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.

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.

Choosing to bend

There it is again. The argument. It used to be the same one, but these days it can be almost anything.
We both grow grumpy. And grumpy turns into silent. Silent looks like backs turned in bed – sleep a long ways off.

My feelings are hurt. We don’t see life the same way. And hurt feelings make me stiff. I began to recount the many grievances I hold. I remember that thing he did a few days ago. I had forgotten it, but now I remember. I count up how many days its been since we’ve had sex. I start to say those dangerous “always” and “never” words. My heart grows colder. My soul whispers “No, not me. I will not be the one to give.”
Growing soft is so difficult to do. My pride, my hurt, my self-righteous anger get in the way. The distance between us in that bed, a distance my hand could so easily reach across, grows miles wide.

How to bend in such a moment? How to be the one to curl my body, soft, around his and whisper the words of reconciliation?
We are in that season, the one where leaves are falling off and we see so starkly that beneath the green we really are very different. What brought us together, anyway? How could we not know how much there was to divide? It seems that every day brings a new topic we do not see eye-to-eye on. As spring blooms around us, as days grow warm and long, our hearts grow stiff and cold.
I look at the children we have made together – their sweet smiles and curl-locked hair exploring the world with wonder and delight. Will this be the last hold that draws us together? In years to come, as they chase their dreams, will I find myself living with a stranger?

The rigors of life – the bills, the long work hours, the never-ending laundry and dishes that pile high. This is the stuff our life is made of now. Our children are young – they require so much work. Diligent work. Repetitive work. Who has the time to find a common ground? We have been married long enough to have changed. But are our changes bringing us closer? Or further apart?

So here we are.
Different opinions.
Different interests.
Different sex drives.

So much different. What is the same?

And my back is still stiff. And I rehearse all of these things in my head – all of these questions loom large, like a mountain, ominous and frightening.And yet…
The mountain is mostly of my own making. I see the bare branches and forget that it is just a season. I have forgotten that we both crave sunshine, need air, bud green.

You’ve seen it, haven’t you? The flower that has been beaten down by the rain? And yet, when the sun comes out, it finds its life and strength again. And that flower lifts up it’s face and grows tall again. I want to be like that.
I want the ability to bend and sway – I want the softness that is true strength.

Help me.
I whisper into the darkness.

And I choose to bend. I choose to curl my body around his. To take his hand. To say “I am sorry”, or “I was being petty”, or “I am with you”.
What do you choose to do today?

A

 

A coffee chat: Wife or Mom?

Hi friends! Every so often I so, so wish that I could pull you across my computer screen and sit and drink coffee with you and ask you questions. I so wish I could meet you all face-to-face! I know you have experiences and wisdom I need. So, I do the next best thing. I ask you to make some coffee (or tea, or hot chocolate, or even just a cup of water) and sit with me and help me ponder a question, and maybe glean some wisdom in the process.

Will you join me? I would make scones, but I am fasting sugar for Lent (and yes, it’s really hard). So instead I will invite you to have a cracker with me. And probably some cheese. And maybe an apple for good measure.

So here is my question:
I have recently been pondering my life’s priorities, and realizing that my “mom” role is far, far, far outweighing my “wife” role. In fact, the “mom” hat on my head feels fairly stuck. I do have two children – one who is just figuring out how to talk and the other who can’t even crawl. So suffice it to say I am in the thick of things where being a mom is concerned. I know that some of this is simply seasonal. However, I really am at a loss for how to do better, right where I am at, in putting my husband where he belongs. The last thing I need to do is make him a “third child” (and I believe that viewing him that way is disrespectful and wrong).

So I would love your thoughts. How do you make sure that your husband knows he is your second most-important priority? How do you wrench the “mom” hat off your head? I would love to share your battle stories and your wisdom.

So come make a cuppa and let’s chat.

Annabel

The power of the lower-drive husband

On Friday I wrote about how we as higher drive wives hold the initiating cards in the sexual part of a marriage relationship (as a general rule of thumb, not as a undeniable fact). Today I want to talk about how the lower drive husband holds the power cards. (I have to give a shout-out to Corey Allan who wrote about this on Hot, Holy and Humorous a few months ago, and probably did a much better job than me – go read it).

While I am writing specifically about a higher drive wife and lower drive husband, I want to point out that this particular phenomenon is applicable to all “sexually mismatched” couples.
As I mentioned on Friday, a higher drive wife holds the responsibility (most of the time) for initiating sex. If for no other reason than the simple fact that she desires more sex, she will be the one to ask for/seduce her husband. And this is hard, especially since the message higher drive wives receive is that they are going to be (and perhaps even “ought to be”) sexually pursued. Almost every woman I know, before she is married, has heard the “you will need to give your husband sex when you don’t want to because he will need it so much more than you do” talk. This can be spun in a positive light (i.e. “you are your husband’s source of sexual joy so serve Christ by serving him”) or a negative one (“all men are over-sexed creatures who need it way too often so you better be prepared to put out”).  For any higher-drive wife, these messages become incredibly confusing as we end up becoming the ones who are pursing our husbands sexually. This is because the reality of marriage is that the higher-drive spouse pursues, and the lower-drive spouse holds the power cards.

In real life this means that your lower-drive husband has the power to say no. He can veto your advances. Of course, you obviously are able to say no too, but higher-drive spouses rarely have that opportunity. We are the ones initiating – they are the ones responding. For better or worse, this means that your husband can say no. And, unfortunately, there are many of us who have experienced this – sometimes quite painfully.

So what can you do about it?
First, and most importantly – pray. Pray, dear women. Pray for your husband’s hearts. Pray for your marriage bed. We all too often neglect the power of prayer.
Second, this can be really important information to share. Using wisdom, gentleness and good timing – you may want to share this with your husband. Often times the lower-drive husband doesn’t even realize how much power he holds. So, if you find it to be wisdom, you may want to try to share this information (or forward him an email with this post for him to read in his own time).
You can continue to go low. You can serve your husband’s emotional needs. You can seduce him every way you know how. You can make your home a place of warmth and love.

Ladies, I will not deny that we are in a hard place. For many of us it means that we are being stretched in our idea of what is normal. We are working on our communication. We are learning to navigate life in marriage as a higher-drive wife. But for some of us it means consistent rejection and pain. It means tears and questions. I am praying for both groups today. I am asking God to intervene in marriages, to bring healing and newness. Would you join me? Right now, wherever you are, will you take a minute to lift up the marriages that are facing challenges? Even if your own is in a hard place – will you lift up others as well? May each of you feel a special grace today as you read this post, knowing that others are praying for you right now.

On a last note, I have to take a minute to address any lower-drive husbands that are here. May I kindly beg of you to bring your own heart before the Lord? Would you ask Him if you are holding the cards of power in a way that is pleasing to Him? Are you being Christ to your wife – denying yourself, taking up your cross? Are you bearing your cross as Christ bore His – with great love, and without comparison? I am praying that you would see yourself with eyes of truth, and hear the Lord’s voice for your own marriage and marriage bed.

I love you, spicy women. I am honored to be here sharing my heart, and I LOVE hearing from you – so if you haven’t said hi in a while, please do!

Annabel