Eleven years ago today, I walked down the aisle of my church, joined hands with Jason Dugger, and vowed, “until death do us part.” I cannot believe that I now have over a decade of marriage under my belt because it feels like just yesterday that I was getting ready to marry the man of my dreams.
The details of that day are too lengthy to recount here, but I loved the sermon our pastor preached, worshipping God through music and communion, and Jason surprising me with a song he wrote and performed for me!
By far, however, my favorite memory is undeniably experiencing the presence of the Lord in a unique and tangible way during our ceremony. When I entered the church, I knew I was walking on Holy ground. 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, eleven 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 have made a list of the important life-long lessons that God has been teaching us through the different circumstances we experienced in each twelve-month-time frame. And even though I posted a similar article last year, in honor of our anniversary, I would love to share those memories and lessons, again, with you today, adding in our eleventh year lesson.
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 each and 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 a vacation, but a job interview. Jason was applying to residency programs all across the country, and he happened to have an interview scheduled 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 very difficult. 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 like, but this time without the familiar support system that we had previously known.
Lesson Learned: When “experts” mention certain 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. I also struggled with a deep depression after the miscarriage of our first child. I made a series of poor choices because I was bored, lonely, and sad. My unhealthy actions hurt my husband and betrayed his trust.
Lesson Learned: Don’t act out of spite when your marriage becomes a lonely place.
Our Fourth Year:
I felt like we were living on a yo-yo this year: constantly 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 chaned her mind two days after she gave birth thus grieving our hearts for another baby that we loved but could not hold. 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 the course of 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, on the other hand, 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. Our 19-inch bulky TV was upgraded to a flat screen. Jason’s 16-year-old truck was upgraded to a new car, and we went from being home renters to home owners. 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 always 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 on our daily use… these boundaries have progressed and strengthened throughout the years, 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 clearly laid on my heart my need to delete my personal Facebook account, but I arrogantly argued with Him. As the months progressed, He continued to prompt me, and I continued to ignore 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 how the selection process worked. He minced no words as he explained that 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 page!
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 our marriage and are 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 supposed 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 in order 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 during September in hopes of being more intentional with praying for Jason. At the end of the month, I asked him if he noticed a difference and he said that I was less selfish! His answer was the same after November’s 30-day prayer challenge as well. As this year approaches, I think about how often I am often self-focused when I should be prayer-focused.
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 beloved 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 this year was particularly heartbreaking because so many couples we love and held in high esteem are no longer together. 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 deeply each time we walked alongside a divorcing couple. It sounded easy to remain neutral, but we quickly realized as we poured into both the husband and the wife, there were two sides to every story. Occasionally we would find ourselves at odds with each other as we grew sympathetic to a certain spouse. With resolve one night Jason said, “If this is going to come between us, its 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 filtered our decisions through it. Friends, ministry, job opportunities, school choices, or anything elective that divides us will promptly be removed because our togetherness needs to be protected.
Lesson Learned: We can’t allow anyone or anything to come between the two of us.
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 12/19/16!
What are some of the lessons the Lord has taught you over the years