We were two dreamy-eyed kids, ready to take on the world. He’d just finished his first year of graduate school and I’d just celebrated my 20th birthday a few months before our wedding.
I now understand, to a greater degree, the wistful sighs of the older married women as they attend bridal showers and weddings. The youthfully energetic and hopelessly in love couple brings back special memories of days gone by.
“These are the best days of your life,” said one of my “older lady” friends to me shortly before my wedding. “Those years of early marriage and raising my children were such good times. You don’t really know how good you have it until it’s over.”
We’re told that “love is blind”, and maybe it is.
Or perhaps God in His grace doesn’t allow us to see into the future to know what’s coming our way.
Although I didn’t think myself to be completely naive when it came to life’s harsh realities, I just never really thought that they’d hit home for me like they did.
Somehow youthful optimism makes us think that hard times come to other people, but we’ll manage to remain exempt.
Rough patches in life appear at varying times. Some people barely make it beyond the wedding vows, others may live a day or two of “marital bliss” only to discover that their expectations far surpassed reality. Yet others manage to sail through marriage until their first baby blessing comes along, rocks their world, and exposes the cracks-now-turned-crevices that have been forming in their relationship.
As for us, well, we made it beyond that “baby blessing” stage before the sands beneath us started shifting at a rapid pace.
Just like no amount of preparation can really enable people 100% to be ready to become parents, there really is no way to be completely ready for the “curveballs” that life throws our way. There are many reasons that people attribute to the bottom falling out, so to speak, in their lives. In our case it had nothing really to do with our marriage relationship.
In some ways these past 10 years of “marital bliss” have felt a lot longer than the decade they have been.
The depth of suffering that we’ve gone through has felt very heavy.
We’ve experienced more loss than I ever would have chosen, from relationships to finances to physical possessions to children to our church family that we loved so much.
We’ve felt the death of hopes and dreams.
We’ve watched as any hope of feeling gratification at our success in life has slipped through our fingers.
When the problems arose – the health issues that overthrew many of our plans for 2012 and have been teaching us the lesson: “You are not in control” in the years since – we weren’t expecting it, nor were we really prepared.
Most marriages don’t survive what we’ve been through. I don’t say that from a place of pride at all. There is nothing that I have to boast in except for Christ and His grace and power in our lives.
From my experience interacting with other people who have traveled a road similar to ours, I have seen the high percentage of marriage failures. I can’t help but be grateful for God’s goodness to us, and especially His faithfulness to me. So often the spouse who is physically healthy doesn’t understand the suffering of their husband or wife and decides to cut ties and move on with their life.
Where does a person turn when they’re at their lowest?
When they feel abandoned by everyone they once held dear?
When it seems like every truth they ever believed is hanging in the balance?
When faith feels lost and hope seems gone?
I have seen God use these times of desperation and helplessness to grow our faith in Him in ways that I’m not sure He would have accomplished as efficiently otherwise.
Some words that Elisabeth Elliot shared after her husband Jim was martyred in Ecuador have been an inspiration to us as we have continued to move forward each day.
When I went back to my jungle station after the death of my first husband, Jim Elliot, I was faced with many confusions and uncertainties. I had a good many new roles, besides that of being a single parent and a widow. I was alone on a jungle station that Jim and I had manned together. I had to learn to do all kinds of things, which I was not trained or prepared in any way to do. It was a great help to me simply to do the next thing. There’s a poem that says, “Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, leave all resultings, do the next thing.”
Taking life in baby steps isn’t my first choice. Generally, my preference would be to move at the speed of a sprint. Being forced to live life in slow motion amidst a sea of uncertainty is not what I would have chosen.
But I don’t think we would have had our “ears to the ground” to hear some of the lessons that God has been teaching us.
We’ve learned together that God’s definition of success and ours were/are vastly different. And that’s okay.
We’ve concluded that in a world where people are fickle and fail us (as we fail others), God remains constant and faithful.
We’ve realized that God is much more concerned about our hearts and our personal conformity to Christ than He is about all of the things we could possibly do and accomplish for Him.
And we certainly haven’t “arrived” in these areas/lessons we’re learning. I’m sure God will continue to provide many opportunities for us to learn more about who He is and change us to be more like Him.
In the meantime, we enter year 11 of marriage together. My hope and prayer for the next decade is one of new beginnings as we continue to change and grow individually and and as a couple. Although my desire and hope is for a restoration of loss, I know that life will never be perfect, and may never be the life that I envisioned and wanted. But I do know that we serve a faithful God who will never let us down.
And there’s no one I’d rather “do the next thing” with than you.
Do the Next Thing
From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing
Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.
Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.