Today is my husband’s birthday!
I remembered five minutes after we started talking on the phone this morning. Yes, that happened. After needing to be reminded yesterday that today was the day, I went five whole minutes with him on the phone before I blurted out…
I moaned a few seconds while listening to him laugh, as he assured me once again it was okay. I then mentioned I would fully confess in the blog he knew I would be writing today. He laughed again as I prayed over him before he walked into the bank.
Last year for Nathan’s 50th birthday all he wanted was a quiet evening at home with his family. I had originally planned taking the whole family out and being a little more loud about his accomplishment of turning 50. Nathan threw a slight fit and I yielded…I mean, it was HIS birthday and he should get to do what he wants.
Nathan and I are quite different but after 30 years of marriage, we have meshed in some beautiful ways.
I told Nathan this morning that I read about the dying process last night. I know that sounds morbid but I was looking for some answers on something specific and ended up coming across an article that talked about 3 phases of death- Chaos…Surrender…Transcendence (Not everyone goes through this if there is no time to contemplate dying).
It occurred to me as I considered this man’s opinion who spoke with many people before they pass, that our own marriage has gone through these phases…somewhat.
Let me attempt to briefly explain.
Phase One- You get married with big dreams about what marriage is suppose to be like. Though this will vary from couple to couple, there is some form of denial that eventually sets in as you begin to realize, “Oh, I don’t believe this is what I signed up for?” I often tell couples that more than marriage causing anything bad, it begins to reveal things in both husband and wife that need healed or addressed. These “things” are issues that are not conducive to creating oneness as God designed.
Depending on many factors, Chaos can take shape. (For some this is a bump in the road, for others, a hurricane)
I would say for Nathan and I it was more of a hurricane-type chaos…though we were good at covering it up in the early years…which is absurd if you picture yourself trying to contain an actual hurricane. Other people can typically see what’s going on to some degree. Commonly at this phase, you’re still mostly unaware of your own stuff, tend to blame-shift and skirt the responsibility in looking at what our friend Craig calls “your own inner ugly.”
The chaos resumes as both husband and wife work hard at looking at the other as the cause, instead of seeking understanding on what’s being revealed. Issues that often were struggles before we married.
I could give many examples but this would turn into a book. Before I leave this phase, I want to be clear… there are “issues” that can be revealed after marriage that become vow breakers, especially if a spouse refuses to get help and take responsibility. This will look different for everyone and I would like to humbly caution you in listening to any friend or counselor who gives you pat, trite answers in these often traumatic marriages.
As I care for my dying father, and consider the things we are facing that are extremely difficult and emotionally exhausting at times, I don’t have space for someone who wants to throw a bandaid on a limb that’s being severed. In marriages that experience higher levels of betrayal or trauma, it’s wise, powerful, and comforting to get with a couple who has been where you are. Sometimes that means getting with someone who had to end an abusive marriage but can help you consider if that is the answer for you.
Phase Two- It takes more effort and exhaustion to deny or minimize than to surrender to the reality you are now living in. If all you had was a bump in the road, this will not be a life-changing event but still add to the maturing process of letting go of control and looking towards the hope of transformation and healing.
Now that both spouses are out of denial, (Ideally, that happens at the same time or season but the one who makes it here can still experience the fruit of surrender) there is typically a season of deep sadness, some anger, mourning and sometimes despair. As hard as those emotions are to feel, it’s not a sign that you are doing something wrong or that your situation is fatal. It’s at this juncture of being vulnerable that you can be honest about your disappointments and sometimes delusions.
There may be seasons of “mourning the death of the marriage you longed for” even while reorienting yourself to the marriage that’s still possible. This phase might last many years. If both spouses are journeying together, it can be a beautiful time of growing intimacy, even in the midst of many pains that each person has suffered.
The defining point in this phase is the revelation of “I am known and loved.” It’s the game-changer. Coming out of this phase leads to the final phase which is the fruit of mutual yieldedness, as God is seen as the Giver of all good gifts, even when the package takes tenacious tears to unwrap.
Phase Three- “Not my will, but Your will be done.” Surrender has happened and the marriage is moving forward with more understanding that marriage isn’t ultimately about us but God’s plan to bring His redemptive purposes to this earth. Marriage is only one way God unveils His love for us and we express our love for Him. There are many other ways, so if your marriage did not make it to this phase, rest assured God recreates His purposes in the lives of those who repent and/or forgive.
The Transcendence phase of marriage is rest. The struggle to survive or to even want to survive is quieted and for many snuffed out… if it emerges from within, it’s more easily recognized and rejected. This is NOT about a couple arriving at perfection as it is about a couple coming into PURPOSE.
The marriage is now truly secondary and experienced through the overflow of being deeply loved, accepted and chosen in Christ. Until spouses reach this place as individuals, struggle will define the marriage.
Nathan and I spent twenty years in this struggle. We both agreed this morning that we have entered into Phase Three if we are comparing this man’s observation with the dying process. I do want to add, for the person who is passing away with time to contemplate, this phase is deep soul rest and peace. The Spirit is being renewed even as the body is passing away.
You’re probably asking what in the heck does this have to do with telling you why my husband is so dear to me on this birthday?
It’s quite simple in my mind.
Nathan’s steadfast dependence on God in his weakness to help me, has helped me. He has loved me in ways Christ’s loved all of us during His visit to this world…through dependency on His Father. If my man can love a broken, strong-willed, independent, rebellious girl like me through the power of dependency on His Heavenly Father, I can also depend on God to give me the strength to do all He’s put on my heart to do.
Nathan didn’t have to do this thing…he could have pridefully stayed in the chaos phase and denied his own issues. He could have also called it quits in the surrender phase when his eyes were wide-open to what he was dealing with and the sorrow that accompanied that understanding. Nathan recently shared with me that during this struggle, he felt a sense of responsibility towards me. Not to fix me but to be with me in my brokenness.
When my eyes were being opened to the mystery of this kind of love, I stopped running away. Not so much from Nathan initially, but from God. When I stopped running from God in my sin and failure, I was graced with the ability to see my husband not as a foe standing in the way of what I wanted but as a stubborn friend who refused to let me die in the lies I believed. He loved me not only as his wife but a sister in Christ, wanting to see me healed and free.
I am long past my acceptable word count for writing a blog that keeps people reading, but that’s okay. I know there is one person who will read it until the end…my lover and my best friend who turns 51 today.
I love you, Nathan! Tears form as I type those words because I now believe what I say. I said it for years hoping it would come true, not because you were unlovable, but because I didn’t know what real love was. You took Your Heavenly Father’s hand through your own surrender, and you led us to this place of rest…not perfection but beautiful purpose…now bringing shade to others who also need to know there is a place of rest on the other side of chaos and surrender.