We met when I was 24–and we got married at 25. I had just returned from missionary work overseas for a year–and was certain I was returning indefinitely so the last thing I was looking for during my brief year or two of teaching years in Atlanta was a beau. In fact–he really shook up my plans after his persistency won my heart, and unlike most couples dating we started our courtship off with counseling. Sure of my calling to the nations–my heart now felt it needed to be talked out of love and marriage or guilt free that it was okay to stay for this amazing man God had brought into my life. I was one confused cookie as China was all my heart could think about yet Richard didn’t feel called to go to China–but leaving him forever for China–I wasn’t able to swallow that idea either. Ultimately-when the doors to that church opened, I left China at the cross and trusted God to bring us to China together if it be His will. We started our marriage knowing our sacrifices, dreams that might be lived out differently than what we had imagined and even with a lot of loss as his father passed away just days after he placed an engagement ring on my finger. They say hardship will either make or break you–and we went in feeling like we were blessed…and with so much to walk through together early–it was making us closer and stronger just starting out. Our first Christmas card…
Fast forward 10 years–we did China together. Not as I might have dreamed 10 years earlier. Ten years later, he and I were on a plane for the first time together to China, and we spent our 10th anniversary together there as we were adopting our 5th child. It didn’t even dawn on us the magnitude of that and how God answers the desires of our hearts in amazing ways until we were packing and reminiscing of our engagement and wedding 10 years earlier. Sweet! Our 10th anniversary would be spent helping our 2 year old who had never known family adjust and learn what family is. There was no better way I could imagine spending our 10th anniversary. Very sweet. BUT–helping a toddler adjust to family after 2 years in an orphanage–not easy either. Not easy for him–or the other kids–or our marriage either.
Big real fears–we were scary strangers to him! So those first days, weeks and months are spent tirelessly building trust at all hours of the day…and very often through the night. Honey (whispering)…we made it. Today was a good day. Isn’t he perfect? Did you see his face when I came around the corner earlier tonight and…honey? Honey? Night love…
Growing no matter how you grow can be exhausting. Beautiful–but even good stress and all the heavy, long anticipated moments and good emotions can be exhausting on a trip like this one! We had decided to just take our oldest 2 with us–and leave the younger 2 home with family because the younger 2 were still nappers–and jet lag + nappers never mix well. PLUS we knew our little guy had been diagnosed with epilepsy and we had no idea what to expect. The older two understood this, while the younger two would have been really confused at first.
Marriage wise–we had already been through a lot together. Losing Richard’s father our first year together. Walking through that in the years to follow. Growing quickly after marriage…the double older duo was back-to-back blessings–good surprises coming the summer after we got married and Laney, our second, was just 14 months after our first was born. Three years gap the younger 2 who are just 8 months apart. No–we didn’t do that on our own:). Our 4th was also brought to us through adoption–and there was a time when some how we managed 4 littles under 5. It was a time of full hands and full hearts…
For many couples, having children is an incredible bond–something you share so much joy in together. For us in those first years, it was very much that. With the margin we had in our lives after our first two children, we prayed about children who didn’t have families and a fruit of that was our helping start a 501-c3 in Zambia/Africa called Wiphan Care Ministries that provides uniforms, meals and an education to orphans and support for widows. We felt done growing our family and excited to pour into this ministry–until I started holding and loving on these kids in Zambia and knowing them by name. The reality of orphans became very personal to me–and coming home…holding my own babies–our hearts began to long to desire to grow through adoption adding a 3rd to our bunch.
But in March 2008, while Richard was in Zambia on a trip to the schools there–I discovered we were pregnant and our 3rd child would join us in November. As we prayed about adopting “one day”–the Lord just stirred a greater desire–and we began the process of adopting our 4th child shortly after our baby was born. So–look at that crazy picture up there…our younger boys are just 8 months apart and I think we got more looks in public for having 4 children under age 5 instead of our being a transracial family.
In all honesty–for us–this is when things got hard…or more challenging to connect in our marriage. We had brought home a special needs child who required lots of trips to the doctor, lots of weekly physical therapy. At the same time we discovered our oldest had dyslexia so we had some new schooling options to consider. Regardless if there was a name on our newest son’s special need (which we had)–I now realize that any child brought home through adoption often requires a lot more (emotionally and often physically) than a child who hasn’t been through any change and/or trauma in his/her past. Sensory problems are present in almost every adopted child. Study what happens to neurotransmitters in the brain when a baby is separated from his/her biological mom, and it makes sense why these precious ones need so much more of our time, energy and hearts to heal–another post for another day!
Although not all adoptions are special needs from a labeling standpoint, when you understand what happens in the brain during separation you begin to see that every adopted child comes with special needs—and almost every adoption can bring similar stress to a family and marriage that a special need does. Now take into account that research shows that 80 percent of marriages with a special needs child ends in divorce, and I think you realize how extremely important it is for adoptive families to have their radar on when it comes to maintaining strong marriages through new and special needs that require so much of adoptive parents. Our children need more of us to learn what families are and to heal–and often more of us with other special needs (therapies, doctor visits, counseling sessions, etc) and we–the mommies and daddies–need to be doing everything we can to connect and fight for our marriages.
For so many years after bringing our 4th son home–we felt like we were fighting for him. Fighting to get through paperwork. Fighting to get the hoops all jumped through so we could travel. Fighting for the right diagnosis once we were home. Fighting to get him better. Fighting to make sure our other 3 children felt loved and our presence. This fighting for our children–ACTUALLY FELT LIKE IT DREW US TOGETHER. For a time.
We would cheer one another on. We would look out for one another’s fatigue. We would listen to one another lament and pat each other’s back. When you have a special needs child–small things feel like such victories…so when our son walked for the first time before he turned 2 years old–it felt like we were living the dream! God was healing our sweet boy and all those therapies were paying off! Can you HEAR the music that we must have heard in the background (a vague but audible Rocky theme song in the background)! BUT what we didn’t realize is that we were also like Rocky living in constant SURVIVAL MODE. We were so busy taking care of everyone else–often we failed to take care of US.
I want to do more than survive. I want more than an okay or even good marriage. I want to thrive and have a GREAT one.
The Lord took us through more in the next few years. An illness. Getting well. A miscarriage. Another adoption. A new appreciation for one another. After our miscarriage our hearts both longed to grow again as we had prepared in our hearts to grow again…but our hearts were broken–together…and some times this is bonding and good too. As we were praying over waiting children together–our hearts were both moved toward one little boy who would become our son–and just 9 months later there we were–on that flight…our 10th anniversary trip…with our 2 oldest children to bring him home.
Now–you might be reading this saying, “Woooooaaaa cowboy! Slow down! You have some work to do!” I have no doubt that the Lord had called us to grow again. BUT. I believe He was really calling us to ALSO slow down in our DAILY life to look at one another, to remember and to connect–for our marriage.
To just look at one another…
Going back to these three things has been life-giving and transforming for our marriage and family.
1. To just look at one another–and see the person we fell deeply in love with that not even a heart for a place as big as China could keep us apart. To look at one another, to admire, to watch as we used to watch each other–learn one another because we loved each other–and flirt…be silly…dance.
2. To remember…to remember what makes ME tick and for him to remember the things that make HIM tick…because it was the ticking that we also fell in love with! The things I love to do in my spare time (SPARE TIME? Um there was I time I think I had forgotten and I would have said–I just do diapers!) There were things about me that he loved–that had just disappeared and vice versa. I loved that he played and was good at golf when we met. But by the time our 5th child came home–golf was only a yearly thing he might do with his old golf buddies.
You see–one thing I have learned is this: It is important to remember and maintain your own passions and for your spouse to do the same. Sure–they may be less frequent, but our passions are what makes us who we are and are a part of why and how we fell in love with our spouses to begin with. There’s something about those passions that bring rest to our souls and makes us feel alive ready to love bigger at the same time. Progress always follows times of rest–because our hearts and physical bodies need that. We begin to operate on empty tanks when we don’t make time to remember our passions and take time for ourselves. People who operate on empty tanks operate on short fuses–leading to less grace and lack of patience in our relationships–not a good combination for any marriage.
3. To connect…to make time for one another just to connect. Finding a babysitter for 5 children is not an easy task. Finding a babysitter for 5 children some of who have special needs and big fears of new faces–seems near to impossible! Family is always a great solution, but often you might not have grandparents who are able to come help. You will have to fight for time to connect the more kids you have and the less help and support you have. You may have to actively seek out help in ways you aren’t comfortable–but trust the Lord to provide as you make an investment into your marriage and for one another. Trust Him as you seek someone to be a wonderful caregiver for your children so you can connect–because YOU TWO–this marriage–MATTERS more to your children and family than any other thing you can spend time or invest in.
Your “how did we get here moment”…
Ten years and 5 kids later (with some having a handful of unique needs)–we found ourselves sitting across from one another at the table smiling–and thankful (thankful we weren’t alone in this crazy and we both wanted this crazy we felt He had called us to)–but also deep down wondering what happened. What happened to us and to getting to just be together. We decided–although many might look into our marriage and think it was pretty cool (because really–it was)–we made the decision together…that our marriage was worth fighting for–like to be more than okay or getting by–but to be really great).
We would learn to look at each other…again. Maybe even deeper than ever before.
We would remember together who we were and invite some of those passions back into our lives and support one another in them…again. Maybe we would even discover new passions to support and encourage one another in.
We would make time to connect…again. No matter what it takes or how many sitters we would have to call or how creative we would have to be.
Because our marriage–is worth fighting for.
Yes–our sweet babies are worth fighting for through the therapies and different schooling decisions and on and on and on the list goes. As parents–that comes easier, and I feel like we have done that well. We will continue to fight for them–to walk through their stories…to listen to their hearts–to do the best job we can parenting them–but not at the expense of US–our own marriage. Because we need our marriage to be beautiful, but they ALSO need our marriage to be beautiful. They need to see parents that love one another and serve one another. They need to have a home filled with transparent, authentic love for one another to come back to…as long as we are here–to see what it means to be committed and to dance as we do it.
It’s worth it for them.
But even more–it’s worth it for US.
Five years ago, the Lord led me to start a ministry for foster and adoption moms called Created for Care. I have incredible tag team friends Angie Carley and Christy Elphick who have run this race with me from the beginning as well as a pretty awesome team of ladies who have come on to run with us (THANKFUL!). What began to breath new life into tired moms–is taking on a new form. This past year, I was so tired and thought–year 5…this upcoming year would be our last. But–as we started to plan–I felt God saying, “No. It’s just the beginning.” Hmmm. REALLY? Beginning of what?
Every year it seems the Lord takes our crazy family through what some of the focus of Created for Care for the next year will be–and as Richard and I started realizing what we needed in our marriage–we looked around us and begin to feel He was asking other couples to come with us. To look, remember and connect alongside us—with their spouses. We want to support other couples in this journey and cheer them on–and we are so excited to add marriage to our ministry through marriage retreats. It’s also another great excuse for Richard and I to have another weekend to be just us to focus on our marriage.
The beauty of our marriage retreats though-is Winshape Marriage will be facilitating most of the work for us. Instead of adding more to our already full plates, this amazing organization who counsels and supports marriages so well and who also happens to have a huge heart for adoption and foster care–will be partnering with us to love adoption and foster couples. Exciting!
And as for us continuing to grow together on a weekly basis–we are making more time for each other and admitting we can use some help to go further, love bigger and grow deeper together. Here are some things we began this summer that have been life-giving and transforming for us…
1. A Marriage Counselor. We have added weekly counseling to our line-up to help us connect on a deeper level. Just 1 hour a week to sit and chat. It’s actually a lot of fun, and it’s something I hope we can always afford to do. If we can get away once a week for an hour together–anyone can do it! We have 5 children under the age of 10 so no one can stay at home alone–and I homeschool. So every week–we find a way to go to a counselor to just TALK. Most weeks we have NO idea what we will even talk about–but we leave laughing, and it’s honestly been so much fun!!
If you have never gone to a counselor even for healthy communication or a check-up–it’s so worth it! You can even find a counselor that takes your insurance making it very affordable. There have even been nights when finding a sitter was impossible–and y’all–we just made our counselor laugh his socks off by bringing them with us! This is just the way we roll…
Silly kids! I had to take a picture of them in that lobby to remember this moment!
They get to see that it’s okay to talk to a mentor about how to grow together and there’s nothing weird about it–some times we need a 3rd party to give us ideas how to grow (to look, remember and connect) and they get to see that growing together is something we just won’t compromise even if it means for an hour they get to watch a mommy-approved movie on Netflix in the waiting room while we meet.
I think it’s important to talk about this with other couples just sharing how wonderful it has been for us because often some people feel like if you are going to a counselor it’s because you are struggling or have a serious problem. Some times it just takes someone else listening to you communicating to point things out that are actually stunting your growth together or someone listening and complimenting you how you are communicating well…or giving you homework to grow together through.
2. Date Night. We shoot for a WEEKLY date. It doesn’t have to be dinner–it might have to be breakfast or lunch–but we try for a weekly date. We also shoot for a monthly double date with good friends. Being with other couples is another great way to grow together as you have more common friends and even funny things to talk about that come up over conversations–things besides just your kids!
3. A Weekend Away. At least once a year–but shoot for 2x a year an entire weekend away just the two of you. Again, the more kids you have the more difficult this might seem–but spreading the kids out among family is usually what we have to do and it works!
4. Joining One Another in Their Interests. We have done a lot of this lately, and this has been so fun for us!! I love to build. He loves to cook. I love to fix things up. He loves to read. We have made an effort to join each other in similar interests–really to speak each other’s love language in a practical way–by doing things one another loves but together. (That man just bought me a DONKEY y’all. I know he doesn’t like farm animals–but he sure knows the way to my heart;)
5. Reminding Ourselves How Important Each Other Is–Often. This has been a bi-product of counseling for us and something we really needed to do more of. It’s easy when you are dating, engaged and newly married (or even new parents!) to compliment and remind each other how special and thankful we are for our spouse to our spouse. Years pass, and I think we just become comfortable and even take one another for granted. That has really changed over here and as you remind one another how thankful you are for one another and begin to even name specifics–you begin to realize how truly blessed you are to have one another. You start doing funny things like squealing when he comes home…again. And taking selfies–or usies–because you are just excited to be together.
Oh man–our wrinkles! But we are getting old TOGETHER–and we are more than good these days. I’d say we are great. That boy up there is something else–and he is so worth fighting for. And the way he talks to me–I know that I am worth fighting for too. WE are worth fighting for.
I also know that this isn’t something you just work on here and there. It has to be something you decide to continually invest in–daily…week in and out. Having a great marriage is a lot of work–a lot of communicating–but it’s so incredibly worth it.
No matter where you are–it’s never too late or beyond His great healing or reigniting! And if you are at a good place but you want it to be great–every investment you make I stand and applaud you both for. Pray for God to make a way for daily connections–and be very aware when you see that something is fighting against you two to connect. The enemy wants nothing more than to see families torn apart–so a great godly marriage will always, always, always be something you have to work hard on and fight for. Don’t give up–it will be worth it!! Together–it’s the best place to be:).
Here’s a little slideshow I made of our crazy from the last 11 years…
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