It was almost exactly one year after arriving home with our fifth child, and I felt like our family had finally found our new normal. It took us much longer after bringing home our fourth to get in our groove as his medical needs were more complex, and we had to quickly learn how to juggle therapies, doctor’s appointments and the other day to day with kids at home. Although our most recent adoption left us with fewer appointments to juggle than before, it was still about a year when we felt like we had found our groove again as a family.
Only this time — almost 11 years after saying “I do” I sat across the table one night and wondered who we were. I met eyes with my spouse—the one I had vowed for better and worse—and wondered a few simple questions. Only I had to pause for longer than I wanted because I had almost forgotten in all our life changes how to answer them. What are the things I love most about this man? What makes him who he is? What does he love to do more than anything? What does he love about me? What do I love to do more than anything?
As I sat there, I realized in all the growing we had become so busy with parenting and helping our children heal that we had put some very important things aside. Like… us.
Sure, we had date night. But something felt like it had died. Or gone away for a very long nap. I realized in that moment that we had some work to do in order to connect deeply in our marriage. Today I’m so thankful we took time to be still, reflect, get help, grow and learn to laugh together… and have fun again. Sometimes these things get lost in the midst of growing your family — especially when special needs are a part of your family’s growth. You find yourself entering survival mode as a family and without realizing it, some things get lost.
Many of us have a hard time sharing the hard parts with others — things like marriage can be hard work. Our pride gets in the way. (Of course I have a perfect this or that!) Yet sharing the hard places we have been can really encourage others by helping them find their way through the hard OR helping them before it even gets there.
I have to confess, I got really excited when NHBO decided to do a marriage series in February — although my flesh would love for you to think everything is always perfect on my end. It’s not. And my heart was beating — knowing that the Lord wanted me to share this with you. Maybe your marriage is where mine was — in a “good place” (see, I can’t even say it wasn’t in the best place!) There were some things we had both forgotten. Maybe there are some things you have forgotten — and when I realized all that was forgotten I realized it could have easily gone to a much worse place had we not taken some time to make some changes.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
I really believe we are to encourage one another with the same encouragement we receive in the midst of the hard things we learn or walk through. So that is my hope — to share the things I learned or wish I’d remembered while we were growing again and again. I hope that some of these encourage you to grow with spouse and ultimately strengthen your marriage right where you are right now.
Five things I always want to remember for my marriage…
1. You are in this together.
Life Together means walking together and waiting for one another. It’s so easy for one spouse to get emotionally or mentally ahead of the other without realizing it — especially when growing a family. Being a foster and adoption retreat leader, I take home the prayer requests each session of hundreds of moms to pour over and lift up on their behalf. Without fail, more than half of the requests each year concern marriage — and prayers for their husbands to get where they are. Most of these moms are wanting to grow again and there are frustrations their spouse isn’t quite there yet.
These requests come as no surprise to me each year because us moms — we have momma hearts! We see or hear a need or see pictures of waiting children and there is something within us that just says MOVE. Someone! Anyone! Truly, this is natural and how God made us. It’s not natural for children to not have mommas — so when we see children who are waiting, we long and we often say yes in our hearts before we even mention where our hearts have gone to our husbands.
Then — we POP.
We share the need through tears and we are met with the provider who was designed differently — who responds often practically evaluating the current family state, finances and often wisely aware of what is necessary or will be needed to grow again.
It might not even be growing again that the Lord puts on our hearts but something entirely different. Whatever it is — we just find ourselves completely frustrated when our spouses aren’t right where we are. Yet I believe the Lord has given our husbands a great responsibility to lead our families well. While the Lord some times leads our husbands through the sharing of things on our hearts — we can trust that the Lord will always lead us together in His time. While it’s good to share what we feel and how we are processing—we can’t expect our spouse to be where our momma hearts always are. I wish I had remembered a long time ago that we are in this together.
Yes — we are different because we were designed to be. It’s not about that we are different. Because we are! We aren’t supposed to focus on the differences although the enemy would want you to. Our different design is what makes marriage so beautiful. God uses us to shape one another in our differences — and then His Holy Spirit aligns our dreams and desires together when it is in His will — and we know we are to move forward or to wait together.
It is so important to be on the same page before you turn to the next one no matter how hard or exciting that next page might be.
2. Celebrate together.
As our family grew, Richard and I were really good at giving one another breaks so we could each rest. He would watch the kids so I could have time to work on my ministry each day, and then I’d watch the kids so he could go to a ministry meeting for a school in Africa we are on the board for. Doing these things together really was impossible for this season of growing — but one thing we could do was celebrate what God was doing in them together instead of zipping off when breaks presented themselves and going separate ways.
Although we couldn’t get multiple babysitters each week to do these different things together, we could make time to share with one another what God was doing in the things we were a part of and celebrate together. This was a real connection game changer for us in the midst of having young children and a busy lifestyle with lots of children!
I soon saw as we celebrated and shared more and more together — instead of feeling overwhelmed or sad when he went to do his thing, I was excited for him! I would walk in the door from a meeting with his genuine concern and excitement for what had been accomplished. Had we not taken the energy and time to communicate and celebrate together, the enemy could have really used this to divide us or create resentment. We had simply forgotten to communicate about details, and we soon saw how this overflowed into sharing details about my homeschool day or Richard’s work day. Sometimes as family’s grow and you are finding your new normal, you can get stuck in a surviving state and almost forget about celebrating one another and making the other a part of the details in each other’s lives.
3. Share the weight.
After coming home with our 5th child, I remember worrying that Richard would think we really had our hands full this time. He had a lot going on with work, so at first I tried to take on all the changes that came with our new one. I was so worried about overwhelming him or that if I shared the weight I wouldn’t be “supermom” and I might disappoint him — OR that I would be asking too much for him to help more.
This one took us being brave and going to counseling. I just knew I was overwhelmed and unsure how to do everything. As we listed out what I felt my responsibilities were, I realized I was taking on too much with the intent of protecting my husband. He loves me and wanted to help — I just wasn’t sharing the weight of our new normal with him.
Some of you may be really good at communicating or asking for help, but this was and is my weak point. I’m working on this with others but especially with my spouse because most of the time he not only can but actually wants to help when he is able. It was such a beautiful reminder from him when he realized I wasn’t sharing the weight, that he loves me, and we are in this together. We are now working more as a team, and I have extra time to do things like write again and even rest.
4. Put your marriage first in family priorities.
This was another area we realized through counseling we had gotten in the wrong order. While we were going on dates, we were rushing out the door checking off date night – because we were supposed to.
If you aren’t sharing the weight — you will be frustrated and tired. You will vote for a nap on the couch instead of date night.
If you aren’t celebrating one another — you will not be connected and your date nights will be spent talking about what you do have in common… the kids…instead of what else in your heart and life.
If you aren’t making decisions together and waiting on one another — you will spend date night completely distracted and even wondering when the other will ever get on your page.
Without doing these things, you will find yourself, in fact, going through the motions and if you are making a date night happen, it could be more for a check off in attempting a healthy marriage than racing out the door together laughing because you just can’t wait to connect free of distractions. As we got these other areas in place, we realized we needed to also help one another remember who we were and the little things we loved to do… before kids.
Believe it or not, Richard was jaw-dropped when he learned one thing I loved about him before kids was how he loved to play golf. I shared how much I loved this about him and watching him light up as he told me about different holes or silly bets or tournaments with his buddies.
He helped me remember the things he had fallen in love with about me… how I loved to write and be alone outside — and who knew he loved my crafty side and watching me paint.
Helping one another remember who we were before the crazy of growing our family and reminding each other what we first loved about each other as helped us put our marriage first and to even help each other rediscover things that got put aside with the demands of a growing family. On a sunny day, I call or text him that I wish he would go play golf before coming home and he lets me go for long quiet walks to reflect for writing.
Something miraculous has happened in our marriage as we have helped each other remember and rediscover one another again. We see each other beyond mommy and daddy or spouse… but as lover and friend. We are putting each other and our marriage first — and the kids might have to wait a little bit longer. But they are seeing us dance together in a new way and I know God is using this in their hearts too.
5. Take your commitment over and over again to Christ.
As you grow, things will never be easy. Even in our current state, there are days when we miscommunicate or things feel off. The enemy creeps in with the intent to steal, kill and destroy — and over and over again — you will need to take your commitment over and over again back to Christ. I am committed to my husband because I made a promise to him when we married and vice versa, but more than that, we are committed to one another because Christ first loved us and we also made a commitment to Christ the day we married.
We will communicate even the disconnect we might feel with our Savior — and help one another as we walk the path toward Him. We don’t go to bed angry because His word tells us not to. (Although I’m stubborn and often tempted!) We pray together about our ministries, work and children. We stand beside each other — and when his hands go up in worship — my heart melts all over again knowing that our commitment to Christ will be the glue that binds us in ways that can’t be explained.
Looking back now, I think I might confess we survived most of our marriage until really beginning to thrive. It would have been so easy to get lost in day to day urgency of spills on the kitchen floor and someone’s late for soccer practice… again. For us it took slowing down, learning to communicate on a deeper level, really listening and pushing one another to be who God created the other to be for a light to come back on again. How thankful I am that we slowed down to make more time for each other and our marriage. While the kids might have to wait a little longer — they have committed parents who are in this together… and I can now honestly say there’s no other place I’d rather be.
The first step for your marriage might just be asking for his hand again and taking just one step together — where ever that might be. Be encouraged. It’s never too late when you both have your eyes on Him.