I'll admit - our marriage vows didn't mean a whole lot to me as a 19 year old kid. I just wanted to be married and enjoy the perks that were afforded to married people. Our vows were something I had grown up hearing and could recite to you. So, that's what they were to me - something we recited as part of a ceremony that landed me with an adorably cute husband and a ring on my finger but offered me no insight into what being a wife would be like.
But time has a way of changing things, bringing deeper meaning and understanding. Such has been true of our vows. It hasn't always been peachy keen for us. We've had our ups and downs, times when I wanted to throw in the towel but instead buckled down and worked harder. No... it hasn't always been easy. There have been a lot of dark days tucked within our 13 years of marriage. But we've always done it together and faced another day hand in hand.
So how do we make it work?
Number 1, we have a shared faith in Jesus Christ that sets our foundation for everything in life. Without it, we no doubt would be just another statistic. Our faith dictates our choices, gives us hope and peace, strength, and the perfect road map laid out and orchestrated by God Himself.
We also decided from the beginning that divorce would never be an option. If there was a problem we would work it out or else live our lives in misery. We've chosen the harder route - the one of bumps and bruises, tears and sweat - the road of work. Because marriage is work. Failure to work will inevitably lead to division and bitterness. And we chose from day 1 that that wasn't the route we wanted to take. We'd fix whatever was broken and come out on the other side together. And we have.
We also made a commitment to put in as many protective layers around our marriage as we could - buffers against the world, if you will. Some of those are praying together nightly for our family. Even if Mark is working, he'll call and we'll pray together over the phone. We also agreed that if we're both home together that we'll always sleep in the same bed. There have been times that laying next to him was the last thing I wanted to do. There've been times I got up and left to sleep on the couch but always found my way back, crawling in under the sheets to hear him whisper "I'm glad you're back." We agreed not to go to bed angry. And honestly, there've been some really late nights around here. Nights where it's 2am and we're still bickering about something stupid that seems so relevant at the time. Nights where I find myself dozing off only to feel a gentle nudge and "Are you still awake?" Because we're committed to our marriage. To each other.
We agree that our bodies are not our own, that to deny each other would create an open door that neither of us ever want opened (I Cor. 7:5) . So we offer ourselves freely to each other. Moving on now.
We each try to fulfill our God given roles. He works to provide for our family and how I love him for it. It's a hard job, a hard schedule.... and he does it so faithfully. He protects our family from undue outside influences, by checking for locked doors, and appeasing me during one of my stranger danger lectures that the kids probably dread by now. Likewise, I try to make our house more than bricks and sheet rock. It's our home. I care for our kids and him to the best of my ability. And when it's not taking away from my responsibilities at home, I'll work outside the home doing counseling part time to bring in extra income. Roles matter. More importantly, fulfilling the roles God has assigned for you, not the ones you want.
We also have separate and shared dreams. Mark has a dream to own his own business one day. I have a dream to write a book. Those are both great dreams and aspirations. But we also have a shared dream to one day add to our family through adoption, to take our kids on missions trips, to save up to one day travel to Hawaii and Australia. It's about dreaming together and then supporting each other through those dreams, be they shared or separate.
One of the biggest things I think has impacted our marriage is starting from day 1 with a shared bank account. You cannot operate as one if you don't have shared accounts. There is no accountability or unity and many a marriage has met its demise because of this one simple thing. It requires working together, communicating, and being responsible.
Our bank account may be smaller than a lot of peoples. We sacrifice a lot for me to be able to stay at home with our kids. But we do it together. We sacrifice together.... and you know what? We're content. I love our home. We've looked at other houses, even made offers, and I always find my way back to our home. It's small, yet roomy. It's where we've brought our kids home from the hospital, where we lost our other 2, where we've spent 12 of our 13 years of marriage. It's where we've argued and made up, where #3 and #4's memorial tree is. And you know what else? He doesn't use it against me. He's never said "If you'd just work we could have more." Never. Because life isn't about having more. It's about having each other and there's no price tag on that.
What I will say is that despite living on one income, one of the biggest ways he's looked out for our family and protected us is by being a good steward of what God has given us. We do not have debt. Our vehicles are paid for. There's no outstanding balances on credit cards, no overdraft fees or bill collectors. There's security and contentment. So husbands, if you're reading this, your wife wants you to know that one of the biggest gifts you can ever give her is financial security.
We also make a point to do things together. Since our oldest 2 kids are in school now, we try to have a weekly lunch date. It's usually something cheap and that we have a coupon for. Here lately it's been to Schlotsky's since we each won a years worth of free sandwiches. Sometimes it's simply renting a movie from Redbox and watching it together after we've put the kids to bed. But most of all, we've learned to be happy in the mundane. There are fewer places I'd rather be than curled up next to him watching TV. Now might I fall asleep there, particularly since having Emi and being up multiple times each night? Yep. But if I'm going to drift off to sleep, I pray it's always beside him.
We've also learned the art of mutual submission. I know that word makes a lot of people cringe. Let me say it again so you can get it out of your system: submission. When done correctly, it's a beautiful thing. It has nothing to do with someone being better than the other. It has nothing to do with being domineering and controlling. The Bible actually talks of mutual submission, listing Christ as the example of how He served others. Things roll so much more smoothly when we remember this. Like when I'm at work and come home to find him cooking dinner and throwing a load of laundry in. Or when he comes home from work to find the yard mowed and the trash taken out. It's about helping each other, submitting my interests for what's in the best interest of him and it's oh so beautiful when we remember that serving each other reaps benefit after benefit far exceeding anything that comes of me only worrying about me.
One of the other things we've learned is that we have to allow for each other's faults. We're two imperfect people. That can only mean that we each have faults. And poor Mark got the short end of the stick with me. I'm flawed beyond compare, flawed in more ways than I'd like to admit. I'm clumsy, I've made a career of listening but often fail to listen to what he has to say, I'm often impatient and argumentative, I can be stubborn and bull headed. He knows this and he loves me anyway. Just as I love him despite his leg shaking, leaving socks in the floor, playing devil's advocate, and his slight OCD tendencies that at times drive me bonkers. Why? Because we're in it together.
Together - for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.
That's meant a lot of hard times when we were broke and didn't know how we were even going to buy bread much less anything else. It's meant being out of debt and being able to help others now. It's meant caring for each other after c-sections, appendectomies, gall bladder surgery, nose surgery, carpal tunnel surgery. It's meant enjoying our health and being active together. It's meant all the good times. All the bad times. All the triumphs and joys. All the losses and heartbreaking moments of losing those we've loved. It's meant late night arguments and making up. It's meant doing life together. Hand in hand, side by side.
And there's no one else I'd rather do life with.
Here's to the past 13 years and to however many more God grants us together.
May they always be walked hand in hand with you.
And there couldn't be a more fitting song than Steven Curtis Chapman's "Together". Enjoy.