It seems like it all began during our engagement. This is when I started noticing things. I had dreamed of this time since I was young– getting married to a wonderful guy, who was strong, handsome, and who always made me feel special and loved. Now this time was here, and I was engaged to my “one true love.” This should have been a happy and blissful time– but I was discovering that some days were challenging, and unpleasant.
The wedding date was less than two months away and we were in the middle of classes and training for our work together with a college ministry. Things should have been good, right? Who doesn’t enjoy beautiful Colorado in the summer– with the cool weather, mountain hikes and stunning scenery? It is a welcome break from the hot Texas sun. There were many fun things to do and so many great things to enjoy– and all with my fiancé! Then one-day, things kind of exploded and went sour.
Brian and I were running on a beautiful, clear, blue-skied Colorado kind-of-a-day, and while we ran, we were having a “discussion.” I think I was doing more of the “discussing.” Soon I began to talk more at him than with him. I was obviously frustrated, and my words soon started to have an “edge” to them. Why was I upset? The wedding day was approaching and we still did not have honeymoon plans or arrangements figured out. I was a little anxious about this. It appeared to me that he was kind of “stuck” and uncommunicative, as if he didn’t know what to do. Therefore, I began to press in harder, to help him get moving. (As if doing this is ever a good idea!) I thought, “Of course he should know what to do! He is going to be my husband.” This was kind of a funny thought. How many trips had Brian planned like this one? In addition, you have to keep in mind, this was in the day before the Internet. If you wanted to plan a trip or vacation, you needed to go to a place called a “travel agency” or make phone calls (remember, no cell phones either), to places–asking for information or for brochures to be sent by mail. There was no Expedia! It wasn’t the easiest thing to execute and it could take some time.
Now back to our “discussion.” I was going on and on, and not giving up. For some reason, the tension started rising and before I knew it…. he took off into a sprint, running away! He left me! How could he do that?
We did get through this time, but not without tears and numerous conversations. Somehow, we made it. However, it left me with lingering questions. “Is he someday going to just leave me? Is he going to escape when things start to get bad?” He was probably thinking, “Is she going to be demanding and try to control me with her words and expectations?” Looking back, we laugh about the “running away episode,” when he proved how fast he could get away. He is pretty quick! But, we both remember that there was a lot of emotion, frustration and doubt. And, this was just the beginning….
The “Forgotten” birthday
Soon after we married it was time for my birthday, which fell during a very busy time. We were also away from home for a wedding that Brian was in. The week before had been full, and the weekend was packed with reuniting with friends, golf for the guys and, of course, my birthday on the wedding day. As a young bride, married only 3 weeks, I had all sorts of thoughts and expectations for my birthday. We had never celebrated our birthdays together, and now I had a wonderful, awesome husband to celebrate with. I began to wonder how he was going to surprise me. I woke up that day to a “Happy Birthday,” but soon it began to feel like every other day, except for the hustle and bustle that a wedding day brings. “What should I do? When are we going to celebrate my day? When is he going to give me my gift? Surely, he has this thing all figured out!” Even though my birthday wasn’t totally forgotten, I just felt forgotten. As the day went on, and not knowing what to do, I did what just seemed natural. I sulked. I was pretty quiet, keeping any responses quick and short. I thought, “He is a smart guy. He can figure out that something must be wrong.” Nevertheless, that didn’t seem to work. In three weeks of marriage, he had not figured me out!
We now joke about the “forgotten” birthday. Quickly though, I was confronted with my selfishness. I wanted him to make me feel good. I also didn’t like the way I saw myself, and my desire to be in control. My worry over things soon produced manipulation with my words and body language. Then, there was this anger that popped up, and I did not like it one bit. It was too easy to take things out on him actively or passively. I felt like all my “junk” was in full view for him to see.
Small things are not so small
I am grateful we can look back and laugh, and that these incidents were relatively small in the grand scheme. But, the problem with small things is they tend to creep up on us again, looking for another round to battle. If not dealt with, soon, the small things invade our space, life and relationships. My selfishness, control, and anger transform into bitterness, resentment and blame. These are hard to make pretty! The small things are no longer irritants, but destroyers of our relationships, in disguise.
Early on in our marriage, I discovered there wasn’t a quick one-time remedy to keep me immune from all conflict and stress. I quickly felt my desperate need for something that would restore our relationship through rocky times and refresh it in smooth times. There was one thing, given to me earlier in my life, from someone much wiser, greater and loving than me, which I was profoundly grateful to have now.
See, in high school and college, I deeply felt my need for forgiveness. I had gone to church some as a little child and then more regularly, as I got older. During the middle of high school, things did not feel quite right– something seemed to be missing. Even though I was considered an all-around good student, I was plagued by myself. No one had to tell me about my insecurity, my self-centeredness or need to be accepted. It was easy to give in to self-centeredness and look out for “me.” I desperately needed complete forgiveness and hope for change. I discovered personally that Christ forgave me through his death, giving His life as a ransom for my life. Soon I found out that forgiveness also brings restoration, making things new. Forgiveness breathed fresh air into my life, like the feel of the air on a beautiful spring day. In college, this need for forgiveness and the benefits of forgiveness began to sink even deeper into my heart. It slowly took root and began to bloom into unexpected things. God’s forgiveness was something real, tangible, personal and life changing. It made me want to care about others well being, notice the world, and look to God for meaning and purpose in my life. In a way, the death of Christ gave me life through the forgiveness He offered; but in return, there bloomed a new desire to give my life for Him and the things He cares about.
In time, I quickly realized I couldn’t live this life perfectly. It was a struggle at times and what was I to do? Do I sulk? Should I go my own way? Do I live in guilt? Instead, I started to learn to turn to Him–He continued to extend forgiveness to me. Again, forgiveness restored, and refreshed my world. I began to turn to God more quickly, but not perfectly. I bathed in his forgiveness regularly. It was just like a relationship. God loved me like a completely perfect and loving Father. He knew how much I needed Him for living in this world, this broken world. Forgiveness soon became the one thing that repaired broken and damaged pieces, mended relationships and gave hope. His forgiveness changed me, and it was something I could give and receive from others.
When I get asked, by a young couple or individuals thinking or dreaming about marriage, “What is the ‘one thing,’ or ‘one word’ of advice for marriage that I would give?” I stop, and pause for a moment. What then usually easily spills off my lips is the word, “forgiveness.” It is the “one thing” that keeps me from running away. Forgiveness keeps me pressing in and pressing forward to the future. I am so grateful I have received it. It is one thing, I think, that keeps saving my marriage.
Overflow: allowing God’s ways to touch our lives and then our lives to pour out to others
What would a relationship be like without forgiveness?
Where have you experienced forgiveness? Is there someone you need to forgive or ask for forgiveness?
Who do you know that could benefit from experiencing Christ’s forgiveness? What keeps you from telling them about it?