TODAY is our 10 year wedding anniversary. Praise Jesus! I could write a cliche ‘10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years’ post, but it wouldn’t do our story justice. It wouldn’t give God all the GLORY that He so deserves. Each year when I reflect on the seasons we’ve walked through together I'm in complete and utter awe of what GOD has done in our marriage. I'm in awe of the power only HE has to transform us, and to transform marriages. I'm in awe because we're still here, we're still fighting, and we're still choosing each other. This is our story.
Before you barf over what may sound like a "brag fest"...hear me out. This story isn't what you think. This is not the only chapter from our story, and it’s not the chapter that defines us. This is however, the chapter where we took ourselves out of the driver seat of our marriage, and let God take over! It is a chapter of broken marriage that was healed and restored by God.
If you don't know by now, I'm ALL about sharing what is real. Even if what’s real is the not so lovely parts of our past, the vulnerable parts. The parts you want to stay hidden. Our prayer in sharing this chapter of our marriage with you is that others who have found themselves in similar situations may be released from the lie that their marriage is forever ruined. That THEY are forever ruined. When I strip our marriage and chapters of our story down to real, you’ll see that our beginning is not pretty. It was by no means a fairytale. For that reason it doesn't come natural for us to share it with others. But God has called us to step OUT in faith to remember that HE is the highlight of our story, not us! So on this 10th wedding anniversary we want to share with you the truth that we had to learn 9 years ago - Your marriage is never too far gone for God!
For years, we ONLY shared this chapter of our story with those closest to us, because there was so much shame and guilt attached to it. Attached to us. For years we were worried that people would only see the sin in this particular chapter of our marriage and not see any of God's amazing grace and redemption. Then some years back, God kept speaking to us about "our story". We kept getting words spoken over us that our story of brokenness...when we finally became healed from it.. would bring healing and wholeness to others. I will admit, that the first time we heard that word.. I couldn't even picture that day ever coming to fruition. BUT.. today we share this story without an ounce of shame or guilt.
2 Corinthians 5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new is here!" This is the power of Jesus Christ! Who we are TODAY, is NOT who were 9 years ago. God has forgiven us both, we have forgiven one another, and we don't live from the lie that we are chained to that chapter of our story anymore!
Ryan and I became friends when I was 17 and still in high school. I had just started attending church for the first time in my entire life, and was chasing God as best as any "baby christian" knows how to. (Disclaimer: I got SO much wrong you guys....so much and to this day I still have to remember that God's grace is enough to forgive myself for the mistakes that I made in that season). We started dating right after I graduated high school at 18, and were engaged only 9 months later. He was my best friend, he loved Jesus, and in my bones I knew he was the love of my life! I know people say that...and it sounds entirely all too corny, (Trust me! I'd normally be one of those people right there with you..) but I'm telling you...I had no doubt he was "the one" from day one. 11 months after our engagement, we were officially Mr. and Mrs. Ellison, and we lived happily ever after.
Just kidding! Sounds pretty great right? Except that it wasn't. Not even close. We said, “I do” and 12 months later guess what happened? EVERYTHING BLEW UP! Everything I thought I knew about myself, about relationships, who God was in our marriage, was turned upside down and I almost walked away from my marriage. But I'll get to that in just a bit...
Here's the thing...God absolutely wasn't the center of our relationship. He wasn’t before we got married, and even after He put a ring on it...God STILL wasn't the center. As much as we thought He was, I can look back now and see how untrue that is. Yes, we loved each other and spending time on a Friday night staying in and cuddling the night away, but we also fought, A LOT! Before marriage, and after. And I don't think for the longest time we both really understood why. Sure we knew SOME of the reasons. But we were oblivious to the biggest one. What we didn't realize until well after so much damage had already been done, was we both unknowingly brought so much undealt with baggage into our relationship, and instead of dealing with it before we got married, we covered it up with MORE baggage, and more sin. Later on, that mountain of baggage and sin would catch up with us, and it would feel near impossible to climb out of.
We had sex before we were married.
We lived together before we were married.
We fought...A LOT...before we got married and even during the first year of our marriage, and I just thought...this must be what marriage is "supposed to be like". If something bothers me.. I will just ignore him or give him the silent treatment, or I'll go shopping to make myself feel better. (Side note-It never made me feel better!) And if he was upset or hurt by something I said or did, intentionally or not, he would just brush it under the rug until he thought it would magically disappear and never bother him again.
WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.
LIES. LIES. LIES.
DAMAGE. DAMAGE. DAMAGE.
It all stemmed from one very specific reality. It was that God was NOT the center of either of our lives, let alone our marriage. WE were the center of each of our lives, and we were the center of our marriage. And guess what? Surprise surprise ...we're selfish human being's! We've both come from different backgrounds where what was modeled to us, and what we believed marriage should be, was ENTIRELY different. Despite having some pretty awesome premarital counseling, we had unresolved junk and we had no idea how to handle conflict well. Instead of getting to the root of our issues, before walking down the aisle, we just pretended they didn't exist.
They say, "The first year is always the hardest". That was no exception for us. The first year was absolutely brutal. We were doing marriage OUR way, and failing miserably at it. I was so relieved when we hit the 1 year milestone. I remember thinking, “It’ll get easier from here”.
Then a bomb went off in our marriage.
One day after celebrating our one year wedding anniversary, we were up late having a deep conversation about our relationship. That was the day we both decided to start getting REAL about the shortcomings in our relationship and in ourselves. The hurts, the things we were both frustrated about, holding onto, and doing wrong. We talked about our struggles, about our feelings, and eventually a secret sin that had been the driving force behind many fights, and eroding our marriage from the inside out.
One night of being out with a friend during one of our notorious silent treatment arguments, mixed with having too many drinks, led to making one very poor lapse in judgement. One that would follow us for years to come.
That night and the next day turned into one of the longest days of each of our lives. Both of us permanently in tears. Both of us heart sick. Both of us scared. There was anger. Remorse. Confusion. Regret. And as I'm sure you can imagine an immense amount of hurt and betrayal. And for the first time...there was something new in our relationship that had never been there before, doubt. We both remember thinking on that day, "this is it". There's no way we can work through this. There's no way we can fix this. And certainly...there's no way we could ever come out on the other side of this explosion.
WRONG WRONG WRONG.
LIES LIES LIES.
We spent countless hours crying, fighting, and trying to figure out this enormous mess that we had created, all on our own. But we couldn't. We couldn't do this on our own. First, we needed God. And secondly, we needed HELP!
More embarrassed than we've ever felt in our entire lives...we called a pastor from our church. A friend and woman..that to this day is like a second mother to us both. She came right over. Tears down her own face. I remember thinking how much disappointment she must have felt in us, as she was the same person who stood on the alter with us only 1 year prior as we made vows to one another, and promised to never do all the things we had just told her we’d done. She was so gracious and loving. I'll never forget the very first thing she asked after she sat down next to the world's two most broken people...."Do you even want to make this work?"
I wasn't sure how to respond. I thought to myself.."Do I? Do I really want to make this work? CAN it even work?" Truthfully...I wasn't convinced. Scanning our current circumstances, it sure would be easier to walk away at this point. I was only 19. Surely I could chalk this marriage up as a "mistake of my youth", take some time to heal, and later when I was more mature, or more wise, I could maybe 'try again' at this whole marriage deal. I contemplated walking away from my marriage that day. TRULY imagined answering that question with a devastating, "No!" But worse yet...was the thought...what if Ryan answers that question with a "no!"
In the deepest, darkest, ugliest, hardest, most raw and messy moment of my marriage, and quite frankly in my life… I felt God PLEADING with me to stay. Pleading with Ryan to stay. Pleading with US to vow to HIM...and to each other...AGAIN to give our marriage over to God the way he had always wanted us to from the beginning. He wasn't finished with us yet. Our story...despite how horrendous it felt in that moment...was NOT OVER yet! God could see what we couldn't, healing and restoration. A story that continued EVEN AFTER the explosion had gone off.
By the Grace of God, broken as ever and with all odds stacked against us, we decided in that living room back on Lydia Street that we would start over! We would stay. We would for the first time, put God in the driver seat, where He always belonged. Because then and only then, could we be healed from the mess we created, and let Him rewrite the story of our marriage.
10 years later I stand here in awe with tears of gratitude, because He did just that! I'm not going to lie to you...the process of recovering from that...was not easy. It took A LOT of hard work when we didn't feel like we had anything left to give. It took A LOT of hard days battling emotions and lies that were easier to believe than the truth that God could restore us. It took getting over our fear of counseling. It took buckets full of forgiveness day in-and day out, and a determination to trust that God is who He says He is. Jehovah-Rapha- Our Healer! He healed our marriage! He was faithful to complete the work He started in us, and today I am more in love with that man than I ever dreamed was possible! Today there is no shame or guilt in this story. Do we wish we could take back some things we've both done? Yes, absolutely! But here's the thing...we can't. You can't wish away your mistakes. And you can't go back in time. All you can do is move forward.
Today, I am proud of who our GOD is, and that He CAN take a marriage that seems too broken to be fixed, a marriage that by the worlds definition seems to be long over, a marriage between two broken people, and not only can he restore our marriage with willing hearts, He can restore our soul's! If you'll allow Him to!
Over the past few years when I have shared this story, I will from time to time get asked questions about the details. All too often we focus more on someone's sin in their testimony, and in their story, ...than we do THE STORY. THE LESSON. THE TAKEAWAY that God has for you. For that reason, we don't share details of who did what, or the specifics of that chapter in our story. I hope that you will focus on what GOD did in our story, rather, than what WE did.
I hope today that if you find yourself in a marriage that is struggling, or that if you are worried that your marriage has reached ‘the point of no return’..that you'll be inspired that God is FULLY CAPABLE of coming to your rescue. I know, because I saw Him do it first hand in my heart, my husband’s heart, in my life, and in our marriage!
I encourage you today, to please fight for your marriage.
The best way you can fight for your marriage and be the spouse that you vowed to be, is by waking up every single day and running to Jesus to be your strength. It's by asking God to help you to love that man, or that woman, you are married to WELL! Loving another human being well is hard… even on your best day, but it is ALWAYS worth it! Anything worth having, does NOT come easy, and marriage is no exception. Seek God's help, He is after all, the creator of this crazy beautiful gift called marriage!