Joe and I love our love story.
Although as we often tell our kids, we don’t recommend it! Because it’s the kind of story where it could have gone either way. The story where we knew that only a complete dependence on God could make it work. There was no, Oh just put those two together and it will be just perfect!
I’m not sure if anyone has that story, by the way. That’s what romance is all about, not knowing what the future holds but jumping in anyway.
And jump we did. Joe was my first real boyfriend. I was in high school, he wasn’t. That’s a big deal when you’re 16 and you’re dating someone who is <gasp> in his 20s! Okay, so he was just shy of 21 but still that was old. Especially to my parents 😉
Not only was he much older than me but he had more past than me. The more I got to know him, the more I learned. The broken family, the foster care, the abuse, another broken family, more abuse, more abandonment.
And then there was the stuff he didn’t always share with me: the hopelessness he felt, the fear of rejection and failure, the loss of identity from so many broken families. The feeling that surely God had forgotten him, that he was alone when it came right down to it.
This kind of story was new to me. (If you want to hear the whole story, click here to hear the full podcast!)
I had grown up with an intact family, in a Christian home, with a mom and dad who loved each other. What they call a functional family, the kind of family that is becoming more and more rare these days. So as our relationship progressed, it became very obvious that we were working from completely different paradigms. (Even though those differences were so attractive at first!)
But our love for each other grew and we both knew this was It. We ended up dating for five years, and in the end we needed those years even though the waiting was hard. We both had growing up to do. I had to finish college, and Joe had to find a career path. It didn’t always look clear or even optimistic but together we trusted God with our future and He provided in so many ways.
In 1997, we had the wedding of our dreams and jumped into marriage thinking all the hard years would be behind us.
We had many good years in the beginning, and at the time we would have said we had a great marriage. And what made our marriage truly great was our mutual faith in Jesus, and that we both wanted to truly honor the commitment we had made. That kept our bond strong. But there was still something in the way of a truly great marriage.
There was a lot more going on the behind the smiles of our great marriage. Scars and hurts from Joe’s past that were chasing him down and keeping us from finding true intimacy. Emotional walls that we couldn’t get past.
I grew up knowing I could trust people and everything would be alright. While Joe still struggled with trust and feeling safe and still wondering if he was truly lovable. But Joe did know that he didn’t want his past to define him- but in that desire he also wanted to deny that his past was chasing him at all.
The truth was- the enemy was at the gates of our marriage and was trying to use those hurts to rip us apart. Trying to convince us that each other was the problem.
We both wanted to be close, we both wanted to have the marriage of our dreams— but we didn’t know how to get there. Some days the hill seemed too high. But God answered our prayers in a way we couldn’t have planned, as Joe shares below:
I wasn’t just running from Tara, I was running from a lot of pain from my past. I had convinced myself and Tara that I was all better. Several years into our marriage, in a desire to find some answers about my past, I had visited some places where some of my darkest and most traumatic abuse had occurred. I thought I would be okay, because you know, I’m healed and I’d be fine. But those experiences opened up some wounds and hurts that was almost too much for me to handle and it became one of the roughest years of my life.
It was a very very dark time for me. I couldn’t keep up the facade. Up to that point in our marriage I had convinced myself that I was healed, and liked to put on a shiny front, Look what God has done! But I was burying immense amount of pain and I found myself in a place where it wouldn’t stay buried any longer and that I had to give it to God. And I had to let my wife in.
God revealed to me in that season I would not have a greater capacity to love unless I was willing to trust Him and be truly vulnerable. God had to knock down my house of cards and expose the truth. There was so much pain to be dealt with. I couldn’t be close to Tara or find the joy I was looking for without first working through the hurts of my childhood and finding true healing.
We decided to let those hurts bring us together rather than push us apart. If we wanted to find the healing and intimacy we longed for, we had to hold on tight and walk through the pain together. I had to learn to truly love Joe and lean into Jesus in ways I hadn’t before. And to understand that my love alone in the end wasn’t enough. It wasn’t something either of us could just fix on our own.
In the years since, we’ve fought the enemy of our marriage by naming the things that divided us. Denial, shame, insecurity, control, defensiveness, pride, selfishness. And it was a tough journey for me to learn to let go of the pressure, understand his triggers, and not smother him when he was struggling. We still struggle with those things, but by naming them, they have lost their power.
We also struggled though finding balance in our different worlds: our marriage couldn’t just be about his pain, and my own hurts couldn’t be minimized. Our marital problems were not just about his issues. It was my issues too. Even though we have different pasts, we both have hurts and failures. We both are sinners in need of a Savior.
Our marriage began to flourish as we chose to live in the grace and forgiveness that God has given us. Not only did we find healing, but God pointed out other areas we still needed to work on. And that’s something we celebrate. God is not done with us, praise the Lord! That He who started a good work in us will be faithful to complete it!