I'm writing this blog today for those of you who think there is no hope for love in your marriage or that real love doesn't even exist anymore. Marriage is hard and at times it can seem one sided; like a roommate relationship based merely on convenience. It can be lonely and heartbreaking and may even feel worthless to keep trying, but let me offer you a glimpse behind our closed doors.
Scott and I met when we were in high school. He was a senior and I was a sophomore. We were part of a group of mutual friends and we hit it off. He was my first date and my first kiss, we attended prom together and through a few ups and downs, we made it through a 6 year long-distance college romance and got engaged when I was 20. We fell deeply in love and I have boxes of letters that catalog our history. Life was great and after many years living for the weekends when we would be together, we were elated at the prospect of being married and living in the same place.
Eighteen years ago when we pledged our love to one another in front of 150 friends,family members and two pastors, we were drunk on dreams. I had visions of the two of us cuddling on the couch for hours each evening and candlelit dinners spent gazing into each others eyes. With only ever having had weekends to spend together in the past, I assumed every married day together would only offer more of that bliss, more uninterrupted time to focus only on each other, more special outings with walks and movies and more time to see the best in each other. The problem was that we had never had to experience juggling our everyday responsibilities within our relationship. When I went to see Scott on the weekends he was all I focused on and the same was true when he saw me at college.
And so the roller coaster ride began, the lows left me splashing through buckets of tears and the highs had me reaching for the sky proclaiming that each time I saw my husband I loved him more than our last encounter. We would have blow out fights, recover, forgive and settle into married life until the next fight erupted. But you see temptation takes a while to incubate. At four years into our marriage things had begun to erode. The cars on the coaster screeched to a halt and we were forced to evaluate whether or not we should even be married. We were growing apart and those years we spent professing our undying love for each other when we were dating, seemed only to remind us of all we might have missed by not seeking other relationships during our early twenties.
As we looked around we began searching for a way out. Things seemed hopeless and we began evaluating options for divorce and frequently threw around the "D word" in the heat of anger. We interviewed lawyers and talked logistics and began to tell our family. Then something crazy happened, God stepped in. We had always had a strong belief in God and even in our early married life we were wise enough (or lucky enough!) to fall into small groups of friends who were a few stages ahead of us in life. When we began to let our secret plan for "splitting up" out into the light, we were immediately surrounded by friends who encouraged us to fight for our marriage.
I have not doubt that through some of those dark days there were friends around us who had much more hope for the future of our marriage than we did. They prayed with us and for us and encouraged us to seek counseling and small group fellowship. They checked in on us and we informally became accountable to them for updates on our progress. Staying in our marriage became a very black and white choice. Even if we did not feel loving or loved, we chose to seek love for each other. Although the roller coaster had taken us on an exhilarating ride in the beginning, when we wanted to get off we couldn't.
When you step onto a roller coaster ride the last thing that happens before the cars lurch forward is the shoulder harness that lowers over your head from up above. It's a little tight sometimes and it's uncomfortable because no matter how much you push against it, you can't release it until the ride is over and the ride operator activates the release. When Scott and I wanted out of our marriage, there was a shoulder harness holding us in place. It was our commitment to each other and to God that we were in this relationship "til death do us part". When we pushed against it, God held us in place.
After at least 12 months of solid couples and individual counseling, we were able begin to view each other through new eyes. We gained a new appreciation for our differences and were given tools we'd never had before to make our marriage all that God designed it to be. There are still occasional bumps, but we view love differently as a choice and not just a feeling.
It's emotional to remember how painful those early days were, but I must tell you about the marriage I have now. When I recall the vows we recited when we were so young, I could never have imagined the deep love and loyalty I have for the man I lay beside every night. We've stood side by side as we have buried parents, moved across the country and were blessed with three kids.
In sickness and in health...five years ago when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune liver disease that promises a future organ transplant, Scott held me and we cried together. He covers my legs with cold cloths when the side effects of intense itching is so maddening I want to scream and that is the only thing that provides relief. He cradles my head in his hands when I have throbbing migraines and am dizzy and throwing up. He makes me laugh and feel safer than I ever knew I needed to feel and I still feel the tingle I had when I was 15 when he kisses me each evening when he comes home from work. The love we have is not luck or lust, its built upon God and the choice to stay the course for ourselves and for our children.
As I turn out the kitchen light and head to bed, I'll take one last glance at the flowers my valentine always brings me on Valentine's Day, stargazer lilies, the flowers we had in our wedding that he knows I love, and I'll thank God for giving me the choice and the chance to stay on the ride.