Marriage: To Vow Love in the Hard

Yesterday Gabe and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that the morning of July 16th, seven years ago my mom was there hosting all of my bridesmaids, with a spread of bagels and fruit and yogurt and coffee in the kitchen of my childhood home. That morning I woke up with swollen glands and after getting my hair and makeup done, I went to my lifelong pediatrician who asked if I wanted a picture in the doctor’s office because we both found it a.) not all that surprising (queen of bad luck—more on that in another post) and b.) hilarious.

I was surprised when I wasn’t nervous at all.  I cried when we sang “Come Thou Fount” that day because I longed for the Lord to “bind our wandering hearts to Thee,” and then I sobbed singing the same lyrics eight short months later at my mom’s funeral because I desperately needed the Lord to bind my heart to Him for I knew then I couldn’t. I said “I do” and turned to celebrate before the pastor officially announced us “man and wife.”

I gasped when I saw all of the flowers and decorations that my in-laws poured their hearts into.  When dancing with my dad to Van Morrison, I felt so proud to be his daughter.  My sister, Gabe’s brother and my best friend gave speeches that made me laugh and cry.  We hugged everyone there and I cried some more.  We danced and celebrated and I pulled my strapless dress up about 1000 times.

We were so in love—it felt hard to imagine at any point not feeling the same way we did that night.

But marriage is for the long haul, guys, and oftentimes when we stand at the altar we don’t really hear “for better or for worse,” we hear it more like “for better or for better.” We don’t hear “in sickness and in health,” we hear it more like “in health and in health.”  And when the “worse” comes and when the “sickness” comes, we realize that the ring on our fingers and those vows we made are truly what hold us together, not the feelings of  love all the time.  And it’s not very often on social media, or even in person with our friends, that we’re honest about all the hard stuff.  We see pictures of date nights and sunset kisses and hand-holds and shout-outs in moments of strength.

But can I be honest a little bit here?  For us, sometimes marriage has meant holding my hair back as I throw up, or hugging me tight as I cry so hard I sweat.  Sometimes it’s meant exploding in an argument, saying things we wished we hadn’t said and saying “I’m sorry.”

Sometimes it means there’s deeper hurt from that exploding argument that needs to be talked over and talked over some more until we get to the root of it.  Sometimes marriage has meant sitting in counseling to help take meaningful steps forward when we’ve felt stuck.  Sometimes it means calling each other higher through difficult conversations about unhealthy patterns we see.

Sometimes it means begging for a break when we’re exhausted from parenting.  Sometimes marriage is reiterating our vows to one another when it seems easier to just give up than to keep working through the difficulty or differences.  Sometimes it’s reorienting our focus from the kids and the house and the adoption and the jobs and the bills to Jesus and one another first.  Sometimes it means confessing sin that we don’t want to confess.

Sometimes it’s giving grace where we don’t want to give it. 

Sometimes it’s reminding each other of what’s true when all we can seem to believe are lies.  Sometimes marriage looks like feeling disappointed or un-cherished or lost-in-the-mix or unworthy or too far from grace or let down or stressed or really really hurt.

And when that hard comes, and we believe that no one else feels it, we feel alone.  We feel tempted to call it quits.  We feel like failures.  We feel ashamed.  We feel tired of it being so hard and wonder if anyone else has to work at it like we do.

People have told us in the past that year seven seems to be one of the hardest for whatever reason. 

Year six seemed pretty hard.  For us, it included anxiety, a foster son that exhausted us beyond our capacity, loss for our kiddos when he left us, absorbed trauma in our entire nuclear family, a lack of romantic connection, loss and sickness in the lives of dear friends, a house sale, a house pack, a move cross-country, a nightmare of a moving company, a car accident, a moving violation, some loneliness, and lots of separation in work travel. (Don’t feel sorry for me or reach out saying you’re worried about me—we’re okay, I promise!  I wouldn’t share these things if we really weren’t okay—I’d be on the couch with my husband crying until it’s 2:00AM getting to a place of hope and restoration.  I’d be holding his hand while sitting across the skype screen from our counselor until we made a plan and gripped tighter to grace.)

But goodness gracious, this life is hard, my friends.  Sometimes more than others, but don’t you feel it too?  Don’t you sometimes feel like, “what the crap is happening right now?”  Or, “seriously?”

If you’re married, I want you to know that sometimes it’s hard over here, too.  I want you to know that it’s okay to share with someone you trust what’s hard or how you’ve been hurt or what argument you just can’t seem to get past because true friends will always root for your marriage not just you.  They’ll never villainize you or your spouse, they’ll soften your heart toward them out of love for you both. They will look on without judgement, and will offer help in the form of prayers that plant seeds of hope in your heart.  They will never think less of you or your partner when you struggle, but they’ll remind you of who you are or who you married.  If you have a friend struggling in his or her marriage, will you remember this as you walk with them through their difficult season?

If you’re not married and marriage is, in fact, something you long for one day, just know it’s not always the pretty moments.  Sometimes that commitment through the “worse” and the “sickness” sucks.  Sometimes we may think back dreamily at the times we were single a little bit, too.

But no matter where you’re at—if you’re married and in a season of bliss or a season of desert-walking, if you’re single and in a season of disappointment or thankfulness—let’s help each other remember what marriage is—it’s a union that God created so we wouldn’t be alone and so we could help one another be better versions of who we were created to be.  Sometimes that means we walk through hard times so that our rough edges can be smoothed, and we can come face-to-face with parts of ourselves we wish our spouse didn’t hold a mirror up to.  Sometimes that means for a time we’re put through the proverbial “ringer” and we flounder a while, but ultimately cling more tightly to each other and to our God.

So year six was tough, so was year one, and year three, but not because we have an unstable union—it’s more because our journey hasn’t been easy and we’ve chosen sacrifice over comfort, and that will always cause strain.  I am grateful for the hard moments, because they’ve forced me to do battle with myself, and they’ve taught me to keep pressing in with love.

As Dietrich Bonehoffer said” It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but [from now on,] the marriage that sustains your love.”  I do believe that pressing into the hard, fighting for reconciliation in the long haul is what marriage is all about.  I can’t wait to see what God does in and through our little team over here—may we always see clearly His faithfulness to us no matter the circumstance.  May you see His same faithfulness.

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