O my goodness, ladies. I am SO EXCITED to finally be sharing a story with you that has touched my heart so much. Please welcome Joan, a higher-drive wife and amazing woman who has been married for over 35 years. As she so eloquently states, she is “spice” and her husband is “love”. She is bravely and faithfully sharing her story, and in doing so she is truly embracing the Godly model for older women found in Titus 2. Her story brought me to tears and gave me hope and strength for my own journey. I pray it will do so for you, too.
This story is told in two parts. So go ahead and get caught up on Joan’s early years of marriage, her journey through children, menopause and cancer here.
Phase 4- Aging and Finally “Getting It”
With health, gratefulness, menopause, and cancer treatment behind me I now had to deal with a new foe- aging. It was a monster of monumental menace. Hubby didn’t get it, for in a sense he had been dealing with this for years. He was only 5 years older than me, but due to his health struggles, felt old before 60. I was approaching that magical number, and was not at all amenable to the reality. However, in another sense, life was better. I had learned not feel rejected anymore. Had gratefulness worked this? Well, what gratefulness began had been taken over by numbness. I liked not hurting. I liked not ever thinking about sex — at all. If he wanted it that was fine. I just did whatever I needed to in order to be as pleasant as possible, meet his needs, and belie my detachment. The home was pleasant. I never wondered if my refusal to accept aging could be connected to the sexual blahs. Instead of thinking about how I wanted to make love to my husband as I used to, I would now spend hours hating growing old. What to do about these wrinkles? What to do about osteopenia? How could the mirror be so mean? Is this really happening to me?? So did my gratefulness have a shelf life? Where was it now?
So I would get out my many books on the sex topic; but even while reading them a nagging conviction would always be on my shoulder. At his core he likes you better detached. Look how pleasant your home is! There is something unattractive about wanting him. This tape of self-protection played in my head often. So, it was obvious I didn’t miss emotional closeness enough to risk being turned down again. Another troubling pattern invaded the bedroom during this time. When I would least expect it, there were those pesky “sneaky” tears. Yes, all he needed to do was touch me tenderly in bed and they would start out of the blue, causing us both much annoyance. In my late 50’s sex was often interrupted this way. Getting the mood back was a tough proposition, and sometimes impossible.
The information gleaned from the books then began to take shape in my mind. Sexuality is intermingled with a person’s sense of identity. If we believe we are unlovely, unworthy, or unacceptable to ourselves, we will not feel sexual freedom toward our mate. Acceptance of self is inextricably attached to proper sexual function. So there was reason for my numbness and dysfunction in light of the aging issue. (I think this numbness is very common among women who struggle against aging.) Still, with raising a family behind me, I vaguely hoped that one day, even with all my wrinkles, I would fall madly in love with hubby again… and we would be off and running around the world in our sneakers. As for his part, he grew in sacrificial love for me every day. Telling me he saw me as the same girl he married over 30 years ago didn’t seem to fix me.
But God started to show me through prayer that all the things I feared before the post-cancer changes were happening anyway. Though sex was happening, and it was okay sex, heartwarming romance was elusive, scrapping and nitpicking too easy. Life was slipping away at lightning speed, and peace without purpose wasn’t that great. Had I traded real living with all its delight (though risk of pain) for safety in loneliness? Was the problem really sex? Or was my refusal to be vulnerable the problem– costing more than I could afford to pay?
To be willing, even willing to be willing, to move ahead in forgiving fully, was even more terrifying than embarking on general gratefulness. To open myself up was not going to be easy. It seemed God was giving me the C.S. Lewis’ Dawntreader Eustice treatment. The child was in the dragon’s body, but since selfishness had deformed him, God had to peel the dragon away, painful layer by painful layer, to reveal the boy again. So after our nest emptied, the two perimenopause babies gone, I swallowed hard and made a decision. I decided to embrace inevitable pain for the joy made possible by vulnerability.
Then I discovered something unexpected and disturbing. My libido couldn’t be easily called back. No snapping of the fingers and I would want him again. I could still function sexually. But cutting off vulnerability had created a worse monster than I would have ever guessed. Thirty years ago who would have thought that when my husband poured out his love for me creatively, sweetly, waxing warm and engaging sexually, my heart would be stuck, like stone, continuing cold, unforgiveness having bored a deep groove in my heart? Unthinkable. I had the man I wanted at long last. Now, a battle for my soul raged. Though I knew through salvation I belonged to the Father, there was something vitally important that needed to be fixed. Or we were in big trouble. But, amazingly, “The Fight” was no longer with hubby on any level! It was now completely my own fight. This was a huge step in the right direction.
So it really wasn’t about the sex — that it was supposed to be better- for me or for him. That I was supposed to be happy with less. Or him be happy with more. It was that God required my heart to be soft. And that my soft heart was most obviously revealed by my openness to all the fullness of sex with my husband. Nothing less would do. Relinquishing the frequency of sex into God’s hands would be part of this process. With this tall order, my life began to be a daily quest.
How does one change- or rediscover- one’s emotions? The scripture showed me in Romans 12:1-2. And in Romans 5,6, and 7– that I had to change my thinking. I had to go through a similar process I did after cancer, only with the focus on going further this time. The focus of going on to marital Joy. God is in the business of changing emotions. It just isn’t a quick thing. It takes our hard work, but it is ultimately God’s work. Forgiveness does have to make sense if we are going to do it. Though not in our emotions, in our minds- regarding our own issues. Risking pain has to make sense, though not in my emotions. No one likes emotional pain or even the thought of it. But the risk has to make sense in my mind, regarding my issues. And only God can do that work. When forgiveness is fully real, I will be fully vulnerable. And when I am fully vulnerable I will be experiencing sex as it is meant to be.
Slowly, slowly, I am digging myself out of the hole of selfishness and unforgiveness. My relationship with my husband is being transformed into a thing of beauty if I will only stay the course. God is “building my house”.
I hope & pray that you ladies have all enjoyed Joan’s story as much as I have. I pray today that it speaks into your heart, and that the Lord uses it to reveal to all of us where we are walking in deception, unkindness, self-centerdness, or unloving ways. May His grace abound to each one of our lives. May we each be able to say that God is building our house.