Monday, January 16, 2017

Me and my best friend

I've been venturing into this new year slowly. I always love the idea of having a fresh start, a new number on the calendar on which to make our mark and begin compiling memories.

Honestly, it isn't hard to bid goodbye to 2016 for either my husband or I. I can only speak for myself but it was by far my most painful year to date. The Lord decided it was time to do some deep soul-work in my life, in my marriage and in my family. We've been slowly, painfully, peeling back the layers, one at a time, digging for the roots. There were countless occasions when I was sure I'd finally reached rock bottom and then I'd drop down one more notch. We dusted off some conversations that had long since been tabled. We began wading through unchartered territory, exploring new areas never before discussed. We have been learning, exposing, accepting, healing. This is the journey of marriage and relationship, is it not?

In so many ways, I have felt laid bare, embarrassed, ashamed. I have had many-a-moment when I was sure there was something undeniably wrong with me. I was confident I was the sole reason for our challenges. My anxiety, my baggage, my inner wirings resulted in any and all dysfunction in our relationship - emotional, physical and everything in between.

The beginning of our unveiling happened back in March of 2016. We found ourselves sitting in our parked car, outside a restaurant. It was supposed to be date night. It was date night and here we both were, crying. Moments of deep connection had grown rare in the hustle of life. So much so that, when they did happen, they were often accompanied by tears. Without fail, these tearful conversations took place when we were out and supposed to be "having fun." Our running joke was that it wasn't really a date night unless one of us cried. That sounds so cynical but I know so many of you can relate. Amidst the pulls of parenting, the frequency of interactions where we truly see one another on a heart level grow increasingly rare.

And so here we were, crying in the parking lot and unsure of where to go next. Little did I know at the time that the feelings I had just shared would send us both on a trajectory toward healing. First total unraveling and later, strengthening, slow repairing.

I'd finally spoken pure, unadulterated truth. I'd uttered words that I'd previously danced around, mentioned vaguely and wrapped up in all sorts of different packages in effort to cushion the inevitable blow I knew they would cause. As I wrote about in a previous post here, love, as I perceived it, was dependent upon my performance. If my performance or my person was unappealing in any way, I feared the love I would receive would lessen. If I confessed what really, truly ailed me, I feared I would lose the love of the one I cared for most. The words I shared there in the parking lot that night reflected, not anything that I'd done per se, but rather completely exposed my inner workings, the struggles that plagued me, things that I wanted desperately to change but couldn't. I knew the words would be crushing to him but something (some might call it the grace of God?) pushed me to say them.

Looking back I recognize this as a pivotal moment in my journey toward realizing that:

Healing cannot happen until the depth of the injury is fully understood.

That evening was so painful. Eventually we did go inside the restaurant where we hurriedly choked our way through dinner. We'd gone to the trouble of hiring a babysitter after all. We attempted to hide our puffy red eyes from the waitress in the dim lighting. We kept all remaining conversation at surface level to avoid further tears. I don't think either of us slept very well that night.

But can I tell you something? That evening, the honesty and then the pain that we both experienced became our catalyst for change. They marked my initial baby step toward experiencing real, true freedom in the sense that I believe God intends. It was because of that hard conversation that we decided to finally take action. We'd encountered some deep, deep hurts that were beyond our level of expertise to address. So we found ourselves a therapist - one who specializes in our area of struggle and one who loves Jesus and one who loves us. Like really, truly loves us. She is for us as individuals and as a couple like no human I've ever known. In many ways, she is for us more than we are even for ourselves. She has very much been the hands and feet and eyes of Jesus to us this past year and there is no doubt in my mind that God placed her in our lives.

I have refrained from sharing this tidbit of information - this fact that WE have been undergoing marital counseling - from the world for nine long months. Part of this was out of respect for my husband. I couldn't share until he was ready because it was both of our journey after all. But mostly I was afraid of what people might think. I knew firsthand of the cultural tendency to cast judgment when we hear about someone getting "help."

I recall the first time a couple in my life went to see a marriage counselor. I was just a kid, their babysitter, actually. I was very perceptive and not much was lost on me. I knew something was awry as they were no longer living together. I gladly watched their kids for pennies; they couldn't afford to pay me any more than that and my parents and I had established this could be a way I could help someone in need. Sometimes after putting the kids to bed, I would do her dishes or fold the laundry. She begged me not to but the state of affairs in her house spoke to her overwhelmedness. I couldn't help myself. My parents had raised me right and I'd been trained to always leave things cleaner than upon my arrival. She would come home and immediately spy the wet spot at the waistline of my t-shirt and exclaim how I'd disregarded her words and washed the dishes anyway. She seemed relieved and at the same time embarrassed. As a mom now myself, I know she was both.

I was still a child, maybe technically a "tween." I didn't know what it meant that this couple was separated. No one really explained it to me. Their circumstances felt foreign and confusing and scary. All I knew was that everyone seemed to use hushed tones whenever this couple's "situation" was mentioned. They went to our church, which didn't help matters any. It was almost as if there was this belief that somehow by loving the Lord and attending church, one magically became (or should become) immune to relational challenges. As I understood it, the mere fact that this couple needed counseling indicated that their marriage was on the rocks, that hope for them was all but gone. It wasn't perceived as a positive step for them - more like the nail in the coffin of a relationship everyone assumed was dissolving.

So naturally, when later in my adulthood, my first married friend was honest enough to share with me that she and her husband were struggling and had begun seeing a counselor, I gulped. I feared the worst. I'm ashamed to confess that I judged her inwardly, wondering how she could possibly let things get so bad.

Now I can barely even read those words in that last sentence, the sting of them is so great. I was utterly naive; I had no right. I hate that my first thought was "Certainly they won't last." I assumed they had done something and that things must be REALLY terrible in order for them to seek help. This was how the world worked, was it not? The naysaying voices from legalistic Christianity taught me no different.

Looking back, I wish so desperately that I would have high-fived this friend instead. I wish I would have told her what a brave and honorable and strong endeavor she was undertaking to seek help. Instead, I did what my culture had taught me - I feared the worst, judged, and assumed divorce was inevitable. Oh how I wish I could have a re-do! Hindsight is often 20/20.

This year we have spent in counseling is by far one of the best hardest things we've ever done. We have looked closely at our insecurities, our upbringings, our belief systems, our shortcomings and our strengths. We aren't going because we aren't sure we want to be married anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth!! We started going because we were both hurting desperately and we knew God had more for us, that the pain we were experiencing was never his intent for marriage. We are going because we are two very different people with different needs and struggles and inner wirings who are trying to become one.

At many points it has felt so uncomfortable and uncertain - much like how I imagine it would feel to look straight down the barrel of a gun. In order to begin the process of healing, seeing ourselves and each other the way Jesus sees us, we've had to sit in these really hard places. The truths we've discovered have been invaluable. We've connected in ways we never have before. We are both learning that we can say hard things to each other and be OK. I've realized that his love does not waver based on the things I say and do; speaking truth and voicing my own desires and needs does not lessen it. This realization is freeing beyond belief. In the past year, I have seen the depth of Graham's love for me in ways I never could before. The man adores me. This I know beyond a shadow of a doubt and it's an amazing feeling.

We are two people who give and receive love in very different ways. But even more than that, we are two people who care about each other so deeply that we refuse to stay the same. We recognize that having a thriving marriage takes a lot of work. We realize we came into it with so many misconceptions. We have discovered that some of things we thought would come naturally, instead take a lot of painful effort. Hand in hand, we are walking this journey together.

We want to raise our kids knowing that, in this season, Monday nights are for counseling in the same way that Saturday mornings are for working out. We don't ever want them to feel ashamed to ask when they need help. We want them to grow up knowing we invest our money and time into the things we are most passionate about and one of those things for us is our marriage. When they belt out in the middle of Starbucks "Is tomorrow when we go to counseling?" (which has happened, by the way), we don't want them to experience even the slightest twinge of embarrassment.

We have so much work ahead of us still. We always will. It's the nature of two becoming one on this broken earth. Challenges in marriage are absolutely inevitable. Having a 3rd party (who has both of our best interests at heart) has helped us tremendously as we've waded through some very vulnerable places this year. So, I would like to re-frame the idea of marriage counseling for any who might feel terrified by the idea, much like I once was. What if instead of trying to correlate a couple's need for counseling with the health of their marriage, we simply applaud it as a commitment of two people who are unwilling to stay the same and who desire change? What if we celebrate a willingness to seek counsel as a sign of a partnership where truth is spoken and hard stuff is addressed rather than swept under the rug? What if instead of shaming people for getting help, we encourage them and support them and cheer them on in it? This is the world I dream of living in someday.

Though I would never want to walk through the dark places that we did in 2016, I recognize their necessity and celebrate the growth that is coming out of them. We are saying the hard things, expressing our fears without concern that they will alter the depth of our love for each other. We are working on intimacy. We are becoming healthier. We are connecting.

Healing cannot happen until the depth of the injury is fully understood.

This is truth. And we are slowly getting there - to the depth of the injury. We are beginning to understand why we respond in the ways that we do. We grieve for all the pain we have experienced yet we celebrate the fact that we love each other now more than ever. We are acquiring new lenses - God's lenses - through which to view our marriage. And I am experiencing new freedom to be truly and wholly me, even in the context of my own marriage. This March we will hit a major milestone - our 10 year anniversary - and you better believe we'll be celebrating our socks off!! God is still writing our story and we don't know what 2017 holds for us but we trust the words of Philippians 1:6 that "He who began a good work in you will carry it on until completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Amen? Amen!


  1. Wow, I love this. You have such an amazing way with words. Thank you for encouraging counseling and helping to eliminate the stigma.

  2. Finally getting caught up! Love love this!! I wish counseling wasn't viewed that way... but agree people do! I think our generation is seeking so much more realness!! Love your sharing

  3. That was from me... Kelley! Guess I'm not set up 🙄

  4. Love this post! "We want them (kids) to grow up knowing we invest our time and money into things we are most passionate about..." "marriage"!


posted by kelsie