A Window Into Our Lives: The First Year of Marriage

It seems like now a days even making it to your first anniversary is an accomplishment. With so many spouses quickly diving off the boat when the wind and waves begin to pound, our society is starting to view divorce as equivalent to “breaking up” with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and completely undermining the vow of “til death do us part”, allowing the devil to ravage homes and break children’s hearts.

Even in the area of vows, things are changing. I have heard of vows that said they will remain with their spouse “for as long as we love each other”.  And what’s the number one excuse for divorce? “I just don’t love him anymore”.

So as Andrew and I hit our first anniversary on June 5, 2011 we looked back on our first year of marriage in awe. God had been so good in preparing us for our first year together. The number one thing I believe that enabled us to have a successful and truly wonderful first year of marriage (when to so many say they had an extremely hard time) is solid pre-marriage counselling.

Proverbs 24:6 says:
Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers.

In all the romance and excitement of marriage, we often don’t realize the warzone that we have entered. Marriage itself is God’s design, and the enemy (who the bible describes as being “a roaring lion, seeking who he may DEVOUR“) desires to destroy it. He knows just how strong two people who love the Lord and love each other are in the hands of God, and he does not like that.

In our first year we went through a few major life changes. We both started new positions at work when we returned home from our honeymoon. We found out we were expecting our first child 3 and a half months in, purchased our first home at Christmas and moved while I was very pregnant. To top it all off, we had our beautiful little boy two weeks before our first anniversary (without question, the best blessing on that year). It was a fast paced, exciting year, to say the least!

We are of course not experts on marriage, but once you get through one season, you automatically can give it to God for Him to use it to help others. Honestly, the Lord amazes me how He will always take our ashes and turn them into something beautiful.

So here are my top three lessons that we learned in pre-marriage that I believe took us through with great strength, and are now helping us through a much more challenging year as new parents, learning to rely on the Lord in faith.

1. Come into agreement – This has been a tremendously helpful concept to us. Every important decision we need to make starts with Andrew and I praying together and asking the Lord for direction. We do not move forward on something until we have both heard from God or at least have peace about what the other feels. This has most recently been tested in moving, where it was a lot harder to lay my agenda down. (For more on this check out my blog post “Moving Again”). During our first year of marriage where we were initially learning to make decisions together, it made it a lot less stressful. It’s hard to be upset with someone when you’ve both heard the same thing from God! One example I can think of was deciding on Caleb’s name. We both had different ideas, and it’s not that we didn’t like each others suggestions, but it made choosing whose name to go with a lot easier when the Lord himself told us what our baby should be named. This will also be so much more significant to Caleb when he hears the prophetic word over his life that his name speaks, as Caleb means “wholehearted and faithful”.

2. Have realistic expectations – I believe girls especially have this outrageous expectation that everything is suddenly going to be perfect. Every emotional void in your life is suddenly going to be filled, and your home will be overflowing with eternal love, happiness and peace. Ha! I know for Andrew (and I have his permission to share this) that he was astonished at how deeply emotional of a person I am, and it was definitely an adjustment for him handling my tears, stress, frustration that would then suddenly turn to joy (ok I’m not as manic as I sound here!). Thankfully, our pre-marriage class pulled us back down to earth in the area of expectations. We came into marriage remembering that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our purpose in getting married should not be to selfishly try to have our own needs fulfilled, but to endeavor to serve the other person and love them with our whole heart.

3. Allow God to work on the stuff in your own life, and He’ll work on your spouse – So often we rush to judge the other person or be mad at them for what they are doing. We both have tried to apply this question (and of course we all make mistakes, and I definitely don’t remember to do this all the time), “Why is what he/she doing bothering me so much”? I’ve found in myself quite often it’s been because of a deeper issue in my own life. In our first year of marriage, handling conflict was a little tougher than than it is now (it’s amazing how quickly God can turn a situation around!). Because of trigger points in my heart from things in my past, I would get extremely upset and want to just cry if Andrew seemed at all aggravated with me . This would result in me not talking at all, until I had time to process what had happened and start to feel terrible about the distance between us. When I was finally able to communicate this to Andrew (through many tears) I found freedom in just saying it and started shutting down less. In turn, Andrew changed how he brought stuff up with me knowing how it easily hurt me. When deep hurt is brought to light, love and healing can shine down. When it stays buried in the dark, the enemy uses it to mess with your mind and get in between you and the one the Lord has called you to love forever.

I have MANY more great little lessons from our first year, but I think I’ll save some for another post, so I don’t bore you too much here, as I so do appreciate you listening to what I have to say!

One other little thing I will leave you with is this: There is great freedom in laughing at negative situations that have been resolved. Some issues that we thought were just our own were once brought up talking with another newly married couple. Specifically the husband mentioned how frustrating it was that his wife always wanted to bring up an issue when they were falling asleep. Well once that was out, we were all laughing and sharing stories of when that had happened. It suddenly wasn’t a big deal. It was kind of funny! The guys realized that it’s maybe just girls, and us girls realized how inconvenient it really is in that moment. The negative power was stripped away when we were able to laugh.

Proverbs 17:22 says
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” 

I encourage you if you are engaged or soon to be engaged to seek out strong, Godly mentoring and pre-marriage counselling that pushes you beyond the surface or your relationship and forces you to examine your heart and your motives. Having a solid foundation makes all the difference in the world, and brings about a much smoother transition.

Whether you’ve been married for a week or 75 years, may you celebrate every milestone, each trying time you’ve made it through, each joyful situation you have delighted in together. May no weapon formed against your marriage prosper and may the Lord fill your hearts and homes with His peace, love and joy.

My Tattoo

90635011221916486_XPHzfBaWOne of the biggest struggles I’ve had, since getting pregnant and having Caleb has been my body image. I had never once before had to worry about my weight. After almost 18 years of gymnastics, either training or coaching, I could eat just about anything and it didn’t seem to affect me. After gaining a few pounds from pregnancy, as much as I am unhappy about it, it’s at least something, that if I work hard at, I can reverse. Stretch marks on the other hand, that’s a different story.

You know how people say when you’re pregnant your belly button might “pop” out? It’s always said in a kind of exciting way, a milestone a pregnant lady may achieve. I had many nice ladies ask me, “so has your belly button popped yet?”. What an awkward question! But when mine did pop, it never went back. It’s just basically an inside out belly button, awkwardly stretched long ways and garnished with a nice dark, stretch mark scar right down the middle.

Beautiful.

Then there are the stretch marks on the rest of my stomach, hips, and thighs. This is only my first baby! How much worse is it going to get?

In just a few short months I went from feeling more beautiful than I ever had in my life on my wedding day, to feeling worse about myself than I ever have (a great combination when coupled with being newly married). For a little while I was disgusted with myself. In my eyes, these scars did not represent love, they brought me shame and embarrassment, and confusion over why God designed it to be this way.

I came before the Lord and gave Him my hurt, pain and confusion. I told him I didn’t want to be mad about this. So many moms told me their marks brought them joy, a reminder of how they birthed their child into this world. Why didn’t I feel this way? I wanted to, I tried to, but my self-esteem was quickly plummeting.

In this place of brokenness before the Lord, He showed me that we now had a similarity. I could greater understand Him. We both had scars on our body from bringing life to someone. I just brought earthly life to a beautiful boy, while he brought salvation and eternal life to countless numbers. I felt him whisper to me the same things he said to the disciples in Luke 24:39 when he appeared to them after being raised from the dead. “My daughter, look at my hands and my feet.” As I looked at them, I felt him say to me
“I am not ashamed of these scars of love. My children look to me and they will always know the great love I have for them. It is not a sign to me of what I did, but a sign to them. A promise of love. I gave up myself for them.”

Of course, my sacrifice of bringing life to my son was nowhere near the sacrifice Jesus made in bringing life to us. I just share this since I know the Lord spoke it to me to bring comfort to my soul, and I hope it does to you as well.

In a small way I gave up myself for Caleb. I will give up myself again for future babies. Although I’m not sure Caleb will ever ask to look at my stretch marks, they will be a sign for him. A sign to him that I would lay down my life for him, that I would go through pain for him, that I would do anything for him, because he is my son. My body has a promise of love forever tattooed upon it. I don’t need a tattoo of Caleb’s name or something to remind me of him, I will just look at these scars and remember: My child is loved. I will always love my child.

My Jesus loves me. I look at His hands and His feet and I see it. I see the promise of eternal life. I see the sacrifice. I see love, hope and a passionate Savior.

A Big Mistake

I am almost sick to even write about this. I told Andrew tonight to promise me he’d never tell anyone that I did this. But as the night goes on the Lord keeps speaking so much to me about my big mistake.

Today we ordered a large print of Caleb and decided we’d all go for a drive to Wal-Mart to pick it up, since we’d been cooped up in the house with colds. Somewhere between me putting Caleb in his car seat and throwing a few unnecessary things in the diaper bag, I forgot to buckle him in.

I know. It’s almost unbelievable.

We drove all the way to Wal-Mart, thinking Caleb was being unusually quiet. I glanced at him in our little mirror that allows us to see his face and he seemed abnormally content, especially considering we didn’t realize it was rush hour and we were stopped at a lot of lights.

When we got home, Andrew picked up Caleb in his car seat and we started telling him what a great boy he is, how he is getting so big that he can entertain himself so well. All of a sudden Andrew’s face looks terrified, “Monica, you forgot to buckle him in.”

Those words hit me so hard. I felt instantly sick. What if we had been in a car accident? What if we stopped suddenly and he went flying out? How could I miss such a fundamentally important safety step? No wonder he was so quiet and content, he does not like be confined by straps and clips!

Throughout the evening it has entered my mind again and I have cried and gone through the sick feelings of what happened. I have realized though that I need to just say THANK YOU JESUS! We have prayed so much that the Lord would make up for the mistakes that we have made, are making and will make in the future. His hand truly was upon us, keeping us safe, guiding and protecting us.

Something my mother in law shared with me before I married Andrew, was the importance of praying Psalm 91 over your family. Wow, do I ever feel the benefits of that from her faithfulness in covering us, and also now we work praying protection over us and our home every day.

I cling daily to the Lord’s promise of protection over us, and daily cast my fears upon Him, when Andrew is at work, when Caleb is sleeping in his crib, or when we are all out driving.

It is extremely heartbreaking when tragedy strikes. I do not claim to understand why awful things happen to those who love the Lord, but one thing I know, is that I am responsible to cover my son and my husband in prayers of protection and cry out to God reminding Him that He said in His Word that “His faithful promises are my armor and protection” (Psalm 91:4b).

Thankfully, nothing bad happened, and I will forever quadruple check his car seat before we go anywhere. But most of all, I give glory to God for keeping us safe in the midst of my mistake, and for surrounding us with His protection.

Here In Lies A Confession

I’m feeling pretty restless today. An impending move makes me unsettled in my house. I don’t really feel at home anymore, it’s more me just waiting to leave, not wanting to get more attached, but not wanting to make everyone around me feel like we’re living in limbo.

These are the days where I don’t feel like making supper, I don’t feel like cleaning, and I could just go back to bed for the day. It’s hard not to do those things when you’re just at home anyway. Whose to stop me from giving up for the day and deciding I’ll just start again tomorrow?

But, I really do have things to do. I really do have things to accomplish. We’ll have a realtor open house here on Wednesday that our basement isn’t ready for, so I need to go down and get started, since it’s really unfair to get Andrew to work on it with me after he’s been at work all day if I haven’t done anything.

My brain sort of feels a little mushy. Like I’m craving a challenge. An adventure. I talk to Caleb, but unfortunately he doesn’t respond. Maybe it is “fortunately” for now, because too many questions might come up if I continue to ramble to Caleb when he can talk.

Once I get going, I know organizing stuff in the spare room will be an adventure. You never know what you’ll find down there. Perhaps I’ll pretend that I’m digging through some abandoned compartment searching for something of value.
Confession.
I pretend a lot.
I always have. My imagination can be quite vivid, and sometimes I am completely lost in another world, another age, another country. What I am thinking and feeling inside of me can sometimes be so real and so tangible I think the other person close to me must be able to hear what’s going on. I can be baking something and instantly I am standing before many giving a world impacting speech, and then I can be suddenly transported to covering an event as a reporter, or defending a client as a lawyer.
Yes, I’m 22. Yes, I’m married with a child. But I think somethings will never change. Part of me will always long to, for one day, go back to the 1700s and grace a stone mansion in England, clothed in flowing gowns and having my hair done by my attendants, to then have Andrew appear and run with me over hills and through rain until we collapse with exhaustion. It probably wasn’t really that way, but Lizzie sure ran through the rain a lot in Pride & Prejudice, and a heroine was always rescued by a man on a horse when she tripped and sprained her ankle running dramatically through the rain.

Even as I write, this feels as real to me as ever. But it is not. And today I must accomplish the things that must get done. I will be lost among my thoughts, dreams and imaginary things until reality calls me back, usually by way of the baby monitor.

So Lord, will you give me energy, strength, focus and excitement today? Thanks. I kind of need it.

Psalm 73:26
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Moving Again, Part Two: The Next Step

Last night we went and looked at an apartment. After we put our house up for sale God revealed the next step like He promised. While we were praying about it, God told us to contact a couple we know and ask about where they live. We did, and then we went to look at the place. The couple themselves have a really cute apartment that’s nicely renovated. I was quite excited thinking, although it would be downsizing, it’s a really cute place.

When we got to look at the place, the one we looked at had tenants that seemed almost like hoarders. The place was really gross. I handed Caleb to Andrew as I knew he’d probably hold on tighter as we maneuvered around lots of junk, garbage, and other things. We could tell the landlord was embarrassed. This apartment hadn’t under gone renovations yet either, and it was in general an extremely disheartening experience.

Talking outside afterwards the elderly man shared how his wife was dying of cancer and had only a few months to live. Our hearts instantly broke for him. Inside of me, I felt selfish desire and compassion wage war. I didn’t want to move into this apartment I just looked at. I didn’t want to give up my dishwasher, my open kitchen, our yard and our extra space for company. But I knew the Lord wanted us to be available to love this man, maybe bring him food to bless him, or pray with him and his wife.

Walking back into our house last night I had mixed emotions. I knew there was no question. We’d be moving to that apartment when our house sold. I reminded myself of what I wrote about before in terms of sacrifice, and how this was no sacrifice, maybe inconvenient, but not sacrifice. I guess when the Lord gives me a revelation, He also tests me in it. But I still hold that it’s true.

There is a chance that we’ll get a renovated apartment, and I will pray that we do, since, as a dear friend told me today, “it isn’t wrong to want a dishwasher”! But if on the move day I find that we aren’t moving into a newly renovated place, and I’m down to a tiny kitchen with one sink, I’m so glad God has given me a glimpse into the purpose for this move. I’m sure you’re reading this and thinking, “wow she sure is making a big deal out of moving”, but you just need to realize how much this doesn’t make sense, and how extremely suddenly God has called us from a place we thought we’d be in for five or so years. I know that this is really just the tip of the iceberg. We know deep in our hearts something in our lives is about to explode open. God is working. He’s doing something in us.

I’m so thankful that no matter what, I don’t journey alone. My beautiful little family go as one. We’ll make any house a home. We can take anything and turn it into something beautiful, simply by love. I believe that is how the Father looks at us. He can take us, and love us into something beautiful, something He can use, a tool in His hand.

Our lives really aren’t about us. They’re about who we impact, who we touch, who we love. This is starting to get really exciting, and now I’m just hoping our house sells really soon so we can get busy in our new place and hopefully impact our new area for Christ.

Tiny Fingers

With one hand he clutched me tightly, and with the other he gently touched my face. I felt his tiny fingers run over my cheeks, tickle my forehead, and graze my eyelids, sending chills down my spine. He seemed captivated for a moment by me. So curious and so trusting. It was a moment froze in time, as I burned into my memory each detail of his little face and the feeling of those miniature hands. Tears filled my eyes as he held my gaze and stroked my cheek. He kept looking at me with his enourmous, gorgeous almost green eyes and gave me his beautiful smile that will always melt my heart.

Caleb, I love you. More than you’ll ever know. I’ll always treasure the times I am enjoying just with you. My firstborn, you’ve been able to have my undivided attention for the majority of your short life. I’m so thankful God chose you to fill my days. We won’t be Mama and Caleb, together forever like the song I made up for you says, but forever these moments will be bottled up and stored in my heart, to be treasured when your fingers aren’t quite so tiny and your face turns from a little cutie baby boy to my handsome grown son. I always find with you Caleb, that if I’ll be quiet and watch and listen, you’ll talk to me and explore your surroundings. I just need to maintain eye contact with you, then you fill me in on what you’ve just experienced. I wonder if that will be what we’re like later in life. If I give you a chance to speak, will you pour out your heart to me? Will you come back from new places and be excited to share it? I’m sure there will be times when I won’t be cool to you, and you’ll try to keep things from me. That will break my heart in the moment I know, but I’ll always pray for you, always love you, always believe that God has great things your life, and of course, I’ll always be here for you.

Moving Again – Another Chapter Finishing

About a month ago my husband told me that he had this weird feeling we were supposed to sell out house.

“WHAT?” I was shocked. We just moved in it felt like, I just got settled, I’m still finding stuff from our last move! We brought our first baby home here, we can’t leave yet! That just couldn’t be God.

Andrew didn’t bring it up for a while and I prayed to God that if this was Him speaking, that I’d have peace about disrupting our nest and re-doing all the work that a move brings with it.

Last week God was speaking so much to us. He gave me personally really detailed instructions on some things that I’m supposed to accomplish. I was already feeling some “pressure”, but a good kind that motivates you and pushes you on. On Sunday morning we felt that we needed some prayer for protection over our family, so we went up to the altar at church and had a couple pray over us. While they were praying God spoke to Andrew clearly and said that we needed to sell our house as soon as possible.

On our way home from church Andrew dropped the bomb.
“God told me we need to sell our house, and sell it right away.” I can’t say that this time I wasn’t overwhelmed, or that I didn’t cry, but I felt God’s presence settle over me and peace wash over my whole body. I knew that this was God’s leading. I didn’t understand why, nor did we have any idea of the next step, but we had to be obedient.

Over that last couple of days I’ve had major mood swings with the whole thing. I’ve gone from complete elation from the excitement of the unknown and the adventure to come, to being deeply overwhelmed at packing up our whole house, and walking through the process of trying to sell it.

At one point I actually said to God “this isn’t fair for you to ask me to do all this with a little baby!”. Well if that isn’t an outrageous statement. I have again been enlightened to see my own selfishness. All around the world currently, and throughout history, lovers of Jesus have had to make big sacrifices, take huge steps of faith and suffer greatly for the cause of Christ. Really, God asking me to maybe downsize and move to smaller place for the time being is hardly a sacrifice. The unknown of finding a place in Regina, Saskatchewan isn’t as daunting as being told to sell everything and drive your whole family across the country to start a church as Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church did (his obedience resulting in blessing as he pastors one of the largest churches in America). Or the disciples of old in the Early Church being tortured and imprisoned because they were obedient to the Lord directing them to “go and make disciples of all the nations”.

Two days after telling the Lord we would follow Him wherever He led us, He is already opening doors and showing us how He is really using this time as an opportunity to bless us for the future and prepare us for things to come.

So although this definitely has been an obedience test for us, and has involved faith to step out when we still don’t see the whole picture, I can’t call it sacrifice. I still will lack nothing in my life. Even if I live somewhere smaller, or we go back to renting an apartment for the time being, I will still have the love and joy of my family. We will be warmer, safer and more comfortable than most of the world. Each morning the coffee pot will start brewing, we’ll have friends and family grace our home, and we’ll be nestled in the indwelling presence of God that we ask to fill each place we live.

Truly, each step of the way, with each chapter written in my life, I realize more how the Lord’s blessings and mercies abound to us. Even if I am not really losing anything, or if I am truly going without, I hope that when I stand before the Lord He will look at me and say that I was always obedient to His voice.