Today, Aaron and I celebrate ten years of marriage . . . a decade. Not a lifetime, to be sure, but still a significant number of years—especially in light of the current state of marriage!
The funny thing is, we probably shouldn’t be married today. Considering the trials we’ve faced, we should in all likelihood be divorced. Perhaps that’s a shocking statement to you, but it makes me smile, because I see the powerful, redeeming Hand of God all over our story. My heart is thrilled that we are still husband and wife, and I’m overcome with joy when I reflect on all God has done and restored in our lives. The words of Joel 2:25 ring in my head: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . . You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you . . .” (NIV). Well, today I am indeed full. Full, and thankful.
Not many people know our whole story and all the dark days and heartache we’ve experienced. But from those who know, at least in part, I am often asked how? How has your marriage survived and indeed thrived? Why were you able and motivated to stick things out in a situation where most would have walked away, dusting off hands and feet in the process?
These deep questions have had me thinking through the exact why and how. I look at our society today and the mockery we’ve made of marriage, and I am utterly burdened and heartbroken by it! My heart’s desire is for God to use our story and our experience to encourage and strengthen other marriages. Yet the somewhat scary part is, in order to do that, I have to tell our story . . . and hopefully tell it with clarity and grace!
Today, I am not ready to tell our story from A to Z—that will be a process, to be sure (and it would probably take a book, ha!). But I do want to share a few of the many lessons God’s been teaching me throughout these 10 years of marriage. If your marriage has been a breeze, then stop and thank Him for such a blessing! But for any of you who are or have been in a tough space within your marriage, I hope the following will encourage you and give you hope to keep on keeping on . . . it is worth it!
We Need to Look Different.
By we, I mean those of us who profess belief in Christ and have a relationship with Him. And by look, I don’t mean simply our outward appearance, but rather what’s in our hearts (which manifests on the outside!). I don’t know about you, but this is a tough one for me. On paper, of course, I have no qualm whatsoever . . . but when the rubber hits the road, then what?
I faced this head-on when life fell apart for us in the blazing hot summer of 2009. I’m ashamed to admit that my first thoughts were not at all related to looking different from the world. Instead, my mind went to a place of Oprah-isms: I don’t deserve this, I deserve better. I have to look out for myself. My happiness is important, and I’m not happy right now.
But in quiet moments at the end of the day, I knew in my heart that, as a follower of Jesus, I had a responsibility to respond as God would have me, not the world. If my life doesn’t look different from the rest of the world, then what’s the point? If my relationship with Jesus doesn’t reach into the darkest, hardest places of life and pull out redemption of a supernatural kind, then why am I pursuing Him?
In Romans 12:2, Paul writes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (NIV). God desires His children to be different. He empowers us to be different. And this difference should permeate every aspect of our lives—especially the painful, thorny trials that come our way.
It certainly wasn’t an easy decision, but I told the Lord that I wanted to give Him room to work in our marriage. It was tempting to jump on culture’s bandwagon that shouts just throw your marriage away and start over! But I begged God to grant me the strength to stay while He worked, which He faithfully did—moment by moment, day by day.
We Must Cling to Hope.
For me, hope has been a lifeline in the months and years following 2009, as our marriage underwent major reconstruction and restoration. Hope is huge, but we must place our hope in the proper source. For far too long, I placed my hope in Aaron, in his ability to change, in our counseling sessions, in great books about marriage, etc., etc. But it wasn’t until I placed my hope fully and squarely upon the shoulders of Jesus that true hope bubbled up, and I was able to move forward in faith.
Psalm 62 is probably my favorite Psalm on which to mediate when I’m tempted to place my hope in lesser things. David writes, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (NIV, emphasis added). On many a dark day, when counseling had failed and self-help books had failed and marriage conferences had failed, only the rock solid Word of God remained, and God graciously taught me that this was all I ever needed. Even if the worst-case scenario happened, and even if the other shoe dropped, and even if all my efforts to save my marriage failed—even then, my soul could rest in God alone. Even then, I could stand firm, knowing He is my rock and my salvation.
These lessons were hard learned (and I’m still learning them!), and at times I thought the fire and water might consume me, but God brought us through to a place of abundance (Psalm 66:12). I am eternally thankful for this lesson learned, as it continues to prove useful and necessary in my life!
Marriage Isn’t About Our Happiness.
Gulp. Y’all, this is a big one, and a tough one, right? Isn’t every single thing we see, hear, and read about marriage setting us up to believe the fallacy that it’s about our happiness, pure and simple? As believers, we must know that isn’t the case. Marriage is about making us holy and reflecting God’s design in our lives. It’s a tool God uses to refine us, bring glory to His name through us, and accomplish His will on this earth. The sooner you can accept and rejoice in this truth, the faster you will actually find happiness in your marriage! Funny how that works, huh?
I remember my own “Job moment,” (see Job 42) when God opened my eyes to the enormity of His being and His plans for this entire world, not just my own little minuscule world. He longs to use us for good and glorious purposes (Ephesians 2:10), and He wants our hearts more than He wants our happiness.
God gave me a bigger perspective on my marriage, and slowly, I began seeing our marital trials from Aaron’s point of view rather than just my own. God wanted to heal deep wounds in him, and as his wife, I was in a position to play a role in that healing. So how could I demonstrate Christ if I left him to wallow alone in his struggles? God asked me to set aside my own perceived rights to happiness in marriage and to stand by my husband—and I’ve experienced abundant blessings as a result.
I could write much more about this, but there’s really no need—Tim Keller already has in his amazing book, “The Meaning of Marriage.” If you haven’t read this book, get a copy and read it now!
God is Good.
I’ll repeat: God is good, even when everything in life is trying to tell us otherwise! We have to cling to this truth. Psalm 100:5 says, “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations” (NIV). Indeed, God’s goodness is spoken of and attested to throughout the entire Bible. The hard truth is, sometimes we have to look for His goodness, really look. But it’s always there—His kind, loving hand print is all over your story and mine. Don’t let Satan deceive you into thinking it’s not!
In 2011, Aaron and I no sooner began pulling out of the pit we’d found ourselves in than we faced a new pit: infertility. For my personal faith, this was a “last straw,” of sorts that the enemy used to very nearly break me. Outwardly, things did not “look” good: my marriage was barely recovering from serious trauma, we would soon be moving 2,500 miles away from all family and friends, and now we faced the prospect of childlessness.
The enemy peppered me with doubts and lies regarding God’s goodness in such an intense way during that season of my life that oftentimes, I’m amazed at how God sustained me through it. And looking back now with the welcomed vantage point of time, I see God’s goodness written all over my life, even in the painful circumstances that made no sense at the time.
He always gave me what I truly needed rather than what I thought I wanted. He covered me in promises from His Word, promises that formed a small but powerful light to guide me through the darkness of Satan’s sifting. He surrounded me with amazing family and friends, who prayed for us, loved us, supported us, offered wise counsel, and always challenged us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and continue pressing ahead in truth. Through every single moment, His strong, scarred Hands held firm around our marriage, keeping us together when every other force threatened to tear us apart. I stand in awe of His goodness to us!
When the Lord chose to bless us with children and called sweet Isaiah’s life into existence, all of the tears, the pain, and the waiting suddenly and gloriously melted away. And in what I can only imagine is a part of His sense of humor, God filled our cup to overflowing by granting us our daughter Hemingway a mere 12 months and 11 days after Isaiah’s birth. What a God we serve! He is good, He loves us, and He is for us—never forget it!
We Serve a God of Resurrection Power.
Finally, let us never forget that our God is not only a God who heals, but also a God who resurrects. Take a moment to really dwell on what that means . . . even something that is dead is not beyond His reach. In the greatest show of resurrection power, God raised His own Son from the dead, conquering sin and death once and for all. And Jesus’s dear friend Lazarus was dead and buried and lying in a tomb for four days before Jesus arrived, breathing new life and eternal hope into his body (see John 11).
The theme of resurrection power is seen throughout the Old Testament as well. In Ezekiel 37, God gave Ezekiel an incredibly vivid, haunting vision, where a valley of dry bones (symbolizing the scattered remnant of the nation of Israel) rattles and rises up, coming to new life with the very breath of God.
This prophecy has always given me chills, and even more so now that I’ve experienced the miraculous, resurrecting breath of God in my marriage. For a long time, I believed the lie that our marriage was beyond help, beyond the reach of God’s healing hand, but nothing could be farther from the truth. When healing feels impossible, remember that resurrection is possible and can surpass even our most deeply held doubts.
Thank you for hanging in with me in this long post, and if you’re still reading, bravo! Let me be so bold as to end with a challenge to you: will you be brave and give God room to work in your life? Whether you’re facing an impossible situation, relationship, physical ailment, challenging work environment, financial struggle, or whatever the case may be, will you step out in faith and trust God to dazzle you like only He can? Sweet reader, God is so much bigger than we give Him credit—will you choose to believe that, even when the walls are closing in? I hope so. I want you to know Him and the hope of salvation as I have come to know Him through the messy, painful trials in my marriage. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and give Him a chance to show you what “immeasurably more” (see Ephesians 3:20) could look like in your life. I can’t tell you precisely what that will look like, but I can tell you this: it will be more worth it than you can possibly imagine.