The Marriage Lie

I used to have this scrap of paper, one that I saved for many years. It was torn from a magazine and lived in the junk drawer in my room. A picture of a woman in a wedding dress that I fancied in the days when I pretended and imagined. It was poufy and shiny and just a tad too much. It was the stuff that childhood wedding dreams are made of.

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I lost that picture somewhere along the way. And it’s okay. That style is not mine anymore. But here we are, sitting in the thick of the most farcical of holidays, Valentine’s Day. The one where we’ve mostly-sorta-kinda-reluctantly agreed to shower our loved ones with sugar and overpriced flowers and sappy cards, written by people who don’t know us at all. I don’t hate it entirely. I take it as an opportunity to fawn over my babies even more than I already do, as an excuse to buy cute things in the shape of hearts. But if that was the only time I told them ‘I love you,’ it wouldn’t be nearly enough.

And what of our marriages? If Valentine’s Day was your sole source of grandiose gestures, would it be enough? Not likely. It would only serve to expose the lack, the ache, the imperfections. If perfection is a lie – and it is – then it’s never found a more fertile soil than in marriage. Oh how we wish for what we see on those romantic fairytale films. The unfulfilled fantasies of Cinderella and Notting Hill are gone-with-the-wind, huh?

And unfulfilled quickly morphs into bitter and withdrawn. Entitled and pouting. How many marriages explode because of stray socks and stinky, sopping towels and obligation that makes us tired and dishes in the sink? Friends, I would wager good, hard earned money on this truth: That most marriages can survive a full-blown, heartbreaking betrayal much easier than it can the wear and tear of ordinary life.

So, what if. What if we called the lie a lie? What if we took away its power to make us swoon at what’s not reasonable, so we have eyes to see the beauty in authenticity? What if we tried to see the stunning in the mess and chaos? What if we wanted what we have and not what we don’t? What if we were honest and frank and okay with how our flawed marriage stories read?

What if trips to Walmart are really dates with the one we married? What if the canned foods aisle is better than the meal at a fancy restaurant? That food is too frou-frou for me anyway. What if flowers don’t come on Valentine’s Day, but some run-of-the-mill day instead? What if movie nights in my faded jammies are just fine? Especially when he makes that popcorn on the stove, with lots of salt.

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I don’t have it figured out. Not by a long shot. And I know that not every marriage is built to last, nor should all of them. God never intended His design to be tarnished by abuse, friends. No way.

But I do know that if God saw fit to author marriages for our good, than it is good. Even when every moment of every day doesn’t feel good, it’s still good. Even when the exhaustion and disillusionment sets in, it’s still good. Even when you take off the rose-colored glasses in favor of the ones that correct your vision to total clarity and you see your marriage for all that it is, it’s still good.

We only need to remind ourselves. As often as it takes, until we can see the goodness just before us.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day,
Mande

The Art of Mending Fences

If you live anywhere near the wide open spaces of lush, sprawling grass and towering trees of green, then you’ve seen fences. All the fences. The ones made of woven wire, rusted from time and falling rains. The fences made from crude logs of wood, looking precarious and flimsy but somehow standing against wind and weather. The fancy fences white washed by some weary painter who had to cover miles of ground with a paintbrush. And the barbed wire fences, looking angry and fierce. Every farm that is home to animals has one. While the world keeps running at a breakneck pace toward the future of life found on the pages of social media and concrete landscapes and convenience, these fences sit nestled in a time gone-by, quieter hours filled with the simple things of necessity instead of want. The sight of them evokes comfort.

The fences are there for a very good reason: keeping the animals in. If you’ve taken the time to invest in the animals, then you’ll take the time to invest in a good fence too. The fence mostly works by providing a visual barrier. If the animals can see something in their way, they’re unlikely to push past it. They don’t think to question it. But on the chance that a rogue livestock wants to throw caution to the wind and make a break for it, the fence is a good physical barrier too, keeping them in-bounds.

Every now and then, you might spot a compromised fence. One section laying limply on the ground, creating sag on either side, letting the animals roam free. When I see these, it makes me sad. I can only imagine the loss to the farmers, as their precious investment wanders the grassy plains. And the animals, out there without the promise of the care and routine of their owners. When the fence breaks down, so does the whole system.

The truth is, we need fences too. Our very makeup is dependent on routine and rhythm. Built inside of us is the need for the sun to set and rise again. We rely on the tick tock of our internal clocks to eat, to dress, to work, to play. From our very infancy, we crave it. Because we’re designed by a purposeful God who is orderly and we’re made in that same image. Without it, we too wander without the promise of care. We become hungry, sleepy, thirsty. We can’t exist without the protection that these symbolic fences provide us.

But the chaos of a downed fence will come. It rarely knocks, but rather barges. A lack of margin in our lives tumbles into a lack of peace. It starts innocently enough, with a kind request here and a polite ask there. But when we say yes too often, the fence sags under the weight and the sag becomes an invitation for a takeover. The very thing whose expressed purpose is to create healthy boundaries for us cannot exist within the space of clutter and disorganization. So what is the root of our frequent assault on the fence? I think it can be found in one or all of the following.

 

  1. The Persistent Yes. Yes is such a slippery slope. It rolls off the tongue so easily for so many of us. ‘Yes, I’ll lead that event.’ ‘Yes, I’ll participate in that Secret Santa gift exchange.’ ‘Yes, I’ll join the committee.’ ‘Yes, I’ll make cookies for the bake sale.’ (Actually, I’ve never said that. No cookie making here. But I know many of you do. Bless you.) Yes! Yep! Sure! Of course! I’d be happy to! All the yes, all the time. Let me be clear: the world has been built on the power of a proper yes. A proper yes harnessed electricity and medicine and progress for humanity. A proper yes is the one that flies in the face of a million no’s and relies on dreams. A proper yes is the root of compromise with a dear friend or beloved family member. A proper yes respects boundaries and honors hearts. But the persistent yes is different. Don’t confuse the two. A persistent yes can take advantage and forget that the person being asked is the beloved child of the King. A persistent yes is almost always rooted in a dysfunctional need to be loved and approved. So if you love to bake those cookies and it’s no burden for you, then bake by all means. But if you’ve agreed to bake cookies for the fifteenth time this year and it’s only January 16th, that’s a persistent yes. Their repeated ask and your repeated yes violates what God put into motion with the perimeters of His creation. Just say no. Hear me: that first time saying no will feel like a beautiful revelation. And don’t be a wimp about it. God’s word says to let your yes be yes and your no be no. Just say it and move on.
  2. The Need to Feel Needed. I know, I know. There’s just something about being asked that taps into a deep down desire for value and worth. In our folly, we confuse that request to be equal with how much we matter. Sweet one, it simply does not. That isn’t to say that our skills and giftings and talents aren’t worth something. They absolutely are. And they come from a good God who intends to use them. But our time matters just as much. Because it is that time that allows us to recharge and restore. To be with loved ones and our Creator. To laugh and dream. Don’t forget that your feelings, while valid and real, aren’t equipped with the authority to make decisions for you. You may experience the need to feel needed, but your fence can’t handle the weight of what it means to appease that need.
  3. The Lie of Perfection. The plain truth is that perfection is a lie. That’s it. I know we want that pretty house and that picturesque party and that post-worthy life. Man, am I guilty. But do you know that a want like that does nobody any good? Literally nobody. The lie of perfection is so deeply ingrained in our minds and culture that it’s nearly impossible to think of a life without the drive of more, bigger, better, PERFECT. But if you say no and understand in your bones that it’s going to be just fine if you don’t do whatever the ask is, then the lie of perfection gets a whole lot less powerful. When company comes over and the house is messy but a great time is had by all anyway,  the lie of perfection starts to shudder. When you tell your boss that you can’t do that big thing immediately and the company doesn’t collapse, the lie of perfection starts to look really silly. Take it one no at a time. Don’t be perfect. Know that you totally flounder at some things. Because all that saying no will make the truth so much clearer. And the truth is that you need a fence, and your fence needs you to keep it in good repair.

If the King of Kings has invested in you, then you should too. My God has been working on my fence like crazy. I keep demolishing it with my yes-saying and He keeps asking me to go fix it back up. I think I’m getting there. Because the no is rolling off my tongue a lot easier these days. And my yes is saved for the things that really deserve a yes. I’ve started to grasp that the reasoning for why I matter can’t be changed based on my answer. That all my so-called ‘shortcomings’ are really just misplaced giftings. We can’t be perfect at everything, but there is a thing we can do at expert level, according to His call and purposes. That revelation makes me smile.

The good news is that fences can be mended, my friends. They can. And it doesn’t take much. A nail here, a patch there. It’s a small expense for a big payoff. Isn’t that beautiful?

Guarding my fence,
Mande