No One I Loved Had Ever Wounded Me So Deeply: grieving the reality of a marriage

Before my husband and I were married people told us, “Marriage is hard.” Along with these people, another camp kept telling us about how wonderful it was too. So, which was it? We got along so well, had so many common interests and tastes, and we wanted to be together all the time. We were in love. But reality slowly brought the darkness. A few days before our wedding, my soon-to-be husband began displaying a level of anger I had never witnessed before. I stayed quiet, though, taking comfort in the fact that I at least was not the object of wrath. But on the way to our honeymoon destination, I forgot an important item of ours on the plane only to realize I’d left it behind when we arrived at the honeymoon suite.

A slow subtle stream of passive-aggressive anger began to invade my husband and permeate the air. As I sensed the anger in the heavy silence I felt afraid and confused. I sat on the bed crying as he silently sunk deeper into the bubble bath across the room from me. Later he came over and held me, but there was no explanation or resolution to the incident. Even after a month of being back home, there was no resolution when I asked him what happened. I felt deep shame and kept the incident a secret. I didn’t want anyone to know the real man I married. I didn’t want anyone to think badly of him. So I buried it.

I expected my past to be my future.

At that point in my life, no one I loved had ever wounded me so deeply. I grew up with a father who never hurt me or disappointed me. He rarely showed any form of anger to me, and even at the slightest bit of discord he would confess his sin and ask my forgiveness. My mom and dad had a generally healthy relationship. I would hear the occasional argument from my room, but none threatened the unity of their marriage.

I grew up in the church and my dad led me to the Lord at the age of twelve. I had times of rebellion, but my life never seemed to spiral out of control too much. I stayed in the church and remained strong in my faith. My family valued our relationship with one another and honest communication. My parents were not just physically present, but spiritually and emotionally involved with me as well. My family roots were strong and stable, and this formed my expectations for my husband and our marriage.

I expected my husband to talk with me, share his struggles, and even confess his sins. I expected my past family experience to be our foundation at the outset, instead of it being a process we worked towards together. But I was naive. I didn’t know about how my husband’s background and family experience would affect our marriage. I didn’t take his past baggage into account as we started our life together. And it left me confused.

Read the rest at Fathom Mag >>

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Take Your Family to the House of Mourning: Children’s Books that Move Us

My son was hiding under the art easel so I couldn’t see him.

“Simon, come here. What are you doing?”

He shook his head, fighting back tears.

“Simon, please come here.”

He slowly crawled out of his hiding spot and walked over to me.

I brought him in close and said, “If you feel like crying, you should cry. What you’re doing is good, Simon. It’s good to be sad about death. Death is wrong.”

“It is?” he asked.

I said yes, we cried a little bit and held each other, then kept reading.

No one in our family has died recently, I’ve just been reading out loud to my six year old son from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. It’s been a mixture of tears and laughter and some healthy discussions about hard topics. I’ve found the element of story to be a great way to talk about hard things with my son. Great children’s literature is wrought with deep universal topics and questions that have been shared throughout history.

Even from a young age, we can ask our children good questions to build healthy discussions about hard topics. When I’ve not avoided difficult topics, like death, loss, and racism, my son and I have bonded more. It’s crucial to listen to Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:2:

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.

It’s good to be reminded of our own mortality, because it humbles us to our rightful place as feeble humans, teaches us wisdom in order to number our days rightly, and helps us learn empathy for our fellow image bearers.

We don’t have to always scout out non-fiction by solely Christian authors in order to teach our children. We must not underestimate our children’s capability to absorb a story rich in ideas. Even if they don’t understand all of the concepts in the story on the first read aloud, it will become a treasure buried in their hearts and minds that can be re-discovered in various ways and connections later on. The point is to continually expose our children to these types of inspirational stories over the years of their childhood and even teenage years.

Here are a few literary stories that enable discussions over death, loss, and racism. And don’t forget that even if the discussions don’t “take off” in the ways we imagined, the main point is the exposure to the ideas in the text.

Peter Pan by J.M.Barrie

On our walk to church one morning my sons were observing and delighting in all the freshly blossomed flowers. Then we stumbled upon a dead bird. Right in the middle of new spring life was a dark death. We must all be confronted with death at some point in our lives. My sons can’t even escape this reality on an innocent walk to church.

In Peter Pan,  J.M. Barrie helps children confront death and loss through a magical and imaginative place called Neverland. A place where children never grow up and are always on an adventure. Though I’ve had to talk to my oldest son about the inappropriate names and portrayal of Native Americans in the book, we’ve laughed and cried together too.

We marveled at Peter’s Christ like sacrifice when he let Wendy have the balloon to escape from drowning. Then we cried when the rising waters of mermaid lagoon threatened to take Peter’s life, and after a bout of fear his courage returned as he cried, “To die would be an awfully great adventure!” The ticking clock of the crocodile, in constant pursuit of Captain Hook, clues us into the sure fate of us all. As J.M. Barrie says, “Time is chasing after all of us.” Hook only has so much allotted time until he is swallowed up in death. So, how should we spend the time we are given?

My son and I were able to talk about orphans when we realized Peter Pan and the lost boys had no parents and desperately desired a mother. We felt empathy for Peter as he gazed through the barred windows at the joyful family reunion of the Darling family. Especially, when we remembered his own personal loss: coming back to his nursery window from Neverland to find it closed, as he peered inside to see his parents with a new baby boy. My son and I shed our own tears at this loss of family. We felt for Peter. Entering into another’s loss, learning about time and death, and courage and sacrifice are life lessons we want to share with our children. Peter Pan can help us do this.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Wilbur the pig comes into this world with a natural human desire: he doesn’t want to die. He’s saved from eight year old Fern who wants to keep him as her pet, until he grows too big and is sold to another farm. He finds himself on death row again, but this time he’s saved from a spider named Charlotte who can weave words into her web. Her plan to rescue Wilbur works and even makes him famous in the process. Charlotte and Wilbur show us that death is a part of living, and that death teaches us how to live. As Charlotte tells Wilbur:

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.

Charlotte sacrificed her short life for Wilbur so he himself could live. A spider can show us, and our children, that life is short and we must spend it for others. And as we deal with the loss of a loved one, Wilbur teaches us that they can never be forgotten or replaced:

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry Box Brown by Sally Walker

This title is different from the first two books. It’s not an old book, like the other two, and might not neatly fit into the idea of a true “literary” read, but it still helps convey the idea of slavery to young children. It’s a picture book and tells a true story from the perspective of a slave. I’ve explained slavery to my oldest son before, but reading this book helped him see it as something more concrete and human. He felt the injustice.

Music also plays an important part in this story as Henry longs for freedom and creates his own songs in the midst of hope and despair. He is separated from his family when he is sold to another master.  But we find happiness with him as he marries and starts his own family, only to feel his loss as his family is ripped away from him and sold. He hatches a plan to hide away in a box to the north, and the desire for him to be free is born in us. There is another similar picture book about Henry Box Brown by Ellen Levine called, Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad.

The right story can be a powerful tool to display truth and beauty to our children. Along the way, story teaches us to feel and to know. To know about slavery and to feel the pain of bondage and separation. To know about death and feel that we must learn to live our lives rightly. To know about loss and feel the right way to respond. In our day and time it’s more important than ever to raise up children who feel moved on another’s behalf and who desire to tabernacle among the suffering.


This originally appeared at Morning by Morning >>

Chasing Happily Ever After

There is a story little girls grow up with. The one where a handsome young Prince defeats every obstacle to save the Princess in distress. This is the stuff of fairy tales and a lot of older Disney movies. Now those movies have evolved into something where the Princess is strong, not helpless, and where she is in control as opposed to things just happening to her. She even does some of the saving now. Overall, this is a good shift of the classic narrative structure, because it shows the stronger side of femininity for little girls and lets them know they shouldn’t look for ultimate fulfillment in men. We can’t place our hope in another character in the story, but it must be placed in the creator of the story itself.

The story of the Prince saving the Princess and living happily ever after is reflective of a longing inside of us. We want this to be our story. We want the happily ever after. So we search for it in a man, in a relationship, and in a marriage. But when we bank on finding ultimate happiness in a boyfriend, fiancee, or husband we place them on a pedestal and put burdens on them they were never meant to bear. I didn’t realize I had put my husband on a pedestal until five years of marriage when he came crashing down. I was deeply hurt and he became a broken statue on the floor. I found out the depth of his sin, as well as my own, and reality could not measure up to the fairy tale. I felt like I had lost my happily ever after. I wrongly assumed my husband would fill that longing for my happily ever after, and I also wrongly viewed him, and his role, as more akin to Christ himself. My husband is called to be like Christ, but he is not Christ. I didn’t have this straight when I married him.

Read the rest at Young Wives Club >>

Lightning Book Reviews on Suffering and Adversity

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Here are short (lightning) reviews of recent books I’ve read. Each one has a similar theme of trusting God and loving others in the midst of suffering and brokenness:

A Path Through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship Between God’s Mercy and our Pain by Elisabeth Elliot

If anyone is an intimate friend of suffering it is Elisabeth Elliot. She experienced the anguish of delayed desires with her future husband Jimthen after two years of marriage Jim was killed by Auca Indians in the jungles of Ecuador, and lastly her second husband passed away from cancer. Her path was through suffering, but Elliot shows us the light on the path that guides and comforts us, and ultimately transforms all our grief, loss, and heartbreak. She weaves in analogies from the life and death cycle of nature: the breaking of acorn shells, the plant’s first stages of leaves and shoots, seasons, falling leaves, and bearing fruit. Elliot helps us see meaning in our dark night of the soul.

A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships by Paul E. Miller

Paul Miller traces the life of Ruth in a way I have never seen done before. He highlights biblical truths, ancient history, cultural underpinnings, and symbolism, while also using Ruth as an archetype of loving sacrifice and unconditional love in the center of personal isolation, hardship, and grief. This is a great book if you are in the midst of a broken relationship and figuring out the part you can play towards restoration, if you struggle to love people (especially those who are difficult to love), or if you are experiencing any kind of relational hardship and pain.

Trusting God: Even when Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges

This is probably considered a Christian classic, but I never read it because as a young naive girl I didn’t think I needed insight into trusting God in life’s hardships. Honestly, I never experienced anything that hard, until I moved across states away from friends and family to marry my husband and start my own family. Life got hard. And life hurts at times, like the subtitle to the books says. Bridges builds a thorough theological, and yet practical, case for trusting God. He addresses the sovereignty of God over people, nations, and nature, and even in relation to our responsibility. He asks hard questions like, “Can you trust God?”, and “Is God in control?”, while helping us grasp God’s love and wisdom, even in adversity.