“Girls, look ahead! The mountain is out, you can see it…”
This phrase, “the mountain is out,” is a very Pacific Northwest thing to say. Outside of the Seattle area, I’m not sure it would make much sense. But, for us locals, those four words beckon us to look up and notice a rare cloudless sky marked only by the beautiful face of Mount Rainier looking down happily on all of us. When the mountain is out, our collective spirits are lifted. We’ve made it through another storm and this beautiful view is our reward.
My three little daughters shifted their heads around from the backseat of our SUV as my husband, Tony, navigated down the 405. When Nora, our middle child, saw the mountain for herself, she began to shout, “I see it!” Then Claire called out, “Look, it’s so big! It looks closer.”
The freeway twisted and turned, and with a pleasant sigh Nora said, “That was beautiful.”
“It IS beautiful,” Claire corrected her, in true oldest sister fashion.
“Well,” Nora asserted, “It WAS beautiful when I could see it. But, I can’t see it anymore.”
I wondered then, from my vantage point in the front seat, if Nora really thought the mountain wasn’t beautiful anymore.
Do beautiful things cease to be beautiful when we can no longer see the beauty ourselves?
It reminded me of something my friend Emily said at the beginning of the year. She shared this photo of an orchid on Instagram and with it she wrote:
“This is the orchid my husband bought me for our anniversary last July. The original blooms held on until sometime in November before falling into the kitchen sink (this window sill is just behind my faucet). For a stretch, I just let it be. Watered it every now and then, even though it looked like dead sticks pushed up out of the dirt. Then in December, I had a passing thought to look up how to care for it more intentionally, which consisted of carefully pruning two little branches. It didn’t seem like anything was happening for weeks, until buds started forming a week or two ago, and here you see a new delicate bloom about to emerge.
Because this orchid is symbolic of my marriage, I wanted to encourage those of you who might be in the ‘dead sticks’ season of your marriage. It is not easy to keep investing in a relationship that doesn’t feel like it is going well. I’ve been married 11.5 years to an incredible person, but we have hurt each other deeply at different times, and it has not been all roses…or orchids. But as we have taken tiny steps to tend to each other–to sacrifice what we can for the other’s benefit and communicate honestly about what we need–our love blooms again and again, for which I am grateful. I say a prayer for you who don’t feel like your partner knows your real heart, for those of you who don’t know how to bridge the distance or heal the hurt…May this year be one that you continue investing, continue tending the love you have committed yourself to, and may your marriage re-bloom in a beautiful and gentle way in 2017.”
It’s been a few months since Emily began tending to those dead sticks, and here is her orchid proudly displaying its beauty.
Are you in a “dead sticks” season of your marriage? Are you staring at something that once was bright and beautiful and now looks dim and dying? How can you know if your marriage still has beauty in it, if it’s still worth tending to, or if it is actually already dead?
Research from the Institute for American Values asserts that couples who push through a hard season report being happier five years after the strain than they were before. Look at what Mona Charen says in her article “Happy Marriages and Unhappy Divorces”…
“According to the survey conducted by a team of family researchers, unhappily married adults who divorced were no happier five years after the divorce than were equally unhappy marrieds who remained together. And two-thirds of unhappily married people who remained married reported that their marriages were happy five years later. Even among those who had rated their marriages as “very unhappy,” nearly 80 percent said they were happily married five years later. These were not merely bored or dissatisfied whiners. They had endured serious problems, including alcoholism, infidelity, verbal abuse, emotional neglect, depression, illness, and work and money troubles.”
In our nearly 10 years of marriage, my husband and I have traveled roads together that did not appear to be leading us to anything beautiful. We lost sight of our hopes and plans, we lost sight of each other. Still, we kept traveling and neither of us left the other behind. Many times I thought we might take separate exits on this marriage journey, but instead we held hands and kept looking forward. Eventually we were able to see the beauty again, like turning the corner on the 405 to see that majestic face of Mount Rainier or witnessing a bloom begin to emerge from a once very dead looking orchid.
The beauty never left our marriage. We found the beauty again by taking on some new perspectives on our perpetual issues. We found it again by taking the time to nurture fondness and admiration in the middle of our frustration with each other. We found it again when we decided to lay down our preferences and sacrifice instead. The beauty in our marriage never left, it was just out of sight for a little while.
If you’re in a tough season, I’m praying for you to have the strength to keep going, keep tending, keep nurturing, and keep investing in your relationship. I’m praying you’ll experience the beauty on the other side when you choose together to #staymarried.
This article originally appeared at StayMarriedBlog.com.
Special thanks to Emily Allen for allowing me to share her beautiful words and images here. Emily lives with her husband and six kids in Seattle, Washington. She is a contemplative, creative soul who celebrates the beauty of a humble, handmade life. Her days are full of laughs, epic messes, and lots of learning alongside her kids. She is the founder of Kindred Mom, a blog and an online community dedicated to helping women flourish in motherhood. Her personal blog is Light and Loveliness and she is on Instagram as @emily_sue_allen.