I’m excited to announce that I’ve joined the writing team over at Her View From Home, a lifestyle magazine that connects your view to the rest of the world; embracing everyday living through daily articles about family, kids, fashion and health, recipes and faith. Below is an excerpt from my first article.
It’s 10:30 p.m. and I’m exhausted.
The kids have been in bed for an hour, and my husband is asleep on the couch next to me. I shut down the laptop, turn off the TV, and pick up the cordless house phone to put in the charger. I am aware that if I don’t remember to do this tonight we won’t have use of our home phone the next day because someone has used the other handset, forgotten to put it back, and now it’s lost with a dead battery, somewhere in my house.
I pass by the dog’s food dish and see the child responsible for feeding her did not refill the water bowl, so I stop to fill it. I start to climb the steps to the upstairs, picking up a lost sock, a forgotten toy, and dirty dish towel along the way. With each step I climb, I feel the resentment growing inside of me.
I am the director, the scheduler, the planner, the seer, the doer, the organizer, and the manager.
Why don’t they remember to turn off the lights, and pick-up their shoes, and run the dishwasher, and sweep up the spilled cat food without being asked?
It’s been nearly 21 years since our fist date…officially together for more of my life than not. It’s crazy to think about. Last week I was thinking about what I wanted to say about 17 years of marriage with the only man I’ve ever loved. I had this nice story I was going to tell about the antique rocking chair he gave me when our first child was born, how it’s been broken and repaired, much like our marriage over the years. A sweet analogy, but I’ll have to save it for another time.
Because everything changed for me on Monday when I got the call from my husband that he was on his way to the ER. And then three hours later the text that they were admitting him.
He’d had a stroke.
I was in the middle of teaching a class when I read those words on my phone. To be completely truthful I hadn’t expected it to be anything serious. He’d started experiencing numbness on his left side two days earlier, but since he had absolutely no other symptoms we thought it might be related to a recent surgery on his elbow and didn’t worry too much. Then Monday, when the numbness hadn’t gone, he went to the clinic at his work and his blood pressure was through the roof.
That’s when they sent him to the ER.
Even at that point, while I was starting to get more concerned, I really didn’t think it could be anything too serious. Because until it happens to you, you don’t believe it will.
He’s only 43 and he’d had a stroke. The only person I ever remembered having a stroke was my grandpa but he was sick from before I was born. Strokes only happen to elderly and very sick people, didn’t they?
As I made arrangements with my boss to end my class early and jumped in the car to start the painfully long drive from Centreville to Winchester there was one thought that kept going through my mind: Does he know?
Does he know how much I appreciate everything he did for me the last two weeks?
Does he know how his presence comforts me?
Does he know how much I respect him and admire him for all that he’s overcome?
Does he know how much I need him in my life?
Does he know how much I love him?
Because the thought that plagued me and left a knot in my stomach was that I couldn’t remember if I’d said these things lately.
We’re pretty generous with the “I love you’s”, the hugs and kisses, and even the occasional cheeky text message. But they are scattered among lots of “did you remember to buy the milk?”, “have you seen the scissors?”, and the ever-popular, “what do you want to do for dinner?” So sometimes the other things seem to get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes you say and do those things every day and you wonder if the intent behind them is truly felt. Had I sat him down, looked in his eyes, and said how I really felt about him lately?
I thought about the night before and how we’d had a tense conversation about finances. It wasn’t an argument, but let’s suffice to say that there was frustration felt on both sides. While we hadn’t gone to bed angry, I couldn’t fathom the idea that that would be our last real conversation.
Oh God, please, don’t let that be the last thing we ever talked about.
I’m not going to sit here and tell all of you how important it is to tell the people you love how you feel. To never go to bed or part angry. To set-aside differences, forgive old wounds, and restore relationships before it’s too late. It’s been said a million times by every other person who has faced a medical scare, walked away from a near-death accident, survived cancer, or lost a loved one too soon. So I won’t say it again.
Because the truth I learned this week is that until you are driving like a bat-out-of-hell on the interstate to get to a hospital room; until you are there in that hospital room waiting for test results; until you hear the word stroke, or heart attack, or paralysis, or cancer, or worst of all, “I’m sorry we did everything we could,” the reality that last night’s conversation may have been the last one doesn’t fully settle into your heart, branding itself there forever.
Until that moment we may know intellectually all that is possible, but we don’t truly feel it. We don’t believe it could be us.
I’ve cried a lot of tears this week, taken a lot of deep breaths, and said a lot of words to God. I even laid in a hospital bed next to my sweet husband and told him that if he died and left me to raise our three kids on my own I would kick his a$$ when I got to heaven. Because humor is a coping mechanism for me.
But the heart’s intent behind all of those tears, and deep breaths, and prayers, and joking was simply this: I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I don’t want to do life without you in it.
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I’m so very grateful that we get more time. That we are here today, celebrating 17 years of marriage. That today I can make sure he knows. And tomorrow, and the next day.
Because I don’t know which conversation will truly be our last, but God help me, whenever or wherever it is, I will not have to wonder again if my husband knows he is the love of my life.
I recently read an article by Joanna Gaines talking about her marriage to her husband Chip (hosts of the show “Fixer Upper”, among other things). In the article she talked about how she has never wanted to go on a girl’s weekend or spend time away from her husband, how being with him gives her energy and she thrives on their togetherness. I believe she is being sincere when she says that, and Chip and Joanna Gaines are an adorable couple who appear happily married and in-love. But my marriage looks nothing like theirs.
I can’t relate to Joanna’s desire to spend all of her time with her husband. You see, I do enjoy a good girl’s weekend. I desire alone time. I get energy from these things and sometimes I crave them desperately. The honest truth is that there are moments when being married drains me. It can leave me feeling weary and depleted. Because you know what? Marriage can be hard.
Now, don’t get me wrong…I truly love my husband with every ounce of my being. I love date nights and I especially love a weekend away with the man who has been my one and only for over 20 years. We need those moments to reconnect and remember why we fell in love in the first place. We are really good together and still genuinely enjoy each other’s company. However, there are also nights that I lie awake feeling frustrated and angry, praying for God to give me peace and sleep. There are days that I feel like we just can’t get it right…that we still have the same fight we’ve been having forever. There are moments when I feel resentment or jealousy and wonder if it’s really supposed to be this much damn work. And in those moments, it’s so, so easy to look at my marriage and compare it to others and worry that maybe we got it all wrong.
It’s easy to look at the couple at church who still stare at each other adoringly after 30 years; to see the couple on Facebook posting about how blessed they are to be married to their best friend; to see the couple on TV who spends every minute together and lovingly talk of their perfect partnership in life and business — and then compare these marriages to my own and think that my marriage doesn’t measure up.
And I get that what I see of other marriages is only a glimpse of reality…the public face of their marriage. Yet often when I speak to people who left their marriage or have been unfaithful they cite how marriage was just too much work; they always had the same fight, they didn’t feel happy, they fell out of love, and I wonder: by what standards and expectations are we measuring love and marriage? How many of us are looking at the public face of seemingly “happily married” couples and weighing our own marriage against it? How many of us have accepted the mainstream, Hollywood or Disney version that lasting relationships end with “happily ever-after”? How many of us feel unsatisfied in our own marriage and even give up because we decide it doesn’t look like these other marriages, so it must not be meant to last?
This is a problem. Because this is not how God designed love and marriage. Nowhere does God promise real love will be effortless or come to us easily. In fact, He actually says the opposite. He says love requires some hard work. It requires patience, and humility. It requires we stop envying what others have and that we cast-off our own self-seeking motivations (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
Nowhere is it written that marriage is about happily-ever-after. God’s design for marriage is sacrificial. It’s about a husband giving himself up to his wife, and caring for her in a way that puts her above all else. It’s about a wife respecting and loving her husband with reverence and humbleness. It’s about both leaving behind their individual selves and becoming one (Ephesians 5:22-33). And that last part might sound romantic at first, but when you realize that becoming one means dying to self and striving to love another the way Christ loves…it suddenly gets very real and feels nearly unattainable. Paul even declares it to be a “profound mystery.”
God didn’t promise us happily-ever-after. He never said a healthy marriage happens with ease. In fact, He made it pretty clear that there would be some real intentional work involved. And this is why I think it’s important that we acknowledge that sometimes marriage feels hard. It’s supposed to!
A healthy marriage does not equal a marriage without conflict. A healthy marriage does not mean you desire to be by your spouses side 24×7, or that you never get on one another’s nerves. It is OK to admit that some days working through conflict with your spouse drains your energy and zaps your patience. We are human beings after-all. And, no offense to the Gaines’s, but I believe that couples who publicly perpetuate the idea that their marriage is always harmony and sweet togetherness, are actually doing a disservice to the reality of what a divinely-appointed marriage is supposed to be.
This is not to say we should publicly complain, shame, or belittle our spouses. I absolutely believe we should be building each other up. But it’s OK to say, “you know what? I love my wife, but some days being married to her takes a lot of energy.” OR “Loving my husband the way God calls me to love is not easy today.” Because if we are in a community of believers where we feel safe to be honest about our challenges, we can find strength and encouragement within each other. We can say, “Me, too. I’ve been there. I know how you feel. It will be OK. God will see you through this.”
So here it is. My moment of truth and honesty. This week marriage has felt hard. So, I’ve been turning it over to God. Because while He never promised me it would be easy, He did say that if we invite Him into our marriage it will remain strong. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” – Ecclesiastes 4:12.
If your marriage feels like hard work right now, know you’re not alone. But more importantly, know that it is not an indication that your marriage is unhealthy or failing. Get off Facebook, turn off the TV and stop comparing your marriage to everyone else’s. Whatever is weighing on you, turn it over to God; invite Him to be in the center of it all. He will help you through.
It was a beautiful, blue-skied, May day. We sat in the historic church surrounded by gilded marble, a painted cathedral ceiling, and stunning artwork all around. Fresh flowers adorned the alter and a row of handsome young men stood at the front. One by one the bridesmaids made their way down the aisle and then the doors opened and the stunning bride appeared. I saw the huge grin spread across her groom’s face as he saw her for the first time. I saw the sheer joy radiating from her entire being as she made her way past family and friends to say “yes” to the one she loved; to say “yes” to forever.
As I stood witness to this new beginning for my cousin and his bride I got teary-eyed thinking about a similar day 15 years ago when I was the glowing young bride, walking down the aisle to my handsome, grinning groom. I thought about all of the joy and hope, the love and excitement. I thought about what it felt like to be at the beginning and starting on that journey and what it feels like to be here, 15 years down the road to forever.
And then, I thought about my daughters. I pictured them as young brides, dressed in white, getting ready to start their own journey to forever. And there is so much I want them to know about marriage. So much I have learned along the way that I want to tell them; to help them prepare their hearts and fortify their spirits for what they cannot see or understand while still at the beginning.
Fifteen years…in many ways it seems like a lifetime, yet I know in the big picture, we are only a quarter of the way through this journey. Still… a lot of lessons learned in the last 15 years; a lot of discoveries made, and the realization that I was completely, totally unaware of what truly lie ahead of me when I walked down that aisle.
If someone had told me, would I have listened? Would it have changed anything? If I tell my daughters, will they hear my words? Will I be able to prepare them for the journey that awaits? I don’t know. But, like any determined mother bear, I’m going to try anyway.
So here it is, a letter to my daughters on their wedding day:
My dear girls,
Today, your daddy and I are celebrating fifteen years of marriage. Of course, by the time you read this letter we will have been married for at least 25 years (because you are NOT allowed to marry until you have a college degree!) and by then this letter might have gone through a few revisions. But in the last 15 years we’ve learned a thing or two, your daddy and I, and I want to share a few bits of advice with you. Please humor your old mom and read to the end.
Next to raising kids, marriage will be hardest thing you will ever do in life. Period. But it will also be the most glorious, exceptionally audacious adventure you will ever experience. Don’t let the hard negate the wonderful. When you are in the midst of acrimony and hurt feelings, knee-deep in anger and frustration, it will be easy to forget all that is good and beautiful about this man and this marriage. That is the enemy talking. Do not give him a seat at the marriage table.
Speaking of the marriage table and who is or is not invited, I hope you will remember to invite God into your marriage every day. But beyond Him, you and your spouse are the ones showing up and doing the hard work. Nobody else. So be careful whose opinions and counsel you seek. You have grown up in a very public world where every detail of life is shared in 150 characters or less. Please remember that whatever you say publicly can not be taken back — whether posted on social media, said among a group of girlfriends, or even vented over the phone to me. It’s OK not to share every argument or decision in your marriage with us. I will be here to listen when you need me, but I will also respect the boundaries you put into place. In either case, I will always be praying for you and that boy waiting at the alter.
Remember that you are a strong, independent woman. Embrace that part of yourself. It’s probably one of the things that boy of yours loves about you. But don’t mistake pride for strength, or selfishness for independence. There is a quiet strength in being able to put aside your ego and realize you don’t have to be — you can’t possibly be — right about everything. To remember that winning an argument is not nearly as important as demonstrating love and forgiveness. And believe me when I tell you that leaning on your husband for strength and trusting him to lead by example does not take away your independence. Instead it highlights your courage and indomitable spirit.
Remember that when you think and speak highly of someone, you allow them to stand taller and rise up to their full, God-given potential. However, when you speak poorly of them, you are setting the bar low and people will often stoop to that level. If you want an exceptional husband, speak of him in exceptional ways. Regard him with admiration and respect.
Also, just one thing about intimacy. I know you don’t want to hear about this from your mother, but just trust me when I say that it’s important to the growth and health of a marriage. Don’t underestimate the healing power of alone time with your spouse. But just as important, don’t underrate the damage that can be done when too much time has passed without that physical connection.
Lastly, you need to know that love is not enough, but God is. No matter how much two people love each other, sometimes it is just not enough to keep a marriage together. But if you look to God to be your guide and your anchor; if you invite Him into your marriage and you both trust Him as your mighty counselor, there is nothing too big for Him.
Now, take a look at that man getting ready to walk you down the aisle. The one with the graying hair who sung you to sleep, helped you with your math homework, and taught you how to fish. He is the bar by which you should measure any man who thinks he is equal to the task of being your partner for life. He is the best living example I can offer you…not because he is perfect and has all of the answers. But precisely because he is not. Because he has made mistakes and asked for forgiveness. Because he has fallen short and sought God’s guidance to do better. Because he has loved me when I have been unlovable, cherished me when I have been unworthy of praise, and prayed for me in all matters. Because he has never given up. You deserve a man just like him.
I know you are young and in love, and caught up in the planning of the big day. But I hope you will keep this letter and remember my words when you need them. In the meantime, your father and I will be praying for you and that boy down at the alter, with the big grin on his face.
P.S. – Happy anniversary to my handsome, smiling groom.
Two years ago I had the pleasure of travelling to Sydney, Australia for my job. Not knowing when, or if, I’d ever get back I tacked on two days to my trip to do a little sightseeing. As I’ve traveled quite a bit for my job I’ve gotten used to being bold and venturing out on my own, but this time I went ahead and signed-up for one of those pre-planned tours that would take me up into the Blue Mountians and a chance to experience what lie beyond Sydney.
I was the only solo traveler in this tour group and quickly befriended two older couples who were sightseeing for a few days before embarking on luxury cruises. Turns out both couples were quite seasoned travelers and cruise enthusiasts. Their kids were grown, they were retired or semi-retired, and had the time and means to see the world. They had a lot in common and at first I envied them the freedom of being able to travel around the world in your twilight years with the one you love.
Yet, as the day progressed and I spent more time around these couples I noticed some distinct differences. In one couple the wife was very outspoken. She was often critical and harsh in her judgement of things, and this included her husband. She spoke over him and for him. Their body language was that of two people who were used to each other, but not connected. The husband spoke little and seemed to be disengaged for much of the conversation.
The other couple was quite different. They held hands and sidled up close to one another. Their conversations had a lot of give-and-take and they seemed to really listen when the other one spoke. Everything about them exuded love.
From the outside both couples appeared to have quite an exciting and enviable life. But by the end of the tour, when I said my goodbyes, I knew there was only one couple that had my admiration and respect.
Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. -1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (TLB)
My husband and I had those words from 1 Corinthians read at our wedding, just as I’m sure 98% of Christian couples do. It’s the proverbial definition of love. Standing at the alter listening to those words I thought I knew what they meant. I thought I knew what love looked like and I was confident that my new groom and I would live out these words for the rest of our lives. I really, truly did.
But, as a young wife there were so many times I forgot these words. So many times I couldn’t wait to prove my point or win an argument (love is never boastful or proud); so many times I sat with girlfriends and complained about my husband’s lack of housekeeping (love will hardly even notice when others do it wrong); so many times I snapped at my husband (love is not irritable or touchy). Too often I focused on what I needed/wanted/wasn’t getting (love is never selfish), or I pointed out the things he was doing wrong (love does not demand its own way), and brought up past deeds in arguments (love does not hold grudges).
And the worst part of all? I was ready and willing to share it with the world. I thought this is what you did once you joined the wives club. You sat around with your girlfriends, mothers and sisters and complained about your husbands. I justified my behavior as a right of passage, a way to feel like I wasn’t alone and seek support. But really it was selfish and terribly toxic. All it did was tear down the image of my husband in both my eyes and in the eyes of those around me. And most of all it left me feeling empty and unsatisfied because contempt breeds misery.
It took me many, many years — and coming face-to-face with the possibility of ending my marriage — before I began to change my approach. On the recommendation of a friend I bought the book “Power of a Praying Wife” by Stormie Omartian. I won’t say this book saved my marriage, because it’s much more complex than that, but this book completely changed my view of my role as wife and partner. It changed how I prayed (Before: “dear God, please change my husband to see things my way”) and what I prayed for (Now: “dear God, please help him to see the amazing husband and father you created him to be”).
Don’t get me wrong…I still mess up. A LOT. I make mistakes weekly and fall short often. But I look to 1 Corinthians 13, verse 7, and I particularly like this translation from The Living Bible. It says, “If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.” (TLB)
It’s been nearly 15 years since we stood on that alter and this is what love looks like to me now — to stand by my husband, always believing in him (instead of questioning him), expecting the best (not looking for the worst), and speaking highly of him (instead of complaining and criticizing).
Let me be clear: this is not always easy. It may sound simple, but it’s really not. It takes making the choice every day to set-aside my pride and ego and follow these guidelines. But I do it because it’s how God has instructed me to live. I do it because it makes my marriage, my family, my life fuller, sweeter, and happier when I do.
I hope in 20 years we will look like that couple I met in Australia. Whether we’re travelling the world or sitting together in a booth at the I.H.O.P., I hope young couples will look at us and see the loyalty, the respect, and the unwavering love.