So let me assure you, right off the bat, I am not talking about myself...
At least not any more...
I could have alternatively titled this post something like "Marriage Ponderings." Or even "My 2016 Word of the Year." I've been quiet on the posting front because I've plain been busy (holidays, kids out of school for 3 weeks, birthday parties for my mom and all the kids, marathon doctors appointments, a hearty cold with side dish of bronchitis, etc) and even more so, because I've been doing so much internal reflection.
That first couple years after stroke were TOUGH on our marriage. (Today's still not a cake walk, but many circumstances and attitudes are both much improved!) I am not proud to share that things were fragile enough that I went a few months without wearing my wedding ring (my hands got swollen and painful so there was good reason to take it off to begin with, the problem was that God had to work in my heart to be willing to put it back on, long after it was a physical possibility again) and even asked Rick to pack his bags and leave at one point. Stunned and deeply wounded, thankfully he had the presence of mind to ask a critical question in response to my ultimatum and God keep us, gritting teeth, together. There were many months that the ONLY reason either of us had for sticking it out was the promise we had made to God that this was for better or worse, for life!
As I was struggling with the constant and overwhelming daily fear Rick would leave me, baggage I brought home from the hospital with me, I watched one dear friend after another, seemingly Christ-centered, solid, long-term marriages, dissolve all around me. A friend's husband simply decided he didn't love her anymore and moved hours away, leaving a disabled wife with no ability to drive, to raise two children on her own. A ministry partner's husband had an affair and decided he no longer wished to work on their marriage. Within a short time frame, several author friends had spouses simply dissolve their marriages, or grow unfaithful, leading to divorce. Another friend I have dearly looked up to for years, became the unexpected target of domestic violence and had to take out a restraining order against her husband of nearly 3 decades, in order to protect herself and their children. A second friend had to seek police protection for the same reason. A third friend is still living in unsafe circumstances and has been refused aid from her church and refuses to involve police. More recently, a stroke friend was sent away from her husband's home and disallowed contact with her own children until divorce was finalized, well over a year later. A former pastor and his wife recently separated. The list goes on and on...
I know how close we have come to walking away from our vows. I know the battle! I do not condemn these folks at all (though I admittedly struggle with some anger toward the unfaithful, neglectful and abusive spouses). I have heard for years that Christian marriages are under attack, that if the destroyer can undermine the foundation of the family, he is making progress and distracting God's children from the battle to spread Christ's name, by tearing down our witness. These past few years that statistic has just been hammered home to me on ultra personal levels I never understood before.
For a while there, I was feeling that the sanctity of marriage no longer even existed, that being a Christian did not offer any protection from the dreaded D word, that the only difference it provided was that a couple was MORE likely to undergo attack in this area simply because bearing the name of Christ put them in the devil's cross-hairs to be singled out for attack.
Then I realized that of the 5 stroke couples I daily pray for, all but one set is still together years after initial injury! The road has not been easy, and we all have plenty of struggles in marriage, but statistically, NONE of us should have made it! Does that make the 20% that didn't survive the marriage strain any less tragic, or any of these other stories, for that matter? Absolutely not! It simply says that when both spouses are committed to honoring a promise to God, that Christ does make all the difference! He is the reason 80% of my sample group are still making it!
A Day or two after my 5th and 6th strokes, awaiting my life-saving surgeries that prevented additional stroking, I received a letter from my dear friend Becky who was a traumatic brain injury survivor. We had lived in the same town for long enough that I had had a few opportunities to listens as she described a bid of the impact her accident had on their marriage, but without personal understanding on my part. Now, a move put the entire nation between us, but the letter she later told me she had been fearful and unsure how to write, planted seeds of understanding, began a ministry of comfort and encouragement in my heart that continues to this day. She talked of Rick's character, his integrity, what a God-honoring man God had given me. She was forth-write in preparing me that this would likely become the hardest challenge our marriage would ever face, but to keep trusting God and expecting Him to hold us together when I had doubts.
And so, I ask that as you pray for me, that you pray too for Rick, for the continual protection and strengthening of our marriage. This is not an easy journey. One I have seen, first hand, cannot stay sustained without both spouses being yielded of heart to Christ! I thank and commend Rick for his faithfulness through all these years, especially when I was the partner that blindly allowed my own fear to push a huge wedge between us.
Reflecting on these past 4+ years of personal history, I was struck by something I had never considered in quite this way, in the Christmas story before, "Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly" (English Standard Version) or "Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly" (Holman Christian Standard Bible). Did you catch that? Matthew 1:19 tells us that the most amazing redemption story in all of human history, started out with thoughts of, even plans for, divorce! This article, entitled Has Divorce Ever Crossed Your Mind?, while having nothing to do with the Christmas story, is also a powerful read. I'm so thankful God is more than capable of mending things shattered, creating something new that did not even exist before!
This all leads me to share my 2016 "Word Of the Year". I was thinking I might not even pick one for this next year, but all through the day today God has been impressing upon my heart the single theme of "Marriage". And so, I enter this new year humbly, admitting that after 23 years in this God-designed institution, I am far from having anything figured out, know less today that I thought I did on our 19th anniversary shortly before the strokes! But it is my hearts desire to spend this next year pouring into my husband and our relationship, reflecting on the marriage union we, the church, share as the Bride of Christ and praying over the many marriages God places in my path -ourselves, our parents, our siblings, friends who seem strong, friends who are obviously struggling, and marriages and the members of those unions who are living relationships that are frayed, splintered or even legally ended. Won't you join me?
I put this goal out there, again pleading for your prayers of protection over our own marriage, since I know satan will see this post as a war declaration and would delight in nothing more than bringing about destruction in recourse. We cannot do this alone. It is only in the name of the eternal King Jesus that I even dare this post.