Dennis and I did not have a stellar start in our marriage. We did not have accountability or spiritual encouragement in our dating life which caused us to make many mistakes, and kept us from pursuing what was most important - an intimate walk with the Lord as individuals and as a couple. Instead, we tripped and bumbled our way through two and a half years of dating, failing in many areas, and walked down the isle not understanding what an incredibly intense, challenging and difficult thing it is to give up self and serve another person day after day for the rest of your life.
Man, what we would give to redo our first two years of married life! We have prayed many times asking the Lord to erase all memory of us from the minds of those who knew us then. So embarrassing. Petty disagreements in public, discontentment, bitterness, frustration ... and all because I did not understand my role as a wife and helpmeet, and Dennis did not grasp his role as a spiritual leader or how to love me as Christ does - unconditionally and with understanding. Somehow we survived those first two years, neither of us truly loving or serving the other, until the Lord Himself intervened and got our attention.
An older couple took us out separately and asked what was going on. They each asked one question: If you keep going at this rate, where will you be in five years? We both answered: Divorced.
At the time, I was a preschool teacher and Dennis was working 12 hour shifts in the ER. We saw each other about three times per week, usually in between shifts. Our communication was almost non existent. Our desire and affection for one another was barely noticeable. Mutual respect? Adoration? Submissiveness? Forget it. We were living parallel lives, and no one was encouraging us to do anything differently. We were foolish, clueless, and ignorant - and we did not even know it.
Soon after the 'divorce question' the Lord saw fit to have Dennis break his ankle playing basketball with guys from church. Due to the injury, he was not able to work for about three weeks, and was home ALL THE TIME. As you can imagine, living separate lives doing pretty much our own thing, to all of a sudden being thrown together 24 hours a day did not a happy couple make. He nit-picked about everything, I resented him questioning me, and we did not speak to each other gently or kindly. We just tolerated one another. And then, one afternoon while we both sat in our tiny apartment living room, we engaged in yet another heated discussion which ended with me throwing down the cross-stitch I was working on, screaming, "I HATE YOU!", and walking out the door.
I got in the car and sat there seething. Blaming him for everything, taking zero responsibility for my own sinful actions, and wishing I could be anywhere else, and married to anyone else. I had no idea where I was going to go because my pride was too great to admit to anyone how bad things really were between us. (we were great at wearing the "happy mask" when it was called for) I sat there feeling like an idiot when I heard a tap on the glass and found Dennis standing there, on crutches, saying, "You HATE me? HATE? You can't hate me - I'm your husband! Can we talk about this?" I wrestled so hard with my pride at that moment ... if I get out, he wins ... but if I don't get out then I look like the bad, unwilling wife ... AAAHHH! And then I remembered that we had agreed that divorce was not an option for us, and the only way to be faithful to that commitment was to work things out. I got out of the car.
Fast forward almost 18 years later and you find us in February 2013. Dennis has just returned from a two-week trip overseas, which was emotionally and spiritually draining. We were in the middle of moving. I was a single mother for those two weeks, packing and organizing the house, caring for our children, teaching school and dealing with all the other parts of life that take place on a daily basis. Upon his return he was swamped with work and deadlines and was beyond stressed. Throw in a couple of colds, financial burdens, defiant children, and well - you have a recipe for disaster. It was the WORST six weeks of our marriage since those early days.
After the, let's see, 19th heated discussion/fight, I lost all restraint and uttered those same words again: "I hate you!" But this time, instead of running out of the room, we just stood there and stared at each other. "Hate? You HATE me?" "Yes. At this very moment, yes, yes I do." His face contorted into one of shock and horror while my mind flew back to that warm day 18 years ago when I had screamed those very words at my groom for the first time. We kept looking at each other until he asked, "Am I that bad? Have I made this house so unbearable that you actually hate me?" And that is when I knew. We are no longer those sniveling, selfish, it's-all-about-me-and-what-I-want, foolish bride and groom. We are stronger, wiser, more confident, and totally, 100% willing to confess our sins to one another, see where we have wronged the other person, and make it right.
We had a looong discussion that night. And for the next few nights after that. Both of us sharing our hurts and frustrations, asking forgiveness for harsh words spoken, apologizing for selfishness and pride ... there was nothing left unexplored, and all was resolved.
I have told my husband I hated him - twice. And both times are emblazoned in my mind's eye because I knew I was wrong. I knew how much it hurt him to hear those words. I felt trapped and without any other recourse in both those moments ... and both times my flesh won ... sin abounded ... and I hurt the heart of my husband - and my God. We are one flesh, me and Dennis, so to say I hate him is to say I hate myself. And I did. Both times. Oh, how ashamed and embarrassed I was - even while the anger burned through me.
It was the Lord Himself who kept us together in those first years ... barely hanging on by a thread, but together nonetheless. And it is the Lord who has continued to complete the work He began in our marriage so many years ago to show us how to love one another selflessly - how to let each other be who they are, even when irritating - how to overlook offenses - how to say 'I am sorry' and truly mean it - how to forgive, more than once - how to protect one another - how to encourage - when to rebuke - and how to give up our own wants to meets the needs of the other.
We did not have a stellar start to our marriage. We have gone up hill and down hill many times throughout. We cannot go back. We cannot change the past or redo the ugliest parts. But we can remember them, and praise God that He has restored the years the locusts have eaten! I do not live with the man I married - and he does not live with the bride he took as his wife. We are better, stronger, more faithful, less selfish, patient, long-suffering, accepting ... not perfect by any means ... but striving to finish well. To finish strong. To finish as two people who do not look like Dennis and Michelle ~ but like Christ.