Thirteen years ago today, I walked down the aisle of my church as a bride.
I joined hands with Jason Dugger and happily vowed, “until death do us part.” It’s hard to believe we now have over a dozen years of marriage under our belts because it feels like just yesterday I was getting ready to marry the man of my dreams.
The details of that day are too lengthy to recount here, but a few things stand above the rest. I appreciated the sermon on Ephesians 5 our pastor preached. Worshipping God through music and communion aided in pointing us all to Jesus. And, my romantic husband wrote and performed a song for me, which was the surprise of the century.
By far, however, my favorite memory is undeniably experiencing the tangible presence of the Lord. When I entered the chapel, I knew I was walking on Holy ground. I can’t think of another time I have physically felt His presence as I did on our wedding day. His attendance was my favorite part of the day.
At the time, I thought I knew what to expect, but with each passing year, I realize that I don’t know what the future holds.
On our wedding day, thirteen years sounded like a lifetime of experience, but now it seems to be only a baby step! Time is passing so quickly that each year blends into the next causing our past to morph into one fuzzy memory. In hopes of appreciating each chapter of our story, my husband and I make a list of an important life-long lesson that God teaches us through the different circumstances we experience during each twelve-month-time frame.
Every year I publish our complete list to reminisce, celebrate, and learn.
Here Are Our Thirteen Lessons
Our First Year:
Upon marriage, it became very apparent that Jason is an introvert while I am an extrovert. We knew this before, but it wasn’t until we were living together that we saw our personality differences affecting our daily lives. Jason and I were both in school at the time, but I chose to take my classes online so that I could be present at home. I had dreamed of being married my entire life and convinced myself that taking classes from home would give me more time to cook and clean and be the best wife possible for Jason.
What I didn’t realize is that my extroverted personality needs people. I quickly discovered that staying home all day waiting for my husband to return was draining and stressful. Jason, on the other hand, spent his days in study groups, rotating in the hospitals, and going to class. By the time he came home to greet his wife, he was exhausted and needed to be alone. Conflict arose every night as I talked the ear off of a man who just wanted silence. We had argued many, many months before we were able to communicate our needs and work together to find a solution.
Lesson Learned: Know (and try to understand) the personality of your spouse.
Our Second Year:
We spent our first anniversary in South Carolina, not on vacation, but a job interview. Jason was applying to residency programs all across the country, and he happened to have a meeting on December 19th. I spent the day alone in a hotel room which was an eerie foreshadowing what was to follow. A few months later, we sold our house, packed up our belongings, and moved to a new city.
One of the leading causes of stress is relocating, and we found this to be true. While it was nice to have a sense of adventure living in a new town where we knew no one, it was also challenging. The process of moving tested us and Jason’s new job had him working many hours. Our second year of marriage felt like an additional first year: we were still adjusting to married life, but this time without the familiar support system that we had previously known.
Lesson Learned: When “experts” mention specific life stressors… pay attention! Don’t arrogantly assume life changes won’t affect you.
Our Third Year:
I remember asking Jason on our third-anniversary celebration if our marriage was going to survive. This year had been incredibly painful as I struggled with contentment. Everything from our material possessions to our family size had become less than ideal. I had become a master at playing the comparison game and believed that our house, our car, and our future was less than I deserved. Also, during this time I, after the miscarriage of our first child, struggled with a deep depression. Because I was lonely, bored, and sad, I made a series of sinful choices that hurt my husband and betrayed his trust.
Lesson Learned: Don’t act out of spite when marriage becomes a lonely place.
Our Fourth Year:
I felt like we were living on a yo-yo this year: our emotions continually were up and down. We found out within twenty-four hours that we were pregnant (again) and that a birthmother had chosen us to parent her child in our adoption process. As the details came together, it looked like we were going to adopt a baby girl in May and then give birth to another little girl in October. We felt that perhaps God was going to give us double the blessing because of our long journey towards parenthood. Sadly (for us), the birthmother changed her mind two days after she gave birth thus our hearts grieved for another baby that we loved but could not keep. Thankfully, a few months later, we were finally able to hold our first baby shortly before our fourth wedding anniversary.
Lesson Learned: Hold fast to God because He is sovereign in the good times and the bad.
Our Fifth Year:
Lewis Smedes once wrote, “My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed — and each of the five has been me.” I think that perfectly sums up our fifth year of marriage! It was throughout 2009 that I began, for the first time, intentionally praying specific, Scripture-based prayers for Jason. As a result, I saw quite the change in our marriage, in my husband, and in myself! God’s loving conviction began to transform me into a new creation, and my husband found himself married to a kinder and more attentive wife.
I, also, happened to be living with a brand new Jason! His residency training ended in June 2009, and this was the first time I had ever known him outside of the stresses of medical school. As he became a whole new person, I realized Jason wasn’t as serious as I had always thought. Poor guy had just been under enormous stress through our entire relationship.
Lesson Learned: Individuals change over time, and with God’s help that can be a good thing.
Our Sixth Year:
This year we upgraded just about everything. A 40-inch flat screen TV replaced our heavy 19-inch hand me down. We traded in Jason’s 16-year-old truck for a new car, and we went from being home renters to homeowners. Yes, my husband was finally receiving a paycheck! Along with the upgrades, came new cell phones. We used to have pay-as-you-go plans, but shortly after starting employment, Jason received from his employer iPhones for both of us. We were thrilled, but unaware of the snares that smartphones can bring.
Slowly, our phones became extensions of our bodies: always with us and ever in sight. I was interacting more with people online than I was with my family. Both of us, in different ways, were unwise with how we used our phones! After several alarming talks, we began the process of implementing limits with our phones. These boundaries included deleting the internet and setting time restraints for our daily use. Our restrictions continue to change, but it all began during this year of marriage.
Lesson Learned: Bigger isn’t always better and often less is more.
Our Seventh Year:
I was living in secret sin. The Lord had directed me to delete my personal Facebook account, but I arrogantly argued with Him. As the months progressed, He continued to prompt me, and I kept ignoring Him. It was during this crazy cycle that my husband was in the process of becoming a deacon at our church. The “vetting” process to become a deacon is quite lengthy, and at one point, there was a meeting for the wives of the candidates. I gathered with a handful of other women while an elder of our church explained the selection process. He minced no words assuring us if an unrepentant sin existed in the wife of a candidate’s wife, that man would not be chosen to serve our church as a deacon. At that moment, I knew I could no longer run from the Lord’s direction. I quickly drove home and promptly deleted my personal Facebook account!
Lesson Learned: A Wife’s Sin Will Affect Her Husband.
Our Eighth Year:
Up until this year in our marriage, we were not intentional or passionate about going on a date with each other. We had our array of excuses: lack of money, lack of time, and lack of childcare, but ultimately it was a lack of motivation that prevented us from putting an official “date night” on our calendar. I was content staying home naively believing we had mastered the living room date night. Jason, who never had date nights modeled for him growing up, admits he didn’t understand why he should pay for a babysitter so that we can grab a bite to eat. For some unprompted reason, I gifted Jason with 12 envelopes that contained 12 pre-planned, pre-paid dates for our seventh anniversary. We were now required us to leave the house for one date night every month during 2012. It was life changing! Our relationship shifted into high gear and everything from our communication to our sex life improved!
Lesson Learned: Regular date nights are an investment in your marriage and should be non-negotiable!
Our Ninth Year:
We were sitting in the parking lot of our church when Jason explained to me that he thought our family was taking a different direction than we once had dreamed. He was sharing his heart with me, but the words that were coming out of his mouth were not what I wanted to hear. It was clear that he felt like our family was supposed to go in one direction while I believed it was meant to go in a different direction. We lacked a single vision for our marriage, and that disunity plagued us for this entire year of our marriage. We argued, cried, withdrew, argued some more, ignored, and ultimately both surrendered our plans to the Lord to allow Him the ability to grant us a single vision for our marriage. It took a lot longer than I would have liked, but His timing is always perfect.
Lesson Learned: A marriage without a unified vision is a dying marriage.
Our Tenth Year:
This past year brought a lot of lifestyle changes as we welcomed home our fifth baby the same week that our oldest started Kindergarten! At the same time, I hosted my first ever 30-day prayer challenge in hopes of being more intentional with praying for Jason. At the end of the month, I asked him if he could tell a difference and he responded that I was less selfish! His answer was the same after the next prayer challenge as well. I want to be a wife who focuses on prayer rather than self.
Lesson Learned: A prayerful life leads to a selfless life.
Our Eleventh Year:
“Ugh!” I exclaimed as I threw our address book into the trash can. I had purchased it shortly after our wedding and loved filling it with the addresses of our favorite wedding guests. As our friend list grew, the pages in the book began to fill up. It sounds silly, but I cherished my little address book. With each passing year, I would cross out a few names due to death or divorce, but within the past twelve months, we scribbled more than ten couples. As I skimmed the pages of our address book, the evidence of the massive amounts of marriages that have crumbled since our wedding day was so depressing, I threw my address book away. What had once been a treasure, was now a thorn.
Jason and I found ourselves in a unique position where we refused to take sides. We were on “team marriage” and grieved each divorcing couple deeply. In theory, it should have been easy to remain neutral, but as we poured into both the husband and the wife, we saw both sides to their story. Occasionally we would find ourselves at odds with each other if one grew sympathetic to a particular spouse. With resolve one night Jason said, “If this is going to come between us, it’s out of both of our lives.”
The wisdom in his words was evident, and we quickly made a rule that nothing that comes between us in is allowed in our marriage. When Jason changed jobs this year and as my speaking calendar for 2016 begins to take form, we realized how many areas of this principle applies, and we started to filter our decisions through it. We will promptly remove anything elective that divides us to protect our togetherness.
Lesson Learned: We can’t allow anyone or anything to come between the two of us.
Our Twelfth Year:
In January, Jason and I began serving as premarital mentors at our church. We met while serving at church, and serving was something we regularly did together until our second year of marriage. Eventually, the demands of Jason’s job limited his availability. The addition of children hindered my service. So, through the years we mastered tag-team ministry. I would watch the kids when he had deacon or worship band responsibilities, and he would reciprocate so I could serve in women’s ministry. And while that is good, we knew our relationship was lacking.
We are firm believers in premarital counseling because of how it changed our lives many years ago. So, when God gave us a chance to serve together in that capacity we jumped on it. Like children on Christmas, we quickly opened the opportunity to minister together in a way that perfectly fit our desires, needs, and schedules. As we work with couples about to wed, we teach them all about the elusive “gift of marriage.” After weeks of uncovering Scripture passages on God’s design for a husband and wife and discussing potential obstacles that keep us from His plan, we unveil the concept of oneness. We experience the gift of marriage when we connect spiritually, emotionally, and physically with our mate. Putting words on this phenomenon has increased our marital satisfaction tenfold.
Lesson Learned: Serving together is beneficial, and when you and your husband are connecting spiritually, emotionally, and physically you experiencing the gift of marriage.
Our Thirteenth Year
Jason and I met walking into our church. We were both heading to volunteer for an Easter program. Shortly after that we began serving in several ministries together and would often sit together during the weekend worship services. Once we started dating Jason initiated two traditions that he carried out each week. The first one was to collect my communion cup after I had finished drinking. He took it upon himself to throw it away every week. The second was he would always hold my hand during the closing prayer. After fifteen years (including our dating years), we broke those traditions.
In 2016 our family moved to help launch a satellite campus of our church. The church officially opened in January of 2017, just a few weeks after our anniversary. Jason was immediately tapped to play drums in the worship band or serve as a decision guide. I began helping with the middle school girls. Before I knew it, we were rarely worshipping together. When we did sit together, I acted as if I had forgotten the traditions. Before Jason could take my communion cup, I put it in the disposal slot. When it was time to say the closing prayer, I kept my arms crossed as if I had forgotten. I was bitter and hurt that serving had taken away our chance to worship as a family. However, it in my pouting, the Lord whispered an encouraging truth.
“Traditions don’t always have to stay the same. It’s okay for them to look different or to begin new ones altogether.”
My bitterness disappeared as my outlook changed, and as the year continued, and we’ve found new and creative ways to worship together. When we can, we still do things the way we always did, but there is also joy in maturing and finding new traditions in each season of life.
Lesson Learned: It’s okay to rewrite traditions.
God is an incredible teacher whose best classroom is life experiences! I am amazed at the lessons the Lord revealed to us throughout each year of our marriage! No matter what this next year holds, I know that I will walk away with another truth on 12/19/18!
What lessons has the Lord has taught you in Marriage?