Posted in musings

turning thirty

I suppose turning 30 is as good a time as any for contemplating my twenties and looking ahead to my thirties, since we use a base ten system. Ten years is such a long time, when I sit down and think about it – I mean, ten years ago I was single and in college, and ten years from now I will have two teenagers…

It is interesting how time passes, how so many things change about life and circumstances, and how yet, inside, I still feel like the same person I always have been. I suppose I have grown and matured since childhood; but I still feel like the preteen who couldn’t put feelings into spoken words even when she was bursting with them, like the teenager who was haunted by feelings of inadequacy and failure, like the college student who knew how to excel academically but could never maintain social connections, like the young adult who tried to bury her insecurities by attempting to be perfect at absolutely everything. I suppose that is part of being a complete person: carrying a self that at its core remains one thing, one entity, despite the processes of maturation and the effect of time.

And what have time and maturation done for me, these last ten years?

Superficially, I graduated college; got my first non-student job (which I’m still at 8.5 years later!); lived with roommates for a year; recovered from a break-up; lost a treasured mentor; dated and got married to my husband; bought two homes (we moved); and had three kids.

Not so superficially, I struggled a lot over the last ten years with my inner companions of depression and anxiety. The first year of our marriage was especially hard because it felt too good to be true, I suppose, but in the long run our marriage has ended up being one of the most helpful things for that struggle since I have a partner I can trust to unconditionally love and support me through hard times. Also in this decade I sought out professional help for the first time and found it incredibly helpful. I’m realizing that depression and anxiety are fairly loyal and steadfast traveling companions, so I know I’m in for a more struggles still to come, but I’m also realizing that having them around doesn’t make me any less valuable or worthwhile as a person.

Along with mental health and marriage, parenting and neurodivergence have been the two big players in my life over the last decade, particularly the last five years. I have been learning that difference is not necessarily negative, in either myself or in others, that perfection is not the goal (and is ultimately a subjective goal anyway). I have been (and probably always will be) learning to be patient šŸ˜› I am learning how to draw boundaries for myself – even with my children – and how to teach my children to draw boundaries for themselves. I am learning that a bad day or a difficult season does not make me a failure as a parent. And I am learning not to compare myself or my family to other parents and families, because the differences of personality, neurotype, and circumstance are so vast and varied.

Most days, honestly, I feel like an imposter at this whole adult-ing thing. Inside I’m just a teenager, nervous and insecure, with the added pressure of having more years of mistakes to look back on šŸ˜› According to my husband this is fairly common, though, which is somewhat consoling šŸ™‚ My hope is just that, however many years are still to come, I will keep growing in wisdom and holiness, and that I can be a blessing to the people around me instead of running away from them.

Posted in family life

marriage and anniversaries and slogging through the hard times

I wasn’t able to write this up and post it on our anniversary this pastĀ Saturday (I’m blaming the pregnancy fatigue), but I did want to post it before the days slipped too far away!

Saturday was our fifth anniversary – the first real “milestone” anniversary we’ve reached together – and it made me think about all that has already happened in our marriage, and where we are now. We’ve packed a lot of things into those five years, between my husband’s school, my job, finding and buying our first home, and having two kids (with another one on the way)! There hasn’t been much time to get used to things being a certain way before they change again; even though we’ve had the same basic setup now for over a year (two kids, classes for my husband, and 30 hours/week of work for me), the exact schedule changes every semester, and we’re forced to rethink childcare and daily routines for both ourselves and the boys. I’m usually up early every morning to work (I try to start at 6:30am), and my husband is usually up late every night doing homework (often not coming to bed until midnight) – so lately, at least, our time together has been limited, sporadic, and fleeting. It’s the kind of environment that breeds misunderstandings and resentment, with both spouses feeling tired and overwhelmed, isolated and worn. I described it to a close friend as feeling as though we have no margin, as though we are using every resource and drop of energy we have just to keep things going.

And yet, somehow, we’ve kept our trust and love for each other strong. Both of us have striven to prioritize family time whenever possible, and to pick up the everyday tasks of cleaning and organizing as we have time and energy (although, I have to confess, my husband is probably more sacrificial of his time and energy in those things than I am…). For the most part, we understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and can support each other through those things; especially when we see each other at the end of our rope, we try to pick up the burden to let the other get rest. My husband is especially generous with his time when he sees that I am getting exhausted, which is something I am incredibly grateful for! My personality tends toward suspicion and jealousy, but instead of letting my husband’s late-night study sessions give rise to paranoid fears in my head, I remind myself of the character and heart I know him to possess, that he has proven to me time and time again. In short, his love acted out in the simple tasks of everyday life gives me assurance in the times when we can’t profess and renew that love in deep or romantic ways, and I hope mine does the same for him.

I hope there will be a time when life isn’t pulling us in quite so many different directions, when it will be easier to create consistent routines that build in space for family time and couple time to strengthen those most intimate relationships – but I am sureĀ that the trust and love developed now, if we keep striving towards that end through the difficulties of it, willĀ be a blessing for us no matter what happens.

Happy anniversary, wonderful! There is no one else I’d rather live life with than you.

Posted in family life, musings

filling my marriage with love

Despite the financial and practical headache of divorce, I think it is often easier to split up than to hold a marriage together, even (especially?) when there are kids involved. Children make it harder to find the time to invest in your marriage; the stress of added expenses and responsibilities leads to shortened tempers and sharpened tongues; the lack of sleep and increase of worry contribute to emotional and impulsive choices. Our own flaws, quirks, sinful tendencies, and past baggage drive us away from each other as well, their effects exacerbated by the absence of time to relax to and put things in perspective. And as we grow more accustomed to each other and our infatuation settles down, we start to noticeĀ only the things that irritate us and take the rest for granted.

My primary love language, to borrow from Gary Chapman’s schema, is quality time – so when school and work and sick kids have prevented us from having a good conversation or a chance to snuggle and just be together, I start feeling unloved and the irrational thoughts just flow from there. I get angry at every little thing he does that isn’t perfect. I barb my tongue even as I desperately hope he’ll want to spend time with me. I start blaming him, in my head, for every struggle we’re having financially or in parenting. So if we didn’t make it a priority to spend time together and rebuild that feeling of love, it would be extremely hard for us to make this marriage work. Similarly, if I don’t make sure that I’m doing the things that make my husband feel loved – like listening to him well, giving him physical love and closeness, and taking care of the little things that need to be done around the house – he is going to be more stressed, more on edge, and more likely to lose his cool when things with the kids or school get frustrating. Actively investing in each other, intentionally trying to give each other love in a personally meaningful way, prevents so much strife and so many misunderstandings! And yet so often we neglect it, and take each other’s love and happiness for granted…

All this is to say, take the time to learn what makes your spouse feel loved and then live it out! Build up the love and joy in your marriage and in your home – there is only so much you can do alone, of course, but I believe in the majority of cases both spouses want to fix the malaise and tension in their relationships, and all it takes is a little bit of intentionality.

Posted in family life, musings

building a marriage on mutual respect

One of my happiest memories is that of my parents complimenting each other, whether implicitly or explicitly, face-to-face or behind each other’s backs. Everything felt right in the world when my mom and dad were admiring and relying upon each other, whether it was in little things like cleaning and chores or in big things like vision or logistical skills. I’m not saying that my parents were perfect; in fact, they probably picked on each other more than they complimented each other (and they will never be reconciled to eachĀ other’s driving style!). But they had an understanding and appreciation of each other’s abilities, accomplishments, and efforts – a realization that their marriage was so much stronger with the gifts both of them brought to it than when either of them tried to dominate or control the relationships. Though they have never been particularly demonstrative or romantic people, I saw in this dynamic the deep love that they had for each other. And so it is this mutual respect and interdependence that I want to cultivate in my own marriage, so that both my husband and myself can bring our strengths to the table with confidence instead of pride or insecurity, rely on each other in our areas of weakness without feelings of shame, and generally form a team that functions out of a place of mutual love and encouragement.

Posted in musings

the effects of anger on a marriage

If you’re immersed in the Christian subculture, the emphasis is such that it can seem like pornography use or other sexual sin is the worst thing that can happen to a marriage. But really, you know, a marriage can weather that kind of storm, if both partners are willing to come together in humility and forgiveness and rebuild the trust that was broken. I’ve actually been privileged enough to witness this a couple times, not in people I’m particularly close to, but in friends of friends, and it is a truly powerful image of grace.

What I think is more damaging to a relationship, in the long run, though it doesn’t have the shock and awe moments of an affair or betrayal, is smoldering, simmering resentment, bitterness and contempt in one spouse towards the other (or even worse, in both partners toward each other). When there is this kind of baseline negativity towards one’s partner, they can do nothing right, there are no kind words, forgiveness is grudging, casual misunderstandings turn into fights, and the duties of sharing a home are carried out passive-aggressively. This marriage may look fine on the outside, but the inside is being eaten away by a cancer of unrighteous anger.

As the apostle Peter wrote, “love covers over a multitude of sin” (1 Peter 4:8) – and so, if a marriage is grounded in and sustained by love, the failings and imperfections of each spouse can be overcome in forgiveness and grace. But if a marriage lacks this deep and unconditional love, a love that bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things, then it will be shaken to its core and in danger of destruction. It is hard, but essential, for us as married people to reset our baseline emotions toward our spouses, from a default of bitterness and resentment to the commanded love and mercy that analogizes Christ and the Church. Only by so doing can we hope to maintain the joy and beauty of our marriage, make our homes a holy and happy place for our children to grow, and reach out to our communities with genuine hospitality. Our attitudes toward our spouses ripple outward in their effects to touch everyone we know. May it be a ripple of love and abundance and joy rather than one of loneliness, hurt, and anger.

Posted in musings, quotes

vocational marriage

I’ve been thinking about marriage for a few weeks now, in a conceptual sort of way, and I liked this quote I ran across:

Marriage is a vocation, inasmuch as it is a response to a specific call to experience conjugal love as an imperfect sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Consequently, the decision to marry and to have a family ought to be the fruit of a process of vocational discernment.

– Pope Francis,Ā Amoris Laetitia

It’s easy to think of marriage in terms of romance and pleasure, or in terms of stability and security. Those, at least, are the common ways in which I see itĀ presented. But both of those paradigms have a tendency to fall apart and betray us… the romance fades, we begin to seek (and find) pleasure in other people, emotional tensions escalate to the point where they’re not a fair trade even for financial security.

When marriage is viewed as a sign of the love between Christ and the Church, however, it doesn’t so easily crumble. After all, Christ never stops loving the Church no matter what crazy circumstances life throws at Him (or us)! There is a call to faithfulness, a commitment to sacrifice, that demands everything we have – so if we enter into marriage prepared with that mindset, our marriages are far more likely to endure. This mindset also suggests, however, that one should approach marriage with the same sort of serious deliberation with which one approaches faith or a call to religious life, understanding that this is a covenant and pledge which will change and shape the rest of one’s life: hence, of course, Francis’s encouragement to discern if it is truly one’s vocation before entering into it.

Do we do this? Or do we treat marriage as ourĀ automatic life plan, assuming we can find a partner? Do we say, well, I want the romance and the intimacy and the security and the friendship and the tax benefits and maybe a kid or two as well, so marriage sounds like the way to go – or do we say, am I ready, am I mature enough to sacrifice myself for another person, am I truly called to enter into this covenant, am I prepared to open myself up to new life?

Posted in musings

marriage, celibacy, chastity, and grace

When it comes to sex, it seems that there are two very different basic mindsets: the Church’s ideal of chastity and the more pragmatic secular view of our culture. In the first, sex is part of the covenant of marriage, a way in which two people develop intimacy and practice mutual self-giving, and the means by which new human life is created. Sex isn’t about pleasure-seeking, or about fulfilling physical urges, but rather about offering one’s whole self to another, under God; the married individual has no more permission to lust after or use another person for personal pleasure than does the unmarried. And of course, considering all these boundaries around the understanding and act of sex within marriage, sex outside of marriage is not allowed at all, and celibacy, in which the individual dedicates his or her self-giving toward Christ and the Church rather than to a spouse and family, is honored and encouraged.

In contrast, our culture today tends to view sex as a means to enjoy ourselves – preferably with another person in a loving relationship, but not necessarily so. Sex is divorced from child-bearing as much as possible, so that physical pleasure can be had without the fear and burden of unwanted pregnancies. Masturbation is accepted (although never seen as the ideal) because how can making yourself feel good, without affecting anyone else, possibly be a bad thing? People have sexual needs, after all, and to deny them the chance to satisfy those needs is damaging and unrealistic, just as it would be damaging and unrealistic to expect people to go without eating or drinking.Ā Even among Christians,Ā this idea that people have physical sexual needs (as opposed to desires) is prevalent, with the result that marriage is turned into a vehicle to sexual fulfillment rather than a chance to give all of oneself, even one’s sexuality, to another person. While most Christians, looking at the example of Paul, admit that some few people are called to celibacy, the thought that large numbers of people might be called and equipped for it is simply bizarre.

There’s a third camp out there, probably the largest one to be honest, that ascribes to the ideals of the Church but denies (typically not in so many words) that those ideals can be lived out in a fallen world. Marriage provides the release for the sexual urges our sinful minds are unable to control, and thus the encouragement of celibacy opensĀ the door for secret sexual sin as men (primarily) are left to burn with passion without an acceptable outlet.

What this third group omits from their understanding of sex and chastity is the efficacy of God’s grace for His children. I will grant that if we were simply left with a law to follow and no grace to help us follow it, and if that law specified heterosexual monogamy as the only acceptable setting for sex, than we would want as many people as possible to be happily married so that their physical drives wouldn’t lead them into sin. (Or, of course, we could seek to change the law so that those drives that aren’t satisfied in heterosexual monogamy could also be fulfilled… that is what ourĀ culture does, building off of the Christian misunderstanding of marriage as an outlet for sexual need to paint the whole concept of marriage itself as a constraining and damaging force on human sexuality.) But the whole beauty of the faith is that we are not left on our own with just a law to obey: we are given the ability to obey it, by grace, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us. His righteousness is transmitted to us, not just as a legal covering, but as a reality that begins to transform us body and soul. Do we doubt the presence and powerĀ of His grace?

God has called all of His people to chastity, whether within marriage or out of it, and His grace will enable us to live chastely if we seek it. He doesn’t command and then leave us to obey on our own, but gives us His own life – Christ Himself living in us – that we might walk in righteousness. For some, that means the continual giving of oneself to God through giving oneself to another person in marriage, sexually as well as in all other areas of life, as marriage becomes the occasion for self-sacrifice, mutual submission, and radical service; for other, it will mean the continual giving of oneself to God through sacrifice and service to God’s people, giving upĀ the pleasure of sex, the joy of biological children, the happiness of monogamous love, to be able to focus more completely on the work of God and to be free to serve God’s people wherever and whenever theĀ need arises. Both paths are hard, and both are made possible by the free gift of the grace of God, who desires us to obey and gives us the ability to obey in Him.

(For a really good talk on this, in the context of celibate priests in the Catholic church, check out Father Eric Bergman’s talk at the Institute of Catholic Culture. He is a married priest, having originally been Anglican, so he has an interesting personal perspective on it!)