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!!