The REAL killer of your marriage: And why no one mentions it

I have always had a thing for once-in-a-lifetime romance.

I think it started as a teenager when I decided that my favorite kind of books to write were the ones where the two characters fall in love in the end, despite the whole world coming against them. And then it all just steered me on the course– I discovered things like Nicholas Sparks and The Thorn Birds (a 1980’s miniseries you should totally check out) and Wuthering Heights and I listened to Air Supply. Love, love, love— undying, sickly sweet love wrapped in more rose petals and love.

thorn birds

And it only grew. Not just for me, but for the rest of us. Movies, music, novels, sitcoms with devilishly adorable characters and even cuter plot lines that lead up to that anticipated first kiss. *Let’s be honest, Jim and Pam in The Office made us gush*. And it bred in me the sense of expectation.

I wanted that kind of romance. I wanted to be that leading actress in my life.

But here’s the unfortunate thing–the expectation is not a positive thing to have. And it’s still something I wrestle with.

Unrealistic expectations that stem from watching Ryan Gosling in a boat surrounded by swans kills a marriage.

swans

Now, before you get all huffy on me, I’m not saying that marriage shouldn’t be exciting or playful or romantic. On the contrary. And I’m sure you have a love story that I’d love to hear about and knowing me, I’d think it’s the cutest thing ever.

But we have this deadly habit of being so engrossed in fake worlds and fake scenarios and airbrushed magazine covers that we forget what real life is like. We forget that people mess up. That forbidden romance is actually just a sexy term for a dark, unhealthy accident waiting to happen. That men can’t read our minds. That fights don’t always end in a dramatic romp to the bedroom and rosy cheeks. That romance doesn’t just happen all recklessly and unknowingly without us putting in effort, planning things and trying. That cheating on your husband to rendezvous with your childhood sweetheart is actually a very bad idea that never ends well. That the “bad boy” is usually just that. Bad.

GQ

We crave what we will literally never have and should by no means ever do either.

And it’s killing everything God has planned for you.

On my newsfeed every day I see countless articles that state “Top ten reasons your marriage is failing” or “How you are destroying your husband” or “The top five ways you’re headed toward divorce”.

The reasons always make sense. Lack of communication, built-up resentment, financial difficulties, unfaithfulness…

I’ve read it all.

But I’ve yet to come across anything (and I could be wrong) that simply states what is obvious. We’re holding our partners to the standards of unreal people, fake scenarios, and an ingrained desire to have the romance that EVERYONE else has, just because we see it or hear it or read about it. That’s the thing that’s becoming real to us, while our own lives and our own relationships are becoming sub-par or broken.

I couldn’t believe the number of blogs and articles I read when Nicholas Sparks, one of the nation’s most successful romance authors who made us all choke on tears at one time or another, announced he was getting a divorce.

nic sparks

WHAT?! Women across the country screamed. How could that be? The man who INVENTED what romance should be like can’t keep up his own marriage?! It appalled me the way so many women reacted to the news, calling him a hypocrite and a fake and howling about the devastation this brings and even how could we read another one of his books again??

Along the line somewhere we forgot that Nicholas Sparks leads a life separate from fantasy as well. He says the wrong things and messes up and can’t read his wife’s mind. They pay bills and don’t wake up in the morning with mascara freshly applied and don’t dangle from ferris wheels to get one another’s attention. Why would we hold that marriage to the standard of his writing when his writing is merely fiction? But we do that with ourselves too, and we’re not even the ones writing it.

I met my husband in a whirlwind kind of way and you might even say the love story is a book-worthy one. And believe me, it was thrilling and sweet and I love us. But let’s be honest. Marriage takes work. Sacrifice. Boredom. Stress. Imperfections. Marriage isn’t meant to be anything like the things we see on TV. It isn’t romanticized, photoshopped and edited. It’s raw, real, and filled with layers of mistakes and unedited material.

And that’s what makes us built to last.

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We don’t talk about love stories in Hollywood or books being unrealistic because we don’t want them to be. We enjoy those stories–and that’s ok for entertainment’s sake. But it’s not ok when it blinds us to reality and makes scenarios that are unhealthy or inaccurate in real life look golden on screen. It’s not ok when we lose someone we love because they didn’t match the mold that our minds created.

I still love romance. I love Nicholas Sparks. I’m obsessed with Gone With the Wind and Phantom of the Opera and all the old, timeless love stories that made me adore literature more than anything. But I live here, and I’m writing my own real-life story and it’s not even comparable to what I’ve seen.

But I’ve learned to love that more, simply because it’s real.

And it’s mine.

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It isn’t a sin to get mad at God

Here I sit in the early morning light and my whole house is still asleep except for me.

There is a decorative pumpkin already on the coffee table and a candle that smells like cinnamon. And every now and then a chill creeps in through the open window and reminds me that it’s that time of year again. Fall. And then winter. And the holidays.

And it makes it hard to write.

I love the holiday season–making ornaments in school out of macaroni and drinking cider at pumpkin patches and eating too much cranberry sauce and decorating the tree to Bing Crosby. But then last fall happened, and no matter what Dad had said, it still changed everything. This time last year Dad was coming home from the hospital. He decided to quit chemotherapy. He decided its ok to go home and die. And I decided that the changing leaves would never look the same.

hospital bed with dad

And it’s maddening.

So the other night I announced to my husband with teary eyes, “It’s been a year, Matt. And sometimes I am still just SO mad at God.”

It’s not that I have trouble believing in him. I’ve never really had that kind of trouble. And besides, how can you be mad at someone who isn’t there? No, the trouble I had with Him was figuring out why sometimes it feels like He turns his back. Like He’ll take away the best you have, He’ll let you scramble to make ends meet, He’ll watch as you pray for something that simply never comes. He’ll be silent when you demand answers. And like a child at her parent’s closed door, I weep. I stomp my foot. And then, “I hate you!” and storm off. 

fall time

You might wince at reading that. And it’s ok. There are many people who believe you shouldn’t EVER be mad at God, let alone hate Him. And part of me envies those people. Part of me wonders if I’ll ever get to that point where trials don’t make me shake a fist at the sky. And part of me wants to tell those people it’s ok. It’s ok to get mad at God.

So since Fall is making its entrance I’ve been thinking a lot about all of that this week. And it wasn’t until someone asked me a simple question that I’ve come to grips with something. The other day someone at work randomly asked me, “Kayla, you being a literature person, what do you think is one of the greatest love stories ever written?”

So I pondered *because I’m a literature geek* and thought through the hundreds of romances I’ve read so far. I thought about the plot lines so many of them follow–There’s a protagonist and by some event that protagonist falls in love. But the person the protagonist falls for is challenging. Sometimes forbidden or unreachable or unaware. The obstacles arise, including fights or misunderstandings or hurt along the way. But then the end always comes and somehow love wins out. No matter how it wins, it seems to. And the thing that makes it romantic? The protagonist always believed it would.

And it hit me.

I know the greatest love story ever written.

It all began with a protagonist who created light out of darkness and who formed love with his very hands. That protagonist loved so deeply that he let his great loves leave his presence and wander–for years–far away. Some of them decided they didn’t love him anymore. Some hated him. Some simply forgot. And there were others. Others who loved him. Who believed they’d be back with him. Others who had so much faith until the winds picked up and they blamed him for knocking them down. But the protagonist loved. Always loved. He even watched his own son die a horrible death to save the wanderers from a horrible fate. He wept and tore the skies open when his great loves were the hands to kill. Years would go by and he’d watch his great loves make up stories and theologies as to who he was. He sometimes waited to be talked to for a very long time. But he always waited and he always loved. Because out of every love story, He is the protagonist that loved the most. He’s the one who knew the end of the story and understood when those he loved hated him and asked “Why me?” He cried with them and laughed with them and he sat behind a closed door, his hand gently pressed against it, as his own child screamed “I hate you!”, yelling much too loudly to hear anything he had to say.

But He always loved.

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My heart gave out a little when I thought this all over the other day, and I still think about it now as another chill sweeps into the living room and makes my sleeping bunnies rustle in their cages.

God is part of the greatest love story ever written–and so are we. He has a deep compassion for us that we so rarely have for Him. It’s amazing, really.

It’s going to be natural to be the characters that wander. It’s in our description. It’s in the plot.

He’s going to understand when we struggle–because that’s what this world offers–and He’s even going to get it when we blame that struggle on Him. But He loves us through it all and keeps giving us new moments, new days, new opportunities to come back to Him and to find joy.

He understands that when we’re angry at him, we’re caught up in moments where we forget how much He loves us. And how He’s on our team.

mad at god

Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “Since the beginning of time, love has been the source of both the highest bliss and the heaviest burdens. At the heart of misery from the days of Adam until today, you will find the love of wrong things. And at the heart of joy, you will find the love of good things. And the greatest of all good things is God.”

The pages turn and I enter in to a new Fall. Some enter in to new lives after a big move or new, overwhelming schedules after a baby. Some are waking up to a new day without limbs or a new week without a job. One by one the pages turn and if we let it, we forget who’s turning the pages. We get angry at who does. And we forget that:

“God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God! For what we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.”

It isn’t a sin to get mad at God. It isn’t evil to stumble and wonder why. Look at Job. And Jonah. And Jesus himself, who thought for a brief moment that God had turned His back. But we must rise from it. We have to remember.

jonah

It takes faith to remember that as we scream and cry at the closed door there is a Father on the other side, forehead pressed against the door, eyes wet.

And He just waits.

Because only we can open it again.

 

 

Believe it or not, Valentine’s Day is for you too.

Today is the day my mom has been dreading for two months to be exact.

She never hated it before–but she decided she hated it this year. She decided that as soon as Dad took his last breath.

And I never thought about it before, not like I did until this year, how Valentine’s Day is for people like my mom. And maybe for people like you, if you’re out there somewhere reading this and simply feeling lonely. I think sometimes we forget that.

We get caught up in the flowers, the chocolates, the romantic dinners by candlelight and the love songs that plague the radio stations on this special day. We tend to put a label on Valentine’s Day as the day for lovers. And it certainly is for that, too. I love romance *and highly recommend it* for all you lovebirds out there. But I also want to reach out to the lonely tonight. You know who you are. You’re the divorced mother who’s sitting alone on a couch tonight as her babies are asleep upstairs, eating chocolates from a box you bought for yourself. You’re the older gentleman who just lost his wife to old age–and now a picture on the mantle keeps you company. You’re the teenager who just got her heart broken for the first time and the world is a little bit grayer today. YOU are the one who Valentine’s Day is meant for too.

hearts

Today, before I went to work, I decided to visit my mom. To bring her flowers just like my Dad would have. My sister had the same idea–and I was proud of her for recognizing the true spirit of Valentine’s Day. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn. Not at all, actually. The only reason I’m writing this tonight is because I know there are people out there who feel like this isn’t their day. They could sleep through it and probably feel better than they do right now. But it isn’t true, so don’t let the Hallmark cards tell you something else.

mom with flowers

I know that there are multiple histories and backgrounds and definitions revolving around this candy-heart holiday. But I think the one that stuck out the most to me is the word Valentine, which means (for one definition) “a token or gift given to a loved one, often given anonymously”. You have so much love to give. No matter what your position and no matter who has walked in or out of your life, you always have love. Sound cheesy? Well it kind of is. And sometimes cheesy things are true. And you also always have someone who loves YOU. You might not have a spouse or a significant other tonight. But you may have babies, children, friends, a next door neighbor. If you don’t have that, you have the Savior. Always the Savior.

You are loved and important and cared about and you ARE a part of a day reserved for love simply because the Savior–who gave the ultimate “token of love” to ALL his loved ones–sent the greatest Valentine when he decided to give his life in order to remind us of our worth and the eternal love he showed for us while on his knees in the garden and hanging on a ragged cross. THAT’s the Valentine you received today–and every day for that matter. Because it honestly holds more worth than the “Be Mine” boxed chocolate at WalMart.

Your valentine for today? John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son (*for you*), that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (words “for you” added)

card from sis

 

(card my sister gave to my Mom today)

Valentine’s Day–Love in general– IS for the lonely. The recently-rejected. The grieving. The bitter. The one stuck at the office. The couple married for 56 years. You.

It’s for you simply because Christ decided you were the “valentine”.