This month of February will mark the 14th anniversary of our wedding. Jamin and I, in those fourteen years have started six or more businesses (I can’t remember), had four children–two girls, and two boys, lived in six or more cities and made a home in various types of dwellings. I must cite them now because they are too amusing to leave out: houses, apartments, hotels, cabins, a shipping container (during a few months of a fish processing business), boat (while we looked for a place to rent in an Alaskan village), tool shed (the place we found to rent…no kitchen sink, but a bathtub with running water where we could do dishes), and a duplex. We have bought and sold several vehicles and I have changed my hair color and style more times than I can count.
In fourteen years we have celebrated the births and subsequent birthdays of our children and those of our friends, and mourned the losses of loved ones. We have burst from the starting gate of new ideas with joy and have watched some ideas fly and some of those same ideas crash and burn to the ground taking our hope with it. We have wrestled depression, hardship, and physical pain, and have laughed ourselves silly over things we find amusing. Oh, and we have argued. Oh, yes we have had our disagreements.
Two opposite temperaments trying to come together to make one team is a sight to behold and a piece of art in the making. My husband is an entrepeneur, a calculated high risk-taker, quick decision maker, and perfectionist. Okay, you can already guess my temperament. I am conservative in my approach to new ideas (In fact until I married Jamin, I’m not sure I knew what new ideas were), a calculated low risk-taker, molasses decision maker and an artist who doesn’t need order to create or relax…I just need a creative thought.
Needless to say in fourteen years I have learned a lot. I have become more orderly, quicker at making decisions, and less afraid of risks. And my husband has learned to be more patient, to dial down his risk factors, and to let me stumble without always correcting me.
2009 seemed to be a year that wiped out several marriages within our circle. As I look at many of our closest friends, I can’t name very many who weren’t struggling with their marriages in a big way this past year and sadly I can count several marriages that completely dissolved in 2009.
Last year was tough on our marriage too. Last year we had many circumstances that waged war against us, and I found that our frustration and anger boiled easier. I discovered that our arguing style was no longer about dealing with the incident that just happened, but instead about compounding all the arguments and frustrations of fourteen years. I wasn’t fighting fair with my husband and he wasn’t fighting fair with me when we began to argue in this way. Let me explain…
In my vow of marriage I promised to love, honor and cherish in good times and bad times, in sickness and in health, in poverty or riches until death do us part. This committment wasn’t just to an ideal of marriage but to a person. My committment meant that I would learn and grow, change and build with the man God gave me to marry. I knew he would make mistakes, and I knew that I would make some mistakes too. When we were newly married, the excitement of starting our lives together seems to propel us past the faults we saw in one another, but the longer we are married and the more negative experiences we share makes each other’s faults stand out like obstacles to happiness instead of just speed bumps in the road of life.
What happened over time is that we stopped compounding the joys of life together with each other but instead began to compound the mistakes into one big persona that now defined each other. This is what I mean by being unfair. “You always….” “Every time….” “This is just like before….” “What in our history together would make me believe……???”
Now, if I had not committed myself to grow and change and if my husband had not committed to the same, the above statements of “You always…etc..” could be true. The truth of the matter is, we are both working on our personalities, behavior, and our relationship with one another. We are a constant work in progress, and for this reason, I began to realize that I needed to recognize the changes we had made, the efforts to please each other, and the milestones that the two of us had accomplished in fourteen years, and I needed to celebrate them. Each of these efforts came with mistakes, and weak spots, but they were efforts nonetheless.
The love chapter of the Bible 1 Corinthians 13 says that love keeps no record of wrongs. My record of wrongs was stacking and taking on a life all it’s own. The same was true for my husband. We were stacking our wrongs to defend our “rights”. We were wrong.
It was the week before Christmas when our anger came to a head again, and our frustrations spilled out. Our conversations again began to be peppered with “You always..” and “This is so like you…” We began with our stack of wrongs, backing up to some of our earliest beginnings and building from there. Then somehow the Holy Spirit broke through and we caught it. We realized what we were doing. We called a “peace treaty” and said we were done arguing. We pushed our stack of wrongs out of the way and decided to deal with just today’s argument…as if it had no history, and you know what? We resolved it! By removing the history of past wrongs, we were able to give each other grace to show where we had grown, changed, and then come up with fresh ideas to tackle our issues. It felt so good. We saw for the first time in a long time how far we had come, and we appreciated each other for it.
I think I understand better now what grace means. It gives us a new slate and a fresh page to write our lives on. It removes the ugly personas we have acquired and the weights around our hearts that keep us from ever reaching our potential. Grace gives love a chance to embrace the unlovely, and forgive the offender. That’s what God has done for me. He doesn’t keep a record of my wrongs when I say “I am sorry”. He gives me a brand new morning with brand new mercy. I can do the same with the people in my life and especially my spouse, my gift from God.
I want to add here that grace does not allow someone to be abused physically, emotionally, or mentally in a marriage relationship. I was raised in a home where abuse occurred and so I must state that there is a huge difference in someone who has committed to change their behavior, and another who only excuses their behavior, or refuses to acknowledge their abusive behavior. In the latter case, the one being abused should seek help and remove themself from that situation as soon as possible.
Marriage works best when we compound our joys and not our mistakes. When we offer a fresh slate to our spouse and acknowledge their efforts, when we celebrate our accomplishments even if they weren’t the end goal, when we forgive and choose to see their motives as pure, we begin to choose joy and the way of love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8Love never fails. (NIV)
Marriage, like all of life is a garden. What you plant is what grows. What you ignore is what chokes. And if we learn to put into it what we want to get out of it we reap the greatest rewards.
One of my favorite analogies of marriage comes from T.D. Jake’s book “Woman Thou Art Loosed!” from the chapter entitled “A Table For Two”:
“If you are looking for someone to be your everything, don’t look around, look up! God is the only One who can be everything. By expecting perfection from the flesh, you ask more out of someone else than what you can provide yourself. To be married is to have a partner: someone who is not always there or always on target or always anything! On the other hand, should you ever get in trouble and you don’t know who to look to for help, you can count on your partner! It is to have someone to curl up against when the world seems cold and life uncertain. It is having someone who is as concerned as you are when your children are ill. It is having a hand that keeps checking your forehead when you aren’t well. To be married is to have someone’s shoulder to cry on as they lower your parent’s body into the ground. It is wrapping wrinkled knees in warm blankets and giggling without teeth! To the person you marry you are saying, ‘When my time comes to leave this world and the chill of eternity blows away my birthdays and my future stands still in the night; it’s your face I want to kiss good-bye. It is your hand I want to squeeze as I slip from time into eternity. As the curtain closes on all I have attempted to do and be; I want ot look into your eyes and see that I mattered. Not what I looked like. Not what I did or how much money I made. Not even how talented I was. I want to look into the teary eyes of someone who loved me and see; I mattered!'” **
I want to use this blog today to say “thank you” to my husband, Jamin of fourteen years. Thank you for your tireless work and efforts to provide for our family, to create special memories and to challenge us to grow and to stretch. Thank you for loving me through my hormonal shifts, various body sizes, mistakes, and learning curves. Thank you for always being my cheering section and believing in me when I did not believe in myself. I love you more today than I did fourteen years ago.
To those of you who read this blog today, I hope that today you can celebrate a milestone or accomplishment in your relationship. I hope that you can begin to compound your joys and find yourself bemused with the wonderful memories you have made together. I pray that you have the courage to offer grace to your spouse and give them a fresh page with which to resolve a conflict or solve a problem. You and I are a work in progress…let’s keep working!
**”Woman Thou Art Loosed” by T.D. Jakes. Chapter 9 “A Table for Two” pg. 115. (c) 1993 Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., Shippensburg, PA