So obviously, that handsome guy in the picture with me is my husband Christian. That’s us, exactly 8 years and 4 kids ago. Ha–! We were all young and tan and life was good and easy and grand.
I fell hard for my man the day he walked into my college Communications 101 class–me a freshman, him a junior, almost 16 years ago. It was Gap-preppy, scarf-wearing good-girl meets big, tough (but heart as soft as a teddy bear) captain of the football team.
We tried pretending not to notice each other for about 2 nanoseconds but that was pretty futile, and within three months, we went from “working on homework together” to talking about marriage and kids. He made me belly laugh like I never had before. We couldn’t stand to be away from each other for more than even a day, and really, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed much after all these years.
We were both raised in solid, Bible-believing Christian homes. But this man walked Jesus before my eyes in such an authentic, non-church-crowd way that I couldn’t help but be drawn to him. He may have been rough around the edges, but he was REAL, he loved Jesus, and my helpless heart swooned. Seriously, a man’s not a man until he knows Jesus.
Anyway, I knew he was the one for me, and I guess you could say he felt the same way. Four years of dating later, we were husband and wife.
Fast-forward through 5 years of DINK (double-income-no-kids) marriage-life, serving together with city youth, spending our summers overseas in missions, enjoying the fast-paced ride of life, to where we are now– 4 kids in 6 years– bing bang boom bop, and just like that life changed. Ok, maybe not just like that, but it sure does seem like yesterday that I was sittin’ on those bleachers cheering my college sweetheart on, and dancing in his arms on my wedding day, and making a big scary move from my home in Ohio to his here in Pittsburgh, and how on earth did we suddenly become a family of six!?
|Our family at the birth of our sweet 4th baby, Caleb Christian.|
Next month marks twelve years of marriage for us. We’re not the type to give out a lot of marriage advice yet, because a) we’re still figuring things out and b) it just sorta seems like you have to be married for x amount of years before you do that…don’t ask me what x equals, but 12 years isn’t THAT many…
…then again, it’s not so few either.
And just a warning: this post may get a little mushy and I hope you can read it for what it is, and not feel like I’m bragging about how good we’ve got it together, as if we’re this perfect couple. Please. Spend a day (an hour!) with us and you’d know the real story.
But right at this moment–I’ve just gotta stop and gush about my man for a few seconds. He’s a pretty incredible guy, as anyone who knows him personally would agree.
Besides his godly character, he’s smart as a whip, a good manager, and a hard-working provider for our family. He’s pretty much the definition of super dad and the thing he feels most guilt about? That he’s not connecting enough with our four kids–not loving them well enough. The highlight of our everyday is when he walks back through the front door. He comes in weary but instead of flipping on the TV, he takes time to wrestle and tickle and cuddle (and bathe and tuck in and tell stories to!) this crazy bunch of kids we have.
Now when it comes to my husband and me–well, we both have administrative, people-mover, Type A personalities. So in many ways, we are very similar. Yet when it comes to love languages and interests, he and I couldn’t be more different. Sometimes that fact makes us laugh, and other times it frustrates us. But these days, we’re finding ways to love and respect each other’s differences.
Let me just give you an example.
My ideal Saturday morning = up early to clean my house so that I can spend the whole REST of the day working away on various indoor and outdoor projects. I actually get this sick enjoyment from pulling everything out of the garage to clean and organize it. I LOVE a new home improvement project (in case you hadn’t noticed by now).
So for me, for how I’m wired, it’s very satisfying, when the weekend rolls around and I have a little more time do these sorts of things.
But my man? Well let’s just say tackling one home improvement project after another is not exactly HIS idea of an ideal Saturday morning 😉 He’s such a great provider and a hard worker. He sacrifices for our family every single day, and come Saturday, he is SPENT. Unless he’s up at the crack of dawn to get in a quick round of golf on Saturday morning with his brothers (which is rare), his idea of a fun and relaxing day is to go to the Science Center or a movie with his kids–maybe take them to lunch or ice cream and one way or another, just spend quality time with us (seriously–super dad).
Now, it’s not that I don’t love my kids, (and I KNOW I don’t need to explain this to you mamas) but by the weekend, I am kinda weary of spending every waking moment (and most sleeping moments for that matter) with our little munchkins. Him: “Wanna go see a movie with the kids?” (me: hm. not really) “Spend the day at xyz Museum?” (do I have to go?)
“Want me to just get the kids out of the house for a few hours while you do what you want to do?” (OooOOO, alone time?? YES, PLEASE!! Now we’re talkin’!) =]
And here’s the cool thing. My husband is really truly ok with me sometimes not wanting to go to a movie and ice cream with them. He doesn’t take it personally.
So today when I tell him my (hopeful) plans for the day, which has to do with gardening projects and playing in the dirt, he just sort of smiles and rolls his eyes at me. “Whatever makes mama happy” he jokes, but I know he’ll help with what needs done on the homefront–maybe not exactly when I want him to help, but eventually 😉
Today my sweetheart made all the kids clean their rooms before he took off for a movie, and I got to have this blissful carved-out space of time to do my own thing–solo. (ok, not totally alone since my little 10 month old was still with me, but these days, that practically counts as alone!).
It’s time like that when I’m alone in my mostly-clean, totally quiet house that I can just FEEL my battery recharging, and I’m just so thankful that my man understands that I need that from time to time.
Now I could leave you with all that wonderful-ness, and all of it is true, but if I stop here, I’d only be telling you half the story, or showing you half the picture. Because the reality is: a good marriage is hard work, and sometimes, well…sometimes it’s just downright difficult and can feel like a battleground.
Here’s the whole picture:
In many ways, my man and I have been struggling along these past couple years as husband and wife. Right now, I certainly would NOT say we have an ideal marriage, by any stretch of the imagination. We feel a little beat up by life right now, to be honest. And most times, when things get tough, we tend to take our our frustration on those we love most.
I fail a lot as a wife. And as incredible as he is, my man still fails me a lot as a husband. Neither of us have been or ever will be “the perfect couple,” and unfortunately, when you have a pile of little kids underfoot, most days you tend to see each other at your worst.
Think about it:
Your time together is either: Early Morning (prior to coffee), when you’re often feeling unrested because too many little people have migrated in and out of your bed all night, and mama’s in a rush trying to feed the hungry people, and papa’s in a rush to get out the door to a meeting before the kid’s smear maple syrup or bananas on his suit– OR
Late Evenings– after moms are frazzled from having spent 8-10 hours alone with very demanding kids, and our men have total brain-drain from a hard day at work.
This cycle, over time, can lead to major marital stress.
Me? I snap at my husband way too much. He’s short with me regularly. Sometimes, –more often than I like to admit–we get so down-right irritated with each other that it’s hard to even have a civil conversation. Entire weeks go by where it feels like we only communicated about the basic necessities because we are both so exhausted from life in general to chit chat. And with the kids, it’s not like we could finish a whole conversation anyway! We have to fight–yes fight–to etch out those precious date nights to get away from it all and reconnect.
A friend recently shared this little “Marriage Satisfaction” graph with me that she learned about in her psychology class.
See that? Where are you mamas on this graph? Most of us are in one of those dips. And it ain’t over yet.
The child-raising years, simply put, are not easy on marriages. Most studies show pretty consistently that, as a whole, they represent the lowest periods of marital satisfaction. They are the most challenging, and we need to recognize that if we feel we’re in a low place with our spouse, guess what? That’s normal.
The next question is what do you do with that kind of information?
Do you see that big hill on the right that represents the the highest levels of marital satisfaction? Do you want to get there with your spouse? I do. So let’s see…according to the graph I won’t see an incline until…. our kids start leaving home??!?
Hold up right there.
Because if there is anything I certainly WON’T accept it’s that my marriage is going to be in a low place for the next 10 years before satisfaction begins to climb. No way.
And you don’t have to settle for that either. Cuz guess what? There’s this little silver lining…
Get this: the couples from these studies who divorce, and we know those stats are sky-high– they almost ALWAYS, without fail, end up divorcing some time in the midst of those child-raising valleys. So when surveys like this are taken, and divorced couples “drop out” of the study, the averages are always pulled back up, indicating that there is this population of married folks out there who are able to (somehow) maintain a level of love and respect with one another through those difficult child-rearing years, and therefore remain more satisfied as a couple. They’re not just “sticking it out” but they are actually finding satisfaction with one another in the MIDST of the hardest years for most couples.
So what’s the bottom line?
Ladies, if we personally remain GROUNDED in Jesus and His Word, remain humble before the Lord, and honest and open with our husbands (not attacking, but just “I feel…” honest) about the struggles we are facing as a couple, things can begin to be different.
1 Peter 3:1-5 says this:
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. And let not your adornment be merely external–braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands.
When we can go to the Word and see that wives of “disobedient husbands” can win their husbands over without a word by their chaste and respectful behavior,” we who have believing, obedient husbands can certainly set an example ourselves by being the first to forgive, to lay down our own pride, to serve in love even when we are weary, and to focus on the ever-present logs in our own eyes before we go picking out the specks in our husband’s.
Lately, the Lord has been speaking to my heart about meekness. Christ our Lord was meek. Jesus tells us the meek are blessed.
But what is it, exactly?
Websters says it’s the act of enduring injury with patience and without resentment.
To be meek is to show love even when wrongfully injured.
Wow. Did you get that? We are not called or permitted to have a pity party, hold a grudge, or to use manipulation to get our spouses to change or apologize.
There is something about these upside down kingdom principles (last is first, least is greatest, live to die, etc) that I’ve noticed over the years of trying (and failing and trying again) to walk them out…
Usually, it is a matter of us first walking out IN OBEDIENCE, that which we know is Biblically true, despite the total resistance of the flesh–and once we begin walking it out, our Lord, who knows how to fill us and satisfy us and transform us into His likeness, He begins this holy work in our hearts where at first we may not have wanted to bend our wills and submit, or say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong”–as we obey and we walk in these kingdom principles, He miraculously fills us with the “want to.”
Simply put: We obey. And as we obey, we want to obey more.
Have you ever tried it? (of course I know you have). But when was the last time? When did you last go to your spouse (despite being hurt inside, despite him wronging you first, or “worse”) and LOVE him with the love our our meek savior? “Fleshing out” that love, or finding ways to practically show it can often be hardest.
We may say inside I’m hurt but I’ll just stay quiet and not SAY anything unkind to him, and that is meekness. But all the while, as we serve, we huff and puff and do we think he doesn’t notice? Of course he does, and he’s disgusted. That is not love, ladies. It’s just the same ol‘ self-pitying, selfish, pride-filled flesh quieted down for a second, but still festering under the surface.
Oh I’m preachin’ now–right at myself.
Deep down, none of us want to live that way!
I don’t know about you, but I want to be counted not just as one who “endured” the trials and came out stronger, but one is able to enjoy–to take joy in–and live abundantly side by side with my spouse during these child-rearing years. To not just be satisfied with our kids in this stage, but to love, pursue, and find satisfaction in each other in the midst of this crazy, demanding, selfless stage we are in.
I don’t want my marriage to be great in 10 years, or 20 years. I want it to be great now.
And there is only one way that’s gonna happen. Someone has to die. And no, I’m not plotting murder, 😉 I’m talking about taking up MY cross. Following in HIS steps. Living meekly and selflessly and humbly before my husband and children.
As I sit and type, that old Psalty song is playing in my head–”If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be a servant of all.” Amen. It hurts, but it’s true. It’s the only way.
The Word says that unless a seed of wheat falls to the ground and dies, there can be no great harvest (John 12:24)
Girls, that’s what it’s all about.
Daily death to our stinkin’ flesh so we can reap a harvest in our marriages and with our children.
Want to start today? Or maybe start over today? Here are a few practical steps to getting things back on track.
Get on your face before the Lord. With the Word open, lay your heart out fully to our Lord. Confess your sins, cast your burdens, and let Him fill your cup. He will! He promises! Ask him to give you a fresh-filling of His spirit, and the grace and wisdom and love to go to your man and start over.
Then go to your spouse, humbly and honestly. Recognize that you may be in a valley, but start by verbally recommitting your love and respect to him despite the trial you are now facing. Write it out before-hand if you have to practice! And don’t just let him hear you say it–wrap your arms around him, and look into his eyes and affirm your love and commitment to him. Let him know that even though the stretch of road you’ve been on has been rough (what is the use in denying it?), you will never stop loving him and supporting him. Tell him you’re with him through thick and thin. Confess YOUR sins to him–is it your biting tongue, your sulky attitude, your tendency to hold grudges? There is POWER in confessing our sins one to another, ladies, and remember, it’s a biblical command! PUT on meekness and gentleness and kindness towards him, and let him know you want to start over and do better.
And remember not to throw up your hands and give up when, mid-apology, your man doesn’t respond the way you want him to. Remember–meekness! There have been times when I’ve gone to ask my husband’s forgiveness after we’ve had it out, and he has actually sighed and said to me, “I’m tired of forgiving you, Joanna.” (!!!!) Other times, he’s responded with a “we’ll see if you change” sort of attitude. OUCH! Guess how hard it is to keep a meek heart then?!!??! 😀 But usually, honestly, it’s because he’s still angry from the disrespect I am guilty of dishing out, and within a few more minutes of staying the course and putting on love by reaching out for his hand, looking into his eyes–and humbly pleading, “please, sweety, let’s not let this fester between us” or “I truly am so sorry for being such a miserable person, and I don’t want to ruin our day by remaining angry at each other…” etc, etc, =] it doesn’t take long for him to come around and reciprocate and then it’s all love and hugs, more apologies, and tears (the tears being on my end). Other times, I have to give him a bit of space for a while. Ultimately though, it’s a soft answer that turns away anger (Prov 15:1).
Next time you go to apologize to your spouse (or anyone for that matter) for the sin on your part, ask yourself if you really mean it. Because if you don’t (mean it), at some point, mid apology, you’ll end up defending yourself in pride.
Finally, whatever you do, do NOT leave things unresolved!
I really believe a sure way to run a marriage into the ground is to continually brush things under the carpet after wrongs have been committed on either end. Remember the Word says not to let the sun go down on our anger (Eph. 4:26). No, it’s not fun to have those hard talks to work things out, and it’s even harder to not let things escalate while in the midst of a talk or an apology! I used to say that the intensity of the apology or make-up better match the intensity of the fight. That’s not necessarily a good rule, actually, because it’s somewhat begrudging. But we have to find a way to honestly talk about the issues and not simply stuff them down to explode another day. I think it IS possible to discuss the hard things when love and forgiveness and humility are reigning in our hearts and lives.
Let’s love on our men the way God intended us to, and trust Him to keep us through the trying times. Let’s recognize that while certain stages of marriage ARE harder than others, that “this too shall pass” –but that if we wait until things are “smoother” to put on kindness, gentleness, meekness and love, it may be too late.
Love one another selflessly.
Don’t let the time slip away.
Be intentional today to love and respect your man.
And as you walk in obedience, all you wonderful, faithful wives and moms…may you find joy and blessing in your service, remembering that “those who weep while they plant will sing for joy as they harvest!” Ps. 126:5