Lisa and I returned home from our honeymoon and moved into a trailer in a trailer park, in the middle of nowhere. It was rent free, offered by a family friend and we had almost no money.
Lisa didn’t complain.
When we moved to go to seminary, I found a room for rent in the basement of an old house. The carpet got soaked whenever it rained hard, and this was in Bellingham, Washington, where it rains every other day and rains hard at least once a week during the winter.
Lisa had to get out of the dark basement, so we found an old apartment building where we could live on the top floor. We were “managers” (the only way we could afford it), so people knocked on our door at all hours with various complaints, including the two men who needed to go to rehab approximately every other week. The building was so old the electrical system completely blew out and it took days to rewire the building, so everybody was upset about their melting refrigerator/freezers.
We were liberated from being managers by sharing a small apartment with another married couple. The landlord thought we were crazy, saying it was too small for two couples. But both of our budgets were smaller than the inconvenience, and somehow, both couples managed to conceive our first children in that apartment.
So, for our first “house” we rented a tiny shack that had been a parsonage in 1935. The walls were so old you could literally feel the wind coming through them when it was windy (and may I remind you, this was Bellingham). Some nights, Lisa slept on the floor by the one heater with our baby daughter because the warmth only spread to about five linear feet. For those of you who have heard me preach, this was the house where the now famous Remington the Cat lived and died (or so we thought).
When we moved across the country to start a new job in Northern Virginia, Lisa put up with an apartment building for the first couple of years. I picked it out before she arrived, and didn’t think about the hassle of having the parking so far away from the front door, with steps, when you’re bringing home groceries and a toddler. And then Lisa got pregnant, almost immediately (we had been apart for five weeks, and Lisa got pregnant the first night she joined me—go figure). And then, of course, I didn’t think that when you rent an apartment right next to a major hospital you might occasionally (or not so occasionally) hear an ambulance squealing by. But it’s what we could afford.
And Lisa didn’t complain.
We then managed to buy a small townhouse a long commute away in Northern Virginia. My “office” was in our small bedroom, and with two kids (eventually three), it probably wasn’t a good idea to buy a townhouse with three levels. And the commute ended up being a problem because we didn’t have a car with air conditioning (we didn’t need it in Bellingham). Lisa brought iced towels on long trips to help the kids get through it. And never complained.
I could go on and on describing several more houses before Sacred Marriage got published, but I don’t want to lose you. Lisa put up with a lot. She bore the poverty of a ministry lifestyle without ever complaining. We did get into a heated argument when Allison was a baby and I saw her play with a chime ball in the church nursery, so I went out and bought Ally one. Lisa thought it was a ridiculous expense on a tight budget (the chime ball cost $8); Allison didn’t help my cause when she found the box more interesting than the toy. “See?!” Lisa said, and I knew she was right, and I felt humiliated that I couldn’t give my daughter something so small without it creating tension.
But Lisa didn’t complain. She never made me feel like less of a man. She never asked me to leave the ministry or stop writing in the early mornings and on weekends. If anything, she was extraordinarily grateful that we never talked about her getting a job and having to put the kids in daycare. We tried that, part-time, for about two months and were done with it forever. It didn’t fit us at all (I’m not making a judgment; I’m making a personal statement).
So, this week, when Lisa’s “home” is the Fleur de Lys, a canal cruise boat leaving Dijon France, with a crew of six for six passengers, well, I’m really happy for her.
She was grateful when a family friend offered us the mobile home to move into 30 thirty years ago, but I suspect she’s even more grateful for this gift from a different set of friends.
We’ve stayed in so many dive hotels—one with shag carpeting that Lisa was horrified to walk on. And she’s put up with so many church meals, particularly at one conference in the south, when it was fried chicken (Lisa doesn’t eat anything fried), “fruit salad” (canned fruit swimming in sugar syrup, and Lisa doesn’t eat sugar), and a “vegetable salad” with iceberg lettuce and bleu cheese dressing (“there aren’t any vegetables in that salad!” Lisa pointed out, “but about 500 calories with that dressing!”).
But you know what? She nibbled enough food at that dinner to look polite (pulling back the skin on the chicken, scraping the dressing off the lettuce) and went back to the room where she ate her nut mixture.
And never complained.
I can’t tell you how humiliated she could have made me feel, how much of a failure I might have seemed for the first twenty years of our marriage. So when Lisa gets to experience a little out-of-this-world luxury that even now we couldn’t afford, I’m so happy for her. Lisa told me, as we were packing, “We don’t need to bring a lot of Quest bars on this trip; there will be plenty of food” I felt so happy for her because she’s a foodie, and the meals on these boats are prepared by artist chefs who will cater to her healthy, gluten-free diet. The last thing she will do is go hungry.
If you’re still with me in this blog, you might wonder, “What’s the point?” And the point is this: marriage is a long journey in which it really can get better, even better than you dreamed, but sometimes it takes a whole lot longer to get better than many couples are comfortable with.
The attitude with which you move through the difficult seasons will go a long way toward helping the two of you become closer, or it will create a porcupine marriage where you can’t even talk without pushing each other away.
When Lisa and I moved back from Northern Virginia to Washington State, a lawyer told us we could easily qualify for bankruptcy. We didn’t take that option for moral reasons, but more recently we’ve been going through a Dave Ramsey class and when you have to list current non-mortgage debt ($0) and liquid cash (enough to feel comfortable) we both smiled at each other, able to appreciate it because we both knew from where we’ve come.
Some young couples may not be willing to pay the price of a couple decades of sub-standard living. I wish you young wives could learn from Lisa—I want to spend the rest of my life trying to spoil her to make up for the first twenty years. We would never romanticize financial limitations. We don’t want our children to face what we faced (visiting my parents for the weekend, who were thrilled, but feeling guilty that the reason we were visiting was partly because we were literally out of food money). But now we have the perspective to take the long picture. I’m so glad we’ve stuck together because I couldn’t have those memories with any other person. Lisa and I shared them together.
And I’m so thankful for how we shared them. Lisa has never made finances the determination of what we do (including the more recent move to Houston), and I love her all the more for it.
I’m not (of course) promising couples that if they hang in there, their finances will automatically get better and they’ll finally get to enjoy some exotic vacations (though you might). I am saying that the way you face disappointments and frustrations and limitations will go a long way toward building up your marriage. The gratitude I feel for Lisa not attacking me when I was so vulnerable to attack is expressed by my desire now to say, “Whatever you want, hon. Whatever you want.”
Lisa has let me be me (a guy who really can’t do much besides write some books and speak) and I have let Lisa be Lisa (a woman who really wanted to be home every day, all day, with her kids) and we figured out the money part second. More important than where we go on vacation is the fact that both of us want to be on vacation together.
I know that for some of you—financially, health-wise, with your kids, or personal issues—it feels really, really hard right now. Trust me—I know how hard hard can be. And I know how it adds to the frustration when you’ve been dealing with something for years and see no end in sight.
But hang in there. Marriage is a long journey. And sometimes, it really does get better, even better than you ever could have imagined. I pray for you today:
“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” 2 Thess. 3:5