And yes, “escape” is just the right word for our celebration. I’ll be quite honest, dear reader, this year was hard. Phenomenally, unexpectedly, lingeringly hard. And no, neither of us has come out of it unscathed. There were internal struggles, but mostly there were external forces at work that tested the very fabric of our marriage. But God…broke through everything we were going through and helped us focus on what really mattered: Him first [always] and each other. The rest of it, well, it’s going to burn away, to wither and rot. My prayer, as we put this year behind us, is that our marriage will be a testament of God’s grace in a world full of fallen people who are just like us and need nothing but to be loved.
There were those who knew us way back when who wagered among themselves as to whether or not we’d last six months. Apparently, most of our close friends and even some family felt that our union was the Seabiscuit of marriages. I’d smirk now, except that I can take none of the credit. I have often said that on that crisp night under the desert stars, I made a covenant with a God I didn’t know, to love in a way that I couldn’t understand a man I had, really, only just met. Thirteen years, three states, and two children later, we are still learning what it means to honor that covenant. What has amazed me most is that God has held me to my word, even as He held up His end of the deal; in spite of the fact that I was just a starry-eyed girl swathed in white, giddy with the prospect of being in swooning-love for the rest of forever, and who had no idea what that commitment would require of her.
[And here’s where I get to sound like an old, married lady:] Because today I can say without hesitation that marriage takes work. That swooning-breathless love is possible to keep, but it requires lots and lots and lots of arduous effort to maintain; or to recover, if ever it becomes lost. While we’re still figuring this whole two-people-becoming-one thing, I have found the following seven points to be the ones to which we return time and again:
1. Share each other’s interests: The boy [for really, at that point we were hardly grown-up] who took swimming and Hitchcockian film classes just to be with me is the same Officer who enjoys our Christmas tradition of the Nutcracker ballet and surprises me with art museum tours for date night. He’s the one for whom I actually read the sports section during football season, so I might be able engage in a decent conversation about the Broncos [until Elway shirked on his word to let Tebow start and put the-reason-we’ll-be-looking-for-a-new-quarterback-in-two-years-at-best on the roster, but I digress...]. And he’s the reason I am going for a concealed carry permit; and the only person with whom I enjoy pumping iron, or summiting 14ners after tenting in the woods, or watching movies that involve centurions or Spartans or Black Hawks. And he is absolutely the only man with whom I grapple…unless I’m attacked by a scary man in some dark alley, at which point I’ll be glad of his training me thus. Remember that you did things that were outside of your comfort zone before you married, and you probably enjoyed them for the simple reason that you did them with your then-future spouse. Why should that stop after the vows have been said?
2. Figure out each other’s weaknesses and fill in the gaps with your strengths: The Officer’s the one I call when I’m scared. He’s talked me down from pulling our kids out of school or shadowing their every breath, he’s the level head for medical emergencies [though his deft and expert maneuvering of the car at speeds exceeding legal parameters belie his quiet concern], and the one I wake when I can’t move but know that we have to pray in the darkest watches of the night. He is patient when I’m all out; he keeps going when I want to quit. He can schedule the heck out of a week-long hiking trip. And I’m the one who buys random pets [ferrets, puppies, chinchillas, and chicks], moves furniture around monthly because I can’t stand monotony, and hosts mud-pit carnivals in our backyard. I’m also the one who edits those 20 page term papers while he teaches the 9 year old math. He carries all the water and lets me hold little hands, pick flowers, and turn over rocks. He takes the pictures and lets me post them on Facebook. Face life as a team; cover each other’s blind spots and back one another up. It will bring you closer if you can appreciate the uniqueness in your spouse and live out of yours as well.
3. Care for each other: The Officer’s the one who babies me: when I’m sick, when I’m tired, when I’m both. I’m the one who, though not great at nurturing, will cajole him into taking a nap when he can’t keep his eyes open. When he was in school [and I wasn’t], I’d bring him snacks to help him make it through his lessons. When I was in school [and he was, too], he’d handle dinner and the kids so that I could make it through my papers. Sometimes he does the dishes; sometimes I take out the trash. It’s a phone call to see if he needs anything from the store, or if I need him to start dinner. It is simply finding little ways to show one another that s/he, and his/her time, is important to you.
4. Talk, talk, talk, talk. And then talk some more: Tell each other your dreams, no matter how wild they are. If you want to live in Paris for a year, talk about it. Pull out maps of the city, pick places you’d live or work or eat. Share your ideas; if you want to redecorate, show your spouse pictures; conversely, if your spouse wants to redecorate, look at his/her pictures. If you want to write a book, start a blog, paint, teach, rebuild a car…tell your spouse. And if your spouse wants to do those things, read their manuscript [without criticism], follow their blog, buy them a canvas, go to junk yards, or encourage them to enroll in classes. Be his/her biggest cheerleader. And watch as s/he believes you and begins to live out what you already knew was true about them. Talk about what you’re learning, what you want to learn, what your day was like, what you remember about the past, what you hope for in the future. Share who you are; learn who they are. Communicate. And then get up the next day and do it again. This is absolutely vital to every marriage.
5. Fight. But don’t go to bed angry: Not a single one of us is perfect. We are going to disagree; we’re going to have times when we don’t like the other person very much. And when two fallen people are making their way to becoming one, there are going to be fights along the way. That doesn’t mean you throw in the towel and cut your losses; it means that you remember the promise you made, you do your very best to see your spouse through loving eyes, and be ready to sacrifice parts of your sinful and selfish self for the greater good of US. Don’t stuff your feelings, but don’t be ruled by them either. Do respectfully tell your spouse what hurts you; and listen to him/her as s/he tells you what hurts him/her. But know that these problems aren’t going to be solved in a 22 minute session, complete with commercial breaks, and that the last thing on our minds before we sleep is what sticks for the day. If it’s angry words and tearful stone-walling, then that’s what tomorrow will feel like. If it’s apologies and finding common ground, then that’s what tomorrow will be colored with as well. And if you see the dawn before you come to a resolution, ask yourself, is my marriage worth the lost sleep? Is the person across from me valuable enough to sacrifice my comfort for? And know that the answer is always, “yes.”
6. Get naked together. A lot. Yep, I purposefully followed fighting with sex, because that’s how it should work in marriage, too. Touch is one of the most powerful tools for building, or restoring, any relationship; the marriage relationship is no different. The spectacular thing about marriage is that because it is the closest relationship, couples have been given the most beautiful, mind-blowing expression of tender intimacy. I won’t be graphic here [my Mom reads this blog], but neither will I pretend that God didn’t intend sex for the edification and enjoyment of two married people as they express their love for one another. Read Song of Solomon [together, ideally] and remember that God created your spouse with you in mind. And this is the one person with whom you can be completely open and, honestly, enjoy in a way that no other person ever can. And you can be enjoyed in such a way by your spouse as well. Don’t ever look to outside sources for the definition of beauty; find it in your spouse. Don’t let the world tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing, how you should or shouldn’t be doing it, or when or where you should. Do what you both enjoy. And do it often. Seriously. Remember that I-can’t-not-touch-this-person feeling; and if you have to, hire a sitter and book a hotel room, and spend some serious time reminding one another why sex is so intoxicatingly amazing.
7. Be Grace-full: The Officer is a remarkable, heroic, can’t-believe-I-get-to-be-married-to-him guy, but he still leaves his clothes beside the bed most mornings. And I would rather do anything than fold laundry, or put it away. Anything. Thus he is guaranteed a mountain of clean laundry stashed somewhere in our home at any given time. I’m sure there are a million little things that we do that have the potential to drive the other person out of their mind. This is what happens when two lives are smashed together and are meant to blend into one. I’m an interrupter; it’s chronic. And yes, I know how irritating and flat out rude it is. I hate that I do it, maybe even more than the Officer hates being interrupted. Maybe. But when I do, he practices grace with me. He doesn’t lecture, he doesn’t glare; he simply waits because he knows that this tendency in me is one that requires his grace. He can give me this grace because he fills himself upon the Grace that is freely given through the Love and Word of God; so that when the Officer is with me, he can overflow this into our marriage. And every marriage, every life, is always in need of more grace. Thus we encourage one another to be in God’s Word daily, we ask how the other is doing spiritually, and we pray together. Not every day, because we’re not perfect. But we do pray for one another daily, and seek to pray together as often as we can. I have to encourage you to do the same; even if it’s awkward or embarrassing at first, it’s worth it. Far more than I have time to explain here. But always remember that you have to get Grace before you can give it; and of anyone on the planet, your spouse needs your grace most of all.
Now, I’m not going to insult you, dear reader, by pretending that there aren’t hurts and struggles that are so much bigger than this pithy list can conquer. And I won’t ever insinuate that by doing more or just trying harder you can, all by yourself, mend what’s wrong in a marriage. Because marriage is two sinners trying to get their poop in a group and live life together; it requires two willing parties. This is merely a few things I’ve found important in my own marriage; and believe me, mine has not been without struggles or dark times. But I will tell you that in spite of the dark times, and maybe even because of them, my marriage is stronger today than it was thirteen years ago. Or even six months ago. Marriage is a work in progress, an organic and fluid endeavor by two sinful souls making their way through a fallen world. But because it can be the most glorious and brightest relationship outside of one with Jesus, it is worth every ounce of effort and attention you can afford.
May you be blessed in your marriage, may you have happiness and lasting joy, and may your marriage outlast even your own expectations!