October 11, 2016

Getting Better all the Time

Gary Thomas — 

Getting Better all the Time

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.river-boat

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



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20 responses to Getting Better all the Time

  1. God bless you !!!!! Gary….Thank YOU!!!!!

  2. I recall those humble beginnings with that Lisa and you shared. I was always impressed with Lisa’s ability to be hospitable (and do it well I might add) when you had very little. Godly values and a mutual respect for one another are far more important than a big pocket book. I’m sure you grew in your ability to trust God through it all. We rejoice with you in your todays.

  3. Pastor Gama Ondere October 12, 2016 at 12:57 am

    Thanks for the encouraging words enshrined in the above blog.
    It is an inspirational masterpiece.
    God bless you richly.

  4. What an inspiring and appropriate message for the season of life. Thank you for sharing the stories. I am glad you stayed humble and get to see blessing in your patience on God’s provision. I do believe God is going to richly bless you in your ministry. I pray he makes you and the others faithful to him even more victorious. I am single (a hopeful one) and was a previous and recent crime victim. I have not liked having to me more vocal about it because I did not know if just using the C.V. phrase was a complaint. I say it now to show evidence of what God did and is doing: healing from the injuries, provision from what was taken, reclaiming every lost dream, and protection for myself and others who needed to know what to refuse. I pray I passed the test and still do that would earn me the title to be a champion wife like Lisa and the others in ministry. I am not sure if you have ever encountered a situation in which there would be greater judgment not to say something, but I am certain from previous testimonies you have given that you have. I pray I have mastered the gift of speaking the truth in love and not being a contentious complainer. You gave a gift by sharing this blog.

  5. It has been such a joy having known you boy individually then as a couple and then as married. I remember living in that apt you managed and across the hall from said rehab guys that one summer…. MBeautiful story and one I can very much relate to. I too stayed home all day ever day and hubby owns his own business so we know and have also lived the feast or famine cycle of funds very well. We also allowed ach other be who we are and God has faithfully provided over and over again :). So glad you can spoil Lisa now :). Give her a big hug from me!

  6. Gary, I loved this post. What stood out for me was that no matter what the circumstances Lisa never made you feel like less of a man.
    My parents struggled in their marriage from the start and there were many reasons why but today, one of the things that is still making me sad was the way my mum put down my dad. They were very different, she was hard working and driven, he was introvert and quiet and so many times, even when he made an effort, she complained it wasn’t enough. She sees it very differently, to her he was lazy and failing to achieve, not able to break through his limitations. I don’t want to find excuses for his behaviour but her reactions to it made it so much worse.
    I thank God for teaching me how to see past the weaknesses and failures of my husband and for teaching me His love.

  7. Excellent! Having been married now for 37 years we have our own similar tale. I’m loving this stage where we have the privilege of encouraging young couples to stay the course. It is worth every heartache and disappointment if you stick with it and see what god has planned for you on the other side of the trouble.
    I can’t wait to hear about your cruise!

  8. Gary, yours and Lisa’s beautiful marriage (from all that you’ve shared in your books, blog posts, and facebook posts I’ve read) have inspired me so much! I already knew Lisa is a great wife, and this post honors her very well! I strive to be the kind of wife my husband can boast about.

    “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.” Thank for the reminder on how to “get there from here”

    Thank you for being transparent and sharing from the heart! God blesses the work of our hands….Even from my view in a tough season, I can celebrate with you guys and with joy, congratulate you both on your accomplishments! Enjoy! Enjoy! Enjoy!!

    To God be the Glory!

  9. I Have Learnt A Lot from this even though am still single especially the fact that Gary maintain a honest stand and Lisa took him for that. Thanks Gary

  10. This is a very important message and theme for all married couples. Our story (over 31 years so far) is similar in many ways to yours’. We had two pivotal times when we found ourselves in a deep financial crisis, but God blessed us through those hardships by growing us up in Him and bringing us to a more responsible maturity, taking steps of obedience while he ushered in his merciful power. I did at times complain and express fear and intensity to my husband; whether this was helpful or not is debatable, but thankfully I have witnessed my husband whose nature tends towards passivity, rise up and take vital steps in our survival financially and as a couple. What certainly could have destroyed our marriage along the way, served to strengthen us in our walk with the Lord. After 31 years we are still seeing ways God is growing us, blessing us, maturing us, and deepening our marriage. Financially, our story is nothing short of a miraculous testimony of God’s goodness; through the struggles, He’s continually enriching our relationship too! Both of us have made mistakes in our reactions along the way; and both of us have had to take steps of faith and obedience outside of our natural bent. Without doing so I can well imagine we wouldn’t be where we are today, most remarkable TOGETHER! And thankful to be together! Thank God for forgiveness, grace, tenacity, and faith in the vision that things can change for the better, in the long run.

  11. Gary
    I met you in Lisa in that lovely apartment you picked out. The lovely playground in your front yard. Meagan wanting to knock at your door a sunrise to have Allison come and play. We didn’t have much but it was good friends that helped me make it through! Wow 27 years ago. Thanks for you both being the people you are.
    Hugs Kim

    • And it was such a treat to spend that time with your family, Kim! And our kids were the perfect ages for each other. It was such a blessing for Lisa to find a good friend she could connect with so easily. So, maybe renting that apartment wasn’t such a bad idea in retrospect…

  12. I absolutely love that you are able to reflect and value Lisa’s selfless heart during all those challenging early years. And, Karen and I are so very happy that you both are enjoying these two weeks in a beautiful part of this world. My favorite part of this blog is when you said you wanted to spend the rest of your life trying to “spoil” your wife. I know you are going to enjoy every moment of this special trip.

  13. I love your perspective! Thanks, Gary!

  14. Enjoyed reading this as you referenced several great points! 15 years into marriage and I’ve witnessed where we started to where we are now and I can truly say that God has and is continuing to bless the both of us, individually and as a whole, to make “us” and our marriage even greater and one that is respected among our family and friends. It hasn’t always been easy and I have no doubt that there will be more obstacles to come, but at this point, past experiences, learned lessons, individual growth, respect and love for one another makes dealing with those obstacles, together, less painful. Thank you for sharing. May God continue to bless you both.

  15. Yvonne Wensloff October 11, 2016 at 8:13 am

    Thank you for your transparency and encouragement.

    What a great reminder to keep my attitude right… my loving husband is so stressed over finances right now because immediately following our honeymoon I was SICK for 5 weeks! Since I should be earning about half of the income and wasn’t… it was a rough start after spending most of our combined savings on the wedding, honeymoon and me moving to his home 300 miles away from mine.

    My gratitude for our beautiful, but small wedding and the time we finally had alone does not diminish in the lack of our bank balance… but the reminder to focus on the important things and not all the fixing and decorating and ‘things’ I envision here… but just to accept that we have a warm, dry place to live and plenty of food to eat right now is a great way to express love… without complaining or lamenting what we ‘can’t’ do right now. I’m thankful I won’t be tested as Lisa was in those early days… we’re a bit older and hopefully have both left that stage of life far in the past. 🙂

  16. This is so beautiful. For someone who has had two retrenchments and battling financially, this is a great encouragement. Thank you.

    I also never complain about my husband’s cycling. He is who he is and he will forever be someone who loves sport. I can’t – DON’T – want to take that away from him. And likewise with me. I feel very blessed and priviliged to be married to this man – money or not.

  17. Thank you Gary for your honesty. We are in the hard season now. 7 beatiful children and almost 18 years of marriage. I’m thankful for my wife’s patience in putting up with less than she deserves. Both financially and emotionally. It’s good to hear that it’s worth the fight. Marriage really can be a blessing if we are willing to grow and not give up. God bless your ministry!

  18. hmmmm….. this is really a word directly from God to me. I feel him saying to me as a young bride…’hang in there my dear, there’s hope in your future. see Lisa?’….
    here I am saying, I see Lisa Lord… help me follow the example of those who through faith and patience inherit the promise.

    thumbs up Gary! continue the good work.

  19. Wow!! After that am very teary with a mellowed heart. I’m still single but I pray that when I do get married one day, I will be a non-complaining perservering wife
    Thankyou for the encouragement