BACK TO THE FUTURE: Marriage Advice
I am feeling very nostalgic, probably because it is the season. It is the time of the year that we look back and give thanks for all that God has done in our lives. And this is exactly what I have found myself doing. I've been looking at old pictures of Jody and I, our life together, our three beautiful children, and past holidays spent with family and friends. My conclusion is that God has richly blessed my family! I know this from my 2017 vantage point, but I didn't always know this to be true. I wish there was a way I could go back and encourage my younger self in the faith! So being a product of the 80’s movie craze, I would like to buy a time travelling DeLorean, like in the movie, BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985). I would turn on the Flux capacitor, wait for some lightening and zip back to four problematic times in my life so that I could offer myself some encouragement. Narcissistic, I know. Silly, definitely. But hopefully this post will be an uplifting read that may offer some help with issues you are experiencing today. Keep reading, friend.
1987: I don’t remember the exact date, but somewhere near the end of August 1987 Jody and I faced our first test of faith. Jody and I had been married for a little over a year. We were living in Ozark, AL, and Jody was finishing Flight School at Ft. Rucker. I was working in a nearby town as an SLP. Four months earlier, and after only 11 months of marriage, we got the news that we were expecting a baby! We were both shocked with the news. Our plan had been to wait five or more years and then start our family, but it looked like God had other plans for us. Four months had gone by and we had settled in with the idea of being parents – we were actually getting excited about the prospect. We were collecting baby things and discussing names. I had just begun to show a wee bit and my clothes were getting tight. Then one morning, and out of the blue, I started spotting. Within two hours the spotting turned to hemorrhaging. And as unexpectedly as Jody and I had begun the journey to parenthood, it ended. It was a very painful experience, and since the pregnancy had not been planned, its abrupt ending gave me a surprising amount of guilt and sorrow. I began to worry that I may never be able to have children. This was back before the internet, so I had limited resources. I had never met anyone who had had a miscarriage – I guess that these things were just not discussed. Since I hadn’t been the happiest of campers when we got the unexpected news back in May, deep down I began telling myself that the miscarriage was my own fault. I thought to myself: because you had not truly wanted a baby, God is punishing you for your bad attitude. I didn’t discuss this with Jody. We didn’t have the tools to handle this crisis. We were so young. It was our first loss.
MY ADVICE TO MYSELF: I’d give this young hurting sister a big hug and state the truth: “This is not your fault!” Then I would remind her that God is in control and that He has a plan. I’d also encourage this sister and her young husband to get down together on their knees and pour out their hearts to God (James 5:13). You see, when we pray together, it does a number of things. First, it reminds us who is in charge – God. Second, it allows us to hear our spouse’s heart as we share our deepest fears and sorrows with Him. Third, it gives us an opportunity to remember God’s faithfulness. Fourth, it gives us an opportunity for our faith to grow when we see each other’s needs being met. If Jody had heard my fear of being unable to have children, he would have spoken differently to me when our second child was born only 11 months after our first. He could have encouraged me in that God was answering our prayer of 1987 by blessing our family with many children 😊. If I could have heard Jody’s prayer in August of 1987 of being out of control and unsure of how to support me, I would have bragged each time he loved me well and helped in the healing of my heart. This could have been a game changer! So, Lesson #1 on this DeLorean trip back in time is: PRAY TOGETHER (Proverbs 15:8)!
Sidebar: I understand the verse in Proverbs that states an unfulfilled womb cannot be satisfied (Proverbs 30:15-16). If infertility is what you are walking through, my heart hurts with you. I know the fear and pain of the thought that you may never know the joy of being a Mom. But do not be discouraged – God’s plan is always the best! This journey through troubled waters will not be easy. It will require prayer, a steady diet of the word and support from a godly spouse. Do not listen to the voice of doubt. Instead, trust that God’s timing is perfect and that His love for you doesn’t waver. God has proven Himself faithful over and over, and we must rest in that knowledge. Do not allow Satan to use this as a wedge between you and your spouse. Cling to each other and to the cross. Rest in the fact that God sees your hurt and understands it. You are not alone, forgotten or unworthy, my sister (Psalms 27:14). Yes, you are on a hard road. But at the end of the journey, I am confident that you will have an amazing faith, a full heart and a home full of love (James 1:2-4)!
1989: I would set the date back to April 30, 1989. Pretty specific, huh? I remember the day well. It was the day after I gave birth to our first child, JP, and the day the doctors told us upsetting news and an unsettling prognosis for our newborn son. JP had had a difficult entry into the world – he was born almost two weeks late. We had labored … wait, I don’t know why I said, “we.” “I” had labored and Jody ate SNICKERS candy bars from a vending machine down the hall. When Jody gets nervous, he eats. It's his coping mechanism. On the day of our first child’s birth, he ate his weight in candy bars. I would scream, he’d excuse himself, run down the hallway, and come back with another candy bar. I labored for about 37 hours and pushed for two. I remember the day well. Jody would try to get me to relax and breathe, like those idealistic classes had taught us, while all the while blowing snickers breath all over my starving and exhausted face. Let’s just say, my labor didn’t go well. I don’t handle pain gracefully, and at one point I had a hold of Jody’s ear. I seriously considered pulling it off his head. They could sew it back on later while he breathed through the pain, I fantasized 😊! But I digress.
JP was finally delivered via C-Section at 9:00 p.m. on day number two of my labor. He was a big, good-looking boy, only 18 inches long, but 8 pounds and 3 ounces in weight. He came out stout and looked just like his Dad, so he was named after him. Although JP looked big and healthy, within a few hours he scared us all. During the night he turned blue and appeared, for no apparent reason, to be choking. It was a scary time for a first-time Mom and Dad who were at this point thoroughly exhausted. But thanks to a wonderful nurse and an ENT who came to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning, the mystery was solved. JP had a pedunculated dermoid tumor that started in his middle ear, traveled through his eustachian tube and hung down into his pharynx blocking his airway when he was laid down on his back. The initial diagnosis also came with a pronouncement that “JP was deaf” because the tumor impeded the doctor’s ability to see his ear drum. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I knew exactly what that meant. My husband, on the other hand, didn’t have a clue and was more scared than I had ever known him to be when the doctor flippantly stated, “It looks like your son will probably be deaf. But hey, your wife is a speech therapist, serendipitous, huh?” Jody paled and I wept as we processed the news.
JP had numerous surgeries in the first two years of his life to rid him of the tumors. And, he was plagued with nasty ear infections. I’m not talking the standard fever and pain variety, I’m talking that his ear would stick out at a 90-degree angle from his little head and pour out infectious material … often drenching his little PJ's as he slept. We had tough days to walk through, and most of them while I was pregnant with baby number two (see “The Ugly Years”).
MY ADVICE TO MYSELF: I would say to this sister, “Your son will be just fine! He is a fighter!” He will have a slight hearing loss in that ear, but he will become a happy and healthy software engineer who loves God. I would love to go back and emphasize a truth that I clung to during those days: GOD IS FAITHFUL! My son, JP, is living proof! I would also give my young self some important marriage advice: “Not everyone handles stress as you do.” I would also say to myself, your husband is doing the best job he can. He cannot handle incessant conversations about this and play out every scenario like you will want to do. He was and is not wired that way. He will stick to his faith and handle things as they come. Knowing this now about my husband, I would tell my young self: “Just hold your husband’s hand and run after Jesus together!” I would also tell my young self to not doubt your husband’s faith or love for you and your growing family just because he cannot discuss your son’s issue 24/7. Allow him to lead your family, even if he makes a misstep. Follow the advice given by Paul in the letter to the Ephesians, submit to your husband (Ephesians 5:24) and love him well. This thing that caused your hurt will be the very thing that will allow you to grow to depend on God as more life happens down the proverbial road! Submission is not a proclamation of your husband’s superiority, but rather a statement of your dependence on him as he depends on Christ. So, Lesson #2 is: CHASE AFTER JESUS TOGETHER IN YOUR GOD-ORDAINED ROLES. This is God’s plan for your marriage. Save yourself years of hurt, and be obedient to the plan of your Heavenly Father! Encourage your husband to lead, he is up to the task!
1992: Jody and I were living in Katterbach, Germany. Jody was a young Captain in the US Army and in command of a Helicopter Maintenance Company. I was not working as an SLP, but was working hard raising three under the age of three! Our youngest, Michael, had just joined the scene in May of that year. He was a precious baby, and still is, for that matter 😊! Thankfully, Michael was a great baby. He slept through the night from the first night home from the hospital. That was either God’s providence, or I was too exhausted to hear him if he did wake up 😊. Jody was gone a lot and I was essentially a single parent, as are many Army wives. Although I was busy with the kids, I didn’t let anything slide. The house was always clean, meals were homemade and my children were well stimulated. I served the Protestant Women of the Chapel as the Spiritual Adviser or Spiritual Life Coordinator … I forget the exact title. Sounds a little weird, but it wasn’t. Basically, I was expected to pre-read all studies and plan our Bible Study time together each week. I also discipled a number of women each week during my kid’s nap times. And, I attempted to be a good Army wife to boot!
As I look back, there is no wonder why I was always so tired! Now it is obvious – I was stretched too thin and I didn’t have my priorities in order. Thankfully, Jody and I were both growing spiritually and were pursuing Christ, but I did not make Jody or his needs a priority. Jody was still pursuing me, but I was often too tired to be caught … if you catch my drift.
MY ADVICE TO MYSELF: Let the house go, eat out an occasional fast food meal, let the kids watch an hour of guilt-free TV, say NO to outside demands, and reserve some energy for your hubby. For starters, have reasonable expectations for the bedroom and discuss them (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)! There is nothing wrong with saying to your husband, “During this season with all the busyness that having children brings, we may not be having sex as often as we did before kids. But, I can live with once or twice a week for this year, and then we’ll renegotiate as the children get older and less dependent.” No husband would balk at this conversation! So, Lesson #3 is: MAKE YOUR HUSBAND AND SEX LIFE A PRIORITY. If that means picking a standard night for a command performance, then so be it. Leave the window open for a more spontaneous encore performance, but make this aspect of your life the priority it should be. When the Bible states that love covers a multitude of sins, Peter is talking about Christ’s love as He laid down His life for us (1 Peter 4:8). His blood covers our sins, but in marriage, love-making covers a multitude of hurts. It heals wounds and reconnects you in a powerful and life-giving way that allows you to wake up and fight another day – shoulder to shoulder!
1996: We had just returned from Germany and were stationed again at Ft. Rucker in south Alabama – the third time in 10 years! Our oldest two kids, JP and Maddy, were in the 1st Grade and Kindergarten, respectively. Our baby, Michael, was in a morning pre-school class. Jody was a senior Captain in the Army and had just received the disappointing news that he was not being promoted to Major. He was feeling rejected and I was feeling angry and resentful with the Army. We had sacrificed so much for the military, but the cards were stacked against my husband. Jody had been in school attending the Advance Course during Gulf War One, so he hadn’t gotten to serve in combat – he was behind his contemporaries. Strike one: no combat patch on his right arm. Strike two: his promotion board convened during a shift in the power in the White House and during the height of the Army draw-down. We had three young children, a dog and a cat. We did not have a whole lot saved-up for a rainy day, and it looked like a MONSOON was blowing our way!
MY ADVICE TO MYSELF: Remember that God is your source; not in a weird prosperity way, but in a do not worry about tomorrow way! So, Lesson #4 is: EVEN WHEN THINGS LOOK DARK, GOD HAS A PLAN FOR YOU (Matthew 6: 26-34). And even before you know the plan, you are to keep doing what is right and believe that God will do the rest. I would tell my much younger self that the life you will live will be far better than the one you and Jody are naively desiring. I would tell myself, “God’s plan trumps your plan, every single time!” God was faithful to the very last detail with Jody and I. God helped Jody to lay aside all thoughts of inferiority or rejection as He gave Jody favor as an Army Reserve Officer. In this role, God used him to mentor and show Christ to many Soldiers around him. Jody commanded in combat in in Gulf War Two, was promoted to Colonel, commanded two brigades, and retired in June 2016 (Philippians 4:19). Once again in my husband’s and my life together, God faithfully cared for us far better than we had planned for ourselves!
Friends, I know I have the benefit of looking backward in time, but the God I serve is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)! He does not have favorites. He is faithful to care for all that love Him! God has the plan and the answers for the issues in your marriage and your life. Take the lessons from my life and apply God's truths to your life. God is ready, willing and able to meet your needs. And, His plans will far exceed your expectations. Keep reading, friends!
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.