Marriage & Family
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!
Embarking on this love story 15 years ago, I found myself falling fast for a guy who singled me out at college and quickly captivated my heart.
He was my first love.
I was mature enough to know I was looking through rose colored glasses, but young enough that I was trusting and not jaded or skeptical about love. When I gave him my heart, I gave him all of my heart….come what may!
And come it did.
A tidal wave of reality hit us only weeks after marriage with the discovery that a life would be born of our love. A month after marriage, we watched the twin towers collapse and questioned this world we were bringing our baby into. A short time later we held hands in a hospital room in utter disbelief at the news that there was not one, but two little lives we would have the responsibility of. Meanwhile, preliminary plans were underway for our departure to the mission field in Ukraine.
I felt like the oldest 21-year-old in the world.
This ushered us into the hardest season of our marriage. I felt abandoned relocating to a foreign country and then left on my own often when my husband traveled. I was a very young mom, lonely and living away from the support of friends and family. Between pregnancies and breastfeeding my 6 babies, there were very few months in our first 10 years of marriage that we didn’t have hormones working against harmony in our home. His perfectionist personality intensified my insecurities and my oversensitivity did not breed well with his criticism. There were tears, bitter tears at times, that seemed unredeemable. We hadn’t learned fighting-fair and I could harbor bitterness for a long time!
I know we loved each other. We were grounded in our commitment. But some days felt like that only, commitment. There were of course good seasons and we have loving memories of the kids being young, but many days were less than picture-perfect. Everyone who has been married for any length of time knows what survival mode looks like. We were just trying to manage life and support our family and fulfill our calling. And while we always worked to make our marriage a priority, honestly, the foundation we had in Christ was somedays the only hope we had of things getting better and moving beyond fighting for our marriage to being fulfilled in our marriage.
I look around me today at so many marriages that I see in the same boat we were in. An inability to imagine that you can move past the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of survival and actually find yourself in a thriving relationship. That’s a weapon the enemy has refined. If he can convince us that things will never change, then we will drown in doubt rather then be sustained through hard times with hope! I absolutely choked on that lie for years. The thought of my marriage always being what it was in its infantile stage took the breath and life out of me!
In some marriages, there has been so much damage done by unmeasured words, by unfaithfulness, by laziness, by misplaced priorities and by the erosion of indifference, that it feels like an impasse. And this is where naturally, the conclusion is often to end it. To divorce. The primal instinct is to protect ourselves. We believe things will never get better and we’re so crushed by the weight of circumstances and feel tethered to a person who is bringing us down, so we cut ties and run. We use reasoning like “bettering ourselves”. This belief that the person we’re married to is bringing out the worst in us and being without them frees us to be ourselves, is tainted. Marriage isn’t meant to simply make us “better” versions of ourselves. Marriage is meant to change and refine us. Refinement comes through fire!! That kind of heat hurts!! When a marriages main objective is holiness rather than happiness, then and only then, can try joy begin to take root and flourish into life from our offering of ourselves for God to work in and through!
Today he took me to breakfast. Sometimes growth takes place so gently and gradually over time that you don’t see it until you pause long enough to look back at how things used to be. How did we get to this place where there are no more walls. There is safety in vulnerability between each other. This morning I sat looking across the table at a very different man than the guy who ask me out on my first date, Valentines day 1999 and it almost reduced me to tears. Im SO grateful! He has softened. I have grown. He has learned to love me well and intentionally takes an interest in the things that interest me. Ive realized all I have to respect in him as a man whose heart is first and foremost seeking the Lord and who intentionally leads his family spiritually. We’ve changed. Our kids are jealous of the priority of time we give to each other. There is no doubt in their mind that we are each others best friend! They’ve remarked on the difference they see of that in their peers at school who come from homes where marriage is solely an institution. But, I hope they remember too, the rough years that brought us to this place, because someday they too will have that path to walk.
I absolutely marvel at what God has done in our life together. The days have been long and grueling, monotonous, emotional, chaotic, messy and hard work. The days have aged us both. With stretch marks and greying hair comes a history together that we’ve linked arms and survived as one, together. We see in military platoons, refugee groups and trauma survivors…..a link is established between people who weather difficult circumstances together. The days have been hard work physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally.
But….the years have been kind!
Ive experienced unconditional love through this man who has stood by my through some difficult years. Who has sought to know me, to really understand me in spite of my complicated emotions and inability to communicate well. Neither of us have been “easy” people to love at times. It has required humility both to give, and to receive love from the other. Marriage strips you bare. Pretense dissolves. And with that dangerous vulnerability comes a capacity to experience love in a way obscure to us when clothed with the facade of feigning who we want to be.
The greatest compliment came this week from our sweet Filipino house-helper who said “Ma’am, you and Sir are so in love, you like boyfriend and girlfriend”. If anyone has seen our marriage up close and personal, its her. She gets the daily grind responses and unfiltered reactions. She’s seen us fight. And she sees the love notes scribbled on the mirror in lipstick. To that I can only respond, God has done this!! This love has not always been so. This is a redeemed love. A love that’s had a lot of crap filtered out. A love that has been bombarded by circumstances and sinfulness that has sought to destroy it. This is a love that has relied on grace to nurture it and forgiveness to fuel it. Our communication, our love life, our compatibility, our unity, our parenting and our friendship has grown exponentially I believe because of, (not in spite of) the hard years we’ve weathered together! Im not naive in believing there wont be other hard seasons, but here I raise my ebenezer and look toward the future with the same hope.… “Thus far the Lord has helped us”
(1 Samuel 7:12)
Its cliche to say “I love him more today than the day I married him”, because, I loved him with every fiber of my being when we said our vows. I didnt love him any less that day than I do today, but that love was an untested, unproven love. It was immature. It was only a shadow of the real deal. Love is tested and tried through circumstances that bring out the worst and most unlovely and still, integrity and faithfulness triumph. Time, hurt, healing, grace and a history together has brought about the kind of love that brings deepest fulfillment and intimacy. By withstanding the test of time in marriage, love is something that is incubated through circumstances that give opportunity to display the evidences of the fruit of the Spirit and embrace the example of love talked about in 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5:22.
Those opportunities don’t come in the euphoric stages of a courtship because we see the other as flawless. They come when the facades fall and you acknowledge the challenge it will be to love someone who is imperfect and selfish.
“Love does not insist on its own way”….laying down your life and rights for the other is HARD.
“Love always hopes”….forgiving the other and moving on without holding the past over the other is not our natural inclination.
“Love is not easily angered”……there’s no clause of exception for if your spouse has done the same thing that irritates you repeatedly!
“Love is patent”…..sometimes this means seasons, years, decades of hardship or hard work before you see growth, compatibility or romance reborn, but God is FAITHFUL!! And as we honor Him by fulfilling our vows and taking our disappointment to Him, He can breathe new life!!
To the lonely (married) heart on Valentines day….to the young bride struggling with “what have I gotten myself into”….or the mom in the trenches feeling she’s doing it all on her own…..or the woman who is tired and considering her options….hear me when I say, it gets better. Dont give up. Stick it out. God’s going to do something in you through a marriage that’s less than fulfilling. Something He couldn’t do if you were comfortably in a relationship relying on your husband instead of relying on Christ!
He has you in a classroom that may be even more work than quantum physics, more unnerving than organic chemistry or more monotonous than advanced math, but it is only that, a classroom, a stage, a season. Learn lessons. Learn them well. Embrace all God wants to work in your life through the needs that feel so unmet and the lonely empty hours you need Him to fill. Marriage was His idea and He knows the growth that needs to take place in both your life and your husbands life. But He will not leave you there and you are not without hope. He promises to be faithful to complete the work He has begun. And in time, in His time, you will be able to look back with joy and hope and declare, the Lord has done this!!