17 Years In – And Jeff And I Keep Putting The “Fun” In Dysfunctional!

Today Jeff and I celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary, which I know in the big scheme of things isn’t very long. It is just that this last year has sort of passed like a dog year for me: one year in length, 7 years in intensity. With Jeff being sick, his prolonged and up and down recovery, watching some dreams die and our lives being put on hold – plus all the other painful stuff that has happened recently, I have struggled to come up with a chipper and happy post to mark this very special day. So let me apologize up front.

As I’ve sat down several times now to write, I find myself returning to the theme of what I’ve learned about marriage.

This is tricky for me, because one of the things I’ve most definitely learned about marriage through the years and all of our recent history is just how little I know about it. For the record, I never have nor will I ever claim to be an expert on marriage. I am just a married person. With opinions. And a blog. And often, I feel sorry for Jeff…having to be married to me and all that must mean for him. Sigh.

At least together, most days we manage to put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Nervous chuckle. 

So I am asking for a little grace here…and I might also ask you to pardon the messiness and lack of “rah rah doey-eyed” sentimentality about marriage that you will find in this post. I am sort of stuck in the trenches of it right now. Not less in love with Jeff mind you. Oh no! I love him more than ever. And have been so grateful at how our trials have been perhaps the greatest thing to ever happen to us – leading us to become more committed to and more in love with the other than we ever would have been capable of as young and foolish newlyweds. After 17 years, our love is most firmly planted in reality. And reality is messy. But I’m finding that living here is much more romantic and deeply satisfying than living in the imaginary world of denial, unrealistic expectations and self-soothing delusions.

A Few Things I’ve Learned About Marriage, After 17 Years:

1. Being married means agreeing not to be happy all the time. We have no idea what our marriage vows mean on our wedding day. I know I didn’t. “In sickness and in health…for better or for worse…till death do us part…” These are really pretty words until one of you is sick, until bad things happen, until you are stretched way past the happiness point and well into the realm of “this season of life really, really sucks”. If you think marriage is about being happy, you are missing a major component of it. Of course it should and does bring joy. If married people don’t spend a lot of time smiling and laughing together, I am deeply worried about the health of their marriage. But some days you do what you promised to do, not because it is fun and not because it makes you happy, but because it is right. And because it is the only way to open the door to the type of deep soul marriage we all want as we age. Which is of course, one of the happiest things available to us on this earth.

2. In some seasons, it is all about the other person. We tend to describe marriage as a partnership, which it is. But in some seasons of life, one person isn’t capable of carrying their weight. In some seasons of life the division of labor is most definitely not very even as one person needs more than the other. And the other person carries more than the other. Recognizing and being ok with it when it is your turn to give or receive more than we might have planned on or be comfortable with is a rite of passage in marriage. Because…

3. Married people take care of each other.  I’ll never forget the first time I spent the night throwing up (and um, other stuff) in our teeny tiny apartment bathroom, just four weeks after our wedding. I ate some bad chicken at a church dinner – no hate FBCD, I’m just sayin’… I remember being so humiliated, so afraid Jeff would turn away from what I thought was the grossest thing I could possibly do. And by extension, turn away from me. And great man that he is, he cleaned it all up. He cleaned me up. He took care of me. Gross-ness and all. We’ve been taking turns taking care of each other’s gross-ness in all its forms ever since. Physical. Emotional. Spiritual. Relational. Metaphorical.

Funny story – Jeff was in ICU with a tube down his throat. Unable to talk, and with enough sedation in him to knock out a horse. We got him a dry erase board for him to communicate with us. He shouldn’t have been awake, let alone capable of writing, but he was very motivated to let me know how he felt. He wrote this to me. I love him so.

You name it. Because taking care of each other, especially when it is messy, even when whatever the mess is splatters…is what married people do.

4. Laughter is really, really important. The other day I was walking by my son’s room. Both he and my littlest daughter were in there, just playing. And I heard them laughing. From their bellies. Somehow, even though they are different ages with different interests, and they easily could have said, “Mom, I’m so bored!”, they found a way to enjoy the afternoon, making the best of whatever it was they had. I almost cried at how beautiful the moment was. You know, as a parent, as much as I was touched by my children enjoying each other, I suspect it also means a lot to God when He sees His sons and daughters doing the same. Couples should find ways to connect their lives with that place in their hearts that bears God’s image and not only smiles at things, but belly laughs at them. It can save your sanity in those moments when all you want to do is cry. Speaking from experience here.

5. Trials are opportunities – to do things differently and to become more committed to the relationship. With Jeff’s sickness, our lives have basically stopped. And we’ve had a lot of time together, to talk, evaluate and plan. As we slowly restart our lives, we have a chance to fix some things that were sort of broken, to build some things that have been absent and to get rid of some things that have been toxic, but so normal for us we hadn’t even noticed. Building in to your marriage a way to change things, to talk in such a way as to be open to making new choices, to embrace life-stopping events as a gift and to use them to take a different relational path…these are skills of folks who have a chance to go the distance.

6. Invite older, wiser people to speak into your life and marriage. Titus 2:3-5 gives older women an interesting series of commands. First is to teach younger women to love their husbands. I find this fascinating because who would have ever thought you would need to teach this. Seems like something that should come naturally to us. But anyone who has been married for more than two minutes knows that loving another person does not come easily or naturally. This is why we need community. Why we need to walk deeply with each other and share the journey – and what we’ve learned along the way with those who are just a bit behind where we are. As a result, I am always on the lookout for older women who know things I don’t. Who are doing their lives, their faith, their marriages and their families well. And I try like crazy to get some of their time. To ask questions. To listen to their stories. Cause I’ve been married long enough to know I need help. Lots of it.

So Jeff and I will be celebrating our anniversary resting. Cause it has been a really rough past few months. And his body and my heart need some time to just…be. We might make it to the new James Bond movie. We’ll probably play Chutes and Ladders with our little one and maybe take a walk with the big kids. I might make something fun for dinner. We’ll hold hands. And be so grateful together that Jesus has enabled us to make it this far together, more married now than when we started so many years ago.

“Somebody Give Me A Xanax And Knock My @ss Out” –

Context: It was on a Friday night and Jeff and I were in the emergency room. He had been out of the hospital for just one week after our month-long ordeal there with Jeff’s cancer, surgeries, ICU stay and many, many complications. It was traumatic for us both to be back so soon. We didn’t know what was wrong yet, how serious things were or how long we would be there. We were tired. Not just physically, but emotionally. Spiritually. We were just done.

Into this moment, and I won’t reveal which one of us said it, these immortal Davis words were uttered…”Somebody give me a Xanax and knock my @ss out!” (Xanax is an anti-anxiety medication) To which the other said, “Can I have one too?”

The Davis comedy tour was rolling through the ER that night. Because sometimes things are just so bad, all you can do is laugh. That or go crazy. And they order the Xanax and a padded room for you whether you want it or not.

While Jeff was in the ICU, he had a tube down his throat that prevented him from speaking. So when he was awake, he wrote on a dry erase board. While watching one particularly disappointing Ga Tech football game, he proved his sense of humor was intact by writing this. There is no medication strong enough to take away the pain of rooting for the Yellow Jackets.

If you have kept up with our story (links at bottom)…well…we’ve had quite a few intense months here in the Davis household. We were in pain – of the prolonged sort that leaves you exhausted. Afraid. And so discouraged.  All we wanted at that moment was for it to end.

Pain relief. This is a such a universal desire, isn’t it? One which with we are all familiar. Some days we just want to get off the roller coaster – cause the fun has gone out of the ride and we are about to hurl.

Life can be quite painful. I know you know this. Things don’t work out. Something is lost. We get used. Stolen from. Wounded. Relationships nosedive and end. Hearts break. Guilt and regret follow us mercilessly. Dreams die. Sleep disappears. Uncertainty lives with us front and center. We want something, probably something good and God says no. Sometimes your husband’s health and life are threatened suddenly and you spend months in survival and crisis mode until something in your body or heart breaks. Or so I’ve heard.

In response, many, many choose to live their lives in ‘pain-relief’ mode. Pursuing whatever makes whatever is hurting so bad, not hurt so bad. Even if only for a little while. We sleep or eat too much. We drink or pop some sort of anesthetic. We search for another person to comfort us. We over-entertain ourselves, filling up those quiet moments so that we don’t have to hear our hearts crying. There are as many ways to do this as there are people. (My preferred methods? Buffalo wings, Phineas and Ferb, too much time on Facebook and going to bed as early as I can. I am a multi-level medicator.)

Let me tread carefully because I am not saying that all pain relief is bad. If I have a headache, I take an aspirin. If I injure my foot, I ice and rest it. If I am sick, I go to the doctor. Often, pain relief is a good thing. It can provide some of the space we need to begin healing. Maybe it is necessary for us to function normally. And it is crazy for there to be an easy and sensible solution to pain, to improving the quality of life, to allowing one to function normally when one really, really needs to be able to function normally – and to dismiss it.

Yet…

Sometimes, in the spiritual realm, pain has a work to do. And sometimes, our single-minded pursuit of pain relief can actually preempt the work of God in our lives.

Sometimes our pain can act like a light on the dashboard, alerting us to serious trouble with the engine. It can happen physically and definitely spiritually. Uncontrollable anger erupting at relatively small things. Deep heart sobbing that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Depression that lingers and won’t go away. These can be examples of pain that needs to be explored, to be felt. Because there is a cause for it. And treating the symptom without getting to the root of it is like putting a band aid on a cancer. It might cosmetically hide things for a while, but the problem is not going anywhere. Not until you rip off the band aid, look at it full on and truthfully diagnose the real issue.

Sometimes God chooses to speak to us through pain. He either causes or allows things in our lives that are leading us to something. To Him. To more of Him. To wholeness. To relational restoration. To character development. He leads us into the dark so we can learn to follow His voice, to grow our faith, to strengthen us from the inside out. Pain can focus our attention in a way nothing else can. Numbing it without listening to it can rob you of the chance to hear from God Himself.

And sometimes…and I don’t fully understand this… pain stirs something in our humanity. It awakens in us this deep desire for our healer, for things to be made right and Jesus to come back. It can act like a magnet, pulling us to the only One who can truly ease our pain and heal our wounds. It can change our terribly broken hearts.

Pain is this universal thing that every person walks through. It is one of the common experiences that unites everyone on the planet. Therefore, sometimes it is time for a real or metaphorical Xanax. For rest. For a chance to catch our breath and to create some space to begin recovering from whatever it is that is hurting. And sometimes our pain has a work to do. When this happens, it is in our best interests to lean into it, to listen to it, to feel it fully and to let it do its thing in us. Learning to discern the role of pain in our lives and how we should respond can be a powerful spiritual lesson, leading to a deepening of our faith. To more of Jesus. To healing. To wholeness.

Normal Is So Fragile

The Text Message That Saved Me

Jesus Leads Me Along Unfamiliar Paths

The Emotions Of ICU

While Jeff Has Been Sleeping

My Heart Is Showing

A Long Slow Fall Down A Winding Spiral Staircase

Jeff Is Finally Home