March 16th was our 35th wedding anniversary. 35 years – for real?? My dad passed away right before my parents 34th anniversary and I remember thinking they had a long time together. Now that my mom has been on her own this past 21 years, I realize there’s still a lot of living left to do these next 30+ years! And I’m so grateful each day for the partner I get to live life with!
I posted on my personal page a couple memorable pictures of my husband and I from our dating years and then again now. Pictures and celebratory posts are fun to do, but what they do not reflect are the 35 years of “life” that happened between the smiles in the photos from 1985 to 2020. As we’re all aware in our heads but not necessarily our hearts, the “Facebook life” is not always the best indicator of what someone’s real life is like as it can be so easy to hide behind our online image while assuming everyone else has it all together. So, I’m here to set the record straight. Marriage is one of the most challenging relationships you will encounter in life. And thankfully, one of the most rewarding as well, making it worth doing all the hard stuff in between to get to that point.
Before I share some of our personal struggles, I want you to know that God redeems. He redeemed us as individuals and He redeemed our marriage from a place of civil roommates to the marriage we both always dreamed of, but not sure we believed it was possible for us. But with God, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26) We are only where we are today because of the grace of God in our lives and finally having our eyes opened to the ways we were hurting each other. We could not have done this without Him.
I came into this marriage as a 20-year-old full of dreams, hopes and EXPECTATIONS. That word was the one that did me in. Sure, we had some struggles when we dated, but once we were married it would all melt away and everything would be perfect. He would be my Prince Charming and I would be his Princess Bride forever 😊 What I really wanted was to be Queen of our Kingdom and have everything go according to my thoughts, wishes and desires. And, ummm, you guessed it, that didn’t sit well.
My husband, on the other hand, I believe was just along for the ride. We dated, we fell in love, we got married, and now life can just continue on how it had always been. I wanted more, but as I pushed, he pulled back. And so began the many years of the circle effect of constantly wanting more intimacy with each other, being disappointed that we couldn’t figure out how to meet each other’s needs, lashing out in anger (him) or going silent (me), trying to meet each in the middle … and then it starting over again. This scenario evolved over the years and gradually there were less frequent rounds of these painful episodes. In the middle of it all, we continued to raise a family, create many wonderful memories with our kids and each other, move forward in our careers and ministries and keep up a good front. But underneath it all, we were both aching for what we knew was a true intimacy that was missing.
As I became more diligent over the years developing my personal relationship with Jesus, I spent invaluable time with God in His Word, reading great books, and much prayer. God began to point out some of the errors in my kingdom plan for our marriage. First, was that I was putting my husband in the place of God in my life. God is my source of love, intimacy, belonging, security—not my husband. If he could meet all my needs, why would I have a need for God? I had no business putting that kind of expectation on him. Yes, he did have his own issues he needed to work on with God, but it wasn’t my place to change him … only the Holy Spirit could do that. I had some big “ah-ha” moments reading authors, Shelley Miller and Ann Voskamp. These thoughts were life altering and mind-changing for me.
“I’m often slow to speak of what I need or want with specificity. I analyze what I hear and rehearse how I will respond in a futile attempt to shield myself from vulnerability. The death of expectations can be painful but not as painful as living a disappointed life; disappointed from what could have been instead of thankfulness for what is.”
“No expectations … only gratitude. Because all is grace. When I expect things to go a certain way, entitlement becomes my way. Live feeling entitled to things—or trusting everything to God.”
“The more I submit my desires to Jesus while letting go of the outcomes, the more He seems to answer the deepest longings of my soul. His abundance always surpasses my imagination and fulfills prayers I didn’t even know I needed to pray.”
I slowly, gradually felt my heart softening, letting go of expectations, focusing on everything I had to be thankful and grateful for. Yes, it was a process … a slow one. But I could feel myself changing.
And then, we had our miracle … and it came on the heels of a major blow-up. Without going into all the gory details, it was a big one. One I was not sure we could or would recover from. But God … God in all His compassionate and gracious ways used that mess to create beauty out of the ashes of our pain. I cannot tell you exactly how or what happened. All I know is God spoke to my husband, softened and humbled his heart, opened his eyes to Him and to me. I felt God speaking to me as well but I was afraid – afraid to take a chance, to believe this time would be different. But God spoke to me one evening as I was driving and I knew He was calling me to surrender all of myself both to Him and to my husband, and to trust Him. That was October 27th, 2018 … and we have had a whole new marriage and life since that time.
We both still pinch ourselves regularly as we are enjoying the marriage we always wanted but never thought would be attainable. What I want to encourage you with is to not give up*. When I think of all we would have missed out on if we had quit along the way, it moves me to tears. We both had resigned ourselves to this was as good as it was going to get here on earth and we were going to live out the rest of our days in this constant up and down battle. But God gifted us with so much more. Why us? I wish I knew … I know it was a process of gradual surrender of ourselves and learning what it means to give our whole selves and hearts to each other. Oh, another blessing that was so huge for both of us – God erased the pain from our memories. After 33 years of our yo-yo relationship, we both had a lot of baggage. Even though our memories of those times are still there, when we recall them, they no longer carry the pain with them they once had. Such a gift!!
My hope and prayer in sharing a bit of our story, is that it will encourage you to keep pressing on, recognizing that God is the God of miracles and redemption, and it is never too late. I thank God every single day for blessing me with the love of my life. And I want that for you too.
* If you are in a physically or extremely emotionally abusive marriage, please seek professional help immediately. This is not the scenario I am referring to.