All is well, and yet…

Good morning, sisters -

I was thinking this morning about what the perspective of someone who might come to this blog would be on the reality of my marriage as it currently exists.

And so I thought I should share. A year and a half ago I got “the news” from my husband – and that led to to a year of breaking, and a year of being made whole. Our marriage is stronger than it has ever been. We are more connected. We laugh easier, we forgive quicker, we see each other and offer grace.

And yet…
We still struggle to connect sexually.

Here is what I want you to know -
A whole marriage and a happy marriage does not necessarily mean a marriage where sex has been perfected (either in it’s actual performance or its regularity). I thought when our marriage was finally healed, our sex life would function as I have always hoped. In fact, I thought a fully-functioning sex life was an obvious and required part of that healing.

But guess what – that’s not necessarily the case.

So why do I tell you this?
To give you hope.

Your marriage functioning well does not necessarily look like your marriage bed functioning perfectly.

To expound, here is what I am not saying:

Our sex life is a regular, healthy pattern - there are many reasons for this (hello, children, I am looking at you), but whatever the case, our sex life isn’t functioning with any sort of regularity.
We always connect well sexually - just recently we had a complete bomb-out. It ended with both of us feeling a bit hurt and miscommunicated with. And no sex took place.
We always get our needs met - my husband and I are built very differently in our needs. And I am, in truth, still trying to figure mine out after this past year. But we often miss the mark in meeting each other’s needs, especially in the marriage bed.

Now, here is what I am saying:

Forgiveness has happened – my marriage bed is no longer a place full of hurt and unhealed wounds. Case in point was the bomb-out  night. We had talked and reconciled (led by my husband, I should add) by the time we got out of bed the next morning. Two years ago it might have taken 2 weeks to recover.
Conversation has happened – we talk about our marriage bed now, and we have both spent a good bit of time exploring our own souls to understand our sexuality.
Sexual connection has happened - this year has not been without some really beautiful and deep connection in our marriage bed.

Why is this hopeful, you ask?

Because, dear sister, the redemption of your marriage, while it may seem to rest it’s weight on your marriage bed, may not really be tied to your marriage bed at all. In fact, it may be healed so deeply and so truly that your marriage bed takes a more humble, beautiful place in your marriage.

Let me try to explain.

When a marriage is broken, and when a marriage bed is functioning poorly, it is a heavy weight on the scales. All of life can seem to rise and fall on what happens behind that closed door. But when a marriage is centered on Christ – when He is the sun that rights all the planets of our life – then sex can take its rightful place. (And please understand, there may be many reasons  for brokenness)

Don’t misunderstand – sex mattersI am not discounting it’s import, or pretending that it’s brokenness isn’t painful. But when communication, forgiveness, grace, understanding, and growth are happening in each spouse, then an imperfect marriage bed becomes another arena to practice all of these things, and see fruit.

So while my marriage bed may still at times frustrate, I find that I am full of hope towards it. I see the long road ahead, the life ahead (however long Christ may give us), and I know that we will continue to walk with each other with real love

I am praying for you today, sisters.
Praying for those of you who are doubting. Praying for those of you who are ailing. Praying for those of you who are discouraged and dismayed.
I am asking Him for grace to cover your hearts. I am asking Him to reveal Himself to you in your sufferings. I am asking Him to help you count the cost and find Him worthy of it. I don’t discount the pain – it hurts. Its okay. You are allowed to grieve.

I love you.
I wish we could share a cup today, and comfort each other with the Gospel – there is Good News, sister. May your heart hear it today.

Annabel

If sex is the problem, it’s not the issue

Hello again, sweet friends!

I pray these words find you aching towards Christ, and seeing Him respond in His grace and mercy.

I have had a thought so many times in this past year that I wanted to share with you. It’s a truth that has been lurking in the background of so many of my posts in the past, but has never been more clear to me as it is now.

If sex is the problem, then it’s the not the issue. 

If your marriage bed is what is causing you the most angst and tears, then I can promise you that it, in itself, is not the issue.
“So what is the issue?”, you may ask.

I hate to say I don’t know, but I don’t.

It could be some tangible sexual sin (and the things your heart may fear the most) – a pornography addiction or the devastation of adultery. It could be some tangible non-sexual sin – a gambling or gaming addiction, financial embezzlement, alcoholism.
These sins are the ones that our minds most often jump towards, these are the ones that haunt our dreams.

But there are other sins that can be the issue.
Self-centerdness. Silence. Pride.

Perhaps the issue is something else entirely. The root isn’t always sin.
There could be a history of sexual abuse. There could be other personality or history challenges affecting sexual desire or identity. It could be that there is a sense of shame around sex due to their family or some other circumstance. Perhaps there is an incorrect theology or philosophy of sex.

And then, of course, there is the whole realm of physical.
Performance issues.

(As an aside, I wrote about whether your husband’s lower sex drive is your fault in the blog posts here and here)

My sweet sisters – we are complicated beings. Often the actual issues will be multi-faceted, layers of several different areas. Often your spouse won’t even begin to know themselves well enough to identify the what or why of sexual refusal. Even if it is something “obvious”, like a pornography addiction or office romance – the why behind the action is tied to deep heart wounds that a “quick fix” (read, internet safety software or moving to another town) won’t get at.

So what are we to do about this?

Be aware. Often we have such a short-sighted view of our husband’s struggles (and our own!). Whatever they are, just know that there are layers you can’t see. Know that there are layers even he can’t see. Especially if he wasn’t raised to be self-aware, or has never had the language of the heart taught to him.

Be patient. This one is hard. Hard, hard, hard, hard. It doesn’t come naturally. It’s why it’s a fruit of His Spirit in us. Because we can’t contrive it, we can’t grow it, we can’t manufacture it and we can’t fake it. Be patient with his journey. Be patient with your own. Be patient with the journey you are on together.

Seek help. This is one of the most vital pieces. Listen to me, friends. You can’t do this alone. You both could probably benefit from counseling. Even if he won’t go – you go. You go for you. The church is Christ’s body, and it is wonderful. But sometimes a pastor isn’t enough. Prayer alone sometimes isn’t enough (I know, it is sacrilege to write). You or he may need psychological assistance. Or physical.

Find community. Finding friend’s is one of life’s greatest joys. Not the sort of friends you spill your husband’s secrets and faults to. Not gossip-driven women who are a shame to Christ’s name. I mean friends who will let you cry without needing to know why. I mean friends who will pray for you when you text them and ask. Find them in your church. Find them online. Pray for them. Open your eyes to women outside your usual circle of age, race, demographic, denomination.  We are not meant to journey alone. Even leaving a comment here can be a place to start.

Pray. Yes, I know I just said that prayer alone sometimes isn’t enough. But I do fervently believe in the power of prayer. Prayer doesn’t change our circumstances as much as it changes us. If you haven’t ever experienced the power of a prayer-life centered on Christ, go find a book by Thomas Keating or J. David Muyskens and read it. This is the magnet, friends, that pulls our hearts towards Christ.

From here on out, will you make me a promise?
When your marriage bed is suffering – when it is lacking, when it is a place of hurt rather than healing – will you ask yourself what is the real issue here?
Because it isn’t just sex.

Under the Mercy,
(praying you are as well)

Annabel

The wounding of the Lord is faithful

Good morning sisters,

It is once again early morning. The house is just starting to stir, and I am here with my coffee and you. I have so many thoughts twirling around in my head and heart. How to find ways to share our story, to encourage you, to shine a light towards Christ so that you may see Him clearly?

I pray the words on this small journaling space will be just that – a beacon of hope that points towards our great Hope.

This past year has been the journey I never thought I would go on. When I first received “the news” I thought the road ahead was a road for my husband, in particular. Our marriage had crashed into what I thought was a towering wall…it turns out that we had crashed into the Rock. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him. (Matt 21:44)
We had fallen on the stone, and we found ourselves utterly broken.

May I confess something?
I thought this year would be about him. My husband had committed the grievance. My husband was the one whose sin crashed us into this place, right?
I pictured myself nobly standing next to him as he worked through his issues. Of course it affected us both, of course we would both need help to find our way back, but really – it was about him. Oh sisters, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
This year Christ has humbled me. He has shown me so clearly the depth of my own depravity – the darkness of my own heart. I have never seen my own sin so clearly. I have never known how great my need for Him.

A good friend said to me at the start of these turbulent days, “Annabel, I think this is going to change your life forever. I think the trajectory of everything you have known and thought you would do is altering.”
She couldn’t have been more right.

Everything has changed.
Everything.

At the start of the year, I thought it was about my husband’s healing.
It is my heart that has been shown to be utterly in need of Christ’s forgiveness.
I thought we had crashed into a wall of sin and pain that would leave us scarred and limping forever.
It turned out to be our Rock, our faithful High Priest that we had crashed upon. His breaking has left us more whole, with no scars.
I thought this year was a detour on the path that our life was on.
This year turned out to be a life-altering course change. Our feet left the well-known path, we are now in the wildness of His adventure for us. 

I have so, so many stories. Some about sex. Some about forgiveness. Some about tears. Some about surprises. Some about death. Some about life.
But all of them about Hope. Sweet, sweet Hope.

I am praying for you all this morning. My eyes are filled with the tears I know so many of you shed over your marriages, over your hard places, over your marriage beds. I am mourning with you.
May Christ uphold you. May He allow you and your husband to come crashing onto His truth in the best time.

I love you, sweet sisters. Thank you all for your prayers and thoughts for me over this past year. I have received so many emails. You all have faithfully continued to comment on this little space. I have read every word, and I have been grateful for the community that was reaching out in blindness towards me.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

I know your season may feel like death. Take heart – death itself is a servant of Christ.

Home

Dear long-lost friends,

I have found home. It is a beautiful place – full of the glorious longing of things to come, and gratitude for things past. I have so, so many stories for you. They are good stories. Stories of hope, stories of truth, stories of redemption and healing. My husband and I are together – stronger and braver and truer than we have ever been.

I can’t wait to fill this space again with quiet conversations with you again. You are my “great congregation” – the friends I will be faithful to tell of the Lord’s wondrous deeds.

Do not grow faint of heart, dear sisters.
The Lord is mighty. The Lord is sovereign. The Lord is loving.
And He is moving…

Psalm 40: 1-4, 9-11

My Help and My Deliverer

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;

he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the pit of destruction,

out of the miry bog,

and set my feet upon a rock,

making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear,

and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man who makes

the Lord his trust,

who does not turn to the proud,

to those who go astray after a lie!

I have told the glad news of deliverance

in the great congregation;

behold, I have not restrained my lips,

as you know, O Lord.

10  I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;

I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;

I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness

from the great congregation.

11  As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain

your mercy from me;

your steadfast love and your faithfulness will

ever preserve me!

I have missed you -

Annabel

The long road home

Dear friends,

It has been so long since I have sat down to write. I have missed you.

Several months ago I received what we shall call the news from my husband. I won’t share here what that news was because isn’t everyone’s story their own to tell? I have had many friends receive the news over the years.  For some it is a financial investment that has gone to ruin, and now their home is gone and their lives will never be the same. For some it is the story of succumbing to the siren song of an addiction (be it alcohol, drugs, porn, pain medication), and now everyone is left clinging to the edge, fighting their way back against abuse. For some it is another that has taken their place, and now they are looking at the ruins of love wondering how and if they can rebuild. The news, my friends, comes in many ways – none of them pretty and none of them fair. All of them cause hurt and grief. All of them wound. All of them take time to rebuild, time to recover, time to heal. The news in this home is private – sharing the bad decisions and heart wounds of someone else is not today’s story.

But here is a hard and glorious fact -
Sometimes being broken against truth is the best thing there could be. In the past three months I have seen and understood the hope of the Gospel more fully than I could have ever imagined. I can honestly say that until this painful journey, I didn’t really grasp the hope that we can be free, that in Christ we are okay, that we are grounded. The hope that means my sin doesn’t control my destiny. That means that when I sin I don’t have to hide. Because Christ has paid the price, friends. It is all covered – which means I am safe to expose it. My husband can be safe to expose it. We aren’t stuck. Do you hear that, friend? You aren’t stuck. In Christ our story is never over until we see Him. And the sweetest promise? When we do finally see Him, we shall be like Him. There is no hopeless situation in light of the Gospel. What a steadfast anchor that is for us, indeed.

I once read that the Kingdom of God is like a city built into the side of a cliff. It is very easy to stand on the cliff edge and feel so close to the city. You can literally drop stones into its very heart. You are close in proximity, but not in relationship. In order to actually get into the city you must be willing to leave the cliff edge and follow the path, which winds down and through a forest. In fact, while journeying towards the city you will be further from it by proximity – but closer to it by relationship.
My husband and I are on that journey. Not that we weren’t Christ-followers before, but in many areas of our life there was a lot of “stone dropping” and not as much “path following”.

I recently saw this story about how the Gospel changed one man’s life. And everything in me says “yes”.

So that’s where I am now. Saying “yes” to a hard, but glorious road.

I am praying for you today, friends. Praying that you will have the courage to say “yes” as well.

Annabel

P.S. If you know what book the cliff-kingdom story is from, can you tell me? I can’t remember and I want to give that author his due.

When silence heals

Dear friends,

I have been silent. And it is not without reason. Situations within my family have asked me to withdraw and focus my energy and heart on my very real here. I have been overwhelmed and blessed, however, by your words of love and concern. The emails and comments have helped me in dark places, and I can’t begin to express my thanks for words of life and prayers spoken on my behalf.
This space will lie idle for a while. I promise to keep praying for you, for your marriages, for your hearts to turn towards Christ and see Him more and more clearly.

The words of Thomas Merton seem most appropriate here:
“The mind that is hyperactive seems to itself to be awake and productive, but it is dreaming, driven by fantasy and doubt. Only in silence and solitude, in the quiet of worship, the reverent peace of prayer, the adoration in which the entire ego-self silences and abases itself in the presence of the Invisible God to receive His one Word of Love; only in these “activities” which are “non-actions” the the spirit truly wake from the dream of a multifarious, confused, and agitated existence…
Only when our activity proceeds out of the ground in which we have consented to be dissolved does it have the divine fruitfulness of love and grace. Only then does it really reach others in true communion. Often our need for others is not love at all, but only the need to be sustained in our illusions, even as we sustain others in theirs. But when we have renounced these illusions, then we can certainly go out to others in true compassion. It is in solitude that illusions dissolve. But one must work hard to see that they do not reshape themselves in some worse form, peopling our solitude with devils disguised as angels of light. Love, simplicity and compassion protect us against this. Whoever is truly alone finds in himself the heart of compassion with which to love not only this person or that, but all people. He sees them all in the One who is the Word of God, the perfect manifestation of God’s Love, Jesus Christ.”

Hidden in Him,

Annabel

The idol of unmet needs (and finding joy in daily living)

If you are a living human (as opposed to, say, a robot reading this post), you have unmet needs. The fallen nature of the world around us means that none of us are living in our perfect scenario. And if, by chance, you are floating high on life right now, I can promise you that troubles and trials will come.
This isn’t a message of despair or depression. This is simply the truth.

My question today is, how do you respond to unmet needs? As higher-drive wives, many of us are often in the scenario where our unmet needs include sex. We would like it more often, more consistently, and possibly in better quality. But those needs are not currently being met. Of course, where you are now is not the end of the story, and that in itself can be the greatest comfort. Our God is the God of the impossible – so lets put the impossible in His hands and see what He does with it.
But for your now, for your today…what to do with those unmet desires and dreams of your heart?

Perhaps, and I say this with the greatest caution, you should gently put them aside.
But Annabel, you say, how can I put aside that thing that I so greatly desire? How can I abandon something so important? How can I rest when I am seeing the thing my heart desires, even needs, going without notice or care?

Please hear me out on this one.
I am not suggesting that you try to muscle your way through life with gritted teeth and a “I don’t need anything” sort of attitude. That is dangerous and false. What I am suggesting is that your need can become your idol. It can become all you think about, all you concentrate on. All of your emotional energy can be focused there. Every spare thought turns to it.

I know, dear sister, that when your sex life is limited, or perhaps even ignored, it hurts. Deeply and desperately. When the planets of our life are out of alignment, things go crashing into each other. You are being sinned against.
But please hear me say this as gently as possible : there is a time for everything. Including joy. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

So what, then, do I mean by all of this? Simply this : whatever your need is, there are still places, somewhere, that are producing life. And instead of standing and staring at those dead patches, maybe every once in a while it would do your heart good to go enjoy some beauty? Beautiful places are different for every person. Perhaps you love to paint or write. Pick it up again, even if just for yourself and your Father. Perhaps spring is calling you outside to play with your children. Go, laugh – allow yourself the grace of a smile on your face. Or maybe it’s the Godly refreshment you find engaging with certain friends – call them up, find a time to meet, to talk and listen.

A few weeks ago I was driving home from a weekly Bible study that I so enjoy. The women are refreshing, the topic always challenging and encouraging. As I turned a corner, I was pondering how much I enjoy that time, when I suddenly remembered some of my own mis-aligned and crashing planets. Almost in the same minute, I realized that I needed to just place those things before God and continue to simply enjoy the sweet gift He had given me. I thought about how often I have not allowed whatever joys He was giving to be a focusing point – but to instead turn my eyes and heart energy towards all that was going wrong. I missed out on the places I could be happy by stubbornly sitting in those that were not.

When needs are screaming who has time to enjoy the beauty of flowers, the warmth of a cup of coffee, the laughter of a child, the warmth of a spring day?
You do, dear friend.

I am praying for you this morning. Praying that you would have eyes to see where He is, indeed, bringing joy. Praying you can see His gifts that are so great towards you. Praying that if you have set up idols of your needs, that they would be taken down. Praying for you to have the strength and hope that is a hallmark of our faith – that is a testimony to the One who rose triumphant.

Pray for me, as well. I am in a season of needing to put some things back in order in my own life (hello, early mornings) in order to find the heart space to see the daily joys.

Your friend,
Annabel