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

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.

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

Confession is good for the soul

I grew up with an amazing woman as my mother. She willingly transplanted from a place of security and comfort to a place full of strangers and foreign ways. She selflessly set aside her own desires to follow the Lord in raising a family and being an amazing wife. She is brave, wise and faithful.
But, like so many of us, she has been deeply hurt. I only have seen shadows and heard whispers of what happened. But I know it was sexual in nature, and I know it wasn’t right. I know it happened in her adult years, and I know that it happened at the hands of someone she should have trusted. And it colored her world. That, along with other situations that I cannot begin to fathom, made my mother an angry woman. My childhood years have memories of her laughter…and her raised voice. I remember her being a gracious host…and I remember being afraid of her responses to little things I would do.
And, like every child, I promised myself that I wouldn’t be like her in those ways. Never, my heart whispered.

And now it is 30-something years later. And I have my own little children, who are still young enough to look at me with eyes of adoration. My personality isn’t cut out for this stay-at-home life. I thrive on change. I love the challenge of starting something new. Routine is deadly to the life in my heart.
And here I am, a stay-at-home mom. Routine is my middle name. Maybe my first. Hi, nice to meet you – I’m Routine.

And the frustration of this God-called life? It finds its way out in anger towards my kids.
Last night I lay in bed and confessed to my husband that I struggle with inconsistency. My little ones have no idea if they will get happy mom or angry mom. I raise my voice at things that just yesterday I greeted with a laugh. I see it in the eyes of my oldest. Fear…and it crushes me.

Confession is good for the soul.
And it’s true – my confession to my husband, my laying bare my mistakes and my failures – it brings life and healing. I find that today I am a little more inclined to choose life. I am a little more apt to look at life and try to find solutions to this season, and not just react to the circumstances around me.

It may seem small, but it is not. Unconfessed sins fester.
So today, I urge you to find a safe place to confess. Ask someone to come alongside. Know that you aren’t alone. We all struggle with secret sins…we all have habits from our history that are causing someone else pain. We need the healing that Light brings.

Praying for you today, sisters. Praying that you would see with honest eyes where you need to confess, and repent. Pray for me, too. Pray that I would embrace this season, with all of its routines, as a gift from Him. As they say, “the days are long, but the years are short.” I want to look back on these short years and see my hands consistently open in surrender.

Annabel

My words to broken women

This is a blog for broken women.
I didn’t realize it would be so when I started it, but as the months have passed and the comments and emails have added up, I realize that the women drawn here are facing what feels to be impossible situations. Too often their husbands refuse to admit anything is wrong. Sometimes, the counseling they get is unBiblical, or lacking in compassion. Women come crying into this space – filled with hurt from affairs, pornography, rejection.

These things weigh heavy on my heart. There are comments that I struggle to reply to – what to say? How to offer words of comfort or wisdom? I am not a licensed counselor. I am not an ordained minister. I am a simple women who is working through the daily challenges of her own marriage, a woman who is fighting for Truth herself. I am blessed to have seen so much healing in my own heart and home. But it’s not formulaic. And how to offer myself to the crushed and bruised that I find so often laying on my doorstep?

I cannot offer my arms through this gift and frustration we call the Internet. I often think that if we could meet, the greatest thing I could offer would be my silence. Sitting with the broken woman in sackcloth and ashes. Grieving.

But my silence here doesn’t carry that weight. It’s my words that are needed. And here they are – shaking and unsure. May they speak life into dead places.

The strength of the Church
God placed us in the Body for a reason. Our human response to pain is to retreat, like a wounded animal, to a safe place and hide. This response, as natural as it is, hurts us. We need a community of believers. So run, dear sister, run to the strength of fellowship. This may mean a local church body (which I strongly encourage you not to forsake). It may mean a small group that you attend. It may mean a woman or two that is willing to stand in prayer with you. Don’t alienate yourself. Find community.

The safety of the WordGod’s Word is alive. It is sharper than any two-edged sword. It will lead your feet down right paths. It will guide your heart towards truth. Open it. Soak in it. Let it renew your mind and form your worldview. There is safety here, sisters. It will guard your heart from bitterness. It will guard your tongue from lies and cruelty. If you do nothing else, pick up this living Book and let it shape your heart.

The power of prayer
I have said this so many times before – do you truly know the power of prayer? When you are lost and confused – do you ask for answers? Truly? I find so often my prayers are simply complaints – not a true surrendering of my will or a seeking of His. Let prayer be like breathing – a continual pattern that fills your day. Prayer doesn’t need to be a show. You don’t need to be on bended knee (although the humility of that position can help turn your heart towards Him). It can be at your kitchen sink, or sitting at your desk, or as you make your bed. Let prayers rise like incense – ever before Him.

The surrender of the willThis is the mark of a woman who has a true understanding of who this Christ is that she follows. And yet, it can be the hardest thing of them all. When life is a tumult, when your heart is broken – do you stand before Him with open hands? Like Christ, do you say “Not my will, but your will be done”? Those words ache. Do we really embrace that in all things He is working for our good? Do we accept that bearing our Cross may mean this? And God calls us to bear our suffering with joy. Joy?! How is that possible? Only in surrender. May we be women who stand humbly before our God, fighting for and believing in the miraculous, and realizing that His answer may be the changing of our hearts.

The choice of life“Today I set before you life and death…choose life.”
Choosing life is choosing gratitude. It is choosing joy. It is choosing to find expressions of our life that bring beauty to those around us. Serving others through our gifts. It is choosing to build our hearts up with good things, and not things that paint false pictures. Our willingness to engage in things that bring life will bear good fruit. As my counselor once said, “Sometime you have to wake up and ask yourself ‘What would I do today if I felt wonderful?’ and then go and do that thing.” This is a choice to live out of the reality that we cannot see, rather than the one we can.

My dearest friends and sisters. I know you are hurting. I know.
And I know that these words are not enough to answer every question. They are not enough to fill the deep pain in your heart – the tearing that you wonder if you will ever recover from. I offer them with tears and prayers. May they lead you to the only One who can heal your heart. May you find Christ, and in Him find true comfort. He is your heart’s true home – may you be found dwelling in Him.

Irregardless of our realization of it today, the truth is that we will all one day stand before Him. Our Lamb who gave His life for us. We will see Him, and we will be like Him. And as hard as it is to imagine, we will one day realize that He is worthy of all our suffering. We will not arrive with demands and questions. We will see Him and cast down our crowns, crying “Holy, holy, holy.”

I am praying for you today.
And thank you for your prayers. I have felt the difference as we enter the last week of Lent and look towards the most important day in our Christian calendar – the celebration of His overcoming death and winning us to Himself.

You are loved.
Annabel

If you are a reader, here are two books I would highly recommend in helping shape your heart towards Truth in hard times.
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
Hinds Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard

Soul Cravings (or…why Lent is rocking my world)

We are only a week and a half away from Easter – the celebration of the eternity-altering moment where Christ rose and defeated death, won this wicked Gentile back to Himself, created a place for me in His family. What an incredibly joyous day.

But there are still 11 days until the sun rises on Easter morning.

Do you observe Lent? It’s a hallowed and rich church tradition – forty days of choosing to walk a solemn road, choosing to sacrifice, choosing to be exposed in our weakness. When Lent began this year, I had a thought that I should give up sugar. I fought it. I ignored it.
But three days into the Lenten journey, the Holy Spirit showed me with such utter conviction that this thought was God’s thought for me. The past several weeks have been astounding. I have realized that food (and specifically sugar) has a strong hold on my heart. I have also realized how much my sugar addiction has been hurting this temple that Christ dwells in. Since stopping sugar, and without changing a single other thing, I have lost almost 10 lbs.

The first few weeks weren’t that difficult. My body rather quickly adjusted to all the foods I love sans sugar. Coffee being one of the most paramount. I had the fleeting thought that I might get through Lent without much of a challenge.
Did I say fleeting?

The last week I have found myself utterly craving. I want sugar so bad I find myself pacing in front of the pantry, or opening the fridge several times – looking for the thing I so desperately want. Over and over again I am reminded of my weakness – of the sinful man being put to death daily. I am sent running back to the cross of Christ, back to the arms of a Savior who understands me and has compassion on me.

More than a simple craving for sugar, however, I have been surprised to find myself craving worldliness…sin. Almost a year ago I came out of a very dark place. My escape in those darkest months was found in reading – voracious, all-consuming reading. There wasn’t a moment of the day that you couldn’t find me without a Kindle in hand. I started out with what are (for me) “gateway drugs” – sweet Christian romance novels. Running out of those fairly quickly, I started reading non-Christian, but still (fairly) clean romance novels. But over time that slippery slope led me into erotica. I devoured hundreds of these books. I am so grateful that God rescued me.

But recently? The cravings to escape into easy, cheap words has been strong.
I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because I am feeling the stress of the changes happening in my little world. I think at least a part of it is spiritual backlash from writing this blog.
I hear that siren song often throughout my day, but especially right as the children go down for their afternoon naps. Alone in the house – it would take 10 minutes to download a library book onto my Kindle. My husband would never have to know. I would only read one. I could stop whenever I wanted to. Besides, I deserve a break.

And then, I look over at my dining table, and I see this –

Picture credit

I see a daily reminder of the sacrifice Christ made – of the cross He has called me to bear along with Him.

And so I take dirty dishes to the sink and begin to wash. I sit and compose a card to a dear friend far away. I began to busy myself with the work of following Christ – by serving my family, loving those He sends my way. I fight sin with work – I fight it with busy hands and a busy heart. I fight it with prayer – prayer for you.

I am praying for you today, ladies. I have started a journal filled with the names of all the women that have written on this blog – and I plan on letting you know when God brings you to mind. I plan on sending out a message to you via Twitter when I pray (and I promise I will never give away your name, I will only use the alias you have written under). Feel free to follow me if you would like.

And please keep me in prayer also. Some days the fight is very hard. I cannot tell you how much I rely on the prayers of the Body of Christ.

What about you? What sings a siren song to you? How do you fight the good fight?

Kept in Him,
Annabel