Thursday, August 16, 2012

Instagram goggles.

Just more than five years ago, on a Sunday afternoon in July, I pulled into the parking lot of a small chapel in Fort Worth, Texas, only a few hours away from walking down the aisle toward the boy who asked me to be his. I was nervous, but not really about getting married. I've never been one to fuss over how I look or enjoy the spotlight. At all. I was shaking at the idea that everyone would be looking at ME. *Cringe*

In the moments leading up to my anxiety-provoked speed-walk down the aisle, I was surrounded by my closest friends, my parents, and perhaps most prominently, flop sweat. We laughed nervously (mostly me, actually), looked at the clock on the wall a thousand times, and prayed together for a beautiful marriage.

Clawing at dad's arm, the doors opened wide, and we marched. I finally looked up into my almost-husband's face. It was red and spotted and wet. I took that to mean he was happy to see me.

Our mentors stood next to and in front of us - one, my beautiful matron-of-honor; the other, holding a worn Bible and sealing our marriage with the power of God and the state of Texas. Our closest friends surrounded us at the front of the church. They have witnessed not only our vow-making, but our marriage-making as well. They still stand with us today, even if from afar.

As we climbed to the altar, a summer storm rolled in outside. We looked at each other and promised our lives, and thunder rolled.

Our whole family joined us, put their hands on us and each other, and we prayed right there in the ceremony. We believe a marriage is about the two, but also about those who will walk with them and support them through what may come. In their own ways, our families made vows that day as well - vows to love us and kick us in the pants when things got hard and we wanted to quit.

After we said “I do,” we pranced back down the aisle to a twangy country song. The reality of what had just happened wouldn't set in for a while.

For the next two hours, we ate cake, laughed, hugged 125 people, and danced with good friends. The rain stopped, and we ran through a cloud of bubbles to a waiting car. We said our goodbyes and headed to the airport to jet off on our honeymoon and the rest of our lives.

THE END. Cue the credits.

Ha. As if. That was literally only the beginning.

But no one really talks about what happens next.

I've shown the world (and by world, I mean the few people that have been interested enough to read my blog or Facebook posts) snippets about what our world looks like after that day. Some people get more intimate views, whether they want it or not, but most see only the version I choose to share. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, and in fact, I think it's wise to not broadcast your soul in most cases. The first reason being that most people would not be interested in the contents of my soul. The second being that the word intimate exists for a reason. I don't think everyone needs to know everyone personally. That would be exhausting.

On several occasions, though, women I don't see often/ever have made comments online about how interesting and fun and romantic my life must be. After I'm done wheeze-laughing over my keyboard, it gets me thinking... If someone only knows the parts that I choose to share, their perspective on my world would probably be a lot rosier than real.

With the boom of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like, our lives are neatly assembled for our peers as a series of snapshots. When you think of the moments you want to capture and share, it's almost always the moments of happiness, humor, adventure and simplicity.

I’ve had all of those things, but for those who may be struggling in their marriages today, I don't want to perpetuate a perception that my marriage and life (or anyone else's) is all of those things all of the time or even most of the time. The reason I feel the need to say this is because there have been many times over the past five years that I've looked at someone else's snapshots and wished my life looked more like theirs: easier, more carefree, lighter.

But here's the real deal.

If you could see past the happy pictures of the person or couple you sometimes envy, I'm confident you would also find loneliness, grief and hopelessness. No one is alone in feeling those things. Reality is so different than perception, and I worry that others will do what I do and assume that witty posts and Instagram-filtered moments are the whole story.

It would take days of writing for me to take you play-by-play through these past five years. Don't worry, I'll spare you. It hasn't been all bliss and magic like I'd hoped at 20 years old, standing at the altar in a pretty white dress. While we have had a great deal of fun and love, we have struggled immensely and trudged through plenty of fights, illness, loss and stress, to name a few. We have loved each other more than any other person, but we have also caused more hurt and pain than any other. I have on several occasions sat across from my husband, our vows feeling like decades in the past, wondering if this is all worth it. If the pain is worth the promise we made. There have been many times when my answer has been "no," and I didn't think I could do it for one more day.

No one tweets that moment.

We've just reached a milestone (five years!) that many don't, and I want to say something to those who feel like they can't: Keep fighting. You're stronger than you think. This is not about self-praise for what we've accomplished, or condemnation for those who didn't make it, and certainly not judgement for anyone who got out of an abusive situation. This is simply an attempt to say something I wish I'd heard in the thick of struggle. (And I'm half saying this to my future self who will no doubt be where you are at some point again.) While I have often felt like it's not worth the pain, my promise has to be bigger than that. Our marriage is not perfect five years later - not even close - and we still have a lot of years of work and love ahead of us, I hope. We have NOT arrived. But this battle we fight, to love each other and commit to selflessness and sacrifice, is making us better individually and as a couple. In my opinion, that’s what marriage and life is about.

I worry that our Nicholas-Sparks-love-story generation is growing up and getting married with the idea that a marriage is designed to produce pure happiness, romance and pleasure. I think a good marriage will have those things. But that's not the whole story. Romance is wonderful, and Mr. Sparks has fanned my heart's desire for a life of being continuously swept off my feet by suspender-wearing Ryan Gosling himself (I'm actually not supposed to talk about Ryan anymore. Sorry babe!). But marriage is also messy and painful. It’s about refining a person and teaching them to love freely, sacrificially, and sometimes without reciprocity (see also: my crush on Ryan Gosling), as we have been loved by Christ. Painful, but beautiful when you think about it, isn’t it? To choose - and it is a choice - to give of yourself for the good of another regardless of their ability to repay you?

If I focus on how I contribute to the success or failure of my life and my marriage and commit to working on my own issues, my husband's shortcomings don't matter so much. I married a good man and I love him, but bless his heart, he's nowhere near perfect. And I'm not either.

You don't seem surprised. I guess that's ok.

When I see myself as a person desperately needing grace from God and my husband for the myriad ways I assault Him (God) and him (my husband) with my selfishness, apathy, vanity, impatience, judgement, laziness, betrayal, greed, anger....

Ahem... what were we doing again?

When you see your own junk clearly and realize your need for the extravagant grace of others, including your husband, grace flows more freely outward. It will probably mean more work and pain for now, but I promise it will be worth it to keep fighting and trying to see your spouse as someone needing grace as well. Just. Like. You. Puts it into perspective.

We've fought hard for the happy moments you see. And the fight makes the joy sweeter.

This may happen a lot less than I would like to think, but if anyone has ever looked at snapshots of my life or marriage and thought it looked like bliss, I want to squelch that comparison poison (that's exactly what it is) right now.

Please hear me: those beautiful moments and smiles are real, and I cherish them. My hope is only that you'd know the smiles aren't the whole story - we struggle, too. You are NOT alone in that. But if your struggle is overwhelming now, please know and trust me that there is hope in that, too. We have been there and still go there often. But the times we spend battling are not wasted moments. Those are the moments I believe we can and will make it; because I know we were both willing to fight.

So... Is everyone following me on Twitter?!

9 comments:

  1. Don't you wish someone would've explained all this before so we wouldn't have had to learn the hard way?? Lol!! I wonder if I would've listened if they had told me....keep up the fight you two...it is worth it huh??

    -kaylee

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    1. It is! Congrats on your 4 years, Mrs. Liniewicz! (That took me entirely too long to type. We both get extra points for marrying men with difficult last names.)

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  2. Thanks for sharing Michelle. Congratulations to you and Robert! So when will your Memoir be written and published again? :)

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    1. Thank you! You can expect to see my memoir in the fall of 20never. :)

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  3. The contents of your soul have taught me much about life and I cannot imagine my soul without you being an intimate part of it. Teach on Mrs. D… we are listening. ♥

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  4. Happy to know you and rob are discovering such powerful stuff. I believe you have perfectly described the attitude to strive for with Gods help. Dad

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  5. Michelle! I'm one of those women who hasn't spoken to you in a few years, but I want to say congrats on your 5 years, vow renewal, and as someone getting married next year, do you mind if I borrow a line from this blog (credit you) That I thought so beautiful: "We believe a marriage is about the two, but also about those who will walk with them and support them through what may come." --Amber

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    1. Great to hear from you, Amber! I saw on Facebook that you got engaged. CONGRATS!! You can absolutely use whatever you want from the blog. I'm happy it meant something to you. :)

      M

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  6. Excellent post Michelle. We often are suprised that 1 Cor 7:28b really applies to us. You have wisdom that goes well beyone the 5 short years you have been married and I think you are guys are going to have a really great run.

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