A Burning House.
A marriage is a lot like a house. Freshly purchased on your wedding day, it's a home full of promises – lazy Saturday mornings spent in bed together, visions of Christmas mornings around a sparkling tree, bringing home first babies. The house has it's own share of baggage, most of which you've addressed, and have come to know as something you'll have to work with or something you've been able to fix so that the house is livable, even more comfortable and safe than it was before. You decorate. You make it your own. You live in it, share it, take care of it together.
And time takes it's course. The paint color you once loved now seems too dark and could use an update. The roof that was once in good shape is in need of repair. The air conditioner goes out. And when we start to ignore these issues, they create more issues... the problem grows and becomes increasingly serious. And suddenly, the house is no longer livable. It's literally falling to the ground all around you, and you either have to leave or fix it.
This is where Chris and I found ourselves at the beginning of this year. Our tiny new baby breathing in her first days of spring, with a mommy who recently considered suicide and had begun to get help, and a daddy who truly was at a loss of what to do besides keep walking. We had no idea how we had gotten here, but our house was falling down, to the point that we weren't sure how we were going to begin to address all of the damage. Our house was unlivable.
A few years ago, we were living in Dallas, a city we had come to know and love, where we had grown spiritually so quickly in ways we could've never imagined. I had a blog I was writing in regularly about what God was teaching me, teasing out pain in my own heart and seeing that fruit nourish and provide encouragement to others. Chris had graduated valedictorian, a surprise gift, and was looking ahead at two years of clerkships in new cities. The prospects were scary and exciting. We didn't want to leave the safety we had come to know and love in Dallas, and yet, we had seen God breathe life into all the caverns of our lives as we walked in where He was leading us, and we expected nothing less from the next two years of travel.
We moved to Austin and were immediately hit with intense anxiety. So much change had happened in a short amount of time, and we had expected it to be hard... but maybe not this hard. We were having a pretty serious discussion about what these two years of clerking meant for starting a family, and we totaled our car. Chris was in shock, walking around the car and the car of the woman we hit, hands in his curly hair, mouth agape, silent. I immediately went into my "mom mode" (an oldest child syndrome), making sure Chris wasn't hurt, picking up the spilled cup of water in the car, gathering Chris's license and insurance, checking on the other woman to make sure she was ok, calling recently made friends to see who could come pick us up. I myself was hurt, but didn't say anything so that we could continue functioning and get home, and also so that Chris wouldn't feel any worse than he already obviously did. We got home that night, and privately, I looked at the deep purple bruises forming across my chest from the seat belt. I waited three days before I mentioned them to Chris. He felt bad, but didn't quite realize how bad the injuries had been initially because I hadn't told him initially. He told me he was genuinely sorry and then moved on. This would continue to be how we operated for two years.
I was so afraid of the anxious person I was seeing emerge from Chris, and I wasn't sure how to handle it. I myself was beginning to spiral back into depression, and worked to correct it by reminding myself that my thoughts weren't true. I even went to counseling for a time. We decided to start trying for a family, regardless of the timing of the clerkships, and I believed I was better. That Chris and I were better. Looking back, I see now that we were only masking the crumbling walls with fresh paint.
It's been nearly a year since I began to tell Chris honestly how I felt. I had made mentions of it before – how I was sad that I wasn't writing anymore, my struggle with seminary and feeling like a failure when I quit, how much I missed my friends and struggled with the heartbreak that came with leaving our new ones – which he all understood, on the surface, and would respond to with a "gospel band-aid" and keep walking. He'd remind me of God being good and that He was at work for our good, which felt so superficial and cheap in the days upon days of feeling truly heartbroken and as if God had taken everything that was meaningful to me in this world, even the joy of our precious daughter.
The cruelest of our old sins crept in. Suicidal tendencies for me. Addiction for Chris. And in the final breaking points of everything we had come to know and love, God was burning down the entire house to get it back to it's foundation. It was no longer a safe place to live, infected with the poisonous mold of sin, and the only way to fix it was going to be to burn it down and start over. To forgive, forgive, and forgive again. To trust that we would be restored. To get our hands dirty and begin the hard work of building again.
For a long time this year, I've questioned why God lead us to Austin and Mississippi. I loved the friends we made there, but hated having to leave them. I am a relationship-oriented person – some of my deepest joys are found in the building of relationships, and feeling disconnected from everyone, family, long-distance friends, new friends I knew I'd have to leave, was completely disorienting and heartbreaking. I thought that the longing I had to start our family that would not go away was God's way of giving me a person to bond to so that I wouldn't feel so alone. But after having Grace, I had never felt more alone. And yet, this is where God needed me to be for me to see the depth of sin that had been growing in our home. It was bearing months of seeing his wife go through deep suffering and honest pain in recovery for Chris to see that he had been shutting off feeling any kind of pain – a tendency that only made his "surprising" bouts of anxiety and panic attacks more intense and frequent.
This morning, we sat in our little rental house back in Dallas eating breakfast, just the two of us. Grace spent the night at my mom's, and we were able to talk through a few things that Chris had realized in the past twenty-four hours. I feel like we have the same conversations over and over (I've come to realize that most wives feel this way, yes?), but I'm starting to see that the depth of emotions I feel is much like a multi-sided gem to Chris, and he is only able to comprehend and understand one side at a time. God is revealing more of me to Chris in each conversation, as difficult and arduous as it may feel at the time. And each conversation has started to get easier to process as we are understanding each other better.
We are finally starting to see the process God was guiding us through in these past years. We may never fully understand on this side of Heaven, as is often the case with suffering, but this I know... "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5) For so long, I did not have hope. I saw the walls of our house crumbling around us and wept, questioning why God would allow this to happen and not save us sooner, clutching my newborn baby and desiring more than anything to leave and go somewhere safe, while Chris stood in the center of the destruction saying, "It'll be ok! God works all things for our good! Do you feel better yet? Just gotta keep walking!"
It was there, on the empty foundation, that we were finally able to face the deep sins that had crept into our lives and we had used to protect ourselves and ignore the damage they were causing. God had to literally burn everything away for us to see the error of our ways and be able to start afresh, with new eyes.
He just needed us to be brave enough to believe we could rebuild. That's all.
Somehow, in the midst of all the destruction, we didn't leave. I couldn't go stay at a friends house for a few weeks as I had wanted to. Chris couldn't fix my depression for me in a day (or a fun weekend trip) as he had wanted to. It took months of attending counseling together, difficult (often heart-breaking) conversations, learning and accepting our enneagrams (honestly one of the most helpful things we did), and offering each other endless grace. And enjoying our joyful, healthy, spunky and wonderful girl, Grace.
We've seen the most unhealthy sides of each other in this process and we remember how wonderful of a team we make when we are at our healthiest. We live out most of our days somewhere in the middle, thankful for both the memories of our house in it's early days of fresh paint and promises, the memories we have made along the way, and even thankful for the incredibly difficult seasons we've been through. Our home emerges stronger than ever. Still with it's imperfections, but appreciated in deeper ways and filled with more glory and truth than could have been possible before the fire came. There is something my mom often says about suffering that rings true for me again: "I would never wish for this, but I'm so glad it happened to us."
So here we stand, in a freshly painted doorway, knowing God is faithful, that all of His promises are "yes, and Amen." Knowing that this home we build here will always be imperfect, but if our foundation is the Lord, we are guaranteed to see glimpses of our Home, the one we long for, and the glimpses will be more than enough.
"For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.
That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming." (2 Cor. 5:1-8, The Message, emphasis my own)