My Marriage Did Not Save Me

img_3715Here I sit, about to write a piece on marriage. Who’d have thought that would happen?

Certainly not me.

My first marriage lasted 14 years before it unraveled beyond repair. There was a lot of hurt and pain, sorrow and loss, not something I wanted others to know. But that story isn’t for here, nor is it fully mine to share.

Here I write about my new marriage, this second one. It’s only been four months and twenty-nine days since it began, but I have to be honest . . .
It’s been good.

Wait, what?

Yep, it’s good but don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. Come hang out for a while and you’ll see. We each came to this marriage with a U-Haul full of baggage where we were more likely to trip and topple over each other’s bags than describe these early days as good.

But they are, and I’m grateful. Apparently, the joy seems to live on my face because others are noticing. I keep hearing things like: you look so happy. Or you don’t look so sad anymore.

Life was really tough until a few years ago. I endured such sorrow and heartbreak there were days, months, okay—years when I wasn’t sure the breaking would end. And not only did I not know if it would end, I had no idea how it would end. And if it did, I wondered who would ever want to deal with these leftovers, these tiny bits I had left to give.

Leftovers and broken pieces. Hi! Want a date this life-in-the-middle gal? Yep, that’s a U-haul back there. We’re a package deal but you might get used to it, or try and ignore it like I did. I didn’t know what to do with my mess, how in the world would I invite someone to draw near where they might cut themselves on every piece?

And then there was the loneliness. It was there all along, lingering near the fringes. Crying myself to sleep, wondering if life would ever be good, the kind of life described in the Bible. Will I see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living? An abundant life? I wanted that. And I wanted what my friends had—to be married to their best friend.

I used to laugh about that. Well, more of a cynical chuckle, really.  Surely, they’re lying. There’s no way they’re really best friends. That’s just what Christian couples say. I lived so long with life outside my door looking vastly different than life behind my door, I wondered if life behind their doors was actually anything like mine.

Perhaps you can relate.

Life crushed my tender heart, and in the squeezing temptation poked and prodded at my heart to seek out someone to make me feel better, to fix my woes, and tend my wounds. It whispered that I could only be whole as part of a couple. And I started to believe the whisper.

So when that magical day arrived and I met someone online. He smiled at me, and I smiled back. We exchanged pleasantries and quickly learned we had much in common, more than seemed possible. The fairy tale romance began and my prince finally came and saved me from this life of loneliness.

Hold. the. phone. That’s not exactly what happened.

Yes, I met a wonderful man who is kind and gentle and funny. But he didn’t save me. My relationship with Russ is restoration, but not salvation. Only Jesus saves. Russ is more like the icing on a yummy cupcake than the ingredients that created the cupcake in the first place.

Okay, he’s more than frosting, but you get my point.

Before I married my sweet husband (see what I did there?), I did a whole lot of work on my own to prepare to become his wife. I didn’t want to believe that whispered lie that I would never be whole on my own. I longed for wholeness and healing, to be free of the weights of my baggage that wore me down because I wanted a healthy relationship this time around. Marriage is hard enough without that U-Haul truck of stuff dragging us down.

I’m learning that marriage takes intentional work to create a safe place for each to succeed and fail, a place where unconditional love reigns and hope resides.

But when we drag in our past without seeking healing—all those feelings of abandonment and betrayal, bitterness and anger—we are headed right for disaster.

In our early days, I told Russ that I didn’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend.

Poor guy, he had no idea what he was getting himself in to.

I used to freak out. A lot. I was scared. What if he hurts me?  I was uncomfortable. If he really knew me. I was insecure. He’d be better off without me. I was filled with doubt. This isn’t going to work.

I started to tell him that it was just too hard, that I wasn’t sure I could get past my own hurt and brokenness to give him anything. I figured maybe I should just walk away.

He told me I could do that, but he would simply follow me.

Sigh.

I know, right?

When he said that, I realized this relationship might be worth the risk. But there was work for me to do. First, I turned away from the whispered lie that I was not enough on my own, and turned toward the One who makes me whole.

No, it’s not Russ’s job to fix me. If I relied on him, disappointed would reign because he is, after, all, human. Prone to mistakes and blunders, just like me. Not because he’s mean or hurtful, but because he’s broken, too, and needs his own healing. No, I had to do the work and purge my junk so I could make room for what was to come. The good stuff.

I didn’t want to stay broken.

I didn’t want to be bitter.

I didn’t want to live leery of other’s intentions, especially his. Especially if there was any hope of a future together.

So I did the only thing I knew to do: I leaned into those broken places and embraced my heartache, trusting God to be faithful to His Word and His character. This wasn’t entirely new to me; it’s been my way of life since my daughter died. While it hasn’t been a perfect process, there’s been healing, deep and abundant healing. I’m stronger now so when those whispered lies return to tell me I’m not whole on my own, I simply tell the voice to shut up and then I go kiss my husband, who is my best friend.

No, my husband hasn’t saved me. But he has provided a safe place for me where healing still occurs, for me and for him. Oh, and the kids. But that’s a different story for another day.

russ-smile

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Kids, U-Hauls, and Matching Luggage

first-picOnce upon a time a young woman dreamed about being married to a guy who loved her unconditionally. The type of love that Keith showed Watts once he finally realized Amanda wasn’t really the girl he loved in Some Kind of Wonderful. Remember that? (if not, check. it. out. Classic 80’s.) Keith and Watts were best buds, hanging out, encouraging each other to pursue their dreams, until the day came when Keith decided to pursue the girl of his dreams, but it wasn’t Watts.

It was Amanda Jones.

I never felt like Amanda Jones, I felt more like Watts. She dressed up as a chauffeur, willing to drive her best friend around on a date, longing to help but never measuring up to Amanda Jones. I never felt like I measured up, either,  but I also never really wanted what Amanda had.

I wanted what Watts and Keith had: the fun and laughter, thinking the best no matter how ornery or broken. While I never really wanted to play the drums like Watts (okay, okay . . . I secretly did), I wanted that kind of relationship.

What I got instead was a broken heart and a broken marriage. Through my first marriage, I quickly learned that it was tough, way more difficult than receiving a pair of diamonds from a guy I secretly loved who finally realized he really did love me back. I learned it was more than saying I do and promising to stay together forever. It was more than love and respect, more than giving 100%. It was hard and full of potholes and pain. My marriage became about sickness, death, and loss while shattered pieces sliced away at our tender hearts.

Nothing like Keith and Watts and their joy-filled smiles by the time the credits began to roll.

It was during my first marriage that my baggage collection grew. By the time of our wedding, I had a carry-on of insecurity and a backpack of low self-esteem. Who doesn’t get hurt living in this world? As the years past, I accumulated the whole shebang: the garment bag and make-up case, small, medium, large, and extra-large suitcases with every ancillary add-on possible.

Loss. Distrust. Death. Grief. Loneliness. Shame. Brokenness.

I needed a U-Haul to carry it around. Maybe not the 26-footer, but definitely the one made to carry enough stuff to fill a one-bedroom apartment.
Now add my life-in-the-middle status and I felt like the winningest loser possible. The one who received an award simply for showing up. A cliche. Forty and divorced. The thought plagued me: who would ever want me and this packed-to-the-brim U-Haul full of brokenness?

Since I’m pouring it all out in complete honesty here, this life-in-the-middler would only attract another life-in-the-middler, if anyone at all. What kind of baggage would he have that I’d be willing to add? Certainly anyone I met at this stage in the game would have his own set lugging around.

No wonder marriages fail, especially second ones. No wonder there is so much heartache and sorrow, disillusionment and grief. We long for love, for companionship, and acceptance. But we know our baggage, we pack it every day. We think if someone else sees it, we’ll be rejected. Again. So we hide it, repurpose it, or pretend it doesn’t exist.

So, if you’re a life-in-the-middle gal like me, you have baggage. There’s no denying it, no pretending it doesn’t exist. Well, I suppose you could pretend that, but you’ll find yourself even more frustrated and broken.

I knew this. I knew I not only had a complete set luggage, it filled an entire U-Haul truck. But I also wanted wholeness and a healthy relationship, so what’s a life-in-the-middle gal to do?

Sign up for a dating website, of course. Put myself out there, baggage and all.

I mustered enough courage and began to fill out my profile. I tried so hard to figure out how much baggage to reveal and how much to keep safely tucked away. At this point I figured less was more but, honestly, I didn’t think anyone would notice me, anyway.

Imagine my surprise when soon after I uploaded my picture, I started to receive smiles. Yes, a smile. I guess because certain websites think winking is too forward, or too flirty. I started my search to see if we had anything in common, trying to catch a glimpse of their baggage. Would it resemble mine? Was there more? Less? Did the colors at least match?

Those were the exact thoughts stirring about when I looked at a picture from one man in particular. I leaned in and peered close, not because my life-in-the-middle eyes were failing me. No, I wanted a glimpse of the story behind the smile. Blonde hair. Dark eyes. Hmm . . . I wasn’t a fan of blonde hair but as I gazed closer, something else caught my eye.

A child’s hand settled on his shoulder. My mind spun. This man who sent me a smile felt the best about himself when he was holding a child. Huh, I kind of liked that.

And yes, I’m that analytical.

Taking a risk, I shot a quick email back. Thanks for the smile. Within minutes, I received a response. How’s your experience been so far?

Well, that was unexpected. And kind of nice. But the blonde hair . . .

I know. I know. Don’t judge a book by its cover, just by the amount of luggage he’s carrying.

A couple of pleasant exchanges later we learned we shared a love for Mustangs and graduated from rival high schools in the same year. I found out his hair wasn’t really blonde, but gray. Rather, salt and pepper. (Phew) And then came the dreaded question.

How many children do you have?

How was I going to answer that one? He just pointed out the biggest piece of luggage in my U-Haul truck.

For most people it’s a simple answer. 1. 4. None.

For me? Well, I don’t do simple.

I could say 4 – but 2 are my step kids whom I didn’t talk to anymore. I could say 2 but in all reality, I did raise 4. Then I could say one. Because one is all I have left since my youngest daughter died in a fire that destroyed everything.

Oh, there’s that massive piece of baggage, too.

I sat there, staring at the screen and realized I had a choice. A choice to walk into any type of relationship with every piece of luggage in tow, and throw it in this nice man’s virtual face in absolute self-protection. Or I could hide it, give a numbered answer and hope he didn’t care for details.

But then, another thought tickled my mind. What if this became something more? Sure, we’d only exchanged a few emails. Sure, we were still absolute strangers. But what if? Just, what if? What if that relationship I longed for, the one like Keith and Watts, what if that were actually possible? Is this something I would want to hide?

Breathing deep, I typed my response.

Four. I’ve raised four children. Two by birth and two by choice. But my youngest? Well, she died in a house fire when she was five.

I hit send and went about my day. Heart pounding, palms sweating. I had dared to show some of my baggage pretty early in the game. What in the world was I thinking?

Later that evening I received his reply. Well, more like one o’clock in the morning.

Well, it looks like we have something else in common. I have four kids, too, but my oldest died when he was four. He drowned in our swimming pool.

I was stunned. As I read about the details of his son’s death, I kept searching for the joke. Was this real? Was this possible? Could God have led me to someone who shared the worst thing I’ve ever experienced?

I don’t believe in coincidence, but I do believe in redemption.

Oh, and finding someone with matching luggage.

And while I wasn’t so sure about being anyone’s girlfriend at this point, I couldn’t help but wonder if this might be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Just like Keith and Watts.