Lessons of a (late) newlywed, Part 4: Out of the Shadows

A good friend of mine recently sent me a copy of Sarah Bessey’s new book “A Rhythm of Prayer”, and have been reading it little by little. Today, I read the benediction even though I’m not even half way done. Why? because.. well because why read it in order?

It got me thinking.

There are these two huge canvas pictures that hang on the wall in our house. They hold a central spot really, visible when you sit at the dining room table – you can’t miss them. Both are from the rafting trip through the Grand Canyon Trung organized and led over a decade ago. At the start – 16 people, sitting on a raft with the oars and paddle boards, helmets and PFD’s (personal flotation devices .. aka lifejackets).. and in warm jackets. At the end, still 16 people, but some gone and some new ones, sitting around a cooler with the sun in the background, all a few shades darker from three weeks of having been on the river.

I have heard stories about this trip from nearly every person I have met since Trung came into my life a few years back…. enough to make me wonder if another trip can ever live up to it (but we’re hoping we can get a permit some day for another one-so we will see!) I can name and have met almost every single person on that trip as well. Of course by now, everyone is a bit older, some are more grey-haired…. and some have less hair. One no longer has her dreads, having traded them for a shorter cut that her (now 3) children won’t yank on.

If I’m honest, I have felt like I have had to walk in the shadow of this great life of adventure my husband has lived before he met me, hearing tales not only of this one rafting trip but of other grand adventures he has both done and invited others into. They make my meager family camping trips and races seems so small in comparison.

and yet

I am reminded of the following truth:

He and I have spent lifetimes investing in and becoming experts in our respective worlds: his, adventure; mine-family/relationships and ministry. They both have been deep and noble pursuits, and neither is greater than the other. They are just different.

It is easy for me to look at all he has done, and think I have nothing so exciting to speak of (which is crazy, it’s all a matter of perspective, I know)

So as I sit and think… a smile comes to my face, as my imagination and the (hardly) poetic side of me tries to put words to the picture that comes to mind.

He has lived a life of leading trips and preparing so there are no disasters, of gear packing and outfitting, of navigating rivers and rapids. He has camped in sub-zero weather, carried the heaviest of packs and walked for miles. He has rappelled down ravines and climbed up frozen waterfalls. He has done back-country skied and snow-shoed. I’m sure he has had some harrowing rescues in his day, stories yet to come out.

He has climbed mountains and seen the stars more brilliant than you can imagine. He has found solace in the silence of nature. He has taught so many the things he knows, calling them to lives of character and respect for the great outdoors. I could go on – and should you need proof, there’s a room in our house full of gear that can attest to any one of a thousand stories.

Me?

I too have lived a life of leading trips and preparing so there are not disasters, only mine included snacks and diapers, sunscreen and sun hats, pack -n-plays for nap-time and books for reading before bed. I have outfitted and gear packed, but it came in yearly cycles with the changing of school seasons and backpacks and new supplies, whether it was crayons, dry erase markers, or the newest graphical calculator. My miles were to and from the bus stop, along soccer field sidelines and in the green room or ticket booth at theater shows (along with the miles I ran for my own sake). I can’t say I did any rappelling, but I got pretty creative with a pulley system in a two story house to avoid running upstairs to get something small.. does that count?

I have navigated rivers of moody teenagers, more than I can count, waves of emotion that seemed endless, covered in prayer. The mountains I have climbed seemed more spiritual than physical many years, trusting God to move the ones that seemed to big and help me climb the ones I needed to see beyond. I think my rescues were more in the things you cannot see, victories won for my kids and the lives of those in our church that only God can see (and of course He was really the rescuer there, I just did my part). I challenged people to lives of integrity, to believe there was more to this life than they could see… and to place their trust in the One that created it all. I have photo albums and journals galore, should you need proof.

I think of all this, how our lives have parallelled in ways I never knew, and I have to laugh…

because true to form,

what he has done with his hands and in the natural for others

I have done with my heart and in the faith lives of others

Not that he hasn’t impacted the faith lives of others – for I KNOW he has.. and not that I haven’t invited others into adventures – for I have (just not the same kind).

The reality is that we have both been living a life of adventure really – his full of gear and the wildness of the outdoors, mine full of tears and prayers and the wildness of how watching how God moves in the world.

Now we get to see what it looks like when those things come together.

It’s pretty darn beautiful if you ask me.

Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 3: A trip down memory lane

This weekend we headed back to Nebraska to see Trung’s folks. I had only met them once when they came through Denver on their way out for vacation, and then only for about an hour or so. They couldn’t come to the wedding due to the Covid outbreak, and so, nearly two years after I met them, after we knew they were vaccinated, we decided it was time.

Visiting his parents has been like stepping back in time for me. White slate fireplace, much like my own grandpa’s back in Idaho. Red and white marbled tile in the basement, like my grandpa’s office. An old but beautiful claw bathtub in the basement bathroom. Wood paneling like a house I lived in as a teen. Nothing updated, nothing new, random things crammed in every possible corner… and family pictures displayed proudly on the main wall, for all to see.

I love it.

Pictures of their kids growing up hung on nearly every wall in those multiple-photo-collage-frames. Graduation pictures too, as each one of their kids shook hands and earned their diplomas. Then the family pictures when they were home from college (and yes Trung even pointed out the freshman fifteen he gained that first year – haha!). Grandkid photos on the frig and stuck between the glass and wood frame of the china cabinet. Our wedding portrait with his sisters and their families right there, in the middle of it all.

They welcomed me in as if they’d known me for years. Sharing family stories over tea, passing along family heirlooms, things they had saved for Trung for when he got married…even offering to buy us a new frig if we needed it when Trung jokingly said they could bequeath their frig to us in the will. Sitting there, listening…. hearing other parts of their family story that were new to me, I began to see more of where the man I fell in love with gets it from.

Oh sure, I grew up in a family that would have “given the shirt off their back” to anyone who needed. I always heard that about all my family back in Idaho, and I watched my parents model the same kind of generosity. But this was different for me somehow. These are immigrants who came here escaping a Communist regime. They did anything and everything to make it here, provide for their 5 kids (who are now all very successful). They helped bring other families here. They live on a retirement salary now, and yet here they are offering to help, still. My parents do the same, and I would do the same for my kids, but there is something so humbling about it coming from a family that started with nothing. Literally. It’s not that my parents were wealthy or that I was anything more than average growing up, but my dad was an officer in the military. We did just fine. Mom sewed my clothes until practically high school, I dressed like a dork in the 80’s like everyone did, we hardly ever ate out (and when we did it was Pizza Hut or KFC)… but listening to how they left everything behind to start a new life here? Vastly different from my story. It’s more than humbling.

Hear me clearly: I’m not saying that just because you may have been born here that you had it easy. I know countless people that were native-born Americans (of various backgrounds) but their families have similar struggling stories. Deep poverty where there wasn’t ever food in the frig, families who worked two jobs not only to provide but also to move to safer neighborhoods. People whose parents prayed their kids wouldn’t be the ones shot by stray bullets. White families, black families, brown families. Every color, every nationality. Poverty and the struggle to make it here is no respecter of the level of melanin you have in your skin. But the pursuit to work hard, the goal to provide, not to have the “latest and greatest’ at every turn, but to have what you need, and to have a little extra so you can still help others who have less than you?

Priceless. Necessary. A more than honorable goal.

I have had a number of discussions with 20-somethings, and one of the most striking things I think I have ever heard was a statement that they think the “American Dream” is unreachable for them, because everything has become so expensive and they can’t find the jobs that allow them to earn what they need to get there. But if an immigrant family with 5 kids can sit at the end of their life and look back and realize what they have done…. how can some version not be attainable in the next generations?

Somehow I question if what is sold as the “American Dream” has at its focus the wrong thing. Why does it seem to have a particular expected outcome, so that the next generations think its unattainable? I guess I am just thinking that no matter how you define it, whether its a place to call your own, a secure job that supports you (and maybe more), a travel budget, freedom to work when you want, or whatever else your goal is, its going to take hard work. Long hours. Saving and not going into debt if you can avoid it. Times you succeed and times you fail – and learn to not make the same mistakes. You can’t control life all the time… so I guess I wonder….are you asking the right questions?

Jesus talked some about working really, really hard, only to lose your life. I don’t think for one minute he was saying hard work and providing for yourself (and family) wasn’t a good goal. It’s just that there is MORE than just working. More than just what your hands can produce. Are you looking for that along the way? Are you looking for what is hidden, are you cultivating that inner life and contentment, are you investing in helping others out of their hard places?

There was a song back in the 80’s called “Doubly Good to You” by Amy Grant. I think the lyrics express at least some of the questions we need to be asking:

“If you look in the mirror at the end of a hard day, and you know in your heart you have not lied, and if you gave love freely and if you earned an honest wage…..”

Those questions – aren’t they a better way to measure life? This certainly seems to be more of the lens that I see my parents have used to measure their life now that they are in their 70’s… and I see this in Trung’s parents as well.

So my question and challenge to you, my friends, is this: What can you learn from the lives of those that are different from you? Have you taken the time to listen — really listen? And if you have, is it changing you? For those of you who walk with Jesus, filled with his Spirit.. are you letting it give you new eyes to be grateful, new ways to show compassion to others just trying to make it?

Musings from this local Nebraska coffee shop……

Blessings, my friends!

Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 2: Everyone’s favorite question

Hi all! Hope everyone had a nice Christmas and New Years, no matter how you celebrated. Trung and I were able to spend Christmas Eve with some of our best friends here, and Christmas day with both my girls and my parents. Successful holiday sharing – woohoo! (because we all know holiday sharing is something you have to tackle when blending two lives….)

You know, after a wedding, people are pretty good about giving the new couple some space to just settle in and get used to their new life together. There aren’t rules on how long to wait before you reach out to them, of course, but inevitably friends and family decide the time is up (whether you are ready or not), and they invite you over, or text or call, and the question they ask is always “Sooo….. how is married life?”

That can be a loaded question, my friends. (cue awkward silence and quick exchanging of glances or arm nudges)

Whereas 20-year olds couples or those that have known each other for years before they got married might often answer “It’s amazing!”… when our friends started asking that question, we were gut level honest: “Uhhh ..we’re adjusting”. I’m not sure our friends knew how to respond to that!

Now, I can’t speak to much of what my husband is going through, but I know having a wife is quite a bit different than all the roommates he had. I am a LOT more particular than they were, for one. I have some demands on his time they never would have placed (like… please call me if you won’t be home for dinner so I don’t cook for two… and what do you mean you forgot to tell me you were scheduled to work? I was hoping to spend the day with you). I know both of us have also had to do some vetting with our best friends these first few months. My sister-in-law and best friend in Illinois have been key to this for me. I have called them often asking “hey.. um.. is this normal? how did you all navigate this when you were first married?” I am sure my new husband has asked his best friend some similar questions.

Just about every book, blog, website, and happily married couple will all tell you that the first year of marriage is hard – so I figured because I knew this, I’d be set. Oh, was I wrong about that! (ummmmmm…yeah.. you can start chuckling now, go on….)

What actually happened when I moved in and started making his bachelor pad our “home”, is that all these expectations I had of how we would spend time each week building our life together started surfacing. It’s like something in me kicked in and started executing some sort of internal “plan” on how I operated within marriage. I knew I couldn’t just live my single life in a new house. The framework had changed, therefore the “rules” changed too.

Need I remind you I’m an Enneagram 1. Of course there is a plan.

My plan included dinner together almost every night, a date night each week, figuring out each other’s love language and working on speaking it, asking each other questions so we could learn… share what we had studied in scripture, go for walks. Oh goodness. When I finally recognized I was operating on some built in “plan” — I was able to own up to the fact it had grown out of having a schedule raising my girls, paired with expectations of what I was looking forward to being an empty nester. That was a hard thing to own up to. I wasn’t used to having dinner “whenever”, having a ton of flexible time, or having conversations whenever they came up.

The day it hit me that we could build this marriage together, and it could look however we wanted it to, was revolutionary on a number of levels, let me tell you.

Whereas I knew this in my head before getting married, now I am keenly aware that I have no clue on how to build this particular marriage with this particular guy. That would leave me feeling helpless, but for one fact:

I know the One who does know how to build it.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I guess I take a while to hold onto lessons. The entire time we dated, there have been a few passages of Scripture that the Lord has used to encourage me and remind me that HE is the one building our relationship. Rather than go over all of them, I’ll share one you might be familiar with:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” – Psalm 127:1

He’s built the foundation, sure…..Yet here I go, getting all my own lumber and bricks and mortar and trying to build as fast as I can. Obviously that is getting me NOWHERE.

One thing my new husband has been observant about is that I always am more in a rush for things than he is. He takes time, considers things, trusts that things will come to pass in God’s timing. It’s not that I don’t do that, I just do it in … well.. a much more condensed timeframe than he does. I want to hurry God along if I can (yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.)

I find that I must continually remind myself that all those marriages out there that are doing well didn’t just happen over night. They aren’t just because they are OUR age either. They took time. Like a vineyard, they needed sun and rain. The vines needed to be tended to and pruned when needed. We are just starting our journey… two vines planted side-by-side….that have yet to see what it looks like to grow together.

We’ve been at this 5 months. I need to give myself some grace!! 🙂

So here are my encouragements to all you newlyweds out there:

* Remember that God knew you would be good together, so learning to navigate your (unexpected) differences is absolutely possible.

* Close friends are there when you join in the covenant of marriage, because you will need them. Take advantage of that, and trust their wisdom.

* Your marriage needs to be YOURS. You may pick a few things from each of your families you want to reflect in your marriage, or you may not. You may (and I think should) learn from books or blogs, other couples, things you read or hear to make your marriage better over time, but it will NOT mirror your parent’s marriage, and it will NOT mirror any previous marriage. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you want it to look like.

*** If you have been married before: No matter how much you have pursued healing and worked through your issues from your first marriage, things will come out once you are in a relationship again. Be honest with yourself and recognize when you are reacting out of fear or hurt from your previous relationship, or when you are projecting. Your new spouse cannot live in the shadow of your previous one.

Above all else, remember this:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). Goodness knows we cannot do that on our own – but the Author of Love is willing and able to!

Blessings, my friends! Til next time.

Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 1: Moving Boxes

I can’t believe it’s been 4 months already. I admit, it seems a bit strange for me to be claiming the title of “newlywed” – but alas, that is what we are according to the calendar. I think we can claim that for maybe two more months? Another six? I guess it doesn’t really matter. We’ve started the journey of “getting to know the stranger [we] just married” (as a Relevant Magazine article on marriage put it quite succinctly) – haha!

I have been wanting to write about this for a while, but mystified a bit as to exactly where to start, and what to write that isn’t too personal and that actually is more than just a newlywed story. I need to have a point. I think I finally found a few, and so this will be Part 1 of maybe 2 or 3 more blogs. We’ll see how the things I have collected fit together. For now… I will start with the pre-wedding event of MOVING.

When we met, I lived over an hour away. We commuted for two very long years to see each other every other weekend – and needless to say, we were very much looking forward to that coming to an end! Although my house was newly built, his was nearly paid off and he had been in his community (which is amazing, I must say!) for well over 15 years. It made more sense for me to move into his house and join him outside of Boulder. So, this past June I sold my house, packed up my stuff, and said good-bye to my beloved kitchen island (sniff, sniff). I had arranged to move all my stuff up to his house 3 weeks before the wedding, in hopes that I could get some things unpacked and empty a few boxes. I lived with my folks for those last 3 weeks so I could spend some last time with them. What a blessing it was!

As I saw the boxes piling up in my house, I knew I needed to warn him. You see, I had moved all my life, so I was well aware that what fits nicely into two cabinets or drawers can take anywhere between 4 and 6 boxes, depending on what you are packing. I also knew that when he moved into his house, he had nothing but what he could fit into his truck, and now he had a full kitchen on his own so….. I was pretty sure the boxes from my kitchen alone would make him break out in a cold sweat. There were, of course, still the book boxes from my office (being an avid reader and in grad school), and clothes boxes…. garage stuff and memory stuff from the kids….needless to say, it stacked up. It actually didn’t seem like a lot for me, but I had a feeling it was going to seem like a lot to him.

I called to give him warning when the truck left my driveway:

“Just giving you a head’s up…. It’s going to look like a lot….I know. As long as your back spare bedroom is empty, we’ll be fine. All we have to do is clear the driveway, and I’ll direct them where things go. You can help get them lunch and water. Shouldn’t take more than an hour to unload.”

Whereas this was normal for me, and I was in all-out project mode…. you should have seen the look on his face when the truck showed up. I had to chuckle. All I could do was reassure him that I had a place for all of it!

Thus began the two month process of unpacking and clearing the back bedroom out. I got some done before the wedding, finished a lot the week after our honeymoon, and then gradually worked on the rest… and I was right. I found (or created) nooks and crannies for just about everything. Every now and then, he would peek in the room, raise an eyebrow, and I could see his mind spinning… “where is the rest of this going??” I imagine he was thinking.

At one point, when I was tucking some kitchen things away in a fabric bin (which fit perfectly into a bookshelf he had he wasn’t really using), he made a simple statement, an observation, and it threw me into a bit of a tailspin. I didn’t honestly know how to respond, so I think I tried to be cute and say something funny. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more my “I thought I was done with those” insecurities raged – and I wanted to defend myself. I knew exactly what I wanted to say:

“Look, I’m sorry this all seems like such a pain for you, but its MY STUFF from my life before I met you, when I raised my kids. These are the memories that mean something to me. These are the things that I like to do, the things that are important to me. Did you just think I wasn’t going to bring it with me? You saw all of them at my house…..(and if we’re counting boxes, I can almost guarantee you would have more boxes than me if we had to pack out your house)…”

Instead, I said nothing – because I knew it wouldn’t acknowledge the huge change that he was going through having me move in and take over his space. He’d had housemates, but none that put pictures and candles on the mantle, added pillows to his couch, and put quilts in a basket for folks to cuddle up with. None that added to the stash of cooking stuff already in the kitchen (mixer, multi colored spatulas, baking stuff, my collection of teas…)

My first internal reaction was not patient, or kind, or graceful. I was hurt, and he had no idea.

This is why I being quick to listen AND speak makes a huge difference in any relationship. I asked the Lord to calm me down (after venting in my head, I’ll be honest), and then I started trying to figure out why what he said bothered me in the first place.

However small, I realized his comment made me question myself, made me wonder if what I had to bring really made a difference in this bachelor-now-husband’s life. After I spent some time in prayer, I was able to pull my brain back from the edge and reminded myself of the truth: he loves me, I love him, and God knew we were right for each other. My gifts and uniqueness had a place in this home, even if they are things he isn’t used to yet. And oh yeah, the enemy. Of course he’d start at the beginning to try to create insecurity and division.

Later that week I was finally able to bring the subject up to him and we talked – about how each of us had our own lives before we met, lives that the other person wasn’t a part of. We both acknowledged that we feel on the outside sometimes when the other person shares stories and laughter about ‘life before’. That was a hard recognition. It’s going to take some adjusting, but I think we both acknowledged that each of our separate lives, and the memories that go with them are important. After all, it not only gives us a chance to show grace for each other – it’s also a chance to have a window into how each of us became the person we are now.

Newlywed or not, my challenge for you today is this:

Think about how often God gives us a gift, or puts us in a new situation. We make new friends, have new relationships, experience chances to grow. Maybe we are excited at first, but when we realize the implications of that gift – the extra people living in the house, the new job, new situation…sometimes we just aren’t sure what to do with the other things that come with it or the work it will take, are we?

It reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the good and faithful servant (Matthew 25), who has invested a little money on behalf of the owner and made a nice return. Jesus says that of course the owner is going to commend him! But more than just commending him, the owner sets the servant over MORE more than he was originally entrusted to him.. I have always wondered… did he WANT the extra responsibility? How much harder did this make things, even if it was an honor?

Sometimes gifts, blessings, good things can be overwhelming. They can cause you to wonder if you jumped too soon, took on more than you can handle, or if you just grossly underestimated your ability to tackle the new road in front of you. I felt like that as a new parent 23 years ago. I distinctly recall that in my job as a technical lead about 10 years ago. Every day I was on my knees asking for wisdom in both cases because I knew I couldn’t do it without God’s strength and courage. It was humbling, but grace abounded and I learned. Needless to say, I am finding myself there yet again.

We have to remember that whenever we are given chances to grow – yes – sometimes those involve HUGE leaps into new things that we will be unprepared for. But we can trust he is there, always, leading, encouraging, coaxing us to depend on his grace and strength for the next journey.

I am learning to depend on grace every day again as a newlywed, because as much as I learned in my first marriage.. this is new ground being broken, and we have to figure out our own new life together.

Truly, a gift.

Now, if I can just figure out where to put my turkey pan we’ll only use twice a year… 🙂