I know I usually write about my kid. She’s always doing something adorable and hilarious, and I’m always laughing or crying about it. Makes for great stories. Good times.
But I’m going to venture into the more personal: marriage. I’ve wanted to post several times about marriage, but it always felt like I was putting too much out there. However, I am realizing that more people need to talk about marriage instead of all of us just pretending it’s a fairy tale life every day at home with our spouse. (If you truly do have a fairy tale life, well…you’ll probably want to stop reading right about now. Oh, and don’t talk to me….ever. HA. Just kidding).
I’ve written a lot lately about being thankful….when you spill the coffee, when the kids are sick, when death knocks at our door, we still thank God because that’s how our hearts survive. That’s how we see God. Even if the mountains should go crashing into the heart of the sea, our souls do not get swept up with it, even though our bodies might. We rest safely in the palm of His hand.
I’m becoming more convinced this gratitude should also be a close companion of our marriages. Just as Satan likes to whisper that God has left us in our circumstances, I’m sure he also likes to whisper our spouse isn’t good enough…doesn’t love us enough…doesn’t do the right things…and maybe is even the wrong person.
It begins tiny. At least, that’s how it happened for me. He did one little thing. He snapped at me on a bad day. He didn’t get up with the baby when it was his morning for Heidi duty. He maybe forgot a couple chores….taking the trash out or doing the dishes. Maybe it was all out of forgetfulness or maybe because his mind was on other things. I decided to listen to that whispering voice: It’s because he doesn’t love you. Once I fell for the lie, hook, line, and sinker, it was easy to interpret every move as an unloving and careless act. It was easier to keep that lens on than to swallow my pride and allow him to be human. He forgot the dishes because doesn’t care, I thought. He doesn’t plan dates because he doesn’t love me, I figured. He isn’t interested in us, and he works late because he doesn’t like being at home, is what I had decided. Pretty soon, in my eyes, he was thoughtless, heartless, and unloving. And I made sure he knew it.
Before long, all I could do…all I did…was list everything about him that was wrong in my mind. Other husbands do this, and he doesn’t. He used to do that, now he doesn’t. I didn’t even try to see the things I fell in love with in the first place that were still alive and well.
Last November was our four-year wedding anniversary. We’d been fighting a lot about everything and nothing all at the same time. The stresses of work and parenthood and life were choking us, and our pride was the clincher. At the time, I was reading Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer and 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. These books both made me realize how terrible my attitude was becoming towards my husband and my marriage. (This was about the time I also realized my attitude towards life in general was becoming very negative). Through lots of prayer and soul-searching, I decided I needed to change my heart and my focus. I had to make myself be thankful, not bitter…loving and forgiving, not critical and grudge-holding. I was shamed to realize that many of our problems were a result of my own negativity. I was letting my expectations of life and marriage crush the life out of us, and I was missing the joy of my days. This is about when I started my daily listing of the things I was grateful for, from the big to the small: my daughter’s smile first thing in the morning, my husband’s bible on the nightstand, a night out with friends, clean sheets, warm towels, prayers for suffering friends.
I had the idea to do the very same thing for my husband: list everything about him I was thankful for. We met and started dating when we were 15 and 16 years old, so after so many years, anniversaries and Valentine’s Day lose their luster just a bit. But I decided to return to my high school days of gift-giving: crafting. Thanks to Pinterest (which would have completely blown my mind in high school), I found a gift that was cheap and easy to make but was reminiscent of the handmade gifts I would make him constantly in the days of old…the gifts he still has in our closet and still talks about.
I found a deck of cards we weren’t using (being married to a magician means we have about twenty old decks of cards laying around the house), and I decided to write one thing I loved about him on each and every card. This didn’t seem tough to do until I sat down to make my list. I’ll be 100% honest…coming up with 52 things took me a few days. It wasn’t because there weren’t 52 things about him I loved. It was because my heart had become to callous and so focused on the negative that I forgot how to see the good in him. Once I was on a roll, however, it became easy. I typed up the list, cut each one out, and stuck it to a card. I hole-punched the sides and inserted metal rings.
Once my project was done and I flipped through each page myself, I began to tear up. My heart had completely melted in the process of doing this project. Cody really hadn’t changed much at all. It was me. I had become hardened and bitter by the unfair expectations I placed on him and our marriage. I had convinced myself things were going terribly wrong instead of recognizing the common trials of a marriage for what they were: normal and surmountable with the help of God. I was embarrassed to know how much damage I had been causing but completely relieved and hopeful that we still have our whole lives to work on this marriage thing.
Not only was this project so good for my heart to do, but I won’t forget how happy Cody was when he flipped through the book himself. The evening I gave it to him, he seemed more relaxed and happy than he had in awhile. We laughed and joked that night as we enjoyed a date night out on our own. It felt like old times. The book still sits on his nightstand.
Marriage does not just happen. That’s why we stand before our friends and family and we commit. A very wise friend of mine once blogged : “Years and children don’t wreck marriages. Selfishness does. Sin does.” I truly don’t think God would have asked for a commitment regarding marriage if He didn’t know it would be a challenge for us. When things go wrong…when we scream and we slam doors and we sleep on the couch… I always remind myself that I made a commitment that day too, and I ask myself if I am doing everything in my power to love, support, and honor my husband. And if I’m not, it’s on me to fix my attitude. Yes, it takes two to tango, and yes, of course there are things he needs to work on also. But that’s where communication and compromise come in.
Thank God for new days in marriage. Because those new days add up to years, and Cody and I are aiming for at least fifty.
This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly…not health but getting well…not being but becoming…not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on our way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal, but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.