The key word here is “learning.” No past tense here, folks. I didn’t achieve a badge to add to my vest as if I’ve completed something of significance. Marriage isn’t striving for a success story so much as enjoying an unpredictable journey.
These four lessons are in process and still being processed.
1. Love in Sickness
If you don’t know the depths of our medical histories (why would you?), you wouldn’t know the ways we’ve had to love each other through sickness. In fact, this adventure started on our wedding day. That vow of “in sickness and in health” was thrown into high gear as we sped home after the wedding so I could make it to a toilet to throw up.
No, it wasn’t nerves. I spent the first five days of marriage on the couch or in the bathroom (with what I now wonder was a POTS flare up, but we will never really know). One of those first five days was Justin’s birthday.
The beginning of marriage is supposed to be bliss, and it was. Why? Not because we lived behind some veil of a dreamy expectation of married life. It was bliss because I watched my husband step up to the plate to lay down his own desires and expectations to love me in sickness—no matter how terrible the timing was.
We then went on to love each other through surgeries, where we would learn to find joy in serving each other, no matter the cost. We stayed by each others’ sides even in the lowest moments of sickness (and our humanity).
We had to throw thousands of dollars and hours of time toward testing as I searched for a diagnosis. In the midst of frustration and confusion, Justin showed me the grace of God and just how sure it is for me.
Both of us currently live with a disability of sorts. Most nights he is in pain and I’ve depleted my energy. We both love being active outside, but have to choose what we can and can’t do. We’ve had to learn how not to fight against the pain or the exhaustion and rather learn what the Lord may be doing through it.
This is love when it costs something. It’s learning to trust when the future seems uncertain. It’s welcoming grief together and then turning to Jesus for comfort.
This is precisely why I often don’t pray for God to heal me of POTS. Would I like to be healed? Absolutely! But I feel that the Lord is using my weakness to show His strength and I wouldn’t want to cut that short. God is doing something in us in the midst of our weaknesses. I’m thankful weakness is a part of our marriage story.
2. A Marriage with a Mission
I am so thankful that I married someone who takes Jesus seriously when his final words were spoken with authority: “Go and make disciples of all nations . . . Baptizing them . . . Teaching them to obey” (Matthew 28:19-20). He loves Christ first and makes sure I know the love of Christ before I understand and know his love.
Our relationship has always been marked by our mission. Who can we love? Who can we invite in? Who can we take that next step with? What more can we give away? Who can join us in the mission?
We are constantly learning how to do that together, but it’s something we are doing together.
It’s not always easy to do student ministry, given both of our physical states, but there’s no place we’d rather be.
There have been times when I wish we would stop talking about ministry and would focus more on growing our marriage, but I was seeing it backwards. What better way to grow our marriage than to rely on God’s strength as we lead students at a week of camp? Then we get to come back together and praise God for what we saw him do that week.
We are learning to give our lives away to a mission that matters. No, our marriage doesn’t take a back seat, rather, our marriage flourishes as we focus our energy on our mission. We grow as a team and cultivate our own gifts. We encourage each other and compliment each other.
Nothing has made us more of a team than being on mission together. It gives us a chance to help the other flourish in their own gifts and to come alongside each other as we learn how to love sacrificially.
I hope that four years from now we will give more of our lives away and live more as a team than we did these first four years of marriage. I hope we get to be a part of more stories of people coming to life and being filled with the love of Christ.
3. It’s Good and Necessary to be Different
Something I learned in the midst of doing ministry together is that it is so good that we are different people. In the beginning, I noticed that Justin was able to see all sides of how a church functioned and could see multiple solutions to problems. I felt completely blind and often worn out by conversations involving processes and structures.
I began to feel useless and incompetent. I felt more like Justin’s sidekick than my own person.
Because I thought I needed to be like him. The problem was, thinking like he did sucked the life out of me. But you know what gave me life? Relationships with people, giving encouragement, teaching and creating ways for people to learn.
When I Iet Justin be himself and I embraced myself, life was way more joyful. Suddenly, I could see clearly how we complimented each other. I learned that we needed each other because we were better together.
Instead of filling my heart with the weighty lie of “incompetence,” I was able to switch my focus to see the good works God had laid out for me specifically.
Instead of being jealous, envious or frustrated with the way Justin was, I got to celebrate his gifts and give him space to use them in our marriage. We are different and it’s supposed to be that way. We have different gifts, different roles, but we are one team.
4. Over Communicate
This is something that Justin set out in our relationship early on. He did this by telling me he knew he wanted to date me seriously on our first date. Although, I had just gotten done convincing myself we were just friends a few days before and then he calls me, asks me on a date, and tells me exactly what he was feeling and what he was intending. Once I caught up, I was thankful for the clear communication.
I’m so thankful that we haven’t stopped over-communicating.
Early on in our marriage I would get quietly hurt with the way Justin joked. I did not grow up in a sarcastic home, so being around any sarcasm from someone I loved was totally new. And while I needed to grow in being strong in my identity, I also learned to tell him when I was hurt.
What started out as long conversations of everything he said that hurt me have now evolved into a quick, “Hey, what did you mean by that comment?” Or “What you said made me feel this way, could you try to not say those things?”
And you know what I really love about Justin? He listens.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned by the way he listens to me and then loves in action. Me? If I don’t agree or feel misunderstood, I’ll probably keep making those comments. But even if Justin never means any harm or totally doesn’t understand my hurt, he stops.
It’s not enough to just communicate. Our marriage grows because we are learning to listen to each other and let that inform the way we love each other.
Even if it’s something small and insignificant, we aim to crush any harbored bitterness or hurt by communicating as soon as possible about our emotional, physical and spiritual state. It’s become a rhythm in our marriage and it keeps us free from any dangerous footholds that could destroy our team.
It’s fun to see what God has done in us in four years. I know that we will look back on this time, four years from now, and simultaneously laugh and praise God. We can praise God for all that he has taught us in four years, but that only gives us reason to keep looking forward to the next four years with great expectation.