“For better, or for worse, for richer, or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part…”
Those infamous words that imply loyalty and faithfulness.
But those vows aren’t so easy to keep when the going gets tough… or tougher… or the toughest.
Today my husband and I celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary.
I remember the feelings that overwhelmed me the day he proposed. He was so romantic, thoughtful, and focused on me and our future, and he loved Jesus. What could possibly go wrong? It was easy to believe those words. Life hadn’t had too many difficulties, and the thought of facing them with a strong steady man by my side gave me even more confidence.
Then as he graduated college and I moved back home, and transferred to a different college, we began building our business, our future. Between summer school, planning a wedding, and running a business together, we were both getting between 3-5 hours of sleep a day with hardly any time for leisure. We worked hard together. That was what we did.
At first it was an exciting adventure to be building something together, our future. But then, after the honeymoon, just three months later, we became pregnant with our oldest and I found myself sick with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. This was our first experience with tough times. I was too sick to work as hard as I had and I felt alone. Desperate to get the business going and sustaining an income to provide for a wife and new baby, Isaac worked long hard hours 7 days a week for quite a few months. But despite the trips to the hospital for IVs every week or two, that season grew us. It made us stronger as a couple and individually.
An glimpse into our reality…
Over the years, Isaac and I have been accused of having an easy life. Clearly by those who only knew us on the surface and that made their conclusions about our life based upon our attitudes, which is a complement. The reality is that most people are unaware of the challenges that come with running a business (or more than one). They have no idea of the financial responsibility, the sacrifice of both money and time, or the challenges of having to overcome fear that come with it all. I’ve been married to a man, whom God created with an entrepreneural spirit. Being an entrepreneur isn’t something he does, it’s part of who God made him. It’s not his identity, because his identity is in Christ alone, but he has also learned to embrace who God made him to be, while I am still, even 16 years later having to choose every day to embrace it and support him. It isn’t always easy. In fact most of the time it’s a lot of work, but we have found a deep joy and satisfaction in being who God made us, despite obstacles and struggles. It is this attitude of embracing the hard and not letting it kill us but make us stronger that gives people the assumption our life is always a bowl of peaches.
When your identity is in Christ, even the hard things in life can’t steal your joy, because your joy isn’t based upon where you live or what you have.
When we lived on the vineyard, people would always say, “Wow, that is incredible, I’ve always wanted a vineyard!” It’s amazing to me how many people have had a dream of owning a vineyard. But what they don’t know is how many hours go into weeding, pruning, vine dressing, more pruning, dropping fruit, netting, spraying, mowing, weed whacking and caring for those plants just to yield fruit. It’s not an exaggeration that upon moving to Central Oregon, my husband would drive to Bend to work for 3 days, hiring employees and relocating the business, and I would stay back doing hard labor with our six kids who were 13 and under at the time. We would work in the vineyard and around the property from 6 am until dusk most days we were home. It was the busy season for the vineyard and we had our house on the market. It needed to look nice!
I would rotate assigning kids jobs to make food and bring it out to us and who would start the next load of laundry. We would put in full days of work in the vineyard and I would stay up late into the night cleaning the house. Then at the end of 4-6 days or so we would load the RV for a 3 day trip to come and look for a home to rent, all while trying to keep the house show ready since it was on the market. And we did this over and over again from May through the end of July. Oh and we also had to pack up our family of eight to move within that time frame as well. It was hard work physically, mentally and emotionally. Probably one of the hardest seasons of our life. But we did our best to delight in the hard work knowing it would make us stronger… and it did.
Sure there were attitude problems, but then we dealt with them, all of us.
The truth is, this past year and a half has probably been the hardest for our marriage as well as our family. I was grounded and had lived in only 2 homes in our 15 years of marriage! The Lord had blessed us with closing homes at rock bottom interest rates, selling homes in the midst of economic turmoil for more than we were asking, all kinds of miracles from the Lord. He had blessed us with a season of prosperity. But in this past year and a half, we made a decision to move to a new place. So we moved away from everything and everyone we knew, and had to move a family of 8 almost 9, twice!!! CRAZY hard! And I am not going to lie, sometimes I really miss it. I miss the freedom in owning your home and settling. I miss the deep friendships that God blessed our family with there. I miss family.
Staying would have been easier, not that our life was easy, it just wouldn’t be as hard as leaving and starting over!
We left everything we had built and worked so hard for over those 15 years.
I could share tons of examples of how hard life has been, but also how God provided and intervened. How he grew us, and how I look forward to seeing that training come in handy for my children one day when they are married and raising a family. It’s all a part of a legacy that He is leaving through us. Our children are watching as God is creating his story in our lives and the lessons are being learned as we hold those things we loved open handed, saying, “It’s all yours. I am yours. Lead me and I will follow.”
The truth is that our life is just like everyone else’s. We have experienced seasons of blessing and prosperity, and seasons of trials, testing, and temptation. We have experienced “for better, for worse, for sickness and in health, and even for richer and for poorer.” And our life is not through yet. We are in the midst of a season even now where God is refining us and blessing us at the same time.
For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health…until death do us part.
The reality is that those words have been foundational words to vow to one another on one’s wedding day because they are an example of wholeness of life experienced together.
So how does a couple truly keep their word, truly love unconditionally through any and all circumstances life brings?
The answer is only by the grace of God. And principles He taught us in His Holy Word.
Here are 4 Tips to Help You Stay Loyal to Your Vows.
Remember that your marriage isn’t all about you.
We believe that there is a purpose, a design, and a reason that God chose to put us together and that reason is far greater than what we could ever imagine.
“Marriage isn’t meant to make you happy, it’s meant to make you more holy.” Paraphrase from Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
Remember who you are in Christ first.
As individuals within a marriage, it is essential to have an ability to forgive, to offer grace, and to grow. That can only happen when you are able to be introspective and humble enough to remember that we all are sinners, and that when we receive Christ we are forgiven. We must confess and repent of our sins to one another, but then live in the freedom from the accuser, receiving the full grace of God in Christ Jesus. We cannot possibly forgive another if we haven’t received His grace.
If you want the secret to learning how to forgive your husband or wife, it’s being honest with yourself about your own sin, being able to label it, and realize that God offers your spouse forgiveness in the same way He offers it to you. It isn’t yours to withhold.
You know that cheesy phrase, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Well, there really is a lot of truth in it. Isaac and I try not to make light of eternal battles, and not make a mountain out of something that has no eternal value. Pick your battles well and let everything else go. Life is too short.
Choose your friends wisely.
As we have gotten older, we have become more and more aware of how critical this element is. We were designed by God to be in fellowship with the Body of Christ, to be in authentic community. He made us crave communion with Him and one another. Being able to have fellowship that glorifies God with other couples is central to a strong, lasting, and thriving marriage. Just as I need like-minded women to run this race with for encouragement, so does my husband need fellow brothers in Christ to lift him up when he feels beat up at work or feels weak to run the race set before him as a husband, father, man, and/or employer. We both need accountability, and love from those who are going to lead us to the cross, not point us to themselves or to a road that isn’t fruitful.
There are different purposes for different friendships. What I am referring to is those lifelong or even seasonal friendships that make you a better person and are placed in your life by God for a distinct purpose. Listen, time is our greatest commodity. We need to be wise with who we spend time with, and who we allow to influence us. Choose friendships that are going to make you a better person and stay true to your vows, not tempt you to sin or cause division in your marriage.
How do you choose wise friends? Read through Proverbs. There are plenty of warnings about not wasting time with the foolish or prideful. It also warns us to be aware that we will most likely become like who we hang out with. So I urge you to look at the fruit in their life and yes, judge for yourself if it is going to be a relationship that will be one that leads you to become better for Christ’s Kingdom work, or if they are going to tempt you to loosen on your values and even potentially sin against your spouse.
I do want to be clear that as missionaries for God, we are to be evangelistic, what I speaking specifically to though is pursuing relationships with people who do have fruit. A test to see if there is a strong marriage is if the wife seems like she is valued, and second would be looking at their children. What is the fruit that their marriage is producing. Are the children respectful, loving and kind to their siblings, because that is usually modeled by the parents first. Are they respectful of their parents? Do you sense the spirit of the Lord among them when you are with them?
Remember who the real enemy is.
The enemy is crafty and will try all avenues possible to tear your marriage apart, especially if you are on purpose in your marriage and deeply desiring God to use you and your marriage to encourage others. If you are a threat to the enemy, most likely he will try to attack you. And the reality is, the enemy is attacking all marriages…period…
He is attacking the first earthly human relationship God ever created. He may do it subtly, through discontentment or disappointment, he may attack more boldly through temptation to sin, and he may try to slowly provoke distrust, disunity all for the purpose of destruction. The tricky part is being able to recognize it when it comes. Be on guard. Be a watchman on the wall. Become a prayer warrior for your marriage.
Remember that above all, the enemy lies and deceives and wants us to blame anything and anyone but him for the destruction he causes. Do not allow him to win this battle by believing the lie that your spouse is your enemy. It is a lie from the devil.
Tolpin Tip on Negativity vs. Choosing Grace
One of the key reasons why I think we have been accused of having an easy life, is that early on in our marriage, Isaac taught me that we shouldn’t dwell on the negative. It was actually a rule we had in our office. “No Neg!” This didn’t mean that we didn’t discuss issues when they arose, but we never had time to dwell on them. We were too busy living on purpose. We didn’t want it to steal our joy. So often times, even if something is hard, painful, or a struggle, we are real about it, but we also try hard to find God in it all and use those hard times, those “worse” times to bring Him glory somehow. We both want to redeem any bad decisions or sins in our past along side Him by sharing what we have learned, in hopes that others might avoid the same mistakes and sins.
A Non-Negotiable Habit to Build
The reality is that in humility one recognizes their need for help. We all need to come to a place of recognizing just how much we need God. We need His divine guidance, we need communion with His Spirit to have joy in the midst of the struggle, to have patience in a trying and confusing time. We need to be in communion with God to be able to distinguish truth from lies, to be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. If we cannot pray, if we do not pray, it will be reflected in our faith, and ultimately in the depth of our relationships.
Prayer is where you truly hear the heart of someone. You get a glimpse into their intimate relationship with God. It reveals heart desires, struggles, gratitude, and humility. It helps us to see one another the way God does.
Our life may not be “like” yours and that is ok. In fact, there is a beauty in the uniqueness. But if there is one thing that God does desire for all His people, it’s communion with Him.
We have witnessed God move through prayer. Make paths clearer, not confusing.
My prayer for you, is that as you reflect on your marriage or your relationship, that you are encouraged to choose loyalty, faithfulness, and joy in the midst of whatever season you are in now.
May God make your marriage fruitful for His glory