Five Years Sailing These Seas

Danny Silk once said something in one of his teachings about how storms, not calm seas, are where we really learn to sail a ship. I later discovered that the idea came from an old English proverb:

“A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” – English Proverb.

Regardless of its origins, though, the idea of embracing storms because they force us to learn to navigate deep waters encouraged me at the time (and still does), particularly because the seas of our marriage have been anything but calm.

Yesterday Derek and I celebrated five years of marriage. As I reflect on these five years of sharing home (five different homes, in fact) and life, I feel a deep sense of appreciation for the storms we have encountered (hard though they have been) because of what they have taught us about communication and forgiveness, about addressing our past wounds and walking in more wholeness, about loving unconditionally and giving vulnerably, and about trusting the Lord in every season and process.

Out of that reflection, I wrote this poem for Derek and gave it to him for our anniversary:

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Stormy Seas and Skillful Sailors

To the one who has sailed stormy seas
with me.

We embarked in a burst of champagne
and the resounding cheers of well-wishers,
glided out of safe harbor
and into roiling waters.

We felt the deck roll beneath our feet,
lost our balance,
fell flat on our faces,
our breath knocked out by the gale,
the salt of these seas on our tongues,
our first taste of open waters.
We wondered if we would ever rest
on solid ground again.

But in the churning and tossing
we learned the rhythm of these waves,
tuned our ears to every creak of this ship,
unfurled our sails to harness these tempests.
Our hands learned to grasp at solid wood
or a swinging rope
each time the ship threatened to fling us down.

And we came to trust our Captain
the One who steers this ship
and calms the seas.

Now, side by side,
we gaze boldly into the sunrise,
fiery hope spreading
rosy and golden on the horizon,
Heaven above reflected
in smooth seas below.

And we are not afraid
of the storms yet to come
for we are learning to sail this ship.

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First Anniversary Weekend

I know I’m a couple weeks late, but I finally downloaded the pictures from our anniversary and wanted to share them (and I, um, may or may not be avoiding working on lesson plans).

The weekend started out a little stormy, but we ended up planning a last minute camping trip to Lake of the Ozarks, just for one night (that was originally Derek’s plan, but he hadn’t been able to work out the details). Thanks to the generosity of our housemate Maria in loaning us her car, we were able to do it. As much as I love Kansas City, it was refreshing to get out of the city for even a short trip and nice to spend time with just Derek.

It was about a three hour drive, full of open fields and beautiful skies.

We stayed in a little camping cabin (no kitchen, with a communal bathroom next door)

After we checked in, we went hiking at one the state parks along the lake.

The path we took went up to a cliff top overlooking the lake. As we sat there for a while, a few turkey vultures swooped in front of us, close enough that we could hear the wind in their wings. It was incredible.

Later, the path wound by an old homestead site. All that’s left now are several clusters of yucca plants and a row of old tombstones from the early 1800’s (I happen to think old cemeteries are fascinating, so I was excited).

That night we cooked dinner over the campfire….

….And then made coffee over the campfire the next morning, before trekking back to Kansas City.

All in all, it was a beautiful, restful (though short) weekend celebrating our first year together.

August 22

Yesterday was our one year anniversary. One year ago, Derek and I stood before our families and friends, made a solemn covenant before God, and were joined as husband and wife. That day I vowed:

I, Rebecca, take you, Derek, to be my husband. I promise to be faithful to you always, in sickness and in health, in poverty or wealth, in my thoughts, in my words, and in my deeds. I will be your dearest friend, your lover, and the mother of your children.

I am humbled that you love me enough to share the rest of your life with me and I am honored to take your name as my own. I promise to respect and honor you as the head of our household and the father of our children.

I promise to be your ezer, your strong helper and partner in the kingdom of God. I will pray for you and encourage you in your walk with God. I will show you grace. I will rejoice when you rejoice and weep when you weep. Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you make your home will be my home, too. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Every day I will choose to love you and remain faithful to you. I will strive to be a blessing to you.

From now on we will share our joys and sorrows, our struggles and hopes. We will trust God to meet our needs in every situation. Together we will live as joint heirs to His gift of life and bear the image of God’s love to the world.

I know these are lofty promises and that at times I will fail to live them out as I should. I ask for your grace and patience in those times as I look to God to transform me in His love and teach me how to love and serve you better.

I love you so much and I am excited to share the rest of my life with you. I know God has amazing plans for our future.

So joyfully today, with these vows, I commit myself to you.

And so started one of the most intensely personal years of my life so far, both for us as a couple as we learned to grow together and for me as an individual.

It was a challenging year. When people would ask us (as many people did), “How’s married life?” I felt like they expected us to answer something like, “Great! Fantastic! Wonderful! The best time of our life!” But in reality, married life was hard. I remember one evening, though, when I was sharing some of my struggles with my small group at church. Linda piped up and said, “Didn’t anyone tell you how hard the first year is?” That made me feel better, more normal.

I didn’t struggle with navigating the day-to-day details of living with Derek, like I expected, the dirty socks on the floor, empty toilet paper rolls in the bathroom, or learning what he liked to eat. Instead, the hard part was meshing our lives together, taking two lives and joining them together into one family. We wrestled through what we believe (and don’t believe) about the roles of husband and wife, about authority and submission, and struggled through the question of what church we should commit to (an issue we strongly disagreed on for five months at the beginning of our marriage). We had to work through fear and hurt and rebuild trust. We plowed through multiple job transitions and three moves together, one that took us half-way across the country and over seven hundred miles away from friends and family.

And in that year, I spent more time focused on one person, one relationship, than ever before in my life. When we first got married, we had planned to continue on as part of the Lewis House community (where I lived for the year before we got married), but as we stepped into marriage together, we felt the need to step back for a while to seek God on more specific vision for us as a couple. We wanted to refocus before we jumped back into ministry together. We knew we needed to build our identity as a couple and learn to discern God’s will together (which is quite different than discerning God’s will for ourselves as individuals, we discovered). So though we still longed for community and deep friendships and still maintained ties with several communities, the bulk of our time was spent with just the two of us.

As we waited on the Lord for vision as a couple, I felt called to wait on job searching as well. Busyness had been my default mode for years. I tend to fill my time with doing to feel significant and so much of my sense of self-worth was wrapped up in what I did, particularly “ministry.” I felt like God wanted to break that mindset in this season. And He did, but it wasn’t an easy break. Take away all my doing – my job, my “ministry,” my position – and I felt devoid of worth. In that first month especially, I struggled daily to fight off the lies that I was lazy, worthless, purposeless, a bad wife, a bad Christian a bad everything. Derek would come home from a full day of work and I would cry on his shoulder: “All I’ve done today is clean and read!” It became a crash course in learning to rest on the grace and goodness of God and understand my position in Him that can’t be earned.

Those first seven months of marriage felt particularly brutal, as everything I cared about, every dream in my heart, everything I am as a wife, a woman, a follower of Christ, a friend, seemed attacked and beaten down. Even beyond the outer circumstances and people involved, it was an intense spiritual battle for our hearts and for everything God has planned for us.

But then, like spring after the harshness of winter, with gentle breezes and fresh growth replacing harsh winds and bitter cold, this season in Kansas City has come as a time of healing and refreshing and growth. It’s been the best thing for our marriage. As we’ve started over in a new city, a new community, we’ve clung together and begun learning to rely on God and each other as we walk in unity. We’ve talked over and over about our hopes and dreams and where we’re headed.

And for me, I feel like these last five months in Kansas City has been a time of reawakening a lot of things in my life, a time of letting God gently pick me up and coax the sprouts back to life in my heart. Even just over the summer, with all its cooking and gardening, reading and writing, quiet and reflection, somehow I feel more rooted grounded in God’s love for me. He’s been weaving together the threads of my character and giftings, solidifying my sense of who I am and why I am that way, revealing ways that I reflect His heart, and simply showering His affections on me. I feel more confident and comfortable with myself than I ever have before.

Yes, this first year has been hard. But it’s also been good. It’s been good in the growth and intimacy that it has produced in us and in our marriage. And it’s been good in the simple, beautiful little details of sharing life together: not having to say goodbye and part ways each night, coffee together in the mornings, being home – in our home – to greet Derek after work, talking in those quiet moments where it’s just us, exploring the city together, coming home to hear the sound of Derek playing guitar and worshipping, and so much more.

I’m grateful for this first year together, the good and the bad, and look forward to many more to come!

“Marriage was designed by God to grow you, not necessarily to make you happy and content. However, this growth can provide a great deal of happiness and contentment as you become the person the Lord designed you to be.”
-Tom and Beverly Rodgers

(P.S. All pictures are courtesy of Lisa Cleland)