Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Marriage Marathon (6.8.08)

How Forever Feels - Kenny Chesney

Has not [the LORD] made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in
your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. ~ Malachi 2: 15

When you're a starry-eyed newlywed, it would never even occur to you that God would have to remind you not to break faith with the spouse He gave you in your youth. You're sure that together you can climb every mountain, conquer every foe, live on love when the bills come pouring in and the walls come crashing down. The reality check comes swiftly. Give it a few years and you begin to wonder why God didn't tell you to "guard yourself in the spirit and do not MURDER the spouse of your youth."

In their book, "Guard Your Heart" Gary and Barbara Rosberg say this: The old missionary (Paul) wrote: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful." 2 Timothy 4:7 When you are nearing the end of your life, wouldn't you as a couple love to send a letter to your grown children, your grandchildren, and your dearest Christian friends and boldly say something like that? "It's been a bloody fight against the enemies of our relationship, but we have battled to the end. It's been a tough race, but we're going to cross the finish line as winners. It's been a constant battle to keep our marriage on track, but here we are, still in one piece, and still together ready to face our Lord."

Personally, I think that would scare the tar out of any one imagines they're entering into a possible blood-bath. I don't think too many people actually want to expose to the world that marriage is hell sometimes, it's not easy. They may want to proclaim to that audience, "I have remained faithful" but they certainly don't want to admit that it's been a blood fight to stay that way...that sometimes it feels like you're crawling through a rocky wasteland, scraped up knees, dirty and disillusioned - all the while cursing your companion on the way to that finish line. Admitting that is painful - you want the illusion of "soul mates to the end." Pride wants you to project the fantasy that it's always paradise. I think that's why so many of us are shocked when we hear of friends/acquaintances getting divorced. "They seemed so happy!"

The media says that 50% of all marriages, including those in born-again Christian homes, end in divorce. How they arrive at that number is very, very skewed --- it's derived by taking the total number of marriages and divorces in a given year and comparing them. It is *not* taking the actual marriages and divorces over a chunk of time. Doing that, the divorce rate ends up being a lot less - around 25%. In December of 1999, George Barna published the results of a survey which found that 34 percent of adult members of non-denominational Christian churches have experienced divorce in their lifetime, in contrast with 21 percent for atheists, agnostics and Roman Catholics. Baptists had the highest rate for born-again denominational Christians at 29 percent. The Mormon divorce rate was 24 percent. Overall, 27 percent of born-again Christians have experienced divorce compared to 24 percent for the rest of Americans. Nearly four thousand interviews were conducted, leaving a very small margin of error.

Some of my best friends have gotten divorced - the battle just seemed to be too hard, too much for them. Not worth the satisfaction of saying, "It's been bloody hell, but we survived and we're together." Causes? Oh, there was "greener grass syndrome" involved in a couple of cases. There was also the death of the dream marriage ... and a lack of commitment to the reality of imperfection. You always hear people talking about rotten husbands who go astray, but I actually know far more women who are the ones who stepped out and committed adultery.

Marriage is definitely not a One Mile Fun Run with a cute T-shirt and door prizes. It's a marathon, a grueling 26.2 miles. Sometimes those miles are hilly and sometimes they're just plain monotonous. A marathon is a test of physical and mental...and even emotional...endurance. So is marriage.

I'll never forget the trail marathon I ran with my friend, Julie, to celebrate our turning 40. We made a commitment to finish that thing, no matter what. The day started out far chillier than we imagined. We were actually freezing at the start and had to wear layers, including a "throw away" sweatshirt to discard on the path instead of carrying when the temperature warmed up. Aid stations were set up every 2 miles at the start, then down to every 1.5 miles. Fruit and packets of gelatinous carbohydrate stuff called "Goo" was promised at every other aid station, whilst Gatorade and water was to be plentiful at all. We soon discovered that the reality was nothing like the brochures. We were running at the back of the pack and things were picked pretty clean...and some were altogether not available. We did not pack our own snacks on our persons because we were trying to travel light. Big mistake.

Julie was stricken with some intestinal distress that slowed us down. Turns out that port-a-potties were not as frequent as promised in the race literature either. Neither of us planned on one getting sick during the run - but we had committed that we would stay together no matter what, even if it meant not completing in the time we had hoped for.

Another problem was that this was a trail marathon and the trail was to be clearly marked. We got further behind the pack (there were mostly seasoned marathoners running, we were amongst the only newbies). The trail had forks in it. Some weren't marked. We got to a point where we couldn't hear anyone ahead and the walkers that were behind were far behind. At a point in the trail we had to make a choice...and we made the wrong one. We ran a good 2 miles the wrong way before we realized our mistake and had to run back. When we got on the right path we saw the "runner trash" that proved it was the right way (Goo packets and banana peels). This meant that our 26.2 mile marathon had turned into at least a 30 mile run instead... at our pace of 11 - 12 minutes per mile, that added almost 48 minutes to our time. Ouch.

Another problem with the run was faulty preparation on my part. I listened to the wrong advice. A runner friend who had run the same race a year before had told me to "make sure to have running shoes that are a half-size too big because your feet will swell." A man who ran while in the Army told me "Be sure to wear cotton socks, they take up the moisture better." Wrong, wrong, wrong!

By mile 16, from my feet sliding around and being soaked in wet cotton socks, blisters were forming. As I ran, I could feel the blisters form...and then POP. Form and pop. Form and pop. Over and over. My feet were in excruciating pain. It hurt more to walk than to jog, jogging at least keeps your feet more airborne.

Around mile 18, aid stations were closing up...our much needed aid was disappearing! We were being left behind to rot! Wisely we had our nerdy water bottle belts and we filled up. My daughter had said we looked like total geeks with them, but we didn't care. The last aid station that was manned was manned with big, hairy, burly men. Men who said, "We like sweaty women" which scared us as we were pretty much alone out in the wilds of the National Park. Vulnerable.

We ran on. When we got to the point where our car was parked, we started talking about quitting. (For this marathon, you parked at a certain place and then rode the train down to the marathon start. You then ran past the parking area and were shuttled back in vans to the parking lot ... if you got back while they were still shuttling). We entertained the idea of throwing in the towel. That was at about mile 22 - there were still 4.2 miles to go and we hurt. We really, really hurt. It was starting to get warm out. We were sweaty, bloody, disillusioned. I think the disillusionment was the worst. We believed that if the literature said "this many" aid stations, "this many" johns, etc, that it would be so. We believed we'd have bananas and Goo if needed. Instead, we were pretty much on our own a great deal of the time. Giving up seemed like a pretty good idea.

But something happened, we were both crying at this point...and we ran past where we could have ended it all. There by the side of the trail, where once an aid station had been, were several cups of Gatorade and water. Sitting by the side of the road, "just in case"...oh, some of them had drowned bugs in them. It didn't matter - that little smattering of relief gave us hope. We had gotten that far with Julie's diarrhea and my bloody feet...we *could* make it to the end. There was hope.

About 2 miles from the end, Julie's sister appeared...she had come down the trail to find us. She was worried because we weren't at the end and it was two hours later than we anticipated our finish (we had done well in our training runs). Along with her was her daughter and Julie's daughter. A mile from the end my husband and children appeared. They walked with us as we limped to the end. We were dead last. In fact, things were being packed up. We crossed that finishing line. Someone had saved some bagels and snacks for us. It was done and we were awarded the medals we had been determined to get, no matter what.

As we finished, Julie swore she would never do anything like that again. I said, "I'm coming back and next time my time will be better!"

She has a picture of me smiling while I'm examining my bloody feet. I wasn't smiling because of my feet - which looked like raw hamburger - I was smiling because Darn it, I had done what I said I was going to do. Oh, I would have much rather run that marathon and been able to say with pride, "I did this in under 4 hours, just like we trained for." It didn't happen that way, but I found that I was still just as proud - maybe even more so, because we kept going even when it hurt.

So...I've come to think of marriage is like that marathon. it sure isn't the fairy-tale! And sometimes I wonder at myself. I wonder how I can be so determined to keep a commitment to a friend and put myself through such grueling paces and yet hit a bump in the road with my husband of 25 years and wonder "Is this worth it?" The shoes don't fit, the socks I give in to the temptation to peel them off and get off the trail, or do I finish what I committed to? I'd be a liar if I said that in 25 years there haven't been times where the temptation to give in and accept defeat hasn't been entertained in this heart.

I wonder how I can get so much satisfaction about doing something challenging and be determined to overcome the stupid mistakes, bad advice and yet, some days not feel the same pride for sticking it out with the spouse of my youth.

Thank God for the aid stations He puts on the way. His aid stations are always stocked. Oh, I still miss the mark sometimes and head the wrong way - but it's my own tendency to divert from the course, not the lack of trail signs, that gets me in trouble. God has also given me a partner who is bound and determined to get to that finish line, even if he has to drag me or carry me.

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