead struggles to tame his wild-side here in this concrete jungle where skyscrapers are a stark contrast to his beloved golden hour on the dock at sunset.
We’ve been saddened for our children to not have the anchor of steady friendships that they had “back at home” and to be navigating life as a missionary kid in an expat community where relationships are transient and typically short-lived.
And those things we deep-down-to-our-core-just miss!! Like girl-scout “thin mints” and one-stop-shopping at Target and affordable cute kids clothing and ranch dressing mix & taco seasoning!!!
But, glancing back at 4 years of God’s faithfulness here in Thailand, I would board that plane all over again! We’ve not just survived, we have thrived. Not necessarily in the material sense, but there has been such a richness of character that has been built and life-altering opportunities for our kids that I wouldn’t trade for all the stability and security in the world! There is no greater joy than seeing your children walking with the Lord. Their hearts have waded through some hard things and instead of becoming embittered, they have pressed into that childlike faith and trust of the Father.
Their compassion has grown as they’ve taken on ministry projects themselves to the underprivileged Cambodian camp we work at. Tristan has had the unique opportunity to travel the world with his dad and to be challenged in his faith among great men of God and wonderful role models. We’ve joyfully seen as a family the gospel brought to people in nations that are hearing it for the first time and embracing that hope! Abi has witnessed the first moments of babies being born into the world. Britain has learned negotiating skills for market bartering and even the youngest members of our family know how to hail a taxi or tuktuk and give directions in Thai.
Sometimes God leads us places where we are compelled by something contrary to common sense. Uprooting our family during formative years of their development….there arent many parenting books out there that will support these wild notions. And yet, somehow, our big kids are developing into mature, well adjusted, capible, contributing members of society. Not to the credit of their daddy and I. There can be no pride on our part because by a lot of standards, we’ve done everything wrong. We’ve made decisions that dont make sense for a large family. We’ve asked things of our kids that seem unfair and they’ve had to give up a lot. And Im not naive in thinking that we dont have some hard years ahead of us still as we anticipate many-teen-years that we are only now entering.
And yet God!!
And yet God has been faithful to shepherd their hearts even in this “barren land” at times. The friendships they have forged with eachother are, I believe, stronger than they ever would have been because of the nomadic life they’ve experienced together. Four years have grown them in more ways than their stature. Looking back, Im so glad God has gone before each step of the way on this wild ride!!
Grateful this morning as I ponder His goodness, for those of you who have been part of our children seeing and experiencing God’s faithfulness. Our family is supported by financial gifts of individuals who believe in our ministry and come alongside us. Our children have seen God provide and as a result, their faith has grown. Those of you who have checked in on us and asked how you can pray, sent care packages (its girl scout cookie time y’all….Im shameless!!), put an extra stamp on an envelope and mailed us a Christmas card or note of encouragement, come on short term teams and participated in our ministry, or just come to visit and encourage our hearts with your presence, thank you!! If you would like to be included in our family newsletter that goes out monthly, leave me a comment with your email address (or email me directly firstname.lastname@example.org)
Our society today celebrates independence. We salute those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and move beyond the hindrances of their youth. We applaud brave single moms who selflessly and tirelessly hold down two jobs to make ends meet. We commend those who make something of themselves….by themselves…..for themselves.
And while all of this does indeed deserve an ovation, I pause tonight on the eve of my 15th wedding anniversary to make a case for codependency. The negative connotation of “needing someone else” is new to recent generations. Lets just clearly state that Im not talking about turning a blind eye or enabling a drug or alcohol addiction kind of codependency – but I am talking about needing eachother in a way that is perhaps antiquated in our day and age. I look at my grandparents who lived 70+ happy years together and reflect on the beauty of their interdependence and the hard seasons they weathered that would have been easy to walk out on. Theirs has been the kind of marriage modeled that I hope mine will one day be.
So Im just over here, coming out that I am unapologetically codependent!
(And venturing to say, I believe, that this is an important point of a healthy marriage)
If we were better off on our own, independent, untethered, living a me-centered existence doing everything the right way (our way), we should have stayed that way! Marriage isn’t meant to make us better versions of ourselves – its meant to change us! We are under a false impression if we believe that two individuals can each live independently of each and never loose any of their identity and have a thriving marriage. A marriage that is going to work is a marriage that sacrifices. It means altering who we are and how we do things and over the course of days and years and decades, hopefully, we will not be the same people that we were when stood hand-in-hand in the blessed naivety of wedded bliss with our toes in the sand and committed our lives to eachother.
Codependency gets a bad rap in modern psychology. WebMD says “If you find yourself making lots of sacrifices for your partner’s happiness but don’t get much in return, you might be in a codependent relationship” And that seems to be sufficient evidence to give your marriage the boot. Im giving more than him, so this marriage thing isn’t fair and isn’t working out. Is this not a pretty lenient basis to condemn a relationship? What happy marriages do we know today that have stood the test of time that have not seen seasons of sacrificing for the other at the cost of their own happiness? The internet (which is the gospel truth, right?) has a plethora of self assessment tools to help identify codependent relationship and recommends getting the heck out, fast!
Do you expend your energy in meeting your partner’s needs?
Are you the one that is constantly making sacrifices in your relationship?
Do you put your own needs secondary to accommodating others?
Im going out on a limb here stating boldly that I believe all of the questions above should be answered to the affirmative! My marriage isn’t going to work if I hold a “tit for tat” approach that demands the scores be even. Vowing your life to someone in marriage doesn’t come with a clause stating “for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part ———— or until you aren’t holding up your end of the bargain”.
God doesn’t ask us to change exclusively for the petty happiness or comfort of someone else. Thats belittling to the beautiful creations God has made us and its being a people pleaser with a motivation of gaining approval. Thats not the kind of change God requires. But, He does ask us to lay down our lives and He models an example of selfless, sacrificial love to the umpteenth degree of what I will ever be asked to do in my marriage! How can that example not profoundly debunk my justification and unwillingness to change?!
Please hear me when I add a parenthesis here that I am not making light of abusive or dangerous relationships in which you need professional help. Im simply pondering an epidemic in society today in which so many feel exempt from marriage vows because their own needs are not being met and because they feel justified in getting out when their investment has not yielded a satisfactory return!
As the years and life-seasons ebb and flow with babies and and moves and circumstances that are ever changing and uprooting us, we find our affection for one another has multiplied with the stripping away of so many other relational crutches. Living the majority of our married life far removed from our closest friends and family has forged a dependency that I think is uniquely related to our transient lifestyle. We’ve become students of each other. We’ve learned to care about the things each other care about. We share life on the deepest levels and depend on each other and value the opinions of the other.
Susan Sarandon said it best in the 2004 flick Shall We Dance:
”We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”
Tomorrow we celebrate 15 years. 15 years of depending on eachother. 15 years of being a witness to eachothers lives. 15 years of building a single life together out of two very different people. 15 years of first and foremost needing the Lord, and secondly, needing each other. Ive lost a little bit of myself in this marriage. Ive changed for him. Ive sacrificed. But Ive gained infinitely more! And when (God willing), we find ourselves celebrating our 70th anniversary someday, I hope Im a little less like Mandy and a little more like Christ.
As I started packing away your preemie outfits today, no longer able to snap closed the buttons over your growing torso, a tinge of sadness hit me……you are no longer a “newborn”. The sink that Ive bathed you in comfortably until now is not sufficient to hold both water and you anymore. You just don’t fit.
Today you turn two months old. Why has it taken me this long to introduce you to the “blogosphere”?…..I have not a single regret. Its the same reason that I haven’t finished writing thank-you notes for the gifts and meals that came in when you were born. Its the same reason that the laundry room may be in a bit of disarray and the refrigerator is not well stocked. Its because I have savored every, single, solitary second of your delicious newness! When you’re awake, I hold you and gaze into those big, blue, beautiful eyes. And when you’re sleeping, you mould so perfectly to my shoulder, that I don’t want to put you down. And that is why daddy somedays comes home from work to find me in the same spot he left me that morning…lounging on the couch holding my baby and feeling like it was a beautifully fulfilling day doing absolutely nothing but loving on you! Unproductive maybe, but so fulfilling drinking in that new smell and basking in the baby-moon.
Lest the details ever get blurry, lets go back to your birthday…
No, lets go back further.
Lets go back to crazy, hormonal mommy who sat on the floor of the shower crying after my first bout of morning sickness and vomiting many months ago. That day had been hot and muggy in typical Thai style and the smells were revolting. An exhausting bedtime routine had just finished and the dinner I had worked to prepare and forced myself to eat, had revolted in my stomach. I sat sobbing with scalding water pouring down my back. I was crying because of the ugliness that I saw in my own heart. I was crying because I didnt want to be pregnant. The shame at what I felt drowned me in bitter tears. What a terrible response to what I knew in my heart was a gift from God, but what i felt was more than I could handle!
God did a lot of work on my heart in the months that you began to grow and form and move inside me. Daddy reminded me often as he held me in some teary moments, that I had told him before we got married that 7 children sounded like a perfect number! I was at a place of peace and acceptance, but it would be a stretch to say excitement by the time your due date rolled around. I had fears for possibly the first time about having a baby. I felt too old to be starting over again lacking the energy I once had as a 21 year old with the twins. I suddenly felt like a “newbie” at this and didnt know if I possessed the patience for a lifestyle change. I didnt know where a baby would fit in what already felt like a very full plate with 6 kids, 2 jobs and ministry overseas. Being told repeatedly by doctors that my heart condition made it too risky to have a natural birth and that I had to have a C-section only made me feel like more of an unfit mother.
The morning of your birth, daddy and I got up at dark-thirty and big sister Abi got to come too. Her enthusiasm bubbling over in the wee hours of the morning was just the support I needed. She was so excited to get to be the first to meet you and to be mommy’s “doula” and photographer!
You arrived at 9:03 on March 17th with a healthy, lusty cry. The times since then that we’ve heard a proper wail from you I can count on one hand. You are the most easy going, passive, pleasant baby ever! We were grateful to have the kindest anesthesiologist who adhered to all of our special requests and even turned the air-conditioner off in operating theatre so that it wouldn’t be such a shocking cold for you when you were born and so that you could have a few minutes with mommy. As soon as they placed you cheek to cheek with me, I had a reaction to the medication and got sick. The nurse kindly waited for me to gather myself and give me a few moments kissing your forehead before they whisked you off to the nursery to monitor some respiratory issues.
I was wheeled into recovery 1/2 an hour later with confidence that daddy knew exactly what to do. Your daddy, my hero, insisted you get to go to mommy in recovery, a bit out of the “norm” or procedure. That daddy of yours is a force to be reckoned with and no little Thai nurse wanted to cross him! The nursery nurse who brought you to me was clearly a bit miffed to have diverted from policy….she pulled back the curtain in my recovery cubical, walked in and all but dropped you on my belly and walked out.
There I was, alone, numb from the waist down, flat on my back and shaky from surgery with two wide eyes looking at me. And in that moment, I became mommy again and instantaneously my fears dissolved as I took you to breast and peeled off blankets to count fingers and toes.
Just the two of us.
Time stood still and the chaos of a busy hospital and beeping monitors behind sheer drapes was drowned out by the sweet sounds of your firsts breaths and little gasps and coos and sucks. My heart, once again, grew to love another with such a fierceness that I was brought to tears. I couldn’t have imagined the bond that would form in the course of seconds as I fell all over again, deeply, helplessly in love with this baby of mine! Thank you God that you know better than I what I need and that you give good gifts….undeserved, blessed, beautiful good gifts!!
God knew exactly what He was doing when he gave us you Eden. Your name means “Pleasant, delight, perfection” and that is what you are! We have marveled at your pleasant demeanor and contented personality. Granted, you are never put down and are held and rocked incessantly. A great-aunt expressed her concern that maybe you aren’t getting to stretch those legs out since there is scarcely a moment a day that you aren’t swaddled in someones arms. Mommy feels like after 3:00pm, she hardly gets so see you since the girls burst in the door from school and fight over who gets the first shower so they can come take turns and hold you. Tristan couldn’t be prouder. He’s waited a long time for a little brother and keeps saying how he cant wait to teach you things!! Never has there been a baby so loved!!
Eden my love, Im so thankful that God who is rich in mercy, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in love and the giver of good gifts, has seen fit to bless our family with YOU! Welcome to the world little man!