Donnie and I had long discussions about how our marriage was going to be different from every other marriage – EVER! I had witnessed a lot of marriages, and in spite of my parents insisting their arguments were healthy communication, I decided we weren’t going to have that type of discord. None of my friends’ parents argued. I was pretty sure we could be just like them.
We were going to be in complete agreement in everything, ministering Jesus’ love and growing in the Lord together. Our marriage was going to be an example of what every marriage should be! I would be the submissive wife; he would be the head of our home. I would take care of the house and kids, Donnie would work, and all our needs would be met with God’s help. We would be the best parents and our kids would be perfect with no problems because we would do such a great job raising them in the ways of the Lord! That was our goal.
We met on a Christian wagon train outreach with YWAM. Our wedding guests came to my Montana home for the wedding. His family came from Pennsylvania and we had friends from across the nation who were on the YWAM outreach with us. Donnie planned the rehearsal dinner. It was fabulous and full of laughter. We performed skits from the outreach we had been on with our out of town guests and enjoyed the finest gourmet meal, compliments of our good friend Jimmy New.
The glow of the rehearsal dinner and fun with our out of town guests was followed by probably the simplest wedding that ever existed – I even borrowed my sister’s dress. I wouldn’t let her get it altered to fit me. After all, I was just going to wear it for a couple hours. So what if it was a bit long? My sister found some centerpieces in a church closet to decorate the tables in the multi-purpose room at the church, someone brought streamers, and one of the Ladies Circle groups at our Lutheran church put together some cookies and sandwiches to feed our hungry guests. We ordered a cake with a couple cute covered wagons and horse figurines to celebrate the wagon train where we met. The entertainment was us opening our presents and exclaiming our delight for the butter dishes, crock pots, and towels. To me, the most exciting part of the day was our plan to be whisked away in a beautiful carriage pulled by a handsome black horse, driven by our good friend Ricky Andersen.
Of course as a bride, my head was in a whirl – and when it was time to depart, the storm clouds gathered overhead and the day was grey with a steady drizzle. My sister’s beautiful white wedding dress was muddied by the wheel of the carriage and since it was raining, it was decided that we would just go around the block and back to the church. WAIT – that wasn’t at all what I had planned!
The rest of our marriage didn’t go as planned either. Donnie believed in discussion when there was a problem. I insisted on being right even if I was wrong. We dealt with the “common” marital strife and worked hard to understand each other. We learned what selflessness really meant and both had a lot to work on. And then we had kids. I had been raised on a farm with loving parents; he had been raised in a home with an abusive father until he qualified to go to Milton Hershey School. He had no idea what a good father was. I tried to tell him, but that didn’t go over well either.
As we grew together, the Holy Spirit gave him a revelation that God is his example of a Father to follow. We learned to rely on our Heavenly Father to teach us how to grow as a family.
I recently ran into a childhood classmate of my youngest daughter who recognized me. She expressed how much she enjoyed her time around our home and how much she wished she could be part of our family. (Our imperfect family?) Other friends too, kids who grew up with my kids, kids who were part of the youth group, family friends, and even casual acquaintances, have all expressed how much we helped and how we ministered to them. We were less than perfect. I just sit in awe.
It certainly wasn’t because we had a perfect, strifeless marriage. Maybe it was because we were honest and caring. We were going through the same difficulties every other couple deals with. They saw how we dealt with our problems and how we continue to grow to be better for each other, for our children, and for the Lord.
We taught our kids forgiveness because nobody is perfect. They learned to forgive each other and graciously forgive us for our mistakes and shortcomings.
To be honest, one of my biggest struggles today is remorse for the ways I failed as a parent. I’m proud of my children, but they struggle through their own issues because that’s what happens when we grow them up in an imperfect world. I was never nominated to be “Mother of the Year”. I was not quick to correct, I held my husband back from his strong hand of discipline, I didn’t give the kids consistent chores, I didn’t yell at them for bad grades when they could have done better, and I struggled with housework. I didn’t have the answers to life problems when they really needed help, but I was a good listening ear. To this day, they come to me with their concerns and problems. But if it’s something that’s really big, they know it’s their dad who will give them the straight answer.
I heard a sermon once where the pastor held up a toy tractor. He said this tractor is a unique tractor. It runs on the best fuel, but it also runs on garbage. It has to have a mixture. If you only use good fuel, the engine will get gunked up and it won’t run at best capacity. Likewise, if it is only fed garbage, the engine will soon be destroyed. To run at its optimum level, it requires good fuel and garbage, because the garbage helps keep the good fuel in balance.
It’s like that in real life. If you have only allowed your children to have perfect, good things happen to them and spare them from the stress of homework (by doing it for them or not requiring them to do their best), things will not end well. If you spare them from interaction with people who might be selfish or rude, and if all they experience is triumph and never defeat, they won’t be able to survive once they are turned loose in the real world. Likewise, if you only let them experience difficulties and problems and never come in beside them to encourage and help them through the problem, they will enter the real world already defeated.
Romans 5:3, “It’s the tribulations that work patience.” 2 Thes 5:11, “It’s the encouraging words with which we build one another up.” James 1:2, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
People have messy lives and they are looking for answers, but God loves us too much to let us off the hook for those messes. As we pursue Him, He is faithful and just. Do we trust in God, or do we panic? Exhibiting a quiet calm that trusts the Lord in all circumstances speaks volumes to those watching. 1 Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
We love to bask in the victories and successes of our lives, but what do we do with our mistakes and imperfections? The world needs to see how we deal with the troubles of life. Do we live in defeat as those with no hope? Or do we live as a child of the Most High, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, under His righteousness and power, forgiven, redeemed, and loved. Living in truth, we let the world know that we are not perfect, but that we are better than we were yesterday. Tomorrow we’ll be better than today because we continuously strive for higher ground.
So no matter what struggle you may have experienced, know this, God can use this for His glory to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
My parents were married over 60 years before my mother went home to be with Jesus. I saw them later in life still working at their marriage, but still very much in love. My friends with perfect parents? Some of them were divorced due to lack of communication. Others, I found out from their grown children, communicated violently and only made an appearance in public that they had it all together. Still, some had found that beautiful harmony that we all work to attain.
My dreams for my marriage came true, but not in the way I expected. Our marriage is an example of what every marriage should be: two (imperfect) people coming together, willing to work towards one goal, forgiving one another, and becoming like Christ.
Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”