Next week my husband, Matt, and I will celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary!
Twenty years ago today, I stressed about guest lists, party favors, table decor, and writing my vows. But I was so excited to marry the love of my life!
Thankfully, Matt and I had our life after the wedding all figured out.
After our two-week honeymoon in paradise, we would settle into our first apartment and start our perfect life together. I would finish my undergraduate program, while he continued to work for the company he would surely retire from. We would travel and enjoy being “just the two of us” for a few years, then we would start our family - Two children. A son and a daughter, two years apart. Perhaps we would adopt after that?
Everyone (including the pastor that did our premarital counseling) told us how hard marriage would be. I honestly felt sorry for them. Obviously, they didn’t love their spouse as much as Matt and I loved each other. Things wouldn’t be hard for us! We had love and a plan. What could go wrong?
Life. Life went wrong.
Of course, God was not surprised by any of it. But the problem was that I had made up my mind that a beautiful life had to look a certain way.
The one thing that has remained the same as my wedding day “dream life” is that I still very much love Matt and wouldn’t choose to do life with anyone else. He is my best friend and the most supportive partner in all I do.
But pretty much all of our well-thought-out timelines fell apart. As much as I tried to adjust the plan, waves of hard circumstances slammed down on us, knocking our dream life farther and farther away. It seemed like we would barely catch our breath and another wave would hit.
Our life has not gone as planned. Can you relate?
It turns out marriage is hard even with extraordinary love.
Matt enjoys his job, but there were years of uncertainty after he lost the position he held 20 years ago.
We are blessed with two children - one living son, and a daughter who resides in heaven. They are 6 years apart.
We spent years on an adoption waiting list, and only have a file full of papers to show for it.
I spent about half of our marriage trying to force my dream life to work. Then slowly, I began to ask God to bring contentment to the life he gave me.
There is so much beauty in the life I am living. I am truly grateful.
But a heart of gratitude didn’t fix everything.
I cried out to God. “You have brought me a level of contentment I didn’t know was possible. You have filled my heart with gratitude. So why does this still hurt?”
Finally, God showed me something surprising… I was grieving.
Of course, I was grieving the loss of our daughter, but I was also grieving the loss of the life I dreamed of. It didn’t mean I was ungrateful. Just like grieving the loss of my daughter didn’t mean I wasn’t grateful for my living son.
I had to grieve the death of the dreams I had held tight to for most of my life.
My heavenly father was gentle with my heart as I worked to give myself grace and space to grieve.
Grace was necessary because a grieving brain doesn’t function like a non-grieving brain. And I wasn’t always going to FEEL the way I wanted to feel.
And space was necessary because grief (at least for me) requires margin. I can’t pack my calendar and expect to have the energy to do it all. I need time to process and rest.
Once I permitted myself to grieve along with the grace and space to do so, I felt lighter somehow. Grieving is hard work, don’t get me wrong. But when I recognized that I had experienced a loss, it felt validating. It made sense.
I know I am not alone in this struggle. I don’t pretend to have the hardest life circumstances. My intention is not to compare, but just to be transparent.
Most of us have dreams and plans for our lives. This is part of who we are designed to be. After all, God created us for the garden. So, our hearts will forever yearn for life in that kind of beauty.
But what do we do when our dreams and plans are derailed?
Maybe we need to take time to grieve. Recognize the weight of the loss.
I am no longer naïve enough to believe that the rest of my life will go according to my plans. However, God has taught me to hold on to my plans loosely.
God is in control. When I submit to his will and his plans, I acknowledge that no circumstance is outside of his sovereignty. This doesn’t mean the disappointments of life on this side of heaven don’t hurt. But submitting to God’s plan does mean I can take refuge in him when life hits hard. I know that my Heavenly Father will comfort me when I grieve the losses of this life. I know that he will surely bring redemption, even when life doesn’t go as planned.