I try to be transparent in this blog. There are times, though, when reaching back into my memories hurts. Sometimes, the hurt is because stepping back in times pulls me right back into the hurt I was feeling in my own marriage at the time. Other times, though, I am remembering something that I did or said. My heart carries some shadowy memories that are hard to put into words.
One of these darker memories resurfaced when my husband was in the hospital recently. I sat next to his bed while he slept, and I wondered if his heart was in worse condition than I realized. It occurred to me that I might actually lose him—and then I remembered that I used to wish that I would.
During the darkest years of our marriage, I was so miserable that I allowed myself to imagine him dying—a sudden death where he wouldn’t suffer. I figured it would allow me to have a fresh start in my life and marry someone who would be a better husband for me.
This memory is one that is sobering and sorrowful for me. Bringing it into the light hurts. Writing about it hurts.
Yet avoiding the hard things is what got my marriage to the point where I even had those thoughts. So here I am today, writing about it, thinking about how the memories seem like they belong to someone else rather than to me.
This past weekend, my family and I drove up to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to celebrate my parents’ anniversary in a dinner cruise on the Soo Locks. On our long trip home yesterday, we drove a nice stretch right along the shores of Lake Michigan.
We pulled off at a small park and walked out onto the beach. My daughter and I waded into the water a bit. I started drawing hearts close to the water, only to watch them be washed away by the waves.
I thought about how grateful I am that God has washed away the old version of our marriage. I thought about the difficult memories I still carry, and I said a prayer of thanks that my husband was alive and able to make the trip with me. I thought about how the unhappy wife I once has been washed away, to be replaced by the wife I am now who experiences joy and contentment in her marriage.
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Once upon a time, there was an unhappy wife who enjoyed day-dreaming about the life she wished she had.
She was a good woman who didn’t understand that sex was a way to meet her husband’s emotional needs. Her husband was a good man who didn’t understand the depths of her emotional needs or the fact that they were non-sexual in nature.
Two hurting people, they were both unhappy in their marriages with no idea how to make things better. The wife often wondered, “How did we get to this unhappy place?” She looked back at the milestones of their married life and saw many wonders, dips, and peaks—yet there were shadowed places where the path did not show.
Not knowing how they got there, she had no idea how to return to where they had been and try a different path to get to a better version of their marriage.
So she day-dreamed and wondered what would happen if her husband were to die.
I suppose I would be sad, she thought. He is part of my life and I know I would miss him. I would go to widow support groups, and I would go to church. I would lose weight and learn how to be confident and feel worthwhile. And one, day, I would meet a man.
She didn’t have a particular man in mind, but she knew what he would be like—strong, tall, gentle, firm of conviction and quiet of voice. She knew what line of work he would be in, and she even imagined how they would meet. She imagined their first kiss, their wedding, and the first time they would make love. Surely, it would be wonderful, she thought.
Sometimes, she would feel guilty at imagining her husband dead and a new man in her life. She wanted to reach out and find a happy marriage. Since she didn’t know how to un-do the marriage she was in, she believed that the only way to a happy marriage was to have a different marriage.
So she daydreamed and felt guilty—and when her husband would make a sexual advance, her guilt about daydreaming him away would persuade her to go ahead and have sex without any resistance at all.
And on those nights, when she didn’t resist and she went into her husband’s arms with no emotional struggle against him (just her internal struggle with her own guilt), she often discovered that she enjoyed herself. She felt loved again, and cherished.
She thought, If only he were like this all the time, I wouldn’t have to daydream about him dying and me finding a better husband. What she didn’t realize was that it wasn’t her husband who had made their encounter better—it was her. Without her usual struggle and tension, sex was different. She was able to absorb the benefits of sex with her husband.
So her heart would be filled, and for a little while she would stop daydreaming.
Then, when things became difficult again, she once again would wonder, How can I make a new marriage without erasing the old one? The cycle of daydreaming-guilt-contentment continued, over and over. How can our marriage become a new creation if we can’t even go back and figure out how we got here? she wondered.
She saw the image of her unhappy marriage carved into stone, and she thought it couldn’t be changed.
But this wife had forgotten what she had read in a great and wondrous book:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13
The truth she had forgotten was that God can change all. The marriage she and her husband had built foolishly could be rebuilt by their Maker. She had forgotten that our mistakes and sins can be cleansed by Christ. The problems they had made in their marriage could be washed away by God’s Great Hand, as though they’d carved the problems into sand rather than stone.
Through many trials and much effort, the unhappy wife began to retrace her steps, even though she couldn’t see where the path led in all the shadowy places. She stepped out in faith and learned that as she walked, the shadowy places came into the light.
One day, she looked up and realized that she was no longer in the unhappy place where she had once lived. Instead, she was in a new land—one that looked familiar but was brand new.
She looked at her husband and realized that he had turned into a happy husband, just as she had turned into a happy wife. She thought about the day-dreams she had once had about a different marriage, one full of joy rather than sorrow and hurt.
Her Maker showed her that He had replaced the old marriage with a new creation, one built on a solid foundation. He showed her that it was His light that had allowed her to walk through the shadowy places on the path.
She stood on the shores of a great lake and realized that she didn’t even remember the last time she had day-dreamed. And she was very, very happy.
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I looked at the blank slate on the sand in front of me and thought about how God had made our marriage new. I rejoiced that we had been given a chance to etch a new version of our marriage into our lives by drawing on the same canvas instead of having to go find a new one.
And the shadows around the memories began to fade away.
Photos by Chris Taylor