I have been wondering why I have been consistently waking up at 3a for weeks now. Finally this morning (@3a, naturally) the reason came to me: Baby A wakes up at 3a. In the womb, babies have fairly established wake/sleep patterns that they tend to carry on after birth for several months. Seeing as Cohen wanted to sleep all day and be up all night, I don’t think I will complain about sleeping until 3a. I am telling myself this morning that I might even be able to get used to it. The house is pretty quiet at 3a and though it is pitch dark outside, it still smells like morning. [You can feel free to remind me of this when I am dying from a lack of sleep in a few months]
David has been away all weekend, at a conference for work. So I have been hearing every noise in the house, sleeping with a lamp on, and generally just feeling like incompleteness of our family is palatable without him here. He is coming home late this evening, just before Cohen’s bedtime. Of course, Cohen keeps running to the window, sure he’s heard the car pull up… I think it is fair to say we’ve missed him.
I cannot help but marvel a little that this time last year, David and I were just old friends exchanging catch up messages on facebook. What a difference a year can make, huh? We’ve been married now just over 6 months and more than half way to meeting our son who will be born this summer. It almost doesn’t seem possible for things to turn around so drastically in four short seasons (well, not that winter in Ohio is particularly short, but you know what I mean).
I found a stack of books in an unopened box a few weeks ago, none of them I had read and I barely recognized any of the titles. Then I saw the Big Lots $3 sticker on the bindings and had to smile at myself. I purchased a stack books that looked mildly interesting at least two years ago, mostly because they were $3. And here they were. I went through them again. Most of them I ended up donating to the Goodwill, but a few made it to the already overly crowded bookshelf in our sitting room.
Early this morning I fumbled around, looking for something to read and came upon a book I am surprised I would’ve bought two years again, all circumstances considered, titled “The Marriage Benefit”. The cover art is atrocious, but the writer seemed credible enough (Professor of Clinical Psychology who teaches at Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Hospital). So I opened it up and read the forward and the first chapter. Tears ran down my face reading the stories of those who had made it and those who had not. I am sure I am more sentimental this weekend with David gone than I normally would be (oh yea- and I am an emotional preggo), but something really did strike a chord inside of me: I could identify with the writer on the important benefits of being married.
I could never have understood this book two years ago.
Two years ago, I was just embarking on a journey into the awful reality of divorce. Since that time, I have spoken to many women whose marriages have been marred by infidelity or abuse or have become unbearable due to godlessness or selfishness or mean-spiritedness… and in every case, I have warned them that they have to be 100% convinced God has directed them to file. Why? Well, not just because that’s right (though it is) but because it takes that kind of conviction to keep moving forward a process as daunting and horrifying as divorce. Had I not known deep in my heart what I had to do, I couldn’t have followed through on it. It was too painful; to uncertain.
Two years ago, I was just beginning to make peace with the fact that I was going to actually be a divorced woman; a single mom. I was just working through the disappointment and learning to battle the shame and just starting to know the gravity of all that had been the catalyst to get me where I then was. I was just beginning to understand the value of not explaining myself or defaming another. I was re-evaluating what it means to be a Christian and a divorcee. I was learning who God is like I never had before.
My reality was divorce and my thoughts were often there. I can remember then how just the thought of marriage turned my stomach; how I could never imagine myself opening up to another man…ever. It was the most foreign idea on the planet. The only thing I could visualize was Co and I, in our little house, figuring out how to make it work…
This same little house that now feels stale and empty without David.
This same house where now I am up long before the sun, reading about how long-term relationships make us better… how “finding freedom through our limitations” can literally be a salvation… how “the most direct path to freedom lies in remaining true to our commitments”… and here I am with a tear stained face because I now experientially know just how true and right that is.
When David and I reconnected last Spring, we wrote back and forth for almost two months before meeting up on May 23 for the first time in seven years. I was nervous and excited about seeing such a dear friend after such a sizable passage of time. He got up, got ready and made it to Bellefontaine before realizing he was an hour early for our already early morning meeting. I had this feeling the week that led up to that Sunday morning that I would know instantly whether or not there was anything more than friendship to be rekindled. We walked around my neighborhood while the sun rose, went to breakfast at Bob’s, and then to church. We ate lunch with my family, took all the kiddos to the park, and spent the day just visiting. When he left that evening long past dinner, I realized I didn’t want him to leave… ever. It might sound weird to say, but I really did know just as I had expected I might.
Only three months later we got engaged and 6 weeks after that we were married. It felt like a whirlwind in a lot of respects, but in more ways it just felt right. We had our share of arguments (and at least one really good knock-down-drag-out fight) while we worked tirelessly on the house and David drove back and forth and we planned and executed a wedding in the quickest fashion. I also got to really see David like I had never seen him before. I saw what he was like when he was stressed- that his even tempered, measured nature was not ruffled. I got to experience the steadfastness of his love for God. Everything he put his hand to was done the right way, even if that meant it was painstakingly slow and accurate. I saw his gentleness toward me, no matter my state of mind or how I was emoting. I saw his playfulness and patience with Cohen, who never tired of any game and rarely ran out of steam.
On that gorgeous Saturday in September I walked down the aisle without a single doubt in my mind. I had not one misgiving or question or even the tiniest bit of hesitation. I knew this man loved me and that I loved him and that our love for God was real. I knew that I didn’t want to spend one more day living apart from him.
Friends of mine who had remarried warned me that I should expect to feel a host of emotions after the wedding. One told me about how she woke up on her honeymoon next to her husband (who happens to be a wonderful man) and just wanted to RUN. She almost had a panic attack thinking about how she had married again after all she had been through in her marriage and divorce. I listened to her and took it to heart. I would remind myself of that when those feelings came on me.
But they didn’t… for nearly two months. When I was happy and good and getting along just fine right after the wedding and even transitioning back to real life of work and chores and parenting, I thought maybe I had side stepped any of those bad feelings. That’s probably why I was blindsided and almost taken out when the past hit me like a freight train in November.
I was out to coffee with a dear friend and we were talking about our husbands (which is what women do- right ladies?) Somewhere in the conversation, she mentioned how as soon as she met David she knew he was for me. But then she slipped in that until that point she was sure I was going to end up with this other guy. We kept drinking coffee late into the evening, chatting about lots of other things. The comment to her was nothing more than an innocent observation, inserting into the conversation without much meaning.
But it derailed me.
That evening I tossed and turned in my bed, next to my sleeping husband, while the Enemy taunted me with thoughts about whether or not I had made the right decision. Had been hasty? I started to wonder who else thought I was supposed to marry the other guy…I even wondered if Pastor thought I had made a mistake, though clearly he had been for David and I’s marriage and told me so on many occasions. I started sinfully to wonder if the other person had been better suited to me after all and the Enemy was eager to point out this or that to back up my fear. I was rocked.
Over the next few weeks, it started to hit me, like it hits all newly married persons at some point… this is forever. You know how pop songs love to throw that word around and it sounds so enchanting? Well, the sound of it when you’re grappling with the reality of a lifetime commitment is more like the locking of a sound proof steel door. I mourned in my heart the loss of my singleness. Here I had just gotten out of a bad marriage, fought for a year and spent all of my money to finalize the end of it, and now I was trapped again. I couldn’t shake that feeling… that somehow I was trapped. The world had been my oyster. My time had been my own. I could spend evenings at the church cafe, hanging out with the twenty-something crowd, doing what I wanted. And now I was a wife. I felt like I had lost something without even realizing it. How could I have been so eager to let it all go?
On the outside, I was just snappy and crabby and cold. I didn’t tell David what was going on… how I was trembling at the thought of being back where I had been five years before… There were times I wanted to tell him, but I was paralyzed in fear. I couldn’t speak. I could tell he knew something was going on, but he gave me the courtesy of not probing or exposing me. Instead he kissed me goodbye for work, held onto me whenever I would reluctantly let him, and he remained the same, totally unchanged and unfettered by my state of being. He was still even tempered and measured, steadfast in his love of God, full of integrity, gentle with me and patient with Cohen. I should have been moved by that alone, but instead all I could see what wasn’t.
Then in January one night I had a dream that was sad in a way that few things are to me. I woke up weeping and hurried to the bathroom, not wanting to share my grief. Honestly, not even knowing how. When I couldn’t pull it together, I resolved to going back to bed and crying as softly as I could. I was only in the room a moment before I realized David was awake; that he had been awake. I felt like someone had pulled back the covers on my most naked emotions. I wished for him to be asleep, to not care, to just leave me alone. Pride and fear pretending to be independence took up their usual residence as I tried not to let him in. But when he asked in his genuinely tender way, “Babe, are you crying? are you okay?” something in me couldn’t hold out one more second. I laid my head on his chest and sobbed. I didn’t tell him anything. The paralysis was still clamping my words shut, but I let him near.
It felt good; it felt awful. I was relieved; I was terrified. I felt safe; I felt embarrassed.
But when I woke up in the morning, eyes swollen (I am an ugly crier- I blame it on Mom) the power of what had been hanging over me had been broken. All that dark brooding and the lies and the regrets where diminished effortlessly in comparison to the oneness I had felt (uncomfortable as it was) with my husband the night before.
I eventually told him some version of most of that and as the weeks unfolded, I could see just how right it was for us to be together. In telling him, I found out what I never expected: he had battled some similar thoughts about the loss of his singleness too. Suddenly all the lies the Enemy had been telling me were now clearly paper thin— flimsy at best. That realization brought a solidness to my being that I had never known before. If you’ve ever read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, then you know what I mean by “solidness”. The dead (who don’t know their dead) on a journey are transparent and see-through and not real until truth begins to fill them like a child coloring in the black and white pages of a coloring book.
It happened again a few mornings ago after I had written this post. I had been writing into the wee hours of the morning, working out some sadness and anger. David woke up around 7am and while we were eating breakfast, I started to share with him. I wanted to share with him. (It is startling how quickly wounds can heal when mended correctly) I started to detail what I had read and how I felt, but ended up only choking out words between sobs. I could’ve told anyone else without shedding a tear or wanting to, but in front of my husband I found it impossible to be anything but emotionally exposed. For maybe one of the first times in my life (after all, not everything ugly originated with a bad marriage and divorce) I found myself weeping without even the desire to stop and pull it together. David got out of his chair and came and held me and I just got down to the dirty business of baring my soul without editing a word. I knew some of it was raw, a lot of what I was feeling was wrong, and that most of it was ugly. I also knew (and know) that he sees me and loves me, all my flaws and hurts and sensitivities included. There is a newly resurrected safety for me in his unwavering affection.
One of the passages in the book that gave words to what had been true of my life says this, “they had a highly creative means of avoiding both each other and their deepest fears.” I cannot tell you how that resonates with my memories; how that distance had fed in me a self protectiveness that went far beyond my natural inclinations. I can remember the only time I had ever really felt married before… pregnant and sitting in front of the television together watching the news and eating cereal. It sticks out in my mind the sorest of recollections because of its isolation. It wasn’t a particularly important moment, nothing was said, but I felt married. And that was it. The worst part is that in those days, it was some of the best of what I had known and I remember how happy it had made me feel. On this side of the equation, that is the saddest part.
Marriages don’t end because of irreconcilable differences. It just isn’t true that marriages end because people were a certain age when they married or because they grew apart or because they made mistakes. Everyone makes millions of mistake and no two persons are just alike or grow together without the conviction to do so.
And certainly marriages don’t end because you only felt married once while eating cereal. But in a odd way I think I am beginning to see that somehow contrarily marriages really are made by midnight sob sessions and the strength that comes to the soul when it is tangibly better to be naked and unashamed with each other rather than to maintain an ideal sense of self. It may not be perfect, but it is real.
I am learning that marriage isn’t all about romance and passion and ideals that media pushes on us. It is not even about happiness or having an increasingly better marriage as much as it is about the potential for real transformation in our own lives. Marriage can make us better as people, even when or maybe especially when it is hard and things don’t go as planned and it is not easy and the demands on us feel unfair. Maybe marriage is at it’s best when it restricts us, defines limitations, exposes our sin, and calls us to die to ourself in favor of becoming what God has already declared us to be: ONE.
My fears about being limited to one person forever were bound to the idea that it was an intrinsically miserable experience. They were tied to old feelings and experiences and wounds. Like the world all around me (just with a spiritual facade) I had felt crushed and trapped by the commitment I had made. And that’s because I failed to see something vital… that in the same way God calls me to a limited life by making a covenant with me and making me His and then expecting me to live like it, marriage has those same surprisingly freeing demands. It goes against human thinking to assume that living within limitations could bring freedom. But all you had to do is try it to know that things are not often as they seem to be.
I can remember a season when called me to give up some things that I hadn’t before considered bad or had any conviction about. The requests were not about whether or not I was saved or good, but just a simple matter of obedience. I only obeyed because I knew it was wrong not to. It was only months later that I realized all the newfound freedom I was walking in had everything to do with allowing the Lord to refine my boundaries and convictions. He had narrowed the scope of what was profitable to me to show me all that I had to gain by living a more single-minded lifestyle. Not that an occasional glass of wine or a drive with the radio on are sending anyone to hell, but for me letting those things go opened up time for worship and more reliance on God for my unwinding.
My marriage to God became sweeter with obedience and sacrifice and restrictions. Why not expect the same to be true in the natural realm of marriage?
“Marriage helps us find freedom in limitations. The most direct path to freedom lies in remaining true to our commitments.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Enjoy your Sunday, friends. You know I will.. church and sunshine and then my sweet husbands’ return to us this evening.