“Go ahead and give me my tissues now,” I joked to my girlfriends as we got our Kleenex out and made our predictions about what the ceremony would be like. I thought maybe I’d be a little emotional because we loved this bride and her family so much.
But after the brutal season our life had just narrowly escaped, the tears were fresh and free-flowing. I literally began crying the instant the bride came into view at the back of the aisle and cried so hard during the vows that I was actually worried that some legit sobs would sneak out. Hearing “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer” hit home, because we’d seen worse and poorer, and we were the better for it.
In the early days of our engagement and marriage, people told us about how hard the first year would be and how much we would hate each other. That wasn’t our experience. At the time we would have told you it was great. Now, we thank the Lord that we are done with that first year!
Over the years, we had lots to celebrate and some growing pains, too, as we started our family and moved away. Of course, along the way we had conflict and we got annoyed with each other over little things. There had been weeks where we felt more like roommates or friends than lovers.
But nothing, nothing like the pain we experienced when we lost every part of our lives which we had held dear.
The hardest season of our lives and marriage began when moved from our home of five years to be closer to our families and the city we grew up loving. But when the time came to move, my husband couldn’t find an available position in the job he wanted, so he got a job selling cars; we rented a house and believed that it would all work out (because it always had).
We had no concept of the beating we were about to take from life. Austin worked 65-80 hours each week in easily the darkest, most discouraging, dog-eat-dog work climate he’d ever experienced. He carried the weight of our family, his four people, knowing that at the end of the day he had to bring money in. He had to support us, but doing so forced him to go to a job that was crushing him, especially on the days when he didn’t even bring in any commission.
We didn’t have friends, a church home or routine. We hobbled through each week in complete identity crisis. Every element of the life we had built together had changed, and we felt like we’d lost our center of gravity.
I was at home corralling, comforting, and refereeing three kids who had just left the only home they had ever known. It was emotionally exhausting, and I did it wrong so much of the time. Many nights I sat by their beds, listening as they sweetly slept, while I cried and apologized for not being a better mom.
I worried about Austin constantly—I completely understood why he was struggling, but I had no idea how to be a good wife to him. I tried cheering him up, planning fun things, giving him extra rest. Nothing fixed the state he was in. I felt my own sense of self-worth wavering each time I failed to help him the way he needed to be helped.
After several months of living this way, it simply didn’t feel good to be married. There were no warm fuzzies and little laughter; romance was an emotional depth we didn’t possess. I longed for days when marriage and family life felt good again. Meanwhile, Austin felt guilty that he couldn’t pick himself up by his boot straps.
We knew we loved each other—possibly more than ever before—but we were two heartbroken people who often sat in silence for hours at night, drowning in our fears. Our commitment level was solid; we had learned years ago that we were more married to the Lord through our marriage covenant than we were actually married to each other. That promise of faithfulness and steadfastness meant everything. Both of us guarded our marriage fervently; we just didn’t know how to enjoy it in this season.
So we white-knuckled it for a while. And the hurt just grew. I honestly thought that all of our hurt might kill us. I felt like I was dying, and I knew Austin did too. He was ready to move; I was sure that we just had to buckle down. We thought we could just fix it all. But onward we went, and our pain seared deeper.
Finally, we hit the bottom.
Austin came home from work, greeted our kids and then went right around the corner to our dining room table. He sat down and without a word put his head down on his arms folded on the table and sobbed. Our kids were running around and wanting to play with him; I knew they didn’t need to see their dad this way, so I turned on a TV show which I knew would hold their attention. I walked over to Austin and sat on the table in front of him. He moved his head to my lap, wrapped his arms around my waist and cried, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I feel so lost.”
We sat like that for half an hour.
Eventually, I moved to a chair at the end of the table next to him. I reached out for his hands and through my own tears said the five words that both terrified and liberated me.
“I think we need help.”
Something about saying it out loud was so big and scary, but it felt like the only thing that was left. Our family and the few friends we had in the area had all been so encouraging, but we needed more than they could offer.
We agreed to reach out to a couple we knew and trusted for some counseling together. We had always admired their wisdom and discernment, and we had faith that God could use them to help us navigate these unfamiliar marital waters. Austin also began going to a licensed counselor who gave Biblically-focused counseling.
Getting help didn’t magically change everything in one week. What we discovered in that week was that when we literally had nothing else—when we didn’t even have one another as a source of joy—we still had the joy of our salvation, and that was more than enough. When I couldn’t find my identity as a successful church member, wife, mother, or friend, still I knew who I was in Christ: a beloved child. Receiving biblical counseling gave us a safe place to address our fears head-on with Truth. Both together and separately, we learned how to be joyfully content no matter what, but also how to go about changing some of our circumstances which were unhealthy.
We decided together that Austin had to leave his toxic work environment, even if it meant working for a minimum hourly wage somewhere. We also decided on a church home for our family. Between the help we got and making some simple but vital decisions, we felt completely freed from the oppression we had been under. We felt like we had a fresh start.
Now, we find ourselves in a life which we absolutely love. God has done so many miraculous things; the greatest of these is the gratefulness He grew in our hearts. I never thought our pain would be worth it—I always felt so irritated when people told us it would be. Not long after we made that reach for help, I found myself writing prayers of gratitude for these trials. It came down to the wire there for a minute, but God endured as He always does. We came to know more of His love, His faithfulness, His provision, and His joy; our marriage is richer as a product of His work in our pain.
We hit the bottom, and it was there we found joy, in our Christ alone.