4 years, 9 lessons

1. The nature of giving gifts

It seems that true gifts in marriage are often far less grandeur than we imagine them to be yet far more meaningful than we give them credit for. One of those unexpected gifts that we have discovered (especially as parents) is the gift of letting the other person leave in peace. It’s an act of sacrificial love to hold down the fort and say “Go! Work. Enjoy. Rest. With no guilt. We’re good here.” Being given the gift of leaving well enhances the gift of returning well. It’s good to study which ordinary gifts mean the most to our spouse, and then practice giving them when and how we can.

2. Keep asking the questions

Real life is a lot of doing the same things over and over again. I think marriage is too. And one of those things we’ve discovered is asking the same ol questions: how was your day? How are you? What do you think about this? These sort of every day questions have a way of continuing to say “I still care. And I care about your whole being (heart, mind, interests, concerns, etc)”

3. Remind them you need them

Even after 4 years, maybe especially after 4 years, there’s something so powerful about knowing you are still needed. To know you are needed means there is a special place that you fill. It means you bring something unique to the table that they often lack and are bettered by. But the best part of all is knowing that you’re not just needed for what you give, but solely who you are. The significance of receiving “I need you” beats the awkwardness of being the one to say it.

4. Remind yourself you don’t need them

Something I’m glad I was told is that even in light of all of the very best things we desire for our spouses to be, in the truest of senses, we don’t need them to be those things. It’s really good to want a loving and gentle and thoughtful and fill in your own blank, spouse. But if our spouses fail us in those ways, we do not have to come undone. For the believer, our deepest needs have been truly and fully met in Jesus. We do not have to lose the essence of who we are when our deepest human needs are not being met by another person. We are still whole.

5. Joke away your annoyances

A while back I heard this idea of lightheartedly picking on our spouse as a way to actually guard against seeds of resentment being subtly planted against them. The person who shared this (on a podcast) used the example of nicknaming her husband “Ogre.” This was due to his apparent inability not to clunk around loudly in the morning while the rest of the family sleeps. Of course this doesn’t mean there is not a place for confronting our spouses in the areas of needed growth. But, other times we need to just laugh a little and decide to nickname them. Because after all, no one can be mad at Shrek in the kitchen just doing his normal ogre thing.

6. Give them space to try and fail

Is it really possible for someone to “fail” at going grocery shopping, loading a dishwasher, or mowing a lawn? Probably not. But, to the other person who would have never purchased that item even though “it was an amazing deal”, it can sure feel like the one who did, failed. Or at the very least it can feel like they did it “wrong.” It’s clunky and hard and hilarious to merge a life with someone else. And not only live life with them, but in some senses let them live parts of it for you. Yet this past year especially we have seen how important of an aspect it is to give the other person space and trust to do certain things their own way, even if it’s very far from our own (obviously most sensible) way.

7. Keep first things first

I think this can be applied in a much broader sense, but as is the nature of these anniversary blogs, I mean it in a very every-day sort of way. One helpful way we’ve been told to think about this is “product vs procedure.” If the final product is a painted room, was it really worth it if the whole time we painted the room we gave each other the silent treatment? When we keep first things first we value unity, listening, respect, enjoyment, growth, etc as much as we do the destination itself. The result is much more satisfying when the relationship is not lost along the way to get there.

8. Like them, too

In my less-fond-of-Kyle moments, I’ve been known to quote the movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (definitely our most quoted movie in marriage)I love you Binky, but I don’t have to like you!” And the truth is, we don’t always like our spouse.. especially when they kill our love ferns. But in all seriousness, it’s really sweet to be reminded that we’re not only loved but also liked. Recently Kyle commented on a random Nat-ism, “I’ve always liked that about you!” My response was both “oh, I really do that, don’t I?” And “Aw, you like that about me?” Then we keep doing those things.

9. Knowing and being known

Kyle and I continue to grow in the knowledge of just how exposing and humbling being known is. Yet also just how comforting and freeing it is. Tim Keller sums up this idea in a beautiful way:

“To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

This knowing and being known doesn’t just happen in the context marriage. But, marriage gives us a unique taste of what it’s like to be both known and loved by the Creator of the universe. And in marriage too, this is something to continuously behold and to be held by.

Milk, messes, and marriage

Somehow marriage can tend to get a little lost in the midst of parenting.

And by somehow I mean at the end of the day when those keys jingle at the door and a big hug and warm greeting turns into “here— take him!”

Or when a conversation ends in one big “never mind!” because it couldn’t have possibly been important enough to continue after 6 times of being interrupted.

Or when watching a movie together actually means crashing on the couch.

And alas, when you do find yourself sitting across from each other at a fancy restaurant— surrounded by grown up people having grown up conversations— you somehow also find yourselves singing the praises of, or sharing concerns about, (wouldn’t you guess!) the kids.

While many can speak to this topic with much more experience and expertise than I, I wanted to share three words that have the potential and power to bring some meaning in the mundane and some calm in the chaos. And mostly they have a way of re-connecting two people who are already one, but may feel miles apart.

The words can be shown: making sure to give a quick goodbye kiss before rushing out the door, or meeting eyes and offering a quiet wink in a loud moment, or complimenting their looks on just an ordinary day. The words can also be uttered. Right there in the middle of the madness, three small words.

I see you…

Behind the work clothes you put on every morning and behind that spit up filled t-shirt. I see you.

Underneath loads of laundry and stacked up dishes. I see you.

With a greeting at the door after a long day. I see you.

When you watch with pride or cower in fear. I see you.

Having a dance party in the kitchen or disciplining in the back room. I see you.

With tired or tear filled eyes.

With stretched or scarred skin.

With a heavy or happy heart.

I see you.

Not just the ways you give and the things you do. But you. A person. My person.

The one I used to lay under the stars with. The one I danced with and dreamed with.

My favorite laugh, my greatest confidant, and my forever adventure partner.

Still the one.

Plus so much more that these years have given to you and made of you.

And when the kids are grown up and gone, it will still be you. The same you I’ve been seeing, or missing, all this time.

[Quote from one of my favorite shows, This Is Us, that captures this reality well]

You want to know why my marriage ended, Jack, hmm? Okay, for as long as I can remember I’ve woken up at 6:30 everyday and made Shelly coffee. Splash of milk, two sugars. I would make it, and bring it to her in bed. And she says that her day doesn’t even start until she’s got caffeine in her veins. And then one day, woke up, 6:30, like always. I made myself one, I just didn’t feel like making Shelly one. And the worst part is, she didn’t even notice. We stopped noticing each other, Jack. We stopped trying to make each other happy.

So we fight to keep noticing.
And trying.

Because marriage really is made up of these moments.

3 years, 8 lessons

As some of you might remember, last year I did a list of 13 lessons from year 2 of marriage. Once again this is not a list of things “mastered” but more things we are seeking to grow in or maybe have just failed miserably at.

After reflecting on another year (which is always such a sweet and good thing to do), here are 8 lessons that continued to stick out and come to mind:

1. We’re both broken

This year Kyle and I realized in new, humbling, and even liberating ways that we are both indeed, broken people. We have learned this reality should be met with confession and not concealment. We have also learned that we both have needs that are good and right and often even the same. But, in our brokenness, we start grasping for them to be met in our own selfish and side-ways ways. This should lead us primarily to empathy and understanding and not judgement or isolation.

2. We’re both redeemed

Even though we’re still broken beings, redemption in Christ changes everything. Including marriage. When I truly understand that God loves my husband, I can look at him and say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there I will look at your magnificence and say ‘I always knew you could be like this, I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!'” (Tim Keller)

3. Time matters

We have discovered that quality time typically doesn’t just happen on its own. The truth is, with or without kids, it is more about seizing the time than finding it. The time, in some form, is there. Whether early mornings or late nights, it’s there. Sometimes after a long day, it’s choosing to unwind and be mindless, together. Watch a show together, play cards together, or just sit and be together. 

4. Get inside each other’s worlds

Instead of resenting the thing that takes much of our spouses attention or time, we should let it have ours as well. We should ask them to teach us about it. Maybe this will mean their sports team becomes our sports team. Or maybe this will mean they sit down with us at our favorite coffee shop. Whatever the case, we don’t have to be clueless outsiders to their jobs and interests and hobbies.

5. God’s way is best

While these words might sound simplistically obvious to Christians or outdated and rigid to non Christians, when our friend spoke them to us this year, they were exactly the words we needed to hear in the moment we heard them. These words have continued to ring true time and time again when we have sat in the utter mess of trying to do marriage our own way.

6. Remember your spouse is for you

Walking with the confidence that your spouse is “for you” promotes trust and security. It is life giving and nourishing. A silly and simple example of this is that I love to take notes at church; but 99% of the time forget a pen. One Sunday, as if I was surprised by myself, I was aimlessly looking around for a pen. I looked over at Kyle who was holding one out for me and said he brought it for me. It hit me: he knows me. He brought a pen for me. He is for me. In both the big and seemingly insignificant moments we have to look for evidences of this truth.

7. Be for your spouse

Because we are human, we are not always going to perfectly be  for someone else. While it will not be perfectly or unfailingly, it can and should be strivingly. Without giving and receiving this powerful ingredient in marriage, we subtly start to see the other person as actually against us. We, then, naturally resort to guarding and defending ourselves. But a unique beauty of marriage is seen in being remembered by the very person we are forgetting ourselves for. We don’t have to watch our backs because the other person has them.

8. Listening to hear

This seems super simple. After all, the point of listening to someone else is to really hear them, right? Yet we have seen how easy it becomes to “listen” mostly for the sake of responding or assuming. Recently, Kyle and I had a conversation where the listener had to repeat back to the sharer what they heard them saying until the sharer felt they were accurately heard. There is freedom found here. Here, not where our spouse agrees with everything we say, but rather where we are heard and understood.

2 years, 13 lessons

1. Stop comparing:
The reality is, the scales will never be perfectly “even.” It is impossible. A marriage is sharing the same load but often carrying different things. It takes time to figure out your different roles and responsibilities; but if your goal is for everything to be “even” you will end up exhausted, discontent, and resentful.

2. Be best friends:
For some this comes naturally. For others, it might take more work and intentionality. On one hand, don’t be too serious. Laugh, smile, and enjoy. Do things together that you can say “that was fun!” about. But also sit down and talk. Wrestle through your thoughts, desires, dreams, and concerns together. Be open and honest. Share your heart as well as your experiences.

3. Don’t get “too close”:
This one might seem a little strange, but there is a difference in a spouse and a college roommate. Boundaries, even in marriage, are not always bad. I am just going to get real- some people do not want you to pop their zits or be in the bathroom while they are pooping. Lack of space can subtly lead to lack of respect. Let your spouse be their own person. Let them get away (in their own way) to refresh and recoop. It is a healthy thing to still see them as an individual and respect them from “afar,” too.

4. Appreciate differences:
This kind of goes back to #1, but this has been a theme for us this year because of how hard it has been to do. Celebrate your differences, do not resent them. Be glad you are not married to someone just like you. Sometimes it is good and funny to just sit back and appreciate that another person could possibly think so differently than the way you do.

5. Expectations!
I do not even know what describing word to use before this one because there is just so much to say about it. Be aware that 99.9% of the time you will be coming at things with two totally separate, yet assumed and unspoken, expectations. Be willing to share them and also adjust them. Do not let unmet expectations ruin what could be.

6. Protect your marriage:
Treat others the same way you do when your husband or wife are around. Live with a healthy fear of hurting your spouse. Assure them they have the upper hand against another person or thing, always. Do not let them feel like they have to compete in any capacity against another guy/girl, your phone, a video game, a football game, your friend or family. They already won. Make sure they are secure in that.

7. Invite other people in:
Do not try to do marriage alone. Find someone who is the type person who tells you what you are doing wrong and not what your spouse is doing wrong. Seek out someone older and wiser who can see from a different perspective and who can speak from more experience. Listen to them. Let them help you.

8. Know and be known, today:
I have heard it said that one day you basically wake up to a stranger. This thought has scared me… what if we do not like who each other becomes? But that is missing the beauty of it. As Dale Partridge says,

      ” I fell in love with a 19-year-old rock climber, married a 20-year-old animal lover, started a family with a 24-year-old mother, then built a farm with a 25-year-old homemaker, and today I’m married to a 27-year-old woman of wisdom.”

I do not think we should spend our marriages trying to “get back what we once had” but rather use what we had as a foundation to keep building on. And instead of “remembering what we loved about them,” finding something new we love about them, today.

9. Forward is easier than backwards:
 Be careful what lines you cross. For example if you let yourselves raise your voice for an argument (or throw things or slam doors, etc) that is likely the level your arguments will always go to. Draw lines and do not cross them; then you will not have to worry about going back.

10. Stop nit picking:
You do not HAVE to state every single thing that bugs you. Pick your battles wisely and ask, “is this really something that matters past this one second of life or am I just being a control freak?” Correction is easier to take when it is not all you hear. I think the philosophy for kids applies to the marriage relationship too; for every put down do three pick ups. Words have the ability to empower or drain.

11. Say “I’m sorry”:
 For a specific thing. Verbally. Not just when something blows up and you “have to” in order to “move on.” Initiaite apologies, do not wait for them to be required of you. It has softened my heart every single time Kyle has said “I am sorry for…” Period. With no “buts.” Grace and humility have a way of beckoning grace and humility in return.  There is a vital difference between conversations that say “well you did this, and you should be sorry” and ones that say “I did this, and I’m sorry.”

12. Be vulnerable:
I think vulnerbility means actually choosing to expose. I realized recently that the embarassing things we struggle with (like the ugly motives that lie deep in our hearts) are the things we should invite our spouses to see and help with. Welcome and praise this sort of honesty. Do not let your spouse fear coming to you.

13. Take advantage of them:
 Marriage is common yet rare and unique. No two marriages are the same because no two people are the same. Sometimes we need to take a step back and remember this special bond we share with another person that no one else gets to. It really is a once in a life time kind of love, so make the most of it.

Year one-✔

When I think back over our year I want to…
Laugh. Cry. Give thanks.
All at once.

December 21, 2015 was a magical day. It was honestly more than I could have dreamt up. I could go on and on about all of the” little things” I will never forget about it. But as amazing as the day was, my favorite moment was running hand in hand with Kyle through a tunnel of people we loved. Running towards his car… running towards our life that was about to begin together. A Wedding Day is a beautiful and wonderful memory, but a marriage is a lifetime. Wise words I now understand a little more: “Prepare/plan for a marriage, not just a wedding.”

Sometimes marriage is a sweet good night kiss and sometimes it is barely choking out an “I still love you” before closing your eyes to sleep.

Sometimes marriage is running to each others arms of comfort and sometimes it is crying in the same arms of the one who caused the tears.

Sometimes marriage is dressing up and going out for a steak and sometimes it is putting on sweats, staying in, and making mac n cheese.

Sometimes marriage is waking up to your favorite persons face and sometimes it is waking up to the smell of some nasty morning breath.

Sometimes marriage is a bubbling affection that cannot help but spill out and sometimes it is making the hard choice to show love, even when you do not feel it at all.

Sometimes marriage is thinking there is no one else in the world you would rather spend life with and sometimes it is wondering why in the world you chose each other.

Sometimes marriage is “first time” kind of sparks and butterflies and sometimes it is holding old familiar hands.

Sometimes marriage is recognition of and apprecation for the things you do and sometimes it is a cooked meal, a long day at work, or a made bed that does not receive a “thank you”.

Sometimes marriage is singing the praises of your spouse and sometimes it is biting your toungue when you want to gossip about them.

Sometimes marriage is living with plenty and sometimes it is barely scraping by.

Sometimes marriage is getting lost in the eyes of the one you love and forgetting anyone else exists and sometimes it is looking away when you want the attention of another.

Sometimes  marriage is speaking when you want to be quiet and sometimes it is being quiet when you want to speak.

Sometimes marriage is delightfully easy and natural and sometimes it is painfully slow and messy.

…When I read what God’s Word says about marriage, it feels a little daunting. It does not say that its driving force is romantic feelings and its ultimate end goal is happiness. When it comes down to it, the reason for “staying in it” (with all that you are and have) is simply and profoundly: the covenant you made. This reflects a much greater covenant- Christ and His people. Marriage is described as glorious, spiritual, and profound. It is about so much more than ourselves.

“Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love. It’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. It’s about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way he relates to his people. It is about showing in real life the glory of the gospel.” —John and Noël Piper

Though marriage is certainly much harder work for some than others and though certain gifts through marriage come much more naturally for some than others– I believe that there is opportunity and grace to experience the unique and beautiful gifts of companionship, romance, and happiness as a result of marriage. It does not have to be this thing we just grit our teeth and get through. My Pastor reminded us this past Sunday (based off of Psalm 45) that we, the church, are an adored bride. Christ burst the doors of heaven open to come and get us. This is not indifference or toleration, it is true love in action. This kind of love is worth fighting to have and give.

Praise be to God for the gift of marriage!

Through it all,
in every season,
HE is faithful and true.

“Marriage advice” from the newly-wed.

There are so many things that make up a good marriage. So many things that I have yet to learn. Some are foundational and some are just small aspects that end up contributing to a more happy and healthy marriage. Just one of those small aspects that I have seen and learned so far in my short time of being married is simply embracing and appreciating your differences.

Kyle told me a few weeks ago that he saw something I was doing in the kitchen (that was apparently totally foreign and nonsensical to him). He said he was tempted to “correct me” but instead just shook his head and smiled to himself thinking, “that is Nat.” Him telling me that reminded me in a silly yet real way “aw, he really does love me.” It is obviously not natural for two completely different people to combine their lives together. But that is exactly it. It is supposed to be a combining of differences not a colliding of them. I have had to remind myself how good of a thing it is that I am not married to myself. That might sound strange, but it seems like in relationships we often secretly and subtly think that if only the other person was more like us it would be a whole lot easier; and we seek to slowly conform them into our own image. But in reality how boring and stifling to growth that would be! I have become increasingly thankful when Kyle chooses to love and cherish me for who I am. And I desire to do the same in return.

Marriage SHOULD change us. It should challenge, inspire, mold, and edify us. But I think part of marriage is knowing when to confront and help the other person to change for their own good, and when to be quiet and simply enjoy them for who they are- baffling quirks and all.