Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Marriage in the Mess

C J writes:

|| marriage ||

I’m super guilty of the, “If I could just ____, then I’d be happy” mindset. I hate that I do this, but I do.

If I could just graduate high school and move away, then I’ll be happy.

If I could just finish college and work, then I’ll be happy.

If I could just get more hours at this job so I can have more money, then I’ll be happy.

If I could just find a man, then I’ll be happy.

If I could just be engaged, then I’ll be happy.

If I could just get married, then I’ll be happy.

If I could just be a mom, then I’ll be happy.

The problem is, that’s not happiness, and that is not a way to spend your life. But I’m guilty of this, so, so, so guilty of this. But what happens when you check each of those things off? Then you’ll be happy? No, because the problem is that there’s always more to add. Always. Because if you are not content and joyful and happy where you are with what you have RIGHT NOW, you will never be. And it’s scary, to be in this mindset and knowing that you are setting yourself up to be disappointed and miserable for all of your life if you don’t snap out of it. And trust me, I’m preaching to myself more than anything.

The first 3 months of marriage were so easy, it’s funny. I remember hitting that 3 month mark and suddenly I realized that sometimes, just sometimes, my husband kinda bugged me. A lot. And things that he did bugged me. And things that he said hurt my feelings. Before marriage, I would not have called myself a sensitive person. But just like marriage does, it teaches you things about yourself that you wish weren’t true. I wish I wasn’t moody or irritable. I wish I didn’t care that I had to do the dishes for the millionth time. I wish I could communicate my feelings and thoughts better. I wish I was this, I wish I didn’t do that. It opens your eyes to everything you suck at, and I don’t like to suck at things. I don’t like to be in the wrong, or have to apologize. Am in the only one? No? Okay, good.

When you’re married, you have to apologize. You have to say that you were wrong sometimes. And honestly, for me and my marriage, my husband is probably right more than I am (don’t tell him that). Now, there are loads of times where he is in the wrong, but since I am super humble and the best wife ever, I let it slide. (Hint: sarcasm.)

Marriage got hard. It got scary. I realized things about myself that I didn’t like. I realized things about him that I didn’t like. But there we were, married for life. Some days were easy and blissful and just plain great. Other days, we were so irritated with each other that we would barely talk.

And I felt like there was something wrong with us. Because I used to look at people’s picture perfect social media marriages and get mad. I’d get mad because I didn’t think it was fair. I didn’t think it was fair because I thought, “How come their marriage is great and their husband is nice to them and mine sucks and I’m giving my husband the silent treatment because he hurt my feelings for the thousandth time?!? Why!?” (Because obviously, I was a child.)

I figured we had been through so much already that once we got to marriage, we would finally be okay. But really, we just brought all of that baggage and hurt and miscommunication into marriage with us. So what do you get when you have two broken, stubborn, prideful human beings and you add in trust issues, communication issues, job stress, school stress and life?

Well, I’ll tell you.

You get a mess.

You get a bunch of tearful nights and conversations and arguments and hurt. But you also get growth and maturity and a team. But I am telling you right now, still barely reaching the top of the pit, there cannot be growth unless you are at the bottom. Broken. Surrendered. And honestly, that is a very hard, humbling place to be.

Now, I know that sounds like a miserable mess. And it was, sometimes. But we were doing our best to love each other the best way we knew how. We learned from each other and we did grow together. We were (are) just a couple of kids. We were raised differently, had different viewpoints and thoughts and opinions. And we didn’t know how to do a lot of things very well, we both messed up a lot.

But there is forgiveness. And the ability to laugh things off. Sometimes, he frustrates me so much that I can’t stop laughing because of how annoyed I am and he thinks he’s being funny. And sometimes I am such a huge diva and a brat that I drive him absolutely insane. And that’s how you learn. No amount of marriage advice or “marriage is hard work” speeches can replace the real life moments of learning and figuring this whole thing out. He knows me better than anyone else and I know him better than anyone else ever could.

Honestly, there’s a naivety that comes with getting married young, and I understand why older, wiser people tell you that you should wait a little bit. Because, like everyone says, it is hard. It’s hard to love each other like Jesus loves. Actually it feels downright impossible most days. But there is also a beautiful grace about marriage and young love that is unexplainable. You learn together, grow together, fight together, lean on each other and on Jesus, together. When you’re married, you’re a team. Even on the days you don’t want to be a team or you feel like neither one of you is being a team player. There’s a love that is there that is safe, because you both know that no matter how crappy things get, you are going to go through it together.

I have cried more tears in my 2 years of married life than I had ever cried in the 20 years of single life. Some of those have been happy tears, but most of those have been extremely upset and painful tears. But I know that every day that I wake up, I get to love and serve this man that God has given me. And if I lose sight of that, that’s when things get hard and messy. I am married to a son of God, who has feelings and thoughts and deserves to be treated and loved well. That is a huge responsibility to have, but I’ve been entrusted with his heart, and if I get too carried away with the dishes and the laundry and the hurt feelings and the irritations of the day, I’m not doing what God would have me do. And I don’t know about you, but if the Creator of the Universe entrusted me with something, I better do it – and do it to the best of my abilities.

To summarize: marriage is hard.

Marriage is about serving and showing the love of Jesus to your spouse. Unconditionally. Every day. And then when you fail at that – because we are not Jesus and we will fail – there is forgiveness and love and a new day tomorrow.

I want my husband to be able to look at me and say, “I see the love of Jesus pouring out of you in everything you do.” And I want God go be able to say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. I trusted you to nurture and care for him and his heart, and you have, and I am proud of you.”

How different we would live and act and treat one another if our goal was to hear those words, right? If our goal was really to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, starting with our husband and family?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Breathing in the In-Between

C. J. writes:

If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath.
– Psalm 34:18

“Someone has to be very close to you to be able to get near enough to kick you in the gut. Don’t be surprised when your greatest pain is caused by those you’ve loved the most. Only they have the power to truly, deeply wound you and break your heart.”
– Christine Caine

I remember the feeling of being kicked in the gut by the person I love the most. The feeling of gasping for air but the air does not come. The feeling of my heart shattering more and more with every word. I remember it like it happened just yesterday.

It was a gorgeous Saturday in October. I had spent a fun day downtown with a friend, and he had spent the day at a seminar for school. I was already home when he walked in the door. He came and sat down with me on the couch, and we talked about our days. It was calm and peaceful. It was really, really nice. I remember thinking that it had been a while since we had had the time to sit down and just to talk to each other and smile at each other.

“I need to talk to you about something.”

No one likes those words. No one ever in the history of the world likes to hear those words come out of someone’s mouth. I remember my whole body stiffened, and I weakly said, “Okay.”

“I’ve been struggling with an addiction to pornography for a while. Since high school, probably. And I’ve never told anyone. I’ve tried to stop a lot of times, but I never confessed it to anyone. I’ve wanted to tell you, but I didn’t want to make a bad day even worse or ruin a good day.”

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? It takes a second to catch your breath; it takes a second to figure out what happened before your body breathes again. That’s what this felt like. I didn’t say anything to him, I just stared into the eyes of the man I thought I knew. But with every word out of his mouth, I quickly realized that I had been lied to. Betrayed. Tricked. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like the room was a thousand degrees, but I pulled a blanket over my legs and hands so he couldn’t see how much I was shaking.

He talked to me for probably thirty minutes about everything. That it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with his brokenness and his sin. A “stupid habit that started when he was a dumb boy and never stopped.”

Somehow, that didn’t make it hurt any less.

When he was done talking, he asked me what I was thinking about. I said something along the lines of, “I mean, I don’t hate you. I’m not going to leave you. I shouldn’t be surprised, really. It’s so easy in this world and pretty much every guy does it.” I didn’t really know what I was saying. I didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t cry. I didn’t do much of anything. I was honestly just trying to figure out how to breathe normally.

I now realize that I was just in shock. I always thought, Not my husband. Not my man. That’s not our story. He loves Jesus. He loves me. He’s one of the good ones. And he is still all of those things. But sometimes, Satan doesn’t care if you’re a good one. Satan doesn’t care if you love Jesus and your wife. Satan can still get what he wants.

We went to Dairy Queen that night. I sat in the passenger seat and stared out the window as we drove. I was quiet. He felt better. He was in better spirits than I was. He had finally come clean from a disgusting, damaging secret. I’m sure it felt like the heaviest weight had been lifted from his shoulders. I don’t think I knew what I was feeling yet. I remember feeling sad. Sad for him, that he had been struggling. Mad at myself, for never asking and never seeing how big of a secret he was keeping from me. Sick to my stomach at the thought of how I was going to still live and be married to him. I think I barely ate my ice cream without puking it back up.

As we laid down to go to bed that night, I began to lose it. It was the first of many nights to come where I would lose it. Lose all of my grounding and just cry and cry until I finally fell asleep. He asked if he could hold me, and I said no. I can still hear the tone of his voice saying that he was sorry. Over and over again.

But I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe anything he was saying to me anymore.

It took years to build the trust that held us together, and that trust was shattered in a split second. Actually, it had been shattered all of those years I thought it was being built. I just didn’t know about it yet.

It’s been six months since that evening in October. I have looked at what feels like every blog post, book, video on marriage and trust and betrayal, and everyone tells you what happened in their story and most of them are happy endings. A lot of them even say things like, “It’s been 10 years now and we are stronger than ever.”

But what about the years between finding out and being stronger than ever? What happened during those years?

I wish that it was a quick fix. I wish that it only took one, “I’m sorry for doing this. You can trust me now, though,” to be able to trust again.

But it doesn’t.

Six months later, and he has given me no other reason to not trust or believe him. He has done all that I’ve asked of him.

So why does my heart still ache? Why do I watch where his eyes go when we’re out in public and around other women? Why do I fight the urge to check his phone whenever he leaves it laying around?

Why can’t I respond when he says he loves me?

When I have really hard nights, the kind where I lay on the floor screaming and crying and clutching my chest, trying to make the ache in my heart go away, those are the nights where I wish I had someone to tell me that it is okay for healing to look like this. That sometimes it’s an ugly, crying mess. That this is what the “in-between” looks like. This is where God restores.

I wish that I felt that, on my darkest days. To be honest, I wish that I felt that even on better days.

Sometimes, I think that God is silent. And that’s okay. And even if this healing process doesn’t feel like much healing is happening, I will trust that, someday, I will be able to look at my husband and realize we are stronger than ever. That my heart doesn’t ache anymore. And when he says that he loves me, I will actually believe him.

I trust that my God is bigger than the both of us. And that even though the pain is unbearable, even when I feel alone and broken, He is here. In the midst of this, He is here and He is holding us both until we are strong enough to hold each other again. And what a glorious day it will be when that happens. When Satan doesn’t get to claim another marriage.

Because although he might try to get want he wants, and he might do a crap ton of damage to two people, Jesus still wins.

“Someone has to be very close to you to be able to get near enough to kick you in the gut. Don’t be surprised when your greatest pain is caused by those you’ve loved the most. Only they have the power to truly and deeply wound you and break your heart. It takes time to catch your breath when you’ve been winded. Give it time and remember God is with you, even when you can’t feel Him. One breath at a time, one step at a time and you’ll get your rhythm back. Guard your heart, don’t harden it. Just because it happened to you does not mean it was about you. God sees. God knows. God cares.”
– Christine Caine

~ C. J.