How to Let God Use Suffering to Transform your Marriage

Can God transform your marriage through suffering?

My marriage didn’t turn out to be the wondrous romance I expected. I’ll admit, after my proposal, I had pretty high expectations! But, my marriage definitely didn’t fit the Hallmark movie ideal.

At least, not at first. God used some hard things to take us from the brink of disaster to happily celebrating our 11th anniversary today!

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But it was a long road and a lot of rain fell on our parade.

Are you standing in that place? Standing in the sullen and silent stage of a marriage? In which you’re living side by side but the distance between you is palpable? 

Maybe you’re coming up on your wedding anniversary, and you could care less? In fact, you almost pray he forgets because trying to muster up emotions to fake happiness through the evening makes you exhausted just thinking about it?

If you feel like that or ever have felt like that, you’re not alone. I’ve been there.

Marriage can be disillusioning in the grandest of ways.

I thought I knew who I was marrying. I thought I knew who HE was marrying. Turns out, I didn’t have a clue about either one of us.

I thought I was kind and loving and patient before I got married.

Well, being married to someone who is more spontaneous and quirky chaos to my neurotic perfectionism and overly acute sense of organization has made it pretty clear that wasn’t true.

I was really patient and kind when I lived alone and could relegate his mess to his house. I could smirk at his piles and assume that he just didn’t know better. He just needed a woman to help civilize his wild, and teach him to separate his whites and darks. 

Oh, how I laugh at that today! Of course, he knew better. It just wasn’t his priority. And it still isn’t. He prefers our home to feel lived in. I like HGTV perfection. We are so very different in many ways. Yet, we’re both growing. I’ve even learned to wash everything in one temp and let God and Maytag sort it all out.

I had to accept that my idea of love and marriage were based on the world’s views, not God’s truths. My ideas of rights and respect and companionship and priorities were all shaped by my culture, not the immutable, unchanging reality of scripture.

Maybe the purpose of marriage is more than love, maybe it’s for God’s glory.

So, if God ordained my steps before I was born, He planned this marriage too. He knew how to use our differences to shape me to be more in His image, transforming me by degree.

2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Once I was willing to embrace those differences and see my husband as greater than myself. And I’ve learned to embrace how these differences are refining me to look more like Christ.

They make me consider how I love him over how loved I feel.

God has crafted the different events and suffering of the past couple of years to reach us as a couple. He can use suffering to transform your marriage as well. We’ve had issues with parents, parenting, finances, appliances, careers, technology, and grief and loss.

God even used a total physical break down to break down the careful walls of politeness we had built between us.

After being married a decade, we had quit talking with each other about intimate issues, deeply held views, and even tragic moments from our pasts that we didn’t know how to share.

Thanks to this military life, we had lived separately for so much of our marriage that we’d gotten really comfortable living this compartmentalized relationship with all the messy human stuff kept in little private boxes.

Turns out, you can’t love someone with your whole heart and hold anything separate from them.

Through my hip surgery, dislocation, and the prolonged recovery, then my husband’s increasing disability due to his military service, we’ve had to learn an increased compassion for each other. We had to communicate about our bodies, our feelings about getting older and recognizing our mortality.

We had to risk and trust like we did in the very beginning. The first time I opened up about how rape affected my marriage was really hard, but my husband was able to really listen to me and not let his own emotions of anger prevent him from just listening.

The past year has opened the door of communication between us. God has used scripture to teach me how to love and surrender in the hard things.

One night, I lay in bed mentally crying out “WHY ME?!?” I almost audibly heard Him say, “Be patient. I’m doing stuff.”

Well, okay then. Show me what you’re doing. Just give me a glimpse.

I almost immediately felt awash with peace. Not healing, I had months of healing left to go (and some still ahead of me), but peace that surpasses understanding calmed me.

Psalm 94:19 ESV When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. 

So I began to watch for the things that God was working in my life. When I stopped feeling like I had been targeted and realized this was God’s grace, not punishment. This suffering was part of making me holier and strengthening my faith!

And I began to see how my injury and need brought out gentleness in my husband. How my need encouraged me to grow in humility to see how God can use my gentleness over my intelligence.

Even in the middle of rough moments over the past months, God has put people and even street signs in my path reminding me that He hears me. When the brake store sign read, “God hears your cry” on the roughest night we’d had in a long while, I almost began sobbing in the car. Thank you, Lord.

I am patient knowing that God has always worked everything together for my good, just on His perfect timetable, not mine.

2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

When I look to Christ, I am content with insults and hardships. That is so incredibly counter-cultural! I know in my weakness, God’s hope has shown brighter in me. When I could face calamity and say, I trust God, it changed me and the people around me.

It’s been incredibly beautiful.

Just this week, our septic system backed up. What would have been an unimaginable crisis when we didn’t know how to talk to each other was merely a tiny irritation, and we ended the evening holding hands snuggling on the couch.

Our marriage isn’t magical. It’s far from perfect, but we’re better today than yesterday, and I’m counting on God to use the blessings and challenges to keep directing our steps.

How did we get here from there? I got into my Bible everyday. I began to see my first mission field as my husband and family. I let God’s Word and Spirit be active and transformative. I couldn’t just read words and hope on them. I had to LIVE them.

Let God change you and you will see Him transform your marriage through suffering and in blessings. You cannot become more like Christ and not see fruit blossom in your life. Just know that it doesn’t always look like we think it will. But in a Kingdom-mindset and eternal economy, you’ll begin to see how our light shines brightest in the dark.

Is Christ in your Social Media Message?

Social media can be one of the darkest places in the world. People comment with cruel disregard for people on the other side of the screen. Yet, Christians have a responsibility to be the light of Christ in everything, including our social media message.

Twenty years ago, many of us couldn’t imagine social media existing much less consuming large portions of our lives. But, it has become how most people get news and interact with the global community on a daily basis. I don’t know the exact statistics, but most people check social media first thing each morning.

June 30, 2010 people celebrated the first World Social Media Day, which is around the time I joined the ranks of smart phone users and began to dip my toe into this new Facebook thing that was replacing MySpace. LOL

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And I’ve come to embrace it in many forms. I’m on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and StumbleUpon, and a few more, but haven’t bitten the SnapChat bullet yet.

But one thing I try to do no matter which site I’m on is portray a consistent Christ-centered message.

Whether on my personal page or Heaven not Harvard accounts, nothing matters more to me than being as genuine a witness for my faith as I can be in every aspect of my social media use.

Keeping Christ at the center of our social media message is hard!

But social media is hard!

People are emboldened behind their keyboards to share every thought and emotion, often without much thought to how their words reflect on them as people or affect others.

Our social media message should be centered on a Kingdom-mindset and Christ focus. Click To Tweet

Honestly, I could write a book about Christian social media usage, but today, I want to focus on how we interact with our friends primarily.

Because it’s easy to see that social media is destructive and divisive within marriages and friendships. So we need to make sure we don’t miss the opportunity to be a light for Christ on social media among our friends.

Social media can be one of the darkest places in the world. But as Christians, we have a responsibility to be the light of Christ in our social media message.

So Why use social media at all?

As an Army wife, I live in a transient community. Social media allows us to stay in touch with people who have moved away and stay close through interacting with each other online.

Also, we live far from all our family. Social media allows us to feel more connected to family: cousins, aunts and grandparents, even those on the other side of the country or even world.

Even in the civilian sector, social media allows us to befriend and communicate with people around the globe. I’ve made real friendships with people in other states and walks of life and even on other continents.

BUT . . .

Our words have more weight than ever, and words without the benefit of tone of voice or facial expressions. Only our words must stand and reflect the heart we had when we posted an article or comment.

I write this not as one who has mastered my online words or social media message, but as one contending for righteousness in this arena.

Matthew 12:36 ESV / I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,

It is not a stretch to assume that God will also hold us accountable for the words we type, as well.

Yesterday, I shared a post about service and the importance of focusing less on what I’m getting, more on how I’m loving others.

Focusing on how I love has also changed how I interact online.

Recently, a socially liberal, atheist friend and I were on opposite sides of an emotional issue in a Facebook thread. No matter how I explained my thoughts, he didn’t see it my way.

While tempting to use snarky wit to drive home my point, my goal in the conversation surpassed this one issue. Ultimately, my Kingdom-minded goal was to love my friend by demonstrating the love of Christ who lives in me.

At the end of the day, even this delicate and difficult topic was not as important as reaching my friend for Christ.

I prayed before reading each of his replies. Again, I prayed before replying. I typed replies and then prayed and revised.

In the end, I was able to address HIM not his position or his ideas, but reach out as a friend. “Hey, our friendship is more important than our agreement here.” Doing so reflected Christ more than convincing him of my Christian position on this issue ever would have.

I struggle with this issue everyday since I’m fairly political. And I do believe part of God’s calling in my life has been to righteously contend for His truths. However, I feel very strongly that I should err on the side of invitation and grace in how I interact on social media.

When I account for my words, I want to be able to say that everything I said was done in my very human attempt to be a light for Christ in one of the darkest places in the world – the internet.

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Marriage Advice I Wish I Had 10 years ago

Do we have a perfect marriage? No! So why take marriage advice from an imperfect marriage? We’ve learned a lot about marriage and life over these ten years.

And imperfect is the only kind there is, full of flaws and failures, love and laughter, but with two people determined to keep their promises.

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Last November, we celebrated our 10th Anniversary! We’re not quite the wide-eyed dreamers we were when we said, “I do,” but we made it.

And I’ve gained some wisdom I wish I’d learned much sooner.

The song that was playing in the background the day my husband proposed in April, 2006 (see our amazing romantic proposal video below!) was “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts. Our lives took convoluted paths to get to each other, but we were so grateful to have found someone to call home. As a military couple, home for us isn’t a place so much as it is our family.

Our wedding centered around the idea that two roads were becoming one journey; a wedding was just a day, but a marriage was a lifetime of love, joy, laughter, patience, forgiveness.

We both knew marriage would be challenging, but didn’t know how broken the road would be AFTER we said “I do.”

Bless the Broken road was our song, we didn't know it would be part of marriage too. Click To Tweet

We dove in believing marriage would be romantic bliss. Finally, we’d be together after living in different states or on different continents, but that wasn’t going to be the case.

Weeks after our honeymoon,  he left for various trainings. Hundreds of miles from family or friends, I lived alone in the townhouse that was supposed to be our first home.

The following six years, we faced a series of separations, some lasting weeks or months, with two more year-long deployments. We struggled through frightening and tearful good-byes, anticipating joyful reunions, and starting over and over again.

Marriage advice from an imperfect marriage? Imperfect, full of flaws and failures, but with two people determined to keep their promises.

Building your marriage is hard when you’re never together long enough to get past the honeymoon of welcome home or the rose-colored glasses of almost good-bye.

During his fourth deployment, he faced some of the darkest situations of his military career. And when he came home, the war did, too.

*Military Spouse marriage advice -Below is hands down one of the best military spouse bible studies!  This changed my heart tremendously!

While grappling with the compounded effects of his four tours in Iraq, we transferred to a new duty station with new challenges. He is stateside, but works more than ever. And I’ve had health issue after health issue.

Marriage often took a backseat to just hanging on for dear life.

But the first piece of marriage advice I wish I had really known is that marriage isn’t the grand romance we envision the day we get married. It’s the romance of surviving life together.

In 10 years, marriage often took a backseat to just hanging on for dear life. #ArmyWifeLife Click To Tweet

Marriage advice from an imperfect marriage? Maybe that's really the only kind there is. Imperfect, full of flaws and failures, but with two people determined to keep their promises.

The first thing I had to learn was that getting married wasn’t a solution to a problem. Expecting him to fill the broken places in my life was unfair to him. It left us both feeling discouraged and empty. It was never his job.

Lamentations 3:24 ESV “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

The only person who can fill my empty God-shaped-spaces is God. He is my portion. My hope and faith has to be in Him not my husband or I end up having unreasonable expectations.

My husband might be my hero, but he can't be my savior. Jesus has to be 1st focus of my heart. Click To Tweet

My husband is just the captain of our team. We have to remember to be a team before we can do anything else.

Which means treating each other with respect and kindness no matter what is going on. Life often can feel like an emergency, but not much of it really is so important that I don’t have time to take a deep breath and respond with love.

Truly learning to hope in the Lord allows me to see my husband’s humanity in a new light. I’m able to offer grace in a way I never could before because I see him just trying to do life.

The Holy Spirit intercedes in my heart daily and reminds me that kindness builds up my husband during difficult times.

Proverbs 15:1 ESV  A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

I am still learning this lesson. Every. Day.

But my choice is to respond to life, stress, and even a harsh response with softness and the peace of Christ.

Time after time, I’ve seen how gentleness can affect even the most difficult situation.

The next piece of marriage advice I wish I had learned sooner is so simple to say, but so much harder to do.

Most arguments can be solved in two words, not a thousand perfect ones.

I’m sorry, not “I’m sorry, but . . .”

Dropping the but is really difficult for my flesh. I want to explain away my bad behavior. I want to put the blame on someone else, or point that nasty wagging finger right at him, but the truth is . . .

I can only control one thing in the entire universe: me.

Most arguments can be solved in two words, not a thousand perfect ones. I'm sorry. Click To Tweet

I have learned to take responsibility for my side and that’s it. Leave it right there.

Nothing anyone does justifies acting poorly. It sometimes explains my failures, but never excuses.

More often than not, he responds by softening and apologizing because I didn’t demand it or accuse him.

Marriage advice from an imperfect marriage? Imperfect, full of flaws and failures, but with two people determined to keep their promises.

Which leads to my next piece of marriage advice…

Listen.

We all want to be understood and respected. Taking the time to listen does both.

God has been working on me in this area for a long time. I can demonstrate my husband is a priority in my life by focusing on him when he speaks. When I listen, I can hear his heart, share his joys and challenges.

I earn his respect because he knows I respect him.

Sometimes, I have to fight my selfishness when his desire to share with me interrupts my reading, television show, or just my busyness.

Again, God has challenged me to choose what to give my best attention to. Very rarely do I really need to ask him to pause and tell me later. Most of the time, I really can drop everything and listen.

Quick take away: Put your faith in the Lord, Respond kindly, Take responsibility for your side, and really Listen.

And this advice holds true no matter how long you’ve been married.

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The Deployment Balancing Act – Day of the Deployed

The Day of the Deployed is always a bittersweet remembrance for me because my husband has deployed several times. While I am so grateful he isn’t deployed today, I know that thousands of spouses still wait, life on perpetual pause, hoping their spouses return safely.

I never know how to summarize the experience of deployment for those outside this military community because it’s such a complex experience.

We miss them as husbands, and we miss them as friends. We miss help with baths, bedtimes, homework, housework. While we struggle with anxiety and fear, we simultaneously live for every phone call or email and struggle to live at all.

It’s this terrible balancing act I felt weighing on my heart today. We have to live and find things to live for, not just countdown the deployment.

I can’t press pause on an entire year.

We’ve got to live those months or years they are gone, but . . . we want to freeze time, we don’t want that year of living to pass them by, but we can’t let it pass us by either.

Deployments are a terrible balancing act of waiting and finding the strength to keep living. Click To Tweet

So today I’m sharing portions of my army wife diary posts from this date in 2010, which, coincidentally, deal exactly with this complicated tightrope act.

“Today (Oct. 2010) I was tired, but I had a choice what attitude I would have. The past week or two, I have just been counting days, struggling against the world, but have I been living?

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” -Thoreau

Can I spend 365 days just waiting for him to come home?

I don’t want to get to the end of this year to discover I have not lived.

During my first experiences with a military man, distance and separation, I wrote this poem about living in a hurry to get to a much anticipated future.

Fools’ Luxury  by Jennifer DeFrates
 

Three minutes before heading home,
  striding purposely,
  laying out the evening at hand,
  I passed a quiet man, gray and lined
  silently sweeping piles of dust and off-handed debris
  from ancient tiles pooled with afternoon sun.
  Wish it was Friday –
  I answered his casual query
  Why, he said – giving me internal pause –
  Why would you wish days of your life away?
  Too busy to stop, I flippantly shrugged
  And carried on
  But his simple wisdom rippled inside
  Reverberating against my arrogance of immortality.
  Why were these Wednesday hours less precious?
  Where was my Thursday guarantee?
  In an epiphany flash, I wondered
  How long I’d been always looking to the next finish line –
  Friday        June        next Christmas –
  How long ignoring my life,
  Continuously waiting to live it,
  Procrastinated dreams growing dimmer,
  Days I’d let fall into dilapidation
  Instead of carefully constructing each minute.
  Time is fools’ luxury.
  Those with no more would chide, if they could,
  Would remind that Thoreau at his pond had it right.
  Too many meet death without knowing life
  Failing to embrace its falling seconds.
  So this Wednesday I sit
  And soak in cut grass and dampened dirt
  Shivering in Winter’s dying wind
  and try to teach myself
  To walk the tightrope
  Between looking toward tomorrow
  While remembering to see today.

Am I so focused on the end of this deployment, that I’m missing right now?

Today (2010), I ran late for my doctor’s appointment, then waited for an hour just to get into the exam room. After two minutes, he tells me I need to have two major surgeries. I can imagine the fun crutches will be with a baby.

An emergency trip to the grocery store took too long. When rushing to put away the groceries before picking up the baby, I shattered my coffee pot. So I had to make another trip to the store. Or go without coffee tomorrow. . . HA, yeah, right!

Deployed day is already missing these moments, I don't want to miss them too.
Froggy Bottom Baby

All these things went WRONG, and I came home smiling because I got to choose my response to these situations.

I choose joy.

I choose to live right now, even as it’s hard. It’s hard to truly enjoy the moments he is missing, but I know refusing to be joyful won’t give him back those times.

So, I danced and sang and played with my daughter, making her giggle over and over, reveling in her sweet baby laughter.

I could have spent this afternoon moping and sad and scared and frustrated, but what was that attitude going to solve? Nothing.

Worrying and waiting for my husband’s return isn’t going to solve anything either.
Attitude may be the most powerful choice we ever have in this military life. #DayoftheDeployed Click To Tweet

We struggle with trying to fill our days, keeping mindlessly busy, trying to stop the mental cycle of anxiety and stress, holding our collective breath as we wait for our soldiers to come home.

It's the deployment balancing act - We struggle with trying to fill our days, keeping mindlessly busy, trying to stop the mental cycle of anxiety and stress, holding our collective breath as we wait for our soldiers to come home.

However, that isn’t living.

None of us want to realize that we have not lived, but sometimes it’s hard to find a way to live deliberately when now is painful.

Find one thing to smile about and hold onto it as long as you can.

Crying will happen, it is part of this army wife life, just don’t let it be what fills your time until tomorrow.

That Day of the Deployed was five years ago,

and the last one I personally experienced with a spouse in harm’s way.

We tumbled through deployments tied to cell phones and Skype, just trying to find our footing.

I, like many military spouses, had to master trying to find the delicate balance of waiting for them and living in the present.

Save that new action movie, wait to try the new sushi place, but have joy in the life we have now, instead of just impatiently waiting for tomorrow. Life doesn’t stop for hard, neither should we.

Matthew 6:34 ESV  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

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The Red, White & Blue

Red, white & blue are the colors of the day. Flags will wave more today on American soil than any other day of the year. And every country music station will be streaming “I’m proud to be an American.”

And I am.

More so as a military wife because I live the sacrifices we honor on days such as these: Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Flag Day.

In fact, my husband won’t see us today. He kissed me a sleepy goodbye at 5 a.m. and will be home tomorrow. We have our share of missed holidays due to his service to our nation.

We miss weekends, we miss birthdays, Valentine’s Days and anniversaries. We’ve lost years of growing together. I know he has paid a huge cost to keep us free in his heart and with his body.

So regardless of the politics of our nation, I understand the pride of honoring those who’ve sacrificed to serve this unique nation of freedoms.

But maybe we should be celebrating another red, white & blue.

Yesterday in church, I wondered if American Christians have placed too high a priority on our patriotism over our real citizenship.

Have American Christians placed too high a priority on patriotism over our eternal citizenship? Click To Tweet

As we stood in worship singing, “Nothing but the blood,” I realized the real freedom RED represents is the blood Christ shed to redeem humanity, to redeem me.

Red, white & blue are the colors of the day. Flags will wave more today on American soil than any other day of the year. And every country music station will be streaming "I'm proud to be an American."

What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood. The imagery was graphic as I thought about how American soldiers have shed blood to secure my rights to live and worship freely, something I will never take for granted, but I was overcome as I sang thanking Jesus for my eternal freedom.

What red could ever mean more than that?

His sacrifice washed me white as snow.

When my Abba, Father God looks at my life, He sees only the purity of His Son in my stead. The black sins that covered my past in shame are purest white today.

The blue field of stars reminds us of the heavenly places to which we turn to worship, which we will someday call home with Christ our savior.

I celebrate the unique freedoms of our earthly home today and the Christian foundation of our country, but given the polarizing crises facing us politically and culturally; I realize my U.S. citizenship is temporary. No matter how much I love America, nothing will ever compare to my commitment to His Red, White & Blue.

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