The year of ashes and beauty + an Isaiah 61:3 Phone Screensaver



"Come and hear, all you who fear God, 
and I will tell what he has done for my soul." 
(Psalm 66:16 ESV)

Each year around my anniversary since I started blogging, I have written something here about our marriage and what God has been doing in our lives the past year. I almost skipped this year.

It's been the hardest year (our 11th) I can remember, but God is taking what seemed to be crumbling in our hands and is creating something so very good.

I'll tell you a little about "what God has done for my soul" in hopes it will encourage you.

He has given us
"a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, 
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, 
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; 
that they may be called oaks of righteousness, 
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. 
They shall build up the ancient ruins; 
they shall raise up the former devastations; 
they shall repair the ruined cities, 
the devastations of many generations." 
(Isaiah 61:3-4 ESV)

You see, last October, we broke down, he and I.

I with
+ my anxiety
+ fatigue and overwhelm with parenting and homeschool
+ my idols of who he should be to me
+ his own blend of weaknesses and pain points

A gap opened between us that we didn't know how to cross.

Fear and sadness spiraled into panic. The one person I wanted to be closest to in the world felt out of reach.

And as hard as I spun mental webs around the problem, I couldn't fix it.

We were caught in a nasty, crazy-making cycle familiar to many couples:

A woman expresses her need for connection, affection, attention, romance. The disconnect she feels makes her anxious, so she protests. Her anxiety sounds like criticism. Her man hears, "You're not enough. Despite all your faithfulness and your hard work, you're not enough for me." 

His raw spot gets rubbed. He's trying, but he can't measure up. He withdraws, fights back, criticizes, or sinks into a depression to protect himself and the marriage that feels so fragile.

This to her is rejection and screams, "You're not important." She feels even more alone now that her cry for connection has backfired, more desperate and anxious.

So they try not to need each other, even though their isolation is oppressive. They try to stuff their emotions, but emotions just don't play that way. Emotions are like a three-year-old awake at 6:00 on a Saturday morning. You can ignore him, but eventually he'll jump on your face, ask for a bowl of cereal for the 13th time (or even worse attempt to pour himself a bowl), or call from the potty to be wiped. He must be dealt with or you'll have a mess to clean up.

Emotions are like that.

Brokenness spins the couple into a dizzying cycle of distrust. They are loving as themselves, not as God.

Jackie Hill Perry, in her new book Gay Girl, Good God,** recounts a poem her now-husband Preston wrote as he was pursuing her heart (while she was still wrestling with same-sex attraction). Preston recounts how God told him, "I'm calling you to love her not like you but like Me."

My husband and I were stuck in loving each other the best way we knew how. God was calling us to love like Him. 

I count us blessed and privileged, because we got help. We saw multiple counselors, as individuals and as a couple. We didn't hide our weaknesses, because the Gospel told us that our sins were already outed at the cross, and that our weaknesses could bring Him glory. We were surrounded by a supportive church who walked with us, praying for us faithfully.

For a season, we've stepped away from every church ministry we were involved in so we could focus on restoration and healing.

Funny thing about a season--you're not sure that it actually is just a season when you're in the middle of it. Who can tell you that it will get better? And will you believe them?
"I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:13-14 ESV)
The "land of the living" can feel far away in seasons like these, like watching from the outside all the happy, functioning people living their happy lives, while you are only half-living. Surviving.

Slowly, I have begun to see streams in the wasteland.
"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." (Isaiah 43:19 ESV)
I'm beginning to see that God wanted more for me than just a "good" marriage. He wanted a whole me. A whole me free of my sins and idols. A whole me who knew how to bring body, soul, and Spirit under his reign.
"Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God." (2Cor. 7:1 ESV)
God wanted to make me a woman of strength and dignity. 

God wanted to fill me with His Spirit in the ample spaces carved out by suffering and brokenness.

God wanted to heal my deepest hurts and rework the well-trodden paths of my heart. 

God wanted me to make me a better comforter.

God was doing something new that I didn't ask for, but that I desperately needed.

Our progress today is not linear. Marriage counseling is sometimes frustrating and discouraging. But we are beginning to see new ways of responding to each other. We're walking new paths, even though they are yet overgrown and unfamiliar.

I'm still learning to deal with my anxiety and to calmly and compassionately question where it's coming from.

God has been faithful:
"Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them." (Hos 11:3-4 ESV)
He is not done yet, with us, with me, with you.

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*I'm so happy for you to enjoy my coloring pages and printables for your personal (not commercial) use! Use for Bible studies, church groups or events, and Sunday school classes are all fine! If you're in doubt, I'm happy to answer any questions. All artwork and photos are copyright Marydean Draws. If you share this, you're awesome (!), and as a courtesy,  please link back to this post and not the PDF file. Thank you!!

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4 comments

  1. Your struggles (beautifully written here) sound a lot like ours. Except my husband isn't a Christian and refuses counseling for himself (we did couples counseling several times throughout the first 13 years of our nearly 21-year marriage).

    At times I have been lower than I thought possible. And I know those times will come again. I'm not expecting God to wave His hand and my marriage be magically transformed. I'm not expecting it to change at all, except in what I do in it and how I accept it. He will change me; IS changing me.

    That is my goal. To remain curled in my Father's lap, not just hearing His whispers of daughterhood and bride-hood, but to finally be able to say, "No matter what it looks like down here, Jesus is enough." And believe it soul deep. I'm not there yet. Honestly, I'm not sure it's possible for me this side of Heaven (I’m VERY needy! ☺), but I know I can learn to be content in Him more and more until the day He holds my face in His hands and says, "Lori, you were always worth the effort to me. You were never too hard to love. You are no longer alone. I choose you."

    Thanks for sharing your heart. I share mine at growingupjesusgirl.blog if you ever want to stop by. Blessings on you, your blog and your marriage,
    Lori

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    Replies
    1. Lori, thank you so much for relating and sharing a little of your own story. It means so much to hear we're not alone in our struggles. I keep thinking about how God says to you, "you were always worth the effort to me. You were never too hard to love. You are no longer alone. I choose you." I will hang on to that truth about how God feels about me. Blessings on your blog + marriage as well!

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  2. This blog touched my heart. Lori, I identify. Walking this road is hard. But I have kept my eyes on the Lord.

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