Friday, November 25, 2016

second and third and fourth and fifth chances

I'm about to get sappy about my spouse here, which doesn't happen often, but here goes. The reason it doesn't happen often is because for more time than either of us would like to admit, we have vaguely remembered loving each other, been constantly reminded of our deep commitment to our four, beloved children, yet treated each other more like enemies than friends, much less husband or wife.

It's the classic love story. It's the classic dissolution of love story. A mostly good woman married a mostly good man, and a mostly good man married a mostly good woman. Years passed, mostly good, happy years, but of course years with disagreements and arguments because we are humans. More years passed, and they had babies. The mama turned her focus to the babies, and the dada turned his focus to the job. They got into ruts.Communication faltered. Talk about money dwindled and led to arguments. Resentments grew and grew faster and bigger than Pinocchio's nose. She got bitter about all the travel, which he seemed to choose over her. He got bitter over her laser pointed focus on the babies, which she seemed to choose over him. Is it more complicated than that? Of course. Is it that simple? Actually, yes.

We all have our own story. Jim and I have been married over 19 years. It seems utterly impossible that it's been so long. It seems utterly impossible to remember a time that it wasn't "Jim and DeNae." A friend from church who has been married even longer than that recently told me that anyone married as long as we have who mostly likes their spouse have seen a counselor or gone on marriage retreats or done other things to help their marriage. Good marriages do not happen on their own. Even when mostly good men marry mostly good women, and mostly good women marry mostly good men. They need work. It's easy to get married and stay married because divorce is messy and expensive and who wants to enter the dating scene again, but that is no one's goal when they say I do. No one wants to wake up in 30 years sitting across the table from someone they vaguely remember loving, but have absolutely nothing to say to now.

Yesterday I sat around the Thanksgiving table with my husband, our four kiddos, my mom and her husband, and my friend from high school. When asked what I was thankful for, it was easy to choose. Through tears and lots of awkward pauses, I said something along the lines of, "I am thankful for second and third and fourth and fifth chances at getting relationships right. I am thankful that my husband and I didn't give up on each other. I am thankful for the four awesome kids we have as a result of that. I am thankful for family and friends that hurt for the world and then work for the world."

Jim and I have been clinging to the rocky ledge of a thing called marriage for a long time. There have been times it seemed that leaving would be easier than fighting for our marriage and staying, but we just kept clinging, fingers slipping, strength faltering. A few weekends ago we attended a weekend long marriage retreat that brought many things to light, reminded us of our commitment to each other, and reminded us that we are actually gifts to each other. Well, that felt like a newsflash to us! We decided maybe it was time to start acting like it. We also decided that we can't go back and fix 20 years of disagreements and hurt, but we can start here and move forward. So that's what we're doing. And it's really, really good. There are times it's also really, really hard.

I'm not going to run off and start my book on how to have a successful marriage. Not a chance. Instead, I'm going to write this, hopefully as an encouragement to those who are in the trenches of looking at their spouse with more venom than love, more anger than compassion. And I'm going to ask you to remind me, someday down the road when I've got more venom and anger than love and compassion, that I am his gift and he is mine.

I have always said that being a wife is the hardest thing in my life. I'm naturally selfish and I don't like to fold laundry and I don't care if it sits in random piles all over our bedroom and I get tired of having the same arguments over and over so I get sarcastic and use my words as caustic weapons. Trying to fight the natural tendencies of all of that to be a kind and loving wife just doesn't come easily to me. But I'm trying harder than ever before because I want to wake up in 20 years and love the man I'm sitting across the table from. I want to give my children the greatest gift I could ever, ever give them, which is the gift of seeing a loving and functional husband and wife relationship so they have a better chance at having one themselves.

Today I'm thankful for the second and third and four and fifth chance to do just that. I know I'll need many more chances in the future. Thankfully I married a guy who won't give up on me. I'll happily return the favor.

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