Seven years ago today, I made the hardest phone call of my life. It went something like this: “Uh, Mom…It’s Cat…I’m kind of in Vegas right now with Jeff. Yeah, Vegas…and we may have gotten married…okay we did get married. I love you very much. I hope you don’t hate me forever but I don’t blame you if you do…”
And that, my friends, was the beginning of a seven-year quest for unity between two imperfect people who made lots of mistakes and gave unequal measures of grace. Condensing the past seven years of life in a single statement wouldn’t do it justice. On a journey that’s lasted 2,555 days to date…it would be dishonest of me to say, “It’s been the best!” or “It’s been the pits!” The truth is, it’s been both of those things…and so much more.
Just months after saying “I do” a tidal wave of stress rushed into our lives like a fire hose–stepkids, infertility, job changes, financial set-backs. The infatuation that coasted us to Vegas quickly gave way to resentment once I settled into the cold, hard winter of Central Illinois. It almost did me in.
But a close set of companions prayed for us consistently, talked us through some really difficult things and punctuated a rough adjustment period with joy and laughter. Campfire conversations, game nights, and dinner dates with friends was a steady reminder of why we fell in love in the first place and allowed us to find our way as a couple in the context of deep community. If it takes a village to raise a child, it certainly takes a village to raise a marriage.
No marriage is an island unto itself. To make a marriage legal, you need a witness. And you’ll continue to need a witness to make a marriage real…to hold you steady when you feel like falling apart, to celebrate joy when you find your stride and to keep you laughing to maintain perspective through it all.
We’re still learning that the level of intimacy in a marriage changes day by day. Just as a person can’t stay stagnant, a marriage can’t either. How well we’re capable of loving each other depends on the demands of the daily grind, how much we’re each willing to show up and be present for the other and how much we’re willing to be vulnerable with one another.
Last night, my (gasp) 15-year-old stepdaughter and I laughed about those early years of blending our family. She said, “Did you know I heard everything through my bedroom vent?” I said, “Honey, I’m sorry. I’m just giving you material for therapy!” I shared my struggles with her of finding my way as a wife, a stepmom and modifying my expectations of what I thought marriage would be and the reality of what it is. I wish I knew then that it takes the average stepfamily seven years to fully integrate. You can’t short-circuit life. And you can’t force authentic relationships with people you haven’t built an equity of trust in yet.
But ultimately the greatest lesson I learned for myself through marriage that I want all of my kids to know is that nothing is beyond the scope of God’s redemption. He sees it all, He uses it all and nothing is wasted. Nothing. Not even divorce, dividing time between two households or the heartbreak of infertility or the abandonment of children the world over.
Adopting our two precious children from Russia and China has brought such incomparable joy and purpose to every space in our hearts that our family holds dear. I’m not related by blood to any of the four children in my home…yet we’re bonded by the promise we make every day to do life together, to show up and love each other, however imperfectly, and to live out our faith to the God we serve who’s constantly in the process of reconciling ourselves to Him. When my stepson shares his dreams for his future, adopting two kids is always a part of that plan. I love that this passion of my husband’s and mine will be passed down to our kids and grandkids…
Beauty from ashes…that’s what it’s all about. I guess if I had to condense these past seven years into a single statement, that’s what it would be. Beauty from ashes. As you reflect on your own marriage, what would yours be?